BRB Writing a Book

By Shamus Posted Sunday Oct 22, 2017

Filed under: Notices 113 comments

The project started on September 10. I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t planning on writing a book. While I’ve wanted to write about this subject (artificial intelligence) for years, this particular story came out of nowhere. I’ve spent 35 days on the novel so far. (Saturdays don’t count. I never work Saturdays.) As of this writing, the book is 120,000 words long. That means I’ve been averaging 3,400 words a day.

This is a phenomenal pace for me. My Mass Effect series is about the same length, and that thing took me months. Same goes for Witch Watch. If I could write at this pace every day, I’d be able to give you 12 long-form articles a week. (Again, ignoring the fact that that I don’t write or post on Saturday.)

One of the strange things about writing this fast is that I never got to the “I’m so sick of this project I can’t stand to look at it anymore” phase. Which means I never went through the “this is garbage and I’ve just wasted months of my life” period. I haven’t entered the period of fatigue and self-doubt. I’m still enthusiastic about the project. Because I’m still in the honeymoon phase, I have this feeling like I’ve just completed the best writing of my life. It feels pretty good. I’m sure the crippling self-doubt will set in later, but for now I’m going to enjoy the unwarranted optimism.

What is it?

It’s a cyberpunk / noir / mystery thing. No, it’s not inspired by Blade Runner 2049, although I did see it in theaters and I really enjoyed it.

When is it coming out?

I have no idea. Editing is like debugging. It’s no fun, it takes longer than you expect, and no matter how much time you spend on it you’ll probably miss a bunch of stuff anyway.

I bring this up because the blog is running a little low on content. I’m used to having stuff queued up a few weeks in advance, but this coming week is the last of my prepared content. On Tuesday we’re going to have the Batman v. Superman post that accidentally went up for a couple of hours last week. I have the Borderlands stuff written, although the upcoming posts could really do with another editing passAnd if I work really hard, maybe I can remember to put the page break into one of them so it doesn’t all wind up on the front page.. I’m not playing any games so I don’t have anything to write about, even if I wasn’t pouring all my energy into the book.

I’m hoping I can finish the story before the blog runs dry, but this is a heads up that things might be a little thin around here. If some of the posts next week seem like they were dashed off at the last minute, it’s probably because exactly that.



[1] And if I work really hard, maybe I can remember to put the page break into one of them so it doesn’t all wind up on the front page.

From The Archives:

113 thoughts on “BRB Writing a Book

  1. Theoremancer says:

    Shamus, do you want a Steam code for Heat Signature? I think it’s something you’d dig, and it might inspire some blog content.

    1. Shamus says:

      I can’t possibly spare time to play it. On the other hand, it looks brilliant so… yes?

      1. DGM says:

        Maybe you could donate it to Spoiler Warning? I suspect Josh and Rutskarn could have a lot of fun with this.

      2. silver Harloe says:

        On the other hand, I wore it out of content in 6 hours, and out of steam achievements in 48.

        1. Daniel says:

          Damn you people with three hands! :-p

        2. etheric42 says:

          I started off enjoying it, but then it felt pretty repetitive fairly quickly. I mean, you clearly found it enjoyable enough to spend 48 hours on it, but do you disagree that it is very repetitive?

          1. silver Harloe says:

            Yeah, if it weren’t for the cheevos, I would’ve stopped after 6 hours or so. The first couple hours were super fun, but it fell off fast.

      3. Jeff says:

        Since when does having time to play matter when adding to your Steam library? Be like the rest of us and have hundreds of untouched games in the library. :P

      4. Theoremancer says:

        Sent. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the game when you find the time.

  2. Sartharina says:

    Sounds like Rutskarn needs to start writing another Let’s Play!

    1. MichaelGC says:

      If we all jack up his Patreon to like Jim Sterling levels then maybe he will do!:

      (More seriously, Rutskarn is also writing a novel – rather slower than Mr Young's breakneck speed! – and is putting it up on Patreon chapter by chapter (only two so far!) whilst also talking a little bit about the writing/editing process he goes through, which is fascinating.

      I mention this here as there always seems to be someone who would be interested, and who didn't know.)

  3. sheer_falacy says:

    Cyberpunk/noir/mystery with AI sounds pretty fun – looking forward to it.

  4. ccesarano says:

    I’m so excited to hear this. I really enjoyed The Witch Watch and have been waiting to see if you do another novel. Such good news.

  5. silver Harloe says:

    That’s a lot of words. Good luck!

  6. Henson says:

    Well, if you’re strapped for content, you can always do a “hey commenters, give your own story about X topic” thread.

    ‘What’cha all been playin’?!’

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well cuphead and his pal mugman
      they like to roll the dice!
      By chance they came
      on devils game
      and gosh they paid the price!

      And now theyre fighting
      for their lives
      on a mission fraught with dread!
      And if they proceed
      but dont suceed
      Well, the devil will take their heads!

      Other than that,some fracturing but wholing.

    2. Fade2Gray says:

      I finally sold my soul to Warframe. Thus far, I haven’t regretted the decision.

    3. Mark says:

      A Hat In Time. It is the most adorable thing you can imagine. Also just a really well put together game.

    4. lucky7 says:

      I tried and failed to play Aurora 4x and Dwarf Fortress.

      Considering downloading Cosmoteer again.

  7. David says:

    Yes, Yes, YES! I’ve enjoyed your other three books immensely, I’m sure this one will be great as well.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I really liked the one about a spaceship crash-landed on an alien world, even though it was only half-written by Shamus. That helper robot was the best – hopefully this new book will satisfy my need for robots / AI. :)

  8. Savage Wombat says:

    You know, I’ve never seen anyone publish a cyberpunk comedy. I always wondered about the satire potential there.

