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How We Got Into the Science Fiction Game

The second episode of our science fiction story, "Silence Like Diamonds," is up! Read it here: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 2: Warning Shot.

Or start at the beginning if you're just tuning in. Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business.

After you're caught up, come back here and I'll tell you how Light Reading decided to publish science fiction.


It all started with Leonard Nimoy.

When the iconic Star Trek actor died in February, my colleague Dan Jones suggested I write a feature about it for Light Reading. He came to me because I'm known on staff as an enthusiastic science fiction fan.

I declined. I had a lot going on that day. And while I was a stone Trekkie as a teen, I've moved on. Also, I couldn't think of an angle for the story. What do Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy have to do with communicationa providers?

Good thing I ducked the assignment. Dan did a great job with it, finding the right angle to tie Nimoy to the communications industry and describing how Star Trek and Nimoy have been meaningful to several of us on Light Reading. It's a fun and funny feature while also being respectful to Nimoy and his legacy. (See Light Reading Salutes Leonard Nimoy: He Lived Long & Prospered.)

Months later, our CEO, Steve Saunders, contacted me to say that the Nimoy feature proved very popular with readers, and asked what I thought about publishing a science fiction story on Light Reading. Something with a communications provider angle that looks at the future of the industry through a science fiction lens.

Heck, yeah! I said. (I may have used a more vehement word than "heck." I'm from New York. In our natural state, New Yorkers drop F-bombs like commas.)

I thought for a nanosecond about writing the story myself. I have written several science fiction stories and two novels. They are all, alas, unpublished. I decided that we should go with a pro on this one.

Fortunately, I had a good candidate: John Barnes, an author with more than 30 novels to his credit, including science fiction classics Mother of Storms and A Million Open Doors. I know John first through being a fan of his work. Later, we got to be friends on the lamented General Electric GEnie online service (See! A communications provider angle!). Later still, when I was editing technology websites and needed writers, I published several of John's articles.

John is the ideal writer for this project: A great science fiction writer who knows how to write online and who I'd worked with successfully previously.

I also knew, from having tried to do a project like this previously with John, that he is the Iron Chef of science fiction writing. Some writers wait for inspiration to come from within, but with John you can throw a bunch of random ingredients at him and he'll cook up a great story with them.

And that's what happened. Steve had listed a few elements he wanted to see in the story: It should be set ten years to a quarter-century in the future or so and focus on someone hacking the global network of drones that would, by then, be the primary platform for long-haul Internet access. (See Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet.)

I think Steve may have had more ideas. I threw them at John, and he caught them all as they came in and whipped them up into an excellent confection.

John and I agreed he should write a story of about 10,000 words, and I took the deal to Steve. Steve set one other condition: 10,000 words is ten to 20 times longer than the articles we publish here. So we should break this story up into ten parts.

"OK, boss!" I said. "Yikes!" I thought. How could you break up a short story into ten parts so that it all hangs together and readers are both satisfied with each part and feel compelled to come back?

That's when I really knew John was the right candidate. Because John isn't just a terrific writer. He's also a wonk for story structure, including pacing and timing. I brought the additional condition to him and he took it in stride. You'll find that each part of "Silence Like Diamonds" is satisfying and entertaining, while contributing to the whole.


Want to know more about the cloud? Visit Light Reading's
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On John's blog, he tells his side of the story of how he came to write science fiction for Light Reading: "Tomorrow morning: Fresh serial!" He doesn't remember it the way I do. But his memory makes me look smarter, so I'm OK with that. (Don't be scared off by the CONTENT WARNING before you click through to the site. It's all workplace-safe.)

John also talks about the difference between short stories, novelets, novellas and novels, which has nothing to do with the communications industry but is interesting nonetheless. He calls "Silence Like Diamonds" a novelet; I say it's a short story. We're both right, depending on how you define the terms.

That's it for today. Come back Friday for "Principle One," the next installment of "Silence Like Diamonds."

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

JessicaWakefield 7/29/2015 | 11:22:41 AM
Drones are amazing! This is fabulous story that is definitelly worth reading and sharing. I am inclined in writing escecially fiction stories so your one is highly interesting for me. I didn't trust essay writing before trying to do it on my own, now I find it exciting.
DHagar 7/28/2015 | 6:46:30 PM
Re: How We Got Into the SF Game MitchWagner, thanks - a good story in and of itself!  The Iron Chef IS good!  He is definitely weaving a good mystery and science fiction novelette.

Kudos to you and the staff!  Very entertaining and thought-provoking!
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