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Peering Skyward: Looking Up from the Bottom of the Research Rabbit Hole by T. R. Hendricks

The InfiltratorT. R. Hendricks’s Derek Harrington returns in The Infiltrator, an adventure of man vs wild—and the domestic terrorists hidden there.

One year after the clash with his former students in upstate New York, retired Marine Warrant Officer and SERE instructor Derek Harrington is the tip of the FBI’s spear in their mission to eradicate the domestic terrorist group known as Autumn’s Tithe. After several successful operations, intelligence points to one final camp in the remote Kentucky wilderness, and Derek prepares to take down Autumn’s Tithe for good.

At the same time ex-FBI Special Agent Hannah Kittle, or Sarah as she is known to the group, devises a plan to meet Derek and her one-time Bureau colleagues head on. Yet her benefactor’s faith in Sarah’s ability to lead Autumn’s Tithe is waning, and other plans are being enacted. Knowing full well what it means for her should those plans succeed where she has failed, Sarah will stop at nothing to see that she is the victor.

As the competing agendas unravel, events place Derek and Sarah on a collision course, setting the stage for a confrontation that will bring Autumn’s Tithe right to Derek’s doorstep.

Read below to see T. R. Hendricks’s take on what it means to do in-depth research for the sake of writing, and how falling down ‘the research rabbit hole’ is paramount in developing precise details that’ll help build an excellent story!

By T. R. Hendricks:

Chances are that if you’re on this website right now, you’re just as familiar with the jokes and memes about writers and their research as I am. The ever classic, “If the FBI ever saw my search history,” elicits no small number of chuckles, but it also rings true with dogged perseverance. Yes, we all go down the rabbit hole at times, but in this context it is done so in the pursuit of those elusive details. The ones we know that once discovered will add an extra layer of authenticity – even credibility for having done the work – in turn elevating our manuscripts to the next level.

In the, “this will surprise no one category” there was no small amount of research into prominent components such as survival skills, military equipment and weaponry, and even the psychology of cults when writing both THE INSTRUCTOR and THE INFILTRATOR. But the devil is in the details, and those details at times required lengthy stretches searching for them. I can recall specifically with THE INSTRUCTOR (we’ll keep it here to avoid sequel spoilers) numerous ventures into the undiscovered country that is the world wide web.

There was one iteration researching the Yankees schedule in early summer of 2018 that resulted in a blowout win. In a podcast I recently did, I explained how I had to spend an hour searching for the USMC regulation articulating the number of folds and measurements of each for the sheet and blanket on recruit racks (beds) just to be certain my Army upbringing didn’t skew that point. “How long to bleed out from a puncture wound of the femoral artery” I’m sure made a great addition to my NSA watch list tally, especially since I made one of those memes I mentioned earlier out of it.

The physics of beaver dams. Velocity of a ball bearing fired from a slingshot. Man traps utilized by the Viet Cong. The physiology of envenomation by bamboo vipers and timber rattlers on the human body. Fun times.

I’m of the opinion that this research, even if delving into hours-long rabbit hole sessions, not only counts as writing, but is indicative of talent that manages to blend them into the story so that they are seamless rather than just window dressing. It may be that the research is limited in its application. For a recent project I’m working on, I spent two weeks getting the details down for a single chapter. Other times the research may result in only a paragraph, even a sentence. Sometimes you’ll never use them at all, because the idea that spawned the search didn’t materialize in the story. Other times you’ll nail it, and then have to kill that precious research bunny darling in the editing phase.

My point being, the rabbit holes are a necessary process (provided you stay on topic and don’t miss deadlines because of it – looking at you, TikTok.) The time put into research early on will manifest into productivity later because you know exactly what you want to say with the details to back it up. Moreover, that single chapter/paragraph/sentence could mean all the difference between readers saying, “this author gets it” and “this author hasn’t the first clue what they’re talking about.” Yikes. I’m sure you’ll agree that we’re all trying our damnedest to avoid the preposterous-induced eye roll.

All that said, I thought it might be a fun take to show you how I arrived at the bottom of a particularly long hare hollow. This journey relates to both preliminary overall plot construction and specific scene orchestration elements for the yet-to-be-title-revealed third installment in the Derek Harrington series. Reader beware: beyond this point is a front row seat to how my mind chains stuff together.

No shit, there I was (obligatory Army vernacular to start the story) sitting down to an afternoon free of obligations, save for the blank page on my screen and the keys beneath my fingers. First I needed a remote location to set the scene, but not too remote. There needed to be an airport nearby and a town large enough to accommodate the presence of a VA hospital or clinic. I settled on a place in Michigan, which then led to the next need, a Mom and Pop coffee shop in said town, complete with their menu and specialty caffeinated concoctions.

To work another angle, I drifted into U.S. Government Accountability Office reports and a congressional mandated assessment on the current state of Veterans Affairs infrastructure (stimulating reading, by the way). For a conversation in the upcoming scene, I needed to search for terminology denoting the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of nonverbal communication (it’s kinesics). Obligatory hardware searches into the Army’s next generation rifle followed, so as to give my sentries the latest in available weaponry.

Do you know what corner of the U.S. government handles experimental web hosting? Yeah, neither did I. To facilitate the ensuing conversation resulting from the kinesics dialogue, I then went diving for that little nugget. Turns out there’s a whole organization called the Defense Information Systems Agency. Who knew?

The set up for a character introduction turned into looking up the various departments within the FBI, most notably what would be considered Internal Affairs for the Bureau. However, as I wanted this character to be a woman of Israeli-American descent, I then ventured into dual citizenship requirements between the two countries, which chained into female combat positions within the IDF, which prompted a prolonged search for a PDF copy of a Krav Maga combatives manual, and ultimately landed me in a search for the top ten most beautiful Israeli women in the world to model my character’s appearance after (I can assure you that any lingering on this last search parameter was purely for character development).

To make a comparison to turbulence, I wanted to reference a mechanical bull. My next search was, “Average mechanical bull ride times for beginners.” However, to accurately place the bull in Derek’s backstory, I had to spend the next few minutes venturing into the location of the USMC’s School of Infantry. After finding it was Camp Lejeune, I had to then research what the School of Infantry’s weekend liberty policy was, to see if it was even feasible that a young boot Derek would be allowed to venture into a bar in nearby Jacksonville, North Carolina to witness and/or participate in a mechanical bull ride.

Since I had now introduced turbulence during a flight – a flight involving a prisoner transfer – further down the tunnel I went. Stick with me here. I started with the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System utilized by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This turned into research on the aircraft assets available internally to the Department of Justice, which subsequently led back to another GAO report on the misappropriation of DOJ aircraft (again, riveting stuff).

Thus ruling out the government’s air transportation, I turned to researching the types, range, passenger capacity, and cost of chartered private jets. These planes had to then be cross-referenced with the size of the airport in the town I picked in Michigan, plus the nautical miles necessary to travel to New Jersey, to ensure that the jet I chose would both have the fuel to make the trip and capability to land on the runways in both locations.

Having arrived at the end of my three and a half hour writing session, I saw that the research rabbit hole had allowed me to produce a whopping 309 words. However, they were 309 highly detailed and accurate words that lent themselves to not only authenticity, but also critical and convincing components to the story. Do I wish I had put more down that day? Sure. Do I regret spending that much time burrowing? Not at all.

This is how I like to write. It’s the level of exactness I want to get to. Sure, some details could be fictionalized. I could easily extend the runway in my Michigan town if I needed to. Things like that fall in the reasonable suspension of disbelief all the time, and I make allowances for them when necessary. But for the others, the ones that shouldn’t be glossed over, this is the pursuit that in my humble opinion, takes a story from good to great.

So yeah, stop worrying about time spent searching. Go ahead and follow the rabbit to that elusive tidbit. This session might have only been 309 words, but having done the work, future sessions would be in the thousands. If it’s your style, look for those details until it makes your writing pop and your heart content. Just make sure you don’t branch off (at least not too much).

Gal Gadot is quite distracting. I get it.

Click below to pre-order your copy of The Infiltrator, available April 23rd, 2024!

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Space(fam) Jam! L. M. Sagas on Found Family in Space

cascade failure by l m sagasHere at the Tor Blog, we’re pretty good at lists. It’s kind of our bread and butter, and since (as stated) we’re decent listicle chefs, we add all the culinary accoutrements when we cook a bread’n’butter listicle.  That’s very convoluted, but suffice to say: we are impressed with the listicle of spacefaring found families put together by L. M. Sagas, author of Cascade Failure, a science fiction adventure novel that is out today! So check out this list, and then check out L. M. Sagas’ book. Then read more listicles and more books. Reading is good!

by L. M. Sagas

Fantasy, mystery, horror—for my money, found family’s a top-tier trope in any genre. But as you might’ve guessed from the title, there’s one take on this classic trope that’s especially near and dear to my heart: found families in space

I’m not quite sure if it’s the sheer variety of folks (and folk-like humanoids, organisms, and assorted extraterrestrials) you see coming together from the far reaches of the universe, or the delightful volatility of cramming them all in a high-tech soda can for long periods of time and shaking them up ’til it pops. Maybe it’s C, all of the above, and a secret third thing besides. Whatever it is, something about a spacefam just hits different—especially when it’s full of mismatched pieces that shouldn’t work but do

My upcoming novel, Cascade Failure, follows the adventures (and misadventures) of just such a spacefam. But the crew of the Ambit isn’t the first ragtag bunch of misfits to cobble together a home among the stars. Here’s a list of some (but by no means all!) of my favorite spacefaring found families across different books and television. 

the long way to a small angry planet by becky chambersThe Wayfarer Crew from Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers Series

If you’re on the hunt for a heartfelt, hopeful, and occasionally hilarious example of a space-based found family with members from all walks of interstellar life, look no further than Rosemary Harper and the motley crew of the Wayfarer. They’ve got humans and Aandrisks and Harmagians (oh my!), and a few more species and subspecies besides, and each one brings their own needs, their own perspectives, and their own culture to life aboard that charming little vessel. And as awesome as each character is on their own, what I really love about this story is the way they interact with each other—the bits and pieces of themselves they share, the accommodations they make for one another, the respect that they have (even if there are a few hiccups along the way). It takes this great, sprawling universe and makes it feel small in the best possible way. And did I mention it’s cozy? Because it’s super cozy. 

the last watch by j s dewesThe Sentinels from J.S. Dewes’ The Divide Series

There are few things I enjoy more than a bunch of stubborn, self-reliant smartasses who absolutely do not need to rely on other people, being forced into a situation where—you guessed it—they really need to rely on other people. That’s exactly what you get with The Divide series, with some wicked-fun flourishes along the way. You start off with the Sentinels, a crew of outcasts from wildly varied backgrounds who are stuck together playing Night Watch (for you Game of Thrones fans out there) at the end of the universe, and they all seem pretty happy to keep themselves to themselves—at least, as much as they can, living together on a ship in the outer reaches of space. 

But when the rubber meets the road—or, in this case, when the semi-retired warship meets the ever-compressing boundaries of the universe—they all have to scrunch their eyes, pinch their noses, and take that Big Scary Leap into trusting each other, and the relationships that bloom from that choice turn that outcast, misfit crew into a bona fide found family you can’t help cheering for. Warning: it may also leave you craving veggie pie. 

the vanished birds by simon jimenezNia and Ahro from Simon Jimenez’s The Vanished Birds 

Everyone loves a good “unlikely adoptive parent” story (that’s right, we’re looking at you, Pedro Pascal’s Collecting Magical Orphans Cinematic Universe), and the duo I lovingly call the “Flute Fam” hits all my favorite notes (pun intended). Nia definitely isn’t the first person anyone would pick to take in a lost kid, much less a mysterious, musical lost kid with bucketsful of trauma and a future that could fundamentally change the way humanity experiences the universe. But slowly, through trial and error and the judicious use of food-bribes and humor, she and little (and then eventually not-so-little) Ahro fumble and feel their way to a profound bond that reshapes both of their lives, and the lives of those around them.

leviathan wakes by james s a coreyThe Crew of the Rocinante from The Expanse Series by duo James S.A. Corey

Families can be messy, and I think that’s true of found families, too. To me, that’s one of the most appealing things about the crew of the Rocinante (both in the book series and the television show): the messiness. From Holden’s occasionally ill-fated idealism to Amos’s, erm, nonchalant approach to violence, each of the characters comes with their own rough edges, and they don’t always fit so smoothly together. But those moments of tension are just as compelling as the moments when everything gels, and when you put them all together, it paints such a visceral, relatable picture of life and love in the crucible of space that it’s got a permanent spot on my list of favs.  

the killjoys by syfy season 1 promotional image, which includes three characters with weapons walking out of bright light coolyTeam Awesome Force from Killjoys

Confession time: if you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know that part of this found fam is also technically fam fam, since the brothers Jaqobis are actually brothers. But nevertheless, I stand by this pick, because it’s a witty, gritty, bombastically optimistic example of one of my favorite aspects of the trope: putting your ass on the line for the family you choose. Across flashbacks and character arcs and an array of major and minor cataclysms, you get to see so many moments where each of these characters—Dutch, Johnny, D’avin, even Lucy-the-ship-AI—look at each other and roll their eyes and go, yeah, sure, I’d die for that idiot, because no matter how much they screw with each other, nobody had better screw with them. And I just think that’s beautiful. 

That’s it for the list! There’s definitely plenty more out there to choose from, and if you’ve got some to add, please drop a comment and share. And for more spacefam fun (and feels!), don’t forget to check out my book, Cascade Failure, on sale now!

Order Cascade Failure Here!

