Monthly Archives: May 2012

Oh, And DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional

By the United States Court of Appeals for the First District. Details here; actual ruling here. And off it will go to the Supreme Court at some point in the not too far future. My lawyer friends tell me it’s very well argued and positively backed to the gills with a half century worth of precedent, which is a nice virtue for a ruling to have, especially if one is in philosophical agreement with it.

This is a slightly different issue than same-sex marriage, but it seems to me that if the Supreme Court agrees DOMA is unconstitutional then I don’t see how the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage is sustainable in any sense. Which bothers me not in the slightest, of course.

And Here’s an Industrial Strength Woodchipper for You

And yet Steve Buscemi is nowhere to be found. Probably just as well. What’s being fed into the chipper are not my enemies (so far as you can prove) but the fallen limbs of the increasingly wan Bradford pear tree you see there next to the woodchipper dude. I do not have particularly high hopes for the rest of the tree making it through the summer, but we’ll have to see what happens. That poor tree.

A Note About the Format of Redshirts

Many of the reviews of Redshirts note it, and the original subtitle of the book (which you can still see on the Amazon page for it) points it out explicitly, so I thought I’d write a little something about it here. It is:

Redshirts is not a novel.

More accurately, the book Redshirts is not just a novel. It is a novel with three codas.

The “codas” in this case are three short stories presented after the novel, which offer some additional perspective on the events of the novel. The novel itself is a complete story — you can read just the novel part and have a complete narrative arc, plot and character resolution and so on. But the complete experience of Redshirts, the book, includes the three stories at the end. The three stories at the end aren’t throwaway bits; the three stories at the end matter.

This is an unconventional format for a book; I’m hesitant to claim a first, but at the very least I don’t know of another book formatted this way. The closest would be novels that have extensive appendices at the end of them: Dune is one, and The Lord of the Rings (which was written as a single novel) is another. But the Redshirt codas are different in form and function than these appendices.

So why did I format Redshirts this way? Here are some reasons, some practical, some craft-oriented.

1. Because the novel was short for a modern science fiction novel. It’s about 55,000 words. As context, Old Man’s War is about 95,000 words, and the contractual length specified in my contracts for a novel is 100,000 words (we’re given leeway). Bear in mind that novel lengths are not set in stone: average novel lengths vary from genre (your average SF novel is longer than a romance, shorter than a fantasy) and from one publishing era to another — Little Fuzzy, published in 1961, was about 55,000 words, and was just about a standard-sized science fiction novel for its era. I also suspect this dawning digital age of ours is going to bring more flexibility in novel sizes. Nevertheless, right here and right now, 55k is an odd size.

When I sent along the novel, the folks at Tor didn’t blink at the length, but I personally felt there should probably be more there. But I also felt the novel was the right length for its story; I didn’t want to go in and pad it out by a third because there’s nothing that sucks worse than a novel you feel is faffing about to reach a contractual length. So I asked the folks at Tor if they would mind if I added some related stories at the end, which I thought would be interesting and would enrich the entire reading experience. They did not mind.

2. The stories at the end were stories that I wanted to tell but they didn’t fit contextually within in the novel itself. They take place after the novel and deal with the consequences of the storytelling of the novel (and no, this is not a spoiler; it’s not a spoiler to note the universe continues after the events of a story). Jamming these stories into the novel itself would have warped the novel and have dissipated its narrative drive, as well as its tone, and I didn’t want to do that. I mean, I suppose I could have done, and I flatter myself with being talented enough as a writer to make it work. But the thing is that I like the novel that I wrote, they way I wrote it, and I didn’t want to mess with it. So I didn’t. I wrote the stories separately.

And as a result, incidentally, I think the stories themselves are much stronger as well. They are better than they would have been if they were integrated into the novel, because they didn’t have to be beholden to the same tone or structure. I had room to let the stories tell themselves, not fit them into an existing structure. As a result, I think the entire experience of Redshirts as a novel with three codas is better than it would have been as Redshirts, a single, larger novel. There’s something to be said with letting stories be the size they want to be, and then putting them into the right sequence for an entire experience.

3. As far as I knew no one had thought to write a book that consisted of a novel and three separate but related short stories, so, hey, why not? I like doing things that other people haven’t thought to do yet and seeing how they work; often they work out in really interesting ways, some of which are hopefully good. As a bonus, on a metatextual level, this structure works really well for this particular reading experience, and that’s all I am going to say about that.

