Oh, well, you know. It was okay, I guess.
I was going to write a long and involved piece about President Obama’s 2009 and how contrary to most popular rumor it’s been among the most successful first years of any president of the last, oh, century, but it turns out Andrew Sullivan’s pretty much written what I would have written on that subject for his Times column, so I’ll just send you there, with the Internet standard “Yes. This,” notation.
That said, I will additionally note that Obama’s had a very successful year despite the fact that he’s getting hammered from both the right and the left. On the right, this isn’t a huge surprise, of course, since if Obama were on fire, the GOP would call fire departments a socialist plot. The folks losing it on the left, on the other hand, are being a bit petulant about both the actual human they elected to be president, and the practical constraints on his agenda. The man has monolithic, unified opposition in the Washington GOP, a fractious and fragile base in the diffuse Washington Democrats, and was handed two expensive, unpopular wars, a profoundly degraded political environment at home and abroad, and a national and global economy which were dual scorching pillars of oh shit we’re all going to die. That the man got anything substantive done, much less had what is objectively a politically remarkable first year, is impressive.
The day after Obama was elected I wrote a column which I entitled “Reality Check.” One of the things I wrote was this:
Your next president is going to disappoint you. Barack Obama does not fart cinnamon-scented rainbows. He is not trailed by angels and unicorns. Reality does not reshape itself to his wishes. Dude’s a human being, and a politician, and he’s going to have to work with other human beings who are also politicians. Per point 2, some things you want him to do he won’t be able to do, and some of the things you want him to do he won’t want to do, so they won’t get done. He will make mistakes. He will make errors. He will be caught flat-footed from time to time. He will be challenged by antagonists, foreign and domestic, who will have an interest in seeing him faceplant. He will piss most people off. His approval rating will drop below 50%. He is going to disappoint you. Get used to the idea.
And, well, guess what. I suppose I’m confused why more people don’t seem to get this.
Ironically, I suppose, this is also why I’m not personally disappointed in Obama. It’s not that I didn’t expect much out of him — I did, and do — but I didn’t expect it overnight, or contrary to the political realities in which the man has to work. To be sure, I get exasperated that he’s not doing all the things I want him to do when I want him to do them, and there are lots of things I wish he’d do differently, including stop being so goddamned conciliatory to a political right which so clearly wants to stab him through the eyeballs and then rush to Fox News (where the news crawl will say “OBAMA: Was he asking to be stabbed?”), to bleat about how they’re the victims in this whole unseemly stabbing incident. As much as I recognize a strategy there on the part of the administration, I think there’s only so long you act in good faith with people who have no intention of offering the same courtesy, ever. But I don’t confuse my exasperation with a sober assessment of what the man’s getting done in the environment in which he has to work.
I don’t expect the right to change their tactics regarding Obama, even if I think those tactics are stupid, hypocritical and malicious. At this moment in time the right doesn’t actually have a coherent intellectual framework for its politics, nor seems much interested in building one, so stupid, hypocritical and malicious is what they have to work with. Fair enough. I do wonder if folks on the left knee-jerking their anger at Obama are going to pull their heads out and acknowledge the reality of the man and his positions, the political realities of Washington, and the fact that if they’re ever going to get what they want, in the long-term the path to it goes through Obama rather than without him. And if they will ever recognize just how much the man’s managed to get done, in under a year, despite everything.
And now, on the last day of the decade (unless you want to be technically accurate about when the decade ends, in which case, on the last day of 90% of one decade, and incorporating 10% of another), over at AMC, I’m presenting you with a list of the 10 films I consider the best science fiction of the last 10 years. There are some films here which are on other similar lists, and at least a couple which I can almost guarantee are not — but that that magic of such lists, isn’t it. Feel free to go over to AMC and yell at me for including the films I do, while excluding whatever film I excluded, which you feel should be included. Really, what else are you doing with your day?
Also, should you want to catch up with your 2009 John Scalzi AMC science fiction film column reading before the ball drops in Times Square (or even, maybe, after that), behind the cut you’ll find every AMC column of mine this year, in chronological order. Uh, except for the last one, which is linked to above.
