After On - a novel of a Silicon Valley startup by Rob Reid

I enjoyed Rob Reid's 2013 science fiction humor novel, Year Zero, about a pan-galactic conspiracy by aliens who would rather destroy Earth than pay music royalties. Next month, Rob has a new novel coming out called After On, and I'm excited to read it. Here's what my friend Hugh Howey (author of the Wool series) has to say about After On: "Rob Reid doesn’t write science fiction; he writes future history. After On is the best account I’ve read of how superintelligence will arrive and what it will mean for all of us. Hilarious, frightening, believable, and marvelously constructed — After On has it all.”

If you want a sneak preview, you can read it on Medium, which is publishing twelve episodic excerpts from After On, starting today. Medium will also publish Rob's After On podcast that explores themes from the novel and interviews folks like Sam Harris, Steve Jurvetson, and Adam Gazzaley -- "on the future of tech, AI, and consciousness."

Here's what Rob wrote in a Medium post about his novel:

Set in present-day San Francisco, After On is the tale of an imaginary social media startup. A rather diabolical one, which attains consciousness. Its personality then emerges from its roots as a social network. So rather than going all Terminator and killing everyone, it basically becomes a hyper-empowered, superintelligent, 14-year-old brat. Yes, it has playful aspects. But After On is also a serious rumination on super AI risk — as well as on the promises and perils of synthetic biology.

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Forensic experts recover novel written by blind woman with a pen that had run out of ink

Trish Vickers of Dorset, England, decided to write a novel. Though blind, she preferred to work the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, with her son dropping in weekly to type up the results. On one visit, though, she learned to her horror that her pen had ran out of ink fully 26 pages ago. But all was not lost!

Not knowing what else to do, she and Simon called the police. To the Vickers’s surprise, officers at Dorset HQ volunteered to work during their breaks and free time, hoping to use their forensic tools to help. And, five months later, the police reported back with success: they recovered the never-written words. Vickers told a local newspaper that the pen she used to write the pages — even though there was no ink left in it — left behind a series of indentations: “I think they used a combination of various lights at different angles to see if they could get the impression made by my pen.”

Vickers finished the book, Grannifer's Legacy, and died the day it was published. [via MeFi] Read the rest

The 'Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillian' series

"Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”

The Please Don't Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. Read the rest

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the best-selling book on Amazon

Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, is a dystopian novel that imagines the United States ruled by a conservative Christian theocracy. It's currently the best-selling book on Amazon, knocking George Orwell's 1984 to the third spot.

From Washington Post:

Many have argued, though, that Atwood’s novel is one of the more important in our new political climate. As Alex Hern wrote in The Guardian:

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel is set in a near-future New England following the collapse of America into the authoritarian, theocratic state of Gilead. It was groundbreaking for its treatment of gender, depicting a state in which the advances of feminism have been comprehensively destroyed. Women are considered inferior to men, and their every behaviour is tightly controlled by the state. In particular, their role in reproduction is bound to a strict caste system: abortion is illegal, and fertile women are required to bear children for higher-status women.

Many find this to be a fitting cautionary tale in a new administration that many claim doesn’t respect women’s rights, so much so that more than 1 million people gathered in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration to show support for a variety of women’s issues.

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Refurbished Kindle Voyage E-reader for $120

I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use it almost every day. About a year ago I was on a plane and when I took my seat belt off the buckle hit the screen damaged it. It still works but it has a distracting white spot where the buckle landed. I've been looking for a reason to buy the superior Kindle Voyage, but at $200, I couldn't justify it to myself. But Amazon started selling refurbished Voyages for $120, which is low enough for me to hit Amazon's patented 1-Click Buy Now button. Hopefully I'll get it in time to finish reading A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. If you like Patricia Highsmith, you will like this novel about a charming young psychopath. Levin also wrote Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, two of my favorite movies. Read the rest

Review of The Hike, by Drew Magary

Currently a columnist for Deadspin, GQ, and other outlets, Drew Magary crafted his voice writing blisteringly satires of NFL players, coaches, and fans like Rex Ryan, Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, and “Tommy from Quinzee” at the NFL-related humor blog KissingSuzyKolber. He gained his greatest renown in a 2013 profile of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for GQ that brightly illuminated Robertson’s homophobia and lead to Robertson’s brief suspension from the show.

But to get a grasp of this captivating writer’s career to date and put his new novel, The Hike, in its proper context, it helps to go back to the start of his online career. Magary began to draw attention in the blogosphere as “Big Daddy Drew” on a blog called “Father Knows Shit” and as an early, popular commenter on Deadspin, and the blogging medium and FKS’ uproarious view of fatherhood remains a touchstone for his work. As he recently told me, “You know me, I never shut … up about dad crap. I try to use any available material I have in hand because it helps make the characters feel grounded and because I always try to get deep inside myself and try to get that on the page.”

Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal (2011), is a fascinating update to the epistolary form as he used a series of blog entries to craft his novel’s premise of a world without aging and the myriad complications to society that result. It was a deft move that combined the strengths of his non-fiction and online satire into the novel’s form and content. Read the rest

First lines of popular books

Great opening lines from literature, in one large image.

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Saddam Hussein novella translated to English

Described as a "mix between Game of Thrones and House of Cards," a novella written by late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has finally been translated to English. Written in the last days of his rule, the plot reportedly "revolves around a Zionist-Christian conspiracy against Arabs," a presumably unsurprising topic to fans. Read the rest

On the strengths of fiction done as near-history

The origin story of Children of Earth and Sky, my current novel, begins with my Croatian editor being the first person ever to tell me about the Uskoks of Senj. He did that as we approached where their stronghold had once been on the Dalmatian coast (the Uskoks are long gone now, a small tourist town remains). I told that road trip story here and another version of the origin story here. By the time I came, many years later, to write a book taking off from that anecdote, the tale did not involve Uskoks, or the Dalmatian Coast. Nor was it formally about the aftermath of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, or the Holy Roman Empire, the Republics of Venice or Dubrovnik. And Senj had become Senjan. Read the rest

Horrorstör – A twist on a haunted house story set in a modern IKEA-like megastore

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix Quirk Books 2014, 240 pages, 7.4 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches (softcover) $9 Buy a copy on Amazon

Imagine a store much like Ikea, but not quite up to Ikea’s standards. In the book Horrorstör, Orsk is a shabby copy of the Scandinavian warehouse we all know, and maybe even love, right down to the incomprehensible product names (Frȧnjk, for example) and a Bright and Shining Path that guides shoppers through the showroom floor maze. But something about Orsk is different. And very, very wrong.

Amy works at the Orsk in Cleveland, Ohio. Caught in a spiral of student debt and unable to support herself, she moves into her mom’s trailer and wonders if she’ll ever dig herself out of retail. ​That's when things change. ​Resigned to working at Orsk for the rest of their lives, Amy and her co-workers arrive every morning to find broken wardrobes, shattered glassware and vandalized sofas. Convinced someone is hiding out in the store and up to no good, they agree to spend the night in the store with their manager to unravel the mystery. Little do they know that tonight is their final shift.

Horrorstör is a clever twist on a traditional haunted house story that takes place in a modern consumerist setting. The symbolism and criticism of consumer culture and the nature of work are there if you look for them, but it’s light, and pretty funny, and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Read the rest

The Marvels - A playful novel of real life lived on a theater stage

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

1766. A ship named the Kraken. A little girl tied to the mast, her face darkened by the shadow of a fearsome sea monster. It’s approaching, closer, closer, its teeth just inches from her face. But none of this is real.

Pan back to reveal an audience – and that’s when we realize that we, like them, are being treated to a performance. All this comes in the first few pages of Brian Selznick’s The Marvels and it sets the tone for everything after. Stories within stories, books inside plays, real life lived out on a theatre stage.

The Marvels is a novel of two halves. Part one consists of a 400-page collection of immersive black-and-white pencil drawings that tell the story of the Marvel family. From modest roots to fame and fortune, from lucky escapes to fiery ends. Part two is a short novel in itself, picking up in 1990 with young runaway Joseph Jervis absconding from boarding school in order to search out his enigmatic uncle, Mr A. Nightingale, and then discovering the history of the Marvel family for himself.

The illustrations of part one are a real pleasure and very manageable in one sitting. With every image realized on a two-page spread, there are layers and intimate details to get lost in. A range of pencil techniques capture the story’s varied landscapes, which switch from brooding oceans to tropical forests to cobblestoned alleyways. Selznick obviously doesn’t believe in white space. Read the rest

Ultra-coordinated motherfuckery

In 2013, a hacktivist group calling itself Konstant kOS raided one of the government’s most secure computer networks. Their target was a list of more than a million American citizens monitored as potential terrorist threats. The list was classified because it was feared that making it public could result in widespread violence.

Konstant kOS, on other hand, believed information needed to be free. They thought citizens should know about potential terrorists amongst them. Also, they thought stealing and publishing the list would be fun. Marcus Sakey's Written in Fire is available from Amazon.

So they did. As a result, thousands of innocents were assaulted or even murdered.

This didn’t happen, of course; it’s a small detail in my novel Written in Fire, the final book in the Brilliance Trilogy. The premise of the series is that since 1980, 1% of people have been born with extraordinary gifts, essentially a form of savantism that lets them see patterns the rest of us can’t. Some spot rhythms in the stock market and amass vast fortunes; others read body language so minutely they can intuit your thoughts and fears. The stolen data was a nearly complete list of these “brilliants.”

While Konstant kOS is my invention, they’re obviously based on hacker collectives like Anonymous, which fascinate me. Shadowy organizations of rogue anarchists waging private wars resulting in everything from surreal silliness to rough justice to reprehensible and mistargeted damage? Tell me more.

At this point, I should say that while I’m tech-savvy, by the standards of this fine publication, I’m at best a journeyman. Read the rest

What different novels look like with everything removed but punctuation

Adam J Calhoun wrote on Medium: "I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words. Can you tell them apart or are they all a-mush? In fact, they can be quite distinct. Take my all-time favorite book, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. It is dense prose stuffed with parentheticals. When placed next to a novel with more simplified prose — Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy — it is a stark difference (see above)." Read the rest

The Hike: a new novel by the author of The Postmortal

Drew Magary's The Postmortal, a dystopian novel about what happens to the world when someone discovers the cure for aging and almost everyone takes it, was one of my favorite books of 2011 and I still think about it. Here's my review, and here's my podcast interview with Magary.

Magary has a new novel coming out called The Hike. The publisher gave us an exclusive on the cover reveal, and it's a beaut. The illustration is by Will Sweeney, and design and art direction is by Paul Buckley

The Hike is coming out in August.

I asked Drew to share a few words about the book and here's what he said:

Okay, here’s the deal: It’s been five years since the publication of my first novel, The Postmortal. I started a couple of other novels only to have them stall in the middle, which is deeply annoying. And then, about a year ago, I went to give this speech in East Stroudsburg, PA, in the Poconos. I decided to go out for a hike before the speech, and that little hike, along with my affinity for old King’s Quest PC games and folk tale collections from Ruth Manning-Sanders is what ended up inspiring this novel and the bitchin’ cover you see here. I can’t tell you any more than that right now, or it’ll kill me.

Here's the publisher's description:

When Ben, a suburban family man, takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania, he decides to spend the afternoon before his dinner meeting on a short hike.

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5 books that bust the myths of drug writing

In November of 2014, my crime thriller Cracked was published by Titan Books. Its protagonist is a crack-addicted former fighter and personal trainer, Danielle “Danny” Cleary.

Soon after I signed the publishing contract for this series – it will be a trilogy – I realized with a kind of sinking, sickening clarity, that I might be asked about the drug use in the book. While Cracked isn’t about, uh, crack per se, I knew that having an addict for a heroine was going to raise some eyebrows. The drug use, like some of the violence in the book, is precise and detailed. Barbra Leslie's Cracked is available from Amazon.

Now, I’ve never been a fighter (although I do like to punch things). But the drug use? Yeah, I didn’t have to make that part up. Ten years ago, after a painful split from my then-husband, I tossed my middle-class, respectable life out the window and dove head-first into a world of dive bars, cocaine and finally, after falling for a guy whose addiction beat mine by many years and orders of magnitude, crack. (This was very out of character for me: I’m one of those people who can’t smoke weed without feeling nauseous, and never had a second’s interest in any hallucinogen or opiate, though à chacun son goût, and all that.) I was able to stop. I’ve been drug-free for about seven years now.

Despite all this – and my bookworm English degree, and a life filled with reading nearly everything I could get my hands on – I was never attracted to books about drugs, or written by addicts. Read the rest

Free Kindle e-book: "Imhotep" by Jerry Dubs

Imhotep, by Jerry Dubs, is free for a limited time as a Kindle e-book. It has 4.3/5 stars with over 500 reviews. It sounds like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but this time the Hank Morgan character winds up in ancient Egypt. Read the rest

The ten best adventure novels of 1966

My friend Josh Glenn compiles terrific lists of genre novels from the mid-20th century. His latest is a list of the ten best adventure novels of 1966. Josh also includes the cover art of early editions of the books, which are always much better than the art on newer editions. I want to read every book in this list!

Thomas Pynchon’s postmodernist, apophenic* adventure The Crying of Lot 49. Has discontented California housewife Oedipa Maas uncovered a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies? Or is she perhaps merely detecting signals where there is only noise? “The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate.” Fun fact: Pynchon’s fictional aerospace engineering company, Yoyodyne, is referenced in the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

1966 was a good year for other media besides books. Here's my review of a book called 1966! A Personal view of the Coolest Year in Pop Culture History.

*Thanks for teaching me a new word, Josh! (apophenia: The perception of or belief in connectedness among unrelated phenomena.) Read the rest

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