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Queer Robots & Real Love: TJ Klune Talks In the Lives of Puppets

in the lives of puppets by tj kluneLast year, TJ Klune’s In the Lives of Puppets released to tremendous acclaim. This year, it’s releasing in paperback, making this story of queer robots and real love available to new readers! TJ’s here to talk his book and explain how he’s going to make you fall in love with a vacuum cleaner named Rambo.

Check it out!

Dear Reader,

Once upon a time, I took you to an island to find a home where one should not exist. After, I invited you to a mysterious tea shop where the living helped the dead find meaning and purpose, joy and acceptance.

For my next trick, I’m going to make you fall in love with a vacuum cleaner named Rambo.

Okay, wait. Let me back up a minute.

I am so thrilled to present In the Lives of Puppets, a queer retelling of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. In the following pages, you’ll be going on an adventure unlike anything you’ve seen from me before. Though this story deals with robotics, androids and machines of all shapes and sizes, it is firmly rooted in fantasy, a fable that explores the ideas of kindness, humanity, and forgiveness, including who has the right to forgive.

This book is not The House in the Cerulean Sea. This book is not Under the Whispering Door. There is no stuffy, bland middlemanager bureaucrat in need of a wake-up call or an attorney who finds life after death. There is no island to discover, no tea shop to make a home. This is the story of an already happy family who built each other up and carved out their place in the world. And this time I’m taking their home away from them. I’m sending them on a journey across a strange and dangerous country to save one of their own and fight to reclaim the happiness they worked so hard to build together.

But in this journey, you will find hints of the familiar: love, life, and the hope for a better future, all wrapped up in a story of loyalty in the face of betrayal and how even the smallest of us can make a difference when called upon to do so. It is also about the heart and soul of Victor Lawson—the main character, and the only human of the bunch. Though he was raised by machines, I set out to show that Victor’s humanity could not be denied, that it wasn’t something that needed to be justified or earned. It just is, and in this unforgiving place, it counts for something. Perhaps everything.

But Vic won’t be going it alone. He will have his friends with him: Rambo, the vacuum who wants only to be loved (so you better get on that, no pressure). Nurse Ratched, a nursing machine who has a few of her wires crossed, sadistically so. And a machine with a dark past. A robot with secrets locked away in his head. An android with blood on his hands and a heart in his chest: Hap, also known as the Hysterically Angry Puppet.

Together, they must do the impossible: travel to the soulless heart of this world and bring the last member of their family home. And in doing so, they will learn the truth about the past, the present, and the future of all things.

Are you ready for an adventure?

TJ Klune

Order In the Lives of Puppets in Paperback Here!

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The Thrill of a Science-Based Thriller: By Michael C. Grumley

Deep FreezeFrom the bestselling author of the Breakthrough seriesIn his next near-future thriller, Michael C. Grumley explores humanity’s thirst for immortality—at any cost…

The accident came quickly. With no warning. In the dead of night, a precipitous plunge into a freezing river trapped everyone inside the bus. It was then that Army veteran John Reiff’s life came to an end. Extinguished in the sudden rush of frigid water.

There was no expectation of survival. None. Let alone waking up beneath blinding hospital lights. Struggling to move, or see, or even breathe. But the doctors assure him that everything is normal. That things will improve. And yet, he has a strange feeling that there’s something they’re not telling him.

As Reiff’s mind and body gradually recover, he becomes certain that the doctors are lying to him. One-by-one, puzzle pieces are slowly falling into place, and he soon realizes that things are not at all what they seem. Critical information is being kept from him. Secrets. Supposedly for his own good. But who is doing this? Why? And the most important question: can he keep himself alive long enough to uncover the truth?

Deep Freeze is a fast-paced, pulse-pounding story that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Read below to see Michael’s take on science-based thrillers and why they’re so exciting to write!

By Michael C. Grumley:

There is something truly exciting about writing science-based thrillers.  Of course, many great genres exist, but technothrillers stand apart in a very interesting way.

Science-based technical thrillers are, at their core, idea-driven stories.  Naturally, all books have ideas in them.  New concepts or approaches to a particular situation or storyline.  Or perhaps a fresh perspective or viewpoint on how a story is told.  All interesting and completely valid.  But what makes technothrillers different is that most are told from the cutting edge of human existence.

It’s been estimated that up until the nineteenth century, the whole of human knowledge doubled nearly every century.  It is a staggering thought, perhaps not entirely surprising, when we consider the steady human progress that eventually led to the Industrial Revolution.  It changed everything.  But then came the Information Revolution.  Originally born with the invention of the transistor, the information revolution really took hold in the 1980s, when the computer industry made data not just easier to store but also infinitely easier to access.  And from there, the cutting edge of technology absolutely exploded.

By 1982, the great Buckminster Fuller noted that all of human knowledge was no longer doubling every century; it was now doubling every 18 months!  That was in 1982!  But now, after decades of technological advance after technological advance, the “knowledge-doubling curve” has also rapidly accelerated.  Instead of every 18 months, people like David Schilling believe our knowledge now doubles in less than a day!  Particularly following the advent of supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI).

So, back to science-based thrillers.  Why are they so exciting to write?  Because the actual science and groundbreaking abilities these stories are based on are now being discovered almost daily.

And that’s why it’s so exciting to write them.  Writing stories that are both character-driven AND idea-driven.  Stories that not only delve into aspects of our humanity and human struggle but do so in a world so fascinating that humanity itself begins to change based on the advancements directly in front of us.

For example, how would humanity change not just with the idea but with the genuine possibility of extremely long lifespans or immortality?  How would humanity’s priorities change?  Or the way we see the world around us?  What happens to everything when death begins to feel a little less… inevitable?

Until now, these were just fun mental exercises.  Fantasies to ponder over dinner and a glass of wine or a fireside chat while staring up at the stars.  But how does the fantasy change when the idea of immortality is suddenly in the present?  You may not know this, but a LOT of fascinating research is being done on life extension and elimination of chronic disease.  Fascinating research that feels almost outlandish until you remember that our knowledge is still doubling.  Again and again.  Not in centuries, not in months, but now in days.

The other day, I was thinking about how human ‘storytelling’ evolved over the millennia.   How instrumental and integral it has been throughout all of history.  How pervasive it’s been and still is in all cultures and all walks of life.  And then it suddenly occurred to me.  Storytelling is not something that happens occasionally.  It’s not a ‘here or there’ occurrence.  Storytelling happens constantly.  Not just every day but in every sentence we speak.  In every conveyance from one person to another.  No matter what the topic.  Everything we say to one another is basically a story of some kind.

So, then the question becomes, what are the most interesting stories?  What are the most exciting things to talk about?  Obviously, it varies depending on where we are at any given moment.  But the question reminds me of an old quote from Eleanor Roosevelt.  She once said, “Bright minds talk about ideas.  Average minds talk about things.  And simple minds talk about people.”

And again, we come back to technothrillers.  Stories whose foundations are based on real technology, real science, and real ideas.  Stories and ideas that focus not on what has already happened but, more interestingly, what is very likely about to happen.  Good, bad, and ugly.  Which, when combined with human nature, becomes truly interesting.

