Monthly Archives: November 2012

Next Morning Presidential Election Thoughts

Last year in October, I did a book tour of Germany. Every night I was there, after my reading, I would have dinner with some of the Germans who were kind enough to have hosted me on the trip. And almost without fail, after enough time had passed that they felt comfortable with me, the more-or-less same question would come up. Paraphrased, it is thus: “Okay, seriously, what is going on with your politics over there? You’re scaring the hell out of us.” And specifically, they wanted to know what was going to happen to President Obama, which the Germans, to a person, saw as a reasonable and moderate leader. They were terrified that he would not be re-elected.

Here’s more or less what I said to the Germans then: “Look, all the political noise is going to get much worse in 2012 because it’s a presidential election year and that’s how we get. It’s going to get loud and weird and you’re going to be much more scared before it’s all over. But in the end Obama’s going to win, because he’s doing as well as he can under the circumstances, and because things are slowly turning around, and because the GOP is running its B-team for President. It’s going to be close, but Obama’s going to do it.”

So to all of my German friends: See? Just like I told you.

***

Four years ago, there were a lot of people who believed that Obama’s election heralded a material change in American politics. I would argue that it’s this one that’s the actual signifier of that change. Look: It’s one thing for a black man with a name like “Barack Hussein Obama” to win an election after eight years of a GOP presidency that culminated with two wars and the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It’s another thing entirely for that same black man with a funny name to win a second term in the face of an unimpressive economic recovery and the full, uncontained and often unreasoned fury from his opposing side. For better or worse, Americans view one-term presidents as losers or historical flukes: See Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush as examples of this. Barack Obama, whatever else you will say about him — and many will — can no longer be categorized as a loser or a fluke. He won both the electoral and over 50% of the popular vote twice, which is the first time since Reagan that any president managed that.

More to the point, two years after a mid-term election that swept into office some of the most recalcitrant opposition that any modern president has seen, and after four years of dealing with a GOP whose major legislative goal (as Mitch McConnell so memorably put it) was to make Obama a single-term president, Obama’s electoral map was strikingly similar to his first; he lost only two states from 2008. This was a close election, on the popular election front. But after all the noise and thunder and intonation, and assuming Florida falls into the Democratic tally, as it appears likely to do at this point, Obama walks out of the election with 50% more electoral votes than Romney.

This wasn’t a squeaker, and Obama didn’t just get lucky. To be clear, he did get lucky, most obviously in drawing Mitt Romney as an opponent, who gave Obama far too many opportunities to punch at him, and in a GOP which persists in fielding candidates far to the right of the US population as a whole, giving the Democrats a field of bogeymen with which to scare its voter base. But Obama also won because he was canny: how Obama won Ohio this year will be required reading for political wonks for decades. And he also won because of demographics — a word which is currently being used as code by the right for “people who are not straight white men.” Well, as it happens, there are lots of people who are not straight white men in these here United States, and whatever code word you want to use for them, it turns out that their votes count just the same as anyone else’s. Unless the GOP is irretrievably stupid, this is the last presidential election they’ll assume they can win entirely white.

And saliently, Obama successfully made the argument that he was doing his job, despite (and sometimes in spite of) a solid, unified wall of opposition from the GOP. At the end of the day, luck, campaign smarts and “demographics” aren’t going to make the case for a re-election by themselves. People have to believe he’s getting things done. It appears they do.

Obama is not a fluke or a historical blip. You can argue he won his first presidential election on credit, and I’ll let you have that argument. It’s four years later, and the voters have seen him in action. This election he had to win with what was on his ledger. He won it, and he won it big enough to forestall all doubt. If you are one of those who will persist in thinking he’s there by accident or by trivial circumstances, you’re delusional. And you’re likely doomed to see your preferred presidential candidates lose. This isn’t Reagan’s America anymore, or Bush’s. It’s Obama’s. You should get used to that.

***

For all that, four years ago when Obama won, I offered readers here a reality check regarding their expectations for the man. Here is the reality check this year:

* The House is still in GOP hands. In the Senate the Democrats do not have a filibuster-proof majority. We have a divided government, and the GOP standard operating procedure is to oppose every single thing Obama is for. Don’t expect that to change.

* You’ve had four years to see how Obama works and how he does his job. If you’re expecting that to change, you haven’t been paying attention.

* Obama is not a liberal. He’s definitely not a socialist. He’s a moderately left-leaning centrist. Anyone who believes (or at least says) otherwise on either side of the aisle is speaking rhetorical nonsense. Obama will lead from the center. That’s what he does. That’s who he is.

* Those who dislike Obama for whatever reasons they do are still there. And they dislike him even more today. They also dislike what he represents: The end to a comfortable (for them), right-leaning United States. You will not stop hearing from them.

* The presidential election settled one thing: Who is president for the next four years. All the rest of it is up in the air. And a lot of it will be up to you, and us.

***

How do I feel about Obama’s re-election? As I said last night: Relieved. Pleased. And ready to move forward.

Congratulations to our president.

Congratulations to the United States.

Let’s get to work.

Scalzi Animal Update

Folks have been asking after the feral cat and the bunny, on account I have not discussed them here recently, so for those interested, an update.

1. First, bad news on the bunny front: The bunny escaped from her outside hutch, which we moved her to during the summer, roughly a month ago and has not been seen since. How she escaped is a matter of some debate, although the likely answer is that Athena had a party for some of her friends and one of them accidentally jostled one of the several latches on the bunny cage, opening one of the doors and allowing the rabbit to hop off (we don’t expect it was an intentional thing. None of Athena’s friends are like that). We searched for her for several days in the treeline, but she’s gone. We like to think that she hopped off, found a nice boy bunny, et cetera and so on. We had the bunny for almost exactly a year, and during that time she had a pretty sweet life, so at least there’s that.

2. On the feral cat front, we took the cat in and got it all fixed up, and the cat repaid us by saying “later” and heading out at the first convenient opportunity. Which is fine. He was emphatically not interested in us, he was interested in the food we provided, so when we went out of our way to do things to him he found annoying, his solution was to take off. This is part of that vaunted feline independence you hear so much about, I suppose.

3. Ironically, however, as one small black cat was kissing us off, another small black cat showed up. And unlike the feral cat, this little black cat was ridiculously gregarious, positively demanding the pettings, as well as the foods. Her complete comfort with humans suggests that she was, like two of the three cats we have at the house, probably someone else’s cat (or at least was born to someone else’s cat) and then dropped off out here in the boonies. But while she was adorable and sweet as hell, we already have three cats, which I consider the optimal maximum load for the Scalzi compound.

Fortunately, my mother-in-law had recently come into the market for a cat, both because she likes cats and because she was having a problem with mice in her house, so this little black kitten (and this one is a kitten; the vet says she is less than a year old) found a nice new home with her and has been ridiculously spoiled since. And she’s killed several mice in the house, so everyone’s happy. So everyone say hello to Queenie, my cat-in-law. She’s the one in the picture above.

All other animals (Daisy, Ghlaghghee, Lopsided Cat, Zeus) are perfectly happy and healthy.

This has been your Scalzi Animal Update; further news as events warrant.

Vote Cat Has an Important Message For You This Election Day

Yep, that about covers it. 

If you’re a United States citizen who can vote, you should vote. There’s still time as of this writing to read up on the candidates in your district at all levels of government, as well as any initiatives/propositions, and get yourself to the polls and have a say in things. So get to it.

Today’s question: Have you voted yet? Affirm in the comments! Make Vote Cat proud.

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

In creating their books, most science fiction and fantasy writers engage in a certain amount of worldbuilding, developing the environment in which their stories take place. How long does this take? Well, if you are Ryk E. Spoor, and the book in question is Phoenix Rising, the answer is: Longer than some adults have been alive on the planet. Spoor explains why he believes (and hopes you will believe) the incubation period has been worth the wait.

RYK E. SPOOR:

Like many of my works, Phoenix Rising attempts to be classic example of its core genre – in this case, epic fantasy – yet with some interesting twists and turns. So we have the highborn young woman, family slain, on a quest for justice and vengeance; the exiled prince; and the somewhat roguish troublemaker who helps the less subtle heroes get the job done.

But Kyri Vantage is not turning to the gods for help; she’s the last hope of her own god, who is as weakened and betrayed as she. Tobimar Silverun is not fleeing his people or a deposed ruler, but seeking something which only his family can pursue, and in exile to keep them safe; and Poplock Duckweed is an Intelligent Toad barely larger than a hand, yet a fully capable adventurer in his own right, whose diminuitive size leads others to fatally underestimate him.

Phoenix Rising is perhaps the most personally important book I have yet published. It is the first book I sold to my publisher entirely on my own, from start to finish. It is a story I have wanted told since I first began to write Kyri’s story in 1991. And perhaps most importantly, it is the novel which finally brings Zarathan, the World of Magic, to life for those outside my small circle of friends.

I have been working on Zarathan for thirty-five years, building it both as a world for writing and as one for adventurers to enter and play in, since I have been running roleplaying game campaigns since the same year I invented Zarathan. I could write a great deal about how RPGs in general became a tool for me and my writing, and how I avoid (I hope) making my stories read like some guy’s game writeup. But it is Zarathan itself which I think is the core, the heart of Phoenix Rising, and on Zarathan I will concentrate.

I built Zarathan from my own ideas, from those I encountered on TV, books, movies, stories of all sorts. Yet even when I used something from elsewhere, I wanted it to make sense within the world. When a player wanted to create a character different from any others I’d seen, I always wanted to let them go ahead… but it had to be integrated with my universe. Sometimes the creation was a partnership that went farther; the character Kyri had her origin in a game run by my friend Jeff Getzin, author of Prince of Bryanae… while Bryanae itself was created as background for Jeff’s character D’Arbignal, and I gave that background – that piece of my world – to him for his own use. Other players brought their ideas, their dreams, their hopes and fears, and these all left their mark, made me think about how the world could encompass everything that those visiting the world might hope for.

To do this, I had to understand the universe I was building, and make it bigger, make it more real, make it able to be solid and strong enough to encompass anything. I had to reconcile the way that magic worked with the logic of the way people would use it, find a way for it to work without becoming a runaway solution for all problems in the hands of someone who thought differently. I had to find ways to keep it reasonable that a hero could be a simple warrior just as much as he or she could be a magician or a priest. I had to, in fact, figure out why the world could be the way it was, and yet need so many heroes to save it.

And so – without my realizing it at first – Zarathan came to life. The huge empires of the Dragon King and the Archmage of the Mountain, seeming so mighty and all-encompassing… yet actually merely networks of roads and towns surrounded by ever-wild forests and plains and mountains. Dozens, hundreds of different species of sapient creatures, each with their own agenda, powers, interests. The great cycles of the Chaoswars, and my eventual understanding of exactly what caused them – how they had started, how they could manage to even affect the gods themselves with befogged memories and lost knowledge, and what was truly behind their devastating cycle of repetition. The tie between Zarathan and Earth and the fall of Atlantaea, the sealing of the magical conduit that joined them, and how this was connected to the War of the Hell-Dragon and the revolt of the Saurans. All of these things emerged, sometimes as though I had known them all along, as I worked to make sense of a world that could contain so many things.

Zarathan lives so clearly in my mind that I can usually answer detailed questions about it without really thinking. I know the answers are right, just because they somehow fit. And the World of Magic that I see is a world where there are a double dozen countries, hundreds of gods, a million interwoven plots, and a need for untold numbers of Heroes.

Phoenix Rising follows one set of heroes – Kyri, Tobimar, and Poplock – on a mission of deadly importance to the world. But they are not the only such heroes, nor is theirs the only – or even, perhaps, the most important – such mission. Xavier Ross, who shows up at a few points in the book, is part of another group, following other clues to a different but no less vital destination. There are yet other groups of Heroes on other important quests.

I felt this was a vitally important part of Phoenix Rising – to have our heroes at once be on an epic quest, one whose ultimate end will be as desperately important to the safety and survival of the countries they know and love as anything could be, and at the same time to recognize that in a world so huge, with powers so vast, no one group of heroes will be enough; there will be need for heroes aplenty.

There are many books, and RPG adventures, where it seems that only one set of heroes are available, or needed, where the map is just the right size for the heroes to visit all the vital locations. But I built Zarathan to handle smart roleplayers – and those people always go somewhere you didn’t expect them to. They figure out ways to evade your cunning traps, to use magical devices in a manner completely contrary to what you’d intended, and in short make a complete hash of anything that seemed simple and foolproof.

So I built Zarathan bigger. In Phoenix Rising, the main characters will touch only a fraction of the points on the map; in fact, they will touch only a small fraction of those locations even after the entire Balanced Sword trilogy is complete. Even if I get to do the other two concurrent trilogies – The Spirit Warriors (which features Xavier Ross and his friends) and Godswar – all three sets of heroes will still not have come close to hitting all the spots on the map.

Zarathan is also – quite intentionally – a world in which everything works, and where almost anything is possible. So our adventurers are a preternaturally strong God-Warrior (Kyri) with divine-source powers, a swordsman trained in a mysterious martial-art discipline that seems to offer mystical powers (Tobimar), and a little Toad who studies some practical magic, tinkers with clockwork, and knows a lot about dramatic entrances. Along the way, they meet a native of Earth (from, in fact, Morgantown, the setting of my first novel Digital Knight) who appears to have super-ninja style powers and amuses himself with a portable gaming system, another Toad who conducts what amounts to a magical CSI investigation, a meddling magician who seems to be manipulating even the gods, and traces of demons, psionics, and more.

I tried, as much as I could, to give some form of closure to Phoenix Rising; this was necessary because I do not know, yet, whether I will be able to do the two remaining novels in the trilogy (although, if Baen chooses not to continue the trilogy, I intend to write them eventually and sell them independently somehow). But I will admit that I could only do so much. Not only is it clear that their own particular adventures are merely paused, not finished, but the other events they have touched upon – and affected – are themselves dangling threads.

Those threads, however, connect. They are VITAL. Xavier’s presence changes the course of events twice, and it would seem likely that without him, our main characters would have been killed or worse rather than reaching their goals. At the same time, what they have done affects Xavier strongly, and will influence what happens to him and his friends. The connections continue later, also; these plot threads, and some for Godswar which are subtly present in Phoenix Rising, return at various points in the trilogy.

Just as the chaos spreading across Zarathan is all connected – all part of Kerlamion’s ultimate plan – so, too, are these groups of heroes connected, parts of the mysterious wizard Khoros’ manipulations, playing a game of lethal chess across thousands of miles and hundreds of centuries. Yet… even these are only a small part of Zarathan.

This is a world where a dragon stretches its wings and spans the horizon, while elsewhere a dashing swordsman challenges three others for the sake of honor and the joy of the fight; where three rivers – two of chill water, one of orange-flickering lava – plunge as one into a pool of water with an eternal crackling thunder, below a city built across the lava flow between the green and blue waters; where Idinus of Scimitar, God-Emperor of the Mountain, casts his gaze across ten thousand miles or five hundred millennia, seeing all yet unsure whether he has lost himself; where other worlds await the traveller, gateways hidden within lost ruins or beyond a shimmering in the air or around the next bend of the road; and where four friends rise from a battle they thought had ended them, and realize they are now more than mere mortal, raised by the faith they inspired in those they met.

This is Zarathan. It is the world I have dreamed of – and dreamed in – for thirty-five years.

Come. Bring your own dreams with you. There’s room for them all.

—-

Phoenix Rising: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Redshirts Nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award

Excellent. Here’s the announcement page. I won this award a couple of years back with The Last Colony, so it’s nice to be nominated again. Other nominees in the Science Fiction category are Mira Grant (Blackout), Iain Banks (The Hydrogen Sonata), Charles Yu (Stories) and Justin Cronin (The Twelve). This is fine company to keep. Congrats to all.

There’s a Fantasy category as well, which feature nominations for Mary Robinette Kowal, N.K. Jemisin, Michelle Sagara, Tina Connelly and Lisa Sherin. And look! Elizabeth Bear nominated in the Epic Fantasy category! Congratulations to them as well!

Announcing the Scalzi Super Bundle from Subterranean Press — This November Only

Hey, you like buying in bulk, right? Then here’s a deal for you: Subterranean Press has put together a bundle of all their Scalzi titles (all of the titles you see above, plus my extraordinarily topical short story “An Election”) and made them available to you in electronic form for a single low price: $7.99 (in the US; price may vary elsewhere). Which is more than 50% off what you would pay for them individually. And yes, they are all of them DRM-free. But you only get this bundle this month, so if you want it, get it soon.

(If you have some of these already but remember that you want others, the titles here are also still available individually, with prices starting at 99 cents).

Here’s where to get the bundle: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon UK.

Now, go! Buy! Make your ancestors proud.

Update, 3:06pm: This note from Tobias Buckell, who in addition to being an excellent writer also created the files for these works:

Judge Sn has been added to the bundle, FYI. It can vary how long it will take for the new file to show up (instantly to 48 hrs), but anyone who purchased prior to the new upload should be able to go into their account and redownload the file and get the updated version.

-Tobias Buckell

What If Romney Wins?

As I’ve made my presidential endorsement and my prediction as to how next Tuesday’s election will go, it’s clear to see that I both want and expect Barack Obama to win a second term as president. But what if I’m wrong, and what if I don’t get my way? What if I wake up on Wednesday morning in a world where Mitt Romney is the President-Elect of the United States of America? How will I feel about it and how will it affect me personally?

Well, I won’t feel great about it, of course. No one really likes it when their presidential candidate of choice doesn’t win the election. Up to this point I’ve had that happen 50% of the time I’ve voted for a president. I don’t really remember liking it any of those times. The time I felt the most sanguine about it, actually, was in 2000, when I thought George W. Bush might actually be the sort of moderate fellow he’d advertised himself as during the campaign. Look where that got me. But in each case, the “feeling somewhat depressed about my presidential candidate getting the thumbs down” phase lasted about a week. I figure there’s no point in marinating in it after that. There’s too much to do.

As for how it will affect me personally: Guys, I’m a white, heterosexually-paired, well-off dude. I’m on the right side of the divide, for various definitions of “right,” many deeply ironic. The GOP is going to go out of its way to make sure nothing bad ever happens to me. If Romney gets his way, I’ll be getting a tax cut, so my already historically-low federal tax burden will get even lighter. Being well-off I don’t use a whole lot of obvious federal government services, so on a day-to-day basis I wouldn’t notice any immediate change. Likewise I am well-positioned to take short-term advantage of any relaxed financial regulations the new president is likely to attempt to enact. Basically, in the short term at least, there’s not much downside to a Romney presidency for me.

Also, I’m not going to lie to you: if Romney becomes president, I’m going to take advantage of every single break he would give me, because the long-term effects of his intended social and economic plans are, in my opinion, largely ruinous. I would be stupid not to insulate myself and my family as much as possible against the day when that bill comes due. Sure, I’ll give to charity and all that; I do already. I don’t pretend that giving to charity has the same systematic benefit as paying taxes.

(Now, this is the part where the fatuous would say “you could always pay more to the government if you want!” Sorry, no. Say there’s a dam that’s been built, for which I am willing to pay my share of its upkeep but not enough others are. When that dam is cracking all across its surface, I’m not going to listen to the idiot who didn’t pay for upkeep screaming “stick your finger in that one tiny hole!” while he’s running for higher ground as fast as he can. I’m going to already be on that higher ground, watching him try to outrun the deluge.)

Bear in mind that Romney getting to enact the more dam-cracking aspects of his proposed agenda is contingent on the GOP winning back the Senate, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s already told Romney he can forget trying to get most of his proposed agenda past the upper house. On one hand, the polls tell us that the GOP taking the Senate is unlikely. On the other hand, the polls also tell us that Romney winning is unlikely as well. If I’m willing to assume the polls on Romney are wrong, I should also be able to believe that they’re possibly wrong on the Senate front as well. So if Romney wins, I suspect a better than even chance on the Senate going GOP. In which case Romney should have no problem passing the more reactionary aspects of his agenda and/or the GOP should have no problem getting the President to sign his name on their most reactionary bills. In which case, again: Lucky for me I’m a white, well-off, heterosexually-paired-off dude.

If Romney wins but the Senate stays in Democratic hands then what we’ll have is a right-leaning version of the status quo, in which Romney uses his executive power to neutralize as much as possible the things he can’t get Congress to change, and starts working on the 2014 mid-term elections. From my personal political point of view, this is about as optimal as it’s going to get under a Romney presidency, although it might mean I forego a tax cut or two. Or maybe not, as the congressional Democrats seem to be spineless about tax cuts for the well-off.

So, again: Personally speaking, as political matters go, I’ll be just fine under Romney, just as I’m likely to be fine under any GOP presidency. The GOP sees me at its kind of people — or at the very least, I get swept along as collateral under its definition of what “its kind of people” is. After the sting of not having my guy win, I’ll be chugging along nicely. So don’t you worry about me.

But if you’re not like me — white, well-off, male and heterosexually-paired — you might worry about yourself.

My 2012 Election Prediction: Obama 294, Romney 244

It’s the weekend before the 2012 Presidential election and, as the kids in the business say, this cake is pretty much baked. All that needs to happen now is for it to be sliced up and served. That being the case, I’m going to go ahead and put my marker down: I think that President Obama is going to get re-elected, and I think this is the map that’s going to keep him in the White House.

Note I have a couple of states here that I think are more uncertain than others. For Obama, I think my three shakiest states for him are Virginia, New Hampshire and Iowa. However, he could lose all three of them and still have 271 electoral votes, which is still a win. For Romney, the shakiest states I see are Florida and Colorado. He doesn’t want to lose either, but if he loses Florida, where the polling is very close at the moment, then Romney is in for a very bad night indeed. My understanding of the electoral math is that if Romney loses Florida, he’s going to have to win every other swing state. And right now, the polling of the swing states looks pretty grim for him.

In my own estimation, the most likely Romney win scenario would be Romney 285, Obama 253, in which Romney, in addition to the states he wins in the map above, wins Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire and Iowa. I think if Romney does win Ohio, these three states are likely to come along as part of the pot. He could shed either Virginia or Iowa and New Hampshire in that scenario and still win. However, as noted, if we wins all those states but not Ohio, he’s toast. So for better or worse, I think the election really will come down to Ohio.

That said, while I think the Romney 285 is the most likely Romney victory map, I don’t think a Romney victory is likely in a general sense. As noted, the latest round of state polling doesn’t seem to be going Romney’s way, and while polls can certainly be wrong or show a statistical bias, at this point, pretty much all the polls would have to be statistically biased in the same direction. That’s possible, but also unlikely. Alternately, the polls could simply not be seeing a vast groundswell of Romney voters hitting the polls in the swing states. This is why we have the actual elections, rather than simply declaring the winners from the last set of polls.

One scenario folks talk about for this year is Obama winning the electoral vote while Romney wins the popular vote. I don’t personally see that as likely, but I think it’s more likely than the other way around, or Romney winning both. The most likely way this happens is lopsided voting in highly populated red states plus more Romney voters than expected in deeply blue states like California and New York. What will it mean if Romney wins the popular but loses the electoral? Ask former president Gore this question. For my part I will admit it would be initially amusing to watch the same people who defended Bush’s 2000 win completely lose their minds about Obama’s 2012 win in this sort of scenario, but that would grow old very quickly. However, my own expectation is that Obama will end up with a narrow popular win to go with his electoral win.

As a huge believer in participatory democracy, I don’t think the current round of polling should either give Obama supporters a false sense of complacency, or give Romney supporters a false sense of fatalism. Obama could lose if his supporters decide their vote is not needed this time around; Romney could definitely win if there’s a rush of his supporters to the polls. The best way to show your support for either of these candidates — or any other candidate for President whom you support and who is on your state’s ballot — is to actually show up and vote.

(Want to make your own electoral map? I made mine via RealClearPolitics’ “Create Your Own Map” page. Have fun.)

Just For the Record

1. I voted. Figured it was worth doing early, just in case, you know, I fell down the stairs on Tuesday and couldn’t get to my local polling location.

2. For those who are wondering, no, I did not vote a straight Democratic ticket. I voted for several Republicans, mostly for local offices. I also voted in the non-partisan elections, because I read up on those, like you’re supposed to do, and also for the Ohio ballot initiatives, again, because I read up on them.

3. The one office I didn’t vote for was US Representative. John Boehner is running unopposed, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have this one in the bag. He can live without my vote.

4. Once again, If you are a US citizen, I encourage you to vote next Tuesday (if not earlier, as I did). It’s important.

The Big Idea: John Picacio

I’ve been a huge fan of artist John Picacio’s work for years now, and it was my immense pleasure to be on stage this year to hand him his Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Now I’m happy to give him a some space to talk about his latest project: A 2013 calendar filled with some of his most iconic work in the science fiction and fantasy field, which he is doing as a Kickstarter project. An unusual topic for a Big Idea here, but then, big ideas don’t always come in standard forms. Here’s John to explain about the calendar, and what it represents beyond its own timely existence.

JOHN PICACIO:

Can calendars contain Big Ideas? I believe they can, and I think this one does. For some of you, it may even possibly contain at least a dozen. We’ll get to the art goodies soon enough.

But first — there’s one particular Big Idea that I want to share with you, and it surrounds the frame of all of these pictures. It’s one that affects you, me, and the worlds we live in — especially if your world heard recent news of a Random House/Penguin merger, or a Disney/Lucasfilm alliance.

This Big Idea is that all of us are facing a crossroads in cultural choice right now, whether we realize it or not. On a personal level — this calendar is a response to my own creative crossroads. We all experience these in our lives, with some generated by failure; some by success; and some just because life doesn’t favor straight lines.

As some of you may know, two months ago, I won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. It was a moment of success created by an accumulation of work along a path that led through my art for the 2012 George R. R. Martin / A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar.

The safest call after experiencing success like that is to continue marching in lockstep along the way that gained that acclaim – which in this case, would be creating artwork that sells books for major publishing companies, such as Random House, HarperCollins, Tor, Simon & Schuster, Pyr, Baen, and many more. For more than a decade, this work has been what has almost exclusively sustained me, fed my family, and paid the bills. It’s a good, hard-working life. It’s a full-time career in our increasingly uncertain world, and I eat, sleep, and breathe it.

Maintaining that same life is the safest call, it would seem, but it’s not the right call, in my opinion; playing it safe is not what artists do, if they’re doing their job. We’re supposed to explore the frontiers, find the paths, mark the trails, and yeah, I’m gonna say it – boldly go. It’s what we do when we’re at our best.

However, as far back as 2009, I could see sweeping changes coming — and wow, they sure did. At that point, we were headed down the path we now take for granted every day – a co-existence of printed and digital publishing, full of untapped possibility and wonder, that if shaped properly, could transform the way we experience stories, art, relationships and life. Back then, I was concerned that we, as consumers, were becoming too addicted to convenience at the expense of content. I suspected we would be too easily seduced by the mob rule of demanding other people’s work for free, rather than remembering that lasting value always bears a cost in the making. I was concerned that companies would consolidate and cannibalize each other, becoming lesser, rather than greater. I was concerned that budgets for copyediting, professional art, professional design, proper proofing, and general attention to the midlist, would contract, and in some cases, disappear entirely.

We’re a little more than eight weeks from 2013, and I think much of that paragraph now looks sadly familiar and all too real. I often wonder if we’ve fallen in love with our advances so deeply that we’ve forgotten the power they have to unlock better choices, rather than create cozier cages.

So here we are – all of us – at the crossroads. I believe that the future of success in publishing lies in those that embrace the “both/and”, rather than settle for the “either/or”. That’s what I’m doing here — this calendar is my first effort toward building my own “both/and”.

I don’t believe the future of fulltime creatives’ success in publishing is a choice between traditional publishing gateways and independent publishing. I think the most favorable choice for many is to work in both, and use them effectively and often simultaneously.

Lone Boy is my brand new company. It’s a publishing imprint for sharing my artwork and visions with a growing audience. I fully intend to continue working with my wonderful clients in the traditional publishing world, while I build my own company, but the days of me working exclusively via that traditional publishing world are behind me. Sadly, I wonder if they’re over for good for almost all artists who wish to pursue a meaningful, fulfilling full-time freelance career, exclusively within traditional publishing gateways. Time will tell.

This calendar is my first independent creative venture via Lone Boy. It collects twelve of my favorite book cover works (well, actually – eleven, plus one Chesley Award-winning magazine cover) from my science fiction, fantasy, and horror career thus far. It contains artworks I’ve created for books by Michael Moorcock, Dan Simmons, Mark Chadbourn, Brenda Cooper, Jeffrey Ford, Frederik Pohl, and many more. You’ll find it available exclusively via Kickstarter. It won’t be distributed via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, or any other venue. I invite you to visit the Kickstarter page, see for yourself, and grab yours. Feel free to ask me any question you might have about it. Here are all twelve artworks featured in the calendar.

Here’s one that I asked myself — is a calendar that’s essentially a ‘greatest hits’ collection truly finding a new path, or exploring a new frontier? I think it could be argued that it’s not, if the item were considered on its own. However, as Lone Boy and 2013 unfold, I think you’ll find that this calendar is the springboard toward a path where I get to do just that. Here’s a hint of where I’m headed, and I can’t wait to do this.

For now, a big thanks to all who have already jumped aboard my calendar’s Kickstarter bandwagon. There’s room for plenty more.

In the big picture – we’re living in amazing times. We’re each shaping the future of how science fiction, fantasy, horror, and pop culture will be consumed. I think the future of successful creatives lies in the ‘both/and’, and I think all of us as consumers will reap the benefits the more that we see this more pro artists, authors, and creatives. We see a number of authors forging successful existences in both the traditional and independent publishing worlds, and I think the most prosperous artists are each finding their own models for doing the same.

Good luck to you in the face of your own crossroads. Let’s make a world where we don’t lose quality for convenience, and a world where we expect more art, culture, possibility and diversity than the one we had yesterday.