All posts by John Scalzi

About John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

You, Me, Twitter

The following is a public service announcement about you, me and Twitter. Some of it are things I’ve said before, but I’m presenting it all here in a handy, easy-to-read numbered list. Ready? Here we go.

1. I use Twitter. A lot! Here I am over there.

2. When I use Twitter, I am generally using it as a public individual making statements made for public consumption, i.e., I assume the things I write there will be seen widely and outside my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances.

3. As such, people I don’t know will frequently respond to tweets I write. This is fine! That’s part of the nature of Twitter. Respond away.

4. If I find your reply interesting, amusing or otherwise of note, or if I’m just in the mood to be chatty, I may respond. Because that’s my assumption when you replied: that you were open to a response from me as well. Likewise, if you “@” me on a Tweet that’s not a response, I assume that you meant for me to see it and possibly respond. Don’t “@” me if you don’t intend to invite me into the conversation!

5. But I may not respond, for various reasons. You should assume that I won’t. It’s not personal, I promise.

6. Most people who respond to me on Twitter are lovely people. But some people aren’t. If I decide you aren’t, then here’s what I will likely do: I’ll mute you, which means that whatever you’ve tweeted at me will disappear from my tweet timeline and no subsequent tweet from you will show up in it, ever. To me, it will be as if you don’t exist on Twitter at all! Why would I do this? Because life’s too short to deal with irritating people on Twitter.

7. No, you probably won’t know if I’ve muted you — kind of the point of muting people is that they don’t know. I get a warm feeling in my heart from the idea of the muted, jabbering on as if I’m still able to see their “cleverness.”

8. That said, sometimes before I mute someone, I may let them know I think they’re a complete waste of a circulatory system, or some such. Then I mute them. They may have a comeback to what I said, but I wouldn’t know. From my point of view I’ve gotten the last word.

9. No, I’m not obliged to read your Tweets, and no, it’s not censorship to mute you. You are free to keep tweeting at me as much as you like! That’s the very essence of free speech! But “free speech” does not guarantee you an audience — in this case, me. If you’re the sort of person confused about this, it’s just another reason why we’re both better off having you muted in my tweetstream.

10. Things that may get you muted include, but are not limited, to:

  • Being racist, sexist, homophobic or other varieties of bigot;
  • Being insulting and boring about it;
  • Being insulting and clever, but not knowing when to quit;
  • Being the sort of person who is under the impression that a medium confined to 140 characters per post is the perfect medium for a substantive debate on a complex issue;
  • Having your understanding of social/political issues clearly confined to cue cards provided to you by others;
  • Being creepy;
  • Being an author or other creator whose purpose for being on Twitter is to spam people about your work;
  • Being someone who believes that the only reason I exist on Twitter is to retweet something you think I should;
  • Appointing yourself the Arbiter of Things I Should and Should Not Say On Twitter;
  • Trying to pick a fight with me;
  • Extreme stupidity;
  • Just generally being an asshole.

11. Occasionally someone with a large number of followers on Twitter (and/or a large number of sock puppet accounts) will attempt a pile-on, in which his (and it’s almost always his) followers try to flood my tweet stream with nonsense. When that happens, I use the original asshole’s Twitter handle as a mutable phrase, which means that any tweet bearing that handle is pre-emptively muted. As the sort of gibbering yahoo who piles on inevitably includes the originator’s handle so they can get a virtual head pat for doing their master’s bidding, this cuts out almost all of the nonsense. So if you’re the dog-piling sort, don’t bother; I won’t even see it. Also, maybe rethink your life choices.

12. Basically, I am on Twitter for my own amusement, not to engage in argument, substantive or otherwise, particularly with people I don’t know, and especially with people who I determine to be jerks. If you understand that when you communicate with me, we’ll get along fine. If you don’t, then you’ll be muted. Either way the problem will be solved.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Four: Fan Favorites!


For the first three days of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a way to discover some cool stuff from folks like you, and to spread the word about some of the things you love.

Fans: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Fans only: That means that authors and creators may not post about their own work in this thread (they may post about other people’s work, if they are fans). There are already existing threads for traditionally-published authorsnon-traditionally published authors, and for other creators. Those are the places to post about your own work, not here.

2. Individually created and completed works only, please. Which is to say, don’t promote things like a piece of hardware you can find at Sears, shoes from Foot Locker, or a TV you got at Wal-Mart. Focus on things created by one person or a small group: Music CDs, books, crafts and such. Things that you’ve discovered and think other people should know about, basically. Do not post about works in progress, even if they’re posted publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. So focus on things that are completed and able to be sold of shared.

3. One post per fan. In that post, you can list whatever creations you like, from more than one person if you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on newer stuff. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about fans promoting work they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting gifts.

Got it? Excellent. Now: Geek out and tell us about cool stuff you love — and where we can get it too.

The New Rig, 2014 Edition

My Dell all-in-one desktop finally stopped playing nice with me — it had a persistent memory issue that finally sent it into permanent blue screen mode — so it was time to go ahead and get a new desktop computer. I knew that this time around I wanted to get a computer with a little more oomph than the Dell; it was a perfectly well-specced computer but it choked on the latest games. At the same time I knew I didn’t want another monster tower; aside from not having a whole lot of space on my desk, as a 45-year-old man I’ve gotten past the age where I want the computer equivalent of a street racer in my office.

So I went with one of these, which despite the hype of the site I just linked you, is a compact, reasonably-demure-for-a-gaming computer. To the base model I added a couple of tweaks (a solid state drive and liquid cooling primary among them); I would just as soon had the garish green side panels go away, but inasmuch as the computer now sits directly behind the monitor, it’s not really that much of a big deal. It’s now chugging away (relatively quietly, thanks to the liquid cooling) on the desk, and so far, so good.

Because the new computer can push a whole lot of pixels, I also splurged and got a 4k monitor, specifically this one. It features something called G-Sync technology, which basically is a way to make video games look smoother and nicer, even when the framerate drops. We’ll see if it works (the only games I’ve played on the computer so far is Unreal Tournament 2004, which doesn’t really need any help for high framerates, because it’s ten years old).

I will say, however, that the monitor is kinda gorgeous due to pixel denseness — I basically have to sit a couple inches from the monitor in order to see individual pixel (and I won’t do that because, seriously, eye fatigue). It’s not a perfect screen — it’s a “twisted nematic” display which means that depending where you sit you’ll see some color shifting at the edges — but it’s still pretty sweet.

Anyway: Meet my Christmas present to me.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More


The Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisan foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks in your life, and things you can’t just get down at the mall. I hope you see some cool stuff here.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for creators to post about their gifts for sale; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Creators: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Creators (of things other than books) only. This is an intentionally expansive category, so if you’ve made something and have it available for the public to try or buy, you can probably post about in this thread. The exception to this is books (including comics and graphic novels), which have two previously existing threads, one for traditionally-published works and one for non-traditionally published works (Note: if you are an author and also create other stuff, you may promote that other stuff today). Don’t post if you are not the creator of the thing you want to promote, please.

2. Personally-created and completed works only. This thread is specifically for artists and creators who are making their own unique works. Mass-produceable things like CDs, buttons or T-shirts are acceptable if you’ve personally created what’s on it. But please don’t use this thread for things that were created by others, which you happen to sell. Likewise, do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Also, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per creator. In that post, you can list whatever creations of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent creation. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from creators promoting their work as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting work.

Now: Tell us about your stuff!

The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines

It takes a special kind of author to intentionally release a bad novel — And Jim C. Hines is that author! But he has a reason for doing it, and a way of making that bad novel — Rise of the Spider Goddess — lift itself above its station to offer what turns out to be an encouraging lesson about writing. Here’s Hines to explain.

JIM C HINES:

Let’s get one thing out in the open right now. The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess (An Annotated Novel) is a bad book.

I didn’t know that when I wrote it back in 1995. I thought my novelization of the adventures of Nakor the Purple!, the character I had been playing in our college D&D game for the past year or so, was freaking brilliant! At last I could write the long-awaited tale of what happened after those adventures. There was magic and swordfighting and vampires and ancient temples, and at the heart of the story was my favorite spunky elf druid with a tragic backstory, along with his friends: an angry vampire with a tragic backstory, a spunky young thief with a tragic backstory, etc.

There were also pixies, a fire-resistant owl who became a falcon later in the book because I wasn’t paying attention, and an EVIL spider goddess named Olara.

For years, I kept this book buried in the darkest, dustiest corners of my hard drive, guarded by poison needle traps and rust monsters and worse. I swore no one would ever know just how bad my first attempts at writing had been. I wanted people to think I had sprung into this world as a fully-formed professional author, a brilliant writer of flaming spiders and nose-picking jokes and so on.

That’s total goblin dung. Every author I’ve spoken to writes crap from time to time, especially in the beginning. We all have a Rise of the Spider Goddess buried away somewhere. The idea that anyone is born with an innate ability to write brilliant fiction is a myth.

The idea behind publishing this book is all about busting that myth and owning the crap. Not just owning it, but laughing about it. I’ve added more than 5000 words of commentary and snark at my younger self’s writing, from his paper-thin worldbuilding to the over-the-top Evilness of the Evil Minions of Evil to his valiant attempt to incorporate every fantasy cliché he had ever encountered.

But even as I cringe over that kid’s lousy writing, even as I poke fun at his refusal to revise or proofread, I’ve also got to respect his determination, and to acknowledge that this was a beginning. This is how writing careers get started, not with big book deals and bestseller lists, but with people sitting down to write about their favorite D&D character, because they’ve got a story to tell, and because they just plain don’t know any better.

That deserves to be celebrated and shared. And yeah, laughed about. Because how can you not laugh at lines like this?

“Sitting casually on the floor, a guard sat honing a dagger.”

Author’s note: “Sitting casually on the floor, a guard sat…” That’s freaking art right there!

For writers, I hope this book serves both as 50,000 words of what not to do, but also as recognition that we all start somewhere, and often that place isn’t very pretty.

For my fans, I figure it could be interesting to see where my career really began. You’ll see the seeds of ideas that crop up in my later work, particularly the goblin books. You also see the beginning of my voice, as well as my habit of including groin-kicks in every book I write. (Because kicking an elf in the groin is just plain funny.)

For everyone else, well, have you ever done a group reading of The Eye of Argon? Sat down for a Mystery Science Theater marathon? If so, then hopefully you’ll have fun with this one.

I want to make it clear that I’m not advising my fellow authors to run out and publish all the broken trunk stories we locked away when we were learning to write. But I think there’s a lot to be said for acknowledging those early efforts. For sharing and even celebrating those beginnings.

For a long time, I was ashamed of this book. I was ashamed of how bad a writer I was in 1995.

Screw that. Writing a bad book is nothing to be ashamed of, because dammit, I still wrote a book. Then I wrote more of them. And with each one, I got better.

Rise of the Spider Goddess is a bad book, and I’m proud of it. I hope the notes and annotations I’ve added are enough to transform it into something you can share and laugh about and celebrate with me.

—-

Rise of the Spider Goddess: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|Kobo|Smashwords

Visit the author blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books


Today is Day Two of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site fifteen years ago and told people to send me a dollar if they liked it. Look where it got me. I hope you find some good stuff today.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for non-traditional authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors of non-traditionally published books only. This includes comics and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books and audiobooks. If your book has been traditionally published — available in bookstores on a returnable basis — post about your book in the thread that went up yesterday (if you are in doubt, assume you are non-traditionally published and post here). If you are a creator in another form or medium, your thread is coming tomorrow. Don’t post if you are not the author or editor, please.

2. Completed works only. Do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Likewise, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Now: Tell us about your book!

Today’s Ill-Advised Facial Hair Experiment, 12/1/14

I was warned never to go full Wolverine.

This picture taken as I was shaving off my November beard, accrued not as a “Movember” fundraiser but simply out of complete sloth. It’s all gone now. I still need to get a haircut, however.

Welcome to December!

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day One: Traditionally Published Books


Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014 — My way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them.

Today’s featured products are traditionally published books (including graphic novels and audiobooks); that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores on a returnable basis. In the comment thread below, authors and editors of these books will tell you a little bit about their latest and/or greatest books so that you will be enticed to get that book for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. Because, hey: Books are spectacular gifts, if I do say so myself. Enjoy your browsing, and I hope you find the perfect book!

Please note that the comment thread today is only for authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors only, books only (including audiobooks). There will be another thread for other stuff, later in the week. Any type of book is fine: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc. If you are not the author/editor of the book you’re posting about, don’t post. This is for authors and editors only.

2. For printed books, they must be currently in print (i.e., published before 12/31/14) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at the following three online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s. This is so people can find your book when they go looking for it. For audiobooks, they must be professionally published (no self-produced, self-published audiobooks) and at least available through Amazon/Audible. If your book isn’t available as described, or if you’re not sure, wait for the shopping guide for non-traditional books, which will go up tomorrow. 

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like (as long as it meets the criteria in point 2), but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books currently available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Got it? Excellent. Then tell the folks about your book! And tell your author friends about this thread so they can come around as well.

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014 Starts Monday!


Every year in the first full 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, December 1, 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 up to 50,000 visitors 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 December 1: 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 2: Non-Traditionally Published Authors — Self published? Electronically published? Or other? This is your day. This also includes comics/graphic novels.

Wednesday December 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 yet — 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.

Morning Clouds + Two Quick Advertisements For Myself

Clouds first, because they’re pretty.

And now, the advertisements for myself:

1. Today is the last day for you to vote for Lock In at the Goodreads Choice Awards, if such is your joy. Go here to vote. If you see something else you prefer, it’s okay to vote for that instead.

2. Remember you can get signed, personalized books from me for the holidays via Jay & Mary’s Book Center. Here are the details on that. I’ll likely be going in this next weekend to sign the first batch of orders.

The writing is chugging along. Wheee!

Popping In

I noted earlier in the week I was going to put in a self-promotion thread today, but then I realized that very quickly I’m coming up on the thing where I do a whole week of self-promotion threads for the holidays, so I’m gonna in fact hold off until the first week of December. Sorry about that.

In its stead, please find below Tweets I Made Last Night When I Was Not High. Seriously I wasn’t high. Imagine if I were.

And, uh, yeah. Have a good weekend, everybody!

New Books/ARCs, 11/19/14

As promised on Monday, here are the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound in the last couple of weeks. And I think it’s a very interesting haul. Let me know if you agree in the comments by telling me which books here most interest you.

Winter’s Here + “Lock In” a Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist + Other Stuff

Dear Autumn: Your contract clearly specified that you were to work until December 21st, with some allowances for part-time work after the pie was served on Thanksgiving. However, as the above photo clearly indicates, you are now in breach of contract. Please come see us to discuss this matter. Thank you. That will be all.

In other, entirely unrelated news, Lock In has made the final round of the Goodreads Choice Awards, in the Science Fiction category. That’s pretty cool, so if you voted for the book in the previous two rounds, thank you. I would encourage you to do so again, or if you’ve not voted already, to do so now. Mind you, if there’s another book among the finalists you like more, go ahead and vote for that instead. But if you prefer to vote for Lock In, then, again, thanks. Here’s the link to vote.

I’ll also remind you all that you can order signed and personalized books from me for the holidays through my local bookstore, Jay & Mary’s. Here’s how to do that, if you’ve not done so already.

Finally, the folks at Strange Horizons are in the final stretch of their annual fund drive. SH is the place that first published science fiction of mine, so I’m sentimental about it, and am happy to have it continue. If you’d like to donate to keep them going, here’s the link (and yes, I’ve donated). They’re very close to their fund drive goal — it’d be lovely to get them over the top.

And no, I’m not at quota yet for the day. I got a late start due to sleeping in because it’s the first snow day of the academic year and I didn’t have to take Athena to school. However, I am going to leave you now. But I will tell you that I have two additional updates scheduled for this week. On Wednesday, I’ll show off the new books and ARCs that have arrived at the house. And on Friday, I will offer up a self-promotion thread, in which you may tell everyone about your latest creative projects and cool things, or tell them about something cool/creative a friend is doing. See you then.

Now back to the word mines.

November Frost (And Updates)

The Polar Vortex has Ohio in its grip, but in this part of the state at least that hasn’t meant snow. Just frost, which, eh, I can live with for now (I do not believe in snow until after Thanksgiving. I think that’s reasonable). Krissy went out and took a couple of pictures of the morning frost to show off. Here you go.

That poor, frozen bird.

In other news the writing has been going well. I’ve landed on a writing quota of 3,000 words a day to finish up before the end of the year and I’ve been hitting the quota daily (that’s on weekdays, although I’ll likely be writing/editing a bit on weekends/holidays as well), so that’s good. The writing’s not bad, either, so that’s a bonus. As noted here previously, I’m not doing much updating here during November, but once I hit my quota you can see me tooling about on Twitter. After 3,000 words (which is a nice clip but 50% more than my standard 2k/day clip), crafting 140-character comments is about what my brain can handle.

Any plans for the weekend?

Hey, I Gotta Write a Book, So I’m Outta Here Until December

The End of All Things is due at the end of the year (the book, not the actual apocalypse) and my progress on it is a bit slower than I want it to be, in part because recently I’ve been a bit too easily distracted by the Internets, in all the glorious shininess. So starting tomorrow through the end of November I’m taking a break to focus on work.

What does this mean? Basically, between now and December 1:

1. No updating here, except possibly to remind people about the fact they can get signed, personalized books from me for the holidays (and yes, I see what I did there), or the occasional cat/sunset picture, through the end of the month.

2. Much less active presence on Twitter and other social media, especially during the work day.

3. Scaling back e-mail responses to primarily business questions — i.e., if you’re not my editor, agent or otherwise paying me money to do something, expect response to be slow if at all. The exception to this are Big Idea queries; I’ll be scheduling December and January slots.

4. On my end, much less paying attention to the outside world, including news and Internet outrages. Basically, if the world explodes figuratively, it will have to do so without me through at least December 1. If it explodes literally, well, I guess I will have been wasting my time writing this novel, but then, at least I’ll go out typing.

I know, I know. It’s sad for me too. I love me some farting about on the Internets. But the thing is, people pay me to write the books, and the book has already been scheduled by my publisher, and other folks are already on the clock to get it out on time. Which means I should finish it on time so they aren’t left hanging, my readers get a new novel in 2015, and I am able to eat and pay my mortgage. Priorities. They are a thing.

So: See you all again on December 1st. Have an excellent rest of November, and if you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. Catch you on the other side.

The Big Idea: Cixin Liu

The name Cixin Liu is largely unfamiliar to English-speaking science fiction readers, but to Chinese science fiction fans, he’s a superstar of the genre, amassing the sort of award tally and name recognition — and sales! — that would be the envy of any writer in the world. Now for the first time his novel The Three-Body Problem is available in English, translated by Ken Liu, himself a multiple award winner in the genre. With the help of Ken, Liu is here now to tell you his acclaimed work, and how it cuts against the grain for Chinese science fiction.

CIXIN LIU:

As a longtime scifi fan—I’m probably among China’s first generation of scifi enthusiasts—I’ve always believed in the existence of a large number of intelligent species and civilizations in the universe. If some of these civilizations discovered each other and could communicate with each other, they would form a cosmic society of civilizations. I’ve always wondered about the form of such a cosmic society and the kinds of relationships between its members.

In Chinese science fiction, extraterrestrial civilizations were usually imagined as benevolent and wonderful. This set off the contrarian in me, and I decided to imagine a worst-case scenario.

The only reference point we have in the study of cosmic society is human society. There are many different civilizations on Earth itself, each with its own internal complexities and relating to each other in complicated ways. Politics, economics, culture …  feed into each other in an intractable knot. It’s very difficult to come to any clear conclusions about cosmic society based on this example.

But a soccer match inspired me. It was the first big-stadium match I’d ever been to: a game between the Chinese national team and UC Sampdoria of Italy at the Beijing Workers Stadium. I had just started my job back then, and all I could afford was one of the cheap nosebleed seats all the way in the last row. From that distance, the complicated technical moves the players made on the pitch were filtered away, leaving behind only a shifting matrix of 23 dots—one of the flitting dots being the soccer ball. Even the brightest star of the match, Ruud Gullit, was just another roving spot in my eyes. I regretted not bringing binoculars with me, but I also realized that the elimination of details revealed the clear mathematical structure of the game.

This is just like the stars, I realized.

Interstellar distances hid and made inaccessible the internal complexities of each civilization. In the eyes of observers like us, extraterrestrial civilizations appear as only points of light. The complicated internal structures and forces within each civilization are reduced to a limited set of variables and parameters associated with each dot. This also revealed a clear mathematical structure for cosmic society.

I came up with a set of axioms as the foundation of this approach to cosmic sociology:

  1. Survival is the primary need of civilization.
  2. Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.

Axiom number one should be self-evident, but the second half of axiom number two has not yet been proven by cosmologists. However, as a premise for a science fiction novel, I thought it was logically sound.

I also came up with three conjectures based on the facts as we know them:

First: barriers to communication. It is very difficult for civilizations to communicate with each other and to understand each other across the universe. This is due to 1) the insurmountable time delay imposed on all communications across interstellar distances (at least based on known physical laws); and 2) the vast biological differences between the two sides in any attempt at communications. On Earth, biological organisms are classified into domains, kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, species—the higher you go in the hierarchy, the larger the differences between taxa in the same rank. Humans cannot communicate effectively even with animals in another genus. At the cosmic level, if one takes into account the possibility of non-carbon-based life forms, the differences between them and humans may be greater even than the differences between domains on Earth.

Second: technological explosion. It took humans about a hundred thousand years to advance from stone tools to the age of agriculture, but only two hundred years to go from the steam age to the information age. Explosive advances in technology could occur at any moment in any civilization in the universe. Thus, even a primitive civilization that appears as harmless as a baby or a sprout is full of potential danger.

Third: detection reversibility. This concept is based on the Principle of Reversibility in optics. If one civilization can detect the existence of another in the universe, sooner or later, the second civilization can also detect the existence of the first.

Based on these axioms and conjectures, one can deduce a possible shape for cosmic society, and it is indeed a worst-case scenario, which sits at the foundation of my Three-Body series. The details of the deduction process is set out in the second book in the series, The Dark Forest, and as the title hints, the universe is a dark place where only one kind of relationship is possible between different worlds: as soon as one civilization has detected another, it must do all it can to destroy it. This has nothing to do with the moral conditions of the civilizations involved—as long as one accepts the two axioms, all civilizations must behave in this manner. Chinese readers dubbed this conclusion “The Dark Forest Hypothesis.”

This is also an answer for the Fermi Paradox, a very dark answer. If any civilization exposed itself in the universe, it would soon be destroyed. This is why the universe is so silent.

Of course, this is just a possibility explored in fiction. Faced with the eerie silence of the universe, right now we have no way to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

There is something to the old saw about science fiction being the literature of possibilities. It presents various possibilities for the reader, and sometimes the possibilities that exert the most attraction are also the least likely. But in this wondrous universe, anything that seems impossible also has the potential to be reality. As G.R. Burbidge once said, “If stars did not exist, it would be easy to prove that this is what we expect.”

At the very least, it would be irresponsible to not consider the worst of all possible worlds as one possibility for the reality of our universe.

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The Three-Body Problem: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Tor.com’s collection of material on the book, including commentary and further excerpts. Translator Ken Liu’s Twitter feed is here.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Scalzi Books for the Holidays, 2014

Once again the holiday season is approaching, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, Lock In), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. Hey, that’s a month; more than enough time for you to make your selections.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: Lock InThe Mallet of Loving Correction (The latter is already signed but I will be happy to personalize it). Also in hardcover: The 21st Century Science Fiction anthology, which contains my story “The Tale of the Wicked.” I’ll be pleased to sign the anthology for you. Likewise, there may still be copies of the signed, limited hardcover edition of my Unlocked novella — go ahead and ask if they can special order.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Metatropolis. There may be hardcovers of both of these still around if you ask. But both are definitely in trade paperback.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The Human DivisionFuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), Book of the Dumb, Book of the Dumb 2 (both humor books) are all still in print.

AUDIOBOOKS: The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Lock In will also be available on CD/MP3 CD starting December 2.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP, even Lock In. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them.

Also: This year Jay & Mary’s will also be offering signed, personalized books from Tobias Buckell for holiday shipping. So if you’ve been looking for signed books from Toby, including his latest, Hurricane Fever, this is the place! Toby has details on his site.

Happy shopping and especially thanks for supporting Jay & Mary’s. They’re good people and every year they do a good job with this. I’m happy to be working with them again on this.

And thank you!