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March 31, 2006

Here's a Question:

Has anyone else ever had a dream just about reading and answering e-mail? Not, like, sexy e-mail. Just e-mail. I can't imagine I'm the only one, and yet I find it disturbing to do something so mundane during my REM sleep.

Posted by john at 08:44 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

Coining a Phrase: "Christian Victim Front"

Since we seem to be talking about it here today, allow me to coin a phrase for the type of Christians who irrationally believe they and their values are constantly under attack and that they are the underdog in some vast moral scuffle here in the United States, even though 8 of 10 Americans identify as Christian, Christians comprise the vast majority of elected positions in the United States at the local, state and federal level, and the wide majority of the members of the US military consider themselves to be Christian, and the United States Constitution guarantees them the perfect right to practice their religion (although not to foist their religion on others, which, frankly, seems to confuse a great number of them):

Christian Victim Front. Perfect for the Christian with an overdeveloped sense of moral persecution in the absence of actual persecution.

Mind you, this is not to say there is the occasional example of Christians erroneously being told they can not practice their religion as they see fit; ironically, an aggrieved Christian's best friend in this regard is the ACLU, who has a history of making sure Christians get their rights under the Constitution. This probably makes members of the CVF turn an apopleptic shade of purple. But as to a systematic, orchestrated war against Christian relgious expression and practice here in the US? Well, apparently it's possible to believe it, but its ironically something you have to take on faith, because the facts are not in evidence.

It's also not to suggest that every Christian is a member of the Christian Victim Front. My personal experience is that most Christians are perfectly sane on this subject, as they are on every other subject one might care to name, and joyously practice their faith secure in the protections of US Constitution and in the assurance of the tolerance and good wishes of their neighbors, even the ones who don't share their faith (or have no faith at all). As with so many loudmouthed paranoids, the Christian Victim Front is not especially representative of the group it claims to represent.

What the existence of Christian Victim Front shows is an institutionalization of the victim rhetoric and a willingness by members of comfortable majority groups to use the rhetoric of groups who have been legitimately victimized over time, and use it to prop up their unearned privileges, even at the expense of the genuine rights of others. Christians aren't the only one to use this trick, of course; there is also a Male Victim Front, a Caucasian Victim Front and a Wealthy Victim Front as well. In each case, it's a more than a little unseemly. But it's useful to use the rhetorical tools of the opposition against them, and with one's base of support, it's easier to keep people in line if you can give them the illusion that they're constantly under attack.

The best way to combat this is to point out its inherent silliness. Thus: Christian Victim Front. Use it. Love it. Share it.

Also, it would make a kickass name for a punk group.

Posted by john at 04:12 PM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

A Grateful Nation Thanks Its President

Finally, a Bush initiative I agree with!

Posted by john at 02:20 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

DeLay's War

Oh no! Tom DeLay says there's a war on Christianity! To the bunkers! With the crucifix!

There is no war on Christianity, save, perhaps, the one being perpetrated by "Christians" who by their deeds show themselves to be either ignorant of or manifestly opposed to the ideals espoused by Jesus, against the Christians who are somehow under the impression that what Jesus was really about was charity, compassion, justice and love; you know, all that stuff you'll find in that New Testament thingy you hear so much about. The idea that Tom DeLay, whose track record on the Hill is appallingly unChristly, is somehow a model spokesman for Christian values of any sort is one that is best met with a giggle and a remembrance of Matthew 7: 21-23. For Mr. DeLay in particular, remembrance of Matthew 6:19-24 is also fervently advised.

Speaking as a non-believer, I'm not for a War on Christianity, since religious tolerance is a cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, and you know how fond I am of that document; it certainly does come in handy. Even if I were, I wouldn't advise the war, because in this country Christians have both the guns and the numbers. I certainly wouldn't mind a war on hypocrisy, however, and Tom DeLay looks like a ripe target for the first salvo on that front. Naturally, I encourage DeLay's co-religionists to lead that charge. It's people like him who give Jesus (and his followers) a bad name.

Posted by john at 01:12 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

Adding Accelerando

For those 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters out there, I'm happy to note that our 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters electronic edition package has been sweetened by 50% with the addition of Charlie Stross' 2006 Hugo-nominated novel Accelerando. Click here for the update to the original entry, plus information on how you can get Accelerando if you've already downloaded the package.

w00t! Charlie's in!

Posted by john at 03:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Interesting But Unverifiable Facts About the 2006 Campbell Class

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Here's the Campbell Class of 2006, or at the very least, books representing each of us. While I've been catching up on my reading, I've also had my crack team of private investigators create dossiers on each other Campbell nominee this year, in, of course, wholly legal and non-intrusive ways. In this way, I've discovered some interesting facts about each of them, which I will share with you now. Because this group of nominees is undeniably modest and self-effacing, I won't say which fact goes with which Campbell nominee -- and I'll also include an equal number of facts about myself, just to keep things on an even keel. Have fun trying to match the fact with the nominee!

Did you know:

* One nominee's favorite color is ecru.

* One nominee's secret ambition is to be a guest star on The Muppet Show, but lack of access to a time machine prevents this.

* In college, one nominee played bass in a Bauhaus tribute band called Gropius Schmopius.

* One nominee was born with an extra toe.

* One nominee's favorite antebellum president is Millard Fillmore, and because of this the nominee will often find a way to work into conversation that president's last words: "The nourishment is palatable."

* One nominee can simultaneously write classical Greek with one hand, and Klingon with the other.

* One nominee is known to smell of fresh-baked white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies, which makes the nominee immensely popular with small children and baked goods fetishists.

* One nominee holds the world record for catching the largest number of grunion in a 15-minute period.

* If one particular nominee ever needs a kidney, they'll be glad to know one other nominee is a match.

* One nominee is allergic to certain forms of plastic, which is why the nominee never drinks soda from two-liter bottles.

* As a child one nominee rescued so many pets from being run over that the mayor of the town in which the nominee lived declared a day in the nominee's honor. Ironically, that day, the nominee's pet kitten Chocolate was hit by a school bus.

* One nominee has a mild case of synesthesia, and thus has not only found the rainbow connection, but has also painted with all the colors of the wind.

* One nominee shudders involuntarily at the sound of the word "loquacious."

* Whatever you do, don't ask one nominee to explain to you the events of April 23, 1994. Or what happened to the shoes afterward.

* Rumor has it that if you look in the mirror and say this nominee's name three times, the nominee will magically appear behind you, and offer you donuts.

* One nominee finds it impossible to sleep unless everyone else in the building is asleep first. This makes staying at hotels extremely difficult.

* At a Model UN conference in high school, one nominee, in the position as the model Ambassador from Camaroon, managed to convince the model Ambassador from Great Britain to launch the country's nuclear arsenal at Argentina, thus precipitating a model 30-minute World War III in which a model 1.6 billion humans died during the resulting model nuclear exchange. This nominee was not only subsequently banned from further participation in Model UN, but was placed on a list of people who are not allowed to visit various United Nations facilities, including the headquarters in New York.

* One nominee can not only tie a cherry stem in a knot with their tongue, but if you give the nominee three cherry stems, they can make macrame.

* One nominee cries everytime Coldplay's "Yellow" is played within earshot. No, the nominee doesn't want to talk about it.

* One nominee's first word as an infant was "booger."

* In elementary school, one nominee wrote a semi-autobiographical short story for a contest in the local newspaper, with a prize as a party at the local skate rink. Before the nominee could submit the story, however, it was submitted by another student at the school. The story won, and the other student didn't invite the nominee to the skate party. The name of that other student: James Frey.

* Due to a childhood brain trauma, one nominee, while otherwise completely normal, is unable to tie shoes, and therefore never wears shoes that require bows.

* One nominee's mother gave up her own life's ambitions to help her child learn and grow as a writer. However, since this nominee's mother's life ambition was to watch every single episode of General Hospital, this sacrifice was not terribly onerous, especially after the nominee's mother learned how to program the VCR.

* One nominee has a concealed weapons permit. So don't piss this nominee off.

Are these facts true? Well, if nothing else, they are all equally true.

Posted by john at 09:48 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

March 28, 2006

Spin, Accelerando and Old Man's War: The 2006 Hugo/Campbell Voters Electronic Editions

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8/1/06: Hugo voting for 2006 is now closed. I regret we may no longer offer electronic versions of Spin and Old Man's War.

For the duration of the 2006 Hugo and Campbell campaign, Tor Books has graciously reverted certain electronic rights to John Scalzi and Robert Charles Wilson concerning their Hugo-nominated novels Old Man's War and Spin. This allows the two of them to make special electronic editions available at request to 2006 Hugo and Campbell voters. The authors have put together a package of both books for the voters' convenience. Where can they get these special editions? Well, right here, of course!

(Update, 3/29/06 2:30pm -- Charlie Stross has given a thumbs up to adding his 2006 Hugo-nominated novel Accelerando to the package as well! That's three out of the five Hugo nominees, all in one place for Hugo/Campbell voters.)

And now, the questions:

Who is eligible to receive this collection?

2006 Hugo/Campbell voters are eligible. To be a Hugo/Campbell voter, you must be a member of LAcon IV, this year's Worldcon. If you are not yet a member, you can become one here.

Is there a cost to these electronic editions?

No. The authors do hope if the 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters enjoy the books, they might consider picking up physical copies of Spin, Accelerando and Old Man's War; their mortgages will thank you. However, these electronic editions are provided without cost to eligible voters.

I'm a member of LAcon IV, and I'm going to vote for the Hugo and Campbell! How do I get these electronic editions?

Send an e-mail to hugo@scalzi.com requesting the editions.

IMPORTANT: Your e-mail MUST include the following information: The name under which you are registered for LAcon IV, your membership number, and your home state/province/country (if not US or Canada). This is so we may confirm you are, indeed, an LAcon IV member and are thus eligible to vote for the 2006 Hugo/Campbell Awards. DO NOT PROVIDE YOUR PIN NUMBER. We don't need that, and as per your bank card, that's not a number you need to share with anyone else.

Information sent to the "hugo@scalzi.com" address will be stored by John Scalzi for the duration of the nomination process. After the final day for voting is over, it will deleted. None of this information will be seen or used by anyone other than John Scalzi, nor used for any purpose other than verifying LAcon IV membership and providing 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters with the eligible texts.

(Update, 5:51pm -- we've already had more than one person ask if they really have to provide that information. Yes, you really do.)

Why are you not making these editions available to anyone but 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters?

Tor reverted these electronic rights back to the authors under these specific conditions; they are legally obliged to honor them. Tor is currently working industriously toward making commercial electronic editions of these and other fine Tor books available to the general public, hopefully sooner than later.

What format are these editions of the novels?

All texts are in rich text format (.rtf) in order to be opened on the widest number of computers and electronic readers. 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters may feel free to reformat the texts in whatever manner they choose. The texts are packaged in a .zip file which also includes a brief "read me" note from the authors.

Are these editions of the novels locked down with any form of Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Robert Charles Wilson and John Scalzi are asking 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters who receive these editions of their books not to share them outside their households. Outside of this polite request, there is no DRM applied to any of the text files. Other forms of DRM implicitly suggest 2006 Hugo/Campbell voters cannot be trusted, and that quite obviously sends the wrong signal. The authors prefer to trust the voters.

I'm a 2006 Hugo/Campbell voter and I've sent in my information. What now?

John Scalzi, who is administering this program on behalf of himself, Charles Stross and Robert Charles Wilson, will verify your LAcon IV membership and then either e-mail you the .zip file containing the texts (~880kb), or provide you with a URL from which you may download the .zip file. Depending on the volume of requests, this may take a couple of days.

Your request may be denied if you have not provided adequate information to verify you are an LAcon IV member, so please remember to provide the information as specified above. If your request has been denied due to lack of information, you may resubmit with the additional information.

If more than 7 days has passed since you submitted your e-mail and you have not received either the file, information on how to download the file, or a denial, please first check your spam filters (your e-mail client or ISP may decide that someone sending you a 880kb .zip file is up to no good); if there's nothing there please feel free to resubmit your request. E-mail does sometimes slip through the cracks.

While the authors do intend to fulfill every legitimate request for these electronic editions, they do reserve the right to refuse to send the texts to anyone, for any reason.

I asked for a copy of the package before Accelerando was added in! How can I get Accelerando too?

Write in again and ask for it -- or, alternately, go to Charlie's Accelerando site, and download a free copy there. Accelerando is also available for download by non-2006 Hugo/Campbell voters.

Any additional comments or questions? Feel free to drop them into the comment thread.

Posted by john at 08:31 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

"Coffee Shop" and Subterranean Scalzi Sale

Hey! I have book news, and sale news, and they are magically interrelated. So let me tell you about both. Prepare for pimpage, people.

Book news first: Subterranean Press is now taking pre-orders for You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing. As you may have guessed from the title, this is my book on the writing life, featuring many essays and entires on the subject from this very Web site: all my blatherations on the subject from my "Utterly Useless Writing Advice" entry back in 2001 through to "The Money Entry" this month, including some writing essays and entries which no longer exist on the site (which means that unless you're willing to trawl through archive.org, the book is the only place to get them). In all, an interesting snapshot of what it's like to be a writer, right now.

To remind folks, this book originally started out as part of Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, the upcoming collection of Whatever entries, also from Subterranean, but there was enough interest from Whatever readers for a stand-alone collection of writing entries that we went ahead and spun it off into its own signed, limited hardcover edition. The book is about 75,000 words (pretty hefty for a book on writing) and is divided into four meaty chapters:

1. Writing Advice, or, Avoiding Real Work the John Scalzi Way
2. Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Writer's Life For Me
3. The Schadenfreude Needle is Buried Deep Into the Red: On Writers
4. Science Fiction, or, Don't Skip This Chapter, You Goddamned Writing Snobs

Yeah, it's not your average book on writing, that's for sure. The book is currently scheduled for an August release.

To celebrate the announcement of the book and to encourage you to pre-order, Subterranean Press is running a special two-day only deal for Whatever readers: Pre-order Coffee Shop now and get 30% off. And if you feel like getting anything else from Subterranean while you're there, you'll get 30% off the entire order.* That's any Subterranean release, not just the ones from me (although I'd note that Subterranean is down to the last couple dozen copies of Agent to the Stars...).

Subterranean has some truly excellent books out now and in the near future, including short story collections by Tad Williams, Robert Silverberg and Philip Jose Farmer, a limited two-volume edition of George RR Martin's A Storm of Swords, illustrated by Charles Vess*, and limited editions from Jonathan Letham and Charlie Stross. You can also pick yourself up the Cliche issue of Subterranean Magazine.

In short, lots of really cool stuff, all 30% off* when you pre-order Coffee Shop today (March 27, 2006) and tomorrow (March 28, 2006).

(Now the details: When you check out, you must mention "WHATEVER" in the comment area. The shopping cart and automatic email confirmation won't reflect the sale price. Subterranean will catch that when processing the order (so don't panic!).

If you want to pay through Paypal, e-mail subpress@earthlink.net with your selections rather than checking out via the shopping cart. Subterranean can then email an invoice for the proper amount.

Any questions? Drop them into the comment thread)

I think you're going to like Coffee Shop, and if you've never looked through Subterranean's stuff before, I hope this encourages you to do so. Enjoy!

(* Here's what the asterisk means -- one or two things are not available as sale items, including the Storm of Swords set. You'll be able to note what they are on the Subterranean site because the product description will mention it. But these are in the minority.)

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Writing Memes and Hal Duncan

Two writey-like things:

1. Elizabeth Bear rather unintentionally started a "10 Things I Know About Writing" meme, which has prompted folks like Hal Duncan and Meg McCarron and Jay Lake, among others, to drop in their own thoughts on the matter (and Nick Mamatas to snark on the whole lot of them). I'd jump in myself, but I already did this a couple years back, so rather than repeat myself, here's 10 things I'd tell you about writing. Bear's original 10 specified fiction writing, but these 10 things work perfectly fine for fiction and non-fiction writers.

2. Speaking of Hal Duncan, I've finally had a chance to start reading his novel Vellum, which will be out here in the states in about a month, and I have to join in on the chorus of people who've found it to be really excellent dark fantasy, on the same thematic street as you'll find the work of fellows like Neil Gaiman, Jeff VanderMeer and China Mieville, but with its own distinct voice, which if I had to sum up in two words, might be called "skankily elegant." And of those two words, the emphasis would be on "elegant," written as if by someone who picked up his pen after a certain fall from grace (which is not to presume anything about Duncan, whom I've met only briefly).

Vellum works on its own, but I've also noticed that certain strains of dark fantasy hit the reading pleasure button in my brain, and I don't doubt the book benefits from that as well. I'm trying to figure out why that is so. One thing simply might be some latent gothiness in me; I've never been able to pull off the goth thing myself (I'm just a little too chipper for that), but I've got the Siouxsie and Fields of the Nephilim albums to suggest a certain fascination with the ankh-and-kohl lifestyle. What can I say. I guess I like ankhs.

But I think the other more relevant thing is that I like writing that does things with words in ways I don't and possibly couldn't. Duncan's relationship with language is different than mine, more argumentative and pointed and crafty, in more than one sense of that latter term, and that's something he shares with the previously-mentioned writers, although each exhibit it in their own way. This is a non-jealous admiration, mostly, since I don't particularly want to write like Duncan (or Gaiman, or Mieville) does, and there are places I want to take my own writing voice they don't go. But this is not to say I can't appreciate or even learn from them, and this is my point with Duncan: His style is strong enough that as I'm enjoying the story as a reader I'm also paying attention as a writer, trying to see how he's put together his edifice. I don't do this with every writer, mostly just the folks who do things I don't. So on that level, it's interesting to watch him work.

