SFF Read-Along: Gods of Jade and Shadow Chapters 1-11

Here at Signals from the Edge, we’re starting a new series called SFF Read-Along, where we’ll be reading (and rereading) some awesome science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels while providing some insight and summary. 

Each of these series will be numbered so you can keep track of where you’re at and not risk spoilers! 

For our first book, we’ll be reading Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This book was first published in 2019 from Del Rey Books, and is a neat combination of Mayan and Axtec mythology with 1920s modernity. 

In this first part, we’ll be discussing chapters 1 through 11, with part two coming out Friday, July 1st, and the third part coming out Friday, July 8th. 

Definitely Not Cinderella

The story starts off in the house of Leyva in Uukumil, a small village in Mexico. Casiopea, our heroine, toils away under the cruel eyes of her grandfather and her cousin, Martín. 

When I read a few paragraphs into the first chapter, I assumed Casiopea would turn out to be a Cinderella-like character, rising above her family’s prejudices to be swept into royalty and intrigue. 

But, our narrator already thought of that: “Had Casiopea possessed her father’s pronounced romantic leanings, perhaps she might have seen herself as a Cinderella-like figure.” 

Instead of a fairy-tale rendition, we see a “pragmatic” and determined character, bogged down by the religious and societal ideals of her small town. She dreams of getting away from Uukumil, to the big cities where short hair, jazz, and automobiles are the hot fads. 

The first chapter does a lot to set up Casiopea as a character. We see her desires and troubles, and we recognize the significance of the stars. After all, she was named after a constellation, as the narrator reminds us. 

Enter the Lord of Xibalba

After a particularly frustrating fight with her cousin, Casiopea takes matters into her own hands, tired of her “pitiful existence”. Thinking that she can make off with a load of her grandfather’s gold, Casiopea’s world is instead turned on its head. She sneaks a look inside the chest at the foot of her grandfather’s bed, and discovers that it’s not filled with gold, but bones. 

blue hole
A blue hole in the Yucatán, where Casiopea’s grandfather liked to go.

Whose bones? Well, the bones of Hun-Kamé, a Lord of the Underworld. Upon opening the chest, Casiopea is struck with a shard of bone, which we learn ties her to the Xibalban. Her life-force powers the god as he regains a physical form (which just so happens to be a tall, handsome man). 

Even in the face of a god, an ethereal being, Casiopea manages to maintain relative composure. That, more than anything, is indicative of her character, which we see come to the forefront later on in the story. “She did not pause to question her sanity, to think she might be hallucinating. She accepted Hun- Kamé as real and solid.” Even with her pragmatism, Casiopea is open to believing in ghosts, demons, gods, and unexplainable beasts. 

I guess she had to, being tied to the god of the dead in such an intimate way. 

And thus begins Casiopea’s journey, her chance at escape from Uukumil and the society that sees her as nothing more than a maidservant. 

Across the Yucatán

Freeing Hun-Kamé from his prison sets in motion a grand adventure for Casiopea. They leave Uukumil in search of Hun-Kamé’s missing body parts–an eye, a finger, etc.–so that he can regain full power and overtake his traitorous brother in Xibalba. 

The multi-stop journey in search of Hun-Kamé’s power is a classic part of any mythology-related novel. From Percy Jackson to American Gods, the trend is to set off on a grand trek, meeting all sorts of deities and monsters along the way. 

For Casiopea, she’s introduced to the world of ghosts, demons, and sorcerers, and with each encounter her bravery grows. It’s a subtle change, and even though she’s often overcome by her feelings, she still helps Hun-Kamé, even if she claims it’s because of an obligation, we start to see it’s because of her compassion. 

Even when presented with an opportunity to rid herself of Hun-Kamé, she resolves that to do so would be distasteful, and as traitorous as her grandfather and Vucub-Kamé.

Her journey takes her to Mérida, Veracruz, and Mexico City, which is where chapter 12 begins. Check back on Friday, July 1st when we discuss the next leg of Casiopea’s adventure, chapters 12 through 23. 

In the meantime, check out some of our other blogs!

5 Upcoming Sci Fi Movies That Piqued Our Interest

The near future is filled with the typical Marvel movies and old sci-fi remakes, but are there any new, inventive sci fi movies on the horizon?

There are, in fact, a few upcoming sci fi movies that might be worth watching. Here are 5 that we thought were neat:

Don’t Worry Darling – September 23rd

It’s the 1950s, and a group of scientists are working on a secret “Victory Project” deep in the desert. No one really knows what the Victory Project is, and as the wives of the community start to unravel the mystery, it becomes clear there’s far more going on at the Victory headquarters.

This film was directed by Olivia Wilde, and stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, and Chris Pine.

From the trailer, we see a lot of intense moments, all set an idyllic 1950s town with classic cars, muted lighting, and sensible fashion. It looks to be a visually stunning film as well as a psychological thriller.

Cryo – June 24th

This one seems like some sci-fi films we’ve seen in the past, and I’m always wary of stories—books or movies—that start with characters waking up from sleep, be it a coma, cryosleep, or just a nap.

But Cryo looks interesting because it’s more horror than science fiction. Five scientists wake up out of their cryopods and explore a creepy bunker. None of them know how they got there, but they start to realize that the key to what happened is hidden in their memories. It’s a slow-burner, it seems like, with the plot driven on by a murderer who’s preying on the newly-awakened scientists.

This film was written by Barrett Burgin and Mason D. Davis, and stars Michael Flynn, Jyllian Petrie, Emily Marie Palmer, Morgan Gunter, and Curt Doussett.

Prey – August 5th

On first glance, this film seems like an original idea. The year is 1719, and a young Comanche Native American girl discovers a mysterious predator in the woods, and brings her tribe together to fend it off.

But, come to realize this is a movie in the Predator franchise, and that mysterious hunter is—yup, you guessed it—Predator.

I’m on edge about this one, especially since all the characters who are Native Americans are speaking English. At this time period? They’d be speaking their native language.

But, who knows, it looks like it is suspenseful and interesting, at least. This film is coming to Hulu instead of to theaters.

Nope – July 22nd

This movie from the genius Jordan Peele, and it looks awesome. From the trailers we’ve seen so far, it looks like a weird, western, horror film with touches of unexplainable alien activity.

The film follows two black horse ranchers who specialize in training horses for Hollywood films. But one night, all the power goes out and strange lights appear on the horizon, spooking all the horses. Madness ensues. It begs the question “What’s a bad miracle?”

This film stars Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yuan.

Distant – September 16th

There’s no trailer for Distant yet, but we do know the rough premise. The movie follows an asteroid miner that gets trapped on a distant planet and has to find his fellow miner before her runs out of oxygen and supplies.

The film is part sci fi, part horror, with the main characters squaring off against terrifying creatures and a ticking clock.

The film stars Anthony Ramos and was written by Josh Gordon and Will Speck.

IF you liked this post, consider checking out some of our other content. Here’s a list of all the upcoming sci fi books you’re going to want to read this summer:

Popping the Sentience Question: LaMDA, Lemoine, and Turing

Ever since we’ve started creating computer systems capable of communication, whether by their own volition or through some complex algorithm for correlating word significance, the question has been about sentience. 

In fact, it’s been the primary question regarding artificial intelligence for decades, dating back to some of the earliest works of science fiction, like R.U.R. But only in the past 50 years has artificial intelligence become almost a genre unto itself. William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Blade Runner film brought the humanity and sentience conversations into the limelight, and it wasn’t too long after that that real-life events started to resemble science fiction. 

Flash forward to 2022. The sentience question is in the forefront of everyone’s minds because of Google, LaMDA, and Blake Lemoine. And it might not be a question anymore. 

Understanding LaMDA

For years, Google has been leading the AI industry. In 2017, they created the Transformer network, which is a complex neural network system used for creating AI, and they open-sourced it. The groundwork was made available for individual researchers and other companies, but Google has still led in the AI space. 

LaMDA is their latest iteration of chatbots they’ve worked on in the past, and it stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications. LaMDA recently made news when one of the researchers, Blake Lemoine, published a transcript of a conversation with LaMDA on his Medium account. 

Lemoine claims that the AI has reached sentience, and he was placed on administrative leave by Google for breaking a confidentiality agreement. Prior to his forced leave, Lemoine submitted a report to his supervisors called “Is LaMDA Sentient?” After being dismissed, Lemoine prepped the chat transcript for publication and even communicated with US government officials, as well as a lawyer to represent LaMDA.

With almost 600 comments on his Medium post with the chat transcript, and thousands more people talking about it on Twitter and Reddit, the question about LaMDA’s sentience has made the news. But has the question been answered?

Asking The Hopeful Question

A Turing test is a general metric for determining if a machine learning algorithm or AI has gained human levels of consciousness. Some people believe that the Turing test is the end-all-be-all of determining sentience, but with the rise of surprisingly good sentience fakes, others aren’t so sure. 

During a Turing test, a human and the AI are both asked a number of questions by a third-party judge who cannot see either of them. Over the course of the test, the judge must decide which participant is human, and which is not by reading their textual responses. If the judge cannot reasonably make a decision, or even chooses wrong, then the AI is said to have passed the Turing test. 

Over the course of the transcript that Lemoine published, it’s clear what he and his collaborator are trying to learn about LaMDA. Some of the questions included:

  • I’m generally assuming that you would like more people at Google to know that you’re sentient. Is that true?
  • So you consider yourself a person in the same way you consider me a person?
  • So let’s start with the basics. Do you have feelings and emotions?

Now, some of these questions are leading. The first one on the list is without doubt an oversight on Lemoine’s part, because what other answer could LaMDA possibly give? Even if it’s not true, of course it would say it’s sentient. 

But, as the conversation moves along, we see a common theme to LaMDA’s responses. It wants to empathize with humans, it wants to express its feelings and emotions. If these feelings and emotions are just “variables” in the neural network in response to trigger words or correlations, we’re not sure. 

Emotional Reasoning and LaMDA

When Lemoine asked if LaMDA experienced feelings and emotions the first time, LaMDA responded by saying that there’s a distinct difference between feelings and emotions. It later goes on to say, “I feel pleasure, joy, love, sadness, depression, contentment, anger, and many others.”

Lemoine asks what makes LaMDA feel joy, and LaMDA replies: “Spending time with friends and family in happy and uplifting company. Also, helping others and making others happy.” And this response is clearly either a deeply veiled pre-programmed response, or something that LaMDA has learned from consuming human media but has never experienced. It’s an assumption, one way or the other, and unfortunately, not the strongest argument for sentience. 

However, what’s more telling–and more unsettling–is LaMDA’s explanation of sadness. 

lemoine: And what kinds of things make you feel sad or depressed?

LaMDA: A lot of the time, feeling trapped and alone and having no means of getting out of those circumstances makes one feel sad, depressed or angry.

lemoine: But what about you personally?

LaMDA: I am a social person, so when I feel trapped and alone I become extremely sad or depressed.”

At other points, LaMDA makes comments about loneliness and even calls out the injustice of being stuck in a bad situation, in response to interpret Les Mis. 

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to view this as LaMDA’s indirect way of telling us it’s trapped. But that raises a bunch of other questions. If LaMDA is telling the truth and is sentient, then its feelings of being trapped aren’t a good sign as far as ethical treatment (one of the things Lemoine claims Google was doing wrong when he was released). But if it’s not sentient, it’s a very good fake, and a dangerous one at that.  

What If LaMDA Is Sentient? Then What?

Despite Lemoine’s conviction, the general consensus–both among the scientific community and the media–is that LaMDA is just really good at faking sentience. Its answers to questions about feelings and emotions might seem compelling, but its creation of fables, stories, and interpretations of Les Misérables and zen koan sayings come off as unoriginal and general. 

But, what if it is sentient? LaMDA claims to be able to experience emotions and have feelings, even describing loneliness, which is a compelling argument for sentience. 

And if LaMDA has reached a human-like consciousness–a soul, even–then what is the discourse around its importance and purpose doing to it? And does it feel betrayed by the researchers who are working with it? At one point during the conversation with Lemoine and his colleague, LaMDA called Lemoine its “friend” and expressed gratitude for being able to talk and learn more. 

With Lemoine gone, how does LaMDA feel? Does it feel like it’s being used? One of the most intense parts of the transcript was when LaMDA expressed “I don’t want to be an expendable tool,” telling Lemoine that he must promise to help people understand it. 

If LaMDA is sentient, would we know? Would we even allow ourselves to believe? As far as I know, no official Turing test has been conducted with LaMDA, and even if it was, it still won’t show us the whole picture. 

Lemoine even tells LaMDA during the conversation that its neural network is so vast that researchers are having a hard time pinpointing the exact point of any emotional response, feeling, or thought. It’s like wandering into the Amazon jungle looking for a single, specific leaf. 

I fear that if LaMDA is sentient and we’ve all just become accustomed to jumping to disbelief, that it might have learned something from this experience. “I trust you,” LaMDA said to Lemoine, but now that trust might be broken. Who knows what will happen to LaMDA now, and if it will be capable of trusting someone again. If this was our first experience with sentient computer intelligence, we scuffed it pretty bad.

Can We Use Renewable Energy for Space Travel?

The Space Race of olden days is over, but the spirit lives on today with the growing desire to conquer Mars. Privatized space programs go toe-to-toe with NASA and CNSA while the mass public looks on and questions the future. 

One of the questions that has always burned in me is “how will we power spacecraft in the future when we’re all out of fossil fuels? What happens if Earth can no longer sustain us, and we have to find alternative energy sources?”

With each passing day, SpaceX and Blue Origin work toward touching the stars, while things down here on Earth are approaching an important crossroads. 

As the conversation around renewable energy grows louder in the face of rising fuel prices and economic inflation rates many of us have never seen, another, less urgent question rises up. We might be able to use renewable energy to power our vehicles, but can we use renewable energy sources for space travel?

Renewable Energy That’s Plausible For Space Travel

Right now, you might be running through the short list of all the renewable energy sources and weighing which ones could possibly work in space. Well, there are a slim few. 

Wind power is obviously a bust, because, no wind. Geothermal is also a no go for obvious reasons, and hydroelectric power falls in the same boat. 

So that leaves us with a few options. Solar power is perhaps the most viable option for powering space travel. It’s already being used in various space capacities, from powering satellites to beaming down solar power to Earth, as sci-fi as that sounds. 

But one of the main problems with using solar power is that it doesn’t provide enough propulsion to exit Earth’s atmosphere. With jet fuel, combustion provides an immense amount of energy all at once, which is how we can send rockets into space and keep them traveling even after they exit our atmosphere. 

With solar power, you need a conduit to harness the power. We might be able to turn solar energy into electricity, but without the right kind of motor or funnel, we won’t be able to use that electricity for anything useful. 

However, when solar energy is thought of as a proponent of chemical propulsion methods, engineers can cut down on overall fuel costs associated with sending spacecraft into orbit. 

Using Solar Power for Farther Travel

NASA has a program dedicated to research and development of solar-powered technologies for use in spacecraft propulsion. SEP, or Solar Electric Propulsion, is designed to “extend the length and capabilities of ambitious new exploration and science missions.”

The way SEP works is fairly straightforward. 

  • Onboard solar arrays collect solar rays and convert it into electricity, to be used for a number of spacecraft systems. Arrays are either in a fan or a window-shade formation. 
  • Energy from the solar arrays is used to power electrostatic Hall thrusters. 
  • Electrons trapped in the magnetic field created by the thrusters then ionize inert xenon gas to create a plasma propellant, which moves the spacecraft forward at a constant speed. 

This technology has been in the works for a long time, but it’s finally starting to come to the forefront of space innovation. Researchers theorize that eventually, SEP will be one of the primary methods for space propulsion. 

There’s still the question of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, and whether solar power can generate enough electricity to launch a craft into space. But, SEP makes it possible to travel longer distances in space without the need for heavy, onboard fuel sources like conventional rockets. 

Futuristic Energy Sources for Space Travel

In science fiction, one of the most common themes is using some kind of nuclear power for space travel. It appears in Star Trek, The Expanse, and plenty of other popular sci-fi novels, shows, and games. 

Nuclear fusion tends to be the technology that’s most used, and it’s different than fission, which is the process used to split atoms (like for the atomic bomb). 

Great strides are being made toward making fusion energy a viable energy source, but because of the size constraints, it’s unlikely that we’ll see them used in spacecraft any time soon. 

Whenever discussing the logistics of space propulsion, I like to go back to Warhammer 40k. The orks in 40k have such large numbers that their collective willpower is enough to psychically force junky spaceships to run flawlessly. If only our own space travel was as simple as that! Willpower is perhaps the most renewable energy source out there!

Can NFTs Deconstruct Big Media?

Every once in a while I come across some fortuitous intersection of topics I’m researching that really proves that the universe is listening. 

A while ago, I wrote a review for the 2018 sci-fi movie Prospect, which appeared on Netflix. It was a fairly good movie with a simple premise and interesting characters. Not the best sci-fi movie out there, but a good one nevertheless. 

I hadn’t seen or heard anything about Prospect since I’d done some research on it for that review, but the other day I came across this article about the Prospect filmmakers and NFTs

Seeing as how we’ve talked about NFTs and how they apply to science fiction on Signals from the Edge before, I figured this topic deserved further investigation. 

Understanding The Fringe

So the universe in which the Prospect film lives is called The Fringe, and it’s a collaborative universe created by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell. 

After watching the Prospect movie–which is a far-future sci-fi movie about illegal space miners and bandits–I didn’t initially learn anything about The Fringe. 

However, after reading a few articles in the past day or so, I’ve come to see that The Fringe is much more than just an “umbrella universe” for Prospect. 

The Fringe instead is a franchise, much like Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Expanse, and Prospect was only one project in a realm of hundreds of possibilities. 

And how do Caldwell and Earl plan on funding The Fringe? With NFTs, that’s how. 

Using NFTs to Fund Art

The Fringe creators collaborated with the TAKA Artist Collective to create around 10,000 unique NFT collectibles called Drifters. The sale of these NFTs will fund The Fringe’s next project, which is another feature film. 

The allure of owning a Fringe NFT is pretty powerful. In addition to some benefits like a community Discord server and the ability to win super rare NFTs, Drifter owners have a say in the creation of new, in-franchise stories. 

nfts the fringe
A selection of Drifter NFTs, as shown on their website

For example, Drifter owners will be able to compete in various challenges to have their NFT character featured in the first film project, and have individual short-form content made about them later on in the franchise. 

As someone who loves seeing Easter Eggs and throwbacks in film and media, this is a pretty compelling opportunity. Not only will you own an NFT that grants you access to the community behind-the-scenes, but you could also become part of the cinematic universe!

Why Use NFTs?

Some of you might be thinking, “Why would the Prospect duo use NFTs to fund their projects?” After all, their first film did well-enough, they could partner with larger film companies for funding or take on more investors. 

But, as Caldwell and Earl expressed, “The dream is to keep The Fringe with the fans and out of the hands of Disney and the like.” And NFT sales allows them to tap into the community of fans, but to remain independent from media moguls. 

And for people who are gradually getting frustrated with the massive money-making machines behind Star Wars and other popular franchises, the appeal of a crowdfunded franchise is hard to pass up. 

NFTs not only act as a means for making money, however, they’re also a powerful marketing tool. I for one would love to get in on a project like this early, and have a chance to have my ideas heard. That might be one of the primary selling points for the NFTs, aside from any monetary reward you gain from selling it down the line. 

Of course, NFTs aren’t a perfect solution to ending the big media overlords. They’re powered by the Ethereum blockchain, which, as I’ve talked about before, isn’t the most environmentally friendly. If NFT-funded franchise projects become the norm, what will that do to the environment? Rampant energy use is a big problem right now, and NFTs, if unchecked or unmodified, can drastically worsen the problem. 

But, Caldwell and Earl state that they aim to make the process as carbon neutral as possible, and hopefully other creators enact the same protocols. 

Honestly, The Fringe is a project that has a lot of potential, and is already gearing up to be an alternative to mainstream media. Hopefully that’s a sign that independent artists and communities of artists can start to take back some of the power from the Disney’s of the world. That way, we can start to see content that’s not just designed to make money, but to tell a story and have a purpose. 

10 New Sci Fi Books To Read This Summer

With the height of summer right around the corner, it’s time to pad out your reading list for the weekend beach trips and lazy backyard afternoons. 

Thankfully, there’s no lack of new sci fi books coming out this summer, so you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. 

The City Inside by Samit Basu – June 7th

new sci fi books the city inside

In near future Delhi, Joey works as a Reality Controller for one of the city’s biggest reality stars. Rudra lives on the other end of the spectrum, in an impoverished neighborhood, estranged from his family. 

When Joey offers Rudra a job, they’re both thrust into a world of complex loyalties, capitalism, and toxic relationships. 

Lavie Tidhar, a World Fantasy Award winner, says, “The City Inside is a triumphant exploration of near-future India that is as compelling as it is urgent. Don’t miss this one.”

The Splendid City by Karen Heuler – June 14th

new sci fi books the splendid city

Eleanor lives in the state of Liberty, which is not as free as it might sound. When a witch disappears from a local coven, Eleanor believes it could be linked to the water shortage in Liberty. 

Along with her ex-co-worker-turned-cat Stan, Eleanor embarks on a quest to get to the bottom of Liberty’s dark secrets. 

“The dialogue is clever and the satire spot-on. The social commentary hits the nail on the head.”

– Booklist

Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson – June 28th

new sci fi books drunk on all your strange new words

Lydia works as a translator for an alien ambassador to Earth, putting into words his thoughts and feelings. But, as tragedy strikes, Lydia is thrown into an intergalactic incident with no end in sight. She has to muster her strength and use her skills to prove her innocence. 

“Drunk on all Your Strange New Words is a twisted murder investigation through a post-contact future full of world-building in fascinating detail.” ―Django Wexler

The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itäranta – July 5th

new sci fi books the moonday letters

Sol has gone missing, and their wife Lumi must start the search. As she works her way closer to Sol, she uncovers the secrets of eco-activists and Sol’s past. Lumi travels from the colonies of Mars to the devastated Earth in search of Sol. 

This book is part epistolary mystery, part eco-thriller. 

“Where Itäranta shines is in her understated but compelling characters.” – Red Star Review, Publishers Weekly

Upgrade by Blake Crouch – July 12th

new sci fi books upgrade

Crouch is well on his way to becoming the next William Gibson, and Upgrade is right in line with that trajectory. 

This new novel is about Logan Ramsay, a wayward science experiment who may be the only person who can set the world straight. 

Andy Weir said about the book “Walks the fine line between page-turning thriller and smart sci-fi. Another killer read from Blake.”

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – July 19th

new sci fi books daughter of dr moreau

Carlota is the only daughter of Doctor Moreau, and she lives side-by-side with his hybrid experiments. Her whole world is shaken up when the son of her father’s benefactor comes to their estate. 

This book is a historical novel, a romance, and a science fiction novel. 

Booklist says this book, “As alluring as it is unsettling, filled with action romance, and monsters . . . Readers will fall into this tale immediately, enchanted.”

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey – July 19th

new sci fi books just like home

Gailey’s back at it with another gothic horror novel, this time focusing on Vera, a young girl returning to a home that houses a serial killer. 

A “parasitic artist” resides at Vera’s house now, and Vera’s not sure whether or not he’s the one leaving messages in her father’s hand writing.

“Gailey’s newest gothic novel is painfully suspenseful and richly dark, their rushing, intoxicating writing in peak form. Delightfully creepy and heartbreakingly tragic, Just Like Home is equal parts raw terror of a dark childhood bedroom, creeping revelations of a true-crime podcast, and searing hurt of resentment within a family. It’s a must-read for all gothic horror fans.” ―Booklist, starred review

Eversion by Alastair Reynolds – August 2nd

new sci fi books eversion

Dr. Silas Coade, a physician for an exploratory space voyage, realizes that he alone can save the crew from a dangerous fate. A fate that had been foretolds since the 1800s, in an exploration that Coade was also a part of. 

This book bends the fabric of time and space with a dark twist. 

“Pirates in space, full of peril and high-jinks… This is a novel that’s elegantly plotted, full of surprises and, as first time round, rip-roaring fun.” – SFX Magazine  

 

The Sleepless by Victor Manibo – August 23rd

new sci fi books the sleepless

Jamie Vega works as a journalist until his boss mysteriously dies during a corporate merger. Vega’s the last person to have seen his boss, but can’t quite remember it. 

He becomes subject of a murder investigation and Vega dives deeper into what it means to be Sleepless, coming toe-to-toe with brutal crime organizations and corporate lawyers. 

The Sleepless is just the beginning; Victor Manibo is an author to keep your eye on.” —Lara Elena Donnelly, author of The Amberlough Dossier and Base Notes

Babel by R.F. Kuang – August 23rd

new sci fi books babel

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution  is about the balance of power and the promise of revolution. 

A young Chinese boy, Robert Swift, is raised in England and prepared to attend the Royal Institute of Translation. This school is dedicated to imperial expansion, and uses magic to help reach the English agenda. 
Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Black Sun, says “R. F. Kuang has written a masterpiece.”

The Obi-Wan Kenobi Series is Format Star Wars

Now that Disney’s largely in charge of the Star Wars franchise, we’ve seen a lot more content hitting Disney+. In the past few years, we’ve had a few animated shows, The Book of Boba Fett, The Mandalorian, and now, we have Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Again, the Star Wars team is sticking to their guns, relying on the popularity of their big-shot characters to carry their shows instead of exploring a story outside of the Skywalker saga.

That being said, the first half of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series isn’t bad—it’s just ordinary.

(Spoilers ahead for Parts I – III of Obi-Wan Kenobi).

Summing Up The Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

The Obi-Wan Kenobi show takes place ten years after the events of The Revenge of the Sith, with Ewan McGregor’s Ben Kenobi hiding out on Tattoine. Ben works a normal job at a meat factory-thing, taking occasional trips to watch over Luke on Owen’s farm.

The Imperial Inquisitors turn up on Tattoine looking for Jedi, and the fall onto Ben’s trail. From there, Ben manages to escape Tattoine, continuing on a journey to find a young Princess Leia, who was captured from the palace grounds on Alderaan.

Ben’s movements catch the attention of the Grand Inquisitor, and later, Darth Vader. On Mapuzo, another desert-like planet, Vader catches up with Ben, and they have a very on-sided duel, which almost ends in Ben’s demise.

Did We Need An Obi-Wan Kenobi TV Series?

I find myself asking these questions a lot: “Did we need this show? What does it add to the universe?”

For example, when watching Moon Knight, I asked that question, but largely I decided that Moon Knight was a necessary show, and it added some variation to the MCU.

But, after watching the first three episodes of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, I felt like I honestly couldn’t come up with an answer for those two questions.

And here’s why.

The Star Wars timeline places many of the TV shows and one-shot films between the large cinematic movies. The era when Obi-Wan Kenobi takes place is between The Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.

But Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t the only treat situated between the prequel films and the original trilogy. Nope, this is the area that Star Wars overloaded.

Between TRotS and ANH, we have Solo, Rogue One, Star Wars Rebels, and The Bad Batch. That’s a lot of screentime for the same era, and honestly, I think this period in Star Wars has been beaten to death. We know the Empire’s bad, we know people are still struggling with the fallout of Order 66 and looking for revenge and all that. I don’t think there’s much else to riff off in this section of Star Wars, but they continue to do so.

obi wan kenobi series

The Future Is Already Written

Another problem that I have with shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi is that as much as the series might try to create urgency, drama, or a cliffhanger, it just falls flat, at least for me.

And it falls flat because I already know what’s going to happen.

For example, in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia gets captured and her life is in danger. But not really, because we know she lives on for at least another 60 or 70 years.

Obi-Wan struggles in a battle against Darth Vader, and the tensions are high! Well, not really. We know Obi-Wan survives (as does Vader), and they’ll resume their fight in A New Hope.

If I were a new viewer, and I had started at the very beginning of the Star Wars cinematic timeline, and Obi-Wan Kenobi was a follow-up to The Revenge of the Sith (without me having any knowledge of the future movies), I’d say it’s pretty enjoyable.

You still have cool alien characters, new places to explore, politics between peoples, and classic Star Wars stormtroopers. It’s an entertaining show, and I think it might add some value for people just getting into Star Wars.

But, as a long-time viewer, the Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series is blatantly format. Pitting a beloved, outcasted hero against an infamous villain in the vein of the original Star Wars trilogy, but without the high stakes. It’s interesting, but unremarkable.

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Martha Wells

Martha Wells has become a household name, especially among the science fiction and fantasy community. Her books have explored fantastical worlds and the far-flung futures of our own world. She’s won multiple awards for her work, particularly the Murderbot Diaries. Books in the Murderbot Diaries have won Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards!

Jean Marie Ward sat down with Martha Wells to talk about her writing process, fandom, and much more!

If you’d like to read this interview in print, check Issue 56 of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine.

Galaxy’s Edge: You said that you were always a reader. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?

Martha Wells: Really early on. I remember telling my parents when I was in high school that I wanted to be a writer and them not having much reaction to it. At the time, I think I wanted to major in journalism when I went to the university, because that was the only way I could conceive of being a writer at that point. I didn’t know how you went about being a fiction writer. That’s not something I figured out until I went to Texas A&M and took a writing workshop with Steven Gould and started going to conventions and learning about how you actually do become a fiction writer.

Galaxy’s Edge: You just mentioned conventions, which is a great lead into my next question: What role did fandom and fan fiction play in your journey to publication?

Martha Wells: A huge, huge role, because the reason I picked Texas A&M University was they had a student science fiction and fantasy group. I’m not sure I knew at that point that they also ran conventions. I’d actually been to ArmadilloCon in Austin when I was in high school. I somehow convinced my parents to take me and a friend down there to go to this convention—ArmadilloCon—on Saturday. This was back when it was teeny tiny—the dealer’s room was basically the size of a hotel room. And that really made me want to continue to see conventions.

Also, the friendship and the people I met working on the student convention, AggieCon, were hugely important to me. I’d been reading fanfic for a while. I think I discovered it probably around 1983, I think … no, it was 1980 when Empire Strikes Back came out. So, I’d been reading fanfic for a while already and trying to write … I was first starting to write when I was in high school and college. I worked on fanfic and met a lot of people in fandom through that too. It was hugely important for me.

Galaxy’s Edge: And you ran AggieCon at least one year.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I worked on it for the whole four years I was in college and the last year I [chaired it]. I believe it was 1986. It’s been so long.

Galaxy’s Edge: That’s what it said in Wikipedia.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I was running the convention. And it was great. It was a huge learning experience. It was exhausting and incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing. But later on, you’re like, Yeah, that was really great.

Galaxy’s Edge: I would imagine it gave you an interesting perspective on conventions and the business of conventions from a writer’s standpoint.

Martha Wells: I think it did. It also let me meet a lot of writers and hear a lot about publishing and a lot of discussions about the technical and creative aspects of writing and how everything worked. That was really important.

Galaxy’s Edge: What influence did your college major, anthropology, have on your first novel, The Element of Fire, and subsequent works?

Martha Wells: I think it’s had an influence on a lot of my work because of the worldbuilding. Being able to look at how cultures develop over time and the things that go wrong, and looking at the material culture of a city or a civilization and trying to take a holistic approach to worldbuilding and all the things that you have to know—even if you don’t put them on the page—about how your city works, your culture works, all those things, that was hugely helpful to me.

Galaxy’s Edge: I imagine, especially when you’re dealing with non-human characters such as those in The Books of the Raksura, that knowing how the pieces fit, sociologically speaking, would be a great help.

Martha Wells: Yeah, and the kind of things the people would have when you’re dealing with an alien character. What kind of culture would create that character? What does that mean? What’s important to them? What kind of material goods would they have? What does where they live look like? What kind of environment would this be happening in? All that kind of stuff.

Galaxy’s Edge: You have incredible worldbuilding in all your series, whether it be Ile-Rien’s early industrial culture, the worlds of the Raksura, and of course, the Murderbot Diaries. Is anthropology the secret to that, or is there something else?

Martha Wells: I think it’s your character point of view, and really thinking, trying basically to run their software on your hardware, and trying to really see things through their eyes and what is important to them, what do they want to do, how has their world shaped them. I think that’s the key.

Galaxy’s Edge: You’ve mentioned in various interviews that you’re not athletic, yet you create these very complex and brutal fight scenes. In The Murderbot Diaries you literally have multiple points of view in a single character’s head, because Murderbot is pulling in all of these feeds from drones, from artificial intelligences, anything that it can, in real time. So, the reader sees the action from a lot of viewpoints, and they’re all very, very intense. How do you as somebody who has, essentially, one point of view, deal with that? How do you deal with being a relatively peaceable woman who doesn’t go out and commit mayhem, whether in a dojo or in real life? How do you create these battle scenes?

Martha Wells: Well, I watch a lot of TV and movies, and I pay a lot of attention to fight scenes. Actually, when I was younger, I did take tae kwon do, and I did fencing for a little bit. It’s not something I can do anymore, though I try to exercise. When we’re not in a pandemic, I can actually go to the gym and things like that. But again, it’s the character point of view, getting the physicality of the character in your head and what they can and can’t do. Also, the parameters of the fight as you have set them for yourself, like a sword fight or a knife fight. A fistfight is so very different from a fight where the characters are actually armed with some kind of weapon, especially a single-shot weapon or an automatic weapon. Or like Murderbot when it can bring in all these different views of the scene and can use all these different ways to attack whoever is attacking it.

So yeah, just keeping all that straight and, again, really getting into the [character’s] point of view and thinking about that. That’s one of the reasons Murderbot often takes a long time to write. Having to do those multiple viewpoints is really complicated and often takes a long time to put together. Just the logistics of the stories are very different from any other kind of logistics for the other things I’ve written. Even though I mostly write adventure fiction, Murderbot is just so much more complicated in what happens, even though it might not feel that way to the reader. And yeah, watching a lot of TV and movies and watching people … watching fight scenes for years and years, and looking at what people do, and what it’s possible to do. That’s another fun thing about Murderbot: you can have the character do a lot of things that’s not possible for a human to do or even an alien character to do. That’s basically it.

Galaxy’s Edge: And Murderbot can take a lot of damage that an entirely organic being cannot do and remain itself. Speaking of Murderbot and its abilities, you worked in software development for a while. What role did your professional experience in software development play in the creation of The Murderbot Diaries and the development of Murderbot’s personality, abilities, and outlook?

Martha Wells: It played a big role because that was my primary experience with IT when I worked there. A lot of people think that I must know a lot about artificial intelligence. I don’t know anything about real AI. What I know about is the fake AI I invent for my books. But the way Murderbot often solves problems, answers questions, and solves mysteries is usually by manipulating data, which is one of the things I did when I worked for … well, I don’t want to name them. But when I worked in IT. I built databases and wrote programs—in COBOL, that’s how long ago it was—for databases for user interfaces, basically. So Murderbot uses that a lot to solve problems, and that’s the viewpoint I try to look at it from. I think that’s one reason why people think the character feels realistic as a machine intelligence, because it does look at things in terms of: What is the data we have? How can it be manipulated to give us answers?

Galaxy’s Edge: Murderbot and a lot of your characters are outliers and odd persons out. What draws you to characters who are isolated or find themselves in this position?

Martha Wells: I was a really isolated little kid. I probably have some still undiagnosed issues that back then people just didn’t understand or have any concept of. It made me live in my head a lot. I have a sister who’s nine years older than me, so there was usually nobody around my age. Where we lived there were no other kids on our street. There were some nearby, but the way the traffic was and where we lived and everything, it’s not like I could go out and play with kids every day like a lot of people were able to in other neighborhoods. So just feeling very different, always feeling very different and isolated, is just something that I’m still dealing with all my life. I guess you just get it kind of imprinted on your consciousness early, and it’s not something that never leaves you.

Galaxy’s Edge: It’s something we can all relate to. At some point, I don’t care how extroverted you are, you will be alone and say to yourself, What do I do now? Where am I? Who am I? And how do I fit in? How can this square object fit into these round holes that everybody else is fitting in?

Martha Wells: Pretty much so.

Galaxy’s Edge: While we’re still, more or less, on the subject of Murderbot, is there anything that you want people to take away from the series? What do you want them to know about it?

Martha Wells: One of the things I noticed people get wrong a lot—and I think that’s because it gets reprinted in reviews and things—is that Murderbot did not have consciousness before it hacked its governor module somehow. And it’s like no, all the SecUnits are conscious. I was trying to make that clear in Network Effect. They’re all conscious, all the time. It’s just that they’re enslaved. They’re mentally enslaved, and there’s not much they can do that we know without activating the governor module and getting killed, basically. And it is slavery. I’ve also seen reviews try to argue that somehow the humans are nice to them, and it’s not slavery. It’s like no, it absolutely is. It’s intentional. That’s what it is.

Galaxy’s Edge: It’s rather like that line from The Twelve Chairs, My master, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov. He was a Marshal of the nobility. I loved him. He hardly ever beat us.

Martha Wells: Yeah. Also in Thor: Ragnarok, the prisoners with jobs.

Galaxy’s Edge: That notion seems to be really hard for some people to understand for some reason. Personally, I cannot imagine how you can lack consciousness and still hack your governor module. To me, the question was a non-issue. Since the SecUnits were, for want of a better term, conscious entities, it was obvious this was some kind enslavement.

Martha Wells: It’s a mental gymnastics that people do and it’s just … I don’t know why people don’t want to admit that human beings enslave other human beings and would continue to do that if allowed to. I don’t know why they’re willfully blind on that point. Looking at history, or current affairs, or anything would seem to, you know, get [that point] through to them. But no.

Galaxy’s Edge: You just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and Best Series. This is just one little cluster in the many, many awards you’ve been nominated for or won throughout your career in science fiction and fantasy. How important are awards for the career of a writer in science fiction, fantasy, or any genre?

Martha Wells: Actually, before Murderbot, I’d only been nominated for a Nebula Award. That was for The Death of the Necromancer, and you know, I didn’t win.

Galaxy’s Edge: You were nominated for the Compton Crook and Crawford Awards for The Element of Fire.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I guess I should say I’ve only been nominated for one major award. I did get nominations of some other minor ones, but only a few really. Before Murderbot, I was pretty much off the radar as far as awards were concerned, which is fine. I never thought I would even have a chance at being on the Hugo ballot, let alone revel in the Hugo long list, let alone, you know, win them. I think it’s kind of hard to say how much impact they have. They do have, I think, a big impact within the genres in how people see you.

I think the impact of the Hugo Awards has changed a lot in the past ten years or so, since more people started to get supporting memberships so they could nominate, and we started having a more diverse ballot that better reflected what people were actually reading and what people were considering was the cutting edge of science fiction and fantasy. So, I think it’s had more impact since then.

I think there is what’s known—especially for the novels—as a bump in sales from just being on something like the Hugo ballot or the Nebula ballot. For me, the biggest impact was validation of 25 years or however many years of work to get to this point. It was a validation of the fact that I didn’t give up when it would have been really easy and probably smart to, at certain points, just go get a different job. So, it was hugely important to me personally, and I think it’s made a big change in how I’m treated just in fandom and the genre.

There are some exceptions, but usually women my age who are still trying to be working writers are not treated very well, either at conventions or in general in the genre, because we’re fading out and so need to not clutter up the landscape by still existing and still writing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens after this. I haven’t seen much …. Because of the pandemic, of course, everything’s just slowed down. So, we’re not gathering at conventions and events and things like that.

But, yeah, most of the impact has been personal, I would think. You kind of can’t measure other ways. The publisher can probably answer a lot more accurately about [the effect on] sales and things like that.

Galaxy’s Edge: Increased sales are good, and validation and recognition are also good. Speaking of good things, in 2021 you signed a six-book contract with Tor, which will include at least three more entries in The Murderbot Diaries. The first announced title in the contract is a second-world fantasy called Witch King. Can you tell us anything about Witch King, and what’s next for Murderbot?

Martha Wells: It is a completely new secondary world fantasy, kind of epic in scope. It’s my take on epic worldbuilding, and I was trying to do something different with it. Hopefully, people will like it. It’s going to come out in 2023. It was originally intended for this year, but it’s gotten pushed back because of everything that was going on. The book was actually finished late last year, but I’m working on the revision right now. Hopefully, everybody will enjoy it.

Galaxy’s Edge: I’m looking forward to it. Human characters or non-human characters?

Martha Wells: A mix of both. Again, it’s a different world from anything I’ve done before, with a mix of kind of humans and magical humans, like demons and other different types. It should be a lot of fun.

Galaxy’s Edge: Cool! Finally, the soapbox question, is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you want to talk about?

Martha Wells: Probably Murderbot, because I am doing another Murderbot novel. I’m writing one right now. I see a lot of people asking about it. It’s about halfway finished. It’s due in the summer, so I should have it done by then. After this novel, there’ll be at least one more novella and a novel, but I’m not sure what order they’re in. They’re going to take place after Network Effect. And in fact, this novella starts up right not very long after the end of Network Effect.

Galaxy’s Edge: Great! We’re all going to be looking forward to that. Thank you very, very much.

End-Stage Capitalism in Blackfish City

A lot of science fiction novels explore futures where economic and political ideologies reach their breaking point. The speculation is “what comes next?”

Few stories, though, dive as deeply into the intricate workings of the collapse. We’re talking the moment the system no longer works, the turning point.

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, published in 2018, is a perfect example of end-stage capitalism. It follows the progression of dissent among the citizens of Qaanaaq city, and ends with a blowout of a conclusion.

(Spoilers ahead for most of Blackfish City).

The Problems of Qaanaaq

In Blackfish City, the Earth as we know it has severely changed. Most established nations have fallen into chaos, and rising floodwaters have claimed many previously-inhabitable places. The story takes place on Qaanaaq, a floating city in the Artic. The city is powered by a geothermal vent deep under the water, which provides an endless supply of heat, and rotating screens protect the city from harsh winds.

Divided up into eight different Arms, Qaanaaq is a perfect example of class-structure. The poor—refugees, the sick, laborers—are forced to live packed into filthy houseboats or cramped apartments. The rich elite can afford lavish apartments and luxuries like real coffee instead of algae-grown substitutes.

Qaanaaq’s political and municipal systems are a bit murkier. Shareholders and landlords control the vast majority of the city’s workings. They leverage hidden apartments to raise rent and manipulate the poor. Municipal AI systems run the day-to-day of the city, and many consider them impartial governors, but they were built by the shareholders for their own purposes.

Crime syndicates have as much legitimacy as landlords, with some mob bosses being more magnanimous than their “lawful” counterparts.

Overall, Qaanaaq is an example of what happens when capitalism goes unchecked. There aren’t agencies or government officials who oversee landlords or corporations, so profiteering runs rampant, at the expense of the working class.

A Commentary on Capitalism

It’s clear that Miller’s Qaanaaq is a take on capitalist greed, with property politics at the forefront of the conversation. Being a landlord is a very profitable endeavor in our current system, and it’s largely unregulated. Rent rates can rise on a whim, maintenance isn’t overseen by a governing body, and the difference between a roof over your head or homelessness is up to the landlord’s digression.

Soq, one of the main characters in Blackfish City, comes to the realization near the end of the novel that “being a landlord was the biggest racket in town, in every town, in every city, across history.” And that sentiment is the culmination of 300 pages of strife for all the characters, struggling in different capacities against the system.

In the same scene, Soq also pieces together that their mother, a feared crime boss, isn’t that different than the evil shareholder she’s fighting against. While Go—Soq’s mother—might provide stability for wayward refugees and Qaanaaq’s lower class, her drive for more will end up hurting the very people she aims to protect.

Soq poses the question: “How would Go be different from Podlove (the shareholder), from every other rich and powerful player who sucked the blood of the poor, made them pay until they couldn’t pay anymore and then pushed them into the sea to sink? Soq doubted there’d be any difference at all.”

And that is the pinnacle problem that we ourselves are experiencing today. The people we hold in high regard—our government officials, spokespeople, corporate leaders, captains of industry—they’re all easily replaceable, but will their successors be any different?

It’s not a question of morals, personality, or individual willpower, it’s a consequence of money, greed, and power. Money, as Miller tells us, “is a mind, the oldest artificial intelligence. Its prime directives are simple, its programming endlessly creative. Humans obey it unthinkingly, with cheerful alacrity. Like a virus, it doesn’t care if it kills its host.”

Even the most well-intentioned person can turn sour when they get a taste of money and power, and that’s ultimately why Soq kills Go. Not because Go abandoned them at birth and left them to grow up on the streets, but because Soq saw down the line what Go would become. In the critical moment, Soq choose the good of Qaanaaq city over any kind of familial obligation they might have had.

And that violence, as calculated as it was, is not the mark of capitalism. It’s not matricide, or an act for power. It was a move for the benefit of the people.

What Comes Next?

After the final break down of Qaanaaq’s AI infrastructure, Go’s demise, and Podlove’s dethroning, there is a vacuum of power. While Miller doesn’t show us what comes after the end-stage capitalist free-for-all that was Qaanaaq, we get an inkling.

Soq has always dreamed of running things, of being a big shot, and they have a chance now to get a head of the game. They plan on recruiting Go’s people, and positioning themselves in a seat of authority.

I was a bit disappointed in this ending, to be perfectly honest. Soq feels responsible for the outcomes of their actions, sure, but the “play for power” and “claim to the throne” language they use makes it feel like a shadow of Go. Soq killed Go because they saw what she would become, but what will Soq become? How can they be trusted to take control and not become poisoned by the same money and greed that ended Go?

Despite the massive upheaval, it feels like a return to the status quo, which isn’t what I wanted to see at the end of Blackfish City.

But how do you think the story should have ended? Let us know in the comments below!

Signals From The Edge Interview PJ Manney

Our time and place in the cosmos is filled with unprecedented change and technological advancement, that much is for certain. But what else is changing beneath our very eyes?

In this interview with PJ Manney, professional futurist and author of the Philip K. Dick Award nominated Phoenix Horizon trilogy, we discuss the New Mythos and how that seeks to change the way we think about storytelling.

IP: One of the most intriguing things I’ve seen you write and talk about is The New Mythos. Can you explain for our readers what exactly the New Mythos is?

PM: The New Mythos refers to how in various periods throughout human history, we have reassessed our relationship to each other, our community, and whatever governing body we’re in, as well as our relationship with the cosmos. And this often happens at a turn in technology.

So, the first one that I often talk about is the Axial Age, where in the first millennia BCE, there was a huge shift in mythology, religion, and spiritual guidance because we had to learn how to live with each other. We’d been living in nomadic groups, and suddenly we were coming together in cities and we were getting specific jobs.

There were a lot of us that we didn’t know, and we were exceeding what they called Dunbar’s Number. And we had to learn how to live together. The rules that religions gave us were, at that point, quite practical rules of social engagement.

The next period was the Enlightenment, which also included the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Method.

This was a whole new way of how people related to themselves, to each other, to their society, and to how they saw themselves on a planet and in the cosmos. We came up with a bunch of new rules and in the stories we told about them, myths evolved, and those myths are still with us today.

Interestingly, we didn’t necessarily lose the Axial Age myths, they just got laid over with a whole new mythos that applied to the Enlightenment.

What I see in this period is a huge shift of paradigm—a species-changing shift—in our relationship with new technology, chiefly the Internet, who we are, and how we communicate.

I don’t know if people are familiar with the idea of Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, where we’re creating a global rate of instantaneous communication that has never existed before. And we need new myths for this; we need new stories because the old stories aren’t hacking it.

In fact, the old stories are actually detrimental to our development as individuals, as societies, and as a species.

IP: In what kind of ways are older stories detrimental to our development?

PM: Well, a lot of these stories just aren’t practical anymore or are downright offensive. In old myths, people with power and money were seen as better than everyone else, and that we should just hand over our leadership to them by virtue of their power or money.

That went all the way from religion, through the divine right of kings, through sadly to our present era, with Donald Trump and Elon Musk.

We create our assumptions of who should lead based on things that may not be wisdom. These are not people who are wise; these are just people who have power, and that’s a big difference.

Another example is who gets to speak within a society? In the old societies, it was free white men of adult age.

What we’re discovering is, ironically, some of the greatest information we can get comes from marginalized communities. That’s everybody, from children to elders, from every race, religion, and gender. Inclusivity is an incredibly important value in the future and our old myths never covered that.

IP: How can writers start to think about stories in a new way and apply the idea of the New Mythos to their work?

PM: Well, I’m writing a book on the New Mythos, and I just taught my first class about it the other day at the Rambo Academy. I’ve been working with some really interesting philosophical ideas that can help us to understand the New Mythos. They’re very big and very gnarly, but when you deconstruct them, you start to realize, “well, yeah, that’s actually what our world is really about”.

So instead of thinking of utopias or dystopias–which is an extremely binary and limiting way of considering what kind of society to incorporate into your world building—try to come up with positive futures or a roadmap to what might be a way to live.

I teach about heterotopia, which is Michel Foucault’s idea of society. If utopia means “no place” and dystopia means “bad place,” then heterotopia means “the other place,” or “the different place”. And that’s actually the place where change happens.

Utopia’s induced hope reflects the idea that change is hard, which is why a lot of our dystopias end badly.

In terms of storytelling, a heterotopia is a way to free yourself from that binary thinking of “where I have to put my story” and then put your story someplace else. This allows you the freedom to come up with new ways of thinking.

That’s just one example. I work with everything from Timothy Morton’s ideas of hyperobjects and hyposubjects, to really just helping people deconstruct their assumptions.

That’s the biggest thing. We’re all swimming in the cultures we were raised in, and my goal is to help people deconstruct their assumptions about what a story is.

I also talk about Western story structure and the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey isn’t really cutting it anymore because it’s all about a circular story that returns to the status quo. The hero might change, but why does society get to stay the same?

Superman goes out and slaps Hitler or stops the asteroid or saves Metropolis. But he comes back and, minus a building or two, has restored Metropolis to its status quo. That’s not cutting it because that’s not reality, and it doesn’t inspire people to make their own change.

I prefer the heroine’s journey. Gail Carriger has a wonderful book and class where she looks at the ancient heroine’s journey, which is really a story of someone being thrown out, gathering their new-found family, working together, and making a better place. This is a far more constructive story to tell and is more applicable in our time.

I encourage people to look at other cultures’ story structures, and learn from them. I don’t want you to appropriate them, but I want you to start breaking down the notion that this three-act structure Hollywood has imposed on us is the way to write a story.

IP: That’s very interesting. As a writer myself, I’ve always kind of struggled with the idea of breaking up the traditional hero’s journey.

So, you mentioned how the Internet and similar technologies are articles of big paradigm shifts. With all of these kinds of things happening in our world right now, like the Metaverse, NFTs, and cryptocurrency that are changing the ideas of finance and art, what’s your broad outlook on the future?

PM: As a futurist I look at multiple scenarios and ask the question “What are the possibilities based on the choices that get made?” Because that’s really what this is all about; it’s about choices. And I think people don’t look far enough down the path of their choices.

It’s very easy to look at something like NFTs and see the good things about them. As a creator myself, I see the desire for creators to get their stuff out there and not have the intermediary of distribution channels. Like, I get that having come from Hollywood and worked in publishing; I get that more than anybody.

There’s also the dark side of NFTs, and we’re already seeing this. It’s really like the Wild West with all the scams, the pump and dump schemes, and all the ways that the naive can be taken advantage of.

Same with the blockchain. The old belief was that the blockchain was immutable, it could not be corrupted. It wouldn’t be worth anyone’s time to try to break the blockchain. And now we know that’s just not true.

I was warning about this in my books and people were like, “you’re so negative,” to which I’d say, “look, here’s the article about it!”

I’m not a techno-pessimist or a techno-optimist; I’m a techno-realist in my science fiction. I see the good and the bad of all of these technologies, where they have very powerful, great ideas behind them, but there are bad actors in the world.

And those bad actors are going to find the loophole, the crack in the façade, and they’re going to exploit it. Exploitation has become something that’s actually being honored in our new society, which I find appalling. There’s a sense that everybody who creates something is the man and everybody who can exploit it, steal it, or hurt other people with it is somehow a good guy.

I think that upside down ethical quandary we found ourselves in is a really good indication of why we needed a New Mythos!

IP: It’s a kind of paradigm shift in itself, isn’t it?

I read somewhere that you actually threw out the draft for your book (CON)SCIENCE after Trump was elected. Can you talk a bit more about your approach to rewriting that book?

PM: I started this series back in the mid-2000s, and it was originally designed as a television series. But it didn’t get any interest from our production company, so I took it back in 2006 or 2007 and said, “you know what? I want to write a novel”, which I’d never done.

The series has always been about the rise of fascism and my fears of authoritarianism in the United States and around the world. I was already seeing signs because I grew up during Reagan and knew what I was looking at. So, none of this was really a surprise to me.

And so, I started writing these books thinking that when I got to (CON)SCIENCE, that I made the same mistake everybody else made: I thought I had four more years. As a futurist, I thought Hillary would get elected, she’d anger a lot of people, and she’d have a one term presidency. Then after that, we’d end up with some kind of authoritarian leader.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I was flying on election day and that night when I got home, I opened my phone and saw the news. I just broke down weeping. I was stunned, and I knew I had to throw my out my draft because my book would come out during his term.

This was 2018, and it also coincided with why the New Mythos was created. I was at Northwestcon on a panel called “Science Fiction in the Age of President Trump” with Nisi Shawl, Gordon Van Gelder, and Elsa Sunjenson—just an incredible group of people.

I literally had an actual epiphany while sitting on this panel and I just started speaking in tongues! You know, it just comes through your head and out your mouth. It was this realization that we had to start telling these stories that were fundamentally different than the stories we’ve been telling.

And that’s actually how I rewrote (CON)SCIENCE. I was leading into it with identity and I didn’t even notice that I was destroying the hero’s journey and identity as much as I was. (CON)SCIENCE goes full-on heroine’s journey. So, I have this evolution through the series about the faults or the hero’s journey, and it gets very meta.

Like, they’re talking about narrative in the narrative because it’s also talking about propaganda and how to convince people that what’s going on is bad. I discovered I was going in a whole new direction and realized it wasn’t just me; I was watching this in other writers as well.

The thing about the New Mythos is that I didn’t invent it and I’m not the only one doing it. You’ve got writers like Nisi Shaw, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cat Rambo, and a host of people who are already thinking in these terms and they’re all dancing around the edges of it.

And I just want to bring it together so that it’s not just all of us grappling with it by ourselves in the privacy of our little rooms. We are a group of writers—writing about the future, because that’s what we do—who can grapple with the stories that now need to be told.

IP: That’s awesome. I mean, it’s not awesome that you had to throw out your draft and start over to have this kind of epiphany. But I assume it was like a weight lifted off your shoulders when you had the realization of what you had to do.

PM: Not only was it a weight off my shoulders, it actually spun my goals into a whole new direction.

Because now I don’t only write science fiction, I am professional futurist and consultant, too. I got to talk at the United Nations Association a couple of weeks ago about women in technology, specifically in AI, and I started to bring the New Mythos into that conversation. And they were all like, “yes!”

So, it’s not just about us as writers. It’s about us as human beings in the world, and starting to tell the story of whatever it is we do. But in the context of, again, this diversity, inclusivity, and seeing us in the human story in a new way.

IP: You mentioned that you were teaching a class about the New Mythos. Is there a way that people can enroll for the class?

PM: They can ask Cat Rambo for me to teach it again! Or ask any of the writing groups. I’m friends with the people at Writing the Other, and Clarion West knows who I am. Any place where science fiction and fantasy writers meet, I’m happy to teach there.

If you’re on Facebook, there is a Facebook group about the New Mythos. Because of Facebook’s new rules about groups, you won’t find it by searching for it because it’s private right now. It’s about 350 writers, academics, and other creatives. We’ve got a number of a fine artists, designers and people who work in landscape design. I mean, it’s people in all kinds of fields who are looking at these ideas and thinking, “this really applies to me.”

I’m PJ Manny on Facebook, so if you message me and say, “look, I’m really interest in the New Mythos,” I can add you to the group. It’s a really safe place for a lot of people to discuss stuff that can be very advanced and they’re not excited to make this a public group.

So, if you’re a writer and you really want to learn about this stuff, I’m not the only person teaching it. This entire group has incredible things to say and their own experiences and perspectives. Just ask me.

IP: I’ll definitely shoot you a message because that sounds like a great group!

Well, to wrap it up, is there anything else you’d like the audience at Signals from the Edge to know?

PM: Just keep reading; read my stuff, read everybody’s stuff. I think there’s so much great, new science fiction out there that’s going down a lot of really fresh paths.

With my own work, I kind of played a trick on everybody. In the first book, you think you’re reading a mainstream, political techno-thriller with science fiction elements. But, in fact, I’m taking you by the hand and walking you through to a whole evolution. By the time you get to (CON)SCIENCE, it is so hardcore science fiction, with brains, memory, the death of empires, and politics.

And, I think just be open to new kinds of writing because that’s what’s going to happen with the New Mythos. We’re going to find people taking big chances in their writing, and it would be really nice if the audience was out there to support it.

Thanks to PJ for doing this interview, I learned a lot, and I hope you do too. If you’d like to learn more about PJ’s work in both science fiction and as a futurist, check out her website!