Tech With Value

I am a nerd, and I have disposable income, and those two things mean that I end up buying a lot of technology. I buy some for utility and some just because it’s shiny and I have relatively few defenses against shiny. This has recently led me to consider, out of all the tech that I do have in my house and on my person, which represents the best actual value — that is, what tech do I have that I get the most out of, relative to the price I paid for it?

(Caveat: for the purposes of this exercise I’m considering objects for which the computing aspect is a significant percentage of its utility. Yes, a car and a refrigerator are technology (so are eyeglasses and pants), but I am going to go ahead and skip them out of the discussion. I think you’ll probably understand.)

Let me start with the things that have offered me the least real amount of value. First, I nominate my desktop computers, which are useful but generally spendy, since I have a tendency to make them gaming-capable behemoths and yet spend very little time gaming anymore. These behemoths are nice for photo editing, to be sure, but on balance I overspend relative to actual utility. I live in hope when I buy these rigs, and reality eventually crushes that hope.

Second, my iPad Mini, which is a very pretty and reasonably powerful bit of kit, but which I mostly bought because a videogame I’m helping to develop was initially coded for it, and I needed to be able to look at the thing during development. Beyond that I hardly ever use it, partly because I’m otherwise mostly in the Google ecosystem but also because among the tablets I have my Nexus 7 has the best form factor for me (so of course no one makes tablets with that form factor anymore).

Third, televisions. We have several in the house but I watch relatively little TV these days, mostly because of time constraints, and what TV I do watch I end up watching on computer/tablet/phone more than the TV screen. Now, I’ll note this is just me, since in the Scalzi household both Athena and Krissy watch more TV than I do, and on the TV rather than on other hardware. So for the family overall, there is value. But if I were living on my own (God forbid), it’s questionable whether I would own my own dedicated TV set.

Having cleared out the tech of questionable utility value, what tech do I have that I think on balance has offered me very good value?

First I would nominate my smartphone, which is essentially as powerful as my desktop computer a few iterations ago yet is tiny and goes with me everywhere, pretty much allows me access to all information anywhere, and even has a reasonably competent camera. Plus, from time to time, I can even make phone calls with it, if I want, and sometimes I still do (I mostly text now, though, like other civilized humans). What keeps the smartphone from having the best cost/utility ratio is the form factor, which makes it not useful for, say, writing long-form, which is a thing I do (just thinking of writing this piece on a phone fills me with dread, much less a whole novel), and also because frankly phones aren’t cheap — with hardware costs and carrier charges over the life of the phone added up, it’s a couple thousand dollars per phone. There are ways to brings the cost down, but I don’t do them, for solid (and a couple not-so-solid) reasons. But at the end of the day I live so much on my smartphone that its utility runs very close to its overall price.

Second I would nominate my digital SLRs. These cameras are soooo not cheap (alas!), and while I recently did start getting paid for photography (Tor.com and Locus magazine used some of my photos and compensated me for them, which of course they should have), I don’t have any plans to make it a serious part of my professional income. So the question of cost/value here is an interesting one. I nevertheless think I get excellent value from the cameras, but the value is intellectual and existential — taking pictures makes me happy, and working on those pictures after I taken them also gives me pleasure.

Photography is a hobby of mine, basically, and doing it offers me a consequence-free creative outlet, which as it turns out is important to me. I’m a proponent of monetizing the things you love, to be sure. But over time I’ve learned it’s also important to have creative outlets that are just play. It’s good for your mental health, and it’s beneficial for other aspects of your creativity. The cost of the cameras for me is compensated by what I get out of taking and playing with the photos, and that’s something that has value independent of the financial value of the tech.

With that said, the single piece of tech I have that I think has given me the best utility return on investment, hands down, is the Chromebook Flip I bought last year. It cost me $280 or so when I got it (the version I have, with the 4GB RAM, is now down to $250), and in return I’ve gotten a super-useful little laptop that does nearly everything I need it to do. I can write longform, I can flip it over and use it as a tablet during readings and presentations, I can do (basic) photo editing and other tasks, and now that it has access to Android apps, that’s another value add. Its size and battery life have made it useful for travel, to the point where it’s my go-to travel laptop (my Dell Win10 laptop stays at home unless I need to do a marathon Word session).

And to be blunt, if I drop it, or leave it somewhere, or it gets stolen? I’m out $280, it’s replaceable for less than that now, and all the data I use on it is stored elsewhere. I wouldn’t say its disposable, but I would feel rather less put out than I was a few years ago when I accidentally left my Mac Air at LaGuardia and it somehow magically made its way to Brooklyn and then dropped off the radar completely. That was expensive stupidity on my part. Losing the Chromebook Flip, while it would still be stupidity, is within my budget.

The Flip isn’t perfect (How to make it perfect, Asus, in case you were wondering: 1080p screen 11.6-inch screen and backlit keys on the slightly larger keyboard), but this entry isn’t about whether tech is perfect, but whether it offers value for cost. This purchase really has. I really don’t think I’ve been more satisfied, value-wise, with a tech purchase. Something, perhaps, for you to consider for your own future tech purposes.

New Books and ARCs, 7/22/16

Look at these books and ARCs. Just look at them. See anything you would like to see the inside of? Tell me in the comments!

A Brief Review of Star Trek Beyond

It was pretty decent! With the exit of Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci as director and screenwriters, respectively, the series appears to have made the executive decision that they don’t need to rehash previous plotlines. They’ve written a new one for this film, gave Simon Pegg co-screenwriting duties and let Justin Lin (previously of the Fast and Furious franchise) do his thing. And it works — the movie zooms, the script is good, and the nods to the previous timeline are brief and fitting. This is Star Trek Now, and it is good.

One complaint I do hear from longtime Trek fans is that the new Trek films don’t give enough lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic ethos, and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first was that while that ethos was and is laudable, Roddenberry was as subtle about it as a sledgehammer, which is why TOS episodes sometimes now play like Very Special Episodes where learning happens (some TNG episodes play that way too, notably in the first couple of seasons). As a viewer I don’t actually want the Roddenberry Moral Sledgehammer. I’m not a child. The second is that as it happens Beyond is the Kelvin-era film that most overtly signals in the direction of that Trek ethos, both in what it says and what’s on screen. And for me it was the right amount — enough to know it’s there and important, not enough that you feel like you’re being lectured by a tiresome hippie uncle.

This is not a great film, or one that will held up as a highwater mark of science fiction cinema. But it is a zippy, fun time at a summer movie, competently and cleverly done, and in a summer of ponderous and ponderously long films, one that warps in, gets its business done in two hours and warps back out feels like a winner. It’s not the best Star Trek film (still Wrath of Khan), but it is the best third Star Trek film, handily beating Search for Spock and Star Trek: Insurrection by a far stretch. It also makes me excited that the next Star Trek film has already been greenlit. I like this cast and I like this version of Trek. I’ll be around for the next one.

Trump and the Convention and Where We Go From Here

Original photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license. See original by clicking on image.

Some thoughts on Trump, and the GOP convention:

1. The convention, generally, was the worst-run major political convention in a generation, and that should scare you. How is Trump going to manage an entire country when he can’t even put on a four-day show? (The answer, as we found out this week, is that he has no intention of managing the country at all; he plans to foist the actual work onto his poor VP while he struts about as bloviating figurehead.) Trump lost control of his convention and his message twice, once with Melania Trump’s clumsy plagiarism of Michelle Obama, which ate up two days of news cycles before Trump’s people found someone to be their chump for it, and then second with Ted Cruz, that oleaginous lump of hungering self-interest, who rather breathtakingly took to the stage of a nominating convention in order not to endorse Trump, in the most public way possible. That bit of low-rent Machiavellianism ate up another day of news cycles.

In the end, all the GOP convention has coming out of it are two massive failures of message control and Trump’s cataclysmic nomination speech. With regard to that hot mess of a speech, Trump was always going to be Trump, and there was no way of avoiding that, but the other two mishaps were eminently avoidable — vet all your speeches for previously-used phrases (which is a thing that is commonly done in politics anyway), and don’t give your previous political opponent whose family you’ve insulted a primetime speaking slot when you know he’s not going to endorse your candidate, as Cruz never intended to, and which was a fact the Trump campaign knew. That’s the part that boggles my mind. Two unforced errors on the Trump campaign’s part, and they blew up his convention.

2. Not that there was much to blow up; the Trump GOP convention line-up was closer to that of a struggling MLM company sales rally hosted in Tulsa or Des Moines than that of a major political organization, and the messages offered to the faithful there were almost insultingly simple:

  • We’re all doomed by crime, immigrants and minorities;
  • It’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault, let’s jail and/or kill her;
  • Trump is great, Trump is the supreme leader, all hail Trump, details to come.

i.e., your basic fact-free racist appeal to authority, and at any point you might like to suggest a fact-based counter-argument (crime is near historical lows, immigrants are not major engines of crime, Hillary Clinton is largely not corrupt, as 30 years of intense scrutiny has shown, and Trump is mostly a scammy bungler who likes to screw over the people who go into business with him, etc), the rebuttal from the Trump folks is to just yell louder. YES HILLARY IS A CRIMINAL YES CRIME IS OUTSIDE MY DOOR RIGHT NOW YES THE IMMIGRANTS ARE COMING TO EAT OUR BABIES WITH CRUEL TINY SPOONS

Well, no —

CRUEL TINY SPOOOOOOOOOOOONS

And honestly there’s nothing much one can do to convince them otherwise.

Which means that even if Trump’s convention had gone off without a hitch (which is to say, to be clear, without the hitches that he and his people should have known better than to allow), it still would have been a factless embarrassment of bigotry and fear. The GOP convention this year was going to be a shitshow even without the unforced errors; the unforced errors just added farce to the tragedy.

3. So, let’s talk about that speech of Trump’s for a second, shall we. I didn’t watch it live (I decided instead to go see a Thursday night showing of Star Trek Beyond, which, trust me, from an entertainment point of view was the right call), but I caught it afterwards. I think if you were already in the tank for Trump, it was a fine piece of theater. If you weren’t already in the tank for Trump, though, it scanned as You’re going to die we’re all going to die you need me to save you you need me to save us all. And, well, no. I’m really not, and I really don’t. I don’t know that it will scan effectively for anyone else not in the tank, either. Things just aren’t that bad.

But that’s the Trump shtick: He doesn’t have policies or positions or plans (details to come!), but what he does have is the ability to yell and to confirm your opinion there’s something wrong. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin (See! Look! Attribution! It’s not difficult!), whatever your particular problem is, Trump is not the least bit interested in solving it, he is interested in making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. In this case that’s Clinton, who it’s evident that he doesn’t actually hate (or didn’t prior to this campaign), but when he pressed the “Hillary” button his voters spun up into an excited froth, so why not. It’s also immigrants, which I also suspect he doesn’t hate or care about either, except as a lever, and it works because there are a lot of racists, overt and latent, in his voting pool.

Trump knows what got him this far, and like the unimaginative businessman he is, he sees no need to “pivot” away from it, to try to bring in other people not already in the tank for him. I know this works, he says, why fuck with it? Which, actually, maybe isn’t a bad argument! His recent predecessors as the GOP candidate didn’t benefit from all from trying to pivot, did they? They didn’t win! Like the proverbial boy who keeps digging because there’s got to be a pony down there, Trump is betting there are even more white people he can scare into voting for him. He and the GOP are all in on the idea that there are still enough white people out there to win an election. All he has to do is scare ’em hard enough and make Hillary Clinton look crooked, which has been a GOP hobby for a quarter century running.

So, that was his speech: Scare the white folk.

4. Now, a brief interlude with the Trump voters, aka the scared and angry white people of America.

We’re not scared! Hillary’s crooked!

Guys, no. She might be good at getting out of scrapes, but no one’s that good, and not at the highest levels of scrutiny that she operates on, and has for decades.

Benghazi! E-Mail! Vince Foster! Whitewater!

Dudes. They spent millions and decades trying to pin something on her, and the best that they got out of it was that she was stupidly careless with her email. Which is not good! But it’s not a thing she should be jailed for. Or hanged from a tree for, which was a thing when spoken that Trump’s people only rather half-heartedly distanced themselves from. I could have told you she was stupidly careless with her email and wouldn’t have charged nearly as much, or taken that much time with it.

It’s conspiracy!

It’s really not.

Well, I just don’t trust her.

Of course you don’t. The GOP, as noted, has spent the better part of three decades trying to make her look crooked and evil; concurrently the GOP’s modus operandi, thanks to Newt Gingrich and his followers in Congress, has been to demonize and hate their political opponents. You can’t just disagree with anyone anymore — you have to despise them, and fear them, and scream for them at your political convention to be thrown in jail. You’ve had decades of indoctrination and now you think that’s normal, and that’s kind of fucked up.

Oh, so you can’t criticize Hillary! I see how it is, commie!

Sure you can criticize her, and disagree with her policies and positions and even dislike her as a person. Maybe try to do it without visualizing her as That Horrible Bitch Queen What Belongs in Jail, and while you’re at it, maybe stop visualizing Barack Obama as That Terrifying Kenyan Muslim Socialist Who is Coming For Our Guns, which is not accurate, either. Both of them, as it turns out, are pretty much bog-standard liberalish Democrats. You don’t like that? Okay, fine! You don’t need to go the extra step of demanding to salt the very earth upon which they walk, so nothing ever grows there again.

