Sentient Domain: Chapter 2

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

Islandiski had a pirate problem. Most of the planet’s trade went through Kopalvogurnýtt, meaning that all an enterprising pirate had to do was lurk near the space above that city, and a steady stream of merchants and traders would always be there, ready to fall victim. Many pirates did just that. Some of them were legendary. A few were local heroes.

And then there was Pavi Valshorn.

Pavi commanded at least three cross-system jumpers, which implied a crew of at least 400. The reports used the term “imply” because they were certain she didn’t have that many people. Somehow, and everybody from the mayor of Kopalvogurnýtt to the Executive branch of the ICA wanted to know how, Pavi had an alliance with an undomesticated AI who had never once integrated with the Aydan-machine. Nobody was sure how powerful the ICA’s AI was. They did know that even the ICA only got a fraction of its potential help, and they were careful to avoid offending it. Pavi’s AI had no limits. Pavi Valshorn, it was whispered, commanded the most effective, damaging fleet of pirates to prey on Islandiski, by herself.

Everybody wanted to catch Pavi Valshorn.

Autumn had come to Kopalvogurnýtt and brought with it an excuse for the biggest party the colony had thrown in the three generations since its founding. Through the dedicated efforts of their police force, in cooperation with officials from the ICA, Pavi Valshorn was in custody. Mayor Oggsson had declared a city-wide holiday and the Agrarian Society had sponsored a parade. This was the day they marched Pavi Valshorn into the city center in chains, before throwing her in prison to await trial in the spring. They hadn’t captured her ship, but that would come in time. Winters on Islandiski were persuasive. Pavi would give up her AI, or she might not see a trial.

Plaenetasgata, the main street running through Kopalvogurnýtt to the mayor’s mansion, was covered in banners and streamers, the sides lined with vending stalls selling everything from food to commemorative flags and t-shirts. Both secondary school marching bands played during the celebrations. Every able-bodied citizen of Kopalvogurnýtt was either participating in the parade or watching it, and anybody within 30 hours travel of Kopalvogurnýtt had flocked to the capital to see the festivities. Pavi had been a menace for five years, a pirate who wasn’t from Islandiski, didn’t spend her spoils on Islandiski, and couldn’t be bribed into acting in the interests of the Islandiskeri.

Floats followed the marching band. They were mostly paper-maché confections rapidly built atop the beds of old pickup trucks recently tuned up for harvest, but they were colorful and that was what mattered. A formation of the Kopalvogurnýtt police force marched behind the line of floats, pistols and nightsticks flashing in the morning sunlight atop their glossy, navy-blue uniforms.

Then, surrounded by a rigid cage of armed guards, there was Pavi, arms and ankles chained together. That evening people would talk about how bent and defeated she seemed, dragging her feet with her head bowed while the colony celebrated around her. In the following years they would talk about how she marched smartly along, a sinister grin curling on her lips. In reality, Pavi just walked, taking in the sights, noting the people. She’d never been to Kopalvogurnýtt before. It looked like a decent place.

“Pavi Valshorn,” Mayor Oggsson intoned from a podium in front of the Mayoral mansion. “You have been arrested for seventy counts of piracy, nine counts of kidnapping, fifty violations of ICA protocols, creating and harboring an unintegrated AI, thirty counts of conspiracy to commit piracy…” the charges went on for some time. Pavi glanced at the sky. It was too bright to see her flagship cruising overhead, but she knew it would be there. They hadn’t taken her chips yet, so the automated systems were still reporting to her. Mike wasn’t making contact, though. A wireless signal transmitted this far wouldn’t be secure, not from the ICA, and they’d agreed that it was more important to keep information about Mike to a minimum than it was for Pavi to have an active companion during the walk up Plaenetasgata.

When she got bored, Pavi tuned out the mayor and started watching a movie feed off her ship’s servers. It was one of the new ones off Delhi Xiang and full of Kempari spies blowing things up. Pavi loved movies about the Kempari. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 2”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 1

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

Tedious tasks are always better with musical accompaniment. Therefore, the appropriate response to supervising a slew of loading bots schlepping cargo crates into the Whimper’s Revenge was to blare the top 300 playlist as it downloaded off the planet-side servers. That was the sacred, inviolate opinion of Captain Magritte Valshorn, owner, operator and crew of the Whimper’s Revenge. Magritte could suffer through most things as long as the ship’s computer kept the music playing.

“Linda?” Rita called from her station at the aft hatch of the cargo bay.

“Yes, Rita?” the computer replied.

“Where’s the music?”

“We’ve maxed out our bandwidth allotment at the moment. The music feed is a low priority item. I can run the local top thirty for you.”

“No local lists. Restart the list with what we’ve got,” Rita said. Then, on second thought, “How have we maxed out our bandwidth? We’re the only independent ship in port and Primus Drie isn’t that tiny.”

“There’s an external piggyback on our network,” Linda said.

Rita cursed. Cheap docking bots pilfering her bandwidth because they couldn’t afford the hardware to run their own stable network were the thing she hated most about back world planets. For that moment, anyway. At least she’d caught them. No way was she paying the fees for network adaptation when they didn’t have a network to integrate with her own. “I’m going to go find their super. Keep an eye on the drones for me, ‘kay?”

“Sure thing, boss,” the computer replied.

Rita ducked out of the cargo hold, slid down the loading dock and dodged the spider-bots scrambling to and fro. She hit the ground with a satisfying crunch on the gravel below. She was halfway around the Whimper, absently scanning the hull for signs of damage, when she noticed a pair of teenagers huddled together under an engine bank.

Her first instinct was to leave them there. The ship wasn’t taking off for hours and no teenagers anywhere took that long to fool around. On the other hand, if this was a special case, they’d get incinerated later that afternoon and Rita didn’t fancy adolescent barbecue as hull decor. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 1”

The Sentient Domain Game

I announced a little while ago that starting this month, Fridays on the blog are going to be Sentient Domain Fridays.  It’s the second phase of the Query Game, and as such, there’s more game-ish-ness involved.  Here’s the deal.

Sentient Domain has 28 chapters and an Epilogue.  I will be putting up a chapter every Friday until I run out of content.  If that’s all I do, then the serialization should wrap up in July.  This is neat timing, since the story Apex bought features characters from Sentient Domain, after the events of the novel.  So you’ll get to read that when it comes out without being super spoiled for the ending.

But that’s routine and boring.  All sorts of people serialize novels on their blogs.  Hey, it was even trendy for a while, before ebooks took off.  I’m not just being unoriginal, I’m being old school.  Let’s make it more exciting.

I could put out a tip jar with incentives for giving me money, but that sounds like something that will leave me with complicated accounting and maybe enough cash for a trip to Jade Mountain.  Meh.  What I’m after is adoration and praise, hordes of fans willing to do my bidding, maybe a tearful confession that I made somebody cry.  I want you to press my like button.

Here’s the deal: I get about ten “Likes” when I post food or travel blogs, so we’ll start that as our baseline.  The first time a chapter of Sentient Domain gets 10 Likes, the following week will include a bonus chapter (probably on a Wednesday).  After that, the goal goes up to 25.  The scale works like this:

Bonus 1: 10 likes
Bonus 2: 25 likes
Bonus 3: 50 likes
Bonus 4: 75 likes
Bonus 5: 100 likes
Bonus 6: 150 likes
Bonus 7: 200 likes
Bonus 8: 300 likes
Bonus 9: 500 likes

If we hit Bonus 8, the audience wins, and I’ll put the whole thing up, for free, for a minimum of 1 month.  If we hit Bonus 9, I’ll go to all the effort of making a quality ebook for Sentient Domain. (By which I mean I’ll probably do a Kickstarter for commissioning cover art,  hiring a copy editor, etc.)

Needless to say, if Giant Publishing Company comes to me and says, “Hey, we want to buy that book for Substantial Money, stop serializing it/yank it down,” I will, unless we’ve triggered bonus 8.  If we trigger bonus 8, I will honor the terms of the game, and Giant Publishing Company will have to cope.  I’m cavalier that way.

Some of you have already read Sentient Domain.  Some of you have heard me read excerpts of it at conventions.  There’s one individual out there who tried to buy it until reality thwarted him.  But the bulk of you have no idea what this book is.  You’ll get a pretty good idea tomorrow, but just to whet your appetite let me tell you this: Space Opera full of pirates, spies, and snarky computers.  Also, I have blurbage.

John O’Neil (Editor of Blackgate and groovy dude) described Sentient Domain like this on the BG blog after hearing a chunk of the first chapter at WisCon:

…an unpublished novel set in a gorgeously baroque far future where a woman who is not what she seems visits a sleepy space port… and quickly runs afoul of a subtle trap for careless spies.

Vylar Kaftan (Widely published, Nebula Nominee, FogCon creator and chair) said this:

These are some of the finest characters I’ve seen in a long time.  Witty, fun, likeable, full of personality.  I want them to be larger than life heroes who are brilliant, and that’s what they are!

Jake Kerr (Multiply published, Nebula Nominee with his first story) says this:

Sentient Domain is that kind of rollicking science fiction adventure where each character is such a blast that you want to root for everyone. Heck, I’ve read the thing twice, and I’m still not sure who my favorite is. All I know is it’s one great read.

And that, my pretties, shall be that.  Let the game begin!

Three Things You Should Read with Brief Reviews

I’ve run into a slew of really good short fiction lately.  For example:

Robot by Helena Bell.  When I tell people I hate flash fiction but don’t have a problem with stories that just happen to be very short, this is the kind of story I mean as what I like.  It’s lush, structurally interesting, and exactly the right length.

Love Might Be Too Strong a Word by Charlie Jane Anders.  I got to hear a big chunk of this one read by Charlie Jane herself at WisCon and it was brilliant and I was vexed when she didn’t get to the ending.  Then I got to be pleasantly surprised when it turned up on my podcast while biking to dinner one night.  I took my time getting to dinner.

The Three Feats of Agani by Christie Yant.  This story is beautiful and tragic and I spent the whole time terrified it would have the wrong ending.  It didn’t.

These are all, incidentally, availbale by podcast, since it’s about the only way I’m keeping up with short fiction these days.  Also, one of these stories is a secret member of the pro-villainist movement.  I won’t say which, because that would be spoilers.

Things I Recommended a Lot While at WorldCon

Split out more or less by topic.

Time Travel

Primer – Because it’s the most rigorous use of time travel I’ve seen anywhere, particularly for a visual medium

The Cross-Time Accountants Fail to Kill Hitler Because Chuck Berry Does the Twist – I can’t tell you why this is recommended without spoiling it.  If the title isn’t enough to intrigue you, your loss.


Babel-17 – Because you’ll understand why people keep going back to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis when it is wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong.

Embassytown – Because it’s brilliant, and does Sapir-Whorf correctly

Semantics – Good solid text book-y resource

Understanding Minimalist Syntax: Lessons from Locality in Long-Distance Dependencies – If you really want to dig into a modern theory of Syntax.

Steven Pinker – Not because he’s totally reliable, but because he’s a good intro to lay people and will help keep you from making an ass of yourself.


Acting One – Obviously not everything is going to be directly useful for writers, but I really think knowledge of basic character-development and scene analysis that goes into a lot of beginning acting and directing instruction is potentially hugely useful to writers.  You can get a lot of the same information in how-to writing books, but I find the wankery in writing books to be much, much higher.

Because it’s Good

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – And really, anything by N.K. Jemison.  She’s fantastic.

Luther – Because it does really fantastic thematic work without shouting “Hey, we’re doing fantastic thematic work.”  And then in the second season, they make the hard, correct decisions rather than the obviously fun ones.

Leviathan – If you’re not sure whether you like Steampunk and want to find out in a way that doesn’t take a lot of time, go for a solid YA novel

The Name of the Wind – The prose is lovely, the world building fantastic, the tropes nicely played with, and the interaction between frame and narrative fascinating.

Udacity – because free online classes are awesome, and these are really well done

Luc Reid Interviews Me

Since Mondays seem to have turned into interview days around here, now’s a good time to mention that Luc Reid interview me over on his blog about Inclusivity and Exclusivity in Fiction.  It’s part of a series of interviews and articles he’s been doing, and I’m quite pleased he let me blather on about it.  Here, have an excerpt:

LUC: Modern fiction–and some might argue fiction throughout history–seems to have a much more limited cast of characters than real life does, often putting characters who are straight, Caucasian, fully able, neurotypical, relatively young, and otherwise a lot like the typical American CEO or politician center stage. From your point of view, what difference does it make? What, if anything, is there to be gained from having a more diverse range of people in the center of our novels and stories?

ANAEA: I’d specify that modern English-language fiction does that. You get a much broader cast if you branch out into fiction from other parts of the world.

That said, the biggest risk with limiting your cast is that you’ll be boring. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a straight white middle class American male in good health, but you better give me something that’s going to set that work apart from all the other stories about the same character. If you stretch out and write about somebody else, somebody I haven’t read about a thousand times already, you’re starting off on stronger ground.

Check out the whole interview to see what else I said, and the other questions Luc asked me.

Lies for Fun and Profit: Unidentified Funny Objects

Welcome to the first interview in my “Writers tell Lies for Fun and Profit” series.  The long explanation for what’s going on is here.  The short version is this: I ask boring questions and get entertaining lies in return.

This time around we’ve got an interview with Alex Shvartsman, the man behind the upcoming Unidentified Funny Objects anthology.  The table of contents already includes Jake Kerr, Mike Resnick and Jennifer Pelland.  I have to confess, I’m a little frightened of what a humor piece from Pelland looks like, but in the “going to have to get my hands on it and see for myself” sort of way.

That’s it for intro.  Make sure to taunt harass interrogate Alex further in the comments.

What sparked your interest in putting together an anthology of humorous fiction?

There I was, juggling a full time job, family, and a fledgling career as a science fiction writer, but something was still missing. So I wondered – how can I commit myself to an insanely time-consuming project that is extremely unlikely to turn a profit and yet is guaranteed to cut deeply into my long-standing hobby of sleeping for at least six hours a night? Launching a pro-paying indie anthology was the obvious answer, so I went ahead and did that.

Why were you the right person to spearhead this project?

Why, what have you heard? Is this about me ruling over a death panel of Nazgul-like associate editors with an iron fist? Retaliating to the really bad submissions by sending the writers my own trunked stories? Sending out personal rejections in three codas and a poem? Allowing slush readers to compose epic poetry about the submissions? You shouldn’t believe all the things you read on the Internet.

No, I only became an editor because I met all the qualifying criteria: chiseled good looks, ability to read at or above fifth grade level, a +3 modifier to a saving throw roll against brain damage caused by reading the worst of the slush, and the mean streak required to crush so many hopes and dreams of aspiring writers on the daily basis.

What’s the most unexpected thing to happen since you started work on UFO?

People gave me money.

A couple of weeks ago I launched a Kickstarter campaign for Unidentified Funny Objects, hoping to raise an additional $5,000 in order to buy more stories, spend some dough on advertising, and avoid eating Ramen noodles for the next year in order to cover all the costs of putting together this book on my own.

And people actually gave me money. Turns out, I am not the only one who thinks that an anthology of humorous SF/F is something the world needs. As of the time I’m typing these words over 60 amazing individuals pledged nearly $1800 toward funding UFO.

Of course, Kickstarter is a harsh mistress. The way they have things set up is, if the project doesn’t reach its funding goal then I get nothing. Not even a consolation prize. So here I am, asking people to pre-order the book via Kickstarter (or check out other fine rewards I’m offering). Because I really dislike eating Ramen noodles.

What advice do you have for other people who might be interested in doing similar projects?

Lie down. After a little while, your desire to do this might go away.

If it doesn’t go away then make damn sure that you surround yourself with awesome people who can help you before you start, because it’s too great an undertaking to carry out on your own.

Treat writers well by offering them a courtesy of reasonable pay, fair contract, and fast response times. There are many awesome anthology concepts out there, but some publishers don’t want to pay much of anything, want podcast and movie rights thrown in for free, and expect each of their contributors to make them a sandwich. Me? I pay pro rates, respond to submissions in a day or two, and use a clear, short contract that favors the writer. I still want the sandwich though.

Make sure you’re able to fund the project ahead of time. In order to obtain sufficient monies you could release a jinn from the bottle, use alchemy to convert led into gold, build a time machine and bet on yesterday’s horse races, or merry and subsequently divorce a Kardashian. But if you really love your project idea, go for it. I can personally vouch that editing an anthology is an absolute blast. Even if it is expensive. But you know what’s not expensive?

Supporting an awesome anthology you will want to read anyway on Kickstarter. Go on, try it. I will even make it easier for you by giving you a large button to click:

Pictures of Things that are Awesome

First off, I got my contributor’s copy of the Book of Apex Volume 3.  It’s all physical and on paper and fitting on bookshelves and stuff.  Okay, no new books are actually fitting on bookshelves for me just now, I need to go build more, but you know what I mean.

You can still get your grubby paws on your own copy at a 10% discount with discount code BOA3LAY.

Other awesome things, this:

And that’s a picture of Idi.  She’s pondering the great tragedy that is the five minutes since I stopped chasing her around the house.  Truly, I am cruel and abusive to my kitty.

Review: Leviathan Wakes

I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  It grabbed me with the prologue and didn’t let go.  The plot twists nicely, the characters are complex and engaging, the world is viscerally real in the best of the gritty space opera tradition.  There was a point where I was annoyed with the book because the bad guys were doing stupid things just to be bad guys, but then when we started talking to the bad guys about why they’d done those things, they made perfect sense, so I was retroactively not annoyed with the book at all.  This book was badass in all the right ways, subtly creepy where appropriate, and did space travel so well and compellingly it makes me feel guilty for playing with FTL.

This, of course, means I rather hate the book, because I need to go have an anxiety attack about whether to vote for it, or for Embassytown.  Stupid quality.


I would put up a review about Geekomancy, but I’m not quite comfortable doing that,* so this is a sales pitch, not a review.  You see, I got to read part of this before it got sold.  My response was two-fold.  1) I declared it a winner.  2) I demanded to get to read the rest of the draft when it was ready for first readers.

Michael Underwood is just the kind of jerk who goes and sells the damn thing before he gets it ready for first readers.  You see, the universe heard there was a book premised on the inherent power of geekly artifacts, made of sheer nerdtasticness, and then rewrote all the rules for how these things are supposed to work in order to make sure the reading public could get their hands on it as quickly as possible.  I was forced to content myself with a digital ARC, instead.  Woe is me.  My life, truly, is one of persecution.

But this isn’t about me.  It’s about you.  And your geekdom.  And your nerdery.  Embrace them.  And go buy Geekomancy.  I know Mike.  He’s on the skinny side; he needs to eat.

*Because I’m biased like woah in a couple different directions