I met Zack Jordan at Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo earlier this year, and I was immediately impressed by his approach to promoting his work. I even talked about his Last Human-themed installation in my C2E2 Panel Report. That was also where I acquired the ARC for his debut novel, and I was really excited to read it.
The Last Human takes place in the distant future, in a galactic civilization of monumental proportions, called The Network. Millions of sentient species are part of this society, but it does not differentiate between the organic and the artificial. Instead, it is designed around tiers of intelligences, each of which more complex than the previous by a magnitude of twelve. To be a Citizen of the Network, an intelligence requires a tier of 1.8 or higher, with trillions upon trillions of artificial helper minds just below the legal level, operating every aspect of existence, from security and loading drones to Network implants and sanitation stations.
In this vast and diverse community, on a water-mining station orbiting the rings of a gas giant, live Senya the Mother and her dopted child Sarya the Daughter. Senya is a Widow — member of a species of giant arachnid hunters who spent millennia honing their murderous instincts before joining galactic society.
Sarya, meanwhile, is the last human in the universe.
You see, humans were an aberration within the Network — a species that chose not to join a galaxy of order and optimization, but rather to try and conquer it. And so, they had to be exterminated.
Naturally, Sarya dreams of finding others of her kind. And a seemingly chance encounter with a group mind of godlike intelligence visiting her station sets her on a dangerous journey that might fulfill that dream. But likely not in the way she has ever imagined.
The Last Human is an exploration of consciousness on a galactic scale that lit a fire under my imagination. The book has some characterization and pacing flaws — many of which understandable considering it is Jordan’s first work — but it makes up for them with a sweeping vision of societies as organisms, in which an individual can both be extremely important, and at the same time just a cell in a higher consciousness.
The book is not heavy on the tech and science lingo, which I personally consider a plus. In fact, the first chapters even create a somewhat misleading Young Adult impression. However, the darker themes and psychological and philosophical explorations Sarya embarks on create a core around which the idea of intelligence is developed through fantastical — if theoretically possible — technology.
Ultimately, The Last Human is an inspired debut, set in a thought-provoking universe, where adventure is gateway to higher cosmology. I am really stoked to read Zack Jordan’s next work, and in the mean time, this one is definitely a recommendation from me.
P.S. The little Network ID I got at C2E2 has my intelligence tier listed at 1.82, which I now know is SHADE.
Last year was the first time I actually went to a panel on
writing. Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo is a comic-con, rather
than a professional one, but they had acquired some impressive names, such as
Mary Robinette Kowal and Cory Doctorow, among others (both of whom are absolute
rock stars by the way). This time around the stable was even larger, with
people such as John Scalzi, Terry Brooks, and Sam Sykes, as well as a number of
first-time authors like K.M. Szpara and Chris Kluwe, and a serious presence of
the Horror and Young Adult variety, spearheaded by Joe Hill and Rainbow Rowell
I focused on the SFF panels, which took the biggest chunk of my convention weekend, and it was an energizing (and a tiny bit frustrating) experience. Despite the well thought out panel topics, the actual result seemed to always amount to “writers talking about writering”, which I totally loved. And listening to people you admire share their experiences in the field you ascribe to, helps tremendously to humanize and demystify said field.
On the other hand, having people talk about living your life’s dream when you sometimes feel so far away from achieving it, can be a bit depressing (beer helps with that, by the way). More than anything though, it paints in stark colors the simple fact that the steps to traditional publishing are very simple, very accessible, and each one requires tremendous amounts of work, patience, and determination. There are no short cuts. But in its own way, this is motivating as well.
K.M. Szpara and the importance of being earnest. Even among a group as diverse as the panels at C2E2 offered, Szpara stood out to me, and not only because I had practically just finished his book (or because, I was somehow the fanboy who got to be his first signee). He approached both of his appearances (“Tor Presents: Chaos and Cosmos” and “The Devil You Know”) with a mixture of thoughtfulness and passion that really resonated with me. An awareness of the current field, mixed with an impish attitude that I, in my rigid glory, can only admire from a distance. Plus, raising awareness of the important issue of whether Dolores Umbridge would make a good dom.
One thing that stuck with me was his advice on approaching fiction writing with the abandon of a fanfic writer. No fear of censorship, no need to worry about market or reception. It is a constant struggle and a subject of endless second-guessing for me, trying to determine whether I write a certain way because I want to, or because I think that’s how it’s “supposed” to be written. It was refreshing to hear someone who has achieved success vouch for the former. And though of course one can’t just ignore all external factors when pursuing traditional publishing, it is a nice reminder all the same that ultimately you write better when your primary drive isn’t worry about what the market might expect.
Zack Jordan and the value of showmanship. Zack appeared on only one panel – “Authors on ‘The Best Advice I Ever Got’” – which makes sense, considering his first book, The Last Human, is not even out yet (it is scheduled for late March). That particular panel quickly became a conversation about editing and author reaction thereof, and Jordan made the very important point that if you are trying to get published and sell your work for moneys, then you are no longer writing just “for yourself”. And the editor is the person whose job is to champion the book, not stifle the author, provided of course that the two are a good fit.
What was interesting to me about him though, was not the panel, but rather his booth on the main floor, glued to the Del Rey stand. Jordan, who has background in tech (one assumes) startups had set up a whole performance installation where he and a couple of other dudes in jumpsuits were “scanning” the crowd for potential humans, and issuing honest-to-Cthulhu, printed on the spot ID cards of your actual race, with picture and everything. Beyond the fourth wall, he was also handing out advance reading copies of The Last Human, and when I questioned him about the whole thing, he told me that Del Rey had provided the booth space, and he had set up everything else, from his helpers, to the card printers, the scanning app, all of it.
Moral of the story? For obvious market reasons, first time SFF writers are nobody’s budget priority. But if you are good at selling yourself, you can make a big impression with limited resources. Now if only I could in any way leverage classical violin training for PR…
John Scalzi and the JOHN FUCKING SCALZI!!! Perhaps a little context is necessary. I am sure I will end up writing about this in a bit more detail in the future, but suffice to say that The Collapsing Empire was the book that made me decide I was going to get off (on?) my ass and actually write a damn novel. Later that same year, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop To A Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing was the collection of blog posts that made me decide I was going to pursue a writing career like a real boy.
So, while I wouldn’t credit Scalzi’s work with the inspiration for my own writing, his personality has definitely been directly responsible for my believing I can do this. And meeting him in person was such an amazing experience. He is a smug dork in the best possible way, and despite having the second largest autograph line after Terry Brooks, he spent a lot of time chatting with everyone and being friendly as hell. In the end, he told me to “keep writing, and don’t dare stopping”, and in my head canon, he is greatly invested in my success.
This is by no means the extent of my impressions of the convention or the writers I met there, but most of my other experiences boil down to small anecdotes, reinforcements of personal feelings, and some truly encouraging advice and raw emotion from Sam Sykes, who I shamefully had not read a word by until the very morning of C2E2 — a mistake I am currently fixing with enthusiasm. Also worth mentioning is Chris Kluwe , who was insanely charming and showed me that just because I am a bigot who thinks sportsball is dumb, doesn’t mean sportsball people can’t be thoughtful or have meaningful contributions outside of hoops, or whatever it is you do in the NFL.
Overall, after nearly a decade of walking around booths of comic books, artwork, and toys, standing in lines for autographs and photo ops with cast members of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I am discovering that my inner diligent student likes sitting in panels discussing the craft and business of writing more than pretty much anything else a con might offer. So I am definitely ready to test this theory at a professional lit-con. Hopefully, I get a chance later in the year.
C2E2 was very much a success (in the sense that I got to listen to people who are living out my life’s dream talk about living out my life’s dream, which is simultaneously its own punishment and its own reward), but my book acquisition rate continued its upward trajectory. There is a reality show somewhere, waiting to have me on an episode, and I do not know if I should be proud, or deeply ashamed. But either way, here is the boon — some of it purchased, some freely given, most of it autographed — for accountability purposes. Not featured — Chris Kluwe’s Otaku, which I forgot to put in the shot, and which gives me just the right kind of Ready Player One vibes.
Now if I can be strong enough to keep to my previously established reading plans…