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December 31, 2006

Goodbye 2006

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Lopsided Cat says: So long, 2006. You were mighty tasty. Indeed it was, Lopsided Cat. Indeed it was.

You now have less than 24 hours left in 2006. There are many ways you could be spending this time. In front of your computer shouldn't be one of them. Scoot. See you next year.

Posted by john at 12:53 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

December 30, 2006

A Fun Little Statistic for You

Not counting this entry or anything I write tomorrow, I've posted about 300,000 words to the Whatever in 2006, which comes out to about 825 words a day, every day. Add to that what I expect is an additional 200,000 words or so I wrote over at By The Way, and that's roughly half a million words I've written online this year. Which is, you know, a lot.

But wait! There's more! Add to this 92,000 words for The Last Colony, 12,700 for "The Sagan Diary," 7,500 for "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story," about 10,000 for reviews/columns for OPM, 25,000 in DVD reviews for the Dayton Daily News, and another 10,000 for various newspaper/magazine articles, and you come up with a bit over 650,000 words written by yours truly over the course of the year, or about 1,785 words a day, every day.

Which puts it in perspective. 650K words seems like a lot -- that's six novels and a YA -- but 1.8k a day? I can do that. And, uh, apparently I did.

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

Kim Ng

Check this out: a Newsweek story on Kim Ng, with the subhead: "She knows her baseball and is in line to become the sport's first female GM." Right on. She and I lived in the same dormitory at the University of Chicago -- at the same time, even. It's always exciting when people you know get write-ups in a major news magazine. For something positive, anyway.

Posted by john at 02:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

My Favorite Albums of 2006

Because I know you're wondering: They are Black Holes and Revelations by Muse, and Begin to Hope by Regina Spektor. Why? Well, I'll tell you, with the help of multimedia aids.*

First, Muse, performing their single "Starlight":

I like this album because it pretty perfectly fills a long-absent slot in my list of musical needs, which is the slot of "Vaguely ridiculous and sf-obsessed rock band whose sheer force of operatic musicality overwhelms any feeling they've watched too many episodes of Doctor Who for their own good." The last band that really filled this slot with any competence was Queen; I thought The Darkness might manage it, but they totally cratered with that last album. But Black Holes and Revelations is the gift that just keeps on giving. On one hand, it's sort of deeply silly, and just the sort of pseudo-space opera that you might expect out of, say, Emerson Lake and Palmer, back in the day . On the other hand, unlike ELP or any other number of prog-rock bands of the 70s who took a swan dive into their own assholes with their over-read but under-comprehended ambitions, Muse figured out that along with all your old-school SF reading, you actually have to write sharp, smart pop songs that people can jerk their bodies around to.

And as they say, that makes all the difference. This album is packed with crankable pop tunes, with immediately catchy bits strategically deployed to hook into your memory center, from the "Mony Mony" bassline and piano cascade of "Starlight" to the Cure "Disintegration"-era bass and drum line of "Map of the Problematique." And even when Muse finally goes off the rails and commits the heinous act of true rock opera, as they do with the closing track "Knights of Cydonia," they at least keep it to just over six minutes -- and, as the video of the song shows, the boys are entirely aware how deep they are into the cheese. But they commit to it, you know? And it works.

I think this may be their most successful album (they're apparently huge in the UK) so part of me fears the unholy mess their next album could be, now that they will be entirely released from the need of having to rein in their whims. But that's a problem for the future. For now, yeah, this works for me big.

Second, Regina Spektor, performing "Fidelity":

Folks, I have a really embarrassing crush on Regina Spektor, partly because I have a notable weakness for smart and pretty Russian Jewish girls anyway (just ask my college girlfriend). Just so that's out there. However, even without my hormones hammering away at my critical faculties, Begin to Hope would be an album I'd be interested in, because -- when she's not just being quirky for quirky's sake -- Spektor genuinely captures what it's like to love and be loved.

"Fidelity" is a lovely example of this, as she describes both falling in love and being frightened of what it means for her -- the desire for love pitted against the desire not to get hurt by someone else, and Spektor (or the character she's playing) in the middle of these desires, detailing what it's doing to her. The video, which somewhat unusually complements the song to which it's attached, takes the theme of the song and uses it as part of a storytelling arc, in which a broken heart literally releases the singer from her indecision and allows her to love. It's a lovely and complex idea, which is not exactly what one expects to see in a video these days.

Later on in the album, in "On The Radio," Spektor manages possibly one of the best encapsulations of what it means to love someone else that I've seen in a while:

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

I'm not typically one of those writers who draws direct inspiration from music while I write, but I will say that this particular verse, and the song "Fidelity," were strongly on my mind when I was writing "The Sagan Diary," because much of TSD is about Jane Sagan trying to describe how she feels love, and in particular love for John Perry. These songs were actually useful for me, because they were on topic with what I was trying to write, and at some points, what I was having difficulty getting out. I'll have to send Miss Spektor a copy, clearly; she wasn't the muse of the story, but she helped me get at what the muse was trying to say to me.

For all that I do confess a mild exasperation with Spektor, in that I think she settles for cleverness at times where I think she should be aiming for something else. "On the Radio" is actually an example of this -- the second verse is one that I've clearly engraved into my brain, but the first is mostly clever surrealism in which the main virtues of the images she pops up seem to be that Spektor can make them rhyme with the other images. There's nothing wrong with that, but it means the song is hopelessly thematically unbalanced. I love the song, mind you, but I'm aware of its flaws.

While I'm vaguely scared of what Muse's next album will be, I'm very interested in what Spektor has up her sleeve. The artist Spektor reminds me a bit of is Jane Siberry, who made a series of emotionally complex but fragmentary and imperfect albums, and then got it all together and knocked it out of the park with When I Was a Boy, which is a devastatingly gorgeous meditation on life and death that I think is one of the best albums of the 1990s. I think Spektor is still in her fragmentary stage, and I'm looking forward to the one album of hers that entirely knocks me on my ass. In the meantime Begin to Hope is still one of my two favorite albums of 2006, which should suggest what I think I have to look forward to from Spektor.

Now: What music did you love in 2006? Tell me! I yearn to purchase new music!

(* I'll note that embedding the videos for Muse and Regina Spektor I am, strictly speaking, violating copyright. But here's the thing -- these videos have been on YouTube for months, and YouTube isn't exactly low-profile, nor does it hesitate to remove videos at the request of the copyright owners. After a certain point, I rather strongly suspect that if a video from a high-profile artist remains on YouTube, it's because someone who can make a decision about it has decided that it should stay up. Which is to say I'm not feeling particularly guilty about embedding them at this point. And anyway, I bought Begin to Hope after watching the "Fidelity" video on YouTube, which suggests something, now, doesn't it. Also, of course, if you check out this stuff and these artists and like them, then you should buy the albums. You guys know how I feel about these things.)

Posted by john at 11:34 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

I Eated It!

My wife asked me to do a couple of things for her yesterday while she was shopping, to which I said, "All right, but when you come back, I want a cookie."

"What kind of cookie?" she asked.

"A special cookie," I said.

Behold!

specialcookie.jpg

Mmm.... special cookie.

Posted by john at 10:37 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

Saddam Hanged

Good riddance.

Posted by john at 10:08 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Books to Spend Your Gift Cards On

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All this talk about marketing and publicist guidelines and so on reminds me that there's a stack of books on my desk that I've been meaning to chat about for a while but which I've neglected to because I've been all about me recently. Well, enough about me, let's talk about some of these books for a while.

1. The Blonde, by Duane Swierczynski -- Swierczynski's a man after my own heart because he's clearly a follower of the Theory of First Sentences, which states that the first sentence of your book damn well better grab your reader by the throat and then drag their eyes down the rest of the page. Anyone's who's read The Android's Dream will tell you that I'm a subscriber of this theory myself, so it's nice to see another member of the secret club. No, I'm not going to tell you the sentence. You should read it yourself. I will tell you the tagline on the back of the book, though: "It's your typical love story: Boy meets girl. Girl kidnaps boy. Boy loses girl and is pursued by a professional killer carrying a decapitated head in a gym bag." Boy, if I had a dollar for every time that happened to me.

Anyway, this is a fun hard-boiled thriller with just the tiniest dash of science fiction dropped in, and you'll like it or I'll send ferrets to chew off your toes. No, really. I will. I've just roped Swierczynski into an Author Interview, so you'll have a chance to learn a little more about him in the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, check this one out.

2. Hart & Boot & Other Stories, by Tim Pratt -- Speaking of Author Interviews, another fellow I'll harangued into an interview is Tim Pratt, and a good thing too, since I'm on a short story kick and this is a fine collection of a baker's dozen of his stories. So I plan to learn all his secrets and suck his brain dry and leave him an enervated husk. Don't tell him; it's meant to be a surprise. The title story of this collection, incidentally, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2005 anthology by Michael Chabon. Yeah, I don't know who he is, either. But he does have pretty good taste, apparently.

3. Trial of Flowers, by Jay Lake -- I'm a little behind on this one, since it came out in September, and I actually read it after Mainspring, Jay's upcoming novel from Tor (which I liked quite a bit). I like this one too; one of the things I find interesting about it is how different it is from Mainspring, in various interesting ways. I think of Jay a bit like I think of Elizabeth Bear: writers who apparently won't be satisfied until they write in every possible sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. This is not a criticism, especially since (so far, at least) Jay and Bear are showing they have the chops for it. I think it also means that fans of Jay Lake's work are ultimately fans of Jay Lake, and like the idea the he sprints after his muse no matter what direction she wanders off to.

4. Dreadful Skin, by Cherie Priest -- This one's not out until March, so I won't go into too much detail now, but suffice to say that my reader crush on Cherie continues unabated. Don't worry, my wife knows. And approves! Because she likes to read Cherie too. Remember that while you're waiting, you can read the first third at the Subterranean Press Web site.

5. The Future is Queer, edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel -- What? An anthology of queer science fiction? Dude, that's so gay. It's also pretty good, although I have to confess that outside of Neil Gaiman and editor Lawrence Schimel, I'm entirely unfamiliar with the folks in this anthology. This is a feature, not a bug -- it's nice to read people I haven't read yet -- and I expect it says more about my need to read more widely in SF than the obscurity of the authors in the collection, since people in it have won Arthur C. Clarke and Tiptree awards, and have been nominated for the Nebula. I am abashed in my ignorance. I'm working to correct it.

6. Trouble Magnet, by Alan Dean Foster -- Someone at Del Rey unwittingly has my number, because I feel about Alan Dean Foster pretty much the way I feel about the rock band Journey, which is to say he's someone whose work I gorged on in my younger years and enjoyed so much that even today my residual affection for the author inclines me to enjoy his work fairly independent of the work itself. Incidentally, I think this says something very positive about Foster, because something like that doesn't actually happen without talent. Foster has this science fiction thing down, he gives fine value for the money, and you walk away satisfied with the reading experience in no small part because Foster is extremely competent at the writing craft, and that baseline competence is, alas, always underrated (as it was, incidentally, with Journey, the members of which, individually, were amazing musicians). Now, clearly, I understand that not everyone wants a Journey-like experience in their science fiction literature; that's fine. Just means more for me.

Hey, if there are any books written in the last year or upcoming that you'd like to plug, the comment thread is a fine place to do it. This is a non-self-pimping thread, however: Promote other people's good works, if you would. You'll have plenty of opportunities for self-pimpery here at other times, trust me.

Posted by john at 03:54 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

And Now, On an Entirely Self-Serving Note

Hey, now that I think about it, why wasn't I tagged by Microsoft for their nifty "here's a laptop with some Vista on it" promotion? I totally have a higher Technorati ranking than most of these dudes! I get 25,000 visitors a day! I've got a punchy, engaging prose style! Clearly, there was an error in the selection process. They should send me that laptop with Vista on it. Also, Office 2007. And an Xbox 360 with the optional HD-DVD drive and Gears of War. And a pony. Which I know is not something that Microsoft usually produces or markets, but, you know. They have to make it up to me.

Indeed, I don't know why I'm not entirely flooded by tech gadgets from tech publicists and marketeers all the time. I am the disposable income demographic. That's all I'm saying. Tech folks, you know where I am, and you know how to get your stuff to me. I'll be waiting. Oh, yes. Waiting.

Posted by john at 01:23 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

World Domination via Blog Marketing: Don't Hold Your Breath

Dean Esmay (who has a new book out, incidentally -- congratulations, Dean!) pointed to my Publicist Guidelines yesterday as part of a larger column about a recent Microsoft blogger publicity attempt, in which Microsoft and its PR company Edelman shipped off bitchin' new laptops with Windows Vista on them to a selected number of bloggers so they could try out the new OS -- and, oh, yeah, they could keep the laptops after they were done looking at Vista.

This incensed geek overlord Joel Spolsky, who accused Microsoft of trying to bribe bloggers, which in turn prompted Esmay to tell Spolsky to take a nice cold shower. Now Microsoft is taking the position that, uh, the bloggers should, like, you know, give back the laptops they were told they could keep, a position which, strangely, some of them find annoying. Some intend to keep the thing (or give it to family or friends) and others are going to auction it off.

There are two things here. First, Microsoft wasn't trying to bribe the bloggers, it was trying to overwhelm their tiny little brain circuits by throwing such sweet swag at them that the bloggers would explode with joy all over their blogs, and also mention Vista. Speaking as someone who spent years in the fetid swag pits of movie reviewing, giving away a computer as swag is excessive but not entirely outside the realm of publicity strategies. Excessive though it may be, I see it as basically harmless, as bloggers tend to be deliriously transparent about these things, and everyone with a brain larger than the size of a walnut is going to internally adjust their bias filters as soon as the blogger writes "Dude, Microsoft sent me this."

I'm more interested in Spolsky's cri de coeur about the evils of marketing in the blogosphere. Spolsky's main concern seems to be that Microsoft is corrupting the credibility of the whole blog world by its nefarious attempts at publicity. I'm not especially persuaded by this line of thinking, first because I'm not sure how Microsoft is acting differently than any other corporation trying to convince consumers to buy its latest product. How dare Microsoft try to generate conversation in its products! It's just a plot to get people to buy Vista! Well, yes. That's indeed the point.

Leaving aside the idea of Microsoft being pure, unmitigated evil that destroys everything it touches, Spolsky is falling victim of a series of misapprehensions. First to the misapprehension that the blog world has monolithic standards on anything, which it doesn't, second to the misapprehension that there was a halcyon time when the people who wrote blogs steadfastly refused the predations of commerce, which there wasn't, third to the misapprehension that the blog world, as a whole, has any measurable standard of credibility, which is news to me, and fourth to the misapprehension that blog writers ought to have some obligation to act in a professional manner or only write about particular things in a particular manner, which, believe me, they surely do not. If the blogosphere has a motto, it would be "You're Not The Boss of Me," and Joel Spolsky is just as much not the boss as anyone else. His ability to dictate the policies of the blogosphere end at the borders of his own blog.

Likewise, I think Spolsky is deeply undervaluing one aspect of the blog world, which is that the sheer mass and diversity of the blogoverse means that it's difficult for anyone to get away with much of anything. Microsoft decides to hand out free PCs; here comes Spolsky (and others) to complain about it. The result is that the publicity spin of the event is already out of Microsoft's hands and curving away in an unexpected fashion. This is how the blog world works, precisely because it isn't a monolith. Also, Spolsky appears to be under the impression that blog readers are stupid, and they don't recognize blatant publicity handwaving when they see it, and neglect to factor accordingly. In this he is just as far behind the times as the marketers who are under the impression they can somehow control the blog dialogue about a product by putting it in blogger hands.

Now, Spolsky should know this already because he nabbed the same Sprint phone offer I did, hated the phone, and crapped all over it. Spolsky worries that getting a nice toy will cause some bloggers to feel some sort of reciprocity toward the toy giver, but inasmuch as he himself stands as an example of how that doesn't work, I'm not entirely sure why he feels that other bloggers will fall into the trap he himself avoided, or why the blogger's readership won't see through transparent and blatant marketing for what it is.

I think Spolsky's big problem is that he doesn't like being seen as a dancing monkey by tech marketers and has decided not to play their games any more. This is of course fine; good for him. I support his lifestyle choice and wish him all the best. It should not imply that bloggers who are trying out tech doodads are being turned into zombie marketeers for the loss-leader price of a shiny new toy, or that, even if they are, their readers are guilelessly swallowing the lines these zombie blogger marketeers are feeding out. People aren't entirely stupid, and the blog world shows a startlingly robust tendency toward overall transparency. No one in the blog world, blogger or reader, gets gulled unless they want to.

Since Dean Esmay points to my publicist guidelines as an example of perfectly ethical blogger behavior when it comes to marketing, it's worth asking what I would do, if Microsoft asked me if I wanted the shiny new laptop with the Vista operating system on it. My first impulse is that I would ask if I could just get a copy of Vista Ultimate instead, because I already have several computers in the house, including the new one, which is more than Vista-ready. Also, as a practical matter, it's useless to talk about an OS without talking about the process of installing it, so sending me a computer with it already installed is missing the point. If Microsoft insisted that I take the computer, after I was done using it I'd probably give it to my daughter and then take the computer she's currently using and donate it either to her school or the local library.

Would this mean Microsoft is trying to use me? Well, duh. They're trying use me just as much as book publishers are trying to use me when they send me book to mention in the Whatever, or DVD distributors are trying to use me in my guise as a DVD reviewer. This is axiomatic. Moreover, I am trying to use them as well. Why did I start reviewing music when I was in college? Because I was broke and it was a way to get free music. In the late 90s when I seriously got into video games, I started up a video game reviewing site (Gamedad) because in addition to offering a service that didn't yet exist (reviews with clueless parents in mind), it also allowed me to get all the games I wanted at no cost to me. Today, I talk about books here on the Whatever and do author interviews on By The Way not only because I want to promote really excellent authors and books, but because -- much to the despair of my wife, who lives to fight clutter -- I also get tons of books coming my way, many of which I would not have known about otherwise (I still buy books, too, since I like giving money to writers I like. More clutter. More despair from my wife).

As far as technology is concerned, I am interested in it and do write about it, so being approached by any tech company to try out their wares just means I have more things to play with and write about. I'm not going to be corrupted if they don't their toys back because, honestly. My price is so much higher than that.

Posted by john at 09:44 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Resolutions for 2007

So, you got any?

Posted by john at 08:26 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

December 28, 2006

Professional Rejection

A question in e-mail:

I'd be curious to find out what the rate of rejection to acceptance is among your professional writers. Would it be different for you from your commercial work, or the same?

This is actually two questions: What is the rejection rate among professional writers, and how does the rejection rate for my commercial work (by which I assume is meant the work I do for corporations) compare with my rejection rate otherwise.

As to what the rejection rate is for a pro writer, I think it really depends on the writer, and the circumstances. Some writers bang out a very large number of stories (if they're writing fiction) or queries (if they're writing non-fiction) and start sending these out to a very large list of editors. These people get rejected a lot -- and they expect to, which is why they send out such a high volume of stories/queries. But if they're good, something is likely to stick, and then they've got a gig. Other writers may choose to be more selective and send out fewer stories/queries and thus have relatively fewer rejections than that other fellow above, yet still overall get the same amount of work. As for me, I almost never get work rejected, but that's because I almost never look for work, I let work find me instead. But I probably don't work more or less than the other two writers above, either, presuming we're all of equal competence when it comes to writing.

(This, incidentally, answers the second question: I get my commercial work by clients coming to me, so my rejection rate is really low. My corporate rejection rate is in line with my "creative" rejection rate, but that's because I'm weird and don't send out my work all that much. If I did things non-weirdly, my "creative" rejection rate would be quite a bit higher.)

I mention this to make a point that from a professional point of view, rejection rates don't matter; what matters is if you're finding the amount of work that suits your interest in (and capability for) writing. If you're getting rejected 50% of the time but the 50% of stuff that gets accepted keeps you busy, great. If you're getting rejected 90% of the time but the 10% that gets accepted keeps you busy, great. How much you get rejected doesn't matter. Nobody other than you is keeping score that way. What score is being kept (and there's not much of it) is kept by how much you're published, and whether what you're publishing is good.

Let me get back to me for a minute. I don't get rejected much today, but that's only because I don't query or send out work much. If I were to send out queries or stories like normal, sane writers, my rejection statistics would be, I expect, fairly high. I say this with some authority because when I was pitching stories and queries, my rejection rate was fairly high. I used to freelance for the Chicago Sun-Times; I wrote music features for that paper my senior year of college. Every week I'd get a copy of the Chicago Reader and find out which bands were coming to town, and then I'd call up the features editor and just walk down the list of bands. Some of them she had no interest in; some of them their on-staff guy was already dealing with. I would pitch nine stories (or so) for every one that she took, and I made enough money from the gig to pay my rent and at least some of my tuition bill my senior year.

This told me two things: One, a high rejection rate doesn't matter as long as you're getting the work you need; two, spending any amount of time worrying about rejection is foolish. When my editor didn't want a story, I moved along to the next story idea. It was good training, both in dealing with the ego issues (i.e., rejection isn't personal failure, it's just rejection) and understanding that the writing business is actually a business, and one of the best ways to deal with it is as a business.

Now, I think writers do well to minimize their rejection rate when possible, and this is achieved through the usual tricks and tips of knowing one's markets and creating stories/queries that are actually interesting to an editor. Also, of course, if you're just spamming editors with hundreds of story ideas in the hope they'll pick one, if only to get you to stop bugging them, you're going to get yourself blacklisted from a market. Use your brains, people, that's what brains are there for. If you're sending out stories and queries in an intelligent fashion, you'll likely be fine.

So in short: How much pro writers get rejected isn't really relevant. What's relevant is the work. Readers don't see the rejection, they see the work. Focus on the work, not on the rejection.

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

Android's Dream Accolade

The literary site Bookgasm declares The Android's Dream one of the five best science fiction books of 2006:

Straight, fun sci-fi adventures are hard to come by these days, and Scalzi has done an awesome job with this one, with great characters, plotting and dialogue wrapped up by a plot that always stays 10 steps ahead of the readers.

Neat. Congratulations also to my pals David Louis Edelman and Toby Buckell, whose books made this list as well.

Fun trivia fact: Bookgasm posted this list at 8:19 am; I found it at 8:24 and posted this a couple of minutes later. This is my ego search kung fu, and it is strong.

Posted by john at 08:26 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

My 2007 Literary Output: A Review

What will you see from me in 2007, and what won't you see from me in 2007, but I will be working on, nonetheless? Here's what I know I'm doing, so far:

Stuff coming out in 2007 that I have dates for:

1. Old Man's War (mass market paperback edition), January 2007: Those of you waiting for OMW to come out in the supermarket racks, here you go!

2. The Sagan Diary, February 2007: As most of you know, this is a novelette (it comes out to about 100 pages) written from the point of view of Jane Sagan, one of the major characters in my Old Man series. It'll be available in hardcover and in deluxe leatherbound editions. Both are limited editions, the leatherbound version more so than the other. This novelette is almost entirely different, stylistically, than anything else I've ever written, so those of you who pick it up are going to see a side of my writing you haven't seen before. It's good, trust me. It's just different.

3. You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffeeshop: Scalzi on Writing, March 2007: My book on writing and the writing life is now going out in early March, I think, and should be a lot of fun; it collects up a number of essays on writing originally published here on the Whatever, including some that are no longer archived on the site, so the book will be the best way of seeing them. This is a signed limited edition hardcover.

4. The Last Colony, May 2007: The third and for now final book in the Old Man series, which reunites John Perry and Jane Sagan, and pits them against, oh, most of the entire universe. You know how it is. I think this book finishes off this particular series in a really compelling way; I like it a lot, and I suspect I'll be promoting my brains out over it. This will be a hardcover release.

5. The Ghost Brigades (mass market paperback edition), May 2007: This hits around the same time as the hardcover edition of The Last Colony. Collect it! In convenient summer reading form!

Stuff coming out in 2007 I don't have dates for:

1. The Rough Guide to the Universe, Second Edition: I'll be getting new and updated chapters to Rough Guides in August, so I'd say to look for the second edition of this book sometime around the holidays of 2007 or possibly early 2008.

2. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Collected Writings, 1998 - 2006: This limited collection of Whatever essays was originally planned for 2006 but we held off for various reasons. Now it's on track for sometime in the second half of 2007, which gives me time to update the text with some of my favorite stuff from this year.

3. An Untitled Fantasy Novella. It actually has a title, but I don't want to say what it is yet, because it gives away something crucial about the plot that I don't want to discuss until I finish the novella. However, yes, I will be trying something on the fantasy side of things. Should you be afraid? Oh, I don't know. I think this could be fun.

4. Various short stories. I've agreed to write some short stories for some people. These will come out when they come out, and of course I'll let you know when they do.

5. The Android's Dream (mass market paperback edition): I imagine this will hit very late in 2007, possibly just ahead of the hardcover release of the sequel, which is slated for very early 2008.

Note that stuff in 2007 that doesn't have dates is fungible -- some of it could move to 2008; some of it might not happen at all.

What do I know I am writing in 2007? Much of it is already noted above: I'll be tackling a sequel to The Android's Dream, updating my Universe book, writing the fantasy novella and getting out those short stories. I'll also be writing at least one more novel, most likely the first book of the Super Secret Project I Can't Tell You About. In addition, I'm contributing to at least one more Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, and will be writing some magazine articles. I'm also continuing my work with AOL Journals in 2007, which means I'll be continuing my Author Interview series. And of course I'll continue writing Whatever here.

I think all of this should keep me busy in 2007. For 2008: Nothing concrete planned outside the release of the sequel to TAD, but in 2007 I hope to submit proposals for a couple of novels, including possibly a YA, and a proposal for a non-fiction work I've been mulling over for some time now. For 2009: Geez, who knows.

That's what I'm up to, writing-wise, in 2007.

Posted by john at 08:17 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

2006: The Year in Athena Pictures

Because it's not like I'm under the illusion that any of you come here because of me.

More pictures after the jump.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

Rembrandt, Up Close

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The Dayton Art Institute is hosting a traveling exhibit from the Rijksmuseum, featuring a number of famous works from Rembrandt as well as other Dutch masters and Rembrandt apprentices, including Jan Steen, Adriaen van der Werff, Nicholaes Maes and Gerard Dou. Apparently the Rijksmuseum doesn't let its work travel all that much, but right now its undergoing an extensive renovation, so the thinking is that there's no harm done in letting somee of this work travel about while the museum is getting fixed up. And thus: Rembrandt and friends in Ohio.

We went to it today, and it was really delightful, and a reminder that some things are better experienced in real life. The picture above, for example: The Denial of Saint Peter. Here on this page you have a nice picture of it, and you can see Peter, questioned about his acquaintance with Jesus, saying he doesn't know them. The composition is good, the lighting (via a hidden candle held up to Peter's face) evocative, and the whole piece clearly a great work. Then you go see the actual thing, and it's like going from black and white to color. You can see how completely Peter is torn, as his heart longs to say how he loves Jesus but his mouth says he knows him not. You see how the light in the picture actually seems to glow, illuminating Peter's torment. And you can see, in the background, Jesus turning to hear his beloved disciple renounce him, his expression sorrowful as Peter's is tormented. And you know why this is art: Because you feel Peter's denial as if you were there yourself, wrung from you through the use of oil, canvas and varnish. You can sense all of this when you see the picture in some other medium; you feel it when you stand in front of it. Art is a tactile medium.

I went in knowing I'd enjoy seeing Rembrandt's work, both his paintings his print work, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed the other art work as well, particularly the work of Nicholaes Maes, a student of Rembrandt whom I had not known of before. Maes seemed taken with loading his work with symbolism; a picture of a young servant pensively lookig out of a window, for example, is supposed to be an allegory for the sin of sloth. I don't know how I feel about that; I think she just looks like she's having a moment to think about something, which doesn't seem especially slothful. But then I'm not a 17th century Dutchman, either. Another painting in the exhibit had a hunter coming back from the hunt and offering a woman a partridge; to your golden age Dutchman, this picture was apparently screaming that the guy wanted to get busy with the woman. You miss a lot of allusions over the gulf of 350 years.

We naturally took Athena to the exhibit with us; she's just old enough to appreciate something like this, so long as we didn't linger too long in one place or another. We timed our pace so we finished the exhibit just as her tolerance wore out, which I thought was nicely done. The exhibit did something I thought was very smart, which was that it had a kid's level audio program as well as an adult level audio program, so Athena happily went from picture to picture and listened to what was going on in the picture. I didn't bother with an audio program myself, but I'm glad someone thought ahead about how to keep an eight-year-old amused at an art exhibit.

I think this is one of those things she'll appreciate more as she gets older; Rembrandt doesn't mean much to her now, but as she learns more I think she'll be happy she saw some of his work in her hometown. As it is, she came out of the exhibit declaring that she wanted to be an artist, including that with her two now-long-term planned professions of dentistry and building demolition. I told her I was proud of her multi-disciplinary ambitions. And I am.

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A Fine Selection of 2006 Sunsets

They await you beyond the cut. Enjoy in all their dusky splendor. And remember: Ohio is sunset country.


3.25.06: This one is a sun pillar -- the actual sun is setting below what looks like the sun.


5.2.06


8.2.06


8.3.06


9.3.06


9.26.06


10.9.06


10.28.06


11.21.06

Posted by john at 11:06 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Gerald Ford

My first memory of Gerald Ford was one of annoyance; this jerk was on my TV when my TV show was supposed to be on! And he was on all my TV stations! Logic tells me that I should be equally annoyed with Jimmy Carter, who would have been his debate partner and thus equally culpable of hogging space on my TV, but I have no memory of him at all, just Gerald Ford, stolid and refusing to get out of the way of, oh, Happy Days or Good Times or whatever it was I was wanting to watch. If I could have, I would have voted against Ford just for that. My excuse for such a vengeful, uninformed vote would have been that I was seven at the time.

Indeed, while I was alive when Ford was President, his entire administration occurred well before I had any knowledge of or interest in politics of any sort, so I note his passing with at most a sense of detachment. My memories of Ford are mostly of him being parodied as clumsy for falling down stairs and appearing on an ad for the Boy Scouts, and then, some time later, being the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit in which Dana Carvey, playing a Tom Brokaw trying to get ahead on his canned stories, declares that Gerald Ford had been consumed by wolves, and that he was delicious. Upon discovering that Ford had died, my first impulse was to check Fark.com to make sure its note of Ford's passing included a shout-out to that skit. I was not disappointed. I suppose it may be telling that my entire cultural legacy of Ford consists of him being mocked and/or fitting himself into an Eagle Scout uniform, but whether it's telling more about me or him is something I'll leave untouched for now.

I wish I had something more substantive to say about the man. Which is to say I know I could speak more substantively about him -- my grasp of recent American history and the implications of his presidency are pretty firm -- but I lack any compelling emotional or intellectual impetus to do so. I don't really remember him as anything but a reasonably genial ex-president, of the old school of ex-presidentery, the one that says you spend your sunset years playing golf, doing charitable work, and generally staying well out of the way. He did that well enough that I don't really miss him. I wonder what he'd think about that.

Posted by john at 05:29 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

December 26, 2006

All Caught Up (I Think)

I just went through my e-mail for the last two weeks and caught up (I think) with all the straggling bits of correspondence. And I'm pretty sure before that I was all caught up. Be that as it may, if you sent me an e-mail in December for which you were expecting a response, and you didn't get one, you'd be best sending it along again, because clearly I have no recollection of it. Since the only things I have planned for the rest of 2006 are hanging out with my family and farting about, there's a reasonably good chance that any e-mail sent to me between now and the end of the year will be responded to in a fairly rapid fashion.

That is all.

Posted by john at 03:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Starship Troopers, The Movie: A Review

The NYT Times piece on me and my books has tangentially re-ignited the "was Heinlein a fascist" thing yet again (the latest entrant: Brad DeLong), and the additional discussion of whether the question of whether the reputation of Starship Troopers the book has been damaged by Paul Verhoeven's movie of the same name. So I thought it might be interesting to exhume a review of the movie I wrote when it came out, back in '97. It offers some insight into what I think of the Heinlein = fascist thing (not much), and of course my thoughts about the movie, which I enjoy, actually, but which I don't think has all that much to do with the book.

---

Starship Troopers
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven is a director who can give you everything you want in a movie, as long as you want too much of it. He's made five films in English, not one of which could remotely be described as "restrained": Robocop and Total Recall spilled more of the red stuff than a bloodmobile in a four-car pile-up, and Showgirls gave viewers as much sex as it was possible to have without actually doing it onscreen. Basic Instinct, of course, was a whole lot of both -- kiss kiss bang bang ad infinitem.

This isn't a criticism of Verhoeven. It's just a fact. Paul Verhoeven makes movies like tuberculosis patients make fever dreams: vivid, disjointed, with all the human emotions pumped up so far that they bleed into each other like a swirl. A lot of people confuse it for camp, but Verhoeven isn't out there, winking to the audience. He's as serious as a heart attack. It's what makes him unstoppable -- if Verhoeven had actually tried to camp up, say, Showgirls, his head might have exploded right then and there.

Starship Troopers is more of the same, for Verhoeven and for his audience. It's one-half cornball teen drama, one-half unspeakably violent science-fiction action film. Verhoeven treats both halves of the film equally importantly, which is bound to be profoundly irritating for the folks who have come to see guys with guns shoot up some bugs. But that's what you get with this director. It's not all or nothing -- it's just all, period, end of sentence.

The movie is based loosely on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, and follows the same general plotline. Spoiled rich kid Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is finishing high school and rather aimlessly drifting into Harvard, when he gets sidetracked by his best friend Carl and girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) who are joining the Federal Service. The service is futuristic armed force, which is occupying its time battling The Bugs, a semi-sentient race of giant insects. The bugs want the same real estate humans want, and are either not programmed or not inclined to be nice and share.

When the insects get mad, they hurl asteroids towards earth with the hope of splattering a major city or two; the humans retaliate by shipping a couple hundred thousand troopers to a Bug planet and shooting everything with more than two legs. As the movie begins, the bugs are having more success with their formula than the humans are having with theirs. We follow Johnny and his pals through the last days of high school and then boot camp training, after which we transfer to the battle zone, where bugs abound and humans have a tendency to lose their heads (and arms, and legs) in the heat of battle.

Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier, his screenwriter (with whom he also did Robocop) kept the structure of the book, but they didn't bother dealing much with the book's intent, to which the structure was tied. The book was a cover for Heinlein, a proto-libertarian, to lecture personal and political responsibility to his clutch of young, fervent readers. The movie doesn't have much time for that -- it pays the mildest of lip service to the concepts of the book and then covers for the rest of it by envisioning the future as pop culture fascism, complete with newsreel-type government infomercials, which look something like Nike ads done by Leni Riefenstahl.

It's in line with Verhoeven's other glimpses of the future; you could plot a direct line between the fascistic corporations of Robocop and Total Recall to the planetary government in Troopers -- and no doubt some desperate film student will, one day, for a thesis. But it's likely to annoy true Heinlein fans. Heinlein was occasionally confused with being a fascist, just like Ayn Rand, a writer who Heinlein, for better or worse, shares much of his reading audience with. He wasn't (neither was she, for that matter, though sometimes you have to wonder) but this film isn't going to help his reputation much on that score.

Without Heinlein's political noodlings, there's not much call for the high school and boot camp half of the story (where, in the book, Heinlein did most of his philosophizing). But Verhoeven leaves it in anyway. You have to figure Verhoeven wanted to leave the scenes in to give the audience time to get into the character's heads -- and indeed we get a lot of that, particularly through Johnny and Carmen, who break up, find new lovers, lose friends and grow up, all at typically high Verhoeven volume. But all this does is give the audience time to think about how shallow these people really are. Verhoeven has populated his movie with kids who are fun to look at but who don't appear ever to have had a thought in their pretty heads -- either the characters or the actors who play them. Everybody looks perfect, and perfect people don't have to think. Why go for the A+ when you get the A? (This, by the way, would have sent Heinlein into a tizzy.)

Only two characters appear to have anything above rudimentary thinking skills at all. One is Dizzy (Dina Meyer), who has a crush on Johnny and follows him into the federal service; She's not thinking well -- one has to wonder what she sees in Johnny other than his hunky, square jaw -- but at least she's making the attempt. The other is Carl (Neil Patrick Harris, looking like a fresh-scrubbed Quentin Tarantino), who is psychic and who gets a job reading the minds of the aliens. In the late part of the film, when the film really overloads on the fascistic imagery, Carl wanders around in a getup that makes him look like a SS officer -- Dr. Doogie Mengele, M.D.

The reason for having such a good looking cast becomes clear in the second half, when Verhoeven takes all these perfectly sculpted, achingly desirable kids and feeds them to the vast army of 30-foot bugs, who gleefully rip their beautiful bodies into kibble. Verhoeven finds more ways to dismember the cast than you would have thought humanly possible (which is why, perhaps, he has the bugs do it). To be fair, the Bugs are beautiful too (credit special effects wizard Phil Tippet, who makes the Bugs the most believable computer-generated creatures to date -- they look real enough to make people afraid of spiders twitchy for a month), and they get blown apart just as frequently.

The battle scenes are marvelously violent, action-packed and actually arousing -- the sort of scenes where most guys end up leaning slightly forward in their seats, breathing shallowly through the mouth and hoping they don't have a reason to suddenly stand up. But more than most, they're scenes where it doesn't pay to bring your brain along for the ride. This is the sort of film where they go after two-story high insects with rifles that hardly look powerful enough to bring down a bunny at 30 yards. It makes for fun battle scenes, but you have to think that after the first encounter with the Bugs, someone would have had the same sort of epiphany that Chief Brodie had in Jaws, when he saw the great white for the first time and said, "We need a bigger boat."

But let's remember: this isn't really a movie, it's a fever dream. As fever dreams go, this one fits the bill -- it'll stick to your brain long after you drag yourself, dazed, out of the theater. That's the sort of impact Paul Verhoeven seems to like making on his audiences. No one would say he isn't doing just that.

Posted by john at 12:01 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

2006 Author Interview Archive

In 2006 I began interviewing authors over at my AOL site By The Way, and I have to say I was thrilled at how well the interviews have turned out. For those of you who missed these interviews the first time around, here's a chance to catch up. If you are an author and want to participate in interviews in 2007, don't worry, I'll be posting another entry about how to do that. In the meantime, enjoy these interviews and buy these authors' books.

The interviews, in order of their appearance:

Chris Roberson
Nick Sagan
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Tate Hallaway/Lyda Morehouse
Pamela Ribon
David Louis Edelman
Alan DeNiro
Ellen Kushner
Naomi Kritzer
Jo Walton
Mark Budz
Cherie Priest
Catherynne M. Valente
Karl Schroeder
Karen Traviss
Charles Stross
Sarah Hoyt
Sean Williams

I'm looking forward to doing many more of these in 2007. Because authors are interesting people.

Posted by john at 11:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Comment Moderation, Etc

I've gotten a couple e-mails on this recently from folks concerned when a comment of theirs drops into the moderation queue and then doesn't eventually show up. So I'm going to post this and let it stand as a resource going forward.

First, understand that this site gets a huge number of spam comments a day -- something along the line of 2,000 of them in a day, every day, all year long. The reason you don't see most of them is because I actively and aggressively monitor and filter the threads. My own special cocktail of IP blacklists, keyword moderation, link policing and other secret ingredients punts the majority of these spam comments either into the spam queue or the moderation queue. The spam queue gets about 90% of these; I never look at the spam queue because it's really almost impossible to land there unless you're spamming. 10% of these drop into the moderation queue, which I look at least a couple of times a day. 10% of all spam messages is still a couple hundred messages a day.

When you try to post a message and it doesn't appear immediately, it usually means that it's gone into the moderation queue. You may or may not get a message from my site telling you this. If you've landed in the moderation queue, it's usually for one of the following reasons:

1. You put in more than one URL link in your message (I've specified 3 links as the point at which moderation kicks in, however, other factors may cause you to get punted into moderation for as little as two links)

2. You've got a word in your comment that fires up one of my keyword comment moderation filters. These are largely pharmaceutical-based, although there are certain specific phrases that are commonly used in spam that are also filtered. If you try to tell me I have a "nice site," for example, you'll likely get the boot into moderation.

3. You're writing from an IP address from which spam emanates. Use your anti-virus programs, people.

When you post a message, and any of these three factors are in play, they are weighed against other factors, including whether or not you've posted before (either by IP detection or by name detection). The MovableType software then assigns your comment a rating, and if the rating is less than my threshold rating for posting, off your comment goes, into the moderation queue.

Here are things you need to know about the moderation queue:

1. As noted, normally I check it at least a couple of times a day; usually during an average work day I'll check it once an hour or so. So generally speaking, your comment should be released no more than 12 hours after posting, and usually (during workplace hours) within an hour or two.

2. I don't vaporize comments made from real humans or otherwise leave them in the comment queue. If I find something of yours sufficiently jackassed enough to delete, I'll let it post and then go into the comment and delete it, and leave behind my reasons for deletion. In other words, if you've offended me, what's left of your comment will tell you why.

3. Inevitably, given the amount of spam that lands in the moderation queue, I will from time to time accidentally delete a comment post from a real live person. This person might be you. Please understand that it doesn't mean I hate you, or that you've offended me in some unknowable way -- as noted above, if you've offended me, I'll let you know -- or that you've lost your posting privileges. It just means I've accidentally deleted your post. It happens.

If you've posted a comment and you do not see it on the site, here's what you do:

1. Don't send me an e-mail about it. As noted above, comment moderation is not my passive-aggressive way of controlling people, it's my way of dealing with spam. I don't moderate people for their comments this way.* So you don't need to worry about that. Now, if you've sent me an e-mail about this subject prior to me posting this message, please don't send another e-mail apologizing. I'm not upset. I just don't want you to think there's a problem.

2. Do wait a few hours to see if your comment eventually shows up. I do occasionally have a life outside this Web site, so sometimes it'll take a while for the comment to get published.

3. If after about 12 hours you do not see the comment -- or alternately, do not see what used to be a comment from you with my note about why I deleted its contents -- it's likely I've accidentally deleted it. After you calm your righteous rage at my sloppy comment moderation skills, the solution is simple: post the comment again. The chances of my accidentally deleting the comment a second time are (hopefully) fairly small.

So there you have it: The ins and outs of comment moderation on the Whatever. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment thread.

(* I say that I don't use the moderation queue to deal with real live human commenters, but I will note that there are at least a couple of people who, after being warned several times in the comment threads to behave themselves, have lost their posting privileges entirely, and at least part of that enforcement includes moderation. Should you worry that you'll be placed on this list? No. You really have to annoy me over an extended period of time, and if you do, I will let you know that you're headed toward Blacklist City long before you get there. Most of you are not even close to achieving this sort of dubious distinction.)

Posted by john at 10:52 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

December 25, 2006

Modeling Only the Finest in Modern Sheep Wear

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This was a gift from my friend Karen, who I adored before but now adore just that much more. It's definitely my new favorite t-shirt.

How was your Christmas and/or Monday?

Posted by john at 09:33 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Merry Christmas

Here are two wonderful gifts I have this Christmas Day.

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I hope wherever you are, you are with those you love, or at the very least are holding them close in your heart.

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

December 24, 2006

NYT Review Fallout

There's been some interesting commentary and discussion following Dave Itzkoff's NYT Book Review piece on me and my books, so I thought I'd post links to some of them I've found, for the edification of Whatever readers. In no particular order:

* Instapundit notes the piece, and has some thoughts on the idea of Starship Troopers being fascist, roping in Spider Robinson to rebut that claim and also making a point about some of the "chickenhawk" rhetoric from earlier in the year. Also commenting on the Heinlein tip are Blue Crab Boulevard and The Colossus of Rhodey.

* Sarah Weinman declares that "Dave Itzkoff makes a good case for reading John Scalzi's work," among the other things she notes, and Jenny Rappaport, Toby Buckell and Gwenda Bond congratulate me for showing up in the Times (with Toby and Jenny adding additional thoughts regarding the review itself). Thanks, I wish I could say I did any or the work for that, but I suspect that thanks should go to my ever-fabulous publicist, Dot Lin.

* SF Signal praises me for not attacking Dave Itzkoff when I wrote my response to the review; apparently authors getting bent out of shape with reviews is the new black. Well, here's the thing. First, of course, the review is generally positive concerning my work, so getting all bent out of shape would just be churlish. As I've said before, I'm happy with the review, and pleased Dave Itzkoff took the time to think about the books.

Second, even in the theoretical scenario where I wanted to scoop out a reviewer's eyes, pour gasoline into his sockets and then light them aflame and chortle as he went howling blindly into the night, it's just not a good idea. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and in the long run, we all know if what we've written or created is good. I remember once I panned an album by The Cult, which led to lead singer Ian Astbury sending me a scathing e-mail. To which I responded, basically, "Dude, what are you doing? In a month people will forget I wrote the review, and you'll still be Ian Astbury. The next time you have a groupie on top of you because you wrote 'Love Removal Machine,' you'll look back on this and laugh." To which Mr. Astbury admitted I had a point.

* Sarah Monette uses the moment to discourse on what reviewers don't get about science fiction, fantasy and horror, which leads both to a lively discussion in her comment thread, and an amusingly rueful followup post.

* Andrew Wheeler is not impressed with Itzkoff's review in the slightest, and GalleyCat's Ron Hogan pretty much declares war on Itzkoff in his commentary. Note to self: Don't invite Itzkoff and Hogan to the same party. Or, perhaps, do, and make sure the walls have been securely tarped.

That's what I've seen. If you've seen other commentary about it, feel free to drop it into the comment thread.

Posted by john at 01:41 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Whatever Best of 2006

We're now officially in the final week of 2006, which means it's time for my annual "Best Of" list of Whatever entries, highlighting the entries I think were the most notable of the last calendar year. As it happens, this year's list seems to be heavy on entries about writing, but all things considered I don't suppose that's all that surprising. I do think overall it was a good year for the Whatever, but as BaconCat reminds us above, all Internet dreams of fame -- and pretensions of quality -- are fleeting.

I suspect I may be doing a couple more end of the year compilation entries over the next week; beats having to think, you know?

Anyway, for your reading edification, in chronological order:

January is National Literary Fraud Month!
There is Always Another Way
The John Scalzi Agent FAQ
Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don't Want to Work at Writing
The Money Entry
Interesting But Unverifiable Facts About the 2006 Campbell Class
Purity Balls
The 2006 Stupidest FanFic Writer Award Gets Retired Early
10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing
Why There Are No Great Video Game Critics (Yet)
How (And How Not) To Market To Me When I'm in Blogger Mode
The Value of (Long) Fiction Online
A Special Message for Scott "Pluto Hayta" Westerfeld
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Clearly You People Thought I Was Kidding (The BaconCat Entry)
Thinking About The God Delusion
How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie
On Moral Cowardice
The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment
The Occam's Razor Theory of Literary Rejection
On Theocracies
You Can Get This Book For Free. You Should Buy It.
On Carl Sagan
On the New York Times Sunday Book Review Piece

If there's a Whatever piece from 2006 you've enjoyed but I've not put on this reading list, by all means give it a shoutout in the comments.

Enjoy!

Posted by john at 11:48 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Blindsight 2nd Printing; TAD Review in Flint Journal Review

Congratulations to Peter Watts: His book Blindsight is indeed headed for a second printing, giving more folks an opportunity to check it out. As you may recall, the second printing appeared in some doubt earlier, so I'm glad to see the book has reached that milestone.

Watts has graciously given some credit for this to me and Cory Doctorow and Kathryn Cramer, all of whom had pimped the book enthusiastically, and assures us each that we will receive a third of his first born. I think Peter will have to need to clear that with his first born's eventual mother, who may be surprised at his plans, and take exception to them. Also, I'm not entirely sure what I would do with a third of a first born, or, also, how to explain how I came in possession of said third to whichever law enforcement official would inevitably question me about said possession. It may be better all the way around if said theoretical first born stay in one piece, and in Peter's custody. But I appreciate the thought.

As for me, The Android's Dream has garnered another positive review, this time through the good graces of Gene Mierzejewski of the Flint Journal Review:

This is a zany, exciting and hilarious yarn that spins in more directions than a weather vane in a tornado... "Android's Dream" is a joy that provides more proof that John Scalzi soon will command a slot among the genre's best-loved authors.

Shucks. And here I was planning to become one of the genre's best-loved authors by embedding candy in every book I sell. But I've been informed by Tor that the "candy-encrusted pages" plan had to be suspended because caramel wreaks havoc with the printing presses. Clearly we need a new generation of candy-tolerant presses, and I call on engineers everywhere to solve this pressing crisis.

One other bit of book trivia: When I checked my Amazon rankings this morning, as all authors do the first thing they do in the morning, before they shower or shave or even open their eyes (the braille reader is paying off!), I saw that Old Man's War was ranked at 1,041, and The Ghost Brigades was at 1,042. Sequential Amazon rankings for sequential Scalzi books! I love it when teh Intarweebs line up their tubes like that to amuse me.

Posted by john at 08:13 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

December 23, 2006

Greetings From the Politburo

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To answer a couple of e-mails I've gotten about the John Hersey illustration accompanying the NYT Sunday Book Review article about me and my books, yes, I think it's supposed to be me, and as evidence of this, I have paired it above with what I suspect was its model, the picture on my bio page, in which I am glowering into the camera. Paired up as they are, you can see how you can get from one to the other. I suspect that this was all Mr. Hersey was given to go on, in terms of pictures of yours truly.

I kinda like it, although I also think it looks less like me and more like a cautionary tale of what I might look like in a quarter century if I don't go easy on the bacon and vodka. Somewhere else someone has described it as looking like a 60-year-old Russian gangster; I was thinking more of politburo type myself, which is six of one and half dozen of the other, I suppose. I also think it looks a bit like what might happen if Yul Brynner and I got into a bit of rough trade in the teleport pods from The Fly and then had our genes splice at a critical moment. I'm not sure that's really an image you want to conjure up, however.

It could be a lot worse, though, because for a while I've been thinking of replacing that photo on my bio page with this one:

Imagine what might have happened if poor Mr. Hersey had had to work with that.

Posted by john at 03:48 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Exit Interview From the Seventh Year

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Athena, you are eight years old today. How does it feel to be eight?

I'm not eight yet.

What do you mean?

Because I'm not eight until 3:31.

Fine. Today is your eighth birthday. How does it feel to have reached such a momentous milestone?

I feel fine, except that you were just being sarcastic.

Well, I'm sarcastic out of love.

Crazy.

Do you have any advice to people from all your years of experience? You know, things you have learned that you want to share with people. For example, what have you learned about pets?

That they're cute and cuddly, unless you shave them.

Do you advocate shaving your pets?

No, because they're cute when they're not shaved.

Tell what you what you've learned about boys.

Some of them are really stupid. And, some of them are nice and smart. That makes them cute.

So, being smart and nice is more important than being good-looking?

Kind of.

What are your thoughts on education?

It's boring.

Why is it boring?

It just is.

How would improve your educational experience?

I would make it so that you could stay in your pajamas, and there would only be three minutes of school. And you would have helmets for learning, for math facts or something, instead of having the teacher tell you or to having to take time tests, because time tests stink.

Is there anything you like learning about?

I like outer space stuff. You learn stuff on posters, and for pictures they're really neat. You're on this planet, and you see more planets and falling stars. And space is so big that nobody's ever gone where it ends. And there's so many things to learn about space, and I like to learn, but not in the old-fashioned way.

Do you think there's life on other planets?

No, unless you see another human.

So we're all alone in the universe?

No, someone else could go with you in the rocket.

No, I mean, that humans the only intelligent species in the universe.

Yes. But there are animals in the universe.

In the last year, what have been some of your favorite books, movies, and music?

For books, Magic Treehouse books rule, and my favorite music is "Bring Me to Life" and "Since U Been Gone." For movies, I liked Hookwinked and Flushed Away.

What life lessons have you learned?

Not to crack your knuckles.

What's wrong with cracking your knuckles?

It's bad for you.

Any final thoughts for people? Any advice give them?

Yes, I have some advice. Never, and I mean ever, leave your cookies unattended.

Sage advice.

Yes.

Posted by john at 12:20 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

On the New York Times Sunday Book Review Piece

The New York Times Sunday Book Review piece on me and my books is now up, so I thought I'd make a few comments on it:

1. As to your first question of how do I feel about it: oh, come on. I just had a full page devoted to me in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. This is the part where I hop, jump and skip. And I think the piece itself was thoughtful and interesting to read; I'm particularly pleased Dave Itzkoff liked The Ghost Brigades more than Old Man's War, because I think TGB is the better-written book, myself. So, yeah, I'm delighted with the piece; I'd be an idiot not to be.

2. I'm sad Itzkoff didn't like The Android's Dream at all, but, you know. If you write a book that starts off with a chapter-long fart joke, you go in knowing not everyone's going to follow where you lead. I'm not going to fault Itzkoff for deciding that it's not his thing. That said, I find it amusing that all the things about the book Itzkoff describes as bugs (the fart jokes, the digressions, the informal style, etc) are the things I would describe as features, because that's the kind of book it is. I've openly called it my "popcorn movie" book -- i.e., lots of actions and explosions and kiss kiss bang bang (as Pauline Kael would say). I suspect Itzkoff may have been expecting something else; he was expecting steak and got a chocolate eclair. And while that eclair might be tasty, if you're wanting steak, you're gonna be disappointed. The good news is he's got more steak coming in 2007, in the form of The Last Colony.

As for Android, the book has its admirers ("His best book yet" -- Entertainment Weekly) and Tor tells me it's selling pretty damn well. And I'll be writing a sequel. Mmmm... more eclair.

3. Am I taking a potshot at Robert Heinlein, as Itzkoff suggests I am in The Ghost Brigades, when I have the Special Forces note that unpacking the philosophical concepts in Starship Troopers takes a lot of effort? Not really. The fuller context has the soldiers also enjoying the Starship Troopers movie more than the book, even though they recognize it's dumber. This is an inside pitch to science fiction fandom, whose general opinion of the movie is that it's a travesty and betrayal of the book. Having people who are for all intents and purposes actual "starship troopers" enjoy the film more is a friendly fannish nose tweak. At conventions I've had fans come up to me, note that particular passage and say, "Dude, that's cold," which of course amuses me greatly. Yes. Yes, it is cold.

Fans seem to enjoy the "Ho, Ender" joke, too, which is hard nearby in the text. Indeed, the whole section in which the Special Forces look at all the "old" science fiction is basically a chunk of fan service, even as it serves the more serious purpose of letting the Special Forces understand where "people like them" fit into the cultural imagination of humanity, a point which has implications for the main character Jared Dirac later in the book. Just because you're doing serious plot work doesn't mean you can't have fun with it.

So no, I'm not actually whacking on Heinlein. However, that part where I give the Special Forces a wish death on the Ewoks? That's all me, baby.

4. Itzkoff appears to have the feeling that I'm straddling the fence politically in my work, walking down the middle to avoid offending one side or the other, and hopes that in The Last Colony that I will "articulate a firm position on the political issues that will inevitably define [his] historical moment, [and] take a stance that considerate readers might potentially disagree with." Heh. My thought about this is that Itzkoff needs to read Nicholas Whyte's delightfully excoriating take on Old Man's War; clearly, considerate readers disagree with me already.

I understand where Itzkoff is coming from, but if I'm reading him correctly, I going to have to disagree with him about the need to change my rhetorical tactics. I think they're working fine; I just don't think they're the usual tactics. To explain this I'm going to have to geek out here, so buckle in.

Ready? Here we go: To the extent that one decides to get into politics in one's science fictional work -- and the question of whether this is a good idea at all is a discussion so immense and knotty and exhausting that I'm not even going to bother with it at the moment -- there are primarily two ways to go about it: You can build a monument or you can build a room (yes, these are metaphors. Work with me). If you build a monument, what you're doing is putting your politics and polemics in the center of your reader's attention and basically making him or her deal with them on your terms. The politics aren't accessible and aren't debatable; as a reader you deal with them or you don't.

If you build a room, what you're doing is inviting people in -- with all their baggage, political or otherwise -- and inviting them to unpack and stay awhile. And they unpack, putting all their stuff on the shelves and tables and walls and floors, all of which (to stretch the metaphor to its absolute breaking point) are your underlying political and social views. As a writer, you make the points you want to make, and because you've let your readers bring something into the book as well, I think you've got a better chance of them being receptive to your points.

I think monument-making is fine, if you've got a taste for it. Lord knows there are a lot of monument builders in science fiction, and have been since the early days of the genre. I think I'm a room-builder. I want people to come into the rooms I make and figure out how they best fit into them and can make them their own. I'm happy to let them bring in their own world view; everyone likes a room better once they've put in their own homey touches. But, you know. I'm still the architect.

Working this way suits me because to the extent I want to make political points, they don't really track to the current iteration of "right" and "left," and even if they did, the way I've designed my universe, today's right-left politics have as much relevance to it as, say, the minutiae of the political gamesmanship surrounding the Prime Ministership of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, have to do with life in the contemporary USA. Now, the political points I want to make in this universe will happily fit into this real-world historical moment, I think (I suspect this will particularly be the case with The Last Colony). But they'll do so in ways appropriate to the universe I've built up. Likewise I'll be happy to let the readers discover these points as they come across them in the text. This sort of room-building strategy is arguably not as immediately impressive as building a monument; on the other hand a monument is not necessarily a comfortable place in which to live. I want my readers to live in my universes for a good long while.

Geeking out done now. And to get back to the NYT Sunday Book Review piece: Fun stuff, discussed in one of literature's big venues. You bet I'm happy.

Posted by john at 04:14 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

December 22, 2006

Last Chance

This is the final boarding call for those of you who want to get your name in the limited edition version of "The Sagan Diary," as members of the doomed Company D; after today no more name requests can be taken. So get those orders in.

I'm looking at the pdf of the page layout of "The Sagan Diary" right now, as it happens. It looks really nice. No matter what version of the book you get, I think you're going to be happy with it.

Posted by john at 01:50 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Oh Noes! I Caught Teh Izlam!

First, a quote from Virgil Goode, US Representative, in his press conference yesterday, in which he defended sounding the alarm against the prospect of more Muslims coming to the US and -- brace yourself -- possibly being elected to Congress:

"I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

And what sort of values and beliefs can we expect from those Muslim hordes? Here's a fine example of their "values":

Local Muslim leaders lit candles yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to commemorate Jewish suffering under the Nazis, in a ceremony held just days after Iran had a conference denying the genocide.
American Muslims "believe we have to learn the lessons of history and commit ourselves: Never again," said Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, standing before the eternal flame flickering from a black marble base that holds dirt from Nazi concentration camps... If anyone wants to make Holocaust denial an Islamic cause, he said, "we want to say to them: You cannot use our name."

Yes, I can see why we don't need those kinds of values here in the United States. I may stay up all night in terror that we might see those sort of values take root here in my homeland in my lifetime. And I understand why Virgil Goode would be opposed to them, as the sort of values and beliefs these awful Muslims are exhibiting would surely spell the end of his political career if they caught on. I trust that Virgil Goode will work ceaselessly to assure that they will not. Because that's just the sort of character he is, and the sort of character he has.

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Happy Family

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Hey, I'm lucky. Just thought I'd put that out there.

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December 21, 2006

One of the Great Moral Quandaries of Our Time

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Let's say that you are struck with the need to relieve your bladder, as so many people are this time of year. You go to the bathroom, only to find the dog first in the active process of drinking from the toilet bowl, and then looking up at you as if to say "do you mind? I'm drinking here."

So: Do you use the toilet?

My answer: No, because a) we have more than the one bathroom, and b) pissing into the toilet the dog's been drinking out of, right after she's done having a swig, just kinda seems too desperately alpha male to me, you know? Maybe that's me.

Your thoughts? Clearly, this is an important question.

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December 20, 2006

Are Short Stories Necessary?

Justine Larbalestier is thinking about short stories and whether they are a necessary part of every writers' writing diet:

Given that I can’t write a decent short story to save my life and have sold three novels I don’t think short stories are not necessary to build a career as a novelist. Short stories and novels are very different kinds of wrting. Being good at one does not mean you’ll be good at the other. There are the folks who are genius short story writers whose novels are well, um, not anywhere near as good as their stories. Like I said, they’re different forms.
On the other hand, I wrote hundreds of (broken, crappy) short stories before I wrote my first novel. Every one of those stories taught me something about writing. So as I began that first novel I’d already had a lot of practice writing dialogue, describing magical anvils, blowing monsters up. All of which came in very handy when I started writing the fictional form that I’m much better at.

My own opinion about short stories is that I've found them useful and fun, but that they've been entirely optional in terms of my writing career. Not counting juvenalia, I wrote a complete novel before I ever tried to write a short story, and even now my entire short story output can be counted off on two hands -- one hand, if you only count in-genre work. Seriously: "Alien Animal Encounters," "New Directives for Employee - Manxtse Relations," "Questions for a Soldier," "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" and now "The Sagan Diary." That's it (technically, "Sagan" is a novelette. even so). And, again, all of this was written after I started writing novels. It wasn't part of the ramping up process of writing novel-length work.

As I briefly discussed in The Money Entry earlier this year, there's a fairly simple and straightforward reason why I've tended to write so little short fiction, which is that genre fiction payscales are generally substantially less than what I get paid for writing other stuff. I can get paid seven cents a word writing short fiction, for example, or I can get paid a dollar a word writing about corn flakes for a business magazine (which, in fact, I'm doing in the next couple of weeks) or even more doing business consulting. Given that writing is my day job, I have a fiduciary duty to my family and mortgage to prioritize my time. It's not that short story markets are underpaying, incidentally; I think they're generally paying what they can. But genre fiction has never been a brilliantly-paying market overall, either taken in isolation or compared to other writing venues.

What this means is that I have a tendency to write short fiction under one of two conditions: one, the story's already been bought, and now all I have to do is write it; two, I'm doing it for fun, and I don't particularly care whether I sell it or not. The first case is generally unlikely, since there are (quite properly) more people willing to go through the standard submission process than editors who are willing to chase me down for a story, particularly when I have so little track record in short fiction. There have been a couple -- it's not a coincidence all my short fiction to this point has been published by Subterranean Press -- but in those cases they're editors who have worked with me before. There's a history there.

In the second case, such a story is more likely to show up here on the Whatever, than in a magazine, because I find submitting a hassle. At Worldcon this year, an editor of one of the major SF/F magazines let me know he was looking forward to seeing a short story from me, and I admitted to him I was unlikely to submit something to him because the magazine didn't accept electronic submissions, and I neither had a printer nor knew where my wife kept the stamps. He looked at me a little like I had brain damage, which to be fair to him was a not unreasonable response. But when you're coming from the point of view that short stories are to be written primarily for fun, one's priorities shift. I did promise him that if I got a printer (and, I guess, find the stamps), I would submit something to him. But he really shouldn't be holding his breath.

Let me take pains to note that my point of view regarding short stories is rather deeply irregular as regards the SF/F community, and reflects in part the fact that as a writer, I came into SF/F from the outside rather than growing up in it, and in part reflects that generally I'm a bit of a freak. I also want to make pains to note that one can indeed achieve notoriety and success in SF/F through short stories: Watch how every SF/F writer gets all hushed and respectful speaking Ted Chiang's name, for example, or see how Jay Lake has ably leveraged his short story fame into a career as a novelist. Short stories can make a difference for one's writing and one's standing as a writer. But whether they are necessary for one's development as a writer really depends on the writer. I got along fine without them; your mileage may vary.

Now, having said all of that, I do plan to write more short fiction in 2007; I want to get better at it than I am now. Some of it may show up here; some of it may show up other places. No matter where it goes, hopefully it'll be worth reading.

Posted by john at 01:59 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

On Carl Sagan

csagan1220.jpgWhen I was eleven, I thought Carl Sagan was the coolest guy in the world. And that was because he was speaking right at me. At the age of 11, in 1980, I was a kid utterly convinced that he was going to grow up to be an astronomer -- I loved the stars, I loved the science, I loved the toys -- and here on my TV came Sagan, suave in his red turtleneck and buff jacket, surrounded by special effects and Vangelis music and telling everyone (but especially me) about how the cosmos is everything that ever was, everything that is, and everything that ever will be.

I fell for Carl with the sort of blissful rapture that I strongly suspect is only available to pre-pubescent geeks, a sort of nerd crush that, to be clear, had no sexual component, but had that same sort of swoony intensity. This was the guy I wanted to be, when I was age eleven. Sagan sits as a member of my triumvirate of cultural heroes, the other two being John Lennon and H.L. Mencken. It's a odd trio of personal heroes, I admit, but then I'm still a little odd. But even among John and Henry, Carl came in first. Maybe it was the turtlenecks.

I'm a quarter century older than the eleven-year-old boy whose mother held a weekly viewing of Cosmos over his head as a bargaining chip for good behavior, and I'm still a great admirer of Carl Sagan, primarily because he did something I see as immensely important: he popularized science and with patience and good humor brought into people's homes. He did it through Cosmos, most obviously, but he also did it every time he popped up on The Tonight Show and talked with celebrity fluidity about what was going on in the universe. He was the people's scientist. This is not to say that you'd look at Sagan and see him down at the NASCAR race; it is to say that he could easily use a NASCAR race to explain, say, relativistic speeds and what it means for traveling through the universe.

This is important stuff. Getting science in front of people in a way they can understand -- without speaking down to them -- is the way to get people to support science, and to understand that science is neither beyond their comprehension nor hostile to their beliefs. There need to be scientists and popularizers of good science who are of good will, who have patience and humor, and who are willing to sit with those who are skeptical or unknowing of science and show how science is already speaking their language. Sagan knew how to do this; he was uncommonly good at it.

I find that inspirational. As it happens, I am not a scientist -- the flesh was willing, but the math skills were, alas, weak -- but I write about science with some frequency; I've even fulfilled a life goal of writing an astronomy book, The Rough Guide to the Universe, of which I am about to compile a second edition. In my writing and presentation of science, I look to Sagan for guidance. Nearly all of what happens in the universe can be explained in the way that nearly any person can understand; all it requires is the desire to explain it and the right language. Sagan had the desire and language. I like to think I do too, in part because I learned my lessons from him.

I am aware of the need to avoid hagiography. I have an idealized version of Carl Sagan in my head, one that is notably absent any number of flaws that the real Carl Sagan had to have had simply because he was human. My connection to Sagan comes from some limited number of hours of television and a finite number of books, and in both cases the man was edited for my consumption. This is one of the reasons why, unlike the 11-year-old version of me, I don't want to be Carl Sagan, and I'm not even entirely sure I want to be much like him as a person, if only because, at the end of it, I don't know him as a person.

What I do know is that I like his ideas. I like his love of science. I like his faith in humanity. I like how he saw us reaching for things greater than ourselves, because it was in our nature and because it was a fulfillment of our nature. I like how he shared his enthusiasm for the entire universe with everyone, and believed that everyone could share in that enthusiasm. These are things that, in giving them to everyone, he also gave to me, first as an 11-year-old and then continuing on. I've accepted them with thanks and made them part of who I am. If I use them well, I may be fortunate enough to share them with you, as they were shared with me.

(written as part of the Carl Sagan blog-o-thon)

Posted by john at 04:38 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

December 19, 2006

Congratulations Chad Orzel!

My friend Chad just got tenure. Now he can sleep in and let his grad students do all his work! And really, that's the academic dream.

Go congratulate him, why don't you.

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Unveiling My New Signature Quote

After a run of five good years, the current quote in my e-mail signature file ("You are a man too lazy to fail" -- Kristine Blauser Scalzi) is being honorably retired, to make way for the new signature quote, uttered last night, to me, by my daughter, Athena:

"Your insolent mind will never rule this world!"

Simple, strong, classic. And it makes a statement! Honestly, what more could you want out of a signature quote.

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Two Upcoming Events of Interest

Here's a couple of things you might want to think about over the next couple of days:

1. Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Carl Sagan, who aside from being a personal hero of mine and the namesake of one of my favorite characters, was probably the single greatest popularizer of science (particularly of astronomy) in the last quarter of the 20th century. To note the anniversary, a number of bloggers and other online writers are declaring a Carl Sagan blog-a-thon, in which they will discuss Sagan, his life, his work, and his impact on science and the popular apprehension of the same.

Naturally, I will be participating. And you can, too. Joel Schlossberg has the details, and Nick Sagan, Carl's son, has additional comments. If you have any thoughts on or appreciation for Carl Sagan, tomorrow's the day to air it.

2. A little birdie tells me that the New York Times Sunday Book Review will be having a full-page article on me and my work (specifically Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades and The Android's Dream) this upcoming Sunday. So that's something you might want to be on the lookout for. Because, honestly, it's not like there's anything else going on this weekend. The end of December? It's totally devoid of notable events!

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Joseph Barbera

Joseph Barbera, one half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team, passed away yesterday, and that pretty much puts the cap on the golden age of theatrical animation, the one that birthed Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Hanna and Barbera's own Tom & Jerry. Of course, Barbera is also of the TV animation generation: after theatrical animation started collapsing, he and Bill Hanna retreated into TV and pioneered the idea of "limited animation," in which animators made do with six frames a second instead of twenty-four, and hoped the kids wouldn't notice, hopped up as they were on sugar-coated cereals at 7am in the morning.

I'm not a huge fan of the concept of limited animation, and even less a fan of most of Hanna-Barbera's output from the late 60s until they were bought by Turner Broadcasting (who mined H/B for Cartoon Network and Boomerang), because most of it, to put it charitably, was crap that really did rely on the lack of discrimination that six-year-olds bring to their television viewing. But to be fair to H/B, at some of that had to do with the market and what broadcasters wanted. I can't imagine they wanted to make crap, and if you look at their history with Tom & Jerry series of theatrical shorts (which won 7 Academy Awards between 1940 and 1957), and even the early Huckleberry Hounds and Yogi Bears (some of which were written by Michael Maltese and other refugees from the collapsing theatrical animation business), it's clear they could make some great stuff when they were given their leave. It's that stuff I'll be remembering Barbera for.

I had the opportunity to interview Joe Barbera once, back when I worked for the Fresno Bee; he was doing some sort of exhibit in Carmel, and I drove out (a lovely drive, on which I was treated to the most amazing rainbow I ever saw) to see him, and got about an hour's worth of time from him. It was one of the best interviews I've ever had, because, after all, here was a guy who were there for almost of all the history of animation -- and wasn't just there but was one of its icons -- and was both candid and entertaining about all of it. Not only was he delightful to speak to, but he wouldn't let me leave the table until he sketched a Jerry Mouse for me. Naturally, I was jazzed about that; I also think it was indicative of the enthusiasm he still had for his work and his characters, even after all that time. Would that we all feel the same way about our own work, in time. He'll be missed.

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

December 18, 2006

Housekeeping Notes

A couple of notes relating to the Whatever, books and what have you:

1. First, for those of you who are still thinking having your name inserted into the limited edition of "The Sagan Diary," as members of the doomed (but valiant!) Company D, Subterranean is planning to send the book to the printer very soon now, and we have to close the text, so we know what we have for printing. What this means is that you have until Friday to get your name in the book. The limited and trade editions of "The Sagan Diary" will still be available after that date, but since they'll have been printed up, we'll not be able to add in any more names. So, you know. If you want you name in, now's the time.

Remember you can also choose to have someone else's name put in if you're planning to give "The Sagan Diary" as a gift -- just drop a note to the Subterranean folks with your order.

2. I've noted before that I've been receiving an increase in spam comments, so I went into the innards of Moveable Type and really jacked up the spam rankings of IPs and domains that are known to have spam shooting out of them. Hopefully this will keep more of the spam comments from landing on the site, and stuck in moderation and junk queues where they belong. Be that as it may, I'm not entirely what the effects will be for actual posters. So far I don't see any real comments being shunted into moderation or junk queues, but it's early yet. I'll be monitoring both moderation and junk queues during the day to see how it's affecting genuine posters, if at all. If you want to post some comments to aid me in this quest, by all means go right ahead.

3. I may be fiddling with the design of the Whatever in the next couple of days, because I'm going through one of my periodic "I'm kinda bored with the look of my site" phases. So if it looks occasionally weird over the next few days you'll know why. Just trying to give you all a warning, is all.

4. A couple of people have asked me if I'm planning to repost my Christmas story "Sarah's Sister"; the answer is no, because it's already got a permanent location here. No reposting required. For those of you who are new since last Christmas, "Sarah's Sister" is a Christmas-themed story I wrote a couple of years ago, and it's fairly atypical of my writing, in that it's not written for snark. Indeed, it was written with the specific intent of making my mother-in-law cry like a little girl. And I'm pretty sure she did. So there you have it. Also, fair warning: You may get weepy. I do, and I wrote it.

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December 17, 2006

Two Entirely Unrelated Thoughts

Here they are:

1. It's fun to look at reviews of your work in languages you don't know and try to figure out what the hell they're saying. I think this one's in Norwegian, but honestly, I can't tell. But it looks like the reviewer liked, anyway.

2. My big-ass monitor continues to be teh crack, particularly in portrait mode, in which nearly every single Web site in the world is able to be looked at without scrolling. Really, before it arrived, I felt kind of stupid for springing for it, because it cost so much more than I thought I could rationally justify, and I suspected eventually I could come to resent it as an example of profligate indulgence, marking me as one of the people who will be up against the wall when the revolution comes. But it makes such a difference in how I work and view things online that now I think the expense is justified.

Now I don't worry about it being the thing that marks me for proletariat vengeance; no, the thing that will mark me as prole chum is the fact that because of my bitchin' new 24-inch monitor, I kind of look at my 20-inch iMac like it's a pile of puke. That's Gen-x yuppie indolence, people. And I'm guilty.

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Meet the John Perrys

As most of you know, the protagonist of Old Man's War (and the upcoming The Last Colony) is a fellow named John Perry. Now "John Perry" is not likely to be a wildly uncommon name, and I was procrastinating the other day, so I dropped the name in Google to see what might pop up.

And lo and behold, there's a fairly notable John Perry out there: He's a professor of philosophy and former chair of the philosophy department of Stanford University, and co-hosts a radio show about the subject with the current chair of Stanford philosophy, which also naturally has an associated blog. And ironically, he's got an internet-famous essay on procrastination. He's even got a Wikipedia entry! Excellent.

There's also a John Perry who is an artist, and a John Perry whose Web presence is trapped in 1995. Set it free, Mr. Perry! Let your Web site enjoy the pleasures of the 21st Century!

Then there's the John Perry who died on September 11, 2001, trying to help people escape from the World Trade Center. His personal Web site is still up.

John Perry also was the sailor guy in those old Old Spice commercials.

He's also an English musician and rock biographer! And an Irish politician! He's a Christian worship leader! And should you ever want to go fly fishing in Montana or have some photography done, John Perry's your man.

Clearly, John Perry has a life outside of my book. As well he should.

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Peter Watts' Vampire Lecture

Peter Watts, he of the Blindsight novel I gushed about earlier, has a very amusing and also terrifyingly plausible PowerPoint presentation on evolutionary and biological roots of vampirism, as detailed from the point of view of a scientific researcher whose company is aiming to resurrect (heh) vampires in the present day. If you've got about 40 minutes to kill, you might want to check it out (flash required). This iteration of vampirism, incidentally, is the one that is present in Watts' Blindsight. I found the explanation for the aversion to crosses particularly interesting.

Posted by john at 01:40 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

From the "What Does This Mean" File

I had a dream last night in which I was reading a quote from Harlan Ellison, in which he said "John Scalzi is everything that is wrong with science fiction today."

I find this interesting because a) I don't have a hate-on for Ellison, and indeed I just recently purchased a collection of his and a reprint of Dangerous Visions, so I don't have fantasies of feuding with the man, and b) I seriously doubt Ellison has any idea who I am, or if he did -- and he had a negative opinion of my work -- that what I write would create that level of vitriolic response in him. I imagine I'd rate, at worst, a dismissive "crap!" before moving on. Basically, if I were to go a-feudin' in science fiction, he would not be my first choice of partner, nor, I suspect, would I be his. It's just not a good fit, you know?

Of course, having written this, eventually someone somewhere will misread it, and eventually it will go down in the annals of science fiction that Harlan Ellison and I had some sort of bitter encounter that ended in a comic book-style civil war in science fiction, with everyone choosing sides and Worldcons being turned into desperate battlegrounds between our factions, ending with, oh, I don't know, a slap fight between Harlan and me on the stage of the Hugos. So for the record: Didn't happen, folks. Unlikely to happen, too. I think we both have better things to do.

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December 16, 2006

Writing The Sagan Diary

I promised earlier in the week that I would talk a little bit about writing "The Sagan Diary," and then I spent the rest of the week organizing my lint collection, so I hadn't gotten around to it. Let me correct that now.

"The Sagan Diary" was interesting for me to write because it's pretty much the opposite of what I know I'm already good at, as far as writing is concerned. For example, I know I'm at least reasonably competent writing novels, and writing very short, amusing pieces of two thousand words or less. TSD is 12,700 words, which means as a multiple that it's as far from my short writing comfort zone as it is as a divisor from my novel writing comfort zone. I'm very comfortable writing dialogue; this story has none. I generally don't spend much time inside my characters' heads; this story is entirely within Jane Sagan's noggin. My writing, while not without style, is largely declarative and to the point; TSD, while not overly ornate or flowery, nonetheless has an entirely different flow to its language than what I've done before. Basically, everything you'd characterize as "Scalzi" writing, this is not.

And for me, that was part of the goal. You know, I'm five novels in; I have a pretty good grip on the things I can do. At the same time I know there are things I'm not as good at. Some of those things, in terms of writing, I have no interest in, so it doesn't much matter to me if I'm not good at them. Some things I would like to be able to use, and I'd like to get better at. When I agreed to write TSD, I knew going in that it was going to be a story where I would try new things, and see how it worked out.

It turned out to be fairly difficult to write because of this. It's fun to try new things, but there's a learning curve involved, and even with a learning curve involved, my personal crap detector is still engaged. I'm not going to pass off to other people what I think is substandard writing with an excuse of "well, I'm trying new things." Yes, I am trying new things; I'm also offering this story for sale when it's done. At the end of the day "The Sagan Diary" is meant to be a commercial piece of work -- which means that even if it is different from what I've written before, it should still be as good as what I've written before. Anything less is ripping off the readers. We're asking people for $45 for the deluxe edition, and the standard edition is $20. If folks who shell out that kind of cash feel like I'm not giving them my best effort, I'm basically giving my career a head wound.

So for me, this meant a lot of writing stuff, looking at it, saying "this is crap," deleting it, and starting over, and then repeating the process a few dozen times. This, naturally, takes time. My own personal writing speed is such that I can write 12,000 very good words of writing in a day; I've done that while writing both Ghost Brigades and The Android's Dream. I've written other perfectly good 5k-to-8k word short stories in the space of a day as well. This one took about two months. Now, to be certain, it wasn't two months of constant work; I was doing other writing during that time. But I'm always writing something else when I'm writing fiction; that's why I don't starve. And sometimes I'd not write on it for several days, trying to puzzle out some damn thing or another. But no matter how you slice it, writing this story took drastically longer than other writing of similar length.

There was an additional layer of complication in that, aside from trying out various different sorts of writing, whatever I was writing had to stay true to the voice of Jane Sagan. Jane is, of course, already a very well-established character and personality; she's been developed over the course of three novels, and there are certain things we know about her, among them that she's plain-spoken, direct, efficient and dangerous. However, by and large over the course of the OMW series we spend hardly any time inside of her head -- we see her largely as other people see her. TSD is the first time readers will get to spend any substantial amount of time hearing Jane being Jane, talking about what she thinks and feels about things.

Jane Sagan's internal voice needs to be consistent with what people see externally -- she's can't be this badass on the outside and on the inside be a pink cuddly bunny full of gooey gooey lovey love, if you know what I mean, or to otherwise have an internal voice wildly at odds with her external one. At the same time I think its axiomatic that our internal view of who we are is more complex than is perceived by other people, even those to whom we are the closest. There's a lot of room to expand what we know of Jane, even while staying true to the image she presents to others. But it also takes work, to make sure I hit that tone.

In this regard, I am happy to say, I had help. It will come as no surprise to longtime readers here that Krissy, my wife, feels rather invested in the character of Jane Sagan, and made it her job to make sure I didn't screw it up. She also was a non-trivial motivator for getting the story finished; having Krissy asking you "where my next chapter?" with the subtext of because I will have to beat you if I don't get it soon is an amazingly efficient prod. Seriously, however, her input was invaluable; when I finished the first chapter I sent it to her immediately, because I knew if she wasn't buying what I was writing, no one else was going to either. She liked it; I could go forward.

In all, I'm very pleased "The Sagan Diary"; the birthing process was difficult but it was also necessary, if I wanted the story of be what I ultimately wanted it to be. Don't think there weren't times when I thought "screw it, I'll just write this all in dialogue and be done with it tomorrow," because, oh, did I ever have that thought. But then I kept writing it the way I was writing it, because the fact was I didn't want this story to be just like everything else, and I did want to see if I could make it work.

I think I have. This is a good story, and I think those of you who have ordered the story are going feel like you got your money's worth. I also feel like I've added some tools to my writing toolbox, and that's great news too, because it's nice to be able to work with tools you've used before and have some comfort level with.

Having said that, I mentioned to Bill Schafer, as I was turning in TSD, that sometime soon I was going to write a mindless, fun and easy short story in a day, just to remind myself I don't have to spend two months on 12,000 damn words. And I will, too. Just you wait.

Posted by john at 05:17 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006

Just How Terrifyingly Tuned I Am to the Early 80s

I'm listening to one of my online radio stations, whose app I minimized and volume I turned down to talk to my wife on the phone. When I hung up I turned up the speaker volume I heard two bars of a song I'd never heard before and instantly thought "Damn, that's the Three O'Clock." Who I hadn't heard in, oh, twenty years. Maximized the radio program: "With Cantaloupe Girlfriend," by the Three O'Clock.

Two bars, man. I'm scared. My brain should be filled with things other than the basic tonal template of The Three O'Clock, you know?

So that you may be afflicted with the same horrifying condition, the video from the one song of the Three O'Clock most people who survived the 80s have even the slightest memory of: "Jet Fighter."

Yes, it's damn catchy, in that distinctive and oh-so-odd early 80s way.

That's two early 80s videos in two days, I know. I apologize for that.

Posted by john at 11:27 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Bleep. Bloop. Zap.

Hey, I'm being interviewed again, and this time it doesn't involve something relating to science fiction: I'm part of an article on parents who play video games, over at 1up.com, along with Mike Krahulik (Gabe of Penny Arcade, and the totally excellent cover artist for Agent to the Stars) and Andrew Bub, who writes the GamerDad.com site. I have to say we all sound amazingly sensible, in that we recommend paying attention to what your kids play, use the video games as an opportunity to play with your kid, and integrate gaming into one's life, rather than trying to have a life around one's gaming. Crazy!

I'm particularly pleased that the author of the article managed to get a quote in from me about my most fearsome gaming bugaboo, which is games that force me to play up to a particular save point, rather than letting me save when and where I want in a game. If there are any video game designers out there, let me be very specific about this: I do not buy games that don't let me save where I want. And the reason for this is, I am a grown human being and have a life outside of mashing buttons. Sometimes I have only a few minutes to play a game; sometimes I need to stop playing a game to do something else. When you make a game that doesn't let me save when and where I want, you're making the argument that playing the game is more important than anything else I need to do with my life. You're going to lose that argument, friend. Every. Single. Time. At this point in time, there's absolutely no technological reason that games can't be saved at any point, whether they're on the computer or a console. Save points are a design issue, and they are bad design. Really, this is dealbreaker point for me.

Anyway, it's a good article. Check it out.

Posted by john at 08:56 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

December 14, 2006

You Can Get This Book For Free. You Should Buy It.

blindsight.jpg

Since I've finished "The Sagan Diary" I've taken up reading Peter Watts' Blindsight, which I bought a couple of weeks ago. As noted by others, it's a terrific book, with all the hard SF goodness you'd want, and more besides, and seems a likely contender for various SF awards next year. So, yeah, if you're looking for chunky, mind-busting SF, do try this one on for size.

Watts has recently made Blindsight available online through a Creative Commons license, so you can check out the book before you buy. Or perhaps make that so you can read the book if you can't buy: What I find interesting about it is that he's calling the CC release "an act of desperation more than experimentation." Watts explains his thinking here (with additional thoughts here), but the short form is that according to Watts the book got a small first printing (3,700 copies), isn't being carried wasn't pre-ordered by the bricks and mortar stores of Borders and Barnes & Noble, is hard to find in the specialty book stores, and is on the bubble as toward whether there'll be a second printing of the book or not. By putting the book out in a CC online version, Watts suggests, at least people can find it and read it.

Watts doesn't appear to be particularly optimistic that much can be done to save the book commercially, and doesn't appear to be convinced that releasing the book in a CC version will do too much to change that; at this point he seems resigned to readers rather than book purchasers (he may of course disagree with me on any of these points; I'm going by my interpretation of what he's written). As much as I hope that he converts at least some of the CC readers to purchasers, I have I think his lack of optimism on the score is reasonable. There's lot of anecdotal evidence that releasing books online under a CC license or some other sort of freely sharable scheme has a positive impact on things like sales and author reputation, but at the end of the day it is indeed all still anecdotal, and one can make an argument that some of the most high-profile cases of CC distribution have been by folks who were on the upswing of their careers anyway.

For example, Charlie Stross last year released Accelerando online via a CC license; Charlie will tell you the book sold better than his previous books, and of course, it was also nominated for the Hugo, which ain't chopped liver. Was it because of the CC release bringing in new readers and buyers? Or was it because by the time Accelerando hit the stores, Charlie had become one of the hottest writers in science fiction, with consecutive Best Novel Hugo nominations, brilliant reviews, lots of good press and a healthy and active online presence? I personally think releasing the book online didn't hurt his sales in the least, but I wonder how much it helped sales. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe not at all. There's too much noise in the data to make any sort of concrete determination.

On a larger scale there's also not been enough books released online in a CC-like fashion to have a useful pool of data. So not only is the data noisy, there's not enough of it. And of course, every book has different circumstances. Watts is not releasing Blindsight under the same set of circumstances as Charlie released Accelerando, or Cory Doctorow released Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, or I released Agent to the Stars (which was not released via CC, but which is freely available online). Releasing the book via CC might do great things for Watts' readership, for example, but unless a reasonable percentage of that online readership converts to people buying the work, from a practical matter it might not mean much; at the end of the day publishing is driven by sales. If people don't buy his books, he's going to find it harder to get published the next time around, and then all those new readers-not-buyers are rather less likely to get a new Peter Watts novel to enjoy.

This is the long way around to making what I think is a rather pressing point about something that doesn't get discussed, which is what the responsibility of the reader is to the author. Let's say I download Blindsight, read it, and enjoy it. Do I then have a responsibility to Watts to buy the book? On one hand, absolutely not -- Watts released the work in such a way that I am not obliged to pay him for it, in any way. I don't even have to say "thanks."

On the other hand, out here in the offline world and here and now, authors are paid by how much they sell. Authors get book deals in part through their sale track record. Authors don't generally make ancillary income (lectures, appearance fees, etc) unless the sales are there. If as a reader I enjoyed Watts' work, the best way to show that appreciation -- and somewhat more selfishly, to better the chances I'll have more work to read in the future -- is buy the damn book. This is why, aside from my own enlightened self interest as an author, I've bought all of Cory's work, and Accelerando, and why, had I not already purchased Blindsight, I'd've put in an order for it. I personally see it as a responsibility I have to the creator to support the work in a direct and serious way. I can't make you feel the same way, naturally, but I think it would be nice if you did.

Now, to be sure, there are times and places where a reader can't just rush out to the bookstore and pick up a copy of something -- tight budgets, caught overseas, parents won't allow you access to that devil-loving science fiction or whatever. Fair enough. However, I don't have any of these excuses, and suspect that rather large portion of the CC-loving citizenry of Teh Intartubes doesn't have any of these excuses, either. These folks should vote their approval for a CC-released novel by picking up a physical copy; if they don't want it for themselves they can give it to a friend as a gift, or give it their local library. Either of these will get the word out about the author as well.

In sum: I think you should read Blindsight, because it's damn good. And if you get the Creative Commons version, when you finish it and think to yourself "wow, my brain seems roomier now, thanks to Blindsight's mind-expanding powers," you should head down to the local bookstore and buy it (or special order it), or buy it online. You don't have to, of course. But you should. If you like it, help make it a no-brainer for Tor to fire up a second printing.

Posted by john at 08:32 PM | Comments (76) | TrackBack

First Novels First Or Not

For the novelists in the crowd, Toby Buckell is putting together a survey on the subject of first novels, and whether the first novel a writer sells is, in fact, the first novel they ever wrote. Most writers know all too well that their first published novel is often the third or sixth or tenth they've written, but Toby's trying to quantify that so folks can have something factual to point at when discussing this truth. So if you want to participate in the survey, here's the link (Update, 9:44pm -- Toby's gone done changed around his site and the old link may not work. Here's a new one if it doesn't).

My first published novel is the second novel I wrote, but it was also the first novel I wrote with the intention of trying to sell; the previous novel was a practice novel, which I wrote just to see if I could write something novel-length. I ended up selling that one too, eventually, but that was kind of a quirk. Of course, selling the novel that I wrote intending to sell was kind of quirk, too, because after I wrote it I didn't bother to submit it. What I'm saying, basically, is that I'm a freak. I assume you know that.

Posted by john at 02:01 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Ugh and Crap

Woke up past 10:30, could barely drag my ass out of bed, and apparently a flock of seagulls dumped a load in the back of my throat. Yup, I'm sick.

Now I have to catch up with a whole bunch of stuff. Be back later. In the meantime, enjoy this other Flock of Seagulls. They did nothing in my throat this morning, thank God:

Man, it's amazing what an early 80s band could do with some NASA stock photography, a laser, and a cast-off Dr. Who set.

Posted by john at 10:56 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

December 13, 2006

How I Know It's The Holidays

I know it's the holidays because at the moment Book of the Dumb has a higher Amazon ranking at the moment than my other books. This happens every year; for most of the year the book does hardly any business at all, and then comes the holidays and suddenly everyone's looking for a relatively inexpensive gift for hard-to-buy-for Uncle Fred. Book of the Dumb to the rescue! Then December 26th will roll around and it'll be back to the book-selling equivalent of the Oort cloud for another year. It's interesting being a seasonal flavor.

What's really interesting about it is that it sells enough units in its one-month selling season that it's still my biggest-selling book, although there's a good chance Old Man's War may finally overtake it in the next year. We'll have to see. It amuses me to have it be my best-seller, though. I'm sure it says something about me and/or the American public, but in eaither case I'm not entirely sure I want to know what.

Posted by john at 03:17 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

OMW & TGB Collector's Editions

A brief announcement that will be of interest to you folks what like collecting: Subterranean Press and Tor have reached a tentative agreement for Subterranean to produce limited hardcover editions of Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades in 2007. These editions will include cover art and illustrations by Bob Eggleton, and will be pretty small runs: 400 of the Limited Signed Edition and 15 Lettered Signed Editions. As I understand it, they'll go for $60 and $200, respectively.

For those of you who have signed up for the Limited Edition of The Sagan Diary, Subterranean will be offering a deal wherein you can reserve the same copy number of OMW & TGB -- So, if you get #65 of The Sagan Diary, you can get #65 of OMW and TGB as well, so later, when I have my horrible and tragic death involving Paris Hilton, a jar of maraschino cherries and a can of WD-40, you can sell the whole matching set on eBay for ridiculous sums of cash. See? It pays off to be a collector after all.

I'll have more details later, including when you can preorder OMW and TGB, and, if you're in for a matching set of OMW-universe tomes, how you can set that up with Subterranean. For now, I'd just thought you'd like to know what's coming down the pike.

Posted by john at 12:42 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Confusing the Capitalists

This is probably my favorite story of the last week: Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster went to a media conference for financial types and made them all drop their jaws to the ground when he explained how Craigslist isn't all that interested in finding ways to eke profits out of each of its users, it just wants to help them find jobs and dates and apartments:

Wendy Davis of MediaPost describes the presentation as a “a culture clash of near-epic proportions.” She recounts how UBS analyst Ben Schachter wanted to know how Craigslist plans to maximize revenue. It doesn’t, Mr. Buckmaster replied (perhaps wondering how Mr. Schachter could possibly not already know this). “That definitely is not part of the equation,” he said, according to MediaPost. “It’s not part of the goal.”

Why doesn't Craiglist at least do AdSense ads? they asked Buckmaster. His response was that as far as he knew, his users weren't asking for them. Apparently this precipitated another wave of the "qua?" face from the analysts, et al. They didn't seem to get the idea that a company could leave that much money on the table.

This makes me feel almost intolerably warm and fuzzy toward Craiglist. I like money quite a bit myself, as most of you know, but I think from time to time it's perfectly fine not to have money be the main reason one does a thing. Craigslist was not initially designed to make tons and tons of money for Craig Newmark, as I understand it. He wanted to help people find things around San Francisco. The company's bigger now but its goal is pretty much the same, and I think its fine that the company has focused on that rather than blinging out the revenues. Presumably it's doing well enough. Unless Newmark and Buckmaster suddenly decide that what they both really need is a 300-foot yacht stocked with cocaine and supermodels, how much more do they need?

Buckmaster's response to the analysts resonates with me because on a drastically smaller level, these are the same issues I deal with here. I get approached all the time to run ads; I just yesterday turned away someone who asked to run one. I also know people who don't quite get why I don't run ads here, given the site's traffic. The reasons are pretty simple: One, I don't wanna. Two, I don't wanna. Three, I don't wanna. Also, like Buckmaster, I'm not really hearing a clamor for ads from the visitors to the site. I can't really remember anyone ever saying to me something along the lines of "I like the Whatever, but I'd like it even more with advertising." Also also, there's the small matter that unlike Craigslist, this isn't even a business, so I wouldn't even have that excuse.

As I've noted before, I'm not opposed to people putting ads on their site, and even if I was, my opinion of what other people do one their own site counts as much as their opinion counts for what I do on mine, i.e., not a damn bit. I'm not even saying I will never put ads on the Whatever one day; really, who knows. But right now it doesn't seem particularly likely. I like not having ads here. I like not having to do everything with an eye on how much it can get me.

On the other hand, I'm not walking away from potentially tens of millions in revenues like the Craigslist people are. All things considered, their decision to skip the ads is rather more impressive than mine. Makes me want to post an ad there or something. You know, just to say "good on you." Which reminds me I still have my Virginia home up for rent. Hmmm.

Posted by john at 09:05 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Top 51 Personal Blogs in SF/F, December 2006 Edition

Last July I published a list of the top 51 personal blogs in science fiction and fantasy (it was supposed to be the top 50, but there was a tie on the last ranking, so I put them both in), and it's been long enough that I thought it might be time to refresh the list. So here's an updated list for you.

Selection details and trivia:

* The list is limited to personal (not corporate-sponsored or news-oriented), single-author blogs, with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, agents, publishers, artists and fans. Film/Television/Video Game-focused personal SF/F blogs were not really considered. Doesn't mean they're bad, I just decided to focus the list this way. By all means, make a different list if you like. The tie-in with SF/F is the author of the blog, not the content of the blog; some of these blogs discuss SF/F quite frequently, and some hardly at all.

* Rankings are based solely on Technorati rankings, which as I understand it generates rankings via an algorithm that factors in the number of links leading to your blog and how many other sites are linking in to the blog. These rankings should not be seen as an indicator of anything else. The blogs ranked up at the top are not necessarily better than blogs ranked below them (or not ranked at all); they've just got a lot of links coming in. Rankings are accurate as of about 10pm December 12, 2006. These rankings will change over time.

* These blog rankings are based on a universe of a few hundred SF blogs that I know about or that have been brought to my attention by others. It is entirely possible I have missed a few, or, alternately, that when I checked its Technorati rating, Technorati didn't give me adequate information to rank the site. Needless to say, I am the person making all the final decisions as to which blogs are and are not eligible, so, yeah, go ahead and blame me. In all cases, if you have a site that you feel ought to be included, and its Technorati ranking is sufficient for it to be listed (i.e, greater than 59,315), please note it in the comment thread and I will factor it in the next time I update this list, which should be six months or so from now.

* For kicks and giggles I have added a new notation to the list, which notes whether the blog in question is written by someone who is (to the best of my knowledge) an SF/F writer (W), Editor (E), Critic/Commentator (C), Agent (A), Artist (Art) or Fan (F).

* I decided to stick with 51 entries because it amuses me to do so, and will drive those who need nice round numbers absolutely bonkers. Bwa ha ha ha hah!

* Finally, this is for amusement purposes only. Please don't freak out over it.

There was a quite a lot of movement in the rankings since the last time I made a ranking; very few blogs maintained their July 2006 positions. Moreover, the rankings became more competitive; whereas for July's list a Technorati ranking of 149,618 was sufficient to make the cut, this time the cut was some 90,000 positions higher. This is to some extent an artifact of me widening the universe of blogs I considered for the rankings.

Despite the tightening at the bottom of the list, at the top there was a general drop in overall Technorati rankings. Although the top five blogs from the July 2006 list stayed in the top five this time around, all but one dropped in its Technorati rankings, and every blog but one in the 6-10 positions in July experience a drop in its Technorati numbers. Indeed, of the 50 blogs in the July list, more saw their Technorati rankings decrease rather than increase (although many of those decreases are not shown in the December list, due to greater competition knocking them off the list entirely). I leave to others to ponder the implications and ramifications of these facts. I'm just putting up numbers.

And now, without further ado, the Top 50 Personal Blogs in SF/F, December 2006 Edition. Each entry notes (in order) list ranking, blog name, blog author, Technorati ranking and author class.

1. Neil Gaiman's Journal -- Neil Gaiman (487) W
2. Whatever -- John Scalzi (1,142) W
3. Making Light -- Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden (1,293) E
4. Beyond the Beyond -- Bruce Sterling (5,240) W
5. The Sideshow -- Avedon Carol (6,289) F

6. Paperback Writer -- S.L. Viehl (6,916) W
7. Charlie's Diary -- Charles Stross (7,622) W
8. They Must Need Bears -- Elizabeth Bear (11,541) W
9. The Mumpsimus -- Matthew Cheney (14,156) C
10. Anna Louise's Journal -- Anna Louise Genoese (16,017) E

11. Amygdala -- Gary Farber (17,450) F
12. Vanderworld -- Jeff VanderMeer (19,437) W
13. Contrary Brin -- David Brin (19,711) W
14. Justine Larbalestier -- Justine Larbalestier (21,110) W
15. The Art Department -- Irene Gallo (21,863) Art

16. Westerblog -- Scott Westerfeld (22,945) W
17. Kathryn Cramer -- Kathryn Cramer (24,723) E
18. Not a Blog -- George RR Martin (25,326) W
19. Pocket Full of Words -- Holly Lisle (26,543) W
20. Shaken and Stirred -- Gwenda Bond (26,763) W

21. The Early Days of a Better Nation -- Ken MacLeod (27,417) W
22. Et in Arcaedia, Ego -- Jennifer Jackson (28,360) A
23. Bluejo's Journal -- Jo Walton (31,123) W
24. More Words, Deeper Hole -- James Nicoll (31,523) C
25. Lakeshore -- Jay Lake (33,339) W

26. Honor Your Inner Magpie -- Elise Matthesen (33,683) F
27. Nalo Hopkinson -- Nalo Hopkinson (34,048) W
27. Notes From the Labyrinth -- Sarah Monette (34,048) W
29. Notes from the Geek Show -- Hal Duncan (34,441) W
29. The Hal Spacejock Series -- Simon Hayes (34,441) W

31. Nick Mamatas' Journal -- Nick Mamatas (34,844) W
32. The Slush God Speaketh -- John Joseph Adams (35,642) E
32. 14theDitch -- Jeffrey Ford (35,642) W
34. KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life -- Keith RA DeCandido (36,018) W
35. John Crowley Little and Big -- John Crowley (38,427) W

36. Holly Black -- Holly Black (39,788) W
36. Out of Ambit -- Diane Duane (39,788) W
38. The Prodigal Blog -- Charles Coleman Finlay (40,292) W
39. Goblin Mercantile Exchange -- Alan DeNiro (41,784) W
40. My Life in the Bush of Wombats -- Kevin Maroney (43,951) E

41. Composite -- Liz Henry (44,546) C
41. Dragonmount -- Robert Jordan (44,546) W
41. The Pagan Prattle Online -- Feorag NicBhride (44,546) Art
44. Arthur D. Hlavaty -- Arthur D. Hlavaty (45,144) E
45. Tobias S. Buckell Online -- Tobias Buckell (45,773) W

46. It's All One Thing -- Will Shetterly (47,764) W
47. Chrononautic Log -- David Moles (48,480) W
48. From the Heart of Europe -- Nicholas Whyte (49,196) F
49. Cyberabad -- Ian McDonald (50,718) W
50. Oached Pish -- Sherwood Smith (57,134) W

51. Barnstorming on the Invisible Segway -- Marissa Lingen (59,315) W

See you all in six months!

Posted by john at 01:28 AM | Comments (70) | TrackBack

December 12, 2006

Leslie Harpold

Well, damn. Leslie Harpold, one of the bright stars of the early blogosphere, back when blogs were still known as online diaries, has died. I'm not entirely sure how, but this entry from a friend of hers seems to suggest it may have been related to chronic bronchitis.

Those of us who hung out online back in the day knew Leslie as smart and funny and one of the people who really seemed to get what the online world could be all about. She and I were friendly in the online way, both in the online diary world and as habitués of the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup. Leslie was still a big presence online right up until the last week, with her annual advent calendar a popular attraction online. In one of those coincidences, one of her final links out in the advent calendar was to me and this site. I am happy to think I was still on her radar after all this time.

This is just sad news, people. I'm at the age where I can reasonably expect my contemporaries to begin to leave, but it's still startling when it happens, especially with someone who was as vital as Leslie, and someone who was a big part of my early days online -- which don't seem all that long ago, because they weren't.

Goodbye, Leslie. Be well where you are. You are missed.

Posted by john at 06:34 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Fiddly Bits, 12/12/06

Busy day -- I'll be back at some point, but for now, some egocentric notes and links:

* First, I'm done with "The Sagan Diary," although I'll spend part of the afternoon formatting it and banging out an intro chapter. But the hard part, the part where I get inside Jane's head, is completed. I'm going to talk about it in more depth soon, but for now I'll have you know that this little novelette was really hard to write, and was possibly the most difficult piece of writing I've ever done. And yes, I'm very happy with it. As I said, I'll talk about it more a little later.

* SFFWorld has a positive review of The Android's Dream, which makes me happy (although I will note it features a plot spoiler, so be mindful):

Fans of Scalzi’s previous novels shouldn’t worry; the humor, storytelling, and skillful plotting that flavored those two novels flavors The Android’s Dream even more strongly. Three novels in such a short time from one writer is impressive, even more impressive is how John Scalzi is improving as a writer with each and delivering chock-full-of SF goodness that should appeal to readers across the genre.

Nifty. Although I most note for the sake of accuracy that Android was actually written before Ghost Brigades, so I guess I can't take too much credit for smoothly progressing as a writer. I have noted before that I think structurally The Android's Dream is the best constructed of my books -- I think it's just well put together. Mind you, I'm proud of TGB as well, and there are several things there I do better than I did in OMW or TAD, in my opinion. I do think I'm becoming a better writer as I go along.

* Also nice: Forbidden Planet International (based in the UK) is polling SF/F and Comics notables about the books, movies, graphic novels and etc they think are the best of the year. Old Man's War shows up, which is gratifying, since at the moment it's still only available as an import in the UK.

And, uh, that's me for the moment. How are you?

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December 11, 2006

Apocalypto Now

Being a professional watcher of the film industry as I am, I was asked what I thought it meant that Mel Gibson's latest film Apocalypto opened at #1 at the box office, and my answer is: Not a whole lot. The film grossed $14 million over the weekend, which makes one of the least highest-grossing films to open at #1 this year. $14 million is nothing to get too excited about -- although it does mean that at the end of the day Gibson is going to make money of the film, which cost only $40 million, that money coming from his own production company and his own pocket. Other than that, anyone trying to read the box office entrails to see whether that gross represents a confirmation of Gibson's star power or a repudiation of his box office prowess is mostly just going to end up staring at a mess of entrails.

As for my own entrail-viewing, personally speaking, Apocalypto's first weekend gross is pretty much where I expected to be even before Gibson's troubles. When Gibson first announced the project, my internal gross estimator did the math (obscure subject + foreign language + Mel Gibson's fame + Mel Gibson's directorial reputation for cinematically artistic violence = $????) and came up with a range of $10 million and $20 million for the opening weekend, which is to say I would have been surprised if it had been more or less than those amounts. $14 is right in the middle of that range, so naturally I'm pleased to see that my own gross estimating skills are still functional. I also do think it means that as regards to Gibson's incident, it didn't do much one way or another to the gross of the film. This film is going to make what it was always going to make, basically.

Where Gibson's outburst is going to hurt him is in the award nominations. Prior to his stupidity, it's possible that Gibson would have been considered for a Best Director Oscar, depending on the general strength of the end of the year movies.* As it stands now I don't think he has much chance for Oscar consideration, because too many folks are still angry with him for being a drunken anti-Semite. I think it's possible he could get nominated for a Golden Globe, because the Golden Globes are decided on by a weird little group of foreign journalists, as opposed to members of Hollywood's power structure. But as for the Oscars, I think the only major award Apocalypto is likely to be in the running for is cinematography (by Dean Semler, who previously won the award for Dances With Wolves). It might also pick up a makeup nod and possibly some nominations in technical categories. Basically the same sort of nomination loadout The Passion of the Christ got. But as for Gibson, I'll be very surprised if he or the movie gets an Oscar nod.

To be honest, the film gross this weekend that I was surprised about was not Apocalypto but The Holiday, which I expected to gross in the $15-$18 million range, given its stars and the fact that there's not much going on in the romantic comedy genre right now. But I do expect Holiday will have pretty good legs -- and indeed, here's a prediction you can quote me on, which is that I expect The Holiday to end up making more domestically than Apocalypto. I see the latter ending up in the $40-$60 million range, with the former in the $60-$80 million range, and possibly getting more. I suspect in the long run more people want to see Cameron Diaz canoodle with Jude Law than see a Mayan get his face gnawed off by a jaguar. Although: Jude Law's face gnawed off by a jaguar? $100 million, easy.

* (I should note that I think it would have been a tough year for Gibson anyway, because there is some strong competition for the director nomination this year: Clint Eastwood (for either Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima), Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Steven Soderburgh (The Good German) and Pedro Almodóvar (Volver) being the other directors that come to mind right off the top of my head. But he still may have been in the running, and now I'm pretty sure he's not.)

Posted by john at 11:15 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

It's the Little Victories That Mean the Most

Happiness is: Finding the common element in the hundreds of spam comment messages one has been getting, popping it into the spam filter, and watching dozens of subsequent spam messages fail spectacularly. That'll make me happy for days, or until the spammers figure out a workaround.

Posted by john at 10:38 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

As Regards The Passing of a Notorious South American

I am filled with delight at the thought of Augusto Pinochet having his eternally-regenerating testicles forever gnawed upon by Satan's legions of ravenous, ball-chomping Hell Hounds. And that's pretty much all I have to say about that. Vaya con diablos, Pinochet.

Posted by john at 10:37 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

More "Sagan Diary" Goodness

SCI FI Wire has a short interview from me on "The Sagan Diary," in which I talk a little bit about writing the novelette and how it came about. It's here. Enjoy!

Posted by john at 01:12 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 10, 2006

Please to Enjoy This Seasonal Photo Set, or Else

Athena poses in her Christmas dress. This is primarily for the grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, but there's nothing stopping the rest of you from checking out the set, too. I should note the battle axe appears only once.

Posted by john at 07:48 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Proof, Damn You

Given that I lied to you all about the sore toe thing, when I noted that I sore thumb, some of you have doubt that I actually had a sort thumb. So here's proof that I did indeed gnaw my thumbnail way down past what is truly advisable:

quickthumb.jpg

It feels better now, though.

Update, 6:49pm:
Whatever reader Pixelfish, responding to requests, offers up this photo mashup:

Classic.

Posted by john at 01:55 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

The Sagan Diary Cover Art

Here it is:

tsdcover.jpg

The art is done by Bob Eggleton, who did the artwork for "Questions for a Soldier" as well, making him the house illustrator of OMW universe short fiction. Bob's also sent in some interior artwork as well, and of that let me just say that if you've ever wondered what Jane Sagan actually looks like, this will be your chance to find out.

Speaking of The Sagan Diary, a couple of folks have asked me whether the version of that's for sale on Amazon will be the one where you can have your name added in as a member of Company D (as noted here). The answer is no: To become part of the Old Man's War universe continuity, you need to order the Limited Edition from the Subterranean Press site (here's the link). Amazon is selling the limited edition as well, but ordering it from there will not allow Subterranean to get your name down for inclusion in the book. So if you want your name in, hit Subterranean's site.

And yes, there is still time to get in your name (or the name of someone you want included in your stead). But not too much longer: It's going to be out in February, which means it's to the printer sometime in January. I'll post a final call when it gets to be closing time, of course.

Posted by john at 12:05 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

December 09, 2006

And Now This Startling Admission

My toe wasn't really sore this afternoon. I posted that it was to illustrate the point to an interviewer that the community of Whatever readers is pretty much ready to use any topic as a launching point for discussion, even one as mundane as, oh, "my toe is sore." So I typed it in and we continued our interview, and some time later I went back to the Whatever and, lo and behold, a discussion. And a fun one, too. So thank you all for proving my point for me. You're making me look good here.

In other news, my thumb is sore. That's because I just bit the nail down to the quick. Because I'm a moron, you see.

Posted by john at 08:47 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

And Now This Critical News Flash

My toe is sore.

Ow.

Posted by john at 02:16 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Fear My Gaping Maw

When I wasn't looking my host provider bumped up the amount of disk space and bandwidth I have. I now have 250GB of space on my host server, and 2.5 terabytes of bandwidth per month. To give you a sense of what kind of overkill this is, my entire site is less than 500MB of disk space, and if my bandwidth continues as is, I'll eat through about 27GB in bandwidth by the end of the month. Which means that I have space in my account for 500 Web sites like this one, and I would need to have 93 times the traffic I currently have before I would max out my monthly allotment. Not bad for $20 a month.

Now, I suspect the reason my host provider can offer such outlandishly generous disk space and bandwidth is because the vast majority of sites almost certainly come nowhere close to using 250GB of disk space and/or requiring 2.5TB of bandwidth. While I don't doubt my host provider would honor its commitment to me if I suddenly started sucking down all 2.5TB of my bandwidth, I do sort of idly wonder what would happen if all their developer-level accounts suddenly needed that wide a pipe. I can't help but imagine things would get crowded. It's idle speculation, but then, so much speculation is.

At least now I understand why, when I knew I was going to be Farked because of Bacon Cat, and I called my host provider to warn them of the oncoming traffic spike, their response was, more or less, "yeah, okay, whatever." Even a mighty Farking is not likely to cause them or my account much trouble. That's oddly reassuring. And now I'm going to entirely stop worrying about ever running out of server space. At the rate I accrete files on the site I'd have to keep up what I'm doing here for a couple thousand years before filled up my server. I find that comforting.

Posted by john at 03:28 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

December 08, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Yes, I finished the sex scene. My editor tells me I didn't embarrass myself, which is, frankly, pretty much all I was hoping for out of that experience (this means the scene was otherwise fine as well -- all my other quality standards still apply). Writing sex scenes is not a naturally comfortable process for me, because (among other things) I tend to find most sex scenes very poorly written; the response they produce out of me typically is not arousal but impatience, as in please get these nipples and dicks out of my way so I can get back to the story. My reader consciousness is definitely engaged when I'm writing about sex and mostly it just wants to me to wave through to the next thing.

(I'll note that erotica and porn are largely exempt from this exasperation because, after all, that's what erotica and porn are about. Complaining about an over-abundance of nipples and dicks in erotica is really missing the point. In those cases, I just hope the descriptions of nipples and dicks aren't goofy.)

If I get exasperated with sex scenes, you say, then why put in a sex scene at all? Well, naturally, I'm putting it in because I want to use it to make a point (stop it) about something; in this particular case some insight into the character which is best achieved in a sexual situation. Mind you, I'm not scared of writing sex -- I'll do it if I need to -- but I really do need to have a reason to have it in there. I had a reason. In it went.

The way I eventually made it work to my satisfaction, incidentally, was to put a little bit of humor into it. Part of the reason it was giving me a real headache was the character was dealing with it in a deadly serious manner, and that was difficult for me to write. Just a tiny bit of humor in the scene, on the other hand, gave both a narrative device to frame the scene but also allowed me to a place where the character could get to the reason for the scene, which was to meditate on the nature of desire. It's a not-unserious look at that particular topic, I should say. But using a little bit of humor to get there made it work. Or at least, made it work for me. Who is the first person that this sort of thing needs to work for.

Just as a bit of expectation management, the scene didn't end up all that graphic. It's clear what they're doing, and it's clear they're having fun doing it, but the "nipples and dicks" quotient is very low. No throbbing manhoods or heaving bosoms or aureolae crinkling in delight or bursting dams of orgasmic orgamicosity or whatever. Honesty, I think I would choke on my own tongue trying to write that sort of verbiage. And, you know. I don't want that.

Posted by john at 08:02 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

An Interview With Sean Williams

My Author Interview Week over at By The Way closes out today with a chat with Sean Williams, whose ass-kicking Books of the Cataclysm series is being published by the folks over at Pyr Books, and the second of which, The Blood Debt, is finally here on our shores by their good graces. Williams goes into detail about the books, playing in the Star Wars universe, collaborating with others and why it's good to take a break every now and then. I agree.

Posted by john at 05:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Things I'm Learning As A Writer

Writing a sex scene that doesn't having me rolling my eyes in self-derision is, like, difficult.

And this is why I'm up at 3:15 in the morning.

Posted by john at 03:15 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

December 07, 2006

Blue Mars

Busy finishing a chapter of something, so not much time, but for those of you who have asked me what I think about the reports of possible liquid water on Mars: Naturally I think that's very cool. I was chatting with a friend about it yesterday prior to the press conference, and he said that he'd heard that they were going to say they'd found recent evidence of liquid water on Mars. My response was to note that "recent" means something different to scientists than to the rest of the world, particularly if the scientist is a geologist by training. But in this case "recent" is well within normal understanding of the term: Five years or so.

If it all checks out, it is deeply exciting news, and it also makes me glad i'm still in the process of revising the second edition of The Rough Guide to the Universe, so I can slip in this little exciting tidbit. I have to say that Mars was the bane of my existence when I wrote the first edition of the book, because every time I finished the chapter, they'd find something new and I would have to do a rewrite. It doesn't look like NASA is going to make it any easier for me this time, either. I am both annoyed and terribly happy about this.

There are more pictures and NASA commentary here,
for all the rest of you astronomy geeks.

Posted by john at 10:54 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Kill Me Now, Ho Ho Ho

I just heard this Christmas song and felt the immediate urge to stab myself in the eye with a pine bough, and just keep jamming it through. I believe it may now be my most hated Christmas song. And it took just one listen! That's an accomplishment, of a sort.

Posted by john at 10:21 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

An Interview With Sarah Hoyt

I continue my Author Interview Week over at By the Way with an interview with the prolific Sarah Hoyt, who recently had two novels released within days of each other, Death of a Musketeer and Draw One in the Dark, thereby showing just what sort of slackers the rest of us authors are. We'll be sending thugs to break her typing fingers soon. In the meantime we chat about playing in Dumas' sandbox, why shapeshifting fantasies are big these days, and the pros and cons of writing under a pen name. Lots of interesting stuff here.

Posted by john at 08:56 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 06, 2006

Spammity Spam Spam

I'm getting hit with a massive amount of comment spam today, much of which is getting through my filters, and I'm fiddling to make it go away. A side effect of this may be that I accidentally delete an occasional legitimate comment. If this happens to you, don't take it personally, please, just go ahead and repost. Thanks.

Posted by john at 03:09 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

An Interview With Charles Stross

Author Interview Week continues over at By The Way with a conversation with Charlie Stross, who is always a blast to talk to and read. Here he talks about his latest, The Jennifer Morgue, which is everything you could want, if what you want is a mad and delirious mash-up between Ian Fleming and HP Lovecraft -- and if you don't want that, what's wrong with you? Honestly. We also talk about Accelerando and Glasshouse, Charlie's days in the pharmacy trade, writing tips, and what it's like to be a Guest of Honor at science fiction conventions, which Charlie is so often these days. It's so crammed with interestingabilitynessosity that, if you don't read this interview, all the rest of your days will taste of ashes. I'm just saying.

Posted by john at 10:42 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 05, 2006

An Interview With Karen Traviss

Author interview week over at By The Way continues with what I think is a really good interview with Karen Traviss, she of the "wess'har" series (the latest installment of which is Matriarch) and a number of Star Wars titles, including the most recent Bloodlines. Traviss is a fun interview, primarily because she's largely unfiltered and has very definite points of view, particularly on the subject of writing media tie-in books (she's for it, naturally enough). You're gonna enjoy reading this one.

Posted by john at 04:17 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

SF Snark?

In the thread talking about Orson Scott Card's Empire, and why I don't usually slag SF writers or books here at the Whatever, Theophylact asks in the comment thread:

I'm very fond of your blog, and I'm perfectly happy with your "Boost, Don't Knock" approach. But where should I go for intelligent, well-informed SF snark?

Anyone have suggestions for Theophylact? Which SF-focused sites or blogs are the snarkiest ones of all? I'm kind of curious myself.

Posted by john at 12:08 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Audio Versions of My Books: Available or Not?

I've been asked this several times in e-mail this week, so let me go ahead and address this topic publicly. People want to know if there are or are planned any audiobook versions of my work. The answer is no: Right now, there are no audiobook versions of any of my work, and as far as I know there are no plans to turn them into audiobooks.

A separate question is whether I would like audiobook versions of my novels, and the answer to that is: Sure, I think that would be groovy. A cursory glance at my contracts says I own the sound recording rights to my novels, so if any reputable audiobook company wants to make an offer, they can contact my agent Ethan Ellenberg about it. I'm unlikely to do my own homebrew audiobook version, because I don't much have the time or inclination at the moment. I have been thinking of doing some short stories in an audio version, just for kicks, but it's an idle thought at the moment. And inasmuch as I'm writing this when I really ought to be writing something else, I wouldn't be holding my breath for that.

So there you have it: No audiobooks now, none planned, but I'd be quite happy if someone wanted to make an offer to do one (or more).

Posted by john at 11:49 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Pure Insanity

Some fellow is auctioning off a first edition hardcover of Old Man's War on eBay. No idea what the reserve price is, but the "Buy It Now" price the dude has listed is $490. Four hundred ninety dollars. And it's not even autographed! See, now, that's just nuts. Flattering, yes. But nuts.

However, it does suggest to me that if you do have a first printing of the hardcover version of the book, you might want to tuck it away somewhere. The first printing was indeed only 3,800 copies, and even if from here on out I buy an express ticket to Suckville and write only pure crap, OMW was a Hugo nominee and I did win my Campbell primarily because of it. It has collector's value independent of me now. Possibly not $500 worth; I think this fellow is being charmingly optimistic about that. But some.

I do promise that I will try to increase its value for you by attempting not to suck. I can't promise anything -- I think sometimes writers take the express to Suckville whether they intend to or not -- but, you know. I'll try to stay off that particular line.

Posted by john at 09:12 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Empire, Elections and SF Promotional Philosophy

I was asked in e-mail if I had any thoughts about Orson Scott Card's latest book Empire, in which OSC posits a civil war between the lefties and the righties here in the US. Well, I haven't read the book other than a quick glance at portions of it posted online, so I don't have any opinion on it or its literary merits, and I have have to confess that I'm not actually in an all-fired rush to read it. OSC is one of my favorite authors, but at this point I'm working my way through a big, heaping helping of political fatigue; this last election pretty much damn near wore me out, and frankly the last thing I want to do at this moment is read a book about the left and the right collapsing themselves into a civil war.

Without having read the book, I would offer the observation that were I marketing this particular book, I would have done my best to get it out before the election. I would note that when I first caught wind of this book, well before election day, I had at least some interest in picking it up; on the other side of the vote, however, it just seems like one wafer-thin mint too many after an obscenely large, grease-filled meal. Maybe that's just me; if the book's Amazon ranking is any indication, other people don't share my queasiness. But for myself, I'll be taking some time before getting around to it. This has little to do with OSC and/or the book; honestly, it could be the best book ever and I'd still not be in a rush to pick it up, because I'm feeling burned out on thinking about the left/right thing.

Now, I expect that one of the reasons I was asked for my opinion about the book was because the book is being roundly slagged in various corners of teh IntarWeebs as OSC's John Galt Maneuver -- i.e., the book in which his characters mouth OSC's own political views, which are not notably progressive -- and any one who knows OSC's politics and mine knows that they're not exactly congruent at any number of points.

Again, as I haven't read the book to any significant extent, I can't say how Galty OSC gets. I can say I tend not to be a fan of Galtiness in general, regardless of who is doing it, since on average nothing does more to bring a story to a screeching, juddering halt than a bunch of characters who stop what they're doing to barf page after page of brain-hazing polemics. I would imagine that given the subject of Empire's story, this sort of thing would be a hazard of the landscape. It might be worth asking if any writer could pull off a story with this plot without a certain level of Galtiness, or without being accused of using it as a vehicle for his or her own politics.

Having said that, I should also note that if I had read Empire and thought it sucked, I probably wouldn't tell you, at least not here on the Whatever. This is a good a time as any to note that in the field of written science fiction and fantasy, my public focus is on promotion rather than critical observation, which is a fancy way of saying I'm more likely to tell you about stuff I think is cool than spend any amount of time telling you what to avoid and why.

The reason for this? Well, allow me an ego moment to note that this site and my AOL site get more daily visitors than all but a handful of SF-related properties, either online or in print, and my audience online is not all science fiction reading geeks; it may not even be primarily SF-reading geeks. To the extent that I have an opportunity to comment on written science fiction and introduce the field to non-natives, I'd prefer to spend that time promoting the work and writers I think should be read. Science fiction has been good to me; basically, I'd like to return the favor and pay it forward.

Mind you, this personal sense of mission truly is personal. I don't think other SF writers should limit their critical commentary in the field to only positive things, and even if I did, I don't think it's any of my business to get in the way of their karma. I also don't expect that my personal decision on this topic will keep other SF writers from commenting critically about me or my work; it hasn't to date, and if someone ever did stop themselves from making a critical comment about my work simply because they thought I was a nice guy for promoting other SF writers, my response to them would be "are you high?" Really, I can take it. This isn't about anything other than me; I don't expect what I do here to make a difference to anyone else in how they address the field of written science fiction.

But it does mean that if you're coming to the Whatever in the hope of seeing me snark on SF writers or their recent books, you're likely to be unsatisfied. I'll certainly talk about general themes in written SF and make observations on the field; look, I'm doing it now. But chances are if I'm talking about a specific book or writer here, it's because I think you should read them or the work. And anyway, God knows I'm snarky enough about everything else in the world. Your need for snark will be sated in other ways, I assure you.

Posted by john at 12:46 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

December 04, 2006

The Last Cat Picture of the Day, I Swear

forcecat.jpg

I guess this is what I get for buying a case of the Boba's Best brand Midichlorian Feast cat food down at Sam's Club. What can I say, it was on sale.

It's amusing to watch the cat use her Jedi mind powers on the dog, however.

Posted by john at 03:18 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

An Interview With Karl Schroeder

Over at By The Way, I'm going absolutely crazy with the author interviews this week: I'm posting one a day through Friday, all the better to, you know, give these fabulous author maximum exposure during the holiday "what the Hell am I Going to Get Everyone For a Gift?" season. Clearly, the answer is: You should be getting people these author's new books. Buy thousands of copies! Spread them all about the land! Like seeds to sprout minds! Go!

Er, anyway. Today's interview features Karl Schroeder, whose latest book Sun of Suns has planet-sized fullerene balloons and swordfights and pretty much rocks the house in a serious way. Go now to receive his wisdom. Later this week, you'll groove to the awesomeness of Karen Traviss, Charlie Stross, Sarah Hoyt and Sean Williams. It's like a dream team lineup of science fiction and fantasy superheroes. They write! They fight crime! They bicker with Stan Lee dialogue! Well, perhaps not. But it would be interesting if they did.

Sorry, I keep getting tangentified. Here's that link to the Karl Schroeder interview again. Check it out, won't you?

Posted by john at 12:27 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Fun With Teh Catz

Athena saw yesterday's "I Has a Flavor" kitty and wanted to do something similar, and provided an amusing prop with which to get best results. We applied prop to cat, took photos, and then added our text. Here's Athena's:

And mine:

Frankly, the cat's expression is what makes it work.

But it wouldn't be any fun if you didn't get a shot at it, so, here:

Feel free to add your own caption and post it up somewhere. If you want to come back and leave a link to your newly-captioned picture of our royally humiliated cat, that's fine with me too.

Posted by john at 09:51 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

December 03, 2006

I Has a Karma

First, I had yet another entry vaporized by a power outage, so to compensate you all for the loss of this entry, which would have changed your life forever, here's a picture of a kitten and some very poor grammar:

ihasaflavor.jpeg

Second of all, what I really don't want is suggestions on how not to lose work when I lose power, or surprised commentary that I don't automatically save work, or whatever. I know all the ways not to lose work and you can assume hearing any of them just after I have lost some work is going to just annoy the holy living crap out of me. I mean, I appreciate the thought and all. But, really, no. Just, no. Hush.

Third of all, the reason that winter is power outage season here in the Scalzi household is that the mastermind who built this house put both the room that is my home office and the room that is the master bedroom on a single circuit breaker, so in the winter, when I run a watt-sucking space heater in a room filled with electronics and the lights and TV are on in the master bedroom, plugging one more thing into a wall sock will cause it all to shut down. In this case that one other thing was the vacuum cleaner. Snap.

The bitter irony here is that Krissy, who went out earlier in the day, asked me to vacuum the upstairs while she was away, and i said "sure" and then entirely forgot about it. So when she came home she decided to do it herself, plugging in the vacuum and entirely unintentionally consigning my work to nothingness and causing her husband, a man of normally mild disposition, to swear like a sailor dropped into a jostled box of wet cats.

After I came back up from resetting the circuit breaker, Krissy admitted to me her first reaction to having the power go out and me cursing was to think "Ha! Karma!" to herself. Because if I had vacuumed earlier, like she asked me too, this never would have happened. And of course she's absolutely right: Karma done kicked my ass. But, hey, at least you got a cute cat picture out of it.

Posted by john at 08:56 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Be My Musical Guinea Pigs

I'm fiddling around with ways to legally share music with all y'all, and at the moment I'm looking at Rhapsody's playlist sharing feature. Rhapsody allows you 25 free listens a month (which could be one listen to 25 songs, or 25 listens to one song, or any inclusive combination of songs/listens equaling the number 25) and as far as I can see takes you to a relatively non-obtrusive landing site which will then open an anonymous-user flash player via your browser.

Both the landing site and the flash player are Rhapsody-branded, of course, and will exhort you to join Rhapsody. But at least as I'm using it doesn't require you to sign in to listen to the music, and the streams are high-quality, so you don't hear much degradation of the music (as in the case of Napster's free music set-up, in which you can listen to any track three times, but on a 32kbs stream,which is fairly crappy). This seems like the best compromise of sound quality/user ease/musician compensation that I can see out there at the moment -- but I'm interested in whether you think the same.

So: Here's a five-song playlist, featuring "Fidelity" by Regina Spektor, "Boy/Girl Song" by Aphex Twin, "Helpless" by kd lang, "Sweet Thing" by the Waterboys and "She Goes on" by Crowded House. Would you do me the favor of trying out the link above and seeing how it works for you. Is it a reasonable way to share music? Or too complicated/too much a pain in the ass? Let me know and I'll factor it in for further consideration. Non USians, be aware that you might not be able to listen to full song streams because of licensing issues in your own home country. Let me know if it does work for you in countries other than the US.

Now, if Rhapsody (or any other music service) were to come to me and ask me what I'd really want in order to share music on my site, I would tell them what I'd really like is the ability to get a widget that would allow me to make my own streaming music channel which I could program via Rhapsody's library of music, and through which they could track the number of streams played/songs streamed, the better to charge me monthly for the statutory licensing fees. That way I could set up a really excellent personalized music station without killing my own server and easily compensate the musicians I'm featuring, and Rhapsody would have a really excellent feature for subscriber retention/new customer advertising. Seriously, that would be an excellent thing, and I would love it to death. Someone needs to get on that.

Until then, let me know how the playlist works for you.

Posted by john at 12:52 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

December 02, 2006

Thump Pound Thump Pound Thump Pound CRASH

Yesterday's high winds peeled off more than an acceptable number of shingles from our roof, so right now there's a contractor up there putting down some new ones. I'm sure he's doing a fine job of it, but it sounds as if he's pushing livestock off my roof at three minute intervals. Or possibly just falling down a lot. I should probably go out and check to see if the guy's all right, but I guess as long as I keep hearing bangs and crashes everything's actually fine. And anyway, the guy's a bonded professional. He's been in the roof fixing/livestock pitching business a long time. I don't want to mess up his rhythm and/or be crushed by a falling pig.

That's my day at the moment.

Posted by john at 01:08 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

What I Suspect Will Be the Last of These for 2006

rainbow1201.jpg

Rain storm last night. Wind storm right now. Snow storm on its way. But we did have a nice rainbow this morning, so there's that.

More work to do. Off to do it.

Posted by john at 10:38 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Jonathan Coulton Interview Excerpts (Which Are Actually Far Longer Than the Interview Itself)

jcoulton1201.jpgI believe I mentioned earlier that I had interviewed Jonathan Coulton, the Internet's favorite geek singer, prior in advance of his concert appearance here in Dayton (which, incidentally, will be Saturday, December 2, at the Canal Street Tavern, 308 First St., at 9:30, tickets $10). The interview is up at the Dayton Daily News site (registration required), and as it happens, I have a lot of interview material left over. Why waste it? And so, herewith, nuggets of pure wisdom from Jonathan Coulton:

On who he is and why he does what he does:

My name is Jonathan Coulton and I am 36 years old. Hooray! I went to public high school in a small Connecticut town called Colchester, CT. I went to college at Yale and got a BA in music, partially because it was something I was interested in, but also because there was no senior thesis requirement in that major. I've played guitar since I was a kid, and sung since before then (my family was kind of musical). In college I was heavy into the a cappella scene, joined a group called the Spizzwinks and later another one called the Whiffenpoofs. I never played in a band in college, which is strange. Probably I was shy. When I graduated I moved to New York and made a few half-assed attempts to play in bands, but never took it that seriously. Somewhere along the way I accidentally got a job writing software, which quickly became a nine year career. But I continued writing music for myself and friends to hear, and I wrote songs for a live show that John Hodgman created and hosted called the Little Gray Book Lectures, sort of a reading series on steroids.

I'm sure it was doing songs for this show that made me want to have them on a website. There was a big enough audience coming to that show that I felt the need to make the music available to them. And then after my first appearance at the Pop!Tech conference where I heard Lawrence Lessig speak about Creative Commons, I started really getting serious about building a web presence - especially after I saw the power of reaching an audience of geeks and bloggers. Once you get a taste of the link love, it's hard to imagine how you got along without it before.

On when he let his geek flag fly in his songwriting:

The geek factor just sort of emerged I think, because it's who I am, though it was really after the Pop!Tech appearance that I realized there was actually an audience for it. I played "Mandelbrot Set" for that crowd, and when I got to the part where I sing through the equation the audience stood up and cheered - aha! I said. Before that, I had gotten mostly blank stares whenever I performed that song. So I think that positive feedback allowed me to feel more comfortable tackling really dorky subjects.

On his decision to let his music out into the world via Creative Commons:

When I saw Lawrence Lessig speak about Creative Commons, I felt like my brain was going to jump out of my skull and fly into outer space. It was the most thrilling idea I'd heard in a long time, and it just made so much sense on so many levels. It directly addressed a lot of the stuff that I was feeling about filesharing and copyright and mp3 - one of those moments where all these vague feelings crystalize into an actual opinion about something.

There's no question in my mind that the way I've done things so far has been a huge benefit to me. The interesting thing is that nobody really knows whether all this "stealing music" actually benefits or harms the artists, it's just too hard to track what's really going on. In my experience, the ratio of people who pay to people who don't is certainly very small. But I get a much larger piece of each sale because I don't owe a ton of money to a record label, and lots of people donate, or contribute artwork, or play me on podcasts. And I've been really pleased to see the numbers going up every month - as the traffic increases, so does the actual income. Granted, internet fame is not at all the same thing as regular fame, a fact which I inexplicably find surprising over and over again. But it's become apparent to me over the last six months that there really is a big fanbase out there, and that I can reach them through my site and my mailing list, and that they'll actually come out to live shows in large numbers.

On the thinking behind his year-long "Song a Week" project:

I had just quit my software job, and I was looking for something to keep me busy and writing. Actually, a co-worker of mine suggested it during my last week at the job, and I thought he was crazy. But once the free time hit, it started to make sense. Then about 12 weeks in it seemed crazy again. There were definitely some weeks where I felt uninspired and empty of ideas, and certainly there were times when I took the easy way out. But that was an important part of the process - I found that even when it was a really difficult week, even when I hated every bit of what I was creating (in a panic, at 6 PM on a Friday), in the end there was always something there to be proud of. Maybe not the whole song, mind you. But even the songs that turned out less than great have something in them that I'm proud of. It was torture in many ways, but I'm so glad that I did it, and it taught me a great deal about who I am as a songwriter.

On the impact of covering "Baby Got Back" and whether his original work has eclipsed its popularity:

That was the first big hit. I think it was #5 or thereabouts [in the "Song a Week" output]. It was my first cover, and it certainly felt like the easy way out at the time. But then it just exploded. Since then I think it's been surpassed by songs like "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains", but at the time its success was like delicious crack. Honestly I haven't run the numbers in a while, so I'm not sure what the biggest hit was out of the 52. But I seem to remember on an Alexa graph that there was a conspicuous spike somewhere around when "Code Monkey" was released.

About how his Popular Science gig happened:

I knew a couple of the editors through mutual friends. I performed at Pop!Tech (there it is again) and found myself later that night at a poker game. Whiskey was drunk, and promises were made, including one in which I said I would write a popular science theme song. Sometime later after we had all sobered up, they told me that I was on their masthead as contributing troubadour, and where the hell was their damned theme song? So I ended up doing that five song "soundtrack" for the September 05 issue, and the rest is history.

About why he's coming to Dayton:

Right. That's in Ohio, right? I don't know, because Dayton rocks?

Posted by john at 09:34 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Arrrr! Or Is It "Yarrrrr!"? I Always Get the Two Confused

John Joseph Adams, aka The Slushgod, has sent me along a note letting me know that he's guest-editing a special pirate-themed edition of Shimmer magazine for its Summer 2007 issue, which I knew, and that the reading period for that issue is now open, which I didn't. So if you happen to have a pirate story stomping around the house causing trouble, now you know where you can send it. All the details are at the link above. Incidentally, the current issue of Shimmer features an interview with me. Just in case, you know, you don't get enough of me here.

Posted by john at 08:48 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Oh, Dear

You know, I can't tell whether this guy thinks these things actually happened. Read down to the bottom of his column and tell me whether it seems like he's reporting the particular one he notes as a factual event.

Update, 10:15am: Oh, and for added chuckles, someone introduced the "Ayn Rand's A Selfish Christmas" to the folks at the humanities.philosophy.objectivism newsgroup. This should be fun.

Posted by john at 08:35 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack