Monthly Archives: July 2013

Reminder: Vote for Hugos by Midnight, Central Time

If you were planning to vote for the Hugos this year, today’s the day: The deadline for getting your Hugo ballot in is 11:59pm Central time. Here’s all the information, plus a link to the actual ballot. I suggest voting sooner rather than later, since there’s nothing worse than a last minute rush for the online ballot and the servers getting jammed up. Then they have to sacrifice a Campbell nominee to the angry server gods. Don’t do that to the Campbell nominees, folks. They’re good people.

If you meant to vote but still have not gotten your membership, dude. Get on that. Here’s the page with the membership info. Better hurry.

Polygon Takes a Look at Morning Star

Video game site Polygon does an in-depth look at Morning Star and Morning Star Alpha, the video game and related graphic novel (respectively) that I’ve been working on. The focus is on Alex Seropian, the head of Morning Star’s studio Industrial Toys (and co-founder of Bungie and co-creator of Halo), although I and artist Mike Choi show up quite a bit in the piece as well. The piece is the most detailed piece to date on the game and graphic novel, so if you’re curious you should really check it out.

Queenie Needs a New Home

UPDATE, 7pm: New home found!

Queenie is my mother-in-law’s cat, and my mother-in-law is moving to an apartment which unfortunately does not allow pets. So we are hoping to relocate Queenie to a new, loving home. She is an indoor cat between one and two years old, small (about eight pounds) active but not hyper, loving and even-tempered. She is up to date with all her shots and has no medical issues. She’s a total sweetheart, basically.

She’s free to a good home, although you’ll need to come and get her, so if you live within 50 miles of Bradford, Ohio, that would probably be best. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail. We’re hoping to have her relocated this week.

(Since someone will ask: If we can’t find takers, we will add her to our menagerie. She’s in no danger of being abandoned. But we already have three cats and a dog. We’d prefer not to add another pet. Save us!)

Today’s Time Waster: Literary Figure Collective Nouns

Imagine there were more than one of your favorite literary characters (or film characters, or video game characters, or whatever). Like clones, or something. What would you call the grouping of the multiple instances of that character? What would be their idiomatically correct collective noun? Give your examples in the comment thread.

To get you started, here’s some I’ve thought up.

A Hesitation of Hamlets
A Banter of Benedicts
A Dourness of Darias
A Honeypot of Poohs
A Returning of Terminators
A Smirking of Kirks
A Library of Belles
An Aside of Rosencrantzes
A Fussiness of Fraisers
An Embarrassment of Jar-Jars

Got it? You take it from here. Let’s see what you come up with.

Novel Writing and Related Topics FAQ

Hey, did you know I write novels? And yet, I haven’t done one of those FAQ articles to refer people to when they ask me the same questions I always get asked. Let me take care of that right now.

Who are you and how many novels have you written?

I’m John Scalzi. Here are the novels (and other books) I have written.

What inspires you to write novels?

My mortgage and the knowledge that everything else in the world is actual work.

How many words do you write a day? What is your daily schedule?

When I’m writing a novel, I try for 2,000 words a day, more or less. I also tend to do that writing between 8am and 12pm on weekdays, because that’s when my brain is most fresh and I’m not distracted by the rest of the universe. If I’ve been writing since 8am and it’s noon and I’m still not at 2,000 words, I tend to knock off for the day anyway. If I hit noon and I’m on a roll, I will often keep going until I feel like I’ve hit a good stopping point. The closer I get to the end of a book, the more I tend to write a day, and the longer I tend to write, because I want to be done.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

It depends on the novel. Generally speaking most novels I write are in the 90,000 to 100,000 word range. If you note my standard writing speed above, you’ll see I aim for 10,000 words a week, which means ten weeks to write a novel. In reality, the time to write a novel has been as short as five weeks (Redshirts) and as long as nine months (The Human Division) depending on several factors including but not limited to plotting and structuring, time able to spend writing each day, and real life getting in the way of my writing time.

Do you outline?

Not generally. I usually start writing and make it up as I go along. I know writers who outline, however, and it seems to work for them. I think writers should do what works for them.

How many drafts do you do?

One. However, as I write I also edit and revise, because you can do that when you work on a computer. So a lot of the work that other writers do in second and subsequent drafts gets done by me as I go along. I call this “fractal drafting.” However, I know authors who write a complete first draft and then make second (or additional) drafts. Because that’s the process that works for them. Again, writers should do what works for them.