And while you’re at it, think about why it is that the GOP’s m.o. since Gingrich has been to hate and fear its political opponents, and how it’s come down to this election. Folks, as a candidate for President, Trump has no ruling principles other than hate and fear. He wants you to hate and fear minorities. He wants you to hate and fear immigrants. And most of all he wants you to hate and fear Hillary Clinton. Why? Because those are the buttons he can press to get to the presidency and that is all. If there were other buttons to be pressed, he’d press those. If it were Bernie Sanders in there instead of Clinton, he’d make you hate and fear him instead. It’s all he’s got, but then again, it’s all he’s needed.

5. Which is entirely on the GOP. Make no mistake about two things: One, Trump is where he is today precisely because the GOP has for decades worked on a principle of “demonize and obstruct” rather than working across the aisle to get things done, making it possible for someone with no recognizable Republican principles to bully his way to being the nominee; Two, no matter what happens with the 2016 election, the GOP is pretty much fucked. If Trump wins, there will be a dangerous occupant in the White House, one that has no guiding philosophy beyond his own narcissism and whose own personal inclinations lead him to admire autocrats, and if the GOP thinks they can manage that, I invite them to think on the primaries and the convention. The GOP doesn’t have managers in its ranks anymore; the last one, John Boehner, flipped Congress the bird and went home, and now there’s just hapless Paul Ryan, aka Hangdog Reardon, Ayn Rand’s saddest acolyte, minding the store. They’re not going to control Trump; they can’t even control themselves. They don’t see the value of it.

And if Trump loses? Then you can rely on the GOP to do what it did in 2008 and 2012: To figure the problem was that they weren’t “conservative” enough — “conservative” in these cases means “even whiter and older and scareder.” I mean, shit. The reason Ted Cruz did his Wednesday Night Knifework on Trump was to set himself up for 2020 when Trump loses, and let’s just think about that, shall we. First, Cruz is such a howling vortex of personal regard that he sees someone else’s party as the perfect place to launch his next campaign; second, Cruz — smug, grasping Ted Cruz — actually is likely to be where the GOP goes next. That should genuinely terrify any GOPer who still has sense, or who wants have a Republican in the White House this side of 2024.

6. Trump is still not likely to win — after everything, he’s still trailing Clinton, even if that margin is as slim as its ever been, and in the next few days we’ll see what, if any, convention bounce he gets — and now it’s Clinton’s turn at bat, with her VP pick and the Democratic convention. But let’s not pretend he can’t win, or that he might not be correct that there are still more white people to scare into voting for him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to the GOP that their nominee is manifestly unfit to be in the White House, because Trump wins them a Supreme Court seat and (if they keep both houses) legislative repeals of all sorts of policies they hate. Whatever mischief Trump gets into as President, they figure he’s not going to veto anything they send his way. They’re probably right about that; all that is detail work, and Trump doesn’t care about that stuff. That’s the silver lining to the upcoming GOP disaster.

Now, I suppose we could try to appeal to true conservatives or GOP folks not to vote for Trump — look! Gary Johnson is there and has actual positions! — but let’s not bullshit about this. Trump wins if everyone else who is not an anguished conservative flirting with Johnson does not show up at the voting booth in November, and, bluntly, does not vote for Hillary Clinton for President. And yes, you few remaining diehard Sandernistas, that means getting the fuck over yourselves for once in your lives, realizing that this is not an ordinary election, and acknowledging you pretty much owe the entire world not to consign it to the flames over your entitled fit of pique.

(But I’m in a safely blue state! Can’t I vote for the Greens/Peace and Freedom Party/Wavy Gravy/etc? Ugh, fine, but only after you’ve extracted a promise from at least three swing state pals that they’ll vote for Clinton. It’s important, y’all.)

7. But not everyone who’ll vote for Trump is scared and/or angry and/or white, you say. Sure. Some people just won’t be able to countenance Clinton in the Oval Office for perfectly principled political reasons, and figure that Trump is the only one with a chance to stop her. I understand that. I am sorry for them, who I suspect are largely GOPers, that their choice against Clinton this year is Trump, and that the GOP right now is in a place where Trump was able to become the nominee, because most of the rest of the candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination were an appalling clown car of Dunning-Kruggerands. Whether or not that’s on them as party members, it’s still a tragedy for the country.

All I can say to them is what I have been saying: Look at Trump. Look how he got where he is. Look how he plans to get to the White House. It’s not through policy or positions. It’s through anger and blame and fear, and screaming that those who oppose you are going to pay. Look how he’s run his campaign. Look how his convention went down.

You can’t vote for that and say you didn’t know that was what you were voting for. And if he gets into the White House, you won’t be able to say you weren’t responsible for what happened next. You knew, and you will be.

The Big Idea: Melissa F. Olson

In today’s Big Idea, Melissa F. Olson considers vampires, not through the lens of sparkly teenagers, but through the one that involves waking, getting coffee, and going on with your life. How does that work, and how does it work in her novel Nightshades? Let’s find out.

MELISSA F. OLSON:

When people learn that I write about vampires, they often assume that I myself wish to be a vampire, or believe them to be real. At the very least, they take it for granted that I of course must love vampires. All of those suppositions, however, are wrong. What I really love is a dark, exciting, preferably gothic, thought experiment.

That’s what the concept of vampires is to me, and you can blame Bram Stoker for that. I don’t love Dracula—by now, the Victorian techno-thriller is much too dated, to the point of being practically alien in its depictions of human behavior —but like so many others I am fascinated by it.  I think of Stoker as the Dan Brown of his day: a mediocre (at best) writer who stumbled on an idea that was so universally gripping that it achieved literary near-immortality just by its creation. Parasites are interesting. Immortality is interesting. Putting the two together? Practically irresistible.  Stoker may not have been a legendary writer, but he was savvy enough to recognize a legendary idea when he saw one.

Still, the fact that Stoker wasn’t the world’s greatest writer has had interesting repercussions. As Neil Gaiman put it in his introduction to Leslie Klinger’s annotated edition of Dracula, “I suspect the reasons why Dracula lives on, why it succeeds as art, why it lends itself to annotation and to elaboration are paradoxically because of its weaknesses as a novel.”

In other words, by creating a novel that lacks clarity of plot and mythology, Bram Stoker created a “what if” playground that many writers just can’t resist visiting.  What if there was a creature that never aged, and that fed on human blood? What would the creature look like? How would he interact with humans? What would he feel toward them? How would they react to him?

These questions correlate nicely with my own personal guiding principle of writing fantasy, the mantra I chant whenever the geeky part of my brain starts running off on what would be super cool. Okay, I say to myself, but how would this really work?

If vampires were real (and no, I don’t believe that they are), how would that actually work?

This thought experiment is where I have spent the last five years of my life, writing the Old World series for 47North. A few years ago, however, a new thought occurred to me: what if vampires were real…and nobody really cared?

Oh, they might care in theory, at least for a little while. But I really do believe that if the government captured a “live” vampire tomorrow, there would be a month of social media uproar, and then everyone would just go back to their lives.

