At long last, the techlash has arrived, and not a minute too soon. I have been involved in the tech industry since I got my first programming job in 1988. I’ve been a sysadmin, a CIO, a trainer, a software company founder, and an activist. I’ve argued against terrible laws and argued for good ones. I’ve dreamed of the promise of tech and been haunted ...Read MoreRead more
You will fail more than you succeed. You will remember the failures more often than the successes.
The people who believe in you now will believe in you always. Get rid of everyone else.
Readers will love your work. They will think this means they love you. They will be wrong, but do not correct them. You will no longer be yourself when you’re among readers, but an amalgamation of ...Read MoreRead more
As we all know, time travelers have to be very careful when they visit the past, because their evolved immune systems allow them to harbor pathogens that the olde timey people are defenseless against. One careless bowel movement, a single badly timed cough, a bit of blood spilled, and whole civilizations are in pandemic peril.
Surviving to the future means adapting to the risks of ...Read MoreRead more
Cheating is a given.
Inspectors certify that gas-station pumps are pumping unadulterated fuel and accurately reporting the count, and they put tamper-evident seals on the pumps that will alert them to attempts by station owners to fiddle the pumps in their favor. Same for voting machines, cash registers, and the scales at your grocery store.
The basic theory of cheating is to assume that the cheater is ‘‘rational’’ and won’t ...Read MoreRead more
The legendary musician, producer, and weirdo Brian Eno has many notable accomplishments and high among them is the production of the ‘‘Oblique Strategies’’ deck, a deck of cards emblazoned with gnomic and hard-to-parse advice that is meant to shake your creative rut: ‘‘Fill every beat with something,’’ or ‘‘Infinitesimal gradations’’ or ‘‘Do nothing for as long as possible.’’
My favorite of these – first learned from Bruce Sterling – is ...Read MoreRead more
I brought my dogs to a new dog park this weekend, one frequented by experienced dog owners who enjoyed socializing their dogs. The park I usually go to is less frequented, with fewer dogs, and the owners are all worried and anxious sorts. Their dogs tend to be unsocialized, which contributes to their own fear about their dog’s potential behavior, and then their anxiety gets to the dogs, too, making ...Read MoreRead more
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’’ To this day, especially in times of ‘‘disaster,’’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
In ...Read MoreRead more
We all want to learn how to write books faster. The pace of the news cycle today has heated up to such an extent that for those of us who aren’t in the 1% of writers, if we don’t come out with a book a year, it feels like the world has forgotten us amid the buzz of ever more intensifying world horror. I’m not immune to this pressure. Juggling ...Read MoreRead more
In 1972, a group of researchers funded by the Volkswagen Foundation published a seismic book called Limits to Growth, which used the most sophisticated techniques of the day to model the planet Earth and project its future. The book’s authors were trying to figure out how rosy a future the world’s poor could count on: would they some day enjoy the cars and refrigerators and other benefits of the ...Read MoreRead more
There are few things, for me, that are as equally depressing and energizing as reading a really great book. Great books are why I got into this business in the first place, which is why I’m often so shocked when I hear from other professional writers that they don’t read anymore. Try asking a panel of professional writers at your next convention to name five books they read this year. ...Read MoreRead more
Let’s say for the sake of argument that you voted for Donald Trump and you’re ecstatic that he’s taking the White House. You might even be rubbing your hands in glee at the thought that Obama was dumb enough to operationalize George W. Bush’s surveillance apparatus – rather than living up to his election promise to dismantle it – because now there’s a technological means by which President Trump can ...Read MoreRead more
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.
–Ursula K. Le Guin
Change is the only constant in our lives. Octavia Butler built an entire religion out of ...Read MoreRead more
William Blackstone is a towering legal authority, whose 18th century Commentaries on the Laws of England are still studied today. Blackstone was big on private property as a cure for humanity’s woes. In Commentaries, he wrote one of the most famous definitions of private property in English-language history:
There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or ...Read MoreRead more
Most writers quit. Many aspiring writers get angry when I say discouraging things like this, but sometimes the truth is discouraging. Most writers quit because they achieve what they set out to do – publish a book, or a short story, or simply finish one – and realize they are staring at the same blank, purposeless future that they started with.
Certainly, I have also seen many quit after going ...Read MoreRead more
It used to be that server logs were just boring utility files whose most dramatic moments came when someone forgot to write a script to wipe out the old ones and so they were left to accumulate until they filled the computer’s hard-drive and crashed the server.
Then, a series of weird accidents turned server logs into the signature motif of the 21st century, a kind of eternal, ubiquitous exhaust ...Read MoreRead more
The best writing career advice I ever received wasn’t ‘‘write every day’’ (because I certainly don’t), but, ‘‘Don’t quit your day job.’’
Clearly, not all of us have a choice in this matter, as steady day jobs continue to be eradicated and the ‘‘gig economy’’ becomes the norm. I’ve been laid off from at least half a dozen jobs in my adult life, and I’m not even 40. Many of ...Read MoreRead more
Ever since the first days of public access to the Internet, activists like me have been making dire warnings about the privacy implications of leaving data-trails behind you when you engage in everyday activity. We hoped that people would think forward to the potential risks of disclosures down the road – that the individually harmless crumbs of personal information could be painstakingly, disastrously aggregated by criminals, or repressive governments, or ...Read MoreRead more
One of my favorite publishing stories is from an established short story writer who tweeted that a story of his had been rejected from a magazine. Within a few minutes of sharing that, the editor of the publication e-mailed them and apologized for the rejection. ‘‘Our new slush reader didn’t recognize your name,’’ the editor said, and promptly bought the story.
The myth of the meritocracy runs deep in publishing. ...Read MoreRead more
E-books are game-changers, but not in the way we all thought they would be. Far from taking over print, e-book sales have stagnated at less than a quarter of print sales and show every sign of staying there or declining for the foreseeable future.
But e-books continue to be a source of bitter controversy that divides publishers from two of their most potentially useful allies: writers’ groups and libraries.
Below, ...Read MoreRead more
Like most people trying to stay above water in this tricky economy, I’ve been looking into ways to use my time more effectively. I have a bushel of novel and short story deadlines, a busy day job, and I’m feeling increasing pressure to sell more work now while the getting is good.
To get even this far, I’ve given up a lot of things. It’s been my policy to play ...Read MoreRead more
I need to confess something: ‘‘Whuffie’’ would make a terrible currency.
In 2003, I published my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, in which all society’s scarcities, even death and energy, have been overcome, and where conflicts over resources – notably, who gets to run Walt Disney World and what they get to do there – are apportioned using a virtual currency called ‘‘Whuffie.’’ Unlike other ...Read MoreRead more
The abysmally low payment terms for science fiction and fantasy short story markets have been a sad topic of conversation among writers for decades. Gone are the days when writing and selling a short story would pay your rent (unless you’re selling to Tor.com).
Rates for writing short fiction are even lower than those for modern magazines and newspapers, which may be hard to wrap one’s head around, but having ...Read MoreRead more
A problem is said to be ‘‘wicked’’ when the various parties engaged with it can’t even agree what the problem is, let alone the solution. As the name implies, wicked problems are hard to deal with.
More than a decade ago, the Federal Communications Commission got its first inkling of a wicked problem on its horizon.
Here’s the problem: around the world, we chop up the electromagnetic spectrum into dedicated-use ...Read MoreRead more
Talk to any career writer, and you’ll hear a lot of anxious worry about sales, about events, about what to say or not to say online, about bad reviews or no reviews, about sexism and table placement and publishers who don’t invest enough in their authors’ careers. You’ll hear about health concerns, about checks that don’t come on time or don’t ...Read MoreRead more
Technologist Anil Dash has a law. ‘‘Three things never work: Voice chat, printers, and projectors.’’ It’s funny because it’s true. We’ve all struggled with getting a printer to work; we’ve all watched a presenter and an AV tech sweat over a projector in a room full of awkwardly shifting audience-members; we’ve all noted the perverse tendency of voice-over-IP calls to turn into slurred, flanged Dalek-speak just as the other person ...Read MoreRead more
I had a conversation with my spouse the other day about how ‘‘boring’’ my life had become the last few years, ever since I got a real professional job and stopped moving house all the time. My life had become a long marathon in an exhausting desert, and could no longer be carved up into amusing scenes and anecdotes.
That meant that ...Read MoreRead more
The Internet of Things is starting to emerge. You can tell it’s just starting, because we’re still using the ungainly name ‘‘Internet of Things.’’ It’s one of those coinages that tells you that we don’t know what a thing is or what it’s for, like ‘‘horseless carriage’’ or ‘‘3D printer.’’
But there’s one thing we do know about the IoT: it involves a lot of sensing. The IoT is what ...Read MoreRead more
While standing in line with my spouse to get onto the Book Expo America (BEA) show floor, we started up a conversation about how easily the plain paper badges could be forged. All you need is a good color copier. As we bantered back and forth, the woman in front of us kept looking at us sideways. The third time she did ...Read MoreRead more
As I’ve written here before, science fiction is terrible at predicting the future, but it’s great at predicting the present. SF writers imagine all the futures they can, and these futures are processed by a huge, dynamic system consisting of editors, booksellers, and readers. The futures that attain popular and commercial success tell us what fears and aspirations for technology and society are bubbling in our collective imaginations.
When you ...Read MoreRead more
From the June 2015 issue of Locus Magazine
Like a lot of new writers, I got through years and years of rejection slips by believing I was simply misunderstood.
I suppose you could chalk a lot of this up to being young. But I also knew very little about writing, or publishing, or how to tell a good story. That trifecta of ignorance led me to invest in a ...Read MoreRead more
When I started writing, I thought I was talented. I was six, and I’d written something precocious that attracted praise from the grownups around me, and that praise included a descriptive dimension: I hadn’t just written something that was good – I was a good writer.
Talent is a destructive myth. To call someone talented is to imply that their abilities are intrinsic. Having written and taught for decades now, ...Read MoreRead more
I’m asked, often, what I feel about ‘‘the haters’’ or ‘‘the detractors’’ who don’t like me or my work, and I think it’s an odd question, because, to be blunt – I don’t care what those people think. Spewing unrestrained and unabashed vitriol across a page or in a public forum has always been a great way to call attention to oneself, ...Read MoreRead more