Anatomy of a Flameout

I can think of about a hundred people who’d argue that writing this post is the dumbest, most counterproductive thing I could possibly do— that I’m not only burning my bridges behind me, but burning others before I come to them. These people would tell me to keep my opinions to myself, for the sake of my career.

They’re probably right.

The thing is, though, it’s not always about hustling the next book or making the smart career move. Sometimes it’s about being able to look at yourself in the mirror.

*

Courtesy of David Nickle (who, I'm guessing would be one of the hundred). He really knows how to pick 'em. The last time he bought me alcohol in bulk, it was a bottle of white called "Guilty Men".

From David Nickle (who I’m guessing would be one of the hundred), in commiseration. He really knows how to pick ’em. The last time he bought me a bottle, it was a Cab Merlot called “Guilty Men”.

Well, that was fast. Turns out I’m not doing a “Person of Interest” novel after all.

I did warn you. I told you that the whole thing might get junked if they didn’t like the outline. As it turns out, though, the project is dead for a different reason entirely.

It turns out they didn’t like my last blog post.

For my part, I was rather fond of it. I’d been sitting on the news ever since last summer, unable to share; even after the book ended up on Amazon I still figured I should get explicit permission from Titan before going public. Permission in hand, I framed the story as a bit of good news, albeit hard-won good news that had to be fought for; I talked about the inevitable delays that gum up the works when multiple corporations, all with their own vested interests, have to get on the same page. As far as I was concerned it was like pointing out that Canadian winters are cold— not an insult, just an unpleasant fact. The way things are.

Evidently that’s not how certain other parties felt. (Exactly which other parties remains unclear, other than they obviously live somewhere in the Titan/Warner Bros./Bad Robot triumvirate. No one has communicated directly with me on the matter, so this is all coming via my agent with the serial numbers filed off.) They saw it as an extensive and detailed list of my own personal irritations and frustrations, name-checking of the characters involved, and complaints about remuneration. The most egregious sin, in their eyes, was the fact that I spilled “confidential” information— to wit, the title. That was enough to cancel the contract outright, Japan’s apparent interest notwithstanding.

If you go back and review the post in question, you’ll see that none of these claims stand up to scrutiny.

For example, if I’d wanted to “list my irritations and frustrations”, I would have mentioned the fact that I was given three months to write a novel, then put on hold for almost a third of that time while waiting for someone to approve a 5-page proposal. Or the contractual clause obligating me to return my signing installment if the project were cancelled up to the detailed-outline phase— in which case I’d be the only person on the project expected to work for free (unless Titan and WB employees routinely hand back portions of their salaries every time a project goes south). I’d have talked about the uncertainty of working up ten thousand words of prose, scaffolding, and outlines— without a contract and without payment— purely as a show of good faith, because I knew time was pressing and I didn’t want contract negotiations to slow things down even further. The teleconference that answered nothing; the makeup conference promised, but never delivered. There’s no end to the “frustrations” I could have “detailed”.

What I actually wrote was “There were contractual issues, but I figured we could work those through— because sometimes, as my buddy Mike Skeet opined, you just gotta tell the story.”

Name-checking the involved parties? The only person I named was JJ Abrams (who, let’s be clear, I’m pretty sure was not involved)— and unless his role as head of Bad Robot is supposed to be some kind of trade secret, I’m unclear as to how this constitutes any sort of breach. I didn’t mention remuneration at all until someone in the comments talked about a dream come true. My response— “You haven’t seen what they’re paying me”— was intended more as a wry commentary on general midlister income than anything else. (Titan was actually paying about a third of what I’d received for my previous tie-in, so in this case the remuneration was especially low. Which was, ironically, why I didn’t mention it.)

As for the real deal-breaker— spilling the title—to which title are they referring? “Person of Interest Novel #1”, which someone had already plastered across Amazon websites the world over? Or “The Hephaestus Iteration”, working title for an outline that had already been scuppered from above because it didn’t reflect the latest state of the narrative? A title, and an outline, submitted months before I was even signed?

Nothing in that post was factually inaccurate. Nothing breached contract. Nothing was even really all that negative, especially in light of the things I could have said; basically just generic grumblings about the speed at which corporations move. So why, after alternately working my ass off and twiddling my thumbs for extended periods over the past several months— after having had the work I submitted described as “brilliant”, “really cool”, and “fantastic”— after seeing myself described as “the perfect person to write this book”— why am I suddenly out of a gig?

The reasons that have filtered through to me simply don’t hold up (the claim about name-checking is pure fabrication). I’ve seen grumblings about “lost trust”, but the foundation laid out for such a claim is so insubstantial as to be meaningless—mealy-mouthed evasion to mask some other reason, some real reason, that remains unspoken. So, in the absence of first-hand information, we are left to speculate.

We could speculate that this was a diversionary tactic meant to distract from whoever jumped the gun and released the novel info in the first place.  Maybe someone, red-faced, figures they can take cover behind related collateral.

Maybe.  But I doubt it.

I think this may have more to do with the prevailing power dynamic between publishers and authors in general, the reason my hundred advisors would advise me to keep my mouth shut. When you’re a midlist author, you just don’t talk about this shit. Whatever the merits of your complaint, whatever steps you’ve taken behind the scenes, there’s a kind of gentleperson’s agreement that publishers never get called out in public. It’s partly decorum (no one wants to look unprofessional by airing their dirty laundry) but it’s also fear, a fear informed by the fact that there are so very many writers and so very few publishers, fewer with each passing year. You make the wrong person look bad and you just may never sell a book in this town again.

The threat is by no means universal— at a rough count I’ve had dealings with somewhere around thirty publishers over the course of my career, and working with most of them has ranged from hassle-free to downright joyful. Still, the power imbalance weighs more heavily than you might expect from reading the relentlessly upbeat blogs of your typical midlist author. I belong to a couple of online writers’ lists, those private communities where they say things they’d never be dumb enough to express in public. The nickel-and-diming, the questionable accounting, the deliberate cutting of authors out of every relevant loop. The manipulative editors, the incompetent agents, the endless ass-covering. Writers bitch about it behind the scenes, and ask each other for advice; they compare notes about this potential career-killer or that potential career-savior.

Never in the open, though. We hide in the closet and we commiserate over our mutual misfortunes, but everything’s prefaced with Obviously this is in strictest confidence and Don’t tell anyone, it’ll only get him mad…

So I’m thinking, maybe I told someone.

I wasn’t trying to. I wasn’t on any kind of crusade, wasn’t trying to Speak Truth to Power or any of that shit. I kept carefully mum about all my real gripes. The stuff I did mention— the glacial pace of corporate decision-making, the top-down creative control exerted on media tie-ins— just weather reports, as far as I was concerned. Generic stuff, impersonal, elements for the protagonist to endure on his quest for a cool sandbox and a happy ending. I named no names— hell, I didn’t even know any.

But perhaps even that mild, good-natured grumbling is still a bridge too far. I guess, without even meaning to, I called them out.

*

At this point, the smart thing would probably be to make some brief announcement— couldn’t come to terms, creative differences, yadda yadda yadda— but that would be horseshit.

So here’s something that isn’t. I am bummed, and I am pissed— because while the gig may have been frustrating, the book would have been great. I was really excited about writing it, and I was honored to be invited into the coolest AI sandbox TV has ever seen. But that doesn’t change the fact that these guys got me to put my life on hold and then dicked me around for a third of a year. I wasted months, turned down other gigs that would have paid more. I was happy to. Sometimes you just gotta tell the story.

There will be other gigs. There already are. My royalties alone for last year were almost four times what this book would have netted me (admittedly, it was a good year for royalties), so I’m not ending up on the street any time soon. Even if I did, there’s little joy in a relationship that lets one party piss with impunity into the punch bowl while giving the bum’s rush to anyone with the temerity to remark upon it.

The problem, my hundred smarter advisers would say, is that most of the industry operates exactly that way. Maybe all.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe any other publisher who passes this way will read the tale and say, “What a fucking diva. Can’t trust him. Put him on the list of Difficult Authors to Never Work With.”

But maybe, some will say “Huh. I guess I’d be pissed too, if someone kept jerking me around like that. Since we don’t treat our people that way, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

There’s cause to hope. Like I said; thirty publishers, and most have been just fine.

But if I’m wrong— if the entire industry does, in fact, think it’s the author’s job to just shut up and smile, regardless— well, then I’ve already lasted in this business far longer than I should have.

‘Bye, PoI Novel #1. Too bad we couldn’t make it work.

It would have been glorious.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday January 16 2016at 10:01 am , filed under writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

61 Responses to “Anatomy of a Flameout”

  1. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.

    The only reason I started watching Person of Interest is because of your blog post and I felt what can only be described as an unreasonable amount of glee knowing that you’d be writing a PoI novel.

    Oh well.

    Will you be posting the outline as fanfic anywhere or is that a massive breach of contract?

  2. Aw, man, I’m sorry to hear that. It sounded like that was going to be good.

    A la prochaine I guess.

  3. Fucking hell, that sucks. And, thanks for the honesty about how it is out there. Hope it doesn’t cost you too badly. (I’m sure some up and coming writers needed to hear it.)

  4. Don’t let Harlan Ellison hear you worked for free! Not surprising that WB is the same corp that tried screw him over in this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

    Now can you go back to writing post-human/vampire novels please?

  5. Sorry you didn’t get the chance, but, like I said before, I hope you manage to salvage some of the research/writing to use elsewhere.

    And just remember, even if this gets you labelled as a diva and not-to-be-worked-with (I hold out a little stubborn hope for human nature that some of the regular SF publishers aren’t this petty and dumb), you do have an audience who would be willing to take a chance and follow you to experimental self-publishing/kickstarted things, should they be required. I mean, I understand that’s not ideal, that publishers do a lot of work you don’t want to handle for yourself, yadda yadda yadda, but just saying, should you think you’re in a place where you might as well give it a shot, then I think there are plenty out there to support that move too.

  6. Ugh, as the someone commenter, maybe I shoulda kept mum too.

    But fuck it, why don’t you just cut the middle men, get a patreon and let them all go piss up a rope.

    And you can start your own near future AI thriller series, with blackjack. And hookers. And better ideas, no doubt.

  7. That sucks.

    Still, file the serial numbers off and sell it as your future AI novel.

  8. I seriously doubt that in your case this kind of transparency is professional suicide. You’re writing books that nobody else is writing, and you have an audience that appreciates that and will pay good money to support you. (People are still buying the Rifters books even though you have them online for free, right?) A guaranteed audience, even if it’s midlist scale, is valuable. As far as I can tell, nobody is currently trying with any notable degree of success to write Peter Watts books (the way that people tried and failed with great financial success to write William Gibson books twenty years ago).

    Maybe this impacts franchise books. Maybe it impacts which franchises are willing to work with you. Does that matter very much?

  9. You can do a lot better than them.

    Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of your genius is also partly responsible for the way you tend to have it out with authority figures.

  10. I’m sure that you’ve given thought to other modes of operation, like using Patreon or Greg Stolze’s Ransom Model, so instead of asking if you have, I’m wondering why you aren’t interested in those routes.

    (I don’t mean to be coming off as judgmental, if that’s how it sounds. As an author with a few tiny publishing credits and plans to go the Patreon route, I’m wondering why you probably think that’s a bad idea)

    RS,

    It’d be great to be able to read this on Archive of Our Own, if the contract allowed.

  11. Well, fuck them with a forklift.

    To be completely honest, I fail to understand why have you worked for so long in such shitty circumstances. I get it you like the fiction of PoI, but really you’ve got to have more respect for yourself and your skills, Mr Watts. You’re miles above most people who write those tie-in novels, and if those hairy corporate meatheads can’t recognise that, that’s their loss.

    When you agree to work in lousy conditions, you’re just showing the corporate critters that they’re doing something right. “Oh look! We’re giving this one rotten cabbage, and he seems to like it! He’s practically loving this shit! It’s rotten cabbage for everyone from now on – and if they puke and complain and shit themselves to death, we can always show him this one and say: hey look at him, _he_ doesn’t complain!”

    Incoming pretentious quote:
    Whoever makes himself a worm cannot complain when he is then trampled underfoot.

    I’m waiting impatiently for your next book/story, and if some corp robs me out of it again, I’m getting a forklift licence.

  12. Gonna just punch up what I said in the last thread: Season 5 was cut in half.

    My opinion, sorry folks, but the excuse is horseshit.

  13. Fuck ’em. If they can’t even take something like your last blog post and possibly knowledge of some grumbling behind closed doors I wonder what kind of walled-garden they are living in.

    And yeah, the excuse look really weak.

    I think you show remarkable restraint, I’m not sure I would even call it a flameout, but then I don’t have to work with these precious pricks either…

  14. It may be that this is some strange new signpost in the twilight zone that is the intersection of SF writing for the reading crowd versus writing SF for the couch-potatoes. On the one hand, they should be wanting the Wattsian sensibilities because there’s precious little of that on the networks. What there is of it, on the networks, is getting stretched mighty thin, just pumping out non-schlock for just one series, PoI (leaving out of the discussion new efforts such as “the Expanse”).

    Dr Watts, perhaps I am just more paranoid than you are, but I may smell a rat here. This looks almost as if they were trying to get a lot of commitment from you, without extending much of it themselves. Then, when they finally do turn you down, they can’t be bothered to come straight out and do it like it ought to be done, they just wait around for the most vaguely credible excuse and then trot out a dismissal. Is it possible that you were being trotted out yourself, to leverage some other writer’s negotiating position? For example “okay, so you are good at what you do, we admit it,” they tell the original writing team who are holding out for a bit more compensation at contract-renewal time, “but we have got the awesome Peter Watts actually itching to do some tie-ins and we have him right next to a contract that can pull out of his tie-ins and let that content roll over to ghost writers replacing you for most of the next season. Are you sure you want to keep holding out?” Those writers decide to not hold out as hard, they sign the contract, nobody feels any need to move forward with you, though if you did turn in a full missive for free, they could maybe pay you a pittance and put it in the files. As it is, they could see you as the kid hanging around outside looking hopeful, not a bad kid but he could go be hopeful somewhere else, so they send someone out to tell you to beat feet for chewing gum where the passersby can see it. But enough of my wild imagination.

    My honest guess is that they just can’t ever cut ties with talent without making it about something, even if the something is highly imaginary or almost inspirationally trifling. I’d suggest perhaps you should just write some totally awesome AI tale that isn’t a police procedural, or at least not one with the exact same set of stock characters. And then when you win the Hugo or at least get nominated, you can do the SF convention acceptance speech equivalent of a certain someone’s infamous Grammy dig, “some day I’ll be singing this at the Grammy’s, and all you’re ever going to be is mean”. I guess if they cut you loose like that, you can go in any direction you’d like. And maybe even be big in Japan.

