Monthly Archives: July 2014

Starred Review of Lock In at Booklist

It’s up at the magazine’s Web site now (albeit behind a paywall), so I can acknowledge it here: Lock In has received its third starred review, this time from Booklist. I won’t quote the whole thing (read it at the Web site if you have access, or in the August 2014 print edition), but here’s a bit I particularly like:

Another brilliant novel from a writer who has quickly become one of the genre’s most successful and intriguing practitioners.

I like the word “another” in that, I have to say.

I’m basically gobsmacked to have received three starred reviews for Lock In (the other two being from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus); that’s the first time I’ve had that happen. I hope you guys like it as much as the reviewers have so far.

Old Man’s War and Trans Folk

Note: This entry will have spoilers about my book Old Man’s War – which, inasmuch as the book has been published for nearly ten years now probably shouldn’t been seen as spoilers anymore but never mind that now — so if you haven’t read Old Man’s War and don’t want a relatively important aspect of it spoiled for you, here’s the takeaway: Yes, there are trans people in the OMW universe; no, it’s not a problem for the CDF/Colonial Union that they are trans. There, now you can go ahead and skip the rest of this entry.

Now, then, for everyone else:

I have been asked several times (and just yesterday, in fact, via e-mail), what happens to trans people who become part of the Colonial Defense Force in the Old Man’s War books. To recap, the CDF gets its soldiers by recruiting 75-year-olds from Earth and giving them new, super-awesome bodies that are based on — but not created solely out of — their own DNA. Because the creation of the bodies is only partly based on the recruit’s original genetic information, would it be possible to for transfolk to specify which gender they would like their new body to be?

This is a really interesting question. Let me try to answer it.

Let me note that with respect to Old Man’s War the book, I did not at all think about what would happen with trans people who join the CDF as I was writing it. Why? Short answer: Straight white male who didn’t know any trans people at the time, so it was not something in my consciousness. So everything from here on out is me adding commentary to the original text — but since it’s from me, the author, we can consider it canonical.

(Also, note: I am not 100% up on trans-related terms, so if I use terms incorrectly, it’s ignorance and not malice; please let me know in the comments and I’ll edit.)

1. First off, and to be clear, there would be no bar to trans people joining the CDF, because why would there be? The entrance requirements are a) you’ve signed up, b) you come from what are in the book rich, developed countries (which mostly align with the current slate of rich, developed countries). So yes, there would be trans people among the recruits.

2. By default, CDF bodies come in classically male and classically female forms. Note that thanks to genetic engineering, etc, the performance capabilities of both male and female forms are equal, so the gender presentation is strictly for the psychological comfort of the recruit, i.e., you’re (usually) used to being male or female, so you get to stay that way when you transfer into your new body.

3. Because the body sorting is a matter of psychological comfort, to the extent that the CDF knows about a trans person’s gender identity, it’ll sort them that way. So, for example, a post-op trans person will be sorted into their post-op gender identity, regardless of DNA profile, because that’s the clear preference for that person.

4. What about non-op, genderfluid, intersex or trans people who have not made their preferred gender public knowledge? The CDF initially sorts into male/female by best appoximation and then after transfer follows up for additional modification. The CDF is an organization that can grow back limbs and organs with minimal effort (for them; it’s slightly more traumatic to the person growing them back), so modifying bodies for the psychological comfort of the person inside is a relatively trivial matter. Most of this can be handled before the recruits get to basic training, although particular in the case of trans people who are not public, much would be contingent on them telling the CDF doctors and technicians.

5. And no, the CDF wouldn’t care about the gender presentation of the recruits. What it would care about is them being willing to fight. You’ll fight? Great, here’s your Empee. Go kill an alien. Thanks.

6. Would there be some other recruits who would have a problem with trans people? It’s possible; the CDF lets anyone in. The basic training drill sergeants will be happy to tell them to get over it. If they did not (indeed if they did not get over any general bigotry) the results for them would be grim.

7. Could a CDF soldier decide to change their gender identity and presentation during the term of service? Sure, why not? All CDF bodies have the same baseline capabilities and personal identity can be verfied via BrainPal, so there would be no penalty or confusion on either score. Are you following orders? Killing aliens? Great — change your presentation however you like.

8. Likewise, when a CDF soldier leaves service, they can specify the gender identity and presentation of the body they’ll be transfered into. Because, again, why wouldn’t they?

Short form: The CDF is happy to let trans people be who they are because it makes them comfortable with themselves — and that makes them better soldiers, which is ultimately what the CDF cares about.

With regard to the Old Man’s War series, I have not intentionally written about trans people in it (some of my characters may have been trans but did not tell me about it), but there’s no reason why I could not. So maybe I will at some point, if there’s a way to do so that doesn’t look like me transparently trying to gather cookies to myself. But regardless of whether I’ve written trans people into my books, there are, canonically speaking, trans people in the OMW universe. Because why wouldn’t there be.

(Update, 8:30pm: Making a few tweaks on language thanks to feedback from some trans and trans-knowledgeable readers)

The Big Idea: Joshua Roots

Reponsibility! It’s a drag, right? Not so, argues Joshua Roots, who explains how responsibility, and all the things around it, inform his latest novel, Summoned Chaos.

JOSHUA ROOTS:

Growing up, life worked pretty hard to instill in me a sense of responsibility for my actions. Don’t eat your veggies? No dessert. Forget to call Mom if you’re going to miss curfew? Enjoy staying home for the next week or so. Ask two girls out to the same dance? Good luck getting a date the rest of your 7th-grade year, pal.

As a kid, responsibility was a burden, something imposed on me from the outside. Things like cleaning my room, eating veggies, and monogamy were crosses I had to bear. If I goofed up, I paid the price. Someone external (usually my folks) kept me in line, ensuring I stepped up to the plate for the responsibilities assigned to me or ones I’d volunteered for.

During those formative years, I found a kindred spirit in Peter Parker. He was just a normal teenager until a radioactive spider gave him all these amazing powers. Not to mention the burdens that went along with them. As Uncle Ben drilled into him: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I didn’t know it back then, but that was only half of the equation.

Over time, the sense of responsibility became something that I realized through my own actions. Rather than my parents holding me accountable, I was doing it myself. Missing a homework assignment in high school or college meant I had to own up to my actions alone. Same with being flippant with a girl’s heart. Some of those lessons were learned the hard way, through poor grades or tears wept. But in the end, it was my choice to attend those classes or account for another person’s feelings.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day I found myself paying my mortgage, filling out a grocery list, and making my bed. Voluntarily. And you know what? That was pretty cool. More important, it was empowering. Keeping the lights on and food in the fridge may seem boring and mundane, but it was symbolic. I wasn’t merely surviving, I was building my future. Commanding my life.

Then I joined the Marines and that concept was ratcheted up to eleven. Responsibility wasn’t a burden, but a gift. Just as lives were entrusted to me, so too was mine entrusted to others. That responsibility became one of the greatest rewards because when I eventually moved on, I walked away with the strength to carve out my own future and the conviction to face whatever challenges came my way.

Becoming responsible as an adult, while not always fun, does carry a significant amount of power. We begin to control our own destinies, make choices, and learn to deal with the consequences—good or bad—of those actions. More important, the responsibilities that we take on allow us to choose which paths we want to navigate through life. No matter what, those paths are filled with challenges. Accepting those challenges and working to overcome them empowers us. It teaches us we can do better, maybe even become more than we think we can be. It gives us the confidence to move forward.

The Big Idea for Summoned Chaos, Book 2 in The Shifter Chronicles, centers on this theme. The main character, Marcus, is making the transition from being begrudgingly accountable for his actions to willingly accepting them. He’s not only dealing with the fallout of Book 1, but also realizing that there is a certain amount of power that comes from bearing the load of his family name, of serving the governing council of his magical society, and of being responsible for someone other than himself.

Rather than responsibility being a burden he must carry, Marcus, much like the rest of us, comes to realize that it is a weapon to win life’s battles. He is no longer a “lone wolf” caring for his own needs. Instead, he’s taking on the responsibilities of a team, his loved ones, and the defenseless humans he’s sworn to protect against paranormal creepy-crawlies. By doing so, he gains the strength and confidence to face the troubles ahead of him.

And trust me, there are a lot of them.

So, Uncle Ben was right: “With great power comes great responsibility”. But he forgot to mention the other side of the coin: “With great responsibility comes great power.”

Summoned Chaos: Amazon| Barnes and Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks

Visit the author’s website and blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Amazon’s Latest Volley

Another day, another volley in the Amazon-Hachette battle, this time from Amazon, in which it explains what it wants (all ebooks to be $9.99 or less, for starters) and lays out some math that it alleges shows that everyone wins when Amazon gets its way.

Some thoughts:

1. I think Amazon’s math checks out quite well, as long as you have the ground assumption that Amazon is the only distributor of books that publishers or authors (or consumers, for that matter) should ever have to consider. If you entertain the notion that Amazon is just 30% of the market and that publishers have other retailers to consider — and that authors have other income streams than Amazon — then the math falls apart. Amazon’s assumptions don’t include, for example, that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell. Killing off Amazon’s competitors is good for Amazon; there’s rather less of an argument that it’s good for anyone else.

2. Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to. They’re not, and it’s not. Someone who wants the latest John Ringo novel on the day of release will not likely find the latest Jodi Picoult book a satisfactory replacement, or vice versa; likewise, someone who wants a eBook now may be perfectly happy to pay $14.99 to get it now, in which case the publisher and author should be able to charge what the market will bear, and adjust the prices down (or up! But most likely down) as demand moves about.

(This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.)

Bear in mind it’s entirely possible that Amazon sells 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99, but then Amazon deals with gross numbers of product, while publishers deal with somewhat smaller numbers, and the author, of course, deals with only her own list of books. As the focus tightens, the general rules stop being as applicable. What’s good for Amazon isn’t necessarily good for publishers, or authors.

3. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think it’s very likely that if $9.99 becomes the upper bound for pricing on eBooks, then you are going to find $9.99 becomes the standard price for eBooks, period, because publishers who lose money up at the top of the pricing scale will need to recoup that money somewhere else, and the bottom of the pricing scale is a fine place to do it. Yes, the mass of self-published authors out there will create a tier of value-priced books (this has already been done), and I’m sure in a couple of years Amazon will release another spate of numbers that will show how much more profitable $6.99 eBooks are as compared to $9.99 eBooks, and so on. But at the end of the day there will be authors and publishers who can charge $9.99, forever, and they will. If you destroy the top end of the market, the chances you destroy the bottom end go up, fast.

4. I think Amazon taking a moment to opine that authors should get 35% of revenues for their eBooks is a nice bit of trying to rally authors to their point of view by drawing their attention away from Amazon’s attempt to standardize all eBook pricing at a price point that benefits Amazon’s business goals first and authors secondarily, if at all. The translation here is “Look, if only your publisher would do this thing that we have absolutely no control over, then your own income wouldn’t suffer in the slightest!” Which again, is not necessarily true in the long run.

To be clear, I think authors should get more of the revenue of each electronic sale, although I’m not necessarily sanguine about letting Amazon also attempt to set what that percentage should be. Increasing authors’ percentages of revenue on electronic sales is an exciting new frontier in contract negotiations, he said, having walked to that frontier himself several times now. That said, I also think I should be able to get more of the revenue of each sale and have the ability to have my work priced at whatever the market will bear, without a multibillion-dollar company artifically capping the price I or my publisher can set on my work for its own business goals, which may or may not be in line with my own.

5. While this is not going to happen because this is not the way PR works, I really really really wish Amazon would stop pretending that anything it does it does for the benefit of authors. It does not. It does it for the benefit of Amazon, and then finds a way to spin it to authors, with the help of a coterie of supporters to carry that message forward, more or less uncritically.

Look: As Walter Jon Williams recently pointed out, if Amazon is on the side of authors, why does their Kindle Direct boilerplate have language in it that says that Amazon may unilaterally change the parameters of their agreement with authors? I don’t consider my publishers “on my side” any more than I consider Amazon “on my side” — they’re both entities I do business with — but at least my publisher cannot change my deal without my consent. Which is to say that between my publisher and Amazon, one of them gets to utter the immortal Darth Vader line “I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further” to authors doing business with it and one does not.

