Monthly Archives: April 2006

Purity Balls

Question in e-mail today asking me what I thought of “Purity Balls,” the odd fundamentalist Christian ritual in which daddies take their young daughters to a sort of mini-prom and at the end of it the daughters pledge to remain sexually pure and the daddies pledge to defend that purity. Basically, the reason for the dance is the pledging, which strikes me similarly to Mark Twain’s definition of golf: “A long walk, spoiled.”

My own thought about these purity balls is that they’re really icky — we could go on all day about what’s wrong about dads making their very small daughters think about sex, or indoctrinating them into thinking their sexuality should be contingent on the dictates of the men in their lives — but given the high holy terror with which fundamentalists regard human sexuality in general and female sexuality in particular, I don’t find these mechanisms of control and indoctrination particularly surprising. I feel sorry for the little girls that their quality time with daddy comes at the price of pledging to submit their will to daddy’s whims until such time as they equally surrender to their husband’s will, but I guess that since they get to wear such pretty dresses, it’s a fair trade. So that’s all right.

Speaking as a father — and one of a girl just about the right age to take to a “purity ball” at that — I’m not going to criticize one of the underlying desires of the purity ball, which is a father’s desire to express his commitment to care for and protect his child. I happen to have the same desire. I will note, however, that the expression of that desire can take on rather substantially different forms. These “Purity Ball” fathers think it’s best expressed through control; I think it’s best expressed through knowledge. I don’t want my daughter to pledge her “purity” to me, as if having a sexual experience is some sort of karmic besmirching; I want to inform my daughter so that when she has sex, she knows what she’s doing and she has it on her terms, and she comes away from the experience satisfied (as much as anyone comes away from their first experience in such a state) and able to integrate it into her life in a positive way.

Which is not to say I want her having sex, oh, anytime before she can vote; indeed, you can believe me when I say to you that among the discussions we’ll have will be the ones where I suggest that abstinence really is the best policy through high school, for many very good and practical reasons (hey, it worked for me). I mean, I suppose I could just say “You shouldn’t have sex because I’ve told you not to, and that’s the end of it,” and demand she respect my authority. However, if Athena is anything like me as a kid (and it’s becoming rather abundantly clear that she is), any attempt at parental rule by fiat is likely to be politely but deeply ignored, and she’s going to do what’s she going to do.

That being the case, rationally outling the consequences is going to work rather better than trying to ram a pledge down her adorable little throat. Indeed, I doubt I could do that, even now — she’s already remarkably resistant to me pulling the “because I said so” act, because she’s already internalized the idea that things should happen for a reason. And of course, I feel immensely proud about that, even if it does make getting her to clean up her room a real pain in the ass sometimes.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, I think not having pre-marital sex is pretty idiotic. This is a separate issue from promiscuity — I’m not a big fan of totally indiscriminate appendage insertion or acceptance — but if you’re serious enough about someone that you’re contemplating marriage, you damn well better know what your own sexual playing field is, and you damn well better know if you’re sexually compatible with your presumed marital partner. Waiting until you’re married to find out if you’re sexually compatible with your spouse is like waiting until you’re married to find out if you actually speak the same language as your spouse. Yes, you probably could make a marriage work without actually being able to speak to your spouse, but that’s not really a good marriage, is it. I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone I know.

All of which signals to you that I have a rather different view of sexuality in general than your average “Purity Ball” father. Which is, of course, all right by me. As I said, I can’t fault what I see as the root impulse for the purity balls, but I’m glad that my expression of the desire to keep my daughter safe is not that one. Because if you really want to fetishize sex for a little girl, I really can’t think of a more effective way to do it than something like a purity ball. And you know what? Fetishizing sex for little girls is so very much not what I want to be doing with my time.

A YA Thing

Marissa Lingen has some thoughts on my entry yesterday about ambitions, and puts it into the context of YA writing:

And I’ve never taught physics grad students, and I’ve never written a doctoral-level monograph in history; but I would bet you good money that at least some of the difficulties in doing those things are not greater than the difficulties in teaching freshman physics lab or writing a history text for fourth through sixth graders but rather are different difficulties. Don’t believe me? You can go ahead and explain pogroms to a 9-year-old audience in words they understand, that will get the concept across with due gravity but without scaring the kid so badly that they have nightmares for weeks about man’s inhumanity to man. Also perform this task in less than 200 words, and also make sure that the words you choose will not offend parents, teachers, librarians, etc. either by their explicit nature or by their coy omissions. And remember that yours may be the very last reference to the subject they see until they take a history course in college, if ever. See what an easy romp that is — why, it must be! It is for the sweet little childrens!

Mrissa points in the direction of a larger truth, which is that writing for any specific audience requires skills that don’t always make themselves apparent on the casual read. However, writing for kids in particular is not easy, I’ll bet, for all the reasons Mrissa notes above: Not only to you have to satisfy the kids as readers, you also have to walk the tightrope satisfying the gatekeepers to the kids: parents, teachers, school boards and assorted busybodies who will aim to ban your book even though they haven’t bothered to read it. All of which makes YA lit even more full of hoops which must be jumped if one wishes to play in that arena. The only thing you get out of it as a writer is that if you’re lucky, you’re creating a lifelong reader through your work.

As it happens, not long after I finished Agent to the Stars I took the excess momentum I had after that and banged out several chapters of a YA attempt. Among other things, it convinced me that writing YAs was not just a happy side lark; if you’re going to do it, do it right. My friends Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier are examples of that; they both write YAs that I’d rather read more than a lot of adult novels that I’ve come across, because the work and skill is there.

The YA I began remains unfinished because — obviously — I have lots on my plate now as it is. I’d like to return to it one day (or start a different one), but I’d need to be able to make time to devote to it. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to post up the first chapter so those of you who want to see it can have a look. How is it? Eh. I liked it at the time (and I still like the overall story), but the better part of a decade on I can see quite a few things I’d choose to work on before it made it to release. It’s not nearly as good as Scott and Justine’s works, which comprise the quality benchmark to which I would need to aspire before I could feel comfortable doing YA.

It’s not horrible, mind you. It just needs work. But, as I said, it is a useful reminder to me that YA is work if you want to do it well. Perhaps it’ll be a useful reminder to you as well, should you feel that Young Adult writing is less craft-intensive than any other sort.

The chapter starts after the cut –

Continue reading A YA Thing

Nuggets, 4/18/06

Various things I’m thinking of today:

* Stephen Bainbridge passes along his thoughts about the dust-up between Donald Rumsfeld and the retired generals, which is a story which, aside from the schadenfreudesque fun it affords, is surprising me with its longevity. What makes Baingridge’s perspective interesting is that he’s looking at it from the perspective of “bottom-up evaluation” — that is, when underlings evaluate their bosses. It’s a common enough technique in the corporate world, and Bainbridge is looking at how such a system works (or doesn’t) in a military setting, and what retired generals bring to the table in this formula.

My personal take on the whole Rumsfeld v. retired generals thing is that I tend to side with the cantankerous retired generals more often than not, but I think the real problem here was simply that Rumsfeld had an organizational agenda that was ultimately trumped by realities on the ground. His idea of a smaller, faster military was just dandy for the thrust into Baghdad, but I think once Iraq was taken, there was a problem, and Rumsfeld and co. didn’t want to admit the “smaller, faster” plan wasn’t “one size fits all.” So Rumsfeld was half right (in this circumstance, anyway; one wonders what “smaller, faster” would have accomplished against a competent military foe), but the half he was right about took less than a month, and the half he was wrong about has taken the last three years.

* Regarding the “Pointlessly Wasting Money: A Quiz” piece, someone in there was asking whether this was one of those personality tests, in which the answer you provide is an indication of your personality. Well, maybe it is, but that wasn’t the intent. I have simply been thinking about a new computer (although not necessarily the Alienware; that was just representative of the sort of rig specs I was thinking on), or possibly picking up the Heinlein series, and figured that throwing open the question to the Whatever collective would help clarify my thinking on both, and — surprise! — it did.

My thinking at the moment is to get neither. The tech geeks have convinced me it’s worth waiting until the next generation of processors come along, and enough book geeks have come along to whisper concerns about Meisha Merlin in my ear that I’ve decided to wait at least until a few of the books in the series have come along to see what the feedback is on the overall worthiness of the collection (to answer the questions in the comment thread, if I buy the series, you damn well better believe I’m going to read them. I’m not someone who buys books just to have them on the shelf). It’s possible that by waiting I won’t be able to get a set, even if I decide I want one, but since the the run of the set is 5,000 sets, and you have to buy into the whole set (i.e., there need to be 5,000 other people willing to part with at least $2,500 before me), it seems a safe enough risk to me.

I also appreciate the alternate suggestions, including the ones which suggested I hand the money over to Krissy for investment purposes. Trust me, folks, we max out the 401(k) and IRAs and have other investments socked away. And I always hand my money to Krissy anyway; then when I want to buy something I ask her if I can have it. This is a fine way not to spend outside our means, as Krissy is indeed hawk-like in her stewardship of our finances. Which is, among other things, why I can contemplate choices like these.

In any event, thanks for all your thoughts and comments; they were indeed helpful.

* An interesting map from USA Today, showing where abortion would be restricted in the US if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned tomorrow; it’s mostly “red vs. blue” all over again. I personally suspect that this map is not quite correct because if it came to that people would vote in representatives with opinions more in line with the general thinking about abortion; which is to say I suspect you’d find rather few states like South Dakota and more like Illinois. It might take an election cycle or two to hit equilibrium, however, during which time I suspect people would be vividly reminded that women who really want an abortion really will get one, regardless of risk. I doubt there would be a national law against abortion, unless the GOP really does want to either fracture or relegate itself to permanent minority status.

My own state Ohio is listed as likely to significantly restrict abortion access; allow me to express doubt on that, or to say that if it’s correct in the short run, that it would not be after a single election cycle. I’d also suggest that the law one Ohio state legislator wants to put on the books that would make it a felony to transport a woman across state lines to get an abortion wouldn’t last any longer than it took for a soccer mom to get tossed in the slammer for driving her kid to New York to end a pregnancy. Apparently one would still be able to drive one’s self, although I’m interested to see how long that loophole would last, or what would happen if two pregnant women traveled together across state lines to get an abortion.

I’m not particularly keen on Roe v. Wade being overturned, but I don’t think overturning it would give the anti-abortion folks what they want. When going through a pregnancy is compelled, you’re going to find people suddenly rather less tolerant about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, or having sex education predicated on “abstinence only.” And here’s a prediction which I am sure is going to make me friends from all over: I’ll bet you a ten spot right now that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, you’ll see parents of teenagers becoming a lot more accepting of same sex relationships, because at least that way, their kids won’t become pregnant. Because it’s been 33 years since Roe v. Wade, you know. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not be the same as turning back the clock. I sometimes wonder if anti-abortion folks have actually internalized this salient fact.

* Speaking of Ohio, the ever-industrious Tobias Buckell (who you may recall has an in-store appearance in Dayton tonight) has started contributing to Blogging Ohio, a news and opinion blog about — can you guess? — the fine State of Ohio. If you want news and information about the Buckeye State, in blog form, now you know where to go.

Dia de las Krissy

kbs060418.jpg

It’s my wife Kristine Blauser Scalzi’s birthday today. In my opinion, meeting her was one of the two best things ever to happen to me (the other being the birth of my daughter, which — as it happens — she was actively involved in as well), and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t try to let her know how much better my life is because she is in it. I’m making it my goal to ensure that this next year of her life is filled with joy, happiness, and footrubs on demand. Because all of those are good things.

If you feel like wishing Krissy a happy birthday, the comment thread is an excellent place to do it.

Pointlessly Wasting Money: A Quiz

All right, a question for the crowd. Let’s say I have about $2,500 to spend –

(which is not to say that I do have $2.5K spend. It’s to say, let’s say I do)

– and that you’re me. Which would you rather spend that chunk of cash on:

a) The “Virginia Edition” of the collected works of Robert A. Heinlein, which features all of his novels and shorts stories plus most of the interviews and commentaries, speeches and articles he’s given, printed on heavy, acid-free paper, put in protective slipcases and each with a cover featuring the work of Donato Giancola (who, as you recall, did the hardcover artwork for Old Man’s War), all in a special, limited, never-to-be replicated series,

or

b) An Alienware Area 51 5500 computer with a 3.2 GHz Pentium dual core processor, 256MB PCI-Express x16 NVIDIA® GeForce™ 7900 GT graphics card, 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz, 250GB Serial ATA 3Gb/s 7,200 RPM w/ NCQ & 8MB Cache and Creative Sound Blaster® X-Fi® XtremeMusic High Definition 7.1 Surround Sound

???

I mean, theoretically. And no, you can’t have both. You have to choose one.

What would you, as me, get?

Taxes

Was reminded today was tax day by reading an article about pizzas selling for $10.40. I’ve been sort of out of the Tax Day loop since we started having an accountant prepare our taxes, and that’s just fine with me; we pay an accountant so we can be out of the loop (well, I can be out of the loop; Krissy, aka “the competent one” remains as loop-engaged as ever). And our accountant, bless her heart, sent over all the forms and etc weeks ago.

Overall, it was not a bad tax year for us. We ended up in the hole by a not-entirely-trivial amount, but that amount was also less than I expected (I made a bit more in 2005 than 2004, so I figured on a larger tax bite) so overall I was pretty happy. I am once again reminded that one of the nice things about being a reviewer and commentator, and someone who works from home, is that so much of my life ends up being tax-deductible. That includes this here Web site, since it’s directly connected to my writing business, and because it is a source of income for me (those occasional reprints of the Whatever, not to mention selling Agent to the Stars to a publisher last year). Hooray for teh Intarweebs!

How’s your tax day going?

Taxes

Was reminded today was tax day by reading an article about pizzas selling for $10.40. I’ve been sort of out of the Tax Day loop since we started having an accountant prepare our taxes, and that’s just fine with me; we pay an accountant so we can be out of the loop (well, I can be out of the loop; Krissy, aka “the competent one” remains as loop-engaged as ever). And our accountant, bless her heart, sent over all the forms and etc weeks ago.

Overall, it was not a bad tax year for us. We ended up in the hole by a not-entirely-trivial amount, but that amount was also less than I expected (I made a bit more in 2005 than 2004, so I figured on a larger tax bite) so overall I was pretty happy. I am once again reminded that one of the nice things about being a reviewer and commentator, and someone who works from home, is that so much of my life ends up being tax-deductible. That includes this here Web site, since it’s directly connected to my writing business, and because it is a source of income for me (those occasional reprints of the Whatever, not to mention selling Agent to the Stars to a publisher last year). Hooray for teh Intarweebs!

How’s your tax day going?

Two (Well, Four) Reviews; also, Ambitions

Into the clippings file:

* A less-than-thrilled review of Old Man’s War over at SFSite, which I find amusing, as SFSite also has an enthusiastic review of OMW from when the book originally came out, in which it was called a “clever, charming and joyously fun story.” Needless to say, should Tor decide to pull a quote from SFSite, we know from which review they’ll pull. As for the less-enthusastic review, there’s not much to say other than, eh, you can’t win them all.

* A nice review of The Ghost Brigades at Fractale Framboise; at least, I think it’s a nice review, since it’s in French and I have to pass it through Google Translate to read it. However, Google Translate says it says that TGB: “proves the initial success of Scalzi… is not an accident. Familiar without being repetitive, accessible without being condescending, The Ghost Brigades is an excellent example of commercial SF which can at the same time divert and make [one] reflect.” Works for me.

Non-francophones who don’t want to bother with the Frenchtastic stylings of Google Translate can read a review of the book in English by the same reviewer (Christian Sauve) here: “At a time where unputdownable is as overused as it’s ungrammatical, Scalzi is the real deal: someone who can deliver a fast, fun SF story that remains accessible and doesn’t take you for an idiot.” That works for me, too.

In the latter review, Sauve asks: “When will Scalzi try his hand at a more ambitious project? As coldbloodedly professional as he appears to be in his approach to his career, I doubt that he will suddenly drop everything else to produce an insanely ambitious 500-page work of art ready to challenge, say, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. But I wonder.”

(River of Gods, incidentally, which is finally out here in the US through the good graces of Pyr Books, and which I do in fact suggest people get, because it really is that good.)

But in response to Sauve’s question: The direct answer to his question is “soon,” although soon in publishing is not the same as “soon” in the real world, since the project I’m thinking of has yet to be written and won’t see the light of the bookstore until late 2007 at the earliest. I’m not discussing this particular project with anyone in any more specific terms than I am doing now (which is to say, aggravatingly vaguely), but suffice to say I doubt that anyone will be able to say it’s not ambitious at the outset. My job, of course, is to make it so that “ambitious” is not its only selling point; “ambitious” and “really, really readable” is the goal.

Tangentially, however, I wouldn’t say that OMG and TGB aren’t ambitious works; I think they both are. OMW is flatly ambitious in the sense it was written specifically to be salable to a publisher, even as a first time work from someone unknown in SF/F circles. In that sense, ambition accomplished. Now, part of the “price” for that, if you want to cast it that way, is that the books in the series have to dance with them what brung them — which is to say that it would be inappropriate for The Ghost Brigades to have been wildly different from Old Man’s War, either in themes or presentation. Now, I happen to think TGB is thematically a bit more ambitious than OMW, and I expect readers will find The Last Colony to be a bit more ambitious still. But it has to be part of a continuum and internally consistent. I don’t have a problem with that; I like the universe and am happy to play by the rules I imposed on myself at the start.

Both books are also ambitious in these sense they aim to be accessible to people who don’t regularly read science fiction as well as those who do (as does The Android’s Dream, which is upcoming). The mechanics of such a task — keeping the book open enough so that people who don’t read SF can follow it, while not insulting the intelligence and expectations of those who do regularly read SF — aren’t exactly simple, even if the end result is a light, fast and fun read. I don’t want to overstate the case, mind you; I’m not doing brain surgery, here. On the other hand, just because it looks simple doesn’t mean it is. Finding the right balance to make both Cory Doctorow and my mother-in-law happy readers is a tricky thing.

