Monthly Archives: February 2006

Hangin’ With the Larbalesterfelds

As long as I’m doing the mad crazy book pimp thing, let me not neglect Scott Westerfeld, whose concluding volume of the Midnighters Trilogy, Blue Noon, comes out tomorrow (but is available to order off of Amazon today). The Midnighters books are excellent YA, but you don’t have to be an angst-ridden teen to enjoy them (it just, you know, helps). Here in Scalzi-land we’ve been feeding the Midnighters books to our niece after we’re done reading them, you know, to hook another kid. It seems to have worked. Read them now before they’re turned into a TV series; that way you can say were into them when they were still in the “keepin’ it real, old school” phase.

And as long as I’ve pinged Scott, let me also ping his hubby Justine Larbalestier, who is also a fabulous YA writer and whose upcoming book Magic Lessons I will undoubtedly pimp here in another 17 days. Today, however, Justine’s thinking on self-promoting authors, and where the fine line is between appropriate and useful self-promotion and just being an annoying twit about it. This is indeed something that any writer with half a brain worries about — on one hand, how can you expect anyone to promote your work if you won’t promote yourself? But on the other hand, no one likes a jerk who can do nothing but talk about his or her own work, to the exclusion of every other topic.

I don’t want to go into this too deeply here because I think you all should visit Justine’s site and comment there, but I think here are three things I would say:

1. For everyone but authors: First-time authors/novelists get a pass. Because you know what? It’s their first time. For God’s sake, be just a little extra-tolerant and let them enjoy the moment. You can give them the “dude, you’re being a dick” speech if they’re still pulling the same stunts with book #2.

2. That said: First-time authors, try to have a sense of scale, or at the very least, keep your navel-gazing to a single, safe place — like, for example, your own blog. Some of you may recall that January 2005 was “All Old Man’s War, All The Time” here on the Whatever, which annoyed at least one other science fiction writer something fierce. But, one, it was my first novel and I was excited about it and anyone telling me to calm down about it could be invited to kiss my ass (see point number one above). Two, it was all on my site and not much of anywhere else. If you can’t do a little happy dance in your own home, virtual or otherwise, where can you? Out in the real world, however, I tried to keep the megalomania to a dull roar.

3. Authors on their second book and thereafter: If you’re worried about excessive auto-pimping, there’s a simple and equitable solution, which is that for every time you pimp yourself in any form, you pimp another writer before you pimp yourself again. Doesn’t have to be the same other writer each time, mind you. Spread the love around, friend. Also, of course, be sincere about your pimpage; don’t just name-check some random writer dude so you can start the conversational mad rush back to you, you, you. People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure that one out. Fortunately, most writers know other writers with whom they are friends and/or whose work they admire. There’s always someone to give writerly love to.

Pimping other writers does two things: first it keeps you from looking like an irritating egotistical git, and second it starts the virtuous karmic cycle of writerly regard, in which other writers will offer up the same consideration to you. So, in short, pimp onto others as you would have them pimp unto you (be very aware, however, that this should not be a “quid pro quo” thing — i.e., if you pimp someone and then keep score to see if they pimp you back, you lose all your writer karma points and in your next life you come back as a slush pile reader. Oh, stop with the screaming. You can avoid this fate).

Anyway, that’s how I think one deals with self-promotion.

Dictionaries, VanderMeer, Pyr, Politics, Birthday

Fell asleep at 8:30, woke up at 3am: Man, I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. Anyway, now that I’m officially not tired, I thought I might write up an “odds and ends” sort of thing. Looking back after having written it all I realize it’d probably read better broken up into at least three separate entries (it’s just that long), but I’m too lazy to do that now. Read a chunk, take a rest, have a light snack, and then come on back for the rest.

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* One of the cool things about being of a certain age (which is, mid-thirties) is that one’s contemporaries have moved on from being flunkies and underlings and are now beginning to run things and do interesting stuff. For example, my old pal Erin McKean, who used to work at the U of C’s student newspaper with me, is now Editor-in-Chief of US Dictionaries for Oxford University Press, which I think is a pretty awesome job to have, because, dude, she’s in charge of all the words. During our discussions about another matter entirely, I somewhat pathetically hinted that I had accidentally dropped my personal dictionary into a tar pit (or something), which resulted in the arrival of The New Oxford American Dictionary, second edition, as well as the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, both of which Erin edited and/or oversaw production.

And you know what? They’re both actually delightful, which is not a word one generally uses with dictionaries and thesauri. But it works here. Both books are really well-designed books in a visual sense, which makes it easier to use them intelligently. For example, the dictionary highlights word usage in grey boxes to alert you when there’s an issue or controversy with a word. To use a recent example from this very blog, here’s what the NOAD, 2nd ed has to say on “alright”:

The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling of alright is first recorded toward the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting that all right be two words when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, although found widely, alright remains nonstandard.

I’m not at all fan of “alright” myself, but this dovetails into my thinking that the word had the misfortune of being popularized in an era during which books on grammar and usage became the rage and found itself on the wrong side of the proper usage fence. I suppose this makes makes the “all right”/”alright” thing like a secret club handshake, i.e., if you know how to use it correctly you can get into the Grammar Club, which is like Mensa, except with watercress sandwiches rather than Cheetos for snacks.

The Writer’s Thesaurus, in addition to all the usual synonyms and antonyms one finds in such a book, has a very cool feature in which an eclectic group of word users which includes David Foster Wallace, David Auburn and Stephin Merritt (yes, music fans, that Stephin Merritt) contribute little essays on the word usage; it’s quite a thing to have David Foster Wallace warn you off from using “utilize” (“using utilize makes you seem like either a pompus twit or someone so insecure that he’ll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look smart”) or to have Erin herself — Mistress of All Words, remember — explain how “classy” is a self-defeating words because “anything described as classy generally isn’t.” This is appallingly true if you think on all the women you know who have described themselves to you as classy, usually through lips from which dangled a Virginia Slim (men don’t use the word to describe themselves; indeed, if a man were to use the word to describe himself, a group of other men would spontaneously appear from offstage and proceed to beat the holy living crap out of him).

In short, both the NOAD, 2nd and the Writer’s Thesaurus are fun to read, as well being excellent reference texts powered by the unfathomably large database of words known as the Oxford English Dictionary. If you’re looking for a new dictionary and/or thesaurus, these two really are excellent, and I recommend them. My hat is off to Erin on these. They’re great. I’m glad she’s in charge of all the words.

(as an aside, read this story from the New Yorker about the word “esquivalience,” which is to be found in the NOAD, 2nd ed and in other dictionaries, much to the amusement of Erin and her staff.)

* Good news for people who don’t want to pay $60 for a hard-to-get copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen: Today marks the release of a new trade paperback edition, which is rather more reasonably priced. Also to entice you, the book has its own site devoted to it, on which you’ll find book-related music and art, and selections from the book itself. Jeff writes both more artfully and more weirdly than I do, so if “weird and artful” is what you want from your reading experience — and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be — you’ll want to check out this book.

* Also recently in the mail: a big-ass package of books from Pyr, which is tearing things up with some really excellent SF releases. In the package were two books I’m particularly interested in: Ian McDonald’s River of Gods and Keith Brooke’s Genetopia, the former of which was nominated for just about every award possible and the latter of which just got a nice starred review in Publishers Weekly (“impressively conceived, poignantly drawn”). River appeals to me particularly because I am researching India at the moment for one of my own books; I cracked open the book yesterday to check out a few pages and lost an hour and a half, which was no good because i’m behind on a couple of things — damn you Ian McDonald! But once I get squared away I’m looking forward to diving into River more fully, as well as Genetopia.

* Conservative blogger Joseph Tranfo reviews The Ghost Brigades here, and sees parallels between my discussions of choice in the novel, and a historical concept called “contingency,” which has a champion (or so Tranfo suggests) in a conservative historian named David Hackett Fischer, and in which history can be seen as “a series of real choices that living people actually made.” Says Tranfo: “As a conservative, Scalzi’s ‘choice’ theme resonated with me, and that might very well be why I enjoyed the book as much as I did.”

I’ve not read Fischer nor am acquainted with the “contingency” school of historical thought, but I certainly see it as axiomatic that history is the result of individual choices. I can see the argument that a focus on individual choices could be seen as a conservative thing (particularly if viewed in opposition to a Marx-inspired view of the power of the masses in a world-historical sense), but I don’t particularly view it through a political filter. My fundamental view of individuals and the importance of the choices they make actually comes from Einstein, via one of my great teachers, Larry McMillin, and his Individual Humanities class at the Webb School of California. Einstein, who thought a great deal on education, wrote that the aim of education should be the creation of “independently acting and thinking individuals who see service to their community as their highest life crisis.” Humans are capable of acting individually and making choices; therefore humans should be encouraged to act individually and make choices, and also taught that choosing to make a positive difference in the world through their own actions is a critical thing.

This conceptualization of the importance of the individual is rather immutably a part of Western thought, and an integral part of the American character, although the “service to the community” aspect gets lost from time to time, whether in a 70s “looking out for #1″ way, an 80s “greed is good” way, a 90s “what do I care, I have shares in an Internet company” way, or in the top-down “the hell with anyone making less than $100k” way of the current moment. One somewhat recent American leader who did memorably crystalize the idea of the individual in service to his community was John Kennedy, when he said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Now, whether Kennedy’s implementation of that sentiment was effective or not, it’s still a galvanizing line, and reflects the idea that we, as individuals, have to make choices and have to act on them for the betterment of ourselves and others.

The power of the individual — and of the importance of individual choice — probably is a conservative idea, in a very old school definition of the term, but it also gave birth to liberal thought — again, in a very old school definition of the term. So in the end, as a purely political matter, it’s probably a wash, particularly in current American politics, in which the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have been unmoored and are now free-floating nonsensical terms whose definitions are relative to loci of power. George W. Bush, for example, is conservative by any sane definition of the term exactly as much as I am a bicycle; if a liberal politician had tried to do the things he’s done during his presidency conservatives would have met up in their think tank parking lots to fire up their torches and then marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to light up the White House — and they would have been right to do so.

As it stands American politics today is as philosophically coherent as a rugby scrum of orangutans; it’s not actually politics, it’s just some weird variant of team sports played by the same wonky people whom the high school football defensive line would kick the shit out of during lunch (this explains how someone like Ann Coulter managed to get on the political cheerleading squad). It’s a bad enough situation that for the forseeable future I’ve decided to avoid content-bearing descriptors to describe political positions, because it’s simply inaccurate usage. George Bush isn’t conservative or Republican, he’s just on the right; many of those who oppose him aren’t liberals or Democrats, they’re just on the left. The current politics of the right have to do with genuine conservative thought as much as Beggin’ Strips have to do with thick-sliced hickory-smoked pork bellies, and just as dogs can’t tell it’s not bacon, so Fox News viewers can’t tell it’s not actual conservatism. The politics of the left… well, that’s just a pile of incestutous snake breeding at this point and I don’t want to bother with it. None of the politicians right or left seem especially engaged in the idea of the American citizenry and electorate being anything more than a well of votes to be cast with no more thought than one would give to mashing buttons to get one’s vote in for American Idol. And you know, I think that’s bad.

Bear in mind this is not a cri du coeur for a return to a simpler, golden time in American politics when all politicians were statesmen and all voters stalwart free-thinkers, because that never happened; hell, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton over dirty politics, and they were Founding Fathers (let’s not even mention what went down between Adams and Jefferson, or Jackson and the other Adams). And they were all the top card; what was simmering down in the Congress was an even more dingy stew. And if you think people are ill-educated today, introduce yourself to the average frontier voter of 1836 sometime. It’s bad today, but it’s always bad to a greater or lesser extent; people are what they are. (It’s also always good to a greater or lesser extent, which gets lost in the shuffle.)

Nevertheless, from time to time in American life there are people who either individually or in groups call on Americans to think for themselves, make their choices and serve their country. What a genuine delight it would be to have people on either side of the arbitrary right/left divide that exists in politics today do that very thing — and what an even greater delight if people listened. If this were to happen there would still be a right and a left, but their differences would be a matter of actual philosophy; which is to say there would be actual conservatives and liberals, with political philosophies that legitimately tracked with their nominal descriptors. That would be a change, and it would be nice.

* Finally, happy birthday to my friend Deven Desai, who is now old enough to run for President, but can’t, as he was born in India to (then) non-American citizens. A loss for us all.

In the Groves of Academe

This is interesting: I’m being taught! Which is to say that Old Man’s War is being used in a literature survey class at Clarkson University by professor Joseph Duemer. The class is on colonialism, which makes it a reasonable fit, since there’s a colonial governmental structure in the book.

However, it doesn’t appear as if Professor Duemer includes the book because he especially enjoys it:

Scalzi’s prose doesn’t look so good when compared to Camus & Conrad, whom we’ve been reading, but his dramatization of the Colonial Defense Forces—armed to the teeth against all that is not human—will be a useful point of reference in thinking about Conrad’s Marlow going up that alien river in Africa & encountering all those inhuman beings. Basically, Old Man’s War is a kinder, gentler Starship Troopers, but not that much kinder & not that much gentler. It reproduces Heinlein’s prurient, if jocular, attitude toward both sex & violence; & though it lacks Heinlein’s fully-developed militarism & fascism, it manages a kind of Bowdlerized celebration of military power that in the end is probably more dangerous because it is less easily caricatured. In Heinlein’s novel, only the military gets to vote; in Scalzi’s story, nobody cares about the vote, but only the military has bodies capable of X-Games sex & X-Games violence.

To paraphrase Marge Gunderson, I’m not sure I agree one hundred percent with Professor Duemer’s police work, there, but the interpretation he presents is not an unreasonable one all things considered. I think it would be interesting to know how Professor Duemer’s students will see me, mediated through him. And like him I think OMW could be an interesting framing device for the other works Duemer will present. Duemer’s correct that I’m not the stylist Conrad is, incidentally; but then not many people are (what makes Conrad’s skill particularly galling is that English was his third language). But it’s probably the case my prose is more immediately accessible to current students, if only because I’m alive and working now, whereas, say, Heart of Darkness is a century old. If among other things reading me helps Conrad go down slightly easier for a flummoxed freshman, well, then my work here is done.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind being taught one day for my work’s qualities rather than as a point of reference for admittedly better books. But still this is a nice first step in the academic world. The day someone uses me for a doctoral thesis, now. That day I can die happy.

Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades e-Books: The (Semi) Official Announcement, Plus a Long Writing Screed

I’m getting tons of e-mail asking me about this so let me tell you what I know:

1. Yes, Tor will be putting out official electronic book versions of Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades.

2. The release dates for the e-Book versions of OMW and TGB are “very soon now (probably in March)” and “some time after very soon now,” respectively.

3. No DRM, because DRM on e-books is a silly thing.

4. Release dates, formats and etc are not set in stone yet (say that three times to yourself, or as many times as you need to believe it), so please curb your enthusiasm to managable levels for now.

Here’s the somewhat fuller story. As many of you who read science fiction already know, for some time now Baen Books has been publishing many of its titles as e-books as well — and in a nicely non-annoying Digital Rights Management-free style that says to readers, “hey, we trust you.” Perhaps as a result, Baen is one of the few real-world publishers whose e-book division isn’t a massive tidal flow of suck, either in terms of finances or in reader aggravation. Baen offers books both through a paid service called “WebScriptions,” and a free service (primarily of backlist books) called the Baen Free Library.

Tor Books, which is the publisher OMW and TGB are at, has apparently decided that the way Baen is doing business in the e-books sphere makes more and better sense than any other model, because the two of them are joining forces to offer an e-book initiative for Tor titles. People who know more than me in this matter asked me to stress to you all that there are still fine points to nail down — not to mention the actual issues of preparing the books for electronic presentation — so please please please please please be prepared to show some measure of patience during this, the construction period. Seriously, folks, cut them some slack while they set this up.

Having said that, I know that Old Man’s War will be part of the very first slate of e-books offered by Tor, so when this Tor/Baen initiative gets switched on, OMW will be there, all winsome and electronic, begging for you to take it home and cuddle with it, using the electronic reader of your choice. TGB does not have a set release date but it will eventually show up. My assumption is that it will be in concert with the paperback release, but I’m not exactly sure how Tor is going to do it, and you know what? I’m not going to tell them how to do that part of their business. I know they want to make money, and I know they’ve been good at making me money, and for now, that works for me.

To answer questions I know I can answer:

Will this be like Baen’s “WebScriptions” plan? Don’t know. That particular line of details is hazy to me. All I know is my books will be available; whether a la carte or part of a larger subscription plan, I’m not sure.

