Can Long Endure, Episode Three of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

It’s Tuesday, and that means another episode of The End of All Things. “Can Long Endure” is now out and available from your favorite eBook retailer. Here’s the official description:

“They signed up to defend humans from hostile aliens, but this group of Colonial Union soldiers finds themselves, instead, repeatedly sent to squelch rebellious human colonies that want to leave the CU. It’s not a sustainable situation. Something has to give.”

Yup, that’s about right. Here’s an excerpt of the story for you. And for the US, here’s a stack of eBook retailers to get it from:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks|Kobo. Other countries, please check your local retailers.

For those of you who like the military science fiction side of the Old Man’s War universe, this is your novella — it’s focused on a single squad and features lots of action, adventure and explosions in all their various forms. Plus, you know. Other stuff too.

It’s a good one. I hope you enjoy it!

The Scalzis Go to London

Krissy and I celebrated our 20th anniversary last week, which we felt gave us ample excuse to go on a vacation. For our vacation spot, we chose London, because we had never been and we had always wished to go. So we did! And it was wonderful: We saw all the touristy things, visited with delightful friends, and generally had a very fabulous time.

Would you like to see some of what we did? Sure you would. Which is why I created this Flickr album of our travels there. Enjoy! We did.

Amazon Tweaks Its Kindle Unlimited System. It Still Sucks For KDP Select Authors

Now that I’ve returned to the US and have parked myself in front of the computer again, people are asking me what I think of Amazon’s plan to tweak the way its Kindle Unlimited system pays KDP Select authors. In the past, Amazon would designate a certain amount of cash ($3 million this June, according to this Verge article, although in the comments Annie Bellet quotes a higher figure) as a payment pot, and all KDP Select authors participating in Kindle Unlimited would get a small bit of the pot if someone who downloaded their book read more than 10% of it. This predictably led to authors making short books in order to get to the 10% mark as quickly as possible, and equally predictably diluted the effectiveness of the tactic. It also made authors of longer works complain quite a lot, as they had to compete with bite-sized books for the same tiny bit of the pot.

As a result, Amazon is now tweaking its system so that instead of getting paid when one reaches that 10% marker, KDP select authors will get paid for each page read — a move that will, within the context of the KU system, at least, address the “small book vs. big book” disparity. The system will also define a standard “page” so fiddling with margins and type size won’t fool it, and somehow track how much time you spend on each page, so just clicking through all the pages as quickly as possible won’t do the trick (this makes me wonder what Amazon defines as a decent amount of time to read a page). The short version is: You get paid for what your readers read. If your readers don’t read the whole book, you don’t get paid for the whole book.

I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in theory — will an author get paid if you re-read a book? What about if you go back and re-read a page? Does that count? Doesn’t this mean that authors of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books get really screwed? Not to mention any author who is writing anything other than a page-turning narrative? — but ultimately any objections or praise I might have for this new Amazon model is irrelevant, because of a simple fact:

Amazon is still making KDP Select authors compete against each other for a limited, Amazon-defined pot of money, and no matter how you slice it, that sucks for the authors.

Why? Because Amazon puts an arbitrary cap on the amount of money it’s possible to earn — and not just a cap on what you, as an author, can earn, but what every author in the KDP Select system participating in Kindle Unlimited can make. Every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited can not, among all of them totaled up, make more than what Amazon decides to put into the pot. Why? Because that’s the pot. That’s how much Amazon wants to splash out this month. And the more pages are read in the month, the smaller any bit of the pie that you might get for your pages read becomes. It’s a zero-sum game for every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited. Next month, who knows what the size of the pot will be? You don’t — only Amazon does. But whatever amount it is, it’s an amount designed to benefit Amazon, not the individual authors.

This is a bad situation for the authors participating — bad enough that ultimately the minutiae of how the money is allocated is sort of aside the point, because the relevant point is: You will never make more for your work than Amazon wants you to make. And yes, just Amazon, as the work KDP Select authors put on Amazon are exclusive to Amazon.

I’m not one of those people who believes Amazon is glowy-red-eye evil — I remind people again that I’ve rather happily had a fruitful relationship with its Audible subsidiary for a number of years — but Amazon is looking out for Amazon first, and when it does, it’s not an author’s friend. There is no possible way in this or any other timeline that I would ever, as a writer, participate in the sort of scheme that Amazon runs with its KDP Select authors on Kindle Prime. I don’t approve of putting a cap on my own earnings (particularly one I have no say on), and I don’t approve of being in a situation where my success as an author comes by disadvantaging other authors, or vice versa. In the system in which I currently participate (i.e., the open market), there is no limit to the amount I can make, and no limit to what any other author can make. It’s a great system! I support it, and so should you.

So, yeah: By page, or by percentage, KDP Select authors on Kindle Unlimited still can’t make more than Amazon says they can. That sucks, and that’s the long and short of it.

Just Putting These Here So They Can Be Part of the Permanent Record

From the day itself:

And then from the next day:

It’s been interesting watching Dylann Roof be, in himself, the very best rebuttal against all the (almost entirely white) people who were desperate for his massacre to be about anything other than what it so very obviously was: racism and racial hatred. All the scrambling and denial, from presidential candidates to news networks to Twitter commenters, all undone by Roof’s insistent, persistent desire to hurt black people. There was no rationalization that stood up to that simple hatred.

Not that there probably still aren’t people who are willing to try to pretzel themselves into arguing it’s something other than racism or racial hatred. So, you know, again, and to be clear: If you are arguing that a white man who clearly held racist beliefs, going into a place where he knew he would find black people, waiting an hour in pretend fellowship with them, announcing he was there to shoot black people, shooting them while spouting racist comments at them while they begged him to stop killing them, reloading several times, and then when arrested declaring that the reason he was killed all those innocent people was to start a race war, wasn’t motivated by racism and racial hatred,

a) you are so very laughably wrong;

b) you are being as racist as you can possibly be.