The God Engines is officially in print tomorrow; Subterranean Press tells me copies of the book are in their warehouse and they’ll be shipping them over the next week, with direct orders from SubPress being fulfilled first and Amazon orders following right behind (on account that those have to, you know, go through Amazon’s warehouses, too). I’ve been asked if we have plans for an electronic edition of the book and the answer is: Not yet, although it’s possible at some point in the future. Having held the physical copy in my hands, I can tell you it’s worth getting; it’s gorgeous.
I’m really excited about TGE; it’s dark fantasy, which is a first for me, and quite a bit different than anything I’ve written before. I can’t wait for you to read it. In fact, I’m so excited for you to check it out that, here: Behind the cut you’ll find the first chapter of the novella. For those of you who have bought the book, it’ll tide you over until the book arrives (or drive you nuts until it gets there); for the rest of you, I hope it intrigues you enough that you’ll want to read the rest of it. If you do, it’s available through Subterranean Press and through Amazon (note: if you want the signed, limited edition, you’ll need to go through SubPress for that).
Without further ado, the first chapter of The God Engines. Click the “Continue Reading” link to get to it. Enjoy.
You know, it’s a cliche and all, but chocolate and peanut butter really are two great tastes that go great together.
Got an e-mail today from someone who noticed an oblique reference to me in a recent Analog editorial which, in part, explained why the magazine still doesn’t accept e-mail submissions (I was referred to in it as a “young writer,” which as a middle-aged scribe with two decades of professional writing and publishing experience, I found to be as charming as it was inaccurate). The correspondent wanted to know if there was some sort of war going on between me and the “big three” science fiction magazines, in which I and the editors go after over each other with lead pipes and then laugh at whoever ends up on the ground, bleeding out.
In short: Nah. I have my disagreements with the editors of the “big three” on a couple of things here and there, most famously about their continued and persistent inability to join the 21st century and accept e-mail submissions, and on that particular subject I continue to be rather unimpressed with their arguments regarding why they don’t; the Analog editorial, for example, aside from poorly characterizing the discussion that went on here on the subject, was basically Stanley Schmidt taking the long way around to saying “because I don’t wanna.” That’s fine, and it’s his business, but it’s still not much of an argument, for reasons I’ve noted before.
That said, we’re all grown-ups here, and grown-ups can disagree from time to time. If you think on the basis of these disagreements that I have it in for the “big three,” you’re just silly. Differing opinions about the value of e-mail submissions and other such things aside, at the end of the day they’re pro markets in the genre, their editors are good people passionate about writing and about science fiction and fantasy, and on a month-in, month-out basis, they buy and publish fine work. What’s not to like about any of that? Far from wishing them ill, I want them to thrive and succeed.
When I’m griping about them, it’s not because I want to push them along into the dungheap of history, or because I’m some sort of grinning, loudmouthed fool who likes poking at wasp’s nests just to see what angry things fly out of them. It’s because I want them around, buying the stories of my fellow writers and generally contributing to the health and continuance of our genre, for all of our mutual benefit. “Young writer” cracks aside, after two decades in publishing, in both print and online media, I’m not wholly ignorant on this particular subject. I feel qualified to opine.
So, no: I’m not at war with the “big three,” and I very much doubt their editors feel they’re at war with me. I want them to do a few things differently, and clearly I’m not shy about saying so. They are equally clearly able to agree with me or not. But when all is said and done we all want the same thing: For the magazines to be doing their thing for a nice long time. If that’s a war, it’s a pretty strange one.
And now, for your linking convenience, an index of every author who contributed a Big Idea essay this year, in alphabetical order, From Adams to Williamson. Catch up on what you missed, and keep these authors in mind when you’re cashing in your bookstore gift cards this week.
An excellent collection of authors, if I do say so myself.
