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[books|writing] The January Machine

Back in the 1990s, I wrote my first attempt at a novel. It was called The January Machine. I quote the opening paragraphs of the synopsis I retrofitted some years later…

The year is 2041. Global warming has arrived with a vengeance. Ocean levels are rising, temperature extremes are off the scale, and loss of the ozone layer is destroying entire ecosystems. The United States has fractured under green and Third World backlash, with multiple secessions and a major West Coast earthquake complicating recovery. Meanwhile a prosperous, fascist Poland has risen to world dominance on the ruins of the European Union.

In this setting, human-grade AIs are relatively common, although their application is heavily regulated. In response to draconian AI-control measures, a shadowy AI underground known as the “goldens” seeks civil rights. In addition, time travel, while not possible in 2041, figures into the story from the perspective of the world’s future.

Marcus Sharpton, affiliated with the goldens, stumbles on stolen Polish military data — control codes for the January Machine. The January Machine was a Soviet doomsday project, consisting of several hundred nuclear warheads lining a Mohole, or deep crustal excavation, near a Siberian tectonic plate boundary. When activated, it would create a mega-volcano several hundred times more powerful than the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa, plunging Earth into a long-term nuclear winter, where superior Soviet arctic warfare capabilities would ensure their military dominance.

I was trying to write a science fiction thriller. I had a lot of fun with it. Frankly, The January Machine is a terrible book from a craft perspective, but there’s a lot of neat ideas and some cool tropes in there, and it’s recognizably a Jay Lake book.

Mother of the Child has been asking for a while if she can have a printed, bound copy of the manuscript so she can re-read the book. My friend SC offered to do the layout and get the project through a print-on-demand vendor. Thus, I give you The January Machine:


As I’m trying to pull together a fund-raiser to help defray the substantial travel and lodging costs associated with my NIH clinical trial, I’m considering putting a few copies of the book in as premiums. I have some to spare, as the POD minimum order requirements were larger than my immediate needs.

It’s kind of fun to see that first effort from the mid-1990s have a print life, even one so small and odd.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[cancer|writing] Another painful thing

As I have frequently commented, the narrative of cancer is a narrative of loss. I haven’t written a word of new fiction since last June. At this point, I don’t expect to ever write again in my life, unless something very good arises out of these NIH studies. So be it. My career continues — Tor is releasing Last Plane to Heaven next September, stories from last year are getting favorable mentions — but it’s definitely deep in the wind-down phase.

What I see right now on blogs and social media are my auctorial friends and colleagues posting year-end reviews of work published in 2013, summaries of work contracted and planned in 2014, travel and convention schedules, and the like. All the usual change-of-the-year stuff we talk about.

I’m not really part of that world any more. I have no more new work contracted, since I can’t produce it. I have no writing goals. I have no convention plans for 2014. Being sick is a full time job, and besides which I don’t have the energy or the money. I expect to pass away next summer anyway, unless that very good something arises. I’m watching the party move on without me.

It’s natural, it’s logical, and it has nothing to do with me except in my own mind. But it’s quite painful at times.

Like I miss so many other things, I miss that part of my life.

Fuck cancer.

[writing|help] The Clayton Memorial Medical Fund is doing a fundraiser

So, the Clayton Memorial Medical Fund has been a big presence in my life these past few years, helping me financially at times of great need. (I did not need them this year, as it happens, thanks to all your generosity with the Sequence a Science Fiction Writer fundraiser back at the beginning of the year.) Their reserve funds are running low, and they have asked me to try to boost the signal on a much-needed year-end fundraiser.

Here’s what my friends at the Clayton fund have to say about themselves:

The Clayton Memorial Medical Fund helps professional science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery writers living in the Pacific Northwest deal with the financial burden of medical emergencies. Even with insurance, co-pays can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, and over the past few years, we have faced a heavy draw on our money. The Fund is now down to a few thousand dollars.

