My new novel, Reap3r, comes out today and if you enjoy this newsletter, you're going to love it.
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.
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.
Books thrive on word-of-mouth, so if you read and love Reap3r, the best way to support it and me is by helping the right people discover it. I started sending this newsletter eight years ago because I believed that in the churning maelstrom of the internet, it was important to point to things I loved—to do my part, however small, to help them become signal in the noise. I soon discovered two surprising things: how big of a difference a simple book recommendation could make (enthusiasm is contagious!) and how much fun it was to champion stories that moved me. Culture is a collective project in which all of us have a stake and a voice.
Here are three things you can do to help:
Buy a copy right now. Early sales catapult books up bestseller rankings and attract attention from press and booksellers. This matters. A lot. Like, really.
Post a review ASAP. Early positive reviews give books a critical algorithmic boost, exposing them to new readers who depend on your good judgement. It only takes a few minutes and makes a huge difference.
Tell your friends. We all discover our next favorite book because someone we trust recommends it. Be that friend! Share it on social, recommend it to folks who’d love it, and gift it widely. I may have written Reap3r, but its success depends on readers.
Thank you for being the best readers any writer could hope for. You are the people who inspire me to push through when I feel like quitting. You are the people who bring these stories to life. You are the people I write for.
I hope you’re ready for an adventure…
Eliot Peper is the author of Reap3r, Veil, Breach, Borderless, Bandwidth, Neon Fever Dream, Cumulus, Exit Strategy, Power Play, and Version 1.0. He publishes a blog, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.
“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