Monthly Archives: April 2009

My New Roof, Unassembled Format

At the end of winter a mighty wind blew (or something) and took a fair amount of the roof with it, so — oh, yay — we get to have a new roof, and today is the day it gets to be had. The roofers were here yesterday to drop all off the new shingles and such, and within the hour they will be here to apply them to the house, which occassion all manner of hammering and banging and tearing and shredding and sloths and fruit bats and breakfast cereals and so on. Which means a) no real chance for me to get any work done if it involves trying to think for more than one-and-a-half seconds in a row b) crazy insane dog going mad at all the thumping and bumping. Which of course brings us back to point a).

In short, today will be an excellent day to listen really loud music and not think at all. And so, this is my plan for the day. So if you call today, there’s a good chance our entire conversation will be thumps and bangs and me saying to you “WHAT?!? Hey, I can’t hear you, I’m listening to Slayer.” Mmmm… Slayer. I’m just warning you ahead of time, is all. Maybe just e-mail today.

DSL Outage Day Two: The Madness Continues

Right at the moment my local library is still closed, but its wifi hotspot is up, so I’m sitting in my minivan outside the building, typing on my nettop and hoping the neighbors don’t call in the creepy dude typing on a computer in his car. I can’t believe it’s come to this. On the other hand I had e-mail and other stuff that I needed to catch up on. Also, I’m twitching and shaking like a junkie in need of a fix. It’s sad, really.

In the comments to the previous message, someone disbelieved that it was that difficult for me to find wifi, saying that unless I live out in the middle of nowhere I probably live in a wifi cloud. Well, dude: As it happens, I do live in the middle of nowhere, in a house smack dab in the center of a piece of land exactly the size of a New York city block (i.e., which means no leaching of the neighbors’ wifi, if they had any, which they don’t), in a place that is 11 miles from the nearest McDonald’s or WalMart or coffee shop. The only place within miles that does have a wifi hotspot, besides me, is the library. Which is why I’m parked outside of it right now, looking like a creepy, creepy dude.

That said, having the DSL down means I’m catching up on my reading; at the moment I’m reading China Mieville’s upcoming book The City & The City, because he’ll be doing a Big Idea piece when it comes out, and they’ve sent it to me. It’s excellent so far; you may have read some reviews where people have noted that it hardly seems fantastical at all. These people are high. It’s totally fantastical, it’s just the sort of fantastical that people made uncomfortable by elves with swords can handle. You can’t blame China for other people’s literary prejudices. It’s not his fault.

All right, I’ve got a few more things to do before the sheriffs show up and ask me what I’m doing loitering near the library, so I’ll catch you all later. Remember that until the new DSL modem shows up, I’ll largely be incommunicado. Hopefully the new DSL modem shows up today. If not, I assume more furtive loitering is in my future. Loiter, loiter, loiter.

The Most Horrible Thing Ever To Happen

According to the techs at my DSL provider, my cable modem, which was apparently four and a half years old, has fried itself in its own juices and they’re sending me a new one. However that will take a couple of days, so unless I transport myself down to the library and suck off their public wifi (as I am doing now), don’t expect to see too much of me here in the next couple of days. Likewise, if you’re sending me e-mail in the next couple of days, don’t expect an immediate response — I’ll be able to read e-mail via the BlackBerry but will only be responding to the urgent ones.

(Also, since someone snarked about it, I do in fact have the ability to moderate comment threads here via e-mail. So don’t think the Mallet of Loving Correction won’t fit through my BlackBerry.)

For those of you who can’t live without me until the cable modem arrives, I’ll most likely be posting inanities via Twitter, which you can follow here (my recent tweets are in the sidebar) or through my Twitter page.

And there it is. See you when I rejoin the 21st Century.

DSL is Down

Oh noes! My internets are out! I suspect this has something to do with the power being out earlier. I’m writing this on my BlackBerry, which is a real pain in the thumbs. So, I’ll be back when my dsl is back up. Be strong until then.

Space is Cool

Damn, this is an excellent picture from the Cassini Saturn mission:

Saturn’s rings, the small moon of Epimetheus, and hydrocarbon-laden Titan, fuzzy in the background. Gorgeous.

There’s more where that came from here. I’d go look at them if I were you.

Cat and Zoe

Cleverly addressing two constituencies at once, here’s a picture of Ghlaghghee and a picture of the mass market paperback edition of Zoe’s Tale, a contractually mandated box of which just showed up at my door a week ahead of its official April 28th release date. Both are quite lovely in their way.

The PB edition is actually coming out a little early, relative to the hardcover release: nine months out rather than a year, as these usually are. At first I was a little concerned about this, but then Zoe got nominated for the Hugo, so having it out in paperback soon enough to capitalize on the nomination is actually a bit of good luck. Funny how these things work out.

I’ll make mention of Zoe again on the official release date, which is, again, a week from today, but it’s quite possible you’ll start seeing it in bookstores before then. If you do, please remove it from the shelves by way of grabbing hold of it, marching it up to the book store counter and then furiously purchasing it. That’ll show them! Yes. That’ll show them all.

The Big Idea: Michael Z. Williamson

Authors, the next time you whine and moan about your difficulties writing at home (or in a coffee shop or whatever), spare a thought for Michael Z. Williamson, whose latest book Contact With Chaos got done not in the comfort his home office or his local Starbucks, but while he was deployed in a war zone. That’ll put your wobbly coffee shop table into a bit of perspective.

A war zone filled with flying metal (in the form of planes; Williamson is in the Air Force) is also an interesting place to posit a civilization without metal. How would it work? Could it work? Williamson’s here to break it down for you.

MICHAEL Z. WILLIAMSON:

I started with the idea of a non-metal, but technological culture. Just how far advanced could they be?  Selective breeding is pretty obvious, and so are certain glass, ceramic and chemical industries. Remember that during the Iron Age, most tools were actually wood. Metal as a mass medium of manufacturing is less than a century old.

However, with research, it turns out a great many modern technologies don’t require metal if you work around them.  Obviously, gunpowder isn’t a big deal.  Neither are modern nitrated explosives, though. Alcohols and obsidian blades allow surgery and antiseptic procedure…so if a culture has a scientific mindset, they can develop quite a few things.  Certain photo etching and printing techniques, ceramic rocket nozzles for artillery, poison gas of course…and bakelite and fiberglass pressure vessels for limited steam power and air conditioning.  Really.

This brings a culture up to almost WWI levels, with some workarounds for things like harvesting trees without chainsaws, more labor intensive digging, though explosives do allow for modern mining.

Of course, how would a habitable planetary system develop without surface metals?  Well, really, the only two metals I had to worry about were iron for tools and copper for wire.  Without those, most other metals are almost unobtainable.  So, if there are no large impactors, and an acidic environment, what metallics come out of volcanic action will dissolve quickly, and metal meteorites will be rare enough not to matter.  So the planet still had a dense core, and all the lighter metals for biological processes.  Someone explained the workings of aluminun-magnesoglobin for oxygen transfer, but as long as it works, I’m happy in my ignorance of the details.

As to writing it…I had some personal issues at home, including a pending deployment (Scalzi knows about the deployment.  He was the Emergency Holographic Michael Williamson, GoH, at InConJunction in my stead), then I deployed, (ever tried writing a novel at the end of 12-15 hour shifts 6 days a week in a war zone, with one day off to do laundry, clean gear…oh, and respond to the occasional disaster that knocks base power down and requires all engineer personnel to report in?  With a roommate with very annoying habits in a tiny room in what’s effectively a doublewide trailer with 30 NCOs in it, in 126 degree heat, with sandstorms, and very intermittent internet connections due to sandstorms, and very limited wireless because of the risk of interfering with air ops?  Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical), then I came back, and then I had, and still have, service connected illness…but at the time, all I knew was that I was waking up gasping, hacking up my lungs until I choked, then kicking into an asthmatic reaction, then clogging up, then crashing asleep for two hours, then repeating.

I don’t recommend this as either a motivation to write, a good way to write, nor even as a character building exercise.

Still, somehow I got it written, and while it’s not the best I’ve done, I think I pulled the big idea off well enough.

Oh, wait–there’s more.

I’ve never liked that “We come in peace/war, take us to your leader” meme for first contact.  We’re not a monolithic culture, and I don’t expect others are.  I fully expect capitalists, pirates, crusaders, do-gooders, missionaries and warriors, from three or four different cultures, all to mix it up together, which historically is what happened.  It’s also foolish to expect the aliens to be simple or unified, and it’s a mistake to assume that their technological level dictates their intellectual capabilities or threat level.

So that’s one big idea—I call it “Stonepunk”–and a twist on the usual starry-eyed idealism.

I titled it “Beads and Trinkets.”  Toni at Baen insisted that didn’t have the right sound.  I wasn’t thrilled with “Contact with Chaos” at first, but it seems to have been prophetic in several ways.  It also does fit the story, and looks good on the cover.

And I’m really interested to know how it works for the reader.

—-

Contact With Chaos: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit Michael Z. Williamson’s blog. View an audio interview with him.

Teabaggers and Puppetmasters

An e-mail today, which I suspect is tongue-in-cheek, but which actually is worth making a point about:

Why do the teabaggers and their puppetmasters hate America so much?

Well, in terms of the teabaggers, of course, they don’t hate America. They love America, and no, I’m not being arch and sarcastic. They do. Deal with it. The problem is that as much as they love America, they love an alternate history version of America more, the one in which someone other than Barack Obama won the presidency, the Republicans aren’t the minority in Congress, and where they can not worry overly much about the excesses of big government because at least it’s their big government.

They love it so much that they are having a hard time grasping that it is an alternate history version of America, partly because where they live, it doesn’t seem like alternate history. Dayton, Ohio had one of the largest teabagger turnouts in the nation, and if you look the county election map for 2008, it’s easy to see why: Because Dayton’s Montgomery county is an island of blue surrounded by a sea of red, including my own county, Darke, which is incidentally represented by the GOP’s top congressman, John Boehner. When you live in counties that went 60% or more for McCain (Darke was at 68%), you have a hard time believing your vision of the US is the alternate one.

If you don’t want to believe this, I ask you to cast your mind back to, oh, say, November 3, 2004 and check in with how liberals and democrats were feeling that day, and indeed additionally for much of the time between then and November 4, 2008. Well, you say, at least we never threatened to secede. To which I say: Oh, I don’t know about that. Granted, it wasn’t the governor of one of those blue states getting himself all hopped up on secession fumes and blurting stupidities on national television. But this is neither here nor there regarding a chunk of the electorate being in shock and denial about how another, larger portion of the electorate voted.

So that’s the teabaggers. What about their puppetmasters — most specifically Rupert Murdoch and his minions at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the various other contributors to the whipping up of these alternate America lovers? You know, the ones that the tea baggers are adamant aren’t their puppetmasters, because no one tells their grassroots movement what to do?

Well. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t actually give a shit about the teabaggers one way or another, save retaining them as eyeballs for his advertisers. Murdoch understands the dynamics of American political opinion, and that outside the sixty percent of the US electorate that constitutes the fuzzy, unpredictable political middle, there’s a hard-edged twenty percent on either side that is reliable, predictable and loyal to its politics, and to those who support them. Murdoch long ago staked out one of those twenty percent for his own benefit and enrichment, and now maintains it assiduously. Done and done.

Limbaugh’s the same, although I suspect he’s less dispassionate about it than Murdoch; he’s enjoying the fact that for now, fortune has crowned him the right’s unofficial policymaker. Between Limbaugh and Murdoch and the teabagging rabble is a middle class of opinionators and politicians who may believe what they expound to a greater or lesser degree but who equally see themselves as chessplayers, moving the teabagging public into position for the next game, i.e., 2010.

Will any of it work? Doubt it in the short run; President Obama is being tricky by not actually playing their game and instead focusing on his own plans, carving out a constituentcy in the middle of the road and generally being successful at it, leaving the teabagging right, which will never support him regardless of what he does, to spin in tight, isolated circles and do its own thing — except when from time to time he reaches out them. Which they reject, which allows him to say “well, I tried,” and then do what he was going to do anyway, with the added benefit of making the right look petulant and insular. He’s already done this a time or two, with excellent effect, politically speaking. This is not to suggest Obama is an Ultimate Political Jedi Master. He screws up enough. But at the moment he is better at politics than his opponents, which is sufficient for his purposes.

Also, I doubt any of it will work in the long run, either. Not because conservativism is doomed — it’s not. But the current iteration of it — the socially fundmentalist, expansive government, rights grabbing, it’s-right-if-we-say-it’s-right-because-we’re-right version — almost certainly is. The smart conservatives (and the younger ones, not necessarily always the same) have already started to separate themselves from this dried-up conservatism, particularly its social fundamentalism: Note the recent appearance of Steve Schmidt and Meghan McCain at the Log Cabin Republicans convention, banging on the old guard for being clueless (or as McCain noted, for being “scared shitless”). These folks aren’t living in an alternate America, the one that denies that it’s lost the argument; they know the score well enough. They’re living for an alternate America, one in which they win because they have a better argument.

They know what most of the teabaggers don’t (and what their puppetmasters don’t seem to care about): No amount of hopping up and down about taxes or secession or same-sex marriage or whatever will mean anything if the majority of Americans have already rejected your message and see you as embarrassingly clueless about not getting the memo. So, no. The teabaggers don’t hate America. They love America. It’d be nice if they started living in the real one.

The 2009 Hugo Voters Packet: Now Live

I’m delighted to announce that the 2009 Hugo Voter Packet is now available to members of Anticipation, the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention, to help them catch up on their reading and make informed votes for this year’s Hugo and Campbell Awards. This package is only available to members of Anticipation. This year’s Hugo Packet is ZOMG huge, and includes electronic editions of, in the following categories:

Best Novel

* The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
* Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
* Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
* Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Best Novella

* “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
* “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
* “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
* “Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette

* “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
* “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
* “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
* “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story

* “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
* “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
* “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal ( The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
* “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang ( Eclipse Two)
* “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Related Book

* Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
* What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications) (Extract only)
* Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story

* Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

* METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc) (instructions for download)

Best Semiprozine

* Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
* Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal – Year in Review

Best Fanzine

* Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
* The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
* Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
* File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Professional Artist — Art samples by:

* John Picacio

Best Fan Writer – Writing samples by:

* Chris Garcia
* John Hertz
* Cheryl Morgan
* Steven H Silver

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer – Novels and/or writing samples by:

* Aliette de Bodard
* David Anthony Durham
* Felix Gilman
* Tony Pi
* Gord Sellar

(Update, 5/19: Newly added: “The Tear” by Ian McDonald in Novella, “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner in Novelette, Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III in Fanzine, and pro artwork from Bob Eggleton, Daniel Dos Santos and Donato Giancola.)

Hey, I told you it was ZOMG huge.

And now, to answer the questions:

1. How to do I get this Hugo Voters Packet?

If you are a current member of Anticipation, you have received or will shortly receive an e-mail from Anticipation, informing you how to download the Hugo Voters Packet. Check your e-mail queues; the e-mail is from “hugopacket@anticipationsf.ca” (or at least mine was).

If you are not a current member of Anticipation, then you must join to receive the package. Joining is $195 US/$250 CAD for attending membership (which means you plan on coming to Anticipation this August) or $50 US/$55 CAD for a supporting membership (which allows you to vote for the Hugos). When you join you will receive information on how to download the Hugo Voters Packet.

Note that the retail value of the work in the Hugo Voters Packet is in itself the equivalent of the cost of an attending membership to Anticipation. Add on top of that all the actual fun you will have at Anticipation, meeting up with friends, seeing your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors and notables, and partying your brains out until the wee hours of the morning, and you’ll realize what a deal this really is for you.

2. Why is the Hugo Voters Packet Only Available to Anticipation Members?

Because they’re the ones who can vote for the Hugos and Campbell, and the packet is designed to encourage this voting and to help Hugo and Campbell voters make an informed choice when they cast their votes. Some of the individual parts of the Hugo Voters Packet are available online for non Anticipation members, but the whole package is only available to Anticipation members.

But while the Hugo Voter Packet is only available to Anticipation members, anyone can become an Anticipation member. All it takes is the purchase of a membership. Which, naturally, we all encourage.

3. I am a current Anticipation member but cannot find the e-mail you speak of in question one and/or don’t have my account information handy.

This is a terrible state of affairs that may be rectified by sending an e-mail to hugopacket@anticipationsf.ca. When e-mailing, please explain briefly why you are e-mailing, and also who you are, so that the folks on the receiving end can be helpful for you.

4. Who deserves credit for this marvelous package?

The largest share of credit, of course, goes to the individual Hugo and Campbell nominees, who have graciously assented to participate in this years Hugo Voter Packet. They didn’t have to — participation strictly voluntary — but they believe in encouraging Anticipation members to vote, and to vote from an informed point of view. If you would like to thank these wonderful people, head to your favorite bookstore, in the real world or online, and buy their works for yourself or others.

Please also give credit to the publishers of these works, who have also graciously allowed the authors to participate.

I would also ask you to raise your glasses in a sincere toast to the folks at Anticipation, who are handing the distribution and management of this year’s Hugo Voter Packet, which I personally appreciate a whole damn bunch, because, man, is it a lot of work. I am delighted and grateful for their enthusiasm and participation.

5. Can I tell everyone I know or indeed have ever met about this?

Please do, and likewise please encourage them to become members of Anticipation. We’d love to see you (and them) there. And to have you (and them) vote for the Hugos and Campbell.

So there you have it, Hugo voters. Happy reading!

Where Do You Go With 40k Readers?

For those of you who didn’t want to spend the $1,600 or whatever it cost to attend the Tools of Change conference this year, here’s the panel I was on, with Toby Buckell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, with Ron Hogan moderating, called: “Where Do you Go With 40,000 Readers? A Study in Online Community Building.” In it we discuss building an online community, moderating and encouraging it, and what you can do with a community once it’s there without crossing the line into making that community feel used by you. Yes, I talk about you all.

Note, incidentally, that I introduce BigIdeaAuthors.com there, with the stated debut date being today. We’re not debuting today because we’re still under construction, but work is coming along nicely and it’s going to look great when it comes out.

Also, I have a bit of a Buddha belly going on in this. I’m working on that. I swear.

Meanwhile On Twitter

Scalzi: Nominee for “Song So Uniquely Suiting a Band That All Its Covers Suck”: “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division. Discuss.

The_No_Show: True. Plus: every time I hear a Joy Division cover, I want to hang myself.

Scalzi: That’s just MEAN.

The_No_Show: What? Too soon?

No Longer Stepping So Harshly on Robert Heinlein’s Toes

Behold! The new title of Zoe’s Tale in German:

Some of you may recall that previously ZT’s title in German was intended to be Zwischen den Planeten, which translates to Between Planets, which is, of course, the title of a Heinlein juvenile novel. I asked if we might not be able to change it just a little, and so now it’s Zwischen den Sternen, or Between Stars. This still gets the feel of what my German publisher was going for without looking like we were bonking Ol’ Bob over the head and then riffling through his pockets for titles, so I am quite pleased.

Speaking of RAH and German editions, I recently completed the foreword to a new German edition of Stranger in a Strange Land, this one using the “uncut” version of the novel that surfaced a couple of decades ago. I was of course delighted to be able to give my thoughts on it, and specifically about how it compared to the 1960s version of the novel. In what might look like a bit of waffling, I like them both; the 1960s version has an economical punch to its delivery, while the 1980s version feels like you get to explore more of the details of the world. It really depends on what you’re in the mood for, basically.

I’ve been lucky enough this year to write intros for new editions of The Forever War, Stranger and the upcoming Subterranean Press edition of The Martian Chronicles. Writing intros is like the writer’s version of opening up for your favorite bands, so you can imagine the fun I’m having doing these (I’m also doing intros for Howard Tayler and Mary Robinette Kowal’s upcoming work — in those cases, hopefully it’s telling people who like my stuff to, hey, check this out, too). It’s all a reminder that, hey, my job doesn’t suck.

Michael Hedges

Because people mentioned Michael Hedges in the comments to one of yesterday’s posts, and because my friend Kevin Stampfl, whose birthday it is today, is an admirer of his, here’s a Michael Hedges video, with him playing a very wacky looking but cool sounding harp guitar:

Hedges, unfortunately, not still with us; he died 12 years ago in a car accident. Buckle your seatbelts, folks.

Also, happy birthday, Kevin!

Happy Birthday Krissy

For yet another spin around the sun, the planet has been graced by the presence of my wife, whose general qualities on the awesome front have not lessened and have indeed by all measurable indications increased. You would think I would get tired of noting how stupid lucky I am to be with her, but, nope, not yet. Not even close. So if you have a mind to wish her a happy birthday today, please feel free.