This is an exciting blog because it comes during the week of Subsumption’s global release! Today will be a bit different for two reasons : (1) it’s going to be much longer than usual—about 3x larger than my other blogs, (2) what follows is a copy and paste of the Author’s Note at the end of Subsumption’s first edition (because I feel it already does a good job of laying out the details of why, and how, I wrote Subsumption). However, I’ve added a list of facts about the story at the end of this blog not found in the Author’s Note.
So with those details out of the way, let’s dig in …
As I write this, I’m sitting in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos under the illumination of a full moon, cigar burning, Glitch Mob streaming to my wireless Skullcandy Crusher headphones as Kitty sleeps beside me on the backyard patio furniture (don’t tell my wife). This setting is a poetic way for me to add this final stroke to Subsumption before it’s sent to the printer to face the market test since it was in identical conditions that the story was born, nurtured, and finally finished (but I would’ve been walking). If you’ve made it this far, I expect that the “story of the story” interests you, so I’ll briefly explain why I wrote this novel, where the idea for Subsumption came from, my tumultuous decade-long writing journey, and my plans for the rest of the series.
I don’t remember the moment I decided to write Subsumption, but it was sometime in 2011 after I started my PhD in economics. I wasn’t fulfilling some dream of being a writer. My mother was the successful author; I wanted to be a rock star. But once the story came to me, writing it became an all-consuming activity. From the beginning, I intended for this story to inspire people, to help them discover reasons to be optimistic about our collective future in a world increasingly addicted to base nihilism. I also knew that to accomplish this, Subsumption had to do three things: (1) it had to be entertaining, (2) it had to provide strong moral instruction, (3) it had to include intertextual symbolism. Anything less would be a failure (in my mind).
The fact that I’m surrounded by technology at this very moment is typical. I’m an unapologetic believer in the power of tech to improve our lives, and I leverage it in every facet of my existence. But as an economist, I know that it’s only half the battle and that human interactions, what my kind call “social institutions,” are equally important for sustainable progress. Like the twin-columns supporting the sign over Nerio’s Stargate, technology and social institutions are what make progress possible, a fact I emphasized during my time as a professor-in-training at the University of Utah (I’ll come back to that). Without both pillars, society becomes a dystopian nightmare, incapable of satisfying the complete needs and wants of its citizens. But when they’re balanced, we flourish beyond our wildest imaginations, and progress marches onward.
While I can’t remember the exact genesis moment for the story, I do remember a concept that was instrumental in the early stages: subsumption. This is a term from Marxian economics, the core theory of my University department despite Utah’s notoriety for conservatism (how this program became one of the last bastions of Marxist ideology is a fascinating story that I hope someone else will tell). And while I’m also an unapologetic fan of capitalism and its unrivaled historical success at creating repeatable material progress (like my cigar), I’m thankful to the faculty who introduced me to alternative ways of seeing a problem and the notion that over time, capital tends to subsume labor; it was this kernel that got me thinking about Marcus and the Lab.
Having been both an employee and a bourgeois “pig” owner, I believe the academic Marxians are wrong on almost all accounts about how the world, and markets, actually operate. In particular, the principal-agent problem between owners and their employees is inadequately addressed (look up “shirking” to see how difficult it is to get most workers to do the job they agreed to). My challenge is supported by the empirical evidence of behavioral economists who’ve repeatedly demonstrated what any parent already knows: humans change their behavior in dramatic ways when they know they’re being watched. This observation is also why the early utilitarian economists proposed solutions like the panopticon as a way to stop criminals from scheming.
It was while working through these issues with my beloved students (especially those in my ECON 5470 class) that I realized the solution: the only way to truly understand human nature is when the person doesn’t know they’re being watched. At the time, I was also teaching a slew of research and data courses with the real-life Brad (who is exactly like his character), and it was from the overlap between these ideas that I developed the concept of “Subsumption” as a way for the Federation to fully assess the human “Form.” This was, and I think still is, the core philosophical problem explored in the Subsumption Series; once this idea was in place, everything else easily followed.
But subsumption, research, data, and Brad weren’t the only inspiration I pulled from my time at the University of Utah. My PhD cohort provided the model for the group of the same name in Project Noble, and I borrowed heavily from their identities for characters. Similarly, secondary and tertiary characters (some are set to become primary characters in the series) are based on students from the classes I taught. Finally, many of my employees, who were my best students before being hired, will recognize themselves in the cast of the Subsumption Series, an act of homage for their inspiration, directly or indirectly, with my writing. I hope they feel that I’ve captured the essence of their identities.
If it isn’t clear yet, my writing journey was inextricably tied to my time at the University of Utah. But the details are in the sequence of events. The period from 2011 through 2012 was spent ideating and researching the story, but at some point in that window, I started writing. I didn’t know about this distinction at the time, but I was “pantsing it” (meaning I was writing from the flow state without an outline). In 2012, between sitting in classes and teaching, I continued writing Subsumption, and on March 2nd of 2013, I finished the zero draft. I remember this date because a fortune cookie had predicted it’d be an important day (I found a pair of Facebook posts from that period confirming my memory). Then, the book sat untouched for five years.
It wasn’t for lack of desire that the project stalled. I’d given the zero draft to a few friends and was encouraged by the feedback I received. But I was overwhelmed by life. I had a growing family, I was still taking classes and had started preparing my dissertation, and I was teaching (a lot … at multiple universities by this point). So what does a person with too little time do? That’s right, they start a business! This was more an act of fate and less the result of planning; Brad and I had tried to establish a data science institute at the University (before data was cool), but we were shot down, so we decided to do it privately and hired a gaggle of our best students. Thus, Emperitas was born, and the book was knocked down to a distant fifth place in the order of my life’s priorities.
At some point in 2015, I complained to my wife, Nicole, that the book was losing its saliency (I’d originally set the story in 2014, but that date was already long gone), and she told me to be patient because I couldn’t predict when Subsumption would be needed in the world. As someone who was busy telling the future with data (on campus and in the marketplace), I scoffed at her naivete, but today, thanks to the post hoc outcomes, I realize she was right. Occasionally, my earliest readers of the zero draft would ask about the story, but since I was in the final phase of my PhD, every free moment (which turned out to be Sundays) was spent crafting my dissertation from the Emperitas office with the voluntary assistance of two truly dedicated employees: Lindsay and Raymond.
It was during one such Sunday session in 2017 that I mentioned the novel’s existence to Lindsay. If my memory is correct (and I have no Facebook post to verify this), she asked when I planned to write a textbook. Lindsay had become my go-to teaching assistant by this point, so it was a logical question coming from someone who helped craft the mass of materials necessary to enlighten minds. I jokingly replied that I already had my textbook, but it was a sci-fi novel. She asked to read the zero draft, and at the next Sunday session, she enthusiastically encouraged me to return to it (seeing the parallels between the story’s subject matter and what we were teaching in class). I nodded and smiled then said I’d think about it once the dissertation was behind me.
In early 2018 with the end of my PhD in sight, Lindsay and a few of my original readers convinced me that it was time to dive back in. By mid-May, a few weeks after defending my dissertation, I made good on that promise and started plotting revisions. Lindsay stayed on to help (for the astute reader of the copyright page, you’ll already know that she became my editor). The rigors of my dissertation, and my father’s eternal wisdom, taught me the importance of having a system, so I researched existing software solutions and writing best practices. This led me to the vibrant indie author community. After consuming hundreds of YouTube videos (at 2x speed), I was converted from a “pantser” to a “plotter” and headed down an unfamiliar path.
I started 2019 with a solid writing system in place. I wasn’t teaching anymore, but I was still busy with family and Emperitas, so the process of rewriting went slowly. Subsumption steadily grew from the 75,000 words of the zero draft to 125,000 words by the end of the year, which included new and important characters (a large number of which came from the final class I taught in the fall of 2017). By mid-November, I had a revised draft, which I gave to two dozen beta readers. Again the feedback was encouraging, but the story wasn’t ready for the wider world yet. I realized I didn’t have a good grasp of what sci-fi fans expected. Thus Operation Humeros Gigantes was born; in three months, I read more than a dozen of the “top sci-fi books of all time.”
Simultaneously in early 2020, Lindsay and I began a developmental edit, applying the methods of Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid. This was a pivotal turning point because it showed me where the major structural issues were that needed fixing. One of the beta readers from this period was another important man I’d met long ago in my history classes at the University: Bill Martin (yes, he’s real, and yes, he’s just like his character). He’d moved to Albania to teach a graduate-level sci-fi literature class and wanted to include Subsumption in his upcoming semester. By March, just as the pandemic hit, I was busy revising, and in May, I gave him the book. I also sent it to another round of beta readers. The feedback this time exceeded my expectations. I was close.
Lindsay spent the summer of 2020 copyediting Subsumption while I drafted Coverted and Disclosure, prequels in the series meant to function as free reader magnets (a best practice I’d learned from the indie author community). The value of our system proved itself ten times over, and within a couple of months, the prequels blitzed through the same ideating, outlining, writing, editing, and revising process. Coverted launched in August with the first announcement about what I was up to. Disclosure released a month later. Meanwhile, Lindsay and I were busy putting the final polish on Subsumption in anticipation of its October 2020 release. All this required a herculean effort, only made possible by the global downturn that impacted Emperitas.
Which brings us to today. My cigar is almost out (but I have another nearly identical one—thanks capitalism!), Kitty is still asleep, and Sevendust is playing in my headphones now. My family is healthy and happy, and I’m optimistic about the future, though a sizable portion of society seems to crave the collapse of America. My wife’s words keep coming back to me: the world needs Subsumption now more than it did in 2014. But Subsumption is only the first story in this series, and I plan to spend the next decade writing the three remaining novels, plus an unknown number of short stories (similar in scope to Coverted and Disclosure). There’s also a parallel reveal coming about this universe, and the Confederation, that an astute reader may uncover.
Before we say goodbye (for now), here’s my system for finishing the series: I’ll spend six months wandering in the wilderness with Kitty while listening to music and ideating. Then, I’ll burn a few months outlining. After that, I’ll do a few more months of research, followed by a year of writing to get the zero draft, which I’ll give to beta readers. From there, I’ll take a couple months for developmental editing and revisions before another round of beta readers. I’ll make final changes, then send the manuscript to Lindsay for months of copyediting and a final proofread. By late 2023, Guardians will be ready to face the market test. An optimized version of this system, using lessons learned in the next iteration, will be repeated for Echoes and Astra.
Again, if you’ve made it this far, you must be really committed to the story. I’m so thankful to have you along for the ride as a reader. While I may not release stories as fast as some would like (Bill, keep taking your vitamins!), know that I’m committed to the three original goals of this story. In the meantime, I hope you’ll read Coverted and Disclosure, if you haven’t already, and follow my progress by joining the mailing list on my website (lucianopesci.com). There you’ll find blog content about Subsumption to keep you temporarily satiated, along with updates on the status, by stage, on my system. If you’re interested in becoming one of my beta readers as I work on Guardians, Echoes, and Astra, just drop me a line or connect with me on social media.
Till Hecate Arrives,
If you haven’t read Subsumption yet, you can start with the first five chapters here. However, I recommend you begin with Coverted and then Disclosure (before starting Subsumption), both of which are free. Below are cool facts about the story behind the book …
Some Interesting Facts About Subsumption (and How I Wrote It)
- The five most inspiring books, by order of importance, for Subsumption are: The Aeneid (by Virgil), 1984 (by Orwell), The Divine Comedy (by Dante), Ender’s Game (by Card), and Ready Player One (by Cline). An honorary mention in sixth place is Parallel Lives (by Plutarch)
- Numerology plays a key role throughout the story (including dates and times … best to pay close attention)
- There are red herrings in Subsumption, which are intertextual references to other relevant books, movies, and historical figures
- Marcus’s family home at Sundance is based on my mother’s house
- The first edition is 146,646 words (counting every single word, including the copyright page, part and chapter titles, the glossary, etc.)
- The first edition is exactly 666 pages
- To date, the total word count of the series (Coverted + Disclosure + Subsumption) is 201,051 words
- Most of the ideas for the series came while I was walking Kitty
- The book is divided into 15 parts, which collectively contain 50 chapters
- Each of the 15 parts in the book is based on a theme, which can be inferred from the part title and chapter title
- Hecate’s orbital period was manually calculated and plotted (by me, so hopefully it was done correctly—I’m an economist, not an astronomer)
- There are plans (currently underway) to release the entire Subsumption Series via a decentralized application (dApp) that will allow fan-driven revisions to the story and for the creation of a wider related universe
- The average number of words per “writing day” (days where I actually wrote) was 1,551 but the max was 8,017 (on September 23rd, 2019)
- I’ve created an AuthorTuber channel to showcase all the ways I used data during the research, development, and writing of Subsumption. Follow my channel on YouTube here if you’re interested
Are there other facts about Subsumption and its genesis that you’d like to know? Leave a comment. I’ll answer them (and add them to the list above)!