Dylann Roof is a racist. His attack was a racist attack. The denial of his racist attack being racist is racist. There were an appalling number of people being racist in the aftermath of this fundamentally racist act. And despite everything, there are people continuing to be racist about it now. I am continually amazed at how difficult it was, and is, for people to recognize that this was a racist attack, by a racist. I’m continually amazed by everyone who still has a hard time admitting that this country is still racist as hell, and especially toward black people.

All of the above is stupidly obvious. And yet some people choose to be stupid about this. This willful ignorance embarrasses me as an American. I was in the UK when all of this happened. No one over there had any doubt what it was about, as far as I could see. And when it was made clear to them that I wasn’t intentionally stupid about it either, the attitude I received the most was: Sympathy. The UK has its own social crosses to bear, to be sure. They easily enough recognized the one my country bears.

I’m very sure most of us knew immediately why Dylann Roof did what he did. It’s just that so many the people who argued so very hard against the obvious are those who want to control the levers of our politics and discourse. It’s embarrassing to me that so many very clearly intelligent people worked so mightily to pretend this killing was something it was not. It’s ironic how difficult Roof made it for them, and gratifying that this very fact exposed their mendacity for what it is: Ridiculous, risible, and racist.

Note to WSFS Members: Killing the Best Novelette Hugo is a Terrible Idea

(Note: Hugo neepery follows. But not the usual Hugo neepery! This is entirely new Hugo neepery! However, if you’re bored with Hugo neepery in general, then avoid this.)

Every year at Worldcon, there’s a business meeting where World Science Fiction Society members may, among other things, offer up amendments to the WSFS constitution. A very active set of amendments relate to the Hugo Awards, as might be expected because the Awards are the most public-facing thing the WSFS does, arguably excepting the Worldcon convention itself. This year there are four proposed amendments relating to the Hugos, for example.

One of these proposed amendments is for “Best Saga” (You may see the proposed amendment, as well as all the other proposed amendments this year, here. The “Best Saga” proposal is “B.1.3″). The amendment proposes to create a Hugo category to award continuing series of works whose total word counts exceed 400,000 words; any series with a new installment in any particular calendar year would be eligible for consideration in that year. So, for example, if the Best Saga Hugo already existed, then the Old Man’s War series would be eligible for the 2015 calendar year award, because the whole series clocks in at over 400,000 words, and I’ll have a new installment this year (The End of All Things).

I have thoughts about the desirability and necessity of a Best Saga award, but independent of that, the creators of the “Best Saga” amendment would “make room” for the Best Saga Hugo by rejiggering the short fiction Hugo categories, notably by paring them down from the three current categories (Short Story, for stories up to 7.5k words; Novelette, for stories between 7.5k and 17.5k words; Novella, for stories between 17.5k and 40k words), to two: Short Story (up to 10k words) and Novella (10k to 40k). This snips out the novelette category entirely.

Speaking as someone who writes very little novelette-length fiction, and could very obviously personally benefit from a Best Saga Hugo category, I very definitely oppose this proposed amendment. Let me explain why.

1. It is unnecessary to get rid of the Best Novelette category in order to “make room” for the Best Saga category. I’m unaware of the need in the WSFS constitution to limit the number of Hugo Awards given out; it’s not a zero sum game. Speaking as someone who has both emceed the Hugos and sat in its audience, I understand the desirability of not having an infinite proliferation of Hugo categories, because the ceremony can be long enough as it is. But that’s not a good enough reason to give one fiction category the axe at the expense of another, nor can I think of another good reason why the inclusion of the “saga” category requires the doom of another fiction category. It is, literally, a false dichotomy.

This false dichotomy is bad in itself, but also offers knock-on badness down the road. For example:

2. It privileges novel writing over short fiction writing. Bud Sparhawk, a writer and human I admire rather a bit, complained to me once (in the context of the Nebulas) that calling the Best Novel award “the big one,” as many people often do, is an implicit disrespect of the art of short fiction writing, and of the skills of those who write to those lengths. You know what? He’s right. Speaking as someone who finds writing novels relatively easy and writing shorter lengths relatively harder — and as someone who has needed more time to write a shorter-length work than I needed to write a novel because of those native skill sets — I’m well aware that the skills required to write short are no less impressive than those required to write long.

Also, speaking as best novel Hugo award winner: Would you argue to me that I am more essential to the field of science fiction and fantasy than, say, Ted Chiang, who is inarguably one of the pre-eminent SF/F writers of the 21st century, and who has not published a novel? Am I more essential than Eugie Foster, whose all-too-short canon of work is in short fiction? Or any other of a host of brilliant contemporary writers who write to shorter lengths? Do I and my work somehow trump grandmasters like Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg, whose many Hugos come not in the novel category but in categories of shorter works?

Novels aren’t inherently better than shorter works; I’m not at all convinced they need another category at the expense of those shorter works.

3. It privileges the established writer over the newer writer. Almost by definition, the authors who are eligible for the “Best Saga” award are very likely be writers who are already successful enough to have a long-running series and the ability to publish in those series on a recurring basis. It’s theoretically possible to have someone toiling away on a series in utter obscurity and suddenly emerge with a knockout installment that would pop that writer up into “Best Saga” consideration, but as a practical matter, it’s almost certainly more likely than not that the nominees in the category would be those authors with perennially popular series — people, to be blunt, like me and a relatively few other folks, who are already more likely to have won the “genre success” lottery than others.

Meanwhile, short fiction continues to be a really good way to find new writers and new voices and new perspectives. For many of these new voices, award consideration and recognition continues to be a fine way to raise their profile in the field. Culling out a short fiction award to benefit an award for series is very much offering an advantage to the successful few at the expense of the emerging many. I think that’s wrong.

(NB: The “Best Saga” proposal points out anthology series like “Wild Cards” are eligible, but I don’t know if offering up an example edited by the current most successful novelist in all of science fiction and fantasy actually invalidates the point, especially if in those cases the Hugo goes to the anthology editor rather than the (numerous) individual authors, as I suspect it would. As a practical matter, I see this benefiting the already-successful more than the up-and-comers by a considerable margin.)

4. It ignores the fact we are living in a new golden age of sf/f short fiction. Aside from the traditional magazines that already existed for short work, think of all the venues for short fiction that have blossomed online in the last decade and a half. Think of all the anthologies Kickstarted or otherwise crowdsourced, and all the writers using Patreon or other direct-compensation systems to connect with fans. Think of all the micro- and mini- and indie publishers putting out short fiction anthologies and collections. Think of all the writers self-publishing and taking their short work directly to fans and readers. Think of the wide breadth of voices and stories and writers that have come to market in the last several years.

Now, right now, is without question one of the best eras for short fiction in the history of the science fiction and fantasy genre… and we’re proposing to cull out an award available for short fiction so we can give another award to novels? That’s not just silly, it’s almost breathtakingly short-sighted. It would be a community turning its back on one of its greatest engines of creation.

Finally, I have this problem with the proposed amendment:

5. It feels like a sneak attack on short fiction, under the cover of an unrelated proposal. I don’t suspect that those who proposed it meant it that way — I’m sure they were simply trying to craft a proposed amendment that would attract the most votes. Even if that were the case, however, as a practical matter this proposed amendment, under the guise of doing one thing (creating a new Hugo category), is in fact doing other things (disposing of a short fiction Hugo category and reorganizing the remaining short fiction categories in ways that don’t necessarily make sense for storytelling purposes) and doing so in a manner which suggests that of course it would have to be done this way in order to make space for their new Hugo.

Well, no, it doesn’t. If you want to propose a “Best Saga” Hugo, then do that. If you also wish to get rid of the “Best Novelette” category, then you can do that too. But these are two separate things, and each deserves a separate argument on their respective merits. There is no systematic reason to combine the two proposals. Moreover, as a matter of rhetoric, the way the current “Best Saga” proposal is built makes it seem like the proposers are trying slip under the table a move to hollow out the Hugo’s ability to honor short fiction, by distracting the potential voters with another issue entirely. It’s a bad way to do things.

For that reason, even if I were inclined to consider a Best Saga Hugo award, I could not and would not endorse this particular proposal for its creation. Whether it was intended to be or not, it is an attack on short fiction, on the merits of short fiction as a class of expression, and on the writers of short fiction. It’s not worth creating a Hugo to benefit the relative advantaged few, if it means taking away a Hugo from a much larger pool of people who could benefit from a nomination — or a win.

This is a bad proposed amendment, and I hope it fails.

(P.S.: If you’re interested in my thoughts on a “Best Saga” Hugo on its own theoretical merits, I’ll put those into the first comment in the comment thread.)

Back in the US: A Housekeeping Note

I’m back home after a long, lovely week in London with my bride on the occasion of our 20th anniversary. More on that later.

Housekeeping notes:

1. The comment threads, which I had trimmed back to being open only for a couple of days whilst I was away, are now open to their usual two weeks length, so if you wanted to leave a comment on a post from the last week but were temporarily limited, go to it.

2. I’ve taken down my “I’m on vacation” email autoresponder, so my mail situation is now back to normal (i.e., the usual haphazard “why do I have so much email whyyyyyyyy” state of affairs).

3. That said, you might want to give me a couple of days to get completely back up to speed, because of the whole “returning from vacation and dazedly reintegrating back into the real world” thing. Tuesday! Tuesday would be a fine day to assume I’m fully back in the swing of things.

Thanks.

To Be the Anti-Scalzi, and Other Foolishness

From earlier today on Twitter:

And no, I’m not going to bother to name these fellows. It should be obvious to some of you, and the rest of you are better off being in blissful ignorance. I will say this: Writers — and indeed anyone else — when you decide to define yourself as being in opposition to someone else, then you give that person immense power over you. That person doesn’t have to have anything to do with you, and often won’t; you’re the one who has to do all the work, tracking their positions and attitudes and setting your own life in opposition. In effect, you’re letting them live in your brain, all the time, without cost. Whereas they will think of you only when they have no other choice.

How much better for you to instead to simply work on being the best possible version of yourself, which requires no concern about what anyone else does, or says, or is. It is what I do. It’s worked so far.

Comments off because I’m on vacation.

The Big Idea: John Ayliff

In Belt Three, author John Ayliff posits the end of the world as we know it. Do the survivors feel fine? Well, it depends on your definition of “fine.”

JOHN AYLIFF:

Aliens threaten to destroy the Earth in any number of sf books and movies. In most cases, daring space heroes defeat them and all returns to normal. In the rare cases when they don’t, it usually spells the end of the human race, at least as an independent civilisation; individuals might survive, but only by hitching a ride to safety with more benevolent aliens.

The big idea of Belt Three is that neither of these extremes happens. By cosmic coincidence, the Worldbreakers arrive during a quite narrow window in human development: we’re not advanced enough to defeat them, but we’re advanced enough to survive. Three hundred years later, people live in cities built into the asteroid belts that once made up the planets. The Worldbreakers are still around, destroying these debris pieces one by one (they’re slow but thorough), and populations scramble to evacuate whenever they approach. To build the world of Belt Three I tried to imagine what life would be like under these conditions.

The details of the evacuation of Earth would leave a large mark on the society that would emerge. I’d read somewhere that there may have been a human population bottleneck around 70,000 years ago, in which the human race was reduced to a few thousand individuals, and I decided that a similar thing happened here: only around a thousand families managed to evacuate in time. These near-future refugees had more resources than our prehistoric ancestors, though, and they also managed to save banks of genetic material from a larger population, and the technology to create clones from this material. However, a flaw in the hurriedly-designed cloning system meant that the clones were sterile. Three centuries later, the most important social divide is between the “true-born” ruling class and the “tank-born” majority, and the mythology of the thousand surviving families is an important part of true-born identity.

Secondly, the way people understand their place in history wouldn’t be as straightforward as “alien robots destroyed the planets and now we’re living in the debris.” That’s too cold for most people to find comforting. Instead, various religious groups offer their own explanations for the Worldbreakers; and because these religions pull in different directions, the society-wide consensus has become a sort of agnostic shrug: “No one knows what the Worldbreakers are.”

I find religion fascinating, and I wanted to make it an important part of my worldbuilding. I decided that creating a single dominant religion would be too neat, so I invented several small religious groups. The one that features most prominently is Scriberism, which teaches that the Worldbreakers are angels sent by God to dismantle the universe and bring the spiritually pure into paradise. At the highest level of the religion, believers purify themselves then board ships that fly into a Worldbreaker’s energy beam. Other religions include the Arkites, who interpret the Worldbreakers as a second Flood, which will eventually end and reveal a new set of planets; the Eternalists, who believe that the planets are destroyed and recreated in an endless cycle; and the True Belters, who believe that the planets are a myth and the universe has always consisted of belts and asteroid cities.

Outside of religion, society’s received wisdom would reflect its circumstances in more subtle ways, common assumptions that no one questions because no one thinks about them at all. Whatever the Worldbreakers are, everyone knows that they can’t be fought, and that the human race is living through its last few hundred years. That’s enough time to grab the best life you can for yourself and (if you’re a true-born) your children, but not long enough to think about grand projects for improving the world. For someone who’s grown up with the idea of the doomed human race, it wouldn’t be frightening, and might even be a source of comfort; nothing you do really matters, so there’s nothing to worry about. When one character has this belief challenged, they react not with hope but with bafflement.

That’s some of the thinking that went in to the background of the novel. In the foreground is the idea that there are always a few individuals who don’t accept society’s commonly accepted wisdom. The main character isn’t such an individual (at least not at first), but the pirate who kidnaps him is: she knows it’s impossible to strike back against the Worldbreakers, but she’s on a personal quest do do so anyway, and she’ll tear down any part of belt-dwelling society that tries to stop her.

—-

Belt Three: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks|Kobo

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

 

20 Years

Twenty years ago today, Krissy and I were married. We stood up in front of friends and family, said our vows (and they were our vows, as we wrote them), and formally begun our time together, making a life between us.

In that twenty years, there has never been a single day where I have not had cause to reflect on how much better my life is because Krissy is with me and is my partner. There has never been a single day where I did not reflect on the ways my life would be different, and a lesser life, without her in it. There has never been a single day where I have not been frankly amazed that a woman so capable, so loving and so gorgeous has chosen to be with me.

There has never been a single day in those twenty years that I have not told her that I love her.

More than a decade ago, I wrote “Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.” I stand by that observation. Krissy and I were in love the day we were married and are in love now, twenty years later. But that love is not a default state of being. It is a choice we make every day, and work follows that choice. Work is the proof of that choice. Love is the result of that work. Love gives us another day together, and the opportunity to make that choice once more.

As we have, day in, day out. Every single day, for twenty years. It is why we said “I do,” when we made our vows. It’s why we say “I do,” symbolically, each day of our lives together. There is no greater work that I have accomplished than this, and is a work that is impossible for me to have done alone. I can only do this work with someone else. With Krissy, in point of fact. It is a life’s work. My life, and hers, and ours.

There has never been a single day that I have had cause to doubt or regret the choice we made, twenty years ago today, to love each other that day and every day since. There has never been a single day that I would not, in front of family and friends and all the world, do it again, all over again. There has never been a single day in those twenty years where I have not. I am every day the groom to her bride. Every day the man who stood with her and said, with her, I do.

I do. Yes. Today and every day.

I love you, Kristine. I do.

This Hollow Union, Episode Two of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

I’m off doing touristy things in London, but I would be remiss if I did not inform you that Episode 2 of The End of All Things, “This Hollow Union,” is out and available at your favorite ebook retailer. Here’s the official description:

“Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for the multi-species Conclave, desperate times have arrived. Faced with the prospect of major planets and species leaving the alliance, the Conclave’s leadership has just a few cards left to play…to unpredictable effect.”

Unofficially, I’ll just say that I think it has some of my best storytelling to date, with one of my favorite characters in all of the OMW universe, Hafte Sorvalh. so I hope you enjoy it.

I’m traveling so I’m not going to do all the linking to the various online eBook retailers it’s available from, but you know the drill — if you have a favorite ebook retailer, go look and it should be there.

Happy reading!

The Big Idea: Scott Hawkins

Can a library change your personality — and the things you can do? It depends on the person… and the library. Scott Hawkins has a very interesting one in The Library at Mount Char, and if you’re not careful, you may be a different person coming out than when you went in.

SCOTT HAWKINS:

The magic library is one of the great devices of fantasy. Like bottle genies, a magic library empowers characters to do pretty much anything imaginable. After he became Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen Strange was finally able to pay off his medical school loans. Lev Grossman’s disaffected crew flew to the South Pole sans airline. Susannah Clarke’s Victorian wizards dispensed a good smiting to the French.

Magic libraries have another feature that makes them even better than genies, at least from a storytelling standpoint. Apprentice magicians are obliged to do at least some work if they hope to accomplish anything. Better still, the very act of studying magic changes people. If magicians aren’t careful in their studies—sometimes even if they are–they can be badly hurt.

In my debut novel, The Library at Mount Char, I thought it would be fun to throw a bunch of more or less normal people into a spectacularly dangerous magic library and see what happened. There are books on flying, yes, but there’s also stuff that makes the Necronomicon seem PG-13. They have a wise mentor—not ‘kindly,’ but wise–who shows them around the place and helps ensure they don’t make any of the classic mistakes. When the head librarian says “don’t read that book,” you don’t read it. There are consequences for disobedience.

Still, even with their access strictly controlled, these librarians learn some interesting stuff. One guy talks to animals. Another spends weekends commuting to the twenty-third millennium to go clubbing with friends. There’s a woman who keeps a spy army of ghost children, invisible to anyone but her.

Unless you’ve got the soul of a Peter Parker, just living in the vicinity of that kind of power would affect your personality.

For instance, imagine one of your buddies has, through diligent study, learned how to raise the dead. She’s the real deal. She doesn’t turn people into George Romero monsters or something from the Pet Sematary. No. Your buddy, who you get tacos with every Tuesday, has an actual cure for death. There are no major side effects to this cure—at worst, you get a slight headache when resurrected. Your friend is the only one who knows how to do this neat trick.

But lately she’s been kind of a bitch.

How would you handle that? Realistically? My thinking is that even if she’s no longer my absolute favorite person, I would still invite her to parties. At a minimum, I’d stay friends with her until my biopsy results came back.

And anyway it’s not really lying because she’s basically nice.

When she’s not being a bitch.

Along those same lines, what if the guy you room with has, through diligent study of his corner of the magic library, become the most dangerous person alive? He’s invulnerable-ish. Maybe he’s not quite at the Superman level, but he’s more than a match for, say, a battalion of infantry with artillery and air support. Your roommate is the absolute pinnacle of the Earthly food chain, and he just drank your last beer. Again.

Maybe when you first moved in together he was nice enough—or not. But over time, the knowledge that he’s completely immune to any sort of discipline has had an impact on his manners. He never vacuums. There are dishes in the sink. The last time he stole your beer you left him a polite note. He broke your arm. Your buddy who resurrects people fixed it—you got her a pint of Haagen-Dazs the last time you bought groceries, so she didn’t even keep you waiting for long–but it still smarted like a sonofagun.

Do you leave another note? Or just suck it up and go to bed?

Say that you yourself are a magic librarian who is diligent, humble, and not in charge of a dazzling section of the books. You study something mundane—cooking, maybe, or languages. Still, you’re in this environment. Would simply being exposed to that level of power change you? All of your buddies are getting drunk on it. Probably you’d be fine for a while, maybe even a long while. You’d stay humble. You’d go along to get along. But I bet that over time all of the little frustrations and insanities would pile up.

What if you decided you wanted out?

How would that even be possible? Even if you did escape after a lifetime in that environment, what would normal people seem like to you?

What would you seem like to them?

These are some of the questions I play with in The Library at Mount Char.

—-

The Library at Mount Char: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

On a Travel Schedule, 6/12 – 6/22

Hey there. I’m taking a vacation for a week, which means my presence here will be limited for that timeframe. I’ll be posting a couple of Big Idea pieces and maybe a picture or two or a couple of short entries, but otherwise don’t expect to see too much of me until Monday the 22nd. I’ll also be doing that thing where comment threads are limited to a single day until I get back, at which point they’ll go back to their usual “two weeks” length.

Additionally: Most emails and other attempts at communication with me will largely go unacknowledged until to 22nd, because, again: Vacation! I may be on Twitter a bit, but don’t expect much. Basically, assume that I’m not taking a vacation just to stare into a computer or phone screen. Because if I did, what kind of jerk would I be, right?

In any event: Enjoy the next week and change. I intend to.

A Jurassic Quiz: Find Out Which Dinosaur Will Eat You!

Over at Sundance.tv, where I am writing occasional things about film, I’ve created a quiz in honor of the upcoming Jurassic World movie, featuring somewhat obscure trivia from the first three Jurassic Park films. Get all of the quiz questions correct, and you survive. Miss one or more, and you get killed and possibly eaten by a dinosaur. Which dinosaur? It depends on how many questions you miss.

Ready to test your chances? Then here’s the link. Good luck, you’re gonna need it.

A Very Important Poll That Will Make You Think About How Fragile and Beautiful the World We Live in Truly is

Prepare yourself. You’re going to have to make a hard choice here.

Explain your answer in the comments. If you dare.

A Note on Money and Self-Censorship

A question in email, asking me whether the size and length of my book deal with Tor means I’m likely to be less loud on the Internet on certain topics. This comes in the wake of my post yesterday, in which I reminded people I’m not their Outrage Monkey and will choose the things I comment on (or not) online based on my own criteria and no one else’s. The e-mailer wondered if the deal (and the money it represented) would be part of that criteria. Which seems a fair enough question to me.

The short answer is no. The longer answer is not only is the deal not an impediment to me saying whatever the hell I please online, it could frankly be seen as the opposite — after all, I’m safe from having to look for a book deal for an entire decade. I really can’t be financially penalized for anything I might choose to say on my free time. The worst that could happen is that the books don’t earn out and I don’t get royalties, but that could happen for any number of reasons. I still get the advances. They’re contractually specified. This is why one has contracts.

But won’t my publisher lean on me to say/not say things? No. More accurately, in the fifteen years I’ve been writing books, across several publishers, none of them ever have, and I doubt they are going to start now. Why? Because, among other things, they don’t have a right to, and there’s nothing in my contracts that allows them to. Nick Mamatas (who is a book editor as well as an author) wrote up the other day a piece about why publishers usually don’t try to impose good behavior on their authors, which is accurate and which I encourage folks to check out. But even beyond certain legal and labor ramifications, the simple fact is “publisher” doesn’t usually mean “employer” when it comes to writing books, and it certainly doesn’t mean “parent.” I’m on my own recognizance.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I might not choose to recuse myself from one discussion or another if it involves one of my publishers; I might, because of any number of reasons, including that the discussion might involve personal friends, or that I might know things about the situation I can’t discuss publicly so it’s better I not comment at all, or, just, you know, I don’t wanna. All of which is fair. The good news is, other people will be more than happy to take up the slack when I choose to sit out.

But in point of fact me holding off for financial reasons from saying anything I damn well please is simply not likely. I mean, it didn’t stop me before, when I was only on one or two book contracts, or before I had any book contracts at all. It’s not going to stop me when I have a whole friggin’ decade before I have to think about hunting for another book contract again.

So, yeah. No silence has been bought. If I’m not talking about something, it’s because I chose not to talk about it, not because my book publishers have paid to keep me quiet.

A Refresher Course On What I’m Obliged to Write About

So, a couple of days ago, a bigoted shithole of a human being took a screenshot of something Irene Gallo wrote on her Facebook wall some time ago and decided to deploy it at a specific time in order to gin up some outrage, which ended up with Irene making an apology for calling some people Neo-Nazis (when, in my opinion, it was merely some of them who could have been more accurately called bigoted shitholes), and Tor, her employer, also issuing an apology. Both Irene’s original statement and Tor’s apology have been the subject of much discussion online, Irene’s statement because even bigoted shitholes and their intentional allies (not to mention some genuinely innocent folks unintentionally or unwittingly dragooned into the bigoted shithole’s little schemes) prefer not to be called Neo-Nazis, and Tor’s statement because (for starters) it looks like Irene was hung out to dry by the company.

Up until this particular moment, I’ve been relatively publicly silent about this hoofraw, and for that fact, I’ve been getting some stick in some quarters, some from people who wanted me to address Irene’s comments, some from people who want me to address Tor’s letter, and some, I guess, from people who apparently just think I need to address every thing that happens on the Internet, because, I don’t know, maybe they don’t know what to think about a topic until I write about it. And indeed, there are some people who apparently believe that because I have not addressed these things publicly in a manner which they find suitable, I have been derelict in some manner, and this proves [insert whatever personal bugaboo they have about me].

So, clearly it’s time to remind people of some things.

1. I’m not your outrage monkey. I’m not obliged to participate in every blow up online, including the ones you think are relevant to my interests. Why? Because it’s my life, and that means I get to be in charge of what I respond to and discuss online, and what I don’t. You can have an opinion about me responding (or not), but I’m not obliged to care about that, or to agree with you that my response (or not) proves [whatever personal bugaboo you have about me]. As I’m fond of reminding people, there are three people whose opinion about me actually matters to me in the grand scheme of things: My wife, my daughter and (waaaaaaaaaaay further down, and relating only to writing) my editor. Everyone else: Meh. And to be blunt, if you’re the sort who will think less of me because I am not responding online to some thing you want me to respond about, you can put two heavy underlines below “I don’t care what you think.” Seriously, who even thinks like that. You might be a terrible person.

2. Large parts of my life exist outside of this blog and social media. And sometimes I will privilege those over addressing something online in what you might feel is a timely fashion. Why? Because it’s my life, and I get to make that decision, not you. And again you might feel that I should care about your opinion on the matter, but ask yourself: Are you my wife? Or daughter? Or my editor, with a concern focused on writing? If the answer is “no,” and it almost certainly is, then you don’t get a vote, no matter how much you would like one. My life isn’t a democracy.

3. I may choose not to address an issue in a manner you find satisfactory, or indeed at all. And why? Because it’s my life, and I get to make that decision (you may be sensing a theme here).  And I may have reasons for that, or none at all, or none that you may find satisfactory, and if you don’t like that, that’s totally fine, and not my problem in the least.

As an example, here are some possible reasons why I might not have chosen to address the Irene Gallo thing online in a manner which meets your exacting standards:

  • I was traveling when this all blew up and had to catch up before I could comment on it;
  • It was an event that involved someone I consider a friend and I didn’t want to address it before talking to her;
  • I had someone very important to me pass away, and that’s messed me up emotionally, and I didn’t want to comment on this because I didn’t trust myself to be rational about it;
  • I had work and business issues which I have not been discussing online, which I needed to address and which took priority;
  • I decided “fuck it, the Internet can get along without me for this one”;
  • As someone who can privately talk to people directly involved, I chose to do that rather than splotz my opinion online;
  • I decided I didn’t want to give more oxygen to a bigoted shithole and his shitty manufactured outrage;
  • I fell down a well and have been replaced by a colony of hyperintelligent bees, who despite their intelligence don’t understand this human concept of outrage at all and are struggling mightily to learn;
  • I didn’t want to annoy a company which is going to give me a ton of money over a decade;
  • Excessive personal ennui.

Which of these reasons is the reason I haven’t spoken on this subject in a manner which you find sufficient? Any one of them, or more than one in some combination, or possibly all of them, or possibly none. Unless I choose to tell you, and I’ve decided I won’t, then you won’t know (I will, suggest, however, that the one about the bees is unlikely, although that is what a hive of superintelligent bees would say to avoid detection, now, isn’t it). Or it might be for another reason entirely — say, that I knew if I did, that I would have to also deal with all the nonsense that comes with me speaking about anything online these days — or it might not be for any reason at all. Hey, sometimes I do or don’t do things without giving it any real thought. You never know! And while the reasons for not publicly addressing a particular subject will change from issue to issue, the overarching point that I may have reasons not to publicly address an issue will remain.

And again, you may find these reasons, or my choice to explain them or not, sufficient, or you might not. Which again is fine, and also again not anything I’m going to particularly care about. Again, you don’t get a vote.

4. The Internet doesn’t need me to weigh in on everything. It certainly didn’t in this case — there were more than enough people willing to engage both Irene’s initial comment, and Tor’s letter about it and the aftermath. In the former case, here’s something by Eric Flint; in the latter cases, something by Kameron Hurley and Chuck Wendig. These three are the figurative tip of an iceberg comprised of blog entries, comments, tweets and Facebook posts.

The Internet did not wait for me on this; it doesn’t wait for me on anything. Why are you waiting for me? I mean, thanks, I guess? It’s nice you want to know what I think? But I do hope you recognize the difference between you having an interest in my public thoughts on something — which is great! Thanks! — and thinking I’m obliged to share my thoughts on something in a public manner — which is not great, and which I don’t agree with.

5. All the above points are in effect until the heat death of the universe. In case you were wondering. And again, you may be unhappy with that. But again: I don’t really care.

Hope that helps.

The Big Idea: Beth Cato

In today’s Big Idea, Beth Cato challenges tradition in The Clockwork Crown, and creates a character that the rule books don’t ever seem to suggest can actually exist.

BETH CATO:

The Big Idea behind The Clockwork Dagger series is pretty straightforward: healers are heroes too, darnit. Not just sidekicks, but full-on protagonists.

I grew up on old school role-playing video games. In order to survive games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior III, you needed a white mage, a cleric, some kind of magic user with healing power. They enabled your party to stay alive… if you could keep them alive. Because let’s face it, a white mage had the offensive and defensive skills of a paper bag. One solid thwack and they keeled over. You needed strong fighters up front to take the worst of the damage.

That’s the usual way of things with healers in games, whether the medium is 8-bit, Playstation, or MMORG. Healers are sidekicks. They buff the Big Damn Heroes and then cower in the back row.

Fantasy novels pretty much follow the same pattern. If the hero has some healing skills, it’s part of a demi-god prize pack of superpowers. It’s not their primary trait.

I searched for years for books that made healers into heroes. I didn’t find it, so I wrote it myself. I wanted a heroine who would stand in the middle ground between real world battlefield medics and the grand magical powers of video game clerics. She needed to be a warrior, but one who wielded herbs and compassion.

Meet Octavia Leander, the heroine of The Clockwork Dagger and the brand new sequel, The Clockwork Crown.

Since childhood, Octavia has understood that she’s different from most folks and even most medicians (magical doctors). When she’s near other people, she hears their injuries and diseases in the form of song and intuitively knows the right herbs to heal them. Through her magic she can even cause patients to float or create defensive barriers around them. Her heightened skills have made her an outcast among her fellow medicians. Even her mentor has succumbed to jealousy and turned against her.

Octavia’s physical strength is a more noteworthy attribute than her appearance. She can haul hay bales or drag a comatose body. She’s against violence, but if need be, she’ll defend herself. She’ll also rush to heal her assailant afterward.

During the events of the first book, Octavia’s magic changed in new, alarming ways and she realized she could become a deadly tool for the enemy. As the sequel opens, her powers have deepened in a manner that challenges her faith in the source of her power, a world tree known as the Lady. Octavia is on the run for her life as she’s caught in a vicious tug-of-war between terrorists and her own corrupt government. Everywhere she turns, there are assassins, kidnappers, and people who want to exploit her incredible magic.

Octavia is the kind of literary heroine I’ve searched for since my teens. She’s strong, compassionate, and resourceful. You won’t catch her cowering in the back row of battle. She’ll be on the front lines, her satchel at her hip, ready to fight Death one on one. And win.

The Clockwork Crown: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s | Indiebound

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

The Life of the Mind, Episode One of The End of All Things: Out Now!

Today’s the day! “The Life of the Mind,” the first of four novella-length episodes of The End of All Things, the new novel in the Old Man’s War series, is now out in electronic form and available at your favorite electronic retailer.

Here’s the official synopsis of the episode: “A down-on-his-luck Colonial Union starship pilot finds himself pressed into serving a harsh master-in a mission against the CU. But his kidnappers may have underestimated his knowledge of the ship that they have, quite literally, bound him to piloting.”

Here’s an excerpt from the story. And if you’re in the US, here are some stores you’ll find it in:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks|Kobo

In the UK? It’s also out there, with different artwork courtesy of Tor UK (the text is the same), and should also be available at your favorite eBook stores. In the rest of the world, the novella should be available in either the US or UK version (or both!). If it’s not at one of your local eBook retailers, be patient; it should be on its way.

Now, with the commercial preliminaries out of the way, what’s up in this novella?

1. Remember the cliffhanger at the end of The Human Division? Yes? Well, I waste very little time resolving it in TLoTM. Because you all have been waiting two years to find out what happens next, and because I suspect if I kept stringing it out some of you might decide to murder me dead. I don’t want to be murdered dead. So: Answers!

2. I introduce you to a new character, starship pilot Rafe Daquin. He’s the main character of this episode and will play a significant role in subsequent episodes. I like him a lot — he’s someone who gets put in a near-impossible situation and has to find a way, not just to cope, but to plot against his captors. We get to spend a lot of time in Rafe’s head, figuratively speaking, so I wanted to be sure he was good company. I think I pulled it off.

3. Yes, you’ll see some of your favorites from The Human Division in the episode as well (briefly). Plus action and adventure and the occasional deep thought, i.e., all the stuff you like about the Old Man’s War universe.

4. And naturally, the events in this episode set the stage for the next, “This Hollow Union,” which will be released next week.

I’m super excited for this episode to be out in the world, and I can’t wait for all of you to read it. Enjoy, and more is coming!

Jacqueline Kahn

My friend Jacqueline Kahn (pictured here with her husband Laurie, on their 60th anniversary trip) died yesterday morning. I want to tell you a little bit about her, and what she meant to me.

First, you have to know that in the 4th grade, I broke my leg. I broke it by hitting a moving Ford Pinto. Technically I was at a cross walk so I was not at fault, but there was a parked car directly in front of me and I ran out into the street, and the poor man who hit me couldn’t have possibly stopped in time. Regardless, my leg was well and truly smashed up, and I was in a cast and wheelchair for a big chunk of my 4th grade year.

The folks at my school decided it was not a great idea to have me tooling around the playground in a wheelchair, so for recess and lunchtimes I was carted into the school office, where Jackie was working, I believe, as a receptionist/secretary. I was ten and very very very chatty, so naturally I spent a lot of time blathering in her direction. Jackie, to her credit, was kind to me and talked back, rather than just genially ignoring me. Later, when my leg healed, I in my ten-year-old egotism thought that she would be sad that I was no longer there, so every day after that, as I headed to the bus to take me home, I would stop in and tell her a joke before I left.

I did that every single day through the end of my sixth grade year, my last year at elementary school. Most of the jokes were terrible. Jackie, bless her, continued to be kind to me.

And more than that. My mother went through a terrible divorce early in my sixth grade year, after which my mother, sister and I were briefly homeless, and then moved several times in the course of that last year, to cities other than Covina, which is where my school was. When we moved out of Covina, I should have no longer been able to attend Ben Lomond, the elementary school I was in. But of course I didn’t want that, and my mother didn’t want that, and I’m pretty sure that my mother didn’t go out of her way to tell anyone we had moved. But sooner or later it got out, and I think there was some question about whether or not I would be able to continue at Ben Lomond.

