Monthly Archives: May 2012

DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT

If you’re a vegetarian, that is, because the standing freezer down there is now full with roughly 250 pounds of beef. Krissy went in with a co-worker on half of a locally bred and butchered steer, and her quarter of a steer is now taking up several shelves in the freezer. Athena, who is our resident vegetarian, registers her (entirely posed) horror.

Actually, this is a fine moment to note that Athena recently passed her one year anniversary of being a vegetarian a few weeks ago. She started doing it to see what she thought of it and has kept at it ever since, with all of us doing a bit of research to make sure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs and so on. It does take some effort to keep a vegetarian lifestyle around here — Athena is one of the very few in her school who does — so I’m pretty proud of her for making the choice and sticking with it.

Massive purchase of beef notwithstanding, we’ve all cut down our consumption of meat here at the Scalzi Compound (the massive purchase will last us quite a long time), and Athena’s commitment to not eating the stuff is the major reason why. So good on my kid.

Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Notes

You’ll recall that when I lost my Mac and bought the emergency netbook, I also picked up a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 inch tablet, on the rationale that, damn it, I was grumpy and I wanted a toy. This is not an excellent reason to buy a piece of electronic equipment, I am the first to note. That said, I’d had my eye on this particular tablet for a bit, so it wasn’t entirely impulsive. I’ve lived with it now for a week and I’m ready to mention what I like and don’t like about it.

First, a general note: I like it. We have an iPad here in the Scalzi household (it’s primarily Krissy’s) and while it’s surely a nice piece of equipment, I’m not in love with its size. A ten-inch tablet is too large for my tastes; unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal, it’s not something you can carry around or use in a single hand, and in other respects it’s also unwieldy. I understand the boffins at Apple have decreed that the iPad is the perfect size for a tablet and that if we have a problem with that there’s something wrong with us, not them. But screw them, they’re just wrong. In my case, a 7-inch tablet is just about perfectly sized: Large enough to give you enough space to see a lot of things, but small enough to operate with one hand. It’s paperback book-sized, basically, and there’s a reason paperbacks are the size they are: Because they make ergonomic sense for humans.

I am using my tablet primarily as a reading appliance, and to that respect it’s been pretty great. Both the Kindle and Nook apps look good and perform well on it, and the screen is a high enough resolution (1024×600) that I can read books without eyestrain (and, because its an LCD screen, I can read it without a nightlight). I’m also trying the Next Issue app, which works like a Netflix for magazines, and it’s for me at least a nice way to cruise through various magazines without them cluttering up my house.

Web browsing is fine — text is small in portrait mode (one needs to pinch zoom) and perfectly readable in landscape. One thing I do like that is that things don’t automatically default to mobile versions of Web sites. I also like that I can access my own site’s backend via the browser, so I can go in and moderate comments more completely than I can do on my phone. The Android 4.0 system means all the Google toys work in a fairly optimized manner, which is especially useful with GMail, which I use. The keyboard in portrait mode is easy to operate with two thumbs.

Although I don’t use it much for video, it handles video just fine; I ran a bit of Serenity on it via Netflix and didn’t have any problems. Haven’t played any games on it so far, but that’s not why I got it, so even if it were to choke on that I wouldn’t care much. The camera is definitely meh, but it’s another function that I did not buy the tablet for, so that’s fine.

Things not to like: It only comes with 8GB of resident memory and half of that’s devoted to apps that I didn’t pick and probably won’t use but come with the thing anyway. This is mitigated by the MicroSD slot and the fact that I just got a 32GB card in that format for $20 (and that it comes with a deal with Dropbox for something like 50GB of space for a year, which does not suck). The power button and the volume rocker button are close enough to each other that I’m always pressing the wrong button. This is annoying. The screen is occasionally less than perfect with touch response (particularly with small type websites), and gets smeary real fast. It’s slightly weird to think the 4.5-inch screen on my phone has a higher resolution than this 7-inch screen.

However, to be blunt, these criticisms for me are blunted by the fact that a) I paid $240 bucks for the thing, which is not a lot, all things considered, b) the tablets closest to it in capability/design — the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire — have similar or lesser specs and are crimped by design in order to keep you in their respective ecosystems. With regards to a), I was not expecting genuinely top-flight specs for what I paid, and what I got for the price is more than satisfactory. With regards to b), why pay for crimped tools when you can get them uncrimped for essentially the same price?

So, for the price and for what I use the thing for, the Galaxy Tab 2 pretty much hits my needs dead on. If you’re looking for a solid, basic tablet in a smaller form factor and for not a whole lot of cash (relatively speaking), it’s worth giving a look.

The Computers of Scalziland

Since the disappearance (and eventual reappearance) of the MacBook Air, and the emergency purchase of the most recent Acer netbook, there has been some curiosity in among Whateverians about the current state of electronics at the Scalzi Compound. While I choose not to go into complete detail on the grounds that I would hate to give thieves a shopping list, I will note that as far as laptops go we have six functional ones at the moment, one for each human and each of the cats (the dog prefers not to go online). In chronological order, they are:

1. A 15-inch Toshiba (the one in the back on this picture), which I bought in 2007 when I was on my “Last Colony” book tour to replace the 12-inch tablet computer I had at the time, which died when I was in Ann Arbor. This computer wheezes and clicks and we bought a replacement for it because we were sure it was going to die, but like a silicon version of that old guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is Not Dead Yet. This is my wife’s primary computer.

2. A 17-inch Asus (not pictured) which I inherited as President of SFWA; the previous president bought it for business purposes and then shipped it to me when I ascended. It’s a desktop replacement, and as I had a desktop, I sent it into my daughter’s room (after removing anything confidential to SFWA, of course). Its keyboard is partially broken (the computer works fine when you plug in an outboard keyboard), so at the end of my tenure rather than passing it on I’ll probably purchase it from SFWA at current value; giving my replacement an only-partially operating piece of equipment is laden with too much metaphor, I would say.

3. A 12-inch CR-48, the prototype Chromebook I was sent by Google two Decembers ago (it’s to the left in the picture), which I wrote about half of Redshirts on. I’ve written about this one a bit; I liked the form factor of it but the trackpad was (and still is) awful, and at the time I was trying to use it, it had bugs integrating with Google Docs, which is what I needed it for. I still use it from time to time for Web browsing.

4. The MacBook Air (facing you in the picture). Lovely computer, for which I would note I paid more for than all the other computers on this list (a fact mitigated by inheriting one computer and being sent another by Google). From a practical point of view I’m not at all convinced that the premium I paid for the thing is justified; on the other hand when I use a non-Apple laptop I want to scream at its trackpad. I’ll be curious to see if Windows 8 mitigates the UI advantage Apple has to any serious effect. This is my primary computer at the moment.

5. A 15-inch (widescreen) Hewlett Packard (to the right of the picture). This is the replacement for the Toshiba, which hasn’t died yet, although probably will at some point in the reasonably near future, so we’re prepared, as it were. The HP is at the moment the “family computer” in that it sits at a built-in desk in the living room area, which makes it easily accessible when we’re all downstairs. You’ll often find Athena here, checking in on Facebook, or Krissy looking up something. I used it yesterday to make a video for a thing I’m doing after iMovie on my Mac made it clear to me that it didn’t want to be used.

6. An 11.6-inch Acer: Bought a week ago and the emergency replacement for the Mac, since I needed an actual computer while I was traveling. Right now it lives in my office and stays on the desk; the Mac tends to wander around the house with me.

I’m the first to admit that six laptops in one house is ridiculous, but I like to think the number is mitigated by the following facts: a) I was gifted one by Google, b) inherited another, c) bought a third to replace a computer that’s in the process of dying, d) bought a fourth to replace on I had every reason to suspect was lost forever. Nevertheless: SuperNerd, Thou Art I.

From a practical point of view I will say it’s easier now to have a bunch of laptops in the house than it used to be, because almost everything I write/do on a computer these days is stored online in some way. I do a lot of writing on Google Docs at the moment, store documents in Google Drive and/or Dropbox, and otherwise store material redundantly. When I lost the MacBook Air, I didn’t lose any work, because I could access it by signing in with another computer. It’s nice basically to pick up what you’re doing no matter where you are or what computer you’re using, and I definitely use that to my advantage these days. I don’t even have to save things to a USB drive anymore. Mind you, if Google goes down, I’m doomed, but then, if Google goes down, we may all be doomed.

(Before anyone makes the objection: I still DO save things locally, because, you know what? Google might go down one day. Also, there’s some stuff I don’t want to put online. Like my collection of badger porn! Wait, forget I wrote that last sentence. Anyway: Redundant data storage is your friend.)

So there you have it: A Scalzi computer census.

The Slowly Disintegrating Tree

One of the two Bradford pear trees in our front yard has been slowly falling apart since a chunk of it was blown down by the remnants of Hurricane Ike that blew through here a few years back. Another chunk of it fell down today, and it must have been ready to fall. It was windy but not that windy. So fortunately no one was near it when it decided to tumble gravity-wise. So now the remaining tree has a distinct “V” shape. The good news, I suppose: Now we’ll have firewood for summer cookouts.

Update: Another chunk fell down in the night. This tree is doomed.

Redshirts Tour Chicago Area Stop: Please Register!

Folks, if you were planning to come see me on the Redshirts Tour Chicago Area stop (it’ll be at the Indian Trails Public Library in Wheeling, IL), you should know that it’s a free event but that you’ll need to register, so they have some idea of how many people are going to show up.

Here is the online registration form. Please use it and make the folks who are hosting me happy. I thank you in advance, and please let other folks you know who are planning to attend know about it as well. Thanks again.

The Redshirts Fan Art Contest Finalists: Vote For Your Favorite!

UPDATE: POLL IS CLOSED.

I’ve finally had a chance to look at the entries for the Redshirts Fan Art contest, and holy crap, there was some magnificent stuff in there. It was difficult to narrow it down to a final five entries for you folks here to vote on. But narrow it down I and my Jury of Awesomeness did, and here are you five finalists. At the end, you’ll be able to vote in a poll to pick your favorite. The poll will be open until noon Eastern Time, Tuesday, May 29. Please vote only once, but of course tell everyone you know to vote.

The winner will receive $250 plus an ARC of Redshirts, the 2nd place finalist will receive $100 plus an ARC, 3rd place will receive $50 plus an ARC, and 4th and 5th place will receive ARCs too. So everyone who is a finalist gets something (in the case of a tie for 1st, the 1st and 2nd place money will be split between the top two vote getters. In the case of a 2nd place tie, the 2nd and third place money will be split. In case of a tie for third place, what the hell, I’ll give them both $50).

And now, here are your finalists, in alphabetical order. Click on the picture to be taken to a larger version of the image!

FINALIST #1: DESIREE KERN

FINALIST #2: NATALIE METZGER

FINALIST #3: NATHANIEL PAYNE

FINALIST #4: ELIZABETH PORTER

FINALIST #5: TROY ZIMMERMAN

These are all fantastic.

Now:

Remember, vote only once! I don’t envy you the selection process you will have to make.

To the finalists: Congratulations and good luck! And to everyone who entered the contest: Thank you. You are all awesome.

The Big Idea: Catherine Lundoff

For the big idea in her novel Silver Moon, author Catherine Lundoff looks at lycanthropy in the context of a “coming of age” story. What makes it unusual? Which age the protagonist of the story is coming into.

CATHERINE LUNDOFF:

Women have always been monsters.

From Lilith to Carmilla to the femme fatales of the silver screen, beautiful women are shown consuming men, and sometimes other women, as prey. Female monsters are thin and beautiful, ageless, if not actually young, the embodiment of seduction and desire: vampires, succubi, sirens, demons.

Against this backdrop of feminine monstrosities, depictions of female werewolves are rare. It makes some sense, given werewolf mythos. Werewolves are out of control, ferociously strong, unbelievably dangerous. They are, therefore, almost universally assumed to be male. Female werewolves simply aren’t sexy enough.

In a 2006 MTV interview about the Underworld films, actress Kate Beckinsale said that there were no female werewolves in the movies because “…that could be really horrifying. Hairy, thuggish women.”

That well-thumbed health reference, the InternetHealthLibrary.com, lists amongst the signs of menopause: “Psychological instability” and “Violent mood swings” and “…hair growth on the face, which is quite unlikely for a woman.” Or hairy and thuggish, if you prefer.

So I began with the impossible and the horrifying: a woman who is neither young nor thin nor beautiful who is wrestling with both psychological instability and hair growth. Lots of hair growth.  A woman who has become a monster in her own eyes, but is otherwise like your mom or your friend’s aunt or perhaps one of your elementary school teachers: familiar, comfortable and ordinary. For a werewolf of “a certain age.”

Like female werewolves, there are very few middle-aged female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy.  When middle-aged women appear at all, they are generally background players, secondary and tertiary characters in the flow of a larger tale. Always the monster food, never the monster.

But then, as my protagonist Becca Thornton says, speaking for herself, “Seems to me that when you go looking for monsters, that’s all you see. And sometimes you miss much scarier things.”

What’s scarier than monsters? It depends on your fears. Monsters are relative (and sometimes related, but that’s a different story).  You can find them hiding in a graveyard waiting for dark, lurking in an alleyway on a lonely night or sharing your bed. For some people, gay, lesbian and trans people are monsters, to be stopped at any cost, whether that’s killing or conversion. Those people are the models that I used for my werewolf hunters. They don’t care about orientation or gender, but they do care deeply about changes they can’t control. Deeply enough to try and cure the local werewolf pack of being what they are: a Pack of middle-aged women from very different backgrounds, united by some common experiences.

The werewolves of Wolf’s Point are called into being by the ancient magic of the place where they live.  It picks and chooses which women will serve as the valley’s protectors, deciding who will change and who will not, based on a logic all its own. Sometimes, it makes mistakes.

