Sunday, October 23, 2016

Risk Assessment Tools (and Their Risks)

A significant trend in criminal justice these days is the adoption of risk-assessment tools. These tools--usually short surveys administered to people who have been arrested or charged with a crime or are being released from incarceration--are used to predict the likelihood of recidivism make decisions about mental health/drug treatment or social services.

In a promising development, social scientists have been seeking to validate the effectiveness of these tools. If a tool is dubbed "validated" or "evidence-based" it means there is empirical research to show that its predictions about the likelihood of recidivism or the appropriateness of a particular social service intervention have a high likelihood of being correct. (I write "high likelihood" because nothing is ever going to be 100 percent predictive).

The application of scientific methods to these tools is exciting; it holds out the promise of being able to remove bias from decisions in the justice system (which, as we know, is rife with bias) and relying on only objective facts to decide punishment. But these tools aren't foolproof (what is, after all?) One of those dangers is that they can overlook bias so deeply embedded in our culture, they perpetuate it.

That's one of the points that Professor Reuben J. Miller, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan, and his research collaborator Hazelette Crosby-Robinson made when I interviewed them for the Center for Court Innovation's podcast series New Thinking. They outlined some of the criticisms that have been leveled against risk assessment tools. Those criticisms include placing too much emphasis on geography and criminal history, which can distort the actual risk for clients from neighborhoods that experience an above-average presence of policing and social services. "Geography is often a proxy for race," Miller says.

You can listen to the podcast, which was recorded on Sept. 30, 2016, on the Center for Court Innovation's site or iTunes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the Sidewalk


Every day, I see more and more people sprawled on the street. A scene like this is typical: life going on while a guy is flat on the ground. Often, the blankets, boxes and bedding around the figure suggest they are homeless. Less often, the person looks as if they've collapsed on the spot--I assume intoxicated with a substance, as appears to be the case with this man whom I saw a couple weeks ago at the corner of 9th Avenue and 43rd Street in Manhattan.

What's unusual in this photo is that a police officer is on the scene, although the situation doesn't necessarily call for police intervention. A representative from a social service agency would be ideal. I suppose in the old days (whenever they were), a stranger might have offered a helping hand. Did such days really exist? Perhaps in a small town people were (and are) willing to lend a hand, when requests for help come infrequently. But in Manhattan, where there are people begging on every other street corner and bodies and blankets squeezed into doorways and along sidewalks across Midtown, stopping to help does not feel like a viable option. The problem is too large for any one good Samaritan, and even stopping to give a quarter or a sandwich isn't a solution (although perhaps it is a solution of the moment, for one person's fleeting need).

Each person I see provokes a series of questions: Who are they? How did they get there? Are they in any way responsible for their current unfortunate situation or are they entirely victims (and why do I feel the need to assign blame anyway)? Aren't there social services that can help them? Why are there so many street people? Why don't they rise up and demand change? Why don't they travel to a friendlier environment where they can sleep on soft ground and not cement? What was their life like 10 years ago? What will it be like 10 years from now?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Expert on the Past, Ada Palmer has Little Trouble Inventing a Detailed Future

Cory Doctorow has described Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning (Tor, 2016) as a book "more intricate, more plausible, more significant than any debut I can recall."

That praise reflects Palmer's immense skill in building a world 500 years in the future but also her vast knowledge of the past. And it's no surprise that Palmer knows something about the past. In addition to launching the first of a four-volume series with Tor, she is a cultural and intellectual historian at the University of Chicago, where she studies (among other things) the history of publishing and the Italian Renaissance.

She says that knowing exactly how the world has changed over the last 500 years - politically, culturally, socially - has helped her imagine plausible changes for the next 500.

In Too Like the Lightning, the 25th century is enjoying a reinterpretation of the 18th century Enlightenment, although with flying cars and non-geographic nations. Society congratulates itself for having banished organized religion and gender distinctions (Palmer writes much of the book using the singular "they") but, as in so many cultures, people are blind to their own shortcomings.

"This is a particular future that didn't do a good job finishing the end game of feminism and gender equality," Palmer says, explaining that "they erased it too fast, stopped the conversation and consequently still have tons of baggage."

Before she put pen to paper, Palmer spent five years planning the world of Too Like the Lightning, including forecasting the future history that shaped it. And it took another eight years for the book to be published.

But critics and readers agree that it was worth the wait. The second installment in the Terra Ignota series, Seven Surrenders, was originally slated for publication in December but Tor has pushed back the release to February to make room for a paperback version of Too Like the Lightning first.

Related link: Voltaire's Micromegas

Rob Wolf is the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Enlightenment meets traffic jams in Zen City

"The future begins with a traffic jam."

This is how Eliot Fintushel described to me the setting of Zen City (Zero Books, 2016), his science fiction novel about the obstacles encountered along the path to spiritual fulfillment, when I interviewed him on the new episode of New Books in Science Fiction.

In Fintushel's book, the quest for enlightenment manifests as a physical journey as his protagonist, Big Man, makes his way from an eternal traffic jam (in which people have been rooted so long on a highway exit ramp that they've created cults around their Econoline vans and Chevrolet Chevelles) to the City, where those who have achieved true enlightenment are literally merged into a single body-consciousness that transcends reality as we know it.

More than a commentary on Buddhism, the story is a meditation on religion and the challenge of using "robes and rituals" to find enlightenment, Fintushel explains. The problem is when enlightenment itself becomes a sign of status, he says, undermining the goal of enlightenment, which is supposedly a state of "no status."

Fintushel's adventure is both poetic and funny, meditating on language as much as belief. He is playing with the "limits of identifying things," evoking the viewpoint of a baby. "If you watch a baby's eyes moving around, they don't fix on objects or even on people the way we do. They don't have categories of objects and people. And I'm assuming, for the sake of the fiction anyway, that that's more real than the reality of objects and things and people."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Brexit Interview: Dave Hutchinson's Fictional Europe is Falling Apart but Don't Call Him Prescient

Don't call my latest guest on New Books in Science Fiction prescient. Even though Dave Hutchinson's Fractured Europe Sequence envisions a continent crumbling into ever-smaller countries, the idea that his homeland could Brexit the European Union hadn't occurred to him when he started writing Europe in Autumn.

The book chronicles the adventures of Rudi, an Estonian cook-turned-spy who discovers the existence of an alternate Europe, one in which the Eurasian continent has become a Brexiter's dream come true, a bucolic but boring England that extends from Spain to Siberia.

Its sequel, Europe at Midnight, isn't really a sequel but a spinoff, introducing new characters who explore the dark side of Europe's parallel universes. Both books are imaginative, elegant and unexpected, combining elements of thriller and science fiction. And there's more to come. A third book, Europe in Winter, is due out in November, and a fourth and final book, Europe at Dawn, is in the works.

I was fortunate to have Aubrey Fox (author of Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure) as a co-host for this interview. He not only recommended Hutchinson's books to me, but he's an avid fan of both science fiction and mysteries. Among the topics Hutchinson discussed with us were the ideas that inspired him to write Midnight in Autumn, the ups and downs of his long writing career, his decision to write a series when he'd set out to write only a single book, and, of course, the Brexit vote, which took place the day after our conversation.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Art in Motion

So this guy sits down and just starts drawing the guy opposite him. Takes him about 90 seconds to produce a picture. Enough time to create a pleasing likeness and elicit a donation from the subject, who takes the rendering with a smile.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Girl Walks Out of a Bar

Lisa F. Smith, my colleague and friend (right), had a righteously fun book party to celebrate the publication of her memoir Girl Walks Out of a Bar, which she wrote in our writing workshop led by Jennifer Belle. The party was held in The Writers Room, of which Donna Brodie (center) is executive director.

Jennifer, left, gave an amazing toast in which she praised Lisa for her beautiful, candid writing about recovery from addiction.

Lisa's personal story is inspiring--and humorously told, and I recommend everyone interested in a) lawyer who work in a high-pressure environments b) people who learn to succeed despite life's challenges or c) having a good laugh buy Lisa's book!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Eternal Optimist: An Interview with Philip K. Dick Award Winner Ramez Naam

My new podcast for New Books in Science Fiction is an interview with Ramez Naam. Here's my write-up that goes with the interview:

In the fictional battles between humans and machines, the divide between good and bad is usually clear. Humans, despite their foibles (greed, impulsiveness, and lust for revenge, to name just a few), tend to find redemption, proving mankind's basic goodness through love, friendship and loyalty.

Machines, on the other hand, despite their superior physical and mental capacities, usually prove themselves to be (largely through the absence of the aforesaid capacity for love) to be dangerous and unworthy of the empires they seek to rule. But what if the humans and machines were combined - not merely cyborg-like in a jigsaw mix of man and robot but more elegantly, through a perfect blending of mind and matter? Ramez Naam does just that in his Nexus trilogy by wedding a human being's soul - her memories, feelings and intellect - to the most powerful computer ever built.

In Apex (Angry Robot, 2015), the trilogy's third installment and winner of this year's Philip K. Dick Award, things go awry. Su-Yong Shu, the brilliant Chinese scientist whose consciousness has been folded into a massive quantum computer deep under Shanghai, isn't feeling so hot. In fact, she's gone insane. It may seem, at first, as if Naam's message is the same - that any artificial intelligence, when it gets smart enough (and even when it's the result of a machine-human blend) craves power and will lead to mankind's destruction. But Naam's message is more complex: while the original computerized version of Su-Yong Shu goes on a destructive rampage, a copy of her consciousness in India finds its way back to sanity.

And through the journeys of these identical twins, we realize that Su-Yong Shu is neither human nor machine. She is something new, a powerful and mysterious being who has all the best and worst qualities of both man and machine - seemingly infinite capacities of intellect, strength, fear, paranoia and love. In his New Books in Science Fiction interview, Naam discusses the pluses and minuses of human enhancement, why he's remained steadfastly optimistic about transformative technology since the 2005 publication of his non-fiction book More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, and the extensive outlines he develops before sitting down to write. This is the second time Naam has appeared on the podcast. Dan Nexon interviewed him in 2013 about the first book in the trilogy, Nexus.

From the Interview:
"I have contact lenses in. I have a smart phone. I have a Fitbit. My fiance is on birth control. We have already upgraded ourselves quite a lot. My view in reality is that generally when you give someone the option of technology that improves their life in some way, and it's safe enough and it's cheap enough and enough people have done it already ... people are just going to do it because people want these things. But everything is a little bit of a double-edged sword. No technology ever comes with zero downsides. So my phone means - the digital world means - that hackers can steal my identity or steal from my accounts, or it lets child porn go wild, or the NSA can spy on all of us far more easily." --Ramez Naam

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reintegration and Transformation: A Trip to the Muscogee Nation

Work last week brought me to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, where I was lucky enough to spend three and a half days learning about a program that helps people make one of the hardest and yet most important transitions of their lives.

I (and my colleagues) were inspired by everyone we met: from the staff of the Muscogee (Creek) Reintegration Program and their clients, to those who work for agencies that partner with them and the Muscogee officials who fund them.

Leah, left, Tony and Adelle.
We were there to make a video for the Tribal Justice Exchange and its website Tribal Access to Justice Innovation about how the Reintegration Program helps tribal citizens returning from incarceration build new lives.

In a reflection of Muscogee values and culture--which emphasizes restoration and community healing--the program helps ex-prisoners find housing (and provides up to four months rent), find jobs, re-build relationships with families, and make fundamental changes in their lives.

Juan Carlos outside John H. Lilley Correctional
Center in Boley, Oklahoma.
Over the course of 11 years, the program has earned the support of the community, making a persuasive case that everyone benefits when an ex-prisoner is supported rather than shunned. Reentry programs not only lower recidivism but strengthen communities, helping formerly absent parents become productive caregivers and transforming inmates who cost the state thousands to house and feed into law-abiding taxpayers.

We interview Dr. Wayne Johnson,
former director of Education and Training for the
Muscogee Nation.
Not only was I impressed by the dedication of the staff, led by Program Director Tony Fish, but I was impressed by the commitment of the four former inmates we met, all of whom expressed through words and actions a strong desire to reintegrate with their communities and families.

Fish said one of the qualities necessary for the success of the Reintegration Program's clients is resilience (a characteristics that also explains the survival of Native Americans to this day, Fish pointed out.)

I saw that resilience in Tony's staff, who showed incredible commitment to their clients, and in the clients themselves. One remarkable woman, Allison, had suffered trauma and addiction but had transformed herself in prison, where she built bridges back to her family, found purpose through religion, and took classes to learn new skills. When she was released, she gathered recommendations from her teachers and others who had seen her grow and now has a job as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Juan Carlos films staff from the Reintegration Program speaking with a client who had just moved into a new home. (I'm holding the boom).

Making new friends: Juan Carlos, Leah, Adelle and I felt very lucky to make new friends in Reintegration Program staff Carrie (third from left) and Anita (right).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Adam Rakunas Delivers Action, Environmentalism and Union Organizing in Windswept

My interview with Adam Rakunas, which was posted on the New Books Network today, is my fifth with the nominees for this year's Philip K. Dick Award. His novel, Windswept, is a sprawling and funny adventure that focuses on a very stressful few days in the life of Padma Mehta, a labor organizer turned action hero on a planet far far away.

Mehta is basically part Philip Marlow, part Norma Rae, part Jessica Jones as she manages the day-to-day machinations of helping run a blue-collar planet and simultaneously battling an interstellar corporate conspiracy.

Windswept is full of action, plot twists and humor. But that doesn’t mean it shies away from grappling with important issues, including a looming environmental disaster—specifically a crop-killing plague that threatens to destroy the monoculture crop that the entire universe depends on.

Just as Mehta jumped through numerous hoops to save her world, so did Rakunas to get Windswept published. After working on the novel for several years, he sent the manuscript to 65 agents, and was rejected by 64 of them. The wisdom of the 65th to take him on was vindicated this past January, when Windswept was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. Although it didn’t win top honors (which went to Ramez Nam, who will be featured in the next New Books in Science Fiction podcast), Rakunas is well on his way to establishing himself as a science fiction writer with a unique voice and vision.

Windswept’s sequel, Like a Boss, will be published June 7.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Day at Puyallup GREAT Camp

I directed and edited this video about a very cool program created and run by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Of course, I had a lot of help putting it together. My colleagues at the Center for Court Innovation, especially Adelle Fontanet and Leah Russell, played invaluable roles as co-producers, and the team that runs the Tribal Justice Exchange provided crucial advice and feedback.

The video features the natural wonders of the Puyallup community's tribal land as well as the talents of cinematographer Juan Carlos Borrero. Composer and musician Dawn Avery gets credit for the fantastic soundtrack. But at the heart of the video are the folks who created the amazing GREAT Camp, both staff and students. They welcomed us into their lives and moved us with their stories. For their kindness, honesty and friendship, I will be forever grateful.

Below is a photo of Juan Carlos, me and Adelle interviewing a group of counselors during last summer's shoot .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Ramp Season & Responsible Harvesting

I'm not sure why I love ramps so much. Taste alone doesn't explain it (although they're delicious). I think it has something to do with the fact that it's unusual to find food that's grown and harvested in the wild which is edible from the tip of its roots to the end of its leaves--and that ends up in a farmers market, so I don't have to tramp around the wilderness myself to find it.

I've seen this particular man with a table full of ramps every spring for the last several years. He's in Union Squre most Saturdays, selling potatoes and homemade potato chips, but only in April and part of May is he hawking ramps. So the seasonality of ramps is also appealing--knowing that I only have a few weeks to enjoy them.

And now that I've said all that, I want to point out that it's important to collect ramps responsibly. As soon as I posted this photo on Instagram, I searched for other photos tagged #rampseason and found this photo by besupstate, which explains that "it takes a ramp plant 5-7 years to fully mature before it
drops its seeds" and urges ramp lovers to "consider cooking with the stems and greens only,
leaving the bulbs in the ground. Let's forage sustainably so we don't
deplete them." That led me to the ramp entry on Wikipedia, which has a section on conservation, which reads, in part:

Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act.

The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States.... Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.

So I hope this man, and anyone who makes a living from collecting and selling ramps, doesn't let them go the way of the dodo or passenger pigeon or any of these extinct plants. And I hope that my enjoyment of them--and my extolling them here--doesn't contribute to an unsustainable demand. I'd be happy to eat them without the bulbs, so I hope vendors start selling them that way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Marguerite Reed's Unconventional Hero Juggles Saving Her Planet with Daycare

Marguerite Reed’s Archangel (Arche Press, 2015) introduces a hero not often found at the center of science fiction: a mother, who takes cuddling responsibilities as seriously as she does the fate of her planet.

Of course, Vashti Loren plays many roles besides Mom. She’s also a hunter, a scientist, a tour guide and the widow of a revered early settler. But Reed spotlights her relationship with her toddler, offering a protagonist who’s not only good with a gun but manages to get her kid to daycare on time.

“So many protagonists, whether in science fiction or fantasy or adventure fiction or film are disconnected or separate or isolated from family ties, and I wanted to see if I could write something where people did have family ties, where they were connected, as we so often are in the real world,” Reed told me in her New Books interview.

When Loren discovers that a genetically-enhanced and potentially dangerous human soldier has been illegally smuggled onto the planet, she must decide whether he is friend or foe. The former means she can enlist his aid to protect her world, a lush colony faced with the threat of massive—and potentially destructive—immigration; the latter means she must kill him. Ultimately, like a number of books nominated for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award, Reed takes readers on an adventure that explores what it means to be human.

Archangel was one of six books nominated for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award. It received a special citation on March 25 at Norwescon.

The winner of this year’s award is Apex by Ramez Nam; I hope to have Nam as a guest on the podcast in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

PJ Manney on her book (R)evolution: 'It Doesn't Fit Neatly into Any Boxes'

PJ Manney’s fast-action novel (R)evolution (47North, 2015) has all the ingredients of a Hollywood thriller: a terrorist attack using nanotechnology, a military-industrial conspiracy, a scientist who augments his brain—plus, of course, romance, betrayal, and rapid-fire plot twists.

The movie-style storytelling comes naturally for Manney, who spent most of her career in Hollywood, developing films and writing for television. “I don’t see myself as a literary stylist or as a great wordsmith. I see myself as a … Hollywood-influenced storyteller,” she told me when we spoke on New Books in Science Fiction.

A first-time novelist, Manney says she was “flabbergasted” when she was nominated for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award. “I ended up melding genres and ignoring people’s advice,” she explains. “It doesn’t really fit neatly into any boxes and people who like boxes have a hard time with it… I thought it was just me and my editor who liked it.”

(R)evolution explores transformative technology—a brain-computer interface that relies on nano-materials to create a prosthetic hippocampus and cortex. Manney’s protagonist, Peter Bernhardt, seeks to use the technology for good—to aid brains destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease—but business and political forces try to grab the science for their own nefarious ends. Eventually, Bernhardt experiments on himself, pursuing super-human capacities to literally outsmart his enemies.

Manney had envisioned (R)evolution as a next-generation e-book: one with active Web links to provide context and background information and a soundtrack that allowed readers to hear the music that helps Bernhardt make connections and solve problems. “I wanted you to be able to play the music so you could actually experience his mental process… I wanted people to really have that sense of having a hacked and jacked brain. If you did have a quirkily wired brain to begin with and this ability to pull from endless amounts of data, what would that feel like?”

Yet while Manney’s imagination rushes headlong into the future, e-book technology moves at a slower pace. The e-book version of (R)evolution has no links or music. But Manney hasn’t given up. She is working furiously on the next installment, (ID)entity. That gives e-book designers a chance to up their game and, I hope, design an e-book format worthy of Peter Bernhardt.

(It’s not too late to sign up for a giveaway of the six books nominated for the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award. Entries will be accepted until midnight Pacific Daylight Time on March 22, 2016.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Podcast with Brenda Cooper

My interview with author and futurist Brenda Cooper is the second of my conversations with nominees for the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award.

Cooper’s novel Edge of Dark (Pyr, 2015) is set in a solar system where human are forced to confront a civilization they’d long ago banished: a race of super-beings who evolved from humans into cyborgs.

The idea of implanting human intelligence into an artificial body is not new. But Cooper gives it a fresh twist by making the ethics of human-robot blending the central theme of her book. The super-beings (called variously ice pirates and the Next) are returning uninvited from their banishment and, in addition to seeking access to natural resources, are offering immortality to anyone who wants it.

Cooper sees Edge of Dark as part of a conversation about the evolution of the human race. "I’m fascinated by transhumanism what we’re going to become," Cooper says. "I do think that we’re becoming something different… I’m exploring what the human soul might be about."

All six PDK-nominated authors participated in a joint podcast where they interview each other. It’s available here.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Podcast with Douglas Lain: 'I Think Therefore I'm an Alien'

I'm planning to interview on New Books in Science Fiction all six nominees for this year's Philip K. Dick Award. First up is Douglas Lain, whose After the Saucers Landed (Night Shade Books, 2015) is set in the early 1990s, when aliens, with the theatrical sense of B-movie directors, land flying saucers on the White House lawn.

At first, the visitors seem fit for a Las Vegas chorus line; they're tall, attractive and never leave their spaceships without donning sequined jumpsuits. Even the name of their leader–Ralph Reality–is marquee-ready.

But is Reality as real as he seems?

That's the question that Lain poses for readers and his first-person narrator, Brian Johnson, who confronts the alien invasion head-on when one of the interstellar travelers assumes the identity of his wife. This propels Johnson into an examination of reality through various prisms: popular culture, science, philosophy, art, and even fiction.

A kaleidoscope of personalities, artists and thinkers are name-checked as Johnson and his colleagues search for the ultimate truth. There are as many nods to mainstream culture (think Elvis Presley, Arsenio Hall and David Letterman) as there are to high-brow (e.g., René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Baudrillard). And topping it off are the writings of ufologists, including the work of one of the characters, Harold Flint, who is so disappointed by the aliens' tackiness that he decides to stop studying UFOs altogether.

"The big challenge is try and take sometimes abstract ideas and philosophical concepts and bring them to life in the story while not losing any of their complexity," Lain says. Far easier, he found, was conveying the narrator's sense of unease and growing paranoia as he learns more about the aliens. "I've spent far too much of my life in that kind of state, so it comes naturally me to write about that feeling."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Puddle Hopping

It's taken only a few days for the second largest snow storm in New York City history (in the last 150 years) to nearly vanish from the streets of Manhattan. Most of what remains is gray snow and slushy puddles that require, in some instances (above), a man-made assist to maneuver.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Judith S. Kaye (1938-2016)

Judith S. Kaye, the first female chief judge and the longest serving chief judge of the New York State Court System, died today. She played an instrumental role in founding the Center for Court Innovation, where I have been privileged to work as a writer and editor promoting justice reforms, and she was an outspoken leader in making courts more creative, user-friendly and effective. She wasn't afraid to stand up for what was right, dissenting in the 2006 case in which a four-judge plurality on the New York Court of Appeals ruled that same-sex couples didn't have the right to marry. "I am confident that future generations will look back on today’s decision as an unfortunate misstep,” she wrote in her dissent. (The New York Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2011).

I interviewed her a number of times, including for this article, which appeared in The Judges' Journal in 2002, and for a video about the Center. Excerpts of the video are available here.

My Tweet on the Front Page of the Times

I captured this image on June 25, 2015 to memorialize the moment when one of my Tweets scrolled across the front page of It was exciting in the moment but also fleeting. Now as I look at it, combined with the headline, I feel like, ever so briefly, I participated in history.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Podcast: Interview with David B. Coe

David B. Coe just finished a busy year in which he published three novels, two of which we discuss in this episode of New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

His Father's Eyes (Baen, 2015) is the second book (the first, Spell Blind, was also published in 2015) to follow the adventures of P.I. Justis Fearsson, a weremyste whose investigations are interrupted once a month during the full moon when he slips into psychosis. Dead Man's Reach (Tor, 2015) written under the pen name D.B. Jackson, is the fourth book in the The Thieftaker Chronicles and focuses on Ethan Kaille, an 18th century version of a private detective (known poetically as a thieftaker) who also happens to be a conjurer.

While both protagonists share a number of traits (they're both crime-solvers and both have magic powers) the series are quite different.

The Thieftaker books are partly historical novel, ones in which Coe (aka Jackson) interweaves real people (e.g., Samuel Adams) and events of pre-Revolutionary Boston (e.g., the Stamp Act Riots, the Boston Massacre) with mysteries that Kaille is trying to solve.

"I spend an enormous amount of time searching for these tiny historical details to bring the verisimilitude to my story," Coe says.

Kaille's opponents (who include those who would like Kaille to meet the same end as the alleged witches of Salem) are external. But the eponymous protagonist of Coe's Case Files of Justis Fearsson series faces an internal enemy: the monthly psychosis that accompanies the full moon. These episodes are gradually making Fearsson permanently insane, as they did his weremyste father.

Related link:
  • Here is a blog post in which Coe interviews his two protagonists from the separate series, Justis Fearsson and Ethan Kaille.