About erikwecks

Erik Wecks is a full time writer and blogger living in Vancouver, Washington. He is an author of both non-fiction and fiction, as has been a contributor to the GeekDad blog on Wired.com and LitReactor.com. He writes on a wide range of topics. When not waxing poetic on various aspects of fiscal responsibility, he tends toward the geeky. When not poised over the keyboard, Erik loves to spend time with his family. He is married to an angel, Jaylene, who has taught him more than anyone else about true mercy and compassion. They are the parents of three wonderful girls. As a group they like swimming at the local pool, gardening, reading aloud, playing piano, and beating each other soundly at whatever table top game is handy.

We’re in the Columbian this Sunday!

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I just got the official word that the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District is putting an ad in the Columbian this week. I am really thrilled with the partnership Story Con is developing with The Vancouver Community Library and the library district. I just wanted to give a huge shout out to Jennifer Huan, Jackie Spurlock and the other staff there. They are making this all possible.

At the district level a huge thank you goes out to Amy Scott, Sue Vanlaanen, and Christina Cain from the graphics department gets credit for our great logo.

Thank you all so much! I appreciate all your work!

Erik Wecks

What? When? Where?

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Story Con 2014 will arrive at the Vancouver Community Library between 10:30 and 4:30 PM on October 18th 2014. The library is just blocks from the I-5 Bridge in Vancouver WA.

 

Check out our schedule!
Who will be at Story Con?

 

 

Keep up to date through Facebook

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Want an easy way to keep up with Story Con 2014 and beyond? Like our Facebook page!  All our blog posts and pertinent information goes up on our Facebook page. It’s a great way to keep up with what’s happening at Story Con.

Story Con 2014 also now has a Facebook event, and we want as many people as possible to know that Story Con is coming. If you have a Facebook page, please take a moment and like our own and tell the world you are coming to our event. Then go ahead and share the event on our own page so that others will come too.

Thanks in advance and we’ll see you in two weeks!!!

Neptune’s Brood By Charles Stross

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I’m a big fan of Charles Stross’s science fiction. He’s absolutely brilliant (listen to some of his talks on YouTube if you get the chance, or go read his blog posts), and it always comes across in his fiction.

On one level, Neptune’s Brood is a classic space opera novel involving interstellar space travel, colonization, and space battles.

On another level, Neptune’s Brood is a careful study of what you get when you rigorously think about how economic principles, human uploading, transhumanism, the limitations of light speed, and the cost moving matter apply to developing an interstellar civilization.

In other words, it’s the type of very smart fiction you expect from Charles Stross.

The occasional pitfall of uber-smart fiction is that it can sometimes be a challenge to read. If the ideas come too fast or require too much effort to grok, the reader ends up working so hard to understand things that the reading loses its fun. Stross manages to avoid that pitfall here. It’s an enjoyable, straightforward read underlaid with a foundation of brilliance.

You can get Neptune’s Brood on Amazon, and I’m sure everywhere else as well.

 

William Hertling is the author of the best-selling technothrillers Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, and The Last Firewall. His first novel for kids age 8-12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli, came out this summer. A writer and computer programmer, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Avogadro Corporation by William Hertling

My book review of Will Hertling’s Avagadro Corporation first appeared on Wired.com on the GeekDad blog. Hertling will be one of our authors at Story Con, so it seems appropriate to republish that review here. — Erik Wecks

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Everyone knows what happens when a powerful AI erupts into existence. Once an AI exists, there will be a battle, either logical or epic, between the AI and those of us not willing to easily embrace our mechanical overlords. We have all seen the TerminatorMatrixWar Games, and even the classic Star Trek episode with M5, the AI which takes over the original Enterprise. We might even know the moment it became sentient, 2:14 AM Eastern standard time on August 29th, 1997. We might know who built it, Cyberdyne Systems. We might know why they built it — to control our most technologically advanced weapons systems, of course. D’oh! Why else would we create an autonomous AI?

Do you ever wonder why humans in speculative fiction decide to give AIs control of deadly arsenals of weapons? Yeah, so do I. If you want me to take your notions of an AI in fiction seriously, then you are going to have to do better than to start by installing it at NORAD.  Start out giving it a squirt gun, a surgical tool, or maybe… an email. I don’t know, have it play Jeopardy, but don’t try to sell me that the purpose of the AI was for the US government to hand over the keys to the silos. Sorry, you lost me there. END OF LINE.

What is fascinating in all these examples is that none of them spend any time discussing how a computer became sentient. Speculative fiction writers have thought little about how such an AI will come to exist. In popular fiction, exactly how an AI comes to exist has always been a matter for liberal doses ofApplied PhlebotinumAvogadro Corp., the first book in William Hertling’s Singularity Series, provides a chilling and compelling remedy to this gap in the speculative literature of the singularity.

One of the joys of reading Avogadro Corp. is following its highly compelling narrative of the incremental development of an autonomous AI. Unfortunately, that leaves me little room to discuss either the premise of the book or its outcome, and this one is worth avoiding spoilers. Suffice it to say, Hertling proposes a semi-sentient AI which develops by accident, in the present, from existing components of our every day interactions with the online world. Perhaps the best hint I can give the reader is to say that the nameAvogadro Corp. is based upon the Avogadro constant and provides the thinnest of veils for Google. And yes, Hertling does discuss what happens after. The after scenario makes for a satisfying third act which leads the reader forward to Hertling’s next book in the series, A.I. Apocalypse.

In real life, Hertling writes code for Ruby on Rails at HP. That expertise in the inner workings of large technology firms, coding, and coders provides his writing with a ring of authenticity that greatly enhances the narrative. I have met his characters before in the real world; they think and act like programmers.

If Hertling’s book has a flaw, it is in giving too much away along the way. Since we all know the cultural narrative of the AI takeover, I won’t worry about spoiling anything when I say that Hertling contrives a plausible yet almost too easy means by which the AI has access to weapons. Because we all understand where this is likely to go, once the guns are mentioned in the book, we know what will happen to them. This problem isn’t simply limited to the weapons. While Hertling majors on what had been the minors — how the singularity comes to exist  — he still follows the tried and true cultural pattern for the coming of an AI. When dealing with such a strong cultural trope, Hertling could have done a better job surprising us, or at least breaking the pattern.

The one area in which Hertling challenges the conventional narrative is what I find most compelling about his work. If there is any surprise in Hertling’s book, it is in the human reaction to the AI itself. The tried and true narrative of the singularity is to declare it evil from the moment of its birth, a la Terminator. More fascinating to me are the dissenters like Cory Doctorow, who see the emergence of an independent AI as a benefit for humanity. (See my review of The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.) When I met Hertling for coffee recently, it quickly became clear that he, like myself, has decidedly mixed feelings on the topic, and can see both sides of the argument. This allows him to craft a great set of characters with a wide range of responses to their new companion. They don’t all see it the same way. As Hertling said, “What geek wouldn’t want Data as their friend?” This variation in the human response to technology provides Hertling with a great setup for his second book.

But the question remains: will we create Data, Skynet, or something in between? We will have to wait to find out until we get there, which, if Hertling is correct, may be sooner than we think. Avogadro Corp. is available in both Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.com.

— Edited by AvoMail. The single most used email client worldwide.

A review copy of Avogadro Corp. was provided by the author.

Book Profile: The PSS Chronicles by Ripley Patton

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What genre do you write, primarily?

I write young adult paranormal thrillers. Think Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight with less romance and more thrill. That’s not to say that there isn’t any romance, but it isn’t the driving force of the narrative. When I set out to write GHOST HAND, I wanted to create a page-turner that people just couldn’t put down until they were done. And I’ve been told by my readers that I succeeded.

Tell me a little about your series? 

The series is called The PSS Chronicles. PSS stands for Psyche Sans Soma, the paranormal birth defect I created to inflict on my characters. In the world of my series, Olivia Black has been born with a right hand made of ethereal energy instead of flesh. Thus, the name of the first book, GHOST HAND,which was a 2013 Cybil Award Nominee and a semifinalist for the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards. The second book, GHOST HOLD, was released last year. And I am thrilled to announce that GHOST HEART, the third book, is coming out October 14th, just in time for StoryCon.

How many books planned in the series?

Four for sure. GHOST HOPE will be coming out fall of 2015. I think that will be the last book of the series, but you never know. Story has a mind of its own, I’ve found.

What is the target audience for the series? 

The book is targeted at young adults and onward. I say onward because I know from studying the market that YA is read by adults of ALL ages, and I see that in my fan base as well. Young adult designates the age of the main characters in the book, not the readers. Don’t believe me? Then be sure to come to my panel at StoryCon titled “I read YA: Why Young Adult Themes and Stories are for Everyone,” and let me convince you.