In any event, I imagine fans of dark fantasy have already been twigged to Vellum's upcoming US debut (it's been out in the UK for some time). If you didn't know about this book yet, well, now you are, and if dark fantasy rings your bell, this book's going to set you ringing.

Posted by john at 06:53 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 26, 2006

Feeling Patriotic

You know, I couldn't possibly give a crap about college basketball, so I just surprised the hell out of myself by yelling "all right!" when I read that George Mason beat Connecticut to make it to the Final Four. I guess I'm a sucker for an underdog just like everybody else, particularly one from an area I have a house in. Also, you know in Hollywood someone's already started pitching a movie about this one. Good for George Mason.

Posted by john at 06:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Krieg des Alten Mannes und Die Geist Brigaden

Some nice news from other continents: We've sold Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades in Germany, to Heyne, who also publishes Robert Charles Wilson, Charlie Stross, George RR Martin, but sadly not Ken MacLeod, thus depriving Heyne of a clean sweep of this year's Hugo nominees. Drat the luck. In any event, nice to see that OMW and TGB are getting out into the world.

I am reminded that I took German for seven years in high school and college and so far as I know never learned to read or speak a whit of it. I got through high school German because my German teacher wanted me to date her daughter (both her daughter and I felt differently about it, although we were good friends) and I can't quite remember how it was I passed the language in college. I do believe it was on the philosophy that "D is for Diploma." Nevertheless, I'm tremendously excited about the prospect of my writing in the language. Hopefully my books will do better in German than I did.

Posted by john at 01:14 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

March 25, 2006

Two Suns in the Sunset

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Sunset, March 25, 2006. This is an interesting version of a sun pillar; the extended pillar is obscured from view by the presence of lower-lying clouds in the foreground. So rather than a pillar of light extending upward, you get what looks to be a second sun. I've been semi-conscious today at best (the flu is shaking me around like a rag doll, it is, and made me sleep through most of the afternoon), so I'm glad I happened to look out the window and catch this.

Posted by john at 06:55 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Caught Unawares

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The missus, while we were out to dinner last night. I don't think she caught me snapping a picture of her with the cell phone this particular time, although I got a couple of other snaps in which she was fully aware.

In other news, I'm finding the cell phone (which most of you will remember I'm getting for free) to be useful, although not magically so. It's stuffed with a bunch of extras but I'm mostly using it for Web surfing and picture taking, with the occasional phone call. In each case it's the third best option I have for each -- it's nice to snap a picture with one's cell phone, for example, but I'd rather use my camera; it's fine for calling someone but I'd rather use my home phone or Skype if I'm on the road. It's primary advantage is being portable, and overall I guess I can blame it for being a jack of all trades and master of none. And it's my understanding relative to other cell phones, mine is pretty damn cool. This is what I get for being so late to the cell phone party, I suppose. I don't really have a frame of reference.

What I would like to see, of course, is something that actually does everything with some measure of competence. One of the things that appeals to me about those upcoming "ultra-mobile PCs" is that they seem to have the capability to do everything I'd want a portable device to do, with a useful form factor. If someone would build a cell phone in one those things, that'd be something I'd want to have. In the meantime the cell phone is nice, but I haven't decided whether it's something I'd keep after the six month free period is over.

One nagging feeling I have is that I'm not adequately exploiting the "free" aspect of this phone. Everything about it is free, including the premium services. I should be downloading scads of music off of Sprint's music store so I can own it later when the lights go out. But, eh, I already have iTunes and Rhapsody. Again, the third best option. But perhaps I'm just not looking at it the right way.

Posted by john at 08:28 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

Fred Phelps and Free Speech

A question from the e-mail:

Your opinion has always shown to be thoughtful and expressed very well, even for those few instances where I disagree with you. For that reason, and I know request week is over, that I feel obliged to seek your own particular view on something. Recently, a lot of attention has centered on Mr. Fred Phelps. Several states have begun legislation to ban his protesting at the funerals of soldiers. A recent article, which was submitted at fark.com discusses the legal implications of the legislation and the precedence for and against it.

I always have respected the right to free speech, despite whether I agree with the protester. However, being a soldier myself, I find the fact of Mr Phelps protesting funerals of soldiers and causing such grief on their families to be horrible. The personal freedom of Phelps vs the right of the families is a delicate one with the right to privacy and speech both threatened by a situation such as this one.

So, basically, what do you think? Is this man invading the families' rights? Your opinion would be much appreciated.

First off, as a procedural note, you don't have to wait until a request week to ask me about my thoughts on topics -- shoot me off an e-mail any time. Every time someone suggests a topic, that's an entry where I don't have to wonder what I'm going to write about. And that makes me happy.

Now, on to Fred Phelps: Personally I think Fred Phelps is a rat-bag son of a bitch, and if someone decided that pummelling the bastard into a coma was worth a stint in jail, I wouldn't shed a single tear for Phelps, and would possibly bake the assailant some cookies. Having said that, I've also said that I believe the best test of free speech is one's willingness to let the most odious person you know shout vile crap at the top of his lungs. Phelps is easily one of the most vile people around, and Lord knows he shouts a lot of crap.

My own feeling on the matter is similar to Eugene Volokh's in the article linked to above (which is on the National Review site, not on the Fark.com site, although I'm sure it was indeed linked to there). I think it's reasonable for states and/or communities to legislate some distance between the funeral and the protestors, but I think you have to let them protest. Volokh worries particularly about expanding the home-based ban on protesting (carved out in Frisby v. Schultz) to apply to funerals because of the slippery slope problems it entails, and I would have to agree with that -- it's one thing for a presumption of peace in one's home, but it's another at a funeral in what is essentially an open and public space, and being laid to rest isn't the same as being at home. I see the slippery slope here as being pretty slippery.

From a legal point of view, as much as Phelps disgusts me, and regardless of how much I look forward to him and his odious clutch of followers feculently rotting in Satan's rectum for all eternity some time in the geologically near future, I don't see how you can deny him his right to protest. However, there is nothing to say that Phelp's protests can't and shouldn't be counteracted, and indeed this has been something that's been done. For example, a group of motorcycle riders known as the Patriot Guard Riders attends the services of fallen service members (at the invitation of the families), and shield the families thought the clever use of flags, songs and motorcyles. Makes me want to go out and buy a motorcycle, it does.

Is Fred Phelps invading the privacy of these grieving families? Of course he is; that's his intent. And Phelps, while being a tightly-puckered sphincter of pure hate, is also not exactly stupid; he knows what he can get away with. No matter what restrictions are placed on funeral protests, Phelps and the babbling pack of fecal smears whom he claims as followers will sit right at the legal edge and do their thing. Short of their bus careening wildly off the Interstate on their way back to Topeka, crushing the lot of them into a howling mass of insensate tissue, their souls pulled screaming toward Hell, there's little that will stop them.

What is heartening is that people like the Patriot Riders and others will show up on their own dime and stand to remind the families of the fallen that the vast majority of Americans, whatever their political beliefs or feelings about the current conflict, honor the service these men and women have given to their country and the sacrifices that they made -- and that the vast majority of Americans stand with the families of these fallen, and grieve for what has been lost. That's why Fred Phelps loses every time he shows up. There are more good people than people like him, and they're happy to show up to make that point. And that's a fine use of free speech, I think.

Posted by john at 02:09 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

News, Various Thoughts Thereof

Some thoughts running through my head about various things I've seen in the news and on blogs:

* The totality of my thought about the Afghani who is likely to be killed for converting to Christianity, is, gee, it sure is nice we spent so much in time, money, and human life ousting those intolerant Taliban! This is admittedly not a sufficiently complex line of thought on the matter, but I'm willing to live with that at the moment. I'm pretty consistently for religious freedom and against religious intolerance, no matter where it is, and I'm not impressed by a bunch of jackassed imams hooting that Allah gets His feelings hurt every time someone converts from Islam, and therefore someone has to die. I'm even less impressed with a government that has that as a baked-in practice. And even less impressed yet that this is a government we helped establish, and then ourselves hooted about democracy flourishing, and so on, and so on.

* As an aside this reminds me again of a little rule of thumb I use to decide just how seriously I need to take a religious or political leader, which is know at what point he decides women have had enough of that whole "rights" thing. If the answer is "at some point less than the rights of men," then I don't entirely feel the fellow has the moral standing to lecture me about a single goddamned thing. The fellows above, hooting for the death of this convert, strike me as the sort who would get concerned about the evils of women wearing slacks, so you can imagine what I feel is their level of moral authority. Of course, let's not get too proud over here, shall we. We've got lots of folks who are happy for women to wear slacks, true enough, but don't trust them to run their own bodies.

* Speaking of which, the hot new thing on the Internet is how the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, has said she'd open up a Planned Parenthood clinic on the reservation to serve South Dakota's women, and there's not a thing the South Dakota government could do about it because the reservation is sovereign land. This is a lovely story; alas, not every state has a reservation in it. But I also suspect that if this came to pass (and, additionally, that the Supreme Court, in a fit of madness, reversed Roe v. Wade and allowed the South Dakota law to go into effect) that South Dakota would try to find a way to get around it; the state and the US have a very casual relationship with the sovereignity of the reservations within their borders, if memory recollects correctly. Although the sight of armed South Dakota law enforcement invading the Pine Ridge Reservation to take over a Planned Parenthood clinic would certainly be a hint to people that women were once again second class citizens, both in the US and in the territories in which it could exert its influence.

* Somewhat related, the jackassed "Roe v. Wade for men" thing, in which some schmuck named Matt Dubay wants not to have to pay child support because he didn't want to have a kid, and his girlfriend said she didn't want to have a kid, but then she became pregnant and decided that she did. Aside from assuring that he will never again have heterosexual sex with any woman who is not clinically bugfuck insane, Dubay is a perfect example of how people seem to have forgotten that sex isn't fun with the incidental side effect of producing kids, it's fun because the primary purpose is to produce kids.

Guys, here's the deal: If you have a sex with a fertile woman, you may just fertilize her. It's implicit in having sex, even if you've done everything short of not having sex to avoid it. If you want to have sex without the risk of fertilization, get a vasectomy, boink post-menopausal women, or have sex with men. Those are your options. Lord knows I'm not a prude, but I'm also not stupid, and as a practical matter my personal rule of thumb regarding heterosexual sex (which is, I must admit, my preferred sort) has always been not to have it with someone I wouldn't want to have a kid with. This has kept me from having sex I could have had, I admit. On the other hand, I've never regretted being with anyone I've been with, either, so there's that benefit -- and also there are no little Scalzis running around that I don't know about, which is even better.

The argument here, as I understand it, is that if a woman has the choice to end a pregnancy, a man should have the choice not to pay support for a child he didn't want. The problem is that these are not equivalent issues. A woman can end her pregnancy because it involves her person, and every person should have the right to say what happens to his or her body, up to and including hosting another human inside it. Paying child support has not a single thing to do with that; it has to do with some twit not wanting to deal with the consequences of his actions. Certainly the woman has to deal with the consequences of her actions: she must either have the child, and then support it or put it up for adoption, or she must end her pregnancy. For some dick to walk away from all responsibility on the weak excuse of "hey, I didn't want that," is monstrous. God knows men already do that; the last thing we need to do is give them legal cover.

The good news is the chance of this lawsuit not getting stuffed is almost non-existent. Personally I think the judge should up Dubay's monthly child support payment as punishment for attempting to be such a weasel in the first place; that and to be made to wear a T-shirt that says "I filed suit to be a deadbeat dad" at least once a week for a year. Yes, I'm into creative sentencing.

* I'm not a huge fan of Dick Cheney, but I admit to being confused as to why his hotel room requests are such a big deal. For being the second most powerful man in the world (de jure), his requests are charmingly modest: Some fresh-brewed decaf, some soda, water, newspapers and lots of light. Fair enough. There seem to be some chuckles at the idea that he wants all the TVs in his suite tuned to Fox News, but aside from it being utterly unsurprising that a member of this administration watches that particular "news channel," if this is the most extreme of his demands, as celebrities and VIPs go, Dick Cheney is the proverbial cakewalk. Cut the man some slack, already. Lord knows there's enough legitimate reason to snark on him.

Posted by john at 03:57 AM | Comments (75) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

Snakes on a Plane!

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Is there anyone out there on the Internet who does not believe this film won't make $50 million the opening weekend? Especially now that it's added Sam Jackson bellowing "I want these mother------- snakes off the mother------- plane!" in reshoots. That's $10 million right there. Hell, I'm going just for that line.

Snakes on a Plane! Man, you just never get tired of saying it.

Posted by john at 03:22 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Printilation

About five minutes after I noted in this comment thread that Amazon and BN.com seem to be in short supply of Old Man's War at the moment, I got an e-mail from Tor letting me know that both OMW and The Ghost Brigades are going back for third printings. Nice to have a publisher who can read my mind, and act on my desires.

{[(imagines fully loaded Ford Mustang -- the V8 model)]}

Hey. It's worth a shot.

Posted by john at 03:02 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Dear Asimov's and Analog: Not to Complain, But...

The Web sites for Asimov's and Analog have a "blogs" section that's supposed to rotate between various science fiction blogs once a month but has had mine (and Jonathan Strahan's) featured since November. It's not that I don't appreciate the attention, but five months is a sufficiently long time, and also, since both Asimov's and Analog are owned by Dell Magazines, which sponsors the Campbell Awards, having my blog featured there (and not the blogs of the other five Campbell nominees) sends some potentially troublesome, albeit certainly inadvertant, messages.

Basically, this would be a good time for these sites to rotate their blogs. Might I suggest the blogs of Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier? Thanks.

Posted by john at 12:35 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Nomination Aftermath

I've had my day of feeling like a pretty princess with the Hugo/Campbell nominations (and also, went to sleep at 7pm because I'm sick, sick, sick and then slept for ten hours straight), but before I move on to blather about other topics I'd like to make post some other, general thoughts on this topic. This is going to get mega-geeky for those of you not into science fiction. Sorry about that.

* Toward my Hugo nomination specifically, the general response has been varying levels of surprise, to which I can honestly say, well, folks, join the club. Prior to getting the e-mail informing me that it was a Hugo nominee, my thought about the matter was "it'd be nice, but it's not going to happen," and then I'd think about something else. I like my book, you know, rather a lot. But I'm also a realist, and the realist point of view suggests that a first-time military SF novel openly patterned after Ol' Bob's work doesn't get to the show. Which I suppose just goes to show you can be a realist and also be wrong. Clearly, I'll never be a realist again.

* The largest amount of surprise seems to come from across the sea, from the British fen. This is entirely unsurprising to me because as far as I know you can't really get Old Man's War in the UK; aside from what relative few of them read the Whatever or remember me wandering through Interaction I'm entirely unknown. This was indeed one purely mechanical reason I suspected I wouldn't be on the ballot: The nominating class consisted of members of the Interaction and LACon IV conventions, and when half your potential nominating class has not had ready access to your work, well, that's a problem, isn't it? So, to the UK fen who've not heard of me before: uh, hello. Nice to meet you.

* As for how OMW got on the ballot at all, much of the speculation centers on Web presence/popularity and possibly the nefarious influence of Instapundit, who has pimped the book pretty seriously. Well, I don't know about the Instapundit thing, because I'm not entirely sure of the overlap between Instapundit readers and Hugo nominators, and in any event he's also pimped Accelerando and Learning the World, so even if he were a factor, I am not the only one to benefit. I think my general Web notoriety doesn't hurt. Ultimately, though, there are two other considerations which I think are more relevant: OMW has sold pretty well, particularly for a debut novel, so a good number of people have seen it. Also, if you don't mind me having a moment of authorial pride, the book doesn't actually suck. Basically, I think people read it, liked it, and voted for it. Simple enough.

* Having said that, I wonder what lurks below the cut. You know, I voted for Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and was more than a little surprised it didn't make the ballot, and I gather that a number of others were as well. If it comes to pass that OMW nudged ahead of Anansi by a couple of votes, I can see myself being stabbed to death by a clutch of very cute goths. Dear very cute goths: I'm a Gaiman fan from way back. I once did a newspaper article on graphic novels just to have an excuse to interview him. And I even have a character named after him in OMW (one for Dave McKean, too). Please don't stab me.

* Do I think I can win the Hugo? Well, now. I wouldn't mind getting that rocketship, and it would be stupid and disingenuous to suggest otherwise. But it's not up to me; people have to read the book and decide if it works for them. I will say this: I feel exceptionally fortunate that there's no one on the ballot I would mind losing to. Charlie Stross is a friend and Accelerando was the first book I put on my own Hugo ballot; I would whoop and holler if he won. Robert Charles Wilson and Ken MacLeod write books that are both mind-stretching and human-centered, and both Spin and Learning the World are excellent works -- not just for science fiction, but for fiction, and I would be proud to have either represent the genre in which I work. I've not read A Feast for Crows so I can't speak to it specifically, but GRRM is a fine writer and a good fellow. Also, come on: Feast sold more books in its first week than OMW is going to sell in the next three years, even with a Hugo nod. #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List is not a trivial factor.

Everyone says "it's an honor to be nominated," but you're never entirely ready for the moment it actually becomes a true statement. But it is true: I'm positively giddy to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys and their books. As an author, I'd be happy if my book won; as a reader and all-around skiffy geek I'd be happy if any of these books won.

* I'm equally pleased with my class for the Campbell, and it's my sincere hope you'll check out the other nominees. I've heard rumblings that I'm the presumptive front runner in this category, but Brokeback Mountain was the presumptive front runner, and look what happened there. These folks are too good as writers to discount in any way; I don't and I hope you won't either.

* I'm struck at how substantially different the Hugo and Nebula ballots are this year; even in the short story categories there's not a whole lot of overlap. This is no doubt significantly due to the differing ways in which works become eligible for consideration for each award; only one of the Nebula nominees for Best Novel was even released in 2005; indeed of the literary categories, only the Short Story Nebula category had the majority of its nominees from the 2005 calendar year. I've already noted my opinion this makes the Nebulas somewhat stale as awards go, so there's no need to go into that again.

However, even factoring the 2004 Hugo awards into the mix, there's not a lot of overlap; only one book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, is on both the Hugo and Nebula lists the last two years, suggesting that even if the awards had the same temporal window, there wouldn't be too much in common between the slates. I'm perfectly good with this -- in fact I like it this way, since SF is varied field and there are many excellent books which deserve recognition for different factors. I have my problems with the Nebula Awards, but quality of the finalists is not one of them.

* Yes, I'll be going to LACon IV and will be on hand for the awards ceremony. I was planning to attend anyway, because among other things I grew up in the Los Angeles area. Yes, I'll be representin' for the East San Gabriel Valley, yo -- a shout out to my homies in Azusa! Glendora! Covina! Claremont! San Dimas High School football rulez! A Worldcon in my hometown (well, my home major metropolitan area, anyway) was not something I was going to miss, nor an excuse to eat Double-Doubles until I barf. So should I win the Hugo or Campbell, winning in LA will make it doubly sweet (or doubly-doubly sweet, as I may take my Double-Double on stage with me). So, yes, you'll see me there. Hopefully I'll see you there, too.

Posted by john at 08:50 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

Hugos and Campbells

The Hugo and Campbell nominations are out, and it appears that Old Man's War has been nominated for Best Novel, and I've been nominated for the Campbell. Here's the entire slate of nominees:

Best Novel
Learning the World, Ken MacLeod (Orbit; Tor)
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin (Voyager; Bantam Spectra)
Old Man's War, John Scalzi (Tor)
Accelerando, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Best Novella
Burn, James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon)
"Magic for Beginners", Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, Small Beer Press; F&SF September 2005)
"The Little Goddess", Ian McDonald (Asimov’s June 2005)
"Identity Theft", Robert J. Sawyer (Down These Dark Spaceways, SFBC)
"Inside Job", Connie Willis (Asimov’s January 2005)

Best Novelette
"The Calorie Man", Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF October/November 2005)
"Two Hearts", Peter S. Beagle (F&SF October/November 2005)
"TelePresence", Michael A. Burstein (Analog July/August 2005)
"I, Robot”, Cory Doctorow (The Infinite Matrix February 15, 2005)
"The King of Where-I-Go", Howard Waldrop (SCI FICTION December 7, 2005)

Best Short Story
"Seventy-Five Years", Michael A. Burstein (Analog January/February 2005)
"The Clockwork Atom Bomb", Dominic Green (Interzone May/June 2005)
"Singing My Sister Down", Margo Lanagan (Black Juice, Allen & Unwin; Eos)
"Tk’tk’tk", David D. Levine (Asimov’s March 2005)
"Down Memory Lane", Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2005)

Best RelatedBook
Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley (Liverpool)
The SEX Column and Other Misprints, David Langford (Cosmos)
Science Fiction Quotations edited, Gary Westfahl (Yale)
Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press)
Soundings: Reviews 1992_1996, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Batman Begins Story, David S. Goyer. Screenplay, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Based on the character created, Bob Kane. Directed, Christopher Nolan. (Warner Bros.)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Screenplay, Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on the novel, C.S. Lewis. Directed, Andrew Adamson. (Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Screenplay, Steven Kloves. Based on the novel, J.K. Rowling. Directed, Mike Newell. (Warner Bros.)
Serenity Written & Directed, Joss Whedon. (Universal Pictures/Mutant Enemy, Inc.)
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were_Rabbit Screenplay, Steve Box & Nick Park and Bob Baker and Mark Burton. Directed, Nick Park & Steve Box. (Dreamworks Animation/Aardman Animation).

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Battlestar Galactica “Pegasus” Written, Anne Cofell Saunders. Directed, Michael Rymer. (NBC Universal/British Sky Broadcasting)
Doctor Who “Dalek” Written, Robert Shearman. Directed, Joe Ahearne. (BBC Wales/BBC1)
Doctor Who “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances” Written, Steven Moffat. Directed, James Hawes. (BBC Wales/BBC1)
Doctor Who “Father’s Day” Written, Paul Cornell. Directed, Joe Ahearne. (BBC Wales/BBC1)
Jack-Jack Attack Written & Directed, Brad Bird. (Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation)
Lucas Back in Anger Written, Phil Raines and Ian Sorensen. Directed, Phil Raines. (Reductio Ad Absurdum Productions)
Prix Victor Hugo Awards Ceremony (Opening Speech and Framing Sequences). Written and performed, Paul McAuley and Kim Newman. Directed, Mike & Debby Moir. (Interaction Events)
(There are seven nominees due to a tie for fifth place)

Best Professional Editor
Ellen Datlow (SCI FICTION and anthologies)
David G. Hartwell (Tor Books; Year's Best SF)
Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF)
Sheila Williams (Asimov’s)

Best Professional Artist
Jim Burns
Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Michael Whelan
(There are six nominees due to a tie for fifth place)

Best Semiprozine
Ansible edited, Dave Langford
Emerald City edited, Cheryl Morgan
Interzone edited, Andy Cox
Locus edited, Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong_Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited, Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney

Best Fanzine
Banana Wings edited, Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer
Challenger edited, Guy H. Lillian III
Chunga edited, Andy Hooper, Randy Byers & carl juarez
File 770 edited, Mike Glyer
Plokta edited, Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott

Best Fan Writer
Claire Brialey
John Hertz
Dave Langford
Cheryl Morgan
Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist
Brad Foster
Teddy Harvia
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Frank Wu

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 2004 or 2005
[Not a Hugo, Sponsored by Dell Magazines]
K.J. Bishop (2nd year of eligibility)
Sarah Monette (2nd year of eligibility)
Chris Roberson (2nd year of eligibility)
Brandon Sanderson (1st year of eligibility)
John Scalzi (1st year of eligibility)
Steph Swainston (2nd year of eligibility)
(There are six nominees due to a tie for fifth place)

Naturally, I'm very happy about my nominations, and it's neat to be nominated for both the Campbell and Best Novel in the same year. I figured that was not the usual thing, so I went back to see how many times it's happened before. The answer: once, legitimately, in 1984, when R.A. MacAvoy did it with her novel Tea With the Black Dragon. It also happened in 1989 but as I understand it there was some issue with ballot stuffing, and the book in question was withdrawn from consideration. I didn't stuff any ballots. I swear. Anyway, it's a fun bit of trivia. I'm the Buzz Aldrin of Hugo/Campbell whammies!

I'm also chuffed about the company I'm keeping, both with the Campbell and with the Hugo. In the Campbells, I know Chris and Sarah personally and couldn't be happier for them, and will now hie myself to the bookstore to catch up with Bishop, Swainston and Sanderson. As for the Hugos -- well, you know. I've been pushing Accelerando on people all year, so I can't say I'm surprised to see Charlie there. He's earned this, and so has Accelerando. GRRM and I had an autographing session together at Boskone which was a lot of fun (it'll be no surprise for y'all to learn he signed more books than I). And both Ken MacLeod and Robert Charles Wilson did me a mitzvah by providing wonderful quotes for Old Man's War which went on the cover; I'm delighted and genuinely humbled to be in their company.

(The third SF writer who provided a quote for OMW, Cory Doctorow, is also nominated for a Hugo, in the Novelette category; Donato Giancola, who gave OMW its hardcover art, is up for the Hugo in the Professional Artist category. Coincidence?!???!???!? Well, yes. But a lovely coincidence it is.)

Aside from the nominees mentioned above I'm chuffed to see other friends and acquaintances up for awards this year, particularly James Patrick Kelly, Kelly Link, David Hartwell and Bob Eggleton. I'm disappointed to see that Patrick Nielsen Hayden is not nominated for Best Professional Editor; he only edited two of this year's Best Novel nominees, after all. But what are you going to do.

Again, I'm delighted and humbled, and I thank those of you who nominated me for these awards. I'm going to have fun with this. And, of course, congratulations to all the other nominees. I hope you guys have fun with this, too.

Posted by john at 05:36 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

Bow Down to Her Queenly Queenliness

Athena, practicing the withering squint of derision that will undoubtedly get her through her teenage years. Unless she tries it on her mother, whose paralyzing stare of outrage rather handily trumps this particular look (the best I can manage is the quirky look of amusement, which is not feared by anyone).

And now she's done practicing and back to her normal self. She does in fact look a lot like me, especially around the eyes. Far cuter, though. And you know, I'm good with that.

Posted by john at 02:52 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Snow is Here



Ahh, now the snow is here.
Really, one minute there's not a flake on the ground, and the next, it's as if the clouds have taken a big white dump on my lawn. I took this picture about fifteen minutes ago, and since then the lawn has largely disappeared. The snow's return will be brief, however; it's going to be in the forties tomorrow. Yeah, I'm not going to miss it.

Here's a picture of some buds in my yard that are currently being frosted in snow:



Hopefully this won't kill them. I don't suspect it will. It's winter's last gasp.

Posted by john at 09:30 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Snow is Coming

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Clearly Mother Nature believes not in the concept of tidy demarcations between seasons. The heaviest snowfall we had in the winter was actually in the late fall; now on the second day of spring we're expecting up to six inches to fall sometime during the night. I'm expecting to wake up to a blanket of white and a snow day for Athena (she won't mind). Personally I wish Mother Nature had gotten the memo: Spring, damn it.

Posted by john at 12:14 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

Take the Hit

You know, articles like this make we wish that it will be my generation that decides to be the grown-ups and takes the hit with things like Social Security and the national debt and what have you. I wouldn't mind waiting until 75 to collect a Social Security check, if it means not saddling my kids with ridiculous Social Security-related taxes; even better, I wouldn't mind converting my Social Security benefit into something that wasn't so obviously a pyramid scheme based on gulling the young for my advantage. Likewise, I wouldn't mind paying a little more in taxes now to work down the national debt to reasonable levels so my kid and her kids don't have to pay for the stupid wastefulness that's been happening for the last several years and today, plus all the interest the debt on that stupid wastefulness will accrue.

Yes, it would suck to have to clean up other people's messes. But from a moral and economic point of view, it would suck worse to refuse to clean it up and to leave it for the next generation. Taking responsibility for things is what makes people grown-ups, and why as far as I can see grown-ups are mighty thin on the ground in Washington. The Bush folks are excellent, even primal examples of people who are not grown-ups economically or morally, but to be clear there seems to be a bipartisan lack of grown-ups in government right about now. It's not just the Bushies who are the problem here.

I'll be 37 in a couple of months, and this means that my generation of folks are now beginning to enter the political sphere in a serious way. Here's a hint for all of them: I don't care if you're a Democrat, a Republican or something else -- I want you to be a grown-up. I want you to say to us that we have to be the grown-ups and that we need to expect something other from our government than for it to be a never-ending, cost-deferred teat for whatever it is that we want -- and that we shouldn't expect our children to pay for the things we're not willing to pay for ourselves. That's a politician I'm going to be inclined toward.

This is not the same thing as a Grover Norquist-esque plan to strangle the federal government in a bathtub; Norquist and those of his cheaply petulant ilk who infest Washington thinking are the least grown-up people in several generations, and we're suffering the penalty for that fact. I think the government can do good, interesting and occasionally expensive things for the overall benefit of the nation. But this thing of pulling debt out of our ass and putting Band-Aids on programs that are structured on a series of data that have nothing to do with the current state of reality has really got to stop.

It's not too much to hope my generation is the one who decides to actually do it, even at the risk of taking the hit ourselves. My kid's future is worth me being a grown-up now; so is my nation's future.

Posted by john at 12:40 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Before I Forget --

-- A nice review of TGB in the Flint Journal today: "John Scalzi dispels any notion he's a one-hit wonder with 'The Ghost Brigades,' a thrilling follow-up to last year's 'Old Man's War.'" I'm a two-hit wonder, at least!

Posted by john at 10:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Proof We Need Better 1st Amendment Education

Some morons are suing Google because they don't like the way Google's search algorithms mess with their ability to make money (which, apparently, relied almost entirely on high page rankings on Google). This would be an idiotic suit anyway, but this is what really makes me wish I was a judge, so I could penalize someone lots of money for filing frivilous lawsuits:

The complaint accuses Google, as the dominant provider of Web searches, of violating KinderStart's constitutional right to free speech by blocking search engine results showing Web site content and other communications.

My mind just boggles every single time I read that. I literally cannot imagine a lawyer incompetent enough to craft that argument actually passing the bar in any state in the nation and finding profitable work in the world. Clearly some must. But I try not to sully my beautiful mind imagining who they might be, or alternately, who would be stupid enough to employ them. The idea that being unhappy with one's Google page ranking somehow equates to a constitutional restriction of speech just makes me feel like my head needs to explode.

The closest thing to this in my personal experience was when I was the editor of the Maroon, which was the student newspaper at my school. The editors-in-chief and business managers of the newspaper previous to me and my business manager had done a really tremendously poor job of actually getting advertisers to pay for their advertisements, and as a result the amount owed to the newspaper by our advertisers was in the six figures (I don't remember the exact amount at the moment, but I think it was something like $250,000 or some such). We told the advertisers in arrears that they needed to pay up before they could advertise again, which was serious threat since the Maroon was actually a cheap and effective way to reach bunches of college kids with disposable incomes.

But some advertisers were appalled that we suddenly expected to be paid; one actually called up and screamed in my ear that my refusing to let him advertise until he paid up was limiting his constitutional right to free speech. I was literally struck dumb by the sheer stupidity of the statement. I seriously considered telling that man that he was too stupid to advertise in my newspaper at all. I did not -- I had a business to run, after all -- but the temptation was mighty.

Back here in the present day, it is my sincere hope that when this lawsuit gets in front of a judge that first she will have a nice, hearty laugh, and then she'll drop the filing attorneys in jail for the weekend for wasting the court's time in such an asinine fashion. These morons' difficulties with Google are not the Constitution's problem. Sadly enough these days, the Constitution has enough problems of its own without these people trying to whip one up because their business is in the crapper. Jail time! It would not be too good for these lawyers.

Posted by john at 10:19 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

So...

How's your weekend? Mine's been pretty good. I'm just curious to see if this "pretty good" state is a general thing.

Posted by john at 12:06 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Crawdads

For everyone who's asked "What the hell is that thing over there in the photo strip?", the answer is that it's a crawdad, which I found in my yard last weekend, when we had heavy rains and a bit of flooding. Apparently there are a lot of them in a nearby pond, and when that pond overflows, it makes a stream in my yard and from time to time one of the crawdads escapes the pond and makes it to the stream. It always amuses me to have crawdads in my lawn. A couple of years ago, after a particular nasty flooding, not only did we have crawdads, we had fish. That was interesting.

And here you thought life in Ohio was boring.

Posted by john at 04:52 PM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

Spring Look

Times change, people change, the look of the Whatever changes. The Whatever is now sporting spring-like colors (or early spring-like colors, in any event), and I've also changed the photostrip and the body  font. Feel free, of course, to comment and/or complain.

Posted by john at 01:08 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's Day Blatherations

Happy St. Patrick's Day, first off. St. Patrick's came up on us rather by surprise, mostly because we've all been varying degrees of sick over here, and therefore not really paying attention to frivolities. I guess you can say I gave up St. Patrick's Day for Lent. Not that I observe lent, except occasionally to note that my Catholic friends seem testier than usual (because of giving up caffiene or chocolate or whatever for Lent). But hey, they're going to Heaven and I'm not, so what do I know.

Now, onto other things:

* Nick Sagan talks about playing doubles ping-pong with his dad on cruise ships, and the two of them totally crushing all comers. What a great story -- one of the great popular science figures of the 20th century, kicking ass at table tennis.

* I've been alerted to the existence of Eventful, a very Web 2.0 site in which folks can find out about upcoming events in their area, and also create requests for events in their area that would feature their favorite creative folks. For example, if you lived in San Diego and wanted to see Wil Wheaton (and who wouldn't), you'd create a "demand" and then other like-minded folks would sign on; the idea being that with enough demanding their presence, they might see it as worth their time to visit (I mention Wil because he is apparently very popular on the site).  Creative folks can also apparently sign on to help foster demand as well. I can see a site like this being useful for author types in that it could be useful in planning book tours (or, alternately, handing the data over to publicists in order to convince publishers to pay for said book tour). In any event, if you're an author, it's worth checking out (presuming, of course, people want to see you, or that you wish to see people).

* This was surprising: In addition to being offered by the Science Fiction Book Club, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades are being offered by the Military Book Club as well. And it has nice things to say about TGB as well: "When we offer a novel, it’s usually a story based on some sort of reality, whether it’s the terrorist threat or new weapon technology. The Ghost Brigades isn’t even close. This is military fiction in its wildest form. Fantastic stuff." Very cool, and I hope it does well for them; it makes me happy to see the books jumping the fence and being presented to more than the usual audiences.

And, uh, that's all I have for you today.  

 

Posted by john at 04:07 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 16, 2006

An Astronomy Workshop for SF Writers?

Hey, SF writers, check this out:

Science fiction writer Mike Brotherton is also a professor of astronomy at the University of Wyoming, and is thinking about the feasibility of doing two-week workshop for SF writers about science (and particularly astronomy), possibly to be funded by NASA. But in order to pry the money out of NASA, he needs to able to show there's a market for this -- which is to say, that SF writers are interested in taking a couple weeks to learn more about the science that fuels their fiction. So he's created a survey to poll SF writers about their interest/ability to do this. The survey is here.

Speaking as an SF writer who has also written a book on astronomy, I think this is a marvelous idea; I assume that SF writers are more literate than the average bear about science and scientific concepts, but there's something to be said about a "hands-on" immersion into the field, particularly for SF writers who are not working scientists or science journalists/writers. As Brotherton himself notes: "People continue to learn from stories after college, and future scientists are often inspired to adopt their careers by an early interest in science fiction." To the extent that we use current science in our work, or extrapolate from it, it's helpful for us to get it right. Because if we don't, who will?

The survey is open to all writing levels, so whether you're beginner or an established novelist, you can take the survey and give Brotherton data to use to make his case to NASA. Naturally, feel free to pass this information to other SF writers you know; the more data Brotherton gets, the more useful this survey will be.

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Magic Lessons

Many congratulations to my pal Justine Larbalestier, whose second novel, the delightful Magic Lessons, debuts today. It continues the journey of Reason Cansino, the young heroine who was at the heart of her first novel Magic or Madness, and see her struggling to deal with her family's history and its implications for her own future.

In my opinion this is as strong and readable a book as Magic or Madness (which was in itself excellent). Don't tell Justine this, but I nominated her for the Campbell Award, which is the award the SF community gives to its best new writers, on the basis of these two books (I had an ARC of Magic Lessons). If you'll check them out you'll understand why I did that, indeed, why I had to do that. As for me I'm looking forward to the final book of the installment, and to discover how it all ends.

Posted by john at 11:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

When People Who Don't Get It Attack

This fellow thinks I gave a "lukewarm" review to Glenn Reynold's An Army of Davids for fear of displeasing his Instapunditness, who might then stop giving my books his all-encompassing love. He also calls me a hack. After I stopped giggling at both these things, I posted a long comment on his site, which I will now repost here.

---

"Scalzi's bio screams HACK WRITER..."

Yup, I suck. However, I don't talk straight out of my ass, which is what you're doing here. Whatever you think you know about the relationship between Glenn Reynolds and my writing career is based on heaping amounts of ignorance, so it's not entirely surprising you're basically entirely wrong. Allow me to explain the many reasons this is so.

As to whether I fear to cross Glenn for fear of losing the creamy goodness of his InstaLove: Not really. His liking my novels has had a significant and direct effect on my sales, sure, because his readers trust him to make good recommendations, and he has a lot of readers. On the other hand, my current book has gotten good to excellent reviews in Entertainment Weekly, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and a number of other places -- all reviewed by people who don't know me, I would add -- so I think I would do just fine without him or his personal relationship with his readers. Indeed, my two biggest-selling books to date (Book of the Dumb and Book of the Dumb 2) were scarcely mentioned by him (which is to say one of them got one bland sentence, and the second wasn't noted by him at all). It's not at all likely he had any significant influence on those sales.

Likewise, my astronomy book The Rough Guide to the Universe has had the majority of its sales in the UK (which makes sense as the publisher is based in London). It's gone through several printings and I'm about to update it for a second edition (it was rather well-reviewed by people don't know me, too). You could make an argument that Instapundit has a vasty readership in the UK, too, but then, he's never mentioned that book, either.

Did Glenn help sell my books? Absolutely. Am I grateful? You bet; it's why I put him in the acknowledgments of The Ghost Brigades. He's been important. My book sales don't live or die on his whim, and I have rather more concrete evidence of that fact than you do to the contrary.

Now, as a practical matter, I cross Glenn all the time; his end-result politics and mine don't exactly mesh, and there's been several times over the course of the time we've had blogs where we've gone around on various subjects. Here's one of the earliest: http://instapundit.com/archives/000480.php. If you think I'm scared to speak my mind because I don't want to lose Glenn's patronage, you're an idiot (or, more likely, ignorant, to return to an earlier theme).

The reason I noted "Army of Davids" was because I liked the book -- not in a lukewarm way you suggest, either. It's genuinely interesting. If I hadn't have liked it, I wouldn't have mentioned it. The book is selling well enough that Glenn doesn't need me to push it, and if you think he's sitting there keeping tabs on who is recommending his book in order to punish or praise them later, well, we're back to the "idiot/ignorant" thing again.

What you apparently have a hard time wrapping your head around is that personal blogs aren't newspapers -- they're personal blogs. I haven't the slightest hesitation in writing up a review on my own site of Glenn's book or the book of any other people of my acquaintance because it's a personal site, and it's pretty transparent to my readers that I know the people I'm writing about. In the particular piece you're all lathered about, I note in the entry that I am actually in the book. That would be your first tip-off that I am not a disinterested observer.

Would I write a review of An Army of Davids for a newspaper or magazine? Clearly not, because to repeat, I'm in the book, and even if I weren't there's been enough of an interaction between the two of us that I couldn't be disinterested. On the off chance that I did review something for a paper/magazine in which I had some personal interest, even a small one (such as when I recently did a DVD review for Proof, which was written by a college classmate of mine whom I had not seen in 15 years), I'd note it up front. Because that's the responsible and ethical thing to do. And as it happens I do the same thing on my personal site as well.

Complaining that people are not writing in a disinterested fashion on their personal blogs is like complaining that water is wet; likewise complaining that people champion the efforts of their friends and acquaintances on their personal sites is pretty damn stupid. People write whatever the hell they want on their blogs; most blog readers, I suspect, are smart enough to understand they are reading a personal site and grasp what that entails. The vast majority of my readers do, in any event. The fact you don't is interesting.

Posted by john at 07:27 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

New TGB reviews

Hey! A nice review of The Ghost Brigades in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and it gives a shout-out to the idea that the book is fun to read even for folks who aren't steeped in SF. This is happy news, because I aim for accessible. The review also gives a thumbs up to Questions for a Soldier.

TGB also got a nice review in Booklist, although the review isn't up yet on the Amazon page (it'll get there eventually, I assume). In the meantime, my publicist sense suggests to me this will be the pull-quote from the review: "Scalzi skillfully weaves together action, memorable characterizations and a touch of philosophy in a first-rate military SF outing." Groovy.

Around the blogosphere, some recent reviews at The Volokh Conspiracy, VodkaPundit, and from Dave Smith, Yendi, Paul Robichaux and Suburban Joe. I'm happy the book seems to be getting around.

Posted by john at 05:55 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Coming Around to My Way of Thinking

An interesting datum from a new and largely disastrous new poll for President Bush:

President Bush's declining image also is reflected in the single-word descriptions people use to describe their impression of the president. Three years ago, positive one-word descriptions of Bush far outnumbered negative ones. Over the past two years, the positive-negative balance has been roughly equal. But the one-word characterizations have turned decidedly negative since last July.
Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.
The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.
The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent,"and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

I just want you all to remember that I was calling him incompetent before calling him incompetent was cool.

Posted by john at 04:30 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thoughts on An Army of Davids

I'm reading Glenn Reynolds' An Army of Davids, and I'm not in the least bit surprised to say I find not much of it surprising; this book includes much of the tech- and markets-related thinking that Glenn's been working on at Instapundit and in his various online columns, boils it down into an easy-to-carry package, and makes it presentable to the folks who haven't quite twigged to the whole blog thing. This is why I mention I don't find it surprising that I don't find it surprising: it's not really for me, because Glenn's been on my daily reading list for years, and I'm already hip to his thing. But it could be relevatory for my father-in-law, who (to put it mildly) has no interest in being online but who is interested in keeping up with what's possible in the near future. In other words, this is a book for people who aren't already in the choir, but who are outside the chapel and wondering what it is the choir is singing.

I'm also finding it an interesting companion piece to another recent book on innovations that will make a dramatic impact on the way we live in the near future: Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution. Garreau's book is focused primarily on biotechnological advances, while Glenn's focuses on what I suppose is best described as "socioeconomic tech"; both give some serious thought to what their respective tech will mean to how we live and interact with each other (there is some overlap in these two tech streams, and both books nod in the direction of each others' tech). Combine the two books together in your head and you get some idea that the next 25 years or so could be very interesting times indeed -- not in the incomprehensible "singularity" we-can't-even-imagine-the-future sense, but simply in the sense that what is "normal" is going to change very rapidly, even by current standards.

I find the explorations in Glenn's book a little more, shall we say, rooted and plausible than Garreau's, but I suspect that I can more easily wrap my head around Glenn's concepts because to a large degree I already live them (indeed, I'm quoted in Army on page 14); Garreau's book involves tech and experiences that do not involve me, or at least do not involve me yet. I doubt Garreau's superhuman scenario will get here in the timeframe he expects, but it's on its way. The present Glenn details is of course here, even if, to paraphrase William Gibson, it's not yet evenly-distributed. While I find Glenn's book more focused on and consonant to present experience, I think both books are on the right track.

(Now, one major difference between Glenn's book and the Garraeu book, which I'll note but not explore now, is that Glenn's is explicitly focused on a "bottoms-up" future in which the socioeconomic shift is toward the individual, while Garreau's future is implicitly top-down, in that much of the biotech described in his book is funded, developed and necessarily controlled by governments and large corporations. If both tech are developing in tandem (and they are), this could lead to some very interesting repercussions, in the classic "may you live in interesting times" Chinese curse sort of way.)

Moving on to another subject now, one thing I find very interesting in An Army of Davids is the extent to which Glenn is namechecking prominent bloggers in the course of the book. One way of looking at this is that it's Glenn playing to the blogger audience, but I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. As I noted earlier, if you've been keeping up with Glenn via Instapundit and his other online presences, his blogcentrism is unsurprising; namechecking Jeff Jarvis or Virginia Postrel or Josh Marshall won't do much. On the other hand, for the people who aren't familiar with the blog world (which is still most of America, remember), these are folks who are presented as authorities.

In effect, Glenn is using old media (his book) to bootstrap credibility for these folks who are largely currently notable through their new media associations. There's a limit to this observation -- Jarvis, Postrel and some other bloggers Glenn notes are also active and credible in "old" media, so it's not an entirely pure bootstrap, as it were. But even this works to the credibility of the blog world to those unfamiliar with it; clearly it's not all about cranks posting photos of their cats.

In all I've been enjoying An Army of Davids. As I noted it's not surprising to me as a long-time reader of Glenn's stuff, but I do find it quite interesting and fun to read, and also refreshingly optimistic, which is a tone that is sometimes diluted over at Instapundit due to whatever damn fool thing is roiling the blogosphere on any particular day. Glenn's not some pollyanna futurist here, but he's also clearly not threatened by the changes he sees happening now or in the near future, and he's written what I think is a fine primer on these changes for people who are still wondering what it's all about it. I'll be giving this book to my father-in-law the next time I see him; I think he's going to like it. If you're not a regular Instapundit reader (all of whom, I suspect, have already bought the book by now), give it a whirl as well.

Posted by john at 02:18 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

March 14, 2006

The Money Entry

An e-mail this morning:

You've said before that you make more than most other writers. If you don't mind me asking, how much do you make? How do you know it's more than what other writers make?

Just in case any of you were wondering whether people feel like they can ask me anything.

On the other hand, I have in fact suggested that I tend to make more money than other writers at my (low) level of notoriety, and I've talked dollar sums on convention panels where I've spoken about making money as a writer, so I don't suppose there's any reason not to talk about it here. And as it happens Krissy tallied up my 2005 income last week while preparing our taxes.

So: In 2005, from writing and editing, I made $100,600. And as it happens that is pretty much dead-on average for my writing income since 1998, which is the year I became a freelance writer. Some years I make more (the top year was 2001, when I made about $150,000 due to a huge amount of corporate work) and some years I make less (in 2004 I made about $80,000), but put it all in the pot and 100K is more or less where it averages out. This is my writing/editing income solely; our household income (which includes Krissy's salary, rental income and other income sources) is naturally higher, and you'll forgive me if I don't break that out for you because while I've talked about my writing income before, the rest of it is not for public consumption. Regardless, we're doing okay.

Where does this writing income come from? In roughly the order of percentage of income, thusly:

1. Corporate work: Work I do for various business clients, primarily in the financial and online sectors. I work with some of these folks directly and also work as a sub-contractor for marketing and consulting firms. This is the stuff I consider my "day job," in that it is consistent, to the extent that any freelance work can be, and therefore I can reliably budget this income (or more accurately, Krissy can, since she handles the finances in the Scalzi household). This is the stuff that pays the bills (my AOL blogging income is in this section).

2. Book income: This is primarily income from book advances, although last year for the first time I had income from royalties (on Book of the Dumb and The Rough Guide to the Universe) and also from foreign sales. Aside from the books that carry my name, this also includes contributions to the Uncle John's Bathroom Readers, in which contributors get an acknowledgment but not a byline. They pay well enough (and writing the stuff is fun enough) that I couldn't possibly care if my name is on every piece I write for them.

3. Magazine/Newspaper income: This is primarily from two sources: The Official US PlayStation Magazine, for which I write DVD reviews and commentary columns, and the Dayton Daily News, for which I write a separate DVD column and occasional features and columns. I will also occasionally sell a Whatever as a reprint to newspapers; two examples of this are the "Standing Up For Dubya" entry, which I sold to the Philadelphia City Paper, and the "Being Poor" piece, which was in the Chicago Tribune and other papers (although, as it happens, I chose not to take payment for that particular piece, which is not a usual thing for me). The OPM and DDN income is also predictible (I've been writing for both for a number of years), so this also gets put into the "money to pay bills with" planning ledger. For 2005, this amount also included income I got from guest-editing Subterranean magazine.

4. Short Fiction income: This is a new addition, based on the chapbooks I wrote for Subterranean last year ("Sketches of Daily Life" and "Questions for a Soldier"), for which I was paid pretty well (which is to say, higher than the general rate for SF short fiction). Be that as it may, short fiction is, by a significant divisible, the smallest section of my income. I don't tend to do much short fiction purely for economic reasons -- my experience with Subterranean notwithstanding, I can be paid significantly more for writing short non-fiction than short fiction, and there are more places and opportunities to write short non-fiction. So that's what I gravitate to. Now, I do intend to write somewhat more short fiction in the near future (it's a form I want to get better at), but given the generally very low rates the field pays, I don't ever expect it to be a significant part of my income.

Generally speaking, there are four reasons I am able to pull down low six figures from writing on a regular basis. First, I am a reasonably competent writer who is reasonably easy to work with; I make it part of my writing ethic not to be a pain in the ass to clients and editors, and also to do what I can to give them what they want and need the first time. This is particularly the case in corporate work; my ego there is focused hitting the clients' needs (it helps I have other outlets where I can do what I want when I want to). But all the way around I try to be useful and not a problem for the people I work with.

Second, which is an extension of the first, I have a lot of contacts in various writing spheres and an extensive writing history, which makes it easy for people to hire me/buy my work, because they can see what I've done before and know I can hit the marks that need to be hit. Third (and again, an extension of the first two), I have multiple writing competencies, so when work in one sphere is slow, I can work in another sphere of writing. This also allows me to develop additional competencies while still pulling down income in things I already have a track record in.

Finally: I write a lot. An average week will see me writing 20k-30k words across the various writing jobs I have (and also here at the Whatever, which does not generate income directly but which has significant indirect benefits). That's a million words a year, most of it pay copy. It adds up.

(Oh, one other thing: I'm also selective, which means I don't write everything that's offered to me; I have to see whether the job is actually worth my time relative to other opportunities that exist. This can lead to some painful choices; last year I turned down an opportunity to do what would have been a really fun book because I couldn't make it fit with other things I wanted and needed to do. I've also passed on work simply because there wasn't enough money there to make it worth my while. Turning work away is still painful -- the paranoid voice in my head who says you'll never work again shouts the loudest at these times -- but it's eventually necessary.)

I think it's possible that any competent writer who is not a pain in the ass to work with can pull down a reasonable sum of money working as a freelance writer, but I will also note that my ability to make a lot of money as a freelancer from my first year is non-typical and a little deceptive. I didn't begin as a freelance writer without experience; by the time I went freelance I had done a seven-year writing apprenticeship inside the confines of corporate America, first as a newspaper writer and then as a writer and editor at AOL. Both of these were extremely useful -- the newspaper for writing quickly and to specification, and AOL for both corporate world experience and because AOL was a hothouse for ambitious folks who went out in the world to their own start-ups and called on me when they needed work done because they remember who I was. So a lot of the years in which I should have been a starving freelancer, building up my chops, I was toiling happily for The Man and doing my chop-building there. Also, I was lucky in that the people I worked with were both ambitious and happy to get in touch with me for work. I have never been shy in admitting that luck has had a lot to do with my career; here's another example. Of course, luck only gets one so far; sooner than later I had to back up the luck with competence. Even so, It'd be disingenuous to suggest it was all me.

My experience is why among other things I tell people not to be in an all-fired rush to give up their day jobs. My time in corporate America allowed me to build a portfolio of skills that were useful when I went (somewhat unwillingly) into the freelance world; other people can and should do the same. Now, my corporate experience was directly on point to writing, which was additionally helpful, but even those folks with day jobs that are not directly related to writing still can get advantages from them while they are also working on their writing. And of course, all this comes in handy whether one intends to make writing ones primary revenue source or not.

Let me note two obvious things. First, writing income is not necessarily an indicator of how good a writer is stylistically, since speaking personally I can think of several writers who I think write better than I who make less than I do -- and several who I think write worse who make more. Second, writing income isn't necessarily an indicator of writing happiness. Some writers don't care all that much about money and write either for fun or because they feel compelled to; using writing income as a metric for them isn't very useful or relevant. As for me, I think it's possible I could make more as a writer than I do, but at this point in time it would mean taking on more work I have no interest in, which wouldn't make me very happy.

What writing income corresponds to is competence, opportunity and willingness. I am a competent writer; I am fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to sell work and I'm willing to do a lot of work, including some stuff which isn't particularly exciting in the "writers are so bohemian" sense. Commensurately I make a fair amount of money doing writing. Most writers have these three factors in varying amounts and make corresponding amounts of money. There are other factors to be sure; these are the three big ones, however.

Naturally, I'm happy with what I make, and I think overall I have a good balance of work that's fun and interesting, and work I'm happy to do because it gives me a stable income base for my life and my family's needs (and when those two factors overlap, as they sometimes do, even better). I wouldn't mind making more, although not at the expense of my current quality of life in terms of family time and range of projects. I don't mind making less, as long as my family's needs are met and the work I get to do is sufficiently appealing for its own sake. Writing is a business for me, and also a calling. The key is being able to get to a happy medium between those two axes. Where that medium is, work and income-wise, is different for everyone. I think you find it out mostly by doing.

Posted by john at 10:40 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

March 13, 2006

Subterranean Magazine Cliche Issue Available for Pre-Order

Um, the title to this entry pretty much says it all, so there's no need to elaborate on it, I suspect. Here's the link to pre-order.

The magazine comes in two flavors: The standard magazine ($6 single copy US; $9 non-US), and a limited hardcover edition for $80 which will be signed by many (if not most) of the contributors, and will also include a chapbook of my short story "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story," which will not be otherwise available. And here's the official story list, in case you've forgotten:

* "Scene from a Dystopia" by Rachel Swirsky
* "The Third Brain" by Charles Coleman Finlay and James Allison
* "It Came from the Slush Pile" by John Joseph Adams
* "A Finite Number of Typewriters" by Stuart MacBride
* "Cliche Haiku" by Scott Westerfeld
* "Horrible Historians" by Gillian Polack
* "Hesperia and Glory" by Ann Leckie
* "What a Piece of Work" by Jo Walton
* "Remarks on Some Cliches I Have (By Definition) Known Too Well" by Teresa Nielsen Hayden
* "The Last Science Fiction Writer" by Allen M. Steele
* "Shoah Sry" by Tobias S. Buckell and Ilsa J. Bick
* "Labyrinth's Heart" by Bruce Arthurs
* "The NOMAD Gambit" by Dean Cochrane
* "In Search Of...Eileen Siriosa" by Ron Hogan
* "Tees and Sympathy" by Nick Sagan
* "Last" by Chris Roberson
* "Refuge" by David Klecha
* "The Inevitable Heat Death of the Universe" by Elizabeth Bear

See? 18 golden hits from your favorite science fiction writers and the best new talents, for just $6! That's just 33 cents per story! Honestly, you can't afford not to get this issue of Subterranean Magazine!

(Rumor also has it that a simple touch of its pages will cure all sorts of ailments from quinsy to dropsy, and will also make the toucher up to fourteen times more attractive to members of the sex that they are most interested in. However, these claims have not been tested by the FDA. So, really, just pick it up for the stories. They're good enough.)

Posted by john at 05:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 12, 2006

Philadelphia Inquirer Podcast is Up

It's here. It's me chatting with Inquirer reporter David Hiltbrand about The Ghost Brigades -- but also esoteric concepts about space and colonization and all that. I think Hiltbrand asked some good questions, so it's an interesting podcast, and I use the word "basically" far less this time around than I did in my last podcast interview. Progress gets made!

Posted by john at 01:47 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

If I Ran the Nebulas

Not that anyone's actually asking, but if I were in charge of the Nebulas, the awards the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America give out to honor the best writing in the genre, here's what I would do:

1. Put the awards on a calendar year schedule. The Nebula awards are currently on a "rolling" nomination schedule, which means one can nominate a novel for 12 months after it's published. For example, if your novel or story is published in June of 2006, someone may nominate you for the Nebula through June 2007. Now, if your work gets enough nominations from SWFA members (10 will do it) by the end of the calendar year of 2006, you'll go on the 2006 Nebula long list, from which the nominees are ultimately selected. However, if it doesn't get enough recommendations until 2007, then it'll go on the 2007 Nebula long list. In effect, one can win what is an annual award for a work that was put out two years previous.

Now, maybe that makes the Nebulas more fair for books printed up in the second half of a calendar year, but it also makes them stale; one of the Nebula nominees this year is Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which was published in 2004 -- and which has already won the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award. Whatever its inherent qualities as a work (I quite like it myself) it is old, old news. This also makes the nomination process more confusing than it needs to be, which is no good for anything.

Stale and confusing are not good things for an awards process to be. Simple solution is to get the Nebulas back on a calendar year schedule. I'm not entirely convinced books published later in a calendar year would be at a disadvantage; Clarke's Strange was published in the second half of its year (September) but won the calendar-year-oriented Hugo, as did Bujold's Paladin of Souls (Published October 2003) and Gaiman's American Gods (July 2001), and Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July, 2000). Indeed, four out of five of the most recent Hugo winners were published in the second half of their year (and four out of the five -- the same four out of five -- were also fantasy novels. Discuss).

Maybe SFWA writers will complain that they don't have time to read all the eligible books or whatever, what with all the writing they have to do, but, you know. The people who nominate for the Hugos have full, rich lives too, and yet they manage just fine. Also, if the Nebulas didn't look like were trailing every other genre award, people might care about them more. Yes, the Oscars are the last set of movie awards, and it doesn't hurt them. On the other hand, it's not like Sideways or The Aviator were nominated this year, either. The Academy stuck to the films in 2005.

2. Abolish the pointless and stupid Best Script Nebula. Because no one cares. As with the dramatic presentation Hugos, this is a downstream award, which is to say the award is given with the hope that the award giver will be recognized by the award recipient as worthy of attention. This is not a good place for an award to be. The Nebula is as likely to become a significant award for Hollywood as I am to sprout opposable thumbs out of my back; there aren't enough SFWA members actively working in Hollywood to justify its inclusion. Best to chop it out and focus the Nebulas on what the vast majority of SFWA members are themselves focused on.

3. Make the nomination process anonymous. When one nominates a work for a Nebula, SFWA notes the nomination and that it's you making the nomination, so the person whose work you've nominated and every other SFWAn who cares to look will see that you've done it. On one hand, it's nice to be able to say to a friend "dude, I recommended you for a Nebula," and then back it up with documentary evidence. On the other hand, it opens the process up to unseemly accusations of quid pro quo, in which people get nominated by other people in an endless backwashing circlejerk of gladhanding (yes, I intended to mash-up all those metaphors).

Authors don't need to know who recommended them; all SFWA needs to know is whether the person recommending a work is actually a SFWA member. This can be fairly easily done and will trim down the perception of incestuous recommending (and possibly any actual incestuous recommending as well).

4. Ditch the Nebula Weekend. There's some discussion among SFWAns about the utility of the Nebula Awards Weekend, which is the in-house get-together SFWAns have to have the Nebula awards banquet and to do some SFWA business. I've been a SFWA member for a few years now but I've not gone to one; from the program listings they don't seem to have a lot going on that's appealing for me. While that may contribute to a "relaxicon" feel, if I'm going to travel to a distant city, I want at least the option of doing more than sitting in a bar, watching fellow SF writers drink themselves blind. I did give some thought to going last year, when the Nebulas were in Chicago, but that was more because I had particular friends attending and because I went to school in Chicago than for the Nebulas themselves. This year they're in Tempe, where I didn't go to school and where none of my friends live nor plan to attend, and as I'm not nominated this year I can't see why I would want to go. Even if I were nominated I'd have to think about it.

I'm not at all opposed to SFWA doing something to celebrate the Nebulas, but I'm less than enthused about a large chunk of my membership money going to pay for an event I have no interest in attending and that apparently quite a few other SFWAns are ambivalent about.

Fortunately, I have a solution, and it involves something SFWA is presently critically lame at doing: Fan outreach.

5. Have the Nebula Awards at an already-established SF convention. The Nebula awards are (so far as I know) held sometime between April and June; there are any number of well-established and well-attended SF conventions in that timeframe that would probably be very happy to host one of the premier awards in science fiction (and if there aren't then the Nebula's problems run deeper than I imagined). The nominees could connect with fans and participate in a special track of Nebula-related programming as well as the convention's other programming; the awards banquet could be opened to con attendees or turned into an audience event outright. The Nebulas wouldn't have to be nailed down to a single convention year after year; conventions could bid to host the Nebulas, so SFWA could share the love.

What will the conventions get out of it? Aside from the added con value of hosting the awards, they're likely to benefit from the appearance of a reasonably high percentage of Nebula nominees and other SFWA members, which will make the con more attractive to more than the local SF fans. It'll also help raise the profile of the con in the local media, since a city hosting significant genre awards is likely to be a good story for any paper outside New York and LA (this also serves SFWA's purpose of raising the profile of the Nebulas in the general population).

So, basically, the con gives the Nebulas an established convention infrastructure in which to do its thing (at relative low cost to SFWA), and the Nebulas give the con some status. And one other thing, to sweeten the deal:

6. Introduce one Nebula awarded by fans. As a way of saying "thank you" to the con for hosting the  Nebulas, SFWA should establish one Nebula award that the attendees of the convention should be allowed to vote on: The Fan Favorite Nebula, celebrating the novel-length work attendees of the convention enjoyed the most (or felt was the most significant, or whatever) in the previous calendar year. The nominations would be decided by pre-paid members of the year's convention (and the attendees from the previous year, a la the Hugos), and the balloting for the winner could take place at the convention itself.

This achieves two things: One, it gives the con a concrete benefit in hosting the Nebulas -- something to sell attendance locally and nationwide -- and lets the con folk have a hand in making SF award history, which is not a bad thing. For SFWA, it could raise the consciousness of the entire Nebula award slate among fans and -- this is the most important thing -- give the fans an investment in the Nebulas that they don't currently have. The Nebulas are a great award and they're different than the Hugos in significant ways, and that's a good thing. But in the real world of fandom (heh), the prestige of the Nebula is a distant second to that of the Hugo, and one suspects the economic and reputational benefit of winning a Nebula is likewise diminished for the writer, relative to the Hugos.

More than that, allowing the fans to have their own Nebula would be an explicit recognition by SFWA that fans are critical to the life of SF genre publishing -- and by extension to SFWA itself. I suspect that SFWA is generally entirely opaque to readers of SF in general, and I further suspect that SFWA is increasingly irrelevant to fans. As the fan perception of SFWA goes, so goes the importance of the Nebulas as an award, and as a standard of quality, in the SF lit community.

Creating this one award will not substantially change the tenor of the awards (they will still be substantially different from the Hugos), but what it will do is make the Nebulas more relevant to the lives of the people who really care about SF literature. That's worth doing. I'm personally willing to sacrifice the pointless and stupid Script Nebula to get this one on the boards.

Okay, those are my thoughts. Now tell me why I have got this all wrong.  

Posted by john at 01:38 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Flooding, Plus Links

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As you can see, the monsoons have returned to western Ohio -- soon it will be time to plant the rice. Alternately, this is what you get when a big-ass strom front drops three inches of water on already-saturated ground. My understanding is that there is more rain coming as well. Fortunately I am stocked up on multivitamins and Coke Zero. I am prepared for whatever happens next.

Aside the from imminent waterloggination, things are pretty good. And there are a couple of nice reviews of The Ghost Brigades out today. The first is from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which writes:

The premise of the schizophrenic soldier allows Scalzi to explore the essence of consciousness and the ways in which it is shaped and influenced by memory, experience and the individual's intrinsic personality. Combine that with good battle scenes, clever storytelling and the ability to juggle abstruse scientific principles without breaking a sweat, and it makes for an impressive piece of work.

There's also a review in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

It's a fast and deep stream, military machinations mixed with gorgeous technical notions, and cut through by the arc of Dirac's life. I like the galaxy this author's playing in, the characters he limns, the situations he's playing with, and I'm glad there's at least one more volume on the way.

Neat. Now, the Philadelphia Inquirer is also supposed to have up a podcast interview with me, but apparently it's not been posted yet. When it goes up I'll let you know. If my house hasn't floated away by then.

Posted by john at 08:01 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

OMW Hardcover, Out of Print

It looks like all the hardcovers of for Old Man's War are gone: I can't find anyone selling it online (well, for less than $39.27, which I don't suggest you pay), and since I don't think I actually ever personally saw it in a bookstore, I don't suspect there are many hanging around the shelves, either. It's still (and amply) available in trade paperback, of course, but if you wanted it new in hardcover, with the Donato cover and everything, well, um, sorry.

Patrick's currently in Ireland (and it's 1:30 am on a sunday morning) so I can't ask him at the moment, but I'm curious to know what the sell-through was -- that is, how many of the books that were printed were actually sold, rather than returned and then turned into remainder table fodder. The scarcity of the hardcover suggests to me it sold through pretty well, but having never been to this point with a book before, there's lots I could be missing there.

If you do want OMW new in hardcover, this is one option remaining to you, which is to get a Science Fiction Book Club edition. But be prepared to wait a couple of weeks; the Web site says it'll be available on March 26th. Patience is a virtue, especially when you have no choice.

Posted by john at 01:45 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 11, 2006

March Madness, Scalzi Family Style

In case the previous entry's photos have you curious about how Athena, Krissy and I spent our afternoon, the entire photoset is here. No, I'm not in it. Because I'm holding the camera, you see.

Posted by john at 06:35 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Another Side of My Beloved Wife

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Maybe this should be her author photo instead.

Note the shirt.

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Alternately, what awaits whomever comes to the door to tell us about their fabulous new product and/or religion.

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Also, let us not speak of the Incident With The Swing. Note, however, Athena's gleeful smile.

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

March 10, 2006

Pictures from Home

Pictures from earlier today:



If Krissy had an author photo, it would look like this.



Krissy and Athena, doing the wave.



Mother and child.

Posted by john at 07:29 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Reader Request Week 2006 #7: Writing on Writing

We're getting to the close of Reader Request Week 2006 -- and a successful one it was -- so to clear the decks, I thought I'd do an omnibus entry featuring questions related to books and writing. So let's line up your questions and see what pithy answers I can pull out of my head.

Rick McGinnis: "The Death of the Book: Inevitable, desirable, or just a crock of propellerhead hype?" 

I don't really see the end of physical books anytime soon, because the metaphor of the book is an excellent one for the storage and use of text: It's convenient, the access is intuitive, and it's cheap. Now, people will point to the current transformation of music out of physical storage into iPods and other jukeboxes and will suggest the books are generally heading the same way, but I think what they're missing is that music files (and the tiny storage devices we put them on) are a vastly better way to manage and archive our music libraries than stacks of CDs or LPs, which are constrained by their physicality to storing only a couple dozen tracks at best. iPods also fit the way people listen to music -- people like variety and they want to be able to carry lots of music with them, and the sound quality is acceptable for having it coming at you from earbuds. People don't feel the same need for volume with books, nor is the way e-books are organized and accessed as comfortable as with electronic readers. That may change with the new generation of e-readers (which display text more naturally), but in terms of being easier than books, they'll still have a way to go. Frankly, today's novels are too damn long for most people to read as e-text.

What I see e-book readers possibly doing is helping to revive the short story format, because a short story works for the electronic metaphor: short, snappy pieces of entertainment that you can read in just a few minutes, are cheap to acquire, and you can store thousands and line them up to suit your mood, a sort of "build your own anthology" setup. Someone creates an iTunes for short stories that works (Amazon is trying to do that with its short story service but I'm not so sure how well that is working) along with a cheap, easy-to-use reader, and suddenly we'd be looking at a new age of short stories. Which definitely would not be a bad thing. And we'd still have books, because that's a better way to read longer works.

Nina Armstrong: "New Nebula Award for YA-good idea or bad?"

Nina's talking about the new Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, given out by SFWA. Technically it's not a Nebula Award, but since it's given out by the same organization at the same ceremony and uses the same selection process, this is a distinction without a difference.

I think it's a perfectly fine idea. YA books are critical gateways to get people to read (and in science fiction and fantasy, to get people to read those genres). There are some excellent writers doing work in YA today, and for whatever reason YA books are likely to be given short shrift at awards time simply for being YA, so why not? I wouldn't be opposed to a Young Adult Hugo award, either; it can be swapped in for the asinine "dramatic presentation" Hugos, which are a complete waste of time and effort.

Soni: "What is your take on the direction that the swelling 'free for all'-minded generation is going to take us? Seems I can't log onto the Internets lately without hearing about how more and more people are not only expecting to get stuff (music, literature, software, etc) for free, but on the other side of the spectrum there is an equally fast-growing number of folks who are creating their own stuff and giving it away for free as a matter of course."

Well, and you also can't get online without hearing the head of a telecommunications giant saying he wants for his company to be able to start charging online companies for preferential access to its customers, either. So there's pressure on both ends of the pay structure.

But I don't really think the free end is all that much of a problem. The Internet certainly creates and fosters a forum for amateurs -- people who make things up for the fun of it and who don't particularly care whether they get paid for it or not. I'm certainly part of that myself; I used it to my advantage with Agent to the Stars, and I've also posted music I've made online, and I never expect to be paid for that. People like playing and sampling and having fun: The Web is one big amateur sandbox.

But it's also not stopped me from making money: My books are doing well, even Agent, which is available for free, so people really do have to make the conscious decision to buy it. Giving away a certain amount for free fostered those sales, I'm sure, both by assuring people of the quality of the work and also creating a community of people who are happy to see me succeed (and help me do so buy occasionally buying something of mine).

All the Internet is doing is changing the dynamic of how people make money from their creative work. People will still pay for work they like from people they like. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.

Tim Walker: "The whole Chabonesque 'genre fiction versus "literary" fiction' thingy. Are boundaries between them useful? Morph this into a general discussion of where you see fiction headed, if you like."

Literature genres are a matter of two things: marketing on the part of publishers and booksellers, and self-identification on the part of the audience. It has nothing to do with quality of writing, or quality of story, or whatever. Why is Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go marketed as literary fiction? Because that's where Ishiguro's audience sees itself as. Why is China Mieville's stuff marketed as dark fantasy? Same reason. But Ishiguro's audience would probably love Mieville's work; Mieville's audience, likewise -- if only they admit they could read that other stuff. The mechanics of fiction are universal; you use the same mechanics to write literary fiction as you do to write science fiction and fantasy. Moreover, the mechanics of fiction will continue to be universal.

I write genre fiction and unapologetically so, but at the same time I don't accept that my readers only have to come from genre audiences. I want the skiffy geeks to read me, but I want other people to read me too. At the same time I think the SF geek who only reads SF/F is doing himself a disservice; he needs to get out and see how the other half lives. The best readers, I find, are promiscuous readers. I certainly feel that way. I'm a book slut; I'll read anything once, twice if I like it. Speaking as a writer, that's why I feel I can write to appeal to people outside my typical genre audience.

The boundaries between genres will exist as long as they help to sell books. I think that's fine, but I think booksellers also need to help train readers to accept there is more out there than their favorite genres (publishers too, although to a lesser extent -- one doesn't expect, say, Baen, to go out of its way and help people find romantic mysteries). People will still read as much as they do in their favorite genres; they'll just maybe try other stuff as well.

John H: "From a SF writer's perspective, what futuristic technologies do you think we should be pursuing?"

Why as an SF writer? I'm an SF writer in part because of my interest in science, not the other way around (yes, this is true: I was into science long before I read my first SF book). I think we ought to be perusing technologies to make energy production as cheap, sustainable and pollution-free as possible, and we ought to be accelerating our study of biotechnology by significant amounts, because I suspect we'll need both in the very near future.

Josh: "We already know that you're planning on writing a third book in this series-which-is-not-a-series, but I'm curious: would you ever consider 'loaning out' the world you've built for a series of paperback originals? For that matter, how would you feel about your family and/or friends carrying on the universe once you're dead, ala Dune?"

If the Old Man universe became so popular that people wanted to play in it, they would do it anyway a la fan fic. As toward a concerted commercial attempt to exploit the universe while I was busy doing other things? Well, I think that would be fine as long as the books didn't, you know, suck. I think quality control would be an issue here, and without castigating media tie-in writers in general, many of whom are in fact very good writers, the fact is that with some media tie-in series, quality is clearly not job one. If we're going to bring other writers into the universe, they should bring something to the universe too, not just grind out some slap-dash military porn thing.

For example, I hear that John M. Ford's two Star Trek novels, The Final Reflection and How Much for Just the Planet? are not well-loved by Paramount because they futz with the established Star Trek formula. I say: Get me John M. Ford! Aside from the simple high caliber of the man as a writer, I'd want to read a book where the author gave me something worth reading for its own sake, not just as comfort food from the Old Man universe. And if I can't get John M. Ford, get me someone who is as fearless as he. That's what my universe deserves.

How do I feel about family/friends carrying on the universe after I'm dead? Well, I'll be dead. What will I care? I'd simply hope the "don't have it suck" admonition would cast a long shadow.

There, I think that's enough writing on writing. 

Posted by john at 01:42 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

March 09, 2006

Reader Request Week 2006 #6: Paranoid Parents

Thoughts on childhoods past and present, from cisko:

Why have we changed so much, in the past 20 years, about how we protect our kids? And what is (or would be) going too far?

One example: As kids, my brothers and I would spend all day riding our bikes around the neighborhood, playing with other kids and generally having a ton of self-directed fun. Today, that just wouldn't be acceptable -- kids need to be supervised all the time, seemingly into at least middle school.

Is your experience similar? And what do you think it means for the kids and parents, both now, and as the kids grow up?

Related to this, this question/comment from Eric B:

Some time ago my brother posted some pictures online of our older sister's two children, including their full names. My wife saw it, freaked out, notified older sister about it, and within a few days the pictures were taken down.

When I heard about the situation, I at first was a bit curious why it was a problem, since I'd been reading about Athena here on the Whatever all the time. So I wonder, what fast and hard rules do you think there are to putting kids' information online. Granted, a parent should have more control than other family members in such matters, but does it make a difference if one lives in a rural or (sub)urban location, has an unlisted number, or other factors.

It's interesting. Toward the last of these, every few months or so I get an e-mail from someone genuinely concerned that me posting pictures of Athena is an open invite for the pervs and freaks to come down to the Scalzi Compound and stalk my little girl. Typically speaking I appreciate the concern (except the one guy who said something along the lines of "I hope you don't ever have to live with the regret of having been able to have prevented your child from being molested if only you'd not posted pictures of her online," to which my response was, hey, fuck you), but I'm also not overly worried.

I'm not overly worried (which is not the same thing as "not worried at all") for a number of reasons: I'm a stay-at-home dad, so I have a really excellent idea where my kid is all the time. Athena is very smart and knows about the potential danger of strangers. Our home, by virtue of being removed several hundred feet from the road (any road, on any side), and by being the home of a dog who sees it as her job to alert us when anyone approaches on foot or by car, is not one which is easily approachable by stealth, and I'm home almost all the time in any event. Athena's school won't let her leave the school with anyone without me or Krissy having come in and approved it. Finally, Athena's online presence is now and for quite some time will be mediated by me and Krissy, and aside from knowing where she is online at all times we've also been not shy in telling her that pervs and jerks exist online.

And of course, I'm also not entirely stupid in what about Athena I post online. It's one thing to show Athena hungrily eying a cat or suffocating dear old dad or posing as a vampire; it's another thing to show her in the tub. You're not going to get any of the latter. But this is all of a piece anyway, and something I've been very open about here at the Whatever, which is that I'm perfectly happy to share any number of superficial things, but my private life -- and the private life of my family -- is (no offense) none of your damn business. I'm happy to tell you how my book is doing and how I feel about my work. My personal relationship with my wife and child: not so much, other than in generalities. Athena's pictures here tend to be silly and fun and I'm happy to share surface-y anecdotes and such, but there's lots you don't know about her, nor are likely to. Not because I'm worried about freaks and pervs using the information to gain her confidence, or any such thing. But simply because she deserves to have a life that's her own and not available for general comment.

On her side, Athena is pretty savvy about what's going on; she understands the concept of a Web site and she understands that lots of people check in here to see what I and occasionally she are up to. She will in fact from time to time suggest a picture for me to take or ask me to take a picture of a drawing for the purposes of displaying it online, which is why you get the occasional monster collection. I also clear with her anything about her I want to put online -- and yes, she's exercised a veto before. Is Athena being aware of this stuff make her safer? Yes, to the extent that understanding any process can make one safer. It also gives her a measure of control over her own life, and commensurately an expectation that she should have some control and that this desire should be respected. It's not the same as giving her mace and instructions to spray pervs in the eye if they rush her, but it's not insignificant.

Now, the thing to note here is that this is my kid I have on my site; as a general rule I don't put other people's kids on my site without explicit permission from the parent(s). Why? Because they're not my kids, and people have every right not to have their kids' pictures plastered about teh Intarweebs without their permission. So, Eric B, I think your wife's reaction is not entirely out of line -- not because suddenly a Web of pervs have a line on those kids (which is unlikely), but simply because those responsible for the well-being of the kids didn't get a say about whether they were out there on the Web. I'm confident I am not at all endangering my child with the occasional picture of her on my site, and I feel likewise confident that the vast majority of kid pictures put up on the Web are not perv magnets, but you know what? What I think about other people's kids and their pictures/info online doesn't matter. It's up to the parents.

(Some of you may ask: All this talk is about you and Athena, John -- doesn't Krissy get a say? The answer: Well, obviously. If Krissy were ever uncomfortable with a picture of Athena or something I wrote about Athena online, it would come down instantly; moreover if she decided that there was to be no more Athena on the Whatever, there would be no more Athena on the Whatever. This is all axiomatic.)

"Up to the parents" bring us to the first question, which is, essentially, whether today's parents are overly paranoid about keeping track of their children at all times. Well, to begin, if you read the paragraphs above detailing how I pretty much know where my kid is at all times, then you know that I don't think it's a bad thing to have your kids' whereabouts down to a science. Second: Yes, I suspect we probably are paranoid as hell, and probably overly so. When I was Athena's age I essentially roamed the neighborhood at will; I don't think my mom had the slightest idea where I was most of the time. Second and third grades I would get on my bike and disappear for hours at a time, tooling around the entire city. And of course I was generally getting into things and places that would have given my mother an absolute stroke had she known.

And I'm still alive, as are most of the former kids of my generation; most of the kids of recent previous generations also managed to make it to adulthood despite the lack of almost-constant parental supervision. Thanks to a media cottage industry in making parents feel inadequate no matter what they do, today's parents certainly feel like the world is more dangerous than it was when we were cruising around on our Huffys, but I'm pretty sure that statistically and overall, this day and age is actually safer than the mid-70s, early-80s world in which we grew up.

I suspect that somewhere along the way, the framing of childhood shifted from the actions of the kids to the deficiencies of the parents. A good example of this was a term that became popular when I was growing up: "Latchkey kids." These were the kids who came home to empty houses after school because their parents worked during the day; without that parental supervision, you see, it was natural the kids would be up to no good. The thing about this was that even the kids who weren't latchkey kids were up to no good -- mom or dad may be at home, but as soon as a kid said "I'm going out with my friends" and they kicked open the screen door, the kid was still going to do what the kid was going to do, for hours at a time, away from the parents. But the point of view was shifted to suggest that kids were suffering because of lack of parental supervision. Undoubtedly some were, but I think most kids were not in a rush to have parents hovering no matter what. Go back in time and you'll realize you probably didn't want to hang with your mom or dad all the time either. But when my generation started doing that "Gen X" thing we had going there, blaming absent moms and dads for our hip cultural alienation was sure useful.

Gen-X parents want to be more engaged than they remember their own parents being, which I think is well and good, but wanting to tag our children with tracking devices to know their whereabouts 24/7 -- or alternately, scheduling them with so many structured activities in and out of school that they don't have time to breathe, much less get in trouble -- is very likely to backfire. Look, I'm in the same boat here: I'd like to have a cute little GPS device my daughter would be delighted take with her always, so no matter where she is I can track her location with Google Maps. On the other hand, I also fully expect that if I did that, sooner rather than later my adorable little daughter would tell me to go fuck off. Kids want and need their space and the ability to do things alone, or at least, without constant adult supervision. And they'll carve out that space whether we want them to or not. I think we all think we're hip to our what are kids are up to, but come on, people. Think back on all the things you did when you were a kid and a teen that you know your parents had no idea about. News flash: You're as clueless now as your parents were then. Sorry, but it's true.

Athena is easy for me to watch now because she's seven and I'm at home -- and she actually likes spending time with me. When there comes the day when she wants to hang with her friends and do her own thing, I'm probably going to hate it, but I'd rather have her believe that I and her mom are willingly giving her space than have her believe she has to take it in spite of us. The positive benefit of that is that then when we ask her "where are you going?" we're likely to get a more expansive answer than "out." And maybe then she will take that cell phone with the GPS chip in it, because she'll know it's not that I want to track her every move, I'll just want to know where she is if she falls down a well. That seems reasonable.

Posted by john at 02:06 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Reader Request Week 2006 #5: A Political Judiciary

Activist judges everywhere! Ohako asks:

"When did the judiciary become so political? Activist judges here, there, and everywhere!!

I once sat on a jury, and when we were done, we explained our verdict a little to the judge. He didn't care, and I was impressed because I realized that it was his job not to care, one way or the other. His duty was to render fair justice, without any personal bias at all.

So why is it now that being a judge, at any level, seems to be another Red State/Blue State dichotomy thingy? Rather than being just another technical sort of job?"

Well, Ohako, to the first, the phrase "activist judge" is crap propoganda. "Activist judge" is the rhetorical bludgeon that the right-wing folks currently in power have decided to use any time a judge gives a ruling that doesn't fit their agenda. As I've said before, the most "activist" ruling of the last decade, if we're talking about the judiciary thwarting the will of the people, was the Supreme Court ruling that gave the presidency to George Bush. Yet no one seems to be calling Antonin Scalia an "activist judge."

Having said that, "activist judge" is a brilliant rhetorical phrase, because regardless of its relationship to reality, it allows its users to describe their enemies in ways that both put their enemies on the defensive and also gull the unsophisticated masses. Most people don't know or understand the role of the judiciary, nor understand (at the federal level at least) that it is explicitly designed so as to be insulated from the day-to-day electoral and political pressures the other two branches of government face. Complaining that "activist judges" are not responsive to the "will of the people," particularly when that "will" is expressed by the political "want" list of the executive or legislative branches (even if both branches are currently polling below 40% approval) is in many ways complaining that the judges are doing their job as defined by the Constitution. But most people don't get that; they turn on the talk radio and listen to bloviating right-wing lard brains model a version of separation of powers that has absolutely nothing to do with Constitutional reality.

Those in power know the model they're promoting to the politically unsophisticated is a bad one, and what should be particularly galling to the people they're selling this Constitutional snake oil to is that in reality, those in charge on the right don't actually want the judiciary to be more politically responsive and less "activist" -- otherwise Bush wouldn't be so busy trying to jam people onto the Supreme Court (and into lower courts as well) whose political and judicial theories are far to the right of the general population. The Bushies rely on the staying power of an insulated judiciary to extend their political agenda long after Bush will be out of office -- and indeed hope that these judges will be "activist" in their political direction, batting back the electoral will with their own unique view of US Constitutional law.

This is par for the course for the Bushies and their right-wing fellow travelers who prize their unchecked power over the constraints of the Constitution and whose theory of politics is best described as "feckless," since the same right-wing bootlickers who are busy eviscerating the Constitution for the benefit of Bush today will the ones climbing the ramparts to take it all back if a Democrat gets elected president in 2008. There is no political theory on the right today; there's just what they think they can get away with. This is sad for Republicans and conservatives who actually do prize the US Constitution and the rule of law, of course. Maybe next time they'll run a presidental candidate who can actually think. In the meantime, of course, the monkeys are in charge, and they can take comfort take that the morons on the left are so ineffectual that they can't actually get it together to counter a phrase as politically vapid as "activist judge," much less counter any of the concrete violations of the Constitution currently taking place.

Now, before it looks as if I am blaming every bad thing ever on the Bushies, let's review US history, in which we find that presidents have ever played politics with the federal judiciary. Indeed, one of the great Supreme Court rulings, Marbury v. Madison (which established the right of the Supreme Court to be the Supreme Court as we understand it today) arose because outgoing president John Adams created a bunch of judicial positions and packed them with his political fellow travelers in an attempt to thwart the political plans of Thomas Jefferson, who had just crushed Adams in an election. Closer to our own time, and on the recognizably opposite political end of the spectrum from the current Bush administration, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937 tried to get around a Supreme Court hostile to his New Deal by proposing to add a Supreme Court justice for every sitting justice over the age of 70 (thereby allowing FDR to appoint judges sympathetic to his politics). This didn't fly, but it seems to have scared the then-sitting judges into allowing some New Deal provisions they seemed otherwise to be ready to bounce. For the record, I find FDR's (and Adams') attempts at court-packing fairly loathsome; say what you will about Bush, but his people aren't imaginative enough to pull stunts like these. But the point to be made here is that being political about judges really is nothing new.

Are today's judges "activist" --- meaning they arrogate to themselves the powers that should reside with the other branches of government? By and large, I think not -- I believe the majority of federal judges, even the ones whose judicial philosophies I disagree with, try to do their job faithfully and in accordance to the Constitution (moreover I also suspect that state and local judges do the same under the laws by which they rule). What is different -- at least in very recent time -- is that currently the right wants to suggest the judiciary is unchecked, arrogant and politically-minded. But inasmuch as many of the rulings decried as the result of "activist judges" are legally rigorous and sensibly ruled -- just not what the folks on the right wanted -- it's pretty transparently partisan whining.

When will the howling about "activist judges" die down? I suspect when and if people come to power who understand that the role of the judiciary under the US Constitution is not, in fact, to let the president do everything he wants to do because he feels like it's something he wants to do. In other words, when people come to power who actually respect the US Constitution.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)

Posted by john at 10:32 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

March 08, 2006

Reader Request Week 2006 #4: The Nintendo Revolution

Mmmm... let's talk video games! Greg Lescoe asks:

Having been a videogame journalist for some time, I would assume you're keeping tabs to at least some degree on the industry itself. That said, what do you think about Nintendo's potentially risky gamble to eschew better visuals (at this point not as significant an upgrade as in previous generations) in favor of other, non-graphics-related upgrades? And do you think that their refusal to do the "let's put everything imaginable into a silver box and charge half a grand for it even though nobody will use it for anything but videogames and maybe movies early on" thing will help or hurt them in the end? 

<geekery> 

I think Nintendo is going to come out of it just fine, as long as they can manage to get the Revolution in at the $200 price point.

I think it's important to note that Nintendo is not actually playing the same long-term game as Sony and Microsoft. Sony and Microsoft are in a battle to the death for control of your widescreen HDTV in the living room, not just for the purposes of game playing but for the rather more nebulous purpose of being your front-line "media center." There are rather more levels to it, of course (I just wrote an OPM column about this so I won't get into it here, but if you think Sony's dropping Blu-Ray into PS3 just to have a more convenient game storage medium for its games, you are wrong wrong wrong wrong), but essentially those two are in a war for your living room.

Nintendo, I think, doesn't want to be in your living room; it wants to be in your ten-year-old's bedroom, hooked up to the little TV in there. Or if it is in your living room, it doesn't necessarily want to be there first, it just wants to be there too.

And I think that's wise, actually. Speaking for myself as a parent, I know that the video games Athena likes are the video games Nintendo excels at (and excels marketing itself as a platform for), the silly and mildly-but-not-too-challenging sidescrollers and jumpers. These games need not be super-intensive graphically, they just need to be fun. When Athena goes over to her grandparents, they haul out their Super NES and Athena goes to town on the Mario Brothers games for that. Does she care that the graphics are from four console generations ago? Not a bit. Heck, right now one of her favorite games is Demon Attack, which was was originally for the Atari 2600, and which she has emulated on her PC (also, in case anyone asks, why yes, I do own in on cartridge, as well as owning an Atari 2600). If she can groove on Demon Attack, she's not going to give a crap whether the Revolution is going to have the same level vertex shading as the PS3. She just wants a fun game. As, I suspect, would most folks.

Again, the key here is price point. $200 is key. At $200 -- and especially compared to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 -- the Revolution comes in looking like a nicely affordable toy, something that you can get for the kids or that you can get for yourself without busting the bank (in fact $200 is not trivial. It just looks good in comparison). If Nintendo can hit $200 with the Revolution, they're going to be golden. I mean, I would buy one just to give to Athena. If they come in higher than $200, well, now you're talking real money, aren't you? And it becomes less attractive.

You ask: What value is there in being the second game console in a house? Well, think about it: How many second TVs do Americans have? How many second computers? How many second cars? How many second everythings do we have? Americans (and I suspect others) like having second things, which typically are of lesser capabilities (or at least lesser dimension). You have the big screen TV in the living room and the 19-incher in the bedroom. You have the desktop and the laptop. You have the new car and the auxiliary car. You have the big dog and the little dog you got to keep it company. And so on and so on.

The folks making those 19-inch TVs are not laboring under the impression that TV is going to be the primary TV in the house; they just know you want another TV. Similarly, it's not really a stretch to conceive of a console marketing itself as the second console, especially when so many gamers already own some combination of PS2, Xbox or GameCube, all of which will die a death when the next-gen consoles are all out. Gamers are already tuned into the idea of having two consoles, and having a $400 and a $200 one is a heck of a lot cheaper than having two $400 ones.

If Nintendo can manage to pull off the "second console" thing, they're going to end up looking really smart, and their success will be in addition to, rather than at the expense of, the PS3 and the XBox 360.

</geekery>

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here

Posted by john at 01:47 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Reader Request Week 2006 #3: Writers and Technology

Zhwj asks about where writers and technology intersect:

Where do you think writers should be, technology-wise? With your presence on this blog, and your forays into online distribution and publishing, you probably are in the upper .n% of technologically-capable writers. And we don't tend to hear too much these days from writers who insist on pecking things out on an Underwood. What's the minimum technical competence at present? e-mail? online research? regexp formulation? How much does technology help (or hinder) writing? Obviously this will depend subject matter and such, but is it still possible to buy envelopes and stamps and have that be your connection to the publishing world?

Well, strictly speaking, as the vast majority of magazines and book publishers out there in the world demand query/submissions to be mailed in with an SASE, and all but the most bleeding-edge technophile publishers at the very least still accept such queries/submissions, you can indeed still get along with envelopes, stamps and paper. And I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

Indeed, to some extent, rabidly technophile writers are at a disadvantage to more traditional writers. To use myself as an example, it's been so long since I've conducted business using paper that I don't even own a printer anymore, and haven't for about two years now. When documents come that need to be printed out, I forward them to Krissy, who prints them out at work (I understand she pays her work for the cost of the printing) and brings them home. But what this means is that I don't in fact query or send submissions to magazines/publishers who require paper submissions; in effect, I am cutting myself off from that 80% or so of publishing opportunities. Now, personally speaking this is not too much of a problem because at this point in my career work tends to come looking for me rather than the other way around, and people with whom I work are willing to tolerate my "paper is what happens to other people" ways. But a writer who was just starting out or who did not have a professional network akin to my current set of connections would be dumb to do what I do.

(And to be clear, just because this is how my career works today doesn't mean that's how it'll work a year, five years or ten years from now; if it ever comes to a point where I have to get a printer or risk not being able to work as a writer -- duh, I'm buying a printer. I like being on the tech edge of things, but I'm also not stupid about it.)

However, this is only talking about the submissions process. Can writers survive without recent technology in other ways -- such as research, connecting with sources, working with editors and so on? Again the answer is yes... if you live in New York, London, Los Angeles or other places where the cultural infrastructure allows a writer real-world access to these things. If you wish to live somewhere $2000 a month gets you more than a one-bedroom third-floor walk-up, however, you really do need to be connected. To use myself again, I live in a small, rural community with one very small library, hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from the editors with whom I work on a regular basis, and an equal distance from most of the people whom I deal with for interviews, materials and so on. I could not do the non-fiction aspect of my writing career with any sort of facility, living where I do, without today's technology. I could do the fiction aspect of it reasonably well, but even that would be more difficult. This is in fact technology's gift to writers: Now we can live anywhere we wish and still have access to the tools and people that (and who) allow us to be able to do our jobs. Thank you, technology!

Technology does have its drawbacks as well, of course. As I noted at a panel at Boskone, thanks to the advent of the Internet, this is the first era in which a writer's primary tool of output -- the computer -- is now also his primary tool of input. Which is to say the same machine you write your stories on is also the machine from which you get your news, correspondence and entertainment and also (for a growing number of far-flung writers) community. And it's easy to switch between input and output modes -- so easy it becomes a real problem. At one point writing The Ghost Brigades I had to switch off my broadband connection because I was checking e-mail every sixty seconds rather than thinking about what I was writing. Equally, I now make it a point to get up from my computer when I'm plotting story because if I stay in front of the computer, I'll just ego-surf or read other people's blogs. Which doesn't actually help me tell my story. Now, writers have never had a problem procrastinating, ever, so one can't blame technology for this. But one can recognize that technology makes it easier.

One also should recognize that technology shapes writing and writers; the tools one uses matter in one's final product. I have no doubt that my writing is directly informed by the technology I use to write it. I can't imagine trying to write a novel on a typewriter, for example; I realize other people did it -- for a century! -- but then people lived without antibiotics, too, and I don't want that either.

Here's an interesting fact: All my novels to date are first drafts that weren't outlined in advance. Why? Because the computer makes that possible. I can edit on the fly as I write so many of the major tasks of additional drafts of a book (polishing of the text, sanding down plot lines, etc) occur as I go along. The rewriting I've been required to do for my novels (so far, at least) has been minimal because by the time I write "The End," most re-writing has been done as I went along. I suspect it's not accurate to call the draft I send to my editors a "first draft"; it's more of a "fractal draft," in that it incorporates several waves of on-the-fly editing, emanating backward from various points in the text, terminating at the point of completion.

Doing this sort of "fractal draft" would not be impossible on a typewriter (or on a pad of paper), but it would be difficult to the point of distraction, which is why writers did have second, third and subsequent drafts of their work. Drafts are an artifact of the technology. Now, I'm aware that many writers still make two or more drafts even though they use computers, and I won't gainsay them for doing so -- the writing process that works for you is the writing process you should use. But I'm glad I don't have to do that, and I'm glad I work on technology that allows me to write in a manner that is both comfortable and natural to me.

Back to the question of where writers should be with technology: I think if you have a recent computer and a decent Internet connection with e-mail, you're fine -- you've got output and input covered. Most everything else is ancilliary -- possibly useful, possibly distracting, but in either case not absolutely necessary. For example, take blogging: I certainly find it useful, and in general I think it's a great way for writers to stay connected to readers and to fellow writers. But is blogging necessary? No. You can still get along nicely without it, and ultimately, most writers today still do. Or cell phones: Handy little things, to be sure, but I went until a month ago without one and I never had any problems maintaining a writing career, and now that I have a cell phone I don't find it doing much for me as a writer.

Despite all the neat new toys and gadgets, the last critical technology for a writer was the Internet; there may be a new killer app for writers on the horizon, but I'm blind to what it is if it's there. For now, a computer and Internet connection with e-mail are mandatory for writers, technology-wise, and all else is elaboration.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)

Posted by john at 10:36 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 07, 2006

Reader Request Week 2006 #2: 10 Childhood Nuggets

For the second entry in Reader Request Week 2006, Gabe, seconded by Claire, asks about my childhood. Rather than trying to bang out a coherent structure to this one, let me do a grab bag factoid nugget approach and see if it works.

* The very first memory I know I had was of being in a swimming pool when I was two. My mother tells me that when I was two I knew how to swim, but I lost that ability somewhere along the way and had to relearn it again when I was five. My second memory was of lying in bed in an apartment and watching a ghost go by the window. I suspect it was Halloween rather than it being a real ghost.

* As I think I've noted before here, I have no memory of not being able to read. I started reading when I was two. I was reading adult-level books by the time I was in first grade; I remember reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and not quite getting what the fuss was about (I also read the parody, Jonathan Livingston Chicken, in which a chicken eventually joins the Israeli Air Force).

* I believe I also mentioned that when I was five and my sister Heather was six, our mother had a back operation and we were sent to live with our aunt Sharon for a year. It was a fun time; my aunt and her then-husband kept cattle and I remember carrying out a huge milk bottle for a calf who had lost its mom one way or another; the farm also abutted a Christmas tree farm in the back. One of my more vivid memories of that year was going with my uncle to slaughter a pig. He and another man had the pig in the back of a truck and they shot it, and I remember the thing falling to the bed of the truck and squealing while it bled out. I don't remember thinking one way or another about it, although today I'm not entirely sure that's how you're supposed to kill a pig.

* I was a very precocious kid and like many precocious kids, could be more than a little annoying about it. There were some adults who would leave a room when I came in because they found me irritating. Looking back I couldn't blame them although at the time I was puzzled.

* As many readers here discovered by way of the "Being Poor" entry, I was poor when I was a kid. However, it wasn't constant poverty; we (like many people who are poor) alternated between periods of doing okay and then not. Mostly (but not always) this co-incided with when my mother was a single parent and when she was not. There were brief times when technically we were homeless -- I say technically because at no time did we ever sleep in a car or a shelter, we just stayed at a friend's place for a week (or three) -- but by and large whatever our situation my mom kept us fed and with a roof over my head. It's again one of those things where you don't realize how much work that is for a single parent to do something like that until you become an adult yourself.

* My sister and I are eighteen months apart, which is close enough in age (particularly considering my being a precocious little twit as a kid) that we were basically in a constant state of warfare, except when we weren't. Whether we were at war or not changed from minute to minute. It didn't help that Heather was something of a troublemaker and I wasn't, so I received apparently favorable treatment and she didn't (this is a gross oversimplification of the situation, but it works for what I'll tell you, the general public). This was a bone of contention between us until our adult years. We get along swimmingly now; carrying over your childhood issues into adulthood is generally silly.

* I could be inexplicably emotional. When Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks in 1978, for example, I just about lost my mind and cried up a storm. Not exactly sure why, since I had no interest in boxing nor was a huge fan of Ali (or Spinks, for that matter). No one else could figure it out either. But weird things would set me off. At some point the emotional tripwire thing settled down, which I suspect is a good thing.

* Major childhood injuries: Seven stitches in the foot, from stepping on a piece of glass; five stitches above my eye, where my sister (accidentally) whacked me in the head with a golf club; three stitches in my head from when a rock dropped on me during a camping trip; and a broken leg, from being hit by a car. My sister also fed me Dran-O when I was a toddler, but in her defense, she was three or four at the time and didn't know any better (at least, I hope).

* When I was 12 I learned that I had an older brother who my mother gave up for adoption when she was 16; shortly thereafter he located us. In one of those weird twists his mother and my mother were in the same club and had recently been discussing their troubles with their kids, his mom with him and my mom with my sister (I was the good kid, remember). They both remarked how similar their troubles were.

* This "good kid" thing is not to suggest I wasn't (and couldn't get in) trouble from time to time, and indeed like a lot of kids I went through my minor thievery phase when I was about 12. That stopped when, after stuffing a Whatchamacallit candy bar down my underwear and then sneaking out of the local Ralph's, a huge baldheaded man walking toward the Ralph's came up to me and told me that God watches everything I do. Yeah, I got the message.

That's enough childhood nuggetry for one post.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)
 

Posted by john at 01:52 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Reader Request Week 2006 #1: SF Novels and Films

All right, let's take a second go at beginning the Reader Request Week here at the Whatever, as the first attempt yesterday went all explody on me. The question today (and yesterday, before the crash) was from Alex Holden, who asked:

Why are movie adaptations of SF novels generally so awful? Would you want to see movies from your novels? If yes, how would you prevent Hollywood from ruining them?

These questions -- no offense Alex -- start from what I think are erroneous premises, which are that movie adaptations of SF novels are generally awful, either considered as a class or relative to the performance of novels in other genres, and that novel authors not only can prevent Hollywood from ruining their works, but indeed are competent in the task of keeping Hollywood from ruining their novels. So let's look at each of these.

First, are movie adaptations of SF novels (and other SF lit, including short stories) generally awful? Not necessarily. Here are some pretty good adaptations, in no particular order: Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, The Thing From Another World, Frankenstein, Solaris, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Boys from Brazil and (yes) Jurassic Park. And this is without lumping in fantasy (which has rather quite a lot of excellent adaptations from The Wizard of Oz to The Lord of the Rings) or comic book/graphic novel-derived movies (Men in Black, Superman, X-Men). To be sure, there are some spectacularly bad SF lit adaptations -- Dune and Battlefield Earth spring immediately to mind -- but taken as a class, SF lit turned into movies has a wide spectrum of success, from wildly successful to abysmal.

Relative to other lit genres, SF lit is no worse off either, as Hollywood's record with other genres is equally scattershot. For every Battlefield Earth there's a Bonfire of the Vanities; for every Blade Runner there's a Godfather. If I had to pick a lit genre that has suffered the most in the hands of filmmakers, I would probably have to go with crime fiction, which is deeply abused by Hollywood and has been for decades. I mean, my God. Look what they did to Carl Hiaasen's Striptease. SF is not doing so bad compared to that.

A better question here might be: Why can't Hollywood consistently adapt novels into good movies? And there are a number of reasons for this.

1. Some novels suck. See: Battlefield Earth. If you've got garbage going in, you're likely to get garbage going out.

2. Conversely (and perversely), some novels are too good. A couple of years ago I advanced the theory that great literature doesn't make for great movies, because the written version is already the highest form of that particular story; there's no film version of War and Peace that replaces the book, for example. Same with 1984 or The Great Gatsby. The best book-to-film adaptations are the ones where the book is, well, eh -- and thus the movie is able to become the better and more definitive version: The Godfather is the quintessential version of this; Jaws is another excellent example.

Related to this: 

3. Some literature suffers from "step-down," which is what happens when a brilliant author is adapted for the screen by a less-than-brilliant screenwriter; if the screenwriter doesn't actually get the book, naturally there are going to be problems. Now, the converse is also true: Some mediocre authors have their work improved by screenwriters who write better than they do. The screen version of The Bridges of Madison County is rather better than the book version because Richard LaGravenese, who wrote the script, is a substantially better writer than Robert James Waller, who wrote the book.

4. Some lit, regardless of quality, is unfilmable as written. Film is a primarily visual medium; novels are a primarily intellectual medium. People like to talk about seeing a novel unfold in their heads like a private movie, but a written work also allows access to thoughts, emotions, internal states and narrative omniscience (or narrative direction, at the very least) that film generally doesn't. This is not to suggest film is the lesser medium, as film can do things literature generally doesn't, too. It does mean that some literature is so much in thrall to its medium that it's difficult to make the jump. But that doesn't means some filmmakers aren't willing to try. And thus you get a not-great version of a great book.

This is why, incidentally, wildly reinventing a lit work for film is not always a bad thing. Blade Runner is I suspect a far better picture than a straight adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? could ever be. Given how enthusiastic Philip K. Dick was about Blade Runner, one suspects he may have thought so, too.

5. Novel writing is essentially a one-input proposition: The writer writes, and then an editor suggests changes if needed. In movies, the producers, directors, stars and studios all have input... and the poor schmuck writer has to listen to and accommodate them all (check out William Goldman's classic book Adventures in the Screen Trade for confirmation on this). Given this it's often a miracle a movie based on a book has anything to do with the book at all. Filmmaking, at least on the major studio level, is all about "collaboration" -- which is to say a lot of the time everyone has to whip out their dick and piss in the stew until it has a flavor they claim to like. The problem is, outside of Hollywood, not everyone likes piss-flavored stew.

6. Sometimes the filmmakers don't actually care about the work on which their film is based. They may simply need a property that works for a particular star; they may need something easily adapted into a low-dialogue, high-action film that sells to international markets; they might have bought a property to keep someone else from buying it; they might buy it because the genre the novel is in is hot today and they want to get a hand in before it cools down; they might buy it because some country has created a tax shelter involving films, and the filmmakers need a property -- any property -- to jam into production in order to launder their investors' money (this is, incidentally, how the horrible, horrible director Uwe Boll made so many virulently bad movies based on video games over the last few years). There are lots of reasons to make a movie that actually have nothing to do with its story.

Now, on to the other thing, which is authors keeping filmmakers from ruining their work. There is only one sure-fire way to do this: Don't sell your work. If no film is ever made of your work, then they can't screw it up. Now, they can't make a great film out of it either (or even one that's just, you know, okay), and that is indeed a bit of a downside. But if your goal is to avoid having a bad film made of your work, that's how you have to do it.

Why? Because typically speaking, once you sell the film rights to the work, that's the end of your involvement. Oh, the filmmakers might let you come to the set sometime, and then the studio might fly you and your spouse out for the premiere, and you'll walk down the red carpet to the vast indifference of fans and paparazzi alike. But, really, once you cash that check, you've been handed your hat and shuffled off to the door. Thanks for your story, we love it, see you later.

Nor are filmmakers entirely wrong to do so. The number of novel authors who have any sort of experience or competence in filmmaking is, well, low. Filmmakers take to novelists dictating the terms of the treatment of their books pretty much like authors would take to the lumberjack who chopped down the tree used to make the paper that the rough draft will be printed on coming over and suggesting that what the book really needs is a scene where a lumberjack has sex with Jessica Alba. See, you've been paid. You're done. And now the filmmakers are going off to make their movie. Fact: When people think of who made Jaws, 99 times out 100, they think Steven Spielberg, not Peter Benchley.

Yes, some authors get to dictate certain things before movies get made of their books. And when you sell as many books as JK Rowling or John Grisham or Michael Crichton, maybe they'll let you do that, too. Until then, alas, they're pretty much going to ignore you once your agent seals the deal. Because they can; it's in the contract.

Now, one way around this is to get involved in the production in some way, generally as the screenwriter (or at the very least, the screenwriter who takes the first stab at the script). But this doesn't mean that one then saves one's writing from grevious harm. For one thing, writing scripts and writing novels are two different writing skills, a fact which is indeed underappreciated. Someone who writes novels is no more necessarily competent to write a screenplay than a guy who makes a really great steak on a grill is competent to bake a delightfully light puff pastry. Maybe he can, but the one skill does not automatically suggest the other. To be sure, lots of writers can do both novel and scripts -- Larry McMurtry, who took home an Oscar on Sunday (for adapting someone else's work, no less) is a fine example here, as is the previously mentioned William Goldman -- but it shouldn't be an automatic assumption.

Even when an author is involved it does not necessarily follow he or she is the best steward of the work in film. John Varley, a writer whose work I enjoy immensely, was actively involved with Millennium, based on one of his stories. The movie is pretty bad. HG Wells wrote the screenplay for Things to Come, and it's indeed a significant film in the SF Canon, but it's not a patch on other adaptations of his work. Moving outside the SF genre just a little bit, Stephen King's work is a film genre unto itself, and while there are many highs (Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me), one has to admit that one of the lows would be Maximum Overdrive, which King adapted for the screen and directed himself (I suspect that King -- who seems a good judge of his own stuff -- might agree to this assessment, although I further suspect he had a lot of fun doing it anyway).

On to me. Would I want Hollywood to make films of my books? Sure I would. That would be one less mortgage I would have to worry about. Would I expect that the books would make it to the screen as they are written? No. I say that with confidence because I know that if I were adapting my books as films, there are moderate-to-significant changes I would make, so I can't imagine that actual filmmakers wouldn't want some as well. Would I want to be actively involved in the production? I haven't the slightest idea. If they actually want my ideas toward adapting the books I would be happy to give them (and to take an associate producer credit!), but if they just want to give me a big fat check and send me on my way, I suppose I wouldn't complain all that much.

Which is not to say I'm interested in being indiscriminate about who I sell my movie rights to. Being a film critic for 15 years gives me some knowledge of who makes good films and who doesn't (and having just written a book on SF film, even more so). Let's just say that the only serious demand I would make to a producer who wants to buy the rights to my books would be to attach a rider on the contract that specifies that if Paul WS Anderson is picked to write and/or direct, I get an additional and instant $2 million payout; if it's Uwe Boll, $10 million. Given what would inevitably happen to the story in their hands, I think that's reasonable compensation.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)

Posted by john at 11:09 AM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

March 06, 2006

Gaaaaaah, or, Please Stand By

I wrote up this huge piece for the Reader Request Week 2006, and then my browser locked up and I lost it all. In my resulting fury, I managed not to destroy my computer with an aluminum baseball bat, but only barely. I'll try to reconstruct what I was writing in slightly briefer form and post it soon, but in the meantime, allow me to share a little bit of book news which is making me happy.

The Ghost Brigades is going into a second printing after two weeks, which makes me squee in a very unmanly way, and also serves notice to those of you who have a thing for first editions to get to the stores quickly. The book was also #23 on Ingram's Hardcover Fiction list last week, Ingram being one of the largest book distributors in North America. So that's a nicely w00table moment.

Incidentally, one of my favorite quotes about TGB, from a blog review: "When it comes to writing science fiction novels, John Scalzi is proving to be Shaker furniture." Just as long as I don't have to be celibate.

One other quick note: I am informed by Subterranean Press that the number of available copies of Agent to the Stars is now down into the double digits. Neat.

Okay, enough self-pimpage for one day. A reader request post is coming soon.

Posted by john at 05:10 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

An Excursion Into Short Story Land, Plus a TGB Review

The Scalzi family has been awash in illness and irritability over the weekend; nevertheless I managed to finish a short story I'd been fiddling with off and on for a while now, as (sort of) part of the cliche issue of Subterranean magazine, called "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story." You can guess what the cliche is here. I say it's "sort of" part of the magazine because the short story is being printed up in a chapbook that will go out as a premium for the folks who purchase the special hardcover limited edition of the magazine.

Why isn't it included in the magazine proper? Well, aside from being turned in horrendously late for the purposes of the magazine (which is of course well into pre-production), I'd've been loath to take space in the magazine for myself that could have been used for someone else. An editor making space for his own stuff at the expense of other work seems a little cheesy. But as an add-on? Hey, why not.

In any event, it's an interesting short story in a technical sense, because it's almost entirely dialogue. Which would make it an interesting audio short, I think; I suspect I might try my hand at doing an audio version at some point in the near future. Until then, the only way you'll see it is if you get the limited edition hardcover version of Subterranean #4. Of course, I'll let you all know as soon as that and the regular version of the magazine are available for pre-order. It shouldn't be too long now.

For those of you desiring The Ghost Brigades review goodness, there's a review of the book up on Science Fiction Weekly, from Paul Di Filippo. He gives the book an "A-" and says: "In our current world, where rival civilizations seem doomed to continually clash, Scalzi's novels stand as intriguing thought experiments on the nature of war, peace and the uneasy states between those extremes." I'm deep, damn it!

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March 05, 2006

Post-Oscar Thoughts

Observations on the Oscars:

The Academy pulled a "Shakespeare in Love" maneuver by giving Crash the Best Picture award over Brokeback Mountain, which is to say that the Best Picture Award went to the inferior film, while the manifestly better picture has to make do with the Best Director award -- which is what happened to Saving Private Ryan, which got the Best Director but should have gotten Best Picture over Shakespeare. I don't think Crash is a bad film, mind you (neither was Shakespeare), it's just clearly not the best film of the year. Hell, it's not even the second-best Best Picture nominee. In fact, were I to rank the nominees, it'd go Brokeback, Munich, Capote, Good Night and then Crash. But then I don't vote in the Academy.

What you saw here tonight was the Academy going out of its way to make political statements with its votes, and simultaneously performing some interesting Oscar-swapping calculus. Crash won best picture in part because voters felt like Brokeback would be sufficiently honored with a Best Director win, and the Academy members felt like they wanted to make a statement about racism too, and not just stand tall with the gay cowboys. Crash director Paul Haggis made it easy for the Academy not to give him the Best Director award by co-writing his movie's script; he got the screenwriting award instead.

George Clooney's award for Syriana was a general acknowledgment of his body of work this year, including Good Night and Good Luck, which had no chance of winning anything, but for which Clooney was nominated for in the directing and screenwriting categories -- and it also allowed the Academy to award a politically-charged flick for being politically-charged (if not particularly coherent to most viewers). Rachel Weisz's win was also for a politically-charged film. The Best Actor and Best Actress awards were pretty much politics-free, however; Hoffman was a case of a good actor being recognized and Witherspoon was a case of a pretty young actress playing a beloved icon in a weak nominee field.

(Bear in mind that all this suggests that "the Academy" is some sort of monolithic hive mind that votes in concert; it's not. But the voters certainly trend in certain ways; this year, they were trending toward making political statements.)

I may be mis-reading the tallies, but I don't think any film won more than three awards: Brokeback, Crash and King Kong each got that number. You have to go back 29 years to find another Best Picture which won as few awards as Crash did -- Rocky, which also got three (but not the same three), and which was manifestly not the best Best Picture nominee of its year either (other nominees that year included Network, All the President's Men and Taxi Driver).

What is true is that Crash, whatever its quality as a film, is the least financially successful Best Picture in decades, if not ever. I took in $53 million domestically, and of the Best Pictures of the last 20 years, only The Last Emperor took in less with $44 million. But that was in 1987 dollars; adjusted for inflation Emperor took in more than $75 million, which kicks Crash's ass (it also won 8 awards; Rocky, the last Best Picture with just 3 awards; grossed $117 million in 1976 dollars). This was a bad year for Best Picture economics no matter who would have won, of course; even so this win confirms this year's disconnect between "art" and mass culture come movie awards time (although -- and this should not be neglected -- Crash cost but $6.5 million to make, meaning that even without being a big hit it was almost certainly profitable).

I think over the course of time the selection of Crash as Best Picture will be one of those head scratchers for film historians, and will simply be chalked up as being the result of a certain combination of political and social off-stage influences in Hollywood rather than for the inherent quality of the film itself. Like I said, it's not a bad film; in fact, it's a rather good film. But it's not a great film, nor the best film of 2005, or even the best film of the nominees. It is, however, a very lucky film, and this year that's good enough.

Posted by john at 11:48 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

March 04, 2006

Going to the Chapel

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Congratulations to Cherie Priest and her new husband Jaymes Annear, who were married today. I hope their marriage is at least as happy as mine, which is the best wish I can think of for a newly-married couple.

Posted by john at 11:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 03, 2006

Shortly Before The Explosion

A young child with a soda and a packet of pop rocks! What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, yes, well. There is that.

What happened next startled the cats and required a bucket and several sponges. Several.

Posted by john at 03:38 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Oscars, Campbells, Claire Light, Joe Hill, Amnesty International, Shenandoah

This seems to be the week for aggregate entries, doesn't it?

*Today is usually the day when I usually write a follow-up entry about my Oscar predictions, to make any adjustments to the predictions I made when the nominations came out. However, this year I find I have nothing new to add: the Oscar landscape hasn't changed in any appreciable way since nomination day. So, in case you missed it: My predictions.

*For those of you who will be voting on Hugos and Campbell nominations (there's about a week left to get in your votes), here's a handy site to let you know who is eligible for the Campbell this year. The Campbell, just to remind all y'all, is the award for the best new SF writer. Yes, I am eligible, as are Merrie Haskell, Justine Larbalestier, David Moles, Sarah Monette, Cherie Priest, Chris Roberson and other worthies. We all rule.

*Claire Light uses a review of The Ghost Brigades as a springboard to discuss war and literature and how one can read military SF such as I've written and still have deep-seated philosophical issues with war: "You should simply be letting yourself enjoy the action, oohing and aahing over how cool the guns are, and then walk-of-shaming back to your public debate with a broken bra-strap, realizing that the seductiveness of war isn't so much evil as human."

I think this is an interesting point to make; my take on it (which may not be Claire's) is that needing to philosophically examine the issue of war every time you take in a military SF book would be like needing to have a philosophical examination of alcoholism every time you drank a beer. You could, but then you'd probably end up drinking alone.

*Incidentally, if any of the librarians who read the Whatever would be so kind as to send me the review of The Ghost Brigades that's apparently in the 3/1 edition of Booklist, you would be my new best friend. Thanks.

*I was recently given a copy of 20th Century Ghosts, which is a collection of short stories by writer Joe Hill (no relation, one imagines, to the controverisal Wobblie activist, nor, I suspect, to the kid I went to high school with who had the same name, because although I'm sure he grew to fine manhood, at the time it was doubtful he was literate in any meaningful sense). These stories are largely in the horror genre, and I'm happy to say they're spooking the holy living crap out of me, in that "read a story and then set the book down and wiggle your fingers to get the creepy out of them" sort of way. Which is naturally what you want in this particular genre. I'm not a huge horror reader, but I know good horror when I read it (and also, good writing), and this would be that. If you're ready to be deeply creeped, I would recommend this. Also, I have to salute any writer sneaky enough to slip a story into the book in an unexpected place as a way to reward the people who read oft-ignored portions (as I do).

The one drawback here is that this collection's publisher, PS Publishing, is based out of the UK, so finding the book in the usual online channels is a little more difficult than it should be: It's not on Amazon or BN.com. However, it looks like Clarkesworld Books has it in trade paperback and in signed hardcover. Both appear to be limited editions, so you know the drill on that (you can also find it at Shocklines and Camelot Books). Check it out and enjoy.

* Note to Amnesty International: One really good way not to get a contribution from the Scalzi family this year is to have your telemarketing firm call four times a day trying to reach us. Yes, I realize human rights are important, but so is my ability to look at my call waiting during my work day and not see your telemarketer's number more than once, especially as I've told your donation monkeys to call after 6pm to talk to my wife, who coordinates all our charitable giving. I tell other non-profits this and they seem to get the concept. I'm not sure why you don't.

One more day of your drones calling multiple times and I'm making a contribution to the Pinochet defense fund. Thank you. That is all.

*One of the nice things about subscribing to Rhapsody is that it is easy to call up a song and hear a dozen versions of it all at once -- which is a really informative way to get to know a song. I'm currently listening to two dozen versions of the traditional song "Shenandoah," sung by everyone from Bob Dylan to Leontyne Price. It seems that, sadly, most of the people who want to sing the song actually can't sing the song -- it really is designed for people with truly magnificent voices (for example, Ms. Price and also Paul Robeson) who also have some concept of phrasing. And you say "duh, aren't all songs?" Well, yes, but some songs can tolerate bad singing and phrasing better than others, while others reward truly good singing. This song falls in the latter category.

One of my favorite versions of the song, incidentally, is the version by the Yale Spizzwinks acapella group: I think the guy in front is over-emoting a bit, but the song really lends itself to an acapella rendition, enough so that I think any other instruments sort of distract from it, which is not a good thing as so many versions feature plinky-plink "Americana"-style banjo/mandolin/guitar/whatever. Other versions feature that sort of overbearing orchestration that I associate with classic Disney animation, and that's no good, either. The human voice: Good. Everything else: Not so much. Not that anyone listens to me.

* Remember to get your suggestions in Reader Request Week 2006. Leave your requests in the linked thread, not here. There are some good requests in there already, but there are always room for more. Thanks.

Posted by john at 11:35 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

March 02, 2006

Reader Request Week 2006: Get Your Requests In

Once a year -- usually when I find myself running out of things to say myself -- I throw open the floor to Whatever readers to offer topics for a Reader Request Week, in which (as the name suggests) I write on subjects readers want to know what I think about. I've done this for the last three years and have gotten some great topic ideas. Because Whatever readers totally rock, man.

So: Want me to write on a particular topic? Suggest it in the comment thread. I'll start putting up entries based on reader suggestions on Monday. I usually do one a day, but if I get a bunch of really excellent topics (and so far, I usually do), who knows.

What topics can you suggest? Why, any topic you like, of course. Nothing's out of bounds to ask (I just won't answer it if I don't want to. See? Easy). And as you all know, it's not like I have a problem writing about controversial or questionable topics. Look, I never plan on holding elected office, and if I ever do, it's not like I don't already have a paper trail as wide as the mighty Mississippi. So it really doesn't matter. Ask away, folks.

So you don't repeat subjects, allow me here to link to previous reader request topics:

From 2003:

Reader Request #1: The Middle East
Reader Request #2: Life Online
Reader Request #3: TV
Reader Request #4: Testing Preschoolers
Reader Request #5: Jealousy
Reader Request #6: Immigration
Reader Request #7: Ohio
Reader Request #8: Writing
Reader Request Wrapup

From 2004:

Reader Request Week 2004 #1: Boys and Girls
Reader Request 2004 #2: The Meaning of Life
Reader Request 2004 #3: Can Writing Be Taught?
Reader Request 2004 #4: Fatherhood and Pie
Reader Request 2004 #5: Objective Newspeople
Reader Request Week 2004 Wrapup

From 2005:

Reader Request Week 2005: Creative Commons and FanFic
Reader Request Week 2005: Peak Oil
Reader Request 2005: Beatles, Batman and They
Reader Request 2005: Pot!
Reader Request 2005: Odds and Ends

And there you have it.

Get your requests in, and we'll start getting busy on Monday!

Posted by john at 08:56 PM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

Yawncat Is Not Pleased.

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No, I'm not pulling her tail. She really is just yawning.

Question for a y'all, at least those of all y'all who are cat owners. Ghlaghghee here, being a longhair cat as she is, has developed some truly gnarly mats of hair while we weren't paying attention -- I mean, massive mats. Proto-dreadlock mats. Is there any way of getting rid of these mats short of shaving off huge sections of her fur, thereby making her look as if she had mange -- which, while it would be amusing, seems a little drastic? I'm trying to avoid doing that but right now I'm coming up blank for other ideas. So I throw this out to the crowd.

Also, telling me that if I had a shorthair cat (or some other shorthair animal) I wouldn't be having this problem is not helpful. Please avoid "helpiness" -- comments that aren't actually helpful because the're predicated on perameters that are not relevant to the problem -- and embrace helpfulness. The alternative is a shaved, naked cat. And then Yawncat here really won't be pleased.

Posted by john at 08:11 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

March 01, 2006

Three Quick Book-Related Notes

They are:

1. The Ghost Brigades just spent a full week in the Amazon bestselling SF list's top 10 (#9 as I wrote this). I am agog and almost unspeakably appreciative. Thank you.

2. Just sent the final revised text of The Android's Dream to Tor. The book as been done for quite some time, but there were a couple of cosmetic touch-ups that needed to be undertaken (requiring a change of about 20 words in the text -- but 20 significant words). I think I've mentioned before that I am very happy with this book, and I remain so; it was sold to Tor with the premise that it would be heavy on action scenes and snappy dialogue, and I think it delivers both. It's also almost entirely message-free; if a science fiction novel could be described as a "popcorn book" -- i.e., designed to make you cram handfuls of salty snacks into your mouth as you tear through the pages to see what happens next, this would be that book. And also -- and let's never lose sight of this -- sheep play a truly significant role in his book. Which is as it should be. Frankly, sheep have long been underrepresented in SF. That's gonna change, baby. That's gonna change.

3. Today also marks the official start of writing The Last Colony. And that's all I'm going to say about that. Wish me luck.

Posted by john at 12:34 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack