Monthly Archives: September 2004

Stupid, Ignorant or Hypocritical Update

Documentary evidence for my point of view:

As the nation prepares to watch the presidential candidates debate foreign policy issues, a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, are largely accurate in their assessments. The uncommitted also tend to misperceive Bush’s positions, though to a smaller extent than Bush supporters, and to perceive Kerry’s positions correctly. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: “What is striking is that even after nearly four years President Bush’s foreign policy positions are so widely misread, while Senator Kerry, who is relatively new to the public and reputed to be unclear about his positions, is read correctly.” (emphasis mine)

Stupid, Ignorant or Hypocritical. You heard it here first.

(On an unrelated note: This is the 600th entry since I switched over to Movable Type. Yay, me.)

Today’s Fountain of Ridiculous Crap From Antonin Scalia

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says he believes “abstract moralizing” has led the American judicial system into a quagmire, and that matters such as abortion and assisted suicide are “too fundamental” to be resolved by judges.

“What I am questioning is the propriety, indeed the sanity, of having value-laden decisions such as these made for the entire society … by judges,” Scalia said on Tuesday during an appearance at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

– “Scalia: Abortion ‘too fundamental’ for judges” 9/29/04

Well, excellent. I invite Antonin Scalia to philosophically back up this contention by recusing himself the next time abortion or assisted suicide comes up in front of the Supreme Court.

A show of hands of everyone who thinks he will. No rush.

For the edification of all, let me give my estimation of Judge Scalia’s thinking on what matters are too “fundamental” for the courts:

Scalia personally supports it: Not too fundamental.

Scalia doesn’t personally support it: Waaaay too fundamental.

Now, personally, I think picking a president for the nation is probably a task too fundamental for the courts, but I don’t recall Scalia exactly rushing to the moral barricades on that one.

Note to self: If ever President, remember not to nominate to the Supreme Court someone who has such clear contempt for the American federal system.

I Love the Smell of New Books in the Morning

newbooks928.jpgSince the Science Fiction Book Club will be promoting my book in January, I figured it would be only fair to actually join the club, so a couple of weeks ago I did just that, and as a result got a small pile of books with the club’s “5 books for $1″ introduction thing, plus the second additional book for $4.95. So now I have a pile of books I can use to drop on something deserving, like a really large spider who forgets the Spider Smack Rule (“If a spider indoors stays where I can’t smack it, it will live, because spiders are useful. If the spider strays into the smack zone, it shall be smacked, because useful or not, spiders creep out my wife”).

Joining the club comes with a mild authorial tension in that Book Club editions of books usually generate a smaller royalty rate to authors; i.e., they get paid less for the books than if you go and buy them in the book store. In my particular case with Old Man’s War, I’m not in the slightest bit worried about this, so if you have a SFBC membership, I don’t want you to feel conflicted about picking up my book in Book Club form when it’s promoted in January. For my purposes, any sale is an excellent sale. So please, select away! But when I buy books, I do like the idea of maximizing author profits whenever possible. At the same time, I’m also aware that sometimes I’m feeling cheap or am on the bubble with a book, and in those times, cost is a factor. With that in mind, I’ve generated my own little internal template of rules regarding when to get something in the bookstore and when to get something in the Book Club.

1. New and/or recent(< 5yrs)books from authors I know I like: Bookstore.

2. New books from writers I haven’t read yet: Okay to buy from Book Club, since it’s a “first taste” thing. If I end up liking the book, I’ll buy the next one in the bookstore. This does not preclude buying that first book from a bookstore, of course. I imagine where I buy these books will be a matter of where I am when I see them.

3. Old (> 5yrs) books from authors I know I like: Book Club’s okay. Hey, those omnibus editions save shelf space, and it’s nice to have them in hardback.

4. Books I’ve already purchased before, the copies of which have gone missing and/or have been permanently “borrowed” by people who shall go nameless today but who will be punished at a place and time of my choosing: Book Club.

5. Books by dead people: Book Club. Because, you know, they’re dead.

6. Short story collections/anthologies: Book Club. Because — no offense to short fiction writers — there’s something about books of short stories that genuinely repel my need to purchase books. I have no idea what my malfunction here is, since I do like short stories. All I know is, prior to this Book Club spree, I haven’t bought short story collections at all. So if the Book Club gets me to buy them, it’s adding to the overall royalty pot for some author, not taking away from it.

7. Writers who I’ve liked but whose previous couple of books have been, you know, disappointing: Book Club’s okay. It’s like probation. If the book is good, then the next purchase will be in the bookstore. If it’s not, eh. I’ll get to the next book when I get to it, if I get to it.

Let’s see how this little collection of rules applies with my selections, shown above:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: First time author who I’ve not read before, but about whom I’ve heard good things, primarily from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who writes about the book here. I’m inclined to trust PNH’s taste in books (he bought mine, you know), and if it’s as good as I hope it is, Ms. Clarke can expect full royalties the next time out.

For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, by Robert A. Heinlein: Heinlein’s dead, baby. Also as a practical matter, as much as I like Heinlein, I don’t know that I would have been inclined to pay full-price for this book anyway. It’s not so much a novel as a political lecture, with the words “he said” put in every now and then to give the tang of fiction. Heinlein in lecture mode is my least favorite Heinlein. Still, for Book Club prices, I’m in. Call it the completist in me.

Endangered Species, by Gene Wolfe: Whoops. This isn’t from the Book Club; it was sent to me because I’m on the Nebula short fiction jury this year. Note to short fiction writers in Tor anthologies or who have collections from Tor — they’re doing an excellent job putting your work in front of me for my consideration this year. Other book publishers: Not so much. At some point in time I’ll discuss how I read short fiction for consideration for the Nebula jury; I’m sure it will appall and frighten you.

Succession, by Scott Westerfeld: This is the Book Club selection that violates my rules about buying from the Book Club, since this book is an omnibus of two of Scott’s novels (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) which were released in the last couple of years, and I’ve read enough of Scott’s work (notably his faboo YA titles Midnighters and So Yesterday) to know he deserves the full royalty treatment (so follow those links, people). However, I know Scott personally and I’ll be seeing him in the reasonably near future, and when I do, I’ll make royalty restitution in kind, probably by way of beer. So I felt okay with the purchase.

The Time Quartet, by Madeleine L’Engle: I’ve bought each of the individual books in this series (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters) at least once, and in most cases three or four times (for myself and as gifts), so, you know. Maddie’s sucked a lot of cash out of me over the years.

I’ll share a moment with you here: Athena saw the book and I mentioned to her that I read it when I was a kid, so she opened it and said “It’s not a kid’s book. It doesn’t have pictures!” To which I said “Nonsense! You could probably read this book.” And then I opened the book to the first page of text and had her try it. And she read that first page just fine, and she had a big grin on her face when she was done. Some people get through high school without ever reading a book without pictures, so I’m glad we got that out of the way.

The John Varley Reader, by John Varley: A short story collection. Interestingly, at the moment, the thing I’m enjoying most about the book are not the stories (which are generally pretty good), but the introductions to the stories, which give a little commentary I find fascinating.

Stories, by Ray Bradbury: Another short story collection — many of which I had already purchased in paperback at one point or another, Ray Bradbury being the only writer whose short story collections I’ve ever bought (often because some of his “novels” were simply short story collections with connective tissue, e.g., The Martian Chronicles). Most of those books are God knows where, however. So now I have a bunch in one place. Convenient.

And now you know two things: I have a lot of excellent books to read, and I’m a master at silly rationalizations. It’s possible you knew these things about me already.

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Blogging I Learned From the New York Times

The New York Times Magazine’s cover story this week is on political bloggers (it features Wonkette’s Ana Marie Cox looking Jodie Foster creamy and dreamy in front of a keyboard while R.W. Apple and and Jack Germond look clueless and old behind her), and now having read it, I have a few comments:

1. While I suppose it’s just the nature of an election year, I still find it remarkable that when the mainstream media thinks of “bloggers,” it’s almost exclusively political bloggers. I can’t help think of sites like, say, Penny Arcade, whose daily visitorship is higher than all but four or five of the top political sites, and which I would argue is at least as influential in the video game industry as Kos is in politics (if not more so; both sites have raised hundreds of thousands for their respective causes — Kos for political candidates, and Penny Arcade for its Child’s Play charity, but PA was able to create its own successful gaming conference (PAX) to boot, with an attendance, I think, of over 1,500 (Update: A couple of people (including at least one attendee) tell me the actual number was closer to 3,000. Which just makes the point more relevant)). It’s not that political bloggers aren’t important or interesting, but they’re definitely not the only blogging game in town. If the mainstream media is going to cover blogging, I wish the coverage was more varied and included sites that aren’t all about getting the White House for their side.

2. This was the first article I’ve seen that actually discussed how much some of the paid bloggers were making — it notes that Wonkette’s base salary is $18,000 (although apparently she gets performance bonuses based on visits), and that Josh Marshall’s advertising income can be as much $10K a month. Speaking as a paid blogger, I find this sort of thing very interesting — now I know where my own blogging income fits into the grand scheme of things (higher than some, apparently lower than others). I think it would be interesting to have someone do a survey to find out what paid bloggers actually make — the number of bloggers who are supporting themselves and/or have a sizable percentage of their income from blogging is still small enough that it’s doable. I would suspect that that overall, it’s still not something that you’ll be doing to get, you know, rich, or (for the most part) even comfortably middle class.

3. By and large, I think the relationship between political bloggers and legitimate media is pretty much the relationship between a taxi driver in the Middle East and the United States: They’ll bitch and moan about it and go on about how evil it is, but when push comes to shove, they’d probably give a testicle to get in. The Times story shows the higher-end bloggers clearly conflicted as to what their relationship is with the more established forms of media — and the New York Times writer who put the story together seems more than happy to note that even the high-end bloggers have mid-level profiles at best in terms of the traditional media. For whatever gains bloggers have made in the last few years, there’s still definitely a major league-minor league dichotomy between it and and traditional media.

Which is ironic, because many newspaper writers I know look longingly at the “freedom” of blogging, in which one is not confined by piddling annoyances like newshole or editors. The grass is always greener, and so on.

I’m ambivalent about either side. On the issue of the personal economics and fulfillment, at this point in the game, I don’t see much advantage at looking longingly at the grass on either side of the fence since the fence isn’t really there; i.e., there’s no reason writing in on medium excludes you from the other. I make more money as a blogger than I do as a novelist or a magazine columnist; I make more money writing Books of the Dumb than I do as a blogger. A little here, a little there, and eventually you’re talking real money. Sometimes I make more from online writing, sometimes I make more from traditional publication. It all depends on what day you get me. Print offers some advantages to me as a writer, online writing offers others. Ultimately, I don’t feel allegiance either to bloggers or to the ink-stained wretches; I feel allegiance to my mortgage and to my own sense of curiosity as a writer.

Having said that, traditional media does have a distinct institutional advantage — it’s got a lot more money and influence. This is why blogging to this day largely triangulates off traditional media; traditional media has the resources to set the news agenda. And this is probably why most of the most ambitious bloggers still wouldn’t mind “graduating” to traditional media — they want a chance to set the agenda too, not just react to it, or (in the recent case of the CBS screw-up) throw a well-deserved spanner into the works. And this is why traditional journalists can still feel safe feeling smug toward bloggers; by and large they’re still back benchers — it still takes hundreds of them to bring down a single Dan Rather. The fact bloggers glory in “fact-checking” the media in itself describes who is dominant in that relationship.

I think it’s doubtful that overall this relationship is going to change much over time, unless the economics of blogging somehow get a heck of a lot better, or the economics of traditional media somehow get a lot worse — or the open-source distributed model of journalism the blogosphere can provide (lots of people, each contributing one small bit of the puzzle) can somehow be made to be as consistent efficient as the proprietary, exclusive model of investigation the media can provide (one or a few experienced people doing most of the work). I suppose either is possible, but I’m not betting on either as likely.

Thoughts?

A Bracing Moment of Market Reality: The Class of January 2005

For anyone out there who believes that once you’ve sold a book, you’ve got it made, may I present to you the following list of the science fiction and fantasy books that are being released in January 2005 (i.e., the same month as Old Man’s War) in the US, UK and Canada. I get to compete with all of these for the science fiction reader’s dollars and pounds. And of course, these are just the books in the genre. Also note that from what I’m told, January is traditionally one of the less-crowded months to sell a book.

Am I worried? Not really. But it’s a reminder that selling a book to a publisher is just the beginning of the life of a book, and in many ways the easiest part of its life.

To all the authors on this list, of course, I wish tremendous success, equal to (or perhaps just one book less) than my own.

(List nicked from here — a SF bookstore which is, alas, going out of business. It may or may not be entirely up-to-date or accurate.)

Anonymous (ed), Horrorscape, Book 1, paperback
Anonymous (ed), Star Trek: S.C.E.: Wildfire, paperback
Piers Anthony, Unicorn Point, paperback
Sarah Ash, Prisoner of Ironsea Tower, UK paperback
Robert Asprin & Eric Del Carlo, War Torn, paperback
Steve Aylett, Karloff’s Circus, UK paperback
L.A. Banks, The Bitten, trade paperback
Elizabeth Bear, Hammered, paperback
Anne Bishop, Dreams Made Flesh, paperback
Ben Bova, Powersat, hardcover
Rachel Caine, Chill Factor, paperback
Adam-Troy Castro, Just a Couple of Idiots Reupholstering Space and Time, paperback
C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, Nancy Asire & Leslie Fish, The Sword of Knowledge, omnibus hardcover
Greg Cox, Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume Three: To Reign in Hell, hardcover
Peter Crowther (ed), Constellations, paperback
John R. Dann, Song of the Earth, hardcover
Charles de Lint, Trader, trade paperback
Marianne de Pierres, Parrish Plessis #3, UK paperback
Sara Douglass, The Wounded Hawk, US hardcover
David Drake & Eric Flint (ed.s), The World Turned Upside Down, omnibus hardcover
S.L. Farrell, Mage of Clouds, paperback
S.L. Farrell, Stone’s Heir, hardcover
Pauline Fisk, Sabrina Fludde, UK ya trade paperback
Alan Dean Foster, The Hour of the Gate, paperback
Leo Frankowski & Dave Grossman, The War with Earth, paperback
David Gerrold, Alternate Gerrolds, trade paperback
Terry Goodkind, Chainfire, hardcover
Mitchell Graham, The Ancient Legacy, paperback
Robert A. Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo, ya paperback
Barb & J.C. Hendee, Sister of the Dead, paperback
James P. Hogan, The Anguished Dawn, paperback
Graham Joyce, The Limits of Enchantment, UK hardcover
Michae P. Kube-McDowell, Alternities, trade paperback
Katherine Kurtz, In the King’s Service, paperback
Mercedes Lackey, Burning Water, trade paperback
Robert Mayer, Superfolks, trade paperback
Todd McCaffrey, Dragonsblood, hardcover
Alex McDonough, Scorpio, paperback
Patricia A. McKillip, Something Rich and Strange, paperback
R. Meluch, The Myriad, paperback
Robert A. Metzger, Cusp, hardcover
L.E. Modesitt Jr., Ordermaster, hardcover
Stan Nicholls, The Covenenant Rising, US trade paperback
Michael Paine, Steel Ghosts, paperback
Paul Preuss, Arthur C. Clarke’s Venus Prime 2, paperback
Alastair Reynolds, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, US omnibus trade paperback
Justina Robson, Natural History, US paperback
Jeff Rovin, Dead Rising, paperback
Fred Saberhagen, Rogue Berserker, hardcover
E. Rose Sabin, When the Beast Ravens, hardcover
Al Sarrantonio, Hayden of Mars, paperback
Robert J. Sawyer, Action Potential, hardcover
John Scalzi, Old Man’s War, hardcover
Robert Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, paperback
Bram Stoker & John Shirley, Constantine, paperback
Judith Tarr, Queen of the Amazons, trade paperback
Sheri S. Tepper, The True Game, omnibus trade paperback
Mark W. Tiedemann, Asimov’s Chimera, paperback
Harry Turtledove, Homeward Bound, hardcover
Harry Turtledove & Martin H. Greenberg (ed.s), The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, trade paperback
Peter Watts, Behemoth, Book Two: Seppuku, hardcover
David Weber, Bolos!, hardcover
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Midnight Harvest, paperback
Timothy Zahn, Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest, paperback

Selling Agent

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times in the last few days, once from a reader, and once from an interviewer: Now that I’ve sold other novels, am I going to try to sell Agent to the Stars?

For those of you coming very late to this party, Agent is the very first novel I wrote, back in 1997. I wrote it primarily to see if I could write a novel (yup), but then made a half-hearted attempt to sell it (nope). When I lost interest in that, I popped it up on the Web site in 1999 as a “shareware” novel, in which people could read it for free and if they liked it, could send me a buck or whatever they wanted. I wanted to see what would happen, basically. In the time since I’ve collected about $4,000 from it, in individual amounts ranging from 65 cents (a one dollar donation after PayPal gets done with it) to $200 (I sent that fellow a free copy of Old Man’s War, because, well. $200 is a lot). The book is still available to be read, and it still gets downloaded a hundred or so times a month, and people still send me money.

The answer to the question of whether I’m now going to try to sell Agent: Probably not. This is not the same as saying I wouldn’t mind seeing Agent in book form. It’s a pretty good story, and I think it’d be reviewed and sell reasonably well, and if someone from a legitimate publishing house wants to come on by and make an offer, I’m willing to listen (it’s happened before, after all). But I’m not going to go out of my way to make a sale.

Why not? Well, basically, I think Agent has value doing what it’s been doing for the last five years: Being an advertisement, if you will, for my other writing. I think people who read Agent and enjoyed it will probably be more likely to consider shelling out for Old Man’s War or other novels because they’re dealing with a novelist they know they like already, not a debut author who is an unknown quantity. When it comes out, Old Man’s War will cost anywhere from $16.77 to $23.95 to pick up — a fair amount to consider spending (although about the same cost as a DVD, a CD, or a used video game, so, you know. It’s still a bargain for your entertainment dollar). If giving away Agent makes someone more comfortable investing in OMW (not to mention recommending it to friends, family and total strangers), that’s a net benefit for me.

Now, by the same token, if they hated Agent, they’ll be less likely to pick up other work of mine. So maybe I’m losing some sales this way as well. But I’m okay with that, actually. One, as a writer, I’d rather have readers make an informed decision; if you’ve read my stuff and don’t like it, that’s fair enough, although hopefully you’ll be in the overall minority. Second, I imagine the reader who didn’t spend any money to find out he or she doesn’t like me would be less inclined to dissuade other readers from me than the one who shelled out $20 and felt he or she got burned. It’s the difference between “Well, I didn’t like him, but maybe you will” and “I wasted money on him, and you shouldn’t bother.” I’d rather lose the reader who knows he doesn’t like me than the reader who might like me but has been warned away.

By and large, however, I think having Agent out there for the reading has been a net benefit for me, and I expect it will become even more so when I my fiction books are finally on the streets, and people come to the site who didn’t know me before. I think this “loss leader” aspect of Agent is important enough, in fact, that if a publisher did want to put out the book in traditional form, I’d make the deal only on the condition that there would still be a freely accessible online version on my own site. My own feeling on this is that it would make publishers hesitant — perhaps less so than a couple of years ago, thanks to Cory Doctorow’s experiment with free online versions of his novels, and also to Baen’s free library, both of which seem to have resulted in a net gain of sales and/or notoriety for the authors, but even so.

I certainly wouldn’t fault a publisher for that position; publishers are in the game to make money. But so am I, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the economics of publishing from the point of view of the writer and the point of view of the publisher are related but they are not the same. Unless someone’s going to offer me hundreds of thousands of dollars for Agent – and they’re not – in the long run I judge that it’s better business for me to have the novel out there as “shareware” than to lock it up in bound form. Again, if a publisher can live with an electronic copy living on this site, then by all means, let’s chat. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Another reason I’m not likely to make a big effort to sell Agent: I’m pretty much done with it. I wrote it almost six years ago now, and since then I’ve had a fair number of other projects to attend to, and I’m working on making sure I have a fair number of projects to attend to after these projects are done. I’d prefer to spend time thinking about what’s coming up next than worrying about what I’ve done in the past; it’s more fun. Fiddling with Agent after all this time just doesn’t strike me as very productive.

Final reason to keep Agent where it is, and this is kind of a gooshy reason: As far as my books go, it’s my firstborn — the first book-length thing I’d ever written. When I was done with it, I was tremendously relieved; I could write something that long. And as a bonus, it wasn’t bad. My first inclination then (and now) wasn’t to sell it, but simply to show it off: Hey! Look what I did! In a very real sense, it’s a joyful creation, whose existence is its own rationale (OMW, while no less good and in some ways better, was in fact written with the market in mind, as were all of my non-fiction books). Anything else it does is just an extra.

So that’s the final reason that I don’t make a huge push to sell it: It’s just more fun to share it. So I do.

PayPal Gets Inexplicably Snippy

Bill Quick sends notice that he’s apparently run afoul of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. The company writes:

Your account has been limited for violating PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding Offensive Material. The Policy prohibits the use of PayPal in the sale of items or in support of organizations that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance; items which graphically portray violence or victims of violence; or items closely associated with individuals notorious for committing murderous acts within the last 100 years.

The implication being, since Bill’s been using PayPal for donations, that something on his site fulfills any of these categories.

What on his site does this? Got me. At the moment, Bill’s promoting intolerance of John Kerry and CBS News, but since about half the politically-oriented blogs in the country are doing the same, if this is the problem, then PayPal is about to lose a significant chunk of its donation business. The only other thing which I can find that is potentially offensive is that Bill keeps up a picture of the World Trade Center being hit, emblazoned with the exhortation to “Never Forget!” If that’s what’s bugging PayPal, I expect it’s going to be walking into a buzzfan of bad publicity. Bill also promotes libertarianism in a general sense; I guess maybe someone at PayPal finds that intolerant, which given the libertarian ethos (“do what you want, just do it away from me”) is mildly ironic.

Basically, it’s hard to see what’s gotten into PayPal’s fool head. I’m genuinely curious to know what on Bill site is actually in violation, because aside from Bill’s own distinctive editorial voice, the content is not at all different from hundreds of not thousands of blogs out there. If he’s in violation, so’s a significant percentage of the blogosphere.

As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t have a “tip” button on the Whatever — I don’t like the idea that anyone should feel they have the financial right to tell me what’s acceptable on my own damn site. That’s a decision I get to make, thank you. I accept PayPal donations for Agent to the Stars, mind you, but that’s neither here nor there regarding the Whatever. In any event, if PayPal ever came back and told me that I would need to make a change to Agent because it was in violation of their Acceptable Use, I’d point them in the direction of Hell and tell them to have a nice trip. I don’t need PayPal’s stamp of approval.

My assumption, barring the discovery of an entry where Bill genuinely advocates genocide or baby-strangling, is that PayPal’s made some sort of stupid error; a spider crawling through his site came across some combination of words that sends up a red flag and/or an automatic “violation” letter. Like I said, I’d be interested to know what triggered the letter; it would be instructive to know how PayPal thinks, in any event.

