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October 31, 2005

Curious About Newspapers

This is a participatory entry, to satisfy my own curiosity, since it's a subject near and dear to my heart. If you would answer the following three questions in the comment thread, I would be obliged:

1. Do you subscribe to a newspaper? Note the question is "subscribe," not "read." If you pay for an online subscription (Wall Street Journal, Times Select), that counts, but I'm really looking for offline subscriptions.

2. Why do you subscribe or not subscribe?

3. If you don't subscribe to a newspaper, what might convince you to subscribe? If you do subscribe, what would make you quit subscribing?

My own answers are in the comment thread.  

 

Posted by john at 08:37 AM | Comments (136) | TrackBack

My Big Fat Camera Experience

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A couple of folks who are in the market for a camera have asked me about my experience with the new camera (a Nikon D70s) and whether it's helped me to take better photos. The answer to that is so far my experience with the camera has been mostly positive. As to whether it's made me a better photographer, I'd say yes, but with a few caveats.

To give a quick recap, the D70s is a slightly-better-than-entry-level digital SLR camera, which means it's got the capability for more options than your basic point-and-shoot digital camera, but will also quite happily do snapshots for you if that's what you want or need. The resolution of the camera is 6.1 megapixels, which is less than some cameras in its price range (there's a comparable Canon model with 8 megapixels), but the various reviews I'd seen of the D70s suggested that the picture quality was as good as or better than other cameras with slightly higher resolutions, and nothing I've seen out of the camera leads me to believe this is not the case.

In any event 6.1Mpx is more than enough for an 8x10 print, which is about as big a print as most of us are going to get out of the local photo shop, and for technical reasons at this point in time more megapixels aren't necessarily better (it's not only the number of megapixels that matter but the size of your camera's sensor, the quality of its lenses, so on and so forth). The D70s seems to hit a fair balance between the size of the picture and the quality of the picture it makes. At the very least there's nothing I've tossed at the camera that a full-sized blowup of the picture in Photoshop doesn't show pretty impressive detail.

The color response of the camera has been very good -- it does an accurate reproduction of the colors I see with my eye most of the time, although I tend to boost up the saturation of sunsets and shadowed pictures in Photoshop. Aside from that, usually the only time I have to fiddle with a picture in Photoshop is when I've done something dumb, like take a picture of someone when their face is in shadow. It's also really good at color gradiations; when I snap a picture of the sky I hardly ever see the sort of pixelated graininess you can get with a digital camera. The camera's built in flash is very good -- I've read pro photographers who say it's one of the best integrated flash systems around, and the camera is generally good at estimating when a flash is needed.

The majority of the pictures I've taken with the camera have been in its auto mode, and it's done a fine job of making me look competent; I have to go out of my way to take a bad picture with it. The only major complaint is that the autofocus sometimes needs to be convinced that it needs to focus on what's directly in front of it, but this happens only in about one picture in 20. I've been fiddling with the other various modes of the camera with varying success; I get more bad pictures with those, but the limiting factor there is me, not the camera.

Has the camera made me a better photographer? In a limited sense, yes, for two primary reasons. The first is that the camera is smarter than I am with it comes to judging what it needs to do in any given situation, and thanks to its SLR heritage, its large and superior lenses, and its depth of field focusing ways, it creates pictures that look more "professional" than a snapshot digital camera would. The final picture in this entry, for example, is not one I'd've gotten with my Kodak EasyShare, and the fullsize version (3008x2000 pixels) is just gorgeous.

The second reason I'm a better photographer with this camera is that the camera encourages multiple photographs via a memory card that can store more than 500 photos at the resolution noted above, and it also a "continuous shooting" mode that can fire off three frames a second. The entry I pointed to in the above paragraph features three photos of Athena on a tire swing, but I took 66. Most of those have Athena with her eyes closed, or turning away from the camera, or just acting like a goofy six-year-old. When you can take as many pictures as you want with no penalty, you're almost assured of getting a good picture, by sheer dumb luck if nothing else. This doesn't actually make one a better photographer, but it certainly allows one to give the appearance of being one.

As to whether I am genuinely becoming a better photographer with the camera, the answer is yes, although rather more slowly than I would like. Having the capability to do more with a camera opens up a lot of options, and I'm becoming more aware of the things I need to do to make good pictures and not just snap away and rely on statistic to pop up the occasional really excellent photo. In the short run, the D70s makes me look like a good photographer; in the long run, I have the potential of actually becoming a good photographer, thanks to having a useful tool to work with.

The drawbacks to the D70s: Well, digital SLRs, like all cameras of their type, are susceptible to dust and other stuff, and I'm already seeing that; when I take pictures of the sky I can see little dust motes in the same place in each picture. It's minor, but it's there (you don't see them in the pictures I post because I Photoshop them out). Eventually I'll need to take the thing in to be cleaned. The camera is great for serious pictures but it can be bulky and inconvenient for fast, spur of the moment photos; if I just need to take a snap, I find it simpler and easier to grab my little Kodak digital camera. Likewise, I'm not all that likely to take the D70s with me to an amusement park or other such outing; for those places the Kodak does just fine.

Moving away from the camera to the processing end, the pictures themselves are large enough (1.5MB each) that loading a couple hundred of them up on the card reader I've attached to my computer takes a fair amount of time (another reason I use the Kodak for snaps -- pictures from the Kodak load up super quick). The other thing I've noticed is that the pictures I take with the Nikon seem to make large files after I've trimmed them down for Web display than the ones I took with the Kodak, although I don't know if that has something to do with how the camera writes data or just that I'm taking more ambitious pictures (read: more information in each picture) and that I'm making the pictures a bit larger these days (450 pixels width rather than 400 as I used to do). I do try to keep the photos under 70k whenever possible; I don't want to antagonize my dial-up readers too much.

Overall, however, I've been having a great time with the D70s and I think it's a very good camera both for what I need today, and what I'll want to do for the immediate future. If you are in the market for a digital SLR, I do recommend trying one out.  

Posted by john at 12:46 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

Useless Atheism

Marshall Brain, the guy behind the HowStuffWorks.com site and its attended media ancillaries, has decided to prove to everyone once and for all that God does not exist, therefore helping the lot of us to get rid of that nasty, distracting God and allowing us to focus on the really important stuff, like, I don't know, rocket cars to the moon or a gum with flavor that's actually long-lasting, and not just an extra thirty seconds of vaguely fruity tang at the tail end of your chewing experience. Thus: Why Does God Hate Amputees, which uses amputation as a central conceit to prove that God doesn't exist, and that people are wasting their Sundays sitting in a pew.

Leaving aside the fact that a God who orders his followers to hack off part of their children's genitals as a handy sign of religious identification clearly likes amputees just fine, here's a tip for atheists: The problem is not that people believe God exists. The problem is that people want to use God as an excuse to do damn fool things. The two are entirely separate issues. Where atheists rather charmingly get things backward is by assuming that by getting rid of God, people will stop doing the damn fool things they say God wants them to do. As if they won't find some other excuse.

Surprise! They will. Take, if you will, the 20th Century (please). What do Hitler's killing 9 million Jews, Gypsies, gays and political opponents, Stalin's starving of 25 million of the Soviet Union's own citizens for political ends (and sending 1.5 million to the gulags), and Pol Pot's presiding over the Cambodian autogenocide of up to 2 million people all have in common? If you say "Why, not a trace of a religious rationale on the part of those committing crimes against humanity, that's what," you'd be entirely correct (note, however, that many of the victims were targeted wholly or in part because of their religion). The Rwandan genocide was not manifestly an issue of religion either, as the Tutsi and the Hutu largely share the same faith. Didn't stop the Hutu from hacking up 800,000 Tutsi (and some inconveniently moderate Hutu as well) in the space of just 10 days.

Pound for pound, death for death, ruin for ruin, if you want to plot the destructiveness of secular and religious conflicts and movements in the last 100 years, I'm pretty sure you'll find the religion-free ones have got the religiously-motivated ones beat, hands down. The reason should be obvious to an atheist: because God is not the one who wants people to do damn fool things; people want to do damn fool things, and they go looking for the excuse that will provide them what they need to do that damn fool thing. Sometimes, it's "God wants this." Sometimes it's not. Getting rid of God won't stop people from doing damn fool things, it'll just make them look for another way to get it done. Bullies and demagogues are notable for using whatever excuse is expedient and popular. God happens to be expedient and popular. It's no surprise that He gets used. When He is no longer expedient or popular, the demagogues and bullies will move on to something else. The net amount of human-to-human atrocity and conflict will likely remain the same thereafter.

The same God that Fred Phelps allegedly worships is worshiped by the members of the Metropolitan Community Church; the same God whose more unsavory adventures in the Old Testament are used to justify abject hate is the same God worshiped by the Church of the Brethren; the same God that some say is leading us into battle against the heathens in the Middle East is the same one prayed to by the Quakers. Some people would see this as an example of how God can't exist, since so many people believe so many contradictory things about the same entity. I tend to see it as a reflection of the desires people bring to the human need for spirituality and fellowship. God is many things; one of those things is a mirror.

Disposing of the God of the Quakers or the Brethren or the MCC-- even if one could, which one cannot -- is not something I see as either useful or desirable. These people do no harm in their worship, and their faith and their works in their faith have done immense good, as have the works in faith of many good people. The flip side of this is that we have to endure the God of Fred Phelps and the God of the Intelligent Designers as well. But this is where a useful atheist -- which is to say, a person of good conscience -- will spend his time combating those who are using their religion as an excuse to act to the detriment of society, rather than wasting his time in teleological debates that he can no more definitively conclude than can those who hold the opposite opinion.

As almost all of you know, I am an agnostic; I rather seriously doubt that God exists, or if He does, that She is actively concerned whether one eats shrimp or has sex with a member of one's own sex, or chooses sides in a football game like a celestial bookie. I even doubt It hopes we all love another as we would love ourselves, thought it's a nice thought. I rather profoundly doubt that anyone else knows whether God does these things either. But I could be wrong, which is why I say I'm agnostic rather than atheist. I don't know. It does me no harm if other people believe other than I; what matters is what people do with that belief. If they use it to enrich their lives and to do good for others, than agnostic though I am, I will happily celebrate their faith and believe that their belief is an excellent thing. If they use it to justify their hates and fears and to make others wallow in their self-satisfied ignorance of the world, well, naturally, I'm going to have a problem with that.

Marshall Brain thinks he's on to something by aiming to disprove the existence of God; what he's doing is akin to looking at the smoldering remains of a house brought down by shoddy wiring and suggesting the solution to the problem is to expunge electricity from the land. You can make the argument that electricity is the problem, I suppose; rather more useful is to suggest the problem is an idiot electrician. Even more useful is to do what you can to make sure that particular idiot electrician doesn't get any more work.

Posted by john at 10:53 AM | Comments (100) | TrackBack

Look and Feel Update

Okay, I've made a couple of tweaks to the layout of the Whatever from the last time I noted the tweaking. The new tweaks include:

* Making the photo strip repeat vertically so it doesn't end abruptly;

* Making the sidebar blue so the black background is not so contrasty (the black background has also been upgraded; now it's a very very very very dark blue), and making the main text area a solid light blue color.

* Changing the typeface of the main text to sans serif. Depending on which fonts you have, you'll now see the main text as Optima or Myriad Web (if you have neither, it'll default to the former fonts and you won't notice a difference). I've also tweaked the leading for the text to make it slightly more dense. I've also changed the headline font in Windows; on Mac it should stay the same.

Hopefully all of this will make the Whatever even more readable for you, the discerning consumer.  

Update: 3am -- What do you know: turns out you don't need to have the main content pane a set width. You can make it a percentage instead. And so I have: The main content pane is now 65% of the width of the page, with the text window being 75% of that and the sidebar being 25%. For folks at 1024x786, this means everything fits pretty much exactly as it should. With smaller windows things will start to look scrunched (particularly pictures) but the text collapses so it can remain readable. Larger resolutions, of course, will have no problems whatsoever (except that if you have your browser superwide, the text window will get a little wide for reading).

Let me know how that works for you.  

Posted by john at 01:29 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Swing Swing Swing

There are probably things in the world more fun than a tire swing on an autumn weekend. Not many, though.

 

 

Posted by john at 01:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 29, 2005

Mars!

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It's not the best picture of Mars you'll ever see, true enough. But it's the first picture of Mars you'll ever see taken by me. As you may or may not know, tonight Mars is as close to Earth as it will be in more than a decade, a mere 41 million miles away, close enough that my telephoto lens had no problem making out the fact the planet is a disk, and not just a point. This is just the sort of thing that makes you want to spend a stupid amount of money on a telescope that allows you to hook up your camera to it, to take even better pictures. But I've done all my major spending on myself for 2005. It'll have to wait. In the meantime: Mars! It's red and everything.

Posted by john at 11:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Fiddle Fiddle

Yes, I'm playing with the look of the Whatever again. Feel free to comment.

Update: 4:24pm: All right, the fiddling is largely completed. Differences you may note will include the picture bar running down the left side of the Whatever and new banner image. Text layout remains the same. To make the picture bar work, I locked the left margin, which means that the left margin will no longer collapse when you shrink your browser window. This means if your browser window is less than 750 pixels across, you'll need to scroll to see the text. However, I don't know how much of a problem this will be for people, since most people these days have monitors set to 1024x768 at least. I guess if you are cruising the Internet at 800x600 I'll say to you what I say to people who complain that the site doesn't look good in Netscape 4.x: Welcome to the 21st century! We have many wonders here. Please upgrade your online experience accordingly.

Along with this, I'll note the background image is a 120k download, which may be mildly annoying to people on dial-up. However, if your browser caches, then this will probably be annoying only once. Everyone on broadband, of course, won't even notice. If you find that all the changes make for an intolerable reading experience, I suggest subscribing to the atom feed (you'll find it in the right sidebar), which will give you all the text and none of the images (unless I include them in the entry, that is). But again, I don't really expect the changes will be an issue for most people, as I don't find them annoying, and when it comes to the Internet, I assume everything is annoying until proven otherwise.  

Again, however, I welcome your comments.  

Posted by john at 03:38 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

The Scandal Standard

I note that various right-wingers are already trying to minimize the fact that Scooter Libby just got indicted on five charges related to the Valerie Plame case, but fortunately for everyone involved I have a solid acid test to let you know just how serious a political scandal is. It's a very simple standard:

For any political scandal involving the Bush administration, would the same scandal cause right-wingers to wet themselves with glee if it happened to the Clinton administration?

If the answer is yes, the scandal's a bad one.

So, let's apply it here: A senior Clinton White House staffer indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. Anyone want to suggest how right-wingers might respond to such news? Oh, come on, guess just a little. You'd hear little popping sounds out of Washington as heads exploded with joy from Capitol Hill to K Street. So there you have it.

News flash for everyone: Any senior White House staff member in any administration getting indicted on five counts of anything is bad, bad news. It's even worse news when the President is hovering around a 40% approval rating. Let's try not to polish this turd too vigorously, now, shall we.   

Also, anyone want to lay odds that, if it comes to that, on January 20, 2009, Libby's getting a pardon? How about Rove? You know, if it comes to that, too.

Posted by john at 02:07 PM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

Various Notes and Links 10/27

Things I know, things I wonder, things I'd like to say:

* Notable science fiction author Norman Spinrad has had difficulty placing his novel He Walks Among Us with publishers in the US and UK, so he's released it as a shareware novel, with a suggested price of $5 (although he notes in the text of the document that "more will be gratefully accepted and less will not be scorned"). Spinrad suggests that his novel "may be the world's first shareware novel," although personally I can think of at least one other novel that started out that way, and some six years ago at that. Nevertheless I welcome Mr. Spinrad to the ranks of shareware authors and hope it works out as well for him as it did for me. You can get more information on the book, plus links to where it's downloadable, off of Spinrad's own site.  

* In the realm of books that you have to buy -- not only because that is how they need to be acquired but also because you should acquire them -- is Pretties, Scott Westerfeld's latest YA novel and the sequel to Uglies, both of which take place in a world where everyone is made to be beautiful whether they want to be or not (that's pretty much the gist of it, anyway). The reason you want to buy this is because not only is Scott a good friend of mine, but he's also the writer that when you were a kid you wished you could be when you grew up, provided you wanted to be a writer when you grew up (and possibly even if you didn't). This and Uglies would also be fine, fine books to give to a teenager right on the cusp of giving up the ghost of individuality and throwing their lot in with the vapid shallow types because that's just how high school is. This is the sort of literary intervention session for which you'll be thanked later. I'm just saying, is all.

* One more interesting thing, writing-wise: Claire Light clued me in to Chasing the Fourth Crusade, a blog in which author Nicole Galland is following in the steps of (guess!) the Fourth Crusade, which is the one where the Crusaders had planned to take Jerusalem by way of Egypt but then took a wrong turn at Alberquerque and sacked Constantinople instead. Like you do. You may not know this about me, but I'm endlessly fascinated by the Crusades, particularly the ones that ended poorly for the Crusaders (which would be most of them, actually), so this combination history/travel/writing blog is pressing most of the right buttons for me, and I think you might enjoy it as well.

* My quick reaction to all the news of the last several days:
Meirs Withdraws: I'd probably be more excited if it weren't for the fact Bush will now most likely nominate someone to the right of Pat Robertson.
Sheryl Swopes Comes Out: Good for her. Shame she plays in a state that's about to ban all marriage to make sure them gays don't get any hot marital action.
Iran Wants to Annihilate Israel: What, this is a policy change?
Dick Cheney Wants to Let CIA Torture People: What, this is a policy change?

I'd have deeper things to say about each of these if I wasn't waist-deep in submissions at the moment. But I am. In fact, I need to get back to them right now.  

 

Posted by john at 05:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Rock Family!

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We're the Rock Family! Because we rock! Hard and out loud! My hair is a loving tribute to Steve Perry in the Escape era! Don't stop believin'... in the ROCK! Rock on, brah!

Posted by john at 04:01 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Chicago's First Team

Call me petty, but I can't tell you how happy I am that when it came time for a Chicago baseball team to win it all, it was the White Sox and not the Cubs. I can't chalk up this emotion to any south side Chicago identification -- although the University of Chicago is on the south side, it's pretty much a north side neighborhood plopped down between 51st and 59th -- but more to the fact that the Cubs are Chicago's entitled team, in no small part because they're owned by a huge media conglomerate (and thus are plastered everywhere), and also because its fan base has a far larger stratum of latte drinkers than do the Sox, and everyone knows you can chart the feelings of entitlement of any large group of people by the per capita consumption of poofy coffee products.

The Sox are and have always been Chicago's second team as long as I knew about them; hell, even their 88-year drought between Series wins is a distant second to the Cubs' record of futility, now closing in on the century mark. Their blandly utilitarian stadium doesn't have the storied history of Wrigley Field. You couldn't pick their players out of a lineup, even in Chicago; you could stand next to one at Harold's Chicken Shack and never even know. The ratings for this World Series were in the toilet. These are the "other" guys, this is the "other" team. I like the idea that Chicago's "other" team gets to be Chicago's first team for a while.

I'll note I have a consistent record in this regard; I was pleased when the Angels won the Series a few years back for much the same reason, as the Dodgers are LA's team, and no one has ever seemed to know what to do with the Angels. And what would make me truly delirious with glee would be to have the LA Clippers win the NBA Finals. But even I have difficulty imagining the sick and disturbing world where the balance of nature is so far off the rails that such a thing could happen, so for now I'll just stick with the White Sox.

Here's one other thing, which makes the Sox win sweet: Unlike the Cubs fans, the Sox fans never seem to have made a fetish of their losing streak. They were aware of it, they were unhappy about it, they wanted it to end and were frustrated when it didn't. But there was no talk of a "curse" on the White Sox, as far as I knew about it. Or maybe there was, it was just that the discussion of the Cubs Curse, complete with that damned goat, sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Point is, the White Sox fans never seem to have made a cult out of their team's tradition of losing or internalized it as part of their fan psyche, as Cubs fans do. This is weird psychology on the part of Cubs fans, to feel both cursed and entitled, but welcome to baseball. And since they do feel both entitled and cursed, I feel they are entitled to their curse.

This is not to say I think Cubs fans want the Cubs to lose; what sort of idiot would you have to be to want your team to lose? But I do think Cubs fans have acclimated themselves to their team's futility to such a degree that they take a perverse pride in it: Thus the curse and the goat and all that rigmarole. What do you have when all of that gets taken away? Ask a Red Sox fan. This year they've got no Curse of the Bambino, they've just got a team that was steamrolled by the White Sox like everyone else. The Red Sox are now just another team. I wonder if the Cubs fans could handle being fans of just another team.

The White Sox fans can. Curses are for people who think too much; White Sox fans aren't in aggregate any more stupid than any other baseball fans, but you don't sense they're burdened with existential frippery like Cubs fans seem to be. They wanted their team to just win, and finally it has. Good for them. Good for Chicago. And good for the White Sox, who are Chicago's first and best baseball team, at least for today.

Posted by john at 08:48 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

The Document No One Knows About

This is the document no one knows about. If anyone knew about it, it would be the document someone knows about. But no one does. Hence its name. You may think you are reading it, and that you are someone, but please refer back to the title: The Document No One Knows About. No one. Including you. Therefore, either you are, in fact, not reading this document, or you don't exist. There are no other options, because this is the document no one knows about. Not even the person who wrote it knows about it, if indeed someone wrote it at all, which is a matter of some question. It's possible someone wrote it, then died. Which is perfectly acceptable, as being the document no one knows about does not logically preclude being the document someone knew about at some point or another, but now that person is dead. Alternately, the person could be alive but in a coma, or a victim of lacunar amnesia. Or simply very forgetful and busy. Or -- and this is a very real though unlikely possibility -- the document spontaneously arose, winking into existence on the desk of a minor functionary of a small, middle European government in a pile of unimportant and previously read documents, whereupon it was given to a filing clerk who had no more enthusiasm for his job than Bartleby the Scrivener, and who filed the document without so much as a cursory glance, secure in knowing that, bureaucracy being what it is -- especially in the government of a middle European country -- there would never be a need for the document ever to be examined again, and even if there were, no one would be able to trace its absence or mis-filing to him. And so into a file cabinet it went, to rest with other documents, which may equally have spontaneously arose, or perhaps were typed by people now dead, thus also becoming documents no one knows about. Eventually the middle European government would fall, as they so frequently do, and the need or interest in this document, already at a rock-bottom low, would collapse through the metaphorical bedrock into the even more metaphorical mantle of the world, so devoid of interest to humanity that it actually exuded a negative sort of energy -- not only the document no one knows about, but also the document no one wants to know about. However, this is all mere supposition; as no one knows about the document, certainly no one can test its capacity to make potential readers desire not to read it. It is Schroedinger's black box, wrapped in a puzzle, swaddled in an enigma, covered with a thick, muffling quilt and thrown down a well that was subsequently filled up and buried under the foundation of a whirly amusement park ride. Perhaps you are on that very ride, idly wondering what lies beneath, as G-forces threaten to extract the contents of your intestines through your mouth. Really, who knows.

Posted by john at 12:30 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

The Mac's Back

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The Mac is back, after a certain amount of time of inactivity, much of it brought on by my own sloth in getting it off to the repair shop. There are three places to get your Mac repaired in the Dayton area, and all three of them are on the other side of Dayton from me. I finally roused myself to drop the thing off over the weekend; on Monday I got a phone call from the service department telling me that my power supply and motherboard had been fried, and that this was actually a known issue -- apparently iMac G5s are frying in their own juices all across this great land of ours, so many, in fact, that the service shop expect it might be a four week wait for parts. Then they called back today, said the parts were in and been installed, and everything was working great and i could come and pick it up.

Part of me wonders if the "it'll take a month" thing was just a ruse to appear to be providing excellent service. On the other hand, they did fix my computer in three days, which does count as excellent service, particularly as they did have to order a new power supply and motherboard from Apple. So no matter how you slice it, a fine job by the technicians. Assuming nothing else goes wrong. The best news: it's all under the warranty, so it didn't cost me anything. And there was much rejoicing.

The bad news for Mac lovers is that I didn't really miss it all that much while it was gone. The thing I missed most about it was the mail client, which is both way smarter than any PC mail client in terms of spotting spam, but which also (naturally enough) had all my e-mail in it. Since I use my e-mail as my back-up brain (which is to say it's where I store phone number addresses, etc, all easily accessible through Spotlight), not having all that at my fingertips was a bit aggravating. Otherwise: eh. I use the Mac primarily for writing books and for e-mail, and I wasn't writing a book at any point when it was down. All the other major functions transferred easily back to my PC without a hiccup (and of course some functions never left: I do all my image manipulation on the PC because that's where my Photoshop is).

