science fiction

Interview with Jet Weasley on “Red Queen”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Jet Weasley’s book blog, The Book Detective.]

Q: How did you come up with the idea of the Red Queen Effect? 

There’s an excellent book on the evolutionary psychology of sex, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley, which explores the “Red Queen Effect” in human evolution of sex differences and behaviors. The effect is widespread and occurs whenever you have an evolutionary arms race, and by analogy can be seen in, say, the Cold War between the US and the old Soviet Union. The effect is named for the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who led Alice on a running race which kep tthem in the same place.

Q: What made you decide to set the story in future American instead of America of present? 

All the political repression visible now is exaggerated in the near-future world of Red Queen, which allowed me to draw the dramatic differences in bolder strokes. People are used to the system we have now and it would be harder to present it as something so bad a rebellion would be justified unless it gets a few degrees worse. Many of my readers are barely aware virtually everything I write about is already happening in academia and surveillance by the state.

Q: Now, as many readers have stated, your book is full of scientific fact and diction. How did you manage to research all of this and incorporate it into your book? 

My background is very similar to the main characters’, and I worked on computer science research under DARPA contracts when I was about their age. The science and engineering are also relatively easy for me since I studied physics and computer science at MIT. I did have to do some research to get up-to-date on quantum computing, but I was already familiar with most of the science in the book.

Q: For me this would have been the most difficult part of writing such a story; how did you manage to make the ideas so realistic? Could the Red Queen Effect actually happen? 

I was striving for realism. The breakthrough that enables quantum gateways is fiction, but the working out of the details and the engineering follows logically from that, and the behavior of the characters is more true to the reactions of believable intelligent grad students than your typical thriller characters. This means it may be less accessible as a story than standard thrillers featuring spies and military types, but there are plenty of those. I wanted this to be different. And the Red Queen Effect is very common in any competitive evolutionary scenario.

Q: If you were in Justin’s position, would you go about things the way he did in this book or would you react/act differently?

Justin is a fictional character, so I suspect he suffers far less self-doubt, laziness, or conflict-avoidance than any real person. I certainly would not have accomplished as much when I was his age than he does in the book. But like his scientific genius friend Steve, he’s much faster than most real people so the plot can move along at a good pace. It would not be interesting if he took some time off in the middle of the plot to practice his video game skills….

Q: What inspired you to start writing Science Fiction? 

I’ve been reading it since I was 7! For people with a problem-solving, engineering bent, the working out of future science is another exciting part of the story, as they follow the logic while reading. Science fiction can be very educational, and one of my goals was to demonstrate some interesting corners of physics and computer science for those who might want to pursue it as a career.

Q And finally, will you be working on any novels that are separate to the Substrate Wars in the near future? 

I just finished the second book in the Substrate Wars series, Nemo’s World. There are two more to follow, most likely, and then I have an idea for a comic murder mystery set in the artsy-Hollywood community of Palm Springs, where I now live. This would be fun and let me satirize some obvious targets for everyone’s amusement.

Interview with Serenity Sheild

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Serenity Sheild’s book blog]

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

I wrote terrible stories in grade school, journaled in high school, and took writing courses at MIT and Harvard. When I left MIT, I was interested in trying to write and spent time with a writer’s group, one of whom is now a bestselling author – Sue Miller, of The Good Mother and other novels. But I was not good enough to break in at that time (I was 22!) so I went on to careers in computer science and business. I’ve returned to writing after early retirement.

Is being an Author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?

If you’re going to write novels, you’re going to be isolated a lot; you can’t be task-switching every ten minutes and hanging out with friends every night. So you spend long hours in your head and interruptions are resented. The best thing, I suppose, is that you get to single-handedly create—no one can stop you, no one (except possibly an editor!) is going to derail the flow of what you and your characters have to say.

What was the very first thing you ever wrote?

Hah! Probably a two-page science fiction story about a boy going into a cave and discovering aliens at the center of the Earth. I knew it was bad even at the time!

 What made you create (your book)? How did it come to you?

I had done well with two books about attachment theory and relationships: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. I had not tried to write long-form fiction in 20+ years, but a long discussion online with a group of science fiction writers and fans convinced me to take up the challenge of writing a story about and for younger people which had some of the technological optimism of old-school science fiction, blended with the diversity and sensibility of today. Part of the problem with YA fiction is the depressive tone taken by many authors, as if every story should focus on Major Issues like global warming and environmental catastrophe. A breakthrough like Hunger Games happened because publishers saw it was a story with a strong young woman as hero — which is true and a big part of its appeal. But it became a phenomenon because it is also a story about today’s politics, with the elite urban disdain for rural and lower-class people and the oppressive micromanagement of an ever-increasing and manipulative government. I wanted to more directly address the same urge for freedom.

Who is your literary hero?

Hmm, I don’t have just one. But I grew up reading Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, so-called because they were designed to be relatively simple and feature young people growing into adulthood and doing great things. When he wrote more complex and adult stories, his publisher refused them – starting with Starship Troopers, still considered a classic. In later years as he became too commercially successful to be told what to do by editors, he got self-indulgent and his work was less focused.

Evan Connell is another master of literary fiction whose work is less known than it should be. Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge are perfect, lapidary novels capturing a husband and wife in Kansas City in the 1930s and 40s. Heartbreaking portraits composed of a series of small scenes, each one adding a tiny bit to your understanding until you are overcome by the power of it — and all without major drama. Restrained, refined, repressed. Two of the top ten American novels.

How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?

None directly. There are fragments of my own background and personality mixed up with other people I have known, but once set they tend to take on a life of their own beyond those starting ingredients.

Describe your main character in six words.

Grad student waiting for a challenge.

Describe the world you’ve created in six words.

Soft fascist thought control state, overturned.

What scene was your favorite to write?

The fictional version of an incident where a professor put up a “Firefly” poster and was cited by campus authorities for creating a threatening environment. Which actually happened. I enjoyed gently mocking Star Trek and Firefly.

 What scene was the hardest for you to write?

One must have villains, and one of mine is the boyfriend of my main female character, Samantha. He’s a narcissistic, rich schmuck, and in the scene where she breaks up with him in a restaurant, he is abusive. It was intense to write feeling how she must be feeling.

 What are you working on now?

The next book in the series. Our rebels take on the governments of the world and bring peace, harmony, and plenty to all. No, really! Until the next book, anyway.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

I work out every day at a gym, lifting weights and doing cardio. I really enjoy that and come up with some great ideas while on the Stairmaster. 

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page

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!

New Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars”


The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, at only $2.99, while the trade paperback is available here at around $13.

The next two Amazon reviews:

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced, well plotted read. December 28, 2014
Good, well paced story. Reminded me of Heinlein’s “juveniles” in the pacing, dialogue, etc; and I mean that in a good sense. Young people (and some not so young) faced with making choices that have far-reaching consequences. An intriguing scientific development which can affect the whole human race forces the protagonists to grow up. I am looking forward to the continuation of the series.
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but fun December 30, 2014

I really enjoyed this book, but a warning for the hard science people – you may not like some of the cavalier treatment conservation of mass and energy gets.

Another nitpick I have is the old story of 1) discover a technology on Monday 2) debug the technology on Tuesday and 3) deploy the technology on Wednesday. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

In spite of this I gave it 4 stars, because who doesn’t enjoy giving it to the man?

I would share this reviewer’s concerns if the violations of standard conservation of mass and energy weren’t explained in two ways: explicitly, by Steve Duong (who shares the unease), and implicitly by the “world as simulation” thread of the story, which should leave the reader wondering if the story is taking place in a simulation itself. It’s pointed out that just such violations of physical laws would be expected on the margins of a less-than-perfect simulation, and there’s no reason to believe the physics-as-computation-on-substrate of what we think of reality is free of such flaws.

As for the normal pace of development of a technology, I’m asking the reader to believe Steve Duong is one of those rare geniuses who can do in a week what might take a team of scientists a year. While such people are rare, they do exist; and the story must move fast and so can’t stop to do more than hint at the long process of development in normal teams.

Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars”


The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, at only $2.99, while the trade paperback is available here at around $14 — but use the sale code BOOKDEAL25 for 25% off (I assume until Dec. 25th.)

So far, it’s received two Amazon reviews:

4.0 out of 5 stars
Good read!
By M. Cunningham
Verified Purchase

This is a fast pace science fiction thriller which pits college students against the powers-that-be in a realistic near-future. The dialog and characters are well-developed, believable, and the author seems to capture the mind-set and vernacular of the intellectual college students who tend to rebel against the status-quo. Some of the story had me ‘on the edge of my seat’ so to speak wondering if the college rebels were going to succeed. The novel also gives one much to think about concerning government power, educational systems, capitalism, and the limits of social equality. I heard echoes of Robert Heinlein here (which made sense in reading the author’s end-notes ‘Quotes from the Golden Age of Science Fiction’.) The only disappointment for me was I now have to wait for book 2 to see how the conflict proceeds.

4.0 out of 5 stars
The story took a moment to get going, but …
By Benjamin Olsen
Verified Purchase
The story took a moment to get going, but became one the most engaging reads I’ve encountered in months. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

“Red Queen: The Substrate Wars” for Kindle

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

The Kindle version is available on Amazon here, and at only $0.99 for a week or two so my friends can all buy it cheaply. Of course I want some good reviews to get it going, presuming it deserves them!

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, first book in a long series.

Set on a California college campus just a decade or two from now, the world of Red Queen is post-terrorist disaster, repressive and censored — rather like China today, but with a stagnant economy and no jobs for young people. In that sense it is a dystopia, though not so far from our own day and time; only a few steps beyond where we are now. The students are cowed but not unaware, and they seize the opportunity to make a difference when their smarts and courage allow it. And so they change the world.

This is Book 1 of Substrate Wars, the series: A growing band of campus freedom-fighters discover a new technology that could either destroy the world, or save it. They take on the responsibility of using it for good. Homeland Security is one step behind them. Spies and traitors lurk. Shall it be repressive bureaucratic stagnation, or human expansion to the stars?

Kindle Format now at $0.99, regular price $3.99. Trade paperback in a few weeks.

“Red Queen: The Substrate Wars,” Second Part

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

I’ve finished a readable draft for the second part of Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, first book in a long series. Beta readers of Part 1 generally liked it and wanted to keep reading, so if you were holding off thinking it’s bad, maybe that will encourage you to give it a read.

In this part, our growing band of campus freedom-fighters discover a new technology that could either destroy the world, or save it. They take on the responsibility of using it for good. Homeland Security is one step behind them.

[edit: removed drafts since full book is available]

There are interesting questions about how much techno-geekery and science you should throw at the reader. Those who aren’t into it will see a paragraph of unintelligible babble and skip over it (“it’s magic!”), and those who are into it will read every word and try to find holes in the science, which they will of course be eager to point out.

So I need a wide variety of readers to help me decide just how far to go. There’s also an interesting problem with exposition: it’s necessary for the omniscient narrator to just tell the reader things, but they are more convincing coming from characters. But then you have long dialogues where characters go on in an unrealistic way. This has been accepted as part of the artifice since the time of the Greeks, but you can go too far. Let me know what you think!

Questions, errors, and comments to: Hope you enjoy it.