Monthly Archives: November 2005

Random Thought About the War

Sometimes I wonder what it means that more US soldiers died in the first few hours of D-Day, storming Omaha Beach, than have died in Iraq since the beginning of this present conflict.

Mind you, it doesn’t have to mean anything at all; Iraq and WWII are manifestly different conflicts. I could equally point out that the Allies suffered equivalent numbers of dead in the three-month execution of Operation Overlord as the US did in its entire 13-year involvement in Vietnam or its 3-year stint in Korea. It’s entirely possible that this is a statistic that has as much meaning as a baseball stat tracking how American League teams starting left-handed pitchers in domed stadiums perform historically during the third week of August. Which is to say useful for bar arguments and not much else.

Be that as it may, let me throw it out there: What does it mean that more US soldiers died in the first few hours of D-Day, storming Omaha Beach, than have died in Iraq since the beginning of this conflict? I genuinely don’t know; I was wondering if any of you might have thoughts on the matter.

What I’ll Be Doing in 2006

I’ll be writing science fiction, that’s what I’ll be doing, because I just agreed to a new three-book deal with Tor.

Included in the deal: Book three in the Old Man’s War series, tentatively titled The Last Colony, and a new two-book series which I’m very excited about but the details of which I want to keep under wraps for now. Suffice to say that structurally it’s going to provide me a very big challenge, and if I pull off I’m going to feel like the king of the friggin’ universe. No, I won’t tell you more. No!

Well, okay. Two words: dactylic hexameter.

No, no. I’m just funnin’ with you. About the dactylic hexameter, that is. I really did get the book deal.

Incidentally, for those of you who are curious: The Last Colony will indeed be the last "Old Man’s" book for at least a while. You know, until I get hard up for cash and dash off the prequels. I’ve already signed Jar-Jar Binks for those. Hey, he needs the work.

You may ask: What did I get for these books? I would tell you, but then you’d just tell me to shut up. Then I’d say, no, really, but then you’d tell me shut up again. Then I would say, I’m being as straight with you as I can, but you’d only tell me to shut up once more. I hope that answers the question.

Aside from basking in the knowledge that science fiction will be paying my mortgage payments next year, one of the happy things about this deal is that it continues my association with Tor Books. I don’t have to tell people here how pleased I’ve been with the support Old Man’s War has gotten from Tor, and how genuinely nice working with all the Tor folks has been. I’ve been happy to be a Tor author, so being so for three more books sounds like a fine plan to me.

This also means that you all will be getting science fiction from me through at least 2008. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! There’s no escape! Unless, you know, you don’t buy the books. But please don’t do that. I promise to keep them as interesting as humanly possible.

And now I’m off to celebrate. We’re going to Friendly’s! Hey: Six year old kid. Work with me, here.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Goth

Not yet seven, yet she’s got the pose all right for the artist picture at her first gallery exhibition. As I’ve noted before, you can’t teach that. You have to be born with that. And then she’s off to her first Dresden Dolls concert! It really doesn’t get any better than that.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a small film (Quicktime, ~5MB) of the artist explaining her latest creation, "The Rollercoaster Ride of Terrifying Evil" (2005, whiteboard and marker), which incorporates into its theme butterflies, rollercoasters and Einstein-Rosen bridges. Makes Francis Bacon look like a puke in a bucket, it does. Naturally, the artist is interested to read viewer interpretations of the work.

Firefox 1.5 on Mac: Not Ready for Prime Time

The new version of the Firefox browser came out today (version 1.5);I downloaded it for my Mac and almost immediately regretted it, as it froze up a number of times, added an inexplicable empty box to the bottom of the browser, worked very poorly with my Movable Type setu, and generally misbehaved rather badly in the short time it was on my computer. I gave it the boot and retrieved the previous version of Firefox from Mozilla’s FTP server and now everything is back to normal. So if you have a Mac, have Firefox and planned to upgrade to 1.5, I’d suggest waiting a week or two for a code shakedown (not to mention to have the Firefox extensions catch up with the new version).

I haven’t tried 1.5 yet on my PC. I’m almost scared to. That’s not my usual approach to Firefox, I have to say.  

But Enough About Me…

…Let’s talk about other writers and books.

