Monthly Archives: January 2005

Another Confederate Smackdown

Right on, Instapundit:

I have to say that while I understand, to a degree at least, people’s fascination with the Civil War, I’ve never understood the romanticization of the Confederacy. It didn’t last very long, it was horribly run and governed, it accomplished nothing but disaster and defeat, and it existed in the service of a horrible cause. I once angered an alumnus of Washington & Lee by suggesting that Robert E. Lee, however personally admirable he might have been in some ways, bore huge responsibility — if he had honored his oath to the Union, the war probably would have been over in six months, leaving everyone (and especially the South) better off.

One suspects that for a certain sort of infantile mind, pro-Confederacy statements provide the same sort of thrilling sense of nonconformity that Marxism has provided. This, I guess, explains the weird strain of pro-Confederate sympathy that one finds among a certain segment of libertarians. Or, of course, there’s always racism as an explanation — an explanation you’d rather believe didn’t apply, but that clearly does sometimes….

As a political force, neo-Confederate sentiment is pretty trivial at the moment, even compared to the decaying remnants of Marxism. But that’s no reason not to smack it down when it appears.

(Excerpted from his discussion of a new book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which is apparently written by a Confederate sympathizer (go here for commentary on that).)

Glenn’s position doesn’t surprise me at all, mind you — why would it? — but it’s a nice reminder that people can see the Confederacy as the craptacular mistake it was on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

I haven’t read the book in question, so I can’t comment on it myself, although I suspect I won’t be pleased with it if I read it since, among other things, the guy writing the book calls the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression.” My response to that has always been: Well, the CSA attempting to abscond with a third of the land mass of the United States strikes me as fairly damn aggressive.

Voting is Done

Now comes the hard part, which is a hell of a thing to say about Iraq, considering how hard everything has been for Iraqis for so long. Good luck to the Iraqis. They’re going to need it, and I don’t mean that in the dismissive sarcastic sense in which it’s usually meant. They’re actually going to need some good luck; there are a lot of people who want the idea of democracy in Iraq to fail, and not just the terrorists.

It’s an understatement to say that I’ve not been a fan of how the Iraqi occupation has been handled by the Bush administration, nor does it appear very likely that I’m going to suddenly change my opinion on that score. But these elections count as a success, and one that the Bush folks can rightly feel proud about. I’m not at all sanguine about the potential of the Bushies to snatch failure out of the slavering jaws of success, but that’s not the same as hoping for it. Far from it — I’m hoping this ends up a nice fat foreign policy coup for Bush, because the end result would be new functioning democracy in the Middle East, which is not exactly riddled with them, and democracy, as we all know, is the worst kind of government there is except every other kind.

What would be really interesting (and, to be clear, which I absolutely don’t expect to happen) would be if the newly-elected national government of Iraq thanked the US for its service and politely asked it to take all its people and go. That would indeed be a test of US intentions; I’m sure the families of US servicepeople wouldn’t mind. But it is, of course, a mere hypothetical. We’ll be there for a while yet, and I don’t imagine things are going to get better quickly.

But again — it’s the first step. And it was a test of faith that Iraqis passed with flying colors. People were out and about trying to kill Iraqis to keep them from voting (and killed four dozen), but the turnout appears to be in the 55% of registered voters range, which is in the same neighborhood as the 2004 US election. It takes more than a small amount of courage to vote when the suicide bombers are out and about. Another test of faith will be to see how all the Iraqis fare under the new government — the Sunnis, who held power with Saddam, largely boycotted the election, and I’m interested to see what that means for the new government.

As I said: Now comes the hard part. But it’s good to have gotten to the hard part at all. Iraq and the US could have (and in the case of the US, should have) arrived at it with more grace. But it would be foolish not to be thankful Iraq is there. I’m not that foolish.

SF Chronicle Appearance, and Men’s Packages (Largely Unrelated Topics)

Ooh, look, a review in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

Scalzi skillfully upends Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” creating a cadre of old souls in young bodies who must learn to become killing machines. He sidesteps most of the clichés of military science fiction, delivers fast-paced scenes of combat and pays attention to the science underpinning his premise. All in all, “Old Man’s War” is a solid, somewhat old-fashioned adventure story, with just enough touches of humor and genuine feeling to make it stand out from the pack.

Neat. The review also mentions that I am a “popular Web blogger,” which is the first time I’ve heard it put that way — usually it’s “Weblogger” or “blogger.” Is this the birth of a new if slightly etymologically redundant neologism? Stay tuned! Also reviewed: Charlie Stross’s The Family Trade (“Stross brings to fantasy the same kind of sly humor and clear-eyed extrapolation that he previously brought to space opera and horror”), Steven Gould’s Reflex (“After a satisfying conclusion, though, the door is left open for further sequels, and many readers will gladly welcome Davy and Millie back for a third or fourth adventure”) and Jeff Smith’s Bone graphic novel omnibus (“‘Bone’ is one of the rare recent comics suited to the widest possible range of ages”). Good company, and I’ll note that OMW, Family Trade and Reflex are all Tor books, so rock on, Tor’s publicity department!

Many thanks to Mythago for the link. Also, in an entirely unrelated development, guys, you’ll want to check out her recent commentary, in which she unloads the real truth about what women want when it comes to the size of a guy’s package, followed by reader commentary.

I have my own opinions on the matter, which may or may not be relevant, coming as they do from a fellow who has been happily and heterosexually married for nearly ten years. However, one thing I think is true is that there’d be a lot more happy women out there if men spent as much time working on various ways to please their partners as they do obsessing on whether they’ve got a Vienna Sausage or a Dodger Dog. This is my philosophy, anyway. Women, please let me know if I’m on the wrong track here.

Interview and Signing/Appearance

One: Here’s an interview with me at the Fresno Bee, the newspaper at which some of you will recall I started my full-time professional writing career — they hired me as their film critic in 1991, when I was 22, and young-looking enough that I would get carded going into R-rated films. No joke. It’s much less of a problem now. Anyway, I had a great time in Fresno (among other things, while I was there I met my wife), so if any of you ever make Fresno jokes in my presence, I’m gonna have to have Krissy come over and kick your ass. I’m just saying, is all. And I’m glad I am still remembered there. If you follow the link, note that whoever coded that page did a really terrible job — it’s sometimes difficult to see where the questions end and the answers begin, and there are a couple of funny line breaks. But overall it’s readable.

Two: If you ever wanted to see me live — you know, to get a clean shot — I’ll be doing a chat/signing at the Dayton Barnes and Noble on Saturday, February 19 between 6:30 and 8:30 (pm) to promote… Book of the Dumb 2, which you may or may not recall is also in the stores at this moment. I haven’t been self-promoting this little gen of humor with the same embarrassing fervor that I’ve been using to flog Old Man’s War, but that’s not to say a) that it’s not a fine, fine book, or b) that it’s not doing well. In fact, from what I know of the early sales figures, it’d already sold twice the print run of Old Man’s War by the end of 2004, without much in the way of promotion. It’s an interesting illustration of the difference between genre fiction and mass-market, general interest non-fiction, and also why I’ll continue to write general non-fiction for the foreseeable future.

(This is not to say that OMW is not doing well — from what I understand, it’s doing fabulously for a hardcover from a first-time unknown science fiction author. It’s just a matter of differing definitions of success, according to genre.)

At the speaking/signing I’ll be reading from Book of the Dumb 2, talking a bit about the nature of human stupidity, taking questions and also, of course, signing books. I’ll be focusing on BotD2, but I’ll be happy to chat about and sign any other of my books you might bring with you and/or buy at the store. Hint: if you haven’t picked up BotD2 yet, it would be a great time to do so.

So: 2/19, 6:30 – 8:30, the Dayton Barnes and Noble. Be there, or be somewhere else.

Entertainment Weekly Review for Old Man’s War

Yes, I’ve heard that Entertainment Weekly has run a review of Old Man’s War in the latest issue (thank you to everyone who sent e-mails and comment messages). No, I haven’t seen it. I subscribe but that particular issue hasn’t arrived yet, and they haven’t posted the review online. Yes, I’m curious as to what the review says; I know it’s reasonably positive, but otherwise I’m in the dark. If someone would be so kind as to send along the text to me, I would of course be appreciative.

Update: Ah, here we go — my wife picked it up from the mailbox before she went out and about. It’s a thumbnail review, and the gist is: “War’s thought-provoking first half overrides the sometime cartoonish alien battles at the end.” Rating: B+. I can live with that. As I mentioned to Krissy, I like the thought-provoking bits myself, but if the book ever gets optioned for a movie, it’ll be because of the battle scenes.

Also reviewed this week: Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered, Allen Steele’s Coyote Rising and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Cleopatra 7.2. EW gave Coyote Rising a slightly higher grade than OMW, but as Allen Steele is one of my favorite SF authors, you won’t hear me complaining about that. Hammered does pretty well, too.

Also, completely unrelated: my stalkers will be pleased to hear that I will be attending Wiscon in May.

A Musical Interlude

As part of the gradual and continuing process of returning to the Scalzi.com site all the crap I took down when I changed providers, I am happy to announce the return of Music for Headphones, my album of mostly instrumental electronic music that I banged together a couple of years ago.

However, I am not merely content to give you the old, crappy, streaming Real Audio version that was up before; no, the new version features high-end variable-bit-rate mp3s, for the best sound quality while still nodding toward not punishing people with too huge a download (mostly). Also, I’ve added in an extra track which I haven’t put up before: “Don’t Stop,” which features a couple of samples from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Oh, stuff it, you snobs. It’s pretty good. I’d get in trouble if I was trying to sell this, but I’m not; this is non-commercial exhibition only. So have at it.

In any event, now all this music sounds better (or at least, less compressed) than before, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ll note that when I listen to these tracks, I tend to jack up the high end a bit, because there’s generally a lot of drumming and some of the high end can get lost. But I also tend to jack up the high end no matter what I listen to, so make of that what you will.

Here are the tracks, with links to the mp3s and some general comments about each:

1. Acceptance (5.85MB) — Possibly my favorite track I’ve done. It’s pretty simple and trance-like, and has some nice swelling New Order-y synths in it.

2. Transformation (7.33MB) — This one starts off very harsh and electronic and eventually becomes rather more acoustic and mellow; thus the title.

3. Why Don’t You Love Me (7.97MB) — A rather plaintive flute starts this one off; I think it sounds swirly and moody and a good aural approximation of what it feels like inside when you like someone rather more than they like you. One of the better ones as well.

4. Well Imagine That (5.42MB) — More ethnic flutes; more moodiness. Something about ethnic flutes and moodiness that just go great together, y’know?

5. Athena (3.51MB) — When Athena was three, I gave her a microphone and let her sing into it. This is what came out. She did all the instruments too! Well, no, not really. But maybe one day.

6. Don’t Stop (5.91MB) — I did it because I like Journey, so there. Also, it’s an earworm of a piano line.

7. Night Flight (7.97MB) — If I were writing background music for planetariums to play while they were doing exhibitions about the planets of the solar system, this is what it would sound like.

8. Clear That Up (5.47MB) — This is what I imagine it sounds like to walk home in the fog after a clarifying “discussion” with a paramour that didn’t end very well for you.

9. Kindertransport (8.43 MB) — The “kindertransport” were trains that European Jews put their children on just before World War II to send them to safety to England; the trains would take the children to ships, which would cross the Channel, and then the children would live with distant relatives or sometimes even strangers. Needless to say in many cases those children never saw those parents again. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to put my own child on a train like that, but this piece tries to evoke some of that emotion. I think this is probably the best composed piece I’ve done to date.

10. Converge to Merge (10.6MB) — I call this my “Stairway to Heaven” piece, and when you listen I think you’ll understand why. However, there are no bustles in hedgerows. Because that would be alarming.

11. Let’s Fly Away (7.84MB) — Yes, that’s me singing. Yes, the voice is heavily treated. The actual reason is to cover up deficiencies both in the microphone and in my voice, but as it turns out, I really like the effect; it almost sounds like a guy leaving a song on his lover’s answering machine, and I like that mental image. I’m not giving up my day job, but on the other hand, clearly I’m not embarrassed by the song, either. So there you have it.

I hope you enjoy Music For Headphones, because it’s probably the last you’ll hear of me here for at least a week: I absolutely, positively have to finish writing The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film this week or both my editors and my wife are going to murder me, and rightly so. So no more Whatever until it’s done. You understand, I presume, that this is meant more as an incentive for me than as a punishment for you.

Enjoy, and see you in February.

Biases

The Washington Post Magazine did a story this week on the Implicit Association Test, which purports to show whether people have an implicit bias for one group over another; for example, for white people over black people, or for fat over thin people. One of the things that it shows, or so the story reports, is that people have rather more biases than they may be consciously aware of, or that they would like to admit — in the opening paragraphs, a gay man and a lesbian take the test and discover their implicit biases are toward straight people (the two, who had agreed to have their names published in the story, withdrew their names for attribution after their results came in).

I was curious to see whether the test would register a bias in me, so I went to the Project Implicit website and took the test for race — specifically the one for a preference for black Americans over white Americans, or vice versa. I had my own suspicions on how the test would turn out, but you never know until you take it. The test description states that the test “indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black” — and according to the magazine article, that preference includes nearly half of black Americans. Am I any different? Apparently not: “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for White American relative to Black American,” the test told me once I was done.

I’m not terribly surprised. I am white and raised predominately among white people. The high school I went had a high percentage of minorities but they were predominately Asian and Indian/Middle Eastern with very few black students: There were none in my graduating class, for example. My college was also racially mixed but again fairly few black students. Work life? Same set-up. And now I live in a small Ohio town with almost no minorities of any sort, and I write science fiction. I was at a science fiction convention this weekend, and out of 900 or so people, you could have counted the number of black participants and not run out of fingers.

Do I feel bad I have this bias? Well, I wish I didn’t, of course. But this bias is not news to me; I’m self-reflective enough to know where many of my biases lie. I would feel bad if I let this bias go unchallenged in myself, so I try not to do that. If one looks at the actions of my life, it’s fairly clear I don’t let this particular bias rule how I live, where I stand politically or how I make my friends. A stupid man would take a bias as an excuse for behavior; I, hopefully smarter, see bias as something to question.

I also take (small and possibly not appropriate) comfort in knowing whatever automatic white/black bias I have is subsumed by a much more active automatic bias I have, which is arrayed along economic/educational lines rather than racial ones. I can pretty much guarantee you that if I were to take an implicit association test which featured white-collar black people working in an office and white folk in John Deere caps coming off a hunting trip, I’d be skewing toward the black Americans at least moderately. Educated, reasonably affluent people are “my” people, because I’ve always lived among the educated and reasonably affluent (even if as a child I was poor myself), and my attitudes are molded therein.

This is the “Target vs. Wal-Mart” class bias; basically, people whose biases slice by way economics and education are okay popping into Target for cheap products from China, but would be mortified if anyone ever saw them walking out of a Wal-Mart with the exact same products in tow. One of my favorite stories is the time I was in a small Illinois town with two good friends with whom I went to high school, one a lawyer and the other in the film industry. My friends needed to get a DVD player and the only place to get one in this little town was a Wal-Mart. Pretty much all Wal-Marts have their departments in the same place, so I steered my friends to the electronics section. They were appalled at the fact I knew the Wal-Mart layout at all. They, of course, had never been in one.

(Later, all three of us went to the Subway in the strip mall and were arguing about the merits of the then-current Adam Sandler film Punch-Drunk Love; my friends loved it and I didn’t hate it, but then the guy behind the counter said that Adam Sandler’s other films were better because they were funnier, and everyone in the store who was listening in was nodding their head in agreement. Same “Target vs. Wal-Mart” attitude, different exhibition of it.)

This “Target vs. Wal-Mart” bias is, I should note, is no more fair. And it’s with no small irony that I’ve found myself living in a small rural town where the vast majority of residents have no more than a high school education and work as truckers, farmers or in other intensely blue-collar fields. Aside from the color of my skin, there is very little I have in common with most people in my little town. And yet, for all my automatic biases against the lower-income and lesser-educated, I will tell you that I have truly excellent neighbors, who go out of their way to help us when we need help, and for whom we do the same. I’m glad to live where I do.

Is this the end to my biases? Goodness, no. I’ve got a bunch, and aside from the two mentioned I won’t bore you with them. Basically, I know what my biases are. I also know that my biases are wrong. My biases are what they are; I work to change them and keep them from making me approach individual people unfairly.

One of the things in the Washington Post article that I think is interesting is that the people who developed the implicit association test don’t think that one’s automatic biases are destiny, and that we can make a conscious decision to work against our own biases. Naturally, I agree, and I find it encouraging that they believe so. It’s a reminder that psychologically speaking, human beings are more than a mere bundle of their basest fears and desires. Or can be, in any event.

Midnighters Down Under

Many congratulations to my pal Scott Westerfeld, whose most excellent YA novel Midnighters: The Secret Hour picked up the 2004 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. The Aurealis Awards, according to the site, “were established in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis Magazine, to recognize the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers,” and Scott is Australian on his wife’s side and currently avoiding winter by living down there, the bastard (it’s currently 21 degrees Fahrenheit here, which wouldn’t be so bad if the wind chill wasn’t making it feel like single digits). The book was also written in Australia, in an earlier flight from cold weather. See, this is what eternal summer gets you.

You can get more details of Scott’s award winning ways here, via Justine Larbalestier, Scott’s spouse (whose own YA is mere months away). Justine’s entry here also details a most amusing projectile vomit story, so even if you’re not awards-minded, it’s worth a visit.

Confusion 31 Wrapup

I was in the middle of writing up a long and involved entry about my weekend at ConFusion 31, but then the power went out and I lost everything I’d written, so now you get the short version.

Overall: Much fun, primarily for the bar chat, a comment which should not be understood to detract from the overall con excellence.

Cool people I hung with included (but are not limited to): Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Brust (pictured above with the super-competent and otherwise entirely excellent con chair Anne Murphy, who is sneaking up on him), Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, Kathryn Cramer (whose husband David Hartwell I spoke to as well, albeit briefly), Tobias Buckell and Emily Buckell and most especially the Fabulous Lorraine Garland and Jody Wurl, who basically adopted me as their pet for the weekend, not that I minded at all. I also met Subterranean Press publisher Bill Shafer, who is a fine man; SP, as you may know, will be doing the hardback of Agent to the Stars.

Fun Con Moments:

* Getting a nicely enthusiastic compliment about Old Man’s War from Steven Brust. Since he’s one of my favorite sf/f authors, you could say I was happy.

* Getting a box of Subterranean Press books from Bill Shafer as a “welcome” present. Not only were the titles themselves very cool, but the physical production of the books is very nicely done. I am ever more pleased A2S has found a home there. Also, as an aside, if’n you ever want to get on my good side, a box of books is an excellent way to do it.

* Going out in weather more or less described by the National Weather Service as “suicidal” in order to procure Thai food with Lorraine, Jody, Emma, Will, Patrick and also Jacqueline Carey (who sadly I did not spend much time in conversation with), among others. Yes, I drove; well, I drove me, Lorraine and Jody. No, I didn’t kill anyone. Apparently I’ve got the Mad Snow Driving Skillz, yo.

* Dancing like a 15-year-old until about 2 am in the morning with Jody and Lorraine, and then waking up the next morning with legs full of hate and lactic acid. It was worth it, mind you, but don’t expect me to be doing sprints any time soon. Clearly, I need to exercise more.

Would I go to ConFusion again? On the basis of this weekend: Yup.

Some Excellent OMW News

omwsfbc.jpg

Two bits of good news for Old Man’s War:

1. The Science Fiction Book Club Winter 2005 magazine came today, and I’m delighted to see that they’ve devoted a full page to OMW, as you can see here (it’s page 11, in case you’re wondering). Hopefully it’ll entice some people who haven’t heard of me before. As a bonus, the magazine also gives a shoutout to the Whatever up on the top of the page. So if you’ve come here from reading about this place in the SFBC magazine: Howdy! Make yourself at home.

2. I mentioned recently that I would feel OMW was a success if it made it to a second printing in hardback. Well, it has — a reliable source tells me they’re rushing to get a second printing out there even as we speak. Needless to say, I’m mighty thrilled to hear it.

Provident news, I think, as I head toward a science fiction convention.

I may not update again until Monday, so if I don’t, have a great weekend.

The Last Voyage of Nemo

nemo0119.jpg

We bought Athena a fishtank recently, complete with two fish, which Athena named Gummy and Nemo. Gummy is still with us; Nemo, alas, is not. Athena was upset about this, naturally, but not so upset that she couldn’t memorialize the event on the white board.

Here you see the entire final journey: There’s Nemo (top right), the poor fish in question; moving clockwise we meet The Tank, in which Nemo spent his short life; The Cup, the vessel with which Nemo was transferred from his home in The Tank, and The Toilet, the conveyance which sped Nemo on his way to the afterlife (represented by the headstone, complete with “RIP” on it, in the center of the tableau).

At the far right, you see The Ocean (spelled “oshin,” as Athena sounded it out), which is, Athena believes, the final destination of any detritus that is dropped into our plumbing. In point of fact, our plumbing goes to a massive septic tank buried in our yard, but Athena’s version is more poetic, so we’ll let it go at that. Finally, the inscription and memorial: “Nemo will always be remember(ed) forever.” Or until this Saturday, when Nemo II will undoubtedly be purchased.

In all, Athena handled her first experience with pet expiration well; a little crying, a little sadness, a little sublimation into creative expression. I’d say the healing has begun.

Update, 1/21: Spare a thought for poor Gummy, who apparently couldn’t face life without the beloved Nemo. Gummy has now joined Nemo in the septic tank afterlife. Uh… ocean afterlife, that is. Yeah.

ConFusion 31 Schedule

For those of you who are interested in finding me (or alternately, avoiding me) at the ConFusion 31 science fiction convention this weekend, here’s where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing:

When: Friday, 10pm: Media Year in Review
Where: DENN III/IV
What: We discuss the movies, television, and comics of the past year.
Who: Cathy Raymond, John Scalzi, Kiel Phegley
Notes: We’ll be doing this against the second half of a concert given by Guest of Honor Emma Bull and Toastmaster Steven Brust, so I’ll be interested in seeing if anyone actually shows up.

When: Saturday, 11am: Blogging: News, Opinions, People, Life
Where: SALON G
What: Blogging as a replacement for actually seeing people. Blogging to tell people your opinions and ideas. Blogging to get the news. Blogging is here, but what does it accomplish?
Who: Jeri Smith-Ready, John Scalzi, Kathryn Cramer, Larry Kestenbaum
Notes: Clearly I’ll have much to say on this topic, not the least because I just sold a second novel through my site.

Aside from these, I’ll be at least a few panels. I’m particularly interested in the Universe Happenings with Brother Guy panel, as it features a talk on the latest astronomical happenings by the curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection, and I just think that’s a cool position to have. I also think his personal intellectual positions are interesting. His talk actually starts as the Bull/Brust concert begins, so he may have even fewer people at his panel than I do at mine on Friday night. Still, he’ll have at least one person there. There are also some interesting panels on Saturday. I may flit about to see them.

Beyond that: Dunno. I imagine that people will eventually gravitate barwards or party wards, and I doubt I’ll be an exception to the general rule. Otherwise, if you see me and want to say hello, please feel free to do so. It’s a con, and I’m aware people will approach me randomly, so I won’t grab the mace. This will actually be my first non-Worldcon SF convention, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the differences in scale play out.

The Return of the Disclaimer

After a couple months in storage, I’ve restored the Whatever Disclaimer to its rightful position on the Whatever front screen. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s me admitting that I may in fact be a fatuous blowhole, but I can be a fatuous blowhole if I want, so there, nyah nyah nyah. If you are reasonably new to the site (or have just never read the disclaimer), I invite you to read it.

Comment Spam

Google has announced that it and other blogging software companies will be implementing a new html attribute to reduce comment spam; this new attribute — rel=”nofollow” — will keep Google’s spiders from following urls left by people who comment on someone’s blog entry, thus reducing the motivation for spammers to leave comment spam for Google page rank purposes. I don’t know that this makes a difference for this site, since I’ve disabled HTML in comment text areas anyway (I figure you all know how to cut and paste a URL), but if it gets spam comments down overall, I think that’s groovy.

This is some interest to me because recently I’ve noticed an upsurge in comment spam activity here — I’ve been having to clear out close to 100 posts a day. The good news is that it’s pretty darn easy to do in Movable Type 3.11; I cleared out about 70 this morning in three minutes. But of course, it’s still annoying, and there is the unfortunate side effect that while clicking the little boxes to remove comment spam, I occasionally and accidentally remove a legitimate comment, too. I hate it when that happens. I could make my life even more easy by implementing the MT Blacklist functionality, but that involves installing things, and I can already hear my database screaming at the thought of me tinkering with it.

If I were to make a wishlist of things I’d like for Movable Type to implement to make it easier for me to combat comment spam, here’s what I would wish for (and if you know these things exist as add-ons or part of the native MT functionality, please let me know):

1. The ability to delete comments from the actual comment thread, as opposed to having to fire up the MT backend to get at it. Interestingly enough, AOL Journals user have this functionality — they see buttons to delete comments right there as they read; the functionality is keyed to their screenname so no one else can delete anything, of course. Could see MT doing something similar using cookies on a specific browser or through some sort of sign-on implementation.

2. The ability to semi-moderate: I’d love to be able to let messages without HTML coding go through but sequester off html-laden comments until I approved them. This would mean general conversation would continue, since very few “real” commenters here reference URLs, but comment spam would be blocked from showing up at all in the threads; I’d throw them out before they got there.

3. The ability to ban commenters not just by IP (which is pretty useless these days if you’re not running MT blacklist) but also by commenter name. I doubt any real person is name “Phenteramine” or “Online Poker.” This would be a temporary stopgap, of course, as spammers would pick up on it fairly quickly. but what would be reasonably effective is the ability to ban by phrase: That is, have the MT scan through the text and if a specific sequence of words pops up, either block it or drop it into a moderation queue for approval. Since those “phrases” could include URLs which would be constant over many many comment spams, this could be very helpful.

If MT were to implement any of these, it would make my online life easier. Implementing all of them, of course, would make it a joyous skip through the park.

Update: As it happens, Six Apart (who make MT) have recently put out a guide to comment spam which notes a useful plug-in for quasi-moderating: MT-Moderate, which automatically puts comments as “pending” if they’re attached to entries past a certain age (the default is seven days), on the (largely correct in my experience) theory that older entries aren’t likely to get actual comments, they’re likely to get spam (the plugin also notes when a comment has been approved for an older entry and backs off a bit on moderating that particular entry for a day or two to let real-time conversation happen — a nice touch.)

I’ve gone ahead an added MT-Moderate, so if you decide to comment on an entry that’s more than a week old, be aware that there may be a time lag before it shows up, since I’ll need to approve it. But the flip side for me is that comment spam will largely be gone from the site. I love it when a plan comes together.

Recent OMW Notices

Some Old Man’s War nuggets out there on that InterWeb thing that all the kids are talking about these days:

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column had nice things to say about Old Man’s War:

‘Old Man’s War’ by John Scalzi manages to set a particularly difficult but specific goal for itself and then achieves the goal with the kind of reckless ease exhibited by its hero, John Perry. John Scalzi has done no less than write an adult version of a Heinlein-juvenile-styled novel for the adults who grew up reading Heinlein’s originals. While the book is aimed at an mature audience it provides those that audience the warm thrills they experienced some twenty-thirty-forty-fifty-sixty-seventy years ago when they first read science fiction. But Scalzi’s success is not just nostalgia. He’s written a thoroughly entertaining addition to the science fiction canon of Space Adventures with a few original twists.

Blogger Waddling Thunder also posts up a positive review, and comments on the minor “is it anti-war or not” kerfuffle about the book:

I suppose, before saying anything else, I should note that this is not an anti-war novel, as some have alleged (Scalzi talks about this on his blog, to which there’s a link from Bainbridge). Certainly, there’s a sense in which the titular war is somewhat senseless, and the brutality of conflict is well depicted (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been to war. Soldiers may disagree). But to believe those points alone make something anti-war is foolish – lots of people who have seen war and who can write tellingly of its horrors support wars nonetheless. The question, for all but the harshest pacifist, is whether this or that particular war is worth it. In any case, Old Man’s War is neutral ground for politicos from either or all sides. It tells a good story, and leaves politics to others.

SF writer Sherwood Smith checks in with a thumbs up:

The sense is that this is a short book, though it isn’t, really. It feels short because so much happens, there are many transitions and summations, there are characters who appear just to raise this or that issue then are swept away-and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The science is fascinating, the questions good ones, and there are some deft character touches (including a biggie that takes Perry utterly by surprise, and raises even more fascinating questions) leaving the reader by the past page wanting more. Scalzi writes with vividness and humor, the latter quality making bearable some otherwise grim scenes.

(She also gives a thumbs ups to Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered: “My expectations were high, and she met them head on.”)

There’s also a small feature on the book in the month’s Pages magazine; you can see the online version here (this link may eventually point to something else, so if you’re reading this many months after I posted it — sorry).

Oh, and, hey, my mom liked it. And that’s really the most important thing, isn’t it.

I promise to write about something besides my books soon. I swear.

OMW Availability Update, Plus Signings

A little birdie whispered in my ear about why Amazon currently has Old Man’s War available in 5 to 8 days rather than within 24 hours: Seems Amazon has burned through its initial shipment of the book and now needs to reload. I am of course immensely pleased; of all the excuses, that’s the best one of all. It’ll be back to “within 24 hours status” fairly soon. Thank you, those of you who bought via Amazon!

The little birdie also whispered in my ear that I should not fret about hiccups in the distribution chain, and that all this is generally fairly common happenstance, and that the book is doing well and — equally important — is well-positioned for when the paperback hits the streets about a year from now.

Well, okay. I resolve to avoid futher fretination, and encourage those of you who have been fretting on my behalf to avoid it as well. Do continue to pester your local bookstores about the book, of course, if they don’t have it in stock; special ordering does wonders and they might even order an extra copy or two. And I do again want to thank everyone who has been sending me e-mail letting me know when you see the book in the store. That never gets old on this end.

I’ve been asked by several people if I would sign books if they send them to me. The answer is, yes, of course, I would be delighted to. Here’s what you would need to do.

1. Send me an e-mail so I can send you an address to send the book to.
2. Make sure you have sufficient postage and packaging so the book can make it here and back. This is actually very important; I’m not made of cash.
3. If there’s something in particular you want me to write, slip a note to that effect into the front cover of the book. Please, keep it reasonably short. If there are no special instructions, I will simply sign my name, so you’ll be able to sell it on eBay later that much easier.

Also, of course, should you see me at a convention (such as ConFusion 31, which I will be attending this weekend) I will be more than happy to sign a book there. Please don’t hesitiate to ask.

Artwork for Agent

tc0118.jpg

First, gaze, if you will, on my recent acquisition: Twisp and Catsby, the beloved surrealist characters from Penny Arcade. The PA guys made 500 of these cels, which sold at $80 a pop; they sold out in less than 12 hours. Let’s all have a hearty chuckle at the folks who are still wondering whether cartoonists can manage to support themselves online. Someone is already selling one on eBay; he’s set the minimum at $220. I imagine he’ll get it. I have no intention of selling mine, so, you know, don’t ask. I don’t buy art as an investment, I buy it because I like it.

Given my muchly enjoyment of Penny Arcade, you can yet only begin to imagine the sheer, unalloyed pleasure it gives me to note that Gabe (the artist half of the PA duo — trio if you count Robert the Business Guy, and why wouldn’t you) will be doing the artwork for the Agent to the Stars hardcover dust jacket. We tempted Gabe with promises of jewels and spices and the dusky secrets of the universe — and also kicked in cash and the promise that for his participation, 10% of the retail price of the book would be donated to Child’s Play, PA’s very wonderful charity which provides games and toys to kids in children’s hospitals all over the country. I am of course particularly pleased about being able to have my book kick in for that cause, and to have it help prime the pump when PA kicks off Child’s Play ’05 later in the year.

I was happy before that Agent was going to get a life outside this Web site; with a Gabe cover, however, this thing really is going to be something worth having. In addition to this being the first novel I wrote, I’m pretty sure it’ll be the first book cover art Gabe has done (aside from collections of PA’s own work and their comic book cover art). It’s as if Gutenberg himself has descended from on high, dispensing dark chocolate bon-bons with a filling of pure joy.

No, you can’t pre-order yet. Please to recall I am still in the first flush of excitement over Old Man’s War, and would like to focus on that for a while longer; I think everyone at Tor would like me to do the same. And as much as I would love to think that you all would rush out and buy two hardcover books from me in the same month, in the real world that would be taxing your good will, and your wallet. Also, there are various setting-up exercises we have to do before we can start taking pre-orders. So, patience. We’ll be cleared for pre-orders for Agent most likely in about six weeks.

I will note that this will indeed be a limited edition; we’re still looking at a 1,000-unit print run but if we get enough pre-orders, we’ll push the print run higher to accommodate the demand. Having said that, we’re looking at a hard cap of 2,000 copies, max (have some sympathy, please — I do have to sign all the copies). So if you really want your own copy, please do consider pre-ordering a few weeks from now.

To encourage pre-ordering when the time comes, I’ll put this out there now for y’all to mull over: If pre-orders push up the print run to 2,000 copies and we sell out the run before the end of 2005, I’ll kick in $500 of my own money from the book to Child’s Play, above and beyond the 10% from the retail price that we’re already kicking in. So go ahead and donate my money, too. I’ll be happy to cough it up.

Don’t worry, I’ll remind you all of this again when pre-orders open up. I just wanted to plant the seed for now.

No matter what, I’m wholly pleased that Gabe’s doing the art for Agent. The exuberance, in this case, is not insubstantial.

Justine’s Site + OMW News

I won’t be updating any more today, on account of Athena doesn’t have school and we intend to go out and do something fun, so while I’m away, why not check out SF writer Justine Larbalestier’s updated site, which new includes a groovy new area for her excellent upcoming novel, Magic or Madness. She’s also got excellent musings, including the most recent one on a new variant of cricket that makes the game apparently even less comprehensible to us Yanks than it was before. Go, cricket, go!

I’m getting indications that Old Man’s War copies are becoming scarce on the ground — A hopeful Canadian purchaser says she was told the book was sold out (although they hoped to get more copies in two weeks), and the BN.com page for my book says that it’s not even available until January 28, which is very odd since I know it was available for sale on the site in December and earlier this month. Amazon has it in stock, but notes a 5 to 8 day delay in delivery. And on top of it all, it’s still not available at my local bookstore.

I’m a little annoyed that the book seems to be pulling a “now you see me, now you don’t” act, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it, of course. Hopefully we’ll get the kinks out of the distribution system soon, and anyone who wants a book can find it. In the meantime, if you’re having trouble locating the book, there’s always the Science Fiction Book Club, and, well, Wal-Mart.

Have a good Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Do something inclusive.

The Politics of SF

A question from the gallery (and more specifically, this guy):

As someone who not only enjoys Charles Stross’s work, but who drools over intelligent SF in general (i.e., as someone who considers cutting-edge SF the equivalent of Ghirardelli chocolate), I’m very interested to learn more about the “real-world” political perspectives of the SF writers I admire. (FREX: China Mieville: pseudo-Marxist; LeGuin: pacifist Taoist; etc..)

I’ve noticed that the worldviews of many otherwise insightful SF authors–including Charles Stross–become strangely conspiratorial and dogmatic whenever they address current political realities. Are all contemporary SF writers dedicated Leftists? Or what?

Specifically relating to Charlie Stross, of course, the best person to answer that question would be Charlie himself. I will note that personally, I don’t find him to be any more politically dogmatic than other people; Charlie’s politics and mine diverge enough to be noticeable, and yet he doesn’t shy away from my acquaintance based on my doctrinal impurities. He does have a point of view, which is perhaps best summed up in this quote: “I’m a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending—if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism.” (via Electrolite) I don’t see that as dogmatic so much as aspirational. In any event, Charlie can speak for Charlie.

As for SF in general, I don’t think anyone’s taken a serious political survey of SF writers — because why would you — but anecdotally speaking it does seem to me that most SF writers I’ve met are of two political stripes: Lefties and Libbies. The lefty camp includes most SF writers who are not citizens of the US, which makes some sort of basic sense because the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are rather more politically and socially “left” than the US. It does also include the general mass of US SF writers, who can be widely classified as a subset of the American intellectual class, which is generally left-learning, although I would hesitate to say exclusively so. The libertarian camp of SF writers — the Heinleinites, as I like to call them in my brain — are as far as I can see is a small but vocal minority. You recognize them the moment they open their mouths.

This is speaking very broadly and anecdotally, mind you; I can think of several successful SF writers who I see as generally conservative, either politically or socially. Orson Scott Card is famously socially conservative, a position that is to some degree rooted in his religious tradition. John Ringo also seems fairly conservative; he’s been known to write op-eds for the New York Post. Holly Lisle also seems to be of a politically conservative stripe to me, on the occasion I’ve seen her write about her politics. And of course as individuals most SF writers and editors have the political quirks and streaks. I doubt rather seriously that you’ll meet an SF writer who is doctrinally straight ticket for whatever their general political stance is assumed to be. That’s because SF writers, as a rule, tend to think about their political positions.

Knowing the politics of an author is interesting but usually irrelevant to their work, unless the writer is writing specifically about contemporary politics (which would be unusual for this genre). My personal political views, for example, are almost entirely irrelevant for Old Man’s War; the story might give you a small sense of my thoughts on the use of military force, but then again it might not, since I’ve seen the book described both as “anti-war” and as an argument for the wisdom of having “boots on the ground.” If you were to give the average person OMW and ask them to divine my political positions based on the text, I doubt you’d get all that far. Equally, I’m not sure having read Perdido Street Station that I would have pegged China Mieville as a socialist, because his personal politics are not glaringly obvious in the book, or at least, they weren’t to me.

And what about, say, a book like Allen Steele’s Coyote? In the book, the US has been replaced by a hard-right political entity, against which a small group of colonists rebel — and yet later in the book there’s an even larger socialist state, and the colonists rebel against that too. What does any of this say about Steele’s politics? Is he a lefty, a righty, or the sort of libbie that just wants to be left alone? Any, or none, or (my choice) it doesn’t matter, since Steele is after all writing fiction.

Again, unless authors are explicitly addressing politics in their text, their personal politics and positions are trivia at best. Some will argue that personal politics do matter more than I’ve suggested, and I will argue that indeed, there are people for whom they will matter more than they do for me. And possibly in a different time and place, they might have mattered more, and might again. To switch art forms here, it does matter, for example, that Leni Riefenstahl’s brilliant cinematic eye was used in the service of the Nazis. But the average writer who supported George Bush or John Kerry in the last US election does not, shall we say, sink to Riefenstalian depths. Here and now, most SF writers’ personal politics — left, right, or off the axis entirely — are not integral to how their work should be approached.