TOM MERRITT: Coming up, why the entire galaxy owes
humanity all the money in the universe.
VERONICA BELMONT: And why our show is
changing format a little.
Welcome to "The Sword and Laser," where we interview the
hottest authors of the science fiction and fantasy world and
keep you to date on all the news and releases.
I'm Veronica Belmont.
TOM MERRITT: Yes, you are.
And I'm Tom Merritt.
Whether you're a sci-fi newb or a level-85 fantasy reading
mage, you're among friends now.
But get prepared for a longer list of books to read.
VERONICA BELMONT: Absolutely.
And for those who've been watching our "Sword and Laser"
video shows, thank you.
And we have a small change to announce.
The main show here will continue to have author
interviews, news, and calendar.
But we're splitting the book club off into its own show.
TOM MERRITT: Fly!
The "Sword and Laser" book club, which gets us all to
read along with a different book every month,
will get its own show.
So we can pack in as much book discussion and user feedback
as possible, all without spoiling it for all the folks
who haven't read that month's pick.
VERONICA BELMONT: Mm-hm.
And thanks to everyone who has been reading along with us.
We hope this makes things a little bit
easier to follow along.
And if you aren't reading along, this should make it
easier to choose when you want to join in and not make you
feel left out if you're not.
OK, so on with the show.
TOM MERRITT: To the show.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes.
We have Rob Reid today, author of Year Zero.
And we're excited to talk to him about aliens and music.
TOM MERRITT: But first, let's take a quick look at some of
the most interesting news items in the world of sci-fi
Because they're quick and they're news and the news is
hot, we call 'em the "Quick Burns."
Want some motivation to read that book that's been sitting
on your nightstand for weeks?
How about disappearing ink?
Argentinian publisher Eterna Cadenzia has created the book
that can't wait.
Once you open the book, the text begins to fade away over
the course of two months.
Wait, I didn't get the ending.
VERONICA BELMONT: The Campbell Awards banquet is going on
right now in Lawrence, Kansas.
But if they wouldn't let you in, here's the scoop on who
won, minus the dinner.
TOM MERRITT: I'm hungry.
VERONICA BELMONT: The Islanders by Christopher
Priest and The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski
tied to win the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for
best science fiction novel published in 2011.
And Paul McAuley's The Choice when the Theodore Sturgeon
Memorial Award for best short fiction of 2011.
Congrats to all the nominees.
It was a great slate to choose from this year.
TOM MERRITT: That was good stuff, yeah.
Hard to choose.
SF Signal reports that Amazing Stories, the world's first
science fiction magazine, has returned to publication.
The relaunched pre-launch issue, as it's being called,
came out July 1 as volume 0, issue 1, and can be read at
The issue was published in advance of a big announcement
coming up during Comic-Con July 14 through 15.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, interesting.
We'll be there.
TOM MERRITT: I know.
I'll be keeping an ear out.
VERONICA BELMONT: More on that later.
LEGO's site, "The Living Brick," held a contest
requiring LEGO artists use the minimum number of bricks to
create some of the greatest scenes in sci-fi.
Warning-- the Planet of the Apes scene is
a little bit spoilery.
TOM MERRITT: And finally, another hot book trailer this
time for Terry Pratchett and Stephen
Baxter's The Long Earth.
See if you can name all the people collaboratively reading
from the book.
MALE SPEAKER: In the forest glade, Private Percy woke up
It was a long time since he'd heard birdsong.
The guns had seen to that.
MALE SPEAKER: For a while, he was content to lay there in a
MALE SPEAKER: [INAUDIBLE]
was slightly worried in a concussed kind of way.
Why was he lying on damp, though fragrant, grass and not
on his bedroll?
MALE SPEAKER: Ah, yes, fragrant grass.
There hadn't been much fragrance
where he'd just been.
MALE SPEAKER: Cordite, hot oil, burnt flesh, and the
stink of unwashed men.
That was what he was used to.
MALE SPEAKER: He wondered if he was dead.
After all, it had been a fearsome bombardment.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Well, if he was dead, then this would do
for a heaven after the hell of noise and the screams and mud
and, oh, so much worse.
TOM MERRITT: It gets better and better
the longer you watch.
Neil Gaiman makes an appearance.
A bunch of people do.
To watch the full version, head to youtube.com/user
VERONICA BELMONT: And what do you say we go sit down with
author Rob Reid and chat about his books?
And for that moment, while we head over there, enjoy this
moment in alternate history.
VERONICA BELMONT: All right, Lem, let him in.
TOM MERRITT: Mr. Reid.
ROBERT REID: Good to see you.
TOM MERRITT: Welcome aboard.
VERONICA BELMONT: Thanks for coming on.
ROBERT REID: Good to see you both.
VERONICA BELMONT: Have a seat.
TOM MERRITT: Come join us.
VERONICA BELMONT: So not only have you done a very
well-received TED talk; you are also the founder of Music
So how deep is the money bed you sleep in?
ROBERT REID: It's actually very deep, but not for the
reason you expect.
It's because it's stuffed with rubles.
And it's about a buck and a half worth of rubles.
And it's about four feet deep.
And rubles have memory foam properties, basically.
VERONICA BELMONT: I didn't know that.
ROBERT REID: So if you've got a couple dollars and that's
your budget, you want rubles for your mattress.
TOM MERRITT: That makes sense.
They remember the Soviet era.
ROBERT REID: Precisely.
TOM MERRITT: Not a very comfortable sleep.
ROBERT REID: Not a good sleep, no.
VERONICA BELMONT: Now, we showed the book trailer for
Year Zero on the last episode.
But tell us a little bit about the book.
ROBERT REID: Yeah, so the basic premise of Year Zero is
that the universe is very densely populated with a vast
alien civilization whose members are so into human pop
music that they inadvertently commit the biggest copyright
infraction since the big bang itself, thereby bankrupting
the entire universe.
All the wealth in the universe is owed to us and to our
record labels, which creates a little bit of a plot wrinkle.
And we humans don't know it yet at the start of the book.
And it's largely set in present-day New York City and
also in distant galaxies.
TOM MERRITT: Now, is this obviously inspired by your
years negotiating with the music industry?
ROBERT REID: Yeah.
Well, what I kind of sought to do is basically depict two
equally comical, impossible, surreal worlds.
One of them is the world of the music-addled aliens.
And one of them is the world of music labels and their
incestuous relationship with Washington, DC.
And they will both, I think, to the reader, feel equally
comical, surreal, and impossible.
But only one of them, as it turns out, is made up.
So I do actually try to be very, very true to the way
that copyright laws are made, what the consequences of those
are, how the lawyers that work with the music industry
conduct themselves, certain perspectives that are in the
I take a little bit of creative license.
There's some fun exaggeration here and there.
But that's fairly real.
And I guess the analog might be if you read, like, a
Michael Crichton book, you might learn a thing about
viruses or genetics or something like that.
But if you're not really interested in those topics,
they're just the dynamic that gets the story going.
So I always like to point out that this
isn't a political tract.
Copyright law is in there for the 1% of the population that
actually finds that interesting.
There's some depth and substance that you will--
VERONICA BELMONT: That's Tom, by the way.
TOM MERRITT: That's why I love the book.
ROBERT REID: So that is definitely present.
And for people who are not as excited about copyright law as
you and I exactly--
ROBERT REID: I'm medium excited about copyright law.
I could take it or leave it.
ROBERT REID: --the book primarily exists as a very
high-energy science fiction adventure.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's so interesting to me.
It's such an interesting combination of topics and
ideas, and something you're obviously very well versed in.
But how long have you been writing science fiction?
When did you get into that?
ROBERT REID: I got into it about two years ago, two and a
half years ago.
My wife and I were traveling in Colombia, of all places.
We decided to go down there for New
Year's Eve, pretty exciting.
And toward the end of the trip, our Kindles were empty.
It was like one of those Donner Party moments, like, oh
my god, this is really rugged, and the TV
channels are in Spanish.
TOM MERRITT: We have nothing to read.
We must eat each other.
ROBERT REID: I know.
Human cannibalism is next.
I started writing this to basically entertain us both.
And I started writing what actually became the prologue.
And I had never written science fiction before.
I've written two business books.
But I did this sort of as a playful thing.
And then we got home, and we were both having fun with it.
So I kept writing.
And then, the next thing I knew, I was working on it 40,
50, 60 hours a week.
And then 18 months went by.
TOM MERRITT: Were you channeling any authors when
you started the tale?
Or did you--
ROBERT REID: Not really self-consciously.
Anybody who's written comedic science fiction is certainly
going to inform oneself.
And I know that Lem here, who, by the way, looks a lot like
my third grade teacher, I've got to say.
ROBERT REID: But Lem is named after one of my very, very
favorite comedic science fiction authors, Stanislaw
Lem, I believe.
So things like that are in your mind.
They're informed your perspective.
I wasn't really
self-consciously emulating anybody.
VERONICA BELMONT: God, he got really
annoyed with that comment.
TOM MERRITT: I think he might actually be related.
ROBERT REID: My third grade teacher was a little
frightening and handsome, very, very attractive.
But my third grade teacher read The Hobbit to us.
So that was--
VERONICA BELMONT: Ah, there you go.
TOM MERRITT: That's pretty cool.
ROBERT REID: --very cool after recess.
We actually got excited to get back from recess.
VERONICA BELMONT: So we do have some
questions from our audience.
Michael wants to know, what else are you working on now?
Are you working on a sequel to Year Zero?
ROBERT REID: I've got, like, three different ideas for
books, one of which would tie very closely to this one and
two which would not.
And they're very much in sort of the
sketchy phase right now.
I've found, actually, the run-up to the publication,
which is a week from right now, has been way
busier than I thought.
I mean, the last several months have been kind of
frenetic, because the Ted talk took a lot of work.
And then there was this whole surge of interest afterward.
And then there's getting ready for tour and stuff like that.
So I've had a lot less time to write than I was hoping to
have over these last few months.
And the other thing is I've actually
written a bunch of pieces.
I wrote a big piece for the Wall Street Journal about
about piracy, really--
a few weeks ago, for Wire and some
other things, Ars Technica.
So I've been doing a little bit of writing on the web.
But as soon as July is over, I'm really excited to get back
TOM MERRITT: Well, it relates to Michael's question.
He wants to know what lessons you think the publishing
industry could learn from the music industry in dealing with
that digital transition?
ROBERT REID: Well, what's interesting is I actually
think the publishing industry has the advantage of going
second, or third, perhaps, if you consider movies.
And they have learned one very important lesson, and they've
learned it very well, which is this--
when the first mass market MP3 player shipped, the music
industry sued to make MP3 players illegal.
This was in late '98.
It was a Diamond Multimedia Rio.
There was a four and a half year period after that-- and I
think that's an important moment, because that's when
music became portable and therefore very, very
interesting to people.
And for four and a half years, the record labels refused to
license their catalogs to anybody.
And so the only option for people who were excited about
digital downloads, which was basically everybody who cared
about music, the only alternative was piracy.
And I think that four and a half year period of embargo by
the record labels is really what led to the piracy
phenomenon that we have to this day, because people
became comfortable with it--
technically comfortable, morally comfortable with it.
What's very different is when the first mass market ebook
reader that brought portability to ebooks came
out, the Kindle, the day that it released, all six major
publishers were there with full catalog licenses, over 90
of the top 100 books that were available on the market at
that time, over 90 of the top 100 best sellers were on it.
And the first experience that the world had with ebooks was
this beautifully integrated cutting-edge hardware,
Amazon's retail sensibilities, great content, fair prices,
all that kind of thing.
And there was never this interest in piracy.
There's piracy in ebooks, but there's very little.
There very, very little because going to a pirated
experience having experienced a Nook or a Kindle or the
iBookstore or Kobo is just a big step backward.
And I don't think people are interested in going backward--
TOM MERRITT: The RocketBook owners out there are yelling
at you right now-- we were there first.
ROBERT REID: I know.
TOM MERRITT: But you're right.
The Kindle was the first massively accepted--
ROBERT REID: Yeah, and there were also predecessors to the
Diamond Multimedia Rio.
VERONICA BELMONT: I had the Rio Volt SP250.
ROBERT REID: Whoa.
Now, I hope you still have it--
VERONICA BELMONT: I don't.
ROBERT REID: --because that'll be worth a
fortune to a museum someday.
VERONICA BELMONT: I know.
Well, our next question comes from Kel.
Is or was there a specific point or moral center of the
story that you were really trying to get
across with Year Zero?
ROBERT REID: You know, I poke a lot of fun at the way the
music industry works and actually more the way
But ultimately, it's to display the way things
actually unfold and how they happen, but without being
really sermonizing or judgmental.
I do have a perspective on copyright law, which
definitely comes out in TED.
And I make a lot of fun of it in here.
But I tried to keep away from being very ham-fisted about my
political perspective, because I don't think that that mixes
very well with fiction.
I think we should be telling stories.
And so I think I display a lot of what happens.
But I guess if there's anything that is sort of a
moral center to it, I am generally a little bit
appalled at how deeply vested interests can really, really
shape, write, the legislation that affects their industry.
And I think that that perspective does come through
loud and clear, in a playful way.
TOM MERRITT: Is there a one-line lesson you hope
people take away from it?
ROBERT REID: Yeah, let's see.
Yeah, I guess it's the first sentence of the book-- "Aliens
suck at music." And that is really a fundamental factor of
TOM MERRITT: That is the thing that stuck with me.
ROBERT REID: Yeah, aliens suck at music.
TOM MERRITT: And before we finish, I wanted to point out
that there are playlists in the back of the book--
ROBERT REID: There are indeed.
TOM MERRITT: --for most of the major characters in here that
But these aren't songs you like.
These are songs the characters like, right?
ROBERT REID: There are songs the characters like.
And in some cases, some of the characters have wonderful
taste in music, some of them have rather
bad taste in music.
And creating the playlists was a fun discipline, because I
did have to create the songs that character x would really,
And having done that, because I am such a music nerd and
have been my entire life, as the nuances of a 30-song
playlist came together, I felt like I knew certain characters
in a more subtle way.
And then that ended up feeding back into the storyline and
the way they presented themselves.
So I think I'm going to do this probably for
every book I write.
One thing I did do is I wrote little one-page bios, or
autobiographies, in the voice of the character.
And I think that's a really useful thing to do.
But I think this playlist creation thing, if you're a
music nerd, is a really good way to understand sort of the
more subtle dynamics of your character.
VERONICA BELMONT: We're seeing some
interesting things like that.
Ernie Cline did a similar thing for Ready Player One
that he actually published later.
ROBERT REID: That's right.
I heard about that.
VERONICA BELMONT: And it was a phenomenal playlist, as well.
So I love the-- it's like adding a whole new dimension,
not only to the book, but as you mentioned,
the characters within.
ROBERT REID: Precisely.
TOM MERRITT: Rob, thanks again for chatting with us today.
The book is called Year Zero.
It's out July 10.
And the audio book is read by John Hodgman.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yay!
TOM MERRITT: So you definitely want to check
that out, as well.
But it's not the only book coming out this fortnight.
Let's check the calendar.
VERONICA BELMONT: And how timely and relevant.
July 10 sees the arrival of Year Zero by Rob Reid.
Aliens, intrigue, music, reality shows.
TOM MERRITT: Also out July 10, Geekomancy
by Michael R. Underwood.
Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this original urban
fantasy starring Geekomancers, humans that derive
supernatural powers from pop culture.
VERONICA BELMONT: And on July 17, The Coldest War by Ian
Tregillis in hardcover.
The highly anticipated sequel to Bitter Seeds tells the tale
of wizards and supermen after the war divided between the
Communist block and the democracies.
TOM MERRITT: Also on the 17, Orson Scott
Card's Earth Unaware.
A mining ship in the deep, lonely Kuiper belt spies an
object coming in system at a significant fraction of the
speed of light.
VERONICA BELMONT: And further out , on July 19, Kill
Decision by our next guest, Daniel Suarez, explores what
happens when unmanned drones get out of hand.
And on the same day, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts mixes
crime fiction with Golden Age sci-fi to tell the story of
You are the greatest audience in the world, as witnessed by
Aaron, who sent us another awesome white board review,
this time of Stranger in a Strange
Land by Robert Heinlein.
AARON: Robert Heinlein may be the most influential figure in
science fiction since H. G. Wells.
It doesn't mean all his books are good.
But one essential title is Stranger in a Strange Land.
It might not be my personal favorite, but it's an
important novel in the history of the genre--
a transition between the whiz-bang era of sci-fi as an
action story and sci-fi as a genre of ideas.
Yes, we've all heard it's about open sexuality.
But there's a lot of other deconstructionist social
There's questions about morality, economic justice,
ontology and epistemology, the origins of popular religion--
oh, just forget it.
TOM MERRITT: He got trolled by his own white board.
VERONICA BELMONT: That was awesome.
Aaron, you are the best, as always.
And so thank you so much.
Of course, you can send in your videos to
So thanks to everybody for watching.
We should let you folks know that we will be at San Diego
Comic-Con Thursday, July 12, and Friday, July 13.
We'll be at the Geek and Sundry meetup.
And we'll also be part of a YouTube event.
Get all the details at geekandsundry.com.
TOM MERRITT: That's it, folks.
If you like to read along with us in the book club, be sure
to watch our book club episode, where we'll kick off
this month's book pick, Leviathan Wakes.
And also, subscribe to our YouTube channel.
It's the green button up there in the corner of
And send us email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And check out the Good Reeds forum to read
along with us there--
We'll see you next time.
VERONICA BELMONT: Bye.
We'll see you next time.