Monthly Archives: May 2009

Portrait of a Closet Introvert

I was very recently asked if there was something that I knew about myself that no one else believes when I tell them. I suspect that the question was meant to elicit a confession that I was born with twelve toes, or that I get sexually aroused in the presence of yogurt (neither of which, incidentally, is true, I swear), or something along that line, so I sort of blew off the question at the time. That said, the question’s been lingering with me for a few days, primarily because there is something about me that I know is true, which (almost) no one else believes about me, and that is that I am an introvert.

The reason almost no one believes it is because I quite admittedly exhibit the signs of being a shameless extrovert: I’m very social, I don’t get lost or withdrawn in large groups, I handle public appearances and performances adeptly and in general I give the impression of enjoying being around people, including people I don’t know particularly well. That’s pretty textbook extroversion right there.

Naturally I admit to all the above. I do like people, I do enjoy myself in social situations, I like meeting new folks and (if I may say so) I’m pretty well socialized for someone who is both a writer and a geek. I’m not faking my generally sociable nature. But I think there’s a difference between playing well with others, and genuine extroversion, in which being with other people is energizing to that person. As much as I like people and being with them, I’m not energized by them; sooner or later I turn into a pumpkin and go off to have time by myself, in order to recenter and hit the “reset” button, and to be presentable to other human beings once more. Which is to say the way I energize is to spend time by myself, which is a classic introvert thing.

I’ve always known this about myself, but the event that really brought it home to me was the book tour I did for The Last Colony. I had a great time doing the readings and signings in meeting people, but the moment I was done with the last bit, I was done. I had friends who saw me on the tour and a number of them remarked on the fact of how dazed I was after an event. It was true, and it wasn’t just because I was tired; it was because I was peopled out. For me, doing an event like that is the human interaction equivalent of mainlining three king-sized Snickers bars: Yes, I’m on, but then, wow. Sugar crash.

There’s a similar thing that goes on with me at science fiction conventions, particularly when I’m a Guest of Honor; during the day if I’m not on a panel or have some other commitment I’m often in my hotel room in order to conserve my sociability for scheduled events and for evening partying and hanging out. It’s not to say I have to force myself into being a social person — as noted before I do actually like being sociable and partying, it’s one reason I do so much of it. It’s more of being aware of what my own limits and needs are. If I don’t get a certain amount of alone time, I get cranky. And that’s not good for anyone.

This is why, incidentally, living out in the middle of nowhere in rural Ohio is not actually a hardship for me. My geographically closest close friend is about an hour away; on a day-to-day basis I just don’t get out much to see anyone. How do I feel about that? Just fine, thanks. Being alone works for me; I get writing done, I get thinking done, and generally speaking I keep myself suitably amused. I really like seeing my friends when I see them, and I wish I saw them more (including the one just an hour from me). But I’m not going stir-crazy out here in the sticks. It suits my temperament well.

Also, you know: hi, people coming to my blog. Thanks for providing me daily low-impact fraternization. The Internet was made for introverts, I suspect. In all, I’m covered on a day-to-day basis.

So, yes: Introvert. You might not see it when you meet me. But it’s there.

All Dressed Up

Two notes regarding this picture I just found of me and Krissy at the Heinlein Centennial a couple of years ago:

1. Wife (who dyed her hair Heinlein Heroine Red for the occasion) = very very pretty.

2. My eyebrows apparently have no natural arch to them whatsoever. I think it makes me look vaguely botoxed. For the record: I do not botox.

Picture found here.

The God Engines ARC Contest

First off, let me just say that you are not prepared for the staggering 1970s fantasy art Gor-gasm you’re about to have looking at the cover to my upcoming novella The God Engines. So take a moment to prepare.

Ready? Here you go:

See? Told you. The artwork is from Tomislav Tikulin, who has clearly studied up on his John Norman.

And you ask: does this cover match what’s between the covers? The answer: This is in fact a reasonably accurate representation of a character in the story. Hey, when I told you guys this novella was unlike anything else I’d ever written, I wasn’t kidding. Truth in advertising, folks. Now, you’ll have to read it to find out who this character is, why he’s in chains, and why he’s so damn angry. You may be pleasantly surprised!

And if you would like to read it — early, before everyone else reads it in December — here’s your chance: Subterranean Press is running a contest, the winner of which will be sent an ARC of The God Engines, which are slated to arrive at the SubPress HQ in the next couple of weeks. When they get it, they’ll ship one off to you. All you have to do is come up with the winning answer to this question:

If this was not the cover to The God Engines, what would be the title of the book it was the cover to?

Which is to say: imagine a different book that this would be the appropriate artwork for, and think of the title. You will be graded on cleverness, quite obviously.

Rules:

1. Post your titles in the comment thread to this entry. All entries must be in by 11:59pm Eastern, Tuesday, June 2nd.

2. No more than two titles per entrant.

3. Using “of Gor” in your title is probably not as clever as you think it is, since we already went there.

4. Titles with the word “bacon” in them are also not nearly as clever as you think, and will be disqualified. Come on, people, get over it.

5. Per points 3 and 4 above, if you type in “Bacon Slaves of Gor,” or some such, we will have you killed.

6. Bill Schafer and I are final arbiters of who wins.

There it is. Think of something good, or we’ll let this guy out of his chains to come after you. Trust me, you won’t like that.

So: Book titles! What have you got for us?

Photographic Evidence

Whilst at ConQuest, I was showing off pictures and in showing off the Scalzi Compound, noted there was at least one picture where the house was framed by a rainbow. This was met with skepticism, so I promised to fish out the picture and repost it for the non-believers. Thus:

Totally not Photoshopped. Really happened. Even a double rainbow, if you look closely.

Tech Geeks, Ho

Hey Moveable Type/Wordpress geeks:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my friend and also generally excellent editor at Tor, is the co-proprietor of the also generally excellent Making Light blog, and is asking for some much-needed technical assistance in migrating the blog. This would likely be classified in the “labor of love” category in terms of payment, but there are worse things than having the Managing Editor of Science Fiction at Tor Books be grateful to you, if you know what I mean. So if you’re inclined to be helpful, check out the plea and let him know.

Time Warner to AOL: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Time Warner appears finally to be quitting the AOL business:

Time Warner unveiled plans Thursday to spin off AOL as an independent company, an end to the massive media marriage formed in 2001.

“We believe that a separation will be the best outcome for both Time Warner and AOL,” said Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes, in a prepared statement.

The 2001 merger between AOL and Time Warner was applauded at the time as a visionary attempt to meld old media with new media. But synergies between the two never materialized.

The whole “synergy” argument always makes me giggle, because it’s been my long-held opinion that the real reason that AOL and Time Warner ever got together in the first place was that back at the turn of the century, AOL head Steve Case realized things were going to get bad, and that if AOL were to survive, it would need a host organism to feed off of during the lean years. And look, there was Time Warner, full of rich, life-giving nutrients. Done and done. If synergy were to happen, so much the better. But in the meantime, AOL would survive. And it did. So in this respect, well done, Steve Case.

The other thing I find amusing in this is that people seem to forget that it was actually AOL who bought Time Warner, not the other way around. Survival strategy or not, it’s an interesting thing for the purchasing organization to be spun off from the company it bought. But this is what I strongly suspect Steve Case didn’t account for, which is that the executive bench strength and organizational memory of Time Warner was much stronger than it was at AOL (which changed — and changes — its executive lineup as often as some people change socks). In other words, the host organism was easily latched onto, but then exhibited some impressive antibodies. Steve Case was gone as AOL Time Warner Chairman in January 2003, the company dumped the “AOL” part from their official title and that was pretty much that in the “who’s the boss?” sweepstakes.

Bear in mind I’m not a disinterested observer here; I was employed at AOL for two years in the mid-90s (i.e., its heyday, when it was seen as the universe-eating monster Google is today — which is a cautionary tale for Google) and I was a contractor and consultant for them up until the last day of 2007. I have generally very positive feelings about the company. Yes, AOL did lay me off once, but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me, and they did keep me on as a consultant for more money and less work, so I can hardly complain about that. Aside from that a number of people we met there continue to be close friends. So, in all, AOL’s a big part of my life.

Which is why I wish it well being spun off and continuing its life out there without Time Warner stepping on its head. What would be nice would be for AOL to get back a bit of its mid-90s “what the hell, let’s just do this and see if it works” zing; it’s never going to be that company again, but then, none of us are who we used to be. It doesn’t mean that who we are now isn’t interesting (or in some ways, better). Regardless, I see AOL as a long-term survivor; it’s not for nothing that I call it out in The Android’s Dream as “Earth’s oldest and largest continually active network.” Even if I do have it owned by Quaker Oats at the time. Hey, whatever works.

Bummer Weed

Over at Slate, William Saletan points to a new pharmaceutical take on medicinal marijuana that allegedly provides all its medicinal value (relieving pain and spasms, etc) without the not-so-medicinal values (totally getting you high). The makers of the product suggest that their un-stoned version of the stuff — called “Sativex” —  is better for medicinal purposes, since among other things it takes the therapeutic parts of pot and provides it in standardized and measured form, taking the guesswork out of, say, how potent your weed is, and also eliminating what is in fact a really bad method of drug delivery (i.e., smoking).

I make no claim toward the effectiveness of this “Sativex” as regards its medicinal qualities, but assuming that in fact it does give all the therapeutic value of medicial pot without the actual fun of getting high, it does put an interesting inflection point in the drive to legalize marijuana use. To put it bluntly (heh), I’ve always thought a fair number of people who yammer on about legalizing pot wrap themselves in the relative piety of its medicinal qualities to mask the fact that the reason they want pot to be legal is simply so they can get stoned without hassle. If you ask them if they would support legalizing pot only for its medical uses they might say yes, on the grounds they could always fake a backache, but I wonder if you then said “fine” and then presented them with this non-fun version if they would change their minds. Myself, I would just like to see the expression on their dazed, eyeballs-not-quite-tracking faces.

Before you stoners get outraged enough to hoist yourself unsteadily off the couch to come at me, please to read my actual position on legalizing marijuana, which is, sure, why not. But I don’t really drag the medicinal aspect into it, because I don’t really think that’s why most people really want legalization. And I for one think that if you are going to use the stuff medicinally, getting it in a form where its medicinal qualities are maximized (and the side-effects, pleasant as they might be, minimized) is the way to go. Which is to say I hope this Sativex stuff will work as advertised, whether it bums out potheads or not.

Reminder: California is a State in Which Same-Sex Marriages Are Legal

Having zoomed through the California Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage recognition, here’s my basic, I’m-so-totally-not-a-lawyer opinion:

It seems like the California Supreme Court has upheld the amendment to the California Constitution embodied in Prop 8 to the bare minimum that they could without actually throwing it out (which, I am led to understand by a number of lawyer friends, would have been very difficult to do), and in doing so have made it as toothless as they could. As I understand it, the court is basically saying “same-sex couples are allowed every right non-same-sex couples are allowed except to the actual word ‘marriage,’ unless of course they were already married before Prop 8 passed, in which case they get to use the word ‘marriage,’ too.”

Let’s not pretend that the pro-Prop 8 folks didn’t get a victory here in banning recognition of future same-sex marriages in California, because they have. However, the victory they did not get, the one that mattered the most from the point of view of delegitimizing same-sex marriage in California, and the one will make the Prop 8 ruling look increasingly foolish and bigoted as time goes on, is the one that would have invalidated the 18,000 previously-existing same-sex marriages in California. These marriages make a mockery out of the Prop 8 wording, because guess what? That part of the California constitution that says: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”? Completely and totally false. California is in fact legally obliged to recognize marriages between two men or two women.

Fact is, these existing California same-sex marriages are real, they are legal, they are valid and recognized. The people in them have the same rights as the people in any other marriage. Prop 8 has fundamentally failed to erase the state recognition of same-sex marriages in California. California is a state in which same-sex marriages are legal. That the state will no longer legally sanction additional same-sex marriages is in a very real way aside the point from this.

I imagine there are all sorts of legal implications to this ruling that will have to be sussed out from here, specifically involving why some same-sex couples are allowed legal recognition of their marriages while others aren’t, and in the long run I see the people of California seeing the fundamental bigotry of not allowing the latter group of same-sex couples to joining the former group in a wedded state. But that’s to be dealt with in the future.

In the meantime, I will revel in the fact that every time one of the people in those 18,000 real live actual legally recognized in the State of California same-sex married couples does something associated with the state recognizing the legal status of their marriage, they will taking one of their fingers — the one with the wedding band on it — and poking it directly into the eye of bigotry. You tried to kill my marriage, but it and I am still here, I hear them saying to the Prop 8 supporters. You tried to kill my marriage. You failed.

Yes, they did. They failed spectacularly.

Prop 8 Ruling In

From the LA Times:

The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law.

I’ll likely update with more of my own comments soon. The short form of my thoughts, however, is that I’m not surprised at the ruling, that I’m very glad that no existing marriages were destroyed, and that because the previous same-sex marriages are still valid, the constitutional amendment embodied in Prop 8 is already mockably pointless (because the state has to recognize same-sex marriages as valid, despite the amendment), and I expect will not remain long as part of the California constitution.

Discuss in the comment thread. Be aware I am wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction very enthusiastically. If you can’t discuss the ruling without also taking personal shots at other commenters for their thoughts on the ruling, down comes the mallet.

Update 1: The actual ruling (pdf link)

Various & Sundry 5/26/09

What’s going on in my head:

1. First, another quick shoutout to the folks who put together and participated in ConQuest 40, which I have just come back from. It was an excellent con, for several reasons. First, and most directly relating to me, they kept jamming barbeque down my throat all weekend long, and while I’m sure I’ve gained about fifteen pounds and am now flirting with hypertension, it was worth it. I’ve invested in a home defibrillator in any event. Second, I thought it was a well run and well-paced convention — not overprogrammed as cons occasionally are, which meant that as a guest I didn’t feel overworked, and as a congoer I didn’t feel like I was missing out on stuff because it conflicted with something else I was doing or seeing. Third, everyone was lovely; it had a real family-like atmosphere and I quickly became fond of a number of folks, both staff and congoers.

So in sum, it’s a lovely convention and I hope to go back one day soon. If you’re in the market for a Memorial Day convention, this is a very good choice. They already have the splash page for ConQuest 41 up, so check it out.

2. As happy as I was to have attended ConQuest (and I was), it’s nice to be home and also nice to have nowhere I’m obliged to be, in a public capacity, until late July. Yes, I know, having to travel to places where people want to put you in a spotlight and have you party until the wee hours of the night seems like one of those problems most  people would like to have. I’m not saying it is actually a problem. It is, however, tiring, especially when you’ve had three travel commitments in four weekends, as I have. And it does put a hole in the writing schedule, as I do almost no writing while traveling and it takes me a day or so once I’m back home to get my brain back into writing mode.  So as you might expect, as much fun as I’ve had this May, it was not a sterling month for writing. June, however, looks excellent in this regard.

3. Yes, I have something planned to be writing on in June. No, I’m not going to talk about it now.

4. Got my physical copies of Zwischen den Sternen (the German version of Zoe’s Tale) in the mail today, which makes me happy, as it’s the first foreign version of ZT to arrive here at the Scalzi Compound. It appears to be selling pretty well over there, which makes me even happier; it’s nice to see Zoe doing well in the world. It’s also interesting to me that Chapter 20 gets me all misty regardless of what language it’s in.

That’s what’s up.

China Miéville on Crime Novels

China Miéville’s new novel The City & The City hits the stores today, and it’s a novel that simultaneously fulfills Miéville fan expectatation and is something that they never would have seen coming. Fans of the author almost certainly expected a complex and satisfying tale of a fantastic city real enough that you get the genuinely tactile sense of the place, given the author’s long association with New Crobuzon, in Perdido Street Station and Iron Council. If there’s anything Mieville knows (and to be clear, he knows lots), it’s how to put his reader into a city with all senses firing.

What they couldn’t have expected were Beszel and Ul Qoma, the cities of the book’s title, or their intimate relationship as sisters and rivals — or the fact that Mieville would give them their view of these cities through the lens of a murder procedural — or that Mieville both supports and subverts the crime novel form exploring the cities he’s made. He’s doing a lot of fascinating stuff here, and makes it look easy, which it’s not. Expect The City & The City to be an awards front runner, and not necessarily just in the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

Having now written his own crime novel, China Mieville has some thoughts on the nature of the form, and why it’s so hard for whodunnits to stick the dismount, as it were. I’m delighted to give him the floor here at Whatever to explain it to you.

CHINA MIÉVILLE:

Crime novels never end well. We’re talking here about the whodunnits. There’s a body in the library. Seven people hated him. A cantankerous cop plays by her or his own rules, or a small-town librarian charmingly uncovers sordid truths. There are other paradigms, of course — the alt-crime formulas perfected by geniuses like Patricia Highsmith, the youalreadyknowwhodunnits, the whodunwhats, the doesitreallymatterwhodunnits. But the centre of gravity of the genre, the pull against which such brilliant dissidence chafes, is the whodunnit. Be it cozy, police procedural, noir, the problematic is shared. And these novels – which I like many passionately love – always end badly. Even the brilliant ones. I don’t mean for those still alive within the books’ worlds, necessarily, but for those of us beyond the text.

Reviews of crime novels repeatedly refer to this or that book’s slightly disappointing conclusion. This is the case even where reviewers are otherwise hugely admiring. Sometimes you can almost sense their bewilderment when, looking closely at the way threads are wrapped up and plots and sub-plots knotted, they acknowledge that nothing could be done to improve an ending, that it works, that it is ‘fair’ (a very important quality for the crime aficionado – no last-minute suspects, no evidence the reader hasn’t seen), that it is well-written, that it surprises… and yet that it disappoints.

The reason, I think, is that crime novels are impossible. Specifically, impossible to end.

Obviously there’s a danger here of exoneration, of using this argument to evade responsibility for all manner of bullshit and bad writing. So let’s insist that one of the reasons for any crime novel’s – sometimes nebulous but in my opinion inevitable – failure may very well be authorial inadequacy. Nonetheless. Even absent that, such books always leave the reader feeling, even if just a bit, let down.

Because crime novels are not what they say they are. They are not, for a start, realist novels. Holmes’s intoxicating and ludicrous taxonomies derived from scuffs on a walking stick are not acts of ratiocination but of bravura magical thinking. (Not that they, or other ‘deductions’, are necessarily ‘illogical’, or don’t make sense of the evidence, but that they precisely do so: they make it into sense. The sense follows the detection, in these stories, not, whatever the claim, vice versa.) The various manly Virgils who appear ex nihilo to escort Marlowe through his oneiric purgatories are not characters, but eloquent opacities in man-shape: much more interesting. Dalgliesh’s irresistibility to hyperrealised moral panics du jour – the poor man manages to contract SARS – is an elegiac opera of Holland Park angst, rather than any quotidian gazette of a policeman’s unhappy lot. Detective fiction is a fiction of dreams. Not only is this no bad thing, it is precisely what makes it so indispensable.

Secondly, detective novels are not novels of detection, still less of revelation, still less of solution. Those are all necessary, but not only are they insufficient, but they are in certain ways regrettable. These are novels of potentiality. Quantum narratives. Their power isn’t in their final acts, but in the profusion of superpositions before them, the could-bes, what-ifs and never-knows. Until that final chapter, each of those is as real and true as all the others, jostling realities all dreamed up by the crime, none trapped in vulgar facticity. That’s why the most important sentence in a murder mystery isn’t the one starting ‘The murderer is…’ – which no matter how necessary and fabulously executed is an act of unspeakable narrative winnowing –  but is the snarled expostulation halfway through: ‘Everyone’s a suspect.’ Quite. When all those suspects become one certainty, it’s a collapse, and a let-down. How can it not be? We’ve been banished from an Eden of oscillation.

It’s no cause for despair. Even if these stories fail, we still love them, and can’t do without them. And they’re only one of countless phenomena which can, in this here-and-now where we live, only always fail. But Beckett’s advice is good: fail again, and fail better. Some detective stories, after all, fail very well indeed.

(And for the lit-geek, there is one, just once, in the history of the genre, that succeeded in the impossible, and defeated this narrative kobayashi maru. It’s its brilliant solution to this impossible narrative conundrum that makes Darcy Sarto’s Lady Don’t Fall Backwards the only flawless crime novel ever completed.)

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The City & The City: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel. Read a Q&A with Miéville on The City & The City. China Miéville’s book tour itinerary.