The Other Kind of Post

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 4, 2019

Filed under: Projects 168 comments

Have you read my book yet? Based on what people are telling me, it’s not bad. The impression I’m getting is that it’s the best book I’ve written so far.

Marketing wisdom teaches that you should always put a good spin on sales. People are more likely to be interested in a product if other people are also buying it. Partly because following the herd can help you sort the good from the bad, but also because of the network effect. I’m more likely to see a movie if people I know have seen it, because we can talk about it later. If nobody else has seen a movie, then nobody else will care about my reaction and nobody else will have alternate viewpoints to share with me.

So you’re supposed to avoid admitting that sales are low while a work is still selling. I’m going to break this rule and admit that The Other Kind of Life is not selling as well as my previous book. Maybe I just don’t have the reach now that I did in 2012The Escapist was a bigger deal back then, and I was a major contributor rather than just a weekly columnist., or maybe the indie book market is more crowded. Maybe it’s the cover. Or the title. Or my half-assed approach to marketing. I don’t know. It’s a shame, but that’s how it goes.

Sales aren’t great, but some of you have read it. I think next week we’ll have the all-spoiler thread where everyone can discuss the book and nitpick / praise it as needed. In the meantime, let me talk about some of the thinking that went into it:

Speculative Fiction is Hard

I knew I wanted to set the book in a near-ish future world where robotics and AI had advanced far enough to make machines that could walk around and engage in conversation, but which still fall into the uncanny valley in terms of social interactions. So many stories are set on either side of this. Stories so often seem to act like all we need to do is solve the walking and talking problems and we can jump right to Blade Runner style replicants, but I predict that we’ll end up stuck in that awkward “looks pretty human, but isn’t fooling anyone” phase for a long time. Decades maybe.

And that’s assuming we get there at all. Maybe lifelike humanoid robots will be like flying cars: Really hard to make, incredibly impractical, and not really better than existing technologies. Maybe people won’t WANT bipedal robots. They seem cool in movies, but everything seems cool in movies. Maybe robots will be creepy, awkward, expensive, and high-maintenance. Sure, I get that some people need companionship, or sex, or someone to sweep up around the house. But it’s entirely possible that humanoid robots won’t be as good at companionship as dogs. Maybe people would rather stick with internet porn and small personal devices for their sex needs. Maybe a humanoid robot is ridiculous overkill for household chores and you can just save yourself a lot of money and headaches by getting a roomba.

This cuts to the heart of why writing about this sort of thing is so tricky. It’s like someone in 1910 trying to predict how cars will change the world. It’s not hard to see that a change is coming, but anticipating the full ramifications of the changes is nearly impossible. It’s easy to visualize cars replacing horses, but very hard to anticipate how the arrival the the automobile will lead to people commuting to the city on a daily basis, and how that will shape the development of complex road systems, suburban living, and the cultivation of morning drive-time radio entertainment.

I wanted to write about robots, but I didn’t feel confident enough to extrapolate an entire post-robot world. You could spend years researching something like that and still wind up whiffing. Even if – by some miracle – you nail it and correctly anticipate how this future world will work, you still need to sell it to the audience. You need to bring them into this alien world and convince them this is a plausible outcome. That’s hard, and it can eat up a lot of pages.

The point of the book was to write about robots, not predict the vast economic and cultural shifts that might accompany robots. I anticipated I’d get a lot of responses like, “Shamus, you didn’t really think things through. I have a degree in [field] and you’re vastly underestimating the impact that robots would have on [thing we all take for granted]. Your world makes no sense!” So to give myself some breathing room I decided to set my story in a small, poor country away from the technology centers of the world. Poor countries have a funny relationship with technology because they’ll implement things in an unexpected order. You’ll find places where people are walking around with smart phones in cities that still have unpaved roads. I figured I could set my story in that sort of city, and if anything seemed off to the reader they could blame it on the city rather than the author.

When In Doubt, Make Stuff Up

So I wanted my story to be in a small country, and I wanted that country to be culturally separated from the dominant nations. Since I needed my country to be small, poor, and dysfunctional, I really didn’t want to make it a real-world place or people would think I was crapping all over a poor country. People would assume I was being a crass American, looking down on smaller countries. That’s no good.

Which means I needed to set my story in a fictional place. Since I was already making up one country, it seemed easier to just keep going and make them all up so I wasn’t tied to real-world history. To make it clear that my city was culturally distinct from the technology centers of the world, I decided to make the locals one skin color and the “other” of the story would be a different color.

This made me nervous. As I have discovered over the last couple of years, people have strong opinions about the racial makeup of fictional worlds. People people will tut at you if you tell a story about a straight white dude, even if you are a straight white dudeGimmie a break! I’m writing what I know!. Others will chide you if you make your character a minority but then depict their culture incorrectly. Or they’ll accuse you of appropriating another culture to market your work. Someone else will sneer at you for tokenism. Other people will sneer at them for sneering at you, and so on. It’s outrage all the way down.

It’s a shame, but this is the way things are right now. Some people are angry and raw, and they drag that anger around with them and project it into situations where it really doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t do anyone any good. I don’t know if this is a temporary situation or if this is the new normal for human discourse. I’m not mad at anyone about it. This is just something I had to consider when devising my book. “What creative decisions give me the best chance at getting out of this without ending up nibbled to death by a thousand passive-aggressive grievances?” (It turns out I didn’t need to worry. The book isn’t popular enough to generate outrage.)

For my part, I didn’t care which way the races went. My hero could be white and the “other” could be dark, or vice versa. Eventually I decided that my city needed something going for it. If it’s not a technology center, then it needs some other reason to be a big city. I figured being a tourist destination made a lot of sense. If it’s a tourist destination then it’s probably someplace tropical. If it’s tropical then the locals probably have dark skin. That settled it. My main cast would be dark skin, and the technologically advanced foreigners would be pale.

I was careful to mix up racial descriptions as much as possible, and leave things as vague as I could get away with. I didn’t want the reader to start doing a one-to-one mapping of my world to the real world. “Ah, I see these guys are Asians, these people are Scandinavian, and these people are Mediterranean.”

At the same time, I wanted my city to feel familiar to my (mostly Western Anglophone) readers. Even though it’s a tropical city my characters all have more or less “normal” names: Max, Clare, Gordon, Faye. This is a deliberate design choice because I didn’t want this city to feel exotic to the reader. I wanted foreign words and sayings to stick out, and that wouldn’t be possible if my cast was filled with unfamiliar fantasy names. What all of this means is that my dark-skinned cast is running around with Americanized names and all the white foreigners have made-up fantasy ones.

The city itself is named “Rivergate”. I realize that’s not a “cool” name for a city, but it’s not supposed to be cool to the reader. Foreigners see it as cool because they don’t speak the local language and don’t know what it means. Sort of like how “Rio Grande” sounds interesting unless you know Spanish, in which case it’s just “Big River”.

I think I got away with it. I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback so far, and nobody has expressed any concerns over the cultural / racial stuff. I don’t know. Maybe they’re just being polite.

I’ve mentioned before that I tend to write in specific “voices” of people. Maybe that’s because I’m an auditory learner, or maybe it’s just a personal quirk. I find that I most enjoy writing characters I can hear. Sometimes my characters wind up being an amalgamation of traits. Maybe the voice of one actor, the face of another, and a costume from someone unrelated to both of them. I shared the voices I had in mind for Witch Watch, but I was nervous of doing so because I didn’t want my version to pollute the ones that readers might have developed for themselves. I’ll eventually do a post about the voices I used in The Other Kind of Life, but before I do that I’m curious what everyone else came up with. If you’re the sort to assign people to roles in books, who did you use in TOKOL?

I know I mentioned the culture war above, but I only did that to explain my thinking. I hope everyone is polite enough to not use that as an excuse to take a swing at the other side. Let’s leave the culture war alone and talk about AI and robots instead.

Obligatory: Buy my book.



[1] The Escapist was a bigger deal back then, and I was a major contributor rather than just a weekly columnist.

[2] Gimmie a break! I’m writing what I know!

From The Archives:

168 thoughts on “The Other Kind of Post

  1. Khizan says:

    I feel like the problem is entirely in the marketing of the book. The cover, the title, the blurb, it all seems sort of half-assed. It’s a shame because it’s a pretty good book, but it feels like you finished writing it and then went “Aw, hell, I guess I need to come up with that stuff” and just threw it together. I mean, the story is really less of a crime story and more of an exploration of AI/human interactions, but I’d never guess that from any of the promotional materials.

    That aside, have you ever given any thought to putting your stuff up on Kindle Unlimited? Sure, it means that you’d have to go Kindle exclusive on ebooks, but it also opens up a fairly wide market of new readers that you know are willing to take a chance on new books.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      I strongly agree. The cover is pretty enough but yeah it’s pretty generic and it doesn’t even really showcase Jen Five’s otherness at all (you can’t even see her eyes’ glow). And the book should be marketed as a modern, Cyberpunk version of “Caves of Steel”, because that’s how it feels like to me, and that’s pretty great, not as a generic Noir mystery.

      1. Ander says:

        For me, it’s the cover. It looks…I don’t know. It doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll order the book when I have a moment of boredom at my computer (which happens a lot, since using a computer is my job), but haven’t yet. Nice to hear people think it’s your best book yet, because I still like Free Radical.

    2. Baron Tanks says:

      Let me preface this with saying what I’m about to say turned out very backseat driving-y but you’ll have to take my word for it that it comes from a good place and is meant to help.

      The marketing (unless something was done outside the website that was not announced here) can basically be summed up as:

      Marketing? What marketing?

      For the sake of checking myself before I wrecked myself, I double checked Shamus’ Twitter and even there, there is only a single tweet. And even that tweet reads as follows:

      The Other Kind of Life is now available on in both kindle format and print:

      Which doesn’t allude to this being a book (alright that one is self evident but still), much less that it is your book, what it’s about and that you’re happy it’s out, etc. Etc. I see you have 4500+ followers, but a retweet or two will at least get the message out there. I checked in the Escapist and see you updated your signature, but maybe with the next article you can discuss inserting a throwaway line into the body? You know people usually don’t read signatures, especially if they already know you. Also, maybe you still have some friends with shows or podcasts (didn’t you mention being involved with loading ready run?), maybe you can go talk to someone? You know, guest spot and talk about games in a broader sense then going, oh yeah I have a book out. I’d suggest even your old Spoiler Warning crew, seeing as Rutskarn is a writer too but their podcast was one of the first things to die on the vine. I’m mentioning these things not to bag on you, but because I feel that some of these if not all of these routes are still open to you and it seems that with a modicum of effort (< 5 hours?) you should be able to at least reach a bunch of people, whether they would buy it or not. Even some of the other advice can still be applied, I don't see how you can change the cover or back of the book, at least for the print, but improving the description in digital formats should be easy to do. What I'm saying is that with a limited amount of effort you may still get more out of this, the bulk and hardest part of the work is done after all! Wishing you more success!

    3. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, sentences like

      Based on what people are telling me, it’s not bad

      are really not selling me on the book.

      Hell, your summary of the book is doing a better job getting me interested in it than anything Shamus wrote.

    4. Grimwear says:

      I don’t have any strong opinions towards the cover but anytime I see it I’m immediately reminded of Mirror’s Edge. Maybe it’s the hair cut or the facial prominence but I can’t help but make the comparison. As for the blurb I’ll admit it’s not the greatest. I didn’t speak up during the last post since Shamus had just rewritten it and I didn’t want to be a downer but that initial line “The thing they said couldn’t happen, happened.” is downright awful. At the very least (and I acknowledge it’s cliché) I would have gone with, “They said it couldn’t happen. They were wrong.” Also the final paragraph needs a bit more explanation. Having not read the book I don’t know why they’re being hunted. I assume it’s because of the robots going crazy but it should try to provide some form of mystery of why the hunt is happening. “Unbeknownst to them, they’ve stumbled upon a mystery that will have them face off against corporations, gangsters, and crooked cops. Can they discover the mastermind behind this madness before the forces hunting them across the city silence them for good?”

      1. Chuk says:

        That cover looks like Mirror’s Edge to me, too. A previous poster’s description of it as a cyberpunk Caves of Steel makes me want to read it.

    5. Jeff says:

      I agree about the marketing thing.

      I had zero interest until this blurb: “I decided to set my story in a small, poor country away from the technology centers of the world. Poor countries have a funny relationship with technology because they’ll implement things in an unexpected order. You’ll find places where people are walking around with smart phones in cities that still have unpaved roads.”

      I think perhaps because it suddenly put the novel in a light similar to the articles here, and now I’m curious as to what Shamus has to say about that.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        I bought the book already before this post went up, but yeah, I liked that aspect of it, and I didn’t expect it at all, going in – this should have been worked into the synopsis somehow!

      2. Thomas says:

        This is the bit that grabbed my attention the most too

    6. Scerro says:

      I will chime in and say the same. When Witch Watch came out, we at least had more than a 1 month warning, some lead ups in blog posts around the subject, and the site marketed it. It wasn’t barely announced on the site, and we had a pretty good idea of what it was about and plenty of meta-discussion around it. You may have even posted the first few chapters for WW, which was nice because I wasn’t completely sold on that either.

      You didn’t even try and sell us on it, and it shouldn’t be a problem to sell your normal readers on a book. Like, even if I could pick it up at the local library and read it for free you don’t even have me sold on that. This post is the most explanation as to why you actually wrote this, and the best thing you’ve put out to sell me on why I would want to read it. And I’m the type to read stuff.

      For some reason I really really want to know your thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart series. Because I can see you writing something super similar it’s just that he’s put out about thirty books before writing those. It’s his take on a superhero universe that isn’t DC/Marvel and it really feels like a breath of fresh air to the superhero universe. It’s an easy read too, aimed at Teens.

      The cover also may be ambiguous for the intended audience. It slightly reminds me of a young adult female oriented type of book, not a deeper introspective into AI/Human and life interactions. Who knows, maybe it’s even a wannabe Twilight but with androids or robots. No idea (actually it’s really easy to miss that its even about AI). Book covers are confusing.

  2. Dev Null says:

    I kind of feel bad. I know I shouldn’t. but I do.

    I bought your book straight away, because I knew that I’d _want_ to read it. But I’m also in the middle of reading some other things, and I’m one of those people who doesn’t multitask well, so I’m still reading those other things. And I refuse to give a review/rating to something that I haven’t read yet, because that kind of devalues the entire point, even if no one ever reads any of my weird little Goodreads reviews mostly intended for my future self anyways. But I also know how important early ratings can be to a new book, so I feel a bit bad about not lying about your book? Or not reading it fast enough? Or something?

    Yeah, I’m aware that this is entirely stupid and in my head. I still feel a _bit_ bad about it. Sorry?

    1. Lino says:

      I also feel kind of bad, because I haven’t bought it yet, but I plan on getting the ebook version once I get back home,and have more time…

    2. Grey Rook says:

      Yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t have an E-reader and my monetary supplies are somewhat limited, so I put it on my wishlist and hope that one of my relatives feels nice enough to buy it for me in a few months. I did enjoy The Witch Watch, and I do tend to enjoy Shamus’s writings, so I figure I would enjoy The Other Kind of Life. I just don’t have the ability to just buy it out of hand… which doesn’t stop me from feeling slightly bad about it.

      1. baud says:

        You can read e-book from Kindle on your smartphone and your computer, with an app you download from Kindle’s website. It’s what I’m doing for Shamus’ books, since I don’t have a Kindle and buying one for two books is a little too much.

        (of course reading the e-book on your phone implies that you need to have no issue using a smartphone as a e-reader; it’s no issue for me, but it might be for other people)

        1. Grey Rook says:

          Oh, I don’t have a smartphone. I have a normal phone that I bought about twenty years ago that can just about make calls and recieve text messages, which is all I really need it to do. I also don’t need to charge it more than once per week or so, unlike those modern phones that need charging once or twice per day.

          Your point about downloading a Kindle app for the PC is taken, though I don’t think I’m going to do because I really prefer to hold a physical book in my hand to reading on the computer.

    3. Taellosse says:

      You’re not alone! I, too, bought a Kindle copy shortly after it went up, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, so I haven’t posted a review either. Ironically, I actually DID have a chunk of time for reading over the holiday, but I spent it reading comics instead – I’d forgotten I had this waiting for me.

    4. Erik says:

      I could have written this, almost word for word. If I could write as well, at least. :) I console myself that I did pre-order it immediately, at least, so I at least got that far.

      My excuse for not reading it yet is just that I’ve been in a deep history binge recently, and have not been reading fiction at all. It’s quite high on the fiction list, at least, when I get back to that.

  3. Redrock says:

    Is there a timeline for that DRM-free ePub version you mentioned? I’m itching to buy the book, but, alas, no Kindle. I mean, if the ePub is really far off, I might buy a Kindle version and alter it through some Calibre shenanigans to work with my reader, but that’s not ideal, of course.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      You know you can just download an official Kindle reader for PC and smartphones, right?

      1. Redrock says:

        You know that some people don’t like reading books on smartphones and prefer dedicated e-ink readers, right?

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          That’s why I also mentioned the PC. I mean, unless you’re reading Shamus’ blog in your e-ink reader, you’re likely using one already.

          1. Taellosse says:

            Personally, I hate reading longform prose on a standard PC, whether it’s a desktop or a laptop. The only reason I use the Kindle for PC app myself is because my laptop is one of the ones that folds over into a tablet, so it’s tolerable (though still a little too heavy to be comfortable). I know there are lots of others that feel the same way.

            1. Redrock says:

              Exactly that. I just don’t read novels on my PC. True, word for word, I probably do most of my reading off a pc or a smartphone screen. But for some reason I just can’t tolerate reading actual books that way.

            2. default_ex says:

              The problem is monitors are too bright to stare at for the time it takes to read a book. Even if you can do it, it still messes with your eyes. Paper and a soft light is more relaxing and easier to let yourself get taken into the book’s world. I binge read the entire Robotech book series. 26 books, each a respectable novel on it’s own. Read the whole damn thing in PDF form. Very quickly switched Adobe for an open source reader to alter colors and added a monitor setting for low light output. Kind of sucked that there were long sections where it got really good but I had to take breaks to let my eyes rest. Not like programming and gaming where your glancing around you during down time.

              Was thinking of getting the book out of a gift card I was given but car has been acting up and I butchered my ODB2 scanner to make a GM-Lan connector for the car’s computer systems. So I had to order a new ODB2 scanner, this time one capable of tieing in to both ODB and GM-Lan. Kind of need ODB2 side for reading car sensors to isolate problems that aren’t so obvious.

  4. kikito says:

    I liked the book, congratulations!

    One problem I noticed is that the two main characters get “talky” when I expected them to be more “businessy” – they have 10 minutes to take pictures inside an evidence locker, or when they are trespassing, and they get all “let’s talk about android motivations or some other philosophical issue” for several pages. I would have noticed less if happened only once. I think those conversations would work better later – in the car, for example.

    I appreciated that in your noire future human life wasn’t “cheap” as in typical cyberpunk settings.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      My favorite example of inappropriately talky comes from the visual novel 999 (9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors). The characters are trapped in a walk-in freezer that’s cold enough to kill them in short order if they don’t solve the puzzle in time. They then have a lengthy discussion about the freezing points of certain materials and a certain plot relevant substance that’s freezing point is unconventional to the point of seeming magical. While they’re freezing to death!

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        That sounds like something that would happen in 8-bit Theater.

        Wait, actually, that was sort of something that happened in 8-bit Theater.

        1. Daimbert says:

          To be fair to that game, the tone of it really was such that that sort of thing didn’t come across as being all that strange, and they might well have lampshaded it as well (when you go back to the escape room portion they often had at least one character note in some way that the digression was pretty stupid).

          Full disclosure: I really liked those games. The last one, Zero Time Dilemma, disappointed me by not locking off paths with anything other than passcodes and so I ended up blasting through the story and missing almost all of the escape rooms.

        2. Corsair says:

          That kind of thing was like 25% of 8-Bit Theater,

          1. Asdasd says:

            As I recall, the frequency of these shenanigans would increase asymptotically whenever the comic was approaching something actually happening in the main plot.

    2. Duoae says:

      I guess different strokes for different folks: I actually was totally fine with these segments. They felt organic to me in the sense that Max was a human and would “diverge” from the target more often than not. Humans often get distracted and go off on tangents. This felt entirely reasonable and did not go on for any appreciable amount of in-universe time for it to seem awkward to me.

    3. IIRC their disguise also behooves them to talk about SOMETHING so that the guard (who may be observing them indirectly) continues to think they’re legit. They can’t really talk about their fake background due to the risk of contradicting the lie accidentally. They can’t really talk about real stuff for the same reason. So they have to talk about something abstract.

  5. RFS-81 says:

    I didn’t expect a near-future sci-fi story to have completely made-up countries. Wait, this isn’t America… wait, this isn’t our planet. Not that I mind!

    And I want a game about the farming drones, Factorio meets Harvest Moon!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      It is still Earth as far as I know; It’s just not real countries.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        It gave me the impression that it was an affair similar to Final Fantasy. Technically speaking it’s still Earth, but with different countries and land distribution.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        Is it really “our planet” if you make up a new world history (and possibly landmasses)? Well, maybe it’s a millenium after World War 3 or something and our time has become pre-history.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I’m pretty sure Shamus only made up a few cities and countries. I could have sworn he used “Africa” or “South America” somewhere in the story, although I could be mistaken.

  6. MichaelG says:

    One thing I’d like you to write more about is the process. Coming up with the idea, getting the book written, hiring an editor, working with the editor, getting cover and blurb done, then putting the book up on various sites. A lot of us probably wonder about becoming authors, and it would be nice to hear more details. Plus it sounds like a cheap post for you. Let us look behind the scenes!

  7. Geebs says:

    Bought it, read it, liked it. It’s the sort of book Neal Stephenson might write if he actually listened to his editor once in a while*.

    I thought the exploration of Jen’s personality and motivations was particularly well done and worked well with the story and setting.

    (* feel free to use that one for the dust jacket! Attribution to “internet rando” please)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I think the quote’d look better beeing attributed to ‘Geebs’ and featuring your gravatar. That says ‘internet rando? This is not mere internet rando! It’s this particular internet rando!’

  8. Lars says:

    Bought the book 2 days ago. The tree destroying version of it. It should arrive in the next 2 weeks. Obviously I couldn’t read it yet.

    What creative decisions give me the best chance at getting out of this without ending up nibbled to death by a thousand passive-aggressive grievances?” (It turns out I didn’t need to worry. The book isn’t popular enough to generate outrage.)

    That is one of the reasons, why the sales aren’t as expected. Outrage (more: haters) do increase sales. For example the “revealing” book about President Donald had marvelous sales from both sides.
    To be clear: I didn’t bought it, read it or took part in the discussion, and don’t want to start that that here. I just want to point out: Divergent (to stupid) talk about a work of art increases the number of people who take an interest in that work and want to tell/make-up their own opinion. The cited network effect.

    1. Duoae says:

      I seriously doubt that this is one of the reasons. The power of authorial intent is under such scrutiny as to its’ hold over consumer understanding as to be a non-issue. Shamus could have written the most divisive text known to humankind and it would not have generated any further ripples (or sales) than this current book. He’d have to be VERY extreme to make the network effect of those sorts of people make a big impact in the initial sales. Not only that but I think the book’s tone would have to be completely different: less speculative and more definitive.

      i.e. “Robots are bad for jobs, here’s our hero (always masculine) defeating the big, ominous multinational corporations” versus what he actually wrote!

      1. Lars says:

        I agree to what he wrote is better (probably, I still don’t have the book in my hands), than a maximum controversy version. I do like the writing style and the webside, and the No-Politics rule is a big part of this feeling.
        I do not agree, to the “VERY extreme” thesis. If some person shouts obviously very extreme stuff, (s)he is very likely ignored as blunt and/or stupid (See Derek Smart). Controversy comes from interpretation of consumers, not from the author himself. Instead of very extreme a subtile influence starts the discussion that will possibly rise sells.

  9. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I’m not going to lie- I was excited for this until I found out it was written in present tense.

    I really, really can’t stand present tense. I know it’s getting traction in YA writing, but it always feels choppy and amateurish to me.

    1. Lino says:

      What? Really? That’s a bummer. I’ll probably still buy it to support Shamus, and I hope it won’t put too much of a damper on my enjoyment of it…
      I remember having a lot of problems with this style of writing while I was reading the new Star Wars: Atermath books.
      I got used to it only after I was halfway through the second book I read from the series. However, it did take some time before it stopped annoying me (and I still prefer reading books in the past tense).

      1. Duoae says:

        I really enjoyed the book but, yes, I also struggled with the tense used. I’m not enough of an English Major to understand *which* tense it was but I know that it really put a block in my way of engaging with the book (I mentioned this in the last post on the book as well).

    2. Iunnrais says:

      Ooof, I’m with you on present tense. But I have to ask… is it present tense first person or present tense third person? I’m almost okay with present tense third person. I’m also okay with 1st person past tense, because that pretty much works just like having a third person narrator anyway. *Really* not a fan of first person present.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        You can go on Amazon and read the first few pages as a preview.

    3. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      That’s quite a specific pet peeve. It’s a shame, the book’s good.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I know, right? This is the first time I heard of such an “issue”. I mean, I understand, for instance, being annoyed at trying to read in Film Crit Hulk’s style (all-caps, deliberately poor conjugation), but present tense? It feels like a manufactured complaint.

        1. Syal says:

          So I know at least a dozen people who will happily ramble for several hours straight, and obviously they’re using present tense, so if someone writes in first person present tense I associate it with aimless rambling. Past tense has a much more deliberate feel to it.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Past tense is generally more elegant. It’s easier to communicate complex actions that occur over varying lengths of time, while present tense gets kind of clunky whenever you have to express something that isn’t very, very immediate.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Everything in the book written in present tense *was* immediate; It was an account of events as they unfolded. The things described in the book’s past were in past tense.

      2. Lino says:

        Yeah, I guess… While reading the above-mentioned Star Wars books, I tried to put my finger on what exactly annoyed me so much about it. I think, at least for me, the reasons are two-fold:
        1. 99% of the books I’ve read are in past tense, so present tense sticks out immediately to me. So, instead of focusing on the text, the only thing I could think of was “We’ve been writing in past tense for the past 1000 years! Why is this author writing in past tense? What’s he trying to achieve?” And, I just couldn’t put my finger on why – was it to sound more dynamic? Because I didn’t feel it as such. Was he just trying to stand out by being different? Because he really did stand out – as the most annoying thing ever! For a while, the only thing he was managing to do was annoy me :D
        2. Up until reading those books, the only other piece of writing in present tense I had read was fanfiction. Bad fanfiction. REALLY bad fanfiction. So whenever I saw that present tense narration, I insantly got flashbacks of those pieces of fanficiton.
        But in the end, I managed to get kinda used to it, and by the third book I had stopped noticing it. I haven’t read anything in present tense for a while, so I imagine it’s going to take some time with TOKOL, but knowing it’s in present tense ahead of time is going to be a big help.

        1. Ander says:

          I know at least one avid reader who is repelled by present tense simply by association with bad YA novels. I tend not to notice, but I understand the reasons it can be distracting.

      3. Bloodsquirrel says:

        This runs a bit deeper than “pet peeve”. The tense (and POV) are both major stylistic elements of a novel that influence everything from the pacing to the way that imagery is communicated. The prose of a work is the delivery mechanism by which everything in the novel is presented to the reader. It’s like the art in a comic book. If you’ve never heard from anyone who has preferences regarding tense or POV before you haven’t talked to a lot of readers.

        I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in present tense that didn’t have a very awkward flow to it. It’s worse for me than having poor spelling or grammar- those might occasionally take me out of the moment, but present tense is so non-transparent for me that I can’t even get into the moment in the first place.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Too bad; The book was really good! :)

    4. Joshua says:

      Is that the same style in which The Witch Watch was written? That seems familiar.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        No, The Witch Watch was past tense.

        1. newplan says:

          You mean the Witch Watch *is* past tense, right? He didn’t go back and change it, did he?

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I hope not; Time-paradoxes might used to give me headaches.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Dang; I messed up my own joke! Cross out the word “might” there. ^^;

    5. sheer_falacy says:

      I read through it and had the same issue. I enjoyed the book but the present tense kept taking me out of it. At the start I actually thought the present tense would be some kind of one chapter prologue thing, but it continues throughout and always feels weird.

      I suspect that it’s a combination of things that make it feel weird. An obvious one is that most books are written in past tense. A less obvious one is that actually, the present tense is very rarely used in general for action verbs. Think about the phrase “he walks” – that’s basically never used to indicate someone is currently walking (as demonstrated, “is walking” is used for that). Present tense action verbs are generally not about one event – “He walks” would be taken to mean that he walks on a regular basis, not about a specific time he walked.

      Anyway, despite the present tense feeling very odd I still recommend the book. I read through it quickly once I started, and it was good despite that issue.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Present tense gives a sense of immediacy to a narration, and invites the listener/reader in to directly experience the event along with the narrator. Compare:

        “So I’m driving down to the store yesterday, when suddenly this guy runs a red light—right in front of me!”
        “So I was driving down to the store yesterday, when suddenly this guy ran a red light—right in front of me!”

        Perhaps because of this it tends to be used more in colloquial speech and writing rather than formal writing, which probably gives it some associated stereotypes. (After all, nobody writes scientific papers like: “For the first experiment, we measure out 1 gram of nitroglycerin, then we throw it sharply against the floor…”)

        Interestingly, going back 2,000 years, much of the Gospels and the book of Acts are in present tense in the original Greek, but most English translations change it to be uniformly past tense.

        1. Droid says:

          After all, nobody writes scientific papers like: “For the first experiment, we measure out 1 gram of nitroglycerin, then we throw it sharply against the floor…”

          Mathematicians usually write in present tense, because their papers typically do not sum up an experiment or analyse data which are both intrinsically ‘past’ things, but instead try to convince the reader that there is a way to logically deduce conclusion C from assumption A (using barely-connected-fact B along the way), which is intrinsically timeless.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Good point, I’m not very familiar with mathematical papers. Makes sense.

        2. Lino says:

          That’s one of my problems with present tense prose – it should add immediacy to the narration, but it just doesn’t – it sounds like it’s been written by someone who doesn’t have a good grasp on the language. The only thing it manages to do is draw attention to itself and stick out like a sore thumb.
          I’ve only ever managed to get over it by trying to forget that it’s written in present tense at all.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            1. You’re writing this complaint about present tense, in present tense.
            2. The book is composed of non-Anglophone characters. I’m certain that making them sound foreign was intended.

            1. Bloodsquirrel says:

              Writing a post on a forum thread is inherently stylistically different than writing narrative prose. Right now, we’re discussing a state of things that is. Narrative prose describes actions and events that happen. It’s similar to how dialog is very stylistically different to the rest of the prose. What we’re writing right now is also rhetorical and/or technical, which also deviates stylistically from narrative prose.

              If you’ll notice, whenever people here do start dropping into talking about what happened, they use past tense, such as Lino did when switching between the problems that he currently has with present tense to what he’s done in the past to try to deal with it. In fact, I did the exact same thing over the course of that sentence.

              1. Cubic says:

                Right now, we’re discussing”

                Raises an interesting question, actually. But I do mainly agree.

        3. sheer_falacy says:

          Notice that even in your example it’s “I’m driving”. That’s normal for conversation. But “I drive” is more like what the book uses, and that’s not normal. “I drive a truck” isn’t really present tense, it’s a description for a job or a hobby or whatever.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Fair enough, I haven’t actually read the book yet so I didn’t know. Technically “I drive a truck” is still present tense, but its aspect is habitual, rather than the continuous aspect of “I’m driving a truck.” And yeah, that does sound strange for describing non-habitual actions.

          2. Drathnoxis says:

            It’s wrong because his present tense example is still in the past, if you did something ‘yesterday’ you aren’t doing it right now. It’s not because “I drive” is somehow wrong or abnormal, nor is it even what the book does. From what I’ve read the book is in third person so it would be “he drives.”

    6. Echo Tango says:

      Personally, I felt it was in line with the rest of the book, set in a foreign / non-English country. It made the characters feel foreign the way a mild spoken accent makes someone sound foreign, without harming understandability.

    7. Paul Spooner says:

      “I really, really can’t stand present tense.” he said in the present tense.

    8. Majikkani_Hand says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. I was torn on whether to buy it, since I enjoyed Witch Watch but don’t usually go for SciFi (with exceptions. RIP Asimov.), and this post caught my eye. Checked out the first few pages using Amazon’s preview feature, scrolled down to make sure it was the whole thing and not just the intro, and yeah, no. Sorry Shamus! I can’t get behind that stylistic decision. It pulls me out of the writing every time unless it’s just for a few paragraphs as a way to set them apart from the rest of the story.

    9. Anachronist says:

      Some authors can pull off present-tense narration pretty well, though. After I get through with my reading backlog I’ll see what I think of Shamus’s use of present tense.

      The most jarring tense to me is second-person-present. “You get up in the morning, you take a shower…” I first saw this in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, and thankfully this is rare; I have never seen it again. Robbins is a creative experimental writer, but this particular experiment didn’t sit well with me.

      1. Lisa says:

        The first time I saw that in a novel I actually wondered if I’d picked up a Choose Your Own Adventure book by mistake (since I was enjoying them at the time). It drove me nuts, and didn’t get any better. I forced myself to finish the book but it was a struggle.

        Now I’m trying to remember what the book was even called!

  10. PPX14 says:

    I wonder compared with Witch Watch, if it’s just sci-fi vs fantasy. Certainly in games there seems to be a preference for the latter. And AI based sci-fi, and sci fi noir, I’d say are a niche – I myself love sci fi but am put off from AI-based things.

    1. Syal says:

      I’m going to say it’s the cover and title. The Witch Watch is a much more evocative title; it immediately tells you it’s a lighthearted fantasy story. The Other Kind Of Life doesn’t do that; there are so many possible “other kinds” of life it could range anywhere from a counter-culture biography, to introspective sci-fi, to a story about the mental effects of a soul-crushing desk job.

      Although I remember The Witch Watch getting more marketing as well.

      (I just bought it, but be warned, it’s going to be in direct competition with Apathy And Other Small Victories.)

      1. eaglewingz says:

        + 3

        The alliteration of WW alone made it a fun title. Plus, like you said, Shamus marketed it as a different take on the genre. TOKOL as cyberpunkish noir just doesn’t stand out as much.

      2. Dan Efran says:

        Yeah, a vague wish-washy title that could be any book in any genre; amateurish-looking cover that doesn’t boldly define the book either, or even pin down the genre clearly; and no marketing beyond the half-hearted moping we’ve seen here. What’s supposed to sell this book then?

  11. Liessa says:

    I read the book and enjoyed it very much (and recommended it to my family; I think my brother was considering buying it). I did notice that it wasn’t easy to draw parallels between Rivergate/Kasaran and any real world nation or culture, and going by your frequent rants against heavy-handed metaphor in your blog posts, I assumed that was deliberate. :) Regarding lower sales, it could be simply because it’s a different genre – I haven’t read the other book but it sounds a bit more fantasy-ish than this one.

  12. Christopher Wolf says:

    I bought it as a Christmas gift and am waiting for my brother to read it an review it. If he likes it I certainly will buy one for myself.

    I would also consider your genre shift as a potential reason the sales are not so hot, and perhaps the pricing games you played on Amazon.

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    So, hey, um… what happened to my comment? The one I made quoting this article. Was it not posted? Was it deleted?

    Edit: I just realized it wasn’t posted. I had another tab with an error message. Anyway, my original comment follows:

    It’s a shame, but this is the way things are right now. Some people are angry and raw, and they drag that anger around with them and project it into situations where it really doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t do anyone any good. I don’t know if this is a temporary situation or if this is the new normal for human discourse. I’m not mad at anyone about it. This is just something I had to consider when devising my book.

    I wouldn’t have wasted time doing that. The problem with these people is that they just like to complain. Remove a reason for them to do so and they’ll just find another one. They’re also a vocal minority. The internet’s ubiquitous status simply makes their voices easy to hear. Hell, I remember someone in a previous article of yours about the book complaining about the character’s race even though you had never mentioned it. Again, it’s pointless.

    I believe the low sales might be a product of poor marketing. I mean, besides your announcements in this blog I’ve seen no other promotional material for the book, so honestly I don’t know how someone who’s not already a fan of your work could even know it exists. I don’t know, no idea. I loved the book, but I cannot recommend it to any of my friend because none of the bastards can read English. I mean, they probably can identify some words and phrases, but they certainly can’t read a whole book in the language.

    If you’re the sort to assign people to roles in books, who did you use in TOKOL?

    Well, I do that, yes, but the kind of people I used for this book are very unlikely to be known by you, as they’re all latin american voice actors.

  14. zackoid says:

    There’s a non-kindle ebook version coming, right? That’s what would get me off my butt. Bonus points if I can buy it from someone besides Amazon, but I understand the difficulties there.

    1. Clint Olson says:

      I too would be interested in a vanilla-epub version of the book, perhaps via Gumroad, who I hear is the best of the ebook platforms with regards to the cut they give the author.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I think I saw that Mrs. Young posted in a comment somewhere that a non-Amazon DRM-free ePub version would be made available at some point, but the conversion process is fiddly sometimes.

  15. Mike Oldham says:

    Based on most other media these days I know I don’t represent a very large portion of the population, but I’m one of those people who still finds swear words offensive. I previewed the book and saw more than 2 F words among other swearing and decided to give the book a pass. I think it is one reason I often stick with fantasy, for some reason people accept fantasy characters that either do not swear, or use made up swear words. But a “modern” setting must be realistic, and since most people can’t string together two sentences without dropping an F-Bomb at least three times it must be included. I know this drastically limits what media I consume, but luckily there is still enough media out there that I can still find good material. I loved Witch Watch enough I also bought a copy for my dad, but I think I’ll pass on this one.

  16. paercebal says:

    In my case, the only available version at the time, on (I’m in France), was the Kindle version, and I’d rather have either a physical copy, or a no-DRM digital version I can read on my old, trusty eReader.

    Today, I was reminded of this book with your post. So I went to, and saw it now sells the physical version. I’m buying it right now.

  17. Fon says:

    I didn’t buy your book. Why? … Well, the truth is…

    I don’t usually read books.

    Sure, I can read comic books. I read internet articles a lot. I even used to do post-by-post tabletop gaming, which involves reading other people’s posts and the rulebooks. When I was a student, I actually read my textbooks… and I know many of my peers did NOT read them at all. Heck, my profession even demands me to read– whether it is to review contracts or read/analyze the law…

    But reading books (non-comic) for entertainment? … I just can’t do it for some reasons.

    But that’s not all– why would I read a book for entertainment when I can play video games for entertainment? And even though I only bought two new games for November-December, I still have like 4 mobile games to juggle around.

    In summary:
    1. Most people might simply not read novel/books for entertainment, even if they are a fan of your writing. (Most people wouldn’t admit this either, because, you know, saying you don’t read makes you sound stupid?)
    2. Your book might not be only competing against other books… but instead against *video games* and other forms of entertainment. (Thus end of the year might be bad timing– you’re competing against a lot of sales/discounts.)

    For record, I did read a novel once. I only read it because it was my assignment, but it seemed interesting enough so I read it all (though strangely, I cannot really recall what that novel was about), so maybe I need some jump-starting before I can read a book.

    Secondly, I do kind of want to read your book… but not enough to actually buy and read it, apparently? Honestly, I’m hoping the discussion of the book might get me interested enough. Even though your concept seems interesting, one paragraph of description on the cover really just isn’t not enough for me to go on. Basically, I need to be spoiled just enough so that I’m interested, but not so much that there is no point in reading the book. A very difficult spot to hit, to be sure, but I wonder if many others are like me?

    1. Cubic says:

      “But reading books (non-comic) for entertainment? … I just can’t do it for some reasons. … For record, I did read a novel once.”

      Honestly, you seem to belong to the second most difficult market segment of all — after those who never read a novel at all and don’t want to — so our host should probably leave convincing you to buy for much later and focus on the easier targets first. Your avatar might appear under the 100% complete achievement though.

      1. Fon says:

        Nah. My avatar will probably appear under the 80% complete achievement, because I actually like Shamus’ writing (well, his articles and comics) and I sometimes read?

        Either way, that’s a fair point… I suspect there are a lot of us out there, but I guess Shamus should figure out why some people who would normally buy his book didn’t do so first, instead of trying to figure out how to sell to people like me who normally don’t read novels anyway.

        1. Cubic says:

          A better salesman than me would have noticed that you still did express interest, so I’m probably being too ‘choosy’ in my market segmenting.

    2. Syal says:

      I do nearly all my book reading in the bathroom, away from the games.

    3. Vi says:

      Thanks for the honesty, I’m in pretty much the same category. I really would like to read the book, but my backlog of unread books is just so embarrassingly large that I’d feel silly picking up another one right now. It’s strange when I can read so many articles and online discussions (though I do have hundreds of ancient open tabs of unread articles, too), but those are all on the same app on the same device, and not much extra effort to pick up and put down at a moment’s notice. An infinite number of articles won’t take up extra space in my already overstuffed purse, and if they’re short enough, I can stay focused even when the Simpsons get noisy on the family’s surround-sound TV or alcoholics throw random tantrums on the subway.
      Oh, that reminds me! I was partway through reading a different novel on my Kindle app and then forgot about it a year ago! Crud, unless I remember again when I have a stretch of quiet time, I’ll never know what happens!

  18. Retsam says:

    I’ll save discussion for the later thread, but I read and really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of the I, Robot movie, without all the parts that made a lot of the internet hate that movie (superfluous action scenes, product placement, etc.). Which I guess is kinda ironic, given the books position on Asimov’s Three Laws.

  19. Duoae says:

    Honestly, I really enjoyed the Witch Watch and I enjoy your blog writing and article writing styles. So, I immediately bought the e-book.

    Like was mentioned above, I found the tense of the book off-putting but the quality and content of writing and story-telling was excellent and I really enjoyed the book once I got used to it.

    I think I agree with other people in that I think you really didn’t push the book. It has no exposure and I (as of today) shared it on my social media feeds (not that I have any followers or influence). Could you maybe give a copy to someone who influences book nerds in the same way game companies give free copies to twitch/youtube streamers?

    I terms of world-building, I find you a very competent author and you construct very logical (to me) arguments and social structures – which I really enjoy. I actually also agree that this is better “constructed” as a story and world than the Witch Watch though I did find the last little portion a bit rushed and the conclusion took me by surprise: maybe because I don’t read or watch things through “analysis” if I’m enjoying them, so the culprit and the jump to fingering them took me by surprise.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      So, you’re comfortable writing in first-person present-tense, but don’t like reading present-tense for a fictional character’s story…? :)

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        For real, this complaint drives me crazy. Up until this point in my life I’ve never heard of such a baseless, silly complaint. And now this comments section is suddenly filled with it. And I thought the complaints about Comic Sans were pointless.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        Is it really “our planet” if you make up a new world history (and possibly landmasses)? Well, maybe it’s a millenium after World War 3 or something and our time has become pre-history.

        1. RFS-81 says:

          Ah, dammit, wrong comment thread!

      3. Duoae says:

        @Echo Tango
        Actually, I am more comfortable reading in past-tense and writing in present tense. Why? Because *I’m* the person who’s experiencing what I’m feeling and writing right this instant as I’m typing. Reading about a character who is being written by the author as what they are experiencing then and switching to real-time conversation with other characters is weird for me. To have someone describing actions in real time in second person and then speak in first person reads like a movie script – which is a traditionally different form of writing from novels.

        I don’t read many scripts and often find them a bit strange when I do. Like I said, I got used to it and enjoyed the book but it was off-putting for me at first.

        @Dreadjaws: Well, I guess you’re not very good at accepting that all people are not the same as you and thus have different preferences. I wasn’t really complaining, I just said it was off-putting. Also, it was one minor point in the whole post. :)

        1. Duoae says:

          Actually, thinking more about Echo Tango’s reply: Most of the writing I do for work is past tense and that’s describing things in the third person so, the text I’m writing now is a very small minority of all the text I read and write. But like I said, it’s coming from my immediate feelings and actions as opposed to being an account for other people to understand – I’m writing as I would talk.

          To be honest, I think it’s just familiarity with a type of style. In the same manner it’s weird to switch between C/C++ (as Shamus has noted before in the past) if you’re more used to one or the other.

  20. krellen says:

    This post reminded me to buy the book.

    It won’t arrive for another two weeks, but me receiving the book does not matter to your book buying statistics.

  21. Marcellus Magnus says:

    I’m just chiming in to say that I’ve wishlisted the book, and I’m definitely going to buy it… in a few months, when my financial situation gets a bit less tight. (Heck, I didn’t even buy anything from Steam or GOG during their respective winter sales!)

    I’ve read Witch Watch and I really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into TOKoL as soon as I can.

  22. Rack says:

    I’m still going to buy this, but I do feel noticeably less enthused about doing so than I did for buying your last book. The Witch Watch had a novel premise and an intriguing hook. On top of that it promised to be fairly light and humorous which to a philistine like myself is much more appealing than anything denser. The Other Kind of Life looks a lot more familiar, if I didn’t read your blog I don’t see as I’d have any reason to buy it.

  23. melted says:

    I’m not sure it’s too late to do more marketing of some kind, posting a little more about it on twitter or offering a few review copies or whatever. Sure, the book’s already released, and from what I’ve heard it’s desirable to try to “clump” sales at the beginning so you can get higher Amazon rankings from the start and get more people to see it that way, but… it is still for sale. If you can get more people interested, then that’s all to the good.

  24. Naota says:

    I can’t speak to the marketing beyond this site, but I think if I had read more about where TOKOL was coming from and sorts of ideas I could expect to find in it, I’d be more interested in reading it right away.

    To me that’s the biggest difference between this book and The Witch Watch: before TWW went up for sale, through the blog articles talking about it and the strong hook (necromancy ritual goes wrong and reanimates the wrong guy as evil overlord) I was already sold on the idea and just waiting for the opportunity to read the thing!

    Comparatively, when TOKOR dropped, the first I’d heard of it was that it existed, and didn’t know what kind of plot to expect, what tone, or even the genre it was, outside of being cyberpunkish? It may be that TOKOL has a hook at least as strong as Witch Watch somewhere in it, but if so, I think it’s fair to say that blog readers don’t know it – or didn’t until just now.

    I think this post has probably been the most compelling argument for me to read it to date, because it’s finally given me a picture of what sort of story to expect. A lot of the interesting details and strengths of your writing that set TOKOL apart from a cyberpunk story by any other author have only just stood out to me in this short retrospective, when maybe they should’ve been out there before the book hit the market.

    Now, how to get those things across to non-blog readers? That’s probably a question of the all-important title/cover/blurb, and finding a compelling hook that a stranger will get. I can’t say if this time is any better or worse as a product to the public at large. Maybe selling novels to strangers is always a rough time. My impression is that the main differences in sales are due to what I described above: because it was released cold and without details, TOKOL appeals much less to your dedicated readers than The Witch Watch did.

    My gut says it’s not a question of genre, tone, style, or anything inside the book – it’s an issue of communicating to potential readers what the book’s strengths are, and why they should read it. We’re an easy sell, but we still need something to go on.

  25. AndrewCC says:

    IYou sure seem to have set a lot of “don’t”s for your book before writing it.
    The ideea of a sci-fi book set in a wholly alternate world with no relation to ours is underused, but maybe the reason for that is that readers wanna see how OUR world is transformed by fancy new tech/new ideeas. I’m having trouble even thinking of another example.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The farther from our world the fiction is, the more work you have to do setting up the rules. There’s a book series that had humans inhabit things such as a neutron star, and a universe where gravity was stronger. Good stories, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort for most books. They’re good for exploring the ramifications of different universes, but would be overkill for more normal stories. If you’re trying to have something normal like a murder mystery, what do the whacky laws of physics add to that?

      1. AndrewCC says:

        Those are set in far future of our world, or at least don’t do anything outright to make you think otherwise.
        Like I said I am having very hard time to come up with other examples of speculative fiction that is not set in a variant of our world.
        There’s lots of fantasy examples though. In fact, for fantasy it’s very rare for something to NOT be set in a completely different world. There’s a few examples but most just treat our world like a parallel to the fantasy one, like Zelazny’s Amber series. There’s Shadowrun but I would actually classify that as sci-fi, not fantasy.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Although the neutron-star book is set in the future in our universe, the gravity one is set in a parallel universe. There’s also a section of onestory that’s set in a different parallel universe, near the beginning of that universe’s timeline. Also, the series has a meta-universe which is composed of the other regular-level universes, and then there’s time-travel shenanigans thrown into the mix (in the story it’s used in a single universe, but I believe some variant of time-shenanigans also implied to work in the meta-universe). So, I’d say only about half of that book series is in our “world”. :)

          1. AndrewCC says:

            If the universes are linked, it’s not a complete other world. For example, DC or Marvel take place in an alternate universe, but I would not call them completely separate since there are (many) shared elements. In contrast, Elder Scrolls has no link to our universe. Same for Final Fantasy. There are many many fantasy universes like that, and next to none sci-fi ones.

  26. Lee says:

    You linked to the old post about voices in Witch Watch. Just so you know, the links to buy Witch Watch in that post are broken now.

  27. It’s definitely the best fiction you’ve written so far. The Witch Watch had a couple of awkward contrivances and the characters changed radically in personality over the course of the book. For instance, I went the entire first half of the book thinking that Simon was about 16 because of the way he was described and the way the other characters treated him, and then he has a romance with the 20-something female character? It hurt my brain, because either I had to radically re-evaluate Simon’s characterization, or, well, gross. For most of the book Simon just didn’t have a developed-enough personality of his own to make a romance believable.

    Gilbert transitioned from being intelligent, decisive, and proactive to being largely irrelevant as you tried to shove the other two characters into greater prominence. It then felt really weird and contrived when they took a sudden side trip to America. It was REALLY OBVIOUS that the only reason to do this was to let events develop in the city until they got back.
    There were also a lot of style missteps that you’d expect with an immature writing style.

    The Other Kind of Life doesn’t have any of these errors, and actually has a mature, developed, consistent style that’s a pleasure to read. Qua novel, it’s very awesome. You have managed a tight, understated presentation of a complex topic.

    The only real criticism that I’d have from a writing standpoint (and this can quite possibly be a deliberate stylistic choice) is that when there are emotionally tense scenes, Max doesn’t really convey emotional intensity directly, so you have to infer it. To some people, this may seem bland. He doesn’t describe what’s going on in his head emotionally very much, instead it’s left to the reader to *infer* what he must be feeling from his description of how he acts and what he’s thinking ABOUT.

    In a “thinky” novel this can be a really cool strategy, but on the other hand it doesn’t quite convey the full force of the threat and how it might drive Max into unusual behavior. Even when Max is in SERIOUS danger, he seems to be on top of it, although when he talks about it later you get the impression that HE didn’t think he was on top of it at the time.

    It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just unusual. The vast majority of people who write in this first-person style do it because they want to go into enormous depth about what the protagonist is FEELING at each moment–so much so that they often don’t even bother to tell you what that person is THINKING. So it’s very interesting to see it done the other way around. My instinct would be that it was done to convey that Max isn’t really that in touch with or articulate about his emotions (and his relationship with Clare definitely tends to support this), but if that’s the case you’d expect there to be more of a denouement about this toward the climax of the book, where he’s forced to confront it actively as part of resolving his problems. There wasn’t, so it kind of leaves the interpretation up in the air.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Those scenes of inferred emotion were the best for me. Not everyone needs to be in touch with their feelings. Some people just want to be a stone cold gangster.

      1. I’m not at all saying that they’re BAD SCENES. I’m saying in general they lead to a certain expectation that wasn’t paid off in any appreciable way. Basically, it *very slightly* acted as a Chekov’s gun to the story.

        What distinguishes a skillful writer from an unskilled one is ultimately how well they direct all of the choices they make in the story to a *purposeful end*. If they set up an expectation, do they pay it off later. If they forget about it (or it SEEMS that they have), it comes across as less skillful.

        The purpose doesn’t have to be a specific trope to be good. Basically, you’re judging “did they take this where they WANTED to go, or not”? Did they accomplish what they set out to do with this particular story? And the tricky bit is that the story itself has to convey both WHAT the goal was AND get you TO the goal. If the writer comes along later and says “well, I was trying to show that there isn’t any real resolution to this problem”, that’s not good enough, because while the lack of resolution obviously was conveyed, the EXPECTATION that “there’s no resolution” would BE the resolution was NOT. As a further difficulty, it’s generally not possible to tell exactly WHAT expectations were being set up UNTIL they’re paid off. While you’re mid-story, you’ll have a collection of threads that are “leading somewhere”. You develop a general idea of approximately where they’re leading, but don’t form a definite conclusion until they get paid off. If the payoff is too obvious then the story generally comes across as trite or cliche. The reader does need to be able to back-trace all the threads and see, ah, NOW it’s clear where all these threads were pointing. If there are glaring places where the threads were pointing somewhere completely different and this wasn’t addressed, or threads that were dropped without being tied off, etc., the overall impact is lessened.

        There’s a difference between “and in conclusion, there’s no conclusion” and “I forgot to write a conclusion”.

        Almost everything about the story IS wrapped up, but the effect of these events ON Max are not really even hinted at. He doesn’t have any realizations about himself or come to any real decisions. He solves his immediate problem without establishing any future trajectory.

        1. This would actually be a good setup for a sequel, if Shamus were inclined to write such a thing. There’s no definite cliffhanger, but there are threads that could be explored more in a further story.

        2. Duoae says:

          I didn’t really think about this until you brought it up. It’s a really interesting point. I’m going to spoiler this because it’s very spoilery (IMO).

          The tense used and perspective of being in Max’s head but not a party to his thoughts always required the presence of Jen/Halona or another character to allow him to speak and communicate that to the reader. At the end of the book Max loses all outlets for the reader to be able to understand him other than his immediately described actions in the same manner as the book began.

          I agree with the WW observations but I really felt that the thread leading back to the perpetrator was left a bit too long. Maybe I just forgot some hints in the mid-to-late parts of the book but the hints at the beginning of the book didn’t click for me so it seemed like a huge jump for both Max and Jen to suddenly both finger him at the same time after visiting the deepmind (machine intelligence) to me. as I was reading the book.

          Like I said above, though, I’m a bit dim-witted when I’m enjoying a story and I tend to just go with the flow. It’s only when I get upset by something pulling me out of the writing that I begin to really analyse the plot as I’m reading it. So it’s probably my fault. :)

          1. I have no idea why my brain barfed there and decided The Other Kind of Life was in first-person.

    2. Syal says:

      It was REALLY OBVIOUS that the only reason to do this was to let events develop in the city until they got back.

      I thought the America trip was a powerful insight into the nature of the villains; they are actually vicious enough and petty enough that they’ll cross oceans just to hurt you.

  28. baud says:

    I’ve read the first 9% (according to the Kindle app), but I’ve put aside, just before the discussion with Landro, because I want to finish other books first. What I’ve read is good and I particularly dig the worldbuilding you’ve done so far.

  29. Cilba Greenbraid says:

    I bought the book a few days after it was released, read it over my holiday trip, and am going to go ahead and post an Amazon review when I can spare a half hour to write one. Since you asked for feedback, here are my thoughts, numbered for readability but in no particular order:

    1. I loved the book. It’s great. And one of my favorite things about it is how you threaded the needle between the protagonist being a Mary Sue (he’s highly competent in some arenas but makes mistakes and false assumptions) and the modern trend (which I dislike) of the book being composed of 400 pages of The Plot stomping on the protagonist’s face over and over. And I thought the pacing was mostly very good–I was prepared to be yanked out of the story by long conversations, but you did a bang-up job of integrating them.

    2. I have a friend who is very picky about what he reads who has never, in five years, bought a book I’ve recommended he should read. TOKOL was the very first. He works in AI research, so it caught his attention. TOKOL is (or struck me personally as, anyway) a philosophical speculation, and a very thoughtful one, packaged in mystery wrapping. My describing it as such to my friend convinced him to buy it.

    3. Your other readers are right; the cover is by no means poorly done, but it doesn’t catch the eye of the kind of reader who might be interested in this book. I also think the tagline could be a bit more descriptive of the kind of book this is (I have no talent for writing taglines, but something along the lines of “Can you trust a robot?” maybe?) and it should be on the front cover. I think it would be really beneficial for the front cover to convey as much information as an image and a few words can about what makes this book interesting. I don’t think the current cover accomplishes that.

    4. I appreciate your strong aversion to self-promotion. The world needs fewer self-promoters. But in the case of self-publishing a book, promotion falls into the same category as cleaning your toilet: it’s distasteful and un-fun, but it has to be done. You hire a professional to do it if you can afford to, and if you can’t, then you have to grimace and do it yourself. Leaving it undone is doubleplusungood. You have an audience a lot of self-pub writers dream of, and you have a terrific book to sell–promote the hell out of it!

    5. You’re such a thoughtful writer that I feel safe presuming that writing this story in present tense was an important artistic decision for you. Contrary to what others have posted above, after about two chapters to adjust, I personally had no problem with it. Just know that it does put off a lot of readers, to the point that some of them just won’t read the book. If you knew that and decided it needed to be present tense anyway, that’s fine!

    6. I’m curious: is the lack of a DRM-free epub version due to Amazon’s requirements? i.e., if you publish through them you have to wait X months before you’re allowed to publish an e-book elsewhere? I think a DRM-free epub may be the only version a sizable chunk of your loyal reader base will buy.

    As an extra note, if there is anyone reading this who genuinely wants to read the e-book with the Kindle app or whatever but can’t spare the $5, email me. I’ve been there before, where even a few bucks is a big deal, and if you like Shamus’ stuff then you really should read this book. :)

  30. Dreadjaws says:

    Mmm… I guess I didn’t leave any actual feedback on the book. I left a very detailed review on Amazon, so I don’t want to repeat myself. I’m just gonna point out that I really like the protagonists. I love the idea that Max has to do the work of a detective without actually being one, and the way Jen-5 is handled makes me very happy, as other stories dealing with androids have left me asking for details that never came.

    Perhaps my only complaint is that the villains Max is having his revenge against aren’t very developed. Granted, they’re not very important to the main story, but while their backstory is detailed they have just a couple of short scenes with Max. I feel it kinda lessens the impact of their rivalry. I know the stuff with Landro is also just composed of a couple of scenes, but they’re much longer and interesting. As a result, while I feel invested in the Landro part of the story, I don’t care much for those guys, whose names I already forgot.

    I honestly don’t have any complaints about the “present tense” thing. This is the first day in my life that I’ve heard of anyone having such a problem and for the life of me I can’t comprehend such pettiness.

    Side note: I’d really love to see a game set in this universe. Something like a graphic adventure; something light on combat (or entirely devoid of it). Perhaps something with pixel art, kinda like Gunpoint’s.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Present tense has always bothered me in books. It’s because the vast majority of people trying to write in present tense are (a) being pretentious and/or (b) fail to understand English grammar well enough to be able to handle the times when you still need to use past or past perfect even though the majority of the novel is in present. Either of those will kill a book for me, and they are both SO commonly correlated with present tense (I’d say over 80% of the ones I’ve read have had at least one of these problems) that I spend the book waiting for the other shoe to drop. If that’s petty, then so be it. I don’t see it as any different from noticing that, say, 80% of the movies that heavily blue-shift the colors also do something else that kills the movie for you, and therefore expecting to be burned by a new blue-saturated movie.

      That being said, I can usually get past it after a couple decent chapters.

      1. Kathryn says:

        I thought about this some more, trying to figure out if it’s selection bias. I asked myself what percentage of books in past tense I’ve read have these problems, and it’s about 20%. Then I thought about genre. The books in present tense that I’ve read have largely been either YA (often group a) or self-published epic F/SF (nearly always group b). So if I limit by genre, considering YA, I’d say a solid 50% of all YA in past tense tends to be bad, and the percentage is that low only because I’m including my favorite stuff like McKinley or L’Engle. If I limit it to modern YA, it’s more like 70%. As for self-published epic F/SF, I don’t think I’ve read a good one yet.

        So, selection bias is certainly a possible explanation.

        1. Droid says:

          Uhm, since we’re kind-of-sort-of on that topic:
          From what you’ve written in the past, you strike me as someone who reads a lot of different books from lots of genres. IIRC, you’re also American. I have wondered for a while now how well-known non-English literature is in America, specifically German and Italian literature.

          So could you please tell me: which of the titles and authors below could you bring up in a conversation without explanation, knowing that the other person will probably have heard of them and roughly know what you’re talking about?

          1) Must-reads in literature classes:
          – The Divine Comedy, Dante
          – The Prince, Machiavelli
          – Faust (Part One), Goethe
          – The Song of the Nibelungs

          2) 20th century literature:
          – Zeno’s Conscience, Svevo
          – If This Is a Man, Levi
          – The Metamorphosis, Kafka
          – The Tin Drum, Grass
          – Max and Moritz, Busch

          3) Various authors and dramatists:
          Boccaccio (The Decameron)
          Goldoni (Women’s Gossip, The Liar)
          Grimm (Children’s and Household Tales)
          Schiller (The Pledge, The Cranes of Ibycus, Polycrates’ Ring)
          Lessing (Emilia Galotti, Nathan the Wise)
          Böll (Stranger, Bear Word To the Spartans We…, The Balek Scales, You go to Heidelberg Too Often)
          Hauptmann (The Weavers, The Rats)

          Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t feel like answering. On the other hand, anyone reading this is invited to chime in if they’d like.

          1. Syal says:

            The Divine Comedy (mostly Inferno), the Prince, and Faust are understood in pop culture terms. I think Metamorphosis is up there. Everyone has heard of Grimm’s fairy tales but most people thinking of the individual stories will think of the Disney versions. I don’t remember hearing of any of the others.

            I’ve only read Faust, Metamorphosis, various Grimm tales and most of Inferno. Never read any of them for school, but outside of short stories and “choose a book from this list” the only mandatory school reading I remember was Romeo and Juliet, and that one book about the black woman whose husband catches rabies and dies in a tornado or something, don’t remember the title but man that was a boring book.

          2. Redrock says:

            What, no Remarque in the second list? Weird. My impression was that he’s one of the more important 20th century German authors. Me, I’ve read all of the first lists, Kafka from the second list and none from the third, although I’ve often heard Decameron mentioned. Then again, I’m not American, so I doubt that counts for anything.

            1. Droid says:

              This is by no means a complete list of important authors/works. Especially since ‘Max and Moritz’ is a book of children’s tales which, sure, is pretty well known at least by name in the German-speaking sphere, but just by its nature will not have the same kind of impact as Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.
              I mostly included the former as a comparison to Grimm’s tales, and honestly just didn’t think of the latter, but seeing as Remarque’s work was grounds for his exile and eventual asylum in the US, he would probably have made a better entry than a few others.

              1. Syal says:

                ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is widely known here, but I never would have been able to tell you who wrote it. I think the movie version is more famous.

          3. Bloodsquirrel says:

            I don’t think most people would be more than vaguely familiar with anything on that list.

            I’d expect a reasonably literate person to have heard of The Divine Comedy, The Prince, Grimm’s Fairy Tails, and maybe Faust. They might have heard the name “Kafka”, but probably not any of his works.

            Out of curiosity, where did this list come from and what is it intended to represent?

            1. Droid says:

              It’s an incomplete list of books that I had to read in my German/Italian classes, even though I used Wikipedia and the Britannica to check on what they think the importance of work X is before including said work.

          4. Kathryn says:

            Sorry I did not see this earlier. Yes, I am a fairly widely read American. I agree with what Syal said on which works are recognized culturally and that most people know Grimm from the Disneyfied versions. (I have and have read many times the original (well, not ORIGINAL, they’re in English) versions, complete with the evil stepmother being forced to dance in red hot shoes, etc. I even have one book old enough to render the Falada exchange from “The Goose Girl” as “Ah, Falada, there thou hangest/Ah, queen’s daughter, there thou gangest”. The newer ones definitely don’t use “gangest”.)

            Personally, I have read the Divine Comedy (all three, not just the Inferno) and am familiar with the rest of the first group. I’ve heard of but haven’t read most of the others. I am pretty sure I’ve heard of Max and Moritz before. I have actually been meaning to start reading some German books, so that might be a good place to start – I don’t think my German is quite up to Grass just yet :-) If you have any recommendations, that would be awesome.

            Your question touches on an interesting topic, shared texts – those works that everyone in a culture is familiar with, so references to them are common and you can assume everyone will recognize them. Harold Bloom (a professor of…literature maybe?) argues that once upon a time, everyone in the English-speaking world knew the King James Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Plutarch’s Lives of the Saints. (And you will still find people referencing those, especially KJV, but they often won’t know that’s what they’re referencing.) What are the shared texts today – those works that I can reasonably expect everyone in the room to get a reference to? Star Wars, Harry Potter?

            It’s an interesting question to think about. But extremely off topic :-)

            1. Cubic says:

              There used to be a Western Canon of works, but it was abandoned sometime in the 1980s or so for culture war reasons. I personally think people got a bit overenthusiastic with adding stuff and it got a bit crowded towards the end, so perhaps that’s for the best. One can’t realistically expect everyone educated to have read even 100 classics with great attention (because that takes many years; I have measured myself at perhaps 50 books a year, with lots of them being at the easy end of the scale) and if you scan the list in the Western Canon entry below, there is a fair number of marginal entries even in the shorter 153-item list.


              (The right treatment for these is IMO not as ‘required reading’ that has to be passed but as ‘suggested reading’.)

      2. Cubic says:

        Lol, I associate present tense mostly with hardboiled cyberpunk (like Walter Jon Williams, Hardwired, which btw is good). Often turns out to be a failed stylistic experiment though. I blame modernism.

        1. Droid says:

          It works a lot better in languages with only one verb form in present tense. That way, you sidestep the “he drives/is driving” problematic, because there is no such distinction. That said, from personal experience, I’d say you’re still right about it ending up as a failed stylistic experiment more often than not.

  31. Charles Henebry says:

    I’m going to propose that my Sci Fi book club choose your book next—so that’s 6 more sales, for what it’s worth.

  32. Abnaxis says:

    Did any exotic colors like green or blue occur to you, or would they be too alien?

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      If you’re talking about the race thing, I certainly believe that would have moved the setting of the book past from speculative fiction into full-on sci-fi. It would, right from the get go, raise a bunch of new questions that would require an explanation (this is not the kind of novel that’d let that kind of detail go unexplained). This in turn would create a new set of rules for the universe, and would probably end up causing a lot of alterations to the story.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        I’m not sure what extra thing would need explained? Racial history is already being rebuilt to try and keep the races from having real world analogues, so I don’t see why having the races be a completely different skin tone than what exists on Earth suddenly makes it any more “fantasy.”

        1. Syal says:

          The world’s physics would be changed. Black and red are heat exposure colors, which real-world people are known to survive. Blue is a frostbite color, green is a mold color (or a Martian color). Real-world people don’t survive being naturally blue or green for very long.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            I mean, pale skin and dark skin are ALSO signs of disease–potentially just as deadly diseases–given the right context. I think the only issue with going outside the normal skin color palette is that such skin tones don’t exist in humans, which would make the book seem more foreign and alien. That has nothing to do with physics or any other factors that make believability suffer, it just makes the world harder to visualize because most people don’t really have a good internal frame of reference for odd skin color.

            1. Syal says:

              Of course believability suffers; if the book is trying to make people think about the ramifications of technology, the last thing it needs is to put fantasy details at the beginning that the readers aren’t supposed to think about. You’d have to explain it for tone consistency, and if you take the time to explain it then it needs to matter enough to warrant the space, and now you’re telling a different story.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                I still don’t get what you have to “explain?” Do you expect authors to go into excruciating detail about the difference between melatonin and whatever biological compound changes skin pigment in their world?

                What actually makes it less believable? There’s no actual physical reason why skin pigment can’t be whatever you want it to be, it just makes the work more foreign and strange

                1. Lino says:

                  That’s the thing – in this case, you don’t want it to be too foreign and strange. You want the world to be as close as possible to our own – that’s why it would be weird to have green and orange people walking around. Just like with the technology, you want the world to be different to ours, yet kind of familiar.

                2. Syal says:

                  Do you expect authors to go into excruciating detail about the difference between melatonin and whatever biological compound changes skin pigment in their world?

                  Yes, I do. Because the default explanation is “it’s there because the author thinks it’s cool,” and that’s going to become the default answer for everything in the book. If the author asks “What are the implications of a robot that can switch bodies?” the reader answers “Nothing, it’s just there because the author thinks it’s cool, like the skin thing.”

          2. Vi says:

            I’ve heard of two cases of humans surviving blueness: There was a family who had a mild, survivable version of a rare genetic disease that made their blood–and thus their skin–completely blue (until a treatment was discovered); and misusing colloidal silver can make someone’s skin and other tissues a rather startling bluish-gray, possibly forever, but isn’t known to cause any other health problems.

            I can’t really see such a specific, rare gene being spread throughout an entire country, at least not without the rest of the world having noticed and made a running joke of it centuries ago, but chronic silver overdoses could be part of someone’s culture. Maybe misuse of colloidal silver is common and unremarkable to them, the way fast food and fad-diets are common and unremarkable in the USA. Or maybe it has deeper roots, such as from a contaminated water supply that’s been that way for so many generatons, and developed such a rich mythology, that the locals see everything about it as a feature rather than a bug. Of course, that’s a lot of extra worldbuilding that may not add anything at all to a story about robots.

  33. Abnaxis says:

    Apologies for double posting, but does the grim sales news mean no audio book? I was holding out to listen instead of read.

  34. Spivak says:

    I will wait until the full-blown, spoiler-allowed discussion thread before pouring out all my thoughts here, but a few small comments:
    – I agree with the general consensus that the book needed better marketing.
    – Don’t think it’s your best book yet, but only because I really, REALLY love Free Radical. I’ve never played System Shock 1 or 2, so it’s not the fact it’s fanfiction. I just like that story for what it is.
    – I have some criticisms for the story, and won’t hold back. I will still be polite, and honestly am not looking for a fight.
    – Despite some flaws, I still read the story throughout a few days, and enjoyed it. And some things REALLY stood out as great. So apologies if it comes out as sappy, but thank you for writing this book. It might not be perfect, but it does things that no book I read has ever accomplished, and I am grateful it exists. Not sure if the time and effort invested in the book paid off for you. But I, perhaps selfishly, am grateful you wrote and published this story, and gave me an opportunity to read it. Thank you, once again.

    1. Droid says:

      I am in exactly the same situation. Huge thanks for writing this, Shamus, but expect some negative feedback from me in the next post nonetheless. Even if that post ends up sounding very critical, please know that the things that stood out to me were merely noticeable because the book was so consistently good at all other times.
      It was an interesting, very captivating read full of innovative thought that, in retrospect, seems so obviously true/reasonable that I wound up wondering multiple times how I had never thought of it this way myself before.

  35. Daimbert says:

    As you seem to be pondering why the book isn’t doing as well, let me give you some reasons that aren’t actually related to the book itself or its quality marketing, from the perspective of someone who bought “The Witch Watch” and isn’t going to buy this one:

    1) I believe that “The Witch Watch” was pre-Patreon, and so was at a time when your financials were pretty shaky. Some people, like myself, might have bought the books to give them a try and help you out a bit. Anyone still concerned about that will probably just add to your Patreon.

    2) While it wasn’t terrible or anything, I found “The Witch Watch” disappointing, in big part because of the same sorts of analyses that can drift into overanalysis and patching around issues. Since I wasn’t that thrilled by “The Witch Watch”, I’m not that interested in this one. That might be the case for others as well, and your biggest audiences are those who have read “The Witch Watch” and the readers here who are more likely to have read “The Witch Watch”.

    So it might have little to do with this book itself.

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      I thought it was worth seconding that I’m keen to support you but am doing that primarily through the Patreon. TOKOL looks interesting but I have very limited time and I know I wouldn’t read it anytime soon so I haven’t picked it up yet. If it wasn’t for already supporting via Patreon I would probably have purchased it now.

      I’ll look at buying it anyway as I know # of sales does help with ranking etc.

    2. Joshua says:

      Same. Bought Witch Watch, How I Learned, and Good Robot. Now support via Patreon directly.

      I thought Witch Watch was “ok”, and interesting/creative enough storywise, but the prose wasn’t my favorite. It felt exactly like reading Shamus’s webcomics DMotR/Let’s Play LOTRO/WOW, except without the visuals. Too much reliance on dialogue/inner narrative to move the story along. Interestingly, I also bought Scott Meyer’s (of Basic Instructions webcomic) novel Off to be the Wizard, and had a similar complaint (although Witch Watch had more immediately likeable characters).

      I also have near zero interest in Cyber Punk, so TOKOL has little appeal to me, regardless of the author.

  36. CJGeringer says:

    Shamsu have you ever read KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH´s blog on indie publishing( have you an opinion on it?

    You are the only other independent writer that I follow and some of her posts on the publishing industry remind me of some of your posts on the gaming industry.

    probably because they are both large industries disrupted by the rise of indies

  37. Topher Corbett says:

    I have so many books I haven’t read already, but if I were in the mood for it, I would say that the cover is the thing that turns me away. It doesn’t really say cyberpunk to me. A cityscape or some important location or object in the story would interest me more.

  38. Simplex says:

    Hey Shamus, I bought your book, did not read it yet, but I plan to (I really liked Free Radical). After reading your blog post I made a post on a gaming forum that I frequent, advertising your book. One of the response was “Noir? Androids? I’m in!”, so I hope I got you a purchase. Good luck with the book, and please take better care about marketing and visual identity with your next book – hopefully a sequel to The Other Kind of Life :)

  39. Disc says:

    I bought the physical book from Amazon sometime before Christmas and I’m still waiting for the delivery. It pretty much always takes at least two weeks for anything I buy from overseas.

  40. Jordan says:

    Man, the way a subset of youngish readers deal with things like race in fiction really can be infuriating. I’d consider it the temporary negative side effect of actual positive progress (giving a crap about proper representation). Fair enough, if you decide you’re ‘pretty much sure’ about how African cultures are and write about noble savages from the land of Oingo Boingo, you deserve the heat for that one. But if you’re respectful of cultures or peoples you’re trying to represent, do your research, and consult with people who have those life experiences then you should feel free to ignore anyone that would try and turn that around on you based on your own race or ethnicity. After all, what is their goal? Less representation in fiction? Racial segregation once again?

    Gosh I’ve read tweets of someone (who didn’t appear to be trolling, though that’s always a possibility) attacking a book for appropriating ‘Greek culture’ for using the term ‘Atheneum’ (a valid, if super archaic, word for a library). There’s got to be a point where you don’t bother getting upset and you just block out what is obviously invalid criticism from someone who’s heard ‘appropriation is bad’ but hasn’t quite gotten the finer (or broader) points of the statement.

    I definitely feel sorry for smaller audiences that have fallen foul of some Tumblr/Goodreads ‘boycott’ and had abuse hurled at them or been review-bombed for flakey reasons by people who didn’t even read their work.

    That aside, I’ve wishlisted both of your books. I loved your System Shock fiction back in the day. Might be a while until I get to your full books though, my current to-read list is something like 150 books long (99p book sales are a slipper slope and I’m happier living in ignorance of how much I’ve spent in total on my Kindle).

  41. Sorry to hear your book isn’t selling well. I’d happily buy it, but truth is I don’t read.

    I mean I read, but I prefer short stories and such. I love getting absorbed into a good book, but I find it takes a lot longer to get immersed each “session,” than other forms of media and due to my schedule I don’t get many of those that are very long. I’ve been trying to read Dune for like 3 years lol

  42. Lethal Guitar says:

    I more or less immediately bought Witch Watch after reading the excerpt of the first chapter you put on the blog here. Maybe it would be good to do the same for this book? Sure, you can get previews on Amazon etc., but having it directly on here might hook more people?

    In any case, good luck and I hope sales pick up at some point!

  43. Droid says:

    Hey Shamus, something strange happened with my last post (~14h ago). I could successfully post it, but then when I wanted to edit a small mistake I had made, the popup editor told me that my changes could not be saved because the edit was considered spam. After that, the post was gone.

    The only thing I can think of that could have caused this: I’m about 80% sure that I accidentally double-clicked the “Post comment” button. I don’t know enough about web programming to understand whether that would result in a double post or would otherwise look alarming to filters. But that’s the only thing that stood out about my post other than its length. Didn’t even have any links.
    Unless the spam filter just really doesn’t like me veering off-topic. :-D I hope you don’t mind!

  44. Pseudonymous says:

    Couple of stray thoughts from a longtime lurker:

    1. The book is solid, really solid, and I enjoyed it a lot. In particular I was expecting a details-first world with a strong plot, and I got exactly that, so I was pretty happy.

    2. Nth-ing the comments above about marketing. I know marketing is awful, but it’s got to be done.

    3. The beginning sections (first 5%? 10%? I forget) of the book aren’t edited well enough. This is the opposite of how things usually go: the beginning needs to be really clean so readers don’t bounce off, but TOKAL had more small mistakes in that first 10% than in the remaining 90% combined, and that’s not good. I was very relieved that they stopped and the little voice in my head whispering “this had better not be fanfiction quality, you swore that stuff off years ago” got to shut up and go away. (For what it’s worth, I’m particularly sensitive to editing errors. A younger me, with more spare time, would have offered to go through the book again and mark it up, but alas, those days are behind me now.)

    4. Two little details that bothered me (not really spoilers, but I’ll go for the tags anyway because why not): at the beginning of the story, even though he’s in prison, there’s no way Max wouldn’t have heard about the robot murders. WIth inmates coming and going, news that big will make its way in, and given his casino job, that’s not a piece of news Max would have ignored or forgotten. Yes, it’s a totally trivial detail, but (going back to the previous point), it happens early in the story, where execution really has to be its best.

    The second detail in the late middle of the story was that the second-gen robots would be difficult to replace because they were obsolete. I couldn’t believe that there would be no source of cheaper, low-end robots — if not from the major companies, then from a second- or third-tier manufacturer, maybe in a cheaper country. Even a greedy, monopolistic megacorp wouldn’t try to pitch Jen Five as good value for trash duty.

    5. Like others above, I did catch the dialogue drifting into “info-dump” / “philosophy-dump” a few times. I’ve never minded this so much (maybe I’ve just read enough older stuff, where this was more common, that I’m used to it?), but I know it puts a lot of people off. These weren’t severe, not at all, but noticing them at all probably isn’t good.

    6. I enjoyed both Rivergate and Kasaran as cultures/places. My imagination kept picturing Kasaran as some sort of strange fusion between Russia and Japan, and that’s a fun combination you don’t see too often. Rivergate struck me as Las Vegas + Gotham City while I was reading, but afterwards I came across your mention of Hong Kong as inspiration (among others), and that fit really well. (Interestingly, having spent a bit of time in Hong Kong, when I visited Vegas for the first time on a long weekend last year, it really reminded me of Hong Kong too. So it all holds together!)

    7. The strategy of using familiar first names for Rivergate denizens, but combining them with not-your-usual-high-tech-city worked really well for me. I’d call that one a win.

    8. It’s a really, really crowded market out there now. Don’t be too discouraged; plenty of good authors, even published ones, have reported slower sales than expected. People are spoiled for choice and short on time. Unfortunately, that makes life harder for authors, and means that factors like marketing campaigns are just as important as the actual quality of a work.

  45. Iunnrais says:

    I got over my present tense aversion and read the book. It’s 3rd person though, so that helped me a lot.

    It’s good. It’s really good. A bit “Tell don’t show”y at times, but it’s a mystery. It makes sense to be talking about stuff. And it helps that I enjoy reading essays you write, so having some essays of yours embedded in the story isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    I agree with Pseudonymous above… the first chapter or so could use a good editor. Now, Pseudonymous seems to be talking about copy editing, fixing little mistakes here and there, but I think it could also use some more traditional editing. Sentences that could be pruned, phrases that could be reworded, that sort of thing. But after the early bits, it cleans up nicely– no problems after that. It’s just… a hump to get over.

    I *love* the AI’s end goal. Really creepy, but rings true to the world. Nice job there!

  46. Algeh says:

    I agree with the other commenters who mentioned the lack of marketing on this one. It also felt like it was missing a beta reading/feedback process about things like the cover design that could have been a help (and gotten you some blurbs, maybe). Basically, it seems like you didn’t really have any support from a like-minded group of people to help you figure out how to get from having written a book to having a book ready to convince others to read. You might want to try and find yourself such a community. (Most people I know who are doing this find their people at SF conventions, but most people I know are deeply involved in SF conventions, so there’s a major conflating variable there. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were perfectly good places to find such people on social media somewhere, but I don’t do social media.)

    FWIW, I have not bought your book, and I am more likely to read it after the information in this post than I was before. I have a very specific quirk in that I turn into Captain Fact Check whenever anything is set in the recent pact/present/near future, if it’s set in a part of the world that I’ve visited or lived in, or about anything I know a lot about. I tend to ignore entire genres because of this, particularly if they’re written by Americans. (For example, I actually like high school drama TV shows, but I only watch them if they’re imported so when I hit one of the many “but that’s not how that could possibly work and where are all of the adults” moments, I can mutter to myself “maybe in Canada/Japan/Australia it doesn’t work that way” and get back into the plot rather than focus on the lack of supervision or academic standards, despite the fact I am decently sure it doesn’t work like it does in tv in those countries either.) Anyway, knowing that you’re doing actually-fake countries rather than either real world countries or political allegory fake world countries makes me more likely to buy your book since I can then avoid complaining about, I don’t know, plants being grown in the wrong places or something.

    Marketing helps with this stuff because marketing, at its best, is letting people know what kind of book it is and why we might want to read it. The good news is that each time you post about your book, I hear more things that I like. The bad news is, your book is already out and it’s hard to gain traction slowly like this in the current marketplace (which is ridiculous).

    In practice, I buy very few books new unless I’m already a consistent fan of the author or that particular book. Unknown authors get checked out from the library for a trial run first before I buy a book, and books/authors I’m on the fence about but probably will want to read more than once get picked up used. I have an alarming lack of shelf space in my house already, and new books are expensive. (I don’t do E-books because I don’t buy books in situations where I have to give a name/credit card rather than pay cash. Libraries are a compromise of less privacy in exchange for free books, and librarians generally try to be as respectful with data as they can be, unlike, say, Amazon.)

    Also, I don’t have any data on this but December may not be a great time to announce things like this. It’s too late to get on people’s Christmas lists, and people are generally kind of tapped out in terms of spending money because they’ve been buying gifts and also, if they’re readers, probably got a bunch of books as gifts. (I got 5 books off of my list for Christmas this year, one of which was definitely because of people I follow on the internet, but I made that Christmas list back around October or maybe November before you’d even started to promote your book.) It’s also cutting it close for people who liked your book to buy it as a gift for others.

  47. Jack V says:

    FWIW, I think it’s really hard to tell what makes a book sell. Often a book gets traction because it piques people’s interest in a particular way, almost unrelated to how good it is. I am 100% going to read it because I love your writing (it’s in the top five on my to-read list), but I admit I was somehow less excited to read it than Witch Watch, and I’m really not sure why.

    I think you somehow felt hesitant telling people what was cool about it. The blurb to me felt like someone giving away as little as possible to maintain a surprise. I’m not sure if that’s right but that’s what it felt like. I would really, really suggest that this is something where you need some objective distance from the book, like literally, “make a list of everything that someone might find cool, then get someone who’s not the author to help choose a top three that go in the blurb, based on how much they pique the interest”.

    Based on the comments above, that’s “cave of steel-esque buddy cyberpunk story between a PI and an android”, “tropical city left behind by a cyberpunk world”, “lots of conversations about AI philosophy and rights” and “better than witch watch” — those are now getting me excited. But if possible I would really have another crack at the blurb on that basis — try to get at least three really cool ideas into twenty words as possible. Forget your emotional attachment to the novel, treat it as a word puzzle.

    I encouraged friends to read it, but I didn’t have much to work with — people were positive towards “cyberpunk investigation by the same author as DM of the Rings” but I felt like I didn’t have much to hook them.

    I’m sorry, I know this may feel like not quite what you want to do, but I think you’d benefit from another pass at this without necessarily sinking more effort into a bigger marketing push.

    I’d also suggest, talk about the book on the blog, anything about how you got ideas, how you solved problems, etc, gets people’s interest.

    Personally I thought the cover conveyed the theme fairly well, it definitely said “android cyberpunk thing” to me, which I think is about as much as you can hope for, but if everyone else wasn’t sure, it might be worth trying a few other things to see if you bring out some more “ooh, interesting” responses.

    Fingers crossed, I will report back when I’ve read it, although I’m pretty confident I’ll like it.

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