Happy 4th Birthday Mimi of the Nowhere! An Announcement, Why My Series Isn’t Dystopian, And Why Book 5 Has Been Slow Coming

Today is the 4th anniversary of my first novel, Mimi of the Nowhere going live on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. In the last 4 years, there have been four books published in the series since that date, with more on the way. I am approaching the end of the first draft of book 5, The Children of AEIS and expect it to be out late summer.

For those who of you who have been following the series, you may have noticed it’s been two years between book 4 and book 5. Why is this? Well, as I am sure so many of you have experienced, the Covid-19 pandemic made life a bit more complicated for a while. But in addition to that, in June of 2020 I suffered a major head injury during a cycling accident. I struggled to read or write anything for almost 6 months. I would have occasional little bursts of creativity during that time, but I wrote and read very little. I was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome and I can say now, that after almost 2 years, I finally have a great deal of normality with only occasional concussion related issues.

This spring and summer I am back in the full swing of writing. And so there is another announcement. The Children of AEIS became rather lengthy, well over 1000 pages. If you’ve been following the series, you might no why… the world went from one walking city, to multiple, and then in book 4… the whole solar system began to open up. Because of it’s length, I have decided to split it into two books. Which will release within six months of each other. The new entry to the series, means the series will now be seven books in length. Book six is titled, “A War For The Heavens.” While book 5 focuses on the survivors of the aftermath of the Battle for Langeles, book 6 will return back to Manhatsten with their new allies the Lunites, and a conflict that is growing with ROAM. Book 7, A Hand to the Stars, will focus on the final battles for the fate of all remaining walking cities and the solar system itself.

You know, another thing I have been thinking about… my series never really fit quite right into the dystopian literature. Things are hard yes, but not hopeless. There is a lot of oppression, a lot of social control, but there are good things as well. It’s much more complex than the label of dystopian. My project here isn’t to talk about how awful society can be and the fear around the slide downhill… instead, this series is something different. I recently discovered an article on polytopias, about stories where the fundamental driving force of the story is that of change and diversity itself. I realized that the heart of everything happening my fictional universe fits this approach so much better. Definitely give that article a read if you want more info about polytopias. The author correctly points out Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and the Expanse as important examples of polytopias, and stories about change and diversity are definitely my approach.

Thank you to all of you who continue to follow my work. I appreciate every single one of you. I don’t have many fans, but the ones I do are the absolute best.

A Land of Fortresses (Poetry)

I wrote this last week during a poetry workshop at the High Plains for Applied Anthropology. This poem is dedicated to Howard Stein, who always inspires us to remember how powerful poetry is as a tool for understanding our humanity. Thanks Howard!

A Land of Fortresses

We are a land of fortresses,

Solitary, we treat only with those who think like us,

We are surrounded by a moat of toxic water,

Where the corpses of diverse ideas fester.

Our noses burn with their smell.

So we plug them and avert our eyes,

Staring only at the safety within our walls.


It is safe in here,

Like in the dark ages.


The world out there is dangerous,

Trolls pick their teeth with the bones of their victims,

The ones who wandered too far from their fortress,

They gorge under crumbling overpasses at the intersections of cyberspace.


Hoards of hairy monsters circle the walls,

Pounding on the portcullis.

Longing to cut their teeth on fresh fleshy argument.

Their wicked smiles gleam,

But only at 2 am, with beards unshaven,

Their cry of, ‘actually’, screamed at rhythmic intervals.


In the moonlight mist,

Even robots wait in ambush.

With strange requests for our most intimate knowledge,

To be used against us.

Your mother’s maiden name,

Your first pet,

Your high school mascot,

A way inside.

Our memories are our vulnerability.


There, waiting in a tower of thorns we hide behind walls.

Ignoring the needy who gather at the gates by day.

We stay closed for business,

To those with needs unmet.

Never pondering,

Only pontificating from the ramparts.

And the guards pay no mind,

Until the siege weapons arrive,

Well past the time of asking.


They erect the weapons just beyond our reach,

With great desperation.

Then we dig in.

Prepare the boiling oil,

Prepare the volley of flaming arrows,

And slings, to keep our outrageous fortunes,

To ourselves.


But know,

The walls will fall.

They always do eventually.

Even with our pride bolstering them.

Even after they crumble,

We cling to their illusion of solidity,

And believe everything we think.

Until it rots us through to the core.


Then, we stand amongst the rubble wondering why.

Screaming in the darkness at some imaginary god to save us.

Requesting thoughts and prayers,

Rather than doing anything at all.


And so we join the lost,

The homeless.

For we have no home in ourselves.


Wandering,

Pounding at the gates of another

Begging for entrance,

Pleading for compassion.

Cut by the thorns as we try to scale their walls.

And we construct siege weapons,

To topple the towers,

And bring all to ruin,

Because we have been ruined by our indifference.


I have built a wall

I have dug a moat,

Made of algorithms.

To cling, to avoid,

Both are poisons.

I have turned away,

I have clung until my fists bled.

My own life, slipping through my fingers.

Only to find Saturn return and demolish my walls,

With the weight of its gravity.


Open the gates.

Smash the walls.

Feel the freedom of the open-air,

Of strange conversations in dense forests,

And find the wisdom in the unkempt grass,

Or roll in the mud until you are baptized.


There is no choice.

To ignore is only to delay.

To ignore is to forfeit your will,

Your choice in the matter.


Go Then,

Be forced naked into a wilderness that no longer wants you,

But claims you anyway.


We will make good mud.


We are exiles of our own making.  

The Argument (Poetry)

The Argument ©Michael Kilman 2022

The argument

There they are!

A few glimmering words, circling the inside of my skull

I reach… Pluck… Pluck… Pluck

Butterflies churn and excitement grows stirring me from near slumber

Something new to be born as the stars circle overhead.


Forget it.

You cannot grasp them.

Your tongue is swollen and thick from too much use

Your body aches from a endless maddening hustle

And your fingers dare not toil at their sacred assemblage


Liar!

Look at how they shimmer!

They are bright in the dark that they will arrange themselves as oceans often do

They caress me in all the right ways

And I long for their knowledge, their truth

I cannot ignore their cultivation.


Weep then,

Weep for hours on end for they will not flow from your lips or fingertips  

They will leave you a widow, after a lifetime of promises,

Moaning at all your loss

And then, kick you to the shadows where you will linger long waiting for a promised sun

That never shines


But I must!

For what else is to be done now at this late hour?

The clock maddens my mind with it’s ticking taunts

What fruit could this debate lay naked and open

It is best to embrace when the eyes will not close

I submit to their shimmer and ally myself to their cause.


Blocked

That is where you will find yourself,

Outside the door of an illustrious mansion, hearing the clambering and laughter of guests.

But with no key for entry. In vein you will jostle the doorknob.

Lusting after them with no passage.

You chase in vein fool, how many have you plucked?


Oh my good sir,

I have plucked them all in argument.

I have found peace in your taunts.

They are settled, nestling against my heart.

And they are alive.

Why Your Narrative Design Team Needs An Anthropologist or at Least Some Anthropology

I’m an avid gamer and science fiction author in addition to being an anthropologist. So for me, worldbuilding is everything. A bad worldbuild immediately turns me off to games, and I know that as gamers become more sophisticated, many people are feeling the same. First of all, some of you may be asking, Just what is Anthropology? Well, for a quick answer, it’s the study of humans and cultures. Anthropologists like myself spend years studying culture, identity, and cultural systems. We also have a unique approach that not only helps with building a fictional world but is vital for creating a realistic and immersive world system. (For more on what Anthropology is, check out my YouTube series Anthropology in 10 minutes or Less)

Below are a few reasons an Anthropologist (or at least some anthropology) could augment the quality of your game and the experience of your gamers.

1. Holism.


The concept of Holism is a vital component in anthropology and is one of the three elements of Anthropology that make it unique from all other social sciences. Holism is the very real and applicable concept, that culture and identity are an integrated system, and that when you change one thing, it’s going to change everything. Think of the famous chaos theory concept, the Butterfly Effect, that the smallest changes can have a massive and unpredictable ripple effect outward.

What does this mean? Well, your fictional economic system, your family life, your political system, your religion, your ethnic system, your culture’s attitudes towards death, their biology, their environment, the kinds of things that they make, and more, are all deeply interrelated and connected. So when you’re building a fictional world, it’s important to consider these relationships and how they all relate to systems of power, identity, freedom, oppression, and so on. It sounds like a lot doesn’t it? It is. But it’s also why Anthropologists are essentially jacks of all trades. Our job is to understand how these systems operate and change. We look at the big picture of how societies operate as well as how biology and the environment impact us. Ultimately, culture is an adaptation to biological, environmental, and social forces. A holistic approach helps us understand those relationships.


2. More Immersive and Realistic Interactions and Game Changes


Creating a fictional world in game, film, or written form is a massive undertaking, and for gaming and other interactive mediums, considering culture can absolutely make or break a game. It doesn’t mean you have to get worldbuilding perfect, (very few games around have really truly holistic worlds but there are more with each passing year) but, it will also help you to think about the causes, and consequences of the actions of not only the NPC’s but the characters as well. Think about how much more interesting the choices in your games can be for characters if, their actions and choices early game create ongoing cultural changes. Imagine if allying with an NPC early in a game could have real, culture-wide consequences that ripple outward in interesting and meaningful ways (Not just who you get to be friends with later) What would look like? Well, that’s where an anthropologist could come in. We have more then a century of research on what culture changes looks like and how it manifests. For example, when I recently consulted for a major tech company, we talked about how the 1918 pandemic shifted our standards of beauty and made things like tanning popular, and altered our architecture to include more sunlight and open spaces in our buildings in the United States.


3. Anthropologists Are Intercultural Communicators


Our job as anthropologists is not only to study and understand cultural systems but to also act as intercultural communicators. We help different kinds of cultures and subcultures communicate and work together. It’s also why so many tech companies these days hire UX and Design Anthropologists because we understand elements of human behavior that a lot of other people miss. Anthropologists study human behavior and cultural trends and how people experience the world across cultures. So if you want to release an app in India, or China, or Germany, they will necessarily require different cultural considerations. Within a game with diverse populations, towns, and political factions, this becomes vital.

Remember that potential change I was just talking about early game as a potentially major change agent in this hypothetical game world? Your choice of who you align with or interact within the real world can have some hefty political ramifications. Early on in my field research experiences, I learned that not every group, even within a single culture is going to react the same way to change and some may or may not be able to communicate the impact of those changes effectively. One thing you learn really quickly when you go out in the field and work with people and do research is that even the most positive and useful changes you help a culture make will have all kinds of strange and unexpected consequences. Further, no matter what the change, someone is always going to be disenfranchised and will push back against the changes, even if they are beneficial for everyone but themselves. An anthropologist who has been in the field and studied culture for years of their life is going to help you think critically about what those changes will do and how different groups will interact with them.

4. Diversity Is A Strength, Especially if You Want An Immersive Fictional World

There’s a lot of discussions these days about representation and diversity, and rightfully so. The gaming community has been grappling with being more inclusive, not only in the makeup of companies but also in gaming content itself. The reality is, the lack of diversity in your game or film, or writing project is actually just simply, bad writing. The world is diverse and complex, your game should be too. But what do you do if you want to write a game about groups or cultures that are unfamiliar to you? Well first, do some background research at the very least. But ideally, you should reach out and work with different cultures and groups that you are portraying (yes even if they are an analogue… actually, especially if they are an analog). An anthropologist can help mediate these conversations and help all interested parties get around some of the communication traps and internal biases that we all have. Without doing the research, might inadvertently create a stereotypical culture that disenfranchises a real culture and create a headache for your gaming company. Remember, bias is not a comment on your character, it’s just the blind spots in your knowledge and it’s an anthropologist’s job to figure out, how these biases get in the way of communication across cultures.

The more complex and diverse your world is, the more immersive it will feel. You want your gamers to feel like they just stepped into an actual world with diverse characters with different skills, hopes, dreams, and inclinations don’t you? If you understand diversity, this becomes so much easier.

5. Imagination Isn’t Always the Same Across Cultures


There’s a problem with a lot of the fantasy novels. They are all the same. So many just take lifted D&D mechanics or they take place in the same European-based cultures that surround 15th– 17th-century technologies. There are some notable exceptions, but you see in the fantasy fiction world, time and time again, the same recycled tropes and storylines. A lot of gaming RPGs suffer the same fate. They don’t offer anything unique or interesting. Personally, interesting game mechanics just aren’t enough to really capture my attention for the long haul. I need an interesting story and world and characters that I care about. The reason things have become stagnant in a lot of media is that we have limited ourselves to the imagination of just a few cultures and traditions. The world is full of amazing, diverse, and unique perspectives to consider in creating fictional worlds, whether based on something real, or something totally new.

Until relatively recently, creating digital games was really only available in a few cultures around the world. But in the past decade or so, that’s changed. Consider the game Never Alone, also known as Kisima Inŋitchuŋa in the indigenous language. It’s a unique game that tells a story about the Iñupiaq culture. In fact, the whole game is in the traditional language with English subtitles. My favorite part as an anthropologist? Not only was the game created by indigenous people for indigenous people thus offering a unique experience, but the game offers interviews with Iñupiaq elders that unlock as you complete each level. This gives your gamers a richer experience and helps expand our imaginations and the possibilities of our future as a species. This is important, because as I said in my recent Ted Talk on this topic, what we imagine matters.

6. Anthropology is a Toolkit

All this above by the way is why me and my colleague Kyra Wellstrom decided to sit down and work on a book, just for gamers, fiction writers, and filmmakers that teaches core concepts in Anthropology. The book is called, Build Better Worlds: An Introduction to Anthropology for Game Designers, Fiction Writers, and Filmmakers. We wanted to create a quick and easy guide for those who may not be able to hire an anthropologist for consulting on their projects and something that wouldn’t require you to dig through a bunch of textbooks to find answers. The book covers so many of the crucial elements of cultural systems because well, viewing the world from an anthropological viewpoint is a toolkit to better understand the how and why of culture and identity. With well over a century of anthropological research, we have a lot of answers and unique approaches to questions about culture. A little anthropology goes a long way.

Over the years I’ve been creating free resources for creatives to help them think about important questions in their fictional worlds, like cognitive mapping, notions of purity, the purpose of mythology, and more on my website. These resources include podcast episodes, recorded panels at cons, and a host of other tips and things to consider in your projects. I hope all of this helps you to build a better world.

Want to hire an anthropologist to consult on your game? Visit our webpage for more info.

Recorded Panel from SFAA 2022: Virtual Communities and Imaginary Worlds

This week I had the good fortune of chairing a panel at the Society for Applied Anthropology in Salt Lake City. My Fellow Panelists and I decided to stream it live on YouTube, where it will live for people to rewatch. The title of our panel was Virtual Communities and Imaginary Worlds. The panel was a lot of fun and it was an honor to be on the panel with two brilliant researchers.

You can watch the video here. You will find descriptions of each panelists talk and the timestamps for their presentations on the YouTube page. The last 20 minutes are Q&A.

Writing is living

Writing is Living

It’s been two years now since I released the last book in my sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Great Migration. And though I am coming close to finishing the book now… today, I had a conversation with a stranger that, despite the fact it had nothing to do with what I am working on in the novel, it inspired me to consider one of my characters in a new light.

Because… Writing is living.

We live in a world where indie authors tout rapid release. We are pushed to write quickly and publish quickly. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce.

For those of you who don’t know there are even algorithms in place that, if we don’t publish quickly, our work stops being as visible on places like Amazon. We writers find ourselves on the factory floor, the assembly line in this algorithmic revolution.

But… Writing is living.

There’s a lot of pressure to write quickly. And, I am, honestly, a starving artist in the traditional sense. I hold multiple jobs to try and maintain my life. I want to write faster. I want to publish more often, but life has a way of intruding on art and art, in turn, life.

Because… Writing is living

I’m not here to argue that writing and publishing quickly is wrong.

I don’t think it is.

There have always been writers who can write and publish very quickly. The Romance Genre has always been that way, and a lot of the pulp novels throughout time are that way as well.

I am far from perfect with my writing habit. I wish I was writing every day. But mostly I write a few times a week and on weeks when money is tight, and I need to drive Doordash for 20 or 30 hours on top of teaching and parenting… writing falls away completely. It seems to slide into the shadows away from my vision and passes from memory.

Almost none of my income comes from writing currently, so I must prioritize.

But… Writing is living?

So, I put a lot of pressure on myself to write this series quickly. I tell myself… you want your dream of being a full-time writer don’t you?

Because… Writing is living.

When I don’t write, I feel guilt.

When I don’t write, I feel shame.

When I don’t write, I feel like I am not being true to myself.

When I don’t write I am miserable.

But then, it’s far more miserable when you can’t keep the power on, or food in your fridge, or you can’t go to the doctor when you are sick. Or you struggle to buy your kids a birthday present because you may have to skip meals. And you hate that there aren’t more hours in the day. If only there was more time…

Because… Writing is living.  

And then, there are moments like today. When I realize that my book will be better because it’s been a long road. That the time between sentences is only as long as it takes to start typing again, even as the setting sun marks the passing of another day.

Because… Writing is living.

When, a conversation, an experience, a thought, triggers this revelation about your characters or your world or your own perception of what is… and you think to yourself, gods, if I had been more consistent with my writing, I may have never had this revelation and my story would have been poorer for it.

Because… Writing is living.

There are plenty of things I can write fast. I wrote what became the first novel of the series, Mimi of the Nowhere in 10 days. But at that time, I was only working one job and, I had only thought it was going to be a short story and it just all hit me at once. Mimi possessed me. She took hold of me for those ten days and I could not stop thinking of her. Two of those nights I didn’t sleep. It was like love.

Because… Writing is living.

Upon Stilted cities, which was originally the first book and was so long, it was split because of length, took me the better part of two years of effort to finish. But the first pages were originally started when I was in graduate school over a decade ago. And then it sat, for 6 years, waiting to be remembered. Then, one day, it called out my name, and demanded my attention. And so, I sat again, pouring on to the page.

Because… Writing is living.

What does all this mean? It’s a good question. Part of me is writing this is to understand the question. At the moment of writing this, I don’t even know if I will ever publish this essay or not. Sometimes I write to discover something about myself or to understand my thoughts. Sometimes I just open a document and begin typing, with no idea what will come. If you’re reading this… that’s what you are reading.

Because… Writing is living.

I have a relationship with my keyboard, where my fingers come to life and I stop thinking and just let words flow, in the same way, a faucet doesn’t think about the water that spills from the nozzle, it just does what it does when the path is open.

Because… Writing is living.

I think maybe I want to say, don’t judge your pace or your speed of writing or sculpting or painting. I think maybe want I want to say is that all that pressure you put on yourself is unnecessary.

That Writing is living.

They aren’t separate.  

Life happens to you, and you reflect, and think about it and feel it out and then it transforms you. And with it, your art. When the caterpillar enters the chrysalis it rearranges everything before it can emerge. But all you see is the final product, we do not bear witness to transformation. We live it.

Because… Writing is living.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need a habit, a time and space dedicated to the act of creation, but if you had a hard week and you couldn’t paint, or photograph or write or compose that song, don’t hate yourself for it. Perhaps, instead, reflect on the lessons you learned about that time, about that space, about the intersection of your knowledge and experience, and draw on it. Let it flow through you so that when you do have a moment to turn on the faucet, so much flows that your cup of joy spills all over and makes such a mess, that you are forever changed. Don’t even bother to breathe… this paragraph didn’t.

Because… Writing is living.

And expectations are the death of joy.

I know so many authors, myself included, want that big break, those huge sale numbers, that perfect agent who will sell your novels for a huge advance, or that fanbase that just can’t get enough of your work, so that your cup runneth over, with great abundance. So you can just write, just create. Just… be. And life will be perfect… won’t it?

But… Writing is living.

That’s the danger of our culture. That we, in fact, mark success by the dollars attached to it. That if you aren’t contributing to the myth of this… supposed American dream… with your everyday actions, you fail as a human. If you can’t commodify what you create, what’s it good for? You have no value without productivity. And so we measure our art, our living, on our ability to produce, to… capitalize on what we have created.

And we think that is living. This… bootstraps mythology. Have you realized yet, you can’t lift yourself by your own bootstraps? Physics doesn’t allow it.

But… Writing is living.

We forget what art, in whatever form, is for.

Writing is living.

Sculpting is living.

Painting is living.

Singing, dancing, running, loving, crying, laughing, fright, anger, pain, they are all living. Maybe nothing gets in the way of art. Maybe our only real enemy is our doubt and anxiety. But then… doubt and anxiety are living too.

We are strange creatures. We have so much potential and yet we evaluate success by the smallest of measures. Greed is so small… so impermanent. But sharing another way of knowing, an experience, a thought, an image, these are great treasures.

Writing is living.

Simple words. But the truth is, we are all just stories, flashlights illuminating dark corridors, but never able to see the bigger picture. At least not alone.

Many lights, many stories, light up the night… together.

Writing is not a lonely act. It is a profoundly social one.

Writing is living.

Writing is walking to the edge of town, beyond the limits of what you have always known, and peering beyond. It is meeting a stranger and eliminating your differences, to discover your similarities.

Writing is living.

It has a time and a place.

Trust life to write your story.

Because… Writing is living.

My First Three Novels are Free till March 25th!



If you’ve read my posts and enjoy my work and haven’t checked out my book series, The Chronicles of the Great Migration, now is your chance to get the first 3 books in the series totally free until Friday March 25th. My books are leaving KU permanently and to celebrate, I thought I would run a free promotion for the series.

Mimi of the Nowhere, Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change, and Upon Stilted Cities: The Battle for Langeles are totally free until this coming Friday.

Feel free to share the link to as many people as you like. And, if you do read the books, all I ask is you leave a honest review.

Terminal Decay: A Short Story in the Chronicles of the Great Migration

Recently I have decided to take some of my unpublished short stories in my sci-fi series, The Chronicles of the Great Migration and begin recording them and uploading them to YouTube. This will be an ongoing series with occasional releases that add to the world in which my story takes place.

The first entry in this series is titled Terminal Decay. In it:

A sentient satellite falls to earth and reflects on it’s life and the state of humanity, who is now relegated to living inside giant walking cities.

I hope you enjoy it!