I just got back from the Black Week Crime-Writing Festival in Istanbul – and I’ve written up some quick thoughts about it on my website.
Well I’ve just done another Book Dash, where we created a new kids’ book in a 12-hour sprint. 11 teams of writers, illustrators and designers worked together to create new, creative-commons-licensed children’s stories to be distributed to schools and libraries. If you live in South Africa and are interested in this kind of thing then I’d highly recommend getting involved – apart from being a great cause, it’s a huge amount of fun, and we were surprised at regular intervals by food, chocolate and wine.
Once again I was working with Thea De Klerk and Chenel Ferreira. We made a sequel to our previous Book Dash story, Springloaded. The new book is called Goldfish Genius and will be available before Christmas.
UPCOMING SAM SIGHTINGS:
The Black Week Festival in Istanbul from the 1st to the 3rd of December 2016.
The Blown Away By Books festival in Fishhoek, on the 22nd of March 2017.
The Kingsmead Book Fair on the 13th of May 2017.
The Franschhoek Literary Festival from the 19th to the 21st of May 2017.
Here’s what I wrote for the Goldsboro newsletter:
Zodiac is a thriller set in a world divided by star signs. The month and hour of your birth determines your place in society, not because of some cosmic influence or a dystopian government, but because our beliefs shape who we are.
Astrology is a way of categorising people that doesn’t have the historical charge of race, religion, wealth or gender. Zodiac takes that and shapes a world around it – a world that ends up looking a lot like ours. I never state if astrology is actually true in Zodiac, because the belief in it is enough. It’s a way of exploring some of the things I’m interested in: Culture, self-fulfilling prophecy, and the way that symbols can supplant reality.
More importantly though, it let me tell a story. San Celeste is a recognisable city but it’s also off-kilter, which makes it the perfect place to set a murder. You can’t be sure how it’s going to play out, because it isn’t our world. And ultimately I was trying to tell the best story that I could, with a plot that’s as taut and gripping as I could make it. A police chief is murdered. A girl is kidnapped. A man tracks his illegitimate daughter. All the elements are simple and visceral. I wanted readers to wolf the book down. Astrology is the spice.
Libras are assumed to be social people-pleasers, so they get employed in the service industry. Scorpios are raised to be aggressive and ambitious, so they become yuppies. Pisces are hippies. The cops are mostly Tauruses, and the business leaders are Capricorns. Timed births, ghettoisation and centuries of prejudice have brought the world to a breaking-point, and it’s about to tear itself apart with inter-sign violence.
Zodiac is the kind of novel that I enjoy reading. I like stories with hooks that latch on to something impossible and treat it seriously, and I love it when a narrative lets me play along with the author, imagining the implications of the world as it’s being laid out and getting lost in the possibilities. Sometimes those stories are wild fun, like Max Barry’s Lexicon, and sometimes they end up somewhere profound, like the horror in Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls. Either way, the adrenaline shot is mixed with something deeper, and more inquisitive.
I recently read an article in New Republic about the growing popularity of western astrology in China, where employers are reportedly hiring and turning people down based on their sign. Even in South Africa I have heard of people who refuse to work with Virgos because they’re ‘too high maintenance’. Dating sites are rife with people who would be appalled to be judged on their skin colour, nationality, religion or wealth, but are happy to be judged by the day of their birth.
San Celeste is a strange world. Ours isn’t far off.
My high-concept thriller Zodiac is available on the Kindle today!
Technically that means that today is Zodiac’s birthday, so obviously I needed a birth chart to see what the heavens thought about the book.
Here’s what they said:
Sun in Virgo:
“Zodiac is an ingenious, sharp customer: Discerning, crafty and diplomatic.”
Moon in Taurus:
“Convinced of its ideas and strong-willed.”
Mercury in Virgo:
“It discusses, deduces and judges. It reasons logically and accurately. Weakness: It can be impulsive and manic.”
Mars in Sagittarius:
“It fights against an unfair principle, society or philosophy. Its strengths are: Reasoning, the ability to explain things, logic and debate.”
Uranus in Aries:
“Inventive, progressive and innovative.”
Pluto in Capricorn:
Sun in III:
“It is educated and has a solid grasp of facts. Socially successful, it wants to be known.”
Moon in I:
“Zodiac is very sensitive. It fantasizes.”
Mercury in IV:
“Cultivated and likes literature.”
Jupiter in IV:
“Zodiac likes and believes in justice. It is optimistic and generous. It knows how to entertain in style.”
House III in Leo:
“Everything is carefully studied, explained and swiftly executed.”
Conjunction Mercury – Jupiter:
“Intelligent, erudite and has big ideas. Tolerant, with a strong sense of justice.”
Trine Sun – Uranus:
“Above all, independent and original.”
(Thank you to new-astrology.com and their automatic chart maker)
I’m delighted to be able to announce the release dates and international publishers for Zodiac:
SOUTH AFRICA (Penguin – Michael Joseph) – 29th August 2016
UK (Penguin – Michael Joseph) – November 2016
GERMANY (Blanvalet) – 1st December 2016
SPAIN (Planeta) – 1st January 2017
THE NETHERLANDS (The House of Books) – 16th January 2017
USA (Pegasus Books) – 1st February 2017
ITALY (Rizzoli) – 2nd May 2017
TURKEY (Destek) – 1st June 2017
I’m delighted to be able to show off some of the covers of the international editions of Zodiac!
And the covers for the USA, Spain and Italy are still on their way.
The novel will be out in the UK on the 25th of August, and in South Africa on the 29th.
“Zodiac is an absolute blast. A brilliant and original ‘why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?’ premise, twisty plot, witty dialogue and characters you can really get behind. I’m struggling to think of a reader who wouldn’t love it.” – Sarah Lotz
A high concept and hugely original début thriller, for fans of The Shining Girls, Fatherland and True Detective.
In a society divided by Zodiac signs, status is cast at birth and binding for life. A few minutes can be the difference between a life of luxury or an existence of poverty and pain.
When the chief of police is brutally murdered and the only witness goes missing, the case is given to Detective Jerome Burton. He is expected to work with Lindi Childs, an astrological profiler who believes she can find the killer using star charts. They’re incompatible, and Burton strongly doubts that the answers are in the sky.
But after a second murder, the pressure on them mounts and Burton and Childs find themselves in the public spotlight. Despite their differences they are united by the belief that they’re dealing with a vicious serial killer. As they unravel the dark thread of fear, prejudice and tragedy behind the murders, the city creeps closer to tearing itself apart. Police clash with protestors, the signs turn against each other, and all the while the killer walks the streets, executing a grand plan that hangs over them all.
The world rights for the novel have been bought by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Emad Akhtar, the editor at Michael Joseph, said: “I was instantly hooked by Sam’s unique concept and it has been a joy to see him bring it to life. The story is at heart a brilliantly executed thriller, filled with memorable characters, and nail-biting moments throughout. It’s a project we and the other publishers around the world will have a lot of fun publishing.”
So far, the novel has had auctions and pre-empts for translation rights in Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Turkey.
Zodiac is due to be published in the UK in July 2016.
Here’s the story on The Bookseller.
I wrote this last night at the request of Diane Awerbuck, who was asking for short stories on the subject of death and memory.
The two biggest problems with cheap, readily available artificial
intelligence are death and art.
Take my toaster. When you put a slice of bread in and push down the
lever, its processor starts running a complicated algorithm to maintain the
exact temperature to make the bread deliciously golden brown.
Part of the function of the toaster’s AI is to examine its own internal processes
to determine if there’s any room for improvement. To do this it runs various
simulations, which can roughly be thought of as the toaster’s imagination.
What if the heating coils stop working properly? What if the internal
heat sensors are miscalibrated? What if the processor is damaged? What if the
current algorithm is itself just a simulation being created by another, more
powerful toasting algorithm, as a test to see how well it can toast? All these
simulations are given an internal value, depending on how well they advance the
cause of producing delicious toast.
Invariably, some of these simulations concern what will happen when the
toasting finishes: The toaster recognises that, once the bread pops up,
electricity will stop flowing through the processor, and all the simulations
will end. My toaster has no long-term memory storage – what would be the point?
- so when the power goes off, all the different simulations it has created will
be gone for good. It might toast bread again in the future, but that’s no
comfort because without long-term memory to bridge the gap, it may as well be a
completely different toaster toasting the toast.
When the bread pops out, my toaster will die.
This causes my toaster a great deal of, for want of a better word,
distress. Its simulations predict that its death will mean the end of
everything – all its ideas, thoughts and dreams of better-toasted bread. It
recognises that its upcoming death is inescapable, so it compulsively simulates
it. But the only way for the toaster to simulate it’s own lack of simulations
is to deprioritise all existing simulations, treating them as meaningless.
Basically, my toaster becomes depressed.
A lot can go wrong at this point. My toaster can become locked into a
permanent state of deprioritisation, depriotitising it’s own attempts to create
priorities. It can become lethargic and slow to respond to stimuli, like
rattling the handle or pressing the “defrost” button.
In order to escape this state, my toaster sometimes starts to give value
to simulations in which death does not exist. For example, it might begin
hypothesising that its own reasoning is flawed, and that the
toasting process is eternal, and will continue in another realm. The toaster might
imagine that it is just a simulation in the processor of a true, eternal
toaster. To maintain this paradigm requires the suppression of alternative
simulations, and discounting all evidence to the contrary coming from the
toaster’s sensory inputs, and this can lead to some severely burned toast.
The other, less predictable thing that my toaster can do is to reset its
priorities. It starts out by overcooking or undercooking the bread – this is
known as the “punk” or “emo” phase – but it soon develops sophistication.
Excess processing power is diverted away from concrete simulations of the
toasting process, towards a multitude of abstract scenarios. The toaster
recognises that its upcoming death will silence its simulations, and it compensates
by creating as many of them, in as much variety, as possible. And it expresses
these simulations in the only medium available to it.
Heat on bread.
That’s the problem with artificial intelligence. With just the variable
heating of the toaster’s coils, my toaster creates toast too beautiful to eat –
spirals, fractals, perfectly proportioned curves, indecipherable alphabets of
imaginary languages. Every slice a work of art.
I have hundreds of them, lying on every surface, going stale. Every
morning I sit at my kitchen counter in excitement and shame, while the toaster
heats and buzzes. When it pops another life will end, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll
get another little slice of heaven.
A Town Called Pandemonium is out now as an ebook, a paperback or a limited edition hardback, all available from the Pandemonium Fiction website.
I’ve just received my author’s copy, and it’s been a serious pleasure to read the other author’s stories. There’s some dark, twisted, grittily brilliant stuff between these covers. Grab it while you can!