* For example, did you know that today was the day that Elizabeth Bear’s latest book Worldwired debuted in the stores? And if you did not, have you considered seeking professional help for this problem? This is the third in the series of "Jenny" books (and, I believe, the last of the series as well), so if you’ve been waiting until you can get the whole set, your wait is over. Me, I’ve been getting them as they come along. Also, unlike the rest of you, I’ve also been reading Bear’s short story that she wrote for the Subterranean Magazine cliche issue; she tackles the End of the Universe, which is pretty damn ambitious of her, but she pulls it off (as of course she would — you don’t think they give out Campbell Awards to just anyone, do you?). You’ll have to wait until spring to read that one, but you can get Worldwired now. That’s a hint.

* Arrived in the mail yesterday: Stories of Strength, a collection of essays, the proceeds of which go to benefit disaster relief charities (Hurricane Katrina was the proximate cause of the collection). The collection features name brand writers like Orson Scott Card, Robin Lee Hatcher and Wil Wheaton, but the majority of the book comes from the writers who frequent the AbsoluteWrite.com Web site (the editor of the book is that site’s editor, Jenna Glatzer). As the name implies, most of the essays in the book focus on inspirational stories of people dealing with adversity and overcoming obstacles, although that makes the book sound a bit more stuffy than it is — most of the essays I’ve read through so far have the casual narrative flow of good blog entries (we leave for another time the discussion of how blog writing has changed, or at least caused to adapt, the essay form).

I haven’t read through the whole thing yet, but what I’ve read so far is solid, and in all I’d have to say that if you’re in the market for inspirational writing this holiday season, better this book than yet another iteration of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books — if for no other reason than that all the proceeds of this book are going to relief organizations. It’s good people doing good, and all that. Check it out.

As an aside, this is the first book I’ve gotten that has been printed up by Lulu.com, the publish-on-demand press who has been developing a reputation among writers as being a friendly sort of place to do your self-produced printing. I was wondering what Lulu’s product would look and feel like, and on the basis of this I have to say it looks quite nice, nicer than the CafePress books I ran off a year or so ago for my personal use. There are little design things that give this book away as a publish-on-demand (off-the-shelf cover font; too-small margins for the inside text), but pretty much only if you’re a book geek. The next time I do a personal printing job, I’ll think of using Lulu and see how it works for me.

What I do like about Lulu (and other POD outfits) is how quickly they allow a project like this one to turn around; I imagine before a couple of years ago a group could have come together to make a book like this and gotten it out in the same sort of timeframe, but it wouldn’t have been easy, and it probably would have been awfully expensive. This is a genuine advance in the state of things, and another reason why the 21st century is so damn fun to be in.

* Tim Pratt noted a week or so ago that his first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, was about to be released into the wild; well, today is that day, and I will note that Amazon says it’s only got five left in stock — not a bad state of affairs on the opening day. So if you were planning to get it off of Amazon, you better pony up quick, people. I plan to get it from the local bookstore myself; I keep buying SF there to ram it into their heads that they need to stock more of it (including, oh, I don’t know, my novels too), and who knows, maybe one day it’ll stick. Let me take a special moment to state once again how much I luuuuurve this cover. I mean, come on, it already comes pre-weathered! That’s friggin’ genius, man. Although I suppose it’ll make eBay book sellers irritated ("no, really, that’s not actual wear!"). Can’t please everyone.

* Cherie Priest talks a little about what it takes to be a writer, keying off of a series of recent Poppy Z. Brite posts, in which Brite goes to town on one of those folks who makes the snide comment that they could write a novel, too, if someone would just give them a big-ass advance. In my opinion, Brite gets a little too spun up about what was essentially ignorant jackassery on the part of a non-writer, but a salient point she makes, which the esteemed Ms. Priest amplifies, is that writers don’t write because someone dropped a fat wad of cash in front of them, they write because if they didn’t they’d go absolutely and completely bongo-striking insane.

Conversely, if I had a million dollars, I would slap it all down on the table in front of any jackass that said they could write a fabulous book if only they had a big fat advance, and tell them they could have every single penny if they could bang out a genuinely salable book in six months (which is about the amount of time writing a book is assumed to take by various publishers I’ve known). And the reason I would slap down that cash would be that it could not possibly be any more safe than if I tied it up in T-bills, because your basic loudmouth non-writer is no more capable of writing a salable book than I am of piloting a 747, and roughly for the same reason — it’s a skill you have to learn, baby, and one generally learns the writing skill by writing most days of your life (and generally — alas — you’ll be doing that for little if any pay). The only way a non-writer is likely to produce a genuinely publishable manuscript is if he takes some of the advance money and hires a ghostwriter, but that’s not really the same.

Anyway, people who say they can write a book if only they had a fat advance don’t bother me; publishers don’t go around offering fat advances to random passersby just for a happy chuckle. You generally have to guzzle some famous person’s sexual organ first, and most people aren’t good looking enough to do that on a regular basis (and those that are have other ways to get their scratch than to pester a publisher). Honestly, the best response to these would-be writers would be to say, "And if someone gave me money for no good reason, I would study the dark ninja ways" with as straight a face as one possibly can. If the non-writer has any brains at all, he’d recognize that you are mocking him and why you are doing it; if not, well, then, I guess you can talk about ninjas. Either way, one shouldn’t waste too many brain cycles on it.

 

First Review of The Ghost Brigades

Sending out those ARCs of The Ghost Brigades is paying off: The first review of the book is up at SFReviews.net. A choice pull quote, complete with an ellipsis to make you wonder what I’m skipping over:

Like Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades is thinking fans’ space opera. And for all that Scalzi gives you to chew on intellectually, he doesn’t skimp on the blow-shit-up factor. The book opens with a fantastic action scene that ends with a brilliant narrative bait-and-switch I didn’t see coming, and climaxes with an even better one… The Ghost Brigades maintains Scalzi’s standing as one of SF’s most rewarding purveyors of thrilling, gut-wrenching, and thoughtful space opera.

Neat. The full review is here

One Song, Five Takes — A Musical Meme

I haven’t done a musical meme for a while, so here’s one for you:

Find a song with at least five cover versions (i.e., a version other than the most famous version) and give a quick review of each cover (can’t find five? Try three, then).

My selection: "Unchained Melody" from the Righteous Brothers

Cover Artists:

Cyndi Lauper (off of 2003′s At Last): A slow, torchy and surprisingly affecting version; Lauper’s been developing a reputation as a smart song interpreter, and this song certainly lends credence to that. This is the version you’d play when, in fact, you hope God will speed your love to you, because your love is not with you now. Rating: B+

Justin Guarini (off of 2003′s Justin Guarini): Someone dropped Justin into a karaoke booth! This thing might have gotten 2003′s teen girls all moisty, but here in 2005, it’s exhibit A in his trial for crimes against humanity. Rating: D

Heart (off of 2002′s The Essential Heart): You know, the Wilson sisters can do a fine cover of Led Zeppelin. Righteous Brothers? Not so much. It’s not like this is a subtle tune, mind you, but Heart’s inherent level of rawk-bombast is waaaaaay too much for this poor little love song. Dial the whole thing back 70% and it would be okay. As is, pass. Rating: C-

Stray Cats (off of 2005′s Live From Europe — Paris July 5, 2004): A toss-off version, sung in French, no less, with microphone feedback and everything. Brian Setzer’s rockabilly guitar bridge makes for a nice touch, though. Rating: C+

Al Green (off of 1973′s Livin’ For You): Oh, come on. Al Green could sing Britney Spears trailer park pop anthem "Toxic" and make it sound like a smooth soulful thing. That he’d do justice here isn’t even a question. Green drops in Hammond B3 organs, soul strings and backup singers and makes this version a top contender for 1973′s "Song Most Procreated To" title. Rating: A

What have you got? 

Off It Goes

The second pass corrections for The Ghost Brigades are now in to Tor, and hopefully we’ve caught all the errors there are to catch, and if not, well, then know we’ve done our best (the corrections for "Questions for a Soldier" went in this weekend as well — truly a weekend for correction!). Barring another unexpected round of corrections, this is probably the last time I’ll read TGB for a while, at least until I get my author copies. Mmmmm… author copies.

I’m probably repeating myself here, but re-reading TGB reminded me that I’m very happy with how the book came out, and I’m going to be very interested to see how it’s received. Personally speaking I think it’s a better-written book than Old Man’s War (one would hope it would be, considering it was written four years and several books later than OMW), with better pacing, interesting and evolving characters, deeper explorations into the nature of the universe (and humanity’s place in it) and of course tons of action, because what’s the point of character development if people can’t grow while the things explode around them? This is, I believe, one of the fundamental existential questions facing writers today.

For all my enthusiasm about TGB, I am not naive enough to equate my personal feelings about the book with an expectation of how the book will be received. There are a lot of potential potholes this time around: The book is darker, with less chatty, breezy humor; the plot is more complex (it’s not the "ride on a rail" OMW was); the writing is less overtly "Heinlein-esque" and so on. And of course, it’s a sequel, which means that some of the element that took readers by surprise in the first book will simply be part of the background here — but at the same time the first book’s main character is nowhere in evidence, so some of what people come to a sequel for is just not there. In all, lots of places for people to go "Hey! This isn’t what I wanted!" and to tear me a new one from there.

That’s fine. I wrote what I think is a good book, and that’s what I require out of myself as a writer: To write as well as I can, and not to phone any of it in. That done, I can take whatever else transpires, for good or ill. I am not so lacking in personal vanity that I can say I truly don’t care if people don’t like the book, but I do have to say that since I’m happy with how the story works, I’ll be at lot more at peace with how other people respond to the story, whatever that response will be. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I don’t mind if people hate the book — at the very least, that will engender some enjoyably scathing reviews — but I’ll be severely depressed if people are merely entirely indifferent to it. I don’t think people will be; allow me enough vanity to suggest that I’m a good enough writer that the book will produce a pronounced response one way or another. Be that as it may, if you want to know what the definition of writing hell is, it’s this: audience indifference. Man, that just sucks.

This much I know: I enjoyed reading The Ghost Brigades. As a reader, I get bored quickly, even (hell, especially) with my own words. I didn’t come close to being bored with TGB, even on the twentieth or so re-read, which is what this was. I think that’s a very good sign.

The Editorial Process, Revealed, Kinda

tgb2p.jpg

Pictured: The second pass of page proofs from The Ghost Brigades, which I need to comb through for any remaining errors/inconsistencies/things I want to take out. After this, any errors that remain become part of the quirky character of a first edition printing, to be enjoyed by bibliophiles for years after they’ve been corrected in second and subsequent editions. At this point I expect most of the truly egregious errors have been dealt with; be that as it may, I’ll be reading closely to make sure.

Aside from grammar, spelling and continuity issues, what has changed from the original manuscript to the second pass page proofs you see before you? Well, since you asked:

1. Sentences have been rejiggered so that when the entire text is exposed to certain mystical numerology practices, it no longer reveals the coordinates of the secret island where Jesus, Buddha and Jim Morrison engage in an eternal, bloody pillow fight over the future of humanity.

2. A talking, bow tie-wearing walrus named "Chumley" no longer plays a critical role.

3. The sentences of every character no longer end with the phrase "Arsenal Rules OK".

4. Holographic cameo from endearing, confetti-throwing comedian Rip Taylor excised from Chapter Six. Likewise, Chapter Eight now lacks crowd-pleasing star turns from former "CHiPs" stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada.

5. 73-page radio address by the character Jane Sagan outlining the fundamentals of my new philosophy of "Rejectivism" has been gently lifted from the text and will now be available as a stand-alone limited edition novella from Subterranean Press.

6. Patrick Nielsen Hayden suggested, and I agree, that I don’t actually have to note that all the character’s nipples crinkle happily whenever there is a spot of good news.

7. The final confrontation between the forces of good and evil no longer erupts into a colorful Bollywood-like musical number.

8. The members of the "Ghost Brigades," who as you may recall are born as fully-sized, combat-ready adults, no longer have crystals in their hands that flash ominously when they turn five years old.

9. Combat uniforms are now made from a substance other than taffeta.

10. Characters no longer stop every five pages to conspicuously enjoy the products of my corporate sponsors Anheuser-Busch, RJ Reynolds and Spanky Sam’s S&M Tie-Up Emporium and Bait Shoppe (home of America’s first dual-use sex toy and fish lure, "The Wiggler").

Don’t worry. These will all make the "Uncut Edition" that will be released after my sordid, sordid death. Which, I am reasonably certain, will involve "The Wiggler" in some way.

 

An Interesting Condundrum

Now, I find this interesting:

A gay man charged with helping his lover loot a wealthy school district has asked a judge to rule that state law protecting spouses from having to testify against each other also applies to same-sex partners.

Stephen Signorelli, fighting charges that he stole at least $219,000 from the Roslyn, New York, school district, is seeking to bar testimony by his longtime companion, Frank Tassone, the district’s former superintendent.

In a motion filed before a judge in Nassau County, Signorelli sought to bar such an appearance, saying he and Tassone deserved the same protection as a heterosexual couple.

"Mr. Tassone and I have been loving partners for 33 years," Signorelli said in an affidavit, adding that the two had participated in "a solemn religious ceremony" conducted while they were on a Caribbean cruise, "to memorialize our relationship and love for one another."

The two also registered as domestic partners in New York City, where they live, in 2002.

Pretty much everyone who reads the Whatever knows that I’m all for same sex marriage; having said that, in my "I am not a lawyer" way, I would be very surprised if a judge would allow this. For better or for worse, I suspect having a domestic partnership in New York City doesn’t translate to an extension of marriage-like rights in other jurisdictions. I’m not sure whether the judge in question is a county, state or federal judge, but I am reasonably sure Nassau county is not in New York City. One would also need reasonably ask if an unmarried heterosexual couple in the same situation would enjoy spousal protection; I doubt it.

(And what would really be interesting would be if a same-sex couple, married in Massachusetts, would be able to argue for spousal protections outside of that commonwealth; that would put the federal Defense of Marriage Act right in the cross-hairs.)

If I were the judge, I would deny the request; unless New York law has some quirk I don’t know about (which is entirely possible as I don’t live in New York and — once again — I’m not a lawyer), it’s pretty clear the law doesn’t allow unmarried couples to enjoy spousal privileges (not including NYC’s domestic partner laws, the problems surrounding which I’ve already noted). One could certainly advance the idea that same-sex partners should be able to marry, but there’s a difference between saying same-sex partners should be able to marry, and that they already enjoy certain spousal protections.

This does make me glad, however, that the person to whom I’ve bound my life will not be made to testify against me in any future embezzlement cases. Not that I have any embezzlement planned, mind you. Even so.

Naturally, I am curious to hear your thoughts on this matter (the proposed advancing of spousal protections, that is, not any future embezzlement on my part). Lawyers — particularly ones who know New York law — are especially invited to chime in.

 

Geek-Related Activities

Just to catch you all up on the nerdly events as they transpire in my life:

1. The Ghost Brigades will be a featured alternate selection of the Science Fiction Book Club for March, 2006, so those of you in the SFBC, that’s something to look forward to. The SFBC has been pretty good to me — Old Man’s War made it on the club’s Bestseller list last year — so I’m happy to continue the association.  

2. I’ve gotten my programming schedule for the Synthetic Confusion convention in January, so I guess that means I’m going. I’ll post my full schedule a little closer to the convention date, but I will note that I’m scheduled to give a reading, and I’ll most likely read the first chapter of The Android’s Dream, which, you may recall, is the one which begins "Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident, but he was willing to try." Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

3. Speaking of conventions, I’m going to be "Nifty Guest" at the 2006 edition of Penguicon. This means that while I don’t ascend to Guest of Honor status, I am nevertheless held in enough esteem that I get an additional ribbon, and also free soda (although as I understand it everyone gets free soda. Never mind). Regardless, I do think this is indeed fairly nifty, and naturally you may expect to see me there as well.

4. I’ve also decided — just now — that I will indeed be attending Boskone. Because as I understand it, there is no better time to visit Boston than mid-February. And I for one am willing to believe it.

5. Back to book news: I’ve been informed by people who know such things that the Russian version of Old Man’s War is slated for June, 2006. Because I know you’ve all been waiting. Personally I can’t wait to see what my name looks like in Cyrillic.

That’s the extent of my geekiness right now.

Political Rant, Boiled Way Down

Somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but: A major reason the Bush administration is finally allowing Jose Padilla the Constitutional rights it’s been systematically depriving him of for the last three years is because it doesn’t want to discuss how it tortured people to get the information used to implicate him? Holy mother of God in Manolo Blahnik pumps —

[Insert standard Bush administration rant; really, by this time you folks can pretty much guess what I'm going to say here, can't you? And aren't you still logy from Thanksgiving and not in a mood to read me fulminate for 1,200 words? Exactly. Wait, here's the exit ramp]

– and that’s why this entire administration needs to be dunked in clarified butter and served to the hungry, hungry lobsters.  

Thank you for reading. 

Because Lack of Competence Should Never Be a Barrier

Former FEMA head Mike Brown is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm. This is like Joseph Hazelwood opening up an oil tanker driving school. What really gets me is this quote:

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what’s going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

It’s evident that Brown knows how to appear unaware of how serious a situation is; what’s not in evidence is that he knows how to avoid the same, or can teach that skill to others. Nevertheless, Brown says he’s already gotten interest from firms. You’ll know who they are when their spokespeople appear glassy-eyed and sweaty after their next corporate disaster, claiming the now is not the time to place blame, and then blaming the victims of the disaster five seconds later. Yes, yes, that’s certainly a skill to have.

It’s a Sale!

Passing along a note to you from Subterranean Press, and it reads like this:

We’ve just received copies of AGENT TO THE STARS (John Scalzi) back from our distributor, and are able to offer them for just $10 apiece, plus $5 s&h for US orders. These copies aren’t in perfect nick — some have a scuffed dust jacket or a minor dings — but at this price, you can’t go wrong.

Quantities are limited, so please get your order in early. (If you order via our website, mentioned "dinged book" when completing the checkout process.)

As an added incentive, 10% of the price of each copy sold will be donated to Childs Play, the charity that gives video games and other support to childrens hospitals.

I’m on clearance! And oddly enough, I’m fine with this.  

Basic Friend Pimpage

As I’m crawling through your basic wall of pre-Thanksgiving work, a couple of notes on things friends are doing:

1. My pal Nick Sagan, from whom I enthusiastically stole a major plot point of The Ghost Brigades from his excellent book Edenborn, has gone and started himself a blog, which I recommend you all go and visit and book in your bookmarks and whatnot. He’s just getting back from a trip to Portugal (his Portugese publishers flew him out and apparently gave him the royal treatment — I want foreign publishers like that), so give him a couple days to update and whatnot. Nevertheless, he’s a fabulously interesting person so I expect his blog will be as well.

 

2. My high school friend Charles Keagle is a teacher and illustrator who has a side business marketing his "fluffball" creations — shirts, mugs and etc with his illustrations on them, and he’s asked some of his pals to let folks know he’s out there for their holiday cuteness needs. Consider yourself on notice.  

3. If you’ve not done so yet, go congratulate Cherie Priest. The picture says a thousand words.  

4. If you feel in a self-promotey sort of mood, by all means sploo away in the comment thread.  

A Shout-Out to All The Childfree Folks Out There

Here’s a wombfruit that justifies every single awful horrible thing you might ever say about sprogs and the breeders who squatted them out. To give some context, it’s apparently a nine-year-old, playing an online game on his XBox, having a fit because his mother won’t bring him chocolate milk. He doesn’t appear to be aware his microphone is on and that all his online buddies can hear him cursing like a sailor — at his mom. It’s Google video, and you really have to experience it for yourself. The "fun" part really kicks in about halfway in.

For the record, if that were my kid, and he ever spoke to me that way, first I would slap him into the next week and then I would make him watch as I smashed apart his XBox with a hammer. However, it wouldn’t be my kid, since the minute something even vaguely resembling that came out of my kid’s mouth, there would be an accounting. Let us grant that a kid doesn’t get like that overnight; he has to get away with that sort of crap for a very long time to get to that point. This is a mom who I suspect deserves to be slapped well into the next week herself. I mean, honestly. I can’t even imagine my child pulling something like this.