This would bother me more if I wasn't already clear on the fact that my Mac is something of an affectation, something I got in the "want" category rather than the "need" category. I will say that it's definitely an argument for having more than one computer in the house (and for having most non-system files on a networked archive drive). So all things considered I was and am pretty mellow about the whole "iMac iMploding" incident. Although now that it's back I guess I should start another book or something. You know, to keep it busy.

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

October 25, 2005

A Note on the Day of the Passing of Rosa Parks

Not too long ago Athena and I touched on the subject of segregation. We were looking at a calendar and I was pointing out holidays, and there was Martin Luther King Day, so I explained that he was someone who had fought for civil rights in the US. Athena, being six, didn't know what that meant, so I explained that at some time in the past, not too long ago, people who had dark skin couldn't use the same things or go the same places as people with light skin; they had use different water faucets, stay in different hotels and eat only at certain tables at restaurants, and sit in the back of the bus. 

"Why?" she wanted to know.

"Because people who look like us thought they were better because of the color of their skin," I said.

"It's just skin," she said.

I allowed that it was, but that at the time, people thought that it mattered.

"But people in my family have tan skin," Athena said. I should note that at some point in her past, Athena observed that some people have tan skin and some people have peach skin, and inasmuch as that is a far more accurate assessment than "black" and "white," we never saw the need to "correct" her language on this point.

"Yes they do," I said, because they do. In fact, many of her cousins are tan to some degree or another, thanks to Mexican or African ancestry. "And if you lived back in that time, they couldn't go to the same places you could, or do the same things you could do."

I wish you could have been there to see the expression on her face at that moment, which was not one of puzzlement, but of actual anger, over the idea that people she knew and loved would not be treated like she would. "If someone tried to do that to me, I would get into a fight with them," she said.

"That's sort of what Martin Luther King did," I said, and we talked a little bit about the protests and the boycotts, and we may have even talked about Rosa Parks. And then she watched some cartoons and played videogames and lived in a time where a six-year-old girl with peach skin had to be told about segregation instead of already knowing it existed through the day-to-day experience of her own life.

This is not to say that various forms of segregation don't still exist, or that Athena won't meet with them or won't see how they affect her or people she loves and cares about. It does, and she will. But she'll come to those knowing that they are wrong, as opposed to them just being the way it is. It matters.

I thank Rosa Parks for being one of the many people who helped point out to millions of people a thing that my six-year-old daughter was able to grasp in a moment: segregation was unfair. And I thank her for helping create a world where my six-year-old daughter's mental leap in considering segregation had her arriving at the fact it's unfair, and not at the fact that everybody does it. The service Rosa Parks has done to me in this regard is small compared to the service she has done others, to be sure. But it doesn't mean I don't acknowledge it, or her.

Thank you, Rosa Parks. Godspeed.

 

 

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October 24, 2005

Uxoriousness, Flickr Style


I have nothing useful to say today, so instead, please feel free to look at these pictures of Krissy.

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More Proof Astrology Is Irrevocably Wrong

I have the same birthday as Rick Santorum.

Man, now I need a shower.  

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October 23, 2005

Guess The Theme

Here's the mix of six songs (~16MB). What's the theme? Also, if you can get the names of all the artists and the songs, I'll be impressed.

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This Almost Makes Me Want to Go To Church

Marissa Lingen, on taking communion:

Sometimes when I take communion, I gloat about the people who have to be Body of Christ with me against their will. James Dobson is a big one that way. This is because I am Not A Good Christian. "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord," and there ain't nothin' you can do about it, suckahs. Ahem. Sorry. But it was a great theological revelation for me to realize that the Body of Christ has AIDS, has diabetes, has cancer, has everything. The Body of Christ is gay, is bi, is straight, is asexual, is not sure, is sure of something rather more complicated than any of that. Because you can't say, "Oh, well, I'm not bi, my right thumb is bi." Doesn't work that way. So as long as people like James Dobson and the aforementioned worthies of Undefined Cosmic Circumstances keep taking communion, they're part of being transsexual lesbians and unwed mothers and the whole mess of the rest of us who also take communion. Neener neener.

This is a much deeper and more useful observation regarding the Body of Christ than my own, which is that after 2,000 years of transubstantiation, the Body of Christ must be, like, totally huge. This is what I get for sleeping in on Sundays.  

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October 22, 2005

Reminder -- Get Those Subterranean Submissions In!

We're down to single digits in terms of the days left to turn in your submissions for the Subterranean Magazine Spring 2006 "Big Honkin' Sci-Fi Cliche" issue, so if you're still hoping to get a submission in, type type type, my friends. Once again, here's all the information you need to submit.

As a reminder, do please pay attention to the submission guidelines. Some people haven't, and thus I have received multiple fiction submissions from the same author, submissions that are significant multiples of the suggested 5,000 word (or less) story length, and submissions as attached files. These people (I suspect quite unintentionally) have made it harder for themselves than it has to be.

Also, as flattering as it is to be confused with him, I am not, in fact, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, so addressing your submission to him (as more than one submitter has) is curious at best. No, this in itself will not rate a rejection, so don't freak out if you did it. For someone aspiring to edit SF, there are worse things than to be called by Patrick's name in the fervid heat of submission. Really, I'm not the jealous type. But for future reference: Not the same person. Indeed, we have been seen in the same room at the same time, as this photo gacked from Cory Doctorow clearly shows:

This was from Torcon in 2003. I'm the one holding the Coke can, as if that needed to be stated. We look pretty much the same here in 2005, although I have less hair, while PNH maintains his luxurious cranial thatch, the bastard. Also, these days I drink Coke Zero. Stupid slowing metabolism.

In any event: Hurry, my potential writers, and get those stories in! Tick tick tick, type type type.  

 

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Ho Ho Ho, I Say -- Another Uncle John Book For Ye.

Oh looky -- another Uncle John's book to which I have contributed. This one is the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Christmas Collection, which as you may surmise from the title has a bunch of articles related to that wintry festival of toys and Jesus (although hopefully not in that order). I came in on this one as a bit of a ringer, adding in several articles at the last minute. I think the articles turned out well, and in a general sense I have to say this is one of the better-looking Uncle John's books -- it's got some very nice Victorian-style line art, and a nice layout overall. And needless to say the articles are pretty interesting too. 

Anyway: Interesting and lots of fun. I wouldn't mind getting it under the tree this year (provided, of course, that I didn't already have a copy. Which I do).

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The Cat's Going Through an "Arty" Phase

I knew we shouldn't have let her take those correspondence courses from the Rhode Island School of Design. Now she's ripping off Klaus Voorman! Shamelessly! Bad kitty! Bad!

More artiness (or lack thereof) here.

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October 21, 2005

Athena's Gothy Holiday Greetings!

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Yeah, this one's going to get pilfered for all the goth message boards for sure. And why not!

It's a few days early for Halloween, but Athena just couldn't wait. And can you blame her.  

The picture this was derived from, and other creepy delights, available behind the cut.

Here's the "original" of that holiday greeting:

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And another version, which I put up earlier and then took down, in which I had Athena's eyes replicating the big creepy eyes of the stuffed dog:

 

Mmmm... Photoshop.  

And because all that freakiness needs to be counteracted by cuteness:

 

That should do it.  

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October 20, 2005

What is Science Fiction Anyway?

Having the monstrous ego that I do, I've been watching the Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies Canon meme go through the blogosphere, and also reading comments people have been making about the selections for the Canon, and their own choices for addition to or subtraction from the Canon. One of the major complaints I see is the lack of the appearance of King Kong or of notice of any of special effect genius Ray Harryhausen's films in the Canon itself (I will note Harryhausen is quite prominent in the book proper, in the "Icons of SF" chapter).

The reason for the lack of inclusion of these films, and several others that people feel passionate about, is simply that I don't consider them to be science fiction films. One of the things I decided early on was to leave out films that were primarily fantasy films -- and many of the films people are asking about are, to me, fantasy and not science fiction.

This naturally leads to the question of, well, what is "science fiction?" As it happens, I answer that on the first page of the first chapter of the book, when I map out three criteria for a film (or, indeed, any work) to be considered science fiction. I don't think it compromises the book to share those with you here. So -- Scalzi's Three Criteria for Science Fiction are as follows:

1. The Work Takes Place in the Future -- or what was the future when the work was completed. Alternate timelines may also qualify if they follow at least one of the other criteria.

2. The Work Uses Technology that Does Not Currently Exist -- or (again) did not exist at the time the work was completed. Extrapolation from existing technology qualifies as well.

3. Events Are, By and Large, Rationally Based -- I'll quote myself here: "Though important events, situations and characters may in themselves be fantastical, science fiction assumes an explanation based on a logical universe. This is opposed to fantasy works, and some horror, in which such ideas are described through magic or the whims of the gods." This one gets stretchy, I'll admit -- there are plenty of science fiction films where the "rational" explanation for events is pretty damn stupid ("The creature was exposed to harmful Zeta Rays!!!"), but if those are the cards they want to play, you've got to play them.

One of these criteria is often sufficient to describe a work as SF, but it's best when at least two of the criteria are in play. The Road Warrior, for example, takes place in future time and is rationally based, even if the technology in it is already known to us. Star Wars uses futuristic techonology and is largely rationally based, even if it takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Matrix is future time and futuristic tech, but the computer universe in which the events take place has a rationality that is best described as malleable.

Employing these criteria eliminates a number of films that seem at least cursorially SFnial. King Kong fails all three (present time, present tech, no rational explanation for a 50 ft gorilla), as do many of the classic monster flicks. Harryhausen's most significant films were mythologically based, so they're out, too.

This is not to say these films don't share an important heritage with SF films, both in terms of audience and in terms of production (particularly relating to special effects); they clearly do, and I address much of the "backstage" stuff like that in the book. Be that as it may, these films aren't science fiction, at least as I defined it.

Let me also note that these three criteria do leave plenty of room for judgement calls. For example, Superman is an SF film to me, largely due to The Man of Steel's origin story (from another planet, which involved future tech to get here, and also a rational (if silly) explanation for his superpowers), but Batman isn't -- he's just a guy with many cool gizmos and the need for lots of therapy. I wouldn't classify most James Bond movies as SF, even though he employs some future tech with his gadgets, but on the other hand Moonraker is total SF, and there's no getting around that. 28 Days Later... qualifies as SF for its "rage virus," but Night of the Living Dead is fantasical horror.

There are a lot of movies (not to mention books and other media) that are on the bubble in terms of being science fiction or something else. You can get pretty Talmudic parsing which films qualify as SF and which don't, and naturally I had to do some of that. Generally I think I made good calls, but again I don't assume everyone will agree, and indeed am having a blast reading examples of where people don't. But at least now you all know where I'm coming from when I say that I didn't consider some of your favorite science fiction-like films to be science fiction.

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Suffering the Idiots

You know, when Michael Behe, the star witness for Intelligent Design at the Pennsylvania evolution trial, admits on the stand that the only way that ID can be considered a scientific theory is to change the definition of "theory" to such a lax standard that even astrology would qualify as a scientific theory, isn't it time to stop the trial, find for teaching actual science in biology classes, and then send a bill for the whole ridiculous affair to the idiots that changed the school policy to shoehorn ID into the classroom? Does this farce really need to go on any further?

The only value to this whole thing so far is that it got Behe to admit that in order to get ID to work, you have to cheat -- you have to make words mean different things than what they mean. You know, the science community already has a word for the new, more lax definition of "theory" Behe wishes to promote: it's called a hypothesis. Should Behe manage to get his way and change the definition of "theory," what becomes of the word "hypothesis"? Is it demoted? Discarded? Given a nice gold watch for its years of service to the scientific community and then taken behind the barn to be plugged with a shotgun? And if is merely demoted, then what will become of the phrase "drunken paranoid ramblings?" That phrase has nowhere else to go.

Behe also compared ID to the Big Bang theory, suggesting that, like the Big Bang theory, all ID needed to do was wait until the intractable old scientists died off, leaving a new generation of scientists who welcomed ID with open arms -- giving the illusion that acceptance of ID is inevitable. What Behe of course neglects to mention (and which someone cross-examining him ought to bring up), is that the reason the Big Bang theory gained acceptance was that the theory explained the observational data we collected about the universe better than any other theory. ID, on the other hand, fits absolutely none of the observational data, except to a very lax "I can't explain this personally, therefore it must intelligently designed" negative standard, which, oddly enough, doesn't actually raise to the level of science. Behe likes to wave off scientific hostility to ID as "politically motivated," but there's nothing political about noting that a hypothesis doesn't fit the observational data. That's what scientists are supposed to do.

The reason ID isn't like the Big Bang theory is that ID starts off broken and goes downhill from there. Indeed, the hypothesis for Intelligent Design is the best possible refutation of the concept, because it's so entirely lacking in either quality described in the phrase. The only way it will achieve the sort of scientific acceptance the Big Bang has is if we lower the quality of scientists we produce. Mind you, if ID is allowed to be passed off as "science," this will be precisely what will happen. Instead of scientists who will honestly explore the physical world and hold their work to a rigorous intellectual standard, you'll get more "scientists" like Behe, whose solution to promulgating an untenable "theory" is not to discard the idea but simply to change the definition of words to get them to mean what he wants them to.

It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for Behe, who claims to be a scientist. It's embarrassing for Behe's employers (who have been forced to acknowledge the embarrassment Behe causes them on a regular basis by posting a disclaimer on their web site), and it's embarrassing for anyone who likes to imagine that science should actually be about science, and not about comforting people twitchy about the fact they share a common ancestor with whatever animal it is they like the least. It's not embarrassing for those people, of course, but the fact it's not makes me embarrassed for them. I think it would be ashamed to go through life so afraid of ideas that I'd be willing to force ignorance on others to make myself feel happy and safe. Seems a little selfish, and a lot sad.

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October 19, 2005

When the Wind Blows

So, let's recap: This year, two major hurricanes that with barometric pressures that put them in the top five of recorded major hurricanes, and a third one that is -- from initial readings anyway -- the all-time most intense storm in the Atlantic. I think this is a perfect time to break out the "what the hell?" face. Also note that we're already on "W" in the naming scheme for hurricanes, and there's still six weeks to go until the end of the 2005 hurricane season. We go to the Greek alphabet from here; I'm putting money on hitting a storm named Gamma before I clear off the dishes at Thanksgiving dinner.

This new storm seems to be targeting Florida, which makes it the fourth or fifth time in the last year or so that it's been whacked by hurricanes, and for that they have my sympathy. I do wonder, if we are indeed entering an era of increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic, if we'll reach some sort of bend in the curve, where there's a net drain of people leaving Florida and other Gulf states because they've gotten tired of rebuilding after getting flattened twice or three times in a decade. I suppose that might be good news for Kansas and other plains states, who could use a few new warm bodies.

"Kansas: Hurricane free or your money back!" They do have tornadoes, mind you. But the destruction cone there is so much smaller. The odds are in one's favor, really.

All this disaster stuff does make me increasingly glad I live in Ohio, where the major natural catastrophe one has to worry about is boredom. And you never hear about massive storms of boredom knocking houses off their foundation. At least not since the advent of cable TV and the Internet, anyway.

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October 18, 2005

Meme-statizing the Canon

This is cool -- people are taking The Canon list from The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and doing the whole "bold the ones you've seen" meme thing; it appears to have gotten its start here and moved out into the world. So thanks, Jaquandor! You've done me a solid.

Along with bolding the ones they have seen, folks are also adding their commentary with the selections and wondering why some movies are in there and other ones are not (28 Days Later... and The Incredibles are the two people seem to be having the most problems with), which is of course as it should be. Here's a pretty amusing broadside on the whole list, however, from this fellow:

At points, this list looks like a projection calendar for MST3K. I would agree with many of his selections, but he gives too much weight to both contemporary and American movies. On the latter count, he did include a few British movies, a couple of French ones, and one Russian and one German film, but these are the exception, not the rule, and they have only been added to the list because of their heavy influence on American science fiction. On the former count, though, this guy does himself in. Obviously, a *canon* is not really supposed to be an up to the minute index of what's good but a list of works that have had a large influence on the genre as it stands today. Scalzi apparently forgot his dictionary when he decided to include The Stepford Wives, which, as a poorly written pastiche, will presumably influence no one, and The Incredibles. Mr. Scalzi, don't quit your day job, unless of course your day job involves writing, in which case you should quit.

Ha! Awesome.

(Mind you, The Stepford Wives did influence at least one set of filmmakers -- which is to say, the ones that remade it last year -- but I put it on the list for other reasons, which naturally I think are quite valid. As for The Incredibles, well, just you wait. The selection will be vindicated. In any event, my dictionary definition of "canon" has it as "a group of works that are generally accepted as representing a field," which can certainly accomodate The Incredibles and Stepford. But as noted, I don't expect everyone to accept all my choices. This is the fun part -- seeing how and why people disagree.)

Aside from the occasional crankiness, people do seem to be having fun with it, and that's a good thing. I would post the meme myself, but I'm not entirely sure what that would prove; I would certainly hope I'd seen all the films in The Canon, after all.

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The Cynical Writer

Pyr Books editorial director Lou Anders has some kind things to say about Old Man's War here, which is very nice of him. Anders' stewardship of Pyr has resulted in the imprint publishing some fine books, so for him to give OMW a thumbs-up makes me feel shiny and happy. He also says I'm a genuinely nice guy, and that my breath is fresh and minty! Okay, he didn't actually write the last part. Although I am chewing peppermint gum right now. I am entirely mintilated.

I note Anders' write-up for OMW, however, not for the praise but because he notes that he was initially not interested in the book:

Not only is it "not the sort of thing I normally read," but initially, I quite deliberately held off checking it out. First, because I had heard that Scalzi admitted to (cynically?) seeking out what sells (military SF) and then writing same, and second because Scalzi put me off on his blog by quoting my most hated cliché, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." I read for entertainment, yes, but part of what is entertaining to me is the act of learning, of bettering myself, and I have always held the occupation of writer as something laudable on the level of that of teacher or scientist and expect writers to be somewhat smarter than average. I read to learn, and when a writer tells me upfront they have nothing deep to say, I take them at face value and go elsewhere.

Both of these objections make me smile, not in the least because they are objections absolutely based in fact: I did use the "Western Union" quote (although not at the Whatever, but in an interview for Strange Horizons) and I did quite intentionally write a military SF novel after a trip to the bookstore to see what kind of SF was selling. It's all true! And with your indulgence, I'll chat a little about both.

Let's start with the "Western Union" comment, which is in response to this question:

DB: You note that Agent to the Stars was not a story "near and dear to [your] heart." Was Old Man's War that story, or do we get to look forward to another great story yet to come?

JS: Well, to be clear, I like Agent's story very much—it was a lot of fun to think about and to write. But I think a lot of beginning writers try to write about something really important to them right out of the box, and to be successful in doing so, which I think is a little like expecting to hit a hole-in-one your first time at a golf tee. With my first novel (which, remember, I had no intention to sell), I just wanted to hit one on the fairway. So I chose a story about space aliens and Hollywood, which seemed to me a doable enterprise. And if I had mangled Agent beyond all recognition, it wouldn't have killed me or my desire to write.

I'm a little wary about consciously trying to sit down to write a "great story." There's that old saying: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." I want to write a good story, one that keeps a reader wanting to read. I think that within the confines of a good story one can write some fairly significant things, so long as they are in service to that story. In Old Man's War, I think I touch on a number of significant topics, but the operative word there is "touch." If you start calling attention to what you're doing, your story is likely to grind to a halt and you've pulled your reader out of the world you've created to go "Look! A significant point is being made!" I mean, it's better to assume your reader isn't stupid and can handle some subtlety.

In other words, the moment I say to someone, "I will now sit down to write My Great Story," I hope they will do me the courtesy of braining me with a shovel. For now, I'll stick to trying to write good stories, and see where that gets me.

I don't think Anders and I are in disagreement in terms of what writers can offer as entertainment and as entertainers. I'm certainly happy when writers offer more than mere plotting, and many of my favorite writers do. Entertainment doesn't have be vacuous, even when it is light. But as a reader, I live in fear of what I call the "John Galt Maneuver," in which a character stands in one place over an entire signature of pages, barfing up the author's political rhetoric like a bulemic Mary Sue. Science fiction's history is not exactly devoid of such blatant Galtery, which I think is to its detriment; as a writer of science fiction, I want to be more facile than that when and if I have a point to make.

Old Man's War is an interesting case for political/rhetorical messaging because its universe is so extreme: Everyone is at war with nearly everyone else. Also, the political implications of this are only lightly touched on in OMW, in no small part because it's a "grunt's eye view" of that universe, and our hero has other things on his mind than social-political structure of the Colonial Union. His exposure to it is limited in any event, due to being a soldier and focusing on combat. But I think astute readers will have no doubt formulated some thoughts on what sort of government and society the Colonial Union actually is. In The Ghost Brigades, that story thread is explored rather more significantly, and should there be a third book, I think many of the consequences of what the Colonial Union is and how it is constructed will come to a head.

Certainly there is some authorial messaging going on in all this; I do have a point of view, after all, and anyway someone has to make decisions as to what's going on in this universe. It might as well be me, being that I am the author and all. But as noted, the goal is to have any messaging come through in the story, not in some character expounding at length (I do have characters expounding, mind you, both in Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. But I try to keep the expounding to a couple of paragraphs at most, and also try to let other characters get a word in edgewise). Also, as I writer, I want to make sure I put the story first, because that's what people have come to the book for. Any messaging has to fit the story, not the other way around. The OMW universe is a fictional and extreme sort of universe -- any messaging has to play by the rules that the universe is constructed by.

(Indeed, that's one of the things that differentiates science fiction from "mainstream" fiction: Moral, political and philosophical choices are in the context of a created universe, not necessarily the one we live in. Some messaging won't map perfectly (or at all) into this universe, which (among other things) bugs people who don't want to have to stretch their smug little minds to accomodate a new set of rules -- you can tell who these people are when they say things like "Science Fiction isn't real literature." Just smile, pity their tiny inflexible brains, and move on.)

One thing to point out (and which I suspect that Anders probably wouldn't take issue with) is that while entertainment can have a message, a message is not always required: Sometimes something can just be kiss kiss bang bang (and in the case of science fiction, also rocket rocket). The Android's Dream, the book I keep mentioning but which almost none of you have seen -- it'll be out late '06 from Tor -- is, as far as I can tell, almost entirely message free. Indeed, the first chapter is just one extended fart joke, and believe me you, other than in an intestinal sense, there's nothing deep about that. Having said that, I think that chapter is one of the best things I've written -- certainly one of the most fun, in any event.

Moving on to the "I wrote military SF because military SF was what I saw selling," I'll first note that Anders' reaction to this has not been unique: I know of several other people who were at least initially put off by this admission of mine, either because they've told me personally or because I've read it in their blogs (yes, I ego surf. This should not be news).

In a real sense I can sympathize. I think most people who experience art above the level of mere consumption want the art to be authentic, and to have that art created from a genuine place within the artist (bear in mind I'm using "art" and "artist" in very encompassing definitions of the words). You could very well argue that Old Man's War comes from a non-authentic place, creatively. I entirely admit I had no real love for military SF prior to writing Old Man's War -- I didn't dislike or disdain it (which I think is important), it just wan't something that resonated with me in any significant way. I liked some books that could be classified as military SF but was neutral or disliked others. If I had gone into the bookstore that day and seen another subgenre of SF taking up most of the shelf space, it's entirely possible (and likely!) that I would have attempted a book in that subgenre instead. For someone approaching my book, knowledge of the novel's backstory of blatant calculation doesn't do much for its credibility, or mine. Granted and noted.

But the book is what it is, and I am who I am. Hi, I'm John Scalzi, and I write books to make money. I also write books to enjoy myself and to amuse others. When the conditions are right, these latter reasons take precedence over the former -- but I don't worry about it too much if it's the other way around. What matters is whether what I write is any damned good. I'm very concerned about that, for both business and creative reasons. I want to write good books so readers feel like the books have been worth their time and money, and I want to write good books so that publishers feel like they're going to do well by publishing me.

This is why I'm not in the least concerned about sharing Old Man's War's publication history. Yes, I decided to write military SF because it's what I saw selling, and as an unpublished fiction author, I wanted to maximize my chances of selling a book and having it do well in the market. Having made that decision, I wrote a story in that subgenre that I would want to read, and generally speaking, I don't appreciate reading crap. So there was the motivation to write something that would sell, and also the motivation to write something good to read. The former motivation can reasonably be described as cynical, to the extent jumping through any set of hoops can be defined as cynical; the latter motivation, I would argue, is genuine and authentic.

One of the great and interesting debates regarding art of any sort is to what extent intent is part of the evaulative process of the work -- whatever a work stands independent of its creator's motivation for creating, or whether it has to be considered in that context. I'm a creator, but for more than a decade before I was a creator I was a critic, and that time as a critic has made me wary of factoring motivation when considering a work. More accurately, I think one can factor in motivation only after one has examined whether the work works; an artist may pour his heart and soul into a book or album or painting or whatever, but you know, if that book or album or painting sucks, it really doesn't matter if the intent was pure; it's still a bad book (or album, or painting or whatever). A really excellent work of art, on the other hand, may be enhanced by knowing the motivation behind it, but it has to be an excellent work of art on its own merits first.

Readers don't read process, they read finished books. Music listeners don't hear process, they hear the finished symphony. Moviegoers don't watch process, they watch the final cut of the film (until the director's cut DVD, anyway). Process is opaque and largely irrelevant; results are transparent and open to evaluation. Now, as it happens, people do often judge on process, if they know the process. But the funny thing about process is that it doesn't last -- the work does. Sooner or later the work itself will stand alone.

I'm open about the process of writing Old Man's War because I think it's interesting (whether or not I think process is artistically relevant, I think it's fun to know about), and also because I'm comfortable with how the work came out. I think it's a good book, and it stands on its own in terms of being a good read. Will how the book came to be made affect how people see it? In some cases, sure; it already has. These things happen. But when it comes to cracking the cover and reading what's inside, people eventually deal with the book and the story. One hopes for a happy outcome when and if that happens.

Posted by john at 11:19 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

Buggin'

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Athena's new plush toys: Giant Microbes! Obsessive that I am, I got the whole set: Shigella dysenteriae, Strptococcus pyogenes, Bordetella pertussis, Rhinovirus, Orthomyxoviridus and Streptococcus pneumoniae, all one million times size, plush, and with totally non-accurate eyes. As you can see, Athena is entirely thrilled. I do sometimes wonder if 20 years from now my daughter will presenting me with very expensive therapy bills. Hopefully she'll have her own insurance by then. Until then, pure comedy gold!

Athena says: "My bugs are sleeping right now, until the evening when they'll wake up and find people to infect!" That's the spirit. 

Posted by john at 04:19 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Oh, My.

I do believe this is my favorite Penny Arcade strip of all time. And that's saying something. It helps to have been a nervous new dad at some point, however. Also, don't click through if you don't want to be mildly disturbed for the rest of the day.

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Clouds and Sun

Normally I don't suggest pointing one's camera at the sun. But in this case the resulting picture was worth it.

 

Mmmm... lens flare.  

Posted by john at 12:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies -- Officially Out!

The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies is now officially available for purchase here in the US (it's been out in the UK for a couple of weeks now), and naturally, I encourage each and every one of you to enter through the doors of your nearest bookseller and proclaim in a loud, clear and confident voice that you are there to purchase this very book, and in doing so make a better world for yourself, the book sellers, and all your various and sundry children. Alternately, here's the link to snag it off Amazon.

As you might expect from the title, the book is a guide to science fiction film, from the very first SF film in 1902, to this summer's biggest science fiction extravaganzas. That's 103 years of science fiction film in 325 pages, including the index (lovingly indexed, I'll note, by the super-competent and generally awesome Susan Marie Groppi). But -- of course -- it does some scene setting as well, putting SF films into context. The book is arranged in the following chapters:

The Origins: The history of science fiction and other speculative fiction, reaching back to ancient Greece and then following through with written science fiction through the 21st Century.

The History: A quick jaunt through the eras of science fiction film from 1902 to 2005, not only in the US but worldwide.

The Canon: Reviews and commentary on the 50 science fiction films you have to see before you die (more on this in a minute)

The Icons: The people and characters of enduring significance in science fiction film.

Crossovers: Film genres that mix and match with science fiction, including fantasy, thrillers, horror and animation.

The Science: A look at the science (or lack thereof) in science fiction films.

The Locations: Significant studios and locations where science fiction is filmed, and places (real and otherwise) made famous by science fiction.

Global: Snapshots of science fiction films from all over the world, from Canada to South Korea.

Information: Past and present science fiction in other media.

All of this is designed to be both interesting and informative, but the part of the book that's going to get most people's attention -- and raise hackles -- is The Canon, which features the 50 science fiction films I have deemed to be the most significant in the history of film. Note that "most significant" does not mean "best" or "most popular" or even "most influential." Some of the films may be all three of these, but not all of them are -- indeed, some films in The Canon aren't objectively very good, weren't blockbusters and may not have influenced other filmmakers to any significant degree. Be that as it may, I think they matter -- in one way or another, they are uniquely representative of some aspect of the science fiction film experience.

You ask: Why do I get to choose what films are in the canon? Well, you know: 15 years of film reviewing and following the business of cinema, and a lifelong interest in science fiction, gives me some amount of credibility. Being a published science fiction author doesn't hurt, either. Now, I didn't start this project thinking I knew it all -- some of you may recall I made an open call for people to suggest their thoughts on the most significant SF films -- but by the time I got down to the writing, I felt comfortable with the list I drew up, and in saying that these were the most significant SF films of all time.

Now, let me be clear: I don't expect everyone to agree with my selections for the Science Fiction Film Canon. Indeed, what fun would it be if everyone did? I hope that people use The Canon list as a springboard for starting a wide-ranging debate about what science fiction films truly matter. So if you think my list is crap, bully for you. Do better. Be aware I'm willing to fight to the death for this list; otherwise, bring it on.

So, what films are in The Canon? Here's the list, in alphabetical order:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Akira
Alien
Aliens
Alphaville
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Brazil
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Contact
The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Delicatessen
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
Gojira/Godzilla
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
Metropolis
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Robocop
Sleeper
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Superman
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
Tron
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

No, Serenity didn't make the list. Deal with it (it is in the book, though. Page 24. Big shout-out to Joss Whedon there, too, although I don't have very nice things to say about his Alien Resurrection script when I review that movie on page 59. Please don't hurt me, Whedon fans).

This list only notes the films I selected; for the reasons and rationales behind their selection, you'll need to pick of the book and read the reviews of each of these films. There is some excellent writing in those reviews, if I do say so myself; if any of you were worried I might tone down the snark, well, let me just say your worries are unfounded (you'll particularly want to check out the Star Wars and Matrix reviews, which are chock full of snarky goodness). I will note that this list is very substantially informed by suggestions from people who responded to my August 2004 call for input, so if you were one of the folks who pitched in for that, many thanks. You helped quite a bit.

I'm very proud of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies; it was a lot of work to put this book together, and I think it works on a lot of levels -- it's a fun overview for people who don't know much about the history of science fiction film, but even those with deep knowledge of the field will find interesting stuff in here (I'll note I found a few typos here and there -- well, a few more than a few. Welcome to first editions! We'll get them for the second printing; in the meantime it doesn't affect the reading in any significant way). The book gives folks lots to argue about, which makes me happy.

I hope you'll check this book out and find it as interesting to read as it was for me to write -- and that you end up checking out some science fiction films you might not otherwise have seen. That would make me happiest of all.  

Update, 6:06pm -- The Amazon ranking for RG2SFM is 1,800 at the moment, up from 105,000 or so yesterday. w00t! That's really excellent for a pop reference book. You've made my publisher's day. I'm also pleased. Thank you very much for checking it out.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (143) | TrackBack

October 16, 2005

What Writing Online is Good For, October 2005 Edition

This line in this entry over at TechRepublic Site made me twitch a little:

Apparently, the trendy new way to get noticed by book publishers is to serialize your novel online and let the editors find you.

Well, okay, if one defines "trend" as this maneuver working for three speculative fiction authors over three years (actually two-and-a-half, as one of the authors noted was an odd-duck combination, in that portions of her novel were spotted online, and the physical manuscript of her novel was also rescued from the slush pile). Meanwhile, probably more than a thousand books were sold in the spec fic arena in the same timespan by the traditional method of submitting work for editorial consideration. If you're an aspiring first-time author, I would, you know, look at at the odds involved before making a decision.

The author of the linked article does thankfully note the long odds involved:

every one of the authors discourages people from relying on the tactic as a way to get discovered (sound advice, by my analysis), but do recommend it as a way of getting your writing before an audience and working the kinks out.

To be entirely honest about it, however, if you are going to take the time and effort to put your writing online, I think it's far less useful to put your fiction online than it is to spend some time creating an interesting blog and cultivating an audience for it. This is not an "either/or" situation, of course, as I have done both. But I will say that one of these you should do first, and that's to work on your blog.

The reason why should be reasonably obvious if you look at your blog in strict marketing terms (which you shouldn't do in real life, because no one likes reading a site that is obviously tacked up for marketing purposes. I'll get to that later). Blogs are fabulous marketing tools because what they're good for is getting people involved with you as a writer; they're tuning in to read what's going on in your head and in your life, and to a very real extent are sharing your life with you. They commiserate when you suffer a setback, and congratulate when you get ahead, and otherwise view you as part of their circle of acquaintances -- not just some writer, but someone they know and (provided you have comments and/or answer e-mail) interact with. In other words, at some point some percentage of them stop being merely readers and become fans.

Fans -- and again, we're talking in strict marketing terms -- are useful. They're useful because they're likely to be proactive not only in buying any non-blog-related writing output you might create, but because they'll also help you sell your work to others, just like fans of other creative people help those folks as well. They (probably) won't be able to help you sell a book to a publisher, but once you sell the book, they can be there to help give the book a decent send-off. That in turn will be useful to your publisher.

Indeed, I think as more time goes on, more and more publishers will be looking at first-time authors and asking what sort of "fandom" they already have. If I were an editor and I was presented with two first-time authors, one of whom was not online, and another who was and had a couple thousand people visiting their blog on a daily basis, all other things being equal, I'd go with the writer who is already online. That's a couple thousand people I don't have to introduce this writer to, and possibly a couple thousand people who can help me sell that writer as an author. First-time author unit sales are usually low enough that a couple thousand blog readers can make a real and significant impact to a first time author's sell numbers. 

I don't expect such considerations will trump competent writing -- given the choice between an exquisitely-written novel by a nobody and a crap novel by someone with a popular blog, I would hope an editor and publisher would decide the exquisitely-writing author was worth cultivating. But when the two writers are of equal competence, why wouldn't an editor go for the one that brings readers to the party? I certainly know the relatively large readership of the Whatever is a selling point in my publishers' eyes.

Having said all that, I think it's also true that the moment you start treating your site readership like monkeys to be marketed to, you run the very real risk of losing them. I think one's readers are happy to celebrate one's achievements, but they know the difference between you celebrating with them, and you marketing to them. Not every reader wants to be treated as a consumer, and this is even more of the case in the online world. If you're a writer and you've spent the time cultivating a relationship with people (and they with you), they're going to feel betrayed if the tone of your site devolves purely to "and here's another thing of mine to buy!" I don't think people mind when an author says such things -- authors write books with the hopes of selling them, and most people get that -- as long as it's not the only thing an author says. Such things need to be part of the conversational and narrative flow of a blog or journal, not a disjointed break from it.

To hammer this point one final time: Yes, a blog is a great way to market yourself. And the minute you think of your blog primarily in marketing terms is the minute you kill its usefulness. People aren't coming to your site to be marketed to; they're coming to be entertained and to catch up with you. Be real, or you're going to lose them.

Now, if you do want to post creative work online, I strongly suspect it helps to have already been engaged in the online world in other means. I posted Old Man's War on the Whatever after I'd been online for more than four years; by that time I had a couple thousand people a day coming by to see what I was up to. The reaction to OMW was stronger and more immediate than the reaction to Agent to the Stars, which I posted in March of 1999, when I only had a couple hundred people visiting every day (see what I mean about it taking time to cultivate an audience?). No matter how you slice it, if you want whatever fiction you post online to be appreciated and noticed, you need to develop an online presence first.

If you don't want to bother generating an online presence before posting creative work online, here are some of the problems you can expect: Posting creative writing out of the blue just means you have this big mass of verbiage online; no one knows its provenance, which means they're less willing to take the time with it, because, after all, who are you? Creative writing is also more difficult to produce on a constant basis (particularly if you're aiming for quality), meaning that you can't update on a daily or near-daily basis, which is the most desirable frequency for writing online. Finally, creative writing is something akin to a performance, while blog writing is closer to a conversation. By and large I've found people want to talk back when they're reading online.  Upshot here: If you expect simply posting creative stuff online is going to open doors, you're probably delusional. It takes time -- lots of time.

The good news is that it's now easier to develop an online presence than it was before. There are more options to do it simply,and  the communities are significantly more developed (particularly in places like LiveJournal and AOL Journals (nb: I work for the latter)). There are also indeed a number of editors and agents online, particularly those focused in genre like SF/F, Horror and Romance, so it's not entirely inconceivable that you might get to know them and they might see your writing. You might even be asked to send in some writing, even if you haven't put your fiction online (ask Jo Walton about that). But the real advantage will be that people get to know you, and get to like what you have to say. And that might have useful carryover into the rest of your writing life.

Can you plan on it? No. But you can work with it, if it does happen. And in the meantime, you might just simply enjoy writing online, which is a reward in itself.

Posted by john at 10:38 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

October 14, 2005

What Passes For an Online Literary Feud These Days

This entry at Galleycat about my and Cherie Priest's recent observations about writers (entitled "Sci-Fi Writers Saner & Nicer, Probably Better Looking," -- well, we're nicer, anyway), clued me in to the fact there's some recent online literary-esque unpleasantness involving writers Steve Almond and Mark Sarvas. The throughline here is that Sarvas apparently bags on Almond's writing all the time in his blog, and yet when the two of them were in the same room at the same time during a recent LA literary gathering, neither of them physically beat on the other, or even simply immolated in some sort of bizarre literary matter/anti-matter event that would have taken out the entire of Los Angeles' literati, a tragedy from which it would have taken the US literary scene at least fifteen minutes to recover (Aw, shut your hole. I'm from LA, damn you. I can make these jokes).

Almond wrote about the event, or lack thereof, in an astonishingly awful piece that could only have run in that miasmic hole of self-regard known as Salon; Sarvas batted back in his literary blog. Of the two of them, Sarvas comes off better, as he's internalized the blog world response of cool and bemused indifference to character assassination, including the delight in showing off some of the invective of the person attacking them. As I'm no stranger to such maneuvers myself, I appreciate the performance of the form. But neither comes off covered in glory. In this sort of thing, one rarely does.

However, the true bad actor here, if you ask me, is Salon. It actually paid Almond to write his unholy example of congratulatory literary fartsmelling. If the piece is genuinely indicative of Almond's personality, it's no wonder Sarvas didn't bother to seek him out, since he makes himself seem terribly unpleasant to be with or even near. Salon's editors should have taken Almond aside and said to him, "now, you know this makes you look an ass, right?" Because if they didn't, they did the poor man a disservice. This is what editors are supposed to do: Correct your grammar and keep you from making an ass of yourself in public (the two are not mutually exclusive).

But then Salon seems to make a business out of giving writers enough rope to hang themselves with. The seven most damaging words in the English language for the reputation of any novelist might very well be "I just wrote an article for Salon." If it weren't for the fact Salon's book section is serialing Cory Doctorow's latest novella, it would be almost entirely useless. Seriously, people: Salon's book section. It's death, in online magazine form. Enough said. 

Authors, if you must write a piece in which you assassinate the character of some other writer, don't take money for it. That's just icky; there's something unspeakably unseemly about Almond having taken money for suggesting that some other writer might spooge in his pants just through the act of meeting him. It certainly doesn't make you want to handle any change that Almond might give you.

Really, now: do it on your blog. Unmediated, ill-advised gouts of ego-salving literary otherhating are what blogs are for. And then you get the fun of actually conducting a writer's feud in your comment thread, because the chances of the other writer not finding out you've written horrible things about them (via their daily egosurf through Google and Technorati) are slim approaching none. You get all of the dubious thrill of slapping down some other wordsmith, with none of the reputational taint of taking filthy lucre for what is essentially an exercise in degrading yourself.

Mind you, you shouldn't be initiating an online literary badmouthing in the first place. Other than cheap thrills, it doesn't do anybody any good, and you develop a reputation for being something of a twit (responding to a literary badmouthing is fine, although remember the key to success is bemused indifference, at least in the initial response. Wait to bring out the knives until the inevitable comment thread to follow). Better than debasing yourself online is to save that sort of thing for bar talk, where it can eventually settle into the sediment of literary gossip. It's more fun that way. In any event, I suspect it would lead to a higher chance of a physical altercation, which is what Almond seems to have been hoping for, anyway. Although, honestly, watching authors fistfight is like watching geese play Jeopardy. There's a lot of honking and squawking but no one ever gets to what they're supposed to be doing.

I don't know. Maybe it's just that no one knows how to conduct a real literary feud anymore, online or otherwise. It's a shame, that.  

Posted by john at 09:23 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

October 13, 2005

Questions for a Soldier -- an Old Man's War Tale Addendum

In the earlier post about "Questions for a Soldier," the limited-edition chapbook set in the Old Man's War universe, I mentioned that one of the selling points for collectors would likely be a very cool illustrator for the chapbook. Well, now I can tell you who it is: Bob Eggleton, who has won more Hugo and Chesley awards for his artwork than some people have fingers and toes. He'll be providing three illustrations for the chapbook, including the cover art. My thoughts on this: Groovy.

Posted by john at 05:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

Writers on Writers, And It's Not What You Think

Nor would you want it to be. Writers tend to be lumpy. Two of them together? Yeeeech.

Cherie Priest (who, for the record, does not appear to be inappropriately lumpy) notes an inherent wariness about meeting writers:

I tend to get along poorly with other writers until I know them well enough to know that they are not the sort of writers who piss me off. This may sound unfair and I'm sure that it is, but I automatically assume that other writers are assholes and that I don't want to meet them. The safest way to introduce me to other writers is to pretend that I'm a cat, being introduced to another cat in close quarters. Stand back. Get the water hose ready in case of emergency. Do not expect the introduction to go very well, and furthermore, be delighted if the encounter ends without blood loss.

I find this amusing (aside from the fact it's amusingly written) because my experience is the opposite; by and large I find I get along just fine with other writers. But I also readily admit that I've spent almost no substantial time in the presence of writers who were not either already professional writers, or writing in a manner that subsumes individual neuroses underneath a need to get something in on a deadline (i.e., college newspaper stuff). Prior to selling a novel, none of the people I would deem as good friends were aspiring authors, and most of the people I know on a day-to-day basis aren't writers either. I've never been a workshopper or writer's circle type, so I never regularly crossed paths with other aspiring authors while I was one myself. The closest I came to any of this was the single fiction writing class I took when I was a freshman at the U of C, which served largely to establish that I'm not a "writing class" sort of person. Once I left college, I knew plenty of writers, but they were all journalists, which means (by and large) that they approach writing as a job, with daily performance expectations -- i.e., deadlines and what have you.

In short, for the vast majority of my working life I've been isolated from the type of "writer" who sees writing as a holy calling, and have instead been exposed to the type of writer who sees it as their job, either as a journalist or as a working writer who relies on pay copy to pay the rent. These people -- regardless of the type or style of writing they may engage in -- tend to be fairly practical people when it comes to the "art" of writing; they talk shop the way mechanics talk shop, not the way theologians do (or are imagined to, anyway). Allowing for the general variation of human personalities (which is to say, some people are just assholes no matter what they do for living), I have to say that on average I've liked the working writers I've met. Even if we don't share exactly the same worldview, we have a commonality of practical experience that gives us something to work with, at least until we all decide we're bored with talking about writing and go off from there.

I don't think I've met a working writer who does vomit on endlessly about the holy mission of writing and how it is an expression of their soul and so on, possibly because that sort of thing eventually takes a back seat to paying the electric bill, and possibly because if a writer is doing the "show don't tell" thing like they're supposed to do in the first place, they don't need to blather on about it; it's there in the writing, or should be. I don't know what I would do if someone was blathering on to me about the holy mission of writing, actually. I guess to amuse myself I'd picture them in their underwear, covered in blood-sucking leeches, turning powder blue as they slowly deoxygenate. Yes, yes. That is an image which will do quite nicely.

I think it also helps to meet the right writers, frankly. At my first science fiction convention, I knew not a damn person, so Patrick Nielsen Hayden basically appointed Cory Doctorow as my "con buddy" and Cory did me a mitzvah by introducing me to a bunch of swell folks who also happened to be writers, many of whom have since become good friends. These writers are simply good people -- they're happy for their friends' success, they're generous in their friendship, and they tend also to be amusing as hell. Good role models for any budding writer. Next time you see me, have me introduce you to some of them. You'll like them. Or there's something wrong with you. Yeah, sorry about that.

Posted by john at 11:29 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Tech Geekery Which Promises Not to Be Of Interest to Anyone But Me

First off, my recent Web site invoice informs me that I used 70GB of bandwidth last month. Actually I used very little of it; it's the rest of all y'all who have done the honors. Which makes me think, damn, that's a lot of bandwidth, and it's not like I'm swapping warez here, it's just text and pictures. However my Scalzi.com host provider is apparently under the impression that 70GB is well within my monthly pipeline tolerances and as long as they're not going to complain, neither am I. So, please, feel free to visit anytime. I've got the smorgasbord bandwidth plan, it seems.

Second, Sprint, my connectivity provider, as recently decided that my little rural burgh deserves a boost to its DSL speeds, and a cut in the cost of those services, so now I have a DSL connection with 3Mbps throughput downstream and 512kbps upstream -- and get this, now when I download I actually get download speeds that approximate what I'm paying for! Which is a genuine improvement from what it was before. And it costs less, as I mentioned, although getting it to cost less involved some interesting reshuffling of my phone services (which are also provided by Sprint. See, here in rural Ohio, you can have any communication provider you want, so long as it's Sprint). So now in addition to faster download speeds, I have a whole bunch of phone trickery I will never use, such as "Repeat Dial," "3-Way Calling" and "Nuke Vladivostok," which I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to have access to. Also, now I get billed for my Dish Network through Sprint instead of Dish Network. Whatever. Net, it all costs less, so I'm wondering how anyone's making any money any more. But what do I care? I'm drinking from the firehose, baby!

Actually, the thing I notice the most at this point is the vastly improved upload speed, which is something on the order of four times faster than it was before, which means all those pictures I'm foisting onto the net upload lickety split, and also I can no longer ever blame net lag for the fact that 15-year-old boys totally pwnzor my 36-year-old ass in Half-Life2 Deathmatch. Damn kids.

Posted by john at 10:39 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

A Pop (well, bluegrass) Quiz


Statement: Man, you haven't lived until you've heard the Dolly Parton version of John Lennon's "Imagine."

Question: Do you think I'm being sarcastic or genuine in the statement above?

Extra Credit: Does your answer change if in the statement above I replace the words "John Lennon's 'Imagine'" with "Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven?'"

Remember to show your work.  

Posted by john at 11:48 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Work Wonkery

Despite living a phlegm-based existence today, I have been reasonably productive; aside from my AOL Journal duties I wrote up and/or discussed with with editors or agents no less than five possible future book projects, fiction and non-fiction both. At least two of these, I think, have immediate short-term potential (I also discussed a sixth book project, which is unofficially official, which means that it's very likely to go through but I can't talk about it now -- don't worry, I'll let you know when it happens).

Those of you who keep track of these things will note it's now roughly a month after I completed The Ghost Brigades, which is the amount of time I suggested last month that I would be comfortable not having another book project lined up, but after which I would start getting twitchy and wondering how I would feed my precious family. So this orgy of book proposery is right on time. Now all I have to do is have all these proposals get accepted, and I'll be good to go through 2008 at least. Wouldn't that be nice.

Also, without going into any sort of detail, I passed on a potential book project that was offered to me; I thought it was a very good proposal and I suspect strongly it's going to do well for the publisher, but I didn't know how I was going to fit it in. I imagine the publisher won't have any difficulties finding someone for it, though, and best of luck to them. I note this passed project to you primarily because it's the first time I've been able to pass on a book project that's been offered to me without first engaging in a long, drawn-out self-examination as to whether passing on this project means I'll never sell another book again, and I feel pretty good about that.

Bear in mind I could be entirely delusional on this score, and may, in fact never sell another book again. But I don't feel like that's the case, and it was nice to be able to look at the project, think "wow, cool idea, wish I could do it but can't" and then move on. I do have enough going on.

One of the things I feel best about these various book ideas and proposals I've been working with today is that there's a nice range in them; as the poster child for the easily bored, I like the idea of having entirely different types of projects to keep me amused. I think this has been borne out in the books so far; I've had books on finance, astronomy, film and stupidity, and then I have fiction on top of that. I won't leave this world without having established that my interests are all over the damn board, and I also feel good about that. Hopefully this new batch of ideas and proposals will keep that streak going.

Unless I never sell another book again. We'll just have to see, won't we.

Posted by john at 09:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Phlegmily

The entire Scalzi clan is home ill. Yes, even the cats. See you all tomorrow. In the meantime, consider this an open thread.

Posted by john at 12:51 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

NaNoWriMo Revisited

I was asked in e-mail to air my thoughts regarding the upcoming National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November: The idea is to start and complete an entire novel in a single month (that month, clearly, being November). As it happens, I already wrote about my thoughts on NaNoWriMo two years ago, so rather than repeat myself, I'll just link to it here.

Also, no, I don't expect to participate: I'll likely start my next novel -- whatever it may be -- in January. Before then I'll be doing editorial wrangling on Subterranean Magazine, updating The Rough Guide to the Universe for its second edition, getting out some book proposals, and hopefully banging out a couple of short stories I've promised to people. All of which will keep me busy enough, thanks. But by all means, don't let me stop you.

Posted by john at 11:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

La la la la la la la la

To the folks writing me e-mails asking me to comment about one thing or another happening in the world: You know, I would, but I'm going through one of my occasional periods of intense apathy about national and world events, so at the moment I'm finding it hard to care. I suspect it's partly a defensive measure my brain kicks in after I spend too much time thinking about large events of world importance, and as we all know, last month I went just smidgen overboard with the whole Katrina thing. This month, nationally, all we have got going is the conservatives tearing out Bush's entrails over Harriet Miers, and while I certainly find it amusing that now everyone hates George Bush, I don't find it engaging enough at this point to say anything about. Other people are getting foamy enough over it that I'm content to let them take the lead at this point.

Bear in mind that it's not that what's going on with Miers isn't important (not to mention the earthquake in Pakistan, the oncoming bird flu pandemic, or skyrocketing heating costs with winter coming on). It's just that I can't manage to rouse more than a token amount of concern or interest at the moment. Call it real world fatigue or something. I'll get over it eventually. In the near-term, however, you should probably expect me to do the blog-writing equivalent of puttering about the house in a bathrobe for at least the next couple of weeks. I'm just warning you, is all.

Posted by john at 05:15 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Questions for a Soldier -- an Old Man's War Tale

One of the Whatever readers was apparently haunting the Subterranean Press site recently and noticed something there for pre-order called "An Old Man's War Tale" and wanted to know what it was about. Well, now that I've finished it and it's been accepted, I can tell you about it.

Every year Subterranean Press puts out a series of limited-edition deluxe signed chapbooks from some interesting authors, for fans of the authors and other collectors. This year I was invited to participate, along with folks like Charles de Lint, Jonathan Letham, Tim Powers and James Blaylock. My contribution is called "Questions for a Soldier." It was previously called "An Old Man's War Tale" because I was asked to write something in the OMW universe and I agreed to do so, but Bill Schafer, Subterranean's publisher, had no idea what I would write. Now he does, and now it has a formal title.

The chapbook is short story length, but what I've written for it is not a conventional short story. If you've read Old Man's War, you'll recall how John Perry, the book's protagonist, does a "goodwill" tour of the colonies after the Battle of Coral. I thought it would be interesting to zoom in to one of the stops on that tour and catch John Perry in the act of talking with the colonists, some of whom are happy to see him, and some of whom are not. The story takes place in the back and forth between Perry and the colonists, and in the events and answers that get revealed in the questions.

If you're a fan of John Perry and the OMW universe, here's why this chapbook might be of interest to you:

Subterranean is selling the chapbook in two formats: the standard signed chapbook format for  $18, for which there are 576 copies available, and the unimaginably superdeluxe lettered edition which will be either cloth or leather bound and tray cased, for $175. There will be 26 of those available, and if they sell out, I may keel from shock.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of chapbooks, let me do note to you that what you're getting here is an individual short story-length piece of writing, not an entire novel (or novella). I would hate to have someone shell out $18 (or $175, for that matter) and not know what you're getting.

But for those of you looking for rare and unusual Scalzi-related curiosities, this is it, baby. This is explicitly designed to be a collector's item, i.e., something that will go up significantly in value after they find my tragic, bloated body at the bottom of some lake. That'll teach me to lay off the ponies. And for those of you who won't be secretly rooting for my morbid, scandal-filled demise, there's the extra added bonus that those of you who get it will know more about the Old Man's War universe than everyone else. You can form your own secret club! I can't wait to learn what the handshake will be.

Once more, here's the URL to preorder your copy. And of course if you have any questions, just drop them into the comment thread below and I'll be happy to answer them.

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October 08, 2005

A Review of Four and Twenty Blackbirds

I was mentioning earlier that I had picked up Cherie Priest's debut novel Four and Twenty Blackbirds and would be taking it with me to the trade show I went to last weekend; well, I did, and I read it while I was there, staying up until about 3am to finish it (fortunately, I didn't have to sign any books until 1:40 pm the next day).

Briefly speaking, I was quite happy with it. It gave me a good spook and offered a lot of evocative writing without falling into the faux-Anne Rice verbiage many other Southern-based ghost stories I've read have done -- Ms. Priest has her own voice, and that's a good thing. She also has a good eye for imagery: The heroine Eden's visit to a creepy old mental hospital and her arrival into the Florida city of St. Augustine are both very vivid.

My only complaint about the book is that it was too short, which is to say I would have like to have gone into deeper depth concerning Eden's relationship with the ghosts that haunt her -- not in explaining the relationships (which is handily done in the telling of the tale), but in the experience of interacting with those ghosts and an exploration of those abilities and how they were passed to her. I don't think my desire to want to go deeper with that constitutes a failure of the book, however; it's just a manifestation of where my own curiosities lie. 4&20 is plotted and executed well, and the author's own plan for a tale doesn't always coincide with that of the individual reader. I do know Ms. Priest has additional books in the series on the way, so maybe those things will get explored more there.

I'll be passing along 4&20 to Krissy when she's done with the book she's currently reading; Krissy's a big fan of southern gothics, so this is going to be right up her alley. I also think it would read very well for a teen audience; I could give this to my 16-year-old niece without a problem (perhaps as a double feature with Scott Westerfeld's Peeps). And overall I'm happy to say I can recommend the book, and I'm looking forward to Wings to the Kingdom, the sequel, which as I understand will be available in late 2006.

Also, I think the 4&20's cover art is absolutely fabulous.  

As an aside to the review the book, I've discovered with some interest that Ms. Priest and I have an unusual thing in common -- both of us sold novels to Tor after serializing them online: Me with Old Man's War, which I serialized here, and she with 4&20, which she serialized on a now defunct LiveJournal. 4&20, however, came to Tor by a rather more excruciating route (Ms. Priest originally sold the book to a small press, and it quickly became clear this might have not been a great idea; see this entry on Ms. Priest's site for the whole sordid story). The novels appear to have been written more or less at the same time (2001), although her serialization predates mine (she did it in 2001, it seems, posting as she wrote, whereas I did it in 2002, after the book had been finished for more than a year).

I think it's interesting and significant that two unknown writers who serialized their novels online eventually had those novels find their way to Tor. Among other things it shows both a proactiveness on the case of the Tor editors (Patrick Nielsen Hayden for me, Liz Gorinsky for Ms. Priest) to find work rather than just let work come to them; it also shows their facility in and comfort with the online world (both PNH and Liz have blogs of their own).

I don't think this means that everyone should now start serializing their novels online, hoping for PNH or Liz or some other editor to wander by; you'll note that Ms. Priest notes in the above-linked entry that she didn't expect anything to come of her posting the work , and the reason I posted is because I was too damn lazy to shop the book around and had accepted the idea that posting it online would kill its sales value. Our experiences aside, it's still vastly better to get your work in front of editors in their preferred manner than trying to get them to come to you (note here also that Ms. Priest did submit to Tor in the old-fashioned way; Liz found the partial manuscript on the slush pile before tracking down Ms. Priest online).

However, our experience does suggest that at least one publisher out there is looking to find good (and hopefully profitable) work from new writers by any means necessary. For first-time writers, this should be an encouraging thought.

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October 07, 2005

Bell Ringing

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At the local pumpkin festival, they have this fake rock wall that's about 30 feet tall, with a buzzer on top you try to get to in order to ring. And here's Athena at the top of that wall, ringing said buzzer. Actually for the second time, since the first time I was just busy whooping it up. Clearly, the kid doesn't have an issue with heights. And before you all berate me for letting her climb up 30 feet, she's on a tension rope. No danger of falling fast enough to hurt herself.

After the feat, it was time to celebrate with the customary treat of climbers everywhere, a tradition begun on the icy summit of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay their very selves: A deep fried Twinkie!

It's cherry syrup, you sickos.

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Story re: Subterranean Magazine on SciFi.com

F&SF editor John Joseph Adams interviewed me on the upcoming Subterranean Magazine cliche issue for SciFi.com's Sci Fi Wire, which makes this single story one of the great confluences of science fiction print in modern history! You can read the story here. And don't forget to submit!

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October 06, 2005

Chrome Dome

It's pretty much a fact that the balder you get, the shorter your hair needs to be in order to have it look good. The hair at the top of my head had gotten thin enough that not matter how short it got, it looked a little silly. So, I thought, screw it, and shaved my head. I think it looks fine, and more importantly, Krissy thinks it looks fine. I'll probably keep the look for a while. The good news is that no matter what, now my hair officially can't get any shorter.

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Book Seven: Harry Potter and the Christopher Street Bathhouse

Somewhere on the Internet, writers of Harry Potter/Severus Snape slash have hearts exploding with squee.

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And Then They Made Her Queen of Their World

One of my favorite recent pictures of Athena. Notice the levitation. Boy, those alien tractor ray beams really do work! 

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October 05, 2005

Mad Crazy Laziness

Here's the fact of the matter: Four and a half years ago, I packed up the vast majority of my CDs when I moved from Virginia to Ohio, and I never unpacked them. Before I packed the CDs away, I ripped about 1200 tracks off them onto my computer and also stuffed them into my (then state of the art) Creative Nomad Jukebox, comprising basically my own personal radio station, so I was not generally lacking in terms of the stuff I wanted hear, and aside from that I went about accreting additional CDs at the rate of several a week, and then later abandoned CDs altogether to buy everything online through iTunes, eMusic and Allofmp3.com, or to stream it off of Rhapsody. By and large unpacking those CDs was unnecessary: One way or another almost everything I wanted to hear got to my ear without having to crack open the boxes.

Note, however, that I said almost. Some material stayed stubbornly out of my grasp -- which is to say, was right in my basement if I had bothered to root through some boxes, but I wasn't, so it might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. Among them was Wrong Way Up, a one-off album from Brian Eno and John Cale, which has two of my favorite early 90s tracks on it: "Lay My Love" and "Spinning Away." For whatever reason I didn't burn either of those two tracks before I cartoned up my CDs, so I haven't heard either track since at least early 2001. I really love those tracks, and would occasionally almost rouse myself to open up the CD boxes to find the CD. But then I would think do I really want to go through all that effort for just two songs? And them once again I would slump into feculent slothery, listening to the little voice in my head that said patience, sloth Jedi. Sooner or later they will come to you.

And so they have: Rykodisc recently re-released Wrong Way Up, which means the album is now available on eMusic and Rhapsody both: I streamed it off the latter while I was downloading it from the former. Once again my interminable immobility has paid off in spades. Excellent.

To be honest, at this point, I really have to work to find a band whose output is so obscure that I can't find it anymore. Right now, on Rhapsody, I'm listening to Falling Joys, a favorite of mine in my senior year of college. These guys were an Australian band who barely made a ripple out of Oz, and yet now I have access to their entire corpus right here online. The Blue Aeroplanes? Check. Kitchens of Distinction? Check. Tanita Tikaram? Check, baby, check. I can stump the online world by pulling out bands like The Katydids, Martha's Vineyard and the Monochrome Set right out of my ass, but I bet by this time next year I'll be able to find even these hopelessly deader-than-Marley's-ghost bands. At which time Krissy will finally put her foot down and demand I get rid of all those damned boxes. And I suppose she'll be right to do it.

In the meantime: Wrong Way Up. Solid.

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October 04, 2005

Things to Know About Clones, Addendum

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Sure, clones are cute when they're small. But the rivalries. Oy.  

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Things to Know About Clones

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Just some general notes on the care and feeding of clones. 

1. They will always want to dress exactly the same. It's a group identity thing. Try to get one to wear a different shirt or maybe some pants while the others are wearing shorts, and they all start screaming in this weirdly-synchronized, air-siren-like way, which is damn annoying. Since you'll no doubt have tattooed the bottoms of their feet or the back of their neck or where ever with the usual identifying barcode, what do you care? Let the idiots all dress the same. The good news is that clones apparently have no fashion sense and will be happy to wear cheap T-Shirts and denim more or less on a constant basis. Wal-Mart fashions were made for clones.

2. Many of you will think that once you've created a clone, you can get it to do all your work for you while you lounge on the deck, drinking a frosty mug of brew. What is rather more likely to happen is that your clone will be just as lazy as you are and will tell you to mow your own damn lawn, and then grab the remote to watch Sports Center. Adding additional clones does not help the situation; what you end up with is a couch full of people who look just like you, mocking you about your work habits. You want someone to mow the lawn, hire a gardener.

3. Your clones will be under the impression that they are also married to your wife. You need to nip that shit in the bud, like, pronto.

4. Clones are naturally apprehensive about their purpose in life, so they are understandably somewhat humorless when you answer their "why am I here?" questions with answers like "why, to be harvested for organs, of course." Especially when that is, in fact, why they are here. Really, people. Don't tell them. It just makes them jumpy and liable to come after you with handy tools.

5. Tangentially related: Evil clone? Never happens. Bitter, sarcastic clone? Every freakin' time.

6. Clones eat like the proverbial horses. They will tell you that it's due to shortened telomeres, or body fatigue from being forced to grow into an adult body or whatever. It's all lies, despicable lies. Clones will go through a week's worth of food in two days, and then you'll just have a chunky version of yourself grazing in the pantry. Establish "you pay for what you eat" rules early and often or you will never hear the end of it.

7. If you have more than one clone, they will blame the other ones for whatever terrible things they did (i.e., "it wasn't me who ate the last donut/vivisected the cat/tried to asphyxiate you while you slept -- It was Clone Two!"). Early on you will be able to counter this through the fact that even though clones have the same DNA, they have different fingerprints, but then they get wise and start wearing gloves. They're sneaky, you see. Simple solution: GPS chips embedded in the shoulder before you first wake them up, otherwise they'll dig them out with a screwdriver or butter knife or something, and then aside from a having an unchipped clone on the loose and wreaking havoc, there's all that blood you have to clean up. And no, the other clones won't mop it up for you. See point number 2.

8. One good thing about clones: They are endlessly fascinated by the folks who come to the door wanting to talk to you about Jesus. Also telemarketers. Indulge them (it's harmless enough) but under no circumstances let them near your credit card numbers.  

9. Games of "Rock Paper Scissors" with a clone always end in a tie. At first it's kind of cool. But then the clones just can't let it go.

10. Eventually your clone will get the idea of cloning itself. You might think it's a bad idea at first -- everyone knows that a clone of clone is like a second generation photocopy, and it becomes slightly more smudged, and then next thing you know you've got a drooling idjit that looks like a mashup between you and the late Marty Feldman -- but on the other hand, by the time your clone gets this idea, you'll have realized that all your clone is good for is sitting on the couch and mocking you while it eats your food and tries to trick your wife into having sex with it. Doesn't your clone deserve to be similarly afflicted? Sure it does. Be warned, however: Your clone's clone will still want to sleep with your wife. They're just that way.

(So, did I mention I'm editing a special edition of Subterranean Magazine in Spring 2006 with the theme of Science Fiction Cliches? I -- and my elite cadre of clone assistants -- are accepting submissions now! All the details are here.)

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October 03, 2005

Adapted From Life

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On one hand, this picture is substantially more color saturated than what came out of the camera. On the other hand, it's only slightly less saturated than the sunset in real life. So on balance, I don't feel too bad about setting Photoshop on this sunset. It's closer to the real thing than you might expect.   

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Serenity Box Office Thoughts

This is going to get a fatwa upon my head from the browncoats, but Serenity's $10.1 million opening weekend is really not good at all. Unless the movie manages a truly heroic box office retention rate over the second weekend, which seems fairly unlikely, I'm guessing Serenity won't recoup its $39 million production cost in the domestic box office, which means you can pretty much kiss off the idea of Serenity 2 as a theatrical release. I imagine some Jossheads are consoling themselves with the idea that Serenity will rack up lots of profits in the DVD afterlife, which is true enough (it was Firefly's success as a DVD product that convinced Universal to greenlight Serenity, from what I understand), but in terms of Hollywood math, while theatrical release is becoming more and more of a platform to sell DVDs, it still matters whether a movie gets an audience in the theaters. The audience wasn't there for Serenity.

I have to admit I was mildly surprised by the film's poor showing; I was personally expecting something along the lines of an $18-$20 million opening, since the reviews were generally good and also I live in a mental space where the "Joss is a geeeenius" meme is well-entrenched, which skewed my perception. I should have been paying attention to my mother-in-law, who is -- and I say this with great respect -- absolutely the platonic ideal of the average, mainstream American, culturewise. If she sees an ad for a movie and goes "oooh! I want to see that!" then I know it's going to be a hit, regardless of quality. As far as I know, she was entirely ignorant of the existence of Serenity. That was an ominous sign.

I do believe this opening weekend pretty much kills off the Firefly/Serenity universe (minus some secondary fan-oriented markets like book adaptations) unless Universal does the unexpected and inks a deal to put new episodes of Firefly (or, alternately, a series of Firefly movie events) on the Sci-Fi Channel (which exists in the NBC Universal corporate structure). That would be ideal for both the series and the fans, since the show/movie events could definitely generate big enough ratings for cable, and because that would still allow Universal to milk the very willing Firefly fans for another stack of DVD releases, which is where the money is these days.

But at this point, Firefly/Serenity has two strikes against it: One network cancellation and one movie opening gross that is only charitably described as mediocre. It's possible someone will make that third pitch, but if I were a fan of this particular universe, I'd be preparing myself for a rather more negative outcome. This is also a reminder that while fan fervor will get you places, it will only get you so far. Whedon's fandom-fu is strong, but even mightier are the needs of the corporate bottom line.

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Open for Business

For those of you still wondering if it's time: Yes it is! I am now officially accepting submissions for Subterranean Magazine's Spring '06 issue, on the theme of science fiction cliches. Once again, here is the submission information. While I am indeed hoping to lure some big names to the fold, I am making a point to be on the lookout for newer, up-and-coming writers to include in the issue -- because, well, I guess you could say I'm a newer writer as well (up-and-coming? We'll see). I've gotten through the door, and would be happy to hold it open for a few more folks.

Please feel free to pass the info along to everyone you know who writes SF.  And needless to say, I'm looking forward to reading the submissions!

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Chicago Trip Photoset

Rather than spend entirely too much time resizing photos and uploading them to show off my Chicago trip, I've gone ahead and gotten a Flickr account and let that service do all my heavy lifting for me. Therein, please to see this photo set of my Chicago trip, complete with caption commentary. The link takes you to the first picture in the set, and you can click through from there. I would ask you put comments here rather than there, however, since I'm unlikely to trundle through the entire set again. Enjoy!

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October 02, 2005

Unfinished Business

There's a meme going around right now in which writers list the first lines of their unfinished works (for example, see Charlie Stross' opening lines here).

I can't participate because I don't currently have any unfinished work. I don't tend to write bits of something and then let it lie around while I work on something else; I tend to work serially. Thus, having finished a book and not yet started another project, I've got nothin'. This makes wonder if I'm a freak (at least in the writing sense). The only time I have more than one book writing project going on is when I have a deadline slip. Not that that ever happens, of course.

Now, I do have opening lines from dead projects, which is to say projects that are unfinished because I've abandoned them for one reason or another. But I don't imagine that qualifies, since in a sense they are finished, because I don't intend to do any more with them. 

Needless to say, I apologize to my fellow writers for failing them in this regard.  

Posted by john at 10:17 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Geek's Lament

I'm having a perfectly wonderful time here at the GLBA, but there's one fly in the proverbial ointment, which is that the hotel's in-room Internet service well and truly sucks. For the first half of the stay it was non-existent, thanks to a downed router or something, and since then, the best word for it is intermittent -- which is to say that for thirty seconds it works fine, and then for the next five minutes it doesn't work at all, and then you get another thirty seconds where it does work, sort of, if you consider sub-9600-baud-like speed "working," which I pretty much don't. At that speed you learn that every site on the Web that features ads loads the ads before they load the actual content you want to see, and very few things are more annoying than watching ads load before actual content. I suppose these sites have to pay the bills. Even so.

This intermittentcy also makes it very difficult to upload pictures or update sites: I've had to basically abandon doing my AOL Journal for the weekend mostly because I can't keep AOL connected, and since the entire client (including the web page one is composing an entry on) collapses when a connection is cut, this makes one eventually want to murder whoever it is that is claiming to do tech support for this hotel. Part of my brain is thinking The Comfort Inn can keep its high-speed internet connection going -- why can't these jokers? On the other hand it doesn't appear I've actually been charged for the Internet connection, so I guess I can't complain too much.

Still, it highlights for me the fact that at this point in time, a working Internet connection really is a non-negotiable for me in terms of where I stay during a trip; if I had to choose between a basic hotel with an Internet connection and a better hotel without one, I'd go for the basic hotel, on the grounds that a hotel without Internet is not a "better" one for me, period, end of story.

On my to do list for today: Sign books for booksellers, grin and schmooze, and then hop in the car and get on back home, where wife, child and a reliable Internet connection wait for me -- all treasured, although to be entirely honest the reliable Internet connection is treasured significantly less than the first two. As it should be.  

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October 01, 2005

The Great Lakes Booksellers Convention

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Gaze, if you will, at the Holtzbrink table at the Great Lakes Bookseller Association convention, Tor being a subsidiary of said publishing group (and OMW being visible right there in the middle of the table -- although not for long, because someone walked away with that copy not too long afterward).

My major involvement with the convention happens tomorrow, when I sign copies of OMW for various booksellers, although I kept myself busy today: Breakfast with mystery writer Sharon Short, who writes for the Dayton Daily News (just as I do). I couple of years ago I had helped her get her Web site online but this was the first time we had actually met in the flesh; she is a delightful breakfast companion, should you ever be in the need of one. Afterward I went into the exhibition room (where I snapped the above picture) and walked about schmoozing booksellers and checking to see what's coming up in the book world.

My plan after that was to head into Chicago and snap some pictures of the architecture, but what I ended up doing was collapsing on the bed and sleeping through most of the afternoon -- a worth pastime, to be sure, but I'm mildly sad I didn't make it into town (don't feel too sad for me, though, since I spent most of Friday afternoon in Chicago, and will have pictures of part of it (when I was at the University of Chicago) to show off once I get back). This evening was dinner and lively conversation with author Jane Lindskold and her husband, as well as Tor publicist David Moench. And now I think I'll collapse into bed and read Four and Twenty Blackbirds until I pass out. Truly, a perfect day.

(As an aside, I'm several chapters in to 4&20 and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I'll have more to say, I'm sure, when I'm done. In the meantime I'm pleased to see the book has been doing gangbusters on Amazon this weekend: It got up to #7 on the Amazon horror list, and its Amazon ranking was in the low hundreds on Saturday. Excellent work, Ms. Priest!)

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