Monthly Archives: August 2005

An Amazon Depatment Too Far

You know, I love me the Amazon, but I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to buy sex toys from them. If for no other reason than I’m not mentally prepared for the Amazon Recommends e-mail that would inevitably arrive: “We’ve found that Amazon customers who have bought the NewPlex Adam & Eve Realistic 8 Inch Penis Dildo might also enjoy the SeaKap Butt Plug Black (Medium).” Yeah, having Amazon’s computers recommend an anal plug to me might in fact send me right over the edge, and not in that good “it’s massaging your prostate!” way.

Now let us never speak of this again.

(via Instapundit)

Wanting to Be a Writer

Per yesterday’s request for topics, I picked two to discuss today.

First: Athena picked “Karma Scarebear” as the name for her bear, and she thanks everyone for their suggestions. She was very excited to see that so many people had made an effort on her behalf (although she didn’t put it in quite those words: She said, “Coooool. So many names.”).

Second, sxKitten asked:

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer, and what motivated you to start writing seriously (writing in hopes of being published as opposed to writing just for fun)?

As for the “wanting to be a writer” thing, I think I’ve mentioned before when it happened, but just in case I didn’t, here it is: I started thinking about being a writer about age 12, when it became clear I was good at it (good relative to being 12, mind you) and also coincidentally it became clear that I wasn’t likely to become an astronomer (my first choice of professions) because I did math only slightly better than Clever Hans, and that wasn’t going to be acceptable if I wanted to be a truly useful astronomer. The confirmation that I was going to be a writer came to me when I was 14, when I was the only kid to get an “A” on a writing assignment that the Freshman English composition teacher (John Hayes) assigned to his classes, and I got it for a story that really didn’t require all that much effort to write (and was fun to do as well). No stupid kid I, I made the connection: Writing = pretty easy; Everything else = more work than it’s worth.

The matter of what my future profession would be was pretty much settled then, and I never really considered doing anything else as a profession after that. This was useful because unlike most people I didn’t have to suffer through the existential angst of wondering what I was going to do with my life, with the commensurate academic and emotional casting about trying to figure out what fit. Indeed, as friends who knew me during my developmental years would no doubt tell you, I was actually fairly driven toward those things I thought would be useful in a writing career and rather deeply apathetic toward those things that were not.

This (combined with my own inherent laziness) was why I maintained a steady 2.8 GPA through high school and college; I would ace my “useful” classes and get Ds in the classes I didn’t care about, because, really, I didn’t care. This drove both my mother and my college girlfriend absolutely nuts for differing reasons, although I’m reasonably sure if you asked them about it now, they would grudgingly admit that in retrospect I knew what I was doing. I’m not entirely sure I would admit I knew what I was doing, and I suspect that if I had to do it over again, I would probably try harder in the classes in which I didn’t try — not necessarily for the grades but because knowledge is useful, and wasting it because you don’t think you need it is stupid. But life doesn’t give you do-overs in that respect (although you can make it up in extra credit!), and in the end I was fortunate that my cavilier attitude toward my own education seems not to have caused any lasting damage.

As to the question regarding what motivated me to start writing “seriously” — well, after the age 14 revelation that writing was easy and fun and most other things weren’t, I would suggest that I was writing “seriously” from that moment forward, since I made the decision to make writing my profession. Writing “seriously” should not be confused with writing professionally or even writing well — but I was aware that what I was writing was part of a continuum which would (hopefully) lead to a career in writing.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that I had a huge amount of sagacity or perspective on the matter when I younger. Like many teens who are good at something to a degree that most of their friends and acquaintances aren’t, I had a rather outsized opinion of my writing and its quality, a fact which now leads me to recall a number of incidents involving me and my writing which cause me to cringe today. Indeed, allow me a moment to say the following:

To all the people the younger me forced my writing upon when you were merely being polite about my enthusiasms: So sorry. Really. It won’t happen again.

I have friends from high school and college who haven’t read much of anything I’ve written since those days because they had to suffer through what I wrote then, and I was also aggressive about making them suffer through it. As a result I am much more circumspect today about doing that sort of crap. This is not the same as saying I’ve entirely quelled the little needy “Look! Look! Aren’t I so good and clever and funny and don’t you just love me?!?!?” demon that I have, because, oh, it’s there. And it’s not entirely unuseful, especially when it transmutes into a capability to tirelessly work the publicity rounds. But I do try to keep it in its cage most of the time, and not spring it on people who are actually interested in me for things other than my writing, or are just being polite.

(Not entirely surprisingly, the Whatever is very useful for this, since it allows me a space to be my show-offy and sometimes appallingly arrogant self without having to take the commensurate step of forcing it on other people. After all, no one’s putting a gun to your head and making you come here every day to read this (as far as I know). It’s exhibition without the psuhy pushy pushy that gives exhibition that queasy edge. Yes, I want to be liked, and seen as a clever writer. But these days I don’t want to be liked so much that I need to rub myself (or every little bit of my writing) on other people. My days of being literary frotteur are largely over.)

