Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Big Idea: Adam Mansbach

The spaces between things have a name — and they have a hold on author Adam Mansbach. He’s here to explain why and how, and what it means for his newest book, the novel The Dead Run.

ADAM MANSBACH:

One of the smartest people in the publishing game is a guy named Chris Jackson. He was my editor for two books, and we had one of those mythical old-school writer/editor relationships, by which I mean that we’d have heated four-hour debates about whether I should rewrite a scene, and I’d do everything I could to convince Chris that he was wrong and the scene was brilliant and perfect it was, and then I’d get off the phone and realize he was right and go rewrite it.

One of Chris’s favorite words in those days was “liminal.” It would appear in his editorial letters to me (also quite lengthy) with alarming frequency – alarming because I didn’t really know what it meant. And for some reason, probably because I’m a cantankerous asshole, I never looked it up.

It turns out, though, that “liminal” is a fantastic word, and I use it all the time now.  Nobody older than nine has any business quoting a dictionary definition in an essay, but liminal basically means in-between, unresolved – a state or a site of possibility and ambiguity, murk and mystery.  Once I learned the word, I realized that damn near everything I’ve ever written has revolved around the liminal, that as a writer I’m instinctively drawn to the spaces and places in our culture where things haven’t settled, where exploration and confusion are most alive. Where people float in the limbo of not-knowing; where rules bend and morals take on a hue of subjectivity. It’s in these spaces that human paradox and complexity – what we’re all trying to explore in stories, regardless of the window-dressing of genre or style – are most alive and on fire, and best dramatized.

That might mean adolescence, or the unseen criminal underbelly of a city, or the complexity of a secret racial identity – all things I’ve written about in previous novels.   In The Dead Run, my first foray into SFF writing, that liminal space is a swath of desert along the Texas-Mexico border, a place that doesn’t appear on any map.  A crime committed there falls under the jurisdiction of whichever country feels like claiming it. Sometimes that’s nobody.  Especially when dead girls start turning up with their hearts torn out.

The Dead Run is set in a second liminal space, too: a kind of hazy, vertiginous pocket-universe in which the poles of right and wrong are demagnetized – where the specter of unspeakable evils seem to justify lesser ones, where ancient prophesies demand that a “righteous messenger” can only be protected by corrupt men, “flanked on all sides by evil,” where only purity can keep you alive but the right murder can be pure as driven snow.

The book’s protagonist, Jess Galvan, wouldn’t be languishing in a Mexican prison if he hadn’t refused to stand idly by while a bunch of cops took advantage of a young drunk girl. And he wouldn’t have been in that bar to begin with if he wasn’t picking up some bearer’s bonds to smuggle into the U.S. And he wouldn’t have started making border runs if he didn’t need cash to win back custody of his daughter from his crazy, cult-member ex-wife.

And if he wasn’t in jail, he wouldn’t have been summoned into the warren of tunnels beneath the prison by El Cucuy, a five-hundred-year-old Aztec priest who needs a moral man to carry the “sacred vessel of the gods” – the still-beating heart of virgin – across the border and deliver it to his son, thus transferring the ancient, stolen powers of a banished god into a new body. That would be a lot easier if the desert wasn’t full of undead girls – the mythical Virgin Army, each one killed by Cucuy, each heart placed into the hands of a man who failed to complete the task now set before Galvan – who sense the presence of the heart and judge its bearer’s righteousness.

Shit gets complicated in the liminal zone.

—-

The Dead Run: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. View the trailer. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Today’s Question for the Crowd: Your Most Boring Dream

So, last night, I had a dream that I took my car to Discount Tire Centers store to get new tires, and when I were there, in the bland, tan waiting room, I was filling out forms and deciding which tires I wanted on my car. It was, in my remembrance of such things, the single most boring dream I have ever had, and I actually woke up vaguely annoyed that I had wasted a night of dreaming on tires.

Which brings me to today’s question for all y’all: What is the single most boring dream you have ever had? Is it as boring — or even more boring, if such a thing is possible — as a dream of filling out forms at  Discount Tire Centers? Let me know. I would hate to think it’s just me having boring dreams. Let me know I am not alone.

The Most Important Poll You Will Take On This Site Today

Seriously, this needs your full and undivided attention.

Discuss, if you like, in the comments.

Also: Mmmmmm. Fish tacos.

The Big Idea: Steven Brust and Skyler White

 

Disclosure: I liked The Incrementalists, the new novel by Steven Brust and Skyler White, enough to blurb it (specifically, the blurb says “Secret societies, immortality, murder mysteries and Las Vegas all in one book? Shut up and take my money.”); it also received a coveted starred review from Booklist, which said “Call it genius at work.” Not bad praise. Here are the aforementioned geniuses, Brust and White, to give you a little long-term perspective on their latest.

STEVEN BRUST & SKYLER WHITE:

If you’re a middle-class American with a conscience, it is easy to look around and say, “No one cares.” It certainly can seem that way. It might seem like you and your immediate circle of real-life and internet friends are the only ones who notice there’s a problem. The very idea of alleviating systematic oppression–much less solving it–might appear to you like a pipe dream. Perhaps you find yourself cursing the greater portion of humanity, calling them stupid, decrying their apathy.

But try taking the long view: Over the course of human history in general, and US history in particular, the trend has been for more equality, more justice. We have built up productive forces to the point where there is no need for anyone to be hungry, or homeless, or without health care. Democracy and equality–though frighteningly threatened–are broadly considered natural rights. As a species, we are still in our infancy, yet we’ve made amazing progress. Progress is a thing. It can be very hard, and certainly there is backward movement at times. But there is no good reason to believe progress will stop.

And we’ve progressed by working together. Yeah, sometimes we screw things up. Sometimes, as we look at history, we wish we’d done better. Sometimes we wish there was someone trustworthy with a long enough view to tell us what “better” even means.

And maybe even someone who could do something about it.

The Incrementalists, a secret society of around 200 people has, since the beginning of human history, been working to make the world better, just a little bit at a time. Their ongoing argument about how to do this stretches across nations, races, and time, but they’ve been messing (“meddling”) with people’s heads just as long. Able to draw from a collective experience of over forty thousand years, and skilled in triggering precise emotions in others, they pick pivotal moments to subtly nudge people to maybe do the right thing, or maybe refrain from doing quite as much of the wrong thing.

So, if they were real (and, you know, you can’t prove they aren’t), how are they doing so far? You could say they’re doing pretty well, given all the catastrophes our species has avoided, how much progress we’ve made, and how many terrible things might have been even worse. Or you could say they are utterly ineffective, given how screwed up so many things are. They key word in all of that is: You.

You get to decide. That’s the point, and that’s one of the things that made this project so much fun, because the big idea behind The Incrementalists is a question. It’s the “what if” question that got us writing, but it is also, if we’ve done our job well, a question we’ve seeded in the minds of the readers. Just how do you fit into all of this? How do you choose to engage with the book, with the imaginary world in which it takes place, with the real world that the imaginary world is drawn from?

The Incrementalists often gets singled out as a collaborative project because there are two authors; but every book is a collaborative project. Just as the characters in The Incrementalists cooperate despite annoyances and conflicts, and just as its authors cooperated despite occasionally differing visions and expectations, this book—every book—asks readers to cooperate in the story-telling process. Writers need readers to shape the worlds they sketch, see the characters they imagine, hear what they’ve written and intuit what they’ve suggested.

As has been said many times before by many people, there is no reason to expect what the reader sees to be what we see; indeed, there is no reason to expect what Skyler sees to be what Steve sees. They don’t have to be the same; they can’t be the same. What matters is that they can dance together. The writers, the editors, the art director and everyone in production, the voice actors for the audio book, the readers, and even the reviewers are part of the process that makes a book what it is.

But it goes well beyond fiction. Collaboration, cooperation to make things better, is at the heart of what we human monkeys do. At the end of this book we, as one interviewer put it, “rap on the fourth wall.” And we do that in several other subtler places as well to make the same point – that this story is a metaphor for stories, and that how you want to engage with the book, with the ideas behind it, with the overall concept, and with the characters, is up to you. And that however you engage with it, you’ll be collaborating with us. We’ll be here, on other side, listening in case anyone knocks back.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit Steven Brust’s site. Follow him on Twitter. Visit Skyler White’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Why I Don’t Comment on Everything

As most of you know, I comment here not infrequently about social and political issues, and from time to time I even make stands on things, a good recent example of this being my convention harassment policy pledge. As a result, people will often send me (via e-mail and social media) updates on social/political things they believe are of interest to me. This is generally appreciated, since there are things I will miss. There are only so many hours of the day.

In addition to this, some folks will also occasionally suggest to me (in varying degrees of urgency and/or politeness) that I should make a public statement about the things the bring to my attention, because they believe my voice carries. In the last 24 hours alone, for example, these things have included Barilla pasta, a rather less-than-perfect convention harassment policy, literature professor David Gilmour stuffing both feet into his mouth, and Orson Scott Card. Some of these topics have been noted to me more than once. Not all of the people pointing them out are suggesting I leap to the keyboard, but some of them strongly hint in that direction.

A couple of thoughts here. The big one is to let people know I’m actually kind of not good at being a proxy for whatever things you are concerned about. One obvious reason is that I might not feel as strongly about the subject as you do, or indeed might not agree with you about it. Another, less obvious reason: I do try to know at least a little about the things I might want to write about, which means me making at least a token effort at research, which will take time — time I might not have if, say, I’m in the middle of writing a book.

Beyond this, other factors come into play. Sometimes I’ll decide I don’t have anything useful to say on a subject, and so won’t. Sometimes I will see other people saying things about it better than I would, in a way that is already getting (or has gotten) substantial play, so I’ll either just point to that other commentary or assume the people who visit here will have already seen it. Sometimes I’m fatigued regarding the particular subject and won’t feel like talking about it for a while. Sometimes I’m tired and don’t want to write a blog post. Sometimes I may just be cranky and not in the mood to acquiesce to the suggestion I make a fuss over whatever particular topic people want me to make a fuss about.

Sometimes I will decide that me butting into a particular discussion will look more like me wanting to get attention for being on the right side of the subject than me actually wanting to be on the right side of the discussion (this correlates highly with things I am unfamiliar with and which don’t directly involve my own personal interests). Sometimes I’ll decide that I’ve expended on other things the attention capital I’ve accrued, and that it’s time for me to be quiet for a bit so that the next time I have something that I want to say, it’ll have more of an impact. Sometimes there will be other reasons, not touched on here, for me not to make the fuss someone else wants me to. Sometimes I just don’t wanna.

The short version of this is that while I really do appreciate it when folks bring things to my attention, I can’t (and shouldn’t) be expected to comment on every thing, even when you think it’s something that’s right up my alley — and even when, from time to time, I’d agree that it is. I have only so much bandwidth, both in time and attention.

I realize that this is bound to be disappointing to some folks, and may make me seem unreliable or mercurial or such. This assessment is both reasonable and accurate — fact is, that only thing that can be relied on with regard to me making comment on political or social topics is that I will do it when I think it’s right for me to do it, independent of what anyone else thinks on the matter.

In a larger sense, I don’t think this should be too surprising. I’ve never been coy about the fact that this site is about what I want to write about, when I want to. But I do think it’s worth reminding people: Just because you think I should write about something you think is important, doesn’t mean I will. It doesn’t mean you were wrong to bring that thing to my attention, merely that I keep my own counsel regarding the topics I write about. I do hope you understand. But even if you don’t, it’s how it works.

 

The Value of Negative Reviews

Over at Metafilter they’re talking about this New Yorker article, in which book critic Lee Siegel explains why he doesn’t want to write negative book reviews anymore (here’s the MF thread). I posted my thoughts on the matter there, but it’s worth posting them here too. Here’s what I said.

I was a professional critic of film and music for a number of years and I didn’t shy away from giving negative reviews when I felt negative about the work. But it’s worth noting that when I was doing that work, I wasn’t given the option of what work to review; particularly with film, my job was to review every film that came into town. With music, what I reviewed was mostly assigned, not chosen.

These days people are interested in knowing my reviews of books (particularly in science fiction and fantasy). By and large with books I publicly offer only positive reviews. Reasons for that: One, I am on my own remit in what I choose to read and am under no obligation to make reviews, so I’m allowed to review only what I want, when I want; two, at this particular moment in time, if I were to be offering negative reviews of SF/F I would be mostly be punching downward. To the extent I want to trade in my notability in the field, I would prefer to use it to build up, not tear down. And again, that’s my choice to make.

With that said, I don’t think it’s beneficial to have all published criticism be positive. I think criticism should (generally) be honest and explanatory — if the critic finds something to be bad (or poorly made) then an examination of that is useful, even if it initially hurts the author’s feelings. One of my favorite reviews I’ve gotten as an author was from Russell Letson in Locus, when in the reviewing of Old Man’s War he noted that he kept throwing the book against the wall in irritation… and then picking it back up again right after to keep on reading. The review was not positive, but it was honest and it was fair, in the sense that Letson explained why he felt what he did. It was good criticism, if not positive criticism.

As an author I generally prefer to get positive reviews (welcome to the human ego), but I’m not lying when I say I would rather get a thoughtful negative review than a thoughtless positive one. It’s easy to say “oh, I liked that.” It’s harder to say, “I did not like it, and here are all the reasons why.” Whether I agree with the reasoning (or whether my feelings are hurt, or even whether the review might damage my commercial prospects) is immaterial — the criticism isn’t for me specifically. It’s for readers (in the case of reviews, which ask the commercial question of whether the work is worth the money) or for observers of the field ( in the case of literary criticism, which asks whether the work has existential value).

So while I understand Lee Siegel’s reasoning for not offering negative reviews, and indeed follow it for myself in the field in which I work, I hope not everyone agrees with him. There is value in negative reviews. Sometimes critics need to plant their flag and say “this is simply bad. And here’s why.”

The Big Idea: Brandon Sanderson

Don’t know if you’ve heard of this Brandon Sanderson kid, but something tells me one day he’s gonna hit the heights. He’s got a new book out called Steelheart, and he’s here today to talk about. And also to talk about being a geek. And how the latter matters to the former.

Watch for this guy! He’s gonna be big!

BRANDON SANDERSON:

Introduction
Early in my life, I knew I was a geek. I just didn’t know what that meant.

For example, I went to a Star Trek convention when I was eleven or twelve. Now, at that point, I’d only seen a handful of TOS episodes. I hadn’t discovered fantasy novels or reading yet. But I went to a Star Trek convention because…well, I was geek, right? That seemed like the sort of thing that geeks did.

Fortunately, it turns out my instincts about myself were right. During the next few years, I blossomed. In geek terms, that means I discovered comic books, role playing, and novels–then retreated to my room to pupate for the next six years, surviving on a steady diet of Anne McCaffrey novels and bags of Cheetos.

STEELHEART
A few years ago, I got an idea. It was a great idea. A really, REALLY great idea.

This isn’t to say it will feel as awesome to you as it did to me. A “great” idea for me is a very individual thing. They aren’t always the ones that come with an accessible, built-in pitch–instead, they are the ideas that boil in my head and turn into a book that I can’t leave alone.

Many writers say that ideas are cheap, and I find this to be mostly true. A writer grows accustomed to coming up with–and discarding–ideas on a daily basis. This idea, however, was one of those powerful ones, precisely because of its undiscardability.

The idea was actually pretty simple. It came as I was driving to a book signing, and was cut off in traffic. I had an immediate, gut response: I thought to the person ahead of me, “You are lucky I don’t have super powers, or I’d totally blow your car up right now.”

This terrified me in ways I can’t explain. It whispered that, if I were to somehow have powers like this, I might not be quite so benevolent with them as heroes from the stories. This spiraled me into wondering what would happen if people started gaining powers, but everyone used them selfishly.

Finally, the idea that made me eager came–it was the idea for a group of regular people who assassinate super-powered individuals. Again, it’s not the pitch, but the entire package that made me excited. Steelheart was a book I was truly, passionately excited to write, and after finishing some thirty books, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. An idea that makes me excited in new ways and captures my imagination is something to grab hold of tightly.

In this case, the idea dredged up passions from my childhood and mixed them with plotting structures I’d been studying in recent films. It prompted a character voice in my head who was individual and distinct.

I had a several hour drive ahead of me. By the end of it, I had Steelheart–almost in its entirety–pictured and held in my mind.

Something about writing the book the way I’d imagined it bothered me, though. And it had to do with my experiences with anthropomorphic turtles.

Geek Culture
In my high school years, we had a gift exchange in my French class. In an interesting parallel to my Star Trek convention experience, the girl who drew my name bought me a comic book. (The one where Superman dies, not first printing, unfortunately.) I’d never mentioned comic books in class, and so far as I knew, this girl and I had never had a conversation. She knew to get me a comic book anyway because…well, I was one of THOSE people.

As a geek in my high school, there were just certain things that you did. You played with computers and video games. You read comic books. You hid in basements and role played. Amusingly, I wasn’t cool enough to be on the school newspaper–which was not actually the domain of the geek, but instead the preppy debate folks.

The previous paragraph might make it sound like I was ostracized, but I didn’t really feel that way. I was quite comfortable in this role–as, I assume, was common for geeks in the ’80s and early ’90s. This was our home. We adopted it, claimed it, and loved it.

We also defended it. As I did constantly in regards to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now, you have to understand, TMNT was MY comic book. I’d started role playing because of TMNT, and its issues were the first comics I ever read. I discovered the Turtles before I even found fantasy novels, and I continued to role play TMNT games for years into my teens.

And I had a problem with the cartoon show and movies that came after it. Both were actually a lot of fun–except for the way that this new wave of Turtles took MY comic and repackaged it for a more general audience.

I think a lot of us in geek culture have felt this kind of emotion, particularly in recent years. A great deal has been written about geek culture going mainstream.

I’m not going to defend my selfishness in wanting to keep the Turtles for myself. It was an instinctive, emotional reaction from a teenage boy who saw part of what defined him–part of what society had used to define him–being stolen and made (in his eyes) more shallow.

Over the years, though, I had to confront these emotions. What was it that bothered me so much? A thing which brought me joy was now bringing joy to many others. Why had my first instinct been selfishness, as opposed to pleasure? Isn’t the core of geekdom about expertise? Suddenly, I was an expert about something that everyone else was discovering. Why, instead of being happy, had I been so dismissive, even angry?

Steelheart and the Big Idea
Now, I don’t want to belabor the parallel between myself as a teen and my later self and his desire to destroy inconsiderate drivers. I do want to mention the Big Idea here, though. It’s not the idea I had for my book–I’ve talked about how personal that particular idea was.

The Big Idea for me on this book has to do with the importance, for myself, of embracing the larger world as it discovers stories I’ve loved. Yes, maybe those stories will change as they are brought to new mediums. That’s okay.

I feel I spent my youthful geekhood shaking chains and trying to get people to take my passions seriously. Now that many do, I want to celebrate it. I’m sure many of you have made this same transition, or never felt these same emotions in the first place. But this book brought the idea into focus for me.

As a writer, the further I’ve progressed in my career, the more “epic fantasy” I’ve become. Thicker books, more intricate worldbuilding, more sub-plots and hidden allusions relating my books to one another. I do this because that’s what I find exciting about epic fantasy.

Steelheart, as I’d imagined it, was far more accessible. I imagined it like a mainstream movie–one deeply influenced by the comics and stories of my youth, but paced and plotted like modern action films. The book is a fun explosion of a story–set pieces, chase scenes, and super heroes mixed with my own individual blend of worldbuilding.

I spent an undue amount of time wondering, as I worked on the book, if I was doing the very thing I’d worried about in my youth. Was I taking something individual to geek culture and distilling it to a more streamlined package, presenting it for the general masses?

Yes, I was.

And I love that about it.

—-

Steelheart: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

The Big Idea: V.E. Schwab

In explaining the Big Idea behind her latest novel Vicious, V.E. Schwab notes that the elements (and even characters) that you think are important when you begin the novel are not always the elements that are important when you finish the novel — the writing of the novel itself reveals what’s interesting about the world you’re building.

V.E. SCHWAB:

Vicious started as a lifeboat book.

I’d been riding the publishing waves for a couple of years. My first novel was still months out from hitting shelves, I was working on my second, and I was already having trouble adjusting to the transparency that came with writing under contract. I felt exposed. Instead of working in a dark, comfy shell, I was working in a bubble, intensely aware of my editor’s looming form and impending judgment. And at some point, pinned between deadlines and watching eyes, I remember making a decision.

I was going to write a new book. And I wasn’t going to tell anybody.

It felt so…devious.

And I couldn’t wait to start.

The question was, where to start? If I could turn off the business side of my brain, recently so loud and intrusive with words like sellable and marketable and audience so that the only voice in my head was my own, what would I write?

Superpowers.

Not superheroes, mind you. Not the classic kind from the Golden Age of comics, paragons of self-sacrifice and justice battling their evil counterparts. I’d recently absorbed the Watchmen graphic novel, and was completely taken by the realness of those characters. They weren’t self-identified heroes. They were people. Damaged people. Self-interested, maladjusted, strange, and complicated people. Stories like Watchmen reinforced an idea that I had already pondered and wanted to explore further: real people don’t automatically become superheroes. They just become the same flawed people with superpowers on top. It changed them, yes, but didn’t automatically make them better. If anything, I thought, it would probably make them worse. And as someone who has always liked her people painted in shades of gray, I loved that conceit. I went with it.

This isn’t the part where I say that Vicious spilled out, fully realized and everything I wanted it to be. It didn’t. It wasn’t some brief, passionate affair. A fiction fling. Hell, Vicious wasn’t even Vicious. It started out as the story of a man named Alt. Now, Alt’s not even in Vicious, but I wouldn’t have Vicious without him.

Alt shows up in a city called Merit (which is in the book). He has the ability to see  people’s future in reflective surfaces (it’s kind of killing his love life) and he’s only in Merit for a couple days when two groups try to recruit him. One group called themselves the heroes, and the other group, the villains. The heroes had a sense of purpose, or at least delusion, but the villains only took that name because they were against the heroes. And I was utterly fascinated by the idea that these terms—hero and villain—were meaningless to them, that it wasn’t really a matter of good and evil at all, merely opposition. The villains weren’t against society. Nor would they even consider themselves evil. The members of the villain gang were there only because they had vendettas against the members of the hero gang. It was personal.

The leader of the “heroes” was a man named Eli. The leader of the “villains” was a man named Victor. I started to write a flashback with the two of them as college students, more as an exercise in backstory than anything else. But something happened. Within a few pages, Victor and Eli became immeasurably more interesting than Alt. Theirs was a story of two brilliant, damaged boys and a dangerous idea. A theory turned experiment with disastrous results. A world filled with jealousy, and murder, science and power and revenge. A world without heroes.

The title came the day I opened a fresh document and started to tell their story.

VICIOUS.

Victor and Eli took over everything. They were smart, and cunning, and deranged. They were deeply flawed, and their superpowers, instead of making them better, made them worse.

And they were so damn fun to write.

They never behaved like heroes (whether that automatically makes them villains, you’ll have to decide for yourself), but from the beginning, they both had rules. Victor had cold, hard logic and a level of detachment that allowed him to assess everything rationally, while Eli had a massively distorted moral compass, a sense of God-given purpose. These personal forces guided them as much as any ability (and it’s not about their abilities, really; it’s about what the abilities—the search, the attainment, the aftermath—bring out in them).

Of course, it’s not just their story. The world of Vicious is populated by a variety of other EOs—ExtraOrdinary people—the most important of which is a pair of sisters, Sydney and Serena, who find themselves on opposite sides of the same fight. You might argue that thirteen-year-old Sydney is the only real hero in the book (I would argue there are no heroes in this book).

I spent more than two years building the world of Vicious, writing it down in order—from Victor and Eli’s first interaction sophomore year, through the experiments that changed everything, to their final confrontation in a half-built Merit high-rise ten years later—and then breaking it apart and putting back together in a different shape. By the time you hit the end, you’ll have all the pieces. By the time I hit the end, I wasn’t ready to let go.

My Tor editor and I joke that Victor is my sociopathic supervillain alter ego—we certainly have a similar wardrobe, and we  would both rather observe and assess than engage—but honestly, he probably has more of me in him than I’d like to admit. So does Eli, for that matter. They all do. The cast of Vicious is my best and worst, all the strange and sick (and sickly funny) little quirks, and I love every one of them.

I hope you will, too.

(I eventually told someone else about the book.)

—-

Vicious: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. See the book trailer. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Popular Science Kills Online Comments

Because they’ve discovered that trolls and jackasses in comment threads actively work against people taking science seriously.

Per this earlier discussion of comments, I think Popular Science is probably doing the right thing. The site doesn’t benefit from hosting dis-and-misinformers, and such folks are becoming more persistent and possibly more organized. Best to punt them entirely. They have their own places to stew; let them stew there. In the meantime the information in the articles will speak for itself.

Hey! Have an Open Promotional Thread!

I’m writing things not on the Internet today, so while I’m doing that, I’m opening up this comment thread for you to tell everyone about what you think is cool and worth checking out, online or off. Could be a Web site, could be new music, could be a book or story or some crafty type of thing. Could be yours, could be a friend’s, could be someone you don’t know but think are doing awesome stuff. Whatever it is, share it with the crowd.

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!

A Reminder Regarding Off-Topic Comments

Which is: When you have the urge to post a comment that is off-topic to the conversational thread, don’t. Per the comment policy, I will likely delete it or at the very least sigh exasperatedly and be very cross. You don’t want me to be very cross at you. Because then I get like this.

If you absolutely positively can’t wait until I post a topic for which your comment will be germane, then you may e-mail me your off-topic comment, because in e-mail, it won’t be off topic. Yes! E-mail still does exist! And every single page on the blog has a link to my contact information! It’s not difficult to find!

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Boehner’s Primary Challenger

Many of you know that I live in Speaker of the House John Boehner’s congressional district of OH-8, and that Boehner’s got the seat probably for as long as he wants it — he’s been in it for 22 years, and it’s been held by a Republican since 1939. But it may interest political junkies to know that in 2014 Boehner will have a GOP challenger in the primary: Eric Gurr. Mr. Gurr apparently believes Mr. Boehner is too soft on things like Obamacare and immigration, so he’s tossed his hat into the ring.

Two thoughts: One, it’s lovely to live in a country where anyone can challenge the seat of one of the most powerful politicians in the county, without fear of being literally slaughtered. Two, the dude is going to get (figuratively) slaughtered in the primary, because whether or not Boehner is in especially fine odor as Speaker of the House, he’s a reasonably good reflection of the Republicans in his district. Also, you know. Speaker of the House, fine odor or not. Chances are pretty good he could rally some significant capital (political and financial) to brush back a primary challenge. That said, given the relatively rudimentary nature of Mr. Gurr’s site, I don’t suspect Mr. Boehner is too worried at the moment.

I’ve heard some murmurings that Boehner may be out as Speaker after the 2014 elections, and that he may consider retiring from Congress ahead of that eventuality. But you know what, I’m going to believe both when I see them. In the meantime, I will be deeply surprised if Mr. Gurr’s candidacy gains much traction. It would be interesting if it did, mind you.  For all sorts of reasons. But I don’t suspect it will.