Becca thinks she might be one of the latter; it must have meant to pick someone else and somehow got her by mistake. But then, she thinks that about a lot of things. In this respect, Becca was a hard character for me to write. Like her, I’m a middle-aged woman just entering menopause. Unlike her, I’m not terribly introspective or insecure about what I’m doing. Of course, I’m also not dealing with the changes she’s wrestling with.

That, really, was what I was hoping to capture in this novel: the experience of change, both physical and psychological, that is absolutely earth shattering. I wanted to examine what an ordinary woman does with those kinds of events. Menopause is a time in a woman’s life where her body feels like it’s transforming into something else, something alien, and potentially monstrous. Not unlike changing into a werewolf, only less fun, at least from my perspective.

There’s an element of wish-fulfillment in that aspect of the book. The thrill of being something much bigger and stronger with fewer aches and pains, at least once a month, is pretty appealing to my middle-aged self. Apart from the whole uncontrollable killing-machine aspect of lycanthropy, who wouldn’t want that in some form? The werewolves of Wolf’s Point have some things that a lot of us might envy: a sense of purpose, of belonging, of newfound power at a time of life that can feel most disempowering.

Given that, I think Becca’s right; there are much scarier things out there than monsters. Perhaps monsters are more familiar than we realize. And maybe we’ve all got a bit of one inside us. It’s what we do with it that counts. Welcome to what I do with mine.

—-

Silver Moon: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Prodigal Computer Returns

Look! The MacBook Air! It’s back! I took a picture of it here with the Acer so you would know it wasn’t just me pretending to live in happier times. It arrived this afternoon, along with everything else in my computer bag, minus the ARC of Redshirts I gifted to the fellow at Reagan National who tracked me down. It’s nice when things have a happy ending.

Thus concludes my computer drama. I will never lose my MacBook Air again. Ever. I SWEAR.

Final Notes For “Lowest Difficulty Setting”

It’s now been a week and a day since I posted the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece, and the dust around is finally beginning to settle, so a moment for some final notes on it before I let it go off into the sunset.

1. Overall, it was interesting. If I had to do it over again I would have posted it yesterday instead of a week ago yesterday, because a week ago yesterday I had five days of travel and business ahead of me which kept me away from the site and led to the comment threads not as pruned for twits as I would have liked. This should be an indication that I honestly did not expect the piece to blow up like it did. I was occasionally accused of writing the piece for attention, which is an interesting thing to accuse a writer on a public blog of; I mean, duh, yes, of course I wrote it for attention. However, I did not write it solely for attention, nor did I expect the amount of attention it got. So: interesting experience.

2. I’ve been asked for whom the piece was written, as at least some of the Straight White Males who were the focus of the piece did not take kindly to it, and thus it could be argued that it failed. Well, the audience for it wasn’t specifically white straight males, it was everyone, including and especially those folks looking for a way to explain the concepts of under discussion, especially to white straight males, without hauling out the dreaded word “privilege,” into the discussion. This did make the subsequent discussion here and other places just a little bit meta, but that’s okay.

3. Do I still think the analogy is useful? Sure. For one thing, the piece was useful for some folks already, both in giving them a new way to articulate the idea, or to think about it. I’ve got enough anecdotal evidence for that. For another thing, while the piece has received hundreds of thousands of page views, both here and other places online, that means there are still millions of folks who have never heard the analogy. Could still work for them.

4. There were a number of complaints about the article, many of which I addressed in the first follow-up post, although of course there were complaints about those responses as well. One of the biggest complaints was lack of facts in the piece, and while I argued and would still argue that the piece was about the analogy rather than the (to me rather painfully obvious) underlying assumptions, it’s still something that sticks in the craw of some. So, fine. For those folks, the estimable Jim Hines has thoughtfully given you some facts to chew on, although it should be noted that those are the beginning of the wall of evidence, not the only facts to support the piece’s underlying assumptions.

The second major sticking point is the chunk of folks who really very truly believe that I should have put class/wealth into the difficulty setting in addition to or instead of race/gender/sexuality. Again, I’ve already explained why I designed the analogy as I did, and while I think it’s fine that people disagree, I haven’t been sufficiently convinced by their arguments that I was wrong in the manner in which I designed it. I think some people are suggesting that I don’t think wealth and class matter in a significant way; they need to reread the entry. It’s not about whether it makes a difference. It does. It’s about where it’s properly placed in the analogy. Some have commented this is set-up that really is specific to the US, not other places in the Western world; I’m not wholly convinced of this, but then I live in the US, not other places in the Western world.

Also, let me be blunt about this: I think there’s a relatively small but non-trivial number of people arguing the wealth/class thing who believe that if they can only and simply make this all about wealth and class, then they can flat-out deny (or at least hugely mitigate) the idea that the US in particular still has issues with race, sexuality and gender, and that directly related to that, they have unearned advantages as straight white males. Well, that’s just stupid, and I’m not in the least inclined to indulge these folks in their particular fantasy.

Finally, and in general, please note the piece is really not intended to be a be-all piece; it couldn’t and won’t do everything. It’s a start to a discussion or a stepping stone to another part of a discussion.

5. Among the straight white males (and some of their friends) who read the pieces, my guess is that the majority found it non-controversial or perhaps food for thought, or that if they disagreed, and many did, they did so at a setting somewhat below “froth.” But there was a loud but I suspect relatively small number who disagreed at a setting of “froth” or above.

This is of course their right. No one has to agree with me. What I do find interesting is the rhetoric that was often involved, which, for lack of a better way to put it, seemed to me like an attempt to de-legitimize my standing as, you know, as a white dude who loves him some women. And I suppose I get this; it’s true enough that most of the folks who point out the unearned advantages of straight white maleness are not at least one of those things. When someone from inside the fence makes the observation, a lot of the tricks and tools one might use to discount the message and demean the messenger just won’t work, and one has to fall back on some ridiculous “No True Scotsman” sort of argumentation.

The silliest example of this I’ve seen are the fellows who’ve noted darkly (no pun intended) that I live in a little town that’s more than 98% white; I think the idea there is that I choose to live among the white folks and/or don’t know what it’s like to live among the dark folks. Leaving aside anything else about this assertion that’s racist and stupid (and ignores the idea that there might possibly be women and/or gays and lesbians in Darke County, Ohio), this is an interesting argument to offer about someone who grew up in the LA area, went to school in Chicago, and then lived in Fresno and the DC area prior to moving to Darke County, Ohio, and whose family here in Ohio is packed to the brim with people of Hispanic and African-American descent. Perhaps a little research — perhaps on this very site! — might have been in order. It’s been otherwise suggested that I’m a quisling to other races, genders and sexualities (which lead to my recent tweet which said “THE MATRIARCHICAL HOMODARKOSPHERE WANTS ME TO TELL YOU I AM NOT THEIR PUPPET”), that I’m a beta male and that I’m ugly, or at least “profoundly unhandsome.” And so on.

Dudes: You can’t demote me. You just literally cannot. Despite your best efforts, when I go out into the world, in 98% white Darke County, Ohio or anywhere else, I’m still me, and me is pasty, and Y-chromosomed, and very very fond of the opposite sex.

Beyond this, mind you, the idea that simply noting the concept that white straight males operate on the lowest difficulty setting is the equivalent to an attack on, or a call for guilt on the part of, people who literally had no choice to be born white, or male, or straight, suggests of a level of panic that makes me wonder how these particular fellows manage to get out the door every single day of their lives. Fellows: I haven’t a single trace of guilt or angst on the subject. I don’t know why on Earth you think I think you should. But if you want to work on making life better for everyone, well, that would be a mitzvah, don’t you think?

6. And that’s pretty much where I am on all of this at the moment.

(PS: I’m about to go out the door to the dentist’s, and depending on how things go I will be shot up full of painkillers for several hours and in no condition to deal with the comment thread this entry would inevitably spawn. Also, will anything be said that wasn’t already said in three other separate comment threads on the subject, positive and negative both? I’m thinking: Not really, no. So I’ll just go ahead and keep the comment threads closed for now. If I get back home with my head undrilled, I may unlock it then. In the meantime, don’t worry, there’s all the rest of the Internet to air your comments on. I like Twitter, myself.)

Redshirts Coming to the UK

We’re two weeks out from the US release of Redshirts, and I have some contracts in front of me, which means it’s a good time for some good news for those of you in the UK: There will be an official UK version of the book come November via Orion/Gollancz. Here’s the UK Amazon pre-order page; here’s the Waterstone’s page. It appears it will be available both in hardcover and paperback, so that’s excellent.

I’m very excited to have Redshirts natively in the UK, and with such an excellent publisher. Gollancz publishes some of my favorite writers, including Richard K. Morgan, Joe Abercrombie, Justina Robson and Patrick Rothfuss; it’s nice to join their club. Hopefully the wait for the book won’t be too long for you over there. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Computer (and Other Stuff) Update: It’s Been Found! + ARC Giveaway

So first, the good news: My computer bag — and everything in it, including the computer, books and such — has been found. Turns out I didn’t leave it in the cab, I left it on the floor of the baggage claim at Reagan National Airport. Why did I do that? Because apparently I am a complete moron, that’s why. However, airports are really good these days at collecting up unattended bags.

