Monthly Archives: February 2007

On Electronic Editions of My Books

This is another one of those “I’m putting this online so I can refer people to it later,” entries, since I’m getting two or three queries about this subject a week.

1. No, I don’t know when my novels will be available in electronic format. That’s all up to Tor, to whom I’ve licensed the electronic rights. I know they have plans to release the works electronically, although I can’t share what those plans are at the moment, nor can I guess when those plans will go into effect.

2. Yes, I’ve communicated to Tor that I’d be happy to have my books in electronic format. The issue here is not author reluctance or even reluctance on the part of Tor; the issue is that Tor is part of a large corporation, and large corporations take their time making decisions.

3. Inasmuch as I’ve had one book available online since 1999, and have electronic versions of other books available to overseas military and to Hugo voters, I really don’t need people to enumerate all the ways that electronic versions of my book would be a good thing. Yes, I know. I get it, really I do.

4. Yes, I am aware that pirated versions of my books are floating around on the Internet; in one sense it’s flattering (yay! I’m popular enough to be pirated!), but on the other hand I can’t guarantee that what you’re reading is what I wrote; honestly, who knows what those crazy pirates are up to these days. If you find yourself in the presence of a pirated electronic copy of one of my books and are having a crisis of morality about it, relax. Read it if you want; if it works for you, consider picking up a physical copy later. Simple. If you’re one of those hardcore “I want to pay you but I won’t buy anything but e-books” sort of people and you come across a pirated copy, go ahead and read it, and if you like it, consider picking up a physical copy and giving it to one of your friends who still does all his or her reading old school. Again, simple enough.

5. When official e-book editions become available, clearly, I will trumpet their existence hither and yon, and there will be much rejoicing. Until then assume that if you haven’t heard from me about it, they don’t officially exist yet.

There, that should do it.

Reviews and Interviews, 2/20/07

A small clutch of Scalzi-related scribblings coming at you:

* Rick Kleffel has nice things to say about “The Sagan Diary” over at The Agony Column, calling it “a must-have book for just about any serious reader of science fiction and certainly for any serious collector of science fiction.” He also heaps love on Bob Eggleton for the cover and inside art, which I think is entirely appropriate. The review is dated 2/21/07, so it actually comes to us from the future. And you know how exciting that is.

* Professor Bainbridge devours his advance reader’s copy of The Last Colony, and is happy with the meal, and also picks up on something I’m 100% in agreement with:

Despite its SF trappings, for example, TLC reminds me more of Allen Drury’s novels of political suspense, with a little Robert Ludlum-style wheels within wheels conspiracy theory story thrown in too, than it does most SF. Indeed, to continue the analogy to political thrillers, there’s even a subplot that’s a variant on the good old sleeping killer story. All of which means that, if Tor can manage the marketing trick, the OMW to TLC trilogy ought to reach readers who ordinarily would never be caught dead in the sci fi section of their bookstore.

It’s the New Comprehensible! In full effect! Seriously, however, I’m delighted Professor Bainbridge liked this series all the way through.

* And for those of you who don’t get enough of me here, Abebooks is running an interview with me, and for good measure they’re running a contest in which they’re giving away a signed, limited edition of “The Sagan Diary.” I don’t mind if you click through for the loot rather than my musings. But you have to enter by 9:59 on March 1. So get to it.

Under My Roof

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Nick Mamatas, whose birthday it is today, was kind enough to slip me a copy of his latest, Under My Roof, when we saw each other at Boskone. I’m reading it now and I have to say so far it’s cracking me the hell up. Yes, I know, there have been a lot of entries in the “suburban household arms itself with a nuclear-capable garden gnome and declares independence” genre of storytelling recently. But this one really does stand out, funny and smart and funny again. And it’s a short, quick read, which for me these days is a good thing. Anyway: Lots of fun. Check it out.

Remember also that Nick’s previous novel Move Under Ground is currently available as a Creative Commons download (as well as in traditional book form) and that his short story “Who Put the Bomp?” is available right here at Whatever, and that I want you to nominate it for a Hugo because it’s a good story and so I can see the Whatever listed as the publication in which it appeared.

Happy Birthday, Nick!

The New Comprehensible, or, This is Not a Literary Manifesto, Thank God

SFBC Editor Andrew Wheeler, in his post on Boskone, noted a Sunday afternoon panel he was on about hot writers and trends, and brought up my name:

I forget all that we talked about — though I’m sure it was utterly brilliant and provided a model for all future fantastic literature — though I did get to unload another one of my attempts to invent some skiffy terminology. (I aspire to be the Boy Clute.) I said that John Scalzi — who had already left the con and wasn’t around to protest his name being used in vain — should continue on his entry-level SF kick and produce a real manifesto, throwing people out of the movement and creating a posse of “in” writers. In fact, I already have a name for his movement, should he want it: the New Comprehensible.

For accuracy’s sake, I would note that I was actually still at Boskone when he was talking about me (I was having my tag-team literary beer with Toby Buckell). Also, I’m generally of the opinion that people who issue manifestos about writing should be sentenced to having their pointy pretentious heads literally shoved up their own asses, so their physical state can match their intellectual one. Inasmuch as I am in no rush to goatse my noggin, I will refrain from issuing any manifestos today. Moreover I would hope, if I were ever to issue a literary manifesto in the future, that you would do the sensible thing, which would be to point and laugh at the silly pompous man I had become. I thank you in advance for your willingness to do so.

Having said that, I am delighted to have been anointed by the estimable Mr. Wheeler as the leader of my very own literary movement, The New Comprehensible. I feel shiny. I may make T-shirts. Moreover, I think the New Comprehensible is a fine literary movement to have, particularly for science fiction — I’m all for bringing new readers into the genre whenever possible, and a good way to do it is to write SF that’s inviting to the uninitiated.

Now, let’s say that at this point, some writer out there is saying “Hey, I want to be part of this New Comprehensible movement in science fiction that I’ve heard so much about in the last four paragraphs,” and wanted advice on how he or she might go about doing it. What advice should this person be given? Well, manifestos are not my thing, but basic, practical advice? I can do that. Here’s what I would suggest, and it’s really rather simple:

1. Think of an actual person you know, of reasonable intelligence, who likes to read but does not read science fiction.

2. Write with that person in mind.

That’s all you do.

My person is my mother-in-law, as I’ve mentioned here before. She’s your pretty much the average American in all respects and downs Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood books like they’re going out of style. I write my novels so that when she sits down to read them she’s able to follow what’s going on and doesn’t feel like she’s missing scads of context. My mother-in-law is not my primary audience; I’m not writing for her. But by keeping her in mind when I write, I don’t exclude her, and by extension I don’t exclude lots of other readers like her.

I don’t necessarily suggest you write with my mother-in-law in mind; you don’t know her, after all. But you probably do know someone like her: Pretty normal, likes to read, doesn’t read science fiction. Your dad or mom or brother-in-law or friend from college or office mate or whomever. When you’re writing, ask yourself “Will dad/mom/brother-in-law/friend/workmate/whomever follow this?” And if the answer is no, try, try again.

(This is why, incidentally, I specify that you need to have a real person in mind; if you try to imagine some Platonic version of the Reasonably Intelligent Non-Science Fiction Reader, you’ll inevitably start crediting him or her with more geek savvy than a real reasonably intelligent non-SF reader would have, because writers are lazy and delusional and in love with their own writing and don’t really want to change things for other people, particularly when they don’t actually exist. Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know it’s true.)

One caveat for writers who think this New Comprehensible thing is an invitation to be hacktastically lazy: I think it’s harder to write good science fiction with non-SF readers in mind than it is to write purely to an audience steeped in the genre. As just one example, you can’t necessarily use all the shortcuts that have been trod into the ground by generations of SF writers, because your non-SF readers won’t get all of them — and at the same time you have to make sure your genre-steeped readers aren’t rolling their eyes as you set the scene for the newbies. You have to make them both happy, and doing that is like serving a meal to a group that includes hardcore vegans and committed carnivores. Yeah, it’s tricky; no one ever said being part of the New Comprehensible was going to be easy, and not just because at this point only two people have ever used the term at all.

Now, if this were a manifesto, somewhere along the way I’d have intimated that all science fiction henceforth should be part of the New Comprehensible, and all those who choose not to follow its strictures are poopy poopyheads who must be crushed when the revolution comes, or whatever. But remember: people who issue literary manifestos should be thrown into jet engines, and also, why on Earth would any sane fan of science fiction want all SF to be of just one sort or the other? I think there should be science fiction my mother-in-law can follow; I think it’s fine that there’s science fiction that my mother-in-law would go “WTF?” to. Variety is fun; let’s have more, not less.

(To be clear, my mother-in-law would not actually say “WTF?” Although it would be kind of funny if she did.)

I’d also note that the steps to writing the New Comprehensible science fiction work equally well for any sort of genre; with replace the words “science fiction” with the name of whatever genre you like. Want to write New Comprehensible romance? Think of a reasonably intelligent non-romance reader you know and write with him in mind. New Comprehensible horror? Reasonably intelligent non-horror reader you know. New Comprehensible lit fic? Reasonably intelligent non-lit fic reader, blah blah blah. You get it by now, right? Okay, then. The New Comprehensible is both multi-disciplinary and interstitial, contingent on creator impetus; or to put it in less pompous terms, any sort of writing can be made accessible to most folks if the writer wants to make it happen.

So, there you go: The New Comprehensible, perhaps the world’s first 100% manifesto-free literary movement. It’s simple but not easy. Try it out. See if it works for you. Let me know how it goes.

Hitting the Target

The Gender Genie is a Web site which purports to be able to guess from a text (preferably of more than 500 words) whether the writer of the text is male or female (some algorithm is involved). Well, I was curious how “The Sagan Diary,” which is “written” by a woman, reads to this algorithm, so I fed in the text. The response:

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

Just to be sure to it doesn’t think I’m natively girly, however, I also fed it the first chapter of The Android’s Dream, in which, as you know, someone farts someone else to death. The result: The algorithm believes the author of that passage is male.

I’m authorially hermaphroditic! Cool.

Boskone 2007 Recap

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The object that Athena is regarding with such protean terror is not Donald Trump’s hairpiece but a tribble, which I bought at Boskone, the guest of honor this year at which was David Gerrold, who wrote the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” from which these little fuzzy things were born. David Gerrold, incidentally, must have been 13 when he wrote the episode, since he does not look nearly old enough to have written something 40 years ago (he was apparently actually a college student when he wrote the episode).

Speaking of Boskone, herein follows my comments on the convention.

* First off, I had a lot of fun, as I did last year, and Boskone is on my A-list of conventions to attend (and indeed Boston seems like a hot bed of SF convention goodness, as I really liked Readercon as well, although I won’t be able to attend it this year because I’ll be at the Heinlein Centennial). What really impresses me about Boskone is that NESFA, which organizes and holds the convention, seems incredibly well-organized and competent when it comes to con-running. It makes a real difference in the overall quality of one’s con experience. For those folks who might ever want to run a science fiction convention, first, you’re probably crazy, and second, I suspect you could do a lot worse than to pick the brains of the NESFAns on how they do it.

* The convention was at what I understand was a new hotel, the Westin Waterfront, which is in South Boston. The hotel itself is brand-spankin’ new and very modern and clad in muted wintery earth tones. I thought it was a very nice hotel with a pretty good layout for all the conventioneering that went on. I’m not entirely sure about the location, however, since there appears to be a whole lot of not much around it, and I suspect most people ended up confining themselves to the hotel whether they wanted to or not. The hotel had a Starbucks and a more-expensive-than-it-needed-to-be restaurant, and the con suite was amply packed with snackables, so there was no worries about actually starving. But it would have been nice to have more stuff within walking distance. The hotel Boskone was at in 2006 had its plus and minuses but one of the pluses was it was attached to a mall and it was downtown, so there were ample places to eat that were not at hotel-hostage prices.

* I had seven programming events (including an autographing and a literary beer) and I wanted to spend a little time catching up with friends, so I didn’t actually manage to get to panels I wasn’t on, which was a little sad for me. The panels I was on however, were more than sufficiently interesting, particularly one on consciousness and AI that featured world famous AI researcher Marvin Minsky. I was the moderator on that one, and as we got started, I said “Welcome to the panel on consciousness and artificial intelligence, or as I like to call it, ‘We’re all going to shut up now and listen to Marvin Minsky.’” Minsky indeed was brilliant and fascinating, although to be fair the other members of the panel (Karl Schroeder, Matt Jarpe and Jeffrey Carver) were rather more than spectators on the panel.

I do have one piece of advice for con programmers, which that I think it’s well past time to kill either kill or drastically rethink panels on blogging. Blogs are no longer anything close to a novelty and SF con audiences in particular, I think, have heard most usable permutations of the “what does blogging mean for SF” question by now. We got through this year’s “Blogging and SF” panel by more or less attacking the premise of the panel, kicking it in the face a few times, and then tossing it out the window and celebrating when it went splat on the pavement (with panelists like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Kathryn Cramer and Jim MacDonald, you can pull this off). But, seriously, con programmers: Unless you can come up with something new to do with blogging panels, consider not putting them on the programs here on out.

I will say I was very pleasantly surprised to see so many people at my literary beer; my kaffeeklatch last year had two people at it. Two quality people, to be sure (Hi Lanna and CKD!), but just two nonetheless. This year we had, uh, more than two. I personally credit Toby Buckell, my co-Literary Beer person. I’m not entirely sure we were supposed to combine forces for one co-hosted literary beer, but we did anyway and I think it worked well for everyone involved. Thank you to everyone who came to see us blather on the Sunday afternoon of a con (i.e., when most sane people have already left) — you guys rock. I hope you had a good time, because I know Toby and I did.

* One of the nice things about Boskone is that lots of folks I really like show up to it, so I got to geek out and spend some time with lots of friends and colleagues like Allen Steele, the Nielsen Haydens, Elizabeth Bear, Lou Anders, Chad Orzel and Kate Nepveu, Shara Zoll, Karl Schroeder, the aforementioned Toby Buckell, Nick Mamatas, Meg McCarron, James Cambias, and lots of other people whose names I am blanking on at the moment because clearly I am both evil and lame. Sorry, folks, you know I love you. A special treat for me was meeting Joe Hill and his wife Leanora for the first time; we’ve been friendly online for some time now, so it was very cool to catch up with him in the flesh and spend some time chatting face-to-face. Not only is Joe a fabulous writer, he’s also one cool dude, and his wife is even cooler.

So, in all: another excellent Boskone. I recommend going.

TSD Review on SFReviews.net

SFReviews.net weighs in on “The Sagan Diary,” liking some parts more than others but ending up generally positive in the end:

Quibbles about style aside, The Sagan Diary reinforces the humanism of Scalzi’s earlier books, and leaves you with a simple message. This is your life. Live it.

Indeed. The review is here. Also, thanks to the last line of the review, I have this song running around in my brain. Ah, the early 90s.

“Coffee Shop” — 20 Copies Left

Yes, I’m checking in from the airport. I’m pathetic, I know.

Be that as it may, those of you who have been on the fence on picking up a copy of You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffeeshop: Scalzi on Writing should read the following note by Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer, which he left in the comment to a previous thread, but which I am now bumping up to the front page:

We’re finishing up shipping pre-ordered copies of YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE… and only have 20 copies left. If you want one, I suggest you head over to the SubPress site and snag one.

The reason Bill suggests you go to the Sub Press site rather than, say, Amazon, is that orders through the Sub Press site take priority at this point.

In other news: Hey, a book of mine is almost completely sold out even before it goes on sale. I feel shiny. Thank you.

Anyway, if you do want a copy of the book: Hurry.

Update, 5:40pm – They’re all gone now.

Off to Boskone

I’m heading to Boston, there to geek out for the next three days. I’ll most likely update between now and Sunday, but then again, I might not. I’m just contrary that way. In the meantime, you kids have fun. I didn’t lock the liquor cabinet this time. But that doesn’t mean I want to come back and find the place a mess, all right?

Okay, then.

Open thread. Today’s topic to get you started, via Justine Larbalestier: Unicorns or Zombies? Please explain your choice and defend it from all comers.

Two Reviews

A couple of quick review links: Steven Bainbridge has nice things to say about “The Sagan Diary” and the Davis Enterprise likes The Android’s Dream. I am pleased with the former review because it’s really the first one I’ve seen of “Sagan,” and Professor Bainbridge has been an avid reader of the previous work, so I’m happy to see “Sagan” works for him; the latter one I like for this quote: “It takes talent to write a novel in which the world may be saved by a sheep.” That’s back cover-worthy.

Snow Day, Again

School’s closed again today, and it’ll be closed tomorrow, too (for a scheduled teacher training day or something), and Monday as well for the President’s Day holiday. School’s been closed more often than not in the last two weeks. Between school closings and illness, Athena’s been to school probably about three days in February so far.

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Of course, ask Athena if this bothers her.

My Blurb Policy

I have recently been asked to enumerate my policy for blurbing books in advance of their publication. My policy is pretty simple:

1. Yes, I am happy to look at books with an eye toward blurbing them.

2. Those blurb requests should come from the book’s editor/publisher, not from the writer him/herself.

For those of you not in the know, a “blurb” is the quote you’ll see on a book cover, recommending the book to you. The blurb is often by another author of similar work. For example, Old Man’s War has blurbs from Cory Doctorow, Ken MacLeod and Robert Charles Wilson. Their presence on the cover tells fans of those authors they might like this book, too. And it works, or at least it works on me, as I can remember more than one time where I’ve taken a chance on a book because I liked one of the authors who blurbed the book. I’m at the point now where I’m being asked to blurb books, which tickles me immensely, because it implies there are people who might base some of their buying equation on what I have to say. Whether that’s true or not, of course, is another story entirely, but I hope it is true, for the sake of the people who I might blurb.

The reason I want requests for book blurbs to come from editors and publishers is simple: The majority of the books I’m asked to blurb I don’t. The reason I don’t is usually because I don’t love the book enough to have my name attached to it (sometimes it’s because I haven’t had time to read the book before a blurbing deadline, but that’s the rarer explanation). Now: telling an editor or a publisher that a book didn’t work well enough for you to blurb it? Not a problem: Editors and publishers know you don’t get everyone you want to blurb a book to sign on. Telling an author you don’t like a book well enough to blurb it? Well, as long as you’re doing that, why not shoot their dog, too? I don’t want to be in a position where I have to tell someone, no, I won’t lend my name to your book, because it kind of makes me feel like a dick to have to say that. That’s why I prefer to have the process go through editors.

Now, maybe some folks see this as cowardice, and I think you can make an argument there. However, I think it would be more cowardly to give a positive blurb to a book I didn’t actually like just because I didn’t want to upset the author, and the fact is I am willing to be a dick if I need to be. After all, it is my name and my credibility, and I don’t want either to be watered down simply to be nice to someone. This is a particularly uncomfortable thing if the book is from someone you know and like — and whose other writing you might possibly also enjoy — and you have to tell your friend that, well, actually, you don’t want your name in little print on their back cover. That better be a strong friendship.

This is why I personally don’t ask anyone for blurbs, particularly writers with whom I am friendly — I pretty much leave it all up to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor, to handle these things. The first I heard about Cory or Ken or Bob blurbing OMW was when PNH sent me a mock-up cover. It’s possible — nay, almost certain – that PNH sent the book to other people to blurb as well, and they said “uh, really, no.” I don’t know who these refuseniks are, and since it wouldn’t particularly do me any good to know, Patrick hasn’t gone out of his way to tell me who they might have been. I endorse this policy of blurb opacity completely, since I can’t be neurotic about what I don’t know (well, I suppose I could be, but then in addition to being neurotic I’d also be stupid).

Naturally I endorse the “let your editor handle all the blurb stuff” policy for every writer. If you really feel you must have a specific other author blurb your book, then you should mention it to your editor and then let them handle it and never pester them about it again. If the other author blurbs you, excellent. If not, you can decide that your editor, in his or her wisdom, decided that other writers were more desirable for marketing purposes, and who knows? It might even be true. It’s better for your sanity, anyway. Seriously, people, this is one of the few times “ignorance is bliss” actually has some relevance.

(And if you’re an editor, for God’s sake I hope you don’t tell your authors when some other writer has decided not to blurb them. “I asked your favorite writer to blurb your book, but he said reading it was like having a cat drag its claws across his eyeballs. So, yeah, we’re not going with that.” Send a nice length of rope with that message, why don’t you.)

If you’re an author and you actually feel strongly that you must ask me personally for a blurb, do so on the assumption that I’m probably going to decide not to blurb your book — because, as I said earlier, I’ve declined to blurb more books than I’ve agreed to blurb. If that’s going to bother you — and really, I don’t see why it wouldn’t — you should rethink asking me directly. Foist the job on your editor. That’s one of the things editors are for. And this way you won’t hate me. And, you know. I prefer people not hate me whenever possible.

Update, 2/15/07, 9:15am: Justine Larbalestier has some further thoughts on blurbing.