Monthly Archives: May 2010

Oh Crap, I’m Connecting Through O’Hare

I have never once managed to make a connecting flight at O’Hare on Memorial Day. Never. We’ll see what happens this year. See you all on the other side.

Update, 11:51am: What? My flight out of Phoenix has been delayed due to weather in Chicago? That’s unpossible!

Update, 4:39pm: Hey, guess what? My flight to Dayton was canceled and the earliest I’ll get there is tomorrow!

Update, 10:46pm: Rented a car and drove home. And here I am. Go me.

Wil Wheaton/John Scalzi Fan Fiction Contest to Benefit the Lupus Alliance of America

To begin, behold this exquisite illustration, created by request by artist Jeff Zugale:

Yes, yes, I know. Hold on a minute and I’ll explain. But first:

Short Form: For the benefit of the Lupus Alliance of America, John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton and Subterranean Press are running a fan fiction contest, in which contestants write a 400 to 2,000 word story describing the picture above. Any form of fan fiction is acceptable except slash explicit sex. The winner of the contest will be paid for their story (10 cents a word), win a prize pack of books from Subterranean Press, and will have their story published in a special electronic chapbook featuring stories about the painting, written by Scalzi, Wheaton, Catherynne Valente and Patrick Rothfuss, to be published later this year, with profits to benefit the Lupus Foundation of America. E-mail the stories with the text in the e-mail to fanfic@scalzi.com by 11:59pm Eastern, June 30, 2010. One entry per person.

Long Form:

To answer your question: Yes. That’s me. As an Orc. With an axe. And Wil Wheaton. In the INFAMOUS clown sweater. With a spear. On a unicorn pegasus kitten. With volcanoes. I mean, of course, because how could you have Wil Wheaton and a ScalzOrc together without volcanoes?

And now, to your other question, which is: ZOMFG WHY?

The answer: Oh, come on. You really have to ask why to the man who commissioned The Velvet Wesley? There is no why. There is just: The picture. Of me. As an Orc. And Wil. With a spear. On a unicorn pegasus kitten.

So, there is no why. But there is a what, as in, what is Wil Wheaton doing astride a unicorn unicorn pegasus kitten, in the INFAMOUS clown sweater, aiming a spear at an Orc version of me?

And that’s where you come in.

You see, the fact is that neither Wil nor I know how we got to the point where we are in the picture. We are open to theories. Theories in the form of fanfic. That’s right: We’re looking for fan fiction which explains what the holy hell is going on in that picture. Because if ever a work was made for fan fiction exegesis, it is the image above.

So, here’s the plan: You write a 400 to 2,000 word fanfic about the picture above. Come at it from any angle you like to explain, illuminate or otherwise bring to life what’s going on in the picture above. Our only request is NO slash fanfic stories with explicit sex (please). But other than that, knock yourself out.

When you’re finished with the story, in addition to whatever else you do with it (hey, it’s your fanfic, we hold no claim to it), send a copy of the story to fanfic@scalzi.com by 11:59pm Eastern, June 30, 2010 (one entry per person), with the text of the story in the e-mail (no attachments, please). When you do, you’ll enter your fan fiction into a contest.

If your fanfic of the picture is chosen by our Jury of Awesomeness, your story will appear in a special electronic chapbook about the picture, with other stories written by me, by Wil, by Norton Award winner and Best Novel Hugo Award nominee Catherynne Valente and by Patrick Rothfuss, best selling author of The Name of the Wind. You will be paid for your story at the rate of ten cents a word (twice the SFWA minimum professional rate), and you’ll receive a special prize pack of books from Subterranean Press, which will publish the electronic chapbook later in the year.

We have plans for the chapbook: We’re going to sell it online, and the proceeds of the chapbook will go to benefit the Lupus Alliance of America, an organization dedicated to finding the causes of and cure for lupus and providing support, services and hope to all people affected by lupus. As folks who know and love people affected by this disease, this a cause and foundation we believe in and want to help. The donation will go through the Alliance’s Michigan/Indiana affiliate.

So look at again at the picture. Of me. As an Orc. And Wil. In his clown sweater. With a spear. On a Unicorn Pegasus Kitten. With volcanoes. You know that’s a story you want to tell. So tell it. And please feel free to tell everyone you know about this contest — and this image. Clearly, it’s something best shared with as many people as humanly (or Orcishly) possible.

Update, 8:44pm: Artist Jeff Zugale shares the process of creating this time work of art.

Update, 6/1, 9:28am: There’s been some discussion in the comments about the “no slash” request, so let me clarify: “slash” in this case is meant to refer to explicit sex depictions, not the general possibilities of m/m-liciousness. Slashy non-explicit stories? Go nuts. Sorry for any confusion. Also, to be super-clear, no explicit sex of any kind, please.

Update, 6/1, 11:18am: Video of the reveal of the work during the Super Happy Fun Time With John and Wil at Phoenix Comicon.

Update, 6/3, 11:55am: Follow up post answering some questions and comments is here.

Status Update: Sunday Morning

First, dig the bacon scarf, crocheted for me by this wonderful person and given to me after my panel yesterday. It’s notable for a) being very cool, and b) being something related to bacon which I do not already have, which as you might imagine is an increasingly rare thing. I am very proud of my new bacon scarf, as you can see.

The rest of my day also went well. My panel on me was fun; I read “Alternate History Search Results,” which is short and funny, which means as a reading it’s typically goes over well (as it did), and then opened the floor to questions. About two thirds of the way through my cell phone rang (oops), and it was Krissy, so I had the entire audience yell “Hello, Krissy!” because when you’re dumb enough to leave the phone on, you might as well roll with it. I also caught Wil and Felicia’s panel on The Guild, whose fourth season is imminent, and also a bit of the Star Trek: Next Generation reunion panel, with Wil, LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes.

Then in the evening I attended the Guest Banquet for the convention, where I briefly met Keir Dullea, most famous for 2001, and told him my favorite 2001 story, which involves Rock Hudson attending the movie at the Cinerama Dome in LA, getting up halfway through the film, shouting “Can someone tell me what this damn thing is about?” and storming out. And then came the big event of yesterday, the Geek Prom, which was all about the dancing. I got a Geek Prom picture with Felicia Day! SEE ZOMG BEST FRIENDS. I keep telling you. And finally a few moments in the bar, where among other things I instructed a nice young lady about the finer points of disposing of a dead body. Theoretically.

Today is actually my busiest of the con, with three panels, including, of course Super Happy Fun Time With John and Wil, which you will forever regret not having been here for, unless you’re here, in which case you don’t have to regret it; just show up. And then after the panel, Wil and I have a signing, and then I can just relax and let my brain implode like a flan. Which I assure you it will. But I expect it will have been worth it. It’s been a hellaciously fun convention so far.

Status Update: Saturday Morning

Photo by Wil "Teh Dude" Wheaton

Friday at the Phoenix Comicon went very well, I have to say. Both of my panels — one on Stargate Universe and one on bad designs in science fiction universe — were very well attended, and the latter in particular was a lot of fun because I got to play off of Seth Shostak of SETI and author Michael Stackpole, both of whom were excellent fellow panelists. Then I hung about my signing table, and had nice chats with fans and also tablemates Aprilynne Pike and Leanna Renee Hieber. Then off to dinner with with friends (this is a recurring theme).

Then at 10pm it was time for Rock Band with Wil Wheaton, in which Wil plays Rock Band with his fans for about four hours straight, which is a whole lot of Rock Band. As for myself, I played Blink-182’s “The Rock Show” with me on vocals, Wil on bass, Felicia Day on guitar and Wil’s liaison Amy on drums (I think; maybe it was Wil on drums and Amy on bass. It’s kind of a haze), which I think went pretty well. A little later on Wil was singing Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” and Felica and I went up and to be his sexy sexy back up singers. See people I told you Felica Day and I are totally ZOMG BEST FRIENDS FOREVER. You didn’t believe me, did you. Well, nyah on you, I say! Nyah!

I hung about afterward, stepping in for Wil on a couple of songs when he took a break (see picture above), then co-singing Devo’s “Girl U Want” for Lee Whiteside’s group, and finally closing out the show with Wil on guitar as I sang — yes — “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Which I will have you know WE ROCKED. Oh, don’t give me that look. In your heart you know that’s where we were going to end up. Then I collapsed in into a pile of snore, because you know what? I had a busy day.

Oh, and somewhere in there I took delivery of something that will change how look at reality and the world around us. What is this amazing, transcendent, life-changing thing? Those of you here at Phoenix Comicon will find out tomorrow at 3 during Super Happy Fun Time With John and Wil. Those of you not here will, uh, have to wait. See, I told you that you wanted to be here.

Today: A “Spotlight on John Scalzi” panel, more hanging out at my signing table, and later tonight: Geek Prom. I’m going to wear a tie and everything. Updates during the day, as warranted, via Twitter.

And how are you?

Status Update: Friday, Noonish

For all of those who just can’t live, if living is without me:

My epically bad travel karma decided not to exhibit itself yesterday and I got in Phoenix without any particular problems, which just means that when I leave Monday I’M DOOMED. But I’ll worry about that later. On the way in to the hotel stopped for In-N-Out with Lee Whiteside and Nadine, my guest liaison, both of whom clearly know what my priorities are. They also provided me with a 12 pack of Coke Zero. I LOVE THEM.

Once ensconced at the hotel I caught up with Wil, who asked “so are you doing the preview night?” to which I said “Bwuh?” It was then explained to me that Thursday nights are sort of the laid back informal night for folks here, but that folks still show up to the exhibitor space, so why not go and do that. So I spent a couple of hours at the exhibitor space, at my little table, occasionally signing books and meeting folks. I also got my hands on a copy of the Tor edition of METAtropolis, which is lovely, and which you can see Wil modeling above. Then off to dinner with friends, and then complete loss of consciousness (to be clear, after I returned to my room). In the morning I wandered off to do errands and met Felicia Day in the elevator. We totally bonded and are now ZOMG best friends forever. FOREVER. Those last two sentences were not creepy at all.

Today’s formal activities: A panel on Stargate:Universe, a panel on bad design in science fiction universe, a signing slot and then later tonight Rock Band with Wil. Because that’s how we geeks roll, yo.

The Big Idea: David J. Williams

Everything you know about war is going to change… someday. We know that because it always has before; we’re not fighting wars today like we fought them 70 or 90 years ago, and those were fought differently than the wars before then. What will the next war be? With The Machinery of Light and the rest of his Autumn Rain trilogy of books, author David J. Williams gives you an answer. Here’s the short version of the short version.

DAVID J. WILLIAMS:

“There will be a convergence between the rise of a peer competitor and the maturing of technologies that could threaten U.S. military dominance.”

–Lt. Col. Thomas Bell, USAF, in “Weaponization of Space:  Understanding Strategic and Technological Inevitabilities”

I get bored by all those Hollywood movies in which the world dodges total war/Armageddon at the last moment.

And I’m figuring I’m not the only one.

So I decided to give the people what they want:

The finale of my Autumn Rain trilogy features World War Three across the Earth-Moon system.  I don’t think that’s really much of a spoiler, because it’s kinda obvious from the back-cover…  and besides, the War to End All Wars is really just the background to the trilogy’s finale.  Because while the United States and the Eurasian Coalition are beating the crap out of each other, an even deadlier game is taking place behind the scenes…  as my verging-on-posthuman characters struggle to uncover the secret behind the Autumn Rain experiments… even as those experiments approach culmination…

But I digress.

Regardless of geopolitical permutations, we can postulate certain principles that will govern the next phase of warfare.  I took a stab at synthesizing the research I’d done in writing the Autumn Rain books into an overarching theory:  you can see the entirety of it here—and presented it last year at the Library of Congress and the National Academy of Sciences, so it’s been getting some nice attention.  My basic contention is that the current so-called “generation” of warfare (which favors insurgencies/guerillas) will give way at some point across the 21st century to a new paradigm favoring retooled/revamped nation-states.  Were those nation-states to engage in total war, the ultimate outcome would be totally unpredictable, of course.  But here’s some of the dynamics I would expect to see in what unfolds:

The outcome of the war will be determined in space:  Space is already militarized.  Every time an American GI in Iraq uses GPS, he or she is dependent on space-based assets.  Anyone who wants to neutralize American supremacy needs to eliminate those assets.   In addition, whichever side controls space can engage in strategic bombardment of the other’s homeland from orbit.  (The evolution of space-based weaponry is thus likely to proceed along the same lines of the early 20th century, where each side first used the air for reconnaissance… and then started mounting guns on their aircraft and targeting other aircraft… and then started bombing targets on the ground… )

The war in space will be a function of “topography”:  In the lower orbits, you’re looking at the mother of all free-for-alls, thanks to a myriad intersecting orbits.  But higher up, things are even more interesting.  The key libration points—L4 and L5, where the gravity of Earth and Moon allow a smaller object to remain stationary with respect to them both—will be particularly strategic.  As Heinlein once noted, if you had a mass-driver at L5 (and enough rocks), you could control everything.  Or at least wipe the smile off anybody you didn’t like down on the surface…

Solid vs. space tension:  Though the Moon is lower down the gravity well than L4/L5, your hardware there might be more advantaged, since you could bury it underground, whereas anything hung at L4/L5 would be more than a little exposed.

You aren’t going to see any flying aces:  The rise of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) is merely the start of it.  With the advent of hypersonic engines, we’re going to be creating aircraft capable of pulling more Gs than a pilot can withstand.  Beside which, those aircraft will be intensely vulnerable to…

Directed-energy (DE) weaponry will come into its prime:  By this I don’t mean handheld laser weapons—that’s something that will remain science fiction – but rather, laser cannons:  strategic weaponry capable of striking targets at long range.  Such weaponry is likely to mature across the next several decades, and will transform warfare.  Not just because you’ll be able to hit any point on the surface at the speed-of-light.  But also because it will make the industrial-strength missile shields that Reagan dreamt of a reality.  Which means that…

Cities will be detargeted, at least initially:  the primary target of weapons will be other weapons, with the #1 goal being the speedy elimination of the other side’s DE capability.  Cities can be nuked (or held hostage to those nukes) once you’ve broken down your opponent’s defenses.  From which we can expect…

Rapid degradation of firepower:   With energy weapons blasting away at one another, the attrition of those weapons will be disproportionately concentrated in the initial stages of the war.  After all, this is speed-of-light warfare we’re talking about.  In particular—and particularly scary—it will almost certainly be necessary to take humans out of the firing loop.  Reaction time will belong to the machines.   And speaking of…

Let’s not forget about cyberspace:   The single best way to deal with an enemy asset is to hack it.  When Russia went after Georgia in 2008, they shut down the Georgian net.  When two superpowers try to do the same thing to each other, look out.

Expect to be surprised:  From the Roman corvus to Allied code-breaking, secret weapons have determined more than one war.  And it’s no secret that The Machinery of Light contains more than one secret weapon…

—-

The Machinery of Light: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Williams’ blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Off to Phoenix

Which means a day of travel and other transportive delights. So I’m likely out of here for the day, although as always in situations like these keep an eye on the Twitter feed for updates on my purgatorial state, because my travel karma is indeed just that bad.

For those of you planning to attend Phoenix Comicon, see you in a few hours and also during the weekend; for those of you not attending Phoenix Comicon, well, I’m sure you’ll have fun this weekend, too. Of a sort.

If you are attending Phoenix Comicon, here’s my schedule once more. And let me just say that you really want to attend Super Happy Fun Time With John and Wil on Sunday. Because there will be something there. Something that will change your life forever. No, it’s not Amway products. It’s even better. Seriously, you will want to be there. And those of you who aren’t there, will weep that you were not. Weep! I’m just saying.

German METAtropolis Cover

I think it’s pretty. It’s also the first German cover of a work of mine (or in this case, a co-work) that doesn’t feature a laser-shooting spacecraft. So that’s cool, too. For those of you who are wondering, a) my name is bigger than everyone else’s because I sell well in Germany and therefore they want to play up my name and b) it was the publisher’s decision to do that, not mine. Hey, we all got paid equally, at least. For those of you of a Teutonic persuasion, this hits German bookstores in October.

This is also an excellent time for me to remind all of you that the Tor version of METAtropolis is also imminent, as in, it’ll be out here in the US/Canada in just a couple of weeks; June 8, in fact. Don’t worry, I’ll be reminding you between now and then, I’m sure. I just wanted to pop it up on your radar, however, if you’ve not already gotten it via the Audible audio version or the Subterranean Press limited edition. WHY DON’T YOU OWN EVERYTHING I DO ALREADY? WELL? WELL?!!?! Sorry, that just popped out. Point is, hey, look: Jay and Toby and Karl and EBear! And also me. You want some of that.

The Big Idea: Robin Becker

Zombies: Very popular in literature these days. But there’s a (zombie) elephant in the room here: In all of zombie literature, there is one person whose needs, wants and desires are woefully underarticulated — yea, hardly a shuffling moan is heard in his or her defense. Who is that silent person? Author Robin Becker knows, and in Brains: A Zombie Memoir, she finally gives that person a voice. I’ll let her explain herself — and her silent partner — better.

ROBIN BECKER:

Brains: A Zombie Memoir developed out of this simple realization: Most zombie movies aren’t about zombies. They’re about humans, those desperate survivors holed up in houses or vacant buildings, fighting amongst themselves over food or whose plan to follow. It’s their struggle, their survival, their story that we’re told.

But what about the zombie? Who will tell his story?

The idea occurred to me in 2004. It was a banner year for zombie movies, the year of Shawn of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Land of the Dead, with it optimistic ending (at least for the ghoul), followed close on their heels in 2005.

That’s when the “big idea” became bigger: What if a zombie retained sentience? What if inside one of those rotting, moaning, brain-eating automatons lurks a being who thinks, feels, maybe even loves?

The question became this: What if the living dead have souls?

Suddenly I was rolling around in the mud of zombie ontology, Cartesian duality, and a few stray tendons. I started reading about the philosophical zombie and my mind was blown.

I had to write that story! My zombie would be a special being, almost transcendent, and all alone in a sea of mindless monsters. He would be conflicted and scared—but still driven to do what the living dead do best: Eat brains. That would be the tension, the crux: a character driven by two opposing impulses, the higher and the lower. Good and evil, if you will.

Would a sentient zombie be able to refrain from eating brains if necessary? If it benefited him in the long run, could he ignore the gleaming viscera before him? Could a zombie be “civilized”?

Spoiler alert: Turns out, the answer is no.

I set about writing in the first-person POV of a thinking zombie. At the time, there wasn’t the amount of zombie lit there is now—Max Brooks’ Survival Guide and the Permuted Press catalogue, mostly. The field was wide open! My book would be the first zombie diary, a memoir, a zomoir, as I called it. It would chronicle his resurrection and subsequent struggle to survive—just like the zombie movies do, but from the other side of the consciousness divide.

With this in mind, I couldn’t go the straight genre route. If I adhered strictly to the rules, Brains would only be a short story. “Mwaaaa,” the living dead said. “Gunh. Nom.” The end.

I decided that the characters would be aware of zombie mythology. They’ve all seen the movies, and most have read the Zombie Survival Guide. In fact, the characters in Brains comment on the amazing fact that everything in the movies turns out to be true. These genre conventions remain: a virus spread by biting; the infected sick with a fever and chills; slow, stupid Romero zombies. To kill them you shoot ‘em in the head.

Oh, and gore. There had to be gore.

Just as I was aware of genre, while at the same time playing with it (in the form of the smart zombie), I couldn’t be all philosophical. How boring! Those ideas had to be inherent in the text, not overt soliloquies. Luckily that was easy because the more I tried to be serious, the more I faced the absurd. Jokes appeared, seemingly of their own free will. (Plus, I love zom-coms!) The outer characteristics of zombies (drooling, shambling, limbs falling off) sharply contrast with the trauma of a mind trapped inside that fetid body—and it’s fertile ground for humor.

So I took it one step further and created Jack Barnes, PhD. in English, complete with pipe and elbow patches. As a human, Jack was the kind of guy who sees casual conversation as competition. Surely he would be melodramatic—but his drama would be ridiculous because of his physical state. The indignity of his situation! The humanity!

It didn’t hurt that I teach at a university and so am all-too-familiar with profs like Jack. The book was an opportunity to “write what I know” and poke gentle fun of my profession, while at the same time tackle real phenomenological questions: What makes a person? Who deserves to “live”? Is consciousness what makes us human? Is language?

In the past, I’d been a careful writer, afraid to make the puns that I love so much, afraid to make popular culture allusions, afraid to have fun, darn it. Because writing is serious! But during the writing of Brains, I said screw it. If zombies cannibalize humans, then the memoir of a professor-turned-zombie would cannibalize culture.

But a strange thing happened on the way to the end, and it was completely unexpected. I started to care about Jack; I started to worry about his future, his survival. He finds a small band of other rational zombies and together they fight to survive. When their situation becomes dire, the jokes dry up, the allusions to other movies and books slow down, and we are left with the all-too-human story of one entity’s quest to discover who he is and therefore how to “live.” No philosophical zombies, no jokes. We are left with—dare I say it?—love.

One final word: Although Brains is in the voice of a zombie, when the apocalypse happens—and it will—I’m killing them, even if a few can think or write. When it comes down to us or them, I’m picking us. Every time.

—-

Brains: A Zombie Memoir: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Robin Becker’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

The Wife is Strangely Unconvinced I Will Return Her New iPad

But I only wanted to take a picture of it for the blog. I swear. However, any further attempt to extricate said iPad would result in my arm being removed at the socket and me being beaten to death with it, so, here, have a picture of my wife threatening death to anyone (read: me) planning on separating her from her new toy.

In other news: Hey, there’s an iPad in the house. For which I blame Tobias Buckell, who took his iPad to PenguiCon, where my wife got to play with it and thus decided she wanted one for her own. I had been manfully resisting picking one up for myself, choosing to get a netbook instead because I’m one of those people who actually needs a keyboard on his tiny portable computing device. But when Krissy decides she wants something, that’s pretty much that.

Of course, I did play with it a bit today, when it arrived and I spent a couple of hours customizing it for the missus. It is unsurprisingly nicely put together, and in playing with the virtual keyboard I have to say in landscape mode it’s very nearly acceptable for typing. But not quite; it still has weird quirks to slow you down if you’re actually trying to get work done (like either changing the virtual keyboard to access the apostrophe or holding down the comma button for a second for it to show up), as if to remind you it’s a device for the consumption of media rather than the creation of it. I can see it being fine for short e-mails and other things not requiring a long slog of typing/editing/whatever but less so otherwise. Yes, I know I can bluetooth a keyboard to it. But then, that’s why I have a netbook with an actual keyboard. No bluetooth required.

Krissy doesn’t plan to write a novel on it, or indeed anything more complicated than an e-mail, so this is not a problem. She largely intends to use it for the purpose it has been constructed: Consumption of media, and specifically books and films (the former through the three e-book apps I downloaded for her, the latter by way of Netflix, whose app for the iPad is really quite nice), and also the occasional game and what have you. She’s is not particularly bothered by the various geek concerns regarding the iPad, i.e., it’s a closed system or what have you. Like most humans, she wants something that works, rather than something she has to work on to make it work.

As for me, I may be allowed to look at it from time to time, but there’s really no question whose baby it is. If you see me soon missing an upper limb, you’ll know I tried to keep it too long. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

Once Upon a Time Judy Blume’s 401(k) Went Belly Up and George Lucas Wanted to Help

For certain values of “help,” mind you.

No, I don’t know what Judy Blume did to deserve me doing this to her. George Lucas, of course, is another story.

Try to imagine the text! No, you know what, on second thought, don’t.

Also, no, I don’t have a deadline today. I just woke up with this in my head and knew that unless I inflicted it on all of you, it would never leave me. So, there, the dark deed is done. And now I have the rest of my day free and clear.

Apropos to Absolutely Nothing at All

It occurs to me that with the exception of Agent to the Stars, The Rough Guide to Money Online and two short stories, every one of my books and all of my short fiction has been to date created in my little office here in Bradford, Ohio. That’s a dozen books, fiction and non-fiction and about the same number of short stories. Not to mention, of course, literally thousands of articles, essays, reviews and blog posts. It’s strange to think of so much of my creative life is bounded by a 12×10 room with easy views of two agricultural fields, three barns and a grain silo, in a town with more people who are Amish than have Masters’ degrees. On the other hand, as I think I’ve noted before, it also amuses me to have so much science fiction come out of a rural Ohio town. Dichotomies are fun.

My Phoenix Comicon Schedule

As most of you know, this weekend I will be in Arizona as a writer Guest of Honor at the Phoenix Comicon, at which I’ll be doing all sorts of various things, most of them legal, not all of them involving fishnet leggings. More specifically, here are the panels I’m scheduled to participate on:

Fri: 1:30 pm – Stargate Universe – As the debut season is nearing the end, Stargate Universe Creative Consultant John Scalzi talks about the latest Stargate series from an insider’s point of view.

Fri: 3:00 pm – Bad Design in Science Fiction Universes - We love Star Wars, Star Trek, and other fictional universes.  However, not all elements of these universes are the most practical of designs. Our esteemed panelists take a closer look at the nature of design in these areas. With John Scalzi, Seth Shostak,Kevin Grazier, Michael Stackpole

Sat 1:30 pm – Spotlight on John Scalzi – Author Guest John Scalzi talks about his work, making a living as a writer, his award winning blog The Whatever, and his plans for world domination starting with the presidency of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America!

Sun 10:30 am – Scifi Social Media - Is your favorite author a Facebook friend? We look at how Sci-Fi notables are using social media tools – Twitter, podcasting, blogging, Facebook, Myspace, etc. – to build fan connections and communities around themselves and their works.  With Jack Mangan, Michael Stackpole, John Scalzi, Aprilynne Pike, Leanna Renee Hieber, & Sam Sykes

Sunday noon – Consulting on Science Fiction TV & Film - Kevin Grazier and John Scalzi have been consultants for Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, and Stargate Universe while Seth Shostak has consulted on many science fiction movies. Find out what effect they’ve had on their respective projects. John Scalzi, Seth Shostak and Kevin Grazier with Jaime Paglia

Sunday 3:00 pm Super Happy Fun Time with John and Wil - Award winning bloggers John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton team up for a fun hour.

In addition, I’ll also be having what looks like three signing slots (Mysterious Galaxy bookstore will be there and will have copies of my books on hand) and will be making an ass of myself on Rock Band with Wil and a few others. Oh, the fun to be had. I would also stress that if you can make it to the Super Happy Fun Time with John and Wil, you should. We may — may, mind you — have something to unveil there. No, I will not say more. You have to show up to find out what it is.

The Big Idea: Vicki Pettersson

Vicki Pettersson is in the enviable position of having a successful urban fantasy series with her “Signs of the Zodiac” books, of which the latest, Cheat the Grave, is the fifth. But when any series goes out to the fifth book (or beyond), the question becomes: What now? What next? What’s new? Pettersson’s answer to this was to do the unexpected with her main character — a zag instead of the usual zig. And what does that zag entail? I’ll let Pettersson explain it to you.

VICKI PETTERSSON:

The initial premise for my Signs of the Zodiac series was simple: take the superhero construct of good and evil and drop those dueling sides – represented by Light and Shadow – down in Las Vegas to watch them battle it out against the neon backdrop. Vegas is my hometown, so research is a cinch and the real world setting is just odd enough that readers often question the gray areas of what’s real and what’s not. (After all, what’s stranger, superheroes duking it out in Sin City or the fact that Wayne Newton is still headlining here?)

This lets me write a dark, gritty urban fantasy and still point out the best places to cop a $.99 breakfast. It’s like Fodor’s Guide to Supernatural Vegas – the perfect little getaway for a readership enduring a recession, craving escapism, and faced with all around, monumental world change.

And change is the Big Idea behind my fifth book, Cheat the Grave. In the real world, change blares into our lives via a headline: if it’s not a bailout, a bank fail, or an earthquake – it’s Greece. Or it visits our life in a phone call: if it’s not your mother, your kid, or your own bad decisions – it’s your good ones. Because every action, or inaction, ultimately finds a way to assert itself in your life.

Now if you’ve read any of my previous books, you’ll know this has never been a static series. (If you haven’t, then you missed the limited offer on my Vegas Roulette Predictor Ring. Sorry.) I push Joanna hard, and have admittedly, at times, treated her like a rat in a science lab. What happens if I push this button? What if I zap her here? You found your way out of that maze, girl? Then it was too easy. Here’s a tulpa blinding you with lightning bolts, flood waters rising at your feet, and a man with a rotted soul seeking to trap yours in his bewitched blade.

Fun.

Normally when a character faces tough situations she just gets tougher. Yet Joanna started out pretty hard from word one. Any tougher and she’d start resembling a walking strip of beef jerky. So I took the opposite tack and made her more vulnerable instead. This doesn’t mean she cozied up on me. She’ll never be the type of character to hand over her recipe for pound cake or believe in magic sparkling unicorns.

But this softening has brought up new questions for both Joanna and me. Like, who are you when you’re separated from those people that have come to most define you? What happens when the things you’ve built up around you are pulled, have fallen, or drifted away? And what if life, very suddenly, can’t be confined to two distinct camps – good and evil, Light and Shadow, right and wrong – but instead allows in uncomfortably and previously unseen shades of gray?

In other words, change. Because what else can a book be about when a superhero has been stripped of her ubiquitous leather and weapons and masks, and indeed, her every available defense? Yes, I forced Joanna to give it all up, then I pushed her to keep going afterwards, and by God she did.

And because Joanna has changed irrevocably, I’m now scrambling to make sense of my next book. Mind, I don’t expect more recipes or any less bloodshed – as Cheat the Grave’s tag line says, old habits do die hard. But there’s grace, I think, in watching someone taking responsibility for their own part in a changing world, and peace can be found if they’re able to accept that world’s new shape. And if a superhero can’t manage it, I don’t know who can.

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Cheat the Grave: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow Pettersson on Twitter. For a limited time the first book in the Signs of the Zodiac series, The Scent of Shadows, is available as a free electronic download. Read here for more information.