To go back to the point after this long, self-flagellating digression, whatever my earlier estimations of my writing abilities, most of what I wrote when I was younger was written with an eye for it being published and read by other people; I have almost no personal writing of any sort — what little there is exists in the form of high school and college-era poems and song lyrics. Otherwise, what unpublished material I have exists as failed book proposals. Of that stuff, I think it was almost all fun, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it, but it’s all also “serious.” Generally speaking, I didn’t distinguish between the two. Even the Whatever, which began as an uncommercial site (and still is, mostly), was also begun to keep in practice for commercial writing. And over time, I’ve sold quite a few things that were originally published here, and I’m aware how this site has helped my career by helping me build an audience. When I wrote Agent as a “practice” novel — i.e., for fun and not for profit, after I was done I put it up and offered it as shareware (i.e., for an audience, and for them to pay me if they liked it). And of course, I’ve sold it as a book since then. So you see that the line is very blurry between my “fun” and my “serious” when it comes to writing.

If anything, I’m somewhat less concerned as I get older about what’s “fun” and what’s “serious” in terms of writing. At this point in time, with seven books published and two more in the pipeline for 2006, reasonably good prospects for selling books after that point, and a solid career in writing outside of books, I’m very comfortable with who I am in a professional sense. I don’t really feel I have to prove any more that I’ve “made it” as a writer or measure up to a particular standard. I have goals, of course, in terms of writing: I want to write things I like; I want to write things my publishers can sell; and when at all possible I’d like the two former statements to be well-integrated with each other so I can continue in this happy cycle until I croak.

But I don’t think I’m going to worry about it much. After I’m done with The Ghost Brigades (which God willing will be very soon), if Tor doesn’t immediately beg for a book 3 in an OMW universe, I’m going to pencil in what I’m going to write next. Right now I have three ideas that are the front runners. One is explicitly commercial — A big contemporary Crichton-like thing — so that we can see if I can reach the folks who like science fiction but get twitchy when it gets called that. Another is a science fiction idea which is, I think, not especially commercial at all, but which I think would be really a kick to write. The last one is a non-fiction book on writing and the writing life, which I’ve been mulling since at least 2002 and think I may finally be at a point where I can write it and not look an ass.

Which of these will I choose to put on the platter first? You got me. But it’s likely it’ll be the one I think will be the most fun, because I’m at a point where I don’t really want to do anything I’m not going to enjoy the hell out of. If I want to just grind away at something, I’ve got lots of corporate work I could be doing. It’s less complex, less aggravating, and pays a hell of a lot better. If the least commerical thing I’m thinking of looks like the one that’s the most fun, well, why not? It could end up being very commercial, for all I know, which would just prove that no one knows anything, and more to the point, I’ll like writing it, which will show through in the final product. And that does matter.

(In case you’re wondering: Yes, if Tor asks for a book 3 in the OMW universe, I’m ready (no, I won’t tell you the details). And yes, I’d write it. I like the universe. Well, the OMW universe itself is a nasty place and I’m glad I don’t live there. But I don’t mind visiting and I like the people there. Which goes to the point: It’s serious work, but it’s fun to do, too.)

I recognize that a number of writers — many excellent — make a strong distinction between their “serious” and “fun” work, or can register a point when their writing stopped being simply about the joy of expression and started angling toward something more cash and attention-generating, but I’ve never been that way. I’m not an Emily Dickinson type, either, content to write stuff and keep it in a drawer for the spiders and the executor of my estate. For better or worse, I’ve always written with an eye toward my writing being seen and (hopefully) enjoyed by as many people as the medium allows. What you see is what you get. An interesting question, which I can’t answer, since I’m inside of it, is whether the notably “popular” tone of my writing comes initially from my own personal voice, or the narcissistic desire to reach a large audience. I suspect it’s the former, but then I would.

Having now asked that question, I do wonder what I would write if I decided to write something that I didn’t intend other people to see. To be honest, the idea is so alien to me, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything at all. Which is, of course, fascinating in itself. I’ll have to think about it some more.

Curious

Both the trade paperback of Old Man’s War and the hardback of The Ghost Brigades have higher Amazon rankings at the moment than Agent to the Stars (all in the 100,000 – 200,000 range). I do hope the people buying both OMW trade and TGB Hardback do realize it’ll be months before they get their hands on them. On the other hand it’s nice that people are thinking ahead.

Duuuuuuuuuuh

Can’t think of a single thing to write about here today. Therefore, not going to try, as there is nothing more pathetic than typing simply to hear the clack of your keys. If someone wants to suggest a topic for tomorrow, please be my guest. This also serves as your open thread invitation. Chat amongst yourselves.

Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies Arrives

In the mail today:

rg2sf.jpg

Very pleased with the cover. Quite nicely iconic. At an earlier point, I think they were considering Rutger Hauer as Roy in Blade Runner for the cover, which would have been nice, too, but there were rights issues or some such. But I like the Metropolis cover just fine, myself.

The book itself is larger than I expected, both in physical size and in its length; I knew I wrote a lot, but I didn’t realize how much until I thumbed through the thing. Even edited, it’s fairly substantial — but then, we did cover a lot of ground in the book. Aside from my work in writing it, the visual design inside is quite smart, and should you ever pick up the book for yourself, I humbly ask you to admire the index in the back, which was the work of Susan Marie Groppi, who absolutely saved my ass by doing such a fine job of it. Overall, a fabulous-looking book, and I thank everyone at Rough Guides (and Susan) for making it so.

One minor quibble I expect to see among the SF faithful is the fact the word “Sci-Fi” is in the title; when my Rough Guide editors told me what the title they were going with was, I noted some SF fen would not be pleased. However, the book is addressed not only to SF fans but to the wider reading audience, many of whom are more familiar with the term “sci-fi” than “SF” in reference to science fiction. I do have a sidebar in the book’s introduction on the matter, which reads thusly:

Just as the citizens of San Francisco cringe when an out-of-towner calls the city “Frisco,” so do many long-time fans of the science fiction genre become annoyed when someone outside their circle refers to science fiction as “sci-fi.” To many longtime fans, “sci-fi” has the taint of being a “lite” version of the genre they know and love; therefore, many longtime fans use “SF” as their preferred shorter version. This antipathy is not universal — many science fiction genre professionals don’t care about it one way or another, and indeed, the US cable network devoted to science fiction and fantasy is the “Sci-Fi Channel” — but inasmuch as the bias is there, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge it.

For the purposes of this book, we make no value judgments about the desirability of “SF,” “sci-fi” or “science fiction” as labels — we use them more or less interchangeably for the sake of variety. This book’s author, a published science fiction novelist, does suggest that if you fall in with a group of longtime SF fans, that you use the term “SF” rather than “sci-fi” as an abbreviation simply to avoid the potential of being humorously ribbed by them about it (most long-time SF fans are actually pretty tolerant if you’re showing genuine interest in the genre).

Also, should it come up, use “trekker” rather than “trekkie.”

We’ll see if that handles it.

One of the things I enjoy about doing a book for Rough Guides is the fact that it’s edited by English people, so after they’re done editing me, I end up reading like an Anglophile version of my self, complete with extra “u”s in my writing and the occasional bit of UK slang, like “knocked for six,” which I assume — but could not confirm if my life depended on it — is an expression that comes from cricket. I think I would very much like to meet the Anglicized version of myself one day. He seems a fine chap.

As for the book availability itself: Amazon has it listed that it’ll be available on October 17, which means it’ll probably be available a little bit before then in bookstores, etc. Clearly, I think you should be on the lookout.

In any event: Whoo-hoo! Very happy day.

Secrets and Lies

Some of the things about me below may be true. Some may be false. I’m not going to say which is which.

1. When I was born, there was a weird lump that came out with the afterbirth. My mother tells me the doctors told her it was my undeveloped twin.

2. I once bit off a mole, just to see if I could handle the pain.

3. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I dated a girl I worked with at Del Taco and didn’t tell any of my friends (I went to boarding school, remember, so I could actually get away with this). I broke up with her after about two weeks because her hair smelled like refried beans, which was really disturbing. Also, because she kissed like I imagine a manatee would. I also quit my job at the Del Taco. I never ate at Del Taco again, partially because working at the place kills any desire to eat the food, but also because I had a morbid fear I’d see her still working there. After 20 years, I doubt she works there any more. But there are no Del Tacos near where I live, so the point is moot.

4. I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

5. I have been sexually propositioned — twice! — at highway rest stops.

6. I voted for Bush, just so I could have something to write about for the next four years.

7. I was so afraid of drowning as a child that I would practice holding my breath for extended periods of time, just in case I ever had to. I once held my breath for almost four minutes. I can’t even come close to doing that anymore.

8. I once faked a seizure for attention.

9. If I don’t chew gum at least one a day, I get antsy.

10. I had a friend who I helped out by posing as her boyfriend at a dinner date with an old boyfriend and his new girlfriend. She didn’t want him to know she was still single (and still wanted him back). The irony is that I had a serious crush on her at the time. So there was me pining for her who was pining for him, who was clueless (although I suspect the new girlfriend had it all figured out; she was pretty sharp). It was a most uncomfortable dinner.

