First of all, take a look at this!
Here’s the back cover copy:
The Incrementalists cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations, races, and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, just a little bit at a time. Their ongoing argument about how is older than most of their individual memories.
Phil, whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has loved Celeste — and argued with her — for most of the last four hundred years. But Celeste, recently dead, embittered, and very unstable, has changed the rules — not incrementally, and not for the better. Now the heart of the group must gather in Las Vegas to save the Incrementalists, and maybe the world.
But for our launch party, I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from a little deeper into the book that explains what it is, exactly, that Incrementalists do. This conversation actually takes place over the course of three scenes, but I’ve condensed it a bit for our purposes here. Phil and Ren have just met for the first time at a coffee shop in Las Vegas. She thinks she’s there on business. He knows he’s brought her there to recruit her to join the Incrementalists. I let him explain it:
“I will leave you alone if you want,” I said. “I’m just talking to you on a theory.”
“What theory is that?”
“That you have absolutely no trouble fending off sleazy pick-up attempts, and you like talking to interesting strangers, and you can tell the difference pretty quickly.”
She hesitated. “Okay,” she said. “Any insider tips beyond coffee?”
“Do you gamble?”
“And if I did?”
“I could tell you where not to.”
“And why would you do that? I’m guessing you’re not universally generous with your insights.”
“You might be surprised,” I said. “But I’d offer you all my secrets, if I thought you’d invite me to sit down. My knees are locking up.”
She hesitated, studying me. “Okay,” she said, “Have a seat, and tell me what the locals do here besides eat.”
I sat across from her. “I’d love to say something clever, like, laugh at tourists. But the fact is, get away from the Strip and they do the same things they do anywhere else.”
“And in your case, what does that involve?”
“Just like everywhere else,” she said.
I felt a shrug ask to be let out, but suppressed it. “It sounds more glamorous than User Interface design, but when you’re running bad, you miss the steady income.”
There wasn’t even a delay and a double-take; she got it instantly. She nailed me in place with her eyes and said, “If you claim that was a lucky guess–”
“Not at all, Ren. Usually, I’d call you Renee until you okayed the nickname, but I know how you hate your Dad’s French aspirations.”
She sat back. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Phil, and I’m here to recruit you to a very select and special group. The work is almost never dangerous, and best of all we don’t pay anything.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Yes?” I asked.
“What I’m trying to figure out,” she said slowly, “is why I’m not calling security.”
“I can answer that,” I told her. “Mostly, it’s the soup. It tastes like your grandmother’s. Also, if you listen closely, you can hear Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert singing ‘The Keeper Did A-Hunting Go.’ And if you look behind me–”
“Oxytocin,” she said, staring at me.
I was impressed, and I didn’t mind letting her see it. “Good work. That saves a lot of explanation.”
“You’re triggering memories to make me feel trusting.”
I nodded again. “Just enough to get the explanation in before you have me thrown out. And so you’ll believe the impossible parts at least enough to listen to them.”
“This is crazy.”
“It gets crazier.”
“I can hardly wait. What are the impossible parts?”
“We’ll get there. Let’s start with the merely improbable. Do you like the mp3 format?”
“Huh?” Her brows came together.
“A functional sound format introduced and standardized. Do you think that’s a good thing?”
She stared, waiting for me to say more.
“It almost didn’t happen that way. That’s the sort of thing you can do with oxytocin and dopamine and a few words in the right ears.”
“That’s what you can do? You get non-human corporate entities to make decisions on a human level? ”
“That’s one thing we can do. Sometimes.”
“Sometimes? What determines whether you can do it?”
“Lots of things. How drastic the change is, how well we know the Focus–the person we’re trying to meddle with, how good we are at meddling. No one is going to turn Rupurt Murdoch into a liberal, but a few nudges might convince some British investigators to follow up on what he’s doing, if they’re inclined in that direction anyway.”
“That was you?”
“Someday I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. It would have been big. And ugly. But meddlework–”
“Meddlework. Two d’s. Our term for it. Like what I just did to you. Meddling with someone’s head so you can change his actions. I meddled with you.”
She was silent for a little longer, probably trying to decide if that was the only reason she believed me. Then she said, “Why me?”
“Because you almost got fired for telling truth to power in a particularly insulting way, and you did it for the benefit of a bunch of users you’d never met, and you expected it to cost you a job you liked. That’s the kind of thing we notice. On good days.”
She frowned, working it out. “You arranged for me to be where I am. You planned how you would approach me, what I’d eat–no matter what I ordered—and what music would be playing in the background.”
She listened again. Sam Cooke, her family’s washing-up after dinner music–energetic, but safe. “And you’ve been manipulating me the whole time.”
“Manipulating me really, really well.”
I nodded in something between polite agreement and wary acknowledgement of the compliment.
“I want to know how you do that.”
“That’s what I’m offering.”
“You and this small but influential, international, non-paying, not-dangerous secret society of yours?”
“Like the mafia, only with all the cannoli and none of the crime.”
“Well, we’re much older.”
“An older, slower mafia.”
“And you fight evil? Control the government? Are our secret alien overlords?”
“Try to make the world a little better.”
“Just a little better.”
“An older, slower, nicer mafia?”
I stood up.
“So if I want in, what do I do? Confirmation class? Dunk in the river? Prick my finger? ”
“You come home with me.”
“You come home with me and find out.”
If you could assign an Incrementalist meddlework to change things – just incrementally – for the better, what would you do?
Steven Brust is the author of Dragon, Issola, the New York Times bestsellers Dzur and Tiassa, and many other fantasy novels. He lives in Minneapolis.
Skyler White is the author of and Falling, Fly and In Dreams Begin. She lives in Austin.
The book’s website is here: http://incrementalistsbook.com/
Steve’s here: http://dreamcafe.com/
and mine here: http://www.skylerwhite.com/
Steve is @StevenBrust on Twitter
Skyler is @wordworkwitch on Twitter
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