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Good News and Good Books While the World is Burning

It is surreal and unsettling to try and promote a book, coming out later this month, about the future of crime and criminality when all around us law enforcement appear to be rioting in the streets for their right to be above the law, and their right to harm and kill people, particularly people of color, in public places with no legal consequence. I apologize to everyone that we still must discuss art and ideas when so many of us are marching in the streets for basic human rights and dignity. I do not wish to cheapen their necessary work by pretending that this promotion that we are doing is not poorly-timed. I certainly don’t think our anthology is going to do anything to change this struggle. But, as art is a part of the struggle, we should probably do what we can to make more of it, and better. And selling good art does make the world a better place, I believe, even if it is a wholly separate thing than what is happening in our streets, today.

Art has a purpose, still, and fiction has a role to play in the days and weeks and months and years and decades of struggle ahead for those in our society who are being brutalized in the streets by a police force that seems indistinguishable, at times, from the very criminality they are supposed to be present to stop. Even as we donate time and resources to changing the world for the better in the real world, we know that the struggle will take longer than a week or two, and the times of darkness are not blowing over quickly We all must press on with our work even as we work for a better future, because we believe that writing about the future is how to dream the future, and dreaming the future is part of how we save it.

We got good news this week, really very good news, and we have a book to sell full of great stories. There is no good time to do this. But this making art is one of the small things we can do to make things better, and we must also promote it.

So.

I want to thank Jeffrey Ford, the absolutely brilliant author of so many modern classics of fantasy and science fiction and the strange, for his support. He was kind enough to read the anthology before it was released, despite the challenges of the times, and passed along his thoughts, which I share with you, now.

“The Way of the Laser is a delightful compilation of SF Crime stories — murders, heists, betrayals, carried out by astronauts, robots and unsavory types of the near and far future. I love the sense of adventure in both the stories and the imaginations that conceived them. Terrific characters, action, adventure, and writing. Receiving this book is the equivalent of finally getting that ray gun and flying car the future had long ago promised.” – Jeffrey Ford

We are very grateful to see our fledgling effort received so warmly, and included in this list of upcoming titles by io9!

Over the next few weeks, we will be asking some of our authors to share a little bit about their stories, and hopefully share a little bit of their stories.

Now, I share with you the first excerpt: Part of our introduction, which I believe resonates, perhaps, in these times of darkness.

My car was recently broken into while sitting in the driveway on a cool, winter’s night. Many cars on the block were victimized. They took everything inside of them, including the owners’ manuals. The police came and filed a report and I don’t believe anyone has ever been caught or charged. The insurance company representative explained that an experienced crew was specifically targeting owners’ manuals. They steal them and sell them on-line. It’s apparently a lucrative enough business that crews of thieves work late in shifts to do it, one neighborhood at a time. I couldn’t imagine explaining that to myself, in high school. The most valuable thing inside my car was the owners’ manual. It’s faster and easier to sell that on eBay than an actual car, these days. This crew of thieves presumably carefully packs and ships their stolen goods, and presumably cares very much about customer service to maintain their on-line reputation as purveyors of a wide variety of owners’ manuals. This is a business model, after all, dependent on careful consideration of a wide variety of technological and social tools. None of this would even be possible without a whole network of new tools and technologies that hint towards something bigger than just selling stolen goods on-line. Laws and crime and society are all reactive, and change according to what happens next. 

Every time a sign forbids something, I know it exists because someone was doing something. Speeding signs are proof enough that people are still speeding. Signs directing people how to move through a space are there because people were moving wherever they wanted, and possibly loitering. Signs, like most of our laws, are reactive. If there is a law on the books against bestiality, it is because that crime was being comitted before it was a crime, and society decided to do something about it. Nulla poena sine lege. No law, no crime. For all the ridiculous legalese written into our end user license agreements, each line is indicative of someone doing something clever: fiddling, fidgeting, exploiting. Often, that cleverness extends to things that we wish they wouldn’t. 

Technology moves fast, and exploitation of technology seems to keep pace very well. There are people who buy up or otherwise acquire a series of inexpensive old smart phones and make these daisy chains, running hacker software, to watch paid ads for money. The software mimics human viewership, with screen swipes and such, and the people who create these farms are in a constant battle against the companies that don’t want them to exploit the service. Currently, this fairly mild form of fraud is not precisely lucrative to most who admit to pursuing it, and I don’t believe the police will strongly enforce end user license agreements so thoroughly, just yet, as to hunt them down. However, it’s this weird corner of technology where clever humans have figured out a way to exploit a new system for profit. It’s a story as old as time. Clever humans figure out a way to exploit something in their network or community or ecosystem. I think it’s telling that it is referred to as “farming” because farming was invented as an exploit, hacking nature, itself, to produce a greater caloric profit. We are very clever, and always looking for that little advantage that improves our lives. The technology of our era has accelerated all the oldest wicked things. 

Violence haunts our clever species, as well. States sponsor violence against other states and call it honorable and legal, but the same rocks thrown by kingdoms can be thrown by vandals, and the states are more often just violent to little people living in the shadow of the state. Once upon a time, the gun was invented, and people have been killed with guns and killed and killed with guns for the most foolish of reasons. People have been killing each other for the most foolish of reasons for a long, long time, though. The tools change, but the killing remains. Technology offers a whole new range of human violence that was unimaginable a few years before, and the systemic nature of crime in underprivileged communities is often driven by the inability of the powerful to empathize and address the concerns of the powerless. Submission to the powerful is often more important than the humanity of the powerless. We will never stop using the tools of power, and the tools of law, to harm each other, just as we will never stop hacking into those very tools of power and law to misbehave. 

And fiction, glorious fiction, explores all these terrible and dark places that are so much closer than we’d like to believe. Gather close, fair reader, and settle down for a journey through time and space where people will continue to be just as clever and crafty and rough and tumble as ever. On worlds brand new, there will be murder. In futures where biotechnology advances, the ends will justify the means. In the shadows of the haves and have-nots, change will come. Computers will learn from their makers just how awful we can be to each other. Every invention we create to make our life a little better can be hacked and farmed and changed. We call this anthology The Way of the Laser because, unlike a gun, a laser can be a scalpel that heals as often as it is a weapon that kills. Revolution is against the law, and so is mercy, from time to time. 

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