Monthly Archives: March 2012

Redshirts ARC Giveaway at My Bradford Library Event This Saturday

Just a reminder to folks that this Saturday morning I’ll be doing an event at the Bradford Public Library, where I’ll be talking about the life of a writer, reading from some upcoming work and enjoying “Space Refreshments,” as they’ve described them (Tribble on a stick! Mmmmm.). The event is not just for Bradfordites; anyone can come by and say hello, so if you’re in somewhere near the area, why not show up?

To sweeten the deal, and to reward people who actually get up to be in Bradford at 10:30 am on a Saturday morning, I’m going to give away an Advance Reader’s Copy of Redshirts, my novel that will come out this June. We’ll put names in a hat or have a quiz or something to give it away. I’ll even sign it. Even if you don’t win that, I believe copies of the Fuzzy Nation paperback will be on hand for the signing.

So remember: This Saturday, starting at 10:30 am, Bradford Public Library. See you there.

Ask Papa Fuzzy Anything: Intro

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 27) sees the Mass Market Paperback release of Fuzzy Nation in the US and Canada, and to celebrate, we thought we’d do something a little different. Perhaps this short video will explain:

That’s right, ask questions of Papa Fuzzy himself! How often do you get to ask questions to an alien? Not often! And how frequently does that alien respond with anything other than a particle beam to your center mass? Even less often! So now’s your chance, folks. You ask the questions, we’ll go through them, and Papa Fuzzy will start putting up videos answering the questions starting tomorrow and going through Friday.

What questions can you ask? Anything you like. You can ask him about the book, you can ask him about what it was like to work with me, you can ask him questions you’ve always wanted to know about aliens, you can ask him for the fuzzy alien perspective on current events, you may pose existential conundrums. He’s pretty much up for anything.

Go ahead and leave the questions in the comment thread, and we’ll get started on the answers tomorrow.

Reader Request Week 2012: Recap

Just in case you missed any of the entries from this year’s Reader Request week: Here they are!

Reader Request Week 2012 #1: Snark and Insult

Reader Request Week 2012 #2: Would I Lie to You?

Reader Request Week 2012 #3: Why I’m Glad I’m Male

Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof

Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods

Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out

Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame

Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits

Reader Request Week 2012 #9: Writery Short Bits

Thank you to everyone who suggested a topic.

Now, remember that you don’t have to wait until the annual Reader Request Week to suggest a topic: You can e-mail me any time.

The New Phone

I noted on Twitter the other day that I had upgraded my phone from my Droid X to a Galaxy Nexus, which precipitated a rash of queries about the phone and what I thought of it (and also of Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest iteration of the Android OS). Because I cannot refuse you all anything, here are some brief thoughts.

Generally, I like it quite a bit. In a general sense, it’s a substantially more capable phone than the Droid X, which was in itself not a slacker. The screen is slightly larger (it’s a 4.6-inch screen with 720 x 1280 resolution), which means the phone itself is a bit wider (although thinner) than the X. I think this size phone is about as large as I want to carry around; I can use it one-handed but it’s a close thing. The screen is bright and gorgeous; its dpi is not quite that of the iphone (316 vs 326), but it’s close enough that you’d have to be a super nerd to complain. The screen was ultimately the deciding factor for me on the phone; it came down to it and the Motorola Razr Maxx. The Maxx has a significantly larger battery, which is not a trivial consideration, but the screen was jaggy.

The Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android is in fact much better than previous versions; it looks prettier, seems more capable and makes it easier to deal with the phone and its various apps. I particularly like the dedicated button that shows you all the programs that are open at any one time; it’s substantially easier to multitask now, and also easier to find which things are sucking your battery dry and kill them as a process. It also kicks ass in camera management; unlike every other camera phone I’ve used, which featured an at least two second lag from when you pressed the button to when the thing took the actual picture, ICS has almost no lag at all. It’s a little thing, but it’s a little awesome thing.

So those are a couple of things I like. Some of the things I’m not 100% happy about: The camera, although faster, isn’t as good as the one I had on my Droid X, either in resolution (is 5mp vs 8mp for the X) or in general quality of picture. The resolution would not be an issue if the general picture quality were better, since from a practical point of view most of the pictures I take with the phone end up being viewed on my site in 500 x 333 anyway. But the picture quality does matter. Second, I’m not in love with how quickly the battery drains; if you have location services and syncing on, you’ll chew through your battery amazingly fast. I’ve invested in one of these — I was planning to get one anyway because I travel with a ridiculous number of electronic devices these days but watching the Nexus slurp down its battery got me to pull the trigger.

(The other small, annoying thing which is not the fault of the phone is that it’s 4G capable but Verizon hasn’t installed its LTE service out where I am yet (it’s supposed to arrive in May). Stupid 3G. The good news for me at least is that I have a grandfathered in unlimited data plan, so when 4G arrives I’ll get to see how much they’ll actually let me blast through the pipe before the throttle me back. That’s some nerd fun right there, son.)

But overall I’m happy with my purchase and figure that this will get me through the next couple of years just fine, by which time I’m sure phone will have gained intelligence and launched our own nuclear missiles at us. Whatever, man. As long as I can read the Internet on the phone until the very last second, I’m good.

 

Reader Request Week 2012 #9: Writery Short Bits

You all asked writer-related questions this week; here’s a compendium of short responses.

Madely: Comics books: Do you read them, or if not did you used to read them? Any favourites? And would you ever think of writing some?

