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Announcing AMONG THE WILD CYBERS — and the return of the Green Blaze!

At last, I’m able to make my first new project announcement in over a year. Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, a story collection reprinting nearly all of my previously uncollected short fiction, will soon be published by eSpec Books. And I have even better news: the collection will also feature a new, never-before-published novelette starring Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, in her first print appearance since Only Superhuman!

Among the Wild Cybers will be available in both print and e-book form, and will be crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign that eSpec will soon be launching, probably later this month. The collection, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, will include all my short fiction from my default/Only Superhuman universe, plus the bonus story “No Dominion” (“bonus” meaning it was the only one left over and I didn’t want to leave it uncollected). The title comes from the first story appearing in the collection, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” but as it happens, the majority of the stories do feature cybers (AIs) in some capacity, though only three focus on them heavily.

Emerald Blair, "Green Blaze"

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

The new Green Blaze story, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” is an 8000-word novelette depicting a key moment in Emerald Blair’s Troubleshooter apprenticeship. I know, I know – prequels. Not as exciting as a sequel would be. But Emry’s superhero training was a part of her backstory that I didn’t manage to include in OS’s flashback chapters; I tried to include it, but I ended up skipping over it for the sake of the novel’s flow. “Aspiring” allows me to fill that gap, and to explore the process by which Emerald Blair became the Green Blaze. Doing a prequel also allows me to bring back Emerald’s mentor Arkady Nazarbayev and delve further into his hero-sidekick relationship with Emry.

In some ways, though, “Aspiring to Be Angels” is more a horror story than a superhero story. It’s not gory or anything, but it’s more dark, bizarre, and creepy than my usual work. It’s something of an homage to the anime Serial Experiments Lain. But don’t worry, it’s also an integral part of Emerald Blair’s journey, true to her character and her world. And I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of her continued adventures, in one form or another.

Another story in the collection, “The Weight of Silence,” might as well be new for most readers, since the online magazine where it appeared, Alternative Coordinates, ceased to exist less than a year after the story’s publication. AC did have a printable PDF edition, as I recall, so there may be a few print copies of “The Weight of Silence” out there somewhere, but I doubt there are very many. So it’s been effectively a “lost” story for nearly seven years, and I’m glad it will finally be available again.

This will also be the print debut for two of my stories that have previously appeared only online, “No Dominion” and “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing.” Both stories are still available online as of this writing (see links on my Homepage and Original Fiction pages), but between them, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” and “The Weight of Silence,” half of the stories in Among the Wild Cybers are appearing in print for the first or nearly the first time. Which means, hopefully, that “Dominion,” “Caress,” and “Weight” will finally get added to my Internet Speculative Fiction Database author page. Apparently their editors don’t pay much attention to online publications, although they do list my Star Trek e-novellas.

I’d originally expected that the stories in Among the Wild Cybers would appear in chronological order, but Danielle and I decided instead to arrange them for the best reading experience, so no two adjacent stories would be too much alike. Here’s the tentative order, with original publication dates:

  • “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dec 2000)
  • “Aspiring to Be Angels”                     (new)
  • “Twilight’s Captives”                         (Analog, Jan/Feb 2017)
  • “No Dominion”                                   (DayBreak Magazine, June 2010)
  • “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”     (Analog, Nov 1998)
  • “The Weight of Silence”                     (Alternative Coordinates, Spring 2010)
  • “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”    (Analog, June 2016)
  • “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing”   (Buzzy Mag, Nov 2014)

There will, however, be an appendix providing a chronological ordering of the stories and an overview of the future history they occupy – including a few new bits of history and worldbuilding that haven’t appeared in print before. In writing that material, I even thought of a way to tweak a part of that history so that a couple of stories have a stronger connection than they did originally.

Between them, Only Superhuman and Among the Wild Cybers will contain the entire published OS continuity to date. If you also buy Hub Space, you’ll have all my published original fiction so far except for “Abductive Reasoning,” which came out too recently to be included in ATWC (which didn’t have room for it anyway). But that’s all right – having a story still uncollected gives me an incentive to keep writing more so I can build a second collection. Hopefully this time it won’t take 20 years to do it.

I’ll provide the link to the Kickstarter page once it’s available. Keep an eye out for updates on publication date, cover art, etc. I’m so glad I can finally post news about this book!

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Looking back on a slow year

With 2017 coming to a close, I realize that I haven’t announced a single new writing project all year. I’ve had only three projects come out in 2017 — Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Shield of the Gods in June and Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference and “Abductive Reasoning” in August. (Also, Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown and “Twilight’s Captives” were nominally January 2017 publications, but they both came out in December 2016.) The last announcement I made of a new project was for “Abductive Reasoning” in November 2016, more than a year ago.