What makes this kind of awesome (aside from, you know, getting all my stuff back) is how the folks at Reagan National tracked me down: They used one of the Redshirts ARCs from the bag. The ARC doesn’t have my contact information on it, but it does have contact information for my former publicist at Tor — so they called her, and she contacted my current publicist, who sent me an e-mail about it. So there you have it: Being an author finally pays off. As a way of thanking the fellow at Reagan National who thought to contact my publicist, I told him to feel free to take one of the ARCs as a token of my appreciation.

My computer bag will soon be winging its way back to me, and to celebrate that fact, and to commemorate the role of the Redshirts ARC in its return, I am now going to give away two Redshirts ARCs. All you have to do is put a note in this comment thread between this very instant and noon Eastern time, Thursday, May 24, 2012 Wednesday, May 23, 2012. I will then have my daughter and wife randomly select a time between now and then, and the posts closest to those times will win (in case of a tie, the one closest before the time they specify will win). One entry per person, please.

So leave a comment! My computer is coming home! w00t!

Journey to Planet JoCo Still Alive + Reminder: New JoCo Song Coming in One Week!

Just a reminder that “Journey to Planet JoCo,”  my interview series with Jonathan Coulton, is still chugging along nicely at Tor.com. And today, in fact, we’re covering Coulton’s biggest hit to date: “Still Alive,” the theme song to the Valve video game Portal. There’s excellent conversation to be had, plus music and videos. It’s everything you could want in an interview! Or your money back.

If you’re just catching up with the entire interview series, an index page is here, with links to every single installment, refreshed daily at 9am.

Finally, a reminder that in one week exactly, Jonathan Coulton will debut his brand new, never-before-heard song at Tor.com. I’ve heard it. It’s fantastic. I can’t wait for you to hear it too.

The Big Idea: Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson has created such amazing futures in his Mars books and others that it’s sometimes difficult to believe he doesn’t have a direct line to what comes next — a crystal broadband line, rather than a crystal ball. But as Robinson explains in this Big Idea, today’s present changes the future even for him, and for his latest and in many ways most ambitious novel, 2312.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON:

My new novel 2312 began with an idea for a romance between a mercurial person and a saturnine person. Matching these two character types would make for quite an odd couple, I thought, and since all couples are odd, it seemed like the story might have wide appeal. That the two people should actually come from Mercury and Saturn is my kind of joke, in other words lame, but I like both those planets, and recent robotic space missions have given us a lot of new information about both of them.

However, having people call Mercury and Saturn their home requires some kind of solar system-spanning civilization. Thus the three-century time scale. This also put the story somewhere beyond the end of my Mars trilogy, and allowed me to return, not to that particular future history, but to that general story space: Humanity In the Solar System In the Next Few Centuries! I love that story space, one of the most exciting in all science fiction, so it was a pleasure to get back to it.

But so much about the future has changed since I last visited it. So much that I never believed possible is looking like it might happen anyway.But always in ways that to me seemed very unlike what all the other stories have been saying. I had a different vision of most of these startling new possibilities, and I found on reflection that I needed or wanted to retell the whole Matter of the Solar System.

That was fine, but also problematic. The big stories are hard to tell; you need special tricks, often lifted directly from Sir Walter Scott. I was forced to use the Kitchen Sink Theory of Novel Construction—again, of course—indeed, more than ever—but it was necessary, because the future is going to be a wild place, a recombinant multiplicity of clashing elements, a real mess. To do justice to realism these days, the kitchen sink is really nowhere near the end of what needs to get tossed into the mix.

So: terraforming (on purpose or not); living in space; genetic modifications in all living things; brain implants; artificial intelligences; gender manipulations; space travel; longevity treatments; big sea level rise on a hot sad old Earth; new forms of economics and governance. Sex, politics, art, revolution; and always, no matter what, human subjectivity. Our streams of consciousness. Because we read fiction to experience telepathy; we want to get inside other minds, and hear how other people think.

So my original two characters still carry this story, they struggle in their strange new world, making their way as best they can. In their travels they see the solar system from the Vulcanoids to Pluto; they body-surf the rings of Saturn, deal with some desperate moments on Mercury’s brightside, and cope with the icy dangers of frozen Venus. The plots they are caught up in are an important part of the history of their time, and just as messy and dangerous as history always is. And the romance’s end has a (spoiler alert!) surprise setting.

Writing 2312 was great fun. I got a lot of gentle but electrifying help from my editor, Tim Holman. His combination of stimulus and aid made a huge difference to the book, in both conception and execution, and I am grateful to him. Thanks Tim! And it’s been a pleasure watching his whole team at Orbit produce and promote the book, I’m happy to be part of such a high-powered team. I’m also grateful to all the people who helped me with various aspects of the book, from Chris McKay and his colleagues at NASA/Ames, to Pamela Mellon and all my other friends at UC San Diego, and all the rest who helped me (see acknowledgments at the back of the book).

I was also inspired by the performance art of Marina Abramovic, the landscape art of Andy Goldsworthy, and the novel technique of John Dos Passos. Goldsworthy and Abramovic have become simply genres in my future world, their names common nouns for what lots of artists do. I think that will happen. And it took the model of Dos Passos’ great USA trilogy to suggest to me the best form that could be used to portray a complicated culture in a novel. John Brunner used Dos Passos’ format for his Stand On Zanzibar quartet, and now I can see why; it’s not only useful, it’s lively. I hope readers will feel that way about 2312, and if so I will be happy, and grateful, because it’s the readers of a book who bring it to life.

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2312: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

Read an excerpt. Visit the book’s site.

Writer Beware Wins Blogging Award

The Writer Beware blog has been devoted for years to exposing scams aimed at writers, and now that work has paid off: The blog and its proprietor Victoria Strauss have won the Independent Book Blogger Award in the category of  “Publishing Industry.” This is pretty awesome.

Here’s the official page with all the winners (and nominees), and here’s the press release, posted on the Writer Beware site itself.

Congratulations to Victoria Strauss! May you continue to vex and annoy scammers and scumbags who prey on writers. No doubt some of them are grinding their teeth at you winning this award. I say: Let them grind.

“Lowest Difficulty Setting Follow-Up” Now on Kotaku + Comment on Comments

Hey, remember that time I wrote a piece on how being a Straight White Male means you’re running through life on the lowest difficulty setting, and that piece was republished on the video game news site Kotaku? Well, now Kotaku has also republished my follow-up piece, minus one section that relates specifically to how I administer comments here on Whatever (which is totally reasonable, since, hey, different web site entirely). The Kotaku republished version is here.

Let me also take a moment here to comment on comments. A lot of people have noted the really astounding amount of bile that’s come out of the entries, both here and at Kotaku, and have suggested that the vitriolic nature of the comments suggest that rather than furthering the conversation, the piece fell on its face and/or showed just how unreasonable straight white men generally are on the subject of having their unearned advantages pointed out to them.

Here’s something to consider, however. Between Whatever, Kotaku and the various other Gawker sites that ran the post, the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post and followup posts have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people to date. The number of people who have commented is probably about one percent of that overall audience; the comments run into the thousands but people often comment more than once. Not everyone who comments is antagonistic to the piece, and even many of those who disagree with the post or have specific complaints express them in cogent and reasonable manner.

All of which is to say that it’s probably not wise to assume that the foamiest of commenters, either here or over at Kotaku, are necessarily representative of the overall readership of the pieces. What they are, however, are the ones most motivated to comment, because of their own basket of personal issues/neuroses/hobby horses/whatever, and many of them have linked in from sites where people of similar personal issues/neuroses/hobby horses/whatever congregate and then set forth to make their views known to people outside their own respective man caves. In this respect, they are like many commenters on many comment threads for pieces on contentious topics.

Shorter version: Don’t freak out at the jackasses in the comments. They’re not representative of the whole crowd. They’re just loud. Outside of that tiny minority, there are lots of other people, many of them straight white males, reading without comment. Some of them are probably coming away from the piece thinking in whole new ways about the issues raised in the pieces. Which is not a bad thing.

The Temp Set Up

After I lost my MacBook Air last week, I still needed a computer to do work while traveling and also at home, since I was using the laptop as my primary computer. But I didn’t want to spill out a serious amount of money, not only because there was (is) a chance the Air would still show up, but also because, you know, I’m cheap. So I ended up going for an Acer Aspire One netbook. I’ve had one before and liked it although it was ultimately a little too small; this newer edition, however, has an 11.6-inch screen (the other one was 10.1) and what feels like a full-sized keyboard, so we’ll see how it works out. I’m getting along with it just fine, although I am definitely missing the Mac trackpad; it’s ridiculous how much better those are than just about any other trackpad on the market.

Since I was feeling grumpy, I also decided to pick up a Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch tablet, which was also relatively inexpensive. I’ve been wanting something close to a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, without being locked into either the Amazon or B&N ecosystems, and because I’m one of those people who actually prefers the 7-inch tablet size over the 10-inch size. I like it so far; it’s using Android 4.0, which is a nice operating system, and it’s doing all the things I want a tablet to do.

Between the two of them I should be able to get back to work. Which come to think of it, I need to be getting to right now. I have a backlog. Excuse me.

My Last Few Days: A Quick Recap

Bradbury Award winner Neil Gaiman and I use the award statues to fight to the death. Photo credit: Charishawk (click on photo for a Nebula Awards photoset).

As I think most of you know, I flew in to the DC area last Wednesday to take part in SFWA’s Nebula Awards Weekend, not only because was going to be an awesome time with awesome people, but because I am president of the organization, so me not showing up to the thing would be, you know, tremendously bad form. Here’s what went down.

First, as I noted earlier, I left my travel bag in my car, which unfortunately contained my Mac Air, several books, my car key, and a bunch of cables relating to electronics. This annoyed me terribly. Contacted several cab companies and the DC cab commission to locate it. The good news, such as it is, is that the Mac Air is lockable and trackable from the moment anyone tries to access the Internet with it, so I locked it and will have it post a note asking to be returned. Also, almost everything I had on the computer was also redundantly stored elsewhere, so I have lost no work. Finally, the thing is insured. The bad news: It’s still not returned. I am going to have to work on the assumption that the bag and its contents will continue to go missing, especially since I am leaving the area tomorrow morning.

Other than that the weekend was fantastic. I was pretty busy, with two board meetings and a SFWA business meeting, both of which will be of limited interest to people who are not SFWA members but which were very productive and useful. Go us. I also participated in a panel on humor in science fiction and fantasy, which also included James Patrick Kelly, James Morrow and SFWA’s newest Grandmaster, Connie Willis. I thought it went very well, personally; between the four of us we covered a lot of ground in the subject. I also participated in our mass author signing, sitting between Nebula nominees Carolyn Ives Gilman and Mary Robinette Kowal; I signed a fair number of books, which makes me happy.

The big event of the Nebula Awards weekend, not entirely surprisingly, are the Nebula Awards themselves, which this year had Walter Jon Williams as MC (he did a great job), astronaut Mike Fincke as our keynote speaker (he was very inspiring), and of course Connie Willis as Grandmaster (immensely charming and heartfelt). And we gave away some prizes too. And then there was the after party, in which everyone poured into the SFWA hospitality suite and ate and drank and talked very loudly about things until it was time to go to sleep.

I really love the Nebula Weekends because in a sense, as SFWA president, it’s my party — I get to host some of of the most interesting writers in the world and celebrate their achievements. But it would be horribly, horribly wrong for me to take any of the credit for the success of the weekend. That properly goes to Peggy Rae Sapienza, in her role of Nebula Weekend event co-ordinator, Steven Silver, and a huge raft of volunteers who have put time and energy into the event. I got thanked by people for the weekend, but I’m not foolish enough to take the credit. That goes to the people who made it work.

At the moment I’m pleasantly dazed from everything and since I have an ungodly early flight tomorrow, I’m likely to crash early tonight. But to everyone who came to the Nebula Awards Weekend and made it wonderful: Thank you.

Nebula Awards Winners

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I am the president, gave out its Nebula and other awards last night. Here’s what won, by whom, and who published it.

Novel
Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

Novella
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, October/November 2011)

Novelette
“What We Found,” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF, September/October 2011)

Short Story
“The Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu (F&SF, March/April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” by Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy Book
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

Damon Knight Grand Master Award
Connie Willis

Solstice Award
Octavia Butler (posthumous) and John Clute

Service to SFWA Award
Bud Webster

Congratulations to everyone above!

“Space Doggity” and “The Future Soon” Q&A at Tor.com

I’m off today being presidential (which includes chairing the SFWA business meeting, having a couple of other meetings, and then being part of the Nebula Awards Ceremony), so I won’t be around here much today. While I am out and about, why not check out the “Journey to Planet JoCo” interviews on Tor.com, in which I interview musician Jonathan Coulton about his science fiction-related music? Today’s track is “Space Doggity,” and yesterday’s track, if you missed it, is “The Future Soon.” There’s good stuff at both of those links.

Have fun with your Saturday. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.

Mass Author Signing (Including Me) At Hyatt Regency Crystal City, 5:30 to 7:30 TODAY

If you’re in the DC area today, and you love science fiction and fantasy, you have a fantastic opportunity: Dozens of science fiction and fantasy authors are signing their works today at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, from 5:30 to 7:30, in the hotel’s Independence Center. Writers signing books include this year’s newly-minted Grandmaster Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jo Walton, Myke Cole, James Patrick Kelly, Rachel Swirsky, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Jack McDevitt, Diana Peterfreund, Geneveive Valentine, and many others, including yours truly. Need books? We’re selling them here. You have no reason not to come. At all!

See you there.