Podcast! One of my readers from Chile, my friend Leo, asked me to participate in his first ever English podcast (they usually record in Spanish) and I enjoyed it immensely. The Post-Human series definitely has a global reach!) The interview was fun and light but they asked all the questions you'd want me to answer in the more than one hour long chat. If that sounds like a fun listen to you (and it was sure fun recording it!) then check out the iTunes or soundcloud links below, please make sure you check out his Facebook likes page at https://www.facebook.com/RDLeoPodcast and, as usual, you rock, Post-Human tribe! You rock!
Soundcloud : https://soundcloud.com/rdleo/ep-30?23
link for itunes : https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/la-republica-democratica-leo/id880803673?mt=2
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The authors of The Robot Chronicles, a collection of science fiction short stories focusing on AI and robotics, were gracious enough to allow me to share the Foreword I wrote for them with you, even though the collection isn’t out until this Friday. I wrote this as a defense of, and argument for, two things that I know all my readers share in common: first, the importance of science fiction in literature, and second, as a proclamation of the power of books themselves. As you’ll see, it’s very heartfelt, and I hope it’ll serve as a landmark, heralding the new era of science fiction—the most important era yet. Enjoy, and thank you!
by David Simpson
“Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it's the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. . . . Science fiction is central to everything we've ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don't know what they're talking about.”
– Ray Bradbury
The Robot Chronicles is a collection of stories from some of the heaviest hitters in science fiction in 2014, and it is a collection that is perfectly timed. Science fiction is changing, dramatically shifting its focus onto the most important and urgent moment humanity has ever faced, and the authors whose works are contained within these pages are at the forefront of this new discussion. Chinua Achebe, the famous African writer of Things Fall Apart, told us that “Writers are teachers,” and the authors of The Robot Chronicles collection are no exception. It’s the job of great writers to teach—not to be pedantic—but to be the mirrors for humanity, allowing humanity to see itself for what it is, and in the case of science fiction (what Bradbury rightly called “the most important literature in the world”) also what it could be.
In July 2014, Google cofounder Sergey Brin said, during a panel discussion alongside Google CEO and cofounder Larry Page, “You should presume that someday we will be able to make machines that can reason and think and do things better than we can.” Google’s Head of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has predicted that humanity will have created what James Barrat calls our “final invention,” computers that are essentially as capable in all mental facets as we are, by 2029, a date that he says is a “conservative estimate.” An artificial intelligence like that would soar past us, quickly becoming far more capable than our organic brains. Consider this: with a brain that was just a few dozen IQ points higher than the average professor, Albert Einstein was able to shake physics to its core, undoing two hundred years of Newton, discovering the speed of light, black holes, time travel, and much more. Imagine a mind that isn’t just ten percent smarter than Einstein, but ten times as smart as Einstein, and what it might be able to conceptualize. How might such an accelerated intelligence change our conception of reality? And keep in mind, if Kurzweil is right, this intelligence is only fifteen years away.
So, is it the end of the world? No. Yes. Maybe. It’s certainly the end of the world as we know it. All we can say for sure is, we can’t say anything for sure, and that’s where our sci-fi authors come in. In Ray Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beaty warns Montag of the danger of books, telling him, “. . . the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They’re about nonexistent people, figments of imagination if they’re fiction. And if they’re nonfiction, it’s worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another’s gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost.” Of course, Bradbury is simply echoing the hollow arguments of the brutalist book-burning regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, which, in 1952, were not far back in the rearview mirror. Fahrenheit 451 stands as Bradbury’s proclamation, indeed the most powerful proclamation in the history of literature, of the very power of the medium of the written word itself. It’s why books were feared by tyrants, because books have the power to teach, and authors therefore have the power to do what Joseph Conrad said was the job of all writers: “to make you see.”
It isn’t the author’s job to tell you what the future will be, or to tell you what’s right or wrong, but only to tell you what could be. The authors in this collection are letting you know what could be on the horizon, what technology will be possible in a very short period of time, and they’re helping you cultivate your imagination and understanding of the most complex topic we can tackle: the future.
In a recent email exchange, after I told him of his influence on my writing, Ben Goertzel, one of the world’s foremost researches on the topic of Artificial General Intelligence, related to me that science fiction “is, of course, what first stimulated me to think about AGI, so it’s nice to see my own thinking on the topic seep into the SF world!” Such is the relationship between scientists and engineers and science fiction authors—we feed each other inspiration, the scientists and engineers use this to go and build the world, while the authors use this to tell the world what’s coming and to inspire a new generation of world-builders. And make no mistake: that’s exactly what Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Ray Kurzweil, and Ben Goertzel are. They’re world-builders, inspired by the most important literature in the history of the world.
And because information processing technology is leaping forward at an exponential rate thanks to Moore’s Law (the doubling of processing power in computers every eighteen months) we’ve reached a new and uncharted moment in the relationship between world-builders and authors: the world-builders have not only caught up to science fiction, but in some instances they’ve surpassed it. Google’s Calico research wing has the stated goal of “solving death.” Google acquired DeepMind a few months ago, which is an artificial intelligence company with the simple mission statement: “to build general-purpose learning algorithms.” And in the last year, Google has purchased at least eight robotics companies. There can be little doubt that Google is building a future of AI and robots, or that such a future is coming soon enough that most of the people reading this introduction will live to see it.
Which brings us back to why The Robot Chronicles is so important. The talented writers who’ve contributed to this collection know what their job is. It’s to “make you see.” Not to tell you what to think, but to make you question what you might believe, to reconsider, perhaps even to change your view. Fahrenheit 451’s Captain Beaty proclaimed that this power of books was a terrible thing: “What traitors books can be! You think they’re backing you up, and then they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives.” But great readers know that this is perhaps the single greatest joy of reading a great book, to have one’s thoughts truly provoked, to perhaps even change one’s mind. As William Blake wrote, “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.” The Robot Chronicles may not change your views, but these tales will certainly provoke your thoughts, make you question your opinions, and keep the waters of your mind flowing.
My series of novels, Post-Human, is at over a quarter million downloads and counting in just two and a half years, all without a single push from Amazon, with which it is exclusively published. How could this be? How could a series of science fiction novels be found by that many readers, shared with that many others, and inspire the incredible following of enthusiastic and kind people that it has amassed in just over two years? The answer puzzles some of the dinosaurs of science fiction, especially most (but not all) of the publishing execs and the film world. But at this moment, Post-Human is in pre-production for a major motion picture, my work is being turned into video games and comic books, and those precious readers and publishers who’ve taken a chance on me have discovered that they’re part of the avant-garde of the most seismic shift in the history of sci-fi, a shift that is mirroring the most seismic shift in the history of our species. The simple truth is this: our future will not be one of laser pistols and intergalactic councils. Our future, if we reach it, will be one of AI, immortality, virtual reality, and vastly enhanced intelligence. Science fiction has entered the era of post-humanity, because as the technological singularity approaches us in reality (unless we’re wiped out first by our own doing or an unforeseen natural disaster), it has become clear that, if science fiction wishes to remain relevant, it must tell the story of AI and robotics, and of a time sure to come soon when an unenhanced human brain is no match for the machines Google and others are working so hard to build. The authors of The Robot Chronicles understand this new landscape (which has an ironically classic feel to it thanks to the work of our predecessors, such as Isaac Asimov and other pioneers who saw far into the future). Publishers and film execs that stick to reboots and rehashing should be put on notice: you’re a dinosaur, you’ve bred reptiles of the mind, and you’re about to go extinct.
But will the rest of us go extinct too? That’s the defining question of this new era. Anyone who tells you they have the answer is guilty of massive and unfounded hubris. Even artificial brain-builders know there’s never been anything more powerful. Ray Kurzweil has said that keeping AI “friendly” is “the great challenge of the twenty-first century.” And even if we’re successful, what about the massive transformation in everyday human life in the years when robots take, as some have predicted, fifty percent of current jobs? Sergey Brin admits this is likely, saying, “it’s kinda true . . . I do think that a lot of the things that people do have been—over the past century—replaced by machines and will continue to be.” With Google’s self-driving cars on the horizon, the writing is on the wall for taxi and truck drivers. There are solutions to problems like that, however. Nano-manufacturing should bring the costs of products down dramatically, and, as Kurzweil has predicted, most things in the physical world will become information files that can simply be fabricated in people’s homes (think 3D printers, but on the nano-scale). If we take care of our material needs, then a world where robots are serving us and we’re unemployed doesn’t seem so bad.
But how do we get from here to there? It’s sure to be turbulent, perhaps even terrifying, and likely filled with conflict. In short, it’s the perfect subject for science fiction authors to sink their teeth into. The essence of drama is, after all, conflict. Our future may indeed be roses, or it may be extinction, but only one thing is certain: the journey there is going to be unpredictable and far more remarkable than anything even I or the authors of The Robot Chronicles can imagine.
So read this collection, and let what Bradbury called the most important literature in the history of the world (sci-fi) in what is the most powerful medium in the history of the world (the book) do what only it can do. Let it betray you, let it put out the stars and extinguish the sun. Let it leave you lost in the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives. Let it do all the things that Captain Beaty knew it had the power to do. And above all, let it make you see.
Savor it. Science fiction has never been more important, and there’ll never be an era like this one again. The Robot Chronicles has arrived at just the right time.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
I’ve been receiving a lot of messages about the Turing test having been passed and so I thought I better write a quick response to address the “Eugene Goostman” situation. I won’t go into as much detail as Ben Goertzel or Ray Kurzweil, who are two of the best critical thinkers alive on the planet, but I agree with them wholeheartedly and think I can sum things up for people relatively simply.
Though the guys at Reading are actually right, the bot did pass the Turing test in the strictest sense, the Turing test is deliberately vague and “Eugene Goostman” really didn't pass it in a spirit that means anything significant. Readers of my novels know that when an A.I. can fool judges much more consistently than 30% of the time in a situation where the conversation is much longer than five minutes, we'll be living in an extraordinary time where we have to treat artificial entities as conscious. I think we're no more than 15 years away from that threshold, but I don't think we just passed it. Eugene’s achievement was a pretty neat trick, but I've read some of Eugene's conversations and I'm actually amazed anyone judged him as human. I'm much more impressed with IBM's Watson, but even Watson couldn’t fool a human observer over say, an hour long conversation. While I disagree with people who claim that a computer can’t “think” or inherently understand things, I do think that a computer would have to converse at a level where we’re left wondering if it does inherently understand. It’s that very moment when it causes us to have uncertainty that will be special, because, when you really think about it, we can’t even prove our own consciousness. When Descartes wrote, “Cogito Ergo Sum/ I think, therefore I am,” he went as far as he could with what we could “know.” We know we exist, but beyond that, we can’t prove for sure anything else. We treat our family and loved ones as though they’re conscious because they behave that way, but we can’t prove it. If a robot were to behave exactly the same way, we’d be in the exact same position. There’d still be people that doubt it is conscious or that it really “understands,” but we’d have to treat it as though it’s conscious because, just like with our friends and family, we don’t really know—we assume.
Here's a link to Ray Kurzweil's response: http://www.kurzweilai.net/response-by-ray-kurzweil-to-the-announcement-of-chatbot-eugene-goostman-passing-the-turing-test
Ray is still the greatest critical and epistemological thinker I've ever seen, and I don't think I've ever disagreed with any of his views in a very serious way (I do think money will disappear sometime before 2050 and he doesn't seem to think so, but that's the only disagreement I can think of. He's...ahem, usually right on the money. Pun intended ;)
I hope this was helpful and that people don’t think I’m becoming one of those Internet trolls that just throws water on anything cool for the sake of being a contrarian! Haha! When an A.I. passes a Turing test that is so strict that we’re left unable to differentiate between human and machine intelligence, I’ll be really, really stoked. There will be a few more “false-pretenders” in the coming decades, people will start to say it’ll never be achieved and that machines are inherently incapable of passing the Turing test and then, very soon afterward, it’ll happen. And it likely won’t be a particular day or a particular test as this one was reported by the media, but more likely an era in which, over a period of several months or even a couple of years, several A.I.s pass strict Turing tests and a consensus is reached that machine intelligence has matched that of non-enhanced human intelligence.
And it’ll likely be in less than fifteen years…
How freaky is that?
Sunday, April 13, 2014
The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. These are the three institutions that have given me the chance to go from being a sixteen-year-old runaway and a high school drop out, to graduating at the top of my class with honours at UBC, obtaining a Master’s degree in English lit, becoming an award-winning teacher, and now living my dream of being a best-selling author and working full-time at the career I love and have pursued since I was just 6 years old. It was a crazy, 20 year journey to go from the low of sleeping in a shopping cart on a January night when I was just sixteen, to having one of the most popular series in science fiction all over the world. I could fill up an entire book with the ups and downs, but since I’m busy living my dream of writing fiction, I’ll keep the non-fiction to this short bio for my blog and website:
So, if you really want to know about it, (thank you, Holden Caulfield) I was born in Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1977. My parents actually lived in Belfast at the time and were on a weekend trip when I showed up, six weeks early! Thanks to the quick work of a nurse one cabin away, I was delivered safely. Apparently I was too excited about getting this whole “life” show on the road, so I didn’t stick around the womb long enough to get born in the hospital like everyone else. That story should’ve been a sign to everyone around, my family, the nurse, the whole world, that I’d have a career in edge-of-your-seat drama and that I’m not a fan of doing things in the conventional way!