11. I had one tooth come in twice as an adult tooth.

12. I once gave serious thought to becoming a Mormon.

13. Until about the age of ten, I had an intense dislike of carrots.

14. When I was eight, I was chasing a neighborhood cat with a squirt gun when it ran into the street and was hit by a car. The car didn’t stop and I didn’t admit the guilt. Years later I adapted the event for a plot moment in Agent to the Stars.

15. I tear up almost every single time I hear the song “Purple Rain” by Prince.

16. I’m generally pretty secure, but my inability to handle really spicy food occasionally makes me feel unmanly.

17. If you want to get in an argument with me, wearing yellow helps. Conversely, I can’t ever remember arguing with someone wearing green. No, I don’t know why. Green is my favorite color, but outside of a clothing context, I have nothing against yellow.

18. I wrote, submitted and had published a romance novel when I was still in college, under a female pseudonym. I wrote it late at night on a computer in the Chicago Maroon newsroom because I didn’t have a computer of my own. I was paid $4,800 for it, which I used to help pay for my final year at the U of C. The only person I told about it was my grandfather, because I had to explain to him why I didn’t need him to send me $100 a month anymore, like he had been doing through college.

19. When I go to a restaurant and I ask for Coke and they ask if Pepsi is okay, I always give a big show of being aggravated, but honestly? I can’t actually taste any difference. At all.

20. At least one person who reads the Whatever knows which of these are true and which are false. I’ll be very interested to see if that person shows up in the comment thread.

Partisan Stupidity

A condensed and not-entirely-fair version of something that’s driving me batty on the comment thread of this entry:

Me: The Bush adminstration’s argument that foreign nationals in airports have almost no rights is appalling.

Commentor #1: Well, that’s because you’re a left-leaning partisan.

Me: No, I would find the argument appalling if it were made by liberal government as well.

Commentor #1: You’re clearly parroting the verbiage of your undergraduate professors.

Me: I went to the University of Chicago, which is a conservative political powerhouse. I suspect they would be appalled too. But this isn’t about partisan politics.

Commentor #1: Aren’t we just exaggerating — for purely partisan purposes?

Me: Not really, and again, this isn’t about partisan politics, and I wish you’d stop saying it was.

Commentor #2: I’m not Commentor #1, and this is absolutely about partisan politics.

Me: [expletive deleted]

My question: Have people been so well-trained to think of everything in partisan terms that they simply can’t conceive of another model in which to think? Is the idea that someone else might be thinking of something in non-politically partisan terms is so foreign at this point that they literally can’t wrap their brains around it? What the hell is wrong with people? When did independent thinking become so goddamned difficult?

Mind you, some of this line of questioning is due to simple irritation: I get annoyed when I state something and people then repeatedly suggest that I don’t actually mean what I’ve just stated. Not to get all hoity-toity about it, but, you know what, I’ve been a professional writer for fifteen years, and I have a degree in the philosophy of language. I know how to use words. So there’s a pretty decent chance when I say something like, oh, that my contempt for the Bush administration has less to do with its conservative politics than with its authoritarian streak, which is largely independent of classically conservative thought, and that I would oppose the same authoritarian tendencies in a “liberal” government as well, that I actually mean exactly what I’ve just written, and that flouncing along to say “oh, well, you’re really just a partisan hack and you don’t really mean what you just wrote” might actually offend me. And saying it four or five times in sequence — after I’ve corrected you each time — might actually cause me to think you’re a friggin’ moron. So, yes, irritation is definitely a causative factor here.

However, it goes beyond that. Watching people apparently just not get that there’s a mode of political thought outside the banally partisan is appalling. It’s depressing to see people fly back to that mode of thinking, like a homing pigeon batted out of a holding cage, because they apparently can’t conceive that anyone could think otherwise; they simply don’t believe you when you suggest your mode of thinking plots out off the right-left political axis.

Is it a failure of the imagination or simply cynicism? I mean, I’m on record saying that I would rather be in the company of rational conservatives than irrational liberals; I’m on record hating everyone’s politics equally. For God’s sake, I’m even on record saying that I think George Bush is probably himself a nice enough guy, and I’ve been the first to note when I think he’s done something right. I have a fairly extensive track record of independent political thought; is it really that hard to believe it when I say my loathing of the Bush adminstration’s attempt to suggest foreigners in airports have no real rights is essentially independent of the GOP, the Democrats, Fox News and the New York Times, the National Review and the Nation, DailyKos and LittleGreenFootballs?

Can one not suggest one would like to stand up for the moral ideals one believes the nation should stand for (in this case, not nabbing foreigners out of airports and detaining them without food or due process, and then shipping them off to another country to be tortured) without such an idea being dismissed has partisan hackery? You know what I would say to a conservative who agreed that we shouldn’t be depriving foreigners of due process and shuttling them off to Syria to be tortured? Thank you. You know what I would say to a liberal who thought it was perfectly fine (because, after all, that foreigner’s not a citizen)? Piss off.

And you know what else? I know there are conservatives who think it’s wrong and I know there are liberals who think it’s perfectly okay. And you know why? Because it’s not a partisan issue. It’s a conceptual issue, of how the United States should be, and how it should present itself to the world. That concept cuts across party lines and political boundaries, and I’m proud to stand with anyone of any political creed who thinks on this subject as I do. We may disagree on the particulars of how the US should be run, but we agree on the idea of what the US should be. Rather sadly, it doesn’t seem to be the same idea the current adminstration has, but perhaps time and an election or two will fix that. One may hope.

In the meantime, if you want to accuse me of partisanship, make sure you understand what I am partisan about. As a hint, it’s not about the left or the right. I leave it to you to figure it out from there.

What I Want, MT Plugin Division

Having just manually expurged over 1,000 comment spams from the Whatever that accrued just from about 3pm yesterday (you don’t see them because they’re blocked, but they need to be expunged nonetheless), here’s what I really really really want:

A Movable Type plugin that not only moderates comments (like my current plugin, which blocks comments to entries older than a week from appearing unless I approve them), but also removes unapproved comments automatically after a certain set time (for me, a couple of days would work). Then I wouldn’t have to manually remove the comments; I could just laugh at them until they were manually expunged.

Does anyone know of such a magical plugin? And if such a one does not exist, could someone please make it? I would do it myself, but, well. Technical incompetence and all that.

From the “What the Hell?” File

This lovely story in the New York Times:

Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.

Call me crazy, but I like my administrations to at least give a glancing nod toward due process, even for lousy foreigners. You know, to differentiate us, philosophically, from totalitarian thugs.

2008 cannot come soon enough.

The Fanfic Community Eats One of Its Own and Spits Out The Bones

Fascinating. A fanfic* writer decided to ask for money to write a couple of fanfic novels (or for money to take time to write novels, which would just happen to include two fanfic novels, wink, wink), and the fanfic community came down on her, hard, and with hobnailed boots. Because they know that playing other other people’s copyrighted characters is, well, illegal, but it’s largely ignored as long as everyone agrees to do it for love, not money. A fanfic writer asking for money for his or her fanfic is just the sort of thing to bring screaming hordes of lawyers down on fanfic. This is sort of the incredibly geeky version of a bunch of 1920s speakeasy owners deciding to rub out they guy who decides to advertise the address of his speaky in a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune.

The fanfic writer has taken down the original post asking for money, but this being the Internet, people preserved the post, so you can see the original post here on Lee Goldberg’s site, along with commentary (Goldberg, who writes media tie-in novels among other things, is not particularly sympathetic to fanfic). Here’s the absolutely vitriolic comment thread it’s spawned, and here’s some additional commentary on the matter by Nick Mamatas, which if you know anything about Nick Mamatas’ online persona, is not exactly gentle toward this particular fanfic writer.

But don’t kid yourself: Goldberg and Mamatas are the sideshow to the fanfic community pile-on. Which, incidentally, worked, since the fanfic writer in question abandoned her idea to take money and also, in the wake of 500 messages, the majority of which were (heh) disapproving, decided to take a little break from the online world. But the sheer ferocity of the response is just boggling, and should answer any doubt on the part of non-fans as to whether most fanficers have a grip on reality. Clearly they do, because they understand what the penalties are for trying to cross the line, both to themselves and to their community.

Which brings up the question of why this particular fanfic writer didn’t seem to understand the penalties. Either she really was clueless about the whole copyright thing, which is possible but unlikely (to make what I am sure is going to be a not-popular comparison, people who smoke tons of weed grasp the notion that even if everyone they know tokes up, it’s still not something to flaunt in front of the cops), or she thought the community would tolerate this sort of activity. Or — and this is really the most logical explanation — she simply didn’t think about what she was doing beyond the anticipation of getting a little cash. Whatever the rationales behind asking for fanfic cash, I think it’s safe to guess she won’t be doing it again.

What this fanfic-er was planning to do was stupid and wrong, and to some extent she deserved to get stomped. As a fiction writer, I believe that a fanfic community for one’s properties is good news for the health of the property. I wish I had one myself. But make no mistake: If someone got the idea in his or her head to start making money off my characters and universe without my explicit permission, there would be trouble, possibly involving lawyers. Nasty ones, with sharp fangs and torts that leave unhealable paper cuts. But reading the comments in the thread does make me wonder if the fanfic community needed to respond to this writer’s plan with the vehemence that it did.

And you know what? I think maybe it did. I think being reasonable has its points, but in this case it wasn’t really a debate: From the fanfic point of view, this writer needed to be stopped before she wrecked the joint for everyone. Reasonable responses would have allowed the money-seeking writer a chance to rationalize her behavior and possibly decide to go ahead with it anyway (and indeed, the writer in question tried this tactic). Better in this case to be entirely unreasonable and basically shock the writer into a position of cowed submission to the group mind.

Which is of course exactly what happened: Group approbation at its finest. I feel sorry for this fanfic writer, who quite obviously didn’t expect this sort of reaction, but I also find the reaction to be a fascinating bit of groupthink theater. It also serves the secondary function of acting as a reminder to other would-be monetizers of the fanfic community that this is something one ought not do. After watching one of their own stoned and ostracized (and having the pummeling extensively linked to), it seems unlikely anyone else in the community with have this particular bright idea anytime soon.

All I can say is it makes me glad I write original fiction. It’s a hell of a lot less complicated.

* For the non-geeks, “fanfic” is amateur fiction set in an already existing world — Star Trek fans writing new stories about Captain Kirk is the canonical example. It’s illegal because most of those worlds are under copyright, but usually as long as everyone behaves and the fans don’t get uppity the copyright owners look the other way.

Cake Vs. Pie: The Final Conflict

One of the reasons I enjoy doing the By the Way journal over at AOL Journals is that it allows me to do fundamentally silly audience participation thingies, like this week’s Weekend Assignment, in which I ask people to choose between cake or pie and then defend that choice. It’s not like I couldn’t do that here, mind you, but it seems more suited to what I do in general over at AOL Journals.

Having said that, for all you folks who don’t have AOL or AIM accounts to respond in the By the Way comment thread: Cake or Pie — which do you choose and why? I am, in fact, totally interested to know.

The Reading Stack 8/11/05

Speaking of books, these are the books I was given or bought while I was in Scotland and/or were waiting for me when I returned. From the left:

Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction — this book was pressed upon me by a bunch of cheerfully tipsy Scots at the Orbit party at Interaction, whose number included its editor. So, there: parties are good for something. The book includes short stories written by Scottish SF/F writers (or, in a couple of cases, SF/F writers who are not Scottish by birth but spend a significant amount of time in country), who include brand-spankin’ new Hugo winner Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod, Jane Yolen and Michael Cobley (the latter of whom sat on one of my panels at Interaction).

Aside from the contents, of which I have only begun to explore but which I so far find to be rather good, the book wins my early affection for two bibliographically geeky reasons: One, the cover design is very clean and cool looking, and two, the book is typeset in Goudy, which is my all time favorite font. I know, I’m a dork. I’m not entirely sure the book will be made available in the US, so I feel quite happy to have nicked a copy; if you are in the UK, however, you can snag a copy off of Amazon.co.uk.

Magic Lessons, by Justine Larbalestier — I’m not proud; I begged this advance reader’s copy off of Ms. Larbalestier in a groveling sort of fashion because I knew that aside from my own anticipation for the book (based on the excellent Magic or Madness, the first book in the series, which is one of the best YA books of this year), bringing this book home for my wife to read would garner me a whole bunch of spousal credits, redeemable for fabulous prizes and avoidance of some chores. Krissy’s response to me giving her this book was instructive. She took it, looked at it and said “I’ll read it right now, but you know when this comes out I’m going to get my own copy.” Krissy gets the idea that the best way you can compliment an author for the work is to actually buy the book. Go, wife, go! But she’ll have to wait until next March to get it from the bookstore.

As for myself, I’m saving this one for after I finish The Ghost Brigades — i.e., as a reward. See? This is how we writers motivate ourselves. I’ll let you know how it is, although I can tell you right now I expect it to be very good indeed. Also, dig the very cool-looking cover (there’s a better version here).

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks — This one was a Hugo nominee this year but it’s not currently available in the US (it’ll be released later in the year by Night Shade Books), so I picked it up and then read it while I was flying back from Scotland, and also as I was stranded at Philadelphia’s airport for ten hours. While casting no aspersions on Night Shade, who I expect will benefit quite nicely from publishing the book, it’s more than mildly appalling this book was not snapped up by a major Stateside publisher.

Now, I vaguely recall reading a Salon article with Banks in which he suggested he didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a major publisher here in the US, so maybe that has something to do with it as well. But jeez, people. This is a good book, and a commercially viable one as well: Fine literary competence, fun speculation (particularly regarding the Dwellers, gas-planet creatures who live to be billions of years old and yet on the surface appear to be a bunch of flighty twits), and a fine story line, albeit one that wraps up a little raggedly at the end. Well, what can you say. Endings are hard. And the ride to it at the very least was an excellent one.

If the book is being released in the US by a small publisher because that Banks’ choice, more power to him and to Night Shade. But if it’s being released by Night Shade because the major SF publishers didn’t see the book as worth their time, well, that’s bad. I hope it makes a ton for Night Shade and for Banks. That’ll teach ‘em. The folks at Amazon suggest this will be released in the US in about a month; start saving your pennies now.

I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere — Certain publishing entities have determined I have a large enough presence online to start sending me books in an unsolicited fashion; this is one that was waiting for me when I got back. Naturally, I encourage all book publishers to do the same. Baby needs books. As it happens, I had done some of my own research into the life of PKD for my upcoming science fiction film book, which led me to the conclusion that the man was quite far off his nut more often than not, and a quick glance into this book seems to bolster this conclusion as well.

It’s paying off for him now, seeing how he’s one of the hottest writers in Hollywood, which makes it a shame that he’s been dead since just before Blade Runner came out in 1982. I’ve heard Dick called the “Shakespeare of SF,” but it’s probably more accurate to say he’s like the genre’s Van Gogh: Better appreciated dead. Interestingly, this book, while released in hardcover here in the US just last year, looks to have been originally published in French in 1993; more proof, perhaps, that even as a biographical subject PKD has way ahead of his time. I’ll be delving further into this book at some point, but for now I want to hold off mulling on how sad and tweaked the man’s life was. I have a book of my own to write.

As an aside, some of you know that the title of one of my upcoming books is The Android’s Dream, which is a blatant riff/steal off of the title of one of PKD’s most famous books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which in case you didn’t know was the source material for Blade Runner. I would like to state here and now that the only thing that my book and PKD’s writing have in common are those three words; I can’t even imagine trying to get into the headspace that would cause me to write as Dick did. This may be to my detriment as an artist, but on the other hand my day-to-day life seems nicer. It’s a fair trade.

And there you have it.

Odd Book and Other Book Notes

Krissy was sending out copies of Agent to the Stars to family and friends when she noticed one of the books had an interesting production error: The hardback cover was upside down, relative to the pages inside. I tried to get a picture of it, but it’s difficult to get both the spine of a book and the inside of a book in the same picture, so purely for archival purposes, I made a quick little movie instead. Don’t feel as if you need to watch it. Personally, I think it’s cool to have this kind of production error, since it doesn’t affect the book in any practical way (i.e., the book is still entirely readable), and since it already makes what was a collector’s item even more collectible. The vast majority of the author copies I have are printed correct, but who’s to say there’s not a couple more like this? Check your book, you may have a winner.

Also, today is the first day that I’ve seen the Amazon ranking of Agent to the Stars get higher than the Amazon ranking of Old Man’s War; OMW was at 25k while A2S was at 22k (this is also, incidentally, the lowest OMW ranking I’ve seen in a while). I like the idea of the two books passing in the night, as it were, although in the long run A2S is going to dip below OMW no matter what, since there’s a limited supply of A2S copies, and once they’re gone, that’s pretty much it. Subterranean Press tells me we’re at the final third of the print run (i.e., only about 500 copies left), so I’m happy they’re moving at a brisk clip.

I did want to say something about Agent to the Stars that I hadn’t mentioned before, which was that due to an error, the book’s dedication page was not printed. So for the record, the book is dedicated to two very good friends of mine: Natasha Kordus (whose last name I use for an important character in the book) and Stephen Bennett.

Natasha has been one of my closest and dearest friends since my freshman year in high school, and in addition to being a great friend, Stephen was also one of the first two people to read Agent to the Stars when I had finished writing it (the other being Regan Avery, to whom Old Man’s War is co-dedicated). I’m very pleased to dedicate the book to these two people, and beg their forgiveness regarding the error that kept the dedication out of the actual book. Ironically, given its small print run, more people will see the book dedication here than would likely read it in the book itself. So that’s not too bad.

Going back briefly to Old Man’s War, there’s a nice review of it on Revolution SF. I’m pleased reviewers are still picking up the book and commenting on it this far into its lifecycle; as an author, you like to see your book being part of the literary conversation.

In short: This book thing is fun. I recommend it to everyone.

Schadenfreude in Kansas

Lord knows it’s wrong of me, but I’m always just a little bit delighted when entire states sabotage the educations of their children for no particularly good reason. As you know I have a child of my own, and by the time she gets to college age competition for the good schools will be fierce. Anything that knocks out hundreds of thousands of potential competitors in one fell swoop is a cause for celebration.

Yes, I’m sad that in the long run it means we’ll just have several hundred thousand additionally poorly educated adults puttering about. But as I’m fond of noting, ignorant is not the same as stupid, and one can hope these folks can be made aware of the causes of their ignorance. After all, it seems possible that not every one of those hundreds of thousands of poorly educated adults will be pleased at the people who put them at a competitive disadvantage to my daughter (and other children whose parents are skeptical that a loving God, should he, she or it exist, would prefer followers to possess a lemur-like level of knowledge), and will respond accordingly. One may hope.

In the meantime, my kid will be kicking their academic asses up and down the road. It’s an unfair advantage she has (but not too unfair, as Ohio is one the dumbass states that ignorantly confuses religious agendae for science, so we’ll have to work with that), but I’m certainly not going to penalize my own daughter because other people seem content to enforce ignorance on other children. I’ll just point it out to her as it happens and remind her that one of the worst things she can do to herself is let other people make her ignorant because they can’t handle not being ignorant themselves. I point it out to her already.

So go, Kansas, go! You know, the heliocentric theory of solar system physics is lookin’ kind of shaky. Go after that next. That’ll up Athena’s Ivy chances for sure. “Hey, here’s a kid from the Midwest who is not as credulous as a pig,” the admissions officers will say, and then reach for the thick packet. God bless them for it. And God bless Kansas, too.

A Request From Athena

Athena says:

“Hello people! Can you think of a name for my stuffy bear? Because I can’t think of a name, or neither can my daddy, named John Scalzi, the one who writes the books. Goodbye people! Hope you have a good time thinking of a name! That’s all I want to say.”

Interaction Wrapup

Athena is the first kid on her block — and probably in the surrounding six counties as well — to have her very own Beeblebear. Reason enough, I suspect, for having attended Interaction this year.

As for Interaction itself, my feelings for it are summed up thusly: Great convention, questionable location. Glasgow grew on me rather a bit the more I saw of it, and it seems that if I had a little more time to explore I would have been more impressed. However, my hotel was snuggled into an overpass, and the mile walk (or so) to the convention center where Interaction was being held was through some council flats (that’s government housing for the non UK-ers), so the part of Glasgow I spent the most time in was probably not the portion that Glaswegians (as I believe they are called) would have preferred tourists spend their time in. The convention center itself was also not spectacularly laid out for Worldcon-like activities, either the official stuff (some of the panels were in locations that one need GPS tracking to get to) or the unofficial stuff (the hotels where the majority of people were staying were too far away from the convention center, which made easy and random congregating rather more difficult). Of all of the conventions I’ve been to so far — still a reasonably small sample, to be sure — this was the one with the dodgiest location.

Having said that, programming-wise I think this was the best science fiction convention I’ve been to. This is the first time, for example, where all the panels I was on were very well attended, and I heard from other panelists that their panels were equally packed — a sign of enthusastic fans as well as good programming choices. All the panels I attended as an audience member were also excellent. And — as a bonus — the Hugo Awards ceremony was mercifully short: right around 90 minutes, which is apparently a record for brevity and one I encourage all future Hugo Awards shows to emulate (start by cutting out the TV and movie clips — possibly by eliminating the categories they represent).

These Hugos were also especially nice as several people I am fond of won awards: Elizabeth Bear nabbed herself the Campbell (which is for the best new writer), which set the evening on a good foot for me, and then Kelly Link and Charlie Stross came away with actual Hugos, which rocks in several different ways. Some friends and acquaintances did not win, too, which is too bad — one wants one’s friends to do well. On the other hand, they were nominated, which is an excellent feat when you consider how many people are writing science fiction these days. Mostly I’m happy that so many people I like in the SF community are also excellent writers, and that through nominations and awards other people who like SF recognize this as well.

The primary reason people go to conventions, I suspect — and the reason I know I go — is to catch up with people we like. There’s a mild stigma attached to going to a convention for the social scene, but, you know, look: Seeing a bunch of people I like in one place is a draw. And the fact is writing is a solitary pursuit and most of my writer and editor friends live rather far away. Why not see them at a con, in a time in which they have put aside time to see other people? So I had a marvellous time catching up with Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, Lauren McLaughlin and Andrew Woffinden, Christopher Rowe and Gwenda Bond, Kelly Link (Gavin Grant, her partner, I did not see much of, sadly), Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I also got to share panel and/or bar and/or convention center hallway time with Ellen Klages, Ben Rosenbaum, Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Hand, Jed Hartman, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, Geoff Ryman and Brian Aldiss, and was pleased to make the flesh and blood acquaintance of Lou Anders, Christopher Roberson, Juliette Ulman, Ellen Kushner and Marjorie Liu. Gay Haldeman said very nice and very observant things about Old Man’s War, for which I was grateful, and Joe Haldeman admitted he hadn’t read it yet. Then I admitted I hadn’t read The Forever War, and we both agreed that made us even. There are rather quite a few people who I had a nice chat or moment with, but I’ve done enough namedropping for one post.

In all, an excellent time, in a fine country (once you get beyond the M8 overpass, that is). Next year is in LA: That Worldcon will have much to live up to. Fortunately, it will also have In-N-Out in close proximity. That will help.