Figuring it out
Sundman Speaks gets in gear
Marie signs on
There’s a scene about 1/3 of the way through The Bourne Identity in which Marie, a woman of about 30 with no job, no money, no permanent abode and a beat-up, tiny old car decides to cast her lot with ‘Jason Bourne,’ a mysterious guy she’s known for about one day, who has no memory, a half-dozen passports from different countries in different names and a giant pile of cash, and whom she has already seen fight off a heavily armed and clearly expertly-trained would-be assassin while armed only with a ballpoint pen.
They’re in Paris. Jason is behind the wheel of Marie’s beat-up car, parked on a cobbled city street. Jason and Marie met yesterday in Zurich, after Bourne outfought, outran and outsmarted an entire security detail of Marines at the U.S embassy and she agreed to help him get away, driving him here in exchange for twenty thousand dollars. It’s now dawning on her that she has gotten herself mixed up in something very big and extremely dangerous.
Jason and Marie seem to have caught the attention of a man in a police car, and now a gendarme is approaching. Bourne starts the car. He’s trying to convince Marie to get out of the car and turn herself into the police before she gets in any deeper. She takes a swig from the flask of liquor that she’s just purchased. She doesn’t move to get out of the car. Another police car arrives. Now several gendarmes are approaching. ‘Last chance, Marie,” Jason says. She doesn’t budge. ‘Listen,’ he says. ‘I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what’s going on. People are trying to kill me. I’ve got to figure it out.’ The police are coming ever faster, running towards them.
‘Well,’ Marie says, looking steadily at him, ‘figure it out.’ She fastens her seat belt.
You ever felt like Jason Bourne? I sure have
I don’t mean I’ve felt like Jason in the sense of discovering that I have the number of a Zurich bank account tattooed on my hip, that I somehow have the ability to speak several languages that I didn’t know I had and can fight like a ninja, that I am the possessor of a half-dozen passports in different names from different countries and that I have a lovely high-ceiling’d, white-painted pied-à-terre in Paris.
I mean in the sense of being threatened by incomprehensible forces from all directions, being in real danger, being aware that other people are counting on me to figure out what is going on and get us to safety — and all the while not really knowing if I am who I thought I was. I’m talking about having been broke and homeless with three young children depending on me, about having become a homeowner again & then nearly loosing the house in a foreclosure auction a few years later, about being in situations where I was the only person who could help another soul through a life-threatening mental-health crisis, or a physical health crisis. . . and plenty of other situations I can’t talk about, even vaguely. Truly, only Jesus and my wife know the trouble I’ve seen, and Jesus is imaginary.
I expect you’ve had your share of troubles too, dear reader.
Sometimes when the logical gendarmes were running towards my logical borrowed beat-up car I’ve been able to figure things out in time to escape to safety. And sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve let people down. Including myself. I don’t feel good about those times. But I’m still here.
My wife’s name is Betty, not Marie, but she has a lot of Marie in her.
In 1994 we moved to Martha’s Vineyard. In 1995 I set out to write a novel and I quit the proverbial day job. By 1996 we were broke and homeless. Betty could have divorced me, I suppose, if I didn’t agree to stop working on the book and get a job. Instead she gave me her favorite jewelry to pawn. “Figure it out,” she said. I kept working on the book.
I’ve published two novels and two novellas since then. (And I also eventually resumed the day job. I’ve had lots of day jobs since then. I kept that pawn ticket in my wallet for 15 years to remind me of the obligations one incurs when someone else puts their trust in you.)
A new novel, Mountain of Devils, which is a precursor to both Acts of the Apostles and Biodigital, comes out this summer. (Readers of Acts and/or Biodigital may recall that the molecular biologist Bartlett Aubrey, the wife of software engineer Nick Aubrey, had had a traumatizing encounter with evil villain Monty Meekman when she was just a teenager, and that Meekman still has purchase on her psyche. Mountain of Devils tells how that happened.)
A door closes; a window opens
“A door closes; a window opens” is a platitude one sometimes hears; it signifies that when one opportunity goes away it (always?) creates another opportunity. The editor Victoria Blake, of Underland Press and Hellboy fame, liked to quote her mother’s variation: “Sometimes a door just closes.” I like that version better.
I felt like a door had closed when I realized that must toss aside my endorsements from rock-star scientist George Church (including a very kind foreword to my novels he wrote 6 years ago). Because, unknown to me at the time, wittingly or not, Church was an Epstein reputation-launderer. People that I know and trust told me I was sullying my own reputation by touting his recommendation. This was an upsetting realization in so many ways. Among them being, his name on the cover had already helped me sell a bunch of books. It had been a real asset. But oh well. I am the least of Epstein’s victims.
(You may say I want it both ways — repudiating Church's endorsements & repeating them here. Valid. But I haven't mentioned Church’s blurb in 3 years & won't do so again.) That door has closed for good.
But then, sure enough, a window did open. Having decided to republish my existing books in anticipation of the forthcoming Mountain of Devils, I pondered with what I might replace the expunged foreword. And look what I came up with.
Cory Doctorow, David Weinberger, John Biggs and TBD
To mark the arrival of Mountain of Devils I’ll be re-issuing my existing books, each with a new introduction. Cory Doctorow will be writing the intro for Acts of the Apostles, David Weinberger will be doing the same for Cheap Complex Devices, and John Biggs will be handling Biodigital. I can’t tell you yet who'll be doing the honors for The Pains, but I can guarantee you that you’ll be impressed. To paraphrase a line from another Matt Damon movie (Good Will Hunting), How do you like them windows?
Sundman Speaks: Coming at you like a spider monkey!
If you’ve been a reader of my earlier newsletter, Technopotheosis, you have a sense of some of the things I tend to write about: technology & society, and in particular the convergence of biological and digital technology, art, ethics, the challenges of being a self-publishing novelist, and working-class hero heroics from my various day jobs. You also may recall that I published Technopotheosis pretty irregularly.
This incarnation of the newsletter is going to be a little bit different. I’ll still cover all of those things, but I’ll also be doing book reviews, offering peeks at my works in progress, and diving into the memory vault for stories from my childhood on a small farm in 1950’s New Jersey, and from the years I spent living in a small thatch-roofed mud hut on the edge of the Sahara while doing rural and agricultural development work, and from my decades commuting between Massachusetts & Silicon Valley, and from my ten years as a firefighter. I’m going to do interviews and rants and I’m going to speculate on all manner of things. I’m going to come after you with everything I got, and I’m going to do it at least once every week.
Help me figure it out, please
I’m launching this substack in the hope of growing an audience for my books — and also of making a bit of money from paid subscribers. For now, all subscribers, whether they’re paying or not, will receive all issues. That’s likely to change over time, with extra goodies for those who chip in $$. Perhaps opportunities to be beta readers of my upcoming books, perhaps access to a closed discussion group, perhaps something I haven’t thought of yet. I welcome your suggestions.
One thing I do know is that people who sign up as Founding Subscribers will get autographed copies of the new print editions of my books, including Mountain of Devils — hardcover if I can swing it, paperback it that proves impractical no later than October, 2023.
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Great to find you here, John. Lot more room to move about than just 240 characters, eh? Yours, @technocrat