Monthly Archives: January 2014

I’m Just Going to Leave This Here

What’s this? It’s the traffic graph for all the parts of Scalzi.com that are not part of the current iteration of Whatever, i.e., archives and other bits and pieces that continue to be linked into from around the Web and Internet. The part of the site you’re reading now (the current iteration of Whatever), has statistics information provided by WordPress and Google Analytics. Everything else has its stat information recorded by the 1&1 Site Analytics. There’s surprisingly little overlap in recording between the two stats packages. Last year the WordPress stats package recorded 7.57 million visits; the 1&1 stats package recorded 6.13 million. The former set of stats are mirrored inexactly by Google Analytics; the latter, not at all.

I note this because occasionally I see someone who is not me purport to speak with authority about how many visits the site gets. However, as the total universe of visits the site gets is not publicly accessible, if someone who is not me is making that claim, they literally do not know what they are talking about. Not because they are obtuse or dishonest (or at least not just), but simply because they don’t have all the information about the traffic coming into the site — the entire site.

(If am making the claim, mind you, I generally note all sorts of caveats about the numbers. If several years of looking at stats has shown me anything, it’s that the numbers are fairly fungible, shall we say.)

The moral of the story: Beware people who are not me! At least, as far as the stats to this site are concerned.

How I Knew I’d Made It

In conversation not too long ago, someone asked me when I felt I had “made it.” It’s a fair question; for a writer, there are a lot of milestones that could be the points at which one feels one has made it. Selling that first book is an obvious one (selling the second book, a less obvious but no less relevant one), as is the first time you are nominated for an award, or win one, or hit a bestseller list, or get a starred review in the trades. Getting a movie or TV option is a big one. Seeing someone you don’t know reading a book of yours out in the world. Any of these are perfectly good moments to stop and say, hey, I guess I’ve made it.

My moment isn’t any one of those. My moment came a couple of years ago, when I was driving out of town and noticed my gas tank was almost empty. So I stopped at the gas station, slid my credit card into the pump, filled up my gas tank, replaced the nozzle, got back into my car and drove away. And then realized a couple of miles down the road that at no point did I look to see how much the gas cost per gallon, or how much the whole tank of gas cost me. I didn’t look because I didn’t have to. No matter how much it cost, I knew I had it. I knew I could afford it.

That was my moment.

Some of you, I suspect, are looking a bit puzzled at this. So it’s here that I need to give you a bit of context.

When I wrote “Being Poor” back in 2005, the very first thing I wrote in the piece was “Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.” The reason I wrote that is because when you are poor, you have to know how much everything costs, because you know exactly how little you have to spend, and how much you need to get through your day. You have to strategize how to apply your money.

Like so: You have $10 for the whole day. Gas costs $3.12 a gallon. You have a quarter tank of gas to go somewhere 25 miles away and then get back. Do you need to put in more gas? How much do you have to put in to do what you have to do? Is the gas going to be cheaper ten miles down the road? Will you have enough left over when you’ve put gas in your tank to buy the other things you have to get today? Can they wait? If they can’t wait, how much will you need for them? Will what you have left give you enough for gas? And so on.

I’ve seen people here in town come into the gas station and ask for very specific amounts of gas. I don’t have to ask why they’re asking the cashier for exactly three dollars and twenty five cents worth of gas, or whatever amount they ask for. I know why. It’s exactly the amount they can afford that day, and, hopefully, exactly the amount they need. They’ve thought it out. They’ve made the numbers work as well as they can. I know it because I’ve seen it done it my own life, growing up; the calculus of what you can afford today, what will have to wait for tomorrow and what things can be put off until the absolute last minute.

If you grow up with that sort of resource calculus as part of your daily existence, you almost never get free of it; you’re always checking tallies in your head. And to be sure, in a very real sense this is not a bad thing at all — not knowing what you’re spending on things is a very fine way for anyone to quickly and suddenly go broke. You should be keeping track of your income and outgoes. It’s a basic and laudable life skill.

But I would argue that with folks who do it (or have done it) from a place of poverty, there’s a difference in both degree and kind. Like your grandmother who lived through the Great Depression and never threw out a piece of string because “you never knew when it will come in handy” and therefore had a ratty ball of string no one wanted to touch, much less use, there’s something pathological about poverty accounting — a need to know the precise cost of things and the worry that at the end of the day, no matter what you do, there’s just not going to be enough. You keep track of costs not because it’s a smart thing to do. You keep track of costs because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I have that sensibility in my head. And again, on one hand, it’s not all bad: we save a lot of the money we have come in, and I have what I think is a realistic sense of what we can afford and what we can’t — and as a full-time writer, whose income is (heh) variable, it’s good to have more than a little ingrained awareness of one’s financial circumstances.

On the other hand, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and for no good reason plan out a strategy for an imminent income apocalypse. What if everything you’ve ever written stops selling? What if you can’t sell the next book? What if Krissy loses her job? What if you can’t get back into marketing and consulting? What then what then WHAT THEN? And then I spend three hours imagining how we downsize to survive on nothing until I finally fall back asleep from mental exhaustion. When I wake up in the morning I’m fine, because rationally I know that I’m doing all right, and my writing career is unlikely to go up in a sudden, inexplicable flash. But the WHAT THEN? voice stays in the background, because it remembers what it was like to have to think about those contingency plans in one’s day-to-day life.

And this is why, a couple miles down the road from the gas station, the sudden realization that I didn’t worry about the price of gas, that I had just gassed up and went, hit me like an electric shock. I had literally never done that before. It wasn’t about the not knowing the exact cost of the gas; I could find that out just by looking at my credit card statement. It was that it finally had gotten into my brain that I could afford things. That I didn’t have to do the mental calculation of the cost of the gas from a place of anxiety. That I had the confidence that I could afford what I just spent — not the confidence intellectually, which I had, but confidence in the part of my brain that wakes me up at 3am in a panic about everything going to hell. For that part of my brain, miraculously, everything checked out.

That’s when I knew I had made it.

The irony is that since then, I can’t not look at the cost of the gas I’m pumping into my car, if only because I remember driving away that one time, not looking. The difference is now, when I look at the amount, it’s not because my brain is having a tiny, muted but still real bit of panic about the cost. It’s because I just need to know how much I spend, like any person should.

It’s a small difference, and unnoticeable from the outside. But on the inside, it means that a lot has changed. It means I made it. I am grateful I have done so.

Appearance Schedule Updated: Now Adding Chicago and London (Plus News About Detroit)

For everyone who wants to see me stroll about as like a mortal, two confirmed public appearances to tell you about:

1. April 25-27, I will be in Chicago for C2E2, the city’s big comic con-like event. I am not yet listed on the site, but my publicist tells me I’m confirmed, and why would my publicist lie to me? She would not. Because she’s not like that. She is awesome.

2. August 14 – 18, I will be at Loncon 3, also known as this year’s Worldcon, being very relaxed about the whole Hugo thing for once.

Also, with regard to Detcon 1, which was already on my schedule for July, let me break out a bit of news via Twitter:

Yup. It will be fun. I give good 80s, if I say so myself.

I have a couple more events that I have agreed to but which I have not gotten complete confirmation on for May and early June; I will let you know about them when/if I get clearance.

For my full 2014 schedule (to date), see my Scheduled Appearances page. It’s always there, and usually up to date.

The Big Idea: Myke Cole

It can be a strange thing when the real world intersects with your fiction, particularly when you’re writing a work of fantasy. Myke Cole knows what that’s like, since it happened with his latest, Shadow Ops: Breach Zone. A strange thing — but is it a good thing? Well…

MYKE COLE:

Let’s say you make a mistake. This one’s a whopper. You didn’t just zig when zagging was called for. You left the road, headed out into the bush, dug up about a few good size boulders and made damn sure they covered the way so the person behind you could enjoy them. This one was bad. This one will take you a while to live down.

What do you do?

Most of us are good folks. We might cling to pride for a spell, dig in our heels and argue against a preponderance of the evidence. But us regular folk, we come around in the end. We wring our hands, hang our heads and admit fault. We say we’re sorry. We’ll do better next time.

But what about when you’re not average folk? What happens when your mistakes impact not just yourself or even a few people, but an entire country, a country that you’ve been entrusted to lead? What happens when your errors, should you admit them, could destroy not only your life and your freedom, but your legacy? What do you do when billions of dollars and thousands of lives hinge on the myth that you haven’t done anything wrong?

Do you toe the line and take your licks? Do you stick your fingers in your ears and chant until the angry shouting of the protesters stops? And to prove you’ve done nothing wrong, do you keep moving in the same rut you’ve dug?

Do you double down on error?

What do you do when the chickens of a failed policy come home to roost?

That’s the Big Idea behind Breach Zone.

The Shadow Ops series chronicles a United States desperately attempting to come to grips with the sudden return of magic into the world. That magic is wild and powerful. That magic is a weapon as deadly as a nuclear warhead. That magic threatens the government’s monopoly on force. The government’s reaction makes sense. Magic is dangerous. Magic must be addressed. The McGauer-Linden Act is the framework our leaders come up with. It is the best they know how to do.

It isn’t good enough.

Control Point examined one life caught in the cracks between that policy and the gray shades of reality. Fortress Frontier watches as the tension builds, the dissonance between law and a people who prize freedom above all else, who realize what they have sacrificed to feel safe.

In Breach Zone, the joint comes unglued.

Law is binary. Policy doesn’t work well with vagaries. It knows 0 or 1. Obeyed or broken. And it has to. The whim of the individual cannot govern the lives of millions. We have to have some sense of what to expect.

But people aren’t binary. Life isn’t interested in “zero tolerance.” Sometimes we do things just because. Sometimes the thing we want most is the thing we’ve been told we can’t have.

Sometimes, smart people have a tough time with policy. They want an explanation. “Thou shalt not” doesn’t cut it. They want to know why. They want a chance to argue the case. The Democratic process is slow. It’s easily subverted. There are people with more money and more connections who seem to have an easier time making the wheels turn.

Those smart people see that. It burns them. Sometimes, they’re smart enough to know that flying in the face of that has a price higher than they’re willing to pay.

Sometimes, they’re smart enough to not give a fuck.

I have always avoided political sentiment in my writing. I never set out to write a topical piece. But as Breach Zone came together, the Manning sentence was handed down. The Snowden case broke, our SIGINT program was laid bare, and the people reacted. I watched the government respond. Then I looked down at my manuscript, and I shuddered.

Life imitates art, they say. But the truth is that art takes tiny, subconscious cues from the world the artist lives in. Breach Zone was born in the ferment of a society at war with itself, in a country that is more divided than I, than my father, have ever seen.

I didn’t set out to write a topical piece. But in this final volume of the Shadow Ops series, I might have anyway.

—-

Shadow Ops: Breach Zone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Delilah S. Dawson

Life is a circus — but is the circus all it’s cracked up to be? Delilah S. Dawson ponders this very question, on several different levels, in her latest novel Wicked After Midnight. We now place her in the center ring to address the topic. Here’s your popcorn, and there’s her spotlight…

DELILAH S. DAWSON:

Here is a painful truth: the circus is a magical place only so long as you’re allowed to leave when the show is over.

That’s the first sentence of Wicked After Midnight, and that’s also the Big Idea behind the book. And at the heart of that sentiment is the same thing that’s at the heart of every creature alive, including me: murderous clowns.

Just kidding. It’s actually fear.

And, more importantly, gaining the courage to break past it.

The steampunk fantasy world in which my Blud series takes place was built to be the perfect backdrop for magic, adventure, and sexy romance, and yet the books have deeper, darker themes that explore my own fears and past wounds. One heroine is escaping from rape and parental abandonment, another is nursing her dying grandmother and has just left an abusive relationship to find herself. Demi, the heroine of Wicked After Midnight, was a depressed art history major in our world who went into a coma from alcohol poisoning, woke up in a parallel universe, and was nearly killed by a warren of vampire rabbits.

Um, none of that is in any way autobiographical. At least not the bunnies.

Demi would have died twice had a certain blood-drinking ringmaster not found her and turned her into a Bludman like himself. After six years as a contortionist in a traveling carnival, Demi is an immature vampire caught in arrested development, an older version of Claudia from Interview with the Vampire. Her life seems carefree and exciting. But from her viewpoint behind the velvet curtain, it’s a cage.

Our heroine’s biggest fear is that she’ll be forever the same, so it’s no surprise when Demi escapes the carnival life to seek her destiny. But when her best friend is stolen by slavers during their journey, she has a new fear: losing what she holds dear.

If you’re a parent, perhaps you know this shift, too. When I was young, I thought I would live forever, and I was terrified of living a boring life. Now that I have children, I often feel that I’ve traded possibilities and excitement for safety and security. Losing one of my kids is now my greatest fear. And like Demi, I would fight any fight to save them.

So on one level, Wicked After Midnight is about facing fears and breaking past them. Fear of stasis, fear of moving forward, fear of loving, fear of being caged again, fear of losing what you love most, fearing of opening up to the vulnerability of loving someone with all your heart. And considering it’s the last book in my Blud series, it’s my attempt at facing some of my own lesser fears. When I was writing it, I couldn’t help thinking that it might be my last chance to write stories in a world I’ve come to love. I wanted to make it the biggest, most exciting, most fun adventure to date. But what if people didn’t like it? What if it was too ridiculous? What if I never got another book deal?

So I did what Demi did: faced fear head-on and had as much fun as I possibly could.

This book has cameos from most of my other characters, including the lizard boy and the kilted version of Thor. It has bone-filled catacombs and clockwork foxes and vampire poodles and runaway elephants and breaking into the Louvre and sex acts on a trapeze. It has Easter eggs based on art history and quotes from pop culture and Your Mom jokes. The hero is a person of color, and there’s a loving family with two moms who are cabaret girls. It’s the longest book I’ve ever written, and it’s a testament to feminism, to smashing down the walls of prejudice, to being exactly who you are, and to breaking out of the mold set for you by society.

In short, even if this book doesn’t do well, it’s going to feel like a triumph because I told fear to go screw itself and wrote the wildest adventure I could. Since the first Blud book sold in 2011, I’ve sought experiences to broaden my writing: I’ve flown on the flying trapeze, learned the twirls of Spanish web, and done vaulting on horseback. This series was my circus, and as safe as it felt to play my part behind the curtains, I’ve made peace with pulling down the big top and moving on to the next great adventure. This show is officially over, and as much as I used to fear it, now I’m excited about the future.

In my last e-novella, “The Damsel and the Daggerman,” intrepid journalist Jacinda Harville finds Demi moping around the caravan and tells her, “I very much advise determining the boundaries of your comfort zone and getting the hell out of it.”

This book is what happens when Demi follows her advice.

And every book I write is what happens when I follow it.

—-

Wicked After Midnight: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

How Cold It Is

It’s so cold that this soda can inside the refrigerator in the garage blew up explosively, cleanly shearing off the top of the can at the seam and coating the lower half of the fridge in cherry cola flavored ice. The rest of the soda in the fridge (the storage of which is what it is used for) as now been brought into the house for the next couple of days at least. And Athena decided to eat what remained of the cherry cola ice in the can. So it all worked out about as well as it was going to. That said: Damn, it’s cold.

The Big Idea: James L. Cambias

I can say this with some authority: I’ve known longer than anyone else working in science fiction today that James Cambias is a terrific writer. I know this because when I was editor of my college newspaper, James turned in some fantastic articles about the history of the university and of Chicago, the city our school was in — so good that I was always telling him he needed to write more (he had some degree program that was also taking up his time, alas. Stupid degree program). After our time in school, James made it into science fiction and has since been nominated for the Campbell, the Nebula and the Tiptree.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that James’ debut novel, A Darkling Sea, is racking up the sort of praise it is, including three starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, and comparisons to the work of grand masters like Robert Silverberg and Hal Clement. He’s always been that good, in science fiction and out of it.

Here’s James now, to tell you more about his book, and how one of the great tropes of science fiction plays into it — and why that great trope isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. 

JAMES L. CAMBIAS:

Small groups of people can have a huge impact on history. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought by two “armies” which could easily fit into Radio City Music Hall together, without any need for standing room.

I wanted to tell the story of a tiny, remote outpost which becomes the flashpoint for an interstellar conflict. But I had a problem: most of the reasons for interstellar conflicts in science fiction are actually pretty lame.

Seriously: who’s going to fight over gold mines or thorium deposits when the Universe is full of lifeless worlds with abundant resources? And even if we find worlds with native life, it’s fantastically unlikely that humans will be able to live on them without massive technological support.

So there’s not going to be range wars, or fights over the oilfields, or whatever. The sheer size of the Universe makes conflict difficult and unnecessary.

Which means a war with an alien civilization has to be about something other than material wealth. It has to involve the most dangerous thing we know of: ideology.

In my new novel A Darkling Sea, a band of human scientists are exploring a distant moon called Ilmatar. Like Europa, Ilmatar has an icy surface but an ocean of liquid water deep below. The humans have built a base on the sea bottom in order to study Ilmatar’s native life forms, including the intelligent, tool-using Ilmatarans.

But they aren’t allowed to make contact with the Ilmatarans, because of another star-faring species called the Sholen. The Sholen are more advanced scientifically than humanity, and have adopted a strict hands-off policy regarding pre-technological societies. A policy which they insist the humans follow — or else.

That’s all very well, but there’s a problem with that attitude. The native Ilmatarans aren’t passive beings. They are curious and intelligent. One group in particular are very interested in preserving and expanding scientific knowledge, and it’s that band of scientists who come across a reckless human explorer. He winds up advancing the cause of science in a very unpleasant way, and the violation of the no-contact policy inflames the Sholen suspicions of the humans.

The humans resent what they see as bullying by the Sholen. The Sholen suspect the humans have imperialist ambitions. Tensions keep rising and eventually explode into outright war — a war fought by two dozen individuals on each side, at the bottom of a black ocean under a mile of ice.

Alert readers may notice that the ideology which creates this powderkeg in the first place is nothing less than Star Trek’s famous “Prime Directive” — a noble ideal and a hallmark of science fiction optimism.

I’ve always hated the Prime Directive.

The Prime Directive idea stems from a mix of outrageous arrogance and equally overblown self-loathing, a toxic brew masked by pure and noble rhetoric.

Arrogance, you say? Surely it’s not arrogant to leave people alone in peace? Who are you, Cortez or someone?

No, but the Milky Way Galaxy isn’t 16th-Century Mexico, either. The idea of forswearing contact with other intelligent species “for their own good” is arrogant. It’s arrogant because it ignores the desires of those other species, and denies them the choice to have contact with others.

If Captain Kirk or whoever shows up on your planet and says “I’m from another planet. Let’s talk and maybe exchange genetic material — or not, if you want me to leave just say so,” that’s an infinitely more reasonable and moral act than for Captain Kirk to sneak around watching you without revealing his own existence. The first is an interaction between equals, the second is the attitude of a scientist watching bacteria. Is that really a moral thing to do? Why does having cooler toys than someone else give you the right to treat them like bacteria?

“But what if they come as conquerors?” you ask. “That’s not an interaction of equals!”

That’s entirely true. And of course an aggressive, conquering civilization is hardly going to come up with the idea of a Prime Directive. It’s a rule which can only be invented by people who don’t need it.

Which brings me to the second toxic ingredient: self-loathing. I’d say that only post-World War II Western culture could come up with the Prime Directive, as that’s about the only time in human history we’ve had a civilization with tremendous power that’s also washed in a sense of tremendous shame. Previous powerful civilizations felt they had a right, or even a duty, to conquer others or remake them in their own image. Previous weak civilizations were too busy trying to survive. Only the West after two World Wars worries about its own potential for harm.

The Sholen in my novel have that same sense of shame. Their history holds more horrors than our own, and their civilizational guilt is killing them. They’re naturals for a “Prime Directive” philosophy. For them, humans are an ideal object for their psychological projection. They see all their own worst traits in humans, and assume the worst about the motives and intentions of humanity. The result confirms each side’s fears about the other.

As to what happens then, well, read the book.

—-

A Darkling Sea: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog

For Auction: EXTREMELY RARE Bound, Signed Outtakes from LOCK IN, Plus Signed 1st Edition of LOCK IN, for the Worldbuilders Charity

The wordy headline says it all! But in case it doesn’t, this bit from the auction page:

“A signed copy of Lock In by John Scalzi, and a signed copy of seven chapters cut from that book, (Not) Lock In–one of only four copies in existence

“(NOT) LOCK IN: The seven chapters John Scalzi didn’t use in his latest novel’s final version.

“You will be bidding on a particularly rare piece of ephemera: Seven chapters originally written for the novel Lock In, by John Scalzi, but ultimately not used for the book. These seven chapters feature two lead characters who were ultimately turned into featured characters in the final novel, to make way for a new protagonist. As a result these chapters were put aside and the beginning of the novel rewritten. The final novel keeps some but not all of the events, characters and situations and is ultimately substantially different from what you’ll find here.

“These seven chapters have been printed in an extremely limited perfect bound, paperback edition (four copies only) with only one copy intended for public release: The one here for auction. The cover features a photograph taken by the author. Scalzi will sign and (if desired) personalize the copy to the winner of the auction (or whomever he or she chooses). In addition, Scalzi will sign and personalize a first-edition hardcover copy of Lock In, so the auction bidder will be able to compare and contrast the two versions.”

Note the hardcover copy of Lock In will be provided when the book is published in August. But (Not) Lock In already exists, as you can see from the picture above.

Bidding is open between this very instant and 5pm Pacific, February 2. Here’s the link to the auction page. Good luck!

(P.S.: While you’re there, check out the other auctions Worldbuilders is running. There is some cool stuff there.)

(P.P.S.: For those of you who don’t know what Worldbuilders is, here are the details.)

A Convention Harassment Policy in Action

Arisia is a convention with a harassment policy. So what happened when a woman quite reasonably felt she was harassed, and complained to convention about it? Why, it was handled quickly and efficiently, of course, because there was a process in place to handle it, and that process was followed.

Read about the event here.

Shira Lipkin has further thoughts here.

Good on Arisia for being a convention where someone who felt they were being harassed knew how, and felt comfortable with, reporting the event.

Notes on My Nexus 7

I bought myself the latest generation of Nexus 7 tablet as a post-Christmas gift, and I’ve gotten a couple of people asking me what I thought about it.

Briefly: I like it a whole lot, and in fact would probably say that of all the tablets I have or have tried, it’s probably my favorite. It’s fast, has an excellent 1080p screen, and really is the right size for travel and for my personal set of hands. It was also relatively inexpensive (under $260 for the 32MB version, which makes it $240 less than the most recent iPad mini with the same memory), which doesn’t hurt. I’m also reasonably well integrated into the Google ecosystem, as opposed to the Apple ecosystem, so in terms of the basic apps that I use on a day to day basis, this tablet is better tuned for that.

(Please don’t imagine this is me trying to start a Google vs. Apple war — I have a recent generation iPad, use it frequently and am working on a video game that will initially appear on the iPad before it goes to Android.)

The only reservation I have with the Nexus is not about it, but about me, which is that when I read magazines off it from Next Issue, the text is usually too small. The text, I should note, is perfectly sharp and clear on the Nexus screen; it’s just tiny, and my eyes get cranky these day when I have to look at tiny text. I end up using my iPad or Nexus 10 for magazine reading. If you have better eyes than mine, this will not be a problem for you.

(update: wait, remembered one other thing — the power and volume buttons are a little too flush with the side of the tablet, making them harder to use than I would like. This may aslo be an issue of personal taste.)

With that caveat noted, the Nexus 7 is otherwise just about perfect for me. It’s become my travel tablet, and I also end up carrying it around the house with me from room to room. If you’re in the market for a smaller tablet, I can definitely recommend it to you.

Every Award-Winning Book Sucks (For Someone)

As part of my occasional and hopefully instructive series of entries in which I try to make the point to writers that negative reviews are part of the territory and ultimately not something to get too worked up about or to let scar one’s psyche, I would like to present you excerpts of one star Amazon reviews of every single Hugo-winning novel of the last ten years (of which there are eleven, due to a tie in 2010). I would note that while I quote only one for each novel, in every case, there was more than one to choose from.

In chronological order:

2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold:

I hate it when I see an awesome author seem to get worse as they move on and write other series. I pushed through the first one, and did finish this one, but had to complain about the writing and slowness at least once per reading session.

2005: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susannah Clarke:

I just stopped reading this book on page 721. That’s right I stopped with only about 60 pages to go, after having read every footnote and every word up to that point. Why? I just couldn’t spend another hour of my life on this book.

2006: Spin, Robert Charles Wilson:

This book was boring and without a doubt a great waste of time. I stuck with this because I felt that just around the corner, or next page, a something of consequence would happen. No, nothing happened, page after page after page of nothing.

2007: Rainbow’s End, Vernor Vinge:

It’s just one of the most bland, uninteresting books I’ve read in a long time. The future world state is mildly interesting, but it’s nothing compared to the future worlds that Vinge has created in his other novels. And the character development and storyline is just atrociously uninteresting.

2008: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon:

I found the book to be completely nonsensical, overbearing and tedious. I nearly put this book down several times, but felt compelled and determined to finish. In the end, I didn’t think it was worth the time; it was an extreme disappointment.

2009: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman:

I am amazed that this book has won awards — I wonder about the judges who voted for this completely unsuitable book. The book revolves around graveyards, murder, ghosts and a child called Nobody. Being called nobody certainly would not improve self esteem. This is a horrible, highly negative book.

2010: (tie) The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi:

I can’t recommend this book. It was one of the worst I have ever read. The only character in this book that I cared the least bit about was Mai and she wasn’t even in it very much at all. I felt sorry for her but I really could have cared less if the rest of them died.

2010: (tie) The City and The City, China Mieville:

I thought this book would be amazing, instead it was tedious and boring. What was an interesting murder mystery story was wrapped up in a boring, vague, repetitive story. I understood, the cities were geographically together but politically separate. Interesting in theory, but would never work in practice. But I didn’t need to be reminded of it every 5 sentences.

2011: Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis:

This is very little reward for a long and tedious read. The three main characters are all very like, tiresomely guilt-ridden and apparently unable to think new thoughts very quickly, even when their lives depend on it. I would not drop this lot off in a mall parking lot far from home and expect them to live. 

2012: Among Others, Jo Walton:

Most of the book is filled with angsty recollections by a teenager caught in a (mildly) unpleasant situation, and pages and pages and *pages* of tepid one-line reviews of every golden-age sci fi and fantasy writer. I don’t know why I read this book to the end–it kept promising something interesting, but never delivered. 

2013: Redshirts, John Scalzi:

This is an onanistic shallow and very disappointing book. Little or no character development. What should have been an interesting short story based on a somewhat interesting conceit has been puffed out to novel length and suffers hugely from the increased exposure. Don’t waste your time or money… The only interesting element was the coda about writer’s block which, I fear, seems to be very close to home for him as reflected in recent work.

And should you be of the opinion that all this means is that the quality of Hugo winning books has declined in the last decade, I’d note that just about every Hugo winner has its share of one star reviews, including Starship Troopers (“a VERY dry read with nothing to grab your attention”), Dune (“Prose that would make a Dungeons and Dragons novel blush”), The Left Hand of Darkness (“I cannot avoid the feeling of its uselessness”), Neuromancer (“tedious and pretentious writing, unnecessary to illustrate intellectual concepts.”), Ender’s Game (“Most likely the worst book I’ve ever read”) and The Diamond Age (“it drags on and on and on with little concern for plot or characterization”). We could likewise do this for every Nebula, Locus and Clarke winner, as well as every Booker, Pulitzer and National Book Award winner. Or, to be honest, just about any book nominated or winning any award, from any time, anywhere.

The point is: there has yet to be a book — no matter how well-regarded or awarded — that does not suck for someone. No matter what is nominated for an award or wins, there will always be someone aghast at its presence on the list or its author at the lectern. And as this is the case for the award winners — all the award winners, every one of them — you probably shouldn’t feel too bad when inevitably your book starts racking up negative notes.

Likewise, should your work be nominated for an award, and then you see someone huffing and puffing about how your presence on the ballot is bizarre/outraging/proof of the decline of humanity, you can recognize that this makes you just like every single other person who has been nominated for or won an award, ever, in the history of the whole world. And that’s a perversely comforting thought.

A Public Service Announcement re: The Hugos, via Twitter

And, a reminder that authors (and others) talked about the their eligible work here. Check it out for ideas.

In Which I Sing a Depeche Mode Song For Patrick Rothfuss’ Worldbuilders Charity

Yes, Patrick asked me to be a stretch goal for the charity this year, so I said, sure, when you reach $325,000, I’ll sing Depeche Mode’s “But Not Tonight,” accompanying myself on tenor guitar as I do so.

Guess what? They reached that stretch goal!

Experience the Depechenation here.

And for those of you saying “what song is that?”, here’s the original, with super cheesy 80s video goodness (apparently it was a song featured on a cheesy 80s teen movie. The 80s, man):