Some recent odds and ends

Happy 2021, wherein we’ll have to continue to fight for a better future because our governments and the corporations have no interest in working for it unless we make them.

Anyway, I’ve got a few bits and pieces to share.

Australian science fiction author Corey J White proves that cyberpunk is not dead in his first full length novel Repo Virtual. Set in a slightly in-the-future Korea Repo Virtual is a fast moving tale that features evil megacorporations, plucky gamers, AI and robot dogs.

Some great contemporary cyberpunk books – including Repo Virtual, Infomocracy by Malka Older, and Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor – to check out if CP2077 left you feeling disappointed.

Recent Repo Virtual Reviews

One of the good things about taking a break from twitter (apart from the removal of a deep sense of sadness and constant outrage) is that when you return you might find a few people with nice things to say about your book.

As a rule I don’t read reviews of my own work. The book is done, or at least I’m done with it, so the review isn’t for me, it’s there to help give readers an idea of whether or not the book is for them.

(While the above is true and what I think about reviews, the real reason I don’t read them is because even thinking about reviews gives me anxiety. So it’s a good thing that I’ve got an amazing and supportive partner who can read reviews for me.)

So below are some pull quotes from, and links to, some recent reviews. Thanks to Marlee for the quotes. I like knowing that people out there both get and enjoy what I was trying to do with Repo Virtual.


I really enjoyed the focus on loving character relationships in Repo Virtual. It shows how cyberpunk is actually evolving. What was great about, say, Case and Molly’s relationship in Neuromancer was they clearly had an attachment to each other that went beyond just physical, but they were so alienated from the world and from each other that ultimately it could never work; I liked that and thought it made a powerful statement about how capitalism ultimately alienates us from our fellow humans. Corey J. White is saying something different, that despite that alienation we are still human and woe betide any CEO whose profits supersede our humanity.

If this book is anything to go by, I feel like the tone of modern cyberpunk may be shifting too? I hope I’m not misplaced in glimpsing a tiny shred, if but a kernel, of hope in the modern genre.

For a genre awash with such advanced biotechnology it really shouldn’t have taken this long for it to start exploring ideas around gender identity. Thankfully Corey J. White has dragged cyberpunk kicking and screaming into the year 2020 and with it he’s also consigned a bunch of the shittier stereotypes of the genre to the dustbin of history.

Jonothan Pickering at Parsecs and Parchment


Readers of White’s Voidwitch series (starting with Killing Gravity) know that White hits the action beats and rings those changes well, and he takes those skills and puts them into his mid 21st century story with conflicts and set pieces both small and large. From a tense gun standoff, to a pulse pounding chase across the city, when the author turns on the action, the words just flow off of the page.

what really sets this novel apart from most Cyberpunk is its strongly philosophical bent. It sounds more than a little strange to talk about ontology and philosophy in the context of an often pulse pounding SF novel, but White’s novel and its thesis, for lack of a better word, is encapsulated in the sections when the AI starts to swim toward the surface of consciousness, and the debate, and the issues of a new sentient intelligence, and what that means. It is a far less toxic meditation on artificial intelligence, their rights and nature, than in say, the movie Ex Machina, which I kept thinking of as the AI moves from being a pure MacGuffin to being an entity in their own right, with slowly developing hopes and goals of their own. What rights does an AI have? What is the social contract, here? I was not expecting this level of deep thought, as JD and Troy and the AI come to slow understanding, JD and Troy from without, and the AI from within.

Does Cyberpunk still have something to say and to present itself as a viable subgenre for the early 21st century for writers and readers? Repo Virtual by Corey J White proves that the answer is, that eye of the needle can be threaded. It’s difficult to write near-future SF, but White not only manages it but succeeds excellently at it.

Paul Weimar at Nerds of a Feather


The book really shines when it uses the heist plot to facilitate some fantastic social commentary as well as advance its pretty heavy themes… In many ways, the book reads like a well written political paper more than a story – which weirdly works for me.

Andrew Mather at Quill to Live

Repo Virtual’s JD, by Ganzeer

If you’re not already familiar with the work of Ganzeer, this is as good a time as any for me to point you in his direction. He’s an artist working in an area that he coined: Concept Pop. It fuses a bold and graphic style reminiscent of pop art with serious conceptual frameworks, looking at issues including (but not limited to) the Egyptian revolution (and revolution as a broader topic), dissent in Russia, the killing and subjugation of Native American peoples, the racist history and present of the US, and more. He also has been working on the kickstartered graphic novel, The Solar Grid, which I’m super excited about.

Recently Ganzeer was open to commissions, and I thought it was a good opportunity to support an artist who’s work I think is incredibly culturally valuable (and just generally kick-arse), and also celebrate the release of Repo Virtual and kind of reward myself for a book that I’m really proud of. So I asked Ganzeer to draw JD, one of the heroes of RV, along with a hacked police dog (the significance of which will be obvious to anyone who’s read it). I’ve got the original art here, waiting to be framed when I’ve got the money, but I also wanted to share a scan of it with you all.

Illustration of JD from Repo Virtual

Thanks again, Ganzeer. I love it.

This is the Sound of My Voice

It’s been a weird few weeks hasn’t it? Things are going well here on this end (relatively speaking, and all things considered), I finished the first draft of my next book, and have mostly been able to stay level.

I’ve been lucky enough to chat to some folk about Repo Virtual in the past few weeks, and wanted to share that with you.

First off, I was interviewed for the Nerd Feuilleton podcast – it’s a German language podcast, but the section with me (in English, sadly I’m not bilingual) starts at around the 54 minute mark.

I was also interviewed by Andrea Johnson over at Nerds of a Feather. This one is all text, so you don’t have to stuff about with podcast apps, hear my voice, or hear me sniffling.

And finally, Jonathan Strahan interviewed me for the Coode St podcast – they’re doing a series of short 10(ish) minute episodes with authors during this lockdown time. It was a great chat.

I’ll have a couple more links to share with you soon. Thanks for spending a little time with me here, and I hope you’re doing well with the situation we all find ourselves in, and I hope you’re keeping healthy and safe.

Repo Virtual is out now!

Repo Virtual is out now! Unless you’re in the UK, in which case you have to wait a few more days… Sorry!

I’ve got high hopes for this novel, but it’s hard to know how it might go with a global pandemic leaving thousands dead and millions unemployed. Whether or not my book does well seems a very minor concern right now, but I hope if nothing else it might give people a break from ubiquitous Coronavirus news for a few hours.

Repo Virtual was name one of Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for April 2020, and made the same list on Kobo Canada.

It’s available in hardcover (Bookshop, Powells, IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, Overstock, WalmartBooksaMillionAmazon), ebook (Kindle, B&N NOOK, iBooks, eBooks.com, Google Play, Kobo), and audiobook formats. These are some obvious links, but with any luck you can get it from your local independent book store.

Here is an audiobook excerpt here I can share with you.

Here’s what some people have been saying about Repo Virtual:

“Repo Virtual constructs a stunningly vivid cyberpunk world that blurs the line between illusion and reality, dripping with the neon panache of a technological juggernaut in an action packed heist that’ll steal your heart with ideas that are as revealing as they are powerful.” —Peter Tieryas

“A richly imagined, futuristic stand-alone with appeal to gamers, SF fans, and armchair futurists alike.” —Kirkus Reviews

“What follows is an action-driven plot that, perhaps not surprisingly, bears some resemblance to William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency. It seems as though cyberpunk is not only back but may have come full circle.” —Toronto Star

“If I had to list four cyberpunkish books you had to read, I’d probably give you Neuromancer, Snowcrash, Equations of Life (Simon Morden), and now…Repo Virtual by Corey J. White.” —Amazing Stories

Beautiful and Dangerous

I came across a post via Peter M. BallDying on the Mountain: How Goals will Kill You and How to Focus on the Process, written by Fred Venturini and published at litreactor. In it, Venturini references a couple of different books about positive thinking and goal setting to argue against some common wisdom.

The Power of Positive Thinking is supposedly able to literally change your life, but:

In studies performed by Gabriele Oettigen, visualizing how well things could go actually reduces your motivation, and at a subconscious level, we can confuse visualizing success with having already achieved it. […] Fantasizing about your greatest successes can slow you down, reduce your motivation, and make you feel like you’ve already achieved them.

He also warns against tying your goals into your identity, which is something I’m sure many writers struggle with. For the longest time your goal is to become a published writer, but if (and hopefully when) that happens, you’ve suddenly undermined a part of your identity by achieving your goal and realising that little has changed. You don’t immediately become happy/successful/famous/rich/whatever overnight – not only does publishing move slow, but there’s little chance of riches and fame unless you’re extremely lucky.

And he ends the piece by suggesting that goals can be broken down into processes anyway, and it’s these processes that will help you to achieve whatever it is you’re hoping to achieve with your writing career. Chop wood, carry water, which is something I’ve talked about before.

And these are all great points. I definitely get where Venturini is coming from, and mostly agree with him, but in my mind it’s bumping up against something else.

In an interview with Pagan Dawn Magazine, Alan Moore said:

Your art is as big, as powerful, as beautiful and dangerous as you yourself are able to conceive of it as being.

This is one of the quotes I’ve written onto a post-it note and stuck up in my writing area because it resonates with me. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, if you’re only able to conceive of your own work at a shallow level, then all you’ll be able to write is shallow work. Repo Virtual is a cyberpunk AI heist, but I don’t know that I ever would have written it if that’s all I was able to conceive of it as. More important than that basic plot is the philosophical core of the book focusing on the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and the way those intelligences could become our heirs if we ever let them. Yes, there are still multiple heists and shoot-outs, and a car chase through flooded streets, but I wrote the book because there were philosophical concepts I wanted to explore. (One day I hope to write a book that can explore deep ideas without guns, chases, mayhem, and explosions, but I’m not there yet.)

I’ve talked previously about the struggles I’m having with my next book. Frankly, I’m frightened. And the reason I’m frightened is because my conception of what this book could be is huge. In it I want to explore eco-fascism, eco-terrorism, and the various possible (horrifying) outcomes of the stresses that climate change will place on our civilisation, and I want to do that through the lens of truly disturbing sci-fi horror, which is not a genre I’ve written in at great length. The book has the potential to be serious and important, and also successful, and I desperately want it to be all those things. I desperately want it to be big, powerful, beautiful, and dangerous.

But Venturini is right. That’s not a goal I can work towards; you can’t write a book that is all those things, you can only write a book and hope. But Moore is right, because I need to still hold onto my hopes if I want to make this book the best thing I can write here and now.

I need to have my hopes and my dreams for this book so I can strive to do something more and greater than my previous work, but I also need to say “Fuck the results,” and focus on the process so I can actually get it done. I need to find that balance. And I’m almost there. The further along I get with my new and improved outline, the more confident I feel – not that it’ll be everything I want, but that I’ll be able to write it. That I’ll be able to put one word down after another until I have a novel.

The rest will come, I hope. With all the research and planning I’ve done, and with all the writing and editing I will do, I just have to hope it comes together. Maybe it won’t be important, or successful, but it’ll be the best thing I can write right now, and that’s enough. It has to be.

Nothing Here Newsletter

If the updates here on the website are too infrequent for your tastes, then your best bet is to sign up for the Nothing Here newsletter, which I run with some friends of mine. I think of it as something like a podcast in text form – we share a bunch of interesting links and recommendations, with room for a little conversational back and forth.

If you’re here at this website, then you already know who I am, but let me introduce the rest of the nothinghere team:

We occasionally have guests on board to talk about their projects, interests, et ceteras, and we also have a paid subscription tier for bonus letters – more in-depth reviews, short fiction, weird essays, and other miscellanea. Sign up below, or if you visit this link you can hit the “Let me Read It First” button to get a taste of what it is we do every fortnight.

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.

Supanova, April 2019

Supanova Authors, April 2019
Left to right:Me, Alan Baxter, Jodi McAlister, Paige Belfield, Lynette Noni, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Rachael Craw, Marlee Jane Ward.

This is the main gang that I had the pleasure of touring with for Supanova in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast.

On the GC, Alan, Lynette, and I also got to share a stage with these two:

Writing Action PanelJames and Marc Lindsay, who I toured with at a previous Supanova, and who are always good value. It was a great panel, talking all about writing action scenes, and I had a great chat to the brothers after the panel too.

I had planned to write more, but some bastard infected me with con crud, and 2.5 weeks later I’m still not feeling 100%. I will however say that Alan Baxter joined us on the Nothing Here newsletter, where he and m1k3y went into some detail about writing martial arts action scenes (Alan being a kung fu instructor as well as a writer of dark tales).

Thanks to Ineke for having me on board! It’s always a great (if tiring) weekend, and I really love nothing more than talking with readers and my fellow writers.

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.