Monthly Archives: July 2009

Hey

While I’m off driving, you should read what Justine Larbalestier has to say about book covers, and specifically, her latest book cover, for her upcoming novel Liar. It’s a reminder, among other things, about what is in an author’s control as regards their book, and what is not.

Incidentally: Liar is a genuinely excellent book.

Various and Sundry, 7/23/09

Stuff on my brain, aside from my peeling scalp:

* I’m traveling again today and will be at the Confluence convention through the weekend, so you know the drill: probably fewer than usual posts the next few days, catch me on Twitter, don’t expect immediate e-mail responses and so on. Things will be back to normal on Monday.

* The current results of yesterday’s poll suggest that only three percent of you are blindly willing to do my bidding, but that 30% might be willing to do my bidding if there’s cake involved. The lesson: Cake is the path to world domination. What’s more, I bet if I promise buttercream frosting I can pick up another three or four percent. I’ll have to do further studies.

* One of the more predictable outcomes of my commenting on Adam Roberts’ Hugo evaluation is that there’s some muttering about how I was lashing out at the man because he called my novel “mediocre,” even as I noted I was not particularly concerned about that (but of course I would say that, wouldn’t I). If people want to believe that, it’s their karma, but as a final point on that I’d remind folks that I’m the guy who did this, which is not something you do when you’re the sort to get overly worked up over bad reviews.

The one other amusing mutter I’ve heard centers on how my noting that needlessly antagonizing one’s potential readers is not necessarily a great idea, and indeed the entry in general, somehow constitutes pandering or “dog whistling” on my part. My thinking on that is that the folks making these mutters probably don’t sell books to make a living, and also that they appear to think readers here are generally easily-placated morons eagerly awaiting head-pats from their maximum leader, i.e., me. This makes me giggle.

* Watched the Obama press conference last night, primarily because it’s nice to once again have a president I can tolerate watching give a press conference. I suspect I’m like a lot of folks in that I buy the argument that something needs to be done about health care here in the US — we’ve been watching our own employer-covered benefits get snipped away over the last few years while the costs to us have been going up — but I’m agnostic on whether what’s winding its way through Congress at the moment is going to be a reasonable solution, or even the right step in the right direction. I mostly came away from the press conference feeling like I had homework to do on the matter, which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s not like I don’t already have enough to do with my time.

Regarding the president’s comment about Henry Louis Gates, Jr. being arrested in his own home, I find his response unobjectionable: Gates was legally in his own place, and even if he were being rude and antagonistic to the police officer in question, which it appears he was, that in itself shouldn’t have gotten him led off in cuffs. Being rude and antagonistic isn’t against the law. Also, my understanding is Gates was charged with “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space,” which makes one wonder when it was one’s private property somehow became a public space. As did the president, I’ll note I wasn’t there, so there’s likely details that I’m missing. But from what I know, yeah, this wasn’t exactly a shining moment for the Cambridge Police Force, and wouldn’t have been even without the national attention.

* It’s been so long since I’ve been sunburned enough to peel that I’m finding it a bit alarming how much skin is sloughing off. This was compounded this morning by wife, as the first thing she said to me this morning, suggesting I should borrow her loofa and really scrub. At this point I’m just hoping that when I show up to Confluence people don’t go “Hey look, it’s Scalz– OH MY GOD HE’S MELTING.” We’ll just have to see. I may wear a hat.

A Terminator Mystery

Over at AMC this week, I discuss how Terminator: Salvation can simultaneously have grossed half the box office of Star Trek, and also nearly twice as much. How does the film manage this neat trick? You’ll have to click through to find out. Indeed, I suspect the question will drive you insane until you do. For your own mental health, and the safety of others around you, for God’s sake click that link.

The Neck Issue

Truth to tell, I don’t really mind getting older in a general sense, but I have to say I really hate what it’s doing to my neck. Middle age has decided to make its beachhead there, and slowly but surely (and not really all that slowly, alas) my neck is losing its concavity and is instead becoming something of a direct slope from my chin to my sternum. This pleases me not in the least.

Mind you, I’ve always had a thick neck in proportion to my size, which is I think one of the reasons why when people see me in pictures without me standing next to something for scale, they assume I’m some six foot dude. A side effect of this is even when I was (ahem) thinner than I am now, I often looked like I had a double chin, especially if the picture caught me snickering. Even so, now it’s definitely kinda drapey, which sucks.

What to do about it? Well, first I suppose I really should get around to dropping those fifteen pounds I’ve been planning to drop since the beginning of the year; that would be start. After that if it’s still a flat plane I suppose I’ll brush up on my charm, as I will not be impressing people with my devilishly strong neckline. I’ve mentioned casually to people that if I ever was going to get plastic surgery done, it would be to my neck — not in an attempt to look younger (which would be rather more work than I would want, and you end up with the Kenny Rogers permanently-standing-behind-a-jet-engine look anyway) but just avoid the inevitable wattle action — but in the end I’ll probably just have to live with it. Stupid neck.

(Picture credit: Tina Wassenaar Kambarian)

Slavering Hordes! I Command You to Take This Poll!

Inasmuch as it has been variously implied recently that the lot of you are slavering hordes what crouch for employment at my feet, a poll for you, my pretties.

Remember, this is for posterity, so please, be truthful.

My Confluence Schedule

As most of you know, I am this year’s Guest of Honor at Confluence, which is going down this weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. If you’re in the greater Pittsburgh area this weekend — and why wouldn’t you be, it’s a lovely city, with lovely people and lovely rivers — you should stop on by and spend some time with us. We’re going to have so much fun we might actually shatter the boundaries of reality. And you know what that means: Unicorns for everyone! And I know how much you love unicorns (Justine “I hate unicorns” Larbalestier excepted).

For those of you who are attending, here is my schedule for the conference:

FRIDAY, JULY 24

5:00PM: “Why are there so many Twits on Twitter?”

In which, I assume, we hold forth on that Twitter thingamabob all the kids are talking about these days. And yes, of course, I shall tweet at least once while on the panel. For the sake of observing forms. Also on the panel: Laurie Mann, Michelle Sagara West and Sarah Zettel

7:00PM: “Military SF in the Age of Terrorism”

Panel title says what it does, does what it says. Fellow panelists: Bill Keith, Bud Sparhawk and Ken Chiacchia

SATURDAY, JULY 25

11:00AM: Autographing

Come see me scrawl!

1:00PM: “Movies: the year in review”

Perhaps just for fun I’ll suggest that the Transformers flick is a serious contender for the Oscar. Fellow panelists: Eric Davin, Charles Oberndorf and Herb Kauderer.

3:ooPM: GoH Speech

In which I do my now-patented pacing around on the stage, blathering incontinently for an hour while people hurl questions and fruit at me.

4:00PM: Kaffeklatch/Literary Beer

More random blather, but this time with fewer people! I do believe you have to sign up for this once you get to the conference.

5:00: “Alpha Teen Writers GO!”

Which is not actually what it’s called, but this is me sitting down and chatting with the attendees of the Alpha Teen Writing Workshop, who will be at the conference. Hopefully none of them will be stabbing me over this. If you are not participating in the Alpha workshop, you don’t get to go to this. Yes, I know, being old sucks, doesn’t it.

SUNDAY, JULY 26

12:30PM: Reading

This is a half hour slot, so I’ll be reading something short.

1:00PM: “Being a full time writer – still possible or naive pipe dream?”

Oh, it’s possible. Other panelists: Bill Keith and Walter Hunt.

And there you have it. Hope to see you there!

My Very Cool New Pocket Knife

It is thus:

It was given to me as a groomsman gift by my friend Kevin, and it was personalized for me through the means of the ringed planet and moons on the handle. It is actually the first pocket knife I’ve owned since I was a child, and it really is excellent: It’s a Spyderco blade with the handle work by Santa Fe Stoneworks. I’ve already used it to open things and almost nicked myself with it, so I’m well on my way. As I’m driving to Confluence this next weekend rather than flying, I’ll be taking it with me, so be sure to ask to see it. It’s very pretty. And I promise not to stab you with it. PROMISE.

Donators to Justine Larbalestier’s Lindy Hop Fundraiser: Time to Pay Up

Because she learned how to Lindy Hop. The (filmed!) evidence is here.

All the information you need on how to fulfill your donation pledge is also in that entry.

Now, go! Donate!

My California Adventure

Here you see my friends Monica and Kevin (with Deven Desai, center, as officiant) just about to get married. Kevin I’ve known since the first day of high school, and is one of my closest friends; Monica is the gal he’s extraordinarily lucky to have gotten. These two are the reason I and my family hied ourselves to California last week.

It was also a chance for me to see part of California I’d never seen before, namely the coast north of San Francisco. We spent a couple of days in Mendocino and then a couple of days in Fort Bragg, and both were just lovely, and I recommend them if you’ve never been up in that direction. Just remember to bring lots of cash money, particularly for Mendocino, which looks like it’s populated by hippies but is in fact peopled with aggressive capitalists who don’t like credit card companies taking any of their money via transactional fees.

It was also a chance to spend some quality time with old friends. One of the downsides of being far flung, as so many of my friends are (actually, inasmuch as I’m a California boy currently living in Ohio, I am the well-flung one) is that the amount of time you get to spend in their actual physical presence is pretty limited. So I got to see some friends I’ve not seen literally in years, even if I’ve been keeping tabs on them via Those Crazy Internets, and well. I love me some Internets, but there’s no beating actual face time.

For fans of Zoe’s Tale, you’ll be interested to know I finally gave a copy of the book to my friend Magdy, whose name I borrowed for a major character, and who was there for the weekend. He told me a funny story in which one of the doctors he works with (he’s a cardiologist) came up to him and asked him if he knew me. Magdy said yes, to which the other doctor replied that he figured that had to be the case, because really, how many guys named “Magdy” are there? It’s funny how these connections get made.

One minor sadness was that due to the schedule of the wedding and its location, I didn’t have a chance to see some of the other people I like in California, including family and friends. California: Big damn state, not a state like, say, Connecticut, which does allow for easy popping about in. Hopefully I’ll catch more of my California folks the next time I’m out.

In any event: A lovely weekend, and I’m over the moon for Kevin and Monica. It’s great to be married, and it’s great these two are now married to each other.

(Picture credit: Kathy Hollenbaugh Sullivan)

I Now Present to You the Most Masculine Name in the World

It is:

Razorbeef McSlaughter.

I could detail for you the conversation which led to this determination, but allow me to reiterate:

RAZORBEEF McSLAUGHTER.

I don’t think you really have to know the details. The name alone is enough.

On the Subject of to Whom to Address Your Literary Kvetch

People, you can stop sending me Adam Roberts’ broadside against this year’s Hugo slate. Yes, I’ve seen it, and no, I don’t see any particular reason to get worked up about the fact he thinks the slate — which in case you’re somehow not aware, a novel of mine is on — is mediocre. Adam Roberts is perfectly entitled to his own opinion, and in any event if the annual Hugo slate didn’t cause someone to get his tighty whities into a twist, where would be the fun of that? Shortlists of every description perform exactly two social functions: To let you know what some people think is the year’s best something or other, and to give other people an opportunity to roll their eyes at what some people think is the year’s best something or other. Roberts has simply provided us This Year’s Model of the Annual Hugo Kvetch, and like the Hugo slate itself it can be judged on content, form and execution, both in itself and in context of other Annual Hugo Kvetches over the years.

In that respect, it’s fairly standard: A little exasperated, a little pedantic, a little condescending, and, thankfully, not too long. You can get in and out of it fairly quickly. If I were an Amazon reviewer, I’d give it three out of five stars: It’s not everything it could be, but it hits all the usual bases with a degree of competence and leaves the impression that once the author really masters the form, he’ll be able to bat out some real fireworks. So keep at it, Adam Roberts! We’re all hoping for great things from next year’s Hugo kvetch.

That said, Roberts makes a major unforced error by addressing his kvetch to science fiction fandom, since what essentially what’s he’s written comes across like so:

Dear Science Fiction Fandom:

Hey, you know those books you loved enough this year to nominate for awards? The ones that made you happy or made you cry or made you think or had characters you liked, in situations that thrilled you? Yes, well, they actually kinda suck. So, despite the fact that you’ve made science fiction a foundational part of your life, follow and support the genre, and are grown-up, accomplished people who are on average both smarter and better read than the average Joe, you are somewhat full of FAIL. Please try to be less fail-tastic in the future, or I will be forced to once again assume that the reason you select the Hugo nominees you do has in fact nothing to do with the fact you actually like the books, because that would just be silly.

KTHXBYE,

Adam Roberts

What makes this an error is the tangential fact Mr. Roberts is a science fiction author himself. Here’s something that we in the kvetching industry like to call a “pro tip”: If you take the time to squat and pinch off a steaming ass-loaf of condescension onto the heads of  the people most committed to the genre of literature you happen to write in, you may find they will remember that fact when they see your books in the stores. As in “oh, here’s the book of that guy who thinks my taste in literature sucks.” How motivated does that make the average science fiction fan to buy a book? Well, you know: How motivated would it make you?

Now, I assume Mr. Roberts didn’t intend to come across as arrogant and hectoring to his primary audience, because very few people so willfully attempt to ankle-shoot their own career, even the ones with an academic aerie such as Mr. Roberts possesses. I suspect he believed he was being stern but fair. However, I also suspect that science fiction fandom, not in fact being comprised of students who have to sit for a lecture in order to graduate, may have its own opinions on the matter. In the real world, people don’t like being told, while being gently and paternalistically patted on the head, that they’re goddamned idiots. Especially from someone who then turns around and hopes to sell them a book.

The short form of this is to say that it’s one thing to believe a book on the Hugo shortlist (or, as is the case of Mr. Roberts, all the books on the shortlist) is or are mediocre. It’s another thing entirely as a writer to criticize a reader (and someone you’d presumably like to make your reader) for his or her taste in books. The first of these is perfectly valid; taste is subjective. The second of these makes you look like a jerk to the people upon whom you presumably hope to build your career.

Which is of course perfectly fine, if that’s what you intend to do. I’d just make sure that it is, in fact, what you intend to do.

(Update, 11:21 am: John Picacio addresses Mr. Roberts’ drive-by hit on the Best Artist Hugo nominees in the same entry discussed above.)

@home

Made it home alive; more details of the California adventure coming a bit later.

In the meantime, the usual note about e-mail: I’ll be going through all the mail I’ve ignored since Thursday tonight and tomorrow; if you sent e-mail that you were hoping to have a response to and haven’t gotten the response by Wednesday, feel free to send again.

Good to be home.

All Dressed Up

This is what  I was doing yesterday: getting all dressed up and taking part in a wedding. I was a groomsman rather than the officiant this time, and it all went off without a hitch, and now my friends Monica and Kevin are married. Well done, them. Today we hang out more and then head back toward the airport for flights tomorrow. Having a good time. How are you?

View From My Window, 7/18/09

It’s not bad.

I’m mildly amused to read the comments yesterday concerning whether all y’all should be guessing where I am and tracking me down, etc. The short answer is that it’s probably not impossible to figure out where I am (or was, at least, since I’ve moved on since yesterday), but, you know, I’m on vacation. This is a personal trip, not a professional trip.

Not that I think any of you would show up at my doorstep, etc; I suspect you’re all grownups, with grownup senses of boundaries. But even if you did, I wouldn’t have time for you — the days are just packed, as they say, with people and things to do. Hope your days are similarly packed.

The only other thing of  to report is that I am unbelievably sunburned; my head is currently the shade lobsters get around the time to bring them out of the pot. Aloe lotion and sunblock for me today, as I have to go back out into the sun; also, I’m not sure what my forebears were thinking when they decided to be so pale. Because, really, it’s not working out for me.

So. What’s up with you?

Where I’m At

This is what it looks like.

Another small bit of travel today and then hanging about with old friends, so once more not a lot of time for all y’all. Hey, now, don’t be that way; I spend a lot of time with you guys, you know. But the real world has its charms too. Especially when it’s looking like this.

Before I go, however, I really have to point you in the direction of this fabulous bit of artwork, done by artist “Winneganfake.” You may notice the devil looks a bit familiar. Winneganfake is selling prints of these, and really, I suspect no home will be complete without one.

When God Uses His “Smudge” Tool

It looks a little like this.

As I took this photo myself earlier in the day, it may give you a rough idea of where I am geographically at the moment. Most of the day was given over to travel; now I’m at the Northern California coast in a little in which is lovely but which has no Internet connection to speak of. So, yes, I’ve taken my laptop to a coffeeshop. You may begin your abuse now. This does suggest that updating my be even more spotty this weekend than I had previously assumed. Sorry about that.

Someone in comments noted that I was slacking in not linking to the AMC column today; hey, 11 hours of travel will do that to you. But here’s the link for those of you who can’t find it yourself.

And that’s what I’ve got for you today. Now I’m heading back to the inn to depressurize from all that moving about the country. See you tomorrow if I swing back around to the coffeeshop.

Posting Notes

As an FYI, starting tomorrow through Monday, I’ll likely be posting very little, as I’ll be off on personal business. I’d tell you what it is, but, hey. Didn’t I just say it was personal? There you are, then. I’ll likely put occasional bits on Twitter, however. It really does come in handy, that service.

Rescuing a Lost Entry

You may recall two years ago I was having serious problems with my Movable Type blog software install (which turned out not to be a problem with MT, actually, but with the site host), so for a day or two I posted to my LiveJournal account while I thrashed things out. Which means the entry below never actually showed up here, which I think is a shame. So I’m posting it here, now. I originally wrote it on June 28, 2007. Sigh. I was so young then.

Today’s Example of an Egregious Use of Something a Writer Once Learned in Freshman Philosophy

It comes from Matt Feeney in Slate, discussing whether various action films are homoerotic (in this case, the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze Surf Crime Dude flick Point Break):

Indeed, claiming a macho film friendship is not-so-secretly gay has become its own kind of silly convention, a fake-subversive cliché. It is better—sounder both aesthetically and sociologically—to view the masculine pathos in films like Point Break in light of the tradition of heroically minded philosophy that runs from Aristotle to Nietzsche. If Point Break is homoerotic, in other words, then so is Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

Well, and it is. All the major Western philosophical tracts are, like, totally gay, right from the moment in Crito when the dying Socrates reminds his friends that he owes a cock to Asclepius. Philosophy never got past that. Consolation of Science? Gay. Summa Theologica? Practically swishes across history. The Praise of Folly? Glam. The Prince? Clearly meant to be read in S&M bars. And let’s not even talk about Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. Because, come on. It’s right there in the title. I don’t even know why this is a question.

More seriously, however, reaching all the way back to Nietzsche and Aristotle to explain why Keanu and Patrick are not, in fact, planning to cock fence each other at the soonest opportunity is completely unnecessary, the middlebrow cultural commentary equivalent of going after a fly with an axe. There are several places to go before you have to hijack Western philosophy for such a meta-exercise. You can talk about director Katheryn Bigelow’s stylish-but-straight directorial canon, the camera gaze of Point Blank focusing more on the action in the film than the hunky, hunky bodies, or the fact that while Keanu or Patrick individually may generate tasty waves of homoerotic delight, placing both in the same film makes them cancel each other out, leaving you with nothing but a bland and depressing straightness that not even Lori Petty’s butchtastic presence can dent. Any of these work without having to drag poor closeted Hegel into it.

And as for the “macho = homoerotic” thing, both in film and in general, well, let’s just chalk that up to the fact that at this moment in the history of our nation straight men have ceded everything but snarky T-shirts, Xbox 360, leet speek and the classic geek pear shape to the men of alternate sexualities. A good-looking man in text-free clothing, speaking about something other than the iPhone? Gay. Two such men engaging each other in a way that does not have a WoW server as an intermediary? Super Gay! 300 such men, fighting Persians in jock straps and capes? Super-Mega-Ultra Gay! You don’t need to drag all of Western philosophy into the discussion, when the present heterosexual male abdication of anything more culturally, emotionally and intellectually resonant than “Dick in a Box” works just as well.

Going back to Aristotle and Nietzsche, Western philosophy’s cute couple, a good and general rule of thumb is that, unless you are having a discussion about philosophy, if someone starts trying to link the topic under discussion to the superstars of Western thought, you should probably have your internal Mr. Sulu raise the Pretentious Twaddle Shield to maximum and then brace for impact. It’s not that the fellow is wrong (Feeney’s overall point that macho is not automatically homoerotic is largely correct), it’s just that going there is probably unnecessary on the rhetorical level, and the only reason to do it is to impress an editor or to show off to your conversational partner that, indeed, you got one of them there edumacations (showing off your book learning? That’s so gay). It might seem impressive at first blush but what it really suggests is a certain lack of rhetorical sophistication, and the lack of awareness of every cultural thing between the quotidian subject under discussion and the giants of philosophy. Something inbetween is likely to be more relevant and on point.

In short: Dragging philosophy into the discussion is not always as effective as you might think it is. Just because Ayn Rand ran to Aristotle for every little thing doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Hell, it didn’t actually work for Ayn Rand. Let’s not get into that now. Although I will say this: if Howard Roark and John Galt ever got together, that would be hot.

(original posting, with comments, here)

When Guardian Columnists Say Dumb Things

Several e-mails today from people who want me to put a hammer to the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries for this statement yesterday:

This is a golden age for British science fiction, chiefly thanks to a wave of writers who are tackling an area their American rivals tend to leave well alone – far-future set, space-operatic, hard sci-fi. Americans tend to set their sci-fi in soft (ie, scientifically unsupported) near futures. Wimps.

Leaving aside whether this is a golden age for British science fiction (which as it happens is a statement I tend to agree with), this is in fact a fairly ignorant statement by Jeffries. Dear Mr. Jeffries: Meet Elizabeth Moon. Meet David Weber. Meet Jack Campbell. Meet Robert Buettner. Meet Sandra McDonald. And unless memory fails me, there might be at least one other American writer out there who has written a series of best-selling, award-nominated, highly-acclaimed books generally considered space-operatic, not to mention scientifically supported. His name escapes me at the moment. Perhaps it will come to me.

The point, however, is that none of these writers are exactly toiling under a rock; nearly all of these authors has at least flirting acquaintance with best seller lists and some measure of acclaim. They’re not difficult to find. Some of them might even be sold in the UK. Yes, I’m aware that military science fiction (which most of the above write) is not synonymous with Space Opera. But the two sub-genres overlap rather a bit, and these writers write in the overlap (also, not everything written by the above is straight on MilSF, Drake’s recent trilogy being an example).

Also, I really would like Stuart Jeffries to go up to Elizabeth Moon and call her a wimp. I like imagining all the things Moon, a former lieutenant in the US Marines, a sometime paramedic and a woman who raised a child with autism, could oh-so-easily do to him. When she’s done with him, maybe he can say the same thing to McDonald, eight years in the Navy, or Buettner, who was in military intelligence, or Hemry, who also spent years in the Navy.

Mind you, I’m well aware Jeffries was trying for a bit of snark, and of course I love me some snark. But snark works better when it’s not completely couched in ignorance. Try again, Mr. Jeffries; try better.