What will I enjoy about this series when I read it?

I’ve been told that the paranormal element is unique and yet realistic. If you’re tired of predictable vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons in your YA, PSS might be just what you’re looking for. And despite how weird PSS sounds, it’s actually based on the real phenomenon experienced by amputees known as Phantom Limb Syndrome. I did a lot of research for the series with my best friend who’s a nurse, and I frequently get comments from readers saying that PSS seemed so viable they actually looked it up, thinking it was real.

Secondly, I think you’ll like the characters, especially snarky, goth girl, Olivia Black–the girl with the ghost hand. Olivia is no damsel in distress. I modeled her after the teen girl I wished I’d been brave enough to be and my 16-year-old daughter, one of the strongest, kick-ass females I’ve ever known. Both my teens beta read all my books to make sure I keep the teen element current and real.

If you were to make a pie chart of your book using Nancy Pearl’s four doorways, what percentage would each story element contribute to a reader’s enjoyment of the book?

Plot; 40%  With the originality of PSS, the fast pace, and the surprise twists most readers don’t see coming, I think this one is big.

World Building (Setting, culture, magic system, technology, time and place etc.). 15% The setting of the series is our world in modern times, so not heavy on world building. However, I do explore how society reacts to the PSS phenomenon, both positively and negatively.

Characters: 35% Olivia and Marcus are flawed, complex, realistic characters that most people would love to know in real life. I also develop my side-characters in ways that tend to surprise readers.

Language: 10% I tell a good story, but I try not to let my writerly desire to impress people with my craft get in the way. Personally, I would rather read a good story told in simple language, than a poor story told poetically. Let me explain what I mean, I’ve read “language rich” books where I stopped to jot down an amazing quote, thinking “Wow, this author has a great command of language.” As nice as that is, I’ve just been pushed out of the story to think about the author. And many times, I haven’t finished those language-heavy books because the story gets lost under all that impressive wordiness. Writing should serve story. Not the other way around.

A Different Way to Find Great Books.

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We need a better way to find our next great read. Genre tags don’t tell us that much, and while online star ratings may tell us that somebody liked the book, they don’t tell us whether we will like the book. Your tastes aren’t mine.

Librarian Nancy Pearl has a brilliant solution to this problem. Her Four Doorways rank books based on the significance of four important story factors: plot, character, setting, and language. Each book and each reader have a different taste profile when it comes to these elements. According to Pearl, the trick to a great reading experience is to match the reader’s profile to books that have a similar profile.

Pearl has argued that a website should exist which would allow readers to brows books based not only on reviews, but also on the taste profile of the books. Readers could vote on what they think were the most significant elements in a given book. Over time a clearer picture of a book would emerge allowing readers a quick way to sort through books to find those that better match their reading preferences. Think of it as a kind of “personality test” for books.

Here at Story Con we want to try an experiment. Periodically you will see polls like the one below. When you see them vote if you have read the book. With enough votes, we can begin to get a sense of what elements made a given book work for its readers and which are less important. The goal is to make it easier for you to sort out books which may be highly rated by other readers but still aren’t your cup of tea.

To test this concept out, we figured we would give it a go with something many people have read, The Lord of The Rings. I’m interested to see what we find out. To be clear, you can vote more than one element. For me three elements play significant roles in my enjoyment of Tolkien’s book, so I voted for all three.

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Which Elements Matter Most in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings?

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    photo credit: Ian Wilson via photopin cc

    Hard Science Fiction Pioneers: The Female Vanguard You’ve (Mostly) Never Heard Of

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    Even now, in 2014, there’s a misguided notion that women don’t read — much less, write — “hard,” or even “medium-hard” science fiction (SF).

    This notion’s an artifact of history. Women still are outnumbered in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM fields). And the fulcra of the “hard’ SF aesthetic is rigorous adherence to scientific plausibility; the plots of this type of SF extrapolate future sciences and technologies accurately (but imaginatively) from current research and breakthroughs (adding the modifying “medium” to “hard” SF doesn’t dilute the expected meticulousness — it simply hints that in such books, the future science doesn’t play the most central role. It’s there, but not the star).

    But, women do write hard/medium SF.

    I do. My own work betrays my obsessions with human biology (aging and new diseases) and space exploration (alien first contact, colonization in a post-colonial time).

    I’m not special (sorry, mom). I’m extremely privileged to have excellent contemporary colleagues in my “sub-genre,” such as Kameron Hurley, Justina Robson, MJ Locke (so many others I could name-check) . And all of us, are, in turn, privileged to be part of a grand tradition of women science fiction writers. We stand on the proverbial shoulders of giants, writers who cleared the path, whose work punched through the expectations and prejudice of their time…and whose work, is often unknowingly (woefully!) overlooked by readers outside academia (or who’re trying to cobble together a career writing in the genre).

    So, grab your library card or e-reader, and check out the following books and stories. Many are now in the public domain and freely distributed, and a choice few have been thankfully reprinted. And, enjoy, dear readers: this list isn’t just a history lesson; it’s a map of some of the most delightful, intelligent science fiction — by women — (all but one) you’ve never heard of.

    1. The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World, Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle (1666): Published alongside Cavendish’s scholarly Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, The Blazing-World (as it’s commonly known) is a funny, readable depiction of an alien, utopian world — reachable by traveling to the earth’s North Pole. In it, Cavendish uses her own scientific knowledge to skewer the time’s politics of gender, power, and even science itself.
    2. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley (1818 anon, 1823 credited): Though you’ve definitely heard of this one, chances are you haven’t read it since high school. Shelley’s attention to detail (such as making the monster so tall because of the impossibility in replicating, perfectly, tiny anatomical components) was staggeringly erudite given the scientific knowledge of the day, and her insightful portrayal of society’s anxieties about the implications of scientific discoveries is still relevant.
    3. The Heads of Cerberus, Gertrude Barrows Bennett, writing as Francis Stevens (serialized 1919, published in book form 1952): Hailed as the first full-length alternate history science fiction book to be written in English (by male or female), the plot paints a hellish portrait of a Philadelphia in the year 2118: a terrifying dictatorship filled with destructive machines and out-of-control technology.
    4. “No Woman Born” (novella), CL (Catherine) Moore (1944): Best known for her work co-written with her husband, Henry Kuttner (including the basis for “The Last Mimsy” movie of recent years), in this short novel/novella, the brain of a horrifically burned dancer is placed into a cyborg body. Through Deirdre, Moore captures the tension between humanity and technology, as well as addressing the gendering/sexuality of machines.
    5. “And Be Merry” (novella: also published as “The Pyramid in the Desert”), Katherine MacLean (1950): A biologist performs — successful! — radical life-extending procedures upon herself (with, of course, resulting shenanigans). While many of the processes described by MacLean’s heroine (new, radical scientific theories at the time) have since been accepted common knowledge, the fears and moral questioning about extending lifespan are as fresh as ever.
    photo credit: zigwamp via photopin cc

    What a Great Story Con Panel Looks Like

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    Story Con is dedicated to helping the reader find their next great book. The job of the panel at Story Con is to expose the reader to new books and great authors.

    • A great Story Con Panel won’t focus much on the writer’s process.
    • It will focus on presenting a great conversation about books written by the panelists.
    • It won’t talk about what’s on the writer’s iPod.
    • It could talk about how music is important to the plot of a novel.
    • It won’t talk about why self-publishing is better (or worse).
    • It could talk about how readers can sort through the books on Amazon to find the truly great ones.
    • It could be topical or a survey of a genre.
    • It could be an interview of one substantial author.
    • Or it could be a conversation between several authors.
    • Whatever it does, it will showcase at least one book written by each author on the panel allowing the reader to get an idea of its content or themes.

    For example here are two panels facilitated by Erik Wecks at the Wizard World Comic Con this past Winter.

    Speed Dating with Speculative Fiction Authors:
    Need a new book to read? Are you tired of looking for the needle in a haystack of drivel? Here’s your chance to hear an elevator pitch and a short reading by local fantasy and science fiction authors. Ask questions, find a great read, and purchase the books you want on the spot.

    Does the Sci in Science Fiction Matter?
    Why is it everyone loves Star Wars, but comparatively few will read a science fiction book? Lovers and haters, gather with three local science fiction authors to discuss what works and what doesn’t, and tell us what would make science fiction sing.

    Story Con welcomes panel submissions by both traditionally published and independently published authors of all fiction genres. Panels will be selected for how closely they follow the criteria above and for their ability to attract an audience. Authors with few fans should seek to find other authors who will be able to draw readers to the con. You can propose a panel here.

    Panel submissions are open from June 3 to June 30th.

    photo credit: the bbp via photopin cc