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November 30, 2005

Random Thought About the War

Sometimes I wonder what it means that more US soldiers died in the first few hours of D-Day, storming Omaha Beach, than have died in Iraq since the beginning of this present conflict.

Mind you, it doesn't have to mean anything at all; Iraq and WWII are manifestly different conflicts. I could equally point out that the Allies suffered equivalent numbers of dead in the three-month execution of Operation Overlord as the US did in its entire 13-year involvement in Vietnam or its 3-year stint in Korea. It's entirely possible that this is a statistic that has as much meaning as a baseball stat tracking how American League teams starting left-handed pitchers in domed stadiums perform historically during the third week of August. Which is to say useful for bar arguments and not much else.

Be that as it may, let me throw it out there: What does it mean that more US soldiers died in the first few hours of D-Day, storming Omaha Beach, than have died in Iraq since the beginning of this conflict? I genuinely don't know; I was wondering if any of you might have thoughts on the matter.

Posted by john at 11:16 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

What I'll Be Doing in 2006

I'll be writing science fiction, that's what I'll be doing, because I just agreed to a new three-book deal with Tor.

Included in the deal: Book three in the Old Man's War series, tentatively titled The Last Colony, and a new two-book series which I'm very excited about but the details of which I want to keep under wraps for now. Suffice to say that structurally it's going to provide me a very big challenge, and if I pull off I'm going to feel like the king of the friggin' universe. No, I won't tell you more. No!

Well, okay. Two words: dactylic hexameter.

No, no. I'm just funnin' with you. About the dactylic hexameter, that is. I really did get the book deal.

Incidentally, for those of you who are curious: The Last Colony will indeed be the last "Old Man's" book for at least a while. You know, until I get hard up for cash and dash off the prequels. I've already signed Jar-Jar Binks for those. Hey, he needs the work.

You may ask: What did I get for these books? I would tell you, but then you'd just tell me to shut up. Then I'd say, no, really, but then you'd tell me shut up again. Then I would say, I'm being as straight with you as I can, but you'd only tell me to shut up once more. I hope that answers the question.

Aside from basking in the knowledge that science fiction will be paying my mortgage payments next year, one of the happy things about this deal is that it continues my association with Tor Books. I don't have to tell people here how pleased I've been with the support Old Man's War has gotten from Tor, and how genuinely nice working with all the Tor folks has been. I've been happy to be a Tor author, so being so for three more books sounds like a fine plan to me.

This also means that you all will be getting science fiction from me through at least 2008. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! There's no escape! Unless, you know, you don't buy the books. But please don't do that. I promise to keep them as interesting as humanly possible.

And now I'm off to celebrate. We're going to Friendly's! Hey: Six year old kid. Work with me, here.

Posted by john at 04:15 PM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Goth

Not yet seven, yet she's got the pose all right for the artist picture at her first gallery exhibition. As I've noted before, you can't teach that. You have to be born with that. And then she's off to her first Dresden Dolls concert! It really doesn't get any better than that.

But wait, there's more! Here's a small film (Quicktime, ~5MB) of the artist explaining her latest creation, "The Rollercoaster Ride of Terrifying Evil" (2005, whiteboard and marker), which incorporates into its theme butterflies, rollercoasters and Einstein-Rosen bridges. Makes Francis Bacon look like a puke in a bucket, it does. Naturally, the artist is interested to read viewer interpretations of the work.

Posted by john at 09:15 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

November 29, 2005

Firefox 1.5 on Mac: Not Ready for Prime Time

The new version of the Firefox browser came out today (version 1.5);I downloaded it for my Mac and almost immediately regretted it, as it froze up a number of times, added an inexplicable empty box to the bottom of the browser, worked very poorly with my Movable Type setu, and generally misbehaved rather badly in the short time it was on my computer. I gave it the boot and retrieved the previous version of Firefox from Mozilla's FTP server and now everything is back to normal. So if you have a Mac, have Firefox and planned to upgrade to 1.5, I'd suggest waiting a week or two for a code shakedown (not to mention to have the Firefox extensions catch up with the new version).

I haven't tried 1.5 yet on my PC. I'm almost scared to. That's not my usual approach to Firefox, I have to say.  

Posted by john at 10:34 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

But Enough About Me...

...Let's talk about other writers and books.

* For example, did you know that today was the day that Elizabeth Bear's latest book Worldwired debuted in the stores? And if you did not, have you considered seeking professional help for this problem? This is the third in the series of "Jenny" books (and, I believe, the last of the series as well), so if you've been waiting until you can get the whole set, your wait is over. Me, I've been getting them as they come along. Also, unlike the rest of you, I've also been reading Bear's short story that she wrote for the Subterranean Magazine cliche issue; she tackles the End of the Universe, which is pretty damn ambitious of her, but she pulls it off (as of course she would -- you don't think they give out Campbell Awards to just anyone, do you?). You'll have to wait until spring to read that one, but you can get Worldwired now. That's a hint.

* Arrived in the mail yesterday: Stories of Strength, a collection of essays, the proceeds of which go to benefit disaster relief charities (Hurricane Katrina was the proximate cause of the collection). The collection features name brand writers like Orson Scott Card, Robin Lee Hatcher and Wil Wheaton, but the majority of the book comes from the writers who frequent the AbsoluteWrite.com Web site (the editor of the book is that site's editor, Jenna Glatzer). As the name implies, most of the essays in the book focus on inspirational stories of people dealing with adversity and overcoming obstacles, although that makes the book sound a bit more stuffy than it is -- most of the essays I've read through so far have the casual narrative flow of good blog entries (we leave for another time the discussion of how blog writing has changed, or at least caused to adapt, the essay form).

I haven't read through the whole thing yet, but what I've read so far is solid, and in all I'd have to say that if you're in the market for inspirational writing this holiday season, better this book than yet another iteration of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books -- if for no other reason than that all the proceeds of this book are going to relief organizations. It's good people doing good, and all that. Check it out.

As an aside, this is the first book I've gotten that has been printed up by Lulu.com, the publish-on-demand press who has been developing a reputation among writers as being a friendly sort of place to do your self-produced printing. I was wondering what Lulu's product would look and feel like, and on the basis of this I have to say it looks quite nice, nicer than the CafePress books I ran off a year or so ago for my personal use. There are little design things that give this book away as a publish-on-demand (off-the-shelf cover font; too-small margins for the inside text), but pretty much only if you're a book geek. The next time I do a personal printing job, I'll think of using Lulu and see how it works for me.

What I do like about Lulu (and other POD outfits) is how quickly they allow a project like this one to turn around; I imagine before a couple of years ago a group could have come together to make a book like this and gotten it out in the same sort of timeframe, but it wouldn't have been easy, and it probably would have been awfully expensive. This is a genuine advance in the state of things, and another reason why the 21st century is so damn fun to be in.

* Tim Pratt noted a week or so ago that his first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, was about to be released into the wild; well, today is that day, and I will note that Amazon says it's only got five left in stock -- not a bad state of affairs on the opening day. So if you were planning to get it off of Amazon, you better pony up quick, people. I plan to get it from the local bookstore myself; I keep buying SF there to ram it into their heads that they need to stock more of it (including, oh, I don't know, my novels too), and who knows, maybe one day it'll stick. Let me take a special moment to state once again how much I luuuuurve this cover. I mean, come on, it already comes pre-weathered! That's friggin' genius, man. Although I suppose it'll make eBay book sellers irritated ("no, really, that's not actual wear!"). Can't please everyone.

* Cherie Priest talks a little about what it takes to be a writer, keying off of a series of recent Poppy Z. Brite posts, in which Brite goes to town on one of those folks who makes the snide comment that they could write a novel, too, if someone would just give them a big-ass advance. In my opinion, Brite gets a little too spun up about what was essentially ignorant jackassery on the part of a non-writer, but a salient point she makes, which the esteemed Ms. Priest amplifies, is that writers don't write because someone dropped a fat wad of cash in front of them, they write because if they didn't they'd go absolutely and completely bongo-striking insane.

Conversely, if I had a million dollars, I would slap it all down on the table in front of any jackass that said they could write a fabulous book if only they had a big fat advance, and tell them they could have every single penny if they could bang out a genuinely salable book in six months (which is about the amount of time writing a book is assumed to take by various publishers I've known). And the reason I would slap down that cash would be that it could not possibly be any more safe than if I tied it up in T-bills, because your basic loudmouth non-writer is no more capable of writing a salable book than I am of piloting a 747, and roughly for the same reason -- it's a skill you have to learn, baby, and one generally learns the writing skill by writing most days of your life (and generally -- alas -- you'll be doing that for little if any pay). The only way a non-writer is likely to produce a genuinely publishable manuscript is if he takes some of the advance money and hires a ghostwriter, but that's not really the same.

Anyway, people who say they can write a book if only they had a fat advance don't bother me; publishers don't go around offering fat advances to random passersby just for a happy chuckle. You generally have to guzzle some famous person's sexual organ first, and most people aren't good looking enough to do that on a regular basis (and those that are have other ways to get their scratch than to pester a publisher). Honestly, the best response to these would-be writers would be to say, "And if someone gave me money for no good reason, I would study the dark ninja ways" with as straight a face as one possibly can. If the non-writer has any brains at all, he'd recognize that you are mocking him and why you are doing it; if not, well, then, I guess you can talk about ninjas. Either way, one shouldn't waste too many brain cycles on it.

 

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

First Review of The Ghost Brigades

Sending out those ARCs of The Ghost Brigades is paying off: The first review of the book is up at SFReviews.net. A choice pull quote, complete with an ellipsis to make you wonder what I'm skipping over:

Like Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades is thinking fans' space opera. And for all that Scalzi gives you to chew on intellectually, he doesn't skimp on the blow-shit-up factor. The book opens with a fantastic action scene that ends with a brilliant narrative bait-and-switch I didn't see coming, and climaxes with an even better one... The Ghost Brigades maintains Scalzi's standing as one of SF's most rewarding purveyors of thrilling, gut-wrenching, and thoughtful space opera.

Neat. The full review is here

Posted by john at 08:36 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

One Song, Five Takes -- A Musical Meme

I haven't done a musical meme for a while, so here's one for you:

Find a song with at least five cover versions (i.e., a version other than the most famous version) and give a quick review of each cover (can't find five? Try three, then).

My selection: "Unchained Melody" from the Righteous Brothers

Cover Artists:

Cyndi Lauper (off of 2003's At Last): A slow, torchy and surprisingly affecting version; Lauper's been developing a reputation as a smart song interpreter, and this song certainly lends credence to that. This is the version you'd play when, in fact, you hope God will speed your love to you, because your love is not with you now. Rating: B+

Justin Guarini (off of 2003's Justin Guarini): Someone dropped Justin into a karaoke booth! This thing might have gotten 2003's teen girls all moisty, but here in 2005, it's exhibit A in his trial for crimes against humanity. Rating: D

Heart (off of 2002's The Essential Heart): You know, the Wilson sisters can do a fine cover of Led Zeppelin. Righteous Brothers? Not so much. It's not like this is a subtle tune, mind you, but Heart's inherent level of rawk-bombast is waaaaaay too much for this poor little love song. Dial the whole thing back 70% and it would be okay. As is, pass. Rating: C-

Stray Cats (off of 2005's Live From Europe -- Paris July 5, 2004): A toss-off version, sung in French, no less, with microphone feedback and everything. Brian Setzer's rockabilly guitar bridge makes for a nice touch, though. Rating: C+

Al Green (off of 1973's Livin' For You): Oh, come on. Al Green could sing Britney Spears trailer park pop anthem "Toxic" and make it sound like a smooth soulful thing. That he'd do justice here isn't even a question. Green drops in Hammond B3 organs, soul strings and backup singers and makes this version a top contender for 1973's "Song Most Procreated To" title. Rating: A

What have you got? 

Posted by john at 01:12 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Off It Goes

The second pass corrections for The Ghost Brigades are now in to Tor, and hopefully we've caught all the errors there are to catch, and if not, well, then know we've done our best (the corrections for "Questions for a Soldier" went in this weekend as well -- truly a weekend for correction!). Barring another unexpected round of corrections, this is probably the last time I'll read TGB for a while, at least until I get my author copies. Mmmmm... author copies.

I'm probably repeating myself here, but re-reading TGB reminded me that I'm very happy with how the book came out, and I'm going to be very interested to see how it's received. Personally speaking I think it's a better-written book than Old Man's War (one would hope it would be, considering it was written four years and several books later than OMW), with better pacing, interesting and evolving characters, deeper explorations into the nature of the universe (and humanity's place in it) and of course tons of action, because what's the point of character development if people can't grow while the things explode around them? This is, I believe, one of the fundamental existential questions facing writers today.

For all my enthusiasm about TGB, I am not naive enough to equate my personal feelings about the book with an expectation of how the book will be received. There are a lot of potential potholes this time around: The book is darker, with less chatty, breezy humor; the plot is more complex (it's not the "ride on a rail" OMW was); the writing is less overtly "Heinlein-esque" and so on. And of course, it's a sequel, which means that some of the element that took readers by surprise in the first book will simply be part of the background here -- but at the same time the first book's main character is nowhere in evidence, so some of what people come to a sequel for is just not there. In all, lots of places for people to go "Hey! This isn't what I wanted!" and to tear me a new one from there.

That's fine. I wrote what I think is a good book, and that's what I require out of myself as a writer: To write as well as I can, and not to phone any of it in. That done, I can take whatever else transpires, for good or ill. I am not so lacking in personal vanity that I can say I truly don't care if people don't like the book, but I do have to say that since I'm happy with how the story works, I'll be at lot more at peace with how other people respond to the story, whatever that response will be. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I don't mind if people hate the book -- at the very least, that will engender some enjoyably scathing reviews -- but I'll be severely depressed if people are merely entirely indifferent to it. I don't think people will be; allow me enough vanity to suggest that I'm a good enough writer that the book will produce a pronounced response one way or another. Be that as it may, if you want to know what the definition of writing hell is, it's this: audience indifference. Man, that just sucks.

This much I know: I enjoyed reading The Ghost Brigades. As a reader, I get bored quickly, even (hell, especially) with my own words. I didn't come close to being bored with TGB, even on the twentieth or so re-read, which is what this was. I think that's a very good sign.

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

November 26, 2005

The Editorial Process, Revealed, Kinda

tgb2p.jpg

Pictured: The second pass of page proofs from The Ghost Brigades, which I need to comb through for any remaining errors/inconsistencies/things I want to take out. After this, any errors that remain become part of the quirky character of a first edition printing, to be enjoyed by bibliophiles for years after they've been corrected in second and subsequent editions. At this point I expect most of the truly egregious errors have been dealt with; be that as it may, I'll be reading closely to make sure.

Aside from grammar, spelling and continuity issues, what has changed from the original manuscript to the second pass page proofs you see before you? Well, since you asked:

1. Sentences have been rejiggered so that when the entire text is exposed to certain mystical numerology practices, it no longer reveals the coordinates of the secret island where Jesus, Buddha and Jim Morrison engage in an eternal, bloody pillow fight over the future of humanity.

2. A talking, bow tie-wearing walrus named "Chumley" no longer plays a critical role.

3. The sentences of every character no longer end with the phrase "Arsenal Rules OK".

4. Holographic cameo from endearing, confetti-throwing comedian Rip Taylor excised from Chapter Six. Likewise, Chapter Eight now lacks crowd-pleasing star turns from former "CHiPs" stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada.

5. 73-page radio address by the character Jane Sagan outlining the fundamentals of my new philosophy of "Rejectivism" has been gently lifted from the text and will now be available as a stand-alone limited edition novella from Subterranean Press.

6. Patrick Nielsen Hayden suggested, and I agree, that I don't actually have to note that all the character's nipples crinkle happily whenever there is a spot of good news.

7. The final confrontation between the forces of good and evil no longer erupts into a colorful Bollywood-like musical number.

8. The members of the "Ghost Brigades," who as you may recall are born as fully-sized, combat-ready adults, no longer have crystals in their hands that flash ominously when they turn five years old.

9. Combat uniforms are now made from a substance other than taffeta.

10. Characters no longer stop every five pages to conspicuously enjoy the products of my corporate sponsors Anheuser-Busch, RJ Reynolds and Spanky Sam's S&M Tie-Up Emporium and Bait Shoppe (home of America's first dual-use sex toy and fish lure, "The Wiggler").

Don't worry. These will all make the "Uncut Edition" that will be released after my sordid, sordid death. Which, I am reasonably certain, will involve "The Wiggler" in some way.

 

Posted by john at 10:36 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

November 25, 2005

An Interesting Condundrum

Now, I find this interesting:

A gay man charged with helping his lover loot a wealthy school district has asked a judge to rule that state law protecting spouses from having to testify against each other also applies to same-sex partners.

Stephen Signorelli, fighting charges that he stole at least $219,000 from the Roslyn, New York, school district, is seeking to bar testimony by his longtime companion, Frank Tassone, the district's former superintendent.

In a motion filed before a judge in Nassau County, Signorelli sought to bar such an appearance, saying he and Tassone deserved the same protection as a heterosexual couple.

"Mr. Tassone and I have been loving partners for 33 years," Signorelli said in an affidavit, adding that the two had participated in "a solemn religious ceremony" conducted while they were on a Caribbean cruise, "to memorialize our relationship and love for one another."

The two also registered as domestic partners in New York City, where they live, in 2002.

Pretty much everyone who reads the Whatever knows that I'm all for same sex marriage; having said that, in my "I am not a lawyer" way, I would be very surprised if a judge would allow this. For better or for worse, I suspect having a domestic partnership in New York City doesn't translate to an extension of marriage-like rights in other jurisdictions. I'm not sure whether the judge in question is a county, state or federal judge, but I am reasonably sure Nassau county is not in New York City. One would also need reasonably ask if an unmarried heterosexual couple in the same situation would enjoy spousal protection; I doubt it.

(And what would really be interesting would be if a same-sex couple, married in Massachusetts, would be able to argue for spousal protections outside of that commonwealth; that would put the federal Defense of Marriage Act right in the cross-hairs.)

If I were the judge, I would deny the request; unless New York law has some quirk I don't know about (which is entirely possible as I don't live in New York and -- once again -- I'm not a lawyer), it's pretty clear the law doesn't allow unmarried couples to enjoy spousal privileges (not including NYC's domestic partner laws, the problems surrounding which I've already noted). One could certainly advance the idea that same-sex partners should be able to marry, but there's a difference between saying same-sex partners should be able to marry, and that they already enjoy certain spousal protections.

This does make me glad, however, that the person to whom I've bound my life will not be made to testify against me in any future embezzlement cases. Not that I have any embezzlement planned, mind you. Even so.

Naturally, I am curious to hear your thoughts on this matter (the proposed advancing of spousal protections, that is, not any future embezzlement on my part). Lawyers -- particularly ones who know New York law -- are especially invited to chime in.

 

Posted by john at 04:45 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Geek-Related Activities

Just to catch you all up on the nerdly events as they transpire in my life:

1. The Ghost Brigades will be a featured alternate selection of the Science Fiction Book Club for March, 2006, so those of you in the SFBC, that's something to look forward to. The SFBC has been pretty good to me -- Old Man's War made it on the club's Bestseller list last year -- so I'm happy to continue the association.  

2. I've gotten my programming schedule for the Synthetic Confusion convention in January, so I guess that means I'm going. I'll post my full schedule a little closer to the convention date, but I will note that I'm scheduled to give a reading, and I'll most likely read the first chapter of The Android's Dream, which, you may recall, is the one which begins "Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident, but he was willing to try." Trust me, you don't want to miss this.

3. Speaking of conventions, I'm going to be "Nifty Guest" at the 2006 edition of Penguicon. This means that while I don't ascend to Guest of Honor status, I am nevertheless held in enough esteem that I get an additional ribbon, and also free soda (although as I understand it everyone gets free soda. Never mind). Regardless, I do think this is indeed fairly nifty, and naturally you may expect to see me there as well.

4. I've also decided -- just now -- that I will indeed be attending Boskone. Because as I understand it, there is no better time to visit Boston than mid-February. And I for one am willing to believe it.

5. Back to book news: I've been informed by people who know such things that the Russian version of Old Man's War is slated for June, 2006. Because I know you've all been waiting. Personally I can't wait to see what my name looks like in Cyrillic.

That's the extent of my geekiness right now.

Posted by john at 03:55 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Political Rant, Boiled Way Down

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but: A major reason the Bush administration is finally allowing Jose Padilla the Constitutional rights it's been systematically depriving him of for the last three years is because it doesn't want to discuss how it tortured people to get the information used to implicate him? Holy mother of God in Manolo Blahnik pumps --

[Insert standard Bush administration rant; really, by this time you folks can pretty much guess what I'm going to say here, can't you? And aren't you still logy from Thanksgiving and not in a mood to read me fulminate for 1,200 words? Exactly. Wait, here's the exit ramp]

-- and that's why this entire administration needs to be dunked in clarified butter and served to the hungry, hungry lobsters.  

Thank you for reading. 

Posted by john at 11:34 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Because Lack of Competence Should Never Be a Barrier

Former FEMA head Mike Brown is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm. This is like Joseph Hazelwood opening up an oil tanker driving school. What really gets me is this quote:

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

It's evident that Brown knows how to appear unaware of how serious a situation is; what's not in evidence is that he knows how to avoid the same, or can teach that skill to others. Nevertheless, Brown says he's already gotten interest from firms. You'll know who they are when their spokespeople appear glassy-eyed and sweaty after their next corporate disaster, claiming the now is not the time to place blame, and then blaming the victims of the disaster five seconds later. Yes, yes, that's certainly a skill to have.

Posted by john at 04:38 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Sky

Here's what Thanksgiving looked like in rural Ohio. In case you've been wondering all day long. Here's a bigger version.   

 

Posted by john at 08:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thanksgiving

I'm thankful I have something to do besides be on the computer today.

Posted by john at 09:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

First Snowfall Photoset

The capricious weather gods have decreed snow for Thanksgiving, the bastards. At least I got a photo set out of it.

Posted by john at 12:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

It's a Sale!

Passing along a note to you from Subterranean Press, and it reads like this:

We've just received copies of AGENT TO THE STARS (John Scalzi) back from our distributor, and are able to offer them for just $10 apiece, plus $5 s&h for US orders. These copies aren't in perfect nick -- some have a scuffed dust jacket or a minor dings -- but at this price, you can't go wrong.

Quantities are limited, so please get your order in early. (If you order via our website, mentioned "dinged book" when completing the checkout process.)

As an added incentive, 10% of the price of each copy sold will be donated to Childs Play, the charity that gives video games and other support to childrens hospitals.

I'm on clearance! And oddly enough, I'm fine with this.  

Posted by john at 10:05 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 22, 2005

The Existential Tension of Photography

It is thus:

Sometimes you want to take pictures of majestic clouds rolling across the sky.

 

Sometimes you want to take pictures of your dog eating leftover chili in the bathtub.

 

Discuss.  

Posted by john at 03:59 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Basic Friend Pimpage

As I'm crawling through your basic wall of pre-Thanksgiving work, a couple of notes on things friends are doing:

1. My pal Nick Sagan, from whom I enthusiastically stole a major plot point of The Ghost Brigades from his excellent book Edenborn, has gone and started himself a blog, which I recommend you all go and visit and book in your bookmarks and whatnot. He's just getting back from a trip to Portugal (his Portugese publishers flew him out and apparently gave him the royal treatment -- I want foreign publishers like that), so give him a couple days to update and whatnot. Nevertheless, he's a fabulously interesting person so I expect his blog will be as well.

 

2. My high school friend Charles Keagle is a teacher and illustrator who has a side business marketing his "fluffball" creations -- shirts, mugs and etc with his illustrations on them, and he's asked some of his pals to let folks know he's out there for their holiday cuteness needs. Consider yourself on notice.  

3. If you've not done so yet, go congratulate Cherie Priest. The picture says a thousand words.  

4. If you feel in a self-promotey sort of mood, by all means sploo away in the comment thread.  

Posted by john at 12:50 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

A Shout-Out to All The Childfree Folks Out There

Here's a wombfruit that justifies every single awful horrible thing you might ever say about sprogs and the breeders who squatted them out. To give some context, it's apparently a nine-year-old, playing an online game on his XBox, having a fit because his mother won't bring him chocolate milk. He doesn't appear to be aware his microphone is on and that all his online buddies can hear him cursing like a sailor -- at his mom. It's Google video, and you really have to experience it for yourself. The "fun" part really kicks in about halfway in.

For the record, if that were my kid, and he ever spoke to me that way, first I would slap him into the next week and then I would make him watch as I smashed apart his XBox with a hammer. However, it wouldn't be my kid, since the minute something even vaguely resembling that came out of my kid's mouth, there would be an accounting. Let us grant that a kid doesn't get like that overnight; he has to get away with that sort of crap for a very long time to get to that point. This is a mom who I suspect deserves to be slapped well into the next week herself. I mean, honestly. I can't even imagine my child pulling something like this.

Posted by john at 11:56 PM | Comments (139) | TrackBack

November 19, 2005

Let There Be (New) Light

light1119.jpg

To give you an idea of just how much of a dork I am, for the last two weeks I've been impatiently waiting for the light bulb in my desk lamp to burn out so I could put in this bulb, a compact fluorescent bulb whose manufacturer (you know, the one that builds defense systems -- and airs Will and Grace!), declares that it will last at least ten times as long as any normal bulb. Well, we'll just see about that, I thought. But I had to wait until the then-current bulb burned out because unscrewing it and putting in a new one when this old one hadn't popped its filament was just wasteful and wrong. Now, for a moment, let us consider the sort of magical-yet-entirely-insane thinking that occurs in my brain that allows me to buy a new, $1,800 computer because I'm bored with looking at the old one, yet forbids me to throw out a 60-cent light bulb because it's not used up all the way. Honestly, why the hell I'm allowed to spend anything more than pocket change is totally beyond me.

Be that as it may, today was the big day -- at around 5pm, that most recent example of Edison's Big Idea finally gave up the ghost, and with precipitate glee I removed it from its post and screwed this new one in -- my first alternate lighting choice. And indeed, it works as advertised; despite being fluorescent, the light it gives off is about as "warm" as any incandescent bulb you might choose to think of, and when the lampshade is on the lamp the office is bathed in the same generally mellow glow I got out of wave after wave of 40-to-60-watt lightbulbs (this one, by comparison, uses a mere 13 watts). Naturally, it's too early to tell whether it will last ten times as long as a normal bulb, but I've got the stopwatch on it. We'll see, won't we.

One of the things I find deeply amusing about this bulb (aside from its appearance, which is in fact decidedly un-bulblike) is that GE guarantees the bulb for five years, and if the bulb does burn out before then, why, you can get your money back. Just remember to stash away the bulb's UPC code and register receipt, so you can mail them to GE. I'm trying to imagine the universe in which I of all people keep both of these things at the ready, waiting for the merest hint of product failure before November 18, 2010. I imagine in this alternate universe I also have a thick mane of wavy chestnut hair and a giant talking puma named Jo-Jo, whom I ride sidesaddle in my job as Chief Leprechaun Catcher for the state of Ohio. Those damn Leprechauns and their stupid pots of gold. They're a plague, I tell you.

I am in fact passing curious as to how many people actually take up GE on the offer, and how many of these people genuinely have the bulb go out early. The five years guarantee is based on four hours of usage daily, which seems a little skimpy to me, since I clicked on the new light at five and it's 1:30 am now, and that's a not unusual work day for my lamp this time of year. I can just imagine some thrifty fellow using the bulb six hours a day and then sending back his UPC and receipt three and a half years in, and thinking he's gotten away with something. Naturally I find this sort of warranty abuse appalling. I shall set Jo-Jo upon him. Then we'll see who is clever.

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November 18, 2005

Space Heater: The Warmination!

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This is how you know winter is here: I've brought out the space heater. Thanks to the vagaries of poor air circulation and its placement on the side of the house that faces into the general direction of the wind, my office is typically the coldest room in the house (in cold weather, anyway) sometimes by a double digit temperature differential. Rather than crank up the thermostat and cause the rest of the house to have the same climate as Borneo, I just switch on the space heater and apply its warming currents directly to my shivering ass (sorry to burden you with that image). Mmmmm... let the warmination commence!

Winter also means that my office begins its annual game of electricity musical chairs. As you may be aware, space heaters draw quite a bit of electricity, and so when I add mine to an office already overburdened with electric power suckers, including up to three computers, well, let's just say I take frequent trips to the basement to flip the circuit breaker. Last winter I solved this issue by plugging the space heater into an extension cord plugged into the master bathroom, which is on a different circuit entirely. But you may imagine how popular this solution was with Krissy, whose sense of home esthetic is, shall we say, offended by a fat orange extension cord snaking halfway across the house. This winter I'll try simply unplugging some of the crap I'm not actually using all that much. It's a nutty idea but it just might work.

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La Guerre Du Vieil Homme

Just sold Old Man's War to French publisher Editions L' Atalante, who also publishes Steven Brust, Terry Pratchett, Vernor Vinge and David Weber. Groovy. Christmas is paid for. Also, that qualifies as ending the week on a high note. 

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Pointless Early Friday Rant

I've been having one of those weeks where the best thing that can be said about it is that it is coming to a close, and the fact that I say this in a week in which I sold a book, received great-looking ARCs of a second, and was delighted by the illustrations accompanying a third book (well, chapbook) should give an indication of just how rankly craptastic other aspects of my life have been over the last several days. Suffice to say that sometimes we suffer for things over which we had no control, and leave it at that. But on the bright side, I've learned that I actually can stay civil when I have to, even when some folks (and not at all unjustifiably, from their point of view) are doing their level best to goad me into apoplectic rage. Didn't happen. At 36, I finally feel mature.

However, the flip side of this is that I now have an irrational and not entirely useful urge to pick a fight with someone -- anyone, really -- and just whale the shit out of them with logic and/or derision. And that's really no good for anyone, least of all me, since no one is actually clever when they're generally pissy, and I regret to say I am not the exception that proves the rule. What I'm saying is that if over the next few days my asshole-o-meter has its needle pegged to the red, please be aware it's not you, it's me. Also, please don't try to pick any fights with me. I mean, it's not that I don't appreciate the thought. But it just won't end happily for anyone, least of all me. The problem with getting into a flame war when you're already wound up is that it's never the cathartic experience you really want; you just end up feeling fatigued and dirty. I think I'll just play Dance Dance Revolution all weekend long instead.

Don't worry, I'll be fine by Monday. Or I'll have had a stroke. Either way, it'll be resolved.

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November 17, 2005

Meet the Ni-Nins

ni-nin.jpgCharming looking fellow, is he not? He's a Ni-nin, one of the alien races you'll encounter in Questions for a Soldier, the limited edition signed chapbook written by me and published by Subterranean Press, which expands on the story of John Perry, the main character of Old Man's War.

Subterranean contracted famed SF illustrator Bob Eggleton to do a number of illustrations to accompany the short story the chapbook contains, and I'm here to tell you that if you bought the chapbook just for Eggleton's illustrations, I wouldn't blame in you in the least. Mind you, I like the story I wrote just fine -- lots of action, adventure and alien encounters, all in easy-to-swallow Q-and-A form -- but Eggleton's illustrations are truly cool. I'm particularly taken with the Ni-nin, which is why I'm showing it off to you now. Because, man, even I didn't know they looked this badass.

This is one of the very exciting things about being a published author, incidentally: getting to work with talented artists who make your work better by their participation. Eggleton's work for Questions indisputably makes the value of the chapbook far greater than it would be with just my words, and as for my novels, it's possible that some other author might have had a better trifecta of cover artists for their first three books than I had in Donato Giancola, Mike Krahulik and John Harris, but off the top of my head I can't think of any. I've been very lucky in my artistic company so far, and I'm immensely grateful for that.

Man, I'm still geeking on the Ni-nin. That's tattoo-worthy, that's what that is. I wouldn't be at all surprised one day to see this guy on the shoulder of some bald and beefy Hell's Angel named "Stinky" or "Tiny." Yes, that's a compliment. You gonna tell Stinky that it's not? Didn't think so.

(If you want to see the rest of Eggleton's illustrations -- and incidentally read my text -- you can get Questions from Subterranean, or through the online trinity of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell's. The chapbook is limited to 574 standard chapbooks and 26 signed traycased handbound copies, the latter only available via the Subterranean site. If you buy one of the latter (at $175 a pop) by all means let me know; I'll send you an additional "thank you" of some sort, because that's above and beyond, you know.) 

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November 16, 2005

TGB ARCs -- OK!

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In addition to the fabulous book news in the previous entry, here's another thing to make today National John Scalzi Literary Fabulousness Day -- a package of advance reader copies of The Ghost Brigades. Whoo-hoo! And there was much rejoicing. This ARC is of the first pass edit of the manuscript, so there are a few rough spots here in there (one character's name switches between "Seaborg" and "Seaborn," and there are a few sentences I've gone and broken into two, and so on), but damn, this thing looks good. Very pleased. What a good day. I needed one after the spectacularly crappy day I had yesterday, so thanks, Tor and Subterranean.

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Greetings to the Rat People! Or, An Announcement

If you're like me, and, if you can read this, you are like me, at least in the larger "I share more DNA with you than with a banana slug" sort of way, after you write a particularly satisfying entry on your blog or journal, you may pause to wonder what would happen to those words if, say, an exchange of nuclear missiles between the United States and whoever has bought Russia's nukes fried all the computers in the world with their electromagnetic pulses, turning the hard drive discs on which your words are stored and served into drink coasters and bug squashing implements. Chances are, those words would be gone, like much of the rest of civilization, and the only way they'd be recalled would be through your own memory, which would grow increasingly hazy as your start your new, post-literate, post-apocalyptic life, skewering lizards on sharpened tree branches and fighting off the inevitable mutant zombie hordes.

Or -- prior to doomsday, you could devise a plan to encode your words into a stable, long-lasting storage medium which features unmediated informational access, generate a large number of such storage devices, and disperse those devices widely, including transactional areas and at centralized governmental repositories, where in each case they will be maintained in a controlled environment with access restricted to those with particular credentials. The multiplicity of these storage devices and the wide range of their dispersal all but ensures that at least one copy of your words will survive through the years to be puzzled over by the archeologists of the evolved rat people who will almost certainly succeed us as the dominant life form here on earth.

This is what I have done.

Which is to say, the Whatever is being made into a book.

More specifically, come June or July of 2006 (or sometime thereabouts), Subterranean Press will release a collection of selected writings from the Whatever, chosen from entries written between 1998 (when the Whatever opened for business) and the end of this very year. That's a little over seven years of entries to choose from, which should be more than enough to showcase the range of subjects that have been tackled here over the years. Subterranean is best known for their entirely fabulous limited editions of science fiction, fantasy and horror, mostly distributed via mail order, online and specialty shops (most of you know it published my novel Agent to the Stars), but for this we'll be trying something different: an open print run trade paperback, which we will try to jam into your local Barnes & Noble, just to see what happens. Yes, it's something of an experiment; this is not the first collected book of online entries -- pretty sure Wil Wheaton gets that distinction -- but I suspect it's still a new enough field that there's some inherent risk involved. All I can say is that if we pull it off, the rat people of the future will hail us as geniuses. Geniuses! Greetings, rat people! Sorry about the mess.

Since what makes the Whatever go -- and what helps make this book potentially commercially viable -- are the folks who show up here to read and/or heckle me, it's very likely that I will ask all y'all to help out in the selection of the entries which should appear in the book and in other aspects of its production. And it's also pretty likely that Subterranean and I will do something special for readers of the Whatever who pre-order the book. What that might be, of course, I'm still working on. But suffice to say that if I'm going to have fun putting this book together -- and I'm going to -- I want you guys along for the ride.

The first thing I need to decide, I guess, is what I'm going to name it. Greetings to the Rat People! has a nice ring to it. But, er. Maybe not. I'm open to suggestion.

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EFF and Bloggers


Cory Doctorow sent along word that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is starting a fundraising campaign today for the purpose of defending the rights of bloggers to basically say whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to say it, and naturally enough, I can get behind that. I have to say I am personally confused as to why free speech is an issue for bloggers, particularly here in the US, and I'm also deeply amused and annoyed regarding the fiction that bloggers can't be journalists, or whatever nonsense people are trying to promulgate on that score. Being that I regularly write for print newspapers and magazines (and even do verifiable journalism for them from time to time), I suppose I'm better insulated from that particular sort of stupidity, since I can easily point to thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and then tell whatever person is of the mind I couldn't be a journalist in a Web space to kiss my ass. And as for my free speech online, I know my rights under the Constitution of the United States and I'm not shy about exercising them.

However, just because I know my rights doesn't mean others do, or that they won't try to curtail them if at all possible, usually with a phalanx of lawyers to shovel paper about in an intimidating fashion. Also, not everyone lives in the United States and has that little philosophical gem of human liberty known as the First Amendment guarding their back. And this is where folks like the EFF come in: The organization is focused on rights online, and for bloggers this means both informing bloggers about their rights, and in defending those rights when necessary. This makes them a useful organization to have around.

Cory's note reminds me that I've been planning to contribute to the EFF for some time now; I think I'll do that today (I'll go for the $65 contribution because it comes with a t-shirt, and I need another one of those). The EFF is trying to encourage bloggers to link to the fundraising drive by offering premiums and whatnot for the bloggers who get the most people to sign up, but, you know, I couldn't really give a rat's ass about that. However, I would ask you to look at the EFF's spiel here, and if the group and its work are something you think you can support, go ahead and support it. Which is to say, contribute to the EFF if you feel it's worth doing rather than to get your favorite blogger some useless tchochtke. If you contribute (or if you can't contribute but support EFF and its goals), you can also put up a badge, which you may find here. I've gone ahead and put one up here through the end of the month.

That's my pitch to you for today. I end on an existential query: Cory's a friend and fellow blogger, but he's also the European Affairs Coordinator for Electronic Frontier Foundation, which presents the question -- does this mean the Blogosphere is part of Europe? If so, I want some euros.

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November 15, 2005

Ugh

Amazingly bad work day, a tornado watch and power out for more than an hour. Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop huffing freon.

That's all I'm going to say about that. See you tomorrow. Until then, consider this an open thread.

Posted by john at 05:20 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

The Surrendered Husband

Now that I have better comment spam management tools, I'm able to leave comments open on older entries, so occasionally one will sprout a new comment. One recent addition occurred in the Covenant Marriage is Stupid comment thread, in which a new poster comments about the desirability of covenant marriages and how, among other things, "wives must submit to their husbands" and "You, as the husband are head of the household and are responsible to God for your actions and your families." My response to this was as follows:

Leaving aside the fact that I am agnostic (so being responsible to God is not something I worry about) and that marriage in this country is a civil ceremony and that my wife has the same rights in marriage that I do, and because of all of the above the religious aspect of marriage is non-applicable to us in any way -- even if my wife were amenable to submitting to my role as head of the household, which she is not, why would I want that? My wife is smarter, more competent and more organized than I; if we had to pick one of us to be head of the household, it should be she.

And in fact, while as a theoretical matter we both share equally in the "head of household" duties -- I can't think of major family decision that was not jointly signed off on by the both of us, and both of us can exercise a veto on any major commitment or expenditure, and also on the matter of child-rearing -- as a practical matter, Krissy is indisputably the head of the household on a day-to-day basis. Evidence:

* Krissy tends to be far more proactive on household issues than I am by a rather significant margin, so leadership devolves to her simply as a matter of default, and to my immense relief she doesn't seem to mind (usually). The vast majority of the choices she makes in running our household are so common-sense smart that I would be a moron not to concur.

* While there's no doubt that the fact that I am the stay-at-home parent gives me a rather high level of minute-to-minute involvement in the child-rearing of our daughter, it's pretty clear to me that Athena considers Krissy to be the Alpha Parent, which she will occasionally express by saying to me "you're the boss of me, but mommy's the boss of you." When Krissy and I note that neither of us is the boss of the other, she gives us a look that says "yes, that's what you say," and then sort of changes the subject.

* So competent and efficient is Krissy with our finances that when checks come in, I hardly bother to look at them; I just sign them over and let her handle it. When I want to buy something over a certain pre-established amount, I ask Krissy if I can. If she says yes, then I get it, if she says no, then I don't. It's really just that simple. To be fair, when Krissy wants to buy something over our pre-established amount, she asks me about it, too. But as my response tends to be "well, as long as you think we can afford it," we're once again relying on her stewardship of our finances.

In fact, Krissy's assumption of household responsibility -- and my ceding of said responsibilities to her -- is so practically complete that one could make the not entirely facetious argument that I am the definition of the "Surrendered Husband," per the odious concept of 2001, the "Surrendered Wife," in which women are supposed to let their man handle all the hard stuff in the relationship, like finances and thinking, in order to be better ambulatory pleasure receptacles or some such. Sadly, in our own relationship, I am not merely allowed to lounge about in a loincloth, oiled and shaved, tasked with nothing but the unending pleasure of my mistress Kristine -- I do actually have to make some money in there, and also watch the kid, take out the trash, kill spiders, and occasionally make Krissy laugh. But someone observing our relationship from the outside would find it hard to miss the extent to which I defer to my wife in many things, and rely on her in many others.

And why do I do this? Because, as I note, she is smarter, more competent and more organized than I am. This is not to say I am not smart, because I am, nor not competent, because I am (I make no claims regarding organization). I don't doubt I can handle things, and from time to time Krissy will take a step back on a household issue and I'll take the lead. However, experience tells me over and over that Krissy is the go-to person in our relationship to make certain things happen, and in a marriage as in other circumstances, one would be foolish not to let the most competent person for a task handle the task. While I am amusingly belittling myself in this entry, I will note that in our relationship and in our life there are several areas where I take the lead, because I am driven and competent in those areas and it makes sense for me to do so. Between the two of us, we make a damn fine team.

As a practical matter, my asserting that I am head of the household (and the marriage) would be foolish, particularly if the rationale behind it was a presumed God's presumed preference for testicles over ovaries. As a theoretical matter, I am almost violently opposed to it, because implicit in the assertion is the idea that my wife is somehow lesser than me, which I find insulting, not only to my wife, but to me. Why on God's green earth would I want to cleave to a lesser being than myself? What possible advantage could that confer? I am  not so venal that I cannot accept a marriage of equals -- indeed that was what I had always sought and was fortunate to achieve, and what I work hard to maintain, every day. Even if I could assert a "leadership" role in this marriage I would not; I did not marry to rule over a family kingdom. That my wife is my equal (at least!) is one of the primary benefits of my marriage. I can't possibly imagine why I would want it any other way.

And as for passing along the "the husband is the head of household" meme to my daughter, well. Here we pause for a long and hearty laugh. I've already given Athena permission to kneecap the first jackass who tries to pass that one off to her. And you don't want to know what Krissy's given her permission to do.

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Gamma Gamma Hey

I predicted we'd get a storm called "Gamma" by Thanksgiving. Turns out it'll be here with a couple of weeks to spare. I win! Where's my pony?   

Posted by john at 09:18 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

Two Quotes

For your consideration:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city, and don't wonder why he hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin, and I'm not saying they will. But if they do, just remember you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, then don't ask for his help, because he might not be there."

-- Pat Robertson, on the citizens of Dover, PA ousting the school board that voted to place "Intelligent Design" into science classes.

 

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

-- Matthew 7, 15 - 23.
 

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Uh...

I collapsed into the sleep of the ill yesterday at about 5:30pm, and when I did my site had been inaccessible for about three hours (my hosting company had server issues). I see it's back up now -- can anyone tell me when they were first able to see the site again?

Being sick really sucks, incidentally. I've been winking out of conciousness for the last several days at 5 or 6 pm and waking up at 3 or 4 am. The good news is I'm getting a lot of sleep; the bad news is I'm getting this sleep on London time.  It's also been difficult to string thoughts together for more than three minutes at a time -- not good news because I'm supposed to be giving one of my editors an expanded book proposal. I think I'll tackle that today, after I hit myself with a mallet a couple of times to clear out the cotton batting between my ears.

Posted by john at 03:58 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 10, 2005

Thinking About COCOA

Several months ago I was invited to participate on a committee for something called COCOA, which endeavors to create a catch-all way for authors and other book copyright holders to specify how much of their work they want have accessible for viewing through services like Amazon or the nascent Google Print service; a copyright holder would specify once what amount of the work would be viewable online and the various online services that would show the text would use that as a guide. I noted at the time I was unlikely to be actively involved in the effort but that I would be happy to be an observer to the process.

Now it's out and available for perusal, for those of you who are interested in that thing. I note my minimal involvement largely to point out that realistically I cannot share in any praise or blame (depending on one's point of view) for this particular implementation. The reaction is not surprisingly varied; some people think it's idiotic, while others are more cautiously approving.

My personal opinion shades toward the latter than the former. I don't think there's any reasonable copyright bar to merely entering a work into a database, ala Google Print, but I think it's also reasonable that once it's in the database, the copyright holder may choose to specify restrictions on its online display, and if there's a way to specify it that so the copyright holder only has to do it once, rather than for every single database onto which the work is uploaded, well, why not. As a copyright holder, it would make my life easier. The natural and logical objection here is that book copyright holders don't have a similar right to control access to their work in other settings, like a bookstore. But I don't know about that; off the top of my head I can think of a couple of sealed books I've seen in a bookstore, most notably The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker. So it's possible, it's just not usual. Limiting access to written work online is no more controversial in my opinion than offering 30-second samples of songs.

However, I don't buy albums by listening to 30-second samples of songs, and I very rarely buy sealed books in a bookstore (I did buy the cartoon collection, but in that particular case I had an excellent idea what I was buying). As a theoretical manner I support the right of copyright holders to control how much of their work is displayed online. As a practical matter I think you're something of an idiot if you don't allow for full and robust access to your work online, since the major problem for the vast majority of writers including myself is obscurity, not piracy. I've discussed the reasons for this before, so there's no point in blathering about it again in detail here.

I will say that from an entirely mercenary point of view I am always delighted when I hear other authors getting vaporous about the threat of online piracy. That means they are unlikely to allow any useful amount of their work to be shown online, which means that they won't have access to the same massive pool of potential buyers that I will. That's more for me. I wouldn't do anything to actively sabotage the career of another writer, but if they want to sabotage themselves, well, you know. Far be it from me to stop them.

In any event. If you're a writer or otherwise interested in copyright issues, take a look at the COCOA site. I'll be interested in hearing what you think.  

Posted by john at 01:06 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 09, 2005

Intelligent Voting

The good news is that every single member of the Dover school board that attempted to foist "Intelligent Design" into science classes who was up for election this year was voted out of office and replaced by people who want ID out of science classes. Go rationality!

The bad news is that in a couple of years voters will get lazy and forget about voting for school boards, thereby allowing the nutbags in again to wreak more havoc. Which was what happened in Kansas, when the forces of moronicism, previously booted from the state school board for attempting to strip evolution of science classes entirely, managed to wheedle their way back in and not only officially question evolution, but actually change the definition of science because the old definition, you know, was based on the need for facts and observational data and inconvenient things like that. And now poor Kansas is yet again saddled with the reputation of being where religious idiots go to breed. I don't actually doubt that the school board will change yet again at the next election as people who are sane stand for election, thus nudging Kansas once again closer to the 21st century, but the damage has already been done.

Moral of the story: Evolution-hating whackjobs never sleep, and they love the elections and elected positions no one else cares about. They will be back as soon as possible and they're counting on moderate, sensible people to let the local elections slide off their radar. Who is to blame for Kansas bashing in the academic careers of its children? The moderate voters who weren't paying attention to the school board. You can really blame the evolution-hating whackjobs, after all. They did what they intended to, and all of Kansas will suffer for it.

As for Dover, will, good on them for getting better people for the school board. Let's hope they remember to keep it going the next school board election. And the next. And the next. And so on.

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November 08, 2005

Primarily of Interest to Family Members

Athena ran about like a silly person today and took photos, including several interesting self-portraitures. You can see the results here.  

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What I Did With My Morning

Hope you're planning to do something similar with your day.  

 

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November 07, 2005

TGB, Described

Look, Amazon has up what I assume is the dust jacket copy for The Ghost Brigades:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

In case you didn't know, no, the author doesn't usually write up the text for the dust jacket copy; I actually don't know who does (I assume it's Patrick Nielsen Hayden in my case, but I'm not entirely sure). It reads a bit like the pitch I made for the book before I wrote it, but it's not exactly what I wrote. Be that as it may, I'm perfectly happy with this text, which gives the basic plot set-up without revealing any of the major secrets. It's a pretty decent come-on for the potential reader, I think.

Anyway, if you had no idea what The Ghost Brigades was about before, now you know. Within reason.  

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The Comedy Canon: A Meme for You

By a rather substantial margin, Whatever readers have suggested that of the three other Rough Guide Movie books that were released with The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, they would be most interested in seeing what The Canon for comedy films would be. I'll get to the canons for the Horror and Gangster books later on, but now, without further ado, I now list The 50 Most Significant Comedy Films of All Time, as selected by Bob McCabe, author of The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. They are, in alphabetical order:

Airplane!
All About Eve
Amelie
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Blazing Saddles
Bringing Up Baby
Broadcast News
Caddyshack
Le diner de con
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Duck Soup
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Four Weddings and a Funeral
The General
Ghostbusters
The Gold Rush
Good Morning Vietnam
The Graduate
Groundhog Day
A Hard Day's Night
His Girl Friday
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Lady Killers
Local Hero
Manhattan
M*A*S*H
Monty Python's Life of Brian
National Lampoon's Animal House
The Odd Couple
The Producers
Raising Arizona
Roxanne
Rushmore
Shaun of the Dead
A Shot in the Dark
Some Like it Hot
Strictly Ballroom
Sullivan's Travels
There's Something About Mary
This is Spinal Tap
To Be or Not to Be
Tootsie
Toy Story
Les vacances de M. Hulot
When Harry Met Sally...
Withnail and I

For those of you want to make an online meme out of this, the idea is to put the list on your own blog/journal, bold the ones you've seen and put an asterisk next to the ones you own on DVD/video (I've personally left the list clean so people who copy it don't have to unbold and unasterisk my selections). You can/should also add your own comments on the list and what you think of the films chosen, which I have done immediately below. Make sure to attribute the Canon correctly (to Bob McCabe and The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies). If you want to come back here and leave a link in the comment thread so that people can find your thoughts on the comedy canon, that's just groovy by me.

Now for my analysis:

Films of the Canon I've seen: All of them, except for Le diner de con. This should not be entirely surprising as I have been a film critic for a decade and a half.

Films Whose Presence in the Canon I'm Particularly Gratified to See (pick up to five): Broadcast News, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Groundhog Day, Roxanne, Strictly Ballroom

Films in the Canon Whose Presence Should Not Be (pick up to five): Austin Powers, Dodgeball, Monty Python's Life of Brian, Rushmore, Shaun of the Dead

Films I'd Pick to Replace Them (pick up to five): Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, Safety Last, A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Looney Tunes written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones*

(* This deserves an explanation. Fact is, the vast majority of animated shorts up until the mid-1960s were produced to be shown in the theaters, and in my opinion the Jones-Maltese collaborations are the best of these. It's also my opinion that Michael Maltese is one of the great comedy writers of the 20th Century, whose contributions to the genre are overlooked because a) he worked in animation, and b) much of his efforts are attributed to Jones, who directed most of the best shorts Maltese wrote (McCabe does a bit of this in the book by crediting the writing on What's Opera, Doc? to Jones). This is no disrespect to Jones, of course. However, it's a point of fact that his most memorable pieces were with Maltese, and that the two of them were better as a team than as individuals. However, it doesn't look as if McCabe included any short comedy on his Canon list, much less animated shorts -- which could be something to quibble with the Canon in itself.)

To go back to the films which should not be in the canon, I'm willing to concede Life of Brian and Rushmore, the former because I think it's a matter of preference which Monty Python is better (or more representative), and Rushmore because I take as a given other people think more of Wes Anderson than I do (I find his work a bit nerveless). But Austin Powers is what you get when you remix Peter Sellers with a moron and both Dodgeball and Shaun of the Dead, while quite amusing, are the very model of minor comedy, neither particularly significant nor representative of anything much. If one had to replace them with movies similar in tone/era, I would substitute Wedding Crashers and the Evil Dead movies for Dodgeball and Shaun, and as for Austin Powers... hmm. There's nothing quite like it recently, although that's not an argument for its continued Canonicalosity, and no, that's not a real word.

However, I grant that McCabe had a rather more difficult task formulating a comedy canon than I did formulating my science fiction canon, as comedy as a genre has far more movies in it -- or at least far more significant movies -- than science fiction does. On balance I think it's a pretty good list, and with the exception of Philadelphia Story and Fish Called Wanda, it features most of my very favorite comedies. And in any event, as I noted with the Science Fiction Canon, these sort of lists are the beginnings of conversations about film, not the end of them.

Your thoughts?

Posted by john at 05:29 AM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

November 06, 2005

Returning the Favor

James Winter was a guest blogger in July; he asked me to be a guest blogger for him this month, on Sundays. My entry there is up; it's me mulling over the fact my PC is three years old, which means it's near death.

Absolutely unrelated: This is the 1234th entry on the Whatever since I switched to Movable Type in 2003.  

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November 05, 2005

Eye-Roller of the Day

Uh-huh:

White House officials will be required to attend briefings next week on ethics and the handling of classified information after the indictment last week of a senior official in the CIA leak probe, according to a memo released on Saturday.

The briefings will provide a refresher course on general ethics rules, including "the rules governing the protection of classified information," the memo said.

Yes, because, you see, that whole thing about senior White House officials allegedly blowing the cover of a CIA operative? They just didn't know it was wrong. Which may in fact be true; however, not in the manner a refresher course in ethics would be able to rectify. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad President Bush decided a course on ethics for his staff was necessary. Possibly, however, it should have come in late 2000, before they all took up shop.

Meanwhile, as this memo comes out, Cheney is still pressing Congress to let CIA agents torture people.

Gaaaaaaah. This White House doesn't need an ethics course. It needs an ethics intervention.

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Fun With Royalties and other Book News

Yesterday's mail brought royalty statements for Old Man's War through June of 2005 (yes, there's a bit of a time lag involved), and it was pretty good news. Not only has Old Man's War earned out its advance, it's also earned out the advance of The Android's Dream, the book that was the other part of the two-book deal I got when I shacked up with Tor (The Ghost Brigades is on its own separate contract), and has earned a bit more beside that. This is good news because:

1. It means that the trade and mass-market paperback editions of Old Man's War will be pure gravy, in terms of royalties;

2. It means I start earning royalties on The Android's Dream from the very first book sold;

3. It means I start being paid royalties sooner. The way the contract was structured, royalties wouldn't be paid until the advances for both novels were recouped, so if OMW had only earned out its own advance, I wouldn't be getting a check until when/if Android's Dream earned out its advance as well (you may ask: why agree to such a thing? Answer: because I didn't figure it would be an issue one way or another. Yay! I was right!).

4. It means Tor is definitely making money off me, and relatively early, which is a happy thing for the selling of future books, particularly to them.

So am I rolling in sweet, sweet royalty money? No. Three words: "Reserves Against Returns." Which is to say Tor holds back some money every statement period to make sure they're not whacked by returns of the book; the money held in reserve is typically refunded in the next statement period. By that time they'll have stopped selling the hardcover to get the trade paperback in the stores, so we should have a nearly complete accounting of how many hardbacks were sold and how many were returned. This is probably where Tor's thing of multiple-but-relatively small printings will be useful; I don't imagine there will be too many returns overall, and that's not a bad thing.

In all, not a bad place for a first-time author to be. As an aside, I'd note that if you actually wanted a copy of the hardcover of OMW, now would be a good time to get it, since as noted it's going to be withdrawn from sale when the trade version comes out. This is particularly imperative for folks who like the Donato cover, since the trade version (and any future mass-market version) will feature the John Harris cover.

Other book news: Subterranean Press informs me that Agent to the Stars has sold 1200 copies so far, which is a very healthy number for a small-press limited edition. The run was of 1500 copies, so that means 300 are left. I'm hoping these get nabbed by the end of the year, so I'll be forced to fork over $350 to the Child's Play charity, as previously promised, on top of the 10% of the cover price Subterranean has already pledged to Child's Play. You can get them at the link above or off of Amazon.

Also, Barnes & Noble is featuring The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies as a Recommended Gift for the holidays. Naturally, I couldn't agree more.  

That's the book news I have for you today.  

 

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Mike Argento and the Dover, PA ID Trial

For those of you who have been following the basics of the "Intelligent Design" trial in Dover, Pennsyvania, here's an excellent resource for a more or less daily perspective on what's been going down there: York Daily Record columnist Mike Argento had been attending the trial from start to finish (which was yesterday) and has been writing rather acidly about the proceedings. He's not Mencken at the Scopes Monkey Trial, but that doesn't mean he's not been doing a fine job. Also, he's clearly having fun with it. His blog has all the relevant columns -- they start on September 23rd and conclude with an entry today. It's good stuff.

Posted by john at 11:50 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

Rough Guide Movie Books: Pick a Canon

4books051104.jpg

You may not have known this, but The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies was just one of four Rough Guide Movie books released on the same day. I just got sent the other three today (along with some very cool postcards based on the cover of my book), and I thought I would show them off: The Rough Guides to Gangster, Comedy and Horror Movies, respectively. All four books have more or less the same format: chapters on the history of the genre, icons of the field, examples of the genre from around the world, and so on. Each also includes "The Canon" of its field -- the 50 most significant movies in the genre.

When I listed the science fiction canon here, motivated individuals took it and made a blog meme out of it; I think it would be fun to do the same with these other canons. But where to begin? This is where you come in: On Monday I'll post the canon of one of these books and note my thoughts on the selections. But as to which canon, I'll put it up to a vote. Tell me in the comments which canon you'd like to see: The one from Gangster, the one from Comedy, or the one from Horror. The one that gets the most votes when I sit down to write on Monday wins. One vote each,  please (no, I'm not going to check to see if people are cheating. Just, you know, don't be that guy).  

Which do you choose? 

Posted by john at 04:03 PM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

Patenting Plots?

Via e-mail, I've been asked to give an opinion on this, in which the US Patent Office notes an application to patent story plots, the applicants reasoning apparently informed by the reasoning provided via software patents. People are already beginning to freak out about it, suggesting it's the end of the literary world as we know it.

Well, first, let us note that the US Patent Office publishing an application is not the same as granting the patent, so everyone who is freaking out should recognize that. The patent on a plot has not been issued, just the notice that someone is trying to patent a plotline. The US Patent Office gets a lot of damn fool patent applications every year; this is probably just another one.

As to whether the patent has legal merit, well, I'm not a patent lawyer, so someone else will have to field this one. My "I am not a lawyer" opinion is that I don't see how this patent will be granted as among other things requires a wholesale reinterpretation of ideas as "process," which seems unlikely to happen. There's no actual process here, save what goes on in someone's head. The actual patent application does try to cover the transfer of the idea/process from brain to mechanical/electronic storage, but while not being a patent lawyer, I'm not sure how those processes are the applicant's to attempt to patent. This doesn't even rise to the questionable level of a software patent, where at least the process of the code is implemented outside the human body; it's hard to run software code in someone's brain, but anyone who is aware of literature's origin as an oral medium recognizes well the capacity for the entire process of literature to be contained wholly within the human body. Basically, I don't see how you grant this patent without implicitly saying that thoughts in themselves are patentable, which is an interesting expansion of patent law.

Two practical considerations as well: The applicant's reasoning here is that this is something of a broadside against Hollywood. Basically, this guy wants to eat Hollywood's seed corn, and I can't really imagine that an $80 billion industry wouldn't react poorly to something like this (not to mention, say, the publishing industry). Also, ironically, an $80 billion industry is the one best positioned to take advantage of such a nonsensical application of patent law, as it already has lawyers, creative types and money, and the average creative joe has got himself and a jar of pennies. If you don't think Disney, Warner Bros. et al. wouldn't happily spend millions of dollars on an annual basis to lock up all the obvious plot ideas (including the ones already in their libraries), you have no conception of how Hollywood actually works.

This would create an interesting new job description: Plot Generator -- people whose only jobs would be think up possible plots -- or maybe not, as this is just the sort of data-crunching nonsense computers excel at. Also, it's axiomatic that the studios would also force those creative people working with them to sign over their patents as a matter of course. So rather than protecting the little guy from the studios (the little guy, incidentally, being already amply protected by copyright), I suspect the practical effect will be to solidify the control of content even further into the hands of those with the money and their business interests already in the field. And then once that's established, you can expect Disney, et al. to start lobbying for extensions to the patent length, further stifling independent creation. And then won't this jackass feel stupid.

Basically, it's idiotic from start to finish, and I hope (and expect) that the patent application will be denied.  

Posted by john at 11:55 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Relevant Religious Positions

Apropos to this earlier entry, a pleasing development out of the Vatican:

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.
 
Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate.
 
The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II's declaration in 1992 that the church's 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus's theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
 
"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said.

Well, that's one billion Christians who don't have to twist their minds into a pretzel over that particular issue, which is roughly half of the Christian host. And it's worth noting the Cardinal is restating the Catholic Church's position, not making a change. Given that the fundamentalist view of science v. religion is not held by every other Christian sect either, this is a reminder that religious fundamentalism's antipathy regarding science is a minority view within Christianity. This may or may not be relevant to various people, for various reasons.

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November 03, 2005

Sunset, 11/03/05

sunset051103.jpg

Saying farewell to the sun.  

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Another Helpful Cloning Hint

badclone.jpg

Yes, you'll save a few pennies if you use the store brand amino acids to make your clone. But I'm here to tell you, sometimes it's worth it to pay full price for that expensive national brand. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

You know what the really weird thing about this picture is? Yes, exactly. I'm wearing a "Budweiser" shirt, and I don't drink. Not so sure about the other guy, though. He looks pretty sozzled.

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35 for 43

A CBS News poll has President Bush clocking a 35% approval rating -- 35 percent. To put this in perspective, that's only one point higher than the approval rating Jimmy Carter had the day he left office, and the lowest second-term presidential approval rating since Nixon wallowed in the 20s during the dog days of Watergate.

Another bit of perspective: For Bush's second term to date, his highest approval ranking, according to CNN, was 57%, which is what it was in early February. That's just three points higher than President Clinton's lowest approval rating by CNN for his entire second term, in August '97, as charted here.

Now, we can quibble about the details in terms of these polls. But it's certainly accurate to say that Bush is far more unpopular now with the American public than Clinton was, which is a datum to remember the next time some right-winger gets all frothy about those divisive Bill Years. The Bill Years ain't a patch on what we got going now, my friends.

I can't imagine that the Bush approval rating could possibly get any lower than it is at the moment, but then again, that's what I thought when it hit 39% a few weeks ago. Considering that there's probably 33% of Americans who would rather chew on jagged glass than to show disloyalty to a sitting Republican president, a 35% approval rating basically means that no one outside the ranks of the ideologically paralyzed right-wing approves of our president. No one. The rating couldn't possibly go lower. Could it?

What do I think about the Bush's approval rating? Well, I think it's exactly what he deserves. He's a terrible president with an incompetent administration, and it's gratifying to see the large majority of the American people coming around to this fact. Would that they would have come around to this conclusion a year ago, when the vote was on.

You'll note, however, that I did not say that I was happy that Bush has such a God-awful rating. I'm not. Having a weak and deeply unpopular president makes us vulnerable as a nation, particularly when we are engaged in a war, and especially when engaged in a war that it is becoming increasingly clear the origins of which are best described as an administration misadventure. I don't like Bush, and I wish he weren't president; nevertheless he is my president, and my country is ill-served at home and abroad by his weaknesses, both real and perceived. Noting that this is a mess of his own making is cold comfort indeed. Bush may have made this bed, but we all have to lie in it.

One hopes that if the American people get anything out of the Bush second term, it's to be reminded that the next time around, Republican or Democrat or something in between, they might want to try for competence. It's not too much to hope for. Because at a 35% approval rating, we have a clear indication people recognize that incompetence isn't working.

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November 02, 2005

I'm Being Framed

Apparently, Analog magazine is highlighting the Whatever on its blogs page this month, along with Jonathan Strahan's Coode Street blog. Since the Analog page jams the Whatever into a dinky space, I guess it's a good thing I reformatted the site so the design width isn't a fixed length. I'm always happy to be pointed to, however.

Posted by john at 05:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

World Fantasy Convention? What's That?

Before we begin, a picture of a cat, because, well, this is the Internet:

Yes, she's adorable. If she wasn't she'd be fired.

Some folks have asked if I was going to the World Fantasy Convention this week, or assumed I would be going. However, I am not. There are various reasons, including but not limited to:

1. I have few hundred thousand words worth of magazine submissions to get through, as well as other work-related nonsense;

2. I'm conserving my conventioneering strength for future conventions;

3. People who like fantasy are, like, total loooooooooosers. Why would I want to hang with them?

The last of these is actually not true, but I will say that since I don't write fantasy the WFC doesn't intrinsically have much pull on me, aside from the fact that a lot of my friends will be there and I'd love to see them. But I'm planning to see some of them in the reasonably near future, possibly even away from the convention scene. Yes, conventions are appealing because everyone is more or less on vacation and has time to socialize (and they're all assembled in one spot, which is convenient). But it's also kind of like seeing people in a zoo: Not quite a natural environment, if you know what I mean. I'd like friends who I see at cons not just to be con friends. Maybe I'm thinking about this too much.

In any event, the WFC will have to get along without me, as it has, lo these many years. You kids have fun, I'll just sit here in the dark.

Posted by john at 02:08 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 01, 2005

The Most Idiotic Star Wars Review Ever

It's here, on Slate. How bad is it? It's so bad that it reads like something from Salon. The writer has confused Lucas' inability to write or direct, and his absolute disinterest in humans on either side of the screen, with postmodern artistic intent. Bah. The only thing genuinely postmodern about the Star Wars series is Lucas' own lack of inclination to explain his generally unfathomable artistic choices, or, when forced to explain himself, his choice to do so in the most banal way possible (NB: Jar-Jar Binks: "You know! For kids!").

Lucas had often suggested, in that lackadaisical way of his, that the series would all make sense when it was done. Well, now it's done and it doesn't make a lick of sense; with the notable exception of Empire (the episode with which Lucas had the least involvement, in terms of writing and directing), it's largely crap. Crap isn't postmodern. It's just crap.

To sum up: Lucas taking 30 years to squat out a stenchy load on the heads of his fans: postmodern. The Star Wars series: not so much.

As for the writer of the piece, the bio at the end notes he teaches at the University of Georgia. Let's hope for his sake that he already has tenure. 

Posted by john at 08:22 PM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

Last Day for Subterranean Submissions!

To all and sundry who are sending me mildly anxious e-mails on the matter: Yes, I am accepting submissions for the Subterranean magazine cliche issue through 11:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time, November 1st, 2005. So, presuming you read this entry before then, you still have time.

To answer the next question: Yes, I've been reading submissions, but no, I've not made any final decisions yet as to what's in and what's not. Folks who submitted earlier and those who submit later are on equal footing in terms of making the final cut. So don't panic that you're getting your submission in on the last day. 

Given that from the time I went to sleep until the time I woke up, about 100,000 words worth of submissions dropped into my e-mail box, I see that, like me, lots of other writers will wait until the last minute. Excellent. I'm curious to see how many I get between 11pm and midnight.

Type! my friends! Type!

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