Reader Request Week 2008 #14: Quick Hits, Volume I

Well, I pretty much completely failed at making shorter answers to reader requests this week, although I did do more of them. Be that as it may, we’re coming to the close of Reader Request Week, which I traditionally end by doing an entry or two of short replies to questions I didn’t get to with longer answers. So, let’s get to them:

The Pathetic Earthling: “What font do you use to when you are writing, and why?”

Mostly I like to use a serif font: Currently I like Calibri, which is one of the fonts Microsoft shipped with Vista, but Times New Roman also works for me. I also like Goudy, but it’s not really good for writing. When I was younger I preferred sans serif fonts: I was very high on Helvetica in high school and college, and for a while on Whatever I was using Trebuchet. At the moment, WordPress’ composing font is some flavor of sans serif, so I use that when I’m writing on the blog. But with the novels, I just find it more visually useful to use a serif font; it makes it easier to scan and read.

Joelfinkle: “Sharecropping: Shared worlds, licensed characters, movie novelizations. Do you have less respect for authors that make a buck off this? Would you consider writing for such categories? If so, which one(s)?”

In fact a couple of years ago I was sounded out to write a novel set in the world of a popular science fiction television show. I passed on it; I had my own projects stacked up and it wasn’t a good fit for my career at the time. But no, I don’t have less respect for authors who do media titles, and I think the snobbery is a little hypocritical. If I wrote a script for, say, Stargate: Atlantis, and it got produced, people would be congratulating me for getting the gig, and it’s fair to say the episode might get considered for the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo (Short Form). But if I wrote a tie-in novel in the universe, my reputation as a writer might get dinged. This confuses me a little: Same sort of work, same characters; the only material difference is format. Why the hate? Got me. And in any event, you can’t tell me that Karen Traviss or Matthew Woodring Stover, to pull just two names out of the hat, are writers who are not worth reading, simply because they’ve written media novels.

Also, to be blunt, media tie-ins outsell nearly all original SF by a nice chunky margin, which no one seems to bring up much, but which seems to be relevant if we’re talking about who gets to be a snob to whom. Now, the obvious rejoinder here is that McDonald’s outsells the French Laundry, but let’s not kid ourselves: in the metaphorical sense, most commercial science fiction is a lot closer to McDonald’s than the French Laundry (mine is for sure). So, no, not inclined to have less respect for these authors. Hey, they’re working, and they get to make up stuff for a living. That’s my job, too.

Fiona: “In light of global climate change, when and where do you think the first major multinational war over fresh water rights will occur?”

Africa. Because it’s the place in the world where national identities are weakest and where people seem most willing to hack each other into bits over something, and where people have the most to lose, on a personal basis, by not having fresh water. If someone can make an argument for somewhere else in the globe coming to blows over water first, however, I’m ready to hear it, since I’ll be the first to admit my guess here is not precisely rigorously researched.

Peripatetic Entrepreneur: “The Singularity. It’s clear that you avoid the concept/event in your books. This is not a slight against your work, as it’s clear that rapidly changing technology makes future predictions difficult to make. What do you think the likelihood of it is? Is this just a form of ‘Geek Religion’? If it happens, how will it effect us? Will you do a book that involves it (aka. Charles Stross)?”

Well, I don’t think I actively avoid The Singularity in my novels; not writing about it is not the same as avoiding it. To avoid it, it would have to be in my writing path; I would have to swerve considerably to put it there. I don’t write in that direction because The Singularity is not very interesting to me as a writer. As a reader; sure — I’ve made it clear that Charlie’s Accelerando is one of my favorite SF novels of recent years. But as a writer, eh. I’ll let others with more enthusiasm for tackling it do so. As for whether there will be a Singularity: Sure, why not. It’s happened before, after all, and if you don’t think it has, take a time machine ride back to the 15th Century and ask anyone there you might meet to try to imagine 2008. “The Singularity” isn’t so much about technology as it is about the context people find themselves in, and how it shapes their thought.

Shrike 58: “You don’t seem to be a sports fan; any particular reason why?”

No reason; it’s just not anything that gets me going. I don’t dislike sports; I like playing sports (I played soccer as a kid and in high school and also did track and cross-country running), and I enjoy watching sports live, in the stadium. I just like other things more, and one does have to make priorities. That said, I’ve always been a fan of sports columns, because sports columnists just seem to have more fun writing than most other journalists. And (perhaps because of this) I’m surprisingly well-informed about sports for someone who doesn’t really care about them. If I chose, I could pass for a sports fan. But that would be living a lie. And I can’t have that.

Kate Baker: “Do you believe we live in a culture of fear driven by our anxiety of an unknown, highly politicized, media sensationalized aggressor? Or does terror stem from our materialistic apathy and over-dependence on a patriot act wielding, overly controlling government happily wearing an innocent sheep’s skin of a caring government?”

