Monthly Archives: March 2013

Spring, Evidently Unsprung

I thought that we were largely over the whole snow thing for the season, but apparently I was wrong. This is what it the outside world looks like at the moment and apparently we’re supposed to get up to nine inches of this stuff by this time tomorrow. I am not pleased about this. On the other hand, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere anyway, and we have sufficient stock of Coke Zero in the house to last for two days. So, fine. Bring it on. I will say this, however. Spring 2013? You’re really disappointing me, son.

My Alternate Workspace

I noted that one of the reasons I wanted a new laptop was not only for travel but for when I felt like getting out of my own office and writing somewhere else in the house. For those curious, that usual “somewhere else” is this recliner, which is to be found in our front room. The recliner is ridiculously cheap (I believe Krissy got it from Odd Lots for about $100, which is cheap enough that she got two), ridiculously overstuffed and actually very comfortable, and it’s between two windows with southern and western views — i.e., lots of natural light. So I take a laptop, put it in my lap, and then recline and type for a bit. This was how parts of several episodes of The Human Division got written.

To be sure, most of my writing and other business activities take place in my office, because my office is also really nice and comfortable. But every once in a while you need to give your brain another environment. This is usually where I end up. In fact, it’s where I am right at this very moment.

A Petition All Of Us Can Get Behind, Except Vegetarians and Observant Members of at Least a Few Major Religions and Maybe Also People Who Never Got Over Watching the Movie “Babe”

What is this petition? Myke Cole explains in a letter to me:

Sir,

I’ve just petitioned the White House to have the USDA set a Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of bacon.

I thought you might be interested in this grassroots effort to enable citizens to directly power their government on a topic I know is dear to your heart.

The link is here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/have-usda-set-recommended-daily-intake-rdi-bacon/bcrhTFhX

Very Respectfully,
Myke Cole
SHADOW OPS #2: FORTRESS FRONTIER

I FULLY ENDORSE THIS. Let’s try it at once.

The Big Idea: Jane Yolen (and Adam Stemple)

Attention: Jane Yolen is awesome. And Adam Stemple (her son and occasional co-writer) is nifty too. And that’s all I have to say at the moment. I’m going to let them talk about their new book, B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy) now.

JANE YOLEN (with a note from ADAM STEMPLE at the end):

Okay, I’m Jewish. I’m only called the “Hans Christian Andersen of America” because that was his name. Maybe I am the “Hans Jewish Andersen of America,” though that was most likely Isaac Bashevis Singer.

But every once in a while I have an idea for a Jewish book and fairy tales. And the new book, out this spring, is one of them. It’s called B.U.G (Big Ugly Guy).

My son Adam Stemple and I were casting around for an idea for a new rock-and troll fairy tale novel, and I said, “Golem.”

He thought I was clearing my throat. “I got nothing,”

I said it again. “Golem.”

And then he got it.

OK, I’ll admit it, as an idea it was pretty thin. I had to explain to him that the golem was a man-made creature, created in medieval Prague by a rabbi out of clay to save the Jews who were being killed at the usual unnerving rate by the locals. The creature is huge and unstoppable, animated by the name of God written across its forehead or on a slip of paper under his tongue. But just as a golem grows from a handful of clay into a monstrous protector of the poor and vulnerable (and usually Jewish), this little idea began to grow between us.

Quickly we got to “bullied Jewish kid”. That wasn’t much of a stretch. Then to “father is a potter”. (This was necessary. We needed a lot of clay you see. Not just the ordinary playdough most kids have lying around in colored swatches) Finally one of us said “klezmer garage band.” That was the genius part. Well, maybe not. Kirkus certainly didn’t think so.

And you thought writers outlined!

Adam insisted it had to be a modern story and not set in Prague, which seemed sensible. Neither of us knew a thing about Prague nor wanted to do that research. Nor did we think a book set in medieval Prague had much of a chance of selling in today’s market. Or being read by today’s kids. I thought we could set it in the Midwest where Adam had lived for the past twenty-five years and he could do the research, if we needed it.

But then we took those oddly matched elements and turned them into cohesive and coherent (coherent is always a plus in fantasy novels for young readers) book which ended up being about how the bullied can turn into the bully, how trust can be broken and then mended through tragedy, and how song can bring young adults together in the most organic ways. God, I love writing. That should be in a piece of paper slipped under my tongue.

The road to publication was rockier than most, strewn as it was with an editor who moved midway to Canada, a publisher who changed his/her corporate mind about the book, and a Jewish editor at a different major house who made us rewrite the damned book till blood leaked from our fingertips. And now he is thinking we need the music for the song lyrics in the book for the ebook version. That’s Adam’s problem, he is the folk-rocker/composer/musical genius, not me. Maybe he is even the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of America. If so, he will need to borrow that white wig tied back with the sassy bow.

(Adam Stemple adds: Though I never let the truth get in the way of a good story (my mother’s career would be rockier if I had), I must insist that as a good Jewish boy, I already knew what a Golem was. And a Gollum. And the difference between the two. Though the thought of Gollum chasing Rabbi Loewe through the streets of Prague calling for his Preciousssssss does hold some appeal….)

—-

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy): Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Jane Yolen’s blog. Visit Adam Stemple’s blog. Follow Stemple on Twitter.

Two Simple Observations, Regarding Women

I already made this observation over at Twitter, but it’s worth repeating here, as it has relevance to several current events:

If your response to a woman doing something you don’t like is to threaten her with rape and death, she’s not the problem.

I know. Seems obvious. And yet! Apparently it is not.

Let’s further acknowledge that the scope of this observation can be widened: If your response to anyone doing anything you don’t like is to threaten them with assault and death, they’re not the problem. But let’s also not pretend that we don’t know what the usual vector for threatening is, either.

Likewise, and related, and also with application to several current events:

If your response to a woman is indistinguishable from an angry 14-year-old boy with poor impulse control, reconsider your response. 

Again: Seems obvious. And yet.

The Big Idea: Moses Gates

We know (or can guess) how authors create characters in fiction — but how do you create a character in a memoir? Which means that the character is a real person, and you have to represent them truthfully, but also in a way that serves the book and engages the reader. What’s the trick there? For Moses Gates, author of Hidden Cities, the answer is to take everything about that real world person — and subtract

MOSES GATES:

If writing a novel is like painting a picture – taking a blank canvas (or page) and creating a work of art from scratch, then writing a memoir is kind of like sculpting. A sculpture starts with a huge chunk of rock, has a vision of what he or she wants to create, and then goes about fulfilling that vision by removing the excess rock until he or she has the sculpture that he or she wants. The trick in sculpting – and memoir writing – is what you take out. You create a compelling story not through building plot, character and story from the ground up, like you would in a novel, but by leaving out all the pointless, boring, or unrelatable bits of your life and memory.

Memoir is taken from the French word for “Memory,” and unless you’ve got a case of amnesia (that would be an interesting memoir!), everybody already has enough memories to fill several books. I had starting writing Hidden Cities shortly after turning 35, which meant I had logged a bit over 300,000 hours of material. Even if I couldn’t remember 99% of my life, that’s still 3000 hours to work with. That’s a lot. After all, James Joyce once famously wrote 265,000 words (which is three times the length of my book), about a single day in the life of one character.

The first cut is easy. After all, while you might be able to start a memoir with “I’m four years old, running after a garbage truck on the streets on Knoxville, Tennessee with my friend Eric Watson” (which is my earliest memory), if the next 50 pages don’t progress past your wonderful relationship with Ms. Dolan your kindergarten  teacher, people are going to put the book down pretty quickly.

So I started with my base – crazy adventures, funny stories, poignant anecdotes. But that’s kind of like just seeing a random arm, toe, and left kneecap among the rock. An actual book has to have a story arc, theme, and/or sense of progression to it, otherwise it’s just a collection of essays. The stories were easy – creating this shape was a lot tougher.

First I started with the characters. Now, the reality is that we are, all of us, in real life, very complicated characters, far more complicated than are found on the pages of any book. We all have our moments of both whimsy and responsibility, triumph and failure, luck and misfortune. But we don’t have the luxury of showing all of these facets in all of our characters when writing – we have to distill. I went with a tried-and-true formula for writing memoirs, especially memoirs about subcultures, which is “average everyman follows brilliant but tragically flawed mentor into a strange new world,” (for anyone contemplating writing a subculture memoir, I cannot recommend following this format highly enough, but that’s another essay).

I chose to write myself as the average everyman, and the other characters more colorfully. But I could have just as easily wrote it the other way around. I devote an entire chapter in the middle of the book to a crazy night Steve (the brilliant but tragically flawed mentor) had, and me having to be responsible one who took care of him. I devote two lines in the epilogue to a very similar night where I was out-of-my-mind drunk, and Steve ended up having to be responsible for my inebriated idiocy. I shaped our characters by subtraction – by leaving out the second story, we weren’t simply two crazy guys doing crazy stuff, now there was some texture to our characters and their relationship.

The story arc was harder. I ended up writing it basically in three acts – the first one being “I wonder what’s out there to discover,” the second one being “holy moly, look at all this stuff out here to discover!” and the third being “well, this is great and all, but what’s the point of doing all of this?” Now, in actuality, I had all three feelings continually throughout the time this memoir took place. But by picking and choosing the types of memories and stories – funny, adventuresome, reflective – to leave in in the different sections, I was able to turn the book into more than just a collection of stories. I had found that connective tissue that molded the arm, toe, and left kneecap into something with a recognizable shape to it.

Finally, I decided I was going to have a theme – the theme of mental boundaries, how they limit us, and how they can be overcome. This was, basically, the decoration – a hat and some jewelry added to my sculpture, if you will, to give it some character and try to make it more than just another stone figure. Anytime I could remember – with traveling, with relationships, with ambitions – where I had encountered mental boundaries, I tried to work into the book. I wasn’t always able to do it (just like a jaunty fedora perched on the head of a sculpture of a Roman Centurion doesn’t really work), but the few times I was, I hope, served to tie the book together into a specific, easily recognizable work.

What all this did was serve to let me chip away at the bits of memory that didn’t serve any purpose.  Some of the stories were tough to let go (especially if they made me seem really cool), but once you get that vision of the sculpture in the rock, you don’t keep a chunk of marble sticking out of the back just because it’s a really pretty chunk of marble. Of course, you do keep it and save it for its own sculpture someday.

—-

Hidden Cities: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Why, No, You Can’t Write a Guest Post Here

Yet another “post now, refer people to later” post:

Recently my e-mail had been inundated with people who I don’t know and have never heard of before (or organizations, which is even worse), asking me if they can write a guest post on some highly obscure but generally commercially-related subject, because they are sure that my audience will just love it, etc. I don’t know whether this is a new spammy practice or if some SEO-mad consultant has advised his clients that “guest posts” are the new black, or whatever, but I do know this sudden wave of solicitations is highly annoying.

So, to those deeply annoying random strangers asking to borrow my readership:

NO, you may not have a guest post on my site. Please fuck right off and never bother me again. Now shoo.

Everyone else:

Generally speaking I have two types of guest posts: Big Ideas, for which there is already a well-established intake process, and the posts that happen when I ask people to be guest bloggers here when I take a break from the site — in which case I ask specific people. In almost no cases ever do I take unsolicited guest posts that aren’t Big Ideas (I think there may have been just one time in the last entire decade, in fact) and when I have, they are from people I know personally and consider friends, not just random people. Even if you are someone I know, the incidence of unsolicited guest posts on this site is .00012%. Those are not good odds.

So, yeah, if you’re not already in my close personal circle of real-world friends, don’t bother asking. If you are in my close personal circle of real-world friends, you probably shouldn’t ask unless in the most exceptional of circumstances (as was the case in the one last time).

Even shorter version: If I want a guest post, I’ll ask for it. Thanks.

Dell XPS 12 Two-Day Thoughts

I bought a Dell XPS 12 because I needed a full-featured laptop for when I travel (and for when I don’t feel like sitting at my desk in my office; for example, right now, when I’m sitting in one of the recliners in our front room), and have spend a couple of days playing with it, writing on it, and generally getting used to it. Here are my thoughts on it so far.

* One, people have wanted to know why I went from a MacBook Air for my last machine to a Win8 laptop this time around. The short answer is: because I felt like it. The longer answer is that with the exception of exactly one thing, which I will get to in a moment, I don’t particularly have a preference for one OS or manufacturer over the other. While the Air I had was a gorgeous little computer, the XPS 12 has all the features I want (including some I can’t get on a Mac laptop yet) and better integrates with my desktop environment, which is also a Win8 box. So it seemed reasonable to go this route this time around.

This cavalier attitude regarding manufacturers and OSs will possibly start a holy war in the comments, but whatever. At the end of the day, computers are machines I use to do my work. The Win8 environment, for various reasons, best supports what I do for my work. And this particular computer seemed to have the best feature set for me. So there we have it.

* And, yes, this XPS 12 is a sweet little computer. I bought the fully-specced out version, because I intend to have it for a few years and don’t want it to chug on programs any earlier than it has to. That means that its guts (8GB RAM, i7 processor, 1920×1080 screen, etc) are not too far off from my desktop computer from a couple years back. The main differences there: A smaller hard drive (but this one has no moving parts and so is much faster to boot up and find things), and slightly less capable graphics, which I notice only if I’m trying to play graphics-intensive video games, which I don’t typically do on my laptops anyway. It also comes with a touchscreen which swivels on hinges into a tablet mode, which is a useful but idiosyncratic feature will I will explore in a minute.

So far there isn’t really anything I’ve thrown at the XPS 12 that it hasn’t been able to handle perfectly well, which is good — and which is why I needed the upgrade in the first place, since after my Air was stolen I was using a netbook which was increasingly limited in what it could do. It’s nice to have a fully capable computer which is also in an ultrabook format (i.e., tiny — this is a 12.5-inch screen and weighs three and a half pounds). Also, it has a lighted keyboard, which as silly as it may sound has become a deal-breaker for me in laptops; at this point, I won’t buy a laptop without one.

* That said, there are some idiosyncrasies of the machine that people who are interested in it for themselves should probably consider. First, while the computer’s screen is, flatly, gorgeous — a 1920×1080 display on a 12-inch screen is well and sufficiently “retina” for most humans –  it also means that text on the screen is tiny, even with the XPS 12 defaulting to displaying text at 125%. My 43-year-old eyes were not particularly happy with that. On the Chrome browser I ended up going into the settings and having Chrome display Web pages (and their text) at 150%, which solved the problem for about 80% of everything I use the computer for; for everything else I’m going in and bumping up text sizes where needed.

Second, the track pad is somewhat less than impressive — it’s yet another twitchy, imprecise trackpad on a Windows machine. This is the one place where I unreservedly have a bias for Apple products: Apple has figured out trackpads so well that they just plain work — and that’s a genuine competitive advantage. I had to immediately go in and start futzing with this trackpad to get it to be functional, and I’m not near done futzing with it, and when it’s as optimized as it can be it still won’t be anywhere as good as an Apple trackpad. And that just makes me sad.

* People are understandably interested in the screen rotating on hinges and becoming a jumbo-sized tablet, so let me talk about that for a second. One, it pretty much works as advertised: You push on the top corner of the screen and it disengages from its frame, turns on a pivot, and reverses. From there you can fold the now-outward facing screen down over the keyboard and it becomes a tablet. This is fun to do and impresses folks, at least the ones I’ve shown the trick to.

But is it useful and functional? Maybe. The tablet mode is fine for reading and looking at stuff but less useful for using the computer as a computer, which I don’t think comes as a surprise to anyone. But even with the reading and looking at stuff, there are a few problems, most of which seem to be the effect of Windows 8, even in “tablet mode,” being less refined than either iOS or Android are at this point. And if you have something in desktop mode and you “go tablet,” then it’s even messier; things on desktop really do assume a keyboard and a mouse/trackpad rather than fingers. There is a keyboard in the tablet mode, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it’s nice and responsive and I had no problems typing with it. On the other hand, like the iPad keyboard, it shunts numbers and lots of punctuation to a secondary keyboard, which deeply limits its usefulness for actual work.

Reviews of the XPS 12 note that the computer in tablet mode is heavy, and I suppose it is, but honestly, three and a half pounds isn’t exactly a horrible burden. I noticed that to the extent I’ve used it in tablet mode I’m typically sitting or lying down and have the thing propped up on my knees. Whether I’m subconsciously tailoring my use of the tablet to compensate for its form is an open question, but even if I am it’s not really a problem.

At the moment I see the tablet mode more as a nice little extra than a genuinely useful part of the computer, and that’s fine since I bought it to be a laptop, not a tablet. It’ll be nice if the tablet aspect becomes more useful over time.

* This is a Windows 8 machine and I have to say I am still pretty ambivalent to Win8′s user interface for people who use their computers to do actual work. As some of you might remember, on my desktop I’ve banished the Win8 “Start Page” by using Stardock’s “Start 8″ program, which causes the computer to go directly to the desktop screen, and allows me to get to work without having to step out of my process. I speculated at the time that the Start Page might make more sense on a smaller screen, say, the one I have on the XPS.

Well, now I have the smaller screen and I’m still not terribly convinced of its utility; I mostly still find myself blowing through the start screen to get to the desktop. Again this is more of a reflection of my own workflow than anything else; if I was largely using the computer for recreational activities I might have a different reaction. I’m going to stick with the start screen for at least another week, but if it doesn’t start making sense for me (rather than being just another bit of work I have to do to get to the work I have to do), then I’m gonna buy another copy of Start 8 and drop it onto this machine as well (note that once I get to the desktop, I like Win8 just fine — it actually is an improvement on Win 7).

So: I like the XPS 12 so far, and for those folks looking for a Win8 Ultrabook, I think it’s well worth your consideration, so long as you’re aware of its quirks.

The Big Idea: Chandler Klang Smith

In this edition of the Big Idea, author Chandler Klang Smith confronts reality, the imaginary, perception, and, of course, Bob Dylan, whilst discussing her novel Goldenland Past Dark. Good morning! Hope you’ve had your coffee.

CHANDLER KLANG SMITH:

When one sees reality through the mind’s eye, what is created?  And what is erased, distorted, lost?

The last song on the Bob Dylan album Highway 61 Revisited is “Desolation Row.” Like most of the other tracks, it’s populated with surreal and carnivalesque figures: a tightrope walker, a fortuneteller, the hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, mermaids.  After what seems like a final verse (in which the players board the doomed Titanic), the music goes into a lengthy harmonica solo – presumably, the end of the song, the end of the album.  But it isn’t.  Like the false bottom of a drawer, it’s just there to conceal the most important content. When Dylan’s lyrics return, the imagery is entirely different from what’s preceded it:

“Yes, I received your letter yesterday / About the time the doorknob broke / When you asked me how I was doing / Was that some kind of joke? / All these people that you mention / Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame / I had to rearrange their faces / And give them all another name…”

Like a dream, the song has taken characters and situations from the speaker’s life and translated them into symbols, disguised them in metaphor. Sometimes reality only becomes bearable when glimpsed in the funhouse mirror of the imagination.

If I had one guiding idea when I wrote Goldenland Past Dark, it was this. My novel is about a young circus performer, Webern Bell, damaged physically and psychologically by a childhood that left him motherless, hunchbacked, and stunted. In the present day, he deals with everything emotional in his life (memories, love, grief, anger, rejection), through bizarre clown routines that come to him in dreams. When even that becomes too painful, he finds comfort with an imaginary friend, Wags, who also serves as his double, scapegoat, and replacement.

As someone who prefers the alternate worlds of fiction to any reality I’ve experienced, I can certainly relate to the impulse to make sense of life through fantasy. Yet I see something sinister in it too, and this was the tension I wanted to explore. The urge to retreat, to escape, can be a creative one, but taken to an extreme, it can be a form of delusion, self-erasure – psychic suicide. It also can let the dreamer off too easy. In the kingdom of one’s own mind, other people aren’t real, so there’s no need to consider anyone else’s point of view.

Which brings us back to the Bob Dylan song. For me, that final verse is so powerful not just because he reveals the logic underlying the creation of the song that precedes it, but because, for the first time, he acknowledges the presence of the listener he’s addressing.  And more than that, he’s communicating with this person – not just transmitting a message into the void, but continuing a conversation, responding to the letter he received.  As much as he wants to be left alone (“Don’t send me no more letters, no…”), the hope of being understood by another has motivated and inspired him all along.

The point of making art isn’t just to create a space where you can go to sort out the nonsense of life; it’s to open up this space to others, too. By the end of Goldenland Past Dark, my protagonist makes himself vulnerable in this way, and consequently, grows up as a person and as a performer.

—-

Goldenland Past Dark: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

Steubenville and CNN and the Rest

Various news organizations, CNN and Fox most notably, have been catching all sorts of crap on my Twitter and Facebook feeds for being unduly handwringing about the fate of the two Ohio teenage boys who raped a drunk and unconscious girl and then found themselves found guilty (actually “delinquent,” which is the juvenile crimes version of guilty) of the rape. The boys were called good kids and excellent students who now faced very different lives because of the verdict. Not much was said about the girl who was raped, although I am led to understand Fox at least partially outed her identity. The combination of these things inspired various levels of rage among the social media set.

And, well. The social media set is right. From the CNN clips I saw, it was as if there was a “passive voice” version of events — look what’s being done to these poor boys — without a corresponding emphasis on the fact that what was being done to the boys was a direct consequence of what they did, namely, rape a drunk and unconscious young woman who could not consent to their actions. This wasn’t a Kafkaesque moment in American jurisprudence, in which these two kids were hauled up in front of a judge for something they didn’t do; they did rape someone. The best (in the sense of “least egregious”) thing you could say is that these boys didn’t understand that their actions made them rapists. But that doesn’t make them innocent of rape, and moreover if they were good kids and students, it seems doubtful they had not learned at some point that sticking your fingers into a woman while she’s too drunk to consent is a thing one should not do. Even if one wanted to argue that’s not rape (which would be incorrect by Ohio law, which is the relevant standard here), it’s still physical battery of a specially egregious sort. It’s hard to formulate a scenario in which a good kid who is a good student doesn’t know that fact.

I think it’s reasonable to be sad these two young men did not have the good sense not to do what they did. I think it’s reasonable to lament that those around these young men did not or could not make them understand that the actions they took were rape before they took those actions. I think it’s fine to note that because of their actions, these kids won’t have the future they would have had if they chosen not to take those actions. What you don’t do is imply that two young people found guilty of rape were victims of tragic circumstance. They weren’t the victims of tragic circumstance; they were the authors of it.

Outside of the news organizations in question, there have been lots of comments that want to find some way to make the girl who was raped share in the blame of her rape, the most obvious of which is the “well, what was she doing drinking so much she lost consciousness?” sort. These comments imply (and in some cases, state explicitly) that if you drink so much you can’t think straight then you kind of deserve what’s coming to you. It should be obvious why this sort of thinking is full of stupid, but as it’s apparently not, let’s go over this again:

1. One’s own poor judgment does not excuse the poor judgment of others.

2. Nothing excuses rape.

Toward the first, yes, it was not a good idea for the girl to drink so much (presuming she did, and was not roofied, or given drinks stronger than she wanted, or all sorts of other scenarios of that sort). This is separate and independent from the fact that it was not a good idea for two boys to rape someone too drunk to give consent. Attempting to link the two is an attempt to suggest causality (“Because the girl was drunk, she was raped”). The causality is easy to infer, but it’s wrong, both legally and morally. The young woman was drunk; separately and independently two young men raped a woman unable to consent to their actions. The young woman should not have been that drunk, perhaps, but her being that drunk does not mean that she invited, should have expected or should bear without complaint, being raped.

There are folks who respond to this with something along the line of “yeah, but if you taunt a bear, you shouldn’t be surprised when your arm gets torn off.” The correct response to this is that human beings aren’t bears. We expect more from human beings and have systems in place to deal with them when they choose not to act humanely to other people. Any response of “Yeah, but…” essentially reduces humans to dumb animals. It’s okay to expect more from humans than that they are dumb animals.

Toward the second, there is no social, legal or moral action in which sexual assault is a reasonable end result, period, end of sentence. Which means that everyone trying to shift blame to the girl for her rape are wrong, and also means that everyone out there going “Hurr hurr those doodz are going to get it in the ass in jail for sure” are wrong, too. The two boys who raped the girl shouldn’t themselves be raped. If you’re confused as to why this is, please refer to point one.

The two young men who raped the young woman are solely responsible for their actions, and are being punished for their actions. It’s a shame they did what they did. But they did do it. It’s a point not to be forgotten, by CNN, by the people trying to include the young woman in the blame, or by anyone else.

The Human Division, Episode Ten: This Must Be the Place is Now Live!

Tuesday! We greet you again in all your second-day-of-the-work-week-ness! And with a new episode of The Human Division: “This Must Be the Place.” Let’s find out what it’s about:

Colonial Union diplomat Hart Schmidt is back home for Harvest Day celebrations—to a family whose members wonder whether its youngest son isn’t wasting his life clinging to the lowest rung of the CU’s diplomatic ladder. When his father, a legendarily powerful politician, presents him with a compelling offer, Schmidt has to take stock of his life and career.

This episode will be interesting to see how people respond to, because this episode isn’t particularly “science fictional” — with the exception of a self-driving car, there’s very little tech that would be out of place today or situations that make you feel like you’re in the future. What it is, however, is a character study of one of the series’ most important characters: Hart Schmidt. Schmidt’s more than Harry Wilson’s sidekick and straight man, after all — he’s got his own reasons for doing things and for being in the diplomatic corps.

The excellent thing about the episodic nature of The Human Division is that it allows me to explore things in this manner in a way that I might not otherwise in a novel structure. It’s nice to give Schmidt his moment in the sun, and give him a context that makes everything that happens to him in the novel — and what will happen to him — a new depth.

Plus, this episode has at least a couple of my favorite lines of dialogue in the whole thing. That’s a plus too.

This is an episode that I suspect could benefit from folks talking about it a bit, so if you have thoughts about it (and especially if you liked it), feel free to review or comment about it on Amazon/Goodreads/your blog. Every little bit will help. And thank you! Also, of course, there will be the weekly discussion on Tor.com, which I will post to as soon as I see it’s up (update: It’s up! Also read the first comment, which contains extra quotes from me).

Next week we begin the final three episodes of the book, and it starts with a bang: The Clarke in a space battle. It’s “A Problem of Proportion,” and it’s one of the key episodes of the novel. Don’t miss it!

This Must Be the Place: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audiobook) (all links US)

P.S.: Yes, the title comes from this:

Which is one of my favorite songs from the Talking Heads, and one of the best songs of the 80s, in my opinion.

Meet the Replacement

The computer on the right is the Toshiba Satellite I purchased in 2007 in the middle of my book tour, because the laptop I  had been carrying along with me died and I need something to replace it with, and the Toshiba seemed like a good choice at the time. And it was; your basic 15-incher with all the various bells and whistles. Its major drawback was that it was heavy; about seven or eight pounds. It stopped being my travel computer a while ago, for which my shoulder thanked me, but it did service as my wife’s computer for a number of years, until it basically just got too old and slow and developed a worrying click in the hard drive.

The computer on the left is the Dell XPS 12 I just bought to go on the next tour. It’s not actually a replacement for the Toshiba, which as I noted has been retired as the travel computer for some time (it’s more of a replacement for the MacBook Air which got stolen on the last tour), but my wife decreed that if I was going to bring another computer into the house, one of the older ones had to go. The Toshiba was the oldest and slowest and the least used, so it’s been voted off the island. I pulled the hard drive and the battery and everything else is off to recycling.

It was kind of fun to put the two side by side and just sort of marvel at the difference six years has brought. The XPS is smaller but significantly more powerful, with a better resolution screen which is also touch sensitive, faster guts and a speedier flash memory drive which, while smaller, is more than sufficient in a cloud-obsessed age. On the other hand — and because of said cloud-obsessed age — the XPS lacks an optical drive and even a built-in SDHC card drive. The former I won’t much miss (I can’t actually remember when I used a CD or DVD in my computer), but the SDHC thing is slightly annoying, albeit easily dealt with through a $10 card reader. But basically, the XPS is half as thick, less than half as heavy, and generally twice (or more) the computer the Toshiba is. Not to mention the screen is on a hinge that allows you to make the XPS a slightly bulky but still serviceable tablet. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, I tell you.

Although I’m getting rid of the Toshiba I have to say I am impressed with it. It lasted almost exactly six full years of daily use and right until very near the end did exactly what it was advertised to do. I have no complaints about it at all, and it fulfilled my basic tenet of buying stuff: I bought the best I could buy at the time, and then I used it until it really wasn’t usable anymore. Six years is a good run for a laptop. Let’s see how the XPS 12 does before it gets replaced.

Reminder: Get Your Gamma Rabbit T-Shirts While They’re Here

As you can see the Gamma Rabbit t-shirts have begun to ship, so if you ordered one, if you don’t have it now, you’ll have it soon. As I am wearing one even as I type this, I can assure that the t-shirt is indeed of high quality, and the graphic is a hell of a lot nicer than your basic iron-on sort. You’ll be able to wear your Gamma Rabbit shirt proudly for a long time indeed.

BUT: If you want a Gamma Rabbit t-shirt, now’s the time to get one, because after the turn of the month, these rabbits go out of print — yes, this is a limited edition shirt. So get your gamma on, enrage a bunch of idjits, and do some good (I’m donating all my net on these shirts to RAINN). You can’t get any better than that.

Here’s the order page. Note that in addition to the colors you see there, the shirts also come in black (and also in pink for men). Go get them!

And yes, before anyone says it, I am seriously considering the above picture as my next author photo.

Here’s a slightly more sedate shot, so you can get a better look at the shirt.

I bought two of these shirts. At least one of them is going on book tour with me.

What I Did at Engadget Expand

Engadget has a liveblogging of my panel with Veronica Belmont and Daniel Wilson (with Engadget’s Tim Stevens moderating) and it’s available here. It was a fun panel to be on; Veronica and Daniel were great co-panelists and we bounced a lot of ideas of each other. I assume at some point Engadget will put up the video of the panel; when it does I’ll either link to or post it.

I hung about and caught some of the rest of Engadget Expand as well — really interesting, and I think these guys are on to something.

San Francisco is otherwise lovely. Wish you were here. Yes, all of you. Don’t know where we would put you all, though. Logistics: Not my strong suit.

Update, 6:18 pm (Pacific): Video is up!

While I’m Away, An Open Promotion Thread

This is my Bag of Travelin’, and the moment this goes up I am (hopefully) in an airplane, flying over Nebraska or Kansas or some such state, on my way to San Francisco and the Engadget Expand conference. I’m going to be busy most of the weekend, at the conference and/or hanging with friends, so there’s a good possibility I won’t update here again until I get back home Monday.

But, hey! This means it’s a perfect time to do a promotion thread, in which you, the readers of Whatever, promote to each other the stuff you like or love — stuff you’re doing, stuff your friends are doing, or just stuff you like even though you don’t know anyone involved. It could be a Web site, could be a new book or album, some crafty thing that’s caught your eye, a Kickstarter campaign or whatever. If you like it, and you think others would like it too, share it. It’s been a bit since I put up a promotion thread here, so no doubt you have all sorts of cool stuff saved up.

Note that if you do more than a couple of links in a comment, you might get the message punted into the moderation queue. I’ll be checking that queue from time to time today (even from the air — you can do that now) to release those messages, so don’t panic if it doesn’t immediately post. I recommend one link per comment, and making more than one comment if you have more than one thing to suggest.

So: what do you want to tell people about today? Share it in the comment thread!

The Big Idea: Deb Taber

We all have ethical perspectives, but what happens when a writer tries to get inside the head of someone with a, shall we say, truly unique take on the ethical responsibilities of the human race? Deb Taber, author of Necessary Ill, may have an insight into this particular trick.

DEB TABER:

Survival is an instinct. Despite the complexity of the human brain, on a basic biological level our bodies, our genes, want to survive. Not just survival of the individual, but survival of the species as a whole. But what do you do about survival of the species if reproduction is out of the question? That’s the big idea—or rather, the big question—behind Necessary Ill.

The science fiction that has always fascinated me most is that which takes a scientific fact or premise and stretches it into a shape it was never meant to fit. For me the ideas  began with a book titled Cats are Not Peas by Laura Gould.

Ms. Gould found herself the owner of a male calico cat. Sounds benign on the surface, right? But if you know much about cat genetics, then you know that in the XX-or-XY-only world we’re taught in science classes, male calico cats cannot exist. This is (in very simplified language) because the genes for black fur and orange fur in cats are both on the X chromosome, so to get both black and orange on the same cat, you need two X chromosomes. What Ms. Gould found out in the search to understand her pet genetic anomaly was that genetics are far, far more fascinating and complex than Mr. Mendel’s peas.

Humans are far from exempt from such genetic possibilities, and with a few simple changes to our basic sex chromosomes you get things that shouldn’t be possible, like our friend the male calico cat. Add a liberal dose of science fiction and you get humans who have a whole different perspective on the survival of the species; one not centered on reproduction.

In Necessary Ill, the neuts (naturally genderless humans) have many pursuits to satisfy this basic urge of mammals to ensure survival of their own species. Some go into medicine, others teach, others research and develop methods for helping the human race overcome its need to overconsume and create long-lasting waste. But what if, with the drive to reproduce removed and the aptitude toward science in place, all that you learned, all that you could see, told you the primary threat to human survival, and the solution was clear and logical: cull the population to more manageable levels?

That’s where the spreaders come in: neuts who spread carefully engineered plagues with the end goal of survival of the species over survival of individuals. And they must do so without promoting one type of human over the other, bypassing racial, socioeconomic, and all other bias they can quantify. The challenge here was to create the story’s main protagonist, Jin, a spreader who firmly believes in the rightness of mass murder for mass survival, yet make that character an engaging, even sympathetic, character.

For me, the key to Jin was understanding the background of the thought process Jin comes from: Jin’s own quest to understand the reason why the answers it sees so clearly are considered so wrong.

—-

Necessary Ill: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book’s Web page.

Various and Sundry, 3/14/13

Some stuff I don’t wanna break into their own posts:

* Google Reader is getting the ax, to the wailing and howling of nerds everywhere, including me, because I use it and like it because it’s simple to use, displays what I want to read via RSS how I want to read it, and otherwise doesn’t suck. But Google apparently couldn’t figure out a way to monetize it, so out it goes. This is a trenchant reminder to everyone that the only thing permanent about the Internet is that nothing on it is permanent, including the stuff you think will last forever because you and everyone you know online uses it. This is especially the case when you’re using something offered for free. This is why at the end of the day I keep (and pay for) my own domain, e-mail and everything else. Because you never know. Actually, you do know. You know it’s going to end.

* I have no real thoughts on the new pope other than the news reports suggest like he likes his humility, and he seems at least somewhat engaged with his church working for the least of its followers, and on the surface both look like a good thing to me. He’s also apparently generally conservative on social issues (women/gays/abortion), which also doesn’t really surprise me at all. If I were Pope and I could only focus on a single thing, it would be dealing with the Church’s child abuse issues, so it would be good if Pope Francis could at least take on that. But then, I’m not a Catholic; Francis doesn’t have to listen to me.

* It’s been noted to me that I’m not writing a whole lot on politics at the moment, to which I’d say, nope, I’m not. In fact, since I’ve gotten back from the JoCo cruise, I’ve cut out almost all of my political site reading entirely. I pop in to Talking Points Memo about once a day out of school loyalty to Josh Marshall, but otherwise I’ve taken mostly a pass on everything else. Why? Because mostly at this point my brain looks at politics and goes waaaaaaaaaaaah NO. And why not listen to my brain, for a change? I’m keeping up with the basics via the news sites, and I’m sure at one point or another something will annoy me enough to comment on. But the the moment: Meh, pass.

* As I mentioned on Twitter not too long ago, tackling the Random House stuff over the last week was, from the point of view of being an advocate for writers, totally worth my time — but from the point of view of being a writer, was a week’s worth of time I wasn’t writing pay copy, which, you know, boooooooooo. This was the year I was supposed to catch up on all my writing! Don’t mind me, I’m just whining. About the things I do to myself.