I certainly have ambitions in terms of subject matter, and while it does seem unlikely I’ll write something like River of Gods (Ian McDonald and I don’t exactly have the same style or interests), it’s not out of the question that I’ll write something similarly ambitious. But I’m also ambitious in a less direct way. Baldly put, I think I have a personal writing style that’s easy to grab onto no matter who you are, and I can plot in a fun and exciting way. I see these as tools to invite people into the genre of science fiction. One reason I want to do this is entirely self-serving, which is that even though I write science fiction, I want as many readers as possible, and I don’t mind snagging them from outside the “SF/F community,” by the truckloads if I can manage that.

Another reason, however, is less self-serving, and that is I want to share my genre, especially the writers who are working in the genre with me. You can try to convince me there’s another era in SF/F that has had better writers per capita than the current era does, but you’ll have to be pretty damn convincing, because I don’t see it. This is a golden age of SF writing; I honestly believe it. I think my books can serve admirably as the jumping monkey that grabs the attention of the passers-by and leads them into the big tent of SF/F where Ian McDonald, Ken MaLeod, Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson, China Mieville (to name but a few current and recent SF Hugo nominees) and lots of others are inside, cracking open universes to the delight of the audience. I understand it’s not everybody’s ambition to be the jumping monkey carnival barker of SF/F, but someone should do it, and why not me? So far, I seem to be pretty good at it. And I’m having fun. So there’s that.

So, yes: Do expect more conventionally ambitious stuff out of me in the future. But also expect me to keep doing what I do, how I do it now. Both represent ambitious plans, just in different ways.

Two (Well, Four) Reviews; also, Ambitions

Into the clippings file:

* A less-than-thrilled review of Old Man’s War over at SFSite, which I find amusing, as SFSite also has an enthusiastic review of OMW from when the book originally came out, in which it was called a “clever, charming and joyously fun story.” Needless to say, should Tor decide to pull a quote from SFSite, we know from which review they’ll pull. As for the less-enthusastic review, there’s not much to say other than, eh, you can’t win them all.

* A nice review of The Ghost Brigades at Fractale Framboise; at least, I think it’s a nice review, since it’s in French and I have to pass it through Google Translate to read it. However, Google Translate says it says that TGB: “proves the initial success of Scalzi… is not an accident. Familiar without being repetitive, accessible without being condescending, The Ghost Brigades is an excellent example of commercial SF which can at the same time divert and make [one] reflect.” Works for me.

Non-francophones who don’t want to bother with the Frenchtastic stylings of Google Translate can read a review of the book in English by the same reviewer (Christian Sauve) here: “At a time where unputdownable is as overused as it’s ungrammatical, Scalzi is the real deal: someone who can deliver a fast, fun SF story that remains accessible and doesn’t take you for an idiot.” That works for me, too.

In the latter review, Sauve asks: “When will Scalzi try his hand at a more ambitious project? As coldbloodedly professional as he appears to be in his approach to his career, I doubt that he will suddenly drop everything else to produce an insanely ambitious 500-page work of art ready to challenge, say, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. But I wonder.”

(River of Gods, incidentally, which is finally out here in the US through the good graces of Pyr Books, and which I do in fact suggest people get, because it really is that good.)

But in response to Sauve’s question: The direct answer to his question is “soon,” although soon in publishing is not the same as “soon” in the real world, since the project I’m thinking of has yet to be written and won’t see the light of the bookstore until late 2007 at the earliest. I’m not discussing this particular project with anyone in any more specific terms than I am doing now (which is to say, aggravatingly vaguely), but suffice to say I doubt that anyone will be able to say it’s not ambitious at the outset. My job, of course, is to make it so that “ambitious” is not its only selling point; “ambitious” and “really, really readable” is the goal.

Tangentially, however, I wouldn’t say that OMG and TGB aren’t ambitious works; I think they both are. OMW is flatly ambitious in the sense it was written specifically to be salable to a publisher, even as a first time work from someone unknown in SF/F circles. In that sense, ambition accomplished. Now, part of the “price” for that, if you want to cast it that way, is that the books in the series have to dance with them what brung them — which is to say that it would be inappropriate for The Ghost Brigades to have been wildly different from Old Man’s War, either in themes or presentation. Now, I happen to think TGB is thematically a bit more ambitious than OMW, and I expect readers will find The Last Colony to be a bit more ambitious still. But it has to be part of a continuum and internally consistent. I don’t have a problem with that; I like the universe and am happy to play by the rules I imposed on myself at the start.

