I’m Participating in Nerdcon: Stories This October in Minneapolis

And what is Nerdcon: Stories? This informational video might help:

There’s also this ginchy Web site, with even more information.

And for those of you who stubbornly refuse to follow links, the guests (aside from me) include: John and Hank Green, Holly Black and Cassie Claire, Katherine Woodson, Patrick Rothfuss, Mary Robinette Kowal, Welcome to Nightvale, Steven Brust, Kimya Dawson, Paolo Bacigalupi and the proverbial many others.

It’s happening October 9th and 10th at the Minneapolis Convention Center. You should be there. Here’s the link again.

See you there!

Novel Completion Queries, Day Twelve

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: What is the furthest away you’ve ever been from your home?

My answer: So far, Melbourne, Australia, which is (or so Google tells me) 9,807 miles from my current hometown of Bradford, Ohio.

However, that record is about to be broken, because on Sunday I get on a plane to Perth, Australia, which is 11,167 miles away, to be the International Guest of Honor at Swancon 40.  As the circumfrence of the Earth (at the equator is 24,902 miles), meaning one can only get 12,451 miles from hom before one starts inching back, it’s entirely possible that Perth is just about as far as I can get from Bradford and still be dry land — Indeed, another quick check of Google shows that the spot on Earth exactly opposite of Bradford is a spot in the Indian Ocean almost equidistant from Perth and a small island I’ve never heard of before called the French Southern and Antarctic Lands — and even then Perth (11,167 miles away) is further from my hometown than that island is (11,005 miles).

So yeah, very soon I will very literally be on the other side of the world from my home, nearly as far away from it as it is possible to get. That’s a little weird if you think about it.

How far have you gotten from home?

The Big Idea: Cat Rambo

How long does a world exist for an author before it makes it into a novel? Sometimes it can be a long time indeed. As Cat Rambo explains, the world in which her novel Beasts of Tabat takes place was a land she knew and wrote about well before this novel came to be.

CAT RAMBO: 

The big idea behind my book, Beasts of Tabat, is an exploration of oppression and how it’s justified and organized, played out against a backdrop of a fantasy city that I’ve written in time and time again.

That city is Tabat, which is situated on the southern coast of what’s called the New Continent. Its counterpart, the Old Continent, lies far to the east, and is primarily a devastated landscape ravaged by the magic of the warring sorcerers that once battled there. The New Continent fears and immediately kills sorcerers, but the humans living there also depend on something supposedly initially created by those sorcerers: Beasts.

“Beast” is the term applied to any intelligent magical creature, ranging from dragons to dryads, and the city of Tabat depends on both their labor and sometimes their physical bodies. Beasts of Tabat focuses on the city at a moment of intense political upheaval, when the Beasts are first starting to rise up. We tend to both demonize and infantalize those who we oppress, and I’ve tried to show some of that in the book.

That’s a hard theme to grapple with, and not one to lends itself to light banter. One of the things I’ve worked hard at is not making it an unrelentingly grim book, and I think I’ve succeeded, though that remains to be seen. I’ve tried to make Tabat a place of wonder, like the fantasy cities I’ve loved: Lankhmar, Ambergris, far away Kadath. That’s the backdrop against which this theme plays out, a world full of entrancing things like a College of Mages, and the overhead trams that take Tabatians from one of the city’s fifteen terraces to the next. But it’s a world that depends, economically, on oppression.

It’s not a new theme for me, and I’ve written multiple stories set in the world of Tabat. Next month “Primaflora’s Journey,” a novelette based on a chunk that got excised from the book, will appear in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which has previously published “Love, Resurrected,” which is set on the Old Continent in the days of the sorcerer kings. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Clarkesworld, and Weird Tales.

It’s a world that I love, and that I know well, not just from the stories I’ve written in it, but because it originally started as a game area for a MUD that never saw daylight. The room descriptions had a pretty intricate way of altering themselves according to factors like season, time of day, moon phase, etc, which made writing descriptions laborious but beautiful, and in many ways it helped me fleshing out Tabat: the smell of fish on the wind when you’re near the fish market, the shifting colors of the Moonway tiles, the great waterfall that falls into a circle of nothingness in the center of the Duke’s Plaza.

That’s been a big advantage, but at the same time, making the city as much a character as anyone else in the book has been a challenge, sometimes leading me to mistakes that sent me down wrong paths. At one point the book had eight different POVs, plus notes in between each chapter. Splitting some of that into book two has been a smart move, and has let me rely on two point of view characters: Teo, a young boy who’s just come to the city, and his hero, Bella Kanto, one of the gladiators who enact Tabat’s ritual battles.

This is the first volume of a quartet, and I’m hard at work on book two, Hearts of Tabat, which moves to a different set of characters centered on Bella’s best friend and former lover, Adelina. It’ll be followed by Exiles of Tabat and then Gods of Tabat. I’m very excited to have the book that I’ve worked on so long finally go out into the world.

—-

Beasts of Tabat: Amazon. Beasts of Tabat also debuts this weekend at Emerald City ComicCon.

Read a short excerpt, plus some ancilliary material about Tabat. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Novel Completion Queries, Day Eleven

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: When you were fifteen, what was your favorite electric or electronic object? These can be computers, toys, phones, televisions, game consoles, etc. You get the idea.

My answer: Eddie Chowaiki’s Macintosh. He had one of the first of these computers, and I was in his dorm room constantly, using it to write short stories and other such things. I strongly suspect for a while there I was using it more than he was.

You?

Proof That Science Fiction Is the Literature of the Future, and That I Am the Prognostication MASTER

In The Android’s Dream, which I wrote over a decade ago now, I reached into the thinky crevasses of my brain to conceive of a thing that no human had dared to dream of: white chocolate M&M’s. Yes! I was the first! They came from my very thinkmeat! And people said to me then, well, hold up there, Scalzi. Spaceships and aliens are all very well, but white chocolate M&M’s? That’s too radical an idea! And then they laughed, nervously.

WELL WHO IS LAUGHING NOW, PEOPLE:

Yes. Arthur C. Clarke had communication satellites, Robert Heinlein had waterbeds, and now I have white chocolate M&M’s. I predicted this magnificent confection of the future! I did! Me! Alone!

YOUR WORLD IS WHAT I HAVE MADE IT, PUNY HUMANS. PARTAKE OF THE PEARLESCENT PRODUCT OF MY PRODIGIOUSLY UNPARALLELED PROGNOSTICATION.

I’ll take my Grand Master award now, if you please.

Novel Completion Queries, Day Ten

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Do you feel lucky?

My answer: I do, but I also believe strongly that with luck it isn’t the “lucky” thing that happens to you, but what you do in the aftermath of that event that matters.

You?

Novel Completion Queries, Day Nine

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: What’s the first book you remember reading — meaning, the first book you were able to read on your own, front to back, without help from someone else. If you can’t remember the title, describe the contents/story of the book.

My answer: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss, an author I suspect will turn up a lot here. I was reading when I was two so I don’t really remember not being able to read, but this was the first book I actually have a memory of reading.

You?

Novel Completion Queries, Day Eight

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: In honor of convention runner Peggy Rae Sapienza, who passed away yesterday: Name the first convention you went to. It can be a science fiction/comics/nerd-oriented convention (which I suspect is most typical for this crowd), but I’d also count conventions/shows for other enthusiasms as well — cars, video games, pets, etc. The convention should have been open to the public and have something more than just a sales floor — so panels, speakers, specialized interests rooms, etc. If you’ve never been to a convention, it’s okay to note that too.

My answer: Journalcon 2000, in Pittsburgh. It was a small gathering of folks who were writing blogs back in the day — so long ago they were called “online journals” or “online diaries” rather than “blogs” a word which was probably invented by then but didn’t have much currency. And it was a lovely time, and I met in the flesh a number of people who I am still friends with today, along with some others who, alas, have drifted off  — most of those online diaries from the turn of the century are not still active anymore. Here’s a picture of me singing karaoke at that convention. Oh, karaoke, you never let us down.

My first SF/F convention was Torcon 3 in Toronto, in 2003. It was where I first met many of the authors and SF/F folks who I count as very good friends today. Honestly, conventions have been pretty good to me, in terms of meeting people who have since become my friends, and have stayed so.

You?

RIP, Peggy Rae Sapienza

Saw these tweets this morning:

Indeed she will be missed. When I was president of SFWA, I had the good fortune of working with Peggy Rae on the Nebula Awards Weekend, and I can attest that she was one of the good ones. She knew what she was doing, and she made it look, if not easy (running conventions is not easy) then at least manageable. I do remember that at one point during my tenure as president I made the off-hand comment that after a certain date I would be turning my attention more to the Nebula Awards, and getting a polite but pointed note from Peggy Rae asking “what exactly does that mean?” To which I responded something along the lines of, “it means that I will do nothing to get in your way but will back you up when and if you need it.” Which appears to have been the right answer all the way around.

She was also the Fan Guest of Honor at Chicon 7, the Worldcon at which I was the Toastmaster, and never was there a fan more deserving. From the bio note on the Chicon 7 site:

She ran Programming and Special Events for ConStellation, the 1983 Worldcon in Baltimore. She ran Exhibits, Registration, the Dealers’ Room, Information, Press Relations and the Newsletter (the “Second Floor Division”) with Fred Isaacs for Noreascon III in 1989 in Boston. She also conceptualized and managed the ConCourse for which Noreascon III was known. She served as Vice-Chairman for ConFrancisco, the 1993 Worldcon in San Francisco. Her many accomplishments in fandom were crowned by her serving as Chairman of Bucconeer, the 1998 Worldcon in Baltimore. More recently she helped Japanese fandom bring the Worldcon to Japan in 2007 and served as their North American Agent.

Those are some excellent accomplishments for which anyone could be proud.

Finally, I’m happy to say I considered Peggy Rae a friend, and deeply admired her competence and her cheerfulness in being so. If Peggy Rae was running things, basically, I felt in safe hands.

All thoughts to her family and friends today. She’ll be remembered not only by them, but by all of science fiction fandom.

Novel Completion Queries, Day Seven

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Salted caramel. Thoughts?

My answer: I mean, I like it well enough when I have it. But I think the craze got a little carried away. Not everything has to be salted.

You?

(Extra credit: Do you pronounce “caramel” as “Care-a-mel” or “car-mel”? I usually tend toward the latter.)

Novel Completion Queries, Day Six

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Favorite Saturday morning cartoon, if you are of an age to remember when cartoons were only shown on Saturday morning (if you’re too young for that, spare a moment for those of us who suffered in such deprivation).

My answer: The Bugs Bunny show (in its various incarnations) because even at a single-digit age, I could tell the difference in quality between that and, oh, Superfriends (not that I didn’t watch Superfriends. I did. I had standards but they were very flexible).

You?

In Which Mary Robinette Kowal Reads My Sexy, Sexy Tweets

So yesterday evening I was feeling saucy and decided to invite all of Twitter in my Lair of Sexiness™. It went a little something like this:

Then, in conversation, I noted that Mary Robinette Kowal should read them in her Phone Sex Voice™, because that would be awesome. Well, guess what?

Truly, this is the best of all possible worlds.

Novel Completion Queries, Day Five

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: What year of your education do you remember as being your best — “best” for whatever metric you like (most enjoyable, most academically successful, most memorable, etc, or any combination). Choose any year between kindergarten and the completion of your formal education.

My answer: I’d say it was my third year in college. I was well-established at school (i.e., I knew people and people knew me), I had friends I really enjoyed being with, I was editor-in-chief of the newspaper, which was a job I really enjoyed, and I was focused on being there, rather than having to think about what was going to happen next, which is to say, graduation and getting a job and so on. I had a really good time of it, I have to say.

You?

Novel Completion Queries, Day Four

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Cheese or beer. You must choose one. When you choose one, you are never allowed to have the other again. Which do you choose? (Note: no “cheese made from beer” or “beer made from cheese” loopholes allowed.) Explain your answer if you wish.

Yes, it’s a hard choice. It’s supposed to be hard.

My answer: I don’t drink alcohol at all, so this one is easy for me: Cheese, please.

You?

Novel Completion Queries, Day Three

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Assuming the ethical considerations could somehow be squared away, would you want a monkey for a pet? That’s a monkey, not an ape (don’t have apes as pets. It’s a bad idea.)

My answer: Having a questionably domesticated animal with opposable thumbs in one’s house seems fraught with complication, especially when you’re lazy, like me.

Your thoughts?

Novel Completion Queries, Day Two

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Name a favorite song in a genre that you don’t typically listen to.

My answer: “My Friend (So Long)” by DC Talk, in the Contemporary Christian genre:

Because it’s a pretty sassy song in which (as I understand it) the band addresses the accusations that they sold out by becoming popular in the mainstream — the album this song was on showed up in the Billboard Top Ten, which in the 90s was a nice achievement (and still is, actually). I’m definitely not the Contemporary Christian market demographic, but this song’s attitude and presentation always worked for me. Among more contemporary bands, I could see someone like Muse doing a song like this.

You?

(PS: If you link to a video in your answer, it’s possible your comment will be punted into moderation automatically. Don’t panic, I’ll check in every once in a while to release moderated comments.)

The Big Idea: Brian Upton

It’s fair to say that Brain Upton knows about a bit about video games: He’s the co-founder of games studio Redstorm Entertainment, was the lead designer of several games there, and currently works at Sony. It’s also fair to say that Upton has thought about what game design means more than most people ever will. The result of both that experience and that theorizing is The Aesthetic of PlayUpton’s here to explain how this book differs from other treatsies on game design, and why it matters.

BRIAN UPTON:

The Aesthetic of Play exists because I was unhappy with other books on game design. They were good at explaining the mechanics of playable systems – how to build fun levels or write interesting rules – but they were not so good at explaining how meaning emerges from the experience of interacting with those systems.

The idea of meaning-making with games is important to me because I believe that games have tremendous untapped artistic potential. Many designers are groping toward something bigger, and recently there have been some games (Journey, Portal, The Last of Us, to name a few) that have hinted at the possibilities of the medium.  But we’ve been held back by the lack of a critical methodology. We’ve tried to adapt literary theory to our purposes, but it’s been an uncomfortable fit. (If you’ve heard of the “narratology/ludology wars” you know just how uncomfortable a fit it’s been.) Books are made of words, and so the meanings they generate are often easy to articulate. But games traffic in the ineffable. A great game can change us, but it’s frequently hard to describe exactly what the change was, or how it came about.

So The Aesthetic of Play began with me sitting, alone and dissatisfied, at a table at the Game Developers Conference in 2008. I was thinking about a future talk I might give about meaningful play, and I sketched out a rough set of diagrams to help me organize my thoughts about how players experience games. Instead of concentrating on rules and interactions, I focused on players’ moment-to-moment intentions and beliefs: What did the player think was happening? What moves did he think he was making? Or even … what moves was he making without thinking? Over the course of several months following the conference, this player-centric model of game analysis gradually coalesced into a set of design heuristics – a list of “rules for interesting experiences” that was significantly different from the “rules for interesting systems” that most game design books teach.

And then things got weird.

It was my wife’s fault. She’s a professor of music history at UCLA and she’s interested in songs, both old and new. Songs are a hard thing to be interested in if you’re a music history professor because they’re seriously under-theorized. If you study symphonies (for example) there’s a huge body of scholarship you can draw on that’s directed toward how symphonies operate as systems. But songs are so simple that there’s not a lot to be gained by that sort of structural analysis. You can catalog the chord progressions in “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but that doesn’t get you very far toward understanding why listening to a Beatles song is so powerful.

As my wife and I talked to each other about our work, we slowly came to realize that I was answering many of the questions she was asking. The same methods I was using to analyze player experience could also be used to analyze listener experience. In fact, they could be used to analyze any sort of aesthetic experience.  I’m not a musicologist, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing up our observations in musical terms. But I do know a fair bit literary theory, so I wound up translating our conversations about aesthetics and play and music into a methodology for close reading of texts. Basically, instead of trying to adapt literary theory to analyze games, I invented a new way to use game design to analyze literature.

All of this came together in the first draft of a book near the end of 2010. At the time it was called Gaming the System (which I can see in retrospect was a horrible title). I sent it off to MIT Press, my first-choice publisher, and was rejected. It was a “revise and resubmit” though, not an outright “no”, which was encouraging. The editor said he liked a lot of what I’d written, but that the manuscript felt like two books stitched together. He had a hard time understanding how the heuristics of game design related to the analysis of narrative.

Fixing this problem was hard. I could feel the connection between the two halves of the book, but I didn’t have the language to articulate it. So before I started revising, I spent several years researching philosophy, neuroscience, and semiotics in order to construct an explanation for how these seemingly disparate ideas are linked. This deep dive strengthened the book in unexpected ways. Not only did I rewrite the entire manuscript from start to finish, but I wound up adding four new chapters exploring the philosophical ramifications of this approach to thinking about games and art.

The final draft of The Aesthetic of Play is as much about epistemology as it is about games. It uses play as the starting point for investigating how we exist as thinking creatures within an unfolding universe. It explores how a tendency toward play is an unavoidable byproduct of a particular epistemological stance – we don’t play to learn; we play as a consequence of being able to learn. And it shows how adopting this model of aesthetic reception offers surprising insights into narrative questions – why certain plot structures work better than others, for example, or how foreshadowing functions.

I realize this probably sounds ridiculously ambitious for what started as a simple book about game design. I didn’t set out to write a philosophy book, or a narratology book.  The manuscript just went in that direction because I couldn’t figure out any other way to answer the questions I found myself asking. My wife is happy though. We joke that I gave her a critical theory as a present. The two of us are currently collaborating on a book about play and music. It’s not clear yet where that book is going either, but we’re certainly asking ourselves some interesting questions.

—-

The Aesthetic of Play: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book page at MIT Press. Follow the author on Twitter.

Novel Completion Queries, Day One

Is the novel finished? NO

Today’s question: Talk about your first serious crush. It can be someone you knew, or a celebrity crush. If someone you knew, do you still know that person?

My answer: It was Karin Woo, back in 7th grade. I was obnoxious to her, she would shove me into my locker, it was lurve (at least on my end). We became pretty good friends later in life. I still know her. She’s awesome.

You?