Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Quick SFWA-Related Thing of Some Importance (to SFWA and SFWAns)

Look, SFWA Active and Lifetime Active members! It’s the ballot for the incorporation of the organization in California, which will allow for a raft of useful benefits to our organization, including tax-deductible donations to the organization and the ability to give grants through our emergency medical fund and legal fund, rather than loans. Mine came in the mail yesterday, which means that yours is also probably in your mailbox or will be soon (if you are in the US) or going across borders to you (if you are international).

In order for the incorporation in California to pass we need 2/3 of all Active and Lifetime Active members to vote for it, so when you get this please vote. It’s important. We’ve made it easy here in the US by including a self-addressed stamped envelope with the packet, so all you have to do is vote, put the ballot in the envelope, and drop it into the mail. Do take the time; it’ll be worth it for our organization and its ability to serve you and your fellow SFWAns.

If for some reason you have a problem with your ballot, or need a new ballot, or otherwise have questions about the ballot, please let us know at “office@sfwa.org”. We’ll be happy to address your needs, including getting you a new ballot.

Thanks, and again: Please vote.

The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get

Over at Twitter, author Adrienne Martini asks me if I get the sort of jackassed comments and e-mails that Shawna James Ahern, a female food blogger, talks about in a recent post, and wonders if it’s a gender-related thing.

The short answer: No I don’t get those, and yes, I think it’s substantially gender-related.

The longer answer: I do of course get hate mail and obnoxious comments. The hate mail gave me a title for a book, after all, and the obnoxious comments on the site are just part of doing business as a Public Internet Figure™. This is why I have a robust commenting policy and am not afraid to follow up on it. Whenever jackholes pop up, I mallet them down, and that’s the way it should be.

What I don’t have, however, is the sort of chronic and habitual stream of abuse this blogger describes. There are constantly people annoyed with me (go search “Scalzi” on Twitter today and you’ll see some fellows mewling plaintively about me, for example; it’s darling), but it doesn’t appear anyone makes a hobby out of it. It’s all situational, in that I’ll write something that annoys someone, they’ll be annoyed and write about it, and then it all goes away. There are additionally and quite naturally people who seem to have a default dislike of me. So perhaps they are more inclined to be annoyed with me and they’ll become so quicker than the average person might, and thus be publicly annoyed with me at a higher frequency.

But again, they don’t do it all the time; they’re not making it their mission in life to ride me. And to be clear, people are annoyed with me, or may mock me, or may even call me names. But these people are not fundamentally (or, generally speaking, not even slightly) hateful or hurtful people and it would be wrong to characterize them as such. What I don’t receive, other than exceptionally rarely, is what I consider to be actual abusive commenting, where the intent is to hurt me, from people who are genuinely hateful.

What follows is my own anecdotal experience, but it’s also the anecdotal experience of someone blogging for 13 years and having been engaged in the online world for almost 20, i.e., decently knowledgeable. In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake.

Why do women bloggers get more abuse than male bloggers? Oh, I think for all the stereotypical reasons, up to and including the fact that for a certain sort of passive-aggressive internet jackass, it’s just psychologically easier to erupt at a woman than a man because even online, there’s the cultural subtext that a guy will be confrontational and in your face, while a woman will just take it (and if she doesn’t, why, then she’s just a bitch and deserves even more abuse). Cowards pick what they consider soft targets and use anonymity and/or the distancing effect of the Internet to avoid the actual and humiliating judgment of real live humans that they’d have to receive out in the world.

There’s also the fact that culturally speaking, women are burdened with a larger number of things they are made to feel bad about, things that men don’t have to bother with. Notes Ms. Ahern, about a recent trip to New Orleans:

From those brief 25 hours, I received emails that said, “Don’t you know that processed food is killing Americans? How could you have posted a photo with Velveeta cheese?” or “What kind of a mother are you, leaving your child for another trip? Selfish bitch.” or “Sausage? Andouille sausage? You don’t think you’re fat enough already, you have to stuff more sausage in your mouth?” There were complaints about where I ate, how much I ate, how happy I was to be with the people I sat with, that I was bragging by listing the people with whom I had dinner. There were comments about my weight, comments about my parenting, comments about the way I spend money, comments about the farce of gluten-free, comments about my photographic skills, and comments about how often I posted on Twitter (for some, that answer was: too much). Nothing goes undiscussed as being disgusted in my online world.

