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Malka Older

Fiction and Excerpts [10]

Fiction and Excerpts [10]

Comfort Reading With Malka Older

Sometimes I want to read like an explorer, learning something new and venturing onto every page not knowing if it might be the page where things go wrong. But there are many times when I read for comfort, and then I turn to books I know well. Books I know really well. Books I’ve read over and over and over again because they always make me feel better.

For me, this kind of comfort reading goes beyond escapism. There are lots of books that can give me a temporary escape from reality, but comfort reads give me sustenance. They remind me about the flow of friendship and the reassurance of people who understand. Not only do the characters feel like friends, but specific scenes that I like feel like friends. The jokes that I know are coming are still funny. These books refresh me and leave me smiling at the end.

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6 Speculative Fiction Books About Migration

It’s not surprising that immigration, migration, and the associated questions of belonging are rife in science fiction and fantasy. Maybe the most fundamental trope of the genre is travel to another world, whether through space, time, or alternate universes. Protagonists might travel for exploration or on desperate missions or crash land or fall through a portal and find themselves suddenly outsiders in an utterly strange place. Or they might be faced with immigrants—aliens, fae, time-travelers, off-shoots of humanity—in their own world. What makes it particularly potent is that often the reader experiences the disorientation and fascination of migration along with the character(s). Our process of figuring out the world-building mirrors the process of slowly learning about a new place, giving us an extra layer of identification and connection.

These stories in speculative fiction also give us a way to think about the challenges of migration and outsiders without being tied to specific examples in real life that readers might already have preconceptions about. (This can go badly wrong, of course, when fictional species are mapped onto stereotypes of IRL groups.) Readers can focus on the situation and potentially identify with characters they might see as irretrievably distant from themselves if they were given identities familiar from news reports or histories.

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Series: Five Books About…

“A Diary From the Future” — Read an Excerpt from Malka Older’s …and Other Disasters

…and Other Disasters, the smart and moving collection of short fiction and poetry from acclaimed author Malka Older, examines otherness, identity and compassion across a spectrum of possible existence. In stories about an AI built for empathy, a corps of fighting midwives traveling to a new planet, and a young anthropologist who returns to study the cultures of a dying Earth, Older’s characters grapple with what it means to belong and be othered, to cling to the past and face the future, all while navigating a precarious world, riddled with natural and man-made disasters.

…and Other Disasters publishes November 21st with Mason Jar Press, and the author and the publisher will each donate 10% of their earnings to organizations that work with migrants and/or refugees. We’re excited to preview an excerpt from the collection—from the story “The Divided”—below.

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State Tectonics

The future of democracy must evolve or die.

The last time Information held an election, a global network outage, two counts of sabotage by major world governments, and a devastating earthquake almost shook micro-democracy apart. Five years later, it’s time to vote again, and the system that has ensured global peace for 25 years is more vulnerable than ever.

Unknown enemies are attacking Information’s network infrastructure. Spies, former superpowers, and revolutionaries sharpen their knives in the shadows. And Information’s best agents question whether the data monopoly they’ve served all their lives is worth saving, or whether it’s time to burn the world down and start anew.

Malka Older concludes her cyberpunk political thriller series The Centenal Cycle with State Tectonics—available September 11th from Publishing.

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Malka Older’s State Tectonics and the Internet’s Potential for Good

If you follow me and read my books, hopefully you already know that I donate ten percent of my earnings from each of my novels to an organization that works in areas related to the book’s themes.

Infomocracy is about, among other things, the importance of engaging in governance and holding both leaders and civil servants accountable. I donate some of what I earn from that book to the Accountability Lab, an organization that uses innovative and exciting approaches to build accountability at the grassroots level around the world. (Read more here.)

In Null States I wrote about political entities left out of the global political system, and so from that book’s earnings I donate to the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, which supports stateless people and works to end statelessness. (More on that here.)

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Born to the Blade

For centuries, the Warder’s Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the nations of the sky a way to avoid war, as their chosen warders settle disputes through magical duels of blade and sigil. But that peace is on the edge of crumbling, crushed between the aggression of the Mertikan Empire and the determination of the still-free nations to not be consumed.

Twaa-Fei may be neutral, but it is also home to a million intrigues, schemes, and deadly intentions. Michiko and Kris arrive in this treacherous world together, bladecrafters eager to serve their countries—Michiko as a junior warder for Katuke, a vassal of the empire, Kris as an upstart challenging to win a seat for his home, Rumika, in the Circle. But before the young bladecrafters have even settled in, a power struggle erupts, a man’s head is parted from his shoulders, and every good thing Michiko thinks she knows about the empire comes into question.

A storm is coming, and Kris and Michiko stand at its eye. Will it bind the nations of the sky together… or tear it apart?

Born to the Blade—a new series co-written by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Malka Older, and Michael R. Underwood—launches April 18th with Serial Box. Episode 1 is free to all, and new episodes appear weekly.

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Know Your Parties! A List of Micro-Democratic Governments in Infomocracy and Null States

The micro-democratic system in Infomocracy and its sequel, Null States, features thousands of districts, all with their own laws. Electing an over-arching world government—in this instance a “supermajority”—would be impossible if many of these districts didn’t merge their interests and form larger political parties.

Infomocracy introduces these major parties, but they change a lot over the course of the book (as well as in the ensuing novel Null States, but let’s not spoil that here!). Here’s a refresher on who the major players are, and where they’re at by the end of Infomocracy!

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It’s Not a Good Idea to Forget About the Null States

In the technocratic, information-driven world of my Centenal Cycle novels, “null states” is a technical term for the remaining nation-states that are not a part of micro-democracy and refuse to allow access to the global bureaucracy of Information. It comes from the old computer science term for when a field doesn’t have any data in it: neither yes nor no, empty. For the people in Infomocracy’s future, accustomed to immersive surveillance and data, the remaining nation-states are blanks. They are easy to forget about and it’s easy to imagine they don’t affect the interconnected governments of the micro-democratic system.

As our heroes find during the period covered in Null States, however, their system doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Countries that they don’t know anything about can engage in wars that threaten the pax democratica and send refugees over the micro-democratic borders. (In micro-democracy, where population increase is a good thing, refugees are welcomed and indeed courted by most governments, but this is still an impact that can’t be ignored). These vestigial nation-states may not fit into the world order, but it’s still not a good idea to forget about them.

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Statelessness is a Problem We Created, and One We Can Solve

When Infomocracy was accepted for publication, I decided I would donate a percentage of my earnings from the book to a non-profit working in an area related to the book’s themes. This was partly because I feel so lucky/privileged/blessed to be able to earn money doing something I love (especially since I already have another career I’m pretty happy with as well). The other reason was because I wanted to ground the fictional, futurist world of the book with the real present of its readers. My hope is that knowing a percentage of each purchase goes to support work in a specific area will help readers connect to the issues in the book, and see their relevance—and the potential for changing the status quo—in the world around them.

The Accountability Lab was the perfect fit for Infomocracy, reflecting the novel’s concerns with governance and transparency through their innovative work with young people around the world. I’m proud to have been able to support their programs—like Accountability Incubators and Integrity Idol, and if you’ve bought a copy of Infomocracy I hope you are too.

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Not Predicting the Future, Just Observing the Present

A lot of reviews and readers have used some variation of the phrase “frighteningly prescient” to describe Infomocracy. But it’s not.

At least not in the way they mean. (I can still hope it will be in other ways: engineers of the world, a Lumper in the near future would be great, thx!) Most people are talking about the way the book shows the power of information use in election, and how that mirrors their experiences of the 2016 US presidential race (or, sometimes the Brexit referendum).

The book was finished in 2015, and it’s called Infomocracy because that’s what it’s about: rule by information. Whoever controls what people think they know wins, and if they do it right people still think they’re making up their own minds, and even when they do it wrong its hugely disruptive. The future posited in Infomocracy has a UN-like body dealing with global information management that aggressively annotates everything from advertisements to stock photos to political promises, but data manipulation continues. The global election that is the crux of the book is disrupted through hacking and vote stealing and shady campaign practices. A government gives different groups different information about basic facts, triggering armed conflict. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t even trying to be predictive there. I was describing the political situation I saw in the present, refracted through an imagined future political system to emphasize some elements.

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Are We Heading Towards an Infomocracy?

I have lived in, worked in, and visited a lot of countries with on-going separatist movements. (That includes the United States and, in fact, almost any country you might be reading this from). Some are more noticeable than others. When I lived in Sri Lanka, the LTTE had carved out a band of territory off-limits to the Sri Lankan government, complete with its own (limited) public services, radio stations, and time zone (this territory was later violently overrun and no longer exists). When I traveled in Spain, Spaniards were boycotting cava because of Catalonian secession movements, and there were warnings about attacks by ETA, the armed Basque separatist organization. When I worked in Timor-Leste, one of the newest countries in the world was still figuring out things like economy and orthography after centuries of colonialism. A few hundred kilometers to the north, in Maluku, people were still deciding whether the new autonomy offered by the Indonesian government was worth giving up their dreams of independence.

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How Presidential Debates Could Function in Our Information-Rich Future

In 2016 we have instant fact-checking, pundit commentary, and a constant stream of information (and misinformation) defining the parameters of our political debates. As our culture continues to adjust to being an information-rich society, what might debates look like in the future? And what happens when information technology reaches equilibrium across the globe, when billions of people have the information they need to institute change?

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Optimism and Access: The Line Between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk

Calling Infomocracy a post-cyberpunk novel wasn’t my idea.

I’m happy with the “cyberpunk” part. Infomocracy owes a huge debt to cyberpunk novels (not the least being compared to Snowcrash on its front-cover blurb). When I started writing it I was thinking very consciously about the cyberpunk aesthetic: smooth, capable characters who can pull off some fairly glamorous intrigue but then turn around and show you their gritty, imperfect underbelly as well; a combination of virtual and physical action; a tone with an element of darkness but also a tendency to wink at self-awareness. Also katanas. (In retrospect I don’t really understand how katanas fit into cyberpunk, but they do seem common there, and since I spent two years studying iaido in Japan, I was quite happy to use them.) The characters and the story quickly took over the writing process and went their own way, but I’m grateful for that initial glossy impetus.

I’m less thrilled with the “post,” mostly because I hate to admit that cyberpunk could be over.

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Series: Cyberpunk Week on

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