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April 29, 2005


"Can I ask you a question? With your child, are you more patient than you would be with the average person?"

The question for this was coming from an unexpected source, namely, the lady who stands behind the counter at one of the gas station convenience stores in town. But it was an interesting question, and I didn't think it was overly personal, so I answered it.

And the answer was: Well, yes. My daughter is six years old. I don't expect her to know what appropriate behavior is at all times, and it's my job as a parent to teach her. I don't believe extra patience means letting your kid act like a jerk, and on the thankfully rare occasions Athena is acting like a jerk in public, I'll remove her whenever feasible so she doesn't bother others. And if I have to do that -- and I suspected that was coming to the heart of the questions -- I'll do it without going nuclear on my child in front of the entire world (I also avoid doing that in private, too, but that's another matter). It does actually matter how you behave with your child in public, because among other things people are watching -- and your child is paying attention, too.

And so I said (with rather more economy) to the lady behind the counter. The answer met with her general approval, and the additional comment that when one works in retail, one sees many things, including how people treat their kids. She hinted, but did not say specifically say, that sometime just before I get there some parent when a little nuts on their kid, and that it was all she could do not to say something about it. I think when I came through the door she wanted to vent at what she'd seen, and possibly also get reassurance that not every parent was a jerk.

And she said something else after I said my part, which was "I thought that's what you'd say. I've seen you in here with your daughter before, and I've seen how you treat your child." This goes back to what I mentioned earlier: how you respond, react and treat to your child gets noted, even by the people you're not aware of. I was obviously aware this woman had seen me with Athena, because we go into the convenience store on a frequent basis. What I was not particularly aware of is that she was noting how I interacted with my kid while I was in her store. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised -- I note how people interact with their kids, after all -- but there you are. It's the difference between saying that people are watching how you treat your child, and knowing they are watching how you treat your child.

I found it an interesting moment in my morning, and reminder that I'm part of the world in unexpected ways, and so is my child, and so is our relationship with each other.

Posted by john at 12:23 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

I Like Rhapsody

Yesterday some snark over at Slashdot slathered his ignorant condescension on the Rhapsody music client from Real Networks: "I can't comment on how good Rhapsody is since I've never met anyone who used it. That probably says enough right there," this fellow posted. What a wonderful argument. Apply it to, say, the Macintosh OSX (currently being used on, what? Three percent of computers?), and you would be spammed mercilessly with hate mails by the Steve Handjobbers.

I've been using Rhapsody for the last 18 months and I will tell you that if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between Rhapsody and iTunes, I'd burn my iTunes purchases onto CD and give it the boot. Don't get me wrong -- I love me the iTunes, and when I do make DRM-shackled download purchases, it's my avenue of choice. But aside from playing the Apple DRMed music files (which is easily got around in any event), Rhapsody does everything iTunes can do, and does one absolutely critical thing that iTunes cannot: It can stream 60,000 albums and a million songs for me to listen to, any time I want.

Why is this critical? Well, because I want to hear what I'm buying before I buy. Because I'd like to be able to hear the hip new songs the kids love without, say, inviting Kelly Clarkson into my home on a permanent basis. Because most of my CD collection is in boxes, and I don't want to take the time and/or effort to encode them onto my hard drive, and since this music client allows me to access 90% of the music in my CD without that annoying digging/ripping, I don't have to. Because it's fun to skip across music like you skip across the Web, following links from one place to another until you end up someplace new that you would never have gotten to otherwise. And because when I write articles about music, I now have access to the very closest thing to a universal jukebox there is.

Example: Recently I did an article for an Uncle John book about songs with the word "Detroit" in the title. If I didn't have Rhapsody, researching an article like that would be like pulling teeth. With it, I enter the word "Detroit" into client, get a list of 70 songs, and then get to listen to any of those I choose before writing up my article. Paying $10 a month for Rhapsody ends up making me money because of its admirable utility.

Needless to say, not everyone is going to use it for that reason, but nearly anyone with disposable income $10 a month to sample albums and artists and to play with and listen to music is not unreasonable. The newest version of Rhapsody, released yesterday (I think), also offers the option to download tracks to play them offline, or (for an additional $5 a month) drop them into an MP3 player (other than an iPod, of course) to take around with you. Again, for music browsers, I think this is a pretty good deal.

No, you don't own the music, which seems to be the whiny mantra against streaming music schemes like Rhapsody's, but I have to say that I don't really understand the problem here. You don't go into Blockbuster to rent a movie and then get indignant that the rental fee doesn't provide you a perpetual license to the film. If you want to own the film, you buy the film. As long as your brain can conceptualize the idea of renting music, this approach should be non-controversial. As I was writing this up, I was listening to the new album from the Ceasars (a band made famous, ironically, by having one of its songs featured in an iPod ad). I'm listening to the album, and can at any time, but I'm not under the impression I own it, and I don't get all snotty when I close up Rhapsody and it goes away. If I reach that point, it's a signal that, well, maybe I should buy it.

And, of course, having listened to the album now and having liked it, I'm more inclined to own it than I was before -- either the entire album or parts of it. As I've hinted above, Rhapsody has increased the amount of music I buy because now I know what I'm getting before the purchase. Conversely, since I don't end up buying music I don't want, I don't have much of that "I got really burned on this deal" attitude I used to get when I'd drop $14 on an album to discover it had only two tracks worth listening to. Which means my overall opinion of music as a worthwhile expenditure has gone up. So not only am I spending more on music, I'm inclined to spend more on music in the future. Everyone wins.

The only other rap against Rhapsody I can think of is that it's owned by RealNetworks, famous for its Real media properties, which are the streaming audio and video you want to use if you really, really, really like buffering. I'm not a fan of most Real-based media -- I honestly can't remember a time when I've streamed anything off of RealPlayer that didn't look and/or sound like absolute crap -- but aside from the rare server disconnect, I've never had a problem streaming music with Rhapsody. This partly has to do with its streaming strategy, in which many of one's favorite listens were largely cached on one's computer, thereby needing requiring only a small download for repeat listening. But however it's done, it's worked for me.

The Slashdot snark bothered me because it's part of the hallowed tradition of people talking out of their ass about technology they don't actually get to know and also (this admittedly being somewhat reasonable on Slashdot, but endemic anywhere vaguely geeky folks hang out online) having a smug and snotty attitude toward people who don't have the interest and/or inclination to hand code their own personal Ogg Vorbis player (to be fair to Slashdot, a number of comments that followed the initial post flambéed the initial poster for his snark). What I'm saying is I actually use Rhapsody and I find it to be a good and useful application, enough so that I've cheerfully paid for it on a monthly basis for a non-trivially long time, and will continue to so for some time to come.

The only thing that might change this behavior is if iTunes begins some form of streaming service in the near future, as it might reasonably do. However, in this particular case Apple's streaming solution would have to be really elegant (and cheaper) to cause me to switch. I already stream my music with one client and buy it online with another. I don't mind not putting all my musical eggs in a single basket, even if it's a basket with the famous Apple aesthetic. And as I've noted before, right now, if push came to shove, it's not iTunes who would be left standing. There's no reason to automatically assume it would be the one left standing in the future, either.

Posted by john at 09:20 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Now We Call Him "Dusty."


Here it is: The last picture of Rex you're likely to see. Inside this box are his little furry ashes -- well, the ashes themselves are not furry (and if they are, it's time to recalibrate the heat elements at the crematorium), but you know what I mean.

I imagine we'll get him a somewhat more appropriate repository at some point in the near future, but for now his earthly remains rest inside a small cardboard box, along with some foam peanuts -- I opened it up and looked (the foam peanuts are unlikely to make it into any future repository save the trash). I drew the kitty on the outside, to make the box look a little less sterile, and also to make sure that the box doesn't accidentally get tossed by anyone, say, during a random cleaning of their husband admittedly unforgivably messy office.

Anyway, here's Rex, in ashen, granulated form. Say goodbye to the nice people, my dear cat. And goodbye to the dear cat, nice people.

Posted by john at 08:51 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Immortalized in Comic Form


This is moderately cool: Old Man's War featured in a comic strip. Here's the whole thing. You can tell where my brain is because my first thought after "hey, that's my name in a cartoon strip" was "I certainly hope that man was able to complete his sale before he was dragged off." Yeah, what can I say. I'm a sales whore.

(Update: "Unshelved" co-creator Bill Barnes tells me that the strip takes place in a library, so there's no purchase to conclude. Yes, but if the library has six copies, that's still six copies sold, because, you know, they don't give copies of the book to libraries for free. I still win! (Actually, I gave my local library a free copy. I'm a softy when it comes to libraries. And some of my favorite people are librarians. You know who you are, dahlinks.))

And as long as we're on the subject: A nice write-up of the book over on Electric Minds.

Posted by john at 08:39 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Wiscon Schedule

What's that? You say you absolutely cannot live another second unless you know what my (tentative) panel schedule will be at Wiscon, the world's premier feminist science fiction convention? Well then, it would be utterly irresponsible for me to delay its publication one minute longer!

What Newly-Published Authors Find Out and You Want to Know
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. in Conference Room 3

Once your book is bought, suddenly all your concerns change completely. Your how-to-write books gather dust and your critique group wonders why you're so cranky. Want a sneak preview? Ask these three first-time novelists what it's like.

M: John M Scalzi, Virginia G McMorrow, Barth Anderson

The Creation (or Reconstruction) of a Mind

Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Capitol B

Much SF has somebody mind-wiped, and the poor soul must then develop a whole new personality. What is actually necessary to construct a mind?

Amy Thomson, M: John M Scalzi, Andrea D Hairston

Promoting Your Novel
Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Senate B

Everyone knows that the vast majority of published novelist do not get sent on book tours or make appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America. So what should the rest of us be doing to promote our novels? What are the best way to let people know our novels exist?

John M Scalzi, M: Liz Gorinsky

The SignOut
Monday, 11:30am-12:45pm in Capitol Room

Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.

These should be some interesting panels, and I enjoy moderating (that's what that little "M" in front of one's name means), so you can say I'm pleased with my panel assignments.

Posted by john at 04:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

Odds and Ends and Stuff and Crap

fa0426.jpgFirst off, a big congratulations to Naomi Kritzer, whose book Freedom's Apprentice has its official release today, the second book in her Dead Rivers Trilogy. You'll recall I praised the first book in the series for being other than the usual rote fantasy and for exploring an unknown and fascinating alternate history, and I reasonably expect this one to be as good, enough so that I bought it at about two minutes after midnight on that Amazon thingie you hear so much about.

Over at her own Journal, Naomi experiences a little bit of angst about what being a second novel in a series means for her book sales, which (seeing as I'm writing a sequel) I can appreciate. This is one of the reasons why Ghost Brigades is not a direct sequel -- it takes place in the OMW universe, but you won't have to have read that book to get into TGB, and I hope to high holy god that Tor will use the words "From the Author of Old Man's War" on the cover instead of "The Sequel to Old Man's War." Having said that, I have confidence that Naomi's fears are just twitchiness; she's a good writer and she written three other good books so far: I expect nothing less than that for number four. Which is, you know, why I bought it.

* Also purchased at the same time as Freedom's Apprentice: The Tiger OS for the Mac. As it happens Amazon has a $35 printable rebate coupon you can send in, and as it happens I have a wife who actually sends in rebate coupons, and that means I got the OS for less than $100, and that's reasonable to me. My understanding is that this amazing new OS will fold my clothes, tutor my child and make me an unstoppable sex machine (or should I say, even more of an unstoppable sex machine than I already am) and naturally I am all over that.

* Carey McGee comments on my recent blatheration about the Beatles and the Stones, and muses:

I have had in my mind for a story idea about a group that was the extreme version of this, whose musical invention and sheer power was such that they only released one recording, a six-song EP that becomes something of a holy talisman of the band’s fans — the absolute apex of rock and roll. And since their output was so small, and they weren’t around to tour, very few people would have heard of them.
It made me wonder, what if this situation already exists — that there is some absolutely brilliant music being made out there by mad geniuses and I’ll never even know about it.

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes. A close call to this would be The La's, who thanks to the absolute perfectionist weirdness of its primary songwriter only produced one self-titled album -- but Jaysus Mary and Joseph, what an album. And of course if it weren't for the otherwise entirely bland Sixpence None the Richer covering "There She Goes," about six people in the US would know about them. I can't see how there couldn't be even more obscure bands in the same position, and I already regret never having heard them, especially since I heard that new Kelly Clarkson song six times in three hours on my drive up to Michigan this last weekend.

Incidentally, McGee's blog Rational Explanation is pretty good overall, so you might want to check it out. I don't know him personally, although it appears he's the reviews editor of the Internet Review of Science Fiction and as such has some definite thoughts on the matters of books and reviewing.

* My friend Mykal Burns pointed out this Boing Boing entry to me late last night, about a guy who -- based on the overall consumption of the eucharist and sacramental wine over the 2000 years of the transubstantiating Catholic Church -- calculated the current size of the body of Christ (it's big). Mykal's comment was along the lines of "Hey! Didn't you do this once?"

And indeed I did -- around 1994 I wrote a short story about a Catholic school in which the kids were rioting after they got in trouble for attempting to calculate the size of the body of Christ in just this fashion -- the priests tried to curtail their mathematical endeavors as sacrilege, which prompted the riot, and afterward the kids were left to their academic pursuits; at least they were evincing some interest in school work. After an initial and incorrect calculation of the body of Christ being nearly the size of Mercury (leading some to wonder if the body of Christ had its own atmosphere, and if so, what it might be comprised of), a later revision showed the body of Christ to be roughly the same size as Mount Everest. Which lead to the further theological speculation of whether the Second Coming would in fact be the impact of the massive Holy Meteor Jesus, and Armageddon the economy-sized Tunguska Event that would follow the body of Christ's literally earth-shattering impact.

Sadly, no copies of the story are extant (for the reason that despite the intriguing premise, the story sucked), so any claims I might have had to being the first to measure the contemporary size of the body of Christ are circumstantial at best. I'm willing to let someone else take the credit and/or eternal hellfire and damnation.

* Finally, here's a thought for you: The publicist for Book of the Dumb 2 has scheduled an author's event for me for the day before Father's Day. Where at? A local Sam's Club. Why there? Because that's where they sell truckload after truckload of the books, that's why. How do I feel about being an author at a Sam's Club? I feel fine. I don't care where my books sell. I just want them to sell. I just hope, being that this is published by the Bathroom Reader people, that they don't actually position me near the pallets of toilet paper in a blaze of cross-promotional thinking. That's not too much to ask for.

Posted by john at 12:11 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Checks, Books, Bar Graphs

Well. Got my advance check for The Ghost Brigades today. Guess that means I really do have to start writing it.

More to the point, however, is the fact that I feel ready to write it, which is to say I've reached a sufficient point of knowledge regarding certain key scenes and events that I can place them on the line and use them as guidepoints to write toward and past. And even more specifically, I know exactly what's going to happen in the first two chapters, so writing them will be a relative breeze and it will give me more idea about where subsequent chapters need to go (I also know what I want to write for, say, Chapters Seven, Fourteen and Twenty, although less specifically, but that's fine too -- if you write like I do (i.e., make it up as you go along) you want flexibility).

There's a trend in the last few months for writers to put up a bar graph in their blogs showing how much they've written in a book and how much they intend to write, but I will be having none of that nonsense myself, thank you very much, partly because I have no idea how much I'm going to write, although I suspect it'll be in the same area as Old Man's War: 95K words or so. But I don't think I want the pressure of a bar graph. I'll let you know when I actually begin; I'll let you know when I finish and I'll probably kvetch somewhere in the middle. That should be enough.

Before someone asks: Yes, I'll probably ask for beta readers, but not before I'm done. I'll probably keep the numbers small. I will let you know when that happens.

Posted by john at 05:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

My Daddy Went to Penguicon and All I Got Was This Massive Copyright Violation


There's actually an interesting backstory to this t-shirt, which is that over the weekend I called home and Krissy said that when she asked Athena what she wanted to do while I was away, Athena said that she wanted to have them dress up like goths. She's a real live Kindergoth! Isn't that precious. So I saw this shirt in the dealer's room and had to have it. Athena's wearing it to school today, complete with black fingernail polish. It's even money I get a call from the school office.

Penguicon: It went well. I was scheduled for four panels and ended up actually doing six, the two I added being "Dancing for Geeks" -- hey, shut up, I took two years of dance -- and the Penguicon writers workshop. For the former we taught folks how to find the beat and then move their feet in something other than an awkward shuffle, and it went well, I thought. For the second one, I did my editor bit and read seven stories that were being workshopped, pretended that they had actually been submitted to me for publication and then told the workshoppers why I rejected their work. As being rejected is as much a part of the publishing process as being accepted, I thought that was useful, and by and large I think the people in the workshop agreed, although, of course, I may be wrong on that. There was one writer whose story I barely read out of the first page because there was an error I just couldn't get past -- I explained what the error was and how this was an example of how some editors have weird little tics you can't predict, and this was one of mine -- and I can't imagine that particular writer was very pleased with me. Still and all, overall I think it went well.

The panels I was supposed to be on went well too, in a general sense. Cory Doctorow (who was the Guest of Honor), Matt Arnold and I had a very successful panel doing a blue-sky on what would be involved in writing collaborative online fiction; my thought about it would be that doing something like a wiki-story is entirely possible but that people were more likely to be touchy to changes in personal creative writing than changes to, say, an article in Wikipedia, and that since the writing would be a public performance, there could be a possibility of the story getting derailed as people simply started to try to top each other. Cory, who did an online collaborative fiction piece with Charlie Stross, talked a little about that experience as well.

Then came the panel on "The Blog and Its Uses": This had me, online cartoonist Howard Tayler, and David Klecha, who had blogged from Iraq. Howard and I talked quite a bit about how blogging has made a difference in our professional lives while David talked more about how it works on a personal level (particularly in terms of communicating from a war zone). They taped this one for posterity, so who knows -- you might be able to hear it online someday. This was followed by the "How Do Writers Pay Their Bills?" panel, in which we (me, Joan Vinge, Kevin Siembieda, M. Keaton and Kathe Koja) talked about day jobs and our opinions of them, and also about the generally bad pay of creative writing (as opposed to corporate writing, which pays rather better but is of course generally far less creative). This one was also taped.

My final panel was on "The Future of Science Fiction," which given some commentary here recently, was on point. To be entirely honest, I think a great deal of the future of science fiction -- the written portion of it, at least -- will rely on its marketing, and I mentioned that at the panel. M. Keaton who was also there (as well as Joan Vinge, Tim Ryan and Jeff Beeler) also talked about the need for a rebirth of the "pulp" strata of science fiction to serve as "minor league ball" as it were, to novels and some of the higher end magazines, which I thought was an interesting point. Overall, I thought the panels were well done; a couple of panelists would lose their mental and narrative thread in the midst of speaking and would then wander a bit aimlessly before getting back on point, but I suppose to some extent that's inevitable. By and large, however, generally informative. My panel pace at the con kept me from seeing many of the other panels, although I did pop in on Cory's panel on folk art and copyright as well as his keynote address on Digital Rights Management.

I also got to spend some time with Cory, meet his smashing girlfriend (whose first convention this was; I'm sure she found it interesting), and gab with him about a bunch of stuff. Cory is on his way to Chicago next week for the Nebula Awards, as his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is nominated; I'm not going to that so I was happy to to get some time to gab with him here. Cory's guest liaison was Anne KG Murphy, who I met earlier this year at ConFusion (she was the convention chair there), so it was great to see her again as well (it was she who dragooned me into teaching geeks to dance, since she'd seen me dance at ConFusion). Anne also played Buffy in a live-action re-enactment of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More With Feeling"; the presentation was both interesting and something that I later had a really interesting time trying to explain to a couple of nongeeks ("So... they were watching the episode and re-enacting it at the same time? Why?").

So in all, a grand time. The only drawback for me was the fact that there was a freak snowstorm on Saturday and Sunday in which I had to drive home; I managed to make it home just fine under the concept that making it home was better than trying to get home fast. But I can't hold that against the Penguicon people. They have no control over the weather, so far as I know.

Posted by john at 08:18 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

Off to Penguicon

I'm out of here until Monday; I'm off to Penguicon (I'm actually leaving tomorrow, but since I'm leaving early I'm not updating when I get up). Consider this an open thread for y'all to enjoy while I'm away.

If the prospect of an open thread frightens and terrifies you, you may instead choose to answer the following question: You want the party to wind down but people won't leave. What music do you use to clear the decks?

Also, my friend Deven has started a blog, somewhat formally, with an essay on cricket and baseball. He's a very good friend, so swing by, welcome him into the world of blogging and tell him to post more. Like most people, he thrives on the sweet sweet fertilizer of attention.

See you Monday.

Posted by john at 06:15 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

My Music

Because I know you're passionately interested: My mp3 collection, all 7155 tracks of it.

From this you can subtract several incidents of multiple listings of the same track, but add about 200 iTunes files that don't show up here, which include the most recent albums from U2, Alison Moyet, Petra Haden and Bill Frisell, Garbage, Green Day, Gwen Stefani, Sarah McLachlan, Offspring and kd lang, the singles collection from Travis, some loose tracks from Mandy Moore, the Darkness, John Fogerty, and about thirty tracks of mariachi music (don't ask). After you suck out the multiple listings and add in the tracks noted above, it comes out to about the same number of tracks as listed here.

I should note that this is by no means a complete accounting of my entire music collection, which totals close to 2,000 CDs, but the thought of feeding all those into the computer fills me with absolute dread. Absolute, I tell you.

Posted by john at 02:15 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Who The Hell Cares What's Wrong With American SF?

Charlie Stross speculates, with only the tiniest hint of schadenfreude, as to why all the Hugo nominees for Best Novel this year are all British -- or, more accurately, why none of them are American. After politely offering the olive branch of coincidence, Charlie's off-the-cuff speculation is that American SF writers are depressed:

Here I'm going to shortcircuit the endless debate and bring up my proposition: that the shape of American SF, as with British SF, is determined by the cultural zeitgeist, by the society's own vision of its future. And I propose that the American future is currently uncertain, unpleasant, polarized, regimented, and pessimistic... This is not the place to list all the controversies or uncertainties haunting the American psyche in the wake of 9/11. Nor am I going to leave any hostages to fortune by prophesying either a reinvigoration of American hegemony, or a Soviet-style collapse. I'm agnostic on the matter. What I am willing to assert is that this uncertainty is haunting science fiction and warping the sort of fiction that is being written.

This follows to some extent on a Live Journal entry by Canadian James Nicholl, who asks: "So when exactly did the US stop being fertile soil for real SF?" and also suggests that American SF writers have a case of the doldrums, which shows up in depressing futures with restricted civil liberties.

I don't know. Personally speaking, I must have missed the memo to be depressed, since none of my SF (at least as it applies to earth) is pessimistic about the American future; indeed, on that far-distant day in which The Android's Dream is ever released you will discover that much to the consternation of other nations on the planet, it is a hale and healthy America that is the seat of the federal world government, and that sends representatives to the larger interstellar UN-like organization. I'm not incapable of writing darker-tinged fiction -- I think you'll find that The Ghost Brigades is somewhat darker and more intense than Old Man's War -- but neither do I find doom and gloom inherently interesting. It's a tool from the toolbox, and it has its uses, but it shouldn't necessarily be the first tool out of the box. And while I am not entirely pleased with the current American political/social scene, neither do I believe it portends the coming of the American Jerusalem and/or The Second Great Depression. The life of the US exists on multiple levels; some of the scarier levels are simply more obvious at the moment. We'll see where it goes from here. Suffice to say that in the long run, I am not unoptimistic.

American SF writers may indeed be trapped in a becalmed Saragasso Sea of the soul at the moment thanks to the various political and social shifts in this country. Alternately, it may be that the US writers are sucking up the tail end of a particular SF market trend that is rapidly playing itself out and American SF writers will now have to figure out where the hell to go to next. Or maybe they're all just in really crappy personal relationships. Maybe it's not the authors at all; maybe it's the editors who are buying stuff who are depressed as hell. As a reader, I find it difficult to actually care because I don't read by nationality, I read by author and/or story, and if the story is good, I simply could not give a squat where it is the author sits down to type his or her story.

As an author, I'm not totally disinterested in what other writers are doing -- as I've noted before, I wrote Old Man's War because a trip to the bookstore told me that military fiction was what was selling, and as a first-time author, I wanted to sell -- but I'm wary of making sweeping generalizations about what the lot of them are writing and how, or the contextual underpinnings of the work. The SF writing scene is small enough to have some uniformity in outlook, but people's lives and the ways those lives impact their work are intensely varied.

If American SF writers are uniformly depressed, well, I don't know, let's organize a field trip to someplace sunny for them. Let them frolic in the open air or whatever. Have them meet a nice person of their gender of sexual preference and then rut like stoats for a day or two. Call it charity. But if that doesn't snap them out of their doldrums, oh well. We've done what we can for them.

My theory as to why five Brits are Hugo nominees for best novel is pretty simple: leaving aside electoral noise like "hometown" bias and real or imagined personal relationships with the author, the five books nominated are just really good books. This is of course begging the question as to why they're so good, but just as American authors can have many reasons for slumping at the moment, these British authors can have myriad reasons for being at the top of their game, possibly some relating to nationality but other factors having little or nothing to do with it at all.

It's fun to ascribe an overarching reason for the inclusion of these five particular books, to try to impose some sort of uniform causality. But ultimately these rationales aren't going to pan out. Occam's Razor returns us to the "really good book" theory. It works for me.

Posted by john at 08:33 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Pollen Days Are Here Again


Living out in the country is esthetically nice this time of the year, as everything is in bloom. However, in the last few years particularly I suffer the consequences with pollen and hay fever allergies. Athena and I went outside to play, which involved rolling around in the grass; once we came in I spent about 20 minutes sneezing, followed by the ingestion of allergy medicine which knocked me unconscious for a couple of hours in the late afternoon, which is not really an optimal time for a nappy-poo, if you ask me. I mean, I'm glad the plants are having sex and all, I just wish it didn't trigger such an irritating histamine reaction in me. The good news, such as it is, is that we're having a nice thunder storm at the moment, which will wash the pollen from the air for a couple of days.

Here's what I want to know, which maybe one of you can answer: Do other animals get allergic reactions to pollen as well? Kodi and the cats don't seem to be spending a lot of time sneezing, but on the other hand Ghlaghghee's been tearing up more recently, and I can't help but wonder if the pollen's getting to her too. If so, poor kitty. I doubt they make feline antihistamines (actually, I don't doubt it; I'm sure someone does. But I doubt I'm going be able to pop down to the little IGA market here in town and get it).

Yeah, that's all I've got for you today. I'm still groggy from waking up at 7pm from my nap. My brain is so useless at the moment that I actually cleaned my office, because rooting out clutter was all my gray matter could handle at the time. Stupid allergies.

Posted by john at 10:41 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Sunsets and Popes

First, here's the sunset off my porch today:


And if you like that, here's a larger version in pop-up form.

And for fun, a picture of the trees back behind my house earlier today:

What can I say? It was a pretty day around these here parts.

Second, I have nothing of interest to say about anything else, except to note that I'm still fiddling with my Mac like the shiny new toy it is. Hey: F9, F10, and F11 buttons? Geeeeeenius. I mean, really. As soon as I saw them, I thought: I want to lick my Mac (I did not). Thanks to Justine for pointing these zany bits of functionality out to me. I'll also note that I broke with the overall mac aesthetic and picked up a two button mouse with a scroll wheel. No, it doesn't look as cool as the Mac mouse, but now I don't feel as if I'm mousing with one arm chopped off at the ball joint. There's are limits to cool vs. functional, and those limits involve a second button and a scroll wheel. That is all.

As toward the big news of the day, I have no opinion as to Pope Benedict XVI, although I was curious about his name and looked up some of the previous Benedicts to see what the name represented. Given who the pope was prior to his elevation, I suspect the name had more to do with a tradition of intellectual, scholarly Benedicts than the reform-minded ones. Not being Catholic, this is something I don't see myself spending to many processing cycles thinking about, although of course having said that I'm sure the new pope will do something that impacts my life directly and then I'll be compelled to comment. Life is like that sometimes.

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April 18, 2005



I was sent this the other day: CUSP, by Robert A. Metzger, a Nebula-nominated SF author who is also a frequent reader of the site. I've just started reading it, but so far it's pretty interesting and starts with a heck of an opening scene, in which the sun sprouts an immense jet and high-tails away while the Earth finds itself quartered by immense pole and equator-spanning walls that sprout from the very ground. I suspect the Freemasons are involved.

Naturally, I'm curious to find out what Metzger's going to do with this. That's the fun of Hard SF, though, isn't it: You create these immense technological doo-dads, now you gotta play with them, and from the first chapters at least, you can tell Metzger enjoys fiddling around with the geegaws.

Note to self: Create some awesome Hard SF thing to play with sometime. I'm thinking maybe a moon-sized block of cheese. Think of the possibilities.

Posted by john at 06:11 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Odd Request

Okay, I gave in totally and configured my e-mail on the Mac. Would you do me a favor and send me some e-mail so I can see whether I did it right (and to train my spam filters not to shunt real mail to the junk folder)? And let me know if it bounces back (in the comment thread naturally). Please disregard this message if you're seeing it after 4/18/05.

Posted by john at 11:08 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Krissy's Birthday


As most of you know, I am fortunate enough to share my life with someone who is so immeasurably better than a schmuck like me deserves that it's even remotely funny, and it's her birthday today. So if you are of a mind to, please wish Krissy a happy birthday; I'm sure she will appreciate it. I've already given her her birthday gift as of last week (the iPod mentioned in the previous entry -- actually an iPod mini (it's blue!)), but today is the real date, and that's worth noting. The picture, by the way, was taken by Athena. How Athena got the grass to go all black and white like that I'll never know.

Posted by john at 10:55 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

Reluctant Transformation

All right, I admit it. The Mac is so much prettier and nicer than my PC that already I can tell that I'm going to use for just about everything from now on. Just five days in and I've configured everything to be able to access all my important documents via the Mac; I don't have to use the PC for anything relating to the Web. I'm fighting off shuttling over an archive of my e-mails because I know if I start using the Mac for the e-mail, it's pretty much all over; the PC will simply be a storage facility and a game machine. And I feel bad about it.

Not that the PC cares, of course. It's just a hunk of circuits and metal. But, you know. We have a history. I wrote five books and countless Web entries and Uncle John Bathroom Reader articles on it. While other PCs have caused me no end of aggravation, this particular machine has never caused me any significant problems. It's a good machine (a VPR Matrix, in case you're looking for a PC; it's the Best Buy house brand). It deserves better than benign neglect.

But even my body has decided the Mac is the way to go. Here's how I knew I had a pronounced Mac affinity: The Mac and PC both use keyboard shortcuts, with the PC using the control button and the Mac using that wierd four-leaf clover/apple button. After just two days using the Mac, every time I used the PC keyboard I hit the four-leaf clover button rather than the control button. That's after using PCs pretty much exclusively for the last decade. Two days. Tell me that's not a sign.

Also, I bought an iPod.

I am deeply ambivalent about this. I don't want to become a Mac zombie, one of the hooting monkey hordes who willingly overlooks the failings and shortcomings of the Mac plotform, and who would give Steve Jobs an organ -- any organ! You name it! -- in exchange from some "new" piece of technology that was created by some other company before Apple swooped down, Bauhaused the brains out of it, and slapped on a 30% premium for the "Machines for Living" makeover. The iPod is a perfect example of this; more than a year before the first generation of iPod, I owned a Creative Nomad Jukebox with a 5 GB hard drive and was amazing all my friends with this cool toy the size of a portable CD player -- which ran on rechargable AA batteries. Then Steve Jobs pulled his "One more thing..." schtick and everyone ooohed and aaaahed for a product that in terms of technical specs was no better (and in some places notably worse) but was esthetically pressing the feeder bar of pleasure for the urban hipster.

I don't want to distract from the things Apple has done right -- I own an iPod now not for the esthetics but because the iTunes music store is just so damn simple to use, unlike nearly every other online music store out there -- but let's not kid ourselves. Apple doesn't innovate. It lets the other poor schmuck innovate, and then jumps in after the early adopters have shaken down the technology, leaving Apple the luxury of selling this new technology to the artsy-fartsys, who are both emotionally invested in the Mac and would prefer not to sully themselves by hangin' with the PC hordes. By all rights, Creative deserves to be the number one hard drive music player company in the world; their music players are as good as iPods even now. But deserve's got nothing to do with it.

So. A Mac monkey: No. But arrrrrrrugggggggghhh, the Mac doesn't make it easy to keep perspective. I mean, Christ. iChat -- the Mac IM client -- puts up cute little talk bubbles for your chat windows. When you're typing (but haven't yet sent) it puts up a cute little thought bubble. I don't even want to bother with the PC chat client anymore. It's not pretty and sexy and shiny and all. I feel like the guy who is with a perfectly smart, capable and generally attractive woman who all of a sudden meets a girl who looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones, knows that the sheer oxygen-depleting beauty of the woman will impair his judgement about her as surely as a blow to the head from a tire iron, but just doesn't care. Just using the Mac makes me feel cooler and more handsome. Which I certainly am not. But when it comes to the esthetics of it, I guess I'm as much a sucker to Steve Jobs as the rest of them.

Be that as it may, do something for me. If I ever start mocking people for their non-Mac computer preferences, I hope you'll do me the grand favor of staving in the back of my skull with a weighty pipe, because I don't want to live like that. You'll do that for me, right? Because, you know, I'd do it for you.

Posted by john at 09:49 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

Reader Request 2005: Odds and Ends

Duhhhhhh. For some reason I can't think coherently for more than 30 seconds at a time, so I suppose today would be a fine day to do a collection of short reader questions. Okay? Here we go:

Mark Ensley: "Why do so many people suck?"

Well, because it's easy, as opposed to not sucking, which takes effort because it means actually paying attention to those around you. The thing about sucking is that it's very often the path of least resistance, and humans, like every animal, generally choose to conserve energy whenever possible.

Now if you don't want people to suck, the solution is to create a society where sucking is not actually the path of least resistance -- where indeed one would have to expend energy to suck. The catch here is that would require effort to construct society. And again, we know how people are. Theoretically it's possible, but don't hold your breath.

Tommyspoon: "School shootings: Why are they happening? Can they be prevented? What do they say about our culture in general?"

They happen because the shooter is off his rocker, for whatever reason (being a teenager, the hormonal madness of which should be proof positive of evolution, since no loving god would put his creatures through that sort of nonsense, emphatically does not help). They could be prevented by getting rid of firearms in general and/or turning schools into absolute prisons with no casual entering or leaving, but since neither is going to happen, the practical answer is no. What do they say about our culture? Not much. School shootings are about an individual and the manifestation of his own pathological unhappiness, not about the culture in which they live. If our culture were truly breeding school shooters, we'd have incidents on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Sue: "How do you think history will treat Bill Clinton, now that we're a few years beyond his presidency?"

I think it'll treat him with benign neglect. The paragraph on Clinton in the history texts in the future will say, basically: "President William Jefferson Clinton presided over a period of great prosperity in the United States but found his effectiveness hampered by political opposition and scandal." Honestly, what more will need to be said? Some people like to think that the impeachment will count for something, but honestly, let's have a show of hands about the number of people who know or care about the particulars of Andrew Johnson's impeachment.

As you all know I'm less than impressed with the current Bush in the White House, but I do expect he'll get at least one paragraph more than Clinton in the future history books, in no small part because he presided over a war, and also because of 9/11. That's the way these things go.

Dean: "When writing fiction, do you write specifically for a genre, or do you write your story and then see what genre it falls into?"

Well, so far I've written science fiction -- which is to say I had the intent of plotting them to take place in future time and/or engage in purely speculative events (like alien visitations or interstellar travel). So it all fits into that genre bin. And of course as I've noted, I wrote OMW as military SF because that's what I saw selling, and I wanted to sell an SF book. So I guess I write specifically for a genre to this point.

On the other hand, I don't particularly worry about it if I color outside the lines of the genre. Old Man's War has a rather significant love story plot, for example, which is not the usual thing with military science fiction; Agent to the Stars, which is a funny piece, deals rather seriously with the Holocaust and incorporates it into the plot. I write what I want to read, and I think in both of these cases, these non-typical add rather than detract from the story, and so there they are. Observing genre conventions does not mean one has to be trapped by them.

John N: "Why did the Howells bring all those clothes and so much cash for what was supposed to be a three hour tour?"

Well, it's all relative. As a percentage of their wealth and property, the Howells brought an equivalent amount as the Skipper, who probably brought pocket change and maybe an extra pair of underwear. Just be glad they weren't richer.

Mitch Wagner: "Is science fiction dead?"

No, and I think when people gout out their pretentious "science fiction is dead!" pieces, they're being a special brand of stupid, or just stirring the pot because they haven't anything better to do. Look, it's simple: If you write a fictional story that takes place in future/alternate time and/or incorporates technology that does not yet exist, you're writing science fiction. The only way people will stop writing science fiction is if we invent all possible technology and/or stop moving forward on the time axis. We can argue about whether certain types of SF are dead, or even if written SF is on the way out, or whatever, but those are emphatically different questions.

In my opinion, when people write "science fiction is dying," they're actually saying "I can't find something I want to read" and they're trying to aggrandize their personal viewpoint to be a an issue of universal concern. Well, listen, pal, you're just one guy, okay? If you can't find something good to read, don't assume the rest of us feel the same way.

Bryan: "Tell me what makes Winter's Tale such a great book."

No. Read it yourself. Trust me, it's worth the effort. You'll be able to see what makes it a great book almost immediately. And if you can't, well, you have my sympathy.

Posted by john at 03:16 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Your Weird Moment of Synchronicity for the Day

I'm listening to "Every Day I Write the Book," by Elvis Costello, and came to the part in the final verse where Costello opines:

Even in a perfect word, where everyone was equal
I'd still own the film rights, and be working on the sequel

To which I thought: Hey! I do own the film rights! I am working on the sequel! Every day I do indeed write the book!

I'm living an Elvis Costello song. Better this one than, say, "Let 'Em Dangle."

Just thought I'd share.

Posted by john at 11:54 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A Special Edition of OMW

Earlier today, Instapundit posted this entry. This inspired me to do something, which in turn inspired me to send Glenn an e-mail, which inspired him to make another posting here. For those of you too lazy to click through, here's the e-mail I sent to Glenn:

Maj. Tammes' note about being "hyped up" to read Old Man's War inspired me to call up Tor Books to see if we could do something special for the service people in Afghanistan and Iraq. I asked, and Tor agreed, to make available a free electronic version of "Old Man's War" for our folks serving in those countries. I call it the "Over There Special Edition" -- it's an .rtf file, about 570kb, with the entire text of the novel.

To get it, service people in Iraq and Afghanistan should drop me an e-mail at "omw@scalzi.com" and I'll send them the edition as an attached file. They should be able to tell me their unit/general location so I know they really are in Iraq/Afghanistan (sending the request from their ".mil" account will go a long way to help). People should know that if I get a whole bunch of people who aren't in those countries trying to get the text I won't be able to continue. So please, leave this version to the folks serving our country a half a world away.

I want to take a moment to thank Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, and Tom Doherty, the Tor publisher, for letting me do this special edition. It's really something to go to your publishing house and ask permission to do something that might potentially cut into sales and have them come back and say, simply, "That's a great idea. Do it." From my perspective I may give up a few dollars in sales, but these folks are giving up a lot more doing their thing in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is just a small way to say "thanks."

So there you have it.

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Reader Request 2005: Pot!

David Graham asks:

What I'd be interested in is your feelings on marijuana and how that has changed since you've had a child and grown older? I'm 24 at the moment and personally I don't use it but my fiancé and friends do use it.

Well, without going into Lifetime TV Movie detail about it, it was made pretty clear to me early on that neither side of my family could handle addictive subtances at all, and this had the effect of both making me a lifelong teetotaler in terms of drugs -- I dislike even taking aspirin, which is not exactly logical -- and of making me somewhat unnecessarily paranoid about casual drug use when I was younger. So when I was (much) younger and you were to toke up in front of me, I'd've been worried that a week later you'd be blowing total strangers for your smack cash, and casing me out to see how much you could get for my internal organs on the black market. Naturally, one has to get beyond that sort of thinking if one wants to have any sort of friends at all in high school and college. I got over it in no small part because friends of mine who toked up in fact did not suddenly become drug-addled experts in fencing stolen microwaves.

These days my opinion about marijuana and other recreational drug use is somewhat more relaxed. I still think it's stupid, and you won't catch me doing it. But then lots of people do lots of stupid things, and they still manage to get through the day with their brain intact. Overdoing pot is no damn good -- pot's big thrill is that it lops 25% off your processing power and makes you enjoy it, so being chronically loaded means that you're also chronically stupider and more apathetic than you should be, and that's not an optimal way to experience life, shall we say -- but as for the occasional toke here and there, eh, who cares.

As for whether we should legalize pot: I'm not going to go out of my way personally to spearhead the effort, but sure, why not. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for the Willamette Weekly arguing that we should legalize pot because doing so would kill off the entirely asinine pothead culture, and that could only be seen as a good thing. The potheads were of course outraged, and thus I became perhaps the only person ever protested by the pro-legalization folks for arguing for making pot legal. As you might expect, I found this almost unbearably amusing.

I will say this: I do tend to see recreational drug use as a young person's activity, something you experiment with, usually in college, while you're trying to figure out what's going on your life. In this respect it's not unlike joing the College Socialist Society for a quarter in your freshman year or engaging in occasional dormitory bisexuality. Eventually it all gets lumped under the catchall "experimentation" excuse, and then you don't have to worry about whether it'll come back to haunt you when you're running for that city council seat.

Now, in the course of your experimentation, you find that you really are a socialist or bisexual, well, that's fine, obviously. For some people, the experiment is going to take. But if in the course of your experimentation you find that you really like your recreational drugs, you might want to think about that. It's one thing to be 23 and baked to the gills. When you're 35 and spending a significant amount of time skorfing primo British Canadian cannabis out of an improvised honey bear bong (just like Brad Pitt in True Romance), you look an ass. And if you're any older than that, you damn well better have glaucoma. The older you get, the less getting bombed should be a cornerstone of your life, no matter what your drug of choice would be for that.

(The exception to this: Tobacco/nicotine, which I give older people a pass on because they started using in an era which more or less promoted its use. Young people today, on the other hand, have absoutely no excuse. I look at younger people who smoke and think: There goes one stupid person.)

I also make a qualitative difference between pot and other more hardcore drugs, like coke and speed. If you're occasionally toking up, that's value-neutral to me. But you know, no one just takes a little coke now and then, do they. Likewise, no one pinging around filled with crystal meth is a casual user. Spend a lot of time with the hard stuff and you shouldn't expect to see too much of me around. I'm judgemental that way.

Posted by john at 12:41 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Full-On Geekery


I was having a philosophical discussion about geekery the other night with Kate Nepveu, about whether to qualify for geekdom one needs to have a certain level of technical/mechanical/mathematical aptitude, or if just having the outward trappings of geekdom were enough to seal the deal. I argued for the former, while she tended toward the latter. Moreover I expressed the opinion that despite some rather compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary, I wasn't a true geek, to which Ms. Nepveu (politely) seemed skeptical.

Well, she wins. Here's me caught in the act of configuring my home network, connecting the Mac and PC through a network router I just happened to have around the house, and connecting the laptop you see here through wireless (I'm running iTunes on all of them off my PC to make sure local file sharing is working). Even considering how much easier it is to make a home network these days than, say, even a couple of years ago, I am indeed feeling well and truly geekified.

The new Mac has settled in well, and I've been enjoying playing with it. It's been more than a decade since I owned a Mac, so I was genuinely not prepared for how damn pretty everything is on Mac; it's like someone gave my computer experience a tasty candy coating. And everything is indeed absurdly easy to use. Having said that, I'm not entirely ready to throw aside the PC, however. For one thing, all my stuff is there. For another thing, not every Mac application is as good as a PC application.

Garageband, for example, seems like a chintzy knockoff of Acid Pro; if I'm going to make music, I know which application I'll choose to use. On the other hand Garageband costs about $400 less, so I guess one shouldn't complain too much (it's actually almost exactly like the basic version of Acid, which sells for something like $40). Since I'm keeping both computers running, however, and right next to each other and on the same network, the point is moot. It doesn't matter which computer runs what; it can all be accessed anyway.

Now all I need to do is add a Linux box to the party and I can finally get my geek merit badge. However, don't be waiting up nights.

Posted by john at 12:07 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

Reader Request 2005: Beatles, Batman and They

These from Greg Morrow:

Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Superman or Batman?
"He or she" or singular "they"?

First: The Beatles, obviously. First, they're not pathetic posers like the Stones. I mean, Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics. He'd be a banker now, if it weren't for the Stones, whereas Lennon would have been the most sarcastic milkman in Liverpool. If he were lucky (Keith Richards, incidentally, would have become an Anglican minister. Trust me on this). Rock and Roll saved the Beatles; it merely was another economic oportunity for the Stones.

Second, the Beatles had the stones (so to speak) to break up and stay broken up, meaning that their canon is undiluted from years of post-creative suckage. The Beatles era is nine years, 1961 - 1970, and in those nine years, they sucked exactly twice: The Magical Mystery Tour (the TV show, although the album squeaks by), and Let It Be (the album, although the movie squeaks by because of the rooftop concert). (Some people will tell you that half of the songs on the White Album sucked, too -- but since no one can agree on which half, the Beatles are still golden). Meanwhile, the Stones were notably more inconsistent during their legend years (Satanic Majesties Request, anyone?), and it's an unassailable fact that there hasn't been a good Stone album -- or come now, a good Stones' song -- since Tattoo You. There are 24-year-olds running around who have never not known the Stones to not suck, and that's just sad. Or to put it another way, the Stones have sucked more years than they were ever good.

Now, I can see how some of you might say it's unfair to diminish the Stones' better work because of the unregenerate crap emanating from Steel Wheels or Voodoo Lounge. And 100 years from now, everything the Stones did after 1981 will have vanished in the fog of history and they'll probably look better. But in the here and now, two and a half decades of suckitude counts against them. In contrast, Paul McCartney's nearly three decades of solo suckitude do not count against the Beatles, because the Beatles can't be blamed for "Say Say Say" or Liverpool Oratio. That's all Paul, baby.

Also, in 100 years the Beatles will still be kicking the Stones' asses (except for Charlie Watts. Charlie rocks). Really, I'm surprised this is even a matter under consideration any more.

Second: Batman, and again I'm surprised this is an issue. Look, Superman got his superhero-ness handed to him on a platter -- dad punted him to a planet with a yellow star and lighter gravity, and that's all she wrote. Superman didn't have to do anything to become Superman. Whereas Batman worked for it. Yes, Batman did have immense wealth left to him by his parents, while Superman grew up in a humble small town in Iowa. But, you know, a guy who can compress charcoal into diamonds with his bare hands is not someone who has to worry about his economic situation, either. Take away Superman's undeserved advantages and you've got a moderate Republican representative from the great state of Iowa. Take away Batman's undeserved advantages, and he's still friggin' Batman. No offense to moderate Republican representatives from the Midwest, but I know who I would rather be.

Third: They. There are times when sexual differentation is grammatically relevant, but most of the time it really isn't, and there's not a single person who actually believes that the generic "him" isn't actually the work of some long-dead grammarian with a micropenis and a pathological fear of speaking to chicks. Screw Mr. Micropenis. Long live "they." Having said that, there are times I'll use "he or she" or will use "him" or "her" generically, because I want to. I'll also use it when I'm writing professionally, because it's not generally worth my time to piss off a copyeditor, whose job it is to preserve the long-dead Mr. Micropenis' editorial strictures because that's what their employer demands of them. I'll just use it on my own time and maybe as more people think as I do, the great publishing houses of the world will tell the unlamented Mr. Micropenis to take a hike.

Posted by john at 03:26 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Yet Another Scalzi...

And boy, is she pretty. Meet Gina Scalzi. And talented, too, as she's an award-winning actress. Which I will never ever have a hope to be. Anyway, hopefully her blog will one day expand past a head shot.

Posted by john at 09:08 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

It's Official: I'm Bi!

Bi-processorial, that is. Meet the new computer: An iMac 1.8 GHz. 20" screen and 1.25 GB RAM. I was planning to hold out for the release of Tiger OS later this month, but I want to write Ghost Brigades on the new computer and I didn't want to wait any longer (I've got a tight enough deadline as it is). Also someone was selling this particular one on eBay for a price I could deal with. It's near new (the guy had been using it for three months) and he jammed in a lot of RAM, which meant that aside from someone else touching it for a little while, it was a better computer than what I'd get off the shelf from Apple. QED.

As I've mentioned before, this doesn't mean I'll stop using my PC; for the moment the Mac is for book writing and the PC is for netsurfing, answering mail and etc (I need to buy an Airport thingie for the iMac before it has net connectivity). This is why I can claim to be bi-processorial. But I've very pleased, and the Mac looks even nicer than I expected it to. Tonight I'll rearrange the real estate on my desk to accommodate both computers and then we'll be ready to go. Whee!

Posted by john at 05:52 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Reader Request Week 2005: Peak Oil

A number of readers (beginning with mad) are interested in my take on Peak Oil and what it will mean to the American Way of Life(tm). "Peak Oil," in case you don't know, is a theory about petroleum production and depletion. Basically, there's a finite amount of oil out there under the rocks. Whenever oils is found, there's a fairly rapid rise in production in that area, followed by an equally rapid fall as the area depletes. Since this is basically the case for oil production and depletion worldwide, this suggests that once we hit a global peak of oil production, the slide toward depletion (and the attendant economic consequences) will be swift and no doubt wrenching. The bad news here is that some oil experts believe that "Peak Oil" will be reached in 2007, leaving just enough time to store those 55-gallon barrels of beans and rice and to get good with the crossbow. (For a rather more detailed explanation of "peak oil," go here.)

First, I have no doubt that the peak oil moment is coming. There are some geologist who believe that oil is constantly being produced in the very bowels of the earth and so depletion may not ultimately be a real issue, but there are in an extreme minority and even if they are ultimately proved correct, our current ability to extract extremely deep hydrocarbon deposits is nil, so, really, the point is moot. Oil that we can't reach is oil we can't use. No matter what, things are going to get tight with oil, if not in or by 2007, then still sometime relatively soon.

Two, yes, it's going to mess with us pretty seriously. People have a tendency to think of oil purely in terms of gasoline, but that's just the most obvious thing. Plastics are petroleum products; right now on my desk nearly everything on it is made of or uses plastics, from the keyboard I'm using to type this to the thin lining of the inside of the aluminum can I'm drinking my Coke out of. I live in the country: oil is used extensively in agriculture worldwide, in pesticides, in foodstock and in fertilizers. You know that when oil gets depleted you're going to get the shaft at the gas pump. But it's the stuff that you're not aware of about oil that's going to get you. Those perfect vegetables at the local grocery store could become a lot harder to come by -- and not just because of shipping costs, but because how much their production relies on petroleum.

How badly will it mess with us? Got me. But however bad it messes with us, it'll be a patch on how badly it messes with the third world and places that have a thin veneer of first world with a swirly third world center, like, say, China or even Russia (which at one point was technically the second world, but guess what? Them days is over!). Even in extremis, the US will have the native resources, physical, intellectual and otherwise, to weather a major economic disruption and keep its people from devolving into chaos or (worse case scenario) starving; this is when it's genuinely nice to have a continent-spanning political state, a stable tradition of government and a national ethos of plucky survivorship to work with. Other countries will not be so lucky. Will other places starve? Could be. I don't know.

But here's the third thing: As bad as it may get, I don't think it will get as bad as many people might fear -- or at the very least, won't be bad for long. To begin, America and Americans are happy to put off until tomorrow what ought to be done today, and this emphatically includes dealing with energy issues. However, when Americans are finally at a point where something has to be done, it gets done. The most famous cases of this, of course, involve war; I don't think most people truly realize how remarkable the American war effort was during World War II, but in fact it was absolutely nothing short of a singular phenomenon. No country in the history of the world has ever engaged its economy and domestic output as quickly and effectively as America did in those few short years. Likewise, the advance of American practical knowledge -- in everything from production techniques to creating a fission bomb -- was unprecedented in world history. And so with something like an oil peak; if America is looking down the barrel of ruin, it will suck it up and do what is necessary to persevere. It's done so before within the last 100 years with WWI, the Depression and WWII. We are admittedly out of practice (a happy side effect of having dealt with the issue so well before), but we can and will do it again.

But for another thing, many of the practical, non oil-based solutions to energy are already here in one form or another, some mature and some immature but immature mostly due to lack of will to fund and expand them. It will cause environmentalists to spontaneously combust, but we already have nuclear energy technology which we could roll out and employ and developing nuclear technologies (such as modular pebble bed reactors) could make nuclear energy somewhat more socially acceptable, especially if there few other immediate choices. In the slightly longer run, solar and wind power solutions are both at a point where they are not egregiously expensive relative to oil-production, and there seem to have been recent breakthroughs in the efficiency of solar; I don't doubt that highly motivated engineers could do more with that.

(Now, all this just relates to energy, but I don't doubt that we can also find ways to wean our dependence on petroleum in other areas, too; I can imagine the keyboard I use several years from now being made of some sort of ceramic, for example, rather than plastic, or computer monitors being replaced with eyeframe-held imagers that require substantially less plastic. And so on.)

You'll notice that I'm speaking of this in terms very much like a national effort, and indeed I think that's probably what will need to happen -- including an active role by our government to both manage the short-term issues of an energy crunch and a long-term commitment to creating the infrastructure that allows renewable energies to take root; planning comparable to, say, the creation of the Interstate system, or the planning needed to get a man on the moon.

This will obviously have broad implications. For one thing, I hope all of you rich people have enjoyed your era of low taxes. For another thing, the idle and not-so-idle distaste people now have for the government will likely become a thing of the past. I am certainly not a person who believes the government is the answer to everything, but neither am I someone who believe the government is the answer to nothing, as so many who are in power in government would have us believe they believe. Government is at its heart an organizing principle for the betterment of life for its citizens. We will need government when all this happens -- and people will remember once again that government has its uses.

One final thing to note is that I think people are already preparing for the peak oil moment, whether they realize it or not. I'm not one of the people who thinks we went into Iraq because of oil -- but I do think that even people who unreservedly supported the war cannot fail to see that despite our control of one of the most oil-rich areas in the world, we're spending $2.30 a gallon for gas. Really, you can't miss that. I also think people are (finally) beginning to think of our energy dependence on outside sources not only as a problem but also as vaguely unpatriotic; the person who doesn't care about his energy consumption is someone who is not looking out for us.

I'm eco-minded but most of the people where I live are not -- and yet the red-state people around me are talking about getting hybrids the next car they buy (this isn't even a question for me, incidentally; the next car I buy will get 50 miles to the gallon at least, end of story). They're also talking about what we need to do to get ourselves out of the situation we're in. This isn't the "libruls" vs "the real people" any more, or at the very least becoming far less so. People know something's coming, and they're adjusting to prepare, whether or not they know that's they're doing. I find this encouraging; when you're in a Speedway in small rural town and the old guy in the NRA cap is talking to the other guy in line about wanting a hybrid, we're getting to a point where we're going to be willing as a nation to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

So yes, it'll be bad. But no, it won't be as bad as it could be. And in 30 years, when all of this energy stuff is behind us, I think Americans will be able to look back and realize that they did a good job -- a little late, possibly, but having made up for the late start.

Posted by john at 12:57 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Reader Request Week 2005: Creative Commons and FanFic

Welcome everyone to the Whatever's annual Reader Request Week, in which readers suggest a topic, and then I blather on about it. To start things off, let's combine two requests that go well together. Chris asks:

Intellectual property - Where do you feel an equitable compromise lies in the fair-use/right-of-artists-to-profit-from-their-work debate? Any thoughts on the Creative Commons license, specifically as pertains to your future work? (Cory Doctorow released a couple of his novels online and in dead-tree form simultaneously, while Orson Scott Card did okay for himself with the Shadow series by releasing the first few chapters of each a few months ahead of the street date. Any plans to do something similar?)

And to this I'll add a related question from Night Dog:

I'd like to know what you think of fanfiction. Do you think it's a legitimate exercise of imagination, or a trampling on copyright?

To my mind (and, as it happens, as more or less stated in the Constitution of the United States) copyright exists for two purposes: first, to make sure the creator benefits from having a thought or two; second, to make sure that (eventually) the public sphere is enriched by the work of that creator. Problems arise, of course, at the extremes -- when people download all the music in Western civilization off of KaZaa, for example, and get indignant at the idea they're doing something wrong, or when Disney pays off the US Congress yet again to make sure Mickey Mouse never gets his Emancipation Proclamation, and as a result copyright terms are extended far beyond their original intent and (more importantly) to the detriment of the commons.

In my perfect copyright world, I'd have a simple scheme for copyrights: For copyrights held by individuals, copyrights would last for 50 years or the life of the individual plus 25 years (to benefit widowed spouses and heirs), whichever is longer. For work owned by corporations, 75 years and out. But I would also add a provision that after the initial copyright, the copyright holder could renew the copyright annually for the sum of 2 to the x power, where "x" is equal to the current year past the original copyright expiration, with the monies raised going (initially, at least) to US deficit reduction.

So, for example, if the copyright on "Steamboat Willie" were to expire today, Disney could pay $2 for a one year extension of the copyright. In 2015, it would have to pay $1,024. In 2025, $1,048,576. And in 2035, $1,073,741,824. By which time, of course, Disney would have finally let "Steamboat Willie" steam on to public domain. Now, given the sheer number of copyrights that Disney alone would have to protect on an annual basis, you can see how a) the corporation would have to pick and choose which things to maintain under copyright longer than their original term, thereby freeing other material sooner, and b) how quickly a scheme like this would pay down the deficit -- without raising taxes! -- thus benefiting the public sphere even without the public domain use of the intellectual property. Naturally, I expect you to contact your Congressperson right this very second and demand that he/she offer up the Scalzi Copyright Enhancement Act of 2005 as soon as humanly possible. You know, for the kids.

Now, having thus addressed the philosophical issue of what the lengths of copyrights should be and how to find the balance between the rights of the copyright holder and the public, let's address the issue of ownership under copyright. Naturally, being a copyright owner myself, I wish to have and retain the full protections of that copyright: If someone's taking my stuff without my permission and making a buck from it, I want to be able to nail his ass; likewise, if someone is distributing my work for free in a manner in which I do not approve, I want to be able to legally stop her from doing so as well, especially if it is having a negative impact on my financial bottom line. It is my work, damn it. I should have the right to control it, and legally I do.

At the same time, I don't think there's any value in being an intellectual property dickhead, either. What non-creative bean-counters don't get that many creative people do is that many of the things that will lose you money in the short term, intellectual property-wise, will gain you money in the long term, because it creates a fan -- someone who is actively looking for your next creative work, and many of whom, because they feel that personal connection with you, will happily pay for that next work.

Certainly I've benefited from it, primarily from the venue you're reading here right now. I've been giving away work here for six years, including a full-length novel, and partially as a result of that, my first published novel is now in its fourth printing. Check out the comments in the Agent to the Stars guestbook and some of the most common things you'll see there are variations of "thanks for letting me check this out for free -- I'll be looking for your published stuff now." (Let's also not forget that both Agent and Old Man's War found their way to actual publication because they were available to be read online -- no if ands or buts about it.) I'm a big believer in keeping active control of the work I produce, but part of that control is the freedom to share that work with whomever I choose.

It's paid off for me, and it's paid off for others, too. All of Cory Doctorow's published novels are available online for free and he'd certainly maintain it's been a boon the sales of his books. Orson Scott Card did indeed post not just chapters but full novels online at one point (I know because I downloaded Children of the Mind off his AOL forum) until apparently persuaded otherwise by his publisher (who is, interestingly, the same publisher who let Cory post his works online -- but OSC's experience was several years back in the timestream, and times have emphatically changed). Baen Books famously has its Free Library with dozens of books, and it claims that having these out there does indeed drive sales. Being open with your work works.

(BUT -- is there a bend in the curve after which it doesn't? Aside from corporate hysteria, this is an interesting question. For example, me having a full novel online is only a net positive because, aside from y'all, I'm a complete unknown; even in its fourth printing, there are still fewer than 10,000 copies of OMW out there. Cory is somewhat significantly better known than I, as Boing Boing has rather higher readership, he's a luminary in the intellectual property arena and he's been publishing longer than I -- and yet he is also a mid-listy sort of writer at this point (saleswise). Again, the publicity is a net positive.

But what about someone like Orson Scott Card, who sells hundreds of thousands of books annually, and whose work is never not on the science fiction shelves at your local bookstore? Does the same dynamic that Cory and I use to our advantage work in the same way for someone at his sales level? Or does it simply cannibalize his sales? Bearing in mind I have no idea of Tor's point of view on this, I could see a publisher who easily tolerates online experiments from new writers and mid-listers getting twitchy if one of their main draws started flirting with giving stuff away for free online.

The same goes for music: indie musicians who haven't a chance getting on the radio have nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting people download songs for free. A major label artist who has to recoup a million dollars in studio fees -- or the label that advanced those fees and owns the masters -- may feel differently. Everyone's looking for the bend in the curve, and naturally the more money you have in the till, the more significant it is to you.)

As for Creative Commons, it's unlikely that I'll do any significant work and release it under CC. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the aims of CC; intellectually speaking I like the concept of giving people a series of blanket permissions to rework your work, and if that's what you want to do, go for it. Nor is it that I don't want people to fiddle with what I write or create; generally speaking, I'd be flattered. What it comes down to for me is that I want to know what people are doing with my stuff ahead of time. If someone wants to do a "remix" of Agent to the Stars, say, it would not be onerous for them to send me an e-mail first and ask permission. I am not so unapproachable that such communication is impossible. But to reverse an earlier formulation: I often choose to be free with the work I create, but that choice is mine to make. I prefer to make such choices actively rather than passively.

All of this dovetails interestingly into the concept of "fanfic" -- which for those of you who are not SF geeks, means creative writing done borrowing already-created characters and situations from popular media. Star Trek is, to mix progenitor metaphors, the granddaddy motherlode of fanfic, but suffice to say wheresoever two or more fans gather to share an obsessive love of TV, movies, music, literature or video games, so there also shall be fanfic. Fanfic is of course a massive violation of copyright, since all of a sudden Spock and Kirk are doing things Viacom never intended them to do (or Darth Vader and Yoda, or Buffy and Willow, or Harry Potter and Hermione, or Mario and Luigi or whatever), and naturally this gets the corporate IP lawyers all het up.

Honestly, though, if I were the creator of a science fiction or fantasy media property (as opposed to a mere book author) and I didn't find evidence of fanfic online, I would be very worried. People don't write fanfic if they aren't already so enthralled by your universe that they can't handle the fact you're not producing it any faster, and are thus compelled to make some of their own -- the methadone, if you will, to your pure, sweet media property heroin. A fanfic writer will buy all your media-related product, will go to your conventions, will get the DVDs and will generally slog through sub-standard and lazy stretches of your work far longer than the average mortal because they are so damn invested. And if they're writing slash (fanfic with sex!), chances are excellent that you're sucking in all of their take home pay that doesn't go to rent, food and cat products. It is the Buffy slash writers who paid for Joss Whedon's boat (or whatever other particularly silly display of wealth that he's purchased for himself).

So as a creator, if I ever see the appearance of fanfic based on something I wrote, I'm going to be tickled seven different shades of pink, and then I'm going to make a down payment on a Mercedes. Because man, now I can afford it. So, please, off with the lot of you. Go write some OMW fanfic! Rather more seriously, as a creator I probably wouldn't go out of my way to squash fanfic, because it's essentially harmless and not a real economic danger. If I became aware that someone was selling their fanfic, I might have my lawyers slip them a note reminding them that he/she didn't have the right to do that, and to stop. Unless it was really good, in which case I'd probably buy it and market it. Hey, video game makers hire programmers who started out making "mods" of their favorite games. So why not.

As a writer, I also have no opposition to fanfic. I understand that many writers who write fanfic have no real ambition to be writers aside from the specific fanfic they write -- it's a slightly more intellectual version of playing with dolls, and therefore its own end, and it doesn't really matter what the quality is. For the fanfic writers who do actually want to be writers, I think there are advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are that you're writing in an established universe with established characters whose qualities and failings are well known to you; all you have to do is plug them into a situation and play the changes. It's easier than coming up with something whole cloth -- and therefore arguably an easy way to play with the mechanics of writing since the story comes partially built. It's writing with training wheels.

The disadvantage is the same: You're working in someone else's universe, and there's only so far you can go with that. Eventually you're going to have to leave the safe sandbox of the Federation or the New Republic or Buffy. Since I don't write fan fiction, I don't know how difficult that is. There's also the issue that since no one will buy fanfic except under extremely rare circumstances (for obvious copyright reasons), writers playing in the fanfic world deprive themselves of a necessary step in any writers' evolution: Working with editors.

If people are writing fanfic simply for fun, I see very little harm in it, although this is not the response you'll get from an IP lawyer. If people are writing fanfic to become better writers, they should be writing other stuff, since it's the other stuff that will get them published. And ironically enough, once they're published on their own, there's a non-trivial chance they'll be approached to do a media tie-in novel! It's the circle of fanfic, and it moves us all.

(It's not too late to get in your own reader request: Go here and leave the request in a comment.)

Posted by john at 10:58 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

April 10, 2005

Doubleblogging, OMW Review, Penguicon Schedule, Saul Bellow

A bunch of little things I've been thinking about:

* My pal Jeff Porten has revamped his Web site and now has two blog-esque elements to it: Portentia, for longer pieces (two pieces which are fronting at the moment include his memories of the end of his mother's life, and his questions for the people reselling his book on eBay), and The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy, which is comprised of shorter, "bloglike" entries. about shiny, shiny Web objects that catch his eye. Naturally, I encourage you to check out both of them to see if there's anything you like there.

I also think Jeff illustrates a trend I see, of people having more than one blog or online writing site. Quite a few people of my acquaintance do it, often to differentiate content. Of course, I am an example myself: I have the Whatever, and then I also have By The Way, and the two are somewhat different in content and presentation (although perhaps it's not a brilliant example, since I get paid for By the Way, and its content is partially dictated by the needs of AOL and by congruent desire to be a useful "community leader" over there).

I see it most commonly with people who have LiveJournal accounts. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden both have their "home" sites and LiveJournal accounts to which they will occasionally post; writer Marissa Lingen, whom I have briefly met, keeps an active LiveJournal but also an active Journal on her personal domain. Kate Nepveu and Chad Orzel both keep book blogs and personal journals. (I should note I have a LiveJournal account myself -- a paid one, even -- but I only write there if something has gone haywire with this site. Why did I pay for LiveJournal if I don't use it? But I do! Meet my sweet, addictive Friends of Friends page. So many LiveJournal entries. So little time).

I don't know that it necessarily represents anything, I've just been noticing these doubleblogs more as I go along. One does wonder if there's an upper limit to the number of blogs one can responsibly keep, and if there's a point at which -- not unlike owning cats -- you go to far and are defined by your blogs. I suggest that just as having more than three cats gets you labeled "Crazy Cat Person," perhaps three blogs is the upper limit as well. Feel free to discuss.

* A nice review of OMW in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Scalzi's execution is superb. His characters inhabit bodies that are barely human, but they talk, think and respond in familiar and appealing ways. His writing is graceful and clever, with descriptions of aliens, equipment and military encounters that are flat-out terrific. Smartly conceived and thoroughly entertaining, "Old Man's War" is a splendid novel.

Neat. I do think that this is the first press review from Ohio. Dayton Daily News hasn't dealt with it, but since they did a nice big positive write-up of Book of the Dumb 2 recently, I think we're pretty square up.

* While we're on the subject of science fiction, I got my appearance schedule for PenguinCon 3.0, the science fiction/open source convention in Michigan from April 22 - 24. Here are the panels on which I will appear:

Friday 4/22:
Collaborative Online Fiction, 7:30 to 8:30 PM.
Orion's Arm is an example of a world-building project that is open to submissions from anyone in a peer-reviewed system. This and other forms of writing and shared worlds made possible by the internet will be discussed.
On the panel: Cory Doctorow; John Scalzi; Matt Arnold
Quick thoughts: This will be the first time Cory and I are on the same panel; naturally I think we could have a lot of fun.

Saturday 4/23
The Blog and Its Uses, 10:00 to 11:00 AM
Why blog? For that matter, what the heck is a blog? Find out in this exciting panel with some top talents in the blogosphere! This is an ALL LEVEL panel.
On the panel: John Scalzi; Peter Salus; CmdrTaco
Quick thoughts: This should actually be a very interesting panel; Salus is an Internet historian and CmdrTaco is the founder of Slashdot. And then there's me.

How Do Writers Pay the Bills? 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM
Learn about how writers pay their bills - what writing jobs do they take to make ends meet?
On the Panel: Joan Vinge, Kevin Siembieda, Kathe Koja, M. Keaton, John Scalzi
Quick Thoughts: Another interesting one. I suspect (as is often the case) I'll likely be the only one with a history in corporate writing (aside from technical manuals), and I likewise imagine we'll have different ways to make non-SF related writing cash.

Sunday 4/24
Future of Sci Fi? Where to Now? 10:00 to 11:00AM
What is the future of the genre? Where is it going to be going now? Let luminaries speak to this and other things.
On the Panel: Joan Vinge; Tim Ryan; Jeff Beeler; M. Keaton; John Scalzi
Quick Thoughts: Heh heh heh heh.

* As with most lovers of fiction I was saddened to hear about the death of Saul Bellow, but what most of you may not know is that I had a personal connection with him: He was, briefly, my thesis advisor at the University of Chicago. I had approached him with the idea of doing an interdisciplinary thesis study with him on the individual in literature, and he agreed to be my advisor. Shortly thereafter, however, I was elected Student Ombudsman of the University and he had some other large project to devote his attention to, so we both agreed that circumstances were against us.

(My next thesis advisor was Ted Cohen, definitely no slouch himself in the brains department, but therein lies another tale, of how I became possibly the first U of C student to graduate without doing a thesis project (or whatever the equivalent is for the science students). This is probably best left for another time.)

Suffice to say that while I don't actually regret the path I took, I do wish I had had the opportunity to spend more time with Bellow, picking his brain and arguing literature and the role of the individual with him. Fortunately, there are still his books.

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Reasonably Large OMW News

But before the reasonably large Old Man's War news, a quick link to this review of OMW, from Dave Munger. His review is from a relatively unique perspective, since we went to college together, and he married a dormmate of mine. One of the things Dave notes is that "the book seems practically made with the screenplay in mind," which is an observation more than one person has made, including my agent, who once asked me if I had written it as a screenplay first and then adapted it into a novel.

Truth to be told, neither this book nor any other book I've written has been fashioned with an eye toward turning it into a movie, because if nothing else that would seem a bit precipitate on my part; if you're aiming past your book to the screenplay, chances are you're not actually writing a very good book. However, I also don't deny the books feel screenplay-like: I use quite a lot of dialogue to carry story, and I also have three act structure to most of what I write, which is standard issue for screenplays. Why do I do this? Well, for the former it's because I find dialogue easy to write; for the latter, well, I have been a movie critic of one sort or another for a dozen years, you know. It's gonna seep in.

As to whether OMW or any other of the books will sell to Hollywood: You got me. Prudence and a realistic grip on things suggests "no," if only because movie companies are quite literally flooded with pitch ideas from sun up to sun down, and when my agent pitches these, it's just one more drop in the flood. And of course I'd rather have a book go unsold than to be made into a movie by, say, Paul W.S. Anderson. But in short, the books I write are written to be what they are, not with the intent of transmuting them to some other form. If it happens, swell. But if not, they're still fine in the form in which they exist.

Now the reasonably large news: As many of you know, Old Man's War was bought with the idea of it having a hardcover release followed by a mass-market (i.e., ordinary-sized) paperback about a year later. Well, plans have changed; Tor has revamped the strategy. In between the hard cover and mass market paperback, there will now be a trade paperback release (those are the larger, glossier paperbacks) which will feature new cover art by John Harris (he did the art for this book, and this one, too).

The idea is to use the trade paperback edition to take advantage of some of the good press OMW has gotten so far, and to help set the stage for the Ghost Brigades hard cover, which will follow on the release of the OMW trade paperback. This is of course good news -- I'm deeply pleased Tor believes in the book enough to make the additional effort. This is yet another reason why I'm glad Tor is my publisher, and that I am pleased to be in their stable of writers.

And for those collectors among you, it's another reason to snatch up the hard cover: Not only for the relatively small first printing, but now the hardcover cover art will become something of a rare specimen. Makes me glad I went ahead and bought the original.

Posted by john at 03:22 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Reader Request Week 2005: Get Your Requests In

You know, every day thousands of people drop by here to see what I'm ranting about, or to find out what excuse I'm proffering for not ranting today, and to each and everyone of you, I want to say: Thanks. Daily you slake my need for public exhibition, and you ask for so little in return, except for the occasional few who ask for money (the answer is still "no" on that, by the way). And since you all patiently put up with my blatherations, once a year, for a week, I like to turn over the subject of the site to you. Once I year, you call the tune, and I dance like the proverbial monkey that I am for your amusement.

This is my way of saying that next Monday I'll start my 3rd Annual Reader Request Week: You suggest a topic, and I'll write about it. How do you suggest a topic? Just drop it in the comment thread. What kind of topic can you suggest? Why, any that you like. And what do you get for suggesting a topic? Well, aside from the satisfaction of knowing you've saved me the processing cycles required to come up with a topic of my own, you'll get an acknowledgment from me for your fabulous topic commendation, and, uh, well, I guess that's it, aside from getting an answer from me on the topic. But don't let that dissuade you. Maybe one year I'll give out cash awards for the topics I pick. Just not this year.

So, please: Anything you ever wanted me to write about, feel free to mention it in the comment thread. I'll wander through and pick at least one topic a day to discuss. It's good, clean, healthy fun for everyone. And to make sure that you don't ask a question about a topic I already addressed in 2004 or 2003, here are links to those articles.

From 2003:

Reader Request #1: The Middle East
Reader Request #2: Life Online
Reader Request #3: TV
Reader Request #4: Testing Preschoolers
Reader Request #5: Jealousy
Reader Request #6: Immigration
Reader Request #7: Ohio
Reader Request #8: Writing
Reader Request Wrapup

From 2004:

Reader Request Week 2004 #1: Boys and Girls
Reader Request 2004 #2: The Meaning of Life
Reader Request 2004 #3: Can Writing Be Taught?
Reader Request 2004 #4: Fatherhood and Pie
Reader Request 2004 #5: Objective Newspeople
Reader Request Week 2004 Wrapup

I'm looking forward to reading your requests!

Posted by john at 12:18 AM | Comments (75) | TrackBack

April 06, 2005


I sent off the final chapter of Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film today, thus signaling the end of the book. There are a few other things to be done -- several movie reviews and a few thumbnail reviews, mostly -- but all the heavy lifting is done. You cannot imagine how happy I am about this; the book took rather a bit longer to write than I had expected (a consequence, as I've mentioned before, of rather more research being necessary than I had originally anticipated), so having it largely completed is huge load off my head. Now I can focus my attention on Ghost Brigades.

That is, next week. I'm spending the rest of this week to depressurize.


Posted by john at 05:11 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

Spring is Officially Here

It gives me immense pleasure to present the first kite fly of the year:


Thank you. That is all.

Posted by john at 07:00 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack


To everyone who sent nice messages yesterday and today concerning Rex: Thanks very much. It does help.

I'm busy banging out a humor piece on the upcoming royal wedding for the Dayton Daily News, and after that I'll be putting the finishing touches on the final chapter of the Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film book, which will then be done save for a few movie reviews here and there. Thank freakin' God. Which means I'll be back to more normal posting schedule here in a couple of days. Hang in there.

Posted by john at 02:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

Rex the Cat, 1991 - 2005


This is admittedly not on the same scale of international importance as the death of the pope, but on the other hand, and no offense to John Paul II, it's more important to me: My cat Rex died either late last night or early this morning. I went to the garage to feed the cats and found him there, next to his little residence (a large pet carrier that we had converted with blankets and other warm things). He lived through 14 years, the last couple not in particularly good health (the picture you see above was him in chubbier days), and there were signs in the last few weeks that it was getting near time. This was not an unexpected exit.

I first met Rex when he was a kitten and the pet of my niece Ashley, who for reasons that are too complicated to go into now had lived with me (as did her mother, my sister) when I first left college and got a job as a film critic in Fresno. I think very early on Rex figured out that I was actually the one paying for his kibble, so he pretty much lived in my room in the apartment, and after my sister and her kids moved out he opted to stay with me.

Thus began a long bachelor association, in which, in typical slob fashion, he and I would each much of the same food, sometimes off the same plate (this might explain why at one point he weighed 30 pounds). He was always a prickly cat -- he really didn't like most people, and at one point he actually tried to kill me by smothering me with his flab (I had put him on a vet-dictated diet, and he disagreed with it) -- but he could also be very affectionate, and it was always very clear to other people and other pets that he was my cat.

And indeed, I can say without hesitation that he is the mammal with whom I had lived the longest: 14 years in a row, which not even my mother or my wife can beat, my mother because I spent a year living with an aunt when I was in kindergarten -- another long story -- and then went to boarding school, and Krissy because, well, we haven't known each other that long yet. Naturally, I fully expect Krissy to take this record from Rex, but it'll stand for a few years yet.

As I mentioned, near the end, Rex was getting wobbly. He'd lost a lot of weight and he was only sporadically continent, a condition which resulted in his general relocation to the garage for his final days; he was allowed in the house, mind you, and took advantage of those times to curl up in the rocking chair in my office or to sit in my lap while I typed, but eventually had to go back to the garage. And in fact, that was how his final day went: Lots of time sleeping in my office and sitting in my lap, and then I carried him out into the garage and said goodnight. In retrospect, I'm sad he didn't spend his last night indoors, but I do know that he was loved right until the end.

I found him this morning, as I said; I put him in a small box as gently as possible and then went up to tell Athena so she wouldn't wonder where he had gone. She took it actually very well, and wanted to see Rex again, so I went ahead and showed him to her. On the way to school Athena asked if Rex was up in cat heaven; I said that if there was indeed a heaven for cats that he was in it, because he had been a good cat. And then we speculated what a cat heaven might be like. I said that it might be someplace where cats had a lot of things to hunt and chase, like mice. Athena noted that this probably wouldn't be heaven for the mice, which is true enough. I suggested that the mice were on staff and that when they got caught, they'd say to their captor "Well, Ted, you got me today. But you won't be so lucky tomorrow!" and then off the mouse would go to his next chase appointment. We agreed that indeed this would be how it worked.

Then I dropped off Athena at school, came back and got Rex, and took him on his final journey to the vet, where he will be cremated. I had the option of having Rex cremated and his ashes disposed of, which is pretty cheap, or having his ashes returned, which is not. I opted for the latter. He was my cat, and he was my friend, and we lived together for a long time. I think I'd like to keep him near me.

Anyway. If you can find time in your thoughts today for my cat, I'd appreciate it. He was a good cat, and his passing deserves to be noted, and he himself deserves to be remembered. I'll miss him.

Posted by john at 08:54 AM | Comments (63) | TrackBack

Type Type Type...

... Still typing. So close to being done (after which, of course, I start another book. But never mind that now). Don't worry, I've left you something here. What is it, and is it worth 17.8MB of your downloading time? Well, you tell me.

Posted by john at 12:22 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

Bits and Pieces

No, I'm not doing anything clever for April Fool's Day, although if you like you can hear me get frustrated when Athena doesn't fall for my April Fool's Day prank. Kids can be too clever sometimes. Grrr.

In other news, Tor's ordered a fourth printing of Old Man's War. As the kids say: w00t!

Also, Old Man's War gets what I think is a really very good review by Russell Letson in Locus this month -- good in the sense of very well-considered, not in the sense of "uniformly positive." Indeed, the version of the review I've seen (graciously forwarded to me by the reviewer at my request, since I don't yet subscribe to Locus) begins "Once in a great while I find myself reviewing a book that annoys me..." which was enough enough to make me laugh out loud (the second part of the sentence is a little better for me: "... or, to be precise, a book that I enjoy enough to finish even though I might spend a lot amount of time arguing with it."

I enjoyed this review because the reviewer got into a dialogue with the book, and I think it's interesting to have someone feel like he wants to keep reading even when from time to time he wants to hurl the book across the room; what I really like is the suggestion the book had him spending time thinking about the issues it raises. To be sure, it's not an unqualified rave; it's not even close (the reviewer has a headful of nits to pick), but perverse fellow that I am, I don't mind mixed or even negative reviews if the review is thoughtfully done, and this one is. Naturally, I encourage you to seek it out.

Also noted in the April Locus: Elizabeth Bear's Hammered at #3 on the paperback bestseller's list. Rock on, Ms. Bear! No, Old Man's War is not on the bestseller list. I'll make it through the pain somehow.

On a completely unrelated front, I've decided that I'm going to go ahead and get myself a Mac. Because, you know, I want one, and since none of y'all picked up the hint to buy me one, I guess I'll just have to get it myself. My thought was to buy one in time to start writing The Ghost Brigades, but the complication here is that Apple is very likely to announce upgrades to its OS and possibly new models within the next few days, and it makes no sense to buy the current models until the updates are announced. Stupid product cycles.

In case you're curious, the Mac I have my eye on would be the 20" iMac, which is in the sweet spot for me in terms of price and power (this is one of the models they're likely to upgrade this month as well). As I mentioned previously, this doesn't mean I'll have "switched," since I intend to keep my current PC up and running because the PC universe still has a number of advantages, and at some point (probably a year to 18 months from now), I'll probably upgrade on the PC side as well. I'll be proudly biprocessorial. I swing both ways!

That's what's going on my world.

Posted by john at 11:44 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Rerun Week: I Second That Emotion

I'm still in rerun week although I will actually be posting a real entry not too long from now (probably). And depending how my weekend goes I may have a few more reruns next week. Happy April Fool's Day!



Angst. And I'm pretty bummed out about that.

Let us stipulate that "angst" is one of those words that people use a lot but which they don't really understand; in today's nomenclature, it is a trendy synonym for fear or even annoyance (e.g., "I went to Starbucks and my latte was mostly foam. I was filled with angst." Aw, poor baby). This dreadful misuse of the word is problematic, but in one way it's indicative of the fundamental nature of the concept of "angst," which is, like diet-related obesity or supermodels, a leisure society's affliction. Poor, ill-educated serfs didn't know from angst. They didn't have the time, or the inclination.

Which is not to say that didn't have fears, of course. To a poor, ill-educated serf, the world is full of fear: Fear of one's feudal lord. Fear of the Plague. Fear of the that witch down the lane, you know, the one with all the cats. Above all, a fear of God, He who could squash you in this life and the life everlasting, thank you very much. The point here is: Fear had direction. It was like a sentence; there was an subject (you) and an object (the thing that was gonna get you), and the verb "fear" was adequate to describe what your typical serf had going on in his brain, such as it was.

Angst is something else entirely. If fear is hard working and has a goal, angst is like fear's directionless cousin, the one that has a trust fund and no freakin' clue what he wants to do. Angst by definition has no definite object; it is formless and ubiquitous, and it just sits on your head and freaks you out. Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote the book on angst ("The Concept of Dread," 1844), believed that dread was a desire for that which you fear. This led to sin; sin leads to guilt, and guilt leads to redemption, preferably (at least from Kierkegaard's point of view) through the good graces of Christianity. God always gets you, sooner or later.

Martin Heidegger took angst even further, suggesting that dread is fundamental for a human being to discover freedom, as dread can lead to a man to "choose himself" and thus discover his true potential. When you're full of angst, you see, you tend to concentrate on yourself and not to sweat the little stuff -- say, everything else in the entire universe (to say this is a massive simplification of Heidegger's work is to say you can get a cup of water out of the Hoover Dam). Embracing oneself brings one closer to embracing nothingness, and thus full potentiality of authentic being.

Confused? Join the club. Heidegger's writings are so famously impenetrable they could be used by SWAT teams in place of Kevlar; to the uninitiated, he sounds a little like the self-help counselor from the third circle of Hell ("Love your Dread! Embrace the Nothingness!"). Left unsaid is what happens after one has in fact embraced the nothingness; one has the unsettling feeling that it's difficult to get cable TV. Also, there's the question of what happens when one has reached a state of authentic being, only to discover one is authentically an ass. Heidegger is unhelpfully silent on these matters; he himself embraced the nothingness in 1976 and will have nothing more to do with us inauthentic beings.

Angst is probably best described not through words but through pictures, and fortunately we have a fine illustrator of angst in Edvard Munch. Munch knew all about dread; first off, he was Norwegian. Second, he was a sickly boy whose family had an unfortunate tendency of dying on him: His mother when he was five, his sister when he was 14, then his father and brother while he was still young. His other sister? Mentally ill. Munch would write, quite accurately, "Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life." They weren't no bluebirds of happiness, that's for sure.

Munch's art vividly showed the nameless anxiety that Munch felt all around him. The most famous example of this, of course, is "The Scream," in which a fetal-looking person of indiscriminate sex clutches its head and emits a wordless cry. The weird little dude is Munch himself:

"I was walking along the road with two friends," he wrote, "Watching the sunset - the sky suddenly turned red as blood - I stopped, leant against the fence, deadly tired - above the blue-black fjord and the town lay blood and tongues of fire - my friends walked on and I was left, trembling with fire - and I could feel an infinite scream passing through the landscape."

Perhaps the infinite scream was the knowledge that one day his painting of the event would become such a smarmily iconic shorthand for angst that it would lose its power; its hard to feel dread when the screaming dude is on some VP of Advertising's tie. More's the pity.

Fortunately, there is other, less exploited, Munch work which still packs a punch. "The Scream" is just one element in Munch's epic "Frieze of Life," a collection of 20-odd canvases jam-packed with angst: One of the four major themes of the work, in fact, is "Anxiety." But even the more supposedly cheerful theme of "Love," features paintings swaddled in depression and dread: check out "Ashes" or "Separation," and angst leaps up and hits you like a jagged rock. Don't even view the "Death" pictures if you've skipped your Xanax for the day. Viewing any of the pictures, you immediately grasp the concept of angst; it sits on your chest like a weight, pressing the air out of you. Edvard Munch himself suffered a nervous breakdown, a fact which anyone who has spent any time with his work would find entirely unsurprising.

The irony about naming angst as the emotion of the Millennium is that at the moment, most everyone who can read this is living in almost entirely angst-free world. The economy is booming, people are well-fed and cheerful, most of us are safe and content. This is surely a switch from most of the 20th Century, the Century of Angst, which opened up with the perhaps the most dreadful war of all time, World War I, and then hunkered down under two decades of global depression, followed by a genocidal holocaust, a cold war, the cultural malaise of the 70s and the unvarnished capitalist ugliness of the 80s. Ask anyone then what the 90s would be like, they would have suggested more of the same, but without trash service.

Instead we have Britney Spears, SUVs and 28-year-old stock millionaires; our most difficult decision is whether to buy a DVD, or just stick with the VCR until we go and get an HDTV. Oh, sure, we think we feel angst on occasion, but closer examination reveals it to be irritation, pique or annoyance. I wouldn't suggest that this is a bad thing -- nameless dread can really crap on your whole day -- but I might suggest that the absence left by angst ought to be filled by something more than the luxurious malaise of sated comfort. What that something might be, I'll leave to you. Hint: It's not a "Scream" coffee mug.

Posted by john at 11:31 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack