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January 31, 2005

Another Confederate Smackdown

Right on, Instapundit:

I have to say that while I understand, to a degree at least, people's fascination with the Civil War, I've never understood the romanticization of the Confederacy. It didn't last very long, it was horribly run and governed, it accomplished nothing but disaster and defeat, and it existed in the service of a horrible cause. I once angered an alumnus of Washington & Lee by suggesting that Robert E. Lee, however personally admirable he might have been in some ways, bore huge responsibility -- if he had honored his oath to the Union, the war probably would have been over in six months, leaving everyone (and especially the South) better off.

One suspects that for a certain sort of infantile mind, pro-Confederacy statements provide the same sort of thrilling sense of nonconformity that Marxism has provided. This, I guess, explains the weird strain of pro-Confederate sympathy that one finds among a certain segment of libertarians. Or, of course, there's always racism as an explanation -- an explanation you'd rather believe didn't apply, but that clearly does sometimes....

As a political force, neo-Confederate sentiment is pretty trivial at the moment, even compared to the decaying remnants of Marxism. But that's no reason not to smack it down when it appears.

(Excerpted from his discussion of a new book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which is apparently written by a Confederate sympathizer (go here for commentary on that).)

Glenn's position doesn't surprise me at all, mind you -- why would it? -- but it's a nice reminder that people can see the Confederacy as the craptacular mistake it was on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

I haven't read the book in question, so I can't comment on it myself, although I suspect I won't be pleased with it if I read it since, among other things, the guy writing the book calls the Civil War "The War of Northern Aggression." My response to that has always been: Well, the CSA attempting to abscond with a third of the land mass of the United States strikes me as fairly damn aggressive.

Posted by john at 01:31 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Voting is Done

Now comes the hard part, which is a hell of a thing to say about Iraq, considering how hard everything has been for Iraqis for so long. Good luck to the Iraqis. They're going to need it, and I don't mean that in the dismissive sarcastic sense in which it's usually meant. They're actually going to need some good luck; there are a lot of people who want the idea of democracy in Iraq to fail, and not just the terrorists.

It's an understatement to say that I've not been a fan of how the Iraqi occupation has been handled by the Bush administration, nor does it appear very likely that I'm going to suddenly change my opinion on that score. But these elections count as a success, and one that the Bush folks can rightly feel proud about. I'm not at all sanguine about the potential of the Bushies to snatch failure out of the slavering jaws of success, but that's not the same as hoping for it. Far from it -- I'm hoping this ends up a nice fat foreign policy coup for Bush, because the end result would be new functioning democracy in the Middle East, which is not exactly riddled with them, and democracy, as we all know, is the worst kind of government there is except every other kind.

What would be really interesting (and, to be clear, which I absolutely don't expect to happen) would be if the newly-elected national government of Iraq thanked the US for its service and politely asked it to take all its people and go. That would indeed be a test of US intentions; I'm sure the families of US servicepeople wouldn't mind. But it is, of course, a mere hypothetical. We'll be there for a while yet, and I don't imagine things are going to get better quickly.

But again -- it's the first step. And it was a test of faith that Iraqis passed with flying colors. People were out and about trying to kill Iraqis to keep them from voting (and killed four dozen), but the turnout appears to be in the 55% of registered voters range, which is in the same neighborhood as the 2004 US election. It takes more than a small amount of courage to vote when the suicide bombers are out and about. Another test of faith will be to see how all the Iraqis fare under the new government -- the Sunnis, who held power with Saddam, largely boycotted the election, and I'm interested to see what that means for the new government.

As I said: Now comes the hard part. But it's good to have gotten to the hard part at all. Iraq and the US could have (and in the case of the US, should have) arrived at it with more grace. But it would be foolish not to be thankful Iraq is there. I'm not that foolish.

Posted by john at 04:29 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

SF Chronicle Appearance, and Men's Packages (Largely Unrelated Topics)

Ooh, look, a review in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Scalzi skillfully upends Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," creating a cadre of old souls in young bodies who must learn to become killing machines. He sidesteps most of the clichés of military science fiction, delivers fast-paced scenes of combat and pays attention to the science underpinning his premise. All in all, "Old Man's War" is a solid, somewhat old-fashioned adventure story, with just enough touches of humor and genuine feeling to make it stand out from the pack.

Neat. The review also mentions that I am a "popular Web blogger," which is the first time I've heard it put that way -- usually it's "Weblogger" or "blogger." Is this the birth of a new if slightly etymologically redundant neologism? Stay tuned! Also reviewed: Charlie Stross's The Family Trade ("Stross brings to fantasy the same kind of sly humor and clear-eyed extrapolation that he previously brought to space opera and horror"), Steven Gould's Reflex ("After a satisfying conclusion, though, the door is left open for further sequels, and many readers will gladly welcome Davy and Millie back for a third or fourth adventure") and Jeff Smith's Bone graphic novel omnibus ("'Bone' is one of the rare recent comics suited to the widest possible range of ages"). Good company, and I'll note that OMW, Family Trade and Reflex are all Tor books, so rock on, Tor's publicity department!

Many thanks to Mythago for the link. Also, in an entirely unrelated development, guys, you'll want to check out her recent commentary, in which she unloads the real truth about what women want when it comes to the size of a guy's package, followed by reader commentary.

I have my own opinions on the matter, which may or may not be relevant, coming as they do from a fellow who has been happily and heterosexually married for nearly ten years. However, one thing I think is true is that there'd be a lot more happy women out there if men spent as much time working on various ways to please their partners as they do obsessing on whether they've got a Vienna Sausage or a Dodger Dog. This is my philosophy, anyway. Women, please let me know if I'm on the wrong track here.

Posted by john at 02:10 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Interview and Signing/Appearance

One: Here's an interview with me at the Fresno Bee, the newspaper at which some of you will recall I started my full-time professional writing career -- they hired me as their film critic in 1991, when I was 22, and young-looking enough that I would get carded going into R-rated films. No joke. It's much less of a problem now. Anyway, I had a great time in Fresno (among other things, while I was there I met my wife), so if any of you ever make Fresno jokes in my presence, I'm gonna have to have Krissy come over and kick your ass. I'm just saying, is all. And I'm glad I am still remembered there. If you follow the link, note that whoever coded that page did a really terrible job -- it's sometimes difficult to see where the questions end and the answers begin, and there are a couple of funny line breaks. But overall it's readable.

Two: If you ever wanted to see me live -- you know, to get a clean shot -- I'll be doing a chat/signing at the Dayton Barnes and Noble on Saturday, February 19 between 6:30 and 8:30 (pm) to promote... Book of the Dumb 2, which you may or may not recall is also in the stores at this moment. I haven't been self-promoting this little gen of humor with the same embarrassing fervor that I've been using to flog Old Man's War, but that's not to say a) that it's not a fine, fine book, or b) that it's not doing well. In fact, from what I know of the early sales figures, it'd already sold twice the print run of Old Man's War by the end of 2004, without much in the way of promotion. It's an interesting illustration of the difference between genre fiction and mass-market, general interest non-fiction, and also why I'll continue to write general non-fiction for the foreseeable future.

(This is not to say that OMW is not doing well -- from what I understand, it's doing fabulously for a hardcover from a first-time unknown science fiction author. It's just a matter of differing definitions of success, according to genre.)

At the speaking/signing I'll be reading from Book of the Dumb 2, talking a bit about the nature of human stupidity, taking questions and also, of course, signing books. I'll be focusing on BotD2, but I'll be happy to chat about and sign any other of my books you might bring with you and/or buy at the store. Hint: if you haven't picked up BotD2 yet, it would be a great time to do so.

So: 2/19, 6:30 - 8:30, the Dayton Barnes and Noble. Be there, or be somewhere else.

Posted by john at 09:58 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

Entertainment Weekly Review for Old Man's War

Yes, I've heard that Entertainment Weekly has run a review of Old Man's War in the latest issue (thank you to everyone who sent e-mails and comment messages). No, I haven't seen it. I subscribe but that particular issue hasn't arrived yet, and they haven't posted the review online. Yes, I'm curious as to what the review says; I know it's reasonably positive, but otherwise I'm in the dark. If someone would be so kind as to send along the text to me, I would of course be appreciative.

Update: Ah, here we go -- my wife picked it up from the mailbox before she went out and about. It's a thumbnail review, and the gist is: "War's thought-provoking first half overrides the sometime cartoonish alien battles at the end." Rating: B+. I can live with that. As I mentioned to Krissy, I like the thought-provoking bits myself, but if the book ever gets optioned for a movie, it'll be because of the battle scenes.

Also reviewed this week: Elizabeth Bear's Hammered, Allen Steele's Coyote Rising and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's Cleopatra 7.2. EW gave Coyote Rising a slightly higher grade than OMW, but as Allen Steele is one of my favorite SF authors, you won't hear me complaining about that. Hammered does pretty well, too.

Also, completely unrelated: my stalkers will be pleased to hear that I will be attending Wiscon in May.

Posted by john at 03:30 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Oscar Nominations

Damn it, I forget when I started my hiatus here that today was Oscar Nomination Day. My early Oscar predictions are over at By the Way. Feel free to comment there if you've got an AOL account or an AIM account, or here if you don't.

Hiatus is now back on.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

A Musical Interlude

As part of the gradual and continuing process of returning to the Scalzi.com site all the crap I took down when I changed providers, I am happy to announce the return of Music for Headphones, my album of mostly instrumental electronic music that I banged together a couple of years ago.

However, I am not merely content to give you the old, crappy, streaming Real Audio version that was up before; no, the new version features high-end variable-bit-rate mp3s, for the best sound quality while still nodding toward not punishing people with too huge a download (mostly). Also, I've added in an extra track which I haven't put up before: "Don't Stop," which features a couple of samples from Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Oh, stuff it, you snobs. It's pretty good. I'd get in trouble if I was trying to sell this, but I'm not; this is non-commercial exhibition only. So have at it.

In any event, now all this music sounds better (or at least, less compressed) than before, so I hope you enjoy it. I'll note that when I listen to these tracks, I tend to jack up the high end a bit, because there's generally a lot of drumming and some of the high end can get lost. But I also tend to jack up the high end no matter what I listen to, so make of that what you will.

Here are the tracks, with links to the mp3s and some general comments about each:

1. Acceptance (5.85MB) -- Possibly my favorite track I've done. It's pretty simple and trance-like, and has some nice swelling New Order-y synths in it.

2. Transformation (7.33MB) -- This one starts off very harsh and electronic and eventually becomes rather more acoustic and mellow; thus the title.

3. Why Don't You Love Me (7.97MB) -- A rather plaintive flute starts this one off; I think it sounds swirly and moody and a good aural approximation of what it feels like inside when you like someone rather more than they like you. One of the better ones as well.

4. Well Imagine That (5.42MB) -- More ethnic flutes; more moodiness. Something about ethnic flutes and moodiness that just go great together, y'know?

5. Athena (3.51MB) -- When Athena was three, I gave her a microphone and let her sing into it. This is what came out. She did all the instruments too! Well, no, not really. But maybe one day.

6. Don't Stop (5.91MB) -- I did it because I like Journey, so there. Also, it's an earworm of a piano line.

7. Night Flight (7.97MB) -- If I were writing background music for planetariums to play while they were doing exhibitions about the planets of the solar system, this is what it would sound like.

8. Clear That Up (5.47MB) -- This is what I imagine it sounds like to walk home in the fog after a clarifying "discussion" with a paramour that didn't end very well for you.

9. Kindertransport (8.43 MB) -- The "kindertransport" were trains that European Jews put their children on just before World War II to send them to safety to England; the trains would take the children to ships, which would cross the Channel, and then the children would live with distant relatives or sometimes even strangers. Needless to say in many cases those children never saw those parents again. I can't even imagine what it would be like to put my own child on a train like that, but this piece tries to evoke some of that emotion. I think this is probably the best composed piece I've done to date.

10. Converge to Merge (10.6MB) -- I call this my "Stairway to Heaven" piece, and when you listen I think you'll understand why. However, there are no bustles in hedgerows. Because that would be alarming.

11. Let's Fly Away (7.84MB) -- Yes, that's me singing. Yes, the voice is heavily treated. The actual reason is to cover up deficiencies both in the microphone and in my voice, but as it turns out, I really like the effect; it almost sounds like a guy leaving a song on his lover's answering machine, and I like that mental image. I'm not giving up my day job, but on the other hand, clearly I'm not embarrassed by the song, either. So there you have it.

I hope you enjoy Music For Headphones, because it's probably the last you'll hear of me here for at least a week: I absolutely, positively have to finish writing The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film this week or both my editors and my wife are going to murder me, and rightly so. So no more Whatever until it's done. You understand, I presume, that this is meant more as an incentive for me than as a punishment for you.

Enjoy, and see you in February.

Posted by john at 10:28 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Biases

The Washington Post Magazine did a story this week on the Implicit Association Test, which purports to show whether people have an implicit bias for one group over another; for example, for white people over black people, or for fat over thin people. One of the things that it shows, or so the story reports, is that people have rather more biases than they may be consciously aware of, or that they would like to admit -- in the opening paragraphs, a gay man and a lesbian take the test and discover their implicit biases are toward straight people (the two, who had agreed to have their names published in the story, withdrew their names for attribution after their results came in).

I was curious to see whether the test would register a bias in me, so I went to the Project Implicit website and took the test for race -- specifically the one for a preference for black Americans over white Americans, or vice versa. I had my own suspicions on how the test would turn out, but you never know until you take it. The test description states that the test "indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black" -- and according to the magazine article, that preference includes nearly half of black Americans. Am I any different? Apparently not: "Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for White American relative to Black American," the test told me once I was done.

I'm not terribly surprised. I am white and raised predominately among white people. The high school I went had a high percentage of minorities but they were predominately Asian and Indian/Middle Eastern with very few black students: There were none in my graduating class, for example. My college was also racially mixed but again fairly few black students. Work life? Same set-up. And now I live in a small Ohio town with almost no minorities of any sort, and I write science fiction. I was at a science fiction convention this weekend, and out of 900 or so people, you could have counted the number of black participants and not run out of fingers.

Do I feel bad I have this bias? Well, I wish I didn't, of course. But this bias is not news to me; I'm self-reflective enough to know where many of my biases lie. I would feel bad if I let this bias go unchallenged in myself, so I try not to do that. If one looks at the actions of my life, it's fairly clear I don't let this particular bias rule how I live, where I stand politically or how I make my friends. A stupid man would take a bias as an excuse for behavior; I, hopefully smarter, see bias as something to question.

I also take (small and possibly not appropriate) comfort in knowing whatever automatic white/black bias I have is subsumed by a much more active automatic bias I have, which is arrayed along economic/educational lines rather than racial ones. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I were to take an implicit association test which featured white-collar black people working in an office and white folk in John Deere caps coming off a hunting trip, I'd be skewing toward the black Americans at least moderately. Educated, reasonably affluent people are "my" people, because I've always lived among the educated and reasonably affluent (even if as a child I was poor myself), and my attitudes are molded therein.

This is the "Target vs. Wal-Mart" class bias; basically, people whose biases slice by way economics and education are okay popping into Target for cheap products from China, but would be mortified if anyone ever saw them walking out of a Wal-Mart with the exact same products in tow. One of my favorite stories is the time I was in a small Illinois town with two good friends with whom I went to high school, one a lawyer and the other in the film industry. My friends needed to get a DVD player and the only place to get one in this little town was a Wal-Mart. Pretty much all Wal-Marts have their departments in the same place, so I steered my friends to the electronics section. They were appalled at the fact I knew the Wal-Mart layout at all. They, of course, had never been in one.

(Later, all three of us went to the Subway in the strip mall and were arguing about the merits of the then-current Adam Sandler film Punch-Drunk Love; my friends loved it and I didn't hate it, but then the guy behind the counter said that Adam Sandler's other films were better because they were funnier, and everyone in the store who was listening in was nodding their head in agreement. Same "Target vs. Wal-Mart" attitude, different exhibition of it.)

This "Target vs. Wal-Mart" bias is, I should note, is no more fair. And it's with no small irony that I've found myself living in a small rural town where the vast majority of residents have no more than a high school education and work as truckers, farmers or in other intensely blue-collar fields. Aside from the color of my skin, there is very little I have in common with most people in my little town. And yet, for all my automatic biases against the lower-income and lesser-educated, I will tell you that I have truly excellent neighbors, who go out of their way to help us when we need help, and for whom we do the same. I'm glad to live where I do.

Is this the end to my biases? Goodness, no. I've got a bunch, and aside from the two mentioned I won't bore you with them. Basically, I know what my biases are. I also know that my biases are wrong. My biases are what they are; I work to change them and keep them from making me approach individual people unfairly.

One of the things in the Washington Post article that I think is interesting is that the people who developed the implicit association test don't think that one's automatic biases are destiny, and that we can make a conscious decision to work against our own biases. Naturally, I agree, and I find it encouraging that they believe so. It's a reminder that psychologically speaking, human beings are more than a mere bundle of their basest fears and desires. Or can be, in any event.

Posted by john at 04:25 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Midnighters Down Under

Many congratulations to my pal Scott Westerfeld, whose most excellent YA novel Midnighters: The Secret Hour picked up the 2004 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. The Aurealis Awards, according to the site, "were established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis Magazine, to recognize the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers," and Scott is Australian on his wife's side and currently avoiding winter by living down there, the bastard (it's currently 21 degrees Fahrenheit here, which wouldn't be so bad if the wind chill wasn't making it feel like single digits). The book was also written in Australia, in an earlier flight from cold weather. See, this is what eternal summer gets you.

You can get more details of Scott's award winning ways here, via Justine Larbalestier, Scott's spouse (whose own YA is mere months away). Justine's entry here also details a most amusing projectile vomit story, so even if you're not awards-minded, it's worth a visit.

Posted by john at 12:25 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

Confusion 31 Wrapup

I was in the middle of writing up a long and involved entry about my weekend at ConFusion 31, but then the power went out and I lost everything I'd written, so now you get the short version.

Overall: Much fun, primarily for the bar chat, a comment which should not be understood to detract from the overall con excellence.

Cool people I hung with included (but are not limited to): Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Brust (pictured above with the super-competent and otherwise entirely excellent con chair Anne Murphy, who is sneaking up on him), Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, Kathryn Cramer (whose husband David Hartwell I spoke to as well, albeit briefly), Tobias Buckell and Emily Buckell and most especially the Fabulous Lorraine Garland and Jody Wurl, who basically adopted me as their pet for the weekend, not that I minded at all. I also met Subterranean Press publisher Bill Shafer, who is a fine man; SP, as you may know, will be doing the hardback of Agent to the Stars.

Fun Con Moments:

* Getting a nicely enthusiastic compliment about Old Man's War from Steven Brust. Since he's one of my favorite sf/f authors, you could say I was happy.

* Getting a box of Subterranean Press books from Bill Shafer as a "welcome" present. Not only were the titles themselves very cool, but the physical production of the books is very nicely done. I am ever more pleased A2S has found a home there. Also, as an aside, if'n you ever want to get on my good side, a box of books is an excellent way to do it.

* Going out in weather more or less described by the National Weather Service as "suicidal" in order to procure Thai food with Lorraine, Jody, Emma, Will, Patrick and also Jacqueline Carey (who sadly I did not spend much time in conversation with), among others. Yes, I drove; well, I drove me, Lorraine and Jody. No, I didn't kill anyone. Apparently I've got the Mad Snow Driving Skillz, yo.

* Dancing like a 15-year-old until about 2 am in the morning with Jody and Lorraine, and then waking up the next morning with legs full of hate and lactic acid. It was worth it, mind you, but don't expect me to be doing sprints any time soon. Clearly, I need to exercise more.

Would I go to ConFusion again? On the basis of this weekend: Yup.

Posted by john at 09:04 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

Some Excellent OMW News

omwsfbc.jpg

Two bits of good news for Old Man's War:

1. The Science Fiction Book Club Winter 2005 magazine came today, and I'm delighted to see that they've devoted a full page to OMW, as you can see here (it's page 11, in case you're wondering). Hopefully it'll entice some people who haven't heard of me before. As a bonus, the magazine also gives a shoutout to the Whatever up on the top of the page. So if you've come here from reading about this place in the SFBC magazine: Howdy! Make yourself at home.

2. I mentioned recently that I would feel OMW was a success if it made it to a second printing in hardback. Well, it has -- a reliable source tells me they're rushing to get a second printing out there even as we speak. Needless to say, I'm mighty thrilled to hear it.

Provident news, I think, as I head toward a science fiction convention.

I may not update again until Monday, so if I don't, have a great weekend.

Posted by john at 03:32 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

The Last Voyage of Nemo

nemo0119.jpg

We bought Athena a fishtank recently, complete with two fish, which Athena named Gummy and Nemo. Gummy is still with us; Nemo, alas, is not. Athena was upset about this, naturally, but not so upset that she couldn't memorialize the event on the white board.

Here you see the entire final journey: There's Nemo (top right), the poor fish in question; moving clockwise we meet The Tank, in which Nemo spent his short life; The Cup, the vessel with which Nemo was transferred from his home in The Tank, and The Toilet, the conveyance which sped Nemo on his way to the afterlife (represented by the headstone, complete with "RIP" on it, in the center of the tableau).

At the far right, you see The Ocean (spelled "oshin," as Athena sounded it out), which is, Athena believes, the final destination of any detritus that is dropped into our plumbing. In point of fact, our plumbing goes to a massive septic tank buried in our yard, but Athena's version is more poetic, so we'll let it go at that. Finally, the inscription and memorial: "Nemo will always be remember(ed) forever." Or until this Saturday, when Nemo II will undoubtedly be purchased.

In all, Athena handled her first experience with pet expiration well; a little crying, a little sadness, a little sublimation into creative expression. I'd say the healing has begun.

Update, 1/21: Spare a thought for poor Gummy, who apparently couldn't face life without the beloved Nemo. Gummy has now joined Nemo in the septic tank afterlife. Uh... ocean afterlife, that is. Yeah.

Posted by john at 08:59 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

ConFusion 31 Schedule

For those of you who are interested in finding me (or alternately, avoiding me) at the ConFusion 31 science fiction convention this weekend, here's where I'll be and what I'll be doing:

When: Friday, 10pm: Media Year in Review
Where: DENN III/IV
What: We discuss the movies, television, and comics of the past year.
Who: Cathy Raymond, John Scalzi, Kiel Phegley
Notes: We'll be doing this against the second half of a concert given by Guest of Honor Emma Bull and Toastmaster Steven Brust, so I'll be interested in seeing if anyone actually shows up.

When: Saturday, 11am: Blogging: News, Opinions, People, Life
Where: SALON G
What: Blogging as a replacement for actually seeing people. Blogging to tell people your opinions and ideas. Blogging to get the news. Blogging is here, but what does it accomplish?
Who: Jeri Smith-Ready, John Scalzi, Kathryn Cramer, Larry Kestenbaum
Notes: Clearly I'll have much to say on this topic, not the least because I just sold a second novel through my site.

Aside from these, I'll be at least a few panels. I'm particularly interested in the Universe Happenings with Brother Guy panel, as it features a talk on the latest astronomical happenings by the curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection, and I just think that's a cool position to have. I also think his personal intellectual positions are interesting. His talk actually starts as the Bull/Brust concert begins, so he may have even fewer people at his panel than I do at mine on Friday night. Still, he'll have at least one person there. There are also some interesting panels on Saturday. I may flit about to see them.

Beyond that: Dunno. I imagine that people will eventually gravitate barwards or party wards, and I doubt I'll be an exception to the general rule. Otherwise, if you see me and want to say hello, please feel free to do so. It's a con, and I'm aware people will approach me randomly, so I won't grab the mace. This will actually be my first non-Worldcon SF convention, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the differences in scale play out.

Posted by john at 10:34 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Return of the Disclaimer

After a couple months in storage, I've restored the Whatever Disclaimer to its rightful position on the Whatever front screen. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's me admitting that I may in fact be a fatuous blowhole, but I can be a fatuous blowhole if I want, so there, nyah nyah nyah. If you are reasonably new to the site (or have just never read the disclaimer), I invite you to read it.

Posted by john at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Comment Spam

Google has announced that it and other blogging software companies will be implementing a new html attribute to reduce comment spam; this new attribute -- rel="nofollow" -- will keep Google's spiders from following urls left by people who comment on someone's blog entry, thus reducing the motivation for spammers to leave comment spam for Google page rank purposes. I don't know that this makes a difference for this site, since I've disabled HTML in comment text areas anyway (I figure you all know how to cut and paste a URL), but if it gets spam comments down overall, I think that's groovy.

This is some interest to me because recently I've noticed an upsurge in comment spam activity here -- I've been having to clear out close to 100 posts a day. The good news is that it's pretty darn easy to do in Movable Type 3.11; I cleared out about 70 this morning in three minutes. But of course, it's still annoying, and there is the unfortunate side effect that while clicking the little boxes to remove comment spam, I occasionally and accidentally remove a legitimate comment, too. I hate it when that happens. I could make my life even more easy by implementing the MT Blacklist functionality, but that involves installing things, and I can already hear my database screaming at the thought of me tinkering with it.

If I were to make a wishlist of things I'd like for Movable Type to implement to make it easier for me to combat comment spam, here's what I would wish for (and if you know these things exist as add-ons or part of the native MT functionality, please let me know):

1. The ability to delete comments from the actual comment thread, as opposed to having to fire up the MT backend to get at it. Interestingly enough, AOL Journals user have this functionality -- they see buttons to delete comments right there as they read; the functionality is keyed to their screenname so no one else can delete anything, of course. Could see MT doing something similar using cookies on a specific browser or through some sort of sign-on implementation.

2. The ability to semi-moderate: I'd love to be able to let messages without HTML coding go through but sequester off html-laden comments until I approved them. This would mean general conversation would continue, since very few "real" commenters here reference URLs, but comment spam would be blocked from showing up at all in the threads; I'd throw them out before they got there.

3. The ability to ban commenters not just by IP (which is pretty useless these days if you're not running MT blacklist) but also by commenter name. I doubt any real person is name "Phenteramine" or "Online Poker." This would be a temporary stopgap, of course, as spammers would pick up on it fairly quickly. but what would be reasonably effective is the ability to ban by phrase: That is, have the MT scan through the text and if a specific sequence of words pops up, either block it or drop it into a moderation queue for approval. Since those "phrases" could include URLs which would be constant over many many comment spams, this could be very helpful.

If MT were to implement any of these, it would make my online life easier. Implementing all of them, of course, would make it a joyous skip through the park.

Update: As it happens, Six Apart (who make MT) have recently put out a guide to comment spam which notes a useful plug-in for quasi-moderating: MT-Moderate, which automatically puts comments as "pending" if they're attached to entries past a certain age (the default is seven days), on the (largely correct in my experience) theory that older entries aren't likely to get actual comments, they're likely to get spam (the plugin also notes when a comment has been approved for an older entry and backs off a bit on moderating that particular entry for a day or two to let real-time conversation happen -- a nice touch.)

I've gone ahead an added MT-Moderate, so if you decide to comment on an entry that's more than a week old, be aware that there may be a time lag before it shows up, since I'll need to approve it. But the flip side for me is that comment spam will largely be gone from the site. I love it when a plan comes together.

Posted by john at 10:39 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Recent OMW Notices

Some Old Man's War nuggets out there on that InterWeb thing that all the kids are talking about these days:

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column had nice things to say about Old Man's War:

'Old Man's War' by John Scalzi manages to set a particularly difficult but specific goal for itself and then achieves the goal with the kind of reckless ease exhibited by its hero, John Perry. John Scalzi has done no less than write an adult version of a Heinlein-juvenile-styled novel for the adults who grew up reading Heinlein's originals. While the book is aimed at an mature audience it provides those that audience the warm thrills they experienced some twenty-thirty-forty-fifty-sixty-seventy years ago when they first read science fiction. But Scalzi's success is not just nostalgia. He's written a thoroughly entertaining addition to the science fiction canon of Space Adventures with a few original twists.

