Thursday, January 8, 2015

Unsolvable 5, Part 1

This is the first piece in a series of articles:  The initial bullet in a small hopeless magazine about the human future.

Think my tone's too grim?

Wait and see.

#

I'd like to believe reasonable people will agree about certain issues.  Tomorrow has a date and there's no choice in the matter.  Gravity is real, although the force isn't understood particularly well. And there are groups, small well-defined groups, who know a lot more than the rest of us. These are specialists. Their brains and years have been focused on fascinating, often narrow questions. And it's hard to argue that these people, taken together, are idiots or liars, or both.

The future is full of potential choke points.  Respected, venerable sciences are doing the work, and they aren't just pulling numbers out their asses.  There are data. Hard clean respectable and very predictable data.  Sensors in labs and sensors in the universe dance with trusted principles, everywhere and at all times.  In each field, there are proven experts who know the numbers.  The relentless, undeniable numbers.  And looking at the wealth of possibilities, these learned souls often find themselves in an important state called “bat-shit panicked”.

Yeah, scientists can panic.

Agreed?

And they can also drink too much beer.

Or so I've been told.

Now while we’re at it, here’s something else for us to agree about.  Something vital and inescapable:

Everything is temporary.

Our universe seems to be built on relentless, unapologetic change. And change demands destruction.  Each creation insists on annihilating some piece of what came before it.  I can’t see the future.  Not past two seconds, some days. And when I begin writing a story, from the vague thought preceding that first word, I understand that the majority of my predictions will be wrong. Many, maybe all of them will be laughably wrong.  But even if these five Unsolvable essays miss the mark--even if next week brings some curing transformation that saves the Earth and humanity--I think it is fair for reasonable people to assume that the human future will be less than eternal.

And now you know why I don’t drink.

If I started, I would never stop.

#

“Carbon.”

“Tax.”

Two genuine words.  Two words with long histories and very clear meanings.  No sane voice would argue otherwise.

Carbon is an ash pulled from dead stars, and carbon happens to be an essential ingredient to almost everything necessary.  Combined with equal amounts of oxygen, and you get a house full of dead people.  But double the oxygen, and the plants grow. And if there is an increasing amount of carbon dioxide floating free, then the earth’s heat budget changes in slow, significant ways.

No rational gardener denies that her greenhouse grows warmer in the sun.  And the physics of carbon dioxide leave little room for debate.  The Earth is a really big greenhouse, and sure, trade winds can bury some of the excess heat in the deep Pacific.  And sulfur compounds can make little umbrellas in the stratosphere.  Which is why experts and pedestrians should agree: The math has wiggle room.  No climatologist would dare point to the calendar, saying that will be the day when our world is one degree warmer or ten degrees warmer.  But the numbers are relentless, the trade winds and umbrellas will falter, and the stark example of Venus proves in the abiding power of carbon dioxide.

And the situation grows even more interesting.  Combine star ash with the universe’s favorite element.  Hydrogen.  Here comes the methane.  That miracle gas can be pumped and bottled, and it can be burned.  Methane is also a remarkable drug.  It helps people feel good about themselves.  As good as beer, or better. If you don’t live with fracking beneath your feet, how can you doubt the goodness from good clean natural gas?  Don’t listen to the pollution stories.  Certainly don’t ask yourself if society can afford investing billions in buses and power plants running on stuff whose real cost is hidden.  And let’s steer well-clear of the true abundance of commercial methane, which I suspect lies outside the realm of industry projections and investor-eager PR campaigns.

Methane is a greenhouse gas with attitude.

The science of methane does not seem as simple as it does with carbon dioxide.  Yes, the gas is a fiercely effective blanket.  But how effective depends on the unit of time:  When released, a molecule of methane is a hundred times more dangerous than a molecule of carbon dioxide.  But methane combines readily with oxygen.  Methane vanishes, leaving behind carbon dioxide and water.  Which accounts for these curiously up-and-down estimates about the danger:  A hundred times worse, or twenty, or in geologic terms, negligible.

I visited London in August, 2014.  (The author’s hypocrisy is revealed; thousands of miles crossed, and our world made warmer.)  At Loncon 3, I had the bleak pleasure of listening to one of methane’s certified experts talk about gigatons and clathrates and other world-endangering concepts.  The man didn’t claim to be an optimist.  He could envision undersea avalanches throwing up notable quantities of methane.  Over time, the tundra and undersea beds would warm enough to make a difference.  But the fellow showed quite a lot of scorn for certain colleagues.  One of the oldest, least radical journals in the world of dull scientific writing is NATURE, and NATURE had the temerity to publish some very speculative, unsupported research.  Certain colleagues of his were claiming that fifty gigatons of methane were ready to burst from the sea off the northeast coast of Siberia.  It was the direst situation, so much so that if one man carelessly pissed off the end of the boat, the heat of his urine would precipitate a disaster that would quickly ratchet up the heat of the world by several degrees, costing trillions while shoving other reservoirs of methane to the brink of collapse.

Well, maybe I'm overstating both sides of this argument.  A bit.  Nobody actually talked about pissing off the boat, for instance.  But what I took away from the lecture was a palpable sense of confrontation.  One PhD didn’t agree with others.  No, he didn’t drop his pants and wag his privates at his sworn enemies.  But there was a sense of drama to his dismissal.  He disapproved of the research and its wild-eyed conclusions, and the idiots who let that idiocy get free into the idiot public deserved a scholarly dick wagging.

My point in all this?

First, I don’t recall the details of his argument.  Specific numbers are rarely necessary to successful SF.  Try to gaze into any future, and it’s best to push aside the mathematics while relishing the imagery.  A quiet Arctic sea suddenly pierced by trillions of frantic little bubbles.  That is a nightmare in action.  The world’s atmosphere transformed overnight.  It’s an event that plays a large, almost unspoken role in my “Dead Man’s Run” series.

To me, the utter collapse of the clathrates seems less likely than the milder, slower kinds of awful that other researchers predict.  To me.  But here stands my central point.

I don’t know.

I have zero right to act as if I know.

And even among experts, nobody is sure about the methane.

Except for the carbon, of course.  We can relish any opinion we want, informed and otherwise.  But the carbon and its daughters will do what they want to do, and they might or might not give us fair warning.

Carbon has no soul and no basic decency.

Carbon just IS, and the last thing the element cares about is my little opinion.

#

But taxes are different.

Where elements are mindless and soulless, taxes are self-aware and possessed with a measure of decency.

Didn’t know that about them, did you?

I won’t argue this point till I’m breathless.  But consider this:  Each tax exists as an arrangement between agreeable adults.  Percentages are determined by Congress or the emperor, and certain people will cheat the taxman, and certain people, like Elvis, pay their full fair share.

Tax codes are human devices.

A universe that loves hydrogen and carbon doesn't pay much attention to the write-off privileges of a self-employed author.

Taxes are changed yearly, unless they are left alone.  But they’re always subject to review and full-scale revolution.  Maybe the Tea Party man down the street makes his living in cash. A young fellow with a strong back, and he has never paid any income tax.  Good for him. But he’s just another neuron in the tax-mind.  Maybe we give rebates for fracking in Texas and for wind power in Iowa.  But don’t be grumpy.  This is the nature of any tax, to bend according to various needs, and it has always been that way.

Taxes don’t quite think, no.  But every citizen is a conscious, self-aware player in a bureaucracy born in the proto-Iraq.

Yes, we all know people who can’t accept taxation.  Their lives and life philosophies deny the merits of government and the endless need for governmental revenue.  And yes, I agree.  Those people have excellent reasons for their beliefs.  But they number in the hundreds and live in an Amazonian rain forest growing smaller by the day.  Stone Age natives in a communal, property-free environment. What they have is what they hold, and nobody throws a surcharge on what they kill or what they give to one another.

And there are Republicans too.

Some like to shriek about government.  They want an end to the worst offenses of Washington, including most taxes.  But let’s talk about that Tea Party man down the street.  Twenty-three years from today, he has turned middle-aged. And society is going through a rough spell.  One chill winter day, a stronger, younger man comes into the neighborhood and takes away the older man’s home.  He steals the man’s guns, plus his wife and two pretty daughters.  What does a homeless, powerless fellow do in such circumstances?  He finds allies among his neighbors.  He pledges whatever he needs to pledge.  The thief is subsequently dragged into the street, and because these are grim times, the trial and sentencing are carried out by the strongest, most politically astute man in the neighborhood.  The grateful homeowner recovers what is his, minus half of his guns and half of next year's tomato crop.  And for three years, before the Great Drought descends in earnest, the grateful citizen gives tribute to the neighbor boss and the boss's new queen.  Who happens to be the citizen's youngest daughter, of course.

Isn’t that how the story always goes?

#

Tax carbon.

The simplest, most effective means for dealing with every facet of climate change is that.  It is to make carbon’s various children more expensive, and if possible, doing that trick as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I’m not a tax-policy geek.  I don’t have a favorite yardstick.  “This many pennies for that many tons of carbon.”  But I have great confidence in geeks with yardsticks. People can discern the best rate for a carbon tax, and its application can come over the next few years.  We should be transparent about the rates.  Some or all of the revenue should find its way back to people who don’t burn coal or leak methane.  Live fat and pay a lot more for your fun, if you want. But soon the windmills and solar panels dot the landscape, and the Chinese and Texans who don’t want to play have to endure tariffs on their carbon-tainted products.

That is the blunt simple perfect solution--a steady chemo for a societal cancer that will continue even if carbon emissions are reduced to zero.

My reading of the numbers is that climate change is a monster, and a monster with considerable momentum.

Just because we do the right thing, the world won’t stop growing warmer.

I flew to England once, and that selfish action has consequences that will play out for decades.

But with smart policies, at least the monster’s momentum will be slowed. The worst costs will be minimized. And maybe the methane off Siberia will sleep for another five hundred years.

If we let our taxes do our thinking.

#

At this point, the essay feels half-finished.  But the Internet frowns on endless rambles, and frankly the author needs some quiet time.  A chance to contemplate what happens when humans, obeying our nature, avoid the blunt and simple and perfect.

Not that I am completely hopeless, mind you.

I just think that what is likely will be slower and smaller and far more inevitable than the rational taxation of carbon.

There will be a muddle.

An endurable tragedy.

A story-rich environment.  That's what the future promises. Which is what people want more than anything, I suspect.

We will do anything to bring about interesting times.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Destiny: A Future That I Dance With, Part 2

The game industry is a juggernaut.

Oh sure, a few people still read novels, and a few more pay too much to sit through two-hour light shows that pretend to be movies.  But nothing today builds passion and a following like popular electronic games.  Millions of butts fill the seats, often for days at a time.  This is what makes gaming a vibrant, many-billion-dollar industry--the heart of today's entertainment universe--and this is the industry that hired me to help with their half-born game.

Think of me as a girl. Not pretty, not unpretty. I'm just that mousy little thing sitting in Organic Chemistry, and Bungie is the school's starting quarterback. Bungie asks me out for a date. Maybe he wants me only because I can help with his homework. I'm not an idiot. I can see his brain working. But still, the big Bungie took me out for pizza and some Red Bull, and I can tell you this, I know one girl who has never had a better first date.


#

I was hired as a part-time consultant to the Destiny project.  (Though the game was called Tiger in those remote times.) My job was to build SF rationales for their gorgeous, disjointed artwork and to offer suggestions for story lines and grand strategies.  Most days, I'm a 5-cents-a-word tradesman. They paid me a lot more than 5 cents, and quite a few words were generated in those first months. But only pieces and slivers were used.  Which I understood going in. The bosses might ask for 10 ideas, and I'd give them 23 notions, plus a couple wild speculations for free. Data is cheap; I guarantee they kept have everything. But most of my stuff got dumped, which was probably a blessing for everyone.


My first Destiny experience ended with an intriguing assignment.  An object needed to be destroyed.  This object is not exceptionally big, not in terms of the entire universe or even our modest-sized galaxy.  But it was a substantial something, and to make the challenge more difficult, the destruction had to be achieved with technologies only a few centuries more advanced than ours.


When I write, I write for success.  A worthy solution for a story problem must be elegant, and I have to believe in it.  Reaching past my comfort zone, I invented some perfectly acceptable high-science nonsense full of tech-words and a smattering of reality.  In my mind, success means that the job is done.  The unnamed object was doomed.  But of course that tragedy couldn’t happen.  If my one beautiful, awful plan came true, Bungie's game would come to an end, and the company would fold, its former employees having to find work with Microsoft or some other corporate dung hole.


But the disaster cannot happen.  That’s why Guardians stand on the front lines, doing the heroes’ work.


Guardians exist to keep my imagination from becoming true.


#


With that, our first date was done.  Bungie thanked me for my work, fed my bank account, and offered vague promises about calling me in the future.  But the future is a very big place.  The universe might last another trillion years, give or take. It was easy to sit at home, watching my phone not ringing, watching my e-mail fill up with crap and distractions.  But why complain?  I was well paid once. I had some fun. That’s probably the mindset of the mousy gal who helps the quarterback find his camphor in the test sample.  In reward, she gets three slices of pizza and an hour of pleasant talk from the best guy on campus.


“I’ll call you,” he says, giving her one good kiss.


Time passes, and I gave up.  I had to give up.  Life generates all kinds of excuses for hope. Far fetched dreams rise every day, and humans chase the good dreams. Wonders happen on occasion, or nothing changes.  Then one day, more than a year after the first Bungie experience, a new e-mail arrives, tucked between the usual clutter.


#


“What Remains” was written late in my first Bungie go-around.  It’s a rambling piece wrapped around one of the game’s protagonists.  The character in question happens to be a god.  This particular god has seen better days, and my assignment was to try and give the deity a voice and a distinct personality.


Smart writers tell you that you should never use the second-person POV.  Second-person never works, or it’s too hard to write, or it’s pretentious, or it’s just stupid.  But most writing never works, and it is hard to do, and it’s often stuck up and stupid at the same time.  My POV claims that a great deal can be accomplished with the “you do this, you do that” perspective.  Second-person has the advantage of being different and often unsettling, and just as important to me, it carries no hard sense of gender.


“You are a great mind gazing at the universe.  You see All.  You see the beauty and the misery.  You see Yourself drifting in the chaos.  And with Your great mind, You count the millions of errors made in Your long, flawed life.”


“What Remains” brought me back to Bungie.  This time I was working with Eric, the one-time editor at Tor Books who had helped get me my first gig with Destiny.  My task was simple enough: Rewrite my old piece into a new form.  There was a plan in place.  The plan involved music. (A plot twist that I never saw coming.)  I met with the composer and others. This was the first project that was described with chords as well as imagery. And of course I said, “I might be able do this.”  Although I couldn't be sure about anything at the time.


I was in the home office for a day and a half.  I watched neat new videos from the evolving game.  The Traveler was hanging low in the sky.  The City was underneath it, temporarily safe.  And the solar system was being populated with odd, gorgeous images.


Eric took me out for coffee in the end, and then the limousine picked me up and carried me to the airport.


I work at home. I don’t work well in strange places.  That is, unless the strange place happens to be inside my skull.


For several weeks, there was nothing inside my skull but one wounded god. The original “What Remains” wasn't exactly spacious.  Hundreds of words, not thousands.  Lumped together, these new pieces would be larger but not mammothly so.  Think poetry.  Geeky neutronium-dense poetry.  There was an overarching theme and a musical skeleton to the whole business.  Eric was great to work with, but I was testing limits, warning him that I wanted to keep up my 2nd person POV.  Fine, he said.  I said that I might want to invent new content.  Great, he said.  The physical act of writing wasn’t time consuming, not in the final tally.  What mattered was building a long-viewed logic and a sense of story that would map out my writing before it began.

In "What Remains," a wounded, despairing entity comes to the Earth, trying to save what remains, including Itself.


#


Back in 2012, I owned a Nook Color.  Cumbersome, heavy.  Quick to lock up and die.  But the upgrade had come out, the Nook Tablet, and I was tempted to buy.

One day, I wrote what to me is the pivotal scene for “What Remains”.  A god is plummeting out of the stars, moving too fast and desperate to slow down. Its godliness and its helplessness had to be shown, and I came up with a solution that felt both dramatic and reasonable.  Of course this would happen, I thought. Of course, of course.  I wrote the scene and then got up and drove to the nearest Barnes and Noble.  I bought the Tablet--lighter, much quicker, and far less temperamental--and I gave the old Color to my daughter, triggering more than two years of relentless reading on her part.


I don’t know if my imagery will ever be used in the game.


But as far as I'm concerned, Bungie is the only place that has a production team capable of making this vision come true.


#


That second date proved brief. I heard about other work, and sure enough, a follow-up assignment was in the works.  Eric contacted me out of the proverbial azure, and we had some nice chats about little stories that were to be wrapped about gun battles and such.  Again, I was the girl in chem lab, and my quarterback was wondering if I was busy after class, and I canceled everything and said that of course I was free, yes, and then…


My quarterback didn’t call back.


Eric still works at Bungie.  But there have been changes among the other faces, and huge transformations of the game’s story. The dialogue you hear on the screen was not written by me.  But some of what I wrote has survived, including my second “What Remains”.  Only it doesn't appear in the form that was intended.


From my POV, my words are in a better place.


They cut them up and buried them inside the game.

Pretty neat, huh?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

DESTINY: A Future That I Don't Own, Part 1

The odyssey began four years ago.

An email came looking for me.  I didn't recognize the author, but there was a friendly tone attached to a Tor account.  So I took notice.  Eric said that he was an editor working for my old publisher. But this wasn't about my novels, no. He was contacting me with the possibility of doing work for another company.  The prospective employer wasn't in the book business, at least not directly.  What the company was building was a very specific product with science fiction overtones.  Did I have any interest?

Interest is an easy reflex.  I gave Eric my phone number.  And then I calmly warned myself this would never pan out.

That takes the pressure off, the sense of unavoidable failure.

And here's another relaxation trick:  Strangers on the phone aren't real.  Discussing feelings and business with human beings can be difficult.  But sharing the same words with a conspiracy of software and electrons dancing along copper...well, that’s a lot easier game.

A voice called, and he said that he was Eric. And after some forgotten pleasantries, the voice asked if I knew anything about the game industry.

Like Monopoly?

No, he was thinking about video games.

I had played a lot of Civilization, I confessed.

He wondered if I’d ever played a shooter game called Halo.

The name sounded familiar.  At least that’s what I told him, trying to be polite.

What about Bungie?  Did I know that name?

I thought of bold young men, bare-chested and leaping off bridges.

No, he explained. Bungie was the company that invented Halo, and after buying their freedom from Microsoft, those bare-chested boys were inventing a new game.  And for some reason or another, I was on the short-list of SF authors who might fit in.

Again, I told myself that this would never work.

And then I asked for details.

Which Eric couldn't give me.  He said that he wasn't the person to do this.  Because he didn't know that much.

Who did?

Joseph.

So I had to talk to Joseph.  Except first, I had to deal with a wave of non-disclosure forms.  It makes a man feel special, putting his signature to a venture so important and so mysterious that it wears a special code name.

Knowing nothing, I was suddenly part of Tiger.

Joseph called.  Or some synthetic voice born from a digital ocean.  Really, anything involving the game industry should be looked upon with suspicion.  At some point, the fakes are going to rule the flesh.  That much is inevitable.

Anyway, Joseph called.

Eric had implied that there were five candidates for the position.

But there weren't.  According to Joseph, there was me, and if I said no, then the others would get their calls.

A salesman's pitch or truth?

Probably a little of both.

He gave me nuggets about the embryonic game.  He said that we should meet.  I might have been a bit wishy-washy about when I could travel to Seattle.  My daughter was still in elementary school, and my wife worked most evenings.  But right away, Joseph claimed to be eager to fly to Lincoln and meet with me.

It was spring, 2010.  I steered Joseph to the best hotel--a newish Embassy Suites across the street from the downtown Y.  He flew in late at night, and we met the next morning in his embassy suite.  Very friendly guy, but with a x-ray laser focus on the assignment.  His equipment didn't play with the room’s television, so using the small laptop monitor, he showed me concept art and schemes from Tiger.  A gamer would want to know about the functions of playing, the weapons and rewards.  Not me.  I loved the artwork and I was curious about the aliens and worlds, but I kept warning him that I didn't know anything about any of this game stuff, and don’t count on me to ever play it.

But I wasn't being hired for the game part, no.  I was going to help them with Story.

#

Sketched out before me was a future history, complete with a timeline and illustrations.

On my own, I would never have written this history.

But I could appreciate its roots and vision.

Bungie had cobbled together a complicated universe, vivid and immediate in places, barely born in others.  I was introduced to monsters and heroes, big god-like objects and transformed versions of our familiar local worlds.  This was a shooter game tied to an epic.  There were continuity concerns and an overarching story to put together, and a lot of my questions were answered with admissions along the lines of:  “We haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

After a full morning, we broke for lunch.

The Oven, a downtown Indian restaurant.  Nice time.  And I learned a lot about games and movie making and the like.

Then back to work.  Except poor Joseph was dealing with a man in his 50s, and I was getting over a head cold, and even on my best day, I can’t focus on someone else’s dream for eight hours straight.

The info dumps had their effect.  And I was pretty obviously out of fuel.

So our meeting ended early.  But I was interested, even a little passionate about Tiger.  Joseph flew home, and some pleasant negotiations followed.  An agreement was made about pay and duties, triggering another wave of non-disclosures, along with contracts defining who-owned-what from my work.  (Hint:  Bungie.)  And then as summer began, the relationship was consummated with the delivery of a laptop--the first laptop that I had ever used.

I’d like to report that it was a state-of-the-art beast.  Isn't that what you’d expect from a triple-A company?  But no, it was a low-powered plastic fellow that gave me fits and then died.  But the next machine proved far more capable, although I managed to screw up the power cord and expense out a replacement.  And there were unending issues with security codes.  My machine kept forgetting where it was and who I was, requiring help from invisible IT people.  But at least I had the means to write, and Joseph and nameless others seemed happy enough with my efforts.  Mostly, my job was to contrive SF reasons and suggest plot twists and then invent settings for the far future. Oh, and I did a lot of work on the central villain too.

It was a fun, lucrative summer. My head was happily dancing with an unexpected partner, aiming at goals that I would never have imagined without prompting.

Aliens and high-tech and magical-tech wrapped around the future of mankind.

Then with summer done, I climbed aboard a primitive Boeing jet and went west to see the Bungie boys, and a very few Bungie women.

#

While at home, seemingly every day that summer, I would sign onto the network to talk to Joseph and get various warnings. Apparently Bungie had epic parking problems.  People were always leaving their vehicles where they shouldn't be, and helpful photos came with the threat of being towed. If this was my vehicle, I read, then I’d better get it out of there, preferably ten minutes ago.

Funny.  A piece of me was always checking for the blue CRV.  Wouldn't that be something?  My car decides to drive all night, on its own...well, that isn't the most unlikely future, and probably in another 10 or 15 years.

But I digress.

The parking problems were solved just before I reached Seattle.  I was put up in the usual Bungie hotel, but the company itself had left for larger quarters.  The hotel driver--a nice retired military man--drove me to the new address.  But he had never been to these offices, and he didn't know where I should go.  It was raining, of course. And it was early in the morning by game-industry times, probably before nine.  But I had a Starbucks in sight.  I thanked him and got a Vendi, and then I made an inadequate search of the nearest office building.  Bungie wasn’t advertising it’s suite number, that much was apparent.

What to do?

The rain kept coming.  I was dressed for a Nebraska drought.  But a couple young fellows in t-shirts were marching my way, holding their own Vendis.  The Seattle rain was a cliche, and they looked like cliched gamers.  I approached and threw out some names, and one of them said, “Joseph?  Joe?  Yeah, we’ll take you right up.”

The Bungie headquarters used to be a multiplex.

It’s been gutted and remodeled.  A small city could survive with just the electricity streaking under the false floors.  The main room is a huge space wearing darkness, save for the little lamps down below, and the giant monitors.  Think of Jack Bauer and 24, fighting terrorists. There were a little more than a hundred workers, if memory serves.  (There’s more than five hundred now.)  For the next two days, I was shown videos and charts, and game design was explained, and I learned that I would never master anything important about the care and feeding of games.

Everybody was very busy.

Every meeting had to be squeezed between other meetings.

I met people.  Jason, for instance.  I had lunch with people.  But it wasn't until a big lunch with Jason and others that I got a half-clear sense of why I was hired.  It was because of my Marrow universe, in part.  They liked the Great Ship quite a bit.  I had sensed as much long ago. But what surprised me was the passion for SISTER ALICE.  Alice Chamberlain was a long-ago invention of mine, a character who ended up serving in five novellas, all published in ASIMOV’S SF.  Later, I pulled those stories together into one novel.  But the book was crippled with a lousy stock-style cover--not the fault of the illustrator, I heard subsequently.  SISTER had little push in the market place, which also hurt.  Plus as everybody knows, story collections fail to sell.  And when an author’s sales drop, he is finished in the business and must be killed.

ALICE was one reason why Tor Books gave up on me.

Yet my Bungie fans didn't see failure.  They had found an author with a strong visual sense and a gamer’s taste for colorful violence.

Alice Chamberlain, a goddess who builds living worlds, earned me work with Bungie.

I’m riding a future that I never would have imagined.

#

Specifics.  I can’t talk specifics.  What I have done for Bungie, or what I am doing now.

There are legal reasons, and more importantly, there are the ancient needs of a writer to keep the twists out of easy view.

And frankly, there’s only so much that I truly know about the game.

Which is called Destiny, by the way.

I wrote a lot of words.  Invented scenarios.  Built explanations for the beautiful, often ill-matched images that I had seen.  And I used voices of game characters too.  With my own work, I often forget the details, particularly after several years.  (Did I write that?  If you say so.)  Most of what I have done in my professional life has been left behind.  That’s the way of creativity. Purposeful carnage. It's that way in books and in bookkeeping, and it’s even more that way with Bungie.  I had to write things that were good enough for me, but then the words had to pass through others too.  Writing for Destiny was like landing on Omaha Beach.  A lot of your best soldiers had to drown in the surf, without any sense of drama.

After all the security pitfalls, I had one sweet moment of revenge.

At the mentioned lunch, people asked about Marrow and the Great Ship and what would happen next.  Jason asked.  Did I have plan for the epic?

Of course I had a plan.  A very clear plan, I lied.

(Now I do, pretty much.)

Anyway, in a loud voice, I asked if they’d like to hear my secret plan.

Boys in t-shirts leaned across the round table, waiting.

“First,” I said, “you need to sign nondisclosure forms.”

That brought laughter.

And a nice distraction. Because in the end, I escaped from having to tell them anything significant.

#

What else can I mention, while revealing almost nothing?

Let’s try this:

During my Seattle visit, almost four years ago, I saw various mock-ups of a central character in the Bungie universe.  The character was always round, but with different exteriors and interiors. Different sizes and set in various points above the earth.  And out of all those possibilities, there was one piece of artwork that just sang to me.  That’s what I told Joseph.

“This is the one that gets my heart pounding,” I said, or words to that effect.

And that happens to be the direction they went.

I don't know if I had any role in the final decision, or if like minds move in the same directions. Either way, the Traveler floats close to the Earth that it protects, enigmatic for now and maybe for always…