It’s that time of year when people and web sites look back on the year behind us and draw some conclusions.
According to borg.com, ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’ is the Best Sci-fi Read of 2017.
I can’t say I think they’re right, but it’s awfully nice of them to see it that way.
Here’s how they justify themselves:
Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction. Great tech, and a sprawling story. Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.
If I was quiet in here during July, that was for the usual reason: I was doing stuff. Not all of that stuff is done, which means that I’m still doing it. Because you do it till it’s done, right?
But in the midst of doing (some) stuff, other stuff happens anyway. There’s the stuff that happened, and then there’s the stuff I’m doing. So this post is about All That Stuff.
More reviews for ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’
Today’s Toronto Star features a terrific review of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom in their round-up of The latest new books for science-fiction lovers.
Spoiler: they really like it. The review ends on this blurb-worthy note:
“Fans of the comic novels of Jasper Fforde will feel right at home, and the wonderful illustrations by Schenck add to the fun, making this one of the real treats of the year.”
…which was awfully nice of them. And Jasper Fforde? Yes, please.
Then – at both File770 and at her own Lis Carey’s Library – Lis Carey has posted her review of the book.
Illustrations for ‘Patently Absurd’
And this is about The Stuff I’m Doing.
I’m working on the last illustrations for Patently Absurd, my collection of the Retropolis Registry of Patents stories (including their conclusion!)
That new, final story is the longest of the bunch. And even though I reduced the frequency of its illustrations compared to the stories that ran as serials, there’s still a big pile of ’em to do. The good news? Most of them are done. I think you can figure out the other kind of news just by looking at that sentence.
Still, it won’t be too long before I’m ready to start my plans for the book’s release. That will start with a Kickstarter project to fund my Johnny Appleseed inspired distribution of pre-release copies.
And I’ve done a new cover layout for the book. At the moment it looks like this:
Still a pretty good price for ‘The Lair of the Clockwork Book’ at Radio Planet
It’s hard to beat last month’s sale price for The Lair of the Clockwork Book at the Radio Planet Books site. But even though that sale is over Radio Planet still offers the eBook for just $2.99, a dollar below its list price.
It’s been five years since I started working on Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Even though a lot of that time was spent not working on the book it’s been a great pleasure to see it out in the wild at last.
There’s been a flurry of reviews. They started with book bloggers whose Netgalley copies didn’t even include the book’s illustrations, and then this week we saw the very favorable review at the Barnes & Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy blog. (Barnes & Noble has done a stellar job of promoting the book online, by the way. It’s really gratifying.)
And I’ve done some guest posts and interviews at blogs, not all of which are live as I write.
But we’re closing in on the end of the book’s launch week. It’s time to round up this coverage and pack it up for you into a single, easily digestible package. There are three raisins in every paragraph!
Luxuriating in a retro sensibility that evokes the Art Deco designs of classic SF like Metropolis and old Buck Rogers serials, Schenck combines his iconic artwork with a rousingly old-school adventure set in the city of Retropolis, filled with pneumatic tubes and flying cars, rayguns and not-so-giant robots.
― Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of June 2017
Guest Posts and Interviews
Lawrence M. Schoen (of Barsk:The Elephants’ Graveyard) decided that instead of questioning me about my book, he’d ask me to tell him about my most memorable meal. This was a terrible, terrible mistake.
For the Tor/Forge blog I revealed horrifying secrets about my hair and issued some timely warnings in The Truth About Mad Science.
Paul Semel, on the other hand, was far more sensible. He asked me a bunch of questions about
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom and I managed to sound pretty smart, the way you do when you have days to compose your answers.
Soon after I posted this, Fantasy Literature published my guest post The Accidental Novel, and Other Surprises. It sort of explains my writing process. Bonus! They’re giving away a copy of the book, plus a mug from Retropolis.
And then there’s this interview at The Quillery, where I answer some of The Usual Questions and do my best to sound smart again.
Juggling so many narrative threads is difficult work that can easily go awry, but Schenck holds them all together, creating a high-energy, ridiculously fun read from start to finish.
― Review at the Barnes & Noble blog
If you’ve read reviews of books after you’ve read the books themselves, you’ll have noticed that readers always bring something to the table. Now and then they seem to have read a completely different book from the one you remember.
And that’s the way it should be. No book is complete until a reader reads it.
Still, you can be surprised by the book a reviewer read; sometimes it sounds like a completely different book. Happily I haven’t seen much of that yet.
- Publishers Weekly says “A genuine love for the material makes this a strong and entertaining debut.”
- The Barnes & Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy blog observes that “In a period of relative angst about the future, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom feels positively wholesome, dastardly hijinks and all…”
- Fantasy Literature calls the book “a sleek and shiny illustrated novel… that pays homage to the much-venerated Golden Age of science fiction while slipping a fair amount of modern social commentary beneath the chromed and bubble-helmeted exterior, and imparting the lesson that a well-equipped backpack will get you through most situations.”
- And although Avalinah of Avalinah’s Books hates my cover with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns, she loves, loves, loves everything else about the book.
- Bookwraiths tells us that Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is “Fast-paced, hilarious, lavishly illustrated and optimistic sci-fi.”
But wait! There’s more!
… and Your Reviews, Please!
People often wonder what they can do to help a creator whose work they like. And the answer is twofold.
First, buy something!
And second, talk about how much you liked it, and why. I mean, if you liked it, there’s a pretty good chance that some people you know will like it too. And in these days of social media that means posting and tweeting about it, saying why you enjoyed it.
Is this threefold? I think we’re still in the second fold.
Post reviews at retailer sites.
This is important first because those reviews influence customers. But just as important is the fact that the software behind the scene is watching the number of reviews a book or other product has. Lots of reviews? This is a thing that many people are interested in. Therefore, promote the thing.
At Amazon (and probably elsewhere) promoting the thing makes it appear in recommendations, in “Customers who bought this also bought…” lists, and on the prominent pages of the site. Promoting the thing promotes the thing.
So if you’ve read and enjoyed Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, please review it so that other readers can find out about it. Review it; post, tweet, and share it. Promote the thing.
We’re just two weeks away from the release date for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. If you’ve been waiting, that may seem like a long time: but as you’ll see in this post I’ve been waiting for about five years.
So bear with me. It’s almost here.
Illustrating your own story is, mostly, a pretty great thing; it’s just that it’s more embarrassing when you make mistakes.
On the ‘mostly great’ side, I was able to work on my characters’ appearance while I was still figuring out who they were. The version of Dash Kent we see in the book was my second try. (Version One looked too old for Dash, and he didn’t have quite the right attitude.) Working on the character models was a big help to me during the early days of writing the book. I got to find out exactly how these people looked.
There are several characters who existed already, since they’d appeared earlier in The Lair of the Clockwork Book. Harry Roy, Maria da Cunha, and Mr. King all came from that story. Rusty was even older: I was working on him back in 1999.
But Dash, Nola Gardner, Thorgeir, Howard Pitt, Lillian Krajnik, and most of the other robots were all new. I built many of them while the story was taking shape.
Once the first, and then the second, and then the third draft were behind me I was ready to start the illustrations themselves. I’m not quite sure when that was, honestly. Even the datestamps on the files don’t help me much; I can see that I created a bunch of folders on March 2, 2014, but that only tells me that I organized things on that date. I’m pretty sure the real beginning was some time in the previous December. The first one may have been this scene in Lillian’s laboratory, from Chapter 15.
I was creating just one illustration for each chapter this time – far fewer than I’d done in my earlier stories – and that meant picking That One Scene was always the first problem. Because there were relatively few pictures, one part of the problem was which characters were getting their chance to be featured. I was already planning the endpapers, where all the major characters would get a vignette; but I wanted them each to show up in the body of the book as well. So picking That One Scene could be complicated.
With that done, I came to the magical thing about illustrating your own work. Sometimes the scene in the picture was better than the scene in the text. And since the text was mine, I could change it. This happened several times. It’s a liberty you just can’t take with somebody else’s story.
On the other hand, there were times when the scene in the picture differed from the scene in the text… and I didn’t realize it. Finding those, and resolving the problems, was an ongoing task while I worked on the revisions to the book. And I know of one that was never fixed, a pretty big contradiction that I didn’t see until I was checking the galleys. It’s still there and, no, I won’t tell you where it is. Somebody’s sure to point it out to me, and then I’ll explain the Navajo philosophy about imperfections: they’re there so that wandering spirits have a way to get out of the work, if they should blunder into it and get lost.