Because, you see, that’s what we do. We find out that an earthquake has devastated a country on the other side of the world, or the Hugos are rigged or Donald Trump is running for president, and we have a brief period of outrage (which is like a period of mourning but with more Facebook feuds), and then we go back to putting one foot in front of the other. One day in front of the other. Until the next outrage erupts, and the cycle continues.

But not for everyone.

In Nightshades, a “shade” is a vampire-like creature with preternatural strength, a need for human blood, and saliva that causes intense hypnosis in humans. A few years before the book’s events, a shade was captured alive in Washington DC. There was a public panic, and the director of the FBI created an offshoot agency, the Bureau of Preternatural Investigations, in order to appease the frightened citizens.

A little time passed, no more shades surface, and the uproar began to die down. Most of the world’s population simply went back to their lives, while Congress struggled to determine whether the captured shade is considered a citizen or not. In short, we all absorbed the new normal and moved on.

Except for those government agents who suddenly find themselves dealing with a new species and an apathetic public. When a shade near Chicago starts aggressively kidnapping teenagers, those agents who have to figure out how to handle the crisis, even after everyone else has moved on to the next thing. And the understaffed, uninformed, and desperately overmatched Bureau of Preternatural Investigations has to figure out how to hand a brave new world that the general public would sooner pretend not to see.

Nightshades isn’t about a hidden world, and it isn’t about a well-oiled machine of an agency that can confidently address supernatural threats. It’s about the moments right after vampires are first discovered, and how the new agent in charge of Chicago has to think outside of the box to handle it. I wrote it not because I love vampires, or think they’re sparkly and romantic, but because, damn, I am still having a great time in Bram Stoker’s playground of what-ifs.

—-

Nightshades: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBook|Google Play|Kobo

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

A Note On a Jackass Getting Booted From Twitter

Milo Yiannopoulos, aka Nero aka some real basic garbage in human form, got the boot from Twitter last night as a result of encouraging his racist and/or sexist and/or alt-right pals to go after actress Leslie Jones, who starred in the new Ghostbusters, aka the film sexist manboys wailed was ruining their childhood. Jones was subjected to more than a day of appalling abuse, Yannopoulos chortled about it like the troll he is and cheered his minions on, and Twitter finally decided he was a liability and permanently dumped his ass.

So, some thoughts on this:

1. Yiannopoulos and his party pals are now mewling about this being some horrible violation of free speech, so let’s recall that a) Twitter is not the US or any other government and b) is a private entity and c) essentially reserves the right to boot anyone from their service for whatever reason, so, really, waaaaaaaah, and also, no. Yiannopoulos still has a platform for his nonsense on Breitbart, aka where journalism goes to drill holes in its temple and then cover itself in its own poop, so anyone who wants him can go there (Please go there. Please stay there). He hasn’t been censored; he’s just been told to take a hike.

2. Yiannopoulos and his party pals will also want to claim this is about him being conservative, and again, no. There’s nothing inherent in holding to a conservative philosophy that requires one, in their interactions with others online, to be a raging shithole, or to encourage others to be the same. Millions of conservatives use Twitter every day without being raging shitholes. Conversely, there’s nothing about a liberal philosophy that means you can’t be a raging shithole; I just the other day muted a liberal turd over there because I didn’t want to be bothered with his smug dickery any further. Being an asshole is orthogonal to political philosophy. Yiannopoulos’ public persona is centered on being an asshole in order to serve a market of assholes. That’s pretty obvious.

3. When Yiannopoulos was booted off of Twitter, some folks wrenched their hands and said “But that’s what he wants! It’ll just serve his narrative of persecution!” Well, one, no, it’s not what he wanted. This is a fellow who, when given an opportunity to ask a question in the White House press room, querulously whined about losing his “verified” checkmark on Twitter. Being booted from the service is not an actual win for him. Two, of course he’ll spin it like a win anyway, because as with other dipshits of his sort, everything must always be spun as, not only a victory, but as a victory that is unfolding exactly to plan. Yiannopoulos could trip down a flight of stairs mouth first and he’d crawl himself up a wall at the landing, turn to you with a mouth full of broken teeth and try to convince you that he meant to do that. If you know that about him (and other dipshits like him), it becomes easy to ignore the “that’s what he wants” aspect and do what you need to do.

4. “But he’s gay!” Yes, Yiannopoulos is gay. He’s also an asshole who points other assholes at people to harass and terrorize them. He got booted off Twitter for the latter; the former doesn’t excuse it. Being an asshole is orthogonal to sexuality as well as political philosophy.

5. It’s good that Twitter punted Yiannopoulos, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t look like Twitter did some celebrity calculus there. Yiannopoulos and pals had a nice long run pointing themselves at all other manner of people they didn’t like, for whatever reason, and essentially Twitter didn’t say “boo” about it. But then they harass a movie star with movie star friends, many of whom are Twitter users with large numbers of followers, and whose complaints about Twitter and the harassment of their friend get play in major news outlets, and Twitter finally boots the ringleader of that shitty little circus.

So the math there at least appears pretty obvious from the outside. You can punch down on Twitter and get away with it, but don’t punch up, and punch up enough to make Twitter look bad, or you’ll get in trouble (after more than a day). Is this actually the way it works? I’m not at Twitter so I can’t say. I can say I do know enough women of all sorts who have gotten all manner of shit by creeps on Twitter, but who weren’t in a movie and had movie star friends or got press play for their harassment. And they basically had to suck it up. So, yeah, from the outside it looks like Twitter made their decision on this based on optics rather than the general well-being of their users.

6. Which is a recurring theme with Twitter (and other social media services, but also, of Twitter): Not much gets done until the service looks bad, and then what gets done is cosmetic rather than useful. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter punting Yiannopoulos is a good thing; he deserved it and has done for a while. But Yiannopoulos didn’t get to the point where he needed the boot all by himself. He happily exploited the weaknesses of Twitter — weaknesses Twitter could have dealt with years ago — to become one of the service’s leading shitlords. And getting rid of the shitlord doesn’t mean the shitty little minions he gathered to himself still aren’t on the service and happy to continue their shitty ways. Which is fine if they keep to themselves; less so when they’re shitty to others, as they are likely to be.

Twitter can do more to make it easier for users to route around awful people and to get them off the service if they won’t let themselves be routed around. Twitter’s been promising for years that they’re going to make better strides in this department — and is promising more in the coming weeks — and yet here we are in 2016 and still it takes someone with a number two box office film to her name and all her famous friends to get the service to do something it should have done long ago. Yiannopoulos is giant turd of human, to be sure. But Twitter did its part in letting him get that way. Maybe they should do more to avoid let turd buildup happen from here on out.

They say they’re going to do it. Prove it, Twitter.

A Short Review of Ghostbusters and A Longer Pummel of Manboys

What I thought of the new Ghostbusters: I liked it, and would happily rewatch it. It’s definitely the second-best Ghostbusters movie, and much closer to the original in terms of enjoyment than the willfully forgotten Ghostbusters 2. There are legitimate criticisms to make of it: the plot is rote to the point of being slapdash, the action scenes are merely adequate, and Paul Feig is no Ivan Reitman, in terms of creating comedic ambiance. But the film got the two big things right: It has a crackerjack cast that’s great individually and together, and it has all the one-liners you can eat. And now that the origin story of these particular Ghostbusters is out of the way, I’m ready for the sequel.

But what about the Ghostbusters being all women?!??!?? Yes they were, and it was good. If you can’t enjoy Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones snarking it up while zapping ghosts with proton streams, one, the problem is you, not them, and two, no really, what the fuck is wrong with you. The actors and the characters had chemistry with one another and I would have happily watched these Ghostbusters eat lunch, just to listen to them zap on one another. And in particular I want to be McKinnon’s Holtzmann when I grow up; Holtzmann is brilliant and spectrum-y and yet pretty much social anxiety-free and I honestly can’t see any sort of super-nerd not wanting to cosplay the shit out of her forever and ever, amen.

BUT THEY’VE RUINED MY CHILDHOOD BY BEING WOMEN, wails a certain, entitled subset of male nerd on the Internet. Well, good, you pathetic little shitballs. If your entire childhood can be irrevocably destroyed by four women with proton packs, your childhood clearly sucked and it needs to go up in hearty, crackling flames. Now you are free, boys, free! Enjoy the now. Honestly, I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that one of the weakest parts of this film is its villain, who (very minor spoiler) is literally a basement-dwelling man-boy just itchin’ to make the world pay for not making him its king, as he is so clearly meant to be. These feculent lads are annoying enough in the real world. It’s difficult to make them any more interesting on screen.

But this is just the latest chapter of man-boys whining about women in science fiction culture: Oh noes! Mad Max has womens in it! Yes, and Fury Road was stunning, arguably the best film of its franchise and of 2015, and was improbably but fittingly nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Oh noes! Star Wars has womens in it! Yes, and The Force Awakens was pretty damn good, the best Star Wars film since Empire, was the highest grossing film of 2015 and of all time in the domestic box office (not accounting for inflation. Accounting for inflation, it’s #11. #1 counting inflation? That super-manly epic, Gone With the Wind).

And now, Oh noes! Ghostbusters has womens in it! Yes, and it’s been well-reviewed and at $46 million, is the highest grossing opening for its director or any of its stars and perfectly in line with studio estimates for the weekend. Notably, all the surviving principals of the original film make cameos, suggesting they are fine with passing the torch (Harold Ramis is honored in the film too, which is a lovely touch), and Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd are producers of the film. If your childhood has been ruined, boys, then your alleged heroes happily did some of the kicking.

I’m an 80s kid; my youth is not forever stained by a Ghostbusters remake, any more than it was stained by remakes of Robocop or Point Break or Poltergeist or Endless Love or The Karate Kid or Clash of the Titans or Footloose or Total Recall and on and on. I think most of these remakes were unnecessary, and I don’t think most of them were particularly good, or as good as their originals, and I question why film companies bother, aside from the “all the originals were made before the global movie market matured and there’s money on the table that can be exploited with these existing brands,” which is, of course, its own excuse.

But after a certain and hopefully relatively early point in your life, you realize remakes are just a thing the film industry does — the first Frankenstein film listed on imdb was made in 1910, and the most recent, 2015, and Universal (maker of the classic 1931 version) is planning yet another reboot in 2018 or 2019 — and maybe you get over yourself and your opinion that your childhood is culturally inviolate, especially from the entities that actually, you know, own the properties you’ve invested so much of your psyche into. It’s fine to roll your eyes when someone announces yet another remake, tweet “UGH WHYYYYYY” and then go about your life. But it causes you genuine emotional upheaval, maybe a reconfigure of your life is not out of the question.

(Not, mind you, that I think these shitboys are genuinely that invested in Ghostbusters, per se; they’re invested in manprivilege and, as noted above, would have wailed their anguished testeria onto Reddit and 4chan regardless of which cultural property had women “suddenly” show up in it. This is particularly ironic with anything regarding science fiction, which arguably got its successful start in Western culture through the graces of Mary Shelley. Women have always been in it, dudes. Deal.)

The happy news in this case is that, whether or not this Ghostbusters reboot was necessary, it’s pretty good, and fun to watch. That’s the best argument for it. I’m looking forward to more.

New Books and ARCs, 7/15/16

Hey, you look like someone who could use some reading ideas going into the weekend. Here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs. What looks like you want to dig into it? Tell us in the comments!

10,000

WordPress informs me that this post is the 10,000th post on the site. I know that figure is inaccurate, since none of the posts from between September 1998 and March 2002 are on the site, and there were at least several hundred of those; likewise, the WordPress doesn’t distinguish between the posts I write, and the several dozen guest posts and hundreds of Big Ideas. But I suspect they all even out, more or less, in the end — subtract the Big Idea and guest posts, add in the missing posts from the beginning era of the site, and you probably end up with me having written 10,000 Whatever entries, more or less.

Which is a lot. I’ve been writing this blog nearly 18 years now — yikes — and 10,000 posts is an average of 555 posts a year, or one and a half posts a day (I didn’t always write write here daily in the early years, and lately I’ve been taking more weekends off). And while I’ve written close to 100,000 Twitter posts in since March 2008, which seems like a lot more, most posts here are rather longer than 140 characters. In short, it’s a whole lot of writing, for a really long time.

As I’ve noted before, and with no disrespect to my fiction work, which is great, harumph harumph, it may end up years from now that people see Whatever as my life’s work, and everything else I’ve done as incidental to it. Which would be ironic, as I by design make no money from the site. But, whatever. The future will decide for itself.

In the meantime, hey: 10,000 posts. It’s a lot. I’m curious to see if there will be another 10,000 before I’m done. Let’s find out.

And in the meantime, here. Have a picture of a cat.

The Big Idea: David D. Levine

When Hugo-winning writer David D. Levine went looking for inspiration for his debut novel Arabella of Mars, he chose from some eclectic sources, from a Grand Master of fantasy to one of the most acclaimed nautical novelists of all time. How does it all fit together? Levine is here to tell you.

DAVID D LEVINE:

My first published novel, Arabella of Mars, has been incubating for a long, long time. I started writing it in 2011, finished it in 2013, sold it in 2014, and now it’s finally coming out in 2016… but the Big Idea for it came even earlier. It started with a throwaway line in Gene Wolfe’s The Urth of the New Sun, in which the narrator Severian voyages on a spaceship which is described as having masts and sails. To go out on deck one must don a “cloak of air” against the vacuum, and one sailor cannot hear anything said by another unless the two come so close that their cloaks touch. “I have heard it said,” Severian writes, “that if it were not thus, the roaring of the suns would deafen the universe.”

I probably read Urth of the New Sun when it first came out (1987), and that line just stuck in my head. When I started writing short stories in 1999, after a long hiatus from writing fiction, that line was one of the ones I put in my idea file, where it simmered at the back of my mind’s stove for another ten years or so. The main worldbuilding implication of that idea was plain from the beginning: if the sky were full of air, one could travel to other planets by sailing ship. Space travel without modern technology is an idea I love (I explored it in my short story “Ukaliq and the Great Hunt”) and I was sure I could build a great world on it. But how to turn that idea into a story?

The first approach I had to the idea was to ask: if the sky were full of air, how would humanity have discovered this? After some thought — and, again, considering that Gene Wolfe quote — I figured that it would likely have been discovered during the Age of Enlightenment, with Franklin or Newton noticing an inexplicable, pervasive vibration spoiling his experiments and this leading to the discovery of the “roaring of the suns.” But this wasn’t much of a story in itself — it was backstory at best.

Having begun with the idea of the Age of Enlightenment, I kept thinking about this story as an alternate history. If space travel by sail were possible, it would have become commonplace in the age of sail, and of course humanity would have colonized the planets — which would, of course, be inhabited. Pretty soon I came up with the idea of a troupe of players in the 1700s, traveling to Mars and Venus to entertain the troops in the wars of the era. But, again, this wasn’t quite a story.

While I searched for a story, I was also noodling about the science and technology of this alternate world. At first I thought that I would be able to make just one change — filling the solar system with air — and have the rest be hard SF, with real physics. Well, that turned out not to be possible. For one thing, air isn’t really that transparent; consider how red the sun looks when viewed through only a few miles of the stuff (at the horizon, as opposed to overhead). If there were eight light-minutes of air between here and the Sun, you wouldn’t see more than a dull red glow in that direction. For another thing, there’s the pesky problem of the distances involved being too vast to travel in any reasonable amount of time at sailing-ship speeds. So I fudged: the “interplanetary atmosphere” is something that’s breathable but far more transparent than air, and the size of the solar system is considerably smaller. I also had to tweak the value of G and some other basic physical constants. Wherever possible, though, I used real physics and real technology, and I worked out how to launch and navigate in three dimensions and zero gravity in way too much detail.

During the years when all this was going on in my head, I fell in love with the seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian and decided that the Napoleonic Wars were just the thing for drama, excitement, and high stakes. Furthermore, I decided that the main character had to be a girl who dressed as a boy to join the crew of an interplanetary clipper ship. Why a girl? Because women have more problems to overcome than men, which makes them more interesting protagonists. Why dressed as a boy? To interrogate the sexism that means women have more problems to overcome than men! I knew from the start that Arabella — unusually for me, her name was Arabella from the beginning and I never considered changing it — would be a Patrick O’Brian girl fighting against a Jane Austen world.

Eventually, with the help of many friends (thanks especially to Sara Mueller) I figured out why someone in this world would do something that crazy, and then I wrote it all down, and then with more help I made it better and got it accepted for publication. And now, after all that work, you can finally read it for yourself. This is only the first of Arabella’s adventures, and beyond that there’s two hundred years of alternate history in this world to explore. I hope you like it!

—-

Arabella of Mars: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Activism, and Whether I Do It

My pal Monica Byrne (who is, incidentally, a fabulous writer), asked me the other day if I would consider myself an activist, and if so, would I call myself one publicly. It was an interesting question, especially since I’m at least partly known for having strong political and social opinions, and sharing them via this blog and other outlets.

My answer to her was no, I don’t really consider myself an activist. The reason I gave her was pretty straightforward: I’m too lazy. Which is to say that while I have my beliefs and principles and largely follow them (sometimes imperfectly), and will happily tell others what those beliefs and principles are, the sort of committed action that to me defines activism — and the continued proselytization for a belief that activism often requires, including the desire to inspire others to take moral action — is not something I usually undertake.

There are other reasons for this besides laziness, including work and the desire to have other interests in my life, but laziness really is a large part of it. Activism is work. I’m glad other people do it, and admire their effort. But it’s not something I put much effort in.

But you write here all the time on political and social topics! Yes I do. But this is not a blog for activism, it’s a blog for whatever I feel like writing — or, when I’m writing a book as I am now, what I have time for writing. The blog is like me; all over the place and a bit pixelated. This is not to say people I would consider activists only do activism. They do other things too, of course; the people who only do one thing all the time are (I would submit) maybe a lot to have to deal with. But I would certainly say activists commit more of themselves and more of their time to activism than I do. Blog posts and retweets do not an activist make.

After my chat with Monica on the topic, I came up with another reason why I don’t call myself an activist, which is that many of the causes I find myself agreeing on and writing about are ones that I don’t consider my primarily fight to fight. For example, for more than a decade, here and elsewhere, I was (and am!) a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage in the US, and I was thrilled and happy when it was made the law of the land. Was I an activist for the cause? Well, as a straight person, I’m not sure it was my place to be so. I can say I was active for it, surely. But declaring myself an activist for it (aside from the fact of the laziness mentioned above) seems sort of usurp-y. I didn’t need to be seen leading or directing the course of that particular parade. It wasn’t my parade to lead. I was just happy to march in it.

Likewise for women’s issues, or issues involving people of color, or trans issues, as examples, all of which I’m interested in, and have opinions on, but which ultimately don’t have me as their focus as a white cis male. I have an ego, to be sure. But I don’t think I need to pull attention to myself in these fights. I’m happy to stand with, not in front of (and hopefully not get in the way of, which could be a thing if I’m not paying attention).

Which brings up another point, which is that very often activism seems to come out of the well of having no other choice — that in some cases if you’re not an activist, you’re going to get steamrolled by the dominant culture. And, well, you know. I’m pretty much aware that in the US, I’m in the dominant culture, and quite bluntly I get to pick and choose what political and social issues I get to be involved in, and how deeply. And when I get fed up, I get to say “later,” and go write or play video games or just disappear. I have the luxury of engagement, or not. I suspect that for a lot of folks, to declare myself an activist when I can bail whenever I feel like it would be exasperating.

(There are activist issues not specifically related to racial/gender/sexual identity, of course — tech and politics and religion and so on and so forth, where your average white straight male isn’t necessarily pulling focus. Very few of these engage me to the extent that activism on the subject calls to me.)

I’d note that this is all about whether I would consider myself an activist; other people might have other opinions, either in a positive sense, or in a negative one. Surely every time someone labels me a “social justice warrior,” for example, they pretty much implicitly accuse me of being an activist, and one for issues they don’t like. And three things here: One, I don’t mind; two, fuck ’em; three, it still doesn’t make me an activist in my own mind.

If someone else wants to consider me an activist, for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to, and I don’t. I do hope whoever they are, they know I’m destined to disappoint them somewhere down the road. I’m inevitably going to fail whatever standard they have for activism, in no small part because I’m not even achieving my own standard for it.

Again, it’s not to say that I’m not often engaged on many issues. I am. At the end of the day, though, to my mind, what makes an activist is commitment to a cause and the commitment to change the hearts of others, and possibly the course of history. I’m happy to speak my mind and if my words make people think, and sometimes even think differently than they did before, then that’s great. But I don’t know if that’s enough to consider myself an activist for any one cause. I think I’d have to do more than I do. And who knows? Maybe one day I will. We’ll see.

Cat Picture! Plus! Award Nomination!

First: Look! Here’s Spice! Looking very much like she’s walking away from a movie explosion. She’s not. But the explosion is very much implied.

I’ll note that every time I post a picture of one or the other of the Scamperbeasts here, someone generally says, “Wow, they’re not kittens anymore.” They’ve certainly grown up quite a bit. However, I personally feel that you can call a cat a kitten for their first year of life, which means the Scamperbeasts get to be kittens until around September 6, which is the day they were born, give or take a day or three. So enjoy their technical kittenosity for another two months, folks.

Second: I’ve been informed that Redshirts has been nominated for a Geffen Award this year, which is the major Israeli SF/F award, in the category of translated science fiction. Neat! Other nominees in the category include Neal Stephenson, Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross and Ted Chiang, which is a fine cast of writers to probably lose to. Congratulations to all of them.

(BUT WAIT SCALZI I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU WERE TURNING DOWN AWARD NOMINATIONS THIS YEAR — I am, but Redshirts was originally published in 2012, so, you know. I’m fine with that.

YES BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF THE END OF ALL THINGS IS NOMINATED YEARS FROM NOW FOR A FOREIGN LANGUAGE AWARD — Then I’ll direct that the award, if won, be given to the translator of the book, because they will have earned that award, don’t you think? There, that’s sorted.)

Dallas

I was there earlier this year, for the first time longer than the time it took to get from one side of DFW to the other. I had a fine time there with friends and fans, and made some wonderful memories.

My heart is there today.

I’m done with this week, I think. See you all on Monday.

Police and Me and Philando Castile

Here’s the thing: I’ve been pulled over by the police before, mostly because I’m speeding, but at least once because of a broken tail light. When I’m speeding, I usually know that I’ve been speeding, so when the police officer asks me if I know why I was pulled over, I say “probably because I was speeding. You caught me, write me up.” I do it because I know there’s a good chance he’ll be so tickled by me not even trying to evade the ticket that he’ll just let me off with a warning. One time I was speeding on the freeway, and when the cop pulled me over, I asked if I could speak to him outside the car. He allowed me to get out of the car, and when he did, I leaned in close and said, “the people with me in the car have not stopped arguing since I picked them up. I need a break from them. Write me up, and please, take a long time doing it.” The cop laughed, didn’t write me up, and chatted with me for about five minutes to give me breathing space from the squabbling in the car.

I have never once been afraid of being pulled over by the cops in my car. I have never once been afraid of the cops when they have approached me for anything. It does not occur to me to be afraid of the cops. Why would it? When I have been pulled over by the cops, the worst that will happen to me is that I will be cited for speeding — which is, when it happens, an entirely fair call on the part of the cop, because I usually was speeding. I have literally been pulled over by the cops with an actual skinhead neo-Nazi in my car — and there’s a story for you, long and complicated, and mostly aside from the point at the moment so I’ll skip it for now — and the neo-Nazi was literally biting his tongue so he wouldn’t scream fuck yooooooou, PIIIIIIIIG at the cop at the top of his lungs. I sat there and chatted with the cop about me speeding, and he let me off with a warning and I went on my way, neo-Nazi with bulging neck veins apoplectic in the passenger seat beside me.

So I repeat: I have never once been afraid of being pulled over by the cops in my car. I have never once been afraid of the cops when they have approached me for anything. It does not occur to me to be afraid of the cops.

Nor, I rather strongly suspect, does it occur to anyone who looks like me — white, male, visibly part of the mainstream of American culture — to be afraid of the cops. The only time we are afraid of the cops is when, say, we’ve got a dime bag and the car smells of skunkweed. Or when in fact we’ve had more to drink than we should have. Or we have that unlicensed gun poking out from underneath the passenger seat. Basically, when we are doing something that’s against the law, and we can get in trouble for it, and the cop would be perfectly within their rights to take us to jail for it.

This is why, I suspect, when so many people who look like me, white and/or male, and visibly part of the mainstream of American culture, hear about a black person being gunned down by a cop, in their car or out of it, immediately go to “well, what did they do to deserve it?” Because, in the somewhat unlikely event of one of us being arrested by a cop, much less gunned down by one, we know damn well that dude did something stupid to warrant the cop taking that action. My own lived experience of 47 years, and the lived experience of nearly every other person who looks like me that I know, confirms that fact. I’m not going to get stick from a cop unless I did something to get that stick.

Now, here’s what I know so far about Philando Castile, which is what anyone at this point knows: This 32-year-old guy who worked at an elementary school and who had no police record* was, with his girlfriend, pulled over for a broken tail light, and was in the act of complying with police instructions and volunteered information to the police officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry, when the police officer shot him. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to suppose that the reason Castile told the police officer he had a firearm was so the officer wouldn’t see it, panic, and shoot him. But it didn’t matter, and he was shot anyway, and died. He died, by all indications, despite doing exactly what he was supposed to do — complying with police instructions, and doing what he could to defray any potential problems.

I have been pulled over by the police. I have had a broken tail light. I have complied with police instructions. And while I don’t travel with a firearm in my car on most days, if I had one in the car and was pulled over, you’re damn right I’d let the cop know about it, especially if it was on my person. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to give the cop any surprises. And I am just about 99.9% certain, in that situation, if I were doing all those things, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself shot, dying in that car.

But then, I’m white, and Philando Castile wasn’t.

I posted this tweet last night, about the announcement that Philando Castile had died:

And the first comment was from a guy just like me, white, middle-aged, clearly in the mainstream, who responded, “Jumping to conclusions again, John? Maybe we need more time on this one. Guy said he had a gun and reached inside his coat.”

Leaving aside the data point that according Diamond Reynolds, her boyfriend was reaching for his wallet in compliance with officer instructions, and leaving aside the data point that she maintains that Castile was informing the police officer about the gun so he would know it was there and presumably not be alarmed by it, all I said was one simple word: “Jesus.” Shock that Philando Castile died. Nothing else — I didn’t comment on whether I thought the shooting was justified or not. I didn’t comment on the color of Castile or of the police officer. I didn’t make a statement on who was at fault, or of my general feelings about police, or of anything else. Just, “Jesus.”

And the first comment, from a white, middle-aged, mainstream dude, is reaching for a rationalization for the cop for shooting Philando Castile.

The most charitable explanation I can give for that fellow is what I mentioned above: For him, and for me, and for the folks who look like us, the only way we’d get shot is if we were doing something that would get us shot.

But I also know, with high levels of certainty, that someone who looks like me merely informing a cop that we have a gun would be unlikely to get us shot. I mean, hell. Aside from anything else I’ve mentioned here, I live in rural America. You think a non-trivial percentage of people here don’t have guns on them? Even when they’re pulled over by cops? It’s also worth noting, as I say the above, that the racial composition of my county is 98% white. If my neighbors or I get pulled over and inform a cop, in the process of complying with their instructions, that we have guns, we’re very likely to live. Not everyone can say the same.

I’m not saying the fellow who made the comment to my tweet is racist. He’s probably not, any more than I am. But we live in a racist society, and some of that racism gets exhibited in how our police forces deal with us. I have a very different experience of the police than my friends and fellow citizens who don’t look like me. It’s an experience different enough that while I understand intellectually that there are people who are afraid of the police, just as a default setting, and it’s something I see again and again as minority friends of mine vent and rage on social media, I still can’t feel it. I am not afraid of the police. I never have been. I have never had to be. I probably will never have to be. That doesn’t mean that my friends are wrong.

The police officer who shot Philando Castile wouldn’t have known that Castile had no police record, worked in a school and was by all indications well-liked in his community but even that is placing the burden of exculpation on the man who got shot. In the same situation, pulled over with the same broken tail light, telling the cop the same things, with the cop knowing exactly about me as he did about Castile, I still don’t get shot. Of that I feel certain. Nor should I be. Why should I be? Even if you hate the idea of people being able to conceal carry weapons, if someone is following the law, they shouldn’t be shot for carrying that weapon.

The cop made a threat assessment and decided to shoot. A man is dead for it, one who, by all indications, complied with the officer’s instructions and acted to keep the officer aware of his situation, so there would be no surprises. And I know that because the man is dead by the cop’s hand (and by his weapon), there will be people, many of whom will look like me, who will look to find fault with Philando Castile, with what he did or said, something, anything, to justify the shooting. And it’s possible that what we know now is not the complete story, and that Castile did do something, anything, that made the cop in question shoot to kill.

But, two things here. First: would that something, anything, be enough to kill me, if I did it? I would like to bluntly and rather racistly suggest that the standard for policing in this country not be how the police treat black men, but how they treat white men, and specifically, white men like me, me who has no fear of police because he has never had cause to fear the police, and never been made by the police to fear them. By all indications, there was no reason for this police officer to fear Philando Castile any more than he would have to fear me. We know this now. But in the moment, I suggest in the same situation, I would still be alive where Castile is dead, and we need to ask why. The officer who shot Castile may not be racist any more than I or the fellow who commented back to me on Twitter likely is. But we live in a racist society, and the ambient racism steeps into each of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

Second: If you’re one of the folks looking for something, anything to excuse the shooting of Philando Castile, as a matter of intellectual honesty you should consider the possibility that you’re wrong, and that Castile, in fact, did nothing to warrant his death, and that the officer shot him, needlessly. And when you entertain that notion, you should also ask yourself why Castile is dead anyway. If your answer to that question is entirely devoid of anything having to do with the fact that Philando Castile was a black man, you should probably try again.

I am not afraid of the cops. Never have been. Probably will never have to be. That is a luxury and privilege not everyone gets to have. I’m glad I have it. I want more people to have it, too. We’re not there yet. We can’t pretend we are.

* Update: 3:46pm: NBC News is reporting Castile was pulled over numerous times since 2002 for various traffic violations, including speeding and driving without a muffler. They note: “All were for misdemeanors and none were for violent crimes.” Another NBC-affiliated reporter pipes in re: the traffic violations:

Announcing Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

So, hey, here’s something that should make at least some of you happy: I’m putting out a story collection through Subterranean Press called Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi. Just as the title suggests, the eighteen pieces that are included in Miniatures are very short — the longest is a smidge under 2,300 words — and most of them are (surprise!) humorous. If you’ve seen me on book tour, you’ve probably heard me read from some of these pieces. I’m very excited to share them with you all in print.

In addition to fourteen previously-published stories (including the Sidewise Award-nominated “Alternate History Search Results”), the collection includes four never-previously-appearing-in-print stories: “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest,” all of which were written exclusively for this collection, and “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” which I performed at W00tstock a few years ago but never put into print. Fixed that! Also, several of the stories were previously published in rare and/or hard-to-find editions. This collection makes them much easier to find, read and enjoy.

I’m also super excited to say that Natalie Metzger, who created that fabulous image of me riding a churro-corn that you see above, is providing art for the book — both the cover and illustrations for each of the stories. I asked for her specifically because I think her sense of whimsy and humor match the pieces in Miniatures perfectly, and happily Subterranean Press agreed. Natalie and I met during Westercon this last weekend to chat about her illustrations and I couldn’t be more pleased by the ideas she has for the book. You’re going to love them.

Subterranean is releasing Miniatures in a signed, limited print edition of 1,500, which means every copy will be signed by me — no need to hunt me down for an autograph. Those will be $40 each. Or you can get a lettered and leatherbound edition for $250 (there will only be 52 of those). So yes, the print editions will be collector’s items. Pre-ordering would be advisable. Subterranean will also be releasing an electronic edition (pricing to be determined later, but cheaper). And yes, before you ask, there is very likely to be an audio edition, and I will get you more details on that when it comes available. Heck, there’s going to be at least one foreign language edition, too, so it’s got that going for it as well.

Miniatures is going to be a ton of fun in a small package, and I can’t wait for you to see it.

Three Things That Arrived Whilst I Was Away at Westercon 69

They are, from left:

  • The Hungarian version of Redshirts, with a fairly awesome cover;
  • A proclamation from the Ohio House of Representatives congratulating me on my Governor’s Award and telling me that by all indications I’m pretty nifty, which is cool;
  • The SF Masterworks edition of Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin, for which I was honored to write an introduction.

And I got another dozen books or so from other folks, which I will be showing off a little later in the week, you know, as I do.

And how, you ask, was Westercon 69? Well, I had fun, at least! All my panels went very well, and at my reading I’m happy to say that I got my family and fellow GoH Bobak Ferdowsi involved:

We were all reading from a new, never-before-presented short story called “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.” It went pretty well; my daughter was particularly good in the part of Destructor, Ender of All Humanity.

Plus, at Westercon, we had donuts!

So, yes, we had a pretty good time. Hope your July 4th long weekend was also a good one.

New Books and ARCs, 7/1/16

Just in time for Canada Day and the 4th of July, here’s a fine collection of new books and ARCs that have come into the Scalzi Compound. Which of these would you like to spend a long weekend with? Tell me in the comments!

View From a Hotel Window, 7/1/16: Portland, OR

I’m here in town for Westercon 69, where I am a guest of honor, doing panels and readings and signings and loungings about and eatings and sleepings. If you’re in the Portland area, you should come down for the weekend, especially as it is very likely for my reading I will be reading new work that no one else has ever heard ever in the history of ever. So there’s that. Plus, every other thing about this convention that will be super cool. So come on down.