I like comics generally although at the moment I’m not reading any; my big comics-reading years were in college and right after, which is where I discovered folks like Neil Gaiman and Kyle Baker, who I still follow professionally. I actually wrote for comics in college; there was a University of Chicago comic book called Breakdown, which featured such notable writer/artists as Jessica Abel and Ivan Brunetti, and I authored a story called “Chemuel: Angel With an Attitude,” which was drawn by my friend Richard Polt (who is now a notable expert on Heidegger). I’m not opposed to writing more comics in the future, although at the moment it’s not something I’m actively pursuing. I’ll note there were plans at one point for an Old Man’s War manga series, but it fell through.

RevRob: What way of us buying your books helps you out the most? (Pays the best, provides better press, stokes the ego most. . . ) Maybe rephrased better as: How would you prefer we buy your books?

As long as you’re buying them new, really, it doesn’t matter. Buy them in hardcover, buy them in paperback, buy them electronically — at the end of the day it pretty much all comes out in the wash. If such things are actually hugely important to you, then buy the book in hardcover the week it comes out, because that’s my best shot at getting onto the New York Times bestseller list, and that makes my publisher happy, and I have to admit that I don’t mind, either. But otherwise it’s pretty much all the same. I’m glad you’re buying the books, and my royalty rates on each format are perfectly good.

Komavary: Being a well-translated author (Hungarian edition of OMW is coming soon! Finally!), what is your stance on foreign (genre) works translated to English? How do they affect your reading? Do you seek them out, give them the same chance as English books or you don’t bother much with translations? Also, in a general sense, how do you see the relationship of English and non-English science fiction? (One-way cultural export, living conversation or something else?)

I don’t really see that much in the direction of non-English SF having an impact on writers and readers here because there’s not enough in translation, and what is in translation doesn’t sell particularly well. Non-English SF has a huge influence elsewhere, for example in film and comics, but in the written field it’s a desert. I know of grassroot efforts to change this and I do applaud it since I’m reasonably sure we’re missing out on some great SF. I’m personally happy to read SF/F or any other work in translation, because, being depressingly monolingual as I am, how else will I read them?

Dave Nichols: Since books pay the mortgage etc. Have you ever wished social networking had never taken off? No twitter, Facebook etc? Would you be happier in a garden shed miles from distractions quietly turning out masterpieces?

You know, I did an admirable job of procrastination before there were social networks or the popular Internet. If they didn’t exist I would still find ways not to do work. So I really can’t blame the Internet or Twitter for that.

Kevin Williams: What would you change in our copyright/trademark/patent regime to make it sane and useful to society, while still protecting producers?

Addressing copyright only: 75 years for corporations, 75 years or life + 25 for individuals (whichever is longer), renew from that point annually at the  cost of $2 to the n (where n is the number of years past the end of the initial term of copyright), with the sums generated by the renewal going to pay down our national debt (in the US, at least) and then into a general fund. Seems like a good way to a) make sure significant value is extracted from the work by the creators, b) let the public benefit either from the work in the public domain or the revenue extracted from those unwilling to release the work thusly.

Regan Wolfrom: How do you feel about bigotry and hate within the speculative fiction community? Do you believe that there is an increasing polarization between progressive authors/editors/readers and their more socially conservative counterparts? Does it feel strange to run into people at conventions and other events who you know are actively involved in advancing goals that you may personally find abhorrent?

I feel about bigotry and hate in spec fic as I feel about it everywhere else: It’s stupid and wrong, and I like to think I’m on the side of the angels on this, although like anyone I have my moments of cluelessness. That said, I think we need to be careful in the implicit association of “conservative” and “bigoted,” and likewise “progressive” and “non-bigoted,” because while there are some real-world correlations, I know a fair number of conservatives who oppose bigotry on explicitly conservative philosophical grounds, and I’ve known people who sign onto progressive ideals but who also show their asses on matters of race/gender/sexuality and so on.

As regards seeing people at conventions who hold differing political opinions than mine — including people who I’ve clashed with politically online and elsewhere — well, in some ways that could be anyone, right? I’ve previously and pithily described my personal politics as “I believe in the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons,” which means that if I wanted to, I could spend a whole lot of my time getting into political arguments all over the spectrum. But generally I’m not at a convention to do that. If I there’s someone I find personally abhorrent for whatever reason, I usually avoid them. But most people don’t rise to that level, regardless of politics.

Claire: Feminism! Do you think about it when you write? Do you think about it as you raise your kid?

I don’t generally actively think about it, no. I do think about representations of women in my work and whether they are doing things that reflect their own agency rather than simply existing to support the (so far usually male) protagonists of my work. To be honest about it, the single most useful thing to me in this regard has been the Bechdel Test, because it’s simple and yet also really effective in helping to keep one’s work from being a desert of female agency. But I don’t know if that counts as thinking about feminism in any real sense. I don’t want to give myself undue credit.

Do I think about feminism as I raise my child? To the extent that I (and more accurately, we) have raised our daughter to question assumptions related to her gender, and also to stand her ground against anyone who tries to put her into box, yes. But I’m not comfortable claiming a feminist cookie, if you know what I mean. Athena’s feminist sense of self — and she definitely has one — is rooted more in her own initiative than it is in our top-down application of it. Which I think is probably more useful to her in the long run.

Trevor: How has Baconcat affected you as a author/writer financially and in regards to work? Speaking for myself I wouldn’t have found you if not for Baconcat.

Baconcat brought folks into Whatever for the first time, and it’s still something that gets around, both online and off, which I find deeply amusing. And my subsequent association with bacon means that any time that particular meat shows up in one of my books, people in the know get to enjoy a moment of inside-joke-ness. But in terms of direct effect on my financial life as an author? It’s not really had an impact. I don’t sell books because of Baconcat, in other words, and often those people who know of Baconcat and not of me, who then learn of me, are surprised that, you know, I’m not just a nerd in his mom’s basement. Alternately, people who know of me and not of Baconcat are often taken aback that I would do something like that to my cat. The cat, I should note, doesn’t care one way or another.

