For Your Consideration – Implanted

It’s awards season, the time of year that strikes fear into the heart of every writer while simultaneously stoking the flames of what-ifs.

The only thing I have that’s award-eligible this year, is my debut science fiction novel Implanted, that was published by Angry Robot this August in trade paperback and ebook. An audiobook version came out at the end of October from High Bridge Audio. I’m immensely proud of it, between its mash-up of cyberpunk and solarpunk elements, the homage to espionage and romance, and a deep-dive into communication theory.

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After all, when you’re writing about the future, you can never have too many ideas in my opinion. And mine tend to come to me snarled together, interwoven and inseparable, or in great big chains like dominoes falling into place, one right after another.

It’s gotten some great reviews, between the ambitious world and a turbo-charged second half, but I’d love for it to find even more readers. In case you’re still on the fence about the book, here’s a look at some of the themes I explore in Implanted:

This is a story about the coming climate apocalypse.

So many different potential futures stretch out before us. But as recent reports suggest, it’s increasingly likely we’ll have to pay the piper for all the damage we’ve wrought to Mother Nature, and god help us when that debt comes due. In the world of Implanted, the worst has already happened. After too many years of storm-leveled towns, receding coastlines, drought, flood, pollution, and devastating fighting over food and resources as governments try (and fail) to provide for their people, domed cities have become humanity’s only option to escape the ravages of a world pushed to the brink after so many years of abuse.

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What would make such a disruptive population shift into a constrained environment successful? Think about it. If you had to bundle up your life, abandon your home, and take refuge in a domed city, what would bring you solace?

This is (also) a story about hyperconnectivity.

For the citizens of New Worth, it’s neural implants that make day-to-day life more bearable along with the network that provides them with an unending array of information, entertainment, and ways to connect with other users. After all, when you lose everything, what’s one more piece of your humanity?

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Roughly two generations later, when the book starts, the tech has matured with the city. While everyone in New Worth is granted equal protection from the hostile environment outside, their lives inside the dome are dictated by status, credit balances, and career potential. Those with the right credentials have every advantage as they literally rise through the ranks, living out their lives on the city’s luxurious upper levels. Everyone else remains landlocked below – choked off from light, constrained by space, and constantly inundated by others tied to the same fate. The one bright spot on the horizon is Emergence – the day when the dome finally comes down, and they can return to the land.

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After all this time, implants are still most people’s go-to choice to cope with living under glass. But taming the network’s growth has become virtually impossible – too much of the city’s infrastructure relies on it – which in turn has made data security increasingly difficult.

So… this is also a story about information security.

The government and business sectors have been sinking so much money and manpower into chasing down bugs and backdoors and staying on top of new advances, they’ve had to come up with a new way of doing things. Getting back to basics, with a twist, of course. Physical instead of digital delivery of information, the twist being the DNA-encoded blood cells as the new format.

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Enter Aventine Security, a clandestine organization that specializes in shuttling information too sensitive for the network across the city. What makes their elite couriers so special isn’t the state-of-the-art training or gear they’ve been provided with, but a special property of their blood that allows them to carry encoded information that makes it undetectable, unhackable, and untraceable. And people are willing to pay top dollar for their services…and their discretion.

And perhaps most importantly, Implanted is a female-centered cyberpunk story.

Which in my mind at least we need more of. Men’s visions of our technological future dominate the field, too often filled with oversexualized women with problematic characterization (dentata’s anyone?). The list of women publishing cyberpunk is short though memorable (frex. Pat Cadigan, Laura Mixon, Madeline Ashby, KC Alexander), and I humbly add Implanted to that list, where I tried to cram together as many things I love as I could, including high-tech gadgets, light espionage, romance, and hard questions about the future, while centering the female experience.

And I very much hope you’ll join me on the adventure…

A Message To My Future Self

“I just have one question.”

The old man and a woman I took to be his wife came up to me after I had burned through my signing line at Book Bar, a lovely venue in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. I was there with fellow New Mexican author Rebecca Roanhorse who was promoting her electric debut Trail of Lightning while I was promoting my own debut Implanted from Angry Robot. We had both read sections from our respective books, answered questions moderated by J.L. Forrest who runs the Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy reading series, and then made ourselves available to sign books and chat with audience members afterwards. Forrest provides a nice recap of the evening here.

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It was only my forth public appearance for Implanted, and I was still trying to figure out how to strike that careful balance between being approachable and authorly, all the while keeping imposter syndrome at bay. No mean feat when you’re sitting next to the zeitgeist. My mouth was tired from trying to smile for the last two hours lest my resting bitch face slip through. I still hadn’t found a position on my barstool that both presented my pear-shaped frame to best advantage and didn’t aggravate my lower back. I was regretting my choice of outfit and rethinking my answer to one of the questions put to us earlier in the evening. And oh god was I hungry, having put off dinner since there hadn’t been time to eat beforehand.

But I smiled at the couple and said, “Sure!”

He had his hands clasped behind his back. His wife stood mute beside him, a half-smile pasted to her face. An impressive white beard reached down to his breastbone. He paused and pursed his lips, and suddenly I realized this wouldn’t be like the other people I’d spoken with that evening. The ones who said they were excited to read Implanted after hearing me speak, the woman who was grateful to have found a cyberpunk novel not imbued with the male gaze, or the nervous young man desperate for writing advice. Somehow, this would be different.

This gentleman pointed out that both excerpts Rebecca and I had read that night depicted women hunting men for hurting another woman. After a moment of reflection, I realized it was true. Rebecca read from Chapter 2 of Trail of Lightning where her main character Maggie is chasing down a man-shaped monster who has stolen away a young woman to feast on—a powerful, unsettling scene. My selection, the opening chapter of Implanted, the main character Emery is hunting a young man who’s in the process of stalking a different young woman. When the coast is clear, he attacks in an attempt to steal her neural implant. Emery stops him, but she leaves the scene of the crime before the police arrive, setting her on a journey the rest of the book follows.

“Would your character go to such an effort to protect a man in the same situation?” the old man asked me, an unpleasant intensity to his voice.

Rebecca was engaged with some enthusiastic fans beside me, so she luckily didn’t have to face his quiet disbelief when I said, “Yes, of course.”

I then nattered on about how that wasn’t really the point of the scene though, that my main character was protecting someone from a similar attack she survived before the events of the book, that as the author, I got to pick what elements best served my story, and in this case, upending reader expectations and exploring female rage, was my goal. After all, I named the person Emery is following Breck Warner, echoing the name of that of apex scumbag Brock Turner. Subtle, I am not. Of course it would be a young woman Emery’s trying to protect from a repeat of her own past, a past she hasn’t quite figured out how to escape at the start of the book. I said something glib about sisterhood too, but the details at this point are fuzzy.

But I well remember the way he shook his head, disappointed, and left. His wife followed him, having never said a word. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he didn’t buy either my or Rebecca’s book.

I’ve thought a lot about that interaction since. I know it doesn’t hold a candle to uncomfortable interactions other authors have had with members of the public over the years. But I try to analyze moments like this when they pop up to better prepare me for the next one. I’m a classic staircase wit where I’m nothing better than a deer in headlights in the moment. It’s only after I’ve retired from the hum and buzz of a public interaction that any cleverness returns, far too late for a rescue.

As a publishing professional trying to drum up support for a debut, I’m always fearful that any negative interaction could affect my ability to get another project published—not true of course, but the little voice in my head doesn’t know that. After reviewing that conversation, however, I don’t think there was anything I could have said to salvage that interaction—to make the sale, as it were. He was being provocative at best, trying to set me down at worst, for having the temerity to center the female experience in my story.

So much of writing—writing for publication, that is—is getting enough people to decide, “hey, this is great,” and getting even more people to read it, preferably giving up their cold hard cash for the opportunity to do so. The business side of writing leads to this mindset that we must go after every potential reader and find a way to convince them we’re worth their time and money. That each missed opportunity is why our numbers suck, that if we could only convince this one other person we’d all be bestsellers and shortlisted for all the awards. A bruising cycle that only ends when you either quit writing or pick out a penname to start over.

It’s not worth it. Even for someone like me where my little book could use all the help it can get. But if someone is going to approach my book from such a perspective, there’s something freeing in deciding: my dude, my work is not for you.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

You can find such sentiment online, often in pithy tweets that read like affirmations in our current political climate made by women stronger and/or more experienced than me in navigating the intersection of art and economics in a broken world. Sometimes it feels a little like settling, knowing your work can never have the reach you’ve dreamed of. Or maybe I should feel driven to succeed despite that dude and all the others like him, even if it feels like crawling uphill over shards of glass. I don’t know. Of course, I’m still writing, but my wide-eyed naiveté has taken a critical hit, and I’m not sure I can afford that, not when that naiveté is what allowed me to pursue writing in the first place.

It’s just one guy, right? Why am I even letting myself get caught up in all this? Maybe it’s the people-pleaser in me. Maybe it’s a way for me to give other writers out there a head’s up about the world we’re so desperate to be a part of, a toolkit for deciding how and when to cut your losses.

And maybe, like Emery, I’m trying to protect my future self from another no-win situation, where the best choice is to walk away and keep writing, no matter what.

Implanted featured at the 2018 European Speed Reading Championship!

My novel Implanted was featured at the 2108 European Speed Reading Championship! Test your knowledge with the reading guide if you’ve already had a chance to read the book!

One Week To Go!

Did you know there’s only one week to go before Implanted is loosed upon the world?

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Things are rolling along–make that steamrolling–and I wanted to briefly check in before I head to Austin for ArmadilloCon later this week.

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I had a great time at RWA Nationals in Denver. It was intense, inspiring, and I left with lots of new contacts and things to think about. This is me (furthest on the right) and my New Mexico chaptermates having a blast:

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When I got back to town, the amazing Fran Wilde put together a worldbuilding roundtable with a group of awe-inspiring SF authors, including me, Mike Chen, Malka Older, Peng Shepard, and Tade Thompson. Check it out at Tor.com.

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I also got interviewed by the great team at Unreliable Narrators, where we talk about Implanted, the path to publication, and some of my influences. I had a lot of fun with their thoughtful questions.

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Finally, early reviews have been trickling in, which is gratifying to see. Even more so since people seem to like Implanted! Special thanks to all the reviewers who took a chance on a debut author.

Rainy Book Reviews | The Everlasting Library | Brian’s Book Blog | Elle Loughran | Splattergeist | The Literary License Podcast

Hopefully one of those convinced you to preorder the book, if you haven’t already!

Recent Oddments

Lots of things have been happening behind the scenes of late. Lots of writing (of course!) as well as editorial and administrative stuff to get my novel Implanted out into the world. But the busyness is helping to keep my nerves at bay as review copies are getting prepped and I start turning my attention to promotion.

In fact, I was recently interviewed by the wonderful people at the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, where I was able to talk about my influences in writing the book. I had a lot of fun with the questions, so be sure to check it out:

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In other news, my story “Glitch,” appearing in Shohola Press’s Abandoned Places anthology, got a shoutout by SFF Reviews, and they also liked the anthology overall, so that’s always good to hear.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was able to participate in the Jack Williamson Lectureship, which is held at Eastern New Mexico University every year. S. M. Stirling was the guest of honor, and luminaries like Connie Willis and Walter Jon Williams were in attendance as well. Fellow NM authors Emily Mah and Sarena Ulibarri, who is also editor in chief of World Weaver Press, were also guests, and it was just plain fun to hang out and talk shop for the weekend with other SFF enthusiasts in the community.

 

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That’s it for me. Stay tuned!