Friday, June 10, 2016

Editing in Process: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Pirate Utopia
Cover Art by John Coulthart
Over the past fifteen years, I've worked on a few projects with author Bruce Sterling. The earliest project that comes to mind is Paul Di Filippo's short story collection, Strange Trades, which I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press in 2001. Bruce wrote the introduction to this quirky collection of stories in which Paul reconstructs our (mis)conceptions about what it means to work for a living. Another project? In January 2009 I emailed Bruce for permission to use his story "Swarm," one of his Shaper/Mechanist stories, in my Alien Contact anthology. More than two years passed before the anthology was finally published, but published it was.[1]

Then in the fall of 2014 (September 18, 2014, to be exact), when I was on the hunt (and still am!)[2] for a new novella for Tachyon Publications, I immediately thought of contacting Bruce Sterling. Of course, to be fair, not only is Bruce one of my fave authors, but Tachyon publisher Jacob Weisman had previously informed me that he was a huge fan of Bruce's writing as well, particularly Bruce's short stories. Over email, Bruce and I discussed word length, fees, and such, and that was that. About ten months later, on July 14, 2015, I followed up with another email to Bruce. By this point, two of Tachyon's recent novellas on which I had worked had won awards: Nancy Kress's Yesterday's Kin had won the Nebula Award, and We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory had won the Shirley Jackson Award. If one is trying to promote a publisher's novella program, it always helps to have had previous novellas win awards.[3]

Bruce responded the very next day, stating that he just happened to have a novella available -- Pirate Utopia: "a 25,000 word dieselpunk alternate history yarn set in Italy in 1919." (The story actually takes place in 1920.) And, as "they" say, the rest is history, or, at least, alternate history.

About Pirate Utopia: Following the Great War, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States and tyrant of the League of Nations, gave Fiume away to Yugoslavia, which resulted in the Fiume rebellion and the rise of the Regency of Carnaro. The story opens in Occupied Fiume, in January 1920: Lorenzo Secondari, the Pirate Engineer, and his group of Croatian pirates are off to the cinema to celebrate their new and improved torpedo, recently built at his Torpedo Factory. Adventures ensue...including an eventual meeting with a team of American Secret Service Agents.

Bruce and I put together a rather detailed "Cast of Characters." I've already introduced Lorenzo Secondari; here are a few others (in abbreviated form):
Blanka Piffer: The Pirate Engineer's business manager, interpreter, and purchasing agent; a Fiume native and Communist union leader.

The Prophet [Gabriele D'Annunzio]: the military dictator of Fiume, its guiding light and great orator; leader of the "Desperates."

The Constitutionalist [Alceste de Ambris]: Carnaro’s greatest political theorist.

The Ace of Hearts [Guido Keller]: The Prophet's right-hand man; a charismatic combat air ace and renowned expert in aerial reconnaissance.

The Art Witch [Luisa Casati]: a Milanese millionairesse, patroness of the arts, and occultist, who entertained The Prophet.

Giulio Ulivi: a young visionary Italian radio engineer, who discovered a new form of radiation which he named the "F-Ray."

Other "characters" include Benito Mussolini, Guglielmo Marconi, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Harry Houdini, Howard Lovecraft, and Robert "Bob" Ervin Howard. But you'll have to wait for the book to learn the roles these individuals play in the story. And remember, this is an alternate history story.

The cover art for Pirate Utopia is brought to you by the mighty hand of John Coulthart. Evidently the period of time in which this story takes place is of special interest to John, and in fact he includes a very enlightening 1,000-plus-word essay entitled "Reconstructing the Future: A Note on Design." About the cover art, John writes:
...there's a nod to Soviet Constructivism on the cover, with colours, letterforms, aircraft formation, and a flag-waving crowd that suggest the propaganda posters of the period. If this seems at odds with the Futurism within, consider it a hijacking (or pirating) of the graphics of a rival ideology...just as Secondari pirates (or hijacks) the Lancia-Ansaldo IZM from the unfortunate Communists. That armoured car is accurately depicted, incidentally, as are the Caproni bombers on the cover and inside the book....

Pirate Utopia will be published in November and is now available for pre-order direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, Amazon, or your preferred bookseller.


[1] My anthology Alien Contact was published in the fall of 2011 and contains 26 stories, and 165,000 words, of some of the best alien contact stories published in the past 30 or so years (from when the book itself was published). Here's my dedicated Alien Contact page -- start with "Beginnings..."

[2] In addition to Bruce Sterling, I contacted a handful of other authors to let them know I was acquiring original novellas for Tachyon Publications. It never ceases to amaze me when authors do not have the professional courtesy to even respond to such a query from an acquiring editor. I guess these writers have tons of editors breaking down their door to buy their stories. It must be nice. Just tell me you're not interested, or you're too busy, or whatever. You never know when you may have to work with me in the future.

[3] The Nebula Award win and the Shirley Jackson Award win for Nancy Kress and Daryl Gregory, respectively, were only the two most recent wins for Tachyon Publications -- and the two most recent novellas that I had worked on. In 2013, Nancy Kress's After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall won the Nebula Award, and was also a finalist for the Hugo Award. And Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul won that very same Hugo Award.

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