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April 30, 2006

High Gear

I say stuff like this from time to time and then promptly ignore it; neverthless, here I go again:

I'm to the point where I need to ramp up writing production on The Last Colony, which is the third book in the "Old Man" sequence, which means that there may be a corresponding reduction in output here for a while. I think it's a good thing to post daily, but you may find the entries shorter for a while. Now again, having said that, I'm sure I'll ignore it entirely and write novel-length entries because I'm just that stupid. But I like covering my bases. If you do notice I seem to be writing short over the next several weeks, well, now you know why.

Posted by john at 10:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 29, 2006

Athena At Bat


Athena's doing pretty well on her baseball team; she catches and throws pretty well and is good at the plate. She can switch-hit, which I suspect will be useful one day, although less so at the moment: she's playing coach-pitch baseball, so it's not like they're really trying to get it past her. Still, not a bad skill to have and develop.

Posted by john at 03:11 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 28, 2006

Androids and Zombies

A couple of things to get you through Friday:

First, wondering what the cover of my next novel will look like? Wonder no more:


No, that's not the actual book the cover's wrapped around; it's on the SFBC version of The Ghost Brigades. The actual book for The Android's Dream is still several months away (although, of course, you can pre-order it now).

I like this cover. It's got sheep!

Second, Jonathan Coulton cracks me the hell up. "Re: Your Brains" is a great song that combines all the brain-freezing terror of a zombie attack with the mind-numbing banality of a conference call. You can't go wrong, here. You just can't. (If you can't get the "listen to this" button to work on that page, you can probably get it work here.) Buy some of his mp3s, why don't you.

Posted by john at 01:22 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

April 27, 2006

10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing

Dear Teenage Writers:

scalzi17coke.jpgHi there. I was once a teenage writer like you (see goofy picture to the right), although that was so long ago that between now and then, I could have been a teenager all over again. Nevertheless, recently I've been thinking about offering some thoughts and advice on being a teenage writer, based on my own experiences of being one, and on my experiences of being a teenage writer who kept being a writer when he grew up. So here are some of those thoughts, for your consideration.

I'm going to talk to you about writing as straight as I can; there's a possibility that some of what I say to you might come off as abrupt and condescending. I apologize in advance for that, but you should know that I sometimes come off as abrupt and condescending toward everyone, i.e., it's not just you. Also, I hope you don't mind if I don't go out of my way to use current slang and such; there's very little more pathetic than a 36-year-old man dropping slang to prove he's hip to the kids. I own a minivan and the complete works of Journey; honestly, from the point of view of being cool, I might as well be dead. You might find what I have to say useful anyway. Here we go.

1. The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks.

It's nothing personal. When I was a teenager, my writing sucked, too. If you don't believe me, check these out: A short story I wrote in high school, and (God help us all) the lyrics to a prog-rock concept album I wrote in my first year of college. Yeah, they suck pretty bad. But at the time, I thought they were pretty good. More to the point, at the time they were also the best I could do. No doubt you are also pounding out stories and songs to the best of your ability... and chances are pretty good that your best, objectively speaking, isn't all that good.

There are reasons for this.

a) You're really young. Being young is good for many things, like being flexible, staying up for days with no ill effects, not having saggy bits, and having hair. For writing deathless, original prose, not so much. Most teenagers lack the experiential vocabulary and grammar for writing well; you lack a certain amount of perspective and wisdom, which is gained through time. In short: You haven't yet developed your true writing voice.

Now, if you're really good, you can fake perspective and wisdom, and with it a voice, which is almost as good as having the real thing. But usually, sooner or later, it'll catch up to you and your lack of experience will show in your writing. This will particularly be the case when you have a compelling, emotional story, which would require the sort of control and delivery of your writing that you only get through time. You may simply not have the wherewithal to express your very important story well. Yes, having a great story you're not equipped to tell pretty much bites. Normally, this is when teens look for help from the writers they admire, which brings us to the next reason your writing sucks:

b) You're besotted by your influences. If you look at those two pieces I linked you to earlier, they rather heavily bear the mark of people like whom I wanted to write -- humorist James Thurber in the case of the short story, and Pink Floyd lyricist Roger Waters in the case of the would-be concept album. If I were to subject you to other writing of mine from the time (and I won't), you'd see the rather heavy influence of other favorite authors and lyricists, including Robert Heinlein, Dorothy Parker, HL Mencken, P.J. O'Rourke, Bono, Martin Gore and Robert Smith. Why? Because I thought these people wrote really, really well, and I wanted to write like them.

You are not likely to have my influences, but you almost certainly have influences of some sort, who you love and to whom you look as models and teachers. But since you're young and haven't gotten your own voice worked out, you're likely to get swamped by your influences. My concept album lyrics aren't just bad because they're the work of an immature writer, but also because it's clear to anyone who cares to look that I was listening to whole hell of a lot of Pink Floyd when I was writing them. Extracting Roger Waters out of those lyrics would require radical surgery. The patient would not likely survive. That's bad.

c) When you're young, it's easier to be clever than to be good. Now, when you're older, it's easier to be clever than to be good too, and you'll see a lot of writers doing just that, even the good ones. This is because "clever" gets laughs and attention and possibly sex (or at least flirting) with that hot little thing over there who thinks you're so damn amusing. And none of that ever gets old. So this is not just a teenage problem. Where teenage writers are at a disadvantage is that you're not always aware when you're genuinely being good, or merely being clever. It's that whole lack of experience thing. Yes, the lack of experience thing crops up a whole lot. What are you going to do.

There's nothing wrong with being clever, and it's possible to be clever and good at the same time. But you need to know when clever is not always the best solution. Even older writers find this a tough nut to crack, and you'll find it even more so.

So those are some of the reasons your writing sucks right now. There may be others. But, now having told you that your writing sucks and why, you're ready to hear the next point:

2. The Good News: It's Okay That Your Writing Sucks Right Now.

Because, look. Everyone's writing sucked when they were teenagers. Why? Simple: Because they were just starting out. Just like you are now.

Writing is tricky thing, because everyone assumes that the act of writing to move and amuse people with words is somehow only slightly more difficult than the act of writing to place words into vaguely coherent sentences. This is like saying that playing professional baseball is only slightly more difficult than hitting a beach ball with a stick. Most everyone can hit a beach ball with a stick, but very few people would think that means they're ready to play in the World Series. Given that, it's funny that people think that they're going to be really excellent writers from the first time they try to tell a story with the written word.

Excepting the freaks of nature, which very few of us are, anything we decide to do takes us time to get good at. It's just that simple. The figure I hear a lot -- and which I agree with, mostly -- is that it takes about a decade for people to get truly good at and creative with their craft. The prime example of this is the Beatles; at 17 John Lennon and Paul McCartney were beginning their musical collaboration together, and ten years later they were writing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The "ten years" thing is a guideline, not a rule -- some people hit their stride earlier, some later, but the point is that there was work involved. This is even true of the people you've never heard of before -- scratch most "overnight sensations" in whatever field and you'll find they did their time outside the spotlight.

Understandably, no one wants to hear that you've got to wait the better part of a decade to hit your stride -- who doesn't want to be brilliant now? -- but I think that's looking at it the wrong way. Knowing you've got years to grow and learn means you've got the time to take risks and explore and figure out what works for you and what doesn't. It's permission to play with your muse, not stress out if every single thing you bang out is not flat dead brilliant. It's time to gain the life experience that will feed your writing. It's time you need to write -- and time you need to not write and to give your brain a break. It's the time you need to learn from your literary influences, and then to tell them to piss off because you've got your own voice and it's not theirs. And it's the time you need to screw up, make mistakes, learn from them and move on.

The fact that your writing sucks now only means that your writing sucks right now. If you keep working on it it'll very likely get better... and then comes the day that you write something that really doesn't suck. You'll know it when it happens and then you'll get why all that time banging out stuff that sucked was worth it: because it's made you a writer who doesn't suck anymore.

So don't worry that your writing sucks right now. "Suck" is a correctible phenomenon.

3. You Need to Write Every Day.

I'm sure you've got this wired, and I'll note that for teenagers today, it's easier to write every day, because there's an entire social structure revolving around writing that didn't used to exist: Blogs and blog-like things like MySpace, or whatever thing has replaced MySpace by the time you read this. Writing isn't the isolating experience it (mostly) was before.

Now, be aware that writing in your blog or journal isn't the same as writing stories or songs or whatever your writing aspirations might be. Blogging very often takes the form of what writers call "cat vacuuming," which is to say it's an activity you do to avoid actual writing. You want to avoid doing too much of that (yes, there's some irony in me writing this in a blog entry -- particularly a blog entry being written when I could be writing part of a book I have due to a publisher).

"Cat vacuuming" though writing in a blog may be, any sort of daily writing will help build the mental muscle memory of sitting down to put your thoughts into words, and that's not a bad thing. So write something today. Now is good.

4. I'm Not Going to Tell You to Get Good Grades, But, You Know, Try To Pay Attention.

High school is often asinine and lame -- I'm not telling you anything you don't know here -- but on the other hand it's a place where you're actually encouraged to do two things that are a writer's bread and butter: to observe and to comment. Provided your teachers are not entirely defeated drones who have bought into the idea that their sole purpose is to detain you in soul-numbing classes so you and your fellow students won't set fire to the school with them in it, they will actually be pleased if you ask a few pointed questions now and then, and as a result, you might learn something, which is always a nice bonus for your day. School is a resource; use it.

(Also, for the love of all that is holy, please please please pay attention in your English composition class. You should know English language grammar for roughly the same reason you should know road rules before you go driving: It avoids nasty pile-ups later.)

Being writers, I don't need to tell you that observing your fellow students is also hours and hours of fun, but don't just look for the purposes of wry mockery. Any jerk can do that. Work on your empathy -- try to understand why people are the way they are. This will achieve two things. One, it's a good exercise for you to help you one day create characters in your writing who are not merely slightly warped versions of you. Two, it'll make you realize there's more to life than wry mockery.

5. Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On -- Even the Crap That Bores You.

And here's why the crap that bores you is worth reading: Because someone sold it, which means the writer did something right. Your job is to figure out what it was and what that means for your own writing. It should also give you hope: If this bad writer can sell a book or magazine article, then you should have no problem, right? Excellent.

This suggestion is actually more difficult to follow than you might think. People like to read what they like, and don't like to read what they don't like. That's fine if all you want to be is a reader, but if you want to be a writer, you don't have the luxury of just sticking to the stuff that merely entertains you. Writing that's not working for you is still working for someone; take a look and see if you can find out why. Alternately, pinpoint why it doesn't work. Fact is, you can learn as much from writers you don't like as you can from writers you do -- and possibly more, because you're not cutting them slack, like you would your favorite writers.

A corollary to this is: Read writers who are new to you. Don't just stick to the few writers you know you like. Take a few chances. You don't have to spend money to do this: Most towns have this wonderful thing called a library. We're talking free reading here, and the publishing industry won't crack down on you for it. Heck, we like it when you visit the library.

6. You Should Do Something Else With Your Life Than Just Write.

There are practical and philosophical reasons for this. The practical reason: Dude, writers make almost nothing most of the time. Chances are, you're going to have a day job to support your writing habit, at least at first. So you want to be able to get a day job that doesn't involve asking people if they want fries with that. Just something to keep in mind.

The philosophical reason: the writer who only writes isn't actually experiencing much of life; his or her writing is going to feel inauthentic because it won't reflect reality. You want to get actual life experience outside of being a writer, otherwise your first novel will be like every other first novel out there, which revolves around a young writer trying to figure out his life, and then sitting down to write about it. People who write books where the main character is a young, questioning writer should be shot out of a cannon into a pit filled with leeches. Don't make us do that to you.

"Doing something else with your life," incidentally, also includes your college major. There are people who would advise you to be English majors and then go after an MFA, but I'm not one of them (I'm a philosophy major myself -- useless but interesting). The more things you know about, the more you're able to incorporate your wide range of knowledge into your work, which means you'll be at a competitive advantage to other writers (this will matter). You might worry that all those English majors and MFAs are learning something you really need to know, but you know what? As long as you're writing (and reading) regularly and seriously, you'll be fine. Writing is a practical skill as much as or even more than it is an area of study.

Now, I'm sure many of those English majors and MFAs might disagree with me, but I've got ten books and fifteen years of being a professional writer backing me up, so I feel pretty comfortable with my position on this.

7. Try to Learn a Little About the Publishing Industry.

If you're going to be a writer for a living (or, if not for a living, at least to make a little money here or there), you're going to have to sell your work, and if you're going to sell your work, you should learn a little how the business of writing works. The more you know how the publishing industry works, the more you'll realize how and why particular books sell and others don't, and also what you need to do to sell your work to the right people.

This is not to say that at this point you should let this information guide you in what you write -- at this point you should write what interests you, not what you think is going to make you money one day, if for no other reason that the publishing industry, like any industry, has its fads and trends. What's going on now isn't going to be what's going on when you're ready to publish. But there's nothing wrong about knowing a little bit about the business fundamentals of the industry, if you can stomach them.

If you think you're going to write in a specific genre (science fiction or mystery or whatever) why not learn a little about that field, too? A good place to start is by checking out author blogs, because authors are always blathering on about crap like that. Trust me. Also (quite obviously), authors are prone to offer unsolicited advice to new writers on their sites, because it makes us feel all mature and established to bloviate on the subject. And sometimes our advice is even useful.

There's no reason to be obsessive about acquiring knowledge of the industry at this early age, but it doesn't hurt to know; it'll be one less thing you have to ramp up on when you're ready to start putting stuff out there. Which reminds me:

8. Be Ready For Rejection.

It's very likely the the first few years that you submit material to publishers and editors, or query them for articles, your work and queries are going to come back to you unbought. Why? Because that's just how it is. I'll give you an example: Recently I edited a science fiction magazine. For the issue of the magazine I edited, I had between 400 and 500 submissions. From those, there were about 40 I thought were good enough to buy. And of those, I bought 18. That's a 95.5% rejection rate, and an over 50% rejection rate of stuff I wanted to buy, but couldn't because I didn't have the space (or the money, because I had a budget, too). Now, as it happens, for this magazine I also managed to give first sales to four writers because I wanted to make a point of finding new writers -- but I imagine if you asked them how long they'd been submitting work before that sale, you'd find most of them had been doing it for a while.

There are things to know about rejection, the first of which is that it's not about you, it's about the work. The second is that there are any number of reasons why something gets rejected, not all of them having to do with the piece being bad -- remember that I rejected a bunch of pieces I wanted to buy but couldn't. The third is that just because a piece was rejected one place doesn't mean it won't get accepted somewhere else. I know that at least a couple of pieces that I rejected have since been bought at other places.

Rejection sucks, and there's no way to get around that fact. But if you're smart, when you start submitting you'll consider pieces that are rejected simply as ready to go on to the next place. Keep writing and submitting.

(Which brings up the question: If you have pieces now that you want to submit, should you? Well, I'm sure submissions editors everywhere will hate me for saying this, but, sure, why not? If nothing else it'll get you used to the rejection process, and there's always a chance that if it is good, someone might buy it. But, on behalf of the submissions editors, I implore you not to submit unless you really think the work in question is the best you can do.)

9. Start Getting Published Now -- Yes, That Means the School Newspaper.

I know, I know. But, look, you're going to have to deal with editors sooner or later. And you know how many editors in the real world were editors of their school newspapers? A whole lot of them. Lots of writers were, too (I was editor-in-chief of both my high school and college newspaper, so that makes me a two-time loser). Basically, as a writer you'll never be rid of these guys, so you might as well learn how they work. But also, and to be blunt, school newspapers may be piddly, but they give you clips -- examples of your writing you can show to others. You can take those clips to your tiny local newspaper and maybe get a few small writing assignments there -- and then you're professionally published. And then you can take those and use them to get more serious gigs over time, and just keep trading up.

You can also also use those high school clips to help you get on your college paper, and when you're in college, working at the college newspaper can be very useful. I used my college newspaper clips to freelance with the local indie papers in town and also with one of the major metropolitan newspapers... and those clips help me get my first job out of college, as a movie critic at a pretty large newspaper. And all of that started doing little articles for my high school newspaper, the Blue & Gold.

What does this teach us? First, that it can be worth it to deal with the high school newspaper editor, even if he or she is an insufferable dweeb, and second, that all the writing you do can matter, and help you to continue on your writing career.

10. Work on Your Zen.

Being a writer isn't easy; it's a lot of mental effort for often not a lot of financial reward. It takes a lot of time to get good at it -- and even when you are good at it, you'll find there's still more you have to learn, and things you have to deal with, in order to keep going in the field. It takes a measure of patience and serenity to keep from completely losing it much of the time, and, alas, "patience" and "serenity" are two things teenagers are not known to have in great quantities (to be fair, adults aren't much better with this). Despite that, you'll find as a writer that there is a great advantage in keeping your head, being smart and being practical, even when everyone around you is entirely losing their minds. It helps you see things others don't, which is an advantage in your writing, and also in the workaday aspect of being a writer.

So: Relax. Spend your time learning, observing, writing, and preparing. Don't worry about writing the Great American Novel by age 25; don't worry about being the Greatest Writer Ever; don't worry about winning the Pulitzer. Focus on your writing and getting better at it. As they say, luck favors the prepared. When the moment comes, if your skills are there, you'll be ready to take advantage of it and to become the writer you've been hoping you would be. Your job now is to get yourself ready for the moment.

You've got the time to do it. Take it.

Posted by john at 04:02 PM | Comments (427) | TrackBack

April 26, 2006

Quick Hits, 4/26/06

Some more bits and pieces, because apparently that's where my mind is at these days:

* Two charitable things related to books:

1. Role-playing game publisher Palladium Books has hit a rough patch due to a combination of internal malfeasance and external issues and is scrambling to stay open long enough to get itself back on its feet. To accomplish that, Palladium's president Kevin Siembieda is offering a special collector's edition poster, each signed and numbered, featuring characters from the Palladium Books line. That's $50. If you feel just like chipping in a few buck, there's also a donation button on their Web site's front page.

I met Kevin Siembieda last year at Penguicon 3.0 when he and I were on a panel together, and he seems a good and interesting fellow. I hope he and his company make it through this scrape.

2. Kari from Inkgrrl has a friend suffering from breast cancer and is trying to help her make her ends meet by drawing attention to The Michele Fund, which features a number of author-signed books and other stuff auctioned off to pay for medical expenses. The auction items are here.

* Want to read me, Jeff VanderMeer, Cory Doctorow, Cherie Priest and other SF/F writers blather on about how we use teh Intarweebs to promote ourselves? Then you're in luck: Here's a Publishers Weekly article on the subject.

* Cartoonist and columnist Tom Tomorrow weighs in on the Kaavya Viswanathan thing, and wonders just how much the "book packager" who worked with Viswanathan on the book is responsible for the mess that's now unfolding. More than one person I know who has knowledge of book packagers suggests it's entirely possible the packager in this case is letting Viswanathan take all the flak even if it's they who are partially or primarily responsible. I don't know anything about that one way or another, but if it were the case, using a 19-year-old writer as a bullet shield is not a very ethical thing to do.

One salutary thing about this particular scandal is that it might make authors and readers more aware of who book packagers are and what they do. My own personal experience with book packagers has been quite positive: my Book of the Dumb books were produced under book packaging circumstances, as the copyright page in the book will suggest to astute observers, and I was both treated more than fairly and had a ball writing the books. So I wouldn't suggest that all book packagers are evil. But some may indeed be more slippery than others, and it's worth asking how slippery the packager might be in this case.

* Whatever reader Jason Bennion talks about one of the nice things about the Internet age, which is that it has the potential to make you feel "closer" to an author you like (the author in this particular case being me). I quite clearly think this is true, and I think the converse is true as well, since I am quite consciously using the Internet to establish a relationship with my readers. Among other things this includes trying to be conscientious about answering mail from readers and addressing comments here.

Mind you, it's not a burden -- I mean, gee, it's not like it's just awful having to read e-mails from people saying they liked your book and saying "thanks" in a quick return e-mail. In fact, one of those e-mails came in, and I responded, between that last sentence and this one. Turnaround time: About thirty seconds. It's 30 seconds well invested. Now, it's easy for me to do because I don't have the e-mail volume that some substantially more popular authors have; I can't even imagine JK Rowling's in-box. But even more popular writers can still give that personal touch. I rather strongly suspect Neil Gaiman has more e-mail than he can answer, but his solution of putting up what amounts to a letters column with each of his blog entries still lets you know he's engaged with his audience.

Now, Bennion rather cogently notes that although the Net allows for the feeling of intimacy, it's not actually intimacy: "I don't have any illusions that John and I are buddies -- obviously, John Scalzi doesn't know me from Adam, nor do I really know him, no matter how much it sometimes feels otherwise." This is very much the case, of course. I've never made any bones about the fact that although I'm free and open with my opinions and points of view here, I also keep a significant part of my personal life -- the vast majority of it -- off the Whatever and out of the public eye; you're seeing a public distillation of who John Scalzi is here, just as I only see whatever it is people choose to show of themselves in their comments and e-mails.

Be that as it may, the back and forth here (and on other author sites) is still a rather more egalitarian form of relationship than traditional author-audience roles; in our e-mails and comments to each other we're talking to each other more often than anything else (I don't think people here would let me get away with anything else anyway). This is not to say that I carry on a full conversation with everyone who e-mails -- lot of my responses boil down to "Thanks! I'm glad you liked the book!" -- but the informal, fast and friendly nature of the e-mail medium doesn't create the distance that a paper letter does (or, at least, does with people of my generation).

I'm just glad I live in an era where I can respond to people almost immediately, and without having to hunt for a stamp. If I had to respond with a printed letter to everyone who sent me a letter, I never would -- all that crap with stamps, and mailboxes and gaaaaah. I am, without a doubt, a writer of and for this era.

Posted by john at 09:32 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

My MySpace page

I made a crack about MySpace yesterday, but it also reminded me to let all y'all know that I actually have a MySpace profile, largely so I can stream a few of my music tracks. I made it in January but pretty much forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago, when people started sending me friend requests. Then I figured I might as well build it out some. So now it's got the streaming music and all. I don't plan to do a whole lot on the page -- the blog there just links back to here -- but if you have a MySpace profile, feel free to send me a friend request. I'll pretty much approve them all.

Posted by john at 12:02 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Connie Willis, Cheap!

In the last entry I noted I'd be doing a pimp for Subterranean Books today. And here it is, in the form of an e-mail from Subterranean publisher Bill Schafer:

"Hey there,

"We sometimes get returns from distributors, and have received back from one a healthy handful of Connie Willis's Hugo-nominated novella INSIDE JOB in the past week or two. Here's the deal: These copies are no longer in perfect nick. Some are slightly dinged, some have a scuffed dust jacket. So we're offering them for $10 (plus $5 shipping), instead of the usual $35 cover price.

"If you'd like to snag a copy, order INSIDE JOB as usual at the SubPress website and mention "Dinged Inside Job" when checking out. (Your shopping cart total and automatic email confirmation won't reflect the sale price, but don't worry, we'll catch it when processing your order. This offer valid until May 1, 2006. If you want to order via PayPal, do NOT use the online store. Email us at subpress@earthlink.net and we'll invoice you.)"

There you have it. Also, Asimov's has the novella online, so if you'd like to preview the story before you buy, here you go.

Posted by john at 10:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 25, 2006

Quick Hits, 4/25/06

Feel like I'm running about like a madman today, which I suspect has something to do with an orthodontist appointment this morning (for Athena, not for me, and yes, everything's fine with her mouth; we're juts making sure it's big enough for her grown up teeth). So some quick hits:

* Lori Jareo? She's so last Friday. The hot writing scandal today involves Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard undergrad who got half a million for her novel -- which on closer examination appears to have rich, meaty chunks of plagiarism in it. This caused Ms. Viswanathan to issue an apology suggesting that some near-word-for-word rips from author Megan McCafferty's work were "unintentional and unconscious."

Bah. Look, people. Cutting and pasting paragraphs from someone else's book into your own and then swapping out a few words here and there as a freshening agent is not something you can blame on your subconscious, on Ambien or on alcoholic blackouts. You will remember doing it.

Having said that, I find it difficult to work up a real head of steam about this one. A teenager plucking choice passages from someone else's work to give her own work additional resonance? That's what happens on MySpace 13,000 times a day. Speaking from experience (believe me), teenagers are generally not terribly resonant communicators, even the clever ones, so they model and ape the words and poses of the writers they admire. I spent a large chunk of my 19th year trying to be a junior HL Mencken, and yes, it was just as painful to read as it sounds. Now, I didn't plagiarize ol' Henry, but then, I also didn't have half a million dollars worth of pressure hanging over my head, either.

I'm trying to roll with the snark here, but I just keep feeling sorry for this girl instead. She could probably have used a good editor who understood that teenage writers -- even the ones what go to Harvard -- are special cases and need to be handled with a gentle combination of encouragement and suspicion; the former because the writer is being asked to do so much, and the latter because the writer is being asked to do so much. I have no opposition to young writers being published -- when I was 19 I wanted to be published, so why would I begrudge anyone else -- but were I an editor of a novelist that young I think the first thing I would do when I got the manuscript would be to quietly wash it through Turnitin.com, and then be ready to deal with the handholding that would follow if something popped up.

* Wanna make yourself feel like a fool? Stress out like monkey in a trash compactor about an article deadline at the end of the month, and then learn the deadline is at the end of next month. Man, I want hit myself with a hammer for that one. On the other hand, if you ever need an expert on LEGO brand toys, baby, I'm your man.

* The state legislatures of Illinois and California are reportedly considering drawing up articles of impeachment against President Bush; apparently they can do so under some obscure parliamentary rule of Congress. I think this is a tremendously bad idea. Leaving aside the issue of whether Bush should be impeached or not (you can see my thoughts on that subject here, if you would like), if the states get into the whole impeachment act, there's not a single president between now and the end of the United States who will not get impeached by some damn state legislature during the course of his or her term. There are fifty of them and only one of him. And anyway, state legislatures are where high school senior class treasurers go to die. Think about your high school senior class treasurer. You want him having a significant role in national politics? I didn't think so. I'm hoping this thing gets nipped in the bud.

* Arrived via UPS today: Chris Roberson's latest, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, which is his take on the thrilling pulp science fiction stories of yore. It comes out next week, for those of you with money burning holes in your pocket. I'm a fan of his Chris' last novel, Here, There & Everywhere, and he wrote a kick-ass story for the Subterranean Magazine issue I edited, so you can imagine I'm looking forward to cracking this one open. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done. In the meantime, here's Chris' Paragaea site, which in addition to info about the book contains a complete prequel novel for your enjoyment.

* Asked in one of the comment threads:

I have noticed that you don't run any ads on the Whatever. You are popular enough that you could probably bring in some significant revenues this way... Any reason why you have held off on this?

Yeah: I just don't want ads on the Whatever.

There's no major philosophical reason for this; I'm not opposed to people making money writing blogs (I do it myself). And I certainly don't think ill of people who put ads on their sites. I just prefer not to do it here. I do suppose it's true that I could make a tidy sum from ads at this point, but you know, I'm not exactly hurting for cash these days. If I were to lose income in a significant way and needed a way to replace it, then I might consider putting ads here, and not feel too bad about it. Baby needs shoes and all that. But at the moment I can afford not to do it. So I don't.

Which is not to say I don't do any sort of promotion here on the Whatever. This site is of course an advertisement for myself; I'm not shy about letting you all know when something of mine is out and about. I also cheerfully promote others; I promoted Chris Roberson in this very entry, because he's a friend of mine and because I expect Paragaea to be a lot of fun, and therefore something worth sharing; two entries previous to this I promoted Hal Duncan's book Vellum because I thought it was a really excellent read. Tomorrow I'll post a note from Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press announcing a nice little deal he has on one of his books (not one of mine), because he's one of my publishers and I don't mind doing him a favor. But in each case, it's not trivial that this promotion comes from me personally rather than from ad server; I'm fairly transparent in my motives and in my intent, and I try make sure it's not all pimping, all the time.

I have given thought to creating a different site, with different content, that could run ads. I own the domains Mencken.com and Schadenfreude.us; both of those, I think, have a number of delightful high-traffic possibilities, some of which I plan on pursuing at some point in the reasonably near future. But I expect that Whatever will remain ad-free. I like it that way, and that's a good enough reason there.

* Final thing: Those of you wondering when my next novel will hit the stores, wonder no longer; according to Amazon, The Android's Dream will hit the stores on October 31, 2006. I think having a book with an official release date of Halloween is super cool.

Posted by john at 08:06 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

And Now, Some Marketing Coverage

There's an article up today at Online Media Daily about how Old Man's War initially got its momentum online, particularly through Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds championing the book (along with Cory Doctorow, Stephen Bainbridge, Eugene Volokh, and Stephen Green). Among other things, it gives the impression that getting a mention of your book on Instapundit is the blogosphere equivalent of being an Oprah pick, and you know what? It pretty much is. Glenn is the Goliath in his Army of Davids, which may cause him some pleasant cognitive dissonance.

One error to correct, however, which I figure stemmed from me being unclear: I made the comment that "In effect, Glenn hand-sold my book to 200,000 of his readers," which the author of the piece took to mean that I've sold that number of books to Glenn's readers. Glenn's Instapundit daily readership is around that level, and I meant to imply what Glenn did was personally recommend the book to that many people. The actual sales of OMW are quite healthy, particularly for a first novel, but in fact somewhat less, at least for now. Incidentally, this is one of the very few times in your life when you will see an author publicly note he's sold less than previously suggested. So, you know, enjoy.

Aside from that erratum (which I've noted to the author, so it may even be gone by the time you see this), an interesting piece.

As long as we're mentioning errata, this SCIFI Wire piece on the Lori Jareo New Hope incident notes that the story broke here at the Whatever. I think it's true the story sort of metastatized into a true online kerfuffle from here, but I can't claim discovery; I got the story from Nick Mamatas, who in turn got it from Lee Goldberg, where as far as I know the story originated. Unlike the Associated Press, I believe in routinely naming my blog sources.

Posted by john at 07:19 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006

OMW: Locus Award Finalist

I just found out that Old Man's War is a finalist with the 2006 Locus Awards, in the category of Best First Novel. Other nominees in this category:

Counting Heads, David Marusek
Hammered/Scardown/Worldwired, Elizabeth Bear
The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, Tim Pratt
Vellum, Hal Duncan

Vellum, incidentally, officially debuts here in the US tomorrow -- a great way for Hal Duncan to say hello to these shores, I'd say (so go buy it). And also, of course, very nice to be in the company of Messers Duncan, Pratt and Marusek and the awesome Ms. Bear -- who, if I may add has a hell of a short story in the upcoming Subterranean magazine issue. They all rock.

