The joys of time travel
It has been three thousand seven hundred and thirty-three days since I released my debut novel Realms Unreel on November 22, 2011.
Realms Unreel reimagines the Persephone myth as a genre-bending epic set in the borderlands where mythic fantasy, cyberpunk, and manga meet. The plot unfolds largely in a very near future where virtual reality is at once pervasive, magical, and a bit /r/boringdystopia. The story universe incorporates many of my peculiar obsessions, from ancient mystery religions to the culture of tech companies to the process of creating art.
I spent a whirlwind twelve months writing. I spent another twelve months Kickstarting the color illustrated printing with the financial support of many generous backers and the collaboration of my dear friend and talented artist Ian Steplowski. For me, the experience was a magical journey, from drafting page 1 to at last holding the beautiful illustrated hardcover in my hands.
At the time I wrote Realms Unreel, I put an intentional timestamped stake in the ground: April 6, 2012. This is the birthday of our leading lady, Emerald Isidora Bridges, who is born in Oakland, California, a few months and a short bike ride away from the time and place where the book was written.
Since Emmie’s birthday, I’ve lived ten years in real time, like all mere mortals must. In the world of Realms Unreel, Emmie is about to turn ten years old, and she has another ten years of growing up ahead before the central events of the novel take place.
As an author, when you deliver a timestamped character into a speculative near-future universe, you have the dual pleasures of creating a future and witnessing what your own future delivers.
And wow, does the future deliver.
With ten years of hindsight, I’m indulging now in a little retrospective on what I got right.
As a reminder to readers, and as intro to prospective readers, some technological themes and entities important to the world of Realms Unreel include the metaverse, virtual and augmented reality, cryptocurrencies, the progression of socioeconomic inequality, tech backlash, the acceleration and deterioration of the news cycle, socioeconomic inequality, climate change, Anonymous, and government surveillance of citizens. I veil some of these themes with my own sci fi universe jargon (the alternet, domain currencies, immergers, smartcoms, etc.), in order to free up Realms Unreel from specific companies, protocols, and device terminology, but the parallels should be obvious to most readers.
Since the time I first set pen to paper in late 2010, here are just a small handful of relevant developments in my own timeline that echo the developments in Emmie’s:
The launch of Instagram and the rapid progression of influencer culture
The release of the first Oculus Rift prototype via a Kickstarter campaign and subsequent continuous improvement of many VR and AR hardware technologies
The launch (and many collapses) of early Bitcoin exchanges, including the “dark web” Silk Road exchange, the explosion of cryptocurrencies into mainstream awareness, and the development of many blockchain-derived concepts like DAOs, ICOs, DeFi, NFTs, and so much more
Edward Snowden’s revelations of the extent of illegal US government surveillance of its own citizens
A new wave of buzz around the metaverse and commitment by tech industry titans to “own” this next phase of our collective technological future
Spiking interest in Web 3, largely in backlash to the consolidation and growing power of centralized social media platforms associated with the Web 2.0 era
Socioeconomic inequality careening toward its tipping point, and the increasingly violent reactions to it in our politics, monetary policy, social cohesion, and culture
Dramatic mega-fires, droughts, floods, and storms across the globe, particularly acute in Emmie’s own neck of the woods in the Bay Area
These developments did not require much prophetic foresight. Many people saw most of these things coming. Still, it’s been thought-provoking for me to witness, and to experience their impact on my own life now after imagining their impact on Emmie’s.
I missed a lot of things, too, of course. I was completely blindsided by the Covid-19 pandemic, and I could not have imagined just how much fuel it would throw on the already raging dumpster fire of our civil (uncivil?) discourse. I purposefully put away my personal inclinations toward dystopian apocalyptic thinking as I was writing Realms Unreel, choosing to focus instead on the more fun, whimsical, and positive aspects of the tech culture that accompanied the emergence of the consumer internet during my own childhood and young adulthood. Realms Unreel has a mythic fantasy at its heart, after all, and I read and write to escape as much as to process what’s happening around me. The dystopian themes I felt required acknowledgement in Realms Unreel mostly remain in its background, just as many of us allow them to float in the background of our own lives until at last they can no longer be ignored.
Even ignoring all the things happening in the world around me, a lot happened in my own life during the last ten years. Significantly, I co-founded a tech startup, of which I am immensely proud. I experienced the exhilarating and heart-stopping rollercoaster of building a new company from scratch alongside beloved co-founders, amazingly talented teammates, and important customers. It has been quite an education. My knowledge of Bay Area tech culture has deepened immeasurably over the last ten years of my alter ego’s career.
So eight of my last ten years were completely consumed in the experience of company building. But all that time, the universe of Realms Unreel was percolating in the back of my mind. I always intended the novel to be the first in a series, but I found that the attention and time required to build a new company were incompatible with the attention and time required to write a novel. Thus the ten-year hiatus.
But now the time has come. I put that timestamped stake in the ground in 2012 to ensure I finished the series before 2032 rolls around, and 2032 is fast approaching. I find myself now in a very fortunate period of career sabbatical, which has given me the time and space to reflect on the action-packed last ten years. And to my delight, I discover that the universe of Realms Unreel is still calling to me, demanding to be finished.
So it is with great pleasure that I announce the tale now continues in the form of The Artifex and the Muse novel series, beginning with the 2022 release of The Voice in All. For readers and fans of the original Realms Unreel, I thank you for your patience. For new readers, welcome to the Realms Unreel universe!
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