The Clayton Fund was founded seventeen years ago by Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. (OSFCI) in response to the illness of Portland writer Jo Clayton. Our initial money came from a national campaign by writers and fans of science fiction and fantasy to help Jo and other writers. The Fund has since assisted many writers in the region deal with medical and dental emergencies.

As part of OSFCI, the Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations to the fund are tax deductible and often qualify for matching donations from employers.

Donations can be made using PayPal through the Fund’s Web site ( or mailed to:

Clayton Memorial Medical Fund
P.O. Box 5703
Portland, Oregon 97228

Please be sure to include full contact information so we can mail you a letter acknowledging your donation.

I’ll be donating from my surplusage from this year’s fund raising for my benefit. If you’ve got a few extra bucks this season looking for a tax deduction, why not join me? It’s an excellent cause helping writers who often have run out of financial lifelines. It’s an organization that has been of great help to me personally. That’s two fantastic reasons right there.

[writing|tech] Looking for a reader with some scripting chops

Recent discussions online have gotten me interested in producing a complete lexicon of my own fiction output. I’d like to find a fan with the scripting chops to feed about four or five hundred .doc and .docx files (plus a few .pdf, .html and .txt files) through a scripting engine and pull out a list of each distinct word I have ever used in my fiction output, ideally with frequency.

There’s a second part to this, which is someone with the linguistics chops to filter that list for words which are forms of the same stem, i.e. “walk”, “walked” and “walking”.

I’m curious what my demonstrated written vocabulary is, and secondarily how many words I’ve coined, re-invented or backformed.

Anybody interested in grinding this for me?

[cancer|writing] Wisdom is where you find it

I’ve been visiting with a dear friend these past few days. We’ve been talking a lot about both writing and life, each of those topics primarily through the lens of my own journeys.

A point that I keep coming back to these past few years is my belief that wisdom is where you find it. It’s been my experience that almost everything I needed to know was available to me almost all of the time. I just didn’t know that until I was ready to hear what the world had been whispering in my ears all along, and see what had been set before me the whole time.

The longest struggle for the wisdom of the mountain top sages is the one that takes place in our own chairs.

In writing: When I was the newest of newbies, and didn’t know standard manuscript format from a hole in the ground, the Slug Tribe had to show me. The information was a revelation to me. Yet it had been available to me all along, in Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest books, at convention panels and workshops, through talking with more experienced writers. Until I was ready and listening, I did not hear.

That is of course the most facile of examples, but in its simplicity, the example is very clear.

In life: My convictions about kindness and opportunity [ | LiveJournal ] were always there. “Do as you would be done by” is an old, old rubric both in and out of the Bible, and that’s a slightly fancier way of saying, “Be nice.” Likewise, there are endless proverbs, sayings and stories about seizing opportunity. Yet I had to reach a certain point in my mortality before I could clearly articulate this to myself or anyone else.

The world is wise, and welcomes our attention. For each of us, the process is that of learning how to open ourselves to that wisdom and pay the proper attention.

[cancer|writing] Another frantic day

Yesterday I again lost my writing window. The morning was pretty good, including a media interview, but then I lost control of the day. I had meals with friends scheduled, which happened just fine. But some unexpected Day Jobbe responsibilities popped up. One of the disability applications I have outstanding generated an urgent (and unscheduled) return phone call which required response, which in turn soaked up more than an hour. Some of the workplace transition issues which I had asked to deal with next week emerged urgently and unexpectedly yesterday afternoon, consuming quite a bit more of my time. And of course, I had [info]the_child‘s basketball games last night. None of that stuff could wait for another day, none of it could be done by someone else.

So, no writing, but tons of busy-ness culminating in fatigue. And more trazodol last night, which I took too late in the evening on account of being out at the games. So again this morning I woke up groggy and disoriented.

I swear to God, I want to write some more. It’s just been impossible to manage lately. And even if I recover some of my time today (which seems doubtful given the schedule in the offing), I am a week+ behind on responding to email, for the same reason I’m so far behind on writing.

Ah, me.

[writing|cancer] I meant to write yesterday, I swear

Fred is elusive these days. Which frustrates me.

Tuesday I’d managed to put in over an hour on revisions and editorial tasks, mostly connected to METAtropolis: Green Space. This after a week+ lost to JayCon and related festivities, overlapped with six days of not having my MacBook Air available to me. “Yay,” I said to myself, “I am back on the horse.”

Then yesterday I spent the entire day dealing with either Day Jobbery or the disability application process or visiting the doctor. My energy is not what it was, and neither is my efficiency. By the time all this was done, around 5 pm, I was simply too exhausted to then deal with writing.

Mind you, I used to be able to work all day and write all evening. Not so much anymore.

The scary part is that I already know this is how my writing will end. I will simply peter out, too tired one day to put the time in, then the next, then the next, while the brain fog of chemo and cancer settles in ever deeper until one day I’ll realize I haven’t done anything in a month, and there aren’t very many months left for me to live.

So every time I miss a day, I wonder if this is the beginning of the end for my writing. Yesterday wasn’t that day, I do know this. But it sure felt similar.

[cancer|writing] Why I don’t use dictation software (yet)

In various discussions of my issues with hand-foot syndrome, people have asked if I would consider using Dragon or some other dictation software. The short answer is, “Not yet.”

Here’s why:

I am in no wise philosophically opposed to using such a solution. In my Day Jobbe life, I have more than a passing familiarity with Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. It’s wonderful stuff and can be quite powerful. I like the concept plenty. ASR can be liberating on a number of fronts, from the narrowly technical to the profoundly creative. There’s only one small problem.

I don’t talk like I write.

For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that if you stuck a professional writer’s head into an fMRI machine (presumably whilst still bolted to the rest of the professional writer in question), you’d find that the speech center which lights up when composing fiction is distinct from the speech center used for ordinary, everyday communication. It’s English as both a first language and a second language. In my case, my written fiction syntax and style are noticeably different from my spoken syntax and style. Sentence length and complexity, word choice, rhythms — I’m two different people.

The writer who’s been in careful training since 1990 is a different speaker than the blabbermouth who might use Dragon. The stories each of me can and would tell are quite different.

So while I’ll turn to Dragon if I can, once my hands give out if they do, I don’t want to go there too soon. I’ll lose something essential. I might gain something just as wonderful — I am open to the possibility — but right now I value what I have while I still have it.

[books|writing] Alembical is on sale

A few years ago, I was part of a project edited by the inestimable Lawrence Schoen, a/k/a [info]klingonguy. This little gem was Alembical, from Paper Golem Press, an anthology of novellas.

As it happens, one of my very favorite pieces of my own work, “America, Such as She Is”, was printed in the first volume of Alembical. It’s an alternate history novella about a repatriated prisoner of war wandering through Japanese-occupied Oregon in 1946, looking for the last unsurrendered American general, Leslie Groves, who’s hiding somewhere in the Pacific Northwest forests still trying to make the atomic bomb. I did some craft tricks in that novella, both with structure and point of view, that I still don’t understand. I love this piece.

It’s also never been reprinted.

Lawrence has recently discovered a limited amount of additional stock of Alembical and is offering it at a discount. In addition to “America, Such as She Is”, you get fine work from Bruce Taylor, Jim Van Pelt, and Ray Vukcevich. Check it out. My birthday’s coming up, so buy yourself a present.

[writing|photos] Rio Hondo continues

I awoke this morning from dreams of loss, conflict and Walter Jon Williams. This may have something to do with the excellent gumbo he cooked last night, followed by bananas Foster.

Donnie Reynolds (@dratz of Waterloo Productions) left yesterday. He was kind enough to finish cooking my momos Wednesday night when my feet gave out, but more importantly, interviewed me yesterday morning, then filmed the critique session for “Rock of Ages”. It was good critique, a combination of solid criticism and some important story points, along with validation that the story was doing enough of what I wanted it to do.

My two regrets here at Rio Hondo are that my feet continue to be troublesome, and that my trailing sun sensitivity issues courtesy of my friend Vectibix have not only prevented me from hiking (which given the state of my feet is probably a bad idea anyway) but even from going outdoors at all. I continue to wrestle with the emotional fallout from the recent diagnosis, but being here at the world’s greatest Writer Camp is allowing me to parse it in small bits while immensely enjoying my days.

Oddly, I’m not getting much writing or WRPA done. This done not bother me. I am on vacation, after all. I’m spending hours each day immersed in manuscripts and critique, and hours more in fascinating conversations about everything from Age of Sail combat to social media personae for authors. Not to mention publishing gossip, convention horror stories, plotting sessions and all the other things writers get to talking about when you cram us alone together in a few small rooms for a week.

Meanwhile, a few more photos of the faces of Rio Hondo:

The marmot what hangs out in the lower parking lot — I did not have my 300mm lens on the camera body at the time, unfortunately

Donnie Reynolds prepping the critique shoot

David Levine, of whom I finally got several good shots

Rick Wilbur pretending he doesn’t notice the camera

Kim Zimring, reading

Daniel Abraham, reading

Diana Rowland and her Girl Power t-shirt

Jim Kelly going for the high angle shot

Oz Drummond, thoughtful

The entire Rio Hondo crew, thanks to Donnie Reynolds piloting the camera

Photos © 2013 Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and Donnie Reynolds

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This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and Donnie Reynolds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[writing] Rio Hondo, day one

I’m at Rio Hondo, the writing workshop/retreat in Taos Ski Valley, NM. Critiquing etc starts today, but I suppose yesterday was day one. That involved a lot of travel, a quick visit in Santa Fe with Lisa Costello, who just happened to be there, and a yummy dinner here at the retreat. This morning I woke up to snow.

Altitude isn’t treating me badly, but I do have a mild headache. And my classic high altitude sleeping problems are making themselves known. Basically, while I don’t have any problem staying oxygenated while conscious, asleep my breathing is reduced and I wake up every hour or so feeling very short of breath. I have to consciously take very deep breaths to restore myself. That process makes it hard to go back to sleep…

My METAtropolis: Green Space novella will be critiqued Thursday, and I believe I am making momos for Wednesday dinner. I’ve already taken a number of photos, but bandwidth here is quite constrained, so the uploading process is wonky at best. Still, I will leave you with this morning’s view:


Photo © 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[writing|travel] Off to the Nebs, then Rio Hondo

Yesterday Lisa Costello departed for New Mexico, where she is attending a conference in Santa Fe. This morning, Jersey Girl in Portland and I skedaddle to San Jose for SFWA’s Nebula Awards Weekend. My Dad and (step)Mom will be there tomorrow, as will my Aunt B— and Uncle L— from Texas. [info]the_child also flies down to San Jose tomorrow to attend the Nebula Awards banquet and ceremony with the able assistance of Crystal Black.

I’ll do some socializing and maybe some business whilst in San Jose, then I’ll have the fun of watching myself lose the Nebula. Let’s put it this way: I don’t even have an acceptance speech prepared. In the extremely unlikely event that I win, I’ll wing it. Luckily for both me and my potential audience, I am ferociously good at winging it.

Crack of Sunday, I light out for New Mexico my own self. This trip is completely unrelated to Lisa’s, as I am heading for Rio Hondo, but our automobile will pause whilst passing through Santa Fe on the way from Albuquerque to Taos for us to have a snack and visit with Lisa, who by amusing coincidence will still be there. After that, I’m for a week at Rio Hondo. (I’m not sure about the connectivity at Rio Hondo, so blogging may be erratic next week.)

All in all, a very good ten days or so coming up.