The Incrementalists Audiobook Giveaway Contest

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am love with the audiobook. I’ve now listened to it twice, and Mary Robinette Kowal and Ray Porter do an amazing job of capturing the characters. I don’t know exactly how they do that, because their interpretations are so very different: Ray’s version of Oskar has a German accent and Mary’s doesn’t; Mary’s portrayal of Jimmy has a French accent and Ray’s doesn’t. You’d think they’d conflict, but in some weird way they compliment each other.

But the reading of the viewpoint characters: Mary’s Ren and Ray’s Phil, are where I lose the power of speech. So perfect, there needs to be a better term than perfect. There were a couple of points in there where I actually cried–and I’ve read this thing maybe a hundred times. I have no idea how they do that.

We’re giving away three copies (actually promo codes) for the book at We’re running three simultaneous contests here on this blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the project, I would suggest reading the (free, of course) short story that’s up on  It can be found  here.

Contest 1: Suppose you were given the chance to join The Incrementalists. There’s a 50-50 shot (actually, more or less depending on how strong your personality is) that your personality would be swallowed by another and, though your memories would survive, you would be gone.  But if you did survive, you would become (at least somewhat) immortal, you would have access to memories from throughout human history, and you would be part of a small group dedicated to making the world better. Would you take the gamble? Why or why not? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 2: If you were an Incrementalist, with the power to influence individuals in subtle ways, what would be your first project? That is, what would be the first thing you did in an effort to make things just a little better? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 3: The Incrementalists have been around since the beginning of human history, trying to make things better, or make bad things a little less bad. Name one thing you’ve think they’ve done, and how could it have been worse if they didn’t?  Maximum: 100 words.

The contest will run until noon CDT on Monday, September 30, at which time Skyler and I will pick the best answer in all three categories. Post your answers here. You can answer all three, but you can only win one. Only one answer per contest per person.


(Warning: If you say something really cool, Skyler and I just might steal it!)

(Note: As far as I know, audible can work on almost any device anywhere; but if I’m wrong, that’s not our problem, okay?)



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26 thoughts on “The Incrementalists Audiobook Giveaway Contest”

  1. Contest 1: Caveat: I’m Catholic. I’d probably do it (assuming it was decided at death) and trust that my soul wouldn’t be annihilated. Believing in an afterlife probably gives me a different take on this. If we assume the context of the Incrementalists with no God, absolutely. Pascal’s Wager for atheists.

    Contest 2: I’d find someone at the SEC (or the US attorney’s office) and meddle with said person toward investigating insider trading (and voting with financial self-interest) in congress and push it, to the point of dumping all the documentation on the internet. The lid has to blow off that someday.

    Contest 3: The Incrementalists, attempting to shine a light on slavery in the US, meddled with Abd Al-Rahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, an African Prince. They lead him into an ambush where he was enslaved and eventually sent to the US. His plight took far longer to surface than was expected, and had less impact than perhaps it ought. This work was likely considered a failure, given that he spent over 40 years in slavery, but perhaps it had far-reaching consequences.

  2. contest 3: an incrementalist could have encouraged Pennsylvania governor Samuel Pennypacker in 1905 to veto “an act for the prevention of idiocy” a law providing for forced sterilization of mentally ill / epilictic / deaf / blind people. While some sterilizations were still performed in public institutions in Pennsylvania the number would have been much higher if it was legal (20 thousand were sterlized in CA.)

  3. Contest 2: I would arrange for the DMV to implement an online appointment scheduling system, so people would no longer have to stand in line for hours for license, registration etc.

  4. Contest 1:
    Yes, in a heartbeat. Having even some of your memories survive you would seem to be more than worth the risk of having your personality overwhelmed. Is that really “death” at all? Chuck is still in Phil somewhere, after all. This is a proposition in which you can’t really lose.
    Contest 2:
    I’d say doing something about man-made climate change would be high on the list of priorities for a near-immortal human. This is certainly the issue I would start with. How? Good question.
    Contest 3:
    Was Itzhak Stern an Incrementalist? Or was he merely influenced by one? Either way, it seems clear that the work of Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust was the result of meddling. This is exactly the scale the Incrementalists work on. Perhaps one of Schindler’s switches was a memory of a girl in a red dress?

  5. Contest 1: When I was 17, I realized that suicidal depression had been my emotional world for so long it was part of my identity, and I felt like emerging from it would be its own kind of dying. I did it anyway. That was the last version of me that was more than faintly scared of ego death; it was four or five significant iterations ago. So of course I’d do it.

    Contest 2: My first project would be to look for a religious group that operates a soup kitchen and whose leader’s faith is flagging, and attempt to meddle that person into a vivid remembrance of something that inspired them spiritually as a young person.

    Contest 3: An Incrementalist might have attempted to inspire a doctor named Taliaferro Clark at the U.S. Public Health Service to consider, and feel for, the situation of poor black people suffering from “venereal disease” running unchecked through their communities, with an eye to moving the PHS to study the matter and one day address it. The end result, of course, being the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

    (all disqualifications on the basis of word count and noncompliance with the stated framing of the topics acknowledged and consented to)

  6. #1: Yes, Without a doubt. For a chance to both have intimate knowledge of the past and to travel into the future and not only see a little more of our story, but to help shape it towards a better ending.

    #3: The Incrementalists were pivotal in making sure the Tet Offensive took place and that US intelligence organizations somehow didn’t see it coming. The ideas that the NVA could expect to stand up to American firepower or that the south’s population would rise up in general revolt were both foolish – yet the North Vietnamese went ahead with the Tet Offensive anyway.

    Meanwhile, American intelligence new that something was in the works, but somehow all the clues evaded them. The American public began to see the insanity of a war where we “Had to destroy the city in order to save it.”

    Had Tet not taken place, or had American and ARVN forces been on alert, we may have destroyed the country in order to save it.

  7. #2: My project would to be to shift the position of Republican Governors who have not signed on to Medicaid expansion in their states per the Affordable care Act.

  8. 1. At this time in my life I wouldn’t do it even if I had a 100% chance of “winning out.” I think my specific personal responsibilities as a husband and father would suffer too much. Ten years ago it would’ve been a different story.

    2. I’d get a bunch of well-known Stanford and UC-system professors to declare that they won’t publish in, review for, or serve as editors for for-profit journals–ideally as a statement delivered from the entire science faculty of an institution. Down with Science and Nature! Up with PLoS Biology!

    3. I like the idea of there being a small number of Incrementalists who went over the land bridge to the New World 10,000 years ago, such that the Incrementalists knew about the New World, and their meddling with Christopher Columbus to get him to cross the Atlantic. Two main reasons: first, it’s a little freaky how convinced Columbus was that he’d find /something/ by setting out for the Orient going West; second, it’s be a classic “so did that make things better or didn’t it?” argument for the Incrementalists to tussle over.

  9. Contest 1:

    I would.

    Borrowing Spock’s words: “Because of the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Because I am an older man, and a bit weary of my personna as is, anyway, and because the means are pleasingly subtle. I am a gentle man.

  10. Contest 1:
    “Why not? Your odds are fifty-fifty, give or take.”
    “If the stronger wins, then recruits’ odds decrease over time. Incrementally. And you’ve been doing this since the dawn of human civilization.”

  11. Contest 2

    To ease the fear, revulsion and denial which arise to block the recognition of truth; to ease the cognitive dissonance which prevents us from seeing what needs changing in ourselves, and in our world. Individual by individual, Incrementalists could engender fresh curiosity about 9/11, about class warfare, and corporate perfidy.

  12. Contest 3:

    Oh, without at doubt, the Incrementalists promulgated the diverse practices of fermentation from the dimmest recesses of recorded history, and in all parts of the world. Affecting the volume and durability of human food stocks and beverages, but also our very survival during times of plague and want, the fermentation of corn, soy, barley, rice, all manner of fruits and vegetable produce must directly proceed from the subtle intervention of the Incrementalists. Without a knowing nudge, who would become expert at constructively “rotting” otherwise edible foods?

    And for my money, the first man to teach eating raw oysters? Incrementalist. Period.

  13. My entry for #3:

    “I used new mown grass and the wood varnish his church used on the pews.”

    “So, you made Branch Rickey integrate baseball.”

    “No. Rickey was already committed. I just suggested he choose Jackie Robinson.”

    “So? Rickey took the risk.”

    “Yeah, but another player might not have been able to take all the abuse Jackie did. And if integration failed, no Brown v. Board of Ed and possibly no civil rights movement. Nixon would have won in ’60. No Civil Rights Act, and no Medicare.”


    “It’s not perfect, but I’ll call that a win any day of the week.”

  14. #1:
    New initiates to the Incrementalists should have unique skills and abilities. I don’t feel I have that currently. If I were the only person available, I would accept unless I suspect the other personalities would be so unpleasant to me that combining would be torture.

    I would influence politicians in a state (California for instance) to eliminate private business involvement (bail bondsmen and prisons most importantly) in criminal justice. Then that state would have a chance at reform.

  15. Contest 3:

    Art, she knew, is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it. The day she had been recruited, Roger had told her what kind of man to look for, and had even pledged his help, if someday it was needed.

    “Take six months off and write a book,” she said, knowing that it would inevitably be more than a novelization drawn from their role-playing games. Perhaps a thousand readers, or ten thousand readers, might buy his book for simple escapist entertainment, but he would inevitably give them something more to chew on. This son of organizers would find a subtle way to convey the knowledge that smoldered within his soul. He could take the most merciless truths of dialectical materialism, spike them with humor, filter them through a veil of fantasy, make them palatable to an otherwise unreachable audience. It would matter.

  16. Oh, wow, the coming and going of the accents would make me assume that Phil doesn’t really notice them, but Ren does.


  17. Oh, of course; Ren notices the French accent because it annoys her because of “her dad’s French aspirations.” Phil notices Oskar’s German accent because of how much Oskar annoys him. Perfect! Thank you!

  18. Question #2:
    I would meddle with someone charismatic and highly-placed in Boy Scouts of America to dismantle “gay/atheist/other = bad” policies. If one iconic youth-and-values bigot generator changed, others would follow, and fewer of our kids would grow up bigoted.

  19. I already have the audiobook, so I disqualify myself from the contest. I loved the prompts, though, and wanted to try them.

    Contest 1:
    My grandmother singing Yiddish shtetl songs. My father’s laugh when I told my first dirty joke. My mother’s hand on my forehead when I had the flu. Dandelion curled under my arm, purring. What would I give to trap these moments in amber, forever, in this fallen world? Anything.

    Contest 2:
    We birth and are born by our media, and our media sucks. To make us better, first we must better the voices and messages we consume. There is power in sharing truth. Select a few nodes of the media, help people see the possibilities, and we can be better.

    Contest 3:
    The mayor of Buenos Aires hosts a dinner for Ernest Shackleton and his crew. To Shackleton’s left sits the mayor. To his right, an unidentified woman. All that is known of her is taken from the diary of Captain Frank Worsley:

    “No idea how, but we got colcannon for dinner. Señora spent the evening bending Boss’s ear. Book she gave him must be older than he is, but I reckon the smell brought ‘im back to his days in Dulwich library.”

    Ernest Shackleton rescues the last of his crew from Elephant Island.

  20. David’s answer to question #1 totally just made me tear up. So, yes, I would try to become an Incrementalist, but after I’ve lived more of my life, and been me-as-mother to my kids theoughout their childhood, and then I would do it, so I could remember their becoming forever.

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