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August 31, 2006

Reading Brought Back from Worldcon, Plus Book-Pimpery

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If you don't get some new reading material when you're at a Worldcon, you're basically an idiot. So here's some of the reading material I've picked up. From left:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Cory, who wuz robbed -- robbed! -- of the Hugo this year (albeit by Peter Beagle, a very fine person and writer) has banged out a YA novel that is really excellent so far. Personally it had me by the second paragraph, when it described a high school vice-principal as "a sucking chest wound of a human being." I knew vice-principals like that, I have to say. It'll be a little bit of a while before Little Brother gets to the rest of you, so allow me to say: Neener neener neener, I get to read it and you don't. But you'll want to, when it finally hits the stores.

The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride by MaryAnn Johanson: I totally have a secret online crush on MaryAnn Johnson, who runs the FlickFilosopher web site, one of my favorite movie sites online. Some time ago Johanson got a deal to write short, fun guides on popular movies for a book publisher, but then that publisher closed up shop before the books came out. So she figured, well, it's good enough, I'll put it out myself. And here we are with a geeky guide to The Princess Bride, which Johanson is (appropriately) really geeky about.

And she's right; it is good enough -- and more than that, actually. It's a funny and fast overview about the things people love about Princess Bride; it nods towards deeper themes in the film and mostly appraoches the film affectionately and fondly, looking at what it is that makes that film more than just a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes or so. Personally speaking, I'm not as geeky about The Princess Bride as Johanson is, but her enthusiasm for the film is catching, and a kick to read.

If the book does well enough, Johanson is considering adding to the series. So here's hoping it does well enough.

Echelon, by Josh Conviser: As I noted in my Worldcon wrap-up piece, I got the chance to meet Josh after a particularly contentious panel, and chatting with him and Deanna Hoak gave me a chance to wind down without strangling someone. So I was readily anticipating checking out his novel. I've literally just started the first couple of pages, so I'll have to report on the whole thing later, but it's got a hell of a premise, which is basically that Echelon, the spy program the US uses to keep track of nefarious foreigners, has expanded in the near future to become something of an electronic big brother. This cuts down on things like war, which is good, but also, you know, also cuts down on things like personal freedom, which is bad.

Josh has the extraordinary good fortune of having the book drop at exactly the right time -- i.e., when we're having serious discussions in the real world about how far our government should be able to invade our privacy for the sake of safety and security. Every author should be so lucky. Anyway, it looks really interesting, so I'm looking forward to digging in.

Having thus pimped my reading, I invite you to do the same: Pimp a book or other reading material you're loving in the last few weeks. Doesn't have to be new, just interesting. Also: Don't pimp your own book -- there'll undoubtedly be a self-pimp thread coming along soon. Share the love, friends. Share the love.

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מלחמת האדם הזקן

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You're looking here at the cover of the Hebrew edition of Old Man's War, which as far as I know is the first foreign-language edition of the book to hit the streets. I snagged it from this online Hebrew bookstore, which in turn was forwarded to me by Whatever reader Abigail Nussbaum. Thanks Abigail! Someone who knows Hebrew will have to tell me what that page says, and if, indeed, "סקאלזי ג`ון" is, as I suspect, my name in Hebrew.

The Israeli publisher is obliged to send copies of the novel my way; I can't wait to get a copy in my own little hands. Having one's first foreign edition is cool.


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August 30, 2006

Word Choices

The new GOP buzzword: Fascism

President Bush in recent days has recast the global war on terror into a "war against Islamic fascism." Fascism, in fact, seems to be the new buzz word for Republicans in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq.
Bush used the term earlier this month in talking about the arrest of suspected terrorists in Britain, and spoke of "Islamic fascists" in a later speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Spokesman Tony Snow has used variations on the phrase at White House press briefings...
White House aides and outside Republican strategists said the new description is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups, representing a shift in emphasis from the general to the specific.

Leaving aside the fact that this administration's own irritatingly authoritarian tendencies continually need to be kept in check by the judiciary, allow me to say that I wish my president and his brain trust had a better plan to combat our enemies than just attempting to rebrand them. Perhaps if they had a plan, we could call them what they are: Terrorists. But they apparently don't. And here we are.

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The Scalzi Award

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Here I am with fellow Campbell nominee Brandon Sanderson (whose excellent Elantris and Mistborn you ought to go buy, like, now), who clutches the first (and probably only) Scalzi award. And what is the Scalzi award? Well, I'll tell you. During the Worldcon, I was chatting with the folks at Larry Smith booksellers, when a couple of guys came up to me and asked me if I wouldn't mind signing a triangular-shaped piece of LEGO for them. Well, it's not actually the most unusual autograph request I've ever had, so, okay. As I was signing we chatted; one of them mentioned he worked for a bookstore in Utah, and that recently they had a signing for Brandon, at which more than 200 people turned out. I think I said I wished I had turnout like that.

Fast forward to the party after the Hugo award, and finally all is revealed: The guys I was chatting with were good friends of Brandon's, and with my signature as a guide, they crafted their writer pal the Scalzi award, a consolatory prize for losing the Campbell to me. Apparently Brandon had adopted me as his nemesis, as you can see in the following revealing photo, in which he pre-emptively curses me for winning the award which should rightfully be his (this one is good, too, because it comes complete with fist-shaking action). In my hand, incidentally, is the great pen Scalzibane, to be driven into my heart on the day Brandon defeats me in literary competition, or in mortal battle, or, perhaps, in the race to the last muffin in the green room.

All of which, I must say, endears Brandon to me immensely. I wish I were a more suitable nemesis, but I just find all of this damn funny. Brandon was the other first-year nominee on the Campbell ballot this year, so he's got another year to make that award his. Based on his books -- and the imminent threat of Scalzibane -- he's got one of my Campbell nomination slots for 2007. Get ready for sushi, Brandon.

Update: Isaac Stewart, architect of the Scalzi Award, tells his story here.

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"Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?"

A couple of weeks ago, I did a talk at the Kenton Country Library on the topic "Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?" -- it was the overall theme of a larger symposium, so I applied myself toward it. As it happens, the Cincinnati public television station sent someone to make a recording of my blatherations, and now they've put the entire talk -- 74 minutes -- online, in streaming Microsoft video format.

Here's the page that will pop up a standalone video player (I'm currently the top feature, but I imagine that will slide down over time)

Here's the page that will run in a browser window.

In addition to the general talk, I also read from two works: The first part of the first chapter of Old Man's War, around about the 48-minute mark, and also "New Directives for Employee - Manxtse Relations," a short-short story which I suspect almost none of you know about, at about the 1:04 mark. I also name drop a lot of folks, including Charlie Stross, China Mieville, Hal Duncan, David Louis Edelman and other current writing notables during the course of the talk, and make some general points about the state of science fiction today. And of course you'll get to see me blather on for an hour and a quarter, apparently without drawing breath. It's a skill.

Those of you who have never seen me in action are, heh, well, in for a treat, I suppose. One of the things about this video is that I stand and pace during the talk, which means that the poor cameraman always had to pan to keep up with me; sometimes I walk right out of frame and it takes him a second to catch up. It's me, not him. Also, you'll see that Ian McDonald's description of me as "fidgety as a whippet" is not really exaggeration. I got tired just watching me. Also, clearly, I need to watch the "uhhhhhh" and "you know" moments. But by and large I think it's an interesting piece, and if nothing else shows that I can extemporize at great length -- which is to say I had no idea what I was going to say about anything until I opened my mouth and began to speak.

One thing: Patrick doesn't actually call me every day. But I feel his presence. Yes I do.

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August 29, 2006

Something for Future Hugo Finalists to Consider

I'm looking at the vote tallies for the Best Novel Hugo, and it turns out that Old Man's War placed third on the final tally. Second place was Charlie Stross' Accelerando, and first, of course, was Robert Charles Wilson's Spin.

Question: Is it coincidence that the novels that took win, place and show for the Hugo vote were also the books made freely available in electronic editions to LACon IV members (and in the case of Accelerando, to humanity at large)?

Discuss.

Posted by john at 10:21 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Apropos of Nothing in Particular

Me (to Krissy): Hey, sweetheart, what would you do if someone decided to try to grope you in public?

Krissy: I think it depends.

Me: On what?

Krissy: Well, the pinky is the easiest finger to break, but breaking someone's thumb hurts them more.

Me: There's a broken finger involved in any event, though.

Krissy: A fractured finger, at the very least.

Posted by john at 09:13 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Blast From the Past

CBC Journalist Joe Mahoney has unearthed an interview I did with him at Torcon 3 -- my first science fiction convention! -- and put it online here. I note it for its anthropological interest.

Looking back over a gulf of three years almost exactly, it's interesting to hear how tentative I was in associating myself with SF; during the course of the interview, when I speak of the SF community, I say "these people," implicitly separating myself out from the community. Needless to say I don't really have this tentativeness problem with SFdom anymore.

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Back to School 2006

Athena's gone back to school today. School officially started yesterday, but we had to write her a note ("Please excuse Athena for missing the first day of school. She was at Disneyland"). And to top things off, as this video shows (for those of you with RSS feeds, he says), she has a few complaints about her classes. It's always something.

Posted by john at 03:23 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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This is the view from the stage where the Hugos and the Campbell were given out -- before the ceremony, of course (there were more people in the final audience than Laurie Mann and some motion-blurred guy). I took this picture during the rehersal portion of the day; the ceremony producers wanted to walk us through what should happen if we were to get an award, so we wouldn't kill ourselves either getting up on the stage or walking down from it. And I figured I should get a picture then, because who knew if I would be getting up there later (well, several people knew, including at least a couple of the people walking us through our paces, because they had helped count the tallies. But I didn't know). I'll say that later in the evening it looked a little different.

But I'll get to that a bit later. What follows now is a general recollection of LACon IV. As you might imagine, I liked this convention quite a bit, and a lot of fun stuff happened. Bear in mind this recounting is not likely to be chronological or even necessarily coherent, but just me banging things out as I remember them.

* I should note that before I and the rest of the Scalzi clan got to Anaheim for the convention, we spent a number of days in San Diego, visiting some of Krissy's family and just generally relaxing. During the day Krissy and Athena went to the beach and to Sea World; I wrote a couple new chapters of The Last Colony while they were out and about. I realize that me writing on the book doesn't sound like it constitutes vacation time, but I have to say that the change of scenery really helped me; it was a good jolt to my usual way of doing things. And I suspected that once I was in Anaheim I wouldn't get any real writing done (I was correct about that). So it was good to get ahead. In the evening, we did family stuff. In all we had a really nice and relaxing time in San Diego, and it helps to confirm my opinion, formed a number of years earlier when I was an intern for a San Diego newspaper, that the San Diego area is where I would want to live, should I ever return to California (liklihood of me returning to California: Low. But it's nice to have a contingency plan).

* Once we got to Anaheim, Krissy and Athena continued their plan of "do something else with the day while daddy is geeking out." They were aided in this task by the nearby presence of two things: One, the Hilton swimming pool; two, a small, little-known local amusement park known as "Disneyland." Yeah, I'd never heard of it before, either. Nevertheless, K&A got two-day passes for it, so while I was massively overbooked on panels and other programming on Thursday and Friday, they were off accosting Mickey. It was a fair trade in time.

Which was not to say that Krissy and Athena didn't enjoy the convention; indeed, far from it. First, Athena, being age seven, took great pleasure in riding up and down the Anaheim Convention Center's extraordinarily tall escalators; indeed, I daresay that as long as she had had access to the escalators, the pool and Disneyland were merely options. Athena also enjoyed her access to the dealer's room. Here you can see her enjoying a pair of SFnal ducks, procured in the dealer's room:

Before we came to the convention we noted to Athena that it was possible that there would be a number of people who would recognize her, thanks to her presence on the Whatever, and in particular her recent video about Pluto. And indeed she was; people came up to her saying "Hey! It's the Pluto girl!" and otherwise noting her presence at the convention. She handled it well, or as well as any mostly normal seven-year-old would, in any event. And in general I think she enjoyed herself quite a bit, and considering it was her first convention, it was a nice introduction for her. In the exhibition center, there was a large wall divided by years, where one could sign in the year one joined fandom. Athena signed it in the 2006 section.

Krissy also enjoyed the convention, but as the primary Athena wrangler for the event was primarily occupied with that. We did manage to go out as a family for dinner with friends, and we also got babysitting for Athena on Friday and Saturday so we could enjoy some of the parties together. It was also Krissy's first Worldcon (she's been to a couple of Wiscons), so I had fun introducing her to people and then noting the expressions of confusion about the fact that I, a common troll, had managed to hook up with someone like her. Cory Doctorow put it best; after a dinner we had with friends, he turned to me and said, "Dude, you are totally out of your league." My response: You think I don't know this? Although, to be fair, Cory's girlfriend Alice is likewise superfabulous. Dating up: A science fiction geek's path to happiness. Now you know.

* Most of my convention daytime was given over to the participation on panels: I had eight of them (not counting my signing and my reading), and here you can see me on the "Politics and SF" panel (photo credit: Tom Suter). I thought the selection of panels I was on was... well, idiosyncratic is probably the best word; I was on a couple of medical-related panels, which was somewhat random, while I was on no film or blogging panels. Now, it's entirely possible I expressed interest in these panels and not others (this will teach me to fill out the program participation questionaire, semi-comatose at 3:30 am), but it's still a little weird.

At the very least, however, the panels were generally interesting. The politics and the medical panels were -- as you might expect -- rather contentious, although you might not have expected that the medical panels were more contentious than the politics panel. At "The Future of Medicine" panel I got myself in hot water by replying to an audience member's assertion that we were headed toward a theocracy by saying that, in fact, we're not (I think we've gone about as far in that direction as we're going to go, personally -- although I will note that the Fear of Theocracy seems to be huge in SF fandom at the moment, and I expect I'll address that in a later entry). Later, only the direct intervention of the moderator kept me from leaping over the panelist table and hammering on some jackass audience member with a eugenic bug up his ass, who was spouting about how it was shameful that certain people were allowed to spread their filthy genes (yes, he used those words), and that they don't have a right to do that. My response was going to be "Let me introduce you to the Constitution of the United States, you fucktard," but the moderator rather prudently cut short that line of conversation before I could open my mouth. A smart moderator, he. Meanwhile at the "Swimming in the Gene Pool" panel I and the moderator (whose name escapes me at the moment) went around on a number of subjects while Jody Lynn Nye, who was sitting between us, listened to us bicker with a deeply amused smile on her face.

The other panels had their moments, too. On the "Extraterrestrials" panel, Geoff Landis took a hardcore position on whether there is intelligent extraterrestrial life out there -- no -- and then used stats to hammer at anyone daring to disagree with him (which makes it sound like Geoff was being a jerk, which he was not. He was just enjoyably adamant about his position). On the "Might Makes Right" panel, panelist JG Hertzler (who has played a number of Star Trek roles) came to the panel in a modified Nazi uniform with corporate logos where the Nazi insignia normally went, and then began to monologue about current politics until members of the audience more or less told him to shut up so that we could get back to the topic of the panel. Once Hertzler twigged to the fact that we were talking about SF more than current politics, he was a fine panelist, however, and I suspect his final statement (some clever wordplay based on a topic raised in the panel) won back a number of audience members he'd irritated earlier.

Of all the panels, the one I enjoyed the most was the "Parody, Pastiche and Humor" panel, because all the panelists were funny, we had a really good discussion about humor and SF, and the audience was loose and fun and into the subject as well. A real high point.

* I'm also happy to say that my reading seemed to go very well indeed, which I understand was unusual -- not because I'm so great, but because the readings were tucked into the third floor of the Hilton, and the third floor was this dimly-lit, poorly accessible, low-ceilinged floor which no one could find unless they had actually been there before, and even then not always. Fortunately, I checked out the floor before my reading, realized no one would ever find it without actual directions, and then proceeded to give directions to everyone I saw. It also helped that I had a signing directly before my reading, so I pimped the reading to everyone in my signing line, also giving them directions. It worked, because the room filled up pretty well. I ended up reading from the first chapter of The Android's Dream, which is fun to read from, I have to say.

* Speaking of my signing (which also went well -- whee!), I'll share with you a story which I think deserves to go down in the annals of Worldcon history. I'm signing my books next to Allen Steele, who is one of my favorite writers and also one of my favorite people in SF -- he and I went to the same high school, albeit many years and 2,000 miles apart -- and he mentions to me as we're signing that his first Hugo award was at LACon III, which took place ten years ago. "Now that we're here, and you're up for some awards, I should pass my luck onto you," he says, then whacks me upside the head, hard. Naturally, I'm surprised, but I'm also delighted, since for the rest of the convention I now have a way to taunt and needle Allen, because, after all, he did physically assault me. The best of these was while Allen was signing at the Asimov's/Analog table; I had Athena walk up to the table and ask "Mr. Steele, why did you hit my daddy?" in her best sad and wee little voice. Allen looked both confused and stricken until he saw me grinning behind her, and then I suspect he was ready to whack me upside the head once more.

Of course, the really funny thing is that it worked -- I did walk away with an award, after all. Now, some may say that Allen's whack around the brain came after the vote tallies and what have you, but I say: You weren't the one getting slapped upside the head. I suspect the mighty beat-down Allen Steele laid upon me smacked me directly into the alternate universe where I was an award winner. And for that I am grateful.

And now you know: You want to win a major SF award, Allen Steele is your man. Just bring some aspirin for afterward.


(snagged from John Joseph Adams's flickr photostream)

* A little bit about the awards. No, I wasn't stressed at all about the Hugo -- as I mentioned earlier, I had no expectation I would win it, so I wan't worried about it in the slightest, I just enjoyed the ride. I was majorly stressed about the Campbell, however, and I'll tell you why, although with the caveat that what follows sounds appallingly egotistical. Ready? Okay:

The problem with being a front-runner for an award, which I was for the Campbell, is that people often appear to transmute the expectation that you may win the award into the conclusion that you will win the award, or indeed that you have won the award, and will thus address you as if your award win is already fait accompli. I don't know how other people deal with that, but frankly, it stressed the hell out of me. There's a difference between saying to someone "I've heard good things about your chances," or such, which is perfectly fine, and saying something like "dude, you're so totally going to win it," which I heard variations of, or "congratulatons on your Campbell," which more than one person said to me in the days before the actual ceremony.

To be clear: I don't think people meant to stress me out about the Campbell -- people were genuinely passing along their good wishes, and I did take those wishes in the spirit in which they were offered. Please don't read this as a criticism of the good will people were offering to me; I am very glad they offered it, and humbled that they would. With that noted, there were two reasons the "you're going to win" and the "you did win" phrasings got to me. The first is simply that I felt it was (very often unintentionally) minimizing the other nominees, any of whom could make a legitimate claim to the Campbell based on the quality of their writing -- this was, if I may say so, a very good Campbell class -- and I wasn't comfortable with that minimizing.

The second was more personal: Dude, what if I didn't win? It was entirely possible, you know: Chris Roberson and Sarah Monette have big online followings and also a deep pool of SF fans and friends and they were in their second year of eligibility. Brandon Sanderson, the other first-year nominee, has made quite a splash, and both Steph Swainston and KJ Bishop have a solid core of supporters from places other than the US. And as noted, all of them write to beat the devil. Yes, I knew I was the front runner; I also knew that any of these writers could push me off the heap. And if one of them did, I wasn't looking forward to the commentary along the lines of "frontrunner John Scalzi was shockingly upset in the Campbell vote by... " because a) given the nominee quality, it shouldn't be shocking, and b) because I wasn't looking forward to being a mildly tragic figure.

Again, I'm not criticizing anyone for wishing me well -- I really did appreciate it, and I still do. Simply for future reference, in the unlikely event I will be a frontrunner for anything ever again, remember I'm susceptible to stress when you tell me I am going to win, rather than you think I have a good chance of winning. As one person noted, getting stressed out about being told you will win is something of a high-class problem (i.e., we should all have these problems), and I certainly agree with that. But there it is.


(image nicked from Kathryn Cramer's Hugo Flickr Set)

* Toward this end, you know who kept me from imploding into a ball of stress about the whole Campbell thing? Sarah Monette and Chris Roberson, who were two of my fellow Campbell nominees. Both of them are friends on mine and that helped tremendously, because they were both people who were going through the same process I was, and also because they were people who I could be happy for if they won, and who I knew would be happy for me as well. Chris is damn funny, and his sense of humor about the whole process was a release valve for me and allowed me to relax, and Sarah's incredible warmth and empathy helped keep me centered. My only real regret about the Campbell is that I can't share it with the two of them. A three-way tie between us would have been hellaciously cool.

* I take that back. I have one other regret about the Campbell thing. My acceptance speech was basically praising my co-nominees and exhorting the audience members to stop by the dealers' room before they left and to pick up their books, because the books rock. And I went down the list of books... and blanked on Chris Roberson's books. Because, you know, it was all I could do not to pee myself by that time. And of course, as soon as I got off stage, I was all oh, crap, I forgot Chris' books! And as soon as the ceremony was over I zoomed over to Chris and apologized abjectly. He was pretty good about it: "It was your Hilary Swank moment," he said (referring to when Hilary Swank won an Oscar and forgot to mention her husband Chad). Be that as it may, I still feel bad about it, especially because those are some fine books Chris wrote.

So: Chris' books are Here, There and Everywhere and Paragaea. Won't you give them a good home? You won't regret it, particularly if you like the Beatles and/or rockin' old-school SF pastiche. You'll get great books, and I'll restore my karmic balance. I thank you in advance for helping my progress, however fractionally, along the Wheel of Suffering.

* Aside my own high note, I thought this particular awards ceremony moved along at a pretty good clip -- Connie Willis as toastmaster and Robert Silverberg as her erstwhile nemesis were quite amusing, and most of the award winners were both gracious and brief, which is always appreciated. The most fun thing to see was David Levine win for short story; he ran up with such excited energy that he literally tore the stairs off the stage, and then proceeded to leg-hump presenter Harlan Ellison in his excitement (Ellison, it must be said, gave as good as he got with that one). It's good when people want their awards, you know? And it really was a joy to see Robert Charles Wilson get his Hugo for Spin. He had the best line of the evening: "If I knew I was going to win an award, I would have worn better shoes" (he wore sneakers with his suit). Not to mention David Hartwell, SF's Susan Lucci, who got his Best Editor Hugo after being nominated 13,745 times. As they say, the crowd went wild.