Or, as a shorter answer: I wrote Redshirts this way because it was the right way to write it. And why write it any other way?

One consequence of writing a structurally unconventional book is that people are used to their books being conventionally structured, so when they get to the codas, there’s a possibility of being thrown for a bit of a loop, which is something I’ve seen in some of the reviews. We’ve tried to make sure in the book design that people see they are separate stories, which helps a bit, but even so.

And naturally, this is fine and perfectly fair. When you play with format, you run the risk of people scratching their head and deciding they don’t like it or that they think it doesn’t quite work. Speaking as the author, I think it was worth the risk to get the whole experience right. I do think it works better than it would have the other way. And as a writer, that’s the goal: Get the thing as right as you can get it, before you get it to the readers.

So. Redshirts: A novel with three codas. I hope you enjoy the whole thing.

Redshirts Reviews to Start Your Morning

Good morning! The Redshirts reviews are coming in more quickly now, which makes sense as we are less than a week away from release. Here are three new ones for you:

1. Alex Knapp of Forbes offers up a combo review of the book/interview with me. He “highly recommends” the book. And also, given Forbes’ business focus, offers up a separate article on How to Avoid Being a Redshirt on a Big Project.

2. Civilian Reader’s review of Redshirts (the first of two, apparently), uses adorable pictures of kittens and puppies. No, seriously, it does. And it is adorable.

3. As a general rule I don’t link to less-than-positive reviews of my work, because, you know, they’re not doing me any favors, so why give ‘em the traffic. This less-than-positive Redshirts review, however, at least makes the effort to be amusing. And that’s worth a link.

Dayton and College Graduates

The New York Times comes to visit Daytonwhose metropolitan area I am (barely) a resident, and to use it as a poster child for the sort of formerly prosperous manufacturing city that is now fighting to retain and attract college graduates who see New York, San Francisco or even Raleigh as a better place to be — because there are lots of college graduates there, for one thing. It’s a hard cycle to break, although to its credit Dayton is now trying (after years of inertia, which basically typifies the human condition, now, doesn’t it).

I’ve been reasonably happy in the area, even in a rural part of the area with even fewer college graduates, but then again I spent my 20s first in a job that nearly weekly took me to LA and San Francisco, and then suburban DC at a job at which nearly everyone around me was college educated. These days I’m settled with a family, I and travel constantly and see lots of people that way, all of which skews my perception considerably. I don’t know that I’m a good test case.

I do have a fantasy that some of the college graduates and/or creative people who flock to NYC/LA/SF/DC/etc eventually yearn for cheaper rents and yards and start looking at towns like Dayton as places to land — which may seem a tad dismissive of the creative folks in towns like Dayton, to which I say: Sorry guys. More would still be better, no? But it’s a chicken and egg thing — need cool stuff in town to attract people, but cool stuff comes with enough people. Or maybe you just need enough people becoming exasperated with paying $2,000 a month for a postage stamp apartment in a big city. Either way, I hope Dayton and other towns like it find a way to get and keep their share of college folks.

And Now My Favorite Track From the New Garbage Album

It’s “Big Bright World”:

The whole new album is pretty darn good, I have to say. I’m a Garbage fan since the first album, and there’s not really an album of theirs I don’t like. They pretty much hit all my “This is my music” triggers and always have. There’s something to be said for consistency.

In any event, the new album is called Not Your Kind of People, and I recommend it; if you like the song here, you’ll like the rest of the album too.

Some Administrivia Regarding The Site

This is one of those housekeeping posts, mostly of interest to me and the perhaps three people out of the entire audience who give a crap about the fiddly things I do to the site. Hello, fellow OCDians!

Anyway:

1. I fiddled with the sidebar slightly today, to put up a promo spot for Redshirts, give The Big Idea its own promo spot, and to delete the links to Clash of the Geeks and the November Advent Calendar. Clash of the Geeks is still accessible through the Scalzi Creative Sampler link, however (and November Advent is of course still in the archives). The “Random Whatever” feature is also still in the sidebar, just down at the bottom. I’m not sure anyone but me played with it. The Redshirts promo will be up at least through my tour dates, i.e., through the end of June. Hey, it’s my site, I can promote my latest book if I want.