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends, and why I’ve spent a substantial amount of time drilling into Athena’s head that the Internet is full of assholes who like to void themselves all over the women they find. I’m sad this is still the case. But being sad about it isn’t going to keep me from trying to build those defenses into her, so that when inevitably she runs up against these people, she can deal with them properly, with a sound that approximates that of a flushing toilet.

That this will outrage them and make them more inclined to rail at her doesn’t negate the necessity. It makes it more of a necessity, alas.

(Update: Useful follow-up post is useful, and you should visit it.)

And Now, A Summer Wrap-Up

The great thing about culturally-induced ends to somewhat arbitrary periods of time is that they make handy places one to write assessment articles — which is to say I’ve written an end-of-summer wrapup of science fiction and fantasy films over at FilmCritic.com. If you all go and read it, my AMC corporate overlords will notice the traffic and I will be allowed to keep my job, and then my child will be able to eat another week. You don’t want my child to starve, do you? Of course you don’t (and if you do, you’re a bad person). So click on through. Oh, and leave some comments, if you like. The corporate overlords like those too.

The Big Idea: Marie Brennan

We’ve all heard the expression “good things come to those who wait.” Is it true? Perhaps not always or in all cases, but with her new novel With Fate Conspire, author Marie Brennan found that there might be some advantages to have some time between when one thinks of an interesting story idea, and when one finally sits down to bring it into the world. Find out how she who hesitated was not, in fact, lost.

MARIE BRENNAN:

This would be a very different book if I’d started writing it in 2007, like I originally intended.

Midnight Never Come (which had its own Big Idea feature here a few years ago) was supposed to be stand-alone. During an interview for that book, though, somebody asked me what a faerie mirror of Queen Victoria would have been like. My take was that she wouldn’t have had one — but that got me thinking about the fact that her reign saw the beginning of the London Underground. Which is, y’know, under ground. Which also happens to be where my faeries live.

And they don’t much like iron.

Writers being sadists, I knew at once that I had a sequel in my hands — albeit one taking place nearly three centuries later. I soon came up with ideas for a pair of books in between, too, one each century. My thought was that I would do the Victorian book first, then backtrack for those two. But after a few months researching nineteenth-century London, I realized a bite that big would take more chewing than I could give it just then, so I postponed it and took the series in chronological order. (This resulted in me biting off and attempting to chew the English Civil War instead, which was not any easier. But that’s neither here nor there.)

The delay didn’t change the Big Idea of the book; it’s still about the Underground and the threat it poses to the faeries of London. But taking things in order means that conflict ended up with a foundation it would have otherwise lacked. To borrow a metaphor that I think originated with Jo Walton, now there’s a spear behind the spearpoint. Some of the fae have spent three books and three hundred years in London; they can’t surrender that easily. We’ve also seen change creep over their world, as mortal society shifts around them; the fact that they’ve survived all of that makes the seriousness of this threat all the more real.

And one thing I didn’t foresee, when I first thought this up: the foundation laid in the previous book, A Star Shall Fall. That one takes place during the Enlightenment, and brings faerie magic up against mortal science. Usually those two things are treated as being antithetical to one another — which goes hand-in-hand with the standard narrative of “oh, alas, magic is going out of the world; woe, technology has driven the faeries away.” That’s a very Victorian narrative, so I couldn’t exactly ignore it . . . but I could have an argument with it. The fae of the Onyx Court worked out a kind of “faerie science” in the eighteenth century, and now, in this book, they use it to fight against the dangers that are trying to force them from their home.

I wouldn’t have had that if I’d taken the series out of order. I wouldn’t have had a lot of the elements that fed into this book; each novel’s plot essentially stands on its own, but there’s a natural accumulation of details that make this book — which is the conclusion of the series, at least for now — the sum of the things that went before. The Big Idea got bigger, because it had more time to grow.