The photo session afterward went pretty well, too. I've heard people complain that the photo session takes too long and keeps people from their parties and whatnot, but you know what? No one on stage was really complaining about being there. Heck, we were doing Rockettes-like leg kicks and singing an adapted version of "New York, New York" ("Start spreading the news, I got one today, I got me a shiny rocket, named the Hugo!" or some such). So yeah, the "post-ceremony photos are boring" thing is totally a "don't throw me in the briar patch" moment.


(stolen again from Kathryn Cramer)

What I was really happy about was that I got to say something to Patrick Nielsen Hayden during the photo shoot. I'm up there on the stage, standing next to Robert Charles Wilson and David Hartwell, all of us getting our picture taken, and PNH is down on the floor, looking like a kid whose Christmas gifts just keep on coming. So I look at him directly, and as writer to editor, say, "So, can I get an extension?"

His response: "One week!"

My response: "I knew I should have won the Hugo! Then I would have gotten two weeks!"

Thank you, I'll be here all evening. Tip your wait staff.

* I saw so many cool people that trying to name-check them all would take me the rest of my day, and would doom me in its incompleteness, and I really do have to start doing paid work at some point. But let me note some highlights:

-- Meeting Brandon Sanderson and his sneaky friends who got me to sign a piece of LEGO (the explanation for that will come at a later point, when I get pictures). This year was Brandon's first chance at the Campbell; I hope he gets another next year. His work certainly deserves it.

-- Seeing Scott Westerfeld experience Instant Karma for his Pluto-hayta ways with his star-crossed travel plans (all right, this isn't a real highlight; just funny his travel went askew the day Pluto was officially demoted). More generally, Scott was in town to get the coveted Golden Duck award, and I am delighted he did, because it gave me and Krissy an excuse to hang out with him where we wouldn't have otherwise.

-- Hanging with Doselle Young, because Doselle knows everyone and sooner or later everyone comes to see him (it's amazing, really). Athena practically adopted Doselle, because why wouldn't you. Also through Doselle, meeting his friends Kay and Erin, with whom I bonded through the power of 80s rock; watching Kay's face as I recounted the terrors of 80s Canadian metal bands was worth the price of admission alone.

-- Nick Sagan, time-warped in from 1896!

-- Dinner with Cory Doctorow, Issac Spinzel (I hope I'm spelling your last name right, Issac), Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Cory's gal Alice, and his friend Quinn Norton and her husband who my faulty memory tells me is Danny, but don't count on that, but who was a riot anyway. Great company, great Thai food. Just as cool: Lunch with Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Elise Matheson, Nancy Kress and Ellen "Pool Shark" Klages, who I am very sorry I was not able to introduce to Athena.

-- Signing books at the Borderland Books corner with Jake Lake and Mark Budz, and spending time with the whole Borderlands crew, who I think rocks in all sorts of inexpressible ways. Likewise, it was nice to meet the acquaintance of the folks from Mysterious Galaxy books from San Diego, whom I missed in that city (alas), and also to see the folks at Larry Smith's table. Larry's got a lot of signed books of mine, so when people came to my signing only to see the books were already signed, I said "Got this from Larry, did you?" And then I personalized the books, because that's what you do.

-- Spending a nice, destressing moment after a contentious panel with Deanna Hoak, SF's most rockin' copyeditor, and Josh Conviser, author of the hot new novel Echelon. Thanks, guys. I really needed that.

-- Raph Koster, stalking me wherever I went.

-- Meeting the very awesome David Marusek, and then accidentally sucking him into an interview for public radio. Sorry, David. You gave good quote!

hugoloser.jpg-- Getting a "Hugo Loser" ribbon from George RR Martin on Sunday, after the awards (he has a pack). "I don't know that you should get one," he said, noting the Campbell win. To which I said, "Well, I did lose the best novel Hugo, you know." I got my ribbon. Look! Pretty!

-- Being able to share some of Worldcon with my beloved high school friends Natasha Kordus and Deven Desai, the former who visited me on Friday and came with me to a number of parties, and the latter of whom attended the Awards ceremony with me and Krissy. Having them there and sharing some of the wierd and wonderful world of SF with them gave this convention an extra level of happiness for me.

-- Having a genuine and purely unexpected moment of grace on Sunday by becoming part of a spontaneous acapella version "Down to the River to Pray" lead by Ellen Kushner, and featuring harmonies by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Delia Sherman, Ellen Klages, Elise Matheson, Madeleine E. Robins, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Benjamin Rosenbaum and yours truly. Ellen Kushner and a couple of the others had started singing it in the Hilton bar where Patrick, Teresa, Elise and I were having lunch, and Elise went "harmonies!" and headed over, followed the NHs and me, and we all eventually joined in. Ellen, who had her eyes closed the whole time she was singing, opened them when she was done and was a bit surprised to find her chorus had grown. And we were all on key.

Now, those of you not in science fiction (should you have read down this far at all) might think it strange that a bunch of science fiction writers, editors and fans might suddenly start singing southern gospel in a hotel bar, right next to the pool table. Well, that's because it is strange. Strange is what we do, by profession and by inclination. But I will tell you this: After the wonderful, long, tiring, frazzling, exciting, and just profoundly overwhelming experience that was LACon IV, the simple act of singing a song of praise with people with whom I share bonds of friendship and community restored me, replenished me, and reminded me how lucky I am to be part of this community. Because I am, and I know it.

It was a good convention. I'm glad I was there.

Posted by john at 02:08 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

August 28, 2006

About The Campbell Tiara

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Since there seems to be interest in it,
a quick note about the new Campbell tiara, which you see me modeling here. As I can recollect the story, it was created at the behest of Campbell winners Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear, who wanted to create Campbell regalia which would be provided to new winners to show off at the Worldcons or other conventions (away from the conventions, Jay Lake is tasked with the keeping of the regalia). The tiara -- or, actually, diadem, if you want to be technical -- was handcrafted by Amanda Downum from copper wire and glass beads, and now having worn it myself I'm here to tell you that it's both quite lovely and also reasonably comfortable to wear. Not something you'd wear every day, mind you, but for a two-day stretch? No problem. And I simply enjoyed looking at it too. Ms. Downum, you did a fine, fine job. Thank you.

What's really cool about the tiara, you should know, is that it really does work -- people saw me wearing the tiara on Saturday and Sunday, and would say to me: "Hey! The Campbell tiara!" And then congratulate me on the award. As Elizabeth Bear (who as the Campbell winner just prior to me was wearing the tiara, which she then placed on my head) said, this has become an instant tradition; I look forward to placing it on the head of whomever wins the Campbell next year.

The picture above, incidentally, was taken by Keith Stokes, who graciously gave me permission to post it; in addition to being here, it is now on display as part of the extensive MidAmerican Fan Photo Archive of the 2006 Hugo Awards Ceremony, which you can see in all its glory here. Go visit! Now!

Posted by john at 04:41 PM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Quick and Possibly Incoherent Thoughts on Awards and Etc

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This is what I look like dressed up (and taking a picture of myself and Athena in the hotel room mirror). Suffice to say I cleaned up well enough that a number of people who know me reasonably well had no idea who the hell I was, which I find infinitely amusing.

A couple of things. First, inasmuch as I've just gotten home and am somewhat narratively challenged due to travel and the lack of sleep travel brings, I'll hold off on the full Worldcon report until I am rested and able to string together more than one thought at a time (update: here's the rather more extensive report). Second, to everyone who has posted a congratulations or sent me an e-mail on the same theme: So many very genuine thanks. I do intend to respond more fully soon, but for now I hope you'll accept this general expression of my gratitude. I've really appreciated every comment and e-mail. I just wish I was more coherent to better express it.

I'll probably discuss this in more detail later (again with the incoherentness), but from my point of view, and with one (and a half) exceptions, the Hugo awards went pretty much the way I think they should have. I personally had pegged Accelerando for the Best Novel, because it's such an awesome pile of SFnal goodness, and Charlie Stross is on fire these days. But I am really and honestly delighted that Spin took the top award. It's a really excellent book, and people, Robert Charles Wilson was due. He's written so many fine books and been on the ballot enough times, and this book was him at the top of his form. Before the ceremony, I told RCW that I would be honored to lose to him later in the evening, and you know what the funny thing is? When I did, I was.

Yes, yes, I know this sounds like the usual trying-to-be-graceful loser thing. But trust me. Connie Willis read off the title and I whooped like a kid. You know why? Because I like Bob and I like Spin. And because by that time I had already won the Campbell. So, you know, I was good for the evening.

Also, now that the contest is over, I can tell you all: I had no illusions I was going to win the Hugo. When the nominations were announced, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my invaluable editor, started acting in his role as Moderator of Expectations, preparing me, deftly but firmly, for the fact that I wasn't going to win the Hugo. I appreciated the thought, but I was already way ahead of him on this one. There were indeed scenarios I could imagine that had me walking off with the Hugo last Saturday night, but the operative word for their probability was: low. I had an acceptance speech ready on the off chance I managed to pull through and win, but its content should tell you what I thought of the idea of winning the Hugo in this particular field of competitors: It read, in its entirety, "You're all high." The fact I had no expectation of winning the Hugo allowed me to actually enjoy my nomination, and let me tell you, I did. Oh, boy, did I ever. It's fun being a Hugo nominee.

And anyway: Hey! I got me a Campbell! Anyone who was there at the awards ceremony can tell you how excited I was to get the plaque -- and the newly-inaugurated Campbell tiara (actually a diadem, but never mind that now). Why? For one thing, because Chris Roberson and Sarah Monette are friends of mine, and it was excellent to have us all as nominees for the same award, along with Brandon Sanderson (who I met at the awards and who really is an excellent human and writer), K.J. Bishop and Steph Swainston. I get to call these folks my peers, and what a peer group. For another thing, because so many of the people I consider friends and inspirations have held the station I now currently occupy, and I'm delighted (and humbled) to be in their company. Finally, because I needed a new cheeseboard (that's an inside joke). But beyond that, with luck and skill and the benevolence of science fiction fans, I may find myself with another Hugo nomination. But there's only a limited time to win a Campbell, and you can only win it once. I'm staggered to have it rest with me awhile.

Robert Charles Wilson has the Hugo -- Spin deserves it, and he deserves it, several times over, in my opinion. I'm inexpressibly happy he has it in his possession. I'll simply note that as he and I were standing there having our pictures taken by fans and by the press, he said to me, about the Campbell, "Can I see it? Because I'm never going to win it." I was happy to show it to him, and to be able to spend some time with him up there on that stage, each of us with the right award for the evening.

Posted by john at 01:24 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

August 27, 2006

Look What I Got

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Hi, I'm John Scalzi, and I'm the winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Exciting night. Now it's late and I'm very tired, and I'm going to sleep. But I thought you'd all like to know.

See you all on Monday.

Posted by john at 05:01 AM | Comments (151) | TrackBack

August 24, 2006

Dwarf Planets

Yes, I heard. Yes, I told Athena, whose response, after asking for and receiving permission to use a very mild curse word, was: "Pluto's been demoted? That's crap!"

How do I feel about it? Seriously? Snarky rivalries with other science fiction writers who will undoubtedly be unbearably gloaty when I see them later tonight notwithstanding, I think it's fine. The IAU has created a new class of planet to recognize Pluto and its ilk ("dwarf planets"). Inasmuch as I've advocated classifying Pluto and its ilk as such, I can hardly complain when the IAU agrees with me on that matter. Now, what will be interesting is what the IAU will do when someone discovers one of these "dwarf planets" which actually does meet its official criteria for planetary status. Personally I don't doubt there are objects out there orbiting the sun massive enough to "sweep the lane" but which are fundamentally slushy balls of ice. Will someone try to add new restrictions to the definition to keep it out of the club? We'll have to see if the Pluto-hayta types rise again, with their ice-ist agenda.

Does this mean Pluto will now fade from cultural memory? We'll find out, but I'll say this much about it -- I'll be revising The Rough Guide to the Universe over the next year; in the previous edition of the book, I lumped in Pluto with Uranus and Neptune. In the revised book, I expect I'll be adding a new chapter: "Pluto and the dwarf planets." That's a bit of a promotion, I'd say. Personally, I think Pluto will be around for a while.

Now, back to the convention. See you all next Monday.

Posted by john at 11:59 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

August 18, 2006

Whatevr 2.0

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I'm pleased to announce that Scalzi.com and the Whatever have been acquired by Tribune Media Services in a $1.7 million cash and stock deal. The Whatever will be retooled into a community site, complete with personalized reader diaries with integrated multimedia and filesharing capabilities. This will require the site going dark for the next ten days while we swap out the database and expand bandwidth; the new Whatevr 2.0 (beta) will go live Monday, August 28. I hope you'll join me and Tribune Media Services for this exciting new stage in the evolution of The Whatever.

or

No one's buying the site for $1.7 million, alas; I'm merely stepping away from the Whatever until the 28th to spend time with family and then to spend time with about 5,000 science fiction geeks at LACon IV, where I will be on a ridiculous number of panels and will have to attend some sort of ceremony regarding some awards I doubt anyone's ever heard of.

You decide which of these two stories is more believable.

In the meantime, for those of you who are coming to LACon IV, please note that my reading will be on Thursday, August 24 at 4pm. I will be reading either one of two things: Either the infamous first chapter of the upcoming The Android's Dream, or the first chapter of The Last Colony, the third and for now final installment in the Old Man series. Either way, you don't want to miss it, and I don't want to blather on to an empty room. Please come, won't you?

I don't plan on spending any amount of time here between now and the 28th, although I'll probably check in to delete spam comments, because spam sucks. I may post an open thread entry or two during that time, but don't count on it. If you postively can't live without me, I'll be posting a couple of entries a day over at By The Way, because they pay me to. But basically, you're on your own until the 28th (and possibly the 29th, if I'm feeling lazy). Find something to do, people. I hear Yahtzee's a lot of fun.

Seriously, enjoy yourself for the next ten days. I will. And for those of you coming to LACon IV: See you there. Hopefully at the reading.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

August 17, 2006

Representin' for the SF Publishing Hotties, Yo

lizscheier.jpgApparently Galleycat is running a contest to determine "the Hottie of Publishing, Women's Division," and has five finalists up, some of whom really do seem to be rather unspeakably hot, from what I can discern from the rather ridiculously small pictures of the women on the site. One of the finalists, Liz Scheier (pictured here), is a science fiction editor, and I'm being lobbied by members of the science fiction hawt women appreciation underground to throw some votes her way.

Well, okay: As long as we all preface this with the acknowledgement that this is a very silly poll or contest or whatever, and that the vote does not oblige Liz to, you know, actually date any of us, why not recognize hotness in science fiction, in the form of an editor who might buy one of your books and/or buy some books that you will later read and enjoy? Powerful, hawt women in SF rock. What could possibly be better?

Yes, yes, powerful hawt women in SF offering you free pizza. Now beat yourself in the head with a bat, you mouth-breathing troglodyte, you.

So, anyway: vote for Liz. Science fiction thanks you in advance for your participation.

Posted by john at 04:19 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

Incidentally --

Yes, I got that chapter done yesterday. I have another to do today. Joy.

Here's a fun fact: Raymond Chandler once wrote about writing "If you ever run out of ideas, have someone come through the door with a gun."

In science fiction, a missile attack does pretty much the same thing.

That is all.

Posted by john at 02:32 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

In Today's Episode of "Those Activist Courts"!

The NSA eavesdropping program is unconstitutional? That's unpossible!

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the U.S. government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered it ended immediately.
In a 44-page memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, -- who is based in Detroit, Michigan --struck down the National Security Agency's program, which she said violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

Here's the full ruling. My favorite quote:

The president of the United States ... has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders.

Oh, wait, this one is good, too:

Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution.

Yes, upholding the Constitution, which is a thing I believe this president may have heard of in his oath of office. Nice that he'll be held to that. But no doubt, Bush being Bush, he'll try to find yet another way to get around it. I do so yearn for a president who does not see the US Constitution as damage, to be routed around whenever possible. I'd like to think I'm not alone in this.

Posted by john at 01:23 PM | Comments (100) | TrackBack

Reeking With Plutessence

Because I know you care, the latest on Pluto: First, Scott Westerfeld's latest Pluto-hatin' rant, in which it's revealed, more or less, that one of his biggest problems with a solar system with tiny ice planets is that then everything gets so darn messy. Which reminds me that the pre-Copernicans had a lovely and ordered view of the solar system -- a sphere for everything, and everything in its sphere -- whose only problem was that it just happened to be, you know, wrong. Fact is, it's a messy universe; not even the universal constants may be as constant as we once assumed. If we end up with dozens -- nay, hundreds! -- of tiny ice planets orbiting the sun slowly in wacky, eccentric orbits, it's just the way these things go.

Scott's also against the "nine historical planets" idea, hoping against all sense and reason that astronomers and other scientists will fall back on saying "eight classic planets," thus giving Pluto the (ironically) cold shoulder, and eventually we'll all forget about those crazy little ice planets with their crazy eccentric orbits and all. Well, the reason this won't happen is because Pluto is useful; it's not only a planet, but it's also a signifier for all the other dinky ice planets out there. By retaining and invoking Pluto as the example par excellence of tiny ice planets, we get away with not having to name them all, thus allowing future generations of children to know tiny ice planets exist -- as they certainly do, so ignoring them entirely would be a lie -- without torturing them by requiring them to memorize the name of every bit of ice and rock massive enough to collapse into a sphere. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Pluto saved Christmas.

Meanwhile, Charlie Stross thinks both Scott and I are mad as dogs, and plumps for the "four planet" solar system. I'd sic Cthulhu on him, but clearly, it's far too late for that.

One more twist in Scott's Pluto-hatin' gut: Textbook and toy makers are preparing to implement the 12-planet solar system. Apparently it'll take up to seven years before all the science textbooks in the US have all the 12 proposed planets in them, thanks to the nature of textbook sales in this country. But the toys could be ready much sooner than that: "Discovery Channel Store spokeswoman Pamela Rucker predicted new 12-planet toys could be in stores in time for the Christmas season."

Heh. I know what I'm getting Scott for the holidays.

Posted by john at 08:00 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

August 16, 2006

If Only I Had Known

According to this thing, the Whatever is worth $501,876.06, based on price AOL paid for the various Weblogs, Inc. properties back in the day. Yes, and if I had vested and sold all my AOL stock in 2000, I would be a millionaire now. Money is fun when it's imaginary and pointless.

Now I'm off. If I don't finish this chapter today, I'm going to slit my own goddamn throat. See you tomorrow.

Posted by john at 09:31 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Pluton?

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The latest on the solar system: a proposal for 12 planets, which would reintroduce Ceres as a planet (ha! Take that, history!), albeit as a "dwarf planet," reclassify Pluto's moon Charon as a planet, and dub both Pluto and Charon as "Plutons," to distinguish them from "dwarf planets," I suppose, although apparently they will be both plutons and dwarf planets. Then 2003 UB313/Xena would also be made a planet, of the Pluton/dwarf species.

Seems little overcomplicated, particularly this Pluton/dwarf business, but it's nice to see a consensus beginning to form around having Pluto and its ilk remain planets. Scott Westerfeld and I have (genially, to be sure) gone around as to whether labeling Pluto a different sort of planet is the first step toward a demotion or not; I think not because there's 66 years of momentum behind the "Pluto as a planet" meme, and because Scott's protestations notwithstanding, there's not a thing wrong in noting that being small and icy and having eccentric orbits is a distinguishing characteristic of being a Pluto-series planet.

As I've said in the comment threads, what I think will eventually happen is that there will be nine "Historical Planets" that get named in popular astronomy books, with Pluto/Charon being considered one entry (possibly ten if popular imagination re-promotes Ceres), and then all the other planets get a hand-wave, as in: "Our solar system is comprised of nine historical planets, and many other smaller, icy planets discovered after Pluto." Done and done. Among other things, this will allow people not to worry about screwing up the "naming the planets after Roman gods" thing.

Another interesting thing about this proposal is it seems to want to classify whether planet-like objects are planets or moons precisely as I did in the comment thread last night: By locating the center of gravity. If the center of gravity between two objects is inside the larger object, the smaller object is a satellite; if the center of gravity is outside of either object, both objects are planets in a double-planet system. Thus, our moon stays a moon, because the center of gravity for our earth-moon system is under our planet's surface. But Pluto and Charon become a double planet. Works for me.

The vote on all this is eight days from now; I'm sure we'll here more about it between now and then. Personally, I think it's fairly neat this discussion is being picked up and carried over to a larger audience than these sort of things usually get -- the "12-planet" proposal was the lead story on both the MSNBC and CNN Web sites this morning; apparently it's too early for the "people killing the hell out of each other for no good reason" stories. Never fear. They will come. In the meantime, I wonder what the Vegas odds are for "Pluto stays a planet." I'd bet.

Incidentally, the picture above, which shows the planets to scale (if not in their orbits), points out the real fact of the matter, which is that the solar system has four planets, and also a bunch of tiny orbiting rubble, some of which we just happen to live on. There's perspective for you.

Posted by john at 07:49 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

August 15, 2006

A Special Message From Scott "Pluto Hayta" Westerfeld

In the interest of fairness, after having Scott Westerfeld consumed by Cthulhu for his heretical Pluto-hatin' ways, it's only right that I link to his rationale for not considering Pluto a planet. Follow the logic, such as it is.

Posted by john at 01:34 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

August 14, 2006

A Special Message for Scott "Pluto Hayta" Westerfeld

As many of you may know from this comment thread, Scott Westerfeld, noted author of Peeps and the upcoming The Last Days, while otherwise a perfectly cromulent human, is nevertheless a confirmed Pluto Hayta, dedicated to the proposition that our smallest planet is not, in fact, a planet at all. Well, I told this little fact to someone very special, and this is what she had to say on the matter.

Posted by john at 08:23 PM | Comments (81) | TrackBack

Peapod Classics

Speaking of trusting your publishers to know what they're doing, over the weekend Small Beer Press sent along to me the three books in their Peapod Classics line, Howard Waldrop's Howard Who?, Naomi Mitchison's Travel Light, and Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog, and I found myself inclined to like the books even before I actually, you know, opened one up.

That was almost entirely due to the playful design of each of these books; the Peapod Classics are cute as the proverbial button, from their small, nearly square proportions to the Kevin Huizenga cover illustrations, and practically beg to be picked up and looked at. Probably someone could avoid smiling at these books, but that person is not me. This is genius packaging, since if you can get people to actually want to pick up a book, that's half the battle right there. It helps that the books themselves are short and whimsical and thus perfectly suited for their design, too; I zipped through the novella-length Carmen Dog, and am enjoying the hell out of the Waldrop stories I've read in the Howard Who? collection. It's a nice marriage of content and packaging.

I like the design because of what it is, but I also like it for what it isn't, which is exclusionary. Each of the books in the Peapod Classics line is a fantasy work (indeed, the whole point of the line is to reissue fantasy books/stories the editors like but which have fallen out of print). The design of the books doesn't hide the fantasy element; it simply casts it in a way that people who aren't already of the fantasy ilk could find accessible and engaging. You can get people to read just about anything, provided the cover doesn't send them running, and these are fantasy books whose covers don't fire off anyone's "I can't be seen with this" triggers. Except possibly teenage boys. But, well: teenage boys. What are you going to do.

Anyway: Nice design job, Small Beer Press. I enjoyed these books, both before and after reading them.

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

Justine on No Control

Justine Larbalestier points to all the things an author has no control over, which is useful information for when, say, you look at a book cover and wonder to yourself what the hell the author was thinking. Justine's list is pretty much correct (there are a couple other additions to the list in the comment threads), although I would make the caveat that some of this is contingent on other factors. There are some of my books which I have had quite a lot of participation on things like cover and jacket copy and so on -- but in all of those cases that was contingent on the willingness of the publisher/editor to let me be involved. The point is ultimately the decisions on a lot of things about the books is not the author's.

It's also worth noting that this is not always a bad thing. A writer's core competency is writing, it's not book design or art or marketing... or how all three of those fit together, for example, to sell a book. Writing a novel is largely a personal endeavor, but turning that novel into a book is a group endeavor, as is selling it. When you're lucky, the other people you're working with are good at what they do, and you can trust them to do their jobs well -- so you can focus on writing.

Posted by john at 07:52 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 13, 2006

Commenting Note

At the behest of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, I have changed the comments slightly so that the name of the commenter will now appear before their comment, not afterward. I also fiddled with the presentation of the comments slightly to make that relationship more clear. This change is effective globally, including on previous comment threads. Hopefully this will lead to a magic new era of commenting at the Whatever, in which everyone knows who is saying what in a quicker and more efficient manner.

To anticipate the question of whether you may now suggest format changes to the Whatever, the answer is sure, as long as you have, like Patrick, provided me with thousands of dollars of income annually for the better part of the current millennium.

Please feel free to leave a comment to acclimate yourself to the new format.

Posted by john at 12:23 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

August 11, 2006

Three things, 8/11/06

First, a picture of the sunflower in our garden. Because it's pretty, that's why:

Second, a reminder that tomorrow I'll be at the Mary Ann Mongan Branch of the Kenton County Public Library, In Covington, KY, from 2pm to 4pm. I'll be talking about science fiction, possibly reading from one or another of my writings, and ranting about alien conspiracies. Because aliens always conspire. It's what they do. They wouldn't be aliens if they didn't. Damn aliens. Anyway, it should be fun.

Third, I'm outta here for the weekend. See you on Monday.

Posted by john at 05:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

International Astronomical Union to the Pluto Haters: Suck It

Man, this is makes me almost ridiculously happy:

An international panel has unanimously recommended that Pluto retain its title as a planet, and it may be joined by other undersized objects that revolve around the sun.

Yes! Ha! Take that, Rose Center for Earth and Space! You're wrong! Wrong wrong wrongy wrong wrong! Also, you're incorrect.

What it appears the IAU panel is also suggesting is something I've personally suggested for a while, which is to make formal some informal planet types: Gas planets, terrestrial planets, and a third category Pluto and its ilk, like "dwarf planets." I think that's perfectly fine, myself.

Now, the panel's recommendation apparently has to be approved by the IAU at large, so there's still a chance the Pluto haters could mount a last-minute attack. But come on! Unanimous recommendation, people. Pluto's a planet. Just like I knew it would be. Now, all they need to do is give 2003 UB313 a real name and we'll be good to go.

Update: Live Science's Robert Roy Britt believes that Pluto will be getting a "polite demotion" if a proposed third category of planets is approved. Hey, Rob Roy! What part of the word "planet" don't you understand? Huh? Huh? Huh?

(NB: The above was mock outrage.)

Posted by john at 09:30 AM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

A Brief Moment of Recognition for the People Who Comment

You know what, over the last three days here at the Whatever, I've posted on two of the most flamey subjects around at the moment -- fanfic and Joe Lieberman -- and there have been hundreds of posts on these subjects from all sorts of people, who hold a full range of opinions of the subjects. All of the posts have been interesting to read, all of the commenters have been playing well with the others even when they disagree, and at no point has anything come even close to flame war status.

I'm so happy I could just about burst.

This solidifies my long-held opinion that the commenters here on the Whatever are some of the best around: smart, thoughtful people who can have a conversation on a comment thread. Look, I don't know what I did to deserve you all -- in point of fact I probably don't deserve you -- but I'm sure glad you're all here. The Whatever is a better and complete place for your participation. Thanks.

Posted by john at 09:17 AM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

A San Diego Thing

So, I'm going to be in San Diego prior to Worldcon and I'm thinking of perhaps trying to pull off a reading or meet and greet. Those of you in San Diego (or thereabouts): Would there be interest? I'm thinking possibly the evening of the 21st.

Posted by john at 04:47 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

First Chapter of Wings to the Kingdom

Hey! The first chapter of Cherie Priest's upcoming novel Wings to the Kingdom is up at Apex Science Fiction and Horror. I've gotten a sneak at the whole book and I'm here to tell you that if you enjoyed Cherie's Four and Twenty Blackbirds (and I sure did), this one's gonna knock your socks off, too. And as a bonus, it's got a hell of a first chapter, which you can now sample, you lucky dogs, you. Go! Now!

Also: awesome cover.

Posted by john at 02:25 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Follow-up on Crimes of Fanfic

Lots of very interesting and generally civil discussion coming out in the Crimes of Fanfic thread, for which I am pleased. As some folks have surmised, I did in fact frame the discussion in a particular and confrontational way regarding fanfic and plagiarism, because I was interested in hearing from fanficcers and their readers on the matter, and aside from a few flubs of rhetoric on my part, it worked out pretty well. Thanks to those who participated (and who are continuing to post).

Having said that, I do have a very real concern, in that it's clear that some portion of fanficcers actually seems to believe that writing fanfic isn't actually copyright infringement, and that therefore it "exists in a gray area" or is actually not illegal via some interpretation of fair use. Some of this belief stems from the contention that there has not been (to the common knowledge) a copyright suit specifically dealing with fanfic, probably because a "Cease & Desist" letter is usually enough to cause the fanficcer to take down his/her fanfic so no court case is necessary. The thinking here seems to be that if a suit does not specifically address fanfic, then the legal status of fanfic is in fact indeterminate.

I can't help but think this is a bit of magical thinking, based on the idea that fanfic is in itself a legally special class of writing (possibly under the "we're doing this for fun" idea), which as far as I can see it's not. It's bound to the same injunctions and restrictions as any other piece of creative writing. Certainly US copyright law carves out protections for fair use, parody and criticism, and equally certainly some fanfic qualifies under a realistic reading of these protections. But I hazard to guess the vast majority of fanfic could not be shoehorned into these protections even under the most liberal of terms.

Now, I realize my opinion is suspect, because I am not a lawyer, and also because after yesterday's entry, some fanficcers undoubtedly see me as the hated enemy. So I went out and about on the Web to look for bolstering of this opinion of mine from folks who have some idea of the relevant law. Our first stop is the Web site of Kevin A. Thompson, who is an intellectual property attorney with Davis McGrath LLC, and whose area of practice includes trademark, copyright, and internet issues. Here's what he says on the issue:

Fan fiction is prevalent on the Internet, but is it legal? It turns out that’s a really interesting question. For the great majority of what is available, the answer is no... first and foremost fan fiction is almost always never authorized by the holder of the copyright in the work. Most of these stories are classified as an “unauthorized derivative work” and are therefore an infringement. A derivative work is one that is based upon one or more preexisting works. The right to create derivative works is one of the exclusive rights given to the copyright holder pursuant to statute. Infringers of federally registered works can be subject to monetary damages, including statutory damages which can range from $750.00 to $150,000.00 per work in the case of willful infringement. Plus, attorneys fees can be awarded by a judge in certain cases.

Our next stop is the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a repository of legal information complied by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the clinics of various law schools, including those of Harvard, Stanford and Berekely. On the entry page the site has on fan fiction, the CEC notes that "Not all fan fiction is a violation of law," which is of course true. However, reading ancilliary pages makes it clear that while not all fan fiction violates the law, a whole lot of it does:

Copyright owners have the right to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work. In most cases the right to prepare derivative works is superfluous since when this right is infringed, the right to reproduction will also be infringed. For example, if a FanFic author creates a new story about Darth Vader, the author will have infringed both the derivative right and the right to reproduce that character.

and

In order to prove copying, it must be shown that the fan fiction author copied the work (either through direct or indirect evidence), and some of the copied elements are protected and that the "audience" of the work would also find similar elements. Since FanFic authors generally do not deny that characters and settings are borrowed ("copied"), as seen in their disclaimers, it is likely that copying will be found. Then you must raise the defense of fair use.

Yes, and what about fair use? Fair use is part of the copyright setup for the purposes of (and here I'm quoting the CEC) "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research." While the CEC notes "There is a strong argument that many fan fiction stories are transformative since they create a different persona and set of events for the character," this is only one criterion for a fair use defense; in any event most fanfic is not created for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research -- not every fanfic is a parody -- nor, is it likely, would any competent court of law hold that your standard-issue Harry/Draco slash constitutes such (and at the very least, Scholastic's lawyers would have lots of fun smashing that defense to pieces). I suspect that many of the fanficcers who hold "fair use" up as a shibboleth in their defense would find to their grief that it doesn't well apply to what they do.

In sum: The large majority of fanfic is almost certainly a copyright violation; the large majority of fanfic is almost certainly illegal.

The reason to accentuate this point is not to rub fanficcers' noses in it ("Ha! You silly, silly fanficcers! I laugh to your pathetic Harry Potter handling!"), but to dissuade fanficcers from assuming they have certain protections under the law which they almost certainly do not. Simply as a practical matter, rather than assume that their fanfic exists in a legal Schroedinger's Court Room, where the legality of fanfic exists in an indeterminate state until someone cracks open the door and withdraws a verdict, fanficcers should work under the knowledge that most of the copyright case law suggests they do not have a legal right to produce fanfic, and proceed accordingly.

In fact, I suspect, the large majority of fanficcers do just that, which is why among other things they are admirably self-policing whenever one of their number gets it in his or her head to, say, start selling their fanfic. But clearly there are more than a few fanficcers who are under the impression that what they're doing is legal, or at least, not so illegal that they can't do whatever they please in someone else's universe, with someone else's characters. For those folks, I suspect the best solution, if they truly believe fanfic to be legal, would to make themselves a test case, so that there is an on-point copyright case involving fanfic. I don't suggest using any universe I've created to do so, since I'm already on record as thinking it would be cool to have fanfic. However, I hear Anne Rice would be a fine person to test this legal theory upon.

I think fanfic is perfectly fine; I also think it's largely illegal. I think fanficcers will be better off if they share this basic frame of mind with me.

Posted by john at 11:20 AM | Comments (88) | TrackBack

August 09, 2006

Wednesday Author Interview: Naomi Kritzer

Over at By The Way I've got an interview with Naomi Kritzer, whose terrific "Dead Rivers Trilogy" reaches its conclusion with the release of Freedom's Sisters. I've been a fan of Naomi's writing for a while now, and I think she's a neat person, so interviewing her was a lot of fun. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 10:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Reminder

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

(Hat tip: Elizabeth Bear)

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

Lieberman in Exile

Look, it's over. Lieberman lost his chance at re-election to the US Senate last night, and come November, he's going to lose again. The difference is that he will lose in November for entirely separate reasons than the ones which caused him to lose last night. Last night, he lost because of his support for an unpopular war, and the general feeling that he's out of touch with his constituency in Connecticut. In November, he's going to lose because he lost last night. He lost fair and square, so his assertion that he gets to have a mulligan isn't going to fly. And shouldn't.

Republicans and conservatives are weeping crocodile tears for Lieberman, tut-tutting as they do that this shows that the Democrats can't handle a diversity of opinions or whatever. This is rich coming the GOP, of course, which has spent decades marginalizing its own moderates and (god forbid) liberals, and who in any event have an interest in Lieberman only to the extent that he can be used a strategic cudgel to bash at the Democrats. Anyone who is sane will recognize conservative hand-wringing over the fate of Lieberman as artfully-composed insincerity; conservatives view Lieberman as a handy Quisling, second cousin in his rhetorical usefulness to the occasional black Republican representative.

Lieberman is now betting on the Republican and independent vote in his home state to help him get back in the senatorial saddle, but I'm fairly skeptical as to whether he'll get that support. To begin, as far as I recall, the GOP does have its own candidate in Connecticut, and while there is some political fun to be had in propping up Lieberman, the GOP's goal will be to try to get Lamont and Lieberman to split their pool of votes and let the GOP candidate slip down the middle. The Senate is too closely divided for the GOP to throw any real support behind a conservative Democrat; Lieberman is once again only a handy tool. Connecticut Republicans may individually decide to vote for Lieberman, of course, but why would they? In his not-concession speech last night, Lieberman said "For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." He's not a Republican, even if he is occasionally useful to them.

Who knows how independents will vote. That's why they're independents. But I am an independent, and I'm here to tell you that Lieberman's strategy sticks in my craw. He's an independent through convenience only, jumping to that status when the system he benefited from for two decades didn't give him the results he thought he deserved. Personally I would love it if there were more independent political candidates; I pretty much despise the idea of political parties on principle. But if you're going to be independent, then be independent -- don't be independent when it's useful to you and then go back to being a party member when it comes time to get your committee assignments, as Lieberman has already made clear he would. As an independent, I say: Screw you, you insincere schmuck.

And as for the Democrats, well. Lieberman's already baldly stated that the Democratic voters of his state couldn't have possibly meant not to vote for him, which is why he's graciously going to give them a chance to vote for him again in November. I sincerely doubt, had Lieberman won last night, that he would have been sanguine about Lamont turning around and declaring himself an "independent Democrat," so in addition to being a loser, Lieberman's also a hypocrite, and evidently of the opinion that his incumbency is more important than the processes of the democratic (small d) system. If the Democrats have any brains at all, they will quickly and loudly support Lamont as the legitimate and only Democratic candidate, and politely but firmly work to minimize Lieberman's support among core Democrats. Whether they do this is another matter entirely, as I've said before, I've always been impressed by the ability of the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

But I think ultimately Lieberman's defeat, when it comes, will fall on Lieberman's shoulders alone. He's repudiating his party, and morgaging his reputation as an honorable man, for an election he should not be contesting in. He's going to lose, and I suspect he's going to lose big, regardless of the final vote percentages. He ought to accept his loss. It's a shame he won't.

Posted by john at 09:31 AM | Comments (119) | TrackBack

August 08, 2006

Crimes of Fanfic

A couple of e-mails have come in recently -- whether independently or coordinated, I can't say -- asking me if I had any comment about what seems to be a long-running kerfuffle in the Harry Potter fandom about a particular fanfic author who allegedly plagiarized other works in the construction of her own fanfic story. As evidence of this I was presented with a whole bunch of links that turned out to be really tremendously not useful because nearly all of them were like dropping in on a heated argument that had a subtext one could learn nothing about, and anyway the argument was in Albanian, so all you knew was there was a lot of yelling and shouting.

The wrinkle is this particular fanfic author is in the process of crossing over to writing original material, and I can only assume that these folks e-mailing me about the kerfuffle want to blow the lid off of this writer's alleged previous sins before she escapes into the real world. The e-mails hinted that this was something along the line of Lori Jareo or Kaavya Viswanathan, the former being a case where someone was stupid enough to try to commercially publish their fanfic, and the latter being a case where an author put forward an original work, portions of which were plagiarized from other novels.

Well -- and bear in mind that I'm working from a bunch of links and LiveJournal hissy fits that I fully admit I can't find a coherent thread in -- I'm not feeling a whole bunch of outrage here, nor frankly do I find that a) what this fanfic writer has allegedly done has any consequence outside fanfic circles, or b) that this fanfic writer needs to be punished or humiliated prior to their formal publication. This writer may or may not have plagiarized other works in their fanfic -- I can't tell at a glance, nor am I inclined to research the matter to any great length -- but if they did, I'm hard-pressed to see why it matters in the larger scheme of things.

Let's remember one fundamental thing about fanfic: Almost all of it is entirely illegal to begin with. It's the wild and wanton misappropriation of copyrighted material (I'm sure there is fanfic that features public domain characters, just not nearly as much as there is of, say, Harry Potter fanfic). Copyright holders may choose not to see it, or may even tacitly encourage it from time to time, but the fact of the matter is that if you're writing fanfic, you're already doing something legally out of bounds. And, really, if you're already wantonly violating copyright, what's a little plagiarism to go along with it? Honestly. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I recognize this attitude probably won't sit well with fanficcers, but this is really an "honor among thieves" sort of issue, isn't it? If you've already morally justified intellectual theft so you can play with Harry and Hermione and Draco and whomever else you want to play with, I'm not entirely sure how one couldn't also quite easily justify taking juicy chunks of other people's text to play with as well. Think of it as the literary equivalent of a "mash-up," if you will. Everyone seems to think The Gray Album was a perfectly fine thing to do (well, except EMI), so how is this any different? As long as it all takes place within the confines of fanfic sandbox, it's all pretty much the same, morally and legally speaking. Out in the real world, I take plagiarism rather very seriously, but then, out in the real world, I take appropriation of copyright seriously as well. If fanficcers want me to oblige their outrage about fanfic plagiarism, I suppose I would have to ask how it is essentially more serious than the appropriation of copyrighted characters and settings, and how if I must criticize one why I am not also therefore obliged to criticize the other.

On the other portion of the issue, should what an author does within the confines of the fanfic sandbox have any effect on what happens when they start to do original fiction? I think not, personally. What happens in fanfic, stays in fanfic. I'm perfectly content to think of fanfic as a sort of free play area where anything goes and what goes on has no bearing in the real world of writing. No harm, no foul. In the case of this particular author, if the original fiction they're working on turns out to be chock full of plagiarism, that's another discussion entirely. But since the original fiction isn't even out yet, there's nothing to suggest that it is, and I don't think it's useful or fair to the author to make such a suggestion or implication.

I'm not a fanficcer, and while I have a generally have a very relaxed attitude toward to the concept of fanfic and find it largely beneficial to the well-being of any media property's longevity, I'm not inclined to pretend that it's got a legal or moral leg to stand on, either. So, at best, the response I have to people engaging in intellectual theft complaining about other people engaging in alleged intellectual theft is amusement, followed by mild confusion as to why I should care. In any event, in this particular case, I'm not in the least bit inclined to name the parties involved in this kerfuffle, or to condemn them. This is one literary crusade that will have to get along without me.

Posted by john at 10:36 PM | Comments (244) | TrackBack

TAD ARC

tadarc.jpg

Look! Out there in space! Floating like a sheep-branded monolith! It's the Advance Reader Copy of The Android's Dream! The cover of the ARC, incidentally, not being the cover of the final book, but actually an inside illustration. I know the ARC is beginning to make the rounds, so it'll be interesting to find out what various people think of it. I'm really happy with it, myself.

Posted by john at 03:04 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Calling all Computer Geeks

I'm looking at the specs for the new Mac Pros, and I need a little help understanding the details. Primarily:

a) Are the dual-core 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon processors on the new Mac Pro as fast/powerful as (or faster/more powerful than), say, a Core 2 Duo processor of equivalent speed?

b) Does having two dual-core processors in the Mac Pro make it speedier/more powerful in gaming situations?

c) The Mac can run more than one video card, but can they be run in SLI Mode, or is it simply one card per monitor?

Basically I'm wondering, theoretically, if I'm planning to do an upgrade in the reasonably near future with the intent of having a Windows box, if I should pay the price premium for the Mac Pro, or stick with a dedicated Windows box (remember that I have a Mac already -- I'm typing on it now).

Your thoughts are appreciated.

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

The Tragedy of Orthodoxy

Mark Helprin, who wrote Winter's Tale, which is possibly my favorite book ever, is interviewed at length here. It's an interesting interview, less for the questions (which are pretty standard) but because Helprin is such an odd duck. As the magazine Helprin's being interviewed in appears to be a right-leaning one, and Helprin himself is famously conservative, the interview touches on his politics more than a little, and about how being right wing has impacted his literary career:

My friend Tom was walking down the street in New York and he met a woman that he knew, and she was carrying one of my books, I don’t remember which one it was. And he says, “Oh, I see that you have that book.” And she says, “Yes, it’s for my reading group.” And he says, “Do you like it?” And she says, “I haven’t read it, and I won’t.” So he says, “Why not?” Because she was carrying it. And she says, “Because he’s a right wing twerp.” See? Now, I am right wing, and maybe I’m a twerp—I don’t know. But she didn’t even give the book a chance. A lot of people are like that.

I've railed before about people who need to give novelists a political orthodoxy test before they dip into their books, but the fact of the matter is that it mostly just makes me sad that some people are so bound to their politics that they can't escape into fiction made by someone who doesn't vote as they do. It's very likely Mark Helprin and I would cancel each other out at the ballot box, but I would not to deny myself the privilege of Winter's Tale or Soldier of a Great War simply because I find his political views pedantic and a bit fussy. Call me selfish.

But I think this isn't so much about politics as it is about orthodoxy -- an inability to experience something unless it vetted through some particular filter derived from stringent but kneejerk set of criteria. Politics filters, genre filters, gender filters, age filters, so on and so forth. I think filters are fine -- you can't and shouldn't swallow everything uncritically or under the assumption it is all of equivalent quality -- but I think it matters how you construct your filters. Any filter that cuts off work because of an arbitrary value is idiotic. "I won't read him because he's right wing." "I don't listen to rap." "I'm not going to any chick flick." These are the bleatings of morons.

I've never been particularly orthodox in any aspect of my life, and I think in retrospect that's been a blessing. I don't think everything is good, but I hold open the possibility that everything could be good, and I feel as a matter of intellectual honesty, as much as possible I have to approach a creative work independent of its creator to determine whether that work speaks to me or not. Sometimes this will be impossible: the creator's beliefs or actions may be too reprehensible to excuse, for example, or the work is so intensely personal that it is inacessible without knowing something about the artist. But most artists are within a couple sigma of acceptable standards of human behavior, and most creators make work to be experienced by others. I love Winter's Tale for itself; I would love it even if I knew nothing of its author. And who Mark Helprin is, while interesting, is not relevant to my primary experience of the work. I'm glad it's not.

Posted by john at 10:40 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

August 07, 2006

News That Makes Me Wish I Already Had My Schadenfreude.us Site Up and in Full Effect, Yo

Bid to remove DeLay's name from ballot tossed

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday rejected a request by Texas Republicans to block an appeals court ruling that says former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's name must appear on the November ballot.

Antonin Scalia, people. Clearly, an activist judge.

Posted by john at 06:50 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Daily SF/Writing Blog Reading List

Because it amuses me to do so, allow me to now share the writing and sf-related blogs through which I trundle on a daily basis, arranged in absolutely no order whatsoever. These blogs (and the people who write them) are on the list for varying reasons including but not limited to: They're friends, they write interesting stuff, they're useful, they're enemies and I track their every move, they owe me money, I desire them intensely, I put them on the list without thinking, and the ever-popular I honestly can't remember what possessed me to bookmark this page.

Please allow me to note that if you're not on this list, that does not mean I don't like you/don't read you. You'll note that I have Patrick Nielsen Hayden's friends list as one of the links; the list there includes two hundred forty five LiveJournals/syndicated feeds, so if you're on his friends list, I probably don't have you otherwise linked. Also, there are lots of journals I read occasionally but not daily. Also also, I've been recently accreting journals I read at a disturbingly high pace, so perhaps you'll be on the next update. In any event, please don't take your presence/lack of presence as indicative of my true feelings about you. You know I love you.

I've also added this current list to the sidebar; I'm sure I'll add to that list again at some point in the nebulous future.

In any event, here's the list:

Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden

John Joseph Adams

Christopher Barzak

Elizabeth Bear

Tobias Buckell

Suzy McKee Charnas

Matthew Cheney

Boing Boing

Neil Gaiman

Jed Hartman

SF Signal

Mark R. Kelly

Gwenda Bond

Justine Larbalestier

Scott Westerfeld

Charlie Stross

Marissa Lingen

Futurismic

David Moles

Ken MacLeod

Nick Mamatas

Benjamin Rosenbaum

Jonathan Strahan

Bruce Sterling

Jeff VanderMeer

SH Viehl

With Boots

Alan DeNiro

Nalo Hopkinson

David Brin

Lauren McLaughlin

Lorraine A Malena

Christopher Rowe

Kathryn Cramer

Derryl Murphy

Cheryl Morgan

Andrew Wheeler

Jonathan Carroll

Didi Chanoch

Maureen McHugh

Deep Genre

John Crowley

SFBC Bookblogger

Locus Magazine

Karen Meisner

Jodi Wurl

Nick Sagan

Torque Control

Robert Sawyer

Galley Cat

Neal Asher

Lou Anders

Marjorie Liu

David Marusek

Mary Robinette Kowal

Romenesko

Will Shetterly

Susan Marie Groppi

Irene Gallo

Hal Duncan

Walter Jon Williams

Steve R. Boyett

Book Slut

Deanna Hoak

Gavin Grant

David Louis Edelman

Eos Blog

Paolo Bacigalupi

Miss Snark

John Clute

Caitlín R. Kiernan

John Picacio

Chris Roberson

Paul Levinson

La Gringa

Jeff Ford

Jeffrey Carver

Charles Coleman Finlay

PNH's LJ Friends List

Vist them all! And don't blame me if you don't get any work done.

Posted by john at 01:54 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

How To Make Your Very Own Ice Cream Headache

Yes, that's pretty much how it gets done.

Posted by john at 08:09 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

August 06, 2006

World Fantasy Nominations & Android's Dream Artwork

For everyone who's not seen them, the 2006 World Fantasy Award nominees have been named; congrats to Hal Duncan for Vellum's nomination in the novel category, Kelly Link for her two nods, Chris Roberson for his two nods, and to Joe Hill for three nominations, in the Novella, Short Fiction and Collection category. Congrats also to Lou Anders, who has a nod in the Special Award (Professional) category. This is one of the things I like about being a writing pro; I get to look at award nominations and see lots of people I personally like and admire. The best thing is that it's entirely possible for this entire slate of folks to walk away with an award, if the vote goes just so. Naturally , I hope it happens just that way.

Also, for everyone who wonders why the cover art to my upcoming novel The Android's Dream looks the way it does, Tor Art Director Irene Gallo gets the artist (Shelley Eshkar) to explain it. Allow me to post here my favorite line: "John Scalzi has made a small step forward for the role of sheep in science fiction, which are possibly overlooked. I am glad to have furthered the presence of sheep in science fiction cover art." As am I -- I am in fact incredibly delighted with the cover of TAD, both in its theory (for which I owe Irene massive amounts of thanks), and its execution (for which I bow in the direction of Mr. Eshkar).

That's all you get for today; I'm recovering from an annual family reunion for my wife's clan. Very much food. Oy.

Posted by john at 07:01 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 04, 2006

Your Reading Assignment For Friday

Charlie Stross has taken up a hammer and genre fiction looks like the nail. Check it out. My favorite line:

For the sad fact is, there seems to be some kind of law about contemporary American horror getting into furry sex by volume three then suffering a fit of remorse and going all god-bothering and Jesus-fondling by volume six.

It's funny because it's true.

In his post, Charlie goes back to last year's Big Question of what's wrong with American SF these days, (occasioned by the All-Brit Hugo novel slate of 2005), by way of whacking at the "alternative history" craze:

This turning away from the near future is going to be remembered as one of the hallmarks of the post-9/11 decade in American science fiction, as the chill wind of change blows through the hitherto cosy drawing room of the American century. The Brits aren't drinking the Kool-Aid — well, some of them are serving it up in pint glasses, but most of them have got better things to do with their time — and this is why just about all the reviewers in the field are yammering about a British Invasion or a British New Wave or something: it's not what the British are doing, but what the American writers aren't doing that is interesting.
American SF was traditionally an optimistic forward-looking genre, the marching music of the technocrat movement (which, thankfully, withered up and blew away before it got a chance to build any mountains of skulls, thus providing us with the luxury of a modernist movement that we can remember fondly). Now the whole space exploration thing has dead-ended and the great American public have shuddered in their political sleep and realised — crivens! — that not everybody likes the way their lords and masters have been carrying on for the past five decades — the fragile optimism is lacking. So where better to flee than into the nostalgic past, to fight Nazis and communists and slave-trading aristocrats?

This is a provocative point, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I think Charlie may be underestimating the banal fact that alternate history simply sells well; Harry Turtledove books and books of that ilk sell not only to SF geeks but to history geeks as well. All those US Civil War recreationists are probably over the moon (so to speak) that they have whole new scenarios to have their heroes play in, some of them involving dragons or aliens or whatever. It's not necessarily a national neurosis. It could just be publishers riding the train until the wheels fall right off, like they did with the horror boomlet in the 1990s. In other words, never attribute to a zeitgeist what you can equally attribute to heedless commerce. One does need to ask if this alt-history craze is any more egregious than steampunk, many of the primary practicioners of which are British, if memory serves.

Likewise, I don't think Americans largely care if other people don't like our political leaders, so I don't think building a theory on that notion is useful. We knew the rest of the world despised Ronald Reagan, for example; we didn't give a crap what anyone else thought (well, some did; they were just ignored). Right now, we're aware the rest of the world despises Dubya, but it's rather more important to us that we don't like him; everyone else not liking him really is an afterthought in the American psyche.

Americans aren't immune to the idea that the rest of the world represents competition and even a threat to us -- we feel about China today roughly the way we felt about Japan in the mid-80s -- but the fundamental American assumption that we should be running the world hasn't changed much. The American self-image of comptent leadership in and of the world persists, and that's one of the reasons why the general US population is down on Dubya at the moment. He's at odds with our self-image, damn his guts.

I do think Charlie's contention that American SF is oversaturated with alt-history is well on point, even if I disagree with his theory of the causes for that. I think this is a shame, because I don't think the appetite for the classically American "competent man takes on the universe" subgenre of SF has much abated, here in the US or elsewhere, and all things considered I think I'm qualified to say that. People like this stuff. I suspect what needs to happen is that those folks who attempt this type of story need to get past the structural crutches of the genre, which happen to be the mechanistic trappings, i.e., all that NASA crap. If one wants to provide the "alt-history" genre a reason for being other than commerce, one could suggest it exists from a lack of imagination; it's easier to imagine Nazis fighting aliens than to figure out a plausible post-competent-NASA near-future that involves both space travel and Americans in a mission-critical role.

Now, off the top of my head I can think of one person who's done a book like that recently: Robert Charles Wilson, in Spin. There's only a little space travel, but enough to qualify, and all the rest of it is surely in line. Of course, he's Canadian. Oh, the irony.

In any event, if there is a critical lack of near-future SF from the US, I can promise all y'all I'm doing my best to fix that. The Android's Dream is set in a future that is mere decades away, and other projects I have in the hopper will also take place close to the current timeframe. I'm doing what I can for you. I'll let the alt-history craze take care of itself. Not to mention all that furry-sex fantasy.

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

August 03, 2006

More Sunsets

Yesterday's sunset was cloudless. Today's, well, there were clouds.

Who knows what tomorrow's will be like.

Posted by john at 11:18 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Various Bits of Bookpimpery

In the mail today: The Rough Guide to Blogging, from (naturally enough), the folks at Rough Guides. I have to admit that the first thing I did when I pulled it out of its package (other than suck at a finger I ripped open on the package's staples) was to check the index to see if I was in it anywhere. And indeed I am, on page 178, where this very site is described: "Writer John Scalzi maintains this entertaining blog, focused mainly on his job as an author." It's not just a job, you know. It's an adventure.

A quick glance through the books shows it to be what a Rough Guide should be: Easy to read, lots of useful information, good advice on how to get started, and tons of links to popular sites. I imagine other bloggers will be doing what I did and checking the index to see if they made the cut; I can see a few of them going Why am I not listed? I'm on the A-list, damn it! We are a petty, petty lot, we bloggers.

Anyway, on first read I can say this is a really fine book to give to that friend of yours who's been muttering something about wanting to start a blog but doesn't know where to begin. This will get them up to speed pretty painlessly. And if you get them this, that's one less conversation explaining the difference between Blogger and Typepad that you'll have to have. Which leaves you more time for what's important, like beer and video games.

While I'm thinking about books, two folks I know personally will be getting their books on this year's preliminary Nebula ballot: Toby Buckell, for Crystal Rain, and Mark Tiedemann, for Remains. For those of you not up to speed on the Nebula selection process, the books on the Nebula prelim list are the ones from which the short list will be selected. That's pretty damn cool.

I've blathered about Toby's book before (it's got parrots!), of course, but I've missed out on saying too much about Remains, which is a shame because it's a fine and twisty book. It's also been a bit of a stealth awards performer: In addition to its Nebula prelim listing, it was also a finalist for the 2005 Tiptree Award, and Tiedemann's otherwise been a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award. That's a nice rack of accolades. I'll probably talk about it more at some future point, but for now I'll just say it's worth checking out if you're in the market for something new to read. Congratulations to both Mark and Toby.

While I'm on the topic of congratulations to authors, congratulations to Pamie (aka Pamela Ribon), whose second novel Why Moms Are Weird hit the stores on Tuesday. I ordered it instantly, of course; Pamie is one of the funniest humans I know, and she was one of the first "old school" bloggers (that'd be bloggers who were blogging before the turn of the millennium, yo) to get a book deal. So it's always a good day when a book by her gets out into the world.

Finally, if I may be a bit self-serving, two new reviews of The Ghost Brigades are out today, one at SFFWorld ("The Ghost Brigades is a rewarding, entertaining read and keeps the reader guessing"), and another at my pal Jim Winter's site, where Jim declares "Okay, this is pure buddy pimpage, but it's also a sincere, honest review." And then he rips me apart. Okay, not really. He likes the book. But I had you going for a moment, there.

After all that book pimpery, I now declare the comments a book pimp thread. Pimp the book you're reading now! Pimp a book your friend has written! Pimp your own book! It's all good, although I will ask, to differentiate this book pimp thread from other self-pimp threads, that you pimp only books that have been physically published. E-books, etc can wait until the next self-pimping thread.

Have at it.

Posted by john at 01:01 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

From the "What the Hell?" File

Apparently 36% of Americans now believe our government was involved in 9/11. However, I think a cogent point about this greater-than-average tinfoil brigade comes out in the article:

University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, author of the book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture," said the poll's findings reflect public anger at the unpopular Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity of the Bush administration.
"What has amazed me is not that there are conspiracy theories, but that they didn't seem to be getting any purchase among the American public until the last year or so," Fenster said. "Although the Iraq war was not directly related to the 9/11 attacks, people are now looking back at 9/11 with much more skepticism than they used to."

In other words, people are now distrustful enough about the reasons we went to war in Iraq that their suspicion and paranoia is spilling over backward into 9/11. Swell.

I'm comfortably within the 64% of Americans who do not believe our government thought it would be sneaky and let a bunch of Osama's boys give us an excuse to pound on Saddam. I strongly suspect our government could have done more to prevent the attacks, but "could have done more to prevent attacks" exists in an far different mindspace than "actively encouraged the attacks." I also don't suspect it's useful to have one person out of three think the government was involved in 9/11; all that conspiracy crap keeps people occupied with trivia as opposed to looking at actual problems.

So if you're one of the 36%, please pull your head out of your ass and try to focus on some of our nation's genuine problems. I realize it's nice to have an X-Files moment with dark plots and shady government conspiracies that go all the way to the top, but back here in the real world, you'll be more useful if you take a step back from that particular ledge. I'm just saying.

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (77) | TrackBack

On the Best Artist Hugo Award

Over at The Art Department, Irene Gallo posts Donato Giancola's really rather sensible proposal to make sure the artists nominated for the Best Artist Hugo in any particular year actually have original artwork that's made its debut in that year. I'm vaguely surprised that this isn't how it's done already; I assumed it was.

Donato, incidentally, is up for the artist Hugo this year, and I know for a fact he's done artwork in specified timeframe, because he did the art for the OMW hardcover. Hell, I've got the original artwork on my wall; I figure that was worth a spot on the nomination slate.

The only drawback I can see is that it'll require nominators to recall the names of the books the artist's work are covering, and that marginally increased work requirement may drop the number of people willing to do the effort to nominate. But really, if you're too damn lazy to go over to the bookshelf and open the book cover to see the "cover art by" credit, then you probably shouldn't be nominating at all.

Posted by john at 10:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 02, 2006

Sunset 08/02/06

sunset060802.jpg

Pretty.

Posted by john at 09:41 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

The Forces Of Rationality Triumph, Undoubtedly Temporarily

So, the good news is that the majority of people on the Kansas Board of Education are once again people whose opinions regarding evolution approach the rational. The bad news is that I will lay money on the table betting that within two evolution cycles, anti-evolution nutbags will find their way back onto that Board of Education and the whole process of trying to hijack educational standards because Jesus didn't come from no monkey will start over again.

That's because the nutbags know something rational people seem to forget, which is that the fight is never over and that there's always another election. I suspect the folks who voted in these new pro-evolution folks will go "well, that's settled," and then not bother voting in a Board of Education again until after some new anti-evolution jackasses come in. They're reactive voters. Whereas nutbags are proactive voters; they always vote, and they rely on the fact rational people don't always vote to push their agenda. This model works well beyond anti-evolution folks and boards of education, mind you. This is how any committed group of nutbags gets their agenda on the table.

So for those folks who have voted to return Kansas' schools to rationality: Good job. But if you don't keep voting, you're just going to keep fighting this same stupid battle over and over, because the nutbags will keep voting. I'm laying odds you won't keep voting. But I would be delighted if you prove me wrong.

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

August 01, 2006

Re: Mel Gibson:

Any additional thoughts on today's rather more extensive apology about the drunken anti-semitic outburst?

Posted by john at 01:12 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Your Hugo/Campbell Blatheration Thread

Hugo/Campbell voting is now officially closed, and since it was not performed on Diebold machines, I think that we can say that all the votes will be counted in an efficient and truthful manner, untainted by scandal. I promised that after the polls closed that I would open up a thread to let people chat about the Hugos/Campbell, so here you are. Chat away.

Before you ask: Yes, I have my thoughts about who will win the Hugos/Campbell, including in the categories for which I am nominated; no, I'm not going to discuss them publicly, because I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so as a nominee. I'll wait until after the awards ceremony to say anything about it. But by all means, you folks discuss the slate and your favorites and so on -- it's too late to influence the voting, of course, but there's still four weeks until the awards. Lots of time to speculate.

Posted by john at 11:14 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Back in the Day

In honor of MTV turning 25 today, here's the very first video the station ever played:

We don't need to kvetch about how MTV doesn't play videos anymore, now that we have YouTube.

In other news, I'm thinking of attending the Hugos in a silver lame suit and a skinny tie, just like the Buggles are wearing at the end of the video.

Posted by john at 10:22 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

My LACon IV Schedule

Holy crap, I'm doing a lot of stuff at the upcoming Worldcon -- my schedule is of Strossian proportions. Here's what they have me doing and when. I'm cutting and pasting from the e-mail:


Wed 8/23 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN CAREER
Participants:
Robin Wayne Bailey
Buzz Dixon
Nancy Holder
Robert J. Sawyer(M)
John Scalzi
Precis: How to manage your life as a writer.

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Wed 8/23 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes.
THE DAY JOB
Participants:
Paul A. Abell
Steven Lopata(M)
Wil McCarthy
John Scalzi
Sam Scheiner
Precis: Many SF writers and SF fans are scientists in real life.How do they combine the two? What is doing science for a living really like? Are we all really mad scientists who want to rule the world?

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Thu 8/24 11:30 AM, 60-90 minutes.
POLITICS & SF
Participants:
Tad Daley
John DeChancie
John Maddox Roberts
John Scalzi
Bill Thomasson(M)
Precis: Which political ideologies from science fiction novels could and/or do work in real life? Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Starship Troopers? Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale? The whole Star Trek universe?

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Thu 8/24 3:00 PM, 60 minutes.
AUTOGRAPHING: John Scalzi

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Thu 8/24 4:00 PM, 60 minutes.
READING: John Scalzi

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Fri 8/25 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes.
THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE
Participants:
ElizaBeth Gilligan
David F. McMahon, MD(M)
John Scalzi
John Strickland
Bill Thomasson
Precis: Medicine is evolving at an amazing pace. New discoveries, technology, etc. are announced every day. What will medicine be like in 100 years? Will we have tricorders and neuroscanners like in Star Trek? How about growing or cloning organs? Will we be using organics to solve problems instead of nanobots?

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Fri 8/25 1:00 PM, 60-90 minutes.
PARODY, PASTICHE, AND HUMOR
Participants:
Peter S. Beagle
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff(M)
Lee Martindale
John Scalzi
Stanley Schmidt
Precis: There's a time and place for everything. Or is there? Does humor have a place in modern fiction? Can there ever be too much?

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Fri 8/25 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes.
SWIMMING IN THE GENE POOL
Participants:
David Friedman(M)
Nancy Kress
Jody Lynn Nye
John Scalzi
Bill Thomasson
Precis: What are the ethical problems of the Human Genome Project? Are we playing God when we fool around with genes and chromosomes? Can a world of all blonde and blue-eyed children be far behind? When we can work miracles on the molecular level, will the people in areas we can "correct" be discriminated against?

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Fri 8/25 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes.
EXTRATERRESTRIALS
Participants:
Geoffrey A. Landis
Thomas R. McDonough(M)
G. David Nordley
Robert J. Sawyer
John Scalzi
Precis: Where are the Extraterrestrials? Why haven't we been contacted? A gold mine for SF ideas, the academic study of this problem has come a long way in the last 10 years. Are we victims of a galactic conspiracy, or is the forest full of wolves?

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Sun 8/27 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes.
MIGHT MAKES RIGHT
Participants:
Joe W. Haldeman
J.G. Hertzler
Steven Lopata
Hank Reinhardt(M)
John Scalzi
Precis: An awful lot of 'hard SF' is set in a military milieu. Is that to be our destiny in space? Or are Gordon Dickson, Robert Heinlein, and Jerry Pournelle just giving us some rip-roaring adventures? Besides, what's wrong with militarism?

Yikes.

The good news is that they didn't put me on anything in before 10am or that starts after 5:30pm, and I have Saturday off. Clearly I'll have to do all my socializing then. Although I do understand there's some sort of ceremony then that I need to consider attending. I'll have to give it some thought.

Posted by john at 12:28 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack