(And yes, this is the Monday news, a little early.)
(And yes, I will write more about it. Probably tomorrow.)
(And yes, this is the Monday news, a little early.)
(And yes, I will write more about it. Probably tomorrow.)
They’re still doing the counting but everyone knows how it’s going to go: Ireland is going to have marriage equality, and be the first country to have it via popular vote. And to be clear, it looks like the vote isn’t going to be close; it’ll be on the order of 2:1 saying “yes.” That’s a lovely thing, it is.
Some of my forebears are Irish, so I feel it is all right for me to feel some pride in Ireland and its people making this call for equality. If I drank, I would raise a pint of Guinness to them. I may do that anyway, and then give the pint over to Krissy, who will take it from there.
In any event. Well done, Ireland. Well done indeed.
I’ve been asked a few times if I plan to write any reviews of the Hugo nominees this year after I’ve read them. The answer: No, I don’t. One, if you look at my general modus operandi around Hugos, I don’t ever really comment on what I think of the merits of the individual nominees* until after the voting window has closed. Two, this year, this policy seems even more advisable as there are excitable people who would point out any reviews on my part as scale-tipping, regardless of what the review said. Three, as a general rule, in public, I try not to say negative things about the work of other writers. I will make exceptions from time to time. But generally, I avoid it.
Note well that I have not been shy about expressing my opinion regarding certain Puppies and their actions in creating the slates and pushing them onto the ballots. My opinions of them regarding these actions should be considered independent of what I might think of their nominations, to the extent that any of them are on the ballot. Even assholes are capable of noteworthy work, generally speaking.
If you are looking for reviews, there are many online, so you will not lack for them. And as ever, what I encourage you to do is read the work yourself and make your own mind. Here I will offer up one pro tip: It’s perfectly allowed to stop reading the work before the end, if you already realize there’s no way you’re going to give it the award. I never feel obliged to finish a story or novel once I realize it’s not working for me. Note I was like that long before I ever got nominated for awards, or started reading works to give them awards. I’ve always been a mercenary reader.
But, yeah. If you were expecting me to snark anything on the ballot here on Whatever, you’re going to be disappointed. Sorry.
* I’ll note that there are some things on the Hugo ballot this year that I was on record praising before they made the ballot, most notably The Goblin Emperor. Obviously I stand by previous praise, and would equally note that if you are voting for the Hugos this year you should read it yourself, along with the other nominees in the category, and then go with your own decision as to which of the nominees deserves the award.
As we go into the weekend, a nice collection of new books and ARCs for you to peruse and to consider for your own collections. What looks interesting to you? You have a whole comment thread in which to opine!
A few things I wish to put onto your radar, or put back on, as the case may be:
1. A reminder that next week at this time I will be the author guest of honor at ConCarolinas, in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina, along with other very cool people. Come down and say hello to us all! We promise not to bite. You have to pay extra for that. But even without the biting, it will be a ton of fun. Hope to see you there.
If you’re already playing the game, you knew about this update; if you’re not playing it yet (on iOS; the Android version is still in the works), then this is a very fine time to pick it up. Have fun!
3. Monday will be an interesting day. You’ll know why when it happens. That’s all I’m saying right now.
In describing how The Vorrh came out of him, author Brian Catling pretty accurately makes a point about creation that I think many creative people can agree with — before it comes out, there’s so much that has to go on inside.
I have answered more identical questions about The Vorrh than anything else in my life. The core ones being about its origins and the process of its construction. When I explain that it was probably brewing for thirty years and that once it escaped it wrote me, then the problems begin, especially as I have not stopped writing since it was finished. Words like channelled and cathartic appear in other people’s mouths. So I did what I know best, I consulted perversity and made something else. Made it out of lead, glass, Perspex and electrical motors, transparent piping, feather quills, wiring and pumps. An extension of my hand, tiny eccentric engines giving the tip of each finger a life of its own, eerie and totally against anatomical grace and favour. Instead of blood the quills and their nibs are pumped with warm water and compressed black ink. When it ‘goes off’ it surges and gushes, staining the room and its operator’s disability with saturated steaming shadows. I did not know it was literal until it was finished and switched on.
There is another tale of loose hands that I wrote in a grim poetic series many years before. Hands running through the back alleys and murder yards of Whitechapel, scratching sparks and gouges from the wet walls with hooked nails, fleeing, forcing themselves into flesh and infamy. I think they also wrote a true channel for The Vorrh to play, like a needle on black shining disk.
I always had the title, the opening scene and the conclusion and once the work finally began to turn, I had to invent everything else in-between. A wonderful savage awakening that had nothing to do with mapped out plot, or carefully observed character. I became each personality and principle in the book. Living equally the events of each man, demon, woman, monster and ghost. Each writing themselves visually. Without a pennyweight of the critical skills, or a daub of the doubt. A necessary blindness to let the mystery and the presence of The Vorrh overwhelm me. In all modesty, I thought I was writing a slender obscure surrealistic work that would hopefully exist in the sacred margins of esoteric imagination. What arrived was quite different. An enormous birth without a shadow of pain.
The Vorrh is the vast African forest that Raymond Roussell invited in his masterpiece of surrealism, Impressions of Africa. He never much cared for its detail and used it only as a painted backdrop. I have put aside my reverence and dragged him screaming into the depth of this new Vorrh, along with several other ‘actuals’, such as Edweard Muybridge. The Vorrh is the first book in a trilogy, with the unwanted forth already remotely clawing at the inside of my skull, like another disembodied hand.
So, here you go. Enjoy.
A couple of weeks ago I posted my very first Sundance TV film column, in which put Star Wars characters into brackets (light side of the force vs. dark side) to see who among all the characters would confront each other in the final battle of Star Wars good vs. evil.
Well, the brackets are all tallied up and we are down to our champions — and one of them, at least, is likely to be a complete surprise. Find out who they are and put in your vote for the ultimate victor in the Star Wars universe. Will the dark side prevail? Shall good triumph? It’s up to you! Go vote!
Today was the last day of 10th grade for Athena, and per tradition here, she stood for portraiture marking this auspicious occasion. Those of you with excellent memories will note she is wearing the same ensemble as she did for the first day. This is not a coincidence.
The good news: In his novel Devil in the Wires, author Tim Lees has solved our energy crisis! The bad news… well, let’s just say that you’re the sort to blaspheme, your electricity might flicker a bit in protest. Here’s Lees to explain it further.
You don’t have to be religious to feel a sense of awe when you stand in some big temple or cathedral, especially if it’s old, or built on the site of a still older shrine, as many are. Places of worship can date back millennia, and through more than one faith. Sacred sites are sacred for a reason. Whatever they may now be, once upon a time, they were home to strange, inhuman forces – beings which, for want of a better term, we might call “gods.”
From the ancient, to the modern. We all know about the energy crisis. Fossil fuels are running out, alternative energy supplies – we’re told – will never match the shortfall.
It’s a grim scenario. But what if there was something else, a source of power till now almost untapped? What if you could mine the psychic energy stored in churches, shrines and other sacred places? Energy built up through years of worship, prayer and entreaty – what if you could take that and convert it into usable electric power?
Well, that’s the first Big Idea. Those gods are still there. They’re what gets turned into electric power. They’re what lights our cities, cooks our meals, powers our Playstations and TVs. Ancient gods: the latest source of fuel.
I love mash-ups. Genre-wise, ramming together two totally disparate elements (and making them work) is just about my favorite activity. Back when I still had musical ambitions, I was once asked for a keyboard solo on a reggae track. I looked at the range of sounds available and thought, Ah-ha! Church organ! Why not? Nothing, of course, could have been less appropriate, which was exactly why I chose it. To me, it sounded great. To everybody else… well. Let’s just say there was no subsequent boom in church organ reggae, and I am now a writer, not a musician.
So, with Devil in the Wires, I’ve taken an element from genre fantasy – the kind of gods that Conan or Elric were always running into – and kicked it into the present day. Needless to say, the gods have undergone some changes in the process. They are still genii loci – spirits of place – and repositories of immense power, but for the most part (and with one exception) they’re a lot less humanized, a lot more alien. To stand before them can be a bit like suffering a seriously bad acid trip. Simply to perceive them can be dangerous. As for actually collecting them, that’s the sort of job which requires a specialist. Not just for specialized equipment, but also for a special frame of mind.
Enter Big Idea number two: Chris Copeland, professional god hunter, already worried he’s been in the job too long, and his luck (much like those fossil fuels) might soon be running out.
Have you ever wondered how the guys in fantasy stories make their cash? How they pay the rent? Batman, supposedly, runs a multi-billion dollar business empire, and still stays out all night crime-fighting. (Really?) Indiana Jones works at a university which requires neither the grading of papers nor writing of research publications, nor, presumably, returning from the wilds in time for class. Great fun, but I wanted something I could actually believe, and a counterpoint to the massive, numinous forces at work throughout so much of the book.
I mentioned mash-ups. There’s the concept of burning gods for energy – pure fantasy. So to ground it all, I thought I’d put it in a context so familiar everyone can recognize it: the daily grind of company drudge work.
Chris works for the Registry. It’s a business. It’s secretive, but it’s not the secret service. It’s not some underground cabal. It’s the kind of place where you or I might work, though hopefully in a different capacity. And Chris is an employee. He has paperwork to file. He has bosses he doesn’t trust. Like most people on the ground floor of a business, he often has a better idea what’s going on than his managers do. And that’s the source of much of the humor in the book. Because humor is the way we survive, it’s the thing that gets us through our day-jobs, especially if our day-jobs might just threaten our health, our sanity, and our lives.
One final matter. I’m a Brit, now resident in the US. Devil in the Wires starts in Iraq, makes a couple of stops in Paris and London, then races on to Chicago, where I’ve lived the last few years. Here’s a thing about us SF/fantasy types: we never feel at home in a place until we’ve smashed it, shattered it, invaded it with aliens, sent monsters roaring through its streets and exposed its seedy, supernatural underbelly to the world. Now, at last, I give Chicago what it needs: an ancient god, a crazy scheme for powering a city, three or four assorted killers, and a hero who’s torn between earning a crust and doing the right thing (no prizes for guessing which side he comes down on).
Believe me: it’s an act of love.
(Warning: Hugo neepery follows. Ignore if bored with the topic.)
Now that the Hugo voter packet is out, I’m getting asked rather a lot, mostly with an air of confidentiality, how I plan to vote in this year, what with the actual democratic nature of the Hugo nomination balloting representing hundreds of individual viewpoints subverted by a couple of jerks who created interlocking slates (one prominently featuring work created by one of these jerks’ own publishing company) and encouraged people, either bluntly or with a wink and a nod, to vote a straight ticket rather than come up with their own independent choices. People are wondering whether I plan to put all the nominees pushed by the slates under the “No Award” option, or simply leave them off my final ballot altogether, after placing “No Award” below the works/people I feel are legitimate choices.
My short answer is no, I don’t plan to do that. I will detail my longer answer in a second. But before I do, some thoughts to the Hugo voters this year:
To the people planning to put everything/everyone on Puppy slates below “No Award” or leave them off your ballot altogether: This is a solid and totally legitimate choice to make, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. My understanding is that at least one of the head Puppies has been notably petulant on the subject recently, which is a matter of some irony. If you believe that slates are inimical to Hugo balloting, or wish to register your disapproval of the selections this year, or think that the Puppies are assholes who deserve to be smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, or any other reason you choose to No Award them, it is your right, and some would argue, your responsibility, to vote them below “No Award” or leave them off the ballot entirely (after having placed “No Award” below your last actual choice). If this is your path, then rock on with yourself.
To the people planning to vote on the nominees as if it were a completely normal year: This is also a solid and totally legitimate choice to make, and you should also not let anyone tell you any different. Because you might not think slates matter much one way or another, or you might think the individual nominees, no matter how they arrived on the final ballot, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect, or you might simply think “cool, stuff to read” and just get to it, or any other reason you might have to read and rate. Again: This is your path? Cool. Rock on.
To the people somewhere in the middle, for whatever reason: Hey, you know what? That’s fine too. It’s okay to be conflicted. After all, not everyone on a slate asked to be there, or there might be some people on a slate who you think should have been nominated regardless, or in your reading you might find something on a slate that blows you away and deserves a shot, or (again) whatever — it’s your ballot and your choice for voting. Rock on with your choices.
The short version of all of the above: If you vote your own conscience, there is no wrong way to vote for the Hugos. There is, simply, your vote. It’s your own choice. Think about it, take your vote seriously — and then vote. No one can or should ask you to do anything otherwise.
With that as preamble:
I think the slates are bullshit, and I think the people who created them (and at least some of the people on them) are acting like petulant, whiny crybabies and/or obnoxious, self-aggrandizing opportunists. I’m also aware some slate choices were not made aware they had been put on slates, or were placed on them under false pretenses. Some of those so slated chose to leave the ballot, which I think is impressive and well done them, but I can’t really fault those who chose to stay, not in the least because for some of them it would be politically or personally awkward to withdraw, for various reasons. And, on the principle that a stopped clock can be correct twice a day, it’s entirely possible something or someone that is a slate choice is genuinely deserving of consideration for the Hugo, and I am loath to discount that, particularly if the person to whom the award would be given was also an unwilling (or misinformed) draftee onto a slate.
So here is my plan:
1. I am going to look back on my own Hugo nomination ballot, and identify in each category the work/person I nominated that I judged to be my “last place” choice in the category.
2. When confronted with a nominee on the final ballot who was placed there by a slate, I will ask myself: “Is this work/person better than my own ‘last place’ nominee?”
3. If the answer is ‘yes,” then I will rank that work/person above “No Award” on my final ballot, and otherwise rank them accordingly to my own preference.
4. If the answer is “no,” then I won’t put that work/person on my ballot at all, and I will put “No Award” below my choices in the category so it’s clear that I would prefer no award given than to offer the Hugo to anything/anyone I’ve left off the ballot.
This, for me, strikes the appropriate balance between fairness to the nominees on the slates, and registering disapproval for the concept of slating. This way, if the work is genuinely good in my own estimation, it gets a fair hearing. But if it’s not, out it goes — and not just out, but also suffering the existential ignominy of “No Award” being preferred over it or them.
As I think this is a decent plan, I naturally encourage people to adopt it for their own, or adapt it for their own purpose. For those Hugo voters who didn’t nominate this year, I would suggest either creating a mock nomination ballot to use as a guideline, or using another award final ballot as a substitute. Here’s this year’s Nebula ballot, and here’s this year’s Locus finalist list. Choose your least favorite work in each category and use that as the benchmark.
But remember: It’s your vote and your choice. With the Hugos, it’s a very good year to take both seriously. Don’t let anyone keep you from voting your own conscience.
The first review of The End of All Things is in at Kirkus Reviews, and I’m very pleased to say that it’s received a star (i.e., notation for being especially good).
The full review has some spoilery content, so be warned; here’s the link to it. For those who just want the gist, here’s a relevant excerpt:
It’s classic crowd-pleasing Scalzi, offering thrilling adventure scenes (space battles, daring military actions, parachute jumps through a planet’s atmosphere), high-stakes politics, snarky commentary, and food for thought. Delightful, compulsively readable, and even somewhat nutritious brain candy.
Mmmmm…. brain candy.
Also, and because this is how my brain works, I’m relieved that no matter what else happens, review-wise, we have quote for the cover for the paperback release. One neurotic worry down! Many, many more to go.
Anyway, this is my good news for the day. Hope you’re having a good day, too.