Other nominations of note (to me, at least): All my fellow Hugo nominees are also finalists -- Charlie, Ken and Bob in Best Science Fiction Novel and GRRM in Best Fantasy Novel; Cory Doctorow has three finalist showings, in Fantasy Novel, Novella and Novelette; Kelly Link is also a three-time finalist in the Short Story, Anthology and Collection categories; James Patrick Kelly gets a nod in Best Novella; Scott Westerfeld gets a Best YA Book nod for Peeps; Patrick Nielsen Hayden and David G. Hartwell are both finalists in Best Editor, and Bob Eggleton and John Picacio show up as Best Artist finalists. Aside from these are other folks like Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Terry Pratchett and China Miéville (among others) whom I wish I could pretend that I actually knew personally, but, alas, don't. Be that as it may, it's about sixteen different kinds of cool that I can look at lists like these and see so many of my friends on them, doing as well as they are, and I somehow get to be in there too. It's geek paradise, it is. Or it is for me.

You'll note that everyone on these lists are "finalists" not "nominees." This is because (as I understand it) Locus already knows who won in each of the categories but is letting the tension linger in the air until the day of the Locus Awards ceremony, which is June 17th in Seattle (paired up with the Science Fiction Hall of Fame ceremony). Coincidentally, June 17th is also my wedding anniversary. COINCIDENCE?!?! Well, yes, I just said so. But a nice coincidence, nevertheless.

In any event, congratulations to all the other finalists, but especially those in the Best First Novel category. I am honored to be in your midst.

Posted by john at 09:24 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Two Quick Self-Serving Links

One, just in case people are wondering if there are a lot fanficcers out there or not, I'll note that according to BlogPulse, the Lori Jareo post from Friday is the #2 Top Blog Post on teh Intarweebs today. Neat.

Two, a nice review of The Ghost Brigades in the Some Fantastic critzine, which you can download from here; they call TGB "an entertaining novel that points to a continued bright future for Scalzi as an SF author of note." Groovy. Other reviews in this edition: Orson Scott Card's Ultimate Iron Man, Vol. 1; Stephen Jones's The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #16; Lucius Shepard's A Handbook of American Prayer; Lou Anders's Futureshocks; Justina Robson's Silver Screen; Octavia Butler's Fledgling; Chris Roberson's Adventure, Vol. 1; & Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job. That's good company.

Posted by john at 06:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tea Parties in Science Fiction

The estimable Tobias Buckell, who attended and recorded the "Tea Parties in Science Fiction" panel I mentioned here, has now posted the podcast here, and offers his own commentary here. The recording is in .wav form and is about 12MB and 50 minutes long. Be aware there's some background noise, thanks to passing traffic.

(For those of you too lazy to link back, this is a recording of a Penguicon panel that was supposed to be about "Warfare in Science Fiction" until the hotel we were at told us they were uncomfortable with discussing warfare in a somewhat open area of the hotel. So we changed all references of "war" and other war-based nouns, verbs and adjectives to "tea" and other tea-based nouns, verbs and adjectives. And then we proceeded to have a very useful and cogent discussion. Just another example of how SF people don't like being told what to do by the clueless.)

Feel free to share and enjoy.

Posted by john at 12:07 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Copyright Squares

This fellow writes up a note about the Lori Jareo thing, and rather interestingly thinks the reason fanficcers are so outraged by what Ms. Jareo did is because they're clueless slaves to the existing copyright paradigm. That should get a chuckle or two out of the fanficcers I know. I posted a rather lengthly response noting that what people think about the morality of current copyright law is an entirely separate conversation to the one that's been going on here; click over to read it and to add your additional comments if you like. Play nice, of course, but I don't need to tell you that.

Posted by john at 10:00 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 23, 2006

Penguicon Notes

I'm back from Penguicon 4.0, where I was a "nifty guest," and indeed I had a nifty time; it was lovely to see a bunch of Michigan friends and writer friends (and, indeed, also the writer friends who live in Michigan). I keep forgetting how close Michigan actually is to me -- the convention was in Livonia, which is in the Detroit metro area, and it was only a three hour trip from my door to the door of the hotel. Considering that when I was a film critic in Fresno, I used to drive three hours to see a movie preview in San Francisco and then drive back in the same night, three hours ain't nothin'.

I have to say I didn't much like the hotel, however. There were a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the most interesting example came on Saturday, when I, M. Keaton, Jeff Beeler and Barbara Trumpinski-Roberts were supposed to do a panel on "Warfare in Science Fiction." The location of the panel was in a place charmingly known as "The Pit," a small area in the lobby where a big-screen TV usually resided (one imagines guests usually watch sports there or whatever). Just before the panel was supposed to begin, however, we were told that the hotel management was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in the lobby area. Mind you, this is the same hotel which for the two nights on the con allowed security demonstrations in which convention members stalked the halls with semi-realistic toy guns. Apparently clearing and sweeping the third floor was allowable, but discussing spaceship warfare in the open lobby was not.

The hotel wanted us to do the panel somewhere else, but where they wanted us to do the panel was already being used by people playing games, eating lunch, and by a "stuffed animal tea party," at which, you guessed it, a bunch of stuffed animals were having a delightful afternoon repast. So there was nowhere for us to have our panel. Writer Dave Klecha suggested that maybe we should change the panel to "Tea parties in Science Fiction" instead.

So we did. When the panel started, I as the moderator noted to the audience that the hotel was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in an open area, so we were going to discuss tea parties instead -- you know, as in those famous science fiction books The Forever Tea Party, and Starship Tea Drinkers, or my own novel, Old Man's Tea Party. And thus, "war" became "tea party," soldiers were "tea drinkers," boot camp was "tea training," firing on another soldier was "serving tea," and clearly you wanted to serve tea before tea was served to you. If you were served tea, you didn't die, you "went to the lavatory." And off we went, and had a sustantive discussion of the subject, both among the panelists and with the audience.

And it was beautiful, for two reasons. One, because everyone understood what was being said and was able to roll with it; the panel was actually a panel on the subject at hand, and not just a smirky pun fest (there was a little of that, of course. Because why wouldn't you. But it was mostly serious). Second, of course, every time we said "tea" and meant "war," we were just pointing out the over-cautious stupidity on display by the hotel management. Which, I think, amused the panelists and the audience to a great degree. The fact that everyone involved -- panelists and audience -- twigged to the situation, ran with it, and had a good panel anyway gives you the idea of the intelligence and sense of humor displayed by both; Penguicon chose good panelists, and had smart, smart convention goers. Toby Buckell was in the audience and recorded the entire panel; when he puts up the recording (he says he will), I'll post a link.

There were other issues I had with the hotel but there's no point going into them too deeply; suffice to say I wouldn't cry if the convention were held elsewhere next year.

Hotel issues aside, Pengicon was tons of fun. My panels aside from the tea/war one were generally very good, and among the writers and other guests at the con, I got to spend time with Toby Buckell, Karl Schroeder and family, Dave Klecha and family, Chris DiBona, Frank Hays, Howard Tayler and "The Ferret." I was also fortunate to spend a fair amount of time chatting with author guest of honor Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, who among other things shared some great anecdotes about their own previous con experiences. They're lovely people, and I'm glad to have been able to meet them. And of course it was lovely to see Anne KG Murphy and her husband Bill. I also had quite a lot of fun with Penguicon staff and con-goers, many of whom I've known for a couple of years now and consider pretty good friends, but am distressed to say I know not by their actual names but by their LiveJournal handles. It says something about LiveJournal, or at least, about me.

In any event, I had a very good time. But it's also nice to be home. As much as I enjoy conventions, by the last day, I'm always a little strung out. So it's good to come back to the family. And speaking of, now I'm off to spend a little time with them. Chat with you later.

Posted by john at 09:44 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 21, 2006

The 2006 Stupidest FanFic Writer Award Gets Retired Early

Via Nick Mamatas, I learn of Lori Jareo, who has written up a Star Wars fanfic novel, published it without the expressed, written consent of George Lucas, and has it listed for sale on Amazon. Oh, but she's not worried about the massive copyright violation; Indeed, let's see what she has to say about it in her "author interview."

Q: Having set Another Hope in an already existing universe, I find myself wondering if there was any concern on your part regarding copyrights?

No, because I wrote this book for myself. This is a self-published story and is not a commercial book. Yes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it’s there.

Let me repeat this, just to savor the juicy cluelessness of it: "Yes, it's for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it's there." I feel myself getting stupider every time I read that line, but the good news is that I have a long way to go before I would be actually stupid enough to say that line myself.

For those publishing novices out there, let me, as a public service, outline all the many ways Ms. Jareo's statement above is ill-informed and/or ignorant and/or just plain idiotic.

1. "I wrote this book for myself." If one is writing a book for one's self, then why would one sell it on Amazon? Unless one has clones, of course. And while that would be perfectly consistent with the fictional universe whose copyright Ms. Jareo is violating, in the real world, alas, there are no human clones to be had, much less ones who access Amazon on a regular basis. Also, if it's for one's self, why the Web site promoting it, complete with interviews, reviews and excerpts? Ms. Jareo ain't exactly being all Emily Dickinson on us.

2. "This is a self-published story --" Strangely enough, U.S. Copyright law does not say "you can't violate someone's copyright, unless of course you're self-publishing, in which case it's perfectly fine." Also, Amazon's publisher information has "Wordtech Communications" listed as the publisher of the book in question -- Wordtech Communications being a publishing concern which claims to be "one of the nation's largest poetry publishers." Ms. Jareo is apparently one of the principals of the company, so I guess you could say it's self-published, in the sense that, say, Tom Doherty could claim to be self-published if he were to write a book and have it put out by Tor.

3. "-- and is not a commercial book." Someone explain to me how selling a book on Amazon is not a commercial endeavor. It's possible the book is not commercial in the sense that no one in their right mind would publish it, because then George Lucas' Sith Lord lawyers would unleash their dual-bladed tortsabers on them (leading to the "self-publishing" in this particular case). But, you know, if you offer a book in exchange for money, you're engaging in commerce, and it doesn't really matter if you make any profit off it or not. Lot of publishers publish lots of books that make no money, or even lose money. They're still engaging in commerce.

4. "Only my family, friends and acquaintances know it's there." Hello, Lori Jareo. I'd like to introduce you to my 15,000 daily readers, almost none of whom, I suspect, are your family, friends or acquaintances. Funny how the Internet has a way of being leaky.

This would be bad enough if this woman were just some clueless person letting off some Mary Sue steam and then getting the idea that, gosh, this could be a real live book, but in fact Ms. Jareo purports to be a professional editor -- which is to say she really has no excuse. In her interview Ms. Jareo mentions something along the line of "George Lucas says as long as no one is making a profit, tributes are wonderful," but I think she rather seriously misapprehends what Lucas almost certainly means here. Leaving aside the fact that even if Lucas tolerates a little geekery on the down-low, he's still fully invested in his copyrights and can enforce them at will and at whim, there's the issue of scale. Geeking out with little stories of Yoda and Chewbacca on the Wookiee Planet on a personal Web site that's visited by your friends is one thing. Publishing an unauthorized Star Wars novel via your publishing company and putting it up for sale on Amazon (not to mention Barnesandnoble.com and Powells.com) is really quite another.

I've said before I think fanfic is generally a positive thing for any science fiction universe, but I don't think being a fan means you suddenly have a license to be stupid. Publishing your fanfic novel and selling it online is just plain stupid, and publishing your fanfic novel and selling it online when you're theoretically a professional editor is just about as stupid as you can get without actually receiving head trauma from a tauntaun. If Ms. Jareo is lucky, she'll only get smacked with a Cease and Desist order from Lucas. If she's not lucky -- say, Lucas wants to provide a cautionary example to ambitious-to-the-point-of-oblivious fanficcers everywhere -- she and her company are going to get their asses sued, and given the blatant and obvious and self-incriminating copyright violations here, she should be thankful if she gets out of it without all of her assets, and the assets of her publishing company, encased in carbonite.

As it stands I think it's worth it to start a pool on how long it takes for Ms. Jareo's book to get pulled from Amazon. I'll say this next Monday by 3pm Pacific. Any one else want to bet?

Posted by john at 02:11 AM | Comments (182) | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

Coffee Shop on Amazon

The Amazon listing for You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing is now up, so if you're interested in pre-ordering through your Amazon account, now you can. The release date is sometime in the August timeframe. You can also still pre-order it via the Subterranean Press site.

This is going to be a "boutique" sort of book (i.e., fairly low press run), and the size of the press run will be to some extent gauged on early pre-orders. So if you want to be an active influencer of my immediately literary future, buy now!

(Well, not buying now will also cause you to be an active influencer of my immediately literary future, as well, I admit. Just not in a "buy Athena a college education" good sort of way. Hey, your choice.)

As an aside, the Amazon ranking for Coffee Shop at this very moment is 1,021,762 (on account that no one has bought one yet), while Old Man's War is at 953. That's a spread of 1,020,809 positions. I wonder if that's the widest range between books on Amazon.

(checks something)

Hmmmm. Nope. Seems my Rough Guide to Money Online is at 1,601,456. That's a 1,600,503-position spread! I'm an even bigger loser than before! Whoo-hoo!

Posted by john at 07:29 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A Quick Observation

Men, if you want to flummox a telemarketer, use the following words:

"I'm sorry, you're going to have to speak to my wife. She is the one who makes all the major financial decisions in the household."

I guarantee several seconds of silence as the telemarketer grinds his or her gears getting what passes for their brain around the concept that a man would say that his wife is the primary financial decision-maker in the house. Really, they just don't know what to do with that sort of information. Some of them (for example, the one who called me today) try to roll with it by saying "well, sir, I understand the importance of talking to your spouse..." and then try to get back onto the script. To which I say "No, you don't understand. She makes the decisions." And then we're back to stuttering and grinding. It's really kind of fun.

Want to know the irony? Some of them actually call back and ask to speak to Krissy. And in the rare case where Krissy actually asks for them to send some more information through the mail, you know what happens? The information comes addressed to me. And then it goes right into the trash, because if these people can't manage to address the person who makes the financial decisions, even after they've been told, why would we trust them to do anything right?

Anyway, endless fun. Try it sometime!

Posted by john at 01:13 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Penguicon 4.0 Schedule

Tomorrow I'm off to Penguicon 4.0, that mash up of science fiction and open source, in convention form. For those who are going, or are not going but just like to know what I'm doing at all times, here's my panel schedule:

No events scheduled. Which, you know, is groovy with me.


1:00 pm
Steve Miller, Karl Schroeder, Nancy Atwell, John Scalzi
Some worlds you believe in, and some interfere with the story. How to build and portray your fictional world.

4:00 pm
Warfare in SF
Jeff Beeler, John Scalzi, Barbara Trumpinski-Roberts
Which authors, past and present, do the best job of looking at warfare in a science fiction context? What's most important: that it is convincing, that it is plausible, or something else entirely?

8:00 pm
Why Didn't Science Fiction Predict That?
Frank Hayes, Karl Schroeder, John Scalzi
SF predicted moon colonies by 2001 and computers so big they'd mostly exist in hyperspace. That wrongheadedness has something to say about predictions we're making today. And why DIDN'T SF predict Frogurt instead of yeast cigarettes, anyhow?


11:00 am
Blogging for Life
The Ferrett, John Scalzi, David Klecha
News pages. Online journals. Web logs. A lot of people are using them. What are the tools available, and what are the best ways to use them?

12:00 pm
Best SF Books of 2005
Jeff Beeler, John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Karl Schroeder
What were the outstanding works of 2005? What are the titles to look for, and who are the authors to watch?

The rest of the time I'm sure to be floating about, so if you see me, feel free to come over and say hello or whatever.

Posted by john at 09:44 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

Agent to the Stars is Dead; Long Live Agent to the Stars!

This day had to come -- and it has: Subterranean Press has officially declared its run of Agent to the Stars out of print, on account of selling them all. Amazon has not yet put up its "only x copies left" sign, so it may be that they have a few more in stock, so if you want to get this edition of the book, you really really really really need to do it right now. Really, no kidding.

Authors are not usually pleased about their work going out of print less than a year after they're published, but in this case I'm willing to make an exception. I like the idea that we've sold 1,500 of these babies, and almost purely online, since only a few copies made their way into brick and mortar stores (and then only at SF specialty stores and booksellers who sold at SF cons). This version of A2S has been a real unexpected success story for me; less surprising for Subterranean, I think, because Bill Schafer over there knows his business exceptionally well. It's been a real pleasure working with him and Subterranean with this book, and should you ever be in the market for a hyper-competent smaller press, you know where I think you should go.

If you've missed out on this edition and wanted the book in print, well, there's good news, and there's news that, while not bad, is possibly less good.

The good news: I've signed with Tor Books -- you've heard of them -- to produce another print edition of Agent to the Stars.

The news that, while not bad, is possibly less good: Given how many things I've got going with Tor right now, the earliest this next edition of A2S will see the bookstore shelves is probably sometime in 2008. So while another print edition is on the way, uh, it's going to be a while, folks.

Normally, waiting two years or more for the publication of a book is not something an author wants, of course. But given that I'll be popping out three other books for Tor between now and then, I can hardly complain. So I won't. These are the problems that as an author you want to have. Anyway, Agent will live again! Eventually. Huzzah!

But if you don't want to wait at least two years for your own copy, run run run to Amazon. Who knows how long these last few Subterranean Press copies will last.

Posted by john at 05:31 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Birthday Thanks


Krissy, about to perform atrocities on a poor defenseless birthday cake. For those of you who have not met her, this is also the look you get when you displease her. Don't make Krissy angry. You wouldn't like it when she's angry.

Krissy, however, did wish to extend a "thank you" to everyone who wished her happy birthday; she was delighted by your birthday greetings. She'd offer you a piece of the cake, but... well. Let's not speak of the cake. Let's not speak of the cake ever again.

Posted by john at 12:38 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Purity Balls

Question in e-mail today asking me what I thought of "Purity Balls," the odd fundamentalist Christian ritual in which daddies take their young daughters to a sort of mini-prom and at the end of it the daughters pledge to remain sexually pure and the daddies pledge to defend that purity. Basically, the reason for the dance is the pledging, which strikes me similarly to Mark Twain's definition of golf: "A long walk, spoiled."

My own thought about these purity balls is that they're really icky -- we could go on all day about what's wrong about dads making their very small daughters think about sex, or indoctrinating them into thinking their sexuality should be contingent on the dictates of the men in their lives -- but given the high holy terror with which fundamentalists regard human sexuality in general and female sexuality in particular, I don't find these mechanisms of control and indoctrination particularly surprising. I feel sorry for the little girls that their quality time with daddy comes at the price of pledging to submit their will to daddy's whims until such time as they equally surrender to their husband's will, but I guess that since they get to wear such pretty dresses, it's a fair trade. So that's all right.

Speaking as a father -- and one of a girl just about the right age to take to a "purity ball" at that -- I'm not going to criticize one of the underlying desires of the purity ball, which is a father's desire to express his commitment to care for and protect his child. I happen to have the same desire. I will note, however, that the expression of that desire can take on rather substantially different forms. These "Purity Ball" fathers think it's best expressed through control; I think it's best expressed through knowledge. I don't want my daughter to pledge her "purity" to me, as if having a sexual experience is some sort of karmic besmirching; I want to inform my daughter so that when she has sex, she knows what she's doing and she has it on her terms, and she comes away from the experience satisfied (as much as anyone comes away from their first experience in such a state) and able to integrate it into her life in a positive way.

Which is not to say I want her having sex, oh, anytime before she can vote; indeed, you can believe me when I say to you that among the discussions we'll have will be the ones where I suggest that abstinence really is the best policy through high school, for many very good and practical reasons (hey, it worked for me). I mean, I suppose I could just say "You shouldn't have sex because I've told you not to, and that's the end of it," and demand she respect my authority. However, if Athena is anything like me as a kid (and it's becoming rather abundantly clear that she is), any attempt at parental rule by fiat is likely to be politely but deeply ignored, and she's going to do what's she going to do.

That being the case, rationally outling the consequences is going to work rather better than trying to ram a pledge down her adorable little throat. Indeed, I doubt I could do that, even now -- she's already remarkably resistant to me pulling the "because I said so" act, because she's already internalized the idea that things should happen for a reason. And of course, I feel immensely proud about that, even if it does make getting her to clean up her room a real pain in the ass sometimes.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, I think not having pre-marital sex is pretty idiotic. This is a separate issue from promiscuity -- I'm not a big fan of totally indiscriminate appendage insertion or acceptance -- but if you're serious enough about someone that you're contemplating marriage, you damn well better know what your own sexual playing field is, and you damn well better know if you're sexually compatible with your presumed marital partner. Waiting until you're married to find out if you're sexually compatible with your spouse is like waiting until you're married to find out if you actually speak the same language as your spouse. Yes, you probably could make a marriage work without actually being able to speak to your spouse, but that's not really a good marriage, is it. I wouldn't suggest it for anyone I know.

All of which signals to you that I have a rather different view of sexuality in general than your average "Purity Ball" father. Which is, of course, all right by me. As I said, I can't fault what I see as the root impulse for the purity balls, but I'm glad that my expression of the desire to keep my daughter safe is not that one. Because if you really want to fetishize sex for a little girl, I really can't think of a more effective way to do it than something like a purity ball. And you know what? Fetishizing sex for little girls is so very much not what I want to be doing with my time.

Posted by john at 12:13 PM | Comments (79) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

A YA Thing

Marissa Lingen has some thoughts on my entry yesterday about ambitions, and puts it into the context of YA writing:

And I've never taught physics grad students, and I've never written a doctoral-level monograph in history; but I would bet you good money that at least some of the difficulties in doing those things are not greater than the difficulties in teaching freshman physics lab or writing a history text for fourth through sixth graders but rather are different difficulties. Don't believe me? You can go ahead and explain pogroms to a 9-year-old audience in words they understand, that will get the concept across with due gravity but without scaring the kid so badly that they have nightmares for weeks about man's inhumanity to man. Also perform this task in less than 200 words, and also make sure that the words you choose will not offend parents, teachers, librarians, etc. either by their explicit nature or by their coy omissions. And remember that yours may be the very last reference to the subject they see until they take a history course in college, if ever. See what an easy romp that is -- why, it must be! It is for the sweet little childrens!

Mrissa points in the direction of a larger truth, which is that writing for any specific audience requires skills that don't always make themselves apparent on the casual read. However, writing for kids in particular is not easy, I'll bet, for all the reasons Mrissa notes above: Not only to you have to satisfy the kids as readers, you also have to walk the tightrope satisfying the gatekeepers to the kids: parents, teachers, school boards and assorted busybodies who will aim to ban your book even though they haven't bothered to read it. All of which makes YA lit even more full of hoops which must be jumped if one wishes to play in that arena. The only thing you get out of it as a writer is that if you're lucky, you're creating a lifelong reader through your work.

As it happens, not long after I finished Agent to the Stars I took the excess momentum I had after that and banged out several chapters of a YA attempt. Among other things, it convinced me that writing YAs was not just a happy side lark; if you're going to do it, do it right. My friends Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier are examples of that; they both write YAs that I'd rather read more than a lot of adult novels that I've come across, because the work and skill is there.

The YA I began remains unfinished because -- obviously -- I have lots on my plate now as it is. I'd like to return to it one day (or start a different one), but I'd need to be able to make time to devote to it. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to post up the first chapter so those of you who want to see it can have a look. How is it? Eh. I liked it at the time (and I still like the overall story), but the better part of a decade on I can see quite a few things I'd choose to work on before it made it to release. It's not nearly as good as Scott and Justine's works, which comprise the quality benchmark to which I would need to aspire before I could feel comfortable doing YA.

It's not horrible, mind you. It just needs work. But, as I said, it is a useful reminder to me that YA is work if you want to do it well. Perhaps it'll be a useful reminder to you as well, should you feel that Young Adult writing is less craft-intensive than any other sort.

The chapter starts after the cut --

The Durant Chronicles: Crisis at Tlada
Chapter One

Margaret Durant, Consul of the Terran Commonwealth, former Senator from the planet Acadia, Undersecretary for Xenomorph Relations, diplomat and Ambassador without Portfolio, leaned over the railing on the bridge of the TC Capital Ship Odysseus. She stared into the inky blackness of that separated the Odysseus and Tlada, the planet that showed itself, a glowing blue and yellow crescent, some 500,000 kilometers to starboard.

Someday, she thought, I’m just going to have to toss my kids out into that without a spacesuit.

“Where are the twins now?” She asked Lieutenant Greene, her attaché.

“They’re in the lift, with Chief Engineer Chandra and Ensign Hewlett,” he said. “Should be here in a minute or so.”

“Do me a favor,” the ambassador said, “and make sure I don’t strangle them both when they arrive.”

Lt. Greene, who was nearly two meters tall, grinned. “I think I can manage that, Ambassador,” he said. “But I don’t think it will have to come to that.”

“You’d be surprised,” the ambassador said.

“It can’t be that bad,” Lt. Greene said.

“Mr. Greene, my purpose on this mission is to keep two ancient enemies from lapsing back into a centuries-old war,” the ambassador said. “I can’t very well do that if the Odysseus is blown up because my children were fiddling with the engines.”

“They’re only kids,” Lt. Greene said.

“You’re just saying that because they’re not yours,” the ambassador said.

On the far side of the room, the door to the lift slid open, discharging four occupants. Two were dressed in the white-with-blue-trim work uniforms of the Terran Navy. The older of these, a small man with dark skin, wore the rank of commander—Chief Engineer Chandra. The other, younger, taller and blonde, was an ensign—Hewlett, the young woman who discovered the tampering. And the tamperers.

Margaret regarded the tamperers with a mixture of affection and exasperation. In a way, it was her fault—she was the one who demanded they come to Tlada with her. “It’s a cease-fire now,” she told their father, her husband. “They can explore the ruins of Dollecti first-hand, which no one but the Tladians have done for decades. Besides, I never see them. It’ll be good for me to spend time with them.”

“They’re going to get bored on the Odysseus,” her husband warned. “It’s not designed for a pair of 14-year-olds. Especially these 14-year-olds.”

“I can keep them out of trouble,” the ambassador said, confidently.

“I’m going to remind you that you said that,” her husband said, and went back to his painting.

Inwardly, the ambassador winced. He would remind her, too. And he’d enjoy doing it.

The tamperers watched their mother watch them. The boy squirmed slightly, and subtly tried to slide out of the grip of Chief Engineer Chandra, who had his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Chandra noticed the attempt and clamped down harder. The boy sighed and became still.

The girl didn’t squirm. She stared straight her mother, with a slight smile on her face. She knew, more or less, what her mom was thinking, and she had a good idea that their mother would let them stand there for a few seconds more for effect, letting the weight of her exasperation squash them just a little before she began to speak.

Not yet, not yet...The girl thought...Not yet. There. Now.

“Will,” The ambassador nodded to her boy, and then turned to the girl. “Ariel. So, tell me. Did you two give any thought to what you were going to do after you blew up the ship? It’s hard to follow up something like that.”

“We weren’t going to blow up the ship,” Ariel said. “We were trying to fix it.”

“Fix it? Really,” the ambassador said, dryly. “From what I understand, realigning the engine’s plasma generators while they are active and online generally has a tendency to do something else entirely. Is that correct, Chief Engineer Chandra?”

“It is, ambassador,” Chief Engineer Chandra.

“What does realigning active plasma generators do, Mr. Chandra?”

“Usually, it floods the engine room with warp-grade plasma, instantly vaporizing the back third of the ship, and causes the rest of the ship to shatter due to rapid and catastrophic depressurization.”

“A rather drastic fix, isn’t it, Mr. Chandra?”

“I’d say so, Madam Ambassador.”

Will muttered something.

“Speak up, Will,” The ambassador said. “It won’t do us any good to have you mutter into your neck.”

“I said that we weren’t realigning the plasma jets,” Will said. “I’m not stupid. We were recalibrating them.”

“The distinction escapes me,” the ambassador said.

“Ensign Hewlett gave us a tour of the engine room last week,” Will said, “and I noticed that the plasma generators were only at 93% efficiency. When I told her about it, she just shrugged and said that that was about where they should be. But if you recalibrate the generator, you can increase efficiency by another two or three percent, depending on outside conditions. Recalibrating’s not a big deal—it’s just software fix. A couple hundred lines of code. It doesn’t actually require repositioning the jets. And it doesn’t cause the engine room to flood with plasma or anything.”

“We tried to give them the recalibration information yesterday,” Ariel added, “but they wouldn’t give us the time of day. When we finally did get hold of Chief Engineer Chandra, he gave us a brush off and told us he was too busy to deal with us.”

“We were busy with spinning down from faster-than-light speed,” Chandra said.

“You were having lunch,” Ariel said. “And you barely looked at the simulation we showed you. So we showed it to Ensign Hewlett, and she refused to do anything either.”

“So we figured, if they were too busy to do it, we would just do it ourselves,” Will said.

“And the fact that the engine room is a restricted area didn’t say to you that this might not be such a great idea?” the ambassador said. “Speaking of which, how did you get into the engine room at all?”

“I saw Ensign Hewlett punch in the code,” Ariel said. “We just punched it in when we came back.”

Beside Ariel, the ambassador saw Ensign Hewlett blanch. Everyone who had access to the engine room had a separate access number, a random string of numbers 15 digits long—long enough to keep someone from randomly punching the number out, and generally long enough to avoid someone memorizing it even if they see it punched out. The fact that Ariel or Will remembered it had caused Ensign Hewlett to assume she had been careless with it. The ambassador knew otherwise.

“If I may,” Chief Engineer Chandra said, “Your childrens’ recollections are a little off. We didn’t discard what they showed us out of hand. What we had said to them was that we were aware of the inefficiencies in the plasma generator, but that was within normal operating parameters. In fact, 93% efficiency is exactly normal.”

“But it could be more efficient,” Will said.

“Yes, but that’s not what we want,” Chandra said.

“Well, that makes no sense to me,” Will said, a bit snobbishly.

The ambassador caught Will’s tone. “Will,” she said, severely. “Please outline your formal training in engineering and spaceship engine construction.”

“What?” Will said. “Mom, I’m fourteen. You know I don’t have a degree in anything yet.”

“Ariel? Any qualifications?”

“I’ve read books,” Ariel said, somewhat defensively.

“How nice for you, Ariel,” the ambassador said. “Mr. Chandra. Please tell us your training and service record.”

“Certainly,” Chandra said. “I did undergraduate schooling at the Nehru Technical College in New Delhi, graduate and doctoral work at the California Institute in Technology, during which time I was also enrolled in the Naval Engineering Corps. I served my first tour of duty on the Aquamarine, and a subsequent tour on the Ben Franklin, before I came to serve on the Odysseus as Chief Engineer. I’ve been at this posting for seven years.”

“Ensign Hewlett, your training and service?”

“Undergraduate and graduate work at DiFranco University on planet Columbia, ma’am,” Hewlett said. “This is my first posting.”

“Ambassador, my young colleague is being modest,” Chandra said. “What she has neglected to tell you is that she is also the recipient of a Gold Scroll from governing board of the Society of Engineers. She was awarded the scroll for her thesis work on plasma generators. There were several thousand applicants.”

“Indeed,” The ambassador said, turning to Hewlett.

“Oh, yes,” Chandra said. “We’re very fortunate to have her posted here. She’ll be a Chief Engineer long before I was.” Beside Chandra, Hewlett turned a deep shade of crimson.

“So, to recap,” the ambassador said. “On one side we have Mr. Chandra and Ensign Hewlett, who between the two of them, through training and experience, know just about everything there is to know about starship engines. And on the other, we have Will and Ariel Durant, fourteen years old, who by their own admission know next to nothing. Hmmm. Lt. Greene,” The ambassador turned to her attaché, “if you had a choice of whom to trust with the engines, who would you choose?”

“I’m pretty sure I’d go with the Chief Engineer and the Ensign,” Lt. Greene said.

“You’re sure?” The ambassador said, waving at her children. “These two do seem fairly sure they know what they’re doing.”

“As did I when I was fourteen years old, Madam Ambassador,” Lt. Greene said. “Which, unfortunately, only reconfirms my first choice.”

“There you have it,” The ambassador said, letting her hands fall. “Independent third party verification.”

“Madam Ambassador,” Ensign Hewlett said, “To your children’s credit, their recalibration program did increase the efficiency of the plasma generators—“

“Yes! Thank you,” Ariel said, as if that solved everything.

“— But the issue is not the generators in the first place. It’s the plasma conduits, which funnel the plasma into the engine core,” Hewlett said. “The material the conduits are composed of is mildly reactive with the plasma. By working at slightly less than total efficiency we can keep the conduits from corroding for a greatly expanded length of time. Which is why we don’t operate at total efficiency.”

“I see,” The ambassador said. “How long would it take the conduits to corrode if plasma were going through it in a pure state?”

“It depends,” Ensign Hewlett said. “For the conduits that we use on this engine, it’d probably be four or five months.”

“But,” Chief Engineer Chandra said, “the conduits on the Odysseus are due to be replaced. In fact, we’ve scheduled for maintenance here at Tlada.”

“So there was a chance that the ‘improvements’ my children had made could have ruptured a conduit, thus causing the destruction of the ship.”

“An extremely small chance,” Chandra said.

“But a chance, nonetheless.”

“Yes, Madam Ambassador,” Chandra said.

“Will? Ariel? Any last words?” The ambassador said.
Will looked over to Ensign Hewlett. “Why didn’t you tell us about the conduits before?”

“You didn’t ask,” Ensign Hewlett said.

“It’s not Ensign Hewlett’s job to explain why you shouldn’t break into the engine room to fiddle with a starship drive, Will,” the ambassador said. “You should know better than that. You too, Ariel. You are the children of an ambassador for the Terran Commonwealth, exceptionally educated, versed in the customs of our seventy worlds, and—though you wouldn’t know it at the moment—fairly gifted in mind. I’m having a hard time believing that we’re even having this conversation.”

“We were only trying to help,” Ariel said.

“Blowing the Odysseus into microscopic fragments doesn’t help any one,” the ambassador said.

“There was only a small chance of that,” Will said.

The ambassador sighed, and gestured out the window to the planet Tlada. “This is a small chance, Will. This planet and its people have been at war with the Nulgan people for longer than our Terran Commonwealth has existed. Since before humans even had space travel. Now we’ve persuaded them to put down their arms long enough for us to attempt to broker a peace. For the first time in centuries, here’s a small chance. I—we—should be spending time preparing for this. Instead I’m discussing the merits of not blowing up a starship with my children. Can you see how the casual observer might regard this as a waste of my time?”

Will ducked his head down. “Yes, mom.” Ariel searched out a spot on the far wall and tried not to notice her mother’s displeasure.

“Lt. Greene,” the ambassador said. “You’re versed in the Naval Uniform Code of Conduct, are you not.”
“I am, Madam Ambassador.”

“What is the usual penalty for falsely using entry codes, tampering with starship engines, and jeopardizing the safety of a capital ship and all of its crew?”

Lt. Greene grinned and folded his arms. “Mostly, those folks get shot.”

“Oh, come on,” Ariel said. “We didn’t know what we were doing was wrong.”

“That would be cold comfort for 400 crew members who would have found themselves suddenly floating in space,” the ambassador said.

“You want I should gather up a firing squad?” Lt. Greene asked.

“That won’t be necessary,” the ambassador said. “Or even legal, since these two aren’t actually in the Navy. Mr. Chandra, was there any permanent damage to the engines or its systems?”

“No,” Chief Engineer Chandra said. “Ensign Hewlett isolated the recalibration and purged it out of the system before it could take effect. There was no damage to speak of.”

“That’s lucky for you, Will, Ariel,” the ambassador said. “If you had actually done any damage to this ship I would have had you both locked into your quarters until we got back to Earth. As it is, you’re going back to your quarters and staying there until we’re ready to shuttle down to the surface of Tlada for the first round of discussions.”

“When is that going to be?” Ariel asked.

The ambassador nodded to Lt. Greene. “Probably around 1500 hours tomorrow,” Lt. Greene said. “Though it might be later if the Tladian leader requires a more detailed briefing, or if the Tladian space command requires an inspection of the Odysseus. If that’s the case, it could be a couple of days.”

“Aw, mom,” Will said. “We’ve reserved the simulator for later tonight. We were planning to run the Jovian Sky Surfing program. It was the first time we’ve gotten to use the simulator.”

“Suffering makes you holy,” the ambassador said.

“If we’re confined to quarters, does that mean we don’t have to do studies?” Ariel said, hopefully.

“Nice try,” the ambassador said. “But no. I’ve instructed Fayn to tutor you in your quarters. Now get, both of you. I don’t want to see either of you until tomorrow at the earliest.” She dismissed them. Will and Ariel slunk off, dejected, to the lift and disappeared.

The ambassador turned her attention to the crewmembers. “Mr. Chandra, Ensign Hewlett,” she said. “You have my most humble apologies for the behavior of my children. I promise that if they come within 100 meters of the engine room, I’ll have them hog-tied until we get back home.”

“Thank you, Madam Ambassador,” Chandra said. “We appreciate your promptness in dealing with this. You can tell your children that they’ll be more than welcome back into the engine room...after they’ve gotten their degrees.” He smiled, nodded to the ambassador and the others, and headed back to his engine room. Ensign Hewlett remained standing there, a pensive look on her face.

“Is there something else, ensign?” the ambassador said.

“Your children....” Hewlett began, then collected herself and started again. “Before I removed their program from the engine’s computer, I got a look at the code, Madam Ambassador. From a systems point of view, it was quite elegant—better than some professional coding I have seen. And that from people who have spent years grappling with engines.”

“It’s kind of you to say that, ensign,” the ambassador said. “I think my kids are pretty sharp, too. Of course the problem is not that they’re smart, but that they’re not nearly as smart as they think they are. It’s led to interesting events, like the one we’ve had today.”

“So this isn’t the first time they’ve done something like this?” Ensign Hewlett said.

“Not even close,” the ambassador said, and nodded to Hewlett. The ensign returned the nod and left.

The ambassador sagged just slightly. “God,” she said. “If this is the trouble they’re getting into up here, I’m almost frightened to take them down to the planet.”

“I don’t know how much worse it gets than almost destroying a starship,” Lt. Greene said.

“Well, look at it this way,” The ambassador said. “Up here, they’ve got just 350 meters worth of ship. Down there, they’ve got millions of kilometers of planet surface. What are the odds, do you think?”

“Maybe we should hog-tie them,” Lt. Green suggested.

“Don’t be silly,” said the ambassador. “They’d just think of it as a challenge. And when they got out, we’d all be in trouble.”

Posted by john at 04:21 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Nuggets, 4/18/06

Various things I'm thinking of today:

* Stephen Bainbridge passes along his thoughts about the dust-up between Donald Rumsfeld and the retired generals, which is a story which, aside from the schadenfreudesque fun it affords, is surprising me with its longevity. What makes Baingridge's perspective interesting is that he's looking at it from the perspective of "bottom-up evaluation" -- that is, when underlings evaluate their bosses. It's a common enough technique in the corporate world, and Bainbridge is looking at how such a system works (or doesn't) in a military setting, and what retired generals bring to the table in this formula.

My personal take on the whole Rumsfeld v. retired generals thing is that I tend to side with the cantankerous retired generals more often than not, but I think the real problem here was simply that Rumsfeld had an organizational agenda that was ultimately trumped by realities on the ground. His idea of a smaller, faster military was just dandy for the thrust into Baghdad, but I think once Iraq was taken, there was a problem, and Rumsfeld and co. didn't want to admit the "smaller, faster" plan wasn't "one size fits all." So Rumsfeld was half right (in this circumstance, anyway; one wonders what "smaller, faster" would have accomplished against a competent military foe), but the half he was right about took less than a month, and the half he was wrong about has taken the last three years.

* Regarding the "Pointlessly Wasting Money: A Quiz" piece, someone in there was asking whether this was one of those personality tests, in which the answer you provide is an indication of your personality. Well, maybe it is, but that wasn't the intent. I have simply been thinking about a new computer (although not necessarily the Alienware; that was just representative of the sort of rig specs I was thinking on), or possibly picking up the Heinlein series, and figured that throwing open the question to the Whatever collective would help clarify my thinking on both, and -- surprise! -- it did.

My thinking at the moment is to get neither. The tech geeks have convinced me it's worth waiting until the next generation of processors come along, and enough book geeks have come along to whisper concerns about Meisha Merlin in my ear that I've decided to wait at least until a few of the books in the series have come along to see what the feedback is on the overall worthiness of the collection (to answer the questions in the comment thread, if I buy the series, you damn well better believe I'm going to read them. I'm not someone who buys books just to have them on the shelf). It's possible that by waiting I won't be able to get a set, even if I decide I want one, but since the the run of the set is 5,000 sets, and you have to buy into the whole set (i.e., there need to be 5,000 other people willing to part with at least $2,500 before me), it seems a safe enough risk to me.

I also appreciate the alternate suggestions, including the ones which suggested I hand the money over to Krissy for investment purposes. Trust me, folks, we max out the 401(k) and IRAs and have other investments socked away. And I always hand my money to Krissy anyway; then when I want to buy something I ask her if I can have it. This is a fine way not to spend outside our means, as Krissy is indeed hawk-like in her stewardship of our finances. Which is, among other things, why I can contemplate choices like these.

In any event, thanks for all your thoughts and comments; they were indeed helpful.

* An interesting map from USA Today, showing where abortion would be restricted in the US if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned tomorrow; it's mostly "red vs. blue" all over again. I personally suspect that this map is not quite correct because if it came to that people would vote in representatives with opinions more in line with the general thinking about abortion; which is to say I suspect you'd find rather few states like South Dakota and more like Illinois. It might take an election cycle or two to hit equilibrium, however, during which time I suspect people would be vividly reminded that women who really want an abortion really will get one, regardless of risk. I doubt there would be a national law against abortion, unless the GOP really does want to either fracture or relegate itself to permanent minority status.

My own state Ohio is listed as likely to significantly restrict abortion access; allow me to express doubt on that, or to say that if it's correct in the short run, that it would not be after a single election cycle. I'd also suggest that the law one Ohio state legislator wants to put on the books that would make it a felony to transport a woman across state lines to get an abortion wouldn't last any longer than it took for a soccer mom to get tossed in the slammer for driving her kid to New York to end a pregnancy. Apparently one would still be able to drive one's self, although I'm interested to see how long that loophole would last, or what would happen if two pregnant women traveled together across state lines to get an abortion.

I'm not particularly keen on Roe v. Wade being overturned, but I don't think overturning it would give the anti-abortion folks what they want. When going through a pregnancy is compelled, you're going to find people suddenly rather less tolerant about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, or having sex education predicated on "abstinence only." And here's a prediction which I am sure is going to make me friends from all over: I'll bet you a ten spot right now that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, you'll see parents of teenagers becoming a lot more accepting of same sex relationships, because at least that way, their kids won't become pregnant. Because it's been 33 years since Roe v. Wade, you know. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not be the same as turning back the clock. I sometimes wonder if anti-abortion folks have actually internalized this salient fact.

* Speaking of Ohio, the ever-industrious Tobias Buckell (who you may recall has an in-store appearance in Dayton tonight) has started contributing to Blogging Ohio, a news and opinion blog about -- can you guess? -- the fine State of Ohio. If you want news and information about the Buckeye State, in blog form, now you know where to go.

Posted by john at 02:05 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Dia de las Krissy


It's my wife Kristine Blauser Scalzi's birthday today. In my opinion, meeting her was one of the two best things ever to happen to me (the other being the birth of my daughter, which -- as it happens -- she was actively involved in as well), and there's not a day that goes by where I don't try to let her know how much better my life is because she is in it. I'm making it my goal to ensure that this next year of her life is filled with joy, happiness, and footrubs on demand. Because all of those are good things.

If you feel like wishing Krissy a happy birthday, the comment thread is an excellent place to do it.

Posted by john at 09:01 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

All-American Girl

Just a girl and her flag, enjoying a beautiful spring day.

See the whole set here.

Posted by john at 09:24 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Pointlessly Wasting Money: A Quiz

All right, a question for the crowd. Let's say I have about $2,500 to spend --

(which is not to say that I do have $2.5K spend. It's to say, let's say I do)

-- and that you're me. Which would you rather spend that chunk of cash on:

a) The "Virginia Edition" of the collected works of Robert A. Heinlein, which features all of his novels and shorts stories plus most of the interviews and commentaries, speeches and articles he's given, printed on heavy, acid-free paper, put in protective slipcases and each with a cover featuring the work of Donato Giancola (who, as you recall, did the hardcover artwork for Old Man's War), all in a special, limited, never-to-be replicated series,


b) An Alienware Area 51 5500 computer with a 3.2 GHz Pentium dual core processor, 256MB PCI-Express x16 NVIDIA® GeForce™ 7900 GT graphics card, 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz, 250GB Serial ATA 3Gb/s 7,200 RPM w/ NCQ & 8MB Cache and Creative Sound Blaster® X-Fi® XtremeMusic High Definition 7.1 Surround Sound


I mean, theoretically. And no, you can't have both. You have to choose one.

What would you, as me, get?

Posted by john at 05:13 PM | Comments (93) | TrackBack


Was reminded today was tax day by reading an article about pizzas selling for $10.40. I've been sort of out of the Tax Day loop since we started having an accountant prepare our taxes, and that's just fine with me; we pay an accountant so we can be out of the loop (well, I can be out of the loop; Krissy, aka "the competent one" remains as loop-engaged as ever). And our accountant, bless her heart, sent over all the forms and etc weeks ago.

Overall, it was not a bad tax year for us. We ended up in the hole by a not-entirely-trivial amount, but that amount was also less than I expected (I made a bit more in 2005 than 2004, so I figured on a larger tax bite) so overall I was pretty happy. I am once again reminded that one of the nice things about being a reviewer and commentator, and someone who works from home, is that so much of my life ends up being tax-deductible. That includes this here Web site, since it's directly connected to my writing business, and because it is a source of income for me (those occasional reprints of the Whatever, not to mention selling Agent to the Stars to a publisher last year). Hooray for teh Intarweebs!

How's your tax day going?

Posted by john at 04:35 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Two (Well, Four) Reviews; also, Ambitions

Into the clippings file:

* A less-than-thrilled review of Old Man's War over at SFSite, which I find amusing, as SFSite also has an enthusiastic review of OMW from when the book originally came out, in which it was called a "clever, charming and joyously fun story." Needless to say, should Tor decide to pull a quote from SFSite, we know from which review they'll pull. As for the less-enthusastic review, there's not much to say other than, eh, you can't win them all.

* A nice review of The Ghost Brigades at Fractale Framboise; at least, I think it's a nice review, since it's in French and I have to pass it through Google Translate to read it. However, Google Translate says it says that TGB: "proves the initial success of Scalzi... is not an accident. Familiar without being repetitive, accessible without being condescending, The Ghost Brigades is an excellent example of commercial SF which can at the same time divert and make [one] reflect." Works for me.

Non-francophones who don't want to bother with the Frenchtastic stylings of Google Translate can read a review of the book in English by the same reviewer (Christian Sauve) here: "At a time where unputdownable is as overused as it's ungrammatical, Scalzi is the real deal: someone who can deliver a fast, fun SF story that remains accessible and doesn't take you for an idiot." That works for me, too.

In the latter review, Sauve asks: "When will Scalzi try his hand at a more ambitious project? As coldbloodedly professional as he appears to be in his approach to his career, I doubt that he will suddenly drop everything else to produce an insanely ambitious 500-page work of art ready to challenge, say, Ian McDonald's River of Gods. But I wonder."

(River of Gods, incidentally, which is finally out here in the US through the good graces of Pyr Books, and which I do in fact suggest people get, because it really is that good.)

But in response to Sauve's question: The direct answer to his question is "soon," although soon in publishing is not the same as "soon" in the real world, since the project I'm thinking of has yet to be written and won't see the light of the bookstore until late 2007 at the earliest. I'm not discussing this particular project with anyone in any more specific terms than I am doing now (which is to say, aggravatingly vaguely), but suffice to say I doubt that anyone will be able to say it's not ambitious at the outset. My job, of course, is to make it so that "ambitious" is not its only selling point; "ambitious" and "really, really readable" is the goal.

Tangentially, however, I wouldn't say that OMG and TGB aren't ambitious works; I think they both are. OMW is flatly ambitious in the sense it was written specifically to be salable to a publisher, even as a first time work from someone unknown in SF/F circles. In that sense, ambition accomplished. Now, part of the "price" for that, if you want to cast it that way, is that the books in the series have to dance with them what brung them -- which is to say that it would be inappropriate for The Ghost Brigades to have been wildly different from Old Man's War, either in themes or presentation. Now, I happen to think TGB is thematically a bit more ambitious than OMW, and I expect readers will find The Last Colony to be a bit more ambitious still. But it has to be part of a continuum and internally consistent. I don't have a problem with that; I like the universe and am happy to play by the rules I imposed on myself at the start.

Both books are also ambitious in these sense they aim to be accessible to people who don't regularly read science fiction as well as those who do (as does The Android's Dream, which is upcoming). The mechanics of such a task -- keeping the book open enough so that people who don't read SF can follow it, while not insulting the intelligence and expectations of those who do regularly read SF -- aren't exactly simple, even if the end result is a light, fast and fun read. I don't want to overstate the case, mind you; I'm not doing brain surgery, here. On the other hand, just because it looks simple doesn't mean it is. Finding the right balance to make both Cory Doctorow and my mother-in-law happy readers is a tricky thing.

I certainly have ambitions in terms of subject matter, and while it does seem unlikely I'll write something like River of Gods (Ian McDonald and I don't exactly have the same style or interests), it's not out of the question that I'll write something similarly ambitious. But I'm also ambitious in a less direct way. Baldly put, I think I have a personal writing style that's easy to grab onto no matter who you are, and I can plot in a fun and exciting way. I see these as tools to invite people into the genre of science fiction. One reason I want to do this is entirely self-serving, which is that even though I write science fiction, I want as many readers as possible, and I don't mind snagging them from outside the "SF/F community," by the truckloads if I can manage that.

Another reason, however, is less self-serving, and that is I want to share my genre, especially the writers who are working in the genre with me. You can try to convince me there's another era in SF/F that has had better writers per capita than the current era does, but you'll have to be pretty damn convincing, because I don't see it. This is a golden age of SF writing; I honestly believe it. I think my books can serve admirably as the jumping monkey that grabs the attention of the passers-by and leads them into the big tent of SF/F where Ian McDonald, Ken MaLeod, Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson, China Mieville (to name but a few current and recent SF Hugo nominees) and lots of others are inside, cracking open universes to the delight of the audience. I understand it's not everybody's ambition to be the jumping monkey carnival barker of SF/F, but someone should do it, and why not me? So far, I seem to be pretty good at it. And I'm having fun. So there's that.

So, yes: Do expect more conventionally ambitious stuff out of me in the future. But also expect me to keep doing what I do, how I do it now. Both represent ambitious plans, just in different ways.

Posted by john at 11:24 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 16, 2006

And This Is What He Does

In addition to being Easter, it's my friend Kevin Stampfl's birthday. The resurrection of Christ and the birth of Kevin, all on the same day!

To celebrate: The Number of the Beast video from Iron Maiden, Kevin's fave band from back in the day. Particularly ironic on Easter, I know.

Hoping you're all having a great Kevin's birthday. Or Easter, if that's your thing.

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April 15, 2006

A Book Appearance, Not My Own

A little friendpimping on a Saturday afternoon:

Tobias Buckell, author of the smokin' hot novel Crystal Rain, is going to be making an appearance at Dayton's Books & Co., the city's premier place for author stop-ins, this Tuesday, April 18, between 7 and 9 pm.

I will not be able to attend, alas, as my wife has the temerity to have a birthday on the same day as the signing. But if you're in the Dayton area, you should go: Toby's always up for conversations on writing and SF and he's an interesting fellow in general, so I'm sure he'll make it worth your while to stop in and say hello. Here's where Books & Co. is located, just in case you need directions.

As is my custom with pimping entries, I also now declare this entry to have a Self-Pimping comment thread: If you've got something you want people to know about, writing or otherwise, or if you want to promote something cool you've read, listened to or experienced, let it fly in the comments. Pimp, you crazy kids! Pimp!

Posted by john at 05:32 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

Richard Powers and SF Artwork


After commenting a bit about John Picacio's artwork a few days ago, and also admitting my relative ignorance of the history of science fiction cover art, Picacio suggested via e-mail that I might want to take a look at the work of Richard Powers, who did hundreds of SF covers, primarily in the 50s and 60s. I went on eBay and found The Art of Richard Powers in relatively short order, so I bought it and it arrived also in reasonably short order (if you're not willing to buy a book, there's a collection of his covers online here).

Seeing Powers work, of course, made me realize that I did know him, or at least his work, although I have to say that by the time I started reading SF in volume, in the early 80s, his time had pretty much gone, and it seems like the work that he was producing at the time (like this cover of Heinlein's Friday) bowed to certain possibly self-loathing aesthetic imperatives of the time, which I suspect amounted to "make this look as craptacular as possible. And add boobs."

Again, I could be wrong about this, but I seem to remember the 1980s being a particularly bad time for science fiction cover art, a time in which airbrushed mammaries had their ascendency, an esthetic from which we are only now beginning to get away from. This was a difficult time to try to convince non-SF readers to read SF because the cover art was so lame; I remember buying a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land -- the one with the Carl Lundgren cover -- for a friend of mine as a Christmas present and begging her to ignore the cover (I did the same when I gave someone the Lundgren-covered Time Enough for Love as well (The current cover for Stranger is slightly better).

The issue for me with both books was not the nudity (that would have been ironic, considering what goes on in the books), but just the whole tacky presentation, and the fact that the covers to me missed most of what the books were about. The best cover for Stranger is still probably the original, which rather intelligently highlighted the Rodin sculpture which Heinlein used as a metaphor for his main character (the original cover for TEFL, with women sprouting out of Lazarus Long's Speedoed body, is not so great).

The main body of Powers' SF work has almost nothing to do with the 80s airbrushed boobmania, which is to be considered a good thing. Powers trafficked in surrealism -- impossibly-designed structures and creatures that were evocative of the contents in the books without being an explicit analog to a particular event in the book. The covers are definitely dated -- you couldn't look at a Powers cover and not have it evoke a certain era of SF illustration which is now gone -- but it's worth noting that it was a good era in SF illustration.

Perhaps based on my early experiences trying to offer SF to non-readers in the 1980s, I definitely do look at SF book covers from the point of view of "are normal people going to be embarassed to be seen reading this book?" Again, no offense to Carl Lundgren (whose other work, particularly his rock posters, is pretty cool), but his covers -- and most SF covers of the 80s -- seem designed only to appeal to one crowd, which would be teenaged boys who wouldn't know what to do with a breast even if they got to hold one. I mean, I was one of those teenage boys in the 1980s, so in one sense, fair enough. They got me. But I do think as a consequence there were a lot of missed opportunities to draw in other readers, and I think it's probably also fair to say SF is still suffering from what this sort of artwork said about the genre and how it saw itself (among, to be fair, a number of other issues).

Powers' work, on the other hand, seems more open to different readers, as does more of the work of the current generation of cover artists, Picacio included. To speak to Picacio's work specifically, many of the people on his covers are no less nude than the girls on the covers of 80s science fiction, but it's a more artful sort of nude, attempting to evoke more than just the "look! nipples!" response (it's also a more egalitarian sort of nude, as men seem to be nude as often as women, which I think matters).

Picacio's work, and the work of many of the current generation of SF illustrators, can't be seen as a direct line descendant of Powers' work, at least not as a matter of technique. But what I think you can see -- and which I applaud -- is more of an attempt to evoke the spirit of the work the cover represents, rather than lay out a pedestrian illustration of some climactic scene or imagine the main female character in some filmy stage of undress.

To be clear, cover art has to fulfill a commercial end; it has to sell the book. But you can sell a book a lot of different ways. One way is with boobies; another way is with brains. Powers' work was the latter, I think, and I'm glad to see that particular idea making inroads in the current generation of SF cover illustrators.

Posted by john at 02:50 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack


Sprint pulled its collective head out of its collective ass, and now I have an Internet connection at home, again.

Catching up on e-mail and work and then I'll be back later. You kids have fun until then.

Posted by john at 10:35 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

April 13, 2006

Cut Off, Continued

Another library post. Someone shoot me.

Yes, I'm still without Internet at home. God. It's like living in 1986 or something. How horrible is that?

I'll update again when I get reattached to the world, or tomorrow when I come to the library, whichever comes first.


Here, have another open thread.

Posted by john at 12:02 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

April 12, 2006

Cut Off

Someone at Sprint apparently thought it would be an excellent idea to cut the phone cable to my entire neighborhood; as a result, my phone and DSL service is down (I'm writing this from Bradford's library, in case you're wondering). The phone/DSL are likely to be down until sometime tomorrow, so don't expect to see much of me (or if you've sent me e-mail, expect a response) until sometime tomorrow at the earliest.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Chat amongst yourselves. See you tomorrow. Hopefully.

Posted by john at 01:22 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

April 11, 2006

Puppy Pictures

Because Catblogging is so 2005.

Posted by john at 04:40 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

OMW in Japan

Nice news to wake up to: We have an offer for Old Man's War in Japanese, and we're going to take it (I said yes, anyway, which is how these things get done). Naturally, I'm curious how to write "Old Man's War" in Japanese; the closest I can get to via Google Translate is "老人の戦争," which translates somewhat inexactly to "War of Old Person." I assume someone with better Japanese skills (which, honestly would be about anyone) could do a better job.

This additionally makes me happy because I'm going to go to the Worldcon in Yokohama in 2007 and was thinking it would be nice to have a book in country before then. So now that's a possibility (the publisher actually has 24 months to produce a version, so it's possible we'll miss it, too. But at least now there's a chance).

Anyway, if anyone knows how to say "w00t!" in Japanese, let me know.

Posted by john at 09:30 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

April 10, 2006

On the Distribution Front

Here's some nice news: The Ghost Brigades is #9 on the April Book Sense SF/Fantasy Hardcover Bestsellers list, and Old Man's War is #15 on the same month's sf/f trade paperback list. The lists are compiled from independent bookstores in the US.

These are nice numbers, not just because it's nice to be on a bestseller list, but because it says to me the books are where they need to be so people who don't hang out online can find them. The hardcover of OMW did pretty well, but it wasn't always easy to find out in the real world; I'm sure you all remember me kvetching about never being able to find it at my local independent bookstore. I'm happy to see we seem to have cracked that particular nut. And I also like that my books are doing well for indie bookstores. Kvetch though I did about my local bookstore not carrying OMW in hardback, it's otherwise a very nice store, and it's nice to think my books are helping the bottom lines of stores like it.

Posted by john at 08:28 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Copyedits Galore!


The copyedited manuscript for The Android's Dream, which comes out in October or November, and which is not related to the Old Man's War universe. It does not appear to be as violently marked-up as The Ghost Brigades had been, which makes me feel better about myself as a writer. I like turning in work that doesn't make a copyeditor cringe in fear.

I think I've mentioned before that I really enjoy this particular book, which is just fast-moving and fun and full of action. It may ruin my reputation as a purveyor of thoughtful science fiction, however. As I was saying to someone a few days ago, it's good I got nominated for the Hugo and Campbell now, because once people read the first chapter here, devoted as it is to a rather extended fart joke, I will never get nominated for anything ever again. But you know what? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that it's the best-written chapter-long fart joke in the history of science fiction literature. Someone prove me wrong, here.

Posted by john at 01:52 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 09, 2006

Testing Something

Just checking to see if I can embed video. This entry may or may not disappear almost immediately after it gets posted.

Seems to work!

Posted by john at 10:52 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Links and Stuff

Lots of interesting stuff out there that I briefly want to touch on, so:

* There's a lot of media schadenfreude going on about the Republican meltdown last week. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have stories about how the GOP now has an inkling that November could be very bad indeed for them (which dovetails into the entry here from the other day). I think there are definite parallels between where the GOP is today and the Democrats were in 1994, but as I've said a number of times before anyone, who underestimates either the GOP drive to win at any cost or the recent Democratic ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory needs to beam back down to planet Earth. There's still quite a lot of time between now and November.

* Speaking of schadenfreude, the writers of Time and Newsweek's articles on the discovery of the Tiktaalik creature, which sits in the evolutionary gap between fish and amphibians, are positively gleeful on banging on the "intelligent design" people because here's yet another transitional fossil (of course, now that means there's just two more transitional fossil gaps, aren't there. They're just half the size).

The Newsweek piece has an adorably defensive quote from the Discovery Institute about how ID doesn't have a problem with transitional forms, and then stuffs them with the observation that "fossil gaps are cited many times in the controversial ID textbook "Of Pandas and People." The book takes particular note of the large difference between 'the oldest amphibian' and 'its presumed [fish] ancestor.' It's a gap wide enough for a fish to walk through—and now we know that one did." The Time piece is even more snarky: "Evolution is, as ID supporters love to say, "just" a theory. It also happens to be one of the most successful scientific theories in history, whose predictions of what should be found in the fossil record have been proven out… for the zillionth time."

Yeah, the "sell by" date on ID has come and gone. It won't stop morons from continually trying to push it, of course. But the bloom is off the intelligently designed rose.

* Time has an interesting article from a retired Lt. General who was also the Pentagon's top operations officer, talking about what a pointless war Iraq has been, and share the blame between clueless civilian leaders (which you may understand to mean Secretary Rumsfeld, although he's not the only one) and timid military brass, who didn't speak up while the war was being planned. Here's a key quote, which I can get behind: "The troops in the Middle East have performed their duty. Now we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them."

* Over at the New York Times, a long magazine piece on El Salvador, where there is a constitutional amendment that says that the government must protect life from conception onward, and where abortion of any sort has been illegal for eight years. Just in case you're wondering what that would be like, if, say, the Supreme Court decided South Dakota's new abortion law was Constitution, or if a "right to life" Constitutional amendment got passed. For those of you who don't want to bother with the entire article, three choice words for you: "forensic vagina inspectors." El Salvador's got 'em.

To be clear, I have an exceptionally hard time imagining a circumstance in which the US goes down the same road as El Salvador, whose anti-abortion position is enabled by a small, homogeneous population of Catholics whose government was apparently rather intensely susceptible to pressure from the Vatican. Nor do I think that even in a post Roe v. Wade America, some place like South Dakota would be able to get away with sentencing a woman to 30 years in prison for having an abortion, as can happen in El Salvador. The first time someone tried that here in the US (to a rich white girl, he said, oh-so-cynically), that would be the end of the anti-abortion movement as a recognizable political force.

On the other hand let's not pretend that the end result of making all abortion illegal is not what happens in El Salvador, where women become criminals. If you want to make abortion illegal, no exceptions, this is what it looks like.

Posted by john at 03:18 PM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

Everybody Welcome

Given how testy I've been in a recent comment thread, I thought I'd mention this in an entry of its own:

Everyone is welcome here, even the people who think I'm full of crap.

One of the things I have been deeply happy about here at the Whatever is that the "crowd" here -- the people who comment and participate in discussion -- includes people with all sorts of points of view, political, social, economic and so on. Having all these points of view here makes me feel good because it means I've created a place where all sorts of people feel comfortable visiting. I really love that.

Often times these folks have points of view wildly different from mine, and often times when I write something they'll be happy to tell me in the comment threads that I'm full of crap. My thought on this: Good. I don't like being told I am full of crap, but you know what? It doesn't matter if I like it. Sometimes I am full of crap (please note the disclaimer, point #2), and therefore someone pointing that fact out is not outside the bounds. If you've got facts and figures to go along with the assertion, so much the better.

If you suggest that I am full of crap, I will most likely get annoyed; that will probably be evident in my response. But! My being annoyed does not mean you have either shut up or leave. If I think you've overstepped some bound (as noted in my comment thread rules), I'll either reel you in with a follow-up comment, or (if you're truly obnoxious enough) I'll delete the message. I have yet to delete a message from a person who was genuinely participating in a discussion (I've deleted some flyby dickishness, but even that is rare), so make of that what you will. Short of me saying something to you in a very explicit fashion (i.e., "Dude, you've gone beyond the bounds, and here's why, and if you don't stop I'll delete you") you are golden and may continue to poke and prod.

I prefer you treat other commenters with respect and confront their ideas and not them. However, you need not be terribly gentle with me. I mean, I prefer you attack my ideas and not me, too. However, I know myself well enough to know that personal attacks don't bother me in a long-term fashion. By the same token, be aware I am not always gentle when I think something you've said is full of crap, and from time to time I might go over a personal bound with you. If you think I've gone too far into the personal realm when we're going around, let me know in a comment or e-mail. I'll recalibrate.

No, seriously. I do try to be sensitive to people's comfort zones; some people can take more of this sort of thing than others. Because I can take a lot of crap and because I've spent over a decade talking various sorts of crap on the 'net, by default I assume other people can take a similar amounts of crap and brush it off. If I am wrong in your case I want to know, as soon as you feel uncomfortable. I want this place to be challenging and sometimes confrontational -- I don't want people to feel like they're being abused, particularly by me.

In a general sense, I do try to follow the Inverse Golden Rule in comment threads, which means I do onto others as they have done to me. I'm confrontational to people who are confrontational, mellow with people who are mellow, substantive with people who are substantive, nasty to people who are nasty. That's what I try for anyway. I am human. I don't always succeed. I do hope you'll forgive me if (when!) I go off the rails.

This next thing is important: When I start a new entry, I hit the reset button. Whatever arguments, confrontations or disputes are in an earlier comment thread get left there. You and I might argue in one thread and agree in another. Each comment thread is its own event. I treat them that way and I suggest you do too. Life is too short to carry grudges based on comment threads.

The reason I can hit the reset button with each new comment thread is simple: At the end of the day I believe people who come and comment here are good people whom I would be happy to know in real life. I assume that no matter how heated an argument can get in a comment thread, at any point in time we could stop and one of us would say "I'm getting this round." This is in part rooted in my real-life experience with friends; my best friend from high school and I, for example, can get into arguments that to an outside observer looks like we're about to stab each other to death, and then after we're done we'll go get something to eat at the nearest family restaurant. I assume that people who like each other can and do argue passionately and even politically incorrectly and still like each other when the argument is done.

If I'm arguing with you, it doesn't mean I don't like you, or wouldn't like you if we were to meet. Believe me, if I don't like you, you'll know, because I'll tell you. There's no point in being coy about it. Unless I tell you that, however, please do assume that as a human, I think you're all right. Because, really, aren't you? Exactly.

In sum: Whoever you are, I'm glad you're here. I hope you'll stick around. And I hope you'll feel free to tell me when you think I'm full of crap. It happens, you know. It's okay to point it out.

Posted by john at 01:16 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Iran and Saber-Rattling

Are we getting ready to bomb the crap out of Iran? Maybe (here's another take on the matter, from the New Yorker). It's all saber-rattling at this point, but it's saber-rattling with a goal, which is spooking the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. Yeah, that's going to happen. It's also to get Americans used to the idea this is on the table. Happy Sunday!

Here's my thing: I believe without the slightest hesitation that Iran is trying to build a bomb (more than one, clearly); I also believe rather strongly that Iran should not be allowed to build a bomb. This is part of a larger philosophy that as a general rule, no other nations should be allowed into the nuclear club that aren't already in it (and that some of them should have their membership revoked), but specifically speaking, Iran as a nuclear power makes me nervous on all sorts of levels. So as a matter of policy, I would not have much of a problem gutting Iran's nuclear production capability via bunker busters if it came to that.

What I worry about, naturally, is at what point in the diplomatic process we get to "if it came to that." I don't suspect that based on previous experience that the Bush administration is all that patient with diplomatic maneuvers -- which to be honest is not necessarily a criticism. Say what one will about the precipitate speed with which the Bush administration rolled into Iraq, Saddam's ability to subvert the diplomatic process both was appalling in itself and gave the Bush folks an ample rationale for firing up the tanks. As a practical matter, I think there is some value in the perception that the US is going to fiddle around diplomatically for only so long before it gets down to cases and fires up the steath bombers.

On the other hand, while I did not oppose going into Iraq, for my own personal reasons, I also thought it would have been far better there simply to carpet bomb any inspection site Saddam refused to let inspectors into, as a way to bring Iraq back to a useful diplomatic process. If one posits a large-scale attack on Iran on one end of the spectrum and doing nothing on the other, is there something effective in the middle ground? I don't know at this point, but I'd like to think there is -- and I wonder, if there is a useful "middle ground" solution, whether we'll consider it before going the solution where Iran's skies are dark with American bombers.

The New Yorker piece suggests two things -- first, that Bush sees himself as the only President who is politically capable of attacking Iran, and two, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, by us, to destroy Iran's nuclear capability is not off the table. Toward the first of these, I'm certainly willing to believe that Bush does think he's the right man for the job, although as you might expect based on how poorly it's managed the Iraq situation after the unquestionable tactical victory of the first few weeks, I question whether his administration is indeed competent enough to do the job right. I also strongly suspect that unless Bush is completely stupid, he'll wait until after November to make any move, because given how unpopular his Iraq position is at the moment, he doesn't want to give any more electoral ammunition to the Democrats than they already have.

Toward the use of tactical nuclear weapons, I have a very hard time imagining that would happen, and I suspect the repercussions for the US if it did would be immensely damaging. If Bush really wants to bring down every single US-friendly foreign government in the world, he'd allow the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I have serious questions as to the overall competence of this adminstration, but you have to draw a line somewhere. I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons.

My hope is that if we do bomb Iran, we avoid mission creep. I would say our job is to gut their nuclear production capability, end of story. Keeping to that single goal will be difficult and complex enough, but if nothing else it could be possibile with only minimal ground involvement (from my admittedly very limited understanding of the situation), which means a minimum of death involved on our side, and it would be a goal that most of the world community could get behind (no one else wants Iran to have nukes, either). God forbid someone starts talking "regime change." That would be Bush's undoing; there's no way the armed forces could do a land war as they are now, and attempting to institute a draft would be political suicide. Even if the Bushies wanted regime change, I suspect they would have to settle for something less.


Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

April 08, 2006

Cover Story and Cover Art

Artist and current Hugo nominee John Picacio sent along a copy of his upcoming book Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio, which comes out around Memorial Day. It's a handsome book, naturally enough, with a nice selection of his work both in SF/F and outside the genre as well. Picacio has a style that's immediately recognizable, both in terms of his near-photo-realistic portraiture and his prismatic use of color (both of which you can clearly see on the cover above), and it's a style I personally find rather appealing, so it's nice to have an entire book of it at hand.

I also liked Picacio's brief commentary on the pieces and how they came together. Book writers as a rule don't have too much input or insight into the cover art process, so getting some artist perspective. One tenent of Picacio's process which I can appreciate is "The book is God"; having seen enough books where the cover seems to have nothing in the slightest to do with the content, it's nice to read an artist saying that the book guides his thinking.

One thing I like about Picacio's work to some extent is less about him then it is about the people who hire him to do work, which is that it represents a willingness and desire to push the grammar of science fiction and fantasy cover art. In a larger sense this leads to covers that better express their content; in a particular sense it means that as a reasonably socialized adult you can go out on the street with one of these books and not feel like you want to hide the cover of what you're reading. Covers like Picacio does don't hide the science fiction or fantasy elements of the work, but they do present them in a way that includes (and entices) non-readers of SF/F rather than excludes them. That's smart.

This isn't necessarily a new trend; from my possibly incorrect point of view, I trace it back to Dave McKean's covers of the Sandman comics, which were absolutely unlike any other comic covers out there and whose collage compositions spoke to the thematic maturity of the work inside. From there it leaked into dark fantasy (China Mieville's covers are a fine example here), and now seem to be making positive inroads into science fiction as well. What is new, from my point of view, anyway, is that I see cover art like Picacio's become more frequent -- not the exception to the rule, but the rule (or at the very least, a strong guideline).

I can't say a single thing bad about this. People do judge books by their covers, alas, but what covers like Picacio's suggest to those who judge is something people who read SF/F already know, which is that what's inside those covers is material serious adults can read seriously. That's good for the genre, good for its writers and good for potential new readers. Great cover art doesn't solve every issue, of course. It just makes for one less. That's a good start.

Posted by john at 01:49 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 07, 2006

Will Republican Voters Grow Spines in 2006?

Dubya posting his lowest poll numbers ever? Why, goodness, why would that be?

There's a saying out there known as the Napoleon-Clarke Law which states, in a twist on Arthur C. Clarke's comment on technology, that "any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." Bush's administration has been practicing advanced incompetence for a while, of course, and while I've been of the opinion that Bush has been satisfied with being incompetent while it's been other Republican leaders who have gone straight over into malice, if the President did indeed authorize the leaks of classified information, we can pretty much say that incompetence not the least of his sins.

I wrote this administration off as a total loss years ago, so I can just about honestly say there's no incident of power-mongering maliciousness from it that would totally surprise me. I do feel some measure of sympathy for the conservatives and Republicans who are finally having to recognize that this administration is neither particularly conservative nor Republican in its methods or practices, but is rather merely interested in a constitutionally-adverse interpretation of power, and passing on indebtedness to future generations for tax cuts today. What one wonders is whether these regretful conservative and Republicans will do the morally correct thing in November, 2006, which is to hand at least one branch of the Congress to the Democrats so that they may act as a check on Bush for the remainder of his term, either by voting Democrat (which may be too much to ask, frankly), or simply by withholding their vote from Republican candidates.

But that would require Republican voters to grow spines, and let's just say I'm not optimistic about that. If the modern Republican party has succeeded in anything, it has been in transforming its members into the human equivalent of rats at the feeder bar, jamming their buttons down with the unthinking mantras of "Democrats Don't Have Values" or "The Other Guys Would Be Worse," as if much of anything could be worse than the "values" that this administration has displayed. The fact that the modern GOP can get so many of its voters to elect people whose politics are so manifestly divergent from their party's traditional positions shows where its focus truly lies, and how indoctrinated and/or uncritical modern Republican voters are. The Democrats also prize feeder-bar voters, of course. But they're not currently wrecking the joint.

Anyway, I don't want a clean sweep of Democrats; one house of Congress will be fine to take the edge off this administration. God knows it needs it. God knows we need it.

Posted by john at 05:10 PM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

April 06, 2006

Appearances, Real and Virtual

More work than time today, so rather than posting something genuinely interesting, here are two places I will be appearing within the next week, one real, the other virtual.

Real: This Friday, 4/7/06, I'm the guest at the Greenville Public Library's "Author Night," at the Montage Cafe, 527 S. Broadway Street, Greenville, OH, starting at 7:30pm and going until about nine. I'll do a reading of some sort and I understand there will also be music, too. So it should be fun. If you actually live within a couple hours of me, here's your chance to meet me without the dog biting your head because you've stepped on the property.

Virtual: This Monday, 4/10/06, I'll be the online chat guest of the Salt Lake City Public Library. The person who is co-ordinating the chat tells me it'll be at 7pm Mountain time, but the Salt Lake City Tribune says I'm supposed to be there at noon. Just to be safe I'll probably pop in at both times, but personally I would suggest the 7pm time as the right time to pop in.

For all your other stalking needs, I'll be at Penguicon later this month, and then at Wiscon. After that I have no conventions or appearances planned until LAcon IV, but I suspect I will probably try to add in at least one other convention; possibly Confluence, because it's reasonably close by. We'll see what my schedule looks like.

Posted by john at 03:11 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 05, 2006

A Musical Friendpimp

My good friend John Anderson went to South by Southwest this year and wrote about it. Since John Anderson is the sort of music fanatic who makes even those of us who have called ourselves professional music journalists look like clueless newbies, his SXSW is jam-packed with nuggety musical goodness, and when you're done reading his report, you'll be well ahead of the crowd in terms of what's going to be cool for the next year or two. Thus, you'll be able to say "What, The Cribs? Who hasn't heard of them?" to your would-be hipster friends, crushing their will to live and establishing yourself as the new music master. And that's what life's all about, friends. Yes, indeed.

Posted by john at 02:26 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Useful Books for Teenage Writers

Reader and blogger Kevin Marks asks this question in one of the comment threads, and it's something I think is worth throwing open to the general Whatever community (in other news: there is a Whatever community! Hello, you!):

I've just signed up to take over the local Teenage Writers group at a local big bookstore. The way it works is we meet once a month to read each others' work and talk about writing. The wrinkle is that each month I have to pick a helpful book for teenage writers to read, which the bookshop will stock specially. Obviously "Coffee Shop" is on the list for a future month when it's in print, but what else is worth suggesting?

First, while I'm flattered Kevin is thinking of Coffee Shop as a useful book, it's going to be a limited edition, and at $35 a pop I don't know if that's the right price point for teens. So don't worry about adding that one to the list (unless, you know, them kids are rich!).

Second, anyone have any suggestions for Kevin, here? My feeling is the book should be writing-oriented rather than simply a book with good writing, and it should be useful for teens. This is not to say it can't be a general audience book, but it should have something in it that your average, smart, writerly teen is going to find useful.

"Writing-oriented" I would think doesn't necessarily have be a "how to write" book -- it could be a book that looks at books, or a biography of a writer with commentary about his or her books, or even books that are useful toward writing well even if they are not specifically about writing (I've known a number of writers who have recommended Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a useful text for writers, for example, although I'm not sure I would be one of them).

So: Suggestions? Add them in the comment thread. I'll add my own in there to get things started.

Posted by john at 01:58 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Interview, Review

Two links of note for today:

1. An interview of me by Jeff VanderMeer, in which I reveal my true, unalloyed soul, and talk about my heretofore undescribed line of children's titles, "The Fuzzy Ferrets." You won't want to miss this.

2. A nice review of Old Man's War in January Magazine. Nice to see the book is still making the rounds with reviewers.

Posted by john at 06:21 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 04, 2006

Odd and Ends, 4/3/06

Things and Stuff:

* An interview of me on SCIFI Wire, discussing the Hugo/Campbell nominations. Come see me give love to my fellow nominees, acknowledge my underdog status, and explain how being nominated for the Hugo and Campbell in the same year is like coughing up a live frog. Because, you know, it is.

* Good news from overseas: The Ghost Brigades has been sold in China, to the same folks who bought Old Man's War. That means both books will now be available in (Simplified) Chinese, German and Russian. Neat. Of course, there will be a delay between now and then. I think the soonest any of these will be out in their respective country's bookshelves will be this summer.

* SF writer Toby Buckell has broken into the ranks of pro bloggery as editor of Healthacker.com, a Web site whose goal is "Helping Geeks Get Healthy." The first step is prying the Cheetos and Mountain Dew from their chunky little fingers, I would think. Swing by and check it out.

* The mail today brought me two things: The DVD for Aeon Flux (just in case you thought there was no downside to reviewing DVDs) and my author copies of the Science Fiction Book Club edition of The Ghost Brigades. It looks good, but there are a few subtle differences between it and the Tor version of the hardcover. For the collectors, here are the major differences: The Tor dust jacket has raised letters, while the SFBC version doesn't; the SFBC has the author picture from Old Man's War while the Tor version has a new picture, and the SFBC version of the book has a black cover while the Tor version is blue. Also, the SFBC version has a previously deleted paragraph at the end of the final chapter in which John Perry wakes up and entire of the book was just a dream, the end. Yeah, don't know how that got through.

I'm kidding about that last paragraph, of course. Or am I????!111?!??!

* The Tom DeLay thing: Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah, I'm real choked up about it. Good riddance.

* Ron Hogan is publishing outtakes from his recent Publishers Weekly cover story (w00t!) on science fiction over at GalleyCat; those outtakes include some discussion of the recent proliferation of ambitious but smaller SF houses like Pyr, and the following quote from Lou Anders, Pyr's editorial director, in reference to the NY Times' David Itzkoff's contention that science fiction is too geeky:

"I think science fiction needs to quit apologizing for not being sugar-coated, consolatory, easily-digestible pap. Science fiction is the genre that exists to examine the impact on society of technological evolution, which means, in this decade of exponential technological growth, it is poised to be the most relevant branch of literature going. You can't build a future you haven't imagined first, and if you're going to denigrate the people in our culture who have the most far-reaching imaginations, it's shooting yourself in the foot."

I've sat out the Itzkoff thing because I think Itzkoff asked the wrong question, so answering the question would simply result in further error. The question is not why science fiction is so geeky -- really, that's like asking why romance novels are so kissy -- but why SF does only a so-so job at best at trying to convince people who have the equivalent of Star Trek communicators and 17 jukeboxes in their pockets via their cell phones and iPods that science fiction can speak to them. Anders is exactly correct that SF has no need to apologize for being what it is, but it wouldn't hurt for SF from time to time to explain itself a little better to the unintiated, or more accurately, to the people who think they're the uninitiated, even as they live in a science fictional world.

This touches on what I blathered about last year regarding Science Fiction Outreach, so there's no need to retread that particular tire. But as with many things, it's reminder that asking the right questions matters.

Posted by john at 02:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 03, 2006

Award-Winning Author Cherie Priest

Take a moment to congratulate Cherie Priest for winning the inaugural Fiction Prize at the Blooker Awards -- an award given to books that started their life, in some way, as an online entity. She won it for Four & Twenty Blackbirds, which I wrote about here.

Despite a silly award name, it's a great win for her and for the book, which richly deserves the recognition. And speaking as someone whose novel went from blog to book, it's a nice reminder that quality stuff can indeed start off online. Congrats to her, and also to her editor Liz Gorinsky, who acquired the novel for Tor. Liz's reign of selecting award-winning books has started early, as you can see.

Posted by john at 04:22 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thinking About Rich and Snooty Schools

Stories like this always interest me: an article in the Washington Post about how private school tuition in the area is going through the roof -- $26,500 for St. Alban's School, which if I remember correctly is where Al Gore's kids went. Boarding rates are of course even higher: $35,000. Now apparently the same parents who used to provide these schools with donations are looking for financial aid for their kids to go there. As a reality check, the cost of going to Stanford (or so the article reports) is $33,000 -- which means that it actually costs less to go to Stanford than to be a boarder at St. Alban's.

These stories interest me partly because, as most of you know, I went to a private boarding school myself: The Webb School of California, whose tuition is even higher than St. Alban's: $37,000 for boarders (although "only" $26,285 for day students). Although it's sick of me to do so, some weird part of me takes amusement at the fact that my high school is so damned expensive. It just seems deliriously perverse to pay more for high school than for college.

On the other hand, as I've also noted before, Webb (and, no doubt, other high-end high schools) in many ways probably has better programs and facilities than some colleges: its own accredited and world-renowned paleontological museum on campus, for example, is the most obvious example of that. Also, it's the sort of place where you really do get a kick-ass education that is also not painfully irrelevant. All students have to do reading over the summer, for example, but the reading selections are actually contemporary books worth reading. This year's seniors, for example, all had to read Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, plus one or two other books from a list which includes Michael Chabon, Neal Stephenson, Vikram Seth, Susannah Clarke, Jared Diamond, David Sedaris and even ol' Bob Heinlein for their summer reading (note to self: Get on the summer reading list somehow).

The question is, of course, whether any of this is worth $35k at the high school level. It's all very nice to have a museum on campus and tell your kids to read Neal Stephenson, but then I can give my kid Cryptonomicon, and a take a weekend trip to Chicago and spend some time at the Field Museum with her, and that's going to cost nothing like the same amount. In the end, I think there are three reasons that parents are willing to pay stupid amounts of money for private school: Status, college placement, and the actual education at the school.

Status, of course, is an absolutely idiotic reason to pay through the nose for a school, but I haven't the slightest doubt that certain parents do just that. We live in a world where there are certain parents who are worried how it will look if their children don't get into the right preschool, after all; I don't doubt these same parents would rip out the spines of all who oppose them to get their kid into St. Alban's or Exeter. I feel sorry for the children of those parents, because those kids are merely another vehicle for their parents' status consciousness. The "good" news is that a lot of these kids eventually freak out and then embarrass their parents in various ways: Used to be they'd join a commune or the Peace Corps. Nowadays I suspect they just continue to live in the guest house, "strategizing" a Web 2.0 startup, which is aught-speak for "smoking a lot of pot." Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

College placement is a slightly more legitimate, and rather more practical, reason to pay a lot of money. Simply put, if you want to assure your kid gets into a respectable college or university, an expensive college prep high school is the best way to do it. Webb's "top 20" colleges where its students attend features Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Stanford and (yes) The University of Chicago as well as other top-tier colleges and universities. Chalk that up to good academics (which we'll get to in a moment) and also top-rate college counseling; when I was there the college counselor was ranked in the top ten in the country, and I suspect whoever's doing the gig now is equally clued in (this is not to say that the college counselors were universally admired by the students; to this day I have friends who believe our college counselor tubed their applications to various places). Whether the desire to get your kid into a good college is for their own sake or just a slightly delayed issue of status is, of course, another conversation entirely. But if it's really important for you to get your kid into a top 20 college or university, for whatever reason, a $35k high school might not be too much to pay.

For my money, however, the only truly legitimate reason to a ridiculous amont of money for a high school would be for the quality of the education itself. Status be damned and let the colleges take care of themselves; for $35k I'd want an education that is its own reward. I'm happy to say that when my own mother made it her mission for me to attend Webb, that was her primary concern; we were too poor to worry about status (she made less than what Webb cost back then in 1983 -- which was something like $10,000) and my mother accurately assessed that getting into college was a problem for another time. What mattered was getting her kid the best education now. And she was right, because the education I got at Webb was manifestly superior not only to the education my friends at public schools got, but also superior to the educations that friends at other private schools got. Now, some of that was just me being the little informational vacuum that I was at the time; it was entirely possible to get a bad education at Webb, and I can think of at least a couple of people who managed it. But the school was equipped to let you take advantage of it, and I and many others did.

Back in 1983, a Webb education was definitely worth ten grand, but 23 years on is it worth 37 grand? That amount outstrips inflation by a rather handy amount; 1983's $10k is worth $19k today, which means that Webb effectively costs twice today what it did when I was there, and I suspect you'd find the same amount of price increase at other top-tier high schools. Personally speaking, paying $20k for a Webb education (or its equivalent) would not be out of the question for us. Paying close to $40,000 a year for high school, however, is not a thing I'd be keen to do. Quite frankly, I'd have to be either a lot richer or a lot poorer than I am to make that work. I'd be fine with the former, not so much with the latter.

(Another option, mind you, would be to join the faculty at Webb: their kids get free tuition. Not to mention free faculty housing! Hmmmmm...)

Personally speaking, I don't suspect Webb has to worry about it too much. Like St. Alban's or Exeter, it's the sort of place where people will pay to have their kids go, period, end of sentence; really excellent schools are a perk of privilege. Even "middle class" families (which would be upper class in any formulation but this) will shuffle their finances and apply for financial aid to make it work to have their kids go to these schools. Lesser-tier high schools may find themselves scrambling for students (as the article suggests), but that's someone else's problem. What I personally worry about is that Webb, and I suspect other schools like it, which have made an effort to make sure that at least a few "underprivileged" kids got the benefit of their educations, will be in a position where their costs are so high that they'll spend their financial aid helping the "middle class" parents (which in this inflated formulation includes people like us) and leaving the genuinely underprivileged to fend for themselves.

I couldn't give a damn about status, and I'm reasonably confident that when it comes to it Athena will be able to go to a college that will be right for her. As for quality of education, well, I love my kid, but I'm not worried that her education will be lacking, even without a snooty high school. This is in part because I have a good education and am busy applying it to her; as parents we'll be happy to supplement wherever we feel her schools are a little light on things. That being the case I'd be loathe to try to send my kid to a school like Webb if doing so meant some kid who is like me back in 1983 is going to get shut out because I'm pilfering the school's financial aid. I don't suspect other parents will have the same qualms -- nor, to be sure, should they be faulted for not having them; they don't have the same sensitivities about the topic as I do.

But for my part, unless I can pay for Athena's full ride, no rich and snooty private school for her. Some other child -- one who is poor but smart, and ready to be a sponge in an environment like my high school -- needs that educational opportunity more than she does. Let's hope that in the era of the $35,000 high school, that opportunity still exists.

Posted by john at 12:25 PM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

April 02, 2006

Lightning Crashes


Bad news: Tornado watch until 4am or thereabouts.

Good news: Ginchy thunderstorm which allowed me to stupidly go out on the porch and snap off pictures until I caught some lightning. Man, I'm an idiot. The lights in the foreground, incidentally, are my neighbor's house.

Posted by john at 11:01 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Murderous Rage

Nothing makes me want to go out and strangle a cat more than writing up a long entry only to have something go horribly wrong and to lose it all while uploading. Say what you will about the typewriter age, but that, at least, never happened.

So, Adam R., rather than responding to your e-mailed question about whether I use Internet filters on Athena's computer in great and substantive length, you're going to have to settle for the super-brief response:

1. No Internet filters, because they're a stupid idea.
2. Instead we talk about what's appropriate for her to see and what's not.
3. At the moment it's not too much of an issue because currently her Internet interest is limited to a small handful of age-appropriate sites.

You'll have to trust me that the longer response was both more interesting and rather better, but since at the moment what I really want to do with my computer is to put my foot through it, this is going to have work for you for now. Sorry about that.

Posted by john at 10:26 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

TGB Review in the San Francisco Chronicle

It's the third review in the column here; Ian McDonald's River of Gods and Christoper Moore's A Dirty Job are also reviewed. Good company.

The reviewer Michael Berry gives TGB a positive review and also says, "it will be interesting to see whether Scalzi ventures into a new fictional universe with his next novel." As it happens, yes; The Android's Dream is not set in the Old Man universe at all, and neither are the books planned for after The Last Colony. It's that whole "don't want to put all of one's eggs into one basket" thing.

Posted by john at 12:54 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 01, 2006

An Interesting Thought

The Whatever averaged 15,000 unique visitors a day in March. My local newspaper, the Greenville Daily Advocate, has a daily circulation of about 6,500, and the papers of the other two neighboring cities, the Piqua Daily Call and the Troy Daily News, have circulations of about 6,000 and 9,200, respectively. It's not entirely out of line to say that I am the most widely-read purveyor of daily written content in two counties. And have been for years. And that's not even counting By the Way.

Does it mean anything? No, not really; there are all sorts of ways this is an "apple and oranges" kind of thing -- print vs online, free readership vs paid subscription, and so on and so on, finally arriving at the fact that whatever Whatever is, it's definitely not a newspaper. But it's still fun to think about.

Of course, before I get too proud, the daily circulation of the Dayton Daily News, the other local newspaper, is 126,000. I've got a ways to go before I get to that. But then, I also write for them. So that's okay.

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