Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Public Service Announcement: I Go Other Places Online. Don’t Be Alarmed

As advance warning, this entry might be douchebaggishly egotistical, but, well. You should be used to that by now.

Take as given, if you will, that I am a person with a certain level of notability online, both as an author and as a blogger of long standing: I am famous enough that a) I and/or my work are not entirely infrequently discussed online, and b) when I show up to comment on someone else’s blog, either as a consequence of being a subject of discussion or just because I want to comment, it sometimes freaks people out, sometimes happily and sometimes not.

(I am not so famous that c) people simply refuse to believe that I am me when I comment, or d) pretend to be me on other people’s sites, which suggests to me at least that my fame is of the distinctly “micro” level, which is, as it happens, just about where I like it.)

Without commenting on whether this level of notability is a positive or negative state of affairs or whether I should actually merit such a level of notability, if one is in the position I am in, one does recognize that at a certain point you have to decide how to handle showing up and commenting on other people’s sites, particularly if one (or one’s work) is being discussed at the time. Here’s how I personally handle it:

1. By and large I don’t comment when I or my work is the subject of discussion on someone else’s site.

2. But sometimes I do.

In the first case, it’s because there’s the recognition that just because people are talking about you or your work doesn’t mean they actually want to invoke you, and, converse to this, just because you can comment doesn’t mean you should. Most of the time I would have nothing to add to the conversation other than being a disconcerting presence, and there’s no need to do that. This is particularly the case when people post reviews of my books, and particularly when they’re negative: I think in a general sense people should be able to say “I thought this book was crap” without having the author show up to explain in detail why and how they are in fact completely wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. I’ve noted this before.

In the second case, sometimes I just want to comment. Why? Well, sometimes it’s because I think the conversation is interesting and, in fact, I do have something more substantive to add than merely my presence. Sometimes it’s because someone is speculating about my motivations for writing and/or doing something which I know are incorrect, and I think it’s worth giving them additional data. Sometimes people are asking a specific thing about my writing and/or me that I can answer authoritatively. Sometimes I just want to drop in a witty/funny/snarky comment. And sometimes I just like to screw with people’s heads, because there are days when I’m just that way.

(Also, there’s the small matter of, microcelebrity or not, I’m also just this guy who likes doing the same things everyone else does online, and who thinks people occasionally freaking out over his presence is silly. You know, I have to live with me every single day. I can say pretty authoritatively that I’m really not worth the freakout.)

If I had to guess the percentage of times I comment at someone else’s site rather than just reading without commenting, I’d guess that it’s something less than one percent of the time. If you write about me, there’s a very good chance I’ll know about it — my egosurf matrix of search engines is highly developed and tells me of an appearance of my name and/or a link to the site, usually within minutes, because I have just that much OCD — but generally I don’t do anything about it. Highly developed egosurf matrix or not, I don’t have the time, or as noted above, generally the inclination. Yes, that’s right, by and large I’m a lurker.

Likewise I’m more likely to comment on some sites than others. What raises your chance of me commenting at your site? Well, if you’re a friend of mine already, but that doesn’t really count in regards to this formulation, since my friends couldn’t give a crap about whatever celebrity I might have. Likewise, if you’re someone who comments here, I suspect you’ll be less likely to be weirded out if I comment on your site. People in online or real-world communities I’m part of, the same thing, because even if we don’t know each other, we know some of the same people. Finally, if I don’t know you, but have commented on your site before, it ups the chance I might comment again.

Now, I want to go back to a comment I mentioned earlier, which was that just because someone’s talking about you doesn’t mean they’re intending to invoke you, and in fact may regard your sudden presence in their comment thread as an intrusion. I’m of two minds about this. First, well, sure. That makes sense, and people being discussed need to be sensitive to that. Use your judgement. This is a major reason why I don’t comment, nearly all the time.

But second, this goes both ways: folks should not be entirely surprised that talking about someone in a publicly accessible online forum might attract that person’s interest, and that this person might feel free to respond, whether the original conversants intended or desire them to. I recently told someone who thought it was rude that I had popped up in a comment thread in which he was talking about me that I considered talking about me an implicit invitation for me to participate in the conversation. I am, after all, the leading expert in that subject. I didn’t think it was rude to offer my perspective.

