Kickstarting the audiobook of The Lost Cause, my novel of environmental hope (permalink)
The Lost Cause is my next novel. It’s about the climate emergency. It’s hopeful. Library Journal called it “a message hope in a near-future that looks increasingly bleak.” As with every other one of my books Amazon refuses to sell the audiobook, so I made my own, and I’m pre-selling it on Kickstarter:
That’s a lot to unpack, I know. So many questions! Including this one: “How is it that I have another book out in 2023?” Because this is my third book this year. Short answer: I write when I’m anxious, so I came out of lockdown with nine books. Nine!
Hope and writing are closely related activities. Hope (the belief that you can make things better) is nothing so cheap and fatalistic as optimism (the belief that things will improve no matter what you do). The Lost Cause is full of people who are full of hope.
The action begins a full generation after the Hail Mary passage of the Green New Deal, and the people who grew up fighting the climate emergency (rather than sitting hopelessly by while the powers that be insisted that nothing could or should be done) have a name for themselves: they call themselves “the first generation in a century that doesn’t fear the future.”
I fear the future. Unchecked corporate power has us barreling over a cliff’s edge and all the one-percent has to say is, “Well, it’s too late to swerve now, what if the bus rolls and someone breaks a leg? Don’t worry, we’ll just keep speeding up and leap the gorge”:
That unchecked corporate power has no better avatar than Amazon, one of the tech monopolies that has converted the old, good internet into “five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four”:
Amazon maintains a near-total grip over print and ebooks, but when it comes to audiobooks, that control is total. The company’s Audible division has captured more than 90% of the market, and it abuses that dominance to cram Digital Rights Management onto every book it sells, even if the author doesn’t want it:
I wrote a whole-ass book about this and it came out less than a month ago; it’s called The Internet Con and it lays out an audacious plan to halt the internet’s enshittification and throw it into reverse:
The tldr is this: when an audiobook is wrapped in Amazon’s DRM, only Amazon can legally remove it. That means that every book I sell you on Audible is a book you have to throw away if you ever break up with Amazon, and Amazon can use the fact that it’s hold you hostage to screw me – and every other author – over.
As I said last time this came up:
Fuck that sideways.
With a brick.
My books are sold without DRM, so you can play them in any app and do anything copyright permits, and that means Amazon won’t carry them, and that means my publishers don’t want to pay to produce them, and that means I produce them myself, and then I make the (significant) costs back by selling them on Kickstarter.
And you know what? It works. Readers don’t want DRM. I mean, duh. No one woke up this morning and said, “Dammit, why won’t someone sell me a product that lets me do less with my books?” I sell boatloads” of books through these crowdfunding campaigns. I sold so many copies of my last book, *The Internet Con, that they sold out the initial print run in two weeks (don’t worry, they held back stock for my upcoming events).
But beyond that, I think there’s another reason my readers keep coming back, even though I wrote a genuinely stupid number of books while working through lockdown anxiety while the wildfires raged and ashes sifted down out of the sky and settled on my laptop as I lay in my backyard hammock, pounding my keyboard.
(I went through two keyboards during lockdown. Thankfully, I bought a user-serviceable laptop from Framework and fixed it myself both times, in a matter of minutes. No, no one pays me to mention this, but hot damn is it cool.)
The reason readers come back to my books is that they’re full of hope. In the same way that writing lets me feel like I’m not a passenger in life, but rather, someone with a say in my destination, the books that I write are full of practical ways and dramatic scenes in which other people seize the means of computation, the reins of power or their own destinies.
The protagonist of The Lost Cause is Brooks Palazzo, a high-school senior in Burbank whose parents were part of the original cohort of volunteers who kicked off the global transformation, and left him an orphan when they succumbed to one of the zoonotic plagues that arise every time another habitat is destroyed.
Brooks grew up knowing what his life would be: the work of repair and care, which millions of young people are doing. Relocating entire cities off endangered coastlines and floodplains, or out of fire-zones. Fighting floods and fires. Caring for tens of millions of refugees for whom the change came too late.
But with every revolution comes a counter-revolution. The losers of a just war don’t dig holes, climb inside and pull the dirt down on top of themselves. Two groups of reactionaries – seagoing anarcho-capitalist billionaire wreckers and seething white nationalist militias – have formed an alliance.
They’ve already gotten their champion into the White House. Next up: dismantling every cause for hope Brooks and his friends have, and bringing back the fear.
That’s the setup for a novel about solidarity, care, library socialism, and snatching victory from defeat’s jaws. Writing it help keep me sane during the lockdown, and when it came time to record the audiobook, I spent a lot of time thinking about who could read it. I’ve had some great narrators: Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman, Amber Benson, Bronson Pinchot, and more.
I record my audiobooks with Skyboat Media, a brilliant studio near my place in LA. Back in August, I spent a week in their recording booth – “The Tardis” – doing something I’d never tried before: I recorded a whole audiobook, with directorial supervision: The Internet Con:
When it was done, the director – audiobook legend Gabrielle de Cuir – sat me down and said, “Look, I’ve never said this to an author before, but I think you should read The Lost Cause. I don’t direct anyone anymore except for Wil Wheaton and LeVar Burton, but I would direct you on this one.”
I was immensely flattered – and very nervous. Reading The Internet Con was one thing – the book is built around the speeches I’ve been giving for 20 years and I knew I could sell those lines – but The Lost Cause is a novel, with a whole cast of characters. Could I do it?
Reader, I did it. I just listened to the proofs last week and:
The Lost Cause goes on sale on November 14th, and I’ll be selling this audiobook I made everywhere audiobooks are sold – except for the stores that require DRM, nonconsensually shackling readers and writers to their platforms. So you’ll be able to get it on Libro.fm, downpour.com, even Google Play – but not Audible, Apple Books, or Audiobooks.com.
But in addition to those worthy retailers, I will be sending out thousands – and thousands! – of audiobook to my Kickstarter backers on the on-sale date, either as a folder of DRM-free MP3s, or as a download code for Libro.fm, to make things easy for people who don’t want to have to figure out how to sideload an audiobook into a standalone app.
And, of course, the mobile duopoly have made this kind of sideloading exponentially harder over the past decade, though far be it from me to connect this with their policy of charging 30% commissions on everything sold through an app, a commission they don’t receive if you get your files on the web and load ’em yourself:
As with my previous Kickstarters, I’m also selling ebooks and hardcovers – signed or unsigned, and this time I’ve found a great partner to fulfill EU orders from within the EU, so backers won’t have to pay VAT and customs charges. The wonderful Otherland – who have hosted me on my last two trips to Berlin – are going to manage that shipping for me:
Kim Stanley Robinson read the book and said, “Along with the rush of adrenaline I felt a solid surge of hope. May it go like this.” That’s just about the perfect quote, because the book is a ride. It’s not just a kumbaya tale of a better world that is possible: it’s a post-cyberpunk novel of high-tech guerrilla and meme warfare, climate tech and bad climate tech, wildcat prefab urban infill, and far-right militamen who adapt to a ban on assault-rifles by switching to super-soakers full of hydrochloric acid.
It’s a book about struggle, hope in the darkness, and a way through this rotten moment. It’s a book that dares to imagine that things might get worse but also better. This is a curious emotional melange, but it’s one that I’m increasingly feeling these days.
Like, Amazon, that giant bully, whose blockade on DRM-free audiobooks cost me enough money to pay off my mortgage and put my kid through university (according to my agent)? The incredible Lina Khan brought a long-overdue antitrust case against Amazon while her rockstar DoJ counterpart, Jonathan Kanter, is dragging Google through the courts.
The EU is taking on Apple, and French cops are kicking down Nvidia’s doors and grabbing their files, looking to build another antitrust case for monopolizing GPUs. The writers won their strike and Joe Biden walked the picket-line with the UAW, the first president in history to join striking workers:
Solar is now our cheapest energy source, which is wild, because if we could only capture 0.4% of the solar energy that makes it through the atmosphere, we could give everyone alive the same energy budget as Canadians (who have American lifestyles but higher heating bills). As Deb Chachra writes in her forthcoming How Infrastructure Works (my review pending): we get a fresh supply of energy every time the sun rises and we only get new materials when a comet survives atmospheric entry, but we treat energy as scarce and throw away our materials after a single use:
Anything that can’t go on forever will eventually stop. We have shot past many of our planetary boundaries and there are waves of climate crises in our future, but they don’t have to be climate disasters. That’s up to us – it’ll depend on whether we come together to save ourselves and each other, or tear ourselves apart.
The Lost Cause dares to imagine what it might be like if we do the former. We don’t live in a post-enshittification world yet, but we could. With these indie audiobooks, I’ve found a way to treat the terminal enshittification of the Amazon monopoly as damage and route around it. I hope you’ll back the Kickstarter, fight enshittification, inject some hope into your reading, and enjoy a kickass adventure novel in the process: