A Year of Scamperbeastery

A year ago today we went over to my mother-in-law’s neighbor’s house and took possession of two eight-week-old kittens there. These kittens, tentatively named Thing One and Thing Two, eventually became known as Sugar and Spice, aka the Scamperbeasts. It’s been a pretty good year for them since then, as they’ve become beloved members of the Scalzi household, with Sugar becoming especially partial to Daisy, our large galumphing dog, and Spice apparently enjoying alternately antagonizing and adoring Zeus, the senior cat of the household.

Over the space of the year, other aspects of their personality have sussed out as well. Sugar, appropriately, is the cuddly the one — she likes sleeping with (or on) the humans in the household and will actively seek one out for pettings and affection. Spice also likes affection but on her terms, which is usually at 4am, when she will leap on the bed with a series of loud chirps. Sugar has claimed the front room as her primary domain; Spice prefers the master bedroom.

However, both these days prefer being outside. Once they were large enough not to be taken away by hawks, we let them out to roam around the Scalzi Compound, pursuant to our tradition of having our cats not only be pets, but working animals. To recap, there are agricultural fields on three sides of us, and in the fall, a lot of the rodents who had been living in the fields start looking for somewhere warm, and our house looks good to them. So the cats basically set a perimeter. As it happens, both of the Scamperbeasts are really good at the whole “don’t let rodents into the house” thing, and they pretty much stay outside until they are tired or decide they want kibble or petting. They’re country girls at heart. We’ll see what happens once it starts getting really cold overnight, however.

A year ago I was initially reluctant to take two kittens — more accurately, I was in the market for only one, although when both Athena and Krissy decided we should take two I didn’t put up too much of a fight — but I have to say that a year it, taking the two instead of just one seems to have been the right call. In the early months especially they kept each other company; these days they are rather more independent of each other but they are still obviously affectionate sisters. They make for quite a pair.

As I said, a good year for them, I think, and for us. We’re glad they’re with us and we look forward to them being with us for as long as they are. It’s been lovely to see them grown from kittens to cats. Here’s to the rest of it.

Zombie Scalzi Wishes You Happy Halloween

And also, of course, this is my new top contender for profile photo should I ever get a Tinder account.

I Was Going to Write Another Piece About the Election But Then a Wave of Ennui Hit Me, So Please Enjoy These Pictures of My Daughter Instead

Taken as she was prepping for a Halloween party last night.

A much better posting decision, I think. At least for the moment.

Putting These Here For Archival Purposes

I apologize in advance. 

To which someone replied:

My response:

HEY I ALREADY SAID I WAS SORRY.

New Books and ARCs, 10/28/16

Enough time left in October to get in one last stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Which of these do you think will be a treat? Tell us in the comments!

Begun, The Yard Wars Have

We’re pretty close to our neighbors Karen and Bob — not just because they live next door to us, but because they’re good friends of ours as well. Nevertheless, this election we’ll not be voting for the same presidential candidate, and we all know it, and that’s fine. It does mean that we rib each other about it a little bit. Last night, after Krissy was done visiting them, she “accidentally” ran over Bob’s “Trump” sign as she driving back over to our house, and well. Shots fired.

So just a few minutes ago I hear a loud noise outside my office window, and look down to see Bob on his riding mower, mowing letters into our yard.

Which letters? Well, if you can’t make them out from the picture above, let me trace them out for you:

There’s a dog there for scale.

And how do I feel about this?

1. Given Krissy’s “accidental” ploughing down of Bob’s “Trump” sign, it’s totally fair play;

2. Even without the instigating act on the part of Krissy, I would find it pretty amusing.

Note that these hijinx in both cases are couched specifically in existing friendship — Krissy wouldn’t run over anyone else’s Trump sign (nor would I, for that matter), and I very strongly suspect that Bob’s not going to take up mowing “Trump” into anyone else’s yard. Krissy knew her act would be received good-naturedly, and that Bob would then feel obliged to respond in kind. And here we are with the word “Trump” shaved into our grass.

Again: Totally fair play. And motivation to mow the rest of the lawn sometime soon.

Update, 5:55pm: Krissy has amended the message.

The Big Idea: Patrick Sheane Duncan

A title like Dracula vs. Hitler kind of explains itself, but even so, author and screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan had his reasons for bringing these two villains of the past together for a nefarious confrontation in WWII-era Transylvania. What was it? Read on!

PATRICK SHEANE DUNCAN:

I’ve always been fascinated by the way that popular culture reflects and influences society. It’s been a concern of mine since some pandering politician banned my favorite comic book, stating that they “corrupted” the tender minds of kids like me and turned us into juvenile delinquents. I knew it was bullshit. I became a juvenile delinquent because I was poor. At various times these self appointed censors have condemned rock ‘n’ roll, television violence, “dirty” magazines and lately, video games, always using the same trumped up charge.

(To tell the truth, I admit to being corrupted by all of these – but not in the way those narrow-minded yahoos worried about. They all freed me and my imagination.)

But I do see how popular culture reflects our worries and problems. An obvious example is the science fiction films of the fifties and sixties. I’m talking about how some errant radioactive incident created a monster set out to destroy…well, everything. A fifty foot man or woman, giant insects and our good old buddy Godzilla. Our nation’s fears of an atomic holocaust were made simple in one conquerable but metaphorical creature.

And it isn’t a mental hurdle to jump forward and see the effects of 9/11 on our films. I mean, how many times can we blow up the White House and every other iconic landmark on the planet – just to be saved by someone in Spandex or the President’s handsome bodyguard?

So, when vampires became popular again in a multitude of movies and television series, I was curious. A good many of these, if not all, were aimed at teenagers. I’ve always been a fan of the theory (I wish I could remember who first proposed it) that vampires, and their mythological kin, werewolves, are powerful metaphors for the fraught transition from childhood to adult. The symbolism is pretty blatant and definitely relatable to confused adolescents. With profound, even violent changes in the body, the werewolf has hair sprouting in unexpected places (on the palms of his hands, what was he doing?! Oh my!), profound outsider status, and is wrought with sexual under- and overtones, including sexual aggressiveness after the change, (there are a whole lot of women being assaulted/seduced in their bedrooms by werewolves and vampires alike). And to cap it off, so often these modern fairy tales end in a marriage.

When the latest vampire films rose from the Hollywood graveyard, I went back to some of the originals and found myself watching a lot of great Universal movies from the late 1930s and ‘40s.  And I noticed something – there was no mention of the war in these films. Except for one, where a German bombing of a British graveyard disinterred Dracula, the war didn’t exist. Mostly this was done by making them period pieces, but even the present day set films avoided the topic. A pure definition of escapist entertainment.

My imagination made the short leap – what if those two worlds did intersect? Bring the gritty reality of war into that old time escapism? Aha!

I’m a history buff so I knew that at the beginning of WWII Transylvania was given to Romania by the invading Germans. I also knew that Vlad the Impaler, the model for Stoker’s Dracula, was a prince and a patriot. Thusly he would be a natural foe to fight the Nazis. Bam. I had a hero. Actually a super hero. Cool.

Then there was the fact that the Nazis, particularly Hitler, were fascinated by the occult, believers who sent people searching the world for magic relics to use in their cause. So why wouldn’t Hitler, discovering the existence of an immortal and powerful creature, want to be immortal himself and attempt to capture Dracula? Bam, I had a villain.

Dracula versus Hitler.

To bring in the rest of the cast, I had Van Helsing settle in Transylvania after defeating Dracula and I gave him an adult, ferocious daughter (The requisite sexual motif of the genre). These two would lead the partisans fighting the Nazis and be driven by German atrocities to revive the Professor’s great enemy to fight an even worse monster. Harker and Renfield were brought in to make the book as much fun as the title. I then had all the elements needed for a rousing action adventure story with an essence of the supernatural. Using the style of Bram Stoker’s original (diary and journal entries, letters, etc.) was a novelistic exercise for my own enjoyment and a tribute to the book I love so much.

And I did it because it looked like fun and I believe that if you entertain yourself in the writing you have a pretty good chance to entertain the reader.

As for Dracula vs. Hitler’s place and meaning in the gestalt, I’ll leave that to some other fan/over educated analyst in desperate need of a PhD thesis.

—-

Dracula vs. Hitler: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

This Week My Brain Apparently Has No Enthusiasm For Writing Long Whatever Entries, So, Here, Have a Kitten

Which, at the standard 1 pic = 1k words rate, means I just wrote a fairly long entry here. Well done, me!

Re: Blurb Requests For the Remainder of 2016

This is going up for editors/publicists/etc who are contacting me for blurbs for upcoming books, where the blurbs need to be turned in before the end of 2016:

Sorry, I’m already full up on books to consider for the remainder of the year. If I have not already agreed to consider the book in question (which is different from you having sent it to me), you should assume the answer to your request to consider the book is “no.”

Otherwise, please consult my blurbing policy, available here. A reminder to authors that I automatically turn down blurb requests that come directly from authors — please route them through your editors/pr folks instead.

Thanks.

RIP, Sheri Tepper

This is genuinely upsetting news for me: Locus is reporting the death of Sheri S. Tepper, who wrote the Hugo-nominated novel Grass among many others, and who was given a lifetime achievement award by the World Fantasy Convention just last year. Tepper was in her late 80s, and had an accomplished life outside of her considerable writing career, including being an executive director of the Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Colorado, so one can’t precisely say this is an unexpected development. But she was one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, and an influence on my thinking about SF/F writing, so to have her gone on is still a deeply depressing thing.

Also a bit depressing: That Tepper, while well-regarded, is as far as I can tell generally not considered in the top rank of SF/F writers, which is a fact I find completely flummoxing. Her novel Grass has the sort of epic worldbuilding and moral drive that ranks it, in my opinion, with works like Dune and Perdido Street Station and the Earthsea series; the (very) loose sequel to Grass, Raising the Stones, is in many ways even better, and the fact that Stones is currently out of print is a thing I find all sorts of appalling.

If you haven’t read Grass, I really suggest you find it and put it near the top of your SF/F reading queue. You won’t be disappointed (and if you are, then, well, I don’t know what to tell you). It’s a stone classic. Not everything that Tepper wrote worked for me, which makes her like literally every single writer I admire; but the things of hers that did (these two novels, The Fresco, Beauty, The Visitor and others) have stayed with me year in and year out.

Aside from her considerable talents as an author, Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet.

Farewell, Ms. Tepper. Your voice will be missed. I’ll keep reading what you have left us.

The Election and Productivity

I was a couple of months late in turning in The Collapsing Empire; I originally planned to have it to Tor before Worldcon this year (which was mid-August) and ended up sending it to my editor literally the day I left for New York Comic Con, which was the first week of October. Some of that had to do with fine-tuning and changing bits of the story to make them more effective, plus travel and life in general.

But a whole lot more had to do with the 2016 presidential election. There were entire weeks where I got up each day, fully intending to go straight into writing on the book, and instead ended up checking Politico, the Washington Post, Five Thirty Eight and a whole other host of political sites, and got myself wound up enough that it was a miracle if I got any writing done at all, much less hit my daily quota. Now, I’ve written books during presidential elections before, and I’m easily very diverted by them. But my level of distraction has never been this bad before.

At New York Comic Con, I confided to another author about my book being late because of the election, and her reaction was basically to say YES SO VERY MUCH THIS and then we were joined by an editor, who was all OH MY GOD BASICALLY ALL MY AUTHORS ARE SAYING THIS, and then suddenly I didn’t know whether to feel better or worse. On one hand, it was a bit of a relief to know I wasn’t the only author whose schedule was bunged up by the election; on the other, what a mess this election has been if whole swaths of writers have been knocked off course by it. I could go into why this is, but I think you all already know my opinion about this election so we can take it as read for now.

My question to you is: Is it just us? Or have you found that you (or others you know about) have been knocked out of your usual level of work productivity because of this election as well? Has obsessively refreshing poll trackers and political feeds and Twitter kept you from the timely performance of your duties, or, if you still manage to get stuff done on time, is it still a challenge to keep your mind on task? More than usual?

Let me know. I’m actually really interested.

 

If You Were Ever Wondering What Krissy’s “I’m Humoring You” Look Is Like

This picture offers a very good approximation.

Happy Saturday, folks. I hope it’s doing well for you.

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 10/21/16

Look! Many fine new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What here tickles your fancy? Tell us all in the comments!

Redshirts Wins the Geffen Award

Happy to say that the Hebrew edition of Redshirts (translated by Zafrir Grossman) won this year’s Geffen Award — Israel’s most notable SF/F award — in the category of Best Translated Science Fiction Novel. A fine honor! This is my second Geffen (the first was for the Old Man’s War back in 2007), and it’s as much a thrill the second time around.

My thanks to Mr. Grossman for his fine work — it’s as much his award as mine. Also thanks to my Israeli publisher, Opus Press. I hope they’re as happy as I am. And of course thanks to the fans who voted for the book!

White Dudes, Trump, and America

Original by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license. Click on photo to go to the original.

Dear other white dudes:

Last night on the Las Vegas debate stage Donald Trump, for whom statistically speaking most us white dudes are planning to vote for, refused to say whether he would concede the election if it went against him, as it almost certainly will. He says he’s doing that because he believes the election is rigged — it’s really not — but in point of fact the reason he said it is because he’s a petulant man-child who can’t believe his manifest destiny to be president is being thwarted by a woman who he doesn’t even find sexually attractive, which means that to him she’s hardly a woman at all. “Inconceivable!” he cries, like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, while Clinton, in the guise of the Dread Pirate Roberts, comes to take what he’s rightfully stolen (who is Princess Buttercup in this scenario? Why, the US, of course).

Now, as a matter of procedure, it doesn’t matter if Trump decides to concede or not. Unless the vote in any individual state is so close as to trigger a recount (usually within half a percentage point), the individual states will tally up and certify the votes, and then in December the electors for each state — i.e., the people who actually vote for president in our wacky political system — will meet and cast their votes, and that will be that. There’s nothing in the constitution about our election system hinging on the candidates conceding.

Legally speaking, if Trump loses, he can stomp his feet and hold his breath until he turns blue, and Hillary Clinton will still be President of the United States. So this is literally a question about whether Donald Trump wants to be a yutz when he loses. And he might! The track record for Trump being a yutz when he loses anything — primaries, Emmy votes, probably a game of Yahtzee — is pretty significant. And each of those times, his being a yutz didn’t change anything. He still lost. He was still a loser.

That said, the presidential election isn’t the Emmy for Best Variety Show (or whichever category Trump’s show lost in), it’s the actual Presidency of the United States, and the people who are voting for Trump — that’s largely us, white dudes! — are invested in his winning. And if he doesn’t win, and again it’s really unlikely that he will, and he doesn’t concede the election, the question then becomes: What will the white dudes do? Will we break with Trump, decide to honor the two centuries of constitutional transfer of power from one administration to the other, or do we stick with Trump and also stomp our feet and hold our breath until we turn blue because we just didn’t get our way? Because in point of fact, if we decide to do the latter, and certainly Trump appears to be down with that, we could do real damage to concept of peaceful transfer of power here in the United States.

So, as a white dude, let me speak to all y’all other white dudes, particularly the ones of you planning to vote for Trump, and especially the ones of you who might be giddy at the idea of Trump not conceding the election if Hillary Clinton wins.

1. No one candidate is more important than the peaceful transfer of power. If you want to claim to be a real American — and I know you do, it’s kind of a cornerstone of the white dude self-image here in the US — respect for the constitutional process of transferring power from one presidential administration to another is more important than any particular candidate. Dudes, do you think I was happy when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush on a 5-4 Supreme Court vote that in my mind was fucking specious in terms of its reasoning? No! And yet when the decision came down, that was that — the constitutional process had ground out a decision that handed the election to Bush, and it was time for Gore to go home, which to his eternal credit, he did, publicly conceding the election to Bush. And I was fine with that. Not happy, mind you. But fine.

(Before anyone compares what Trump is saying with what happened with Bush/Gore, unless the actual electoral college vote in 2016 comes down to a single state that has an automatic recount procedure, there’s no actual comparison, and in any event, that’s not what Trump was asked.)

Now, maybe Trump is just being coy about having respect for the constitutional process of selecting a president, but then, he’s a thin-skinned whiner with the manners of an angry toddler, so that’s not surprising. But what about you? Will you also act as unto a screaming pre-schooler told he has to share his toys? Or will you sack up and be more gracious than the man you are statistically likely to vote for? Will you actually be the grown-up adult male that your age heavily implies you are?

For the record, if at this point the absolutely improbable happens and Trump wins the election for President, you know what I will fully expect Hillary Clinton to do? Concede the election! And here’s the thing: She will! Because that’s how it’s done. And because she, at least, is a grown-up.

2. The election isn’t rigged. Now, I know what some of you will say there — but Hillary’s a cheater! The election is rigged! The fix is in! Look at this video I found on the Internet! The media is complicit!

Guys, no. The election isn’t rigged — see the link above, which explains why it’s almost impossible to actually rig a presidential election. Your willingness to argue that the election is riggable is a good indicator of how susceptible you are to privileging your own sense of entitlement over actual and verifiable fact, something Trump, that glorious tangerine-hued ignoramus, knows all about. Be better than Trump in this regard. He doesn’t want you to be, because he doesn’t want to admit he’s losing fair and square. But you don’t have to indulge him.

As for the media, if you come at me with the latter-day rationalization that what “rigged” really means is that the media is in the tank for Hillary, I’m going to laugh at you for two reasons. One, during the primaries, Trump got so much press and used it to his advantage so well that he spent eight times less on ads than Jeb Bush, and five times less than Marco Rubio, and won the candidacy. Trump still dominates the press, because he’s a walking garbage fire of a candidate, and — here’s a news flash! — political garbage fires are good for media company bottom lines. Mind you, the press didn’t make Trump a garbage fire; he was a garbage fire all on his own. The press is merely pointing to Trump and saying: Hey, look at that garbage fire! If Trump wants better press (I mean, aside from the sycophantic bunghole tonguing he receives from Breitbart), maybe he should consider not being a garbage fire.

Two, if you want to argue that Clinton got a free ride from the press, I’ll be happy to match you up with a liberal who will be delighted to argue with you for years about how the press went after the alleged email scandal far longer than the story warranted, not to mention all the various Wikileaks and so on. You two will have fun yelling at each other!

What is true, I’d argue, and especially in recent days, is that every time something potentially damaging to Clinton comes out, Trump has to go out and do or say something stupid, like, oh, I don’t know, say he won’t fucking concede the election if he loses it. Why does that get more play than something in Clinton’s email? Because Clinton’s email is small beer, and fucking not conceding the election is actually a pretty big deal. If you think the two are equivalent, pull your head out of your asshole, please, wipe yourself off, and get a grip.

3. Donald Trump isn’t worth fucking up the US of A for. No one is, to be clear, but especially Donald Trump, who is an honest-to-God piece of shit human being who no one should ever have supported. He’s a bad businessman whose business model actively includes cheating little people out of what he owes them, which makes his support from small business people just plain mind-boggling, since they are the very people he screws out of their money for his gold-encrusted sink faucets; he’s ignorant as shit; he’d grope your wife, sister or daughter if he thought he could, and you left the room; he’d lie to your face and call you an asshole when you pointed out he was lying; he’s easily provoked into doing stupid things; and if he were a character in Red Dawn (the classic version, not the inessential remake), he’d be the one sucking up to the Russkies. He’s every boss who makes you work overtime and doesn’t want to pay you for it; every landlord who won’t snake the toilet or fix the radiator but raises your rent like clockwork; every schmuck who cuts in line in front of you and dares you to make something of it.

He’s a fucking asshole, in other words, and you’d maybe want to go to the constitutional mat for him? Why? Because he’s rich? Dudes, he’s not that rich, and the way he got rich was by fucking over other people, and if that’s all right with you, it’s time for an examination of your own sense of morality. Because he “tells it like it is?” He doesn’t tell it like it is, he tells it like he wants you to believe it is, and bullies any one who says otherwise. Because he’s not “politically correct”? Well, that’s because he’s a goddamn bigot, my friend, and it’s a bad look on him and on you. Because he’s an outsider? Aw, bullshit. He’s been a grasping social climber for years. There’s nowhere he’d rather be than inside.

Because he’s fighting for you? Oh, son. Just, no. Donald Trump never “fought” for anyone other than himself — look at his decades-long track record for confirmation of that. And when it comes down to you or him, he’ll go him every time. Just ask the GOP, who is currently living in regret. You might be signing up to be the willing tool of a dude who would kick you to the curb the moment you weren’t useful to him, and who would call you a loser when he did. It’s not if he’ll do it. It’s when.

Why the fuck would you toss everything you possibly claim to believe in as an American for this absolute cocknugget of a human being?

Well, there’s an answer, but you’re not going to like it.

4. If you’re okay with Trump not conceding, you’re signaling you’re possibly a racist, sexist piece of shit who would rather tear everything down than not to let a white dude have his way. Now, you can rationalize this any way you like, but at the end of the day, this is what it looks like, because to a very large extent, this is what it is. There will be no legitimate reason to contest this election if Clinton wins it; the way we’ve set up our elections assures she will win it fair and square. There is no legitimate reason for Trump not to concede should he lose — it really is the absolute minimum he can do, and if he doesn’t then he proves without a single shadow of doubt that he didn’t deserve the office he contested for, because he fundamentally did not understand what it was about.

If Trump doesn’t concede, there is no legitimate reason for you or anyone else to fight for Trump’s shitty little tantrum except because you’re having a shitty little tantrum right next to him. Because you don’t want to share, basically. Because a woman, who was voted into office by basically everyone who wasn’t a white male, beat out a white dude and as a white dude, you just can’t take it.

And I get that! We’ve been here before, you know — like, oh, the last eight fucking years, when the GOP dined out on the latent and no-so-latent racism of white dudes like us to illegitimize the current president of the United States as much as it possibly could. Every flower of GOP obstinacy, from birth certificates to the Senate declining to do its actual job and take a vote on a Supreme Court justice because it has a theory that a president’s term is actually only kind of around three years long has a long, hard root in the pool of racism that white dudes in particular swim around in. There are other roots — it’s not like the GOP didn’t go after Bill Clinton, after all, so it’s not all racism and sexism — but let’s not kid ourselves. That’s a lot of what it was.

And now here we are in 2016 and when it comes to conceding this election, there’s no real principle at stake here other than fuck all those people, we should have won.

Who’s we? Well, who is voting for Trump? It’s not a lot of minorities here in the US, that’s for sure. It’s not women, in general or even the white women — even Republican women don’t support Trump in the numbers they generally support GOP candidates with. The core of Trump’s support is white dudes. And as they say, #NotAllWhiteDudes, since in fact many support Clinton or other candidates (hello!). But that’s his core of support. It’s us, white dudes.

We’re the people Trump wants to “watch” the polls — the way he suggests that’s done, incidentally, sounds like a lot like voter intimidation — and the ones he expects to raise a ruckus about rigged elections if he doesn’t get what he wants. He’s relying on white dudes to be racist and sexist on his behalf before and after the election, and let’s make no mistake that if he should win the election, the white dudes who are actively and unapologetically racist and sexist intend to capitalize on that win.

If you go along with his plan, you’re down with all of this. Again, rationalize it all you want. You won’t fool anyone.

Here’s the thing: It’s not going to work. It has the possibility of making a mess in the short term, but Clinton doesn’t need Trump’s concession, and all the people who voted for Hillary Clinton (or at least, against Trump) are not going away. They’ll be back election after election, and demographics are on their side. They’re not going to forget if Trump loses and refuses to concede and calls on his supporters to make a mess. They’re not going to forget who it was who rallied to Trump’s side to say everyone else’s vote didn’t count, or didn’t count as much as the votes of white dudes and their preferred candidate. They’ll remember what that actually means.

So: Trump, or the United States. White dudes, if Trump loses the election and doesn’t concede, you’re going to have to decide which is more important to you. All us white dudes are going to have to decide. Everyone else will be watching.

Choose wisely.

Why Clinton is Winning (One Reason, Anyway)

Original photo by Adam Schultz, used under Creative Commons license. Click on photo to be taken to the original.
Original photo by Adam Schultz, used under Creative Commons license. Click on photo to be taken to the original.

The third presidential debate is in the books, and while the noisiest news coming out of it is about a petulant white nationalist blustering on stage about whether or not he’ll concede the election if he loses, as if that matters for the legal transfer of power (it doesn’t; it’s just that if he doesn’t, he makes himself look even more like a child than he already does), the most interesting thing about the debate — and all the debates, if you ask me — is how very fine a job Hillary Clinton did in each of them. Not just for herself, although she did just fine for herself in each of them, answering in detail when she chose to, and generally effectively deflecting when she didn’t.

No, her real skill was in getting Donald Trump to self-own, debate after debate. There’s the saying that one should not interrupt an enemy when he’s making a mistake; well, Clinton didn’t interrupt Trump, but she did prompt him, winding him up and then letting him spew, not only on the debate stage, but on Twitter and in rallies afterward. She wound him up and let him flail ineffectually at her, as if his onstage taunts and bluster were anything compared to what she’s put up with for over 30 years, but well aware how Trump grumbling that she was nasty or how he was going to put her in jail would play to the large majority of America that isn’t circling around in Trump’s ouroboros of denial. She positioned him to lie and lie again, not just about political subjects in general, but about what’s actually come out of his very own mouth. She made him make himself look like a fool, and she did it without breaking a sweat.

Ezra Klein of Vox has a longer piece on what Clinton was up to and how she did it, which I largely agree with, so I won’t go further into it here. Suffice to say, however, that Clinton played him, once, twice, three times (a lady!), and he never seemed to figure it out. But then, why would he? Trump is apparently mentally unable to conceive of being dunked on by a woman, which left Clinton free to dunk on him at will. Trump has no one to blame but himself — not that he would ever do that — but Clinton gets all the credit for happily exploiting his weaknesses.

This is one reason, incidentally, why the current GOP shibboleth that Clinton would have been defeatable if only she had been up against a different candidate is mostly wishful thinking. Clinton isn’t winning just because she’s up against Trump, and she didn’t cream Trump in the debates just because Trump is so very fabulously incompetent. She’s winning because she’s prepared — she knows her opponent, she knows his weaknesses, and she made him reveal them himself. And she would have done it to anyone the GOP would have thrown her way.

Honestly, now: Does anyone really think that Clinton wouldn’t have shredded Ted Cruz, that pulsating globule of smugness, in any debate they might have had? Yes, Cruz was a nationally-ranked debater in college. That’s very nice for him. Clinton would have walked him into his own wankery, the off-putting self-regard that makes everyone want to find a way to stop talking to him five seconds after he opens his mouth, and let that awfulness happen while he spewed his dominionist nonsense. And let’s not even imagine what she would have done to poor, unprepared Marco Rubio, although the words “chew toy” do come to mind.

Indeed, the only person in the GOP field who I think would have given Clinton a run for her money might have been John Kasich, whose largely-pragmatic and well-seasoned demeanor is not terribly dissimilar to Clinton’s. But the GOP’s not about pragmatic and well-seasoned anymore, and even then I think Clinton would have his number sooner than later — he’s got a temper on him, and she’d poke him until he popped. A Kasich-Clinton debate score would be closer, with no knockouts on either side, but I think in the end she’d win on points.

The fact is, Clinton is and continues to be underappreciated for her own hard-won political skills. It’s easy to say she’s not a natural politician like her husband or Barack Obama (the latter comment being ironic, considering how many comparisons to Spock he endured early on), but here’s a point to consider about “natural” talents — they can be lazy, because, after all, if you can get the “A” with almost no effort, why go for the “A+”? Trust me, I know a little bit about the laziness of “natural talent” and how difficult it is to put in the extra work to go from merely good to something better.

Clinton is not a natural politician. She works and works and works and makes a better effort than everyone around her and just keeps on coming. And if people underestimate how formidable that makes her, as Trump so obviously has, and as smarter politicians than Trump also have and continue to do despite all available evidence? Well, I suspect that’s just fine with her. She’ll do to them what she did to Trump in the debates. And then she’ll keep going.

Voting and Churros

Today I got my voting done, and to celebrate: Churros!

It’s been a good day, folks.

A reminder to you to get your voting done too — if you want to do it early as I did, great; if not, make sure you make time on November 8. It’s only possibly the most consequential election in decades. No pressure.

Don’t worry, I’ll pester you about it between now and then, too.

Reporting in From Trump Country

I live in Darke county, Ohio. In 2004, Darke county voted for Bush, who got 69.5% of the vote. In 2008, it voted for McCain, who got 66.9% of the vote. In 2012, it voted for Romney, who got 71%.

So you may not be surprised when I tell you the area in which I live is heavily tilted toward Trump in this election, and when November 8 rolls around, I expect him to win my county handily, likely gathering something like 70% of the vote.

Do I live among idiots? No. I live among wonderful people who will clear your driveway when it snows and watch your pets when you go away, who love and care for their friends and families, who are decent people in their day-to-day lives and are folks I am proud to call neighbors. Most of them will vote differently than I do in this election. They do not live differently than I do. Our lives in Darke county are rather more in common than they are different.

But they are voting for Trump! And he’s awful! Yes, he is; as I’ve noted before, he’s manifestly the worst major party presidential candidate in living memory. He’s also up against the second-least popular presidential candidate ever (after Trump himself), whom the GOP and their allies have spent decades denigrating, who even her supporters must realistically acknowledge is not overbrimming with public-facing charm, who has a raft of policy and social ideas that don’t play expansively well in a county that hasn’t sent a Democrat to Washington as its representative since the Great Depression.

This isn’t to excuse Trump or the GOP. I wish my neighbors had both a better presidential candidate to support and a better party to field that candidate, one that (in my opinion) better represented the area’s generally conservative but essentially pragmatic nature. I think Darke county is the sort of place that the GOP has been gulling for years, relying on its appeal to the area’s social conservatism to push through policies that don’t help the locals at all. There aren’t a whole lot of one percenters around here to benefit from the fiscal and economic policies the GOP (and Trump) want to promote, and particularly in the case of Trump, the people here, reliant on farming and manufacturing, have a lot to lose.

It is to recognize that the Democratic party in general hasn’t gone out of its way to make places like Darke county a priority. The local Democratic party’s outreach, as far as I can see, is a single tent once a year at the county fair; the biannual Democratic candidate for OH-8 (when there is one; there hasn’t always been) gets little if any support from the national or state parties as far as I can see. Pragmatically it makes sense to cede the district; there’s only so much money to go around. But on the other hand it might be a little hypocritical for me or anyone else to criticize the locals for voting for the GOP — even when it has a historically awful candidate, who no one should vote for — when the GOP is the only political party that’s showing up in a real and significant way.

Darke county isn’t going away — its population and demographics (97.5% white) have been remarkably stable for decades. It will likely always be a conservative area; so long as the GOP exists and at least nominally represents conservatism, it will like vote for the GOP and its presidential candidates. What will be interesting to see is how it, and the places like it, will handle the inexorable shift of the nation from white and conservative to multicultural and, if not entirely liberal, at least liberalish. It is of course already happening. This is very likely to be the third presidential election in a row where Darke county’s preferred candidate didn’t make it to the White House. Given the direction of the national demographics, it might be a while before one does.

The Big Idea: Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

We live in an age of technological miracles and wonders, but do the humans underneath that tech still need the fairy tales that animated their ancestors? The editors of The Starlit Wood, an anthology of new fairy tales, say “yes.” And here’s why.

NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN:

We are children of starlit woods.

From the time we were small, stories were tools we used to navigate the world. We were both voracious readers, devourers of books of all kinds—and we never stopped reading fairy tales. Kids have a tendency to translate the world around them in terms that make sense—and nothing makes more sense, feels more familiar, than the stories that we’ve been reading for as long as we can remember.

Fairy tales may start for many of us as children’s stories, but—as people love to point out, once they discover the true gruesomeness behind some of their most beloved tales—they’re in fact very adult. Indeed, we’d argue that fairy tales are meant to speak to children and adults. The world can be an unsettling, terrifying place, no matter what age or stage of life you’re in—and familiar stories can be a safe language to use to navigate the dark woods of life.

The utter universality of fairy tales can give us the necessary vocabulary to make sense of the woods, to find a path out to safety—or to claim the woods for our own. They help us identify the wolves, witches and dangers lurking in the dark. When you can name something, you have power over it—the power to change the story, to remake it, to reshape it into our own happily ever afters. They’re narrative tools that we grab hold of as children, but they remain useful for our entire lives.

And us? We devoured the original fairy tales and lost ourselves in modern retellings, often edited by people like Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. And somewhere along the way, our roads led us to co-editing our own anthology of fairy tale retellings for Saga Press, The Starlit Wood.

And the more we explored the world of fairy tales, the more clear it became to us that fairy tales are a lingua franca for everybody. They are a language carved onto bones—bones that can be covered in any skin. Fairy tales originate from anywhere or anytime, but you always know they are fairy tales. The same tropes and themes pop up again and again–terrible parents, wandering children, fantastical animals, enchanted items, moral components—to a point where even if we don’t necessarily recognize the source material, a story still feels like a fairy tale. Side by side with classic, traditional stories, The Starlit Wood contains retellings of a few fairy tales we had never encountered before—but even though they were new to us, they felt familiar, like old friends we had just met for the first time.

And that is the big idea of The Starlit Wood. Fairy tales are malleable stories that can be reskinned over and over as long as the skeleton underneath remains the same. We approached our phenomenal writers and asked them to view fairy tales through a new prism, to discover new hides for these old bones. Some of the stories they chose are very familiar. Others are newly discovered or are from less familiar fairy tale traditions. The contributors each took fresh angles, crossed genres, and found new geographies for their tales. Writers flipped character motivations or even removed elements that one would think are essential to a particular fairy tale, making these stories feel fresh, unexpected, urgent–but still true to their source material.

The resulting stories were beyond our wildest hopes. Seanan McGuire put Red Riding Hood in the desert. Daryl Gregory let his Hansel and Gretel consume something much more problematic than candy. Marjorie Liu wrote Sleeping Beauty as a lesbian romance. Garth Nix turned The Little Match Girl into a Western revenge story. Stephen Graham Jones retold The Pied Piper of Hamelin without any music. Max Gladstone wrote Jack and the Beanstalk–with a space elevator. Naomi Novik turned the ugliness of Rumpelstiltskin into a beautiful triumph for the miller’s daughter that upturns the uncomfortable caricatures of the original tale.

From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood contains eighteen extraordi­nary journeys into unexpected territories, uncharted lands, and unforeseen adventures that are strangely familiar and startlingly different at the same time. We couldn’t be happier with these amazing journeys—so come and be changed with us. All of us, after all, are children of the woods.

—-

The Starlit Wood: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Powell’s, Simon & Schuster

Saga Press, Navah’s Twitter, Dominik’s Twitter

Further Thoughts on The Collapsing Empire

I finished The Collapsing Empire two Thursdays ago, but then I had to travel first to New York and then to Minneapolis for conventions, so today was the first time that I had a chance to go through the finished manuscript with a fine-toothed comb in order to do fiddly things like standardize how names are used (and make sure names used in one part of the manuscript stayed consistent — a problem for me), fix a couple of minor plot holes, and basically buff it up so that when it’s sent off to the copy editor they don’t recoil in horror from it.

In the process of doing this, I also read the novel all the way through for the first time. Which may sound weird — didn’t I write the thing, after all? — but when you’re writing it, you’re writing bits at a time, and I don’t read what I’ve written previously in any sequential manner. I just go back to check on things that I need to remember, or have to change because I got a new idea somewhere along the line. So today was the first time I read through the whole, completed story.

So, some thoughts on the read-through and other things.

1. I’m relieved to say I think it’s good. I mean, I thought it was good before — I wouldn’t have told Patrick, my editor, that it was done if I hadn’t — but reading it through in one go confirms it’s pretty damn solid. It all works and parts of it are really freakin’ awesome. This is a mild relief; it’s nice when your initial impression of your completed work bears scrutiny ten days later.

2. I think it’s sufficiently different from what I’ve written before that it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but if I had to, I’d say that it’s probably closest to The Android’s Dream. No, that doesn’t mean it opens up with a fart joke (there are no fart jokes in TCE. Sorry). But it has similar pacing and stakes as well as narrative tone. Also maybe The Ghost Brigades? Somewhere between the two of those books, perhaps. But what I really think it that it has its own sense of style and place. Which makes me happy.

3. At the same time, you know. It’s me, and the book sounds like it comes out of my brain. Which if you like that, great! And if you don’t, well, maybe give it as a gift to someone who does. When I started writing this one, waaaaaaaaay back in the first part of the year, I thought I might try for a different tone — something perhaps Herbertesque, to reflect the Dune-like scope I imagined this universe having, and about two chapters in I realized I had made a dreadful mistake and no one would want to read the Scalzified Herbert (or Herbertized Scalzi) that was gouting forth from my fingers. You will never see those stunted and horrifying chapters. What you will see works much, much, much better.

4. The misbegotten Herbertization is gone, but the scope of the novel is still pretty big, y’all. It’s got spaceships designed to last a decade without resupplying, massive space habitats, underground cities and civil wars. And — wait for it — pirates! Yes, pirates. You love pirates. You told me that once. I remember. Anyway, there’s a lot going on. You won’t be bored.

5. This is also the first novel I wrote knowing for certain that there would be at least a book two in the series; it’s specified in that big damn contract I signed with Tor. Old Man’s War was written as a stand-alone, for example — I didn’t know if they’d want a sequel. Likewise, Lock In (whose sequel is the next novel on my docket) was written without knowing whether Tor would want a followup. The Collapsing Empire, on the other hand, was explicitly part of a multi-book series deal.

This fact definitely had an effect on the writing, because while giving the book a full and complete arc in itself — I mean, come on, you have to do that — I also get to intentionally set up a lot of stuff that will pay off in later books. That was fun.

(What about The Human Division? I hear some of you ask. Well, here’s a secret — the arc of stories that played out in THD and in The End of All Things? When I originally plotted them out, they were all meant for one book. But then I started writing and realized how long that book would be, and also how close my deadline was — so two books it was. Which was fine, because they were two pretty good books! But even so.)

6. With that said, I plan to do here what I’ve done with the OMW series, which is to do my best to make sure any of the book in the series that starts with The Collapsing Empire is a full and satisfying read in itself. One of the things I’m happiest about the OMW series is that I have people tell me they’ve started with The End of All Things and worked backwards, and it worked for them, because I always gave them enough information so they weren’t lost. It’s intentional: you never know where someone will enter a universe you create, and you don’t want to give them an excuse to leave. I do it for the first book in a series, and every book thereafter.

7. Also, in case you’re wondering, the plan is to have the second book in the TCE series out two years after the first, so: 2019 (Head On, the Lock In sequel, is planned for 2018). It shouldn’t be a long wait.

8. I’ve noted before that for The Collapsing Empire, I created one of my favorite characters ever, Kiva Lagos, who is also one of my wife’s favorite characters of mine ever, superseded only by Jane Sagan (who, to be clear, is totally modeled on her, so, nepotism). Getting that Krissy Mark of Approval™ for Kiva makes me happy. The other two main characters (Marce Claremont and Cardenia Wu-Patrick) are pretty good too, and we have a trio of sibling antagonists who I think people are going to enjoy as well. Seriously, this is a fun book.

9. Now that the book is done, what’s next? Well, for the rest of year, I pretty much relax — I have to do a couple of short stories and some columns, and when the copyedit for TCE comes in I have to get to that quickly (on account I was a little behind on turning in the book — THANKS TRUMP AND CLINTON), but I’m mostly planning to catch up on sleep and play video games and vote (the last one only once, but only once will be enough). It’s nice to have the book out of my brain. This one was a little exhausting.

10. Exhausting, but worth it. I think you all are going to really like The Collapsing Empire. We’ll know soon enough: March 21st is not actually that far away.