Monthly Archives: July 2010

Today’s Cane Shaking On the Lawn: Apps

I don’t get apps. Not as in how they work, but why, in fact, they’re called “apps.” Because you know what? They’re programs. They are compendiums of code, compiled in a manner that when you execute them in a computing environment, they perform a specific task. Like a program. Exactly like a program. Because they are programs. So why not call them programs?

It is because programs is an ungroovy kind of word? Is it for the same reason station wagons are now called “crossover vehicles”? Will the hip young things using Foursquare on their iPhone to let the world know their apartments are unoccupied and ripe for looting be filled with horror if their cute little larceny abettor were called a program? Does the word conjure up intolerable images of a chunky, misshaven nerd, hovering asthmatically over a Commodore 64, waiting the 20 minutes until Omega Race downloads off the cassette by strapping on a feedbag of Cheetos and Mallomars and settling down with the latest copy of Byte? Is the word really that bad?

I certainly admit that “app” is a nice phoneme of a word, and that “program” doesn’t lend itself to such shortening; “There’s a prog for that” doesn’t quite have the same ring. And I don’t really have a problem calling programs “apps” as long as I can tell my brain it’s short for “application,” which is a specific genus of program, rather than a wholesale replacement of the word. But I don’t think that’s how people generally use the word, and it just makes me want to shake my cane and get the kids off my lawn. Recently I read a piece about what it will mean when we switch over to app-based operating systems, and I was all, what? So the new hotness is a screen on which icons are used to access the programs they represent? Just like the Macintosh in 1984? Somebody get me a chair, the future is blowing my goddamned mind.

I like apps. I like the little computers we use to run apps, which fit in my hand and have the same processing and visualizing power a forty pound hulking desktop and a fifty pound CRT screen had a decade ago. I’m not entirely sure why we need a new word to describe these little programs. And while I’m at it, I’m also not sure why you’re still on my lawn.

Meanwhile, in the Land of Cats

Here’s Ghlaghghee, still mildly peeved because today she had to go to the vet to have an abscess in her mouth looked at. As some of you may remember, Ghlaghghee has had a bout with Feline Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex, so when something’s screwy with her mouth, we take it seriously. Fortunately, the vet was of the opinion that there was nothing going on a nice hefty shot of antibiotics wouldn’t cure, so that’s what kitty got, and now she’s back home, huffily lounging. There, there, Ghlaghghee. Better a shot in the rump than an abscess in your food intake system, I always say.

Sherrod and Breitbart

Wow, the Shirley Sherrod thing. With the exception of Sherrod herself, and the farmers she had helped, and who went on television to defend her character, it was pretty much a race to see who could possibly be the biggest jackass. It’s a tough call, but I’m going to go with Andrew Breitbart being the biggest ass of them all. Yes, both the NAACP and the Obama Adminstration reacted before knowing the facts based on an edited video clip from a highly questionable, partisan hack, and therefore deserve a paddlin’. At least they have both apologized and in the case of the administration, offered Sherrod a new job. But let’s not forget the problem began when Breitbart posted a video of questionable provenance; he didn’t edit it, nor was he apparently aware of the larger context of the “racist” discussion at hand.

Let’s also not forget that when Breitbart was called on posted the slanted, edited video which got Sherrod fired, his response was to say that none of this was really about Sherrod, which I suppose the newly-unemployed Sherrod might have been surprised to hear. When the wife of the farmer whom Sherrod had helped defended the woman, Breitbart’s response was to question how anyone knew she was really the farmer’s wife at all. Because if Andrew Breitbart knows anything, it’s that you can’t trust everything you read on those so-called news sites. Well, of course, the reason why we know she’s the farmer’s wife is that actual journalists went out and did some research, rather than, say, just sucking in an edited video that one otherwise knows almost nothing about and then posting it as an example of institutional racism.

This has been a teachable moment for all of us, and the lesson learned here is: Andrew Breitbart is a lazy journalist and a self-justifying whiner, and on political matters (at the very least) one should trust him and his judgment about as far as you’d trust a hyena not to chew on the innards of a staked goat. Another lesson: You don’t really want Andrew Breitbart on your side, since in his effort here to show the hypocrisy of the NAACP in condemning racist elements of the Tea Party, he’s aided and abetted in the character assassination of a hard-working black woman who helps rural Americans keep their farms. Yes, Andrew Breitbart. This is exactly what the Tea Party folks needed at this juncture. Well done, you. Well done, indeed.

The good news here is that the next time Andrew Breitbart pulls something like this, he’ll likely be ignored. Because here’s the thing about journalism, sloppy or otherwise: You get to burn people once. And after that they really do consider the source.

Thinking (in Type) About Buzz, Inception and Predators

Yes, my SEO-optimized headline says it all: Over at FilmCritic.com this week, I’m having deep thinkery about each of those things, plus also The Book of Eli. Do you remember The Book of Eli? Nor I. And yet: Pretty successful film. Go figure. Anyway, check it out and make my AMC overlords happy to continue to pay me. Or don’t AND I AND MY PRECIOUS FAMILY WILL STARVE. I don’t want to pressure you or anything. But it’s come to that. Also, of course, if you want to make a comment, the comment threads there quiver in anticipation.

Reminder: Vote for the Hugos

The final day for voting for the Hugos is less than two weeks away now (it is in fact the final day of the month), so this is my own self-interested reminder for you to vote if you have a Worldcon membership, and that if you don’t, but would like to, it’s still not too late to get either a full or supporting membership (complete with access to the Hugo Voter’s Packet). There are some fine works up for consideration in every category, so, really, you’ll be spoiled for choice. It’s tough, I know. But I believe in you! And I know that’s important to you.

“The President’s Brain is Missing” Live at Tor.com; “After the Coup” Live at eBookstores

Tor.com is celebrating its second birthday today — it’s the second most important thing that’s ever happened on July 20 — and to celebrate, it commissioned from me a new short story. This makes some sense as the site debuted two years ago with a different short story from me. See, it’s a pattern. The new story is called “The President’s Brain is Missing,” and as the title suggests, it’s what happens when the Most Powerful Man in the World loses his mind, and isn’t even aware it’s gone.

This is, by the way, a completely accurate description of the central crisis of the story, but of course the reality of that situation (in the story, that is) is not quite so simple. And that’s what makes it science fiction, don’t you know. Some of you got a sneak preview of the story last week by signing up as a member of Tor.com, but now it’s available to everyone, free for the reading, over there at Tor.com. I think it’s a fun story; I hope you do too.

Oh, and for those of you who like to be read to, here’s an audio recording of me reading the story. I’m reading at about a 35% Shatner level, which is a comment that will make more sense when you hear it. Also, for those of you from the South, I apologize in advance for the accent you’ll be hearing about halfway through the story.

Now, then, as for the first short story I had published on Tor.com, “After the Coup,”  it’s now available from B&N, Amazon, Apple and other sorts of eBook stores as a 99 cent single serving download, along with a whole basket of other stories originally published on Tor.com. Here are all the groovy details on that.

And you may ask, why should I pay a buck for a story I can read for free on Tor.com? And the answer to that: Because one day the entire Internet will fail, probably because Zombies are chewing on the tubes, and all you will have left for electronic reading is what  you’ve brought with you on your eBook reader. And then you’ll be glad that you chipped in a buck, at least until the undead come through the doors. Alternately, I don’t know, you might be away from the Internets from time to time and/or may decide that supporting good fiction with cash every now and again might not be a bad thing. Hey, it’s a buck.

In any event, enjoy either or both of these stories. Happy reading.

The Big Idea: Anne Zouroudi

Anne Zouroudi is in love with Greece – which is not entirely surprising, as many people over the years have be smitten by that Mediterranean land. But unlike most people, who are simply content to enjoy the sun and warmth of the people there, when Zouroudi wandered that land of gods, she found something else: Her muse, and a messenger. Zouroudi is here how to explain how both showed up in her novel, The Messenger of Athens.

ANNE ZOUROUDI:

My Big Idea was audacious: I wanted to fuse genres, mix it up, and boldly introduce the myths of ancient Greece into the world of modern crime fiction.

