What Passes For Snow, December 2015

Here it is: A light dusting in our forward landscaping area. Krissy and I are debating whether or not this qualifies as actual snow, on account that on the actual lawn, driveway and walkways, there’s not a single scrap of snow, i.e., it didn’t stick anywhere, nor will it, as it’s supposed to get over freezing this afternoon. Verdict: Meh. Go home, December, you are drunk.

I do believe this is the first December I’ve been in Ohio where there has been no snow to talk of, hasty last-minute pseudo-dustings not withstanding. The December weather nationwide has been weirdly enough that it’s made even climate change deniers delightfully defensive; I had a few yell “it’s weather not climate!” in desperation at me on Twitter before I muted their silly asses. It’s certainly true that one weird December does not climate make. I also understand that it’s been something like sixty or seventy degrees warmer at the north pole than it usually is and that 2015 is the warmest year humans have recorded on the planet, and that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years ever recorded have been this century. So I feel that climate change deniers have every right to feel defensive right about now.

Not that, on a purely personal micro scale, I minded the warm December at all; I’m California born-and-bred and grew up in a world where 72 and sunny on Christmas was the norm. I’m delighted to have gotten entirely through December without once having to haul out my winter coat. But then again on Athena’s birthday we had an actual tornado warning here in my hometown and not too far away people’s barns were spread across their neighbors’ fields because of those tornado warning winds. Weird warm December weather is not all standing in your yard in December with a t-shirt.

Predicted weather for the first week of January: Mostly high 30s and low 40s and no snow expected. If we get through January without snow I’m gonna maybe start freaking out.

Insulting Things I Called People on Twitter Today: A Collection

Why did I insult people on Twitter today? This is why:

And what did I call people today on Twitter, and in ALL CAPS to boot? Among other things:

  • UNWASHED SLOTH
  • DORKTWIDDLERS
  • CHUCKLESPLEEN
  • PIEBALD KITTENSNORFFLER
  • BEETLETOED JACKNEEDLE
  • TWISTED SACKS OF BUTTERKNUCKLES
  • CHRONIC FISHSPACKLER
  • MUCUSOIDAL FERRET
  • POSSOM-SPLAYED SOCKET-LICKER
  • CHEESESNORTING RHODE ISLAND NICKELHOARDERS
  • THE INSIDE OF CHEKOV’S GYM LOCKER
  • BARRELSCRAPING CUTICLE FUNGUS
  • PROCRASTINATING KEYBOARDFINGERER
  • OXYGENHOARDING WASTE OF MARZIPAN
  • PROTOZOAN NOODLESCRIBBLER
  • OCTOPODEAN KNISHSTUFFER
  • CRABFIDDLING BOOGER CATALOGUER
  • TIREPOKING BARKSTRIPPER
  • WANTON LAWN PUNCHER
  • EIN KATZENZUNGE
  • TIPTREE TIARA OVERFONDLER
  • PICTUREFRAMING OYSTERPUSHER
  • UPHOLSTERED BEERFOAMER
  • JAGGED-EDGED WALL CLIPPER
  • REVISIONIST MONKTRANSCRIBER
  • COD-BATTERING CHIP SHOVER
  • OVERQUALIFIED PIGEON RUFFLER
  • CRAVEN INSULTMONGERS

As a bonus, many of these make great band names.

You can’t say I don’t know how to keep busy between Christmas and New Year’s.

The Year in (Non-Kitten) Pets, 2015

This was a somewhat sad year at the Scalzi Compound, pet-wise, as two of our cats, Ghlaghghee and Lopsided Cat, left us — Ghlaghghee in January and http://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/11/07/lopsided-cat-2000-2015/. But then the two kittens we acquired, Sugar and Spice, have been making life interesting again as well. It’s a reminder that pets come and go and you love them while you have them. Here are the pets we had this year — minus the kittens, who will get their own retrospective — and suffice to say, we love, and loved, them all.

Finally, not a pet, but a creature I found in my yard this year, after a particularly heavy storm:

Never a dull moment here at the Scalzi Compound, I have to say.

Love your pets, folks. They love you.

The Big Idea: Erin M. Evans

The last Big Idea of the year! And a very interesting one too, as Erin M. Evans goes deep about what it takes to write in already-existing worlds, as she is doing with her novel Ashes of the Tyrant. Think it’s easy to write a tie-in novel? Think again.

