I'm not following the olympics this year but I AM following the Bob Costas eye situation, i.e., the most important news from Sochi.—
John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 12, 2014
Congratulations! Humanity has made it to Mars! And now, as they say, the real troubles are about to begin. For Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, the challenge was not in stranding his hero on the red planet. The challenge was making that stranding exciting and fun to read. How did he do it? Partially by what he didn’t do.
I’ve always had a great love of science, especially anything related to space travel. So it’s little surprise that my first book, The Martian, is about just that. The protagonist, Mark Watney, finds himself abandoned on Mars after his crewmates leave during a critical mission abort. Events conspire to convince the crew and NASA that he died in the disaster, but he is very much alive and needs to work out how to stay that way with the resources he has on hand.
It’s a very simple premise, and certainly one that’s been done before. It’s basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars. In fact, some of you Whatever readers might recall a movie from the 1960’s that was actually called Robinson Crusoe on Mars. That’s how unoriginal the concept is. But my “Big Idea,” such as it is, was to hit that premise with a hard sci-fi approach. I wanted to tackle the question of how a marooned astronaut might actually survive on Mars, using real science to back it up.
That’s where things got fun for me. Being a nerd, I love doing research and science to make sure everything is plausible. Every part of the book is as scientifically accurate as I could make it, from the energy consumption of a rover to the exact process for reducing hydrazine fuel to liberate the hydrogen with which the protagonist could make water.
I spent weeks on research. The hard part was not bragging about it to the reader in the pages of the book itself. “Hey! Reader! I wrote my own software to calculate constant-acceleration orbital trajectories so I could define the path Hermes took to get from Earth to Mars!” It was a constant internal battle to remind myself that the book should be fun to read, not a testament to my ability to do math. So I frustratingly had to leave the bulk of that information out. Though it did make me feel good inside my geeky little soul to know all the math checked out.
And doing all the math had an unexpected and awesome side effect. It provided me with half the plot events in the story. For instance: Mark has to trick out a rover so it has enough power to travel long distances. I could have just hand-waved things and said he made some minor mods like adding a spare battery from the second rover on site. But when I did the math, I discovered that even a backup battery wouldn’t give him enough power to get where he needed to go. That limitation gave Mark a whole new set of problems to tackle and forced him to come up with an ingenious solution that could actually work.
I almost feel like I cheated. I put numbers into equations and plot came out. And of course, poor Mark ended up the victim of every problem I could think of.
Then, there was the issue of exposition. The story features an enormous number of MacGyver-like solutions to complex problems, using space-mission equipment for purposes other than its design. How do I explain all that to the reader? Mark’s on Mars all by himself. He doesn’t have a plucky lab assistant to explain things to and thus inform the audience. The solution I hit on was telling the story mostly through log entries in his journal. And once I started doing that, the novel’s voice immediately fell into place: These were the words of a man who didn’t know if he was going to survive from one day to the next and therefore had no reason to censor himself. I already knew I wanted Mark to be an irreverent smart-ass, but once I had him directly addressing the reader in that format, that voice had found the perfect outlet and the humor started flowing.
I never intended for the book to be as funny as it ended up being, but looking back, I think it had to be—with a premise that has so much potential to be claustrophobic, it’s Mark’s voice and his gallows humor that keep things light and fun for the reader.
In the end, I guess “The Big Idea” is really simplicity: A man is trapped on Mars and wants to survive. Simple as that. It’s something the reader can immediately get behind. And my goal as a writer was equally simple: all I wanted was to do justice to that premise, to play fairly with it and explore all its implications. Following through on that goal ended up giving me all the plot twists and surprises I needed, along with a voice that would keep readers entertained and rooting for my hero.
I’m certainly no more qualified than anyone else to say whether that makes a good book or not, but I do know what I personally like to read—and I think I ended up with a book that readers like me will enjoy.
In the next week or two I am likely to step away from Whatever for several days for a personal project that will take place largely offline, i.e., you won’t see me here much if at all. When that happens you won’t notice any substantial change to the site, except a) very few posts, b) I am likely to disable commenting on new posts and put old posts on moderation, i.e., new comments will be sent into moderation and won’t appear until I have time to address them, which probably won’t be until the aforementioned project is completed. Don’t worry, I will remind people about this commenting change when it happens.