Will there be a “Tor Free Library” like the “Baen Free Library”? Again, I don’t know. And if there is it’s deeply unlikely OMW or TGB would be in it, since they’re not quite “backlist” enough. I need to have a few more books before I can actually be thought to have a backlist.

What formats will your books (and others) be in? My understanding is that they will be available in Palm, Microsoft Reader and HTML formats as well as in other formats, too. Whatever you want to read on, you should be able to find a version that will work for you.

No DRM? Really? Really really. Why? Allow me to quote Tor’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden on this one:

We’ve tested a lot of e-book waters, including various cockamamie schemes involving overpriced e-books laden with DRM.Oddly enough, a lot of those “books” didn’t even sell enough copies to pay for their file-conversion costs.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t escaped our notice that Jim Baen has been doing something that works, that people like, and that makes money. I’m delighted to be doing this pilot program; I think Jim has been clueful on this issue for a long time, while almost everyone else in publishing has been staggering around on stage hitting one another over the head with inflated pig bladders.

This is a very fine point to make: Tor’s not doing this because it’s a golly-neat idea, they’re doing it because it makes money — or at the very least, makes money for Baen, a book publisher who happens to be in the same line of business as Tor. Look, I know this much about Tom Doherty, the publisher of Tor: the man knows the book business rather precisely like a jaguar knows his bend of the Amazon — he knows every rock and cranny and food source and has an instinct about how to sell books that just plain weirds out other folks. I don’t see him giving a greenlight to something that’s going to mess with his livelihood, or the livelihood of his staff and writers. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor’s senior editor, is likewise unspeakably smart and also knows his business. The two of them make money — and more importantly for me, have helped me make money. If they think this is worth doing, I’m going to listen to them because selling my work is their business — literally (a word that works on many levels here).

Now, it is axiomatic that the interests of a publisher and the interests of the writer do not always coincide. But this is where my own not small experience with the online world comes into play. More than most writers, I’d say, I am aware of the value of electronic editions of my work, both as a tool for reader acquisition and as a profit center. I know I’ve made money selling DRM-less editions of my books online (as shareware, even); I know electronic versions of my books have promoted sales of my physical books. And anyone who knows me knows I’m not a huggy-squeezy socialist hippie when comes to making money, which (among other reasons) is why I tend to make more money than most other writers at my level of fame (read: mostly obscure). My feeling on the matter is that these particular e-books are likely to be a good financial deal for me.

But aren’t I worried about (arrrrrr!) piracy? Someone could just take one of my DRM-less novels and share it online! With everyone! (Arrrrrr!)

Well, see. The problem with digital rights management for literature is that there’s a huge analog hole in the security called “books.” Over at Baen’s Bar, the online bulliten board run by the Baen folks, one of the members there describes how he’s made an unofficial personal e-book version of Old Man’s War with “a hardcover copy, an Epson scanner, FineReader 6.0, and some eyeball sweat.” You know what’s keeping him from uploading that copy to one of the online file-sharing services? Aside from his own personal sense of morality, not a damn thing. More to the point, anyone with a internet-enabled computer, a scanner, OCR software and a library card can do exactly the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong: If you’re stupid enough to upload a book of mine and leave a trail of crumbs I can follow back to you, I’ll be quite pleased to sue your ass (or more accurately, will be quite happy to have Tor sue your ass, because its corporate parent Holtzbrinck has got a whole flock of lawyers assembled just for that very purpose). My information does not want to be free; it wants to pay my mortgage. But slapping DRM onto an e-book doesn’t do a damn thing other than annoy people who buy the book online — i.e., one’s actual customers.

The only possible way to make to make DRM work for e-books at all is to stop selling physical books, and even then it’s doomed to failure. You can lock down the text, you can even lock down the computer (so, say, you can’t take a screenshot of the page while the DRM-protected text is online). But you can’t lock down people’s eyeballs. Or their fingers. You know what’s stopping a pirate (arrrrr!) from typing up an entire book? Nothing. And maybe you’re thinking that most people wouldn’t bother, but you have to remember: In the digital age all it takes is one person, and there are enough people out there who would do it just to make the point that they can. In short, DRM for e-books is pointless and stupid and it’s just as well Tor is shut of it.

Will people share the e-text? Probably. Will it cut into my sales? Don’t know about that. For one reason, although book publishers don’t talk much about it, sale volumes on books is low relative to the sales volume of other entertainment media. If a writer sells 50,000 copies of a novel from a major publisher, she gets to call herself a “best-seller;” if a musician sells 50,000 copies of an album from a major record label, she gets to call herself “released from her contract.” The major problem for authors is not piracy but obscurity, as I and so many others have noted again and again and again and yet again after that. I’m doing pretty well as far as readers go, especially as a newer-ish novelist, but I wouldn’t mind having more readers, and people sharing the book is one way to do that. Please, folks, won’t you let your friends borrow a copy of my book? I thank you for your evangelism.

For another reason that follows logically from the first, if I may be allowed an ego moment, I believe I write well enough that my writing creates fans — that is to say, people for whom I am a favorite writer, and who wish to see me succeed and who understand (quite rightly, as it happens) that their going out to the bookstore and picking up the book makes a material difference in my life, and therefore want to show their appreciation in that way. This isn’t just based on an inflated sense of ego, mind you; back when I was still calling Agent to the Stars “shareware,” I said the suggested contribution was $1. But when people sent in money, they sent in rather more than that; my average net (even throwing out the guy who sent in $200, because he was clearly an outlier) was something like $3.70, and over the course of its shareware run it made $4,000. Which ain’t bad for a shareware novel from no one back when the site was getting between 500 and 2,000 visits a day. I’m mildly curious to see what would happen if I offered a “shareware” work today. Maybe I’ll do that at some point.

However, my point now is that I’m a writer, and a major part of my business as a writer is creating a community of readers who are invested in my success. My books are part of that (as long as they’re worth reading, that is); this site is part of that. When someone shares a work of mine, that’s an opportunity for me to invite someone new into that community. Some people will join in, some people won’t, but on balance I believe based on my personal experience that there will be enough of these people to make a career, as long as I keep up my end of the bargain and bang out words worth reading.

There are likewise a number of writers who believe that e-books could spell doom for us all — that one person will buy a book and a thousand people will share it and we’ll all starve. Of course they have a perfect right to believe this, but while leaving aside any questions of literary competence (which often has nothing to do with book sales, alas), I’ve noticed many of these writers aren’t actually selling books in the here and now. Does this matter? Sure it does. The opinion of someone selling cars today is more informed than that of someone who stopped selling cars when the Chevey Citation was on the production line; the opinion of someone selling computers today is more informed than someone whose experience with computers ended with the Apple ][. Publishing changes slowly but it certainly does change; it’s not the same market it was even five years ago, and certainly not the same market as it was a decade back (it is, I am assured, utterly unrecognizable from what it was twenty years ago).

I am selling books in the here and now; so is my editor and so is my publisher. We all like to make money. We are saying e-books could indeed make us money, and not just a little, but enough to matter. We’re also saying that we have enough faith in the books we make — and in the people who read them — that people will continue to buy them, regardless of the media in which they exist, and even without locking them down with some pointless security scheme. We could be wrong about this, but I doubt we will be.

Octavia Butler

Steven Barnes has a blog entry reporting that SF writer Octavia Butler has died. I don’t know anything else about it at the moment than that, but I thought I would pass the information along. When/if there is other verification of this news, I’ll note it.

Update, 4pm: Blogger Edward Champion writes that he called the King County, WA coroner’s office, which confirmed Ms. Butler’s death. Still waiting for an official news story, but I rather deeply doubt either Barnes or Champion is incorrect at this point.

InstaPodcast

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was interviewed by Glenn and Helen Reynolds for their podcast series. The podcast is now up, and you can get the relevant links to it through this Instapundit entry (or this Dr. Helen entry, if you prefer). Also on the podcast is Tim Minear, the producer of Firefly and Angel and other SFnal delights. So all around it’s a pretty nifty listen, although after hearing myself blabber on I’ve made a note to myself not to use the word “basically” so damn much. It’s always something.

International Embarass Yourself as an Artist Day

Elizabeth Bear throws down a challenge to the writers:

Okay, I double-dog dare you. Go ahead and post the awfullest, grottiest, ancientest piece of juvenilia you still have a word processor that will open. I’ll wait.

Then we can all congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come.

I can do that.

Behold “Ice Machine,” a story named after an obscure Depeche Mode song but otherwise having nothing to do with that band or that song: It’s about a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer — on an asteriod. Because, honestly, where else would one be? I wrote two-thirds of the story when I was seventeen and two-thirds when I was twenty-one, so not only is it bad, it’s also disjointed. And that’s what you look for in a story like this, isn’t it.

Now, fair warning: There are many things bad and broken about this story, namely plot, characterization and dialogue. Probably also spelling and grammar. I used to think it was pretty good, but two stints as an editor and four novels have disabused me of that notion. The best that can be said of it is that it is probably no worse than most science fiction stories written by seventeen (or twenty-one) year olds.

No, I didn’t try to sell it, although I did enter it into an undergraduate writing contest at the U of C and came in third, which reflects the lack of competition more than anything else. To be entirely honest after this story I didn’t write another short story for a decade — three years after I wrote Agent to the Stars, in fact. And I did manage to sell that one (to Strange Horizons, which at the time didn’t count as a pro sale, which I suppose is good for my Campbell eligibility). I’ve only written two other short stories since then, however. Although I’m writing a new one this weekend! Go me! Let’s hope I’ve learned something useful since I wrote the one you have here.

And remember: If you’re traumatized, blame Bear. She made me do it.

Entertainment Weekly Review of TGB

And it’s written in publicist-friendly pull-quote form:

“A mix of Starship Troopers and Universal Soldier, Ghost evokes awakening, betrayal, and combat in the best military sci-fi tradition.”

Yeah, that’s just about guaranteed to go on the paperback edition of the book somewhere prominent. And it got a grade of “B+,” which makes it the second time I’ve gotten that particular grade from EW. I’m consistently above average! One does what one can.

What’s interesting about the review is that it doesn’t note that TGB is the second book in a series, which means either the reviewer didn’t know or didn’t care (or didn’t have space to note it, as it’s a short review). Whatever the reason, it’s a little more proof of the book’s stand-alone-ability, which makes me happy.

Incompetence in Action

This is why the Bush Administration is the worst presidential administration in 150 years: It spends five years trying to convince Americans that swarthy Muslims represent enough of a threat to US safety and security that the Administration is required to expectorate all over the Bill of Rights in order to keep us safe from them — and then has the gall to act all surprised and affronted when Americans panic at the thought of giving swarthy Muslims control of several of the country’s busiest ports, including the ones from which the World Trade Center could be seen collapsing.

