The Ultimate Writing Group

Metatropolis edited by John ScalziJohn Scalzi, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear and Karl Schroeder … who wouldn’t want to be in their writing group? With their powers combined, they bring you these five original tales set in a shared urban future. Originally published as an audiobook with a limited small-press edition, Metatropolis is now available for the first time to the general trade. Read on for John Scalzi’s introduction to this work of shared brilliance:

If this book is not a first, then it’s something very close to it, because it’s a book that was originally an audiobook, rather than the more typical other way around. Early in 2008, audiobook seller and producer Audible.com contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in putting together an audiobook anthology. I thought it was a really interesting idea; I’ve had novels performed as audiobooks, but writing directly for the form was new to me and seemed like an interesting challenge, especially if I had some willing collaborators.

But what I didn’t want to do was the usual anthology idea, in which writers are given a theme and then set off to work in isolation. It’s been done, and sometimes the authors and the ideas are a bad fit together. What I thought would be more interesting would be to collect a set of smart, engaged authors and have them build a world together, and having established the world, then go off and write their stories. We would get the advantages of a communally-created setting—everyone in the same world—and all the advantages of the individual writers, creating stories in their own style. The notable previous example of this is Harlan Ellison’s classic anthology, Medea: Harlan’s World. Plus, we know the writers would be well-matched with the world, because, after all, they helped create it.

The key would be the writers themselves, because they would provide the ideas that would build the world. And in this we were very fortunate to have the group we had: Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake and Karl Schroeder (as well as myself, since I was penning a story as well as acting as editor of the project). If you’re a current reader of science fiction, these names need no introduction, but I’m going to rag on them anyway: Our little group has three previous John W. Campbell Award winners (and four nominees), a multiple Aurora Award winner (that being Canada’s highest SF award), two Hugo winners, two authors who have showed up on the New York Times Bestseller list and one who has had his novel listed as a New York Times Notable Book.

And, to top it all off, they’re all smart as hell and fun to brainstorm with. As the project editor, I have to say these writers were my “A”-list—my first choices for the project—and I was delighted to get them. I figured that would make me look like a much smarter editor than I really was.

I was right about that. Karl Schroeder got the ball rolling by proposing the general idea of “future cities”—but not just the standard-issue Jetsons future cities, or another take on the city states of medieval times, gussied up with technology, but the idea that the cities would be something like an “interstitial nation”—that the people of a future Detroit or Portland might have more in common with the people in Hong Kong or Johannesburg than they might with the people right down the road—and what it would mean for the way we lived if city dwellers acted on that.

This was the starting point for the conversation, but as you’ll read in these stories, it definitely wasn’t the end of the conversation. The title of this anthology is “Metatropolis,” which means, more or less, “the city beyond.” The cities you’ll be reading about here are meant to be just that–a step beyond what you know, or what you may have expected.

Being the editor, I’m biased here, but I think these authors have done a really amazing job of opening up what the possibilities of cities are, and what they will be. The stories, separate but interconnected, create a world I think you’re going to really enjoy visiting. All I ask is that you pay attention—this could be your future. I hope you’re ready for it.

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