(I notice in the WJW comment thread someone opines along the lines of “Oh, that’s like EULA boilerplate and it would probably not be enforceable in court,” which I think is a really charming example of naivete, not in the least because, as I suspected, the boilerplate also specifies (in section 10.1) that disputes between Kindle Direct users and Amazon will be settled through arbitration rather than the courts.)

Authors: Amazon is not your friend. Neither is any other publisher or retailer. They are all business entities with their own goals, only some of which may benefit you. When any of them starts invoking your own interest, while promoting their own, look to your wallet.

Update, 8/9/14: Amazon tries a new tactic, addressing readers (and authors who use Kindle Direct Publishing). I comment on it. Spoiler: Still not especially impressed with the logic; Amazon still not your friend.

The Big Idea: Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

When you introduce magic into a real-world setting, you don’t only have to deal with the problems that magic introduces — you have to deal with the problems that already existed in that real world setting. When Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson wanted to introduce magic to an American milieu in One Night in Sixes, she took all of those problems into consideration. Here’s how she made it work.

TEX THOMPSON:

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I’m tired of Euromedieval fantasy!” I thought. “I’m tired of swords and castles and straight white monocultures. I’m going to write a fantasy about MY country, and MY history, with eleventeen kinds of people rubbing shoulders – like in real life! – and it’s going to be AMAZING.”

And by “amazing”, I must have meant “an absolute landmine of racism, imperialism, slavery and genocide.” Because, y’know, we Yanks really don’t have any post-contact history that doesn’t involve somebody taking something from somebody else. And I don’t think it’d be very responsible to write historical American fantasy that doesn’t acknowledge that somehow.

“Well, okay,” I thought, “but I want all these different folks to have power and agency and hope for a better future. So maybe in MY magical fantasyland, this huge clash of cultures isn’t a relentless colonial tragedy. Maybe the settlers and indigenous peoples are more evenly matched.  Maybe they’ve actually fought to a standstill.  Because… because… well, because the native guys have magic, see!”

Also because there were fishmen acting as a disease barrier, but anyway – magic.

I was a pretty far ways along before I realized that that was capital-P Problematic, not to mention cliché as hell. Real talk, fantasy writers: why is it that we always give the native guys magic? Is it because we’ve inherited some 500-year-old fetishistic meme? Is it so we can even out all those Guns, Germs, and Steel, like we’re setting up some kind of DnD CR table and have to balance the fighters and the mages?  Why is magic always the antithesis of modernity?

And then it hit me.

“BECAUSE,” I said to myself, “in MY magical fantasyland, magic comes from cultural continuity. So the more you eat what your ancestors ate, work their land, speak their language, and live their lifestyle, the more powerful you are. So the settlers DO have magic – or rather they DID, until they started industrializing and spreading and changing so fast that most of them can’t even name their grandfathers, nevermind make the thousand-mile trek back to the old homestead. And – and and and! – the rich folks have actually hung on some of their magic, because they can afford to hole up in their big old ancestral plantations and estates, while the poor folks work in factories or pull up stakes to go do the wagon-train thing. My God – they’ve turned the proletariat into muggles!”

So that was exciting. And it made my brain happy, because not only did it address some of those tropey, icky stereotypes, but it also gave this 19th-century story a real 21st-century feeling. The settlers have given up their cultural continuity in the name of progress and opportunity. The slaves who had their culture forcibly stripped away are actively seeking to rekindle it. And the indigenous peoples who have fought to hold on to their land and lifestyles are having to decide how much of their old ways they can afford to keep in this new, changing world.

That set off a whole chain reaction of big mental bombshells. The possibility of creating new traditions, new magic powers, as people mix and adapt. The idea of a world in which violence and suffering cause a kind of mystical radiation poisoning that lingers for generations. The people and creatures – the children of the last generation’s horrific warfare – who have been literally, supernaturally altered by all this bloodshed and pollution. And a whole lot more that I won’t even get into here.

But even though I’m excited about all of this, I don’t want to give off the impression that now everything is hunky-dory and I’ve got it All Figured Out. This IS an interesting concept – dare I say, a Big Idea. However, part of what still has me scared absolutely gutless, even seven years after that first American epiphany, is that I’m fictionalizing and fantasizing about really serious real-world stuff that has a long history of being horrendously mishandled. And having a good idea isn’t the same as executing it well.  I think fear is absolutely the right emotion to have, of course, because being terrified of getting it wrong is a crucial step in getting it right.

But as nervous as I am about this Big Idea and how it will be received, the even-bigger one behind it – that is, the push for a more inclusive bookshelf, and the importance of being able to re-imagine our own history without sweeping the uncomfortable bits under the rug – is one that I am really excited about.  I hope you will be too.

—-

One Night in Sixes: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

The Lock In Hardcover Has Arrived at the Scalzi Compound

And it appears Athena has arrived at a particularly surprising part of the narrative!

The hardcover looks great, by the way. The story inside of isn’t bad, either. You’ll all be able to judge for yourself, a little less than a month from now.

Athena Reviews “Peter and the Wolf”

Athena watched the 2006 animated version of “Peter and the Wolf,” which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short, and felt compelled to write her very first film review. Here it is. As a former professional film critic, I’m very proud.

(Also: If you’d like to see the film for yourself, here it is on Netflix).

Athena Scalzi:

Last night, I watched a short film called “Peter and the Wolf”. It is a thirty two minute Oscar-winning claymation short. Not only did it win an Oscar, but five other awards as well. This film is about a boy named Peter who lives in a small Russian village. He lives with his grandpa, he gets bullied by some townspeople, and Peter’s only friend is a duck.

This film was one of the most interesting I’ve ever watched. One of the things I found most interesting about “Peter and the Wolf” was that there was no talking throughout the entire film. It didn’t need words though. The film was fine with just facial expressions and actions to express thoughts. I’m not saying the film was silent, though. In fact, it had some of the most amazing music I’ve heard in a soundtrack.

I thought the animation was quite interesting, as well. Claymation is one of my favorite types of animation. I think claymation is just so much more captivating than any other kind of animation. The movement of the characters in the film wasn’t the smoothest, but I loved their facial expressions and how detailed everything was, especially the wolf.

Based on the title, I was expecting the story to be like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, but it was its own story and an original idea. It wasn’t what I was expecting, to say the least. It was funny at times, but I almost cried at one part. I would’ve never guessed how it ended.

Overall, I enjoyed this strange yet compelling film. It’s clear to see why “Peter and the Wolf” won an Oscar.

Dayton Appearance August 2nd; Hugos; GenCon

Some short bits for you folks:

1. A reminder for you Dayton area folks that this Saturday (August 2nd), I will be making an appearance at the Beavercreek Barnes & Noble at 2pm, at which time I will read from Lock In and other things, answer questions, and sign things, probably books, but hey, if you want something else signed, I’ll probably sign that too. I’m easy. If you’re in the Dayton area, come on by. I would hate to be all alone.

2. A reminder to all of you who have Loncon 3 memberships that you have only until 11:59:59pm Pacific Time on July 31 to get your Hugo votes in. If there’s something or someone you want to have take home a rocket, this is just about your last chance to help make it happen. Get to it.

3. As I’ve noted earlier, I’m not going to be able to make it to Loncon 3 this year, so I’ve been asked if I was going to be at GenCon instead, which happens the same weekend and is rather more conveniently located for my purposes (it’s in Indianapolis, which is just a couple of hours away). The answer: Maybe, but not in an official capacity. I have some friends who will be there I want to see, so I might come up for a day and see them. I won’t be there the whole weekend because I have a wedding to attend on Saturday. So most likely I’ll just pop over on Friday, if I show up at all. So if you’re at GenCon on that Friday and you see someone who looks like me: Maybe it is. Come say hello!

Help Kickstart Uncanny Magazine

My pals Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas (3-time Hugo winner and 3-time Hugo nominee, respectively), are hoping to start a new science fiction and fantasy magazine and are also hoping you’ll help them kickstart this ambition. They’re here to tell you about their plans, in the hope you’ll like what they have planned.

Also, consider this my official endorsement of the magazine. I’ve known Lynne and Michael for years and have every confidence they will make a fantastic magazine that you’ll want to read. And I’ve put my own money where my mouth is, as I was either the first or second person to back this Kickstarter. It’ll be good. Go ahead and kick in.

Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas:

Hi, we’re Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. We are Hugo winning and nominated editors who have spent the past several years creating and sharing work that gets us excited. Whether it’s sharing true, personal stories of how the community that loves Doctor Who changes lives in Chicks Dig Time Lords and Queers Dig Time Lords , publishing haunting, lyrical, and devastating stories in Apex Magazine, or throwing a massive, Kickstarter-funded science fictional party through Glitter & Mayhem‘s stories of the dark side of night life and roller derby (what’s more awesome than aliens and roller derby?), we’ve done our best to bring you stories and images that stay with you, because they feel like they were made for you.

We’re taking our experiences and using them to create a new online magazine, funded via Kickstarter.  We’re calling it Uncanny, because we want to produce a sensational magazine that feels like you’ve been here before, in the best way possible. Uncanny will have stories, prose, poetry and cover art that stays with you after you’ve read the issue. Contributors for year one will include Charlie Jane Anders, Paul Cornell, Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Neil Gaiman, Jim C. Hines, Kameron Hurley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Scott Lynch, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. We will also have open submissions in search of new work.

These kinds of stories feel as rare as unicorns. Getting to share them with our readers is awesome like a space unicorn (hence our mascot).

We hope that you will support Uncanny.  Because space unicorns are for everyone.

The Big Idea: Nick Harkaway

Buckle in, kids. Nick Harkaway, the critically acclaimed, award-nominated, and best selling author of the brand new book Tigerman, is about to get deep on y’all — and also, tell you a little about his new book, which is already racking up envious reviews.

NICK HARKAWAY:

You know what’s really a big idea? Making life. I mean: wow.

Like Tom Strong in Alan Moore’s comic, I am mostly – I should say “I was” – the sort of person who is more awestruck by the possibility of neurologically gear-shifting a gorilla to create a quasi-human consciousness than by the more common business of having a kid. I mean, lots of people have kids. How many people tamper with the biocognitive structure of a great ape? Am I right?

No. I am not. Because I can not think of anything I have done that is more amazing, more educative, more brain-meltingly overwhelming and physically exhausting, more testing and exciting and rewarding than being a dad. And I am only three and a half years into that project.

I knew it would be this way, too. I knew that I would respond to becoming a father with everything I am, because that is what I do. I’m not great with half-measures. If something comes into my life, that thing has to be accommodated and welded into the rest so that it is part of the landscape, inseparable from what was there before. Everything is contiguous. I write about liminality; I wear it like a pair of sunglasses; I even love it. I do not live it.

So when I started writing Tigerman, before my first child was born, I was anticipating the turbulent, demanding, absolute loyalty of parenthood. I may even have been planning it, feeling my way to the massive shift in priority and self-perception. And that’s where this book has its heart: in the urgent, conditioned, biological, personal need to be a father, and—in the reverse angle—the reciprocal need to have or to adopt a father. To make the father you want, if necessary, from available materials.

I can feel myself, five years ago, reading this if it was written by someone else and saying “I am not sure I give a damn about any of this right now.”

So let me say that I am not dropping something leaden on your doorstep and calling it a balloon. My natural state of arrested development makes me uncomfortable with stories that are only about the heavy stuff. The unrelieved emotional angst of some writing that’s popular at the moment makes me want to go and play Masters of Orion 2 instead of reading. (Which I do, because: vintage video strategy games? My kryptonite.) So interwoven with this serious depiction of human life and the boundaries of love and whatever that I as a Brit am inherently unwilling to talk about anyway, there is a whole other story about a guy who puts on a costume and opens the world’s most enjoyable can of whop-ass on various people who richly deserve it. Because if there is one thing I do like to write, it is an action sequence.

And if you are going to whop, you need badness upon which to do so. Whop without badness is choreography. Fight scenes work when you care, powerfully, about who wins – when to be honest you want to throw a punch yourself. So I made up an island that is basically the nicest place on Earth and poured over it the contents of the cantina at Mos Eisley. Nowhere will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy – and these international bastards of mystery, these crooks and spies and torturers and bankers and brokers, who we know without being told are responsible for everything that sucks about the world: this is where they’ve all chosen to come and do the stuff they would be ashamed to do anywhere else. This is the place where they have created a little home for themselves. Here. In this really nice island that has managed, despite all the usual colonial baggage, to be a decent home to its inhabitants, to be the town where you leave your keys in your car when you go into the store.

So yeah, um. I may have gotten a bit geopolitical about it, which I suppose is also a big idea, in the more conventional sense of the term. I do have big ideas about governance and justice in general. But come on: who doesn’t feel that the way the world is run, the jigsaw of governmental and corporate-legal doublespeak that means however illegal something is some branch office somewhere is allowed to do it anyway, whether that’s a chemical company dumping or the NSA and GCHQ listening to our phone calls by offshoring to one another… who does not get angry about that? A government should serve, not dictate. A corporation is not a person unless I can punch it in the face for being a jackass.

And above all: these systems we make, support, empower: they should damn well do what they say on the tin, what they are clearly supposed to do, and not what is permitted by the loosest and most weasely reading of the documents of their instantiation. They should not engineer gaps in their own oversight, in the rules that create them, so that they can do the bad things they are supposed to prevent because that is the easiest way. When, in fact, did we stop reaching for the Apollo Program ethos in every big project, and settle for being Saul Goodman, slipping between the tiles of the global ethical bathroom?

Yah. I get a little heated. And I almost didn’t realize until I wrote this what my big idea was in the book. I feel slightly dumb about that.

This is a book about responsibility. Which is what good people feel, and bad people don’t.

—-

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

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

“The Failure of Flappy Bird”: A Very Short Short Story By Me, in Popular Science

The magazine Popular Science asked me to write a very short story about the future, on the topic of technology, so I did. It’s called “The Failure of Flappy Bird” and you can find it at the Popular Science Web site. Oh, plus very short stories from Ian Tregellis, Ann Leckie, Melinda Snodgrass, Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Daniel Abraham and Karl Schroeder. You know, if you want to read them too.

(P.S.: For you print fans, the stories are also available in the August 2014 issue of the magazine, on sale now.)

(P.P.S.: Or if you have an iPad and you want even more stories, you can get this! For $4! Cheap!)

What Happened After I Reported: Elise Matthesen, WisCon, and Harassment

My friend Elise Matthesen last year filed a report at the WisCon science fiction and fantasy covention, because she believed that (then) Tor editor Jim Frenkel had sexually harassed her. Harassment policies are not only about what those policies say, but how those policies are administered and those reports handled. Here’s Elise telling you how WisCon, which identifies as the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, handled her report. The short version: It did so very poorly.

—-

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment.  One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite —  WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18.  Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee.  To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension.  People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one.  Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation:

(1) act promptly,

(2) gather all existing written information and reports,

(3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct,

(4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation;

(5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and

(6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way.

WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate.  In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

A First Class Trip to Hell is Still a Trip to Hell

So, the good news about yesterday’s flight home is that I was bumped to first class. Yay! Extra leg room!

The bad news about yesterday’s flight home: It left 30 minutes late because they hadn’t finished (or possibly even begun) fueling the plane before we boarded; a dual line of thunderstorms diverted hundreds of miles out of our path, necessitating an unplanned stop at Dallas-Fort Worth in order to refuel; the refueling stop took more than two hours, at least 30 minutes of which came down to waiting for maintenance to say “uh, yeah, you can go, I guess,” that last bit of delay being the thing that caused me to miss my (already once-rescheduled) connecting flight, which was also the last flight of the day to Dayton; and when we landed in Charlotte, nearly five hours late, we had to wait an additional 30 minutes to get to the gate because it had rained too hard.

Yay! Extra legroom!

All of which is to say that I am still not yet home. I am in Charlotte, having gotten a couple hours of sleep at a (thankfully comped) hotel, waiting to see whether the presumably first flight out to Dayton will actually fly, or whether it will be delayed because, oh, let’s say, hamsters in the engines.

I am sitting with hoi polloi for this leg of the journey. Let’s see if it makes any difference.

Update, 1:41pm: Back at home and rested. Hooray!

Yesterday in San Diego

Walk to go get a hat and a Coke Zero. Walk back to hotel. Walk to go find out where my event is. Walk back to hotel to hang out at the Wired Cafe. Walk to event. Walk back to hotel. Walk to bar to hang out with friends. Walk with friend to his next appointment. Walk to the Balboa Theater for w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock to the LA Times Hero Complex party to give away books. Walk from Times party to the Geek and Sundry party. Walk from G&S party back to w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock back to G&S party. Dance a bit. Walk friend back to her hotel. Walk from her hotel back to my hotel.

Sleep until my feet no longer hurt.

Wake up. Get ready to walk to breakfast.

San Diego.

Hope you’re getting your exercise too.

San Diego Comic-con Addendum

I’m quoted today in this Los Angeles Times piece on San Diego Comic-con and issues of harassment. It’s an interesting article and worth reading if you’re not up to date on the issue. I have a couple of addendums to it which I think I worth noting briefly now (I will have some longer thoughts on the whole subject, but they will have to wait until after this weekend):

* The article notes that SDCC for the first time sent out e-mails to badge-holders pointing out that it doesn’t tolerate harassment. And you know what? That’s an excellent move and a good way to make the point to 100,000+ people that harassment won’t fly at the convention. I have nothing but positive things to say about that. So good on SDCC for sending those e-mails. I should also say I think SDCC is actively thinking about harassment issues this year, both as a matter of course and because others outside the convention (aside from me, I will note, and in a much more publicly active way than I) are making noise about it. That’s good too, and credit where credit is due.

* However, SDCC still doesn’t actually say on its site (or otherwise as far as I can see) what it thinks harassing behavior is. Which is a really big problem in my book — it leaves no guidance for attendees. Not all harassing behavior is as blatant as a grope; attendees on the receiving end of unwanted attention may not be aware that their harassment qualifies under SDCC standards — nor in the absence of guidance may they be convinced, if they feel harassed, that SDCC will agree with them. That’s a huge hole. I understand SDCC reasoning for not offering that guidance, but with due respect for the thinking behind it, it’s flat-out wrong in my opinion. Not having that language makes the convention less safe, not more. It’s the reason you won’t see me at the convention center or on the floor of the show.

* That said, I noted earlier that my event today, which is off campus (it will be at the Horton Grand Theatre at 1:30pm) was affiliated with SDCC in some way. Certainly the tickets to the event note that affiliation:

I think it’s better for me to put these tickets on the table, as it were, than have someone else do it. As I noted earlier, doing this particular event off-campus allows me to keep a closer eye on things (or as I wrote previously, “if someone acts like a harassing asshole at my event, I can have them bounced and reported”). I’m very sure SDCC knows my thoughts on harassment, in any event.

* What I hope is that all of this helps to make this particular SDCC the safest one so far — and thus the most enjoyable SDCC so far for a large number of its attendees — and keeps the momentum going for the convention to continue making improvements in this area. As I said earlier, the e-mails are a start, and a start I can applaud. There’s more to be done.

Hello San Diego

And you are looking lovely this evening.

I am in town. I have signed books for Tor to give away at its booth. I am going to get something to eat, and then I am going to go to sleep, because my brain is still in the Eastern time zone. See some of you, hopefully, at my reading tomorrow (details here). Or later today, since this is likely to go out with an Eastern time zone timestamp. You know what I mean.

New Books and ARCs, 7/23/14

I am in the sky as you read this, headed to San Diego. While I fend off gremlins, please enjoy this latest stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. If you see something that looks excellent to you, share with the class in the comments.

Paul & Storm: Ball Pit is Out!

A friendly reminder to you all that my pals Paul & Storm have a new album out called Ball Pit, and it’s terrific and funny, and I’m not just saying that because it features two songs I commissioned from them (“Fuzzy Man” and “(The Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night”), nor am I saying that just because they paid me a shiny penny to say it, although they did, and to be honest, the penny is only moderately shiny. Well, you should buy the album anyway. It’s available at BandcampiTunes,  Amazon, and Google Play as downloads, with physical CDs coming soon.

If you get it and you like it, Paul and Storm would be obliged if you posted a review of it and/or tell other people about it. Because that’s how people find out about these things.

And yes, they paid me another shiny penny to tell you that. And this penny isn’t shiny either. Damn it.

(Seriously, though: A fine album which I like a whole lot. Get it!)