Monthly Archives: April 2008

Suddenly It All Makes Sense

Of probably no interest to anyone but myself, but someone pointed me in the direction of knowing why my MT4 install went kerblooey last year: it wasn’t MT4, it was my host, which apparently chokes off script calls after about ten seconds, which is no good when you have a site as large as mine. Which is more than a little annoying, since I remember calling my host and asking them if there were any reason my MT install wouldn’t be working. Their answer: no, not really. Thus sending me into a two-month spiral of anger and confusion when my site just stopped working. Liars! I will have my revenge! Seriously, though, this is lame.

So to all and sundry at Movable Type, my apologies. I’m sorry my host hates you.

A Simple Question

So, if you’re the cat who left the bottom half of a rabbit on my doorstep this morning, with said hemi-rabbit’s liver and intestines each artfully laid out to the side, will you raise your right paw?

Yes, well. That’s what I thought.

The Scalzi/Doctorow Mashup You’ve All Been Waiting For

Update: video is down. I expect they’re fixing the sound/video disconnect in the last part. I’ll repost when it’s fixed. Fixed!

Last month Cory Doctorow and I met in Chicago — to fight crime! – and also to sit down and interview each other about our respective upcoming books, Little Brother and Zoe’s Tale. And then the video production crew went a little nuts:

I like this a lot, except that it really accentuates the fact that I’m going to be a jowly bastard sooner or later. Because I just got a YMCA membership, perhaps later. Because I’m about to eat six cheeseburger mini-rolls for lunch, perhaps sooner. We’ll just have to see.

If you like this, I hear rumors of an expanded version when Zoe’s Tale hits shelves. So, see. Now you have something to live for between now and August 19.

Another One From the “People Who Really Should Know Better” File

University of Florida English professor James Twitchell caught plagiarizing others in his books. His is excuse? “Fluke acts of sloppiness.” Well, yes, it is sloppy to lift whole paragraphs of other people’s work without attribution, but as the linked article suggests, when you do a lot of it, it’s not really a fluke. Writers should be vigilant against plagiarism in any event, but I’ll go on record saying that authors who are also professors of English ought to be even more aware of it; they should hold the standards that they are presumably holding their students to. A plagiarizing English professor is like a traffic cop drunk-driving into a tree; there’s irony in the stupid.

Speaking of stupid, over at Reason Magazine’s blog, editor Nick Gillespie notes:

Twitchell’s behavior is not simply indefensible but really fucking stupid: We live in an age where it’s tough not to get caught for plagiarizing.

Well yeah, but Twitchell is also in his mid-60s, which means that he came of age, writing-wise, in a world where Google searches and Turnitin.com didn’t exist. I suspect that even if he knows intellectually that cutting and pasting is easier to spot here in the 21st Century, some part of his brain is still working in the 20th Century, when the risk of being called out for such fluke acts of sloppiness was lower, because finding cut-and-pastery was so much more difficult and time-intensive.

This is not to suggest that every writer over the age of 40 is dumb to the ways of the Internet, because they’re not. But I do suspect in some quarters there’s a lack of appreciation for how much it’s changed the game. The flip side is that writers under 40 generally understand this better. I personally don’t aspire to plagiarism, but even if I did there’s not a chance in hell I would do it, because my book publishing career started in 2000 — i.e., well into the Search Engine era. I wouldn’t even have to think about the risk of getting caught; I’ve internalized the fact it’s inevitable. It admirably cuts down the temptation/incentive to plagiarize.

The other thing here, which is also a consequence of the online world, is that I think writers today have less fear of being seen attributing really interesting ideas to others rather than claiming them as our own, because after all that’s what we do online all the time, via linking. It’s still nice to be brilliant and have great thoughts, but there’s also increasing value in showing that one intelligently aggregates and comments on other people’s brilliance and great thoughts, because then people come to you for those aggregation and commentary skills. It’s valuable to be a conduit, basically, and not just a font. I suspect this will over time also help to tamp down the plagiarism impulse, at least among the more intellectually secure writers. One hopes it will, anyway. But if it doesn’t, there’s always that first thing.

Which is to say: Folks, the heyday of tucking someone else’s paragraphs into your work and calling it your own is over. Please don’t try it, and please don’t try it especially if you are an English professor. I mean, Christ. That’s just dumb.

(Nicked from Megan McArdle. See? Citing sources isn’t so hard, is it?)

One Star Challenge Roundup, Part the First

Last Thursday, you may recall, I posted a bunch of my one-star Amazon reviews and challenged other authors to do the same, the idea being, you know, that there are worse things in life than a negative Amazon review. And what do you know, authors have begun taking me up on the challenge, posting choice one and two star reviews they have received. How very healthy of them. Here’s a baker’s dozen of these brave souls, in no particular order:

Hugo winner Charles Stross

World Fantasy and Campbell Award winner Jo Walton

Myranda Sarro

Alma Alexander

Kim Werker

Kelley Eskridge

Nebula, Tiptree, World Fantasy and Lambda Literary Award winner Nicola Griffith

Rachel Caine

Anya Bast

Michelle Sagara/West

BSFA Award winner Ken Macleod

Sandra Barret

Stephen Leigh

See, you other writers? All the cool kids are doing it. Don’t you want to do it too? Sure you do. Post your one-star (or otherwise negative) Amazon reviews on your blog/LJ/whatever and let folks know you can handle criticism just fine, thanks (and then come back here and leave a link, because it makes it easier for me to find them). Also, feel free to steal the graphic up at the top of the entry. I spent five whole minutes on it!

So, who’s next?

The Return of Ghlaghghee

Those of you who live for the appearances of my pets on Whatever will note that it’s been a while, relatively speaking, since Ghlaghghee was last seen here. The reason for this is pretty simple: Ghlaghghee, being a longhair cat, has had some serious matting issues, which have required some serious and, shall we say, less than entirely esthetic, fur trimming. So she’s rather patchy at the moment, which doesn’t make for good pictures, except from certain angles, like here. Since I don’t really have time to follow my cat around obsessively, waiting for just the right photo, this means a dearth of Ghlaghghee pictures, a trend that is likely to continue for a little while. So enjoy this picture. Fortunately we do have two other cats, so the overall amount of catblogging should remain fairly constant. I know how important that is to you all.

The Big Idea: Cory Doctorow

Last year my editor at Tor Books, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, gave me a manuscript copy of Little Brother, Cory Doctorow’s young adult thriller, to see if I might want to blurb it. About halfway into it, I wanted to stop reading it — not because I didn’t like it, but because I wanted to jam it into the hands of the next 14-year-old I saw and say, “you need to read this more than I do.” With his hacker teen hero Marcus battling an increasingly-authoritarian government that has turned a terrorized San Francisco into a civil rights-free zone, Cory has indulged in his passion for promoting the rights of the individual in the best way possible: by telling a hell of page-turning story, written to and for the teens who are trying to figure out how their world works, and what they want to make it from there.

As it turned out, I did keep reading it, I did blurb it (“The right book at the right time from the right author–and, not entirely coincidentally, Cory Doctorow’s best novel yet”) and I strongly suspect it’ll be in the running for a Hugo nomination next year. More importantly, I think you’re going to read and hear a lot of folks arguing about the book and what it says about where we might be heading. That’s a conversation worth having — and worth having teens participating in.

Cory’s dropped by today to talk about the Big Idea of Little Brother. Having now gushed enough about the book, I’ll now give him the floor.

CORY DOCTOROW:

We live in an era where new forms of literacy arise on a daily basis. How can you figure out which search-engine results to trust? What happens to your Facebook disclosures? How can you tell whether a camera, ID check, or rule is making you safer or less safe? In the absence of the right critical literacy tools, you’ll never know how to read a Wikipedia article so that you can tell if it’s believable, you’ll never know how to keep from ruining your adulthood with the videos you post as a teenager, and you’ll never know when your government is making you safer or less safe.

Little Brother tells the story of young people who bootstrap their own security literacy because the adults around them fail to do so. I think that’s a depressingly realistic storyline, unfortunately. Security is hard to get right, and doubly so when it involves unfamiliar threats and countermeasures — can you tell at a glance whether the new high-tech lock in the window of your bike shop will work? (Here’s a clue: the best-selling lock brand for two decades was recently shown to be breakable with a disposable Bic pen in 10 seconds flat)

Kids — the so-called “digital natives” — are better positioned to understand whether electronic surveillance, data-mining, and snitch-systems are going to make the world a better place or turn us into a dystopia that makes Orwell into an optimist. They have the bone-deep sense of what this stuff means, what it’s useful for, and how it works.

But they need critical tools and they need to sharpen those critical tools through debate and discussion, and that’s where Little Brother comes in. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I say — and I certainly hope that kids question every word here, and figure this out for themselves.

We live in an age where critical discussion of security is literally illegal. You can’t turn to the TSA officer who’s just taken away your water bottle and say, “I don’t believe that you can bomb a plane with water.” Mentioning the word “bomb” in front of a TSA agent is not allowed. In London, where I live, the police have just put up posters asking people to report anyone who takes pictures of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that photograph the average Londoner 300 times a day. If you wanted to take a photo of every camera on your morning walk to put on your blog and start a discussion with your neighbors, you can now become the subject of an investigation, a presumptive terrorist whose crime is taking explicit notice of the “security” that is watching your every move.

The difference between freedom and totalitarianism comes down to this: do our machines serve us, or control us? We live in the technological age that puts all other technological ages to shame. We are literally covered in technology, it rides in our pockets, pressed to our skin, in our ears, sometimes even implanted in our bodies. If these devices treat us as masters, then there is no limit to what we can achieve. But if they treat us as suspects, then we are doomed, for the jailers have us in a grip that is tighter than any authoritarian fantasy of the Inquisition.

Visit Cory’s personal Web site Craphound, which features downloadable versions of most of his work. Cory is also one of the editors of Boing Boing (something I suspect most of you already knew).

Pronouning Your Hermaphrodite

Here’s a writing issue I suspect is largely confined to the realm of speculative fiction: I’m editing page proofs of Zoe’s Tale at the moment and catching a significant number of errors — why is why we edit page proofs, so we see them, but you don’t. The largest class of errors? Me calling either Hickory or Dickory — two aliens who belong to a race of hermaphrodites — “him” or “he.” Man, that’s irritating. And it also shows how strong the default setting in our language is that I’ve made dozens of mistakes giving the incorrect gender to a creature I made a different gender entirely.

(And yes, hermaphrodites are, in my humble opinion, an entirely separate gender from either male or female; having the sexual characteristics of both sexes doesn’t make you a member of both sexes, or of no sex; it makes you a member of another gender. The English language, sadly, doesn’t have a formally accepted pronoun form to accommodate this, so in Zoe’s Tale I use “it” for Hickory and Dickory, although “it” is genderless, not signifiying of a third gender. This doesn’t present a problem in the book, as H & D are of an alien species, and it’s okay to refer to an alien species as “it,” because, dude, they’re aliens, and who cares. I wouldn’t use “it” in the real world to refer to someone intersexed or hermaphroditic, however; that would probably get me slugged, and rightly so.

I suspect in the end I would use “they” in the cases where I met or was describing someone intersexed/hermaphroditic who did not already self-identify as male or female; “they” is nominally grammatically incorrect, but in yet another blow to my presumed prescriptivist ways, I don’t much care, since in my opinion the English language at this point needs a singular pronoun that encompasses all genders without privileging one over the others, as, say, the generic “he” does. “They” is already used this way informally, and it’s not a new pronoun form that people currently over the age of 25 will feel goofy using. Everyone wins.

Now, at this point this is all theoretical, since at this point I haven’t personally met an intersexed/hermaphroditic person, or for that matter, a transsexual person, who didn’t generally self-identify as one sex or another, if only for the purpose of getting through everyday conversation. But, you know. It’s nice to be prepared.)

The point of noting this is to recognize this is just one of those writing issues that most writers outside this genre don’t have to tackle on a regular basis. Their lives are poorer for it, even if their page proofs are nominally cleaner.

The Stupidly Obvious Phrase of the Day

“The Poor Suffer the Most”

Used, for example, in this news header today in a story about food shortages: “As a brutal convergence of events hits an unprepared global market, and grain prices go sky high, the world’s poor suffer most.”

Really? The poor suffering the most? It’s hard to imagine. Because, you know, usually when there’s a major global crisis of any sort, it’s the poor sitting there on the sidelines, going whew, dodged that bullet. How strange that the people the least economically, socially and educationally able to deal with wrenching change should suffer the most. How odd that the rich should so often be able to shield themselves from the ravages of events. It’s almost as if they have some advantage over poor people, although off the top of my head what it might be escapes me.

