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December 30, 2005

Stick a Fork in 2005

As far as Whatever is concerned, 2005 is a done deal; I'm spending the rest of the year with family, offline. See you all in 2006. May the planets align to make the new year be the year you hope it will be.

Posted by john at 03:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 29, 2005

Fun, While It Lasts

In addition to the recliners, another thing we got ourselves this holiday season is a new mattress, to replace the one we currently have. It arrives in about a week. The one we're getting is apparently made of space age miracle fibers or something, and it's arguably the most expensive thing we've bought that we can't live in, drive in or attach to a network. So we've informed Athena that once it arrives, the days of jumping on the bed are over. But the good news is, until it arrives, she can jump on the bed just as much as she wants.

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She didn't have to be told twice.

Posted by john at 06:59 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Another Sighting; Also, Amazon Author Blogs

A second bookstore sighting of the trade paperback of Old Man's War, taken on the 26th (i.e., the day before the official release) by my pal Emily, who now gets the official signed chapbook reward. Good on ya, Emily! Incidentally, now that the OMW trade paperback is officially out, the "spot it in the stores" contest is done, although if you still want to send me sightings, I don't mind; I like seeing the book out in the world. Just, you know, don't go out of your way to do it.

A few people have asked me what I think about the Amazon's new "author blogs" initiative, in which the online bookseller gives book authors a little space to blather on about life, the universe and everything. This should answer that question. I don't have much intention of actively posting at the Amazon site, but as a way of letting people there find their way here, I'm all for it. And for those authors who don't already have active sites and/or blogs, I imagine it can be a useful way to get their faces out there.

Now, this is not to say that I don't see the potential for drawbacks. For one thing, I can see how other booksellers, online and off, might be non-plussed to see authors merrily blogging away on a competitor's site. For another thing, the clock is now ticking on the first author to use their Amazon Blog to flame someone who posted a negative Amazon review; this is one of those "not if but when" things, because I can't imagine a universe in which it doesn't happen sooner than later, particularly if the author in question is relatively new to the world of online communication and hasn't had his or her ego tempered in the fires of an online flame war. It should be interesting, at the very least.

If an author were to ask me whether they should develop their own site or just use the Amazon site, I would tell them that overall it's better to develop their own site -- there's more control in presentation and it avoids any potential conflicts with other booksellers, and there are any number of blog solutions that are dead easy to use (LiveJournal, Blogger and (of course) AOL Journals being the prime examples). But I also think by and large any online presence is better than none, so if authors don't want to bother with the time and effort it takes to create a site or learn how to use the freestanding blogging solutions, an Amazon blog is better than nothing. Just watch out about responding to negative Amazon reviews. On that path lies madness.

Posted by john at 02:01 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

The Recline of the American Family

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For Christmas, Krissy got us his and her matching recliners, which have just been delivered, and as you may see here are sufficiently wide for our inevitiable capitulation to the middle-aged flabination (actually it's not inevitable, but it's nice to be prepared). And they match, in a color that is somewhere between maroon and burgundy (maroongundy? Burgoon?).

Add these new chairs to our daughter's previously-purchased tyke-sized recliner, and you've got a family waist-high in repose. Now we may all enjoy recumbent big-screen TV pleasure! All we have left to to do is to construct the conveyor belt from the pantry and fridge, and we'll be set. Let the flabination commence!

Posted by john at 10:47 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

December 28, 2005

Variation on a Theme

James Nicoll is playing a riff off my "gateway science fiction" thread, to see what works from other eras could be seen as gateway SF -- which is to say, the science fiction you'd give to people who haven't read science fiction before. Get the details of Nicoll's quest here.

Posted by john at 04:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I Require New Music!

You know what? I was thinking about writing about my favorite album of the last year when I discovered it was actually released in 2004. Naturally I find this lapse terrifying coming from someone who until recently reviewed music as part of his income stream. It may also be indicative of 2005 being a suck-ass year for music. Who can say?

Well, you can say, if you want: Suggest me some of your favorite music from 2005 so that I can catch up with what the hip kids (that would be you) are listening to. If it ends up with me slappin' down a Hamilton or two to get me some albums off of iTunes, I'll consider it a moral victory.

Bear in mind that this doesn't I haven't been listening to new music is 2005; I have. I've just not been knocked out by it. With the exception of the new Garbage album, all the albums released in 2005 from bands I like have not been exactly overwhelming, or better than the album of theirs previous to this new one. I guess I want people to point me to an album that suggests that musicians weren't just farting about in 2005.

So, what have you got for me?

Posted by john at 02:43 PM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

The Chicago Tribune's Take on the War

Via Instapundit: The Chicago Tribune takes a look at the Bush Administration's rationales for war and whether those rationales had merit (registration required). It's a mixed decision, from the point of view of the Trib: The administration pushed its weakest argument (the weapons of mass destruction) and didn't properly promote its strongest arguments (that Saddam was way past his expiration date). Allow me to say this doesn't surprise me in the least, as the reason I was not opposed to going into Iraq was that I thought Saddam should have been gotten rid of long before.

One of the Trib's aims with the editorial is to debunk the idea that the Bush folks lied to get us into the war: "After reassessing the administration's nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege." Needless to say, this is a conclusion quite a few people will have difficulty accepting, so I expect you'll be able to see vehement refutations of this conclusion fairly quickly. Personally, as regards the WMDs, I'm not entirely sure how the government's creative interpretation of its data is substantially different from misleading others, but if one wants to stipulate that people of genuine intelligence could have reasonably interpreted the data in a number ways, including that it indicated that Iraq had acquired WMDs, that's fine with me, with the caveat that we should all agree that once the Bush folks had an interpretation that fit what they wanted to hear they didn't exactly go out of their way to equally weigh other interpretations.

Which bring us to the thing the Tribune editorial doesn't say, but which is entirely relevant, which is that Bush and his people wanted a war with Iraq, and were looking for a minimally-supportable excuse to have it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Bush came into office with invading Iraq on his "to do" list -- that seems unlikely to me -- but once 9/11 happened, the opportunity presented itself, and the Bush folks took advantage of it, and didn't particularly care whether they have done due diligence on the rationales presented therein. Naturally, this negelect allows interested parties to claim the Bush folks acted in bad faith getting us into this particular war.

To be entirely honest, at this point in time, I'm rather less concerned with how this administration has sold this war than what it has done since driving Saddam out of power. It's perfectly reasonable for someone who supported the war (or at the very least, did not oppose it, as in my case) to criticize how the Bush folks have handled the follow-on to the Iraq invasion. I've said before and will be pleased to say again that should I ever meet President Bush, I will be happy to tell him that deposing Saddam was a good thing. Unfortunately for our President, he will then have to hear me say that just about everything he's done since then has been a total botch and that I'm appalled that he and his people apparently gave no thought to the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq beyond scooping up flowers thrown by grateful Iraqis. Yeah, it'll be a mixed moment for Mr. Bush.

Posted by john at 12:45 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

The Big Time

According to BlogPulse, the "Being Poor" entry is #6 in the Top Blog Posts of 2005. Naturally I'm pleased to see it got some traction. I also see that Cherie Priest shows up on the list twice, at #10 and #14. It's like we're the king and queen of the Internet Prom! Or something.

Posted by john at 05:56 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thinking About 2006

Here we are in the becalmed Saragasso seas of the final week of the year, and I'm thinking about what I'll be doing in 2006.

Just as 2005 was significant for me in that it was the year I checked off the last thing on my adolescent "to do" list for my life, 2006 promises to be significant in that it'll be the first year (so far as I can tell from this end) that the majority of my income will come from, and the majority of my work time will be devoted to, writing books. Here are the books on my slate for 2006:

1. The Last Colony: The third (and for now, final) book in the Old Man's War series. I'll be spending some of January doing some research on that and will start writing in February for a June deadline. TLC is tentatively slated for a May/June 2007 release.

2. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Selected Writings 1998-2005: This is the book of Whatevers that Subterranean will be publishing. Clearly most of the writing for this is done, although I'll be writing a book introduction and chapter introductions as well. This is slated for June/July of this year.

3. Book One of the Two-Book Project I'm Currently Secretive About: I'll start this one after I finish TLC and God willing, it'll be done about this time next year. No release date set for this one yet but it'll probably surface sometime late 2007/early 2008.

4. The Rough Guide to the Universe, 2nd Edition: As with Hate Mail, the writing here is already largely done, but several chapters will get a touch-up, particularly the ones on Mars and Saturn, about which we've learned quite a substantial bit more than what we knew when the first edition came out. I believe the second edition will be out in late 2006, just in time for holiday shopping.

I have a couple other book ideas I have rolling about in my head, but you know what? I think I'll hold on to those for 2007. Four book projects are enough for now, and at least one of them is going to be a significant challenge to my writing skill (that'd be the BOotTBPICSA). I do already have one book project slated for 2007 (the second book of the TBPICSA), and it's kind of a wacky thought to consider that I am (pun intended) booked up for at least the next sixteen months, and that -- counting paperback iterations -- books of mine will likely be coming out through 2009. I mean, damn.

I am pleased but strangely ambivalent about the idea that writing books will be my primary income source in 2006; pleased because nothing makes you feel like a writer like writing books for a living, ambivalent because I have no expectation that this state of affairs will last, and I don't want to be bummed out if in 2007 (or 2008, or whenever) most of my income once again comes from sources other than book writing. This is one of those times where I intentionally keep myself from thinking too much and focus on enjoying how things turn out.

Non-book-related income-bearing projects at the moment are largely confined to what I already have going: My DVD columns for Official PlayStation Magazine and the Dayton Daily News, and the AOL Journals gig, for which I recently received a contract extension through March. I'm particularly pleased about that; AOL Journals went through some growing pains this last year, so I'm looking forward to more community building over there. I'm very attached to the AOL Journalers, you know, and I enjoy doing the By the Way because it's so different in tone and substance to what I do here. I expect I may also do a bit with the Uncle John's folks again, and I've let my business writing contacts know I'm available for spot work, but in both cases things have been quiet for a bit. While I enjoy doing both, I don't mind taking a break to work on the novels.

Non(-directly)-income related writing projects in 2006: Well, there's the Whatever, of course. It also looks as if I'll be doing at least a few short stories; I have these listed under "non-income" not because I won't make money off them (I expect I will, and I'm not in the habit of giving away writing for free) but because making money from them is not a primary consideration. My primary consideration at this point is to get comfortable with the form and see where it takes me. That should be fun.

Bear in mind that all of this can and probably will change, because I have yet to have a year that went anything like I expected it to. But it's good to at least have a plan so that when you veer wildly off it, you'll know. This is my plan for 2006, and at the moment, it seems like a pretty good one.

Posted by john at 12:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Old Man's War Trade Paperback Officially Out

All of you who have said to yourself, "Gee, I'd like to buy Old Man's War, but that hardback is too damned expensive" -- your long nightmare is over. The trade paperback edition of Old Man's War has now officially hit the shelves. Mob the stores! Or get it online in the usual places.

