Monthly Archives: October 2007

Nantes, Here I Come

Still have a bit of packing and other things to do before my flight, so, well, bye. If I get stuck in an airport I might log on and kvetch; otherwise I’ll catch up with the lot of you tomorrow, when I’ll be here. In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Try to keep the place spiffy until I get back, okay? Thanks.

Android’s Dream Paperback, Officially Out, Plus Other Books

Today’s the day: The Android’s Dream is now irrevocably out in the paperback form and ready for you to read it. Can you not see how it beckons to you fetchingly, promising tales of action, adventure, and sheep? You like sheep. You want to be with sheep, in a strictly friendly, non-carnal sort of way that does not impugn your natural desire for other humans. Just to be clear on the subject. Ask for it — nay, demand it — at your local bookstore, or at the various places you shop online. Don’t worry, your local bookstore owners like it when you demand they sell you a book. They told me so.

For those of you still riding on the fence as to whether you want to purchase this book and allow me to send my daughter to college one day, and also procure the Mustang V8 that will be the icon of my upcoming mid-life crisis (if I have a cool car I can’t possibly be on the downslope of mortality!), remember that the first chapter is up online for you to read and enjoy. It’s the one that is generally considered to have the best long-form fart joke in all of science fiction history, which admittedly is something of a specialty category, but you take what you can get.

As long as I’m self-pimping, let me also pimp some friends with books have just come out as well. To begin, my pal Josh Conviser’s second novel Empyre also hits stores today; it’s described by Publishers Weekly as “Robert Ludlum meets William Gibson,” which should make the heads of some people I know just explode (and I like it too, which is good). Also out today: Kristine Smith’s Endgame, the latest and long-awaited installment in Smith’s Jani Kilian series. Smith is a fellow Campbell winner, you know, so I have to represent for the team. She also provided me with a “Big Idea” piece, which I plan to drop into Ficlets either today (if I have time before I jet) or tomorrow. I’m also going to be doing an interview with Josh Conviser very soon, so prepare for that, too.

Speaking of representing for the Campbell set, yo, Campbell winner Elizabeth Bear and Campbell nominee Sarah Monette have collaborated on a new book, just out, called A Companion to Wolves, and the reviews are the sort writers would strangle kittens to get: Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review and say the two “subvert the telepathic animal companion subgenre so thoroughly that it may never be the same.” Well, good. Subversion is fun. Oh, and hey: Campbell winner Wen Spencer’s latest paperback, Wolf Who Rules, is also coming out today. Today apparently really is Campbell Day in the bookstores. So as long as we’re on the theme, let me give a shout out to Campbell nominees Chris Roberson and Brandon Sanderson’s latest books, Set the Seas on Fire and Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, respectively. You go buy all these now.

Just to Freak You All Out

A comment about sports:

Is it just me, or does it seem like this year’s World Series was over in, like, a game and a half? I looked up one day, and suddenly they’d played three games, and then this morning, bam, it was done. I mean, really, totally missed it.

I realize you folks in Boston are happy about this — World Series sweeps are fun and all — but it really wasn’t enough of a series for the rest of us to settle into. Try to stretch it out a bit the next time, okay? Maybe six games. Thanks.

Things You Didn’t Know About John Perry

Persuant to the previous entry, I’ve decided now, in my authorian splendor, to inform you of things you didn’t know about John Perry, the protagonist of Old Man’s War and The Last Colony. These are not in the text! But they’re true. Oh, yes.

1. He’s distantly related to Ike Eisenhower.

2. He once nearly lost a toe climbing over a fence.

3. He never shot a man in Reno just watch him die, but he did once spill a drink on someone in Atlanta just to get him to stop bothering someone else.

4. His favorite Gilbert & Sullivan show? The Mikado.

5. He has a mole on his neck. Well, had; it didn’t carry over either to his CDF body or his new human body.

6. Over the course of his life on earth, owned six dogs, eight cats and a garter snake, which escaped into his lawn a week after he got him.

7. Can make his eyes jiggle back and forth in a truly disturbing fashion.

8. Always voted in presidential elections except for once when he was laid up by flu. The candidate he was going to vote for got creamed anyway, so he didn’t feel too bad about it.

9. Prefers Shakespeares’ comedies to his tragedies, but has a soft spot for Titus Andronicus, because it’s just so damn ridiculous.

10. Allergic to blueberries.

But wait! You say. You said in the acknowledgments to The Last Colony that John Perry and Jane Sagan will no longer be main characters in your books, and you’re clearly tacking these things on after the fact! This is authorial heresy! These are definitely non-canon.

True enough. You got me. I am in fact just pulling these out of my ass at the moment. However, for Zoe’s Tale, both John and Jane make appearances as supporting characters, so it’s possible to learn a little more about them. And now that I think about it, maybe I will take one of the above factiods and just kind of drop it in to the story. For fun. And then it will be canon! Bwa ha ha ha hah ha!

The question is: Which one? I’m open to suggestion.

What Authors Know About Their Characters

In a New York Times piece on Dumbledore’s homosexuality, critic Edward Rothstein suggests that J.K. Rowling, Dumbledore’s creator, might not know what she’s talking about:

But it is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character. She may have invented Hogwarts and all the wizards within it, she may have created the most influential fantasy books since J. R. R. Tolkien, and she may have woven her spell over thousands of pages and seven novels, but there seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.

Sure there is: Because he is. Because the author made him that way. Whether or not anyone but the author knew about it up to last week simply doesn’t matter. The author, in her formulation of the character, has this as part of his background, and that background informs how the character was written. Rothstein is under the impression that because Dumbledore’s sexuality is not explicitly in the text it’s irrelevant or not necessary. But it’s not true; if Rowling had as part of Dumbledore’s background that he was straight, or entirely asexual, his character would be different and his actions and responses and backstory would be different. He would be different. He wouldn’t be the Dumbledore he is today (or was, because he’s dead, but even so).

Rothstein seems to be falling into the trap of assuming that everything that goes into a character shows up on the page. This is entirely wrong. What shows up on the page is the public life of the character, so to speak: The things about a character that a writer chooses to let you know about them. The private life of a character exists off the page, and takes place between the writer and the character. You don’t see that unless the author discusses it later, in interviews or commentary or whatever. Authors have privilege concerning our characters; we know more about them than the readers. Or as Neil Gaiman recently put it:

You always wind up knowing more about your characters than you can get onto the page. Pages are finite, and the story isn’t about giving you all the information about everyone in it any more than life is. Things the author knows about characters (or at least, strongly suspects — it’s never really real until it hits the page, because the process of writing is also a process of discovery) that don’t make it onto the page could include the characters’ backstory, what they like to eat, the toothpaste they use, what happens to them after the story is over or before it began, and what they do in bed. That something didn’t turn up in the books just means it didn’t make it onto the page or wasn’t relevant to the story.

Does the reader need to know Dumbledore is gay? Probably not. Does the reader have to care that he’s gay? That’s up to the reader. Do these facts mean that Dumbledore’s sexuality is unimportant to who the character is? Absolutely not. The moment Rowling said (or discovered, however you want to put it) that Dumbledore was gay, it made a difference in how she perceived him and how she wrote him. The only way Rowling’s statement of Dumbledore’s sexuality would be irrelevant or should be ignored by the reader (should they hear of the fact at all) is if there were proof that Rowling was tacking on the sexuality of Dumbledore after the fact of the writing, i.e., that Rowling had no conception of Dumbledore’s sexuality through all the books, and then is throwing the “dude, he’s gay” statement out there now just for kicks. Given how much people have been saying “well, now such-and-such scene makes perfect sense,” regarding the books, this doesn’t seem like it’s the case. She’s got backup in the work.

Which is not to say such after-the-fact author revisionism doesn’t happen. The reason that Ray Bradbury’s recent declaration that Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t about censorship but was instead about television destroying literature is looked upon with such utter skepticism is because for the last 50 years it has been about censorship (Bradbury himself has explicitly noted this); while Bradbury takes a poke at TV in the book, the core of the story — what’s in the text — is the effect of censorship on his primary character, who is himself a censor. Bradbury’s free to say what he wants, but his own words and his own text speak against him, and on balance I’m going with the text, because it doesn’t change its mind.

Now, if Rowling had lardered the Harry Potter books with tales of Dumbledore’s heterosexual relationships, and had done numerous interviews about how in his younger years he cut a swath through witches and mugglettes alike, leaving a trail of women raving about his wandwork, then we would have reason to discard a latter-day revelation of his gayness; it would be patent nonsense. She did neither. Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore might be surprising, but it’s not inconsistent with what we know of the text or the character.

Rowling is getting some whacks because she never explicitly stated Dumbledore’s sexuality within the books themselves, which is fair enough, although I think it’s a little silly. Authors are not obliged to outline every detail about a character, and from what I know of Dumbledore (I haven’t read the books themselves because the little I’ve read of Rowling’s prose style doesn’t set me aflame; I stick to the movies) it would be entirely in character for him to be circumspect about the topic of his sexuality, both in dealing with Harry and his pals, and in the clearly rather conservative world of magic. Rowling’s made it pretty obvious that in her Potterverse it’s hard to be “out” when you have an alternate lifestyle (cf. that Lupis dude), and there’s no indication that the world of magic is any more gay-friendly than it is werewolf-friendly. She built a world that has certain rules; characters in that world live by those rules. Those rules aren’t necessarily the same rules as our world lives by.

Going back to Rothstein, the best you can say for his argument is that it notes that Dumbledore doesn’t have to be gay for many of the influential events of his life to have had an effect on him. To which the correct response is to say, yes, well. And this would be different from the lives of actual gay people exactly how? We go through any number of events in our lives without our sexuality front and center — it would make sense an author would model a character similarly. But it doesn’t mean that at the end of the day that sexuality doesn’t matter to who the character is.

Dumbledore’s gay: He was written that way. As a reader, you may not need to know it, or may even feel it’s essential to what you see as his purpose, any more than in the real life you’d need to know if your mailman were gay, or your bank teller or your local librarian, or would see their sexuality as essential to how you relate to them even if you did. But what you know, and what these people know about themselves – and what an author knows about his or her characters, not to mention what the characters know about themselves — are separate things. And what they know matters to who they are.

So, no. Rowling’s not mistaken about Dumbledore. Rothstein, however, is.

It Just Means I Have Them Fooled

Via Elizabeth Bear, I took this online test to see just how filled with Aspergian tics I might be:

Apparently, not very.

To which a little voice in my head said, You’re neurotypical? They’ll kick you out of science fiction for that! Well, what can I do. I am who I am. I hope the slans will still accept me into the tribe.

If this little self-administered test does indeed have any relation at all to actual Apergian and/or neurotypical states of mind, I have to say I’m not entirely surprised; generally speaking I am pretty well socialized. I also suspect that if I took this or a similar test when I was, say, 14, my responses and behaviors would offer up a somewhat different result. I don’t know that would ever have been clinically described as Aspergian, but I wasn’t precisely normal either, as anyone who knew me at 14 would tell you. Certainly my socialization skills were a bit of out of whack, partly because I was a 14-year-old boy, and you know how they are, and partly because of other more personal factors. I suspect I finally got the hang of socialization thing in my mid-20s, which was lucky break for me, since that’s when I met my wife.

I have some mild curiosity about whether my allegedly neurotypical mindset is a matter of my brain growing into itself, or of me being smart enough to pick up clues and incorporate them, or some combination of the two. When it comes down to it I don’t know enough about Asperger’s or autism to do anything more than speak out of my ass about it, so I’m at a distinct disadvantage there. I’ll have to ask my friend Natasha, who is a psychologist, and who has known me since we were 14. I imagine she’d have a lot to say on the subject, much of it told while giggling as she recounts my 14-year-old self.

On second thought, maybe some things are better left unknown.

Update: Krissy was curious how she would fare, so she took the test too:

Clearly, we’re made for each other.

Whoops

Nathan, I think I just deleted one of your comments as spam, which means you’re probably now in the spam filter. Please try to post another comment so I can untrain the spam filter.

In other news, I seem to be leaving a lot of personal messages via blog entries recently. I shudder to think what that means in the larger scheme of my social life.

Oh, Hey: Archives, 3/18/02 – 5/25/07

Proving that this site has gotten so big that even I don’t know what all is in it anymore: Here’s an archive page for Whatever featuring every entry written here between March 18, 2002 (“Football With Jesus” — a classic, by the way) and May 25, 2007 (featuring The Flush Monster). I found it randomly. I don’t ever recall seeing this page before. I have no idea how it was made. But it’s kind of nice it’s there.

Mind you, it still means that every entry between May 26 and September 29 of this year is not in an archive. But they’re around. Somewhere.

The Return of Administrivia

Not that you actually care, but I’ve finally gotten around to restoring the “Administrivia” section of the site, which includes my bio, site disclaimer and comment policy, how to get me for interviews, invitations and writing gigs, my publicity and blurb guidelines and policies on unpublished/self-published work, and contact information. It’s all top of the right sidebar, or you can just link here.

Housekeeping Notes 10/27

Some housekeepery:

* After a better part of a month of spammers not knowing Whatever was back, they seem to have discovered me again; I just got about 250 spam comments in the last six hours. The good news is Askimet seems to be keeping them from the rest of you. The bad news is that it makes the occasional legitimate comment that lands in the spam basket harder to find. I’m seeing about two a day in there at the moment, but it’s possible some comments slip through the cracks.

So this is a general reminder that no, I don’t filter for comment prior to posting (nor usually after, either), so if something you write doesn’t immediately post, it’s probably been sent to either the spam or moderation queue by WordPress. Don’t panic, I usually dig it out within the day. If it doesn’t post in a couple of days, go ahead and try again.

*As a reminder to folks, from 10/30 through 11/6 I’ll be traveling, this time to France, to participate in the Utopiales Festival in Nantes. The festival itself runs from the 31st through the 4th; the rest of that time is given over to travel. During that time I may or may not be checking in every day, depending on my ability to access the Internet. It’s not that I don’t think France is without Internet, mind you; the question is whether I can find access that won’t cost an arm and a leg. If I can’t I suspect what I may end up doing is hearkening back to the good old days of dial-up behavior, in which one writes everything off line, signs on, quickly uploads everything, downloads new stuff, and then signs off. Ah, the not-so-good old days. How I do not miss them.

Also, you know. Being it’ll be my first time in France, and that I am supposed to be participating in the festival, maybe I won’t want to spend all my time staring into a computer screen. I can do that in Ohio, after all.

Anyway, fair warning. Remember that even when I’m not updating here, you can amuse yourself with other Whatever readers at Whateveresque: the world’s foremost online forum of Whatever enthusiasts!

* WordPress has released an update to its software, which I won’t be installing now, because I think we all know how fraught with danger my updating stuff can be, and I don’t want to be fraught over the next couple of days, especially seeing how what I really need to be doing is catching up on a bunch of paid writing. So this is me resisting upgrade temptation. You should be proud of me.

* An ego note, if you’ll allow me: Last week Whatever broke the 40,000 daily unique visitor barrier, which was a record for a “normal” day around here — i.e., one in which I am not linked to by Fark and others for taping meat to a pet, or otherwise doing attention-garnering tomfoolery — and the really nice thing is it happened not once but three times. And there’s a small possibility that Whatever will hit the one million monthly visitors mark by Halloween, which wouldn’t suck, either. This is a nice reversal from August and September, in which due to my hiatus and my technical ineptness at dealing with the blog keeping me from posting, the attendence quite naturally dropped like a stone. Thank you all for coming back, and apparently bringing your friends along too.

One irony is that despite record visitorship, Whatever’s Technorati ranking’s been tanking, relatively speaking: It’s at about 2,500 at the moment, which is down from a high of about 800 eighteen months ago or so (that’s right, before BaconCat). I believe Technorati’s changed its ranking formula since then, and anyway, the Whatever being more or less out of commission in August and September will work to reduce links in. I suspect switching blog software might fiddle with things as well. It’s a reminder that quantifying one’s place in the online world is highly dependent on factors that may or may not actually have anything to do with you. Which I find kind of comforting; I avoid worrying about things I can’t control.

Listening to My Writing

Audio Renaissance sent me a CD copy of the audiobook of Old Man’s War, and I experienced a moment that made me realize how much of a citizen of the digital age I am: I thought, eight discs? I’ve gonna have to rip all of these? What a hassle! Don’t worry, I smacked myself in the head right after.

I’ve been listening to the book a bit today, and I have to say the experience is, well… weird. To be clear, it’s very well done; I think William Dufris, who is reading it, is great at it. The thing is that he reads it differently than I read it, in my head, and, inasmuch as I’m the guy who wrote the thing, the differences in our respective execution make for a bit of cognitive dissonance. After hearing it in my head a particular way for the last six years, it takes a little getting used to.

(I didn’t have this happen with the audio version The Sagan Diary, partly because it was told from a woman’s point of view, and partly because I shipped it off to the various readers right after I finished it. That was a different experience entirely.)

It’s weird to say but I kind of like the cognitive dissonance I’m getting; without getting too hippy-trippy about it, it’s a reminder that there are other ways of approaching the book than the way I do in my own head, and these different approaches can put the book in a different light. It’s interesting to approach your own work a little like a stranger, basically.

