Chronotrace Sequence Postmortem: Part 3
Welcome to part 3 and the final installment in my Chronotrace Sequence Postmortem, wherein I break down some of what went into bringing this three book, dystopian series to life. Last time I discussed what went into my decision to independently publish the series. This time around I’d like to wrap up by talking a little bit about how the books have been received and then cap it off with some reflections on the series as a whole.
Into the Amazon
So, after three years of writing and rewriting the first book, Into the Vast, was published in September of 2012, first on Amazon in ebook and paperback, then on Barnes & Noble, and finally on the iBookstore. I admit that I had no idea what I was doing when I launched it from a marketing standpoint. I assumed that my incredible trailer, my nice web site, my enticing description, and the uniqueness of the story would cause it to sell at least a few copies. From there I’d get a few reviews, some positive word of mouth, and things would start to snowball.
Instead I got crickets. I submitted the book to online book reviewers and again…crickets. It sat doing basically nothing until around Christmas. That’s when I decided to pull the book from the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble and do an Amazon giveaway (Amazon requires you to go exclusively with their store in order to do this). I gave about 200 copies of the kindle version away at Christmas with very little advertising. I decided to try it again around Valentine’s Day and this time I promoted the giveaway quite a bit more and gave away almost 5000 copies.
When the giveaway ended the book started actually selling enough copies to make it onto Amazon’s top 100 in a few categories. I remember at one point seeing my book just ahead of one by Madeleine L’Engle’s and being amazed. Well, that brush with success was short lived. By the spring things had tapered off considerably and then things dropped off even more over the summer. So I did another round of promotions in August and the book leapt back onto the charts and did fairly well for the rest of that first year.
I won’t go into all the ups and downs of marketing and sales here, but suffice it to say that I have run into some snags marketing the second and third books. They do not work well as stand alone novels and I found it hard to get the word out to all the people who bought the first one. But I did finish book 2, Through the Viscera and released it in March of 2014 and finally released book 3, Ascent of the Nebula, in February of 2016. There were a lot of delays and setbacks that made these more difficult to produce than I would have liked, but going forward my hope is to put out at least one book a year and also a shorter work or two.
A little bit of everything
But enough about publishing. Let me close with a few thoughts on the series as a whole. I was trying to describe the Chronotrace Sequence to a friend recently and I started to say something like, “Well, it’s sort of like the movie…” and then I drew a complete blank. I honestly couldn’t think of a very good comparison. This story has some similarities of course to a lot of different science fiction movies. Probably Total Recall, Bladerunner, and The Matrix would be the closest fits because of the high level of technology, but there is a part of the book that is closer to Dune and Mad Max. None of them really are a complete match, though.
As the series developed my vision became more and more focused. I realized that what I really was attempting to create was a supernatural version of 1984 and Brave New World. For me, though both those books were pioneers in their time, they ring hollow in the fact that I don’t really think the societies they envisioned were plausible. Eventually people are going to wise up and revolt, no matter how much psychological programming and cultural brainwashing you subject them to. The thing they are missing is the mechanism that would actually give the societies depicted the sort of power to control every aspect of their lives. I saw that potential in science and technology. It’s an idea similar to the Matrix I suppose, except that instead of being conquered and used by machines, we enslave ourselves to the technology for the “greater good” of the human race, to eliminate sickness, war, poverty, and suffering.
Though the technology in the series is largely conceptual and mostly beyond what is considered possible, it’s based off things like organic computers, cloning, and neural interfaces that are currently being experimented with today. Using my background in computers and technology working at a national government laboratory, I envisioned a society that functioned like a computer network. Except that the computers were people. But these “nodes” had to be updated and scanned for viruses and occasionally wiped and “rebooted” if they got corrupted.
…the series was meant to be a cautionary tale about science gone off the rails.
But aside from the technological and philosophical ideas woven into the series, I think the most powerful concepts, and the ones I’m most proud of are those most directly incorporating my Christian faith. Because if there is one thing missing in science fiction (and literature in general) it is the willingness to recognize the reality of God’s presence in the course of human events. Naturalism (the idea that material reality is all that there is) is an intellectually bankrupt philosophy. And it lends itself very easily to scientism, the idea that science can and will explain everything. That is the philosophy of the scientists I wrote about in the series. And I tried to paint an accurate picture of where those sorts of ideas, taken to their logical end, would lead the human race. In that sense, the series was meant to be a cautionary tale about science gone off the rails.
To boldly go
As far as I’m concerned, the book that actually does come closest to the story I was attempting to write would actually be That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. As much as I love Lewis, that was not his finest work. And I thought I could write something better. Perhaps it was arrogance to think I could surpass an author of such renown right out of the gate, but if you don’t shoot for greatness I don’t believe you will ever achieve it.
And so, as I step down from my captain’s chair and embark on a new journey, I hope you’ve enjoyed your flight. As for me, there are many strange new worlds to explore, new stories to pen, new tales to tell. I hope you’ll join me in them as I attempt to boldly go where no writer has gone before. And to God be the glory.