A reminder to those of you who do pick up the trade edition: Don't read the excerpt of The Ghost Brigades in the back; it spoils a fairly minor but still nifty plot point that I think you'd rather not have spoiled for yourself. I mean, read it if you want. It's your life. I'm just sayin', is all.

Posted by john at 08:41 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Just So You Know

I did a small bit of fiddling with the Whatever design. Comments, etc can be left here.

Also, and unrelated: A review of The Ghost Brigades here. The review is generally positive and calls the book "a pageturner with surprising emotional rewards", although the reviewer is a little annoyed that I drop in a bunch of cool ideas and then just keep chugging along without going into great detail about them. This is a not invalid criticism, although I suppose I'd rather have too many ideas in a book than too few. In any event, the reviewer's hope that I'll do more books in the universe will be fulfilled, for at least one more book.

Posted by john at 10:26 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

A Very Scalzi Christmas, 2005

Come see Christmas at the Scalzi household. Actually most of the pictures are from Christmas Eve, but really. Like it matters.

Posted by john at 05:48 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

It's Not Easy Being Spoiled

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Athena, with her new harmonica, performing her now classic "I Got Dem 'I Unwrapped All My Presents And Now I Got Nothin' Left to Unwrap' Blues Again, Mama!" Truly, a lament many children can get behind, right about now.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by john at 11:05 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

Found in the Wild

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We have the first spotting of the trade paperback of Old Man's War, in the Elk Grove, California Borders. Jeff Callahan here wins a copy of a short story chapbook of mine, signed by me and Athena (although to be clear, I wrote the stories). Congratulations, Jeff! I have two more of these chapbooks to give away to others who find the book in the stores -- although remember the Elk Grove Borders is now officially off the list of eligible places. And remember the book is officially released next Tuesday, just in time to take advantage of all those holiday gift certificates.

For those of you vaguely concerned that I will turn the Whatever into a 24/7 pimp zone for the trade paperback of Old Man's War: I probably won't. I figure most of you all know it's out there. Full-scale pimpage won't occur until February, which is when The Ghost Brigades hits the stores. See? I'm giving you plenty of time to run away.

Posted by john at 05:31 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

December 23, 2005

Whatever Best of 2005

Athena's birthday today, followed by Christmas, followed by a week where I catch up on pay copy that I've promised people by the end of the year, equals a pretty good chance I'll be scarce here through the end of the year. Of course I said that last year and then wrote two entries a day for the last week of the year. But, you know. Humor me.

Should I actually not post in any significant fashion through the end of the year, I bid you sustain yourself with this list of notable Whatever entries for 2005, arranged chronologically:

Athena's First Story
Covenant Marriage is Stupid
The Problem With Parents
Laurence McMillin, 1923 - 2005
Irrationalists
What Publishing Is
What My Jesus Would Do
Writing in the Age of Piracy
Revenge of the Sith: The Long Form Review
Oh My God! They Look Just Like Us!
Cracking the Flag-Burning Amendment
Being Poor
Things to Know About Clones
A Note on the Day of the Passing of Rosa Parks
The Document No One Knows About
Useless Atheism
The Editorial Process, Revealed, Kinda
How Not to Plagiarize
Standing Up for Dubya, Such As It Is
Christopher Robin is Out There in the Woods
Science Fiction Outreach

That should keep y'all busy.

If this is the last you see of me in 2005, have a festive seasonal celebration of your preference and a felicitous new year. And if I pop in again, well, actually, all that still stands. Because. You know. I'm not going to repeat myself.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

Athena's Birthday Gift To You

Athena turns seven tomorrow, and to celebrate she's dropping a little tunage on you: A mix of some of her favorite songs (~22 MB). Yes, she picked all the songs herself, and yes, we let her listen to music that has the occasional bad word in it. She's smart enough not to sing those particular words to herself. In any event, I think most of you will appreciate her eclectic tastes. Enjoy!

Posted by john at 07:03 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Life Goals Past and Present

In the grand historical scheme of things, 2005 largely sucked, but personally it was a very fine year indeed. I hope the two are not related, since I want things to get better for everybody else, but I'd also, you know, like to keep on doing what I've got going. I suppose if there were some sort of verifiable inverse relationship, I could take a hit for the team, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

In many ways 2005 also represents the closing of one significant chapter of my life. When one is young, one keeps a list of all the things one wants to do with one's life, and I'm no different in that regard. This year, I published a novel -- two, actually -- and edited a magazine, and in doing so, I checked off the last major experiential goals of my youth (other ones included, in no particular order, being a newspaper columnist, getting married, being a father, writing an astronomy book, and being a fill-time writer). No matter what else happens in my life from this point on, I can say definitively that I got to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am naturally happily gobsmacked at the fact.

This does naturally lead to the question, "well, if you've done everything you wanted to do when you were a kid, why don't you just shove off?" (Well, maybe it doesn't naturally lead to this question, unless you're morbid. But what can I say. Hi.) The short answer to this is that, yes, I've achieved the goals that I set out for myself as a kid, but that doesn't mean that I don't have other goals, formulated as I've gotten older and I've seen what opportunities, desires and challenges lay before me. That said, allow me to enumerate some additional life goals that I have presently, which remain unfulfilled at the moment. In no particular order:

* I want to create a solid body of fiction. Which is to say, good reads that draw people in and make them look forward to whatever I make up next. This is separate from a best-selling body of fiction or even a significant body of fiction -- in both of those cases it's not entirely up to me. What is within my power is to write fiction that is worthy of being read, by the relevant metric of being work I'd want to read. What would I define as a "solid body"? I think 20 novels would be a fair start. I mean, right now I've written four and I'm contracted for three more. Unless I'm hit by a bus, 20 novels seems doable.

* I want to evangelize science. I firmly believe that 80% of all science is understandable to anyone who can walk upright -- it's just a matter of presenting the information in a way they want to read it or experience it. Writing my astronomy book was a life goal, but I'll tell you what was a real eye-opener: Writing pieces for Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe. I wrote about a third of that book, with short little pieces on everything from types of clouds to the evolution of the eye to the signs of the zodiac, and I wrote them in a fun and entertaining way, and I had a ball doing it. And you know what? From what I understand, the book sold more than 100,000 copies -- that's 100,000 people (at least) who now know a little bit more about science thanks to a non-intimidating, humorous format. Perhaps it's not dignified for people to be learning about science while they're pinching one off, but look around us today and tell me people shouldn't be learning about science by any means necessary.

I'm not a scientist, but I understand quite a great deal of science -- and more importantly, I can explain it well to people who have no real experience with it. Out of anything I do, I would consider this a calling, a thing I do out of a personal moral imperative... and also because I simply love the ideas of science and want to try to make other people love them too. It is a joy to share ways to understand the universe. Writing is the obvious way to share, but I'll do it however I can.

* I want to help my daughter become a good human. Because its what parents are supposed to do, and in helping her become a good person, I will hopefully become as good a person as I hope I am helping her to become. Raising a child, in my experience, makes you want to be a better person, for the sake of your child and for your own sake as well.

* I want a species named after me. Because, how cool would that be? Any species in any kingdom would be fine. I'm not picky. This is the only life goal I have that is entirely out of my control, unless I hack my way into the Amazon and find a frog species no one's bothered to classify before, and, well. I'm not likely to do that. So all you biologists out there: Help a guy out, here. First biologist to get a species officially named for me gets a book dedication. See: I get something, you get something.

* I want to stay married, and happily so. Takes work. It's worth it.

* I would like to teach writing in a formal setting (which is to say, at a college). I think this may actually be the most difficult goal, not because of the task of teaching itself (which is formidible enough, to be sure), but because no matter how many books I publish, I have only a bachelor's degree, and the idea of going back to school at this point to get a master's degree that I don't particularly want or feel that I need seems pointless and stupid, and a PhD. even more so. This is not to say you MFAs and creative writing PhDs have wasted your youth and vigor. Just that it's not for me. I'm more inclined to slap down the four novels I've written and sold so far, and maybe toss in my astronomy and SF film book, and suggest they indicate a decent mastery of that whole writing thing. Call me a practical experience snob if you will.

* Related to the goal above, I want to write a book on writing. I've been writing professionally for 15 years, I've been making a very comfortable freelance living from it for several years, and with the exception of screenplays, I've written and sold pretty much every possible form of writing there is to make money off of. I feel sufficiently competent in both the craft and business of writing, in other words, to bore people about it in book form. I've been talking with my non-fiction agent about this, off and on, since about 2002.

The major issue with this goal is that it's not as if there aren't already books on the subject, ranging from the practical Writer's Digest "how to sell your manuscript" connect-the-dotters to things like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, which many people love but which I found a bit twee (I was more engaged by Stephen King's On Writing, but I suppose this should not be surprising). If I'm going to write a book on this subject, it damn well better not be the same crappity crap everyone else has to say on the subject, or at the very least, it should be the same crappity crap done up in a way that's not already tiresome the moment one cracks the cover. If I'm going to try to compete with Stephen King on the same ground, I'm going to get squashed, and rightly so. I mean -- hey -- I would read King's book on writing before I'd read my own. So I want to find the right way to do it that's going to be new and useful to the people who read it. Writing about writing is already like admitting you're masturbating; putting it into book form means you're admitting you're an exhibitionist, too. So you might as well give your audience a good show, one that leaves them shaking their heads in wonder and saying "Wow, I didn't know you could do it that way." That's my goal. Bring a poncho.

* I want to visit New Zealand. Why New Zealand? Dunno. Just always wanted to go. Yes, even before Lord of the Rings. I'm not that shallow.

So those are the unrealized life goals at the moment -- some of them, anyway; there may be others I'm not telling you about, or still thinking about whether to punt them into "life goal" status. How long will I work toward these goals? Well, it took 36 years to realize the first set of life goals; I guess if I have all of these addressed by the time I'm 72 I'll be doing just fine. As you can see, I'm not in a huge rush. That's why they're life goals.

Posted by john at 09:23 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Making a Contribution

Some of you may remember that when I announced that Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik was doing the cover to Agent to the Stars, that I also mentioned that when people ordered the book from the Subterranean Press site, Subterranean Press would donate 10% of the cover price to Child's Play, the charity the Penny Arcade folks have established to provide toys and games to children who have hospital stays. I'm pleased to say that a few days ago Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer sent Child's Play $903 dollars culled from this effort. I kicked in the additional $97 to bring the contribution to an even $1,000 dollars, and then Bill personally dropped an additional $100, bringing the total "Agent" contribution to $1100. I want to make sure that everyone who bought Agent from the Subterranean site knows how much I appreciate their doing so -- it's really cool to be able to send over a significant sum to money to Child's Play based on your purchase.

For those of you that have been thinking of picking up Agent but haven't done so yet, allow me to offer an incentive for you to do so by the end of the year: I promised that if the entire print run of Agent was sold by the end of the year, that I would kick in an additional $350 to Child's Play out of my own royalties. If you buy the book off the Subterranean site, 10% of your purchase price will go to Child's Play regardless (and on top of my own pledge -- the Child's Play kickback on the Subterranean Press site goes until the print run is gone), but for the purposes of my pledge it doesn't matter where you get the book, just as long as the print run sells out by 11:59:59 on December 31. So get it on Amazon, B&N, Powell's or wherever you want. The print run was 1,500, and there are only a couple hundred copies left, so causing me to fork out $350 is entirely doable. So, again, if you've been thinking of getting Agent, consider doing so in 2005. There's 10 days left -- that's enough time.

Regardless of any possible Agent purchase, I do hope that you'll check out Child's Play when you're considering your end-of-the-year charitable giving. The Penny Arcade guys have done a truly amazing job with this charity over the three years they have run it: All the contributions go directly to the hospitals they sponsor; PA charges no administrative fees whatsoever. This year alone they've raised a jaw-dropping $420,000 from Penny Arcade readers, game companies and others who see the value in making a kid's stay in a hospital a little more tolerable with a game or toy. Even before I kicked in the $97, I had gone in and made a contribution: I picked a hospital (the charity sponsors hospitals in the US, Canada and the UK), went to its Amazon wish list, and picked out some toys. The wish lists have requests for toys and books that only cost a few dollars, so there's almost always something that's in the price range for anyone who wants to contribute. So I hope you'll go over and consider a contribution.

Once again: Thank you to everyone who bought Agent from the Subterranean Press site. You did good.

Posted by john at 11:44 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 20, 2005

On Reader Requests and, Also, Iran

From a commenter named Greg:

My only comment would be that you tend to wear out certain topics...By now, we all know how you feel about Bush (utter contempt!), the Patriot Act (hate it!), Intelligent Design (hate it, too!) and gay marriage (love it!)
These predictable topics give you the ability to post the kind of opinions that your predominantly liberal audience loves to hear. They are red meat for the following you have built up in recent years.
I would be curious to see your take on some more diverse topics...Take religious extremism, for example: not Christian, but Islamic. Why aren't you more concerned about Iran's president, who is now banning Western music, and claiming that the Holocaust never happened?

To address the first two paragraphs first, I couldn't possibly care what people are tired of me writing about here, or (alternately) whether what I write about here serves to sate the liberal needs of my audience, because I don't get paid here and I don't write here for anyone else but me. This is a free buffet, people: Eat as much as you like, but what you eat is what I choose to serve up. If you don't like the menu, either wait until I get bored with a subject and write about something else, or just move on. The basic philosophy of the site is the same now as when I started: I write whatever I feel like writing. It's right there in the title.

Having said that, if you are bored with me yammering on about Bush or gay marriage or writing or anything else I yammer on about on a regular basis, well, I do take requests. I do this formally during the Reader Request Weeks I've been doing annually for the last few years, but there's nothing stopping you from asking my opinion about any particular subject at any particular time. Heck, I like taking reader requests because then I don't have to spend much time wracking my brain wondering what the hell I'm going to write about today. Now ,you run the risk of me opining on something I don't know jack about, but per the site disclaimer, I'm not going to let a little thing like complete ignorance stop me. And besides, me making an ass of myself makes for a lively comment thread. And isn't that what everyone wants?

So, please: If you ever find yourself saying, "Christ almighty, I wish Scalzi would yabber on about something else already," now you know what to do: send in a request. E-mail is best, but you can drop it in a comment thread if you like. Don't be shy.

Now, as to religious extremism: Generally speaking, I think it's no good, no matter which iteration of God one is being extreme about. As to why I'm not concerned about Iran: Who says I'm not? Is concern not a responsible position to take when a nuke-acquisitive country is being led by a Jew-hating Holocaust denier? And I think that Ahmadinejad's cute little game provoke-and-deny is profoundly obnoxious; really, when one is walking about saying Israel should be wiped off the map, or that the Holocaust didn't exist, it's not exactly credible to goofily backtrack a day later and play some variation of the "it was taken out of context" card, especially when you're back at it a few days later.

I have some suspicions that some of this is a ploy of some sort, a variation of the North Korean gambit in which one acts insane in the hope of extracting placating foreign aid of some type (in this case, involving nuclear power). Unfortunately for Iran, their variation of the North Korean gambit involves poking Israel with a sharp stick, and there's only so long Iran will get away with that before Israel takes that stick and jams it hard right back into Iran's eye. Israelis are prepared for the moment to let diplomacy do its thing, but if you don't think they don't already know how they're going to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, I suspect you'd be wrong on that.

Personally, I'm also inclined to see where diplomacy leads us, but then again if one day I woke up to find Israel had launched a multipronged air attack on Iran, I would be neither surprised nor unsupportive of such an action. Israel is a small, tough, paranoid guy in a bad neighborhood, and you don't mess with small, tough paranoid guys without expecting to pay for it. It's a measure of my confidence in Israel that I'm not as concerned with Iran as I perhaps should be. I expect that if things get to a certain point, it's going to be Israel who takes the initiative, not anyone else, and certainly not the US. The military has enough going on as it is, and I don't think that even Bush can make an argument for us opening up a third front in the Middle East.

Whether any of these assumptions have any relation to reality is another subject entirely. I welcome corrections to my worldview, and also, more requests of entry topics.

Posted by john at 09:35 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Will Not Be Pleased

"Intelligent Design" officially gets the boot in Dover, Pennsylvania. There are some choice quotes in the story from the judge who made the ruling. I think this is my favorite: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy." So not only is ID utterly full of crap, it was defended by utter incompetents. Which was, of course, the defense it deserved.

Someone please pass the note to Kansas, okay? Thanks.

Here! Read the ruling!

Oh, wait, this is my new favorite quote:

"Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

Rock. On.

Posted by john at 11:30 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

The Last Thing I'll Post About Bush This Week (Maybe)

Not so much a commentary as wryly noted:

Look! Bush is up in the polls! He rocks!

Look! Bush's ratings are unchanged since he went on his charm offensive! He still sucks!

How nice it is in this holiday season that everyone can find a major poll to fit their mood.

Yeah, I'll definitely be talking about other things for a while.

Posted by john at 08:09 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

More On That Whole Impeachment Thing

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, some meaty thoughts on whether the president's wiretap program actually broke the law. The author's current, "extra-cautious" conclusion: "it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." While I bask in my own I-am-not-a-lawyer-ness, I have to confess this is pretty close to my own reading of the situation as far as I can winkle it out under my own intellect, given what information is available to me. And if this particular reading is borne out, you can bet the folks rubbing their hands about the idea of impeaching Bush are going to cackle even more gleefully.

So let's ask: If after all is said and done the president did break the law, should he be impeached? As I've alluded to before, on general principles I'm against the process of impeachment because it's so immensely disruptive; personally, I'd want to see a president caught red-handed dealing crack cocaine or strangling babies before I'd consent to such a thing. But this isn't about my own dread of the impeachment process, it's about whether there's an actual case for impeaching the president.

And for me, what it comes down to is three things. First I'd want to know -- regardless of whether the president did break the law -- if he broke the law knowing unambiguously that his course of action was entirely beyond the pale of law. If the president can show a solid legal argument that a reasonable person versed in the relevant law could see as a not-entirely-specious rationale for thinking that FISA did not apply, then I'm inclined not have him frogmarched over to Capitol Hill. If on the other hand, he said something along the lines of "I don't care if it's illegal, just do it," well, then, I'd be more inclined to say "hoppity-hop, Mr. President" -- but not entirely, for reasons I'll get to in a moment.

We've been hearing the president and his people throwing out various legal interpretations to the press today to see if any of them stick, so I have no doubt Bush has got a rationale. But I think he has a very serious problem in that his administration has played fast and loose with legal and constitutional interpretations of the scope of its powers for so long that its credibility on the matter is entirely shot. Rationalizing spying on Americans in the US without a warrant might have been doable if we didn't already know the Adminstration was content to deprive US citizens of their constitutional rights (which required the Supreme Court to smack it down in an 8-1 decision), or to assert that agents of the US should be exempted from anti-torture strictures, until shamed into agreeing they shouldn't by a senator of its own party who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese. Time and time again the Administration has shown that it simply doesn't care about compromising civil rights in the pursuit of enemies. It's also shown that it doesn't particularly care about dialogue about its decisions, either -- the administration has contended that it kept key Congressional figures in the loop about the warrantless search thing, but some of those Congressional leaders have said, basically, that the Administration came to them and said "We're not asking you, we're telling you" -- and that even then they weren't told everything. Naturally that's an issue.

(And no, it doesn't matter that the Administration has only been depriving bad Americans of their rights. The Constitution doesn't say that only "good" citizens get rights. Get it right, people.)

Now, let's posit that the president knew his actions were illegal, but didn't care. Would that merit impeachment? In my opinion, no -- if the president could prove that his actions saved Americans from imminent harm that following the law could not have prevented. Basically, if the Administration can show that the FISA process was so broken that it needed to be ignored in order to protect Americans, I would be uninclined to have the president punished for doing what he quite rightly feels is his job: Protecting Americans from harm. Naturally, Bush and his administration are pushing some form of this rationale at the moment.

I'm open to hearing this argument, but my default position is to be very skeptical of it. The FISA court procedures seem to be quite flexible when it comes to allowing the government to deal with immediate threats: having a 72-hour retroactive window for warrants is something I suspect most law enforcement folks wish they could get. Moreover, I would say that even if the FISA procedures were in some way problematical and required a workaround, it would still be incumbent on the administration, while continuing to employ the workaround, to try to fix and improve the FISA court within the law to make a legal avenue more responsive to real world issues. It doesn't seem that the Administration has done that, or even tried to do that, which goes again to the Bush Administration's apparent lack of interest in playing well with the other branches of government.

If we granted that the president both knew what he was doing was illegal and that it was determined that such evasion of law was entirely unnecessary, now are we talking impeachment? This is the point where I go "gaaaaaaaaah" and raise a point that will be entirely unpersuasive to many, which is that I genuinely believe that Bush wants to protect Americans, and that matters to a non-trivial extent. I'd be loathe to impeach a president for that, and I would find it difficult to support people who would. There, I've said it: I don't think you get impeached for trying to protect Americans.

But that's about all the slack I'm ready to grant the man. Look, I don't doubt the Bush folks want to protect Americans. That's not even an issue for me. But I'm not at all convinced that fully protecting Americans requires going beyond the law, and I am deeply concerned about the precedent the Bush administration is attempting to set, which is that a president can do any damn thing he or she wants. This is a pretty simple thing: there are three branches of government, and the idea is that each of them is co-equal. The Bush folks pretty clearly wish to assert otherwise. I'm not inclined to agree, and I'm pleased that members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are finally starting to come around to my way of thinking. I appreciate that in wartime presidents should have leeway, but I think the Adminstration's had four years of leeway with some less-than-desirable results regarding civil rights. So that's been quite enough. A little more oversight would be nice. Well, a lot more, at this point.

Posted by john at 06:15 PM | Comments (74) | TrackBack

Outside Sources and Etc.

The Philadelphia City Paper picked up my "Defending Dubya" piece from the other week and printed in their fine alternative weekly, so if you're in Philadelphia, please do pick it up; if you're not in Philadelphia (or are in Philly, but just lazy) here's the online link. Also as a head's up for Philadelphia area folks: I'm going to be coming to your town for a wild and crazy publicity event in the second half of January, the details of which I will entice you with after the new year. For now, just be aware that Scalzination is imminent.

Speaking of the President, last night was one of his better speeches regarding Iraq, not in the least because he's acknowledging what most of the rest of the country already knew; it's always nice when the reality distortion bubble around the White House flickers a bit. Expect "defeatists" to become the new catchphrase when one is discussing folks who object to the current disposition of the Iraq situation; I would imagine those folks will move fast to nip that one in the bud.

As positive a step as I think last night's speech was for the president, I have my doubts as to what it means in terms of what goes on on the ground in Iraq. Bush didn't give that speech because he wanted to have a moment of candor with the American people; he gave that speech because his administration's had the rug pulled out from under it, and his moment of candor was damage control. If we know anything about George Bush, it's that he resents being made to do something he doesn't want to, and he doesn't like having to explain himself. So the question is whether he uses this acknowledgement of difficulties as an opportunity to adjust strategy, or whether his adminstration uses it to say "look, we said it was going to be difficult," and then just keeps doing what it's doing. If it's the latter, I don't expect his popularity to go up much, particularly in light of other current events.

We'll see how it goes.

Posted by john at 08:13 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

December 17, 2005

Small Happy Dance

The hardcover of Old Man's War is #12 on the Amazon SF bestseller list at the moment and #777 in all their books, which is not a bad place for a debut science fiction novel to be more than a year after it first showed up in bookstores. The Ghost Brigades is doing pretty not badly as well, at about #2,100, which is cool considering it won't officially be out for another two months. I rather strongly suspect this has something to do with it. And when I say "strongly suspect" you should read "I really have no doubt in the slightest."

Someone fairly recently said to me that I might be the first SF writer whose sales have come primarily because of being talked about online. I don't think that is true -- if anyone lays claim to that, I figure it would be Cory Doctorow -- but it is entirely true that OMW's relative good showing as a debut book comes substantially from the online world, both in recommendations from other bloggers, who have a level of recommendation trust with their readers that most traditional forms of media simply can't touch (unless one's name is Oprah), and in just me hanging about here, so that people can get used to my voice and get curious about the other things I do. If I had to guess, I'd say about two-thirds of my sales thus far have come directly from online recommendations and presence (and mostly, recommendations).

It's difficult for me to overstate the online world's importance to my writing career in this regard, and how pleased and genuinely humbled I am that so many folks online seemed to take on OMW, and discussed it in their blogs and journals and in online review sites. If you were one of these people, please believe that the thanks I give you now is sincere and genuine: what you wrote actually did matter for my book. Most books -- and certainly mine -- exist in a space where one-on-one word of mouth and friends talking to friends through blogs and journals makes a real-world impact on how well they do. So thank you. Really. It mattered, and it continues to matter.

Posted by john at 07:42 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

The Impeach Bush Bandwagon

It's begun, over here. Apparently, authorizing the NSA to spy on US citizens on US soil may not be entirely legal.

For the record: I think we need another impeachment process almost exactly as much as I need to strap a salmon to my scalp and headbutt a grizzly.

And oddly enough, I'm feeling a little sorry for our president. He was working up a nice head of approval steam this last week, taking responsibility for intelligence failures in Iraq and all that, and then all that gets tubed by this whole spying thing. The guy just can't catch a break; other presidents may have had worse years in their administrations than Bush has had in 2005, but not many. The guy clearly needs a hug.

Mind you, I'm not feeling so sorry for the man that I think we need to let this whole domestic spying thing slip past us. Oh, my. Let's not.

Posted by john at 05:45 PM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Son & Foe

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Those of you who are itchin' for new reading material of a mordant and/or quirky sort would be well-advised to check out Son and Foe, a new online magazine with an interesting distribution model: It posts material from its editions on its Web site, but not all at once -- and it also offers a downloadble version, complete with multimedia goodies, for $3. I have the downloadable version, which I recommend over sucking down the free feed, because in addition to the fiction of the magazine, the short films and music that come in the multimedia packet are both good and curious: songs about massively decompressing planes and funny short films about high school gym riots (featuring elephants!) are highlights. It's a veritable smorgasbord of offbeat tidbits, and I've been having fun sampling the buffet.

So check out the Son and Foe site, and if you like what you see, give thought to shelling out the three bucks for the whole package. It's a queer bill well invested, I'd say.

Posted by john at 09:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Outreach in Action: Gateway Science Fiction

Having bloviated yesterday that current science fiction offers few "open doors" for non-Science Fiction readers to check out the genre, I want to offer interested parties an opportunity to prove me wrong, or at the very least, prove that I've wildly overstated the issue. So, consider this your opportunity to suggest Gateway Science Fiction -- Good, recent science fiction for people who don't read science fiction.

Here are the conditions I'm setting upon recommendations:

1. Assume your audience is a reasonably literate human adult (25+) who is unstupid and technologically competent (i.e., can use a computer, cell phone and iPod), but whose literary SF experience is limited to whatever SF they may have been assigned in high school and college.

2. While I love Young Adult books, focus on SF marketed to adults.

3. No books before 1995.

4. Book has to be primarily SF. A few fantasy elements are fine, but if you're an SF/F geek, you probably have a good idea where the line is. If not, see here for a decent arbitrary dividing line between SF and fantasy.

5. Recommend a book that you would actually recommend to someone; which is to say, don't recommend a book just because its geek form factor is low enough that a mundane reader can follow the tech. A book that has a low technological barrier of entry but which has a lousy story is not going to be a good book to recommend to anyone.

6. Refrain from buttering up the host by recommending one of his books. I mean, thanks and all, but no. Also, refrain from recommending your books, even if they're perfect gateway SF. Let's share the love here, not bogart the gateway goodness.

There are the ground rules. Now: What have you got?

Posted by john at 06:13 AM | Comments (144) | TrackBack

December 15, 2005

"Alien Animal Encounters" at Escape Pod

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Image: Douglas Triggs

Can't wait until the Synthetic Confusion convention for someone to read my work out loud? Well, then, you shouldn't have to. The fine folks of Escape Pod have enacted my short story "Alien Animal Encounters" in verbal form and placed it into a convenient podcast package here. Download it and carry with you always as a symbol of your undying love for me and/or Escape Pod and/or science fiction and/or podcasts. So much love. Enjoy!

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

Science Fiction Outreach

A question from the audience:

Greg Benford and Darrell Schweitzer have written an article on fantasy overshadowing science fiction and what that means to society.
Rather than bias you with my opinion, I would like to hear yours since you’re a rising SF writer of demonstrated intelligence. Hopefully, you’ll blog about it. The article is at http://benford-rose.com/blog/?p=3

I read it. I also read Elizabeth Bear's and Scott Lynch's take on the matter as well, which I commend to folks who are interested in the topic. I won't rehash any of their opinions here, since they're extensive, so go ahead and take a gander; I can wait until you get back. Or just go on ahead; I think what I have to say on the matter is fairly clear regardless.

Speaking specifically about Benford/Schweitzer, I think they're overthinking the matter by a considerable margin, because, of course, overthinking is what science fiction writers do. I think tying in the rise of fantasy and decline of science fiction to ominous cultural trends feels nice, because there's nothing like being held in the pitiless thrall of a world-historical hairpin turn toward entropy to make one feel better about the fact that it's JK Rowling making a billion dollars from her books and not you. Let that woman have her blood money! We'll all be fighting the cockroaches for scraps soon enough! However, I personally believe the problem is somewhat more prosaic, and it comes down to marketing and writing problems that science fiction literature has that fantasy does not; namely, that math is hard, and science fiction looks rather suspiciously like math.

Because science fiction literature is math, damn it. The best SF book of 2005, in my opinion, is Charlie Stross' Accelerando -- more mind-busting ideas there per square inch than any other book this year, and on the off chance Old Man's War gets nominated for any awards this year, I shall be pleased to have my book lose to Charlie's. That being said, and as I've said before, Accelerando is for the faithful, not the uninitiated -- and if you look at the significant SF books of the last several years, there aren't very many you could give to the uninitiated reader; they all pretty much implicitly or explicitly assume you've been keeping up with the genre, because the writers themselves have. The SF literary community is like a boarding school; we're all up to our armpits in each other's business, literary and otherwise (and then there's the sodomy. But let's not go there). We know what everyone else is writing, and are loathe to step on the same ground. This means SF is always inventing new vocabularies of expression, which is good, but it also means the latest, hottest vocabularies are not ones that, say, my voraciously-reading but resolutely middle-of-the-road mother-in-law has any hope of understanding. It's math to her. Which is bad.

Meanwhile: Fantasy. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: My mother-in-law can read that just fine. Harry Potter? She's got the books. American Gods? Maybe a tinge gothy for her, but she could handle it. Just about the only commercially significant fantasy writer of the last decade whose books I couldn't give her right off the bat is China Mieville, mostly because Mieville is generating a fantasy mythology informed by the tropes of recent SF (his fantasy is like his remade characters -- a delightfullly grotesque mashup). I think of giving my mother-in-law Perdido Street Station and giggle for the rest of the night. But, as I said, Mieville's the exception, not the rule (and anyway, I love his writing enough for the both of us). Fantasy writers are no less in each other's armpits than SF writers, to be sure, but they're not pushed to reinvent the wheel every single time they write a book; the vocabulary of their genre evolves more slowly. It's not math, or if it is, it's not math of the higher orders, and people like my mother-in-law can dive right in.

And this is the point: Fantasy literature has numerous open doors for the casual reader. How many does SF literature have? More importantly, how many is SF perceived to have? Any honest follower of the genre has to admit the answers are "few" and "even fewer than that," respectively. The most accessible SF we have today is stuff that was written decades ago by people who are now dead. You all know I love me that Robert Heinlein as much as anyone, but why does my local bookstore stillhave more of his books than anyone else's in the genre? The most effective modern "open doors" to SF are media tie-ins, which have their own set of problems: They're fenced in grazing areas that don't encourage hopping into the larger SF universe, and also, no one but unreconstituted geeks want to be seen on the subway with a Star Wars or Star Trek book in tow.

Thanks to numerous horrifying lunchroom experiences growing up, SF geeks are probably perfectly happy to be let alone with their genre and to let the mundanes read whatever appalling chick lit and/or Da Vinci Code clone they're slobbering over this week (Now, there would be a literary mashup for the ages: The Templars Wore Prada! It'd sell millions!). But then we're back to the Benford/Schweitzer lament, aren't we: SF is getting lapped by fantasy in terms of sales and influence and will probably continue to do so. It's all very well to say the world has turned its back on SF, but if SF authors and publishers are saying this while resentfully suggesting that we didn't much like that stinky world anyway, and that it's much more fun here with all our friends, who, like, totally get us already -- well, let's just say I find I lack much sympathy for the genre if this is going to be our position.

Darrell Schweitzer wrote in his lament that if someone wrote a SF novel as compelling as Stranger in a Strange Land, that people would read it despite it being science fiction. I find this formulation incredibly off-key. People are writing books as compelling as Stranger in a Strange Land today; they're simply writing them for an audience who has already read Stranger. And God knows that any science fiction book that apologizes for being science fiction or that begs the reader to try it even though it's science fiction (horrors!) is doomed to failure, because no one follows up on a pity read. They won't call it tomorrow, they won't send an e-mail, they won't ping it when it's on IM, and they'll pretend not to see it at the next party they're both at. A pity read is an awkward, awkward thing indeed.

What we need are people who are unapologetically writing science fiction -- and are unapologetically writing science fiction for people who have never read science fiction before. You want new people to read science fiction? You want SF books to matter to the masses? Then do some goddamned outreach, people. Write an intelligent, fascinating, moving piece of science fiction for the reader who has always thought science fiction was something that happened to other people.

Don't dumb it down -- people can figure out when you're typing slow because you think they're moving their lips when they read. Just don't assume they've read any science fiction other than that one time they were made to read "Harrison Bergeron" in their junior year of high school. Make it fun, make it exciting, make it about people as much as ideas and give them a fulfilling reading experience that makes them realize that hey, this science fiction stuff really isn't so bad after all. And then beg beg beg your publisher to give it a cover that a normal 30-something human wouldn't die of embarrassment to be seen with in public. If we can do all that, then maybe, just maybe, science fiction as a literary genre would be back on its way to cultural relevance.

Not every science fiction author needs to do this -- the idea of some of our more bleeding-edge folks trying to model a universe for skiffy virgins is one best left unexamined -- but somebody should do it, and the rest of the SF writing crew should cut those brave volunteers some slack when they do. The person who reads intelligent but training-wheels-gentle SF today could be the one who is devouring Accelerando or other such advanced works tomorrow. That's good for us, good for them, good for the genre and good for the whole damn known universe.

And that's what I think about that.

(Update: Having said that there are few "open doors" into science fiction for non-SF readers, I asked folks to prove me wrong by offering suggestions for good "entry-level" science fiction for adults. Their answers are here.)

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (74) | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

Find the Old Man's War Trade Paperback in the Wild: A Contest

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At the doorstep today: The trade paperback edition of Old Man's War, which looks excellent and smells like lilacs. All right, it doesn't smell like lilacs, but it looks great and generally I'm extremely happy with it, although if you get it (or get it for someone else), I'd like to add a small caveat: Don't read the 4-page excerpt from The Ghost Brigades that's tacked on at the end, because it gives away a plot point I think is better not to be given away. Now, I personally don't read excerpts, nor know anybody who does, but someone must, otherwise they wouldn't put them in there. So if you are one of those people, don't read this one. Trust me. Pass it on.

Aside from this minor thing, the book is gorgeous and will make a lovely gift for the seasonal holiday of your preference. The official release date is 12/27, but as with the hardcover last year, it's likely to be out a couple of weeks prior, which is to say imminently. Indeed, its arrival is so imminent, that I am right this very second announcing a contest: The Find the Old Man's War Trade Paperback in the Wild Contest. The contest is thus: The first three people who send me photographic evidence of the OMW trade paperback in the wild will receive my chapbook "Sketches of Daily Life: Two Missives from Possible Futures" signed not only by me but also by Athena, which I figure will make it a super ultra collectible, and also, I know you all like her better anyway. In addition, I promise to mail the winners their prize before the end of the year (or have Krissy mail them, which is what's going to happen).

The only caveat is that each picture has to be from a different bookstore. Three pictures of the book from the same bookstore will not stoke my monstrous, monstrous ego. You know how it is. Alternately, should you choose to buy the book, you can send a picture of the book doing something exciting, like going to the beach, or performing elective surgery, or making out with Angelina Jolie or whatever. I'm not picky (hint: Go with the Angelina thing. Please.).

Anyway, that's the contest. Have fun with it, you crazy, crazy kids.

Posted by john at 03:17 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Mail Note

My host provider is having mail issues at the moment (the moment being about 12:30 Wednesday, 12/14/05), so if you've sent me mail in the last hour or so, I haven't received it yet, nor will I be able to until they get it fixed. I'll let y'all know when that happens. So, no, I'm not ignoring you. Or at least if I am, I have a technical excuse independent of me simply being a jerk.

2pm: Fixed. You may resume your campaign of e-mail harrassment.

Posted by john at 12:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

I Heart Instapundit, Part [Insert Large Number Here]

I suspect Glenn Reynolds should get a cut of my profits. At the very least, I'm going to buy him and the InstaWife a nice dinner when I see them. I suspect I owe a nice dinner to Steve Green, Stephen Bainbridge, Cory Doctorow and Eugene Volokh and their respective spouses/significant others as well. Maybe get them all around the same table. That's dinner conversation!

As a bit of early logrolling, I will say I am genuinely interested in Glenn's upcoming book An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, which at first glance seems like the zeitgeisty sort of book that will cause lots of people to whip out their highlighters to yellow up passages and mutter "so true" to themselves. I also wonder if Glenn himself is the model for the "Goliath" on his book cover. That looks like his hairline.

Posted by john at 02:28 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Bragging, Geek Style

Just want you uber-geeks to know someone you know has received advanced review DVDs of both the latest season of Dr. Who and Red Dwarf Series 7.

That is all.

Posted by john at 11:20 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

The Little Things

For everyone who remembers or cares, yes, I did finally get Firefox 1.5 to work swimmingly on both my computers; it involved uninstalling Adblock and installing the most updated version. 1.5 doesn't want to work with my WYSIWYG interface for Moveable Type, but I can live without that for a while. What I did miss were two extensions that hadn't been formally updated on the Firefox Extensions site: Copy Plain Text and Super DragAndGo. The former lets you copy text from Web sites without the annoying html coding it wants to drag along (this is useful for me when I'm doing community stuff for By The Way), and the latter lets you highlight a URL (say, in one's log file), and then click it and drag it a little to the side; when you stop clicking, it pops up the url in a new tab. In both cases it was a case of not missing what you had until it was gone.

So, small happiness today: I found versions of both this morning that work with Firefox 1.5. Now I feel like all is right with my world, speaking purely in the context of my Web browser. The little things really do mean a lot.

Posted by john at 10:18 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Ice Storm

We had an ice storm last night! And we also ran out of propane. What a lovely confluence of events. I could show you pictures of the Scalzi family shivering, but instead I'll just show you pictures of the ice storm instead.

Posted by john at 08:55 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

December 11, 2005

15 Things About Me and Writing

A variation of the meme in the entry immediately before this one. Naturally, if you're a writer, feel free to do your own version of this.

1. The first time anyone told me specifically that I could write and should keep working at it was when I was in the sixth grade; it was my teacher, Mr. Johnson. His comments were amplified by my freshman composition teacher, Mr. Hayes.

2. Since freshman year in high school, I've never considered doing anything else with my life other than being a writer.

3. At the risk of sounding egotistical, in a general sense writing is very easy for me. Specific projects may be difficult due to research or other factors, but the actual sitting down and crafting the words has never been a problem. When other writers talk about how hard writing is for them I can sympathize but not really empathize.

4. Despite it being easy to do, I can get distracted from writing pretty easily, which can get me in trouble. To some extent this is mitigated by my being able to write quickly (5K words a day is not uncommon for me), but one thing I continually try to work on is my ability to structure my time effectively.

5. I find it difficult to write if I'm not using a keyboard -- the act of typing is definitely part of my writing process. I write very differently when I am writing long hand or if I am dictating, and (in my opinion) not better. For this reason I am a bit anal about my keyboards. When I bought my Mac, I knew within a week that I couldn't think using the keyboard that came with the Mac; I tossed it unceremoniously. Now both my Mac and my PC have Logitech keyboards. Logitech keyboards apparently help me think.

6. I'm not a writer who works well in group settings. I don't like workshops (I have a caveat to that coming up) and I prefer my relationships with other writers be casual rather than professional; I would much rather have a drink with a writer and talk shop than try to co-write or start some sort of writing group. Now, this does not mean I think writers who like collaboration and creative consultation with other writers are doing something wrong; if it works for them, that's good and well. I just don't have the inclination for that myself.

7. Having said that, here's the caveat: I think it would be fun to teach at a workshop, and I like being an editor (on occasion; I don't know if I have the temperament to do it full time). The fact that I'm interested in teaching and editing but not in peer review and collaboration speaks volumes about me, I'm sure, but as I don't think what it says about me is a bad thing, that's fine.

8. Like most writers, I have a hard time judging what writing of mine is going to be particularly resonant with readers (and editors). Some of the writing I thought was not my best has been my most successful; some of the writing I liked the most no one has noticed. What is important is that I know when I'm writing crap, and that writing almost never gets seen by anyone else. So while I can't tell which of my writing is going to be successful, I at least know all the writing I put out there meets a minimum standard of readability, and that minumum standard is fairly high.

9. And having said that, I do have to say that one of my great challenges as a writer is making sure that my writing is more than merely facile. Writing quickly and not having to struggle to write is a blessing, to be sure, in pounding out sale copy; however, it can present huge issues in quality control. I threw out the first chapter of The Ghost Brigades about six times because what I wrote was perfectly readable, but it wasn't good -- and yes, there is a difference between "readable" and "good".

10. As a writer, I am not particularly interested in description unless it's necessary to the plot. For this reason, I think, I am sometimes asked if my novels started out as screenplays, since the convention in screenplays at the moment is not to be overly specific in description, since being so limits the film's casting directors and production designers.

11. Speaking of which, I have yet to write a screenplay. I'm vaguely interested in the format and I suppose if someone wanted to pay to me try to do one, I would. But it's not a storytelling format that calls to my soul. Having said that, I think I would be a pretty good script doctor, and I think it would be a lot of fun trying to bang an already-existing script into shape.

12. I'm not in the slightest bit romantic about writing -- I love doing it and I would do it even if it weren't my job, but as it happens it is my job, and since it's my job one of my aims is to make a lot of money doing it, so I don't have to do anything else. This is occasionally off-putting to other folks but I don't worry about that much. Being unromantic about writing doesn't make one a hack -- that comes when you don't give a crap about what you write, just as long as you get paid. I want to get paid, but I care about what I write. I write for money, but I don't write just for money.

13. Every year I buy a Writer's Market, and every year I never use it. I buy it to remind myself that if everything I have going for me at the moment craters and collapses, I still have a couple thousand other chances to still keep writing professionally.

14. I have no good answer for "what would you do if you didn't write?" I can't imagine not writing. I can imagine not making a living at it, but that's an entirely separate thing. If I couldn't make a living writing, I don't think it would particularly matter what I did, since I doubt my self-image would be connected to that job.

15. I think I'm a good writer. I also think I've been a very lucky writer. Both have worked to my advantage at different times in my career. I know that some better writers have been less lucky than I, and that some worse writers have been more lucky. In both cases, I try not to worry too much about it. I just try to make sure that the luck I have eventually gets justified by good writing. If that gets me to a place where I can spread some of my luck around, so much the better.

Posted by john at 02:58 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

15 Things About Me and Books

One of the few blog memes I'm actually interested in participating in. I'm snagging this from Mrissa.

1. I don't remember not being able to read. Or more accurately, one of the very first memories I am sure about was reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was about two at the time.

2. Possibly the most influential book in my life was The People's Almanac, which I encountered when I was six at my grandmother's house. It seemed that everything in the world it was possible to know was contained in that book. So naturally I was astounded a few years later when The People's Almanac #2 showed up.

3. When I was in kindergarten my teachers had me tutor third graders on reading. As you may expect the third graders weren't pleased about that.

4. My love affair with astonomy started in kindergarten as well; I can still see the book on astronomy with pictures of stars of all different hues, and their temperatures listed beneath.

5. My mother used to scrounge old Time-Life science books and science textbooks for me from thrift stores. That was the coolest thing ever.

6. The first science fiction novel I'm entirely sure of reading was Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. The first fantasy novel I'm entirely sure of reading is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I'm pretty sure I also read A Wrinkle in Time around the same time, but I'm not sure whether it came before or after those other two books.

7. Because I both grew up poor and was in awe of books, to this day I read my paperbacks in such a way that I don't crack the spine. If you were to come over to my house, it would appear that all the paperbacks have never been open. They have, trust me.

8. In high school, I burned one of my math textbooks at the end of the year and immediately regretted having done so, to the point of actual shame. I still have the remains of the book to remind me that was essentially a betrayal of my beliefs.

9. It's only in the last few years that I've regularly bought hardcover books.

10. You would think that one of the cool things about being a writer is I can go into a bookstore and see my own books there, and you'd be right. But what's even cooler is going into a bookstore and seeing my friends' books there. It's like being able to visit them wherever they are.

11. There are some books in which I enjoy the writing so much, I can't bring myself to finish the book, because that would mean there is no more of the writing to read.

12. I am delighted that Athena both thinks that going to the bookstore is a treat, and that not being able to buy the entire bookstore is a tragedy.

13. As much as I love books, I am not a serious collector. I don't particularly care about first editions and the like. The value of books is what's inside them.

14. With the exception of Twain, I don't like reading novels written before the 1920s. The writing style is so different that it's distracting.

15. I'm not an audio book person. I understand why there is a market for them, and I don't think ill of people who listen to them -- that's just silly. And I wouldn't mind if one of my novels were made into an audio book. But, really, they're not for me. I read with my eyes, not my ears. That said, the people at Escape Pod are going to be doing an audio version of one of my short stories at some point in the near future, and I'm very interested to hear what that will sound like.

I'm going to do a riff off this meme soon.

Posted by john at 02:19 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

December 09, 2005

The War on Christmas Has Its Subversive Element

I see nothing in this year's idiotic "War on Christmas" campaign that causes me to revise what I said on the subject last year. That said, but I will say that the news story about a bunch of "megachurches" being closed on Christmas day adds a certain zesty tang to the whole proceeding, doesn't it? If the mass retailers of Christ can't be bothered to do up Christmas right, why should the mass retailers of DVD players? Speaking of DVD players, here's how one megachurch plans to spread Christmas joy to its parishoners this year:

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for the occasion that features a heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale.
"What we're encouraging people to do is take that DVD and in the comfort of their living room, with friends and family, pop it into the player and hopefully hear a different and more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message, that God is with us wherever we are," said Cally Parkinson, communications director at Willow Creek, which draws 20,000 people on a typical Sunday.

And you know what's really cool about that DVD? If you put on the commentary track, you can actually hear how the DVD makes the baby Jesus cry.

This is definitely one of those "mote in the eye" moments for the Merry Christmas Militants. How can a certain breed of willfully excitable Christian tell the rest of the world that saying "Happy Holidays" is just like stabbing Jesus in the crotch, if some of their more casual Christ's Club, arena-filling brethren can't even bother to pop in at Mary and Joe's place on Christmas day, and give their greetings to the birthday boy? I mean, really, who's crotch-stabbing Jesus now?

Clearly these members of the flock have lost their way. Before these militant types bother others about how they choose to approach the holiday season, maybe they should go back to deal with these lackadaisical apostates. You know, get them all in lockstep so they can present a united front when they tell other people how they should think and behave, so as not to make the persecuted and politically weak Christian minority in this country feel set-upon with Satan's syllables, "Happy Holidays." Maybe they entice them to the chapel with something festive, like, oh, I don't know, a Herod-shaped pinata filled with Contemporary Christian Music CDs and candied eucharists. Because nothing would say "Christmas" better. Well, except maybe a DVD.

But you know what? I don't think that would work. Honestly, if one is going to make the previously innocuous and friendly phrases "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" tension-filled code words for political and religious orthodoxy, one damn well better be sure one's shock troops are all in a line. You don't do that by pummeling paper-mache Romans with sticks. You do it with fear. It's not Christmas unless every living Christian soul is in a pew, whether they want to be or not, and it's up to all those Merry Christmas Militants to make it so. Because, you know, there's nothing Christians like better than being told by other people how to practice their religion. That's why that whole Protestant Reformation thing never caught on. Martin Luther. What a silly man he was.

So, to arms, you Merry Christmas Militants! Those lazy no-church-on-Christmas-Sunday so-called "Christians" are making a mockery of your cause and values! Quell these vipers in your midst! I think Bill O'Reilly bludgeoning the pastors of these churches with a peppermint-striped truncheon live on Fox News would be a wholesome and instructive start. It would really show everyone the spirit of the season -- or at the very least, the spirit some folks would like to see applied to the season, and those people are really the only people who count. And they wouldn't want these other "Christians" to make them look bad.

Christmas: If you're not with us, you're against us. Especially if you're Christian. Yes, yes. That's what Jesus was all about.

Posted by john at 09:07 AM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

Two Small Notes of a Literary Nature

And here they are:

1. Rick Kleffel interviews me over at The Agony Column about The Ghost Brigades, with side trips to other books and works.

2. We've decided on a tentative title for the collection of Whatever entries:

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Selected Writings, 1998 - 2005.

A tip of the hat to Jon Hansen, who first suggested the title; in addition to my thanks, I'll be sure you get a free copy. Just, you know, remind me when the time comes.

Posted by john at 12:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 08, 2005

Snowfall, With Dog, in Motion.

snowdog1208.jpg

I should note the night was pretty damn black when I took this picture; this particular picture was both taken with a very long exposure (we're talking at least twenty seconds) and then fiddled with in Photoshop. Which is to say it is not actually representative of reality. Which was black. Except the parts that were white, directly in front of me.

They say we'll get about five inches tonight. I also got a phone call from the school automated system letting me know there's a two-hour delay tomorrow. I'm betting by 6am it gets called as a snow day. Athena, of course, has already declared it such. That irrepressible tyke!

More long-exposed (but not Photoshopped) pictures of the snow (with patented snarky comments) await you here.

Posted by john at 10:13 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Christopher Robin is Out There in the Woods

As part of a barrel-full of Winnie the Pooh anniversary events, Disney is working on a new animated series that will replace Christopher Robin with a 6-year-old girl.

"We got raised eyebrows even in-house at first, but the feeling was these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide," says Nancy Kanter of the Disney Channel.

"Christopher Robin is still out there in the woods, playing," she says.

--

"One thing I had never noticed before," said Christopher Robin, "is how very large the Hundred Acre Wood is for such a very small boy."

Christopher Robin had been walking in the woods for quite some time. On his way to visit Pooh, he had the idea to go a new way. The idea came into his head -- plop! -- and so with a left where there was usually a right, Christopher Robin walked into the woods he'd known all his life, stepping high like a military drummer on the march.

For a happy time he explored through the woods, climbing trees, meeting squirrels and kicking leaves, all the while walking, or so he thought, toward the House on Pooh Corner. But as the wind took on just a bit of a chill, Christopher Robin stopped.

"What an odd thing," he said, to no one in particular. "I've been walking all this time, but I don't seem to have gotten closer to Pooh at all!"

Christopher Robin wasn't worried, of course. The Hundred Acre Wood was big enough for many adventures, and here was another. He recalled many times where Pooh and Piglet would set out on a journey and lose their way, only to find their way home in time for tea and honey. If that silly old bear could find his way home, so could Christopher Robin find his way to his friends.

But as the day wore on, Christopher Robin found that every part of the Hundred Acre Wood looked like a new part he'd never seen before. He went left and found a new stream, filled with frogs who croaked their unconcern for Christopher Robin's plight. He went right, back the way he came, but the trees seemed to have moved their places when he wasn't looking. So Christopher Robin went back again, to the stream with the croaking frogs, only to find he'd lost the way.

"This is a puzzle," Christopher Robin said. "And now I've become quite hungry and cold."

And so Christopher Robin began to run, first one way and then the next, looking for a tree or steam or path he knew, so he could find his way to his friends. He called out to them -- "Pooh! Piglet! Tigger! Rabbit! Owl!" -- but none answered, or if they did Christopher Robin did not hear them. From time to time, however, it seemed to Christopher Robin that he could hear them, just over a small rise, all his friend's voices, and a new voice he did not know. But when he ran that way he found nothing, just more trees and more leaves.

It was in a small pile of leaves that Christopher Robin finally lay, covering himself with their little brittle hands to ward off the chill of the night in the Hundred Acre Wood. "It's a simple thing, really," he said, bravely. "I've been looking for all my friends, and they have been looking for me! If I stay in one place, they will find me. And then we will go to Pooh's, where I will be warm and have something nice to eat."

And so Christopher Robin lay down in the leaves and went to sleep, shivering only a little, trusting in the love of his friends to find him and bring him home.

Posted by john at 09:47 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

December 07, 2005

Let's Judge Now

Quick note about the "Buchanan Vs. Bush" thing: In the comments, there have been a couple of folks who have suggested that it's not appropriate to start gauging how bad or good Bush is because, among other things, his administration is still in process and because we don't have sufficient perspective on how his administration has done its job; to get a decent historical perspective we need a decade or so.

Well, here's the thing. On one hand, this is pretty much correct: A nice, considered historical perspective will take at least a decade; two will be better. On the other hand, who gives a crap? I gotta live with this guy now, and right now, Bush is an awful president (though, as noted before, not as bad as Buchanan). Yes, I may be working from incomplete information about the man is doing; yes, there are things about his presidency that will only be appreciated in the dispassionate light of history; yes, it may turn out he's not as bad as all that. So what. Here and now, the dude's an Edsel.

Is it appropriate to judge Bush on an incomplete administration? Sure, why not? Barring impeachment and conviction (ha!) he's constitutionally guaranteed to be president through noon, January 20, 2009. But, you know, he could die any time. Another unsavory pretzel incident, perhaps. A stroke, brought on by contemplating his approval numbers. Presidential assassination is not unknown, although I wish to make it clear that despite my family history I wouldn't want that for any president, including the present inhabitant of the White House. Should the president die, for whatever reason, before 12pm, 1/20/09, there's the end of the Bush Administration. Chop, done. Easy to judge. Well, see. Purely as an intellectual exercise, there's no bar to imagining the administration done today, and judging from what we've got so far. And so far: Oy.

Another way to look at it is the baseball metaphor. Yes, you have to play the whole nine innings, but you know what? If it's the bottom of the sixth and your team is getting pummelled, have you no right to bitch about the bums in the dugout? Have you not seen the capabilities of the starting lineup? While holding out hope for a comeback, can you not already and justifiably have a sinking feeling in the gut? Sure you can. Listen: This is the bottom of the Bush Administration's sixth inning, and they're behind, like, 13-0, the players can't field, the starting pitcher has got a dead arm, and the manager is about to get ejected. If this game were taking place at Dodger Stadium, the parking lot would be dead by now. Even if the boys get a run or two, it's not too early to see where this one is probably going to go.

Now, like I said: You never know. The Bush Bombers may rally yet, and on January 20, 2009, I'll have to sit here typing something along the lines of, well, that George Bush sure pulled it out, didn't he? President Clinton, well, she will have a lot to live up to. But right now? Don't think so. Because right now, he's a terrible president.

Just, you know, not as bad as Buchanan.

Posted by john at 08:11 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

Sweet

Hey, look what shows up when you type "Christmas Specials" into Google. And it's number two on "Holiday Specials"! And isn't that every boy's dream? (In fact, it's no boy's dream. Even so.)

Posted by john at 10:32 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Standing Up for Dubya, Such As It Is

People here know I am no big fan of George Bush, but you know, I try to be fair to the man. This is why I'm going to defend him from this:

James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history... he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason...

Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan.

You know what, that's just a slander on poor Dubya. Yes, he is an awful, awful president: an incompetent of the highest rank, a man of profoundly limited intellectual curiosity who is to the modern American conservative movement what Charles II of Spain was to the Hapsburgs. It's always amusing to read conservative apologists for Bush, who wish the imbue the man with a sort of mystical deep thinking, such as as when they suggested that when Islamicist insurgents started flooding into Iraq that it was some rope-a-dope flypaper "master plan" rather than a consequence of the Bush administration having no strategy, or even an interest in a strategy, in Iraq once Saddam was hauled out of his rat hole. It ain't happening, people. Bush has all the vision of an Amish buggy horse: If it ain't directly in front of him, he's not seeing it. And let's not forget that an Amish buggy horse isn't exactly the master of his own destiny.

For all that, he's no James Buchanan. Perhaps the Civil War was inevitable -- perhaps it was even necessary -- but perhaps in both cases it was not, had there been a Chief Executive of the United States elected in 1856 whose entire plan for dealing with the sectarian issues rending the South from the rest of the nation had not been "well, let's just try to ride this out and let it be the next guy's problem." When he finally did become engaged on the issue, it was, as they say, far too little, far too late, and far too incompetently. Let's just say a president whose initial response on South Carolina seceding was to say "They can't do it, but I can't stop them" is not a man who deserves the comfort of letting another of his executive brethren front the "worst president" line in his stead.

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008. There have been other presidents whose administrations have been bad, incompetent, malingering or some unholy combination of all three. But only one president is unforgivable, and that's James Buchanan. They knew it at the time; during the Civil War they had to take down Buchanan's picture in the capitol rotunda because they were afraid someone would deface it. The deaths of 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, accrue to his account. Dubya's got a while before he gets there.

Again, this is not to minimize the badness of Dubya; he's a bad president, all right, and if one wishes to front the proposition that he's the least competent president since Buchanan, that's a legitimate argument in my book. It indeed takes some doing to cut in the line in front of Grant, Harding, Hoover and Carter, but Bush has got the goods, such as they are (Nixon was competent, he was just paranoid to the point of endangering the office of the presidency; he's bad, in a scary category all his own). But let's keep things in perspective: When it comes to worst presidents, Buchanan's the top, he's the Eiffel Tower. He's earned the title in perpetuity, or at least until a president comes along who actually and irreversably destroys the United States of America.

Bush isn't that president, and no one derives benefit in suggesting he is. I mean, honestly, people. Being the worst president since Buchanan is bad enough.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

Final Subterranean Magazine Submissions Post

Okay, all the acceptances and rejections for Subterranean Magazine's "Big Honkin' Science Fiction Cliche" Issue are now officially out. If you submitted a story and you haven't gotten a rejection notice by, say, Wednesday (I've heard from all of those whose stories have been accepted), you can go ahead and e-mail me, at which point, uh, I guess I'll tell you that I passed on your story. Sorry about that.

In happier news, I spent a part of the evening writing checks and sending people money through Paypal. Since most people got their acceptance notices on Saturday, this means the lag between acceptance and payment was two days for the people with PayPal accounts. This was because a) Subterranean Magazine publisher Bill Schafer was writer-savvy enough to get the editorial budget to me upfront, so there was no question as to whether the money was in the pipeline, and b) being a writer myself, I know that it's nice to, you know, get paid. So generally speaking as soon as I know where the money's going and how the author wants it to go, it's out the door. Which is not to say I'm a complete hero; Elizabeth Bear was superawesome and got a story to me early (and it rules), and I'm only now mailing the damn check. Dear Bear: I suck. Please forgive me. Anyway, the check's on the way now. I do have to say that there's very little nicer in the world than being able to give money to people whose work you admire. Especially when it's not your money.

The final line-up of stories is still pending while a few writers with extended deadlines tend to their stories and rewrites, but even with what we've got nailed down I think you folks are going to like what you see. There's a good mix of stories and story styles, and also a nice mix in the ways writers approach their cliches, from flat-out farce to pure mysticism. And here's something exciting: among the established names in the lineup I'm very pleased to say we have four writers making their publishing debut in Subterranean, with stories that are meditations on totalitarianism, tales of a Barsoom-esque Mars, a twisty Silicon Valley mystery, and a look at the human side of being a war machine. I'm not at all far removed from being a newbie SF writer (it hasn't even been a year since Old Man's War hit the stores, after all), so its an honor and a privilege to be able to hold open the door and sneak a few more people into the club. Hopefully they'll remember me when they hit the big time, and will, like, spare me some change. Wow, didn't you used to edit science fiction? Why yes, yes I did. Hey, are you going to eat that?

Also exciting: The story I got yesterday from Allen M. Steele, called "The Last Science Fiction Writer." Ooooh, I could tell you about it. But I'm not gonna. But I can tell you that if you knew what the story was like, you'd want me to tell you about it. Yes, I'm aware that makes no sense at all. But you know what I'm trying to say here, people. It's good, and I think you're going to like it. I think you're going to like the whole issue.

In any event. When I lock down all the stories, you'll get the full line-up. Until then, patience.  

Posted by john at 12:15 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 05, 2005

Sigh

Bird Flu: "When it comes to a pandemic, we are overdue and we are underprepared."

9/11 Panel: "Commission members gave the government 'more F's than A's' among the 41 grades measuring progress on security recommendations they issued last year.

Iraq: "Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops."

I wish I had a government I thought was actually interested in governing.
 

Posted by john at 04:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Adventures in Nucleation

My stars! What does that maniacally laughing small child plan to do with that Coke and those Mentos? Just you wait!

Shhh. Don't tell Krissy. 

Posted by john at 03:48 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Over the Wires

A story on my recent Tor deal at SciFi Wire. Enjoy in all its self-referential linkability!

Posted by john at 07:28 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 04, 2005

Things You Can't Tell About a Guy By Looking At Him

I see this picture a lot online. Not here on this site, but on other sites, where people have snatched it from here and not bothered to change the picture URL, so it shows up in my log files. The picture usually accompanies some snatch of text that chuckles to itself about how some red-state shitkicker who thinks a dinner at the Golden Corral and a Larry the Cable Guy concert is a sophistimacated evening has done managed to puzzle out teh intarweeb and put himself a picture online. Git 'R Done, duuuude! Yer a country superstar! Followed by a Dubya joke or something about sex with cousins and/or an indignant barnyard vertebrate.

Needless to say, I find these all deeply amusing. Not that I do anything about it; it's enough to know that their presumed symbol for the ignit white trash middle American is a largely liberal upper-middle-class author with a philosophy degree (who in this picture, incidentally, is wearing the t-shirt of his private boarding high school, the one with its own paleontological museum, scanning tunneling electron microscope and bronze foundry, which currently costs more to go to than most Americans make in a year). It's my own little private joke, which, of course, I'm now sharing with you. The assumptions of others are indeed a source of neverending amusement.

Posted by john at 11:10 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

December 03, 2005

Submitting Elsewhere

A question from one of the folks who submitted to the cliche issue of Subterranean, but whose work I passed on:

So having our work regretfully rejected, we dust it off and re-submit to another market. The problem is that these are pieces written with a specific theme for a specific market, i.e. the Big Honkin' SF Cliché Issue of Subterranean--and so they may be, well, a little more narrowly-focused than your generic SF story. Plus, SF  editors not actually living in caves (even Caves of Steel), they know about the BHSCI.

From the writer's perspective, the fear is that an editor of another SF venue will look at the story we've submitted and say "Aha, this is one that didn't make the cut for that Subterranean special issue. As if I'd want Scalzi's sloppy seconds." And then they would make the L-for-loser sign on their foreheads and giggle into their Chardonnay.

I don't much care about being giggled at, but is there a point to submitting this work elsewhere? Yes, yes, it's so brilliant that the Other Magazine Editor will be overcome and use it anyway, but they're likely going to get at least dozens of BHSCI type stories. What is your advice, O Guru? Do we ruthlessly try to cut and edit so as to hide the stories' origins? Brazenly submit to other SF magazines, daring them to have a problem with them? Wait for the excitement to die down and quietly submit them in a year or two?

The irony here is that one of the non-fiction pieces I have is from an editor of another magazine, discussing the issue of receiving submissions with cliches in them. So this is not an entirely inappropriate question.

First: Yes, there's a risk that some of the stories submitted to me will not be otherwise salable. This is one of the genuine hazards of writing on a specialized subject, and particularly this subject. To some extent I think this was mitigated by the fact that we were giving folks a chance to try some things they might not have otherwise, and that really came through in the reading; as with any group of submissions, some were good, some were bad and some were inbetween, but with nearly all of them it seemed like the writers were having fun. "Ha! Finally I can write about brains in a jar!" they said, or words to that effect (depending on which cliche they chose to tackle). So at the very least I hope the forbidden enjoyment of playing with cliches helps to take the sting out of possibly having difficulty selling the work elsewhere.

Having said that, I do honestly believe that several of the stories I passed on are eminently salable elsewhere, because the writers did exactly what I asked for -- took a cliche and did something unexpected with it. The problem with cliches is not that they're cliches; the problem with cliches is that people use them exactly the way you expect them to. But when they give you a cliche, lead you down the path where you think you know what's happening next, and then whack you upside the head with a surprise, well, then, that's a good thing, and I think that other editors will appreciate that just as much as I did. As I've noted before, a lot of the stuff I passed on was really good, it's just that the particular cliche in which the story trafficked was heavily subscribed (time travel, intelligent computers, etc) and I was trying to keep each cliche's presence in the magazine to one appearance (I did that. I think).

As to whether other editors will think they're getting sloppy seconds, well, I kind of doubt it. First, to be blunt about it, editors already get scads of cliched submissions already. Unless one goes out of one's way to note in a cover letter that the story had been rejected by me (which, you know, you shouldn't), the story's cliche in itself won't draw attention. What may draw attention is the somewhat more creative way in which the cliche is being used; unlike all the other cliched stories in the slush pile, the writers of these stories know they're playing with cliches and are trying to get them to do something new. Perhaps this will make slush reading marginally more bearable for editors over the next several months. We'll have to see.

Second, everyone in science fiction publishing gets everyone else's sloppy seconds anyway, per Robert Heinlein's famous dictum of getting the story out to publishers and keeping it out there until it gets sold. Heck, I know from reading people's online journals that at least a few folks dusted off old stories and sent them along to me; I didn't hold that against the stories (at least one of these made the first submission cut, but not the second), and I certainly don't hold it against the writers. Any science fiction editor who demands that he or she must receive stories unthumbed by any other editor damn well better be paying $2 a word, otherwise they're living in a nice little dreamworld. But I suspect most of the editors simply won't care where a story has been before; they'll just look to see if the story fits their market and tastes.

So, now, what should you do with your story? Well, if you think it reads well as it is, I say go ahead and send it out again. If you feel like it needs some retooling to make it less cliche-oriented for a more general market, then spend some time retooling it and then send it out again. If you want to wait until the Subterranean/Scalzi wave of cliche stories has subsided, that's fine, too. But as long as you think it's a good story, make sure you get it out there in the market sooner or later. I don't think the market will penalize you for sending it out sooner than later. But ultimately the writer is the best judge of what he or she is comfortable with.

I will say this much: As I was reading, I put all the stories in a master document file and did a triage of the stories by changing their font color after I'd read them. Changing the font color to blue meant I definitely wanted it, green meant I wanted to think about it more and red meant, well, you can figure out what red meant. When I was done looking at the stories, there was a lot of red (this is to be expected), but there was a surprising amount of green and blue in there as well. A number of the "blue" stories I couldn't take -- those are ones I think will have no problem finding a home elsewhere. And I think the "green" stories could have a pretty good shot, too.

We'll have to see. Like I said in the letters, I hope to see some of these pieces in other places, and I hope that once I see them again I think, "damn, I was a fool to let that one go." I want these stories to be published, even if I can't be the one to publish them.  

Posted by john at 09:13 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Interesting Data Point

Amount of time it takes from the moment you mail out an acceptance note to the moment a post declaring the news hits LiveJournal: roughly 30 minutes. Or thereabouts.

Posted by john at 08:39 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

December 02, 2005

Christmas Reruns

Just as an FYI, I've posted two of the three Christmas stories I wrote a couple of years up on a "miscellaneous" blog here at Scalzi.com. The first of these is a poem called "Jackie Jones and Melrose Mandy," in which a spoiled little girl learns there's more to life than getting everything you want, and the second is "Sarah's Sister," which is a Christmas story I wrote pretty much to get my mother-in-law to bawl like a baby (it worked). Both of these stories do not come anywhere close to the level of snark I usually promulgate here, and indeed "Sarah's Sister" may be the absolutely least snarky thing I've ever written -- the anti-snark, if you will. Just so you know (if you want snark, you'll want to revisit my "10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time," which I wrote at the same time and then subsequently sold to NationalLampoon.com).

I gave some thought to writing a couple of new christmas stories this year, but being terminally disorganized as I am I haven't done so yet. Still, I have a particularly nasty abuse of Santa rolling about in my head that I might get to. I make no promises.

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

How To Tell SF from F

Uh-oh. Just when we least expected it, a seminar on genre theory broke out online! It's about what the difference between science fiction and fantasy really is.

Call me unbearably shallow, but here's how you know the difference. You walk up to the main character of the story in question and say: "Hey! Main character! That deus ex machina doodad you have on your belt, does it have, like, a battery?"

If he says "Why, yes, there's a tiny nuclear fuel cell in there that will power this baby for 10,000 planetary revolutions," well, then, you've got some science fiction there. If he says, "Of course not, it was forged in the eternal flames of Mount [insert typewriter spasm here] by the dwarves who serve the elder and/or fallen god [insert second typewriter spasm here], and holds captive his immortal soul" or some such, well, that's fantasy. Everything else is pretty much elaboration and variation on the point.

If the story features a nuclear fuel cell made by the dwarf servants of the dread god Typewriter Spasm, what you've got is an editor asleep at the switch. Never fear, he or she will be beaten presently.

There. Settled. Now, let's cure cancer! 

Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

Subterranean Magazine Submissions Update

This is a general update re: submissions to the Subterranean Magazine "Big Honkin' Cliche" Issue, so please feel free to spread it around to all the folks you know are interested.

I've had a month to through material a second (and in some cases third) time, so in general I have a pretty good idea of what I'm taking and what I'll be passing on. As such 95% of the acceptance and rejection notices will be out to submitters by Monday 12/5 (I'm actually going to try to get to them today, but you know how that is). I will be sending those notices to the e-mail address from which the submissions came, so be aware of that if you used an alternate submission address.

As noted here, the rejection notices will be short and generally non-discriptive. However, I will say that I received several hundred submissions, and that the final magazine needs to clock in at no more than 65k words, so there was a lot of picking and choosing and horsetrading for the right mix of stories. This also means that some truly good stories that I wish to God I could have fit in I had to let go. This is particularly the case with time travel and intelligent computer stories, which were two very popular cliche topics. If you submitted a story with those topics, you should know the competition was extra fierce.

If you don't get an acceptance/rejection by Monday, don't panic. There is a small group of submissions I am still thinking about; consequently, some writers may get a note from me asking for some (quick) edits/revisions.

Without speaking too much about it, I have to say I'm immensely pleased with the stories that look to make the final cut; you're going to see some names you know plus some new faces as well -- I can think of one writer who I believe will be notching a first sale here, plus some other newer names as well. This pleases me immensely, of course. Among marquee names, we have a few, most of whom I can't mention at the moment. Two I can: Elizabeth Bear (whose piece I have mentioned before) and Jo Walton, both of whom have turned in what I consider to be exceptional pieces that dive right into their respective cliches and come out the other side with something completely new. I'll present a complete line-up of authors and story titles after the new year.

Questions? Leave them in the comment thread.  

Posted by john at 11:07 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

How Not to Plagiarize

I'm reading with interest this story about writer Brad Vice, who won a literary award and published a collection of short stories and then had the former revoked and the press run of the latter pulped when someone noticed that, hey, there's a short story here that seems at least partially written by another writer. Vice, who is a professor at Mississippi State University, said something along the lines of "whoops," claimed what he was really doing in lifting entire lines from another writer was an homage, and also claimed to be confused about that whole "fair use" thing. Meanwhile, industrious reporters have noticed the increasingly-aptly named Mr. Vice may have also lifted lines from other places as well, which certainly lends credence to the whole "shaky about fair use" thing, but also suggests the fellow may be a serial plagiarizer.

Now, this article from Media Bistro says to me that lifting junk from other writers is some sort of hot new academic trend -- "Issues of intertextuality, embedded narratives, and literary borrowing and homage were very much in the critical air through the 1990s" -- which I suppose marks yet another difference between academia and the real world, in that if I heavily excerpted text from, say, Olaf Stapledon, and presented it as original material in a novel, I suspect Patrick Nielsen Hayden would bring down a big fat cudgel on my head long before I would have to make up some lame "It's an homage!" excuse and Tor became obliged to pulp an entire print run of a book. Out here in the wild, claims of wanton intertextuality gone amuck pale in the face of the economic cost of a major screwup.

(Also, come on, let's get real: homage is one thing and plagarism is another, and someone who makes his cash as a professor of English at a major state university damn well ought to know the difference -- and know what's acceptable "fair use" to boot. If that's not actually in the job description from an English professor, it should be. And heck, Vice is the advisor to the MSU's English honor society! Oh, the shame. For its part MSU launched an investigation into Vice's lifting issues, which suggests tenure is not something he should hope for at this point.)

Being as I am someone who ripped off Robert Heinlein with wild abandon for Old Man's War, I'm the very last person who should suggest homage is not a legitimate literary technique. However, I would note that in my case I did two things which I think are of critical importance: One, I didn't actually cut and paste Heinlein's words into my manuscript, and two, I've been almost gaggingly upfront about what I've been doing. I thanked Heinlein in my acknowledgements, for God's sake. It beats deluding myself that no one would ever catch on to what I was doing.

As a matter of record, I did it again in The Ghost Brigades, where I found two ideas of fellow SF writers compelling enough to play off of them. One of the writers was Nick Sagan, whose ideas about consciousness transference in Edenborn were right in line with what I needed for TGB. Another was Scott Westerfeld; the brief space battle on pages 119-121 of TGB owes quite a bit to Scott's jaw-droppingly good extended space battle in The Killing of Worlds (his is the economy-sized version, while mine is the miniscule travel-sized version). In both cases I gave a head's up to the authors that I was going to play a riff off a theme they established, and of course I noted the riffs in the acknowledgements section of the book, listing the authors and the books, and describing them as "authors from whom I've consciously stolen."

Because why wouldn't I? I don't want to hide when I borrow; I'm comfortable enough with my own writing skills that I'm not threatened by acknowledging how much my writing is influenced by my able contemporaries. More to the point, I want people to know, because if they liked my tip of the hat, they should know where to find the inspirations. If reading The Ghost Brigades' acknowledgements (or indeed, this very bit of writing here) sends a few more readers to Nick and Scott, how could I not be happy about that? They're both excellent writers -- I thieve only from the best -- and deserve all the readers they can get. Also, and not insignificantly, it innoculates me from later accusations of idea poaching, since a guy who hands you an itemized list of the people he's borrowing from is clearly not worried about such accusations. I plead guilty, and hope you'll read these other excellent writers, too.

I'm not so sanguine about actual word theft, mind you; that space battle I mention above plays quite a bit like a miniature version of Scott's, but at least i typed all the words and word structurements out of my own brain rather than cracking open my copy of Killing of Worlds and transcribing from what lie therein. But I guess if one were going to do that, then one really should acknowledge it, shouldn't one? Because otherwise you end up with the situation Vice seems to be in. A little tip for you budding (and in Vice's case, not so budding) writers, which I encourage you to take freely and propogate widely: Unacknowledged "homages" are often indistinguishable from plagiarism. Yes, even when everyone "should" know the writer or the work you're homagifying (no, that's not a real word). A simple CYA statement at the end a story ("The author wishes to acknowledge [insert other writer here], whose story [insert story name here] this piece homagifies in an academically approved intertextual sort of way") will probably save a lot of heartache and print run pulping later.

It's a little early to expect homage or even simple theft of the books I wrote, but you know, if someone wants to play the changes on an idea I've had or a scene I wrote, groovy. Have fun with that. And if you want to note it in the acknowlegements of your book, even better. And if you want to send me a nice gift basket with an assortment of cheeses in it as a way of saying thank you, why, that would be best of all.

Posted by john at 09:30 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack