The Upgrade From Hell

Out In One Week

Look, it’s the paperback version of Lock In, which arrived here at the Scalzi Compound just yesterday. It looks great, feels great, and while I can’t legally promise anything, anecdotal evidence shows that when you hold it, you are three to five percent more attractive to those you wish to appear attractive to (and also, to dragonflies. We haven’t figured out the science on that one). This edition is officially out in exactly one week, although, as I am not JK Rowling, I’m sure that release date will be leaky and you will find copies available before then.

This is the “virtuous cycle,” incidentally — release the previous hardcover as a paperback on or near the release date of the new hardcover in order to take advantage of the publicity and excitement around the hardcover release. And then next year, repeat, with a new hardcover and the old one in paperback. Easy! Simple! Fun. And useful for book tours, curious new readers, and so on.

This also means the hardcover release of The End of All Things, not to mention my tour, is just two weeks away. Those of you coming to the tour will be happy to know that I will, as is my custom, be reading something new and exclusive on tour, which you won’t be able to read or hear anywhere else. Plus other stuff! So it will be worth your time to show up, I promise.

That New York Magazine Cover

So, that’s a hell of a magazine cover. As of this writing the New York magazine site itself is down because of a hacker attack; the hacker in question alleges this has nothing to do with Bill Cosby. Interesting timing nonetheless. Here’s the link to the story package when it goes back up. You should read it. If it’s still down, Vox has a write-up on it.

A friend of mine tweeted a comment last night that said “power corrupts” and I tweeted back something snarky about that; turns out she was tweeting about Bill Cosby and I missed the context, so I apologized and deleted my tweet. Turns out I am just as susceptible to the failure mode of clever as anyone else.

But I had additional thoughts on her comment. I think it’s true that power corrupts, or that it can. I also think it’s true that power reveals — which is to say, that with some men and women, it’s not that having power weakens their will or leads them into temptation, but rather that power allows them to indulge in the things that they’ve always wanted to do. They didn’t need to be corrupted. They needed only the means to do what they willed, which power provided.

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter if power corrupted or revealed Bill Cosby’s nature. I don’t imagine it matters to the women who were sexually assaulted whether Cosby gave into temptation or indulged in his will, or both. At the end of the day they were still raped by him. And at the end of the day, for decades, they were told there was no point in telling anyone about it because no one would believe them. Corrupted or revealed, Bill Cosby’s power protected him, until it didn’t. I am absolutely sure that the irony of what kicked the Fall of Cosby into high gear was Hannibal Buress, another man, calling Bill Cosby out on stage was not lost on these women, or women in general. The information was out there; women had been saying these things for years. They still needed a man to say it in order to have the world pay attention.

I’m not sad for Bill Cosby. He raped women, he did it for decades, and now everyone knows he did it. He deserves condemnation for it, and he deserves to see his reputation destroyed (he also deserves jail time, which at this point he is unlikely to receive. But I think for a person like Bill Cosby, the destruction of his reputation is probably no less painful than time in a cell). The man was and is a genius, and his comedy mattered to me; I remember being a kid listening to his comedy albums at the West Covina public library and trying (and failing) not to laugh out loud in a place where you weren’t supposed to make a lot of noise. Bill Cosby: Himself was one of my favorite comedy concert films. And by the time Himself was released, Cosby had assaulted 22 of the 35 women featured on that New York cover. Bill Cosby is a genius; Bill Cosby is a rapist of women. The former does not excuse the latter and never should have.

I am sad we are still in a place where women aren’t believed when they come forward about sexual assault, and that it’s such a matter of fact of our culture that The Onion can satirize it. I’m sad and sorry for the women who had to wait until a man came forward to call out Cosby in order for the cultural tiller to shift in their direction. Anita Sarkeesian — who knows something about the bullshit women have to put up with in order to speak — and others have said that one the most radical things you can do is believe women when they talk about their experiences. It seems like a dramatic statement until you take a hard look at that New York magazine cover, and the thirty five women there, bearing witness to sexual assaults over four decades, finally being believed in some cases fifty years later. You realize it’s not dramatic at all.

DonaldTrumpDonaldTrumpDonaldTrump

A friend of mine not from the United States said to me the other day, and this is pretty much a direct quote, “Seriously, dude, your country is scaring the shit out of the rest of us with this Donald Trump thing.” To assure him and others, a few points, covered by others to be sure but worth repeating.

1. The election is 15 months away. Relax, lots will happen between now and then.

2. And what’s going to happen is that the GOP primary voters will eventually settle down and vote for Jeb Bush (or maaaaaybe Scott Walker), who will go on to be defeated by Hillary Clinton in the general election. While it’s a quantum physics universe and anything can happen, realistically, this is how it’s going to go down.

3. But in the meantime, why shouldn’t potential GOP voters have their fun with Trump? Rich assholes are amusing, for a while. This is like that time in high school when you ditched your regular friends for a couple of weeks to hang out with that kid whose parents bought him a Camaro and let him take the speedboat out on the lake by himself and have keg parties at his house when they weren’t around. Eventually you figured out that no one at his parties was actually his friend, they were just there for the beer, and the reason he took you out on the speedboat was because he had no one else to hang out with, because he confused having a lot of money with having a bearable personality. And eventually you went back to your old friends and that was that. Which is to say: Jeb Bush, ’16.

4. But what if I’m wrong? What if Trump waltzes away with the GOP nomination? Well, first, that would be hilarious, and second, then he gets squashed by Hillary in the general, by a much wider margin than she would have against Bush or Walker, in part because then 2016 would see the largest Hispanic voter registration drive ever, and having Donald “racist against Hispanics” Trump as the GOP banner carrier would basically set back Republican attempts to court Hispanics by probably thirty or forty years. It would be entirely deserved too, so there’s that. He’d also have at least some mainstream GOP folks holding their noses and voting for Hillary, I expect.

5. All of which is to say that no one, not even potential GOP voters, expect Trump to get the nod, even as they poll him highly and want him to stay in the race. He’ll make trouble, and he’s making the GOP really uncomfortable by gleefully exposing the fact that so many members of their potential voter base lap up dumbed-down racist populism. But with the latter, Trump didn’t create the demand for dumbed-down racist populism, he’s just exploiting it, and with the former, well, again, this is the time in the election schedule where trouble looks kind of fun. But at the end of the day, most GOP voters will line up behind the person they think has the best chance of actually getting into the White House. That ain’t Trump.

6. Last point? What the GOP really hates about Trump is that if they somehow manage to push him out of the GOP voting pool, they know that means Trump isn’t defeated, he’s just pissed off. It’s entirely possible that his response to being punted will be to run as an independent. If he does, there’s a good chance he’ll peel off four or five percent of the presidential vote: Not enough to win, but more than enough to doom the GOP flag bearer, since it’ll be the GOP from which he’s taking votes. This won’t matter much in my estimation because I don’t expect whoever the GOP runs this election to win, but I wouldn’t expect the GOP to be as sanguine about it.

Basically, the GOP is screwed either way, when it comes to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump will never, ever be president. I could be wrong about this. But I really really don’t think I am.

New Books and ARCs, 7/24/15

As we head into the weekend, a baker’s dozen of new books and ARCs for your delectation. Any of these books make you hungry to read? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Das Syndrom

Just arrived in the mail today: The German-language version of Lock In, entitled Das Syndrom. Why? Because it’s Germany! And my German publishers change the titles of my novels with some frequency. Mind you, it’s not just them; pretty much all my foreign publishers have changed the titles of at least one of my books. I chalk it up to them knowing their markets. I also think “Das Syndrom” would be an excellent name for an industrial band, one that opens up for Einstürzende Neubauten on occasion.

In any event: Look! New book! In German!

Pre-Orders, Concerts, Tour Notes and Other Announcements

Some various things, involving me, all put in the same post for the sake of organization:

* As you can see from the photo above, the hardcover edition of The End of All Things is something that exists in our world. Hooray! If you want it the first day it’s out — or make sure you have it when the tour comes to your town — I strongly suggest pre-ordering it. How can you do that? Well, just call or visit your favorite local bookstore and tell them that you would like to order it. They will be delighted to pre-order it for you (because that means a sale for them). If you have no local bookstore, or you do but you and their owner are locked in a decades-long feud stemming from That Thing That Happened at Prom (or whatever), then of course you may pre-order from your favorite online retailer. Basically, if you’re in North America, there’s nothing stopping you from pre-ordering however you want.

* For those of you who are fans of audiobooks, the Audible version of The End of All Things is also available for pre-order now. This version is narrated by William Dufris and Tavia Gilbert, who longtime audiobooks fans will know have narrated the other books in the series (Gilbert did Zoe’s Tale, while Dufris has done all the others). I’m absolutely delighted to have the both of them offering up their reading talents for this one. The audiobook, like the hardcover, is scheduled for release on August 11.

* A reminder to those of you in or around Indianapolis that on July 31st — a week and a day from now! — I will be performing at the Concert Against Humanity, along with Kumail Nanjiani, Paul and Storm, Cameron Esposito, The Doubleclicks, Molly Lewis and Patrick Rothfuss. Which is to say this is going to be a fabulous concert and you should come to it. There are still tickets available, so attending is still a thing you can do. And what will I be doing at the concert? Well, it’s very likely that I will be writing up something new, exclusive and (hopefully) funny for it. Or, I will perform the whole of Warrant’s seminal 1989 album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, in sequence, on ukulele. Honestly, it could go either way at this point.

* On the subject of ukuleles, a couple of people have asked me if I’m really going to play the ukulele on the book tour. My answer is the same as it has been for the last couple of tours: If someone brings one, I’ll be happy to play it, although I can’t guarantee you will be happy to hear the strangled noises I will make come from it. However, one request: If you want me to play your ukulele, please make sure it’s tuned before you hand it to me. I don’t have time to tune it on the fly. Yes, I play the uke terribly, and that’s on me. But I want to be terrible and in tune, and that’s on you.

* And on the subject of the book tour, a reminder to media folks: If you want to interview me any time in the next few months, please contact my PR representative, Alexis Saarela, at “alexis.saarela@tor.com”. She is the keeper of both my tour and interview schedule, and honestly, I’m not scheduling any interviews, etc, without them going through her first. Also, if you send them to me, they’re likely to fall down into a big email hole at this point. So for both our sakes, please contact Alexis.

* And on the subject of book tours in a general sense, I along with Tayari Jones, Sloane Crosley, Nell Zink, Gary Shteyngart and Junot Diaz, am talking about book tours and what they are like in the New York Times. And yes, I talk about frosting. How could I not? As I’ve noted to folks on Twitter and Facebook, I am pleased not only that I get my first byline in the NYT (I’ve been written about in the NYT, but have not written for them), but that Athena, who took the author photo that accompanies the piece, get a photo credit, too. That’s going to look pretty sharp on a college application, I think. In any event, check out the NYT feature. It’s pretty nifty.

First Impressions: Asus Chromebook Flip

I have a number of Chromebooks here at the house — some of you might remember I was given a CR-48, the beta version of the Chromebook, by Google back in the day — and I like them quite a bit for what they are, which are cheap and cheerful computer terminals that back up to a mainframe we now call “the cloud.” We have a few around the house and I use them for casual writing and cruising the Web, and Athena and her classmates use them at school for classwork. They’re a good solution for a lot of things that people use computers for.

My most recent Chromebook was an HP 11-incher which has developed a couple of problems — its charging cord isn’t working anymore and every other cord I get for it say it’s “charging at low power” and the trackpad is getting wonky — so I was planning to do an upgrade soon. Then Asus brought out the Chromebook Flip, a Chromebook that has a 10-inch touchscreen that you can flip over and use as a tent display or a tablet, with 4GB of memory, all for less than $300. The reviews have been pretty good, so I thought I’d check it out. It arrived yesterday evening and I’ve been playing with it, as a laptop and a tablet, since then.

So far? I’m pretty impressed. It’s slightly smaller than the Chromebooks I’ve been used to; you might not think there’s a big different between a ten-inch device and an eleven-inch device, but it turns out there is, and as a consequence I’m doing a tiny bit of retraining my brain where all the keys are on the keyboard, which is a bit more cramped than on my other Chromebooks. This is a pretty minor thing and I don’t have a monster hands in any event. The track pad is also very nice, if small. Acclimate yourself to the idea that everything on this thing is a little small, and you’ll be okay.

What I really like is that when you flip it over and use it as a tablet, it’s a size that makes sense to be a tablet — big enough to give you real estate to look at, not so large that the whole thing feels horribly awkward in your hands. As a point of comparison, I also own the Dell XPS 12, which has a screen which you can also flip over and use as a tablet. It’s a great laptop which I highly recommend (or did; Dell retired it for the also apparently excellent XPS 13), but I almost never use it in tablet mode because the 12.5-inch screen is just too big, and the whole package weighs in at over three pounds, which is a lot in that form factor.

The screen here, on the other hand, is 10.1 inches — basically, it’s a ten-inch tablet. The whole thing comes in at under two pounds, so it’s easy to walk about with it in tablet mode, or to sit with it in bed in that format. The 1200×800 screen isn’t brilliant compared to other mobile devices, but it’s fine and on par with first generation tablets. In fact, the whole thing basically feels like a first-gen iPad in your hand. It’s not as modular as a typical tablet — everything still runs through the browser because this is ChromeOS, not Android — but if what you’re mostly doing is browsing the Web, I don’t think you’ll notice much difference. There’s an onscreen keyboard in Tablet mode that will be very familiar to Android users.

The hinge that you use to transform the computer is nicely stiff, at least so far; we’ll see how it holds up to lots of use. In tablet mode, the keyboard disables itself and faces outward, opposite the screen. I understand some people find this weird and maybe a little uncomfortable, but honestly it didn’t bother me. Some of the reviews I’ve seen have griped about the screen’s large bezels; I agree they could be smaller, but then again in tablet mode they give you a decent amount of space to grip the thing without activating the screen, so again, I think it’s fine. The touchscreen itself is pretty good. I haven’t had any problems with touches not registering, or stuttering when I scroll. I suspect it might actually be a better as a touchscreen than the screen on my XPS 12, which was rather more expensive (but admittedly, released a couple of years ago).

Other notes: The body of the Flip is aluminum, not plastic, which makes it look and feel nice. The keyboard, aside from its being a little small, is responsive and about as good as you’re going to get on a device this size. The keys are not backlit, but if you’re expecting backlit for under $300, then bless your heart, I’d say (I would still love a Chromebook with a backlit keyboard, though).

Two USB ports, HDMI mini out and SD mini card in. Battery life seems to be pretty good so far (but it’s waaay too early for me to say). For what I use Chromebooks for, it’s handling everything I’m throwing it, but as with any Chromebook, don’t expect miracles with multimedia or standalone programs; again, this is a terminal, not a full-featured standalone laptop. If you’re looking at these things, I really do recommend spending the extra $20 for the 4GB model. The internal storage is 16GB (utterly standard), but you can add via the mini SD port, and everything is designed to store to the cloud in any event. In all the years I’ve been using Chromebooks, running out of storage on the laptop has never ever been a problem.

All of which is to say that if you’ve been waiting for a perfectly good Chromebook that you can also use as a perfectly good tablet, and for under $300 to boot, this is going to probably work for you really well. I like it a lot, and will probably use it for wandering about the house and also for short trips where I know a) I’m going to have a consistent Internet connection, b) I won’t have to be doing a whole of work that relies on specific programs. This covers a surprisingly large number of trips. I don’t think I’d write a full novel on it; but I might write a few pages of one, while I was traveling.

More details later if my opinion changes substantially, but so far: Thumbs up.

Look What Just Arrived at the Scalzi Compound

It’s the finished hardcover version of The End of All Things! Arrived just a few minutes ago. It looks great. And has that new book smell!

And yes, that’s her copy. She always gets the first copy. Always, always and forever.

Agent to the Stars, Ten Years On

Here’s a fun fact: This week marks the 10th anniversary of the print release of Agent to the Stars. It was released in a limited edition hardcover from Subterranean Press, which makes it to date, and likely for the next decade at least, the only novel of mine released first by a publisher other than Tor Books (Tor later released it in trade, mass market and paperback editions, and Audible has in audiobook). Only 1,500 of these hardcovers (plus a few publisher copies) exist, making it the smallest and rarest of my first edition hardcover releases. I’ve seen it on rare book sites listed for over $1,000, although right at the moment on alibris you can get one for just $130. I have several. I’m saving them to pay for Athena’s college.

Although the print edition of Agent is a decade old this week, the novel itself is rather older. In fact it’s the first novel I wrote — it’s my “practice novel,” the novel I wrote to see if I could write a novel (the answer: apparently!). I wrote it mostly on nights and weekends in 1997 in my apartment in Sterling, Virginia, on a desk shoved against the wall in our bedroom, using Microsoft Works, the company’s off-brand word processor. Before I started writing the novel, I was trying to decide whether to write a science fiction novel or a mystery/crime novel, as I enjoyed both genres equally; I ended up flipping a coin, and science fiction it was. If the coin landed in the other direction, I might have had both a vastly different writing career, and a very different life overall.

At least some of you know that once I wrote Agent I made no real effort to sell it to publishers; as a “practice novel” the point was not to write something salable, but to write something that was novel-length, and then use that to see what things I did well, what things I should improve on, and what things I shouldn’t do. So when the novel was done, I showed it to Krissy (who was immensely relieved when she liked it — she was married to me, after all, it would be awkward if she thought I was a crap writer), my friends Regan and Steven and a couple of others, and then otherwise pretty much kept it in a drawer for a couple of years.

Then in March of 1999, I decided, what the heck, I needed stuff on my Web site, and the novel wasn’t bad. So I put it up here as a “shareware novel” — people could read it and if they liked it, could send me a dollar in the mail. Over the next five years I ended up getting around $4,000 sent along, a not bad sum for a time when people had to actually make an effort to physically mail you money in an envelope (this also makes me an old school indie author, which is one reason my response to people who think there is some manifest division between “traditional authors” and “indie authors” is one of, well, amusement). It did well enough that when I wrote Old Man’s War, I didn’t think too hard about whether to post it up on the site, either. I did, and then it was found here by Patrick Nielsen Haden of Tor. He made an offer on it, and the rest is history.

But note that Patrick didn’t make an offer on Agent, despite the fact that it was on the site, available and not bad, in Patrick’s estimation (he read it after he read OMW), and despite the fact that Tor offered me a two book deal when he bought OMW, the second book of which would become The Android’s Dream. When I ask Patrick why he didn’t want Agent, he said, in characteristic pragmatic bluntness, that it would be difficult to sell, in part because it was humorous and in part because it didn’t easily slot into a category for booksellers. It wasn’t military science fiction, it wasn’t space opera, it wasn’t “new weird,” which was a thing at the time, etc. I appreciated Patrick’s pragmatic bluntness — and I was getting a two book deal out of him anyway — so I didn’t worry about it. And besides, Agent was doing fine hanging out on the Web site.

Fast forward a couple of years, to January 2005. Old Man’s War’s been published and is doing well, and I get an email from Bill Schafer, the publisher of a small press in Michigan called Subterranean Press. He’s read Agent to the Stars on the Web site and wants to know if it’s available to be bought. Well, I’ve never heard of Subterranean Press, so the first thing I do is check it out to see if it’s something more than a guy with a mimeograph machine (it was) and that this Schafer dude isn’t just some creep trying to take advantage of newer writers (he wasn’t).

So I let Bill buy the book for a limited hardcover release. We asked Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade to do the cover; I’d advertised Agent on Penny Arcade waaaaaaay back when, so he was a friend I could throw some money to, I liked his work a ton, and (because I wasn’t stupid) I was aware that as the first book cover Mike would ever do, the book would have collector value to fans of Penny Arcade even if they had no idea who I was. He said yes, turned in a really nice piece of art, and in July of 2005, the book — by that time almost sold out on pre-orders — went out into the world. It sold out entirely shortly thereafter.

Here’s why, today, I’m happy the Agent was released then. First, because it started my relationship with Bill Schafer and with Subterranean Press, which is a relationship that continues to this day — SubPress publishes my limited editions and most of my shorter fiction. Bill and SubPress did well by me when I was just starting out, and I’m happy to keep working with them today. Relationships matter. Second, because Agent being published in print gave it an additional life: We sold it into foreign markets and to Tor for paperback (Patrick, again with his pragmatic bluntness, could buy it in 2008 because I had become a name, and readers would buy it because they already liked my stuff. I found this to be a delightful reason) and into audio. We get the occasional film/tv query about it, too, which is nice.

Third, because it allowed me to not worry about “the sophomore slump” — that is, whether my second book would sell as well as the first or be appreciated as much, among the other bits of anxiety authors have about their second book. Agent was a small press limited edition, so I didn’t have to worry about whether it would sell as well or better; we already knew how many copies we were going to sell. It was going into a collector’s market where “quirky and humorous” was not a problem for sales. It was already written, so I didn’t have tie myself up in knots about it or freak out about deadlines. Basically, it was a really optimal “second novel” experience.

Occasionally at signings, people will come up with a copy of Agent and confide that it’s their favorite novel of mine, as if that’s something weird, because OMW or Redshirts are the usual suspects for that title. But I like it when they tell me they like Agent. It’s my firstborn (if second-published), and it was written not because I wanted to sell, but because I wanted to learn. Writing it was a joy, if for no other reason than the dawning awareness I had writing it that, yes, in fact, I could do this thing, and I liked doing it, and that I wanted to do more of it if I could. That’s what Agent gave me that no other novel could, or will. It’s special to me. I’m glad when it’s special for other people too.

So: Happy print anniversary, Agent to the Stars. And thanks, Bill and Subterranean Press, for publishing it. Here’s to more work together.

Blast From the Past: Athena Scalzi, Age Seven, Addresses Scott Westerfeld on the Subject of Pluto

Context: In 2006, Pluto was demoted from being a planet to being a dwarf planet, a move that many, including notable YA author (and personal friend) Scott Westerfeld, thought was a good move, because he and they are terrible people. When my daughter, then age seven, heard that Scott Westerfeld — her friend Scott! Who she liked! — was a “Pluto Hayta,” she felt compelled to make a video, both asking him why he held such hatred for our system’s smallest planet, and then showing him the consequences of such wanton contempt.

For years the video was unavailable, because I made it and displayed it in an AOL video service that is now (like pretty much everything else AOL) consigned to the bit-bin of history. But today, miracle of miracles, I discovered the Internet Archive had made a copy of the video file. I downloaded, it converted it, and put it on YouTube.

And so, here it is, and well timed for the recent Plutomania: My daughter’s 2006 video to Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld. Enjoy.

And yes, her t-shirt in the video does indeed say “I Have Issues.” She did! With Scott!

Naturally, I showed it to Athena (now aged sixteen) before I posted it. She thought it was adorable. And, well. Yes. Yes, it is.

The biggest irony? Pluto now has a feature on its surface named for Cthulhu. My daughter was prophetic, at age seven, she was.

(P.S.: Here’s Scott’s response to the video at the time. Still wrong! History shall judge him. And all who led us down this dark path.)

Governor Kasich’s Chances to Win the 2016 GOP Nomination and Then the Presidency, Estimated By This Citizen of Ohio

He has no chance. For either. None whatsoever.

Which, you know, is too bad, at least the “winning the GOP nomination” part (I don’t want him to be president). As far as the current iteration of the GOP goes, he’s not bad — he’s pretty smart, he’s well-experienced both as a current governor and a past US representative, and as a governor in a swing state, he’s been reasonably pragmatic, or at least, as pragmatic as any GOP governor is these days. All of which is to say that if he did somehow manage to become president, I would expect him to be a bureaucrat rather than an ideologue, which would suit me just fine.

But I don’t expect him to get out of the first few primaries, if he gets that far, because, well, who is the Kasich primary voter? Those who want someone with gubernatorial experience will go to Bush or Walker first and then probably Jindal; those who prefer conservatism fiery and/or unhinged have a whole buffet to choose from. Kasich as far as I can see is always the “other” option. Oh, sure, there are Republicans out there who could be on board for “boring competent conservative,” but recent history suggests they don’t show up for primaries (and if they do, hello Bush). I’m just not seeing the Kasich groundswell. Hell, we barely think of him at all here in Ohio.

Unless Kasich is entirely delusional, he also knows he has no chance, which makes you wonder what his endgame actually is. VP? Maaaaaaaybe? Bush/Kasich or (oy) Walker/Kasich is something I could see, with the idea that Kasich could deliver Ohio. This may just be his way of popping onto the radar for that. Other than that: Secretary of the Treasury, maybe? Positioning himself as a lobbyist once he’s two-termed out of the statehouse here in Ohio? It’s gotta be something, because “actually becoming president” isn’t going to be it.

But, we’ll see, won’t we. I’ve certainly been wrong before, even if I don’t expect to be about this.

The Big Idea: Ted Kosmatka

 

Hey, you know quantum physics? Ha! It’s a trick question, because no one truly knows quantum physics — at this point we know just enough to know how little we understand about what goes on down at that level. Which, as it happens, makes it fertile ground for fiction, as author Ted Kosmatka found out with his novel The Flicker Men.

TED KOSMATKA:

The electron leaves the gun at one tenth the speed of light. It travels as a probability wave, passing simultaneously through two slits carved in a piece of steel. On the far side, an interference pattern forms where the waves cross each other—and for just a moment, the math of the universe is laid bare before you. It’s all probability. Uncertainty. A schematic of what might be.

But bend and look close. There, you see it?

Now you’ve changed everything.

*

The big idea for The Flicker Men was actually a small idea. Quantum-sized, in fact. I was reading up on quantum mechanics, with its strange interaction between observer and phenomena, and I found myself wondering about the nature of observation in a quantum system. I mean, what, precisely, is an observer? Is consciousness required?

In the everyday world that we occupy, observers are fairly mundane, but in the realm of quantum mechanics, that shadowing half-world where light is both particle and a wave, the question of observation accrues fundamental importance and has far reaching implications for reality itself.

What if you used the principles of quantum mechanics to define, exactly, the parameters of observation? What if you found something you hadn’t expected? What if all observers weren’t created equal?

The Flicker Men is an expansion of my earlier short story “Divining Light,” originally published in Asimov’s magazine. For me, it all started with the famous double-slit experiment. For years I was obsessed with this simple, elegant experiment which demonstrates the wave/particle duality of light. They call it quantum weirdness, but that term always seemed too benign to me. It seemed more like quantum brokenness, like there was something fundamentally contradictory about the way our universe functions. Nobody would believe in quantum mechanics if there wasn’t such a consistent mountain of repeatable evidence for it. How can light be both a wave and a particle? How does a probability wave collapse into existence? And then there’s quantum entanglement to contend with—one electron linked to another, Einstein’s spooky action at a distance.

The two-slit experiment sits at the very heart of these questions and lays wide their contradictions. In order to believe in the double-slit experiment, you have to accept that the mere act of observing a quantum system can change it. Probability collapses when observed. Waves are transformed into particles; probability into fact. Reality, somehow, knows if someone is watching.

In the original short story “Divining Light,” I came up with a thought experiment that tackles the two-slit idea in a slightly different way. The experiment, with a subtle change, becomes a kind of test, and the results are open to some frightening interpretations. In the world of the novel, no one is ready for what is discovered.

After the original short story’s publication, I received a lot of mail asking where the real science in the story ended and the speculation began. The answer is somewhere in the middle, though I like to think of the entire novel as an extended thought experiment, each piece building on the logic that came before. In the novel, I explore the original premise further and delve into deeper implications about the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human.

I was a video game writer at Valve for more than five years and my time there gave me a new appreciation for the way our perceptions shape our understanding of the world around us.

I’ve always been a fan of ambitious stories with big, world-spanning arcs; and in a lot of ways, a physics thriller is an ideal platform for tackling the big questions.

The protagonist of The Flicker Men, Eric Argus, is a man haunted by his life’s work. He’s a promising young researcher who made a big splash in quantum mechanics at a young age, but now he’s burned out, fast approaching the end of his career, and wearing out his last chance.

Instead of focusing on new research, he turns instead to face what’s been haunting him. What should have been a dead end turns into an unsettling new chapter of his career. His experiment leads him to a discovery that shakes the foundations of modern physics and opens him up to dangers that he never knew existed.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle tells us that there’s a limit to what can be known, and thus the world is built at least partially on secrets. Eric and his fellow researchers learn an important lesson in the wake of their discovery. Behind every great secret are those who want it kept.

—-

The Flicker Men: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Sunset, With Riding Mower

That’s Krissy out there on the riding mower, incidentally. I don’t mow the lawn because of grass allergies and also lack of competence; Krissy, on the other hand, can whip through the yard like nobody’s business. The riding mower here is actually a loaner, as our actual one is currently in the shop. The shop is run by very nice local Amish. Yes, they can fix riding mowers, and do a very fine job of it. They just don’t use them themselves.

I Have Nothing of Interest to Say Today, So Instead Here’s a Picture of the Dog in the Yard

I believe we can all agree that this is a fair trade.

Why I’m Disliked: A Ten Point List

(WARNING: Neepery, not directly about Hugos, but somewhat related. Also it is about me observing other people observing me, so there’s a whole lot of me in this post. So: Ego alert. Also, it’s long, because I wanted to get out in one place. Skip it if you just don’t care. I don’t mind! Really!)

Over on Facebook at the moment, and as a subset of a larger discussion, there’s a conversational thread about why so many dudes (and it is largely dudes, and dudes of a certain sort and political persuasion) have such a rabid dislike of me, both as a writer and as a human being.

Naturally, I have thoughts on this, based on years of personal observation, so below you’ll find my hypotheses on why I am so widely disliked by a certain type of dude. These hypotheses are mix and match: Not all will apply to everyone.

1. Because I’m an asshole. Gotta put this one in here, and have to put it up top, because indeed, I like pretty much everyone in the world can be a complete asshole from time to time. Depending on who you are (and my opinion of you), you may see my asshole side more often than others do. I do, for various reasons, some systematic and some relating specifically to me, have the luxury of being able to get away with being an asshole more frequently than some other people can or would. So when the mood strikes me, I often have the ability to go ahead and be one.

Disclaimers, now: I try not to be an asshole nearly all of the time, and the mood doesn’t strike me very much in any event, especially as I get older and the amount of fucks I have to give about this sort of nonsense decreases over time. I particularly try to be sensitive to being an asshole to people I see having less power than I do, structurally speaking (i.e., that whole “punch down” thing). I also try very hard not to lead with the asshole card, or to be the first asshole on the scene.

