Monthly Archives: April 2014

Traitor to the Mens: Get the T-Shirt!

So, yesterday, over at Reddit’s “Red Pill” subreddit, THE MENS were complaining about this thing I wrote, and what a tool I am, when one of them made a bold accusation:

To which Deirdre Saoirse Moen said, hey, I could design that. To which I said, DO EEEET.

And so she did!

And they are awesome. Here’s Deirdre with the details of the design.

I think I’m going to buy two. At least.

Also, as a closing thought:

The Big Idea: Mary Robinette Kowal

Short form: Mary Robinette Kowal is a fabulous writer, her Glamourist Histories series is award-winning, and the latest, Valour and Vanity, is wonderful, and has gathered acclaim and starred reviews (I am biased toward Mary, who is one of my best friends, but this does not mean all the above is not also true). Here she is to tell you about what’s at the heart of Valour and Vanity — and what it is may surprise you.

MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL:

The elevator pitch for Valour and Vanity is pretty simple, “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven. With magic.” So it’s a Regency-era heist novel of manners.

The way I got there was slightly more complicated though.

It’s like this: What I love about writing these books is actually the relationship between Jane and Vincent. I really like having a happily married couple in the leading role because, darn it, romance and adventure don’t stop just because you tie the knot. Conflict doesn’t stop either, but it changes.

When I wrote the book, my husband and I were in a period where we had just moved to NYC and he was having trouble finding work, so I was supporting us on my theater income. To say money was tight… well. Our marriage was strong, but the outside forces tricky, especially the societal ones that still tend to frown on men being supported by their wives. I wanted to explore that.

As an elevator pitch, it’s on the dull side.

So I masked it, by developing a high-concept plot for the outside forces that put stress on the marriage. In the first chapter, my main characters are attacked by pirates and lose everything. This is 1817 and they are en route to Venice. In the best of possible conditions, it would take a month for a letter asking for help to get from Venice to London and another month back.

Compare that to today, when you can call or email and get bailed out of a jam pretty darn fast. You pretty much have to handle things yourself, and that involves finding some way to make money, get shelter, and just survive for months.

Given the circumstances, the most natural thing for Vincent to do is to try to recover their money, and that kicks off the heist novel.

Usually when I write the Glamourist Histories novels, I read a lot of period literature. While I did read Lord Byron’s letters for this, I also watched a ton of heist movies. I did a plot analysis of them and made a list of the elements that compose a good heist. This provided my plot structure. It included things like:

  •  Assembling the team
  • Casing the joint
  • Practicing the plan
  • Plan goes wrong
  • Car chases

I also made a separate list of set pieces, and scenes I wanted to write. Things like:

  • Gondola Chase
  • Lord Byron swimming the canal
  • Italian nuns kicking ass
  • Using glamour to mask a room

I matched my set pieces up with my plot structure and then filled in the gaps in between them to come up with an outline. But underneath all of this, I have Jane and Vincent and their relationship as my anchor.

So in some ways, the entire novel is really a long con. It feels like you’re reading a heist, but really this is a story about marriage.

With gondola chases. And magic.

—-

Valour and Vanity: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Today’s Reminder That the 80s Really Were Another Time Entirely

Thoughts:

1. Seriously, what the hell is even going on in this video.

2. They spent over a million dollars making this video. I’m not sure I’ve seen a music video from the last decade that cost (or at least looks like it cost) more than a thousand bucks. Maybe they give Lady Gaga that much to make a video these days? Everyone else, it’s like, here’s an iPhone, go make a video with that and then shove it up on YouTube.

3. I think there should be a series on VH1 that consists entirely of a split screen, one half of which is a video from the 80s, the other half of which is the artist today, watching the video for probably the first time in 25 years. The cringing would be spectacular. The first show should feature this video. And this one. And then the show would be canceled, out of pity for the artists.

Back From Chicago

Where I had a lovely time at C2E2, seeing friends and fans and the occasional random person who had no idea who I was but was perfectly nice to me anyway, because most people are, you know, nice people. My panels were also a bunch of fun, and it was especially enjoyable watching Lydia Kang rout Pat Rothfuss, Keven Hearne and Seth Fishman in the Geek Geek Revolution game show panel (seriously, she kicked their asses). Also, I got to use the word “Hegelian” in the “Science Fiction” panel with Daryl Gregory, M.D. Waters and Gary Wolfe. So I have that going for me, which is nice.

I also had a meeting with Patty Garcia, Tor’s utterly fabulous head of publicity, in which we talked about potential book tour dates. I can’t talk much about it at the moment because we’re still looking at what’s possible (and please don’t ask me if I’m coming to your town because the answer at this point will be “uh, maybe?”), but I can say that if we get the tour we’re thinking on, a whole lot of you in the US will get a chance to see me, including some of you in places I’ve never toured before. So I have that going for me too.

And I also had Harold’s Chicken, which was the best.

So: Thanks Chicago. You remain, as always, the greatest.

On to C2E2

I’ll be spending most of the day at C2E2 today, wandering the halls, doing panels and avoiding assassins (I assume), so will not be much around here this Friday (and if I do update, it will be very short). If you’d like to know what I’m up to for most of the day, probably best to follow along with the Twitter feed. If you don’t follow it but you’re on the site, the last ten tweets are conveniently to the left; just scroll down a bit.

Or (if you’re in Chicago), just pop by C2E2. I’ll be easy to find; I’m the nerdy one. Easy to spot in that crowd.

Have a good Friday. (Not a Good Friday, though; that was last week.)

And Now, Rebuttals

And, now, for your information and consideration: People who disagree with me and think I am very, very wrong with regard to my thoughts on the Hugos this year:

Shweta Narayan

Arachne Jericho

Rose Lemberg

Kate Nepveu

You may find that you agree with them more than me. In which case: Agree with them more than me. As I’ve noted before, I could be wrong.

The only thing I would note is that I’ve not ever said people must read everything up for consideration for the Hugo. If you find you can’t, for whatever reason, then don’t, and (I think this follows) I would suggest leaving it off the final ballot entirely. Likewise, if you read it but can’t separate it out from the author, that’s life, and that’s okay. I think it’s worth trying, but a) it’s not always possible, b) no one’s obliged to agree that this is the best course of action.

In any event, take a look at what these folks have to say. They’re worth the read.

My C2E2 Schedule

If you’re going to be at C2E2 in Chicago this weekend — and why wouldn’t you be? How could you not be? — then this is where you will find me.

Friday, 4/25

1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S402: “Science Fiction”: Daryl Gregory, M.D. Waters, Gary K. Wolfe and I are going to talk about the genre of science fiction and finally settle all lingering questions about the field. after which the aliens will finally arrive and the new age of humanity will begin! (Note: settling all questions, alien arrival and new age of humanity are not guaranteed.)

2:45pm – 3:45pm: Table 1: Autographing: After we’re done with the above panel, all of us will be signing! Wheee!

Saturday, 4/26: 

1:30pm – 2:30pm, Room S403: “Geek Geek Revolution”: This will be a game show I am hosting, in which authors Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin Hearne, Seth Fishman and Lydia Kang (and possibly some extras) compete by answering nerdy quiz questions. Yes, I will be Alex Trebek for this. BWA HA HA HA HAH AH AHA HA. 

Other than this, I will be wandering about and causing trouble for others. Come find me! See you there.

Wheel of Time; Hugo Novel Nominees; How I Read Nominated Works

Because you asked, that’s why.

* Tor has decided to place the entire Wheel of Time series into the Hugo voters reading packet, which has surprised many — that’s 15 books, which is a hell of a lot of reading — and I think has convinced some others that this year’s Best Novel Hugo race might be over before it begun. Well, I have a couple of thoughts here.

One, good on Tor for committing the entire series to the voter packet: The nomination is for the entire series, so voters should read the whole thing and decide whether, in sum, it is worthy. Having it available in the packet for those who have not yet attempted the series is going to be useful for that aim.

Two, I think it presents a risk to the series’ overall chances, as opposed to just placing A Memory of Light into the packet. First, because, Jesus: Fifteen books. I suspect some people who haven’t already committed to the series are just going to look at that mass of 4.4 million words and go, “uh, yeah, no,” and that will be that. Second, fifteen books are fifteen different chances for the series to fail for any particular reader. Again, if you’ve not already bought into the series, this will not necessarily be a positive.

Three, while having all the books in the series in the voter packet might be an impetus for people to get a supporting membership to the Worldcon (along with, you know, everything else in the packet), it doesn’t follow that those people will then automatically turn around and vote for the series. It’s reasonable to posit that the people who are most likely to vote for the series are already invested in the series, i.e., they already have the books, in which case their presence in the voter packet is nice but not necessary. New people coming in may be attracted by the sheer bulk of the series, but they may also decide it’s not their thing (see points one and two) and prefer one of the other nominees.

Add those up, and there’s an argument to be made that having just the final installment of the series in the packet would have been the less risky proposition.

So yeah, don’t assume having the whole series in that packet is a net positive for the series’ Hugo chances. Tor putting the whole series in the reader packet is the correct thing to do. It’s not a slam dunk, however.

* On the subject of Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson writes a very good piece on the series’ nomination, both to the fans of the series and to those who are coming to it from elsewhere, essentially asking both groups to set aside any prejudices they have for or against the series and to make a principled choice in terms of the Hugo. Good for him, because he’s correct; the series should be judged on its merits, and he’s the right person to make that argument to both assumed camps.

With that said, I think we need to be careful with the assumption that the only people who nominated Wheel of Time as a series are the people who are in the tank for the series and only the series. There are five slots for each category on the Hugo nomination ballot; very few fans, I suspect, nominate only one work in the novel category. I find it difficult to believe there is no overlap between WoT fans and fans of the Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross, Mira Grant and Larry Correia’s nominated novels — and if there is indeed no overlap at all, then that doesn’t bode particularly well for WoT’s chances, given how the Australian Rules ballot works.

So again: Let’s not assume a WoT slam dunk.

* Indeed, with regard to the novel, let’s recognize the strengths each nominee brings to the table: Ancillary Justice has been nominated for just about every major science fiction award this year — Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA, PKD —  and is arguably the most talked and praised science fiction novel of 2013. Neptune’s Brood is classic Charles Stross, and a very good novel of hard(er) SF, which is always popular, and Charlie is also the only UK nominee on the novel ballot, which doesn’t hurt when the Worldcon’s in London. Parasite continues Mira Grant’s novel nomination streak, is scary as hell and a damn fine read. Warbound is the surprise in the field (which is not bad), entirely different from the other nominees (also not a bad thing) and, as has been established, has its own passionate set of fans.

So once more: Let’s not count the Hugo novel chickens before they hatch. We might all be surprised — and surprise here would not a bad thing.

* I’ve been asked if I intend to read all the nominees this year. I do — some I have already read, and the rest I will get to when the Hugo voter packet comes out, if not sooner. My own particular reading style for nominations is to read until I get bored, at which point I stop. If I get to the end, then it means I wasn’t bored, so that’s good. I then rank the works that did not bore me, by various criteria including (but not limited to, and not in equal amounts) story, writing quality and emotional impact. Sometimes this requires tough choices. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When I note that I don’t always read a nominated work to the end if it bores me, some folks question whether that strategy is fair. My response: Hell yeah. If a work is boring, it’s fair to put it down — fair to me, at least, since I didn’t sign on to be bored. I don’t care if it might “pick up at the end” or whatever; if the writer didn’t pick it up at the beginning, I’m not sure why I need to do all that heavy lifting. I get bored pretty quickly; nominated works shouldn’t give me the chance to get bored.

(Mind you, as I sow, so do I reap — which is to say that if someone reading my work for the Hugos, etc gets bored with it, I am perfectly fine with them chucking it and moving on to the next thing. That’s life, people!)

* Also, no, I don’t plan to publicly comment on what I think of each of the nominated works (other than the generally positive things I’ve said about the novel nominees above) until after the award ceremony at least, no matter how fun some of you might think it would be if I did. Other people can take up that task. I will merely say what I’ve said before: If you’re voting on the Hugos this year, consider simply judging the works on their own merits. I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you do. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t.

 

The Big Idea: Daryl Gregory

Your brain: Is it your friend? Or is it something else entirely — something maybe a little less chummy with you than you thought? Ask Daryl Gregory, because he’s given it some thought (with his brain!!!!) for his newest novel, Afterparty.

DARYL GREGORY:

Your brain is lying to you. Not just about the small stuff, like when it makes you fall for an optical illusion, messes with your sense of time, or creates a gorilla-size gap in your perception when it’s busy concentrating on something else.

Your brain is also lying about the big stuff, the most fundamental aspects of being human. It starts with the illusion that there’s a “you” behind your eyes, and independent “self” that has something called free will. Folks like Daniel Dennett argue that free will is just a feeling of control. And Dan Ariely, the guy who wrote Predictably Irrational, can supply plenty of examples of how our “rational” decision-making can be shaped by things as simple as changing the design of a form at the DMV.

But evolution has also shaped our brains to affect the way we make moral decisions. Consider the well-known thought experiment, the Trolley Problem. A runaway trolley is coming down the track toward five people. You can pull a lever to divert the trolley onto another track, where a single person is standing. Do you kill one person to save five?

The answers people give can vary simply by the story you tell about the singleton who would die. Is he a fat man you’d have to push onto the track yourself,  a villain who “deserves it,” or an unsuspecting guy sleeping in his hammock? Because we evolved as social apes, some actions just feel more wrong, even if the moral calculus is the same.

Your brain, basically, is Mr. Liar McLiarpants. And that’s the big idea behind Afterparty.

The story takes place in the very near future. (If you want to write about the present in a way that won’t feel quaint in ten minutes, write near-future SF. It’s just mainstream fiction with the sell-by date scraped off.)  To show what life is like a few years into the designer-drug revolution, I made up a few technologies that are pretty much doable now, chief among them the ChemJet.

Here’s how you build one. Take something like a 3D printer. Replace the input material with packets of pre-cursor chemicals (phenethylamine’s a good building block) that you buy semi-legally online. Next download recipes for smart drugs from a vibrant community of bio-hackers. Or make your own, and beta test the results on you and your friends.

Obviously there are going to be some interesting consequences of desktop drug design, some of them horrible.

Lyda Rose, the main character in the book, is a good example of both sides of that bio-hacking coin. She’s a former neuroscientist who discovers that the drug she helped create ten years ago, and thought she buried, is back on the streets, being printed by underground churches.

The drug goes by the name Numinous, and for good reason. Take a little, and you get that mystical feeling that William James described in The Varieties of Religious Experience, and that’s been experienced by humans throughout history. (Some people with temporal lobe epilepsy have it every day.) It has many qualities, but the main one is that you feel like you’re in contact with something wholly outside your self—a divine other.

That’s what happens if you take a little Numinous. Overdose on the drug, however, and you might wake up with a deity permanently installed in your brain—your own personal Jesus.

Ten years before the story starts, Lyda and the co-creators were all given a massive dose of Numinous against their will. (Who did that to them, and why, is one of the mysteries in the book.) Each of the survivors now has their own “divine” presence living with them, and Lyda’s is Dr. Gloria, an angel in a white lab coat. Lyda, as a scientist, knows that Dr. Gloria’s a hallucination. But the other side of the coin is that the good doctor is also good for her; Lyda’s a better person when Gloria is advising her and soothing her.

That’s the main question the book asks: if someone invented a drug that made you technically insane, but helped you to be kinder and more connected to your fellow humans, would you take it? And what happens when other people decide they should convert you for your own good?

If you don’t want to wait for the future to get your dose of chemical evangelism, you can always take the long road. Every day, millions of people meditate, pray, sing whirl, and chant, chasing that feeling of the numinous. Whether it’s God (or some other higher power) communicating with them, or whether it’s just the brain fooling them with its own recipe of chemicals, that’s a question that each person—and his or her brain—has to work out for themselves.

As for me, I trust my brain about as far as I can throw it. (Which isn’t far, because skull.) But I think of it as living with a charming sociopath. Some of the stories it tells become more interesting when you know they’re lies.

—-

Afterparty: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBoundPowell’s

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

No, The Hugo Nominations Were Not Rigged

Just to pull this out and give it its own post for emphasis.

So, apparently Larry Correia and Vox Day offered on their Web sites a slate of suggested nominees for several Hugo categories, and several of their suggested nominees hit the final ballot. This has made a number of people feel things ranging from annoyance to outrage, with the commensurate suggestion that, if such a thing is not illegal, then it’s at least just not done. So let me offer a couple of thoughts.

1. Does what these two fellows have done contravene the actual Hugo nomination rules? If they answer is “no” (and it does in fact appear to be “no”), then fair play. Game on.

2. As to the “it’s just not done” thing: Well, now it has. And as it’s been done, and it’s by all indications entirely legal, wasting time griping that it’s happened, with regards to this year’s voting, seems like frittering to me. Again: Game on.

3. But it’s also not entirely honest to say that it’s not been done before, either. Lots of people suggest or at least remind people of their own works for consideration (I do the latter); lots of people suggest or at least remind people of the works of others for consideration. Just this year I suggested Abagail Nussbaum for Fan Writer; there she is on the ballot. Was my recommendation causative? Maybe, maybe not (I suspect not — she’s built a reputation over a number of years), but the point is I made the recommendation.

The new wrinkle here would be Correia/Day allegedly exhorting a comprehensive slate of nominees for the purpose of annoying people they would like to annoy, rather than with regard to the quality of the works offered. I’m not sure that’s the whole story (From what I can see, I think the list was composed to highlight works these fellows found worthy, and also, as a bonus, they thought they’d annoy some folks in the bargain). But again, even if the least charitable interpretation holds, see point one and point two. You may see this as a cynical, contemptuous of the awards and the people who vote for them, and just a real dick move. But even if it were, eh. Yet again: this is the hand the Hugos are dealt this year. Let’s go ahead and play it.

4. More to the point for me, even if we were to grant that a slate of nominees was engineered to get on the ballot for the purposes of annoying some voters, and to make some obtuse point about politics and the Hugos, why should anyone be obliged to play along by those assertions? To paraphrase a point I made yesterday on Twitter, how terrible it would be if someone elbowed their way onto the Hugo list to make a political point, and all that happened was that their nominated work was judged solely by its artistic merits.

If work was shunted onto the list to make a political point and without regard to its quality, and it is crap, you’re going to know it when you read that work, and you should judge it accordingly. And if a work was shunted onto the list to make a political point and without regard to the quality, and it’s pretty good, you’re going to know that too — and you should judge it accordingly. If you believe that these fellows pushed their way onto the list to make a political point, nothing will annoy them more than for their work to be considered fairly. It undermines their entire point.

It doesn’t mean you give a work an award, if you find it lacking. But you treat it fairly. And yes, it’s entirely possible that in this formulation, anything less than a win will be seen by them as evidence of politics. But again: Why would you accede to such assertions? If their works win, good for them. If they lose, that’s life. Speaking as a six-time Hugo loser, who once lost a Hugo by a single vote, let me just say that when you’re a grown-up, you learn to accept you don’t get everything you want.

5. Please also keep in mind that even if you believe that the list is a cynical exercise, there are people and work on that list who may be well worth consideration, who may or may not have even known they were part of (or would have consented to) being part of a cynical exercise. Consider that you would be doing them (and the Hugos) a disservice to dismiss them out of hand. I’ve seen rumblings of people suggesting they’ll put everyone on the Correia/Day slate below “no award” no matter what, but if you’re doing that, you’re making these fellows’ alleged point for them. Again: Why do that? It’s nearly as easy to read a work (or at least, read as far as can) and decide it’s just not for you. And if it is for you, well. Surprise!

6. On a strictly personal note, at least one of these fellows apparently wishes to assert that the reason they’re introducing politics into the mix here is because I did it before them, i.e., that this is somehow really my fault. Well, no. One, just because this dude doesn’t like me, it doesn’t make me responsible for his actions. That’s the sort of “he made me do it” logic you give up when you’re twelve. Two, I’ve certainly made people aware of my work, and given space on my site to let others do the same; I’m not aware of ever having said “here’s a slate of people you should nominate for this award, including me.” Totally legal and no reason not to, if you think it’s something you want to do. Not something I would want to do, or have done.

But if the suggestion is that I’ve been strategic about getting onto the Hugo ballot at times, well. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest I haven’t. I have, and certainly I know that’s annoyed people before. But, oh well — and no matter what at the end of the day what I was on the ballot for had to face the other nominees in the category. Sometimes that work fared well, and I took home a Hugo. But I also have my share of fifth place finishes, too.

I think maybe this is why I’m less annoyed with the Correia/Day slate than others. If they’re on the ballot due to crafty strategy, well, good for them. A nice trick if you can manage it. But now they have to compete. I look who’s on the ballot with them, and this is what I have to say about that: Good luck, guys. You’re gonna need it.

7. Ultimately, here’s what I think about this year’s slate: It’s got some stuff on it I already know I like. It’s got some stuff on it that I already know I don’t like. And it’s got some stuff on it I haven’t read, so I’ll read it and decide what I think.

In other words; it’s a Hugo slate pretty much any Hugo slate in any year. I plan to treat it exactly like I treat any Hugo slate in any year. You might consider it, too.