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June 27, 2007

WHATEVER IS DOWN (Was: Rental Zen, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Entirely Ignore DRM)

NOTICE, 11am, 6/28/07: Whatever seems to be having some sort of extreme database issue at the moment. The short story: As of just short of midnight last night, Whatever's database apparently stopped accepting new data, including new entries and new comments (I'm able to post this, apparently, because it's into an article already posted. Don't ask me how it works -- it just works). Anyway, I'm looking into it now. Don't know how long it will take to fix. In the meantime feel free to visit my LiveJournal, where I will update with news and information. You can also post comments there.

rentalzen.jpg

Behold my latest toy, a 60 GB Creative Vision:M, which is just like a video iPod, except that if you try to connect it to iTunes, it will wail and thrash and scream "it burns us, preciousssssss!" or something like that. Which, you know, is fine, because I bought it to interface not with iTunes at all, but with another music service entirely: Rhapsody, which I've subscribed to for years, and which, if you pay $15 a month as I do, will allow you to fill certain music players (like the one I just bought) jam-packed full of rented music, music which is, incidentally, positively swaddled in digital rights management. The idea here is that if I should cancel my Rhapsody account, the music on my player will lock up; I won't be able to access it. Because it's rental music, you see.

My response to this, basically: Yeah, okay, whatever. Indeed, so utterly unconcerned am I with this that one of the reasons I bought the Creative music player in the first place is that it's my intent to fill it up solely with rented music, in all its DRMed-to-the-gums glory. Why? Because in the end, it just doesn't matter to me. And here's why:

1. To begin, I own tons of music -- literally thousands of albums dating back to high school -- but it's across a myriad of media, and not all of it is easily accessible: About 80% of my CD collection is packed away in boxes in the basement, for example, and only part of it I've ever bothered to rip to electronic format. Then there are the cassettes and (god forbid) LPs I own, and the albums and tracks I've downloaded off of iTunes. Honestly, it's all a big friggin' mess, and the idea of trying to get it all organized so I can stuff it into my music player fills me with a horrible sort of crushing ennui. Really, just stab me in the eye, because it would be less painful.

With the rental music, I don't have to bother with all that. Right now, as I type this, I'm downloading the entire discography of Depeche Mode into my player off of Rhapsody. It took me about 90 seconds to queue up the entire playlist and drag and drop it into player; all 160 songs (or so -- I'm not loading in remixes, etc at this point) will be funneled into it in another ten minutes or so. Simple, easy, done. I own all this music, but it's easier to use the rental version. So I'm likely to replicate the part of my music collection I actually listen to into my player.

There's the added attraction that I can also drag and drop music that I haven't bought into the player and take it along with me to listen to, to see if I want to buy it. I often do (my rule of thumb is if I listen to an album's worth of rented music three times through, I buy it), so that's not bad either. And even if I don't buy it, thanks to Rhapsody's setup with music companies, the artists and/or copyright holders still get paid a portion of the rental fee. It's tiny, but it's better than nothing.

2. The DRM setup doesn't allow me to trade music files with people, but you know what? I don't do that anyway -- it's not a behavior I typically indulge in. When someone tells me about a band they like, what I usually end up doing is pulling that band up on Rhapsody and listening to it there, because I feel that's an ethical way of satisfying my curiosity (a little bit of my monthly fee goes to the musicians, remember), and when I want to share music, I have a tendency to point to streaming audio/video that's either been authorized (on YouTube, which has licensing agreements at this point with most of the big labels, or through something like AOL Music) or -- if it's questionable that it's been authorized -- is at least on an obvious site that takes down data on request (again with the YouTube). The DRM keeps me from engaging in behavior I don't engage in, which means for me, it doesn't present a real issue.

To be clear, the reason I don't typically engage in file trading is not because DRM makes it difficult -- I'm technologically competent enough that it would be trivial for me to get around nearly any DRM set-up yet devised -- but I choose not to, and because generally speaking at this point in time there are better ways to achieve the goal of sharing music, some of which actually allow copyright holders to get paid something.

3. Yes, but what about the fact that thanks to the DRM, I can only access the music on certain computers and on certain music players? Surely that's an imposition! Well, the thing is, it's not. Rhapsody's setup allows me to run its music software on five computers and on a certain number of portable players. Well, as it happens, I have four computers in the house and three portable music players -- which is to say, I'm covered. And even then, should I want to get around this, Rhapsody has made it easy to do by allowing its users to access its system via a Web browser, so actually there's no limit to the number of computers I can use to access whatever music I want. What if I want to put the music onto my stereo? I bring my laptop to the stereo and run a line from the laptop to the stereo. Done and done. But I can't actually remember the last time I used my stereo; at this point the entire family listens to music via computers and the TV (on which our satellite system has a several dozen music channels).

So while theoretically DRM restricts my access to music, as a practical matter the restrictions it places on my use of the music are so non-onerous as to be just like not there at all. For how I use my music, and how my family uses music, the restrictions are not an issue in the least.

4. There is the fact that Rhapsody could at any point change the rules of rental access or that I could leave the service and have all that music on my player become dead files. But I have to say that this doesn't particularly concern me because I understand that I am renting music here. Which is to say that I am under no illusion that I own the specific data files I am downloading into my player. I own some of the music because I've purchased it in other media, and at any point in time if I want I can rip that music into electronic files, and I would own those too. But these files -- the ones I'm borrowing from Rhapsody -- I don't own any more than I own a DVD from Blockbuster or Netflix, or a book from the local public library.

If Rhapsody suddenly changes its terms to something I don't like and I leave the service, or it goes out of business, or whatever, I understand that I'm going to lose access to these files. Big deal. I can switch to another provider, which would mean restuffing the player, which would be annoying but not horribly onerous, or I can just drop in the actual music I own. In the meantime, it's not a problem. Indeed, in one respect the rented files have an advantage to electronic music files I own: If the hard drive I've stored most of my mp3s on implodes (as it will inevitably do), there goes my collection (presuming I don't have a CD version or haven't otherwise backed up). This is not an issue with the rented music. If my computer implodes, it doesn't take Rhapsody with it.

Add it all up and all this rented music thing makes a lot of sense to me, and for me.

Now, to make one thing clear, when I'm talking about being fine about DRM, I'm talking about it in the context of rented music. If we're talking about music I want to buy to own, then I'm of another mind entirely when it comes to DRM. Because I'm buying that. It's mine. Again, the issue of DRM keeping me from accessing my music would be trivial in a practical sense, both in how I use my music, and how I could get around the DRM if I want to. But that's not the point. The point is once I buy something, the seller is loses the ability to tell me how I can or cannot use it, and all the EULAs in the world aren't going to change that much. But when I rent music, it's not the same thing. Swaddle it up with DRM; I'm fine with that.

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

2007 Best Fan Writer Hugo Essays in Japanese

As the Worldcon is taking place this year in Japan, and I am nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo, I thought it would be both useful and respectful to get translations of some of my SF-related entries in 2006 so that Japanese fans and Hugo voters would be able to have an informed view of the work before they cast their ballots. Thus, behind the cut are translated essays. Clearly, these will be of most interest to those who read Japanese.

For the rest of you, if you're curious as to which essays these are, they are "The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment," "On Carl Sagan," "You Can Get This Book For Free. You Should Buy It," and "Cover Story and Cover Art."

I am greatly indebted to Yumi Kurosawa and Yoshio Kobayashi for their work in translating and editing these essays.

Translations behind the cut.




サイエンスフィクションに関する四つのエッセー


ジョン・スコルジー

はじめに

 こんにちは。ジョン・スコルジーです。今年のヒューゴー賞最優秀ファンライターにノミネートされ、たいへん喜んでいます。今年のワールドコンは横浜で開催されるということもあり、日本の皆様にもぜひわたしの作品を読んでいただきたいと考えました。そこで、サイエンスフィクションに関する四つのエッセーを翻訳してもらいました。2006年に書いたものです。楽しんでいただれば幸いです(翻訳を引き受けてくださった黒沢由美さんに感謝します)。

 少しだけ自己紹介します。わたしはサイエンスフィクションの作家で、著書『老人と宇宙(そら)』(早川書房、原題Old Man’s War)は2006年ヒューゴー賞長編小説部門にノミネートされ、2006年キャンベル賞新人賞を受賞しました。オンラインでも執筆しており、わたしのウェブサイトscalzi.comに公開しています。ヒューゴー賞最優秀ファンライターにノミネートされたのも、このウェブサイトで公開したエッセーによるものです。

 今回のノミネートはたいへん光栄です。Nippon07にもぜひ出席したいと思っています。会場で皆様に会えますように。それまでお元気で。ではエッセーをどうぞ!

ジョン・スコルジー

〈スター・ウォーズ〉がエンタテイメントであるという嘘

 Pyr Booksの編集者ルー・アンダースから、SFと“エンタテイメント”に関する問題提起へのコメントを求められた。ここでいう“エンタテイメント”とは、テレビや映画でしかSFを知らない大衆を振り向かせるほどSF小説は娯楽的(エンタテイニング)になり得るか、という意味での“エンタテイメント”である。この議論の発端は作家のクリスティン・キャスリン・ラッシュがAsimov'sサイトに掲載したエッセーで、SF小説は〈スター・ウォーズ〉をもっと見習うべきだとラッシュは書いている。ラッシュの中では〈スター・ウォーズ〉は古き良きエンタテイメントの見本であり、ほとんどのSF小説はその対極にあって、「特殊な用語だらけで、限られた人しか読まず」、「現実より醜い世界」と「人間であれ、エイリアンであれ何であれ、自分の仲間などどうでもいいという主人公」を描く「ディストピア小説」だという。

 これにイアン・マクドナルドが反駁した。〈スター・ウォーズ〉以外のSF小説がエンタテイメントを放棄しているという見方を否定し(「(エンタテイメントは)文法や構文と同じく基本であって目的ではない。出発点だ」)、エンタテイメントがすべてだとか、〈スター・ウォーズ〉がその頂点だとかいう考えも非難した(「仮にわたしが目指し得る最高峰がそこまでだとしたら、そうしてわたしが読者の心をつかもうと望み、実現を夢見てきたものがすべてその尺度で測られてしまうとしたら、わたしに残された道徳的に矛盾のない行為は書くのをやめることだけだ」)。この後、ルー・アンダースがイアンの意見にコメントしている。

 SF小説は自らを救うためにもっと娯楽に徹しなければならないか否かという問題をここで論じるつもりはない。これについては以前書いたことがあるし、いまはその問題に興味がない。ただ、わたし自身はエンタテイニングでかつ知的に洗練された本を書くことを目指しており、それは自分ならそういう本を読みたいと思うからだ、とだけ述べておく。今回わたしが論じたいのは、ラッシュ氏とマクドナルド氏の議論の大半が見当違いだということである。そもそもの前提が間違っているからで、その間違った前提とは、映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉がエンタテイメントである、というものである。

〈スター・ウォーズ〉はエンタテイメントではない。〈スター・ウォーズ〉は、ジョゼフ・キャンベルの肖像を前にしておこなうジョージ・ルーカスの自慰行為であり、ジョージ・ルーカスはそれを大勢の観客に観るよう仕向けたのである。

 映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉に“大衆的”なところは一切ない。これは〈スター・ウォーズ〉全作品にいえることだが、エピソードⅠ、Ⅱ、Ⅲでは特にそれが顕著だ。どれも、自分の創作世界の内部体系に他の人々を受け入れようという気持ちのない人間の手で作られており、自分本位で狭量な作品である。作家主義の極致であるが、この連作の作家は自分の作品の観客を軽んじている――そうでなければ、少なくとも、他の人々が自分と同じビジョンを“持ち得る”かどうかという関心が自閉症的に欠如している。“エンタテイナー”という言葉には、作者や役者が観客を惹き込みたくて働きかける意味合いが含まれるが、ジョージ・ルーカスにはそういう気持ちがない。自分の宇宙から観客を締め出しはしないにしろ、観客が彼の宇宙に入ってこられるかどうかをまったく気にかけていないのである。映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉を“エンタテイメント”と呼ぶことは、エンタテイメントの意味を根本的に誤解していることになる。

 だからといって、映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉が“エンタテイニング"でないということにはならない。エンタテイニングではあり得るだろう。ジョージ・ルーカス本人はストーリーテラーとしてはとんでもなくお粗末な資質しかもっていないが、少なくとも一般に通じる感性を持ち合わせている。あるいは映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉第一作制作当時は持ち合わせていた。〈スター・ウォーズ〉第一作は、30年代の冒険シリーズもの、40年代の戦争映画、50年代の黒澤映画、60年代の東洋神秘主義を寄せ集めた作品であり(このことはわたしの著書『Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies』でも書いている)、それらをすべて映画という鍋に入れ、ジョゼフ・キャンベルの千の顔を持つ英雄のエキスから仕立てた水っぽいスープで煮立てたものだ。黒澤映画を除き、これらはどれも共通文化の素材であり、そのシチューをふるまった点ではルーカスの仕事はまともだった。〈スター・ウォーズ〉にとってもう一つ有利だったのは、その前に『猿の惑星』から始まり『2003年未来への旅』へとなだれ込む重たいディストピアSF映画の時代が10年近く続いていたことだ。そうした10年間の後では(頭を麻痺させる華々しい特殊効果もあいまって)、〈スター・ウォーズ〉は新風の到来と感じられた。

 だが、その当時ですら、ルーカスは観客を楽しませることとは別のことを考えていた。ジョゼフ・キャンベルの伝記でルーカスは次のように書いている。

「『アメリカン・グラフィティ』の後、自分にとって大切なのは物事を測る尺度を打ち立てることであって、世界をあるがままに人々に示すことではないという結論に至った。……これに気付いたのと同じ頃……神話が現代ではうまく用いられていないことに思い当たった」

 神話の興味深いところは、既に死滅した目的論的世界の残骸だということだ。何かを信じていた人々が皆死に絶え、物語だけが残されて初めて成立するのが神話である。神話を作り出すことは、死体愛好者的行為だ。ある文化を暗に抹殺した上でその死骸を弄ぶようなものである。それはある意味、神になるより心地よい。神々は自分たちが創造した宇宙の面倒を見なければならないが、神話を生み出す者は何が起こったかを語るだけでよいのだから。ルーカスが〈スター・ウォーズ〉を「遠い昔、はるかかなたの銀河系で……」という言葉で始めたとき、彼が観客に暗に伝えているのは、観客はこの物語の当事者ではなく、はるか昔に死んだ当事者たちの目を通して、既に起こった出来事を見せられるに過ぎないということなのである。

 それがどうして問題なのか。ルーカスの目的は壮大な神話の構築であって、必ずしも連作映画の制作ではないから問題なのだ。〈スター・ウォーズ〉DVDの音声解説でルーカスが例のそっけない口調で話すのを聞けば、彼がシリーズ全体を通していかにすべてのつじつまを合わせようとしていたかということ――この連作映画全体で一つの神話を示そうとしていたことがわかるだろう。それはかまわない。ただ、神話を作り上げるというルーカスの本当の目的の前には、脚本や演技はもちろん映画そのものですら二次的なものに過ぎなかったということをこれは裏付けている。神話も娯楽として楽しめるものになり得る。実際、たとえ観客の参加を拒んだとしても、神話もエンタテイニングだからこそ生き残るのである。〈スター・ウォーズ〉シリーズもエンタテイメントとして機能し得たはずだ。だが実際には本質的にエンタテイメントになっていない。ルーカスにとって、映画がエンタテイメントとして成立しているかどうかは二の次であり、自分が作り出した神話にきちんと沿っているかという方が大事だったからである。

 これは後半三作(エピソードⅠ、Ⅱ、Ⅲ)で一層歴然としている。この三作は、スカイウォーカー父子の神話を神聖化することのみを目的に作られている。神話の骨に肉付けすることで、その肉を土に帰し、骨を砕いて聖骨箱に納めるためだ。エンタテイメントとして作られていないのだから、あまりおもしろくないのも不思議ではない。インダストリアル・ライト&マジック社によるきらびやかな装飾を剥ぎ取ってみれば、後に残るのは、脇目もふらずにダース・ベイダー創造に向かう、カルヴァン主義者を思わせる行進だけだ。ルーカスはそれを目指すあまり、立ち止まってまともな脚本を書くことも、役者たち(名役者たちだが不可解なキャスティングだ)に台詞をおごそかに唱える以上の仕事をさせることもしなかった。ルーカスはそんなことを気にかけていられなかった。エンタテイメントの座は聖典の完成に取って代わられていたからだ。

 大作〈スター・ウォーズ〉シリーズが完結してわかったのは、このシリーズのエンタテイメントとしての価値は、意図せずして得られた(ルーカスといえども寄せ集めの元にあった純粋なエンタテイメントの価値を抜き取ることはできなかった)、または特殊効果によって実現された、あるいは請負人たち、とりわけローレンス・カスダンとリイ・ブラケットの仕事のおかげだったということだ(この二人が担当した『帝国の逆襲』の脚本は、シリーズで唯一、分別のある脚本になっており、無用な台詞も少ない。カスダンとブラケットは明らかに、神話の提示に劣らず娯楽として楽しめることも目指しており、この二つが両立可能であることを立証している)。ルーカスが自分の映画が人にどう思われるか気にかけていないのは明白だ。どうして気にかける必要があるだろうか。ルーカスは自分が作りたい映画を作りたいように作っただけだ。彼のビジョン、彼の神話、彼の構造物は完成し、それを実現するのに使った手段を正当化する必要はない。

 皮肉にも、わたしはそれに関してルーカスを責める気はない。ルーカスはルーカスだ。わたしが非難したいのは、〈スター・ウォーズ〉第一作の監督料を安くする代わりにルーカスに続編の権利と商品化権を与えた20世紀フォックスの間抜けな連中である。映画会社が管理したからといって〈スター・ウォーズ〉シリーズがもっとましなものになっていたかどうかはわからないが、少なくともどの作品もエンタテイニングにしようと努めただろう。映画会社は本音をいえば神話などどうとも思っていない。連中が気にするのは観客を呼べるかどうかだけだ。映画会社が管理していれば、『エピソードI』の脚本をちゃんと台詞の書ける者に頼まなくていいのか、とか、役者の演出をほかの者に任せたままプロデュースだけしていて大丈夫なのか、といったことを、ルーカスに言える者もきっといたはずだ。映画制作のそういった面をルーカスは必要悪程度にしか見なしていなかった。そう、ルーカスにはにっこり笑顔を浮かべて神話作りで遊ばせておいて、監督と脚本家に向かってこう言える者だっていたはずだ。「さあ、これを娯楽として楽しめるものにしてくれ、さもないとお前らのタマをシャチのシャムーに食わせるぞ」ああ、タイムマシンがあったら。

 ここで読者はこう思うだろう。「映画〈スター・ウォーズ〉がエンタテイメントとして作られたのでないとしたら、どうしてこれほど多くの人が楽しんだのか?」もっともな疑問だ。結局のところ、このシリーズには興行成績2億ドルを下回ったものは一本もない(しかも1980年代のドルでだ)。わたしもエピソードⅣ、Ⅴ、Ⅵが十分楽しめるものだということは認める。この三本は斬新であり、ルーカスが聖なる神話を探求する一方で、介入した請負人たちはエンタテイメントを目指していたからだ。ただ、この頃でも『ジェダイの帰還』はよくなかった。エピソードⅠ、Ⅱ、Ⅲを心から楽しめたという人がいるだろうか。とりわけ『エピソードI』は気の抜けた、つまらない代物だ。映画館では、ジャージャーが登場した瞬間、観客の期待がシューとしぼむ音が聞こえただろう。『エピソードI』の最初の週末を経験しながらも多くの人がその後の続編も観に行ったのは、多くの人が日曜に教会に行くのと同じ理由だ。それは習慣であり、いつ立っていつ座るべきかわかっており、皆、牧師が今週の説教をどうしくじるか見たいのだ。『エピソードⅢ』を観終わったときのわたしの気持ちがわかるだろうか。安堵したのだ。これで〈スター・ウォーズ〉の全作品を観終わった。もう自由だ。そう感じたのはわたしだけではあるまい。

 エピソードⅣ、Ⅴ、Ⅵがエンタテイニングだとしても、これらもエンタテイメントとして作られていないことに変わりはない。結局のところ、これらは目的を実現するための手段、ジョージ・ルーカスただ一人が目指した目的のための手段に過ぎなかった。ルーカス以外の人にとっては、これはエンタテイメントではないし、エンタテイメントだというのは間違いである。そして、だからこそ、〈スター・ウォーズ〉のようなエンタテイメントがもっと必要だというのは愚かなのである。一人の人間を喜ばせるためだけに作られたエンタテイメントがもっと必要だというのか? たとえば、わたしは自分が読みたいと思うような作品を書くが、ほかの人がどう思うか考えないというわけではない。ジョージ・ルーカスは膨大な数の人々に、彼らを楽しませているとまんまと信じ込ませた(逆にいえば、観客の方も、ルーカスが自分たちを楽しませてくれていると信じ込みたいばかりに、そうでないことを認めたがらない)。そんなものは一回でたくさんだ。

 こういうテストはどうだろうか。『宇宙の七人』(原題Battle Beyond the Stars)という映画を観てほしい。ロジャー・コーマン製作総指揮の1980年のB級映画で、明らかに〈スター・ウォーズ〉の流行に便乗している。〈スター・ウォーズ〉で寄せ集められているのとまさに同じものが寄せ集められており(黒澤明の名前からとった惑星アキールまで出てくる)、制作費200万ドルは1980年当時でも低予算だ。脚本はジョン・セイルズ(その後アカデミー賞脚本賞に二度ノミネートされている)、おもしろくて気が利いており、映画として一貫性をもっているのがかえって信じられないほどである。この映画を観て正直に答えてほしい。これは〈スター・ウォーズ〉エピソードⅠ、Ⅱ、Ⅲ、Ⅵよりエンタテイニングだといえないか。安っぽい特殊効果さえあまり気にしなければ、〈スター・ウォーズ〉の神話なんぞよりずっとおもしろいと認めるのではないだろうか。

 その理由は簡単だ。この映画は観客を楽しませようとしているからである。コーマンもセイルズも、ありがたいことに、神話にはまるっきり関心がなかった。神話の要素は観客を楽しませるのに利用しただけだ。彼らにとって大切だったのは、観客を90分間楽しませること、そしてそれで稼いだ資金でまた次の映画が作れることだった。わたしは『宇宙の七人』のようなSF作品がもっと必要だと言っているわけではない(もっとひどい代物を想像することは確かにできるが)。わたしが言いたいのは、〈スター・ウォーズ〉シリーズをエンタテイメントだというなら、エンタテイメントとしては200万ドルのコーマンの映画にすらかなわないということだ。だから、〈スター・ウォーズ〉シリーズがエンタテイメントの傑作だという欺瞞はもうやめにしよう。

 それよりも、そのものずばりこう呼んではどうか。ジョージ・ルーカスが自分を楽しませた記念碑。それはそれでいいことだ。ルーカスにとって、自分の好きなことができたのはよかっただろう。誰だって自分が喜ぶことをしたい。ただ公の場でやるからには、もう少しエンタテイニングにしてほしかったと思う。



カール・セーガンについて


 11歳のとき、わたしにとって世界で一番かっこいいのはカール・セーガンだった。というのも彼がまさにわたしに向かって語りかけてきたからだ。1980年、11歳の少年だったわたしは、大人になったら天文学者になると決めていた――わたしは星が好きで、科学が好きで、おもちゃが好きだった。ちょうどそんなときにテレビでセーガンを見たのだ。赤いタートルネックとベージュのジャケットの似合う温厚そうな人物が、特殊効果とヴァンゲリスの音楽をバックに、過去の宇宙、現在の宇宙、将来に宇宙について視聴者に(とりわけわたしに)語っていた。


 わたしはカール・セーガンに夢中になった。それは思春期前のオタクたち特有ののめりこみ方だったに違いなく、性的な要素は一切ないもののそれに似た目くるめくような強烈さがあった。カール・セーガンは、11歳のわたしがまさに将来こうなりたい、と思う人物だった。セーガンは、わたしにとって文化的英雄トップスリーの一人だ。あとの二人はジョン・レノンとヘンリー・ルイス・メンケンである。三大ヒーローとしては変なとり合わせだが、わたしだっていまだにいささか変人なのだからしかたない。ただ、その中でもカール・セーガンはジョンとヘンリーを抑えて一位だった。きっとタートルネックのせいだろう。

 11歳当時、母親から今週の〈コスモス〉が観たかったらいい子でいなさい、といわれていたわたしが、それから四半世紀たったいまもカール・セーガンの熱烈な信奉者のままなのは、セーガンの功績はとてつもなく大きいと思うからだ。セーガンはその根気強さとユーモアで科学を世間に伝道し、一般家庭にまで届けた。テレビ番組〈コスモス〉はもちろんのこと、彼は〈ザ・トゥナイト・ショー〉にも何度も出演し、スターらしい優雅な語り口で宇宙で起こっていることを語った。彼は庶民にとっての科学者だった。それは身近なNASCARレース場でも見かけるという意味ではなく、NASCARレースを例に相対速度や宇宙移動を簡単に説明できる人だということだ。

 それはとても重要なことである。わたしたちにもわかるように、かといって素人と見下しもせずに、科学をわたしたちの前に見せてくれることによって、わたしたちは科学を支持するようになり、科学のことを自分の理解を超えるものでも自分の信条と敵対するものでもないと理解するようになる。善意と根気とユーモアを持ち合わせ、科学に懐疑的だったり無知だったりする人々にも進んで語りかけ、科学は身近なものだということを示してくれる科学者であり伝道者である人が必要なのだ。カール・セーガンはそのやり方を心得ていた。それが並外れて上手かったのである。

 セーガンはわたしに大きな影響を与えた。わたしは結局科学者にこそならなかったが(なりたくても数学の才能が足りなかった)、それなりに科学について書く仕事をしているし、天文学の本を書くという一つの人生目標も果たした。その本『The Rough Guide to the Universe』は現在第二版を準備中だ。わたしは科学について書き、表現するとき、カール・セーガンを手本にしている。宇宙で起こっていることの大半は、大半の人が理解できるように説明できる。必要なのは説明したいという情熱と適切な言葉だけだ。セーガンはその情熱と言葉の両方を備えていた。わたしもそうありたいと思う。それはわたし自身がカール・セーガンから学んだことだからでもある。

 聖人視すべきでないことはわかっている。わたしの中のカール・セーガンは理想化されていて完全無欠だが、カール・セーガンも人間なのだから本当は欠点もあっただろう。わたしが知っているカール・セーガンは、限られた時間のテレビ映像と限られた数の著作を通したイメージに過ぎず、いずれもわたしにとって受け入れやすい人物像に塗り直されている。だからこそ、11歳のときとは違って、いまのわたしはカール・セーガンになりたいとは思わない。それどころか、彼のような人間になりたいとも思わない。だいたいわたしは彼がどんな人間なのか個人的には知らないのだから。

 わたしにわかっているのは、彼の考え方が好きだということである。科学に対する彼の愛情が好きだ。人間性への信頼が好きだ。人間はその本質上、またその本質の充足のために、自分より偉大なものを探求するという考え方が好きだ。全宇宙に対する情熱を人々に伝え、みんなでその情熱を分かち合えると信じていたところが好きだ。これらすべてを彼が万人に与える中、わたしもまず11歳でそれを受け取り、いまも受け続けている。わたしはありがたくそれを受け取り、自分の中に取り込んだ。それらを上手に使いこなして、かつてわたし自身が分け与えられたように、他の人にも分け与えることができたらと思う。

無料で読めるが買ってほしい本

『The Sagan Diary』を書き終えたので、2週間ほど前に買っておいたピーター・ワッツの『Blindsight』を読んだ。ほかの人書いているとおり、すばらしい作品だ。ハードSFの良さが満載で、来年の各種SF賞の候補作になるだろう。読み応えがあってガツンとくるSFを探しているなら、この本がお勧めだ。

 ワッツは先日『Blindsight 』をクリエイティブコモンズ(CC)ライセンスでオンライン公開したので、本を買う前に読んでみることもできる。あるいは、買えない人にも読んでもらえるようにしたのかもしれないが、興味深いのは、ワッツがCC公開について「実験というよりは捨て鉢の行為」と言っていることだ。ワッツは自身のウェブサイトでその考えを説明しているが、かいつまんで言えばこういうことになる。ワッツによれば、同書の初版部数は少なく(3,700部)、ボーダーズやバーンズ・アンド・ノーブルのようなチェーン書店からの前注文もなく、専門書店でも見つかりにくくなっていて、出版元のTorでは増刷するかどうかもはっきりしていないという。CCオンライン版で公開すれば、少なくとも作品を手にする機会を読者に与え、読んでもらうことができる、とワッツは考えたのである

 ワッツは、この本の商業的救済にこれ以上何かできるとはあまり楽観していないようだし、CC版で公開することでそれをどうにかできるともあまり思っていないようだ。現段階では、彼はこの本を買ってもらうより読んでもらうことを優先したと思われる(もちろんワッツ本人は違うというかもしれない。わたしは彼が書いていることを自分なりに解釈しただけだ)。CCで読んだ人のせめて一部でも彼の本を実際に買ってくれることを望むが、ワッツがあまり期待していないのももっともに思える。CCライセンスなどの無償提供制度によるオンライン公開が著書の売上や著者の評判によい影響を与えた実例はたくさんあるが、それはあくまでもそういう例もあるということに過ぎず、中にはたまたま急成長中の著者だったからCC公開が成功に結び付いたといえるケースもあるだろう。

 たとえば、チャールズ・ストロスは昨年Accelerando』をCCライセンスでオンライン公開した。チャールズはこの作品の売れ行きはそれ以前の作品よりよかったというだろうし、ヒューゴー賞にもノミネートされたほどだから本当だろう。果たしてこれは、CC公開が新しい読者と購入者を生み出したからなのだろうか。それとも、『Accelerando』の発表までにチャールズ自身がすばらしいSF作家になっていたからだろうか。何しろ連続してヒューゴー賞のベスト長篇部門にノミネートされ、すばらしい書評を寄せられ、マスコミにもしばしば登場し、オンラインでも健全かつ活発な活動を示しているのだから。わたし自身は、作品のオンライン公開は同書の売上に何の悪影響もなかったと思うが、ではそれが売上にどれほど貢献したかというとわからないと思う。わずかかもしれないし、相当かもしれないし、皆無かもしれない。データには雑多な要素が混ざっていて具体的な立証は難しい。

 もっと広範に見れば、CCのような方法でオンライン公開されている作品の数は、有効なデータがとれるほど多くない。したがって、データに不純要素が多いだけでなく、データ自体の量も足りない。それに当然ながら、作品ごとに条件は異なる。ワッツが『Blindsight 』を公開した状況とチャールズが『Accelerando』を公開した状況は違うし、コリー・ドクトロウが『マジック・キングダムでたそがれて』を公開した状況とも、わたしが『Agent to the Stars』を公開した状況(CCライセンスで公開したのではないがオンラインで無償ダウンロードできる)とも違う。CCライセンスによる作品公開は、たとえば、ワッツが読者を増やす上では効果をあげたかもしれないが、そうしたオンラインの読者のかなりの割合が購買者に転じない限り、実際問題としてはほとんど意味がなかったともいえる。結局のところ、出版は売上次第で動く。ワッツの本が売れなければその後の出版は一層困難になるだろうし、そうなれば、買わずに作品を読んだ新しい読者たちがピーター・ワッツの次の作品を読む機会も少なくなってしまう。

 ずいぶん遠回りをしたが、ここでわたしが論じたいのは、これまで議論されてこなかった差し迫った問題、読者が著者に対してどれほど責任を負うかという問題である。たとえば、わたしが『Blindsight』をダウンロードし、これを読んで気に入ったとする。その場合、わたしにはワッツの本を買う責任があるだろうか。ある見地からいえば、その責任は一切ない――読者がどんな形であれ代価を支払う義務のない方法で、ワッツは作品を公開したのである。読者は「ありがとう」と言う必要さえない。

 その一方で、いま現在このオフラインの世界では、作家は売上に応じて報酬を得ている。作家が受け取る報酬の一部は本の売上成績に依存する。本が売れていなければ、作家は補助的な収入(講演料、出演料など)を得ることもできない。わたしが読者としてワッツの作品を楽しんだとして、感謝を表す最良の手段――そしてもっと利己的な動機として今後さらに彼の作品を読めるようにする最良の手段――は、その本を買うことなのである。だからこそわたしも、間接的な恩恵を受ける同業者としての立場は抜きにしても、コリーの全作品を買い、『Accelerando』を買い、『Blindsight』を既に買っていたのでなければ、きっと注文していただろう。わたし自身は、そうすることが著者に対する責任だと考えており、そうすることで作品を直接的かつ真摯に支えるべきだと思っている。これを読んだ人に同じ考え方を強要することはできないが、同じように考えてくれるとうれしい。

 さて、当然ながら、読者が自ら書店に足を運んで本を買うことが適わない状況もあるだろう。金銭的に余裕がなかったり、外国に住んでいたり、SFなんて悪魔の読み物だと決め付ける親から禁じられていたり。それなら、やむをえない。ただ、わたし自身にはそういった制約は何もないし、CC好きのインターネット住人の大部分も同じではないではないだろうか。そういう人たちは、CC公開されている小説が気に入ったら、実際の本を買うことでそれを表明してほしい。自分がいらないなら、友人にプレゼントしてもいいし、地元の図書館に寄付してもいい。そうすれば、著者の評判も広まるのだ。

 言いたいことをまとめよう。まず、『Blindsight』はすばらしい作品なのでぜひ読んでほしい。CC公開版で読んだ場合は、読み終えて「うわあ、ものの見方が広がった気がする。『Blindsight』のパワーのおかげだ」と思ったなら、近くの書店へ出かけて本を買うか(あるいは注文するか)、オンラインで買ってほしい。もちろん、そうする義務はない。でもそうしてほしい。この本が気に入ったなら、Tor Booksに増刷を即断させるのに貢献してほしい。



『Cover Story』と表紙画


 画家で現在ヒューゴー賞にノミネートされているジョン・ピカシオから、『Cover Story: The
Art of John Picacio
』が送られてきた。5月末に出版される予定の本だ。美しい装丁の本で、SF、ファンタジー、その他のジャンルから彼の作品が集められている。ピカシオの作品には一目で彼の作品とわかる作風があり、写真のように写実的な人物と鮮やかな色使いが特徴だ(どちらの特徴もこの本の表紙によく出ている)。わたしは個人的に彼の作風が好きなので、一冊の本としてまとめて鑑賞できるようになったのはうれしいことだ。

 表紙画とその制作過程についてのピカシオの簡単な説明もよかった。作家は表紙画制作に関して知識もないし、あまり口を出さないことになっているので、表紙画アーチストの考えを少しでも知ることができるのはよい。ピカシオの制作信条の一つに「本は神である」という言葉があったのはありがたかった。本の内容とまったく関係のない表紙画を多々見てきたので、本から着想を得ている表紙画アーチストがいるとわかるのはうれしいものだ。

 わたしがピカシオの作品が好きだというのには、ピカシオ本人より、ピカシオに表紙画を頼む人々の立場を思う部分が多分にあり、ピカシオに依頼するということが、SFとファンタジーの表紙画をあるべき姿にしようという意欲と願望の現れであるところにある。大局的に見れば、これは内容を適切に表現した表紙画を生むことにつながり、具体的には、たとえば、まともな社会人がその本を手に町へ出ても、自分が読んでいる本の表紙を隠したくなったりしないということだ。ピカシオの作品のような表紙画は、その本のSF/ファンタジー的要素を隠さずに表現しながら、SF/ファンタジー読者以外の人々をも排除せずに受け入れる(そして魅了する)表現になっている。それは賢明なやり方だ。

 これは必ずしも新しい流れではない。間違っているかもしれないが、デイブ・マッキーンによるコミック『サンドマン』の表紙画にまでさかのぼれるのではないか。当時の他のコミックの表紙画とはまったく違い、コラージュ合成を用いた彼の作品は、中身のコミック作品自体の主題の成熟度に合致していた。そこからこの潮流はダーク・ファンタジーの分野に流れ込み(チャイナ・ミエヴィルの表紙が好例だ)、それがいまSFにもいい意味でやってきているようだ。いままでと違うのは、といってもわたしの個人的な感触に過ぎないが、ピカシオのような表紙画が多くなったこと、それも例外的なものとしてでなく、標準(あるいは少なくとも強力な指針)になりつつあることである。

 これはいいことに違いない。悲しいかな、本は表紙で判断される。だが、ピカシオの作品のような表紙画なら、表紙の中身はまじめな大人がまじめに読める作品だという、SF/ファンタジー読者ならとっくに知っていることを示唆してくれる。これはSF/ファンタジー界にとっても、SF/ファンタジー作家にとっても、潜在的読者にとってもいいことである。もちろん、優れた表紙画がすべての問題を解決するわけではないが、問題を一つは減らすことになる。それはよい出発点になるだろう。

***

 数日前にジョン・ピカシオの表紙画について書き、自分がSF表紙画の歴史に暗いことを露呈してしまったところ、ピカシオから電子メールが届き、リチャード・パワーズの作品を見てみることを勧められた。パワーズは、主に50年代から60年代にSFの表紙を多数手がけたアーチストだ。eBayで探したらわりとすぐに『The Art of Richard Powers』が見つかり、購入したらやはりわりとすぐに手元に届いた。

 パワーズの作品を見て、ああこの絵か、とすぐにわかった。ただ、わたしがSFを本格的に読み始めた80年代初め頃にはパワーズの最盛期はおおかた終わっていたと言わざるを得ず、その頃になると、彼の作品、たとえばロバート・ハインライン作『フライデイ』の表紙画などは、自己嫌悪の美学とでもいうような時代の要請、「できるだけおどろおどろしく、そして乳房も加えて」といった要望に屈していたように見える。

 これもわたしの思い違いかもしれないが、わたしの記憶では1980年代はSFの表紙画にとって悪い時代だったように思う。エアブラシで描かれた乳房が隆盛を極めた時代だ。そういった趣味が廃れてきたのはようやく最近のことである。当時はSFの表紙画のせいで、SFファン以外の人にSFを読ませるのは至難の業だった。女友だちにクリスマスプレゼントとして『異星の客』――表紙はカール・ランドグレンだった――を買ったときのことを覚えている。わたしは、頼むから表紙は無視してくれ、と言ったものだ(やはりランドグレンの表紙だった『愛に時間を』を人にあげたときもわたしは同じことを言った)。

 どちらの表紙も問題は裸ではなく(内容を考えると皮肉だが)、全体的に漂う悪趣味な感じと、本の内容とかけ離れていることだった。『異星の客』の最高の表紙はいまでもオリジナル版(たぶん)だ。ハインラインが主人公のメタファに使ったロダンの彫刻が知的に配されている(『愛に時間を』のオリジナル版の表紙は水着姿のラザラス・ロングの体から女たちが生えている絵で、こちらはそれほどよくない)。

 パワーズのSF表紙画の大半には80年代のエアブラシの胸のようなものはほとんどなく、それはいいことだと思う。パワーズはシュールレアリスム風のあり得ない形の建物や生物を描いた。彼の表紙は、見る者に本の内容を想像させるが、特定のシーンが描かれているわけではない。彼の表紙画は古臭い――パワーズの表紙画を見れば誰でも過ぎ去った時代のSFイラストレーションだと思わずにはいられない――が、彼の時代はまさにSFイラストレーションのよき時代だった。

 1980年代にSFファン以外の人にSFを読んでもらおうとした経験があるからかもしれないが、わたしはSFの表紙画を見るとき、「普通の人はこの本を読んでいるところを見られて恥ずかしくならないか」と必ず考える。いや、カール・ランドグレンを侮辱するつもりはまったくない(ランドグレンの他の作品、とりわけ一連のロックポスターはとてもクールだ)。ただ、ランドグレンの表紙画、それも80年代のSF小説の表紙画の多くは、特定の読者層に訴えることだけを意図しているように見える。その読者層とは、実際にそれをどう扱えばいいのかも知らずに女の胸というだけでただ舞い上がってしまうようなティーンエイジャーの少年たちだ。わたしだって1980年代にはそういう少年の一人だったのだから、それもわかる。そういう表紙には魅かれた。だが、その結果、それ以外の読者を引き寄せる機会は大きく失われたと思うし、そういう表紙画がSFに与えたイメージと表紙画の方向性のせいで(もちろんそれ以外にも多くの要因はあるが)SFはいまも損をしているといえるだろう。

 これに対し、パワーズの表紙画はそれ以外の読者層にももっと開かれているように見える。ピカシオを初めとするいまの世代の表紙画アーティストにもそういう作品が増えている。たとえば、ピカシオの場合、彼の表紙画には80年代のSF表紙画の女性たちと同じくらい裸体の人物も多く描かれているが、それはより洗練された裸体であり、「あっ、乳首だ!」といった反応以上のものを喚起しようとしている(そこでは裸体もいわば平等で、女性と同じくらいの頻度で男性の裸体も描かれている意義も大きいと思う)。

 ピカシオの作品およびいまの世代の多くのSFイラストレーターの作品は、パワーズの作品の直系とは思えない。少なくとも技法は異なっている。替わりに、対象となる小説作品の精神を喚起させようとする姿勢――その姿勢にわたしは拍手を送りたい――は感じられるだろう。彼らはクライマックスシーンのありふれたイラストや女性登場人物が裸になる場面を描こうとはしていない。

 当然ながら、表紙画は商業目的を果たさねばならず、売れる本にすることが求められる。だが、売れる本にする手段もさまざまだ。女性の胸を見せる方法もあれば、頭を使う方法もある。パワーズの作品は後者だったとわたしは思う。そして、その姿勢がいまの世代のSF表紙画イラストレーターたちに浸透していることを喜ばしく思う。

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Ficlets Author Interview: Robert J. Sawyer

Look! Another Author Interview! I'm on fire over there at Ficlets. This time around I'm interviewing none other than Robert J. Sawyer, who is talking about his new book Rollback and opining on a number of subjects relating to science fiction, Canada, the position of fiction in society, and the various intersections of each. And he also explains how Margaret Atwood can get away with suggesting that she doesn't write science fiction (hint: it has something to do with being Canadian. No, really).

It's a hella interesting interview, and if you don't read it, it will eventually rank as one of the great missed opportunities of your life, and the regret will eat at you like a ravenous polar bear. Yes, just like that. And you know how ravenous polar bears can be.

Yes, I'm all about the Canadians today. Rock on, frosty northern neighbors!

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Helpless

Continuing what is apparently a week of Canadian female singers, here's kd lang singing Neil Young's "Helpless" at the 2005 Juno Awards; seems that Young was supposed to be there but was ill and in the hospital, which explains lang's intro. However, if you're going to have to get someone to fill in for you, you're not going to get much better than this.

Man, what a voice. Also for those of you who are live performance-minded, check out kd lang's total microphone awareness. The song, if you didn't know, is available on lang's hymns of the 49th parallel album, which has her covering Canadian songwriters, and really is excellent.

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June 26, 2007

The Point at Which I Stop Being the Perfect Consumer

You know, I'm as gaa-gaa over tech as the next geeky, overfed American nerd, but at a certain point fiscal restraint kicks in and temps down my need for the next new hot thing. Thus is my ardor for the iPhone suddenly cooled when it's revealed that the low-end phone plan for the thing is $60 a month. Add that to the $500 minimum cost of the phone, resulting in a minimum $1,200 cost for the gadget in the first year, and I'm all, eh, I can wait. My current cell phone cost me $40, and I piggyback on my mother-in-law's service plan for $10 a month. That's about right for me.

I know, I know. Since when should I let practical issues get in my way? Anyone who's getting a first-gen iPhone is signing up to be a guinea pig anyway; practicality shouldn't enter into it. Fair enough, and I wasn't exactly camping out to get one anyway. But I feel the same way I did when the first iPod came out, actually. When it happened I watched all the cool kids stab each other in the eye to get to it, and meanwhile I, who had had a CD-player-sized Creative 5GB Jukebox for over a year at that point and had paid substantially less to get it than what the first-gen iPod went for, thought it would probably be best just to sit out the fracas for a while with my perfectly serviceable, pre-existing alternative.

I guess what it comes down to is that at then end of the day, I don't care to be one of the cool kids if it just costs too much to do it. I'd chalk it up to rapidly-approaching middle age, but I've always been like this. Of course, there's a simpler way to put it: I'm cheap.

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ALA Recap



I spent my weekend in the Washington DC area at the ALA conference, which was actually a whole lot of fun. The first reason was that I'm a tremendous fan of librarians in a general sense, and the specific librarians I met over the weekend were fairly excellent as individuals, and basically a whole lot of fun to meet and spend time with. Honestly, the day I can't enjoy myself among people who spend their life dealing with books is the day I've probably fallen head first into a grave.

The second reason was that it allowed me to get to know a few of my fellow authors a bit better, specifically Jeff and Ann VanderMeer and Steve Erikson. Jeff and I have had that "we know each other online" thing going on for a couple of years now and have always been fairly friendly, so it was nice to seal the deal in the real world, and Ann (who incidentally is the new editor over at Weird Tales) was a delight to meet as well. Steve Erikson I had not met nor corresponded with before, but he's kick, especially when he's sharing stories about his past life as an archaeologist, which have to be heard to be believed. It was excellent to meet him.

Jeff, Steve and I were all on a panel titled "The Literature of Ideas," along with Charlotte Jones, who is the granddaughter of Madeleine L'Engle and an absolutely wonderful person in her own right. The panel was put together with the help of Tor's Kathleen Doherty, and I think she chose the participants well, because each of us came at the topic from entirely different angles, which is what you want to keep the audience from keeling over from boredom. Each of us talked individually about science fiction and fantasy for about fifteen minutes and then did a Q&A. Jeff gives some of the highlights of the talks on his new blog Ecstatic Days, which I recommend, both for the talk tidbits and in a general sense.

Aside from Jeff, Ann and Steve I managed to sneak in a little time with Sarah Beth Durst, who was down at ALA promoting her debut novel Into the Wild, and made the acquaintance of graphic novelist and Whatever reader Jane Irwin, who was nice enough to give me copies of her Vogelein comic series. I also saw YA author David Lubar, who used to write humor articles for me back when I was an editor at AOL; we've known each other for a decade but it was the first time we met in person.

But wait, there's more! I also very briefly saw Delia Sherman, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, each appearing literally as we were heading out of the conference to catch a cab to the airport. I think they planned it that way. At the airport Jeff also very briefly introduced me to Peter Straub, who happened to be wandering about. It was one of those small world things. In short, lots of interesting people who do that writing thing were at the conference. Funny how that might be.

And of course one of the nice things about going to a library conference is that the publishers there give out all sorts of free free free books, and I'm a flat-out sucker for that. Really, that's why I love lit conferences and trade shows and will pretty much show up for any of them: Because afterwards I get to wander the aisles and graze. I ended up picking up a couple dozen books, even split between books for me and books for Athena, and then heaved myself down to the temporary post office at the conference to mail them all home. They'll be here in a couple of days. I'll have to figure out what to do with myself until then.

So there you have it: Librarians + Authors + Book swag = happy Scalzi. That said, it's good to be home and to have nowhere pressing to be for a while. I've got work and family to catch up on.

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Basement Apartment

Oooh, neat. I found the video for Sarah Harmer's song "Basement Apartment":

I love this song, because I think it pretty much nails that place in time when you're in your early 20s, and you have that college degree but no money because you're killing time as a barista or comic book store staff member or a musician before you go to grad school or that entry-level gig (or, let's be honest, even after those), so you pile together with your friends in really lousy apartments and live an existence that's about two grades too shitty to be called "bohemian," and eventually you begin to wonder if life actually gets any better than this. Not exactly a great space to be in, mentally, but once you're out of it it's nice to look back on it, just like it's nice to think back on that car accident you just barely missed having.

Anyway, excellent song. And it's off an equally excellent album, You Were Here, which I recommend to everyone. And just for the hell of it, here's Sarah Harmer's Web site, because the rest of the stuff she does is pretty damn good too.

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Some Very Specific Advice

A really ripe and juicy nectarine is a true taste treat, but you probably shouldn't eat it directly over your computer's keyboard.

You're welcome.

Posted by john at 09:01 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

June 25, 2007

An Interesting Constitutional Wrinkle

Glenn Reynolds points out what I must say is an absolutely hilarious point of impeachment order:

Impeach Cheney if you want, but do bear in mind that he'll preside over his own impeachment trial.

Now, that's a constitutional crisis. And it does sort of make you yearn for the days when Vice-Presidents were, in fact, damn near totally useless.

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In What is Becoming a Depressingly Regular Announcement:

I've now presumably caught up with all my e-mail that I left lingering while I was gallivanting around the country. So this means that if you've sent me e-mail in the last several days that you were hoping to get a response to and I didn't respond, now would be the time to send it again.

Also, and specifically for the person from the Millennicon convention who sent me e-mail a while back: For the life of me I can't find your e-mail to respond to it. Will you please resend it? My apologies for clearly being such a big fat loser.

Posted by john at 04:18 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A Question of Medium-Sized Sociological Importance (Or Not)

If there really is a cultural divide between the people who are on MySpace and the people who are on Facebook, as this draft of an academic paper suggests, what does it mean that I have accounts on both?

I suppose I could suggest it points to my own white-trash-yet-elite status (living in a mobile home while attending one of the most expensive high schools in the county, say, or being (very) briefly homeless while (also briefly) having Saul Bellow as my college thesis advisor). But since all those days were well behind me by the time either of these sites existed, probably not. Personally, I suspect it has more to do with the fact I sort indiscriminately sign up for these social network sites. This would also explain why I have accounts on Friendster, Okrut, LinkedIn, Prosper, Flickr, Second Life and etc and so on. I am a stat-oriented sociologist's worst nightmare.

Posted by john at 02:14 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Author Interview: Allen Steele

I'm back in full swing with the author interviews over there at Ficlets, and today I've got me some red-hot Allen Steele interview action. Steele, who, incidentally, annoyed me mightily by making his latest novel Spindrift so compulsively readable that when I brought it with me on tour, I'd finished it before I landed at my first stop. Bastard. I'll get him one day. You can read the interview while I plot.

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June 24, 2007

I Am Leaving In The Morning For the Land That I Long to See Again

More traveling today. While I am away, immerse yourself in this: "Blackwater," by David Sylvian (in the guise of Raintree Crow). It's easily my favorite Sylvian song. The video is negligible; close your eyes and drink in the music.

Incidentally, the ALA conference at which I spoke was excellent; we had good talks and met quite a few interesting folks. I'll write more about it after I get home.

Posted by john at 12:57 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 23, 2007

Nippon 2007 or Lack Thereof

I don't know that this will come as too much of a surprise to anyone, but I won't be attending Nippon 2007. There are a number of reasons for this, but two main ones. The first is that I have two books due pretty much exactly when Nippon 2007 occurs (the novel and the revise of The Rough Guide to the Universe), and I'll have to be focused on that. The second reason, somewhat related, is that even if those deadlines were not a pressing consideration, I wouldn't be able to spend more than the time of convention in Japan; I dearly want to visit Japan, but if I go I want to be able to spend more than five days.

What it boils down to is that unfortunately it's not at a good time for me, in terms of work or personal commitments. Naturally, this makes me very sad. I will be there in spirit. I will also be there in terms of voting for the Hugos, since I have a supporting membership to Nippon 2007. There are lots of people I'll be wanting to vote for this year; also, if you'll recall, I am a nominee myself. No, I hadn't forgotten. Indeed, I'm still pretty chuffed about it. I hope you Hugo voters hadn't forgotten either. Please vote in my category, even if you don't vote for me.

Since I won't be attending Nippon 2007, I know some of you will be wondering if I now plan to attend this year's NASFiC. In a word, no. I have another commitment that weekend, unrelated (mostly) to fandom, and even prior to making that commitment I had been turned off to the NASFiC due to the convention's hotel issues, which to be fair to the NASFiC are not about them, but about the hotel owners. Be that as it may, and as I've noted before, I'm not inclined to give money to people who so clearly don't want me there. This is just me and should not be taken as a criticism of that convention; I'm sure the NASFiC itself will be a fun time.

So at the moment the only conventions I have on my schedule for 2007 are the Heinlein Centennial and the Utopiales Festival in France. Whatever shall I do with myself if I'm not at conventions? Well, the rumor is, I occasionally write books. Maybe I'll do that. So when I go to conventions in 2008 and beyond, I'll have something new to share. I know! Crazy idea.

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June 22, 2007

Random Crap 6/22/07

I'm about to head off to get a plane and fly to DC, so in lieu of coherent thoughts, a bunch of little things:

* This happened yesterday while I was visiting my friends Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier. Also while I was visiting them, at least a mile of skateboarders went skating by -- no really -- but Scott doesn't have any pictures of that up yet. It was still pretty damn cool. New York, what a wacky town.

* Emo Crayolas are amusing.

* David Goodman passed along an interesting article about book blogs in the Guardian newspaper, and I wrote it up in the Ficlets Blog.

* Regarding Dick Cheney suggesting he's not actually in the executive branch: Man, I wish.

* Oh, and apparently Citizen Kane is still the best movie ever. Somewhere the makers of Freddie Got Fingered are muttering about how they got robbed, again. And weren't they? Weren't they?

* Incidentally, some people were asking me how I knew about "Goatse double-penetration felch hentai," either as individual concepts or in the particular horrifying combination. People, it's okay to know them. Just don't live them. That is all.

Posted by john at 09:14 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

June 21, 2007

Surfacing in NYC

jslongpen.jpg

Not to be all mysterious about it, but the reason I was traveling is in picture above: I went to NYC, to the Tor offices, to take part in a autograph session involving the LongPen -- a remote controlled signing apparatus in which I (or any other author) scribble my autograph onto a computer screen, and then, on the other end, a pen replicates the signature precisely. So I was signing autographs in NYC, and the books (and the people who were getting their books signed) were in Anaheim. It's like living in the future, it is. The LongPen is being touted as a "green" way to do book signings, although I would hesitate to say it was so in this particular case, since they flew me in from Ohio for this. Even so, it was definitely an interesting experience.

One of the reasons I was mum about where I was going was because here in New York there's a monthly speculative fiction reading series at the KGB Bar, and I thought it would be fun to pop in and give a bunch of people cognitive dissonance when they saw me being someplace I couldn't possibly be. Because I'm a twit that way, that's why. Well, it worked, and also it was a lovely series of readings, by Tempest Bradford, Matthew Cheney, Rachel Pollack, Veronica Schanoes and Catherynne M. Valente. Now I'm off to lunch at Google's NY offices, after which I plan on going on a multi-borough crime spree. Because that's what New York City is for!

I have some further thoughts on the LongPen over on the Ficlets Blog.

Posted by john at 10:54 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

June 20, 2007

Everything I Read Online is Pornography

I'm sitting in the airport in Dayton. It has free wireless Internet, which is good, but over on top of that free wireless Internet is the Webmarshal filtering system, which is bad. It's bad because it is apparently absolutely indiscriminate in what it classifies as pornography, and, thus, blocks.

Among the sites currently blocked as "porn": Boing Boing, Google's blog search, Gawker, and all of LiveJournal. All of it! So is MySpace! And Facebook! Apparently Webmarshal is convinced that every single social networking/blogging site is endemically plastered with Goatse double-penetration felch hentai or something. Sure, maybe parts are. But surely not all. And certainly not the parts I want to visit. My days of grooving to Goatse double-penetration felch hentai are over. Most days. And even if they weren't, I'm not going to try to access any of it in public. I don't want to get thrown out of the airport, you know. I do have a flight to catch.

Even Whatever is not immune to Webmarshal's charms -- I can access it, but not before having to go a screen that warns me that there's harsh language here (which is totally fucking untrue), and that my access is being noted by the system administrator. Well, let him note it. In 30 minutes, I'll be on a plane.

Anyway, note to Webmarshal: Your Web filtering sucks. And yes, I fully expect Whatever to be blocked as pornography the next time I come through Dayton's airport. This is what I get for writing "Goatse double-penetration felch hentai."

(Update: Heh. It actually got blocked within 30 seconds. I can update to the site, apparently -- I just can't see it. Ridiculous.)

Posted by john at 08:45 AM | Comments (125) | TrackBack

Author Interview: Jennifer Ouellette

I've finally gotten my act back together and restarted the Ficlets Author Interview series: I sent out a bunch of well-delayed author questions today and will be sending out another batch in a couple of days. And -- even better -- I got one set of answers back, from Jennifer Ouellette, author of the highly entertaining and scientifically engaging The Physics of the Buffyverse, which is about -- can you guess? -- physics in the universe of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ouellette and I chat about the value of these sort of pop science books, whether "popular science" books in general have too narrow an audience, and what some of the most flat-out cool science discoveries of the last few years have been. It's a good interview, and if you miss it, your life will be a meaningless void. Sorry. But there it is.

Also, a quick procedural note -- I'm running about like a madman on Wednesday (i.e. today -- well, actually tomorrow, as I'm timestamping this as Wednesday but actually writing it on Tuesday) so I might not update again until much later Wednesday, if I update at all. If you don't see me around today, don't panic. I'm alive, just offline. It will happen from time to time.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 19, 2007

One Small Thing

Someone sent me an e-mail noting (in a humorous fashion) that it was very clever of me to collect up all your money for a donation I can take a tax deduction on. Not that I think any of you were particularly worried about this, but in case you were, no, I have no plans to take a deduction for the donation. It wasn't my money, I was just passing it on. I don't think it would be very ethical for me to take the deduction.

However, I am taking the American Express points I got for charging the donation to my card. Because daddy needs a free trip. Hope you don't mind.

Posted by john at 04:01 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Mulberries

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You would think that after living somewhere for six years one would know what's in one's yard, but remember, I have a big yard. Thus it came as a bit of a surprise to me recently to discover that I have a mulberry tree on the edge of my property; here's one of the mulberries. Now all I need is a bunch of silkworms and I'm ready to begin a second business.

The thing I like best about the mulberry tree? Asymmetrical, non-repeating leaf forms. God help me, I'm such a geek.

Posted by john at 10:24 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

Clarion West Write-a-Thon

If the ending of the "Drag Scalzi's Ass to the Creation Museum" fund drive has left a sad, wan hole in your philanthropical heart, I have good news for you. My pal Tempest has alerted me to the Clarion West Write-a-Thon for 2007, in which graduates and and friends of the Clarion West writer's workshop write stories and raise funds. The link above gives you all the information; here's a link for Tempest's Write-a-Thon page. She's planning to write four stories and revise two others. And she notes:

CW was an extremely productive and wonderful time for me, and I really hope to raise money and give back to this workshop in particular. But the only reason I was able to come is that a very generous, yet anonymous, person donated my full tuition. I don't think I could have come up with enough money to go if they hadn't. I want to do what I can to give that kind of gift to another student.

Groovy. Other writers participating include Eileen Gunn, Paul Park, Cat Rambo and Rachel Swirsky, among many others. So there you have it: a nice, geeky cause. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 08:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 18, 2007

Tonight's Question of Immense Cultural Signficance, Part Deux

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Is Pac-Man a mammal?

Show your work. Defend your thesis.

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A Quick Note Re: Being Grown Up and Writery and Not Sucky

When discussing teens and their sucky writing, let me also note in fairness that there are positively scads of adult writers whose writing sucks as well, some because they only began writing in earnest when they became adults, some because they tried to cruise by on cleverness when they were teens and are paying for it now, and some because, well. Some people are just no damn good at writing and will never be.

I don't think there's any one particular time when one passes the suck frontier into non-suckitude; you just get better as you go along and then one day you're sufficiently good, which is not necessarily the same as being actually good, or good at all aspects of writing. I was sufficiently good at writing at age 22 to get a job doing it; I shudder to think what a novel out of my 22-year-old self would have been like. Likewise, at 38, I'm a better writer than my 28-year-old self, who was a substantially better writer than my 18-year-old self; I hope to Sweet Merry Jesus that my 48-year-old self is an even better writer still.

The ideal situation has a writer continually distancing him or herself from suck. This, however, is not a guaranteed thing, and you have to work at it. It's called "suck" for a reason. It'll be happy to pull you back in.

Posted by john at 03:12 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

On Teens, and the Fact Their Writing Sucks

More than a year ago I wrote my "10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing" entry, which had ten bits of useful information for teen writers, the first of which was "The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks." Because, well, it probably does: Most teenage writers, for various reasons, aren't particularly good writers (I wasn't). I thought it was important to get that bit of news out of the way, because among other things, the fact that teenage writing sucks isn't a bad thing (that's point number 2), and because I think it's not a bad thing to be honest with teenagers about this stuff. They might not listen (I probably wouldn't have), but they deserve the truth nevertheless.

The only problem with this set-up is that reading the comments to the piece, it's clear that quite a number of the teenagers reading the entry never got past the first point, in which they're told their writing sucks, before making a comment that explains why teenage writing doesn't suck -- or, at the very least, why their teenage writing doesn't suck.

Now, to be sure, I expected this to happen. But, silly me, I forgot that in a rush to complain, the teenagers wouldn't bother reading the comment thread, in which I refute many various arguments regarding non-suckage, before they banged out their comments. To be fair to the teens, the comment thread is now a few hundred posts long; I don't imagine I would now read all the way through it either. But on the other hand I get tired of responding to the same arguments over and over.

To avoid this in the future, I am now creating this canonical "No, actually, your teenage writing does suck" piece, to provide ready answers to the usual arguments I see posted in the comment thread. This will allow me to point these young folks to a single source to counter their arguments, so I don't have to do it over and over again, saving me time and repetitive strain injury.

Before I list the arguments, let me stress again something that gets lost in the shuffle: It's okay that teen writers are not particularly good writers right now. Almost all of them will get better with time and practice. I mean, hell: I did. It's not an insult to note that someone doesn't do something well, yet: It's just an observation. I have every expectation that teen writers will get better. If I didn't, I wouldn't have bothered to write the original article at all.

There. Now, on to the arguments, arranged in no particular order:

1. It's not nice/helpful to tell teenagers they suck.

I'm not telling teenagers that they suck, I'm telling them that their writing does. There's a difference.

2. It's not nice/helpful to tell teenagers that their writing sucks.

I disagree. I think it's important for teenagers to know that even those who have a real aptitude for writing will go through a period in which their writing is no good, even considering their best efforts -- but that with persistence, that period will be temporary.

Look, teenagers aren't stupid, and they're not uncritical. Most of them understand that their writing is not pro grade stuff. Some of them will get discouraged because of it. I say there's no harm in letting them know that this period of suckage is not only natural but necessary, and that they shouldn't stress themselves out when they're in it. There's a lot of important writing they need to create before they get to the good stuff.

Don't teenagers deserve to know this? Aren't they able to understand it? I think they do and that they are.

3. There are lot of teen writers who are published, like Christopher Paolini.

Actually, there aren't a lot of teen writers who are published outside of specifically teen-oriented markets or assignments (for example, a "teen" section in a newspaper). And as far as Christopher Paolini goes, his particular path to publication is so unusual that he's an absolute rarity for any writer, much less a teenage writer.

More to the point, being able to name an exception or two to a general rule does not invalidate the rule. By all means, on certain rare occasions a teenage writer will get published by a major publisher. Paolini is one; a generation earlier SE Hinton was another. That said, their successes do not mean that the vast majority of teenage writers don't need to work on their writing, or that the average, random teenage writer will write sufficiently well to convince a publisher to publish their book. Basically, if Paolini's success was so easily achieved by any teen, no one would note him as an example at all.

As an aside to this: Yes, there are an exceptional few teens who are so preternaturally talented that their writing does not suck. That chances that any one teen will be that writer are even slimmer than the chance that they will be published by a major publisher. Most teen writers -- nearly all, in fact -- will not escape the suck.

3a. You say most teen writing sucks, but I've been invited to have my poetry published, so there.

Hate to break it to you, but a whole lot of those poetry contests and compilations are scams. It's entirely possible you write fine poetry, but your selection wasn't about how good your poetry is.

4. What you're saying about teenage writers might be generally correct, But my writing doesn't suck.

How nice for you. By all means, get yourself published and rub my face in it. I await an autographed copy of your book with the words "HA! HA! HA!" above your signature. However, I would note that when I was 17, I thought my writing was better than "suck" level, too. In the fullness of time, I have had cause to re-evaluate that assessment. Entertain the notion that you might, as well.

5. You're telling us our writing sucks because you want to keep us down, to keep your job as a writer safe.

The way I keep my job as a writer safe is by writing stuff that doesn't suck. That's pretty much independent of worrying about what any other writer is doing. Also, I'm a writer, but I'm a reader too. As a reader, why would I want to keep the next generation of writers down? I need new stuff to read. I want a new generation of writers, please, as soon as we can bring them up.

6. You say our writing sucks because you don't understand what it's like to be a teenager.

Contrary to popular opinion, most adults worldwide did not achieve that advanced state of being by skipping the intermediary step of being a teenager. We understand what it's like to be a teenager just fine. Also, and contrary to what the media would like to suggest, being a teenager is largely the same today as it was 10, 20 and even 30 years ago. There are minor cosmetic differences (teens today have much stronger thumbs thanks to all the text messaging, for example), but at its core it's pretty similar.

7. Who cares what you think? I've never heard of you.

My being correct about teen writing sucking is not actually dependent on teens knowing who I am. However, they may read my bio if they wish.

As for who cares what I think: Well, no one is obliged to, of course. If people find the piece useful, great. If they don't, that's fine, too.

8. It's just your opinion that teenage writing sucks.

Sure. However, it's also the opinion of someone who has been a professional writer for sixteen years, who is a bestselling and award-winning author of a dozen books and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, and who has been a professional editor. Which is to say the opinion is not an uninformed one.

8a. My opinion is that my writing is good, and my opinion is just as good as yours.

Not really. That's like saying that because I know first aid, my opinion of a complex medical issue is as good as the opinion of a medical doctor with many years of diagnostic experience, or that just because I can change my own oil means that my opinion on what's going on in my car's engine is as informed as the one from the mechanic who actually fixes engines for a living. There's opinion, and then there's informed opinion, and then there's informed opinion backed by years of competent practical and professional experience.

9. How can you say our writing sucks when you haven't read it?

For the same reason that I knew when I edited a science fiction magazine that I would reject the vast majority of the stories before I got out of the first couple of pages: experience, both personal and collective among writers and editors, who as it happens do gossip and share information. This is not to say common wisdom is always right, or that personal experience may always be expanded into the general. In this particular case, however, I feel pretty confident about what I'm saying here.

10. There's no objective way of saying whether writing is good or not, anyway.

Eh. As a practical matter, even if this were true in an overarching sense, the fact of the matter is that in the context in which we live, there are enough practical rules and guidelines to separate good writing from the bad, even when accounting for personal taste. Grammar is one; at any one time there is a large collective set of agreed-upon rules of grammar, and largely speaking good writing conforms to those rules (or, at least, chooses its battles wisely). True geniuses can flout rules and conventions and help guide language and narrative into new forms, yes. But, no offense: Most of us ain't them. And even fewer of them are going to be teens, especially ones without a firm grip of grammar and narrative to begin.

That's enough for now; I'll add more when they come to me.

Posted by john at 01:45 PM | Comments (104) | TrackBack

AU Donation Made

Quick update for everyone: As promised, I made the donation to Americans United for Separation of Church and State this morning, for $5,118.36. "That's an oddly specific number," the young lady who processed the donation said. Well, yes. Yes, it is. I'll post an image of the receipt as soon as I get it.

Posted by john at 10:21 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

June 17, 2007

12 Years

Having an anniversary. See you tomorrow.

Have an open thread; talk amongst yourselves.

Starter quote: "I don't want another cookie."

Posted by john at 11:48 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

June 16, 2007

The Single Worst Non-Photoshopped Picture I've Ever Taken

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No, it's not the one up there. That one is a reference photo, one I took about 20 minutes ago, so you'll know what I actually look like when I'm making no particular effort to look either good or bad. Got it? Okay, good. Now, what follows is a picture of me this morning, fiddling around with the Web cam on my laptop. Prepare yourself.

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Yeah, I know. Told you.

There are several things going on here. First, my head is being propped up on a pillow, which shoves it forward, giving me some hellacious double chin action. Second, my shirt has apparently ridden up behind my neck, giving me an especially fleshy appearance. Third, the Web cam's wan color performance has made me look like I'm both anemic and consumptive. Fourth, I'm crossing one of my eyes and sneering for some unfathomable reason. Fifth, I'm looking not-so-fresh because I haven't had a shower yet. Sixth, apparently the camera adds, oh, a hundred pounds or so.

Add it all up, and it's the single worst photo I think I have ever taken in my life. Honestly, it's so bad I find it fascinating, which is of course why I'm sharing it with you. It's like I'm in an episode of the Twilight Zone where I'm a hard-on-my luck musician, and I make some sort of Faustian bargain to switch lives with a successful songwriter, only to find out who I've swapped with is Brian Wilson, in his "you give us a song, we give you a cheeseburger" days.

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If nothing else, this picture reminds me I really need to get off my ass and do some exercise. I've spent a good portion of the day sitting in front of the computer, eating Red Vines and drinking Coke Zero; I should probably go for a walk. It also reminds me that I do have an especially fleshy neck, one that in pictures often makes me look chunkier than I actually am (my bio picture is an example of this). At some point in the not too far future I'll probably have to deal with jowls and a wattle-y neck, even if I don't become particularly heavy. I'm not at all in love with the idea.

In the meantime I'll chalk up this picture as a cautionary tale and start hitting the Dance Dance Revolution a little bit harder. It's a bad picture, but it's an anomaly. I should probably put in some effort to make sure it doesn't become the norm.

Posted by john at 11:09 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

How Much Got Raised

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As of 11:59 and 59 seconds (Pacific Time) last night, the "Drag Scalzi's Ass to the Creation Museum" donation drive raised $5,118.36. That's 256 times the admission price to Creation Museum, a multiple I find both amusing (from a dork point of view) and gratifying, since it means what tiny bit of income the creationists running the museum gain by having me pass through the door will be utterly swamped by the amount I'm going to send to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Would that it worked that way for every admission to that place.

For those of you who were wondering, some statistics: The first milestone for this fundraiser, the $250 to get me to go at all, got passed within the first hour of posting the challenge. The $1000 mark got passed about 12 hours later. The $5,000 marker got passed last night sometime between 6 and 11pm, while I was out on a date with my wife, celebrating our anniversary. I'm particularly pleased about hitting the $5k mark. The least amount donated was $1; the most was $300. More than one person donated more than $250, usually with the notation "Ha! Now you HAVE to go!" Multiples and variations of $6.66 were amusingly common, although the $5 suggested amount was the amount most received.

To be honest with you all, I had no idea how this thing would do, so I was intensely curious about it. To be clear, I didn't really think there would be a problem hitting the $250 mark; there are about 25,000 daily visitors, and I figured at least 1% of you would be ready to spend a buck or two to torture me by sending me to that place. I also suspected that I'd get $1,000 over the course of a week, and probably more. My own estimate when I started was that it'd eventually clock in between $1,500 and $2,000, and if I got any more than that I would be thrilled. So, consider me doubly to triply thrilled.

As promised, everyone who has contributed will receive two special gifts: A short story and another creative thingie, to be delivered by e-mail. I'll post notes here when I send them out, so those of you who contributed who don't then receive the goodies may ping me, so I can get them to you. I'm all about customer service.

Also, of course, I will (sigh) soon be on my way to the Creation Museum, to view it in all its scientific silliness. Some folks have asked if I would share my intended arrival date and time, so we can congregate en mass and generally become a snarky clot of heathens. As fun as that might be, until they kicked us out, the fact of the matter is that if I'm going to do this, and I am, I want to be able to do it in reportorial mode, which means watching other people in their (heh) natural setting. Also, I don't want them to see me coming. So, I'm going to make the trip alone, or possibly with my family. Perhaps at some other time we can do a heathen field trip, and see how long it takes us to get booted. But for now, well. You guys just shelled out five grand. I think I owe you an actual report.

Thank you again to everyone who donated, even though it means me dragging my ass down to that damn place. The amount we've raised for the separation of church and state is worth it. I'm glad you were motivated to shell out for the Constitution. And also, to torture me. Because, let's face it. I know you're looking forward to that.

Finally: Jude, you've won the betting pool for the final amount, with your guess of $5,002.25. E-mail me your address.

Posted by john at 12:13 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Me News 6/16/07

Quick Stuff:

* To everyone who's sending me e-mail about Marc Andreessen's list of the Top Ten Science Fiction Writers of the 00's: Yes, I've seen it, and yes, it's cool that the guy who invented the Web browser likes my stuff. And while one can argue whether the ten he lists are actually the ten best SF writers of the young century (so far, as Andreessen himself notes), it's a damn fine list of writers. It's clear generally speaking that Andreessen likes the harder SF stuff (it's also clear this list is really about SF, not fantasy). And, even if as a matter of conflict of interest I leave myself out this particular statement, I think Andreessen's correct that "this crew is arguably more insightful, more interesting, higher intensity, and bolder than many (but not all!) of their predecessors" -- which is to say, some of the best writers in the history of science fiction are writing right now, and if you're missing out, well, then, you're missing out.

One thing I do notice, perhaps as an artifact of the particular flavor of SF that Andreessen seems to like, is that there are no women on that list is only one woman on the list (Update: my commenters tell me Chris Moriarty is a woman. Whoops). Marc, if you wander past this entry at any point, if you haven't checked out Elizabeth Bear's Jenny Series, or Karen Traviss' Wess'Har Series, you should. Both of them qualify as new in the aughts, and these particular series should be right down your alley.

Also, fun bit of trivia: Technically speaking, Andreessen and I were once coworkers: I worked at AOL at the same time the company ate Netscape. However, I was in DC and he was in California; we've never met, either in the real world or online. This is why I say we were technically coworkers.

* My pal Jim Hall draws my attention to the fact that there's a nice review of The Last Colony in the most recent Starlog magazine. It says, in part:

Scalzi has become one of those rare writers who can put together a series of novels with each title capable of standing on its own- and none more so than this one. Even better, The Last Colony delivers a good dollop of action wrapped up in a gradually growing political situation, with characters who continue to improve and evolve.

Excellent. And the reviewer (Michael Wolff) is correct that "stand-alone-ability" is a priority of mine. Every novel should be its own door into that universe. I don't want to give people excuses to set the book back down in the store.

* Something I'll note briefly for now, and will provide details for later, when I know more, because, seriously, at the moment I don't know anything more than this: There's going to be an audio book version of Old Man's War.

Now, having said, "I don't know anything more than this," I know that people will still ask: "When will it be out?" "Who is reading it?" "How much will it cost?" And so on. My answer: I don't know. Come now, people: If you think I knew anything else that I wouldn't tell you? Have you learned nothing of my self-promoting ways after all this time? When I have more details, I'll share them. Honest.

Posted by john at 10:44 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Quick Reminder About Creation Museum Donations

And the quick reminder is this: Don't send any more. Donating is now closed. 

I'll post the final tally at noon Eastern time.

Thanks.

Posted by john at 07:38 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 15, 2007

And As Long As I'm Celebrating My Own Marriage...

... Allow me also to note that there are 8,500 couples who yesterday were celebrating the fact that others like them who want to get married will continue to be able to do so. It's nice to be married. It's nice to be able to get married, too. And most of all, it's nice when people trying to keep others from getting married don't get to.

(Updated for accuracy)

Posted by john at 02:40 PM | Comments (76) | TrackBack

Last Day to Donate, Plus Betting Pool With a Sweet Prize

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Remember that at 11:59 and 59 seconds pm I stop taking donations for the "Drag Scalzi's Ass to the Creation Museum" thing (I'm going to set that for midnight in the Pacific Time Zone, however, to give you laid-back California stragglers a chance to get your act together).

At this point, it does no harm to note that both the goals I've set for the donation drive have been met and then some; you guys both suck and rock. So if you donate at this point, what you'll be donating toward is getting the goodies, which are a short story (contextually appropriate and likely to be humorous) and some other unspecified thing which I won't tell you about yet but should note that I've bought the ingredients for it. No, I'm not baking you all schadenfreude pie. You can't send that by e-mail. Anyway, I promise they'll be fun goodies, and I'm hoping to reach a nice round number of donations, so: Last chance, folks.

To sweeten the deal, I'm opening up a betting pool: Folks who donate (or have donated) can guess in this comment thread how much has been donated; the one who gets closest to the exact amount gets a special prize: A copy of the Super Mega Ultra Rare "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" chapbook. The only people who can't participate are folks who I have told how much I've collected so far (I know who they are), and I would ask them not to share the information, even though depending on when they asked, the information is totally outdated. Everyone else who has donated is able to make a guess.

There are fewer than 200 copies of this particular chapbook out there, so for those of you who are collectors, this is good stuff (and for everyone else, it's a pretty funny story). But to have a shot at it, you have to donate, and then you have to guess what the final amount donated will be. You have the donation deadline above; let's say the betting poll deadline is noon tomorrow (eastern time). That's when I'll announce the final tally for donations. So get those donations in!

So: Those of you who donated -- What do you think the final tally will be?

Posted by john at 10:39 AM | Comments (150) | TrackBack

My Marriage Proposal

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Thirteen years ago today I proposed to my wife, the then-Kristine Blauser, in my newspaper column in the Fresno Bee. It was one day before the first anniversary of our first official date; we got married one day and two years after our first official date. If you add that up you'll note that this means we have a three-day anniversary festival every year. This comes in handy; for example, this year, when Krissy and I are going out and about tonight to celebrate our life together. Go us.

I can't remember the last time I posted the column in which I proposed to Krissy, so I'm posting it here behind the cut, so those of you who want to avoid the schmoopy-moopyness (or alternately, the terror that was me as a 24-year-old newspaper columnist) can do so. But personally, I still like the column, both for what it says, and for the fact that I got to propose to my wife in front of a couple hundred thousand people, which is a nice trick if you can get away with it.

Enjoy.

I Propose

Well, my girlfriend, Krissy, and I are celebrating an anniversary. One year ago tomorrow, she and I went on our first official date: June 16, 1993. Don't congratulate me for remembering. The reason I remembered is because I got my credit card statement from our first date exactly one month later. This allowed me to say to Krissy that night, "Hey, we've been dating for a month. Let's celebrate." The idea went over well, so I've been keeping track of the date ever since.

Of course, our first date was not the first time we met. We met three weeks earlier, while I was doing a story about a local disc jockey named Julie Logan. In addition to her regular duties on the air, Julie also hosted a dance party at a bar, so I went and watched her do her thing.

At some point in the evening, I decided that my story would not possibly be complete unless I tested the mood on the dance floor. So, for purely work-related reasons, I got out there and presented a distinctive style of dance that a number of my so-called friends call the "spastic chicken."

Unbeknownst to me, from across a crowded room, Krissy spied me and said to herself, "What an interesting and amusing dance style. We must dance sometime soon." We did. As it turns out, she dances exactly the way I do. Imagine, if you will, two spastic chickens jerking around this club. If Frank Perdue were in the room, he'd have had a fit.

At the end of the night, I gave Krissy my business card and told her to give me a call sometime. For this I was mocked by my so-called friends, but it made sense to me. I mean, why would this girl give me her phone number? Just because someone dances the same way you dance doesn't mean he's not, in fact, a vicious ax murderer. I'm not (not that they can prove, anyway), but even so. Also, the number on the card was my business number, so if it turned out she was the psycho, she couldn't track me to my home.

I didn't hear from her again for nearly three weeks. This made me paranoid: Maybe I'd given her someone else's card. It was possible; I keep other people's business cards in my wallet with my own. My own theory about dates is that there are a finite number of them in the universe. If I gave her someone else's card, someone else might be having the date that I was supposed to have. Now, I know this makes no sense. It's just how I think. (Like you don't have any weird theories.) As it turns out, Krissy finally got in touch with me and, one year ago, we had our first date.

I don't know that I can fully explain how having Krissy in my life has changed the way I look at the world. Perhaps the best way would be to explain that, nowadays, my life is conveniently separable into two categories: Before Krissy and With Krissy.

The Before part is in the past tense, a 24-year development period in which I gained the skills (grasping utensils, managing speech, learning to dance like a spastic chicken) that would allow me to be presentable to Krissy when we met. As for everything With Krissy, well, that's just starting.

I don't know when Krissy and I started talking about getting married, but we did. Still, we've always hedged our bets. Every time we've talked about marriage, the future, kids and so on, I've always said, "Not that I've proposed." To which she would say, "Not that I've said yes."

Well, I'm proposing now.

Kristine Ann Blauser, will you marry me?

Yes, that's right, readers, I've just proposed to my girlfriend. Really. I thought you'd like to be in on the moment.

Also, this makes it extremely difficult to back out. Not that I want to; I've bought a ring and everything. It's very nice. You should see it.

But more importantly, I love Krissy so much that I want as many people as possible to know about it.

This year has been the best year of my life. I hope to have 50 or 60 more just like it.

Posted by john at 09:24 AM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

June 14, 2007

The Sad, Sad Truth Regarding American Health Care

"With universal [health care], you’d get the same kind of mediocre shittiness that you’d get in all other kinds of standardized approaches. But for millions of people, that would be a big upgrade."

-- "Dr. Virus" from "What's Up Doc?," an article in New York magazine in which five anonymized doctors discuss what really goes on with doctors, health care and patients. Good if mildly depressing reading.

Posted by john at 05:04 PM | Comments (96) | TrackBack

Quick Administrative Note

I'm about a day or two behind with my e-mail. Oddly enough, real life does keep me busy away from my computer. Don't worry, I plan on catching up this evening. If you sent me e-mail recently, have patience.

Actually, though, I feel like I'm behind on pretty much everything. Is it just me, or is everyone else kinda dragging their asses lately?

Posted by john at 05:00 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Two Action Items

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A reminder that tomorrow is actually a deadline for two things here at Whatever:

1. To get your money in to drag my ass to the Creation Museum. At this point, I am convinced that every one of you is cackling with glee at the idea of me having to go to this place; I'm not necessarily convinced that every one of you wants the two special souvenir items I've promised if I hit a certain fiscal milestone. Come on, people. If you're going to make me schlep my ass to this thing, you might as well get exclusive goodies.

2. For science fiction writers/fans, tomorrow is also the deadline for getting me information for the next edition of the Top 50 Personal SF/F Blogs List and for the first edition of Top 15 (or Maybe 20, We'll See) SF/F News/Group Blogs List. After this I start collating.

Posted by john at 10:06 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

June 13, 2007

The Color of the Sky on My World



Thought you would be interested to know. And one more picture from this evening:



Welcome to my world.

Posted by john at 10:40 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Creation Museum Update

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Above LOLRex from Eric Buhler. Very cute.

I suppose you all want an update on the drive to drag my ass to the Creation Museum. Fine. Here's the update:

Hate. You. All.

Make of that what you will.

You still have two days to make a donation. Might as well add insult to injury, folks.

Posted by john at 03:28 PM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

Joining the Ranks of the Undead-Americans

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As many of you know, the Zombie Apocalypse has occurred, and I have to say that, yes, I have become a zombie. And while I enjoy my new undead status, it's not all just brain-feasting and shambling. I've still got deadlines. I explain all of this in my first interview as an Undead-American, over at SFSignal.

Oh, and look: John C. Wright has become a zombie as well! See. All the cool authors are zombies now.

Posted by john at 10:13 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

June 12, 2007

Tonight's Question of Immense Cultural Signficance

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At what age -- if ever -- will David Bowie stop being just so damn cool?

While you're thinking about it, a video.

Posted by john at 07:00 PM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

More People Saying Dumb Things

I don't know why so many people in literature have got such a hate-on for blogs these days -- it must be something in the printer's ink -- but what I do know is when they open their mouths on the subject, some ass-hattery usually belches forth. Over at Ficlets, I document such an atrocity, and naturally, respond.

Posted by john at 05:13 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Ghlaghghee at Mental Floss

The folks at Mental Floss are having a discussion of bacon on the Internet, and of course no discussion of bacon on the Internet would be complete without noting the time I taped bacon to my cat. So there's that picture of Ghlaghghee, bacon taped to her side. Truly a classic of Teh IntarWeebs.

I will note, however, that the Mental Floss people have snaked the picture without permission. Copyright violation! Copyright violation! I will sue them for every penny! Then I will own Mental Floss magazine! And then... well, and then nothing. It's not like I really want to own Mental Floss magazine. Too much work. Suing them is too much work, too.

Sigh. If only I weren't so damn lazy. I'd be a millionaire bastard.

Fine. They can show the picture. And they should give me a free subscription to the magazine. Yeah.

Posted by john at 03:25 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Mainspring's Out; An Open Pimp Thread

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Congratulations to Jay Lake, whose Tor debut Mainspring officially hits stores today. I had a chance to read Mainspring when it was in manuscript and was absolutely caught up in the world Jay created, in which the metaphor of god as the "Universal Watchmaker" is made real and Jay has a ball building a story around the consequences of a clockwork universe. This is one of those worlds where you wish you could slip into the book just to wander around and soak up all the world-building the author has done. In short, very cool stuff. Check it out.

Today is also the official release date for Toby Buckell's Ragamuffin, which solidifies his position as king of Carribean-tinged science fiction. Go ahead, just try to depose him. You can't. It's good to be king.

And while I'm in the pimping mood, Ian Randal Strock has asked me to note to people that SFScope.com, a science fiction news site that he and a few others have created, is working very hard to become your number one source for science fiction news and reviews and whatnot. He wants you to check it out. So here's a link. Knock yourself out, you crazy kids!

Thus having achieved three pimps in a single entry, I hereby declare this an open pimp thread, in which I invite all and sundry to pimp the creative works and projects that are currently bringing them joy and/or hopes of personal fame and money. Pimp yourself! Pimp your friends! Pimp people who don't know you exist but whose work you enjoy! Share the love.

(Note: Sometimes comments with links will get dumped into the moderation queue. If yours does, don't panic; I'll free it presently.)

Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

June 11, 2007

Another Good Day for the Rule of Law

Via the New York Times:

In a stinging rejection of one of the Bush administration’s central assertions about the scope of executive authority to combat terrorism, a federal appeals court ordered the Pentagon to release a man being held as an enemy combatant.
“To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country.”
“We refuse to recognize a claim to power,” Judge Motz added, “that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.”

Rock. If the fellow in question really is a terrorist, let's put him on trial, and then if he's guilty, let's lock him up for a nice long time. But this stuffing someone down a hole purely at the pleasure of the president crap is nonsense.

Don't know about anyone else, but I'm liking the idea that the Dubya years are looking more like a cautionary abberation than a model of things to come. I'd still like some more reassurance of that, of course.

Posted by john at 02:27 PM | Comments (198) | TrackBack

The Creation Museum Photoshoppery Continues Unabated

This one's from Christian DeBaun:

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In real life, those dinosaurs would be standing in my neighbor's hay field. I suspect he'd come out in his golf cart to chase them away. That would be funny as hell.

I've got a few more of these in e-mail, which I'll post later; and of course if you want to send new Creation Museum-related Photoshoppery, by all means please do. It'll ameliorate my pain at the prospect of having to go.

For all those who are wondering, the drive to force me to visit the Creation Museum is proceeding poorly -- that is, poorly for me, since its end result is likely to have me schlepping my ass down to northern Kentucky. You're all bastards, is what I have to say to that.

Posted by john at 08:49 AM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

My Sole Thought Regarding the End of "The Sopranos"

My main takeaway from The Sopranos' final minutes was to note that Journey continues to spread its Escape-era hegemony through our popular culture, and perhaps it is time to acknowledge that it is Steve Perry's world, we just live in it.

Posted by john at 08:39 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

June 10, 2007

My Name Is Kiko, I Live on the Second Floor

I have one Los Lobos album, Kiko, which is arguably the band's weirdest, the sort of album that a band will put out just to show that, yes, in fact, they can get arty and complex if they want to, so there. All I know is that the song "Kiko and the Lavender Moon" to me sounds like the sound track to the most drugged-out UB Iwerks black and white cartoon, like, ever. Love it. Also, the video itself is deeply strange:

Incidentally, I snaked this out of Warner Bros. official YouTube area, and it's got the embedding up and raring to go, which means it's totally kosher to show this here. It makes me happy when music companies finally get a friggin' clue. Because, you know, and no offense to Los Lobos or anything, it's not like MTV or even VH1 are showing much of this particular 15-year-old video any more.

Posted by john at 03:26 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Yabba Dabba Disturbing

At the very least, my dare to you all to drag my ass to the Creation Museum has begun to generate some delightfully disturbing Photoshoppery:

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This was made by Jeff Hentosz, who has now ruined the Flintstones for me forever. Also, given a choice, I'd rather be Barney. Because Betty, she was hot.

Also, because what the world needs now is creationist LOL-T-rexes:

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That's from Whatever reader Graculus.

Oh, and Joe Hill, the bastard what started it all, has this to say about the drive.

Clearly, you're all having too much fun with this. At my expense.

Posted by john at 09:43 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

June 09, 2007

All Right, Fine, I Will Go to The Creation Museum... IF...

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Joe Hill writes in the previous thread, in which I explain why I won't go to the Creation Museum:

NO! No, no, nonononoNO.
Scalzi should not be allowed to get off so easily. The Whatever Community needs to rise up and DEMAND he pay a visit to this important cultural center ASAP. In fact, we need to give him an irresistible reason to go. Here's my idea: not only will I pay the price of the Scalzi family tickets to the Creation museum, I will donate an amount matching the price of those tickets to the charity of John's choice... but only AFTER he files a comprehensive report about his visit on the Whatever.
Are there any other Whatever readers willing to make a modest donation to a Scalzish charity to compel a Creation Museum visit? C'mon, let's pass the digital hat. Who's in????!?!?!

So this is how you want to play it? Well, fine. Then here's the deal:

I will go to the Creation Museum and file a full, detailed and delightfully snarklicious report of the trip IF AND ONLY IF I receive at least $250 in donations via PayPal by 11:59pm NEXT FRIDAY, June 15, 2007. ALL the proceeds (minus PayPal's processing bite) will then be donated to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization which for sixty years has striven to keep the chunky peanut butter of religion out of the dusky chocolate of good government.

Bear in mind that $250 is the absolute minimum that I will accept to drag my heathen ass to that place for you people; I'd much rather all y'all donate more. A lot more. Because, damn. In fact, I'll sweeten the deal by saying that if I get $1,000 in donations, everyone who donates will get two special extras from me: an appropriately-themed short fiction piece and something else that I'll think up of later but which will probably be ridiculous and stupid and hopefully a little funny. So there you have it -- a reason (two, actually) to donate beyond making me haul my carcass out to this travesty of science.

Now to the questions:

How do I donate?
My Paypal address is "detrius@scalzi.com." Go to PayPal and send me money in the usual fashion there. Please put "MUSEUM DONATION" in the comment box when you send the money, so I can keep track of who is sending me donation money. Also include your regular e-mail address if you want the extras, should the donations crack $1k.

How much should I donate?
Donate however much you want. Personally I suggest $5 or so.

How do we know you'll give the money to Americans United for Separation of Church and State?
Because I'll post the receipt for the contribution when I get it.

When will you make the donation?
Monday, June 18, 2007.

What happens to the donated money if it doesn't get to $250?
I'll send it along to Americans United for Separation of Church and State anyway.

If you get to $250, when will you go to the Creation Museum?
Before the end of July, and I'll probably go sooner than later, because, really, I'll want to get this over with.

Will you let us know when we've passed the threshold of sending your ass to the Creation Museum?
I'd actually prefer to keep you all in suspense, the better to drive donations, both toward the $250 and the $1K mark. I'll announce the official results on Saturday, June 16. I won't stop people from discussing the fact they've donated in the comment thread to this entry, however.

Can I tell other people, so they can help drag your ass to the Creation Museum?
By all means share the news and link to this entry. The more donations I get, the better I'm going to feel about this whole sorry adventure.

Are you gonna let Joe pay for your ticket?
No, no. I'll pay for my own damn ticket. Trust me, I plan to make Joe pay in another way. Bwa ha ha ha hah ha!

So there you have it. You want me to go to this thing and tell you about the experience, this is how you do it. So, go ahead.

I dare you.

Posted by john at 05:52 PM | Comments (173) | TrackBack

Creation in My Own Backyard

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People keep e-mailing me to tell me that the new Creation Museum is just down the road from me. Yes, folks, I know. Oddly enough, we do have newspapers and television stations here to keep me abreast of the local news, and not just when the Museum's "Adam" turns out to be a fellow who talks online about all the dirty, dirty sex he's had.

The people who are e-mailing me are also often suggesting I should go to the Museum and check it out. Thanks, no. I feel I can extract sufficient comedy value out of people who believe dinosaurs lived with humans and that T-Rexes had six-inch, knife-like teeth to open coconuts from a safe, non-contagious distance. No need to spend $20 on an admission ticket just to mock them up close.

Anyway, the folks at Ars Technica have covered it for you, and it's pretty much what I would say on the matter, although almost certainly with less snark.

Posted by john at 11:49 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Look at the Time

I put in my Call of Duty 2 video game at about 3pm. I look up, and it's midnight.

Time flies when you're killing dirty Nazis.

Posted by john at 12:15 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 08, 2007

The Earmuffs, They Do Nothing

I just heard a cover of "Suffragette City" by Poison.

Every rose has its thorn, indeed. This one has been jammed into my ear.

If you dare to sample it for yourself, it is here. And may God have mercy on your cochleae.

Posted by john at 01:29 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

June 07, 2007

There's Something Inside Your Head

Ooooh, look. One of my favorite Oingo Boingo songs, "Gray Matter." It encourages people to, you know, think, which is something I always appreciated about Oingo Boingo. Also, how often do you can you rock out to dual xylophones at a rock concert? (Ignore the terrible computer graphics that pop in from time to time.)

I keep wishing these guys would come back for one more tour, although Danny Elfman seems to indicate that this is not going to happen anytime soon. Waaaah. In any event, this song is more relevant than ever. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 04:44 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Im N Ur Yard, Eetin Ur Ded Rakoon

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Yes, indeed, there's a dead raccoon in the yard (actually right over the property line in my neighbor's yard; even so), and here's one of the local turkey vultures, doing that whole "circle of life" thing and getting rid of it for me. You can see the object of its affections in the bottom right corner; I have a somewhat clearer shot of the corpse, but I assure you that you don't actually want me to post it. It's kind of messy.

Between this and the other turkey vultures in the area, I don't expect the corpse to last the day, which is, of course, just fine with me. All I have to do is keep the dog and cats away from it and we'll be fine. It's the dog I'm worried about the most; Lopsided Cat followed me out to the thing and was profoundly disinterested in it (he prefers to do his own killin', thanks), but this is the sort of thing Kodi will dig. I'd just as soon not have her reeking of decomposing wild life. So go, turkey vultures, go.

Posted by john at 03:10 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Anything But Failure?

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I don't think it comes as a major shock to anyone at this point that the general consensus on the Dubya presidency is that it's a monumental sort of failure, the sort of all-round awful presidency you get maybe once a generation or so (excuse me while I go find a forest to knock on for that). Some folks have even gone so far as to declare it the worst presidency ever, although I continue not to be one of them (Buchanan's still got it, in my opinion), but however you slice it, it's pretty bad.

So here's an interesting thought experiment that I'd like for you to take seriously: in the 20 months or so that Bush has left in office, what would it take for Bush & Co not to be viewed as failures? Is there anything -- realistically, now -- that Bush and his administration can do at this point to salvage their reputations and their standing in history? If so, what is it?

Bear in mind that for this question you should answer from your own political/social point of view, not from the point of view you think I or others who frequent the site hold.

I'm genuinely curious as to what the opinions are out there. I personally don't hold much hope for Bush, et al to do anything other than fail even harder between now and January 20, 2009, but if any of you can see a different path, I'd love to hear about it.

Posted by john at 04:23 AM | Comments (146) | TrackBack

June 06, 2007

More Idiotic Panic About the Online World

I read this article today on some fellow named Andrew Keen, whose book The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture takes the position that, well, the internet is killing culture, apparently because it lets anyone say anything, and then anyone can listen to them, instead of listening to the experts (provided to us, presumably, by a gracious and disinterested traditional media, which seeks only truth and knowledge).

I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on it directly, but this Keen fellow has wrung his hands about the Internet before, most notably in this essay for the Weekly Standard, in which he compared the Web 2.0 with Marxism, which must have given all those Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires a nice hearty chuckle as they lounged in their hot tubs filled with hookers and blow (indeed, anyone who buys this "Web 2.0 = Marxism" nonsense is invited to scope out FanLib, which is the ne plus ultra of the worker alienated from her labor).

Keen has since written other tub thumpers against the Web; one assumes this book is a continuation of that gravy train. It's nice work for him if he can get it, although Publishers Weekly, at least, is less than impressed with the book, noting "his jeremiad about the death of 'our cultural standards and moral values' heads swiftly downhill." That darn traditional media!

Anyway, based on what I have read of this Keen fellow, despite his own tech history and savvy (he's even got his own site!), he's got his head well up his ass for a lot of reasons, and I'd like to point out two of them.

1. The Internet is not nearly as "amateur" as he asserts. The issue is not how many people there are on the Web but who is listened to, and if one bothers to cruise, say, the most popular blogs on the Internet, as ranked by Technorati, one notes -- or should note -- that nearly all of them are professional blogs, written by people who are experts in their fields and/or are professional journalists and/or owned by multinational media corporations.

Anecdotally, even regarding personal blogs, it's been my experience that the most popular personal blogs and sites are the ones written and maintained by people who are experts in one field or another, and very often were so before they began to write online -- which makes sense because the online medium is still relatively new. Much of the arrogance of folks in other media regarding the online world is steeped in the misapprehension that by definition, no one writing online, particularly independently or on a personal blog, has any formal expertise on any subject -- and that online readers make no discrimination between someone without formal knowledge opining on a subject, and someone with experience doing the same. Among many other things, this shows rather a lot of ignorance regarding who is blogging, and shows contempt toward readers.

Look, I'm an example of this, aren't I? Yes, I'm amusing, and it brings people in. But the fact that I can speak knowledgeably on any number of subjects because I am a paid, professional expert on them -- science fiction, film, writing, the online world -- is a major reason why people keep coming back, and why I get 25K visitors on a daily basis. People seek out expertise when they can; they may not know a science fiction writer or a film critic in their social circle, but they feel like they know me (or at least, know me as much as it is possible to know anyone online), and thus when they have a question that involved these areas of expertise, they feel they can ask. I know it works this way because this is what I've been doing here for years and what I see quite a few other bloggers doing. That I and they will also discuss other subjects (or put up pictures of cats, or whatever) is neither here nor there to this.

2. As telegraphed by the assertion that Web 2.0 is akin to Marxism, I suspect Keen is actually rather less concerned about culture than he is about economics. More to the point, I suspect his shirt-rending over culture is a stalking horse for his apparent fetish for 20th Century western capitalism. Thus, moaning about the online denaturing of the culture of "Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock" is pretty amusing considering the Mozart lived in a time in which artists had almost no enforcable IP protections, Van Gogh famously sold almost nothing in his life and owes his fame to the transmission of his art via the public domain, and Hitchcock worked in an industry whose founding fathers moved their work to California to avoid Thomas Edison's monopoly on film, and who were called pirates in their day. This is to say that culture functions just fine regardless of the economic system in which it happens to be.

The major economic problem with old-line media and culture outlets is not the online world allows people to democratize the culture but that the old-line media were simply caught flat-footed when the economic river jumped its banks and left their business models high and dry. The example given of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica in that first linked article is actually a good one for this: The reason Wikipedia is pre-eminent encyclopedia online is not because the public has a democratic fetish when it comes to encyclopedias; it's that Britannica -- which had been caught flat-footed business-wise several times in the last 15 years, and which is basically a model example of how not to work with technology -- opted to offer its product to the public using a business model -- a paid subscription service -- that doesn't work. I say this as someone who has had a subscription to Britannica for years, incidentally.

If the Britannica people had any brains at this point, what they would do is open up their main content (not just the skimpy free articles they have up) and then plaster context-sensitive ads down the margin, make their money that way and then ramp up the ancillary product lines. This is an economic model that seems to work online, and I suspect rather strongly that it would work for them; shirt-rending aside, people do still want expert information, and there is a profit to be made off it, albeit in a manner different from what Britannica is used to.

And this is the point, of course: The market has changed, but it is still a market. Quality information (and culture) will still extract a premium. But how that premium is extracted, and from whom, is what is truly at issue here. I'm sad for Keen that his favorite economic model is getting its ass kicked online, but his inability to see that this is a fairly straightforward business problem should not be equated to the end of culture as we know it.*

Speaking of paranoid Marxist fantasies, here's a fun quote regarding Keen: "He is not against technology: he just wants to see a bit more control." Really. Control by whom? The government? Roving bands of technocratic bureaucrats, straight out of the spittle-flinging finale of Things to Come? Talk about a lack of faith in the free market and in the free market of ideas. Panicked hand-fluttering aside, we are not in the grip of some informational corollary of Gresham's Law, in which bad information drives out the good. Information is not a plug nickel. In a free market of ideas, bad information devalues itself and creates value for good information -- no one likes to be fed crap forever.

Finally, if Keen wants to wail that hoi polloi does not know how to differentiate between good and bad information, then he ought to ask why. If he doesn't find himself pointing an accusatory finger at the same "culture" he now strives to defend against the Big Bad Web, he's an even shallower thinker than I suspect he is.


(*On the subject of Wikipedia, I do find myself in agreement with Keen that at least some Wikipedia admins appear to be actively hostile to experts in the field coming in and making edits to articles in topics they feel territorial about. This is one of the many reasons I don't believe anything I read in Wikipedia until I read from another source I know I can generally trust. Now you know why I keep my Britannica subscription.)

Posted by john at 04:19 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

June 05, 2007

I Has A Kookie At The Disco

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Adam Rakunas notes in the previous thread he is the proud owner of a Sesame Street disco album. Then perhaps he'll recall this:

Oh, yes. "Scarred for life" are the words to use here.

Posted by john at 06:29 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

The Album I Have That You Don't

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Jesse & the 8th Street Kidz by Jesse Camp.

Top that, fools.

Posted by john at 05:41 PM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

Listen to Wrecking Ball

New music site Lala.com has reached some sort of licensing deal with Warner Music where it streams music and pays Warner a penny every time a song is played (you can also apparently also buy the music to download straight to your iPod).

What this agreement means is that I can point you to one of my favorite albums of all time, Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball, and you can listen to it and bow down to the unspeakable awesomeness that is Emmylou. Start with album opener "Where Will I Be," which is just monumentally great, and just let it play all the way through. If you're not ready to buy it by the time "Waltz Across Texas Tonight" is done, well, I don't want to say I'll respect you less, but, yeah. I probably will.

Seriously: Great album. Listen and enjoy.

Posted by john at 02:49 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Toby Buckell's Author Advance Survey

Author Tobias Buckell has been keeping tabs on author advances for the last couple of years, and now he's asking for authors to contribute more data to the survey, the better to help us all keep tabs on what authors are really getting paid, across publishers and genres. Toby will keep all data in confidence (he's done a fine job of doing that over the last couple of iterations).

If you're interested in participating, here's the link to Toby's entry on the survey.

Posted by john at 12:39 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 04, 2007

Somewhere Under the Rainbow

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The Scalzi Compound, 06/04/07.

In case you're wondering, we've got the Tin Man in the tool shed.

Posted by john at 08:26 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Your Comment Makes No Sense to Me, So Here's a Video

I swear to Holy Bleeding God that the next time I read a writer mewling out an "Oh noes!! The book market is changing! Weesa all gonna die!" message somewhere on the Internet, I'm going to track that writer down and beat them square on the head with a goddamn lead pipe. Honestly. Die already, then, you whiny, puffed-up, hand-wringing, passive, self-privileging sack of complaint and vomit.

That is all.

Rather than continue on this topic, which will just aggravate the living crap out of me, here's an Amy Winehouse video.

Posted by john at 11:53 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Agony Column Podcast and Review of The Last Colony

When I was on tour, I stopped in with Rick Kleffel of the Agony Column for a long and wide-ranging interview, in which we talked about the books, being online, my personal history, and so on. If you're interested, here's the link to that. I'm particularly pleased with the interview because it is almost entirely "um" and "uh" free. And that's hard to do.

Also Rick has posted a formal review of The Last Colony here, and it's a nice one:

'The Last Colony' will kick your butt across the cosmos and make you care. It will make you smile. As the conclusion to a series, it will simply satisfy readers. Maybe you'll even shed a tear or two.

Well, you know. I try. In any event, enjoy.

Posted by john at 08:39 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 03, 2007

Showing the Noblesse Oblige He is Known and Loved For

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Lopsided Cat among hoi polloi. Gracious of him, really.

This picture among others showing the domestic bliss of the Scalzi household, and also our plant-tending proclivities, await you in this Flickr set.

Posted by john at 11:17 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

The Face of the Ghost Brigades

This fellow purports to be the face you see on the cover of the Subterranean Press limited edition version of The Ghost Brigades; apparently he knows Vincent Chong, the artist, and Chong used his likeness. If true (and I don't particularly have reason to doubt him), I think this is pretty neat; I was wondering who the model might have been. Personally I think it looked like actor Neal McDonough, and thus might have been based a bit on him, but this works for me, too (I also think it's looks a bit like my childhood friend Tom Zimmer, but that's clearly just me). And given who the likeness is supposed to be, it makes this picture strangely poignant.

Posted by john at 09:38 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

June 02, 2007

Science Fiction and Electronic Submissions

I'm occasionally asked why I've never had a short story in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction. I've discussed the reason for this before, but it's been a while and enough has changed that I'll go ahead and address it again.

The reason I've never been in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction is:

I don't own a printer.

Which I would need in order to submit to any of those magazines, because none of them accept (unsolicited) electronic submissions. So in order to submit work to any of them, I would have to go out and purchase a printer, as well as ink cartridges, paper, stamps and envelopes. Then I'd have to get my act together enough to actually format, print and mail the story (and cover letter) off to the magazines. It could happen, but speaking from previous experience, i.e., during the years where I did own a printer and occasionally thought about querying magazines, it doesn't seem likely. Pretty much the only way I'm going to send anything to any of these magazines is if they start accepting (unsolicited) electronic submissions. I don't expect that to happen soon; they have their reasons for having their submission standards be what they are, and I certainly don't expect them to bend their rules for me. So: No Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction for me.

Yes, I'm aware how deeply idiotic this sounds. I know it because I'm not a fool, and I don't confuse my own slothful nature with a right state of affairs for everyone else. I also know it because at the last Worldcon, the editor of one of the previously-mentioned magazines said that he'd like to see some work from me, and I said "Yeah, but then I'd need to buy a printer, and stamps and envelopes, and I kinda don't wanna," and then he looked at me like I was bleeding ebola virus right from the head. Which, you know. Fair enough.

The thing is, the reason I don't own a printer is that I don't need one. I've done fine building a career in fiction, non-fiction and in business working with clients and markets that do work electronically. One of the reasons I didn't buy a new printer when my last one died in 2004 was that I used it so infrequently that I couldn't justify the cost; I mostly used it for printing up pictures of my kid and my cat. When that printer died I decided to wait and see if I had any real reason to get a new one. I'm still waiting.

Now, I exist in this sort of blessed state for two reasons. The first is that when people solicit work from me, I let them know that electronically is how I work. This generally doesn't present a problem; rare is the individual these days who can't accept an electronic document and work with it on their end, if they choose to. The second is that when I go looking for clients/markets or whatever, I look for the ones that will take work the way I work. There are a sufficient number of these that I don't typically have a problem finding opportunities. I don't do this just with writing markets; one of the reasons why Ethan Ellenberg is my fiction agent is that when I was looking for an agent, I went looking for one who would accept a query via e-mail. He would. Not the only reason I went with him, to be sure. But it actually was a requirement.

Likewise, with science fiction short stories, there are markets who work the way I work. Strange Horizons published my first short story and I've been a big fan ever since. These days most of my short fiction gets funneled through Subterranean Press, either on its online magazine or through chapbooks or limited editions. Indeed, daresay Subterranean Press is probably the place that best gets the power of working electronically. To explain why, let me recount the experience of selling this particular work: I wrote it and e-mailed it to Bill Schafer at Subterranean; he read at it, approved it and paid me for it through PayPal. Elapsed time from submission to payment: about fifteen minutes. All handled electronically. Welcome to the 21st century; we have many wonders here.

(But, you say, Subterranean Online doesn't have the same number of readers as any of the Big Three SF/F magazines. This is true enough; it's new and building an audience. However, I have the same number of readers; I averaged 26,000 visitors a day during the work week last week, which is pretty much on par with the monthly circulation of any of the Big Three. Not every one of them is going to click through to a story of mine when I link to it, but enough will that I can say not unreasonably that when one of my short stories gets posted, it won't lack for readers. What the Big Three still have that online and other SF/F markets don't is a majority of Hugo nominators among their readers; getting published in the Big Three is still the best way to get your work considered for that particular award. I don't know that that will always be the case, however.)

Would I like to be published in Analog, Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction? Sure; I like to read all of them and I like the idea of being part of a publishing continuity that includes so many of the authors I admire (this is assuming, mind you, that something I'd submit to them would be accepted for publication in the first place). But I'm not going to buy a printer just to send work to them. I'm not suggesting these magazines need to change their submission requirements, since nearly all other writers at the moment are not as profoundly electronically oriented as I am, or if they are, are not as gripped with ennui as I am when confronted with the need to print and mail something. I mean, I don't know why I manage to get away with this sort of crap; I don't suggest others do what I do.

That said, the native writing medium of nearly every writer my age or younger is electronic; I suspect at some point there'll be a bend in the curve where most writers will prefer to do their submissions electronically. Which is to say I strongly suspect most writers would prefer to do it that way now, and as time goes on more writers -- and the best writers -- will choose to hit first the markets that they see working the way they do. That day won't be a very good day for the markets that aren't working that way.

Posted by john at 07:32 PM | Comments (85) | TrackBack

The Only Two Things You Need to Know About Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Yes, yes. 40 years ago today and all that (here in the US, anyway; yesterday was the day in the UK). Look, everything you need to know about Sgt. Pepper's can be summed up in two points:

1. The album is ridiculously overrated.

2. If it were rated as it should be, not as it is, it would still be the greatest single music album of the rock era.

And now we're done. See? That was easy.

(Also: Personally? Abbey Road.)

Posted by john at 11:45 AM | Comments (60) | TrackBack

In Which I Speak of an Unspeakable Atrocity

For my mother-in-law, and at her request, I just burned a CD of 20 Jimmy Buffet tracks, ten of which -- every other track -- are "Margaritaville."

Every. Other. Track.

May God forgive me.

Posted by john at 12:59 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Hey

This short story is good.

Not exactly cheerful, mind you.

But good.

Posted by john at 12:38 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

June 01, 2007

General E-Mail Note

So, I neglected e-mail for a few days, because I suck, but I just caught up and sent out a veritable spate of missives. So if you sent me an e-mail in the last few days and were expecting a reply, and that reply doesn't arrive within the next couple of hours, feel free to ping me again. I shall endeavor to answer in a more timely fashion. Getting my sad ass organized is one of my goals for June.

Posted by john at 06:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Listing Announcement: Top 15 (or Maybe 20, We'll See) SF/F News/Group Blogs

Oh, all right. After getting more than one e-mail from proprietors of SF/F news and/or group blogs, complaining that it wasn't fair they've been excluded from the Top 50 SF/F Personal Blogs list, I've decided to whomp up another list, this one listing the top 15 or 20 (depending) SF/F News/Group blogs, which I will release at the same time as the previously mentioned personal blogs list.

To qualify for this listing, a blog must:

1. Cover news about science fiction primarily (i.e., not primarily a personal blog)

AND/OR

2. Be written by more than one person/couple

WHICH

3. Has as a majority of its authors Literary SF/F pros (writers, editors, etc) and/or self-identified SF/F fans

If it's an SF/F news site, clearly it needs to be about SF/F; non-news group blogs, however, don't need to have their contents always be about SF/F.

If you run/are a member of one of these blogs, or even are just a fan, you can submit it (name, URL, Technorati ranking) for consideration (I can think of several off the top of my head, but I don't pretend to know them all). Drop your suggestions in the comment thread or e-mail me with the words "GROUP SF BLOG" in the header (even if it's a news blog) so I can keep it all organized.

As I've not ranked news/group blogs before, I have no minimum Technorati ranking for consideration, although I suspect that if your ranking is below 200,000 or so you won't stand much chance.

As with the personal blogs, please get these into me by 6/15/07, so I can bang out the list after that. Also, of course, feel free to spread the news and link back. The more data I have, the happier I'll be.

Any questions? Put 'em in the comment thread.

Posted by john at 03:52 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Threepeat!

athenaaward0607.jpg

For the third year running, Athena's gotten a creative writing award at the year end ceremonies for her school. Excellent. She's the writer in the Scalzi household with the most writing awards; the only way for me to catch up is if I win the Prometheus and the Fan Writer Hugo this year. I suspect I'll be continuing to lag behind. Fortunately, this suggests my daughter will be in a position to take care of me in my old age, which I plan on beginning around age 45 or so. Hey, she'll be 17 then. More than enough time for her to write a bestseller or three.

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

Why John is a Happy Boy

Because he just got tickets to see this band in August, when they come within a 200-mile radius of where he lives:

Which makes him a happy boy, because he's not seen them live before. Go me!

Posted by john at 11:50 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

SciFi Essentials + Soliciting Data for Update of Top 50 Personal SF/F Blogs List

First off, congratulations to Tobias Buckell, whose book Ragamuffin is this month's SciFi Essential book. It's a nice accolade to have, and in my experience it does drive sales, and driving sales is a good thing (it doesn't hurt that Ragamuffin is a hella fun book, too). The book itself is slated for release on the 12th, which is coincidentally the same day Jay Lake's novel Mainspring hits the stores. You're going to want to get both, I assure you.

For myself, I will note that today is the official release of the UK version of Old Man's War; previously it had only been available as a US import. No longer! Now the book has the price in pounds right there on the cover. OMW is also the Science Fiction Book of the Month for Waterstone's, which is the UK's largest bookstore chain. Excellent.

Second off, some time later this month I'm going to update my list of the top 50 personal SF/F blogs, in which I rank the most popular blogs from SF/F lit pros and fans, as ranked via Technorati (here's the last update, from December 2006). This list is generated through blogs I know about, which means that there are probably some SF/F blogs which should be on the list but are not. I want to make the list as accurate as possible.

So: I am actively soliciting data on SF/F blogs for inclusion into this list. If you are an SF/F literature pro (this includes writers, editors, copy editors, artists, book designers) or SF/F literature fan, and you want your personal blog (details coming) to be considered for the list -- or are just someone who thinks a particular blog should be on the list -- here's what you do:

1. Take the URL of the blog (or, for those with blogs on their own domains, the domain URL, which is likely to have a slightly higher Technorati ranking) and enter it into Technorati's search bar.

2. When the result pops up, look at the "Rank" number (not the "Authority" number)

3. If the rank number is above 50,000 (1 - 49,999), let me know either in the comment thread below, or by sending me an e-mail with the words "SF PERSONAL BLOG RANK" in the header (this will help me sort e-mails). If the number is below 50,000 (50,000 -- infinity), the blog's not going to be on the list. Sorry.

4. If you're already on the most recent list, you don't need to send me the information -- I'll check your current ranking when I make up the new list.

5. Please get me your data by 6/15/07, so I can update the list a week or so later.

6. Don't freak out or get competitive about it. It's just a silly list, for God's sake.

Now, for those who need clarification on what I define as a "SF/F personal blog", it's this:

* A blog/journal written by a single individual or partnered couple (i.e., not a group blog)
* A blog/journal not primarily intended as a commercial endeavor and/or a general SF/F news site
* The blog/journal is written by someone who works professionally in the SF/F publishing (as opposed to working primarily in TV/movies/comics/videogames) and/or personally identifies strongly with SF/F fandom.
* The blog/journal itself does not have to be primarily about SF/F.

Let me know if you have any questions.

When I have all the data collected, I'll combine it with the data I am collecting myself, review the sites and publish an updated list, probably in the third or fourth week of June. Should be fun.

Naturally, since I am seeking data, feel free to tell people about this and to link back to this entry. Thanks.


Posted by john at 09:35 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack