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August 31, 2005

The Soda's in the Bathtub

In lieu of an actual entry today (which I don't have time for), please to visit Marissa Lingen's LiveJournal and this entry, in which she says something nice and perceptive about my writing, but also (and rather more importantly) says something useful for writers of the science fiction persuasion.

See you in September.

Posted by john at 09:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

3.2 Followup

I installed Movable Type 3.2 on the 26th, and it took until 13 minutes ago for it not to automatically shunt all the comment spam I received into its "junk" queue, and the single comment spam that it didn't shunt into the "junk" queue had a "warning" mark on it, meaning it was held for moderation rather than just being posted. As someone who was receiving (as previously mentioned) up to 500 comment spams a day, that just rocks.

Trackback Spam management has been nearly as good.

Well done, Six Apart. If you are using Movable Type, I truly suggest the upgrade. Back everything up first, of course. Then do it.

Posted by john at 03:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Scifi.com Interview

There's a brief article about Agent to the Stars, up at Scifi.com, which includes a couple of quotes from yours truly.

As a fun excercise, and to show the curious how the publicity sausage is made, behind the cut you'll see the full text I supplied to the writer (in answer to his questions), which he used to to help him craft the article and which he then mined for particular quotes. This rendering down of quotes and text is of course perfectly natural; when I interview people for news or feature articles, I will do much the same sort of weeding: 1,000 words might give you a hundred that you'll quote, and the rest is to fill out the background information.

What is always interesting is to see which quotes get used, and how. I'd also note that this sort of article differs quite a bit from the straight-out interview article (like the one I did with Strange Horizons earlier this year), in which most of what you say is usually used, and a good thing, too, since if the same 10:1 ratio applied there, we would all have to have immense pity on the poor person doing the interview, crushed as they would be by the sheer mass of verbiage.

Anyway. Here's the raw material for the Scifi.com article, for your compare and contrast pleasure. I'll underline the passages of the text that were used in the article, so you can spot them quickly.

1) I am confused about the timeline here. From your Web site, I gather that Agent to the Stars was written awhile ago, yet it is only being released in book form now? Please explain.

Here's the story. In 1997 I decided I wanted to see if I could write a novel -- not sell a novel, just write it -- so I decided to do a "practice novel," which would be written simply to see if I could manage the novel form. I deliberately chose a relatively "light" story and banged it out. Once it was completed, about three months later, I made a couple attempts to shop it around, but in early 1999 I decided to put it up on my Web site instead and offer it as "shareware" -- people could read it for free and if they liked it, they could send me a buck. And they did: Between 1999 and 2004, when I made it "freeware," readers sent in $4,000. Most sent more than the suggested $1; one guy sent in $200, which prompted me to ask him if his finger slipped when he typed in the amount on PayPal (it hadn't).

I never really expected to sell Agent, which was fine -- my plan was to keep it up on my Web site as a "free sample" and as advertising for my other books and novels. But in January of 2005, after the release of my novel Old Man's War, Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a hardcover edition of the novel. I told him I would do it if I could still keep the text online. He said sure, and here we are.

2) Why only a limited number of copies? Why not 2,000 signed copies and whatever else is demanded? Did you sell all of your signed copies? How many? 1,000? 1,500? 2,000? More?

Well, Subterranean Press is a small press that specializes in signed, limited editions, so that's one reason. The other reason is that the entire text of the novel is still available for free online (at scalzi.com/agent), so the signed, limited edition is really for people to have as a collector's item. This is a slightly different approach than other folks who have released their books as free e-texts: Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross released free e-texts of their most recent books *and* released their books in non-limited hardbacks. Those books are doing well on the sales front, from what I can tell, which suggests that releasing the e-text doesn't cut into book sales and could indeed help. Having the book available as a free e-text hasn't hurt sales of Agent, either; we sold several hundred in the pre-order phase, and now less than a month after release we have only a couple hundred copies left to sell.

In addition to the text, we did gin up some other reasons to get the book -- first, the rockin' cover art is by Mike Krahulik, of the extremely popular Web comic Penny Arcade (penny-arcade.com); it's his first book cover, so the book is a collector's item on that front as well. Second, to show our appreciation to Mike, Subterranean Press is donating 10% of the purchase price to Child's Play, the charity put together by Penny Arcade, which provides toys and video games to children's hospital across the US. I've also pledged that if we sold out the press run of 1,500 by the end of the year, I'll kick in an extra $350 to Child's Play directly out of my royalties. I'm happy to say it looks like I'll be taking that particular financial hit. I do think these donations have spurred a few sales.

I'm not opposed to doing a larger run of Agent at some point, but I wouldn't want to undermine the value of the limited edition for those folks who got that edition, and I'd still want to have the text available on my site. If a publisher is open to a low-key mass market paperback version at some point, I would be willing to listen. At this point, however, I'm perfectly content with the versions that exist.

3) Is it still your experience, as agents and publishers told you, that humorous SF is a hard sell? Why or why not?

It is, but that's because, as the old joke goes, "dying is easy; comedy is hard." It's hard to be funny in any circumstance; science fiction seems to have a particularly hard time of it, which is a little puzzling, since it's clear that science fiction fans have a great love of humor. Some of the problem has to be laid at the feet of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which has so long been the primary concept of what sf literary humor should be that it seems that when other attempts at humor are made, the response is "This isn't funny -- it's nothing like Hitchhikers!" And of course, writing a flat-out Hitchhikers wannabe is right out as well, because Douglas Adams does Douglas Adams better than anyone else. And now he's dead, so we're in a conundrum.

I think it's not insignificant that Agent sold only after Old Man's War sold; Agent could then be marketed as "the new book by John Scalzi" that also happened to be funny, as opposed to "a funny SF book from a guy you've never heard of." It also helped that while OMW was reviewed and marketed as space opera, it also had a strong vein of humor running through it, so when people came to look at Agent, its type of humor didn't take them entirely by surprise. I think it's also not insignificant that it's a small press book -- a small press doesn't have to worry about generating massive sales, just good small one, so it can be flexible regarding humor and other themes that are potentially problematical from a marketing point of view.

I would imagine I would have fewer problems in the future selling humorous science fiction books, but the reason for that will be that publishers who might be interested in me know that humor is one of the things I bring to the table, along with other things that perhaps make me more initially marketable.

4) About the book: Your concept is intriguing. Do you have any experience or inside knowledge about the Hollywood game? And how did the story come to you? Are you commenting on the state of Hollywood today, or anyone or anything else for that matter? Are the characters based on people you know or knew? if so, who and why? If not, why not?

I have some personal knowledge of Hollywood because I was a full-time film critic for many years, and still write freelance DVD reviews and industry commentary for newspapers and magazines (and have a book on film coming out -- more on that in a moment). I also have friends who work in agencies, management companies and film studios. The characters aren't based on any person in particular, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if some of the people I know saw a little bit of themselves there.

It *is* a commentary on Hollywood in the sense that LA really is the cultural capital of the world: Other cultures hunger for Hollywood, denounce it, rebel against it or try to emulate it, but nobody ignores it. It is the culture every other culture must respond to. It's worth noting that "Hollywood Culture" is not the same as "American Culture," especially these days, when overseas grosses make up more than half of a film's box office take, movie studios are owned by the Japanese, some of the expensive films are funded by byzantine German tax shelters, and the most anticipated movie of the year is being made by a New Zealander. But it was always this way: Our biggest film studios were begun by Russian Jews, some of the greatest directors Hollywood ever saw fled the Nazis, and Hollywood has always cheerfully cherry-picked actors from all around the world. It's been a global culture from the beginning, which is why it's so hard to fight -- and why it would be perfect for aliens who want to introduce themselves to us.

5) What's next for you?

Immediately, I have a non-fiction book coming out: The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, which covers the history of science fiction film from the first SF film in 1902 through to this summer's blockbusters like Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds, and lists "The Canon" -- the 50 science fiction films every serious science fiction film fan should see. I'm very excited about this book. In December, the trade paperback version of Old Man's War comes out, followed by the hardcover release of its sequel The Ghost Brigades in March 2006 (both will be a Sci-Fi Channel Essential Pick in January), which I am writing as we speak (wheee!). I am also guest-editing an issue of Subterranean Magazine, which will be published in spring 2006. And then in the second half of 2006 I'll have another novel, The Android's Dream, hit the bookshelves. So it'll be a busy time over the next year. And busy, of course, is good.

Posted by john at 08:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Back to School

1stday1stgrade.jpg

Having mastered the intricacies of kindergarten to a good and sufficient level, Athena has been invited back to attempt the rigors of 1st grade. Naturally we here in the Scalzi household wish her all the best in this difficult endeavor.

Yes, of course I'm being ironic. The other day at the school's open house I got a look at her reading and math workbooks and flipped to the back to see what she was expected to have learned by next June. Been there, done that, wrote the Whatever entry. For a current estimation of where Athena is on the learning scale, here's a question she asked me yesterday: "Daddy, if black absorbs all the light and warms things up, and white reflects all the light and stays cool, is red somewhere in the middle?" She also complains that she doesn't know all the planets any more since they found that new one and they haven't named it yet, flounce, flounce, huff. Having geek parents has its own set of challenges, I suppose. So we let the teacher know Athena might be just a little ahead of the curve there.

But we also let the teacher know Athena is, indeed, six years old, and prone to the usual six-year-old bouts of stubborness, silliness, sulky moments, antic outbursts and general "look! I have toes!"-ness that six year olds have -- i.e., no matter what she knows already, she's still a kid, to be treated as such, and more to the point, allowed to be such. Athena needs socialization as much as any kid her age, and at this point I'd rather she have that than to worry whether she's learning enough algebra in the first grade to get her into Harvard a little over a decade from now.

The teacher seemed to get what I was asking of her: Try to keep Athena from being academically bored, but also try not to turn her into the class freak while doing so. Athena's kindergarten teacher did an admirable job striking this balance, so I have high hopes we can do it again. We'll have to see. Athena no doubt has her own opinions about the matter as well; I expect we'll learn what they are presently.

Posted by john at 09:57 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

August 27, 2005

Additional 3.2 Notes

Having now lived with Movable Type 3.2 for 12 hours, I will note two things about it:

1. It looks prettier than earlier versions (it features color on its little icons, which makes a surprising amount of difference, esthetically speaking).

2. Since I've installed it, I've had no blogspam of any sort, either in comments or in trackbacks, I suspect due to the spam-fighting plugins that come standard in 3.2. That's down from an average of 500 comment spams and 50 trackback spams a day. While this makes me giggle like a happy child, it also makes me worry that some legitimate comments are being vaporized without me knowing.

So if you're curious if your comments will make it through, and you haven't previously commented since I switched over to 3.2 (which would have been on Friday afternoon, around six), leave a comment on this entry. If your comment doesn't make it through, let me know.

Also, the previous moderating plugin (which blocked comments on entries older than a week) is now out, so now you can leave a message on any open entry with impunity. I've changed the comment announcements to reflect this, and to note some additional things.

And, yes, I've changed the background colors again. I think I'll keep these ones for a while.

By and large I'm very pleased with 3.2 so far, although I know at least one person who lost most of her comments in the switchover. This didn't happen to me this time, but it happened to me with an earlier upgrade; this time I downloaded my database to ensure that there would be some record once I inevitably screwed things up. Naturally, if you have Movable Type and are considering an upgrade, I suggest you back up also.

I'll leave this as the top entry through the weekend, so again, if you want to confirm your commentability, this is a fine time to do it.

Posted by john at 07:19 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

August 26, 2005

On the 3.2

I had a squidgy sort of upgrade experience to Movable Type 3.2. Drop me a comment so I know they're working, would you? Thanks.

Posted by john at 06:21 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Upgrading

Attempting to upgrade to Movable Type 3.2. Things may get a little weird.

Posted by john at 02:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Antidote

For everyone truly disturbed and appalled by the picture of Athena earlier today, I offer this picture to soothe your jangled nerves:

athenanotpeeps.jpg

James Franks, I hereby request you post this picture on your office door as well, so all your shuddering co-workers can see that she's actually a sweet, normal little girl. Also, I want to see if any of them stop and say "Uh, why does that bear have two heads?" Which I guess doesn't really help my cause, here. Anyway.

Posted by john at 11:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Where It Comes From

In case you missed it -- because it's really just too good to miss -- the picture of Athena promoting Scott Westerfeld's new vampire book Peeps:

Now, you ask, from what side of the family does that look come from? Let's ask her mother, shall we?

Hmmm. On second thought, you know, let's not. Unless you've got some garlic handy.

Posted by john at 12:03 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

August 25, 2005

Checking My Calendar...

And it appears today is not "National 'Let's Have the Bugshit Annoying Send E-Mail to John Scalzi' Day." And yet so many of them chose today to do just that. Is Mercury in retrograde or something? Did I not get a memo? Somebody tell me.

Posted by john at 11:31 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Whoops

Just deleted about 10 comments by accident (including three of my own). If you see that a comment you posted has disappeared, it's not that you're being censored, it's that I'm an idjit. Please feel free to repost.

Posted by john at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Peeps!

My pal Scott Westerfeld's latest book Peeps hits the stores today, and it does for vampires what 28 Days Later... did for zombies, which is to put concept into a plausible and fascinating science-based context, gleefully messes with your preconceptions and then kicks the plot into hyperdrive and takes you along with it, as you go screaming all the way. It is excellent. And it's a Young Adult book, which means it's perfect for that sullen teen you know who complains there's nothing good to read. Hand it to him or her and say "read it, or I'll beat you with it." Because sometimes, sullen teens need to hear that.

I'm not the only Scalzi who enjoys Peeps, incidentally. In fact, if you go to Scott's site, you'll see Athena posing with the book in a contextually appropriate way. Yes, yes, you want to see this. Yes.

(If you like the picture of Athena you see there, feel free to borrow it for your own site, as long as you don't alter it other than for resizing. I'm sure Scott wouldn't mind having the cover of his book plastered about teh Intarweeb. And neither would I!)

Posted by john at 08:19 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

Google Talk Address

I've downloaded Google Talk and have decided to make it my public IM address, at which anyone can drop me an instant message (as opposed to my private IM address, which is on another service entirely, and which is reserved for family, personal friends, and for business associates). If you have Google Talk or one of the IM services through which it can be reached feel free to add me. The account I'll be under is:

Scalzenfreude --at-- gmail.com (replace the "--at--" with "@", of course)

"Scalzenfreude," of course, being the German term meaning "The joy of talking to Scalzi."

Be aware that as part of my whole "submerged" thing I have going until the end of August, if/when you add me to your list of contacts through the next several days, the conversation we'll have about it is most likely to be along the lines of me saying "You've added me to your list? Awesome! Thanks! And now I have to go. See you in September!" Please don't be offended. I'm not brushing you off personally, I'm brushing you off as part of a larger aggregate of people. Come September I'll be positively sociable, promise.

(Also, I'm not at all likely to have a voice chat with people I don't already know, especially right now, so trying to contact me that way is not likely to get any response at all. Sorry.)

Anyway, if you've ever wanted to experience me in an IM setting, there you have it.

Posted by john at 09:24 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

Glub, Glub

Have to submerge for several days. Posting will be light through the rest of the month. Courage.

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

Making Multiples

athena4x4.jpg

The Scalzis are multiplying!

For the folks who ask how I did this sort of picture, it's actually pretty simple. First you set your camera on a flat surface, so it doesn't move. You snap multiple pictures of your subject without moving your camera one bit. Try to make sure your subject doesn't occupy the same space in any two frames. Then you open the pictures in photo-editing software that allows for layers, and paste the pictures in separate layers. Then you simply edit down the topmost pictures to contain only your subject. Since your camera didn't move, your backgrounds are consistent, so even if you edit them out of one picture, they still join up with the backgrounds in the other pictures.

And then you're done. The only fiddling you may need to do is with color correction, although if you avoid the flash and use only natural light, you'll have less of a problem with this. in the end you may have a few artifacts, but a lot of those will be "fixed" when you shrink the photo down to display it on the Web (i.e., you lose the tiny details that prove the picture's a fake).

And that's how that gets done.

Posted by john at 07:37 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

There Can Be Only One

badday0822.jpg

Man, don't even ask me to explain what's going on in this picture. Suffice to say that if you think you know which one is the evil triplet, you're probably so very wrong.

Also: The Ronco Clone-O-Matic? Buggy. Oh yeah.

Posted by john at 04:17 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Amazon Shorts

Online bookseller Amazon has started something called "Amazon Shorts," in which selected authors are selling short stories and essays in electronic format for 49 cents. How is it for readers and authors? I decided to find out.

First on the reader end: I went and bought one of the Amazon Shorts (The War of Dogs and Boids : A Coyote Story, by Allen Steele). Anyone who already has an Amazon account will find the purchase process very easy. As soon as you purchase the story, you can access it in one of three ways: You can follow an html link, which pops up the formatted story online, you can have it e-mailed to you in plain text e-mail, or you can download the story as a pdf. I tried all three. The html version looked and read fine, and the text e-mail popped into my mailbox with typical Amazon near-instant speed. The first time I tried downloading the pdf I hit a glitch, but I downloaded it this morning without any problem and like the html document it was well-formatted and quite readable. Amazon says that once you've bought an Amazon short, a copy of it remains in your Amazon "digital locker" forever.

As far as I can see there is no digital rights management protection on these shorts. Depending on the author's point of view this is a good or bad thing for them (I'll get to that later) but it's an unqualifed good for the reader: It means that once you buy an Amazon short, you actually own the damn thing and can format it how you choose, whether that means printing it out or stuffing it into the PDA-readable format of your choice or whatever it is you want to do with it. The idea that Amazon keeps a copy of the story for you on a permanent basis is also very nice, since as long as you're able to sign on to Amazon, you'll never have to worry about where that short story file is. As a reader, I like that someone at Amazon has made the executive decision not to treat its customers like potential criminals and chose not to DRM these shorts to the point of non-usability. To the extent that I buy short fiction and essays online, that philosophy will make a diffence.

Amazon's price point for the stories -- 49 cents -- seems to me entirely reasonable: Low enough to be an impulse buy, but not so low that no one makes any money off the thing. I don't know what Amazon's cost is in doing this (anecdotally it appears to have some sort of staff devoted to formatting the stories in their various iterations and maintaining the Amazon Shorts area), but not having to create paper versions of the shorts is a clear advantage, since the actual distribution costs for electronic documents are miniscule.

At this point the major drawback to Amazon Shorts for readers is the lack of material; only a few dozen Amazon Shorts are available at debut. Amazon is soliciting new authors to participate, however, so one suspects that there will be more material quickly. And for the record, the story I downloaded was pretty darn spiffy.

So as a reader, my initial experience with Amazon Shorts was very good: Easy to understand, easy to use, good quality material. I do expect I'll wander through the area again soon to see if there are any authors or stories I want to try.

But what's good for a reader is not necessarily good for an author, so now let's turn to the author point of view and see what the advantages and disadvantages are. Bear in mind that what follows is based on somewhat incomplete knowledge of the specifics of the Amazon Shorts program, since I am not a participant myself. This is all first draft stuff. I'm also going to cover this from the science fiction and fantasy writer perspective, as that's where my experience is.

First off, the question is: How does the author get paid? Amazon's own FAQ is mum on the matter, which is never a good thing. I asked around informally and heard back from more than one knowlegable party that Amazon is not paying authors upfront -- what it's offering is a fairly substantial cut of the sales gross. I was not able to get a definitive number here due to hedging from at least one of my sources, but the numbers I've seen hinted at suggest something in the 30% to 50% range. Amazon asks for a window of exclusivity of at least six months for each story. So in effect, the deal is Amazon gets first world rights in return for a cut of the sales revenue. As most writers know, this sort of payment system is rather different from how short stories are usually paid for. Traditionally a publisher offers a certain amount based on story length (in science fiction, SFWA considers professional pay to begin at five cents a word), and the author gets that amount as a flat fee up front, with no additional consideration.

Normally, the question of whether a short fiction writer should get paid upfront or as a cut of revenues isn't actually a question at all: Short fiction writers should get paid, up front, always. The reason is simple: Publishers aren't to be trusted with money, and the sort of publisher that would ask the writer to share the risk and costs of publishing is to be trusted least of all. The writer's job is to write; the publisher's job is to publish and sell the work. Yog's Law: Money flows to the writer. If the money does not immediately flow to the writer there is a big problem.

Should Amazon be considered any different than any other fly-by-night "publisher" who offers to publish first, pay later? We'll have to see, but provisionally, I can think of a number of reasons why the answer here would be "yes." First: Unlike any number of nebulous "publishers," Amazon does not appear to be saying that author payment is contingent on some vague profit goal or on whether the magazine/site sells advertising or whatever; what it appears to be saying is "you get a cut from the very first sale" -- Meaning that as soon as Amazon starts taking in money, the author starts making money. If indeed this is the case, then Yog's Law is not violated.

Second: Unlike any number of nebulous "publishers," Amazon is Amazon, the industry leader in online retail, with a well-established history of working with (and paying) third-party vendors, which in this case is what the author would be. Amazon has nothing to gain by attempting to scam authors out of their work without paying them, and rather a lot to lose, since if it did so it would anger publishers, agents and authors, from whom Amazon derives one of its main sources of income, i.e., books. The proof of Amazon's business practices for Amazon Shorts will be at the end of however Amazon has structured its payment periods, when the participating authors get cut a check. But until that time, given who Amazon is and its history in business, I'm willing to assume they're not out to screw the authors.

The question authors need to ask is not "will Amazon pay me?" the answer to which I sincerely expect to be "yes." What the question should be is "will I get more for my short story through Amazon Shorts than I'd get from traditional short story publishing?" And to answer that question, let's go to the math.

Let's say I write a 5,000 word science fiction short story, and miracle of miracles, I sell it to Asimov's. Asimov's pays five to eight cents per word, meaning I'll get somewhere between $250 and $400 for my story (given that I'm a reasonably new SF writer with no short story record, the $250 figure seems more in line). The good news is I'm assured of at least $250; the bad news, such as it is, is that there is no way I will make more than $400 (this formulation disregards future sales through reprints; we're talking one sale at a time). Either way, my job as a writer is done -- the publisher takes the story, promotes it and presents it to its audience.

Now, let's say that instead of selling the story to Asimov's, I instead put it up as an Amazon Short (NB: This presumes that Amazon, in its wisdom, has accepted me into its Amazon Shorts program -- for the moment, at least, it is invitation only). The good news is that theoretically there is no end to amount of money I can generate with this one sale -- as long as people keep buying the story, I keep earning my cut. The bad news is that it's entirely possible no one will buy the story and I will earn no money at all. Indeed, in order to make the Asimov minimum wage for the story (and given the stated royalty range above), I'll need to have between 1,000 and 1,700 people buy my short story. Are there 1,000 to 1,7000 people willing to shell out fifty cents for my short story? See. That's the question.

My feeling about Amazon Shorts is it's best suited for writers who already have a significant and self-sustaining fan base. i.e., writers who are rather popular already. In the SF/F genre, I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if Neil Gaiman or Orson Scott Card or Connie Willis dropped something into Amazon Shorts, they would be likely to make a fair chunk of cash in short order. Some other writer whose name recognition is slightly less luminous -- a comfortably mid-list writer, in other words -- might not see a difference one way or another. But strictly in terms of the money, most writers (and I would include myself here) would probably be better off going to the venue where the money is offered up front, unless said author is ready, willing and able to flog the Amazon Short to all and sundry on a regular basis. If you're not an inveterate self-promoter, this probably won't be your bag.

Aside from the money issue (heh), there are other things to consider. Writers who are paranoid that pirates will steal everything they ever write (arrrr!) will blanch at the utter lack of DRM on the Amazon Shorts, although I submit in this case, as in most cases, writers should worry less about piracy and more about obscurity; most writers will never be pirated because not enough people care about their writing to pirate it. There's also the matter of whether having a copy of a story permanently for sale on Amazon will have an impact on the story's resale value; I can see a situation where an anthology editor might choose not to pick a story originally published as an Amazon Short because he doesn't wish to have to compete with an a la carte offering of something in his book.

Let's note the potential upsides as well. For one thing, the Amazon Shorts page that accompanies each short is an excellent spotlight for the author: Allen Steele's Amazon Short page not only has the story available for purchase but also features biographical details and links to all his longer works available on Amazon; in essence it acts as a potential gateway to more (and more substantial) sales. That's an advantage no print magazine can offer. It's also, simply, another sales market in a world where the short fiction market is both small and not especially well-paying.

I'm not sure whether the Amazon Shorts staff acts as an editorial gateway, accepting and rejecting stories submitted by the authors, or if it merely accepts authors into the program and then allows them to post what they want. If it's the latter, I can see some authors choosing to present short stories that way because it allows them to skip the aggravation of rejection and/or pernicious editing to present their stories to their fans (whether this is actually a good thing for the writing itself -- or for the fans -- is another question entirely; most writers need editors and the occasional rejection).

One other thing I see Amazon Shorts (or something like it) offering writers is flexibility in writing forms. By its very name Amazon Shorts is designed to promote shorter works, but I don't see why one couldn't do more with it. One could easily serialize a novel there and allow readers to pay by the chapter. Alternatively, one could dispense entirely with the novel form and create an ongoing serial story, a persistent fiction world with story arcs and characters dropping in and out of the action. There's no particular reason something like that couldn't work, should someone choose to do it.

I don't imagine something like Amazon Shorts will constitute much of a threat to traditional short story markets because in terms of money and other less tangible benefits, most authors will continue to be better served by those markets. But I do see Amazon Shorts as a potentially healthy alternative market for writers, and particularly for authors who bring their own fandom to the party. As long as the money is flowing to the writers, new markets are a good thing.

(Update: Author Nick Mamatas offers his perspective here. Not entirely surprisingly, his perspective is "not only is this glass only half full, there are invisible shards of glass floating in the water." I'll post more author blog links when I see them and/or I get around to it.)

Posted by john at 06:48 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

Y.A.S.P. (Yet Another Sunset Picture)

sunset050821.jpg

You know, I actually promised myself tonight that I wasn't going to take a picture of the sunset. But in the end I couldn't resist. It looked too much like a sunset painted by this guy, and I knew none of you would believe me unless I actually went out and snapped a photo of it. So here we are.

Posted by john at 11:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Brilliant Goodbye

Hunter S. Thompson is in those fireworks. His ashes, anyway (and if they weren't entirely ashes before, they are now). Damn, that's an awesome way to go.

I personally intend to be cremated, since weighing my survivors down with thousands of dollars of wholly unnecessary funeral expenses is not really the way I wish to be remembered. Then I want my ashes formed into the shape of a garden gnome, the kind that ironic hipsters steal and then send all over the world, photographing each place they go to and sending pictures back to the owner (which I assume would be someone I know). I think that would be fairly amusing.

Posted by john at 08:31 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 20, 2005

Sunset 8/19/05

sunset0819w.jpg

Off the front porch. Excluding rainy days, it's like this most of the time when sunset rolls around. There are worse views to have.

Posted by john at 12:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

A Web Entry I Could Not Write

Because I would get in trouble, what with the Y-chromosome and all. Mythago, however, does not have this problem.

Posted by john at 03:36 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

An Amazon Depatment Too Far

You know, I love me the Amazon, but I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to buy sex toys from them. If for no other reason than I'm not mentally prepared for the Amazon Recommends e-mail that would inevitably arrive: "We've found that Amazon customers who have bought the NewPlex Adam & Eve Realistic 8 Inch Penis Dildo might also enjoy the SeaKap Butt Plug Black (Medium)." Yeah, having Amazon's computers recommend an anal plug to me might in fact send me right over the edge, and not in that good "it's massaging your prostate!" way.

Now let us never speak of this again.

(via Instapundit)

Posted by john at 12:29 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Wanting to Be a Writer

Per yesterday's request for topics, I picked two to discuss today.

First: Athena picked "Karma Scarebear" as the name for her bear, and she thanks everyone for their suggestions. She was very excited to see that so many people had made an effort on her behalf (although she didn't put it in quite those words: She said, "Coooool. So many names.").

Second, sxKitten asked:

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer, and what motivated you to start writing seriously (writing in hopes of being published as opposed to writing just for fun)?

As for the "wanting to be a writer" thing, I think I've mentioned before when it happened, but just in case I didn't, here it is: I started thinking about being a writer about age 12, when it became clear I was good at it (good relative to being 12, mind you) and also coincidentally it became clear that I wasn't likely to become an astronomer (my first choice of professions) because I did math only slightly better than Clever Hans, and that wasn't going to be acceptable if I wanted to be a truly useful astronomer. The confirmation that I was going to be a writer came to me when I was 14, when I was the only kid to get an "A" on a writing assignment that the Freshman English composition teacher (John Hayes) assigned to his classes, and I got it for a story that really didn't require all that much effort to write (and was fun to do as well). No stupid kid I, I made the connection: Writing = pretty easy; Everything else = more work than it's worth.

The matter of what my future profession would be was pretty much settled then, and I never really considered doing anything else as a profession after that. This was useful because unlike most people I didn't have to suffer through the existential angst of wondering what I was going to do with my life, with the commensurate academic and emotional casting about trying to figure out what fit. Indeed, as friends who knew me during my developmental years would no doubt tell you, I was actually fairly driven toward those things I thought would be useful in a writing career and rather deeply apathetic toward those things that were not.

This (combined with my own inherent laziness) was why I maintained a steady 2.8 GPA through high school and college; I would ace my "useful" classes and get Ds in the classes I didn't care about, because, really, I didn't care. This drove both my mother and my college girlfriend absolutely nuts for differing reasons, although I'm reasonably sure if you asked them about it now, they would grudgingly admit that in retrospect I knew what I was doing. I'm not entirely sure I would admit I knew what I was doing, and I suspect that if I had to do it over again, I would probably try harder in the classes in which I didn't try -- not necessarily for the grades but because knowledge is useful, and wasting it because you don't think you need it is stupid. But life doesn't give you do-overs in that respect (although you can make it up in extra credit!), and in the end I was fortunate that my cavilier attitude toward my own education seems not to have caused any lasting damage.

As to the question regarding what motivated me to start writing "seriously" -- well, after the age 14 revelation that writing was easy and fun and most other things weren't, I would suggest that I was writing "seriously" from that moment forward, since I made the decision to make writing my profession. Writing "seriously" should not be confused with writing professionally or even writing well -- but I was aware that what I was writing was part of a continuum which would (hopefully) lead to a career in writing.

Now, I don't want to suggest that I had a huge amount of sagacity or perspective on the matter when I younger. Like many teens who are good at something to a degree that most of their friends and acquaintances aren't, I had a rather outsized opinion of my writing and its quality, a fact which now leads me to recall a number of incidents involving me and my writing which cause me to cringe today. Indeed, allow me a moment to say the following:

To all the people the younger me forced my writing upon when you were merely being polite about my enthusiasms: So sorry. Really. It won't happen again.

I have friends from high school and college who haven't read much of anything I've written since those days because they had to suffer through what I wrote then, and I was also aggressive about making them suffer through it. As a result I am much more circumspect today about doing that sort of crap. This is not the same as saying I've entirely quelled the little needy "Look! Look! Aren't I so good and clever and funny and don't you just love me?!?!?" demon that I have, because, oh, it's there. And it's not entirely unuseful, especially when it transmutes into a capability to tirelessly work the publicity rounds. But I do try to keep it in its cage most of the time, and not spring it on people who are actually interested in me for things other than my writing, or are just being polite.

(Not entirely surprisingly, the Whatever is very useful for this, since it allows me a space to be my show-offy and sometimes appallingly arrogant self without having to take the commensurate step of forcing it on other people. After all, no one's putting a gun to your head and making you come here every day to read this (as far as I know). It's exhibition without the psuhy pushy pushy that gives exhibition that queasy edge. Yes, I want to be liked, and seen as a clever writer. But these days I don't want to be liked so much that I need to rub myself (or every little bit of my writing) on other people. My days of being literary frotteur are largely over.)

To go back to the point after this long, self-flagellating digression, whatever my earlier estimations of my writing abilities, most of what I wrote when I was younger was written with an eye for it being published and read by other people; I have almost no personal writing of any sort -- what little there is exists in the form of high school and college-era poems and song lyrics. Otherwise, what unpublished material I have exists as failed book proposals. Of that stuff, I think it was almost all fun, otherwise I wouldn't have done it, but it's all also "serious." Generally speaking, I didn't distinguish between the two. Even the Whatever, which began as an uncommercial site (and still is, mostly), was also begun to keep in practice for commercial writing. And over time, I've sold quite a few things that were originally published here, and I'm aware how this site has helped my career by helping me build an audience. When I wrote Agent as a "practice" novel -- i.e., for fun and not for profit, after I was done I put it up and offered it as shareware (i.e., for an audience, and for them to pay me if they liked it). And of course, I've sold it as a book since then. So you see that the line is very blurry between my "fun" and my "serious" when it comes to writing.

If anything, I'm somewhat less concerned as I get older about what's "fun" and what's "serious" in terms of writing. At this point in time, with seven books published and two more in the pipeline for 2006, reasonably good prospects for selling books after that point, and a solid career in writing outside of books, I'm very comfortable with who I am in a professional sense. I don't really feel I have to prove any more that I've "made it" as a writer or measure up to a particular standard. I have goals, of course, in terms of writing: I want to write things I like; I want to write things my publishers can sell; and when at all possible I'd like the two former statements to be well-integrated with each other so I can continue in this happy cycle until I croak.

But I don't think I'm going to worry about it much. After I'm done with The Ghost Brigades (which God willing will be very soon), if Tor doesn't immediately beg for a book 3 in an OMW universe, I'm going to pencil in what I'm going to write next. Right now I have three ideas that are the front runners. One is explicitly commercial -- A big contemporary Crichton-like thing -- so that we can see if I can reach the folks who like science fiction but get twitchy when it gets called that. Another is a science fiction idea which is, I think, not especially commercial at all, but which I think would be really a kick to write. The last one is a non-fiction book on writing and the writing life, which I've been mulling since at least 2002 and think I may finally be at a point where I can write it and not look an ass.

Which of these will I choose to put on the platter first? You got me. But it's likely it'll be the one I think will be the most fun, because I'm at a point where I don't really want to do anything I'm not going to enjoy the hell out of. If I want to just grind away at something, I've got lots of corporate work I could be doing. It's less complex, less aggravating, and pays a hell of a lot better. If the least commerical thing I'm thinking of looks like the one that's the most fun, well, why not? It could end up being very commercial, for all I know, which would just prove that no one knows anything, and more to the point, I'll like writing it, which will show through in the final product. And that does matter.

(In case you're wondering: Yes, if Tor asks for a book 3 in the OMW universe, I'm ready (no, I won't tell you the details). And yes, I'd write it. I like the universe. Well, the OMW universe itself is a nasty place and I'm glad I don't live there. But I don't mind visiting and I like the people there. Which goes to the point: It's serious work, but it's fun to do, too.)

I recognize that a number of writers -- many excellent -- make a strong distinction between their "serious" and "fun" work, or can register a point when their writing stopped being simply about the joy of expression and started angling toward something more cash and attention-generating, but I've never been that way. I'm not an Emily Dickinson type, either, content to write stuff and keep it in a drawer for the spiders and the executor of my estate. For better or worse, I've always written with an eye toward my writing being seen and (hopefully) enjoyed by as many people as the medium allows. What you see is what you get. An interesting question, which I can't answer, since I'm inside of it, is whether the notably "popular" tone of my writing comes initially from my own personal voice, or the narcissistic desire to reach a large audience. I suspect it's the former, but then I would.

Having now asked that question, I do wonder what I would write if I decided to write something that I didn't intend other people to see. To be honest, the idea is so alien to me, I'm having a hard time thinking of anything at all. Which is, of course, fascinating in itself. I'll have to think about it some more.

Posted by john at 09:19 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Curious

Both the trade paperback of Old Man's War and the hardback of The Ghost Brigades have higher Amazon rankings at the moment than Agent to the Stars (all in the 100,000 - 200,000 range). I do hope the people buying both OMW trade and TGB Hardback do realize it'll be months before they get their hands on them. On the other hand it's nice that people are thinking ahead.

Posted by john at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Duuuuuuuuuuh

Can't think of a single thing to write about here today. Therefore, not going to try, as there is nothing more pathetic than typing simply to hear the clack of your keys. If someone wants to suggest a topic for tomorrow, please be my guest. This also serves as your open thread invitation. Chat amongst yourselves.

Posted by john at 12:52 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies Arrives

In the mail today:

rg2sf.jpg

Very pleased with the cover. Quite nicely iconic. At an earlier point, I think they were considering Rutger Hauer as Roy in Blade Runner for the cover, which would have been nice, too, but there were rights issues or some such. But I like the Metropolis cover just fine, myself.

The book itself is larger than I expected, both in physical size and in its length; I knew I wrote a lot, but I didn't realize how much until I thumbed through the thing. Even edited, it's fairly substantial -- but then, we did cover a lot of ground in the book. Aside from my work in writing it, the visual design inside is quite smart, and should you ever pick up the book for yourself, I humbly ask you to admire the index in the back, which was the work of Susan Marie Groppi, who absolutely saved my ass by doing such a fine job of it. Overall, a fabulous-looking book, and I thank everyone at Rough Guides (and Susan) for making it so.

One minor quibble I expect to see among the SF faithful is the fact the word "Sci-Fi" is in the title; when my Rough Guide editors told me what the title they were going with was, I noted some SF fen would not be pleased. However, the book is addressed not only to SF fans but to the wider reading audience, many of whom are more familiar with the term "sci-fi" than "SF" in reference to science fiction. I do have a sidebar in the book's introduction on the matter, which reads thusly:

Just as the citizens of San Francisco cringe when an out-of-towner calls the city "Frisco," so do many long-time fans of the science fiction genre become annoyed when someone outside their circle refers to science fiction as "sci-fi." To many longtime fans, "sci-fi" has the taint of being a "lite" version of the genre they know and love; therefore, many longtime fans use "SF" as their preferred shorter version. This antipathy is not universal -- many science fiction genre professionals don't care about it one way or another, and indeed, the US cable network devoted to science fiction and fantasy is the "Sci-Fi Channel" -- but inasmuch as the bias is there, we'd be remiss not to acknowledge it.
For the purposes of this book, we make no value judgments about the desirability of "SF," "sci-fi" or "science fiction" as labels -- we use them more or less interchangeably for the sake of variety. This book's author, a published science fiction novelist, does suggest that if you fall in with a group of longtime SF fans, that you use the term "SF" rather than "sci-fi" as an abbreviation simply to avoid the potential of being humorously ribbed by them about it (most long-time SF fans are actually pretty tolerant if you're showing genuine interest in the genre).
Also, should it come up, use "trekker" rather than "trekkie."

We'll see if that handles it.

One of the things I enjoy about doing a book for Rough Guides is the fact that it's edited by English people, so after they're done editing me, I end up reading like an Anglophile version of my self, complete with extra "u"s in my writing and the occasional bit of UK slang, like "knocked for six," which I assume -- but could not confirm if my life depended on it -- is an expression that comes from cricket. I think I would very much like to meet the Anglicized version of myself one day. He seems a fine chap.

As for the book availability itself: Amazon has it listed that it'll be available on October 17, which means it'll probably be available a little bit before then in bookstores, etc. Clearly, I think you should be on the lookout.

In any event: Whoo-hoo! Very happy day.

Posted by john at 01:34 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

Secrets and Lies

Some of the things about me below may be true. Some may be false. I'm not going to say which is which.

1. When I was born, there was a weird lump that came out with the afterbirth. My mother tells me the doctors told her it was my undeveloped twin.

2. I once bit off a mole, just to see if I could handle the pain.

3. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I dated a girl I worked with at Del Taco and didn't tell any of my friends (I went to boarding school, remember, so I could actually get away with this). I broke up with her after about two weeks because her hair smelled like refried beans, which was really disturbing. Also, because she kissed like I imagine a manatee would. I also quit my job at the Del Taco. I never ate at Del Taco again, partially because working at the place kills any desire to eat the food, but also because I had a morbid fear I'd see her still working there. After 20 years, I doubt she works there any more. But there are no Del Tacos near where I live, so the point is moot.

4. I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

5. I have been sexually propositioned -- twice! -- at highway rest stops.

6. I voted for Bush, just so I could have something to write about for the next four years.

7. I was so afraid of drowning as a child that I would practice holding my breath for extended periods of time, just in case I ever had to. I once held my breath for almost four minutes. I can't even come close to doing that anymore.

8. I once faked a seizure for attention.

9. If I don't chew gum at least one a day, I get antsy.

10. I had a friend who I helped out by posing as her boyfriend at a dinner date with an old boyfriend and his new girlfriend. She didn't want him to know she was still single (and still wanted him back). The irony is that I had a serious crush on her at the time. So there was me pining for her who was pining for him, who was clueless (although I suspect the new girlfriend had it all figured out; she was pretty sharp). It was a most uncomfortable dinner.

11. I had one tooth come in twice as an adult tooth.

12. I once gave serious thought to becoming a Mormon.

13. Until about the age of ten, I had an intense dislike of carrots.

14. When I was eight, I was chasing a neighborhood cat with a squirt gun when it ran into the street and was hit by a car. The car didn't stop and I didn't admit the guilt. Years later I adapted the event for a plot moment in Agent to the Stars.

15. I tear up almost every single time I hear the song "Purple Rain" by Prince.

16. I'm generally pretty secure, but my inability to handle really spicy food occasionally makes me feel unmanly.

17. If you want to get in an argument with me, wearing yellow helps. Conversely, I can't ever remember arguing with someone wearing green. No, I don't know why. Green is my favorite color, but outside of a clothing context, I have nothing against yellow.

18. I wrote, submitted and had published a romance novel when I was still in college, under a female pseudonym. I wrote it late at night on a computer in the Chicago Maroon newsroom because I didn't have a computer of my own. I was paid $4,800 for it, which I used to help pay for my final year at the U of C. The only person I told about it was my grandfather, because I had to explain to him why I didn't need him to send me $100 a month anymore, like he had been doing through college.

19. When I go to a restaurant and I ask for Coke and they ask if Pepsi is okay, I always give a big show of being aggravated, but honestly? I can't actually taste any difference. At all.

20. At least one person who reads the Whatever knows which of these are true and which are false. I'll be very interested to see if that person shows up in the comment thread.

Posted by john at 11:11 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

August 15, 2005

Hasten the Day!

This man and these people just about deserve each other. Let's all pray for the day their twain shall meet.

Posted by john at 04:38 PM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

Partisan Stupidity

A condensed and not-entirely-fair version of something that's driving me batty on the comment thread of this entry:

Me: The Bush adminstration's argument that foreign nationals in airports have almost no rights is appalling.

Commentor #1: Well, that's because you're a left-leaning partisan.

Me: No, I would find the argument appalling if it were made by liberal government as well.

Commentor #1: You're clearly parroting the verbiage of your undergraduate professors.

Me: I went to the University of Chicago, which is a conservative political powerhouse. I suspect they would be appalled too. But this isn't about partisan politics.

Commentor #1: Aren't we just exaggerating -- for purely partisan purposes?

Me: Not really, and again, this isn't about partisan politics, and I wish you'd stop saying it was.

Commentor #2: I'm not Commentor #1, and this is absolutely about partisan politics.

Me: [expletive deleted]

My question: Have people been so well-trained to think of everything in partisan terms that they simply can't conceive of another model in which to think? Is the idea that someone else might be thinking of something in non-politically partisan terms is so foreign at this point that they literally can't wrap their brains around it? What the hell is wrong with people? When did independent thinking become so goddamned difficult?

Mind you, some of this line of questioning is due to simple irritation: I get annoyed when I state something and people then repeatedly suggest that I don't actually mean what I've just stated. Not to get all hoity-toity about it, but, you know what, I've been a professional writer for fifteen years, and I have a degree in the philosophy of language. I know how to use words. So there's a pretty decent chance when I say something like, oh, that my contempt for the Bush administration has less to do with its conservative politics than with its authoritarian streak, which is largely independent of classically conservative thought, and that I would oppose the same authoritarian tendencies in a "liberal" government as well, that I actually mean exactly what I've just written, and that flouncing along to say "oh, well, you're really just a partisan hack and you don't really mean what you just wrote" might actually offend me. And saying it four or five times in sequence -- after I've corrected you each time -- might actually cause me to think you're a friggin' moron. So, yes, irritation is definitely a causative factor here.

However, it goes beyond that. Watching people apparently just not get that there's a mode of political thought outside the banally partisan is appalling. It's depressing to see people fly back to that mode of thinking, like a homing pigeon batted out of a holding cage, because they apparently can't conceive that anyone could think otherwise; they simply don't believe you when you suggest your mode of thinking plots out off the right-left political axis.

Is it a failure of the imagination or simply cynicism? I mean, I'm on record saying that I would rather be in the company of rational conservatives than irrational liberals; I'm on record hating everyone's politics equally. For God's sake, I'm even on record saying that I think George Bush is probably himself a nice enough guy, and I've been the first to note when I think he's done something right. I have a fairly extensive track record of independent political thought; is it really that hard to believe it when I say my loathing of the Bush adminstration's attempt to suggest foreigners in airports have no real rights is essentially independent of the GOP, the Democrats, Fox News and the New York Times, the National Review and the Nation, DailyKos and LittleGreenFootballs?

Can one not suggest one would like to stand up for the moral ideals one believes the nation should stand for (in this case, not nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured) without such an idea being dismissed has partisan hackery? You know what I would say to a conservative who agreed that we shouldn't be depriving foreigners of due process and shuttling them off to Syria to be tortured? Thank you. You know what I would say to a liberal who thought it was perfectly fine (because, after all, that foreigner's not a citizen)? Piss off.

And you know what else? I know there are conservatives who think it's wrong and I know there are liberals who think it's perfectly okay. And you know why? Because it's not a partisan issue. It's a conceptual issue, of how the United States should be, and how it should present itself to the world. That concept cuts across party lines and political boundaries, and I'm proud to stand with anyone of any political creed who thinks on this subject as I do. We may disagree on the particulars of how the US should be run, but we agree on the idea of what the US should be. Rather sadly, it doesn't seem to be the same idea the current adminstration has, but perhaps time and an election or two will fix that. One may hope.

In the meantime, if you want to accuse me of partisanship, make sure you understand what I am partisan about. As a hint, it's not about the left or the right. I leave it to you to figure it out from there.

Posted by john at 03:11 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

August 13, 2005

Storm Clouds

clouds050812s.jpg

You would not believe how loud the thunder is. Turning the computer off now.

Posted by john at 08:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What I Want, MT Plugin Division

Having just manually expurged over 1,000 comment spams from the Whatever that accrued just from about 3pm yesterday (you don't see them because they're blocked, but they need to be expunged nonetheless), here's what I really really really want:

A Movable Type plugin that not only moderates comments (like my current plugin, which blocks comments to entries older than a week from appearing unless I approve them), but also removes unapproved comments automatically after a certain set time (for me, a couple of days would work). Then I wouldn't have to manually remove the comments; I could just laugh at them until they were manually expunged.

Does anyone know of such a magical plugin? And if such a one does not exist, could someone please make it? I would do it myself, but, well. Technical incompetence and all that.

Posted by john at 12:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

From the "What the Hell?" File

This lovely story in the New York Times:

Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.

Call me crazy, but I like my administrations to at least give a glancing nod toward due process, even for lousy foreigners. You know, to differentiate us, philosophically, from totalitarian thugs.

2008 cannot come soon enough.

Posted by john at 02:48 PM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

The Fanfic Community Eats One of Its Own and Spits Out The Bones

Fascinating. A fanfic* writer decided to ask for money to write a couple of fanfic novels (or for money to take time to write novels, which would just happen to include two fanfic novels, wink, wink), and the fanfic community came down on her, hard, and with hobnailed boots. Because they know that playing other other people's copyrighted characters is, well, illegal, but it's largely ignored as long as everyone agrees to do it for love, not money. A fanfic writer asking for money for his or her fanfic is just the sort of thing to bring screaming hordes of lawyers down on fanfic. This is sort of the incredibly geeky version of a bunch of 1920s speakeasy owners deciding to rub out they guy who decides to advertise the address of his speaky in a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune.

The fanfic writer has taken down the original post asking for money, but this being the Internet, people preserved the post, so you can see the original post here on Lee Goldberg's site, along with commentary (Goldberg, who writes media tie-in novels among other things, is not particularly sympathetic to fanfic). Here's the absolutely vitriolic comment thread it's spawned, and here's some additional commentary on the matter by Nick Mamatas, which if you know anything about Nick Mamatas' online persona, is not exactly gentle toward this particular fanfic writer.

But don't kid yourself: Goldberg and Mamatas are the sideshow to the fanfic community pile-on. Which, incidentally, worked, since the fanfic writer in question abandoned her idea to take money and also, in the wake of 500 messages, the majority of which were (heh) disapproving, decided to take a little break from the online world. But the sheer ferocity of the response is just boggling, and should answer any doubt on the part of non-fans as to whether most fanficers have a grip on reality. Clearly they do, because they understand what the penalties are for trying to cross the line, both to themselves and to their community.

Which brings up the question of why this particular fanfic writer didn't seem to understand the penalties. Either she really was clueless about the whole copyright thing, which is possible but unlikely (to make what I am sure is going to be a not-popular comparison, people who smoke tons of weed grasp the notion that even if everyone they know tokes up, it's still not something to flaunt in front of the cops), or she thought the community would tolerate this sort of activity. Or -- and this is really the most logical explanation -- she simply didn't think about what she was doing beyond the anticipation of getting a little cash. Whatever the rationales behind asking for fanfic cash, I think it's safe to guess she won't be doing it again.

What this fanfic-er was planning to do was stupid and wrong, and to some extent she deserved to get stomped. As a fiction writer, I believe that a fanfic community for one's properties is good news for the health of the property. I wish I had one myself. But make no mistake: If someone got the idea in his or her head to start making money off my characters and universe without my explicit permission, there would be trouble, possibly involving lawyers. Nasty ones, with sharp fangs and torts that leave unhealable paper cuts. But reading the comments in the thread does make me wonder if the fanfic community needed to respond to this writer's plan with the vehemence that it did.

And you know what? I think maybe it did. I think being reasonable has its points, but in this case it wasn't really a debate: From the fanfic point of view, this writer needed to be stopped before she wrecked the joint for everyone. Reasonable responses would have allowed the money-seeking writer a chance to rationalize her behavior and possibly decide to go ahead with it anyway (and indeed, the writer in question tried this tactic). Better in this case to be entirely unreasonable and basically shock the writer into a position of cowed submission to the group mind.

Which is of course exactly what happened: Group approbation at its finest. I feel sorry for this fanfic writer, who quite obviously didn't expect this sort of reaction, but I also find the reaction to be a fascinating bit of groupthink theater. It also serves the secondary function of acting as a reminder to other would-be monetizers of the fanfic community that this is something one ought not do. After watching one of their own stoned and ostracized (and having the pummeling extensively linked to), it seems unlikely anyone else in the community with have this particular bright idea anytime soon.

All I can say is it makes me glad I write original fiction. It's a hell of a lot less complicated.

* For the non-geeks, "fanfic" is amateur fiction set in an already existing world -- Star Trek fans writing new stories about Captain Kirk is the canonical example. It's illegal because most of those worlds are under copyright, but usually as long as everyone behaves and the fans don't get uppity the copyright owners look the other way.

Posted by john at 09:05 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Cake Vs. Pie: The Final Conflict

One of the reasons I enjoy doing the By the Way journal over at AOL Journals is that it allows me to do fundamentally silly audience participation thingies, like this week's Weekend Assignment, in which I ask people to choose between cake or pie and then defend that choice. It's not like I couldn't do that here, mind you, but it seems more suited to what I do in general over at AOL Journals.

Having said that, for all you folks who don't have AOL or AIM accounts to respond in the By the Way comment thread: Cake or Pie -- which do you choose and why? I am, in fact, totally interested to know.

Posted by john at 01:16 AM | Comments (71) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

The Reading Stack 8/11/05

Speaking of books, these are the books I was given or bought while I was in Scotland and/or were waiting for me when I returned. From the left:

Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction -- this book was pressed upon me by a bunch of cheerfully tipsy Scots at the Orbit party at Interaction, whose number included its editor. So, there: parties are good for something. The book includes short stories written by Scottish SF/F writers (or, in a couple of cases, SF/F writers who are not Scottish by birth but spend a significant amount of time in country), who include brand-spankin' new Hugo winner Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod, Jane Yolen and Michael Cobley (the latter of whom sat on one of my panels at Interaction).

Aside from the contents, of which I have only begun to explore but which I so far find to be rather good, the book wins my early affection for two bibliographically geeky reasons: One, the cover design is very clean and cool looking, and two, the book is typeset in Goudy, which is my all time favorite font. I know, I'm a dork. I'm not entirely sure the book will be made available in the US, so I feel quite happy to have nicked a copy; if you are in the UK, however, you can snag a copy off of Amazon.co.uk.

Magic Lessons, by Justine Larbalestier -- I'm not proud; I begged this advance reader's copy off of Ms. Larbalestier in a groveling sort of fashion because I knew that aside from my own anticipation for the book (based on the excellent Magic or Madness, the first book in the series, which is one of the best YA books of this year), bringing this book home for my wife to read would garner me a whole bunch of spousal credits, redeemable for fabulous prizes and avoidance of some chores. Krissy's response to me giving her this book was instructive. She took it, looked at it and said "I'll read it right now, but you know when this comes out I'm going to get my own copy." Krissy gets the idea that the best way you can compliment an author for the work is to actually buy the book. Go, wife, go! But she'll have to wait until next March to get it from the bookstore.

As for myself, I'm saving this one for after I finish The Ghost Brigades -- i.e., as a reward. See? This is how we writers motivate ourselves. I'll let you know how it is, although I can tell you right now I expect it to be very good indeed. Also, dig the very cool-looking cover (there's a better version here).

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks -- This one was a Hugo nominee this year but it's not currently available in the US (it'll be released later in the year by Night Shade Books), so I picked it up and then read it while I was flying back from Scotland, and also as I was stranded at Philadelphia's airport for ten hours. While casting no aspersions on Night Shade, who I expect will benefit quite nicely from publishing the book, it's more than mildly appalling this book was not snapped up by a major Stateside publisher.

Now, I vaguely recall reading a Salon article with Banks in which he suggested he didn't want the hassle of dealing with a major publisher here in the US, so maybe that has something to do with it as well. But jeez, people. This is a good book, and a commercially viable one as well: Fine literary competence, fun speculation (particularly regarding the Dwellers, gas-planet creatures who live to be billions of years old and yet on the surface appear to be a bunch of flighty twits), and a fine story line, albeit one that wraps up a little raggedly at the end. Well, what can you say. Endings are hard. And the ride to it at the very least was an excellent one.

If the book is being released in the US by a small publisher because that Banks' choice, more power to him and to Night Shade. But if it's being released by Night Shade because the major SF publishers didn't see the book as worth their time, well, that's bad. I hope it makes a ton for Night Shade and for Banks. That'll teach 'em. The folks at Amazon suggest this will be released in the US in about a month; start saving your pennies now.

I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere -- Certain publishing entities have determined I have a large enough presence online to start sending me books in an unsolicited fashion; this is one that was waiting for me when I got back. Naturally, I encourage all book publishers to do the same. Baby needs books. As it happens, I had done some of my own research into the life of PKD for my upcoming science fiction film book, which led me to the conclusion that the man was quite far off his nut more often than not, and a quick glance into this book seems to bolster this conclusion as well.

It's paying off for him now, seeing how he's one of the hottest writers in Hollywood, which makes it a shame that he's been dead since just before Blade Runner came out in 1982. I've heard Dick called the "Shakespeare of SF," but it's probably more accurate to say he's like the genre's Van Gogh: Better appreciated dead. Interestingly, this book, while released in hardcover here in the US just last year, looks to have been originally published in French in 1993; more proof, perhaps, that even as a biographical subject PKD has way ahead of his time. I'll be delving further into this book at some point, but for now I want to hold off mulling on how sad and tweaked the man's life was. I have a book of my own to write.

As an aside, some of you know that the title of one of my upcoming books is The Android's Dream, which is a blatant riff/steal off of the title of one of PKD's most famous books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which in case you didn't know was the source material for Blade Runner. I would like to state here and now that the only thing that my book and PKD's writing have in common are those three words; I can't even imagine trying to get into the headspace that would cause me to write as Dick did. This may be to my detriment as an artist, but on the other hand my day-to-day life seems nicer. It's a fair trade.

And there you have it.

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Odd Book and Other Book Notes

Krissy was sending out copies of Agent to the Stars to family and friends when she noticed one of the books had an interesting production error: The hardback cover was upside down, relative to the pages inside. I tried to get a picture of it, but it's difficult to get both the spine of a book and the inside of a book in the same picture, so purely for archival purposes, I made a quick little movie instead. Don't feel as if you need to watch it. Personally, I think it's cool to have this kind of production error, since it doesn't affect the book in any practical way (i.e., the book is still entirely readable), and since it already makes what was a collector's item even more collectible. The vast majority of the author copies I have are printed correct, but who's to say there's not a couple more like this? Check your book, you may have a winner.

Also, today is the first day that I've seen the Amazon ranking of Agent to the Stars get higher than the Amazon ranking of Old Man's War; OMW was at 25k while A2S was at 22k (this is also, incidentally, the lowest OMW ranking I've seen in a while). I like the idea of the two books passing in the night, as it were, although in the long run A2S is going to dip below OMW no matter what, since there's a limited supply of A2S copies, and once they're gone, that's pretty much it. Subterranean Press tells me we're at the final third of the print run (i.e., only about 500 copies left), so I'm happy they're moving at a brisk clip.

I did want to say something about Agent to the Stars that I hadn't mentioned before, which was that due to an error, the book's dedication page was not printed. So for the record, the book is dedicated to two very good friends of mine: Natasha Kordus (whose last name I use for an important character in the book) and Stephen Bennett.

Natasha has been one of my closest and dearest friends since my freshman year in high school, and in addition to being a great friend, Stephen was also one of the first two people to read Agent to the Stars when I had finished writing it (the other being Regan Avery, to whom Old Man's War is co-dedicated). I'm very pleased to dedicate the book to these two people, and beg their forgiveness regarding the error that kept the dedication out of the actual book. Ironically, given its small print run, more people will see the book dedication here than would likely read it in the book itself. So that's not too bad.

Going back briefly to Old Man's War, there's a nice review of it on Revolution SF. I'm pleased reviewers are still picking up the book and commenting on it this far into its lifecycle; as an author, you like to see your book being part of the literary conversation.

In short: This book thing is fun. I recommend it to everyone.

Posted by john at 08:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Schadenfreude in Kansas

Lord knows it's wrong of me, but I'm always just a little bit delighted when entire states sabotage the educations of their children for no particularly good reason. As you know I have a child of my own, and by the time she gets to college age competition for the good schools will be fierce. Anything that knocks out hundreds of thousands of potential competitors in one fell swoop is a cause for celebration.

Yes, I'm sad that in the long run it means we'll just have several hundred thousand additionally poorly educated adults puttering about. But as I'm fond of noting, ignorant is not the same as stupid, and one can hope these folks can be made aware of the causes of their ignorance. After all, it seems possible that not every one of those hundreds of thousands of poorly educated adults will be pleased at the people who put them at a competitive disadvantage to my daughter (and other children whose parents are skeptical that a loving God, should he, she or it exist, would prefer followers to possess a lemur-like level of knowledge), and will respond accordingly. One may hope.

In the meantime, my kid will be kicking their academic asses up and down the road. It's an unfair advantage she has (but not too unfair, as Ohio is one the dumbass states that ignorantly confuses religious agendae for science, so we'll have to work with that), but I'm certainly not going to penalize my own daughter because other people seem content to enforce ignorance on other children. I'll just point it out to her as it happens and remind her that one of the worst things she can do to herself is let other people make her ignorant because they can't handle not being ignorant themselves. I point it out to her already.

So go, Kansas, go! You know, the heliocentric theory of solar system physics is lookin' kind of shaky. Go after that next. That'll up Athena's Ivy chances for sure. "Hey, here's a kid from the Midwest who is not as credulous as a pig," the admissions officers will say, and then reach for the thick packet. God bless them for it. And God bless Kansas, too.

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August 09, 2005

A Request From Athena

Athena says:

"Hello people! Can you think of a name for my stuffy bear? Because I can't think of a name, or neither can my daddy, named John Scalzi, the one who writes the books. Goodbye people! Hope you have a good time thinking of a name! That's all I want to say."

Posted by john at 05:10 PM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

Interaction Wrapup

Athena is the first kid on her block -- and probably in the surrounding six counties as well -- to have her very own Beeblebear. Reason enough, I suspect, for having attended Interaction this year.

As for Interaction itself, my feelings for it are summed up thusly: Great convention, questionable location. Glasgow grew on me rather a bit the more I saw of it, and it seems that if I had a little more time to explore I would have been more impressed. However, my hotel was snuggled into an overpass, and the mile walk (or so) to the convention center where Interaction was being held was through some council flats (that's government housing for the non UK-ers), so the part of Glasgow I spent the most time in was probably not the portion that Glaswegians (as I believe they are called) would have preferred tourists spend their time in. The convention center itself was also not spectacularly laid out for Worldcon-like activities, either the official stuff (some of the panels were in locations that one need GPS tracking to get to) or the unofficial stuff (the hotels where the majority of people were staying were too far away from the convention center, which made easy and random congregating rather more difficult). Of all of the conventions I've been to so far -- still a reasonably small sample, to be sure -- this was the one with the dodgiest location.

Having said that, programming-wise I think this was the best science fiction convention I've been to. This is the first time, for example, where all the panels I was on were very well attended, and I heard from other panelists that their panels were equally packed -- a sign of enthusastic fans as well as good programming choices. All the panels I attended as an audience member were also excellent. And -- as a bonus -- the Hugo Awards ceremony was mercifully short: right around 90 minutes, which is apparently a record for brevity and one I encourage all future Hugo Awards shows to emulate (start by cutting out the TV and movie clips -- possibly by eliminating the categories they represent).

These Hugos were also especially nice as several people I am fond of won awards: Elizabeth Bear nabbed herself the Campbell (which is for the best new writer), which set the evening on a good foot for me, and then Kelly Link and Charlie Stross came away with actual Hugos, which rocks in several different ways. Some friends and acquaintances did not win, too, which is too bad -- one wants one's friends to do well. On the other hand, they were nominated, which is an excellent feat when you consider how many people are writing science fiction these days. Mostly I'm happy that so many people I like in the SF community are also excellent writers, and that through nominations and awards other people who like SF recognize this as well.

The primary reason people go to conventions, I suspect -- and the reason I know I go -- is to catch up with people we like. There's a mild stigma attached to going to a convention for the social scene, but, you know, look: Seeing a bunch of people I like in one place is a draw. And the fact is writing is a solitary pursuit and most of my writer and editor friends live rather far away. Why not see them at a con, in a time in which they have put aside time to see other people? So I had a marvellous time catching up with Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, Lauren McLaughlin and Andrew Woffinden, Christopher Rowe and Gwenda Bond, Kelly Link (Gavin Grant, her partner, I did not see much of, sadly), Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I also got to share panel and/or bar and/or convention center hallway time with Ellen Klages, Ben Rosenbaum, Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Hand, Jed Hartman, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, Geoff Ryman and Brian Aldiss, and was pleased to make the flesh and blood acquaintance of Lou Anders, Christopher Roberson, Juliette Ulman, Ellen Kushner and Marjorie Liu. Gay Haldeman said very nice and very observant things about Old Man's War, for which I was grateful, and Joe Haldeman admitted he hadn't read it yet. Then I admitted I hadn't read The Forever War, and we both agreed that made us even. There are rather quite a few people who I had a nice chat or moment with, but I've done enough namedropping for one post.

In all, an excellent time, in a fine country (once you get beyond the M8 overpass, that is). Next year is in LA: That Worldcon will have much to live up to. Fortunately, it will also have In-N-Out in close proximity. That will help.


Posted by john at 11:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 04, 2005

Glasgow Clouds

gclouds0804.jpg

People over here in Scotland seemed entirely unconcerend that they're driving on the wrong side of the figgin' road. I find that ominous. However, as you can see out my hotel window, there are some lovely clouds.

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August 03, 2005

The Official Off to Scotland Open Thread

Off to Scotland. Will drop in when I arrive (bringing my laptop. Yes, I have an adapter, and, damn, UK electrical plugs are huuuuuge). In the interim, here's an open thread for you to play with. And a starter topic:

Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

Think about it.

Posted by john at 10:36 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

August 02, 2005

The Myth of the Science Fiction Monoculture

A number of people have written to alert me to Robert K.J. Killheffer's review of Old Man's War (among a number of other books) in the September issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, with the intimation that the review is something of a slam. Well, of course, I love good slam, so I checked it out and was bitterly disappointed to discover it was a perfectly reasonable review; Killheffer gave points for style ("Scalzi's straightforward, muscular prose and tightly focused pacing yield an undeniable page-turner," which I imagine would be the money shot quote for Tor's marketing folks) but deducts points for substance or lack thereof ("but it amounts to little more than a fix for the Heinlein junkie" -- not a money quote, although I'm sure an ambitious marketeer could make those last six words work with the judicious use of an exclaimation mark).

That's fair. The only quibble I have with the review is the last sentence ("If Old Man's War is today's answer to The Forever War, it suggests a creeping superficiality in U.S. science fiction—the triumph of nostalgia and pastiche over fresh invention") and that on a technicality; OMW can't be an "answer" to The Forever War if for no other reason than I've never read that particular book. I keep meaning to -- heck, I even bought it recently -- but haven't. It's on my "to do" list, but I have a novel to bang through first.

In any event, inasmuch as I've cheerfully and frequently admitted ransacking Heinlein's bag of tricks for OMW, I can hardly complain when someone criticizes me for doing so. Live by the Bob, die by the Bob. And if you're sick of the Heinlein influence on science fiction, as Killheffer appears to be, it's perfectly reasonable to be underwhelmed by OMW. As for the book suggesting creeping superficiality, well. I would prefer it to be characterized as suggesting confidently sauntering superficiality, as sauntering is more fun than creeping (and easier on the knees). But what can you do.

Where Killheffer and I part company philosophically is in his overarching conceit for the review, in which Killheffer somewhat guiltily admits that US SF writers just aren't getting the job done for him anymore, so he's stepping out with the Brits, who seem to him to be as dangerous and exciting and forward-thinking as the US writers are conventional and backward-looking. This has been a topic of conversation here before, so I don't feel the need to revisit it in any depth, but what got me chewing the inside of my cheek in thoughtful irritation was Killheffer's summation paragraph, which reads:

SF, even more than other literary workspaces, cannot afford to get mired in nostalgia and ancestor worship. The sf of earlier periods should be treasured, read and re-read for the pleasures and spirit only it provides. But we cannot recreate it, and we should not try, no matter how disappointing the developments of the past few decades might seem. It's time to let Heinlein rest, and discover our own future. So far it appears that U.K. writers come better prepared to create twenty-first-century sf. But there's no reason U.S. writers cannot do as much, if only they'll turn their gazes from the past and look to today—and tomorrow.

Crap.

For two reasons:

1. Someone who likes the clean and breezy vigor of US-bred contemporary SF but disfavors the pretentious overreaching twaddle of contemporary UK SF need only switch the positions of "U.S." and "U.K" in that paragraph, and then replace "Heinlein" with "New Wave," to have achieved the equal and opposite (and, incidentally, equally specious) conclusion.

2. It (quite possibily unintentionally) perpetuates the myth of the science fiction monoculture, in which all science fiction books are read by the same inclusive set of readers, read in the same manner, and all the readers have the same set of evaluative criteria. They're not, they aren't, and they don't.

Now, once it's put out there in this way, the point seems obvious. But since I see the SF monoculture worldview pop-up over and over and over again, it must not be as obvious as it should be, so let's go ahead and address it.

For our illustrative purposes, let's take Old Man's War and Charlie Stross' Accelerando, which Killheffer quite rightly gushes over in his review article, because it is, as the kids no longer say, teh r0xx0r. Both of these books are undeniably current and contemporary science fiction, and it's fair to say that the two books have a fair amount of potential reader overlap. They're both shakin' their booties on the science fiction road. That being said, it's also abundantly clear that while they're on the same road, they're also working different sides of the street.

I take a back seat to no one in singing the praises of Accelerando, which I think is just a tremendous science fiction novel, full of the things that make you go hmmm, science fictionally speaking. They might as well just announce Charlie's Hugo nomination for it so the rest of us can go about our lives. Having said that, if someone came up to me and said, "I don't read much science fiction -- heck, I don't read any -- but I think I ought to check it out. How about this one?" and then held up Accelerando for me to see, I would probably suggest against it, for the same reason I'd suggest against putting a jet engine on a Big Wheel. Accelerando is high-octane geekery, real inner-circle stuff, and you need to work up to it. By the same token, if the guy who's homebrewed his own flash memory-based multimedia player so he can enjoy his Ogg Vorbis files -- you know, the guy whose shirt has the Linux penguin sodomizing Bill Gates -- comes over and asks me if Old Man's War has got the bleeding edge goods he's looking for, the answer I've got to give is, well, no, almost certainly not. Accelerando's and Old Man's War's audiences overlap, but they are not the same.

Nor, I imagine, were the books written with the same audience in mind. As I've noted before regarding Old Man's War:

The book is in fact intentionally written with non-science fiction readers in mind. Why? Well, it's simple: I want a whole lot of readers, and I don't want to give potential readers outside the sphere of SF the excuse of thinking the book is going to be inaccessible to them. Look, I'm not a snob. I'm in this for the mass market, and I want to nab readers who don't typically have science fiction as part of their reading diet.

And as it happens, that's where (anecdotally) a significant portion of OMW sales have gone -- thanks to Instapundit and other non-SF bloggers who were enthusiastic about the book and recommended it, a large number of books got into the hands of people who read science fiction seldom or not at all. A large number of readers of my own sites were also not regular SF readers but bought the book because they were familiar with my writing online. When Tor and I offered up free e-books of OMW to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, people bought the book because I was supporting the troops. I've got a few dozen e-mails from people who read the book that say "I don't usually read science fiction, but I read your book." Naturally, I encouraged them to start the SF habit.

I'll leave it to Charlie to note who he imagined his audience would be, but I suspect he would grant that Accelerando was written with already enthusiastic science fiction readers in mind, if for no other reason than much of the book was originally published as short stories in science fiction magazines, which implicitly address an enthusiast audience. This is not to suggest Accelerando's a cult item or has limited appeal -- Charlie's made Accelerando a free download, after all, which has gotten the book in front of ten of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of eyeballs, and the book's Amazon ranking is pretty sweet at the moment. Charlie naturally wants readers, and lots of them, and it looks like he's getting them. But I suspect Charlie knows the majority of those eyeballs are attached to SF geeks.

(NB: I could be wrong on this -- Charlie may have in fact been writing for sf newbies and grandmothers. Ask him!)

I submit to you that Accelerando is well-nigh perfect; there's very little I would change about it (more lobsters. That's about it). It's also not for everyone, and not even for everyone who regularly reads science fiction. I think Old Man's War is fairly decent, too; it's also not for everyone, and not even for everyone who regularly reads science fiction. What both books do very strongly is engage their audiences, and give them a satisfying reading experience -- and that is both healthy for the authors (hello!) and for the genre in general, since people who have been done well by science fiction will seek it out again. There's clearly room for both our books, since both have been published -- in the same year, even! -- and both appear to be selling briskly. Charlie's brand of science fiction isn't crowding out mine, or vice-versa. We live in harmony and love.

Science fiction emphatically doesn't need a monoculture, either in the literature or in the approach to that literature. There's no better way to kill it dead and to assure no one is left to mourn the ashes. What it needs -- and what the range of titles noted just in Killheffer's article alone suggests it already has -- is a multiculture that grows the audience for science fiction by giving that audience what it wants... whatever it is that it wants. Science fiction needs the US Heinlein revivalists and it needs the UK fearless futurists and it needs all the authors in the continuum between them, and those orthogonal to them as well. What you ask of all of these authors is simply that they write good books, the sort of books that make the readers go "Thank you! May I have another?" To which the answer is: "Yes! What would you like this time?" And then you give it to them.

That's how you create science fiction in the twenty-first century, and keep it rolling toward the twenty-second.

(Update: Elizabeth Bear has further thoughts on the subject here.)

Posted by john at 01:10 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

August 01, 2005

Other News (Quickly)

Aside from writing The Ghost Brigades, here's what else has been going on:

* Agent to the Stars is now out and selling quite nicely -- between pre-orders and early sales, well over half of the 1,500 print run is already gone. So if you wanted a copy but have been putting off the actual purchase, you might want to reconsider your procrastinatory ways, since there are no more after these ones are sold. As an appeal to your munificent side, I'll remind y'all that 10% of the cover price of each copy of Agent to the Stars goes to the Child's Play charity, which gets video games and other toys into the hands of kids in children's hospitals across the US, and also that I've made a pledge that if the entire print run sells out by December 31, I'll kick an additional $350 out of my own royalties. So go ahead, make me donate my own money, why don't you.

* I noted briefly that I have other projects I have lined up for the rest of the year. What are they, you ask? Well:
-- I've been asked by Rough Guides to update The Rough Guide to the Universe, which will make it the first of my books to go into a second edition. And not a moment too soon, considering the vast amount of new information regarding Mars and Saturn since the first edition came out (and also that whole "10th planet" thing last week).
-- I'll be spending the last couple months of the year editing collecting and slushing stories for the Subterranean Magazine edition I'm editing, the one with the theme of "Big Honkin' SF Cliches." Don't worry, I'll remind you all again when it's time to start sending in stories. I suspect I'll also probably whomp something up for that in terms of a short story; I have an idea. No, I won't tell you. Think up your own!
-- I have one other small but cool project I'm working on for Subterranean Press, about which I'll say no more until Subterranean makes its own announcement.
-- My agent and I have been churning through a couple of ideas for the novel I'm going to write after I complete The Ghost Brigades, so immediately after I'm done with TGB, I'm on those to get out to the market. After I finish TGB, I won't actually have another novel project lined up, which the first time I can say that in a couple of years; clearly we'll need to address that.
-- I'm still doing stuff for the Uncle John's folks, so chances are pretty good if you pick up one of their books in the next couple of years, it's got an article or two from me in there.

That's the stuff I know I'm doing; there are other projects I have in the hopper that are in various stages of nebulosity, most of which are likely to vaporize, so best not to discuss them for now. Suffice to say I've got enough to keep me busy -- enough that I has to turn down a chance to work on a project that I thought was very cool because for the life of me I didn't know where or how I was going to fit it in. It kills me to turn down work, especially when the project seems like a big ball of fun as this one did. But I'm coming to grips with the fact that I actually have to sleep and spend time with the family as well as work -- as I go along time management becomes rather more of a concern.

* I'm off in a couple of days to Interaction, this year's Worldcon; my own poor time-magaement skills (see above) caused me to have to beg the US government to rush deliver me my passport, but let's not talk about that now. For those of you who will be there and wish to see me expound on various subjects, here are my panels:

-- Thursday 5:00pm: How to Participate in and Moderate a Panel
-- Friday 12:00 noon: The Immortal in Written and Media SF
-- Friday 1:00pm: You Killed Off the Old People: Depicting Older People in SF
-- Saturday 7:00pm: Is Blogging Helping or Hurting Your Career?

You will also probably see me wandering about from time to time although possibly not as much as you might expect, since I do plan on banging away on The Ghost Brigades while I'm there as well. What can I say -- it's getting about that time. However, I don't plan to be a total hermit. Expect me to be scarce in the day but about in the night. The usual vampire schedule.

* Oh, and changed the look of the Whatever again (as you can see).

That's where I'm at.

Posted by john at 01:57 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

As most of you know, the reason I took time off in July was to finish writing The Ghost Brigades, which is the sequel to Old Man's War. Did I finish? Ah ha ha ha ha! No. However, I've finally made some excellent progress on the book, and have gotten beyond the point in the book (writing-wise), where the preliminaries are done and the plot is rolling and all I have to do is write what happens next. When you get to that point in the writing (or at least, when I get to that point in the writing), everything becomes a whole lot easier. I thought I'd take a few moments to talk to you about the challenges writing The Ghost Brigades has presented to me as a writer. Don't worry, there are no plot spoilers coming up.

The book has had several challenges so far. Structurally, although this book is a sequel to Old Man's War, I'm trying to write it like a stand-alone book; I want people to be able to read this one without having read OMW and still get something out of it. At the same time I don't want to have OMW readers to feel like they're covering the same expositional ground for the benefit of people who have tuned in late; that whole "As you know, Bob..." issue which plagues sequels. So there's a fine little problem, and one that frankly cost me a fair amount of time trying to solve.

Now, at one specific point I do have a flat-out omnicient narrator exposition dump, because it's necessary and also because I think it's interesting to readers, as it addresses some some questions people had coming out of OMW about how the Colonial Union and the Colonial Defense Forces operate. But most of the time this sort of exposition is coming out in a reasonably natural way through dialogue and action, so I'm happy with that.

Plotwise, The Ghost Brigades is rather wider open than OMW. That book was first person and stayed on the narrative rail of John Perry's experiences as a soldier. TGB is third person and follows more than one character in the narrative, and is focusing specifically on two characters, who represent different aspects of the Ghost Brigade experience (one of these characters, OMW readers will be happy to know, is Jane Sagan). These narrative threads have to work on their own and also work as a group; at this point I've laid down the threads and am now at a point where I'm threading them together.

Writing-wise, this is a more complex task than sticking to a single point of view and one plot thread, but I think it's necessary for this particular book. First, it forces me not to write Older Man's War, which would be easier to do (and frankly sometimes I wish I had done, because I'd definitely be done with that book by now), but which I think would make for an inferior product off the bat. It could be that The Ghost Brigades is a swing and a miss, but if so it won't be because I went for the safe play. Second, the situation of the Special Forces (aka the Ghost Brigades) is more complex than the situation of the average soldier in the Colonial Defense Forces (which John Perry was, basically). To properly tell the Special Forces story needed more than one vantage point.

The most challenging task so far has been spinning out the social world of the Ghost Brigades themselves. It gives nothing away to note that the Colonial Defense Special Forces are child warriors in superhuman adult bodies; as specified in OMW, they're born with the knowledge and skills of adults but they lack the emotional experience and social ties that the rest of us get by growing up. It's one thing to have that as an informational aside when you're writing a different story (as I was in OMW); it's another thing to have it front and center from a narrative point of view. How does one portray an entire fighting force whose members are simultaneously lethal adults and confused children, and how do those characters manage that tension themselves?

Well, I'm here to tell you, it's tricky (and it's even trickier in this case because there's an additional aspect to the situation which I'm not going to get into because I promised no plot spoilers). There are a couple of places where people are acting like children, and it's not just an expression. I'm going to be mildly curious to see how readers handle serious bad-asses having a tantrum. Of course, Homer had Achillies sulking like a freakin' teen, and no one seemed to mind. But he's Homer, and I'm not, and I don't have three millenia of cultural history on my side. More's the pity.

To be clear, none of the challenges above came as a surprise to me: One of the reasons I chose to write about the Ghost Brigades in this book was because it wouldn't let me get off easy and simply squat out another book in the OMW universe. I'd have to work at it, which is better for me as a writer, and (hopefully) better for the people who read the book. On the other hand, there's a difference between setting up one's self for a challenge and actually following through. This is the first novel I've written where I've taken significant chunks of what I've written and either completely reworked them or simply torn them bodily from the text; I've written a novel's worth of words, all right, and sadly a novella's worth of them will never see the light of day. Well, not sadly, actually, as they were expunged for a reason. But it's shot my efficiency rating all to hell.

I'd be upset with that (I like my reputation as a fast writer), but the thing is I like the book I'm writing, which suggests that this rather more messy process is working for this particular book. In the end -- and properly so -- no one will give a crap about the process; what they're going to care about is whether the book they have in their hand is a good read. I'd rather work on being a good writer than a fast writer. It's also a reminder that the advice Gene Wolfe gave to Neil Gaiman is correct: Writing a novel doesn't teach you how to write novels, it teaches you how to write that novel. This novel is teaching me how to write it, and I suspect I'd be a fool not to listen.

Having said all that, the amount of time I have to write this book is rapidly coming to a close; I have other projects and Tor quite properly wants the manuscript so we can start marketing the hell out of it. I have to give them a good novel, but I also just have to give them a novel, period, end of sentence. I'm going to get back to it now.

Posted by john at 10:47 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thank You to The Guest Bloggers!

Before I do anything else, let me take a moment to thank Laurel Halbany, Ron Hogan, Claire Light, Eric Magnuson, Jeff Porten, William Schafer and Jim Winter for their really wonderful work as guest bloggers in July. As a reader, it was whole lot of fun reading their work; as a site proprietor, I am delighted that my instincts were correct that they would keep the site fresh and interesting while I was off doing other things.

I am going to leave the links to their personal sites up on the main page of the Whatever for an indefinite amount of time (at least a few months); I hope that you'll follow their further writings in their own places.

This was such a successful experiment that I suspect I will repeat it again at some point. I'm also giving some thought to possibly founding a group blog as an adjunct to this site, and would probably use this site for that if I did. Naturally, I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

Posted by john at 01:29 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack