In the news

Edgeland House, January 2022. Photo by Casey Dunn for Texas Monthly.

Our experiment in feral domesticity, Edgeland House, was the subject of a generous feature this week by the poet and independent journalist Julie Poole for the March issue of Texas Monthly. I was delighted to read her closely observed report on coming over to visit, and I appreciate her efforts to situate the project in the context of my work as a writer. And the photography by Casey Dunn really brings out the beauty and color of the house in midwinter. Full story here.

And over at Transfer Orbit, Andrew Liptak has the full transcript of a conversation he and I had a few weeks back about climate fiction, including a reconsideration of some canonical American novels as such. Andrew is an insightful interviewer and an incredibly hard-working independent writer, and his newsletter is perhaps the best out there on the subjects of fantastic fiction and the business of science fiction. This interview was originally conducted for Andrew’s piece about climate fiction for Grist, but my comments didn’t survive the editorial condensation, so it was nice to see the whole conversation end up as its own piece. (There are a few spots where my Midwestex mumbling confounded the transcription bot, but the ideas come through just fine.)

 

The Summer of Living Dangerously

In this week’s edition of my newsletter Field Notes, I talk about my 1984 trip to Nicaragua. I wanted to link to a piece I wrote in 2017 about that trip during the promotion of my novel Tropic of Kansas, but the mystery readers site where it was published seems to be defunct, so I thought I would republish it here.

THE SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

When we told the taxi driver to take us to a hotel in El Centro, he said there aren’t any.  We insisted, with the full confidence of two Americans not yet old enough to vote but old enough to think they had a handle on the whole world. He looked at us in the rear-view mirror with eyes that had seen his country torn apart by revolution, said the Nicaraguan colloquial equivalent of “whatever,” and started driving.

We had come to Managua the long way, college kids posing as journalists, with IDs from our school papers next to our passports and Graham Greene novels tucked in the side pockets of our summer suits. Charlie and I had hatched the plan after watching a midnight showing of The Road Warrior, committing to spend the summer after freshman year touring Mexico by jeep. The idea grew up over the next two semesters—we would write news features from the war zones of 1980s Central America. Our parents agreed to not fight with us about this half-baked plan if we promised not to go to El Salvador. Deal.

We did not know that meant we would end our trip in a real-world mirror of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that had lit the original idea in our heads.

I took a night bus from New Orleans to Laredo, crossed the border by cab, and picked up the Aguila Azteca sleeper train through the mountains and into the old downtown of Mexico City—another “El Centro.” Charlie and I met up there, on the third day, at a pre-arranged place and time, the kind of thing we had to do when cell phones were the stuff of science fiction, and even a long distance land line call could break the budget of a student traveler. And from there we set out by budget buses, through Chiapas and into the jungle wars on the other side.

We talked our way into the company of real journalists, traveled by helicopter with the Guatemalan army into the highlands where indigenous people were being rounded up into model villages, had office visits with a military press officer who teased us about the dinnertime conversation he’d heard us have on a surveillance tape, met Iowan priests in secret bars who told us stories of torture by machete-wielding soldados rooting out the Mayan Maoists. We toured a military hospital at the edge of the U.S. air base outside Tegucigalpa from which the secret missions were launched, drank beers in a San Pedro Sula Holiday Inn with middle-aged dudes from Virginia who called themselves “contractors” with winking smiles, and danced with strangers to jukebox cumbia in an open-air cantina while we waited for the 3 a.m. bus to the next town.

The Nicaraguan border was DMZ, with the checkpoint pulled back 7 kilometers. There was one taxi making the run, and the truckers only gave rides to girls, so we walked, down the middle of what we thought was an empty highway, telling stupid jokes and singing songs. I am not sure which stupid song it was that got the soldier up on top of the hill to start shooting at us, but that turns out to be a very good way to get 19-year-old smart asses to shut up. We managed to get through the border crossing with wads of black market Nicaraguan cash stuffed in our pants, and arrived at our final destination as the sun went down.

The hotel the taxi driver took us to was straight out of one of those Graham Greene paperbacks, a revolutionary outpost in the ruins of the official city—a place where what hadn’t been destroyed in the earthquake a decade earlier got blown up in the long civil war that followed. The night manager wore her scarlet Che Guevara T-shirt in a way that compelled good behavior by the guests, while the leader of the junta lectured from the TV on the wall. The room had two bare mattresses, an open window, and a bare industrial-sized fan that looked like it could shorten your fingers. We packed it in early.

And in the morning, we looked out the window onto the ruins of the future.

I don’t know how many blocks the zone spanned, but from that vantage it looked almost like forever. This was where the colonial-era city had been, until it was completely leveled in the terremoto of 1972. The dictator took the international reconstruction funds for his own purposes, one of the many reasons even the business owners ultimately joined the uprising against him. But the people who really won the revolution were the committed ideologues who had been fighting in the jungles for longer than Charlie and I had been alive, people who believed they could build utopia from the material of their damaged polity. The Vice President was a poet, and the head of the intelligence apparatus was a guy who had gone to our prep school. And during that moment, the faith in the future was in full flame, even as the market shelves got emptier, and the cigarette filters had to be made out of sawdust. (We smoked them anyway.)

We walked out into the zona, past bombed-out buildings in which you could see squatters huddling in the shadows around oil drum fires. We saw an experimental kindergarten in the exposed basement of an old bank. A Sherman tank half buried in the dirt, covered in graffiti. Empty fields of browned-out weeds devoid of people—except for a platoon of North Korean soldiers doing parade drill on a plaza of cracked pavement. The cathedral that had once been the center of municipal reality reduced to a skeleton tagged with obscene images. The words of Ozymandias, translated through a peninsular prism in the last days of the Cold War.

We found our way to the suburbs that night, and the memory receded over the years, until two decades later I found myself beginning the book that became Tropic of Kansas. As I drove that winter on the back roads of the plains through towns in the process of being abandoned by the exhaustion of their economic potential, I recalled that morning in Mad Max’s Managua. Dystopia is not a real place, but you can see it from here. The dark road trip I wrote had to go back to that zona, through an American mirror. I finally figured out what those kids in the experimental kindergarten of 1984 had learned: that to find a better future, we have to navigate the way through our own ruins.

Recent pieces and upcoming appearances

Happy almost Halloween. In addition to my weekly Field Notes, from which this photo of a beautiful roseate skimmer comes, I’ve been keeping busy with the tail end of the launch of Failed State, and wanted to mention a few new items among my articles, interviews and appearances:

Over at Tor.com, I have a new essay up on the ways in which our darkest science fictions and contemporary headlines seem to be bleeding into each other, and how we can fix that: Dystopia as Clickbait: Science Fiction, Doomscrolling, and Reviving the Idea of the Future.”

Over at Transfer Orbit, Andrew Liptak has the full transcript up of a long interview we did about Failed State and lots of other topics related to my approach to SF and other themes: “Failed State’s Christopher Brown on building utopias out of dystopias.”

And tonight, October 19, I’ll be appearing with my colleagues Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling as part of the public lecture series Cory is doing to promote his terrific new book, Attack Surface. The theme of tonight’s virtual conversation at Anderson’s Bookshops in Chicago is  Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk, and it should be a fun and wide-ranging conversation—Cory and Bruce are two of the smartest people I know, and old friend I always love to talk with. VIRTUAL EVENT: Cory Doctorow in Conversation with Bruce Sterling and Christopher Brown, 7 pm CDT, October 19, 2020, via Anderson’s Bookshops.

 

 

 

Texas Monthly interview: Will Dystopian Times Inspire Utopian Art?

I recently had the opportunity to talk with fellow Austin author Nicky Drayden and Texas Monthly Deputy Editor Jeff Salamon about writing science fiction in the post-pandemic world, for the magazine’s future-focused July issue. A condensed version of the interview appeared in the print issue that hit the stands this past weekend, and the full transcript is now available online. I really love the headline they came up with, which is a theme I have been thinking about a lot, and I totally dig the illustration by Mark Pernice (included above), which channels the groovy spirit of the great 1970s sf paperback covers.

Texas Monthly: Will Dystopian Times Inspire Utopian Art?

 

 

 

Field Notes and Failed State

I’ve started a new weekly newsletter of urban nature writing over at Substack. I’ve been wanting to do more with this material for some time, and a newsletter seems like an ideal format. If that sounds of interest, please check it out and consider subscribing—the first installment of Field Notes is out this morning.

In other news, my new novel FAILED STATE is in the production queue. This one features the same protagonist as RULE OF CAPTURE, lawyer Donny Kimoe, only this time he is defending a client who has been hauled in front of a post-revolutionary truth and reconciliation tribunal. It tries to get a little closer to utopia than the last two books. It’s available for preorder, and the cover by Owen Corrigan is pretty awesome. Summer 2020 totally needs a hot pink post-apocalyptic lawyer story.

Failed State

 

RULE OF CAPTURE cover reveal

RuleOfCapture PB hi-res final

I am delighted to share this cover reveal for my new novel Rule of Capture, forthcoming from Harper this summer. Please click through to the Harper Voyager blog for a guest post in which I get to share my more detailed thoughts about the cover, explain why it suits the story so well, and tell a bit more about the story and what we mean when we call it a “dystopian legal thriller.” And if it sounds interesting to you, please consider pre-ordering the book, which will be available in print, e-book and audio formats.

Cover Reveal: RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown

 

Тропик Канзаса

ToK Russian back cover  ToK Russian cover higher res

Loving this cover (and back cover) for the Russian translation of Tropic of Kansas, forthcoming in April from Fanzon / Eksmo. It really nails the atmosphere of the book. Details (and excerpt) at the link (quality translations welcome—though I love the way the bot translates one passage in the creative copy as “fake smiles are broken in teeth,” and translates the character name Sig to “Whitefish”—then makes an allusive play on catching fish).

Тропик Канзаса

 

Recent and upcoming appearances

The fine folks at Malvern Books have posted this video of my recent reading at the store of a very short excerpt from my forthcoming novel RULE OF CAPTURE, currently slated for publication by Harper Voyager in 2019. Thanks to Malvern for hosting the group event of which this was a part. Also up at the Malvern YouTube page are the readings from my fellow Austin writers Patrice Sarath, who put the event together, Jessica Reisman, Stina Leicht, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Amanda Downum, and Robert Ashcroft.

This weekend I will be at Worldcon in San Jose, with a couple of panels and an autographing. Hope to see some of you there.

CB Worldcon 2018 programming

 

TROPIC OF KANSAS a Campbell Award finalist

Campbell finalists 2018

I was honored to see Tropic of Kansas among the finalists for the 2018 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year, especially among such remarkable company. Congratulations to all the nominees, who include many friends and colleagues, and particular congratulations to the winner announced at last Friday’s ceremony, David Walton.