Neither. Our terror stems from the fact we’re soft squishy primates, descended from animals even softer, squishier and smaller than we, and thus to survive as a species our brains have instinctually internalized the concept that something big and mean that we can’t see lurking right over there is totally going to eat us. All subsequent terror is just elaboration on this fundamental element of our brain wiring. We will always live in a culture of fear, in one way or another, so long as we have a direct genetic link to the line of soft, squishy mammals from which we were bred. What we want to do is be smart enough not to elect jackasses who exploit this for their own goals. But, well. We don’t seem to have evolved out of that yet, now, have we.

Alternative Eric S: “What’s Wil Wheaton really like?”

He smells of musk and lilacs.

Oh, wait, there’s more to the question:

“(OK, maybe a discourse on whether blogs/journals give an accurate view of the people who write them.)”

Assuming that the writer is not actively trying to obscure his/her identity and is otherwise not screwing with the heads of the readers, the best way to answer this is that the view you get is accurate but incomplete. For example what you read here is me, but it’s not all of me. This me has been specially optimized for your online reading pleasure, and edited so that you don’t know about any part of my life I don’t want to share with you because I’ve decided it’s none of your damn business. It is a public persona, not a private one. I assume most people, intentionally or not, also do this sort of optimizing and editing to their online personae.

More quick hits tomorrow.

21 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2008 #14: Quick Hits, Volume I

  1. Hey, thanks, I never thought about that dichotomy before. I’ve turned my nose up at reading adaptations and that sort of thing, but I’ll try to stop being snooty about the authors who do write it, even if I don’t get around to reading it. I sometimes just agonize over the fact that they don’t write what I *want* them to write, those authors that plany inside and outside other’s universes.

    Why do I even feel this way? One author, who I won’t name, but wrote the adaptation of an early John Carpenter, and one of the first Star Wars side stories.

    Oh, and water rights wars? My money’s on Israel and Syria, maybe Jordan. The Golan Heights are the source of the Dead Sea, and none of the water from those sources gets there anymore, just like the Colorado River doesn’t flow into the Sea of Cortez

  2. I’m more likely to dislike an author because their licensed novel was shoddy than because it’s someone else’s toybox. I’ll never read a Star Trek novel, but some good authors have worked in the universe and probably written some excellent books. Timothy Zahn made me look more favorably on Star Wars books. In turn, Kevin J. Anderson lowered my estimation of Star Wars books and himself as a writer. The Dune prequels lowered my appraisal of his skills further. Dune 7 made me loath his writing and question his worth as a human being.

  3. A Scalzi episode of “Stargate: Atlantis.” THAT WOULD BE TEH AWSUM!

    I do my writing in Monaco. It’s a nice, easy-on-the-eyes sans-serif font. I think it’s a nonproportional font.

    I love that you have a Comments RSS feed. Cuz I don’t spend enough time reading people’s comments on the Internet.

  4. Karen Traviss’ Wess’Har series was excellent, and when I found out that she worked on some Star Wars books (something I wouldn’t normally read) I sought them out and enjoyed them quite a lot. Heck, some of the already built worlds of these different series have serious potential and shouldn’t be dismissed, especially when a Scalzi or a Traviss focus their creative energies towards them. Then you’re just getting the collective greatness of all involved. Everyone wins!

    OK, now I found like a gushing fanboy for the fanfic/shared worlds set. Honestly, I pass over those sections of the SF/Fantasy aisle in annoyance, as a general rule, especially since they seem to be taking over more and more of the already limited space in the bookstores. Still, a few cents.

  5. I feel like a bad SF fan or something for having no clue about this, but what is “The Singularity”?

  6. Here’s an interesting report

    UN Meteorologists have predicted global temperatures will fall this year relative to 2007, due to the cooling effect of the weather phenomenon La Nina.

    Forecasters from the World Meteorological Organization have said La Nina, currently in the Pacific, will continue to affect weather patterns into the northern summer.

    This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, when La Nina’s corresponding weather pattern El Nino, warmed the planet. The evidence has prompted climate change skeptics to question the prevailing theory about an imminent rise in global temperatures.

    Perhaps, but true believers will simply ignore it.

  7. I think we’re in terror not only because we’re squishy primates, and not only because of a government which uses terror as an excuse for taking our civil liberties, but also because we have an inherently poor grasp of the statistics involved.

    If you take a ten-year average, we have about 290 deaths from terror every year in the US (and we’ve had no terror deaths that I can recall since 2001.) On the other hand, we have approximately 7,500 deaths every year from people taking the wrong brand of over-the-counter pain reliever. We have 20,000 deaths due to “gun-related” incidents. We have 26,000 deaths every year due to car accidents, and 70-90,000 deaths a year due to diseases (iatragenic diseases) that people catch while they’re in the hospital. That’s not even counting the biggest killers – tobacco and heart-attacks.

    In other words, you’re 24 times as likely to die due to taking the wrong over-the-counter pain reliever than by terror. You’re almost 8000 times as likely to die due to any other cause than terror.

    Alex

  8. You’re 100% correct on the joys of sportswriting.

    My boss is always after me to write more human-interest stories, but I enjoy the sports work more.

    Here’s why:

    A) It’s all action, speed. strength. skill. tension, and violence.

    B) It’s stuffed with larger-then-life characters. It’s a renewable source of joy, too… “there are always more Hardings hatching.”

    C) You can gamble on it.

    D) Generally- and, granted, the exceptions often outweigh the rule- athletes are hot.

    E) They provide you a Villain to boo… even if it’s just a guy doing the same thing your heroes do, but he lives in a different town.

    F) Somebody may die in front of you, or be injured.

    G) Boxing, MMA, NASACAR and hockey fights are among the last places you can commit crimes on TV and not expect to even get investigated. One pushy D.A. could change those sports forever.

    H) It provides many people with their sole venue for observing American blacks.

    I) About half of each team is composed of Horatio Alger stories who worked really hard to grab success from poverty.

    J) A man who lists “can grab something and run away without anyoe being able to catch me” is either going to be a pickpocket or a NFL tailback. Without my industry hyping him up, the speedster may end up robbing me in one of those Peter Parker/Uncle Ben moments of Shoulda Coulda.

    K) As a sportswriter, i regularly get to use words like “romp,” “whallop,” “blitzed,” “crushed,” “stomped,” “bombed,” “whipped,” and so forth…

    L) I can do my job watching TV on the couch, nude.

    M) I worked as an inner city teacher for some time, and can put up a list of kids who most likely would have been murdered if I didn’t do my job well enough to get them off to a college or Job Corps or something… I’ve been asked to serve as a Godmother for students… I’ve taken the cause of my charges to the Governor himself, and left with what I came for….. and nobody cares even 5% as much about that as they do about the fact that I interviewed Killer Kowalski once.

    N) Science-fiction authors rarely “make it rain” at strip bars.

    0) If worst comes to worst, I can always beat Writer’s Block by posting Hockey Fight clips.

    P) I can praise the virtues of violence. Look up McHale/Rambis for further clarification.

    Q) I should probably stop here. You’re talented, and there is only room for so many Sportswriters at the game.

  9. “This confuses me a little: Same sort of work, same characters; the only material difference is format. Why the hate? Got me.”

    I think the reason is that tie-in books are 99% horrific tripe, and the reputation’s just spilled over into the 1% that are worth it. Honestly other than the Babylon 5 novels that JMS himself wrote, I can’t think of any good ones. Everyone assumes the worst, like they do with game movies or the opposite, games based on movies.

  10. Would it be inappropriate to make another plug for my question?

    It was about living in the boondocks of Ohio and the socio-economic status of people in your town and even more interesting (at least to me), it asked about the church-going out there.

    best,

    ~Jon

  11. Frank, just because the Dow Jones has dropped back below 1300 doesn’t mean in 8 years it won’t be over 1500. You might want to read to the end of that article to see how your premise is countered.

  12. On the water wars front, the situation in Darfur is about there, and there have been a number of geopolitical and regional experts who assert that the increasing drought conditions there are what provoked the civil war.

  13. Steve Buchheit @16

    Frank, just because the Dow Jones has dropped back below 1300 doesn’t mean in 8 years it won’t be over 1500.

    This is a very appropriate example.

    Just as there is no accurate model to predict the movements of the Dow, there similarly is no model that accurately predicts climate change.

    As a result, the current claims about climate change aren’t science. And if it’s not science than all true believers are members of a religion whether they acknowledge it or not.

    We can make a statement about the Dow in that it generally goes up, until it doesn’t.

    There are lots of theories about climate change (and the Dow). One being that it is caused by CO2 emissions. But none of these theories have resulted in models that have held up to reality.

    When a theory about climate change results in a model that accurately predicts events, then you are in the realm of science. Hell, if they could just predict the weather accurately 5 days in advance in Vermont I would say they are making progress.

    But they can’t. So it’s not yet science. And if it’s not science, it’s religion.

  14. “computers become smarter than humans…. Going by Moore’s Law this should happen in the next 20 years.”

    Speaking of which, is there a name for the law by which superhuman AI is predicted to be a more-or-less constant 20 years away? That law has held for at least 50 years, by my reckoning. (There’s a similar, corresponding law for viable nuclear fusion power plants, though I haven’t heard as much about that lately.)

  15. Oh, and I’m not quite sure why someone decided this was a thread on global temperatures, but in case someone’s interested in learning about that, realclimate.org is not a bad place to start if you’d like to learn more about the topic.

    Or, if you have more fun playing bingo with it, cards can be picked up at http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics . If you’re joining the game in progress, note that the “Global warming stopped in 1998″, “Models don’t work”, and “We can’t even predict the weather next week” squares have already been called for this round, so you can cover those squares if they’re on your card.

  16. John, it’s because Frank is on a mission. What Frank doesn’t accept is that science is also observation of past events. Heck, he doesn’t even read (or doesn’t expect us to read) the full articles he quotes or he would have discovered how the premise he puts forward is completely disproved by the last half of the article.

    Oh, and Frank, please actually learn about science before attempting to categorize or dismiss it. Your knowledge here is sorely lacking and reeks of talking points instead of in depth background. In actuality, the CO2 “theory” has held up remarkably well. There are other factors involved, but CO2 is one of the major “variables” that contribute to global climate change.

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