So in the end, I’m glad I waited.

—-

With Fate Conspire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s journal.

When To Ignore Criticism (and How to Get People to Take Your Critique Seriously)

UK-based writer Damien Walter took exception on Twitter to my notation a few days ago that science fiction fandom was cheerfully ignoring condescending critiques of this year’s slate of Hugo winners, which precipitated a lively exchange between the two of us on the subject of criticism. For those of you who want to check out the back and forth, it’s all there on Twitter; have fun with it.

What I want to do now, however, is talk more generally about the fine art of criticism, when to listen to it, and how to have it listened to. These thoughts come from my own two-decade experience as a professional critic (primarily in film, although I have also been a pro critic for music, books and video games), and also my experience in the last decade of being critiqued on my written work. So there’s a little bit of perspective from both sides of the fence.

Let’s start with the critic. When the critic sits down to critique or comment, she has several choices for the goal of the critique, some of which are:

* Consumer reporting: Describing to potential consumer why a particular thing (book, album, film, game, etc) is or is not worth their time/money/attention.

* Exegesis: A critical examination or interpretation of the thing, not as a consumer object (or not primarily so) but as a thing in itself, and in relation to other things which the critic finds to be similar and/or relevant.

* Instruction: The critic wishes to convey an educational message to an intended audience, often a writer, group of writers, or a group with an existing interest in either the specific object or class of objects the critic is examining.

* Polemic: The critic wants to expound on a point of personal interest or on a critical observation and chooses to do so with some rhetorical force.

Note these goals are not exclusive; a critic may mix and match these goals in whatever proportions she feels necessary to convey her message most effectively. Alternately, she may choose to go with one primarily and have the others only in supporting roles, if they are there at all.

Whether the criticism is ultimately effective to a large degree depends on two things: One, whether the critic herself is, as a matter of craft, effective in reaching her critical goals; Two, whether the audience for the critique is well-matched with the goal of the critique.

As an example, let me trot out a critical piece of mine from a few years ago, called “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment.” As a piece of criticism, what is it? Well, it’s not really consumer reporting, as I don’t spend any time or effort trying to keep people from spending their money on Star Wars product (that ship has long since sailed, I suspect). There’s some exegesis and some instruction there, but they exist in supporting roles. What the piece is primarily — and unapologetically — is polemic. Quite obviously I have a bug in my ass regarding Star Wars, and in this piece I am (sorry for the upcoming image) pulling the bug out of my ass and showing it to you.

Who is the audience for this particular piece — which is to say, who are the people who will find this piece the most persuasive as a piece of rhetoric? Well, I can tell you who won’t, which is dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fans, because they will perceive the piece — correctly — as an attack on something they have already determined to be of value to them. They will therefore either attack it as obnoxious or alternately ignore it with a “haters gonna hate” sort of shrug.

Are they correct to do so? That’s a matter of opinion, but as a practical matter and as a critic I’m certainly not surprised that hardcore Star Wars fans would reject it out of hand, and it would be disingenuous of me to assume that such a rhetorical blast would or should be well-received in those quarters. If I wanted to make an argument to that audience (or at the very least to actively include that audience), it would be incumbent on me as a critic to tailor the message in a way that addresses that audience intelligently.

Note that “intelligently” is not the same as “obsequiously”; there are ways to be negative — even confrontational — while at the same time persuading others to consider one’s argument. It’s a nice skill if you have it, and people do. One of my favorite critiques of Old Man’s War came from Russell Letson in the pages of Locus, in which he described tossing the book away from him… and then grabbing it up to read again. His review was not a positive review, and it was a confrontational review (at least from my point of view as the author) — and it was also a good and interesting and well-tooled critical view of the work.

All of which is to note that the act of public criticism is also an act of persuasion. If a critic intends a piece to reach an audience, to be heard by an audience and then to have that audience give that critical opinion weight, then an awareness of the audience helps. Writing a consumer review of a work in an academic exegesis is not likely to give one a leg up with one’s thesis review committee. Posting a thousand words on the use of the color red in another work is not likely to make happy the person who wants to know if the work will help pass the time on a plane. A polemic smack at certain groups or classes of people will make them less likely to give your critical comments credence. And so on.

Moving away now from the critic to the reader of criticism, the question now is: When may one safely ignore or discount criticism? One answer to that is pretty simple: when one determines that the criticism is fundamentally flawed in some way. For example, when Old Man’s War came out, there were critiques of it that were based on the assumption that I had American right-wing politics and proceeded from there. I don’t; I therefore found these critiques unpersuasive. Other critiques bounced off the idea that the book was a response to (among others) The Forever War by Joe Haldeman; as noted in my introduction to the latest edition of that book, I didn’t read Joe’s novel until well after I wrote Old Man’s War. Other critiques suggested that Old Man’s War (which was published in 2005) could have only been written after 9/11; in fact everything but the last chapter of the book was written before September 11, 2001. This isn’t to say these critical examinations of the book couldn’t be interesting or fun to read. But founded as they were on erroneous premises, I felt perfectly fine in discounting their critical conclusions.

Another answer is when the critic’s personal agenda or polemic makes evident the contempt they have for a person or class of people (who you may be, or to which you may belong) and/or makes evident they have a hard time modeling the idea that others who are outside their own brain or are not of their own small tribe might have valid and defensible reasons for critical choices with which the critic disagrees. This is essentially the difference between “I would not have chosen that” or “I don’t understand how you could have chosen that,” and “Only an idiot would have chosen that” or “You chose that; what’s wrong with you?” In all cases the critic may have a valid point to make, which may be worth considering. But in the latter two cases the critic is also rhetorically signalling that she believes you exist on some lower plane of existence. In which case I think you’re perfectly entitled to say, whatever, jackass, and ignore them moving forward.

To be clear, critics are perfectly within their rights to be as snobby or contemptuous or jackassed as they would like to be. As a critic, being so is often cathartic (to say the least), and for those of us consuming the criticism, it’s often fun to read. But when critics are, they should do so with the understanding that if their actual goal is to educate and inform those to whom they are being snobby contemptuous jackasses, well. They have likely failed. Alternately, if the critic is not aware of the level of snobby contemptuous jackassedness oozing from their critique, then they are not in control of their instrument, and they need to go back and try again. Now, it’s possible that the critic is actively attempting not to be a snobby contemptuous jackass, and someone reading them still considers them so. In which case: C’est la vie. However, as a practical and fiduciary matter, it’s probably best that a critic doesn’t leap to the assumption that the problem of others conceptualizing the point of her prose rests with the other party.

Much shorter version: If you’re an asshole to people, they’ll likely ignore you. Try not to be an asshole if you want them to listen.

The floor is now open. Please feel free to criticize.

First Day of School, 2011

And thus begins seventh grade. Athena has been very much looking forward to the start of this particular school year, so I hope everything goes for her as she hopes and plans. I still think it’s silly to start the school year before Labor Day, but no one ever asks me about these things, so. In any event, it has been family tradition to start the school year with an informal portrait; this is this year’s model. Off we go into another year.

Sunday Update

Because I know your weekend is incomplete without hearing from me. Yes it is.

* Yesterday I did my Context 24 flyby, in which I drove up to Columbus, did five programming events in six hours and then drove back. While I don’t recommend this as a frequent science fiction convention strategy, as a one-time I think it worked quite well, and I was happy with the day. I did an hour of autographing, for which I got to sit next Seanan McGuire, who was a convention Guest of Honor, and she and I chatted between her signing books (she had a rather longer line than I did). This was followed by two panels, one on agents (I am for them) and one on secondary characters (I am for them, too), both of which I thought went very well, thanks in great part to able moderating by Tim Waggoner and Linda Robertson, and good insights from my co-panelists.

Then a Q&A session, which was punctuated by the fantastic Seanan McGuire bringing me ice cream from Jeni’s, which I consumed as I spoke, and finally a reading, in which I read from the 2012 book and two other bits, and ended with me discussing (as I so often do) how awesome my wife is. Between the Q&A and the reading I had a bit of a breather in which I got to relax and chat with with Maurice Broaddus, Jason Sanford, John Hornor Jacobs and others.

And then, zoom, out of there, headed home, and when I got there I basically collapsed into sleep. Hey, I was entitled. It was a full day. Again, this is not a schedule I hope to replicate on a frequent basis. But I thought it worked pretty well for what was a very last-minute bit of showing up. And the nice thing is that even as a last minute substitute, the con-goers at Context made me feel welcome and that they were happy to see me. So thanks, Context folks. It was fun. The next time I come I’ll try to stay longer than just six hours.

* Today’s agenda: clean house. My wife is coming home after a week of being away visiting friends and in the interim the house has alas devolved to my personal state of entropy (which is, basically: Gaaaaaaaah! The filth!), so I have to induce order again before she gets home or I am a dead man. And then, my wife will be home after a week of being away, that week being a week after I was away for a week, which (if you can add) means that she and I will be seeing each other for the first time in two weeks. Which is my way of letting you know I won’t be here for the rest of the day. I don’t feel bad about this in the slightest.

* However, I will leave you with my favorite cover version of this song, as compensation, because it’s lovely.

See you on Monday.

Late Hugo Notes

I’ve been getting some e-mail asking me about some post-game kvetching on the Hugo wins and also the possibility of a Hugo for YA, so briefly on each:

Post-Hugo Kvetching: Meh. There’s always post-Hugo kvetching, for the same reason there’s pre-Hugo kvetching, which is, people like to kvetch, and/or they have a hard time internalizing that their own tastes are not in fact an objective standard of quality. I do think there’s a core of commenters whose problem internalizing that other people have other tastes is overlaid with a more-than-mild contempt for fandom, i.e., “Oh, fandom. You’ve shown again why you can’t be trusted to pick awards, you smelly, chunky people of common tastes, you.” Fandom does what fandom does with folks like that: it ignores them, which I think is generally the correct response to such wholly unwarranted condescension. But if people want to gripe, however they want to gripe, it’s their call.

Point is, yes, people are bitching about the Hugo results. When do they not? Let everyone have their fun and we’ll all meet back here next year for more of the same.

YA Hugo: Another meh from me. I don’t think YA books really need a separate Hugo, inasmuch as there have been two recent Hugo winners that were YA books, nor do YA novels seem to have a problem of late getting onto the ballot. Also, philosophically, there’s the question of whether having two novel Hugos privileges novels over other writing formats (answer: yes). But at the same time YA has distinct goals and awarding literature for young readers is laudable.

As it happens I think SFWA split this baby reasonably well by creating the Norton Award: It’s not a Nebula Award, but it’s quickly becoming a significant award in its own right, because it is its own award, not a Nebula. The Hugo ceremony is already host to other non-Hugo awards, including the Campbell, so maybe, if there is to be a YA-only award at Worldcon, the solution is having a not-a-Hugo YA award which can develop its own personality.

Thoughts on either of these?

The Big Idea: Jim Ottaviani

For Jim Ottaviani, it wasn’t enough just to write a graphic novel about Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (with Leland Myrick illustrating). In the process writing itself he found inspiration from his subject, and discovered that Feynman’s own maxims and ideas had direct application to his own work. If you’re a writer, might they have application to yours as well? It’s time to find out in this Big Idea. Take it away, Mr. Ottaviani.

JIM OTTAVIANI:

What would Feynman do? That’s the question I’ve asked myself almost daily since beginning to write a book about him, and I’m still answering it now that it’s about to come out. For starters, he wouldn’t (didn’t!) limit himself to one big idea, so I’ll follow his lead and talk about three.

1. “Funny looking pictures”

If you drew a Venn diagram and labeled the three circles and labeled them ‘non-fiction,’ ‘graphic novels,’ and ‘scientists,’ you’d expect a small area of overlap. You’d be right, but even though you can touch all the walls surrounding that area without stretching your arms (metaphorically, anyway), it’s a great place to live and work. That’s because it makes sense.

Scientists communicate with pictures. If you don’t believe me, drop by your local library — a college or university library would be best, but a public library will work almost as well — and compare the literary magazines to the scientific journals. I guarantee you’ll see more pictures per feature in the science stuff. Yes, some of the pictures will be graphs, and none will look as good as the drawings Leland Myrick did for our book, but if you want images, science has ‘em. And if you happened to pick up a physics journal, you’re likely to have run across a few pictures named after Richard Feynman himself. He called them “funny looking pictures,” but the rest of the world calls them Feynman Diagrams and uses them to solve difficult-bordering-on-intractable problems in quantum electrodynamics. They’ve done so since he introduced them in the 1940s. He thought it would be a kick if serious articles started to feature these funny looking inventions of his. They did, and it was.

2. “Get rid of all the crap!”

Yes, the diagrams allow physicists to cut through horrible thickets of equations and visualize what goes on when light interacts with matter, but that’s not what Feynman meant when he talked about getting rid of crap. Or at least not specifically; he meant that it was important to stop focusing on, or thinking about, things peripheral to the question at hand.

And he was a guy who always had questions at hand, ranging from how superfluidity in helium worked to how best to get a date with a showgirl.

When the question is how to cram a life as vivid as Feynman’s into a single book, figuring out what to get rid of killed me because there was no crap. His work on the Manhattan Project, his safe-cracking exploits at Los Alamos, his drumming, his moonlighting as an artist, his best-selling books, his roles in nanotechnology, supercomputing, and a space shuttle accident investigation? None of it crap. And then there’s the physics, and two great love affairs, and the famous lectures and the adventures he made sure he had in his free time. No crap there either. And the Nobel Prize? Well, Feynman considered it a burden, and said he’d rather not have accepted it. But still, it’s not crap.

This is where my editors, Tanya and then Calista, brought the focus onto the best parts of the story and the question at hand: Does this scene tell us who Feynman was, and why readers should care? With that, the peripheral stuff revealed itself as, if not crap, at least not central to the story. And they’re gone. It tore a piece out of heart each time, but that’s life.

3. “Yes.”

Making a graphic novel takes a long time. I researched the book for years, took another couple of years to hammer a script into shape, and then it took Leland over two years to draw the whole thing. Add in some additional time for copy-editors and colorists and designers to do their (fabulous, in this case) things and my memory starts to get unreliable as to what happened when. All by way of saying I may have the timing mixed up here, but as I remember it, when the folks at First Second took my proposal for a book about Feynman seriously I had two responses. They came milliseconds apart, which is why at this remove I’m not sure which came first, but they were “You mean you’ll pay me for something I was going to do for free?!” and “Wait. I’m not ready.”

I’m still not ready, but the good thing about the long gestation period is that now that I’m asked to talk about making the book and do all the other promotional stuff authors get to do, I come to them fresh, almost as if someone else’s name is on the cover. That helps make writing for the Big Idea, and the upcoming tour, and doing all the various things for all the various venues more fun, and easy to say yes to.

That leads me back to Feynman, because that’s what he would say if something sounded interesting or challenging or even just amusing. He knew that if nothing else came of saying yes to a new thing he would at least get a good story out of trying it.

So I wrote the book, and yes, I’m glad I did.

—-

To The Commenter Currently Languishing in My Moderation Queue, and Soon to Be In My Trash Bin

When the first words of your comment are “Apologies for an off-topic comment, but…,” followed by a rather lengthy comment which is indeed entirely unrelated to the comment thread at hand, you are signaling two things:

1. That you are in fact not in the least sorry for your off-topic comment, just like someone who writes “not to be pedantic” is entirely happy to be pedantic, or the person who says “I’m not trying to offend you” is in fact trying very hard to do so;

2. That you may be a bit of an asshole, because what you’re really saying to everyone is “wow, let’s all turn away from the completely irrelevant discussion you’ve been having, and make it all about me and what I want to talk about.”

These two things being thus signaled, you should be glad that WordPress caught your act of unapologetic assholery and punted it into the moderation queue, because that way the only person who knows for sure what you are is me. And I’m not going to tell on you. Today. But if you do it again, I might! So that’s your friendly warning. I understand you may not have intended to be an unapologetic asshole, but of course, comparatively few of the people who are, do. Please keep this in mind.

For everyone else who might be tempted to post an off-topic comment, please, ask yourself: Is today the day you want to be revealed as an unapologetic asshole? If it is, then of course go right ahead, and delight in the recognition you have as such, until the time I get around to malleting the comment. If it’s not, then, please, I implore you, keep your off-topic comment to yourself, at least until such time as a comment thread that it is on-topic for becomes available, when you can post it there. And it will be admired! Because it is on topic. See how that works.

Thank you.

Last-Minute Appearance Notice: Saturday at Context 24 in Columbus

The folks at Columbus’ Context 24 convention contacted me yesterday with some bad news: Their Guest of Honor, L.E. Modesitt, had to withdraw unexpectedly due to unavoidable personal circumstances, and they were hoping that I might be able to come in and help fill the sudden gap in their programming. I said yes.

I am unfortunately unable to attend the entire convention, but what I’m doing is a full block of programming from 1pm to 7pm on Saturday, August 27. Here’s what’s on my schedule:

1pm: Autographing/Meet the Authors

2pm: Panel: “Agents: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”

3pm: Panel: “Secondary Characters: More Than Just Window Dressing”

4pm: Question & Answer

5pm: Meal break (I’ll probably be hanging around in hotel lobby and/or con suite, so say hi)

6pm: Reading (I’ll read from the upcoming 2012 novel, plus other things)

Basically, an entire con’s worth of programming in one six hour stretch. I would love to be able to stay longer, but my own personal circumstances don’t allow it. Still, within that six hour stretch there will be lots of opportunities to catch me doing my thing, either individually or with other (certain to be fabulous) panelists.

If you were already coming to Context this year, I hope you don’t mind the substitution. If you weren’t coming to Context this year, maybe this will help you to give this well-regarded con a chance. And no matter who you are, please think good thoughts for the L.E. Modesitt and his family.

See you in Columbus this Saturday!

 

Five Steps to a Classic Science Fiction Film

Over at FilmCritic.com, I look at what it takes for a science fiction film to be considered a classic by asking five questions; the more questions a film can answer “yes” to, the more likely the film will one day be considered one of the greats of the genre. What are the questions? And do you agree that the questions I ask are relevant to “classic” status? You can find out the first, and make comments about the second, over at the FilmCritic.com site.

Renovation Recap

Renovation was a lot of fun for me, and here are a few reasons why. I’m not putting these in any chronological order, I’m just dropping them out as they come to me:

1. A whole bunch of my friends made off with Hugos, most notably Mary Robinette Kowal for her short story “For Want of a Nail.” I am serious when I say I couldn’t be happier if I had won a Hugo of my own. Mary is one of my favorite people in the world, period, full stop, but more than that she’s been a consistently fantastic writer, and the Hugo is recognition of that. There are more in her future, I’m sure, but the first Hugo is always especially sweet. Go congratulate her, why don’t you.

Other friends with rocket hardware: Kate Baker, who some of you here may remember watched Whatever for me while I took a break last year, walked off with a Semiprozine award for her work on Clarksworld magazine; Lou Anders, who built Pyr Books into a genre powerhouse, nabbed the Longform Editor Hugo; and Allen Steele took the Novelette Hugo for “The Emperor of Mars.” Allen and I have a thing where we smack each other in the head for luck; he did it to me in 2006, the year I won the Campbell, and this year I did it for him. IT WORKS Y’ALL. Yes, yes, I know. Correlation, not causation. Shut up. We got a thing going.

Overall, a fine year for the Hugo.

2. I wasn’t nominated for a Hugo this last year (not entirely surprising, since my public output last year was three short stories), but don’t feel bad for me, since I did get a major award while I was at Renovation: I was given my Seiun Award (the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo, although the word “seiun” means Nebula), which I had won last year for the Japanese translation of The Last Colony. The award comes with a scroll and two small tokens: An origami rocket and a tiny statue of a goldfish, the latter being a symbol of the Japanese nation science fiction convention. My goldfish has goggles — it’s really kind of adorable. The scroll I’ll have framed; the origami rocket and the goldfish are already up on the brag shelf.

3. Renovation also marked the public debut of this fine fellow: Papa Fuzzy, from Fuzzy Nation (and, of course, Little Fuzzy). I commissioned Papa from Hugo-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal, who also happens to be a professional puppeteer and puppetmaker, because, well. If you could have your own Fuzzy, wouldn’t you? Mary and I walked about the convention a bit with Papa (see here, with Renovation Guest of Honor Tim Powers), and the Fuzzy was also featured in the puppet show Mary presented with friends. In it, Papa and Neil the Pencil-Necked Weasel did a stirring rendition of the epic Paul & Storm ballad “Fuzzy Man.” Stirring, I tell you. I was so very proud.

4. As a convention, I think Renovation was very well done. The folks running the convention were high-end smofs (“smof,” for those of you unfamiliar with the term, stands for “secret masters of fandom,” and in the real world means people who have been running science fiction conventions for years and know how to do the thing) and they had their roles down, so from the outside, at least, everything ran pretty smoothly. I know many of the people who were behind the scenes and I know they were running about constantly, but it was mostly because there was so much to do, rather than things being on fire. The one (mild) criticism I have is that everything in Reno was spread out enough that it was sometimes exhausting to get from one place to another. But then again, I needed the exercise.

As a participant, Renovation was great — all my panels were packed, which is very ego-gratifying, and the response to them was uniformly positive, which is even better. This was particularly the case with my Tour of the Creation Museum slideshow and also of my reading, which was another bit of the upcoming 2012 novel, the title of which I am still not yet publicly revealing (sorry — we’ll be revealing it soon I swear). Mind you, it wasn’t just me with well-attended panels, since many of the program participants I talked to noted the panels seemed particularly well-attended this year. So to all the fans who showed up to hear us all do our thing: Thanks, folks. We appreciate it.

And to put on my SFWA President hat here, I want to give public recognition and thanks to Renovation for working with us to help set up the SFWA suite — a hangout for SFWA members and their guests, which was very well utilized this year — and for all their help with our business meeting, which also went off without a hitch. You made us look good, Renovation, and for that I thank you.

5. One of my favorite things about Worldcons is that they are both large enough that most of the people in the science fiction and fantasy world that I want to see are there, but small enough that I can actually, in fact, find them when I want to see them. So of course the real highlight for me was to just hang about with friends, fans and other writers and catch up on everything that’s happened since I saw them last. I had very late nights. The late nights were totally worth it.

It’s also, you know, still a huge goddamn thrill to be able to walk up to someone like Bob Silverberg or Joe Haldeman or David Brin or Connie Willis — to name just a few — and talk to them as if they are normal people and not writing gods whom I read when I was still hoping to be a writer, striding the earth as they do in their textual seven league boots. One special event that I was happy and humbled to attend was a wedding celebration for George RR Martin and his beautiful bride Parris; any wedding party where the first dance is “The Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show is one where everyone’s having a good time.

6. With Renovation in the books, we now turn to Chicon 7, the 2012 Worldcon in Chicago. As most of you will remember, I am toastmaster of Chicon 7, which means that in a way it will be my Worldcon. And since it is my Worldcon, allow me to reiterate what I said when I made my toastmaster announcement last year:

YOU ARE SO VERY COMING TO CHICON 7.

Oh, yes, you are. The unspeakable awesomeness of what we have planned will be unspeakably awesome in both its unspeakination and awesomeosity. Just think about that for a minute. This is all I’m going to say about this right now, but be assured that between now and August 30, 2012 (the first day of Chicon 7) I will have many things to say about the next Worldcon and how you are so very coming to it. Be prepared.