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March 31, 2005

Rerun Week: Counting the Days

Be happy for me: The chapter of my book that's been killing me is now complete. It's all steeply downhill from here, and that's good. Here's today's rerun.

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BEST CALENDAR OF THE MILLENNIUM

The Mayan Calendar. I'm writing this on December 16, 1999 -- on the Mayan calendar, it's 12.19.6.14.6. That's right, only 5,485 days until the next baktun! Better hit the mall now!

Typically speaking, calendars do two things (beyond, of course, giving "Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larson a way to recycle decade-old cartoons for ready cash). First of all, they provide us with the ability to meaningfully note the passage of time. For example, today is the 226th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the 55th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the 78th-month "anniversary" of my first date with my wife (we were obviously not married at the time). One week from today will be my daughter's first birthday. Send gifts.

All these events are contingent on our calendar for their notability relative to the time in which I exist; If we noted weeks and months differently, it might be the anniversary of something else entirely different. Months and weeks have no basis outside us: We made them up, or, if you prefer, God made them up, and we went with his basic plan (don't we always).

The second thing calendars do is notify us of the cyclical nature of our planet. Thanks to a more or less fixed tilt of the earth's axis and a regular period of revolution around our sun, our world gets hot and cold on a predictable schedule, and the patterns of life take note. Flowers bloom in the spring. Animals hibernate in the winter. Leaves fall in autumn. We get re-runs in the summer. It's the circle of life. For various reasons primarily relating to food, the planting and harvesting of, we've needed to know when to expect the seasons to come around again.

The problem has always been that humans have picked bad ways to note that passage of time. The biggest culprit has been the moon. It has a cycle, of course, about 29 days from new moon to new moon. Alas, that cycle has no real relation with the earth's position in its orbit. So while creating months relative to the moon (the word "month" is in fact etymologically descended from the old English word for "moon"), is perfectly fine for recording subjective blocks of time, it's rather less helpful in keeping track of when the seasons are coming. Sooner or later you'd get snow in July. And that would just wreak havoc on your baseball schedules.

Some of your smarter civilizations switched to a calendar in which the year was demarcated by the path of the sun (in the case of the Egyptians, they used Sirius, the Dog Star. Those crafty Egyptians). This was better, as there was, in fact, a direct relation of the sun's path and our year. But the rotation of the earth does not correspond exactly to its revolution. There's an extra quarter of the day (but not exactly a quarter of a day) thrown in for chuckles. Give it enough time, and your seasons and your months will still get away from you.

So you keep fiddling. Our current Gregorian calendar deals with it by inserting a leap day every four years, except in years that end with double zero, except those years which are cleanly divisible by 400. Like 2000. Don't worry, scientists are keeping track of these things for you. Be that as it may, there's still slippage. Calendars aren't an exact science.

Enter the Mayans, who, it should be noted, were the kick-ass mathematical minds of the pre-computational world (they used zeros before zeros were cool!). While everyone else was looking at the sun or the moon as a guidepost for the passage of time, the Mayans looked a little to the left of the sun and discovered...Venus, which as it happens, has an exceptionally predictable path around the sun that takes 584 days. Five of these cycles just happens to coincide with eight 365-day years. Thrown in a couple of additional formulae, and you can keep time that's damn near perfect -- The Mayan calendar loses a day about once every 4000 years. Consider we can't go four years without having to plug in a day, and we've got atomic clocks and everything.

So why don't we switch to a Mayan calendar? Well, this is why:

First bear in mind that the Mayan kept track of two years simultaneously: the Tzolkin, or divinatory calendar, which is comprised of 260 days, demarcated by matching one of 13 numbers with one of 20 names (13x20=260 -- you can do at least that much math), and also another calendar of 18 months of 20 days, with five extra days known as the "Uayeb," for Days of Bad Omen (probably not a good time to do much of anything).

These two calendrical systems linked together once every 18,980 days (that's 52 years to you and me): this period of time was known as a "Calendar Round." Two calendar rounds, incidentally, make up another time period in which the Tzolkin, the 365-day calendar, and the position of Venus sync up again. Think of this as a Mayan century, if you will.

With me so far? Okay, because, actually, I lied. There's another calendar system you need to keep track of as well: The Long Count. Here's how this one works. You start of with a day, which in Mayan is known as a kin. There are 20 kin in a unial, 18 unials in a tun, 20 tun in a katun, and 20 katun in a baktun (so how many days is that? Anyone? Anyone? 144,000 -- roughly 394 years). Each of these is enumerated when you signify a date, with the baktun going first. However, remember that while kin, tun, and katun are numbered from 0 to 19, the unial are numbered from 0 to 17, while the baktun are numbered from 1 to 13. So if someone tries to sell you a Mayan calendar with a 14 in the baktun's place, run! He's a bad man!

And thus, combining our Long Count calendar with our Tzolkin and our 365-day calendar, we find that today is 12.19.6.14.6, 6 kan, 12 mak. Now you know why we don't use the Mayan calendar. And the next time you plan to cheat on a math test, sit next to a Mayan.

What happens after you reach the 13th baktun? I don't know, but it's going to happen pretty soon --the Mayan calendar rolls over on December 23rd, 2012. Maybe then we'll get a real apocalypse. Until then, let's all party like it's 12.19.19.17.19.

Posted by john at 10:30 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

Rerun Week: Big Gay Kings

Reruns this week while I close up shop on some projects; I'm reprinting pieces from my "That Was The Millennium That Was" series from 1999. Here's today's.

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BEST GAY MAN OF THE MILLENNIUM

Richard I of England, otherwise known as Richard the Lionhearted. He's here, he's queer, he's the King of England.

Although, certainly, not the only gay King of England: William II Rufus, Edward II, and King James I (yes, the Bible dude) are reputed to have indulged in the love that dare not speak its name (On the other hand, rumors pertaining to the gayness of King William III have been greatly exaggerated). Women, don't feel left out: Anne, queen from 1702 to 1714, had a very interesting "friendship" with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who was her "lady of the bedchamber." Which was apparently an actual job, and not just some winking euphemism.

The difference between Richard and the rest of the reputedly gay monarchs of England is that people seemed to think fondly of Richard, whereas the rest of the lot were met with more than their share of hostility -- though that hostility has less to do with their sexuality than it did with other aspects of their character. William II Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, was known as a brutal tyrant who smote the weak and raised their taxes; he took an arrow in the back in 1100, in what was very likely an assassination masterminded by his brother, Henry. James I, who had been King of Scotland before he was also made King of England, spent a lot of money and lectured Parliament about his royal prerogatives; they thought he was a big drooling jerk. Queen Anne had a weak will which made her susceptible to suggestion, a point that Sarah Churchill, for one, exploited to its fullest extent.

(However, then there's Edward II. Not a very good king to begin with, Edward further annoyed his barons by procuring the earldom of Cornwall for Piers Gaveston, Edward's lifelong very good friend, and the sort of fellow who wasn't a bit shy about rubbing your nose in that fact. The barons continually had him exiled, but Edward continually brought him back; finally the barons had enough, collared Gaveston, and in 1312, lopped off his head. Edward himself met a truly bad end in 1327; having been overthrown by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, he was killed by torture that included a red-hot poker as a suppository. You can't tell me that wasn't an editorial comment.)

On the surface of things, there's no reason that Richard, as a king, should be looked upon any more favorably than these folks; in fact, as a king, Richard was something of a bust. During his decade-long reign, he was in England for a total of six months, and most of that was given over to slapping around his brother John and the barons, rather than, say, handing out Christmas hams to the populace. Richard wasn't even very much interested in being King of England. His possessions as the Duke of Aquitaine were substantially more important to him, enough so that he went to war against his father Henry II over them. Seems that after Henry had made Richard the heir to the throne, Henry wanted him to give the Aquitaine to John, who had no lands of his own. Richard said no and went to arms; this aggravated Henry so much, he died.

What Richard really wanted to do, and what is the thing that won him the hearts of the subjects he didn't even know, was to lead the Third Crusade against Saladin, the great Muslim hero who had conquered Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin had taken Jerusalem from the Christians, who had nabbed it 88 years before, and who, it must be said, acted like animals doing it. When Saladin's troops regained the city, it was remarked how much nicer they were than the Christians had been (why, the Muslims hardly slaughtered any innocent bystanders!).

In one of those great historical coincidences, Saladin is also rumored to be gay, which would be thrilling if it were true. The idea that both sides of one of the greatest of all religious wars were commanded -- and brilliantly, might I add -- by homosexuals is probably something neither today's religious or military leaders would prefer to think about. Put that in your "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" pipe, guys: The Third Crusade was won by a pansy!

(Which pansy, of course, is a matter of debate. Richard's exploits and military brilliance during the Third Crusade are the stuff of legend, and he did manage to wrest a three-year truce out of Saladin, which, among other things, assured safe passage for Christians to holy places. On the other hand, Richard never did take back Jerusalem (which was the whole point of the Crusade), and if you check the scorecards of most judges, they'll tell you Saladin and Richard fought to a draw, so the title goes to the incumbent. However, Richard's crusade was not the unmitigated disaster that later crusades would be -- ultimately the Christians were booted out of the Palestine. So in retrospect, Richard's crusade looked pretty darn good. Way not to lose, Richard.)

Yes, yes, yes, you say, but I don't give a damn about the Crusades. I want to know who Richard was gay with. Man, you people disappoint me. But fine: How about Philip II Augustus, King of France concurrent to Richard's reign as King of England. You may have already known about this particular relationship, as it constituted a plot point in the popular play and movie "A Lion in Winter." However, even at the time, the relationship between the two was well-documented. Roger of Hoveden, a contemporary of Richard I and his biographer, has this to say:

"Richard, [then] duke of Aquitaine, the son of the king of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the king of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the king of England was absolutely astonished and the passionate love between them and marveled at it."

(Other translations -- Hoveden wrote in Latin -- replace "love" with "esteem," toning down the breathless m4m feel of the passage, thereby allowing the nervous to assume Richard and Philip were just really really really close buds. Whatever works, man.)

Dick and Phil's relationship, beyond any physical aspect, was tempestuous at best. On one hand, Richard appealed to Philip for help (and got it) when Henry tried to take the Aquitaine from him. On the other hand, once Richard became king, he fortified his holdings in France, on the off chance that Philip might, you know, try to stuff a province or two in his pocket while Richard was away at the Crusades.

As it happens, Philip went to the Third Crusade, where he had a falling out with Richard and eventually headed back to Paris in a huff; once there, he tried to slip some of Richard's lands in his pocket, just like Richard thought he would. The two eventually went to war over the whole thing. Richard was winning, until he was shot in the chest by an archer and died. Legend has it that Richard actually congratulated the archer for the shot, which, frankly, strikes me as taking good manners just a little too far.

You may wonder what about any of this makes Richard the best gay man of the last 1000 years. Actually, nothing; when it comes right down to it, Richard's sexuality is one of the least interesting things about him. This is one facet he shares in common with other notable gay men of the last 1000 years, from Michelangelo to John Maynard Keynes.

It's also something he shares, of course, with the vast majority of heterosexual men through the years as well. Although since that's the sexual norm, we don't think about it that way. Rare is the moment in which we say "Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity. And, you know, he was straight." One day, if we're lucky, we'll think the same about gay men and women. In the meantime, we'll have Richard to remind us we're more than the sum of our sexualities. That's worth my vote.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

Rerun Week: Visions of Hell

Reruns this week while I close up shop on some projects; I'm reprinting pieces from my "That Was The Millennium That Was" series from 1999. Here's today's.

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BEST VISION OF HELL OF THE MILLENNIUM

It comes from Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch painter who lived in the 15th and 16th Centuries (although assuredly, not through them both entirely). Other people wrote about Hell, lectured about Hell, or simply feared it as the inevitable end to their sinful ways. Bosch saw Hell, like Walker Evans saw the Depression, and then reported on what he saw. It wasn't a very cheerful report, but then, what would you expect. Hell's not a resort filled with Payday bars and happy kittens. Unless you're allergic to nuts and cat dander. In which case, that's exactly what it is.

How did Bosch get this preview of Hell? It's not that hard to imagine. Sartre famously said that Hell is other people, and while he was probably directly referring to some annoying waiter at Deux Magots, the line has broader implications. People are flawed, and not in the Japanese sense of wabi, in which a slight imperfection merely accentuates the fundamental perfection of a thing. Wabi is the mole on Cindy Crawford's lip, the wheat bits in Lucky Charms, or the fact that Bill Gates' fortune is owned by him and not you.

No, we're talking about deep-seated incipient screw-upped-ness, the kind that puts you on the news as the helicopter gets a top down view of the police surrounding your home. For most of us, fortunately, it expresses itself in less virulent form, usually a furtive, opportunistic violation of one or more of the seven deadly sins when we think we won't get caught. Coupled with this is the dread knowledge that, not only do we know what we're doing is wrong, but we'll probably do again the next time everyone else's attention is back on the TV. We're all a country song waiting to happen. With that realization comes the grinding sound of Satan's backhoe scraping out space in our brain for another yet Hell franchise (six billion locations worldwide!). Hell is in all of us, not just the ones who use cell phones when they drive. All you have to do is look.

Bosch looked. A pessimist and a moralist (one can hardly be one without being the other), Bosch saw what evil lurked in the hearts of men, and then hit the paint. His friends and neighbors were no doubt unhappy to learn they were the motivation for Bosch's horrifying and fantastical canvases; It's difficult to live near someone who might paint your face onto a damned creature with Hell's staff fraternizing in what used to be its butt. But there's a story about another painter which could shed some light on what Bosch was doing. Pablo Picasso once painted a portrait of Gertrude Stein, only to have someone comment that Stein looked nothing like the painting. Said Picasso: "She will, soon enough." (And she did). Apply this same reasoning to a picture of yourself with imps in your ass. It might make you think.

Beyond the existential and theological nature of Bosch's work is the fact that, as paintings, they are just so damned cool. Bosch's paintings of Hell influenced two great schools of art: Surrealism and Heavy Metal. Surrealism got off on Bosch's vibrant and innovative use of color and his ability to combine the mundane and the fantastical to make bitter and intelligent social commentary. In fact Bosch had one up on most of the Surrealists in that he actually believed in something; unlike the surrealists and their kissing cousins the dadaists, Bosch's work is rooted in morality rather than running away from it. Bosch wouldn't have painted a mustache on Mona Lisa; he'd've had her devoured by a fish demon as a pointed warning of the dangers of vanity.

Heavy Metal artists dug Bosch, because, dude, he totally painted demons. Without Bosch, we'd have no Boris Vallejo airbrushings or Dio album covers, and it's debatable whether Western Culture would be able to survive their lack.

Some ask, does Bosch's work show Hell as it really is? No less an authority than the Catholic Church suggests that Hell is not so much a location as it is a state of being, an eternal absence of God's grace rather than a place where pitchforks are constantly, eternally and liberally applied to your eyeballs. In which case, Bosch's turbulent colors and troublesome devils are just another picture show, a trifle used to scare the credulous and the dim from indulging their baser instincts, like sex and thoughts on the possibility of even more sex.

It's the wrong question. It's not important that Bosch shows Hell as it truly is; it's entirely possible that, other than a useful philosophical construct, Hell doesn't exist at all. (This does not change the fact that the Backstreet Boys must somehow be eternally punished for their crimes.) But whether it truly exists or not, humans need the idea of Hell, whether it be to scare us into a moral life, comfort the smug ones who believe everyone else is going there, or simply to remind us that the actions of our lives, good or ill, live beyond those lives themselves, and the accounting of them may occur past the day we ourselves happen to stop. Bosch saw the importance of the idea and put it down in oil.

The question is not whether Hell exists, but rather: If we could see our souls in a mirror, rather than our bodies, would they be as Bosch painted them? If they were, we wouldn't have to wait until the next life for Hell. It would already be here.

Posted by john at 08:45 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

Repeat Week -- Goodies From the Lost Archives

Work has got me by the neck and is constricting me like a hungry boa, so I've got nothing new today, or likely for several days. BUT, rather than pull one of my famous hiati, I'm going to offer up some reruns. In particular, selections from my That Was the Millennium That Was series, written in 1999. Back then I had maybe a couple hundred visitors a day and now I have, uh, more. So these will be new to many of you. And they're also fairly interesting. And, they're also not on the current iteration of the site. And, I have a whole lot of 'em. Add it all up, and they're fine candidates for repeating. These will run through the end of the week and possibly for a few days after that, so if you have seen these before, come back around next Monday and (God Willing) things will be back to normal.

For everyone else, some background: I wrote these at the tail end of 1999, when everyone was recapping the various "best" of the Millennia. I decided to cover some of the more obscure categories (Best Cheese of the Millennium, for example, or Best Hideously Inbred Royal Family of the Millennium) mostly because no one else had, and I did them right up to the crack of 2000 (yes, I'm aware that technically 2001 is the beginning of the millennium. Let's not go there). I did them for my own amusement at the time, but later on I sold a bunch of them to the Uncle John's people for one of their bathroom readers, thus beginning my association with that illustrious publisher (and eventually leading to the Book of the Dumb series). More proof it's useful to have a Web site, and a high threshold for boredom.

So imagine it's 1999 again, we're on the cusp of a new millennium (more or less), and I'm wrapping up some of the best things of the last 1,000 years.

Got it? Then here's the first one for you. It's behind the cut.

***

That Was The Millennium That Was
THE BEST HIDEOUSLY INBRED ROYAL FAMILY OF THE MILLENNIUM

That'd be the Hapsburgs. And here you thought inbreeding (or, as I like to call it, "fornicousin") was just a low-rent sort of activity. In fact, it's the sport of kings: All your royal families of Europe have participated in a program of inbreeding so clearly inadvised that it would disgust Jerry Springer's booker. They paid for it, of course (how many royal families are left any more) but not before polluting their bloodlines to an intolerable degree. Any little girl who dreamily wishes to marry a handsome prince on a white steed is advised to marry the horse instead. The horse probably has better DNA.

You'd think that the royal families of Europe would have figured out that a recursive family tree was not the way to go; at the very least, when you'd go to a royal function and everyone was married to a relative, you'd clue in that something was amiss. But royalty are different from you and me, and not just because all their children were still drooling well into the teenage years. Royalty wasn't just about kings and queens, it was about families and dynasties -- single families ruling multiple countries, or in the case of the Hapsburgs, most of the whole of the continent. You can't let just anyone marry into that sort of thing. There had to be standards, genetically haphazard as they might be.

The Hapsburgs, based in Austria, carried this admonition to the extreme, even for the royal families of Europe. Take the case of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (you may remember him as the nominal cause of World War I, when the poor fellow was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist. What, you don't? Ah, the glories of our educational system). Long before his assassination, Franz fell in love with Sophia von Chotkowa und Wognin, who was a Duchess of Hohenburg. For you and me, linking up with a Duchess of Hohenburg would probably be a step up in the grand scheme of things, certainly something to brag about at the family reunion at the municipal park ("You married Cindy? How nice. I married nobility. Look, here come our dukelings now.")

Franz's family, on the other hand, was horrified. Franz was an heir to the Austrian-Hungarian empire! He couldn't marry any shameless duchess who just happened to bat her hereditary lands at him! It was a scandal! Franz eventually married Sophie, but he was made to renounce all claims of rank for their offspring (i.e., no little emperors for Franz and Sophie). As a final insult, Sophie, the hussy duchy, was not allowed to ride in the same car as her husband during affairs of state. In retrospect, this may not have been such a bad idea; Sophie was in the same car as Franz in Sarajevo (presumably not a state function) and she got assassinated right along with him. But at the time, it probably just came across as mean.

No, in the grand scheme of things, the Hapsburgs figured it was better off to marry a Hapsburg when you could (and one of those degenerate Bourbons if you couldn't). On a territorial level, this worked like a charm; at the height of the Hapsburg influence, the family ruled the Holy Roman Empire and the Iberian Peninsula, and had good and serious claims on a large portion of what is now France. The family had initially achieved much of this, interestingly enough, by marrying people who were not them; after a particularly profitable spate of marriages arranged by the family in the late 15th century, it was said of the Hapsburgs, Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube ("Let others wage wars: you, fortunate Austria, marry"). Once lands were assimilated, of course, it was first cousins all the way.

In the short run, the interbreeding caused some noticeable but essentially minor physical distinctions: the famed "Hapsburg lip," in which a full lower lip jutted out in front of a somewhat less lavish upper lip. This is distinction was on par with other royal families, who had (and have) their own physical distinctions; the Bourbons, for one, had a distinctive nose (it was huge), while today, the English House of Windsor is known for its Dumbo-like ears. Proof that there were worse things than to have big lips.

Here's the thing, however. It's one thing to marry, say, your cousin. Not the smartest thing you can do, but so long as you move to another state and don't talk much about your family, you can get away with it. But if you marry a cousin, who was him or herself the product of cousins, who were themselves products of cousins, and so on and so forth -- and you're all in the same family -- well, you don't have to be Gregor Mendel to see what's coming. Alas for the Hapsburgs, what was coming was Charles II, king of Spain from 1665 through 1700.

With Charles, the question was not what was wrong with him, but what wasn't wrong. To begin, thanks to all that cousin cuddling, the Hapsburg lip stopped being a distinctive facial characteristic and became a jaw deformity so profound that Chuck couldn't chew his own food. This would depress a person of normal intelligence, but since Charles was also mentally retarded, he might not have minded. Anyway, it wasn't the most depressing deformity Charles had; let's just say that generations of inbreeding kept Charles from breeding new generations. It was bad enough to have a sick freak ruling Spain; it was even worse that there were no more sick freaks coming.

For lack of a better idea, Charles willed his possessions to a relative. Unfortunately, it was a relative who was also a Bourbon. Enter the War of Spanish Succession, at the end of which Spain would lose most of its European holdings (such as the Netherlands), and the Hapsburgs would begin their long decline, which would end with the First World War and a final dismemberment of the family's territorial holdings.

Clearly, this might never have happened had the Hapsburgs slipped in a commoner now and then, just to set a genetic Roto-Rooter to their chromosomes. Wouldn't that have been an irony -- a few more serfs in the gene pool, and there might yet be a Holy Roman Emperor. The Hapsburgs probably wouldn't think that was funny. But a sense of humor was not what they bred for, anyway.

Posted by john at 07:27 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

Hugo Goodness

The Hugo Awards are out (you can find the complete list here), and it's been a good year for acquaintances and friends, among them:

Charlie Stross, who received three Hugo nominations this year, one for Best Novel (Iron Sunrise) and two in the Best Novella category (for "The Concrete Jungle" and "Elector").

Kelly Link, for Best Novelette ("The Faery Handbag")

James Patrick Kelly, for Best Short Story ("The Best Christmas Ever")

Donato Giancola, for Best Professional Artist (Donato, you may recall, did the cover to my book, although it would be too early for him to be nominated for that)

The New York Review of Science Fiction for Best Semiprozine (they recently bought something from me, so I'm inclined to think well of them; David Hartwell is also nominated for Best Professional Editor)

Strange Horizons, for Best Web Site

And also Elizabeth Bear has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Whoo-hoo to you all!

Posted by john at 09:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

Little Bits

Some quick notes before I abandon you all for the day (books don't write themselves, alas).

* I'll be out through Easter, and I hope yours is ressuriffic!

* I realize that some of you are frightened and confused that I've not posted anything self-congratulatory re: Old Man's War, in, like, a week, so: Rick Kleffel essays OMW and other books obviously inspired by past works in Prizing the Derivatives: The Perfected Pastiche, and also OMW appears to be #3 on the SFBC Bestseller list at the moment, behind Dragonsblood by Todd McCaffrey and Destroyer by C.J. Cherryh. Groovy. And here's a nice review from Fantastica Daily: "I absolutely adored this book from the first page." Wheee! I know of at least one fairly significant review of the book that's coming up, and some other interesting events have transpired with the book, but I'll chat about those at some future point.

* Despite noting that submissions for the Subterranean Magazine issue I'm guest-editing will not be accepted before 10/1/05, I am -- yes! -- already receiving submissions. So let me note now that e-mails sent to submissions@scalzi.com before 10/1/05 will get an auto-responder message, telling them to submit after 10/1/05 and that their current e-mail will likely be deleted unread. The good news here is that since I'm doing bulk deletions, I'm not noting who is sending early submissions, so there's going to be no penalty accrued if/when they re-submit on time. Still, luck favors those who follow directions. I'm just saying.

* If you had to choose between, say, a Sony PSP and a Mac Mini, what would you choose? I have no reason to ask; I'm merely curious.

* Just a question: What did Florida do to be so full of asshats?

Have a great weekend -- see you all on Monday.

Posted by john at 09:20 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

Welcome F6Rider and ValkyrieRiders Visitors

My uncle Gale "oZ" Scalzi was kind enough to put a big ol' ad for Old Man's War on F6Rider.com, the home site for the Valkyrie Riders Cruiser Club, which is the largest Honda Valkyrie club in the world, and that ad included a link back here. So, if you're coming over from F6Rider.com, howdy! I'm glad to have you visit. Wander through and make yourself comfortable. Here's a bio of me, so you'll know a little more about me than me just being oZ's nephew. Here's also a page about my books, so you know what else I've written.

What you're on now is the Whatever, a blog where I write, well, whatever it is I feel like writing about. At the moment that includes writing and editing (I'll be guest-editing a science fiction magazine soon), the Terry Schiavo issue, rational vs. irrational politics, and playing with Photoshop to create some really spooky pictures (I promise you neither I nor my adorable child actually look like the spooky pictures. I swear). It's a whole range of topics, and I hope you like what you see and will consider coming by often.

Those of you who know Gale personally know about his love for music; well, it runs in the family, and here's some music I've put together myself. Enjoy.

And those of you who are already regular visitors here -- Hey! Check out my uncle's site, why don't you. It's very cool: About seven years ago he put up a page to celebrate his enjoyment of the Honda Valkyrie motorcycle, and now it's the hub of entire motorcycle subculture, complete with awesome road trips and gatherings and 20,000 members. Not bad for a homebrewed site done for the love of it. It's cool. My uncle's cool.

Posted by john at 10:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Ten Things About Literary Rejection

Since I will be in the position of rejecting people's work later in the year, I wanted to post ten quick things about rejection that I think people should know, at least as it regards what I'll be doing.

1. If you haven't read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's seminal "Slushkiller" entry about the editorial side of rejection, stop reading this and go read that instead. Right now. You will be enlightened, and if you're not, you probably shouldn't be writing. "Slushkiller" should be given to every single aspiring writer before he or she is allowed to submit a damn thing.

2. The magazine issue I'm editing will feature 12 to 30 articles totaling 60,000 words (more or less). I expect that I will receive more than 30 submissions and/or 60,000 words worth of material for my consideration. Therefore, I expect I will be rejecting a fair amount of material.

3. Writers who do not believe that submission guidelines should apply to them are going to be rather unpleasantly surprised when I disagree. I regard adherence to submission guidelines as an IQ test and assume those who cannot or will not follow them are no more likely to be able to write a good story than a fish can play a tuba. This may be unfair to the writer (and the fish), but not following my submission guidelines is unfair to me (and to other writers who do follow submission guidelines). So that makes us even in the unfairness department. This will weed out a surprising number of submissions. Try not to be one of them.

4. I read each story until it no longer works for me. If that happens before the end of the story, I'm going to reject the piece. I don't usually know from piece to piece what's going to work for me. Like pornography or a good melon, I know entertaining work when I see it. But I guarantee you if you think there's a point at which your story lags, I will, too. Don't give me the opportunity to decide your piece doesn't work. If the story works all the way through that doesn't mean it's accepted, but it does mean it'll make it into the pool of stories I'd like to buy.

5. I will almost certainly not be able to buy every single story I'd like to buy. I have finite space and I also have to consider balance for the magazine -- I can't have three stories with the same plot device, even if all three pieces are heartbreakingly good. Therefore, some of the stories I will reject it will kill me to reject -- but I'll have to reject them anyway, and hope that they find another home where they will be loved.

6. You will not know why I rejected your work. I intend to send out form rejections that will politely but briefly note that I will not be able to use the submission. I do not plan to explain the rejection. I recognize that people want to know why their work is rejected, but as a practical matter it would be difficult to individualize each rejection. If you'd like to assume that I loved the piece but was simply unable to put it in the magazine, that's groovy by me, since in several cases that will be the truth.

7. I am rejecting the piece, not you. As noted above, rejection happens for many reasons, and much good work that deserves publication is rejected for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the writing. The rejection of your submission is not a referendum on you as a human being, or even on you as a writer. It is simply acknowledging that for whatever reason, this piece does not suit my needs at this time. If you take rejection personally as a writer, you will go mad, because every writer gets rejected. A lot.

8. If it helps you to think that the reason I rejected your work is because I'm a fookin' idjit, I accept and celebrate that decision. Still, try to treat me kindly the next time we see each other.

9. If you were my best friend and you submitted a story I couldn't use, I would reject it. If you were my mother and you submitted a story I couldn't use, I would reject it. If you were Jesus at the right hand of God and you submitted a story I couldn't use, I would reject it. If you were my mortal, hated enemy who submitted a story that knocked me on my ass and fit perfectly with what I was trying to do, I would buy that story in a heartbeat. And then I'd hope you get hit by a bus. Point: The readers of the magazine couldn't possibly care what my relationship is to the writers. They just want a good read. My job is to make that happen.

10. Whether I reject your story or accept it, I will treat it as I would have my own work treated by another editor. I will assume that every story will work for me until I am persuaded otherwise. I will recognize that the work you've sent represents your best efforts. And I will remember that you honor me when you send in your work for my consideration. Thank you. I will try to return the favor.

Posted by john at 12:30 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Spooky Girl

Athena saw the earlier picture of me, and, showing the utter delight of the macabre that no doubt signal that her teenage years will be spent wearing black and ankhs, demanded that I make a picture of her just like it -- "only scarier!" Well, okay.

Here's the picture we started with:

And here's the picture now. It's the Pooh shirt that really makes it work, I think.

I'm thinking it will make a perfect Christmas card.

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Agent to the Stars Cover Art

As many of you know, I managed to rope in Mike Krahulik (aka "Gabriel") of Penny Arcade to do the cover art for the cover of Agent to the Stars. And here it is!

a2scover2.jpg

I ask you, how awesome is that? The answer: Pretty damn so. The tabloid on the cover is the one that's mentioned in the book, and I particularly like how Gabe's given the picture a tabloidy feel with subtle half-toning (and finger smudges). I'm really really really really happy with this cover.

And now, a reminder: This book is going to be a signed limited edition, so if you want to own it, or even just the cover art, you're better off pre-ordering it now. Once the run is done, it's done; no more than 2,000 will be printed (1,000 is actually more likely, but that will depend on pre-orders).

And as a reminder, for each pre-order through the Subterranean Press site, Subterrean will contribute 10% of the book price to Child's Play, Penny Arcade's charity for childrens' hospitals. So not only do you get a cool signed hardcover with great cover art, but you'll also help make a hospital stay more bearable for a kid. And as an additional reminder, if we sell out an entire 2,000 copy print run, I will contribute an additional $500 to Child's Play from my own royalties from the book.

(Remember also that you can try Agent before you buy: The entire book is available online here. Enjoy, and then if you like, get it to keep.)

Naturally, I'll continue to keep you all in the loop with the progress of the book. Thanks to everyone who has pre-ordered, and thanks especially to Gabe for doing such excellent work.

Posted by john at 03:16 PM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

Clearing the Sulferous Air

creepyscalzi1.jpg

Just to address the rumors:

1. Yes, apparently a gateway to Hell randomly appeared in my basement last week. That "sump pump flooding" story: A tissue of lies. Sorry.

2. Yes, I was briefly possessed by an entity of pure unfathomable malevolence, who claimed various names, among them "Sulferlucent," "Gadsennezzar," and "Tom Delay," and who demanded to watch episodes of Who's the Boss and to feast on kittens.

3. No, we did not feast on kittens. Yes, we watched Who's the Boss, but only briefly -- just long enough for the malevolent entity to confirm there were worse things than Hell.

4. Yes, a Weekly World News reporter and photographer happened to photograph me whilst possessed. No, I don't know their current whereabouts or how they could have disappeared without a trace. You'll to ask someone else about where their bones may lay. Their sweet, crunchy, marrow-filled bones.

5. Yes, the entity of pure unfathomable malevolence eventually left my body, closing the Hellish portal behind it. Well, mostly. No, our house is not now powered exclusively from geothermal vents. The vents are certainly thermal, but scientists and theologians both might argue the "geo-" aspect.

6. No, I'm not liable to be possessed again anytime soon.

7. Yes, your bones look very sweet indeed.

Posted by john at 01:34 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Terry Schiavo

A reader has asked me what I think of the Terry Schiavo case. Well, naturally, I think that I think it's wonderful that we live in a country where the heads of the House, Senate and the Executive branch feel perfectly at ease using the immense power of the national government to micromanage the medical decisions of a single individual, because of course it's not like there's anything else it needs to be doing at the time. I additionally adore living in a country where a politician who doesn't know me or my spouse can decide he knows better what's in my medical interest than my spouse, and can say he doesn't care what my spouse thinks if I don't, in fact, leave detailed and notarized instructions for every specific medical incident that might occur. And obviously I am puffed up with pride whenever my national government decides the constitutionally enumerated rights of the states should be shunted aside when a state's courts come up with a decision that the leaders of the national government disagree and can make political hay with.

Yes, there's nothing that makes me feel more like my individual liberties, my system of federal government, and the sanctity of my marriage are all safe and sound than the capricious, imperial meddling of my national government and its leaders.

Also, of course, nothing embodies classical conservative political principles than all of the above, so it's heartening to see our nation's leaders -- conservatives all! -- so ably flying that flag. God bless 'em. I will pray for them, and for us all.

Update: Rivka over at Respectful of Otters has some interesting perspectives on the medical and ethical issues re: Mrs. Schiavo, with additional commentary from Obsidian Wings.

Update Update: I heart Dahlia Lithwick, who puts the whole thing in perfect jurisprudential perspective at Slate.

Posted by john at 08:13 AM | Comments (70) | TrackBack

Seeking Submissions For SF Magazine -- Please Read The Whole Entry

I'm going to do a short form for the benefit of people getting the RSS feed, followed by a longer, more detailed version for everyone else.

Short Version: I'm editing the Spring 2006 edition of Subterranean Magazine (it's new), seeking fiction and non-fiction submissions on the theme of Science Fiction Clichés. SF only (no fantasy). First world serial rights, 5-7 cents (US)/word. Up to 5,000 words for fiction, up to 3,000 words for non-fiction (some leeway for longer but not much). Submit full fiction, query non-fiction. Electronic Submissions ONLY, plain text e-mail(NOT html, no attachments), to "submissions@scalzi.com." Submissions/queries will be accepted ONLY between 10/1/05 and 11/1/05. Will respond by 12/31/05. If you're reading this short version, PLEASE read longer version before submitting: http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003471.html .

And now, the longer version:

Subterranean Press, the publisher which will be releasing the limited hardcover version of Agent to the Stars in July, is also launching a quarterly magazine, called (naturally enough) Subterranean Magazine, the first issue of which should be out in reasonably short order (you can order it here, if you like). Bill Schafer, who is the publisher, asked me if I might be interested in taking the editorial reins for the Spring 2006 issue.

I was, for at least three reasons. One, I enjoy editing; I did it before when I worked for AOL (I edited a humor section there) and I was interested in trying it in the field of science fiction. Two, I know that my earlier stint as an editor made me a better writer, because I'd been on the other side of the blue pencil; gaining experience as an editor in science fiction could only help make my own science fiction writing better. Three, I'd recently been mulling over shopping the idea of me editing an SF anthology around a particular theme -- and here was a chance to do just that, in magazine form. It all clicked together. I said yes, Bill gave me a budget, and here we are.

So, now that I've found someone insane -- uh, make that, inspired -- enough to let me take control of an entire magazine issue, let me tell you what I want to make the issue about:

Big Honkin' Science Fiction Clichés.

Rocketships and orinthopters, Little Green Men and Amazon Women on the Moon, master computers flummoxed by simple logic, worlds where everyone wears the same silver tunics, everyone eating meals made from pills, people named "Ted-35" and "Jill QR7." Yes. As writers we're trained to run from them, because they've been done to death (or to unmarketability, which for stories is the same thing). Magazines quite rightly caution prospective writers from them. The Internet holds entire lists of them. Television shows have run for years doing nothing more than mocking them.

These are what I want to see, in brand-spankin'-new stories.

Why? Well, I guess mostly because we're not supposed to play with clichés, and you know how people get when they're told they can't touch something. It makes them want to get their grimy little paws all over that thing. Also, of course, there's a substantive difference between writing a story filled with clichés, that you think is something new and original, and going in knowing that you're working with clichés, and being aware you'll have to work to sell it to the reader (and also the editor).

There's also the matter that right now there are some damn fine writers out there, and I'm personally itchin' to see what some of them could do to overhaul a crappy old cliché and make it the heart of a clean-burning, page-turning tale.

To be clear, I don't want see stories with clichéd elements that are merely obvious rehashes or lazy sardonic "send-ups" of the very stories that got these plot ideas banned to the hinterlands. I adore humor in SF and will be looking for it, but let's face it: sardonically sending up SF clichés is its own cliché (Oh, the irony). Show me an Amazon Women on the Moon story full of snarky in-joke SF references, and you've just shown me what everyone else has done for the last 30 years, and why would I buy that? Show me an Amazon Women on the Moon story that gets me genuinely emotionally involved, and now we're talking.

Now that I've gone over the general concept, let's talk details. Here's what I'll be looking for:

Fiction: First off, science fiction only -- no fantasy. Nothing against fantasy, I just want to focus on science fiction this time around. I'm ecumenical in regards to the SF clichés you can work with: take them from literature, TV or film (or video games, even) (One topic is already taken: The Singularity). Humor is good, but I sincerely hope not to be buying all humor. Stories in general should be no more than 5,000 words long -- I may possibly buy longer works but I'll be honest and say that as your story drifts further from the 5K limit, your likelihood of a sale decreases on an exponential scale. Don't feel that you have to make the story 5,000 words; rather make it the right length for what you're trying to tell. Submit the entire piece.

Non-fiction: Essays, critical pieces, humor, commentary and interviews, all relating to the theme of science fiction clichés. 3,000 words is a good max length here. Query first -- Don't send completed pieces. Send information about your non-fiction publishing experience and links to up to three non-fiction pieces online. Previously-published non-fiction writers strongly preferred.

No poetry or artwork.

What We're Buying: First World Serial Rights (meaning we present the story first worldwide, including in electronic form). You keep everything else. Simple.

What We're Paying: 5 to 7 cents(US) a word. Payment on or by 12/31/05.

How to Submit: Electronic submissions only, to "submissions@scalzi.com." Please do ALL of the following:

1. Plain text e-mail vastly preferred to html e-mail. If you don't know how not to send html-enabled e-mail, fine, but try not to.

2. No attachments. Submissions with attachments will be deleted unread.

3. For submissions, make your subject lines as follows:

FICTION SUBMISSION -- [Name of Story] by [Name of Author]
or
NON-FICTION QUERY -- [Name of Piece] by [Name of Author]

Submissions with subject headers not in this format are likely to find themselves filtered into the trash along with the inevitable spam this e-mail address will accrue.

4. No simultaneous submissions.

5. One submission per category, please (i.e., one fiction and one non-fiction).

When to Submit: All submissions need to be submitted between October 1, 2005 and November 1, 2005. Submissions before that date will be deleted unread; submissions after that date likewise. We're doing it this way for two reasons: one, because we want to give you all time to write something without worrying that the magazine is being filled up before you can submit; two, because until then I have other projects I'll be working on.

Those with non-fiction queries are strongly encouraged to query by October 5, 2005; writers whose queries are approved will have to submit full articles six weeks after approval of query.

Will respond by: December 31, 2005. Happy new year!

That's the long form. If you have any questions, go ahead and drop them in the comment thread -- I'll be happy to answer them. And to answer one I'm sure I'll get: Yes, I'll post reminders the closer we get to submission time. Thanks!

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

Magic Or Madness

It gives me an unreasonable amount of pleasure to note that my friend Justine Larbalestier's first novel, Magic or Madness, has now hit the stores, and is ready for you to buy. It gives me unreasonable amount of pleasure because Justine's a faboo human being, but more importantly, this is a really excellent novel -- not just an excellent young adult novel (because that's its categorization), but just a damn fine read. As of course any excellent YA novel would have to be; you can't write an excellent novel for any audience segment, and not have it be a good novel, period.

And it's not just me who thinks so: Krissy's read MorM and proclaimed it to be excellent, and Krissy simply doesn't have patience for a bad read (trust me on this, said the writer husband). Also, there's the matter of the starred reviews in both Booklist and School Library Journal, which is more starred reviews than my book got, I'll tell you that right now. Peruse the following gush from the School Library Journal:

Australian author Larbalestier has wrought beautiful and fearsome magic in this novel... Larbalestier's sense of place and refreshing exploration of magic as a force for both good and evil make this novel unusual. By turns a fantasy adventure and a thoughtful examination of relationships, this radiant gem stands alone, but expect readers to be impatient for the rest of the trilogy.

Yow.

The story (about a troubled girl who discovers a magic door that takes her from Australia to NYC -- and all the implications about the very fact of that door) is tight, tense, vibrantly written, and also a story that's not a rehash or retread. Best of all, Justine's authorial voice is clear and strong and doesn't sound like anyone else's. I can actually hear Justine in it, but I suspect even people who don't actually know her will pick up on her distinctive tone. That's cool in my book.

If you've got a young reader in the house who is on the hunt for good contemporary fantasy, now you know where to go. Be sure not to steal it from them before they finish. That's just rude.

And congratulations to Justine on her debut! You only get one first novel, and she's done it right.

(While I'm boosting Justine, I'd be remiss not to note that the second installment of Scott "I'm Justine's Husband" Westerfeld's Midnighters YA series -- Touching Darkness -- is also out this month and awaiting your consideration. I haven't read it yet, so I cannot yet gush about it, but you may recall the first book in the series is an award winner, and the aforementioned School Library Journal suggests in its review that it is "guaranteed to fly off the shelves." Would that we all had such guarantees about our books.)

Posted by john at 10:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

Priming the Pump

The Whatever will be quiet over the weekend, but before I go I want to encourage all of you who write science fiction short stories -- or who want to write science fiction short stories, or know someone who fits into either category above -- to come around here on Monday, because I will have a big announcement that will be of interest to those sorts of people.

And what will it be? Well, let's just say that when I suggested a few days ago that what I really wanted was my own slush pile to root through, someone somewhere was listening. Someone with both an appropriate publication and a production budget, and sufficient apparent insanity to give me free rein over both.

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Oh, I have plans. Just you wait.

See you here Monday, bright and early.

Posted by john at 02:14 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

What SF is Great Literature?

Question from Jim Millen in the comment thread of the previous post:

Just out of curiosity, John, are there any SF books in particular that you would say are great literature? Obviously I guess this is going to be hugely subjective, but I'd be interested in what you, or anyone else for that matter, thinks.

I'm writing up a response, which I'll post here as an update, but I don't want the rest of you who would like to give your own answers to have to wait on me to finish. So if you would like to nominate some science fiction (or fantasy) that you think is genuinely great literature, please do. It would also be swell if you could at least briefly explain why that those works ring the "great lit" bell for you.

***

Update: Here are five of my "Great Lit" picks for SF/F:

Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley -- generally regarded as the first SF novel, and sets the fiction template for future tussles between hubris-filled scientists and God/nature.

1984, by George Orwell -- Once of the first and best evocations of a political dystopia, and one of the few SF books that is more important as political literature than as science fiction.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury -- Another dystopia, one that places literature itself in the crosshairs. I think The Martian Chronicles also qualifies, for being a brilliant testimony of the mid-20th century's relationship with Mars.

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin -- Glorious writing that re-imagines New York into the sort of place that makes Oz look pedestrian. Arguably the best written fantasy novel ever.

The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman -- Uneven (particularly in the parts when Gaiman had to pay fealty to the DC comic book universe) but ultimately one of the best examples of how the graphic novel format can be used to illuminate an already compelling tale (or set of tales in this case); it also features a main character tragically true to his own nature.

Alan Moore's Watchman is also brilliant and arguably great lit, too, but for my money it's a little too dependent on context (i.e., you have to know enough about comic books and superheroes to get all the deconstructing Moore does). The Sandman series is largely self-contained (even the previously-mentioned DC comics universe intrudes only lightly, and you can still get the full effect of the work without knowing anything about it -- ask my wife).

Posted by john at 11:58 AM | Comments (80) | TrackBack

What Publishing Is

As there has been recent confusion on the matter, let's talk about what publishing is. Ready? Here it is:

Publishing is an engine for the production of competent writing.

That's it.

Now the details:

What is competent writing? Competent writing is writing that efficiently describes ideas and concepts to an audience, using a grammar that the audience can understand.

Why is publishing an engine for the production of competent writing? Because competent writing has a competitive advantage over incompetent writing. The book that competently describes the major battles of World War II, or a sex scene, or how to build and stain a backyard deck, has a distinct informational (and commercial) advantage over books with the same subjects that transmit their ideas poorly.

How does publishing select for competence? By employing competence-enhancing mechanisms at every step of writing production. The submission process exists (among other things) to weed out the grossly incompetent writing. The editing process exists to strengthen the text and to make sure its ideas are more easily assimilated by the reader. The design process aims to provide the text with a visual grammar that assists the goals of the text. The marketing process aims to promote the book's competence or (in the worst case scenario) minimize its competence failures.

What does this mean for writers? In a broad sense: If you are professionally published by a legitimate publisher, you are probably at the very least a minimally competent writer.

Points to make here:

1. Competent is not the same as good. "Good" is about taste and style; "competent" is about facility with the writing grammar of a language. Moreover, not every bit of competent writing needs to be "good" -- you don't necessarily want a user manual to knock you on your ass with its prose style, you just want it to tell you how to use your damn toaster. With literature and non-fiction, there are any number of competent writers one might subjectively label "bad" writers -- for all their ability to construct a sentence, the sentences they construct simply don't do anything for you.

Although competent is not the same as good, it's also the case that good books are always competent; at the very least, I've never heard of a good book that was also incompetently written (if you have, please enlighten me). Conversely, although it's possible for a competent book to be stylistically bad, all incompetent books are also bad (again, I'd be pleased to know of exceptions).

1a. Competent is not always, but can sometimes be, the enemy of "good." Adventurous or challenging writing often skates on the edge of accepted rubrics of competence, as writers try new forms (example: James Joyce's Ulysses or Samuel Delaney's Dhalgren), and as such runs counter to publishing's conservative tendencies to publish such work. Commercial publishing in particular wants what sells. However, it's also possible that competence can aid "good," if the traditionally competent work it publishes buys a publisher enough commercial and critical headroom to attempt the occasional stab at weirdness (Dhalgren was indeed published by someone, after all). This is where the heavy curtain of monolithic "publishing" is pulled back to reveal editors with personal preferences and a drive to publish important work from time to time, and damn the sales.

2. Published work is a valid general metric for writing competence; however unpublished writing and writers are not necessarily incompetent. Incompetent writers tend to remain unpublished, but writing is often rejected for reasons other than competence: The submissions editor may have too many of that sort of writing in the dock, for example. And since new writers are continually debuting, it's axiomatic that they would possess writing competence while still in an unpublished state. By the same token, lots of "good" writers and writing struggle to get published (or are not published at all). Published authors should not assume they are better writers than unpublished ones, although they very probably have more insight into the publishing process as a professional endeavor.

3. The competence engine of publishing does not run perfectly (but it runs pretty well). Incompetent writers and writing do get published -- not as significant percentage, but not so infrequently as to be entirely unnoticeable. The reasons for this range from incompetent editors (not a frequent occurrence in professional publishing, to be sure) to authors and/or celebrities whose fame is commercially significant enough that they are cut a measure of competence slack that is not available to the average schmoe writer -- and even then any publisher worth its salt would try to impose some amount of competence on the work. Be that as it may, if Stephen King or John Grisham really wanted to (and to be clear, I don't suspect they do), they could probably whip up a book comprised entirely of reviews of their own intestinal emanations ("A Bear in the Woods: 25 Years of Squatlogging, 1979-2004"), and some publisher somewhere would be pleased to publish it. Most writers do not have that luxury, and I think we can all be thankful for that.

Most writers who wish to be published must demonstrate competence every single time they endeavor to be published, or they won't be published for very long. This is why the occasional grumbling one hears that the publishing industry is really all about who you know doesn't ring true to people who have been published. Publishing rather ruthlessly excises incompetent writers, and a legitimate publishing company that released incompetent work on a regular basis would find itself out of business pretty quickly.

Through effort and wile and the judicious use of knee pads, an incompetent writer probably could get published by a legitimate publisher -- once. But considering all the effort it would take to make that happen, it would probably be simpler to learn how to be a competent writer. Which bring us to our last point:

4. Writing competence is a learnable skill -- and therefore most people are capable of being competent writers. Writing competently isn't rocket science; it requires the knowledge of certain grammatical rules, which are less difficult than, say, calculus, followed by lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of writing practice. Yes, some writers are gifted by God or nature to be great writers and have that great ineffable thing that makes their writing sing without any effort at all. The odds that person is you are slim.

For everyone else, it's the learnable writing skills that will be the thing that gets you published -- and to be clear, it wouldn't hurt the sky-blue miracle writers to work on the nuts and bolts of the writing process so when and if the muse takes a hike they have something to fall back on. As a practical matter, assume you'll need the writing training and practice, even if secretly in your heart you know God himself touched your quill. Think of it as a publishing career seat belt.

So that's what publishing is, and how it gets done.

Posted by john at 01:30 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

The Greatest Athena Picture Yet

Athena celebrating her victory on Dance Dance Revolution
(800x600 image pop-up).

Posted by john at 10:35 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Class Act

One more reason to be glad Tor is one of my publishers, via this online obit of Andre Norton:

Her last complete novel, "Three Hands of Scorpio," is set to be released in April. Norton's publisher, Tor Books, rushed to have one copy printed so that the author, who had been sick for almost a year, could see it.

"She was able to hold it on Friday," Jewell said. "She took it and said, 'What a pretty cobalt blue for the cover.' "

The obit says the she asked to be cremated with the first and last books she wrote; she'll be able to have that wish fulfilled.

Good on ya, Tor.

Posted by john at 06:10 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

An Earned-Out Universe

Good news from my non-fiction agent: The Rough Guide to the Universe has earned out its advance, making it officially the first of my books to do so (For Book of the Dumb I was paid a flat fee plus bonuses when the book hits certain sales points; under a more conventional contract I would have earned out some time ago. Old Man's War has earned out at this point, I think, but it's early and there are no official sales figures yet). Yay, Universe!

This is especially sweet since my first book for Rough Guides (The Rough Guide to Money Online) was something of a disappointment, being released as it was just as the Internet Bubble was popping. I appreciated that they gave the go-ahead for the Universe book anyway, so I'm delighted to be able to have provided them with a solidly performing book. Here's hoping The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film continues the upward trend.

Posted by john at 04:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hate Mail Entries

I had a request to repost the "How to send me hate mail" entries from 2002 -- which surprised me since I though I had already reposted them. Apparently not. I will eventually repost them in their appropriate archived month, but for now, here they are in one omnibus edition. You'll find them behind the cut. Please note that they are positively swimming in profanity, so the more sensitive among you are warned.

March 7, 2002 

(Note: Ample profanity in today's edition)

Got some hate mail yesterday for my comments about Ted Rall's cartoon, but it wasn't really choice hate mail, so I think it's a good time to offer up a primer on How To Send Me Hate Mail. Please pay attention, since these are valuable tips for composing winning hate mails that will stand out from the crowd.

First off, let's be clear that I do make a distinction between hate mail and people who disagree with me and e-mail to say so. E-mail me with a legitimate comment or question, no matter how negative, and I typically respond civilly. In Scalzi's World, it's not a crime to disagree with me, even if it does speak poorly regarding your judgment. However, if you just e-mail spew, I consider it hate mail and respond as such. Now that we're all clear, here are my Hate Mail Tips:

1. Don't Expect Too Much. The fact is, hate mail really doesn't bother me, since fundamentally, if you're not my wife, a member of my immediate circle of family and friends, or a client, I don't actually give a damn about what you think of me. Life's too short to sweat other people's opinion, especially the sort of algae-grazers who have nothing better to do than write hate mail. Really, what useful person has the time for that? So, despite your best efforts, I'm just not likely to collapse into a heap of self-loathing on the basis of your hate mail. Sorry to disappoint; it's just the way I am. 

Since I don't take hate mail to heart, what I'm looking for in hate mail is pure entertainment value. Which brings us to point number 2:

2. Be Creative. Honestly, if you're going to take the time to tell me how much you hate me, make some effort to do it in a way that's not going to bore me. I've been called an "asshole" so many times in hate mail that it's just lost all its charm, as have all the major profanities. So, I take points off for profanities, unless they're used in really new and exciting ways. Here's a quick workshop on that, using that old reliable, "Fucker":

"Fucker" -- No good. Plain. Uninspiring. Trite. Hardly registers a blip. Needs oomph. Needs... a modifer!

"Toad Fucker" -- Better. "Toad" is not the usual modifier here, so that's good, and of course it's an interesting mental visual. But let's assume that any single modifier of "Fucker" is already old news, especially when it involves a noun springing from the animal kingdom. What we really need to do is to fuse "Fucker" to a string of truly interesting words. Like:

"Choad Mongering Krill Fucker" -- Now we're talking. This insult works on so many levels. "Choad," of course, is a great piece of slang, not nearly utilized to its full potential in everyday invective, so it's still a nice fresh slap to start the insult. "Mongering," likewise a great verb: Sounds great, first off, but also obscure enough to thrill -- after all, who mongers very much anymore? "Krill Fucker" implies that you're so hard up you'd screw a baleen whale's morning snack and, inasmuch as krill are microscopic shrimp, it also says you have a dinky little wanger (otherwise, of course, how could you fuck a krill? It'd just break apart). Finally, the phrase lends itself to multiple variations: "Dick Whoring Shrimp Porker," for example. The possibilities really are endless.

(While we're vaguely on the subject of animals, if you're going to compare someone to an animal, remember that lower orders of primates are intrinsically funny. Some of my favorites phrases: "Trepanned Lemur," "Ass-Mastering Aye-Aye," and "Enema-swilling Loris." Best of all, you don't even have to modify "bush baby.")

Remember, I get a lot of hate mail. To really register, you have to do the work. The satisfaction of knowing I'm really paying attention makes it worth the effort.

3. Prepare to Be Graded.

If I don't think your hate mail is up to snuff, I'll send it back with the suggestion you try harder. For example, yesterday someone sent me a message which was, in its entirety: "You're a prick, an' so's your little fuckin' friend" (referring to Ted Rall). I sent back, asking if that was really the best this guy could do, mentioning that I'd gotten better insults from retarded monkeys (as you can see, I don't respond back to such slack efforts with my "A" material). 

The response: "Go fuck yourself, you nitwit." Again, not especially compelling. "A trepanned lemur could do better," I gently suggested, bringing out the lemurs in a bid to inspire my correspondent. "Please try again." He countered by saying Ted and I were "tremendous fucking idiots," which, in my book, was still rather disappointing. To his credit, however, he did appreciate the lemur reference. Which just goes to prove my point. 

Look, I don't think it's too much to ask for a little effort when it comes to hate mail, so if I don't think the effort's there, I'm going to call you on it. On the flipside, if you come up with a choice piece of spew, I'll compliment you on your form, and if it's really good, I'll probably start using it as a .sig quote for my e-mail. Here's one of my favorites:

"You can continue to be a negative force in the universe, spewing putrid venom, childish disdain, and unmitigated disgust for everyone who doesn't offer you sex or money--or whatever else it is that you might like."

I mean, how can you not appreciate the craft? I used that as a .sig quote for months. 

4. Be Accurate.

The hate mailer in the first part of tip 3 called me a "fuckwit cartoonist," which would be a passable insult ("fuckwit" is okay) were it not for the fact that I'm not a cartoonist nor have I ever been. The guy just assumed that since I was talking about Ted, I was a cartoonist myself. I pointed out his error and the guy got all huffy -- like his erroneous assumption was somehow my fault! Just remember that when you assume, you make an "ass"-mastering aye-aye out of "u" and "me." I'll be watching for those little slip-ups.

Hopefully these tips will inspire those of you who aspire to write me hate mail to new and ever more creative heights. Good luck! I'll be waiting to see what you come up with -- and I'll be sure to let you know just what I think of your efforts.

****

March 13, 2002 

Some follow-up on the "How to Send Me Hate Mail" column from a couple of days ago, which is now apparently making the rounds in Blogdom:

* One correspondent was surprised I didn't make mention of the tactic of spewing insults in other languages as a way to spice up an otherwise bland and unimpressive piece of hate mail. While I do recognize this tactic, I have to say I don't typically recommend it because the whole point of hate mail is that the person you're sending it to actually has to be capable of understanding what you have to say to them. Also, I find that many people just use it as an excuse to say the same old things, just in another tongue. 

For example, scheisskopf is no more original than its English analogue, "shithead," although it's hard to deny that the German version does have that whole guttural German locomotive thing going for it. Said correspondent also suggested that German is possibly the best language for insulting, excepting maybe Russian. This may or may not be true, but I will say I've heard very good things about Arabic as a swearing language as well. Someone out there who speaks Arabic will have to let me know.

Ultimately I don't think there's a problem sending hate mail with choice bit of spite in another language, but if you're going to go down that road, I think it would be vastly more effective if the sentiment expressed was somewhat original, no matter what language it is in. Any fool can call other people scheissköpfe, but think how much more interesting Urintrinken FroschGebläse (piss drinking frog blowers) would be. Not only is it vastly more interesting, but it could also double as the name of an industrial metal band from Bremen. It's just something to think about.

* The same correspondent extolled the virtues of Latin in hate mail, offering up as an example the word Homonecropetapyrobestiphiliac ("One who who prefers sleeping with under-aged, dead animals of the same gender while they are on fire") for my consideration. Having taken Latin as a teenager, I am always heartened to see people using this language in new and exciting ways, which this certainly qualifies. However, I will take a moment to note that I think the suffix "-philiac" ("lover of") is kind of overused, the "go to" Latin suffix everybody hits when they decide to dazzle their hate mail recipient with their erudition.

In place of "-philiac" may I instead suggest instead: "-phage" ("eater of"), a suffix whose novelty has not yet worn off and thereby packs an extra bit of a punch, and also sounds better coming out of the mouth: "Philiac" sort of peters out at the end, but "Phage" hits you with an exploding fricative right at the beginning and never lets go. 

Also, it's just wacky. Try Homonecropetapyrobestiphage: Sure, you could see why someone somewhere might want to have sexual congress with a dead gay flaming pre-teen metazoan, but who on earth would want to eat one? It's still on fire. You'd burn your mouth. That's just plain crazy. 

* A different correspondent asked me to rate a particular insulting phrase he personally enjoys, which, in more polite language, translates out to "Pig loving, female genitalia striking enthusiast of National Socialism." The unmodified phrase has a certain pungency to it, I'll admit, but this is a good time to bring up an old rhetorical chestnut: Never involve the Nazis. 

Calling someone a Nazi just sucks all the air out of any insult -- it's overused and it's taking the insult nuclear at the same time. There are so many other discredited political philosophies that would be so much more interesting. Call someone a Fabian sometime. See what happens then. But when it comes to Nazis, the only people who should be called Nazis are people who actually are Nazis. And, of course, then it's not an insult (except to the rest of us). 

* Best hate mail in the last few days is this one -- kids, read and learn:

"You are an utterly subhuman scatology study with all the wit of a crack-addled porpoise preparing to play a game of Boggle. You are a deficient wang wrangler with nothing on his mind other than a cancerous growth attempting to create functioning neurons, and being mistaken by your pedestrian gray matter as a hostile organism. Were you to reproduce, you would surely spawn a creature that can only be described as hideous and mongoloid--no doubt it would spend its time clubbing pigeons to death and drinking the blood of rats to sustain its unholy life. I sincerely hope that you melt into a roving puddle of bile and live out your days enveloping and slowly digesting discarded disposable diapers in a landfill somewhere in a highly radioactive area, such as Chernobyl."

Excellent. The only misstep is "wang wrangler" -- too alliterative for my tastes, but otherwise a fine contribution to the form. Top that, folks.

Posted by john at 02:31 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Quick Basement Update

For those of you wondering: It was a busted sump pump, not an actual busted pipe. Which is good because a busted sump pump is easy to fix, whereas a busted pipe (depending on where it is), not so much. We broomed out much of the standing water ourselves and then let the pros come in and handle the rest, and now we've got three very large blowers downstairs drying the place out (see picture). And of course, now we have a new sump pump.

We had some water damage to stuff we had stored down there but not as much as there could have been, and we used the opportunity to junk some stuff we'd been meaning to get rid of anyway. We'll have to see what the final bill is, but overall, if you're going to have a domestic disaster, this seems the way to do it.

Posted by john at 02:00 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

James Valvis at it Again

Lest one thinks that I only give space to those who would praise my work, I present another installment of James Valvis' long-simmering hatred of everything I do, this one off the message boards of the Thunder Sandwich E-zine. James writes, in part:

Scalzi is a shitty writer, plain and simple. No matter how many "books" he publishes. He's good at playing the publishing game, kissing the right bottoms, and that's about it. To call his novels (2 of them, I think) insipid is to be polite. I could never get past Chapter 3-- and I got that far only because I promised him I would look at it.) Dull and clichéd characters, ridiculous situations, lazy prose, and humor that relies on fart jokes. Ugh. You don't have to be an "elitist" to demand a writer at least *try* to learn his craft.

He's right, of course. I totally suck. However, I am reminded of the story in which George Bernard Shaw takes a curtain call to thunderous applause after the premiere of one of his plays. As the applause dies down, someone in the back bellows something along the line of "your play stinks!" To which Shaw replied, "Sir, I quite agree with you. But who are we to oppose the masses?" For some strange and unfathomable reason, despite my entire lack of competence in the field of writing, people buy my books, and publishers insist on continuing to give me work. I am ashamed to say I have not the common decency to refuse the money. Perhaps one day I will have the strength of character not to publish -- and indeed, in this endeavor, Jim shall be my role model. Until then, however, I will shamefully continue to put out "books."

Of course, Jim's fulminated about my writing before, which I have also duly noted. One does wonder why he bothers. No amount of success I have in publishing will make his writing any more or less than what it is. I would refer Jim here, specifically to peruse tips numbered 2,3 and 4 (and also 9), but inasmuch as the likelihood of him actually following any of my advice is exceedingly thin, I don't see much point. But it's nice to see he's still thinking of me. I regret to say that until pretty much this moment, I could not say the same.

Posted by john at 02:50 PM | Comments (76) | TrackBack

Glub, Glub

Happiness isn't: Two inches of standing water in your basement from a broken pipe.

Consequently, this is all you get today. Enjoy!

Posted by john at 08:11 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Irrationalists

I was all geared up to write a long think piece about the gay marriage decision in California and its implications and blah blah blah barf, but then I decided that even the thought of typing that out made me want to bathe my eyeballs in lye. And if I don't even want to type it, I don't see why any of you would want to read it. I'm pleased with the ruling and that's about that.

Instead, I want to leave you with a thought about politics, which is that I think the real fault lines in politics today do not lie along the traditional conservative/liberal lines but along rational/irrational lines, and the real war in politics these days is along the latter rather than the former. This is why, for example, I'm far more comfortable with some conservatives than I am with some liberals, even though my own positions tend more liberal than not. I'm rather more comfortable dealing with someone whose politics I disagree with, but I can see how they got to where they are, than someone who politics are in line with mine but who appear to have arrived at those politics without an intermediary step of, you know, thinking about those politics.

The real tragedy of politics today is not that we have a conservative in the White House, but that we have an irrationalist there -- someone whose policy positions can't be seen as divorced from reality, if only because that would imply they had ever been based there at all. Bush's irrationalist tendencies have fundamentally little to do with his conservative tendencies, which is to say that the former are not spawned from the latter. God knows irrationalism lies on both sides of the conventional political spectrum; the irrationalists of the left who tried to expunge "dead white guys" from curricula back when I was still in school to my mind walk arm and arm with the irrationalists on the right who are now busily trying to expunge evolution. An irrationalist liberal in the White House would be no better than Bush, that's for sure.

There's a more common name for irrationalists in politics: "wingnuts." But I think that particular word is both inaccurate and falsely comforting, since it suggests that irrationalists are marginalized on the edge of political discourse. A hint for you: When an irrational politician sleeps in the White House, irrationalism is not exactly marginalized. Irrationalists aren't wingnuts; they're not even the wings. They're the damned fuselage of political discourse at the moment, and I think that's pretty damn scary.

The big problem with irrationalists is that they expect rational people with the same surface politics as them to fall into line, and get confused and angry when they don't. The delicious irony of the judge in the California case being a Republican, appointed by a Republican, isn't irony at all when you look at it along rational -irrational lines. Of course the judge ruled that California couldn't bar same-sex marriages; rationally speaking, there's no good reason to do so. That the judge happens to be Republican is immaterial to this sort of rational line of jurisprudence. When you're irrational, you don't get that, and so you become angry and enraged.

The big problem with rationalists is that they continually underestimate the irrational, assuming, in that charmingly smug way of theirs, that no one really thinks like that when it's rather blatantly obvious that they do -- and there's a lot of them. Rationalists get stuck inside their own echo chambers and forget that outside the echo chamber there's a whole bunch of people who are all-too-easily swayed by the ambitiously irrational. At this particular moment in history the really busy irrationalists are on the right, but it wasn't that long ago that they were on the left, and no doubt they'll be there again before I die.

Irrational politics are dangerous; I don't need to recount my general litany of complaints about the Bush administration's policies to make that point. Rational conservatives should be aware that the irrational conservatives are not your friends; rational liberals, the same (rational moderates, rest easy; for some unfathomable reason, there don't seem to be very many irrational moderates). Indeed, the rational all along the political spectrum should realize they have far more common cause with other rationalists, in terms of effective governing, than they do with the irrationalists who ostensibly share their politics.

I mean, I know it won't happen. But wouldn't it be nice.

Posted by john at 11:14 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

The Most Sensible Damn Thing Anyone's Said About Same Sex Marriage

"The State's protracted denial of equal protection cannot be justified simply because such constitutional violation has become traditional."

-- Judge Richard Kramer, in ruling that California barring same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Kramer, incidentally, appointed by a Republican governor.

I'll have more to say on this later, but right now, I'm on a deadline. For the moment, suffice to say: A fine ruling. Any day when equal rights are extended is a good day for all of us. And for those of you just tuning in, it's also a fine time to revisit this entry, in which I tell why I support same-sex marriage, because I am married myself.

A good day.

Posted by john at 10:14 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

March 13, 2005

I For One Welcome Our New Storage Overlords

maxtor.jpg

Aieeee! Behold the mighty Max-Tor, avatar of the Storage Gods! In its capacious guts are 250 GB of file-encompassing void, designed to swallow the vast mass of mp3s, jpgs, wav and mov files that so recently threatened to swamp my computer's hard drives. No more! Bow down, foolish multimedia! Thou art foiled, yea verily, I say.

More prosaically, my shiny new Maxtor drive is now the repository of all my various music/movie/picture files, which are generally the files that I keep accumulating, and which were crowding up my other hard drives, on which I keep my applications. I transferred over 90GB today and have another 143GB of space to fill, which should last for a while (the 250 GB claim is a marketing lie in which they round down to 1000 MB from the more proper 1024MB, so you really get 233GB, which is still quite a lot). By the time I fill up the 250GB, I'll likely be able to get a 500GB or 1TB drive for the same price I got this drive for, and so on and so on. Basically, unless the Apocalypse comes, I'll probably never run out of storage space. Heady times to be alive, I tell you.

Anyway, that's one of my wants down. I'll probably go for the chair next. I know, I'm livin' large.

Posted by john at 08:01 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 11, 2005

The Edge of Finances

Here's a fun exercise for you to consider: What is the least amount of money you need to get by -- and by "get by" I mean, not have to move from your current place, can pay bills without having to forgo food, and not have to file for government assistance in some form. Basically, the bare-bones version of your life as you know it today -- the knife edge below which lies the abyss. What do you need to barely scrape by?

The question popped into my head recently as we (and by we I mean Krissy) ran some numbers to help our accountant prepare our taxes, and for the first time I got a clear sense of what we made for 2004. Our overall household income was up, which was good, but my own income was down slightly; I was doing more book writing and less corporate writing last year, and irony of ironies, full-sized books don't pay as well as shilling for The Man (to give you an idea: I was paid exactly the same for a one-month corporate project, in which I ended up writing about 1500 words total, as I got paid for Old Man's War).

This next year I am likely to give over even more of my time to book writing, and consequently, my income is likely to recede a bit again as well. This is not the start of a screed in which I gripe about book-writing being financially underappreciated in our time, and I should note the diminutions of my fortunes are a strictly relative thing; overall I'm doing fine, thanks, and well enough that I can choose to devote more time to book-writing without getting twitchy about whether it means I can feed the family. But even so, noting the possible cut in income does make me wonder how low I could theoretically go.

What I've discovered is that in fact we can go pretty low, primarily because we have some basic economic advantages, which are thus:

1. We have almost no commercial (i.e., credit card) debt; Krissy and I decided long ago that if we couldn't pay cash for things, then that was God's way of telling us we couldn't have those things yet. We use an American Express, which is a charge card (meaning you pay it off at the end of the month) for most card-based purchases, and we have a Visa card for when we can't use the Amex (we also generally pay off the Visa at the end of the month). Now, as it happens we use the Amex a lot: I use it to keep track of business purchases, and we collect membership points so we can make a couple free flights a year for places we want to go. But we use it as a matter of choice, not necessity.

1a. Our other debt is also reasonably reined in. Our mortgage (reasonably low monthly outlay) and one car payment (also reasonably low) are our only true debt, and they are fixed costs -- inflation works for us, not against us, with these. I've paid off my student loans; Krissy's work is paying for her college education. Our other bills -- phone, gas, electricity -- are not extravagant.

2. We live in an area with a low cost of living. $31,000 buys you that same general standard of living in Piqua (one town over from us) that would cost you $100,000 in Manhattan (according to this calculator), and it's slightly cheaper to live in my town than in Piqua. Even noting that this is truly an "apple & oranges" comparison -- as I've mentioned before, it takes me an hour to get to the closest Thai joint near me, whereas in Manhattan there's usually Thai food no less than 50 feet from anywhere you would choose to stand -- it illustrates the basic point a dollar goes further here than in other places.

2a. An intangible here, but one worth noting: Living in a blue-collar, rural town as we do, there's no need to "keep up with the Joneses." Everyone around here shops at places like Wal-Mart and K-Mart because that's what out here; nobody worries about whether the neighbors are looking at your crappy car because they often have crappy cars too. Not needing to keep up appearances is a genuine money-saver.

3. Our family is physically healthy, with no disabilities or medical restrictions of any sort. We have health and dental through Krissy's work.

4. Our "physical plant" is in fine shape: Our house is less than ten years old, our cars also, and most of our electronic/mechanical possessions are also in good shape. This means that by and large we don't have to worry about our house or our cars falling apart on us.

5. I work from home, which means no child care costs, and also trims down other expenses (gas & wear and tear on car, eating out, business wardrobe, etc).

6. Unlike the vast majority of Americans, we have several months' income worth of savings (not including retirement accounts/401(k)s, etc) to tide of over in case of employment emergency (note to self: thank Krissy).

When all is said and done, I suspect that if we had to, we could get by on about $40K a year. This would not be fun, or even particularly comfortable, but it would be doable. I would additionally note that since I strongly suspect that if a time ever came when Krissy and I could not jointly make $40,000 a year, if we got to that point we wouldn't be the only ones in a world of pain and misery, and indeed the entire US economy would probably be flushed and swirly. And then we could pick up extra money renting out space on lawn for a tent city. We can't lose!

While it's a generally depressing exercise to try to determine the least amount you could get on with without entirely crashing and burning, it is useful, as it gives you an idea how close to the edge you are at the moment, and given the fact that Chapter 7 bankruptcy is about to get a whole lot harder to pull off, folks who are near the edge and (probably not coincidentally) have a stagger-load of credit card debt will suddenly have a whole lot to think about.

We are indeed fortunate that we don't live close to our financial edge, and that we know how far we need to fall to get to it. And alternately and more positively, how much space we have to work on work that genuinely interests us before we have to worry about how much it impacts the true bottom line. I'm glad I can focus on books a bit more, and having that knowledge is a good thing.

Posted by john at 05:34 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

March 10, 2005

"Patriotic" Dumbasses, Junior Division

Today's idiocy: Md. teen protests foreign language Pledge

A ninth-grader is protesting his school's decision to broadcast the Pledge of Allegiance in foreign languages as part of National Foreign Language Week.

Patrick Linton said he and other students at Old Mill High School sat down rather than stand Wednesday when the Pledge was read over the school's public address system in Russian. Linton's teacher told him if he had a problem he should leave the room.

He did, and did not plan to return this week.

"This is America, and we got soldiers at war," the 15-year-old said. "When you're saying the Pledge in a different language which nobody understands, that's not OK."

Charles Linton, Patrick's father, said the use of other languages is disrespectful to the country. "It's like wearing a cross upside down in a church," he said.

Leaving aside the fact there is no official language of the US, and therefore there is no "incorrect" language in which to speak the Pledge:

I: [Middle English, from Old English ic.]

Pledge: [Middle English, from Old French plege, probably from Late Latin plevium, a security, of Germanic origin.]

Allegiance: [Middle English alligeaunce, alteration of ligeaunce, from Old French ligeance, from lige, liege. See liege.]

To: [Middle English, from Old English tō.]

The: [Middle English, from Old English the, alteration (influenced by , th-, oblique case stem of demonstrative pron.) of se, masculine demonstrative pron.]

Flag: [Middle English flagge, reed, of Scandinavian origin.]

Of: [Middle English, from Old English.]

The

United: [Middle English uniten, from Latin ūnīre, ūnīt-, from ūnus, one.]

States: [Middle English, from Old French estat, from Latin status.]

Of

America: [from Amerigo Vespucci, Italian explorer].

Not to mention "republic," "nation," "indivisible," "liberty" and "justice," all of which come from Latin, by way of the French language. Get rid of the words that don't derive from Old English, and you've got "to," "the," "of" and "I" in the first phrase, and a similar scattering of words (and "God") in the rest. Fine words, to be sure, but not a whole lot to go on.

Basically, if it weren't for other languages, this little jerk couldn't say the Pledge of Allegiance in his own. Someone should tell him that. Someone might also mention it to his dad. Someone might also mention to them that the Pledge means the same thing in whatever language one wishes to speak it; the words are not so unusual that they don't directly map onto any language one might choose.

Suggesting the Pledge needs to be spoken in English to have meaning is like suggesting the flag is the "nation for which it stands." Surely they would not make that mistake, would they?

Don't answer that.

There's some irony in me defending speaking the Pledge in different languages, since I choose not to recite the Pledge at all. But, look, this kid isn't refusing to recite the Pledge, he's just equated reciting it in another language with somehow demeaning it -- like it's the verbal equivalent of setting fire to the flag. That's a profoundly ignorant position. If you honor the Pledge, you honor the ideals of the pledge. Those remain constant in whatever language they are spoken. That should be simple enough for anyone.

Posted by john at 01:09 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

What I Want: Not a Meme, Just a List

Like every man, I have needs. This isn't about that. This is about my wants -- some things I want, that don't reach to the level of actual need. These wants are specific to me -- no "I want world peace" crap here, just things I think would make my life a little cooler. Here are things I want, in no particular order:

1. I want a Mac. For some inexplicable reason, I think it would be groovy to write The Ghost Brigades on a Mac. I don't think it would be so groovy that I'm willing to pay to do it. It's not really an issue of cost, particularly if I went mini, but with four fully functional computers in the house (and at least three non-functioning and in various states of being cannibalized for drives and parts), this is one purchase I'm not remotely going to be able to justify. But we're talking wants, not rational thinking.

Someone buy me one. I'll dedicate the book to you.

Oh, I'm just kidding.

(This one would be nice.)

Stop looking at me like that! I'm joking!

(Get me this one and I'll name a character in the book after you, too! One that doesn't die horribly!)

Jeez, people. You'd think by now you'd know when I'm ribbing you.

(I'm serious, man.)

Enough of that.

For the record, my desire for a Mac does not mean I'd be doing the "switch," as they like to say, since I'd be keeping and continuing to use my Windows machines (Two reasons: Games, and two button mice. Yes, I'm serious about the two button mouse. Right-clicking rocks). I'll just be openly biprocessorial. Hey, I'm not ashamed.

2. I want a gazebo. Because what could be better than writing from the gazebo on a warm summer's day? I've got the laptop. I've got the wireless home network. And God knows, I've got five damn acres of lawn. I've got room for one somewhere on the property. The only drawback I can see would be actually setting up the thing; that's more manual labor than I want to do. But I suppose if I were going to go in for the expense of a nice gazebo, I'd probably kick in another couple grand to have someone set it up for me, and spending the interim learning how to make a nice mint julep or something.

The modification I would make to the standard-issue gazebo is to have netting one could put up in the "windows" to keep the bugs out; we do get mosquitoes and other flying annoyances. You can get gazebos with actual windows if you want, but I suspect having a tiny little enclosure completely surrounded by glass on a hot summer day isn't actually a recipe for outdoor enjoyment.

3. I want to work a slush pile. Every publisher who accepts unagented submissions has a got a stack of manuscripts from hopeful would-be writers reaching toward the sky (here's one from Tor, my SF publisher). For those of us fortunate enough to have escaped the pile, the stack nevertheless holds a fascination -- after hearing editors describe why the vast majority of manuscripts are, in fact, unpublishable, one has a desire to dive into the pile one's self and confirm this fact to one's own satisfaction. It's kind of the writer's version of facing one's own mortality, a "there but for the grace of God" moment, if you will.

Now, one thing that does distinguish me from many writers is that I've also been an editor, and an editor handling submissions -- I've worked a slush pile of my own. But that pile was for short, humorous pieces, not novels, and I don't doubt that the slush pile for novels has a pathology of its own. I also don't doubt that the idea of wading into the slush pile for a spell is more appealing than actually doing it, just as idea of anything is usually more appealing than actually doing it (actually doing things often requires work). I've heard first-hand stories from authors who decided to read slush on a lark and have come out of it a few hours later shocked, humbled and bored by the experience.

Be that as it may, I think it's worth a try. The next time I'm in New York, I may hit up the Tor folks to sit in on the slush pile. It could be fun. And you never know: I might find something good. If I found something worthy in the slush pile, and it actually did get published eventually, well, I think that'd be the coolest thing ever.

4. I want a big honkin' external hard drive. We're talking like a terabyte of storage, although I'd settle for a quarter of that at the moment. I've just about maxed out my hard drives in my computer with MP3s and other multimedia files and it's beginning to affect my computer. I need to offload all this crap onto another drive. This is clearly the most achievable of my "I Wants" so far, and I imagine I'll be purchasing one for myself sometime soon.

5. I want a new desk chair. Look, I didn't say that all the things I wanted were sexy. And anyway, anyone whose skeleton is mostly bone instead of cartilage knows that a good chair makes a big deal of difference. I've had the same desk chair for about a decade now -- and right now, my chair creaks, the back rest is all wobbly, and the chair seat's cushion has a decade's worth of ass compression and flatulence in it. Time for the junk pile. As with the external hard drive, this want is likely to be achieved in reasonably short order.

And that's pretty much all I want at the moment. Seems pretty reasonable overall, I think. Feel free to list some of your own wants. You know, if you want.

Posted by john at 10:01 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Visions of Mad Doctors

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One of Athena's friends is having her tonsils taken out this evening; Athena asked what tonsils were and, having had them explained, was suddenly filled with anxiety that she would have to undergo the same procedure, and quickly sublimated it into the artistic process. The resulting picture, however, is not her going under the knife of the rather maniacal Muppety-looking doctor (note the scalpel), but her friend. We assured Athena that she was not required to get her tonsils out unless they became horribly inflamed, and assured her that both of us still had our tonsils in, with nary a problem, and yet we were in decrepit old age. This seemed to relieve her somewhat.

I'm just digging on the doctor in the picture. Man, that's one creepy physician.

Posted by john at 09:05 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Mock Up

The Rough Guides folks have sent along an early mock up of the first chapter of The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film, and I thought I'd share a couple of pages with you. Note it's only a (forgive the pun)rough guide of what the final layout will be, and missing some bits here in there; still, it's cool to get an idea of what the book will look like when it gets closer to being done.

View image.

This first chapter, incidentally, tracks SF up to the advent of film, and also does a quick circle around SF lit in the 20th century. If you're asking "Where is the film in this science fiction film book?" it starts in Chapter Two. Context is important, you know.

The Rough Guides folks sent this chapter along to allow me feedback on the design, but I imagine it's also a reminder that I need to hurry up and finish the book (theoretically, it should have been done a couple of months ago, but -- surprise! Research takes longer than you think it will sometimes, even when you've got the Internet). I am looking forward to finishing it, not only because I have other projects to tend to but simply because it's always a fine feeling to be have finished -- that whole "sense of accomplishment" thing. It'll be particularly the case with this book, which is in many ways the most difficult book I've had to write. You'd think it'd be easy to do a book on Science Fiction flicks, but then try tracking down reliable information on the science fiction film output of Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, and do it on a tight schedule, and suddenly taking a ball-peen hammer to your frontal lobe doesn't sound like a bad idea.

Don't get me wrong -- this stuff is genuinely fascinating, and I love writing a book where I learn as I go along. But man. It is work. I'm looking forward to cranking out The Ghost Brigades after this book because for that book, all I have to do is make stuff up. Heaven! Until of course, I'm two-thirds into that book, wondering what the hell I'm doing, and looking forward to my next non-fiction book so I can give the so-called "creative centers" of my so-called "brain" a rest. Yeah, it's a neverending cycle of neurosis, and I'm told that I'm relatively neurosis-free for a writer. Don't believe it.

Posted by john at 12:29 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

Campbell Awards Trivia

(The following post will be of interest only to SF geeks, so the rest of y'all are hereby warned. Geekery ahead!)

I think I may have just been eliminated for consideration for the Campbell Award, thanks to the updating of the eligibility rules of the award. The crux of the issue would be this story, which I sold to Strange Horizons back in 2001. By the Campbell's previous eligibility rules, it did not qualify as a professional science fiction sale, so Old Man's War would be my first pro sale in the genre, and I would thereby be eligible for Campbell consideration for the 2006 and 2007 Worldcons. However, under the new rules, it may be a professional sale (it's unclear at this point), in which case my two-year eligibility for the Campbell ran out in 2003. Which would be, to say the least, an interesting development.

Mind you, I think the updating of the rules is good in a general sense, as it recognizes the increasing fragmentary (and online) nature of the SF field, particularly in short story work. Also, simply as a matter of opinion, I think Strange Horizons and other online sites should be considered pro sites; in the case of Strange Horizons, specifically, it pays pro scale and stories it has published have been nominated for Nebulas. What more do you need? If establishing the site's pro legitimacy comes at the cost of my own Campbell eligibility, I wouldn't begrudge SH the elevation.

As for me, well, I did get money for the story. I can't and wouldn't deny it was a professional sale, irrespective of previous Campbell definitions, because among other things, I am proud of that sale; it was the first time someone gave me money for writing science fiction. If it is decided that my Campbell eligibility has expired, then that's the way it goes.

I do imagine the possible Campbell eligibility will come as a surprise to number of writers, however. As SH editor Jed Hartman notes on his online journal, "the Hugo administrators appear to be trying to ease the transition and not cost anyone their eligibility, but it looks to me like the current approach is going to mean some people's eligibility periods are condensed from two years down to, well, this week." Or, as I mentioned in my case, the period has already lapsed.

The solution to this is pretty easy: New rules should be effective as of the date they were put into effect; previous rules should be in effect for all work published while they were in effect. Or more simply: No grandfathering. Works that were previously ineligible should remain ineligible.

Naturally, I'm not disinterested in this particular formulation, because, sure, I'd like to have a crack at the Campbell, should someone see fit to nominate me. On the other hand, aside from my plight, disqualifying a certain number of writers and leaving others scrambling to take advantage of eligibility they didn't know they were burning through doesn't seem like the smartest publicity maneuver the Campbell Award administrators could make. We'll have to see how it goes.

Posted by john at 11:08 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

March 07, 2005

A Snippet From the Edward Gorey Players

What happens when a dramatic six-year-old gets as far as "N is for Neville" in The Gashleycrumb Tinies?

Find out, why don't you.

Posted by john at 09:25 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Reviews & Interviews, 3/7/05

I'll be scarce around here today, but here's some alternate Scalzi for you: An interview of me over at Strange Horizons, in which I discuss Old Man's War (naturally enough) but also Agent to the Stars and my writing process in a general sense. I think SH may have accidentally posted an early version of the article, since the article I see now doesn't include updated information I sent in that reflects that Agent to the Stars is coming out in book form. But on the other hand, you probably already know this, by dint of frequenting this site, so this will not be an issue for you. The interviewer is Dawn Burnell, who you may have seen in the comment threads here.

(Update, 7:19am: They've now posted the edited version.)

Also, if you're not horrifyingly burnt out on OMW reviews, please to find this one, from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and a longer-form version on Planet Peschel, the Web site of the book reviewer Bill Peschel. I'm pleased with both, although I regret to say that the line "Old Man's War is the best Heinlein novel Heinlein never wrote" is not in the actual newspaper review, because if it were, it would so be going onto the paperback's back cover. Personal blogs, alas, are still no man's land for book blurbage purposes. Rats.

Have a good Monday.

Posted by john at 12:43 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 06, 2005

Moon River

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I was listening to the Petra Haden-Bill Frisell cover of "Moon River," when Athena walked into the room, listened to the song for a little while and said, gravely, "That song is so sad. It sounds like the very last day we will ever see each other."

Yeah, I needed a hug after that.

Listen for yourself.

(RealAudio via this site)

Posted by john at 09:25 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Play Ball

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Spring is this close. I am ready.

Posted by john at 07:35 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A New Euphemism For You

A sphincto-cranial event in progress.

Here's a fun new euphemism for you to learn and share. When you want to suggest someone has their head well up their own ass, but are in a place and time where such a comment would be inappropriate (say, a church service or in conversation with a cherubic group of kindergarteners), use this phrase instead:

A Sphincto-Cranial Event.

As in:

"You're engaged in a sphincto-cranial event," or

"Jill's x-rays showed an intense sphincto-cranial event," or even

"Come quick! Bob is having a sphincto-cranial event of monumental proportions!"

Try it now! Write your own "Sphincto-Cranial Event" comment for the enjoyment of all! Feel free also to suggest your own variations (i.e., "A Sphincto-Cranial Excursion," "A Festival of Sphincto-Cranialism," "She's Represented by the Law Offices of Sphincto and Cranial," etc.)

(in case you're wondering what precipitated this new euphemism, it was this comment thread over at Electrolite, in which someone who wrote the rather sphincto-cranial comment "Women do not write hard science fiction today because so few can hack the physics," showed up to defend the comment to an audience of science fiction writers (some of whom were women who write Hard SF) and succeeded only in making his sphincto-cranial event even more intense. By the time he was done he was halfway up his own alimentary canal. A good time was had by all, except possibly this fellow's rectum.)

Posted by john at 12:22 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

The Secret Radio Interviews No One Knows About

I thought I had a radio interview today (for Book of the Dumb 2); turns out I had three. They came at one hour intervals, not unlike Scrooge's three ghostly visitors, although at the end of the third interview, I was not imbued with the Christmas spirit, nor did I throw open the window to toss coins down to the clever boy in the street so that he could purchase the fattest goose in London for Bob Cratchit. Although I suppose it would have been interesting if I had.

The one I was waiting for was the one in the middle, which was for a station in Connecticut. But after fielding an interview from San Antonio (which unless plate tectonics have done something truly remarkable, is not in Connecticut), I decided that I should probably check the schedule my publicity person had sent me. It didn't list the Connecticut interview, but did list the San Antonio one and one in Quebec. And yet, at the appointed time, the ghost of Connecticut radio stations did indeed appear. Truly an exciting and talkative day here in the Scalzi home.

I didn't mind. I don't think it comes as any surprise to anyone who reads this site that I wouldn't have a problem cheerfully blathering on about one of my books, and as far as publicity goes, radio is dead easy, especially when you do it on the phone. The people you're talking to are trained to eat up dead air, so they're ready to jump in and cover your ass even if you're flailing about. Also, they tend to ask the same sort of questions no matter who they are; after you've done a couple, you tend to be ready with some set patter, so it goes better for everyone. And of course, since it's radio, and you're on the phone, it's not like you have to get dolled up or anything. You could do the interview in your bathrobe -- or less -- and I have. In all, a congenial way to shill your wares.

I have noticed that radio interviews come in two sizes: Bite-sized and economy-sized, and a good rule of thumb for radio interviews is that the later in they day they come, the longer they will be. All my morning interviews are short lil' things -- I'm meant to be a five-minute curiosity for the Morning Zoo or whatever they call themselves in that market. My afternoon and evening interviews, on the other hand, go on and on -- my final interview today, done at 7:30pm, went for a half-hour. Naturally, the author that complains about having a half hour to discuss his book on the radio is an author that needs to be taken over to the East River and pushed right in. Be that as it may, in cases like that it helps that there's more than one book in the series; there's more to talk about.

My schedule has me doing six more radio interviews through St. Patrick's Day, which if today is any indication, means I may have as many as eighteen interviews between now and then. Bring 'em on.

Posted by john at 10:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

First Novel Delirium

Justine Larbalestier, whose excellent novel Magic or Madness is just a couple weeks from official release, sums up perfectly the excitement a new novelist feels when one's book is mere days from coming out:

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm happy. My stomach's in knots. I keep giggling at inappropriate moments. Like while watching this TV show about parasites, Body Snatchers (best show ever), this man was lying on the grass beside the more than 2 metre long tapeworm that had been living in his bowels and I thought, eww!, and then I remembered that my novel was coming out and clapped my hands and laughed. Yay tapeworm! Yay Magic or Madness!

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Posted by john at 12:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Laurence McMillin, 1923 - 2005

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News has reached me that Larry McMillin, who was my teacher, has died. Here are some of the specifics of his remarkable life, which I invite you to read and mark. I won't be dealing with most of them here. Rather, I want to tell you of him as I knew him.

He was, first and foremost, an individual, and to understand why this is notable praise you have to know that his life's masterwork was the creation of a class called Individual Humanities. This class, a one-year course spread out over the last half of the junior year and the first half the senior year, was nominally a literature course, but rather than merely teaching texts or an academic subject it aimed for something rather more rare (particularly at the high school level): It taught an idea.

The idea: That the most important thing a society could do was to create independently acting and thinking individuals who saw as their life's work (or, as Larry described it, "their highest life crisis") service to the community. "Service to the community" is a deceptively mundane description -- in this context it means striving with all of one's abilities, to the best of one's abilities, to better the world, and the condition of mankind in it.

How do you teach this idea? You teach the individual. Larry did this by teaching archetypes of the individual: Oedipus Rex, for example, as the man who pursues truth even at cost to himself, or Huckleberry Finn, who develops into an individual when he decides to save Jim from a life of slavery, even at the potential cost of his own soul. He also taught the psychology of the individual, using Maslow and Ericson's work; the philosophy of the individual, using thinkers from Mill to Bellow to Einstein; and provided examples of the power of the individual man (and woman) with real-life examples from the immense personal courage of Admiral James Stockdale to the unbounded creativity of artist James Hubbell.

As importantly, he required his students to consider the individual him- or herself, by assigning a "bio-study": a 50-page paper that had the student pick one individual from history and show how that individual's life had critical significance for his or her community. On top of that paper was another long paper discussing the bibliographical sources for the bio-study (there had to be at least eight), and then a third paper discussing how researching and writing the bio-study affected the student's own life. This on top of numerous other 5- and 10-page papers over the course of the class. It's no joke when I tell you I got through a year and a half of the University of Chicago -- not exactly a lax school, academically -- before I had written as much, or as strenuously, for all my classes as I'd written for that one class in high school.

(In case you're wondering who my bio-study was, it was H.L. Mencken. Did the study of Mencken's life affect me? As a hint, type "Mencken.com" into your browser and see where you go.)

Individual Humanities was an intensely rigorous course, and taught an idea that was both deeply classically conservative (the importance of the individual in society and history) and deeply classically liberal (the importance of society and the obligation the individual has to the community). You might think that a class that required the full reading of texts like Don Quixote, Hamlet and Man & Superman, compounded with daily supplemental readings and 200 pages of written work would hardly be the most popular class in school, and yet there were always far more people who wanted to be in the class than Larry would accept. Every year, Larry could handpick the students he wanted for the class (he did not always pick the "obvious" choices, either), and once he had the best minds he could find, he rode them hard, and wouldn't tolerate less than full engagement in the work. If he thought you hadn't done the work coming into class, he'd throw you out -- he was known to throw out the entire class on more than one occasion. The result: Everyone was prepared the next day. You didn't want to disappoint Larry.

All of which makes it sound as if Larry was a humorless taskmaster, which could not be further from the truth. He was strong-willed, no doubt. But he was also funny and free-thinking (in the best sense of the term) and he was perceptive of the personalities of the students who learned from him, as all the best teachers are, and was willing and able to let classes go on tangents before reeling them back in to make a point. He was also, in keeping with the Southern tradition from which he sprung, a courtly man, which meant that even at his most freewheeling, and even among intimates, he was attentive and reserved, and respectful of the others with whom he shared company. He was a good man, in all the ways one might wish to apply that phrase.

But best of all, he lived what he taught: He was an individual who saw as his life crisis the need to serve his community. He did it by teaching, and by teaching the ideals he saw as critical in fostering in others, for their sake and for the sake of the larger community. And he loved it; he loved teaching. You don't spend 37 years of your life teaching, and much of that time developing and refining an incredibly work-intensive course, if you don't love the process of cracking open the brains of your students to make them aware of the world and their place in it, and then actively engaging in the back-and-forth with your students that such a process requires. Larry loved it. And Larry knew, without false modesty, that he was doing good work. One time I said to Larry, who had no children of his own, that I wished that he had had children. And he looked at me with that smile of his (see the picture above). "But I do," he said.

And he was right. I am right proud to say that I am one of Larry's children. I carry with me not only my memories of him and of being in his classroom, but also that singular idea he strove in life to teach: That I, as my own person and in my own ways, owe society my best efforts. It's a powerful idea and a hard one to live. Nevertheless I try to live this idea in my own life, and I will strive to teach my own child this idea as well.

I was fortunate to have Larry as a teacher; both during my tutelage and afterward, I was equally fortunate to call him my friend. It was my honor to dedicate my first book to him; although I regret to say the book itself was no masterpiece of literature, I wanted to note as early as possible the importance of those who taught me, and from whom I learned so much (Larry shared the dedication with Keith Johnson, another teacher and dear friend, who is also, alas, no longer with us). I suspect that in the future, when I write a book that's good enough, he'll receive another dedication, and I hope that he or some essence of him will be able to know it's been done.

Those of you who knew Larry McMillin, and have learned from him, will know why I say to the rest of you that I wish you could have known him, and could have been taught by him. I do not doubt that your life would have been made richer, as mine has been. I do not doubt you would have a refined sense of yourself as an individual, as I believe I do. And I do not doubt you would feel the desire to engage and better the world, as I try to do, through my actions and my writing. Larry gave these to me, not as unearned gifts but in testament to work done with him. I am glad to have them.

Farewell Laurence McMillin, and as you once wished me, vaya con dios -- go with God. I take my leave of you with thanks, with remembrance, with love and with the highest compliment I can think to give you: That you were and are a rare individual.

Posted by john at 07:42 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

The Virtue of Smaller Markets

(I put a post on submitting short stories to science fiction markets in a message board, and I think it's interesting enough that I'll repost it here for discussion. Have at it:)

I'm planning to send out some short story work this year, and I'll tell you why it's rather more likely that I'll submit to small press venues as opposed to some of the larger markets. It's simple: because smaller venues accept electronic submissions and larger ones don't.

To be fair, I understand why they don't. Several years ago I ran a humor area on America Online and I bought about 20 humor pieces a month -- and told my writers to submit through snail mail. The reason: The price of postage acted as a first-line bozo filter, protecting me from every half-assed, dashed-off thought. And it worked; I still had a slush pile, but it wasn't anywhere the size it would have been if I had let people have an e-mail box into which they could send material.

Be that as it may, on this side of the millennial dividing line, all my professional work is handled electronically, both in my creative and corporate sphere. It's more flexible, and quicker, to use and send electronic files. I don't even own a printer anymore, and haven't for more than a year. By and large I haven't missed it, either personally or professionally. It only becomes a problem if I want to submit work to, say, F&SF or Asimov's or SciFiction.

I don't begrudge these their submission guidelines -- they have them for a reason, just as I had my reasons for not accepting electronic submissions when I was an editor. It simply means that when it comes time to send stuff out, they won't be on my list. That being the case, I am deeply pleased we live in an era with a thriving "small press" scene, because many of them *do* accept electronic submissions. When I schlep my wares, I expect my first stop will be Strange Horizons, and then after I'm rejected there I'll go on to other places.

I do wonder as time goes on how feasible it will be not to accept electronic submissions. I accept that I'm almost certainly an outlier -- the vast majority of writers hoping to be published are not as lazy as I when it comes to shopping their work -- but at the same time I think the current and emerging generation of writers is likely to be more comfortable doing business electronically; I do think it's a matter of time.

I hope so -- I'd like to see those markets that don't accept electronic submissions today become available to me eventually. In the meantime, I'll be a small press short story writer.

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Your Wednesday Open Thread

Another snow day; Athena has a dental appointment; I have some errands to tend to; All play and no work makes the mortgage foreclose. So -- here, have an open thread and talk amongst yourselves.

As a conversation starter: Orange -- better as a fruit or a color?

Feel free to ignore that if you prefer.

See you tomorrow.

Posted by john at 09:56 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Cool Book Club News Which Segues Into Shameless Shill

The cool book club news: The Science Fiction Book Club has sold out of its entire first printing of Old Man's War and is whipping up a second print run. I'm pleased. If you bought a SFBC copy, thanks.

The segue: There is no segue. I thought there would be, but then, suddenly, there wasn't. I know, false advertising. Sorry about that.

The shameless shill: Agent to the Stars, pre-order, limited edition, donation to Child's Play charity, shiny shiny, Athena's college education, yadda yadda yadda. Oh, you know already. But remember that today is the final day for the guaranteed super-secret extra gift with your purchase (remember to put "I Came Here From the Whatever" in the comment space when you make the purchase). So click here to pre-order, and be transported to a place where warm ocean breezes caress your body and soul! Or the Subterranean Press online store. It's one or the other. You won't know until you click.

Posted by john at 05:36 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Just a Thought

Yet another story of a kid getting in trouble because of something he wrote:

A George Rogers Clark High School junior arrested Tuesday for making terrorist threats told LEX 18 News Thursday that the "writings" that got him arrested are being taken out of context...

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

The thought: If we don't respect teenagers' right to free speech, why would we expect them to respect the right to free speech when they're adults?

Posted by john at 04:35 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Asimov and the Cleti

Boing Boing pointed to a cache of computer ads from the 1970s and 80s yesterday; this one in particular caught my eye. And here's why:

1. I have fond memories of being 12 years old and fiddling around with the TRS-80 Model III at the Glendora Public Library, writing little BASIC programs into the computer. I was quite the pre-teen BASIC programmer, which is to be understood as being the computer equivalent of saying "I was quite the architect with Lincoln Logs." From time to time I think about buying one off of eBay for nostalgia value, but since I already have a closet full of 80s electronic paraphernalia sitting there nostalgically, I doubt I can justify the purchase of yet another lump of 80s plastic. More's the pity.

2. If an art director today tried to get away with the sort of photo that's in this advertisement, his ass would be so fired. A background the color of bloody mud? The greasy shine on Asimov's face? Asimov's Captain Kangaroo-like suit? Fired, fired, fired. You wouldn't even use something like this for a local ad, much less one in a national advertisement campaign. Our current culture has its ups and downs, but at the very least it's not as esthetically challenged as it was a quarter century ago.

3. Looking at this picture of Isaac Asimov, by the way, reminds me that I actually don't have a good idea of what his face looks like -- The man for me was always characterized by his hair, glasses and goofy sideburns. Remove his lambchops in particular, and he looks just like any other schmoe. You have to think Asimov, not a stupid man by any stretch, was well aware that his distinctive look had at least something to do with his notoriety; because of it he's in the collective subconscious as the default image for "science fiction writer," not unlike the wild-haired Einstein is the default for "scientist." Now that I think of it, if you were to give ol' Albert a haircut and trim off his 'stache, I wouldn't have the slightest idea what he'd look like, either.

So a hint for all would-be science fiction writers: If you want to be known outside geek circles, work on some really distinctive hair, or, possibly, lack thereof. As it stands, at the moment I can't think of any truly distinctive-looking science fiction writers except for possibly Neil Gaiman, who's got a "I used to be the bassist for Echo and the Bunnymen" sort of look about him (shut up. It's a complement. Echo and the Bunnymen rocked), and then China Mieville, who's got that "Mr. Clean" look of his going on, and who in general is so far off the attractiveness bell curve for science fiction writers that I suspect the actual China Mieville is a troll-like guy in a dank room who sends this former competitive swimmer out to do his personal appearances, and feeds him dialogue through a cochlear implant. Admit it, "China"!! But yeah, aside from Gaiman and "China," there's not a science fiction author that you could recognize from ten yards out.

4. Aside the Asimov's lambchop issue, dwell on the fact that there's not a chance in hell that any major consumer-oriented corporation would even think to use a science fiction author to promote their wares these days, not even Radio Shack, who of late has been using Howie Long and Teri Hatcher to move their crap. We know they both can read, but other than that their literary talents are probably modest at best. Part of this has to do with now living in an esthetically-minded era (see points two and three above), but the other part of it is simply that there's no science fiction author who is currently such a part of the national conversation that he or she is seen as useful to push product.

Which is too bad. Not that I necessarily want to see, say, Cory Doctorow popping up to extoll the virtues of Snickers, or China Mieville with, well, Mr. Clean, although in each case the mind giggles like a schoolgirl to imagine such a thing. What I'm saying is that it would be nice is there were some science fiction writer who even the cleti (plural of Cletus, per "Cletus the Slackjawed Yokel" from The Simpsons) knew of, even if they hadn't read his work. Because that would mean science fiction, as a literature, would actually have its hand in the national conversation, and aside the Star Wars media novels, it's not entirely apparent that we do.

It's not just science fiction, mind you. There are depressingly few scientists who rate in the national conversation, either: We've got Stephen "The Wheelchair Dude" Hawking, and then nothing. This is a change from even a quarter century ago, when you had Carl Sagan pinging the Cleti Awareness Radar. Now aside from Hawking, who's not even American, the closest thing we've got to a Cleti-pinging scientist is Bill Gates, and if he's a scientist, I'm a pony. (Steve Jobs isn't a scientist either, people. A real scientist wouldn't work himself into paroxysms of joy over flash memory.) Now, this absence is somewhat related to the fact that there are now lots of people working overtime in the American culture to suggest that people who believe in evolution and the big bang also want to mandate forced downloads of child porn into your computer and give terrorists the key to your house. It's mildly worrying that scientists haven't found a way to counter this sort of thing. If they can send a man to the moon, they should be able to point out when someone is complete fargin' idiot and have it stick. Something for the brainiacs to work on, in any event.

Asking that scientists and science fiction writers occupy a central role in American cultural life might be a little much to ask for, but I don't think it would be bad for at least one or two of them to be recognized on sight by the average Joe. It may require lambchop sideburns, but one of us should be willing to make the sacrifice. I suggest we draw straws.

Posted by john at 11:24 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Completing the Trifecta of Adorable Cat Abuse Photos

My kid rocks. And that's all I have to say about that.

This picture now joins the other two, each featuring a different cat in the family. Here's the one with Lopsided Cat, from last summer:

And of course the popular one featuring Ghlaghghee, from last year:

Oh, don't worry. They're all perfectly fine. And Rex is great with lemon butter.

Posted by john at 11:01 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack