Monthly Archives: January 2013

Another Act of Whimsy: Choose Cory Doctorow’s Face!

As you know, a bunch of us science fiction and fantasy authors have gotten together to raise funds for Jay Lake and participate in Acts of Whimsy. When the fundraiser passed $35,000 a particular act of whimsy was unlocked from writer, Boing Boinger and Internet raconteur Cory Doctorow. That act:

Cory will release a  a CC-BY scan of his head while recreating any funny expression that John “Rubberface” Scalzi can photograph himself making, and post a 3D scan doing so.

Well. I can make many funny expressions.

However, why should I have all the fun? I shouldn’t! And therefore I have created a poll in which you — yes, you! — will choose the expression that Cory Doctorow’s 3D scan will wear.

Here are the expressions for your choosing:

Classics, all.

Now: Choose! But choose wisely.

The poll runs until, oh, let’s say noon (Eastern) on Wednesday, January 16. At that time, the form shall be chosen! The Doctorow will express it! It shall be scanned! And the End Times shall be nigh.

Or, you know. There’ll be a funny scan of Cory Doctorow’s head. Same diff.

What My First Time Was Like

Tomorrow the first episode of The Human Division is officially released into the world, which counts as the book release to me. It will also be either my seventeenth or twentieth published book, depending on whether one counts The Sagan Diary, The God Engines and Metatropolis to go along with the nine novels and eight non-fiction books (I do personally, as TSD and TGE were individual hardcovers and I edited Metatropolis as well as being a contributor). But no matter how you slice it, holy cow, that’s a lot of books, and I get excited every time a new one goes out into the world. It never gets old, or at least it never gets old to me.

For fun, I thought I would dig through the archive and fish out the Whatever entry I wrote when my very first book, The Rough Guide to Money Online, came out (yes, folks, my very first book was a book on online finance. Now you know why I’m always yelling at writers about taking care of their money; it’s not just an affectation). Here’s how I felt about it at the time, more than a dozen years ago now.

November 6, 2000

The book is out in stores today. Actually, the book was out in stores yesterday, too; I called up the local Barnes & Noble to check, and sure enough, they had it on the shelves. “Heck, we got a bunch of ‘em,” the ever-helpful sales clerk said. We took a little family trip over there, just to see what it looked like to have one’s book on a book rack.

The answer: Well, just look at the picture. There it is, wedged between all the Dummies and Idiots books. In a nice touch, the book is “face out,” which means it’ll draw the eye of the reader more than other books on the shelf. No, I didn’t reach in and do it that way myself — it was like that when I got there (however, should you go to a book store and and see it “spine out,” feel free to shove other books out of the way and face it forward. You’ll feel my love from afar). As I was readying the picture, Athena grabbed a couple of copies and grinned up at her mom. Look, mama, she seems to be saying. If he sells enough of these, maybe I’ll get to go to college! Well, and maybe you will, Athena. Maybe you will.

I realize it’s just a little bit dorky to go to a book store just to stare at your book sitting there on the shelf, but quite obviously, I don’t really care. This only happens once: The only time I’ll ever see my book sitting in a book store for the very first time. It’s not at all unlike being present at the birth of your first child. Other children and other books will be special, too, but first is first.

Which is not to say I reacted to seeing my book on the shelf the same way I reacted to Athena being born — I didn’t sit there in a bawling daze, amazed at the small package I held in my hand. After all, I’ve had my copies of the book for about a month now. I’m used to it. I just looked at it, took a couple of pictures to memorialize the occasion, and then headed over to the kids books section, where Krissy was picking out new bedtime story material for Athena. Hopefully all those copies of the book will find nice new homes soon.

Won’t you adopt one? Heck, get two. They’re small.

I’ll note that Money Online (pictured here with Ghlaghghee, who looks understandably weary at yet another pig-related object pressed up against her) did rather poorly; Rough Guides had high hopes for it, based on the million-plus sales of their Internet book, but it ended up selling less than ten thousand copies overall. Being  released as the first Internet bubble was collapsing and everyone with money was running away from the Web probably didn’t help. Fortunately the Rough Guides people didn’t hold it against me and signed me for two other books. Flop or not, it got my foot in the door and for that reason — and because it was my first book, after all — I still have very fond memories of it.

Now we’re sixteen (or nineteen) books on, and a book release is still a big thing for me. I like that it is. I like my job.

If I Can Make It There, Etc

I’ve had the occasional report of a big damn Audible.com ad with Redshirts on it at or near Times Square for a while now, but finally someone has sent a picture of it to me (thank you, Ken!) and here it is, at the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue.

Sweeeeeeeeet.

I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll become jaded at the sight of big damn billboard with one of my books on it, but when that day comes, I hope you all line up to smack me across the head. Because I’m not gonna lie: this stuff is great.

I Am NOT Running For SFWA President (Again) (Again) (Again)

I already posted a note in SFWA’s online discussion forums on this subject, but in the spirit of “belts and suspenders” am posting here, too.

Most of you who read here know that I currently serve as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and that I am currently in the middle of my third term in that role. I have been delighted and honored to serve my fellow science fiction and fantasy writers for these past three years; I think the boards I have been part of have done a lot of excellent work for SFWA. We’ve had a hell of a lot of fun as well, all without undue drama or ego. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I have loved doing it, and have appreciated the trust put in me by my peers and fellow authors.

For all that, three consecutive terms as president of SFWA is a lot — so much of “a lot” that no one else has done such a crazy thing — and I also believe that SFWA as an organization is not well-served by its leadership role remaining static for too long. It’s time to let someone else take the wheel. To that end, this is me announcing that my current term, which ends on June 30, will be my last. SFWA will have a president on July 1, but it will not be me.

The good news is that SFWA has a number of members who could ably serve as its president; hopefully one (or more) of them will now step forward to take on the role. I know one of the constant concerns SFWA members have about serving on the board is how much time it will take from their careers. As I’ve noted elsewhere, there’s no doubt it’s work. But if you have other excellent board members, as I have been fortunate to have these past few years, you can do the work SFWA requires and still have time for your writing. I’ve written and will have published three novels during my tenure (the first episode of the third makes its official debut tomorrow), so it is possible to serve writers and be a writer at the same time.

If you’re a SFWA member and are considering a spell on the board, head over to SFWA’s online forums, and to the SFWA Elections 2013 area, where the formal Call for Candidates resides, as well as threads for each open position. There’s still time to decide to run, as the deadline for declaring and presenting your platform, is February 16.

I’ve enjoyed being president of SFWA, and will continue to enjoy it, for another five and a half months. I’m looking forward to seeing who will be president next.

Sometimes I Don’t Write About Things

I’ve gotten enough emails and Twitter queries asking me if I’m going to write about the suicide of Internet notable Aaron Swartz (and at least one sort of angry email wondering way I haven’t written about it) that I feel it’s worth saying why I haven’t: Because until Friday, when the first reports of the suicide began to surface online, I had no idea who Mr. Swartz was, nor (as a consequence) any knowledge of the controversies with him and the US government over JSTOR.  I am basically ignorant of the entire situation and the major players.

So: I don’t have anything really useful or relevant to say here. In a general sense, if I don’t feel like I have anything useful or relevant to say on a subject, I try not to say anything. In this particular case, there’s a suicide of a young man to consider, and a political aspect to it all that seems very complicated, and so I feel there’s a great opportunity to make an ass out of myself by saying something that does little more than reveal everything I don’t know. I would prefer not to do that. My participation in the story is confined to retweeting thoughts from friends who better knew Aaron Swartz and the situation, so those interested who follow me on that service can do as I was doing, and find out more.

The two things I can say here are thus: One, this reminds me to remind people who suffer from depression, as Aaron Swartz apparently did, to seek help for their condition. My friend Wil Wheaton talks about suicide and depression here and I recommend you see what he has to say about it. Two, I am heartily sorry for friends like Cory Doctorow and Quinn Norton that they and many others have lost someone they loved and cared about.

That’s what I have to say on Aaron Swartz at this point.

To the fellow who chastised me for not writing about this subject — and to the others who from time to time demand I write on some subject that’s important to them without regard to my own interest or knowledge — look, guys: I’m not your tool or bullhorn, and there’s a difference between asking me if I have thoughts on a subject and demanding I have thoughts on it (and incidentally,implicitly or explicitly, that those thoughts should mirror yours). There are some subjects I know next to nothing about, like this one. There are others where I know something but choose not to say anything publicly, for whatever personal reason I choose. Those things I don’t write about.

Either way, the choice to write about (or not write about) a subject is mine, not yours. If you get confused about this and bother me with your misapprehension, I may be rude to you about it if I feel you deserve rudeness. I believe this constitutes fair warning.

Jay Lake v. PayPal

Last night, just before close of business, PayPal locked up Jay Lake’s account because of suspicious activity, namely, about $50k rolling into his account in the space of about two days because of two separate fundraisers (one of which you probably know about from here). Fair enough; the company has an interest in making sure its services are not being used for nefarious ends. But then it looked like they would have no one available to deal with the issue on their end until Monday at the earliest, and that rather emphatically was not fair enough — you don’t freeze up someone’s account and then go “whoops, sorry, no one here to deal with the problem we just made for you.”

The good news is that Jay has friends, and they have Twitter, blogs and Facebooks accounts, and combined they made enough noise online to get PayPal’s attention and have it resolved in a couple of hours. Jay has all the details and some personal thoughts on the experience, which I really recommend people read as a useful piece on what can happen when a community and a corporation get into a tangle online. Here’s also a TechCrunch piece on it, with quotes from PayPal folks.

My thoughts on the matter run similarly to Jay’s: It’s great that once Jay’s friends shook the tree online, PayPal put his account in focus and resolved the problem quickly. It’s a fine case study in how a company can turn a potential bad PR event — and it could have been very bad indeed, since most of the people complaining were writers, with native audiences and the ability to call down the attention of media — into an example of how quick, smart response can make the company look good.

But it’s also the case that Jay was in the position of calling on several dozen friends with large online footprints to be upset on his behalf — at least one of whom was able to ping someone at the executive level in the company. That’s great for him, but left unasked is the question of what would happen to someone who was not Jay. To quote the man himself:

Yet I cannot help wondering how this would have gone without my own social media footprint and widespread network of friends and fans. Would I be looking at weeks of paperwork and a continually frozen account, as my friend has experienced? Fame, even as modest as my own ration, is itself a significant form of privilege. That privilege was exercised in spades late yesterday afternoon.

PayPal’s famously dropped the ball on the fraud detection front several times in its history, and still has requirements that make it difficult to unlock frozen funds. PayPal has a right (and responsibility) to keep its service from being used for scams and other such things. But it’s in its interest to make it easier for every legitimate user — not just the ones with lots of noisy friends — to deal with the service’s systems. That includes having people to talk to and address a frozen account on a Friday evening as a matter of course, not as an exception.

I don’t have any particular ax to grind with PayPal: I’ve been using the service for more than a decade and I’ve not had a problem with them that I can recall, and I think they provide a good service for a fair cut. But as a person who does use the service and appreciates the convenience of it, I really am puzzled why at this point they still seem to find themselves stepping onto the same landmine over and over when it comes to freezing accounts. I hope they get it figured out. I really do appreciate the speed with which the company dealt with Jay’s issue. It would have been better if it could have been addressed with the same speed, without all of us raising our voices to complain on his behalf. Some people who use the service won’t have that. They’ll still need their money, however.

Your Friday Reading: Subterranean Magazine

Interrupting my busy work day to let you know that if you are so inclined, Subterranean Press has made the Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 editions of its magazine available to you — for free! — in both mobi and ePub format, and without DRM (because boo! DRM!). In the magazines you’ll find fabulous fiction by Nnedi Okorafor, Walter Jon Williams and others. And if you like it, good news, because the magazine’s future editions will also be made free available, or so I am told.

Now that you’re sufficiently excited to have something to read for the weekend, here’s the link with all the details and downloads. Happy reading!

Various and Sundry, 1/11/13

A few things, mostly relating to me. 

* First, a look at 2013′s first appearance of the Scalzi River:

This is the stream that shows up in my yard when we get huge amounts of rain, or in this case, lots of rain plus snow melt (it’ll be about 60 degrees here today). We installed new piping and drains in our yard so we don’t see the Scalzi River nearly as much as we used to, but given how much snow was around recently, it’s not entirely surprising the underground drainage system we have in the yard is not handling it all. With luck this will be gone by the afternoon. If not: I go sailing.

* Our fundraiser for Jay Lake launched yesterday afternoon, and in less than twenty four hours it’s reached just about $30,000, or triple what we had hoped for. That’s amazing to me and I’m deeply appreciative to those of you who have chosen to help out my pal Jay. Thank you. For those of you who are wondering, any money raised that does not go to Jay’s genome sequencing will go to give Jay a leave of absence from his work — through all of his cancer travails and everything else around it, Jay’s been working as close to full time as he can under the circumstances. He could use a break.

The acts of whimsy that had been pledged have already started to come out. Here’s Mary Robinette Kowal reading classic literature with her sex phone voice, as a start; more are on the way. Mine — a performance of a “lost” “Bob Dylan” “song,” performed in a Dylanesque fashion, will surface on Monday. That gives you the entire weekend to prepare yourself. It may not be enough time.

* I was asked recently how my “deflabination” project was coming along. The answer: reasonably well, thank you. When I stepped off the scale on December first, I was 180 pounds; at this morning’s weigh-in I was 171.8. So I’ve dropped about eight pounds in six weeks, which is slightly ahead of my pound a week goal. This includes eight days of caloric impropriety between my daughter’s birthday on the 23rd and New Year’s Day, so overall I’m pretty pleased. My target weight range is between 160 and 165, so I have a bit further to go.

As with the last time I worked to lose weight, the secret here is no secret: I’m counting calories and doing a little bit of exercise. It’s boring and undramatic, but strangely enough it works. My only other tactic (again, same as last time) is to recognize it’s a long-term project so the occasional day over the calorie goal is not an occasion for self-flagellation. Yesterday I ate at Wendy’s and had a 700-calorie bomb in the form of a “Son of Baconator” hamburger, for example. And it was good, and I would do it again (although probably not this week). The point of the calorie counting is to moderate and track intake, not to live a life monastic privation.

And that’s where things are today. Most of my day today will be given over to finishing up some stuff on a deadline, so catch you all probably rather later in the pm. Find something to do with yourself. I hear origami’s fun.

A Fundraiser for Jay Lake — With Extra Added Whimsy

So, here’s the thing: My pal Jay Lake, who many of you know as a fantastic author and raconteur, has cancer, and things could be going better. One of the things that might be able to help with his treatment is for Jay to have his genome sequenced. How would this help? By examining his genome, his doctors might be able to find a more targeted, suitable set of therapies to attack his cancer and squash it. Yay doctors and genome sequencing!

The catch: Genome sequencing of the sort that Jay would need isn’t cheap; it costs thousands of dollars. So a group of Jay’s friends, of which I am a part, have decided to make a fundraiser out of it. For every thousand (or so) dollars we raise, one of us will so something whimsical.

Who are these friends? Besides me:  Tobias Buckell, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jim C. Hines, Scott Lynch & Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, the makers of the Jay Lake documentary, Patrick Rothfuss and Neil Gaiman (and behind the scenes for it all, Catherine Shaffer). Basically, a dream team of science fiction and fantasy.

What will we do? Well. You should go to the fundraising page to find out. I will say that my contribution will be… unexpected. Especially to Bob Dylan.

So: If you have a little bit of money to give, please consider giving it for Jay. I love the dude, as do all his friends, and we want him around to do his thing for years to come. And as a bonus, “his thing” includes lots of amazing science fiction and fantasy. Which is good for all of us who love to read and love the genre.

Consider giving, and thanks.

Update, 4:49pm: My bit of whimsy unlocked at $15k.  I’ll be recording it tonight or tomorrow.

BWA HA HA HA HAH HA HA.

And thank you.

Oscar Predictions Post, 2013

Every year when the Academy Award nominations are announced, I reach back into my store of knowledge as a former full time film critic (and current, continuing film enthusiast) and give my immediate thoughts on the nominations for the six major Oscar categories, and which, off the top of my head, I think are likely to walk off with the statuette at the actual ceremony. Ready? Off we go.

BEST PICTURE:

Argo
Amour
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

A few years ago the Academy instituted new rules that allowed more than five films a year to be nominated for Best Picture. I generally think it’s a nice gesture that allows the Academy to make a nod toward inclusiveness and is handy discussion fodder for the several weeks until the ceremony. As a practical matter, however, films that are nominated for best picture whose directors are not also nominated in their category have, until this year, been bystanders to the actual Best Picture race. Since the rule change expanding the field the director and best picture Oscars have gone in lock step, and it’s been more than two decades since a film won Best Picture without having the director at least nominated (Driving Miss Daisy).

While it still seems probable that this director/best picture association will continue, this is the first year in a long time where it’s at least possible that a film with an unnominated director might sneak off with Best Picture. That’s because the films with unnominated directors this year — Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty — have generally been doing well both critically and commercially, with Zero Dark Thirty in particular doing very well in the critic awards running up to Oscar, and the other three films each topping $100 million in domestic box office.

On the flip side, with the exception of Lincoln, the films with nominated directors (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook) have are cruising under the $100 million mark (although at $91 million, it’s now likely that Pi will cross that milestone), and all of them are quirky in their way, which is not necessarily to their overall advantage. Box office has not been a reliable indicator of Oscar wins in recent years, but this year the distribution of critical plaudits across all nominees is pretty even, which to my eye at least means it could be a more significant factor than it might be in other years.

As a general comment, in terms of quality and variety of films, this is probably one of the best Oscar slates in decades; it’s not 1939, but it’s as good as it gets otherwise. It’s the first year since the expansion of the Best Picture field where I don’t feel comfortable just tossing half the nominees over the side simply because the director isn’t nominated.

But we do have to start tossing films over the side, so let’s start with Argo, which I think had its moment and unfortunately that moment was a few months ago. The film has been great for Ben Affleck, who one may now call an A-list director without any ironic reference to the tragic crappiness of his film choices as an actor; Affleck got a DGA nomination, which is fantastic recognition for him. And he’s nominated as a producer here. So in a sense, Argo’s work is already done.

Next out of the boat: Amour, which will likely settle, if you want to call it that, for Best Foreign Language film, in which it is also nominated. The fact it’s nominated there means Academy members don’t have to feel bad about not voting for it here; Michael Haneke will get to clutch an Oscar no matter what. Next: Zero Dark Thirty, in part because its creative team of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal are very recent Oscar winners, so the need to reward their output again is less urgent, especially in a year with so many other viable options (disclosure: Chris Boal, who is currently working on the Old Man’s War script, is brother to Mark Boal, screenwriter of ZDT, so as a matter of team spirit I’d be pleased if Mark Boal and/or ZDT got something this year).

Next: Django Unchained, because again there’s too much other competition this year; Tarantino is like Orson Welles — he’s got his Oscar for writing, so his other, more mercurial talent for directing is likely to be passed over for more, er, reliable choices, shall we say. Next out, I rather suspect, is Beasts of the Southern Wild, but HOLY COW BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. I don’t know if anyone saw this one coming (much less its several other nominations). I think it’s spectacular that it’s been nominated, and it’s my official dark horse candidate if the Academy goes all Hurt Locker this year — but I don’t think the Academy will go Hurt Locker this year, otherwise, you know, Zero Dark Thirty. Next off the boat: Silver Linings Playbook, because to be blunt, small-focus difficult comedy about damaged people? Not the Oscar’s bread and butter at the moment. Les Miserables I think is more likely to be compensated in the acting categories than here.

Which takes us to the final two, Life of Pi and Lincoln, and I think at this point it could fall either way. Eventually I give the edge to Lincoln because, you know what? It’s goddamn Abe Lincoln. Also, it’s a widely praised film with a widely praised (and nominated) central performance, it’s done well at the box office, and it’s a historical film about historical people doing historical things, plus Spielberg. These sorts of films do well even when they’re the safe, mediocre choice (see: Gandhi, Out of Africa, The Last Emperor). Lincoln is a safe choice, but not mediocre. Things could still fall to Pi if Academy voters decide to reward the (relative) risk of pulling off a nearly unfilmable book. But it’s hard to vote against Abe.

Will win: Lincoln
Should win: Open field, but I would love for Beasts to sneak up on everyone.

BEST DIRECTOR

Michael Haneke (“Amour”)
Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”)
David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”)
Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

Zeitlin out because it’s his first nomination and there are other people here in line before him (see Haneke and Russell), but if this kid’s arms are not bruised his morning from him pinching himself to see if it’s all real, he’s doing something wrong. Russell is more likely (but by no means a lock) to win a screenwriting Oscar, for which he is also nominated. Haneke I already suspect will be serviced by the Best Foreign Film award. So we’re down to Lee and Spielberg. Lee probably deserves it more because Pi was as unconventional a studio film as you’re going to get this year and he made it work, but if Lincoln, which is nominated for 12 awards, starts sweeping, it’s hard to suggest Spielberg of all people is not going get his.

Will win: Spielberg
Should win: Lee

BEST ACTOR

Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”)
Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”)
Denzel Washington (“Flight”)

Good for Bradley Cooper that he’s nominated; it’s nice for him to be able to let people know he’s not just a dude cranking out flicks like The A-Team. Denzel Washington is probably my favorite actor working today, but Flight doesn’t have that much juice going for it, other than reminding people that Robert Zemeckis can still direct live humans reasonably well. Joaquin Phoenix will get an Oscar someday but this year seems unlikely to me. It’s down to Day-Lewis and Jackman, and you know what? I have a good feeling about Jackman. Day-Lewis has won recently, Lincoln is going to be otherwise compensated, Jackman’s well liked, has paid his dues in a wide series of roles, didn’t screw up his Oscar hosting gig, and if Jackman can’t win for playing friggin’ Jean ValJean, then there’s probably something wrong with the world. Gonna be close, though.

Will win: Jackman
Should win: Jackman

BEST ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”)
Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”)
Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

It would rock if Quvenzhane Wallis won, and no matter what she’s the youngest person ever nominated for the Best Actress award, so keep being perfectly awesome, Quvenzhane Wallis. I do think she’s unlikely to win, however (if she does, Beast’s stock in both the Director and Best Picture category go waaaay up). Naomi Watts is here in the Meryl Streep slot (“Damn it I could only think of four people to nominate… oh, look, Naomi Watts, she’s good. I’ll nominate her”), and while it’s possible she’ll win as a career award thing I wouldn’t count on it. Riva is older (the oldest nominee ever in this category — records all around!) and legendary, but she’s legendary in France, and I don’t know if that’ll be enough for the win. We’re down to Chastain and Lawrence, both of whom are having excellent years, with Lawrence possibly having the edge because she smashed the box office to bits with The Hunger Games. You can flip a coin between the two of them. My coin flip landed with Lawrence’s side up.

Will win: Lawrence
Should win: I’m a sucker for Wallis

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams (“The Master”)
Sally Field (“Lincoln”)
Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”)
Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”)
Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

Jacki Weaver gets to keep working! Good for her. Hunt and Field have Oscars in the main Actress category so I don’t see the Academy folks thinking they need one in the supporting category, although it’s nice to see Hunt back in it. This is another coin toss, between Adams and Hathaway; I get the feeling people might feel Adams is due, but again, it’s hard to fight against doe-eyed Hathaway wasting away so tragically, singing all the while. It’s the sort of role that is hard core designed for this category, and I suspect it will win.

Will win: Hathaway
Should win: Adams

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin (“Argo”)
Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”),
Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”)
Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”)

Fun fact: everyone in this category already has an Oscar! De Niro has two! So, honestly, who knows what’s going to happen here. My guess? They’ll give it to De Niro, possibly as a bribe, as if to say “See? If you stop slumming with all those crappy films you’ve been in recently we’ll still love you. Hint, hint.” But honestly: No idea here. No idea at all.

Will win: De Niro
Should win: Meh

I’ll check in again near the ceremony with additional thoughts and any emendations to these predictions. Otherwise, tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Joe Man’s War

So, Vendetta, my Norwegian publisher, posted up a really cool-looking poster of its February science fiction releases, of which Old Man’s War (De Gamles Krig) will be one:

I’m not gonna lie, the cover art for all of them is pretty damn cool. But I couldn’t help noticing a curious fact about De Gamles Krig. Here, let me focus in on that cover for just a second:

Wait, Joe Haldeman wrote Old Man’s War? Has someone told Joe? Apparently I’ve been getting his royalty checks! And, uh, I’ve already spent them. Sorry, Joe.

There’s irony here, considering that since I wrote an intro to a recent edition of The Forever War, Amazon and other places online often have me listed as a co-writer of that novel. Turnabout is fair play.

To be clear: I think this error is awesome. I suspect that it’s confined to that poster, but if it’s not, and Vendetta has accidentally printed the book with Joe’s name on the cover, I want them to send me a few copies for my own private stash. And also so I can get Joe to sign a couple. In the meantime, this has kind of made my morning.

Update: It’s been fixed!

Answering Questions About The Human Division, (Probably) Part I

People seem to have a number of questions about The Human Division, so here are some answers to them. Because I do that. Some of this I’ve answered before, but it’s nice to have it in one place, close to release date.

Do I need to have read every book in the Old Man’s War series to read The Human Division?

I don’t think so. I made an effort to make sure each episode comes with enough context baked in that you should be able to enjoy that particular episode in itself, regardless of whether you’ve read anything else in the series. That’s part of my general philosophy of “don’t leave your reader stranded.” That said, if you do read the previous books in the series then of course you’ll have a greater depth of context, which will be nice. But you don’t absolutely need to have.

One important point, however: If you haven’t read the previous books, then The Human Division is going to spoil some plot points for them, most notably for The Last Colony. Because, you know, it takes place after those events, and as a direct consequence of them. Be aware of that.

Is every Human Division episode going to be the length of “The B-Team”?

God, no, or I would still be writing them. The episodes range in length from 6,000 words to 22,000 words; the average length is about 10,000 per episode. “The B-Team” is the longest because it’s the premiere episode and has to pull the largest amount of freight in getting people into the universe; the final episode is the next longest. All the episodes, however, are selling for the same single-serving price.

If we buy the individual episodes can we trade them in at the end for a single document? 

I suspect the technical difficulty in doing that would be high (not to mention the privacy issues of having us check to make sure you indeed bought all the episodes), so my suspicion is that, no, they’ll remain multiple documents. I could be wrong about that and if I am I will let you know later.

Bear in mind that we’re selling the episodes DRM-free, so if you’re at all adept at these things you could probably create a single document out of the individual episodes you’ve purchased, for your own use. And if you do that, hey, you bought them, you can do what you want with them as far as I’ve concerned.

Why did you distribute the episodes the way you did instead of [insert different method of distribution here]?

That’s something to take up with Tor specifically, but I would suggest that, one, I expect Tor tried to make the process the same over as many retail platforms as it is on; two, there may have been technical and/or other practical considerations for distributing this way and not some specific other way; three, among everything else it is, The Human Division is a test case for how to do this type of distribution model. So we’re doing a lot of flying by the seat of our pants. Which means: by all means tell us your thoughts, but also, be aware we’re figuring this out as we go along.

I can’t get the episodes in [insert country here].

Tor has the world English rights and as far as I can tell has done just about everything it can to make the episodes accessible everywhere on the globe, so if you can’t get the episodes where you are, it may be a retailer issue. Yes, this electronic distribution thing is complicated. Also be aware that episode prices may vary where you are for various reasons, most of which I know nothing about, but probably involve the nations of the world not being a perfect model of economic efficiency.

Audio?

Yes, there’s audio, from Audible; yes, they will have audio episodes debuting on the same day as the episodes from Tor; and yes, as I understand it, you will be able to pre-order the audio episodes so that they will pop into your listening queue each week. More details on all of that soon. Also, for those curious, the narrator for The Human Division is William Dufris, who narrated three of the four previous OMW books (Zoe’s Tale having been handled by Tavia Gilbert). I believe (but am not 100% sure) that Audible has world English audio rights; check with the local Audible store or affiliated online retail in your country.

The Human Division Part II: The Dividening?

If you’re asking if there is a direct sequel to THD at this point: No, not yet, although I have a pretty good idea of where things are going to go if Tor asks me to write one. What we need to see at this point is what the reaction is to THD, and how people respond to the episodes, to let us know how to proceed to this point.

In other words: It’ll be up to you guys. We’ll be paying attention to your response.

 

Thoughts On Selling Out

Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders meditates on what it means to “sell out,” inspired by a Twitter conversation between (among others) Paolo Bacigalupi, Tim Pratt and myself. I put in a comment over there, but I have a couple more thoughts about selling out, through the prism of my own experience, so let me run them out to you guys here. These thoughts are in no particular order and a bit rambly.

First, I don’t think the sell out comes when you do things for money/fame, or mostly because of the money/fame, or even solely for the money/fame. If the desire for money/fame is intentionally and actively part of your career calculus, then the criticism or worry that you’re doing something for money/fame is a little stupid. Because, duh, that was always part of the plan, and thus always an option.

Occasionally I’ve had people gripe that my books are explicitly commercial, which they don’t like, and that’s fine. But I’ve also had people gripe that I’m a sell out because of that aspect of the books. Those people I look at like they’ve turned into a farting fungus. Dudes: I intentionally write approachable books designed to sell in large numbers, constructed to make that goal as easy to achieve as possible. That’s not selling out, that’s the actual plan. Intentionality is an affirmative defense. I’m open to accusations of being a hack, which is fair enough (I would disagree, but then I would, wouldn’t I). Sell out? I’m more dubious.

I think a major part of selling out has to do with fear. Specifically the fear that if you don’t take a particular action (write a particular book, record a particular song, do a particular role, take on a particular gig, etc), your career will suffer, and you along with it. It can also have to do with desperation and exhaustion — the idea that despite all your efforts, other options are closed, and the sell out option is the only option left. That’s another fear. Finally it has something to do with desire; not usually for the work you do but for what the work can bring: Money, fame, respect, opportunities and so on. Selling out is what you do when you’re afraid. Sometimes — not always, but more often than it appears from the outside — it’s not unreasonable to be afraid.

This is why, I will note, that I find it difficult to hold “selling out” against artists one way or another. I have been astoundingly fortunate in my career so far; I have never been in a position where I had to choose between what I thought was the integrity of my work, and the future of my career and (in a larger sense) my personal happiness. But I know people who have, and I know how much they’ve beaten themselves up about it.

What gets missed is the fact that work is work, and that we as humans live in the real world, and sometimes we have to make less than optimal choices in order to keep going. It’s easy enough for someone on the outside to mock a musician for doing the state fair circuit, or an actor for showing up in an appallingly terrible film, or an author for writing yet another book featuring a protagonist you think is past her prime — or whatever. But people have to work and eat and keep moving, looking for their chances. I’m not going to dump on them or judge them for that.

It’s also worth noting that what looks like a sell out to an artist and what looks like a sell out to a fan or other observer can be two entirely separate things. Artists, if they have any sort of success, often have opportunities fall into their laps they might not otherwise have gotten. The upside of these opportunities can be high. From their point of view they’d be foolish not to take them. From the point of view of a fan, however, the choice can be puzzling — a deviation from the thing that made that person a fan, and therefore (from their point of view) a waste of time and something to be resented. Cue “selling out.” Alternately, popularity breeds contempt in some quarters.

Over on the io9 comment thread, there’s some (perfectly civil and readable) discussion on whether — and under what circumstances — my selling the motion picture rights to Old Man’s War could be considered a sell out. I find it interesting because my standard as to what constitutes a “sell out” is vastly removed from that of the conversation there, in part based on my own knowledge of the movie industry and my own pull relative to those who would make a film. For me, for a film, a sell out would have come from grabbing at option money from anyone, just to have it and just to say we did it. We waited instead for the right people to come along — people with good commercial and/or artistic track records, who could actually get a film made — worked out the best deal possible and then got out of their way to let them do what they do. I’m here when they need me, and they keep me in the loop, and that’s pretty much how we work with each other and everyone’s happy with that. So perspectives are different depending on where you stand.

I don’t consider myself a sell out, and I think the logic behind the suggestion that I am is probably flawed — but at the same time I recognize that I give people lots of opportunities to label me as one. Old Man’s War has four sequels now, which (fairly) opens me up to questions as to whether I’m just grinding out the books. Fuzzy Nation was a reboot of someone else’s story, which can (and has been) seen as cynical appropriation for the cash. Redshirts — well, come on: Star Trek much, Scalzi? And so on. Add these to my public and enthusiastic embrace of the idea that writing to make money is not a bad thing, and I’m a fairly ripe target. And again: Fair enough. I would disagree but I wouldn’t deny the argument is there, nor that it could be defensible.

On my end, however, I know what projects I’ve turned down despite the money, and what projects I’ve walked away from because I felt the other party was trying to trade on my fear of what would happen if I walked away from the table. I know what I won’t do. In my mind, at least, it keeps me from worrying about whether I am a sell out. You can think as you like, of course.

The Big Idea: James Smythe

Space is vast, and dark, and deep. How does that make you feel? Because, as you are about to find out, it makes author James Smythe feel a very specific way, a way that he examines, at depth in his new novel The Explorer.

JAMES SMYTHE:

To my mind, the best moments in SF are the quietest ones. They’re the ones before the chaos starts: before the astronauts land wherever they are going to land, or meet the aliens that they’re going to meet or discover the MacGuffin at the heart of their journey. They’re the moments where the characters look out at space and they revel in it: in how lonely it is, and how isolating, and how empty.

My favorite true story about space exploration concerns Michael Collins, one of the crew members on Apollo 11. When Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon and made their own history, Collins did something even stranger: he was in space by himself. For 48 minutes, he was out of contact with the Earth. He was totally alone, on the far side of the moon. In interviews, he says that he wasn’t lonely or scared: that he was excited, enjoying the mission. But he’s an astronaut. They’re made of sterner stuff. In his position, I would have been terrified: at being able to look out and see the nothingness, the void going on and on and on, into the infinite. Every time I have loved a work of space-set SF, truly loved it, it’s dealt with that emptiness as well. The Stars My Destination, Solaris, Alien, Moon: they all busy themselves with how it feels to be alone. In space, there’s nothing scarier.

So, my big idea, and the big idea that runs through my novel The Explorer: that space is a) empty, b) isolating and c) really very lonely indeed. I know, right? Crazy. Nobody’s ever thought that before.

I wrote a novel a few years ago called The Testimony, which had twenty-six different narrators, presented almost as talking heads. They were from all over world, telling a very big story about god and lies and terrorism, and it took a lot to write. Post-it notes on the walls, headaches, long walks to clear said headaches before returning to sort out the post-its, all that crazy stuff. When I was done, I decided that I had to write something completely different. Something that was, by necessity, a lot smaller. Self-contained. One narrator. Only a handful of characters, in fact, in the whole thing. And, I thought, lets start the book when they’re all dead, or most of them. Let’s start with my narrator, alone and horrifically lonely, and beginning to lose the plot. He can piece together the story – and himself – from there.

So I began with the freshly-named Cormac talking about how the people that he had been with had died; and how he was the only one left alive. It wasn’t until the third paragraph that I called them his crew; and it wasn’t until a few paragraphs after that that I realised he was talking from a spaceship. The isolation came first, and then the logical leap that it had to be set in the most horrifyingly isolated place I can conceive of: deep space. It was freeing, to write only the void of nothingness as the setting; to just write the character and let the story come from him. With The Testimony, I had worried over every little detail from the very start, trying to knot all of these narratives and sub-plots together. Now, writing what would later become called The Explorer, I only had to write loneliness. As soon as I realised I was writing an SF novel set on a tiny spaceship in the near future, everything else started slotting into place. The story had to be about what happened to the crew; how five people could die when there was nothing there to kill them. It had to be about Cormac, and how he had become stranded. And it had to be about space itself: the emptiness, the isolation, the incomprehensibility.

As I wrote myself further and further into the novel, I wanted Cormac’s sense of personal isolation to grow. As he looks back on what happened, and he is no longer alone – at least, in his memories – and as the various twists of the narrative reveal themselves, I wanted him to feel as if what he lusted for (normality, his old life, some sort of stability) was far enough out of his reach that he needed to find a new solution. I think about Michael Collins, and he must have wondered, even if he claims that he didn’t. He must have thought, What if I something goes wrong? What if I’m round here, on the far side of the moon, and I’m by myself; in the dark, out of contact, drifting. I try and imagine it now, and it terrifies me.

I love it when a novel imparts some of the emotional impact to the reader itself. With The Explorer, as Cormac discovers exactly what happened, and where he is, and makes a discovery about the nature of the mission that he and his crew were undertaking that changes his entire perception of what it is to be truly alone, I hope that the reader feels somewhat as he does, and that it reflects that initial inspirational concept for the novel: that space is lonely, isolating, and so very, very empty.

—-

The Explorer: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Human Division Read-Along at Tor.com Begins

The official release of The Human Division begins next week, with “The B-Team” being sent to the public — but if you’re one of the folks who signed up for Tor’s special promotion of the series several months ago, you’re getting that first installment today. Congrats and enjoy! Everyone else: Dudes, it’s only a week. You’ll be fine.

Also, if you want to chat about it, Tor.com is running a “read along” series on The Human Division, hosted by Ron Hogan and featuring insights into the writing and production by me, editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and others. The first installment, delving into “The B-Team,” is up today. You can catch up, read-along, and discuss plot points and opinions with other folks.

WARNING: The read-along will contain spoilers. Don’t check it out unless a) you’ve already read the episode and/or b) you’re willing to have the episode spoiled for you. There, that’s your official spoiler alert.

Taos Toolbox, Redshirts French Cover, My Anthology Availability

Three things science fictional and fantastical, and lumped into a single post because of it:

1. Walter Jon Williams is once again heading up Taos Toolbox, a “graduate-level” writing workshop for science fiction and fantasy, and it’s application time once more for the program. WJW tells me in a note, “We want to concentrate on giving talented, burgeoning writers the information necessary to become professionals within the science fiction and fantasy field. Though short fiction will be enthusiastically received, there will be an emphasis at Taos Toolbox on the craft of the novel, with attention given to such vital topics as plotting, pacing, and selling full-length works.” I know a lot of satisfied graduates of the toolbox, so if this sounds cool to you, hit up that link above for more details.

2. Behold! The cover to the French edition of Redshirts:

It’s very groovy in a late-60s sort of way, and of course clearly plays up the Star Trek association in the typography and iconography. The subtitle is “in defiance of danger” (or so Google Translate — our era’s very own universal translator! — tells me), and that’s fairly accurate in terms of the story, I suppose. Anyway, very cool.

Additionally, if you want a copy of your own, it’ll be out February 21.

3. As I contributed a story to Audible.com’s Rip-Off! anthology, in apparent contradiction to my policy of not contributing to anthologies, I have other editors pinging me about the possibility contributing to their anthologies as well.

Sorry, guys, no. Rip-Off! was a very specific project, to which I contributed for a specific, almost certainly not repeatable purpose. Generally speaking I am still not planning to contribute to anthologies for two main reasons: One, no time for it with the other projects I have planned; Two, I have discovered that I am really really really bad at writing specific-themed short stories to a deadline, and dislike being the dude editors have to badger for a story. It’s annoying for them and annoying for me. So rather than develop a reputation for always being late and kind of a dick, I just sit out anthologies entirely.

So if you’re thinking of inviting me to contribute to your anthology: Thank you, no.