Reader Request Week 2017 #3: Utopias

Ken Baker asks:

If you don’t mind a question about another writer’s work: The Culture in Iain M. Banks’ series of novels is depicted as a Utopia. There is no need for money or laws, virtually any material thing anyone wants is available for the asking, everyone is beautiful and lives a long, happy life (except sometimes for people who are actively involved in other cultures and civilizations).

That all sounds nice. But, assuming the necessary technology eventually exists, human nature being what it is, is this a realistic future? And would a life free from all challenge be a satisfying life?

I’ll answer with specific regard to Banks, and then assay the general concept of utopias and humans.

First, with regard to The Culture, I don’t think it’s a universe free from all challenges; there are plenty of challenges and adventures that people in The Culture may choose to take. Indeed, in The Hydrogen Sonata, our main character has spent her life — and modified her body — to attempt the performance of the musical piece that gives the book its title, and is notoriously difficult for anyone with fewer than four arms to attempt. Now, maybe you might argue that this isn’t a true challenge, but I don’t know; most people don’t specifically radically change their physiognomy to do a specific thing if they don’t consider it a central challenge to their life.

The difference between the challenges of The Culture and the challenges of, say, current life on this planet is that the ground level of the challenges of The Culture are elevated from basic needs. Here in the US, the ground level challenge is to achieve the economic means to stay alive and comfortable — get a job that gets you money so you can pay for food, shelter, education, medical needs, and so on. Failing this ground level challenge means going hungry and/or lacking a home and/or dying early from otherwise avoidable heath issues and/or being trapped in a cycle of poverty, along with your children, who inherit your ground level challenges.

The Culture gets rid of those particular ground level challenges, so the question now becomes: What are your challenges when you don’t worry about, say, starving or dying early? It’s not that there are no challenges. It’s just that the challenges don’t end with you dead in an alleyway because you can’t afford to eat.

Indeed (and to now generalize) this is what utopias for humans essentially are: The removal of physical want and need to allow the multiplicity of operative choice. Choices can be challenges and many humans desire challenges — things which offer (or at the very least, appear to offer) meaning and achievement to one’s life. So even in a utopia there should be challenges galore. Otherwise one may meaningfully argue that the society isn’t a utopia at all. Utopias, in my opinion, minimize want, not choice and opportunity for achievement.

One may even argue that utopias should offer more opportunities for personally meaningful challenges because baseline needs are sorted, and that these additional challenges might seem frivolous to someone who is just surviving, but for the citizens of the utopia might have actual meaning. If you don’t think that’s possible, ask yourself why the Super Bowl and the Oscars draw in millions of viewers every single year, when the “achievement” those participating in it gain is based fundamentally on entertaining others. They both have meaning because of their context in a society that allows for enough wealth and leisure time to allow exceptional entertainment skills to become an achievement. Your ancestors on the savanna would would look at on Oscar as a useless shiny thing, and in their context, they’d be entirely correct. In our context, it’s still shiny, but not useless. And in a utopia, maybe an award for, say, origami is one of the highest achievements one could aspire to, because why not? In a utopia, that sort of cleverness and dexterity could be (literally) prized.

(Before anyone notes it: There are already awards for origami. They just aren’t widely known outside their specific community, he said, looking at his own shelf of community-specific awards.)

Here’s an important thing to note about utopias, which I think is often overlooked (although not by Banks, as he wrote up The Culture): Utopias still have humans in them, which means that not everyone in them is going to be happy all the time. If you eliminate certain needs and wants, the part of the brain that focuses on achieving those needs and wants (or alternately desiring them) will focus on some other subject, and will be happy or unhappy about that. People will still have doubts and longing and desire and unhappiness to the same extent they do now. They just won’t worry they’ll, you know, starve.

How am I confident about this? Because some people already live in a utopia: In our world, they’re called “rich people.” Rich people (usually) have their baselines sorted don’t have to worry about food and shelter and health care and such things; they lead enviable lives with lots of opportunity for leisure. But in my experience they’re not always happy, and their lives are not always problem-free. They have exchanged one set of problems for another, and while their problems are ones many people wish they had, they still weigh on the mind. In a utopia, where the baseline standard of living is the same as that of, say, a tech firm VP living in Irvine, California, people will still have problems. Maybe better problems. But still problems.

And I suspect that’s why, when people actually live in a culture that seems utopian to us, here in the early 21st Century, they won’t recognize or appreciate it as utopian, any more than we recognize that the average life of a 21st century American citizen is utopian to, as an example, a European serf in the 11th century (“You can leave the estate? What? There are no estates? And you have all your teeth and don’t have tumors on your face? And everyone can read? And what is this ‘cell phone’ thing you have? MY GOD MUSIC AND PICTURES ARE COMING FROM IT IS IT POSSESSED”). For the people of a utopia, it will just be… life. And they will wonder what it will be like for the people who finally get to live in a utopia, centuries away from their own experience.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 4/10/17

Catching up on some books that arrived while I was away on tour. What here looks intriguing to you? Tell me in the comments!

Reader Request Week 2017 #2: Those Darn Millennials

Srs asks:

Many people over a certain age have the opinion that Millennials think they know it all/have overly inflated self-esteem/etc because they were given participation trophies when they were young. Do you think this opinion has any basis in fact?


One, of course, an older generation being angry at the Millennials for the participation trophies they handed out to them is both ironic and stupid. Two, I’m of the opinion that participation trophies and ribbons are generally more important to parents than to kids, because everyone wants to believe their child is special (i.e., that they’re not fucking up as parents), and they want some concrete manifestation of this.

Three, participation trophies and ribbons are neither new — I got a few when I was a kid, and I’ll note that no one really gave a crap about them then — nor are they given solely to Those Damn Kids™: Go to any running event you care to attend and you’ll see that everyone who runs gets a medal, pretty much for registering for the event. Congratulations! You can fill out a form! And why not? Everyone likes swag, and that’s basically all these things are. It could have been a t-shirt, but I guess runners like medals more. Or maybe they get both! Honestly, I don’t run unless I have to. I don’t know.

Four, it’s just the Millennials’ time in the tube, which is to say that every generation of younger people gets shit on by the olds, and right now it’s the Millennials. I remember being in my early 20s and watching everyone throw up their hands at Gen-X; they called us “slackers” and wondered if we were ever going to get real jobs or just sit around in flannel listening to those damn grungy bands or whatever. Prior to that, of course, the Baby Boomers were all hippies, with their damn free love and marijuana, and before them were those beatniks, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda Jesus Christ it’s all so predictable you could set a clock, or at least a few Time magazine covers, by it.

I think it’s pretty stupid, and in the particular case of the Millennials, I have a fair amount of sympathy for them as a generational cohort. For the last few decades we’ve been making it more difficult for people to get ahead economically — the choices are to go to college, and get saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of non-dischargable debt right out of the gate, or not go to college, and then mostly never have a job that makes more than $30k a year. When you pull shit like that, of course Millennials are generally going to be broke and not, say, buying houses or squirting out kids at the same point in life as earlier generations.

Add on to that the general New Gilded Age we live in, in which the vast majority of income growth in the last couple of decades has gone to the top few percent while at the same time life costs have spiraled up (tried to rent in NYC or SF or LA or other places where jobs that pay well actually are these days), and yeah. Stop shitting on the Millennials for the awful hand they’ve been dealt, which they (largely) had no part in dealing. If I were in the business of assigning blame to generational cohorts, I’d be pointing fingers at the Boomers rather more than the Millennials; they’ve been the ones with the cards for a while now.

Beyond this, I know my fair share of Millennials, and utterly unsurprisingly, as individuals they are all over the board. Some are slackers. Some are hugely industrious. Some are fuck-ups and some are not. Some are people who I care for and love, and others are people I would be happy never to see again. In my experience they have roughly the same proportions of varieties of the human experience as any other generational cohort, because people are people, and the Millennials are people.

So, basically, all this backhanding the Millennials is bullshit. They’re generally doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and participation trophies don’t have much to do with it one way or the other. Or if they do, it’s because of this: Because an earlier generation decided to give them participation trophies, but keep all the other prizes for themselves.

But thanks for playing, Millennials! And don’t worry: society will be dumping on the kids who come after you soon enough.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)

Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis

It’s time to begin this year’s Reader Request Week, and let’s start with something punchy, shall we? Janne Peltonen asks:

What do you think of the whole ‘punching Nazis in the face’ phenomenon? I found it very confusing. It seemed to me to be mostly about performance (‘let’s show the power-hungry extremists that we resist’) but is that reason enough to cross the line to actual physical political violence?

Well, I have two answers for that.

One: the starchy old Believer in the Actual First Amendment me believes that even Nazis have the right to peaceful assembly, physically unmolested, and that indeed this is the very essence of the First Amendment: that even the morally repulsive have a right to trot out their fetid wares in the public marketplace and see who wants to buy them, and that everyone else’s job is to make sure other people see those shitty ideas they’re peddling for what they are. Constitutionally speaking, provided the Nazis are peacefully assembling, people should not be punching Nazis just for being Nazis, and having Nazi views.

Two: I find it positively delightful people out there are punching Nazis, and could watch (for example) pathetic wannaNazi shitball Richard Spencer get punched for hours. And have! My understanding is this weekend Spencer got himself punched up again, and once more I find this utterly delightful. Nazis being punched will never not bring a smile to my face. Go get punched some more, Spencer! You certainly deserve it, you mountainous pile of crap.

“But Scalzi,” I hear you say, “how can you think both that Nazis should have the right to peaceably assemble, and that it’s delightful when Nazis get punched? Isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t that make you a complete hypocrite?”

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: I recognize that there’s a difference between what I believe is correct intellectually and philosophically, and what makes me feel good emotionally. Intellectually and philosophically, I stand foursquare with the First Amendment, and the right of even Nazis to have their spot in the political conversation of the nation. Emotionally, I find Nazis, whatever you want to call them — today we’re calling them “alt-right,” although that appellation is already past its “sell-by” date and no doubt some of the more marketing-savvy in that crowd are already casting about for a new label to brand their strain of racist fascism — repulsive, and the whiny, privileged, smugly awful, college dorm devil’s advocate alt-right variation of it particularly annoying. They’re assholes. So when one of their number gets punched, I feel pretty good about it, like I would when any asshole who deserves a punching gets what they deserve.

Are these two positions reconcilable? Well, I don’t know that they have to be reconcilable. There are lots of gaps between that things I believe intellectually and the things I feel emotionally. I know intellectually speaking that broccoli is nutritionally better for me than gummi worms, but emotionally gummi worms make me happier. I know intellectually speaking my preference for Levis over Lee jeans is pointless as they are essentially the same product with the same intent, but emotionally I don’t want to be seen in Lee jeans because they’re not me. Intellectually there is no superiority of the music of Journey over, say, that of Big and Rich, but I know which band’s greatest hits album emotionally affects me more.

Do these positions need to be reconciled? I don’t necessarily think so. I acknowledge them and accept the dichotomy. Now, there is an argument here is that there’s a difference between preferring gummy bears to broccoli, and believing Nazis have a First Amendment right to assembly and yet still being happy with them being punched. I wouldn’t disagree, although I note in this formulation, it’s a difference in degree, not kind. Fundamentally, I think we all have various places where we recognize and should acknowledge we have a gap between what we believe is correct intellectually (or philosophically, or morally), and what feels good to us emotionally.

This is one of mine. Nazis’ right to peaceable assembly is guaranteed under the First Amendment and they should not be punched merely for existing and being Nazis, and when they do get punched in public for being fucking Nazis, I feel just fine about it.

Now: Should there be consequences for the person who is battering the Nazi? Sure; they should be prosecuted for battery, assuming they are caught, and if convicted, they should do their time. On the flip side: Is it possible my intellectual and philosophical position re: the First Amendment right of Nazis to be in the public discourse is grounded in the fact that as a well-off straight white dude, I’m near last on the list of people that (specific obsessed and envious loser stalkers aside) the Nazis or other bigots are likely going to have a problem with? Again, sure. It’s easy for me to be sanguine about bigots and racists when I’m not directly in their line of fire. I don’t feel the same level of threat — and I don’t factually have the same level of threat — from them that other people do. It’s easy to say “even the hateful have a place in the discourse” when the hate isn’t focused on you, or is likely ever to be in a very serious way, and that is a thing I don’t think people like me appreciate on a gut level. We are free riders, in a very real sense, regarding the intellectual question of how the principle of free speech interacts with a philosophy founded on the idea that you are less than human, and deserve less than full human rights.

And yes, we here in the US are in a moment right now, thank you Trump voters, where everyone who isn’t a well-off straight white male can be seriously asking themselves whether this administration and its enablers actually believe they should get all the rights someone like I have as a matter of course. I’m not the one who is going to be asked to give over his phone and passwords coming back into the US. I’m not the one whose ability to control what happens to his body is being questioned, again. I’m not the one whose ability to pee in safety is being hauled up for discussion. I’m not the one who will have any difficulty being able to jump through state-erected hoops in order to vote. And so on. The Trump administration has racists, sexists and bigots whispering into the president’s ear (and the president himself is a real piece of work on these scores as well). So many people who kept their active racism, sexism and bigotry under a rock are now gleefully exulting in it. Is it a threat? Is it a threat that needs to be met with a punch or two? Not for me. I think other people might have a different thought on it, and an argument that the threat to them isn’t just one that exists in their feelings.

I think the next obvious question here is (and one I think that’s implied): Would I punch a Nazi? Unprompted, probably not. If one was coming at me or people with the intent to start a fight, I would feel fine defending myself or those near me. But again, that’s not peaceable assembly, now, is it? We move off the First Amendment square there, into another area entirely. Short of that, I’m not likely to be the one to throw the first punch. I might think about it, and how fun it would be. But I’ll stick to enjoying the YouTube videos. They are indeed lovely.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)

Today’s View From a Window

Not from a hotel window, from one of my house’s windows. Because I get to be home for a whole week! Whatever shall I do with myself?

(Sleep, mostly.)

Also, remember that I am doing the Reader Request Week starting tomorrow, so get your questions in — here’s the place to do that.

And also, tomorrow at 2pm Eastern I’m doing a Facebook Live event on the Tor UK Facebook page. If you want to get a question in for me there, too, here’s the page, which features instructions.

But today: time for a nap.

View From a Hotel Window 4/8/17: Madison

A lovely, sunny day in the Midwest.

Tonight Madisonians and those who choose to come into the city will have the opportunity to see me at 7pm at the Central Library. Why not take advantage of the opportunity? It will be lovely to see you!

Tomorrow, I am home. For a whole week! It’s Holy Week (i.e, the run-up to Easter), so scheduling events is kind of iffy. But then I’m back on the road on the 17th, in Santa Fe. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you next week, promise.

View From a Hotel Window 4/7/17: Northampton

Perhaps the most inspiring view yet! Don’t worry, the hotel room itself is pretty nice.

I’m in Northampton at the moment but tonight’s event is in South Hadley, at Odyssey Bookstore, at 7pm, with me, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch. Our plan as I understand it is to sit around and talk about the writing life for a while and then answer questions from the audience. Like you do! Come on down, we’re going to have a lot of fun and probably you will too.

Tomorrow: I get on a plane and land in Madison, Wisconsin, where I will be at the Central Library at 7pm, sponsored by the Wisconsin Book Festival and A Room Of One’s Own. Please visit me, Madison, I don’t want to be lonely in Wisconsin.

Reader Request Week 2017: Get Your Questions In!

Next week, rather than being on tour for some or all of the week, I will be home the entire time, which makes it the perfect time to have my annual Reader Request Week! So let’s do this thing, shall we?

For those of you just catching up, Reader Request Week is when you suggest topics for me to write about, and I pick from the requests. What topics can you request? Well, anything: politics, social stuff, personal questions, silly things, things you wish I’d talk about but never do, and so on. Whatever topic you want to request, go ahead and request it. I’ll sort through the requests and start posting my responses, starting Monday, April 10.

While any topic is up for request, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, when you’re making your topic selections.

1. Quality, not quantity. Don’t just splotz out a list of very general topics you think I should cover; I’ll likely ignore it. I’m much more likely to respond to a request that is thought-out, specific and requests something interesting. Give it some thought, is what I’m saying.

2. Writing questions are given a lower priority. Because I write about writing all the time, don’t I? That said, if you ask a really interesting question or make a particularly intriguing request involving writing, I will consider it. Just know the bar is higher here.

3. Don’t request topics I’ve recently written about. I’ve included the last five years of Reader Request topics below so you can see which ones are probably not going to be answered again. That said, if you want to ask a follow-up to any of the topics below, that’s perfectly acceptable as a topic. Also, for those of you wondering how to make a request, each of the posts features the request in it, so you can see what’s worked before.

How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it).

Please don’t send requests via Twitter/Facebook/Google+, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.

Reader Request Week is usually one of my favorite weeks of the year here at Whatever, because it’s fun to see what you come up with in terms of questions, and often makes me think about things I wouldn’t otherwise have thought about. So thank you in advance for coming out of left field for these.

Here are the Reader Request Weeks from the last few years, if you want to catch up and/or be aware of topics already recently addressed:

From 2012:

Reader Request Week 2012 #1: Snark and Insult
Reader Request Week 2012 #2: Would I Lie to You?
Reader Request Week 2012 #3: Why I’m Glad I’m Male
Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof
Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods
Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out
Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame
Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2012 #9: Writery Short Bits

From 2013:

Reader Request Week 2013 #1: Further Thoughts on Fame and Success
Reader Request Week 2013 #2: Regrets
Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures
Reader Request Week 2013 #4: College Education (And Costs Therein)
Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan
Reader Request Week 2013 #6: Intuition
Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid
Reader Request Week 2013 #8: Whatever Topics and Comments
Reader Request Week 2013 #9: Women and Geekdom
Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits

From 2014:

Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me
Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud
Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy
Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader
Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery
Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things
Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence
Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?
Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits
Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

From 2015: 

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not
Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux
Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women
Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me
Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans
Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement
Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass
Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

From 2016:

Reader Request Week 2016 #1: Living Where I Do
Reader Request Week 2016 #2: Will Humans Survive?
Reader Request Week 2016 #3: How, and If, I Will Be Remembered
Reader Request Week 2016 #4: Autonomous Cars
Reader Request Week 2016 #5: Pronouns
Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs
Reader Request Week 2016 #7: Writers and Ego
Reader Request Week 2016 #8: STEM and STEAM
Reader Request Week 2016 #9: Short Bits on Writing
Reader Request Week 2016 #10: Small Bits

So: What do you want to know this time around? Let me know in the comments. Looking forward to what you ask!

View From a Hotel Window, 4/6/17: Concord

Today, another parking lot, but an extra-fancy parking lot because it has Tesla chargers in it. I’m getting all the swank, people.

Tonight: Gibson’s Bookstore in currently rainy Concord, New Hampshire. 7pm. My understanding is that there will be pie. Oh, yes. Pie.

Tomorrow: South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Odyssey Bookstore, where, if you attend the event, you’ll get not one, not two, but three authors for the price of one, since Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch will also be there for fun and festivities. Come on down and see us engage in hilarious hijinks!

View From a Hotel Window, 4/5/17: Brookline

Today’s view is an interior one, into a little courtyard that features a large chess set. Wacky!

Tonight’s event: Brookline, Massachusetts, at the Brookline Booksmith bookstore. Boston, bring yourself and every single human you’ve ever met.

Tomorrow: Concord, New Hampshire and Gibson’s Bookstore. Come along! I understand there will be pie.

View From a Hotel Window, 4/4/17: Cleveland!

Ah, the classic parking lot view. So relaxing.

We had a bit of excitement today when my connecting flight into Cleveland was delayed until 5pm (from 2:30 pm originally), which means as I write this, it still hasn’t taken off. It leaving then would have meant I would have missed commitments, so I ended up renting a car in Detroit and driving into the Cleveland area. I arrived basically when my connecting flight would have taken off, so technically, I’m ahead of schedule! Go me.

Tonight’s event is at 7pm at the Parma-Snow branch of the Cuyahoga Public Library. If you’re in the Cleveland area, please come to see me.

Tomorrow: Boston! Or more accurate, Brookline, which is close enough. I’ll be at Brookline Booksmith for an evening of wacky hijinks. Please come see me.

Also, hey, did you know this year’s Hugo finalists are out? They are, and generally speaking it’s a very excellent ballot! Mind you, there’s still a couple of attempts by assholes to be assholes to everyone, but, as the kids might say, lol, that shit’s going below “No Award” like it has for the last few years. Meanwhile everything else looks pretty good. Congratulations to all my friends and the other excellently talented folks who have made the ballot this year. I’m proud of you.

The Big Idea: Griffin Barber

Never sass Eric Flint about his bestselling “1632” universe — or you might find yourself co-writing a book with him! Or so Griffin Barber tell us in this Big Idea, about the genesis of his collaboration with Flint: 1636: Mission to the Mughals.


About eight years ago, I met Charles Gannon at The World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Chuck, as his friends call him, had just finished separate collaborations with Steve White and Eric Flint, and was very much on the rise. He was also kind, generous with his time, and excellent company for a drink or three. During the course of the convention, we discovered a shared love of role playing games, history, and science fiction. While we were there, he read some of my work and told me that I should write for The Grantville Gazette the magazine of Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe.

Standing on my vertically challenged high horse, I poo-pooed the very idea, telling him with great certainty, “I don’t even like time travel!”

Two years later, I had seen the light Chuck kept on for me, and had the first short story I ever submitted for publication appear in The Grantville Gazette. The next WorldCon was in Chicago and hosted the 1632 MiniCon, where Eric and the other writers of the 1632 universe get together and discuss plans and the publishing schedule for the next year or so.

Sitting toward the back and considering the fact the Mughals had just begun construction on the Taj Mahal around 1632, I raised my hand and asked Eric and the other novelists and editors, “What’s going on in Mughal India?”

“We don’t know, write it,” Eric quipped.

My first thought was an aggressive: “Challenge me, will you?”

Two years of research and a couple more short stories set in India for the Gazette, and I had Eric’s full attention. I wrote an outline for the novel, which he changed a bit and then approved. Researching still, I began writing the book.

I am sometimes pretty slow on the uptake. Like, walking-into-a-minefield-and-forgetting-which-route-I-used-slow.

It wasn’t until I started really getting into the book that I realized the many pitfalls and hot-button issues I had signed up to navigate:

Three major world religions. Well, four, really. And that doesn’t count the major and minor sects of Islam. The repercussions of the conflicts between these religions and sects are to this day being felt out on the world stage.

The systematic cultural and religious oppression in every aspect of ninety-nine percent of women’s lives.

Slavery on a scale that truly boggles the mind.

The castration of vast numbers of juveniles.

The caste system.

Once I stopped shaking (but not whining to my friends), I decided to tackle some small part of those challenges the best way I knew how:

By working with only the very strongest of female characters who make their place in the world, even against the strongest opposition.

By showing even the most vilified of history’s figures were human, and history might have been different, had their choices been better, the choices they had to make easier, and the cultural framework they were working from had allowed them to see the evil that would follow.

By avoiding the pitfall of making the Up-timers, descendants of white Europeans, the ‘saviors’ of the peoples of India.

And, lastly, by being true to my understanding of the history, religions, cultures, and figures that made all the those horrible things possible yet created monuments and art of such stunning beauty they remain among the most admired to this day.

Once I had written my bit, Eric took over. He polished, corrected, and added to it, making it far better than I could have hoped to do on my own.

What we ended up with was a tale that revolved around Princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of the Emperor Shah Jahan, her role in society, and interactions within the royal family and court. Her actions form the backbone of the book, with the information brought from the future by the up-timers putting the first cracks in foundation of the wall that circumscribes her world.
Cracks she will use to shatter the wall in future books.

Ultimately, we hope to have told a tale that gives readers plenty of adventure and fun while remaining respectful of the history, religions, and people that made Mughal India so fascinating. That said, we hope you will enjoy 1636: Mission to the Mughals.


1636: Mission to the Mughals: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

Kristine, 4/3/17

She photographs well. Also, if the writing thing doesn’t work out, I think I might have a future in department store portrait photography. Presuming there are any department stores left in the near future.

“What? You’re Going Back On Tour? Again?”

As you can see, Sugar is shocked, shocked, that I will once again be leaving the house to head out into the world for more tour stops. Trust me, that’s the cat version of very concerned.

Tonight’s stop: Dayton! This is a hometown stop at Book & Co. in Beavercreek. 7pm.

Tomorrow: Parma (near Cleveland) at the Cuyahoga Public Library. This is free event but you need to register, and you can do so at this link.

Other stops on this leg: Boston (Brookline), Concord, NH, South Hadley, MA, and Madison, WI. All the details on the official tour page. Then I get to come back home! Through Easter! I’m sure Sugar will be equally excited to see me then.

Your April Fool’s Day Fun: Build Your Own Fake Collapsing Empire Cover

As you may know, recently a fellow with more ineffectual rage than sense recently attempted to cash in on The Collapsing Empire by rushing out a “me too” book with a “me too” cover. I don’t suspect it fooled very many people, or did much other than to confirm some people have too much time on their hands, but one good thing to come out of it is that Camestros Felapton felt inspired to create a Collapsing Empire fake cover generator. An “explanation” and link to the cover generator may be found here. I had fun playing around with it, and I suspect you might as well.

Thus is represented the full sum of my April Fool’s tomfoolery today.

New Books and ARCs, 3/31/17

Before we get to April and all its shenanigans, here’s a final March stack of new books and ARCs to peruse. Find anything here you would want to take home with you? Tell us which ones in the comments!

Quick Update on Film/TV Stuff

Because the announcement of the TV deal for The Collapsing Empire has people asking questions, let me quickly catch everyone up.

Here’s where everything stands at the moment. I have four active options at the moment: The Collapsing Empire, Old Man’s War and Redshirts, and a project I can’t talk about yet (but which has been optioned and for which I’ve been paid). I have three other properties that are currently in discussion, which I also can’t talk about yet, but will when I can. Lock In was under option but isn’t now but could be again, hint hint, film/TV people.

All the active options are at various stages in their development processes and it should be noted at any step in that process, a trap door could open up and swallow the project whole. The time to get excited about any optioned work making it to the screen is when you’re actually watching it on the screen. Until then, it doesn’t exist. Projects can literally take years to happen, even when they are actively being worked on. For these as anything, patience is a virtue.

For those wondering if I’m actively involved in these projects, as a general rule at this point we negotiate me being an executive producer on the project. What this means can range depending on project, but generally means that I’ll be looking at scripts and offering other input. I’m open to writing or co-writing scripts, but often the producers already have people they like lined up for that.

Generally speaking producers and studios like to play things close to the vest, announcement-wise, until there is actually something really big to announce (like greenlighting, principal photography, casting news, etc). Often I will have projects under option that I can’t announce or talk publicly about, because we follow the lead of the people who have secured the option. If I talk about something it’s because I’ve been given clearance to talk about it. I won’t talk about stuff I don’t have clearance for, although I might subtweet about how there’s a cool thing I know that you don’t.

No, I can’t get you a job with the production. No, I can’t hire you to write the screenplay. No, I can’t help you get contacts with the production companies/studios I work with. This is especially the case if I don’t, you know, actually know you as a real live human being. No, please don’t send me screenplays/headshots/etc. I’m not responsible for any of those things. Also generally I don’t cast projects in my head until/unless they get to a point where producers ask me for casting ideas.

Yes, I’m excited about each of these. I would love for one or more to be made and to be a huge hit. No, I will not become rich on film/TV options or at least not for a long time (they pay relatively little up front; the big money is on the back end). And yes, regardless of the success (or not) of any of these, I’ll still be writing the novels I have under contract for Tor. It’s why I have a contract.

(And no, I won’t be moving to LA anytime soon. I love visiting; it’s where I grew up, after all. But I like my house and the at least 500 feet between me and any other neighbor. If anything gets made and they need me on set, I have it in my contracts the production company has to rent me an apartment.)

So that’s where everything is on film and TV deals at the moment.

The Collapsing Empire’s First Week

So, The Collapsing Empire had a pretty good first week! In terms of total sales, i.e., actual units sold, it had the best first week of any book I’ve written, ever; as I noted on Twitter, I’ve sold more copies of it in a week than some of my novels (including at least one Hugo nominee) sold in their first year. That’s a decent career progression! It’s the #1 science fiction hardcover according to Bookscan (which tracks sales at a substantial portion of the bookstores in the US) and the #17 hardcover fiction novel of any sort. It’s the #2 audio book on Audible’s weekly top ten list (that’s among all audio books, not just science fiction). It’s #25 on the USA Today Bestseller list, which tracks sales of all books (not just hardcover, not just fiction), which is the highest debut of any of my books on that list ever (previous record holder: The End of All Things, which came in at #31). We missed the NYT Hardcover bestseller list despite the book being my actual best seller ever, which suggests some other hardcovers are having a pretty nice sales week too. Good for them.

Also, hey, remember this tweet?

Well, this is what that was about.

So, in sum: Top selling science fiction hardcover in the US, second-best-selling audio book in the US, my highest debut on the USA Today bestseller list, and a TV deal.

That’s a pretty good week, y’all.

And as you may imagine, I am appropriately grateful. I’m grateful for everyone at Tor who worked hard to get the book out of the gate in such a spectacular fashion. I’m likewise grateful to the folks at Audible who made the audio book a very very big deal. I’m grateful to the booksellers who sold the hell out of the book. I’m clearly hugely grateful to everyone who picked up the book in print or ebook or audio. This has been a terrific debut, and I really couldn’t be happier, or luckier, or more mindful of how my success relies on others. Thank you, folks.

And now I’m going to catch a plane to spend a few days at home. And then: on the road again starting Monday, to see more of you on tour. This has been a great debut. Let’s keep it going.

View From a Hotel Window, 3/29/17: Chicago

Not a lot of parking lot here. Hey, it’s downtown Chicago, you’re gonna get tall buildings. My event tonight: Volumes Bookcafe, at 7pm. It’s sold out! Thank you! But if you skipped getting tickets, uh, sorry. Next time for sure.

This is also the last View From a Hotel Window for about a week, because tomorrow I go home for a four-day break, in which I get to see my family, pets, bed and washing machine, and the next event is Monday, April 3, in Dayton, at Books & Co. No hotel then, I’m just driving in from home. I may write a couple of actual posts instead! Maybe! Or at least post a cat picture or two. We’ll see!

View From a Hotel Window, 3/28/17: Dallas!

For the parking lot aficionados, bask in the glory of not one, not two, but three entirely separate parking structures! Parkingpalooza! That really catches us up on the parking lots, which had been a bit sparse the last few days.

Also: Hello, Dallas! Tonight at 7 you can see me at Half Price Books! So do! I will be lonely without you. All of you. Every single citizen of Dallas. Yes.

Tomorrow: Chicago, my collegiate stomping grounds! Volumes Bookcafe at 7pm. The event is sold out (yikes!).

And then I get to go home for a few days. Wheee!

Links for you today: A review of The Collapsing Empire at Ars Technica: The Collapsing Empire is a hilarious tale of humanity’s impending doom. And then, from me: Five Books I Was Thinking Of When I Wrote The Collapsing Empire. Enjoy!