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February 28, 2006

Hangin' With the Larbalesterfelds

As long as I'm doing the mad crazy book pimp thing, let me not neglect Scott Westerfeld, whose concluding volume of the Midnighters Trilogy, Blue Noon, comes out tomorrow (but is available to order off of Amazon today). The Midnighters books are excellent YA, but you don't have to be an angst-ridden teen to enjoy them (it just, you know, helps). Here in Scalzi-land we've been feeding the Midnighters books to our niece after we're done reading them, you know, to hook another kid. It seems to have worked. Read them now before they're turned into a TV series; that way you can say were into them when they were still in the "keepin' it real, old school" phase.

And as long as I've pinged Scott, let me also ping his hubby Justine Larbalestier, who is also a fabulous YA writer and whose upcoming book Magic Lessons I will undoubtedly pimp here in another 17 days. Today, however, Justine's thinking on self-promoting authors, and where the fine line is between appropriate and useful self-promotion and just being an annoying twit about it. This is indeed something that any writer with half a brain worries about -- on one hand, how can you expect anyone to promote your work if you won't promote yourself? But on the other hand, no one likes a jerk who can do nothing but talk about his or her own work, to the exclusion of every other topic.

I don't want to go into this too deeply here because I think you all should visit Justine's site and comment there, but I think here are three things I would say:

1. For everyone but authors: First-time authors/novelists get a pass. Because you know what? It's their first time. For God's sake, be just a little extra-tolerant and let them enjoy the moment. You can give them the "dude, you're being a dick" speech if they're still pulling the same stunts with book #2.

2. That said: First-time authors, try to have a sense of scale, or at the very least, keep your navel-gazing to a single, safe place -- like, for example, your own blog. Some of you may recall that January 2005 was "All Old Man's War, All The Time" here on the Whatever, which annoyed at least one other science fiction writer something fierce. But, one, it was my first novel and I was excited about it and anyone telling me to calm down about it could be invited to kiss my ass (see point number one above). Two, it was all on my site and not much of anywhere else. If you can't do a little happy dance in your own home, virtual or otherwise, where can you? Out in the real world, however, I tried to keep the megalomania to a dull roar.

3. Authors on their second book and thereafter: If you're worried about excessive auto-pimping, there's a simple and equitable solution, which is that for every time you pimp yourself in any form, you pimp another writer before you pimp yourself again. Doesn't have to be the same other writer each time, mind you. Spread the love around, friend. Also, of course, be sincere about your pimpage; don't just name-check some random writer dude so you can start the conversational mad rush back to you, you, you. People aren't stupid. They'll figure that one out. Fortunately, most writers know other writers with whom they are friends and/or whose work they admire. There's always someone to give writerly love to.

Pimping other writers does two things: first it keeps you from looking like an irritating egotistical git, and second it starts the virtuous karmic cycle of writerly regard, in which other writers will offer up the same consideration to you. So, in short, pimp onto others as you would have them pimp unto you (be very aware, however, that this should not be a "quid pro quo" thing -- i.e., if you pimp someone and then keep score to see if they pimp you back, you lose all your writer karma points and in your next life you come back as a slush pile reader. Oh, stop with the screaming. You can avoid this fate).

Anyway, that's how I think one deals with self-promotion.

Posted by john at 02:03 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Dictionaries, VanderMeer, Pyr, Politics, Birthday

Fell asleep at 8:30, woke up at 3am: Man, I don't even know what's wrong with me. Anyway, now that I'm officially not tired, I thought I might write up an "odds and ends" sort of thing. Looking back after having written it all I realize it'd probably read better broken up into at least three separate entries (it's just that long), but I'm too lazy to do that now. Read a chunk, take a rest, have a light snack, and then come on back for the rest.

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* One of the cool things about being of a certain age (which is, mid-thirties) is that one's contemporaries have moved on from being flunkies and underlings and are now beginning to run things and do interesting stuff. For example, my old pal Erin McKean, who used to work at the U of C's student newspaper with me, is now Editor-in-Chief of US Dictionaries for Oxford University Press, which I think is a pretty awesome job to have, because, dude, she's in charge of all the words. During our discussions about another matter entirely, I somewhat pathetically hinted that I had accidentally dropped my personal dictionary into a tar pit (or something), which resulted in the arrival of The New Oxford American Dictionary, second edition, as well as the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, both of which Erin edited and/or oversaw production.

And you know what? They're both actually delightful, which is not a word one generally uses with dictionaries and thesauri. But it works here. Both books are really well-designed books in a visual sense, which makes it easier to use them intelligently. For example, the dictionary highlights word usage in grey boxes to alert you when there's an issue or controversy with a word. To use a recent example from this very blog, here's what the NOAD, 2nd ed has to say on "alright":

The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling of alright is first recorded toward the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting that all right be two words when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, although found widely, alright remains nonstandard.

I'm not at all fan of "alright" myself, but this dovetails into my thinking that the word had the misfortune of being popularized in an era during which books on grammar and usage became the rage and found itself on the wrong side of the proper usage fence. I suppose this makes makes the "all right"/"alright" thing like a secret club handshake, i.e., if you know how to use it correctly you can get into the Grammar Club, which is like Mensa, except with watercress sandwiches rather than Cheetos for snacks.

The Writer's Thesaurus, in addition to all the usual synonyms and antonyms one finds in such a book, has a very cool feature in which an eclectic group of word users which includes David Foster Wallace, David Auburn and Stephin Merritt (yes, music fans, that Stephin Merritt) contribute little essays on the word usage; it's quite a thing to have David Foster Wallace warn you off from using "utilize" ("using utilize makes you seem like either a pompus twit or someone so insecure that he'll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look smart") or to have Erin herself -- Mistress of All Words, remember -- explain how "classy" is a self-defeating words because "anything described as classy generally isn't." This is appallingly true if you think on all the women you know who have described themselves to you as classy, usually through lips from which dangled a Virginia Slim (men don't use the word to describe themselves; indeed, if a man were to use the word to describe himself, a group of other men would spontaneously appear from offstage and proceed to beat the holy living crap out of him).

In short, both the NOAD, 2nd and the Writer's Thesaurus are fun to read, as well being excellent reference texts powered by the unfathomably large database of words known as the Oxford English Dictionary. If you're looking for a new dictionary and/or thesaurus, these two really are excellent, and I recommend them. My hat is off to Erin on these. They're great. I'm glad she's in charge of all the words.

(as an aside, read this story from the New Yorker about the word "esquivalience," which is to be found in the NOAD, 2nd ed and in other dictionaries, much to the amusement of Erin and her staff.)

* Good news for people who don't want to pay $60 for a hard-to-get copy of Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen: Today marks the release of a new trade paperback edition, which is rather more reasonably priced. Also to entice you, the book has its own site devoted to it, on which you'll find book-related music and art, and selections from the book itself. Jeff writes both more artfully and more weirdly than I do, so if "weird and artful" is what you want from your reading experience -- and I don't know why it wouldn't be -- you'll want to check out this book.

* Also recently in the mail: a big-ass package of books from Pyr, which is tearing things up with some really excellent SF releases. In the package were two books I'm particularly interested in: Ian McDonald's River of Gods and Keith Brooke's Genetopia, the former of which was nominated for just about every award possible and the latter of which just got a nice starred review in Publishers Weekly ("impressively conceived, poignantly drawn"). River appeals to me particularly because I am researching India at the moment for one of my own books; I cracked open the book yesterday to check out a few pages and lost an hour and a half, which was no good because i'm behind on a couple of things -- damn you Ian McDonald! But once I get squared away I'm looking forward to diving into River more fully, as well as Genetopia.

* Conservative blogger Joseph Tranfo reviews The Ghost Brigades here, and sees parallels between my discussions of choice in the novel, and a historical concept called "contingency," which has a champion (or so Tranfo suggests) in a conservative historian named David Hackett Fischer, and in which history can be seen as "a series of real choices that living people actually made." Says Tranfo: "As a conservative, Scalzi's 'choice' theme resonated with me, and that might very well be why I enjoyed the book as much as I did."

I've not read Fischer nor am acquainted with the "contingency" school of historical thought, but I certainly see it as axiomatic that history is the result of individual choices. I can see the argument that a focus on individual choices could be seen as a conservative thing (particularly if viewed in opposition to a Marx-inspired view of the power of the masses in a world-historical sense), but I don't particularly view it through a political filter. My fundamental view of individuals and the importance of the choices they make actually comes from Einstein, via one of my great teachers, Larry McMillin, and his Individual Humanities class at the Webb School of California. Einstein, who thought a great deal on education, wrote that the aim of education should be the creation of "independently acting and thinking individuals who see service to their community as their highest life crisis." Humans are capable of acting individually and making choices; therefore humans should be encouraged to act individually and make choices, and also taught that choosing to make a positive difference in the world through their own actions is a critical thing.

This conceptualization of the importance of the individual is rather immutably a part of Western thought, and an integral part of the American character, although the "service to the community" aspect gets lost from time to time, whether in a 70s "looking out for #1" way, an 80s "greed is good" way, a 90s "what do I care, I have shares in an Internet company" way, or in the top-down "the hell with anyone making less than $100k" way of the current moment. One somewhat recent American leader who did memorably crystalize the idea of the individual in service to his community was John Kennedy, when he said "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Now, whether Kennedy's implementation of that sentiment was effective or not, it's still a galvanizing line, and reflects the idea that we, as individuals, have to make choices and have to act on them for the betterment of ourselves and others.

The power of the individual -- and of the importance of individual choice -- probably is a conservative idea, in a very old school definition of the term, but it also gave birth to liberal thought -- again, in a very old school definition of the term. So in the end, as a purely political matter, it's probably a wash, particularly in current American politics, in which the terms "conservative" and "liberal" have been unmoored and are now free-floating nonsensical terms whose definitions are relative to loci of power. George W. Bush, for example, is conservative by any sane definition of the term exactly as much as I am a bicycle; if a liberal politician had tried to do the things he's done during his presidency conservatives would have met up in their think tank parking lots to fire up their torches and then marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to light up the White House -- and they would have been right to do so.

As it stands American politics today is as philosophically coherent as a rugby scrum of orangutans; it's not actually politics, it's just some weird variant of team sports played by the same wonky people whom the high school football defensive line would kick the shit out of during lunch (this explains how someone like Ann Coulter managed to get on the political cheerleading squad). It's a bad enough situation that for the forseeable future I've decided to avoid content-bearing descriptors to describe political positions, because it's simply inaccurate usage. George Bush isn't conservative or Republican, he's just on the right; many of those who oppose him aren't liberals or Democrats, they're just on the left. The current politics of the right have to do with genuine conservative thought as much as Beggin' Strips have to do with thick-sliced hickory-smoked pork bellies, and just as dogs can't tell it's not bacon, so Fox News viewers can't tell it's not actual conservatism. The politics of the left... well, that's just a pile of incestutous snake breeding at this point and I don't want to bother with it. None of the politicians right or left seem especially engaged in the idea of the American citizenry and electorate being anything more than a well of votes to be cast with no more thought than one would give to mashing buttons to get one's vote in for American Idol. And you know, I think that's bad.

Bear in mind this is not a cri du coeur for a return to a simpler, golden time in American politics when all politicians were statesmen and all voters stalwart free-thinkers, because that never happened; hell, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton over dirty politics, and they were Founding Fathers (let's not even mention what went down between Adams and Jefferson, or Jackson and the other Adams). And they were all the top card; what was simmering down in the Congress was an even more dingy stew. And if you think people are ill-educated today, introduce yourself to the average frontier voter of 1836 sometime. It's bad today, but it's always bad to a greater or lesser extent; people are what they are. (It's also always good to a greater or lesser extent, which gets lost in the shuffle.)

Nevertheless, from time to time in American life there are people who either individually or in groups call on Americans to think for themselves, make their choices and serve their country. What a genuine delight it would be to have people on either side of the arbitrary right/left divide that exists in politics today do that very thing -- and what an even greater delight if people listened. If this were to happen there would still be a right and a left, but their differences would be a matter of actual philosophy; which is to say there would be actual conservatives and liberals, with political philosophies that legitimately tracked with their nominal descriptors. That would be a change, and it would be nice.

* Finally, happy birthday to my friend Deven Desai, who is now old enough to run for President, but can't, as he was born in India to (then) non-American citizens. A loss for us all.

Posted by john at 06:35 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

In the Groves of Academe

This is interesting: I'm being taught! Which is to say that Old Man's War is being used in a literature survey class at Clarkson University by professor Joseph Duemer. The class is on colonialism, which makes it a reasonable fit, since there's a colonial governmental structure in the book.

However, it doesn't appear as if Professor Duemer includes the book because he especially enjoys it:

Scalzi’s prose doesn’t look so good when compared to Camus & Conrad, whom we’ve been reading, but his dramatization of the Colonial Defense Forces—armed to the teeth against all that is not human—will be a useful point of reference in thinking about Conrad’s Marlow going up that alien river in Africa & encountering all those inhuman beings. Basically, Old Man’s War is a kinder, gentler Starship Troopers, but not that much kinder & not that much gentler. It reproduces Heinlein’s prurient, if jocular, attitude toward both sex & violence; & though it lacks Heinlein’s fully-developed militarism & fascism, it manages a kind of Bowdlerized celebration of military power that in the end is probably more dangerous because it is less easily caricatured. In Heinlein’s novel, only the military gets to vote; in Scalzi’s story, nobody cares about the vote, but only the military has bodies capable of X-Games sex & X-Games violence.

To paraphrase Marge Gunderson, I'm not sure I agree one hundred percent with Professor Duemer's police work, there, but the interpretation he presents is not an unreasonable one all things considered. I think it would be interesting to know how Professor Duemer's students will see me, mediated through him. And like him I think OMW could be an interesting framing device for the other works Duemer will present. Duemer's correct that I'm not the stylist Conrad is, incidentally; but then not many people are (what makes Conrad's skill particularly galling is that English was his third language). But it's probably the case my prose is more immediately accessible to current students, if only because I'm alive and working now, whereas, say, Heart of Darkness is a century old. If among other things reading me helps Conrad go down slightly easier for a flummoxed freshman, well, then my work here is done.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind being taught one day for my work's qualities rather than as a point of reference for admittedly better books. But still this is a nice first step in the academic world. The day someone uses me for a doctoral thesis, now. That day I can die happy.

Posted by john at 12:54 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

February 26, 2006

Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades e-Books: The (Semi) Official Announcement, Plus a Long Writing Screed



I'm getting tons of e-mail asking me about this so let me tell you what I know:

1. Yes, Tor will be putting out official electronic book versions of Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades.

2. The release dates for the e-Book versions of OMW and TGB are "very soon now (probably in March)" and "some time after very soon now," respectively.

3. No DRM, because DRM on e-books is a silly thing.

4. Release dates, formats and etc are not set in stone yet (say that three times to yourself, or as many times as you need to believe it), so please curb your enthusiasm to managable levels for now.

Here's the somewhat fuller story. As many of you who read science fiction already know, for some time now Baen Books has been publishing many of its titles as e-books as well -- and in a nicely non-annoying Digital Rights Management-free style that says to readers, "hey, we trust you." Perhaps as a result, Baen is one of the few real-world publishers whose e-book division isn't a massive tidal flow of suck, either in terms of finances or in reader aggravation. Baen offers books both through a paid service called "WebScriptions," and a free service (primarily of backlist books) called the Baen Free Library.

Tor Books, which is the publisher OMW and TGB are at, has apparently decided that the way Baen is doing business in the e-books sphere makes more and better sense than any other model, because the two of them are joining forces to offer an e-book initiative for Tor titles. People who know more than me in this matter asked me to stress to you all that there are still fine points to nail down -- not to mention the actual issues of preparing the books for electronic presentation -- so please please please please please be prepared to show some measure of patience during this, the construction period. Seriously, folks, cut them some slack while they set this up.

Having said that, I know that Old Man's War will be part of the very first slate of e-books offered by Tor, so when this Tor/Baen initiative gets switched on, OMW will be there, all winsome and electronic, begging for you to take it home and cuddle with it, using the electronic reader of your choice. TGB does not have a set release date but it will eventually show up. My assumption is that it will be in concert with the paperback release, but I'm not exactly sure how Tor is going to do it, and you know what? I'm not going to tell them how to do that part of their business. I know they want to make money, and I know they've been good at making me money, and for now, that works for me.

To answer questions I know I can answer:

Will this be like Baen's "WebScriptions" plan? Don't know. That particular line of details is hazy to me. All I know is my books will be available; whether a la carte or part of a larger subscription plan, I'm not sure.

Will there be a "Tor Free Library" like the "Baen Free Library"? Again, I don't know. And if there is it's deeply unlikely OMW or TGB would be in it, since they're not quite "backlist" enough. I need to have a few more books before I can actually be thought to have a backlist.

What formats will your books (and others) be in? My understanding is that they will be available in Palm, Microsoft Reader and HTML formats as well as in other formats, too. Whatever you want to read on, you should be able to find a version that will work for you.

No DRM? Really? Really really. Why? Allow me to quote Tor's Patrick Nielsen Hayden on this one:

We've tested a lot of e-book waters, including various cockamamie schemes involving overpriced e-books laden with DRM.Oddly enough, a lot of those "books" didn't even sell enough copies to pay for their file-conversion costs.

Meanwhile, it hasn't escaped our notice that Jim Baen has been doing something that works, that people like, and that makes money. I'm delighted to be doing this pilot program; I think Jim has been clueful on this issue for a long time, while almost everyone else in publishing has been staggering around on stage hitting one another over the head with inflated pig bladders.


This is a very fine point to make: Tor's not doing this because it's a golly-neat idea, they're doing it because it makes money -- or at the very least, makes money for Baen, a book publisher who happens to be in the same line of business as Tor. Look, I know this much about Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor: the man knows the book business rather precisely like a jaguar knows his bend of the Amazon -- he knows every rock and cranny and food source and has an instinct about how to sell books that just plain weirds out other folks. I don't see him giving a greenlight to something that's going to mess with his livelihood, or the livelihood of his staff and writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor's senior editor, is likewise unspeakably smart and also knows his business. The two of them make money -- and more importantly for me, have helped me make money. If they think this is worth doing, I'm going to listen to them because selling my work is their business -- literally (a word that works on many levels here).

Now, it is axiomatic that the interests of a publisher and the interests of the writer do not always coincide. But this is where my own not small experience with the online world comes into play. More than most writers, I'd say, I am aware of the value of electronic editions of my work, both as a tool for reader acquisition and as a profit center. I know I've made money selling DRM-less editions of my books online (as shareware, even); I know electronic versions of my books have promoted sales of my physical books. And anyone who knows me knows I'm not a huggy-squeezy socialist hippie when comes to making money, which (among other reasons) is why I tend to make more money than most other writers at my level of fame (read: mostly obscure). My feeling on the matter is that these particular e-books are likely to be a good financial deal for me.

But aren't I worried about (arrrrrr!) piracy? Someone could just take one of my DRM-less novels and share it online! With everyone! (Arrrrrr!)

Well, see. The problem with digital rights management for literature is that there's a huge analog hole in the security called "books." Over at Baen's Bar, the online bulliten board run by the Baen folks, one of the members there describes how he's made an unofficial personal e-book version of Old Man's War with "a hardcover copy, an Epson scanner, FineReader 6.0, and some eyeball sweat." You know what's keeping him from uploading that copy to one of the online file-sharing services? Aside from his own personal sense of morality, not a damn thing. More to the point, anyone with a internet-enabled computer, a scanner, OCR software and a library card can do exactly the same thing.

Don't get me wrong: If you're stupid enough to upload a book of mine and leave a trail of crumbs I can follow back to you, I'll be quite pleased to sue your ass (or more accurately, will be quite happy to have Tor sue your ass, because its corporate parent Holtzbrinck has got a whole flock of lawyers assembled just for that very purpose). My information does not want to be free; it wants to pay my mortgage. But slapping DRM onto an e-book doesn't do a damn thing other than annoy people who buy the book online -- i.e., one's actual customers.

The only possible way to make to make DRM work for e-books at all is to stop selling physical books, and even then it's doomed to failure. You can lock down the text, you can even lock down the computer (so, say, you can't take a screenshot of the page while the DRM-protected text is online). But you can't lock down people's eyeballs. Or their fingers. You know what's stopping a pirate (arrrrr!) from typing up an entire book? Nothing. And maybe you're thinking that most people wouldn't bother, but you have to remember: In the digital age all it takes is one person, and there are enough people out there who would do it just to make the point that they can. In short, DRM for e-books is pointless and stupid and it's just as well Tor is shut of it.

Will people share the e-text? Probably. Will it cut into my sales? Don't know about that. For one reason, although book publishers don't talk much about it, sale volumes on books is low relative to the sales volume of other entertainment media. If a writer sells 50,000 copies of a novel from a major publisher, she gets to call herself a "best-seller;" if a musician sells 50,000 copies of an album from a major record label, she gets to call herself "released from her contract." The major problem for authors is not piracy but obscurity, as I and so many others have noted again and again and again and yet again after that. I'm doing pretty well as far as readers go, especially as a newer-ish novelist, but I wouldn't mind having more readers, and people sharing the book is one way to do that. Please, folks, won't you let your friends borrow a copy of my book? I thank you for your evangelism.

For another reason that follows logically from the first, if I may be allowed an ego moment, I believe I write well enough that my writing creates fans -- that is to say, people for whom I am a favorite writer, and who wish to see me succeed and who understand (quite rightly, as it happens) that their going out to the bookstore and picking up the book makes a material difference in my life, and therefore want to show their appreciation in that way. This isn't just based on an inflated sense of ego, mind you; back when I was still calling Agent to the Stars "shareware," I said the suggested contribution was $1. But when people sent in money, they sent in rather more than that; my average net (even throwing out the guy who sent in $200, because he was clearly an outlier) was something like $3.70, and over the course of its shareware run it made $4,000. Which ain't bad for a shareware novel from no one back when the site was getting between 500 and 2,000 visits a day. I'm mildly curious to see what would happen if I offered a "shareware" work today. Maybe I'll do that at some point.

However, my point now is that I'm a writer, and a major part of my business as a writer is creating a community of readers who are invested in my success. My books are part of that (as long as they're worth reading, that is); this site is part of that. When someone shares a work of mine, that's an opportunity for me to invite someone new into that community. Some people will join in, some people won't, but on balance I believe based on my personal experience that there will be enough of these people to make a career, as long as I keep up my end of the bargain and bang out words worth reading.

There are likewise a number of writers who believe that e-books could spell doom for us all -- that one person will buy a book and a thousand people will share it and we'll all starve. Of course they have a perfect right to believe this, but while leaving aside any questions of literary competence (which often has nothing to do with book sales, alas), I've noticed many of these writers aren't actually selling books in the here and now. Does this matter? Sure it does. The opinion of someone selling cars today is more informed than that of someone who stopped selling cars when the Chevey Citation was on the production line; the opinion of someone selling computers today is more informed than someone whose experience with computers ended with the Apple ][. Publishing changes slowly but it certainly does change; it's not the same market it was even five years ago, and certainly not the same market as it was a decade back (it is, I am assured, utterly unrecognizable from what it was twenty years ago).

I am selling books in the here and now; so is my editor and so is my publisher. We all like to make money. We are saying e-books could indeed make us money, and not just a little, but enough to matter. We're also saying that we have enough faith in the books we make -- and in the people who read them -- that people will continue to buy them, regardless of the media in which they exist, and even without locking them down with some pointless security scheme. We could be wrong about this, but I doubt we will be.

Posted by john at 05:20 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Octavia Butler

Steven Barnes has a blog entry reporting that SF writer Octavia Butler has died. I don't know anything else about it at the moment than that, but I thought I would pass the information along. When/if there is other verification of this news, I'll note it.

Update, 4pm: Blogger Edward Champion writes that he called the King County, WA coroner's office, which confirmed Ms. Butler's death. Still waiting for an official news story, but I rather deeply doubt either Barnes or Champion is incorrect at this point.

Posted by john at 12:56 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

InstaPodcast

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was interviewed by Glenn and Helen Reynolds for their podcast series. The podcast is now up, and you can get the relevant links to it through this Instapundit entry (or this Dr. Helen entry, if you prefer). Also on the podcast is Tim Minear, the producer of Firefly and Angel and other SFnal delights. So all around it's a pretty nifty listen, although after hearing myself blabber on I've made a note to myself not to use the word "basically" so damn much. It's always something.

Posted by john at 12:30 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

February 25, 2006

International Embarass Yourself as an Artist Day

Elizabeth Bear throws down a challenge to the writers:

Okay, I double-dog dare you. Go ahead and post the awfullest, grottiest, ancientest piece of juvenilia you still have a word processor that will open. I'll wait.

Then we can all congratulate ourselves on how far we've come.

I can do that.

Behold "Ice Machine," a story named after an obscure Depeche Mode song but otherwise having nothing to do with that band or that song: It's about a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer -- on an asteriod. Because, honestly, where else would one be? I wrote two-thirds of the story when I was seventeen and two-thirds when I was twenty-one, so not only is it bad, it's also disjointed. And that's what you look for in a story like this, isn't it.

Now, fair warning: There are many things bad and broken about this story, namely plot, characterization and dialogue. Probably also spelling and grammar. I used to think it was pretty good, but two stints as an editor and four novels have disabused me of that notion. The best that can be said of it is that it is probably no worse than most science fiction stories written by seventeen (or twenty-one) year olds.

No, I didn't try to sell it, although I did enter it into an undergraduate writing contest at the U of C and came in third, which reflects the lack of competition more than anything else. To be entirely honest after this story I didn't write another short story for a decade -- three years after I wrote Agent to the Stars, in fact. And I did manage to sell that one (to Strange Horizons, which at the time didn't count as a pro sale, which I suppose is good for my Campbell eligibility). I've only written two other short stories since then, however. Although I'm writing a new one this weekend! Go me! Let's hope I've learned something useful since I wrote the one you have here.

And remember: If you're traumatized, blame Bear. She made me do it.

Posted by john at 03:05 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Entertainment Weekly Review of TGB

And it's written in publicist-friendly pull-quote form:

"A mix of Starship Troopers and Universal Soldier, Ghost evokes awakening, betrayal, and combat in the best military sci-fi tradition."

Yeah, that's just about guaranteed to go on the paperback edition of the book somewhere prominent. And it got a grade of "B+," which makes it the second time I've gotten that particular grade from EW. I'm consistently above average! One does what one can.

What's interesting about the review is that it doesn't note that TGB is the second book in a series, which means either the reviewer didn't know or didn't care (or didn't have space to note it, as it's a short review). Whatever the reason, it's a little more proof of the book's stand-alone-ability, which makes me happy.

Posted by john at 12:27 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 24, 2006

Incompetence in Action

This is why the Bush Administration is the worst presidential administration in 150 years: It spends five years trying to convince Americans that swarthy Muslims represent enough of a threat to US safety and security that the Administration is required to expectorate all over the Bill of Rights in order to keep us safe from them -- and then has the gall to act all surprised and affronted when Americans panic at the thought of giving swarthy Muslims control of several of the country's busiest ports, including the ones from which the World Trade Center could be seen collapsing.

Mind you, this has nothing to do with whether letting this particular company based in the United Arab Emirates have control of several major ports is actually a good idea. I honestly don't know (and I'm willing to bet you don't really know, either). It's also not about whether swarthy Muslims, in general, deserve to be irrationally feared (as a class they don't, any more than pasty-white Christians do). It has to do with how Bush's people could be so tone-deaf as not to see how this particular deal could be (to use a singularly inappropriate cliche) a political landmine. Didn't anyone in the Executive Branch look up from the Kool-Aid long enough to say "Hey, haven't we been telling people Arabs are, like, bad? Is it possible handing the ports over to an Arab company might not play well"? At the very least, someone should have, you know, briefed the president about the deal ahead of time so he wouldn't have learned about it in the newspapers like the rest of us slobs. Then perhaps he could have prepared for the inevitable backlash brought on by his administration's own messaging.

Simple fact: You can't spend years demonizing a group of people in words and in deeds and expect people you've been scaring not to react badly when suddenly it seems like you're in bed with the demons and getting slipped their devilish meat. I fully grant the UAE is not Iraq or Iran, but with no disrespect toward the mass of US citizens, the vast majority of us can't find the UAE on a map and even if we could, through ignorance and design we've lumped "Arabs" into a massive, scary category so indiscriminate in its composition that if one were to point out to most Americans that Iranians aren't actually Arab at all, they'd look at you with blank incomprehension and wonder what your point is. They're all swarthy Moooslims! They can't be trusted! This is not a formulation the Bush folks have gone out of their way to correct, as it has served their purposes well enough up to this point.

But now suddenly it doesn't, and Bush is getting roughly the same reaction as FDR might have gotten if he allowed the Port of Los Angeles to be sold to a company based in Okinawa and then tried to argue that the Okinawans weren't really Japanese. Mind you, this is nowhere near a perfect analogy, but it serves well enough to make the point: Americans are being told to trust the same people most of us thought we were at war with, by the president who took us to war with them. It doesn't help at all that what most Americans do know of the UAE is that some of the 9/11 terrorists were from there; it accentuates the confusion.

There's no way this port deal ends well for the Bush Administration. This is particularly true because Bush himself has dug in his heels and has declared that he's willing to veto any legislation that undoes the sale -- his first veto in his entire presidency, mind you, and if you think the president using his veto power to help Arabs is going to play well with his base, you're just not paying attention. So either the deal goes through, in which case Bush is the guy who gave our ports to Arabs, which is red meat for his opponents. Or it gets stuffed, in which case the Bush Administration starts its lame duck era early, and trust me, as soon as that happens, the knives are going to come out.

Again: How could the Bush people not see this coming? The fact that they didn't (or did but managed to convince themselves it wouldn't be a big deal) is among many other reasons why this is such a horrible presidency: It's not smart enough to see the consequences of its own actions, even when those consequences are laid out like Tinkertoys directly in front of them.

The only possible good to come out of this would be that this could be the straw the breaks the camel's back, and actual conservatives will wake up from the fugue state they've been in for the last six years, realize that Bush and his penny-ante cult of personality management style has essentially tubed their revolution, and then try to salvage what they can -- which hopefully will mean that between them and the Democrats there might be a majority vote for bringing back that whole crazy "checks and balances" thing that the Bush Administration wishes to suggest doesn't actually apply to it. I know it's a lot to ask for. But one may hope.

Back to whether Dubai Ports World should be able to run these ports: Got me. I'm not afraid to say I'm not qualified to have an opinion on the matter -- everything above is about appearances, and why they are of consequence. I will say this: If the deal does go through, Bush better hope to God that no terror attack ever routes in any way through any port Dubai Ports World operates. Because if one does, there is not a stopwatch in the world fast enough to time how quickly he will find himself impeached. And impeachment would be the absolute least of his problems.

Posted by john at 10:58 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

TGB @ SFBC

For those of you in the Science Fiction Book Club, you'll be happy to know that The Ghost Brigades is now available in an SFBC edition. If you're not in the SFBC but the idea of being so gives you a wiggly feeling inside, the book club's current introductory offer lets you get five books for 50 cents each, and TGB is eligible for that deal. And as we all know 50 cents is pretty cheap for a hardcover.

I've been asked privately by folks from time to time as to whether I'd prefer they buy the non-SFBC edition of book over the book club edition, and my response is always the same, which is: Don't care. My own preference with SFBC (of which I am a member) is to use it to pick up hardcover editions of classic SF books (i.e., by dead guys), grab convenient compendiums that help me catch up with a long-running series, and for SFBC's own anthologies, while picking up newer releases from living authors in the stores. But if you use it to get the new SF releases, including my own, that's fine with me. We sold a ton of Old Man's War through SFBC, and I won't mind doing the same with TGB.

I'll tell you a funny story involving SFBC: At Boskone I introduced myself to Ellen Asher, the editor-in-chief of the SFBC. After we exchanged pleasantries we talked a bit about some of my future projects, and I mentioned The Android's Dream, and went into detail about the first chapter, which as many of you may remember is basically one extended fart joke. Ms. Asher listened with what I suspect was growing horror at my description of the first chapter, and when I was done, said, as diplomatically as possible, "Well, I suppose we may have to put a warning up about that book." I found that very amusing.

I'll be interested to see what she thinks of the actual chapter (not to mention the rest of the book) once it comes her way. It really does sound horrifying when I try to describe it, but in the actual writing it plays a bit better. I swear.

Posted by john at 03:40 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

Uncle John's Visits Hollywood

Oh look, another Uncle John's book I contributed to has hit the stores: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into Hollywood. As per the Uncle John's tradition, the individual articles are not attributed so unless you have a truly excellent eye for my writing, you'll not know which pieces are mine. And, frankly, I wrote these pieces so long ago that even I'm not entirely sure which are mine; I'd have to look at my check stub to be sure. But regardless, the book is chock full of Hollywood trivia goodness, so if you're a Hollywood and/or Uncle John's buff, you will be deeply satisfied by this offering. It's pretty damn interesting.

Posted by john at 08:15 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Heh, and Indeed.

An amusing interview of Tobias Buckell by Jeff VanderMeer.

Speaking of interviews, I recorded one yesterday with Glenn and Helen Reynolds (aka Instapundit and Dr. Helen) for an upcoming podcast, in which we discuss various things about Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, and selling books online. I'll let you know when that goes live. It was actually the first time I've spoken with either, which is weird considering how long we've known of each other in the online sense. But that's the 21st century for you, isn't it: you can know someone for years, and yet not know the sound of their voice.

Posted by john at 09:46 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 22, 2006

Free Speech For Everyone, Even The Dickheads

In e-mail, a request to comment on the plight of "historian" David Irving, who has been punted into an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust happened, and doing so while actually in Austria, where such activities are criminal. Seems that Austria, birthplace of Hitler, gets a little twitchy when people suggest Der Führer wasn't, in fact, deeply pleased that six million Jews and a few million other inconvenient people went up a concentration camp smokestack. Irving got three years for that and plans to spend at least some of that time writing his memoirs, not unlike his little buddy did all those years ago.

My thoughts? Well, first, I certainly enjoyed hearing that Irving twisted and groveled like the pathetic worm he is once it was clear he was looking at hard time, and grudgingly admitted prior to sentencing that oh, gee, maybe there actually were gas chambers at Auschwitz after all. Oops. His bad. You can see how he messed that one up, though. Such an obscure corner of World War II. So, yeah, that got a hearty chortle from me. And I can't say I don't appreciate someone who has dined out on attempting to deny evil having it crammed back down his throat. Emotionally, this all is a tasty Snickers bar of schadenfreude, to use an all-too-appropriate word for it.

Having said that: Look, free speech isn't free if even the most odious crap-flinger can't smear himself in poo and call it truth. People like David Irving are the crucible of free speech, as in, you can't say you actually support free speech if you're willing to keep dickheads like him silent. So, no, as satisfying as it feels, David Irving shouldn't be in prison just for being a professional Nazi-licker. I am obliged to defend his right to lick Nazis, as clearly odious I think it is that the man feels like this is good use of his time, or of anyone else's.

What I suggest we do is offer a trade to Iran, in which they can have Irving -- who should become fast friends with that country's Jew-hating, Holocaust-denying president -- in exchange for a few of those Iranian bloggers the goverment is currently squatting on for the crime of having opinions. It'd be one of those "everybody wins" situations.

Posted by john at 01:37 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Subterranean Magazine Cover Art

Because I love you all so much, here's an early look at the cover art for the Scalzi-edited "SF Cliches" issue of Subterranean Magazine, which will be out later this spring.

besmcover.jpg

The cover is by Hugo and Chesley-winning artist Bob Eggleton (who did the artwork for "Questions for a Soldier," you may recall) and reproduces a moment in Allen Steele's excellent story "The Last Science Fiction Writer" -- as it happens, the exact moment I suspected (but did not suggest to the artist) would make an excellent cover, so I'm glad Bob independently agreed with me on that. Clearly, it's jam-packed with cliches, which is just the way I like it.

The magazine itself is humming along in its production schedule and I'll let you all know when it'll hit the racks. I am about 90% sure single-copy sales will be available as well. More information when I have it. Until then, enjoy the picture!

Posted by john at 10:22 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friendpimping on a Wednesday Morning

Because you don't read enough blogs, here are two more for you to go check out. First: SeeLight, the personal blog of writer Claire Light, whom you may remember as a guest blogger here last July. Claire's FAQ entry is already a classic of the form. Second, The Little Blog of Murder, which is the group blog of five mystery writers from Ohio (which is to say, they write mysteries, not that they themselves are, like, all mysterious or anything). Sharon Short, one of the writers, is a pal of mine.

In both cases the blogs are in their first week, so stick with them through all the introductory stuff and see what they've got going over the next couple of weeks.

There we go: friendpimpery. It's good for the soul. Now, if you've got some friends with some relatively new blogs (say, from the last three months or so), go ahead and pimp them in the comments. Because I don't read enough blogs, either.

Posted by john at 08:43 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Athena's Latest Plush Thing

So, just how does Athena feel about her new plush doll of Edvard Munch's "The Scream"? Well, pretty much as you'd expect.

athenascream0221s.jpg

God, I love my kid.


Posted by john at 09:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Miracles and Wonders, or, Holy Crap

Two signs that The Ghost Brigades is doing okay today:

The Ghost Brigades is actually available in my local bookstore on release day. As many of you may remember, I kvetched long and hard about the fact I never once saw the hardcover of Old Man's War in my local bookstore in the year between when the book was published and when was brought out in trade paperback. But look! Here's the sequel! Two copies, actually. I could weep. It wasn't face out when I saw it, but of course I fixed that. Sorry, R.A. Salvatore. You can face yourself out at my expense at your own local bookstore.

The other sign:

The Ghost Brigades at #9 on the Amazon SF bestseller list, as of about 7:40pm, just below George RR Martin and Robert Jordan. As the kids say: Holy crap. Now, tomorrow morning these guys will still be loitering on the upper regions of the list and I'll probably have slid back down the list somewhat. But you know what? Tonight, I'm doing fine, and I'm going to enjoy the view from up here. Thanks, folks, for getting me up there. I do appreciate it.

Update, 2/22, 9:54pm -- #4 on the Amazon SF list, #88 overall. w00t! I love you all. Like siblings.

Posted by john at 08:16 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Subterranean Sale

Along with the release of The Ghost Brigades, here's something those of you in a purchasing mood might be interested in: Subterranean Press is doing a two-day sale in which if you buy four books on their sale list, you'll get 40% off. Both Agent to the Stars and "Questions for a Soldier" are on the list, as are books from Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, Joe Lansdale and Charlie Stross. I'm pretty sure these are all signed, limited editions, so this is good for you collectors. I'll also note that I know for a fact that were down to the last few dozen copies of Agent (I personalized #1496 at Boskone), so if you've been wanting to get that but have been putting it off, this might be a not bad time.

Okay, I think that's enough bald-faced commerce for one day.

Posted by john at 09:46 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

My iTunes Top Ten

Stephen Green of VodkaPundit has done a musical meme based on one I suggested a while back. Mine was telling what ten randomly selected songs your iPod or iTunes pulled up; his is showing off the top ten most-played tracks from your iPod/iTunes. Stephen Bainbridge has followed suit, and I suppose as I am the distant progenitor of this new meme, I should as well. So below you'll find my personal iTunes Top Ten, annotated for your pleasure. The only kink I've thrown in (because I tend to listen to full albums rather than just single tracks) is that each artist appears only once; if there's a tie between a previously-noted artist and a new artist, I'll note the new artist.

1. "Run Baby Run" by Garbage -- A classic Garbage tune, with an extra special New Order-like bass line. I'm a sucker for New Order-like bass lines.

2. "This is Halloween" by Danny Elfman -- from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. This is here because Athena recently went through a period where she wanted to hear it a couple of times a day, and I didn't mind.

3. "Whatsername (Susanna Hoffs)" by Dean Gray -- this is an unauthorized mash-up between Green Day's "Whatsername" and the Bangles' "Manic Monday," and it's absolutely brilliant because the songs quite accidentally "talk" to each other, with the Bangles' tune detailing the life of the woman whom the Green Day song wonders about. I own both the original tunes, so I don't feel the slightest bit guilty in having downloaded this one.

4. "Mr. Brightside" by The Killers -- The whole album Hot Fuss has been on a constant play here at the Scalzi household recently, but this track has been played slightly more than others, which surprises me, since I like "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and "All These Things That I've Done" more. However, this merely shows how the "iTunes Top Ten" methodology breaks down, because as much as I play songs through iTunes, I also play them through Rhapsody, which as far as I know doesn't count how many times you play a particular song. So this list is just my iTunes Top Ten, not my overall Top Ten (although, to be fair, ultimately I suspect this list is not far off in representing my current tastes).

5. "The District Sleeps Alone" by The Postal Service
-- Almost unbearably wistful. I like The Postal Service rather better than I like Death Cab for Cutie (whose lead singer TPS borrowed), and the whole Give Up album is pretty great all around.

6. "Valley Winter Song" by Fountains of Wayne -- Another wistful one. I was late coming to the Fountains of Wayne but have been making up for lost time.

7. "Beverly Hills" by Weezer -- another Athena-influenced presence. She's seen this song on one of the ads for the odious "Kidz Bop" collections and started singing it, and I declared that if she was going to do that, then by God she should listen to the actual track. So I listened to it a whole lot over a two-week period.

8. "Too Pieces" by Yaz -- I will go through phases where I can listen to this particular song, like, six times in a row. I recently went through one of those patches. Why this song and not other, more popular Yaz songs? Got me. But there it is.

9. "The Golden Boy" by Shelby -- Shelby is an indie band that is a particular favorite of mine; this was the lead-off single of their most recent album.

10. "Kiteflyer's Hill" by Eddi Reader -- Eddi Reader has one of the best voices out there, period, end of sentence, full stop, and this particular song (written by her former Fairground Attraction bandmate Mark Nevins) shows off the range and quality of her voice brilliantly... and is just a fabulous song in itself. If you've never heard this song, I pity you.

That's my iTunes Top Ten. What's yours? Don't feel the need to annotate as extensively as I have if you don't want to; a simple list will do. But now I'm curious.

Posted by john at 08:23 AM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

The Ghost Brigades: Officially Out!

It's time: The Ghost Brigades is now officially released and should be available at your favorite online and real-world stores. As always, I encourage you to head over to your local bookstore and demand a copy, but as I can't link to every single real-world bookstore, here are the links to TGB at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's and Clarkesworld Books (the latter being an SF/F/H-focused online seller, the proprietor of which I met at Boskone). I'll toss in a link to Borderlands Books here as well -- they don't have TGB listed yet, but I'm sure they will soon, and they've always been good to me. I'm sure if you ask them to get a copy for you, they will.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have TGB officially out in the world and making its way. I'm personally quite pleased with it, which is always a positive thing, and so far the reviews have been good and the feedback I've been getting back from folks who have read it is equally encouraging. And that's good too. As you may imagine this all has been something of a relief; notwithstanding Agent to the Stars, which was written pre-Old Man's War but published after, this is the first novel I've written since OMW that's made it out into the stores. Its (so far) happy reception allows me to have hope for its fortunes going forward.

As the book debuts, I want to make sure to acknowledge the people other than me who have had a hand in getting this book out to the rest of you: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, whom I am fortunate to call my editor; Irene Gallo and John Harris, who have given the book its look; Rich Klin, whose copy-editing was key (as anyone who saw the pre-copy-edited ARC would be able to tell you); and Dot Lin, who has done a fabulous job as TGB's publicist so far, and who I expect will continue in her fabulousness from here on out. And of course Tom Doherty for running the entire show from that office of his with the truly choice view. These are only the Tor folks I know had a hand in the book; there are others as well who I don't know but wish I did so I could also thank them.

The point of the above paragraph is to drive home the fact that while as an author it's my name on the cover of the book, the book itself wouldn't get to the readers' hands without an entire team of people behind it. These are the people you don't normally hear about, which is not to say that what they do for the book is not worth hearing about. If you don't think I'm absolutely grateful of everything they've done for the book (and by extension, for me), you're totally high. So thank you Patrick, Irene, John, Rich, Dot, Tom and everyone else at Tor. I am honored to have worked with you. Whatever success this book has is yours as well as mine.

Posted by john at 01:26 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

February 20, 2006

Boskonery

I had a fine time at Boskone, although in retrospect I think I may have overscheduled myself just a bit: Five panels, one reading, one autographing session and one kaffeklatsch (the attendees of which -- Christopher Davis and Lanna Lee Maheux-Quinn -- you can see above, minus Charlie Stross, who swung by the table to park his dogs and was immediately sucked into the klatschery). By the end of the convention I was pretty damn tired -- although since I am currently nursing a sore throat and a general feel of blah, it's entirely possible I was simply in the early stages of feeling crappy anyway. I certainly don't blame Boskone or my gracious hosts for this, since in my opinion the folks running Boskone seemed to go out of their way to let me know they were happy to have me there. I'm sure they do this to all their authors and guests, but it was a nice feeling anyway.

I was going to do a namedrop paragraph of all the people I saw at Boskone, but that's sort of lame, so instead here's a quick overview of some personal highlights of the weekend, with the relevant folks, more or less in chronological order:

* A Friday afternoon traffic-blocking chat in the dealers room with Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Bear, Allen Steele, Sarah Monette, Celia Marsh, Hannah Wolf Bowen, Jennifer Jackson and a few other people who I know through LiveJournal but whose names escape me now (feel free to say "hey, I was there, too!" in the comment thread);

* An excellent panel on bandwidth management with John McDaid, Naomi Novik, Sheila M. Perry and Shara Zoll

* Finally meeting Ken MacLeod at the Tor party, and then being able to sit in with him on a couple of panels (also with us on those panels: John M. Ford, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Karl Schroeder, Daniel Hatch and Mark Olson);

* A very good panel on online communities with Toby Buckell, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, James Macdonald and Lenny Bailes;

* Meeting my friend Judy Hartling in person for the first time after knowing her for a decade online (she was as awesome as anticipated);

* Hanging in the Sheraton Boston bar and accreting a fun group of conversationalists who included Cory, Shara, Charlie Stross, Chad Orzel, Liz Gorinsky, Allen Steele, Toby, Karl Schroeder, James Cambias, Chad Orzel and Kate Nepveu and several others equally amusing but whose names are out of my brain at the moment (again, please feel free to self identify if you were there);

* Sunday breakfast with Liz and Chad;

* An autograph session sitting next to George RR Martin, who was fun to chat with during down times (of which, you may assume, I had more than he).

I was also pleased that The Ghost Brigades was available in the huckster's room through the good graces of Larry Smith, bookseller, who appeared to go out of his way to pitch the book to passersby, particularly when my publisher was standing there. Handselling like that is a wonderful thing indeed. I also met Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld Books and signed his stock of Old Man's War trade paperbacks, so if you're looking for a way to get a signed copy of that from me, now you know where to go.

The only significant issue with the weekend had nothing to do with Boskone, which was the whole incident with the airline I was flying home on refusing to believe that I was actually a passenger. It did get resolved an hour and a half and nearly $200 later, but the silver lining on that was that the new itinerary I had got me home a half-hour earlier and that Toby Buckell was on my flight, so we sat next to each other and talked shop.

In all: a really excellent con -- I felt like they were happy to have me there, and I was myself quite happy to be there. I intend to return. For the moment, however, it's good to be home.

Speaking of which, Krissy just walked through the door. You'll excuse me.

Posted by john at 06:07 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Back From Boston, Briefly; Also, New Interview

I'm back from Boskone, and I had a truly excellent time, except for the last part, in which my airline did not have my reservation anywhere in its system and I had to run around Boston Logan trying to fix it. Lots of exercise and I did get home, but on the other hand I would have avoided all that if I could. I'll write about it more later, but at the moment I have to play catchup on various things, so it'll have to wait until later in the day.

In the meantime, please to enjoy this interview of me at Science Fiction Weekly, talking about books, blogs and writing in a general sense. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll think. Or perhaps none of the above. I'm not you, you know. You do what you want.

Anyway: Good to be home.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Off to Boston

I'm headed to Boskone -- I may or may not update while I'm there. For those of you attending, here's my schedule; for the rest of you, have a great weekend.

Posted by john at 05:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Quick Review Linkage Plus Web Designer Recommendations Needed

I wrote up a longer piece but then the power went out briefly and now I simply don't have the patience to redo the whole damn thing. So, instead, some quick review links:

* A very nice review of Old Man's War in the San Diego Union: "John Scalzi writes well, and very well, and very well again." Shucks.

* A similarly very nice review of The Ghost Brigades at Book Fetish: "I called the first book in this series unapologetic and hardcore. If only I had known." Well, see. Everybody loves surprises.

* I've been informed by uber-publicist Dot Lin that the Ghost Brigades review I noted the other day  from Library Journal was actually a starred review. And that's good -- Hopefully now every library in America will buy the book (except my local library, to whom I gave a copy, as is my custom). In any event, this makes me happy; the "Old Man" series is now 2-for-2 in the starred review category, which is a nice distinction for a series to have. I suppose this puts some pressure on The Last Colony to not totally suck. But I'll worry about that later.

Okay, seriously now, I have a request for you all: I have a friend of mine who is planning to do a rather extensive re-org of his Web site, which will incorporate a new design for the main site and possibly a more attractive front end for the store he's got the site as well. What he needs and I'm asking for here are recommendations for a good Web designer -- someone who can handle both esthetics and the need for a commercial back-end.

If you know of Web designers who are capable of this (or alternately, you are a Web designer capable of this), please let me know, either in the comment thread or through e-mail. Right now this is an exploratory thing, so we won't get into costs, etc. I'm just looking for good names. If you can provide examples of the designer's work as well, that would be super-groovy. I thank you in advance.

Posted by john at 05:09 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Conversations With My Daughter, Thursday Edition.

From this morning, as I was driving her to school.

Me: So you know I'll be gone this weekend, right?

Athena: Yes. Where will you be going?

Me: Boston.

Athena: Where's that?

Me: It's in Massachusetts.

Athena: Masschusetts! Are you going to divorce mommy and marry a boy?

Me: What? No.

Athena: Why not?

Me: Well, for one, I don't want to divorce your mother. For two, I don't really want to marry a boy. I don't like boys that way.

Athena: You don't?

Me: Really, no.

Athena: But then you would have something special.

Me: I already have something special with your mother.

Athena: Well, okay.

Bear in mind I'm pretty sure that Athena wasn't really expecting me to divorce Krissy and marry a boy. But I do find it interesting that same-sex marriage was the thing that popped into her mind when I said "Massachusetts." Yes, I did tell her about it once (once! I think more than a year ago, in the larger context of talking about marriage in general), but I'm sure I've told her other things about the Massachusetts as well. It's funny what sticks in kids' heads.

Posted by john at 03:22 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

February 15, 2006

Your Hugo/Campbell Recommendations

I've got a magazine story to finish today so I can't hang around here, but in my absence I thought I'd give you all something to do, particularly those of you who are (or wish to be) science fiction geeks. My request:

Give your recommendations for the Hugo and Campbell Awards for 2005.

For those of you catching up: Hugos are awarded at every Worldcon for the best science fiction and fantasy novels, short works, dramatic presentations and SF-related books (here are the categories). The Campbell is an award for best new writers. The Hugos are voted on by the attendees of the Worldcon, which this year takes place in LA (well, Anaheim, really).

Why do I ask for your recommendations? Well, first, I'm curious as to what you folks think was the best SF/F in 2005. Second, it's nice to have another "Hugo rec" resource for people who are nominating this year. Third, the Whatever gets visited by lots of people who don't read a lot of SF/F, so getting recommendations from those of you who do might give them a place to start reading. Fourth, I want to know if I'm missing something this year before I mail in my own nominations, and asking all y'all seems a good way to check.

One caveat: Exclude the host (that's me) in your recommendations here. Yes, I'm eligible for awards this year, but it seems unlikely Whatever readers are not already aware of my work since I blather on about it interminably. Let's put the spotlight elsewhere for the moment. Now, if you are eligible this year (and you really think your work is worth a nomination), I heartily encourage you to make note of your own work. Don't be shy -- ego is not a problem here. But I hope you'll give due recognition to the other writers you think deserve on of those rocketship awards.

So: What and who do you recommend for the Hugos and the Campbell this year?

Posted by john at 08:56 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Ohio Board of Education Picks Up Clue, Sprints

Now I have one less reason to believe the State of Ohio is planning to make my child intentionally ignorant:

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio school board voted Tuesday to eliminate a passage in the state’s science standards that critics said opened the door to the teaching of intelligent design.
The Ohio Board of Education decided 11-4 to delete material encouraging students to seek evidence for and against evolution.

It's nice to see that even this particularly weak-kneed swipe against evolution is no longer considered viable in the state where I live. But the Law of the Conservation of Stupidity, in which stupidity is never eliminated, it merely changes form and location, is at work here: now South Carolina's school board is fiddling with their high school biology standards to try to make evolution look bad.

However, right now that's South Carolina's problem, and as I've said before, if other states want to intentionally make their children more ignorant, that just thins the herd for Athena when it comes time for her college applications. So you go on right ahead, South Carolina, and make your kids as pan-hit dim as possible. Ohio is presently out of the "enculturating ignorance" business, and for the moment, that's good enough for me.

Posted by john at 08:30 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

I Can See For Miles and Miles

athenatele2.jpg

They say you never forget your first telescope. Here's Athena's, a tiny Meade I got on clearance from Radio Shack as a Valentine's Day present. And yes, she's very excited about it. We're going to go out and look at the moon tonight. A full moon is in fact not the best way to see the features of the moon (it's a little bright), but it'll be workable. And besides, we'll have fun anyway.

Hope your Valentine's Day is going well.

Posted by john at 03:22 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Oh --

Before I forget, I did one of those Johari Windows thingies. I set it up for the folks over at AOL Journals, but there's no reason you can't tell me what you think about me, too.

Yes, I realize that some of you read By The Way as well as Whatever, so you'd already know this. But I find (anecdotally, at least) that the crossover between the two sites is actually rather low. So, just out of curiosity, how many of you do actually read By the Way on a regular basis? Bear in mind there is no wrong answer here; it's just something I wonder about.

Posted by john at 09:56 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

Reviews Aggregator

I'm trying to jam through stuff so I can get out of here to have Valentine's Day lunch with my wife, so rather than stretching out a bunch of new reviews across several ego-gratifying entries, I'm just going to pile them into one entry.

First, a nice review of The Ghost Brigades in Library Journal, which gives the book a "highly Recommended" rating: "The sequel to Old Man's War combines taut military action with keen insights into the moral issues revolving around developing technologies. Scalzi has a finely tuned sense of balance between personal drama and the 'big picture'..." You can see the whole review on the BN.com page for TGB.

Second, Old Man's War is getting a second wave of reviews thanks to its trade paperback release, and these have also generally been positive. This review at Book Fetish gives it fives stars ("hardcore, unapologetic Heinlein-esque military Sci-Fi"), and this review at Literal Barrage is also nice ("I'm pleased to report that I enjoyed this book greatly"). And over at Byzantium's Shores, Jaquandor meditates on the difference between "neat Mil-SF" and "war-porn," and among other things concludes OMW is not war-porn, which I appreciate. I also think some of his specific questions will be addressed in The Ghost Brigades, and probably also in The Last Colony, whenever it is I start writing that, which should be soon. He's also ticked I got a free cell phone and is threatening to hit the library for my future release. Well, you know. I can live with that.

Now I'm off to shower and get ready for lunch with my lady. See y'all later, and happy Valentine's Day.

Posted by john at 09:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 13, 2006

Scalzi Sells Out to Sprint and the Chinese, and Other Tales

newphone.jpg

Behold my new toy, which is a cell phone that I received for free, along with six months service with all the bells and whistles, for no better reason than apparently someone at Sprint wandered by the Whatever and decided I was cool enough to give a free phone to. Now, the actual reason is that this site gets tons of visits per day and the Sprint folks are hoping that my excited babbling about their Sprint Power Vision service will convince the mass of you to stampede to the store to pick up your very own MM-A920 by Samsung, with built-in 1.3 megapixel camera and mp3 player and blue-green high-energy laser. So you can melt the heads of your enemies, take a photo of the carnage and then play Queen's "We Are the Champions," or some such thing. So there you have it. Submit to your viral marketers! And eat Butterfingers!

In reality, of course, I expect you not to do any of the above (particularly that laser bit), but it's an interesting marketing concept, and I don't mind getting a free phone to play with for six months (after which the service is switched off and I turn back into a pumpkin). As most of you know I don't (or didn't) own a cell phone because for the life of me I couldn't see why I needed one. But, hey, if it's free, I'll give it a try, and I'll be happy to fiddle with the camera/mp3 player/laser/whatever and see how it all works for me. If I genuinely am blown away by it, I'll let you know.

Also, if you're in a technology company and you have a new gizmo you want to send me, for free, you're certainly welcome to do so. Baby loves toys, and I have no shame.

Other news: Sold the Chinese rights to Old Man's War (mainland, not Taiwan). Between this and the Russian rights, I'm now represented on a good two-thirds of the continent of Asia. I can't wait to see what the book looks like in Chinese, although, just like the Cyrillic, I haven't a chance in Hell of actually understanding it. They could send me the Bejing phone book with some SF artwork slapped on the cover, tell me it was my book, and I'd just grin stupidly and be happy. Sometimes being monolingual blows.

Also, I have my first e-mail report of a Ghost Brigades landing, at Diane's Books in Greenwich, Connecticut. We're just a week away from the official release anyway so it should start appearing on shelves most places. If any of you want to send along a picture when you see it, you'd make me a happy boy.

Posted by john at 02:01 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don't Want to Work at Writing

A writing question:

What writing tips would you whisper to those who aren't aspiring professionals, but would like to write better? If I asked you about losing weight and you said "Diet and Exercise" you'd be a) correct and b) ignored. So no ideas that take work. We want the quick fix! Tips like "Edit your work" aren't useful. "Gerunds are your friend" are.

So, the task here: Tell y'all how to write better without you actually having to make an effort. Fine. Here's how I would do it.

(NB: These work pretty well for people who do want to be pro writers, too.)

0. Speak what you write: This is rule zero because all other rules follow on this. Basically: If what you're writing is hard to speak, what makes you think it's going to be easy to read? It won't be. So speak out loud what you write. If you can't speak it naturally, rewrite it. Simple.

1. Punctuate, damn you: For God's sake, is it really so hard to know where to put a comma? When people read, even in their brains, there's usually some part of them that is sounding out the words. Without appropriate punctuation, especially commas, that word-speaking part will eventually choke on the sentence. Having said that, there's a tendency to over-punctuate as well, particularly with exclamation points. Too little punctuation makes it seem you want to collapse someone's lung, too much makes it look like you're a 14-year-old girl writing an IM. You want to avoid both.

Here's a quick and dirty guide when to use punctuation:

Periods: When you're writing down a thought and you're at the end of that thought, put a period.
Commas: When you're writing down a thought and you want to take a breath, whether mental or physical, put in a comma.
Semi-colon: Put these in your writing in the place where, in conversation, you'd arch your eyebrow or make some other sort of physical gesture signalling that you want to emphasize a point.
Colon: Use when you want to make an example of something: For example, just like this.
Question Mark: Quite obviously, when you have a question.
Exclamation point: When you're really excited about something. You almost never need to use more than one in a paragraph. Use more than one in a sentence and you damn well better be using it for humorous and/or ironic effect.
Dashes: You can use these when you've already used a colon or a semi-colon in a sentence, but be aware that if you have more than one colon or semi-colon in a sentence, you're probably doing something wrong.

Somewhat related: Use capitals when you should (beginning of sentences, proper nouns), don't use them when you shouldn't (pretty much every other time). Lots of people think not using capitals makes them look arty and cool, but generally it just makes the rest of us wonder if you've not yet figured out the magical invention known as the shift key. Alternately, the random appearance of capitals in inappropriate places makes us wonder if you don't secretly wish the Germans won World War II (and even the Germans are cracking down on wanton capitalization these days, so there you are).

2. With sentences, shorter is better than longer: If a sentence you're writing is longer than it would be comfortable to speak, it's probably too long. Cut it up. This is one I'm guilty of ignoring; I tend to use semi-colons when I should be using periods. In fact, I'd say the largest single editing task I have after writing a piece is to go in and turn semi-coloned sentences into two sentences (or more, God forgive me).

Shorter is also better with paragraphs, but there's such a thing as too short: Take a look at a not-particularly-well-edited newspaper and you'll see a lot of single-sentence paragraphs, generally preceded or followed by other single-sentence paragraphs that should have been compressed into one paragraph. Good rule: One extended idea or discrete event per paragraph.

3. Learn to friggin' spell: I'm not talking typos here, because everyone makes them, and I make more than most. I mean genuine "gosh I really don't know how this is spelled" mistakes. This is particularly the case with basic spelling errors like using "your" when you're supposed to be using "you're" or "its" for "it's" (or in both cases, vice-versa). Here's a good rule of thumb: For every spelling error you make, your apparent IQ drops by 5 points. For every "there, they're, their" type of mistake you make, your apparent IQ drops by 10 points. Sorry about that, but there it is.

What's truly appalling is that even people with advanced degrees (I'm looking at you, scientists) screw these particular pooches. I look at some of the writing I see from people with MAs and PhDs after their names and I think no wonder China's poised to kick our ass.

Look, spelling isn't hard. Nearly every single computerized writing tool has a built-in spellcheck that will catch 90% of your spelling errors, and as for the rest of them, well, it isn't too much to ask adults to know the difference between "their" and "there." It's really not.

Also, here's a handy tip for those of you with Internet access (which, by definition, would be all of you reading this on my site). If you have a word, the spelling of which you're not sure, and you don't have a dictionary handy (either bound or online), copy the word, paste it into Google's search engine, and hit "search." If you've spelled it incorrectly, chances are really excellent that when your search results come up, up at the top Google will ask "Did you mean:" and present whatever word it is that you're failing to spell. There's no shame in doing this.

Bottom line: Typos aside, there's no reason not to spell things correctly (and you really should get on those typos, too, although I note that I'm the last person in the world to ride folks on that one).

Related to this:

4. Don't use words you don't really know: It's nice to use impressive words from time to time, but if you use an impressive word incorrectly, everyone who does know what the word means will think of you as a pathetic, insecure dork. I'm just saying. Bear in mind that this is not limited only to "impressive" Latinate words, but also (indeed especially) to slang. Use slang incorrectly -- or even use last year's word -- and you'll look like teh 1am3r. Unless you're using the slang ironically, in which case you might be able to get away with it.

But generally: stick to words you know you know, or make real good friends with that there dictionary thingie.

5. Grammar matters, but not as much as anal grammar Nazis think it does: The problem with grammar is that here in the US at least, schools do such a horrible job of teaching the subject that most people are entirely out to sea regarding correct usage. It's the calculus of liberal arts subjects. But grammar need not be stupendously complicated; in the final reduction the point of grammar is to make the language as clear to as many people as possible. Frankly, I think if most non-writers can manage to get agreement between their verb and their subject, I'm willing to spot them the whole "who/whom" conundrum.

Now, obviously, you should know as much grammar as you can; the more grammar you know, the better you can write. But the bottom line is just this: Be as clear as possible. If you're not confident about the grammar of a sentence, re-write it and strive for clarity. Yes, it's possible that in doing so the resulting sentence will lack style or something. But it's better to be plain and understood than to have people admire your style and have not the slightest idea what you're trying to say.

6. Front-load your point: If you make people wade through seven paragraphs of unrelated anecdotes before you get to what you're really trying to say, you've lost. Yes, Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor pull that stunt all the time. But: Surprise! You're not them. Also, there were lots of times when Twain just needed to get to the goddamn point, already.

Now, sometimes people write to find out what their point is; I think that's fine because I do that myself. But most of the time after I've figured out my point, I'll go back and re-write. Because that's the magic of writing: You can do that. It's not actually a live medium. No, not even in IM, since you can still re-write before you hit "send."

This point is more flexible than some of the others; sometimes you want to go the long way around to make your point because doing so makes the point stronger. I took the long way around in my "Being Poor" essay, for example. However, most of the time it's better to let people know what you're doing than not, if only because then you have a better chance of them sticking around until the end.

7. Try to write well every single time you write: I have friends who I know can write well who send me the most awful e-mail and IMs because they figure it doesn't matter how many rules of grammar and spelling they stomp on because it's just e-mail and IM. But if you actually want to be a better writer, you have to be a better writer every time you write. It won't kill you to write a complete sentence in IM or e-mail, you know. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it until it will actually be more difficult to write poorly in e-mail and IM than not (mobile text messaging I understand has more limitations. But I tend to look at text messaging as the 21st Century equivalent of semaphore, which is to say, specialized communication for specialized goals).

There really is no excuse for writing poorly in one's blog. At least with IMs and e-mail your terrifying disembowelment of the language is limited to one observer. But in your blog, you'll look stupid for the whole world to see, and it will be archived for as long as humanity remembers how to produce electricity. Maybe you don't think anyone who reads your blog will care. But I read your blog -- yes indeed I do -- and I care. Madly. Truly. Deeply.

8. Read people who write well: Don't just read for entertainment, but also look to see how they do their writing -- how they craft sentences, use punctuation, break their prose into paragraphs, and so on. Doing so takes no more time than reading what they write anyway, and that's something you're doing already. If you can see what they're doing, you can try to do it too. You probably won't be able to re-create their style, since that's something about that particular person. But what you can do is recreate their mechanics. Don't worry that your own "voice" will get lost. Be readable first and your own style will come later, when you're comfortable with the nuts and bolts of writing.

9. When in doubt, simplify: Worried you're not using the right words? Use simpler words. Worried that your sentence isn't clear? Make a simpler sentence. Worried that people won't see your point? Make your point simpler. Nearly every writing problem you have can be solved by making things simpler.

This should be obvious, but people don't like hearing it because there's the assumption that simple = stupid. But it's not true; indeed, I find from personal experience that the stupidest writers are the ones whose writing is positively baroque in form. All that compensating, you know. Besides, I'm not telling you to boil everything down to "see spot run" simplicity. I am telling you to make it so people can get what you're trying to say.

Ultimately, people write to be understood (excepting Gertrude Stein and Tristan Tzara, who were intentionally being difficult). Most people are, in fact, capable of understanding. Therefore, if you can't make people understand what you write, most of the time it's not just because the world is filled with morons, it's also because you are not being clear. Downshift. People will be happy to know what you're saying.

10. Speak what you write:
Yes, I've covered this before. But now after all the other tips you can see why this makes sense. If you can't make your writing understandable to you, you can't make it understandable to others.

And now I'm off to speak this to myself. If I can do it with my writing, you can do it with yours.

Posted by john at 06:45 PM | Comments (197) | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Clean Office, Clean Mind

Krissy did one of her occasional clean-ups of my office environment and then demanded I take a photo as verification that, indeed, the room was spotless. So here you are: My spotless office. One part of me feels ashamed that my entropic tendencies drive my wife into a cleaning frenzy, but another part of me is always grateful when she does, because the simple truth of the matter is that I find it so much easier to focus when I am not surrounded by ceiling-high piles of books and paper which threaten to collapse onto me, pinning me and leaving me helpless while the cats feed off my bones (because you know they would).

Essayed here is the desk; what you don't see is the bookshelf to the left, which was also reorganized, in particular to give me an ego shelf, like so:

These are all the books I've written or contributed to. The goal before the time I die in a horrible dolphin incident is to write enough books that the shelf can only hold single copies of each book. By which time, of course, bound copies of books will be laughably quaint collector's items. But that's not the point. And anyway, obviously, I plan on collecting.

So there it is. Allow me to take a moment of public recognition of my wife for making my working space far less likely to erupt into spontaneous paper fire. She rocks.

Posted by john at 07:15 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

Autographed Copies

Ever since I left that e-mail address on Amazon I've been getting an increasing number of questions on how to get autographed copies of books from me, so here's yet another entry I'm writing so I'll have something to point people to. Here goes.

First, yes, I am happy to sign books. What, are you kidding? Back when I was a teenager I purposely made myself develop a distinctive signature so that if the time ever came when I got to sign books, I'd be ready. It'd be a shame to have those decades of preparation go to waste. Also, since some people have actually offered to pay me to sign their books, no, I don't charge for signing books. I'm not a former baseball player or hobbit, you know. Even if I could charge, I wouldn't. Thanks for offering, though.

All I ask is that you at least try to pretend that you're not just going to turn around and sell the book on eBay. Which is to say, don't come at me with 14 copies of the same book (unless you are a legitimate bookseller. Then we can talk).

The best way to get me to sign a book is to catch me at an appearance or convention, because I am at those in an official capacity, anyway. I generally don't mind being approached in most circumstances, although if I am in the middle of something (a meeting with an editor, a deeply personal conversation, fighting crime, etc) I may ask if you can catch me a little later. But mostly I'll be happy to sign then and there. There's no harm in asking.

Alternately, you can mail me books to sign at the address you'll find at the bottom of this entry, but only under the condition that you include both self-addressed packaging and sufficient postage to get the book back to you. The reason for this is a) I'm not made of money, and mailing books adds up over time; b) if I don't have packaging and post right there in front of me, you may never get your book back because, by God, I am just that lazy. I wish I could say I'm joking but I am totally serious -- if you don't send postage and packaging, you may never get your book back. The problem is me, not you. On the other hand if you do send self-addressed packaging and postage, it'll go into the mail the very next day. Easy.

The third way is to buy stuff I've already signed, like this and this. These things are limited editions, so when I'm hit by the inevitable bus, they may be worth something. Hey, you never know.

If you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment thread.

Posted by john at 06:50 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The John Scalzi Agent FAQ

I'm getting a lot of questions about agents recently, so to avoid having to repeat myself multiple times I'm going to create this entry so I can point people to it when they ask me agentorial questions. Hopefully this will cover most of the basic questions, but if there are questions I don't cover that you have, go ahead and drop them into the comment thread.

(Note that this document assumes you know what an agent is, and that you know the basics between a good one and a bad one. If you're hazy about that stuff, go here and then come back.)

1. So, Scalzi, do you have an agent?
I have two, actually. For non-fiction, I am represented by Robert Shepard of the Robert Shepard Agency, located in Berkeley, California. For fiction, I am represented by Ethan Ellenberg, of New York's Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency.

2. Why do you have two agents?
Primarily because I've been with Robert longer, and he represents non-fiction only, and I wasn't going to throw him aside because I wrote fiction as well. When I was in the market for a fiction agent, I did speak to a couple of agents who said to me that they'd be happy to represent me, but they had to represent my non-fiction work as well. These people did not become my agent. Both my agents know the other exists and knows it's my intention to continue writing both fiction and non-fiction, and are happy to let the other handle the stuff they don't.

If one does write both fiction and non-fiction, I don't think it's necessary to have two agents, but personally I find it helpful. Robert's focus on non-fiction means he's got that side of the book industry wired and he knows its quirks and its terrain; Ethan handles both fiction and non-fiction but as far as I can tell the majority of his work goes into the fiction market, and he is similarly wired into its tics and idiosyncrasies. They can both find the best homes for my work, fiction and non-fiction, because their depth of knowledge of their particular field.

3. What do you think of your agents?
I like them both very much, both as business associates and as human beings. Both have been very proactive in strategizing my career and in not only fielding ideas I bring to them but for keeping an ear out for projects publishers are interested in for which I might be a good fit. For example, I wrote my very first book, The Rough Guide to Money Online, because Robert was speaking to the Rough Guides people and they mentioned they were looking for someone to write an Internet finance book for them. Robert knew I worked for AOL and remembered that some of the very first things I wrote for AOL were personal finance columns, so he suggested me and we all moved forward. On Ethan's side, he's been very helpful in terms of advice about projects that have been offered to me in fiction and the advantages and disadvantages each bring, not only in terms of money but in terms of my fiction career over the long term.

In the case of both my agents, I feel comfortable that they and I are on the same wavelength, which is: Writing is my career, and the intent is to make the career last and grow. At times this means sacrificing a short-term opportunity (and the financial gains thereof) for long-term growth. In all, I'm happy to say that both my agents have been a good fit for me.

4. How did you get your agents?
Both in unusual ways. Robert solicited me back in 1994 -- he had read a column I had written and followed up on it to see if I was represented by anyone. Now, generally speaking it's not a good sign when agents solicit you -- most reputable agents are so flooded by submissions they simply don't need to look for clients. However, Robert was just starting out his agency, and I, while young, was not stupid; I did due diligence on him and came to the conclusion that he was indeed not a scam artist. I signed up with him and immediately started banging out book proposals. It was five years, however, before we sold a book together. Moral to that story: Selling books takes time. All that time, however, Robert was banging down the doors and presenting the work, and keeping me in the loop with what was going on; if we weren't selling it's not because he wasn't trying to sell the product.

With Ethan, I had the advantage of having already sold the properties I wanted to have represented: Tor had already bought Old Man's War from me as well as a second book (which would become The Android's Dream). It's much easier to get an agent when you've already done the work of getting bought, because then the agent knows that not only can you write salable prose, there's also a publisher who is likely to be interested in your next work as well.

(But even then it's not a lock -- before I went to Ethan, I hit up another agency that is well-known in science fiction circles and they turned me down, despite sales in hand, because the work they saw, including OMW, just wasn't clicking with them. I hope that in retrospect they're kicking themselves now, just because I'm that way. But to be clear this agency did me a favor; it makes an agent's job harder if the work they're trying to sell is work they don't actually enjoy. Not impossible -- agents are pros, and pros don't let their personal taste get in the way of doing the best for their clients -- just harder. And anyway, now I'm with an agent my work clicks with, so that's even better.)

In the case of both Ethan and Robert, I am the first to say that how I got them was not the way most people will get their agents -- most novice writers aren't solicited by reputable agents, and most novice writers won't have sales in hand when they go looking for an agent. In short, in both cases, I was ridiculously lucky, and I know it. Most writers have a rather more difficult time of it.

5. How much to you pay your agents?
Both Robert and Ethan get 15% of sales and royalties. 15% is the industry standard now -- it bumped up from 10% just as I was getting started, and from what I understand there are some agents who are now trying to get their cut bumped up to 20%. I wouldn't allow myself to be represented by such types, personally.

However, I don't find 15% to be unreasonable. In exchange for 15% my agents handle a lot of backend crap I just don't have time for, including hounding publishers for payment and managing things like foreign and movie sales. The 85% I get with both of my agents is indisputably more than the 100% I would get without them; therefore they are worth their cut.

6. What's this about foreign and movie sales?
Well, in addition to schlepping my work to domestic book publishers, my agents also (depending on the property) try to make sales to publishers in other countries and to TV and movie makers. In both cases, the cut they take is slightly higher -- 20% -- but that's because generally they subcontract work to agents in those other countries or in Hollywood (they usually split the percentage 50/50). Now, to be clear, these "sub-agents" aren't my agents, they're my agent's agents -- right now, for example, my novels are being shopped around to movie studios by a fellow named Joel Gotler, but that's because Gotler has an arrangement with Ethan, not with me. This is fine by me for two reasons: first, less work for me, and second, Mr. Gotler seems to sell a lot of stuff, which speaks both well of him, and of Ethan for working with quality associates. Aside from foreign and movie sales, both Robert and Ethan represent me for other types of sales as well. Because their job is selling my properties.

7. What happens if you ever become disenchanted with your agents?
I suppose I would get new agents -- writers do that from time to time. This is a business, and ultimately agents are business partners, and sometimes people change business partners. How quickly one may disentangle one's self depends on what contractual obligations one has with one's agent. In the case of both Ethan and Robert, it would be relatively easy for me to break with them and shop new books with new agents -- but my old books would stay with them, because I've agreed to that contractually. As long as the contracts stay in force, Ethan will always be the agent for The Ghost Brigades; Robert will always be the agent for The Rough Guide to the Universe, unless they die and/or commit unspeakable agentorial malfeasance, in which case I'm pretty sure the books come back to me (I'd have to check contracts). However, in both cases I'm confident I am being represented fairly and I sure hope these guys don't die, because I like them. So I'm in no rush to swap representation.

8. So, can I ask your agents to represent me?
I don't see why not. As far as I know they are both seeking new authors. But if you do, please do the following:
a) Visit their Web sites. That way you'll get a good idea of what (and who) the two of them represent and, also, what they have no interest in representing. The latter is incredibly important. If you send Robert a novel, you're guaranteed to annoy him and to waste your own time; the same if you send Ethan some poetry.
b) Read their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. This is no joke. The two of them get a huge number of submissions, and they don't need a whole lot of reason to dump a "thanks but no thanks" form letter on your ass; not following submission guidelines is a fine way to significantly decrease your chances of being represented.
c) Re-read points a) and b) until you finally believe that, yes, they actually do apply to you. People like to live under the delusion that they are special and they don't have to follow guidelines thereby. Guess what? You're not, and you do. Believe it.

9. When I hit up your agents, can I say that you sent me?
You'd better ask me directly for that, actually. It will help significantly if I actually know you (in the "real world" sense, not in the free-floating "Intarrweeb buddies" sense) and if I've actually had some acquaintance with your written work aside from Web sites, blogs and the like. No offense, but if you're not actually a person I know whose writing I like, I'm hard-pressed to put my personal credibility on the line with my agents. For one thing, too much of that and a recommendation from me would be entirely useless.

If you're not one of these people (and -- again, no offense -- chances are very good that you're not), what you can still do is let Ethan/Robert know that you learned of their existence via the site, and that I said I thought of him highly, so you thought you'd give him a shot at your work. That's entirely legit and useful, I think.

10. Yeah, okay, but seriously, Scalzi, do people really need an agent? After all, you did sell your novels without one.
And as it happens I've also sold a couple of non-fiction books without one either (although to be very clear those books were sold under exceptional circumstances).

But, look, whether an agent is useful is not just about selling books. It's also about negotiating contracts once you've agreed to sell the books, and it's about extending the profitable life of a book for as long as possible once they are sold. Now, let's look at each of these in turn.

a) Selling: Yes, I've sold books without an agent. However, I've also sold books with an agent, and you know what? Generally speaking, I've gotten more for those books, because selling is my agent's job (whereas my job is writing).

Let me re-emphasize that in the cases where I have sold books without my agents, there have generally been some extraordinary circumstances involved -- for example, in the case of Old Man's War, I got an offer for the book without actually submitting it to the publisher first -- which generally speaking are not going to apply to most book sales. It is possible to make traditional book sales without agents, but it's generally far more difficult, since your work will have to sit in the slush pile, probably for months, while you wait to hear of its fate. A good agent can get your work read faster and either sold or (sorry, more likely) rejected faster so you can get it out to the next publisher. An agent also opens more doors because some publishers won't bother with an unagented manuscript. For selling, you're better off with an agent than not.

b) Negotiating: All right, all you would-be first-time authors: How many of you have negotiated a book contract before? Let's see a show of hands. Hmmm... not many hands there, I'd say. Whereas your average agent has done dozens if not hundreds of them over the course of a career. Even the new ones tend to have some contract experience, either by doing an internship at another agency or (in the case of Robert, my non-fiction agent) having worked contracts from the other side of the table by working in publishing proper.

Two things you must engrave on your brain: First, contracts are legal documents. Once you sign one, you're pretty much stuck with it until and unless the revolution comes. Second, the publisher is not going to do you any favors. Even if your publisher is a good and decent publisher which doesn't egregiously screw the author at every opportunity, it will still nevertheless attempt to retain as many useful permissions to itself as possible. Your publisher is in business to make money. It is not going to leave money on the table. Unless you know your way around a book contract, not only won't know you whether your contract is a good one, you probably won't even be able to tell whether your publisher is a decent one, or one that will egregiously screw with you.

A good agent will help you get a contract that is fair to you as well as good for your publisher. They will do this because that's their job -- to know what is fair, and to work through contracts. This leaves you largely free to do your job, which is to write things your agent can sell.

c) Extending: Another show of hands -- how many of you know how to sell to foreign publishers (and what a good sale price is in, say, Russia or France)? Do you know how to get in the door of movie and TV production companies? Do you have the first clue as to how to talk to a video game company about adapting your book into a shoot-'em-up format? Again, there's a really excellent chance I'm not going to see a whole lot of hands here. Well, an agent does -- or should -- or knows people who do. Selling a book to a publisher doesn't have to be the only sale your book has. There are lots of other ways to make money, and a good agent knows how to find them... and to keep finding them.

Those are the reasons to get an agent. Not just for the first sale, but for everything after.

Okay, now the floor is open to questions that I haven't answered so far. Drop them into the comment thread.

Posted by john at 01:48 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

February 09, 2006

When Stupid People Won't Shut Up

Poor NASA whipping boy George Deutsch. He's the only one at that agency who would stand up for truth!

In the interview, Mr. Deutsch said that Dr. Hansen had partisan ties "all the way up to the top of the Democratic Party," and that he was "using those ties and using his media connections to push an agenda, a worst-case-scenario agenda of global warming." He said that anyone who disagrees with Dr. Hansen "is labeled a censor and is demonized and vilified in the media — and the media of course is a willing accomplice here."

Good lord. The boy couldn't be more from Bush White House Central Casting if he tried. Here's another quote I love:

"When at NASA, I was asked to let my managers speak on behalf of the issues," he said. "Now that I am no longer bound by that, I would really like to clear the air and defend my integrity and my good name."

This would be the same integrity that led him to pad his resume with a degree he didn't have, one assumes.

You know, look. George Deutsch's problem isn't that he's a conservative, since despite the impression the current White House gives there are lots of conservatives who are good with science, and a liberal jackass pulling the same type of stunts Deutsch has been pulling would be no better than he. George Deutsch's problem is that he's a big friggin' tool, the sort of ideological twit who can't help but put a political spin on everything, up to and including taking a dump. Seriously, give his type four beers and then ask them if there's a difference between how liberals and conservatives pinch a loaf. You'll hear theories.

The worst part about this is that Deutsch clearly hasn't learned a damned thing -- it's clear that somehow he's the wronged party in this. Self-righteousness and a complete lack of introspection: no wonder this administration saw fit to appoint him to something. No doubt he'll be running for the state legislature down there in Texas sooner than later. Y'all have fun with him. Try to keep him there, if you please.

Posted by john at 08:36 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

The Power of Petey Compels You!

powerofpetey.jpg

Aaaaiiee! It's Petey, the wrathful seven-foot cockatoo! Bow down before his mighty beak!

(This picture makes a lot more sense if you read the comment thread here.)

Naturally, the music to go along with this picture would have to be from Hatebeak, the only death metal group in history fronted by a parrot. Enjoy the dulcet tones of "God of the Empty Nest" while you cower before Petey!

Naturally, I encourage you to testify about your own encounters with Petey, Unholy Cockatoo of Retribution! Because don't we all have a Petey story? Sure we do. For example, I met Petey on under the piers of San Pedro! His horrible unblinking gaze cured me of smack and male prostitution! Well, mostly. Anyway, I'm sure I'm not the only one here who can speak of an encounter with Petey the Great and Terrible.

(Thanks to Gabe for the original "artwork")

Posted by john at 09:09 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Achieving Bookosity



What's that smell? Why, it's the toasty, buttery scent of author copies, fresh from the FedEx truck! They're booktastic! More to the point, the fact I have my copies means that although it's debatable that The Ghost Brigades is going to show up soon at bookstore near me, given that my local bookseller didn't bother to stock the Old Man's War until it was out in paperback, it is entirely possible the book is now wending its way to stores near you, ahead of its official February 21 release date. I trust you'll let me know if you see it.

Also, for those of you who are going to Boskone, I have received word that TGB definitely will be stocked in the dealer's room at the convention. So if you can't find it anywhere before you get to Boskone, you'll be able to find it there. Personally I'm considering Boskone to be the location of the book's official debut, and I couldn't be happier about that.

Posted by john at 01:33 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

The Looney Tunes Characters Will Soon Be Looking For Work

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Yes, yes, I know. Serious topic. But come on. You can't tell me some of the headline writers at CNN weren't chortling to themselves when one of them wrote that.

Posted by john at 11:46 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

TGB Review at SFSignal

It's a thumbs-up:

The Ghost Brigades proves that his awesome 2005 debut, Old Man's War, was no fluke... It's hard to not like a story when it's obvious in the writing that the author is having so much fun with it.

It's true that I had fun writing this one; I like making things up and sitting there and wondering what the hell I'm going to have my characters next. I would note, though, that any one particular day during the writing, I might not appear to be having a whole lot of fun, usually conciding with days when I really am wondering what the hell I'm going to have my characters do next. I honestly do make these books up as I go along (I'm not much for outlining), so sometimes I'm just as surprised as anyone about what happens next.

In The Ghost Brigades, for example, there is a character who I had intended to be in only one scene, but as I was writing the scene I saw that I could use him later in the book to resolve a later issue. And in writing that scene I realized he would be useful in other places, too. The character went from a truly minor player to one who I would say is the moral heart of the book, and is (in my opinion) one of the better characters I've written. So this writing style has its benefits, as long as you can handle the moments of blind panic that occur when it's clear you have no clue what you're doing.

As an aside, the review asks if I had a particular Firefly/Serenity character in mind while I was writing one of the minor characters in the book. The answer is no; when I first started writing the character I hadn't seen either. I think both characters are offshoots of a certain archetypal character. i.e., the obnoxious man of action who is useful to have around in a pinch. Hey, archetypes work.

Posted by john at 08:48 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Ursine Wisdom

A bit of intelligence from Elizabeth Bear:

"Feminism is never an excuse for laughably bad prose."

Indeed not. Feminism is never an excuse; neither, for that matter, is socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, objectivism, Catholicism, Marxism, racism, or any other sort of -ism you wish to think up of, up to and including the ones that don't, in fact, end with "-ism." Indeed, in all the history of the known world, there's been only one excuse for laughable bad prose, and it's the special case of ferreting out evil publishing folks (an example of which you'll find here). Otherwise: Bad prose is bad. Try to avoid it, even when you Have a Message. Messages don't help bad prose, and God knows that bad prose doesn't help the message any.

A corollary to this: Excusing bad prose with an "-ism" that isn't actually in evidence doesn't work either. Which is to say that not every book whose bad prose is defended from a feminist perspective has any relevant feminism in it (or socialism, capitalism, etc); the ideological rationalizations in these cases are bolted on after the fact to defend craptastic writing. One can usually tell when this happens. This is the "rock lyric" maneuver, in which some ambitious undergraduate tries to square his love of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" with his emerging intellectual insecurity by trying to find allusions to the world-historical left in lyrics like "You've got the peaches, I've got the cream, sweet potato, saccharine." Yeah, it doesn't fly, says the fellow who tried to tie some Kate Bush lyrics to the thinking of certain pre-Socratic philosophers, and got a nice fat "D-" for it. You live and learn.

In short, and to repeat: Bad writing is bad. There is no excuse. Don't make or accept any -- either bad writing or excuses. That is all. Thank you for your attention.

Posted by john at 06:26 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

NASA Becomes Marginally Less Stupid

Looks like NASA won't have George Deutsch to kick around anymore after all:

George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said.
Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted.

That last little bit of information, incidentally, uncovered by a blogger (go team blog!). I read about his not graduating yesterday and wondered about whether to append the information on the earlier piece I wrote about the fellow, but eventually decided against it on the grounds that mocking someone for not having a college degree was just a cheap shot (particularly since I can think of at least one extremely smart person I know who if memory served never bothered to even finish high school). However, now that I discover that not only did Mr. Deutsch not graduate, he lied about graduating on his NASA resume, I feel ever so much better about it. Lack of a degree is not an issue; lying about it is. In any event, he's now out on his ass. This would be a lovely time for the fellow to go back to J-School and take that ethics class I suspect he might have skipped.

However, as I noted in the comment thread to the previous discussion, Mr. Deutsch isn't the problem, he's a symptom of the problem. Here's a relevant quote from the article:

Yesterday, Dr. Hansen said that the questions about Mr. Deutsch's credentials were important, but were a distraction from the broader issue of political control of scientific information.
"He's only a bit player," Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Deutsch. " The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies. That's what I'm really concerned about."

Oddly enough, that's what I'm concerned about as well. For every fumbling apparatchik like Deutsch who gets hauled up for ridicule, I suspect there are a couple of others who are less stupid, whose resumes are in order, and who toil away fiddling with truthful information meant to benefit the public -- scientific and otherwise -- because it runs counter of an administration's political goals. Deutsch is a case of one down, uncountable others to go.

And of course now that Deutsch has resigned, there's another presidential appointee position open. Here's a hint, Mr. President: have someone fact-check the resume first. It's a small detail. But it's an important one.

Posted by john at 05:30 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 07, 2006

Crystal Rain is Out!



Congratulations to Tobias Buckell, whose debut science fiction tome Crystal Rain is officially out today. The inside is as groovy as the cover art (look! Parrots!), but you don't have to take my word for it, as Toby's got the first third of the book up for you to check out for yourself.

Toby's been writing short science fiction for some time now -- indeed, he co-wrote a piece I'm publishing in the Spring 2006 edition of Subterranean magazine -- but as most authors will tell you, the day your first book or novel comes out is like your birthday come early. Enjoy it, Toby.

Also, Toby, some of us will be 'round about 7pm to pick you up for your "published novelist" initation ceremony. Now, I know you told us that you bruise easily, but we have ways to keep from leaving marks. Well, mostly. There's not much you can do hide the branding, I suppose. But then, that's why we brand you... well, where we do. And you can certainly handle sleeping standing up for a week or two, right? Right. And you have memorized that list of Brazilian state capitols? Excellent. And you've practiced your hand grip on that goat we lent you? Perfect. I need that goat back, by the way.

So, anyway, 7 o'clock! Be sure to wear something we can hose down afterward.

Posted by john at 01:45 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Free-Speech Jackassery Built Right Here in the US!

Update, 1:18pm: D'oh! This story is way stale -- my fault for not checking the date. Please hold your free-expression outrage for a fresher target. Thank you.

Lest anyone think it's just those wacky Muslim fundamentalists who have a hard time grasping the basic concept of free speech:

Saying the nation's symbol "deserves more respect than the protest message of some liberal hippie," a Missouri state lawmaker has introduced a bill legalizing the use of force to stop someone from desecrating the American flag.
Republican Rep. Sam Gaskill, a former fighter pilot in Vietnam, defended his bill yesterday, insisting the measure would prevent the defilement of an important symbol rather than promote violence.
"You should be able to take hold of the flag and take it off the ground and rescue it," Gaskill said. "If the guy doesn't want to let go of it or he swings back then the person ought to fight back."

I guess I'm confused about the part where making it legal to beat the crap out of someone burning the US flag isn't, in fact, totally abridging the flag-burner's 1st Amendment rights, because if a bunch of good ol' boys is busy stomping your ass, you're not exactly going to be able to make your point. Mind you, in one sense this bill is entirely unnecessary because I'm pretty sure burning a flag in protest anywhere in Missouri will get your ass stomped anyway. It's just now your stompees won't have to perform 30 hours of community service afterward.

I'm not terribly concerned about this one becoming law, since there are no doubt legislators in Missouri who remember about that whole US Constitution thing, even if Mr. Gaskill apparently couldn't pick it out of a lineup. Nevertheless, on the off chance it passed, what would be really amusing would be to burn one of the Not-Quite-American-Flags noted here in front of Mr. Gaskill and then, after he's assaulted you, reveal that's it not actually an American flag, and then sue his ass for lots and lots of damages! Bwa ha ha ha ha hah! Where's your flag now, Mr. Gaskill?

Posted by john at 11:08 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Iranian Free Expression, Such As It Is

In the "Totally Not Surprising" category:

A prominent Iranian newspaper says it is going to hold a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test whether the West will apply the principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide against Jews as it did to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

A newspaper in Iran -- run by allies of that country's Jew-hating current president -- printing cartoons that might possibly be anti-Jew? Who thought we would ever see that day?

Christ, this is boring already. Speaking in my capacity as Official Spokesman for The West®, I think Iranian newspapers -- particularly ones run by pals of the current president of Iran -- should go ahead and run any sort of dumbass Holocaust cartoons they want to. Indeed, I celebrate the right of Iranian newspapers to run whatever the hell they want. This is, alas, more than can be said about the Iranian government, whose grip on the press in that country is so total that the 2005 Reporters Without Borders Annual World Press Freedom Index has Iran listed 163rd in a field of 167 (a field in which Denmark, incidentally, ranked number one).

One can hope that when the allies of Iran's president are enjoying their refreshing little taste of "free expression," they might consider asking their pal for a little more genuine freedom of the press while they're at it. But, you know. I'm not exactly holding my breath for that one. Because then the people who run the paper probably wouldn't remain pals of the president of Iran. And we all know how problematic that can be. But in my capacity as Official Spokesman for The West®, I certainly hope they give it a try.

And of course I certainly hope someone who actually is a spokesman for The West® remembers to ask Iran when it plans to give its newspapers the ability to run actual news, as well as Jew-hating cartoons. Let's see if that makes it into the Iranian newspapers, particularly the ones owned by the allies of the president. I wouldn't be holding my breath for that, but I'm already busy not holding my breath for something else. So I invite you not to hold your breath for that in my stead.

Posted by john at 08:27 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Another Review, and a Link, Oh, and Another Link

First the link: The online cartoon Unshelved has an amusing cartoon about Scott Westerfeld's Peeps. Yay! Comics celebrating literacy!

Second, another review of The Ghost Brigades, from Bookslut, which finds the book good, not great:

While The Ghost Brigades falls short in exploring its underlying philosophical and ethical themes, it delivers on its promise of solid science fiction entertainment with a leavening of serious issues. It is more of a riff on existing themes than an original composition, but it provides an action-driven plot that is grounded in very human characters. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read, and a heartening example of an author taking on a more ambitious novel than his prevous ones and becoming a better novelist in the process. The Ghost Brigades may not make a lasting impression, but it's a fun read.

This review also drives home the point that different people like different things -- the reviewer here calls the first chapter "clunky," which is the same chapter the reviewer in the SFRevu review in the last entry calls "brilliant." Is it clunky? Is it brilliant? Is it brilliantly clunky? Is it a dessert topping and a floor wax? Guess you'll have to find out for yourself.

And for fun, here's another link: Chris Roberson's Paragaea. It's a site pimping Roberson's upcoming whiz-bang book Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, but what makes it extra super mega ultra fun is that it features an entire prequel novel for free. And there's nothing better than free! That's why they call it "free!"

Posted by john at 07:22 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

SFRevu Review of The Ghost Brigades

SFRevu got a look at The Ghost Brigades and the reviewer seems pleased, calling it "An outstanding new work from an emergent author," which is nice, aside from the fact that now I feel I should be fighting my way out of a cocoon or something. The other paragraph the Tor publicity department will no doubt be tickled with:

Scalzi has lost none of his flair for spare, evocative prose: the opening scene—in which a raid on a planetary installation turns out to be somewhat different than expected—is brilliant, and the scene that closes the first part of the book—another raid, this time on one of the enemy's home planets—is both gripping and poignant. But this book—like the first—is more than a fine war novel: it is also a meditation on why we fight, the nature of loyalty, the meaning of consciousness, and the moral significance of free will.

This just in: I have flair!

I'm pleased that the reviews for TGB have been pretty good, but what I'm even more pleased about is that so far the reviews have the book within spitting distance of Old Man's War in terms of quality -- either a little above or a little below depending on reviewer tastes but either way pretty close to the mark. Being able to deliver consistently is pretty useful in a career sense (as long as one is consistently good, mind you -- consistently delivering crap, yeah, you want to avoid that if possible). This is good news for me because TGB is different from OMW in several non-trivial ways, so I'm happy to see these early readers have been able to roll with those changes and still get a positive experience in the end.

Posted by john at 09:04 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Prioritizing the Idiots

People in e-mail have been asking me what I think of the whole thing about fundamentalist Muslims getting stupid over a dozen cartoons of Muhammed, but aside from the rote observation that being a religious fundamentalist of any stripe means you are rather more liable to get stupid than not, I find I'm rather more concerned that some 24-year-old press officer (and Bush political appointee) at NASA named George Deutsch has been taking it on himself to screen that organization's materials from a religious point of view, and to ride herd on scientists whose talking points, in his opinion, make the president look bad.

The good news is it looks like the little twit has gotten a slap down from NASA's administrator, who released an e-mail saying "It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff." The bad news is that apparently the twit is still hanging out at NASA, probably stewing at how such a slap is bad for his career and plotting against all those who oppose him, and also, of course, the administration that installed this moron in this position is still in office, and will continue to get all puckered and testy when science -- as it frequently will -- flies in the face of whatever damn fool thing the administration wants to say. As long as this jackass is around, the Bush-pucker view will have a proponent at the agency.

Look. I'm not terribly surprised that thousands of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists were manipulated by their mullahs and governments to pitch a fit about pictures of their prophet that they haven't even seen, printed in newspapers in countries they don't live in. I prefer not to disrespect Muhammed, not to avoid turmoil but simply because it's polite, but at the same time I'm foursquare behind the idea that a free press doesn't need to be polite, and if largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists don't like that, they can suck it, as can any largely ignornant fundamentalist of any stripe who doesn't like when his god or prophet or preacher or president gets a healthy slam.

Of course the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists will pitch a fit. That's what they do. As far as their mullahs and governments are concerned, that's all they're actually good for. It's not as if these folks would allow them to think on their own, otherwise they wouldn't have been out protesting, they would have just shrugged it off and gotten on with life (which would have meant, incidentally, that the dozen cartoons wouldn't have been commissioned at all). Naturally, I think the attempts of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists to shut down anyone who promotes a world view that opposes their own should be met with defiance, possibly with cartoons of Muhammed cavorting with beer-bearing babes in bacon bikinis. That'll really spin them up.

People with the right to free speech are not obliged to cave to people who demand that the world has to be their way and their way only, even as they are obliged to be respectful of those who are respectful of those freedoms. The ideal world is one in which one can print a picture of Muhammed without incident, but generally chooses not to because it's not nice to those who see him as their prophet. Basically, the entire world as Minnesota. It's not going to happen anytime soon, but we can strive. In the meantime, I'll continue not to be surprised at the idiocy of largely ignorant fundamentalists of any sort.

I don't expect much out of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists, but I do expect more out of NASA and of my government, which is why I am rather more distressed that some damn fool political apparatchik has the unearned ego to assume that his 24-year-old flatly ignorant self is an arbiter of what scientists can or cannot say, and what is science and what is not. While I have over the years become resigned to the fact that the way to tell if a government spokesperson is lying and/or evading is ask whether he is a Bush appointee and whether his lips are moving, it's depressing to realize just how saturated the government is with these yahoos, even down to the lowly level of NASA press flack, and just how entitled they feel they are to their "truthiness" at the expense of truth. I mean, for God's sake: a 24-year-old press officer for NASA who sees it as his primary mission to "make the president look good"? Gag me. Can't we throw him to the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists? Then all our problems will be solved.

I don't expect I can do anything to solve the problem of largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists, especially when their mullahs and governments are actively working to keep them that way. However, I do feel I can do something about post-adolescent pinhead political appointees smearing their gummy little paws all over science in an attempt to look good to a president who couldn't possibly give a crap about them. I'll let someone else worry about the largely ignorant Muslim fundamentalists for now. But if George Deutsch ever Googles himself, as no doubt he will, he'll eventually come across this entry. So he'll read this: George Deutsch, you're a idiot. It's one thing to stick your own head up your ass; it's another thing to try to stuff the rest of our heads up in there with you. You're so obviously full of shit that it's really an unpleasant experience for the rest of us. Please refrain from doing so in the future. Thank you.

Posted by john at 02:29 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Norwegian Wood

athenabathbed.jpg

Athena wanted to sleep in the bathtub, for reasons that are opaque to anyone over the age of seven. We didn't argue, although we did make her promise not to take a bath in her bed. So overall everybody got something out of it.

How did the Great Bathtub Sleeping Experiment of 2006 go? About as well as you would expect it to -- at about midnight Athena decided a real bed would be more comfortable. Unfortunately, as her own bed was stripped to create her little bathtub nest, she crawled into bed with Krissy, and I, who was still up at the time, couldn't very well relocate her to a stripped mattress. So I ended up sleeping in the guest room. I guess I could have slept in the bathtub, but let's just say that if a seven-year-old found the bathtub less than comfortable, it's not likely a 36-year-old is going to like it much, either.

Clearly, bathtub sleeping is not a thing to encourage on a day-to-day basis, but I think it's fun to let a kid try new things from time to time, even if (and perhaps especially if) they're a little silly. If nothing else, it'll make a great story when she has her own kids and she tells about the time she made a bed in the bathtub. Childhood memories for the low, low price of a pillow and comforter in the bathtub. Sounds like a bargain to me.

Posted by john at 12:57 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 05, 2006

Hate Mail is Done!

Another one done: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Selected Writings from "Whatever," 1998 - 2005 is off to the publisher. Here's the (tentative) chapter listing for this one:

Introduction: Decoding Hate Mail
1.  Disclaimers and Declarations
2.  Waiting for Athena
3.  America's Funniest Elections
4.  Jesus Loves You, Some of His Followers Maybe Not So Much
5.  Let's Get Fictional, or, Thank God Satire is Fair Use
6.  Kicking the Confederacy When It's Down
7.  Imprudent and Incompetent: Our Last Two Presidents
8.  9/11 and Everything After
9.  That Was the Millennium That Was
10.  Civil Rights? That's So Gay!
11.  I Blame the Parents
12.  Money or Lack Thereof
13.  We Paid Our Quarter, Now Dance Like a Monkey: Reader Request Columns
14.  The Junk Drawer, or, The Chapter of Misfit Entries

At the moment it clocks in at 99,300 words. Excellent.

Two books down for the year! Now come the books I actually have to, you know, write in order to get them done. Inconvenient, that.

Posted by john at 02:07 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 03, 2006

Writing Blah Blah Blah, 2/3/06

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Above: An impressionistic representation of the next 18 months (or so) of my life -- all the contracts I've signed for the three-book deal I have with Tor, the topmost contract there being for The Last Colony, the third book in the OMW series. If you're wondering why there are so many contracts, it's because each book has five copies of the contract I need to sign. After they are countersigned, one copy goes to me, one copy goes to my agent, one copy goes to my editor, one copy goes to legal, and one copy is shredded to make a paper-mache voodoo doll likeness of me, into which my publisher will stab steely knives should I wander too far from a deadline. Strangely enough, those are the contracts you always get paper cuts on. Coincidence? Doubtful.

While I'm navel-gazing here, some general notes about Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades:

* First, some good news about Old Man's War (at least, good for me): I've been told they're going back for a second printing of the trade paperback. The first printing of the trade paperback was about three times the first printing of the hardcover, so to burn through enough of them in a month to necessitiate firing up the presses for a second go-round is pretty happy-making. If you bought a trade paperback version of OMW, let me just say: You rock. You also rock if you bought it in hardcover of course. Oh, hell, you all rock. I'm just full of rock love today.

* Second, some news for those of you attending Boskone. As you may know, Boskone happens on the weekend before the release The Ghost Brigades, but because it's damn fine convention of damn fine people, and because the NESFAns have been so kind to OMW, we're making an effort to get a good-sized shipment of Ghost Brigades copies into the dealers' room. I want to stop short of making an iron-clad promise they'll be there -- it's a quantum physics universe and anything can happen -- but right now it looks good. So, if you're going to Boskone and you've been wanting to snag Ghost, cruise through the dealer's room. And remember I'm happy to sign books.

* Third, The Ghost Brigades is going to be featured on and in the Barnes & Noble Explorations site and newsletter next month (and this month, it's got a nice review of Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain -- go Toby!). I'll certainly remind y'all when it goes live there, but in the meantime, let me share a bit of the upcoming Ghost Brigades review by Paul Goat Allen, which I've been given permission to excerpt:

"Scalzi has been compared to science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein for good reason: his smooth blend of hard science fiction, military sci-fi and space opera is addictively readable and his breakneck pacing and surprisingly deep character development makes his novels practically impossible to put down. Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades and subsequent installments in this loosely-knit saga could very well be the early 21st century's answer to Asimov's Foundation series - it's that good."

Yeah, it's hard to complain about a review like that. So I won't. Good of me, I know. Of course, now I have to make sure The Lost Colony doesn't manifestly suck. Fortunately, I was planning on trying for that anyway (no doubt to the relief of my editors).

And now you're caught up with me.

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Music Pimpery

It was recently suggested that I should get back to recommending indie music, and while the comment was made sarcastically (harumph! harumph!), it's not a terribly bad idea, and as it happens I have two prime bits of indie music right here at my fingertips.

First, my pal and editor Joe Rybicki, aka the unstoppable musical combo Johnny High Ground, has decided to make his catalogue of music available for free download while he toils away on a future CD. So if you go here, you can listen to the music as streams or download them so you can take them with you wherever you go. I've linked to Joe and his dulcet musical stylings before, but you know what? Here I am doing it again. Those of you who have a burr up your ass about Dubya will enjoy his protest tune "Trigger-Happy Texan," while I think everyone can appreciate the elegy and eulogy of "Doing Fine," which Joe wrote about his late father. And I've been a long-time fan of the song "Bad Girl." It's all good, yo.

Sorry, I won't use "yo" again.

Also, while I was in NYC last week I loitered in the Tor offices and managed to scam the CD Some Other Place from the band Whisperado, which, as it happens, features my editor and pal Patrick Nielsen Hayden on guitar (clearly, there's something about my editors being musical going on here). Whisperado plays roots-rock tunage which you may sample with the songs "Black and Blue" and "Never Been to Nashville"; if you like it, you can kick out $8 for the CD here.

It occurs to me that I'm now officially an editor too, and I also play music (of a sort). Clearly, we must all combine our powers into a righetous editing supergroup! It'd be just like Blind Faith! Hmmm, okay, maybe not.

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February 02, 2006

Ook! Ook! Ook!

So, you know why I like doing the By The Way blog over at AOL? Among many other reasons, it allows me an excuse to do silly pictures like this one:

The picture was created for this "Weekend Assignment" -- which of course, I heartily suggest you participate in.

Anyway, sometimes I can't believe I get paid to do stuff like this. I'll be sad the day they finally catch up with me and make me go to work lifting things.

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I've Got a Boehner

How's this for conflicted: My representative to Congress, John Boehner, is going to be the next House majority leader. So on one hand: Not really my first choice for my personal representative (not like I have much choice, mind you, since he's running without any real opposition this election cycle), and I'm all for making him minority leader ASAP. On the other hand: Rock on, my congressional district is going to roll in the sweet, sweet love that comes with having your Congressman in charge of things. Hopefully Boehner will avoid doing something entirely stupid like handing out lobbyist checks on the floor of the House, as he's been known to do in the past. I think maybe he's learned his lesson.

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For Those of You Who Like to Vote For Things Online

The 2006 Locus Poll & Survey is up, and you can vote for your favorite SF books and short works, and no, you don't have to be a Locus subscriber to vote. You just have to love science fiction and fantasy with a pure and gentle soul. Well, actually, not even that -- you just need an e-mail address and the ability to use an online drop-down menu. See how far we've come.

I'll note that Old Man's War is in the drop-down menu for Best First Novel, but if you wanted to vote for it for Best Novel, you'd have to enter it as a write-in. You'd also have to enter The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies as a write-in for Best Non-Fiction Book. You know, if that was something you thought you wanted to do. Maybe.

Seriously, however -- lots of good books in 2005, both in the drop down menus and out of them, so if you've read and enjoyed SF/F this year, swing by and vote for your favorites.

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Boskone Schedule

For those of you going to Boskone, here's the schedule of panels and appearances I've got going for me. I have eight thingies going on, so, uh, you apparently won't lack for opportunities to see me blather on. Eight events is a lot, but frankly, I'd rather be busy than not. Otherwise I'd just sleep, and you all know how much I hate doing that. Here's the schedule:

Friday  8:00 pm         
Scotty, I Need More Bandwidth: Managing Information Streams
        Fred Lerner    
        John McDaid
        Naomi Novik
        Sheila M. Perry   (M)
        John Scalzi

    Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink?! Many of us are already drowning in a sea of information (and misinformation) when we really just want the good stuff.... Does having more bandwidth help or hinder? How do you keep tabs on the information industry's output? What if you had a direct neural connection? -- Would it help you to manage all those online information streams before your brain explodes?

Comments: Mmmmm... exploding brains.

Saturday 10:00 am         
Online Writing and Online Communities
        Lenny Bailes
        Tobias Buckell
        James D. Macdonald    
        Teresa Nielsen Hayden    
        John Scalzi   (M)

Comments: No panel description comes with this one, so I guess as moderator I get to make it up as I go along. Bwa ha ha ha ha hah! I find it deeply amusing to be moderating a panel that has James D. Macdonald and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on it, as they are two of the great online moderators of our time (which means, of course, two of the great online moderators, ever); hopefully I won't make too much an ass of myself.

 Saturday 1:00 pm        
 Political SF
        Daniel Hatch    
        Ken MacLeod
        Patrick Nielsen Hayden   
        John Scalzi   (M)

    Real world and utopian politics have informed the writings of some of the best in the genre. Who, how, and why? And does SF require new politics, or can it work with familiar politics in a new setting? (Please check all flamethrowers at the door - this is not a panel that debates contemporary political philosophies, except as they apply to contemporary works of SF)

Comments: Moderating a politics panel with PNH and Ken MacLeod and a political reporter/SF writer? I may have to pack my taser! I can't imagine that this won't be a wild and wolly panel.


Saturday 4:00 pm         
War and Peace
        Walter H. Hunt    (M)
        Clayton L. McNally
        Tamora Pierce    
        John Scalzi
        Ann Tonsor Zeddies    

    Why are so many SF/F books about war and not peace? And who is good (believable, anyway) at writing about war and who needs to go back to boot camp? Panelists will discuss realistic and unrealistic depictions of war in fantasy and science fiction....and may even do the same for peace....

Comments: There aren't so many books about peace because peace is boring. That's why it's called "peace."

Sunday 10:00 am  
Reading (0.5 hrs)
        John Scalzi

Comments: I have no idea what I'm going to read from -- the first chapter of The Android's Dream is too long for this time slot. Being that it is the weekend before the release of The Ghost Brigades, I may simply read from that book. In fact, yes, I will. I'll read the first half of the first chapter of that book. Be there! Or, you know. You'll miss it.

Sunday 11:00 am
Homage.....or, Stealing(?) from the Classics          
        John M. Ford
        Ken MacLeod
        Mark L. Olson   (M)
        John Scalzi
        Karl Schroeder   

    Ken MacLeod is having a conversation with classic SF -- he clearly has a deep affection for the genre, and incorporates classic phrases that allude to other stories in the canon. Who else does this, well or badly? What makes it fun? When is it more like stealing?

Comments: I imagine I am on this panel because I shamelessly admit to steal ideas. Yes, I'm a thief. Lock me away in the literary prison.

Sunday 12:00 noon        
Autographing

Comments: I suspect this will be a mass thing, otherwise I'll be sitting in a room all alone for an hour.

Sunday  1:00 pm          
Kaffeeklatsch

Comments: Oooh! My first kaffeklatsch! Uh, can someone tell me what I'm supposed to do in one of these things? No, seriously. I haven't the first friggin' clue.

Aside from these events I'm sure you'll see me wandering aimlessly and/or hanging out at the parties; feel free to come over and say hello.

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The Return of Beer in Space

Here's a little blast from the past: "Beer in Space," a three-panel science cartoon I made with my pal Richard Polt a number of years ago. I had the idea of doing an astronomy book illustrated by him (and featuring his characters Benny the Stick and Beniy the Spider) and this was a sample, based on an article I wrote for the Fresno Bee. I had it up on the site for a while, but then it went away, as did most things prior to 2003. But now it's back, in (slightly) improved form -- I fiddled with the graphics files to make them a little clearer. I think the text is more readable now (although some of you may still have to squint for the text on the last page). Sadly, we never got the go-ahead for this particular astro book. But I got one eventually, so I guess I'm okay.

The images will pop up when you click the links below.

View Page One

View Page Two

View Page Three

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February 01, 2006

February Portraits

Athena, as of February 1, 2006.

More photos from today here.

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State of the Union

At the risk of getting myself kicked out of the "Dubya Hata Playa" club -- you know what? I would have booted Cindy Sheehan from the State of the Union too. You know why? Because wearing a t-shirt to the State of the Union is tacky. Yes, yes, she was wanting to make a political statement. Don't care. You're at the State of the Union. Dress appropriately. A nice pant suit with a big button that says "2,245 and how many more?'' would have worked just fine, and if she got kicked out the news stories would still report what it said. Just because you're protesting doesn't mean you need to look like you just stepped out of a Berkeley organic food mart. (Update: Apparently Sheehan wasn't the only one booted from the gallery last night for wearing a message-laden t-shirt, and this other t-shirt was worn by the wife of a Republican representative. Hopefully she was wearing pearls with the t-shirt.)

As for the State of the Union itself: Eh. I stopped watching the speeches because I can't stand hearing the man attempt formal speakitude, and the transcript of the speech doesn't move me much. There are parts to which I disagree, which is not surprising, but also parts to which I agree -- which may surprise people -- but for which I have zero confidence that this administration is equal to the task of moving on them. I'm always heartened to see an American president declare we've got to kick foreign oil, as an example, but I'm terrified that in the hands of the Bush folks the implementation of a plan encourage alternative power sources will end up causing the lot of us to have power only during sunlight hours, and none on alternate Tuesdays. Beware the incompetent armed with a good idea.

In point of fact Bush State of the Union addresses depress me, particularly because there are significant chunks of what he lays out in them that I can get behind. I want my president to do good things -- even as I naturally oppose the things I see him do which I think are unjust or unwise -- and I'm very sad that based on previous performance I work from the position that any good idea this administration has is doomed in the details. I'm not a fan of Bush, but as I've said before, this doesn't require me to take satisfaction in the idea his administration's lack of ability. I really wouldn't mind Bush and his people doing the right things right. I'm just not holding my breath.

Update, 6:53pm: Capitol police admit they were wrong to boot Sheehan and Young for their t-shirts. Their only crimes were crimes of fashion.

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