A Time to Reflect

Ending one year and looking forward to the next.

Finally, the holidays are coming up, bringing with it a sense of … well, endings and beginnings. The year 2020 has been … something.

Time to reflect on the year that just passed and look forward to the next.

“In the Beginning Is a Story”

In my work as a futurist, I talk about what it means to imagine the future at industry conferences, think tanks, governments, universities, etc. As a result of conversing with people from around the world in that capacity, I’ve been struggling with one particular question: What does making up stories have to do with building a sustainable, humane future?

It is, in fact, a more personal and specific version of the question asked perennially of writers and artists in general: What value is there in art?

As a general rule, I dislike instrumentalist justifications for art. I don’t think reading or crafting fiction is very “productive” in an economic sense; nor do I think formalized narrative does much in terms of inculcating empathy or other socially desirable psychological traits (surely you can think of many writers and filmmakers who may tell great stories but are terrible people).

Rather, I think the value of fiction isn’t in how it helps us, but in how the practice of storytelling is at the core of what it means to be human. We live inside the stories; we are stories. Good stories matter far more than good institutions.

I’ve tried to lay out my thoughts on storytelling and sustainable futures recently in an essay commissioned by The EUGENE Studio of Japan, “In the Beginning Is a Story.” I hope you’ll give it a read and think about this subject with me.

Fiction Year-End Summary

Novels

Because of the pandemic, I didn’t get much done this year writing-wise. I’ve always been a slow writer. Of all writers I know, I’m among the least productive (it took me ten years, remember, to tell basically one story, the Dandelion Dynasty). And this year, I’ve even lowered the bar on my own poor record.

I’m all right with that. I think in general we should all try to be gentler with ourselves. In the end, “How productive were you?” is not anywhere near the top of the list of important questions to ask yourself about your life.

Still, I feel good about what I have done. By far my biggest accomplishment, I feel, is finishing the edits on The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones. Wrapping up the longest, most substantive piece of fiction in a way that did justice to my vision felt good.

Speaking of which, I have an update on publication dates. Because of the pandemic and the economic uncertainty of these times, my publisher, Saga Press, has decided to push the release dates of the two books back by a season each. Thus, The Veiled Throne will be published on November 2, 2021, and Speaking Bones will be out April 2022.

As much as it pains me to see the books being pushed back (since I turned in the manuscripts for the two books back in summer 2019, this means that by the time Speaking Bones is out, I will have waited almost three full years), I think this is the right decision. Bookstores and the general process by which people discover books both took a hard hit this year, and recovery has been slow. Pushing the publication dates back, while not a guarantee of anything, is the only way to give my books the best chance possible to succeed in the market.

Needless to say, I hope to earn your delight and pleasure when the books finally do come out, and I’ll do my best to make the wait worthwhile by getting started on the next long-form project. I have some ideas for the next novel I want to write. Stay tuned.

Short Fiction

All in all, I wrote five stories in 2020 (just finished the last one this week). Most of the stories I wrote this year haven’t been published yet (and I can’t even talk about some of them), but I can say that most were influenced by life during the pandemic in some sense. A couple I would say are among the stories that have mattered the most to me.

Coming soon:

  • The Cleaners,” my magic realist story about cleansing (literally) memories, is part of the Faraway Collection from Amazon Original Stories. This is going to be available on December 15, so please keep an eye out for it if you’re interested.

  • “Jaunt,” my contribution to Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future, edited by Gideon Lichfield, published by MIT Press (part of the Twelve Tomorrows series). This is a collection of stories inspired by the pandemic, and should be available early 2020/

I published a total of seven stories in 2020 so far (most of these were written before 2020):

  • “50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” — Uncanny, November 3, 2020 (read).

  • “A Whisper of Blue” — The Book of Dragons, edited by Jonathan Strahan, July 7, 2020.

  • “Idols” — Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan, March 17, 2020.

  • “Uma” — part of the Avatars, Inc anthology from XPrize, edited by Ann VanderMeer, illustrated by Ian Murray, March 13, 2020 (read).

  • “Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard” — The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, February 25, 2020.

  • “How to Build a Dragon at the End of Time” — Sub-Q, a piece of interactive fiction, February 2020 (play).

  • “How to Survive the Next Science Fictional Disaster, A Guide for the Wise” — L’Uomo, February 2020.

Accolades

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories continues to gain recognition — I’m so grateful to the jurors, librarians, and readers who highlighted my book for praise.

My little collection was:

Frankly, all of this has been shocking. I wrote these stories thinking that no one will like them except myself. The positive response from readers has been a most unexpected bonus.

I hope you all have as lovely an end of the year as possible, and thank you again for all your support.