Monthly Archives: January 2006

Coming to Philadelphia

Tremble, Philadelphia! For I am coming to you!

On January 26th, in fact, I will be doing an in-store event at Germ Books + Gallery (308 E. Girard, 215-423-5002) with Ron Hogan, whose rockin’ movie book The Stewardess is Flying the Plane! got a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly (“In a few words or phrases about the plot or star, Hogan reveals quirky details on the making of the films… As coffee-table books go, this is one of the year’s most fun”). Ron’s written a book on films, I’ve written a book on films… what do you think we’ll be talking about at our appearance? If you said “Most likely, film in some fashion,” you’d be entirely correct. Good on ya.

Furthermore, most likely we will be specifically chatting about science fiction films in the 1970s — which as it happens was a particularly interesting time in science fiction film. The plan at the moment is to have the two of us blab at each other for a while and then open up the floor to questions, comments, and spontaneous dance routines from the audience. But you never do know. Hey, it’s a live appearance! Anything could happen. And both Ron and I are smartass know-it-alls, so I expect this to be fun. At the very least we’ll amuse ourselves.

Not counting being trapped at the airport for 12 hours, this will be my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love, so naturally, if you happen to be in the area, it’d be swell if you could drop by and say howdy. I do believe the event will occur around 7 or so; I’ll doublecheck with the Germ folks and give more specific time details the week of the event. But pencil in the date right now. Come on, what else are you doing on the 26th of January? Exactly. So you might as well come on down.

Something Nice; Synthetic Confusion Schedule

As a warning to all and sundry: Today is likely to be a day of schedules and announcements of a lit’ry sort, so if you don’t give a crap about any of that, you’ll want to run away until tomorrow, when I’m sure I’ll find something unrelated to rant about.

First, as promised, something nice — well, nice for me, anyway: the trade paperback of Old Man’s War is on the top of the bestseller list for Clarkesworld Books, a specialty SF/F/H bookstore. This is heartening news not only because it is on the top of the list, but because the OMW hardcover was something of a creature of Amazon (i.e., we sold rather more than the usual percentage of books through that avenue), and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good to get an indication that the trade paperback is making inroads with other retailers. And I’m happy when my book helps a specialty store make money; that’s good for the genre I write in. Specialty stores and their staffs have been good to me (I’m particularly looking in the direction of Borderlands Books when I say that), so it would be nice to return the favor.

Second, I will be attending the Synthetic Confusion convention in Troy, Michigan later this month (January 20 – 22), and for those of you who plan to attend and wish to stalk me, here is my panel schedule:

January 20, 9pm: Political Correctness
Are we PC, should we PC, can we have fun having a non-PC discussion about it? Where is the line? When do we as writers ‘cross the line’? What happens when we do cross it?
Panelists: Sarah Zettel, Willian Aksel, Steve Climer, Marcy Italiano, Steven Brust and John Scalzi

Me and Steven Brust, together on a panel about political correctness? Holy crap! We’ll all be lucky to get out of that one alive.

January 21, 12pm: Is SF Too Narrow?
Has science fiction become something just for middle aged Anglo Saxons and Jews?
Panelists: Tobias Buckell, John Scalzi, Sarah Zettel, M Keaton and Steven Brust

As I am not middle-aged, Anglo-Saxon or a Jew, I imagine I’ll have some thoughts on this.

January 21, 2pm: Reading

For this I’ll be in the con suite, watching people snack. I do believe I will read from the first chapter of The Android’s Dream — in which, you may recall mentioning at some earlier, one diplomat tries to fart another one into an irrational rage. It’ll be fun. And then I might answer questions or whatever. Or perhaps an interpretive dance.

As a bonus for people who attend my reading, I’ll be giving away lovely signed postcards for The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. First come, first served!

January 21, 3pm: If This Goes On….
Intelligent design being taught in schools and evolution is not, pharmacists refusing patients prescribed drugs because of religious convictions… what is going on here, a Heinlein novel?
Panelists: John Scalzi, Vernor Vinge, Steven Leigh, M Keaton, Eric Raymond

Sadly, I don’t have much to say on this topic.