Fun fact! I’m a descendant of Robbie Burns on my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family. This was only discovered a few years ago by my aunts who were doing a family tree. It made sense to all of us in the family, because the “writer gene” is strong like the Force in my family. My siblings and my mother’s siblings all seem to have it in one form or another. I was only able to ask my grandmother about this once, just months before she died, and she surprised the heck out of me by telling me that she always assumed the writerly tendencies came from my grandfather, and not her, because he’d write short stories and had an active imagination. At any rate, once I learned of the ancestral connection, I looked Robbie up. The people who are close to me who I told about the connection were sure they could see a family resemblance. What do you think?
My parents left Northern Ireland because of “the troubles” just weeks after I was born and moved to Canada, where my father had a job waiting for him in a bakery in British Columbia. My earliest memories were of living in Northern B.C., where the snow would pile up past the rooftops in the winter. My older brother was my almost-constant companion back then and we’re still very close to this day.
When I was six, my teacher assigned us to write a chapter in a Stuart Little book, which was the first moment that I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote in a flourish, several times the amount of the other students, and discovered that I seemed to get a “high” off of writing down the scenes that I conjured in my own imagination. Yep, it’s true, when I write my novels, even to this day, I’m getting a “fix.” I love it that so many of my readers feel the same way and refer to my books like they’re a drug of choice. They get it!
I’d say my early years were pretty stable. Although my parents moved often (I’d been to ten schools by the time I was in the 10th grade) I didn’t feel that I was having that unusual of an upbringing. Moving across the country and meeting lots of new people certainly helped me to expand my worldview.
Unfortunately, the early stability was short-lived. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to divulge too much or to blame anyone in particular. I’m a public person now, but my family haven’t signed on to that level of openness, and it wouldn’t be right for me to dredge up tragic events that might portray one or more of them in a bad light. Suffice it to say, when I was sixteen, my family fell apart, my parents separated, and I ran away from home, never to come back.
I know what some people might think when they read that: immature kid, rebelling and getting into drugs and booze and just being stupid, right? Well, I never did drugs, didn’t even drink during my teen years at all, and, twenty years later, if I were in the same spot, I’d do the same thing again. The truth was, things had gotten bad enough that I felt I was safer and had a better chance on my own. It was a desperate move during desperate times, but as much suffering as there was to come for a sixteen-year-old with no money, no education, and no home, I still know I made the right choice.
When I ran away, my family had been living in Nova Scotia, which is on the East Coast of Canada. I headed for Toronto, where I’d lived previously during one of my family’s migrations. I had friends there and my older brother (only nineteen-years-old himself) had a job after having left home himself just weeks before. I’d hoped we could live together and make it on our own (as did he) but it didn’t work out for reasons I don’t blame him or myself for, and I found myself on my own.
Those were dark days.
But you know what? There was also a lot of laughs. Though I never confided in my friends just how bad things were, my best friend’s family knew enough that they let me stay with them for a few months, and they were some of the best months of my life. I saw how a family is supposed to treat each other, what life could be like without the constant threat of fear of violence, and I saw that I could build a better life.
Eventually, after years of living different places with different friends for periods ranging from months, weeks, or even days, I eventually found myself a tiny, roach-infested apartment that I could just barely afford on the minimum wage I earned selling shoes at a mall. That period of my life, although it sounds lousy, was actually helpful. It gave me time to work on my first novel, a book that was about the only thing I could possibly have known anything about back then—being a runaway—and it taught me the extremely valuable lesson of what life is like on the bottom. I learned what it was like not to have a safety net, how ignorant people could be as they fell back on stereotypes and made assumptions about me, and it taught me that I had to be true to myself. I had to believe in myself. As long as I had that, it didn’t matter what other people thought of me.
But my dreams of being an author seemed very, very far away. I finished my gigantic first mess of a novel after two and a half years of a writing and I submitted it to a plethora of publishers, and like just about every story you’ve ever read about an author, I was rejected by every one of them. The rejections ranged from form letters to really encouraging personal notes from the editors, but they were all rejections, and my dream of being an author seemed even further away.
I’m not going to deny it. Those days were the darkest. I was pretty down and depressed for several months, and really didn’t know what to do. I’d turned twenty, had toiled for years for almost no money, had written a seven-hundred page book in my spare time, and was now faced with the reality that I only had a grade ten education and life wasn’t opening any doors.
And in the story-telling business, this is what we call, the “turn,” and it came just in time.
I discovered a program that seemed almost too good to be true called “Academic Bridging” at the University of Toronto, the university that was, at that time, the top-ranked school in Canada. It would allow anyone, from any background, to take a class. All you had to do was be at least twenty-one, and that was it. If you could pass the class with a C, they’d let you try one more time (but you only got two tries.) If you could get a B, they’d admit you part time to the university on a probationary basis and if you managed a year of success, they’d let you in full-time. But, if you could get an A in the class, they’d admit you full-time right away!
Those days were magical. I mean, I can’t even describe it (I know writers are supposed to be able to describe everything, but I just feel like it was beyond words). For a kid with a tenth grade education, who’d been living in a truly roach-infested apartment and who’d been toiling at minimum wage jobs for five years, being able to walk around the buildings at the University of Toronto and sit in a classroom, being taught by a Cambridge/Oxford educated professor about the greatest literature ever written by the world’s greatest masters of the art form…there are no words. Those are days I’ll cherish forever. I used to keep the professor, David Nimmo, behind after every, gruelling three hour lecture he gave for at least an extra thirty minutes because I couldn’t stop talking about Conrad or Fitzgerald or Hemingway or Pound or Plath or…you get the idea. What a kind, patient man he was. He never got sick of me or behaved rudely to me, and he sure could have. Really extraordinary.
And, wouldn’t you know it, after studying my heart out all year while still working full-time at my day job, I received an A, was accepted in the University of Toronto full-time, and my whole future just opened up like a dream!
I leveraged my acceptance to the top ranked university in Canada to gain acceptance to the second ranked university in Canada (not too shabby), the University of British Columbia in my favourite city in the world, Vancouver, B.C. I’d miss Toronto and my friends there, but I’d always known that B.C. was my home and that Vancouver was where my destiny was, and my goodness, I loved my time at UBC just as much as I loved my time at U of T. It was magical. I savoured every class, every summer that I took classes (I was trying to do a four year degree in three years), reading Shakespeare on the beach, every taping of “Smallvillle” or “Battlestar Galactica” that I had to side step around (everything seemed to be filmed on campus back then). It was heaven.
Then, one day before my third year started, I had a call from the head of scholarships for the English department, and they informed me that I was their top student. I’d had no idea. Honestly, I was working as hard as I could and I knew I had an A+ average, but I had no intention of going to graduate school or Law school…I was just trying to get the most out of the education that I was paying for with student loans. I’d owe a lot of money after my education, so I didn’t want to see anything worse than an A on my manuscript (it would’ve felt like I’d been ripped off!) I considered an A- a failure. My friends still make fun of me for this ridiculous standard. At any rate, I found out I was due for some help with those loans, about to win a number of scholarships because of my grades, and informed that they’d like me to be nominated for the Rhodes scholarship. I was blown away. They insisted that I join their honours program, as it would be embarrassing for the top student in English to “only” be a major, and I found myself talked into doing a four year degree (something I don’t regret in the slightest, as it allowed me to take a number of extra courses outside of English just for fun…yes I took courses for fun!) Unfortunately, because of my late start, I’d end up being six months too old for the Rhodes, but I won just about everything else I could’ve won at UBC, which greatly helped to reduce the debt load I would’ve been carrying after graduation (although that was still pretty high!)
By the end of my fourth year, it had become clear that UBC wasn’t ready to let me go yet, and offered me another fine scholarship for remain and do my Master’s degree. While, at the time, I was impatient and wanted to get my focus back on my writing career, I look back on that experience now and realize how lucky I was. My classmates were thrilled to be doing Master’s and PhD’s, but I’d felt as though I was there through an accident—a detour—little did I know that it would lead me to the most valuable gift I received in my academic career: teaching!
UBC’s English department is the largest department in a university with more than forty thousand undergraduates, and because of the requirement that all first year students take at least one year of English, there was a heck of a lot of teaching opportunities to go around. As a result, I was given a TA-ship, and had the chance to walk into my first ever teaching position only four years after my days of toiling for minimum wage selling shoes had ended. Our classes were pretty huge, with 150 students in each one, and we were assigned our own sections of about 30 students. I loved each and every class that I taught—nothing made me feel the way teaching did—except for writing that is—and Chinua Achebe, the most famous African writer’s words, “Writers are teachers,” suddenly made so much sense. I finally understood what the point of writing was, to take a lesson worth teaching and teach it to the largest classroom possible, and to make the world a little bit better because of doing it. I’ll never forget that.
Lucky for me, one of my lectures was witnessed by a group of professors who spread the word that there was a TA that was teaching in a way they hadn’t seen before. I loved multimedia, and I loved science fiction, and I was teaching my students about The Matrix and its connection to Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. They were impressed enough to offer to pay me to give the lecture outside of my own TA-ship, and this led to me gaining the reputation of being one of the best teachers in English at UBC, which led to them nominating me for the Killam Teaching Prize in 2007. Considering the sheer number of teachers the English department at UBC had at its disposal, the nomination was a huge honour.
But it was during this time period that I made another discovery. In February of 2005, I read an article about a futurist, Ray Kurzweil who, despite being nearly sixty, was sure he wouldn’t die. He described a near-future world of nanobots in people’s bloodstreams, of artificial intelligences sending upgrades to them over the internet, and of people upgrading their own biology and intelligence. Again, it was like destiny. Post-Human, the first book I’d write in what would become my most popular series, came to me in a flash of inspiration. I was so inspired that night that I wrote the entire outline and the first chapter, and, if I’m being honest, I knew when I went to bed that night that I’d written the first words of what would be a hit. But there was still a long path yet to walk.
Completing a Master’s isn’t easy, and writing my thesis and completing my coursework demanded too much of my time for me to continue with Post-Human (which actually had the working title of The Mind’s Eye). I left it for almost two years, but returned to it in 2007 after completing my thesis. I’d promised myself, after acquiring almost superhuman discipline during the final weeks before I had to hand in my thesis and defend it, that I’d use this discipline, despite how desperately poor I’d be for not immediately working a full-time job, to “finish that darn book I’d started.” I only worked part time for three weeks despite barely making my rent, so that I could get the book finished. I believed in it, and I believed in myself, and so I took the risk.
Unfortunately, I was pretty close to being the only one who believed in me at the time! haha! That’s the way it is with all of us, of course, and despite all the wonderful success I’d had as a student and teacher, the literary world hadn’t budged an inch in their view of me. In fact, it appeared to have gotten even worse. Whereas my first novel when I was twenty had at least been read by a few publishers, I couldn’t even get a publisher or agent to read Post-Human, let alone reject it. Again, it seemed that my dream of being a novelist was far away.
But it wasn’t as far away as it seemed. I started teaching, working as a private tutor so that I could begin climbing the mountain of debt I’d incurred as a student, and I continued writing. There wasn’t much time to spare, but I was able to complete two more books in the next two years, a horror novel that has been a cult hit called The God Killers, and a sequel to Post-Human called Trans-Human. I didn’t even bother sending these ones to publishers, however, instead paying to have them published by a program Barnes and Noble offered called iUniverse, which would put your books into print and even put them on Amazon and other platforms to sell.
Unfortunately, although iUniverse got my books out into the world, they controlled the price and marketing, and my books just wouldn’t sell. They were too darn expensive as paperbacks, and it seemed, once again, like my career as a writer was a long way off.
And I’d become way too distracted by happiness!!! Yes, that’s right, I was happy! I found the love of my life, Jenny, and I got married! I was building my tutoring business, I moved to West Vancouver to be closer to where the majority of my students were, and I’d finally found the small, stable, happy family that I’d always dreamed of.
But life wasn’t finished throwing curveballs at me yet! It was around this time that, similarly to my experience when I discovered Ray Kurzweil, in November of 2011, I discovered a twenty-seven-year-old writer named Amanda Hocking. There was a news article about her, and in the article, they said she was the second indie author ever to sell over a million copies of her books on the Amazon Kindle! Wow!
My heart was racing. My wife watched me pace back and forth across the floor of the living room. Here, finally, was the answer! Amazon Kindle Direct publishing for authors! Amazon had taken away the gatekeepers! There would be no more form letters from people who claimed to be “industry professionals” that “knew” that science fiction didn’t sell and wouldn’t even waste their time to read my work. Here, finally, someone had come along and given writers the chance to sink or swim on their own! Just as I’d done my entire life, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought of me. It didn’t matter if a publisher or editor didn’t believe in me. All that mattered was if I believed in myself, and if I believed I had a great story to tell, I could publish it on Amazon and prove it once and for all!
Oh Amazon! How many dreams have you made come true? How many authors have you taken from nothing and obscurity and turned into stars? Just a month after finding Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) I sold 100 copies of my books in a single month, a number that, for a new author, was astounding. A month later, I sold 250, and then a month after that, in February of 2012, I sold more than 250 in a single forty-eight hour period! My dream had finally come true!
Since then, the distinctions I’ve had as an author have been incredible and beyond belief. In late 2012, my Post-Human series, published by some guy from Canada and promoted by his wife (and that’s it) was the second most popular book on amazon.com, one spot ahead of Game of Thrones, which was at its height in popularity thanks to the HBO series. I sold over 800 copies in a twenty-four hour period. After that, I was contacted by several publishers. I turned down an offer from Amazon’s science fiction imprint to buy Post-Human because I believed I could do better over a longer period of time promoting it myself, but I did accept a deal for an Audible version of the series as well as a German translation of the ebooks. I also accepted an offer from a company whose name I’m not yet allowed to reveal, who were so impressed with the series that they were going to create a publishing wing just so that I could write a new series on a similar subject for them. This new series has already been turned into other entertainment spinoffs (though I still can’t reveal what…but soon!) Post-Human also spent a couple of weeks in 2013 ranked as the most popular science fiction series on Amazon in the US and I was ranked as the most popular science fiction author.
Recently, the books 1-4 edition of the Post-Human series was the #1 most popular sci-fi book on Amazon in the UK and Canada, #2 in Japan, Spain, and Brazil, and #4 in Germany. It appears that the series is popular all over the world, and how could I possibly have done that without KDP?
It was also downloaded over 32,000 times in the US in March of 2014, and I’ve added hundreds of new readers to my “advance” reading list of hardcore fans to go along with the 900 fans I’ve attained on Facebook and, as we near the eve of the release of book 5 in the Post-Human series, I’ve had over quarter million downloads of the series on Amazon since the books first made it big in 2012.
And you know what? As long as the road was, and as much suffering as there was during some parts of it, I really feel like I’m just at the beginning. I guess it’s because I’m only getting started living my dreams, even though laying the groundwork for them took decades. As incredible as what I’ve accomplished so far is, it’s nothing compared to the dreams I still have. I’m working on a Post-Human graphic novel adaptation and, come hell or high water, there will be a movie series based on the books. Mark my words!
None of this would’ve happened if it had not been for the democratization of publishing that is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon removed the gatekeepers—the self-proclaimed industry professionals of publishing—and made the choice to trust the people as the best judge of what books are good and which are not. My readers, the mighty and growing Post-Human tribe, have proven that the series has a vast and loyal readership, and besides Hugh Howey’s WOOL (another of the indie authors who has found incredible success thanks to KDP), I’m hard pressed to find another science fiction series, indie or not, that has garnered a more positive base or reviews and generous readership. It’s a phenomenon, and one that never would’ve happened without some people in Seattle who believed that they could change a 500 year-old industry for the better, and make stars out of people no one believed in.
Amazon, just like the University of Toronto’s Academic Bridging program, gave me the opportunity I needed to prove myself. Because of them, a runaway who had to sleep in a shopping cart at sixteen, a high-school dropout with seemingly no prospects, went on to live in the best city in the world, meet the best woman in the world and marry her, attain two degrees from one of the top forty universities in the world, before achieving his dream of being a full-time author and having one of the best-selling science fiction series in the world.
Wow. What a life. And just weeks before my thirty-seventh birthday (which makes me just a baby in author years) there’s so, so much more left to do.
So what’s the takeaway? I’m incredibly grateful to U of T, to UBC, to Amazon, to my amazing wife for giving me the loving family I always wanted, and to my readers for being so incredibly amazing. The guy who used to be given up on by everyone, now has more support than he could’ve ever imagined.
And that is how life is. You might be having your darkest day today, be more down and out than you’ve ever been, but if you have a dream, hold on to it. No matter how bad things ever got for me, I never gave up believing that I could be a novelist someday with a huge audience all over the world, and it really happened. Can you believe that? I’m getting a bit teary-eyed so I better stop writing this now. Besides, I have a deadline to meet! Book 5 is still on the way and there are thousands and thousands of people waiting for it.
What a cool life. :) Thanks, everyone.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
To celebrate the upcoming launch of Book 5 in the Post-Human series, Inhuman, we're doing a HUGE giveaway to say thank you to my readers because you guys have put me on the map! There are two levels of PRIZES and some simple steps to qualify for each! Level 1 has autographed books and comics and Amazon.com gift cards with 22 WINNERS! Level 2 has KINDLE E-READERS (you read that right!) with 2 WINNERS! You can enter both levels! Click the link, score your easy points, and then cross your fingers! And thank you for making 2014 the Post-Human tribe's year!
Friday, March 14, 2014
The Post-Human series has gone global! #1 MOST POPULAR SCI-FI NOVEL on Amazon in the United Kingdom and Canada! #2 is Japan, Brazil, and Spain. #4 in Germany! Thank you to the global Post-Human tribe that made the series go viral this week and a special thank you to everyone who loves the series and reviewed the 1-4 edition on any of those stores! And if you haven’t reviewed that particular edition yet and you feel like being incredibly awesome and helping the books sustain their lofty spot for a while, click the link and do your Post-Human tribe thing! To the best science fiction fans in the multiverse, I salute you!!!
Amazon.com Link: http://goo.gl/pPWWVk
Amazon.ca Link: http://goo.gl/Ifnrs9
Amazon.co.uk Link: http://goo.gl/wPkhxq
Amazon.de Link: http://goo.gl/cwe0z9
Amazon.com Link: http://goo.gl/pPWWVk
Amazon.ca Link: http://goo.gl/Ifnrs9
Amazon.co.uk Link: http://goo.gl/wPkhxq
Amazon.de Link: http://goo.gl/cwe0z9
Thursday, March 13, 2014
It’s been a crazy few days. The Post-Human tribe made the series go viral. I broke all my records and they’re still falling. I’ll update more in the coming days, but wow and thank you! Let’s get the movie series off the ground next! Woohoo! :)
Monday, March 10, 2014
The Books 1-4 collected edition of the Post-Human series is FREE today and until March 11th on Amazon for the Kindle everywhere, so share the link with friends and family members who you think might love a copy and…if you haven’t left a review on this edition yet and you’re feeling like being awesome, please do, as it dramatically helps it gain visibility (and will help us get our movie off the ground!) Go Post-Human tribe!!
Sunday, February 16, 2014
One of the newest members of the Post-Human TRIBE, AKA my advance/beta reader list, sent me this snazzy screenshot of an email he received from Amazon informing him that another reader found his review helpful! Doesn’t it feel good to know your review counts and that you have the power to make the Post-Human series breakout in 2014? Have you received an email like this for a review on Vol 1 or 2? If you have, forward it to me and I’ll post it on my “likes” page and my blog! And thanks again, Rus! You super rock!
Saturday, February 15, 2014
I was going to write a blog about the importance of the relationships between authors and readers and communicating the importance of reviews to readers in this brave new world of indie publishing, when I happened across a perfect example of what happens when indie writers engage and are friendly with their readers. Spoiler alert! Everyone wins!
My new reader, James, sent me a very kind message asking to be on my advance/beta reading list and our correspondence was such a perfect example of what I preach to other indies when they ask me about promoting my work and marketing that I asked James if he wouldn’t mind me using a bit of our email exchange for my posting. Check this out:
James did indeed leave two reviews on my Vol 1 and 2 editions and we exchanged a few more pleasant emails about our experiences chatting with Hugh Howey, Howey’s editors, his fiance’s burgeoning indie career, and how to build up both of our core reader groups. My wife is currently reading Jo’s book and will leave a review for it when she’s finished. Everybody had a very pleasant experience and everyone wins…Hugh Howey, Hugh’s editor, James, Jo, Jenny and David! All winners
So the take away from this is that you should reach out to your readers and build up an advance reading list. These are your core readers and the support you’ll need to make your books hits. And you should also, always, ALWAYS be good to fellow indies. I’m telling you right here and now, if you think the way to success is by criticizing other indies or running them down on places like goodreads.com, then you’re fighting a losing battle. You’ll never win respect by being jerky to people that you should empathize with, considering that you’re trying to be an indie success yourself! Be good to your readers, be good to fellow indies, and the Karma will lead you to a happy life. It’s a simple equation, it’ll make you feel really great, and it’ll work!