  15. There was nothing in your last blog post that any sane person would object to. But power is prone to throwing hissy fits. It acts bizzarely, irrationally, egomaniacal and rarely pauses to think.

    I think this is a blessing in disguise. As Ste said, you’re too interesting to be writing tie-in books.

    And we fanboys are drooling for Blindsight 3.

  16. Shit, I named names and talked numbers in my comment too. I regret it now, and hope that YOU didn’t get fucked because an exec didn’t like MY comment.

  17. I know this sucks for you, but personally, I’m relieved.

    Being a Watts completist, I feared I’d have to wade through season after season of a crappy police procedural just to see what wonderful things you could do in its flimsy sandbox. Oh, I know it “gets better with later seasons”, but it starts as such godawful yawn-inducing horseshit that it would have been a *serious* chore.

  18. Modern corporate world, feudalism without the concept of “giri”…

  19. When power acts irrationally like that, the best explanation is usually “internal conflict”. Some executive doesn’t like the other, so they kill the other’s project under a pretense.

  20. RS: Will you be posting the outline as fanfic anywhere or is that a massive breach of contract?

    Regardless of any contractual ramifications, the degree of my fandom has cooled substantially anyway. I’m not really motivated to take the premise any further.

    Cat Vincent: And, thanks for the honesty about how it is out there. Hope it doesn’t cost you too badly.

    I guess we’ll find out. Think of this as a field study in progress.

    strangelooper: Now can you go back to writing post-human/vampire novels please?

    After I write my gengineered giant-squid novel, maybe.

    Peter D: Sorry you didn’t get the chance, but, like I said before, I hope you manage to salvage some of the research/writing to use elsewhere.

    The premise was pretty specific to details of the PoI canon. It would be a very difficult export.

    R. James Gauvreau: I’m sure that you’ve given thought to other modes of operation, like using Patreon or Greg Stolze’s Ransom Model, so instead of asking if you have, I’m wondering why you aren’t interested in those routes.

    I’m aware of Kickstarter and Patreon (the Ransom Model is new to me, though), although I haven’t looked closely under their hoods. I may end up going that route— I may have ended up doing that even if this particular gig hadn’t gone down the toilet— but at this point I’m doubtful that I’m big enough to make a sustained go of it. It’s really flattering when folks like enkiv2 compare me to Gibson, but let’s face it, I’m nowhere near that league. And while I might do well enough in the short term (hell, just holding my nose and publishing with Amazon might put me further ahead in the short term, given the disparity in royalties), I don’t know how easy it would be to sell a self-pubbed novel to overseas markets. And these days, I make a significant chunk of my income from translation deals.

    At this point I’m just going to reactivate other projects, clear that backlog, and see what transpires moving forward. All options are still open.

    Well, except for doing anything with Titan or WB, apparently…

  21. […] the project has been canceled. They list his posting about the Japanese pre-buys as the reason. Rather, I think it has more to do […]

  22. Cuz it was too long for posting here.

    https://cknall.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/art-and-artists-must-be-daring/

  23. Ste: To be completely honest, I fail to understand why have you worked for so long in such shitty circumstances. I get it you like the fiction of PoI, but really you’ve got to have more respect for yourself and your skills, Mr Watts.

    Read that piece I posted last year, the one that really kicked all this off: once you get past the lame victim-of-the-week stuff and the “We have to get there first…before it’s too late” dialog, this show is smart. Which is not to say I don’t have some issues with the way they portray the Machine on occasion— but those issues aren’t the usual sort, where you just roll your eyes and switch channels. The issues are worth debating; you could write whole novels resolving them. The creators put real thought into their AI. It would by no means have been slumming to work in that universe.

    Hell, the Crysis universe had far less to commend it than PoI, and for all the political issues with Crytek management I don’t regret doing that tie-in for a second. It was fun retconning rationales for the usual bullshit FPS tropes, for taking a stab at “transcending genre” as the elbow-patched tweedmeisters like to say. (Not to mention I got to hang out with Richard Morgan.)

    Of course, a big part of that was the fact that Del Rey was a delight to work with.

  24. Mr Non-Entity: This looks almost as if they were trying to get a lot of commitment from you, without extending … to tell you to beat feet for chewing gum where the passersby can see it.

    Well, as I said I’m not privy to any of that stuff. All I got was stuff from Titan, filtered through my agent. But my guess is, you’re giving these folks too much credit for Machiavellian maneuvering. This smells more like a simple tantrum to me.

  25. Would have been on this sooner, but I was betrayed by a canine who decided to crawl into an inaccessible area and unplug the WiFi last night after finishing up some writing on the blog. 😉

    Anyway, here’s Barry Eisler on the NY publishing biz and Amazon. But then he’s got some adaptation in the works for his assassin John Rain.

    https://twitter.com/barryeisler/status/688071247385595904

  26. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out; it would have been fun to see what you did with it.

    Guess I’ll just have to read some of your other work.

  27. Actually I’m kinda relieved it’s not happening. For many fans of POI, the first two seasons were not really about the procedural aspects, but rather about the gradual revelation of the mysterious pasts of the two main protagonists, their evolving relationship and their search for redemption. The fact that you consider this “unadulterated lameness” suggests you weren’t really watching, or maybe watching through a completely different lens to the rest of us. The AI aspects are interesting, but for these fans not the point. Human relationships and motivations will always be more important to this SF fan, no matter what I’m reading.

  28. I get that, and I appreciate it. (More than once Abrams has spoken of the need to stealth-deliver his SFnal ideas in mainstream platforms, for fear of scaring off skiffy-averse suits.) My problem was not with intent, but execution; those initial procedural episodes just weren’t written as well as the AI elements that came later. The dialog was often clunky, the situations often formulaic.

    Neither the exploration of relationships nor the necessity of a gradual reveal should preclude good writing.

  29. Peter Watts,

    Agreed. I guess I put up with the occasional flinch-worthy moment (Reese stares intently at camera: “*She’s* not the perp – *he* is…” cut to ads) because there’s so much else going on I love. I can understand how others might not be so tolerant, but I don’t see those moments as more than occasional annoyances in an otherwise intriguing show. Further, the initial eps varied a bit, but one of my all-time favourites was the fourth one in (Cura te Ipsum – mostly for the final few minutes which are simply amazing). However, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree – even diehard fans are divided on the relative strengths of the early seasons over the later! Also, forgot to say I’m sorry TPTB screwed you around over the book. No-one deserves that kind of treatment.

  30. Peter Watts,

    I have read your first post about PoI some time ago – a couple of times even, since you’ve successfully persuaded me to start watching the show. To be completely clear – I would’ve never got past 2-3 first episodes without your recommendation. Right now I’m at the end of season 1, and I’m starting to see small bits that aren’t complete tosh.

    It’s just that AI has been explored to death in the genre fiction, and it’s very difficult to say something interesting about it. I’m a bit tired of seeing big-budget (or even mid-budget) productions being back-patted for what I think is just basic competency in storytelling and using sci-fi tropes. I don’t know, maybe PoI really is a diamond in the rough – as I said, I’m still drilling through the dull, eyeroll-inducing crust of the first season.

  31. Obviously this has nothing to do with your last blog post. That’s just a pretext. For reasons that have nothing at all to do with you, they already decided not to go with this project. But they felt – perhaps – maybe a little bit bad (or perhaps just embarrassed) that they had given you these non-binding verbal agreements. So they used your blog post as a get-out clause.

    So perhaps you should count yourself lucky – if they had taken any longer to let you know, you might have invested even more time and effort in a worthless cause.

  32. I doubt writing the Jan 16 blog post will affect any potential future work with the corp overlords, but if it does, who among us when we reach the veil will look back and say, “I wish I’d sacrificed more of my integrity for money”?

    Selfishly I feel relief to not have to watch any more than the first two (lame-ass) episodes of PoI. Maybe it got interesting later on, but Jesus…

  33. Peter,
    Person Of Interest Novel 1 has been available for prepurchase since something like end of November in this specific Czech online store: http://www.nejlevnejsi-knihy.cz/kniha/person-of-interest-novel-1.html
    Since then I have been checking your blog to see if you’d actually happen to confirm this… and it was really grate when you kind-of did. Casting you out now seems to me like a really stupid idea on their part. I can’t think of anything you’ve publicly written that could possibly make you untrustworthy. The word has obviously been out for a while and all it’s done just behaves too much like a good marketing to call for any kind of serious scrutiny on a side of any reasonable publisher…
    Btw… you’re probably nowhere near William Gibson’s league in terms of popularity and sales, but I just happen to enjoy your books a whole lot more (then pretty much any other sci-fi author out there (even counting those decomposed and recycled ones) so you must be doing something right)… and I actually like Gibson’s writing quite a lot too.
    Definitely looking forward to your ‘other gigs’!

  34. Ste,

    Thank you for this.

  35. Alternate hypothesis: You were in fact nailed for name checking JJ Abbrams.

    It wasn’t so much JJ casting thunderbolts down from the heavens, more like an element of JJ *the Institution* that had a spasm. Some petty toad-like subordinate who has hitched his/her wagon to the engine of His JJness saw your post and didn’t think it was obsequious enough. Furthermore, the toad-like specimen didn’t like being reminded of their relatively low rank in Divine Hierarchy of the Church of Abbrams. Snit ensues.

    Of course, there are many other well thought out hypothesis on this thread, I feel like I’m reading the tea-leaves here and this is my attempt to channel Siri Keaton.

    I’m sorry I’m not going to get to read your improvement of PoI as I’m a big fan and thought this would be right up your alley. I was really excited when I read The Offending Post.

    The squids are gonna be awesome!

  36. There’s something else that’s been bugging me about CBS/POI for a bit and maybe this is a casualty of this too.

    POI has been netting them surprisingly good and high ratings
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person_of_Interest_%28TV_series%29#Ratings

    but now with season 5, first it was announced it was shorter (13 episodes), final season, then delayed airing till spring, and now with still no scheduled date in site people are speculating about the summer.

    Why are they treating a well working show so badly and looking like they are killing it for no good reason?

    I think they are pissed at what it’s become. CBS doesn’t scream bastion of scifi and political critique shows to me. I wonder if internally some politics is happening and they are killing it because they are unhappy with where its gone. It’s too anti authoritarian for them perhaps.

    Which would be a damn shame. and you may just be collateral damage of that.

  37. I’m sorry your blogpost got used as an excuse to screw you over. I admire your usual openness.

  38. In a nutshell, from the outside :
    – PoI the TV show is dead in all but name, and that happened sometime after they first approached you, and not a whole lot before you you were left for dead. From a distance, it looks like they left you hanging as long as there was a chance the show would get a re-order for

  39. [darn thing ate my edit]

    In a nutshell, from the outside :
    – PoI the TV show is dead in all but name, and that happened sometime after they first approached you, and not a whole lot before you you were left for dead. From a distance, it looks like they left you hanging as long as there was a chance the show would get a re-order for a 6th season, then decided to hate your guts when it didn’t happen, as you’re now part of a negative energy bundle.

    – Playing on the competitive anxiety of talent during negotiation by dangling a “X is pretty much signed on this” certainly doesn’t take anything close to Machiavellian levels of ruse, as it’s SOP in Hollywood handling of writers, directors, actors and even SFX people, so I wouldn’t rule that out. Don’t be surprised if some familiar name was to pop up on the cover of a PoI spinoff in the near future *cough* David Brin *cough*.

    I wish you got to write that book, despite my own reservations about the franchise, since a) you seemed genuinely excited about it, and b) it would have been a great opportunity for watchers of run-of-the-mill TV to upgrade their taste by exposure to wattsian goodness.

    Oh well…

  40. @ Dan Ballard, pretty much my point. I’m often shocked when I see shows taking place in the far flung future and there’s no mention of, for example, the Frey effect. With the equipment in place, there could be 100s, maybe 1,000s of Roots. Of course it would mostly be used for selling fast food, but still.

    Which is kind of the underlying thing: Surveillance and how it gets used is pretty much just 80s mass mailing, 90s spam emails, 00s do-not-call list violations via robocalls on steroids. High pressure sales where you aren’t aware what the salesman knows about you already.

    Soda machines, with those big lit up front were already shown in studies to catch people walking by significantly higher than, say, just passing a store that also happens to sell the drink. In Japan, read some time ago they were looking to increase the flow by using silent sound to catch people walking by who ignored the pretty lights.

    That’s really what it is ALL about: Eliminating choice, in so far as choice exists or ever existed.

  41. After I write my gengineered giant-squid novel, maybe.

    And the giant-squid novel is due…?

  42. There are rejections, and then there are… rejections like the ones that animator Don Hertzfeld gets.

    @Elli: nice catch on the character-development fan interest. Personally I am so jaded by the whole AI sub-genre (since Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream”) that character development is really all that’s left, although I admit to getting a certain thrill from the beginning of Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep”. I expect that probably half of the people who tuned in (or got onto it accidentally but figured they’d stick around) for PoI were nearly as jaded as I am for AI tales. And the characters are weird! Greatly weird! How the heck could anyone get that weird? Backstory is maybe all that you have left in a well-fleshed-out sub-genre. This is one reason I was really hoping Dr Watts could take a whack at it, because he does such a fantastic job of originating seriously weird and genre-shattering characters.

    And, as always, still waiting on the squids.

  43. I would totally throw $25 on patron for the rough draft of this or what you could spin this into. Hell if you keep working on the basic premise of AI I’d still be pumped, maybe even more so as you’d have more creative license.

    I am practically salivating over the idea of a Dr. Peter Watts take on AI cognition short story or novel. Your work has had amazing bits with this so far such as the gels in the Rifters trilogy and the various approches to explaining the underpinnings of alien minds.

    But seriously, if I pay you and sign a NDA or something can I read the draft?

  44. Don’t remind me about oil prices:
    I would totally throw $25 on patron for the rough draft of this or what you could spin this into. Hell if you keep working on the basic premise of AI I’d still be pumped, maybe even more so as you’d have more creative license.

    I am practically salivating over the idea of a Dr. Peter Watts take on AI cognition short story or novel. Your work has had amazingbits with this so far such as the gels in the Rifters trilogy and the various approches to explaining the underpinnings of alien minds.

    But seriously, if I pay you and sign a NDA or something can I read the draft?

    I am in the same boat. Change names, dump the portions you have on here and we will figure it out. Its a shame would have loved to see the story.

  45. First Star Wars sucked and now this. Fuck you very much JJ Abrams

  46. Hey! I really liked the new Star Wars, for all its epic silliness! (And I would be astonished if JJ Abrams even knew about such low-level stuff as this, much less had anything to do with it.)

  47. Johan Larson: And the giant-squid novel is due…?

    It’s actually not “due” any time, officially. I have not even pitched it to a publisher yet. I want to be happy with it before I send it out (to some extent I’ve been dissatisfied with every novel I’ve ever sent to an editor since Starfish, because the need to make deadline trumped my aspirations of quality). I’ve got enough money socked away to keep me going for a while without the necessity of an advance.

    Besides, with a completed novel in hand, I’ll have a bit more freedom when it’s time to talk to publishers. If the terms they offer are too onerous, I’ve got something to go indie with right out of the gate.

  48. Don’t remind me about oil prices:
    I am practically salivating over the idea of a Dr. Peter Watts take on AI cognition short story or novel. Your work has had amazingbits with this so far such as the gels in the Rifters trilogy and the various approches to explaining the underpinnings of alien minds.

    Possible **spoiler** if you haven’t read Blindsight, below:

    I think that Dr Watts may have something up his sleeve regarding AI. I haven’t read absolutely everything he has done, but I think that a hint can be taken from the opening of Blindsight where he says something perhaps best summarized as “and our world got too complex to be run by anything less than machines that were so smart, fast, and weird, that the only people who could begin to understand their attempts to communicate with us were…” and then he trots out Siri Keaton and friends. It’s just our luck that First Contact is — to judge by the lack of success at real communication by the mission — with something even weirder than the AI that make Earth’s civilizations work. Or is it any weirder? Because IIRC we never see those AI, nor hear directly from them. I guess most people in that world would, at best, get the equivalent of “robocalls” that weren’t trying to see them something. At worst, well, the AIs seem to think that people would rather get their marching orders from the likes of Jukka Sarasti. (And to judge from the popularity of that character as well as certain others, the AIs seem to be correct about that.)

    I think one of the hardest sub-sub-genres to work in might be the exact one in which PoI’s universe is set. The AI (one or more) emerge as constrained to be weakly-superhuman, but for variable values of “weakly”. Dramatic tension at a certain level of the tale — a stratum of story-arc, if you will — may be mostly about attempting to constrain the AI, or about the AI attempting to evade constraint. PoI uses a rare plot device, in which The Machine is effectively self-constraining. This only intensifies the deeply attractive absurdity of the series, that there is a hidden-yet-ubiquitous do-gooder AI that’s just as well socialized as a stable post-emergence AI could possibly be, which nonetheless has to get things done through it agents, which are with the exception of its creator, varying degrees of socialized (or capable of constraining themselves to mission goals) psychopaths. The Machine is building a wall of sociopaths around it to defend the lives or activities of people who are often not all that morally perfected themselves, or simply to remove from the game various sociopaths who would predictably get in the way of whatever is the eventual main goal of The Machine. Because the emergent Rival AI is doing just about the exact same thing, the plot evolution has been starting to draw in on each machine’s creator/administrator. The plot’s conflict elements are man versus man though it’s really the philosophical outlook of each man which is driving the contest. Rather than dealing with a conflict between technologies, this is devolving to a dialectic between unlimited Statism and a prayerful Deism in which on the one hand you have a seemingly benevolent deity that asks politely if you won’t help it be nice to people, and on the other hand you have a vast and demonic entity that the high-caste priest believes will serve only his own vastly grasping goals. Perhaps this is why the network is thinking to pull the series, drama about the nature of divinity — or at least of the superhuman — might be making people think more than is required to remember products of the advertisers. Also, keep in mind that for much of the audience, this will be broadcast in the run-up to a pivotal election, and maybe the network hasn’t yet quite figured out who they are supporting and wouldn’t want to be broadcasting a series that might be seen as lampooning whichever candidate or party they might support.

    As for how Our Gracious Host might eventually play his AI card, so to speak, if we don’t see much of it (or an early version of it) in this upcoming work with the genengineered squids, if we do get installment number three in “BlindoPraxia”, I have a feeling they might make an appearance there, in some way we really aren’t expecting. We live for such surprises!

  49. Peter Watts,

    Very charming explanation explanation of the starwars movie franchise. “way I figure it…”, http://wondermark.com/c1187/

    I had a blast at the movie and want to see it again despite all of the silliness. I loved it.

  50. @ Mr Non-Entity: Glad you brought up the divinity factor. How like reading tea leaves, examining entrails, readong the tarot, etc. the hints are in the formula PoI. For which they provide an excuse: Finch’s necessary deity-hobbling.

    Not sure I’d agree that those memes are the reason for pulling it, though. There’s a trend toward playing to that market sector. The glut of ghost reality shows, religious movies, and that life after death Jennifer Beals Proof thing I watched every episode of season 1 of to see if/how they’d resolve it, and lots more on cable such as the Librarians movies and series which are kind of polytheistic and Judeo-Christian at the same time.

    Unless you wanna go with mass fear/intimidation, shock’n’awe, omniscience, omnipotence, autonomic “karma,” as the new goal of the gov/biz hybrid. Megacorps and the 62 people who own as much as half the rest of the planet as the new pharoahs? Think you’d be on to something there.

    “Don’t look at us. Act of God.” *Lightning strikes.*

  51. Don’t remind me about oil prices:
    I would totally throw $25 on patron for the rough draft of this or what you could spin this into.

    You lose. Peter, I bid $50.

  52. You need a better agent! If you were working, you should have been paid. Just like you said, no way the other people involved were working for free. Getting some money also makes it harder for them to just kick you.

  53. I’ve got no complaints about my current agent. Actually, given my troublesomeness:profitability ratio, I’m probably lucky he hasn’t decided he needs a better client.

  54. Screw them bastards, I like your original stories better. Giant-squid novel you say?

    “Now I’m interested” said the AI.

  55. Oge: You lose. Peter, I bid $50.

    There’s always a bigger fish. I bid $75 for a complete first draft.

  56. Peter Watts,

    For what it’s worth, as someone who encountered Gibson as a teenager and thereby had my tastes shaped strongly by the encounter, for me personally Gibson is not in your league, rather than the opposite.
    So that seems less like a fawning verbal blowjob (and so hopefully more believable), let me qualify it somewhat:
    Gibson was visionary about many things, but the proof of that has taken decades to bear out.
    Last time I re-read the Bridge trilogy I noticed all these weak points that hadn’t appeared to me before, both in terms of the narrative and in terms of the style.
    In Blindsight – my favourite piece of your work so far – you combined a post-cyberpunk thing, written even more beautifully tersely than Gibson, with a depth of actual science that gets you … mentioned in the same breath as Arthur C. Clarke.
    If that’s not an amazing marriage of style and substance, I don’t know what is – and it’s more actual substance than Gibson bought (brings? I haven’t read his latest…) to his work.

    You said you have enough money in the bank/mattress to keep writing for now, but what about experimenting and doing a short or something else not too taxing (like I know anything about the relative difficulty of different forms and lengths) which I and the others in this thread can pay you directly for?
    Maybe we could buy our names in to it, as Atwood lets people do?

  57. Peter Watts,

    You might be taking my Gibson reference the wrong way. I recognize the huge gap in terms of income between midlist SF and perpetual bestsellers; however, when choosing points of comparison that will be familiar to a more general audience, one must of necessity lean toward the latter. My point was just that both of you have a very well-defined and distinctive writing style, but where Gibson’s early style was copied to hell, nobody’s doing Watts-style novels. In other words, anybody who wants your style is going to be buying your books. That’s a market.

    Compare to Charlie Stross, who is a lot less stylistically consistent. He’s got a steady audience because he has a couple franchises going and a fanbase that followed him from early on, but there isn’t anybody who thirsts for a Stross-style novel because Stross doesn’t have a single signature style, and the norm for his stuff is workable but pretty conventional prose. (Or, compare early PKD to late PKD.)

    There’s a variety of stylistically distinctive authors I could have mentioned instead of Gibson. The only one I can think of who also hasn’t had a lot of direct emulation is Rucker, but I think that’s probably for a very different reason.

    (Could somebody do a very good Peter Watts impression at novel length, without in fact being Peter Watts? Probably. It might be a bit harder than Gibson, since Gibson was never quite as consistent as his reputation held — Altered Carbon’s style was Gibson’s tendencies turned up to 11, while your stuff seems to be stuck at 12 on the Watts-ish scale and Gibson himself only appears to average about 3.5 Gibsons. But part of that is probably the hype around Gibson’s style, which he never seemed to fully buy into anyway.)

  58. I suppose filing off the serial numbers and publishing it as an original novel (50 Shades style) would probably get you in more trouble, but if that’s at all possible, please consider it.

  59. Wow, what a bag o’ dicks. I was about to buy the DVD’s of Person of Interest given your glowing assessment of the show, but now I think I’ll pass.
    It’s their loss.

  60. Mr. Non-Entity wrote,

    PoI uses a rare plot device, in which The Machine is effectively self-constraining. This only intensifies the deeply attractive absurdity of the series, that there is a hidden-yet-ubiquitous do-gooder AI that’s just as well socialized as a stable post-emergence AI could possibly be, which nonetheless has to get things done through it agents, which are with the exception of its creator, varying degrees of socialized (or capable of constraining themselves to mission goals) psychopaths. The Machine is building a wall of sociopaths around it to defend the lives or activities of people who are often not all that morally perfected themselves, or simply to remove from the game various sociopaths who would predictably get in the way of whatever is the eventual main goal of The Machine.

    I’m teaching from Plato’s Republic, so I’m a bit biased at the moment, but this sounds a lot like the early attempt to define the city in Book 2, and with some finesse, becomes one way of understanding Socrates’ claim that,

    Then if, in the limitless past, some compulsion forced those who were foremost in philosophy to take charge of a city, or is doing so now in some barbaric place far beyond our ken, or will do so in the future, this is something we are prepared to fight about—our argument that the constitution we have described has existed, does exist, and will exist, at any rate, whenever it is that the muse of philosophy gains mastery of a city.

    This also fits with your account of the AI being a minor god. Also fitting in this context is O’Brien’s admission that the Party in 1984 are the priests of power, that “God is Power” —the popularly unacknowledged fourth slogan of the Party.

  61. I am really sorry to hear this.

    But, as some have said, fuck ’em and do a paranoia AI story of your own. Come ON, who says PoI owns that bit of real estate?

    But, you know. Bastards.