Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Big Idea: John Joseph Adams

BWA HA HA HA HAH HA! I, the power-mad scientist Dr. Scalzi, have pinned puny mortal editor John Joseph Adams with my terrifying Big Idea Ray! I shall not release him until he explains why he, of all people, decided to take it upon himself to edit The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination! Your move, Mr. Adams!

JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS: 

I was listening to the Escape Pod podcast’s production of “Instead of a Loving Heart” by Jeremiah Tolbert, which I really enjoyed, and I thought, “Man, I really like mad scientists. Someone should do a mad sci–” and before I even completed the thought, of course I realized that since no one else had done a mad scientist anthology, I should be the one to do it.

But just doing a mad scientist anthology seemed too straightforward. Readers and viewers have long been fascinated by sinister scientific schemes and megalomaniacal plans for world domination (and the fiends who come up with them). Typically in fiction, we see mad scientists and evil geniuses through the eyes of superheroes (or other good guys) as they attempt to put an end to their “evil” ways. So, since mad geniuses are always so keen on telling captured heroes all their diabolical plans, that gave me a Big Idea: Isn’t it about time someone gave them a platform to reach the masses with their messages of death and destruction? Why not have the authors explore the world of the villains from their own point of view?

That was where the big idea started, anyway. As the stories started coming in, the anthology evolved to encompass other kinds of mad scientist/evil genius tales as well, which resulted in a book much more diverse than what I had originally envisioned–much to the anthology’s benefit. That said, mad science (or evil geniusery) and/or nefarious plots for world domination are at the heart of every story. The anthology contains twenty original stories, along with two reprints, sometimes from the point of view of the villains, and sometimes from those who know them best.

Having grown up reading comics voraciously, it kind of feels like now all that time I invested in them is finally paying off thanks to this anthology. This is where many folks would insert a “And you said reading comics would rot my brain. Take that, So-and-So!” But the truth is I was always encouraged to read whatever I wanted, and none of my geeky interests were ever minimized or discouraged at home. So instead of a “Take that!” I guess here’s where I should insert a “Thanks, Mom!” (And if I’m thanking people, I should probably also thank Joss Whedon, who, thanks to his Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog coming along when we were shopping the project to publishers, made the anthology a whole lot more viable.)

So that’s my Big Idea. I was hoping that doing this book would qualify me for membership in The Guild of Calamitous Intent or the Evil League of Evil, but they have pretty stringent qualification requirements, it turns out, and apparently attempting to take over the anthology world doesn’t count as a real bid for world domination.

—-

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read story excerpts. Visit the editor’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Welcome to the Most Passive-Aggressive Ship in Star Fleet

Whilst on the JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 cruise, I played a round of Celebrity Artemis, in which JCCC3 luminaries (and I) pretended to troll about in a starship, shooting up aliens, who apparently deserved such treatment. My crew consisted of Rifftrax’s Kevin Murphy, comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, musician Greg “Storm” Di Costanzo, cruise icon Jonathan Coulton, and, as captain, television’s Wil Wheaton. Of course someone shot video of it (Angela Brett, to be specific), and here it is, in all its messy, obnoxiously funny glory.

I know the Artemis folks would love for me to give them a link, so here it is. Because you know what? We had tons of fun playing this thing. Get it for your next geek gathering.

Another Publishing Lawsuit

Indie Booksellers Sue Amazon, Big Six over E-book DRM

I know nothing about this suit other than what I’ve read in that linked article, but I suppose it’s not entirely surprising that indie booksellers would want to get in on the eBook action — heck, I want them to get in on it too, since I would be happy to send some of my eBook purchasing cash to my local bookseller — and see DRM as a way of locking them out.

Likewise, I would be curious as to how Macmillan’s DRM-free stance (via Tor, which is my primary fiction publisher) has an influence on things.

This would also be the place where I note that in the US, at least, the two biggest publishers of my fiction, Tor and Subterranean Press, have no DRM on any of my eBooks at this point. So buy with the confidence that comes from knowing you can put my fiction on any e-reader you damn well please. Because we love you, dear reader. Yes we do.

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees

Getting to tell you all who the year’s Nebula nominees are is one of my favorite things to do, and not just because I’m president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the organization that hands out the Nebulas. It’s also because these are awards from writers, to writers. It’s always lovely to be recognized by one’s peers.

Now, without further ado, this year’s Nebula Award nominees, straight from the press release. Congratulations to all the nominees, and I hope I will see them at the Nebula Awards weekend in May! (P.S.: You can attend Nebula Weekend even if you are not a nominee — see the details below).

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announces the nominees for the 2012 Nebula Awards (presented 2013), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Novel
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Novella
On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
“All the Flavors”, Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
“Katabasis”, Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
“Barry’s Tale”, Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)

Novelette
“The Pyre of New Day”, Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
“Close Encounters”, Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
“The Waves”, Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
“The Finite Canvas”, Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
“Swift, Brutal Retaliation”, Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia”, Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
“Fade to White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)

Short Story
“Robot”, Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
“Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes”, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
“Nanny’s Day”, Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream”, Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12)
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain”, Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight )
The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray writers), (Lionsgate)
John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

The Forty-Eighth Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 16-19th, 2013, in San Jose at the San Jose Hilton. Borderland Books will host the mass autograph session from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 17th at the San Jose Hilton. This autograph session is open to the public and books by the authors in attendance will be available for purchase. More information about the Nebula Awards Weekend is available at http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/.

 

The Big Idea: Karen Heuler

How to tell the truth in fiction? Author Karen Heuler considered the question for The Inner City, her collection of stories, and in the end drew inspiration from one of our greatest poets. Here she is to explain.

KAREN HEULER:

The stories in The Inner City are about the way the world works, about the way people work, about the dodges and twists and sneaky surprises of life as we know it—whether it looks like our life or not. One of Emily Dickinson’s poems goes, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” The slant is what I’m after.

People have confidence in what they see, what they believe, what they do; and confidence comes from a sense of normality. But what’s normal? And what happens when the “normal” is different for you and for the rest of them?

And it’s not so much the outsider/insider thing as it is how strange the Other can be. Occasionally strange and interesting, as in “The Large People,” where a retired office worker finds people growing out of the ground, and follows them into the city where they start doing things you wouldn’t think a retired office worker would approve of—but then again, why not? Why not take note of the newest order of things and consider what it all means? Or just watch it? Those poor people in “Landscape with Fish”—when nature starts throwing them curve balls, all they can do is keep their eyes open. Something new is coming.

No two people live in the same world, and that’s why we have cults—someone beguiling us with the belief that all can be shared emotionally and physically. It can’t. People may come together and try to predict their lives, as in “The Great Spin,” about the wrong people being gathered in the Rapture. Or they may find a new and frightening form of existence in “Thick Water,” but it’s not for everyone. It’s not for most. It involves losing some of the particularities that like it or not make you into you.

And to be honest, you don’t want to be too different; it might attract attention.  But my neighbor’s conspiracy theory is nowhere as credible as my own. Their reason for paranoia is not as good as my reason for paranoia. In fact, there is “The Inner City” sneaking around and doing things to mess me up. I know this to be a fact. I know that certain things are done just to annoy me—trains pulling out as I run for them; lost Metrocards that magically reappear after I’ve bought a new one; another missing sock.  You would think that, if I’ve lost 30 individual socks in my lifetime, I must have found someone else’s 30 individual missing socks, but I haven’t. I don’t know if there’s one person who ends up with all of them. Is this the reason for Sock Monkeys?

Who hasn’t felt at some point that change was getting out of control, that it was going on despite you? Some things you can opt out of; some things you can refuse; but you won’t always know if it was the right decision or not until it’s too late.

So why not get hooked, roped, nailed into a change because, after all, it’s different? We all evolve, going through life in distinct phases, even as our minds and bodies adjust from the clumsiness of toddlers to the grace of adults and then back again. Isn’t there a metaphor for that, for the process of radical change we go through? Like the children in “The Difficulties of Evolution,” who knows what our offspring will become? Or us? Are we ever done with it?

Who knows what we will become? We can fight against it, the modifications of life, until a brilliant mind somewhere crosses a girl with a dog for a new breed of servants. Is that wrong? As wrong as creating a cow out of meat, for instance, and finding it has gone bloodthirsty? What would you do with what you’ve created at that point?

And despite all our advances in science, have we forgotten that things aren’t necessarily right just because they can be done? If it’s possible to breed girls and dogs to get a special servant class—well, should we do it?

Of course we’ll do it.

And of course we have to accept it. But then again, why should we accept it?

There are tough choices here. One explorer on a distant planet finds her team has gone out and gone native in a  new and terrifying way; should she join them?  A worker finds that a new employee has not only stolen her hair, but is out for her job and much more.

It’s not always recognizable.

Sometimes you can see something coming—but when it gets near, it’s not exactly what you thought it would be. The Rapture approaches, but who will be blessed? Your wishes are granted, but are they what you wanted? That doubt, of course, is in the nature of wishes as well as of life—there’s a catch somewhere, a little bit of snickering, if not downright buffoonery.

We ask for something, and we get it slant.

—-

The Inner City: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book’s page. Follow the author on Twitter.

Announcing Morning Star Alpha: A Next-Generation Graphic Novel

Most of you know by now that I am working with game studio Industrial Toys to create Morning Star, a first-person shooter video game for mobile platforms. What you don’t know — because we’ve kept it secret until just about this very moment — is that the Morning Star project is not just the video game; we’ve been working on other ways to explore the Morning Star universe that integrate with the game itself in new and innovative ways. We’re announcing one of those other ways today: Morning Star Alpha.

What is Morning Star Alpha? The simplest explanation is that it’s a graphic novel, written by me and illustrated by Mike Choi, which ties into the events of the Morning Star game. But please note that this “simplest explanation” really is too simple. For one thing, Morning Star Alpha is its own app; you explore it on your tablet, and we’ve built the app and the story to take advantage of the medium we’re working in — which means it’s a pretty cool new graphic novel experience. You can make choices in Morning Star Alpha which affect the storytelling, and your actions while exploring in Morning Star Alpha can have an impact in the Morning Star game (and vice versa). You’ll learn more about the characters who populate the Morning Star universe, and what motivates them to action.

You don’t have to experience Morning Star Alpha to enjoy Morning Star — and you don’t have play Morning Star to get hooked on Morning Star Alpha. These are free-standing experiences in the universe we’ve created. That said, each is complementary to the other. Basically, the more you explore the whole Morning Star universe, the richer and more exciting it all becomes.

Morning Star Alpha is a very exciting project for me. Some of my favorite writers and many friends have worked in the comics and graphic novel field — Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Marjorie Liu and Chris Roberson are some right off the top of my head — so to be able to dip my toe in the waters of the genre is a thrill, and to do it on a project that is trying some new things in the electronic format is even more cool. Plus there’s the fact that I get to work with Mike Choi on this. The dude is pretty staggeringly talented, and it’s been awesome watching how he pairs my words with his pictures — and then how the rest of the crew at Industrial Toys put our combined work together and makes it fly.

In short, a dream first experience for me in the world of graphic novels. I can’t wait for you guys to experience it.

And when can you experience it? As they say: Soooooooooon. More details to come.

Speaking of “more details,” here are stories about Morning Star Alpha on Kotaku and Polygon. Go! Read them! Now!

The Human Division, Episode Six: The Back Channel is Now Live

Why, hello, Tuesday. I see that once again you have brought a new episode of The Human Division with you, this time “The Back Channel.” Here’s what it’s about, from the official blurb:

The Conclave is a confederation of four hundred alien races—many of whom would like to see the Colonial Union, and the humans inside of it, blasted to extinction. To avoid a conflict that neither side can afford, Conclave leader General Tarsem Gau appoints Hafte Sorvalh to resolve an emerging diplomatic crisis with the humans, before the only acceptable solution is war.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this episode features political intrigue, aliens, Abraham Lincoln, churros and goats! You can’t go wrong with any of those. And if you can I don’t want to you know, you sick person, you.

It also features one of my new favorite characters in the Old Man’s War universe: Hafte Sorvalh. She’s not totally new — longtime fans will remember that she popped up briefly in a pivotal scene in Zoe’s Tale — but she’s really fully fleshed out for the first time in this episode, and all I can say is I wish I were as smart as she is. She’s a blast to write. I hope you have as much fun with her as I have.

As always, there will be a discussion of this weekly episode on Tor.com today; I’ll link in when it goes up (update: Here’s the link!). Likewise, as always, if you feel moved to review the episode, please do; it’s nice when people have conversations about the episodes.

And remember to tune in next week for “The Sound of Rebellion,” in which a simple mission for the CDF warriors of the Tubingen (last seen in Episode Three) takes a turn for the strange.

The Back Channel: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audio) (all links US)

Korean Cover of Fuzzy Nation

I’m not gonna lie to you, Internet: This is a staggeringly cool cover.

One note of errata: If the woman on the cover is meant to be Isabel Wangai, the skin tone (and hair color, and eye color) are off a bit, as Isabel is Kenyan (as noted in the next). There may be blonde, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Kenyans, but Isabel isn’t one of them. It’s entirely possible the artist was not informed of Isabel’s heritage before he or she went to work.

Other than that bit of errata? Love it.

Hungarian Ghost Brigades Cover

Actually one of the first photorealistic representations of a CDF/Special Forces soldier I’ve seen on an actual book cover, so that’s cool (although I would note the lipstick is not standard CDF issue).

Incidentally, if you read Hungarian and/or want to see whether Google Translate handles Hungarian at all well, here’s a link to an interview I did on a Hungarian-language SF site.

Also, No, I Didn’t Miss the Internet All That Much

While I was on the cruise detailed in the last post, I didn’t access the Internet in any real sense; I went on it once, to download two pieces I used for my reading, but didn’t look at anything else when I did than those two pieces. Otherwise, from the 10th to the 17th, I was entirely Internet free — the longest stretch of time I lived without the Internet for almost two decades.

It was surprisingly easy. For one thing, I had the super-fantastic Kate Baker watching the site here, so I didn’t have any concern at all that the site would be overrun by trolls and spam when I got back. So I was able to put the site entirely out of my mind. For another thing, I was hanging out with a bunch of friends, which is just like being on Twitter, except live. For a third thing, I left autoresponders on my email which said, essentially, “I’m not going to read this email you just sent me,” which I thought was sufficiently considerate. For a final thing, I was digging on the idea of unplugging from the world for a week, enjoying the bubble I was in and then having my mind explode when I plugged back in and discovered what sort of damn foolishness the world had gotten itself into while I was away.

And it mostly worked, I would note: While I was on the cruise only three bits of news got in: The Pope resigning, the Russian meteor, and, perhaps least surprisingly of all, that mess on the Carnival Triumph, which I think most of had a bit of nervous schadenfreude over. The rest of it went right past me. And sure enough, when I came back, I checked into CNN and spent a good twenty minutes shaking my head and saying “oh, world,” in an exasperated yet bemused voice.

I had warned my wife that I might spend a couple of days on Internet withdrawal, but in truth that didn’t happen because I was sufficiently occupied. It was genuinely a pleasurable experience not to always be checking in on the Internet. Mind you, I recognize that I actually had to go to sea, without phone service or Internet less expensive than sixty cents a minute, to achieve this equanimity about my lack of connectedness. Even so.

So there, Internet. I didn’t miss you.

Oh, don’t look at me like that, Internet. Come here. Let’s hug and make up.

What? No, of course I wasn’t checking Twitter while I was hugging you!

Yeah, okay. I was checking Facebook.

What I Did With My Winter Vacation

I and my wife went on a cruise. 

Specifically, we went on the JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 cruise, which is the cruise that musician Jonathan Coulton heads, ably assisted by fellow musicians Paul & Storm and a coterie of fellow performers, aides and volunteers. This year the cruise was a seven-day excursion to the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten (with an unscheduled stop in Bermuda because one of the passengers had a medical emergency — heart attack was the most persistent rumor). Above you will see the only picture I took on the entire cruise because, hey, I was on vacation. But I will now present you a digest of thoughts and observations about my vacation. Prepare yourself.

For those of you who speculated that it was all too coincidental that I removed myself from the Internet for almost exactly the time it took to get to the JCC3 cruise, be on that cruise, and then head back, congratulations! You were right. It was not coincidental in the least. For those of you who were wondering why I didn’t announce that I was going on the JCC3 cruise, there were a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t a performer on the cruise; I was on it to have a vacation. It was private travel, and — no offense — all y’all don’t need to know what I’m doing when I’m traveling in that mode. Two, you know what, I’m increasingly less enthused about letting the Internet know when my house is unoccupied. Call me paranoid if you like.

(Although in fact the house wasn’t unoccupied; we had a housesitter because, well, pets. And daughter, who stayed at home because of school. Still, the point stands.)

One of the enjoyable side effects of not telling anyone that I was going to be on the JCC3 cruise was that when I showed up there, people seemed genuinely pleased to see me (and Krissy, whom they had heard so much about on the Internet and then there she was in real life). A few people came up to ask me if I was John Scalzi; one person come up to ask if I knew I was John Scalzi. The answer in both cases: Yes. As I wasn’t listed as a performer (because, in fact, I was not one), I ended up being a nice bit of scenery for the science fiction fans on the cruise, an extra little bit of wheee, as I mentioned to one of the actual performers.

That said, because I was around, I ended up doing some stuff. I was part of one of the crews of “Celebrity Artemis,” in which performers and their friends staffed the bridge of a simulated spaceship, flying about the universe and destroying the crap out of alien aggressors. The crew I was on featured Wil Wheaton as the captain, Kevin Murphy on communications, Jonathan Coulton as the science officer, Storm di Costanzo as the helmsman, Joseph Scrimshaw in engineering and me on weapons. We were the most delightfully passive-aggressive ship crew in the fleet; I assume there will be video of it on YouTube presently.

I also was a special guest star for JoCo Karaoke, in which JCC3 cruise guests sang Jonathan Coulton songs while JoCo and his band backed them musically. The song I sang with the band, absolutely unsurprisingly, was “Redshirt,” i.e., the song JoCo wrote as the theme to my novel Redshirts. I am happy to report that I sang it on key. I am slightly less happy to report that whilst singing it, and jumping up and down on the stage like I supposed rock stars should, I fell square on my ass in front of more or less the entire JCC3 cruise population (I have absolutely no doubt that there will be video of this particular event on YouTube very soon). However, I am very happy to say that even as I fell on my ass, I kept singing and continued to be in tune. Because I am a pro. Even when I’m not present in a pro capacity.

Additionally, I took part in the Ukulele Melee, a gathering of 30-some-odd ukulele enthusiasts on the JCC3 cruise. I brought my travel tenor guitar rather than a uke, but they accepted me into the tribe anyway, for which I am grateful. We did a song on open mike night (a JCC3-centered version of the Coulton/Roderick song “Christmastime is Wunnerful”) and I was asked to do a vocal solo in the style of William Shatner. Again, I would not be surprised if video of my particularly ham-tastic rendition shows up online.

Finally I did a reading, because people asked if I would, and it seemed like the thing to do, and JCC3 has a “shadow track” of programming where cruisegoers can sign up to do performances. I read an upcoming bit of The Human Division and some other stuff. People showed up! And seemed to like it! So yay!

Still, most of my time was spent being a spectator of the fabulous set of performers, which aside from JoCo and Paul and  Storm included John Roderick, Mike Phirman, Wil Wheaton, John Hodgman, Joseph Scrimshaw, Zoe Keating, Bill Corbett & Kevin Murphy, the Doubleclicks, David Rees and Randall Munroe. They were all really excellent to watch and listen to, and if you weren’t there you totally missed out. I particularly enjoyed Roderick and Keating’s performances, because both of them were relatively new to me as musicians. I am now inclined to seek out all their work to date (I have stuff from most of the others already).

From all this you may assume that I am a big fan of the JoCo Cruise Crazy Cruise, and if you are a person of nerd tendencies, I would highly suggest that you consider going on one if you can. As it happens, there will in fact be a JoCo Cruise next year; details will be announced on that soon. Really, for the high octane geek entertainment alone, it’s highly worth it.

Yes, yes, you say. But what about the rest of the cruise? The seven days in the Caribbean? The cutting through the ocean in a boat larger than the Titanic? The sun-kissed islands? The absolutely staggering piles of food one tosses down one’s gullet while on board? What about that?

In short: It was not bad at all. I came to understand that a cruise ship — we were aboard the Royal Caribbean ship called Freedom of the Seas — is a finely tuned instrument designed for one thing: To suck as much money as possible from you whilst on the high seas. To that end the Freedom of the Seas did not disappoint; one very quickly learns why cruising is the pastime of the leisure class. Along the way I also learned that a modern cruise ship is basically a hotel grafted onto a mall pushed out to sea on a floating platform — all of which goes to that whole “suck money from you” thing — so if you’re wanting a real nautical experience, I don’t know, you might try one of those Island Windjammer cruises or something.

For our part we decided to embrace the “Floating Mall Hotel” spirit, because honestly, if you go on a cruise on one of these kinds of ships and spend all your time rolling your eyes at the petty bourgeois tendencies of your fellow shipmates, you’re probably an asshole. Plus, they had these Coca Cola Freestyle machines everywhere, so I could get Raspberry Coke Zero any time I wanted. Worth the cost of the cruise, I have to say. I know. I’m pathetic. Shut up.

The island stops included a Royal Caribbean-owned island called Coco Cay, where the money-sucking was even more pronounced but the water was clear and gorgeous and Krissy and I went parasailing, which is something I never really imagined myself doing, ever, but which was fun enough; St. Thomas, which we went into knowing it was a tourist trap so were not in the least disappointed by it (we bought trinkets! For the people back home!); and St. Maarten, which a group of us abandoned to travel to the rather less populated island of Anguilla, which, I have to say, was simply fantastic and a real highlight of the entire trip.

Back on the boat, there were a number of various activities that were put on by the cruise line itself, but I participated in almost none of them because I was busy with the JCC3 offerings and/or relaxing with my wife either by the pool or on our balcony (yes, we paid extra for the balcony, and it was worth it). So I can’t report on any of that. Yes, there were a lot of old people, but there were also a lot of families, so it didn’t seem aggressively geriatric. My understanding is that Royal Caribbean caters to a family demographic in any event. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with older passengers, mind you. But it was nice to have a mix, beyond the JCC3 cohort.

In all, the cruise itself was enjoyable and pleasant but I don’t suspect it would be something I would do for its own sake. Our very nice cruise berth was more or less equivalent in accouterments to the Sheraton Suites room we stayed in the day after the cruise was done, and the cruise buffet we ate at every morning less tasty than the Cracker Barrel we had breakfast at the day we stayed at the Sheraton Suites. You could have a cheaper basic cruise experience by staying at a Sheraton Suites, eating at Cracker Barrel, walking on a trampoline for a couple of hours (to get that “sea legs” experience), and then getting on a plane and flying to the Bahamas for a day trip.

But that was fine. I didn’t go on the cruise for the cruise. I went on the cruise because a bunch of friends of mine were going on a cruise and I got to hang out with them, without worrying about the real world (or the Internet world) for a whole week — plus got to watch a bunch of them do what they do really well, which is entertain me. For that purpose, my cruise was well worth both the time and money. It’s good to be back, and I’m really glad I went.

In short: JoCo Cruise Crazy: Totally worth it. You should go, if you can.

So, that’s where I was and what I did for the week I wasn’t here.

Now That I am Back Home, Here is Your Standard Email Note

Hi there. I’ve been away from the Internets for about ten days, and as you might imagine quite a lot of e-mail has piled up in the interim. I’ll be going through it over the next couple of days, and mostly not responding to it, unless it’s something business related or otherwise needs an immediate response. So if you sent me an e-mail in the last ten days and were hoping for a response but don’t get one by 5pm Eastern on February 20th, you can send it again (but please please please don’t unless it’s really important). This note does not apply to people sending Big Idea queries — I batch you folks separately and will respond at a later date.

I will also be spending the next couple of days catching up with stuff, both online and in real life. I may also be catching up on sleep, because I think after nine days of avoiding all manner of bugs and viruses, I may have caught something today. So participation here may be spotty for a couple of days.

Also, yes, I will have a full report on my wanderings sometime fairly soon. Some of you by now may have figured out that I went on the JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 trip, possibly because of all the pictures of me from that cruise now flooding Twitter. Well, I will not deny it. Details coming soon(ish).

Something Really Old IX: A Cat’s Guide to Human Beings

This is from 1995 and my Fresno Bee column.

—-

(Note: The following material is taken from a small gray book that I found underneath my couch, a favorite hiding spot of my cat Rex. I can’t vouch for the veracity of what is written below, other than to say when Rex found me reading it, he looked mighty annoyed.)

EXCERPTS FROM “A CAT’S GUIDE TO HUMAN BEINGS”

1. Introduction: Why Do We Need Humans?
So you’ve decided to get yourself a human being. In doing so, you’ve joined the millions of other cats who have acquired these strange and often frustrating creatures. There will be any number of times, during the course of your association with humans, when you will wonder why you have bothered to grace them with your presence. What’s so great about humans, anyway? Why not just hang around with other cats? Our greatest philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries, but the answer is actually rather simple:

THEY HAVE OPPOSABLE THUMBS.

Which makes them the perfect tools for such tasks as opening doors, getting the lids off of cat food cans, changing television stations and other activities that we, despite our other obvious advantages, find difficult to do ourselves. True, chimps, orangutans and lemurs also have opposable thumbs, but they are nowhere as easy to train.

2. How And When to Get Your Human’s Attention
Humans often erroneously assume that there are other, more important activities than taking care of your immediate needs, such as conducting business, spending time with their families or even sleeping. Though this is dreadfully inconvenient, you can make this work to your advantage by pestering your human at the moment it is the busiest. It is usually so flustered that it will do whatever you want it to do, just to get you out of its hair. Not coincidentally, human teenagers follow this same practice.

Here are some tried and true methods of getting your human to do what you want:

*Sitting on paper: An oldie but a goodie. If a human has paper in front of it, chances are good it’s something they assume is more important than you. They will often offer you a snack to lure you away. Establish your supremacy over this wood pulp product at every opportunity. This practice also works well with computer keyboards, remote controls, car keys and small children.

*Waking your human at odd hours: A cat’s “golden time” is between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. If you paw at your human’s sleeping face during this time, you have a better than even chance that it will get up and, in an incoherent haze, do exactly what you want. You may actually have to scratch deep sleepers to get their attention; remember to vary the scratch site to keep the human from getting suspicious.

3. Punishing Your Human Being
Sometimes, despite your best training efforts, your human will stubbornly resist bending to your whim. In these extreme circumstances, you may have to punish your human. Obvious punishments, such as scratching furniture or eating household plants, are likely to backfire: the unsophisticated humans are likely to misinterpret the activities and then try to discipline YOU. Instead, we offer these subtle but nonetheless effective alternatives:

* Use the cat box during an important formal dinner.
* Stare impassively at your human while it is attempting a romantic interlude.
* Stand over an important piece of electronic equipment and feign a hairball attack.
* After your human has watched a particularly disturbing horror film, stand by the hall closet and then slowly back away, hissing and yowling.
* While your human is sleeping, lie on its face.

4. Rewarding Your Human: Should Your Gift Still Be Alive?
The cat world is divided over the etiquette of presenting humans with the thoughtful gift of a recently disemboweled animal. Some believe that humans prefer these gifts already dead, while others maintain that humans enjoy a slowly expiring cricket or rodent just as much as we do, given their jumpy and playful movements in picking the creatures up after they’ve been presented.

After much consideration of the human psyche, we recommend the following: cold blooded animals (large insects, frogs, lizards, garden snakes and the occasional earthworm) should be presented dead, while warm blooded animals (birds, rodents, your neighbor’s Pomeranian) are better still living. When you see the expression on your human’s face, you’ll know it’s worth it.

5. How Long Should You Keep Your Human?
You are only obligated to your human for one of your lives. The other eight are up to you. We recommend mixing and matching, though in the end, most humans (at least the ones that are worth living with) are pretty much the same. But what do you expect? They’re humans, after all. Opposable thumbs will only take you so far.

Something Really Old VIII: The Man From Microsoft

As the piece will make clear, from 1995, and my Fresno Bee column.

—-

There was a knock on the door. It was the man from Microsoft.

“Not you again,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I guess you know why I’m here.”

Indeed I did. Microsoft’s $300 million campaign to promote the Windows 95 operating system was meant to be universally effective, to convince every human being on the planet that Windows 95 was an essential, some would say integral, part of living. Problem was, not everyone had bought it. Specifically, I hadn’t bought it. I was the Last Human Being Without Windows 95. And now this little man from Microsoft was at my door, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“No,” I said.

“You know I can’t take that,” he said, pulling out a copy of Windows 95 from a briefcase. “Come on. Just one copy. That’s all we ask.”

“Not interested.” I said. “Look, isn’t there someone else you can go bother for a while? There’s got to be someone else on the planet who doesn’t have a copy.”

“Well, no,” The Microsoft man said. “You’re the only one.”

“You can’t be serious. Not everyone on the planet has a computer,” I said. “Hell, not everyone on the planet has a PC! Some people own Macintoshes, which run their own operating system. And some people who have PCs run OS/2, though I hear that’s just a rumor. In short, there are some people who just have no use for Windows 95.”

The Microsoft man look perplexed. “I’m missing your point,” he said.

“Use!” I screamed. “Use! Use! Use! Why BUY it, if you can’t USE it?”

“Well, I don’t know anything about this ‘use’ thing you’re going on about,” The Microsoft man said. “All I know is that according to our records, everyone else on the planet has a copy.”

“People without computers?”

“Got ‘em.”

“Amazonian Indians?”

“We had to get some malaria shots to go in, but yes.”

“The Amish.”

“Check.”

“Oh, come on,” I said. “They don’t even wear BUTTONS. How did you get them to buy a computer operating system?”

“We told them there were actually 95 very small windows in the box,” the Microsoft man admitted. “We sort of lied. Which means we are all going to Hell, every single employee of Microsoft.” He was somber for a minute, but then perked right up. “But that’s not the point!” he said. “The point is, EVERYONE has a copy. Except you.”

“So what?” I said. “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you expect me to do it, too?”

“If we spent $300 million advertising it? Absolutely.”

“No.”

“Jeez, back to that again,” the Microsoft man said. “Hey. I’ll tell you what. I’ll GIVE you a copy. For free. Just take it and install it on your computer.” He waved the box in front of me.

“No,” I said again. “No offense, pal. But I don’t need it. And frankly, your whole advertising blitz has sort of offended me. I mean, it’s a computer operating system! Great. Fine. Swell. Whatever. But you guys are advertising it like it creates world peace or something.”

“It did.”

“Pardon?”

“World peace. It was part of the original design. Really. One button access. Click on it, poof, end to strife and hunger. Simple.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, you know,” he said. “It took up a lot of space on the hard drive. We had to decide between it or the Microsoft Network. Anyway, we couldn’t figure out how to make a profit off of world peace.”

“Go away,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’ll be killed if I fail.”

“You have got to be kidding,” I said.

“Look,” the Microsoft man said, “We sold this to the AMISH. The Amish! Right now, they’re opening the boxes and figuring out they’ve been had. We’ll be pitchforked if we ever step into Western Pennsylvania again. But we did it. So to have YOU holding out, well, it’s embarassing. It’s embarassing to the company. It’s embarassing to the product. It’s embarassing to BILL.”

“Bill Gates does not care about me,” I said.

“He’s watching right now,” the Microsoft man said. “Borrowed one of those military spy satellites just for the purpose. It’s also got one of those high-powered lasers. You close that door on me, zap, I’m a pile of grey ash.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” I said, “He might hit that copy of Windows 95 by accident.”

“Oh, Bill’s gotten pretty good with that laser,” the Microsoft man said, nervously. “Okay. I wasn’t supposed to do this, but you leave me no choice. If you take this copy of Windows 95, we will reward you handsomely. In fact, we’ll give you your own Caribbean island! How does Montserrat sound?”

“Terrible. There’s an active volcano there.”

“It’s only a small one,” the Microsoft man said.

“Look,” I said, “even if you DID convince me to take that copy of Windows 95, what would you do then? You’d have totally saturated the market. That would be it. No new worlds to conquer. What would you do then?”

The Microsoft man held up another box and gave it to me. “‘Windows 95….For Pets’?!?!?”

“There’s a LOT of domestic animals out there,” he said.

I shut the door quickly. There was a surprised yelp, the sound of a laser, and then nothing.

Something Really Old VII: Shaving

From the AOL years (1996 – 1998).

—-

After months of using my razor when she thought I wasn’t looking, my wife finally gave in and got one of her own. I saw it today when I opened the medicine cabinet. It was all swoops and bumps and utterly lacked sharp edges, which struck me as mildly odd. On a razor, sharp edges are kind of the point. If my wife wanted to run a smooth, rounded object over her legs, she could have just as well used my bald spot.

I finally located the razor cartridge (it was on the smaller of the two egg-like structures) and found another weird thing: little crossbars over the blades. I have no earthly idea what that’s all about. I suppose the idea here is to keep the blades from getting too close to the skin, thereby avoiding nicks and cuts. Which would be fine, if leg hair levitated an eighth of an inch from the surface of the skin. But it doesn’t. My wife may be avoiding nicks, but the trade-off may be permanent, Don Johnson-like stubble.

“Why are you staring at my razor?” my wife asked.

“Because it looks like a tricorder,” I said.

“Oh,” she waved her hand dismissively. “They’re just trying to make it feminine.”

I looked at it again. It is feminine, to the extent that looks absolutely nothing like my razor. Her razor is playful, swooping, postmodernist. My razor is a metal stick with two blades on the end. Walter Gropius or one of his Bauhaus “Machines for Living” baddies whomped up my razor one day when they needed beer money.

The only things vaguely ergodynamic about it are little rubber bumps on the shaft, that serve to strengthen your grip on the thing as you swipe it across your face at high speeds, just like they do in the commercials. Of course, in the commercials, they’re already shaved under the foam. There’s no razor in the cartridge, either. Try swinging a razor across your neck like that in real life, and the last thing you’ll see are your toes as your head rolls by them, stopped only by a final clunk against the toilet porcelain.

Other than the bumps, it’s a lean and mean shaving machine. The razor manufacturers make token bows to the gods of comfort and safety in their ads, but at the end of the day, you know that the feeling at the razor factory is: you’re a man. Deal with the pain. No little crossbeams for you, you hear them say. You tear off your own head, it’s your own damn fault. If you can’t handle the blade, don’t dare to shave. Oh, stop crying. Here. We’ll give you a moisturizing strip, you big baby. Shaving is the last stand of the buff macho stud.

Mind you, I don’t want my razor to be all swoopy and curvy. I prefer it the way it is. Shaving can be a painful experience, and I don’t want my razor pretending to be my friend. It’s a mercenary, barging onto my face every few days, wreaking havoc, taking no prisoners. It might as well be ugly. My wife’s razor does all the horrifying things mine does, but hides it beneath a pretty, sweet exterior. It’s the Heather Locklear of hygiene products, and my wife’s legs are Melrose Place.

I’ve noticed that a lot of painful things relating to women have had curves added to them, as a sort of protective camouflage. I see those commercials for what we men (when we are somehow barred from running from the room, screaming, at their first appearance) like to euphemistically term “feminine products.” At one point or another, the very attractive and enthusiastic woman in the ad says “now with a rounded applicator!” with a tone that implies that this is the height of several thousand years of human engineering.

I have no direct experience with this (thank God), but I have to say I am skeptical; maybe if she said “now with a topical anesthetic!” I could see getting excited. Thing is, just because something is rounded off doesn’t mean it can’t hurt. Babies are rounded off, but they don’t give epidurals just for fun.

Ultimately, what bugs me about my wife’s new razor is now that she has it, I can’t blame my own painful shaving experiences on the possibility that my wife used my razor without switching the cartridge. Before, I could always rationalize a bad shaving experience on the idea that the blades were exhausted from the workout my wife gave them (excepting Jay Leno, most men’s chins have less surface area than a woman’s two legs). Maybe I’ll borrow hers from time to time. The little crossbeams might be useful after all.

The Big Idea: Hannah Strom-Martin & Erin Underwood

Facing a horrifying dearth of available science fiction YA anthologies, Editors, Erin Underwood and Hannah Strom-Martin sought to rectify the problem. Crowd-funded through Kickstarter, Futuredaze: An Anthology of Young Adult Science Fiction aims to make a dent in the market, complete with 33 short stories and poems aimed toward the younger fans of the genre.  Here are Erin and Hannah to explain the genesis behind their Big Idea.

Erin Underwood & Hannah Strom-Martin:

Our big idea for Futuredaze: An Anthology of Young Adult Science Fiction was born out of a discussion about a lack of short SF for teens.  If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games by now you’re probably living in District 13—but while we both enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ series and looked forward to a Harry Potter-esque revival of science fiction stories for teens, we ended up holding our breath a long time, at least as far as short stories were concerned.  (Erin nearly passed out at a Boston B&N when she realized the lack of SF anthologies. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

Since our Big Idea evolved as a dialogue it seems fitting for both of us to share the story here.

Erin: In early 2012, the Earth stood still. That was the day I entered a Boston Barnes & Noble’s YA section, really “looked” at what they had to offer.  I didn’t see a single SF anthology for teens. Standing there among the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and horror anthologies, I felt a bit betrayed. I’m a girl who grew up consuming a regular diet of geek fiction, and finding an absence of geek among the sleek, shiny anthologies told me that something had gone desperately, horribly wrong with the world. We were being invaded by werewolves, vampires, and witches, and there wasn’t a single space alien to blast them off the anthology shelves. That’s when I called Hannah and the Big Idea for Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction began to germinate. From there, our Big Idea grew into a Kickstarter campaign that gave life to Futuredaze.

Hannah: I’d noticed that, despite the Susan Collins juggernaut, comments about SF or the classic tales from which The Hunger Games derives appeared limited to a few mentions of Battle Royale.  As someone who remembers hearing audio broadcasts of Ray Bradbury’s short stories on NPR I kept waiting for some snarky critic to point out the grand tradition of ersatz future fiction that The Hunger Games had drawn on for inspiration.  I also noticed that dystopian SF seemed like the only sub-genre to have really gripped the public imagination—and while I adore those kinds of tales, there is much more to the SF universe.  This is the genre of James Tiptree, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stephen King’s Bachman books (I can’t read The Hunger Games without thinking of “The Long Walk”).  When we started reading for this anthology, we wanted to explore the possibilities of SF written for young adults, but we also wanted stories that hearkened back to our own formative reading experiences and gave us that special thrill of discovering characters who reflect a bit of your own experience—even if they’re in a far different time and place.

Erin: I agree with Hannah. I looked for the stories that made me “feel” something while reading because those are inevitably the stories that stay with me long after the last word is gone. If a story from our submission pool didn’t have that effect on me, I couldn’t imagine it within the anthology. Eventually stories began rising to the top, and we saw several standout stories per subgenre.  This encouraged us to move toward a much more generalized anthology that could showcase the best of what science fiction can offer. Except…..

Hannah: Except then we were invaded by robots.  My favorite aspect of YA is that it doesn’t talk down to its audience.  Likewise, I feel it must be said that our early submission period saw a deluge of what I nicknamed “white-girl robot” stories.  Speculative fiction has been going through some self-analysis lately and this sudden influx proved why.  A good chunk of those early stories not only thought “inside the box” when it came to the possibilities of scientific advancement—they were also obsessed with the idea of white-girl robots.  Not just the obvious sex-bot variety (although those were there, some even well written).  The robot horde came from white suburbia and, relentingly, had white suburban concerns.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that—but the sheer volume of such submissions proved why we need more projects like Futuredaze.

Erin: The robots were tough. We received so many we had an abundance of “mech” stories to choose from, but “The End of Callie V” was our favorite because it approached the idea of life and love in a unique way. For me, the biggest concern was the number of stories that, while well-written, didn’t fit the contemporary definition of young adult fiction. By this point, I’d been promoting and working with YA authors long enough to start wondering if there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes “YA fiction” within parts of the science fiction community. That realization was a bit of a shock for me.

Hannah: My one frustration with this anthology was that the overall submission pool wasn’t quite at the level I would have hoped for—either in terms of cultural awareness or an ability to think outside the box and get away from typical SF cliché’s like rocket ships.  However, the stories that were really thoughtful and original had a way of popping out so we quickly had more than enough entries for a highly entertaining, book length project.

Erin: My biggest challenge was to stop being nice. (If you know me, you’re laughing right now. I know it!) But seriously, once these gems floated to the top, it became a lot easier to cut the other pieces. Eventually, I learned an invaluable lesson: each anthology must have a story that sets the bar for every other story, if you want to avoid publishing an average anthology. For me, that story was “A Voice in the Night” by Jack McDevitt. I’d been a fan of his Alex Benedict series for years, and when Jack agreed to write a YA story for us featuring a young Alex (a teen with his very own “big idea”), I was thrilled. Once I read Jack’s piece, I saw what Futuredaze could be. The bar was set.

Hannah: While I would have liked to see a bigger representation of cultures from our submissions I really think this anthology will be a good jumping off place for kids who may have read The Hunger Games and are wondering what other sorts of characters and situations they can find.  We’ve got stories set in the near future, grand space opera type stuff and unique tales from emerging writers like Alex Dally MacFarlane whose “Unwritten in Green” was one of my favorite pieces.  This is a story that straddles the fantasy and SF genres in a really interesting way, ups the level of writerly craft, and points the way towards what this nascent rebirth of young adult SF can be.  We also decided to include poets in our line-up, which I feel provides yet another avenue for exploration.  Exposing our audience to new things—that was the idea all along.

Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powells

List of Contributing Authors. Visit Erin Underwood via her website.

Something Really Old VI: Chocolate

This was from my Fresno Bee column, in (I think) 1995.

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Chocolate is God’s way of reminding men how inadequate they are. I am vividly confronted with this fact every time my wife and I go out to a restaurant. When it gets to dessert, my wife usually orders the most chocolate-saturated dessert possible: It’s the one called “Unstoppable Double-Fudge Chocolate Mudslide Explosion” or some such thing. I always wonder why anyone would want to eat anything that promises a catastrophic natural disaster in your mouth.

The dark brown monstrosity arrives at the table, and my wife takes the first bite. Before the fork is even removed from her mouth, a small moan escapes her lips. Her eyes, previously perfectly aligned, first cross slightly and then faze completely, pupils dilating in pure chocolate pleasure before the eyelids clamp down in ecstasy. The hand not holding the fork clenches into a fist and starts pounding the table. The silverware rattles.

After about six minutes of this, she finally manages to swallow the bite, realign her eyes, and take the next shuttle back from whatever transcendental plane she’s been visiting. Slowly, her sphere of conciousness expands to include me, her husband, her life-long mate, her presumed partner in all things ecstatic.

“Hey, this is pretty good,” she’ll say. “You want some?”

No, I don’t. I want nothing to do with an object that does to my wife in one bite what I’ve worked for an entire relationship to achieve. It wouldn’t do any good, anyway. Men just don’t have the same relationship with chocolate that women do. It’s not even close. I wandered around the office today and asked men — “Chocolate. Your thoughts?” — and the result was always the same. First, a confused look as to why they’re being asked about something so trivial, and then some lame, obvious statement: “Uh…it’s brown?”

Ask women the same question, and you get responses like “The ONLY food group,” “ESSENTIAL to life as we know it,” and the ultimate casual swipe at every member of the Y-chromosome brigade, “better than sex.” Ouch. Some women will try to make up for that last one by quickly adding that chocolate is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Uh-huh. Chocolate certainly increases desire; problem is the desire is usually for more chocolate. The best a guy can do is buy a box of chocolates and hope he’ll be considered somewhere between the cherry truffle and the strawberry nougat.

Don’t get me wong. Guys like chocolate just fine; it’s just not essential to life as we know it. Respiration is essential to life as we know it; chocolate is simply one of those nice little bonuses you get. We won’t usually pass it up if it’s offered, but I don’t know too many guys who would get substantially worked up if it were to suddenly disappear from the face of the earth (ironic in a way, as back in the days of the Aztecs, only men were allowed to have the stuff). When I eat a chocolate dessert, I enjoy it, yes. My world view doesn’t narrow to include only the plate that it’s on.

Maybe we’re missing something. On the other hand, we don’t have to pick up our silverware from the floor after we’re done with our tiramisu. Life is about trade-offs like that. All I know is that come Valentine’s Day, chocolate will be among the things I offer my wife. I can’t truly appreciate it, but I can truly appreciate what it does for her. Which is close enough.

Obligatory Guest Cat Post

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As you are probably aware by now, John is away from the intarweebs. The last I heard, he battled a rather large, fire-breathing dragon in the foothills of some foreign land with nothing more than a piece of crispy bacon, a tub of frosting and a rubber chicken.*

In his absence aside from gleefully wielding the mallet with tender rage, I figured you would appreciate this rather lovely picture of Chloe that I took right after Christmas. By no means is Chloe trying to usurp the hold on your heart that the animals of the Scalzi compound currently enjoy. I just happened to be trying out my new 35mm lens on my Nikon D3100. The lens is one of the least expensive out there and does a fantastic job. Although, Chloe does not look as impressed as I was with the new toy. Also, look! It’s a cat picture! We need those!

*Unconfirmed and conflicting reports. Some accounts say Krissy defeated the dragon with her bare hands, while John ate the bacon, the tub of frosting and the rubber chicken. What happens in the foothills, stays in the foothills, people.