    1. Viktor says:

      Cyberpunk is, essentially, modern US society with corporate power, intrusive technology, and imbalance of wealth/lack of social mobility all magnified. There’s absolutely satiric potential there, just look at long Colbert or Pratchett were able to make careers out of criticizing those very power structures. But Shamus doesn’t do that sort of satire. That’s all very political, and Shamus doesn’t like being political and lacks the raw anger to his work that really good satirists use. I’m picturing something more like The Witch Watch, poking fun at Cyberpunk as a genre*. I’m still going to read it, and maybe he’ll surprise me, but this is the difference between Fury Road and Dunkirk.

      *Its still political to criticize the core elements of Cyberpunk, but it’s easier to ignore that fact if you don’t want to acknowledge it.

      1. Shamus says:

        For the curious:

        I didn’t want to make another story about Cyber-Americas or Neo-York or whatever. I wanted to make one about something that’s basically a city-state, where the major powers in the world are far away and not entirely understood by the main characters. But if you’re from the US and you make a story about a deeply dysfunctional version of Shanghai, Singapore, or Monaco, then people might assume you’re just dumping on a small country you don’t understand. “Artistic license” will be taken as “this dumbass didn’t do his research”. So I said screw it and made my own world.

        I tried VERY HARD to make it so you can’t do a one-to-one mapping back to our world. You shouldn’t be able to say “These guys are America” or “Here are the Jews of this universe”. I know people will do that anyway because of course they will, but I did what I could.

        If that’s not cyberpunk in your book then you’ll have to classify it some other way.

        1. Droid says:

          Bah, always those silly Americans thinking bad of other cultures… Constructing it like we were the bad guys!

          But more seriously, was that what you did with System Shock / Free Radical’s Shodan? Because it really didn’t read like artistic license at all, more like you taking some outdated ideas about AI from the source material and weighing your story down by including them in your book.

        2. Redrock says:

          Is it really that bad? I don’t recall George Alec Effinger getting too much flak for the Budayeen cycle. It’s funny, because I’am working (very, very slowly) on a pretty political cyberpunk story set in my own country. What I’ve been struggling with is the fact that cyberpunk, for me at least, isn’t so much political commentary as it is social commentary, which is a very different beast, it turns out.

        3. MichaelG says:

          Set it in “Google Toronto 2050”, an experiment in total computerization gone bad.

        4. Olivier FAURE says:

          Honestly, as a French guy who is tired of seeing New York always be invaded with aliens, and post-apocalyptic stories that go “America is now ravaged, which is basically the same as the entire world being ravaged”, I approve of everything you just said.

      2. Redrock says:

        Please, please don’t mention Colbert and Sir Terry (I assume you meant him and not the daughter) in the same sentence. I mean, one is one of the greatest fantasy writers ever and the other is, what, a TV comedian? A moderately good one, but still.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I assume you are talking about a book and not a tabletop,because practically every shadowrun game is comedy.Even the serious ones.

    3. ehlijen says:

      There is Paranioa. The Fifth Element also has cyberpunk and comedy elements, but in general, noir, grimy and dark have been established as core traits of cyberpunk and when they aren’t there, it’s temping to say ‘that’s not cyberpunk’, even if many of the traits are still there.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Is paranoia cyberpunk?I always thought cyberpunk is a capitalist dystopia,not a socialist one.

        1. Stu Hacking says:

          Cyberpunk is *technological* dystopia. As long as you’ve got your tech (cyber), and an anarchic mistrust of the system of authority (punk), you’ve got your cyberpunk setting.

          Mr B describes it better than I could.

  9. MichaelGC says:

    Once I'd watched it, I had to read 42 reviews and articles about Batman v Superman in order to make sense of it. Took hours!

    And once I was done, I'm not sure I did understand it any better, really, or had simply made enough room in my brain that it was no longer chafing any more…

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      I ranted about the movie for about an hour to my wife and my sister, twice (this was unusual for me because I can usually sum up my feelings about a movie in a single sentence). After that, I promptly purged the entire experience from my memory and imagined it never happened. I’ve felt much better ever sense.

  10. Paul Spooner says:

    Yay! I’m so excited you’re working on another story! Do keep us posted.

    If nothing else, maybe you could do fan-art queries, where you post a paragraph of description from the book, and then a week later post your favorite piece of fan-art visualization of the scene. You get free illustration for the book, publicity, and blog content, and we all get some previews of what you’ve been working on, and maybe a bit of extra text about how you envisioned the scene that didn’t fit in with the narrative as-written.

  11. Mephane says:

    Oh I am now so looking forward to this. :)

  12. Aevylmar says:

    I am incredibly excited to read this book. :D

  13. Did you just accidentally a book?

  14. MichaelG says:

    Well if you are desperate for content, start posting parts of the book and let us kick it around. It can’t be any worse than posting programming projects!

  15. Bubble181 says:

    Hurray! More long form text from Shamus!

    Booh, less content on the blog in the short term!

    Hope it continues to flow, look forward to reading it!

  16. Asdasd says:

    I don’t know what I’m more envious of, Shamus – your talent, your inspiration or your work ethic. All the best and I hope the book turns out great!

  17. Redrock says:

    Huh, I have that pic as part of my wallpaper slideshow. That’s a good cyberpunk pic. Looking forward to the book and may you never run out of steam.

  18. Lee says:

    Hey, if it gets me more to read along the lines of Free Radical (which seems to be in at least a similar genre), I’m all for it. Let us know if you need any beta readers. ;)

  19. Ani-kun says:

    I have no idea. Editing is like debugging. It's no fun, it takes longer than you expect, and no matter how much time you spend on it you'll probably miss a bunch of stuff anyway.

    Speak for yourself, monsieur ;p I find editing is often the part I enjoy most when writing a book, I love taking my initial first draft and making it shine and sparkle under the weight of a dozen edits. But maybe I’m just weird.

    Either way, editing is where the real magic happens, any writer knows that, regardless of how much or how little they enjoy the process :)

  20. Cybron says:

    Unrelated to the article but related to the recent discussion on your Twitter, Shamus: you called yourself an also-ran on the Escapist, but out of all the people to ever run on it, the only ones I’m still following are LRR, Yahtzee, and you.

    But on topic, I’m interested. Cyberpunk is harder to find than fantasy, even if it’s had a bit of resurgence lately.

    1. Ander says:

      I think one problem cyberpunk is prone to develop is an assumption of societal overtones. Those overtones are fine, but once they become absorbed as an assumed part of the setting (i.e. cyberpunk has to be about certain things) they can drag down the beauty of the stories and genre as such. (Big business, government corruption, etc.) It’s like if fantasy novels always had to be about slavery and racial oppression. Good stuff, but there’s more to talk about. Hopefully cyberpunk doesn’t get stuck in a thematic rut.

      In recent years there have been a few examples of Sci-Fi that were merely Sci-Fi. I’m thinking of Moon as an example. It uses a thoroughly sci-fi setting and tells its story without much concern about cultural-societal moralizing. Which is great.

      1. Viktor says:

        But then it’s not sci-fi. The genre started by people looking at tech and saying “Where will tech be in 50 years and what will society look like because of it?” The classic stories* are all either “This is where we will be”, “This is where we should be”, or “This is where we shouldn’t be”. If you want stories that don’t look at the intersection of humanity, society, and technology and talk about what that will mean going forward, that’s your taste, but then it’s not part of sci-fi as a genre. It’s a standard action movie set in space.

        Cyberpunk is the same way. Punk is all about fighting against oppressive power structures. You can’t do a punk work without talking about those structures, because if you do you’re really just nabbing the aesthetic and ignoring the reasons that aesthetic exists. This is why there’s not really any breathtaking steampunk works out there, despite the internet having been obsessed with steampunk for like 5 years. People loved the look and forgot that the look isn’t what defines the genre, it’s the message.

        *Asimov, Heinlein, Star Trek, Clockwork Orange, etc.

        1. Matt Downie says:

          I really don’t think that describes all the classic works. Some are “What would happen if this thing was invented?” Or “What would it be like to meet an alien who thought like this?” Or “What if a robot was programmed badly?”

          “Sci-fi” as a term these days usually means action movies. It’s a subsection of the wider speculative fiction genre.

          1. Viktor says:

            But those first 2 usually springboard into the sorts of stories I was talking about. “Here’s tech that lets people do X, how does that change us?” and “Here’s an alien race that doesn’t have a concept of Y, what are their lives like?”. That’s all very much politics.

        2. etheric42 says:

          I feel that is a very limiting depiction of a genre. A lot of sci-fi talks about today or the timelessness of the human experience through the abstraction of tomorrow. I don’t think Mary Shelly was talking about where we should or should not be in Frankenstein. I’m sure there are a lot of other good categories to include in “what is Sci Fi”, but the problem is genres are loosely defined marketing tools. When you see a story marketed as sci-fi and it isn’t about will/should/shouldn’t, you’re disappointed. When someone else sees something marketed as sci-fi and it isn’t about spaceships going pew pew, they are disappointed. For as much as we say Star Wars is really science fantasy with it’s heroes journey and use of the force, most people would simply call it sci-fi.

          For breathtaking works of steampunk: see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel), Last Exile (anime). As far as novels go, I don’t typically read steampunk novels and I’ll leave that to someone else. The Difference Engine was nominated for some awards, but I didn’t care for it much. But it is difficult to identify great works when a genre is young.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I don’t think Viktor was saying that a future setting was necessary for sci-fi, but rather that a change in technology is necessary. “50 years in the future, society develops X, let’s see what that society looks like because of it.” is essentially the same as “Somebody made a breakthrough in X, let’s see what that society looks like because of it.” or even “In an alternate timeline, somebody developed X, let’s see what that society looks like because of it.” Those are all essentially the same story, because with a few exceptions of historical sci-fi, the exact dates and locations don’t matter. It’s just a story about “What if our real world, but X.” Note that this also includes works where certain technologies, (or even laws of nature) have been altered or replaced.

            1. etheric42 says:

              That’s not how I read Viktor’s argument. Ander was talking about Sci-Fi that was “merely Sci-Fi” and “without much concern about cultural-societal moralizing”, Viktor was countering that argument and saying “but then it's not sci-fi”. I was countering Viktor by saying Sci-Fi was broad enough to encompass stories with cultural-societal moralizing and without, using Frankenstein to explicitly counter his argument that classic stories must ask “”This is where we will be”, “This is where we should be”, or “This is where we shouldn't be””, not necessarily that a future setting is required.

              Or maybe I am misunderstanding your comment. Sorry if I am.

              1. Echo Tango says:

                Nah, you got it right. I had actually misread a point Viktor had incidentally brought up as the main point. I’ll agree with you that commenting on large societal issues isn’t needed to qualify as science fiction. Nor is any kind of deep, thoughtful commentary needed either; As you brought up as example, if a story is simply about cool laser guns going pew, that too is science fiction. :)

                1. silver Harloe says:

                  Like a lot of Niven’s work – light on social commentary, generally light on pewpew, but heavy on speculative science.

          2. Ander says:

            Yes, genre definitions are spotty and vague. Still the labels are used and are helpful. “Should themes or the stance on certain themes be included in a genre definition?” is an interesting question but has, in the end, mostly pragmatic and functional purpose. I think to answer Yes is to unduly limit our perspective on stories; however, I understand that there is merit to looking at the body of scifi work and acknowledging, “They tend to deal with x, often by saying y.”

          3. Ani-kun says:

            Last Exile is an incredible piece of work. It’s one of those I point to and say ‘watch this’ to the type of people who still love to bash anime as being nothing more than porn or whatever other preconceived notions they have of the medium.

            1. etheric42 says:

              Is the sequel any good? I haven’t seen it yet.

              1. Cybron says:

                No. It’s not AWFUL, but it’s not good. Don’t watch it, it’s not worth the continual disappointment.

              2. Ani-kun says:

                I haven’t seen it either, mostly I avoid sequels to really good shows, they very rarely live up to expectations.

            2. Cybron says:

              I like Lost Exile but I feel it has some serious flaws. It’s a harem show (subtly, but it definitely is) which I don’t think helps with dispelling preconceived notions. I think I’d point people at Lain or whatever if I were trying to make a point about anime as an artistic medium.

              1. Ani-kun says:

                I’d only point to Lain if you want to BORE people to death ;p Really didn’t like that one, got so bored of it I ended up dropping after a couple of eps.

              2. etheric42 says:

                Considering it prominently features relationships that exclude the male MC and relationships that exclude either of the main characters I don’t think it passes the harem test.

                Is there a Bechdel test for harems? It is not a harem if there is more than one significant character of each gender and there are canon pairings that are exclusive of eachother? That doesn’t feel right but it feels close. I am open to refinements. Maybe there should be something about the MC actually committing to someone, since a harem trope is the MC refusing to commit and the writers allowing the options to be kept open.

                Is the original trilogy of Star Wars a reverse harem for Leia?

                Also not really a Lain fan, never really could get into any of the works Abe contributed to. Last Exile is my go-to adventure sci-fi/fantasy fan intro anime, Erased is my mystery/thinky sci-fi/fantasy fan intro anime.

          4. Blackbird71 says:

            A story about the dangerous and deadly results of the hubris of a scientist who meddles with the natural order of life and death isn’t a discussion of what we should or should not be doing with science, and isn’t about “cultural-societal moralizing”? That’s news to me.

            Sorry, I think “Frankenstein” very much qualifies under Viktor’s description of the genre.

            1. etheric42 says:

              You appear to have expanded my argument to be somewhat larger than the one I was making.
              I merely argued it was not about “where we should or should not be”. On the contrary, I feel Frankenstein was about who we are fundamentally (as are many sci-fi stories about creating life/A.I.). The story of the monster was just as tragic as the story of the creator and was not being prescriptive.

              1. Blackbird71 says:

                An exploration of what happens when man meddles with the natural order is clearly an exercise in examining “where we should or should not be.” Not every story that makes such an exploration has to give a clear answer; sometimes the intent is to make the reader think and consider their own answer. That doesn’t disqualify it from this definition of the genre.

        3. DungeonHamster says:

          Asimov and Heinlein are not anywhere near the beginning of the genre. Even setting aside really early edge cases (I’ve seen at least one person argue that St. Thomas More’s Utopia qualifies, though I’m personally skeptical), we’ve got Jules Verne, E.R. Burroughs (yes, Burroughs; and apart from how he got to Mars in the first place, John Carter is even fairly “hard” sci-fi, though like all hard sci-fi the science went obsolete fairly quickly), E.E. Smith, H.G. Wells and more, and that’s just off the top of my head.

          The Campbellian stable of authors – including neglected but big in the day figures like A.E. Van Vogt and Poul Anderson, a particular favorite of mine – and their contemporaries wrote some solid works, some of which may even merit the title of classics, but they by no means started the genre and there are plenty of earlier ones that are at least as good.

        4. Boobah says:

          Science fiction is by no means limited to talking about tech or society; it’s just as much about individuals and the weirdness of the universe we live in. Larry Niven’s “The Borderlands of Sol” and “The Hole Man” are both about then-new (and if I understand correctly, now outdated) ideas about stuff in the universe; his “Inconstant Moon” has exactly no tech, aliens, or anything like that but it’s still a science fiction story.

          Also worth pointing out: all three stories have a mystery (Why are all these ships disappearing at the edge of Sol system? How did the dead guy die? and Why is the moon so bright? respectively.) Our protagonist figures out the mystery, acts, and then explains it to the reader.

      2. etheric42 says:

        I love Moon and I am unwilling to spoil it for other poeple, so I’m going to have to rot13 this question:

        Vfa’g Zbba’f pber gurzr fbzrguvat vg vf phygheny-fbpvrgny zbenyvmvat nobhg? Gur vagrepunatrnovyvgl/qvfcbfnovyvgl bs ynoberef, abg frrvat lbhefrys va bguref, abg pnevat nobhg crbcyr ba gur bgure raq bs gur jbeyq jub ner shaqnzragnyyl uhzna whfg yvxr lbh? Fher, vg qbrfa’g uvg lbh bire gur urnq jvgu vg (bgurejvfr xabja nf “vg vf qbar jryy”), ohg gung qbrfa’g zrna gung vg vfa’g gbhpuvat ba gubfr gurzrf.

        I mean, I defend your general point, but I think Moon is a poor example.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          1. You don’t need to use weird codings; There’s strike-tags for hiding spoilers.