Also, for any of you who are wondering when or if BigIdeaAuthors.com will ever see the light of day: Yes, we’re still working on spinning off the Big Idea to its own, fully-featured site. It’s just taking longer than we thought. In the meantime, of course, I’ll still be presenting The Big Idea here, as long as authors are still interested in participating. Indeed, after the new year (and when publicists are back at work), I’ll make a formal call for more of them.
But for now, please enjoy these.
There are many reasons I like Jasper Fforde’s writing, but one of the main reasons I do is that Fforde has the rare talent of taking fundamentally farcical plot concepts (People enter books! Detectives solve crimes in a nursery rhyme world!) and paying them off in ways that are not, in fact, merely farcical. So while Fforde’s books are delightfully loopy and funny, they aren’t constructed in a knockabout, we’re-just-in-it-for-a-lark way. There’s a there there, isn’t there. And that’s harder than it looks.
Fforde’s at it again in Shades of Grey, a book which posits a future in which what you see, chromatically speaking, in a large part defines who you are. A wild idea — a big idea, even — but as you’ll see (although not necessarily chromatically), when Fforde sets to writing, the obvious consequences of such a world aren’t necessarily the first or biggest thing on his mind, when it to comes to constructing his story.
My Big Idea was not to use the Big Idea. Chuck it out, stuff it in the corner and relegate the obvious thread to the ignominy of subplot status. Then have the Small Idea advanced undeservedly to prominence. So my post-apocalyptic book has the nature of the ‘Something that Happened’ not only unanswered, but largely ignored. The remnants of the advanced technology that litter the landscape remain tantalisingly unexplored. All that remains of the Previous – mostly teeth, by now, complete with fillings – are simply trod underfoot. Anarchy is an alien concept; the world is ordered, neat, and static. The questions that dominate my character’s lives range from how they can marry into the Oxblood family’s String empire, the need to conduct a chair census, the visit to the Last Rabbit, the vexing question of where all the spoons went and, most important of all, how one can avoid the cold spectre of social embarrassment in a world obsessed with politeness and order?
I like challenges. Write oneself into something of a pit and then miraculously break free. But this isn’t some form of narrative suicide, it’s another way of approaching Story. Here’s why:
I have twelve or so ‘Writing Rules’ and sandwiched between number Seven: ‘Never use the word Majestic’ and number Nine: ‘On the hoof flexibility’ I have: ‘Always favour the less well trodden path’. An obvious adage, perhaps, but given the lamentable sameness of many novels, one that should be lifted to greater prominence. The theory is simple. You are walking in a metaphorical forest, chewing your metaphorical pencil and making narrative decisions, when you are presented with two paths – a well-worn route to safe, broadly-lit upland literary pastures, and a less-used one – a route towards experimentation, speculation, and risk. So I chose my idea – Post Apocalyptic Dystopia – and then noted the well trodden path: The immediate aftermath of a global upheaval. The population in disarray, citizens fighting for survival in a new world order. Too obvious. How about seven hundred years afterwards, when the fall of mankind has no more relevance than the Dark Ages has to us today? I don’t know about you, but I rarely talk about Edward III’s scandalous claim to the French throne in 1337, but it’s all people talked about then.
So we’re seven hundred years on and – several less well trodden paths later – we’re not talking about survival but simply getting through the day. A day in a different yet recognisable society based on different values and rules – visual colour in this case, where everything from social mobility, aspiration, health and commerce are based around colour. Earn enough and you can afford colorised bananas for dinner. More expensive, but it impresses the neighbours. The strict social hierarchy is decided not on something so hideously old fashioned as choice, intellect or the ability to lie convincingly to electors, but simply the colour you can see. If you are born able to see Purple you’re at the top of the stack; If you are born without any colour vision at all, then you’re at the bottom. Unquestionably objective. These are the sort of less well trodden paths I like. Because once you’re seven or ten less-well trodden paths from that first, the path has become so faint that you might not actually be on a path at all. And if you are now walking through that virgin forest of originality, then you have strayed well.
But it’s not enough to think up a new idea. It has to work. And that’s another less well trodden path all on its own. Landscape is one thing, characterisation and plotting quite another. And this is what I enjoy about the sort of writing I’m attempting in Shades of Grey – to try and give the mundane a narrative force all of its own. Two guys in a room and one of them has a gun? To me, that’s just plain lazy. Two guys in a room and one of them has lied about whether he has seen the last rabbit or not? And this one lie is enough to have someone ostracised by society and a need to prove themselves as redemption? Now that’s drama, and what’s more, it’s unconventional drama. The reader is always looking for something new and fresh and interesting, and since all the stories have pretty much been written, the bold frontier for authors these days is to further the technique of how they can be told – with different settings, different characters, different times – and for me, different values.
In case you’re wondering, we DO find out where all the spoons went, and you can learn how a tree goes Purple, and why the Green Room is better than the Mildew. You may even learn why nobody comes back from High Saffron, why there is a Caravaggio in the Greyzone and what Jane put in the Prefect’s scones. It’s narrative drive, but not as we usually know it. For me, the best Big Idea is the sneaky Small Idea that overtakes you on the inside when you’re not watching.
Zeus is confronted once more by his old nemesis.
What followed was not pretty.
2010 is close enough now that I can see it from here — and I’ve wrapped up nearly everything I needed to do in 2009 — so now is a good time to do a quick retrospective on the last year in a professional sense and talk a little about what I see ahead in 2010.
First, 2009. It was an interesting year. Some of the things I liked:
- Working on Stargate: Universe as its Creative Consultant and helping to build a TV show from the ground up;
- Winning the Best Related Book Hugo for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, and having Zoe’s Tale and METAtropolis nominated for their own awards;
- Writing The God Engines, which was something very different for me;
- Helping Strange Horizons meet its fundraising goals for the year.
What I didn’t like: Basically that a not insignificant amount of my time was wasted this year by people who are not me, which is something I don’t appreciate. It’s bad enough when I waste my own time, but at least that’s on me, and it’s my time to waste. Other people wasting my time, on the other hand, just pisses me off. I could go on, but it’s best to leave it at that.
One side effect of this wasted time, however, is that it’s put a divot in my novel production schedule. The initial work on that divot, to be sure, was done by me when I pulled The High Castle out of the production schedule at the end of last year. But there are other factors involved, and regardless of how I choose to portion out the responsibility for the divot, the fact is there was no new novel in 2009 (The God Engines is a novella), and currently there’s no firm timeframe for a 2010 novel release. As someone who is currently making a living writing novels, that’s not a positive thing.
Which brings me to my plans for 2010:
1. Writing novels;
2. Aaaaand that’s pretty much what I got.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate; I have other plans as well, which I can’t tell you about at the moment if only because they’re in an embryonic stage, so there’s no point going into detail about them, and they might not pan out in any event. Writing novels, on the other hand, is something I am entirely in control of (Step one: Put ass in chair; Step two: Write until said ass is sore; Step three: Repeat steps one and two for 100,000 words) and so it’s what I plan to do.
Whether this means there’s a new novel published in 2010 is not really up to me; that’s a production schedule issue. But it does mean there will be new novels written in 2010. That much I can guarantee.
As for what of mine will be published in 2010, here’s what we have:
- Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: The Tor trade paperback edition, which is out next week (which is to say that it may already be in your bookstores).
- METAtropolis: The trade hardcover edition (i.e., not limited) from Tor, which is scheduled for June 8.
As for anything else relating to me and 2010 — well, we’ll have to get there and see. I’m looking forward to the new year, however. I suspect 2010 will be a better year all around. At the very least, I hope it is.
Here you go, then.
This evening graced us with our first winter advisory, informing us we could expect anywhere between three and five inches of the stuff. Having just driven home in this, I can say with some reasonable authority that three inches has already been achieved, and it’s just a quarter past eight. We’ll see if we can make our way down the driveway in the morning.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that generally speaking my Twitter postings don’t have much to do with what’s going on here at Whatever; they’re mostly my short (and goofy) observations. Well, for those of you who would actually like a Twitter feed for Whatever, now there is one:
It updates when I update here (more or less; it checks in every half hour) and includes the headline and a shortlink back, and covers both proper blog entries and Whateverette links. I think this is a good way to let people use Twitter to keep up with what’s going on here, without turning my own personal Twitter feed into a constant pimp thread.
So, in sum:
Whatever Twitter feed: @blogwhatever.
Personal, generally non-Whatever-oriented Twitter feed: @scalzi.
Enjoy them both in Twitterific splendor.
(The idea to give Whatever its own Twitter feed stolen wholly from the Nielsen Haydens, who have done the same thing for their blog, Making Light.)
Because you demand it!
And now Zeus:
Let’s not forget Lopsided Cat:
And, of course, representing the canine branch of the Scalzis, Kodi:
I hope you’ve enjoyed the intense pet-related satisfaction.
A dusky review.
And for luck, one sunrise.
The cover for the upcoming Spanish edition of Zoe’s Tale:
Not entirely sure it’s accurate to the content of the book, but then Minotauro (my Spanish publisher) has always made the covers more about style than anything else. And it certainly is cool looking. You don’t want to mess with this version of Zoë; she’ll kick your ass six different ways and then whack you with those shoulder pads of hers. Let that be a lesson to you. Let that be a lesson to all of you.
I am a notoriously difficult person to Christmas shop for, which is why for a number of years now my stated policy for people wanting to get me something is to tell them not to bother. Nevertheless, Krissy asked this year if there was anything I wanted for Christmas. I handed her a small list. On the list were the following Christmas wishes:
1. A pony
4. Monica Bellucci
Fast forward to Christmas Eve, when we’re opening presents because all the family is there and, you know, why wait. Under the tree is a box for me. And in the box is the following:
And thus, I can truly say that I indeed got everything I wanted for Christmas. Also, my wife is awesome.
Merry Christmas, and I hope you get everything you want out of the day as well.
So, for the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve feast with the extended family, we decided to make a gingerbread house, because it’s all homey and Christmasy and whatnot. For reference, here’s what the house is supposed to look like, once assembled:
And this is what it looked like when we were finished:
How did it get that way? The following picture provides context:
Let’s just say the construction process was a contentious one.
Note to self: Next year, buy the gingerbread house already constructed.
Are we still going to use the gingerbread house as the centerpiece? Are you kidding? How could we not?
Hope your own Christmas Eve is joyous, and filled with friends, family, gingerbread houses and hammers.
Yes, we’re getting to the end of it now, aren’t we. And really not a moment too soon. As is my annual wont, here’s a collection of some of what I think were the most interesting Whatever entries of the year. In case you’re joining the blog in progress.
- The Complete “John and Mary Show You Their Shorts” (a live performance by me and Mary Robinette Kowal)
- 10 Things to Remember About Authors
- The Ripper Owens Syndrome
- Reader Request Week 2009 #8: Twitter
- Obama’s First 100 Days: A Complete and Utter Failure
- Interview With a Stick of Butter
- Because Flowcharts Make Everything Clearer
- A Small Rant About The Things I Might or Might Not Know Which I Might or Might Not Tell You About
- The Lost Art of the Pretentious Video
- Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow
- The Other Stuff
- Observations on a Toothache
- On the Asking of Favors From Established Writers
- My Life is Good But I’m Worried Yours is Better
- Living Like Fitzgerald
- What Obama’s Doing With Fox News
- One Of Those Questions I Wish SF Geeks Would Simply Get Over
- Compare and Contrast
- Aspiring Writer Stockholm Syndrome
- A Decade-Long Selection of Music
In which the word “memorable” does not necessarily equal “best.” I’ve got the list in my AMC column for this week. Won’t you drop by and see which films they are? It’s not like you’ll have anything else to do these next couple of days, right?
It’s a very serious thing, being eleven years old, which is what Athena is today.
I’m happy to say she continues to be the absolute joy in my life. Yes, even as a “tween.” Which she is very excited about now being, by the way. And who can blame her.
I could say more, but I won’t, except to say, Happy Birthday, Athena. I love you.