What happened then, as I understand it, is that Jackie said that if I was made to leave the school, she would quit her job.

And that was that. I stayed.

I didn’t know any of this at the time, of course. I learned about it much later. But I can’t tell you how important it was. As I said: Rough divorce, homelessness, and shuttling around to several houses, all in the space of a few months. We were terribly poor and because my mother had to find work where she could, when she could, I and my sister were left along to our own devices a lot of the time. What stability I had — honestly, the one place I could depend on not suddenly changing — came from my elementary school, where I had Jackie, my teachers (particularly Keith Johnson, my 6th grade teacher) and my friends. If I were to have lost that, among everything else I lost, I couldn’t tell you how I would have dealt with it. I suspect I would have dealt with it poorly. So I think I can say without exaggeration that Jackie’s act saved me, in ways I wasn’t aware of at the time, but am aware of now.

Jackie’s kindness to me didn’t stop once I left elementary school. We became friends and she was someone I depended on. She stayed in contact with me in junior high and high school. She took me to movies — a lot of movies, and good movies because she was a film buff — and let me visit her house, where she kept Corgis before Corgis were cool. In many ways she made me part of her extended family. I knew it and loved it, and thought of her in so many ways as another grandmother, equal to, and in most ways one I was closer to, then my own actual grandmothers.

In high school she read my stories and came to all the plays I was in. When I went off to college I would come back on holidays to see her and say hello. When it became clear Krissy and I were a serious item, I took her to Jackie’s house so she could meet her (she approved). She was there for my wedding. When I moved away she kept in touch with me through e-mail, sharing her own writing (she was a playwright, and a pretty good one) and keeping me up to date with her family, as I kept her up to date with mine. When my very first book came out, in 2000, I co-dedicated the book to her. She liked that. I knew she was proud of me and the life I’ve made.

And now she’s gone.

I had advance warning of this day, so I was able to prepare for it, which I think in many ways was a kindness. She was so important to me that having the news cold would have come like a hammer blow. Instead I had time to think of her and the totality of her life and everything I owe to her, in ways obvious and not so obvious, so that when this final door closed I could feel, not pain, but joy in a life that was well-lived and was generous enough to encompass me in it.

Jacqueline Kahn was a woman who was good to me as a child, a friend to me as an adult, and always, a home spirit — someone I knew cared for me, no matter what, and with whom I felt safe, and cherished, and loved. I love her, and will miss her, and will carry her and her kindness in my heart all of my days.

All my love now goes to her family, and to all of those who knew her and cared for her, and for whom she cared. May her memory be a blessing to each of them.

And thank you for letting me share a little bit of who she was with you. When you see me, you see a little bit of her in me. I’m glad of that. She was the best of people.

Weekend Updatery and Miscellaneous, 6/8/15

A catchall post for a few things. 

* I spent the weekend in Berkeley, California for the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival, and in my opinion the folks running it did pretty well for the first shot at the event. There were a few hiccups here and there, but by and large people seemed to enjoy themselves, and I’m happy to say my events were well-attended. My first event was a reading and Q&A, followed by a panel on climate change and fiction, which also included Paolo Bacigalupi, Edan Lepucki and Antti Tuomainen. I also got to see several friends there, which is always a joy, and on Saturday evening got to hang out with a bunch of writers, including Paolo, Kim Stanley Robinson and Karen Joy Fowler, discussing writing and publishing. It was a pretty nifty time, in short, and enough so that I didn’t mind several hours in the air, both ways, to be in the Bay Area less than 48 hours overall.

The picture above, incidentally, taken from the balcony of the University Club at the top of Memorial Stadium, where the book festival held a welcoming party for writers. It was a lovely time; I hung out with my friend Olivia Ahl (events coordinator for the Bellevue branch of the University Bookstore (that’s University of Washington, not Cal)), author Suzanne Young, and Wired editor Adam Rogers. I also met Otis Chandler, CEO of Goodreads, who also happens to be a fellow alumni of my high school, the Webb Schools of California (he graduated a few years later than I) and his wife Elizabeth. Otis and I talked obscure high school lore whilst everyone about us looked on tolerantly.

In any event, I thought the Bay Area Book Festival was a success, and can’t wait for future installments.

* Over the weekend I also ran a fundraiser for Con or Bust, in which I invited folks to post a picture of a happy puppy, and for every picture I would donate $1. As a result we got to see about three hundred different doggies in the thread, either pictured or linked to, which makes it arguably the most adorable comment thread in the history of Whatever. In the end there were 317 comments, some of which were repeats as people tried alternate methods to post pictures of their pups, but eh, I rounded up and donated $325 to Con or Bust. The donation is now already sent off, so well done, everybody. You and your puppies can be proud. Also, if you yourself are looking to donate to a worthy cause, consider Con or Bust. It’s pretty cool.

* On a (very) tangentially related note, Jim Hines did some yeoman work over the weekend doing a quick early history of the Sad Puppies, using their own words to help make the picture more clear for the confused, which at this point could be everyone. Jim somewhat mercifully skates over the part where Theodore Beale makes the Sad Puppies his arguably unwitting tools for his own purposes (i.e., the “Rabid Puppies” slate, aka the “Let me just use the Hugos to promote my own little not terribly successful publishing house here” slate), but it’s otherwise pretty comprehensive, and a good primer.

It’s not escaped notice that I’ve been slacking on my Hugo/Puppies commentary recently, but honestly at this point there’s not anything new for me to say. It’s a low-information movement begun in craven entitlement, with a political element tacked on as a cudgel, taken over by an ambitious bigot, and I’m sorry for the several excellent people I know who have gotten wrapped up in this nonsense one way or another. That’s pretty much where I’ve been on it for a while now. When I have anything new and useful to add, I’ll make note of it.

* So that we won’t go out on a low note, and to usher in Monday, may I present the following exchange between me and Chuck Wendig on Twitter, which to my mind amply explains why Twitter does and should exist:

And off we go into the week!