Writing Reap3r

Writing Reap3r

Big news: My new novel, Reap3r, comes out today.

How far would you go to achieve your greatest ambition?

Nothing is what it seems in this speculative thriller about a quantum computer scientist, virologist, podcaster, venture capitalist, and assassin coming together to untangle a twisted enigma that will change the course of future history. Everyone has something to hide, and every transgression is a portal to discovery.

Taking you on a whirlwind journey from the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area to the distant shores of the Galápagos, Reap3r is a propulsive adventure that grapples with the price of progress and how technology shapes our lives and world.

Get your copy of Reap3r right here.

Gene Wolf pointed out that you never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing. Writing Reap3r proved to me how right Gene is.

I began working on the book in the fall of 2019. My wife and I were in the middle of a round-the-world trip. We trekked the wilds of Patagonia, swam under endless summer sun in arctic fjords, walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, and marveled at ancient Incan ruins in the Andes. The year was a mosaic assembled from fragments of experience gathered in far-flung lands.

We read as we traveled, voyaging through internal worlds just as ripe for exploration. I devoured Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos as we sailed its namesake archipelago and fell in love with its strange combination of big ideas, lightning pace, and madcap glee. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas lodged in my heart as well: fully realized characters whose loosely connected stories spanned continents and centuries. I realized that the structure of these novels echoed our journey: they were narrative mosaics.

That realization made me want to craft a mosaic of my own, and Reap3r was born. So I combed through my notes of disparate ideas for characters, scenes, worlds, feelings, moments, plots, themes, events, etc. and instead of asking how each of them might grow into novels, I asked myself how they might be synthesized into a single story. I had collected dots, and now I was going to connect them.

I blazed through the rough draft. My wife and I returned home to Oakland, and ten days later California locked down as COVID-19 swept across the world. In addition to being terrifying, the pandemic was eerie for me because Reap3r is set in the wake of a global pandemic—it was almost as if I was seeing the novel’s backstory brought to monstrous life. But if anything, the isolation and uncertainty of quarantine accelerated my work on the manuscript. Writing, like reading, let me escape into imagination.

I finished the rough draft in June, and I knew it was the best thing I’d ever written. The story was alive. It moved. It danced. It coalesced. It was at once tight and sprawling, fast and deep. I sent the manuscript to the small handful of advance readers that constitute my braintrust, and waited for the accolades to roll in.

But instead of praise, I received questions, questions about why the characters did what they did and what the big picture really was—questions I was appalled to discover I couldn’t answer.

The story was broken.

I had built a house on a cracked foundation.

The next few months were brutal. I cycled through dozens of possible fixes, some cosmetic, some profound. I considered shattering my mosaic and spinning each piece into its own standalone novel. I thought about scrapping everything and starting a brand new story from scratch. I tested the patience of my braintrust by soliciting feedback whenever a solution presented itself. But nothing worked. I felt like an overambitious juggler watching in horror as balls rained down on the stage around me.

An interviewer once asked David Mitchell about weaving six novellas into what became Cloud Atlas. “It was just the insouciance of youth,” said David. “Sometimes your lack of experience can save you. Sometimes an underinformed decision is retrospectively the right decision, and had you had more wisdom, you wouldn’t have done it.” At that moment, I wished I had come across the interview before embarking on Reap3r. I wished I had had more wisdom, so I wouldn’t have done it.

And that was when I remembered an unpublished short story that I had written in a single afternoon six months earlier, a story about a venture capitalist giving a TED talk while an on-demand assassin stalked his competition. An idea began to take shape, not like a lightbulb snapping on, but like pressure building along a fault line. Maybe I, the juggler, didn’t need to settle for simpler tricks or quit the circus to pursue a career in accountancy. Maybe what I actually needed was to toss yet one more ball into the air, trusting it to complete the unresolved pattern of time and balance and gravity.

This turned out to be not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. I set to work. I integrated the short story into the novel. I reinvented main characters. I rewrote much of the manuscript and added fifty percent more material. I refactored the narrative again and again and again and again. I incorporated input from friends, writers, agents, editors, and more advance readers. In the end, it took me more than twice as long to revise Reap3r as to write the rough draft.

That wasn’t what I was expecting when, full of youthful insouciance, I set out to write this story, but it was what this story required of me. It didn’t matter that I had already written nine novels. I needed to learn how to write this novel. I gave it my all in the hope that my all might be enough.

I hope you’ll agree it was worth it.

We all find our next favorite book because someone we trust recommends it. If you enjoy Reap3r, please tell your friends, post reviews, gift it far and wide, and spread the word however you can. It might feel insignificant, but it makes an enormous difference. Books thrive on word of mouth. Culture is a collective project in which we all have a stake and a voice.

Purchase Reap3r.

Selected praise:

“Peper has this ability to write about the future in a way that is at once completely recognizable and totally imaginary and extremely realistic and also optimistic while also being utterly compelling enough to galvanize our present—also, his books are just so fucking fun to read.”
-Eva Hagberg, author of When Eero Met His Match and How to Be Loved

“The reigning king of speculative thrillers.”
-Brian Merchant, editor of VICE’s Terraform

“Whatever Peper writes about is what we’ll be talking about for the next year, and grappling with for the next decade.”
-James Cham, partner at Bloomberg Beta

“I couldn’t put it down! I wanted to cancel my plans and spend an entire day reading it from start to finish, but managed to do it in two.”
-Rebecca Hiscott, managing editor at Stripe Press

“Classic Peper. Fast-moving, thoughtful science fiction. Ripped from the (very) near future, this is a rollicking and sometimes poignant thrill ride. Definitely a one-sitting book, so make sure you don’t have work the next day.”
-Seth Godin, bestselling author of Tribes, Linchpin, and The Practice

“Holy f this book is good.”
-Nathan Baschez, president at Every

“A gleaming near-future thriller in the tradition of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and P. W. Singer/August Cole.”
-Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“Addictively readable with as much momentum as a multistage rocket, fueled by a high octane cocktail of super cool concepts that should become reality.”
-Hannu Rajaniemi, CEO of HelixNano and award winning author of The Quantum Thief

Reap3r is a rarity in contemporary science fiction—a smart, engaging and deeply humanistic work of futurism that keeps the pages turning with the material of real life.”
-Christopher Brown, Philip K. Dick, World Fantasy and Campbell Award-nominated author of Tropic of Kansas, Rule of Capture, and Failed State

“If you want to visit a very, very near future without the risk of getting shot, this is it.”
-Patrick Tanguay, curator at Sentiers

“Quintessential Peper. Ratcheting suspense in each chapter, the questions raised in Reap3r linger long after finishing the last page.”
The Critiquing Chemist

“A frighteningly prescient look at the moral quandaries posed by the combination of new technologies and powerful financial interests.”
-Chris Yeh, co-author of The Alliance and Blitzscaling

“Emerging technologies like digital surveillance and genetic engineering give those who control them the power to make life much better or worse for everyone. Reap3r tells a realistic and very human story about the profound ethical problems facing the technologists who forge these double-edged swords and the consequences for the rest of us. Highly recommended.”
-Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

“Fast-paced and chock-full of ideas, weaving together scientific and technological wonders with deeper questions around the human condition—a delight from start to finish.”
-Samuel Arbesman, scientist in residence at Lux Capital and author of The Half-Life of Facts and Overcomplicated

“One of the hardest things a writer can do is catch the future not in the far-seeing lens of a telescope, but in a baseball mitt, moments after it cracks off the bat of the present. That’s what Peper has done in Reap3r, entangling scientists, spies, capitalists, and podcasters in a plot that feels almost too modern to be true. An insightful read that gets its leather on the stinging trends that are remaking the world.”
-Andrew Hudson, Center for Science and the Imagination fellow and author of Our Shared Storm

“Peper writes some of my absolute favorite near-future fiction: everything speculative feels prescient, real, and extremely compelling. Highly recommended.”
-Matt Wallace, Hugo Award-winning author of the Savage Rebellion series

“A fun romp through our hopes and fears of technology, capitalism, and Amazon delivery trucks.”
-Tim Keenan, award-winning creator of Duskers

“Every Peper novel is a spellbinder of social dynamics, technology, and character—and this is his most ambitious yet.”
-Danny Crichton, editor in chief at Lux Capital

“Every story about the future is a story about the present—and Reap3r is a rip-roaring cable-car tour of the San Francisco tech weltanschauung. If that world feels familiar, you need to read this book. And if that world feels alien to you, then you really need to read it.”
-Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz, director of strategy at The Long Now Foundation

“A frenzied thriller about high tech venture ethics—a must read for hot new startups considering how much of their soul to add to the deal.”
-Donald S. Burke, leading epidemiologist and president of Epistemix

“A master of the non-too-distant future.”
-Glen Hiemstra, founder of Futurist.com

“Exciting, scary, and damn fast. Highly recommended.”
-David Mandell, cofounder at Massive

Order Reap3r now.

I hope you’re ready for an adventure…

Oh, and if you want to stay in touch, the best way to follow my writing is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter.