Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Winning Mars" -- the novel

Jason Stoddard is putting up "Winning Mars" -- the novel version of the story that appeared in -- the sold out -- Interzone #196 for free on his website here (warning: 500 kB PDf file).

As it is, there have been complaints throughout the genre community that SF has become too dark and predominantly pessimistic (arguably greatly influenced by the zeitgeist): even most American SF at that (like: weren't the British supposed to be the gloomers'n'doomers?).

"Winning Mars" (and its sequel "Saving Mars" -- Interzone #200, also sold out) goes against that stream and depicts a bunch of cynical entrepreneurs who use a competition combined with a reality TV show to get teams competing for a race to be the first on Olympus Mons. The race itself works very well, but to me it was the behind-the-scenes, cynical cutthroat negotiations to raise the money that made the story outstanding. The high point being the scene where Jere Guttierez, Evan McMaster (the show's producers) and Ron -- Jere's father -- are confronted with US government agents who want to take over the project for political reasons (or otherwise cancel the launch): Jere is already mentally calculating how to turn that setback into a profit, when his father explodes:

“No fucking way!” Ron said. His face was almost purple. He levered himself up out of his chair and went to tower over the seated agent. The standing one tensed, but didn’t move.

Ron poked a finger in his chest. “We’re not going to Mars to plant fucking flags!”

“Dad . . .”

“Shut up.” Low and deadly.

“Did the fucking pilgrims come to plant fucking flags?” Ron said. “No! They came to get away from bureaucratic fucks like you! You assholes had your chance. How many billions did we give to you shitpoles? What did we get for it? Our lunar rovers in Chinese museums! A bunch of rusting hardware crash-landed on Mars. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Now it’s our chance!”

Ron's diatribe ignites popular opinion, and the launch and subsequent show go through. This -- for me -- was the turnaround point in the story, made me cheer inside, and somehow redeemed the cynical executives Jere and Evan because they, if even for the wrong reasons, got people on Mars.

Note that I haven't read the novel version, but I would be rather disappointed if that scene had been cut. To me, "Winning Mars" was one of the very best stories we published in Interzone that year, and I thought it was a crying shame that it wasn't reprinted in any YBSF.

Also, Jason's choice and rationale make me wonder: if a highly talented writer like Jason thinks the '2-year process of conventional publishing' is too slow (and do keep in mind that he runs a new media advertisement agency with offices in L.A., New York, and Shanghai, and that things go much faster in that business), and that his day job basically means he thinks that the average advance of said conventional publisher ('gigantic advance (LOL)') is financially irrelevant to him (and I sympathise: I won't be quitting the day job, either), then the conventional publishing industry has just lost a great, forward looking talent.

I don't know: on the one hand many publishers may say that "Winning Mars" -- the novel is either not good enough/ready for publication, or that they have better titles out/in inventory. Fair enough. On the other hand, though, I can't help but wonder: conventional (novel) publishing is losing a writer (with considerable short story credits) who is operating, very successfully, in the very forefront of the electronic frontier. Somebody who will, much sooner than later, find a different way of publishing (and making it available through a common creative license on his website is probably merely the beginning).

I know he's not the first to make a novel available for free on his website (Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, Peter Watts immediately come to mind, and there are plenty of others), and not even the first one to publish his novel before he sold it to a print publisher (John Scalzi with Old Man's War comes to mind). But I strongly suspect that Jason might not be interested in getting a novel published by conventional means at all.

Whose loss is this: Jason's or that of the conventional novel publishers? Well, I can only speak from personal experience: both Interzone #196 (with "Winning Mars") and Interzone #200 (with "Saving Mars") sold out, very fast. Faster than any other issues of the 'new' Interzone.


Unknown said...

Jetse, thanks for taking the time to blog about this in such a thoughtful and in-depth way. I appreciate the effort you've taken--especially considering you're probably reading like, well, ten thousand stories or something like that right now.

To further expand on some of the questions you've brought up, either directly or indirectly:

1. Winning Mars was not shopped to any conventional publisher or agent before I released it on my blog.

2. That said. I have no illusion about being the One True Light which The Great Publishing Cartel is losing forever because they are just too slow/don't get it/don't love me. There are lots of writers better than me. Lots of them are lined up at the publishers' doors right now. Cool.

3. And yeah, I'd love to see something in print someday. But I have to be fair to the publisher, and to myself. I'm not sure I can really sign up to promo the crap out of a book when I have a 24/7 job running a metaverse development/social media/interactive marketing company (none of which, by the way, existed 10 years ago--so consider that when I say I think this book might be a wee tad dated in a couple of years).

Oh, and two quick things. One: The scene with the Oversight guys is still very much intact. Two: I think you'll like the new scenes with Jere and his first big backer, and his Leno interview, quite a bit.


Jetse de Vries said...

Hi Jason--

1. I thought as much.

2. Don't let your modesty get in the way of *my* blatant promotion of your writing activities. Are you sure you're a marketing guy?


3. Don't almost all near-future books date in a couple of years? Most of PKD's fiction had a lot of things wrong, but are still great reads, and superbly captured the zeitgeist.

Looking forward to it: I hope to have time to read it in a couple of weeks.