All posts by John Scalzi

About John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

How I am Spending My Saturday

I’m signing signature sheets for the Subterranean Press limited signed edition of Unlocked. The amount you see there is what I’ve signed so far; subtract that from the height of the box to the right, and the height of what you have left over is how much I have yet to sign. So the day will consist of me watching movies while I sign my name more than a thousand times. I’ll be pacing myself so I don’t end up being a hand cramp attached to a body. There are worse lives to have.

Hope your Saturday is awesome. See you tomorrow.

This is How You Handle Arbitrary Milestones on Social Media

And now you know. Go ye forth and do likewise.

Relevant to Recent Discussions

FTC alleges Amazon unlawfully billed parents for millions of dollars in children’s unauthorized In-App charges.

To quote myself: “[B]usinesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing).”

Note that Amazon can and may fight this in court. Alternately, it may choose to settle out of court, admitting no wrong, and change its in-app policies consistent to what the FTC wants from them. Which will it choose? I expect whichever one is (all together now) consistent with its current set of business goals.

 

My First Job and What it Paid

Via Jim Romenesko, a question from The Billfold Web site about what people’s first jobs were and what they paid, and what that particular job pays now. Romenesko’s spin on the question involves journalism (because his site is focused on that field) and as it happens, that’s where my first post-college job was.

My first job as an adult, as many of you know, was as the movie critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper, a job I started in September of 1991 and left in February 1996. I got the job directly out of college (I was 22, making me the youngest full-time professional film critic in the United States at the time), and it’s not a knock on me to suggest that I was hired not only for my writing skills but also the fact that I could be gotten for super-cheap: My first year salary was something along the lines of $22,400 dollars, or about $430 a week, before taxes, etc.

And how did I live on $22.4k a year? Pretty well, actually. For one thing, I was a movie critic, which meant that a lot of my entertainment cost — i.e., going to movies — was taken care of. Likewise, working at a newspaper meant one could pick over the scads of entertainment product sent for review (books, CDs and so on), so the cost of those was also reduced. Also, I lived in Fresno, which is the butt of many jokes in California, but if you’re a 22-year-old making not a lot, also contained a lot of amenities of a large town (its population was 350,000 then and about 500,000 now) for a substantially lower cost of living than other large cities in the Golden State. Add it all up (plus the fact that I did not have expensive habits, like smoking or heroin), and I did okay for myself on not a lot of cash.

I don’t know how much the position is worth now — currently the Bee has one person, Rick Bentley, as both the film and television critic — but I certainly hope he’s making more than I was when I started. This survey suggests that journalists who enter into the field with a bachelor’s degree (which I did, although not in a journalism-related field) see a media salary of about $28,500 (or did in 2012, anyway). Adjusted for inflation, that’s quite a bit lower than what my $22.4k in 1991 was. Which sucks, but then: Welcome to journalism in the second decade of the 21st Century.

I’m happy to say that these days I make more than $22.4k a year.

(PS: My very first first job was working at Del Taco in Glendora when I was 16, for minimum wage. I came home every night smelling of lard and refried beans. I lasted about six weeks. That experience as much as anything else in the world convinced me to get an education beyond high school, because, seriously, lard smell, man.)

So: Your first job? Talk about it in the comments, if you like.

The Big Idea: D.B. Jackson

There’s a system to things — especially magic. Why is there a system, and what is its function in telling a story? D.B. Jackson has a few thoughts on the matter, and how it matters to his latest colonial-era fantasy novel, A Plunder of Souls.

D.B. JACKSON:

Creating magic systems is to writing fantasy what learning scales is to playing guitar or piano. It’s a fundamental, a basic skill that fantasy writers learn early on. Of course every magic system is at least somewhat unique — we all strive for originality when building our worlds and imbuing them with the powers that will become vital tools for our characters as our narratives unfold. But there are certain elemental principles of creating a magic system to which just about every author adheres: make sure the act of using magic carries some cost; place some limits on what magic and those who wield it can do; and above all, keep the magic consistent. Just as we cannot escape the natural laws that govern life in our real world — gravity, conservation of mass, Newtonian laws of motion, etc. — there should be no escaping the laws that govern our imagined systems of magic.

Except . . .

One doesn’t have to read much fantasy to realize that trying to escape the limits we place on our magic systems is just about the only thing our characters do, particularly the villainous (read “interesting”) ones. They seek more power than they ought to have, or they try to escape the costs we’ve so carefully built into the systems, or they seek to create new rules that apply only to themselves. Our heroes are then forced to find innovative ways to stop them, and invariably those heroes wind up bending the rules as well.

Notice I said “bending” and not “breaking.” Because more often than not the ultimate act of heroism lies not in sheer power, but in ingenuity, in finding some unexpected way to overcome the villain within the very constraints of the magic system that the antagonist hopes to evade. It’s a tried and true plot device that one can find not only in books, but also in movies and television, not only in fantasy, but also in science fiction. (Think of Data’s Moriarty on Star Trek: TNG, plying Doctor Pulaski with crumpets and extending his reach beyond the confines of the Holodeck to very nearly take command of the Enterprise.)

In A Plunder of Souls, the third novel in my historical urban fantasy series, the Thieftaker Chronicles, my conjuring, thieftaking hero, Ethan Kaille, takes on a villain who seeks to gather more power for himself than any conjurer ought to have. “Magick” in my version of pre-Revolutionary Boston, exists at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead. Every conjurer has a guide — the ghost of an ancestor who was also a conjurer — who helps him or her access that source of power. And so my villain, Nate Ramsey, has desecrated the graves of the recently deceased, placed his mark upon the corpses, and claimed them as soldiers in a ghostly army. With this force, he seeks to prevent others from casting spells, leaving himself as not merely the most powerful conjurer the world has known, but as the one person in the world who can cast spells.

It’s both a familiar idea and a big one. Familiar because it works: authors in our genre have used a thousand variations on this theme to create gripping and compelling narratives. Big because it taps into something central to human nature: the corrupting influence that can emanate from any sort of power. Ramsey is already a skilled conjurer, but in addition to being brilliant, he’s also cruel, a bit mad, and bent on avenging the death of his father.

More, he hopes to bend the laws of nature just as he does the laws of magic, so that his mastery of the realm of the dead will allow him to return his father to the world of the living. He refuses to accept that his reanimated father would be an abomination, something neither living nor dead and certainly nothing like the man who raised him. He seeks to master death, and is so drunk with the notion of doing so that he can’t see beyond the realization of his twisted aims.

It was no accident that I sought to have Ramsey violate both natural and magical law. As I’ve said already, in creating my magic systems I seek to make them elemental, so that they are as constant and inviable as nature itself. Equating Ramsey’s magical ambitions with his desire to resurrect his father reinforces not only the dark elements of his character, but also the worldbuilding I have done to make Colonial Boston into a setting that is both historically convincing and fantastical. I should add here that all of this is happening within the context of a growing movement for liberty within the colonies, and a smallpox epidemic spreading through Boston. It also bears mentioning that Ramsey’s attempts to enhance his power, and the magical battles in which he engages with Ethan are pretty frickin’ cool, if I do say so myself. “Familiar,” certainly isn’t meant to imply “humdrum.”

But the greater point is this: in order to thwart Ramsey’s scheme, Ethan must venture down a path that is nearly as dark as the one Ramsey has followed. He, too, must disturb the graves of the dead and attempt spells that, while still conforming to the established rules of my magic system, test the boundaries of that system in ways that would have been unthinkable to him only a short while before. Even if he succeeds (and you’ll have to read the book to find out if he does), and even if the integrity of the magic system is reaffirmed, there is bound to be a cost. Already, Ramsey’s actions have exposed unexpected vulnerabilities; other conjurers of comparable skill, harboring similar ambitions, might test it further, requiring my hero to be even more creative next time around.

As I say, this stretching of the magic system is a plot device that is at once familiar and effective. It tests our worldbuilding, forces our characters to innovate and grow, and challenges us to take our narratives in directions we might not have anticipated. And that’s why it’s not only a big idea, but also a fun one.

—-

A Plunder of Souls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Dayton Appearance 8/2, Unlocked and Lock In Reviews and the Proverbial More

Things to announce and/or note today:

1. If you’re in the Dayton, Ohio area of things, and you want to see me do my thing prior to my book tour appearance in September, I will be at the Beavercreek Barnes & Noble on Saturday, August 2nd at 2pm. What will I do there? I will read! Probably from Lock In but also from other things. Also I will answer questions! Assuming anyone has any. And I will sign books! Which you can buy at that very bookstore, if such is your joy. I’ll be using this as a practice run for my book tour, so please come and watch me prepare. It’ll be fun. Promise.

2. There’s a quite nice review of Unlocked in Publishers Weekly this week, calling it a “skillfully written novella about one of the most fascinating SF scenarios created in recent years.” I am pleased. This review is tied into the Subterranean Press limited signed hardcover edition, so this is a fine place to remind you that this edition is coming, has a fantastic cover by Molly Crabapple, and that you can pre-order it right now. Also remember that if you can’t see me on my book tour, you can pre-order Lock In from SubPress, and when it arrives at your door, it will be signed by me.

3. Speaking of Lock In, a positive review of the book from SFReview.net is up, calling the novel “the kind of book a young Crichton might have delivered in his Andromeda Strain heyday.” I’ll take that. There’s also a video review of the book at the bottom of the linked review.

4. SFWA has reprinted my entry on self-publishing and Yog’s Law, so if you missed it the first time and don’t want to bother scrolling back, here it is over there. Enjoy.

The Big Idea: Mary E. Pearson

The Beatles once said that love is all you need. This may or may not be the truth, but Mary E. Pearson certainly found love useful and applicable when writing her latest novel, The Kiss of Deception. She’s here now to tell you how love made this particular world go ’round.

MARY E. PEARSON:

I’ll just get this out up front. Love. The big idea is love. Unabashed, unapologetic, sweeping, passionate love.

Don’t tune out, guys. You don’t get a pass here. The ladies may be more verbal about it, and may express it differently, but guys are the far more romantic of the species. Trust me, you are. You love love. You just don’t talk about it as much. Women tend to be more verbal about it because we have to be. Historically, love has always been a riskier proposition for women than men. We need to muse about it. We have far more to lose. It’s a survival thing you know?

All right. Hate. The big idea is about hate too. (Happy?) Because it seems these two are the indestructible duo—the timeless driving forces of the human experience. Kingdoms may fall, stars may implode, suns fizzle out, and monuments tumble, but love and hate abide.

I didn’t pull this out of thin air. Watching the news, watching mistakes repeated, watching people, both men and women, gaining rights and losing them again, seeing the world take two steps forward and two steps back, it made me think about how much the world has changed but also how much it has stayed the same. We repeat history over and over again. Kind of a scary thought. We aren’t that much different than Cleopatra and Mark Antony pining for each other, or Alexander the Great leading ancient armies to conquer other kingdoms.

Together, this dynamic duo become the driving force of my book, under a new moniker—the things that last.

When I first proposed this series to my editor I wrote down about fifteen or so musings that were rambling around in my head aching to become a story. I don’t usually do that, but after having written many books I’ve grown accustomed to the frequent question about what inspired me. Months and years later, often it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing because a lot of inspirations can jump in once you begin writing a book. So obviously for me, there were many ideas that were scrambling for my attention, but the things that last seemed to compliment and encompass them all.

So, now how to write about this. Love and hate and the things that last are pretty big vague things to write about. Shrug. Who cares? Unless they have faces.  Unless they live and breathe and hope and dream, and conspire just like us. It all begins and ends with character.

Enter Lia. A pawn. Used. Powerless, even if she appears to be in a position of influence as a princess in the kingdom of Morrighan. Most importantly, her voice is suppressed. More than anything she wants to speak out and be heard, but her voice doesn’t matter. She is valued for other purposes. And then the most basic right, to marry someone of her own choice, is taken from her. Instead of being forced into a loveless marriage that would certainly be the seal on her silence, she runs.

But Lia is also living in the ruins of a forgotten world where hate, in all its incarnations is rearing its ugly head in the form of power and greed. Three large kingdoms are all vying for power, and even though she tries to begin a new anonymous life, Lia is still caught in the middle of the power struggle. She can’t escape it. The one thing that offers some light to her, is love, or the hope for it.

The story is written from three viewpoints, Lia’s, Rafe’s, and Kaden’s, and I thought it only fair that all three manifest both of these driving forces. We can’t possibly believe it’s only the “other guy or girl” who harbors hate—even most villains want some measure of love—maybe in fact, that’s their problem, they want all of it.

Okay, now cue in the fifteen things I mentioned above—they all play a critical role in the story—concepts of time, oral histories, perfect disasters, dormant genes, vanished cultures, the mysteries we’ll never know, and especially the setting, but they all are seamed in with the big idea. Yes, my head was sometimes exploding.

As I wrote, I saw the sweeping bigness to the hate, its carnage, the immensity and breadth of its reach in all its incarnations of greed, power, and control. It surprised me. I mean, hello, I’m the one writing the story, and this is what I wanted to write about, the things that last, but it made me sad how true it felt. It made me wonder at just what point does any human being stop being able to care about anyone else but themselves?

But there was the love story. It was the balance. Its power seemed so small by comparison. Fragile, intimate, naïve, stumbling, sometimes stupid, but with all the hope of two oceans.

And maybe that’s why it’s one of the things that lasts too.

The Kiss of Deception has been called high fantasy.  I suppose it is.  There are princes, princesses, warring kingdoms, and what is perceived to be a touch of magic. But I will say this, it fits into at least two other genres as well. I guess when you’re dealing with something that spans millennia like the things that last, an author is bound to overstep a boundary or two.

—-

The Kiss of Deception: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

So Here’s What Arrived at the Scalzi Compound Just Now

And if you’re going, hmmm, that looks awfully familiar, but I can’t quite place it, let me refresh your memory:

Yup, it’s the trade paper (and subsequent printed editions) cover to Old Man’s War, painted by John Harris, who has gone on to do all my subsequent Old Man’s War series covers. The painting went up for sale recently, and because I’m a fan of Harris and also it’s the cover to my first ever published novel, I inquired as to whether I could purchase it. Turns out, I could. This will be the second time I’ve purchased the Old Man’s War cover art; I also own the original hardcover edition art, painted by Donato Giancola. It’s nice to have them both under one roof.

This is a good time for me to promote once again Harris’ new book The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon, which includes a foreward by me; it’s available in standard and special limited editions. It’s gorgeous (the pages linked are UK-specific but the book is available in the US as well). Also, here’s a discussion by Harris and me about some of the work that he’s done for my writing.

Anyway: I’m geeked out at the moment. I get to own this painting. How cool is that.

The Ways the Scalzi Women Are Better Than Me: An Incomplete List

Last week, as part of my general “try to lose weight and get a little healthier because you’re middle-aged now and you don’t want to die” thing, I started going to the local YMCA to use its weight room and indoor track, with my daughter as my workout partner. She’s been on the powerlifting team at her school for the last three years, so she’s knowledgeable about the weights in a way I am not, and is thus a good person with whom to work out. At the end of our first session, I tweeted the following:

This naturally aroused the derision of the hooting pack of status-anxious dudebros who let me live rent-free in their brains, prompting a predictable slew of tweets and blog posts about how this is further proof of my girly-man status, hardly a man at all, dude do you even lift, and so on. I noted this to my daughter.

Should it be a surprise that my daughter, who has been on a powerlifting team for three years and has taken medals at competition, can lift more than I, who has not seen the inside of a weight room since high school? I don’t think so; I think it would be mildly surprising if she couldn’t. She has training and endurance that I don’t. It’s also equally possible that even if she had not had her previous training, if we had gone into that weight room, she still might have been able to lift more than me. I would have been fine with that. If I keep at it, over time it’s possible I’ll lift more than she can. It’s also possible, however, that I won’t.

And if I never lift more than my daughter? Well, and if that happens, so what? One, I’m not sure why I should feel threatened or belittled by my daughter’s abilities of any sort. Call me nutty, but I want my daughter to be accomplished and capable, and even more accomplished and capable than me, whenever that’s possible. It’s a parent thing. Two, I’m not using the weight room to express my manliness, or as a zero-sum crucible to measure my personal worthiness against other human beings, because that seems, I don’t know, kind of stupid to me. I’m using it because I want to be in better shape than I am now. I fail to see how collapsing into a testerical pile of insecurity over the fact my daughter can lift more than I can will help me with my actual goal of becoming more fit.

Of course, it helps that I’m not one of those quivering bro-puppets who lives in constant fear that a woman might actually outclass him in something, and that if she does, it means that his balls have shrunk three sizes that day. This is a good thing, because in point of fact the Scalzi women, Krissy and Athena, are better than and/or outclass me in several ways. For example:

1. I’ve already noted that Athena out-lifts me. Krissy, it should be noted, is stronger than either of us; she is in point of fact unusually (I like to say freakishly) strong. I will note that I am perfectly capable, strength-wise; childish dudebro taunting online aside, I do fine for myself in that department and always have. Krissy has always been substantially stronger than I. It was never even a point of contention.

2. Krissy also has more physical endurance than I do. I was just joking to her today about the fact that if she lived 10,000 years ago, she would run down gazelles on the savannah because, like the Terminator, she would just keep coming. Again, I do just fine in the stamina department (anyone who has seen me dance for three hours straight can vouch for this). Krissy outclasses me by a mile.

3. Both Athena and Krissy are better shots than I am, Athena with a bow and Krissy with guns and rifles. And I’m decent with a bow.

4. Krissy is the financial brains of the Scalzi outfit, since both by inclination and by training (she has a degree in business) she has an analytical mind for numbers. I do my part on the business end — my very first published book was on finance, and I was a consultant for financial services companies over the years — but the day-to-day adminstration and planning fall to her, with good reason.

5. Athena writes better at her age than I did at the same age. It’s not even close. She will point out that she has the benefit of a parent who writes, with whom she can talk about both the craft and business of writing, and I cheerfully concede that point. Nevertheless, I’ve read her stuff, and I re-read the stuff I wrote at her age. My work at that age is pretty good. Hers is better.

6. Krissy is one of the best “straight-line” thinkers I’ve ever met; she can examine a situation, crystalize the issue and offer a solution quickly and dispassionately — and correctly. This is such a useful and critical skill that I actively spent years learning from her how to do it. I’m pretty good at it now. She’s still better, enough so that whenever possible, I always confer with her to double-check my own thinking.

I could go on — I could go on and on — but I assume you get the point.

Now, no doubt the status-anxious dudebros will delight in my shocking admissions here, because they are silly little boys who apparently think that a man who can happily live with, and help raise, women who are better at various things than he is (including things they entirely erroneously suppose to be inherently masculine) must be therefore weak and inferior and girly. Two points here.

One, there’s the obvious point that in the Scalzi household “girly” means strong and smart and capable and better than decent with ranged weapons. All of which I would happily be. So yes sign me up for girly please.

Two, and to repeat, these sad, frantic lumps of manflesh are proclaiming that a man who is pleased to share his life with women who are strong and smart and capable, and who has no problem acknowledging when their skills are superior to his, is somehow actually lesser for it. This should tell you all you need to know about the intelligence and sensibleness of such a world view.

I’m going to let them keep that silly, stunted world view. I’m going to keep mine. Because among other things, my world view has allowed me to share my life with, and share in the life of, the two best people I know: My wife, and my daughter. I am delighted in all the ways that they are the best, and also, better than me.

 

Question for the USA Folks, Re: Coins

Were you even aware they’re doing, like, a second set of state quarters? I got the one above in my change yesterday and at first quick glance I thought I’d been given a one euro coin. Which would have been an unusual thing in Bradford, Ohio, to be sure.

I think I remember hearing about this second set at some point, but it must have slipped my mind at some point. I think it’s probably because when it comes right down to it I don’t actually look that much at the coins in my pocket anymore. Particularly quarters, which these days I just assume have some bit of patriotic busywork on their backside.

So: Were you aware about this second round of state quarters? Apparently they’ve been going on since 2010. Man, I am clueless, numismatically speaking.

Amazon, Hachette, Publishing, Etc — It’s Not a Football Game, People

And now, some thoughts on subjects pertaining to publishing. I’ll use myself as an example for much of this.

1. I am in business with Amazon, though its Audible.com subsidiary. As you might be able to tell by my post yesterday, I am deeply happy with my experience working with Audible (and thus, by extension, Amazon). They’ve been a very good business partner to me.

2. I am also in business with Hachette, via its Gollancz imprint in the UK. I think what Amazon’s doing to US Hachette authors at the moment well and truly sucks. I heartily remind people that just because Amazon has been screwing these authors by making it impossible to buy their books there, doesn’t mean you can’t get those books — pretty much immediately — from all sorts of other retailers, including local bookstores. This might also be a fine time to install a Kobo or Nook or iBook app on your tablet or smartphone and diversify your eBook retailers.

3. I am in business with Random House, through its Heyne imprint in Germany. I have had an excellent business relationship with Heyne and think very highly of the people who work there. You may also recall that last year, when Random House attempted egregious bullshit with the contracts for their digital imprints Hydra and Alibi, I was happy to punch them in the throat for it, because they were trying to screw authors, no two ways about it.

4. I am in business with Macmillan, through Tor Books. As most of you know, I have been very happy with Tor, who treats me very well and who is very supportive of my career; I have the career I have because Tor has done well by me. What most of you may not know is that one major reason there was a three-year gap between Zoe’s Tale and Fuzzy Nation was because Tor and I had a substantial business disagreement, and I chose not to write new work for Tor for a while. The details of that disagreement are not important now — water under the bridge — but it was significant enough that I walked away from the company and worked on other things. Then it was done, we came to an understanding, and now we are working together again, quite happily.

What’s the point to all of the above?

Publishing is a business. As a writer, you are enaging in business with others, sometimes including large corporations. It’s not a team sport. It’s not an arena where there are “sides.” There’s no “either/or” choice one has to make, either with the businesses one works with or how one publishes one’s work. Anyone who simplifies it down to that sort of construct either doesn’t understand the business or is actively disingenuous, and isn’t doing you any favors regardless. The “side” you should be on is your own (and, if you choose, that of other authors).

These businesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing). If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed.

(And for God’s sake, don’t confuse being friends with people at those businesses with being friends with the business. I have very good friends at Tor. It didn’t stop me from having a substantial business disagreement with the company. Businesses aren’t your friends, even when they employ friends.)

Sometimes the goals of these businesses will align with yours. Sometimes they will not. And often a company that you’ve found yourself in alignment with previously will tack off on a different course, leaving you behind. Maybe you’ll realign at some later point. Maybe you won’t. If you’re under the impression that any business will always align with your own set of business goals, you are likely missing something. Expecting businesses that are not your own to act in a manner other than their own self-interest is likely to end in disappointment for you.

You’re allowed to think more than one thing about a company at the same time. I like what Amazon’s doing in the audiobook space, especially as it involves me. I think what it’s doing to Hachette authors sucks, in no small part because it happened to me, a few years back, when Amazon had a similar fight with Macmillan. Amazon has helped my career; it’s also made it clear to me that it doesn’t give a shit about my career when its interests are elsewhere. Amazon isn’t the only business partner I have that I can say that about. It’s clarifying, I will say.

Your business relationships are allowed to be complex, entangled and even contradictory. How do I feel about being in business with Hachette and Amazon? I feel fine about it, obviously. Likewise, I feel fine about being in business with, for example, Macmillan and Subterranean Press, both of whom have published the same work of mine, in different formats. I’m in business with a lot of businesses. I’m going to keep doing that, because I like to eat and I know where my ethical lines are. You can do this too. The person to decide what limits you choose to place on your business should be you.

Publishing is a business. I said that already. Guess what? I’m saying it again. If you’re not approaching it as a business, with the same eye toward your own business goals as those you’re in business with undoubtedly have on theirs, then when you find yourself completely at a loss and utterly dependent on the business choices of a company that fundamentally doesn’t care about you outside of a ledger entry, the amount of sympathy you’ll get — from me, anyway, and I suspect from other authors who tend to the business of their writing — will be smaller than you might hope.

Update, 7/10/14: An event relevant to this entry and discussion.

The Big Idea: Tobias S. Buckell

As the first named hurricane of the season wanders along off the east coast of the US, it’s perhaps fitting that today’s Big Idea book is Hurricane Fever, by Tobias Buckell. But the hurricanes of this novel take place further south, in the Caribbean — and that’s where its hero comes from, too. Buckell explains why the latter point is especially important.

TOBIAS S. BUCKELL: 

When I was teenager my grandfather and I spent a couple months slowly going through and watching the entire James Bond series on VHS tape. At the time I lived on a boat at anchor off St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. My grandfather’s boat, Seven Seas, lay not too far away from us. Every night I’d hop in a dinghy and motor over to my grandfather’s and watch a movie after dinner.

We watched one movie exactly because the 12-volt car batteries linked up in series to make a bank would have been charging all day via a wind generator mounted on the main mast. Any more than one movie, and that bank of batteries would run out of charge for the day. There was another bank that we could switch over to, but that was held in reserve to start the motor only. If it had been a low-wind day, we’d often have to fire up the boat’s engine near the end of the film (which used up costly diesel fuel). My grandfather always kept an eye on the voltmeter during the final third of a movie.

It was a strange thing to watch Bond in action sometimes. Because Bond often came to the sorts of places we were in at that moment, watching the movie. When Bond came to any islands, or any places in the developing world, he was a force of nature. He blew things up, slept with ALL the women, and raced around in boats (that exploded even more). I began to realize that, for the people making, filming, and in some ways writing about areas like my homeland, it was an exotic destination and no more.

I realized that people there didn’t get to have the same adventures. They never got to stand up to the enemies who had penetrated their settings. In many cases, the villain was often of the developing world. So we were a place to visit, a playground, the thing to sleep with (or exploit) and the enemy.

But the islands I grew up on were so much more. I knew that. The islands were a place of beauty and a destination. Sure. There’s a reason tourism is so huge. But damn it, there were scientists and science being done. There were corporations being built. There were cities being forged, culture and food and…

…There were heroes as well.

And there should be fictional heroes as well. Because we should all get to see ourselves out there as heroes.

When the the black-hats get on a megayacht and sail off to aquamarine waters to cause trouble, why shouldn’t a local agent get curious about the mayhem and start digging around?

That is how Prudence James came to be born: my asking that question. Roo, as he prefers, appeared in Arctic Rising, lending a hand to the main character of that novel as she navigated an increasingly hostile ice-free Arctic.

Roo is my answer to the question: where are the Caribbean agents? What about the people who live there? What do they think about all this?

Because, at anchor, enjoying the explosions on a tiny screen all those years ago, I felt an emptiness that I couldn’t put a finger on. I wanted to see stories that included and featured people like my friends and me. Bi-racial people. Caribbean people. Caribbean people at large in the future. I wanted to add to the experience, I wanted to deepen the pool that was the mythology of the secret agent.

Getting to do so in Hurricane Fever was finishing a promise I made a very long time ago.

—-

Hurricane Fever: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

San Diego Update

So, a quick update about my presence at San Diego Comic-con this year, in the form of a dialogue:

Hey, Scalzi, are you going to be at San Diego Comic-con this year?

Sort of.

Define “sort of.”

I’ll be at various off-site events, including a reading at the Grand Horton Theater on Thursday afternoon (July 24, 1:30pm to 2:30pm). I will not be at the San Diego Convention Center or participating on panels.

Why is that?

Short version: SDCC’s public-facing harassment policy is not all it could be, which I should have checked when Tor asked me to go. I didn’t (the request came though Tor, not the convention, so I spaced, basically), so when it came up later I was all, “well, fuck.” I mentioned this to Tor, and Tor worked it so I’ll be doing things off-campus, at events surrounding the convention. Tor is awesome.

There’s a longer version than this (much longer), but I’ll save that for later.

So no SDCC for you.

No being on the convention floor or wandering the corridors or loitering outside of Hall H looking for movie stars, no. I’ll be signing books for Tor to give away at their booth; I’ll be signing those in my hotel room, most likely. Now, note: My reading is off campus but is affiliated with the convention, as I understand it. But in that case, if someone acts like a harassing asshole at my event, I can have them bounced and reported.

What else will you be doing? 

We’re still in the process of locking down other appearances and events; when I have the full schedule I’ll update. Trust me, even without steeping foot into the convention proper, I won’t be hard to find in San Diego.