This is a philosophy that can be pretty convenient.
There were times when avoiding a contradiction was pretty frustrating, though, since in an illustration you want to convey a sense of what’s going on but you can’t make visible things that shouldn’t be visible. That problem led me down a rabbit hole several times when it came to the first chapter. I think I did more versions of that one than any other, even though what you see in Chapter One is pretty simple. But… oh, the many layouts. The many changes. The many deletions.
Rusty’s attic apartment, in Chapter Two, was pretty much the opposite. It was full of stuff, and I loved that stuff; but the picture wasn’t about that stuff. His books, his gadgets, and his collection of interesting mosses are all there, but they have to fade away behind the robots. There was even more stuff, out of frame. It saddened me that I had to leave it there.
Around the end of September, 2014 I finished my first pass through the illustrations for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. But I went back to revise them, and I did that more than once: there are three or four different versions of some of them. I didn’t lock them down until about a year ago. But at some point you have to realize that you’re done, and so around June of 2016 I admitted that I was done with these.
For The Lair of the Clockwork Book I created close to 130 illustrations, and that took far longer than it took to write the story; for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom I made just twenty-four (counting the title page and the endpapers), and the story and its art took roughly equal amounts of time. That’s a much more workable ratio, if you ask me: and I was also able to spend a lot more time on each picture.
Among the differences I love in the new book is the way the text wraps around the illustrations, so like the illustrations in the old science fiction pulps. And the shift from color to greyscale, which was a purely practical decision, has pretty much the same effect. The art for the book evokes Dash’s approach to adventuring. He learned everything he knows from pulp magazines.
That’s not true of the publisher, though: you won’t find any of that yellowing, pulpy paper here. The paper chosen for the book is so wonderfully dense and white that the book weighs more than you’d expect. That’s especially surprising because the paper’s not unusually thick. But the book’s weight was the first thing I heard about it, and once I’d hefted one myself I tried to exhaust every possible joke about that on Facebook and Twitter.
But you can understand why, when you see how little ghosting there is from one page to its reverse – even when the art is dark. This is a book with what I call confident weight.
You’ll have your own chance to gauge its weight in just two weeks, on June 13. I hope you take that chance!
Here’s a round-up of news about Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. There’s a new excerpt at the Tor/Forge blog, while the ten-book giveaway at Goodreads is winding down with just hours to go.
There’s also a preview of the illustrations and the book’s chapter titles.
And much to my own surprise (since I don’t have one yet) there are some photographs of the real, live, actual, printed book as it waits for your order.
And, well, everyone else’s order too. But mostly yours.
But first, a word from Publishers Weekly
One of the four big trades for book news and reviews has posted its very friendly review of the book.
The review starts with a description of the plot and a few words about the world in which the book takes place; then it ends with this:
“A genuine love for the material makes this a strong and entertaining debut.”
― Publishers Weekly
Like I said, friendly.
The GoodReads giveaway
As I write, the Tor Books giveaway for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom ends soon. That’s less than sixteen hours from now.
So if you live in the United States or Canada you should dive right in and get in line. The odds are currently at 78 to 1. That’s way better than your chance of being struck by lightning.
An excerpt from the book
This just appeared at the Tor/Forge blog: it’s an excerpt from the book’s first chapter.
You can do some mental composition here by combining the excerpt with the Chapter One illustration in this other, different preview post at the Tor.com web site. Can’t you?
Yeah, I forgot one
That’s right. I just referred to the Tor.com preview post, which shows several of the book’s illustrations and calls out its pulpy chapter titles. Like “Return of the Plumber of Prophecy”, which is really does describe what’s happening in the chapter.
Anybody who’s experienced a Plumbing Emergency can tell you that plumbing is of vast (and perhaps galactic) importance.
Pictures of the book
I may have saved the best for last, here, or maybe the sight of these pictures is just so strange, five years after I started the book, that I don’t quite know what to think about them.
My editor posted these shots last week. You can see a stack of the real, final, printed books:
And the book opened up to one of its two-page spreads:
And, finally, a view of the book’s second endpaper:
Aaaaaaaaand that’s it for today. Remember, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom will be available in all the usual places on June 13, just one month from now.