ERIN M. EVANS:

I.

“If I had your job,” a writer friend of mine once declared, “I would lose my fucking mind.”

I had just finished describing a city I’d be using in my next book, Djerad Thymar, a hollow pyramid taller than Khufu’s, big enough to house 30,000+ people, and the only city described for a race in Dungeons & Dragons called the dragonborn. Given a series of new constraints, I needed a way for it to have been built in less than eighty years by people who only just got access to magic.  “A wizard did it” wouldn’t fly. “They worked real hard” wouldn’t either.

To some people, like my friend, that’s an intrusion, an impediment to their storytelling. To me, it’s a challenge I can’t help but accept.

Working with setting details you wouldn’t have chosen on your own is inevitability of tie-in fiction. Depending on what kind of media you’re tying in to the difference can be slight or stark. Role-playing games involve a lot of storytelling, a lot of backstory, so there’s often a lot to work with or around—but there are also a lot of cooks in this kitchen and they don’t always agree. Sometimes you get details that are there for the “cool visual” they provide. Sometimes you get hit with things there for mechanical reasons foremost—elves see secret doors because…someone should see secret doors! Sometimes there’s a hole where you’d expect to have answers and sometimes there are six books of background where you’d expect wiggle room.

Sometimes there’s this giant pyramid a bunch of dragon-people built because why not?

This works in a RPG game. It leaves room for the DM to shape the story they need to tell, for the players to find a niche for their characters. Here are the bones of a world. Build something around them.

You can’t always get by with just bones in a novel. It might be easier to lean on those sourcebooks, to only talk to the readers who play the game, but it’s not very satisfying. There’s such a lot of good story to be found between those immovable sourcebook details, and such a lot of inspiration in the contradictions that might otherwise make you lose your fucking mind.

And when it came to dragonborn, the shape around the bones was too wonderful to ignore.

II.

The first time I realized my degree was still good for something, I wrote a short treatise on orcish ritual scarification. I was editing a book for Wizards of the Coast called Sentinelspire by Mark Sehestedt. In it, Mark had created a tribe of orcs to live in the icy corner of the world he’d chosen, and given a half-orc character the ritual of cutting a mourning scar across his heart for his lost blood brother.

Except this is basically the Siberia of the world. Ritual scarification sends a message to the people we interact with: I have lost a comrade and a loved one.  Who’s he sending that message to if he’s bundled up against the cold all year long? (Mark moved the scar to his face and got a very poignant scene out of it).

Like most anthropology majors, I suspect, I thought for sure I was heading for academia. But an undiagnosed anxiety disorder pushed that dream out and out and out and by the time I had my brain back in relative order, I realized I didn’t want that life. But I still love it—and realizing all those books and studies and essays about ritual scarification and burial customs, proscriptions and purity and family structure, they’re all applicable to fantasy worlds. We’re social animals. We organize ourselves to perpetuate ourselves, and in those interactions lie so many of our truths and fears, our taboos and necessities, the pressures that quietly make each of us who we are.

Even if we’re elves. Or orcs. Or dragon-people.

Dragonborn are fairly new to the Forgotten Realms, mostly background players. So here was an excellent opportunity to flesh out those bones, which kicked the story into gear. For example, in the game, they were created by tyrannical dragons to be the perfect slaves, but they rose up and overthrew their far more powerful masters. Out of that, they were thrown into this new world by powerful magic and built a nation out of the rubble….and yet standard perception is they are friendly and curious and honor-bound to a fault.

Which makes sense, I figure, if non-dragonborn can’t read dragonborn facial expressions, if neither group understands the etiquette of the other, and if humans have no idea when a dragonborn is throwing shade, bless their hearts.

III.

From these two angles came the big idea of Ashes of the Tyrant, the fifth book of the Brimstone Angels saga.  In it, Farideh, my tiefling warlock, travels back to Djerad Thymar, the birthplace of her adopted father, Clanless Mehen. Mehen was exiled in his youth for reasons he doesn’t talk about, but now his father’s dead, the new matriarch of his clan wants him back. Mehen wants to be left alone, but at the same time he misses what he lost. For his daughters, Djerad Thymar is a puzzle—the place where all their family customs come from, but where they, as non-dragonborn, don’t belong.

This is a story about the past, about the way we mythologize the past, and what we can do to keep that from stymieing our future. A story about the roles our culture creates for us and how they harm or help, how we reshape ourselves or reshape our roles.  It’s a story about family—what we’re born with and what we build ourselves—and how these things ripple out into our communities.

Also it’s about a demon running around murdering people.

(Come on: it’s still a D&D novel. You build around the bones, after all.)

IV.

So how did the dragonborn build Djerad Thymar? Unfortunately, the answer spawned a major story point, so you’ll have to read Ashes of the Tyrant to find out.

—-

Ashes of the Tyrant: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

 

I Ruin Everything But Mostly Science Fiction

From Twitter earlier today: 

Seriously, words can’t express how delighted I am to vex and annoy bigoted turds like this one, simply by existing and publishing. Because I do exist. And I will publish! The contracts are signed! Barring death itself, there is no way to stop the decade-long flood of my ruination of the science fiction! Best of all, I don’t have to do anything other than publish to irritate this sad sack of crap. And I was going to do that anyway. It’s the perfect storm of least effort on my part.

Here’s the thing: If I ruin the genre of science fiction for you, or if the presence in the genre of people whose politics and positions you don’t like ruins the genre for you — the whole genre, in which hundreds of traditionally published works and thousands of self-and-micro-pubbed works are produced annually — then, one, oh well, and two, you pretty much deserve to have the genre ruined for you. It doesn’t have to be ruined, mind you, because chances are pretty good that within those thousands of works published annually, you’ll find something that rings your bell. And if you do, why should you care about the rest of it? It’s literally not your problem. Find the work you’ll love and then love it, and support the authors who make it, hopefully with money.

But if you’re determined that I or any author, or feminists or socialists or whomever are ruining the genre, then you’ve given those people the power to ruin the genre for you, whether they care what you think or not, or whether or not they even know you exist. And, speaking personally, if a sexist, bigoted cloacal squirt of a human wants to give me that power, then sure, I’ll be happy to ruin the genre for them through no additional effort of my own. Why, yes, I am destroying science fiction! With glee! And I’m going to be destroying it a lot over the next ten years at least.

So, you might want to pack a lunch, chuckles. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be here in science fiction a nice, long, productive time. I’m going to write what I want to write, how I want to write it, and I’m going to have a hell of a lot of fun while I’m at it. And if you think that ruins the genre, then that’s your problem, not mine.

The Big Idea: Lawrence M. Schoen

Here in the last week of December 2015 books are still coming out, and here’s a very interesting one indeed: Barsk, by Lawrence M. Schoen. For the Big Idea behind it, Schoen looks at memory, and what it has to do with you, me, and sentient elephant-like creatures on another planet.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:

I like to think there are lots of cool ideas in Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, from using prophecy to travel in time, to showcasing anguish via a character who cannot feel pain. It’s like I was saving up ideas to put them all in this book. But the biggest idea, the one that filters through all the others, is memory as a physical thing distinct from our bodies and yet bound by the laws of physics (even if I had to invent some of those laws myself).

I’ve been a cognitive psychologist for thirty years, complete with the terminal degree, a collection of peer-reviewed journal articles, and a towering stack of teaching evaluations to prove it. So bear with me a moment as I give you some background on a topic that fascinates me: memory.

Memory is more than just the place we put the stuff we later choose to call to mind. In part, because that stuff is actually a myriad kinds of things, that apparently get stored in different ways. Memory for faces is one type, and very different from memory for names. Ditto for the memory of how to do a thing (like riding a bicycle) and knowing what a thing is (ooh, look, that thing with handlebars and wheels, it’s a bicycle!). Memory for words obeys different rules than memory for sounds that are not words. I could go on and on like this for hours, but this isn’t my classroom and I don’t think John will let me give you all a test, so let’s move on.

My point is, psychologists have been carving up the memory pie since the late 19th century when Hermman Ebbinghaus kicked up a fuss looking at what affected his efforts to memorize nonsense syllables. For purposes of my Big Idea (and Barsk) though, I want to focus on two slices of that pie: what are typically called semantic memory and episodic memory.

Semantic memory is the stuff you know. It’s names and dates and facts that you can look up in an encyclopedia or google on your smartphone. It’s objective data. Whereas episodic memory is subjective; it’s your personal experience of something and includes not just the what of memory but also the who and the where and the how did you feel at the time. Knowing who John Scalzi is is semantic memory. Remembering the first time I met him at a Worldcon is episodic. The former type of memory is colorless, the latter is potentially filtered through all sorts of emotional and intellectual states-of-being present at the time the information was encoded, and prone to modification and embellishment each time it’s recalled. And because episodic memory is subjective, even if you were there, in the room at the same time, your memory of the event will be different from mine because we’re different people.

Consider for a moment that this kind of personal memory defines who we are as individuals; each of us is a unique organization of information, collections of experiences, that owe nothing to the basic physicality of our bodies or our longevity. To run with this idea, I only had to fudge a little bit and invent a new subatomic particle, which I named the nefshon, a “particle of personality.”

Imagine that every instant of your life you’re producing nefshons, representing every experience you have. Each particle is a cluster of information that tells your unique story at that moment in time. The people you shared that experience with also produced their own nefshons of the event. Now here’s the fun part: your memory of those people is made possible by sharing nefshons. You received some of theirs, and likewise parted with some of your own. Seen in this light, your identity is made up not just of your experiences but also contains pieces of everyone you’ve ever met.

That’s fine, but so what? Thanks for asking.

If who we are, if the essential thing that is you, is an elaborate and totally unique organization of information encoded on those subatomic particles — unreliant on your meat body —you transcend death. Breathing your last breath and joining the choir invisible does not mean the information that defined you is gone. Your nefshons don’t care about rigor mortis. At most, your being alive held them together in a common cluster, and your death just means they’ll disperse, much like other particles would. A handy analogy for this is starlight. The information contained in each of those points of lights has traveled vast spans of time and distance to reach you and be seen, even if the star they came from is long gone. Like those particles of light, each nefshon still possesses the information it did from its origin, unaffected by time or distance of the wetware from which it sprang.

In Barsk there is a drug that grants its users — let’s call them Speakers — the ability to perceive and manipulate nefshons, to reach out into the ether and summon the bits of information from a specific person. If a Speaker draws enough of your nefshons together, they combine to produce a simulacrum of the original you, one that has your knowledge and personality and in all respects is you, except for the minor fact that it lacks a physical body. My protagonist, Jorl, is one such individual, a historian who can actually conjure up figures out of history and speak to them, or more simply converse with his best friend whom he believes killed himself but won’t say why, and lo, we’re off and running with a major plot thread for the novel.

The Big Idea here is that we aren’t defined by our bodies but rather by our experiences, that each of us is a unique organization of information that transcends mere physicality. Considered in this way, death is not the end of us because it doesn’t unmake that organization. Moreover, like light from a distant star, the information of who we are still exists, just waiting for someone with the means of perceiving us as we spread out through the universe, each of us immortal, waiting to tell our story.

So, forget about aliens learning about us because they’ve watched our television transmissions; if they’ve worked out the technology they’re going to pass on reruns of Gilligan’s Island and zoom in on the highlights of your life. Whether it’s the awe and transformation of holding your child for the first time, or the warm memory of the day your grandfather came to visit and bought you that ice cream cone, or that night in the backseat of the limo after the junior prom when your world changed forever. All your memories will still be out there, long after you’re not.

—-

Barsk: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Very Important News About My 2016 Novel Release (and Other Fiction Plans)

So, here’s the Very Important News about my 2016 novel release:

Currently, there isn’t one. Not a new one, anyway.

Which isn’t to say I’m not writing a novel in 2016. In fact, I’m writing two(!). Merely that Tor has decided to wait until 2017 to release the next new one.

Why the wait? Among other things, because Tor just dropped a ton of money on me so we want to make sure we debut this next novel, the first in the new contract, just right. I’m on board with this plan — note the “we” in that last sentence — since (again, among other things) I actually want to try to earn out the silly large chunks of money Tor has dropped on me. I also don’t mind the extra time it gives me to write/tweak the novels I’m currently working on.

Note that 2016 isn’t the first year without a new Scalzi novel: 2009 and 2010 were likewise new novel-free. And then came the nice run of Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts, Human Division, Lock In and The End of All Things. We did all right after the last pause, is what I’m saying. I think we’ll be okay with this one too.

(For those curious about the novels I’m currently working on: One is a YA, and the other is a space opera, planned to be the first in a new series, the latter being the one that will likely be the 2017 release. For more details on these, you’re just going to have to wait. I know, I know, waiting sucks. I’ll make it worth it, promise.)

Does this mean that there will be no fiction work from me in 2016? Not at all. Here’s what you’ll definitely see on tap for 2016 (i.e., done and awaiting publication):

* The paperback release of The End of All Things, currently scheduled for May 31st.

* The novella “The Dispatcher,” which will debut first as an audiobook through Audible, and then later in printed/eBook form through Subterranean Press. This is my first foray into contemporary fantasy, and I think you guys are going to enjoy the hell out of it. No solid release date yet but almost certainly in 2016.

* A short story called “On the Wall” which I co-wrote with my pal Dave Klecha, which is part of the Black Tide Rising anthology, co-edited by John Ringo, for Baen. Yes, that John Ringo and that Baen. Pick your jaws up off the floor, people. I’ve made no bones about liking Baen as a publisher, and I’ve noted for a while that John Ringo and I get on pretty well despite our various differences and occasional snark. Also, it was a ton of fun to write in his universe and with Dave. The BTR anthology comes out June 7th.

There’s also a strong likelihood I will have something else released from Subterranean Press in 2016. More details on that when everything’s hammered out. Plus! I may have a short story or two out in ’16, pending scheduling. Again, more information on that later if something positive happens in that direction.

All of which is to say that you won’t lack for fiction from me in 2016. It’ll be there.

Top Ten Whatever Posts for 2015, Plus 2015 Social Media Stats

Every year about this time I do a review of posts and stats, because I’m a nerd like that. Are you ready for the countdown and nerdery? Then here we go!

Top Ten Whatever Posts: For 2015, here were the top ten posts on Whatever, by number of visits. The posts with asterisks are the ones that were written in previous years, i.e., posts from the archives.

1. Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is*
2. Eight Things About Donald Trump
3. Being Poor*
4. Paris
5. Apologies: What, When and How*
6. Frightened, Ignorant and Cowardly is No Way to Go Through Life, Son
7. Keeping Up With the Hugos, 4/20/15
8. A Note About the Hugo Nominations This Year
9. 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing*
10. You Never Know Just How You Look Through Other People’s Eyes*

That’s an even mix of pieces from 2015 and pieces from previous years, and the archive pieces are not a surprise; each of them were in 2014’s roundup, too. They’re in there because they’re classics, that word here being defined as “pieces that show up very high in Google searches on that topic.” I don’t mind this at all; like any writer, I like that things that I’ve written have staying power.

If we take out the archive pieces, here are the five other pieces from 2015 that would have shown up on this list:

Obviously, for 2015 there was high interest in the Hugo Awards, because this was the year a bunch of petulant whiners joined forces with a narcissistic bigot to systematically jam a bunch of their pals’ work onto the award ballot, all the while going out of their way to insult everyone who was not them. Naturally this was a topic of conversation in my circles (also, and unsurprisingly, it didn’t work out for those involved very well; also unsurprisingly, they continue to think the problem is everyone else). But this is also the year in which I started writing more about politics and non-nerd-related social stuff, after a couple of relatively light years in the topics. It’s not surprising to see that back on the year-end menu as well. I expect 2016 will have more of the same (the political and social stuff, that is; hopefully not more Hugo nonsense).

Social Media Stats: Well, let’s start with Whatever, shall we? On this date in 2014, Whatever had 5.768 million visits for the year. As of today, for 2015, Whatever has 5,788,858 visits (I’m positing the whole number because I’m amused at how many eights are in that number), which is to say, essentially the same number of visits as last year. That’s just a smidgen under 16,000 visits a day to the blog.

Note I say to the blog, because the site also has 21,635 WordPress followers, up from 12,242 on this day last year, which is healthy growth for followers, but also is a number of people who don’t visit the blog because the entries get pushed to them instead. To get a little(!) fast and loose with the stats here, if we were to take the average of the WordPress follower numbers of the last couple years (which would be 16,938) and multiply that by the number of Whatever entries for the year so far (603, not counting this one), that would be another 10.2 million “visits” to stuff I’ve written here this year, for an aggregate average of 44,000-ish daily “visits” to material written here. This also doesn’t count the people who see it through RSS feeds (Feedly, etc) or via Tumblr and other sources. Or the 2.2 million visits in 2015 to the previous iteration of Whatever not tracked by my ISP stats package, but not by WordPress’s (on account those pages aren’t WordPress pages).

