Monthly Archives: April 2005

Child-Spotting

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“Can I ask you a question? With your child, are you more patient than you would be with the average person?”

The question for this was coming from an unexpected source, namely, the lady who stands behind the counter at one of the gas station convenience stores in town. But it was an interesting question, and I didn’t think it was overly personal, so I answered it.

And the answer was: Well, yes. My daughter is six years old. I don’t expect her to know what appropriate behavior is at all times, and it’s my job as a parent to teach her. I don’t believe extra patience means letting your kid act like a jerk, and on the thankfully rare occasions Athena is acting like a jerk in public, I’ll remove her whenever feasible so she doesn’t bother others. And if I have to do that — and I suspected that was coming to the heart of the questions — I’ll do it without going nuclear on my child in front of the entire world (I also avoid doing that in private, too, but that’s another matter). It does actually matter how you behave with your child in public, because among other things people are watching — and your child is paying attention, too.

And so I said (with rather more economy) to the lady behind the counter. The answer met with her general approval, and the additional comment that when one works in retail, one sees many things, including how people treat their kids. She hinted, but did not say specifically say, that sometime just before I get there some parent when a little nuts on their kid, and that it was all she could do not to say something about it. I think when I came through the door she wanted to vent at what she’d seen, and possibly also get reassurance that not every parent was a jerk.

And she said something else after I said my part, which was “I thought that’s what you’d say. I’ve seen you in here with your daughter before, and I’ve seen how you treat your child.” This goes back to what I mentioned earlier: how you respond, react and treat to your child gets noted, even by the people you’re not aware of. I was obviously aware this woman had seen me with Athena, because we go into the convenience store on a frequent basis. What I was not particularly aware of is that she was noting how I interacted with my kid while I was in her store. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised — I note how people interact with their kids, after all — but there you are. It’s the difference between saying that people are watching how you treat your child, and knowing they are watching how you treat your child.

I found it an interesting moment in my morning, and reminder that I’m part of the world in unexpected ways, and so is my child, and so is our relationship with each other.

I Like Rhapsody

Yesterday some snark over at Slashdot slathered his ignorant condescension on the Rhapsody music client from Real Networks: “I can’t comment on how good Rhapsody is since I’ve never met anyone who used it. That probably says enough right there,” this fellow posted. What a wonderful argument. Apply it to, say, the Macintosh OSX (currently being used on, what? Three percent of computers?), and you would be spammed mercilessly with hate mails by the Steve Handjobbers.

I’ve been using Rhapsody for the last 18 months and I will tell you that if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between Rhapsody and iTunes, I’d burn my iTunes purchases onto CD and give it the boot. Don’t get me wrong — I love me the iTunes, and when I do make DRM-shackled download purchases, it’s my avenue of choice. But aside from playing the Apple DRMed music files (which is easily got around in any event), Rhapsody does everything iTunes can do, and does one absolutely critical thing that iTunes cannot: It can stream 60,000 albums and a million songs for me to listen to, any time I want.

Why is this critical? Well, because I want to hear what I’m buying before I buy. Because I’d like to be able to hear the hip new songs the kids love without, say, inviting Kelly Clarkson into my home on a permanent basis. Because most of my CD collection is in boxes, and I don’t want to take the time and/or effort to encode them onto my hard drive, and since this music client allows me to access 90% of the music in my CD without that annoying digging/ripping, I don’t have to. Because it’s fun to skip across music like you skip across the Web, following links from one place to another until you end up someplace new that you would never have gotten to otherwise. And because when I write articles about music, I now have access to the very closest thing to a universal jukebox there is.

Example: Recently I did an article for an Uncle John book about songs with the word “Detroit” in the title. If I didn’t have Rhapsody, researching an article like that would be like pulling teeth. With it, I enter the word “Detroit” into client, get a list of 70 songs, and then get to listen to any of those I choose before writing up my article. Paying $10 a month for Rhapsody ends up making me money because of its admirable utility.

Needless to say, not everyone is going to use it for that reason, but nearly anyone with disposable income $10 a month to sample albums and artists and to play with and listen to music is not unreasonable. The newest version of Rhapsody, released yesterday (I think), also offers the option to download tracks to play them offline, or (for an additional $5 a month) drop them into an MP3 player (other than an iPod, of course) to take around with you. Again, for music browsers, I think this is a pretty good deal.

No, you don’t own the music, which seems to be the whiny mantra against streaming music schemes like Rhapsody’s, but I have to say that I don’t really understand the problem here. You don’t go into Blockbuster to rent a movie and then get indignant that the rental fee doesn’t provide you a perpetual license to the film. If you want to own the film, you buy the film. As long as your brain can conceptualize the idea of renting music, this approach should be non-controversial. As I was writing this up, I was listening to the new album from the Ceasars (a band made famous, ironically, by having one of its songs featured in an iPod ad). I’m listening to the album, and can at any time, but I’m not under the impression I own it, and I don’t get all snotty when I close up Rhapsody and it goes away. If I reach that point, it’s a signal that, well, maybe I should buy it.

And, of course, having listened to the album now and having liked it, I’m more inclined to own it than I was before — either the entire album or parts of it. As I’ve hinted above, Rhapsody has increased the amount of music I buy because now I know what I’m getting before the purchase. Conversely, since I don’t end up buying music I don’t want, I don’t have much of that “I got really burned on this deal” attitude I used to get when I’d drop $14 on an album to discover it had only two tracks worth listening to. Which means my overall opinion of music as a worthwhile expenditure has gone up. So not only am I spending more on music, I’m inclined to spend more on music in the future. Everyone wins.

The only other rap against Rhapsody I can think of is that it’s owned by RealNetworks, famous for its Real media properties, which are the streaming audio and video you want to use if you really, really, really like buffering. I’m not a fan of most Real-based media — I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve streamed anything off of RealPlayer that didn’t look and/or sound like absolute crap — but aside from the rare server disconnect, I’ve never had a problem streaming music with Rhapsody. This partly has to do with its streaming strategy, in which many of one’s favorite listens were largely cached on one’s computer, thereby needing requiring only a small download for repeat listening. But however it’s done, it’s worked for me.

The Slashdot snark bothered me because it’s part of the hallowed tradition of people talking out of their ass about technology they don’t actually get to know and also (this admittedly being somewhat reasonable on Slashdot, but endemic anywhere vaguely geeky folks hang out online) having a smug and snotty attitude toward people who don’t have the interest and/or inclination to hand code their own personal Ogg Vorbis player (to be fair to Slashdot, a number of comments that followed the initial post flambéed the initial poster for his snark). What I’m saying is I actually use Rhapsody and I find it to be a good and useful application, enough so that I’ve cheerfully paid for it on a monthly basis for a non-trivially long time, and will continue to so for some time to come.

The only thing that might change this behavior is if iTunes begins some form of streaming service in the near future, as it might reasonably do. However, in this particular case Apple’s streaming solution would have to be really elegant (and cheaper) to cause me to switch. I already stream my music with one client and buy it online with another. I don’t mind not putting all my musical eggs in a single basket, even if it’s a basket with the famous Apple aesthetic. And as I’ve noted before, right now, if push came to shove, it’s not iTunes who would be left standing. There’s no reason to automatically assume it would be the one left standing in the future, either.

Now We Call Him “Dusty.”

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Here it is: The last picture of Rex you’re likely to see. Inside this box are his little furry ashes — well, the ashes themselves are not furry (and if they are, it’s time to recalibrate the heat elements at the crematorium), but you know what I mean.

I imagine we’ll get him a somewhat more appropriate repository at some point in the near future, but for now his earthly remains rest inside a small cardboard box, along with some foam peanuts — I opened it up and looked (the foam peanuts are unlikely to make it into any future repository save the trash). I drew the kitty on the outside, to make the box look a little less sterile, and also to make sure that the box doesn’t accidentally get tossed by anyone, say, during a random cleaning of their husband admittedly unforgivably messy office.

Anyway, here’s Rex, in ashen, granulated form. Say goodbye to the nice people, my dear cat. And goodbye to the dear cat, nice people.

Immortalized in Comic Form

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This is moderately cool: Old Man’s War featured in a comic strip. Here’s the whole thing. You can tell where my brain is because my first thought after “hey, that’s my name in a cartoon strip” was “I certainly hope that man was able to complete his sale before he was dragged off.” Yeah, what can I say. I’m a sales whore.

(Update: “Unshelved” co-creator Bill Barnes tells me that the strip takes place in a library, so there’s no purchase to conclude. Yes, but if the library has six copies, that’s still six copies sold, because, you know, they don’t give copies of the book to libraries for free. I still win! (Actually, I gave my local library a free copy. I’m a softy when it comes to libraries. And some of my favorite people are librarians. You know who you are, dahlinks.))

And as long as we’re on the subject: A nice write-up of the book over on Electric Minds.

Wiscon Schedule

What’s that? You say you absolutely cannot live another second unless you know what my (tentative) panel schedule will be at Wiscon, the world’s premier feminist science fiction convention? Well then, it would be utterly irresponsible for me to delay its publication one minute longer!

What Newly-Published Authors Find Out and You Want to Know
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. in Conference Room 3

Once your book is bought, suddenly all your concerns change completely. Your how-to-write books gather dust and your critique group wonders why you’re so cranky. Want a sneak preview? Ask these three first-time novelists what it’s like.

M: John M Scalzi, Virginia G McMorrow, Barth Anderson


The Creation (or Reconstruction) of a Mind

Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Capitol B

Much SF has somebody mind-wiped, and the poor soul must then develop a whole new personality. What is actually necessary to construct a mind?

Amy Thomson, M: John M Scalzi, Andrea D Hairston

Promoting Your Novel
Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Senate B

Everyone knows that the vast majority of published novelist do not get sent on book tours or make appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America. So what should the rest of us be doing to promote our novels? What are the best way to let people know our novels exist?

John M Scalzi, M: Liz Gorinsky

The SignOut
Monday, 11:30am-12:45pm in Capitol Room

Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.

These should be some interesting panels, and I enjoy moderating (that’s what that little “M” in front of one’s name means), so you can say I’m pleased with my panel assignments.

Odds and Ends and Stuff and Crap

fa0426.jpgFirst off, a big congratulations to Naomi Kritzer, whose book Freedom’s Apprentice has its official release today, the second book in her Dead Rivers Trilogy. You’ll recall I praised the first book in the series for being other than the usual rote fantasy and for exploring an unknown and fascinating alternate history, and I reasonably expect this one to be as good, enough so that I bought it at about two minutes after midnight on that Amazon thingie you hear so much about.

Over at her own Journal, Naomi experiences a little bit of angst about what being a second novel in a series means for her book sales, which (seeing as I’m writing a sequel) I can appreciate. This is one of the reasons why Ghost Brigades is not a direct sequel — it takes place in the OMW universe, but you won’t have to have read that book to get into TGB, and I hope to high holy god that Tor will use the words “From the Author of Old Man’s War” on the cover instead of “The Sequel to Old Man’s War.” Having said that, I have confidence that Naomi’s fears are just twitchiness; she’s a good writer and she written three other good books so far: I expect nothing less than that for number four. Which is, you know, why I bought it.

* Also purchased at the same time as Freedom’s Apprentice: The Tiger OS for the Mac. As it happens Amazon has a $35 printable rebate coupon you can send in, and as it happens I have a wife who actually sends in rebate coupons, and that means I got the OS for less than $100, and that’s reasonable to me. My understanding is that this amazing new OS will fold my clothes, tutor my child and make me an unstoppable sex machine (or should I say, even more of an unstoppable sex machine than I already am) and naturally I am all over that.

* Carey McGee comments on my recent blatheration about the Beatles and the Stones, and muses:

I have had in my mind for a story idea about a group that was the extreme version of this, whose musical invention and sheer power was such that they only released one recording, a six-song EP that becomes something of a holy talisman of the band’s fans — the absolute apex of rock and roll. And since their output was so small, and they weren’t around to tour, very few people would have heard of them.

It made me wonder, what if this situation already exists — that there is some absolutely brilliant music being made out there by mad geniuses and I’ll never even know about it.

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes. A close call to this would be The La’s, who thanks to the absolute perfectionist weirdness of its primary songwriter only produced one self-titled album — but Jaysus Mary and Joseph, what an album. And of course if it weren’t for the otherwise entirely bland Sixpence None the Richer covering “There She Goes,” about six people in the US would know about them. I can’t see how there couldn’t be even more obscure bands in the same position, and I already regret never having heard them, especially since I heard that new Kelly Clarkson song six times in three hours on my drive up to Michigan this last weekend.

Incidentally, McGee’s blog Rational Explanation is pretty good overall, so you might want to check it out. I don’t know him personally, although it appears he’s the reviews editor of the Internet Review of Science Fiction and as such has some definite thoughts on the matters of books and reviewing.

* My friend Mykal Burns pointed out this Boing Boing entry to me late last night, about a guy who — based on the overall consumption of the eucharist and sacramental wine over the 2000 years of the transubstantiating Catholic Church — calculated the current size of the body of Christ (it’s big). Mykal’s comment was along the lines of “Hey! Didn’t you do this once?”

And indeed I did — around 1994 I wrote a short story about a Catholic school in which the kids were rioting after they got in trouble for attempting to calculate the size of the body of Christ in just this fashion — the priests tried to curtail their mathematical endeavors as sacrilege, which prompted the riot, and afterward the kids were left to their academic pursuits; at least they were evincing some interest in school work. After an initial and incorrect calculation of the body of Christ being nearly the size of Mercury (leading some to wonder if the body of Christ had its own atmosphere, and if so, what it might be comprised of), a later revision showed the body of Christ to be roughly the same size as Mount Everest. Which lead to the further theological speculation of whether the Second Coming would in fact be the impact of the massive Holy Meteor Jesus, and Armageddon the economy-sized Tunguska Event that would follow the body of Christ’s literally earth-shattering impact.

Sadly, no copies of the story are extant (for the reason that despite the intriguing premise, the story sucked), so any claims I might have had to being the first to measure the contemporary size of the body of Christ are circumstantial at best. I’m willing to let someone else take the credit and/or eternal hellfire and damnation.

* Finally, here’s a thought for you: The publicist for Book of the Dumb 2 has scheduled an author’s event for me for the day before Father’s Day. Where at? A local Sam’s Club. Why there? Because that’s where they sell truckload after truckload of the books, that’s why. How do I feel about being an author at a Sam’s Club? I feel fine. I don’t care where my books sell. I just want them to sell. I just hope, being that this is published by the Bathroom Reader people, that they don’t actually position me near the pallets of toilet paper in a blaze of cross-promotional thinking. That’s not too much to ask for.

Checks, Books, Bar Graphs

Well. Got my advance check for The Ghost Brigades today. Guess that means I really do have to start writing it.

More to the point, however, is the fact that I feel ready to write it, which is to say I’ve reached a sufficient point of knowledge regarding certain key scenes and events that I can place them on the line and use them as guidepoints to write toward and past. And even more specifically, I know exactly what’s going to happen in the first two chapters, so writing them will be a relative breeze and it will give me more idea about where subsequent chapters need to go (I also know what I want to write for, say, Chapters Seven, Fourteen and Twenty, although less specifically, but that’s fine too — if you write like I do (i.e., make it up as you go along) you want flexibility).

There’s a trend in the last few months for writers to put up a bar graph in their blogs showing how much they’ve written in a book and how much they intend to write, but I will be having none of that nonsense myself, thank you very much, partly because I have no idea how much I’m going to write, although I suspect it’ll be in the same area as Old Man’s War: 95K words or so. But I don’t think I want the pressure of a bar graph. I’ll let you know when I actually begin; I’ll let you know when I finish and I’ll probably kvetch somewhere in the middle. That should be enough.

Before someone asks: Yes, I’ll probably ask for beta readers, but not before I’m done. I’ll probably keep the numbers small. I will let you know when that happens.

My Daddy Went to Penguicon and All I Got Was This Massive Copyright Violation

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There’s actually an interesting backstory to this t-shirt, which is that over the weekend I called home and Krissy said that when she asked Athena what she wanted to do while I was away, Athena said that she wanted to have them dress up like goths. She’s a real live Kindergoth! Isn’t that precious. So I saw this shirt in the dealer’s room and had to have it. Athena’s wearing it to school today, complete with black fingernail polish. It’s even money I get a call from the school office.

Penguicon: It went well. I was scheduled for four panels and ended up actually doing six, the two I added being “Dancing for Geeks” — hey, shut up, I took two years of dance — and the Penguicon writers workshop. For the former we taught folks how to find the beat and then move their feet in something other than an awkward shuffle, and it went well, I thought. For the second one, I did my editor bit and read seven stories that were being workshopped, pretended that they had actually been submitted to me for publication and then told the workshoppers why I rejected their work. As being rejected is as much a part of the publishing process as being accepted, I thought that was useful, and by and large I think the people in the workshop agreed, although, of course, I may be wrong on that. There was one writer whose story I barely read out of the first page because there was an error I just couldn’t get past — I explained what the error was and how this was an example of how some editors have weird little tics you can’t predict, and this was one of mine — and I can’t imagine that particular writer was very pleased with me. Still and all, overall I think it went well.

The panels I was supposed to be on went well too, in a general sense. Cory Doctorow (who was the Guest of Honor), Matt Arnold and I had a very successful panel doing a blue-sky on what would be involved in writing collaborative online fiction; my thought about it would be that doing something like a wiki-story is entirely possible but that people were more likely to be touchy to changes in personal creative writing than changes to, say, an article in Wikipedia, and that since the writing would be a public performance, there could be a possibility of the story getting derailed as people simply started to try to top each other. Cory, who did an online collaborative fiction piece with Charlie Stross, talked a little about that experience as well.

Then came the panel on “The Blog and Its Uses”: This had me, online cartoonist Howard Tayler, and David Klecha, who had blogged from Iraq. Howard and I talked quite a bit about how blogging has made a difference in our professional lives while David talked more about how it works on a personal level (particularly in terms of communicating from a war zone). They taped this one for posterity, so who knows — you might be able to hear it online someday. This was followed by the “How Do Writers Pay Their Bills?” panel, in which we (me, Joan Vinge, Kevin Siembieda, M. Keaton and Kathe Koja) talked about day jobs and our opinions of them, and also about the generally bad pay of creative writing (as opposed to corporate writing, which pays rather better but is of course generally far less creative). This one was also taped.

My final panel was on “The Future of Science Fiction,” which given some commentary here recently, was on point. To be entirely honest, I think a great deal of the future of science fiction — the written portion of it, at least — will rely on its marketing, and I mentioned that at the panel. M. Keaton who was also there (as well as Joan Vinge, Tim Ryan and Jeff Beeler) also talked about the need for a rebirth of the “pulp” strata of science fiction to serve as “minor league ball” as it were, to novels and some of the higher end magazines, which I thought was an interesting point. Overall, I thought the panels were well done; a couple of panelists would lose their mental and narrative thread in the midst of speaking and would then wander a bit aimlessly before getting back on point, but I suppose to some extent that’s inevitable. By and large, however, generally informative. My panel pace at the con kept me from seeing many of the other panels, although I did pop in on Cory’s panel on folk art and copyright as well as his keynote address on Digital Rights Management.

I also got to spend some time with Cory, meet his smashing girlfriend (whose first convention this was; I’m sure she found it interesting), and gab with him about a bunch of stuff. Cory is on his way to Chicago next week for the Nebula Awards, as his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is nominated; I’m not going to that so I was happy to to get some time to gab with him here. Cory’s guest liaison was Anne KG Murphy, who I met earlier this year at ConFusion (she was the convention chair there), so it was great to see her again as well (it was she who dragooned me into teaching geeks to dance, since she’d seen me dance at ConFusion). Anne also played Buffy in a live-action re-enactment of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling”; the presentation was both interesting and something that I later had a really interesting time trying to explain to a couple of nongeeks (“So… they were watching the episode and re-enacting it at the same time? Why?”).

So in all, a grand time. The only drawback for me was the fact that there was a freak snowstorm on Saturday and Sunday in which I had to drive home; I managed to make it home just fine under the concept that making it home was better than trying to get home fast. But I can’t hold that against the Penguicon people. They have no control over the weather, so far as I know.

Off to Penguicon

I’m out of here until Monday; I’m off to Penguicon (I’m actually leaving tomorrow, but since I’m leaving early I’m not updating when I get up). Consider this an open thread for y’all to enjoy while I’m away.

If the prospect of an open thread frightens and terrifies you, you may instead choose to answer the following question: You want the party to wind down but people won’t leave. What music do you use to clear the decks?

Also, my friend Deven has started a blog, somewhat formally, with an essay on cricket and baseball. He’s a very good friend, so swing by, welcome him into the world of blogging and tell him to post more. Like most people, he thrives on the sweet sweet fertilizer of attention.

See you Monday.

My Music

Because I know you’re passionately interested: My mp3 collection, all 7155 tracks of it.

From this you can subtract several incidents of multiple listings of the same track, but add about 200 iTunes files that don’t show up here, which include the most recent albums from U2, Alison Moyet, Petra Haden and Bill Frisell, Garbage, Green Day, Gwen Stefani, Sarah McLachlan, Offspring and kd lang, the singles collection from Travis, some loose tracks from Mandy Moore, the Darkness, John Fogerty, and about thirty tracks of mariachi music (don’t ask). After you suck out the multiple listings and add in the tracks noted above, it comes out to about the same number of tracks as listed here.

I should note that this is by no means a complete accounting of my entire music collection, which totals close to 2,000 CDs, but the thought of feeding all those into the computer fills me with absolute dread. Absolute, I tell you.

Who The Hell Cares What’s Wrong With American SF?

Charlie Stross speculates, with only the tiniest hint of schadenfreude, as to why all the Hugo nominees for Best Novel this year are all British — or, more accurately, why none of them are American. After politely offering the olive branch of coincidence, Charlie’s off-the-cuff speculation is that American SF writers are depressed:

Here I’m going to shortcircuit the endless debate and bring up my proposition: that the shape of American SF, as with British SF, is determined by the cultural zeitgeist, by the society’s own vision of its future. And I propose that the American future is currently uncertain, unpleasant, polarized, regimented, and pessimistic… This is not the place to list all the controversies or uncertainties haunting the American psyche in the wake of 9/11. Nor am I going to leave any hostages to fortune by prophesying either a reinvigoration of American hegemony, or a Soviet-style collapse. I’m agnostic on the matter. What I am willing to assert is that this uncertainty is haunting science fiction and warping the sort of fiction that is being written.

This follows to some extent on a Live Journal entry by Canadian James Nicholl, who asks: “So when exactly did the US stop being fertile soil for real SF?” and also suggests that American SF writers have a case of the doldrums, which shows up in depressing futures with restricted civil liberties.

I don’t know. Personally speaking, I must have missed the memo to be depressed, since none of my SF (at least as it applies to earth) is pessimistic about the American future; indeed, on that far-distant day in which The Android’s Dream is ever released you will discover that much to the consternation of other nations on the planet, it is a hale and healthy America that is the seat of the federal world government, and that sends representatives to the larger interstellar UN-like organization. I’m not incapable of writing darker-tinged fiction — I think you’ll find that The Ghost Brigades is somewhat darker and more intense than Old Man’s War — but neither do I find doom and gloom inherently interesting. It’s a tool from the toolbox, and it has its uses, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the first tool out of the box. And while I am not entirely pleased with the current American political/social scene, neither do I believe it portends the coming of the American Jerusalem and/or The Second Great Depression. The life of the US exists on multiple levels; some of the scarier levels are simply more obvious at the moment. We’ll see where it goes from here. Suffice to say that in the long run, I am not unoptimistic.

American SF writers may indeed be trapped in a becalmed Saragasso Sea of the soul at the moment thanks to the various political and social shifts in this country. Alternately, it may be that the US writers are sucking up the tail end of a particular SF market trend that is rapidly playing itself out and American SF writers will now have to figure out where the hell to go to next. Or maybe they’re all just in really crappy personal relationships. Maybe it’s not the authors at all; maybe it’s the editors who are buying stuff who are depressed as hell. As a reader, I find it difficult to actually care because I don’t read by nationality, I read by author and/or story, and if the story is good, I simply could not give a squat where it is the author sits down to type his or her story.

As an author, I’m not totally disinterested in what other writers are doing — as I’ve noted before, I wrote Old Man’s War because a trip to the bookstore told me that military fiction was what was selling, and as a first-time author, I wanted to sell — but I’m wary of making sweeping generalizations about what the lot of them are writing and how, or the contextual underpinnings of the work. The SF writing scene is small enough to have some uniformity in outlook, but people’s lives and the ways those lives impact their work are intensely varied.

If American SF writers are uniformly depressed, well, I don’t know, let’s organize a field trip to someplace sunny for them. Let them frolic in the open air or whatever. Have them meet a nice person of their gender of sexual preference and then rut like stoats for a day or two. Call it charity. But if that doesn’t snap them out of their doldrums, oh well. We’ve done what we can for them.

My theory as to why five Brits are Hugo nominees for best novel is pretty simple: leaving aside electoral noise like “hometown” bias and real or imagined personal relationships with the author, the five books nominated are just really good books. This is of course begging the question as to why they’re so good, but just as American authors can have many reasons for slumping at the moment, these British authors can have myriad reasons for being at the top of their game, possibly some relating to nationality but other factors having little or nothing to do with it at all.

It’s fun to ascribe an overarching reason for the inclusion of these five particular books, to try to impose some sort of uniform causality. But ultimately these rationales aren’t going to pan out. Occam’s Razor returns us to the “really good book” theory. It works for me.

Pollen Days Are Here Again

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Living out in the country is esthetically nice this time of the year, as everything is in bloom. However, in the last few years particularly I suffer the consequences with pollen and hay fever allergies. Athena and I went outside to play, which involved rolling around in the grass; once we came in I spent about 20 minutes sneezing, followed by the ingestion of allergy medicine which knocked me unconscious for a couple of hours in the late afternoon, which is not really an optimal time for a nappy-poo, if you ask me. I mean, I’m glad the plants are having sex and all, I just wish it didn’t trigger such an irritating histamine reaction in me. The good news, such as it is, is that we’re having a nice thunder storm at the moment, which will wash the pollen from the air for a couple of days.

Here’s what I want to know, which maybe one of you can answer: Do other animals get allergic reactions to pollen as well? Kodi and the cats don’t seem to be spending a lot of time sneezing, but on the other hand Ghlaghghee’s been tearing up more recently, and I can’t help but wonder if the pollen’s getting to her too. If so, poor kitty. I doubt they make feline antihistamines (actually, I don’t doubt it; I’m sure someone does. But I doubt I’m going be able to pop down to the little IGA market here in town and get it).

Yeah, that’s all I’ve got for you today. I’m still groggy from waking up at 7pm from my nap. My brain is so useless at the moment that I actually cleaned my office, because rooting out clutter was all my gray matter could handle at the time. Stupid allergies.

Sunsets and Popes

First, here’s the sunset off my porch today:

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And if you like that, here’s a larger version in pop-up form.

And for fun, a picture of the trees back behind my house earlier today:

What can I say? It was a pretty day around these here parts.

Second, I have nothing of interest to say about anything else, except to note that I’m still fiddling with my Mac like the shiny new toy it is. Hey: F9, F10, and F11 buttons? Geeeeeenius. I mean, really. As soon as I saw them, I thought: I want to lick my Mac (I did not). Thanks to Justine for pointing these zany bits of functionality out to me. I’ll also note that I broke with the overall mac aesthetic and picked up a two button mouse with a scroll wheel. No, it doesn’t look as cool as the Mac mouse, but now I don’t feel as if I’m mousing with one arm chopped off at the ball joint. There’s are limits to cool vs. functional, and those limits involve a second button and a scroll wheel. That is all.

As toward the big news of the day, I have no opinion as to Pope Benedict XVI, although I was curious about his name and looked up some of the previous Benedicts to see what the name represented. Given who the pope was prior to his elevation, I suspect the name had more to do with a tradition of intellectual, scholarly Benedicts than the reform-minded ones. Not being Catholic, this is something I don’t see myself spending to many processing cycles thinking about, although of course having said that I’m sure the new pope will do something that impacts my life directly and then I’ll be compelled to comment. Life is like that sometimes.

CUSP

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I was sent this the other day: CUSP, by Robert A. Metzger, a Nebula-nominated SF author who is also a frequent reader of the site. I’ve just started reading it, but so far it’s pretty interesting and starts with a heck of an opening scene, in which the sun sprouts an immense jet and high-tails away while the Earth finds itself quartered by immense pole and equator-spanning walls that sprout from the very ground. I suspect the Freemasons are involved.

Naturally, I’m curious to find out what Metzger’s going to do with this. That’s the fun of Hard SF, though, isn’t it: You create these immense technological doo-dads, now you gotta play with them, and from the first chapters at least, you can tell Metzger enjoys fiddling around with the geegaws.

Note to self: Create some awesome Hard SF thing to play with sometime. I’m thinking maybe a moon-sized block of cheese. Think of the possibilities.

Odd Request

Okay, I gave in totally and configured my e-mail on the Mac. Would you do me a favor and send me some e-mail so I can see whether I did it right (and to train my spam filters not to shunt real mail to the junk folder)? And let me know if it bounces back (in the comment thread naturally). Please disregard this message if you’re seeing it after 4/18/05.

Krissy’s Birthday

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As most of you know, I am fortunate enough to share my life with someone who is so immeasurably better than a schmuck like me deserves that it’s even remotely funny, and it’s her birthday today. So if you are of a mind to, please wish Krissy a happy birthday; I’m sure she will appreciate it. I’ve already given her her birthday gift as of last week (the iPod mentioned in the previous entry — actually an iPod mini (it’s blue!)), but today is the real date, and that’s worth noting. The picture, by the way, was taken by Athena. How Athena got the grass to go all black and white like that I’ll never know.

Reluctant Transformation

All right, I admit it. The Mac is so much prettier and nicer than my PC that already I can tell that I’m going to use for just about everything from now on. Just five days in and I’ve configured everything to be able to access all my important documents via the Mac; I don’t have to use the PC for anything relating to the Web. I’m fighting off shuttling over an archive of my e-mails because I know if I start using the Mac for the e-mail, it’s pretty much all over; the PC will simply be a storage facility and a game machine. And I feel bad about it.

Not that the PC cares, of course. It’s just a hunk of circuits and metal. But, you know. We have a history. I wrote five books and countless Web entries and Uncle John Bathroom Reader articles on it. While other PCs have caused me no end of aggravation, this particular machine has never caused me any significant problems. It’s a good machine (a VPR Matrix, in case you’re looking for a PC; it’s the Best Buy house brand). It deserves better than benign neglect.

But even my body has decided the Mac is the way to go. Here’s how I knew I had a pronounced Mac affinity: The Mac and PC both use keyboard shortcuts, with the PC using the control button and the Mac using that wierd four-leaf clover/apple button. After just two days using the Mac, every time I used the PC keyboard I hit the four-leaf clover button rather than the control button. That’s after using PCs pretty much exclusively for the last decade. Two days. Tell me that’s not a sign.

Also, I bought an iPod.

I am deeply ambivalent about this. I don’t want to become a Mac zombie, one of the hooting monkey hordes who willingly overlooks the failings and shortcomings of the Mac plotform, and who would give Steve Jobs an organ — any organ! You name it! — in exchange from some “new” piece of technology that was created by some other company before Apple swooped down, Bauhaused the brains out of it, and slapped on a 30% premium for the “Machines for Living” makeover. The iPod is a perfect example of this; more than a year before the first generation of iPod, I owned a Creative Nomad Jukebox with a 5 GB hard drive and was amazing all my friends with this cool toy the size of a portable CD player — which ran on rechargable AA batteries. Then Steve Jobs pulled his “One more thing…” schtick and everyone ooohed and aaaahed for a product that in terms of technical specs was no better (and in some places notably worse) but was esthetically pressing the feeder bar of pleasure for the urban hipster.

I don’t want to distract from the things Apple has done right — I own an iPod now not for the esthetics but because the iTunes music store is just so damn simple to use, unlike nearly every other online music store out there — but let’s not kid ourselves. Apple doesn’t innovate. It lets the other poor schmuck innovate, and then jumps in after the early adopters have shaken down the technology, leaving Apple the luxury of selling this new technology to the artsy-fartsys, who are both emotionally invested in the Mac and would prefer not to sully themselves by hangin’ with the PC hordes. By all rights, Creative deserves to be the number one hard drive music player company in the world; their music players are as good as iPods even now. But deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

So. A Mac monkey: No. But arrrrrrrugggggggghhh, the Mac doesn’t make it easy to keep perspective. I mean, Christ. iChat — the Mac IM client — puts up cute little talk bubbles for your chat windows. When you’re typing (but haven’t yet sent) it puts up a cute little thought bubble. I don’t even want to bother with the PC chat client anymore. It’s not pretty and sexy and shiny and all. I feel like the guy who is with a perfectly smart, capable and generally attractive woman who all of a sudden meets a girl who looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones, knows that the sheer oxygen-depleting beauty of the woman will impair his judgement about her as surely as a blow to the head from a tire iron, but just doesn’t care. Just using the Mac makes me feel cooler and more handsome. Which I certainly am not. But when it comes to the esthetics of it, I guess I’m as much a sucker to Steve Jobs as the rest of them.

Be that as it may, do something for me. If I ever start mocking people for their non-Mac computer preferences, I hope you’ll do me the grand favor of staving in the back of my skull with a weighty pipe, because I don’t want to live like that. You’ll do that for me, right? Because, you know, I’d do it for you.

Reader Request 2005: Odds and Ends

Duhhhhhh. For some reason I can’t think coherently for more than 30 seconds at a time, so I suppose today would be a fine day to do a collection of short reader questions. Okay? Here we go:

Mark Ensley: “Why do so many people suck?”

Well, because it’s easy, as opposed to not sucking, which takes effort because it means actually paying attention to those around you. The thing about sucking is that it’s very often the path of least resistance, and humans, like every animal, generally choose to conserve energy whenever possible.

Now if you don’t want people to suck, the solution is to create a society where sucking is not actually the path of least resistance — where indeed one would have to expend energy to suck. The catch here is that would require effort to construct society. And again, we know how people are. Theoretically it’s possible, but don’t hold your breath.

Tommyspoon: “School shootings: Why are they happening? Can they be prevented? What do they say about our culture in general?”

They happen because the shooter is off his rocker, for whatever reason (being a teenager, the hormonal madness of which should be proof positive of evolution, since no loving god would put his creatures through that sort of nonsense, emphatically does not help). They could be prevented by getting rid of firearms in general and/or turning schools into absolute prisons with no casual entering or leaving, but since neither is going to happen, the practical answer is no. What do they say about our culture? Not much. School shootings are about an individual and the manifestation of his own pathological unhappiness, not about the culture in which they live. If our culture were truly breeding school shooters, we’d have incidents on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Sue: “How do you think history will treat Bill Clinton, now that we’re a few years beyond his presidency?”

I think it’ll treat him with benign neglect. The paragraph on Clinton in the history texts in the future will say, basically: “President William Jefferson Clinton presided over a period of great prosperity in the United States but found his effectiveness hampered by political opposition and scandal.” Honestly, what more will need to be said? Some people like to think that the impeachment will count for something, but honestly, let’s have a show of hands about the number of people who know or care about the particulars of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment.

As you all know I’m less than impressed with the current Bush in the White House, but I do expect he’ll get at least one paragraph more than Clinton in the future history books, in no small part because he presided over a war, and also because of 9/11. That’s the way these things go.

Dean: “When writing fiction, do you write specifically for a genre, or do you write your story and then see what genre it falls into?”

Well, so far I’ve written science fiction — which is to say I had the intent of plotting them to take place in future time and/or engage in purely speculative events (like alien visitations or interstellar travel). So it all fits into that genre bin. And of course as I’ve noted, I wrote OMW as military SF because that’s what I saw selling, and I wanted to sell an SF book. So I guess I write specifically for a genre to this point.

On the other hand, I don’t particularly worry about it if I color outside the lines of the genre. Old Man’s War has a rather significant love story plot, for example, which is not the usual thing with military science fiction; Agent to the Stars, which is a funny piece, deals rather seriously with the Holocaust and incorporates it into the plot. I write what I want to read, and I think in both of these cases, these non-typical add rather than detract from the story, and so there they are. Observing genre conventions does not mean one has to be trapped by them.

John N: “Why did the Howells bring all those clothes and so much cash for what was supposed to be a three hour tour?”

Well, it’s all relative. As a percentage of their wealth and property, the Howells brought an equivalent amount as the Skipper, who probably brought pocket change and maybe an extra pair of underwear. Just be glad they weren’t richer.

Mitch Wagner: “Is science fiction dead?”

No, and I think when people gout out their pretentious “science fiction is dead!” pieces, they’re being a special brand of stupid, or just stirring the pot because they haven’t anything better to do. Look, it’s simple: If you write a fictional story that takes place in future/alternate time and/or incorporates technology that does not yet exist, you’re writing science fiction. The only way people will stop writing science fiction is if we invent all possible technology and/or stop moving forward on the time axis. We can argue about whether certain types of SF are dead, or even if written SF is on the way out, or whatever, but those are emphatically different questions.

In my opinion, when people write “science fiction is dying,” they’re actually saying “I can’t find something I want to read” and they’re trying to aggrandize their personal viewpoint to be a an issue of universal concern. Well, listen, pal, you’re just one guy, okay? If you can’t find something good to read, don’t assume the rest of us feel the same way.

Bryan: “Tell me what makes Winter’s Tale such a great book.”

No. Read it yourself. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. You’ll be able to see what makes it a great book almost immediately. And if you can’t, well, you have my sympathy.

Your Weird Moment of Synchronicity for the Day

I’m listening to “Every Day I Write the Book,” by Elvis Costello, and came to the part in the final verse where Costello opines:

Even in a perfect word, where everyone was equal
I’d still own the film rights, and be working on the sequel

To which I thought: Hey! I do own the film rights! I am working on the sequel! Every day I do indeed write the book!

I’m living an Elvis Costello song. Better this one than, say, “Let ‘Em Dangle.”

Just thought I’d share.

A Special Edition of OMW

Earlier today, Instapundit posted this entry. This inspired me to do something, which in turn inspired me to send Glenn an e-mail, which inspired him to make another posting here. For those of you too lazy to click through, here’s the e-mail I sent to Glenn:

Maj. Tammes’ note about being “hyped up” to read Old Man’s War inspired me to call up Tor Books to see if we could do something special for the service people in Afghanistan and Iraq. I asked, and Tor agreed, to make available a free electronic version of “Old Man’s War” for our folks serving in those countries. I call it the “Over There Special Edition” — it’s an .rtf file, about 570kb, with the entire text of the novel.

To get it, service people in Iraq and Afghanistan should drop me an e-mail at “omw@scalzi.com” and I’ll send them the edition as an attached file. They should be able to tell me their unit/general location so I know they really are in Iraq/Afghanistan (sending the request from their “.mil” account will go a long way to help). People should know that if I get a whole bunch of people who aren’t in those countries trying to get the text I won’t be able to continue. So please, leave this version to the folks serving our country a half a world away.

I want to take a moment to thank Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, and Tom Doherty, the Tor publisher, for letting me do this special edition. It’s really something to go to your publishing house and ask permission to do something that might potentially cut into sales and have them come back and say, simply, “That’s a great idea. Do it.” From my perspective I may give up a few dollars in sales, but these folks are giving up a lot more doing their thing in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is just a small way to say “thanks.”

So there you have it.