A review of Inertia, Mark Everglade's sequel to Hemispheres

“Capitalism has made us think of everything as a resource to be exploited, but nature is not a resource, and it aches as it suffers. Everything in your environment changes how you come out as a person, so take care of your world.” - from Inertia

Inertia is Mark Everglade’s sequel to Hemispheres. We return to Evig Natt and Dayburn and find that not everyone is happy with a world where everyone experiences day and night, and for good reason. The new cycle has messed with the rhythms of life. Cultures and economies reflect the patterns in a region. But in Gliese 581g, where the planet’s rotation is changed after generations, this has radically altered life, and not everyone wants the alteration. On the night side, light was once a form of currency but that system is now thrown in disarray, a way of life is lost.

Inertia follows Severum Rivenshear as he tries to reconnect with his family and stop a plan to mess up the planet’s rotation, causing a public outcry due to instability and environmental disaster, resulting in a call to once again lock the planet’s rotation. Severum is not the young man he once was. Now he relies on the wisdom borne of experience as well as a variety of mods and a titanium hand. But he is better for his age. The younger Severum would not have listened to his daughter. He wouldn’t have tried to make peace. The loss of a hand puts him in the company of Allen Limmit from K. W. Jeter’s Dr. Adder, who has a flashglove installed in place of a hand, a dangerous weapon, and Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, who becomes more like his father, Darth Vader, once the hand Vader sliced off is replaced with a prosthetic hand. The grab for power in these texts results in a loss of power. But the prosthetic replacement marks an increase in power that symbolizes the gaining of wisdom.

"His Scars are America's Scars": An Interview with Christopher Brown

the cover of Tropic of Kansas has a muted American flag

Christopher Brown is emerging as one of the hardest hitting voices in science fiction. His stories pack a sense urgency, considering anti-democratic movements, social justice, economic inequality, climate change. Brown is the master of leading us to an image, an inverted moment that resonates, even haunts us until we understand the message.

Brown is a deep well of ideas and experiences. A conversation with Brown is a master class on fiction writing, political science, science fiction, futurism, and pop culture. But what comes through the most is his joy. Laughter punctuated a conversation that could also be thought of as a creative exploration of the mind of a science fiction writer, a writer at the top of his game and loving every second of it.

It seems to me like you've probably had stories in your head for years. But then you broke through, and you got the amazing Tropic of Kansas published. It feels like a work that you had been developing for a decade. Can you tell me the process there?

Not quite a decade, but there were a lot of ideas that had been stewing in my brain that ended up in there. It's definitely that kind of book. Rudy Rucker reviewed it, and he made a comment about how it's one of those books where you can tell it's like everything somebody had been thinking about for a long time. Maybe that came to you critically as well. That book was sort of funny in that I was trying to put a lot of ideas to work in one coherent narrative. I originally wrote a story for an anthology that Joe Lansdale and a guy named Scott Cup edited for the World Fantasy Convention on the centennial of Robert E Howard's birthday. Robert E Howard of Conan the Barbarian fame. One of the constraints of this anthology was you were supposed to write a story featuring a Robert E Howard character or in the style of Howard, but the only rule was you couldn't use Conan because they didn't have the rights. So, I thought, I'll write a Conan story. That's what turned me on to fantastic fiction as an eleven-year-old. I wrote a story that invented this character of Sig, who was like my version of Conan, but he was an out-of-work Blackwater type guy. You know, like B-team, would-be Blackwater guy in post-9/11 Baghdad or post-invasion Baghdad. It was a fun character. It got a great response. It was sort of funny and did this kind of thing I was trying to do, like take the things great about pulp fiction, like Robert E Howard stories, and try to repurpose them towards more emancipatory ends or something like that, something with a little more political edge. I had been mostly just writing short fiction and was keen to write a novel that didn't suck, that I was happy with. As I was starting to write notes for thinking about doing something with this material, there were these #Occupy—kind of crazy quasi-revolutionary #Occupy protester types—who made a camp in this abandoned neon lighting factory across the street from where I live. And every night I'd go to sleep and all these guys were out there, like, planning the uprising, and this was early 2011 and the Arab Spring started happening. And so I had started out planning to write something that was much more like an adventure novel set in the post-9/11 real world, and realized what I really wanted to do was write a story about a popular uprising in the United States. And to do that, you really need to—things would have to be worse than they are, or at least worse than they were then. So, that's where the alternate history came from, and in the process, all this other stuff gets kind of crammed in there, whether it's the outdoorsy stuff or the Internet-based direct democracy stuff. Lots of ideas were in my head.

Interview with Saad Z. Hossain: Cyber Mage

Known for his dark humor and ability to mix the fantasy and SF genres, Bangledeshi author Saad Z. Hossain's fourth novel Cyber Mage releases December 14. Saad is himself a literary cyber mage, a voice for navigating our distinctly challenging 21st-century. Now, if only people would listen.

What was your entry into Science Fiction?

Well it was the Belgariad for the first entry into SFF, but pure scifi, I think I really got into Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, and a lot of William Gibson. I like switching between fantasy and sci fi, and often the best is when you have a mixture.

Is sci-fi popular in Bangledesh?

I think sci fi is popular amongst readers everywhere in the world, specially younger readers as an entry way into reading. I look at my own kids and often its Manga, then fantasy, then sci fi as a path into reading for pleasure.

I recently read Eric Drexler's Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization and got really excited. Drexler talks about how nanotech based carbon capture really could erase the industrial revolution's carbon footprint from the earth's atmosphere. What drew your interest in nanotech for Cyber Mage?

Nanotech is already kind of driving our future technology, and I guess this will continue in a more radical way. The idea of terraforming Mars or other planets is a standard pillar of traditional SF, but if you take that idea to a ruined earth scenario, its clear that many scientists will try to terraform earth itself.

You write SF and Fantasy. Do you find your works ever get cross pollinated, some fantasy in the science and vice versa?

For me, SF and Fantasy should be intermixed, specially urban fantasy. This makes it more interesting, it scrambles the brain looking for normal narrative patterns, and it lets you meld together myth and future tech in interesting ways. The whole point is that if you take SF far enough, it looks like fantasy, and if you break down fantasy deeply enough, it looks like science. For example when I'm writing a magic system, if my world building is on point and very detailed, it will take on a pseudo scientific tone, in the sense that all good magic systems are rigorous, and follow an internal logic or physics. Similarly, if I take any sci fi tech far enough into the future, it begins to look like magic, ie something theoretically possible but not related to anything we have right now. This idea that the two must be strictly separated comes from a specific kind of fantasy and a specific kind of sci fi: sword and sorcery type fantasy and space opera type SFF.

Speaking of science fantasy, did you watch the new Dune movie? What was your impression?

I loved it. I liked the tone, the pacing, the beautiful cinematography. I was prepared to be disappointed, and also hoping for something doomed like the Jodorowsky Dune, but this version was solid.

What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

If you get stuck, read books. It works! Reading is the best way to get out of writer's block, or a plot hole, or just general malaise.

What would Americans learn about America if they were a Bangladeshi not under the constant manipulation of an America-first ideologically biased media feed?

Looking at it from the outside and I think they would notice that America, bizarrely, is the poorest rich country in the world. It seems like you could stop squandering money on the military, or corporate bailouts, and spend that on the actual people, by giving them free healthcare, education, housing. The economy as a whole would benefit and go up, it's only certain sectors like the insurance companies or the arms dealers or massive corporations that would suffer. I think people are slightly bemused that American policies continue to hurt American citizens, and they seem blind to it.

The day is yours. No one demands anything of you for 24 hours except that you have a good time. No limits. What do you do?

Luckily I do get a fair amount of free time, specially with COVID, I've been lucky enough to scale back to a two day work week, with the rest of the time on call trouble shooting. I've found that after the initial flurry of activity, it slowly distilled down to hours on the couch playing games, while reading books, browsing the net on the laptop, and chatting on WhatsApp with my friends. I have easily spent 10-12 hours doing exactly this. Without moving.

What books are on your to-read list?

I am going through the entire Terry Pratchett book list, excluding the picture books. Right now I'm on Reaper Man. I feel extremely nostalgic about Discworld and immensely sad that we won't get any more of the Night Watch or Granny.

Cat Rambo: You Sexy Thing

As a former MUD addict--I practically lived online from '95-'00, exploring the text-based virtual worlds of Dark Castle MUD--it is absolutely enthralling to find a fellow MUD player writing and publishing stories. Cat Rambo is an SF and Fantasy writer, a writing teacher, a former editor of Fantasy Magazine, and her new book You Sexy Thing is the next book you should read. 

How has your work as an editor, including your time at Fantasy Magazine, informed your writing?

Certainly editing has made me a better writer, more attentive to the nuances of comma placement and sentence structure. But it's also made the way I work with editors different, I think, or at least helped me advance more quickly to the point where I understand what a difference a good editor can make, and how awesome an ally they can be in producing something that you're really proud of. For example, I had a story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction earlier this year, "Crazy Beautiful," that I absolutely love, and it was C.C. Finlay's excellent edits that took it to the next level, in my opinion, including a major change that involved removing the vast majority of the quotes from art critics that I'd included and leaving only the Bob Ross quote that starts it off. Similarly, with You Sexy Thing, my editor, Chris Morgan caught all sorts of little snags and played a major part in making it the smooth read that it is (I think!)

The title of your latest book, You Sexy Thing, starts off a disco inferno in my mind, with "Do you believe in miracles?" and a disco beat kicking into high gear. Is this connection incidental or do you look for ways to create parallels to pop culture a la Julia Kristeva's intertextuality?

Like everyone, I swim in a sea of pop culture daily and am so steeped in it that much of my essence is pop culture references. And it's space opera, a manifestation of pop culture, so I get to both use and play with and subvert and occasionally celebrate all sorts of things about that genre. Science fiction isn't about the future; it's our world and times seen through a particularly interesting and complicated lens, and so it's inescapable. Just some authors are better at pretending intertextuality's not there than others.

What's more frightening, your worst dreams or a world without Ursula K. Le Guin?

Definitely a world without Ursula's dreams.

What should good science fiction do in the Rohrschaching twenties?

It should splinter and challenge, cajole and perplex, while drumming its own different tune.

Video games or table-top games?

Definitely table-top. I grew up playing RPGs at the local game/book store and just last weekend, got to play Isle of Cats with some old friends at that same store.

I discovered a table top gaming store tucked around the side of a shopping plaza in my town just this week and found people gathering for Magic, the gathering. In a Meta-branded world, it’s reassuring to find people logging out and going in common spaces to share experiences with others.Do you plan and organize your stories ahead of time or just kind of go?

I used to just go, but more and more I've fallen into planning as a form of procrastinating before writing.

You're in a generation spaceship with full nanotech capable of supporting your life processes for the next two billion years, as a conservative estimate. Where do you go? What's your mission?

I'm off in search of other intelligent life, so I can hear their stories and witness their art! How cool would that be?

That's the dream! Do you listen to music while you write?

I can't listen to music and write at the same time, but I listen while I'm doing the long walk beforehand that I use for thinking about stories. Usually I try to listen to music that's thematically connected to what I'm writing, so with this book, it was a lot of video game scores, like Mass Effect.

What book, along with You Sexy Thing, should we go read right now?

Read Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourself, but don't read any spoilers first.

The Invisible Man Is Never Invisible

Hegemony and the Subjugation of Invisible Bodies, an essay in homage to Paul Virilio.

In H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, the eponymous scientist increases his visibility in society when he turns himself invisible. He grows bold with his invisibility, turning into a murderer and announcing a reign of terror. The invisible-visible inversion comments directly on the relationship between technological progress and society, revealing that the various practices used to control populations become ever smaller, more unseen, while simultaneously becoming more efficient, more total.

The United States is fully in the era of endo-colonization, in which the government subjects its own citizens to the disciplinary measures that were once practiced on colonial populations or in warzones. The United States practiced disciplinary techniques over a century ago in the Philippines, a half century ago in Vietnam, and in Middle Eastern forever wars it created for itself after 911. But now helicopters fly low over American city streets, swooping citizens in displays of might worthy of Hollywood’s Die Hard (1988) in which FBI agents launch a helicopter attack on a supposed terrorist atop the Nakatomi Building. In cities across America, unmarked agents swarm protestors, pull them into unmarked vans, putting them through hours of questions and intimidation. On United States soil, the government has continued to refine and employ military techniques, deterrence techniques, surveillance, and disciplinary techniques, largely through the Homeland Security Administration.

In Pure War, Paul Virilio asserts that America, a power with no designated enemy, is threatened by its own supremacy. Yes, the United States has been in several forever wars, beginning after the World Trade Centers were hit by passenger airplanes, but these are not wars America has to wage. These are wars that the government chooses to continually wage for its own benefit. Maintaining ongoing wars is a way to increase patriotism and simultaneously decrease dissent. Ongoing wars provide a perpetual boost to the economy. The US discovered the benefit of the war economy during WWII when supplying the war machine effectively ended the depression and the leaps in research and development, specifically the nuclear capabilities as a result of the Manhattan project, positioned the country as a military superpower, meaning, of course, that the US was now able to influence politics across the globe in pursuit of securing economic interests. Continuing military interventions ensure that R&D spending results in maintaining a tactical military advantage over other world powers.