Both books are also ambitious in these sense they aim to be accessible to people who don’t regularly read science fiction as well as those who do (as does The Android’s Dream, which is upcoming). The mechanics of such a task — keeping the book open enough so that people who don’t read SF can follow it, while not insulting the intelligence and expectations of those who do regularly read SF — aren’t exactly simple, even if the end result is a light, fast and fun read. I don’t want to overstate the case, mind you; I’m not doing brain surgery, here. On the other hand, just because it looks simple doesn’t mean it is. Finding the right balance to make both Cory Doctorow and my mother-in-law happy readers is a tricky thing.

I certainly have ambitions in terms of subject matter, and while it does seem unlikely I’ll write something like River of Gods (Ian McDonald and I don’t exactly have the same style or interests), it’s not out of the question that I’ll write something similarly ambitious. But I’m also ambitious in a less direct way. Baldly put, I think I have a personal writing style that’s easy to grab onto no matter who you are, and I can plot in a fun and exciting way. I see these as tools to invite people into the genre of science fiction. One reason I want to do this is entirely self-serving, which is that even though I write science fiction, I want as many readers as possible, and I don’t mind snagging them from outside the “SF/F community,” by the truckloads if I can manage that.

Another reason, however, is less self-serving, and that is I want to share my genre, especially the writers who are working in the genre with me. You can try to convince me there’s another era in SF/F that has had better writers per capita than the current era does, but you’ll have to be pretty damn convincing, because I don’t see it. This is a golden age of SF writing; I honestly believe it. I think my books can serve admirably as the jumping monkey that grabs the attention of the passers-by and leads them into the big tent of SF/F where Ian McDonald, Ken MaLeod, Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson, China Mieville (to name but a few current and recent SF Hugo nominees) and lots of others are inside, cracking open universes to the delight of the audience. I understand it’s not everybody’s ambition to be the jumping monkey carnival barker of SF/F, but someone should do it, and why not me? So far, I seem to be pretty good at it. And I’m having fun. So there’s that.

So, yes: Do expect more conventionally ambitious stuff out of me in the future. But also expect me to keep doing what I do, how I do it now. Both represent ambitious plans, just in different ways.

And This Is What He Does

In addition to being Easter, it’s my friend Kevin Stampfl’s birthday. The resurrection of Christ and the birth of Kevin, all on the same day!

To celebrate: The Number of the Beast video from Iron Maiden, Kevin’s fave band from back in the day. Particularly ironic on Easter, I know.

Hoping you’re all having a great Kevin’s birthday. Or Easter, if that’s your thing.

A Book Appearance, Not My Own

A little friendpimping on a Saturday afternoon:

Tobias Buckell, author of the smokin’ hot novel Crystal Rain, is going to be making an appearance at Dayton’s Books & Co., the city’s premier place for author stop-ins, this Tuesday, April 18, between 7 and 9 pm.

I will not be able to attend, alas, as my wife has the temerity to have a birthday on the same day as the signing. But if you’re in the Dayton area, you should go: Toby’s always up for conversations on writing and SF and he’s an interesting fellow in general, so I’m sure he’ll make it worth your while to stop in and say hello. Here’s where Books & Co. is located, just in case you need directions.

As is my custom with pimping entries, I also now declare this entry to have a Self-Pimping comment thread: If you’ve got something you want people to know about, writing or otherwise, or if you want to promote something cool you’ve read, listened to or experienced, let it fly in the comments. Pimp, you crazy kids! Pimp!

Richard Powers and SF Artwork

rpowers.jpg

After commenting a bit about John Picacio’s artwork a few days ago, and also admitting my relative ignorance of the history of science fiction cover art, Picacio suggested via e-mail that I might want to take a look at the work of Richard Powers, who did hundreds of SF covers, primarily in the 50s and 60s. I went on eBay and found The Art of Richard Powers in relatively short order, so I bought it and it arrived also in reasonably short order (if you’re not willing to buy a book, there’s a collection of his covers online here).

Seeing Powers work, of course, made me realize that I did know him, or at least his work, although I have to say that by the time I started reading SF in volume, in the early 80s, his time had pretty much gone, and it seems like the work that he was producing at the time (like this cover of Heinlein’s Friday) bowed to certain possibly self-loathing aesthetic imperatives of the time, which I suspect amounted to “make this look as craptacular as possible. And add boobs.”

