Collaborating in the Cyberpunk Present with Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Chicago's Blindsided Books produces "Cross media" anthology

July 23, 2012|by Joshua Wentz, Special Contributor for Geek To Me

Cyberpunk is generally characterized by an aesthetic born from the 1980s future, with concepts rooted in how the digital and analog merge, and how mass access to cutting edge technology impacts culture.

Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero is cyberpunk in both content and execution. In form it is an independent, 19-story anthology of dark science fiction intertwined with a 19-track album of songs and soundtrack music, created collaboratively by a veritable shadow gallery of speculative fiction authors and musicians, under the banner of the Very Us Artists, published by Chicago’s Blindsided Books. Foreshadows is a cross-platform, cross-media, cross-planet project that relied on the digital age to create an old/new world product: a combined book and CD with additional and extended content on the Internet. How did we do it?

Getting it all (Kick) started

Kickstarter, a site that allows independent projects to gain monetary support, is turning out to be a boon to niche genre fiction, allowing cyberpunk tabletop RPGs, books, movies, comics and video games to be crowdfunded by fans eager for more stories set in dystopian, technologically lawless near futures. Recently there have been some rumblings from tech bloggers that dismiss Kickstarter as being filled with frivolous projects, but that sort of opinion is meaningless in the world of crowd funding. If the project is interesting to enough people, it gets support. If it isn't, it falls to the wayside. Kickstarter does not account for taste, it allows for all tastes. In the case of Foreshadows, a project that touches on science fiction, horror, and pulp writing styles as well as EDM, world, industrial, and ambient musical forms, being able to reach a wide spectrum of people with niche interests was crucial. At the end of our funding drive, over 80 backers had pledged their support. Without a platform to easily share our project with them, we would have a very different product.

Remote Collaboration Made Easy (And Hard)

Like many projects these days, Foreshadows has no real boundaries. It is easier than ever
to work on a project with someone on the other side of the world, sending story drafts and
musical contributions over the Internet or working together in real time via Skype. However,
when producing a physical product, aspects of meatspace logistics creep back in. Metallic
ink samples have to be sent from the printer east coast to the designer/publisher in Chicago.
Promotional materials need to be created and distributed amongst the participants. The limited edition version of Foreshadows is signed by everyone that has a story and piece of music within its pages — that means that stacks of 150 copies of 19 title pages had to be sent to 29 different people, some in whom live in remote areas of the US or other countries. These pages were signed, passed along to the next contributor, then eventually returned to our home base. Whereas everything up to and including contract signing could be done digitally, this was an element of the project that brought the greatest challenge in coordination and execution.

Ultimately all of the hard “real world” work is worth it; placing a book that I helped create onto
a bookshelf next to my collection of Gibson, Stephenson, and Sterling is a fantastic feeling, and being able to share this work with people that prefer physical media is important. While Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero is also available as an eBook from Baen, the dream of the project was always set in the physical world. Cyberpunk combines the virtual world with the mundane; it is only fitting that we do the same.

The result: Cyber Punk'd

Several hundred pages, over two hours of original music, and a handful of awesome illustrations later, Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero is a fantastic representation of what a book can be when the fusion of old and new is celebrated, not a task begrudged by publishers and artists. As evinced by the foreword to the book, written by my all-time favorite sci-fi/fantasy author, C.S. Friedman, this fusion is a seed that was planted long ago.

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Joshua Wentz is a musician and sometimes designer living in Chicago.

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Elliott

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