Monthly Archives: February 2012

Boskone, Briefly

Dan Dos Santos painting me. Photo by Irene Gallo

 I was planning to do a long recap of Boskone this week, but in a general sense my plans for the week have been upturned due to my father-in-law’s death. Nevertheless I wanted to make sure I made it clear that I had a really excellent time as the convention’s guest of honor. This is due to three things: One, the expert care of the Boskone convention committee and staff, who made sure I wanted for nothing and who also sprang into sympathetic action when my plans changed due to Mike’s passing; Two, the Boskone attendees, who seemed genuinely excited to have me as a guest; Three, the programming schedule, which, while hectic, also did some very neat things for me and the other Guests of Honor.

Chief among them was the combination interview/painting session, in which artist guest of honor Dan Dos Santos did a quick oil painting of me while audience members asked questions. It was a really interesting and fun experience,not to mention slightly absurd in a good way. A great deal of this very cool experience was down to Dan himself — he’s a great guy and a lot of fun to do something like this with. Basically, if you ever get a chance to be painted by Dan Dos Santos, take it.

My Sunday was thrown awry because of the death in the family, and I had to duck out early and missed doing my autographing session. I don’t expect anyone holds that against me, but I still feel bad to have missed people and not to have signed their books. So: Sorry, folks. It’s possible I’ll be in the Boston area in the summer for a book tour; if I am I’ll be happy to sign then. I did still manage to do a panel and my reading, the latter of which was actually very useful to me. I was knocked for a loop about Mike’s death, so being able to dive into performing some of my writing was a nice way to get out of my own head for a bit. So if you were at my Boskone reading, thanks. You helped my brain, you did.

In all, Boskone was fabulous. Thanks for having me, Boston. I’ll be back.

Fuzzy Nation and Agent to the Stars: Audie Nominated

So, here’s some good news for me today (and hey, I can use some good news at the moment): My books Fuzzy Nation and Agent to the Stars have both been nominated for an Audie Award. The Audies are the audiobook equivalent to the Grammys, in that distinction in audiobook achievement is given in many different genres; my two nominations, logically enough, are in the Science Fiction category.

I’m nominated as the author, but the nomination is shared with the audiobook narrator, who in both cases is the same person: Wil Wheaton. Naturally, I’m super-mega-thrilled to be sharing a nomination with Wil. Wil, as it happens, is currently on a boat in the middle of an ocean, and probably isn’t aware he’s been nominated for anything. Won’t that be a surprise for him when he gets back in.

Wil’s actually got a third Audie nomination as well, for narrating part of METAtropolis: Cascadia, which is as most of you know the sequel to METAtropolis, which I edited. I didn’t take part in Cascadia, but my friends Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, Karl Schroeder and Ken Scholes did, so I’m thrilled for them also (and for the other narrators on the project as well). They’re nominated in the Original Work category.

Congratulations to everyone nominated. As it happens, the Audie Awards will be taking place on June 5, which just happens to be the release date for Redshirts. That’s going to be a busy day for me, I can tell.

(Also, if you click on the pictures, they will take you to the works’ respective Audible.com pages.)

This Year’s Nebula Awards Nominations

Of all people in the world, I think I’m allowed to use the official SFWA press release for this directly:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is proud to announce the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards (presented 2012), the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Novel

  • Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
  • Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
  • God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
  • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
  • The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Novella

  • “Kiss Me Twice,” Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2011)
  • “Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WFSA Press; Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2011)
  • “The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
  • “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
  • “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three, Panverse Publishing)
  • “With Unclean Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2011)

Novelette

  • “Fields of Gold,” Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse 4, Night Shade Books)
  • “Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2011)
  • “Sauerkraut Station,” Ferrett Steinmetz (Giganotosaurus, November 2011)
  • “Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com, June 2011)
  • “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers,” Katherine Sparrow (Giganotosaurus, July 2011)
  • “The Old Equations,” Jake Kerr (Lightspeed Magazine, July 2011)
  • “What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)

Short Story

  • “Her Husband’s Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine, October 2011)
  • “Mama, We are Zhenya, Your Son,” Tom Crosshill (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2011)
  • “Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2011)
  • “Shipbirth,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction, February 2011)
  • “The Axiom of Choice,” David W. Goldman (New Haven Review, Winter 2011)
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2011)
  • “The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
  • Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
  • Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
  • The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

  • Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor (Viking Juvenile)
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley (Dial Books; Bloomsbury)
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • The Boy at the End of the World, Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books)
  • Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson (Orchard Books; Carolrhoda Books)

The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17 to May 20, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, near Reagan National Airport. As announced earlier this year, Connie Willis will be the recipient of the 2011 Damon Knight Grand Master Award for her lifetime contributions and achievements in the field. Walter Jon Williams will preside as toastmaster, with Astronaut Michael Fincke as keynote speaker.  More information on the Nebula Awards Weekend can be found at: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of  SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1, 2012, and close on March 30, 2012. More information about voting can be found at: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/how-to-vote/

Back to me personally: Congratulations to all the nominees!

Michael Blauser, 1945 – 2012

Mike Blauser is my father-in-law, and this last Saturday he passed away.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this and about him, later, when I’m not up late from travel and when I’ve had time to organize my thoughts. For now I will say that Mike was a man I admired for his honesty and his dignity, for his love of his family and for the deep streak of common sense in his character that I see reflected every day in his daughter, my wife. I was honored to know him and grateful to be part of his family, and proud to be his son-in-law.

We will be spending our week saying goodbye to Mike and remembering the good things about him and his life, so my presence here may be limited over the next several days. I know you’ll understand.

Boskone Update, Saturday

Well:

Friday at Boskone hummed along nicely — got to have lunch with Bud Sparhawk, SFWA’s treasurer, fine writer, and all-around good guy, sat in the bar and said hello to folks as they came in, did a panel on reboots that I think went very well, and then hung out in the bar, at the opening Boskone reception and at the SFWA party. I did a lot of socializing, I did. Somewhere along the way I blew out my voice, so this morning I’m being quiet as the proverbial dormouse, since a SFWA business meeting, an interview, a book release party, a panel, a kaffeklatsche, and then an evening event. Yes, Boskone is getting their money’s worth out of me. But I’m having a good time, so I won’t complain. We’ll just see whether or not I’ll have to resort to hand waving by the end of the day.

 

Not Being Able to Scrape By With $200k Is Usually Your Own Fault

Gawker, that great engine of social egalitarianism, points us to an article in Toronto Life about the Canadian 1% and how they try to get by in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The implication is that even with $196,000, which is the income line for the 1% in that far northern country (and that’s Canadian dollars, mind you!), it’s sometimes difficult to make ends meet in that nation’s largest city.

Then you read the article, which does things like complaining that after you subtract “wardrobe refreshes” and “the cost of sushi, pad thai and butter chicken” ordered in three nights a week because of being too tired to cook, $10,400 a month doesn’t go very far, and then drops this bomb:

Then there’s the stuff that fills our houses—the calibre of which is the subject of intense, unspoken competition among my peers and neighbours. During my entire childhood, spent in a comfortable lower-upper-middle-class neighbourhood of Montreal, I am quite sure that my mother did not waste a single moment worrying about replacing her laminate kitchen counters with granite or marble. There was no such thing as a $1,000 Bugaboo stroller, or anything like it. You could host a casual weekend party without spending a fortune on artisanal cheeses. Living the good life simply wasn’t the full-time, across-the-retail-spectrum pursuit it has now become.

Aaaaaaand that’s then I want to start pressing the “It’s time for the goddamned revolution” button. By the time we get to the breakdowns of the monthly expenses of the seven 1% households profiled for the article, which features line items like $800 a month on wine and $1200 for the vacation house on the lake, I’m vaguely surprised Toronto isn’t on fire. The only people I feel any sort of commonality with are the immigrant family, who pack their own lunches for work and aside from the hair salon line item seem to have some perspective on their cash. The retired couple who invested well and are living off the proceeds also gets a pass, because, hey, that’s the goal, right? Otherwise: Purification by flame.

The problem here is that once again we’re confronted with the interesting paradox of “the 1%,” which is that the incomes of within the 1% are surprisingly heterogeneous. It’s a category that encompasses both people with six-figure annual incomes and people making nine-figure annual incomes; likewise, it’s people with seven-figure net worths and people with eleven-figure net worths. The 99% of the 1% do not have helipads and supermodels and dormitories or libraries named after them at their elite school alma maters; they have mortgages and expenses and their kids’ educations will be a non-trivial percentage of their total net worth. So if you’re on the bottom rung of society’s topmost ladder, you’re going to feel you have more in common with the middle class than with the stinkin’ rich, because as a practical matter you do.

But that doesn’t mean you’re middle class, or that your problems are middle class problems; it also means that when you complain about how hard it is to make ends meet and yet you’ve got the lake cottage and you spend $1,000 a month on clothes, the people who really are middle and lower class are going to look at you like, would you please just shut up, you arrogant rich bastard, before I put you and your whole family up against a wall. This is especially true when, as is the case of the Toronto Life article, the heart of the “problem” is that apparently it’s harder today than ever before to maintain and display the overt social cues of your petit bourgeois status.

Speaking as a member of the petit bourgeois, dear other members of the petit bourgeois:

1. Please learn how to budget, because no matter where you live — even in the US! Even in most parts of expensive cities! — $200,000 should be sufficient for a very comfortable lifestyle without much stretching.

2. If you’re in competition with your neighbors about who can live the better lifestyle, you’ve already lost and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Status anxiety is for the betas.

3. When in public, please shut the fuck up about how difficult your life is, economically. It just pisses off everybody else, and there are more of them than there are of you.

4. If your life is genuinely economically difficult, see point one. If necessary, take your wine budget for a month or two and hire an accountant or financial planner and then actually listen to them.

This is not to say that those on the bottom rung of the 1% should not complain about their problems, ever. I’ve noted before that for most people their problems with money is not having enough; for the well-off the problem is managing it well. It is a real problem, and it’s useful to talk to people with the same sort of problem and figure things out. It’s also worth remembering it’s a problem most people would like to have, and will not feel entirely sympathetic toward you for having it, just like you are not entirely sympathetic about the money problems of, say, Alex Rodriguez, or he entirely sympathetic to the money issues of Mark Zuckerberg.

Now, you might say, hey, the people of the 99% are as clueless about my financial issues as I am to theirs, so why is it that I’ll get crap for it and they don’t? Because they have less money, stupid. They are suffering every other economic penalty imaginable; it’s not unreasonable for the social penalty for economic cluelessness to be just about the only thing that vectors upward. The fact you can brood about this at the lake house over the weekend should put this problem of yours in perspective.

So, as Gawker puts it, the 1% must stop insisting they’re not rich, right this instant. They are, or close enough to it for statistical work. If you’re at the bottom end of the 1% you might not be as rich as some, but the ratio of people you are richer than, compared to those you are less rich than, is roughly 99:1. Keep that in mind. Recognize it and be grateful. And rather than asserting that you are not well off, figure out how you can manage your money in such a way that at the end of the day you’re not wondering where the hell all the money went. Because that’s a lot of money. You should be able to live well and still have some of it left over. Even in Toronto. Or anywhere else.

The New Book: 24 Frames Into the Future

Here it is:

The cover art is by Dan Dos Santos, who is the Artist Guest of Honor here at Boskone. It and the book are quite nice looking. One thing you can’t tell by looking at this picture is that underneath the dust jacket, the book itself is silver. It’s really quite a thing to look at. And the content is, as noted before, a collection of my science fiction film columns from AMC/FilmCritic.com.

If you’re at Boskone, you’ll be able to get it starting tomorrow. If you’re not at Boskone, it will be available for you to get staring early next week. There are only 1100 hardcovers in the first printing, so if you’re a collector, you’ll want to hop to it. It’s worth the getting.

The Obligatory Picture Out the Hotel Window, Boston Style (+ Boskone Schedule)

There you have it.

In other news, here I am in Boston, a little early for the Boskone convention, which starts tomorrow. If you live in a hundred mile radius and are not there, we will have words.

Also, for those wondering what I’m doing with myself while I’m at Boskone, here’s my program schedule:

  • Reboots: Refreshing or Depressing? (Panel), Fri 19:00 – 20:00, Harbor I (Westin)
  • SFWA Eastern Regional Meeting (Other), Sat 12:00 – 13:00, Carlton (Westin)
  • Guest of Honor Interview and Portrait Painting (Panel), Sat 14:00 – 15:00, Harbor I (Westin)
  • Release Party — New John Scalzi Book From NESFA Press (Other), Sat 15:00 – 16:00, Galleria-Demo (Westin)
  • H. Beam Piper Retrospective (Panel), Sat 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs (Westin)
  • Kaffeeklatsche: John Scalzi (Kaffeeklatsche), Sat 17:00 – 18:00, Galleria-Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)
  • Boskone Saturday Night Award Event (Other), Sat 21:00 – 22:00, Harbor II&III (Westin)
  • My Top Ten Tips for the Prospective Author (Panel), Sun 11:00 – 12:00, Harbor II (Westin)
  • Reading: John Scalzi (Reading), Sun 13:00 – 14:00, Lewis (Westin)

Yes, they’re keeping me busy. I’ll also be doing an autographing in there somewhere. The new book listed in the schedule is 24 Frames Into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Film, a collection of my AMC/FilmCritic.com columns. I’ll be posting a photo of it as soon as I get my grubby mitts on the thing, I assure you.

Anyway: Hello, Boston. You have to deal with me for a whole weekend.

Oh, stop screaming. It’s not that bad.

The Big Idea: Bruce Schneier

Do you trust me? And if so, why do you trust me? And what do you trust me for? “Trust” is an interesting term, with some simple definitions, and others that aren’t so simple. Or so Bruce Schneier, the noted security expert, discovered as he was putting together his latest book Liars and Outliers. The web of trust in our society is pervasive and profound, and when the threads of trust are broken, interesting things happen. Here he is to tell you more.

BRUCE SCHNEIER:

My big idea is a big question. Every cooperative system contains parasites. How do we ensure that society’s parasites don’t destroy society’s systems?

It’s all about trust, really. Not the intimate trust we have in our close friends and relatives, but the more impersonal trust we have in the various people and systems we interact with in society. I trust airline pilots, hotel clerks, ATMs, restaurant kitchens, and the company that built the computer I’m writing this short essay on. I trust that they have acted and will act in the ways I expect them to. This type of trust is more a matter of consistency or predictability than of intimacy.

Of course, all of these systems contain parasites. Most people are naturally trustworthy, but some are not. There are hotel clerks who will steal your credit card information. There are ATMs that have been hacked by criminals. Some restaurant kitchens serve tainted food. There was even an airline pilot who deliberately crashed his Boeing 767 into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999.

My central metaphor is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which nicely exposes the tension between group interest and self-interest. And the dilemma even gives us a terminology to use: cooperators act in the group interest, and defectors act in their own selfish interest, to the detriment of the group. Too many defectors, and everyone suffers — often catastrophically.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is not only useful in describing the problem, but also serves as a way to organize solutions. We humans have developed four basic mechanisms for ways to limit defectors: what I call societal pressure. We use morals, reputation, laws, and security systems. It’s all coercion, really, although we don’t call it that. I’ll spare you the details; it would require a book to explain. And it did.

This book marks another chapter in my career’s endless series of generalizations. From mathematical security — cryptography — to computer and network security; from there to security technology in general; then to the economics of security and the psychology of security; and now to — I suppose — the sociology of security. The more I try to understand how security works, the more of the world I need to encompass within my model.

When I started out writing this book, I thought I’d be talking a lot about the global financial crisis of 2008. It’s an excellent example of group interest vs. self-interest, and how a small minority of parasites almost destroyed the planet’s financial system. I even had a great quote by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, where he admitted a “flaw” in his worldview. The exchange, which took place when he was being questioned by Congressman Alan Waxman at a 2008 Congressional hearing, was once the opening paragraphs of my book. I called the defectors “the dishonest minority,” which was my original title.

That unifying example eventually faded into the background, to be replaced by a lot of separate examples. I talk about overfishing, childhood immunizations, paying taxes, voting, stealing, airplane security, gay marriage, and a whole lot of other things. I dumped the phrase “dishonest minority” entirely, partly because I didn’t need it and partly because a vocal few early readers were reading it not as “the small percentage of us that are dishonest” but as “the minority group that is dishonest” — not at all the meaning I was trying to convey.

I didn’t even realize I was talking about trust until most of the way through. It was a couple of early readers who — coincidentally, on the same day — told me my book wasn’t about security, it was about trust. More specifically, it was about how different societal pressures, security included, induce trust. This interplay between cooperators and defectors, trust and security, compliance and coercion, affects everything having to do with people.

In the book, I wander through a dizzying array of academic disciplines: experimental psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociology, economics, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, game theory, systems dynamics, anthropology, archeology, history, political science, law, philosophy, theology, cognitive science, and computer security. It sometimes felt as if I were blundering through a university, kicking down doors and demanding answers. “You anthropologists: what can you tell me about early human transgressions and punishments?” “Okay neuroscientists, what’s the brain chemistry of cooperation? And you evolutionary psychologists, how can you explain that?” “Hey philosophers, what have you got?” I downloaded thousands — literally — of academic papers. In pre-Internet days I would have had to move into an academic library.

What’s really interesting to me is what this all means for the future. We’ve never been able to eliminate defections. No matter how much societal pressure we bring to bear, we can’t bring the murder rate in society to zero. We’ll never see the end of bad corporate behavior, or embezzlement, or rude people who make cell phone calls in movie theaters. That’s fine, but it starts getting interesting when technology makes each individual defection more dangerous. That is, fishermen will survive even if a few of them defect and overfish — until defectors can deploy driftnets and single-handedly collapse the fishing stock. The occasional terrorist with a machine gun isn’t a problem for society in the overall scheme of things; but a terrorist with a nuclear weapon could be.

Also — and this is the final kicker — not all defectors are bad. If you think about the notions of cooperating and defecting, they’re defined in terms of the societal norm. Cooperators are people who follow the formal or informal rules of society. Defectors are people who, for whatever reason, break the rules. That definition says nothing about the absolute morality of the society or its rules. When society is in the wrong, it’s defectors who are in the vanguard for change. So it was defectors who helped escaped slaves in the antebellum American South. It’s defectors who are agitating to overthrow repressive regimes in the Middle East. And it’s defectors who are fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement. Without defectors, society stagnates.

We simultaneously need more societal pressure to deal with the effects of technology, and less societal pressure to ensure an open, free, and evolving society. This is our big challenge for the coming decade.

—-

Liars and Outliers: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Schneier’s blog.

It’s the Little Details That Mean a Lot

My pal Mark Nevin (former guitarist/songwriter for Fairground Attraction, now solo artist) has a video out for his song “Oh Mama.” It’s a sweet song about how moms are pretty great, so that’s nice (and true!), but I have to say that the element of the video I fixated on from the very first moment are his shoes. Because, wow: Pink with thick waffle soles. I’m vaguely terrified. He threatened to get me a pair. I fear he might.

Playing With Camerabag 2

I use Flickr to host most of the pictures that are here on Whatever, and one of the nice perks of Flickr is its integration with Picnik, an online photo editing suite with some nice features and filters. Unfortunately, Picnik is going away soon, a victim of integration with its parent Google, and now I’m left to find a replacement suite for quick-and-dirty photo filtering. I use Photoshop for serious photo editing, but a lot of the time I don’t need serious photoediting, I just want something to make the picture look different. It’s been ironically easier to find apps for that that on a cell phone (I use Vignette most of the time) than it has been on the computer proper.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon Camerabag 2, a photoediting suite that has filters, frames and editing tools, with a relatively simple scheme for mixing and matching each. I have to say I’ve been pretty pleased with it. The mix-and-match aspect of it is especially nice; some of the other photo filtering programs I’ve played with have not made it as intuitive to put one filter on top of another and tweak both. The program fulfills my need to fiddle with the look of a picture without making it a drag to do so, and I like that a lot.

In addition to a set list of styles (filters) and borders, Camerabag 2 has a category of filters called “Favorites,” which are basically preset macros of various combinations of filters/adjustments/borders. You can use them as they are or tweak them by adjusting the individual components. You can also create your own (as I did above with the picture of me and Dave Klecha) and then save them for future use. As noted before, it’s pretty easy to figure out and catch on. My one complaint is that the various “smudgy” borders don’t seem to auto-generate variations, so all the smudges/creases/whatever will be the same across all the pictures. But that’s a relatively small gripe (and seems to suggest using those borders sparingly, which I think is probably a good thing, anyway).

I’ll note that I don’t think this sort of filtering necessarily makes pictures better — we could nerd out for days about whether the Instagramming of Photography has been a bane or a benefit. I think if you start off with a crappy picture, putting an ironic 70′s Instamatic border around it isn’t suddenly going to make it good, and if you have a good picture, you can filter it down into hipster mediocrity without much effort. That said, there’s something to be said with making a photo what you want it to be, and if fiddling with it with filters and effects gets it to the emotional space you want it to be in (or, to overthink it rather less, makes it look cool to you), then why not. I think it’s a little silly to get bogged down with concerns about authenticity when you’re taking pictures of your cat.

In any event, if you like tweaking your photos on your computer but don’t want to have to break out Photoshop for every little thing, I can recommend Camerabag 2. So far, it’s been making me happy, and it gives me lots of options to play with. And it’s $25 at the moment, which doesn’t suck either. It appears available for Mac and PC; check it out.

The Big Idea: Stephen Deas

When is a dragon not a dragon? The answer is: almost never, because, dude, look at them. They’re totally dragons. But as Stephen Deas found when writing The Order of the Scales, the third book in The Memory of Flames, when you’re writing about dragons, you’re not always necessarily writing about the dragons themselves — or at the very least, not writing just about the dragons. Deas can explain it better than I can, so it’s a good thing he’s here to clarify. And he’s brought art!

STEPHEN DEAS:
Dragons come in all sorts of flavours these days, big ones and small ones, cute and, er, less cute, but they’ve been haunting our myths for a very long time, and for nearly all of that time, they’ve not been our friends or our pets or our flying steeds – they’ve been monsters. A bit of snake, a bit of crocodile, a bit of bird of prey, a bit of most of the things that used to eat us, or eat our children back in the days before we invented iPads. Dragons, for most of their history, have been metaphors for all the things we’re meant to fear. These dragons are my dragons, too. Old-fashioned burn-your-town-and-eat-your-princesses dragons. Possibly not in that order. A fire-breathing Airbus with fangs and fire and a bad attitude.

Here’s a little cartoon I drew for the second book, King of the Crags. Roughly speaking, it was meant to be a synopsis (and if the dragon looks reasonable, that’s because it used the cover art[1] for The Black Mausoleum as a guide; and if the way the people are done looks familiar, that’s probably because you read Order of the Stick too. No, I cannot draw for shit).

A year later, I found myself using the same cartoon for the US debt ceiling debacle which, from here, looked like the most spectacular piece of short-sighted political fuck-wittery I have been privileged to witness. Way to have a worse credit rating than France[2] for NO GOOD REASON AT ALL.

Back in 2007 when I started to write the Memory of Flames series, my dragons were a metaphor for my own personal end-of-the-world doom. It probably isn’t yours and I’m not going to trouble you with it, but it had nothing to do with banks or debts or the other things we all gnash our teeth about nowadays. But as time goes by, I see that what I was writing about wasn’t the big scary monsters themselves, but the willingness of our leaders play to chicken with them. So if you fancy fantasising about some short-sighted, self-serving, power-wrangling narcissists facing the comeuppance they so richly deserve, come on in, because this one’s for you. It’s the third book of three, the dragons are off their leash and they’re pissed.

[1] Art By Stephen Youll, who does the artwork for all the US Memory of Flames covers.

[2] Briefly. Cultural note: When in England, you can rarely go wrong with bad-mouthing the French. The same goes the other way. We do love each other, really.

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A Memory of Flames III: The Order of the Scales: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Quick Capricon Recap

Well, I had fun, in any event. I’ve already detailed my DJing experience, so I won’t go over that again, except to say it was Friday and today is Monday, and I’m still sore, and, clearly, old. But the rest of it went over pretty well, too. I moderated a panel about the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement, which was well-attended in part because I think there was an expectation that the panelists (which included Cory Doctorow and Michael Z. Williamson) would eventually start stabbing each other, but as it turned out everyone played very well together and instead of a ideology battle we had a substantive conversation on popular protest movements and the impact of modern technology on the same. In other words, they came for the blood but stayed for the nerd. And that was cool by me. I then also did a reading, at which I threatened to bring my ukulele and play it; as you can see from the photo above (by Michael Johns, who gave me permission to post it because he is awesome) I made good on the threat. And I sang! And hit at least half the notes! So there’s that, too. And there are genuinely lovely people who both put on the con and attend it. It’s a very friendly con, and I always felt at home.

And now I have a three-day work week, because next weekend I am at another convention — Boskone, in Boston, where I am the author guest of honor, and at which I will be debuting my latest book, 24 Frames into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Film. Unfortunately I have five days of work to fit into those three days, which is my way of saying that, hey, this week I may not be updating as obsessively as I usually do, on account of pay copy. Yes, life is terribly unfair this way. We must all try to move forward anyway.

Reminder to SFWA Members: Nominate for the Nebulas

I’m gonna put on my “President of SFWA” hat for a moment (it’s a beanie!) to remind SFWA members that there’s only a couple of days left to get in your nominations for this year’s Nebula Awards (as well as the Norton YA award and the Bradbury screenwriting award, which SFWA also presents). So if you haven’t voted yet, now is the time to get it done; the nomination ballot closes Wednesday, February 15, at 11:59pm Pacific time.

If you’re a SFWA member and you want to be reminded of some works you may have read but missed, or works you still have time to peruse, remember that in SFWA’s forums there is a recommendation area, with works suggested by your fellow SFWA members (please note that the recommendation list is not a preliminary nomination ballot — you have to nominate by using the actual nomination ballot). Also, here’s a thread from this site of works suggested by their creators, and another of works suggested by fans.

Don’t worry, we’ll also be reminding you via e-mail about nominating, complete with links to the nominating ballot. But a reminder here doesn’t hurt any, either.

How the Dance Went

It went pretty well. I DJ’d for four and a half hours and danced for almost all of that time, and as a result that the moment my knees are sending me angry messages that they want a trial separation. However, I rejoice in the fact that I am not the only one with this problem; people last night were saying that the dance had entirely worn them out. Yes, well, that’s what dances are supposed to do. I’m looking forward to seeing how many people will be hobbling about today because I made them hop about like bunnies last night. In all it went better than I thought it might, and people for the most part seemed to have a pretty good time. When you get the complaint that you’ve played too many good songs, which makes it hard to leave the dance floor, you know you’re doing your job.

Now people are asking whether or not I’m going to DJ the CapriCon dance next year or if I’m going to DJ a dance at Worldcon, and my answer to both is: Man, I don’t know what I’m doing with myself next Tuesday, let alone a year from now. We’ll see. That’s my official response.