What would the good, bad, and ugly be if human lifespans were dramatically lengthened?  Or what if computers became so powerful that our race could no longer discern what was real?  Or if Artificial Intelligence soon accelerated our ‘knowledge-doubling’ to hours or even minutes?

Because these are the things that technothriller authors are currently writing about.

Now you’re ready for DEEP FREEZE.

Click below to pre-order your copy of Deep Freeze, available January 9th, 2024!

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Cory Doctorow: The Swerve

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the lost cause by cory doctorowby Cory Doctorow

Dystopia isn’t a setting – it’s a vibe. There’s nothing dystopian about depicting a world where things are breaking down. Things break down. Assuming things won’t break down doesn’t make you an optimist – it makes you a dangerous asshole. “Things won’t break down” is the thinking that leads to “so the Titanic doesn’t need lifeboats.”

Dystopia is a society where things are breaking down – and no one will lift a finger to fix it.

My next novel, The Lost Cause, is set in the midst of a spiraling climate crisis punctuated by mass death from zoonitic plagues, floods, wildfires, and drought. Tens of millions of Americans have become internal refugees, their hometowns wiped off the map.

It is a utopian novel.

What makes this novel of a world in worsening calamity, attended by unimaginable human suffering, “utopian?”

Simple: they’re doing something about it.

In July 2022, I wrote the following for my column in Locus magazine:

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

We’re all trapped on a bus.

The bus is barreling towards a cliff.

Beyond the cliff is a canyon plunge any of us will be lucky to survive.

Even if we survive, none of us know how we’ll climb out of that deep canyon.

Some of us want to yank the wheel.

The bus is going so fast that yanking the wheel could cause the bus to roll.

There might be some broken bones.

There might be worse than broken bones.

The driver won’t yank the wheel.

The people in expensive front row seats agree.

“Yank the wheel? Are you crazy? Someone could break a leg!”

We say, “But there’s a cliff! We’re going to go over the cliff! We’re going to die!”

“Nonsense,” they say. “Long before we go over the cliff, we’ll have figured out how to put wings on this bus.”

We argue.

They add, “Besides, who’s to say we’ll fall off the cliff? Maybe we’ll be going so fast that we leap the canyon. Fonzie did it! Calm down. Hey! Keep your hands off the wheel? What are you, a terrorist? Don’t you dare do that again. Someone could get really badly hurt.”

The climate emergency is real and we are living through it. As I write this, I’ve emailed some writer friends in the southwest to ask if the fires threaten them or their homes. One hasn’t answered yet. The other wrote back to say they’re fine, but what about the wildfires near my house?

Oh, I wrote. We’re fine. So far. California is in for a hell of a wildfire season. It’s dry out there. It’s an emergency. Officially.

(It was an emergency before, but that was unofficial)

We’re not acting like it’s an emergency. In mid-May, The Guardian reported a bombshell: a series of planned “carbon bombs” – large-scale oil and gas projects that will “shatter the 1.5C climate goal.” The war in Ukraine has the world scrambling for winter heat – for sources of oil and gas, that is, not renewable alternatives.

Of course not. The only way for renewables to replace Russian oil and gas this coming winter is for Europe to have retooled around sustainable heating: a mix of beefed up insulation, heat pumps, and mass power storage. Those are long projects. We knew we’d need them decades ago, but we kicked the can down the road, and further down the road, and further.

Incredibly, climate denial still festers. “There’s no cliff,” they insist. “This bus is on a smooth road that goes all the way to the promised land. Only a fool would swerve now.”

The good news is: climate denial is on the wane. The bad news is: deniers have pivoted to incrementalism: “We’ll fix the climate. Give us a couple decades to phase out oil and gas. Give us a couple decades to replace the cars and retrofit the houses. Give us a couple decades to invent cool direct-air carbon capture systems, or hydrogen cars that work just like gas cars, or to replace our overland aviation routes with high speed rail, or to increase our urban density and swap out cars for subways and buses. Give us a couple decades to keep making money. We’ll get there.”

In other words: “We’re pretty sure we can get some wings on this bus before it goes over the cliff. Keep your hands off the wheel. Someone could get really badly hurt.”

People are already getting really badly hurt, and it’s only going to get worse. We’re poised to break through key planetary boundaries – loss of biosphere diversity, ocean acidification, land poisoning – whose damage will be global, profound and sustained. Once we rupture these boundaries, we have no idea how to repair them. None of our current technologies will suffice, nor will any of the technologies we think we know how to make or might know how to make.

These boundaries are the point of no return, the point at which it won’t mat­ter if we yank the wheel, because the bus is going over the cliff, swerve or no.

Focus on the swerve.

Believe it or not, the swerve is a happy ending. This is a hopeful article. Here’s what I hope we can do: I hope we can swerve.

A couple decades ago, the swerve might have been avoid­able. It was 1977 when Exxon’s own scientists concluded that their products would render the planet uninhabitable for humans. Exxon knew. They buried the research and paid for denial.

George H.W. Bush came into office in 1988 as the “Environ­mental President.” He campaigned on “conven[ing] a global conference on the environment at the White House. It will include the Soviets, the Chinese… The agenda will be clear. We will talk about global warming.” By 1992, he abandoned the idea of the US retooling to avert the catastrophe. “The American way of life,” he told the Rio Earth Summit, “is not up for negotiations. Period.”

If we’d started in 1977, we might have paid some civil engineers to build a bridge over the cliff. In 1988, it was still entirely possible. In 1992, the option was still there.

Today, time has run out for bridges.

All we’ve got left is the swerve.

We’ve got to seize the wheel of the bus. We’ve got to plunge past the first-class passengers in the front rows of the bus, and we have to yank the wheel. We have to swerve.

The bus will roll over. It won’t be nice. We will probably have to abandon some of our most beautiful coastal cities and towns. We will probably have to retool our industries in haste, and commandeer our factories to build new energy tech instead of consumer tchotchkes – the way we ordered factories to produce vaccines and PPE last year.

I don’t know what the first-class passengers were thinking. Some of them will be dead of natural causes before the bus goes over the cliff, and they didn’t want to sacrifice any of their material comforts to ensure that the rest of us continued to live once they passed on, I suppose.

Others are just ideologically committed to traveling in a straight line. The swerve is morally bankrupt. It’s communism. The only way to get over the cliff – if such a thing exists – is to floor the bus. Go as fast as possible. Leap the gorge! The Fonz did it, right?

The swerve is our hopeful future. Our happy ending isn’t averting the disas­ter. Our happy ending is surviving the disaster. Managed retreat. Emergency measures.

In the swerve, we’ll still have refugee crises, but we’ll address them hu­manely, rather than building gulags and guard-towers.

We’ll still have wildfires, but we’ll evacuate cities ahead of them, and we’ll commit billions to controlled burns.

We’ll still have floods, but we’ll relocate our cities out of floodplains.