Somewhat related to this, someone else mentioned to me that the appropriate way to respond to someone discussing you online was to respond privately, but my response to this is: well, no. You can, if you like, but if you’re being talked about online and publicly, it’s not in the least unreasonable to respond equally publicly. Suggesting a person should respond privately to a public discussion of them is an explicit marginalization of that person, especially when no one else is being told to go private.

All of this, of course, is couched in the usual standards of etiquette when you visit someone else’s site: be polite, move on when asked, and so on. Be that as it may, look folks, it’s pretty simple: If you’re discussing someone online, notable or otherwise, in a place that is publicly accessible, you run the risk of them showing up and responding, and it’s not unreasonable for them to do so. That’s how Teh Intarweebs work.

And in my specific case, I certainly reserve the right to show up and comment, even if I usually don’t, and typically won’t. I think that’s sufficient notice to all and sundry.

Hey Everybody, I’m Blogging From Red Lobster!

I’m still in the “I’m feeling silly about my netbook” phase of the relationship, clearly. On the other hand, the wifi connection I’m using at the moment is from a hotel across the highway. Which is a pretty good reception from a teeny little computer, I have to say.

I didn’t just bring the netbook because I can’t be parted from it, by the way. I have pictures and videos to show in-laws. No, really.

How’s your Saturday?

I’m Doing My Part to Stimulate the Economy

Meet the new toy:

It’s an Acer Aspire One netbook computer, which as you can see by the Coke Zero can set there for scale, is actually quite the tiny tiny little thing. I’ve decided that my other laptop is simply too gargantuan to hoist around whilst I travel, and I needed something cute and small. And then while I was out getting a new cell phone (more on that in a minute) I happened to come across this, and I thought, hey, that’ll do.

Fact is, as most of you know, I’ve been lusting after a netbook for a while now, but I thought it would be silly to get one when in fact my laptop is perfectly cromulent. But then I found some extra money I had forgotten about in my PayPal account. Which made it free money. Which meant I could spend it on a frivolity. And here we are. I’m writing this on it, and I have to say the tiny keyboard is actually not a problem — I’m a glorified two-finger typer anyway, which is a style that suits the keyboard just fine. Go me. The keypad buttons on the side are going to take a little getting used to. But otherwise, it’s very nice, and will be perfect for my upcoming travel.

The new cell phone: I went ahead and got a Blackberry Storm, on account that the e-mail/data plan was not hugely expensive, and it’s pretty and shiny and I found free money. Sadly, the store had already run out of them by 10am, so I have to wait for mine to be delivered to me tomorrow. Fortunately I have my netbook to keep me amused until then. Also, I’ve spent all I’m going to spend on technology for the rest of the year. The economy is going to have to go on without me.

Technology Changes, People Not So Much

At the risk of sounding condescending, I found the conversation here about my AMC column this week sort of endearing. In the column, you might recall, I said that despite all the ginchy near-science fictional technology we have at our disposal, our lives are not like living in a science fiction movie, because ultimately who we are as people is not shaped by our technology; we’re (roughly) the same people we’d be without it. Whereas in a science fiction movie, technology and its impact on identity is often front and center.

At that first link above, this causes some miffication by folks who think that yes, indeed, technology is part of their identity, and I don’t get it because I’m, well, old. My favorite quote on it is this one:

So, frankly, we are living in a sci-fi movie. Gen-Y and the Millenials are digitally native and it’s shaping us in ways that the older generations, even a lot of Gen-X, simply can’t grasp yet because they *aren’t* native.

The reason it’s my favorite is that, with the slight modification of which generations are under discussion, the quote could come from the alt.society.gen-x newsgroup, circa 1994 (and in fact probably did, and most likely from me). Lots of technology has come and gone during the decade and a half between 1994 and now, but the belief that the transformational nature of technology has created a generation that other generations don’t quite get has apparently remained constant. Which is, of course, to my larger point: Technology changes, but people really don’t.

This isn’t to say that technology doesn’t affect us and our development as individuals; quite obviously it does, and sometimes in significant ways. But that effect is not necessarily because of the nature of the technology itself, but what the technology allows people to do — which is generally something they already did, just in a different way. For example, the person I’m quoting above points to a concrete example of how technology opened doors for her in terms of developing her identity as a teen: as a teen in a rural small town, she learned about queer and gender theory through the Internet.

This is fair enough, but it’s not to say avenues for similar enlightenment didn’t exist before; when I was a teenager, I learned at least a little about the same topics through my local library, which had books on these topics (as does my current rural small-town local library, for that matter). The digital world helped this woman develop her identity, to be sure; but this does not mean she could not have developed it (or something reasonably similar) without it.

What’s on exhibit here is precisely what was on exhibit in the asg-x newsgroup in 1994, and was almost certainly on exhibit in similarly then-technologically-advanced media in whatever era you might choose to look at: A communal myth of generational exceptionalism: the belief (or at least a strong suspicion) that one’s social and technological accouterments, and how one uses them, signal a wholesale break from previous generations, and that one’s generation is therefore quite obviously unique and special.

But if there’s any benefit to getting older, it’s realizing just what absolute crap this sort of thinking actually is. Technology changes, social trends change, hairstyles change, but people – the actual human animals inside all that technology, sociology and tonsorial grooming — are the same as they have been for thousands of years. Grab a time machine, go back to ancient Egypt, and swap an infant there with an infant from today, and in twenty years you’ll likely find two people perfectly well integrated into their cultures because there is no difference in the human animal between now and then. Even within generations (which are an artificial construct in themselves, but never mind that now) there’s enough variation to drive you a little batty: The same generation that gave us the hippies went for Nixon in 1972, and that same generation gave us both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Go figure.

On a more micro scale, take my daughter, age nine (ten next month). She is certainly a product of her time: she’s had her own computer since she was sixteen months old, has no real memory of television without a DVR attached (which vexes her when we go someplace she can’t pause a show), and who could type — fast — long before she could write cursive. She’s all digital, baby, and there’s very little about who she is at her core that is anything about any of that. If you were to take it all away, or go back in time so that she had none of it, I will bet you any amount you’d care to wager that who she is — her sensibility, her apprehension of the world, her notion of her own identity — would remain pretty much as it is. This is because its development of self is in her head, and through her family and friends and community, none of whom principally rely on technology to have an impact on her. There’s no doubt technology is a part of her life, but is it formative and foundational? No, or at least only to a minor degree.

To be clear: I like me some technology, and it’s equally clearly been very good to me, and a great deal of my professional life has been tied to it — and no small amount of my personal life, too. Technology enables me to do a whole lot to stay happy, connected and productive. I’m glad I live here, now, in what so many people see as a science fictional world. But for all that I have no doubt that if I were to meet a 1968 version of me, I wouldn’t have any trouble recognizing him as me; likewise versions of me from 1928, 1868 or so on. What makes me me isn’t the technology I use, it’s the brain that uses it. That’s a constant when everything else changes.

Been So Low

To give some perspective on where the markets are at the moment, the last time the Dow Jones Industrial Index S&P 500 was at this level, Athena was a gamete (two, actually). I clicked over late in the day to see where the stocks were, saw they were down 400 points, and actually yelled “Oh, come on,” at the computer screen. I mean, Christ. How many 400-point-drop days does the Dow have left in it at this point?

(Yes, yes. 18. I have a calculator too, you know.)

As I’ve noted before, we’re relatively well-insulated from the bad news going down at the moment, thanks to combination of limited stock exposure, low debt and significant savings. But it doesn’t mean I don’t worry. You don’t have to have the wolf at your own door to worry about the sudden increase in wolves stalking about. It’s not just the markets, of course. It’s everything else as well. And of course, it’s not as if all of this doesn’t have an effect on my own industry; if you want see what intellectual panic looks like these days, go to a bar near a publishing house. Gruesome.

I think I’ll skip watching the stock market tomorrow.

Sweet Home Chicago

The New York Times has a nice piece on Chicago today, talking about what the election means to the town (being that Barack Obama is a hometown boy), and how his being from there puts the city in a new light for the rest of the US. Naturally I’m pleased about this; I have very fond memories of the city myself, and I’m glad to see it getting the attention.