Mind you, this has nothing to do with whether letting this particular company based in the United Arab Emirates have control of several major ports is actually a good idea. I honestly don’t know (and I’m willing to bet you don’t really know, either). It’s also not about whether swarthy Muslims, in general, deserve to be irrationally feared (as a class they don’t, any more than pasty-white Christians do). It has to do with how Bush’s people could be so tone-deaf as not to see how this particular deal could be (to use a singularly inappropriate cliche) a political landmine. Didn’t anyone in the Executive Branch look up from the Kool-Aid long enough to say “Hey, haven’t we been telling people Arabs are, like, bad? Is it possible handing the ports over to an Arab company might not play well”? At the very least, someone should have, you know, briefed the president about the deal ahead of time so he wouldn’t have learned about it in the newspapers like the rest of us slobs. Then perhaps he could have prepared for the inevitable backlash brought on by his administration’s own messaging.

Simple fact: You can’t spend years demonizing a group of people in words and in deeds and expect people you’ve been scaring not to react badly when suddenly it seems like you’re in bed with the demons and getting slipped their devilish meat. I fully grant the UAE is not Iraq or Iran, but with no disrespect toward the mass of US citizens, the vast majority of us can’t find the UAE on a map and even if we could, through ignorance and design we’ve lumped “Arabs” into a massive, scary category so indiscriminate in its composition that if one were to point out to most Americans that Iranians aren’t actually Arab at all, they’d look at you with blank incomprehension and wonder what your point is. They’re all swarthy Moooslims! They can’t be trusted! This is not a formulation the Bush folks have gone out of their way to correct, as it has served their purposes well enough up to this point.

But now suddenly it doesn’t, and Bush is getting roughly the same reaction as FDR might have gotten if he allowed the Port of Los Angeles to be sold to a company based in Okinawa and then tried to argue that the Okinawans weren’t really Japanese. Mind you, this is nowhere near a perfect analogy, but it serves well enough to make the point: Americans are being told to trust the same people most of us thought we were at war with, by the president who took us to war with them. It doesn’t help at all that what most Americans do know of the UAE is that some of the 9/11 terrorists were from there; it accentuates the confusion.

There’s no way this port deal ends well for the Bush Administration. This is particularly true because Bush himself has dug in his heels and has declared that he’s willing to veto any legislation that undoes the sale — his first veto in his entire presidency, mind you, and if you think the president using his veto power to help Arabs is going to play well with his base, you’re just not paying attention. So either the deal goes through, in which case Bush is the guy who gave our ports to Arabs, which is red meat for his opponents. Or it gets stuffed, in which case the Bush Administration starts its lame duck era early, and trust me, as soon as that happens, the knives are going to come out.

Again: How could the Bush people not see this coming? The fact that they didn’t (or did but managed to convince themselves it wouldn’t be a big deal) is among many other reasons why this is such a horrible presidency: It’s not smart enough to see the consequences of its own actions, even when those consequences are laid out like Tinkertoys directly in front of them.

The only possible good to come out of this would be that this could be the straw the breaks the camel’s back, and actual conservatives will wake up from the fugue state they’ve been in for the last six years, realize that Bush and his penny-ante cult of personality management style has essentially tubed their revolution, and then try to salvage what they can — which hopefully will mean that between them and the Democrats there might be a majority vote for bringing back that whole crazy “checks and balances” thing that the Bush Administration wishes to suggest doesn’t actually apply to it. I know it’s a lot to ask for. But one may hope.

Back to whether Dubai Ports World should be able to run these ports: Got me. I’m not afraid to say I’m not qualified to have an opinion on the matter — everything above is about appearances, and why they are of consequence. I will say this: If the deal does go through, Bush better hope to God that no terror attack ever routes in any way through any port Dubai Ports World operates. Because if one does, there is not a stopwatch in the world fast enough to time how quickly he will find himself impeached. And impeachment would be the absolute least of his problems.

TGB @ SFBC

For those of you in the Science Fiction Book Club, you’ll be happy to know that The Ghost Brigades is now available in an SFBC edition. If you’re not in the SFBC but the idea of being so gives you a wiggly feeling inside, the book club’s current introductory offer lets you get five books for 50 cents each, and TGB is eligible for that deal. And as we all know 50 cents is pretty cheap for a hardcover.

I’ve been asked privately by folks from time to time as to whether I’d prefer they buy the non-SFBC edition of book over the book club edition, and my response is always the same, which is: Don’t care. My own preference with SFBC (of which I am a member) is to use it to pick up hardcover editions of classic SF books (i.e., by dead guys), grab convenient compendiums that help me catch up with a long-running series, and for SFBC’s own anthologies, while picking up newer releases from living authors in the stores. But if you use it to get the new SF releases, including my own, that’s fine with me. We sold a ton of Old Man’s War through SFBC, and I won’t mind doing the same with TGB.

I’ll tell you a funny story involving SFBC: At Boskone I introduced myself to Ellen Asher, the editor-in-chief of the SFBC. After we exchanged pleasantries we talked a bit about some of my future projects, and I mentioned The Android’s Dream, and went into detail about the first chapter, which as many of you may remember is basically one extended fart joke. Ms. Asher listened with what I suspect was growing horror at my description of the first chapter, and when I was done, said, as diplomatically as possible, “Well, I suppose we may have to put a warning up about that book.” I found that very amusing.

I’ll be interested to see what she thinks of the actual chapter (not to mention the rest of the book) once it comes her way. It really does sound horrifying when I try to describe it, but in the actual writing it plays a bit better. I swear.

Uncle John’s Visits Hollywood

Oh look, another Uncle John’s book I contributed to has hit the stores: Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into Hollywood. As per the Uncle John’s tradition, the individual articles are not attributed so unless you have a truly excellent eye for my writing, you’ll not know which pieces are mine. And, frankly, I wrote these pieces so long ago that even I’m not entirely sure which are mine; I’d have to look at my check stub to be sure. But regardless, the book is chock full of Hollywood trivia goodness, so if you’re a Hollywood and/or Uncle John’s buff, you will be deeply satisfied by this offering. It’s pretty damn interesting.

Heh, and Indeed.

An amusing interview of Tobias Buckell by Jeff VanderMeer.

Speaking of interviews, I recorded one yesterday with Glenn and Helen Reynolds (aka Instapundit and Dr. Helen) for an upcoming podcast, in which we discuss various things about Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and selling books online. I’ll let you know when that goes live. It was actually the first time I’ve spoken with either, which is weird considering how long we’ve known of each other in the online sense. But that’s the 21st century for you, isn’t it: you can know someone for years, and yet not know the sound of their voice.

Free Speech For Everyone, Even The Dickheads

In e-mail, a request to comment on the plight of “historian” David Irving, who has been punted into an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust happened, and doing so while actually in Austria, where such activities are criminal. Seems that Austria, birthplace of Hitler, gets a little twitchy when people suggest Der Führer wasn’t, in fact, deeply pleased that six million Jews and a few million other inconvenient people went up a concentration camp smokestack. Irving got three years for that and plans to spend at least some of that time writing his memoirs, not unlike his little buddy did all those years ago.

My thoughts? Well, first, I certainly enjoyed hearing that Irving twisted and groveled like the pathetic worm he is once it was clear he was looking at hard time, and grudgingly admitted prior to sentencing that oh, gee, maybe there actually were gas chambers at Auschwitz after all. Oops. His bad. You can see how he messed that one up, though. Such an obscure corner of World War II. So, yeah, that got a hearty chortle from me. And I can’t say I don’t appreciate someone who has dined out on attempting to deny evil having it crammed back down his throat. Emotionally, this all is a tasty Snickers bar of schadenfreude, to use an all-too-appropriate word for it.

Having said that: Look, free speech isn’t free if even the most odious crap-flinger can’t smear himself in poo and call it truth. People like David Irving are the crucible of free speech, as in, you can’t say you actually support free speech if you’re willing to keep dickheads like him silent. So, no, as satisfying as it feels, David Irving shouldn’t be in prison just for being a professional Nazi-licker. I am obliged to defend his right to lick Nazis, as clearly odious I think it is that the man feels like this is good use of his time, or of anyone else’s.

What I suggest we do is offer a trade to Iran, in which they can have Irving — who should become fast friends with that country’s Jew-hating, Holocaust-denying president — in exchange for a few of those Iranian bloggers the goverment is currently squatting on for the crime of having opinions. It’d be one of those “everybody wins” situations.

Subterranean Magazine Cover Art

Because I love you all so much, here’s an early look at the cover art for the Scalzi-edited “SF Cliches” issue of Subterranean Magazine, which will be out later this spring.

besmcover.jpg

The cover is by Hugo and Chesley-winning artist Bob Eggleton (who did the artwork for “Questions for a Soldier,” you may recall) and reproduces a moment in Allen Steele’s excellent story “The Last Science Fiction Writer” — as it happens, the exact moment I suspected (but did not suggest to the artist) would make an excellent cover, so I’m glad Bob independently agreed with me on that. Clearly, it’s jam-packed with cliches, which is just the way I like it.

The magazine itself is humming along in its production schedule and I’ll let you all know when it’ll hit the racks. I am about 90% sure single-copy sales will be available as well. More information when I have it. Until then, enjoy the picture!

Friendpimping on a Wednesday Morning

Because you don’t read enough blogs, here are two more for you to go check out. First: SeeLight, the personal blog of writer Claire Light, whom you may remember as a guest blogger here last July. Claire’s FAQ entry is already a classic of the form. Second, The Little Blog of Murder, which is the group blog of five mystery writers from Ohio (which is to say, they write mysteries, not that they themselves are, like, all mysterious or anything). Sharon Short, one of the writers, is a pal of mine.

In both cases the blogs are in their first week, so stick with them through all the introductory stuff and see what they’ve got going over the next couple of weeks.

There we go: friendpimpery. It’s good for the soul. Now, if you’ve got some friends with some relatively new blogs (say, from the last three months or so), go ahead and pimp them in the comments. Because I don’t read enough blogs, either.

Miracles and Wonders, or, Holy Crap

Two signs that The Ghost Brigades is doing okay today:

The Ghost Brigades is actually available in my local bookstore on release day. As many of you may remember, I kvetched long and hard about the fact I never once saw the hardcover of Old Man’s War in my local bookstore in the year between when the book was published and when was brought out in trade paperback. But look! Here’s the sequel! Two copies, actually. I could weep. It wasn’t face out when I saw it, but of course I fixed that. Sorry, R.A. Salvatore. You can face yourself out at my expense at your own local bookstore.

The other sign:

The Ghost Brigades at #9 on the Amazon SF bestseller list, as of about 7:40pm, just below George RR Martin and Robert Jordan. As the kids say: Holy crap. Now, tomorrow morning these guys will still be loitering on the upper regions of the list and I’ll probably have slid back down the list somewhat. But you know what? Tonight, I’m doing fine, and I’m going to enjoy the view from up here. Thanks, folks, for getting me up there. I do appreciate it.

Update, 2/22, 9:54pm — #4 on the Amazon SF list, #88 overall. w00t! I love you all. Like siblings.

Subterranean Sale

Along with the release of The Ghost Brigades, here’s something those of you in a purchasing mood might be interested in: Subterranean Press is doing a two-day sale in which if you buy four books on their sale list, you’ll get 40% off. Both Agent to the Stars and “Questions for a Soldier” are on the list, as are books from Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, Joe Lansdale and Charlie Stross. I’m pretty sure these are all signed, limited editions, so this is good for you collectors. I’ll also note that I know for a fact that were down to the last few dozen copies of Agent (I personalized #1496 at Boskone), so if you’ve been wanting to get that but have been putting it off, this might be a not bad time.

Okay, I think that’s enough bald-faced commerce for one day.

My iTunes Top Ten

Stephen Green of VodkaPundit has done a musical meme based on one I suggested a while back. Mine was telling what ten randomly selected songs your iPod or iTunes pulled up; his is showing off the top ten most-played tracks from your iPod/iTunes. Stephen Bainbridge has followed suit, and I suppose as I am the distant progenitor of this new meme, I should as well. So below you’ll find my personal iTunes Top Ten, annotated for your pleasure. The only kink I’ve thrown in (because I tend to listen to full albums rather than just single tracks) is that each artist appears only once; if there’s a tie between a previously-noted artist and a new artist, I’ll note the new artist.

1. “Run Baby Run” by Garbage — A classic Garbage tune, with an extra special New Order-like bass line. I’m a sucker for New Order-like bass lines.

2. “This is Halloween” by Danny Elfman — from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. This is here because Athena recently went through a period where she wanted to hear it a couple of times a day, and I didn’t mind.

3. “Whatsername (Susanna Hoffs)” by Dean Gray — this is an unauthorized mash-up between Green Day’s “Whatsername” and the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” and it’s absolutely brilliant because the songs quite accidentally “talk” to each other, with the Bangles’ tune detailing the life of the woman whom the Green Day song wonders about. I own both the original tunes, so I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty in having downloaded this one.

4. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers — The whole album Hot Fuss has been on a constant play here at the Scalzi household recently, but this track has been played slightly more than others, which surprises me, since I like “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” more. However, this merely shows how the “iTunes Top Ten” methodology breaks down, because as much as I play songs through iTunes, I also play them through Rhapsody, which as far as I know doesn’t count how many times you play a particular song. So this list is just my iTunes Top Ten, not my overall Top Ten (although, to be fair, ultimately I suspect this list is not far off in representing my current tastes).

5. “The District Sleeps Alone” by The Postal Service
— Almost unbearably wistful. I like The Postal Service rather better than I like Death Cab for Cutie (whose lead singer TPS borrowed), and the whole Give Up album is pretty great all around.

6. “Valley Winter Song” by Fountains of Wayne — Another wistful one. I was late coming to the Fountains of Wayne but have been making up for lost time.

7. “Beverly Hills” by Weezer — another Athena-influenced presence. She’s seen this song on one of the ads for the odious “Kidz Bop” collections and started singing it, and I declared that if she was going to do that, then by God she should listen to the actual track. So I listened to it a whole lot over a two-week period.

8. “Too Pieces” by Yaz — I will go through phases where I can listen to this particular song, like, six times in a row. I recently went through one of those patches. Why this song and not other, more popular Yaz songs? Got me. But there it is.

9. “The Golden Boy” by Shelby — Shelby is an indie band that is a particular favorite of mine; this was the lead-off single of their most recent album.

10. “Kiteflyer’s Hill” by Eddi Reader — Eddi Reader has one of the best voices out there, period, end of sentence, full stop, and this particular song (written by her former Fairground Attraction bandmate Mark Nevins) shows off the range and quality of her voice brilliantly… and is just a fabulous song in itself. If you’ve never heard this song, I pity you.

That’s my iTunes Top Ten. What’s yours? Don’t feel the need to annotate as extensively as I have if you don’t want to; a simple list will do. But now I’m curious.

The Ghost Brigades: Officially Out!

It’s time: The Ghost Brigades is now officially released and should be available at your favorite online and real-world stores. As always, I encourage you to head over to your local bookstore and demand a copy, but as I can’t link to every single real-world bookstore, here are the links to TGB at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s and Clarkesworld Books (the latter being an SF/F/H-focused online seller, the proprietor of which I met at Boskone). I’ll toss in a link to Borderlands Books here as well — they don’t have TGB listed yet, but I’m sure they will soon, and they’ve always been good to me. I’m sure if you ask them to get a copy for you, they will.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have TGB officially out in the world and making its way. I’m personally quite pleased with it, which is always a positive thing, and so far the reviews have been good and the feedback I’ve been getting back from folks who have read it is equally encouraging. And that’s good too. As you may imagine this all has been something of a relief; notwithstanding Agent to the Stars, which was written pre-Old Man’s War but published after, this is the first novel I’ve written since OMW that’s made it out into the stores. Its (so far) happy reception allows me to have hope for its fortunes going forward.

As the book debuts, I want to make sure to acknowledge the people other than me who have had a hand in getting this book out to the rest of you: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, whom I am fortunate to call my editor; Irene Gallo and John Harris, who have given the book its look; Rich Klin, whose copy-editing was key (as anyone who saw the pre-copy-edited ARC would be able to tell you); and Dot Lin, who has done a fabulous job as TGB’s publicist so far, and who I expect will continue in her fabulousness from here on out. And of course Tom Doherty for running the entire show from that office of his with the truly choice view. These are only the Tor folks I know had a hand in the book; there are others as well who I don’t know but wish I did so I could also thank them.

The point of the above paragraph is to drive home the fact that while as an author it’s my name on the cover of the book, the book itself wouldn’t get to the readers’ hands without an entire team of people behind it. These are the people you don’t normally hear about, which is not to say that what they do for the book is not worth hearing about. If you don’t think I’m absolutely grateful of everything they’ve done for the book (and by extension, for me), you’re totally high. So thank you Patrick, Irene, John, Rich, Dot, Tom and everyone else at Tor. I am honored to have worked with you. Whatever success this book has is yours as well as mine.