2. Speaking of the book tour, the fact I am flitting around the country for much of June means things might be a little slower around here than usual and/or posts will be shorter and of the “Hey! I’m in an airport!” variety. It’s been an eventful May. I’m not sure a somewhat restful June will be a bad thing. I do have a full schedule of Big Idea pieces, so that’s good. And remember that I’m on Twitter a whole hell of a lot.

3. Going back to the site for a moment, it’s possible that later this evening (i.e., after most of all y’all have gone home) I may fiddle with the site a bit more; it appears there are features of this particular template I may have not yet fully exploited and I want to check them out to see if they are things I would find useful. So if you pop by in the evening and it looks like the site has exploded, don’t panic. Everything is under control. I SWEAR.

4. For you statistics fans out there, this month has been far and away the most trafficked month on Whatever since I switched over to WordPress VIP hosting in October ’08 and started using its stats program to track visitors (see my notation on its reliability for tracking actual visitors to Scalzi.com). In fact, if I get 17k visitors today and tomorrow, I’ll crack one million visitors for the month, tracked (which means rather more in reality).

To assure I reach this milestone, here is a picture of a cat.

There, that should do it.

The Big Idea: Mark L. Van Name

Contrary to what the Beatles once said, love is not all we need. But it’s still high up there on the list. What does this have to do with No Going Back, the latest science fiction novel by Mark Van Name? Quite a lot, actually.

MARK L. VAN NAME:

I never set out to make a particular set of points in a book. If anything, I rather studiously avoid worrying about a novel’s themes, because my proper focus is to tell a story; I could no more prevent the themes from asserting themselves than I could stop the sun from shining. Instead, over time a story grows in my mind and my notes, bits and pieces coming from here and there and everywhere, and then I tell it. Afterward, though, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the notions and concerns that gave rise to the work.

For No Going Back, the big idea sounds so clichéd that I’m almost reluctant to type it: each of us deserves love.

For many people, probably most people, this concept is a gimme, a statement as obvious as the sun’s light.

For some of us, though, it is, very sadly, almost impossible to believe. Survivors of abuse, for example, may spend much, sometimes all of their lives fighting against a deep-rooted belief that they do not deserve love, that something in them is so very wrong, so very broken, that what they deserve is what they got: the abuse of those who should have been protecting and loving them. These people can work for decades to try to learn a simple lesson that is immediately obvious to anyone not in their situation: it was not their fault. Many never succeed.

Victims of abuse are not the only people who may have trouble with even the concept that they deserve love. Joining them are many veterans and police officers and EMTs and others who have had to deal with horrible situations and sometimes do things that most others would find horrible. When you’ve committed violence, even in a good cause, even if to protect others, even if only to survive, the stain it leaves inside you can make you wonder in the dark moments before sleep and the darker dreams that follow whether you are worthy of anyone’s love.

Attacking this idea in a far-future SF adventure may seem a bit odd. Doing so in a book whose protagonists, Jon and Lobo, are a man who is the only successful human-nanomachine hybrid, and a large, incredibly intelligent machine built to kill, may seem odder still, but science fiction is nothing if not an incredibly flexible medium for exploring the human condition.

The notion may also not seem to lend itself to the structure and pace of a page-turner of a thriller, but it can, it really can. The story winds a crooked path through the rescue of kidnapped children, the protection of a pop star, a raid on the home of one of the most powerful men alive, and a confrontation in the barren outback of one of the least hospitable of the planets humanity has settled, but the emotional fuel propelling it, though sometimes invisible, is always there.

After all, in the end, few quests are more powerful than those for love.

—-

No Going Back: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Redshirts Contest Winners, Reviews and So On and Such

To quickly catch up on a number of things relating to Redshirts:

1. Congratulations to Troy Zimmerman, the winner of the Redshirts fan art contest, with the very amusing picture you see above (click on it for a larger view). Closely behind Troy was Desiree Kern in second place, followed by Natalie Metzger, Nathaniel Payne and Elizabeth Porter. Troy wins $250, Desiree $100, Natalie $50, and every one of the finalists gets an ARC of Redshirts. Thanks again to everyone who entered, and who voted.

2. We also have two more ARC winners, from the contest I ran to celebrate the return of my missing computer (and other stuff). The times chosen for the giveaway were 2:39pm (and Val was the first entrant for that particular time) and 7:19pm (alsohuey, at 7:20pm, was the closest to that time). So congratulations to the two of them! Now all they have to do is e-mail me their mailing addresses from the same e-mail address they used to post their comments, and we’ll be all set.

3. I have two reviews to highlight at the moment, one from this morning and the other from a few days ago. This morning’s is from Wired’s GeekDad, and it’s positive:

It’s a brilliantly funny book with an unexpected amount of emotional heft, and I liked it an awful lot.

w00t! From a couple of days ago, there’s this also this one from io9.com, which is also positive (it contains very mild spoilers, which it notes, for which I am grateful):

Scalzi takes some of his trademark smart, quippy characters and puts them into a Trekkian reality in which they’re forced to make sense of their existence. It’s one part Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, one part “Below Decks,” and one part geeky nitpicking about the bad science in science fiction television. With a dash of Cabin in the Woods.

w00t again!

Lest anyone think the reviews have been uniformly positive, floating out there at the moment is a negative review from Kirkus Reviews, of which the best it can say of the book is that it is “vaguely amusing in a sophomoric sort of way.” Yes, well. Can’t win them all. I’m not linking to the review because, among other things, it contains a massive spoiler. I will note that I do see a correlation between the reviews that don’t like the book and a willingness to spoil the book without warning the reader of the review. I’m not entirely sure what the correlation indicates, but I do find it interesting.

4. Neither a review nor a contest, but something that makes me happy nonetheless, this ad for Redshirts, which is running in the New Yorker magazine this week. The color version of the ad is in the digital version; there’s a black and white version for the print edition. Either way: Hey, my book’s being advertised in the New Yorker. I can’t complain about that.

5. Finally, I hope you’ve all by now listened to Jonathan Coulton’s new song “Redshirt,” which I commissioned from him as the theme song to Redshirts. I’ll also say that if you linked into the Tor.com discussion of the song and noticed the video of my ukulele cover of the song, you should keep watching the video after the song is done. Why? Let’s just say there’s a Marvel superhero movie-like bit at the end. More I will not say.

Introducing “Redshirt: The Theme to the Novel ‘Redshirts'” by Jonathan Coulton

Yes, Jonathan Coulton wrote me a song to go with my book. Here’s all you have to do:

1. Listen to the song (because it’s awesome).

2. Go to Tor.com’s final Journey to Planet JoCo installment to read and/or hear me and Jonathan Coulton talk about the genesis of the song, and how it relates to the book. Stay tuned for a very special video near the end of the talk, featuring me.

3. Share the song with folks (because it’s awesome).

Also, let me take a moment here to thank Jonathan for a truly fantastic song. I literally could not be happier with it. Although I admit to bias here, I think it’s one of his best. I hope you think so, too.

Update: Jonathan updates his page to talk a little about the song. If you love the song, you’ll soon be able to buy a copy from JoCo himself.

Redshirts at Wired’s GeekDad and GeekMom

Today Redshirts gets a double dosage of geek parental attention at Wired.com: GeekDad runs an interview with me about the book, in which I talk about writing about red shirts and the role of humor in science fiction, while GeekMom notes Redshirts in an article about what the site’s contributors are reading. The takeaway from the brief review:

Laugh out loud funny, this book is a must read once it is released June 5, 2012, especially if you are a true fan of science fiction television.

Excellent.

Hope your Memorial Day is going well.

Planet JoCo Nears Its Climax

The wife just came into the room and said: “I am doing things today. You are going to help me. There’s a lot of stuff. It will take up most of your day. Say goodbye to your Internet friends.”

So, uh, goodbye, Internet friends.

Whilst I am away, helping out the wife in the many tasks she has planned for me today, why not check out the latest installment in my conversations with Jonathan Coulton about his work? Today we are discussing his latest album Artificial Heart and his upcoming tour, which starts this next Friday. And if you’ve missed any of the interviews to date, here’s an index of every day so far.

Remember that the “Journey to Planet JoCo” feature concludes tomorrow, 9am with the debut of a brand-new song from Jonathan Coulton. I’ve heard it. I think it’s one of his best. You don’t want to miss it.

Graduation Song

Away from the Internets for most of the day because my niece Cecilia is having her high school graduation ceremony. See you all tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s “The Paper Chase,” one of my favorite graduation-themed songs, from the (now defunct) The Academy Is… (the ellipsis is part of their name).

I wrote about Fast Times at Barrington High, the album this song is on, here.

Have a good Sunday.