This is a good a place as any for me to trot out my reason why I think Chicago is so special: It’s the largest city in the US that is truly an American city. New York and Los Angeles are great, don’t get me wrong — you all know I’m from the LA area — but I think of them as international cities, with New York looking toward Europe and Africa, and Los Angeles looking toward Asia and Latin America. Chicago, on the other hand, looks out toward the rest of the U.S.; it’s got a unique sensibility that’s both cosmopolitan and heartland. I would go so far as to say it’s the Great American City. You can argue with me about that, if you like, but you’re not going to get too far.

Anyway: Go Chicago! Good to see you getting the love.

Whack Whack Whack

The Economist takes a plank to the Republican Party, in effect calling it the party of, and for, stupid people. And me without a fresh-baked Schadenfreude Pie. Sigh.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. I don’t think individual Republicans are stupid (or even ignorant, which is not the same thing), but it’s pretty obvious that these days the party itself is not being led by the smartest kids in the class. And outside of the party proper, when your political movement’s public intellectual faces are the passive-aggressive fumers at The Corner, you have a problem. I suspect it’s going to get worse for the GOP before it gets better.

Feeling Science Fictional

Over at AMC, I’m asked if I ever pause to reflect on the fact that modern life, in many ways, is like a science fiction movie. Well, now that you mention it, he said, pausing for a second before he entered his words on an information terminal connected to a massive global data repository, maybe it is. But then, maybe it isn’t, too. And now you’ll have to go over to see how I have it both ways. Remember: If you want to comment on my speculationary museilations, you can do so over at the AMC site.

Man, If Blowing the Heads Off of Zombies With a Scoped Rifle is Wrong, I Don’t Ever Want to Be Right

Seriously, man. I’m doing them a favor. They’re zombies, after all. It’s not like they have rich internal lives. The time for book clubs and PBS has passed for them, you know? And anyway, there’s something oddly soothing about going to a high place with a scoped rifle and picking off their shambling asses. I wouldn’t say it’s a zen thing (it seems inadvisable to use the word “zen” with anything involving firearms), but it does get you into a contemplative frame of mind. At least until the zombies figure out where you are and swarm you. But until then: Bliss. I can’t think of anything better.

Oh wait, I can: If they were Nazi zombies. Yes.

(And no, I really shouldn’t be playing Left 4 Dead right now — waaaay too much stuff to do — but what can I say. Sometimes you just need to go after the zombie hordes.)

Why You Totally Want to Come to Loscon Next Week

So you can catch the live show of this:

Me, to Wil Wheaton, via IM: Confirming: We’re going to see you next week at Loscon?

Wil Wheaton: I haven’t been able to get anyone on the horn in an official capacity, but I’m still planning on crashing it, if nothing else. Do you have an e-mail address of someone I can pester?

Me: Yeah, I do. Hold on — (sends e-mail address) — That’s the head of programming. Tell him that if he doesn’t find something for us to be on, I will throw the hissy-est fit imaginable.

Wil: Of all the fits you can throw, the hissy is the most terrifying. That should get results.

Me: Oh, it WILL. They will live in fear of me.

Wil: Well, clearly they are wise, and have good survival instincts.

Me: I just want to burnish my credentials as an insufferable prima donna, you know?

Wil: Dude. Come spend some time with me. Learn at the feet of a master.

Me: “Fix me pot pie!”

Wil: Good, but try: “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my pot pie?”
“I came all the way here, and you can’t even make a fucking pot pie?”
Then you sort of shake your head, like you’re really disappointed.

Me: Actually, the line I will be using is “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my Double-Double?” Because I had as an actual condition of my attendance that I would have an In-N-Out caddy to keep me supplied with Double-Doubles.

Wil: You have to be prepared to throw whatever they bring you into the face of a hapless volunteer.
Can you do that?
ARE YOU READY FOR THAT?
Because it can make you legendary. You just have to be willing to go all the way.

Me: “What the fuck is THIS? I wanted it ANIMAL STYLE!!!! You fucking DWEEB.”

Wil: Yeah, then you open it up, and rub it in his face: “I’m sorry, maybe YOU can find the pickles in this for me.”

Me: And then stuff the remains down his pants. And give him a meat wedgie.
And thus I SHALL LIVE FOREVER.

Wil: WINNAR

Me: Excellent. So, wanna be my In-N-Out caddie?

Wil: How does that compare to: a) lackey and b) flunky ?

Me: They don’t get animal style face smearings.
Anyway, scratch that. You can be in my entourage.

Wil: OMG ENTOURAGE
That’s where I get to follow you around, and act like I’m really important just because I’m following you around!

Me: It’s like you’re rolling natural 20s, because I’m rolling natural 20s.

Wil: I’m an NPC!

Me: Really, is there anything better?

Wil: I’ll finally multiclass, and take some ranks in Insufferable Bastard

Me: You’re your own Expansion Pack, Wil. Live that dream.

Wil: I’m doing it, John. I’m really doing it.

The Big Idea: Dave Freer

There are a lot of stars out there in space — and as we’re constantly discovering, lots of planets around those stars. But how many of those planets are “earth-like”: that is, good for us? And what will it take to reach them? And what if we get there and discover the planet’s not as good for us as we thought? What then?

Eric Flint and Dave Freer considered these questions, and came up with a solution: chuck all of that and find a new way for humans to colonize the stars. What is that way, and how does play out in their latest novel Slow Train to Arcturus? Dave Freer, e-mailing in all the way from South Africa, explains the big idea for you now.

DAVE FREER:

“When we get there, the place stinks.” One of the underlying problems with slower than light interstellar colonisation has always been that it is a long, hard journey and, when we get there, the planet humans had hoped to settle on is considerably less habitable than we’d hoped (Larry Niven’s A Gift From Earth) , or even totally uninhabitable … or has occupants.

Which means we face up to doing all over again. It’s the elephant in room with all slower-than-light stories. Now the problem that my co-author Eric Flint has, is that his African-dwelling co-author still instinctively regards elephants as something that will either trample you or make a really big barbeque. I am not good at ignoring them and hoping that they’ll leave the room. So: when Eric suggested we should do a slowship story – if we could come up with something different, it was the elephant that got targeted. The big idea for Slow Train to Arcturus was born out of the idea that there are probably relatively few terraformable (let alone habitable) worlds out there, compared to the number of stars, and, if you’re going to keep trying star systems — you’re in for a very long trip, because unless you’re going to turn the organic content of your starship to jelly, acceleration and deceleration will probably treble the length of an already long journey.

So: what if the slowship didn’t ever slow down? What if it was a modular ship (like James White’s Grapeliner) that, once accelerated, just kept on going, dropping modules as it approached stars. The modules slowed down instead… and then the human colonists didn’t try to colonise a world at all: They were in a space habitat, designed to make more space habitats. They were colonising space, not worlds. All they need is sunlight and space-debris – something every star out there has. And there is a potentially habitable zone around every star. Of course space habitats or enclosed habitats have not yet been shown to be very long-term viable. This is an island biogeography problem – isolated population have serious issues with diversity and viability. The bigger the island, the less the problem. Or… the more ‘complicated’ the island…

Okay, so I am a fisheries biologist. I admit it. I go to regular fisheries biologists anonymous meetings. Besides complaining about how our wives don’t understand that a man must smell of fish, we talk about the effect of surface area on fish carrying capacity. And, if it applies to fish, it naturally has to apply to space habitats, especially as most people think of space habitats as an enclosed volume with people living on the inner skin. To increase that carrying capacity you have to increase size and volume hugely… but if we layered the habitat, you can increase surface area vastly without increasing volume. That’s a pretty big idea, let alone space habitat.

I’m a biologist. But my co-author is an historian. And any story is really about the people in it not the gadgets or biology, and people are the stuff of history. So we filled our isolated modules with people — the same sort of colonists who once had enough of life under Chief Big-Guy in the Great Rift Valley, who thought Attila the Hun was too liberal, who left Europe for America to chase dreams or to leave religious or state persecution. You know: the misfits, the dreamers, the hardline conservatives, the starry-eyed idealists. The rootstock of all colonisation, of humanity itself. The blokes who didn’t fit back home. The people who colonised America. The forefathers of just about everyone who doesn’t still live in the Great Rift Valley (and I wouldn’t bet on those either). So: What happens when you isolate those fragments for three hundred years. Do we need each other? Is isolation worth it? Who really are losers that society would be better without? Anyone? And how would an aliens species (especially one that didn’t have two sexes at birth) see them?

Now, I’ve written a lot of satirical humor, and some historical fantasy. This book was neither and both. I had to reign in the humor and get into the skin of a hero who was quite unlike me – a pacifist and a deeply religious traditional agrarian. I had to research the cultures of several of these groups and try to present a fair picture of their society. It did bring home just how complex such a seemingly simple society can be and how varied (and really human) the people in them can be too. Of course – I wrote a lot of it. There is humor and satire too.

Also, this is a hard-science book with minimum handwavium. And lets’s face it, in a lot of those the writers get so obsessed with the shiny gadgets and pretty lights that they leave you feeling mentally pummelled with it all. It’s great stuff but not easy reading. But… our society is full of quite complex gadgetry — that we take for granted. When your hero goes into his kitchen he doesn’t explain how the microwave oven he’s using works. He probably doesn’t actually know. And that is the key to writing accessible hard sf that I had to learn. I had to dig into the physics and mechanical side, with the help of some great and knowledgable people — and then let my characters live in the environment without explaining it. They don’t understand it. They just live in it. Heinlein did just this, and if it was good enough for him I guess Freer and Flint will just have to learn to do it too.

And that’s it. Face aliens with humans in a series of habitats – some of which are inimical. Put the species and cultures together. Mix. See what happens. It’s kind of about the future, vast dreams, and the past.

It’s a huge universe, and a long way to Arcturus.

—-

Slow Train to Arcturus: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an online excerpt of the novel here. Visit Dave Freer’s LiveJournal here.

World Wide Wheaton; Book View Cafe

What can you say? He's just a geek

Two bits of interest for the science fiction geek crowd:

* Wil Wheaton’s got himself a new gig as a columnist at LA Weekly, and that doesn’t suck. He’s writing, as far as I can tell, about basically whatever the hell we wants to, and that doesn’t suck, either. Go ahead and click through to his debut column, in which he talks about being a Los Angeleno, and be sure to leave a comment so his new bosses will be all impressed with how much traffic and conversation he brings in. Because — again — that wouldn’t suck.

* The fabulous Sarah Zettel writes to inform me of BookViewCafe.com, a collaborative site filled with lots of fiction and other cool stuff, from a whole bunch of famous/interesting writers including Ursula Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre and Anne Harris:

While most of the fiction on the site is free, authors will also be offering expanded work, additional content, print versions, or subscriptions for a fee. Our authors are all professionals with publishing credits in the print world. The Internet is giving us an opportunity to make their out-of-print, experimental, or otherwise unavailable work to you. We love feedback on how we are doing.

Every day, new content available nowhere else will be served up on Book View Cafe: short stories, flash fiction, poetry, episodes of serialized novels, and maybe even a podcast now and then. The content will be archived and available after the posting date by visiting the author’s bookshelf.

It’s just starting out, so give it a try and then check back later as well. And let them know what you think.

Silly Thought

I’m warning you ahead of time the following is not a deep thought:

I do get occasionally amused at being a poster child for Science Fiction’s Digital Future when I live in a rural town of 1,800 people with agricultural fields directly to my east, south and west, and Amish buggies clopping down the road on a daily basis. It’s, like, three cheers for cognitive dissonance.

A Moment of Minor Humiliation, Coupled With a Request Regarding Books

As I’ve noted earlier, I’m fantastically disorganized, and that’s not been helpful in the particular case of sending out books to people I’ve promised them to. However, just the other day, my super-efficient and otherwise incredibly awesome wife delivered unto me a whole bunch of shipping boxes and envelopes, so that I can finally send off these oft-delayed books.

At which point I find I’ve lost mailing addresses and names of the people to whom I owe books.

Because I suck.

So: If I owe you a book, either through a contest here on Whatever or through some other promise, will you please send me an e-mail with your mailing address and the name of the book I promised to send you? Because now I have the tools to send your books, and wish to, so they will not loiter on my conscience. Put “YOU OWE ME A BOOK” in the subject header so I’ll be able to tell your e-mail apart from the rest.

And yes, please send another e-mail to me even if you recently sent one, because, well. My e-mail in-box these days. You don’t want to know.

For those of you to whom I do not owe a book but who think this might be a nifty time to try to snake one out of me: I assure you that while I do not immediately remember to whom I owe books, once they send their requests, it’ll come back to me. And anyway, it’s not nice to take advantage of a forgetful author. Your karma cries out to you. And so on.

Thanks, folks, and to those who have been waiting for books, my abject apologies.

The Pulps and the Electronic World

PBS’ MediaShift Web site has an article called “Pulp Magazines Struggle to Survive in Wired World,” in which I am quoted rather extensively (indeed, I have my own section in the article) about science fiction print magazines, their online counterparts, and what it all means in the long run for literary science fiction. You’ll not be surprised that I am not hugely optimistic about the long-term prospects for the print magazines at the moment, although you may be surprised to discover that I think their current situation has less to do with the Web than it has to do with what they were doing even before then (or more accurately, what they weren’t doing).

I have more thoughts on the state of the pulps than made it into the article, of course. I would share them with you now, but my wife just came through the door with dinner. So that’s what I’m going to do in the short term. Nevertheless I encourage you to check out the article, and I might come back to the topic later.

Quick Thoughts on the Obama Interview

You know, the one that ran on 60 Minutes last night.

1. The dude’s got seriously wacky ears. I mean, I knew before that they were large and stuck out from his head — you can’t miss that — but during the interview I found myself unaccountably fascinated with them. They just, you know, don’t look normal. And I’m fine with that, since I didn’t vote for him on account of his shapely pinnae. Still wacky, though.

2. One thing I find interesting about Obama is that he seems perfectly happy to say “that’s something I’m not going to talk about” when he’s asked a question about something he doesn’t want to talk about. He did that at his first president-elect press conference (on the subject of his security briefings) and he did it again last night on the subject of cabinet appointments. He doesn’t hem or haw or dance around the fact he’s not talking about something, he just says he’s not talking about it. I wonder how long it’s going to take before the press gets really tired of that; they’re used to presidents not saying anything, just in a really long-winded way that gives them something to quote. Obama’s terseness is not to their advantage.

3. I got a big, goofy grin on my face when Obama mentioned that he used to live near Harold’s Chicken Shack. Since he’s in Hyde Park, I know exactly which Harold’s Chicken Shack he’s talking about because I used to live near it too, although not at the same time Obama did (he started teaching at the U of C the year after I left). It’s a little weird to have a president who lives in one of your old neighborhoods and eats at the same fast-food chicken place you did. Also, for the rest of you: Harold’s is the bomb. If you’re not in Chicago, you really don’t know what you’re missing.

4. As I type this I’m having an IM conversation with a friend of mine who is noting that the Obamas are very much like we are, “we” being the polyglot generation of well-educated, relatively affluent 30- and 40-somethings who are the first post-boomer, post-yuppie set of grownups out there. With the caveat that I’m not silly enough to say that I feel like I know Obama or that we share a special bond (a Chicago bond! w00t!), I think my friend is right, and watching the interview last night I certainly got that vibe as well. It’s why — among other reasons, to be sure — I desperately hope he doesn’t screw things up. When you look at your president and for the first time see someone like you, it makes a difference.

Also, I suspect it means I’m getting old. But never mind that now.

Me Not Here Online

Want me in someplace not here? Today, you have two options:

1. There’s a brief interview with me at Barnes & Noble’s Book Club area, discussing Agent to the Stars. Go here and scroll down to the ninth message and you’ll find me.

2. Time Traveler has audio of me and Jeff deLuzio talking on the topic of “Has Science Fiction Lost Its Mainstream Cultural Relevance?” from this year’s PenguiCon convention (my answer: It’s a bogus question).

Enjoy each of these as you would a fine cognac.