We’ll still have zoonotic plagues as animals flee their disappearing habitat, but we’ll apply the lessons of COVID to them.

We’ll still have mass extinctions, but we’ll save the species we can, and we’ll prioritize habitat restoration as a way of preserving our horizontal broth­ers and sisters (as Muir called animals) and as a way of putting the climate back in balance.

We’ll swerve. The bus will roll. It will hurt. It will be terrible.

But we won’t be dead on canyon floor.

We’ll fix the bus. We’ll make it better. We’ll get it back on its wheels. We’ll get a better driver, and a better destination.

That’s our happy ending. That’s our hopeful future.

We gotta get ahold of that wheel first. You ready?

Let’s roll.

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That’s what the people of The Lost Cause are doing. Through hard work and hard fighting, they create the historical contingency that allows them to call themselves “the first generation in a century that does not fear the future.”

They have embraced a muscular Green New Deal that treats the emergency with the gravitas and urgency it demands. They have embarked upon a 300-year project to relocate coastal cities inland, above the rising seas’ new level. They infill their cities, making space for refugees, who are welcomed as more hands and more minds to turn to surviving the crisis. They have grabbed the wheel and they’re swerving.

Of course, not everyone is happy about this. Those first class passengers, the ones who insisted that there was no cliff, that they’d figure out how to attach wings to the bus, that if the bus went fast enough it could leap the gorge? They’re furious – and they’re rich, and they have an army of followers who see things getting worse and blame the people who are working to make them better.

This counter-revolution is a powerful alliance of domestic white nationalist militias and seagoing anarcho-capitalist wreckers, determined to snatch defeat from victory’s jaws.

The Lost Cause is a novel about what we do with the losers of a just revolution. It is a story about fierce comradeship on both sides, and the special problems of winning the fight.

Cory Doctorow is a regular contributor to the GuardianLocus, and many other publications. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an MIT Media Lab Research Associate and a visiting professor of Computer Science at the Open University. His award-winning novel Little Brother and its sequel Homeland were New York Times bestsellers. His novella collection Radicalized was a CBC Best Fiction of 2019 selection. Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Los Angeles.

Pre-order The Lost Cause Here!

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The Art of Projections by S. E. Porter

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projections by porter

S. E. Porter is an artist and author, often together. Today, she’s here with us to talk some about her upcoming novel Projections, and to share artwork tied to pivotal moments from the story. These pieces are currently on display at the Delight Factory in Brooklyn until November 18 as part of her art show.

Check it out!

by S. E. Porter

There’s an odd problem that can arise while writing a book, or soon after finishing it. Sometimes the story and the images blazing through it refuse to be contained by the pages. Instead characters or scenes keep floating up like ghosts. They shapeshift, but remain recognizable. It’s like a dream that won’t dissipate with waking, but plays on as a transparent veil across the ordinary world.

The images from Projections stayed with me, twisting and reforming, long after I’d handed in my final draft. My story about the ghost of a murdered girl stuck to her killer, and implacably seeking revenge against him over the course of centuries, pulled the neat trick of haunting its author. My long, strange historical fantasy novel apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy the ghost of Catherine Bildstein. She wanted more from me.

Eventually I tried another strategy for placating her ghost, and began putting some of the book’s imagery into mixed-media artwork. And if it hasn’t been quite enough to send Catherine and her worlds to sleep, it’s at least calmed them down.

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significance is expounded

Catherine is a young girl in the middle of 19th century western New York: the center of its era’s radical movements, especially Spiritualism. It’s hard to grasp now just how revolutionary Spiritualism was; its passionate history has vanished behind a century of portrayals of the Spiritualists as a pack of vicious frauds, preying on grieving parents. There was certainly plenty of grief to exploit: roughly half the children born then died before their fifth birthdays.

Calvinism had blithely condemned those dead children to hell. Spiritualism came along and upended that idea, creating a cosmology where the kids were just fine. There were frauds involved, especially as the 19th century wore on, but there was also a gigantic fuck you to a cruel and pervasive dogma.

There’s a scene in Projections where Catherine attends a séance, and I did quite a bit of research into what séances were like. The girl in this picture, with her head thronged by ghosts and her hands spread on the séance table, is almost Catherine—Catherine a moment before a strange voice spills over her lips and calls itself by a dead girl’s name.

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The Empty Room

significance is expounded upon by the author in the text beneath

The popular image of the 19th century as a prim and placid era is wildly mistaken. There was tremendous ferment, as movements for abolition, women’s rights, and new religions sent the old certainties reeling. Where before the spirits of the dead were believed to stay safely in heaven or hell, Spiritualism proposed a haunted world, one whose ghosts were as close and intimate as skin.

My Catherine ultimately rejects both Spiritualism and her father’s Christianity. But like everyone in her era, she confronts this newly haunted world. Like the young Victorian woman in this image, entering a room and finding all the furniture hovering in midair, Catherine faces the intrusion of uncanny forces—long before she becomes a ghost herself.

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a piece of significance is expounded upon by the author in the text beneath

After her childhood-friend-turned-stalker, Gus, murders Catherine, her ghost loses the ability to speak. Her voice is consumed by an unending scream—but her mind remains intact, even while everyone around her regards her as a senseless ghoul. Gus objectifies her to the point of exploiting her ghost as a kind of magical battery.

The young Victorian woman in this image is another stand-in for Catherine. Her eyes lowered, her body diagrammed like a cow in a butcher’s shop, but with memories of her childhood bleeding through, she, like Catherine, is seeking agency against all odds.

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a piece of avant-garde art porter significance is expounded upon by the author in the text beneath

Shortly before her murder, Catherine travels with two Spiritualist friends to see the Great Blondin cross Niagara Falls on his tightrope. Blondin, balanced in this image above a cataract of faces, was a sensational daredevil who crossed Niagara repeatedly. Unlike modern funambulists, he used no net or line, and any slip would have been fatal.

Catherine, Thomas, and Reverend Skelley go to see Blondin’s first performance, when he sat down on his rope at the midpoint, hauled up a bottle of wine from the boat Maid of the Mist, and toasted the crowd. In his subsequent crossings, Blondin increased the difficulty of the feat in increasingly bizarre ways such as pushing a wheelbarrow, or carrying his terrified manager on his back. He was so surefooted that the crowd eventually grew bored and diminished, even as he kept adding to the spectacle.

This image of him, though, is taken from his first triumphant crossing. Catherine is watching in the crowd, never suspecting that she has only days left to live.

S. E. Porter is the author of Projections, forthcoming from Tor 2/13/24. The images in this piece were taken from her show Séance, on display at the Delight Factory in Brooklyn through 11/18/23 More works from the show can be viewed here.

Pre-order Projections Here!

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We Asked R. R. Virdi, Is a Snake a Dragon? 

