Poverty and the Appropriation Thereof

I was pointed to this article entitledThe Troubling Trendiness Of Poverty Appropriation,” in which the author, Judy Westhale, notes her discomfort with what she sees as the hipsterization of things that she considers to be poverty markers, such as modular housing (now upsold as “tiny houses”) and cheap foods. She notes:

In writing this, and making note of these circumstances, I’m not trying to penalize or call out radical communities of people who are looking for alternative means to capitalism—capitalism is oppressive as hell, and I am all about alternative means.

But I do think it’s time to start having conversations about how alternative means aren’t a choice for those who come from poverty. We must acknowledge what it means to make space for people who actually need free food or things out of dumpsters, who participate in capitalism because they’ve got a kid at home and they are the only provider. Additionally, we need to shed light on the fact that many people who grew up wanting for more space and access to foods that weren’t available to them don’t understand the glossy pamphlets offering a simpler life.

Because, let me tell you, there is nothing simple about being poor.

This piece has naturally spawned some responses which pretty much boil down to “Jesus, stop being an oversensitive whiner,” which is of course a super-helpful response, so well done on Ben Cohen, the writer of that particular linked response, for so very bravely standing up to the original piece (also well-done on him for taking a piece that was clearly a personal perspective and using it to slag liberals in general; it really speaks to his ability to be on point and incisive).

And what do I, as a former poor person, think about the issues raised in these pieces? Well.

1. Speaking as someone who lived in a trailer park for a portion of his life (while attending one of the most expensive high schools in the country on a scholarship! How’s that for economic intersectionality!), I have to say I never really saw the “tiny house” movement as an upsold appropriation of the circumstances of poverty. I think there’s a difference between the desire for “simplicity” and a desire to hipsterize the circumstances of the poor, although I don’t think it has to be either/or. Someone could be doing both, I suppose.

Personally speaking I’m fascinated by tiny houses, most of which are more expensive, and seem to intentionally have less living space, than actual mobile homes (as an example, you can get a one bedroom mobile home for $20,900, which comes with 532 feet of living space, whereas here’s a tiny home with about 200 square feet of space plus sleeping loft, for $50k). In one sense I think tiny houses are generally clever attempts to maximize space and to make a point that one doesn’t need a lot of space to live reasonably well. In another sense, I think this Portlandia skit about microhouses is painfully on point. I love these tiny little houses as a concept, and occasionally think about how neat it would be to get one and make it a home office. The idea of living in one on a permanent basis, with partner and pets, makes me shudder. I don’t doubt some people can do it. I wish them joy. I’m not one of them.

I don’t generally see tiny houses as an appropriation of poverty living, in part because I often see them as ostentatious signalling of wealth in a different way: Look at me, I could afford to live larger but I’m making a political point, admire me for doing so. This is the part where the Westhale’s comment of “It’s nice you have a choice” is directly on point, since there are a lot of people living “small and simple” because that’s the only thing available to them. But I’m not sure it’s appropriation of poverty any more than having a pied-à-terre is an appropriation of poverty. Small doesn’t implicitly equate to poor in this particular case. Specifically, “simplicity” as a conscious lifestyle concept is kind of a high-end thing. It does seem to me a lot of “simplicity” ends up being about very expensive things, artfully but sparingly deployed. Those things never really had an antecedent in poverty or are intended as commentary on it, hipster or otherwise.

2. I’m likewise largely philosophically untroubled by the appropriation of poverty food/drink/lifestyle by hipsters because in a very general way, that’s what culture is: things invented or serving one group, often disadvantaged or marginalized relative to the dominant cultural group, making their way into larger contexts. Most of the awesome things about American culture came up through marginalized/poor/immigrant groups (and note those categories have a very high overlap). We can (and should!) have a long conversation about what are responsible and irresponsible ways for advantaged people to access and incorporate those awesome things. I’m not seeing it as a net advantage to demand a specific place for everything, and everything only in that place, as it were.

Appropriation is also tricky thing when it comes to discussing poverty specifically (that is, independent of other cultural factors). It’s on point for Westhale to call out the Butter Bar on the subject of what it’s doing when it’s fetishizing poverty. But poverty, while always with us, does not affect the same people in the same way all the time. When Westhale criticizes the hipsters visiting the bar, she appears to be making the assumption that they all come from the same socioeconomic stratum, and that they are all slumming. She may have an argument that they’re all of the same (or similar) socioeconomic stratum now; it’s less obvious that they were always on that stratum. The national Gini coefficient notwithstanding, people do move up (and down) the economic ladder here in the US; I can speak to that personally. Those hipsters at the Butter Bar may be slumming, or maybe they’re not, based on their own history. You can’t always tell just by looking.

This is interesting to me in part because it’s a question I ask myself, in terms of how much I can personally engage in issues relating to poverty. I’ve run the economic gamut here in the US, from living part of my childhood in the lowest decile of the economy to now being an adult on some of the highest rungs on the ladder. At what point, if ever, does my experience and voice on poverty become inauthentic? How much is my experience of poverty mitigated by other external aspects of who I am as a person? When I now, as a well-off person, use my own experience of poverty as part of my creative and/or professional and/or public life, how should that be approached? They’re all things to consider.

(My answer to these, for what it’s worth: I don’t think my experience or voice on poverty will ever be inauthentic, because the fact is I was poor by US standards, and that’s going to stick with me. At the same time I’m not so foolish as to suggest that my thoughts represent anyone else but me and my own lived experience. I got a lot of breaks despite being poor at times, and I don’t pretend otherwise. As for what it means for my creative/professional output, well, you tell me. I will say that as a public person it makes me less than 100% patient with people who evidently opine about poverty straight out of their ass, and I’m not shy about saying so.)

3. I’m pretty sure Westhale and I disagree largely about whether poverty appropriation is taking place (in the case of tiny houses) or is entirely problematic (with the other stuff). I don’t think she’s wrong that it’s worth it to engage on the point that for millions of people in the United States, small and cheap living isn’t a choice or option, it’s just a fact of their lives, and it sucks. For a lot of the folks who don’t have a choice, the fetishization or valorization of things that closely resemble what they have no choice but to live through can be, at the very least, exasperating. It’s not wrong to ask about what’s really going on there, nor is there any harm in acknowledging that it can look and feel different for people who have experience with poverty, than those who don’t.

This is why I think Cohen’s response is pretty shitty. Leaving aside the fact that he’s using a single person’s point of view to thump on an entire class of folks (damn liberals! Harumph! Harumph!), he’s telling Westhale and all the liberals he’s appointed her to represent to shut up, already (“If liberalism wants to survive in the 21st century, this type of nonsense really needs to stop.” Harumph! Harumph!).

And well, you know. Fuck that dude. Westhale doesn’t need to shut up, already. She’s in a space that welcomed her, on her own time, standing up on her own soapbox. She can say whatever the hell she wants. In any event someone who is suggesting that people should shut up about the things he deems inessential to discuss isn’t anyone whose proclamations about what liberalism should do to survive in the 21st century should be responded to with anything other than pointing and laughing. Are we having a moment where people who previously felt restrained about their opinions are now exercising a privilege they (not unreasonably) felt has been denied to them? Why, yes! We are. Are those opinions and hypotheses going to be something that everyone agrees with? Why, no! They aren’t. And that’s fine.

I don’t have to agree with Westhale on the particulars of her argument to say that that her making the argument can have value. It interrogates an issue from a direction I wouldn’t have considered, despite having an experience at least superficially similar to hers. Among other things, it makes me ask why I do have a different opinion about it. From that answer comes useful self-knowledge as well as other benefits. Which is another reason why Cohen and everyone else blithering in one way or another about the uselessness of opinions they don’t want to engage with can cram it up their asses. I accept they’re useless to them, or at least that they fervently want to believe they’re useless to them. They don’t get to make that call for everyone else.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2015 Starts Monday!

Every year in the first week of December I run a shopping guide for the holidays, and over the years it’s been quite successful: Lots of people have found out about excellent books and crafts and charities and what have you, making for excellent gift-giving opportunities during the holiday season. I’ve decided to do it again this year.

So: Starting Monday, November 30, the Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide Returns! If you’re a writer or other creator, this will be an excellent time to promote your work on a site which gets tens of thousands of views daily, almost all of whom will be interested in stuff for the holidays. If you’re someone looking to give gifts, you’ll see lots of excellent ideas. And you’ll also have a day to suggest stuff to other folks too. Everybody wins!

To give you all time to prepare, here’s the schedule of what will be promoted on which days:

Monday, November 30: Traditionally Published Authors — If your work is being published by a publisher a) who is not you and b) gets your books into actual, physical bookstores on a returnable basis, this is your day to tell people about your books. This includes comics/graphic novels.

Tuesday, December 1: Non-Traditionally Published Authors — Self-published? Electronically published? Or other? This is your day. This also includes comics/graphic novels.

Wednesday, December 2: Other Creators — Artists, knitters, jewelers, musicians, and anyone who has cool stuff to sell this holiday season, this will be the day to show off your creations.

Thursday, December 3: Fan Favorite Day — Not an author/artist/musician/other creator but know about some really cool stuff you think people will want to know about for the holidays? Share! Share with the crowd!

Friday, December 4: Charities — If you are involved in a charity, or have a favorite charity you’d like to let people know about, this is the day to do it.

If you have questions about how all of this will work, go ahead and ask them in the comment thread (Don’t start promoting your stuff today — it’s not time yet), although I will note that specific instructions for each day will appear on that day. Don’t worry, it’ll be pretty easy. Thanks and feel free to share this post with creative folks who will have things to sell this holiday season.

Spice Takes Over the Doggy Bed, 11/27/15

It’s just barely big enough for her. Barely.

So, how’s the post-Thanksgiving food coma recovery coming along? I personally went to bed at 9:30 and woke up 12 hours later.

Athena, Thanksgiving 2015

Looking fairly regal, I have to say. I’m thankful for her and her mother, and all our family and friends, this year as in all years.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have much to be thankful for and that you lives are filled with happiness today and every other day. For those of you not celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope it’s an above-average Thursday for you.

The Deal Is Done

So, here they are. These five contracts you see above encompass thirteen books and ten years. The general details of these contracts were agreed to six months ago, but the fiddly bits took time to sort. I got the final versions of the contracts, signed by me and the folks at Tor, just this morning. This means that, finally and officially, I’m on the hook for writing all these books in the next decade, and Tor is on the hook for, well, everything else. We’re both all in.

My understanding is that there are still some people who are flummoxed as to why either I or Tor would enter into a deal of this size and length. From the point of view of strictly business,  I explain Tor’s rationale using financial terms: Essentially, Tor is buying Scalzi futures — paying a set price now as a hedge against potentially having to pay more upfront later. Tor absolutely believes they can make back what they’re paying me upfront over the length of the contract based on my sales today, but if my sales increase over the decade, then they get the future books at a discount (they still have to pay me royalties, of course, but that’s out of money that’s already come in, not money that’s fronted out). It’s an entirely rational move, economically speaking, on Tor’s part.

As for me on the strictly business end of things, well. I’ve noted before that the sums involved in the Tor contract represent the floor of my earnings for the next ten years, not the ceiling, and subsequent contracts and agreements that I and my team have made (Yes! I have a team! I know, it’s weird for me too) have already boosted what I have coming in by a significant margin — contracts and agreements facilitated by the fact the Tor deal was the foundation. Nothing is as assuring to potential partners as the idea that other people are already invested in you. Tor’s deal with me was smart for it; it was also smart for me, and not just in relation to Tor. There are other advantages as well, not directly related to money, chief among them being how I get to structure my time, and my ability to intelligently explore other opportunities that these contracts will allow.

This is why, as an aside, the Monday morning quarterbacking of the business aspects of my Tor deal was and continues to be interesting for me to watch — not only because people were opining based on incomplete information about the deal itself, but also an incomplete understanding of what it was that I and my folks are trying to do. This makes it sound like I’m sitting here, fingers steepled, Monty Burns-style, bellowing You foolish mortals! You know nothing of my master plan! and cackling while a camera captures my visage from a low angle. It’s nothing that sinister or complicated. But in fact, people don’t know what I want, business-wise, or how I’ve structured things to get as close to what I want as possible. It’s fine to speculate, of course. Go right ahead. But unless you hear it from me, it’s only speculation.

Away from the strictly business aspects of things, there are other reasons that I like this deal. I like the people I work with at Tor. They generally like me (I hope!). I like the fact they’re competent at things I’m not, or have no interest in being, so I can focus on the things I am competent at. I like the idea that some of the money I make goes back in to pay other writers Tor publishes. I like being a part of a house that has published some of my favorite genre writers. We have a similar philosophy about where my career could go and how to get there. We’re both happy to be able to plan long-term instead of just book-to-book. It’s a good match.

I also have personal reasons to like this deal, some of which are obvious (money!) and some of which are not. The short version of the latter is that there are now a lot of things I had to worry about before which I no longer have to, and I am more free, rather than less so, to do a number of things I would like to do. Additionally, and bluntly, the jar containing all the fucks I have to give about a whole range of things is just about empty now, and is likely to stay that way from here on out. This is a rare gift, made possible by these contracts. I intend to take advantage of it.

Ultimately, though, these contracts mean this: I get to do what I love to do for at least another decade, and I don’t have to do anything else but the thing I love to do. This is freedom, simply put. I am looking forward to it. I hope you’ll enjoy what comes from it, over the next decade and beyond.

A (Science Fictional) Thanksgiving Prayer for You

Photo by Josh Wedin. Used via Creative Commons license. To go to the original, click on the photo.

So it’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, when the family will be all around the table, ready to dig in — but someone will have to say grace first! And it might be you! And if you’re worried that you will draw a blank in the heat of the moment, sputtering nonsense until the gravy grows cold, fear not. For I have recorded a Thanksgiving Prayer for you. Just memorize and repeat!

Don’t say I never did anything for you on Thanksgiving.

(Original text, if you’re into reading for some reason, is here.)

The Big Idea: Michael Livingston

In his debut novel The Shards of Heaven, author Michael Livingston is hunting some big game indeed. And possibly changing the course of history — and myth — in the bargain.


My Big Idea in The Shards of Heaven was to make mythic artifacts real — and that meant killing God.

Hold up! Put the pitchforks and torches down, folks. Let me explain.

No. As Inigo Montoya said, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I was one of the many millions who were enthralled by the call of Middle-earth as children, and as an adult I’ve followed Tolkien’s footsteps in becoming a professor of medieval studies. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how Tolkien designed his Middle-earth legendarium to function as a kind of mythic past to our myths — how The Hobbit, for instance, exists “behind” Beowulf.

It’s fascinating stuff. At the same time, it always bothered me how loosely Tolkien’s “mythology behind mythologies” fit into the real world. I can’t actually go to Minas Tirith, and that’s profoundly not cool.

So I set out, in the series that begins with The Shards of Heaven, to create a myth behind myths that would more closely tie to history. In so doing, I hoped I could also collapse the distinction between fantasy and history, which has always been too sharply drawn for my tastes anyway.

There are many twists and turns in the story that I put together for Shards — from the death of Caesar to the rise of his heirs, from the love of Antony and Cleopatra to the horrors of the battle of Actium — but that’s all plot and characters at the surface of the tale. The big stuff, what I like to think is the really juicy stuff, exists underneath all that. The big stuff is that mythology I built out of mythologies in order to explain those very mythologies, and the fantasy I wove into history to explain it all.

And the key to all that, it turned out, was killing God.

I mean, not that I really killed God. Not personally, anyway. That would be inconceivable. Deicide is decidedly above my pay grade. But it’s nevertheless true that within the mythology of the Shards my characters have declared Him, Her, or It to be dead, and that’s probably close enough to pulling the trigger in this case. (Whether or not my characters are actually correct in that declaration, of course, is something that awaits more books!)

Anyway, the plot premise of the series is this: everything history says about the rise of the Roman Empire is true … except it doesn’t tell us everything there is to say. Legendary artifacts of the ancient world — like the Trident of Poseidon and the Ark of the Covenant — are real, and they played a secret role in the shaping of the history we know. Fantasy is thus subsumed into “real” history (or vice versa, I suppose). And along the way, to make it all work — historically, philosophically, even existentially — God had to be real, and God had to die.

Why this is, how this is, and what this means … well, that’s a matter for some serious spoilers in The Shards of Heaven and in its sequels (book two comes out next year).

What I can say for certain is this: I really don’t think there’s any need for you to be gathering all that wood along with your torches. And all that gasoline … nope, I don’t think that’s necessary at all. Unless, well, if you’re going to burn books, please do start rolling the cameras. And call in the media, because that could be positively marvelous for sales.

Now that is a Big Idea.


The Shards of Heaven: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the book. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

In Which I Select a Current GOP Presidential Candidate to Vote For, 2015 Edition

Four years ago this month, I took a look at the field of Republican candidates for the office of President of the United States and ranked them, from the one I would be least likely to vote for to the one I would be most likely to, if it came to that, (i.e., if a series of microstrokes robbed me of all sense and sensibility, because at this stage in the GOP’s evolution that’s the only reason I would vote for a Republican as President).

Now it’s 2015 and it’s time once more to do the same sort of ranking. Note that once again this election cycle I would rather take a refreshing shower of hot lava than to vote the GOP into the presidency, and so you should be aware my selections and rankings come from that point of view. Which is to say: Brace yourselves, this is not going to be pretty.

In order of the least likely (i.e., I’d rather feed my fingers to bears than to vote for this jerk) to the most likely (i.e., I won’t be happy about it but I don’t think he’ll entirely trash the joint in four years, please don’t take that as a challenge), here are my choices:

14. Mike Huckabee: As near as I can tell, what passes for Huckabee’s presidential campaign is in reality a months-long audition for Pat Robertson’s gig on The 700 Club once Robertson finally but clearly reluctantly shuffles off this mortal coil to the Hell that awaits terrible people who think they’re in with God. If so, good luck, Mr. Huckabee! You’ll finally become the smug and awful bigoted fossil you’ve always aspired to be!

13. Rick Santorum: Sadly for Santorum, there’s only room for one smug and awful bigoted fossil at the bottom of the GOP polling charts, and that’s Mike Huckabee, because he’s got seniority. I rank Santorum slightly higher than Huckabee in my preferences, but that’s like ranking “puke on your shoe” slightly higher than “bloody puke on your shoe.” It’s still puke on your shoe.

12. Ted Cruz: You know, I can appreciate Cruz’s painfully obvious sense of manifest destiny when it comes to him and the presidency, and the fact that that every step of his life has been a direct and calculated step to that goal. Good for him! It’s nice to have ambitions. However, it also hasn’t escaped my notice that at every step of the way, the thing that most people apparently have to say about Cruz is “wow, what an asshole.” I can’t help but think that’s kind of a telling fact. Even his fellow GOP senators think he’s a real prick and don’t want anything to do with him.

Leaving aside that everything that comes out of his mouth is at best meretricious claptrap that would shame even Newt Gingrich, and the fact he has no real legislative record to speak of, I think it would be good for his growth as a human being to learn that being a complete douchenozzle at every available opportunity won’t, in fact, get you the highest office in the land. Humility, Mr. Cruz! It’s well past time you tried some.

11. Donald Trump: The GOP establishment would like you to believe Trump was their summer fling, who in September didn’t take the hint that it was over, followed the GOP back home, and now drives by its house every hour to peer through the window, and texts at 4am asking if the GOP wants to go to the local Waffle House just to talk.

But in reality, it’s terribly unfair to Trump to suggest this has not been an entirely consensual affair. Fact is, the GOP has been actively looking for a populist demagogue for years, one it could control with money. The GOP’s problem is that Trump has money — as he’s very happy to tell you, as often as you would like to hear and then again a few dozen more times after that — and he’s apparently perfectly happy to go full fascist, when the GOP knows you never go full fascist, you just hint and wink. But Trump’s looking at his supporters and seeing that they, at least, are ready for him to go full fascist, and Trump didn’t get where he is in American culture by being subtle, now, did he?

And here we are: With a billionaire would-be oligarch who the GOP can’t use its only real lever — cash — to control. And maybe they’ll wash him out in the primaries, and then maybe Trump will run as an independent and take his tribe of hopped-up jingoists with him — or maybe not! Maybe he goes all the way with the GOP. Some summer flings just keep on going, whether they should or not.

10. Ben Carson: Carson’s problem is that running for president isn’t brain surgery — which is to say it involves a whole bunch of things he appears to know absolutely nothing about. While the idea of Chauncey Gardiner, MD, is compelling as a literary character, the idea of Carson’s brain grinding horribly into neutral in the middle of a legitimate crisis fills me with an unholy terror. Trust him with a scalpel? Sure, probably. Trust him with The Button? Oh, let’s not.

9. Carly Fiorina: Well, she’s only the second-worst businessperson in the race, I’ll give her that. But my thought is that when someone promises to run the country like they ran a company whose stock value declined by more than half and also ditched 30,000 workers while they were in charge, I should take them at their word, and run the other way.

8. Rand Paul: Every time I think of Rand Paul, I imagine that on his bedside table is a copy of Atlas Shrugged, the pages of which are stiff and stuck together and smell vaguely of corn chips. Then I shudder for five whole minutes and try to think of something else.

7. Marco Rubio: Rubio is these days apparently emerging as the GOP favorite for the nomination, which undoubtedly pisses Jeb Bush off to no end. Well, okay: Rubio is generically handsome and seems pleasant and is what passes for smart in the GOP these days, and I’m sure he will be perfectly happy to jump through whatever various hoops his handlers require. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Thing is every time I hear him talk I get the impression of a fellow who is trying very hard not to let others know he is ever so slightly in over his head and not quite managing it. Hilary Clinton’s gonna gnaw on him in a debate like he’s a chew toy. Can’t we put him back into a cool, humidity-controlled cellar for a couple more election cycles until he’s aged up a bit? No? Well, fine, then, GOP, do what you want, I’m not the boss of you.

6. Chris Christie: Angry dude with a demeanor of a schoolyard bully who may or may not be above pulling shenanigans involving a bridge to annoy people he doesn’t like, and is apparently of the opinion that five-year-old Syrian refugee orphans are a clear and present danger to our country. Bless his heart.

He should not be president; he’d stroke out within the first six months, I’m certain of it. For all that, there is worse in the current field of candidates — much worse, in fact — and this is where we are here in 2015.

5 (tie). Jim Gilmore and George Pataki: Former governors, perfectly competent and utterly colorless and have no chance because “competent and colorless” is not what anyone wants these days. I mean, I would be okay with it, obviously given the rest of the field, which is why these guys are as far up as they are on my list, obviously. But the GOP isn’t going to ask me.

This particular spot, by the way, marks the dividing line between “Things could be worse” and “Check out the Canadian immigration Web site to see if you could get in” on this list for me. I’ll also note that currently none of the remaining candidates on the list are polling above 4% nationally. I am not an actual GOP primary voter, is what I’m saying.

3. Jeb Bush: I feel kind of sorry for Jeb Bush, because for years we’ve been told that he was the “smart” one, and his campaign has just been so flabby and disappointing and tired, and as for Jeb, if this is what passes for smart in the Bush family then we’re all just going to have to admit that our standards for smart when it comes to politicians, or at least Bushes, are too damn low (search your heart. You already knew this to be true).

So why is he so high on my list of GOP candidates? One, please see the rest of this list, which makes the 2012 GOP clown car look like the friggin’ Athenian Agora, and two, because Jeb may be tired and listless and doesn’t actually give any indication of running for any other reason but familial obligation, but he’s also got infrastructure, i.e., two previous presidential administrations worth of resources to pick and choose from to keep the nation going despite him. I mean, shit, even W. couldn’t sink the country, and he put real effort into it. Jeb literally could not be any worse. His people will see to that.

On the other hand, if Bush lets a Cheney within 700 miles of him or his proposed administration I swear to God I will literally shove all my money into a Hillary Clinton SuperPAC. Don’t make me do it, Jeb.

2. Lindsey Graham: Apparently a decent human being, has a record of reasonable bipartisanship and is what passes for a moderate these days, and his current polling in the field is at, like, 1%. Which makes him almost perfect for the likes of me. I suspect he’ll get some nice speaking gigs out of this run. Good for him.

1. John Kasich: He’s cranky and too conservative for my tastes and he’s got a hard-on for defunding Planned Parenthood here in Ohio (not to mention an attempted union-bust which required a citizen initiative to smack back) and he said a genuinely dumbass thing about opening a government office for Judeo-Christian values like he’s never heard of the Establishment Clause before and has shamefully said he doesn’t want Syrian refugees and yet I look around at who is running in the GOP field this year, and Kasich is one of the few I trust not to run the whole country into the ground either through incompetence or ideological rigidity, or both.

Part of it is that at least some of his crankiness is directed at his own party and its current slate of candidates, which appear to strike him as fumbling doofuses. He’s not wrong. Part of it is that he hasn’t been entirely horrible for Ohio, and occasionally signals that there’s an actual working brain inside of that suit. Which sounds like faint praise, and it is, but look: This is 2015 and we’re grading on a very serious curve, here. Kasich is the best we’re getting out of the GOP in this election cycle. So of course he’s polling at 3% nationally and I wouldn’t give him much of a chance in the primaries, just like my 2012 first choice, Jon Huntsman. I’m sorry, John Kasich — by choosing you, I’ve probably doomed your candidacy.

Be that as it may: If I had to vote for one of these folks, he is the one I’d vote for. May God have mercy on him. May God have mercy on us all.

(All photos borrowed from Wikipedia and used via Creative Commons license.)

Not Sure This Counts as the Actual First Snowfall of the Season

But I post this here for archival purposes nevertheless.

I mean, I did see snowflakes in the air last night, and this is snow accumulation, of a sort. But it seems sort of a poor showing to honor with the title of First Snowfall of the Season. So let me ask you: What do you think? Should this count? Tell me in the comments.

Ten Thoughts on the Steam Controller

I bought a Steam controller last week, mostly because I was curious about what it would be like. Scattered impressions follow.

1. I actually like it as a controller, and found it pretty intuitive, but there is a very large caveat here in that I’ve primarily been a PC video game player for the last 20 years or so, so I don’t have any real ingrained habits regarding console controls, particularly XBox or Playstation controllers, which the Steam controller most resembles physically. I don’t have to unlearn any standard controller schemes, basically, in order to learn how to use this one. I suspect this makes me like this controller more than committed console players might.

2. I also like that this is immensely mappable to keyboard/mouse controls, which is indeed the thing that attracted me to it. You can go into the Steam app and just fiddle until you turn blue, if such is your joy (or even better, wait until some 14-year-old nerd does it for your favorite particular game and uploads the controller scheme for you to use).

3. That said, I immediately ran into a situation where the mapping failed: I tried to map keyboard controls for Descent and Descent II onto the controller and the game simply wouldn’t respond to the controller mapping at all. Now, I was trying this on games that are a couple of decades old, that also have to be opened in emulation, so I’m not sure this is a fair test of the controller. On the other hand, waaaaah, I wanted to play Descent. I’ll fiddle some more with it.

4. The haptic response on the right pad? Really does feel like you’re running your fingers along a trackball. It’s pretty wild.

5. I also mapped the controller to keyboard/mouse controls for Unreal Tournament 2004, and that worked pretty well actually. The right-pad-as-mouse was immediately intuitive, and the rest of it was easy to use. I did terribly, on account that I’m not used to using a handheld controller, but after a few minutes I was picking off bots, and I suspect if I devoted a little time to using the controller, I’d strafing and murdering like I usually do in relatively rapid order.

6. Which is to say that unlike Xbox/PS controllers, I don’t feel like I’m being unduly penalized on precision with the Steam Controller, which, as I mostly like playing FPS and similar games, is kind of a huge thing (and why I’ve generally stuck with PC gaming to begin with). The Steam controller is the first controller I could actually see using on a regular basis…

7.if I wasn’t already playing games on my computer, in front of a keyboard and a mouse, which is what I do. Which is my problem: the Steam controller is meant for the people who want to play PC games on their TV in their living room — preferably, Valve hopes, on a Steam game machine — and that’s something I don’t really have any interest in doing. One, my game computer is my work computer, in my office, and I’m not going to drag it downstairs. Two, the keyboard/mouse scheme is already something that works for me, so I’m not going to replace it with something else.

8. All of which is to say that the Steam controller is a controller that actually works pretty well for me, and I like it, and there’s little chance I’m going to use it on a regular basis. Because it’s not designed for me, in terms of the games I play and how I play them, and where. Which I suspect is the controller’s real issue: It’s a solution in search of a problem. I mean, I kind of feel the people who play PC games get they’re playing them in front of a PC, with a keyboard/mouse set-up, and I also think the sort of nerd who wants to play PC games on their TV isn’t going to be fussy about using a keyboard and mouse in the living room. I’m also not entirely convinced people generally are going to migrate PCs into their living rooms when consoles offer a very good gaming solution for, uh, generally less money (plus locking down the hardware so game compatibility is not a moving target).

9. But I can see circumstances where I would use a Steam controller even with those caveats: side-scrolling, fighting, arcade and driving games, for example, I can see playing better with the Steam controller than with keyboard/mouse. I don’t usually play those games on PC, but it might be a chicken and egg thing, i.e., I don’t play them because I play on the PC and a keyboard/mouse is not a great configuration for that. I’ll have to buy some and see what I think. Also, I suspect the Steam controller might have specialized uses: See this article, in which the Steam controller lets disabled fellow play Skyrim one-handed.

10. So am I happy with my purchase? I am, even as I wonder whether the controller actually is for me. I think the Steam controller does what it sets out to do, but I don’t know whether I am the person for what it is doing. I’m not inclined to ding it for that. Again: I like it. Now I just have to figure out if I’m ever going to use it.

Announcement: The Kittens Have Official Names

Thing One and Thing Two are now officially:

Sugar (Thing One) and Spice (Thing Two).

Please update your files appropriately.

For those of you about to say “but I like calling them Thing One and Thing Two!” look, I have no control what you do inside your head. Keep calling them that if you like. They will not mind.

Likewise, as a duo, feel free to call them S&S, The Things, or whatever you like. We here at the Scalzi Compound have taken to calling them The Scamperbeasts, or more completely, The Vicious Scamperbeasts of Ohio, or if you wish to be precise, you may use their Linnean classification Scamperbestia ohioensis. 

Thank you for your attention. That will be all.

Frightened, Ignorant and Cowardly is No Way to Go Through Life, Son

So, this week.

Seriously, I don’t think the bedwetting about Muslims has been this bad in a very long time, which is saying something, and the panic on Syrian refugees is particularly ridiculous. Here’s a nice, juicy quote from a just released essay on the subject:

Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States and none was successfully carried out.  That is one terrorism-planning conviction for a refugee for every 286,543 of them who have been admitted.  To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.  The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough…

The security threat posed by refugees in the United States is insignificant.  Halting America’s processing of refugees due to a terrorist attack in another country that may have had one asylum-seeker as a co-plotter would be an extremely expensive overreaction to very minor threat.

What horrifyingly liberal commie soviet came up with this load of codswallop? The Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank co-founded by Charles Koch, i.e., the fellow who with his brother is currently trying to buy the entire right side of the political spectrum for his own personal ends. When the Cato Institute is telling you to maybe take down the pearl-clutching over the Syrian refugees a notch or two, it’s an indication that you’ve lost all perspective.

It’s been particularly embarrassing how the mostly-but-not-exclusively (and thankfully not all-encompassing) GOP/conservative politician freakout about the Syrian refugees points out that, why, hello, bigotry really is a thing, still. From small-town mayors declaring that FDR had it right when he put all those US citizens of Japanese descent into camps to presidential candidates alluding that might not actually be a bad idea to make special IDs exclusively for Muslims here in the US, to the House of Representatives passing a bill to piss on the Syrian refugees, it’s been a banner week for bigotry here in the US, enough so that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement of concern with reference to the Syrian refugees. And as many have noted, there is irony in the freakout about Syrian refugees coming into a season which celebrates a notable middle eastern family who famously were refugees at one point in their history, according to some tales.

But as this asshole politician said this week, “Mary and Jesus didn’t have suicide bomb vests strapped on them, and these folks do.” Well, no, they don’t. Leaving aside that the perpetrators on the attacks in Paris all appeared to live in Europe to begin with, the actual process for placing refugees in new countries is so long and arduous and so selective, with just 1% of applicants being placed, that (as the Cato Institute astutely notes) there’s a vanishingly small chance that someone with ill intent will make it through the process at all — and an even smaller chance that they would be assigned to the US when all the vetting is done. To worry about terrorists in the refugee pool is, flatly, stupid — no terrorist organization is going to pour resources into an avenue with such a small chance of success, especially when it’s easier to apply for a friggin’ visa and get on a plane (they can buy their guns when they get here, don’t you know). The reasons why so many people are voiding their bowels about it are simple: Ignorance, racism, xenophobia and bigotry.

“But people are scared!” Okay, and? Being scared may be the excuse for abandoning all sense and reason in the moment one is actively under attack; it’s not even close to a reasonable excuse for, thousands of miles away from an attack and with no immediate threat on the horizon, vilifying innocent co-religionists of the attackers and plotting to slam the door on refugees running from the very people who claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks. Taking the Paris attacks out on Syrian refugees is security theater — it doesn’t make us safer, it’ll just make the most ignorant among us feel safer. It’s the TSA of solutions to the Daesh/ISIS problem.

This has been a bad week for the United States, folks. France was directly attacked by terrorists and its response was to promise to house 30,000 Syrian refugees; we weren’t and one branch of our government fell over itself to put the brakes on accepting a third of that number. France is defying the very organization that attacked it while we, on the other hand, are doing exactly what that organization hoped we would do. We’re being the cowardly bigots they hoped we would be, and as loudly as possible.

So congratulations, America. We’ve successfully wrested the title of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” from France. Enjoy it.

The Big Idea: Martin Rose

The politics of modern life are difficult. Are they more difficult when monsters are thrown into the mix? For the answer to that question, we turn to Martin Rose, and My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart.


On the surface, My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart looks and seems like carefree pulp, disguised in the antique tropes of noir – complete with angst ridden anti-hero, the rabbit hole of conspiracy, the stock serial killer, and the shadow villain who must be stopped for the sake of humanity.

But I have played a wicked trick, dear Reader. Beneath the camouflage of My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart lurks a bigger idea, buried in the background – the corrosive effects of corruption and violence, and what these twin forces do to ordinary people. This idea lives and breathes in Vitus’s character as its most prominent form – a reformed zombie turned human. It is through the corruption of his governmental family that he is killed and remade into terrible shapes.

The monsters that populate my books are not supernatural forces that defy explanation, or exist in a vacuum we can shrug away as being “the way things are.” Instead, I struck upon the idea of monsters being man-made, an allegory for what nations do to otherwise good people when their violence becomes institutionalized and every day people become oppressed in the extreme, (such as political prisoners) from the old Soviet Union, to the recent Arab Spring and events in Egypt, to the United States and our policies involving rendition and torture.

When we draw citizens into a dragnet and punish them, we create monsters. We create them through violence and oppression, with an official seal of approval. The effect of covert government policies designed to maintain imperial power is a poisoning of the population at large – explicitly referenced by my opening quote from Chalmers Johnson, in which he explains the term we are all coming to know as “blowback.”

It seems there are few subjects so taboo as politics. Yet, people happily talk about monsters and superheroes on television and the movies. Here, the ground is rife with politics, disguised as mere entertainment. And after all, we need places where we can hang our hats and dream a little without worries dogging our every waking hour. The playground of story and imagination has always been a time-tested place to approach topics often too controversial to speak of in other environments. If anything, we love to talk politics – as long as we don’t know we are. In this way, we preserve polite company, but overlook the cost – a human cost in which we fail to look our monsters in the face and recognize they were once human – and we could easily be them, but for a twist of fate.

Writing that very quality is the hardest part. I tasked myself to make clear that the victims in my story are often accidental. They did not sin, they did not deserve the life they stumbled into. Villains come in degrees – we might know who pulled the trigger, but not who ordered the hit. Degrees of responsibility also come into play as I tried to make clear that we often find ourselves in untenable situations, held hostage by good intentions, by love and hope, only to have these qualities double back and bite us. We are all born with these potentials; and my characters explore them, striving to come to terms with the schism that exists between reality and desire.

Nothing is simple, everything is complex. The monsters are attempting to survive in a world that has betrayed them. The figures of authority are corrupted sociopaths, more dangerous than the monsters they created, and in between stands Vitus, who must make the hardest journey of all – to take an ethical accounting of himself, and come to realize the people he trusted are mere frauds, and those he felt certain were his adversaries, might be the only ones worth saving. Most of all, to look inside oneself and have the courage to recognize where one has failed and must martial the strength to do better.

It is not an accident, that in this installment, Vitus is restored to human form in the depths of a prison cell – we start from the humblest beginnings, and endeavor to climb through and journey back to the qualities that make us human – the sensitivity of feeling, the rediscovery of kindness, the vulnerability that is intrinsic to occupying a fragile, human body, and caring for others more than we care for ourselves.

While I make it clear that his biology plays an integral part in this process, being in a human body isn’t enough to qualify alone. It’s how he reacts to his environment – and how he treats it with more consideration, to care more for the people around him and learn to think of them first before himself, to understand fundamental empathy, even for those he must bring to justice – demonstrates his return to a human-centered space. And while he is far from perfect, he is ever learning.

Aren’t we all?


My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s|Indiebound|Kobo

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

An Announcement Regarding Award Consideration for 2015 Work of Mine

So, yesterday, I kinda sort of hinted that maybe people voting in the Goodreads Choice Awards should vote for other books than mine.

Today, let me make it unhinty: The Goodreads Choice Awards? In the category of Science Fiction? Pick another book, please (you can do that even if you’ve voted for me; Goodreads lets you clear your vote and try again).

Likewise: Hey, any award you’re thinking of nominating work I put out in 2015 for? Don’t, please. I’ve decided I’d like to sit out the year, awards-wise.

Not because I don’t think my work doesn’t deserve consideration this year. It does. The End of All Things contains some of the best science fiction I’ve ever written (critics agree!). I’m very proud of that book. It’s totally worth award consideration (see: Goodreads Choice Award finalist). I’m likewise very proud of other things I’ve written that were published in 2015, including a video game and a graphic novel. I did some really good work this year, if I do say so myself.

But this year, when it comes to awards, I want to take a break and celebrate the excellent work that other people are doing, and who deserve attention for that work. My year’s already been, well, pretty good, hasn’t it. I’ve had more than enough good fortune from 2015 and I don’t feel like I need right now to ask for another helping.

There will be other years for me to be in the awards mix — rumor has it I’ll be writing books for another decade at least. You’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future, if such is your desire and if the work merits consideration, to put me on a ballot. Trust me, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be around.

But for work that was put out in 2015, please look past me. Find the other writers whose work deserves the spotlight you can put on them with your attention, nomination and vote. Find the works that move your heart and your mind. Find the writers whose work you love and who you feel a nomination can help in their careers and their lives. Look past your usual suspects — including me! — and find someone new to you whose stories and effort you can champion to others. Put those people and works on your ballots. 2015 has been genuinely great year for science fiction and fantasy; it won’t be difficult to find deserving work and people for your consideration.

So, again: If you’re thinking of nominating me for an award for work done in 2015, thank you for your kindness, and for your appreciation of my writing. But don’t. I’m good.

I’m excited to take a year just to be a fan myself, to nominate and then vote for my own favorite works of the year, and to encourage other fans and folks to read widely, think seriously, and to nominate and vote for the work they’ve loved in 2015.

I hope you’ll do the same.

In Which The Doubleclicks Tell You What an Awful Person I Am — In Song!

As you may recall, a couple of months ago I did a fundraiser for Con or Bust, in which you lovely folks raised over $10k to help science fiction and fantasy fans of color go to conventions and conferences in exchange for me recording audio for a satirical eBook that talked about terrible I was, and also me commissioning a song with that same topic.

Well, the audio has been up for some time, and now the final promise I made is fulfilled. I asked my friends The Doubleclicks to write a song about my awfulness, and they were suspiciously willing to fulfill my request. Here is that song. All of it is true.

Cover-300x300Let me also remind you, or possibly make you newly aware, that The Doubleclicks have a brand new album out called President Snakes, which you can purchase right this very second (hint, hint) by way of Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby. Also, they’re touring the west coast of the US in December. You should go see them and request this song and hold up lighters and/or cell phones when they sing it, because that would be awesome.

How You Should Vote for the Final Round of the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards, SF Category

Oh, look, The End of All Things has made the final round of the Goodreads Choice Awards this year, along with nine other books in the science fiction category. How excellent, and thank you to everyone who has voted so far. Now the question becomes: What should you vote for in this final round?

Well, let me tell you.

You should vote for Ancillary Mercy because Ann Leckie has stuck the dismount on what is one of the defining science fiction series of the century so far.

You should vote for Armada because in your heart you always wanted to be recruited for the space forces, fighting aliens.

You should vote for The Fold because teleportation is cool, and what Peter Clines does with it here is even cooler.

You should vote for Golden Son because class struggle! And also because some people think this second book in the Red Rising series is even better than the first.

You should vote for The Heart Goes Last because Margaret Atwood takes the metaphor of work as a prison and punts it into the stratosphere, as she would.

You should vote for Seveneves because Neal Stephenson ends the world and then seems to enjoy the hell out of himself trying in the most difficult way possible to bring it back.

You should vote for Star Wars: Aftermath because it’s one of the best Star Wars novels yet, and it annoys whiny bigots as well, which is its own special reward.

You should vote for The Water Knife because if we’re not careful, this is where we’re going to be living in a couple of decades (or sooner).

You should vote for Welcome to Night Vale because it’s a mash-up of Our Town and The Twilight Zone, and if you can’t love that, you may be dead inside. The bad kind of dead, not like… well.

So, yes. That’s how you should vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards in the science fiction category this year. I hope that helps!

The Big Idea: Matt Mikalatos

Sometimes the unexpected shows up right in front of you, and as Matt Mikalatos discovered in the writing of Sky Lantern, where it takes you from there can be equally unexpected.


My Big Idea crashed in my front yard.

On a rainy day last November, I found a flattened, burnt-out sky lantern on my driveway. Scrawled across it in magic marker were the words, “Love you, Dad. Miss you so much. Steph.”

Those eight words stabbed me in the heart. I spent the rest of the day turning it over in my mind, thinking about my own three daughters. I found myself on the verge of tears several times that day, thinking of my own kids sending a letter after my death, not expecting a reply.

If my daughters sent a note like that, and some father found it, I would want him to do something.

But what could I do? It’s not like she wrote her email address on the lantern. I didn’t know her last name and “Steph who sent a sky lantern” wasn’t much to go on.

Nevertheless, late that night I pounded out a letter to Steph on my laptop. I didn’t expect it would find her, but I did my best to tell her all the things I suspect most fathers want their children to know. That she was loved. That he was proud of her. That he wanted her to live a good life.

It was a small act of kindness, but there wasn’t much chance she would see it. I thought, best case scenario, maybe someone would remember it one day and show it to my daughters when they needed it.

The next morning I woke to notes from all over the world, as the letter went viral.

For weeks I received emails from people sharing about their dads: good, terrible, absent, dead or dying. I cried every morning reading the stories of kids who had lost their parents when they were young, or moms who were keeping the letter for their kids, so they could have something “from their dad.” A woman in Germany told me she carries the letter in her purse. A woman in Malaysia sent me pictures of the mandala she painted when her dad passed.

It was beautiful and powerful, this reminder of how much we all have in common, and how much pain and loss there is in our world. I was reminded, too, of the beauty in sharing our pain with one another, in acknowledging to one another that all is not as we would like it in the world, and that we wish things could be different. To know we are not alone eased our grief. We are not alone in this. To acknowledge one another’s grief and to say to one another, “You are worthy of love” is a small act of kindness, but it makes an enormous difference.

That’s the Big Idea: Small acts of kindness can make the world better. Remembering we are all human, and thus worthy of love and respect, can bring transformative beauty into the world. The things we have in common as human beings are greater than the things that separate us.

As for writing the book, in many ways it was the hardest book I’ve ever written. It required being vulnerable in a way I hadn’t done before in print. I shared about loss, and grief, and love in the clearest, most honest terms I could and it was beautiful and painful and sometimes I couldn’t see the screen clearly as I typed. I felt completely wrung out when it was done.

Sky Lantern is the story of a small act of kindness. It’s about Steph, and how she found the letter and how we – people who are different in nearly every way it’s possible to be different – became good friends who care deeply about one another.

Writing Sky Lantern brought hope, love and joy into my life. I hope reading it will do the same for you!


Sky Lantern: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the book. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

(P.S. from the author: “If people are in the Portland Oregon area, the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s is hosting an author signing on November 20th at 7 pm! Steph is going to fly out for it, also.”)

I Was Busy Today With the Dentist and the Accountant, So Here is a Kitten Picture Instead of Me Blathering

Thing One is coming to end you. Better watch out.

And before you ask: I cracked a tooth and had to get it repaired (everything’s all right), and I had to sit down with my accountant and figure out what to do with my taxes this year because ZOMG TAXES THIS YEAR (everything’s all right there, too, if a little breathtaking).

So: I’m fine. We’re fine. Here’s a kitten. Enjoy.

Kittens are Kittening

Watch! As they battle each other, and the DREADED HAND OF JUDGMENT:

In other news, I changed the kitty litter to another brand, and they started pooping and peeing outside of the box. Changed it back, Thing One used the litter box within ten seconds of me laying down the litter. I’m not training them, they are training me.

How is your Sunday?


I have many thoughts on the Paris attacks but the one I want to point out today is this: there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and what most of them want to do is live their lives, love their family, friends and neighbors, and be at peace with themselves, their world and their God.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks; one of ISIS’ goals is to spread distrust of Muslims for its own ends, to end the “grayzone,” as it calls it:

Which is to say that every time someone lumps all Muslims into the ISIS camp, the stupid, murderous, rapist, culture-destroying ISIS camp, they’re doing ISIS’ work for them. ISIS is relying on the rest of us to see the world as they do, and as they want us to.

If you believe that every Muslim supports ISIS and groups like it, then you should also believe that all Christians support the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church and Scott Lively. You should believe that all white people support actions like the Charleston Shooting. You should believe every man celebrates the anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre. And so on, across any group or affiliation you might be able to name.

If you don’t believe all of these things, but somehow manage to believe that more than a billion people are somehow sympathetic to, and responsible for the actions of, a cadre of murderous fundamentalists (“fundamentalist” in this case, as in so many cases with that term, not accurately representing the fundamentals of the religion it claims to represent), then the problem is you, not 1.2 billion Muslims. If you demand they answer and apologize for ISIS, I will be more than happy to go down a list of all the things you can be identified as and demand you apologize and answer for the actions of the worst of that segment of society. I suspect you will get tired of this very quickly.

The Muslims I know, and I know more than just a few, are as horrified as anyone by ISIS and what they represent. The Muslims I know are good people, and I am proud if and when they consider me to be their friend. I don’t experience what they feel when events like this happen, which give bigots here, where we live, an excuse to hate and demonize them. But I can see the impact from the outside. It’s stupid what is done to them, and it’s wrong.

So: Don’t. Don’t do what ISIS wants you to do. Don’t be who ISIS wants you to be, and to be to Muslims. Be smarter than they want you to be. All it takes is for you to imagine the average Muslim to be like you, than to be like ISIS. If you can do that, you make a better world, and a more difficult one for groups like ISIS to exist in.

If you can’t do that, consider that perhaps you are more like ISIS than the average Muslim.