Greece and I were always destined to be partners in crime. I remember, as a child, skimming through a leather-bound volume of the myths my grandmother had received as a school prize, searching for the illustrations to the fabulous stories – Narcissus mesmerised by his own image, the bull-headed Minotaur with the gnawed bones of Athens’s youth scattered round his feet. From there I moved on, to Robert Graves and Agatha Christie, and somewhere between their pages, the idea for my fusion was surely born. Later, I read Jung, and his theory of archetypes, and the relevance of gods and heroes in our times.

And then came the most pivotal event of my life. I travelled to Greece.

To say I fell head-over-heels in love with the country is vastly understating the case. It went much deeper than romantic infatuation. I felt I had gone home – and I still feel, now, that my birth as a citizen of the cold, grey British Isles was some ghastly error, that my soul has always been as Greek as Zorba’s ever was.

I’m far from alone in my ethnic dysphoria. The same condition affected none other than  Lord Byron, the poet and quintessential English gentleman, who felt it deeply enough to fight for Greece in her war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. He died in Greece, at Messolonghi, in 1824, and is still honoured there today for his contribution to the struggle, with a district of Athens – Vyronas – named after him.

Since Byron’s days, northern Europeans have migrated to Greece in droves, and I became one of those migrants. In my view, whilst the beauty of the country is captivating, it’s not so much her physical attributes that enthral, but Greece’s almost tangible spirit. Like me, travellers hear Pan’s pipes still playing across the hills, and succumb to the timeless magic. The spell is cast, and home can never be the same again.

So naturally I set The Messenger of Athens in my beloved islands, and the fictional island I created became an essential part of the book, a character in its own right. But at the heart of my Big Question was a dilemma: how could I strike out on this new, somewhat risky, path, without alienating the crime fans I wanted to win over as my readers, as readers I wanted to love my books?

The answer was two-fold. Firstly, I worked hard to develop the book’s most essential feature (the beating heart, in fact, of all crime fiction) – a mystery which intrigues. Secondly, I employed subtlety. Whilst there’s definitely something unusual about Hermes Diaktoros (known as the fat man), a word to the wise is sufficient. If you want to read The Messenger of Athens as a ‘straight’ crime novel, so be it; forget mythology, and take Hermes as a regular guy of no fixed abode, who steps in where the law has failed to deliver justice. But if you don’t mind your whodunit not being rooted in procedural realism, I invite you to remember I am under the spell of Greece, that I write fiction, and that the worlds we create in fiction are without boundaries.

And perhaps the boundaries of crime are the broadest of all genres. Sub-genres are myriad – noir and nasty, cosy and cerebral. Where do I lie on the spectrum? I’d put myself somewhere between An Inspector Calls and Agatha Christie, between Donna Leon and Frommer’s Guide to Greece.

So let’s just say that, led by the Messenger, I’ve wandered a little away from the mainstream path. And of course, you’re most welcome to follow Hermes too, if you will.

—-

The Messenger of Athens: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow Anne Zouroudi on Twitter.

From the “Disgusting Yet Fascinating” Drawer

Apparently, Japanese beetles love the smell of citronella candles. They love it so much that they’ll come and land on the candles just to be close to the smell. Whereupon the candle, made all squooshy by the 90+ degree temperatures we’ve been having, sucks them into the wax. Where they die, all citronella-fied. And then I come over and take a picture to show Teh Intarweebs. ‘Tis the circle of life, it is.

Wireless Giveaway: Act Quickly! (UPDATE: All Gone!)

Update: 12:03pm: All the copies are claimed! Told you that you had to be quick.

Look! Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer is back with another book to give away! Let’s all lean in close and hear what he has to say:

Here’s another giveaway we’re sponsoring—this time for Charles Stross’s beyond excellent short story collection, Wireless. We think it, along with Alastair Reynolds’s Zima Blue, are probably the two strongest sf collections of the past five years or so.

The rules? Simple as always.

– You must be a US resident to enter.

– Send an email to subpress@gmail.com with the word “Wireless” in the subject line, and your name and address as the only text in the body of the email. (If your company automatically adds text to outgoing emails, don’t worry; it won’t disqualify you.)

– If you win a copy of Wireless, you agree to read it within three weeks of receipt and post a review on Amazon.com.

– We will not be sending emails to winners or losers. The only notification you’ll get is if you find a copy of the book in your mail in a week or so.

Now, for the downside. For the past few titles we’ve given away, we haven’t noticed an uptick in Amazon reviews. If the lack of participation by winners of the free books continues, we’ll discontinue sharing books we love with readers in this way. Capiche?

You heard the man: Get a free book, leave a review on Amazon. It’s a fair trade, is it not? Now, send in your e-mails. Last time it took about four minutes for all the books to get given out, so you need to be quick. Quick! Like a bunny!

Kodi Addendum

A couple of quick notes:

First, and of course, many thanks to everyone who passed along their condolences, prayers and good thoughts to us. It’s been a sad couple of days around the Scalzi Compound, and your notes and memories of your own good dogs and other pets have been helpful to read. I’m also delighted that the comment thread for yesterday’s entry reached 300+ comments before someone tried to be an ass on it (the entry was linked to by FARK, which I love, but which is known to harbor the occasional troll). That might be a record. And yes, I deleted that comment, and will any other trollish comments on that particular comment thread. People who troll other people sad about their dog are the very definition of “jackass,” and don’t rate the privilege of comment here.

Second, folks in e-mail and over at Twitter have asked if we plan to get another dog at some point. The short answer is “yes,” but the slightly longer answer is “yes, but we’re not in a rush.” I suspect most of you can figure out why that might be. Fortunately at the moment we have three other pets who will keep us busy enough. And before you ask, yes, I think the cats have figured out Kodi is gone and that we are sad; two out the three have been extra affectionate the last couple of days. The third, Lopsided Cat, is likely to show his concern for us by dragging down a deer and leaving it for us at the garage door. That’s the kind of cat he is.

Third, for those of you who want a last look at our good dog, I’ve collected some of my favorite photos of the pup for you, underneath the cut. Click through to take a look (and apologies to those of you on the RSS feed who are about to be suddenly inundated with Kodi pictures).

Continue reading Kodi Addendum

Kodi, 1997 – 2010

In 1998, Krissy decided that we should have a dog. This precipitated a philosophical discussion between the two of us as to what constituted a “dog.” Krissy, whose family had had a number of smaller dogs over the years, was inclined toward something in the shih tzu or maltese direction of things. I, however, steadfastly maintained that if one is going to own a dog, then one should get a dog — a large animal, identifiably related to the wolves whose DNA they shared, who could, if required, drag one’s unconscious ass out of a fire. More practically, there was the fact that at the time I owned a 30-pound cat named Rex, whose default disposition was such that a dog smaller than he would be in very serious danger of being either eaten or being sat on and smothered in the night. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a small dog into our home.

And thus, it was decided that, indeed, we would probably get a big dog. And as it happens, when this decision was made, our good friend Stephen Bennett mentioned to us that, as we were looking for a dog, he knew of a puppy that was available. A friend of his had put down a deposit on an Akita puppy from a local breeder, but then moved somewhere pets weren’t allowed. So an Akita pup was up for sale, at a substantially discounted price. Normally the phrase “discount puppy” is one fraught with danger, but Stephen had heard good things about the breeder, so we gave her a call.

It turned out that actually two puppies were still available, one a boy and one a girl, so we went over to the look at them. Krissy had originally wanted the boy puppy, but he seemed distant and diffident and didn’t seem to want to have much to do with us. The girl puppy, on the other hand, went right up to Krissy and seemed to be just plain delighted to see her. Five minutes later, it was decided that the girl puppy was our puppy. As it happened, it was indeed the pup Stephen’s friend had planned to buy, and in anticipation of that, the breeders had already started calling her the name that not-actually-former owner had planned to call her: Kodi.

Having bought the dog, I then went home and researched Akitas, and just about had a heart attack, because it turns out that Akitas are a dog that can go one of two ways: They can be an utterly delightful dog, clean and intelligent and devoted to family, or they can be twitchy neurotic creatures who were originally bred to hunt bears and will be happy to challenge you for alpha-hood in the family if you give them the chance. What made the difference between the one and the other? Basically, how much time you spent socializing them. Spend enough time and attention to socialize them well, you get the good Akita. You don’t, and you don’t.

Fortunately, if you want to call it that, something happened that allowed me to spend all sorts of time with my new puppy: I got laid off from AOL. Thus, during Kodi’s entire puppyhood, I had nothing better to do with my time than to spend it with our new pet. Partially as a result of this, and partially out of her own good nature, Kodi became the best of all possible dogs, or at the very least the best of all possible dogs for for me and for Krissy. Athena came along, almost exactly a year younger than Kodi, and our dog took to her immediately, sensing a younger sister rather than competition for affection.

Kodi was a good dog for all of us, but it’s fair to say that while she loved me and Athena, she adored Krissy. I like to tell the story of how I went away on my book tour in 2007, and I was gone for three weeks, and the day I came back, Krissy went to the airport to pick me up. When we got out of the car and opened the door to the house, Kodi came out and greeted me in a way that translated into oh, hey, you’re back. Nice to see you. Then she went over to Krissy and greeted her in away that translated into OH MY GOD I THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER SEE YOU EVER AGAIN AND NOW YOU’RE BACK AND I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH. And she had been gone for maybe two hours. I once told Krissy that the very best day for Kodi would be one in which Krissy came back home every ten minutes. Krissy was Kodi’s world, her sun and her moon, her waking thought and her dream.

Krissy never took that for granted, as one being given unconditional love might. She returned that love. She delighted in the fact that Kodi was her dog, even in its most exasperating moments, such as when the dog couldn’t stand to be more than five feet from her and was simultaneously having deep and abiding intestinal issues. You take the bad with the good, the cat litter breath with the soft, happy puppy sighs, the dog farts with the unalloyed happiness that a dog who really loves you provides. Krissy loved her dog, and loved everything that went with the dog, from start to finish.

Kodi’s love for my wife amused me and I would occasionally feign jealousy, but I never doubted that Kodi loved me too, and cared for me as well. To explain how I know this I have to tell you about two separate events. The first happened the night of the day my daughter was born. The second was a few days after my wife miscarried what would have been our second child. In each case I was home while Krissy was somewhere else — in the hospital recuperating from giving birth for the first, and at her work for the second — and in both cases I was suddenly and extraordinarily overcome by my emotions. For the first, the indescribable joy that comes in meeting your child for the first time. For the second, the grief that comes from knowing you will not meet the child who could have been yours. And each time, I was frozen, unable to process what was happening to me, or what I was feeling.

Both times, Kodi did the same thing. She came into the room, saw me, walked over to the chair in which I was sitting and put her head in my lap. And both times I did the same thing. I petted her head, slid out of the chair and on to the floor, and held my dog while I cried, letting her be the one to share both my joy and pain, so I could go on to what I had to do next. Both times she was patient with me and sat there for as long as I needed. Both times my dog knew I needed her. Both times she was right.

I haven’t written or spoken of either of these before, even to my wife. They were something I kept for myself. But I want you to know about them now, so that you know that when I say my dog loved me and I loved her, you have some idea of what that actually means.

Akitas are large dogs and live, on average, for nine or ten years. Kodi lived for almost thirteen, and twelve of those were very good years. In the last year, however, age caught up with her. She slowed, and she panted, and finally it had become clear that she had begun to hurt. While Krissy and I were in Boston this last week, we got a call from the kennel where we boarded our dog when we traveled. Kodi had had to be taken to the vet because she was listless and she wasn’t eating. X-rays at the vet showed she had a tumor in her abdomen, which was likely causing internal bleeding. There was some question whether Kodi would make it until we got home. We asked the vet to do what she could. She did, and yesterday afternoon we drove straight from the airport to see our dog.

In the end it was simple. We walked Kodi into the sunlight and then Krissy laid down in the grass with her and held her dog close and let her dog go, both at the same time, bringing to an end a journey that began with Kodi walking up to Krissy and into her life, and our lives, twelve years before. I’m thankful our dog waited for us so we could be with her. But I’m even more thankful my wife could hold her dog one last time, feel the happiness Kodi felt in her presence and she in hers, and to have her arms be the last thing her dog felt in this life as she passed into the next.

Now she is gone and we miss her. We are glad of the time she was with us. She was loved, by my wife, by our child and by me. I wanted to share a little of her with you, so you might remember her too. She was a good dog.

Where I Have Been, Revealed

I was in Boston. So if you were one of the ones who guessed Boston in the previous entry, pat yourselves on the back. Those of you who guessed Washington DC, well, I did have connecting flights through Dulles. So don’t feel too bad about that. And for those who were guessing what the pictures were of in the last entry, they were indeed of the USS Constitution, the Bunker Hill Memorial, and one of the stained glass windows at Harvard University’s Memorial Hall.

As to why I was there: My wife and I recently had our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and this was our slightly delayed anniversary trip. It was slightly delayed because this last week was also the week our daughter was away at camp, so we decided it made more sense to do it now, than then. As to why Boston in particular: Well, why not? It’s a fine American city, and Krissy had never been, and while I have been, every time I was there I was there for a reason — usually a convention of some sort — and didn’t actually spend any time at all seeing the city. And you know, Boston is where we conveniently stack up a lot of our historical stuff in a relatively small area, so it’s a great town to be touristy in, so we were for four days, and had a wonderful time.

I already hear some of you saying, well, why didn’t you come to Readercon, which was just few days earlier? Or, why didn’t you set up a reading or a signing? Or, why didn’t you let folks know you were coming to Boston? And the answer to this is, please see the above notation about it being an anniversary trip for me and my wife. Which is to say that it was time for the two of us to enjoy being a couple, rather than me doing something work-related. Nearly all my travel these days is work-related, and while most times that’s fun and cool, the fact is that it’s even nicer just to be about to spend a week with my wife and not have anything to do except what we want to do, and to go to the places we want to go.

And where did we go? Well, we hit most of the spots on the Freedom Trail, ogled the penguins at the aquarium, took one of those harbor tours, had nice dinners at the Union Oyster House and Giocomo’s in the north end, and dessert at Modern Bakery and the Parker House (where apparently the Boston Cream Pie was invented), wandered about the Boston Common and Faneuil Hall, took the tour at the Samuel Adams brewery, hiked up to Harvard and bought goofy stuff at Newberry Comics and watched the Red Sox get shellacked (alas) by the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park. Basically, your total tourist package.

In short, Boston’s awesome, and we would not hesitate to recommend it for folks looking to go tourist for several days. And don’t worry, Bostonians: I’m almost certainly going to be back in your neck of the woods reasonably soon, in official geek capacity.

Where Have I Been

You might have noticed that I’ve not been very much here in the last week. Well, that’s because I’ve been somewhere else. And to give you a clue of where I’ve been since Monday, here are three pictures:

From these pictures, can you tell me where I’ve been (and for extra credit, what specifically these are pictures of)?

The answers, and a fuller exploration of my travels, later today.

It’s Not Dreamscape

This week’s FilmCritic.com column looks at the upcoming Christopher Nolan film Inception and explains why, even though the new film has several basic plot similarities for 1984′s Dreamscape, it’s not just the same film in new clothing — and why in general variations on the same conceptual theme do not have to equal “retread.” Go on, read it, it’ll be fun. And as always if you have thoughts and comments, leave ‘em over there.

How to Read My New Short Story a Week Early

So, while you weren’t looking, I wrote some new fiction — a short story. And I sold it to Tor.com, who will post it next week to celebrate its second year of existence. But if you just can’t wait until next week, follow this link to find out how you can get it early, as in, right NOW. No, you don’t have to sacrifice a goat or any other living thing. Leave that to the professionals. This is much simpler, and if you’re a fan of science fiction, something you’d probably want to do anyway. And, hey: New fiction by me.