Cover for The First Binding by R. R. VirdiThe First Binding by R.R. Virdi is the hugely epic opener to the Tales of Tremaine series, and now it’s available in paperback! A while back, Virdi wrote a thoughtful article on whether snakes are dragons as a feature for Dragon Week 4: Dragons 4Ever, and we’re bringing that back, because this is hard-hitting, important fantasy fiction analysis.

By R.R. Virdi

Are snakes dragons?

It sounds like an easy question. A rather straightforward yes or no. Snakes are snakes. Dragons are dragons.



About that.

Let’s look at what makes a dragon, well, a dragon? If you take a look at the most famous common kind, the European dragon, they’ve got pretty similar appearances throughout western mythos. And it makes sense. They’re a culmination of things humanity feared long ago all morphed into one creature.

They have the necks and facial appearances of giant serpents, armored scales, horizontally slit pupils with molten gold eyes the color of greed and avarice. Sharp teeth, and they breathe fire, something we’ve long been fascinated with, and is also terrifyingly destructive. The wings of a bat, and claws as sharp and curved as lions’. They’re the ultimate monster, most of the time. And maybe that’s where we should take our look of dragons.

What makes a monster? What are their roles in stories?

Historically speaking, they’re obstacles. They’re the big the hero has to face off and defeat to accomplish some goal, be it rescuing the princess, or in some myths, freeing a much needed river from a serpent blocking it.

Many serpents in mythology have been likened to dragons, and certainly so when we head eastwards to the Asiatic dragons. One such serpent, dragon, or obstacle, if you will, is Vritra—the headed dragon-serpent of Vedic mythology. This serpent demon held the waters of the world held hostage and blocked by its body and greed until Indra, the Vedic god of storms, sky, lightning, and rains, battled the three-headed serpent. In the end, Indra was victorious and killed the demon-snake with a club imbued with the properties of a thunderbolt. There’s another similar battle between a great worldly serpent in the waters being bested by another storm god using a weapon holding all the powers of thunder in its head.

But for this deed, Indra was gifted a new name. A name that meant two things: Slayer of Vritra, and slayer of First Born Dragons.

Vritra, the three-headed serpent, was accounted a dragon then and there. When you go back far enough in mythology, the oldest of dragons in many cultures were closer to serpents than the winged beasts we often think of. And many fictional story worlds follow this convention too. In the world of Middle Earth, Glaurung, was the father of dragons.

But this beast was closer to a worm or serpent with legs than what his later descendants would come to be. Creatures such as Ancalagon the Black, the greatest and largest of all dragons to ever be birthed in Middle Earth. A winged monster so great he dwarfed mountains.

Regardless of their shape, though, all dragons/snakes served similar purposes in mythology: obstacles.

So I guess the question of whether snakes/serpents are dragons really does come down to, do they act as dragons? Do they serve the same purpose in the story?

In the Epic of Beowulf, the “dragon” is often also described as a serpent, or a worm. And while some instances mention the fire breathing aspects, some also mention the venomous bite. All throughout stories, serpents have been often interchangeable with dragons, which might be evidence in and of itself that they are the same things. Or, at least, that dragons comes from serpents, if that weren’t already obvious in their appearance.

A dragon in a story historically is the antagonist. Is that always true, especially today? No. But for their history, they were something to be defeated. Not for the sake of doing so, but they were already in a place of opposition to the needs of innocent people. They were hoarding needed wealth, demanding human sacrifices, or keeping natural resources from the populace.

In the FromSoftware game, Sekiro, a dragon comes to their land from off far away and throws off the natural process of life and death, allowing for something close to immortality and rebirth for a select few…

All at the cost of perverting the balance of things and spreading a disease known as dragonrot. The world is festering with it and people suffer. This dragon resembles the Asiatic design of dragons, closer to serpents than the European counterparts. But before you ever get to fight this great beast, you must navigate a frozen valley guarded by a monstrous white serpent closer to a giant viper than a dragon. But it may as well be a dragon, because at this point in the story, it is most certainly an obstacle.

One you’re not equipped to defeat. Only to survive.

But until that point in the game, you are only to evade this monstrous serpent that blocks your path, and do your best to come back at a later time to claim its heart. But if you dig into the lore of this creature, you’ll realize it serves another similar role to dragons. This serpent claimed sacrifices. There is a little tent in where offerings of people were left for the beast to claim. There are hidden stories you can piece together letting you know people offered members of their clans or villages up to these giant white serpents.

Sounds very similar to dragons.

Maybe, like many things throughout history, dragons have just changed shape, and their names. Nothing more.

As time’s gone on, and more media continues to birth new stories, we’ve come to classify all kinds of dragons with new names: wyrms, wyverns, drakes, amphitheres, lindworms, and so on. But the truth remains: they were serpents first, and I suppose, they’re serpents still.

So long as they exist to be something standing in the way of your protagonists, they’re all dragons, and when we have existing series where dragon can even be a mantle, or a title, that any old vanilla mortal can claim, well, I guess dragons really as mutable as the fires they breathe.

Perhaps the real dragons are the snakes…we met along the way?

Is that giant three-hundred foot long serpent blocking your mountain pass? Well, that’s a dragon. That fire breathing wingless, legless, snake that’s burning your favorite kebab place down? That, my friends, is a dragon.

That jerkwad who cut you off in his dinged up 1990’s Toyota Previa (that should have long fallen apart due to the tolls of time, never mind his accidents) with his peeling Whitesnake decals all over his doors?

Yeah, I suppose that’s a dragon too.

I guess the takeaway is: all obstacles can be dragons, but not all snakes are dragons? But some snakes are dragons, so long as they’re obstacles. But not all obstacles are snakes.

See, it’s easy!

So, are snakes dragons? I guess…it depends.

But they can be, and that’s the pretty nifty thing about fantasy. Anything can be a dragon if you work hard enough to make it so.

Note for all the danger noodle owners in the world: yes, your sweet little reptiles can also be dragons – the bestest of dragons.

R.R. Virdi is a two-time Dragon Award finalist, Nebula Award finalist, and USA Today Bestselling author. He is the author of two urban fantasy series, The Grave Report and The Books of Winter, as well as the epic fantasy novel The First Binding. His love of classic cars drove him to work in the automotive industry for many years before he realized he’d do a better job of maintaining his passion if he stayed away from customers.

He was born and raised in Northern Virginia and is a first generation Indian-American with all the baggage that comes with. He’s offended a long list of incalculable ancestors by choosing to drop out of college and not pursue one of three pre-destined careers: a lawyer, doctor, engineer. Instead, he decided to chase his dream of being an author. His family is still coping with this decision a decade later. He expects them to come around in another fifteen to twenty years.

Order The First Binding in Paperback Here

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Tending the Fire, Together: Community & Loneliness in Spec Fic

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sandymancer by david edison

Writers spend a lot of time alone in their own heads. David Edison is here to talk about the sometimes loneliness of writing, finding his community, and his new book, Sandymancer.

Check it out!

There’s a true myth that writers are solitary animals, and that our work takes place in some holy half-light of focus and flow. That’s bupkis.

Pick a writer—any writer! Now imagine them working. Is the scene cozy, or is it a busy one? Is there a cat on a shoulder, a dog in a lap? Tea, coffee, Mommy’s perfume scotch? Is there smoke from cigarettes, incense, or a fireplace? Are they in a room of their own?  

Are they alone in that room?

Writing and dreaming can both be lonely work. But unlike writing, there’s no workshop I know of that teaches you how to curate your dreams, or warns of the hungry quicksand that may swallow you whole if, by chance against chance, your dream comes true and you find yourself without a new dream to chase. That’s a lesson I learned after the fact, almost backward.

But almost everything that’s happened to me has happened backward, starting with gastrulation, when I was a 21 day-old embryo, and the cells that would become my organs failed to properly rotate, leaving me with mirror-imaged, inverted organs.  The inversion is imperfect—when I was ten, they disemboweled me to find my appendix.

I felt very alone in that cold, yellow-white room with its one blue blanket. Was I?

When, by hook and by crook, I hustled my way into an informational interview with the legendary editor-cum-agent Loretta Barrett, I had no idea that my career would begin as backward as my zygote did. This woman had hired Jackie Onassis to work at Doubleday, and now she wanted to read “the longest thing I had.” That was the first three chapters of The Waking Engine, which I had shelved in 2003 because I thought it too baroque and unwieldy.

“Finish the book and I’ll sell it.” Loretta disagreed, and who was I to argue? So I did, and she sold it to my dream publisher, the one whose craggy mount I had looked for on book spines since I was eight.

Hoo doggies, did I feel alone. Electric! Alive! Alone.

I never expected I’d need a new dream. Finishing a book, finding an agent, and selling that book to Tor seemed like a reasonably unattainable dream—I don’t fault myself for failing to plan ahead. I learned abruptly that whether our dream comes true or if it crashes like one of those scary race cars, what follows is exactly the same: something new that’s up to you. 

My advice?  Don’t just dream big—dream thoroughly. Dream with multiplicity. They’re dreams, so there’s no sense in limiting them. If I had allowed myself to look farther down that dream-road, I might have saved myself many headaches and at least one existential crisis.

More backwardness: It was only after Waking Engine was in revisions that I began to find a community of writers. I feared mere contact with other writers would destroy my confidence. Backward! With community came mentorship, and at the sage advice of Delia Sherman, I applied for the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Delia aptly pointed out that in my backwardness, I had skipped some basic “boot camp” elements of my writer’s education. I’d been in workshops since I was 15, but never at a professional level. My concept of POV, for instance, was woefully underdeveloped, and it’s only because of Delia’s one-on-one instruction that Waking’s sprawling, multiple POV characters weave together with any sense at all.

For the first time in my writing life, I didn’t feel quite so alone.

Clarion West changed me on a mitochondrial level.I don’t mean that it changed what I write, or even how I write—it’s hard to convey how intense those six weeks can be. It scraped out much stagnant bullshit and poured in distilled, peer-reviewed craftsmanship. I needed a few years afterward, to let that ultra-concentrated experience percolate through my subconscious.

I came out knowing what I needed to learn next. I was proud of Waking‘s complexity, but if I needed to learn anything, it was simplicity. So I set out to write a more simply-plotted story with a single POV character and a single narrative arc. (There is a minor second POV character, because I am a recovering abuser of embedded texts.)

I was not alone. Loretta passed away too early, my editor left Tor, and time passed as I wrestled with the choice to reboot my career—but for the first time, I had found My People.

That first day at Clarion West revealed the true treasure I would find there: community. Here were 18 people who had been the rockstar of every workshop they’d ever taken, and we instantly realized that we were in the company of…ourselves. We were the same Cylon model, under the skin, each of us nervously and beautifully embodying the writer’s core programming, which Octavia E. Butler so perfectly summarized: “an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”

Suddenly I could share in Usman T. Malik’s passion, which would win him well-earned awards. I could share in E. Lily Yu’s switchblade-sharp deconstructions, in Neon Yang’s joy and off-the-cuff, from-memory piano recitals. Jen Geisbrecht’s punchy snark and absurdly brilliant sentence structure. Malcom Devlin’s one-liners and haunting horror stories. Alix Solano’s laughter and siblingship. Helena Bell’s three-theme theory of storytelling, and her encyclopedic knowledge of where to submit your stories. Kelly Sandoval’s beautifully sweet soul that she reflects so perfectly in her writing. I’ll stop there, but you get the picture: it was a good time, and I’ve felt like a proud brother, watching my cohort earn and receive their accolades.

The lesson of community reverberates. During the final work on Sandymancer, I reveled in the collaboration between my editor, the cover and map artists, design, marketing: Claire Eddy; Sanaa Ali-Virani; Andreas Rocha, Rhys Davies; Julia Bergen; my local photographer, Blanca Parsiak, and more—all of these people and more were right there with me. They’ve told the story of Sandymancer with their insight, expertise, and artistry.

As for me? My crisis came and went. I wrote the novel that I needed to write, Sandymancer, and I learned the lessons that I set out to learn. Not one to repeat mistakes, I wrote the sequel with new lessons in mind. Will the risk be worth it? Will readers find it? 

I’ll find out. When I do, I may be isolated in a room of my own, but I will not be—and never was—alone.

by David Edison

David Edison was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. He currently divides his time between New York City and San Francisco. In other lives, he has worked in many flavors of journalism and is editor of the LGBTQ video game news site

…And he sleeps in unicorn corpses, tauntaun style.

Order Sandymancer Here!

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Meow, Baby! Cats in Science Fiction and Fantasy

starter villain by john scalziWe love cats and SFF and John Scalzi, and are thrilled to introduce all three today!

Check it out!

by John Scalzi

Hello, Tor/Forge blog readers! I have a new novel coming that recently released called Starter Villain, and if you’ve seen the cover—and what a cover!—then you may surmise that cats may play a significant role in the events of the story. That would be correct, and also, it would not be the first time that cats have been integral to the stories that science fiction and fantasy writers write and share with the world.

To make this point, below please find a curated selection of feline friends who pop up in science fiction and fantasy works across several media. Because, after all, cats are everywhere. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so once I offer up some of my favorites here, please add your own in the comments. Because you can never have too many cats!

JONESY THE CAT, from Alien (1979)

The more things change, the more things stay the same—cats were crew members on sailing ships in order to help control the vermin, and Jonesy had a similar role on the Nostromo, the massive cargo-hauling space ship in the film. Now, you might argue that Jonesy fell down on the job when he didn’t hunt down and snap the neck of the alien when it was still small and snake-like, but, look, a smart cat knows when to pick his battles. It’s not for nothing that Jonesy is only one of two survivors of that whole crew.

THE CAT, from Coraline (novella, 2002; film, 2009)

In science fiction and fantasy cats are often presumed to be able to walk between the real world and the wilder worlds of imagination, and that’s the case here, as the stray cat Coraline sees lurking about her house follows her through the secret door the leads to the seemingly-nice-but-then-not-at-all Other Mother and her intriguing, ultimately dangerous pocket universe. The cat and the Other Mother do not get along at all, a fact Coraline uses to her advantage at one point.

