« April 2006 | Main | June 2006 »

May 31, 2006

The Fermi Paradox

SFCrowsnest has a review up on Old Man's War which is mostly positive, and that's good. Yay! It also notes that the book "wantonly ignores the Fermi Paradox and offers no explanation as to why his galaxy is so densely populated with myriad alien species." For those of you not in the know, the Fermi Paradox is the idea that is best summed up as "if there is intelligent life out there, why isn't it here already?" In the particular case of OMW, I suspect the question might be better tuned as "if the universe is filled with hostile intelligent life, why aren't we dead already?"

Well, that is an interesting question, isn't it. The review is entirely correct, incidentally: I don't really explain that aspect of the story. In terms of OMW, the reason I don't explain this has to do primarily with me wanting to leave the question open a bit, because I think it's fun to let readers speculate; the question begins to be answered in The Ghost Brigades and will be more so in The Last Colony, but as I've said elsewhere about the Old Man series, in my mind the ambiguity of some aspects of the series is a feature, not a bug. I like to read what it is that readers of the series have to say about it. It's nice to live in a time when one can get out on the Internet and see reader speculation in that regard. Naturally I understand why people want answers from me rather than have that ambiguity there, but I hold the opinion that in science fiction, not everything is improved with a "logical answer." Case in point: Midichlorians.

In the really real world, I like to answer the topic of the "Fermi Paradox" with two questions of my own:

1. Why don't we have a moon base?
2. Why is there no McDonald's in my hometown?

In both cases there's no practical bar against either -- both are able to be accomplished materially, although admittedly one's easier than the other -- and yet here we are without a moon base or a McDonald's in Bradford, Ohio. Once you figure out why we don't have either of these, you know why the Fermi Paradox isn't really a paradox, and also frankly isn't really that interesting of a question. I have my own thoughts as to the answer to both questions and what it means for the Fermi Paradox, but I'll leave it open for you folks to discuss if you want.

Posted by john at 04:05 PM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

Comments

I'm fiddling with a comment plug-in. There may be comment disruption while I fiddle. If your comment disappears, don't panic -- however you might want to hold off on making important comments until I'm done fiddling. However, if you want to attempt to leave comments in this comment thread, that might be helpful. Any comment is fine for the moment.

Update: Huh, that was interesting. The plug-in sent the comments into a dusky netherworld which apparently cannot be accessed by mere mortals. I've sent that plug-in away. You may now comment normally.

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

Irony

The message in the most recent bit of spam comments attempted at the site: "You have a great site, but I'm sorry you have a lot of spam :-( ". That's not the irony. The irony is that it was all caught by my spam trap and never showed up on the site at all.

Sadly, however, if I don't do a quick checkup every couple of hours, I would have a lot of spam on my site. Vigiliance is the price we pay for a site not to suck (comment spam-wise, at least).

Posted by john at 09:08 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

May 30, 2006

Wiscon 30/06

jkswiscon30.jpg

First of all, a moment of silence for my cell phone, which apparently slipped the surly bonds of earth sometime on Saturday and hasn't been seen since. I suspect it has been bodily translated into heaven, where it will serve to take voice mail and blurry photos for the angels. If I had actually paid for the phone, I suspect I'd be truly annoyed. But since I didn't, eh. There are worse things that could happen. But this is an object example of why I can't have nice things. Because I lose them, you see.

Aside from the alien abduction of my cell phone, Wiscon was a whole lot of fun. Perhaps the best way to approach this is a series of bullet point impressions and comments

* Yes, during the Rat Bastard karaoke dance party, Ben Rosenbaum and I stripped to "You Can Leave Your Hat On." What happened was that as the song started, Lauren McLaughlin and Krissy said to me, "You should go out there and do a striptease to that song," and I said. "Well, if I'm going to do that, Ben Rosenbaum needs to do it with me." Why Ben Rosenbaum? Because when someone like, say, me, walks over casually to him and says, "Come on, Ben. Time for a strip tease," his reaction is to say "Yeah, okay." And then to do it. For the record, Ben is, like, totally hot. I, on the other hand, could stand to lose about 15 pounds. Also for the record, the nudity, while not exactly tasteful, was only from the waist up. Because neither Ben nor I is stupid.

* The salient comment about the whole stripping adventure, from, I think, Jeremy Lassen: "What was really scary about that was that you were totally sober the whole time." Why, yes. And this is exactly why you won't ever see me drunk. Because, really. God forbid. Incidentally, Jeremy Lassen's karaoke version of AC/DC's "Big Balls" immediately made it into Wiscon party history. And, I guess, so did Ben's and my show, but Jeremy didn't have to show any nipple to get there. You go, Jeremy Lassen.

* Yes, there are pictures. Several people have threatened to blackmail me with them. Since I keep demanding they send them to me so I can put them up, you can see how well that's working. Yes, I have shame. Just not in that direction.

* I had three panels at the convention, all of which, I thought, were pretty successful. The first was the "Chick Lit and Chick Flicks" panel, where I served primarily to offer thoughts about "chick films" over the years, with some anecdotal thoughts on chick lit itself. The "Does Your Baby Make You Smarter?" panel, I think was overall the best panel I was on, because fellow panelists Naomi Kritzer, Pat Cadigan and Jim Minz have smart and funny things to say on the subject, as did Kira Franz, who also went above and beyond by tracking down actual research on the panel subject and offering it up at the panel, thereby opening up whole new avenues of discussion. It's lovely when people do that. The "Naked Eye Astronomy" panel was also happily successful, with particular notice in this case going to Linda Susan Shore, who brought construction projects for everyone in the audience, and who acted as the panel's Googler, finding and exhibiting photos of some of the phenomena we were discussing in the panel.

I was the moderator on the last two panels, and let me tell you what I know about moderating: Excellent co-panelists make you look good as a moderator. These co-panelists made me look good as a moderator -- and made for excellent panels for the audience -- and I thank them for both.

* There's been a recent tradition at Wiscons that the Campbell nominees in attendance square off in a "Campbell Smackdown," and this year was no different: On Sunday Sarah Monette and I found ourselves stuffing our feet into pillowcases and having a sack race with very small sacks. This makes it rather harder, incidentally. And who won the smackdown? Well, we both did, since the race ended in a tie. We were both gracious in victory.

* One of the very nice things about Wiscon is that one meets a lot of really interesting people who are smart and clever and funny, and gets the idea that some of these folks might eventually turn out to be friends. This Wiscon I was fortunate to meet a lot of people who were mostly new to me, including Holly Black, Meg McCarron, Jeremy Lassen, Hal Duncan (who I met briefly in Scotland last year, for about five minutes, so this counts more), Veronica Schanoes, Lawrence Schimel, Mark Tiedemann, Christopher Barzak, Gary K. Wolfe (who went to the U of C), Richard Butner, Barbara Gilly, Karen Joy Fowler, Jay Lake, Geoff Ryman (who took to rubbing my head, possibly for good luck), David Schwartz (in whose company and with Richard Butner I had one of the more amusing 3am conversations I've had recently, involving both dolphin penises and the pope's home run record), Ron Serdiuk the bookseller from Australia and last but most emphatically not least, Cherie Priest, who is just a blast and a half. Plus there were all sorts of other people whose name escape me at the moment because, as you all know, I'm a moron.

That's a lot of new people to have spent at least a little of time with, while at the same time trying to see the people one already knows one likes. I think this contributes to the sensation that one sometimes gets at cons of simultaneously being happy that one gets to see so many smart, clever, funny and interesting people, and being sad that one doesn't get to see all of them enough. Hopefully I'll have more opportunities in the future to spend time with these folks, and add at least some of them to list of people I am humbled and fortunate to call friends.

* And now, what I know you've all really come for: The link to my Flickr set of pictures of Wiscon 30. Most of these were taken at Sign Out, because I'm just lazy that way, but it's a good mix of the folks who made this particular convention so very excellent. We'll be back.

Posted by john at 07:21 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

The Perfect Man

No, it's not me (the pictures of me faux-stripping at Wiscon prove that readily enough). No, it's a new short story by my friend Lauren McLaughlin, which was published in Salon today. Lauren read a portion of it yesterday at Wiscon, and it was a whole lot of fun, so I recommend you check it out. Yes, you'll have to sit through one of those Salon "ultramercials" to get at it. But you know what? It's entirely worth it, and also, it's probably not the most annoying thing you've ever done for a free read. So go!

Posted by john at 01:26 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Something to Hold You

Here's the rat bastard thunderstorm supercell that caused us and what felt like a half-million other people at O'Hare Airport so much damn trouble getting home last night. As I think I mentioned earlier, we ended up renting a car to get home; the whole report on the "getting home" thing is here.

I'll be pecking out a fuller Wiscon report later in the afternoon (short version: it was fun fun fun), but in the meantime, for your reading pleasure, let me point you in the direction of this interview with my pal and ace fantasy writer Justine Larbalestier, with whom I hung out quite a bit with at Wiscon, and also this interview with my pal and ace SF/F writer Elizabeth Bear, with whom I did not hang out with extensively at Wiscon, sadly, but the time we did have together was pure creamery goodness, I'll tell you that.

Anyway. More later.

Posted by john at 12:37 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Brain-Dead

Ended up driving home from Wiscon, which is quite a feat because we flew in. I'll have more details about that and Wiscon in general later. Probably much later, because as you might see from the timestamp, it's quite late.

If you've sent me an e-mail any time since last Thursday, it's likely you've not had a response. I'll be getting to mail today.

Posted by john at 03:17 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 28, 2006

Ping

I'm still alive, I'm just busy having fun at Wiscon. I'll be back late Monday or possibly early Tuesday.

Posted by john at 09:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 26, 2006

OMW as VG?

Here's an interesting commentary/interview with me at the video game site Gaming Target, in which the author chats about how Old Man's War would make a great video game (I agree), and then interviews me about the influence of video games on OMW (there's a little). It's an interesting commentary/interview, made extra cool because the guy who wrote the piece is named "John Scalzo." Man, that's just awesome.

Posted by john at 11:04 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Oh, Dear

dosjs.jpg

They didn't think I would post this picture. Clearly, they were wrong.

Now, I could tell you the backstory of this particular picture. But I'd so much rather hear your theories.

Photo credit (such as it is): Justine Larbalestier


Posted by john at 02:30 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

Traveling Thursday

I've got nothing for you because I'm on the road at the moment. So, here, have an open thread.

To get things started: Hey, how about those Enron court decisions?

Posted by john at 03:06 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

When Reviews Happen

I meant to write this up yesterday but didn't; it's a question from Lars, from the entry about my review in the San Antonio Express-News:

Hi John, whenever you mention a review it always gets me wondering about the reviewing process in general. Do books like yours usually just encounter a few waves of press after publication, or is it an ongoing process? Are you still getting as many reviews for OMW as you are for TGB? I was just wondering if you could give me a bird's eye view on it.

My experience in this regard has been like this, in terms of my novels:

Prior to publication date: Reviews from trade mags (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus, etc)

At or immediately after publication date: short-lead magazines (like Entertainment Weekly) and newspapers, SF reviewing Web sites

Within several months of publication date: long-lead magazines (most of the science fiction monthlies), SF reviewing Web sites

Whenever: Personal Web sites. "Whenever" in this case means anywhere from at or near publication date to a number of years later, depending on whenever that person gets around to the book.

In my experience, the window for newspapers and large magazines to review your book is fairly small, because they tend to focus on new releases and also because there's always something new being released. One of the nice things about the San Antonio review is that it comes even after The Ghost Brigades has been out for four months. Why a review came so relatively late in a major newspaper could be because of a number of reasons: The reviewer could have been particularly fired-up about the book, for example, or it may be, inasmuch as SF is not hugely reviewed in newspapers in any event, some allowances were made. Whatever the reason, I'm happy. The Express-News' Sunday circulation is 350,000. It's nice to get in front of that many people.

Old Man's War has had a slightly unusual review "life" in that it popped up some additional newspaper reviews when it hit trade paperback, and the Hugo nomination has also put it back into the spotlight. The Ghost Brigades, as far as I can tell, has had a fairly standard review life. One nice thing is that it's been reasonably well-reviewed in the non-SF media despite being a sequel, (indeed, at this point it's been more extensively reviewed in the non-SF media then in it, although that might be a factor of longer lead times) and sequels are to my understanding somewhat less likely to be reviewed. I suspect it certainly did help in that case that most the reviews of Old Man's War were positive ones, so the same reviewers were more likely to revisit the universe a second time. Ghost's reviews were also generally positive, so I think that bodes well for The Android's Dream getting coverage. But you never know. Publishing can be capricious and cruel.

