[Plura-list] John M Ford's "Aspects"

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat Apr 9 15:00:06 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/04/09/john-m-ford/

Today's links

* John M Ford's "Aspects": An unfinished masterpiece by a legend of science fiction and fantasy.

* Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.

* This day in history: 2002, 2012, 2017

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading


👩🏿‍🎤 John M Ford's "Aspects"

John M Ford's sudden death in 2006 - a heart attack - left his legion of friends and fans bereft and reeling. Ford - "Mike" to his friends - was brilliant, witty, and multitalented, an accomplished RPG designer, poet, and half-a-dozen kinds of novelist.

He published an eerily prescient cyberpunk novel about "the Web" four years *before* Neuromancer, and eight years before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. His expansion to Paranoia is one of the wittiest RPG sourcebooks ever published. His Star Trek novel, "The Final Reflection," created Klingon fandom and changed the way the franchise approached its perennial bad guys. His *other* Star Trek novel, "How Much For Just the Planet," is a comedic masterpiece that mashes up Trek with Gilbert and Sullivan.

He was a dear friend of a wide community of science fiction and fantasy writers, editors and fans, all of whom were in quiet awe of his wit and creativity. Robert Jordan called him "the best writer in America, bar none."

Ford's death didn't just break his friends' hearts, it also threw his literary estate into chaos. Ford died intestate, and was not married to his partner, Elise Matheson. A series of seeming miscommunications with his family (who controlled his estate) led many of his friends to conclude that they didn't want to permit his work to remain in print. His agent, Valerie Smith, was embroiled in a legal battle when he died and quit the field shortly thereafter, and stopped answering correspondence and calls.

That's where things remained for for more than a decade, as Ford's work became harder and harder to locate. But then, Slate's Isaac Butler set out to resolve the mystery of what had become of Ford's legacy, and, incredibly, managed to bring together Ford's family, friends, publisher, and erstwhile agent, unwinding the misunderstandings and missed signals:


As a result, Tor's Beth Meacham was able to do a deal to reissue *all* of Ford's work, including his unfinished masterpiece, Aspects, which was still in progress when Ford died.

The first of these was a reissue of "The Dragon Waiting," which Gene Wolfe called "The best mingling of history with historical magic that I have ever seen," which sported an introduction by Scott Lynch:


Next came a reprint of "The Scholars of Night," with a new introduction by Charlie Stross. "Scholars" is an incredibly clever, brilliantly plotted, sharp-as-hell Cold War spy thriller that defies description as it hops back and forth between the life of Christopher Marlowe and a cabal of wargaming 1980s spooks:


Last week, we got the main event: the long-awaited publication of "Aspects," an epic, unfinished first volume of a steampunk fantasy series, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman:


In his intro, Gaiman writes that "Aspects" is "what *Game of Thrones* might have been, if the author had been fascinated by trains...communication and politics, magic, redemption, and the forms that love can take." Having just finished the novel myself, I think that's exactly perfect.

This is a book of quiet - but stunning - erudition. Every aspect of Ford's world - its politics, its history, its geography, its magic, its technology, its economics, its mythos - rings true. What's more, every part of it fits together with the rest of it in a way that is so believable that it feels realer than our own world at times.

It's the story of a world of magic on the cusp of an industrial revolution, where a hereditary Parliament is engaged in a constitutional reform meant to modernize society - a project that is opposed by many forces, foreign and domestic.

Ford weaves his tale around a series of set-pieces, starting with a duel, and then a Parliamentary debate, and then a retreat to a magical guest-house - an extended scene of hospitality, camaraderie and joy so intense that it was like mainlining the entire Callahan's series along with every story of the Algonquin Roundtable and Roosevelt's kitchen cabinet in one go. There are road-trips and fights with bandits, star-crossed lovers and brilliant chefs, street urchins and sorcerers, magic and romance.

"Aspects" ends abruptly, eight paragraphs into its eighth chapter, with nothing of the remainder of the book or the series except a sequence of sonnets meant to introduce the subsequent volumes. It's a truncation as haunting as the unfinished Gormenghast book - except that Ford manages to pack as much detail and delight into an unfinished single volume as Peake produced in three.

It's a book as frustrating as it is satisfying. That stump of an eighth chapter hints at so much more - it makes me want to write fanfic, or play an RPG based on it (either would be a fitting tribute to Ford).

As bittersweet as it was to turn the final page in the final work by Mike Ford, it was, still, sweet. And there is more Ford to (re)discover. Tor continues to reissue Ford's backlist. Next up is "Growing Up Weightless," about "a lost generation' of young people born on the human-colonized Moon. That's out next autumn, with an intro by Francis Spufford:


Some time after that, Tor will reissue "Web of Angels," that prescient proto-cyberpunk novel - Ford's first. I wrote the intro for that one. As I wrote, "It is a remarkable, innovative, strange and dense book. It's not easy to read, but it is a stupendous book."

There's more to come after that, too.

For more than a decade, Ford's friends and fans feared that his legacy would be snuffed out. Now, there's a chance for it to achieve the fame and accord it always deserved.


👩🏿‍🎤 Hey look at this

* INCREDIBLY interesting breakdown of 3D printed RPG mini supply chains: printer DRM, SaaS tying, craft processes, logistics questions. Just…wow. https://bam.kalzumeus.com/archive/payments-and-plastic-in-the-fantasy-supply-chain/

* Links to the 2022 Hugo Award Finalists for best novelette and best short story https://www.superpunch.net/2022/04/links-to-2022-hugo-award-finalists-for.html


👩🏿‍🎤 This day in history

#20yrsago Missouri spends $273k to "combat goth culture" https://web.archive.org/web/20020802143351/https://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20020409-90513512.htm/

#20yrsago School suspends students behind SouthHighSucks.com https://web.archive.org/web/20020407071210/http://www.southshighsucks.com/index.html

#20yrsago CD-ROMs shaped like Texas https://web.archive.org/web/20020802062420/http://www.cdfx.com/newsite/shaped.html

#20yrsago Tim O'Reilly: Inventing the Future https://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/tim/articles/future.html

#10yrsago The rise of student loans to cover private kindergarten https://web.archive.org/web/20120329015456/http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/student-loans-on-rise--for-kindergarten-1332957614617/?mod=e2tw

#5yrsago Colorado’s investment in IUDs and other fire-and-forget birth-control produced a “miracle”  https://web.archive.org/web/20170408170908/https://www.alternet.org/personal-health/family-planning-miracle-colorado-program-has-teen-births-and-abortions-drop-half-and/

#5yrsago Livejournal’s Russian owners announce new anti-LGBT policy, fandom stages mass exodus http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2017/04/random-excuses.html


👩🏿‍🎤 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Friday's progress: 501 words (81731 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: The Byzantine Premium

Upcoming appearances:

* Surveillance Capitalism, Borders, and the Police (Tech Workers Coalition San Diego), Apr 14

* Seize the Means of Computation, Emerging Technologies For the Enterprise, Apr 19-20

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference, Jun 15-16

Recent appearances:

* The Long, Slow Death of the Internet (Factually with Adam Conover):

* Creative Commons Open Minds Podcast:

* Initiative for Public Digital Infrastructure Podcast

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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