Monthly Archives: February 2010

Knowing When Not to Bigfoot Someone

Someone local to me did something that annoyed me, and I wrote a post about it. And then after I wrote I realized that what this person did, did not rate me venting to 40,000+ people about it, especially since a) this person is a normal person, not a public personality, b) this person doesn’t have much of an online presence and wouldn’t be particularly well-positioned to respond to the venting, which would necessarily cast them as I chose to cast them, c) which, focused as it was on the thing that annoyed me, would have been an inherently slanted and unfair portrayal, and finally d) I have to live in the same town as this person.

Basically I knew that if I posted it I’d hate myself for posting it almost immediately, because among other things it would have been more about me satisfying my urge to be a dick to someone in public than anything else. And this person didn’t actually deserve that. So I deleted the post and this is all you’ll ever hear about it.

This is just me using myself as an object example of being aware that sometimes discretion is the better part of being able to stand yourself on a daily basis.

The Awesome Yet Terrifying Power of Abba Zaba

Behold the Abba Zaba, a taffy candy bar. Also behold one of Athena’s teeth, which had been loose. The tooth met the Abba Zabba, and the taffy adherence power of the candy yanked the tooth right out of Athena’s jaw. I would have found it alarming if I were her, but she apparently seems to think tooth extraction via candy bar is the way to go with these things. Kids.

As it happens, I also ate an Abba Zaba today. I chewed it very very slowly.

TGE Review at SFReviews.net, Plus a Bonus Childhood Story

SFReviews.net has published a complimentary review of The God Engines, which includes this blurb-worthy bit:

In its surprising final third, when assumptions are overturned, beliefs are challenged, and our heroes’ sense of what’s right and wrong in the universe is thrown into chaos, The God Engines shifts into high and redlines right across the finish. The climax is as visceral as anything Scalzi’s ever done.

Heh, heh, heh. “Visceral.” It is indeed an advisedly-used word in the context of the book’s climax.

That said, my favorite part of the review is this bit, in which the fact that TGE is wholly unlike anything else I’ve had published is considered:

[A] very different Scalzi has written The God Engines. So different, in fact, that I suspect what really happened was that John’s evil twin Spike chewed through his ropes, emerged from the crawlspace, disabled John with an impressive series of hapkido moves rated 8/9/9.5 respectively by John’s cats, and then left the poor man bound and gagged in an amusing position in the garage while writing the story and cackling to himself. I’d like to think that, because it’s one of those things where reality is probably less fun.

Yes, well. I could go into great detail about why it was I wrote something completely different than all the other stuff I write, but I think instead I will tell you a possibly enlightening, possibly entirely unrelated story about when I was a boy, and I was playing a schoolyard game called “Danish.”

The actual rules of Danish are not really important to this story. What you need to know is that it was played on a netless volleyball court on the playground of Ben Lomond Elementary, and the goal was to hit with your fist a racquetball that was pitched to you, and then run around a set of bases before someone caught the ball or tagged you or another runner with it. One salient feature is that you could have as many people on a base as you wanted, all waiting for someone to hit the ball far enough for them to run home.

In the game of Danish, there were generally two kind of hitters: The kids who sort of blooped the ball lightly into the “infield,” and the kids who swung as the ball as hard as they could, banging it out into the field behind the volleyball court. When the infield hitters were up, the other team would call their players in; when the outfield hitters were up, kids would fan out into the field to catch the ball. You can generally guess which kinds of kids were infield hitters and which ones were outfield hitters.

I was, possibly not surprisingly, pegged as an infield hitter. Which by and large didn’t bother me because I mostly didn’t care about the game of Danish; it was just another game we played for our PE slice of the day. But one day, I don’t know, maybe I was in a bad mood about something, or maybe something else had tweaked me a bit, and we were playing Danish and when I came up to the “home base” (the corner of the volleyball court), all the kids in the outfield trotted in to take up places in the infield.

And I very clearly remember thinking the following words: You think you know me. And then the racquetball got pitched to me, and I whacked it far into the outfield, and by the time the other team retrieved it, everyone on base and I had run home. And after that day, whenever I was up to bat in Danish, no one in the outfield ever moved in, because no one felt certain they knew where I was going to send that racquetball. And you know what? I liked that a whole lot.

And that’s my possibly enlightening, possibly unrelated tale.

