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Topic Archive: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom
A novel of Retropolis - coming from Tor Books in 2017 Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom - cover image

“...This novel gave me a happy buzz. Remember when SF used to be upbeat and fun? Well, the fun is back and it's right here.”

“...a madcap mash-up of retro-sf, full of fearless heroes and heroines dashing about like Flash Gordon meets the Keystone Cops.”

“Like a madcap retro-tech collaboration by Terry Pratchett and Isaac Asimov. I loved it!”

21 Illustrated Chapters of Adventure
Captive breeding population of ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’ about to be released into the wild

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

ARCs of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Having nearly completed their prolonged breeding program, these rare Advance Reading Copies of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom are seen here, in New York’s historic Flatiron Building, as they await their release into their native habitat. It’s a happy day for the book’s well-wishers everywhere.

At the same time we can’t forget that hunting season for these books looms just ahead: starting on June 13 anybody – with or without a hunting license – is authorized to capture the book at will.

It’s hoped that these copies, slated for delivery to trade publications and reviewers, will help to promote the book’s ultimate success in what we hope will be a friendly, welcoming environment.

‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’ has a real release date; also, a new blurb from Lawrence M. Schoen

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

I just realized I’ve never mentioned that Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom now has a release date that we can believe. It’s June 13! That’s the day we Mockup of the finished book need to think about.

Okay. I’m thinking about it. I don’t know what you’re doing.

We’ve been through the line and copy editing passes, and though I’ve yet to see a galley with all the illustrations in place it seems like the book has begun to make its stealthy, mysterious passage through the world. If you define “the world” as “people who know my editor”.

The reason I think this is true is that there’s a new review in the book’s feed from Macmillan.

“Schenck presents the best future from our past. Robotastic and charming.”

― Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

So, yep. Robotastic. And charming, a word that’s been used to describe the book before. I never suspected that it was charming, and the idea took some getting used to; but I’m on board with it now. Charm away. Get all charming, book. Go forth and be charming. On June 13. In bookstores, and everyplace else.

Win an artist’s proof of my cover art for “Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom”

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Works in Progress

Dust jacket art for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Some lucky – or, at least, some random – attendee at this month’s Arisia convention in Boston will be going home with a signed proof of the poster version of my dust jacket art for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.

How could that happen? Well, throughout the weekend they’ll be selling raffle tickets for this and other Fabulous Prizes; and then on Sunday there’ll be a drawing. Proceeds from the raffle will go to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett.


The final Back cover detail for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doomposter will eventually be available to the public, but that won’t happen for a while. So this is your chance to steal a march on those folks next door who always get the first dust jacket posters for anything I do. You know those people. You hate those people. They’re just so smarmy.

It’s worth a trip to Boston, just to show them who’s boss.

So if this all sounds great to you, but you have no idea what Arisia is, you can read all about “New England’s largest, most diverse Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention” right over here.

Hey, Ursula Vernon and Stephanie Law are going to be there. I’m thinking it’s worth your time. And of course there’s the added bonus of a signed print of the Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom cover, for someone who could be you.

The great big post about my great big cover for ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Front cover for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

If you were following along a couple of months ago, you probably know that at that time I was working on the dust jacket art for my book Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.

I couldn’t show it to you back then. That’s because the auspicious moment for a cover reveal is determined during ancient, eldritch rituals around the smoking braziers and in between the ragged and unsettling tapestries of the towers that brood over the isle of Manhattan.

Yeah, that’s really how they do it. They’re old school, over there.

But last week my editor showed off the front cover and wraparound versions of the dust jacket. So here it is – front cover above, and the whole dust jacket below.

Dust jacket art for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

The Old Cover

If you’ve been following along even longer you may remember that I did a cover design for the book, back before it even was a book. It looked like this:

Original cover design for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

I really liked the vintage paperback palette and the detail of Rusty hanging on to the rocket in a kind of homage to Josh Kirby’s Discworld covers. But I also figured that if a publisher wanted the book, some other artist would end up doing the cover… because cover art is another matter that’s decided during those archaic festivities that I mentioned above.

So I was happy to learn that even though Tor didn’t want my original cover, they did want me to do a new one.

The New Cover

Back cover detail for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom


In March I got a rough description of the cover they wanted, and that’s more or less what you see on the front.

But because it was to be a wraparound jacket I had all sorts of room to show the rest of what they wanted, which was the city of Retropolis; and I took advantage of the situation by doing on the back cover what I really wanted to do: a whirlwind of characters in another light homage to Josh Kirby.

Because nothing says ‘humor’ better than a crowd of frightened people who are running for their lives.

But, hey, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Roughs

First I worked up a series of roughs: there were six of them. Like most of what I do, these roughs started in 3DS Max and were finished (rather lightly, for the roughs) in Photoshop. They were very, very preliminary.

For complicated reasons it seemed like it would be better to offer fewer choices than that, so I cut it down to two. Of those two they picked the rough that I liked best. You can see that one below.

And although I didn’t realize it at the time, that rough is the cover you see now at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble, and everyplace else where the book’s mentioned. Now that the cover’s been revealed we should eventually see the real cover show up in all those places. I’m eager to see that happen.

Rough layout for the Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom dust jacket

The Layers

At the rough stage I still had no idea what my polygon count would be in 3DS Max. (Over seven million!) But it was obvious that I’d need to handle the scene in multiple layers. In the end, there were at least six of these layers. (It’s hard to be exact, because there were problems that showed up only when I’d rendered the scene at a high resolution – so I went back, near the end, to render out my fixes for those.) At the very end I put all the layers together in Photoshop, where I did all kinds of retouching on them until they were a picture.

The biggest single task was the city in the background. For the rough I’d just pasted in bits and pieces of my existing city backdrops to get the building masses about where I wanted them. For the final I had to model new buildings and arrange them all into a layout that made sense. So of the six weeks I spent on the picture, I spent two in the city.

Lighting is always a large task, and here I was lighting about six separate scenes that needed to match. I know this sounds simple: but this isn’t photography. I’m not documenting. The lighting all had to look correct, but in fact it’s subverted and bent in countless ways that better serve the picture.

previous image next image WIP for the Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom dust jacket

The simulation above doesn't really show you what I was working on; I often went forward and backward through the layers, and as I worked, of course, I hadn't done any retouching. But you can see what pieces I was working on, even though they look much prettier here.

The Big Picture

Finally, while the dust jacket is large - it's about twenty-one inches across - I wanted it to be even larger. So at its full resolution the picture will become a poster and an archival print at about thirty inches by fifteen.

Mockup of the finished bookI really enjoyed working on this, which is a strange thing to say about six weeks of incessant minor changes and test renderings; but there it is.

The dust jacket is a set of panels that have to work together as a single picture, but which also need to stand on their own when they’re seen on the book: the front and back flaps, the front and back covers, and even the spine will be seen as separate pictures once the dust jacket is folded around the book. It’s a really interesting challenge.

And that set of pictures has to show the shopper what the heck this book is about.

By that I don’t mean what happens in the book. It’s more a question of what the book is like.

So, the way I see it, this is what my book is like:

Dust jacket art for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

Oh! And you remember that old cover design? It turned into a pretty great title page. Because we waste no part of the animal.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: a mildly informative update

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom update

If you’ve been wondering what’s going on with Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, well… so was I, for awhile. I thought I had reasonable expectations for how speedily the publishing industry moves. In this I was mistaken.

But March and April have seen a sudden burst of activity, a new release date, and the slow transition from my recent no expectations to my current cautious reserve.

The book’s new publication date – which I still consider a pleasant daydream – is March of 2017.

That date is looking more likely these days because the sales department has taken an interest. At some point their interest will turn into intent, penetrating looks directed at any part of the book that isn’t moving toward the release date, and once those intent, penetrating looks start darting around I think we can be pretty confident about the date. Nobody wants to get looks like those.

I’ve finished a couple of rough layouts for the book jacket and I expect I might start getting some looks of my own once everybody’s had a chance to see them. The dust jacket designs were a genuine blast to work on: they’re wraparound designs, so each one is a big picture that’s made up of five smaller rectangles that also need to work on their own. I really enjoyed working on them.

No, you can’t see them.

But I am looking at them while I’m typing – which is actually pretty difficult – and I can tell you that we’re probably going to have a pretty nice cover.

In the meantime we can look forward to The Purloined Patents of Doctor Brackett, the serial that should start up in June at Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. Purloined Patents will kick off a series of short serials that’ll run into February of next year. So there’s a lot to look forward to, in just a little while.

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