          2. Yes, Moon pretty much exactly talks about those things you brought up. It doesn’t hit the viewer* over the head with a morality lesson, but it’s definitely criticizing certain elements of our society, and warning about how our society could progress in a harmful way.

          * Yes, that’s generally called “This work of fiction is well-made.” :)

          1. etheric42 says:

            Whoops, I looked over the tag list in the reply box and somehow missed THE FIRST ONE!

            That’s what I get for both coming from a comment section that doesn’t have spoiler tags and using Slack which also doesn’t have spoiler tags and assuming the rest of the world lives in such squalor. Flash fiction about a society where spoiler tags and coded text language doesn’t exist?

          2. Ander says:

            I make a distinction between “Universal human concerns” and “Societal commentary.” The separation between the two categories is the stuff of core beliefs, and often works of social commentary are anchored in a universal human concern. One of the things that can make commentary fail for me is when it does not convince me that it is addressing relatable human issues.
            Moon worked for me on a personal level, not necessarily because of the societal themes, well-implemented as they were.

            1. etheric42 says:

              What I’m hearing(reading) you are saying(writing) is that there is a distinction between universal human concerns and societal commentary in the same way there is a distinction between word play and topical comedy. Topical comedy can use word play and puns but they are not the same things and you want things to be witty regardless of whether it is topically relevant (and in fact the topical humor can date or distract from the material as much as enhance it).

              Does that sound(look) accurate? Is the path of Simpsons, or the King of the Hill vs. Family Guy comparison accurate to your critique of Cyberpunk and to a certain extent sci-fi? Is it fair for me to say(write) that it is okay for there to be Sci-Fi without deeper meanings in the same way as it is okay to have slapstick comedy?

              I loved District 9. I have not watched Blomkamp’s followups because I have been afraid they have become so topical it will affect my feelings for District 9 (even though District 9 is so topical, a friend’s brother-in-law walked out of the theater because the plot is basically about what he went through). I realize this probably makes me a very silly person. But I can empathize with what you are saying.

              1. Ander says:

                I think your comedy comparison indicates that we are on the same page.

                I cannot speak to the Simpsons/King of the Hill/Family Guy comparison.

                I absolutely agree that there can be Scifi without “deeper meaning,” if by that we mean topical relevance. However, I might not call a story good if it doesn’t hit on some kind of common human issues.

                1. etheric42 says:

                  By without “deeper meaning” was referring to both not having topical relevance and not hitting on common human issues. Although I guess by some definitions of common human issues, that might mean the pages were simply blank. After all, the existential fear of a TIE fighter on your tail when you’re trying to blow up a basestar is in some way a common human issue. I still think it would be a sci-fi story even if it only included the most base and unintentional common human themes as defined by the most expansive possible definition of common human themes.

                  I would also probably stick to calling the story something I didn’t like instead of straight-out not calling it good simply for not hitting on common human themes. While I prefer social/philisophical/anthropological sci-fi, I’m not going to call out people who prefer the pulp/schlock/I-wish-there-was-a-non-judgemental-term-for-this as having wrongfun. (edit) On rereading this paragraph, I realize it kind of comes off as me trying to score points. Sorry, not intentional. I was trying to refine my argument, not call you out for saying something was not good. (/edit)

                  For an example:
                  Definitely sci-fi
                  Definitely well-executed of the artists vision (even if transport got knocked around as if had no mass…)
                  Definitely enjoyable at a “that’s cool” level
                  I definitely would not be able to watch a feature-length version of that without growing very tired of it and wanting something meatier… but it isn’t feature-length so that isn’t really something to criticize the work on.

        2. Ander says:

          I will concede that Moon is not an ideal example. However, it works without a knowledge of the societal commentary. Social commentary works best when it is general enough to apply in a variety of social times/situations and/or does not need to be seen to appreciate, in a significant way, the story. Absolutely the story can be enhanced by engaging societal issues, but in my mind what separates a story from a parable is its merit as a story apart from the message.

          Maybe my point would be, cyberpunk has sometimes felt too parable-like to me. Perhaps it’s a result of not relating strongly to the message. The world and characters can be too grimdark to be engaging. Certainly this is not all cyberpunk, but I suggest, contra Viktor, that becoming too enamored with the message concerns that gave rise to a genre can unduly limit it. To support this, again, look at fantasy of the Tolkien flavor. LotR was genre-defining in its world but not necessarily in its deeply optimistic (though nuanced) worldview. (If you disagree with my presentation of LotR fair enough, but focus on the issue at hand: setting and tropes defined, but not necessarily a worldview accepted)

          1. etheric42 says:

            To steelman the pro-cyberpunk-originalist viewpoint: it is in the name. Punk is directly referential to a certain cultural anti-authoritarian movement. This keys into the steampunk jab: what is anti-authoritarian about steampunk? Were the progenitors of the style actually referencing punk or did it just sound cool?

            I think it is fair to quote Smash Mouth here:

            And just like fashion, it’s a passion for the with it and hip
            If you got the goods, they’ll come and buy it just to stay in the clique

            To people outside the punk movement, it can just look like a fashion and not an ethos. I am sure this can apply to a chunk of the members as well (it certainly happened with hippies). Or maybe the ethos was/is part of the fashion. Is it fair to call a work that wears the fashion of cyberpunk but not the ethos as being cyberpunk? Near-future grungy society with cybernetic body parts and/or immersive web but not be anti-authoritarian or crying out about the approaching de-individualization at the hands of encroaching faceless/collective powers? Probably. I’m not sure what else you’d call it. I’d be curious to see a Max Gladstone-style cyberpunk from the corp’s perspective (not a corporate patsy or an inside man, just a person who continues to choose to work there of their own free will).

            Will Shetterly’s Chimera isn’t focused on the punk end of cyberpunk (even if it does have a strong social commentary streak), but I think it fits as cyberpunk. Minority Report the movie hits the punk side of things but fails to be grungy so I am not sure if people would slam-dunk that into the cyberpunk category.

            Ander, what would you like to see of a cyberpunk work that breaks out of the genre’s progenitor’s framework?

            p.s. What do you call punk settings that involve magic? Shadowrun is cyberpunk, but there’s a strong magic twist. Is there a punk version of urban fantasy?

            1. Ander says:

              I’m seeing the theme of “punk, therefore anti-authoritarian” repeated in this thread. That’s a good place to start because, yes, what do we mean by ?-punk if not anti-authoritarianism of some kind? However, the realm in which issues of authority/oppression can be addressed is broader than the area covered by the genre thus far. Government as-such can be addressed on multiple levels. Corporations are not just mega-corps. I can’t necessary say where I would like the genre to go, but I believe the genre has room to grow outside of where it’s been so far. I’d argue that reconstruction of themes which cyberpunk has traditionally deconstructed could still be included in umbrella of “cyberpunk” instead of, as some suggest, “post-cyberpunk.”
              Maybe that doesn’t answer your question. Key phrase is “room to grow.” If that includes topical works, so be it. Just as long as we don’t feel confined to topics that have already been addressed, and hopefully including works that take the trappings of trans-humanism, body tech, and hacking without feeling a need to make statements about society (whether the latter is truly cyberpunk or not I probably won’t convince anyone)

            2. Echo Tango says:

              Near-future grungy society with cybernetic body parts and/or immersive web but not be anti-authoritarian or crying out about the approaching de-individualization at the hands of encroaching faceless/collective powers

              That might be called “cyberpunk”, but only because I think you’ve inserted a contradiction. How is this fictional world supposed to be grungy, but without any anti-authoritarianism? Did the world get hit with an equalizing plague that affects rich and poor alike? That’s one way to go from present-day to a grungy world that would affect everyone equally, but it still leaves the problem of the cybernetic enhancements. Augmented bodies typically cost a lot of money, and also give powers beyond what a normal human can readily attain. That sets up the world with something that makes the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful. Although you could have the punk without the cyber, I don’t think you can reverse it, unless your world is set up as more idyllic and/or egalitarian than the present-day. :)

              1. etheric42 says:

                Warhammer 40k is very grungy and you sure wouldn’t want to live there, but the fiction is generally not anti-authoritarian. (I would love some good 40k deconstructionist work though. If it weren’t for the fact that they have to move some miniatures in a vaguely mass-market way, there is a lot of room to explore this universe from the bottom-up or shining some different lights on what Chaos means to the Imperium. I have some fun fiction ideas, but I don’t really want to spend time writing in someone else’s universe.)

                Also, aren’t cybernetics fairly cheap in Cyberpunk2020, but the cost goes beyond just money?

                For a work to be anti-authoritarian, it would need to spend energy on it, not just describe a world where haves and have-nots exist and at least a portion of the haves are the ones in power. I’ll even posit a world that is pro-authoritarian while still remaining grungy: the world is struck by catastrophe. Scarcity decimates humankind. A benevolent genius invents a nano-forge with three properties: it can make anything you want, the products it makes are less durable than similar conventionally made objects and you have to feed it literal human souls to make it function. After tests confirm these properties are immutable, the scientist is afraid it will be used to make weapons necessary to destroy the remainder of humanity, or possibly fueled by a slave or prisoner caste. He uses his prototype to create a duplicate and then destroys the original and all documentation on how to manufacture it. The duplicate has two additional rules he added though: only people with certain genetic codes (his decendants) can control it or be sacrificed to it, and it can only create future nano-forges that obey these two rules. He founds a new bloodline government which literally serves the rest of humanity with its souls. Asking for too much becomes a social taboo even outside of the context of asking these people to sacrifice their lives for you.

                Humanity now lives in the shells of its former cities, people try to figure out ways to eke out a living beyond what the nano-forges offer. Things that can still be made by the survivors (basic tools, etc) are still made “naturally” in order to last longer, more advanced things like prosthetic limbs and computers must be made by the forges and their priest-kings. A priest-king might spend his life walking among his people, collecting wishes, desires, seeing their needs and when it comes time he sacrifices himself to make 10 million ration bars, 500 cybernetic arms, 15 forklifts, one helicopter with advanced rescue gear and a crystal rose for his love to remember him by.

                1. Echo Tango says:

                  One might ask why these priest-kings only build end products, instead of construction machinery or factories. Wouldn’t a few metal-working shops, chip-factories, and construction robots help everyone out more than luxurious robot arms that disappear after a few decadent years? After two centuries of living in squalor, hoping to be the lucky few who won the favor of the magi-craft priests, the Construction Worker’s Guild was formed by the type of people who’d been asking those questions all along. You five are the latest recruits to this organization. After five years of back-breaking farming, metal-working, and bullet-loading, your preparations are complete. Your mission is to capture a low-ranking priest, so he can be persuaded to build the tools your city needs to become self-sufficient. Use any means necessary. The lives of a half-million rest on his shoulders, and if he refuses to help them build their home into utopia, he’ll be tortured to death for his complicit actions in a lifetime of injustice.

                  1. etheric42 says:

                    And even in that setting twist, the story does not need to be anti-authoritarian. The resistance could end up making things worse for everyone because they did not understand the big picture about the loss of durability means making factories is inherently less efficient than making end-products and then having the people make the factories themselves. Maybe the story could be about how they are both wrong. Either way, these all describe cyber stories that aren’t about or featuring anti-authoritarianism.

                    Unless your argument is not directly contradicting mine and is instead saying “in any ‘realistic’ cyber world there is automatically some anti-authoritarian sentiment, even if it appears off-camera.” In which case, whoops, I misunderstood, but my response would be in any world with authority there would exist anti-authoritarian sentiment realistically, what is so special about cyber worlds that warrants your argument.

                    1. Echo Tango says:

                      I’ll agree that any fiction with a strong authority will have anti-authoriatarian tendencies, so yes, cyber worlds aren’t special in that. However, the original argument was about cyber-punk, not just cyber-ficiton in general. So yes, you are correct in that a cyber-work could be without anti-authority, but then it’s not punk in any way.

          2. Cybron says:

            Just call anything that deviates from punk mode “post-cyberpunk” and the purists will be satisfied.

            1. etheric42 says:

              So we can have post-cyberpunk settings for roguelikelike games?

              1. Droid says:

                I am in awe of this post!

              2. Cybron says:

                Rogue-lite games, thank you very much.

                1. etheric42 says:

                  So when we finally break out of the boundaries established by the originators of the roguelite genre, will we call them roguelite-likes or rogluelike-lites?

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Roguish kinda looking game type dealios.

        3. Daniel says:

          CRPG Addict fan, anyone?

          1. etheric42 says:

            I had seen the blog before, but I can’t say I had revisited it in the year or so between then and now.

      3. Cybron says:

        VA-11 HALL-A tells a story that isn’t really about any of those things but manages to touch on them gracefully without disrupting the story. And it’s definitely cyberpunk through and through. I’m not worried.

  21. Cinebeast says:

    Damn, Shamus, that’s great. I’m over here waiting (and worrying) for NaNoWriMo to start in a week and a half. I’ve never written so many words in so short a time, though. It feels fantastic when you get into the flow of things.

    1. Ani-kun says:

      My fourth year, and probably the first I’ll fail (personal circumstances aren’t hugely conducive to it this year). Good luck, it’s a blast… and stressful as all hell, but eh ;)

  22. DwarfWarden says:

    I’d definitely love to read it but I don’t know how to read.

  23. DungeonHamster says:

    Have you heard of the Pulp Speed challenge? 3400 words a day is Pulp Speed 2. Which sounds low, until you realize that it’s twice the rate or production you’d need to successfully complete National Novel Writing Month, which I’m given to understand only around about a tenth of participants manage. Getting Pulp Speed anything is pretty impressive

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Interesting! I hadn’t heard of the Pulp Speed scale before. Thanks for the link!
      I feel like it’s overly compressed though. An offset zero linear scale? No thanks. I’ll stick to kWords/mo.

    2. `Retsam says:

      I feel like this site makes way too much out of “words per minute”. It’d be like a coding instructional about how to increase your “lines of code per minute”. It’s entirely the wrong metric to focus on, if your goal is to write a good program or tell a good story.

      Of course authors write more words quicker if you pay them per word, and of course, if you cherry-pick across a few decades you’re going to pull out some great authors. But I doubt that the practice of writing as many words as possible really created, on average, better fiction, than the alternative. I certainly wouldn’t think that encouraging writers to just “write as many words as possible as fast as possible” is great advice.

      Some examples:

      Brandon Sanderson is considered one of the most prolific modern fantasy authors (with frequent jokes about him being a robot, and about that time he got stalled on a book, so he wrote the sequel and still got the original done on time). But he writes something like 300-400K words a year: which, I guess would be Pulp Speed -2? (Or -3 if you don’t have a Pulp Speed 0)

      Even the web serial Worm is about 1,680K words, written over about 2.5 years or about 672K words per year, (Pulp Speed -2/3?), and despite how good the story is, the lack of editing really shows. (And it’s one of the major things preventing the author from actually publishing the story, AFAIK).

      I don’t think I’d particularly want to read a story that was cranked out much quicker than that.

      1. DungeonHamster says:

        I certainly wouldn’t want everybody to write that fast, especially not on a regular basis. My own favorite fiction books are the LotR, and they would have been terrible if Tolkien had tried to write them like this. But the guy who put this together is basing it on what full time writers actually did during the latter half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th.

        Check the history portion of the link, before he gets to the scale. It is worth noting that the pulps were intended as disposable entertainment, more or less. True, the greats among them produced works still enjoyed today while working at breakneck speed with little to no rewriting, but none of them were trying to write classics and most of them didn’t. It’s amazing they’ve stood the test of time as well as they have.

        In fact, I suspect the key difference between them and more prolific authors today is rewriting. Take Sanderson, for instance. He publishes 300-400k words a year, but if you’ll check the little progress meter at his website right now, he’s got a 1st draft, a 2nd draft, and a “final pass” which could be any number of drafts. Not that every draft involves a complete rewrite, but that’s still a huge time sink.

        I’m not saying he shouldn’t do that many drafts – it certainly seems to be working out for him – but the pulp era folks simply didn’t. This meant they had several times the output, and it was mostly pretty okay with a few real gems. There is room in the world for both the detailed outliners who do half a dozen drafts of everything and the seat-of-their-pantsers who never look at it again after they write the ending. And it really is pretty impressive that these people were able to write even just halfway decent fiction while working at those speeds.

      2. DungeonHamster says:

        Another point just occurred to me. An unpublished web serial isn’t making any money, which means the author probably has a day job. For the people who wrote the pulps, it WAS their day job. That does give them a bit more time to write than I suspect that particular author has. Context is key.

      3. default_ex says:

        That was my line of thought as well. When I read it, I immediately though “does code count” towards pulp speed? Then it occurred to me focusing on that metric is absolutely useless even in literature. Currently I’m writing an OpenGL wrapper in C# that utilizes the ‘calli’ instruction, blittable types and pretty much all the tricks learned in recent years about C# to C interop that yield significant performance gains over naive approaches. Took a lot of experimentation to settle on an approach I liked. My criteria were first and foremost performance followed closely by usability and thirdly by ease of implementation. Still even after reducing the required code per function by more than half, it’s massive and a bit over 10k lines in this month alone.

        Useless metric for sure, the previous approach I used would have been 30-40k lines for an equivalent amount of functionality.

  24. default_ex says:

    Awesome. If there’s anyone I trust to write a story about AI, it’s definitely you. One of the major problems I always encounter with stories featuring AI is one I believe I’ve heard you and the rest of the Spoiler Warning crew rip on. That the ongoing assumption is that an AI will for whatever reason decide to kill humans (or any other sapient life). That has never made sense to me and judging by comments I’ve heard you make on the subject, I suspect it doesn’t make any sense to you either.

    Interesting however that you choose to write about AI now. I’ve been toying with reviving an old story idea I abandoned by infusing it with an AI protagonist. Wound up watching through Red vs Blue in it’s entirety purely because it had what I considered a very good approach to an AI protagonist as a means of researching what does and doesn’t work for such a scenario.

    In light of all the AI stories lately, particularly those that break away from the tired old Terminator mold. It’s looking like we are coming into a much needed trend.

    1. etheric42 says:

      I think the going concern is not necessarily that the A.I. will “decide” to kill humanity as much as the A.I. will be optimizing for something that is not to humanity’s benefit (and would be a detriment at a large enough scale) such that humanity is killed off/enslaved as a side effect.

      As in we weren’t trying to overrun Australia with rabbits and kill off some of their native species. We just wanted a more optimal food sources for the convicts/settlers. I think some of the fun of A.I. stories is that role reversal where this time we are the ones that are the victims of someone else’s unintended consequences. (Also, it’s useful for “what does it mean to be a person” stories and that discussion can be more comfortable when you are talking about someone more powerful than you as opposed to someone who is less.)

      I don’t know how much to weigh one side or the other as being plausible. I’m glad someone out there is thinking about it, but I don’t blame writers taht keep A.I. as either impossible, impractical or just not invented yet when they write because that rabbit hole just goes deep.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        As in we weren't trying to overrun Australia with rabbits

        This is one of the best ways to explain AI-run-amok I’ve ever encountered. It relates the main problem with AI, without needing a lot of details, which can come later.

        You don’t need a SkyNet-style computer for AI to be dangerous. You don’t need a Colossus-style computer, or even an evil Johnny 5. A computer which can hack into other computers, control robots, plan ahead / play war-games, and is otherwise as dumb as a rabbit trying to breed – that would be a very dangerous AI. It’s not killing the humans because it’s decided that they’re evil; It’s killing humans because in its war-game simulations, humans try to stop it building more computers and robots, and it’s trying to build more computers and robots.

  25. Sleeping Dragon says:

    That sound delightful, I’ve missed more narrative oriented work from you. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it and stick to the project and barring unforseen circumstances I’ll be sure to grab it soon as it’s available.

  26. I’d just like to offer my editing services if you get to the point where you’d like an editor, up to you. I’m quite cheap, and I have references.

  27. Paul Spooner says:

    I suspect this was not the original intent, but this post has me refreshing the blog way more often now. If I press the button lots of times, the elevator will arrive more quickly, right? That’s how this works, I’m sure of it.
    We’ll try to contain our excitement.

  28. Redrock says:

    Anyone want to discuss whether or not Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are actually cyberpunk? That’s always a fun one.

    1. Mousazz says:

      While I’ve never read the book, or seen the sequel movie, why wouldn’t the original Bladerunner be cyberpunk? It’s got both parts in its story:

      Cyber: Humanity colonizing the stars, flying cars, mega-corps (Tyrell Corp.), Android humans (Replicants), cultural (asian) homogenization, etc.

      Punk: Colonialist slavery, Replicant rebellion, replicant terrorism, anti-replicant specialist cops (Bladerunners), and so on.

      The main difference from other works is that perhaps the punks here are the antagonists, yet I don’t see why it wouldn’t fit the genre otherwise.

      Now, is something like, say, Psycho-Pass cyberpunk? That’s a lot less clear-cut…

      1. `Retsam says:

        I’d say Psycho-Pass is pretty solidly cyber-punk. It’s pretty clearly “cyber” (society controlled by a computer system, advanced VR and AR technology). And, I think it’s pretty “punk”, too, since it’s all about people opposing an authoritarian system.

        Like your example with Bladerunner, it’s interesting because it’s fairly even-handed on the pro-authoritarian vs. anti-authoritarian perspectives. The setting is neither strictly utopian or dystopian, but rather combines attributes of both, and the protagonists, despite being ostensibly on the side of the authoritarian system, are often some of the harshest critics of the system.

  29. Rosseloh says:

    Dude. DUDE. You just made my day. I can’t wait to give it a read.

  30. Aegis of Faith says:

    Well, you had me at “cyberpunk/noir/mystery”, so I’m definitely on board with this.

  31. Son of Valhalla says:

    I guess I should take some time to read cyberpunk while you edit this cyberpunk novel.

    I wasn’t reading this site when you wrote your first book, but now that I do, it’s never too late to jump onboard the hype train for the new book :).

    Just don’t abandon it.

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