“My initial inclination is to tell these little tin gods to take their attempts to dictate the nature of my content elsewhere,” Bill writes, and I’d concur. Life is too short to have to worry about whether one violates PayPal’s acceptable use policy. I’m pretty sure that Amazon will be happy to process Bill’s donations.

Update: in the comments, Patrick Neilsen Hayden writes:

“Jeralyn Merrit of the excellent TalkLeft has received the same threatening notice.”

It’s related to a video of one of the recent Iraq beheadings, which I believe Bill also linked to. As I said in the comment thread, nice to see it’s bipartisan stupidity on PayPal’s part.

Busy, Busy — An Excuse for an Open Thread

jsathena923.jpg
Athena spent half the night hacking like a smoker, so I’ve decided to keep her home today. Add her happy but intensely distracting presence to an already full slate of work which includes my first interview for Old Man’s War (yay!), and what you get is a day where I don’t have much time to hang around here. See you all tomorrow.

In the absence of my saying much, consider this an “open thread” entry. Go nuts, you crazy kids.

A Terrifying Thought

As I was dropping off Athena at her school, which due to the small-town nature of where I live, houses all the schoolkids in the town from Kindergarten through high school, it occurred to me that the kids who are graduating this year, class of ’05, were mostly born the same year I graduated from high school — 1987.

And I realized, to my horror, not that I’ve been getting old — thanks to my hairline, I’ve been aware of that for a while, thank you very much — but that there’s now an entire generation of Americans for whom U2’s Joshua Tree has the same historical distance as I had with Abbey Road. And who don’t know a world before ALF. The first of these is kind of interesting; the second, horrifying. Clearly we need to build a time-traveling robot to go back in time and kill ALF. For the sake of the children.

Hello, Thunderbird

My migration toward all things Mozilla continues apace; I’ve just dumped AOL Communicator for my e-mail client in favor of Thunderbird 0.8, the e-mail (and RSS and news)reader from Mozilla. The reason for this is simple: AOL Communicator made a ridiculous imposition on my ability to send mail.

Specifically, it refused to send mail from one of my scalzi.com accounts because it was unable to get in touch with AOL. One of the things Communicator does is make contact with AOL everytime you use it; I don’t know why, it just does. However, this evening, it was unable to access AOL, or at the very least unable for some reason or another to verify that my AOL password was correct. So while I could receive mail, I couldn’t send it, nor would I be able to until the software was able to recognize my AOL password.

I’m sorry, that’s just stupid bad UI. If I’m not directly accessing AOL mail, I shouldn’t have to supply my AOL password for anything. You all know how much I love AOL (they give me money, after all), and up to this point I’ve had nothing but good things to say about the AOL Communicator software. But this is ridiculous. Life is too short to get a permission slip from AOL to access my non-AOL accounts. As it happens, Thunderbird works almost exactly like AOL Communicator (given the recent ties between Mozilla and AOL, this is not entirely surprising) and will allow me to access my AOL accounts as well. That works for me.

Migrating my saved mail, however, was easier said than done. AOL Communicator makes zipped backups for you, but saves the e-mail as .txt files, which are no good. Thunderbird, for its part, has an import wizard, but it appears to believe that the only e-mail clients out there are Outlook, Eudora and Netscape Browsers. I ended up having to go to my Documents and Settings folder, hauling up the .sbd e-mail documents from Communicator, and move them bodily over to the Thunderbird folder. But now I’ve done so and I have all my mail where I want it. I feel so, oh, I don’t know, computer competent or something.

So far I like Thunderbird a lot — it looks clean, runs well and hopefully won’t cause me too many headaches. I’ll let you all know what I think of it as time goes on.

Holly Lisle’s Egregious Breach of Online Etiquette

Author Holly Lisle takes exception to my recent declaration that people who want to vote to Bush are either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, and makes a few of the ad hominem swipes at me she accuses me of making at Bush. My favorite ad hominem at the moment: “But the writer of the post cited above appears to believe he is in sole possession of the truth. That any opinions different from his must be wrong.”

See, now, this is the problem when you swoop in and don’t bother to read the site disclaimer, or, for that matter, the entry directly after the one you’re kvetching about, in which I say “Also, as a reminder — just because I personally believe something doesn’t make it so,” and also, “I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong.” When you don’t read, you miss stuff. But since apparently you can’t rely on people to read more than one thing at a time, allow me to reiterate again, for the thousandth time: This site specializes in my opinion. Take it or leave it. Allow me also to suggest that if you’re swooping in, please look around at least a couple of essays before making grand pronouncements about what I think about the world. Seems the polite thing to do. And you’ll look like less of an ignorant ass.

I’m not particularly troubled by Ms. Lisle’s difference of opinion; just as I’m entitled to mine, she’s entitled to hers, and if she wants to believe that a Vietnam-avoiding, medical-skipping mediocre jet pilot who couldn’t be bothered to fulfill his National Guard duty and whose father-vindicating revenge fantasy takes resources away from actually fighting terrorism and has killed 1000 American soldiers to no good effect is somehow more trustworthy than Kerry, who by all official indications served honorably in Vietnam although she vaguely accuses of him causing POWs to be tortured by his actions in Vietnam, that’s her prerogative. I admit I find the ability to be morally outraged at Kerry’s apparently tenuous connection to torture in Vietnam while apparently sanguine to the 1,000 verifiable American military deaths in Iraq that are Bush’s dance card, well, puzzling (not to mention Abu Ghraib, if we’re going to get all aroused about people’s actions being the causative vector for torture). But since Lisle maintains she’s not stupid, ignorant or a contemptible hypocrite, I’m sure she has her reasons.

No, what really gets my cheese is that she writes an online rant about all this, whacks on me — and then leaves no good way for me to respond directly. The entry has no commenting ability, for one thing, but I can’t get too worked up about that, since I didn’t implement comments here on the Whatever until last year. But she also doesn’t leave an e-mail open to the public. Not even a lousy Web site guestbook. She did have one of those at one point, but apparently took it down because she’s busy writing a book. Well, you know. As someone who will have at least two and possibly three books to write between now and next June, Ms. Lisle’s situation ain’t exactly breaking my heart. I’m especially less impressed with the “I’m busy with my books” excuse since she has time to write 1,700 words of self-righteous “more in sorrow than in anger” twaddle with me starring as her incorrectly-designated spank monkey.

Really, if she’s got enough time in her terribly busy schedule to whack on me for that long, she’s got enough time to peruse an e-mail from my self-same person. If nothing else, it would save me the time of writing an entry with just enough snit and bitch to assure that someone will go running off to tell on me to her, and she will come and take a look, per my Law of Internet Invocation. Honestly, this is so inefficient. All I wanted to do was tell her that I don’t think I’m always right and everyone else is wrong, and in fact, I’ve written words to that effect multiple times on the site. Instead, I have to do this. Don’t you see? I’m the victim!

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re crying me roughly the same river of tears I’m crying for Ms. Lisle. And to be honest about it, no one is more surprised at how annoyed I am that I have no simple online avenue of communication with Ms. Lisle than I. Ms. Lisle of course has the perfect right to be left alone electronically — if she doesn’t want to hear from the chattering mass of potential e-mailers and online commentors, she shouldn’t be made to, even when one of those potential e-mailers or commentors is me.

And yet, here I am, irritated as all hell. Guess what: I apparently firmly believe that if you’re going to write something about someone online, and put it up for the world to see, if you don’t offer them some avenue of public or private comment, there’s something basically chickenshit about that. One of the great innovations of writing online is that response is immediate, and (once you chop the occasional moron off at the knees) it’s intelligent, compelling stuff — reading to be encouraged, not feared.

I point with pride to my own commentors, almost all of whom are class acts, and almost none of whom have shown evidence of being either fawning parrots or antagonistic jerks. Even the commentors who don’t actually like me typically leave comments worth reading. I take pride in the fact I trust my readers enough to let them have free run of the place; they repay my trust by making the place a more interesting to be. E-mail is slightly more wild and wolly — people are more inclined to make asses of themselves privately than in a public comment thread — but even then it’s no great hardship to ignore the idiots and engage the interesting. Hiding from that sort of exchange — the innovation that truly differentiates online writing from print — is pretty bogus. Particularly when you go out of your way to criticize someone else.

So, note to Holly Lisle and anyone else who writes online but doesn’t bother to leave a point of contact: Don’t be such a damned coward. Have the tiny sliver of personal courage it takes to allow people to respond to you online, particularly the folks you choose to beat upon. Be a part of the online medium, instead of merely taking advantage of it.

And Ms. Lisle, if you’re reading: the e-mail address is john@scalzi.com. Or you can leave a message in the comment thread. Try it! You may like it.

Happiness is a Warm Advance

Apropos to the recent entries about book advances — and just in time for October’s onslaught of bills — comes the most recent installment of my advance for Book of the Dumb 2. How do I feel about it? Not bad. I felt that way when the first installment came in, and I’ll feel the same when the third installment come in after the books hits the stores. And then you’ll say: Shut up! But it’s true. That’s just the way I feel.

Prejudices

One of the side effects of writing a book about science fiction film is that I have to revisit (and in some cases, visit for the first time) a lot of pre-Star Wars science fiction film, and I’ve discovered that by and large I have a prejudice against these flicks. The reason is simple: Pre-Star Wars science fiction film are cheesy more often than not. Until Lucas whacked that box office ball right out of the ballpark, science fiction films were basically marginal programmers; you might get a The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers here and there (and in 1968 you got the 1-2 punch of 2001 and Planet of the Apes), but by and large they were the “B”-movie on the double feature program, and for modern eyes, they’re difficult to watch.

Not that they’re not fun, in their way: I spent part of the weekend watching Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers, the DVD release of the 1936 serial, and I enjoyed it — and to my surprise so did Athena, who uttered the memorable quote: “I liked it so much, I didn’t mind it was in black in white.” But, man alive, is it bad: It’s like a community theater production, and it’s hard to tell what’s more wooden, star Buster Crabbe’s delivery or the rocketships themselves. It’s the sort of film where a civilization capable of moving a planet through space fights with swords, one character locks another in a spaceship by kicking away a step stool, and eternal alliances are created by this sort of dialog:

Professor Zarkov: Flash, this is Prince Barin! He hates Emperor Ming, too!
Flash: Well, that’s good enough for me!

And yet, this sort of unripened cheese is indisputably canonical on the science fiction genre, if for no other reason than a young George Lucas had the top of his little head absolutely unscrewed by the tripe, and the first chance he got, he used it as a foundation upon which to build Star Wars, from which the modern age of science fiction film sprang, for better or worse. It’s bad, but it’s important.

This isn’t to say the main run of SF films after Star Wars are necessarily any better than the ones before it: Alien Vs. Predator, say, makes no more sense than Flash Gordon does, and I know which of the two I’d want to watch again, and it ain’t AVP. The difference is that the genre is taken more seriously now by Hollywood, so when you do get crap in the genre, it is at least a highly polished pile of crap; you don’t see the seams as often as you do in science fiction films from the 30s through the 60s. But I believe the best of today’s science fiction is better than the best (or most significant) science fiction films prior to ’77.

Naturally, I try to correct for this prejudice of mine. Particularly on the technical level — practical and special effects — it’s ridiculous to hold films from the 30s or 50s to the standard since the 70s (it’s unfair to hold films from the 70s to standards of today, too, which is why Lucas eternally fiddles with his first Star Wars Trilogy). And to some extent, you have to handicap for writing and acting as well; not as much, and especially not so much with some of the high-end canonical films (some mentioned above), but on a general level, yes, the handicap kicks in.

But it’s also worth noting that science fiction is the only genre where you have to handicap. The best comedies of the 30s or 40s are as good as the best comedies today, or even better, depending on your tastes: I wouldn’t trade The Philadelphia Story for the entire Farrelly Brothers filmography. Dramas don’t suffer; film lovers can skip from On the Waterfront to The Godfather to American Beauty and not skip a beat. Gone With the Wind is still the gold standard for epic melodrama, with Titanic taking a distant silver; Wizard of Oz has only recently been supplanted by the Lord of the Rings series as the best fantasy, and it took Disney 50 years to equal its animation run of Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. And despite the (relatively) recent Oscar successes of Chicago and Unforgiven, the past owns the musical and the western.

Among all film genres, science fiction stands alone as the one whose present is incontestably better than its past, at least at its highest levels. It’s one of the things that makes writing a book about science fiction film interesting — and at the same time a very tricky prospect. I don’t want to undersell early science fiction films; doing that would be inaccurate and wrong. At the same time, however, I want to make sure that people understand that if there’s a golden age of science fiction film, it’s probably now. Take a good look — this is what a golden age of film looks like.

Roger Ebert

Not that it needs my help to promote it, but Roger Ebert’s new site is up, and it’s awesome, since it features Ebert’s film reviews going back to 1967, as well as his various other writings on film. I’ve personally been using Ebert’s previous site for research and enjoyment for a while now — I often bounce my own film opinions off of his to see if I’m missing something (or, alternately, if he’s missing something) — and this new site is that much more useful to me.

I don’t think I’ve made any secret that I consider Ebert to be one of the best film criticism writers; he’s often maligned as shallow by the people who only know him from the “thumbs up!” rubric promoted by the various Siskel & Ebert shows and now on his current show with Richard Roeper (speaking of shallow film criticism), but these people need to actually read Ebert’s reviews, through which three things become apparent: One, Ebert is very smart; Two, Ebert knows film; Three, Ebert realizes that the best way to review is a film is to talk across to moviegoers, not down. Ebert is a film geek who can speak the language of normal people. He’s a fine model for writing popular film reviews.

Which is not to say he’s always right. Ebert can be as clueless about a clever film as anyone, and he’s a sucker for pretty lights and cool design. In the former case, this is what caused him to give Fast Times at Ridgemont High a one-star review; in the latter case, it’s what caused him to declare Dark City the best film of its year. Dark City’s a fine film, but it definitely ain’t “movie of the year” material. But in both of these cases (and by in large in his reviews in general) reading Ebert’s review lets you understand why he thinks like he does; you don’t have to agree, but you understand where he comes from. That’s good criticism.

One of the sad tragedies of film criticism in newspapers is that much of the criticism is done by people who can’t write well and don’t have a point of view, i.e., the review is useless as a piece of criticism, and as an entertaining piece of writing. The really excellent newspaper critics can be counted on two hands (two of my picks would be Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post and Elvis Mitchell, late of the New York Times, although rumor has it he may go over to the dark side, which is to say, film production), and after them there is a regrettably sharp drop in quality; the gap between the first tier of newspaper film critics and the second is abysmal.

This means, alas, that chances are good that your local film critic is pretty bad. Do yourself a favor and check out Ebert in a form unrelated to TV. Whether you agree with him or not, it’ll show you what good newspaper writing about film can be.

Reminder: My Whatever

A Bush supporter, taken somewhat aback at my estimation of his being either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, has this to say in the comment thread in the previous post:

“Are you still going to be like this next year after Bush wins?

Do you really expect me to come back? Do you really expect me to buy your books?”

My response to these questions: Possibly to the first, and I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass to questions two and three.

Let’s expand on these in backward order. First, if you think I’m going to watch what I say here to possibly preserve a book sale or two, you’re out of your hollow gourd. For one thing, I don’t want readers who think they can presume to tell me what I should or should not say by holding the cost of a hardcover over my head; it sets a bad precedent. Y’all can just take a leap off a highway overpass, as far as I’m concerned. For another, I’ve been writing this sort of crap long before I had book sales; strangely enough, the books seem to moving out from the bookstores just fine. By personal inclination and by experience, there’s no advantage in me shutting myself up. So quite obviously I don’t intend to.

Besides, only a moron buys books — particularly fiction — on the basis of the author’s politics. Author Mark Helprin has written what is far and away my favorite book of contemporary fantasy: Winter’s Tale. He’s also an unregenerate neocon, which has been my least favorite political flavor for some time now. Orson Scott Card, who has written two of my favorite science fiction books, is a conservative member of the LDS Church and views gay marriage as a terrible threat to our nation. As we all know, I think that’s pretty silly. China Mieville, who writes lovely fictions, is so socialist (speaking of lovely fictions) that he ought to be salmon-hued. I wouldn’t vote any of them into office. But I will buy their books.

I’m sure if I essayed all my favorite fiction writers, the vast majority would have politics I view as impractical, immoral or flat-out insane. And in nearly all cases, I could not care less. What I care about is whether they tell a good story and I am entertained. I can say the same thing, translating for medium, for musicians, artists, architects, actors, dancers and, hell, I don’t know, circus performers. I mean, if you want to limit your cultural consumption to only the people who agree with your politics, go right ahead, and then prepared to be bored out of your gourd by Thursday.

Moving on to whether I want people to come back to my site — I remind everyone once again to read the site disclaimer, and to pay particular attention to the part in which I discuss why I’m not particularly interested in being “fair” to people whose views are different from my own. Read them. Learn them. Love them. They will save you the sort of sputtering indignation from which this fellow is suffering.

Also, as a reminder — just because I personally believe something doesn’t make it so. Yes, I do believe that generally speaking you have to be stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite to vote for George Bush in the coming election. But I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong. I don’t really see how, mind you. But there it is. If you genuinely believe you aren’t stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite for voting for Bush, you’re welcome to try to impress me with your intelligence, knowledge and sincerity. I’m willing to be persuaded you are the exception that proves the rule. Good luck with that. Here’s a hint, though: Suggesting that you’ll just walk off in a huff because you don’t like what I write here or how I write it isn’t a good way to do that.

But of course, if you don’t like what you see here — move on. I mean, that’s what I do; I’m currently on a break from most political blogs because at the moment I’m finding the lot of them generally profoundly irritating. Therefore, if you find what I am writing equally irritating, shouldn’t you stop reading me? I don’t want to be a cause of pain in your life. Please, scoot, with my blessings. It’s not like I’m getting paid here, you know. It’s all the same to me whether I have 50 people visiting the site a day, or 5,000.

As for going after Dubya — well, why wouldn’t I? He’s already the most incompetent president we’ve had in eight decades, and at this late date I don’t suddenly expect him to get any better — indeed, since second terms are almost invariably worse than first terms, I expect him and his administration to get a great deal worse, alas for us all. It’s bad for us in general, but it’ll make for good writing. So, yes, if you’re going to demand a Dubya-free Whatever, you might as well bail out now, because it ain’t gonna happen. So long.

I hope this clears up any lingering confusion.

Bush Voters v. Voight-Kampff

Dubya’s up in the electoral vote count, which means the GOP Alternate Reality Field is in particularly fine shape this week; those all-too-dubious Dubya National Guard letters didn’t help matters either. This is Kerry’s big problem at the moment: When people go after him (i.e., Swift Boat), he takes the hit. When people go after Dubya and do it badly, he also takes a hit. It’s an interesting dynamic. We’ll see how the GOPARF fares in the next six weeks, but for now, it’s on full power.

I don’t wish to be uncharitable to the folks who will eventually vote for Bush, but at this point I do have to say that I do strongly believe that outside the GOP hacks who would vote a dog into office as long as it was Republican dog (“Checkers in ’08!”), people who are planning to vote for Bush fall into three primary categories: The stupid, the ignorant and the hypocritical. I’ll note that I imagine there is significant overlap between the stupid and the ignorant categories, but not so much overlap between those two categories and the hypocritical category. To be a hypocrite suggests an awareness of facts on the ground, and the commensurate intention to totally ignore said facts; the former of these conditions means one can’t be ignorant, the latter means one can’t be stupid. It takes brains to be a hypocrite.

However — and I think this is an important point — it’s possible that some of the hypocritical Bush voters have been so indoctrinated by the GOP party line that they are utterly incapable of consciously realizing that they are hypocrites. It’s not that they lack self-awareness; I’m sure they possess it, in some rudimentary “dog in the mirror” form. Merely that this self-awareness has been channeled so as not to delve too deeply into certain lines of personal inquiry. Basically, they learn not to think about certain things too much.

You can’t do anything about the stupid Bush voters; stupidity is a not correctable issue. You have more leeway with the ignorant; while some of the ignorant are indeed stupid, there’s a sizable percentage of ignorant people who have functioning brains. They can be taught, and that’s an encouraging thought. With the hypocrites there is, alas, nothing to be done about the hypocrites who know they are hypocrites, except to attempt to make them acknowledge that they are, in fact, contemptuous hypocritical bastards. But perhaps some of the unknowing hypocrites can be saved.

How to do this? Well, I’ll tell you. In the film Blade Runner (with which more people are familiar than its literary forebear, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), there’s something called a Voight-Kampff test, which is used to winkle out replicants walking among the humans. It measures empathy by asking a series of questions designed to evoke an emotional response. Get too many of the questions wrong, and you’re a replicant, and the next thing you know Harrison Ford’s on your ass. It’s always something.

Polling hypocritical Bush voters for empathy would be a fool’s errand, of course, so I won’t even bother. However, what I would like to do is set up a series of questions which I feel will rather effectively bring the hypocrite issue to the fore. So, if you’re planning to vote for George Bush, believe you are reasonably smart and informed, and in fact are not aware of being a contemptuously hypocritical waste of meat, please answer the following questions as truthfully as you can.

1. Is it more important to judge a president on his party affiliation or his policies?

2. A Democratic President promised to deliver 6 million new jobs during his candidacy for president; four years later the economy has had a net loss of 1 million jobs, and the president is the first in 70 years to have lost jobs over the span of his administration. On the basis of job growth, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

3. A Democratic president inherited a federal government that was running a surplus and within four years presided over a federal government which, in raw dollars, ran the highest deficits ever recorded, and which the CBO estimates will add $2.3 trillion to the US deficit in the next decade. On the basis of budget management, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

4. During his party’s convention, a Democratic president outlined a second term agenda which outside analysts estimate would cost $3 trillion to implement, in an environment in which no new government revenues were expected and the federal government is already running large budget deficits. On the basis of fiscal feasibility, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

5. After a massive terrorist attack on America’s soil, a Democratic president diverted troops and supplies from the military effort to find the perpetrators of the attack in order to attack a second country which, while hostile to the United States, was not involved in the terrorist attack in question. To date, the masterminds of the terrorist attack on America’s soil are at large. On this basis, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

6. In justifying the attack on this second country, the Democratic president and his advisers presented a particular justification and several other lesser justifications for invasion. In time it is learned that this particular justification was erroneous as were most of the lesser justifications. The Democratic president and his advisers have recently admitted that their reasons for attacking this second country may have been in error. Meanwhile, over 1000 American soldiers have died in the country we attacked. On this basis, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

7. Citing national security, a Democratic president and his administration have attempted to detain American citizens without regard to their constitutionally-protected rights, an action sharply rebuked by the Supreme Court of the United States. Given this attempt to circumvent the Constitution of the United States, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

8. A Democratic president has declared that he supports a constitutional amendment stripping all Americans of personal rights a sovereign state court has determined that they have. On the basis of attempting to curtail already-determined personal rights, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

9. If the phrase “Democratic president” is changed in the above questions to “Republican president,” would your answers change?

10. Does the answer to question 9 invalidate your answer to question 1?

11. If the answer to question 10 is “yes,” please explain how this does or does not make you, in fact, a contemptible hypocrite.

Have fun with the quiz!