STATE MACHINE and superpowers

Available at all major ebook retailers, and coming soon to paperback (after a proof check oh jeeze I wear so many hats...)
Available at all major ebook retailers, and coming soon to paperback (after a proof check oh jeeze I wear so many hats…)

Hey! It’s Monday! STATE MACHINE just went live, and I’m going to talk about the plot…ish. This’ll be vague to avoid spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the books or the comic, you’re already aware that one of the general themes I use is real-world superheroes.

This is the part I have fun with, especially in the Rachel books. The 400 *cough*cough* 350 members of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies have a tiny quantum organic computer chip implanted in their brains. This chip allows them to access and, to a lesser extent, control frequencies in the EM spectrum. Since nearly everything within our scope of existence is affected by the EM spectrum to some extent, this is a pretty big deal. Also, having an adaptive, evolving computer in their heads lets the OACET Agents change themselves…within reason. The implant enhances biofeedback, which gives moderate improvements in performance to athletes who practice every day, or some additional mental abilities to those who meditate regularly.

I especially love the autoscripts. Each time one Agent discovers something new, they can package that learned experience in an autoscript and pass it to someone else in the collective. This second Agent can then use that script, modify the script as needed, and then pass that modified script to someone else, who can in turn modify it to their own needs… Think of it as the ultimate form of the collaborative learning experience. In the Rachel books, I had to make Rachel resist fully participating in the autoscript process. If I hadn’t, we’d be following a cyborg who just becomes progressively more and more powerful over time. Rachel is fun to write because she knows shouldn’t be a cyborg–except for her perception and frequency-manipulation skills, she is terrible at it!–and she’s mostly just stomping through her extremely weird life while everyone around her levels up.

Unfortunately, superheroes need villains. Villains are also fun to play with, but much harder to write, especially as the Rachel novels use an entirely different set of rules than the comic to keep it more relatable to real life.

  • Rule 1: No koala (sorry);
  • Rule 2: Ghosts will never be on-camera;
  • Rule 3: If ghosts do influence events, they will never be identified as ghosts.


I can’t avoid the ghosts altogether, not while still being true to the original material, but they’re downplayed. STATE MACHINE will probably be the most “ghostly” book in the Rachel novels, and it still adheres to these rules. But with the ghosts off of the table, where does that leave the villains? Ghosts are a hell of a game-changer, if you think about it. They’re invisible, invulnerable allies, and they have a crazy range of powers (teleportation, mental manipulation, etc.). If they’re gone, how do you write a bad guy who can take on 350 near-omniscient cyborgs who are motivated by self-preservation?

Well, you’ve got to go big. A single bad guy would get steamrolled by OACET. But a single bad guy who knows how to use societal and political systems as a weapon? There are tons of “systems” out there. Government. Public opinion. News cycles. Tax law!

Gaming the “system”, whichever one that is, is the only way a modern super-villain can go toe-to-toe with our heroes. Systems are huge, unwieldy weapons, and it takes ages to position them correctly, but once they’re set up and good to go, very little can stand against them. Societies are imperfect monsters, and are slanted to favor certain persons. If you know how to work that system to your advantage, bam! You’ve now got superpowers.

Now let’s go back to the part where I said I try to keep the Rachel novels “more relatable to real life.” There’s real life, and then there’s fictional “real life”, and these are quite different because one is usually all about the crushing burden of finances and oh no oh no oh NO so many bills all of the time why do they keep coming aren’t I a good person?

And the other is escapism, which is a major reason why we enjoy reading fiction.

If Richard Hanlon et al. wanted to eliminate the Agents, they should go after them financially. The U.S. government has a long history of defunding unpopular agencies, so why should OACET be any different?

(I can honestly see why Lucas spent so much time discussing interstellar commerce in the more recent films and the CLONE WARS cartoons. This makes perfect sense–control the money, control the universe. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough. If you’re going to travel down Financial Plot Point Road, then the Emperor should have defunded the Jedi. “Oh no, you’ve lost your non-profit status! However shall you pay for your spaceships and laser swords now? Principles sorely tested when buy a sandwich you cannot, hmmm?”)

However, while money may be magic, it’s also difficult to turn into an interesting plot. Not impossible! Just difficult, and I don’t know enough about how money works to pull it off. (Follow the money, they say, and I say, What, where? There was money? Did the bills eat it again?) So I usually play around with the more humanized “systems”. In STATE MACHINE, Hanlon’s back in the role of the Big Bad, and he’s not going down without a fight. He’s extremely smart, and since he created OACET, he knows their weaknesses.

I hope you enjoy it.

The next book in the Rachel series is book 4 of 7. The supervillains are less about working the system, and more about overthrowing it–because if you’re going to have completely balls-out evil villains anyhow, they might as well not bother with pants.*

* My elevator pitch is terrible.


Published by KBSpangler

A freelance editor who writes novels, comics, and repairs a disaster of a house in her spare time:

33 thoughts on “STATE MACHINE and superpowers

  1. I bought it!

    I got it from your store, on the presumption you will get more money that way. It had some issues, and Calibre suggested I convert it from epub to epub, strangely enough.

    Yay bok!

  2. Oh, and I just actually read past “hey you can buy the book.”

    Hanlon is a scary villain because he’s lawful evil, to borrow from another webcomic :).

    Also, he’s only a threat because Our Heroes have decided to be bound by laws. Were that to change, things would be different. No?

  3. +1 sold copy 🙂 Just in time for my holiday!

    I never caught on to your meta-reason for making Rachel dislike autoscripts; The presented reasons made perfectly enough sense to me already. +1 skilled-writer-point for you!

    As for Hanlon and stepping outside the bounds of Law and Civility; Bring Ami some nice, exotic cottage-cheese, and discuss ‘hypotheticals’.
    I will say I like OACET’s current letter-of-the-law approach better though; a) they don’t stoop to Hanlon’s level b) their best moments are when they align ‘the system’ to get their way (e.g. closing of the congressiona, hearings, #headdesk!). c) with the rule of law as a common line both sides will respect, you can have these AWESOME staredowns like in the Rose Garden (State Machine preview, go read it!)

    Thank you for writing, I’m certain I’ll enjoy every word of it!

    1. yup! Enjoyed every word of it!
      It made my flights zoom by, and I found I couldn’t put it down after I arrived either!

      Thanks for including the Greek Key preview again, yet another guaranteed purchase planned!

  4. Purchased from Amazon.

    Oddly, I got this weird email from Amazon before I purchased it:

    “Dear Customer,

    The sender tried to send document(s) to your Kindle. Any document, sent to you by will not be delivered to your Kindle because the sender is not in your Kindle approved e-mail list.

    It came as at the same time as an email from telling me the book is available.

    What is this all about?

    1. I have _NO_ idea. I did approve the Gumroad one, but I haven’t sent any mass unsolicited documents in… ever? Thanks for letting me know – that’s going to bother me until it’s sorted out.

  5. OMGOMGOMG SO EXCITED. (but have to wait for the Nook version to pop out of the BN hamster-wheel processor so I can take Rachel and Santino everywhere with me)

    ….anyway, aside from that and CONGRATULATIONS on #3, keep up the great work, I wanted to say, you’ve just made Phantom Menace make more sense, and I would read/watch a Star Wars where the Emperor really went all out using his government powers as well as his Force powers, but only if you wrote it (after midichlorians and retconning the books, I don’t entirely trust Lucas). So, y’know, you should do that. (not really, I understand you would probably get sued so hard it wouldn’t just take your ass off, it would obliterate even the memory of your ass’s existence.)

    Thank you again for so much great, hilarious, thought-provoking, and truly joyful entertainment.

    1. No need to wait! Buy it on Otter’s store (here), download, then move the epub version onto your Nook/Nook app devices. I got it into my iPad Nook App using Dropbox, and shoved it onto my wife’s ancient Nook e-reader via USB drag and drop.

  6. Caught it up early on Mothers’ Day, so I finished before I went to bed this morning. (It was a long, slow night at work, so I got a lot of reading in.) I loved it, and loved the Hope teaser just as much. Only…please tell me there’s another round of copy-edits coming between now and actual print copies. E-copies can be updated, but dead tree editions are considerably harder to fix. I have one of those minds that just trips up into a full face-plant over that sort of thing. As much as I enjoyed reading your book, every time I tripped, my fingers itched to apply the Highlighter of Doom. (Which would actually be a really easy way for me to send what I found to you via Kindle edition and email if you want to make use of another fresh set of eyes. I work for free. 😀 )

      1. I found this one:
        > so it’s very possible might have passed Hanlon some information
        should be “very possible [he] might have passed”

        I remember seeing some other sentence I couldn’t really make heads or tails of, but I didn’t copy it out while reading. I might reread it later.

        Besides that, you should really put a space behind an ellipsis that’s between two words. It looks strange when the words are actually connected by the ellipsis between them, and I know that in HTML-based e-book formats it might prevent lines from properly splitting between those words.

      2. Yeah, it bugged me to have no spaces after the ellipses, but it’s done consistently so I figured it was just an element of her style.

  7. WOO HOOOOO! At last, love the books, liked the preview been looking forward to More. Thank you for sticking with it.

    Sent from Samsung tablet.

  8. Book 4 of 7? *Now* you’ve gone and done it – don’t you dare pull a GRRM on us. I NEEDZ MOAR!

    1. It was supposed to be five! One book for each year in the time between activation and today. Then I thought about it, and figured three books worth of stuff would be thrown at them in the first year.

  9. This is magnificent so far. I really like your description of the code diving; especially this:

    “Even a good programmer can’t make sense out of all of the code—you can pick out pieces here and there, but it’s hard to get a feeling for the big picture.”

    I’ve actually spent a couple of years disassembling a single game executable, wading knee-deep through the byte code to patch old bugs and such. That was a game from ’95, with about one megabyte of byte code, and three years later I still don’t have many of the real internals figured out. You gave an incredibly good description of the process.

  10. I bought it the second the email hit my inbox.
    I admit to a tiny bit of a sulk that there was “only” a chapter of the Hope book (although I sulk the same way every time you release preview chapters and I devour them only to realise that’s it for several months, is how much I enjoy reading your stuff).

    I loved it all. And I’m about to go reread it all, because minor stupidity kept me reading it even though I was developing a migraine (anyone who wants a migraine on demand, put your e-reader of choice on a vibrating surface, such as a flimsy table in a flimsy flat with a 1200-spin washing machine at the spin cycle phase of the wash and try to read the ebook regardless). So while I know what happened, and could tell you, I’m pretty sure I missed bits.

    I love rereading books.
    Now I’m rambling. I think I just wanted to say thank you, and keep writing, and your Patreon is on my list of things to contribute to once my own bills are paid!

  11. Well, I finished it, and I loved it. Also, it’s interesting to see a switch to Hope for the next book. Does that mean it’ll include more ghosts and Speedy?

    Oh, and I just found out you made a Josh novel. Woah. The things you miss if you only subscribe to the comic feed. +1 sold copy of that one 😀

  12. I really enjoyed the book and I am looking forward to the Hope book. I ROT13ed some mild spoilers you can use this link to uncypher them ( V qvq abg ernyvfr sebz ernqvat gur pbzvp gung Ubcr jnf na Rzcngu. Nyfb gur pne punfr znqr zr ynhtu rabhtu V unq gb yrnir gur orq orpnhfr V jnf jnxvat hc zl fjrrgvr. 🙂 ) Thanks for writing it and I look forward to hopefully many more.

  13. Didn’t know this was really a thing amazon tracked, but congrats!

    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction

  14. Read it, definitely enjoyed it.

    I assume that the Hope book will include ghosts, because a first person perspective Hope book would be really weird without ghosts. I’m also actually sad that we won’t see ghosts with Rachel because it means we can’t really see her thinking she’s going crazy over time (because that’s the sort of arc that needs a conclusion that really can’t be provided without onscreen ghosts).

  15. Oh my word, so good, so good!

    I just finished, and I just had to say that this is my favorite of the books so far. It’s just great, especially now that it’s becoming ever more clear how the stuff Rachel’s getting mixed up with is tied in to the big story from the comics.

    It’s twisting my brain into knots, though, trying to make all the connections without any of it being able to be explicitly said in the books! I literally gasped and got goosebumps when Shawn revealed why he went after Santino in the earlier book–and when I realized where the Mechanism came from. It all got me massively excited for the Hope book, where I’m definitely hoping for the weirder bits of the AGAHF universe to show up–come on, Speedy and Ben! (although I assume she won’t run into any foreign ghosts… given all the stuff in the comic right now about contacting them)

  16. Bought, read, and enjoyed.


    If I *never* see the two-word phrase “Southwestern turquoise” again, it’ll be too soon. I understand your rationale here, but I think a little more variation (“Her shade of turquoise,” “turquoise,” “her color,” “blue touched with green”) would be a good thing. Anything.

    Seriously, I really enjoyed the book, but that particular reference just felt…awkward.

    1. Never bothered me, to be honest. Like names, it’d be more annoying if the author would substitute things like that purely for the sake of variety. It was more or less used as name, after all; any mention of it referred to Rachel’s core colours. For the sake of making it easy to correlate it was good that dhe didn’t mess around with other descriptions of one single colour. And, uh, she DOES use “her turquoise” and “Rachel’s turquoise” on some occasions.

      1. There are a few variations. But I can sense “Southwestern turquoise” coming in too many sentences, and it just rubs me raw. But it’s a matter of taste, and to each their own.

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