Where do you get your ideas for novels?

Writers generally hate this question; I personally find the question puzzling. Finding ideas is not hard. They’re everywhere and my brain naturally comes up with tons of others on a regular basis. The issue is not getting ideas. The issue is separating the relatively few really good ideas from the vast sea of bad ones. That’s the real challenge. I solve that problem with time — if an idea is a good one, it will stick around. If it’s still in my head months or even years after I first think of it, it might be worth pursuing.

Are you ever going to write fiction that’s not science fiction?

Maybe. We’ll see.

May I be one of your beta readers?

I don’t typically employ beta readers outside of my wife and one or two close friends, and when I do I solicit them directly. So thanks, but no.

Are you going to do any more novels in the [name of a novel] series?

The answer to this, barring an actual signed contract, is always “maybe, we’ll see.”

Are they going to make a movie/TV show/video game/etc of [name of novel]? 

The answer to this, barring an actual signed option contract, is always “probably not, but we’ll see.” When there is an actual signed option contract, the answer is “probably not, but at least someone is trying and I’m getting paid while they do.” Also, the answer to “You should make a movie/tv show/video game/etc of [name of novel]” is “Give me $60 million to make it, please.”

Any writing advice?

Yes.

I have a great idea for a novel. Can I tell you about it?

I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need any more ideas (see above) and I don’t want you or anyone else thinking I stole a novel idea from you or anyone else. Related to that, I’m not interested in collaborating with you (or anyone else) on a novel, especially when that “collaboration” is “I give you the idea, you write it, we split the profits.” Sorry, no.

Do you mind if I write fan fiction/make fan art set in the world of your novels?

Generally, I have no problem with this. Have fun. Here’s my long-form fan fic/fan art policy.

Can I send you my unpublished/self-published novel/story for critique?

No.

May I send you a fan letter?

Sure. Thanks. I read these all and try to respond if I’m not otherwise squashed by work and commitments.

If I send you a book to sign will you sign it?

Sorry, no. Here’s why, and how to get signed books from me.

You made a factual error in [name of novel]. Can I tell you about it?

Sure, send me an e-mail. If it checks out I’ll send a note to my publisher to fix it in future editions. Be aware that unless the book has just come out, however, I’ve already probably been made aware of the error and you are one of several dozen people to let me know of the error. If the book is more than a year old, you probably shouldn’t bother. Also, be aware I may not respond to e-mail noting errors, excepting the one that initally spots the error.

You made a poor creative choice in [name of novel]. Can I tell you about it? 

Try to resist. The book has already been published and I’m not going to change it. I wouldn’t have sent it in to be published if I wasn’t happy with it. Go ahead and write a review about it somewhere. You don’t need to tell me. I don’t tend to respond to these e-mails.

I have writing advice for you. Can I tell you about it?

Unless you are someone from whom I’ve solicited feedback or are actually my editor, no. I’ve been doing this writing thing professionally for two decades now. I don’t want or need unsolicited writing advice, particularly from people who I don’t know and/or who are not professional writers/editors. Offering it will just annoy me. I will delete your e-mail.

Your novel is not available where I live/not in a language I prefer to read/not in a format I prefer/not at a price I find congenial/not published in a manner I find philosophically aligned to my own worldview and desires. Can I tell you about it?

If you must, but be aware that in nearly all cases there’s not much I can do about it. All of that is under the control of the companies who publish my work and/or the retailers who carry it. The most I can typically do for you is say “sorry,” and then suggest you go talk to the publisher/retailer. Please do be aware that if what you’re really doing is writing to me to get on a hobby horse about ideal book prices, traditional vs. indie publishing, global markets or etc, I’ll probably delete your e-mail as soon as the hobby horse becomes apparent. You could save us both time by skipping that.

Other (brief) questions that make sense to be in this particular FAQ? Ask them in the comment section; I might add them to the FAQ in the future.

Because I Just Went and Saw “The Wolverine,” My Top Ten List of Comic Book Films

In order:

1. The Dark Knight
2. Superman (1978)
3. The Crow
4. Blade II
5. TIE: Men in Black and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
6. V for Vendetta
7. Red
8. Sin City
9. Hellboy
10.TIE: Josie and the Pussycats and The Avengers

Oh, don’t look at me like that. Josie and the Pussycats is a trashy pop awesome instamatic picture of the Y2K-era music business. If you don’t want any of that, that’s your problem. The Avengers doesn’t rank any higher because who the hell gives a crap about the Chitauri; they exist in that movie just so the third act can expensively demolish Manhattan. Yeah, fine, but meh. There, I said it.

List your own favorite comic book movies in the comments, if you are so moved.

(Also: The Wolverine: Much better than the first Wolverine movie. Otherwise, entertaining but don’t think too much about it.)

The Big Idea: Adam Schrager

I’ve known Adam Schrager since we were both college newspaper editors (me at University of Chicago, he at Michigan). While I eventually abandoned journalism for a career of making things up for a living, Adam’s kept at it, finding fascination in real life stories as an investigative reporter. In his latest book, The Sixteenth Rail, Adam uses those journalism skills to tell the story of one of the great crime dramas of the 20th century, and how it was solved — by science.

ADAM SCHRAGER:

I remain convinced I could have solved one of the great criminal mysteries of all time if my older sisters had not complained to my parents that I was being annoying.

It was 1977 and we were traveling along the west coast, where five-plus years earlier a man named D.B. Cooper, wearing a dark suit, had parachuted out of a 727 airplane with a $200,000 ransom. I had brought a well-worn, green, hard cover book chronicling the country’s top crimes on our family trip and to this aspiring 7-year-old detective, every man I saw in a dark suit was a lead worth calling 9-1-1 to report.

The fact that in the nearly six years since the hijacking, he had likely changed outfits was lost on me. However what I retained from that vacation, besides the fact that my sisters were not as enterprising as me, was a vivid memory of the chapter chronicling the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. (a.k.a. “The World’s Baby”).

The son of the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean was snatched from his nursery late on the night of March 1, 1932. The police report chronicled the complete list of evidence as: a ransom note, a standard carpenter’s chisel and a homemade, three-piece, sectional ladder.

Lindbergh Sr. was quite simply the most popular man in the world at the time, his extraordinary feat led to his receiving 3.5 million letters within weeks of his landing in Paris. His friend Fitzhugh Green wrote, “There was a definite phenomenon of Lindbergh quite the like of which the world had never seen.”

After lead after lead evaporated and the maze of theories led to dead end after dead end, the pressure to solve the crime grew exponentially when the 20-month-old boy was found dead. “There can be no immunity now,” moviegoers heard on the newsreel in the summer of 1932. “It is up to America to find the perpetrator of this crime or it is to be America’s shame forever.”

In his own kitchen in Madison, Wisconsin, a soft-spoken, balding, government scientist looked across the table at his own young son, just 48 days older than Charles Jr., and “I shuddered.” Unlike the rest of America though, Arthur Koehler’s next reaction was less predictable.

“I grew excited,” he would later tell The Saturday Evening Post. “You see, that ladder, because it was made of wood, seemed just like a daring challenge.”

Arthur Koehler had literally written the book on wood, “The Properties and Uses of Wood,” released in 1924. He was employed by the Forest Products Laboratory, the world’s pre-eminent research laboratory into trees and wood, and in that context, he felt he could help investigators as it pertained to what would become the single most recognizable piece of criminal evidence until the bloody glove in the O.J. Simpson trial seven decades later.

As a reporter, I’m always fascinated by people who describe themselves as ordinary and yet, when they’re placed in extraordinary situations, they act extraordinarily. Side note, my crime fighting stalled out as did my desire to play left field for the Chicago Cubs so as we are wont to say in journalism, “Those who can’t, write about those who can.”

Nearly a year after the crime was committed, Koehler was asked by the FBI and the New Jersey State Police to see if he could make the wooden witness talk. Unlike the convenience of the 60-minute episodes of CSI and other television programs of its ilk, the investigation was tedious, the research meticulous and the time consumed lengthy.

Over the course of the next year and a half, he would discover microscopic anomalies on two of the ladder’s rails, track them to the lumber yard in South Carolina where they were machine-planed, and then to the New York mill where the lumber was sold, only to hit a dead-end when it was revealed the store did not keep sales records.

But his more important discovery was his analysis of Rail No. 16, the upper-left hand section of the ladder. Unlike every other part of the ladder, it was hand-planed on both ends, instead of being machine-planed. The piece also had previous nail holes, none of which had any rust around them, leading Koehler to tell investigators that the piece likely came from the inside of a building, maybe even an attic.

When Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested in September, 1934 after spending one of the bills used to pay the ransom and a gas station clerk wrote down his license plate number. Detectives found more of the ransom money in Hauptmann’s home and garage and, as it relates to the ladder, a ripped up board in his attic.

Using technology known to few at the time, Koehler analyzed the tree rings from the board in the attic, compared it to the 16th rail and concluded they matched. This was four years before the first tree-ring laboratory would be created at the University of Arizona and the principle that one ring would represent a year in the life of that tree was not commonly known.

In fact, when prosecutors sought to call Koehler as a witness in Hauptmann’s trial, the defense counsel protested, saying “There’s no such animal known among men as an expert on wood.” Even the government lawyers didn’t understand Koehler’s science, but knew his testimony would “wrap the kidnap ladder right around Hauptmann’s neck.”

His testimony wowed the worldwide media collected to cover what H.L. Mencken called, “the greatest story since the Resurrection.” Koehler was described as “Sherlock Holmes in the witness box,” and The New York Post, realizing the importance of his testimony, presciently wrote: “The Hauptmann trial may go down in legal history less as the most sensational case of its time than as the case which brought legal recognition to the wood expert on a par with handwriting, fingerprint and ballistic experts.”

And that’s the big idea of Arthur Koehler, who can honestly be called the father of forensic botany. He was the final prosecution witness in the trial of the century, one which led the FBI and law enforcement agencies worldwide to embrace scientific methods as aids in solving crimes. It’s standard fare now to see DNA tests, lab results, scientific analysis in not just the sensational trials, but the every-day criminal case as well.

“While a scientist must be truthful in his observations,” Koehler told NBC Radio after the guilty verdict was announced, “he must also have the capacity to let his imagination wander along restricted channels so as to realize the possibilities to which those observations may lead. This is particularly true in scientific detective work, because the observations are of little value unless clues can be properly interpreted and followed up.”

Specifically, in Arthur Koehler’s case, he was consumed with the fidelity and reliability of trees. “A tree never lies,” he was fond of saving. Not surprisingly, in retirement, he would consult with the creators of the Perry Mason program, one of the first truly successful crime-solving programs on television.

The science of Koehler’s tree-ring testimony withstands all of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Hauptmann trial, but it also leads to a secondary big idea. There remain trees to be analyzed, original data to be explored and studied, and a continuing need for the so-called “classically-trained scientist.”

“Koehler’s legacy,” said Dr. Shirley Graham, who is a curator at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, “was to show how basic descriptive science still has modern value and important applications.”

I hope you agree. Now, I just need to convince my sisters to unplug their ears thirty-plus years later to listen to my latest theory as to where D.B. Cooper might be.

—-

The Sixteenth Rail: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book page. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Heads Up On Picture Outage, 7/25

Most of the pictures on Whatever, for reasons having to do with convenience and laziness, are hosted on Flickr. Tomorrow between 7pm and 1am Friday morning, Flickr will be undergoing maintenance and will apparently not be accessible. I suspect that means many if not most of the pictures here at Whatever will disappear during that timeframe.

If that indeed does happen, don’t panic. Clearly I know about it, and the pictures will be back once Flickr finishes its maintenance.

Fuzzy Nation Nominated for Spain’s Premios Ignotus

Twitter has come in handy once again as I was informed by Venezuelan science fiction writer Ronald Delgado that El Visitante Inesperado, the Spanish-language version of Fuzzy Nation, has been nominated for the Premios Ignotus, the Spanish equivalent of the Hugo, in the category of best foreign novel.  I believe this is my first nomination for the award. Other authors nominated in the category: China Mieville, Jo Walton, Stephen Baxter, Andrei H. Rubanov and Anna Starobinets. Nice company to be in. Congratulations to all of them, and thanks to Mr. Delgado for letting me know. Made my day, it did.

The Android’s Dream Wins the Seiun Award

That would be in the category of Best Foreign Novel. I am naturally delighted. This is actually the second Seiun Award for me, the first having come with The Last Colony in 2010. You may now insert your standard “big in Japan” jokes here. But in all honesty, I love that The Android’s Dream has picked up another award (it’s also won Germany’s Kurd Lasswitz Preis).

And as with that prize, where I asked to share the award with the translator, I have asked to share this Seiun Award with the Japanese translator, Masayuki Uchida (内田昌之). Without him, the novel wouldn’t have won this award in the first place. I figure it’s a fair share.

Congratulations also to Paolo Bacigalupi, whose “Pocketful of Dharma” has won the Seiun in the Best Foreign Short Fiction category. The dude’s a prize machine.

Today’s Reader Participation Post: Rank My Novels

Got an irate e-mail from someone last night who hated hated hated Redshirts, which is of course fine. It was followed almost immediately by a gushing e-mail from someone else who absolutely loved Redshirts and thought it was my best book yet, which is also fine. I admit to liking the positive e-mail better. I was also amused at the juxtaposition of the two e-mails. It’s a reminder how varied readers and their specific tastes can be.

And in point of fact, I don’t suspect that there’s a single book of mine that isn’t both loved and hated (and also, thought indifferently of). Lots of people love Old Man’s War, but a fair number don’t get what the fuss is about, and some actively dislike it. Some people think The Android’s Dream is my best while others can’t get past the first sentence. There are those who have told me they think Fuzzy Nation is better written than Little Fuzzy, the H. Beam Piper book on which it is based; there are those who think it is far worse and despise me for rebooting the story at all. And so on.

They’re all right, inasmuch as they are discussing their own tastes. Everyone is different, so every book will work differently for them. And as I’ve said many times before, even someone whose work you generally love will occasionally produce a clunker for you. It’s almost inevitable over the course of a career. And even if you like everything someone has created, you’re going to like some things more than others. And your list is likely to be different than other people’s.

To illustrate this point, I have a request: If you’ve read more than two of my novels, I would like for you to rank those novels, from your most favorite to your least favorite, down in the comments. And if you like, you can elaborate a bit on the individual titles: Is your “most favorite” still not one you like very much? Is your “least favorite” one you still like a lot? Do you hate hate hate one of my novels (or several)? Go ahead and note it. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings. I will be fine.

What I hope to illustrate here is — again — that every reader is different, and no one likes everything equally (or indeed, in some cases, at all).

So: rank my novels! Let’s see what you think. And thanks.

The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe kicks footballs for a living, which is nice work if you can get it, and also ponders life, the universe and everything a whole lot. He additionally has a fine knack for writing things on subjects that apparently people don’t expect NFL punters to be able to think cogently about, which is their problem, not his. He does it with flair (and creative cursing). Some of those things show up in Kluwe’s debut collection, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, which Chris sent to me early, and which I enjoyed the heck out of. I even gave it this quote on Twitter: “Chris writes much better than I can punt.” I don’t know if they used it. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that they did not. Bastards. Anyway, here’s Chris.

CHRIS KLUWE:

So those of you who know me probably know me as “that football player guy who also wrote a letter for gay rights with the swears,” or “the crazy person on Twitter John periodically talks with.” For those of you who don’t know me, it turns out I’m also an author! (Trust me, it was completely unintentional.)

Anyways, as someone who is a huge sci-fi fan (and human rights fan), I wanted to send a copy of my book to Scalzi, and he responded most graciously by reading it and asking me to write a Big Idea piece.

I, naturally, completely forgot about it until a couple days ago, because my mind no work goody sometimes. Must be all the massive hits punters take. But not to worry! The esteemed gentleman-scholar of this website has allowed me to remedy the situation, and without further ado, I present the Big Ideas of Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. (Best title ever, amirite?)

The Big Idea

Sparkleponies is a collection of short stories and essays covering a wide variety of topics, hopefully in an entertaining and educational way (I promise you’ll learn some new swear words at the very least). I frequently describe it as a snapshot into my mind, and the main reason I wrote it as such is because I wanted to show you can’t define a human being with just one label.

When various publishers first approached me about writing a book, the majority of them wanted the standard “football player autobiographical” that everyone churns out once they get even a sniff of attention. You know, the “on x day I did y, and it made me feel z because I gave 120% of all the sports cliches my coach ever taught me about Jesus.” That one.

Well, I’m not a fan of that book, primarily because it plays into the kind of lazy thinking that’s so prevalent in our culture (America in particular). “You’re a football player, so all you can talk about is football.” “You’re gay, so you hate sports and love clothes.” “You’re a woman, so shut up and get in the kitchen, and don’t even think about playing video games with us manly men.”

You, as a person, summed up in the label of someone else’s narrow definition.

This is an utter failure to think, a failure to use your brain for something more than keeping your ears apart (as my mother loves to say). Trying to distill a human being, a complex summation of millions of different experiences, into one easily recognizable slogan or catchphrase, is antithetical to the society I want to live in.

I want to live in a world where people are celebrated for their differences, for their complexity, for their uniqueness, for the widely varied things that make them who they are. I want to live in a world that realizes your job does not define you as a person. I want to live in a world where I can be a football player, a video game nerd, a sci-fi/fantasy geek, an author, a husband and father and brother – all at the same time, because that’s who I am.

Above all, I want to live in a world where people are empathetic enough to understand that we’re not all going to be the same (and that’s okay!), but the only way I have the freedom to live my own life is if everyone else enjoys that same freedom in return. I am not a label, I am a multifaceted creature, just like all the other human beings on this planet, and we all deserve the recognition and ability to make our own choices in life.

This doesn’t work without empathy, though, because you have to realize how to see people as more than just a label, how to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is a big part of Sparkleponies, because it’s also my belief (as a history and political science major) that societies that don’t practice rational empathy inevitably collapse – either by fomenting conflict from within by oppressing a segment/s of their populace, or seeking conflict from without by taking from others and eventually getting into a fight they can’t win. Civilization has a 100% failure rate in the historical record, and that leads to my second Big Idea in the book.

The Other Big Idea

If, as a species, we don’t understand how to value long term consequences over short term gains, then we will go the way of the dodo and the dinosaur.

A lot of the pieces in Sparkleponies deal with the concept of long term thinking and planning, of looking past your own lifetime to the many other lifetimes that will exist once you’re gone, because if we don’t learn how to look past ourselves, we won’t be able to deal with certain events that crop up on the geologic timescale with alarming regularity. Things like, oh, say, asteroid strikes. Global climate changes. Supervolcano eruptions. Toxic pathogens. And that’s not even getting into what we can do to each other if we don’t understand why pushing that red button is a bad idea.

Sure, these probably won’t happen in our lifetime. We should be safe. But they will happen eventually, I can promise you that, and if we as a species don’t understand how to get off this rock, well, I guess we had a good run. We’ll be a brief flash on some alien astronomer’s telescope, our bones a curiosity to our cockroach successors.

Except I don’t want to live in a world with the mindset of “Oh well, I got mine, everyone else can get fucked” that dies off a couple millennia from now. I want to live in a world where we get out to the stars (even if I never live to see it), a world where we explore our galaxy and all the other galaxies in the universe (even if I never live to see it), a world where we understand the beauty that there’s much out there we don’t know, and probably never will, but it doesn’t stop us from constantly searching for answers.

The only way anyone will ever get to see that world, that science fiction dream we all dream, is if we understand that we have to work together, we have to create a stable society that can stand the test of time, and in order to do so, we have to always consider what consequences will result from our actions. We have to value education and rational thought over entertainment and knee-jerk impulses, otherwise we’re spiraling down that same path every other civilization before us walked.

We also need to not overuse commas, that’s important too, which is perhaps the Biggest Idea of the book.

Enjoy the Absurdities of Life

We’re all we have in a universe doing its level best to kill us every second of our existence. Take a step back and laugh every once in a while. You’ll feel much better about yourself, trust me. I’m on a horse.

—-

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (via NPR). Visit the book page (which also features an excerpt). Follow the author on Twitter.

Boycotts, Creators and Me

I’m getting pinged by folks who want to know what my position is regarding the boycott of Ender’s Game movie by people repelled by author Orson Scott Card’s social and political stances and actions regarding gays and lesbians and in particular his stance on same-sex marriage. With the notation that I am not in the least a disinterested party here (one, I’ve met Card and had a very pleasant time in his company; two, I have a book being adapted to film, for which I strongly suspect the performance of Ender’s Game at the box office will be relevant to any eventual green light), here’s my position:

If your conscience tells you to boycott or avoid the film because of Card’s positions on the rights of gays and lesbians, then, you know, do it. Card is entitled to speak his mind on gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. You are equally entitled, on the basis of that speech and his political efforts, to decide not to support him or a film based on his work. That’s entirely fair.

On a related topic, in the future, if Old Man’s War is made into a film, if your conscience tells you to boycott or avoid the film because of my (largely opposing to Card’s) positions on the rights of gays and lesbians, then do that. I am entitled to speak my mind on gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. You are equally entitled, on the basis of that speech and my political efforts, to decide not to support me or a films based on my work. That is also entirely fair.

(Mind you, I don’t suspect on this particular topic, any boycotts of Card or me would overlap.)

In a larger sense, look: Art originates from people. People have opinions and thoughts and actions, many of which are largely unrelated to their art. In learning about those largely unrelated opinions, thoughts and actions, you may find some of them, some the people they are coming out of, offensive, obnoxious, insulting or even dangerous. They may eventually keep you from being able to enjoy the art these people produce.

When and if that happens, that’s fine. If it doesn’t happen — if you can totally divorce the art from the human who created it — that’s fine, too. Everyone has their own dividing line for this, contingent on factors that are unique to them, and unique to the creator in question. Mind you, I personally think it’s good to give some serious reflection as to why some particular creator has crossed that line for you, on the grounds that it’s always good to know why you think or do anything. But at the end of the day, when you get to the point where you think, I’m done with this jerk, then that’s it, you’re done.

Personally speaking, I have a pretty high tolerance for artists and creators being obnoxious/offensive/flawed/assholes/otherwise seriously imperfect. This is partly because I believe art is a highly composed, refined, edited and intentional end result of a process that takes place in a mind which can be almost anything. The only thing creators fundamentally have in common is the ability to create, and to shape their creations to speak to others.

This is why, for example, bigots and cretins through the ages could create works of art that exhibit gorgeous empathy for the other, despite their personal issues: They have time to perfect their creations, and have an understanding of what an audience will respond to emotionally. You could argue that art is the better self of every creator, but I don’t know if that’s accurate. Art isn’t what the creator could be, any more than a 100 mile an hour fastball is what an athlete could be. Art is what we can do. That fact shapes the life of the creator, to be sure, just like that fastball shapes the life of that athlete. But there’s a whole lot of other influences that shape the creator’s life, too. Not all of those get into the art, because they’re not directly relevant to what the art is. They do show up in the person who makes the art.

So, yeah, I can put up with a lot when it comes to creators. It’s not usually  the art’s fault the brain it came out of is directly connected to an asshole.

However, I am also aware this is a luxury I can afford, for my own reasons. Other people can put up with less, for reasons of their own. I may think these are valid reasons, or not, but these people don’t need my approval to think what they want and act on what they think, and anyway I could be wrong, so there.

There are lots of creators I don’t support because I just don’t like their work. This should not be a surprise. There are a (very) few creators I choose not to support for personal reasons that are unrelated to the quality of their output. No, I won’t tell you who they are. The reasons are personal and therefore not relevant to anyone else. I don’t tend to think of these choices as anything formal as a boycott. I just don’t do business with these people anymore. I don’t generally do it for any larger goal, like social change or to hurt the creator economically. I do it because my own personal sense of morality tells me not to have anything to do with them. Other people in other circumstances feel the need to be more public about their actions, and have a goal beyond their own personal disengagement. Again: It’s their right to do it, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t.

I should note that questions of boycotts are not an entirely theoretical exercise for me. I am on at least one boycott list that I know of, albeit one that I think has been spectacularly ineffective; every once in a while I’ll see my name pop up on a list of authors that someone thinks should be boycotted or otherwise economically punished for opining in public in a manner unrelated to science fiction books. Recently these people are dudes who think I am a traitor to straight white males everywhere.

My opinion about these boycotts, proposed or otherwise, tends to be, one, fuck you, I’m going to say what I want, and two, if the end result of speaking my mind is that someone decides to boycott me, then fine, they should boycott me and tell whoever they like to boycott me, too. I think a lot of other creators in a similar position are perfectly fine with the “fuck you, I’ll say what I want” part, but get confused or truculent about the “if that means you’re going to boycott me, that’s fine” part, and this is where the problem lies.

But if you want the first, you should be a grown-up and accept that the second part is also part of the package deal. As I’ve noted before, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. Suggesting or demanding that you should have freedom from consequence from what you say, or (related to this) that tolerance of your freedom to speak equates to bland murmuring politeness from those who oppose your speech, indicates that ultimately you don’t understand how freedom of speech works.

So, to recap: Boycotts a perfectly valid exercise of political speech, participate in one if you think it’s necessary. I don’t tend to boycott creators but don’t mind if you do, even if that creator happens to be me. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence and everyone should remember that, especially folks who’ve spent a while pissing off a bunch of folks.

I think that covers it.