Square Eyes, by Anna Mill and Luke Jones

(I had to trim some reviews out of the nothing here newsletter to get it to send, so here’s this.)

Square EyesI was put onto this comic thanks to the About Buildings + Cities podcast, and the series they did on Katushiro Otomo’s Akira. For the final episode of that series, Luke and his co-host, George Gingell, also had Anna Mill on, and they talked a bit about Square Eyes, and the influence of Otomo on Mill’s art. (You may have also seen it mentioned in Orbital Operations, because we can’t go one issue without referring back to the President of the Republic of Newsletters.)

The Akira comparisons aren’t obvious or immediate, but that hardly matters because Mill’s art is phenomenal. The characters, clothing, buildings, and assorted ephemera of city life are exquisitely rendered, and the colours almost glow on the page, soft but vivid at the same time.

The story concerns a software designer/engineer/superstar who has dropped off the grid for a few months, forcibly interred at a sort of digital detox facility. The book starts with her return to the city, desperate to be reconnected to the digital realm. The digital and physical facades of the city are shown subtly, the ways the digital has come to usurp the real (similar to my upcoming Repo Virtual). As Fin tries to regain her memories and her old life, we see images of overlaid memory and reality, blurring together in hallucinatory moments, multiple layers of art pressed down on one another as the disparate bleeds together. And in one section we see Fin and her friend George navigate parts of the city hidden from the digital realm in a way that could only be done in comics.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the story, but artistically and aesthetically, Square Eyes is unparalleled. Just the lettering alone is fantastic, and I hope other letterers take notice of what they’ve done here. This style won’t suit every project, but with a setting like this, where layers of reality are laid one atop the other, the see-through word balloons add another subtle layer to the whole project.

REPO VIRTUAL Cover Reveal

Repo Virtual cover - art/design by Christine Foltzer
Repo Virtual cover – art/design by Christine Foltzer

The cover for Repo Virtual was recently revealed over at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog. I say a little at the link, and there’s also a blurb for the book (I don’t think it’ll be the back cover blurb, but it’s how I pitched the book to my editor at Tor.com Publishing), so have a look at the link if you want more information.

The book isn’t out until April 2020, but already someone on twitter told me they preordered it, which is fantastic. Soon enough I’m hoping I can talk about a preorder incentive package I’m trying to put together. More details here as soon as I have them.

And a big thank you to Warren Ellis for the fantastic blurb. Not only did he find time to read it in his #1000mphclub schedule, but he got back to me in no time at all – which makes me think that even for a 100k word novel, I’ve written something quick and compelling.

I’m really proud of this book, and can’t wait for it to be out in the world… riding that zeitgeist wave alongside the folk at CDPR.

Liminal

I am at something of a loss. I’m in a weird liminal space at the moment – I’m waiting on line edits from Carl on REPO VIRTUAL, and trying to decide what my next big project will be once that’s locked away. I know exactly what that project should be – my CrispSF novel – but I’m hesitating. Honestly, I might just be scared.

The VoidWitch books were really personal, but otherwise “light” in a lot of ways. As in, if you didn’t recognise that I was using the books to explore my depression, self-loathing, lack of self-worth, anger, disappointment and disconnection with family, and feelings of listlessness, then maybe the books would seem fun but shallow. So with Repo Virtual, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that asked bigger and broader questions beyond my own experiences, I wanted to write about a future that could be just around the corner and/or already here. I wanted to do something more “serious” and more intelligent. I wanted to write something that was in conversation with the cyberpunk canon, and maybe pointing the way forward along a slightly different path. And I think I pulled it off, for the most part. Or at the very least I pulled it off as well as I could have at that moment in time.

So now I’m looking to the next step. I want to up my game again, write a novel that will be even more difficult than Repo Virtual, and in doing so also create a new sci-fi subgenre (because, why not aim high?). But something has given me pause.

In her review of Static Ruin, Tasha Leigh compared the VoidWitch books to Ursula Le Guin or Kij Johnson, and while I don’t think I’ve earned those comparisons yet I can see what she means. There’s a sort of free-wheeling inventiveness in the Saga that might be similar to what Le Guin and Johnson do – weird ideas dropped into place to hint at different sub/cultures in the galaxy, backstories only ever hinted at, and an entire universe of worldbuilding that casts a shadow over the books without ever actually being seen clearly. And so reading that review when I was right near the end of Repo Virtual, I got worried: Was that the best thing about my writing, and had I completely left it out of RV? When I look at RV, all I see are the books, articles, shows, films, and philosophers I’m referencing. I know that isn’t the whole book, it might not even be a big part of it, but I’ve been too deep in it for too long to have any sort of context. In using a near-future setting, did I shoot myself in the foot? Did I lose too much of what makes my writing work? Or will RV work for different reasons? Is it better, worse, or just different?

With the CrispSF novel, I would perhaps be splitting the difference – I can already see all the ways that ‘free-wheeling inventiveness’ will be able to manifest itself in the book, while it will also look at real-world issues, future fears, and a different sort of philosophy than what I explored in RV. But at the same time, it has to be a dark book. It has to be horrifying. And I don’t know if I can pull it off yet.

Hence the twitter poll:

Twitter poll

And I have a good idea of what Parallel Universe Spies will look like, and I think it could be big – in terms of worldbuilding, series size, and in terms of reader response. So I’m struggling. Do I dive into Crispr Heart of Darkness and see if I can pull it off, pushing and challenging myself to do something utterly different and completely new? (Or new to me at least – I’m almost certain there are books out there doing similar things, if only because there are so many books out there.) Do I tackle climate change directly, and the tools we might use to face it and adapt to it? Or do I tackle it tangentially in a series of novellas with PUS (because I don’t think I can not write about it)?

Is my fear about writing Crispr HoD something to be overcome, or is it something instinctual I should listen to? Might the book be important, or is my desire to ‘create a new subgenre’ pure egocentric bullshit?

I think what I’m actually going to do is develop both. Come up with the characters and outlines for each, and see which one I need to write. See which one sets that fire under my arse. It could be that in developing my Crispr book, the fear fades as I see how it could form, or maybe I’ll realise it’s beyond me. Or maybe I need to write a novella, a palate cleanser between big novels.

If I had an agent, maybe this would be an easier decision to make. Instead, I’m writing it all out here, in an effort to make sense of it… More than anything, I just want another project. I want to stop feeling quite so lost.

REPO VIRTUAL Announced

I’ve been busily working away on a novel, and now I can finally talk about it. REPO VIRTUAL is a cyberpunk heist novel, due for publication in 2020 – the most cyberpunk-sounding year yet.

Carl said this in the announcement:

It’s a special pleasure to guide an author through multiple stages of their early career. Since I acquired Corey J. White’s first novella, Killing Gravity, I’ve had the joy of watching his craft develop from book to book. In November he’ll complete his Voidwitch Saga trilogy with Static Ruin, capping off the story of Mariam Xi, one of the most interesting and dangerous characters in space. And now I have the honor of announcing that Tor.com Publishing has acquired Corey J. White’s debut novel, Repo Virtual, a cyberpunk heist story that layers action across real and virtual realities in the hunt for the first true strong AI. Repo Virtual was acquired in a deal negotiated by Martha Millard of Sterling Lord Literistic.

And here’s my comment:

I’m so excited to be working again with Carl Engle-Laird and the rest of the team at Tor.com Publishing on my debut novel. They were a joy to work with on the Voidwitch books, and I’m thrilled to be taking this next journey with them. Repo Virtual will be a fully 21st Century take on cyberpunk, showing the environmental and sociopolitical repercussions of the rampant corporations that cyberpunk warned us about, and perhaps helped to normalise.

Needless to say, I’m really excited to be working on my debut novel. It’s totally different to working on a novella (or even three novellas), but I think I’ve got something special here. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

More news and info as it comes to hand.