Robin Sloan
main newsletter
November 2023


Study of Running Figures, 1878, Charles Herbert Moore
Study of Running Figures, 1878, Charles Herbert Moore

The title of my new novel, coming in June 2024 from MCD×FSG, is:

Moonbound: The Last Book of the Anth

I’ve just created a mini-site that will collect every­thing I write about the project. Currently, the vibe is “public notebook”. By the time of publication, that might mature into “glossy pamphlet” … or it might not. We’ll find out together.

Leading the way, you’ll find the first clues about the novel’s content. Also noteworthy: I intend this book as the first in a trilogy. Here’s why.

This is an archived edition of Robin’s newsletter. You can sign up to receive future editions using the form at the bottom of the page.

That’s plenty to read already, so I’ll keep the rest of this edition fairly short. Below, you’ll find my notes on the season. The next newsletter you receive, in mid-November, will be my 2023 gift guide.

The season of mass

Fat Gold's new olive mill
Fat Gold's new olive mill

The Fat Gold harvest has commenced in earnest, this year with a new machine at our side. There it is, pictured above: small by the standards of global olive oil production, titanic by the standards of Sloan.

Other parts of the year are, for me, seasons of energy, which is to say, patterned light: pixels and symbols. That’s the domain of my career, and of my tempera­ment, mostly. But this period, October through December, is the season of mass: bulky bins of olives chore­o­graphed into the crusher.

These days, we do it five tons at a time.

Both seasons are important to me, and one has informed the other. I’ve learned things making olive oil (and operating this new machine) that I couldn’t have learned any other way. And, because my tendency is toward the symbolic, it’s healthy to have this coun­ter­vailing force. Big trucks, slick floors, tired muscles … all good things.

The timing this year was fortuitous, even a bit spooky: Moonbound was fully locked just as the first olives rolled. So, rather than feeling torn between responsibilities, I have enjoyed the satis­fac­tion of a super clean gear shift.

Of course, tempera­ment can’t totally be tamed. While I’m operating this new machine (feeling like a Star Trek character, tending the warp core) I am also thinking, thinking, thinking … and, as always, making notes.

Notes toward what?

Back in 2021, in the first week of January, at a rented cabin in Joshua Tree, I wrote the first pages of Moonbound. In the first week of January 2024, at a location to be determined, I’ll shift gears again, and begin the second book in my notional trilogy.

The factory floor

California’s San Joaquin Valley is best under­stood as a giant, open-air factory floor. I don’t mean that in any pejo­ra­tive sense; rather, the opposite: this might be the world’s biggest, most produc­tive factory. My point is simply that it’s totally engineered, densely woven with infrastucture.

It’s amazing, in this season, to see the trucks constantly rolling, pulling gondola trailers brimming over with tomatoes or almonds, bound for humongous processing facilities. Nothing is inde­pen­dent here: every one of these oper­a­tions relies on a thick web of capital (machines) and capa­bility (people who can fix the machines).

My work with Fat Gold has been a terrific education in all the tech­nolo­gies that make this place possible. The wheel gets a lot of credit — and sure, wheels are handy — but more and more, I think the key to human civi­liza­tion is probably: the pump.

Illuminated Figures from Byzantine Manuscript of Tenth Century, 1876-1878, Charles Herbert Moore
Illuminated Figures from Byzantine Manuscript of Tenth Century, 1876-1878, Charles Herbert Moore

Driving around the valley at this time of year, you see dust devils constantly. Glance across any open field, and there they’ll be, a whole gang of djinns, whirling merrily. Sometimes they’re pretty big.

The realization: dust devils are spinning everywhere, all the time. Here, in the dry remnant of harvest, their contours become reliably visible. Elsewhere, glimpses are rare; you might catch one in a Target parking lot, dancing with a piece of trash. But just because you don’t see a dust devil on the tidy sidewalk in front of your apartment building doesn’t mean it’s not there. It IS there! It’s whirling merrily — just a clear twist of air.

The magic is ubiquitous, and mostly invisible.

There are lots of starlings in the San Joaquin Valley, and in the mornings they fly in their wonderful murmu­ra­tions, strange shadowy forms billowing above the Home Depot parking lot.

Watching them, I had the thought: a starling only knows a murmu­ra­tion from the inside — a scrum of dark feathers, the bird beside them breathing hard. They can’t see or under­stand the larger object.

There are metaphors available there. But there’s also a playful possibility:

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe one starling gets to watch. Maybe, every morning, a single bird is chosen to sit it out, and regard, with wonder and satis­fac­tion, their own species.

Stranger things have happened.

This reminds me of Vinciane Despret’s book titled What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?, which I have, since reading, basically never stopped thinking about.

One of Vinciane’s core arguments is that animal behavior is, and must remain forever, funda­men­tally mysterious, for the following reasons:

It follows simply, inescapably: animals do things that we have never seen, and will never see. Maybe it’s because they do those things cautiously, privately; or maybe it’s just because the world is vast, and they do them, just by chance, when nobody is looking. Odds are good, because usually, nobody is looking.

If you are inter­ested in animal behavior, and the real lives of all the creatures on this planet, I strongly recommend What Would Animals Say? — it’s smart and provoca­tive and, above all, very wise. A great trans­la­tion by Brett Buchanan, too.

Fish, After Egyptian Wall Painting, 1876-1878, Charles Herbert Moore
Fish, After Egyptian Wall Painting, 1876-1878, Charles Herbert Moore

Another book I think about often is Breaking Bread with the Dead, by Alan Jacobs. One of the concepts Alan culti­vates is “temporal bandwidth”, a term cribbed from Thomas Pynchon, who defined it as

the width of your present, your now … The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.

I think this is so right, and so wise.

I can’t remember if Alan says this in his book, but I have often thought: your temporal bandwidth ought to get thicker as you get older. You ought to expand in both directions: matching a curious, capacious interest in the past (including the deep past) to an energized, respon­sible interest in the future (including the far future).

I think both directions, and the balance between them, are important. If you expand in only one direction, you become distended, distorted. This produces, for example, the leaden dude obsessed with the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks.

It’s okay to inhabit a thin layer of time, the sliver of Now, when you’re young. In fact, I think it’s probably healthy. But then, pretty early in adulthood, you ought to begin your expansion. It is an obligation, I think — as a citizen, and as a human.

I suppose it will be no surprise to discover that Moonbound, a book set eleven thousand years in the future, has a lot to say about temporal bandwidth.

I love the English words with a silent K: knuckle, knife, knead. Knit, knot, knack.


The combi­na­tion kn- used to be pronounced fully, but over time, the sound of the K softened and fell away. Yet a shadow remains, there in the shape of the words, with K’s prongs leading the charge. Maybe I’m forcing it, but, to me, the meanings of these words all orbit a core of … aggression? Lots of pushing and poking. A sense of sharpness.

Know, knowledge — there’s sharpness there, too. Don’t you think so?

Etymologies are great bolsters for temporal bandwidth, by the way. One by one, they reveal the total strange­ness and contingency, not to mention the recency, of the very language we speak.

Tree, from the Background of a Picture by an Early Flemish Master, 1877-1878, Charles Herbert Moore
Tree, from the Background of a Picture by an Early Flemish Master, 1877-1878, Charles Herbert Moore

The art in this edition is drawn from a collec­tion of studies by Charles Herbert Moore, the contrail of an artist abroad in the world, taking note of inter­esting designs and details, trying them on for size. Delving the depths of digital archives, you come across a lot of material like this, and often I find it more compelling than the “real” artwork.

Beautiful fragments, oddly placed on the page.

I’m very happy to have published the first version of my Moonbound mini-site, and it will only grow as we approach June 2024. Ultimately, I’d like the site to serve as a sort of digital appendix to the novel, in the spirit of J. R. R. Tolkien’s wonderful (humongous) appen­dices to The Return of the King.

Okay! I’m going to send this newsletter, then go operate an olive mill.

From Fresno,


P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter around November 15 — the 2023 gift guide!

November 2023