Blogger Waddling Thunder also posts up a positive review, and comments on the minor "is it anti-war or not" kerfuffle about the book:

I suppose, before saying anything else, I should note that this is not an anti-war novel, as some have alleged (Scalzi talks about this on his blog, to which there's a link from Bainbridge). Certainly, there's a sense in which the titular war is somewhat senseless, and the brutality of conflict is well depicted (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn't been to war. Soldiers may disagree). But to believe those points alone make something anti-war is foolish - lots of people who have seen war and who can write tellingly of its horrors support wars nonetheless. The question, for all but the harshest pacifist, is whether this or that particular war is worth it. In any case, Old Man's War is neutral ground for politicos from either or all sides. It tells a good story, and leaves politics to others.

SF writer Sherwood Smith checks in with a thumbs up:

The sense is that this is a short book, though it isn't, really. It feels short because so much happens, there are many transitions and summations, there are characters who appear just to raise this or that issue then are swept away-and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The science is fascinating, the questions good ones, and there are some deft character touches (including a biggie that takes Perry utterly by surprise, and raises even more fascinating questions) leaving the reader by the past page wanting more. Scalzi writes with vividness and humor, the latter quality making bearable some otherwise grim scenes.

(She also gives a thumbs ups to Elizabeth Bear's Hammered: "My expectations were high, and she met them head on.")

There's also a small feature on the book in the month's Pages magazine; you can see the online version here (this link may eventually point to something else, so if you're reading this many months after I posted it -- sorry).

Oh, and, hey, my mom liked it. And that's really the most important thing, isn't it.

I promise to write about something besides my books soon. I swear.

Posted by john at 12:03 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

OMW Availability Update, Plus Signings

A little birdie whispered in my ear about why Amazon currently has Old Man's War available in 5 to 8 days rather than within 24 hours: Seems Amazon has burned through its initial shipment of the book and now needs to reload. I am of course immensely pleased; of all the excuses, that's the best one of all. It'll be back to "within 24 hours status" fairly soon. Thank you, those of you who bought via Amazon!

The little birdie also whispered in my ear that I should not fret about hiccups in the distribution chain, and that all this is generally fairly common happenstance, and that the book is doing well and -- equally important -- is well-positioned for when the paperback hits the streets about a year from now.

Well, okay. I resolve to avoid futher fretination, and encourage those of you who have been fretting on my behalf to avoid it as well. Do continue to pester your local bookstores about the book, of course, if they don't have it in stock; special ordering does wonders and they might even order an extra copy or two. And I do again want to thank everyone who has been sending me e-mail letting me know when you see the book in the store. That never gets old on this end.

I've been asked by several people if I would sign books if they send them to me. The answer is, yes, of course, I would be delighted to. Here's what you would need to do.

1. Send me an e-mail so I can send you an address to send the book to.
2. Make sure you have sufficient postage and packaging so the book can make it here and back. This is actually very important; I'm not made of cash.
3. If there's something in particular you want me to write, slip a note to that effect into the front cover of the book. Please, keep it reasonably short. If there are no special instructions, I will simply sign my name, so you'll be able to sell it on eBay later that much easier.

Also, of course, should you see me at a convention (such as ConFusion 31, which I will be attending this weekend) I will be more than happy to sign a book there. Please don't hesitiate to ask.

Posted by john at 01:06 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Artwork for Agent

tc0118.jpg

First, gaze, if you will, on my recent acquisition: Twisp and Catsby, the beloved surrealist characters from Penny Arcade. The PA guys made 500 of these cels, which sold at $80 a pop; they sold out in less than 12 hours. Let's all have a hearty chuckle at the folks who are still wondering whether cartoonists can manage to support themselves online. Someone is already selling one on eBay; he's set the minimum at $220. I imagine he'll get it. I have no intention of selling mine, so, you know, don't ask. I don't buy art as an investment, I buy it because I like it.

Given my muchly enjoyment of Penny Arcade, you can yet only begin to imagine the sheer, unalloyed pleasure it gives me to note that Gabe (the artist half of the PA duo -- trio if you count Robert the Business Guy, and why wouldn't you) will be doing the artwork for the Agent to the Stars hardcover dust jacket. We tempted Gabe with promises of jewels and spices and the dusky secrets of the universe -- and also kicked in cash and the promise that for his participation, 10% of the retail price of the book would be donated to Child's Play, PA's very wonderful charity which provides games and toys to kids in children's hospitals all over the country. I am of course particularly pleased about being able to have my book kick in for that cause, and to have it help prime the pump when PA kicks off Child's Play '05 later in the year.

I was happy before that Agent was going to get a life outside this Web site; with a Gabe cover, however, this thing really is going to be something worth having. In addition to this being the first novel I wrote, I'm pretty sure it'll be the first book cover art Gabe has done (aside from collections of PA's own work and their comic book cover art). It's as if Gutenberg himself has descended from on high, dispensing dark chocolate bon-bons with a filling of pure joy.

No, you can't pre-order yet. Please to recall I am still in the first flush of excitement over Old Man's War, and would like to focus on that for a while longer; I think everyone at Tor would like me to do the same. And as much as I would love to think that you all would rush out and buy two hardcover books from me in the same month, in the real world that would be taxing your good will, and your wallet. Also, there are various setting-up exercises we have to do before we can start taking pre-orders. So, patience. We'll be cleared for pre-orders for Agent most likely in about six weeks.

I will note that this will indeed be a limited edition; we're still looking at a 1,000-unit print run but if we get enough pre-orders, we'll push the print run higher to accommodate the demand. Having said that, we're looking at a hard cap of 2,000 copies, max (have some sympathy, please -- I do have to sign all the copies). So if you really want your own copy, please do consider pre-ordering a few weeks from now.

To encourage pre-ordering when the time comes, I'll put this out there now for y'all to mull over: If pre-orders push up the print run to 2,000 copies and we sell out the run before the end of 2005, I'll kick in $500 of my own money from the book to Child's Play, above and beyond the 10% from the retail price that we're already kicking in. So go ahead and donate my money, too. I'll be happy to cough it up.

Don't worry, I'll remind you all of this again when pre-orders open up. I just wanted to plant the seed for now.

No matter what, I'm wholly pleased that Gabe's doing the art for Agent. The exuberance, in this case, is not insubstantial.

Posted by john at 01:06 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

Justine's Site + OMW News

I won't be updating any more today, on account of Athena doesn't have school and we intend to go out and do something fun, so while I'm away, why not check out SF writer Justine Larbalestier's updated site, which new includes a groovy new area for her excellent upcoming novel, Magic or Madness. She's also got excellent musings, including the most recent one on a new variant of cricket that makes the game apparently even less comprehensible to us Yanks than it was before. Go, cricket, go!

I'm getting indications that Old Man's War copies are becoming scarce on the ground -- A hopeful Canadian purchaser says she was told the book was sold out (although they hoped to get more copies in two weeks), and the BN.com page for my book says that it's not even available until January 28, which is very odd since I know it was available for sale on the site in December and earlier this month. Amazon has it in stock, but notes a 5 to 8 day delay in delivery. And on top of it all, it's still not available at my local bookstore.

I'm a little annoyed that the book seems to be pulling a "now you see me, now you don't" act, but there's not a whole lot I can do about it, of course. Hopefully we'll get the kinks out of the distribution system soon, and anyone who wants a book can find it. In the meantime, if you're having trouble locating the book, there's always the Science Fiction Book Club, and, well, Wal-Mart.

Have a good Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Do something inclusive.

Posted by john at 12:26 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

The Politics of SF

A question from the gallery (and more specifically, this guy):

As someone who not only enjoys Charles Stross's work, but who drools over intelligent SF in general (i.e., as someone who considers cutting-edge SF the equivalent of Ghirardelli chocolate), I'm very interested to learn more about the "real-world" political perspectives of the SF writers I admire. (FREX: China Mieville: pseudo-Marxist; LeGuin: pacifist Taoist; etc..)

I've noticed that the worldviews of many otherwise insightful SF authors--including Charles Stross--become strangely conspiratorial and dogmatic whenever they address current political realities. Are all contemporary SF writers dedicated Leftists? Or what?

Specifically relating to Charlie Stross, of course, the best person to answer that question would be Charlie himself. I will note that personally, I don't find him to be any more politically dogmatic than other people; Charlie's politics and mine diverge enough to be noticeable, and yet he doesn't shy away from my acquaintance based on my doctrinal impurities. He does have a point of view, which is perhaps best summed up in this quote: "I’m a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending—if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism." (via Electrolite) I don't see that as dogmatic so much as aspirational. In any event, Charlie can speak for Charlie.

As for SF in general, I don't think anyone's taken a serious political survey of SF writers -- because why would you -- but anecdotally speaking it does seem to me that most SF writers I've met are of two political stripes: Lefties and Libbies. The lefty camp includes most SF writers who are not citizens of the US, which makes some sort of basic sense because the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are rather more politically and socially "left" than the US. It does also include the general mass of US SF writers, who can be widely classified as a subset of the American intellectual class, which is generally left-learning, although I would hesitate to say exclusively so. The libertarian camp of SF writers -- the Heinleinites, as I like to call them in my brain -- are as far as I can see is a small but vocal minority. You recognize them the moment they open their mouths.

This is speaking very broadly and anecdotally, mind you; I can think of several successful SF writers who I see as generally conservative, either politically or socially. Orson Scott Card is famously socially conservative, a position that is to some degree rooted in his religious tradition. John Ringo also seems fairly conservative; he's been known to write op-eds for the New York Post. Holly Lisle also seems to be of a politically conservative stripe to me, on the occasion I've seen her write about her politics. And of course as individuals most SF writers and editors have the political quirks and streaks. I doubt rather seriously that you'll meet an SF writer who is doctrinally straight ticket for whatever their general political stance is assumed to be. That's because SF writers, as a rule, tend to think about their political positions.

Knowing the politics of an author is interesting but usually irrelevant to their work, unless the writer is writing specifically about contemporary politics (which would be unusual for this genre). My personal political views, for example, are almost entirely irrelevant for Old Man's War; the story might give you a small sense of my thoughts on the use of military force, but then again it might not, since I've seen the book described both as "anti-war" and as an argument for the wisdom of having "boots on the ground." If you were to give the average person OMW and ask them to divine my political positions based on the text, I doubt you'd get all that far. Equally, I'm not sure having read Perdido Street Station that I would have pegged China Mieville as a socialist, because his personal politics are not glaringly obvious in the book, or at least, they weren't to me.

And what about, say, a book like Allen Steele's Coyote? In the book, the US has been replaced by a hard-right political entity, against which a small group of colonists rebel -- and yet later in the book there's an even larger socialist state, and the colonists rebel against that too. What does any of this say about Steele's politics? Is he a lefty, a righty, or the sort of libbie that just wants to be left alone? Any, or none, or (my choice) it doesn't matter, since Steele is after all writing fiction.

Again, unless authors are explicitly addressing politics in their text, their personal politics and positions are trivia at best. Some will argue that personal politics do matter more than I've suggested, and I will argue that indeed, there are people for whom they will matter more than they do for me. And possibly in a different time and place, they might have mattered more, and might again. To switch art forms here, it does matter, for example, that Leni Riefenstahl's brilliant cinematic eye was used in the service of the Nazis. But the average writer who supported George Bush or John Kerry in the last US election does not, shall we say, sink to Riefenstalian depths. Here and now, most SF writers' personal politics -- left, right, or off the axis entirely -- are not integral to how their work should be approached.

Posted by john at 10:29 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Design Note

I'm pretty much done fiddling with the design of the Whatever for a while, so I hope you like the new design, which is clearly inspired by the artwork and color palette of Old Man's War. I had liked the previous design quite a bit, but eventually the gray design got to me -- I think it was it being winter and all. The new color scheme is a bit more colorful, although hopefully without being obnoxiously so. However, love it or hate it, you're stuck with it for at least several months, because doing design work is a pain.

Have a great weekend -- I'll see you Monday.

Posted by john at 08:55 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

More Details

A little more information about the hardcover version of Agent to the Stars (and it should be understood that all of this is very preliminary):

* This is indeed going to be a limited-run edition. The current plan is for a print run of 1,000 copies, each of these copies numbered, as well as signed by yours truly. These hardcovers will probably be a higher price than the average hardcover (but not significantly higher; it's not like I'm famous or anything), but I expect I might be able to wrangle a discount for Whatever readers. Stay tuned.

* Want your Agent to the Stars version in something more, oh, I don't know, ritzy? 26 copies of A2S will be printed in an ultra-deluxe edition, which will be lettered, leatherbound and set in their own traycase. These will also be signed, possibly with an ink created from my very blood! Okay, probably not that last part. These versions will be pricey -- we're talking probably $150 or so. Think of it as an investment, and then every time you see me you can yell at me to get back to work in order to keep the value of those books high. See? It's a motivation tactic!

* We're looking at a July/August 2005 release for the book, which would situate it nicely between OMW (out now, as if you didn't know), and The Ghost Brigades, which is tentatively scheduled for January 2006. Naturally, take this with a very large grain of salt, since OMW was originally scheduled for 2003.

* In a very nice gesture, Bill Schafer (Subterranean Press' big cheese) asked me if there was anyone who I preferred do the cover art, and indeed I did have someone in mind. We're chatting with him now about it, and if we can get him, time and other factors permitting, well, let's just say it would rock. We'll have to see.

That's where things are at the moment.

Posted by john at 02:03 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

Agent to the Stars: Sold

So, I sold Agent to the Stars to a publisher.

But wait, I hear you say. Didn't you say recently that you weren't going to sell Agent to the Stars to a publisher? And now you have? Doesn't that make you a dirty, dirty liar?

Well, no. I said I wouldn't actively try to sell Agent to publishers -- which is to say, have my own agent push the novel. Because, among other things, I wanted to be able to have it on the site for people to check out my writing style. But if a publisher came by and was okay with me keeping the novel on the site, I would be happy to listen. And one did, and was, and so here we are.

Yes, that means that once again I've sold a book with no real effort on my part. I'm sorry.

The publisher? Subterranean Press, who specialize in really excellent special editions by some very intimidating authors, including Dan Simmons, Robert Silverberg, Poppy Z. Brite, Charles de Lint and Richard Matheson. It's nice to be in the same room as these folks. We're still working on the details, but the general idea is to give Agent a nice limited-run hardback edition for collectors and fans of the novel. I've heard from a number of people about the general excellence of Subterranean Press, and so I'm happy to give Agent a home there. It seems like a pretty good fit all the way around. I'm very excited.

I'll have more details for you, including release dates, when I know about them. In the meantime, let's open the floor to some questions:

So will you keep Agent available online?

Yes. I'll be retaining most rights to the book, including electronic rights, and as I've mentioned, I think having Agent on the site is a real bonus. I am of course not the first person to do this; Cory Doctorow famously has had downloadable editions of his published work available online. He believes -- and I suspect it's true -- that letting people sample the complete work leads to more sales, not less. Now, the dynamic with Agent will be slightly different in that the hardback will probably be a limited edition, not a mass-market edition of the book, as Cory's books were with Tor. But the concept should be the same. I know many people have told me over the years how they'd love to have an actual hard copy of Agent, including Krissy (Agent is her favorite book of mine); now they'll have that chance, and I'm delighted about that.

So, this is twice you've sold a novel you've put up online. What, are you too stinkin' proud to sell a novel like a normal human being?

Hey, I already said I was sorry. I can't explain it either. I have sold two other novels the old-fashioned way, and I expect I will sell any additional novels the old-fashioned way as well, if for no other reason than that I have no other completed novels to put up online.

Let me be clear: I don't pretend that I've not been in fact incredibly lucky to have sold novels online, with minimal effort on my part. At this point I'm getting a little twitchy recommending to other people that they continue to submit their work the old-fashioned way, since I think the more suspicious could suggest that I'm just trying to keep the "toss your stuff on your Web site" method of selling a novel to my greedy little self. But I swear to you, it's not that. I sold OMW to Tor at the end of 2002; I'm selling this one to Subterranean Press now. In those 25 months, I don't know of anyone else who has sold a complete SF novel they've posted on their Web site; meanwhile, hundreds of novels were sold to SF publishers the old-fashioned way. Entertain the notion that I'm some hideous freak of nature, and give your novel the best chance of being published by submitting it the way publishing houses ask you to.

Having said that, this goes to show that a well-stocked, well-maintained personal Web site is indeed an excellent thing for a writer to have; of the seven(!) books I've written and/or am writing, four can now be traced back to writing on this Web site (OMW, Agent and the Books of the Dumb). Having this site has had other, less directly tangible benefits as well: For example, I note Instapundit mentioned Old Man's War again yesterday (as commentary about a mention from Professor Bainbridge), and between Glenn and Prof. Bainbridge, the book's Amazon ranking went from about 8,000 yesterday to over 300 today.

Glenn and Prof. Bainbridge mention the book because they like it, which I am very glad for, but part of the reason it's on their radar screen is because we are fellow denizens of that nation known as the blogosphere, where the rule of thumb is "help out the other guy." I know I've promoted the works of people I've met as part of this online community (which reminds me: Ms. Bear, I'm really enjoying Hammered so far), and the impetus there has simply been to help friends and people who I see as being part of my tribe.

So, if you're a writer, you could do worse than to be part of what's going on online. Clearly, it's worked for me.

How are you going to celebrate?

Are you kidding? I've got deadlines. I'll celebrate in a week. But I will say this: Mmmmmm.... mini Mac. I was just thinking to myself, I kinda want one, but how can I justify what is essentially a pointless expense? Bwa ha ha ha ha! If there is a God, clearly he wants me to have my toys. Of course, I still need approval from the finance department, i.e., my wife. So Steve Jobs may have to line his pockets with other people's money first. But still!

Any other comments or questions, drop 'em in the comment thread.

Posted by john at 12:21 PM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

A Pan, For Your Pleasure

Here's a fine negative review of Old Man's War, in which the book is described as "smugly preachy... occasionally interrupted by tedious digressions into How Science Works," and the clever alternate title of Elder's Game is suggested. Just in case you're wondering if I was only going to note the positive reviews here.

The "smugly preachy" part I'm neither here nor there on, since that's a personal perspective, and God knows I have my moments of smugness and preachiness. I do think the complaint about the digressions on How Science Work is interesting, though, and I'd like to comment on it. The reviewer here notes that a couple of pages talking about a beanstalk (for an example) is pretty much unnecessary, since everyone who typically reads science fiction already knows what a beanstalk is. And I would agree: most people who typically read science fiction have been introduced to the concept. Readers confronting The Singularity on a regular basis don't need a primer on beanstalk physics. Fair enough.

However, my wife, who does not typically read science fiction, does need a primer, and so do my in-laws, and so do several close friends. So do the people in my little hometown who are reading the book because I'm the local author, and so do a lot of the people who I hope might want to pick up the book who don't typically read science fiction. The book is in fact intentionally written with non-science fiction readers in mind. Why? Well, it's simple: I want a whole lot of readers, and I don't want to give potential readers outside the sphere of SF the excuse of thinking the book is going to be inaccessible to them.

Look, I'm not a snob. I'm in this for the mass market, and I want to nab readers who don't typically have science fiction as part of their reading diet. I want the guy who usually reads Tom Clancy or Stephen King to look at my book and think it might be something he wants to read. And so does my publisher; the reason Tor picked up OMW, as I've mentioned before, is that Patrick Nielsen Hayden read it and said to himself, I bet I could sell this in a supermarket rack. I hope not to disappoint Patrick in this regard. I hope we can sell the book in supermarket racks. I hope we sell a lot. This doesn't mean writing down -- that's wholly condescending and unnecessary -- but it does mean taking the time for a certain amount of exposition.

So, yeah, I regard the How Science Works parts of Old Man's War to be a feature, not a bug, although of course I recognize that it's not a feature that appeals to everyone, or that everyone needs. In other words, this reviewer isn't wrong (opinions can't really be wrong, anyway), he's just approaching the book with a more narrow presumed audience in mind than I have. When you write, you make choices, and this was one of my choices, and I think it was the right one to make. For my part, I don't think it would be a bad thing if someone who doesn't read science fiction read my book, thought "hey, that was fun," and took a chance on another science fiction book.

That's my goal: To be the gateway drug of science fiction. Sure, they start with me, but the next thing you know they're mainlining Charlie Stross right through the eyeball. This is not a bad scenario.

To end on a high note: A positive review, from NetSurfer Digest. I doubt this pointer will remain static, so an excerpt: "John Scalzi channels Heinlein ('Starship Troopers') and Haldeman ('The Forever War') in this terrific tale of interstellar war. Facing up to legends has the potential to go horribly wrong, but Scalzi has the writing chops to carry it off and produce a book which stands up to comparison with those two iconic military SF novels." Groovy.

Update: The comment thread contains a few spoilers. If you haven't read the book, you're hereby warned.

Posted by john at 04:00 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Genre Advances

I know, I said I was submerging for a few days. But this is worth linking to for science fiction writers: SF Writer (and soon-to-be first time novelist) Tobias Buckell has created a form for SF/F writers to anonymously enter information on what the advance was for their first novel, and then for their most recent novels (click here to see it).

The idea here is to create something like this -- a listing of what the various Romance genre publishers offer for advances -- for science fiction and fantasy writers. That way first-time writers who get an offer will be able to see how their proposed advance matches up against the genre in general (and among other advances offered by that publisher), and established writers can see if they're keeping pace with their peers. This will no doubt cause writers even more anxiety than they already have, but if you're going to feel anxious about something, money is a good a thing as any.

Tobias has just now sentenced himself to an indeterminate term of codifying and collating the information, and better him than me. But it should be a useful thing if enough SF/F writers participate. I'm off to enter my info now.

Also, and unrelated: I may fiddle slightly with the look of the Whatever over the next couple of days (as a sort of break from incessant editing/writing). Don't be alarmed.

Posted by john at 01:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Also

Submerging for the next three days (chapters to edit; pieces to write). Consider this an open thread to play in while I'm busy trying to salvage my writing career. Starter topic: Why aren't there any words that rhyme with orange? Feel free to free-associate from there or ignore it entirely.

Posted by john at 12:50 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Celebrity Books

Before we get to the topic at hand, allow me to note the very nice review of OMW from Professor Bainbridge. Thank ye kindly, sir.

Also, yes, I realize that I've been mostly writing about writing here recently, with only the occasional off-topic post to leaven the mix. This very much has to do with the fact that I'm intensively re-editing Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film chapters and doing pieces for an upcoming Uncle John book, and both are taking up pretty much all of my brain cycles at the moment, leaving little time for trivialities like world events. I'm all about writing, and probably will be for at least another week or so. Fair warning.

Now, as long as we're on the subject of writing, let me answer a question posed in one of the comment threads, which is:

As a writer, what is your perspective on the sensationalist books that are released and just absolutely bought up by the truckload by the general public? Case in point. The Amber Frey book that came out last week, where she's documenting her relationship with Scott Peterson. Anyone that doesn't know who that is, hasn't had a television on, read a newspaper, or visited a news web site in a VERY long time. Anyway, how does that make a published author feel? Someone who has worked years at their craft to get published and recognized, and yet this person is in it for "15 minutes" and gone. I realize publishers don't care about the content as much as the earning potential. I was just curious as to an author's perspective.

As a writer, I'm almost entirely unconcerned about it. To begin with, most of the time the books folks like Amber Frey write (or more accurately, someone else writes so as not to make the putative "author" look like a total idiot) and the ones I write aren't really addressing the same audience; it seems really unlikely that there'd ever be a time when someone is in the bookstore agonizing over having to choose either Old Man's War or Witness: For the Prosecution of Scott Peterson. So I don't really gnash my teeth with each sale, thinking "that could have been my book." It wouldn't have been my book. Nora Roberts or John Grisham, on the other hand, might be annoyed -- the whole melodrama of the Scott Petersen case is right up their respective textual alleys. But you know, they're not exactly hurting.

Secondly, life is capricious and weird, and there will always be someone who does not seem to deserve the fame and wealth thrown at them. Amber Frey's great claim to fame is being huckstered by Scott Peterson into having an affair. Is this a firm foundation upon which to build a lasting career in the public eye? No, but it'll do, and to be flatly honest about it, someone would have written up a lurid tell-all about Frey's relationship anyway, so why shouldn't she get the money for it? I mean, I'd rather she get the payday for her trouble than some hack spinning out the tale from newspaper clippings and court transcripts. Soon it'll all be over for Ms. Frey, and she'll go back to doing whatever it is she does when she's not known for being a murder's moll. Hopefully, she'll manage her money well.

Ms. Frey's fortunes -- or the fortunes of any person who suddenly erupts out of nowhere, makes a bundle of cash for dubious reasons, and then returns to obscurity as quickly as they arrived -- affect me not in the least. The fact she can get a book deal in the snap of her fingers while other people toil for years to do the same is monstrously unfair, but there are so many other things in the world that are monstrously unfair -- and of genuine consequence -- that this one example of unfairness is quaint by comparison. If other people want to be bothered by it, they should by all means worry that mental scab until their irritation is assuaged. But don't see why I would want to bother.

Posted by john at 12:07 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Atom Feed

Christopher Davis notes in the comments to my last post that MT 3.11 generates an Atom feed automatically, which provides a full posting for people whose RSS readers accept Atom. And so it does; I checked. Since using the already-generating Atom feed is the path of least resistance, I'm putting up a link. Henceforth if you use an RSS reader and want excerpts, use the RSS feed. If you want full postings, use the Atom feed. If your RSS reader doesn't accept Atom and you want full posts, it's officially your problem, not mine.

Posted by john at 08:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

For the RSS Feed Subscribers

Evo Terra, host of the Dragon Page radio show, is trying to convince me to have my RSS feed include entire entries, not just excerpts, as part of his overall war on RSS excerpts. I'm neutral on this -- I post 100-word excerpts because it's enough to see what I'm getting at but not too much for the people who just want a recap. But I could expand it if there's a general desire. So if you get the RSS feed (including the LiveJournal Scalzifeed readers), let me know which you'd prefer.

Posted by john at 12:01 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Briefly Noted

Another review of Old Man's War here (also posted on the Amazon page for the book, as the reviewer, Harriet Klausner, is apparently the #1 ranked Amazon reviewer, in terms of volume); a more detailed version of the reviews (with stats) is here. It calls the book "a terrific tale of a belligerent future in space," which is nice, and also says it is "a tense anti-war military science fiction thriller that will leave fans pondering what is war good for."

I certainly hope the latter part of that last sentence is true, although I don't know that I subscribe wholly to the book being anti-war. I would say that it is anti-stupid, in that at least a couple of people acting stupidly in the performance of war in the book reap the consequences of their actions. This also happens to be my general opinion of war: Use only when absolutely necessary; try not to use stupidly or wantonly; be prepared for the consequences.

However, I don't want to say the review is wrong. I think the "anti-war" assessment falls into that interesting gray area of legitimate textual interpretation based on the reader's personal perspectives. As an author I think I get to set some boundaries regarding what the book says or is about; if you were to, say, tell me the book advocates genocide (as there is some discussion of the subject in the book), I think I'm within my rights as the author to say "well, no, it doesn't." But if you tell me it's anti-war, I'll be interested to see your line of reasoning. I like that people see my work in different ways than I do.

Posted by john at 05:33 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Short Works

Aaaah. Funny how sleep will get you back on track. Now then.

I've been keeping up with the various reactions to Old Man's War, like you do if you're a novelist (especially a first-time novelist), and one of the most surprising compliments about the book, from my perspective at least, is that it's short; phrases like "refreshingly crisp" have popped up and over here, this fellow lists me and Cory Doctorow as part of a new trend:

Now, the trend for up-and-coming authors seems to be writing efficiently. Writers which have impressed me lately seem to be writing shorter works, but also seem to be putting a lot of thought into the fewer words they do use.

I'll take the compliments, but I'll also note I don't think Old Man's War is actually short: It comes in at over 90,000 words (91,400, to be more precise). In contrast, both of Cory's two novels so far clock in at about 50,000 words -- meaning that they are genuinely short novels -- and the cutoff for the Hugo award for novels (the Hugo award being a big award in science fiction, for the various Whatever readers who aren't actually SF geeks) is 40,000 words. Personally, I've always worked under the assumption that it takes 60,000 words to make a novel, although now for the life of me I can't remember where I got that number. In any event, at 90,000 words, it's not really a short book, it just feels like it. As does Agent to the Stars, which is often described as a "quick read," although it's actually longer than OMW: about 95,000 words, if I remember correctly.

I think Old Man's War may seem shorter than it is for a couple of reasons. First, there does seem to be a perception that SF novels have had a bit of bloat in recent years. I don't actually know whether that's true or not; most of the SF/F novels I've been reading recently, from Stross, Bear, Fforde, Sagan, Zielinski, Westerfeld and Larbalestier, have been short or at least not blatheringly long. I think maybe everyone's transfixed at the sheer heft of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which at 3,000 pages is large enough to crush an unwary kodiak bear. Compared to that, undoubtedly OMW would look compact, by the same reasoning that makes 5' 10" man seem short when he stands next to Yao Ming. Having said that, I do remember getting the first advance reader copy of OMW and being slightly surprised that it wasn't longer -- I thought 90,000 words would take up more space. It's amazing the things they can do with fonts and leading these days.

Second, I think OMW seems short because there's quite a bit of dialogue, and I think dialogue "reads" quicker than description. Part of that is perceptual: With dialogue your brain imagines people speaking the words, and that's maybe easier than what your brain has to do when trying to construct an unfamiliar image to go along with descriptive text: i.e., reading dialogue takes fewer processing cycles than reading description. Part of that is construction: When people speak (or when I write people speaking), their sentences are shorter and there are relatively fewer unfamiliar polysyllabics -- which is to say that when people speak, they're actually trying to be understood. All of which makes for a faster read.

I am pleased that people think OMW is a short read; I'd rather have them get through the book quickly and think "that was good, I want more" than to read along and wonder to themselves when the torture of slogging through the book will end. I also don't think that I'm a very good candidate for creating a thousand-page tome any time soon; I don't have the patience, for one thing, and for another thing the style of my writing doesn't lend itself to that. However, I'll note that The Android's Dream is longer than either Agent or OMW -- the completed book (unedited by Tor) is about 112,800 words. In its construction, it's very like OMW and Agent, though, so I'll be curious to see if it'll qualify as a "quick read" as well. I think it does, but then, I would.

Posted by john at 04:37 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Gaaaaaah

Up all night editing a chapter of Rough Guide to Science Fiction that I was previously quite unhappy with. Now happy enough with to send to editors. On to the next two chapters that I am quite unhappy with to re-edit them.

Did I mention having a writing deadline in December is no damn good? I think I did.

I need to stay awake long enough to drop Athena off at school. Then: Blankness. What I'm saying is, don't expect wonders from me here today.

Posted by john at 06:34 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 07, 2005

A Terrifying Moment of Personal Introspection

jsgeeks.jpg

Balding? Check.
Unshaven due to deadline? Check.
Hand brace to avoid RSI? Check.
Strange Horizons t-shirt? Check.
Stack of anime DVDs? Check.
Aggressively messy desk? Check.
Geeked-out dual-monitor computer set-up complete with Web cam? Check.
Glasses? Check.
Haven't seen anyone but family and pets in over a week? Check.
Employing mediocre Photoshop talents to avoid actual work? Check.

When was it exactly that I became the stereotype of a science fiction writer? Because, baby, I'm so there.

Yes, I know, top of the geek food chain and all. But, come on.

And now I'm off to find a woodchipper.

Posted by john at 06:25 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Word Processing

The Whatever has a fair share of visitors who are professional writers (and an equally fair share of visitors who could/will be pro writers, when/if the capricious gods of publishing align their stars in the correct configuration), so let me throw this out to y'all:

As most of you know, I'm 35, and I started writing in earnest when I was 14 years old, which, as it happens, is the same time that the original Mac debuted. What this means is that I have never written anything of any appreciable length -- anything -- that I didn't write on a computer (or at the very least, a computerized word processor). As a consequence, my writing process has developed with the word creation and editing capabilities of the computer in mind. Indeed, is tied to it to such an extent that the mere thought of trying to write anything of any length -- more than a few hundred words -- without the aid of a computer fills me with a certain amount of dread and terror.

Nor do I think I'm alone in this -- as I said, I'm 35, which ain't exactly young (not exactly old, either, harumph, harumph, but I'm not, shall we say, any longer in the freshly-spritzed bloom of youth), and there's an entire generation of writers my age (give or take five years) who also have always used the computer as their primary writing tool. Not to mention the entire generation of adults younger than I, who I assume are aware of typewriters, but may never have seen one in actual professional use.

So, writers: Can you honestly imagine trying to write a full-length book or novel (we're talking 60,000+ words) without a computer? Or, for those of you alive and publishing in the terrifying days before computers, can you imagine going back to that? I'm simply curious.

As an aside to this, apart from the pure and simple mechanical issues of writing on a computer, I do wonder to how much my writing style is predicated on my writing tool -- i.e., to what extent my "voice" is due to working on a computer rather than a typewriter or (eeeeeegh) pen and paper. I suspect it's a not insignificant amount, although it would be hard to quantify without actually trying to write something like a novel with another writing tool, and I don't know if my curiosity on the matter extends that far.

Posted by john at 02:12 PM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

Commenting Note

Just to let you all know, sometime soon -- probably in the next week -- I'm going to disable commenting for all threads previous to December 2004, in an attempt to minimize spammation. So if there's something you want to say on any of the posts earlier than this, now's the time.

Posted by john at 02:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

OMW Availability

Here's a not very cheering comment about the availability of Old Man's War, from the editor of Locus Online:

I've been on the lookout for the John Scalzi novel Old Man's War for several weeks now, since I read Scalzi's blog and he's been crowing about its appearances at various retail outlets; and it sounds like a fun book, and the starred PW review doesn't hurt. But it hasn't appeared at any of the several Borders or Barnes & Nobles' in my area that I circulate among. Today I finally queried the Borders database: sold out(!), it says. Without ever a copy having passed through their stores, apparently. OK, fine. I came home and ordered it from Amazon.

As it happens, I was in my local bookstore the other day, picking up my copy of Hammered, and didn't see Old Man's War there either, although the store has three other of my books on offer (including multiple copies of Book of the Dumb 2). I checked with the folks at the sale desk, and they noted that didn't even have it available to order yet; their distributor (Ingram, if you know about these things) had a comment in the system that the book would be available in January, but just not yet. Well, of course, this is not great news -- if I remember correctly, Ingram is the largest book distributor in the US, so it wouldn't be a good thing if it didn't have its copies yet. Anecdotally, it seems the book is more available on the coasts than in the heartland, but I may simply have this perception because I know more people on the coasts.

I'm not exactly worried. It's early yet, and the first edition print run of Old Man's War is relatively small (somewhere in the area of 4,000 copies, if I remember correctly), so there was always a possibility of some early scarcity if the book was well-received, which (thank you, God) so far it seems to be. I expect this is a short term issue. But it's never a good thing when people are looking for your book and can't find it, and it's particularly not a good thing when the person in question is an editor of one of the most influential science fiction magazines out there.

If you are having trouble finding OMW on the shelves, remember that nearly every bookstore out there will be happy to special order the book for you, or you can order it from Amazon, BN.com, Powell's or any number of online outlets (and don't forget the Science Fiction Book Club).

Ideally, you could support your local bookstore when you buy the book, but if you want it, get it however you can get it.

Posted by john at 01:25 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

January 05, 2005

Cover Art

Charlie Stross is showing off the cover to his upcoming novel Accelerando on his site, and it is indeed a most excellent cover. Being part of the super-secret writers cabal that I am (I could tell you more but then I'd have to remainder you), I've had a peek at the novel itself, which I think will be the science fiction book to beat in 2005 (and damn you Charlie, he said, because his own book is in that year, too). Of course, I haven't read Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town yet, so we'll just have to see.

Someone, incidentally, also has excellent cover art, by Dave McKean, and I have to say I'm pleased for both of them that both of them have books whose covers project a higher level of sophistication than you might normally see in the genre. I don't think it's any secret that I'm often very critical of science fiction art, and indeed I can think of at least one science fiction publishing house that I would not have sold Old Man's War to, specifically because their book covers are flat-out embarrassing to be seen with if you're over the age of 14. Happily for me, Tor was not one of those houses.

In fact, I do have to say that as Old Man's War hits the stores, I am finally beginning to truly appreciate just how smart Tor was with the cover, and what an excellent choice Tor art director Irene Gallo made in choosing Donato Giancola as the artist. I always liked the cover art, which I thought was appropriate for the book -- they story has a classic space opera form, so it made sense to have a more or less classic space opera type cover. I liked it enough that I actually bought it, and in doing so made it so that between what Tor paid him and what I paid him, Donato has made more off Old Man's War than I have. Well done, sir.

But now that it's out and people have seen it on the shelves, one of the things I'm hearing from them is how the cover gives the book a different feel from a lot of the other books of the shelves. I think a lot of that has to do with Donato's saturated blue-green color scheme, which is a color palette you don't see very often. And I think having the central figure on the cover be an older male is also an eye-stopper; you really don't see older people on science fiction/fantasy book covers with any frequency, unless they look like Gandalf's second cousin.

In all, a fine cover both in itself and how it seems to be grabbing people's eyes. So once again let me take a moment to acknowledge both Donato and Irene, both of whom made my book look good. If the two of them work on The Ghost Brigades, so much the better for me; we'll know at least one thing about the book won't suck. If people judge my books by their covers, in these cases, I'll be just fine with that.

Update: Tobias Buckell, whose novel Crystal Rain comes out this summer from Tor, shows off his cover art here. I dig the parrots.

Posted by john at 05:35 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 04, 2005

More Confederate Stupidity

I've noted before that one of the most fascinating things about Confederate sympathizers is how tortuously they will twist their tiny but ambitious intellects to suggest that the Confederacy was really about something more than a bunch of rich white people owning a bunch of poor black people, and managing to bamboozle a bunch of poor white people into thinking it had something to do with them, too. Another one of these jackasses has popped up in the comments to this entry, in which I note that the CSA is fundamentally evil because it explicitly codified the enslavement of humans into its Constitution, something that even the US, despite its shameful, not-to-be-minimized history of slavery, never did. Get a load of this particular attempt at getting the Confederacy off the hook:

Your assertion that the CSA was evil because of Article IV, Section 2 of it's Constitution falls flat on it's face when Article I, Section 9 is considered. To wit: "Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same". This is a demonstration of the fact that the CSA government was not so concerned with the perpetuation and expansion of slavery as it was with the protection of private property rights. Yes, at the time slaves were considered to be private property. As reprehensible as this is to us now in the 21st century, it is hardly fair to judge the actions of those in a society were slavery had been largely deemed an acceptable practice by comparing it to a society (like ours currently) where such a practice is considered immoral.

Leave aside for the moment the monstrously ignorant and ahistorical dismissal that would suggest that everybody in the 19th century thought owning slaves was just peachy, despite the massive piles of evidence to the contrary. Focus instead of the following line of reasoning:

1. Yes, the CSA encoded slavery into its Constitution.
2. But look! They didn't want to get slaves from anywhere else.
3. So that meant encoding slavery into the CSA Constitution wasn't about slavery, it was about property.
4. Property which just happened to include, you know, other people.

The author of this comment apparently believes that banning the international slave trade meant that the slave populations in the South would thenceforth be static and then would eventually decline as the existing slaves died out. As quaint a picture as that provides, it does ignore one small detail, which was that one of the reasons that the CSA could choose to ignore the international slave trade was that there was already a robust slave trade inside the southern states (and thus, by extension, within the CSA). Here's a fun little excerpt from an article on the matter:

Several ante-bellum events converged to encourage slave breeding. Legal limitations on the Atlantic slave trade reduced the number of slaves entering the country, despite smuggling. The soil in Virginia began to wear out from overuse and some planters turned from tobacco to slave farms. The Deep South had insatiable needs for workers for labor-intensive crops, from sugar to cotton.

A slave breeder would select a group of healthy young black women and lock them up with some healthy black men who were strengthened by having been fed meat, not in the usual slave rations. After a few days it was hoped that the women would be pregnant.

Other references I see online to the interstate slave breeding trade note that slave women were started breeding at ages as young as 12 and 13 and that some slave breeders would promise these women their freedom from slavery if they could produce 15 babies. Consider, if you will, the human mind that would tell another human that the way to purchase her own freedom is to condemn 15 of her own children to slavery.

Note also that the CSA specifically exempted US slaveholding states and territories from its prohibition, which says a lot about the mentality of the CSA -- not only did it fully intend to continue its own internal slave trade, it kept a door open to trade human lives with what slave areas remained in the US. What would the effect of this be? Well, aside from the obvious economic benefit, it could potentially serve to keep the US off-balance internally, because the bitter division between slave and free states would still exist. A US that was busy with its own internal politics is a US too busy to bother with the CSA. In other words, the slave trade could have been a potentially effective political tool for the CSA.

But wait, there's more! If breeding slaves was a profitable enterprise, as it clearly seems it was, couldn't one view the prohibition of an international slave trade simply in protectionist terms? Which is to say, by prohibiting the international slave trade, the CSA is protecting a growth industry within its borders from undue competition. The CSA had a native slave population of some three million (a population only slightly less than the entire population of the US at the time of its independence from Britain); this was a large enough number to assure a robust breeding pool for some time to come.

In short, my Confederate friend's suggestion that encoding slavery into the CSA's Constitution wasn't actually about slavery works only if one ignores the inconvenient fact that slave breeding already existed in the south and/or CSA, and the obvious benefits of continuing such breeding programs for the white, racist, evil sons of bitches who created the CSA in the first place. And I don't see any reason to do that, because unlike Confederate sympathizers, I don't have to pretend that the hateful and pathetic political entity that was the Confederacy was anything more or less than a system designed to let one group of people deny the human rights and dignity of another group of people for no other reason than that there was profit in it.

Given that my correspondent's assertion that the CSA isn't evil is handily disposed of (and indeed, is shown to enable further perpetuation of the evil practice of slavery, thus deepening the fundamental soul-rotting evil of the CSA), his continuing blatherations on the matter are moot, and I only cursorily scanned them, noting only in passing that he trots out the tired "the CSA had a right to secede" blah blah blah, which I took a hammer to some time ago, the gist of my thinking on the matter being: Would that the USA had agreed on that point, because then it would have been a simple matter of kicking the ass of the foolish and evil political entity to the south of us and taking its territory for our own, instead of hewing to the polite fiction that the CSA were merely rebellious states. But isn't that just like a Confederate not to think things all the way through.

But let's leave aside the demolition my correspondent's idiotic line of reasoning to note one simple thing: No matter how you slice it, and in any era you choose to place it, slavery was evil, period, end of sentence. Any state that codifies slavery into its very constitutional fabric codifies evil into its very being. Therefore the CSA was, is, and will until the very end of the human race continue to be, evil. All rationalizations, all excuses, all twisty attempts at tortured logic fall under the simple question: Did the founders of the CSA choose to make slavery part of its fundamental nature? They did. Any attempts to distract from this fundamental evil are merely the attempts of the morally vile to disguise the festering inhumanity at the very heart of the CSA.

The problem is, you can't hide something like that. And you shouldn't. The fact Confederate sympathizers continue to try says something very small and sad about them.

Posted by john at 10:02 PM | Comments (83) | TrackBack

Frank "Skeeter" Scalzi

fscalzi.jpg

I was cruising eBay, looking to see how quickly OMW would hit there (answer: pretty quickly, and why you would pay for an advance reader's copy is beyond me), when I came across a completely egoless bit of Scalziania: An auction for the trading card of Frank "Skeeter" Scalzi, who played one season -- actually, 13 games -- for the New York Giants in 1939. Well, how could I not get that? A week and $20 later, it was mine.

You'd figure a guy who plays just 13 games in the bigs must have been less than good, but interestingly enough, Skeeter hit .333 in those games, so clearly he wasn't bad. This site, whose owner claims to be (and almost certainly is) Skeeter's grand nephew, suggests that the player suffered from a poorly-handled contract which somehow impacted his ability to play in the big leagues for any amount of time. We also learn that Skeeter eventually became a fairly successful minor league manager and may have gone even further save for a 1950 car accident. The things you learn.

As far as I know, Skeeter is not actually any relation to me -- although interestingly, he's a native of Ohio, where I now live. Be that as it may, Scalzis of note are scarce enough on the ground that any are of interest to me, relation or not. This is what you get for having an unusual last name; if I were named, say, "Cooper," I'd probably be less interested in a 13-game MLB player from 1939. But I'm not, and so I am.

In any event: Here's Skeeter. Enjoy him!

Posted by john at 11:26 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 03, 2005

Hard-Earned Wisdom

Today's nugget of writing knowledge:

December is a terrible time to have a book deadline. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Updating here will likely be sporadic for a couple of weeks.

Posted by john at 12:04 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 02, 2005

Another Review for OMW

This one from SFReviews.net (not to be confused with SFRevu.com, from the last post). The full review is here; I'll quote the opening graph:

Old Man's War is a tremendous, confident SF debut for well-known blogger John Scalzi. Openly patterning itself after Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Old Man's War takes an exciting tale of alien conflict and dresses it up intelligently with such themes as individual identity, what makes one human, the significance of mortality, and the ethics of life extension. Economically told at just over 300 pages, the story, peopled with remarkably well-drawn and memorable characters, never flags for an instant and steers a steady course without veering into self-importance or maudlin sentiment. Its a top-drawer first novel that should put Scalzi high on your "Writers to Watch" list.

That works for me.

One of the things I've really appreciated about the reviews I've seen so far -- both on sites like these and on individual blogs -- is that by and large they're digging through the text to highlight things they find interesting as well as things they find aren't quite working for them; in other words, classic criticism, aside from the simple "like it/don't like it" dichotomy. As a writer you can't ask for more than that.

Posted by john at 01:11 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 01, 2005

SFRevu Review & Interview + SF Book Club Release

Merry New Year. I hope you're all still with us, and if you're not, well, you won't be reading this anyway.

To start off the year, some Old Man's War news:

1. SFRevu.com has both a feature review of Old Man's War and an interview with me about the book and other topics. The review is positive, which is nice: "it behooves you to catch Scalzi now, both to encourage this promising author and to enjoy his strong start." And of course I'm inclined to agree. SFRevu.com editor Ernest Lilley also asked some pretty interesting questions for the interview, so I think the responses are a cut above my usual blatheration. Check 'em out.

2. Two other reviews of the book, also nicely positive, from Chad Orzel ("It's very much a book in the tradition of Robert Heinlein, only, you know, not so annoyingly polemical") and Andrew Cory, who puts the book into some rather long-term perspective: "It would do Humanity no irreparable harm if, in 500 years, this book is utterly forgotten. After all, we have only a bare few of the plays of Aeschylus. My own life, however, would be the poorer had I not the opportunity to read this book." As I do tend to write for people today rather than the ones half a millennia from now, I can live with this.

3. Those of you who have been waiting for Old Man's War to show up at the Science Fiction Book Club need wait no longer: It's now listed, and for $11.99, which isn't a bad price. And if you're not a member, you can always sign up and pick it as part of your 5 books for $1 introductory price (although you'll have to pay full club price for four other books over the course of a year -- one of those pesky details). As I've mentioned before, it matters not to me how you get the book, so if you're a club member, get it that way. The book is also an Alternate Book for the club's "Winter" offering, which I understand goes up for consideration within the week.

That's the current book news.

Posted by john at 08:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack