Feed housekeeping

I finally remembered that I’d been using FeedPress for, er, feed stuff (remember RSS?) on the original Coyote Tracks, and I’ve updated it to pick up the feed from the new site instead. So if you were one of the couple hundred people who’d been reading posts that way, hi!

Since the new blog merges what was Coyote Tracks and my rarely-updated writing blog, Coyote Prints, you may get more than what you want here. If you only want tech posts, you can subscribe to the tech category feed. If you only want writing posts, you can subscribe to the writing category feed. (You can get a feed for any of the categories by going to the category page itself, if you really insist.)

And, if you’re following this as a link from Goodreads (hi?), note that the Goodreads blog is only pulling from the writing category.

Last but not least, if you’re subscribed to the Tumblr feed directly somehow (tracks.ranea.org/rss), you’re going to get what’s cross-posted to Tumblr, which is going to be mostly tech but probably kind of random.

Kismet

My first full-length novel, Kismet, was published by Argyll Productions in January 2017. Here’s the back cover blurb:

The River: a hodgepodge of arcologies and platforms in a band around Ceres full of dreamers, utopians, corporatists—and transformed humans, from those with simple biomods to the exotic alien xenos and the totemics, remade with animal aspects. Gail Simmons, an itinerant salvor living aboard her ship Kismet, has docked everywhere totemics like her are welcome…and a few places they’re not.

But when she’s accused of stealing a databox from a mysterious wreck, Gail lands in the crosshairs of corporations, governments and anti-totemic terrorists. Finding the real thieves is the easy part. To get her life back, Gail will have to confront a past she’s desperate not to face—and what’s at stake may be more than just her future.

Kismet takes place about ten years after the short story “Tow” and shares the same protagonist. While I aimed for a hard science fiction feel, it’s a character-driven story about identity, transhumanism and what defines home. It came out of the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop, a residential workshop at the University of Kansas led by Kij Johnson, so it has a pretty good pedigree. I could tell you that if you like Kim Stanley Robinson’s work or Jennifer Foehner Wells’ Fluency, you’ll probably like Kismet. I could also tell you that its high concept is “The Expanse meets Zootopia,” which is not entirely wrong.

You can get previews of the ebook from most of those links, but you can also get a four-chapter preview PDF on my “buy my books” page.

The fantastic cover art and design is by Teagan Gavet. (The featured art here is a clip from the book’s alternate cover.)

A digression on cyberpunk

I was listening to Fangs and Fonts‘ most recent podcast on cyberpunk, and—

Okay, let me back up. “Fangs and Fonts” is a podcast about writing, hosted by four writers in (and out of) furry fandom: Roland Ferret, Yannarra, Tarl “Voice” Hoch and Ocean. So far the episodes have mostly come across as structure-free conversations about a given topic. There’s a lot of spontaneity and liveliness to it, although I suspect they’d benefit from spending an hour or so before recording making a list of Things To Cover.

Anyway. While it was fun listening in on the conversation, my impression was that none of the four hosts had read much of the genre past the Wikipedia entry. They’d seen movies with cyberpunk tropes to varying degrees, but… well. There’s no way to say this without an implied tsk tsk, but you guys, it’s a writing podcast!

So let me back up more. Specificially, to the early ’80s.

It’s pretty easy to discern the cyber of cyberpunk: ubiquitous networking that lets us always be “jacked in” to a sprawling virtual reality while also letting corporations and governments, which all too often seem to be one and the same, track us for a variety of purposes both nefarious and benign. But what about the punk? Well, it meant… punk. An anti-authoritarian, alienated and disaffected counterculture that neither fits in with the dominant culture nor has much interest in doing so. Heroes in cyberpunk weren’t necessarily punks—or necessarily heroic—but they tended to have a very edge-of-society vibe.

The problem with focusing almost exclusively on the cinematic aspect of cyberpunk is that you miss that the “punk” element wasn’t just in the relationship of the fictional characters to their settings. It was in the relationship of the writers to mainstream science fiction. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker—they were very deliberately responding to the more utopian, and by then rather dated, science fiction of the 1950s and before, the Heinleins and Clarkes and Asimovs.

Thematically, cyberpunk had little in common with the “New Wave” of science fiction of the late 1960s and early 70s, the works of Michael Moorcock and Thomas Disch and J. G. Ballard—but stylistically, it’s a closer relative. As Moorcock wrote rather snippishly, science fiction lacked “passion, subtlety, irony, original characterization, original and good style, a sense of involvement in human affairs.”

When we think about cyberpunk today, we mostly think about the visual trappings, the stuff that does look good on film—but those weren’t at all the point. A lot of these stories and novels were, in oft-bitter and backhanded fashion, deeply socially conscious. They had shit to say, and what’s more, they wanted to say it beautifully. The opening sentence of Neuromancer has become one of the most famous in science fiction:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Of course, the New Wave of science fiction doesn’t seem much less dated now than what it railed against, and the same is true of cyberpunk. (Bruce Sterling declared it dead as long ago as 1985.) Its aesthetics were assimilated into the mainstream long ago, and the very act of mainstreaming guts any legitimate claims to counterculture, rather like buying a Dead Kennedys tee at Hot Topic. But its treatment of technology, of dystopia, of the contentious relationship between individual freedom, corporate power and state control had a tremendous and lasting influence on science fiction. Yes, cyberpunk might have said “put on this black overcoat and these sunglasses and you’ll look awesome, trust me,” but it also said “science fiction is relevant not just as meditations on our possible long-term futures, but as a mirror to show us things about our here and now.”

And that’s stuff that—mostly—didn’t come along for the ride when the glasses and overcoats went to Hollywood.

If you’re interested in reading more seminal cyberpunk stuff, here’s a few things to potentially investigate:

  • Cyberpunk: Stories of Hardware, Software, Wetware, Evolution, and Revolution, an anthology that includes work by Sterling, Gibson, Cadigan, and others. Since Sterling’s original anthology Mirrorshades is long out of print, this is pretty much the collection to get for a broad overview of the important writers.
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson. Poetic and bleak, with memorable characters and a striking take on artificial intelligence, this was the first novel to win the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards, and has been cited as one of the most important novels—not just science fiction novels, but novels, period—of the twentieth century’s latter half.
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. The main character is Hiro Protagonist, who delivers pizza for the Mafia in an armored supercar as his day job and is a warrior in the Metaverse by night. Either you already want to read it or I can’t help you. (The Metaverse as depicted here was a pretty direct influence on Second Life.)

For movies/TV, there are some interesting ones the Fangs & Fonts Folks touched on—especially Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix (the first one) and, of course, Blade Runner—but I’d also suggest the underrated Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), and—if you can find it—the short-lived cult TV series “Max Headroom.”

Why a raccoon? Who cares?

I’ve been watching and silently judging another flareup of a very old debate in anthropomorphic fandom, this time happening on Twitter and in the comments on Flayrah’s review of Roar #4. Does there need to be a justification for having characters in a story be animal people?

We can illustrate the divide with two comments. First, from “Crossaffliction,” in his usual diplomatic style:

For the record, the entire premise of “let’s make talking animals the main characters and leave that completely unexplained in [a] way that offers nothing to the story” is a flawed premise, and also makes people wonder why you’d do that (we suspect the writer has some sort of freaky weird animal people fetish, and, you know what, we’d probably [be] right in this case).

Then “Sparf”:

I agree with some of the most prolific writers in our fandom when I say that we have moved on past that need. This is furry fiction as a meta genre unto itself. Every story does not need an explanation of where furries came from or why they exist. If it is germane to the story being told, sure, it can be revealed in the narrative, but usually it is trite or feels wedged in.

While I can quibble with both (if a genre is “meta” it definitionally doesn’t exist “unto itself,” and at times Crossie has an unhealthy hangup about the fandom’s unhealthy hangups), three observations.

  1. These actually aren’t two sides of the same argument. One position is that it’s a flaw in a story to use anthropomorphic animals for no reason more profound than “I like them, neener neener.” The other position is that there’s no need to explain why a story has anthropomorphic animals. These positions aren’t mutually exclusive.
  2. In fact, they’re probably both right.
  3. The most prolific writers in our fandom have moved past the need to keep rehashing this argument. Christ on a pogo stick.

My own old story “A Gift of Fire, a Gift of Blood” features a vampire bat; the story would be substantively different were she a vampire in the Dracula sense. Yet there’s no real explanation for why the Empire of Ranea (the world that story and others of mine are set in) has fox, wolf and cat people instead of dwarves, elves and hobbits. Effin’ hobbits, how do they work? Tolkien has a lot of unexplained hobbits running around, yet as impossible as this may be to believe, the story seems to work anyway!

When we say that a furry story is better when it’s not “humans in fursuits,” what does that actually mean? Take Kyell Gold’s Out of Position. Few if any aspects of Dev and Lee’s story require them to be tiger and fox. Their world is our world, just with animal people. This is about as “because furries” as one can get. Yet we’re shown a myriad of subtle ways in which their animal nature changes things: ergonomics, body language, stereotypes, laws, social mores. You could tell an equivalent story with an all-human cast, but it would be a different story.

“Why is she a raccoon?” That’s not an interesting question. “How do you show how her being a raccoon matters?” That’s an interesting question.