For the inevitable “what personal project?” questions, be aware it is not a euphemism for surgery or anything medical and/or sad like that, and that it is likely to involve at a guitar (at least). Beyond that, you’ll just have to wait until it is done for more details.
So there you have it. In the meantime, comment away as you usually do.
CINCINNATI (AP) — Four legally married gay couples filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday seeking a court order to force Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on birth certificates despite a statewide ban, echoing arguments in a similar successful lawsuit concerning death certificates.
The couples filed the suit in federal court in Cincinnati, arguing that the state’s practice of listing only one partner in a gay marriage as a parent on birth certificates violates the U.S. Constitution.
“We want to be afforded the same benefits and rights as every other citizen of the United States,” said one of the plaintiffs, Joe Vitale, 45, who lives in Manhattan with his husband and their adopted 10-month-old son, who was born in Ohio. The pair married in 2011 shortly after New York legalized gay marriage.
A spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office will fight the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Good for them; I hope the plaintiffs win. It’s embarrassing for the state I live in — and which I have lived in for a dozen years, and which I like quite a bit — not to offer equal rights to all of its citizens. Hopefully this takes us further down that road.
While I’m at it, good on the federal government for expanding benefits and services to married same-sex couples, even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their union (like, for instance, Ohio). I think it makes it more difficult for these states to continue the calumny that some marriages should be treated with more respect and recognition than others. Again: Good.
If your social consciousness seems stuck in 1975, 2014 is gonna be a rough ride.
— John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 10, 2014
So, uh, I may have accidentally deleted a bunch of comments from earlier today while dealing with a spam flood. So if you notice a comment you made suddenly having gone missing, it’s not that you were being moderated, it’s that I flubbed. Sorry. You can repost if you like.
What’s that? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the awesomeness that is me flying on a churrocorn. Yes, when a churro and a unicorn love each other very much, this is what you get. Plus me, flying on my deliciously cinnamon-y steed.
My friend Alisha is trying to help out an animal shelter local to her called Blessed Critters, who are doing a little bit of fund raising due to unexpected rising costs. Here’s what she wrote to me when she asked if I could boost the signal:
“I am asking for help for them because of our own personal experience. About a month ago, our recently adopted second dog began demonstrating strong aggressive, alpha behaviors, and we needed to remove her before she further injured our other dog, or decided to actually bite one of the children. We live in an area without a no-kill shelter, and we’ve been here only a short time. Cadie Hennig and Blessed Critters took our dog with no hesitations, even though they were already sheltering more than 30 dogs. They took the time to find out all of Sam’s good features, and have been working to retrain her. They clearly love the animals that they are housing – dogs, cats, goats, and/or whatever else needs a home. Over the last several months they have been facing increasing difficulties, but they keep working on faith. I’m hoping that your readers might be able to help them.”
Check out their fundraising page, and if you think it’s a worthy cause, consider giving them a donation.
I realize that yesterday’s announcement of the Redshirts TV series was a little light on the details on my end — I was literally about to walk out the door for the day when I saw it — so for those of you who were craving additional detail, here you are, in a handy Q & A form.
Dude, did you know?
Yes, and yes, someone did actually ask me this, although to be fair I think it was more of the excitement of the moment than actual cluelessness.
To expand on that answer, yes, I did know, because it’s my book and nothing regarding my intellectual property gets done (legally, anyway) without my consent. I was caught a little by surprise by the specific timing of the announcement, but I knew the announcement was coming.
Why didn’t you let us know?
Because part of the deal with signing for a TV series is that you keep quiet until the official announcement. Also, you know. You don’t want to announce something before all the “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed. And that takes a bit of time. And also patience, which I am not good at, but oh, well.
How long has this been going on?
There’s been interest in Redshirts pretty much from the moment it dropped. I remember being on tour, landing in LA and getting three e-mails in rapid sequence, one from my editor telling me we hit the NY Times hardcover bestseller list, one from a producer telling me he wanted a meeting, and another from my film/tv agent telling me I need to call him immediately. So that was nice. We spent a lot of time fielding offers on this one.
This particular deal got into high gear after Redshirts won the Hugo. After that happened, in relatively quick order (for Hollywood) Jon Shestack and Ken Kwapis put together a package and pitched it to FX, who took it on. And then came the Great Contractual Negotiation Period, which in Hollywood can last for some time, out of which we are now just emerging.
(This is, incidentally, a useful data point for people who argue whether or not winning a Hugo means anything outside the SF/F nerd tribe; in this case, yes, it really did. I expect this will start another round of gnashing and fuming and wailing about the award.)
How do you feel about the others involved in the deal?
I feel very good about them. I’ve known Jon Shestack for some time; he’s been a fan of my work for years, which is a positive thing when it comes to adapting a book for the screen. Among everything else Ken Kwapis has done, he directed the finale of The Office, and has likewise directed episodes of Parks and Recreation, Malcolm in the Middle, Freaks and Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show. He gets how humor works on television. And FX — well, they’ve been on a roll recently, haven’t they, with their shows? There’s nothing here I don’t like.
(There is one other principal involved: Alexandra Beattie, who is Ken Kwapis’ producing partner, and who I know little about other than her imdb page. However I have no doubt she is awesome.)
One of the reasons these things take time is that there is no point doing a deal just to do a deal; you want to have people working on it that you think can do justice to the material and who can actually get it out to the world. This is a good team. I’m happy to hand my work over to them and work to get it on screen.
How involved will you be with the series?
I’ll be an executive producer and consultant for the series, which means I will be involved to a fair degree. More than that I can’t say, not to be mysterious about it but because these are early days and we still have a lot to figure out, not the least of which is what my schedule is going to be for the rest of 2014. I have a book to write in there somewhere, you know.
Are you going to move to LA, sleep with starlets and get hooked on blow?
The answer to all the above is “probably not.” Depending on my level of involvement I may eventually spend more time in LA than I do, but have no plans to move on a permanent basis. I’m a little old and set in my ways to start doing cocaine. And regardless of any personal desire to sleep with starlets (which is pretty low in any event), I don’t imagine any starlets will wish to sleep with me. That’s fair.
When will this make it to TV?
Dunno. We have a lot to do, including finding writers, producing a script FX likes, and so on. Having a deal in place doesn’t mean you’re on screen in a flash. I’d like to think it will take the time it takes to get it right.
Are you worried they are going to ruin the book?
No. The book is done and won’t change, for better or worse. The TV series will be an adaptation of the book, and will follow the book to a greater or lesser extent depending on the needs of the series. You should right now get used to the idea that the series will not exactly mirror the book.
Also, keep in your mind that changes that might happen won’t automatically suck. TV is a different medium than novels; each have advantages and disadvantages. We’re going to make a version of Redshirts for television that (hopefully) takes maximum advantage of the medium’s potential.
Hey, you should cast [insert name here]!
We’re not at casting yet. Be assured I have my own wish list for people to be in the show, which I will communicate to the others involved. There’s no guarantee people on my wish list will make it into the show, however, for all sorts of various reasons (they may not be available. They may not want to be involved. They may be attacked by an ice shark between now and then. Etc).
I will totally sleep with you to be involved in this series.
Thanks! I’m taken. And, yeah. Not the way I do things, I gotta say.
How do I get involved with this series, not involving sleeping with you?
If you’re a writer? I suppose you would have your people get in touch with Kwapis/Beattie’s people. Everyone else: Wait, I think. They’ll cast/staff as appropriate to whatever stage we’re at.
I should note that I am not at this point (or, really, likely in the future to be) responsible for any staffing decisions. So trying to butter me up or work through me on this is not likely to have the result you want, and will probably eventually annoy me.
Did you make piles of money off your deal?
(Yes, people ask.)
I’m happy with the deal financially, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed it. Beyond that I’m going to keep mum about the details, if you don’t mind (and even if you do). I will say that as with most deals involving Hollywood, the real payday is on the backend. So let’s hope it gets done.
I think Redshirts was awful and you don’t deserve this.
Ha! Sucks to be you, then.
That’s great about Redshirts, but don’t you also have a deal in Hollywood for Old Man’s War? What’s up with that?