So what gives? Don’t worry, I haven’t retired from writing. But between one thing and another, it’s been a very slow year for me. The main problem is that Simon & Schuster has been renegotiating its license for Star Trek tie-in fiction, and for some reason, it’s taking an astonishingly long time to get resolved. I would imagine that the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery has created complications and/or distractions that delayed the process, but beyond that, I really have no idea why it’s been taking so long. I heard a month or so back that the deal was close to being finalized, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get back into Star Trek soon, but even so, it will still be quite some time before anything new gets announced to the public.

In the meantime, I’ve been pursuing a number of other options, mostly original fiction but one tie-in project as well. There are a few things I’ve actually made progress on, but this year has been a perfect storm of delays. There are two or three exciting new projects I’d expected to be able to announce — and to get paid for — by now, but they’ve all taken months longer than expected to reach a point where I could talk about them, a bizarre coincidence. On the plus side, those projects look like they’re finally coming together now, and I should have some interesting announcements to make in January. Meanwhile, I’ve got an upcoming opening to submit my long-simmering spec novel to a prospective publisher, but I’ve got to make some changes to it to fit the parameters, and I’m working on those now.

As far as this blog goes, I expect it to get a little more active in January, since I’ve been working on a new set of reviews of a vintage SFTV series. That should be ready to go very soon. In the meantime, my autographed book sale is still going on. I called it a holiday sale to get attention, but really, it’s open all year round, as long as anyone is willing to buy.

By the way, though it’s been a slow year for me in terms of selling (or at least announcing) new work, the same doesn’t necessarily go for my recent work. In particular, it seems that Patterns of Interference has been #1 on the Locus Media & Gaming Related Bestseller list for two months running, in November and December. I’ve even beat out the Star Wars novels, though apparently it was a close call in December. Thanks to David Mack for pointing these out to me. And thanks to my readers for buying my books. I hope you’ll be as generous with the new stuff I have coming next year.

Musings on “Abductive Reasoning” and universes (mild spoilers)

I had an interesting thought last night about my newly published story in Analog, “Abductive Reasoning.” I’ve been assuming all along that AR was in its own self-contained universe, unconnected to any of my other “written worlds.” As I mentioned once before, there’s no specific reason it couldn’t theoretically share a universe with my other standalone story, “No Dominion,” but there’s no reason they should be connected either, since they’re rather different in tone and focus. It can’t be set in the Only Superhuman universe (as ISFDb calls my default continuity), since that universe includes a faster-than-light drive technology, the warp cage, while the protagonist of AR travels with her consciousness encoded on a biochip in a palm-sized “wafer ship” that travels at high sublight speed using vacuum-energy sails and takes millennia to cross significant galactic distances. If the technology for warp propulsion were possible in AR’s universe, surely its Galactic Coalition would’ve discovered it long ago. Plus, the existence of that Coalition is incompatible with the galactic history and politics I’ve developed in my main universe.

I assumed the same arguments would apply to the universe of my Hub stories, the other comedy tales I’ve done for Analog. As works of science fiction humor, they could potentially go together, but the Hub universe also includes a form of faster-than-light travel, the Hub itself, plus the Hub Network that’s grown up around it and encompasses nine different galaxies, including much of the Milky Way. It seemed obvious that the Hub Network and the Galactic Coalition couldn’t exist in the same reality without being aware of each other, and if the GC knew about the Hub, then surely they’d use it instead of taking centuries to traverse the stars in wafer ships, right?

But last night I started to wonder if that was really the case. The GC’s citizens, or at least those like “Abductive Reasoning”‘s protagonist Cjek’darrit, are effectively immortal in biochip form, and presumably can place their minds in a dormant state for most of a lengthy interstellar journey. Culturally, they might be satisfied with the slowness of sublight travel despite being aware of an instantaneous alternative. Maybe they don’t even get along with the Hub Network; maybe there’s some political, ideological, or economic reason that they refuse to associate with the Network or vice-versa. Still, those seem like feeble justifications.

Then it occurred to me that the key to viable two-way Hub travel is the use of quantelopes — the bioengineered animals that communicate through quantum entanglement, the only way a ship can send a signal to the Hub to call for the opening of the nearest known Hubpoint. So ships using the Hub Network need to be large enough to carry at least one or two rabbit-sized animals and their cryogenic life-support tank. A wafer ship therefore couldn’t use the Hub! Except, hang on, the Coalition’s member species are (at least in Cjek’s case) born as organic beings and live that way in nanofabricated bodies when they’re on planets. So they don’t need to use wafer ships exclusively. They could use regular spaceships and Hub travel if they were aware of the Hub’s existence. So that doesn’t explain it.

But that leads to the next possibility: What if the Galactic Coalition and the Hub Network simply aren’t aware of each other yet? The Hub isn’t like warp cages. It isn’t a technology that could be theorized and invented; it’s unique, a physical property of the galaxy’s center of mass. If you hadn’t had the good fortune of some Network scout discovering a Hubpoint near your star system, you’d have no way of knowing it existed. So in theory, a large interstellar civilization adapted to use slower-than-light travel could share the galaxy with the Hub Network without the two having encountered each other yet. It’s a big galaxy with hundreds of billions of star systems, after all. Statistically, it’s at least possible. Although AR implies that the Coalition is extremely ancient and pervasive, so it might be hard for them to miss each other.

Then it struck me — the Hub Network is not ancient, certainly not on the same scale. “Home is Where the Hub Is” establishes that the Hub was discovered by the Dosperhag only 16,000 years ago, making the Network at least several centuries younger than that. But AR says that Cjek’s “creche-mates only reconverged at the home star once every few hundred galactic microrotations.” A galactic rotation, at least at Earth’s distance from the center, takes about 250 million years, so a hundred microrotations is 25,000 years. So journeys through the Coalition take tens of millennia at high sublight speeds, meaning that new information transmitted at the speed of light would take a similar amount of time to propagate. If the Hub Network is about 16,000 years old, then the odds are that contact with the GC would’ve most likely happened somewhere near the middle of that span, say around 8 millennia ago give or take — except the Hub has grown in size and activity over time, which would make contact statistically more likely to have occurred in the latter half of that span. So it’s reasonably likely that if the two civilizations have made contact, it was only within the past few millennia. And since it takes tens of millennia for new information to cross the entire Coalition, that news might not yet have spread far enough to reach any world Cjek’darrit has visited lately. So it could work.

Although… wait, hold the phone. There’s the other side of the question to consider. The Network may only be 15-16,000 years old, but the Hub, as I said, is an intrinsic property of the galaxy, so it’s been there for 13-odd billion years. If the Coalition existed in the Hub universe, and has been traveling the galaxy for hundreds of thousands of years at least, then it’s quite possible they — or one of the multiple starfaring civilizations that came together to form them — would’ve discovered the Hub long before the Dosperhag did. I’ve established that the Hub is a radiation source, constantly emitting EM radiation and signals that leak through from every point in the greater galaxy. It’s not an especially intense emitter, since ships can safely pass through it on a routine basis, but it would emit a rather unique radiation signature that could be detected from a distance if it weren’t yet encased in the Shell that the Dosperhag had built around it. So Coalition wafer ships or microsail probes passing near that region of space could well have discovered it on their own long ago.

So… okay. It’s theoretically possible that “Abductive Reasoning” takes place in the Hub universe. It isn’t conclusively ruled out by the stories to date. And there’s certainly some appeal to the idea of putting all my SF comedy stories in a shared reality. So last night, I thought it was a reasonable idea, but after sleeping on it, I have to say it seems unlikely — and probably undesirable. Having the Galactic Coalition unaware of the Hub Network would not be out of the question, but it would require imposing significant constraints on the GC’s age, spread, and knowledge of the galaxy, constraints that don’t quite fit with what I implied in the story and that would limit my options if I wanted to write more stories in that setting. Having the GC know about the Hub, either through contact with the Network or through prior discovery, and nonetheless choose not to take advantage of its convenience would require making some rather arbitrary and limiting assumptions about their culture or politics. It could potentially happen; for all I know, I could come up with a story idea about the two civilizations interacting, and then I’d have reason to tweak things to fit. It’s nice to know I at least have that option. But it doesn’t really feel right to treat them as the same universe without good reason. I didn’t conceive them that way, so they don’t naturally mesh without a fair amount of contrivance. I could change my mind in the future, but for now, better to let them stand as their own entities. (This is why I prefer to develop unified continuities from the start, rather than grafting separate stories together after the fact.)

And that’s fine. It would’ve been fun to discover an unexpected opportunity to merge the universes, but on the other hand, I liked writing a story set in a universe without FTL, without the usual kind of spaceship. I like it that this little comedy story is perhaps my most scientifically plausible, cutting-edge depiction of interstellar travel yet. And if I do more with the setting, I’d probably prefer to embrace the things that make it different from my other universes.

Still, it would be perfectly fine with me if everyone reading this post went out and bought copies of the Sep/Oct 2017 Analog and the eBook collection Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy (just follow the above links, then follow the ordering links of your choice therein), if you don’t have them already, so you can compare the universes and decide for yourselves. Because people buying my stuff is good.

Double annotation update! PATTERNS OF INTERFERENCE and “Abductive Reasoning” now have notes

Since both Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference and the September/October 2017 Analog containing my story “Abductive Reasoning” came out within the past couple of weeks, I decided I might as well post both their annotations at the same time. I’ve actually been waiting until I got my author copies of Analog, so that I’d know what pages the story was on and what the opening illustration looked like. (That’s right, they don’t let us know these things ahead of time.) That finally happened this afternoon, so I was able to complete those annotations, and here we are.

Both sets of notes can be accessed from the menu at the top of my blog, but here are the direct links (beware spoilers):

Patterns of Interference Annotations

“Abductive Reasoning” Annotations

Researching these was interesting for me, since both “Abductive Reasoning” and portions of PoI draw on elements of stories I originally wrote back in the ’90s, so I had to try to track down my original sources of inspiration, and in the process I reminded myself of some things I’d forgotten. I had a very fulfilling day of research tracking down sources and background materials for “Abductive,” and it’s surprising to me that this fun little comedy story generated such extensive and wide-ranging scientific notes.

“Abductive Reasoning” is out!

I’ve only just discovered that my short story “Abductive Reasoning” is in the September/October 2017 issue of Analog, which is apparently just going on sale at newsstands this week. There’s already a glowing review of it on the Rocket Stack Rank blog (glowing but very, very spoilery).

Here’s the cover:

Analog Sept/Oct 2017

I’ve updated the homepage with subscription links. I’ll update the Original Short Fiction page with story info when I can get around to it.

DTI: SHIELD OF THE GODS is out today!

Yes, today’s the day that the concluding installment of my Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella trilogy, Shield of the Gods, is released. Here’s the blurb and ordering info:

DTI Shield of the Gods coverStar Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Shield of the Gods

The stalwart agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations have tracked down many dangerous artifacts, but now they face a greater, more personal challenge: retrieving a time-travel device stolen from their own vault by a rogue agent of the Aegis, a powerful, secretive group that uses its mastery of time to prevent young civilizations from destroying themselves. Blaming the Aegis itself for a tragedy yet to come, this renegade plans to use the stolen artifact to sabotage its efforts in the past, no matter what the cost to the timeline. Now the DTI’s agents must convince the enigmatic Aegis to work alongside them in order to protect history—but they must also wrestle with the potential consequences of their actions, for preserving the past could doom countless lives in the future!

Available at:

Simon & Schuster

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

iBookstore

Kobo

 

I’ve updated my home page to reflect its release, and to add the cover and blurb for Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference to the Upcoming Fiction section. Unfortunately I don’t yet have any new projects to add to Upcoming. “Abductive Reasoning” is still there, not yet scheduled by Analog as far as I know, but I’ve been going through kind of a lull lately when it comes to lining up new work. Hopefully I’ll have something to announce before too much longer.

In the meantime, go buy Shield of the Gods!

DOCTOR WHO’s “Smile” seems a bit familiar… (Mild spoilers)

Sorry I haven’t been posting lately — again. I’ve been distracted by stuff including a hard drive crash, although I’ve gone back to the previous, potentially unstable hard drive and it’s working okay for now.

Anyway, I’m liking the new season of Doctor Who so far; Bill is a fun companion, she and the Doctor have a good relationship developing, and it seems like Moffat may be going for a classic-Who formula of having each story lead directly into the next one, one of several homages this season seems to have to the very first season of the original show. (“The Pilot” was basically an inversion of “An Unearthly Child,” with a student learning about her mysterious teacher instead of the other way around.)

But it’s a different parallel that struck me when watching the second episode, “Smile” by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, this past weekend. Okay, so this is a story where the Doctor and Bill go to a human colony world, only to find that the colonists sent a swarm of robots on ahead to build their colony for them so it’d be all ready when they arrived — but during the interim, the robots underwent evolution in their behavior and were no longer following their expected directives. And that led to a debate about whether to fight them or learn to coexist with them.

And that reminded me of the second story I ever got published, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” from the December 2000 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. That story, which I talk about a bit on my Original Short Fiction page, was about self-replicating “auxons” rather than nanobots, and the premise was more along the lines that the auxons had become essentially a new order of animal in the colony world’s ecosystem. So the robots weren’t a threat to the human colonists as in “Smile,” but rather posed a threat of extinction to the world’s native life, creating a dilemma over whether they should be destroyed or have their own right to exist protected.  It’s a story I’ve always been pretty proud of, and I’m hoping I can get it back into print in some form soon.

I doubt very much that Frank Cottrell-Boyce ever read my old story or was inspired by it in any way, but it’s nice to see a science fiction concept show up somewhere and realize that I did it first. Although my own story was inspired by Roger Zelazny’s “Last of the Wild Ones,” about self-driving cars that had gone rogue due to a computer virus and roamed the plains like wild horses or bison. (Which is a sequel to an earlier story called “Devil Car,” which I don’t think I ever read.)