(beat)

Okay, maybe a little. But who cares what I think? Look, Vernor Vinge!

January 21, 4pm: From Star Wars to Serenity
The last year saw some interesting science fiction movies. What was good and what just did not work and what stunk, could any be considered a classic or even notable? What does the future hold?
Panelists: John Scalzi, Alex von Thorn, Sandee Rager, Dierdre McDaniel

Yeah, I will definitely have some opinions here. Hopefully I won’t get shot by the browncoats still angry with me for noting that Serenity was a flop in the theatres after its first weekend.

I don’t have a damn thing to do on Sunday, and that’s a good thing, I thnk.

As for when I’m not on a panel, I will usually be doing one of two things: watching someone else’s panel, or hanging about the bar bantering with folk. If you see me there, do feel free to say hello.

Remember I will also be attending Boskone, Penguicon (at which I will be a “Nifty Guest”) and Wiscon in the first half of 2006, so if you can’t stalk me at Synthetic Confusion, you will have other opportunities to do so before summer arrives. Mmmm… stalking.

Bainbridge Reads TGB

Stephen Bainbridge, bless his heart, says some nice things about The Ghost Brigades:

A pre-release review copy of John Scalzi’s new novel The Ghost Brigades arrived yesterday. I started it late last night and barely managed to tear myself away at midnight to go to bed. I polished it off today over a long lunch. Regular readers will recall that I was a huge fan of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which would be my pick for the best science fiction novel of 2005. But The Ghost Brigades is even better.

What really makes me happy is he notes the “stand alone” quality of TGB, which is to say you can read it without having read Old Man’s War, its prequel. A number of folks who have read the book so far have picked up on this, which means that my plan to have TGB function as its own book seems to have worked. I’m pleased that’s the case, although I suppose the acid test there would be to have someone who hasn’t read OMW pick up TGB and work through it. It’ll happen sooner or later, I reckon. In any event, follow the link above to get Professor Bainbridge’s full thoughts on the book.

Doin’ it For the Kids

You probably didn’t know this about me, but I have school spirit, yes, I do. I show it by conducting student interviews for the University of Chicago — which is to say when an applicant to the university wants an interview but can’t actually get to the school, they farm it out to alumni, and apparently I’m the alumnus they’re farming it out to for rural western Ohio and eastern Indiana. The applicants will then make the trek to the Scalzi Compound, where, assuming Kodi lets them through the door (note to self: feed dog before arrival of interviewees — we don’t want a repeat of that unpleasant 2003 incident), I’ll chat them up for a half-hour or an hour or so, and then talk about them behind their backs to the admissions committee. That’s the way it gets done.

As it happens, I think I’m pretty good at doing these interviews, partly by professional training: when I was a film critic I did several hundred interviews with film stars and film makers and then had to craft their egotistical, drug-fueled “insights” into coherent newspaper articles; by comparison, interviewing generally polite teens is a positive delight, not in the least because the kids are being interviewed in the hopes of getting into college, rather than plunking themselves into a chair out of a contractual obligation. It matters. Sure, you might think it’d be fun to interview, say, Johnny Depp. But try dragging something useful out of him at 8:30 on a Sunday morning after he’s clearly had a “busy” night (this was during his “let’s trash the hotel room with Kate Moss” phase). The shiny glow wears off pretty quick. My understanding is that Mr. Depp is slightly more communicative now. Good for him.

Of course, it’s also on point that I try to be useful to the kids I’m interviewing as well, because I remember the alumnus who interviewed me for The University of Chicago, and not to put too fine a point on it, he well and truly sucked at it. Not only did he ask boring and rote questions and didn’t appear to be paying too close attention to what I was saying in reply, he also didn’t exactly go out of his way to make the U of C sound like a place anyone would want to attend. Let’s just say a man who explained his U of C social experience with the words “I didn’t really make any friends until the last six weeks I was there” isn’t the guy you want waving the flag for the place. Now, despite this fellow’s ineptitude in the interviewing process, I did get in, and I did attend, so I guess he did no real harm. But still. One should hope for better than “did no real harm” in one’s admission interviews.

(The best college interview I had, for comparison’s sake, was the one with an alumna of Bennington College, who halfway through the ridiculously fun interview switched from saying “if you go” to “when you go” when referring to the school. And I almost did go, too — aside from the school’s arty reputation being appealing to a budding young writer such as myself, the school’s 8-to-1 female to male ratio was appealing to my deeply hormonal 18-year-old self. But even being 18 and hormonal, I realized that Bennington’s “build your own major” ethos was death for someone as fundamentally lazy and unstructured as I was. So I went with the U of C and its ramrod-straight classical “core curriculum.” It made a man out of me, it truly did. And I avoided writing four years’ worth of painful Bret Easton Ellis-esque stories about drug-addled dormitory bisexuality, which I think we can agree is all to the good.)

I do occasionally wonder if I am the most on-point ambassador for the U of C that the alumni committee could have chosen, because in a number of ways my U of C experience was not, shall we say, representative. In four years at the school, I think I spent a grand total of six hours in Regenstein, the school’s main library, and I don’t ever remember going into the Crerar, the science library, even once. I hear it’s very quiet, just perfect for studying. Well, see, that’s the other thing. This “studying” thing I heard so much about. Didn’t do too much of that (that would explain the 2.8 GPA).

On the other hand, the fact that I was an atypical U of C student and yet still retain an almost insensible affection for the place suggests something good about it, and something that I intuited when I made the school my first choice: It’s the sort of place that gives you the opportunity to make of it what you will, and which will let you do whatever you want if you show the desire to do it. I wanted a place where I could learn how to write, and the school gave me that both in the expected ways (via the school newspaper and the city’s print media, who were always looking for cheap stringers) and in unexpected ways (via jamming so much damn information about the world into my head that I couldn’t help but begin to make interesting connections with it all). And now I do what I wanted to do when I grew up. I don’t doubt that being at the U of C is integral to that.

Which comes back around to why I like doing student interviews for the U of C: because I like the idea of helping to match up the school, with all its potential, with a kid who I see is looking for an opportunity to do more than grind out four years for the degree at the end of it. It doesn’t mean I’m looking to see if the kids are like me; I don’t think that would be useful. But I am looking to see how much they actually want out of their college experience. I think the U of C should get kids who demand a hell of a lot out of the place, and will go out of their way to get it. If that’s there, I think that’s a good match.

How The Blogoverse Ends

So, the bad news is, according to this, I end my days homeless and pigeonholing passersby in increasingly desperate attempts to get their attention once the Internet collapses.

The good news is, all my online friends are there with me. Go me!

Photoshop as Time Machine

Author Cherie Priest, whose Flickr-based exhibition streak is even wider than my own, recently posted a set of potential book jacket photos which feature her in a really excellent dress of the sort that you’d see on an ingenue in an MGM musical. So I fired up the Photoshop and gave one of the photos the black-and-white 1940s glamor treatment, which you can see above. I think it turned out well, and I’m glad to see my Photoshop editing skills are not limited to turning dear family members into bloodsucking monstrosities. Ms. Priest liked it well enough to put it in her Flickr photostream, so that’s a positive. All those hours of playing with Photoshop when I should have been writing are finally paying off.

Having said that, this is by far the best picture in the set, and needs not a bit of Photoshoppery. Hot redhead, great dress and a sense of humor? Hard to beat that (unless, of course, she also happens to write fine books).

Sadly, none of my author photos look as good as any in Ms. Priest’s set. Clearly, I need to find a more fabulous dress.

I Write a Lot Here

I was curious just much I wrote for the Whatever in 2005, so I checked. Leaving out July, in which this space was taken over by my lovely and talented guest bloggers, and not counting what I wrote in comments, I wrote about 220,000 words here in 2005. To put this in perspective, the two novels I have coming out this year, The Ghost Brigades and The Android’s Dream, are about 95,000 and 110,000 words respectively. Or to put it another way, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded will be about 100,000 words, which means the amount of space I will have to cram in six years, three months of Whatevers will be half that of what I write here on an annual basis. Get the shoehorn.

Now, I don’t think you can extrapolate from last year for the entire run of the Whatever; back in the old days, I would skip a couple of days here and there. But if I had to guess, I’d say I’ve probably written somewhere in the area of 800,000 words here since I started in September of 1998. This means that at some point in 2006, probably October-Novemberish, I’ll have written a million words worth of Whatever entries. Which are a lot of words to devote to any one thing.

Writing 800k worth of words takes time, and so here’s an interesting question to consider: Did the time I spend writing Whatevers take away from time I could have spent writing books? Between 1998 and right now I’ve written five nonfiction books and four novels; add those babies up and you’ve got probably another 800k worth of words. One could make the compelling argument that the opportunity cost of writing here over the last several years has been equivalent to nine books I could have written but didn’t.

Fair enough, but I can think of two counterarguments to this. First, I’m not entirely convinced that the time I spend writing here would be entirely transferred to writing books if I weren’t writing here. Of those nine books I written so far, six were written since 2002; that’s two books a year. This year I’m putting three books and a new edition of an older book in the pipline. So, you know, I’m already spending quite enough time on books, thank you very much. I do this to no small extent to get away from the bookwriting. It’s either this or Half-Life 2 deathmatches, and as much as I enjoy using a gravity gun to flatten some pimply 14-year-old’s online avatar with a toilet, deathmatches don’t do anything else for me other than stress relief.

Which brings us to the second counterargument, which should be familiar to most of you by now: Of those nine books that I’ve written, six — including all four novels — were sold either directly or indirectly because this site exists, and the three books I’m writing this year are also directly or indirectly related to this site. So rather than being an opportunity cost, this site has been an net opportunity benefit, and it’s been an 800,000 words well spent, given the rate of return for my book-writing career.

Now, just between you and me, I’d like to believe that one way or another I’d eventually have sold my books and novels, even if I’d never bothered to build this site. But that alternate reality would have required a lot more organization and motivation on my part. So, really, it’s hard to say. I’m just happy that in this reality, my farting around here has had serendipitous results.

That’s 600 more words, incidentally. Well, 604, now. Actually, 607. 609!

Just a Thought

Writers: Do you know of a word processor that has tabbed windows, a la Firefox? I’m in the process of organizing entries for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, and I was thinking how lovely it would be to be able to cut and paste text into several different open documents, without having to clutter up the work space unnecessarily. If you know of a word processing program that uses tabs, I would love to know what it is. It would make my life a whole lot easier.

If there isn’t a word processor with tabbed windows, shouldn’t there be? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m frequently working on more than one document at a time, and frequently cutting and pasting from other document/sites/whatever. Tabbed windows in a word processor would be very useful.

Indeed, the more I think about this, the more I feel it needs to happen. Somebody get on this, please. I’d do it myself, but I’m barely competent with html.

Testing Something

I’m checking out the new Performancing plugin for Firefox to see how well it works with the Whatever (I’ve gacked it from here). Consequently, this particular entry will be almost entirely devoid of any useful content whatsoever. But it will have this picture:

And now I will post it to see what happens. If the Whatever explodes, you’ll know it was me screwing things up again. If it doesn’t explode — yay, me! Technology has not flummoxed and conquered me today.

Update, 2:50pm — and now I’m fiddling the blogging tool on Flock, per Tobias Buckell’s suggestion. It’s interesting, too. Ooooh, and look, a spellcheck. Shiny, shiny.

The Full Extent of My Personal Award Pimpage for 2006

hugo0102.jpgI’ve actually gotten a couple of e-mails on this subject over the last several days, coinciding, I think, with a Hugo Award nomination ballot mailing, so I’ll go ahead and address it here and use this to refer people to if it comes up again.

Should you be considering me for one of your Hugo/Campbell Award nominations, here’s what I’m eligible for in 2005, so far as I know:

Best Novel: Old Man’s War
Best Related Book: The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: “Alien Animal Encounters” (from Escape Pod)
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author: John Scalzi (1st year eligibility)

Some various notes on all the above:

* I’m pretty sure that aside from Old Man’s War, Agent to the Stars is also eligible for Best Novel Hugo nomination this year; however, it has been on this site for six years now and I did make a reasonable sum of money off it before it was turned into a printed book, so there may be some sort of technicality in that which keeps it from eligiblity. Rather than try to guess what its fascinating backstory means for Agent, I figure it’s just better to suggest the folks who are considering both Agent and OMW for the Hugo nomination vote focus on OMW instead. But, clearly, vote how you wish.

* If you’re considering “Alien Animal Encounters” please note that you’ll be nominating the folks from Escape Pod directly, not me. Which is, naturally, groovy by me. I would also suggest you check out their other podcasts over the last year to see if any of them is deserving of your short form nomination in addition to, or in place of, “Alien Animal Encounters.”

* Re: Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies — when the book began, it was known as The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film, the last part of which was shortened to “Sci-Fi Movies” partly to standardize the title with other books in the series, and partly for the sake of cover design. They asked me if I had any comments on the change, and I somewhat facetiously remarked that changing “Science Fiction” to “Sci-Fi” would lose us some Hugo nomination votes. This was immediately followed by me explaining what a “Hugo” was. Which then led to some serious thought as to whether to change it back to “Science Fiction Film” at no little expense. At which point I told them to relax.

* In addition to the Hugo, I believe that Old Man’s War is also eligible for this year’s Nebula, but to be entirely honest with you, the nomination process for the Nebula is so counter-intuitive that I’m not entirely sure whether this is now eligible, was elible but now is not, or was not eligible but will be at some point in the near future. And I was on a Nebula jury last year! So, I plan not to give the Nebula the slightest bit of thought from this point forward, at least as it regards me (I still plan to nominate a few books that aren’t mine, mind you). If I get a Nebula nomination, however, I will wear an expression of happy befuddlement.

As to whether I want/hope/expect to get nominated or win any of the above awards: Well, look, I’m not going to lie. Being nominated would be cool, winning one even more so, and either would make the marketing departments of my publishers very happy (which is not a bad thing). If you want to nominate me, I certainly won’t stop you, and I will thank you for your kind regard of my work. The fact I’m doing this sort of entry at all will inform you that I am not entirely disinterested.

But on the other hand I have my own Hugo nomination ballot on my desk, and I’m not planning to vote for myself. This is partly because, self-promoting egotistical twit though I may be, I have some limits, and nominating myself for an award is one of those limits. But it’s also because 2005 was a fine year for SF, and there are people who I want to nominate for their work, and their number is already greater than the slots I have available for nominations. Given the amount of pleasure their work afforded me, I hardly see bumping any of them to boost my own tally. Yes, it would be ironic to miss the ballot by one vote. I can live with that. I plan to be writing a long time, you know.

In any event, that’s where I am with awards eligibility this year.

OMW & TGB: SciFi Essentials Books for January

As many of you may remember, The Sci Fi Channel is promoting both Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades as their Sci Fi Essentials books for this month. This means that each gets a special page on the SciFi.com site, which includes an excerpt from the first chapter of each. So if you’ve not read Old Man’s War yet, here’s a chance to catch up — and for those of you who can’t wait for February, here’s a taste of what’s coming up in The Ghost Brigades. In both cases, enjoy.

Please note, incidentally, that the release dates for the books on both pages is incorrect. Old Man’s War is now available in both hardcover and trade paperback, while The Ghost Brigades is officially available 2/21/06.

All in all, though, not a bad way to start off the new year.

OMW & TGB: SciFi Essentials Books for January

As many of you may remember, The Sci Fi Channel is promoting both Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades as their Sci Fi Essentials books for this month. This means that each gets a special page on the SciFi.com site, which includes an excerpt from the first chapter of each. So if you’ve not read Old Man’s War yet, here’s a chance to catch up — and for those of you who can’t wait for February, here’s a taste of what’s coming up in The Ghost Brigades. In both cases, enjoy.

Please note, incidentally, that the release dates for the books on both pages is incorrect. Old Man’s War is now available in both hardcover and trade paperback, while The Ghost Brigades is officially available 2/21/06.

All in all, though, not a bad way to start off the new year.