But I don’t always succeed, and also and independently, from time to time I decide that me being an asshole is a thing I need to do. In that situation, if I’m being an asshole in your direction, you’re perfectly justified in disliking me. I’m okay with you disliking me. I may even want you to dislike me. Because it likely amuses me, and because I think it’s what you rate. Some people deserve a thumb in the eye.

2. Because they’re assholes. Which a significant number of them are, for various reasons, including, apparently, some of them making a calculated decision that being a jerk is a viable marketing tactic. They’ve decided, apparently, to address an untapped “asshole” sales demographic. This is a bold strategy and we’ll have to see how it works out for them. Personally I suspect the number of people enticed by an “all asshole, all the time” public relations strategy is smaller than one might suspect. But it’s not my career, and if it gives them joy, then fine.

In which case disliking me is just part and parcel of being a professional asshole. I’m a nice big target, and there’s apparently an estimation that being seen in opposition to me, or framing one’s self as one of my hopeful nemeses, conveys certain marketing advantages. It’s sort of an unpleasant variation of starfucking. I am also skeptical of this as a viable marketing strategy, in part because generally speaking when I’m aware of it being attempted, I don’t address the starfucker directly anymore. It’s fine if they want to play that game; I don’t have to participate. Which sort of lowers its strategy value, in my opinion. But again, if it gives them joy, well, whatever.

3. Because of my politics. Many of the dudes who dislike me have politics that range from reactionary conservative to bourgeois fascist, accompanied by social positions that range from outdated to bigoted (there’s a strong correlation between those political and social positions, mind you, and probable causation as well). I’m no model liberal or progressive, to be sure, but my positions, social and political, are sufficiently left of their own that a) they see me as a useful foil, b) I am in their estimation a leader of a larger, and further left, social/political movement that they created in their heads as a threat to their own largely reactionary, somewhat bigoted way of life. In this case it helps that I’m a well-off straight white man, since using me as a target means they get to deflect criticism of a bigoted worldview.

It also means that they see me as an affirmative-action beneficiary of the non-existent political and social movement that they’ve created inside their heads, which they also think runs things in the science fiction and fantasy genre, which it does not, because, again, it doesn’t actually exist outside their heads. If it did, in the manner in which they seem to believe it does I, as a well-off straight white man, would be an extraordinarily unlikely candidate for their approbation when it came to sales and awards. The fact that they appear to think I am an excellent candidate for this approbation is a significant tell about their own worldview, i.e., that even an alleged social/political movement celebrating/ordering diversity requires a well-off straight white man as a figurehead.

Related to this:

4. Because I should be with them and I’m not. I’m a well-off straight white man who writes military science fiction (among other things); if you look at the stats, the correlation between these categories and “socially/politically conservative” is pretty high. That I’m not socially or politically conservative is apparently a source of confusion and upset for some. Likewise, I’m a well-off straight white man who is a loudmouth on the Internet and who writes about poverty and inequality and who has been unapologetically for things like same-sex marriage and the right of women to have total reproductive control of their own bodies, and has used his influence in his field to speak against harassment, and for diversity. Which is also apparently not what I should be doing.

That I am doing these things, and that I don’t have the expected politics for my easily-slottable demographic, is confounding — and also, if you’re the sort of person who gets upset about these things, suggests possibly that I am a traitor to well-off-ness, and straightness, and whiteness, and man-ness, all of which have, apparently, very specific conditions of being, of which I may not actually meet. Hold that thought, we’ll get back to it.

5. Because I’m successful: Despite not slotting in how I should socially or politically, and not receiving the imprimatur of the folk who apparently believe they have the ability to decide who and what is really science fiction and what is not, I’ve nevertheless done very well in my field, while others doing similar things (and doing it better, in their opinion), are not doing as well as I am. This clearly isn’t fair or right.

Obviously, the fact that I am doing better than some others despite my inauthentic nature means that I am a beneficiary of manufactured success, either at the hands of the social/political movement they’ve created inside their head which does not actually exist, or by the manipulations of my publisher, who for some reason has decided that tying itself to a writer who doesn’t sell, to the tune of millions of dollars and more than a dozen books, is a valid and solid commercial strategy. Which, of course, just makes the detractors even more annoyed.

All of this combines to the following:

6. Because I’m not a real man. My political and social positions, and my success which must obviously not be real, mean that I’m not an actual man man. I’m not an alpha male. I’m a beta or even a gamma, a submissive tool of women, in cowering awe of real men, and probably gay, because being gay is the worst possible thing for a man to be, and one that is, is hardly deserving to be called a man at all.

Note well the strategy here: When a man who does not meet these fellows’ requirements for manhood nevertheless succeeds — and succeeds in a field they have claimed as their own stomping ground — the play is de-masculinize him (by their silly definition of “masculine”) as much and as quickly as possible. In other words, they try to demote that man. They’re trying to demote me from manhood, because manhood, in this formulation, is really the only thing that matters.

This, unsurprisingly, leads to the next reason they dislike me:

7. Because they can’t actually do anything to me. In point of fact, I can’t be demoted by them, either out of my manhood, or out of any other advantage I have. After all their blathering and whining and conspiracy theories and nasty mean awful snarkings, they have changed precisely nothing. Look, I’ve been on the receiving end of this nonsense literally for years, and none of it — none of it — has ever made a single material difference in how I’ve led my life, how my career has advanced, or how I do my work on a day-to-day basis. Nobody cares. Literally no one cares.

When faced with this sort of general impotence, the response appears to be: Try harder. Well, again: I wish them joy. It won’t matter to me.

8. Because of envy. This one is pretty obvious in some specific cases. I’ve been pretty successful despite being a mewling coward of a gamma, whereas some of them have been notably unsuccessful at nearly everything they’ve done despite being awesome supergeniuses who are always thinking sixteen steps ahead, so tremble when I walk amongst you, puny humans. To which my response is: I’m sorry your life has turned out so poorly for you, but this is not really my problem, and also, I wish you would stop trying to make it my problem.

9. Because I refused to recognize that they were right about something that one time, or several times. This is also specific to a couple of people who thought they were pretty good with that whole arguing thing, and were making points that were clearly self-evidently correct, and were non-plussed when I noted that they were not self-evident, and also, they couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag. Clearly in these cases the problem was not their positions or their inability to elucidate them in a coherent manner, but that I was mean. Unsurprisingly, people who think they are right about most things more often than not appear to hold long grudges against people who point out they’re often not right, and not right more often than they would like.

10. Because of tribal identification. At this point there’s simply a small cadre of people who have decided that the world is against them — or have decided that it’s a smart career move to convince other people that the world is against them — and moved to hook in a bunch of other like-minded folks to create a tribe. When doing something like this, it’s nice to have something for the tribe to exercise their daily two-minute hate against. For this cadre, at this moment, these things include a non-existent political and social movement they’ve created in their heads, the awards this non-existent political and social movement supposedly control, and me, as a titular icon of this non-existent political and social movement.

If you’ve been convinced to join this tribe, this is great — you’ve been pointed in a particular direction, given your instructions, and now all you have to do is follow the steps. That the steps are silly, based on nonsense and are, in the case of me at the very least, liable to effect nothing, is almost aside the point. The point is: membership. Belonging. And something to hate, or at least dislike.

And again: If it gives these people joy to dislike me, it’s no skin off my nose. I’ll be doing my own thing. I do think it’s sad, however. I hope eventually they decide that they have better things to do. There are, indeed, so many other, better, things to do with one’s life. Let’s hope they figure out what those things might be.

 

New Books and ARCs, 7/17/15

Welcome to the weekend — and to get you started, here’s a nice stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Tell me in the comments which ones excite your “gotta have it” neurons.

Today’s New Glasses

My old glasses prescription was going out of date, so I went to get a new pair. I ended up getting three pairs instead.

This is my new general set of glasses. It looks generally indistinguishable from my previous set of glasses, because I liked how they looked on me. They’re progressive lenses, which is the same as having bifocals but less obvious so you don’t have to acknowledge that you’re getting old.

These are my computer glasses, which is to say a pair with a fixed focus distance roughly in line with how far I sit from my computer screens. I got these because when I use my progressive lenses at my desk, I ended up doing a lot of neck craning to be able to see the screen (not a good idea) and/or taking my glasses off and parking my face a couple of inches in from the screen (not a good idea either). Now I can type rather more comfortably. Considering how much time I spend sitting in front of a computer, this is a positive turn of events.

And obviously these are sunglasses. These are also single-distance, designed for far distances since I will use them primarily for driving lounging about on a beach, where close vision will not be at a premium. These glasses have a nice Matrix-y vibe to them. Now all I need is a long leather duster (note: I will not be getting a long leather duster).

For those about to ask: My optometrist didn’t think I was an especially good candidate for contact lenses, because of the need for progressive lenses and because of a specific astigmatism that I have, and as for Lasik, well, I think lasers and eyeballs are a bad mix. So: new glasses! Three pairs! And there we are.

Seriously, These Cookies Are Awesome

I made some awesome cookies, and by “made” I mean “combined ingredients that other people have already made to make them even better in combination.” And you can too! Here’s what you do.

Get with Trader Joe’s Ultimate Vanilla Wafers, Biscoff cookie spread, and Dandies vegan marshmallows. I suspect the recipe will work just fine with any brand vanilla wafer, cookie spread or marshmallow, but in my opinion these are the ones that taste the best (and yes, vegan marshmallows taste really good, or at least Dandies do), so these are the ones I suggest.

Get out three or four pairs of wafers.

Put a healthy (but not ridiculous) amount of cookie spread on each wafer.

Put a marshmallow on half of the wafers.

Complete the assembly.

CONSUME THE DELICIOUSNESS.

Seriously, these are waaaaaaaay tastier than you would think, and you would think they’d be pretty damn tasty. It’s the synergistic effect of wafers and cookie spread and marshmallow.

Now, I hear some of you saying “But, John, what you’ve got there is basically a modified s’more of sorts, so shouldn’t you cook the marshmallow first? I’ve anticipated this question, and while I did not create a campfire to toast the marshmallow, I did take one of the completed cookies and slap it into the microwave to gooey up the middle.

Verdict: It is also delicious this way, but you’re only going to want to nuke that cookie for about five or six seconds because the marshmallow expands to dimensions both comic and messy. Also, any longer than that and the wafer starts to lose its crispness. I personally prefer the unnuked version, but I wouldn’t stop you from eating it this way if such was your joy.

Enjoy your cookies. They are fabulous.