Eric: A lot of people seem to think that reading a book is a more wholesome activity than watching TV or playing video games, though to me they’re just different mediums through which we gain ideas or enjoyment. What are your opinions about this?

I don’t know. Reading a pornographic book is not more wholesome than watching Mr. Rogers, nor is watching Best Sex Ever on Cinemax more wholesome than reading Beatrix Potter. Which is to say it’s not the medium, it’s the work in question. I personally have a balanced diet of several entertainment media, which suits me fine. I will say to date I find video game porn unedifying.

Gary: What are your thoughts on the use of the acronym “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read)? Do you think this is a cop-out (“Oh, that’s at least a paragraph. My lips get too tired by then.”) Or do you think it necessary in order to deal with people who bury you with inanity (and insanity)?

On one hand, “tl;dr” feels like an advertisement for willful ignorance — “what, you can’t condense your point into a 140 characters? Screw you, I’m going home” — but on the other hand there’s a lot of long, badly-written, meandering crap out there online, and life really is too short. And there’s the fact that on the occasions where I am reading slush (i.e., unsolicited fiction submissions), I’ll stop reading a submission as soon as I get bored with the writing, which is often before the end of the first page. No, I don’t care if it picks up later, because I’m bored now.

Let me put it this way: If you’ve written something well, I’ll read it even if it goes on at length, but if you write poorly, I won’t finish it even if it’s Tweet-length. So, I wouldn’t use “tl;dr.” I might use “ws;sr,” which is “writing sucks; stopped reading.”

DaveA: You frequently talk about friends and people you respect among science fiction and fantasy authors, hanging out with them at conventions, etc. You seldom/never talk about the largest-selling authors in the genre (David Weber and Misty Lackey come to mind; I could think of others.) Do you not talk about best-selling authors because (a) they don’t need the advertising, (b) you don’t respect their work, (c) you don’t like them, (d) you just don’t run in the same crowd, or (e) something else? And, for some reason I really want to know… what do you think of David Weber’s works?

I like David Weber’s work just fine, but I don’t know him very well. I’ve met him precisely once, last year at ALA in New Orleans. He was lovely and we got along well, at least from my point of view. Likewise, I know Ms. Lackey professionally but not personally; I don’t believe she and I have been at a convention together. I tend to talk about my friends in science fiction and fantasy because they are, you know, my friends, and I see them and have fun with them. My not talking about someone in the field shouldn’t imply anything other than that I’m not talking about them.

Mike Turner: Do you feel you could come under the classification of a sesquipedalian author?

Generally, no. I tend not to use long words just to use long words; I will use a long word if I think it’s the best word, however. And anyone who looks at the length of my novels (i.e., short) knows I don’t say in a quarter of a million words what I can say in 75,ooo.

That said, this entry is right at 2,000 words. Time to close it up.

Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits

And now, the questions I’m answering quickly. These are unrelated to writing; I’ll do the writery short bits tomorrow.

Puss in Boots: Why do you think so many Americans avoid spaying and neutering their pets, even when they must know that shelters are full and have to destroy animals that don’t find homes quickly enough? More importantly, how can we best change their minds?

They don’t do it because it costs money, I suspect. Therein lies the solution, but then the question is who is going to make up the cost of the procedure. The money has to come from somewhere, because I imagine vets, like everyone else, prefer to be paid for their work.

K.W. Ramsey: What do you think in the history of all time and space is the greatest communication tool ever created?

The voicebox.

Syderia: What are your thoughts on romantic love ? What kind of love do you think lasts the longest?

I’m for romantic love in a general sense; it adds some flavor to life. I have no idea which love lasts the longest; I imagine it varies from person to person.

DavidW: What type of social injustice do you dwell on and rail against the most in your thoughts? Poverty? Human trafficking? Inaccessibility of the court system to poor people? Non-owner digital locks? Lack of jetpacks on our day and age? People who never mow their lawn? Artificial flavouring in everything? Misuse of the phrase “that begs the question”?

Poverty is the one I think about most, which makes sense because I’ve been poor in my life, so I know about it on a personal level, and I believe a lot of other issues of social justice spring from poverty; it’s a parent of a lot of woes. It doesn’t mean other social injustices are not worth addressing, just that this is the one I feel best qualified to address and think about.

A-drain: I recently read an article about all these successful people who had experimented with drugs and in many cases contributed a portion of that success to taking drugs (hallucinogens). Do you think drugs help creativity? Have you tried?

I’ve not used any drug recreationally, unless you want to count caffeine. I think drugs possibly could help with creativity, since they put you into a different mindspace, and that can be inspiring in its way. Given my rather bad family history with drug tolerances (i.e., we don’t have any and become gibbering addicts really easily), I find other ways to expand my creativity.

GC: How do you deal with the, “So only one kid? Hoping to have more?” from friends or family?

Both my wife and I are over 40 now so I don’t think most people are expecting us to make any more on our own, and “are you thinking of adopting?” is a question that doesn’t usually appear spontaneously (we have no current plans for adopting, incidentally). When we were younger we answered the question with “maybe, we’ll see,” which is both non-committal and not especially interesting, so most people left it at that. I should note I don’t find it a rude question, although others might.

ThatRobert: Does the fact that we in American have only 2 parties make for a bigger mess than countries with many parties?

Oh, I don’t know. Belgium has a parliamentary system, and it was dysfunctional enough that the country didn’t have a sitting government for a year and a half. Every participatory system has its benefits and disadvantages, and sometimes the people in those systems push them into dysfunction. I think the US political parties at the moment, particularly but not only the Republicans, are pushing the nature of our system toward dysfunction for their own political ends. This too shall pass, hopefully.

Shane: You studied philosophy in college. Did you pick that field *because* you wanted to be a writer, or did you change your life/career plans at some point (e.g., when you discovered philosophers don’t make any money)?

I picked it because I took so many philosophy courses just out of my own personal interest that at the end of my 3rd year in college I realized that if I declared as a philosophy major I could graduate right then, whereas if I declared as an English major, I would need five years to get a degree. So I declared for philosophy and had a reasonably relaxing fourth year of college. Bear in mind that away from the classroom, I was writing my ass off for newspapers and magazines; that was how I “studied” to be a writer. The formal education does turn out to be extraordinarily helpful for me as a writer, however.

Joe P.: If you were going to live in another country besides the US, where would it be? If you’d like, pick one where language is a concern, and another where you could magically know whichever language(s) you’d need. Explain what you you think to be the advantages/drawbacks of living in Country X instead of the US.

In the fantasy where I have to leave the US for some reason, the options are, in order: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland. Each different from the US yet not so different I feel totally estranged. The major problem for three is that they’re so far away from everything I know; the major problem for the other is damn, it gets cold sometimes.

Pheltzer: What are your thoughts on the US Monetary system? Is there really any purpose served by keeping the penny in circulation, or quite frankly any denomination less than a dollar? And for that matter should we abandon the dollar bill and replace it with a dollar coin which would last longer in circulation, and I believe be cheaper to produce?

Dollar coins are cheaper to produce, but there’s more of a problem with counterfeiting, as I understand it, so the question of whether we end up saving money in the long run is a real question — and in any event in the grand scope of the US national budget, the sums involved are literally trivial. As to pennies, I wouldn’t miss them if they went away but I think people would lose their shit about it (I know pennies have been done away with elsewhere with success, but the US is messier than most places). I think we could keep the pennies if we recalibrated our monetary system so that a penny is worth what, say, a dime is now. But I think people would really lose their shit about something like that. So I have no viable solution here, I’m afraid.

Holland: What advice do you have for someone about to live on their own for the first time? I lived with my parents for undergrad, but now I’m moving out (and now cut off from parental funds for continuing education, which means I need to get a job + loans, though I do have some savings). The advice could be financial, about education, social stuff – anything you feel like.

Live within your means; if you can tolerate living with someone else do so, because it helps cover costs and also keeps you from being isolated; find ways to amuse yourself cheaply; pay attention to your bills; get out of the house and see other humans. Also, try not to eat just cheap starches like ramen and mac and cheese.

Janettes: I’d be interested to read your take on the current conservative push back on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. Why now? Why the extraordinary vitriol? Why has the focus moved from abortion rights, to access to birth control and to women’s imagined sexual incontinence?

It’s partly because the conservative politicians in currently in power are far enough down their own worldview tunnel that they doesn’t see what the problem is, and it’s partly because those that have some relation to reality are aware this is their last, best chance to pull crap like this before the die-off robs them of a useful plurality for this sort of nonsense. Liberals like to say that the demographics are pulling against conservatism, but I don’t think that’s true; there will also always be room in American politics for economic and social conservatism. I do think demographics are pulling against sexual reactionaries, however; we’re seeing this rather vividly with the frankly transformatively quick switch in the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That social reactionaries are overplaying their hand at the moment makes their long-term problems worse, not better.

ST: Music question: Which “Wrecking Ball” is better – Bruce’s or Emmylou’s?

Emmylou’s is one of my favorite albums ever and I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, so I think it’s not difficult to guess how I would vote in this case.

Sarah: What are you afraid of?

Outliving my kid.

Christy: Public figures often have the opportunity to be unfaithful to those they love. Do you have any thoughts about that other than the obvious (admiration is an aphrodisiac, etc)? How do you inoculate yourself against this, or if that isn’t necessary for you personally how do some of the people you know try to protect themselves against it?

One, I’d like to thank you — on a purely egotistical front — for making the assumption that this is in any way an issue for me. Two, my standard-issue response to this is that anyone who wants to fool about with me has to clear it with Krissy first. Three, more seriously, “unfaithful” to my mind isn’t about what you do physically but what you do against the expectations of your partner. My general admonition to anyone, public figure or not, is not to be unfaithful to your spouse or partner, and that you should probably also have a clear discussion of what constitutes being unfaithful so that there are no surprises on that score.

Nikkita: Can you listen to Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford singing “Close my eyes forever” without getting shivers of pleasure down your spine? If you can, would you prefer to be deemed alien, a human whose musical taste is invalid or something else entirely?

I’d like to be an alien! Honestly, that particular song does nothing for me, although I was pleased it did well, since I liked Lita Ford and was glad to see her get at least one Top Ten hit to her name.

Paul Strain: Suicide mission to Mars: Good idea? Physically feasible? Morally feasible?

It’s certainly physically feasible, although I would imagine at this point hugely expensive. Morally feasible? If the people involved were absolutely clear what they were getting into, sure. Good idea? I don’t know about that. If we’re thinking along those lines of things, I would prefer not to have a suicide mission but to have a one-way mission, where it’s understood that those going aren’t coming back, but that the point of going is to explore the feasibility of long-term occupation of the planet.

Sean Eric Fagan: Looking at the comments you get, how do you keep from growing to hate the insane ignorant lunatic unwashed masses?

Why should I hate them? They have enough problems. And I have other things I want to do with my time.

Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame

Jeremy G. asks:

You seem to be a person that is comfortable with himself and doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about what someone else thinks of him. I picture you being that guy that goes on the dance floor/karaoke stage etc. without a second thought as to what someone will think. I find that awesome and something I’m not able to do without copious amounts of alcohol. I’m curious as to how you got to be that comfortable. Was it your upbringing? Was it something you had to work on? Or have you just always been that way?

Anyone who knows me knows that not only are you correct about the dancing and karaoke, but it’s the fact that I’m willing to go out on the dance floor without worrying about how I look to anyone else that initially attracted my wife to me. It’s no joke: She saw me on the dance floor, said to her self “he looks like he’s having fun, I’m going to have to dance with him later,” and now it’s nineteen years later and we’re still together. So there you have it.

How did I get that way? Not just with dancing and karaoke (although I will use them as stand-ins for everything else in this entry), but in a general sense?

1. I don’t generally get nervous in front of strangers and/or large groups of people in a general sense, and I suspect that may be an inborn thing rather than a learned thing.

2. Coupled with that is a correlative “hey, look at me” impulse, which means I enjoy being a focus of attention, at least for a while (I’m also an introvert, meaning being in front of people is ultimately draining, but it’s a sloooow leak, if you know what I mean).

3. I don’t drink, so I never had access to liquid courage and thus had to find ways to give myself permission to, as I like to put it, “get stupid on my own.” It’s worked, and has the side effect, positive or negative depending on one’s point of view, of getting me used to taking responsibility for my own idiocy. I can’t say “sorry, I was so drunk at the time,” which always stuck me as a crappy excuse anyway. On the other things, I also get to do cool things and be totally there for them, which is its own reward.

4. Somewhere along the line, I learned there were in fact only a few people whose opinions I need to worry about or take into consideration regarding how I live my life (Right now: Wife, daughter, a very small number of friends and, in a work sense, the editors I work with). That being the case, honestly, who care what some random other people think of me? As long as I’m not doing anything harmful to anyone else, screw ‘em. If someone wants to point and laugh because I’m flopping about on the dance floor, let them point and laugh. Their scorn doesn’t do anything except point out they’re overly concerned about judging someone else doing something fundamentally harmless. Which makes them the asshole, not me.

This also has the flip side benefit of making me a lot more tolerant of other people doing their own silly thing. Again: You want to do it? You’re not harming anyone else by doing it? Doing it makes your life a little easier to get through? Then go, my friend. Do that thing you do. I applaud you, even if it’s a thing I don’t do myself, or would never do myself, or really wouldn’t recommend to others. My thing doesn’t have to be your thing; your thing doesn’t have to be mine.

5. There’s also the matter, to put it somewhat bluntly, that in our status-conscious primate society, at this point I’m a sufficiently high-status member that I don’t have to fear potential social disapprobation from other members of my monkey tribe for what I do. The fraternity pledge at a party who is intensely aware that the evaluation of other males will have a significant impact on his social standing for the next four years? He’s not in a rush to make an ass of himself (in ways the other monkeys in his tribe will disapprove of). I don’t exactly have the same problems.

This is not to say I’m immune from social comment and criticism. When I show my ass, people tell me (boy, do they tell me). I am, however, fairly well-innoculated against worrying that something on the level of getting up to sing karaoke will have an adverse affect on my social standing.

6. Also, hey, you know what? I both dance and sing passibly well, and indeed have taken classes in both. I did them before I took classes, mind you, and probably would still do them if I hadn’t. But in those specific cases, it doesn’t hurt.

So in short, it’s part who I am and part what I’ve learned that makes me able to get out there and not have a large load of social anxiety over things.

If I were going to give people one piece of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, it is this: Almost all of the time, it doesn’t really matter. Just as it’s highly unlikely an music business A&R person is going to walk in and say “You! Singing Ke$ha on the karaoke! You’re our next big star!” so too is it highly unlikely that things are going to go the other way and you will be forever shunned for bleating out “Tik Tok” slightly off-key. Hell, Ke$ha sings it off-key too, she’s just got auto-tune. Lots of auto-tune. So relax. Enjoy yourself.

If I were going to give people two pieces of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, the second piece would be: You get credit for trying. I’ll say this specifically to all you straight men out there: The fact you’re willing to go onto the dance floor at all is a good thing; if you’re willing to do more than the One Square Foot Shuffle (With Optional Overbite), even better (also, for God’s sake, put down your friggin beer). Yes, other men may look at you like you’re an alien, but you’re not trying to make time with them. Focus on the woman in front of you, you idiot. If everything goes well, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to teach you how to dance better. Let her. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Yes, You May Reprint “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds”

I’m getting a number of requests to reprint “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds,” so I checked in with the doctor on this. The doctor replied that the intent of writing the piece was to have it go as far and wide as possible, so yes, if you want, you may reprint it. There are only two conditions on this reprint right:

1. Don’t alter the text of the piece;

2. Correctly attribute both the author (“An Anonymous Doctor”) and the original publisher (“Originally published on Whatever (http://whatever.scalzi.com)”).

And there you go!

A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds: Now on Jezebel

Those of you miffed that I closed up the comment section to the “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds” entry will be happy to know that the piece has been reprinted in its entirety on Jezebel (they asked permission, before you ask, and the doctor who wrote it said “yes”). I am sure they will be delighted to accept your additional comments there! Bwa ha ha ha hah ha ha!

Seriously, though, it’s nice to see this piece getting out there in the world.

To encourage comments there rather than here, I’m turning off comments on this particular post.

Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out

Lance in Huntington Beach asks:

Wil Wheaton just Tweeted Chris Hayes about Rachel Maddow. Why is it that everyone I follow on Twitter, watch on TV or read seems to know one another? Is the world really that small? Does a bit of notoriety buy you immediate acceptance from other notables? Or is there a special club you all belong to and once again, it’s me being picked last for dodgeball? Please explain.

First: Dude, it’s totally you being picked last for dodgeball, man. You’re too slow. You keep being taken out first! And your throwing arm? Sheesh.

Second: Just because you tweet someone about someone else on Twitter doesn’t mean you know them to any significant degree. Twitter just gives one the ability to send a comment to anyone else on Twitter, and if you’re following one or both of those people, you’ll see the tweet. I could tweet, say, Fred Durst about the Dalai Lama, it doesn’t mean I know either of them. Fred Durst could even respond to me (or for that matter, so could the Dalai Lama) and it still wouldn’t qualify as “knowing” either of them in any meaningful sense. So that’s an important thing to remember about Twitter.

Third: It’s not that the world is small, it’s that who you are interested in as notables is specialized enough that there’s a reasonably good chance they might know each other.

As an example: I am notable, to the extent I am notable, primarily for being a science fiction writer — many of the people who follow me online one way or another (although not all) did so at least initially because they heard of me as a science fiction writer. This means there’s a pretty good chance they read science fiction and fantasy and also consider other science fiction and fantasy writers as notable to some extent or another.

As a science fiction writer, I attend a reasonable number of conventions, where I’ve met other science fiction and fantasy writers; I’ve also been a member of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for nearly a decade, and through that I have also had contact with a large number of SF/F writers. Over several years of seeing these folks over and over, some of them have become friends — some of them very good friends — because we have similar life situations, professional concerns, and recreational enthusiasms. Many of the rest of them I’ve come to know professionally as peers, particularly after I became president of SFWA and these writers became my constituency.

So if you’re a sf/f fan for whom these writers are important, and you see me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like all the cool kids are hanging out, doing cool kid stuff together online, and so on. And how cool is that? Pretty cool. Of course, if you’re not an sf/f fan, and you saw me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like a middle-aged dude doing a whole lot of procrastination on Twitter with a bunch of other mostly lumpy 30-, 40- and 50- somethings. That is, if you’re looking at my Twitter feed at all, and if you’re not an sf/f fan, why would you? And thus we learn the truly specialized nature of “notability.”

I know sf/f writers because I am a sf/f writer, and this sort of professional association is why (of course) a lot of your favorite actors will know other of your favorite actors, why your favorite musicians will know other of your favorite musicians, why the cool scientists out there seem to know the other cool scientists, and so on. Beyond mere professions, there will be other sorts of situational overlaps. One of the great cultural questions of our time is why do very successful musicians and actors always seem to date other very successful actors or musicians (or supermodels). The answer is, well, who else are they going to date? It’s not as if someone like George Clooney can put up an OK Cupid profile like a common schmoe. They’re going to date other famous people because a) they’re the people they know, b) they’re the people who understand the life and can (possibly) tolerate all the crap around it. An actor dating a supermodel, or an actress dating a musician, is the famous person equivalent of a corporate VP dating a manager in human resources.

The actual mundane rationales for the surface fabulousness of the famous (or at least notable) aside, there is one advantage to being a notable of any sort, which is that it makes it slightly easier to make the acquaintance of the people you nerd out over, because it’s possible they already know who you are and may even be fans of your work (or you). And while mutual admiration is not a good foundation to a lifelong friendship, it does make that initial encounter a lot easier, because you each already think positively of the other.

Look, I’m not going to lie: like any other person, “notable” people geek out at getting to meet and hang out with the people they admire. I mean, shit, man: The fact that Robert Silverberg knows me? Seems to tolerate me? Does not in fact recoil when I enter the room? There have to be multiple universes because this one universe cannot contain all of my squee. If you have the chance to meet the people you admire, chances are pretty good you’re going to take it. If it turns out nothing comes of it, then no harm done. But if it turns out you like each other and become pals? Then you’re living the fanboy dream. Which you never say out loud, of course. But even so.

And then there’s the fact that when you’re friends with someone notable, they often have other friends who are notable, who you then get to meet, and thus your network of notable acquaintances grows, simply because your friends have friends, i.e., you meet people like any person meets people, i.e., through your friends.

Now, there’s the flip side, which is you meet someone you admire and then find out they’re kind of an ass. But I’m delighted to say that at least so far, this has not been my experience. Also, notable or not, you don’t want to be That Social Climbing Dick, i.e., the guy who becomes friends with someone and then immediately starts looking to trade up in their friend circle. People aren’t stupid and don’t like being used. And that, too, is a constant in all human relationships, whether the people in them are “notable” or not.

But basically, Lance, when you see all the folks you consider the “cool kids” talking to each other online, it’s that fact that you consider them the cool kids that makes it seem like something special. Believe me, they probably thank you for it. But someone else who does not see these people as notable might see it as what it is: a bunch of folks who know each other to varying degrees, doing what people do online — letting each other know they’re part of each others’ lives. And possibly planning a dodgeball tournament.

The Big Idea: Stina Leicht

A fantasy novel is not a place one generally expects to find a good car chase — but then, why not? Fantasy takes on more forms than simply swords and sorcery. To that end, in her latest fantasy novel And Blue Skies From Pain, author Stina Leicht found that for her fantasy, she needed to learn a little bit about car chases. And boy, did she throw herself into her research.

STINA LEICHT:

When I was a girl I worked on the family car with my Dad. Herbie the Love Bug was my first car crush. (The second was a neighbor’s Jaguar. The third? A 1969 Mustang Cobra Jet with a Shaker scoop — I do so adore the throaty sound of a muscle car engine.) Of course, not long after that I discovered The Avengers and Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel. She became my new hero, and the Lotus Elan entered my vocabulary.

After that, I was hooked. Car chases are exhilarating to watch. I love them. So, when I decided to write about Northern Ireland and knew my main character would end up in the IRA, I naturally chose to make him a wheelman. The first thing I did was watch what are considered some of the best car chases in cinema — Bullett, The Italian Job, Ronin, and The French Connection. Then I followed them up with Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Fast and the Furious, and The Transporter. Once I had a good idea of what I needed to do, I decided to find novels with car chases in them to see how others had done it… and drew a blank.

I asked friends who are very well read, and the only novel anyone named was The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski.* (It’s a great novel, by the way.) After that, I decided to talk to friends who were into rally racing because I knew rally racing was the closest I’d ever come to a real car chase. (It’s the closest I ever want to come to one too.)

At that point, I lucked out. My friend Sondra Sondregger not only races, but she runs rally racing events. So, I called her up, and we discussed vehicle requirements and specifications. Then she offered to put me in contact with the owner of a local race track (Harris Hill Raceway.) I owe her a debt. Not only did she set up a meeting with the owner, but she also arranged for him to take me around the track in her boyfriend’s (Jack’s) Porsche. That wasn’t all. After a few laps, Eric pulled over and made me drive.

Seeing how much I enjoyed it, Sondra and Eric made arrangements for me to participate in Sondra’s upcoming racing event. The next thing I knew, I was flying around a racetrack in a Lotus with a driver who could compete with Emma Peel. (The spin-out during the race was the most incredible thing. A red flag went up. The other drivers followed safety procedures and stopped. Meanwhile, my driver had everything perfectly under control. Although I knew better, it was as if he’d done it on purpose.) During the rest of the event, my instructors guided me through races with the other newbs. I returned home with a giant grin and tons of information.

After that, I picked another friend’s brain. Troy Hunt knows quite a bit about vintage cars, and with his help, I decided on a year, make and model for Liam’s favorite ride. The final bit of research was a series of recommended rally racing videos on YouTube. With all of that information packed into my brain, I was finally ready to write a car chase — a bit intimidated, but ready.

Since I didn’t have much to go on, literary precedent-wise, I approached it like I would any other action scene. At their base, car chases are fight scenes. So, I chose to use similar methods — short sentences and punchy verbs. I used all the senses including smell to keep the point of view tight and real. I blocked out the action, using model cars just as I use silly action figures to block out fight scenes. I thought back on how a car feels while I drive — particularly the older, heavier cars. I imagined the weight of the machine around me, and the way the driver can sense the tires on the road as well as the other vehicles. I remembered what it felt like to be in a car wreck, the huge sound of metal crunching into metal, and (just like in fencing or Kung fu) how one doesn’t always know where the blow comes from. The rest was easy.

When the time came to write the second Fey and the Fallen book, I knew I had to fit another car chase in there because I enjoyed writing the first two so much. However, I wanted to do something different, something smarter.

So, for And Blue Skies from Pain, I interviewed a San Antonio police detective. We talked about the things I’d already worked into the first book and the ideas I had for the second. Joe explained how these things wouldn’t work now due to traffic cameras — definitely not something I was worried about — but might work well in 1971-77. He also talked about how a wheelman might think, and some of the biggest mistakes made in films.

All in all, Joe was a tremendous help. However, it’s clear to me that next time I’ll have to interview a cop who has served in Northern Ireland. I’ve a hunch there are big differences in how security was handled there in the ‘70s versus how it was handled in the States.

(* I’m sure there are others somewhere. There have to be.)

—-

And Blue Skies From Pain: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods

Joe Beernink asks:

What do you think of the prepper/survivalist/sovereign citizen movements in the US? Complete nutbags? Grains of reason, seasoned with nutty goodness? Or are they three steps behind you already? Do you have plans for various types of disasters? Which types do you now worry about? Have you ever found yourself beginning to stock up on canned goods after reading a book? If so, which book?

I think there’s enough of a range of people on the prepper/survivalist/sovereign citizen spectrum that I don’t think it’s accurate to lump ‘em together. For example, I suspect a reasonable number of “sovereign citizens” aren’t prepping for an apocalypse scenario in any meaningful way other than having lots of weapons; they just don’t want to have to pay taxes or follow laws they find inconvenient. Conversely, you can prep for disasters without being bug-chompingly crazy. If I recall correctly members of the LDS Church are encouraged to keep a store of food and supplies designed to last for months in the event of a genuinely significant emergency, and most LDS Church members I know are fine, upstanding members of their community who are not waiting or hoping for something horrible to happen so they can break out the dried beans.

In a general sense, I think the Sovereign Citizen-types are more problematic than the generic survivalist types, since I think people who believe they are not answerable to the law of the land are probably rather likely to end up coming to grief, or unnecessarily cause grief to others. It just seems like a dumb way to live one’s life, thinking the rules don’t apply to you, so nyah. I have no doubt they have a more complicated formulation to it than that, mind you, but from this end of things it seems that’s what it boils down to.

As for the folks prepping for the end of days, well, if it keeps you busy and you’re not bothering other people with it, why not? I have no objection to people practicing their weapons, skinning and stewing rodents and filling their cellars and bolt holes with root vegetables and potable water. It’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, I have to admit, but then they don’t need my approval.

Do I think such extensive survival preparation is necessary? Generally, no. I do think it’s prudent for people to have a week or two of food, water and supplies on hand for general emergencies, which will knock out your power and otherwise make your life unhappy and difficult in the short term. In my neck of the woods, the types of emergencies I worry about are tornadoes and snowstorms, and both of these, typically speaking, are not long-term concerns. As for the collapse of civilization as we know it, I imagine it will take longer than most people suspect, and we’ll be able to see it a while off, which will give me some time to prep. And while I’m sure some folks would disagree with me, in my assessment we’re not actually close to the collapse of every damn thing. In which case, two weeks of supplies should be just fine.

And no, there’s never been a book that’s made me want to start stocking 55-gallon drums of beans and rice. I don’t think fiction writers have any clearer insight into the future than anyone else. With non-fiction writers, if their niche is scaring the crap out of people, well, that’s nice for them, but it’ll take more than a single source of data to get me into survivalist mode. I think that’s probably a good way to be overall.

Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof

Molnar asks:

It appears to be a near-universal assumption by science fiction writers, directors, and producers, that there exists a set of precipitating events leading to our complete abandonment of doorknob technology. Do you share this assumption? Would you be willing to speculate on the reason for this assumption, or on the nature of the developmental pathway? Do you foresee any significant downsides, should this eventuality come to pass?

I love this question.

And I have an answer for it, which is that for a while there, having magically sliding doorknobless doors was a cheap and easy way of showing that you were in THE FUTURE. Here in the crappy present, you had to open your own doors! Through physical effort and mechanical energy! But in the future they will slide open on their own. All you had to do was be there for the miracle. This is also why, incidentally, in the future, doors would also be replaced by irised portals. A door? Shaped like a rectangle? How quaint. Do you hand crank your car windows, too?

And this makes perfect sense for writing science fiction, in which part of the goal is to convince people that they are looking on events that happen in a future time, where even the most mundane things have been touched by the magical future wand of futureness. So that’s why you’ll never dirty a doorknob in the future. It’s also why you’ll drink synthahol and wear silvery tunics and whatnot.

In reality, which is generally more complex than (if not as procedurally coherent as) a science fiction film, we mix and match technology from different eras without thinking about it. For example, right now I am writing this sitting at my kitchen table. The table was constructed using wood and nails and glue, which makes it, I don’t know, let’s say 17th century technology. The chair I’m sitting in is the same. On the table is my laptop computer, which in this Mac Air iteration is pretty 21st Century, three books, including a hardcover book (the codex being a technology going back to the Romans, but this iteration has 20th century technology in it), two paperback books (also 20th century), a paper pamphlet (old tech) on which rests a remote ignition fob for my car (new, new tech), a ballpoint pen (19th century), and a single lens reflex camera (19th century, but portable versions are 20th century) with a digital imager (20th century, with this iteration of it being 21st century). I’m drinking Coca-Cola (19th Century) in its Coke Zero variant (21st century), from a soda can (20th century), and eating a banana, specifically a Cavendish cultivar (19th century — and yes, the creation of the Cavendish is technology, of an agricultural sort).

The doorknob, incidentally, is a surprisingly recent technology, dating to the 18th century.

We mix and match the tech because a) our lives are not being written for the amusement of readers, b) technology that “works” tends to stick around. Simple wooden chairs and tables are likely to exist 400 years from now because human physiology is not likely to change substantially, and people will still want a place to park their butts and put objects down on without having to set them on the floor, and not every chair and table will need to be made of space age miracle components. Likewise, here and now, if I really wanted to, I could replace every door in my house with a sliding door without a doorknobs — I could even get sliding doors that open without me having to touch them. But why would I? Doorknobby doors work just fine, the look just fine, they’re cheap and I don’t want to have to bother with replacing them.

I will note that my futures have doorknobs — Chapter Three of Fuzzy Nation clearly has Jack Holloway using one to open and close his door — because I think most people in the future will live like people live today: with a mix and match of technologies with an emphasis on the ones that work without fuss. Doorknobs, while not exactly the sexiest technology, are also pretty reliable, unfussy things. I think they’ll stay around.

Also, anecdotally, I think science fiction writers today are more inclined to keep doorknobs in their futures than writers of the past might have been, for a number of different reasons but mostly because I don’t think readers need to be informed that THIS STORY IS IN THE FUTURE as much as maybe they used to — or alternately, that they pick up the clues differently than they did before. This may not necessarily be the case with TV or film science fiction — I didn’t see a lot of doorknobs in the most recent Star Trek film — but visual science fiction is a different animal, perhaps.

Anyway. Doorknobs: Probably a future-proof technology. I’m treating it as such.

(It’s not too late to get questions in for this year’s Reader Request Week — add yours here).

WordPress Apparently Messing With Commenting Ability

Folks:

Over the last few days I’ve been getting people complaining that WordPress isn’t letting them comment because it says their e-mail address is associated with a WordPress account, and they need to sign in at WordPress, etc.

To be clear: I don’t know why that’s happening and it has nothing to do with how I’m running the site; on my end I have the same comment policy I’ve always had. This is possibly down to WordPress deciding to implement some internal dictum regarding people who have WordPress accounts, whether they remember that they do or not.

If you’re having this particular problem making a comment with your usual e-mail address, your options are signing into WordPress so it can authenticate you; using your Twitter or Facebook account to sign in and comment; or putting in a new e-mail address (real or not), not associated with WordPress, so it doesn’t bug you about it further.

I do apologize for this apparently arbitrary and silly thing that has nothing to do with me other than that I am hosted on WordPress, which I otherwise find a fine hosting option. I’ll look into it.

Update, 9pm: Matt Mullenweg of WordPress has an update in the comment thread.