The Zsa Zsa Gabors of the 21 Century

High up on today’s list of people who make me roll my eyes: These New Yorkers who decided to live part-time in the country and then get spooked by the fact that it’s dark and their house is making noises and there are, like, animals out there in the woods. Then they get back to New York and can relax, because, as we all know, nothing bad ever happens at night in New York City.

Smack. Them. All.

I just have to believe that none of them quite comprehended just how jelly-filled this article makes them all look. Oh noes! A raccoon! I must defend myself with an $8,000 lighting system! For God’s sake. Just go back into town and never go above midtown ever again. Simple.

Speaking of Agent to the Stars

Received a note from Patrick Nielsen Hayden today to tell me that the trade paperback release of Agent to the Stars is scheduled for November, 2008. He also wishes to stress that date is tentative, and may bounce a couple of months in either direction. Be that as it may, those of you who have been saving your pennies by the tens of thousands to buy the limited hardcover may now release them, as if in a flood, to cover other purchases.

You’re welcome. Think of me when you snap up that iPod Touch.

The New Cover

Jeff Hentosz, who is handy with that there Photoshop, sends word that he’s “fixed” the cover of The Android’s Dream for me:

Clever. Adorably sick, but clever.

All I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t Photoshop this. Because then people would be asking me about my deadlines.

Don’t ask, people. Just. Don’t.

You Can’t Fire Me

Probably because so many friends were recently let go at AOL, I had a dream in which I was being laid off at some sort of organization that was a mash-up of AOL and the Fresno Bee (those two being the real jobs I had, back in the day). The funny thing is that in my dream, I am what I am now, which is a freelance dude who works on contract from time to time. So when the guy came in to tell me I’d been laid off, I just looked at him like he was nuts. Which was a nice feeling, even if it was just in a dream.

Left unanswered was what I was doing in an office, where I had apparently worked for years on end, if, in fact, I was a freelancer, but that’s dreaming for you. Dreams don’t actually have to make sense all the way through, or even part way through.

Also, I’m not sure why I was a parrot. That’s probably best left unexplored.

Kicking the Legs Out From Under the Willfully Ignorant

This is a heartwarming story: Homer Jacobson, a retired chemistry professor, Googles his name and discovers a scientific paper he wrote half a century ago, and which he discovers has errors in it, is being used by creationists using it to show how life couldn’t possibly have started up without help from God.

So he retracted it.

That is not because he objects to religion, he said. Though he was raised in a secular household, he said, “Religion is O.K. as long as you don’t fly in the face of facts.” After all, he said, no one can disprove the existence of God. But Dr. Jacobson said he was dismayed to think that people might use his work in what he called “malignant” denunciations of Darwin.

Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. One related to what he called a “conjecture” about whether amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein and a crucial component of living things, could form naturally.

“Under the circumstances I mention, just a bunch of chemicals sitting together, no,” he said. “Because it takes energy to go from the things that make glycene to glycene, glycene being the simplest amino acid.”

There were potential sources of energy, he said. So to say that nothing much would happen in its absence “is totally beside the point.” “And that is a point I did not make,” he added.

Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, “It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.”

Well, he caught himself, rather after the fact. But once he did, he moved to correct the error. Because fundamentally (heh), that’s what science is about: Moving human understanding toward a more accurate representation of the world around us.

What will be interesting to see now is how long it will take for the creationist sites to catch on that a pillar of their defense has been removed; I suspect it will take a while. Which of course will make it fun for the scientifically minded who wander by their sites: “You’re still citing Jacobson? He retracted that piece, you know. Because it was wrong.” To which I can imagine the light-on-the-feet response might be: See, scientists are wrong about everything. You can’t trust them to tell you the truth.

Which, if that were to be the tack they’d take, would be missing the point. The reason to trust scientists to tell you the truth is that they’re always trying to prove things wrong — testing their assumptions and beliefs about the nature of things to see if they still work, or if they come undone with new information and observation. It’s a little pollyanna to suggest scientists like being wrong; scientists are all human and have egos and like most people like it when they’re right about things. And, being human, they can be intractable: Fred Hoyle would have rather died than give up on the steady-state theory of the universe (and he did). But fortunately scientists don’t have problems challenging the assumptions of other scientists. So it works out. On balance science and scientists provide an accurate view of matters relating to the physical world, so far as we understand them at the moment.

I don’t imagine Dr. Jacobsen liked discovering his work was wrong. But I suspect what he liked even less was that people are trying to use his work to spread ignorance. Thus, the retraction. Good for him.