Finally: Thank you, everyone, for all your congratulations and good wishes yesterday and today. I’m really happy about this. And I’m glad you all seem to be happy about it too.
It’s all true. It will happen to your kid too.
Midnight Rises being the graphic novel I wrote (and which Mike Choi illustrates) set in the same universe as, and immediately preceding the events of, Midnight Star, the video game I am working on with Industrial Toys, which is currently out to beta testers (of which I am one. Dudes. It is too much fun).
Midnight Rises is also in beta, of sorts, because we’re using the whiz-bang possibilities of the mobile interface to do very exciting things with the graphic novel and the story — in ways that will have a direct influence on the video game itself. That’s right, the graphic novel and the game talk to each other. It’s pretty cool.
In any event, I was going through my copy of the graphic novel and I came across the scene in which this particular dialogue bubble pops up. And I thought to myself, “Yup, I definitely wrote that.” So if you’re wondering if the Scalzi writing sensibility is going to make the transition to graphic novels more or less intact, well, here’s your first clue.
As for the rest of it: I’m really really really excited to show it to you. I am assured I will get to do that soon. I cannot wait.
I was asked via email if I had any thoughts on this year’s Winter Olympics. The short answer is yes: I’m sitting them out. The longer version is that the unfathomable graft and incompetence and horrible homophobic bigotry that surrounds this particular iteration of the Olympics has massively swamped my usual benign indifference to the thing. Usually I don’t care about the Olympics, but I see them as harmless and don’t mind if they occasionally impinge on my consciousness. This time I’m actively disgusted by them and will go out of my way to avoid them. I’m not going to be entirely successful because I live in the modern world, where unless you choose to crouch in a hole, information will find you. The difference is that the information is going to have to work to get itself in front of me, and I will resent it when it does.
This is the point at which one swans about the need to reimagine the Olympic games, to get them back to their ideal of friendly competition between nations, blah blah blah insert Chariots of Fire soundtrack here, but, come on. It’s too late for that. The Olympic Games are what they are: a floating, rotating boondoggle-shaped shitcake of graft, venality and cronyism, with a spotty icing of athleticism spread thinly on the top to mask the taste of the shit as it goes down the gullet. Barring some sort of active revolution, that’s not going to change. Sochi’s problem is that this time, they heaped extra shit into the cake and skimped on the icing, and what icing it has is also made of shit. You can’t mask the taste. At this point it’s not worth it to try.
So I’m out. The Olympics won’t miss me, to be sure. The feeling is mutual.
I mentioned to a friend recently that one of the reasons I liked playing the tenor guitar — the slightly smaller, four-string variant of the instrument — is that aside from the fact it’s less complicated, it’s also fairly unique; not a lot of other people out there play one, so when I show up somewhere with one, it’s always a fun topic of conversation. I realize this makes me sound like a musical hipster (“oh, this thing? It’s a kind of obscure instrument. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it before”), but I don’t mean it that way, honest. I merely mean to say it’s fun to bring something different to the party.
The flipside of having a moderately obscure instrument, however, is that it does limit things, access-wise. There are dozens of guitar makers out there, making all sorts of acoustic guitars; for tenor guitars, there’s really only two companies making them in any quantity (Blueridge and Gold Tone), and while they’re fine guitars — I have a Blueridge and Krissy has a Gold Tone — they’re not particularly cheap, and the prices for tenor guitars go up from there. I have a dream of one day getting an eight-string tenor guitar, very much like a 12-string, but to do that I will probably have to commission it from a luthier, and I shudder to think how much that might cost.
It’s an instrument with a high(ish) cost of entry, in other words. I’ll note I sort of backed into having a tenor guitar by playing ukulele first and then stringing my tenors like ukes, and ukes, at least, are relatively cheap. So maybe that’s the way in for other folks too. But otherwise I think the tenor guitar is destined to remain a specialty instrument, and that’s a shame. I like that I’m playing an unusual instrument, but I wouldn’t mind a few other people in my quirky tribe.
Lots from Baen today, as well the ARC of the latest novel from the fabulous Mary Robinette Kowal. What looks good to you?
The Nebula Award nomination period ends on February 15, and the Hugo/Campbell Award nomination period is well underway (it lasts until March 31), and several other awards are in their consideration periods as well. Which makes right now an excellent time for fans of the science fiction and fantasy genre to make their recommendations for books, stories, art, movies and TV shows, fanzines and podcasts to nominate for this year’s slate of awards.
And so, here’s have a thread to make those recommendations. I’ve done this for a few years now, and every year it offers up recommendations worth considering when the time comes to make one’s own award nominations.
What and how should you recommend? Here are the thread rules:
1. Please make sure that what you’re suggesting, work or person, is actually eligible for awards consideration this year. Generally speaking that means the work was published (or otherwise produced) in the last calendar year (i.e., 2013); for the Campbell, it means someone who has been professionally published in the SF/F field in the last two years (2012, 2013). If you’re not sure what you’re suggesting is eligible, please check. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and the time of everyone reading the thread for recommendations.
Also, it’s helpful if, when making a suggestion, you identify the category the work would be eligible for; so if you were going to suggest a novel, writing “Best Novel: [name of work, author of work]” up front would be awesome. This is especially useful in short fiction categories, where there are short stories, novelettes and novellas.
With regard to the Hugos, here’s a list of current categories (The Campbell Award for Best New Writer is not noted there but is present on the Hugo nomination form). However, this thread is not just for Nebulas and Hugos. Feel free to recommend for other awards as well. I would particularly note this year Detcon1 (this year’s NASFiC) is promoting an award for Young Adult/Middle Grade SF/F books, and that SFWA also has a YA award called the Norton. So YA/MG recommendations would be useful here as well.
2. If the work you’re suggesting is (legally) readable online, feel free to provide a link, but note that too many links in one post (usually three or more) might send your post into the moderation queue, from whence I will have to free it in order for it to show up. If this happens, don’t panic, I’ll be going through the moderation queue frequently today to let posts out.
3. Only suggest the work of others. Self-suggestions will be deleted from the thread. If you want to suggest something you created, use the creators thread instead. This should not dissuade writers and creators from recommend other people’s work, of course. Please do!
4. Don’t suggest my work, please. I’ve already posted here about what of mine is eligible; this thread is for everything else.
5. The comment thread is only for making recommendations, not for commentary on the suggestions others are making or anything else. Extraneous, not-on-topic posts will be snipped out of the thread.
There you have it.
And now: What do you recommend for science fiction and fantasy awards this year? Please share. The more people know what’s out there, the better the overall field of nominees has the potential to be. Thank you!
My neighbor drives a snowplow for the county, which means this winter he has been very very busy. We’re supposed to get between six and ten inches of snow tonight, and as you can see my neighbor is so very ready for it. Good for him. I myself will probably just stay in bed all day tomorrow. I think it’s better for everyone that way.
— John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 4, 2014
In other news, I just realized that rather than posting a picture here and on Twitter, I can post the picture on Twitter and then just embed the tweet here. (Smacks head)
Anything look good to you? Share in the comments.
I’m drilling down into this novella today, so while I’m off banging it out, a question for the writers in the crowd:
What’s some good advice you’ve gotten on the craft of writing? I’m not talking airy, metaphysical revelations that someone dropped into your skull on what writing means, or anything like that. I mean, actual useful tips on the practical matters of stringing words together, and then editing them. Stuff anyone can implement to improve their writing.
Here’s mine, which I received from an editor whose name is now unfortunately lost in the pudding that is my forebrain: Read what you’ve written out loud. I’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating. Reading what you’ve written out loud will allow you to catch basic copy errors that your brain will skip over (your brain knows what you meant to write, after all, as opposed to what you actually did write), and will also let you know if, for example, something you’ve written as dialogue actually sounds like people speaking (good!), or like exposition sandwiched between two quote marks (bad).
When I read what I write out loud, I reduce my copy editor’s burden substantially. When I don’t, I end up getting e-mail, tweets and comments from people letting me know I’ve made some basic, stupid copy error. Don’t let this happen to you.
So that was some very good, practical, “craft of writing” advice I’ve gotten. What good, practical writing advice have you gotten? Answer in the comments.