GOOSE THE FLERKEN, from Captain Marvel (2019)

Technically Goose is not a cat at all, but if an alien species looks like a cat, walks like a cat and meows like a cat, you can go ahead and call it a cat… at least until physics-defying tentacles fly out of its mouth and devour all those who threaten it. Which, you have to admit, is not something a cat can do—but absolutely IS something a cat would do, if it could. Go on, look at your cat. Tell me it wouldn’t. In an instant.

THE STRAY, from Stray (2022)

Would domesticated cats survive the human apocalypse? In the video game Stray, not only do cats survive, one of them actually manages to unravel the mystery of what happened to those disappeared humans, and why they left behind an entire subterranean city of helper robots. All while simply being a cat (and also, being helped by their very own robot, which is a nice boost if you can get it).

THE CAT, from Love Death + Robots (2019)

Speaking of apocalypses and robots, in the “Three Robots” episode of this animated anthology series, a trio of mechanized explorers visit the ruins of a city and see delights from the human era they’ve encountered before, like balls! And very old hamburgers! And rockets! And, of course, a cat, who decides to then accompany them on their adventures, because it’s cute and furry and harmless… or is it? In the third season of the series, the robots appear again, as does the cat, in the most unusual of places. Boy, whoever thought up this particular cat really must consider them evil geniuses or something.

There’s a starter list of cats in science fiction and fantasy. Add your own to the list in the comments! And check out Starter Villain, the novel, when it’s out on September 19. You won’t be disappointed in its cats, I promise you.


JOHN SCALZI is one of the most popular SF authors of his generation. His debut Old Man’s War won him the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. His New York Times bestsellers include The Last Colony, Fuzzy Nation, and Redshirts (which won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel), and 2020’s The Last Emperox. Material from his blog, Whatever, has also earned him two other Hugo Awards. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter. 

Order Starter Villain Here:

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God-King Troubles & Other Vibes: A Sandymancer Playlist

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sandymancer by david edison

World-building is not easy work! A lot of perspiration and imagination goes into the craft of creating a world and communicating it in novel form.

David Edison is one such tune-inspired world-creator, and he’s sharing with us the playlist of songs he’s selected to represent his new fantasy epic Sandymancer!

Check it out!


video source

by David Edison

Writing is an act of magic, and songs are spells, so it’s natural that they weave themselves together; for some writers—for me—music is an essential component of creativity. I need song-magic to lift me out of the world and into that dreamy liminal state of bliss called flow. Music transforms me from a typist to a pianist.  

I do usually write with a one-size-fits all playlist, which is mostly for driving the energy levels, focus, and active joy I need to sit down and work. I also put effort into project-specific playlists, which is a crackerjack way to procrastinate.

I make weird association—I do write Weird Fiction, after all—so there’s always a bit of psychosis apparent in my playlists. Such is the fate of the neurospicy. As I write, I jump around from scene to scene as my attention shifts and splits, and very often it’s a song that sparks a connection between one scene and another. For that reason, I usually shuffle my playlists—and I’d recommend doing so with this one. Arranging the songs just so sounds like a fantastic way to lose lots of time and sanity, and one never wants more than just a bit of insanity. For flavor.

I’ve plucked out some songs to fit with the vibe beats in Sandymancer, and broken them down—somewhat airily—into loose vibe categories. I hope the songs cast their spells and tempt you toward Sandymancer, but if all fails, hit shuffle and enjoy some light psychosis courtesy of an author and his spiciness.

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Vibe I: Sing the World into Being

This is the music that fleshes out the Land of the Vine—its lost hymns, naughty shanties, and somber dirges. Songs out of time. ‘Round these parts, some folk call it world-building.

  • “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
  • “Babylon” by David Carbonara
  • “The Wasteland” by Elton John
  • “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” by Neko Case

Vibe II: Hayseed Longing

A village so decrepit that it has no name, where dreams and boredom wallow together. These are songs of survival, of hardtack dreaming, and of rough beginnings.

  • “Beg Steal or Borrow” by Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs
  • “Daddy Lessons” by Beyonce
  • “Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos
  • “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” by Lou Rawls

Vibe III: God-King Troubles

Heal the world, break the world—you can’t please everyone. This music swells to tell the history of the Son of the Vine, the hidden sorrows and frustrations he so rarely shares.

  • “The Melting of the Sun” by St. Vincent
  • “Fire on Babylon” by Sinead O’Connor
  • “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana
  • “Congregation” by Low

Vibe IV: Grit and Teeth

Before a teenager stares down a (wicked?) long-dead god-king, she listens to these songs for courage. Truth is, Caralee could teach music a thing or two about courage herself.

  • “I Don’t Believe You” by Magnetic Fields
  • “Battle for the Sun” by Placebo
  • “No” by Emma Dean
  • “Teenage Hustling” by Tori Amos

Vibe V: Sass Regina

On the other hand, Caralee is a queen of self-possession.  These are the tunes rocking in her heart, the spunk that fuels her as-yet-unearned confidence.

  • “I’m A Lady (feat. Trouble Andrew)” by – Santigold
  • “Giddy Up” by Dragonette
  • “Strange Little Girl” by Tori Amos
  • “I Feel Lucky” by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Vibe VI: Heads Will Roll

Mistakes were made.  Lessons were learned.  When two unstoppable objects collide – and also cooperate – there are bound to be consequences both grave and grand.  Such is the case for both Caralee and the Son of the Vine.  These are songs of the phoenix in the fire, and also its rebirth.

  • “Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” by Sia
  • “A Favor House Atlantic” by Coheed and Cambria
  • “Take Me to Church” by Sinead O’Connor

Vibe VII: Magic is Magick is Science

These songs summon Power.  They fill the space with mystery, which is sacred.  They are the full-throated incantations that connect will to intention: the essence of all Magick.

  • “Hy-Brasil” by Allison Russel
  • “Bell, Book and Candle” by Eddi Reader
  • “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry
  • “Cantara” by Dead Can Dance
  • “Don’t Sweat the Technique” by Eric B. & Rakim

Vibe VIII: It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

Some theories hold that writers are actually human beings, and what’s more – some seem to enjoy being happy. These are sillier songs that are just as infused with meaning as their more sober counterparts above (Please refrain from drinking and driving until you get to heaven).

  •            “Everybody Drinks and Drives in Heaven” by Leslie Stevens
  •             “Still Alive” by Aperture Science Psychoacoustic Laboratories
  •             “No Rain” by Blind Melon
  •             “Missionary Man” by Eurythmics

David Edison was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. He currently divides his time between New York City and San Francisco. In other lives, he has worked in many flavors of journalism and is editor of the LGBTQ video game news site

…And he sleeps in unicorn corpses, tauntaun style.

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