It's worth mentioning, incidentally, that I've been very fortunate that the books have been reviewed at all in the mainstream press. There are several hundred science fiction novels released each year, the majority of which will get one or two print/mainstream reviews if they get any at all. In this regard they are like every other sort of book out there. I can speak to this with some experience, since I currently have six other books out there aside from OME and TGB, and combined those books have gotten six and a quarter reviews in the print media (the quarter review is of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, which was reviewed with three other books in its series). As far as I know, neither The Book of the Dumb or its sequel have been reviewed at all. Ironically, they are my best-selling books. Admittedly, when an entire book can be described in one sentence -- "makes fun of stupid people doing stupid things" -- there's really no reason it should get any reviews. Nevertheless, no reviews or just one or two is par for the course.

Of the types of reviews noted above, it's difficult to say which matter more. Is a review in the San Antonio News-Express, Sunday circulation 350k, more useful than a review from, say, Fantasy & Science Fiction, whose circulation is 26k? The News-Express gets to more people, but we know that every subscriber of F&SF magazine is a science fiction reader, almost by definition. Or is it better to get a good review from Instapundit, who gets 120k readers a day, most of whom probably aren't SF readers but at least some of whom (anecdotally speaking) seem willing to take a chance on a book on his recommendation? Or from Boing Boing, with 250k a day? I have my own thoughts on the matter, based on personal experience, but I don't know if my anecdotal experience would be useful or accurate for others. It's probably safe to say that a good range of reviews from all sorts of places can be useful.

Leaving behind the print media and the high-traffic Web sites, I think that discussions of books on personal Web sites and also SF-enthusiast sites are very important in a "long tail" sense. Someone writing about OMW or TGB on their blog or LiveJournal is the equivalent of a personal recommendation (or pan) of the book to the friends who read that blog; it's handselling the book in a small audience, and in aggregate I think that adds up. And as personal sites get to the books when they get to them, it keeps the book in circulation, as it were. These are not the reviews that Tor is going to slap on the book cover (that honor goes to the print media), but in aggregate I suspect they can be just as important over the long run of a book. Likewise, I think Amazon reviews can be important aggregate handsellers, so long as the reviews are actually cogent (which is sometimes the case, sometimes not).

Coming back to pro criticism and reviews, I've been fortunate that most of the reviews that I've gotten have been pretty good, but I don't pretend that I will live in this sort of blessed state forever. Inevitably something I write will clang against the general critical rim for whatever reason, whether it's because people gotten used to what I write and how and the bloom is off the rose, or because someone decides that it's time to pick a fight (critics do that from time to time, sometimes for cause, sometimes not), or because (yikes) I genuinely write a clunker.

What can you do? Not a thing -- except in that last case, in which case you try to make sure your next book doesn't suck. But speaking as someone who has been a professional critic for a decade and a half -- as someone who has made a pretty darn comfortable living passing judgement on other people's critical endeavors -- I'm here to tell you that the only worse thing you can do than worry too about what critics think is to attempt to write to please critics, particularly the professional sort. That's folly, pure and simple, if only because there are simply too many critics to be able to please all of them. My philosophy is that I write a book I want to read, and if critics hate it, at least I have a book I like. Fortunately, my personal taste in SF seems to be of the saleable sort, so that's nice.

Also, when it comes down to it, I'm not particularly intimidated by professional critics, which is helpful when it comes to putting reviews in perspective. That's partly because, as noted, I am one, so the methods and manners of criticism and reviewing are not unknown to me; it's partly because, frankly, I can't be outsnobbed. I have a degree in philosophy of language from the University of Chicago and had Saul Bellow as my thesis advisor, at least until I dumped him to do something else. Any critic who thinks he can snob up on me can kiss my pompus ass. It takes a lot to impress me, is all I'm saying. And as long as I'm happy with what I write, people can say what they want to say.

Now, I realize not every writer comes to the game with my level of rampant egotism baked in, but the point is that critics are not people to be scared of or intimidated by; they're just people with opinions, and hopefully are not too stuffed-shirt serious about them. The good news is that most critics and reviewers aren't (and don't want to be) irritating lit pricks; they're largely people who like to share their enthusiasm of good stories with other people who are looking for good stories. Sometimes they'll like what you do, sometimes they won't. That's how it goes.

So that's the basics on reviews.

Posted by john at 09:18 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Julia Spencer-Fleming Interview on By The Way

This week I interviewed multiple-award-winning mystery author Julia Spencer-Fleming over at By The Way. If you don't go over and read the interview, you'll always regret it. Always. Also, her latest novel To Darkness and to Death is about to come out in paperback. If you don't go and buy it, you will also always regret it. Always. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

I won't be doing an author interview next Wednesday on account of I'm going to be busy the next several days doing whatever it is I'll be doing at Wiscon (mostly hanging out in the Governor's Lounge and watching other people get tanked), but we'll be back on schedule after that. And yes, I do mean to get a schedule of authors who are to be interviewed out. But, you know. Distracted by shiny bits of foil and all that.

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

Help Me Build a FAQ

I'm thinking of putting together an FAQ for me and for this site, because I find I'm answering a lot of the same questions over and over and I'd like to have one central document to point people to.

Wanna help me out? Here are the questions I know I'm going to have so far (I'm not going to write the answers yet). If there are other questions you think I should have on the FAQ, let me know.

Note: For this, real and useful questions, please. We can put together a FASQ ("frequently asked silly questions") document some other time. But I'd like the FAQ to actually be helpful. It doesn't even have to be a question you think is frequently asked, just one that would be good to have in a document like this.

Here are the questions I've got, in no particular order:

1. Who is John Scalzi?
2. What books have you written?
3. What else do you write?
4. Will you read my manuscript/unpublished story?
5. Can I link to your site/an entry?
6. Will you introduce me to your agent?
7. Can I send a book for you to sign?
8. How did you get published?
9. Will you link to my site?
10. If I tell you my story idea, will you write it and we can both get credit?

Any more questions which you think I should be answering in a John Scalzi/Scalzi.com FAQ?

Posted by john at 12:17 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

May 23, 2006

Word 2007 Beta -- Shiny!

word07a.jpg

Ooooh, pretty. I managed to snag the Office 2007 Beta today and have been playing around with it a bit, which is to say I've been playing around with Word 2007 because I couldn't really give a crap about the rest of the Office suite. So far: Very pretty. I'll be fiddling with some of the functionality soon to see what I think of it, but as I've always been partial to MS Word, I don't expect I'll be terribly displeased. I can say at this point that a) I really like the new organizational structure of the features up at the top (the tabs mean you don't have to drill down through several hundred menus to find functionality), and b) I sure hope MS improves its"Publish to Blog" feature, because right now it stinks; I can't get it to play with the Whatever, which is a tragedy, or even with LiveJournal, which it's supposed to be able to do. It has seamless integration with MSN Spaces, however. Yeah, I'm gonna get right on that.

If Word 2007 pans out, it'll make the case for me returning to my PC for my book writing. I switched over to the Mac to write The Ghost Brigades -- indeed, I rationalized my Mac purchase by saying to myself and my wife that novel writing was what the Mac was for -- but I've been less than overwhelmed by the word processing choices on that side of the computing gulf. Pages is pretty but functionally something of a disappointment for me, and OpenOffice for the Mac is alternately distractingly ugly, clunky or buggy. I could have bought Word for the Mac, but I'd already spent money on Pages. What I ended up doing was writing TGB in TextEdit and porting it over to Word 2000 on my PC for formatting when I was done writing. The book was good, mind you, but overall it was a less than optimal writing experience. As I said, we'll have to see what I think of this new iteration of Word. This beta will function through February 2007, which I assure will be more than enough time to complete The Last Colony (because if it's not, Patrick Nielsen Hayden will wring my lousy neck -- and he would be right to do it).

Incidentally, if you look closely at the picture here, it will appear as if you are looking at the first page of The Last Colony. However, in fact, you're not. What you're looking at is a previous, cast-off version of the first chapter of The Last Colony, which I abandoned because it sucked; the characters in the chapter got away from me and started babbling with stentorian gravity, and I had to knock that crap off straight away. In fact, there are five or six versions of the opening chapter, all at various levels of completion, that I have tucked away and which you will never see because they are God-awful -- which is not even counting an entire earlier iteration of The Last Colony, featuring a major character you will now never know, because I threw him down a well after I wrote three chapters of the guy and realized I couldn't stand him, and if I couldn't stand him, what chance did the rest of you have? So now he's dying a miserable death at the bottom of a well, and no one can hear him cry for help. Well, I can. But I assure you, he deserved it, and I'm leaving him for the rats.

The good news is that now The Last Colony has an opening chapter I like quite a bit, and with that out of the way the writing is coming along quite nicely, thank you. And I've learned that beginnings can be tricky for me (interestingly, I had nearly the same problem with The Ghost Brigades), but once I've got that sorted out, things typically run smoothly. At least this is what I'm telling myself. If you wish to contradict me on this matter, I have a well on my property I'd like you to see.

Of course, maybe the problem was the I wrote them on the Mac. Without MS Word. Hmmmmmm.

Posted by john at 04:12 PM | Comments (68) | TrackBack

When Birds Attack Patio Doors

birdie0523a.jpg

This cardinal has been attacking the back patio door all day long. I was wondering what the hell was up with that (and indeed, created a poll on the subject, which you may vote on here), when it was explained to me by the guy who delivers meat and dessert products to my door: Cardinals are territorial and this one has probably seen his reflection in the window and thought it was another cardinal. To which my response was: That's a pretty dumb bird. But, I don't know. Maybe it's getting some sort of birdie satisfaction out of it. I know the cats have been fascinated by the show.

Posted by john at 03:12 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

The Other Campbell Award

The finalist list for the John W. Campbell award is up, and congrats for my fellow 2006 Hugoites Charlie Stross, Ken MacLeod and Robert Charles Wilson for having their books make the final cut. The winner will be announced in July.

This Campbell award is not the Campbell award I'm up for; the former is a jury-awarded prize for the best SF novel of the year, while the latter is a fan-voted award for the best new SF writer. Oddly enough, I think both awards were started in the same year (1973; the winners for each were Beyond Apollo and Jerry Pournelle). Why two awards with the same name honoring the same field were begun in the same year is a good question (well, not really: John W. Campbell died not long before), but it certainly makes for fun cocktail conversation at SF shindigs.

Posted by john at 12:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 22, 2006

We're Ruled By Morons, Part the Infinite

Oh, for an Attorney General who can actually understand the Bill of Rights:

The government has the legal authority to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday...
Mr. Gonzales said that the administration promoted and respected the right of the press that is protected under the First Amendment. "But it can't be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity," he said. "And so those two principles have to be accommodated."

Now, let's go to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Hmmm. It says no law abridging the freedom of the press. It doesn't say, "no law abridging the freedom of the press, unless Attorney General Alberto Gonzales somehow loses the ability to parse unambiguous subordinate clauses in the Bill of Rights and says that there is." Funny about that.

I think I've noted before that January 2009 can't come soon enough. Let me reiterate that idea here now. My dog apparently has a better grasp of the rights of the press under the Constitution than does our nation's top law enforcement officer. It's not too much to ask for an Attorney General who knows our Constitution better than one of my domestic quadrupeds.

Posted by john at 01:42 PM | Comments (104) | TrackBack

A Musical Dichotomy

Finally got a chance to catch the Eurovision performance of Finnish band Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah," which won that particular musical contest, proving without a doubt -- if there still was one -- that This is Spinal Tap was not comedy, it was prophecy.

To clean your brain, here's Petra Haden's lovely acapella version of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." You'll need it.

Posted by john at 12:34 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Ghost Brigades Review in the San Antonio Express-News

And it's a pretty good one:

In Heinleinesque fashion, the book is loaded with scenes of comradeship, isolation, ruthlessness and the protocols, which govern the lives of active-duty soldiers. But this is where Scalzi, famous for his blog "The Whatever," surpasses Heinlein. Scalzi weaves in subtle discussions of humanity's growing fear of aging and our simultaneous attraction and repulsion to the Frankensteinlike creatures we are able to create.

The reviewer also takes a nice long time exploring the political structure of the Colonial Union and coming to some interesting conclusions about it, some of which are relevant to the previous discussion of Old Man's War that we had with Nick Whyte here (and which fellow writer Naomi Kritzer followed up on her LiveJournal here). I personally think it's delightful that a mainstream newspaper gave up a truly healthy number of column inches to a science fiction book review; that it's a really thoughtful review is a nice bonus (and that it's positive review is the cherry on the top). So good on you, San Antonio Express-News, and Aïssatou Sidimé.

Also, in other news, I am apparently famous for the Whatever. Excellent. My plans for world domination via sloth continue apace.

Posted by john at 11:58 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

May 21, 2006

Pictures from the Scalzi Compound

Because I've been too busy writing The Last Colony to write something here today. Today's scene involved a sorghum field! Aren't you excited.

Posted by john at 10:27 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Justice and the Religious Right

The Washington Post has a piece today on the rising fortunes of the religious left, but reading the piece I think the authors of the piece have gotten it wrong. The people profiled in the piece aren't necessarily left, they're just not part of the religious right, which at this point is a fairly well-defined segment of the population that is better defined by its political goals than its relationship with either God or Christianity.

Being opposed to the political agenda of the religious right does not mean, by default, that you are a lefty; I suspect there are number of people who would classify themselves as conservative and/or Republican who are also squicked out by the religious right. You don't have to be a heathen liberal to be annoyed with movement that frowns on a vaccine that can help women avoid cervical cancer on the grounds that it may give teenage girls the idea that it's okay to have sex (because, of course, that's how young girls think when they think about vaccines). Branding religious people opposed to the religious right's agenda as "left" is part of that lazy binary thing people here in the US have going, and I suspect that the Washington Post reporters should have been a bit smarter than that.

I don't see the religious schism as a right/left or conservative/liberal one, anyway. To me, what it appears to be is a schism between those religious people who are concerned with justice, and those who are concerned with power. The contemporary religious right is tremendously politically powerful, but it is almost wholly unconcerned about justice -- it has political and social policies that explicitly abandon or punish those who do not share its worldview, and it has a worldview which is not notably compassionate or charitable, so that leaves out quite a lot. Promoting a discriminatory agenda, promoting ignorance in public education and promoting one's religion above all others in the political arena is not justice in any moral sense of the word.

I think many of the religious people who are rebelling against the religious right's agenda are doing so because they see the lack of justice in it; a lack of the charity and compassion and love that is explicit in the message of Christianity, for one, and in most other religions as well. And it's not about political positions, per se. One may believe abortion is wrong, but be opposed to a political agenda that explicitly denies to the poor the access to family planning that the middle and upper classes have as a matter of course. One may believe that homosexuality is morally wrong but be opposed to the political agenda that works to have gay Americans permanently branded as second class citizens.

One may believe that one's religion is the true path to everlasting redemption but be opposed to the political agenda that promotes the religion (or one particular variant of it) as public policy rather than letting the good works of the religion and those who follow it speak for themselves. One may believe in the presence of God at the creation of all things and oppose the political agenda that would prefer children be uneducated than to learn things that might be at odds with a superficial understanding of the miracle of God's works. One may believe all the things that those who are in the religious right believe, and also that justice does not include division, discrimination, ignorance and coercion.

One of the great things about American religion in the 20th Century is that it was a critical avenue for justice, most prominently in the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s. Since the 1980s, I think it's been that the most public face of religion in America has been one that has not been concerned about justice. 25 years is long enough for that particular face. I would be happy to see a different one, and I'm happy that more and more of my religious brothers and sisters seem ready to show it.

Posted by john at 12:28 PM | Comments (91) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

Two More Motivational Posters

Yeah, I'm having too much fun with this.

futility0519a.jpg


That's it for me today. You all drive home safely, now.

Posted by john at 06:55 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Professionally Photographed

Ooooooh. A week ago, Official US Playstation Magazine paid for a photographer to come out and take pictures of me, an event I thought auspicious for two reasons: One, it suggested OPM wasn't going to dump me from its roster any time soon, because if they were, why would they pay someone to photograph me, and two, hey, professional photos of me! Neat.

Now the photographer has posted some of the pictures from that session, and I think you should all go over to the photoset and see how much better I look when someone who actually knows what she's doing is snapping the photos. There are several there that make me look like an actual author type, and, of course, me being me, a couple that don't. Knowing the perverse nature of the OPM folks, I'd guess they'd probably pick one of the latter. Maybe I can get Tor to pick up one of the former.

Incidentally, allow me to take a moment to recommend the photographer in question, E. Hardesty of E Hardesty Photography. Not only did she take really excellent pictures of me (a feat in itself), and was a lot of fun to take pictures with, but before she came to shoot me, she read up on me and planned accordingly and brought me pie. And not just any pie -- truly excellent sweet potato pie. Man, she had me at "hello." She could have suggested that rubbing red-hot charcoal bricquettes on my face would make a better picture and I would have done it.

In any event, if you're in Ohio and need portraits, or wedding photography or any other sort of photo needs, now you know who I suggest you contact. I can't promise she'll bring you pie, but I can say I expect she'll make you look good.

Posted by john at 02:00 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Wiscon Schedule

I'll be at the Wiscon science fiction and fantasy convention next weekend, and if you want to see me blather on endlessly in a place other than the Governor's Lounge, this is where to do it:

Saturday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. in Conference Room 5
Chick Lit and Chick Flicks—Legitimate Genres or Marketing Ghettos?

"Chick Lit" and "Chick Flicks" are terms that are thrown around a lot in advertising and other media and are often used negatively. Are there any legitimate uses of the terms? Is this just another way for a male–dominated society to disparage works that address the lives and concerns of women?

Panelists: John M. Scalzi, Linda McAllister, BC Holmes, Alma Alexander, Lee Abuabara

Notes: I'm on this panel, I imagine, because of my film background, and because you should have at least one guy on a panel like this, and this time it gets to be me.


Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. in Conference Room 5
Does Your Baby Make You Smarter?

The needs of small children can hinder creative production. On the other hand, they can show us new ways to look at the world and ourselves.

Panelists: John M. Scalzi, James F. Minz, Naomi Kritzer, Kira Franz, Pat Cadigan

Notes: Being the stay-at-home parent in our family, I naturally think this is a good fit for me. I'll be moderating this panel.


Sunday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. in Senate A
Naked–Eye Astronomy

For most of history, what people knew of the skies was what they could see with their own eyes—but many of them knew there were patterns in what they were seeing. (Asimov said that science grew out of the need to predict eclipses.) What can we see without instruments (maybe allowing binoculars) and without driving for hours to get away from artificial light? Planets, meteor showers, comets, artificial satellites—and where to find out about them.

Panelists: George Zebrowski, Linda Susan Shore, John M. Scalzi, Chip Hitchcock

Notes: Neat! This could be a lot of fun. I'll be moderating this one as well.

Aside from this I will be doing the usual "float about in the lobby, panels and parties" thing. If you see me, be sure to say hello.

Posted by john at 01:21 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Why I Don't Get Hired to Write Motivational Posters

That about sums it up.

Oh, and look, I made another one:

(You can make your own "motivational poster" here.)

Posted by john at 08:21 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 18, 2006

Postcards from the Edge (or from Kokomo)

omwpostcardjpg.jpg

This is how you make an author feel appreciated: mail out a bunch of nicely-designed postcards letting people know he'll be dropping by your store in a couple of weeks. And then you also mail a postcard to the author himself, just in case, uh, he's forgetful or anything. Very helpful.

I mean, look -- they tried to match fonts and everything! That just makes me feel shiny.

And, also, all you folks in Indiana: I'll be making an appearance at Don's Books in Kokomo on Saturday, June 10, from noon until 2 p.m. I'll be signing books and possibly doing a reading or some other thing to justify traveling 113 miles to get there (Google Maps is under the impression that I'll need 3 hours to drive 113 miles. Silly, silly Google Maps). At the moment this is my only planned appearance in Indiana, so if you want to see me, to have me sign a book or just to serve me legal documents of one sort or another, this will be the time and place to do it.

Posted by john at 03:17 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

An Illustration for Subterranean Magazine

saganill.jpg

The Scalzi-edited edition of Subterranean Magazine is getting tantalizingly close to print, and I've been authorized to tease you with the above super-fabulous illustration by Bob Eggleton, for the Nick Sagan story "Tees and Sympathy," which is also super-fabulous, and very funny. The closer this thing gets to being done, the more excited I get about it. This magazine is going to look great. I can't wait for you all to see it.

Which brings me to the other point, which is that Subterranean publisher Bill Schafer informs me that thanks to magical advances in print technology which allow for pin-point printing accuracy (or something), the print run of this issue of the magazine will be very close to the number of issues needed for subscribers, pre-orders and in-store copies. So the best way to make sure you get your copy is to pre-order now.

< huckster >

Yes, that's right! For just $6 you'll get great stories by Allen Steele, Elizabeth Bear, Jo Walton, Charles Coleman Finlay, Toby Buckell and more than a dozen other fabulous writers, including four writers making their SF debuts, because we believe in keeping the dream alive, yo. Plus awesome illustrations by Bob Eggleton, non-fiction by John Joseph Adams and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, book reviews, and, uh, magnificent typography. Plus it's a historical document: The only science fiction magazine ever guest-edited by a simultaneous Best Novel Hugo and Campbell nominee (NB: This last assertion not fact-checked. But it sure sounds good). Theoretically it's possible to get a better entertainment value for your six bucks than the 20 stories and articles you'll find in this issue. However, theoretically it's possible that the sun could turn into a massive shrimp puff. But how likely is it? You see where I'm going, here. What I'm saying is that this could be the best and most important $6 you will ever spend in your entire life.

< /huckster >

Seriously, though. It's a good issue. I hope you'll check it out.

Posted by john at 08:56 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Testing Something (Again)

I'm checking to see if this works. Let me know if you can see it or if it causes you problems pulling up the page.

Update: Okay, I've pulled it. Seems like it runs automatically rather than waiting for you to run it, and I don't see why you would want that.

(This is what it is, incidentally -- a video of me and Athena doing the "Mentos+Coke" thing via AOL's new UnCut Video beta.)

I'll fiddle with it some more and see where it gets me.

Posted by john at 08:25 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 17, 2006

When Authors Respond!

Blogger Susan Flemming, partially in response to my recent chatting up of Nick Whyte on Old Man's War, had this to say:

I had always thought that there was an unspoken but universally understood principle of author etiquette that went something like this: An author should never respond to a negative review of their book.

The immediate response to this is that if authors didn't, how would we ever have any entertaining feuds? Also, that no one ever told Anne Rice this little bit of information, as anyone who read her slagging of Amazon reviewers knows. This principle may or may not be universally understood among writers, but it's definitely not universally followed.

Having said that, I think Ms. Flemming misunderstands my response to Nick Whyte. I wasn't responding to his negative review; he has a perfect right to his opinion and a perfect right to share it with whomever he chooses. I neither tried to convince him to change his opinion or beat on him for having it because, really, what's the point. He didn't like the book. Fine. It's not the end of the world.

What I responded to -- and what I saw as perfectly fair game for a response -- was his erronenous set of assumptions about my personal politics, based on what he read in the book. Which is to say that I don't really mind if he doesn't like my book, I just want to make sure he doesn't dislike my book on bad premises. And as it happens, he still doesn't like the book much, it's just now he doesn't like the book for a better set of reasons. Naturally, I see this as a positive advance in the state of things.

Responding to negative reviews because they're negative is a waste of mental energy because it basically means you haven't internalized the simple unavoidable fact that no matter who you are, someone somewhere isn't going to like your book. Responding on that basis makes you look like an idiot, and it makes you look like an idiot in public (cf. Anne Rice). I have no problem with the fact not everyone is going to like what I write, because, hell, even I don't like everything I write (you folks don't get to see that writing; if it's been published you may assume I like it just fine). I've seen a fair number of negative reviews of my writing online, and while I note they exist, I don't generally respond. I've seen a number of positive reviews as well, and generally I don't respond to those either.

However, it doesn't mean authors are bound to a vow of silence when there's something of interest in the review, apart from the "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" aspect of it. In the case of Nick Whyte, his assumption of my politics was worth commenting on, in my opinion. Last year a reviewer for Fantasy & Science Fiction dinged Old Man's War as part of a larger point he wanted to make about American SF versus British SF; I thought that larger point was crap and wasn't shy in saying so. It's not just negative reviews I comment on in this way; I'll often use positive reviews as a springboard to talk about other issues as well. But I'm not going to avoid talking about stuff that interests me simply because the review is negative. That's just silly.

Now, if I'm responding to review or criticism of a book anywhere other than here, I do consider whether responding is appropriate, based on what I know about the person with the criticism. In the particular case of Nick Whyte, I figured I was on safe ground -- I've been reading his LiveJournal for a while via Patrick Nielsen Hayden's LJ friends list and I believed that he was a well-read and thoughtful person who would respond well to a polite discussion of the topics he brought up. And indeed that's exactly what happened. I'm likewise pleased (but not surprised) that the people who joined in on the chat both here and on Nick Whyte's site largely comported themselves as we did. See, this is what happens when grown-ups talk: You can get something useful out of it.

As noted before, I neither want nor see a need to talk people out of their opinions of my books. That's not my job, and if it were I'd quit, because that's a friggin' miserable gig. But if there's something else that's interesting in what someone's saying about my book, I may add my own thoughts on the matter. That's reasonable, and more than that, sometimes it's fun. And that's a good enough excuse in itself.

Posted by john at 05:01 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Rock Kills Kid

One of the nice things about being in one's mid-30s is that there's now a bunch of young bands who think it's the neatest damn thing to sound just like all the bands from 1983. Case in point: Rock Kills Kid, whose album Are you Nervous? sounds like the boys in the band were fed a diet of only the purest early 80s KROQ bands. Indeed, "Hideaway" (which you can hear at the first link there) is just like unearthing some lost cut from the Valley Girl soundtrack, and "Raise Your Hands" is arguably the best approximation of War-era U2 since The Alarm totally chucked its own musical personality to become U2-too.

The gleeful pressing of pleasure centers this album provides is evidence (if there was any needed) that we continue to love what we loved as teens, even when we're old enough to pretend to know better (This is why I'm a sucker for The Killers, too, who RKK shamelessly apes in their first single "Paralyzed"). I suppose one could criticize RKK for not exactly having its own musical personality, and thus the album as a whole lacks cohesion. But, really. Ask me if I care. It's like a smorgasbord of all my teenage 12-inch extended singles. The only problem with this album from my point of view is that it came out a year too soon, because it would be perfect for me to take to my 20-year high school reunion next year.

Of course, the real problem here is that we're only a couple years away from a Hair Metal revival. Gird your loins now.

Posted by john at 12:16 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Wednesday Author Inteview: Nick Sagan

My good friend Nick Sagan has sat for an interview with me, in which we talk about diseases, gold records (of a different sort), and about the differences in writing novels and writing screenplays. It's good stuff and you should go read it now.

Also, you should get Nick's latest book Everfree, which is in stores tomorrow (which means it's probably in stores today if you look). It's the conclusion of Nick's Idlewild trilogy of books, which I have admired since the first book came out in 2003. This book is getting a lot of really excellent press, all of which is entirely deserved, since the book hits the emotional and story nails right flat smack on the head. I love that my friends write so damn well.

Reminder to authors that you too can participate in the orgy of gratifying self-promotion with these interviews -- get the details here. I will soon (heh) put up a schedule of the slots I have open and the slots I have filled through the year, in order to help those of you with books coming out figure out when to pester me.

Posted by john at 09:09 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 16, 2006

Blast from the Past: Flaming Babies!

Because I'm feeling lazy today, I've decided to raid my vast store of writing that's not on the Scalzi.com site anymore and feed it to you, because, really, it's not like 90% of you have ever seen it before. So without further elaboration, here's an article I wrote while I was writing humor columns for America Online, about 10 years ago. It's about baby poop. I can tell you're excited already.

---
Flaming Babies!


My friends Lisa and Michael gave birth to their first child last week (actually, Lisa did the birth-giving while Michael participated in a less active advisory role), and although I'm sure they didn't plan it this way, their blessed event was well-timed with another baby-related milestone: last week, the disposable diaper celebrated its 35th anniversary.

The disposable diaper was created by Vic Mills, a chemical engineer at Procter & Gamble. In 1961, Mills was apparently sufficiently turned off at the prospect of changing his granddaughter's poopy cloth diapers that he created the disposable diaper as an alternative. This created what would eventually become the Pampers brand of diaper and proved, once again, that the greatest engine of invention in Western Civiliztion is man's single-minded determination to avoid real work. Mills went on from Pampers to work with Jif peanut butter and Pringles potato chips. Presumably he washed his hands first.

Procter & Gamble now maintains that 94% of today's parents use disposable diapers exclusively. This is good news for Procter & Gamble and Kimberly - Clark (which makes Pampers competitor Huggies), whose brands between them account for two thirds of all disposable diaper sales in the U.S. But I found that figure mildly disturbing, because of an event that occured with a disposable diaper during my own diaper-wearing days.

What happened was, I was wearing a diaper and I decided that it wasn't the sort of lifestyle choice I wanted at the time. Showing a sort of manual dexterity that would soon abandon me to a childhood of nearly lethal clumsiness, I managed to disengage the diaper from my body and, after smearing some of the contents on a nearby wall (an action which, unbeknownst to me at the time, qualified me for an NEA grant), I placed the diaper on a dresser near my crib. Sometime thereafter, the diaper exploded in flame. Fortunately, mom happened to be nearby and the situation was handled before major property damage occured. I also survived.

To this day, we don't know exactly what caused the diaper to spontaneously combust (the best guesses are that sunlight hitting the contents heated them to ignition point, or that mom had been feeding me the Gerber Mashed Habanero Chile Dinner). Since then, however, I've wondered if Spontaneous Disposable Diaper Combustion happens with any frequency. Since my friends are now reproducing, and it's likely that I and my wife will do so in the next few years, I wanted to get this settled now.

So I called Procter and Gamble's Pampers hotline and told them my flaming diaper story.

"That's highly unusual," the Pampers hotline lady said, in the careful tone of voice that they're probably trained to use whenever they're dealing with a nut case. "Did your mother contact the diaper manufacturer at the time?" she asked.

Immediately I got an image of my mother as a young woman, crackling diaper in one hand, a phone in the other, trying to get through before the flames burned through the diaper and started charring her fingers. Meanwhile, she's put on hold and made to listen to "Mandy."

I admitted to the Pampers hotline lady that I don't think my mother thought about it at the time. "Well," the Pampers lady said, "We've been making diapers for 35 years and this is the first time I've heard of this. It's bizzare." To double-check, we went through the ingredients that make a modern disposable diaper: polypropylene fabric, wood pulp, a special polymer gel. The back sheet is polyethelyne, and the leg elastics, synthetic rubber.

"None of which have been known to spontaneously combust," I prompted.

"No, sir," The Pampers lady assured me. I got another mental image, this time of Procter & Gamble research scientists, dressed in asbestos suits, schottzing napalm through a flamethrower at a disposable diaper. The diaper lies on pedestal, impervious to flame, inclining slightly towards the scientists as if to say "Have you SEEN what comes out of a baby? Have you?!? This is nothing!"

The lady who answered the line at Kimberly - Clark also maintained that her company had no spantaneously combusting disposable diaper stories. "It's definitely an unusual story," The Huggies lady said, mirroring almost exactly in words and tone what the Pampers lady said (did the Pampers lady call ahead to warn the Huggies lady? Is there some sort of weird diaper lady cabal? My suspicions, though well-founded, went unanswered). However, the Huggies lady did allow that a diaper could, theoretically, catch flame if it were placed too close to a "heat source."

What kind of heat source? "Like an open pit fire," the Huggies lady suggested.

Parents, if you were thinking of gently toasting your disposable diapers on a Homecoming bonfire to give them that comfy, hot-from-the-dryer feeling, don't. And if you've already begun, stop now. Nothing good can come from it. We have it on authority from the Huggies lady herself.

In the main, it appears that our national supply of disposable diapers is as safe from spontaneous combustion as it has ever been in its 35 year history. The only threat from a disposable diaper is the same threat that helped create the disposable diaper in the first place: what your own little angel puts in it.


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

Riding the 404 Express

While the site is up, a quick note: My host for Scalzi.com appears to be having some issues with some of its Linux servers today, including the one this site is on. So the site has been down intermittently today. Presumably they will get this fixed, but if you drop by and you can't see the site, well, now you know why.

(Not that you'll be able to see this if the site is down, right? Wrong! Because so many of you clever, clever people have the Whatever on your RSS feeds.)

Anyway, if the site is down, don't panic. It'll be back. I'm not being DoSed or anything.

This is of course a fine reminder for me to backup the Whatever. I usually do this by simply saving the monthly archive html pages, but isn't there a program that will save the complete site for me automatically? If there is, someone let me know what it is, please.

Posted by john at 01:54 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

May 15, 2006

House for Rent

vahome0515.jpg

The renters at our house in Sterling, Virginia are heading off to retirement, which means that the house will be available for rental as of July 1. Naturally we plan to put an ad in the Washington Post, etc, but I thought I'd mention it here as well, for those of you in the Washington DC area (or those of you who know people in the Washington, DC area) who may be looking for a rental.

Here are the details on the house:

Location: Sterling, VA (20164)

* 3 bedrooms (master bedroom is 22x12)
* 2.5 baths
* Living room is 14 X 14
* Dining room is 10 X 11
* Family room is 19 X 12
* Kitchen is 16 X 12
* Basement level includes three additional finished rooms plus full bath plus very large workshop
* Washer/Dryer, Microwave, Dishwasher and of course standard oven and fridge
* Air conditioning/heater plus vent fan
* Carpeted floors with hardwood hallway (kitchen is tiled)
* Working fireplace
* Located on family-friendly cul-de-sac (with good neighbors)
* Close to Rt. 7 and Toll Road
* Pets okay with additional deposit

The lot is small (.11 acre) but the back opens up on a .33 acre "common area" that effectively belongs to the house (you can't get to it except by going onto the property), so the back yard is pretty nicely sized.

Rent: $2,000 (plus $2k deposit); year-to-year lease. No subletting. Renter pays utilities; we pay homeowner association fee.

Interested? Let us know.

Posted by john at 05:19 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Ben Bova Loses the Hip-Hop Market Forever

It happens here. Bova is a fabulous science fiction writer, but anyone who quotes Bread as an example of good music or says of the youngsters that "The last time they heard Ravel, I imagine, is when they saw Bo Derek in '10,'" when that particular film is 27 years old, knows current teen and 20something culture tangentially at best, probably as some small, obnoxious slice of it is being thumped out at him at a red light from a car filled with morons.

More to the point, he also makes the imprecise comparison of comparing songs like "Stardust" and "Fly Me to the Moon," which were (and are) popular music for adults, with whatever hip-hop-ish atrocities he imagines the kids are listening to today. That's pretty unfair to both eras; "My Humps" can be compared to "Stardust" about as precisely as Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy" can be compared to Sting's "Fields of Gold," to give an example of a song from a currently recording artist plying his wares to an adult market.

What I suspect Ben Bova needs is for someone to take his hand and walk him down the adult contemporary aisle, where his shock and terror about "bitches" and "hos" will be soothed by the mellow tunage and smart lyrical stylings of the aforementioned Sting, as well as Sarah McLachlan, kd lang, Coldplay, Daniel Powter, Norah Jones and so on. Then someone might also slip him Paul Anka's Rock Swings just for fun. All this might convince him the end times are not here, musically speaking. He just needs to stop polling the morons at the stop lights as to what's worthwhile in music today.

Posted by john at 09:20 AM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

May 14, 2006

Another View of Old Man's War

Nicholas Whyte reads Old Man's War and dislikes it, which is of course perfectly fine, but also assumes that my personal politics can be revealed through its text, which is also perfectly fine, but (in this particular case) wrong. I've added a lengthy comment there, so if you're interested, go on over and check it out. This has the potential to become an interesting conversation.

Warning: the first post there indulges in heavy-duty spoilers, and my response does likewise, so if you've not read OMW, this is your head's-up.

Posted by john at 09:57 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

May 13, 2006

The Ultimate Humiliation

Poll: Clinton outperformed Bush

In a new poll comparing President Bush's job performance with that of his predecessor, a strong majority of respondents said President Clinton outperformed Bush on a host of issues...

Respondents favored Clinton by greater than 2-to-1 margins when asked who did a better job at handling the economy (63 percent Clinton, 26 percent Bush) and solving the problems of ordinary Americans (62 percent Clinton, 25 percent Bush).

Oh, and the kicker:

Moreover, 59 percent said Bush has done more to divide the country, while only 27 percent said Clinton had.

What will be interesting is, presuming a similar sort of national feeling regarding Bush and Clinton in 2008 (big if, I grant), if the affection for randy ol' Bill and the nostalgia for his presidency will do anything for Hilary if/when she runs for President in 2008. There are pluses and minuses, but, you know. Give Bill a campaign and he's in his element.

Thoughts?

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Whatever & Mac Firefox

Someone who reads the Whatever via the latest version of Firefox for the Mac says he's having trouble bringing up the page on his browser over the last day or so. If you're reading this on Mac, and have the latest version of Firefox, could you fire up Firefox and see if you have any problems? Specifically this problem:

It doesn't load completely--it appears to stop loading about 25% of the way through--and it completely locks up any window it's being loaded inside of. If The Whatever is loaded as one of several simultaneous tabbed windows, it becomes impossible to switch to any of the other tabs or close them individually. If a new "The Whatever" tab is added to a window already full of tabs, again, the whole window and all the tabs become frozen and unusable. The only thing that works is closing the whole window.

I view the Whatever through the latest version Firefox for Mac myself, and I've not noticed any problems, but if enough people are having a similar problem, I need to check out what it might be. Let me know. Thanks.

Update: I think the problem might have been related to the polls I had up. I've pulled them temporarily (i.e., until they fall off the front page), although I left links to where they can still be viewed. Those of you who noted a problem, let me know if that fixes it for you.

Posted by john at 11:30 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 12, 2006

Friday Night Open Thread

I'm stepping away from the computer because it's Friday night, and I'd like to spend time with my wife. Chat amongst yourselves, about whatever it is you chat about when I'm not around. Catch you later.

Posted by john at 05:43 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Birdie Birdie Birdie

birdie0512.jpg


My father-in-law
put up a bird feeder on our front porch the other day and the birds figured it out about a day later; now they're sucking down birdfeed at a truly astounding rate. They're also availing themselves of the birdbath, as you can see here. I have some mild concern that the cats will one day look out the window and think hmmmm... smorgasbord, but so far that hasn't happened, and the birds around here seem to be sufficiently paranoid to avoid the claws of the cats. In the meantime, it's nice to be able to look out the window and see all sorts of feathered things.

Posted by john at 12:49 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

May 11, 2006

29%

That was quick. We didn't have to wait for my prediction that Bush would drop below 30% approval rating in a major national poll to come true:

President Bush’s job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an “excellent or pretty good” job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January.

Yow. For those of you with a WSJ Online subscription, here's the link to the full article. In the full article we find that even among conservatives, his popularity is under the 50% mark -- 46%, in fact. 10% of liberals think he's doing a good job, which makes me think: really? That many? Republicans in Congress get a 20% approval rating, but as the Democrats only get a 23% rating, that's nothing for them to gloat about.

The over/under in this poll is 3%, so Bush's actual approval rating could be as high as 32% and as low as 26%. I'd note this poll was taken between May 5th and 8th, which means that the NSA phone thing (which I thought would be the proximate cause of his below 30% submersion) wasn't even on the radar.

I have to tell you I'm pretty much agog. Back in November, when Bush was clocking a 35% approval rating, I opined that "there's probably 33% of Americans who would rather chew on jagged glass than to show disloyalty to a sitting Republican president," that's about as low as he was going to go. Guess I was wrong. Now, well, I can't even imagine. If 29% is possible, what about 25%? At this point, is it really that far off? Nixon hit 24%, if I recall correctly, just before he resigned. Surely -- and I say this with all sincerity -- surely Bush could not come within a polling error of that number. I honestly find it unthinkable.

Let me repeat now what I said in November:

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

Still true, alas.

Seriously, now: How low do you think Bush will go? I've pretty much given up guessing. You tell me.

Posted by john at 11:05 PM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

I Can't Talk Now. This Line is Being Watched.

Bush: We're not trolling your personal life

President Bush says the government is "not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans" with a reported program to create a massive database of U.S. phone calls. USA Today reports the government has been secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls in an effort to build a database of every call made within the country.

Just out of curiosity, if you create a database that includes information about every phone call I make, and are using that to "analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity," how are you not mining and trolling my personal life? Because, you know, now the government knows who I call and when and for how long. Seems like pertinent personal information to me. I'm guessing lots of folks who don't particularly like the idea of the NSA knowing who they call and when will feel the same way. I think there's a nice bipartisan core of people who don't want some NSA flunky standing over them with a stopwatch every time they pick up a phone.

Prediction #1: Bush's popularity drops below 30% in the next week in at least one major nationwide poll.

Prediction #2: If the Democrats take the Congress in November, expect a lot of new privacy laws.

Thoughts?

Posted by john at 03:15 PM | Comments (106) | TrackBack

Robert Sawyer, American

Here's a good rule of thumb for those of you running a science fiction convention: If you screw up your Guest of Honor's travel arrangements so badly that he or she is unable to attend your convention, don't imply to others that the reason that the GoH will not be appearing is because he or she is an undesirable alien the US doesn't want on its soil.

This is what Bob Palmer, the con chair of the ToBeCONtinued science fiction convention, is learning this week, after he apparently e-mailed to another writer that his convention's Guest of Honor Robert J. Sawyer would not be coming to the convention this weekend "due to travel restrictions from Canada entering the US." In one sense, this description was accurate: Palmer, who was in charge of procuring plane tickets for Sawyer, apparently didn't do so in a timely manner, and airlines have this funny thing about not letting you fly if you don't have a ticket. So not buying your GoH a plane ticket does, in fact, result in a travel restriction. This is one of those "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is" sort of things.

But in another sense -- which would be the sense in which most people not trying to obfuscate their own culpability would understand it -- it suggests that Sawyer wasn't allowed to enter the country, possibly because he's one of those dirty, dirty, Canadians. And you know how they are. Well, here's the funny thing: Sawyer holds dual US and Canadian citizenship. We can't keep the man out of our country, even if we want to. It's his country too.

Naturally, Sawyer took umbrage at the implication he was not welcome in one of his two homelands:

"What the fuck? Travel restrictions? I'm a US citizen -- and Palmer knows that. I told him so in email on April 26 -- I even gave him my US passport number. I have a US Social Security card, too; I can travel to, live in, work freely in, and even move to the United States anytime I wish, without restrictions.

"Even if I weren't a US citizen, I'd still be able to freely travel to the States as a Canadian citizen (I am a dual citizen), unless the US government had imposed 'travel restrictions' on me 'entering the US' -- which it only would have if I had a criminal record; Palmer's message to my friend implies that I have one. But I don't: I've never been arrested or charged with any crime; hell, I've never even had a parking ticket."

When the author Palmer e-mailed (who is a friend of Sawyer's and knows about his dual citizenship) asked for clarification, Palmer apparently replied that there was a problem with the airline and travel with Sawyer's wife -- both points of which Sawyer denies on his site (and provides e-mails to bolster his side of the tale).

Why was Palmer e-mailing this other author in the first place? According to Sawyer, Palmer was sounding him out to replace Sawyer as Guest of Honor -- and doing so before informing Sawyer of the fact he was being replaced. Again, quite naturally, Sawyer was less than pleased, dropped the whole sordid story onto his Web site, and washed his hands of Palmer and his convention. In the aftermath, there's an admission on the Con's site that Sawyer's travel planning got screwed up, but putting up the admission after one's now-former Guest of Honor has outed one's con chair for acting duplicitously is not covering one's convention in glory.

Aside from being a telling example of less-than-competent con-running, this is also yet another verification of Scalzi's Law of Online Communication, originally posited in 2002: Anything bad you ever write about someone online will get back to them sooner or later. Palmer presumably thought he could pass along a less-than-entirely-accurate explanation of events and that it wouldn't get back to Sawyer. But, you know, seems like he was wrong. It never really does work out that way. People always find out.

Sawyer blasted Palmer for the fracas but also said on his site that he didn't want people to take it out on the convention as a whole:

"I'm certainly not asking anyone to boycott this convention. I fully understand that the fault is that of Bob Palmer -- one person -- and that presumably many other, good people have worked on and financially supported this convention. Go, have a good time, drink a toast to an absent friend, and enjoy."

That's a very gracious move on the part of Sawyer, but I can't help but think this is going to have an impact on the convention as a whole anyway. I'm at the point now where I'm getting invitations to appear at conventions, and one of the things I look at to help me decide whether I'm going to spend my time and (if I'm not a guest of honor) my money adding to the value of a convention is how the folks running the convention treat their guests. I'm sure, as Sawyer says, there are a lot of good people working on ToBeCONtinued, but when your con chair flubs the GoH's travel, tries to replace him secretly and tries to evade responsibility for his (in)action, well, that does drop you down on the list of desirable conventions, because who wants to attend a con whose own chair treats its Guests of Honor so poorly? There are other competently run cons one could go to. Word does get around.

Now, I'm getting all of this from the Robert J. Sawyer point of view -- if anyone involved at ToBeCONtinued wants to tell the story from the convention's point of view I'd be interested in hearing it (drop it into the comments). But it seems pretty cut-and-dried.

In the meantime, here are other places you'll be able to see Robert J. Sawyer this year, including many places in the United States, where, it is to be noted, he may freely travel, because he's an American citizen and not just a dirty, dirty Canadian. God bless Robert J. Sawyer, and God bless the USA.

Update, 6pm: Apparently more troubles for ToBeCONtinued. Sawyer may have dodged a bullet.

Posted by john at 02:34 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

May 10, 2006

37

370510.jpg

Part of me feels young as ever. Part of me is not so sure. Part of me wants a pony.

All of me is 37 today.

And I'm off. You kids have fun with the rest of your day. I plan to.

Posted by john at 09:30 AM | Comments (77) | TrackBack

Specials, Plus Free Pimp Zone

As long as I'm on the subject of books, Scott Westerfeld's latest kick-ass book Specials was officially released yesterday and is kicking ass in the Amazon rankings (it's at #270 as I write this). The simple reason for this: Scott writes the YA you wish you could have had when you were a young adult: It's smart, sly and too cool for the room, which is what every kid wants to be (also, with this series, Scott's been blessed with book design which won't make young readers embarassed to be seen with the books, and you know that helps a lot). Basically, in addition to writing great stories, Scott also gets exactly the right attitude in his work. This is spot-on zeitgeist stuff, and that's a hell of a lot harder than it looks. Get it for a teen you know, and give it to them after you've read it yourself.

Having done the full-on friend-pimp, I now open the floor to the rest of y'all: Feel free to pimp yourself or those whose stuff you love in the comment thread. Tell us what's good out there in books, music, online writing or whatever, and don't be shy about pimping your own thing. Come on, you're worth a self-pimp or two.

Posted by john at 01:28 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Your Wednesday Author Interview is Live

The first of my Wednesday Author Interviews is up over at By The Way: I'm interviewing Chris Roberson about his new book Paragaea, which came out last week. Check it out. Or, you know, I'll cry. Also check out Paragaea itself, because it's fun as hell.

Also, if you're an author who has a book coming out soon and think you might like to be interviewed, check out the information on how to do that. Hint: At this point, June is largely free. Most of August, too.

Posted by john at 01:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 09, 2006

PlayStation 3 Pricing

From the e-mail bag:

Any thoughts on the PS3 pricing? I think the lack of HDMI for the "cheap" version is interesting.

Yeah, I have a few thoughts.

First, background for you folks who aren't video game geeks: Yesterday Sony formally announced the shipping date and pricing of their upcoming PlayStation 3 Console. The PS3 will ship in November, worldwide, and will be offered in two different flavors: a $499 version and a $599 version. Both versions will ship with a Blu-Ray DVD player, Dolby 5.1 sound, ethernet and bluetooth capability and a hard drive; the $499 version's hard drive is 20GB, while the $599 version will sport a 60GB drive.

The $599 version will also have wireless capability and an HDMI connector, which means that people who have the really high-end HD sets today will be able to play the PS3 in all its potentially eyeball-exploding glory, while the plebes who get the $499 version will have to make do with current standard A/V output. In either configuration Sony probably losing a stack of cash, since one analyst estimate suggests it costs well over $800 to put a PS3 together. Naturally, this is Sony's problem, not yours.

Now, what do I think of the pricing? I think it's fine, actually. $500 is steep for a gaming console, and $600 is even more so -- but it's actually pretty damn cheap for a next generation DVD player, and it's a ridiculously dirt cheap cost for a machine that gives you both. Sony knows three things: First, the majority of video game players are adults, not (sorry, kids) whiny teens who have to beg their parents for video game money. So they have $500 or $600 to spend. Second, it knows it has to win the next-generation DVD war against HD-DVD (which Microsoft supports). Third, it knows that the consumer who is in the market for a high-end game system is probably also in the market for a high-end DVD system, and would probably be happy to get both at the same time. So: I suspect you'll see Sony pushing the dual-value nature of the PS3 hard, to make people internalize the idea that they're getting two high-end tech toys for the price of one.

I suspect they'll be successful. Indeed, it's entirely possible that a fair number of people who have already committed to the XBox 360 will also buy a PS3 for the Blu-Ray rather than go for the attachable HD-DVD drive Microsoft promises for the Xbox 360 for the holidays, on the idea that they're getting another game system and a DVD player in the bargain. I also think that people who have neither a PS3 or an XBox 360 are likely to choose the PS3 even though the XBox 360 is (apparently) cheaper, because the PS3 has everything in the box, while the Xbox 360 makes you jump through the hoop of buying another attachment, which is another piece of clutter, another plug in the wall, and so on and so forth (if Microsoft bundles the HD-DVD player into the shipping box with the Xbox 360, there's not likely to be a price differential between it and the low-end PS3).

I think the pricing differential here between the two PS3 versions is interesting, and different than the price differential dynamic that happened with the Xbox 360. When the 360 came out, it came in a $299 basic edition and a $399 deluxe edition; the problem was the $299 edition was genuinely substandard -- in order to use the 360 as it was intended to be used, you really did need the $399 edition. This is was reflected in all the reviews, where the reviewers warned people that the $299 edition had parts buyers would miss.

In contrast, it doesn't seem like the $499 PS3 is missing anything that gamers would need to get a good experience out of the box. Most people here in the US are still chugging along with non-high-definition television sets (or have 720p sets) and may or may not give a crap about wireless capability (which could possibly be addressed through a cheap USB dongle anyway), and the 20GB is likely to be enough for saving games and downloading various crap from the online world. For the average gamer, it's all there, which means that practically speaking, for the typical consumer there's likely to beno actual cost differential between the PS and the Xbox 360 with the optional HD-DVD drive.

Certainly a high number of people will feel compelled to get the $599 model, even if its capabilities outstrip the rest of their equipment, because that's how people are (and Sony thanks them for it). But someone with the $499 model isn't going to feel like they've been sentenced to the suck zone. And I think that's going to be an important thing when it comes to sales (I also suspect after a couple of years, the $599 model will be the only model you can get -- and its price will have come down to $499).

Personally speaking I'll be buying a PS3 pretty much as soon as I can get one. One reason for this is obvious -- I write for Official US PlayStation Magazine, so, you know, I have to. For work (bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha hah!). But even without the work connection I would have waited for the PS3 over the XBox 360, because of the console/Blu-Ray combination, and also because I suspect it will pull additional duty as a full-fledged computer; if I remember the rumors correctly the PS3's hard drive will come with some flavor of Linux installed, and it will support a keyboard/mouse combo (the latter of these also key because playing first person shooters with a console controller well and truly sucks). All of which makes me want to get one just to see what it's capable of, and piques my interest rather more than the Xbox 360 has, Halo3 notwithstanding.

Yes, I'll be getting the expensive PS3. Sony loves me.

Posted by john at 06:08 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

May 08, 2006

Now You Know

Why?

"President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections."

Because.

"President Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake."

Posted by john at 10:02 PM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

Next Year in Jerusalem

Old Man's War has sold in Israel.

I am almost absurdly excited by the idea of seeing the book in Hebrew.

That is all.

Posted by john at 07:22 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Heinlein Centennial

Some appearance news:

I have been offered and have very happily accepted an invitation to be an honored guest at the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial, which will take place July 6 - 8, 2007 in Kansas City. As the title of the event suggests, it is a celebration of RAH's 100th birthday (which falls on July 7); Kansas City is where he spent his childhood. To the surprise of none, I'm delighted to be on board for this.

Now, I am supposed to come up with some sort of programming, which I will certainly do. I could do a talk... or I could do one of these:

[poll temporarily removed -- it's causing some problems. You can see it here]

Hmmmm. Maybe I'll just do a talk instead.

In all seriousness, this looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, and I hope to see some of you there. I mean, come on. It's a year out. You've got time to prepare.

Posted by john at 07:03 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Amazon Rankings and Non-Fiction

A question from the Nebula Award Winners thread:

John: Congrats that the paperback version of OMW is now in the top 600 in terms of Amazon sales rank.
I have a question about your non-fiction books, though. I read Rough Guide to the Universe and thought it was great. And my boyfriend has promised me your Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies for my birthday.
My question: why do you think that your novels have taken off so well, while the sales ranks for your nonfiction books (while respectable) are still not in the top 1,000?
According to the conventional wisdom of publishing, it would have been easier for you to make the top 1,000 with a nonfiction book, because readers are supposedly more open to nonfiction books from newcomers (which you aren't now--but were when OMW was published.)
Does this mean that you will focus on novels in the future rather than nonfiction?

This is a good time to chat a little about Amazon rankings.

First, we need to understand what Amazon rankings are: They're simply a look at how well your book is selling relative to other books at Amazon, at this moment. Right now, for example (right now being 1:20 am on May 8th), Old Man's War has an Amazon ranking of 395, which means (duh), 394 other books are selling better than OMW on Amazon, and few hundred thousand are selling worse (like, oh, The Rough Guide to the Universe, which is currently ranked #603,883).

Now, here's what that ranking doesn't tell us:

1. The actual number of copies any title is selling over any particular period of time on Amazon;
2. The total number of copies the title has sold through Amazon;
3. How well the book is selling in places that are not Amazon;
4. The total number of books that titles has sold everywhere, including Amazon.

Trust me, it's very nice OMW is selling as well as it is at the moment on Amazon. It's a nice psychological boost, both for me and for the people who are thinking of buying the book (since an Amazon ranking in the mid-three figures assures nervous potential buyers that they are not alone in their purchase). But alas and alack, the Amazon ranking is a ranking without much context. How many books does the 395th best-selling book on Amazon sell in a week? I don't know. Someone at Amazon must (otherwise how would they compile the rankings), but the thing is, they're not telling me.

Amazon rankings also don't tell the whole story of a book. For example, take my (non-fiction) book Book of the Dumb. It has a current Amazon ranking of 133,010. It has also sold in excess of 50,000 copies since it came out, which makes it the best-selling book I've written to date; it seems likely OMW will catch up with it one day, but it hasn't so far. Book of the Dumb has done all right on Amazon -- its highest ranking (according to Titlez.com) was #1,613, which is certainly respectable -- but I know for a fact that oodles of the book sold not online, and not at bookstores, but in places like Sam's Club and Costco, while they put a pile out on a pallet next to the 48-roll bundle of double-quilted toilet paper, and people grab them as they go by.

As another example, the aforementioned Rough Guide to the Universe. It's never been a particularly good seller at Amazon (I don't think it's ever cracked the 100,000 ranking, at least not while I've been paying attention to it), but I know it's sold well, because I've earned out on the book and gotten royalties from it (twice!), and my advance on that book was not particularly small. As it happens, the Universe book sells rather better in the UK than in the US (probably because Rough Guides is based in London), which is a fact that won't show up on the Amazon ranking.

Conversely, the Amazon sales of the hardcover of Old Man's War, from what I have been told, were disproportionately large relative to the books' overall sales. This is no doubt an artifact of the book being championed by bloggers, and of my own online footprint. The rule of thumb for Amazon sales is that they're usually a single-digit percentage of overall sales; if one were to go by that rule of thumb, OMW should have sold substantially better in hardcover than it did (although, you know, it did pretty well).

The point to be made: Amazon rankings are fun and all, but they're really not the whole story. The fact of the matter is that at least three of my non-fiction books which have sold pretty well (the Book of the Dumb books and the Universe book), have never had Amazon rankings anywhere as high as Old Man's War (whose top ranking is #325) or The Ghost Brigades (which got up to number #86). It's also a fact that at this point, my average sales in non-fiction are higher than my average sales in fiction, contrary to what my current Amazon ranking would suggest.

In all I would be foolish to base my career goals as a writer on what my Amazon rankings tell me. As would any writer. My advice to writers would be to enjoy your Amazon rankings, but not to freak out about them. There's more going on than the rankings indicate. Most writers, of course, already know this, at least intellectually. It's just easy to get involved in the one bookselling metric that any of us writers have at our fingertips.

Also, this is the long way around in saying that, no, I don't plan to ditch non-fiction. Fiction is certainly going to be my focus in the near term (I've got that three-book contract with Tor that will keep me busy for at least another year or so), but I have non-fiction proposals I am working on, and of course I have two non-fiction books that are coming out in the next year: The writing book in August and the Whatever collection in 2007. And the other thing is I like doing non-fiction, so purely as a matter of keeping myself happy as a writer I would want to keep it on my diet. As I've noted before, ideally I'd be able to switch-hit between fiction and non-fiction titles for the next, oh, 40 years or so. We'll have to see if that actually happens.

Posted by john at 01:23 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 07, 2006

Nebula Award Winners

For those of you on the edge of your seat wondering who won the Nebula Awards this year, you can now fall off your seat:

Novel: Joe Haldeman for Camouflage
Novella: Kelly Link for "Magic for Beginners"
Novelette: Kelly Link for "The Faery Handbag"
Short Story: Carol Emshwiller for "I Live With You"
Script: Joss Whedon for Serenity

And the winner of the first Andre Norton award for Young Adult science fiction or fantasy is Holly Black for Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie. Harlan Ellison was made a Grand Master; William F. Nolan was proclaimed Author Emeritus.

I'm particularly happy for Kelly Link, because she's a friend of mine; "The Faery Handbag" also won the Hugo, so it's an award-winning hit no matter how you look at it. And winning two Nebulae in a year has got to be a nice feeling. Congratulations to all the winners, however.

Posted by john at 08:16 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

My 1998 Meandering Essay on Coca-Cola

Here's another piece from the Scalzi.com archives, this one from waaay back in the day: 1998. Yes, it was one of the very first things I put up on the site. In it I discuss:

I'm in a mixed marriage: I drink Coke and my wife drinks Pepsi.

Normally, this isn't much of an issue; since I'm the main soda drinker in the house, Krissy (that'd be my wife), tends to buy Coke and then drinks it when she has a cola (we stock other, non-cola sodas as well, which are not an issue). Every so often, however, she gets a little jumpy. "I have to have a Pepsi," she declares, with a sort of urgency. It's almost as if without an occasional infusion of the stuff, she'll lose her secret powers or something -- not unlike Popeye and his spinach, except less healthy (and, of course, Krissy looks nothing like Popeye, with his freakish forearms and utter lack of chin). What her need for Pepsi means, however, is that I have to get up, trudge over to the local supermarket, grab one of those 20-ounce bottles, and then head back to the homestead. It's a small price to pay for domestic felicity.

Why don't we just keep a six-pack of Pepsi in the fridge? Hush.

The occasional forced purchase of Pepsi caused me to reflect on the whole cola schism. By and large, people really do seem to have a preference for either Coke or Pepsi, often to the exclusion of the other. I, for example, will not drink Pepsi if can avoid it without effort. If I'm in a store and it's selling Coke at full price and Pepsi on sale, I'll buy the Coke. If I'm at a restaurant and I order a Coke, and they ask "Is Pepsi all right?" it's 50/50 that I'll switch the drink to another soda flavor. It's nothing against Pepsi, per se -- I don't irrationally hate the product or the company, and in fact, prefer some Pepsi products over Coke products (in particular I prefer Mountain Dew over Coke's somewhat vile entry into the heavily caffinated citrus drink market, called Surge). But when I want a cola, I want a Coke, period. It's the sort of brand identification that companies dream of.

Why? Well, foremost, I enjoy the taste, which is mellow and sweet without being too sweet ("too sweet" being defined as sweet enough to make one's back teeth throb out a cavity warning). It's the fundamental cola taste experience, and everyone knows it -- even, I suspect, the folks at Pepsi, whose own cola formulation has always struck me as trying too hard: too tangy, too sweet, too carbonated. Coke meets your taste buds like an old friend. Pepsi, on the other hand, grabs on to them like a loudmouth at a party: Sure, he's real friendly, but you still want to get away from him sooner than later. In terms of the total cola experience, in fact, I'd rank Pepsi third among the national brands, the #2 experience being, of course, RC Cola. It's the cola that Coke drinkers can, in a pinch, drink without feeling guilty about -- the Anglican Church to Coke's Catholic, close enough in the general sense that you can get over the few technical differences.

Also, I think there really is something to how Coke positions itself. One hates to admit that one is influenced by corporate branding -- it means that those damned advertisers actually managed to do their job -- but what can you say. It works. Since Coke is the market leader, it doesn't spend any time as far as I can see banging on Pepsi or other brands; its ads stick to their knitting, which is making sure that people feel that Coke is part of everyday life -- and at some point during your day, you're probably going to have a Coke. It's inevitable. And hey -- that's okay. That's as it should be, in fact. I don't know that I would call Coke's ads soft sells (after all, they brand the product literally up the wazoo), but I don't find the advertising utterly annoying.

Which brings us back to Pepsi. Pepsi is eternally positioning itself as the outsider -- "Pepsi Generation," "Generation Next," so on and so forth. Always young, always fun, always mildly rebellious, yadda yadda yadda. Since one goes in knowing that Pepsi is a multibillion-dollar corporation, I've always found the rebellion angle amusing (and not just in Pepsi's case -- if you're a company that's big enough to advertise your wares every single day on national networks, you've gotten just a bit beyond being the rebel's choice, now, haven't you?). Being a rebel doesn't really work for me -- most of what is positioned as being a rebel is actually not rebellion, merely sullenness and inarticulateness. And really, I'm just too bourgeois for that at this point in my life. The only really rebellious national ad campaign that I can think of off the top of my head is the old Bennetton campaigns, which featured things like dying AIDS patients and third world dumps and declared them as part of their world. I really don't expect Pepsi to follow that example -- it's just not a rebel corporation.

Besides, Pepsi can't seem to advertise itself without bringing up the point that Coke exists, and is the better-selling brand. As far as I can remember, Pepsi has been putting itself in opposition to Coke -- starting with the "Pepsi Challenge" in the 70s, up to today's very amusing commercials that feature the Coke delivery guy sneaking cans of Pepsi for himself. Sure, it gets the Pepsi brand out there, but it also gives free exposure to Coke. On the other hand, I can't think of a single Coke ad that even acknowledges that Pepsi exists. Now, on the average, I find Pepsi ads more interesting than Coke ads -- they're generally funnier (and certainly more frenetic), but to the extent that a Cola war exists in the public consciousness, it exists because Pepsi keeps on telling people about it (and that they're on the underdog side). As far as Coke ads are concerned, not only is the war over, there never was a war to begin with. Pepsi might think about not giving Coke the free ride.

Finally, I'm immune to celebrity spokespeople. I'm real happy for Cindy Crawford that she drinks Pepsi and all, but what does that do for me? If I drink Pepsi, it doesn't mean that Cindy is going to be my friend. I won't get to spend special moments with Cindy, sharing my hopes and dreams with the Supermodel of the Universe as we guzzle our carbonated beverages. I certainly won't get to sleep with Cindy, which is ultimately the image Pepsi wants you to have running around in your mind. Of course, sleeping with Cindy Crawford wouldn't make me want to drink Pepsi, anyway. I already sleep with someone who drinks Pepsi, after all. It hasn't caused me to convert (Yes, Coke has their celebs -- I don't want to sleep with them, either).

Sorry about spewing on advertising, but that's just me. I just don't get worked up over brands that try too hard to make try their product because it's cool. I'm married. I'm balding. I'm of average looks. I'm 28 and way beyond the days where I worried about making the scene. I'm just not cool. I never was cool. It's highly unlikely that I will ever become cool at this late date in my life. I don't give a damn about being cool. I don't have the time for it, and I certainly don't have the money for it (well, actually, I do, but I don't want to spend it that way). I understand that Pepsi is trying to graft brand identification onto the youngsters early so that when they get old enough to do the shopping, they'll pick up Pepsi rather than Coke. Meanwhile, however, Coke is going after the people who are already doing the shopping, and the kids get what they get. In the long run, that seems to me the smarter way to do things for a product like this. It ain't Gameboy, you know.

Coke, of course, learned the hard way that the vast majority of Coke drinkers don't want Coke to be cool, they want it to be Coke. In the mid 80s, some idiots over at Coca-Cola headquarters decided what they needed to do was reformulate Coke to give it a sweeter, zingier taste ("more like Pepsi," some folks noted) and then do away with the old Coke. Everyone knows what happened then -- people just about rioted. In the end, of course, the company brought back Coke (now "Coca-Cola Classic") and the "new" Coke, now labeled "Coke II," has been relegated for the most part to the dusty soda cooler of history. I came across a store selling it in Chicago when I was there recently, and thought about buying a bottle of the stuff -- not to drink, but just because I hadn't seen it in years.

What's interesting about this fairly singular event in product marketing history is it proved that Coca-Cola, the soda, is bigger than the company that makes it -- it truly is a fundamental part of Americana. In a way, I think the consumer response to the reformulation was sort of sweet. Imagine Coca-Cola as the worried spouse who fears that they are not as attractive as they used to be, so they try a daffy new haircut or maybe a pair of outrageous pants. The American consumer is the spouse who reassures them that, yes, they really are just as attractive as they used to be. The pants go to Goodwill. The hair grows out. Everything goes on more or less as before, with only a couple of pictures as reminders of that silly, zany, foolish time.

Now, would people go as nuts if Pepsi reformulated? I doubt it. It's just not the same thing. It's not, shall we say, the real thing.

Posted by john at 12:29 AM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

May 06, 2006

Take Me Out, Etc., Etc.



Athena's baseball season began today, and I believe she's in the "let's feel good about ourselves" league, because in this variation of baseball, the entire side gets to bat, the coach pitches, and everyone is out on the field whether they need to be or not. I'm not entirely sure they even keep score. I don't actually have a problem with this, mind you -- at this age and level of coordination, it's probably for the best that the kids playing focus on things like learning to hit and throw and run as opposed to freaking out about winning or losing. On the other hand, it does make for a crowded infield.



Case in point: there are four little girls playing between second and third base (not to mention a couple who are further down in the infield). I think there are 15 little girls on Athena's team, which means you have six additional bodies on the field (actually seven, as there is a coach pitching to the batters). At least they're small bodies (the little girls, that is; the coaches are pretty much normal size).



Athena did pretty well at the plate; she got a single in the first inning and a double in the second (and that was as many innings as they had time for -- funny how the innings go long when everyone gets to bat and there are, like, ten strikes before an out is called). Athena's good with the hitting, not so much with the running; she doesn't so much run as stroll. She either needs to learn to speed up or develop such a mighty swing that she gets home runs every time she gets to the plate. Really, either would work.

The good news is that she generally seems to be having fun playing, and at this point that's the right goal for her to have. And it makes for a nice Saturday morning.

Posted by john at 02:58 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 05, 2006

Cue the AC/DC

royalties0505.jpg

More good news for Old Man's War:
it's in the black. I received my latest royalty statement from Tor today, and in it came glad tidings in the guise of a royalty check. Whoo-hoo! I'm all earned out!

The nice wrinkle in this is that when I signed the two-book deal with Tor that included OMW, it specified that I would start getting royalties after the advances on both books in the deal had been earned out. The second book in that deal is The Android's Dream, which comes out in October. So -- if I'm remembering this correctly -- this means Android is already in the black, which takes some of the pressure off. It also means I get royalties from the first copy sold. So, you know, buy lots. Athena needs a college education.

In all seriousness, if you bought a copy of OMW, thank you very much. Books don't always earn out their advances. I'm really happy this one did. I owe you.

Posted by john at 03:41 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

I Am Router, Hear Me Roar

router0505.jpg

Behold the new router, a Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router With 4-Port Switch (I'm reading off the label in front). I determined that the former router had, in fact, fried its litle routing brain out, and took the opportunity to upgrade. The old router was 802.11b capable and this one is 802.11g capable, and that's six letters better. And I'm not entirely sure how you can beat that. I don't think you can. Well, there's always 802.11n, but they haven't finalized that standard yet, and anyway, it's not like I'm streaming hi-def movies from my PC to my laptop. I just want to be able to see teh Intarweebs on all my computers. 802.11g is just fine, thanks.

I do feel marginally competent that I was able to install the router and a couple of additional adapter with almost no pain, but it really has more to do with the set-up software doing all the heavy lifting and me clicking a button here and there (and even hardly that on the Mac). It's come to a point where there's no geek pride in doing this stuff. And you know what? I'm good with that. No headaches, it just works. That's progress.

Posted by john at 03:18 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Fiddle, Fiddle

All right, I suspect my router might have gone bad, on account that if I jam the cord that comes out of the DSL modem into either computer, it works just fine, whereas if I put it back into the router, I get nothing. I'm going to fiddle with this a bit more; you may or may not see me here during the rest of the day.

Incidentally, while I was speaking to the nice Sprint representative about the problem, he was helping me reconfigure the PC box; which imvolved opening a DOS prompt, fidding with various settings and then sacrificing a chicken to the angry computer gods. When I put the DSL line into the Mac, all I had to do was enter a user name and a password. Score one for the Macs.

Anyway. Have fun with the rest of your day. Have you done an ice cream haiku yet?

Posted by john at 11:31 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

DSL Issues and Ice Cream Haiku

I'm having connection issues today (I'm typing this by using my cell phone as a modem. Hey! This cell phone thingie does seem to come in handy). I'll be back when they get resolved. In the meantime, here's an open thread for you. I suggest you fill it with Haiku about your favorite ice cream flavor.

Cherry Garcia
Jerry had diabetes
That's some irony.

See? Easy. Your turn.

Posted by john at 10:09 AM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

May 04, 2006

Uh-Oh.

overcoked.jpg

I think I may have over-caffeinated just now. That'll teach me. Actually, probably it won't. I think that may be a problem. Let me have another Coke and ponder it.

Fun fact: I didn't type this entry, I just let my fingers twitch over the keyboard. It's true.

Posted by john at 03:45 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Other Stuff, 5/4/06

Quick thoughts on the rest of the universe:

* I do hope Zacarias Moussaoui had fun carrying on like a James Bond villian in court, because his fun is over and now he's off to an 8x8 room for the rest of his life, which one hopes is nice and long. I am happy and impressed that the jury didn't decide to give him the death penalty; it both denied Moussaoui what he wanted (for his own delusions of martyrdom), and denied the government what it wanted, which would have covered up all its various acts of incompetence prosecuting the case. That's as much of a happy ending as this case it going to get.

* A piece on SFSignal about SF writers and their Web sites (including me and mine). It's a fine article, although I can't help wonder when we're going to get to the point where authors promoting themselves online isn't going to be that big of a deal anymore (which is to say, when no one will think about writing about it any more). I think reality-wise we're pretty much at that point, particularly in SF; the number of working SF writers who don't have an online presence can pretty much be counted on one's fingers. At the very least, I take for granted that I can find writers online, and I'm always confused when I can't.

* Over at Boing Boing, an entry about the difference between the Washington Press Corps and the rest of us, which is that we think Colbert's performance at the correspondence dinner was funny, and they didn't (which is the excuse not to write about it). I think the real problem was that according to this NYT article, the guy who booked Colbert didn't actually get the fact that Colbert's schtick was what it was. This is like hiring a stripper for your kid's birthday party because she starts her act in a clown costume. If you aren't paying attention, you're to blame.

That said, I do have to say I think rather too much is being made of the Colbert thing. Look, he did his thing at a gig, the audience was confused and that's pretty much the story. I think that Colbert's performance is being retrofitted as a great moment in confronting power with mockery when it really was just Colbert doing what he was under the impression he was hired to do, which is say, the act which made him famous. I enjoyed it as much as the rest of y'all; I just don't think it was a significant moment in American dissent. The only real lesson to be learned here is that the White House correspondents maybe ought to pay more attention to who they're hiring as entertainment so there's no confusion on the matter when the dude gets up to talk.

* The Cato Institute rips Dubya a new one on the matter of the Constitution. Go Cato Institute. The Cato folks lose me in a lot of places regarding policy and philosophy, but we're on the same side of the street with this one.

Posted by john at 01:01 PM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

Amazon Prime = Teh Crack

If there was ever an enabling device in online purchases, it would be Amazon Prime, the little deal that company has where you pay $70, and in return, everything you buy for the next year gets shipped two-day, for no additional cost (i.e., feels like free, since you're not coughing up after the first $70). Since two-day delivery is usually something like $4, if you buy 17 things (or so) off Amazon, you're in the black with delivery charges. One suspects that if one were to look at Amazon's analysis, one would find the average number of purchases off Amazon to be somewhat lower.

Not for this chump, however; a combination of poor impulse control and living in the middle of nowhere conspires to make me buy a lot of crap off of Amazon. Previously the shipping charges acted as something of a brake for my mindless acquisitions (because shipping rather significantly cuts into the price differential Amazon offers over bricks and mortar stores), but no longer. Last night I was having an e-mail conversation with someone about writer Barth Anderson's debut novel The Patron Saint of Plagues, which came out in late March. What? I said to myself. Why was I not informed? Off to Amazon, bang! It's on its way, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Two days ago, I had a hankering to understand the universe -- I mean, really understand it, man -- so off I went to Amazon, bang! And now I have Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality on my desk (quick verdict: very interesting, lots of math). Two days before that, I learned that my favorite writer from The Simpsons, John Swartzwelder, has two novels out, The Time Machine Did It and Double Happiness. Bang! Amazon (quick review: funny books, not much story, though, and expensive for what are really novellas, not novels).

It's an addiction, man. What keeps me from bankruptcy is the simple fact that I have not enabled "One-Click Purchase," which I consider the most enabling enabler in all of enabledom. I fear the one-click purchase. It calls to me, like a siren. But the pummelling I would receive from the budget-minded wife when the Amex bill came in would be both fearsome and richly deserved. One has to know one's limits. That would be mine.

And anyway, I'm already wrecking the Amazon Prime business model as it is. Hopefully some other schmoes are out there taking up the slack for me and not buying things with their Amazon Prime accounts, thus supporting my "ship those babies to me now" ways. I can only assume there are. Suckers.

Posted by john at 12:09 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Why I Dig My AOL Gig

Because it gives me an excuse to do things like this:

It's for this entry, incidentally.

But I think I'll use it for my next author photo. Because it's just so me.

In the meantime, it's the new picture for my 404 page.

Posted by john at 10:35 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 03, 2006

Author Interviews on By The Way

Okay, I'm having a thought here. As most of you know, I've been fairly well served by the online world in the promotion and selling of my books. As most of you also know, I have an AOL Journal where, among other things, I like to do regular weekly features for the benefit of the AOL Journalers and others who read the site. At the moment I have a Photo Shoot on Mondays, a Weekend Assignment on Thursdays, and a music selection on Fridays. I'm going to add a poll on Tuesdays, but that leaves me Wednesdays free. And what I'd like to do on Wednesday is an author interview.

Possible benefits for authors: Well, my AOL Journal has similar traffic to this site; like this site, sometimes it's up, and sometimes it's down, but it's always a pretty substantial crowd. And of course I'll link in from here when an interview goes up -- the two sites have largely independent audiences, from what I can tell, so the overall audience could be pretty significant. The folks who read my AOL Journal are people who are already interested in literature and good reads, so that's good, too. There may be other benefits in terms of promotion, etc, but a lot depends on how I handle my end of things. Bear in mind this is not an official AOL thing -- it's just me doing my thing on my AOL Journal.

What do I get out of it? Well, it brings some attention to my AOL Journal, and possibly to other things of interest over on AOL. As AOL helps me pay my mortage, I'm inclined to return the favor and help it build an audience with its Journal stuff.

Anyway. I'm thinking the interviews will be quick hits -- five or six questions, not a whole lot of depth but enough to make people interested in the author and the book. Think like an Entertainment Weekly sidebar interview, and we'll be on the right track.

I'm going to contact some folks directly for the first couple of weeks, but after that I'm a blank. If you're interested in participating, you can contact me or have your publicist contact me. Use my Publicist Guidelines for information on how to do that. Generally, here's what I'm looking for:

1. When you send in the interview request, PLEASE put the subject line as follows: "AUTHOR INTERVIEW REQUEST: (author name, book title)." In the e-mail itself, briefly introduce yourself, talk about the subject of your book, and name the publisher and release date. All this information will allow me to distinguish your e-mail from the vasty mass of spam I get every day.

2. Your book needs to be published by someone other than you (i.e., no vanity or POD books), and you have to have been paid more than a $1 advance for your book. Small presses are fine (some my books are small press books), but they need to be legit small presses. Who is the arbiter of what is a legitimate publisher and what is not? Why, that would be me.

3. Any genre is fine; I suspect I'll get a lot of science fiction and fantasy right off the bat because those are the playgrounds I play in, and that's fine because I love me the SF/F. However, my AOL Journal audience is not primarily or exclusively an SF/F audience, and I'd like to promote authors of all sorts. Non-fiction authors are equally welcome. First-time authors are also welcome.

4. I'll want to time author interviews so they come out within two weeks of their latest books hitting stores, so I'm looking for authors with upcoming books (as opposed to books currently in the stores).

5. You have to be willing to do the interview by e-mail (because it's time-efficient for me, that's why).

6. It would be helpful if you could convince your publisher to send along a copy of the book in question (ARCs are fine). You know, so I can at least pretend to know what I'm interviewing you about. Again, check the Publicist Guidelines for details on how to do that.

If you (or your publicist) has any questions, just drop me an e-mail or put it in the comment thread attached to this entry. Also, of course, feel free to share around this information with the authors and publicists you know.

My plan for the moment is to try a couple months of these, see how they work, and make adjustments from there. Hopefully, these will be something that will be fun and have a real benefit of helping authors meet readers. It's worked for me, anyway.

Posted by john at 03:04 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

"...she made loud laughter between a negative confrontation."

This industrious fellow seems to be attempting to translate Old Man's War in to Chinese, which I'm not entirely sure the company who owns the rights to produce the Chinese version of the book will much appreciate. He seems to be up to Chapter Four or thereabouts.

Not being able to read Chinese, I can't say how well the translation is working, although I can say the Google translation of the translation is amusing enough. For example, the opening line of the book via Google Translate now reads, "75 birthday, I have done two things. I went to the wife to destroy, I participated in the army." Which is not exactly what I wrote. Some of you who read Chinese will have to let me know if the actual translation this fellow is attempting is any better.

You might also want to drop him a note suggesting to him that while I'm quite happy he's enjoying the book and wishes to share, I can't be responsible if Science Fiction World's thugs come by and rough him up for playing with something they have the Chinese rights to. So he might want to wrap it up. OMW will be out in Chinese soon enough.

Posted by john at 01:47 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

Sunset, May 2, 2006

sunset060502.jpg

It's been largely gray today, but the sun got under the clouds right at sunset. Not bad.

Posted by john at 08:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Poll.

Because I just want to see if this works here.

[poll temporarily removed -- it's causing some problems. You can see it here]

Posted by john at 03:16 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

Bestselling Authors Tobias Buckell & Charlie Stross

Congrats to Toby Buckell, whose novel Crystal Rain makes the Locus Hardcover Bestseller List this month. And also to Charlie Stross, whose Atrocity Archives tops the Locus Trade Paperback Bestseller List. It's always good to see one's pals do well.

I have my own #1 somewhere as well.

Posted by john at 05:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Colbert, Soup, Piss

A question from a reader*:

I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondant's Association Dinner. In particular, the way that a decent portion of the media seems to feel that Colbert was completely out of line (as opposed to GWB looking around the Oval Office for WMDs, which was apparently high comedy).

Toward the blogosphere feeling outraged that the professional press is ignoring Colbert's performance, well, what did you expect? The guy pissed in their soup. You expect them to report about how refreshing the taste was?

Besides, now that the blogosphere is pitching a fit about it, it'll get reported just fine; the media's obsession with the blogs guarantees that. In fact, here's how it will go:

1. Colbert pisses in pro media's soup; pro media fails to report soup pissing.
2. Blog world cries: "Look! Soup piss! And they're not telling you about it!"
3. Editor & Publisher comments on the blog world complaining about the lack of piss soup reporting.
4. Newspaper media columns note that E&P notes the blogosphere's obsession with Colbert-flavored piss soup.
5. Newsweek's Periscope section runs snarky piece on how if the White House Correspondents didn't want piss in their soup, they shouldn't have hired Colbert, who is a veritable firehose of soup-pissery.
6. New Yorker and/or Vanity Fair and/or Highlights for Children runs a profile of Stephen Colbert, in which his soup-pissing acumen at the Correspondent's dinner is praised as a turning point in something or other; his piss-soup stylings are entered into presidential lore, to live forever as a moment of speaking truthiness to power.
7. Stephen Colbert renegotiates his contract with Comedy Central; hosts the MTV Video Awards with Mandy Moore.
8. Republicans win in 2006; Stephen Colbert assassinated.
9. Pro media files Colbert assassination story which notes the soup-pissing incident in passing. Blogosphere erupts in fury; DailyKos servers melt down under the load.
10. In the dead of night, President Bush visits Colbert's grave and pisses on it.

See? That's how it'll get done.


*I get e-mail from people asking me questions which I then post about online, but since I generally consider e-mail to be private, I tend not to identify the reader unless I get permission from them beforehand. If you ask a question and want to be identified if I answer it on the Whatever, let me know (or just out yourself in the comment thread).

Posted by john at 04:39 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

As You Know, Bob

Strange Horizons editor Jed Hartman has a very amusing entry on the art and craft of the infodump, which in the real world is usually called "exposition," but we in science fiction call it something different because we're special, you see. Science fiction has a pronounced tendency toward infodumps, if for no other reason that the writers are often creating whole new worlds which the readers have never visited before, and they need some context if they're going to figure out what the hell is going on. However, science fiction writers also have had a pronounced tendency to abuse the infodump, which has made people wary of them as a plot device.

I don't know how I feel about that. Fact is, as a reader, I like a good, chunky infodump, so long as it's done well in the context of the story. Give me an omnicient narrator with just a bit of attitude to dribble out interesting tidbits of information just so, and I'll be a happy boy. One of the reasons The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works so well is that Douglas Adams was the undisputed master of the amusing infodump -- so good at it, in fact, that just about every other SF attempting an amusing infodump since has unconsciously (or otherwise) aped his delivery. You can get away with it if you're good enough; Gaiman and Pratchett do it marvelously well in Good Omens. Alas, we can't all be Gaiman and Pratchett. But the point remains: there's nothing wrong with a well-delivered infodump. They can be fun.

I think the infodump has gotten a bad reputation because there's some measure of uncertainty how much information is enough, and SF/F writers, on balance, tend to err of the side of too much information rather than too little. Therefore, the infodumps are frequent and large and (depending on who you are as a reader) possibly extraneous and tiring. SF/F readers get trained to accept random infodumping as part of the price one pays for the genre, but I can see how it gets annoying to people not trained in the care and handling of an infodump.

I don't shy away from infodumps in my own writing, because sometimes you need them, and sometimes they're enjoyable to write. But I do try to make my infodumps as interesting to read as possible; I don't want them to drag, and I don't want them to throw the reader out of the story. It's largely a question of narrative flow: Can you make this infodump look necessary and desirable for the reader at this point in the story? If you can manage that, I don't think reader will consider an infodump as an infodump; it'll just be another part of the story.

Now, do I always manage this smooth delivery of the infodump? Well, probably not, and in event, everyone's personal infodump tolerance is different. But it's what I aim for.

Posted by john at 02:22 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Early Notice

The other day SF editor and anthologist Jonathan Strahan commented on his blog about the cover art to The Android's Dream and wondered, "is this a move away from the more overtly Heinleinesque territory of his first two novels? I’ll be curious to see." So I sent him the first chapter to look at. You can see his thoughts on it here. His blog is worth checking out in general as well, of course.

Posted by john at 09:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack