Big update and a couple of really interesting links for you in this one.
The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones
Those of you who have been following me for a while may remember when I turned in the manuscript for the conclusion of the Dandelion Dynasty a year ago. Things have been quiet since then but I’ve been working nonstop on them in the interim. Finally, I have news to report: the end of the saga is now in copyediting and will be coming out in 2021!
When I first started the Dandelion Dynasty more than a decade ago, I didn’t know how the story would end except for a few stark scenes, lit harshly and seen but briefly, like distant islands glimpsed through a storm. That didn’t bother me. Such has always been my method: I don’t outline or plan, preferring to follow the lead of my characters as they plunge into the unknown, guided by nothing but faith in their own ideals and the competence to realize them.
Although the Dandelion Dynasty was originally conceived of as a trilogy, I hit a snag after finishing The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms. The world had changed drastically, and I had become a different writer. I had learned much about the pain of grief and the joy of new life. I had lost and then renewed my faith in the power of story as my people, the people of the United States, fought over what it meant to be an American and the direction of our ship of state.
No writer can be completely isolated from their environment, nor can any product of the imagination be free from the reality that sustains it. As America continued its quest of self-examination and Americans struggled for the soul of the nation, my story could not help but become part of that renewing of our national mythology, that quest, undertaken by every generation, to redefine who gets to tell the American story and what that story is.
Thus, what had once been an epic fantasy about psychomachia in an imagined land had swerved, without my conscious planning, into a re-imagining of the foundational mythology of America—and indeed, of the foundational mythologies of all peoples who self-consciously see nation-building as an act of collective storytelling, who conceive of their constitution as not merely a document, but a living story to interrogate, to add to, to redeem, and ultimately, to rally around through constitutive acts.
I wrote and wrote. I deleted and wrote some more. My characters struggled across vast continents and tempest-tost oceans as they fought for the future, for the past, for the redemption of history and the reification of ideals. The Ano sages did not know everything, but neither did the gods who had no understanding of the grandeur of mortality nor the demagogues who twisted the darkest impulses of their followers to fuel vain quests for power and glory. My characters—no less than myself—had to discover how to hold onto the faith that even when the nation wasn’t perfect, it could still be perfected, that it was possible to fight for freedom without becoming oppressors themselves.
What was meant to be the third book grew longer and longer, until it surpassed the length of the first two books put together. Still, I wrote on. My characters overcame impossible challenges only to see more obstacles in their way. They fought alongside hope only to discover despair. No matter. They fought on and I wrote on. A grand national myth demands grandness of spirit. The battle for the soul of a people could never be easy, and the cruelty of the gods was nothing compared to the depravity of humankind toward humankind, as reality reminds us daily. But we will not yield. We will not.
At long last, the book was done.
When I was informed, in terms that left no room for doubt, that what I wrote could not be published as a single book—not even a great engineer like Luan Zya could have found a way to bind so many pages together into a single volume—I could not honestly claim to be surprised. It’s not ideal to have to break a story meant to be read as a single unit into two pieces, but sometimes that is the best and only choice. The worthiest fights brook no abridgments.
And so, the trilogy has become a quartet. The final two volumes, The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones, form a single narrative cleaved right down the middle, to be published months apart in 2021 as two separate tomes.
While working on the series, there were many moments when I felt overwhelmed by the task. The story simply seemed too big for me, too much. (We all probably felt like that in the last few years with … *gestures at everything*) I had lost all sense of perspective and could no longer tell if anything was working. But now that it’s done, I can truly look upon it and feel a sense of pride. It is the best thing I’ve ever written. It is filled with everything I’ve ever wanted to say about books, storytelling, mythologies, law, institutions, constitutionalism, democracy, writing, love, faith, the evolution and nature of technology, the joy of making, the abiding wonder of nature, family, friendship, my utter revulsion for war … I put all of myself into the series, and left my teeth on the board.
(You’ll understand that last sentence when you finish the series.)
In the months to come, there will be cover reveals and more concrete announcements of publication dates and other celebrations, but I wanted you to hear the news from me first, you who have supported me from that first book, when Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu were but children dreaming of a world reborn because of a single question: Why can’t we be better?
I’m very very tired, but also incredibly, deliriously happy. Can’t wait till you have these books in your hands.
Co-writing with Machines
I spoke to you last time of robo_ken, the neural network that helped me break out of a period of time when I couldn’t write at all. I may still tell that story at some point.
But meanwhile, I wanted to point you toward a few other ingenious attempts at leveraging computing power to help humans tell more interesting stories.
First, there’s sudowrite, created by Amit Gupta and James Yu. Built on top of GPT-3, sudowrite is like a brainstorming partner for writers with a penchant for provocations. (Full disclosure: I was one of the system’s early beta testers, but I have no other connections to it.) You can put your WIP into it and play with various tools to get ideas for characters and plot twists, try to continue your story in a new tonal direction, spin out possibilities … It’s just … fun. If you’re at all interested in GPT-3 and how machines can become part of the creative process, definitely give this a try.
Next, as many of you probably already know, writer Robin Sloan is a pioneer in machine-human collaborative writing and has thought and published extensively on this subject. One of my favorite talks by him is his session at Eyeo 2017, “Writing with the Machine.” If you haven’t seen him speak before or didn’t know about his experiments in this area, I strongly recommend this one. Robin evokes the wonders and possibilities in this space with a skill that few can match, and his experiments are super interesting.
“Thoughts and Prayers” (which I brought up last time) is also a selection in Jonathan Strahan’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Vol 1. Absolutely thrilled to be in the company of so many fantastic authors and stories.
Broken Stars is one of the nominees in the inaugural Ignyte Awards this year (under the Anthology/Collected Works category). This is an incredible honor—just look at the list of nominees on that ballot! I wish all the nominees luck and can’t wait to celebrate the winners in October as part of FIYAHCON.
As reported by numerous media outlets, Liu Cixin’s epic SF series, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, is going to be adapted by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones) and Alexander Woo (The Terror: Infamy, True Blood) into a TV series for Netflix. Very excited for the author and fans!
I’m scheduled to have events in the next few months with R. F. Kuang, Rebecca Roanhorse, and many other stars! More details to come as the dates get closer.
Thank you so much for your support. Stay safe and may we all get to tell the stories we want to tell.