science fiction

5 Minutes with Jeb Kinnison

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Chris Pavesic’s literary blog.]

This is a chance to learn a bit more about Jeb Kinnison, whose novel Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, was published in December 2014.

About the Author

I started writing when I took writing classes at MIT and Harvard, then worked with a writing group in Cambridge. After receiving rejection notices from some of the top magazines of the day (e.g., The New Yorker), I focused on my career in computer science and financial management – because paying the rent was important. I have returned to writing in retirement.

What I love most about writing is the creation of a new world, and the unexpected things your characters do after you’ve created them. It sounds trite, but they have their own ideas about what they should do, and it helps to be a little bit schizophrenic yourself so that they can exist as subprocesses in your head.

The toughest thing about writing is re-entering the real world after an extended period of living inside a fictional one. I cut myself off from most social activities to get the story out, so I can write a novel in three months but lose track of friends and family a bit. It’s hard to make small talk when the fate of the (fictional) world hangs in the balance!

The writer I most admire? That’s tough because different writers have different goals. If your goal is highly accessible and entertaining stories, J. K. Rowling wins the prize for our age. For extremely adult, intricate fiction of ideas that is also full of humor and fascinating characters (some of them spaceship AIs!), I’d have to pick the late Iain Banks.

My fiction is informed by my diverse background and multiple careers. I went to MIT and dropped out of a Ph.D. computer science program; I was a researcher at a famous think tank (Bolt Beranek and Newman) where the ‘@’ for email addresses was invented and half the work of designing the early Internet was done down the hall; worked at the Smithsonian Center for Short-Lived Phenomena for a summer writing up oil spills, earthquakes, and volcanos; did IT work for Electromagnetic Launch Research, which built the first practical railguns; developed a subdivision in British Columbia, which involved working with logging crews, pipelayers, and roadbuilders; was chief writer for a political campaign that failed; managed the family office for a Stanford professor and managed about a quarter of a billion dollars of his assets; wrote two popular books on attachment theory and its application to mate seeking and marriage.

Favorite Novels: Aside from Iain Banks and J. K. Rowling, I should mention Robert Heinlein as a strong influence, especially his juveniles, which were almost pure adolescent wish-fulfillment; e.g., Citizen of the Galaxy (where a poor slave boy finds his way to outer space, then discovers he must take his place as a long-lost heir with barely enough time to crack a ring of slavers being run by his own family’s companies.)

Favorite Movies: Magnolia, for its emotional honesty; Blade Runner; almost all Coen Bros. movies; and more recently, I approve of the Star Trek reboot by J. J. Abrams no matter what purists think!

Favorite Foods: I live on a simple, healthy, and most of all efficient diet of canned salmon from Costco, yogurts, vegetables, nuts, and chicken. The goal is to eat tasty, healthy, low-carb food without spending any more time than I have to preparing and cleaning up, so I can get back to work quickly.

Advice to aspiring authors: Keep writing. If your Plan B career is lucrative, specialize in that like I did, so you can save up enough money to go full-time later. While there are many young prodigies who write well, most lack the life experience needed to give their characters depth and diversity. As you get older your palette expands, and your fiction grows richer; so if you can’t live on fiction writing when you’re 21, do something else until you can, and you will have lost none of your abilities and gained much. You can also do nonfiction writing in your specialty to sharpen up skills before taking up fiction.

RED QUEEN: The Substrate Wars is a science fiction thriller set in the US of a not-too-distant future, when the Bill of Rights is ignored and the US is run by the Unity Party, combining the worst of Democrats and Republicans.

Red Queen is a story about young people searching for freedom and agency in a world dominated by bureaucrats, administrators, and propagandists. The world of Red Queen is a police state with its roots in today’s events: post-9/11 warrantless physical and electronic surveillance; the erosion of personal liberties for supposed security reasons, even when the government’s actions are shown to be ineffective or wrongheaded; and the rise of a penal-industrial complex that imprisons one in three black men, often for victimless crimes. When the next terrorist action occurs, there may be calls for even more restrictions on freedom and privacy. That’s where Red Queen begins.

Jeb Kinnison: The Long Bio
Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page

Golden Age Science Fiction Quotes

First edition Ringworld - by Larry Niven

First edition Ringworld – by Larry Niven

When I decided to write some hard science fiction in response to young adult novels like Pills and Starships, I went back and reviewed some of the books that had inspired me as an adolescent, since it was their sense of possibility and achievement I wanted to recapture for a younger audience. I used that research to add an appendix of quotes at the end of Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, which follows:

I learned much of what I know by reading science fiction. For my younger readers, many of the quoted titles and authors below will be unfamiliar, but they are still worth seeking out and reading from a time when anything seemed possible. The long tradition of social tolerance and advanced thinking in science fiction has been under attack by ignorant academics who want to turn all entertainment into propaganda for their idea of progressive thought. If you are still learning, read widely and route around the schools and libraries who want to program your thinking by restricting what they offer you to read.

These quotes seemed especially suited to the themes of this story:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination
—Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination, 1956

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!
—Alfred Bester, writing for Green Lantern, c. 1945

Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.
—Robert Heinlein, Red Planet, 1949

How anybody expects a man to stay in business with every two-bit wowser in the country claiming a veto over what we can say and can't say and what we can show and what we can't show—it's enough to make you throw up. The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak.
—Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1950

Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men.
—Robert Heinlein, Assignment in Eternity, 1953

I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!
—Robert Heinlein, speech at World Science Fiction Convention, 1961

I believe in—I am proud to belong to—the United States. Despite shortcomings, from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown—in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability … and goodness … of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth—but that we will always make it … survive … endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure—will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage—and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart.
—Robert Heinlein, “This I Believe,” 1952

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands…with tools…with horse sense and science and engineering.
—Robert Heinlein, The Door Into Summer, 1957

“…They have no art and only the most primitive of science, yet such is their violent nature that even with so little knowledge they are now energetically using it to exterminate each other, tribe against tribe. Their driving will is such that they may succeed. But if by some unlucky chance they fail, they will inevitably, in time, reach other stars. It is this possibility which must be calculated: how soon they will reach us, if they live, and what their potentialities will be then."

The voice continued to us: "This is the indictment against you—your own savagery, combined with superior intelligence. What have you to say in your defense?”….

“—you say we have no art. Have you seen the Parthenon?"

"Blown up in one of your wars."

"Better see it before you rotate us—or you'll be missing something. Have you read our poetry? ‘Our revels now are ended: these our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself… Itself—yea—all which it … Inherit—shall dissolve—“

I broke down. I heard Peewee sobbing beside me. I don't know why I picked that one-but they say the subconscious mind never does things "accidentally." I guess it had to be that one.

"As it well may," commented the merciless voice.
—Robert Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958

"My mother said violence never solves anything." "So?" Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. "I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that."
—Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, 1959

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws—always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop. Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them for their own good.
— Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966

I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
—Robert Heinlein, If This Goes On—, 1940

First they junked the concept of “justice.” Examined semantically “justice” has no referent—there is no observable phenomenon in the space-time-matter continuum to which one can point, and say, “This is justice.” Science can deal only with that which can be observed and measured. Justice is not such a matter; therefore it can never have the same meaning to one as to another; any “noises” said about it will only add to confusion.

But damage, physical or economic, can be pointed to and measured. Citizens were forbidden by the Covenant to damage another. Any act not leading to damage, physical or economic, to some particular person, they declared to be lawful.
—Robert Heinlein, Coventry, 1940

Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That's because ninety percent of everything is crud.
—Theodore Sturgeon, 1951

Here, too, was the guide, the beacon, for such times as humanity might be in danger; here was the Guardian of Whom all humans knew—not an exterior force, nor an awesome Watcher in the sky, but a laughing thing with a human heart and a reverence for its human origins, smelling of sweat and new-turned earth rather than suffused with the pale odor of sanctity.
—Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human, 1953

Earth keeps a solemn festival at the meadows of Hack and Sack, through whose blue arch came first death, and then life.
—Theodore Sturgeon, “The Incubi of Parallel X,” Planet Stories, 1951

The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
—Isaac Asimov, Foundation, 1951

Progress Notes: “Substrate Wars,” Book 2

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

I spent the holidays visiting my mother in her memory care facility in Kansas City, and various family obligations have kept me from working on the new book until about now. I’ve finished a bare outline but it’s a long way from fleshed out; and I haven’t decided how to deal with the usual problem of recapping the first book so the second can stand on its own. It’s obvious who the villains will be for book 2, but after that my crystal ball gets hazy — I will have to sketch out the next few in the series to properly detail this one.

So it will take me about 3-4 months if all goes well. Hope you guys can wait that long!