Which is not to say that the rich always get off scot free: who among us can forget The Great Davos Lobster Bisque Inconvenience of ’04, in which the victims, none with a net worth of less than $15 million, suffered a small amount of gastric distress due to too much heavy cream in the soup? The poor escaped that with hardly a cramp. Good for them. The poor did have that tsunami that year, though. Killed a couple hundred thousand of them. But in terms of aggregate worth, it all evens out, you see. Intestinal discomfort for the rich, death by wall of water for the poor. Seems fair.

A tip for news writers: it’ll be news when the poor don’t suffer the most. “As the mysterious Billionaire’s Virus decimates Aspen, the world’s stinkin’ rich suffer the most.” That’s a news head worth writing.

This Year’s Nebula Winners

They are:

Novel: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Novella: “Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress

Novelette: “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang

Short Story: “Always” by Karen Joy Fowler

Script: Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro

The winner of this year’s Norton Award for best young adult novel is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.

Finally, Michael Moorcock is SFWA’s newest Grand Master.

Congratulations to all the winners!

SFWA Passes Its Gut Check Moment

Greetings, gentlebeings! Little birdies flying to Ohio from down Austin, Texas way tell me that the incoming president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is Russell Davis, who won the position by a rather substantial margin over Andrew Burt. Also on the upcoming SFWA board: Elizabeth Moon as vice president, Mary Robinette Kowal as secretary and Amy Sterling Casil as treasurer.

I personally feel that this is a very strong slate of incoming officers, and I wish them all the best in their upcoming tenure. They certainly have my support.

Going Sidewise

This is neat: A short story of mine has been nominated for the Sidewise Award, which annually honors the best alternate history stories and novels. Here are the full list of nominees for this year:

Best Short Form:

Elizabeth Bear, “Les Innocents/Lumiere” (in New Amsterdam, Subterranean Press)
Michael Flynn, “Quaestiones Super Caelo Et Mundo” (in Analog, 7/07)
Matthew Johnson, “Public Safety” (in Asimov’s, 3/07)
Jess Nevins, “An Alternate History of Chinese Science Fiction” (in No Fear of the Future, May 17, 2007)
Chris Roberson, “Metal Dragon Year” (in Interzone, 12/07)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Recovering Apollo 8″  (in Asimov’s, 2/07)
John Scalzi, “Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results”  (in Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2007)

Best Long Form:

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins)
Robert Conroy, 1945: A Novel (Ballantine Books)
Mary Gentle, Ilario (The Lion’s Eye and The Stone Golem) (Eos)
Jay Lake, Mainspring (Tor Books)
Sophia McDougall, Rome Burning (Orion)
Jo Walton, Ha’penny (Tor Books)

The winners will be announced at Denvention 3, in August.

Here’s a link to the story. I do believe this is the first time a short story of mine has been nominated for any sort of award, so I am pleased about that. I also believe it’s the first award nomination for a story that’s been in Subterranean’s online magazine, so I’m pleased in that regard, too (although if the world were fair, Rachel Swirsky would have had that honor before me, for this story, although probably not for this particular award).

My sincere congratulations to the other nominees!

The Closeted Cat

Here’s a funny thing about Lopsided Cat: He’s a closet affection whore. When the other cats are around he hates being touched or picked up; you reach down to pet him when the other cats are around and he literally flattens himself down the floor to avoid being touched. Because being petted around the other cats would be a sign of weakness, apparently. When the other cats are somewhere else, though, he’ll come right up to you and then it’s like pet me pet me pet me yes yes yes there YES. I find this unaccountably amusing. I sort of want to out him — you know, start petting him and then have Krissy carry the other cats into the room just as he’s getting into it — but at the end of the day I think my cat really just has to be comfortable with himself. I’ll let him out himself on his own schedule. And in the meantime I’ll pet him. Because he’s fuzzy and soft. Everybody wins.

It Has Begun

Yes, yes. It has.

Arrangements have been made. Wheels set into motion.

At this point, it is inevitable. Unavoidable.

Implacable would not be too strong a word.

What has begun?

I cannot tell you.

Suffice to say it is evil. And yet awesome, in its way.

And it will be visited upon one of you.

Yes, yes. One of you.

No, I will not say who. You will know soon enough.

Yes, yes. You will know.

That is all.

Whoops, wait. Forgot the maniacal laugh.

BWA HA HA HA HA HAH HA!

Now that is all. Yes, yes.