Tedious! But finished!

All right, just letting you all know that I’ve loaded the final (mostly final!) version of INVICTUS: CRISIS to KDP.

The tedious part is the paperback, where it’s necessary to check the page numbers, update the ToC to match, find an extra page after chapter 21, take it out and update the ToC, skim through the whole thing and decide to add a blank page here and a blank page there and one more blank page in this other place, little tweaks. Every time, you have to load the new version and check the relevant parts, realize you missed something or you need to remove a few words and pull a page up to make it look better or whatever.

You know what was even more tedious?

That’s right, you guessed it: making the three hundred (roughly accurate estimate) changes after the second proofing read. It’s not really a proofing read exactly, it’s for tweaking. I can’t believe that I made about as many little teensy tweaks the second time as the first. I caught another half-dozen actual typos, too. After which I got my mother’s paper proofing copy and corrected the other half dozen typos she caught that I missed (which means I missed them over and over, sheesh).

Plenty of time for one more proofing read, and this time I do not intend to tweak anything. We’ll see if I can stick to that resolution. But at least at this point all the pages are in the right places for the paperback.


If you noticed any typos in INVICTUS: CAPTIVE, this is a good time to let me know. I’ve corrected three that one sharp-eyed reader caught and I’m going to re-load the corrected version maybe Sunday or Monday.

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Dear Author: Are you a person?

A post at Writer Beware: Dear Author, Are You Human? Certifying Authenticity

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that where there is an issue of concern for writers, someone will find a way to monetize it.

And with AI suddenly omnipresent in our lives (or at least in the media), creators are confronted with a bewildering multiplicity of issues of concern, from unauthorized use of creative works for machine learning, to whether AI-created work is covered by copyright, to crappy AI-created books inundating Amazon and in some cases impersonating real writers, to the replacement of (expensive) creators with (cheap) generative AI tools like ChatGPT and MidJourney, to the looming prospect of machine-created art or novels or journalism becoming indistinguishable from the work of humans.

In this fraught environment, it was probably inevitable that enterprising people would come up with the idea of a service to certify or authenticate human authorship, and invite creators to buy into it. This post takes a look at two such services.

I would like to go on record by declaring that I’m absolutely good with the idea that “where there’s an issue of concern for writers, someone will find a way to monetize it.” Please, by all means, go right ahead and offer me services addressing issues of concern, for a fee. There are many situations where I’m more than happy to pay somebody to do something because it’s complicated, time consuming, difficult, or I just don’t want to do it. That’s why I pay a CPA to do my taxes and it’s why I pay money to promotion services on a routine basis.

However, whatever these services are, they need to be real services and also they must be useful.

The first service here is evidently a service that certifies you’re a real author after you pledge not to use AI generated content in your work. Seriously? We’re going with the honor system? That seems fine in a restricted number of other contexts that are not this. The second evidently certifies work as human-generated after testing to see if their algorithms think the content is human generated. Well, that’s probably a good start.

Victoria Strauss also makes the obvious point that readers may not care whether content is human- generated or AI-generated if they like the content. At the moment, I don’t think readers can possibly like AI-generated content, because it’s garbage. I guess maybe some (a very tiny number of) readers can’t tell, but avid readers certainly should notice.

Would you like to see some generated text? Because there are lots of fake answers on Quora, posted by all kinds of people who apparently think it’s clever to post fake answers. Quora sometimes sticks its AI generator right under a question in case you want help in answering the question. It’s right there! Just click and you’ll get helpful answers which you can pretend you wrote! These fake answers can be quite funny, as AI text generators are obviously not actually intelligent and can’t tell when an answer has segued from reality to fantasy. Less amusing is the obvious fact that a lot of people can’t tell either.

Here are some typical fake answers collected in a few minutes browsing Quora:

Q: Why does my 6 month old Dachshund always roll onto his back when wrestling with his much smaller 2 month old Pug brother?

ChatGPT (or Poe or whatever other generator):

The behavior you’re describing, where your 6-month-old Dachshund rolls onto his back when wrestling with his smaller 2-month-old Pug brother, is a common display of social and playful behavior in dogs. Here are some reasons why your Dachshund might be doing this:

  1. Submission: Rolling onto their back is a sign of submission in dogs. By doing this, your Dachshund is showing that he acknowledges the Pug’s dominance or is willing to play in a gentle and non-threatening manner. This is a natural behavior in many canine interactions and helps to maintain a harmonious play dynamic.
  2. Playfulness: Rolling onto the back during play can be an invitation for more play. It’s a way for your Dachshund to engage in friendly play and interact with his younger brother….

And so on. This answer starts off okay, though right away this sounds generated. The repetition of phrases from the question is pretty typical. The “here are some reasons” phrase is a definite tipoff that this is a generated answer. The list format is another tipoff. The bland phrases are characteristic. The idea that the Dachshund is acknowledging the dominance of an eight-week-old puppy is unspeakably stupid, which is, alas, another tipoff. The overall look of this answer says pretty clearly that it’s a generated answer. Let’s take a look at another handful of generated answers:

Q: I love my girlfriend but do not like her children. What should I do?


Navigating a situation where you love your girlfriend but do not have a strong connection with her children can be challenging. Here are some steps you can consider to address this situation:

  1. Open Communication: Have an open and honest conversation with your girlfriend about your feelings. It’s important to communicate your concerns and emotions. Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding, and listen to her perspective as well.
  2. Understanding the Children: Take the time to understand her children better. Building a relationship with them may require patience and effort. Get to know their interests, hobbies, and personalities. Spend quality time with them and try to find common ground.

Q: How many carbs should you eat per meal?

Chat GPT:

The ideal number of carbohydrates to eat per meal can vary widely depending on various factors, including your individual dietary needs, activity level, health goals, and any specific medical conditions you may have. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Balanced Diet: For most people, a balanced meal typically includes a source of carbohydrates, such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, or legumes. Aim for a reasonable portion size, which could be around 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. This can provide a steady source of energy throughout the day.
  2. Low-Carb Diets: If you’re following a low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet or a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet, your carbohydrate intake per meal will be significantly lower, often in the range of 20-50 grams per day or less. In such cases, each meal might contain 5-15 grams of carbohydrates

Q: Should I take a multivitamin regularly?

Chat GPT:

Whether you should take a multivitamin regularly depends on several factors, including your individual dietary habits, nutritional needs, and health status. Here are some considerations to help you decide:

  1. Dietary Habits: If you have a well-balanced and varied diet that includes a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy or dairy alternatives, you may already be getting most of the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. In such cases, a multivitamin may not be necessary.
  2. Specific Nutritional Needs: Certain groups of people may have higher nutritional requirements and could benefit from a multivitamin. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, individuals with specific medical conditions that affect nutrient absorption, and older adults who may have difficulty getting enough nutrients from food alone.

For a while, I didn’t know what people meant when they said ChatGPT answers have a certain style. However, by now I’ve seen these kinds of answers enough that they’re obvious. I’m guessing that English comp instructors are going to learn to recognize whatever the typical style is for generated essays.

I’m sure text generators will get better, but I’m not sure how fast that will happen, because, as should be obvious, they are not intelligent and cannot exercise any sort of judgment and therefore cannot tell when they are spouting nonsense or when their style is incredibly generic or whatever. I expect detectors will get better as well, and we’ll have an arms race, and who knows where it all will end. But for now, you may not need a detector because so much of this generated text is so obvious. But you sure do need to dial up your bullshit detector, because so much of the information in these sorts of answers is just wrong.

Meanwhile, if I were an English comp instructor, or if I were teaching any class where any written work was assigned, I would require the student to turn in at least one rough draft as well as the final draft, maybe an annotated bibliography if the project involved citations, and if I still had any doubt, not only would I use a detector, I would require an oral component or something else that is impossible to plagiarize.

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Subgenres of SF

A mind-blowing infographic showing the history of SF. Click through to take a look. I like how it starts with “fear” and “wonder” intertwined way, way back in prehistory. But as far as I can tell, this graphic only identifies five main subgenres in modern SF: hard, soft, space opera, new space opera (that’s interesting! Though I agree, come to think of it. New space opera is distinct from Golden Age space opera), and cyberpunk.

However, interesting as the linked infographic may be, it’s really not particularly useful for what I was looking for. I just wanted an infographic sorting out SF subgenres. So, hey, since I couldn’t find that kind of infographic, let’s see what Canva can do for us if we want to make a simple (sort of simple) Venn diagram.

Great job, Canva! You know, frustrating as it is to try to get Canva to do various trivial tasks, such as put a frame around a picture, which you wouldn’t think would be especially difficult — anyway, what I’m saying is that honestly, Canva is a great tool. I never used it before this year, and I have to say, I kind of love it. I’ve never found an easy way to make a Venn diagram before, and here we are, piece of cake. I see the printing is a little fuzzy, but whatever, it’s good enough. (This seems to be Canva’s unofficial motto: We’ll help you make images that are good enough!).

I do not by any means think the above Venn diagram is actually all-the-way correct. You can probably think of lots of books that can’t easily be placed on it because the circles don’t really overlap exactly the way they should. But it was fun to make and I think some things about it are correct.

You can see that I put No Foreign Sky in an overlapping area where it belongs to space opera, military SF, and sociological SF. Then I placed Invictus in sociological SF, just brushing the edge of military SF, but outside the space opera circle. I think this is pretty much correct, though maybe not exactly. I’m sure it’s all debatable.

Some of the books I put on here to illustrate the subgenres are certainly familiar to us all, but some may not be. Those include:

Military SF — Prince of Mercenaries, Honor Harrington, Forever War, Valor series, Seafort Saga

And I have said this before, but the Valor series by Tanya Huff is my personal favorite military SF series.

Space Opera — Trading in Danger, The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chanur series, The Long Way.

As you see, I put the first two on the intersection between military SF and space opera. I think they’re more the latter than the former, but there are things that kind of push the boundaries for these series. And I put the Chanur series but not the others up in the Sociological SF circle. I’m not sure The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has all the characteristics I listed off earlier for space opera — I don’t think it has high, ratcheting stakes. Hmm. Even so, I feel that it’s space opera.

Golden Age Space Opera — The Lensman series, and it looks like you can pick up all seven books for $1.99. Fine, who knows if I’ll ever get around to reading this series, but I’m picking it up because that price is irresistible.

Sociological SF — Persona is the one you might not recognize. It’s near-future SF, a subgenre that generally doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve read a handful. Genevieve Valentine is one of the rare authors who seems to be so good she can make any subgenre work for me. I note that the publisher is once again behaving like a lunatic and failing to link the second book to the first. This is pretty awful since it’s really one story cut in half. It’s also surprising, as Saga normally does better than that. For your convenience, book two, Icon. This is an intense, claustrophobic SF novel about celebrity. I really did like it a lot, but while we’re on the subject, the single book of Valentine’s I actually like best is a historical called The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. I note that the hardcover is half the price of the ebook. Publishers, I swear. But if you would like the hardcover, good time to pick that up.

Near-future SF — Corsair, Hot Moon. Corsair is by James Cambias, and I liked it quite a lot given that it’s near-future. I haven’t read Hot Moon yet, but I really liked the Cahokian Mound Builders Meets Romans trilogy by this author, which I will warn you is quite grim at times, but I will add that it does wind up in a good place.

Far-future SF is also a subgenre that doesn’t really appeal to me, but I think it’s as much a real subgenre as near-future SF. I haven’t read Count to a Trillion, but it takes the reader very, very far-future, I know that.

Hard SF is a big category and includes things like A Darkling Sea, the Mars trilogy, Dragon’s Egg, and, entertainingly enough, the Steerswoman series, which looks very much like it should be fantasy, but isn’t; it’s also the single series I most wish the author would finish because I just love it.

Once again with publishers screwing things up for authors: A Darkling Sea isn’t available as an ebook and wow, look at that official price for the paperback. Since I have it as an ebook, there seems to be NO REASON for this book to be unavailable in that form. But here’s something nice, a two-novella collection by Cambias that is available for $1.99. This sounds really fun and I’m glad I happened to be looking at Cambias’ author page.

The Mars trilogy currently has the most super-basic covers I’ve ever seen:

Wow, this is a little too basic imo

SF fantasy really is fantasy, with handwavy SF elements. We’re all familiar with Pern, surely? Archangel is Sharon Shinn’s SF fantasy. Like the Steerswoman, it looks like fantasy. Unlike the Steerswoman, it really is fantasy. The SF elements are thoroughly handwavy. It’s one of my favorites by Sharon Shinn; I should read it again.

Psionics is a specific category of SF fantasy, so I gave it its own circle. I don’t know that this was really justified. Psion is the one by Joan Vinge. This is the first book of the Cat trilogy, which I liked a lot. It’s interesting because I debated dropping it into the intersection between Psionics and Space Opera, but didn’t wind up doing that because it’s such a personal story that I don’t think really fits the space opera category — maybe the adventure category. Maybe I should have used two circles there, one for Adventure that encompassed the Space Opera circle, but was larger and provided room for adventure SF that isn’t Space Opera. In retrospect, I probably should have done it that way.

Cyberpunk is my least favorite SF subgenre up there because I’m not that crazy about the punk style, which usually includes urban grittiness. The only one that leaps to mind for me is Snowcrash, which I read long ago but don’t remember much about.

Have I missed any huge subgenres? Maybe I should have added “Post-apocalyptic SF” somewhere. Or, slightly broader, “Dystopian SF.” Probably I should have added that. In fact, if I’d put Adventure SF as a really big circle, I could have dropped all of Space Opera and almost all of Dystopian SF into that category. Oh, oops, I can see now that I should have overlapped Adventure SF with everything, honestly, including Hard SF, which it doesn’t overlap at all.

Fine, pretend that the circle just says Space Opera and that Adventure SF pretty much encompasses everything else. A few books lie outside the Adventure category, though, including Persona, for example, and actually a lot of sociological SF isn’t going to fall into an Adventure circle.

Anyway! Fun to create this diagram. You may now all critique it and explain where it goes wrong, which I’m sure is a lot of places.

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How to train a kitten: classical conditioning is your friend

So, I’ve finally been letting the kittens out on the deck and in the fenced yard. Because the weather has been nice, I’m leaving the pet doors open most of the time while I’m home.

Typical location of kittens when they’re inside

The good things: No attempts to get out of the yard. I mean, that’s kind of expected. They’re still pretty young (which sure serves to point out how ultra-tiny they were when that jackass dumped them). For several days they didn’t go more than 20 feet from the bottom of the stairs. They rapidly gained confidence and will now go a hundred feet or so, meaning into the (overgrown, weedy, exciting) hosta bed, where they chase each other through the weeds. They also hung out below the deck while I clipped Naamah this past weekend, because I was throwing handfuls of fluff over the railing and they pounced on the fluff as it fell. This was just as cute as it sounds.

The bad things: Wow, kittens, please do not climb up on and walk along the deck railing, thirty feet or fifty feet or whatever that is above the ground. That is scary even though the railing is wide and flat. Also, if you try to creep down the slanted railing along the stairs, you will slide right down it and drop off the end, if you are lucky, and please don’t fall off that railing until you get to the end.

Further good things: No kitten has fallen off the railing, though Maximillian realized he was in a bad position when he started sliding down along the stairs and jumped off, onto the stairs, rather than continue skidding. Magdalene is braver and when she tried that, she skidded all the way to the end and jumped or fell off. Which did not faze her one bit. She is a very brave kitten.

I keep approaching as gently and reassuringly as possible, then briskly removing kittens from the railing where the drop is scarily high. I’m also reminding myself that I never worried when Chrestomanci jumped up there. But babies are idiots compared to experienced cats like Chrestomanci.

I am also training the kittens to come when called. I’m using absolutely standard no-frills classical conditioning, and actually it’s funny because I’m basically using a bell, like Pavlov himself. Since I don’t have a large bell, I’m actually using a saucepan lid and a spoon. It’s very simple: whap the lid with the spoon and immediately provide kitten treats. Repeat five times. Next day, do it again. It’s handy that neither kitten is afraid of a loud BOING sound. I want something that is recognizable and carries a long way. I might get a whistle or something too.

Regardless, after three days, the kittens were coming to the sound indoors with no distractions. After five, they are running into the house to get their treats. When I find out which kind of treats they REALLY LOVE, I’ll start practicing calling them in from the hosta bed or interrupting them in a play session. I want them enthusiastic, so zero treats of any kind without a BOING sound first. Or if I say kit-kit-kit, they get a treat for coming to that as well. But I mean, no treats unless they come to some sort of recall signal first.

Later, I may add an aversive — we’ll see how it goes. I might try putting pennies in a can and throwing the can at the fence when they try to climb the fence. Pros: Could be useful in discouraging that behavior. Cons: They’re not fazed by sounds. Maybe a squirt gun would work better. More important cons: I don’t want to discourage them from trying to get back into the yard if and when they get out. Potential solution: I’m considering waiting till I’m pretty sure they’re big enough to get in and out, making sure they’re hungry, taking one at a time out of the yard, and inviting the kitten to get back into the yard for a serious, major reward, such as canned tuna or something. I would like to be sure they know how to get back in, because the odds are good they will someday get out. Chrestomanci knew just how to do it. There’s a place by the low part of the deck where it’s relatively easy.

Possible question: Why let them out at all?

Answers: it’s conventional wisdom that indoor cats are just as happy as indoor-outdoor cats. This is nice to believe, but it’s generally not true. Indoor-only cats routinely develop mildly neurotic behaviors because of boredom, as noted for example by Nicholas Dodman, who founded the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University. If you live in a town, that’s an acceptable problem given the huge risk of letting the cat outside. It’s also another excellent reason to get two kittens at a time, never just one. If you live in the middle of nowhere, then the risks are much lower. Roaming dogs, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and birds of prey are the big risks. Being inside at night massively reduces those risks.

Given that I have a pretty secure yard and given that I’m willing to put a fair bit of time into teaching the kittens to come, teaching them to stay in the yard, teaching them to get back into the yard if they get out, and arranging their schedule to get them in at night … well, the large increase in happiness means I’m willing to risk the dangers.

Maximillian doesn’t just share the ee genotype with Golden Retrievers, he is actually a Golden Retriever in disguise! He is super sweet, and he likes to “kiss” your hands and arms, which makes it that much harder to type.

I’m not that worried about the wildlife. I don’t care if the cats catch the occasional rabbit. So do the dogs, after all. We are not going to run out of rabbits. I would certainly prefer they don’t catch birds, but I try hard to prevent flycatchers from nesting on the lights over the deck, and most other birds seem pretty much of the opinion that nesting in the yard is not a good idea. So, we’ll see how it goes …

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What is space opera?

Okay, so I’ve been saying all year that NO FOREIGN SKY is space opera and INVICTUS isn’t, that it’s something else. What criteria, you may wonder, am I thinking of when I say that? Both take place in space. The settings are spaceships in both cases. We never even see a planet. What is the difference that I think is so important that these stories wind up in different subgenres?

What defines space opera? Well, let’s try to define the subgenre by example.

  1. Elizabeth Moon, Trading in Danger
  2. LMB, The Warrior’s Apprentice
  3. CJC, Chanur
  4. Kate Elliot, Unconquerable Sun
  5. H Beam Piper, Space Viking

As a side note, did you know you can pick up an H Beam Piper collection of 33 novels and stories for a dollar? Nice to see someone bringing back classic SF repackaged in accessible ebook form.

What’s not up there? Military SF, which intergrades with space opera, but is something different.

  1. Dave Weber, Honor Harrington
  2. David Feintuch, Seafort Saga
  3. Jack Campbell, The Lost Fleet series
  4. Joel Dane, Cry Pilot series
  5. Tanya Huff, the Valor series, my personal favorite by a lot.

For me, space opera means a fast-paced adventure story … set in space … with normal SF tropes, such as wormholes … where the stakes are high and keep ratcheting upward, with big consequences for winning or losing … and there are probably multiple battles against increasing odds … and the good guys win.

Military SF means that we’re following one or more military personnel … with a focus on the military organization … and there are probably battles … but not necessarily with increasing stakes … and the tone can be gritty rather than adventurous … and the good guys probably win, but not necessarily.

The focus on military personnel and the military organization is a big difference between space opera and military SF. If a book has those features, it’s military SF. If it doesn’t, it’s not. If you were drawing a venn diagram, there would be plenty of overlap, but also lots of books that belong to one subgenre or the other, not both.

What’s still not up there?

  1. CJC, Foreigner
  2. CJC, Cyteen
  3. KSR, the Mars trilogy
  4. Herbert, Dune
  5. Corey, The Expanse series, and I know that it lands on a lot of space opera lists, but I disagree.

I thought of grabbing stuff off “sociological SF” lists, but I don’t want to imply that everything that’s not space opera or military SF is sociological SF, because obviously it’s not. That’s why I picked The Expanse. It keeps appearing on lists of all-time-great space opera and I just don’t think it is. Maybe I should add, I just read the first book. But I don’t think it’s space opera. It’s too slow-paced. It’s too gritty. The focus isn’t right. It isn’t a romance in the technical sense — it’s not an adventure story. Adventure happens, but that’s not the same thing as being an adventure story. Ender’s Game keeps popping up on space opera lists too, and again, I don’t agree. As far as that goes, I disagree much more vehemently about later books in the series.

In my opinion, Invictus fits in this third group. It’s not an adventure story. I mean, at all. It’s got some exciting moments, but it’s definitely not swashbuckling in space. It’s not a fast-paced story with ratcheting stakes. The stakes are high throughout, but the reader can’t see clearly what those stakes actually are until halfway through. It’s got heroes yes, but not quite in the traditional mode.

Is it sociological SF? I would say, not exactly, or not quite. Of the books up there, it’s most like Cyteen, because it’s kind of a take on some of the same questions Cyteen addresses.

Side note: What is WITH publishers, anyway? Cyteen is not currently available in Kindle form. Sometimes I really cannot believe how ridiculous publishers are. If they’re reissuing Cyteen as an ebook, why first make it unavailable? If they’re just not bothering to make it available, what the hell is wrong with them?

Regardless, Cyteen is a book I love. I mean, I really love it. I’ve read Cyteen innumerable times, starting when Young Ari appears because the first bit is pretty grim and I don’t care to revisit that part. But even though I love this novel — I love Young Aris and Caitlin and Florian, and Justin and Grant — and I think this is just a fantastic novel, the society shown in Cyteen is honestly very iffy.

If you squint at it at all, you have to realize this is a society founded on large-scale slavery. The azi are slaves. Not using the word doesn’t change the basic fact that they are slaves. Creating them was not a great thing to do, founding the whole society on them, on their labor, was not a great thing to do, and yes, the azi who are important characters are amazing characters, but the whole society is founded on some pretty terrible ideas.

The Ubezhishche in Invictus were created just like the azi, or very nearly — I added one tweak which is, depending on how you look at it, actually not very far removed from how CJC did it.. But, unlike the azi, the Ubezhishche broke free of their creators, went off, and founded their own society. That’s the deep backstory here. And yes, this is very much a response to the society shown in Cyteen.

If you’ve read the Tuyo World Companion — I mean the part about inspirations — then you know that a huge source of inspiration for me goes like this:

A) I’m reading a book I really love

B) I run into something awful. Some terrible thing happens to a character I care about.

C) I think, “Oh no, aargh, how awful! That should never have happened! What should have happened is a much better thing, which is now in my head.”

And then later (often much later), this appears in one of by books as the situation leads toward a moment when a similar awful thing might happen, but instead a much better thing happens.

It doesn’t have to be quite like that. It might be a great scene, but one that didn’t fulfil the potential I think the scene had. I’ll rewrite the original scene in my head and then it’s pretty likely I’ll put something similar in a different context later. Or this can happen with characters, where I think the author misses the chance to really bring a great character front-and-center and I develop a character who is similar in some ways and put that character in the foreground, not the background. Lots of variations on this basic idea.

For Invictus, the inspiration was one hundred percent the azi in Cyteen. If you create a genetically engineered slave caste that is completely under the control of born-men supervisors, then if your slaves decide this is wrong and bring your society crashing down around your ears, you totally deserve that.

This story isn’t about that part. That’s the backstory. The Ubezhishche went in their own direction, and about the only thing they share with the azi now is that they really do not want to be born-men — in this case, Elysians. They’re just fine the way they are, thank you, and when their genomic designers tweak the designs, they have their own priorities in mind.

Despite this kind of backstory, this really isn’t sociological SF, or I don’t think it is. I honestly don’t know what subgenre it fits. As categories, I picked SF–General, SF-Adventure, and SF-Genetic Engineering. I don’t think this is actually an adventure story, but the categories are limited and I had to pick something. However, that doesn’t seem to be what Amazon is saying. Amazon shows the categories as SF-Space Fleet and SF–Space Marines. Well, the word “marines” does appear in the book, but really? I hope the wrong readers don’t pick it up on the theory it is Military SF. Or rather, if they do, I hope they love it, even though it isn’t Military SF.

Maybe in a few days, I’ll try to lay out all the recognized subgenres of SF and see if I can better identify where INVICTUS fits.

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Update: Progress!

Okay, so you know what gets in the way of being a hermit, pulling into my shell, and putting words in a row? Right, beautiful fall weather, that’s what.

What am I supposed to do, ignore this great weather? I took the dogs for ordinary walks around my house, but I also took some of the dogs to the park and then I took the other dogs to the park, and so progress was made, but not as much as if it had been 100 F or raining. Really nice weekend, and I hope you all had beautiful weather too, wherever you are!

BUT, I also did manage to get some writing done. I’ve got 25,000 words of SILVER CIRCLE and I’m fairly happy with it. I really want to re-read the entire Black Dog series from the top. I’m feeling like that would help. It’s not like SILVER CIRCLE is going badly; it’s fine; but I still feel it would help get back in that world and in everyone’s proper voice if I re-read the whole series. Do you realize it’s been three years, story time, since the beginning? The younger characters have grown up a lot, and I want to be sure that’s apparent.

You know, the only reason Natividad and Miguel and Alejandro were so young in the first book is that the publisher wanted it as YA and asked me to age them down a good bit. I can’t remember how old they were before that — I do have that draft somewhere, but I haven’t looked at it for a long time. Anyway, that’s why Natividad wound up just fifteen in BLACK DOG. It took some creative plotting to arrange story events in a way that prevented her from getting serious with Ezekiel until she was a little older. SILVER CIRCLE opens right after the last novella, the one with Keziah and Justin. By that time, Natividad’s eighteenth birthday is coming up pretty soon. To me, this is a more comfortable age for a serious relationship. Honestly, the whole story is a little easier to handle now that they’re all a little older. But they do need to seem that little bit older.

Anyway, moving ahead with that, so this is good! It’s nice to be working on something new.

HOWEVER, speaking of something new, you know how I said I’d be writing Tuyo-world folktales and stories about little incidents and whatever, dropping those in the newsletter? Well, I need to send out a newsletter sometime this month, so I have set SILVER CIRCLE aside for today and probably tomorrow. I’m writing an Ugaro folktale instead. So that’s fun, but a little bit of a tonal shift.

ALSO, yep, still proofing INVICTUS: CRISIS. I’m about halfway through this particular proofing run. I’m still (still!) doing a surprising amount of tweaking, mostly very small-scale, plus I’ve found, I don’t know, four or five actual typos.

If you’ve left a review for INVICTUS: CAPTIVE, thank you! If you’ve sent me a private note about it, thank you! I’m very happy to see that first reactions are quite positive, plus people aren’t screaming about the cliffhanger. Or not in a bad way! All I can say is, I hope everyone is also happy with the second half of the story! If you read an early draft and commented, thank you SO MUCH because you are definitely responsible for the final version smoothing out.

Coming up this week: Finish this proofing run-through for CRISIS, finish the Ugaro folktale and put together the newsletter, start reading BLACK DOG, make progress on SILVER CIRCLE. Also, take dogs to the park, because the weather is still very nice! Going to be a busy week!

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Yay! Always exciting!

Reminder #1: CAPTIVE ends on a cliffhanger!

Reminder #2: There’s a glossary at the back!

Every soldier knows there are endless ways to die.
Every Ubezhishche soldier knows there are far worse fates than death.

Sevastien one zero two four, S line third modification, has survived the destruction of his own ship and an enemy station. But he was rescued by the wrong side — by Nalyn Ila, captain of the Elysian destroyer Invictus. Now he’s facing a difficult problem: How to persuade Captain Ila and her people that he is not an enemy combatant. That if there was an act of war, it was committed by her people, not his own.

Sevastien is almost certain he was an innocent bystander of disaster … unless his own people set him up, aiming to get him aboard Invictus for reasons he can’t yet understand. Maybe they did. It’s just the kind of thing Ubezhishche Command might do.

Nalyn Ila is almost certain Sevastien is an enemy agent, placed aboard her ship by Ubezhishche Command. But no one, not her own people nor the enemy nor Sevastien himself, can possibly guess what use she might actually have for an Ubezhishche soldier. Even if he actually is an innocent bystander, she may be able to use him in her private long-laid plans. And if he’s actually an enemy agent … that might be even better.


Reminder! There is a glossary and a short note about history at the back. I have definitely read books where, only when I reached the end, I discovered a glossary or a dramatis personae. Then I kick myself because I wish I’d realized that earlier. Flipping to a glossary is a pain in an ebook, I know, but sometimes I think it’s worth the trouble. I’m therefore hoping readers notice these things are there when they skim past the ToC.

Meanwhile! I’m closing in on the necessary last tweaks to the second book, after which I’ll send myself a clean electronic copy, create a paper version and get a proofing copy in paper, and continue proofing. I’m feeling relaxed about this. There’s almost a whole month before I need to upload the final versions. I expect I will feel much less relaxed around October 5th, but at the moment, all is proceeding according to plan.

No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
Especially when you can’t be certain which side is your enemy.

Nalyn Ila did her best to lay plans for every imaginable contingency. But some contingencies were not imaginable. Now Ila has no choice but to change her plans as fast as she can, trying to stay one step ahead of disaster. Without Syova’s help, everything she has tried to achieve will certainly fail.

Now that everyone’s secret plans have been revealed, Syova has no choice but to reassess everything he knows about his enemies—and his friends. The Ubezhishche people haven’t yet gone to war with Elysium … not quite. Now devastating war may be unavoidable. Unless Captain Ila is telling him the truth.

With the survival of both his own people and hers at stake, Syova had better make all the right choices.

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Archon Schedule

Okay, so the program schedule for Archon just came out. Not a lot of time to prepare! It’s Sept 29 and 30 and Oct 1. Barely more than 2 weeks away!

I usually go to Archon because, I mean, it’s right there. It’s about an hour and a half from me, which is about as close as anything gets. It’s hard for me to travel right now, but not so hard I can’t manage this.

Here’s my personal Archon schedule:

Faith, Religion, and Science Fiction

How have different books, series, or movies used religion as part of their storytelling? 29 Sep 2023, Friday 20:00 – 21:00

Wait, Didn’t She Die in the Last Book? 

When writing a series, how do you keep it all straight and consistent? 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 11:00 – 12:00

Write What You Know! (But Give It a Twist!)

The truism of “write what you know” feels inapplicable to writing science fiction and fantasy—but is it?
A panel of authors discusses how they used their real life skills and knowledge to inform their fantastic
worlds. 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 14:00 – 15:00

Rewrite, Revise, or Edit? Format: Panel

What’s the difference and how do you know which one to use? 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 16:00 – 17:00

Walking in Another’s Shoes, or Avoiding the Mary-Sue

Writing a protagonist who’s nothing like you. 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 17:00 – 18:00. I’m moderating this one, I see.

GM Ohhhhs – Genetically Modified Pets 

Could genetically modified pets be the ultimate in adorable or just a horror movie in the making? 1 Oct 2023, Sunday 12:00 – 13:00. I’m also moderating this one.

Now, if I’m NOT moderating, this is easy enough! Take fast notes about the topic and boom, done.

If I’m the moderator, then it’s a bigger deal. I’ll be coming up with leading questions for those topics, which ones are they again — oh, writing protagonists who aren’t like the author, great topic, glad I’m on that panel. And genetically modified pets. Sure, yes and yes for that one, although it’s hard to get into real, true horror movie territory without (a) weird supernatural stuff going on, or (b) weird handwavy science-y stuff going on. Out here in the real world, army ants do not eat everyone in a town and little fluffy critters don’t transform into demonic sprites if they’re fed after midnight.

Actually, the real answer for genetically modified pets is: let’s move ahead with genetic modification to edit out Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy in the dog and then we can do it the same with humans, since it’s exactly the same gene in both. Then we can tackle stuff that is caused in similar ways but not by quite the same genes, which encompasses oh, rough guess, hundreds of diseases. Simultaneously, we can tackle complex traits like heart disease. In all those cases, we could and should use dogs to pave the way for human treatments, because YAY LET’S GET RID OF MVD IN OUR DOGS is going to be pretty much the way reputable breeders feel, and once a genetic engineering technique is obviously safe in dogs, it’s harder for the FDA to continue letting people die of whatever disease, though I’m sure they’ll try.

However, the cute answer will no doubt include examples of genetically modified animals in SFF, and here I’m thinking of David Brin, of course, though I’m sure there are other examples. If anybody can think of genetically modified animals, pets or otherwise, in SFF, by all means drop that in the comments! Weren’t their tiny pet unicorns or something on Cetaganda in LMB’s novels? I remember the kitten tree, which is much more on the horror-movie side of the spectrum, but I think there were other pets that weren’t so problematic.

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Tuyo World Companion: quick note

If you dropped over to Amazon and left a review for the Tuyo World Companion, thank you! I appreciate that! I do think the book’s page looks a lot more attractive to prospective readers with a handful of reviews than without.

One review notes that the ebook doesn’t have a clickable Table of Contents. However, it does, or should, have a clickable Table of Contents. On my phone’s app, the menu icon provides a very short but clickable version of the ToC. If you go to the beginning of the book, you ought to find a much more extensive ToC, still clickable. I just checked again, so I know for certain it’s clickable for me.

Generally speaking, when you use Word to add a ToC based on headings within your document, the ToC always comes out clickable when you load the book to KDP. I’ve never had a problem with this not working, but who knows what random weirdness might be going on? If your version of the ebook does not have a clickable ToC, then something is wrong. Let Amazon know, and if they don’t know what’s wrong, let me know and I will tackle that from this end.

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Amazon’s problem with AI

In July and August this year, we were seeing a lot of posts like this:

Recently, an indie author, Caitlyn Lynch, tweeted about noticing that only 19 of the best sellers in the Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBooks top 100 chart on Amazon were real, legit books. The rest were nonsensical and incoherent, and seemingly AI-generated. …

The Motherload website later looked into dozens of books on the platform and saw that a few days after Lynch’s tweets, the AI books had vanished from the best-seller lists, probably removed by Amazon. 

They were, however, still available for purchase, and had enjoyed a significant amount of visibility before vanishing. Also, as Lynch very understandably speculates, the mass uploading of AI-generated books could be used to facilitate click-farming, where ‘bots’ click through a book automatically, generating royalties from Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors by the amount of pages that are read in an ebook. So, it doesn’t matter that these books disappear. The people running such a scheme could just upload as many as they like to replace the removed ones. 

This is obviously a problem, potentially a much bigger problem than I thought it would be. The obvious solution: Amazon needs to crush every fake AI-generated pseudobook like a bug and nuke the people uploading those books. I mean a ban-for-life, the way they do to identified scammers, which is what these people are.

I’ve seen a number of opinion pieces that declare that Amazon won’t do that because they don’t care about garbage pseudobooks as long as they’re making money. This is probably — I want to say obviously, but I’m not sure I’d go that far — wrong. I’m pretty sure about that. It’s wrong because Amazon is all about presenting readers with books that will make them happy, and wading through mountains of garbage pseudobooks does not make people happy. It makes them mad.

The problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to identify AI generated garbage.

The solution, it seems to me, is to get a lot better at identifying AI generated garbage as fast as possible, crush fake books like bugs, and nuke from orbit the people who are loading them.

Amazon is (as far as I’ve heard) very, very willing to delete your account and ban you for life if you try to cheat in ways they have decided matter. Once they nuke your account, you are done at KDP, because (as far as I’ve heard), they don’t give a lot of second chances. (They are apparently perfectly fine with scammers using various other methods they haven’t yet decided to care about.) (No, that is not ideal.)

While I guess this situation could play out in various ways, I will just note that Amazon KDP suddenly has a brand-new button on the “content” page at KDP. “Is any part of your book generated by AI?” asks the button. “Click yes or no.”

While there is no “Because we’re going to crush your fake book like a bug” notification, it’s pretty obvious that KDP will soon be able to exercise various options:

A) You check “Yes” to that question. They let you upload your fake book, but they drop it into a dungeon along with almost all low-content books. No one ever sees it. It’s not presented to readers in KU. Problem solved.

B) You check “No” to that question. They run the text of your book through an AI detector they are currently beta-testing and, if it fails, they give you one chance to explain why and then they crush your book like a bug and nuke you for lying to them.

And, basically, I would be fine with that. I would hope not many real authors will get caught if and when Amazon brings down an enormous hammer, but for crying out loud, 4/5 of all the top books are fake? That hammer needs to come down hard, as soon as possible.

Question: how good are AI detectors at this point?

I’ve heard they’re not great, at least the ones available free to whoever wants to poke at them, but the only one I tested identified my text as close to 100% human-generated. The one sentence that got flagged in the report I was writing was “See figure 1, below,” which I thought was funny. I still think that’s funny, and it also indicates that most text is going to come back less than 100% human generated because certain standard word combinations are just that — standard.

On the other hand, it ought to be possible to just draw a fairly arbitrary line, like “If more than 15% of the text comes back AI generated, it’s a fake book.” Or 25% or for that matter 70%, or anything that will let a detector reliably distinguish garbage pseudobooks from real books without generating too many false positives.

Here’s a detector: Copyleaks AI Content Detector. According to this detector, the first chapter of INVICTUS is human-generated. Or rather, there’s a 96.2% probability it’s human generated. Text of an email I wrote recently: 80.2% probability it’s human generated. I note that the conclusion just says “This is human text,” so 80% is good enough for this detector. It’s a short email; that may be why the probability dropped like that. It’s got fairly standard content; that may be why. A piece of a report I was working on a while ago: 69.5% probability it’s human generated! What a huge drop! That’s really interesting! You know what it still says? “This is human text.” I wonder how far the probability has to drop before it says it’s not human text?

I googled “text generator ai, found this site, and entered as a prompt: 1000 word story about a girl and a black dog. This is what the generator gave me:

Julia had always been afraid of black dogs, but when she met one on her way home from school one day, she discovered that this dog was different. The dog, who she named Midnight, seemed to understand her fears and gently led her home. A bond quickly formed between Julia and Midnight, and the dog became her loyal companion and protector. Over time, Julia’s fear of black dogs faded away, and she learned that sometimes the things we fear the most can turn out to be our greatest blessings.

This isn’t anything like a thousand words, obviously, so I guess the generator ignores that part of a request. Whatever, I picked up this paragraph and dropped it in the AI detector linked above. Boom! 98% probability it’s AI generated. I tried a couple other prompts and got similar results.

Here’s another text generator. It says to enter a prompt and hit go. I entered “Once a girl met a black dog” and got this:

Once a girl met a black dog in these circumstances she would just get up and leave, unless of course that dog was the source of the problem and was aggressive. But in that case, I would have to deal with it and our dogs would have to get used to each other. It was a little hard for my young dogs to understand that most of the time the dogs were the problem, not the owner. My birds were at home. The bird room is small and full of birds. Even the floor was littered with feathers and bird toys. It was the first time I’d had this many birds at once, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. My attempts to have them in groups were less than successful. Some kept wanting to be with other birds. Some would try to kill others. Some were fine with one bird in the cage and that bird would be perfectly happy, but as soon as another bird joined the group, then the others in the group would hiss and fight and peck each other. All my birds, even my sister’s ex – therapy bird, were afraid of the floor.

This is fascinating! I sure did not see the birds coming! I dropped this into a different AI detector and found that it is “8% human generated.” I’m told I should edit this text until there’s less detectable AI content. The first paragraphs of INVICTUS? 100% human generated.

Out of curiosity, I dropped the bird thing into Grammarly’s plagiarism detector, which thought it was just peachy. I mean, it said there were errors, but it didn’t say it was AI generated or plagiarized.

The first chapter of INVICTUS? Grammarly’s plagiarism says “significant plagiarism found.” Really? The book isn’t out yet! How can it be finding plagiarism? I’m really startled! It also finds a whole bunch of issues with conciseness, word choices, grammar, and punctuation. I’m not paying for any kind of report, but seriously? I did not have a high opinion of Grammarly prior to this moment, but now my opinion is much, much lower. In fact, all of a sudden I’m wondering if Grammarly is deliberately lying in order to get people to buy it in order to find out what part of their essay or book or whatever looks like it is plagiarized. Suddenly that seems like a plausible scenario!

On the other hand, this ten-minute test of AI detectors seems to suggest that they’re maybe, kind of, pretty much, good at detecting AI-generated text? I hear they aren’t reliable, but whenever I poke at them, they seem pretty good at it. I think it’s reasonable to get a score of 69% human generated and declare it’s human generated enough. That kind of conclusion seems likely to help prevent too many false positives.

Overall conclusion:

I think AI detection is going to get pretty reliable, I think people are probably working on that, and of course AI generation will get more subtle, but it’s not like “AI text generators” actually have brains or intelligence. I suspect detectors will get out in front and stay there for a bit. And … I hope I’m not too optimistic or pollyanna-ish, but I think it’s pretty likely Amazon is currently working on a detector and will pretty soon bring a giant hammer down on fake garbage pseudobooks. I hope I’m right about that, and that unanticipated side effects aren’t as dire as the problem that solves.

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