All of which is to continue a theme which I’ve noted for the past couple of years, to wit: It’s getting more difficult to track who, and how many, are reading things from here, thanks to the increasingly fragmented manner in which material from here gets to people out there. It’s fun for me to look at my stats on an annual basis — and fun to share them — but I’m aware that the reliability of those stats, as relates to this particular site, is more uncertain each year. Not that they were ever particularly certain, mind you.

(Which is also why I don’t get put out when someone wishes to brag they get more visitors to their Web site than I do. One, good for you! You must be proud. Two, it’s not actually a competition. Three, even if it were, see above. The site stats don’t tell the whole story.)

Regardless, what the site (and other stats) do tell me: People continue to read what I write here. Hooray!

Aside from Whatever, Twitter is where I spend most of my time, and as of this very moment I have 93,494 followers, up roughly 18.5k from last year. I also tweeted (again, as of this second) 21,753 times in 2015, which amongst them garnered 137.61 million impressions. Note that not every tweet is seen by every single one of my followers — people have lives and are not tethered to Twitter 24/7, I mean, hopefully they’re not — and that tweets that are replies are usually seen by exponentially fewer people than the more general ones. Twitter reach is a funny thing. That said, when a tweet hits, it hits big: several of my tweets this year were seen by hundreds of thousands of people, thanks to massive retweets, the top tweet (this one), reaching 587,000 people. It’s interesting.

I’m also active on Facebook, where my fan page has 14K likes, and on what remains of Google Plus, where 18K people follow me, but I don’t have any real stats for them, so, meh. Likewise, hey did you know I’m on Ello? A thousand people follow me there! Hello, Ello!

Coming back to Whatever, here’s how people came to the site from other sites in 2015: Google was by far the largest driver of visits, followed by Twitter and Facebook. Reddit, interestingly, sends only a fraction of traffic that either Twitter or Facebook does; the only people there who have an a real interest in me are either the odious dweebs of Gamergate or the Redditors who poke fun of the odious dweebs of Gamergate (Gamergate in general, I should note, seems to have gone past its sell-by date, which is, you know, nice).

In all: 2015 seems to have been a reasonably good year for this site and for me on social media in general. If you’re reading this, you’re part of the reason. Thank you for that. Let’s see where 2016 takes us from here.

And Now, A Personal Ranking of Beatles Albums

Being albums released during the band’s existence, not compilations, etc. Also, this is the UK not the US chronology, with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour, which I understand was released as a double EP in the UK or whatever.

1. Abbey Road

2. Revolver

3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

4. Rubber Soul

5. Help!

6. Magical Mystery Tour

7. A Hard Day’s Night

8. Please Please Me

9. The Beatles (White Album)

10. With the Beatles 

11. Beatles for Sale

12. Let it Be

13. Yellow Submarine

Go on and fight about it in the comments.

The Best Sportball T-Shirt Ever Made

Which sportsball team do I support? The Ohio Scamperbeasts, of course! Here I am with one of the star players.

Very big thanks to Scot Campbell for the design and the implementation — all I did was say out loud that it would be fun to have Ohio Scamperbeasts t-shirts. He did all the rest. I’m excited when things I wish for out loud happen through no effort on my part. I bought one for every member of the family!

Fun on Twitter, 2015

I spend a lot of time on Twitter! And often I say silly and/or substantial things there, that I then post here for posterity, Twitter being quite intentionally an evanescent medium. Here are some of my favorite long-form Twitter postings of the year, arranged more or less chronologically.

Also, this exchange with Lavie Tidhar was fun.

And this exchange between me and my daughter leaves no doubt as to whose child she is.

And that’s Scalzi Twitter for 2015!

My Christmas Gift This Year

As most of you know, at this point in my life I don’t ask for Christmas gifts, largely because if there’s something I want, I go out and buy it. That said, I do appreciate Christmas gifts that are thoughtful and have me as a person in mind. Like the jar pictured above, a gift from my wife Kristine.

The story behind it? Well, the short version is that, among other things, there are petty, shitty people out there, and from time to time they turn their pettiness and shittyness in my direction. Thing is, my life is excellent and my work and career is secure, and both in a way that none of their pettiness or shittyness will ever materially affect, so, really: Who gives a fuck? I understand they want me to give a fuck, because when you’re petty and shitty all you have is trying to make other people feel even for a moment like you are all the time, but: No. My jar of fucks to give to these people is empty.

I mentioned this to Krissy recently, and so for Christmas she got me an actual jar of fucks to give. And as you can see, it is indeed quite literally empty. It’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. This is a fabulous gift from my wife, and a physical reminder that, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, petty, shitty people can’t make you feel as petty and shitty as they are without your consent. Personally speaking, I’ve got better things to do.

I also got a sweatshirt from my mother-in-law. Which is very nice! Thanks, Dora!

This Year’s Selection of Christmas Stories

I have a few! Here are some, for you to pass the time with this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The Ten Least Successful Christmas Specials of All Time

Interview with the Nativity Innkeeper

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Favorite Holiday Music

Script Notes on the Birth of Jesus

Interview with Santa’s Reindeer Wrangler

Merry Christmas!

Whatever Best of 2015

I wouldn’t call 2015 a fantastic year for humanity in general — “not great years for humanity” has been a bit of a depressing trend recently, hasn’t it — but for me it was certainly a pretty good one, and here at Whatever, I wrote a number of pieces I think are worth remembering here at the end of the year, ranging in topics from writing to politics to online life to beloved pets. As is my tradition on Christmas Eve, here are those entries, this year arranged alphabetically.

Let me also take a moment to again note the passing of my friends John Anderson and Jacqueline Kahn. Their memory is a blessing.

And here we go, into the last week of 2015.

By Request: A Spoiler-Filled Discussion Thread for The Force Awakens

Seen The Force Awakens? Want to talk about it without worrying about spoiling it for others? Here’s the thread to do it. Chatter away, my pretties.

(WARNING: This comment thread here will have spoilers, because, duh, that’s what this is here for.)

How I Am Able to Forgive the Absolutely Appalling Science in the Most Recent (and Indeed Every) Star Wars Film

As explained by me to my wife as we drove home last night from The Force Awakens:

Me: See, the reason the bad science in Star Wars films doesn’t really bother me is because the movies tell you right up front that they’re based on legends, right? “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away.” That’s the film saying “Hey, look, we know that some of what you’re seeing is totally unbelievable, but it’s myth. It’s an exaggerated version of what really happened so long ago that we can’t ever truly know what really happened.” Like, so, the Death Star probably wasn’t really the size of a small moon and Alderaan wasn’t really blown up, it’s was just probably heavily carpetbombed or something. So if you go in knowing it’s all meant to be exaggeration and myth, then all the parts like [SPOILER] and [SPOILER] in this film are totally excusable. Getting mad at Star Wars for getting the science wrong is like getting mad at Clash of the Titans for getting science wrong. You see what I’m saying.

Krissy: So does this mean you’re also willing to forgive “Red Matter” in Star Trek?

Me: OH HELL NO

Happy Athenamas to All

Yet again, the planet has swung around to the day wherein my wife and I burst into our daughter’s room while she is still sleeping, shout “Happy Birthday!” at her and shove a flaming pastry at her while she’s still groggy. We love it. Well, Krissy and I do. I suspect the kid tolerates it because she gets cake for breakfast at the end of it.

Athena is 17, the year in which one is allowed to watch R-rated movies without a parent, which as we all know is a momentous marker in any young North American’s life. She will not be celebrating by seeing an R-rated movie, although we did take her to see The Force Awakens last night and about halfway through it became her birthday, so there is at least some cinematic aspect to the day.

As my gift to you this day, I present you with the song that was playing in the delivery room the moment Athena was born, on this day, seventeen years ago. It’s “Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” performed by Emmylou Harris, from her 1995 album Wrecking Ball. It’s probably my favorite album, so I’m delighted to have it forever associated with one of the most important and joy days in my life, the day my and Krissy’s child was born. Enjoy, and have a wonderful Athenamas.

Note: Today Is My Last Productive Day of the Year

Which is to say that if you have any outstanding business with me for 2015, you’ll want to let me know about it today, because starting tomorrow and through to Monday, January 4, I am off the business clock and any outstanding business will be unceremoniously punted into 2016.

With that said: People still waiting to hear back on January Big Idea slots: Don’t panic (and don’t send me a raft of reminders today), they’re in process.

Inasmuch as I think most people who can have already clocked out for the year, businesswise, this will not be a hardship on anyone.