The Big Idea: N.K. Jemisin

Author N.K. Jemisin has a lot to be excited about today: Yesterday saw the release of her debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the book is getting the sorts of reviews, starred and otherwise, that most debut authors can only dream about (“Multifaceted characters struggle with their individual burdens and desires, creating a complex, edge-of-your-seat story with plenty of funny, scary, and bittersweet twists,” reads one of those starred reviews, from Publishers Weekly).

But in the middle of all of that excitement in the present, Jemisin is thinking about history: Who writes it, what it reveals (and what it doesn’t), and what it means for the people who have learn their history or be doomed by it. How does this tie into her novel? Well, I’m glad you asked. N.K. Jemisin is on hand to tell you.

N.K. JEMISIN:

This week, in my copious free time, I’m reading Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. It’s basically a dissection of the history that most US citizens learned in school, and some of its core fallacies — like the idea that the New World was an undeveloped, sparsely-populated wilderness before Europeans arrived. In reality, Mann explains, the pre-Columbian Americas had a population to match that of Europe — much of it concentrated in sprawling urban-centric empires like those of ancient Rome. And like ancient Rome, these New World civilizations thoroughly engineered the landscape, building aqueducts and roads and planting forests to optimize hunting, fishing, flooding, and commerce. (Did you know there’s a “Great Wall of Peru”? I didn’t.) It’s a fascinating book, though obviously not without controversy, and it seems well-researched and well-written. I’m not done with it yet, but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far.

Why am I talking about somebody else’s book when I should be talking about mine? Because this is the kind of thing that really gets me going: hidden truths. History is written by the victors, after all — which means that beneath many historical “facts” lie counter-facts and conflicting events, illogical assumptions and unrealized motivations, all of which would shake us to our foundations if we ever found out the truth. Maybe. Because there are always those who have reason to keep the truth alive, often at great personal risk, even if only via whispered tales and half-remembered songs. And yes, via a few lies too, told maliciously or through ignorance. One person’s truth is always someone else’s heresy. This is what I decided to write an epic fantasy about.

Hidden truth isn’t really a new concept in fantasy, granted. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” (LotR) trilogy is basically the coda of a much longer symphony that most of its principals don’t know they’re playing. Discovering the symphony’s earlier movements (OMG, Uncle Bilbo’s gag ring is really Teh Ultimate Accessory of Ultimate Eeeevil!!) is a big part of what makes the story “epic”. Thing is, what makes LotR work for most readers is that it isn’t really about the whole symphony. Although the scope of the story widens as each hidden truth is revealed, it remains resolutely centered on people — the hobbits, mostly — who are ignorant/innocent of the weighty history that precedes them. And they don’t particularly want to be enlightened. Even as they discover the truth, they don’t really care about it beyond its effect on their everyday lives and comfort. With the revelation of the One Ring’s origins, their whole world has been knocked off its foundations… but all they really want to do is put it back the way it was, so they can go home and have a beer.

This kind of epic fantasy has always felt incomplete to me, somehow. Yeah, sure, there’s a certain mental comfort food in the idea of putting the world back to rights. But there’s always a part of me that wonders, which rights should it be put back to? Did the heroes make the best choice, or just the easiest one? Who gets to answer that question? But such questions aren’t easy to answer, which is why I think a lot of fantasy simply doesn’t try.

So. In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I start with a woman who isn’t happy with the world as it is. Yeine would like to go home and have a beer too — and she’s the kind of girl who would happily do so, though never to excess. (She’s very responsible.) That beer’s not likely to happen, however, because her kingdom is suffering through a terrible economic crisis and most of her people can barely afford food, much less beer. The reasons for this crisis seem simple at first: her people have offended the most powerful family in the world. Yeine’s mother, once a member of that family, committed the sin of marrying beneath her station — Yeine’s father — and the family disinherited her and blacklisted Yeine’s kingdom in retaliation.

Standard overthrow-the-tyrants fantasy plot, right? Well, no. In fact Yeine’s world exists in a golden age of peace and prosperity. War is strictly controlled and limited, slavery and child exploitation have been eradicated, starvation and illiteracy are rare, and all nations function at a baseline of technological and social sophistication so that none are left behind. All these wonders are the doing of a single family — the same family that’s tormenting Yeine’s people. Overthrow them, and the result would be anarchy, horror, and death on a global scale.

Or so they say.

But history is written by the victors in this world too, so Yeine spends most of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trying to figure out the truth about her estranged relatives and the sources of their power. But what happens if she learns the truth? What if those truths could destroy the world? Is she really doing a good thing by trying to put the world back to rights? Which rights should she put it back to? And will she make this decision based on what’s best for the world, or based on her own selfish motives?

These aren’t easy questions, and although the first book wraps up Yeine’s story pretty solidly by the end, I don’t think I go for the easy answers. The implications of Yeine’s decision will impact her world for two more books, and the ultimate outcome… well, I’m still writing Book 3. But let’s just put it this way: in the end, no one will want to put things back the way they were. Mostly because that would mean going through the whole mess all over again.

(I, however, will want a beer.)

—-

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read the first three chapters here. Follow N.K. Jemisin on Twitter.

Today’s Irony Twofer

This direct mail solicitation from Reason to get me to subscribe to the magazine is ironic for two reasons:

1. That’s not my house they’ve circled there, it’s my neighbors, so if “they” go looking for me there, man, won’t the Harshbargers be surprised!

2. I already have a subscription to Reason magazine, which you’d think Reason would be in a position to know.

Anyway, the real reason “they” know where I am is because I’m in the phone book. I know! Who knew you could still do that? Answer: Me, apparently.

This Manuscript Hires People

Apropos to Charlie Stross’ piece today about what goes into making a book and why it’s not just as simple as tossing out a bare manuscript to whomever might be willing to buy it, I’d like to point out something that I think gets overlooked as a net benefit to books being made the way they currently get made, which is:

As an author, my manuscript makes jobs.

For example: When I turn in my manuscript, it’s taken up by an editor, who looks at it, gets it into commercial shape, and shepherds the manuscript through the book production process. That editor has a job because of what I wrote.

That manuscript is handed off to a copy-editor, who makes sure that my lack of attention in junior high composition class does not haunt the final book. That copy editor has a job because of what I wrote.

The editor talks to an art designer, who manages the process of giving the book a distinctive look. One thing the art designer does is assign a cover artist, who makes something to catch the potential book buyer’s eye from across a crowded bookstore. Then there’s the interior/page designer who makes the words on the page look like something other than a Word document. The art designer, cover artist and interior designer have jobs because of what I wrote.

All that done, off my book goes to marketing and publicity, who will do the job of letting other humans know my book is about to exist in the world, and that they should be excited about that fact (and they should!). The marketing person and the publicity person working on my book have jobs because of what I wrote.

And so does the person at the printer who actually prints the book. And so does the person at the warehouse who makes sure the book gets to the bookstore. And so does the person at the bookstore who sells the book to you.They have jobs because of what I wrote.

So, right off the top of my head, ten people who have jobs because I took it into my head to write a story. There are more I’m forgetting about or omitting for the moment, but these ten will do for the point I’m making. How do I feel about the fact they have jobs because of my work? I think it’s pretty damn awesome, to tell you the truth. Not only does my work feed, clothe and house me (and my family and pets), but it feeds, clothes and houses an exponential number of people as well (and their families and pets).

True, it’s not just my work that does that for them; they have jobs because of what other people wrote, too. But my own work has a direct and material contribution to their employment and well-being. And I like that, a lot. I like the idea of what I do being a cause for many different people, some of whom I will never meet, to have employment and productive lives.

And here’s the kicker: Not only do my words give all these people jobs, but under the current system, I don’t have to pay them anything. In fact, I actually get paid to do it! Getting paid for giving other people work — hey, that doesn’t suck.

Which is one of the other reasons when people declare how great it’ll be when there’s nothing between authors and readers I give them that cocked-head puppy dog look. What will be so great about not giving work to a whole bunch of people, all of whom can do their specific and essential book-creating job better than I could? Sure, I could hire them personally if I felt I needed to, but then I would have to pay them. As opposed to someone else paying them, and also paying me.

Bear in mind, of course, I’m saying all this as someone who has a) self-published, and b) has actually hired artists and editors to work on stuff for him, and may do so again in the future when the mood strikes him. I’m not anti-DIY. But I am pro creating jobs for other people, and pro doing it while getting paid myself. I mean, seriously: Job creation and personal profit! How much more rampagingly capitalistic can I get?

So, yes, just one more perspective for folks to consider when they’re talking about the future of books.

Handing You Off to Charlie Stross Today

On account that Charlie is going to school you on the matter of How Books Are Made, because, as Charlie notes, the idea that the only two people needed to make a book are the author and the consumer is a bit of contemptible nonsense:

This is a bit like saying that in commercial air travel, “the only two people that matter are the pilot and the passenger (the rest add cost)”. To which I would say: what about the air traffic controllers (who stop the plane flying into other aircraft)? What about the maintenance engineers who keep it airworthy? The cabin crew, whose job is to evacuate the plane and save the passengers in event of an emergency (and keep them fed and irrigated in flight)? The airline’s back-office technical support staff who’re available by radio 24×7 to troubleshoot problems the pilots can’t diagnose? The meteorology folks who provide weather forecasts and advise flight planners where to route their flights? The fuel tanker drivers who are responsible for making sure that the airliner has the right amount of the right type of fuel to reach its destination, and that it’s clean and uncontaminated? The designers and engineers at Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, or the other manufacturers who build the bloody things in the first place …?

I’d personally use an even simpler formulation, which is that there a lot of people who seem to think that all you need for a book are a reader and an author, but no one seems to think that all you need for a double cheeseburger is a hungry dude and a cattle rancher. For that matter, no one ever seems to tell a cattle rancher that in the glorious future he’ll be able to do all the steps of cheeseburger production himself, either. Possibly because a cattle rancher can instigate a stampede. Do not enrage a cattle rancher.

Anyway, head over to Charlie’s, he’ll get you in the loop as to what actually has to happen to get a cow novel from a cattle rancher an author to a hungry dude you.

Technical Note Re: E-mail

My primary e-mail address (john@scalzi.com) is likely to be down in the next couple of hours (8am – 10am Eastern, 2/25/10), as I’m busy fiddling with it. Don’t be surprised if any mail you send me during that time bounces back. I don’t imagine there’s anything so essential that it can’t wait until after 10am for you to e-mail me about it, so be calm and wait. Thanks.

Update, 8:36am: Well, that was quicker than I anticipated — e-mail is back up and running. As you were.

Video Games Into SF Movies

Over at AMC this week, I’m looking at science fictional video games I think could make decent movies — if they could avoid that thing Hollywood does to video games when it makes them into movies. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. As always, if you have thoughts or comments, leave ‘em over at the AMC site. Because they love it when there are comments there.

This week also marks the final column in which I work with my AMC editor Clayton Neuman, who is heading off to other projects. He’s been great to work with and an asset to the column, and (equally importantly) has been patient with me on those times I’ve sent him e-mail that said “dude, I am so totally going to be late this week.” I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be key at whatever other project he does, because I know the column has been better because of him. Thanks, Clayton.

The Big Idea: David Louis Edelman

Hey: Do you like your life? If your answer is “sure, but it could always be better,” then David Louis Edelman would like a word with you. Edelman is thinking about humans and their capacity for dissatisfaction, and how that concept relates to his acclaimed “Jump 225,” trilogy, of which Geosynchron is the concluding volume. Will you be satisfied with his exploration of both? That, my friend, is entirely up to you.

DAVID LOUIS EDELMAN:

Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You either love it to pieces like cats and mieces, or you think it’s a pretentious piece of crap.

I belong in the former category, and it’s partly because of a scene from the novel that never made it into the film. The book begins with the man-ape known as Moon-Watcher encountering a strange piece of advanced alien technology. This black monolith shows him an image of a fat and happy family of humans – humans who aren’t constantly starving, who aren’t constantly worried for their safety. Clarke writes:

Moon-Watcher felt the first faint twinges of a new and potent emotion. It was a vague and diffuse sense of envy – of dissatisfaction with his life. He had no idea of its cause, still less of its cure; but discontent had come into his soul, and he had taken one small step toward humanity.

Here’s the thing that’s intrigued me ever since I read those lines back in junior high school – one of the things that inspired my Jump 225 trilogy, consisting of the novels Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron. We in the developed world are those fat and happy humans that Moon-Watcher was envying. We don’t have to worry about starvation, we’re not constantly looking over our shoulders for marauding tigers. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’ve got the physiological level down, no sweat.

But we’ve still got that vague feeling of discontent. No matter how much we achieve or how comfortable we get, there’s always a fatter and happier group of humans right over the horizon. Maybe they’ve got a hundred million dollars in their bank account. Maybe they’ve got a bigger plasma screen or a faster PC or a cooler car. But this isn’t just a question of materialism; even people who aren’t caught on the endless treadmill of Newer and Shinier Stuff feel this discontent. Maybe they feel they’re not having enough sex, or maybe they feel they’re not reading enough, or maybe they’re dissatisfied with their carbon footprint. Maybe they’re doing just fine on a personal level, but they feel the world around them needs some serious work.

Regardless, something’s driving us to get out of bed in the morning and to compete, to strive, to better ourselves and the world around us.

The human race is powered by dissatisfaction, as Arthur C. Clarke noted above. We have this innate and unquenchable urge to progress. To change. To move. That constant feeling of vague unease that Moon-Watcher experienced is written in our DNA. It may have been an evolutionarily useful trait that helped the species survive the lean times, but now we’re stuck with it like a vestigial limb.

But why? And where are we progressing to?

In my novel Infoquake (book 1 of the Jump 225 trilogy), the character Figaro Fi talks about this constant urge in terms of “bio/logic” software, or software that runs on the human body:

Want is everywhere. It’s in people. It’s in programming. In politics. In nature. The universe just won’t stay still. It wants to move; even its smallest particles want to be in motion. Take bio/logics. Aren’t bio/logic programs in a natural state of incompleteness? We release 1.0 of a program, and inevitably it is imperfect. Version 1.0s want a version 2.0, don’t they? They practically beg for it. You toil for months on version 2.0, and you’ve still barely tapped into its bottomless reservoir of want. Version 2.0 wants a version 3, version 3.0 wants a version 4, and so on and on and on and on and on – forever!

If any civilization should be ready to declare victory over the world and put the urge to improve to rest, it’s the civilization of my Jump 225 novels. The people in my novels have nanobots called OCHREs floating in their bloodstream which cure disease. They can instantly project a virtual body around the globe using something called the multi network. They can hook into their version of the Internet straight from their brains, and hold silent conversations without letting on that they’re even communicating with someone. They’ve got a network for virtual sex that takes place entirely in the mind, so it’s free of mess and disease.

Sounds like paradise to us. But then again, imagine what Moon-Watcher would think if you told him you have a soft bed, a climate-controlled house, a wheeled vehicle that can travel seventy miles an hour, and a small metal box that allows you to talk to anyone on the entire planet, instantly. Oh yeah, and you also have so much food that you can tape it to your cat just for fun.

Moon-Watcher would have trouble imagining why you ever have a moment of want or dissatisfaction. And we might feel that way about the world of Jump 225. Yet there’s still room for a ruthless and amoral entrepreneur like my protagonist Natch to trammel over his competitors. There are still warring segments of society and bickering politicians. My secondary protagonist Jara still worries about whether she can pay the bills and whether she can find true love and self-worth.

So if we’re still struggling a thousand years from now, will we ever reach perfection? (It’s not for nothing that the standard greeting of the characters in the Jump 225 universe is “Towards Perfection.”) One day we’ll figure out homelessness and war and poverty and starvation and disease, right? Could we ever solve all of our problems, and what would that look like?

Glad you asked.

Into the middle of all of my characters’ striving and struggling comes a radical new technology called MultiReal. I don’t have space to describe the technology in full here – that takes most of book 2 – but it’s basically an ultra-powerful prediction engine that allows you to see the consequences of your choices. You can predict where you’re going to hit a baseball to the extent that you can hit it exactly where you want, every time. You can shoot a gun and never miss your target.

During the course of book 2, MultiReal, we discover that not only can you determine whether you should take road A or road B… by cracking the code of human consciousness, the software allows you to actually take both roads at once. Avatar can win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and The Hurt Locker can too — as can Star Trek and I Love You, Man, for that matter. (In real life, of course, we all know that Up deserves the Oscar. I will brook no discussion on this.)

Let’s go back to the theory that dissatisfaction powers the human race. How can you possibly be dissatisfied with power like MultiReal at your disposal? If everyone can get what they want, wouldn’t that dispense with human conflict altogether? Wouldn’t that make governments obsolete? Where else could the human race possibly progress to?

But even if MultiReal represents Perfection for the human race, what’s the price for achieving it? In Geosynchron, the concluding volume of the trilogy, our protagonist Natch finds out exactly how humanity can get itself off of that endless treadmill of dissatisfaction, what that means, and what it costs.

Is that price worth paying? And if so, who should pay it?

Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron are in stores and available online now. And I just discovered last week that Locus will say this about Geosynchron in its March issue: “This smart, idiosyncratic blend of cyberpunk, libertarian entrepreneurship, and social engineering will, I think, stand as a seminal work of 21st century SF.”

Which has rid me of my own vague sense of dissatisfaction. For a few days, at least.

—-

Geosynchron: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the Geosynchron Web site. Read an excerpt. Visit David Louis Edelman’s blog.

Signed Chapbook for Auction at “Con or Bust”

Hey, remember how I was telling you about the French language chapbook of my story, “After the Coup?” Well, I’m auctioning off a signed copy over at Con or Bust, which is LiveJournal group set up to help bring fans of color to Wiscon and other science fiction conventions. Other authors and science fiction folk are also auctioning off signed books and other goodies; participants include Toby Buckell, Jo Walton, N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman and Cherie Priest, for starters. Lots of good stuff for science fiction and fantasy fans.

This particular chapbook is a rarity on this side of the Atlantic, so if you’re an obsessive completest of Scalzi stuff, this is likely to give you the sort of bragging rights other North Americans can only dream of. I’ve already signed the copy I’m auctioning, but if the winner of the auction wants, I’ll also personalize it. You can’t beat that.

Here’s the direct link for my auction — bidding has already started and runs through 11:59pm, March 13. While you’re there check out the other auctions, too; just keep scrolling down and you’ll find some neat things.

Stargate Universe: I’m Back For Season Two

I’ve been sitting on this news for a bit and suddenly realized that, hey, there’s no reason to be sitting on it: I’ve been asked, and have agreed, to continue as the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe for the show’s second season. Indeed, I’m already looking at scripts and chatting with producers and giving notes, and the season is already shaping up to be very cool and interesting and that’s all you’ll get out of me about it. Go on, torture me! You’ll get nothing!

(Note: Please don’t torture me.)

I’m very glad to continue in this gig because on a personal level it’s one of the most fun gigs I’ve had. Krissy has noted to me that when I talk to her about what I do on the show, the expression I get is almost exactly like that of a ten-year-old boy talking about a favorite toy. I won’t deny it, although maybe I’d quibble that it’s not a toy, it’s a seekrit club I belong to, in which we build spaceships out of cardboard boxes and aliens out of stuffed animals and then go zoom zoom zoom around the neighborhood.

By which I mean: One of the things I like most about it is that it is actually collaborative. Most of what I do is largely me sitting off by myself, so doing something where I get work from others, do my part and then send it off to someone else is a good creative experience for me. Especially when I really like the end result, which I have with SG:U.

Speaking of which, I’m supposed to have notes to the show today. Excuse me, please.

The God Engines: Hugo Consideration Edition

First, because I know this will come up: Yes, Subterranean Press and I are working on an official electronic version of The God Engines for everyone else. Patience, please.

Second, I’ve been led to understand by numerous e-mail from a far distant land the natives call “Australia” — wherever that is — that physical copies of The God Engines are difficult to come by (apparently they have to be delivered inside the pouch of a wallaby or something to that effect), and that this places a number of that country’s citizens into a state of despair because it means they won’t be able to consider the work for a “Hugo,” whatever that is (I think it’s a type of brass instrument, between a tuba or a sousaphone). Really, the ways of the people of that land confuse and frighten me; I think it’s all that fermented yeast they eat.

So, in the interest of international amity, I decided to make available an electronic edition of The God Engines, for those antipodean sorts who are also Hugo nominators. But then I realized if I allowed Australians in on this, then other overseas folk — antipodean or not, yeast eaters or otherwise — would point out that they also have a hard time finding The God Engines, as it’s not been released in other countries, either. So I thought, fine, I’ll let all Hugo nominators who are not Americans or Canadians in on this electronic editions. But then I realized that if I didn’t let the North Americans in on this, they would drive to my house and burn it down. Because that is the traditional North American way of displaying disapproval.

So, fine: If you are a Hugo nominator, regardless of geographical location, you are eligible for a special Hugo edition of The God Engines from me for your consideration. I’ll send you a pre-production pdf of the novella (1.2 MB), which means that there may be a copy edit error or two in it; I think you can handle it. But to get it, you must follow to the letter these following instructions:

1. Send your request to “TGE@scalzi.com” and not my standard e-mail address (because it’s easier for me to keep track of requests that way, that’s why).

2. When you send your request, you must include your Worldcon membership number (either for Anticipation or Aussiecon 4) and the name you registered for the Worldcon under, so I can confirm that in fact you are eligible to nominate for the Hugo, and not just some schmoe. DO NOT SEND ME YOUR VOTING PIN. Because if you do, I’ll do horrible, horrible things with it [insert maniacal laugh and ominous thunderclap here].

3. In the body of your request, please cut and paste the following words:

I hereby solemnly declare that I will in fact nominate works for the Hugo this year, because nominating for the Hugos is AWESOME, and those who nominate for the Hugos are AWESOME, and I am AWESOME, so how could I not nominate for the Hugos?

Note: The above declaration does not oblige you to nominate The God Engines. That would be silly. Nominate it only if you feel it is worthy. If you don’t feel it’s worthy, don’t nominate it — but remember to nominate other things. Seriously, remember to cut and paste those above words in your request, otherwise I’ll go, “you’re totally not serious about nominating for the Hugos” and will deny your request until you put them in. Don’t think I won’t!

4. Finally, in exchange for getting this version of The God Engines for no cost, please consider taking some of the money you’re saving in purchasing and shipping the book and donate it to a literacy charity of your choice. No, I’m not going to stand over your shoulder and make you do this one; I’m just asking you to consider it. I’d consider it a fair trade.

There you go. This offer is open through March 12, 2010, so those of you who aren’t yet Hugo nominators still have time to become so. Update: Whoops, too late to be a nominator if you’re not one already. But not too late to register to vote on the actual Hugos. Get to it!

USA Today Piece on Science Fiction and the Oscars

I point to it because I am quoted in it. Yes, I am just that self-serving. But it’s a pretty good article, even without the bit I provided. I was interviewed for the piece while I was loitering at the airport in Atlanta, waiting for my connecting flight, so for several moments I was that guy at the airport, you know, the one talking loudly into his cell phone, oblivious to the annoyance of others. Sorry, Atlanta.

Just Arrived, 2/22/10

Look what the cat dragged in:

* White Cat, by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry): Holly’s latest YA, featuring a good kid in a family of black magic con men, drawn unwillingly into one of their schemes. We’re big fans of Holly’s stuff here in the Scalzi household, and this one looks particularly cool. Out May 4.

* The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McNees (Amy Einhorn): This debut novel imagines a romance for the historically-not-known-to-have-had-a-romance writer Alcott. But can Alcott have romance and independence in the 1850s? McNees will be along in late March with a Big Idea piece about this book, which will arrive in book stores in early April.

* Mistwood, by Leah Cypess (Greenwillow): Weird fact: I was looking at the cover of this book this morning and the looked over to my Twitter feed, and there was tweet from Ms. Cypess pointing to something on Whatever. COINCIDENCE? Well, yes. But still amusing. This debut fantasy features a shapeshifter who must protect a king — if she can just remember how. Out in May.

* Petrodor, by Joel Shepherd (Pyr): The second book in the Shepard’s “Trial of Blood and Steel” fantasy quartet, featuring the series heroine Sasha struggling mightily to stop a madly onrushing war. Because war is bad, people. Out next month.

* Watcher of the Dead, by J.V. Jones (Tor): The fourth book in the “Sword of Shadows” series. Three heroes arise to try to reclaim a chaotic world. Out in April.

* Pleasure Model: Netherworld Book 1, by Christopher Rowley (Tor): This collaboration between Tor Books and Heavy Metal Magazine seeks to revive the look and feel of pulp novels; at the very least they’ve got the artwork down. Story involves a cop and a genetically-designed sex slave, working a murder case. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly as you’d expect something from Heavy Metal to be. Out now.

* Repo Men, by Eric Garcia (Harper): Rebranded paperback version of The Repossession Mambo, with the title changed to reflect the name of the upcoming movie based on it, starring Jude Law. Because, hey, if a major motion picture based on your book was being released under a slightly different name, you’d probably put out a rebranded paperback, too. Out March 9, with the movie out ten days later.

The Big Idea: Robert McCammon

Surprise! While usually I post one or two Big Ideas a week, this week there are three. Because sometimes I overcommit. Hey, it happens. It’s not like it’s a bad thing. Especially in this case, because this week’s first Big Idea comes from New York Times bestseller and Stoker and World Fantasy Award-winner Robert McCammon, who is back in action with Mister Slaughter, a book of intrigue and murder set in colonial-era New York, and part of a series featuring professional “problem-solver” Matthew Corbett.

And in the writing of the series, McCammon found himself constructing not only a multi-volume adventure, but also something else entirely — the sort of apparatus first thought up by no less than H.G. Wells. McCammon explains, below.

ROBERT McCAMMON:

Suddenly I found myself creating a time machine.

Yes, I read the book and saw the movie (both versions, enjoyed the one starring Rod Taylor the best) but here I was actually putting one together, strapping myself into the red leather seat and traveling with a hum of computer and whisper of pages into the past.

What was I thinking?

And, more importantly, where was I going?

Or, to be more correct, where am I going?

Well, I do know where I’m going but I’m not sure how I’ll get there yet. This is all preface to say that I find myself writing a mystery/suspense series set, among other locales, in the town of New York, population five thousand citizens, in the 18th century. I never intended in my long career to write a series. Creating a time machine was not on my agenda. But suddenly I began to put odd pieces together—my love of history, of the detective novel, of the supernatural and macabre, and yes even of science fiction—and the thing began to first whisper, then hum and whir. And I was off on a voyage unforeseen and frankly quite frightening.

I am writing about a young man named Matthew Corbett, an orphan and law clerk, who becomes by his wits and circumstances a “problem-solver” in New York. This occupation brings him into contact with both gentlemen and ladies of that era as well as cold-blooded killers and those dark souls—both male and female—who would like to use his head as a hatstand. In particular, Matthew through the course of this series comes to the attention of one Professor Fell, a shadowy emperor of crime who has interesting plans for both the future of the colonies and Matthew’s own destiny.

I’ve written three Matthew Corbett novels so far, namely Speaks the Nightbird, The Queen of Bedlam, and the newly released Mister Slaughter.

My big idea was not just to write one book, but to write ten books that flow together as one. Events of the first book spur events in the second, and events in the second drive the third book forward. Characters move from one book to the next. The time frame between each book is at most a season. Someone who plays a minor role in one book may appear as a major character in the next. Mysteries and plots are solved and completed in each book, yet some threads—and questions—are left to be completed in the next volume, or the one after that. I know what the major plot is, and what the overwhelming purpose is that Professor Fell has set his sight upon, yet how I’m going to get there is both the challenge and fearsome fun of directing this particular time machine.

And it is fun, really. One of my challenges is to make it so. To make the characters real, to use suspense and an essence of “strangeness” that hopefully makes a book memorable, but also to emphasize humanity and add a good measure of humor to the mix. I’m challenging the reader in a way, as well, because hidden in each book (and sometimes not hidden very deeply beneath the surface) are the names of three or four fictional detectives. So, in a way, this particular time machine is a demonstration of my affection for the detective story, and the great characters who have gone before.

Or, in the case of my time-traveling machine, characters who have not yet been born upon the stage, but are destined to leave their mark upon a particularly impressionable young reader in the far-distant era of the 1960s.

I hope my character of Matthew Corbett can stand cloak-and-tricorn with the best of them. He will go through many trials and tribulations. He will pass across the lives of many beautiful ladies and many villains who wear their ugliness like badges of crooked honor. He will come to many a rough road and treacherous wilderness, on his journey into the dark territory of Professor Fell.

It’s my hope, also, that Matthew is worthy enough to find a place in someone else’s time machine in the unknown and unknowable land we call ‘the future’.

—-

Mister Slaughter: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Subterranean

Read an excerpt of Mister Slaughter (pdf link). Learn more about the Matthew Corbett series.

One Star Reviews Revisited

Because I think in the wake of Nebula and Norton nominations it’s relevant to do so, here are some snippets of one star reviews of my recent work, via Amazon:

The God Engines:

It is hard to believe that John Scalzi wrote this hot mess! Bad premise, bad plot, bad characters, bad ending – the only GOOD thing about it was that it was mercifully short! Please bring the REAL John Scalzi back!

This book, though beautifully written, did not hold my interest, and I didn’t like even one character in it. Darn.

Zoe’s Tale:

This is probably the only book I have returned to Amazon for a refund. It is really that bad. Bad, bad, bad. It is truly beyond belief that a writer of Scalzi’s talent would put this book on the market.

I’ve ready 5 other Scalzi novels, enjoying each, but couldn’t make it past 60 pages of Zoe’s Tale. It was that excruciating/boring. If John wants to write a novel like this, then fine, he should have written it as a stand-alone novel. He shouldn’t have tried to push it by tacking it onto the coat-tails of this franchise.

Zoe’s Tale contains so little action and is such a regurgitation of The Last Colony that I quickly resorted to reading it only on my exercise bike. Even pedaling away at 90 rpm, this book was barely engaging enough to keep my attention.

Yup, those are my works currently nominated for awards, folks.

Why do I bring up these terrible reviews? Oh, for the same reason I brought up my one-star reviews the first time I did a couple of years ago: I think it’s useful for all us writers to remember no one work pleases everyone, and you can’t make anyone like it if they don’t, and you can’t keep them from telling other people what they think of it, even if they hate it… and that’s fine. Learn to deal with it. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how much success or praise or satisfaction you earn through your writing, you’ll still obsess over those one-star reviews and it will eat away at your joy. That’s no way to live.

So: own your one star reviews, don’t let them own you. And once you own them, let ‘em go. You’ll feel better, and you’ll worry less about them going forward. Try it for yourself. You’ll see.