Science says: You have a hypothesis? Test it! And see if the results you get match your hypothesis? Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki has a hypothesis about the brain, and how certain activities and thoughts can influence them, which she expands upon in her book (written with Billie Fitzpatrick) Healthy Brain, Happy Life. How did this hypothesis come about? From an interesting personal experience.
Can I use my thoughts, intentions and beliefs to change my brain and make myself smarter and happier? That’s the question I have been asking ever since I inadvertently did an experiment on myself and noticed how much aerobic exercise combined with positive intentions transformed not only my body, but my brain and ultimately, my life.
After years of neglecting my body and focusing too much of my energy on my work as a brain scientist, I finally decided to begin a regular exercise routine. I started with a personal trainer and focused on increasing my overall muscular and cardiovascular strength. As I got stronger, I felt great and much more energized.
And then I found a class at the gym that shifted my workout routine into high gear. The class combined physical movements from kickboxing, dance yoga and martial arts with positive spoken affirmations like “I am strong!” or “I believe I will succeed!”. It’s called intenSati. And it’s hard. You have to master the moves and the affirmations that go with them and change moves every four to eight counts or so. Shouting out the affirmations increases the cardio load of the workout and makes it much more challenging than just doing the moves on their own.
I was already in pretty good shape when I discovered this class at my gym. I always felt more energized after any workout. But intenSati was different. After each class, I was full of energy, in a great mood, and felt like I could take on the world. Not only that, when I left the gym after class, I was already looking forward to the next time I could do the workout.
Over time I noticed something even better. As I upped my workouts with intenSati, it became easier to write my scientific grants. I seemed to be able to focus my attention better while writing and make more and better associations or links between the journal articles that I read in support of my points. I realized I had just done an experiment on myself and the results were these striking brain changes.
In fact, the shift was so noticeable that I decided to find out what we knew about the effects of exercise on brain function. I found a vibrant scientific literature focused largely in rodents showing profound effects of exercise on the anatomy, physiology and function of brain areas important for attention, memory and mood. In humans, there was good evidence that exercise improved mood and attention, and promising indirect evidence that exercise improved memory function as well. In my book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, I write about my transformative experiences with exercise, and also about the what neuroscience understands about the dramatic impact of exercise on specific brain areas.
In myself, I noticed improved mood, attention and memory functions with increased levels of aerobic activity. But I realized that with intenSati, I wasn’t doing just exercise alone – I was combining it with positive affirmations. And I wondered if the exercise alone that was causing the brain effects I was experiencing? Or could it be the combination of exercise together with the positive affirmations that was doing the trick? As a scientist, I knew I could not answer this question simply by introspection. Instead I went to the scientific literature to see if there were any studies on the brain effects of combining of exercise and affirmations, something I started to call “intentional exercise”.
No study had ever examined the effects of exercise combined with affirmations, but I did find studies examining the effects of affirmations alone, which indicated that reciting positive affirmations improved mood. This is not so surprising. Perhaps the affirmations were just adding additional mood boosting power to the workout.
Somehow that didn’t seem quite right. Then, I stumbled upon the psychological studies of something called mindset, defined as the established set of attitudes held by somebody. This is a hot area of research because of exciting findings showing that shifting a person’s mindset by simply providing information can have significant changes on people’s sensory experiences and physiological responses.
What does this mean? My two favorite examples from this area of study were done by Professor Alia Crum of Stanford’s Psychology department. In one study, she showed that people who thought they were drinking an indulgent high calorie milkshake showed faster declines in a hunger-inducing hormone than when they thought the same exact milkshake was healthy and low calorie. In another study, she showed that when hotel room attendants were told that, according to the surgeon general, their workload of cleaning rooms and changing sheets was considered a good amount of exercise, the workers lost significant weight and had lower blood pressure compared to the control group of hotel room attendants who were not given that information.
These studies are examples of how adopted beliefs can significantly change physiological responses including hormone secretion and metabolism/weight loss. Maybe that’s what the affirmations were doing to me. Maybe the affirmations shifted my mindset to a positive one that included belief in myself and my success. Maybe the affirmations are adding the key ingredient of motivation to my workout. And maybe we could actually modulate the effects of the affirmations to focus on attention or memory or happiness depending on what we actually said.
We don’t know the answer to these questions right now. But my “big idea” is that we can test these hypotheses systematically and scientifically in the lab. It could be that adding positive intention to exercise (any kind of exercise), could be the secret sauce needed to boost the effects of exercise on both our bodies and our brains to their maximum levels. That’s exactly the question I’m starting to answer with the experiments I’m doing in my lab.
(Warning for those who need it: discussion of rape scenes in storytelling)
So, many years ago, when I was still a very young writer, I made the acquaintance of Pamela Wallace, and she and I became friends. At the time I was a film critic, and she was a screenwriter — and not just a screenwriter, but one who had won an Oscar, for her work on Witness. She also wrote novels, which were at the time something I was thinking about doing at some point. So she and I talked a lot about movies and stories and the writing life. She was a very cool mentor for a young writer to have.
One day I was over at her house and I was talking to her about a story idea I had; I can’t specifically remember what the story idea was, but I vaguely recall it being some sort Silence of the Lambs-esque thriller, in which an investigator and a serial killer matched wits, you know, as they do. And at some point, I dragged the investigator’s wife into the story, because, as I was, like, 24 years old and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot, I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator, and a good plot development for the book, for the serial killer to basically rape and torture the wife —
— at which point Pamela immediately went from interested to disgusted, threw up her hands, and had them make motions that I immediately interpreted as oh God Oh God this horrible idea of yours get it off me right now.
Aaaaand that was really the last time I ever considered rape as an interesting character note or plot device. Because, I don’t know. If you’re a 24-year-old wannabe fiction writer and an Oscar-winning storyteller is physically repelled by your casual insertion of rape and violence against women in your story, mightn’t that be a sign of something? That maybe you should pay attention to? Perhaps?
Now, as I got older and became a more accomplished storyteller (and human), there turned out to be many other reasons for me to decide not to put those sorts of scenes willy-nilly into my books aside from “dude, you just disgusted your successful writer friend with your plot twist.” But I’m not going to lie and pretend that this very significant clue, dropped by my friend, did not in fact make a long-lasting impression.
Which continues to this day. I’ve written eleven novels now, most with lots of action, adventure, peril and danger to characters of several genders, and lots of tough scenes that show loss and violence (see: most of The Ghost Brigades). No rape scenes. They weren’t necessary for the narrative — and more concretely, as narratives to stories don’t just magically happen but are the result of the author’s intention, I chose not to make circumstances in my novels where they would be necessary.
Sadly, not every young male novice storyteller has a woman friend who is also an Oscar winner to set him straight on the errors of his shallow narrative ways. Would that they did! So for everyone else I would just say (and here I tip my hat to Robert Jackson Bennett, who wrote in more detail about this today) that while you can put these sorts of scenes into your work, maybe before you do, you should ask yourself why. Ask yourself what actual value they will bring to your work. Ask yourself if you are entirely sure about that value.
And while you’re asking yourself that, keep my friend Pamela’s reaction to my proposed rape scene in your head. She’s not alone in that reaction these scenes, nor was she wrong to have it. Neither are other people.
What’s the moral to this story? Two morals: One, the Internet is awesome because, sometimes, if you ask, you will get pictures of squirrels playing polo on the backs of Pomeranians. And two:
But mostly: Squirrels on Pomeranians, playing polo.
Update: 1:48pm: The opposing team has now taken the field:
What a glorious day for Squirrel Polo.
And now we have a league!
Here’s a test. Two scenes from movies. Tell me if you remember either of these. (The test is unfairly skewed towards people who were conscious in the eighties, sorry.)
In his underground lair beneath Metropolis, Lex Luthor keeps a nest of monstrous pet lion-alligator things. They mostly sound like lions, but he is living in the sewers of metaphorical New York City, so they clearly should have been alligators. Let’s call them alligators. At the end, he feeds Ms. Teschmacher to the alligators for having betrayed him (Superman rescues her, as comic book movies were not yet inhospitable to ten year olds).
Scene two: in Jabba’s stronghold, after Luke Skywalker has been dropped into the Rancor’s pit, he leaps straight up into the air and catches the grating above that just dumped him down. He dangles from the iron bars as Jabba’s courtiers bash his fingers with weapons, and then drops again to continue fighting.
For years, whenever I attempted to describe the alligators to people, they thought I was out of my mind, but they really do exist, in a pair of deleted scenes edited out of the theatrical release of the movie and included only in a later TV release (for it must be admitted very obscure reasons).
When I describe the scene of Luke jumping for the grating, mostly people have a vague feeling of familiarity. But it doesn’t exist. The moment was described in the novelization but never released, never filmed. I remember it as clearly and vividly as the alligators. I even remember clearly a page out of a photo storybook I had showing the scene, which also doesn’t exist. I spent a long frustrated time trying to track it down before I finally accepted that my brain had just put that scene together and quietly tucked it into my memory like a small deceitful landmine.
I have also forgotten and falsely remembered many other things — stories I myself have written, what my child was like a year ago, the names and faces of good friends. People have told me too often that’s not what happened! how could you forget? I’ve never doubted all those studies about the unreliability of witnesses, because I’ve been made palpably aware of my own unreliability over and over.
But the gift of a strangely terrible memory is to be set free from the tyranny of the correct. I’ve spent a lot of time with young children in the last few years, seen how their brains are still working out the most useful things to hold on to, the lines between the real and the false. “Is Hillary Clinton really alive?” my four year old asks me doubtfully as we watch her declaration of candidacy on the iPad, the same way we watch episodes of Star Trek and Wonder Woman. (A few days later she confidently explains to a group of our friends that a woman named Hillary, who is alive, is going to be president after Barack Obama dies, cheerfully discarding layers of metaphor between U.S. politics and the Hunger Games.)
She has not yet reconciled herself to the frustrating, repeated failures of magic. Neither have I. Making sense of things that don’t quite make sense, we fill in the missing pieces, retelling our own stories and accumulating embellishment along the way. And magic is in those missing pieces. When to remember is to create, to imagine is to make true. Why shouldn’t Mr. Spock be a real person when Hillary Clinton is? Why shouldn’t there be magic, if the past can change out from under us?
Uprooted takes place in a Poland that exists only in my own mind. It grew out of the fairy tales my mother read to me in Polish when I was a child, not older than my own daughter, before I was too old to really believe in forest fairies and mountains of glass. After I was five we stopped speaking the language at home, and I didn’t learn to read it until I was much older. Even now I’m not fluent enough to read the stories by myself without help, but when I plug uncertain words into translation sites, the meanings that come out aren’t the ones I am looking for. The word olbrzymi means enormous, but not to me; in my head it means monstrously overgrown, tangled, terrifying.
But I reject the dictionary entries: they are correct but untrue. I am not just making things up when I tell you a story about a valley of living water and tangled forests, a castle of many towers. I am telling you about a place that I have been. There are many dangers in the unreliability of memory, but in the realm of fiction it opens the possibility for the reader to believe in magic too, to feel it creeping up on them, the faint uneasiness of could that have happened? There’s magic in accepting the gap between physical reality and the shifting electrical sands of our brain cells, and allowing ourselves to visit a real and impossible place.
I’m guessing you will find something to like in this stack of new books and ARCs. Am I right? Let me know in the comments!
In a discussion about the current Hugo nonsense taking place elsewhere online, a writer trotted out a variation of the now-utterly-stale opinion that Robert Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo if he were writing today, this new variation being that not only couldn’t Heinlein win a Hugo, he wouldn’t even be reviewed in Locus, the Science Fiction and Fantasy trade magazine. When challenged on this assertion, the writer said that Locus does not review military SF/space opera, period, so he was comfortable making that assertion.
I’ve punted the “Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo today” nonsense before, so there’s no point going over that again. But the assertion that Locus doesn’t review milSF/space opera struck me as an odd one to make. As a writer of both military science fiction and space opera — The End of All Things will be both, sometimes simultaneously — I know my books in these subgenres have been reviewed in Locus. One of my favorite reviews of Old Man’s War (by Russell Letson) was in the magazine, and the magazine published a review of The Human Division, the most recent book in the OMW series as well.
But I grant I might be a special case, for various reasons, some more specious than others. Fortunately, I’m a subscriber to Locus (it’s super-useful in keeping up with SF/F publishing, subscribe now!), so this is something I could easily check. So I opened up the latest edition of the magazine, May 2015, and scanned the reviews. And on page 49:
It’s not a long review, but it certainly is a review, complete with a useful pull quote from a publisher PR point of view (“‘Good old-fashioned military science fiction’ — Locus”). So strictly from the point of view of actual fact, the assertion that Locus does not review milSF/space opera is invalidated as recently as the most current issue.
But — it’s possible this was a mistake, that somehow this one slipped past the gatekeepers! Fortunately, there is another way to check this. Locus has helpfully posted an index of its book reviews online; every review from January 1984 through May 2015 (the latter date, I expect, being constantly updated), from the magazine and its associated Web site, which sometimes runs its own reviews. I put the numbers “2014” and “2015” into my browser’s “find” function and then clicked off titles I was pretty confident could be classified as military science fiction and/or space opera. Here’s my (almost certainly incomplete) list after about fifteen minutes of perusal, for books reviewed in the last eighteen months:
Dark Intelligence, Neal Asher
Fortune’s Pawn, Rachel Bach
War Dogs, Greg Bear
Cibola Burn, James SA Corey
Willful Child, Steven Erikson
The Abyss Beyond Dreams, Peter F. Hamilton
Space Opera, Rich Horton, ed
War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak, eds
Ancilliary Sword, Ann Leckie
Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu
Starhawk, Jack McDevitt
The Greatship, Robert Reed
On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds
Lockstep, Karl Schroeder
The Chaplain’s War, Brad R. Torgersen
Dark Lightning, John Varley
And yes, I suppose we could quibble about what actually constitutes “space opera” — as an example, whether Willful Child, meant as an affectionate parody of Star Trek, counts (despite the fact that Star Trek itself is unambiguously space opera). But at the end of the day, it’s difficult to deny that Locus, in fact, does review both space opera and military science fiction. And if you look at the author index, you’ll find no lack of reviews of either subgenre, either in the last few years or indeed in the more than three decades of reviews indexed therein.
Is space opera or milSF reviewed less than other subgenres of science fiction or fantasy? Possibly; someone with more interest and time than I could do the work to find out. From my own cursory glance, and depending how finely you chop the subgenre onion, however, it doesn’t look as if milSF/space opera is notably underrepresented. There is quite a lot of SF/F that gets published, in a lot of increasingly fined-grained subgenres. Locus (or any genre publication, for that matter), has an impossible task in representing the scope of the genre as it exists today. It can’t review everything.
Regardless, the assertion was not that Locus doesn’t publish enough milSF/space opera reviews; it was that it doesn’t publish any. That’s definitively and provably wrong, and easy to disprove.
This is a relatively innocuous example of People Believing Things That Are Manifestly Not True, but it bothers me. If the Puppies (with whom, I wish to be clear, I am not suggesting this particular author belongs or identifies) have taught us anything, it’s that there is a not entirely small group of people out there in science fiction with a rich and deep persecution complex that is unbounded by actual fact. If you’re a writer or reader upset by a lack of representation of your particular subgenre or type of writer, well, fine, but if you’re basing that upset on false premises — for example, that Locus doesn’t review milSF or space opera — then a) you’re getting yourself worked up over nothing, b) should you continue to feel aggrieved after your misapprehension has been pointed out, there are some serious discussions you need to have with yourself.
There’s also c), which is that if you use a false sense of persecution to be resentful and unhappy with other people who you believe to be getting advantages you are not, and then act on that resentment, people will notice. It’s very likely you will be judged accordingly.
All of which is to say: Assertions! Please back them up. Particularly the ones you believe are affecting you. It’s often not difficult, and you may learn something. Whether learning that thing will make you happy is another discussion entirely. But better to know, yes?
And now, for your convenience, all this year’s Reader Request pieces in one place. If you missed some and want to catch up, there you go.
Thanks again to everyone who asked questions. We’ll do this again. Probably in 2016!
And now, quick answers to non-writing-related questions:
Anguadelphine: “My question is how do scientists effectively communicate facts to the general public without being discounted by people who don’t have the knowledge or patience to distill scientific evidence (or just don’t want to because of ‘belief’). I would appreciate any thoughts on this because frankly, it baffles me how people can discount science (as imperfect it is, it is still better than ignorance) because of their ‘belief’ mostly based on things they read on the internet or in literal readings of holy documents.”
With regard to ‘belief’ I think it’s important to remember that ‘belief’ is not monolithic — for example there are some evangelical Christian sects that believe in the universe was literally created in six days, but the largest Christian sect of all, Catholicism, is totally down with both cosmology and evolution. It’s worth pointing that out, and pointing it out to “literal” believers.
The best thing to do, honestly, is to hook people young: Get them used to the idea of science as early as possible. So this is a thing that requires planning, alas. As for the rest of it, my own thought is that people are perfectly good with science until and unless it conflicts with a political agenda — see climate change. I don’t know what the fix is there, because humans are political animals before they are scientific animals.
Pixlaw: “As a fellow Ohioan, I’m curious about your take on our very own Governor John Kasich’s various feints towards a presidential run. Frankly, I don’t like him or his politics very much, but my son, a budding Republican (…shudder…) thinks he would be fabulous.”
Kasich is in fact kind of a best case scenario for a GOP candidate for president, for anyone who is not a member of the GOP’s base. But I don’t think he’s strident enough for the base at the moment, and he’s not exactly charismatic enough to charm anyone else. I don’t really see him getting that far in a presidential run.
Sam: “Bruce Jenner coming out as a transgender person (even though it appears many people have known for years) and his desire to have gender reassignment but still be exclusively sexually attracted to women, does that make him a lesbian? The confussion, for me, lays in the fact that his brain is female but his DNA is male even if he changes his male bits to female bits. Or is he a heterosexual male that just had a sex change?”
I don’t know that it makes Jenner any one particular thing, nor am I personally in a huge rush to shift Jenner into one category or another simply for my own mental convenience. At the end of the day Jenner should be who Jenner wants to be, and love who Jenner wants to love, and everything else is fiddly bits. When Jenner wants to clarify or categorize and announce that to the public, great. Until then, I’ll just wish Jenner happiness and not concern myself about it.
PacoQ: “Do you agree with current copyright term lengths? Your daughter and her children will probably own the copyright for probably much longer than you will. Does it seem fair to you that your works will not enter the public domain until 70 years after you pass away?”
I’m on record in several places noting that copyright lengths are too long, and suggest their term be 75 years, in terms of corporations, and 75 years or life of the creator plus 25 (whichever is longer) in terms of individual creators. I think it’s fine for my wife to continue to benefit from my work, and to a lesser extent my child. My grandchildren can go work for a living.
Kore: “If an arbitrary stranger saved your life, what would you do? In particular, how would you deal with that person? Likewise, if you saved someone else’s life, what, if anything, would you expect of them or of yourself?”
Second answer first: I wouldn’t expect anything from them. I don’t imagine I would be saving their life for any other reason than that life is worth saving. If someone saved my life, I would be grateful and would let them know I owed them a debt. What that debt would be in many ways would be down to the person who saved my life.
Skippy: “How do you balance justifiable outrage at social injustice without becoming bitter or letting it color everything and make everything sad and angry.”
I don’t think about social injustice twenty four hours a day, in large part because I don’t have to. So the fact I have the luxury of not having to means the balance is easy to find. Of course, it is worth meditating on that fact of my life and what it means.
Noblehunter: “What are your thoughts on bad actors in anarchic/unorganized social movements? From looters hi-jacking civil rights protests to gamergate (some people seem to actually believe it’s about ethics in video game journalism) and Puppies (likewise), the stated goals of the group are undermined or by those calling themselves members of the group while acting in counter-productive ways. Can these groups police themselves despite a lack of central authority? Do you have any suggestions for people who are genuinely concerned about ethics in videogame journalism or other populist causes?”
Well, I’d first note that in the cases of Gamergate and the Puppies, the “stated goals” of the group were tacked on as afterthoughts/justifications for the precipitating action (harassment of women — and of a specific woman — in the case of Gamergate, personal desire for a bauble in the case of the Puppies). That’s not an insignificant thing, and it’s not something the fig leaf of a “stated goal” is going to cover up. This is a different situation, obviously, than looters attaching themselves to a protest movement already underway.
If I were truly interested in ethics in video game journalism — which is a laudable goal — or in seeing more representation of the sort of SF/F subgenres I liked in awards — less concretely laudable, but sure, why not — or whatever, I would probably start fresh, far away from those already tainted movements.
Maltsoda: “Advice for a beginner learning the ukelele?”
Practice and have fun with it. That’s what I do.
Mitchell Hundred: “Superheroes: Inspirational force for good or fascistic power fantasy?”
Why is this an either/or?
Ariane: “What’s your take on NASA’s new kind of engine, called electromagnetic propulsion drive, which brings us nearer to the vision of warp drive?”
I’ve trained myself not to get too excited. I’ll save my excitement for after a successful test zooms a spaceship, to, say, Jupiter. Or Alpha Centauri!
Allison: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our growing tendency to store personal artifacts (photos, communications, and various writings) digitally. Specifically, I think about how historians rely on those kinds of artifacts to understand past cultures. The ephemeral nature of many aspects of digital culture makes me wonder what will be left to inform future historians of the daily lives of 21st century humans. Any thoughts on that?”
Here in the early parts of the 21st Century we are still generating an immense amount of physical personal artifacts. The vast majority of my photos are digital and yet I still print out the occasional physical copy. I very rarely give digital objects as gifts, but give physical objects all the time. There are still physical books and magazines and so on. Hell, vinyl has made a comeback. It seems very likely to me the issues for future archaeologists will not be lack of physical data, but trying to make sense of the immense amount of physical data we are leaving behind.
Christina Wodke: “Adventures in being an ally, including dumb mistakes, wins, and perhaps the seduction of mansplaining (I do it too and I’m not a man.) Guy friends of mine chicken out on being an ally sometime because they are afraid of being scolded. They might like to hear some of your experiences and realize it’s survivable.”
Well, I think the simplest thing to do is think of being an ally like you’re learning a skill, like a guitar or woodworking. You know you have an interest, but you lack experience, and as you work on it you’ll make mistakes and people with more expertise in the area will correct you and occasionally offer advice, which may work for you or may not. And over time you learn and you get better at it — but there will always be something new to learn. If you think about it that way, it becomes less ego-bruising to be called out, and when you are called out it becomes more productive. I think that’s a good way to picture it.
Dana: “You’ve heard of ‘speed dating’ where you spend 5 minutes with each of several potential partners trying to determine if you are compatible. How about ‘super speed dating’ where you’re allowed just three questions? What 3 questions would give you a sense of go/no-go?”
Ooooooh, I wouldn’t make any relationship decisions based on only three questions. But if I had to, I would ask three questions that required lengthy, complex answers and I would watch how the person answered them as much as paying attention to what the answer was. Because all of that would be just as important as the answer itself. No idea what those particular questions would be. I’d probably make them up at the time.
Neil W: “You live in Ohio. Ohio has a swallow-tail shaped flag. Do you have an opinion on the eccentricity of it, or any other thoughts on flag design or on flags in general? For example what would you like to see on a Scalzi flag?”
I’m not a huge fan of the Ohio flag, but at the same time I can’t muster any particularly negative feeling about either, so — meh? I don’t know what I would do to change it and I suspect that changing it wouldn’t be for the better, so it might as well stay as it is. With regard to a Scalzi flag, in fact, this is something I thought about a long time ago but unfortunately at the moment I can’t find the file for it. If I unearth it I’ll show it. It does include a phoenix.
Peripatetic Entrepreneur: “Money is a fiction. Opine.”
Uhhhh, yes, it is? But we all seem to agree to pretend it exists for our own purposes so I guess it’s okay?
Megpie71: “How do you feel about the sort of uncritical patriotism pushed by statements like ‘love it or leave it’? Do you think the best way to love one’s country, fandom, or whatever is to refrain from criticising it at all, or do you feel criticism has a useful function?”
I think uncritical patriotism is stupid in part because any patriotism I would feel is based on the idea that my nation is worth supporting, and that knowledge comes only from critical examination. So, yeah, if someone were to tell me to “love it or leave it,” I’d mark them down as not exactly a deep thinker. And yes, this also goes for other groups with which I feel some identity toward.
Mearsk: “Is your social media presence worth it? Jos Whedon quitting Twitter the other day because he was tired of the constant stream of ‘you suck,’ made me wonder if it is worth all the exposure to negativity and small-minded people. I know you’re very active on Twitter, but you frequently comment about ‘muting’ people, so that means you have to deal with it, so is the benefit worth the cost?”
I’m on social media because I enjoy it, and if I stop enjoying it then I’ll leave it. But I will note there are all sorts of ways to tailor one’s social media intake. So for example, if on Twitter I don’t want to see responses from random people, I don’t have to; likewise if I want to limit my conversations to only people who I like I can do that too. People can be negative (or not) all they like — but I don’t have to see it. In Whedon’s case, he left primarily because he found it a timesuck, which is a thing I can appreciate. That’d be a more likely reason for me to leave it than negativity, to be honest.
Cavyherd: “What I want to know is: Did you ever go through a period of being the Angry Young Man?”
Not really. I think the circumstances of my life could have given me ample reason to be angry, for various reasons, but I just… wasn’t. It’s not the direction my personality seems to default toward. I have been angry, but it’s situational, rather than a baseline emotion. And after a certain point in time — somewhere in college — my life started on the general upswing that continues to this day. It’s difficult for me to be angry because honestly what do I have to be angry about? My life’s kind of amazing, and I know it. I know this doesn’t stop other people, but it stops me. I don’t think you need to be angry to be passionate, or committed or whatever. Mostly, I’m happy. And when I think about it, grateful.
Thanks, everyone, for all your questions this week!