Gods, Machines, Grids

15 Nov

After this post, I am going to try and go off the grid, as it were, for the duration of the Tea Debacle, for reasons which I’ll explain briefly.

The nice thing about being banned off AW — and the reason that I insist on being banned and not merely logging out, or saying “Yell at me if you see me logged in!” — is that I am given no reason at all to visit, and so I stay away. I do other things. I don’t think about it. The nice thing about that is, it gives me distance and perspective, two things I vitally need. I don’t have middle gears. I am either away from AW (and then, gently back with perspective), or I am completely embroiled in the place and, when I’m not careful or I’m tired, it swallows my day.

So: Being away will give me perspective. I am hoping that, falling off the grid will do somewhat of the same for the internet. To my dissatisfaction, I have noted that too much of my time has shifted to pottering around people’s blogs and reading fascinating interviews with people, like the Gene Wolfe interviews I’ve been posting. I do that a lot, and while it’s not a bad thing — it counts, for me, as learning — it still isn’t getting words on paper. (Here’s a John Irving interview.)

So, I’m going to vacate the blogosphere, as best as I can manage it. I can’t be banned off that, so it’ll be up to that tricky willpower thing.

Continue to please get your numbers to me on Sunday evenings, I’ll still receive them and upload charts. Any problems, e-mail me. I cannot divest myself of e-mail, it is too much of a tie to too many people which I need to stay in semi-regular contact with. Even so, I’ll try to cut down.

Just before God in the Machine unceremoniously ended, I asked Lori to interview me, because I knew exactly the sort of questions she’d ask (namely: deep, relevant, and very interesting ones). I intended to then send the interview off to a couple of SF news sites, to help promote the series. I hadn’t sent it off, or done anything more but look at it, and then the series ended and it had no further use. Still, I think the questions are interesting, and perhaps the answers are too, so I’m going to post it here. Either for your enjoyment, or your contempt, but that bit’s up to you.

Yada yda da

1) What do you have in your pockets?

Right now? Really? I have my cell phone (a Motorola SLVR, since you were wondering).  In my back pocket, I have my wallet, which has several pieces of useless plastic in it (you know: bank cards) as well as a couple of “Buy 10 get 1 free” cards for places like Panchero’s, Dairy Queen, and so on. In the place where other people keep their money, I have two sheets of paper, crumpled badly. One says Revolving Door on the top of it, and it’s the idea for a short story I’ve just written. The next one is called God and the Pathfinder, and I haven’t written that one yet. Also, I have the Precious, but you cannot have it, because it was my birthday present, and no, I won’t play riddles in the dark with you.

2) No riddles. Gotcha. What about “God and the Pathfinder”? Is this for the God in the Machine series you’re working on or is it something new?

No, it’s something new. And I’m not sure that’s the final title, either. Usually, when my stories arrive, they turn up with titles. Usually the titles they end with, for that matter. There are exceptions (Hello, my excitingly titled “Rome Novel Draft One”) but that’s a rule for most cases. No, it’s a science fiction story. I’m not sure if it’s a short story or a novella yet. What happens when the navigator of your ship is suddenly insistent on finding God, and no one knows why, not even him? It goes places God in the Machine won’t. And, depending on my ability to actually write an episode every week, it might wind up being a filler story for the series. I haven’t decided, mostly because I haven’t written it yet.

3) Let us know where we can find when you do write it. I’ve noticed a pattern to your storytelling lately. The Rome Novel (working title) deals with Christians in what is, basically, ancient-day Rome. Then you have God in the Machine, a serial story that deals, partly with the nature of the soul and conscience/conscious-awareness. Now, you have a story with a working title “God and the Pathfinder.” Is there a reason that you seem to be exploring spirituality or religions metaphors in your recent work?

It’s complicated, I guess. One answer is that I’m not entirely aware of it. And I’m not. Sometimes, I’ll write several short stories dealing with growing old and dealing with what you did when you were young. I wrote two stories about a single character and, even though he’s got a different name, I’m still just figuring out the same guy. I think it’s partially what writers do.

Another answer is, it’s an interest of mine, and I have something to say. I’m really hesitant to discuss religion and spiritual themes — either personally, or how it turns up in my writing. Like politics, it’s something where I hold my own council and just stay at that. I never wind up happy, discussing it. But from a storytelling standpoint…it’s interesting, and it was in so many formative things I read or watched growing up. One of the books that turned me into a writer was A Canticle For Leibowitz (and I think you’ll be able to tell, as God in the Machine rolls on). Something else was Babylon 5. Spirituality is prevelant in both works.

It’s on my mind, and so it comes out in my fiction. I guess I don’t know how else to say it. Sometimes, there are conscious interests that appear. For example, I’m fascinated by deep sea biology and I know that, one of these days, it’s going to come out in a short story or a novel somewhere. Likewise with survival techniques and survivalists. Religion is ingrained a little deeper, along with other topics I keep returning to — personal freedom versus the freedom of many, and which should you pursue? Technology, the uses and dangers of. Things like that.

It’s funny but, answering this question and thinking Oh, I do have a theme, don’t I… made me stop and think and I realized that my first novel — still waiting for me to figure it out and take it into a second draft — was called The Neon God, and it explored many of the same themes from a different angle. Just when you think you’re creative and clever, someone comes along and points out that you’re just retelling a story over and over. Oh well.

4) Isn’t part of creativity exploring different themes and stories from different perspectives, examining all sides and aspects of it?

Yeah, it is. I do it as a writer, and I do it as a person. If something bothers me, or I haven’t figured something out to my own satisfaction (my only standard), then I keep niggling at it until I’m satisfied. Sometimes, it’s worryingly easy. For example, I explained a short story’s plot and idea to someone, because we had  an hour to kill. So I told them my story. The problem was, after having done that…I had no urge to write it. The story had been told. I’ll probably still write it one day, but that urge was satisfied.

As for themes and ideas, and things like the spirituality you mentioned…I suppose it could be construed as me trying to figure out how it all works. It’s really not. Trying to figure out Life, the Universe, and Everything would be exhausting and since the answer’s forty-two, I wouldn’t get anywhere anyway.  I don’t know. I guess I don’t have a good answer. Somethings occur to me over and over again, and so I write what I have to say about them. Eventually, I’ll say it to my satisfaction, and then move on to something else. Survivalist Zombies, perhaps.

5) *laughing* A Douglas Adams’ fan I see. Good for you. But what do you see God in the Machine being about then, if it’s not about individual spirituality and what makes us human?

I think that if everyone was, sensibly, a Douglas Adams fan then the world would no longer know war. We’d all be very happy people, and some of us wouldn’t even have digital watches.

As for God in the Machine…it’s tough to say exactly what it’s about. Not because I don’t know — I know very well — but because some answers give away future stories, and some answers are meaningless right now because the series hasn’t evolved into something that can define them, if that makes any sense. It is about individual spirituality, and what makes us human, and the places where those two intersect. Do robots have souls? If a robot can feel, think, and act freely, is it human? Is being “human” something else, since there are humans who don’t always manage those three items?

But it’s about other things too: Where does the individual fit into the clockwork? Does he? How does he manage? What happens to the clockwork when the individual appears? These are early questions in season one, in particular.

The earliest question I began to address — and will not answer until much later episodes — is a study on the progression from sentience, to violence. We see it in the early episodes. 1) I am awake. 2) I must stay awake. 3) I must kill those who try to kill me. 4) Perhaps I must kill them before they think to hurt me. It’s not a logical progression, it doesn’t happen every time, but whether we like it or not, a sentient creature is on some level defined by violence. For different reasons, but there it is. I don’t want to get too Doom & Gloom Preachy about it, because Terry Goodkind’s got that spot just about covered. The progression of violence interests me, though, so I talked about it.

So many of my longer stories are, when it comes right down to it, about one man raising his head and saying “No I won’t,” one more time. At its base, this one is too.

6) Please, do go into Doom & Gloom Preachy.

No, no, no. Nothing good comes from it. You wind up sounding like Terry Goodkind, or Green Day, or U2, or something. I have no interest in that.  I don’t vote in any elections, and why is kept to myself. I have my complaints and my problems with politics and with human nature, and I keep those to myself. From a purely storytelling point of view, things I mentioned — like the progression of violence, the impossible cost of technology — fascinate me, but if I have no right to talk about them beyond myself and my observations. I think it’s dangerous when a writer gets preachy, doom & gloom or otherwise. I think that if you have something that you want to say — that you might want to preach about — then there’s a way to put it into your fiction without losing your story, without losing your voice, without doing anything but hiding it far in the back. I like the thought that, if someone stretches for the religious metaphor in God in the Machine, they’ll probably find it…just like if someone stretches for an anarchy metaphor, they’ll find that too. Both are intentional, both are buried, both can be happily ignored, and should be if so desired. The story will be no less for it. I think that’s how any good story should work.

7a) It sounds like you take a dystopian view of technology and how it relates to the future?

I suppose, yeah, I do. I’m grudging to admit it. The problem I have is, technology is very popular and touting The Evils Of Technology is mostly an unpopular and unheard opinion. That never stopped anyone, but to be honest, some of the people who also voice that opinion aren’t exactly members of the Sanity Club themselves. I mean, I know one guy who swears up and down that life was last good back in the 1910’s or so, at the turn of that century. That’s nuts! Good god, has that man never seen the medical instruments from back then? Does he not realize how teeth got pulled? Aaaaah!

This is the best time to be alive, because I am healthy and I have a relatively long life-span in which to consider what I think of technology. I also have the to think of it, because I haven’t been drafted and I don’t have to go plow the back acres, or anything. My son was born without hitch, and there are a number of small issues that would have been fatal, to him a hundred years ago. So no, I’m desperately not proposing that we all revert to characters from a John Steinbeck novel. It’s not like they were wandering going boy, this country life is neat, I sure am glad we live during this historically interesting depression!

What I think, I guess, is that technology gives us too much access to too much stuff, without us understanding how to moderate it, and how to not take it in. A case in point is my DVR cable box, which lets me pause, rewind, fast-forward, record live TV. We record all sorts of stuff. So on the one hand, this frees us to do other things in the evening if we don’t want to watch TV. But if we’re tired, this free us just to watch even more TV at the same time.

From a writing stand-point…I worry computers have made writers lazy, and long. A story that would have been 5,000 words written by hand is 10,000 words typed out. Are these extra words good? Some of them, probably. Are they necessary? I doubt it. Will they be edited out? I have no idea. And then, the part that worries me are the writers who can only write on one specific computer, in one specific place, at one specific time. Not because it’s the doom of the writing field or anything, it just worries me.

Just yesterday,I realized that having Napster on my writing laptop meant I could instantly pull up any song I wanted and instantly listen to it. It’s like having an infinite library of music. This is good, and I adore it, but it means that I occasionally wander off and listen to rock and get distracted by new music and wind up…not writing. Yesterday, I spent a sweaty hour hauling a big old stereo that was state-of-the-art around ’98 and setting it up on a bookshelf, near where I work. I tuned it to the local Public Radio station which plays classical music all day. It can just stay like that.

I didn’t grow up with a lot of technology. Not because it wasn’t around — I’m not that old, computers were around when I was, for heaven’s sake — but because it just wasn’t available. I started writing by hand, advanced to typewriter, advanced to computer. I listened to almost no music, then I got a tape deck, then a little CD player, now I have my iPod. So on the one hand, I really love technology. I adore it, I go nuts for it. On the other hand, I’m aware of the difference between my life with it and my life without it, and the difference is not always in my own best interest. It’s like candy, I guess. Good, but it rots your teeth. Technology atrophies muscles and parts of your brain and things like patience.

It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s just something I’ve noticed, and something that niggles at me. What I’ll do about it, I have no idea, if I even do anything.

7b) It sounds like you’re saying that story is all, that everything else should take a back seat to that?

I don’t think everything should take a back seat to story, but I think that story should be in the driver’s seat. I think it’s a bit wonky if theme or metaphor, or what-have-you, takes the foreground. It gets weird. I think that even if you’re Captain Density and you don’t notice metaphor, theme, tone, subtle allusions, anything but the story and the characters, then you should still be able to walk away happy with what you’ve read. I think that the layers should be there when you go looking for them.

I’m not a fan of allegory, and that’s why. I don’t like authors trying to make a point, at least not bluntly. One of the delights of a show like Babylon 5, which was truly literature for television, was that you could enjoy it on the surface (as I did, the first time I watched it) but with each re-visit, you get more and more out of it. THe more I read, the more I experienced, the more B5 gave me. I didn’t get The Prisoner references until the third time through and it fascinated me how it changed the landscape of what I was watching.

One of my delights of writing is to put stuff in that’s almost completely buried, or something. You know how a reader will mention a theme, or an idea, or a thought that they got from the story and they wonder if the author meant to do it and go, “But I’m probably really reaching here” or something? I delight in knowing that whatever it is they’re reaching about, it’s in there on purpose. I intended for it. It’s like the ultimate game of playing hard-to-get. In something like God in the Machine, there are themes and tones and notes and even lines of dialog that are there for readers to discover. There’s one line of dialog from…from….Erk. Episode three, I’m pretty sure. A line of dialog that I lifted exactly from a TV show that I’m a fan of. So if I reader saw that and thought “Hey, that line reminds me of such-and-such show,” then it’s on purpose. Little things like that are as much a delight as big things like themes and ideas and tones and metaphors and everything else.

8) A Shakespearean scholar once said to me that once you’ve seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, you can never view Hamlet the same way again. Knowing the one, invariably alters the other in the mind of the reader or viewer. What I’m hearing you say is that layers in literature are the same way, that you don’t have to know them to enjoy the story, but they are their to be discovered and, once they are, they make the story different than what it was before. However, I’m not one hundred percent certain what you mean by “literature for television.” Can you explain that more, please?

Well, Babylon 5 was created and openly acknowledged — by Joe Straczynski, as well as others — as being a novel for television. Or a series of novels, maybe. The whole series, all five seasons, tells one story. So you can look at each season as being a chapter, or a book in the series, you see? So it was a novel for television. That I call it literature for television is because I hold B5 to the same level as some of the greatest works of science fiction. Honestly, what those five years gave us were on par with The Stars, My Destination by Alfred Bester (who turned up as a character on B5, of course) or Foundation by Isaac Asimov (the name Asimov appeared on B5 a few times) or “Repent, Harlequin!” Said The TicktockMan by Harlan Ellison (who was creative consultant on B5). These are masterworks of science fiction. They get packed in special book designs touting that. I wish B5 were able to receive the same treatment.

As a sci-fi fan, growing up, I of course loved my Star Wars and my Star Trek. But it was Babylon 5 that reshaped how I wrote science fiction and how I thought about it. I’d been writing for some time before B5, but B5 came along for me right around the same time as A Canticle for Leibowitz and Farenheit 451, and so on. Formative stuff.

And just to tie all of this question together neatly…the premise of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the story of Hamlet told through the eyes of two minor characters. It’s an old enough trope, to be sure. On Babylon 5, in the fifth season, there was an episode in which we saw the world of B5 and all our characters through the eyes of two low-level maintenance guys. Bo and Mac. It was fun. It wasn’t a new idea, like I said, but I was taken with it more than the lackluster attempt they made with it on Star Trek: The Next Generation (season…7…? I think.)

I have a happy episode planned for, I think, early season 2 which does something similar. Actually, I have a three-part series of stories that don’t fit into the rest of this robot series which step away from Max and Loeb and follow someone else to the conclusion of their story in a three-parter. I’m not sure what to do with it quite yet. We’ll see.

9) It sounds like a lot of your influences have cinematic ties and you seem to write cinematically. Is that a conscious thing? Do you hope to cross-over into television or film one day?

The idea has no appeal at all to me, writing for television or film. I’m not actively against it, so if someone asked or I had an idea, then I might consider it. The last time I thought about writing for film would have been during High School, when I wrote a film script for a film a bunch of my friends were going to make. It was fun, figuring out how to make a film when we only had two cameras. It wasn’t a bad script either, it started as a cheesy slasher film (what they wanted to make) and turned into something much deeper and more complicated and satisfying.

Almost all of my influences didn’t begin with cinema. My parents, bless ’em, were careful not to let me park myself in front of the TV. It was all strictly regimented. I think I was allowed two hours at night, a half an hour during the day, something like that. Star Trek I first discovered through a three-volume set of novelizations of the episodes, written by James Blish. Twilight Zone I discovered through a volume of short stories which had influenced Twilight Zone episodes (Twilight Zone did nothing for me. It wasn’t until I was quite a lot older). Babylon 5, I ignorantly thought was a Star Trek series for the first season I watched it. Eventually, all of these things registered and sunk in. I was a voracious reader. I still am, when I have the time.

The cinematic stuff in my writing isn’t entirely unconscious, but I’m not unaware of it happening. You can always tell a writer who’s formative material for being creative comes from television, movies, video games, role-playing games…and maybe a book, somewhere in there. You get weirdo scenes trying to establish a dramatic location with lighting, and then them attempting to zoom in on their characters. It’s awkward and weird and…well, it’s kind of funny, to be honest.

I try just to write plainly. I try to show the scene, show my characters, and then just get on with what they’re doing. I’m not above writing a cool image for the sake of having a cool image, but even there I’m less trying to be cinematic and more just taking something that pops up in my head and giving it somewhere to nest. The image at the end of episode one, with the Captain’s hands pressed up against the viewport, looking out at the stars. I just liked how it looked.

10) Are you currently working on anything in addition to God in the Machine? What do you hope to do next?

Right now, God in the Machine is all-encompassing. As evidenced by my release schedule, which usually manages an episode just barely coming out under the wire, I don’t have time for much else. I accidentally wrote the short story mentioned above (“Revolving Door”) when I really should have been making a frantic dash to finish an episode. In theory, I’m working on my Rome Novel (…and really, I need to be working on it much harder than in theory, because it has more potential to make money than GitM, which is ever important when you’re a broke full-time writer). In my free time, when I get up the gumption, I do some promotion for the robot series. For as long as it remains on this weekly schedule, though, and depending on how my personal schedule changes, the robot series is pretty much all I work on.

Fortunately, I’m told there are drugs which make you unable to sleep, so I’m thinking about taking those. I lose waaay too many working hours to silly “sleeping” and “eating” and “personal hygeine” that could be put to better use. Yes, I think that’ll be best. (Of course I’m kidding.)

11) Sure you are. Before we wrap this up, do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with your readers?

Keeping reading? Um. Drink your tea before it gets cold? Honestly, I’m crap at words of wisdom. Here’s what I know: If you’re a writer, then write something you love, because it’ll show through and it’s the only thing worth your while. If you’re a reader, read something that makes you happy, that makes you a better person, or at least a person who now sees differently, and if all else fails, read something fun. Oh, and don’t ask me to make any bookshelves for you, they will immediately collapse. I think that about covers my sum total of knowledge, so it’ll have to do.

Thank you for your time. We wish you the best of luck with God in the Machine and all of your future projects. For those interested in reading God in the Machine, it’s available online at

Thank you, and neat! I’ll have to check that web-site out!


Posted by on November 15, 2007 in Uncategorized


11 responses to “Gods, Machines, Grids

  1. tjwriter

    November 15, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Pete, my man, you suck. Your entertaining blog entries and resulting conversations get me through each day. I shall miss that dearly.

  2. mymidnightmuse

    November 15, 2007 at 11:29 am

    I have OFF and ON. I’d love to develop maybe a 2nd or 3rd gear some day. I’ll still be blogging, though I never did do that daily, but I’m staying in Bloggie Land or Story World and that is all. Anything else just messes with my head and makes me crave a bullet in the brain pan, squish!

  3. Lori

    November 15, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    You can blame me, if you’d like, Tori.

  4. tjwriter

    November 15, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Well, fine then, Lori. You shall have to entertain me and provoke thought every day. Hop to it, post haste.


  5. Shadow_Ferret

    November 15, 2007 at 1:29 pm


    I’ll just have to annoy you severely with constant emails since you’ve denied me your presense at AW and now are threatening to here, too.

  6. Soccer Mom

    November 15, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Pffft. We’ll have to play over at the Commune. Lori serves cookies anyway.

  7. Lori

    November 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    LOL. Funny that you say that. I have a giant cookie in my bag that I bought yesterday and never ate and, today, the new department secretary knocks on my door out of the blue and holds out a plate of cookies and offers me one. I took it and I ate it.

  8. mscelina

    November 15, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Dang. He saw through another sneaky maneuver. Now it’s time for the ultimate weapon…


  9. carrieinpa

    November 16, 2007 at 10:29 am

    QUICK! Somebody make him a mod!


  10. mymidnightmuse

    November 16, 2007 at 11:50 am

    He already has a pony!

    *climbs back on Big Wheel and peddles madly down the sidewalk*

  11. Soccer Mom

    November 16, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    See. Told you Lori has cookies! :runs for the Commune:


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