Again, I could be wrong about this, but I seem to remember the 1980s being a particularly bad time for science fiction cover art, a time in which airbrushed mammaries had their ascendency, an esthetic from which we are only now beginning to get away from. This was a difficult time to try to convince non-SF readers to read SF because the cover art was so lame; I remember buying a copy of Stranger in a Strange Landthe one with the Carl Lundgren cover — for a friend of mine as a Christmas present and begging her to ignore the cover (I did the same when I gave someone the Lundgren-covered Time Enough for Love as well (The current cover for Stranger is slightly better).

The issue for me with both books was not the nudity (that would have been ironic, considering what goes on in the books), but just the whole tacky presentation, and the fact that the covers to me missed most of what the books were about. The best cover for Stranger is still probably the original, which rather intelligently highlighted the Rodin sculpture which Heinlein used as a metaphor for his main character (the original cover for TEFL, with women sprouting out of Lazarus Long’s Speedoed body, is not so great).

The main body of Powers’ SF work has almost nothing to do with the 80s airbrushed boobmania, which is to be considered a good thing. Powers trafficked in surrealism — impossibly-designed structures and creatures that were evocative of the contents in the books without being an explicit analog to a particular event in the book. The covers are definitely dated — you couldn’t look at a Powers cover and not have it evoke a certain era of SF illustration which is now gone — but it’s worth noting that it was a good era in SF illustration.

Perhaps based on my early experiences trying to offer SF to non-readers in the 1980s, I definitely do look at SF book covers from the point of view of “are normal people going to be embarassed to be seen reading this book?” Again, no offense to Carl Lundgren (whose other work, particularly his rock posters, is pretty cool), but his covers — and most SF covers of the 80s — seem designed only to appeal to one crowd, which would be teenaged boys who wouldn’t know what to do with a breast even if they got to hold one. I mean, I was one of those teenage boys in the 1980s, so in one sense, fair enough. They got me. But I do think as a consequence there were a lot of missed opportunities to draw in other readers, and I think it’s probably also fair to say SF is still suffering from what this sort of artwork said about the genre and how it saw itself (among, to be fair, a number of other issues).

Powers’ work, on the other hand, seems more open to different readers, as does more of the work of the current generation of cover artists, Picacio included. To speak to Picacio’s work specifically, many of the people on his covers are no less nude than the girls on the covers of 80s science fiction, but it’s a more artful sort of nude, attempting to evoke more than just the “look! nipples!” response (it’s also a more egalitarian sort of nude, as men seem to be nude as often as women, which I think matters).

Picacio’s work, and the work of many of the current generation of SF illustrators, can’t be seen as a direct line descendant of Powers’ work, at least not as a matter of technique. But what I think you can see — and which I applaud — is more of an attempt to evoke the spirit of the work the cover represents, rather than lay out a pedestrian illustration of some climactic scene or imagine the main female character in some filmy stage of undress.

To be clear, cover art has to fulfill a commercial end; it has to sell the book. But you can sell a book a lot of different ways. One way is with boobies; another way is with brains. Powers’ work was the latter, I think, and I’m glad to see that particular idea making inroads in the current generation of SF cover illustrators.

Richard Powers and SF Artwork

rpowers.jpg

After commenting a bit about John Picacio’s artwork a few days ago, and also admitting my relative ignorance of the history of science fiction cover art, Picacio suggested via e-mail that I might want to take a look at the work of Richard Powers, who did hundreds of SF covers, primarily in the 50s and 60s. I went on eBay and found The Art of Richard Powers in relatively short order, so I bought it and it arrived also in reasonably short order (if you’re not willing to buy a book, there’s a collection of his covers online here).

Seeing Powers work, of course, made me realize that I did know him, or at least his work, although I have to say that by the time I started reading SF in volume, in the early 80s, his time had pretty much gone, and it seems like the work that he was producing at the time (like this cover of Heinlein’s Friday) bowed to certain possibly self-loathing aesthetic imperatives of the time, which I suspect amounted to “make this look as craptacular as possible. And add boobs.”

Again, I could be wrong about this, but I seem to remember the 1980s being a particularly bad time for science fiction cover art, a time in which airbrushed mammaries had their ascendency, an esthetic from which we are only now beginning to get away from. This was a difficult time to try to convince non-SF readers to read SF because the cover art was so lame; I remember buying a copy of Stranger in a Strange Landthe one with the Carl Lundgren cover — for a friend of mine as a Christmas present and begging her to ignore the cover (I did the same when I gave someone the Lundgren-covered Time Enough for Love as well (The current cover for Stranger is slightly better).

The issue for me with both books was not the nudity (that would have been ironic, considering what goes on in the books), but just the whole tacky presentation, and the fact that the covers to me missed most of what the books were about. The best cover for Stranger is still probably the original, which rather intelligently highlighted the Rodin sculpture which Heinlein used as a metaphor for his main character (the original cover for TEFL, with women sprouting out of Lazarus Long’s Speedoed body, is not so great).

The main body of Powers’ SF work has almost nothing to do with the 80s airbrushed boobmania, which is to be considered a good thing. Powers trafficked in surrealism — impossibly-designed structures and creatures that were evocative of the contents in the books without being an explicit analog to a particular event in the book. The covers are definitely dated — you couldn’t look at a Powers cover and not have it evoke a certain era of SF illustration which is now gone — but it’s worth noting that it was a good era in SF illustration.

Perhaps based on my early experiences trying to offer SF to non-readers in the 1980s, I definitely do look at SF book covers from the point of view of “are normal people going to be embarassed to be seen reading this book?” Again, no offense to Carl Lundgren (whose other work, particularly his rock posters, is pretty cool), but his covers — and most SF covers of the 80s — seem designed only to appeal to one crowd, which would be teenaged boys who wouldn’t know what to do with a breast even if they got to hold one. I mean, I was one of those teenage boys in the 1980s, so in one sense, fair enough. They got me. But I do think as a consequence there were a lot of missed opportunities to draw in other readers, and I think it’s probably also fair to say SF is still suffering from what this sort of artwork said about the genre and how it saw itself (among, to be fair, a number of other issues).

Powers’ work, on the other hand, seems more open to different readers, as does more of the work of the current generation of cover artists, Picacio included. To speak to Picacio’s work specifically, many of the people on his covers are no less nude than the girls on the covers of 80s science fiction, but it’s a more artful sort of nude, attempting to evoke more than just the “look! nipples!” response (it’s also a more egalitarian sort of nude, as men seem to be nude as often as women, which I think matters).

Picacio’s work, and the work of many of the current generation of SF illustrators, can’t be seen as a direct line descendant of Powers’ work, at least not as a matter of technique. But what I think you can see — and which I applaud — is more of an attempt to evoke the spirit of the work the cover represents, rather than lay out a pedestrian illustration of some climactic scene or imagine the main female character in some filmy stage of undress.

To be clear, cover art has to fulfill a commercial end; it has to sell the book. But you can sell a book a lot of different ways. One way is with boobies; another way is with brains. Powers’ work was the latter, I think, and I’m glad to see that particular idea making inroads in the current generation of SF cover illustrators.

Cut Off, Continued

Another library post. Someone shoot me.

Yes, I’m still without Internet at home. God. It’s like living in 1986 or something. How horrible is that?

I’ll update again when I get reattached to the world, or tomorrow when I come to the library, whichever comes first.

Gaaaaaaah.

Here, have another open thread.

Cut Off

Someone at Sprint apparently thought it would be an excellent idea to cut the phone cable to my entire neighborhood; as a result, my phone and DSL service is down (I’m writing this from Bradford’s library, in case you’re wondering). The phone/DSL are likely to be down until sometime tomorrow, so don’t expect to see much of me (or if you’ve sent me e-mail, expect a response) until sometime tomorrow at the earliest.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Chat amongst yourselves. See you tomorrow. Hopefully.

Cut Off

Someone at Sprint apparently thought it would be an excellent idea to cut the phone cable to my entire neighborhood; as a result, my phone and DSL service is down (I’m writing this from Bradford’s library, in case you’re wondering). The phone/DSL are likely to be down until sometime tomorrow, so don’t expect to see much of me (or if you’ve sent me e-mail, expect a response) until sometime tomorrow at the earliest.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Chat amongst yourselves. See you tomorrow. Hopefully.

OMW in Japan

Nice news to wake up to: We have an offer for Old Man’s War in Japanese, and we’re going to take it (I said yes, anyway, which is how these things get done). Naturally, I’m curious how to write “Old Man’s War” in Japanese; the closest I can get to via Google Translate is “老人の戦争,” which translates somewhat inexactly to “War of Old Person.” I assume someone with better Japanese skills (which, honestly would be about anyone) could do a better job.

This additionally makes me happy because I’m going to go to the Worldcon in Yokohama in 2007 and was thinking it would be nice to have a book in country before then. So now that’s a possibility (the publisher actually has 24 months to produce a version, so it’s possible we’ll miss it, too. But at least now there’s a chance).

Anyway, if anyone knows how to say “w00t!” in Japanese, let me know.