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Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John

Peter asks:

Hi there! I’d like to hear your thoughts about the name “John”. It’s one of the most common names in the English-speaking world. It’s also your name. Do you like being named John? If you had to change your name, what would you change it to?

“John” is indeed a very common male name in the English world, as are its various cognates in other languages (Ian, Sean, Juan, Ivan, etc), but in English at least, its stock has come down in quite a bit in recent years — once a perennial Top Ten name, last year “John” was merely the 55th most popular name in the US (according to this baby name site), wedged between “Julian” and “Colton.”  At this point, if you hear someone’s named John, you might reasonably surmise he’s likely over 25, which of course in my case is perfectly correct.

I like being named “John” just fine, but I’ll also note that almost no one calls me by the name. In most social situations I am almost always and exclusively called “Scalzi” and have been since I was child, not by family (my family nickname was “John-John” to distinguish me from other Johns in the family, including my father) but by just about everyone else. Indeed, I am often referred to by “Scalzi” even when everyone else is referred to by first name (“I had dinner with Bob, Ted, Cyndi and Scalzi”).

One reason is practical: I’m usually the only Scalzi in most contexts, so referring to me by that name is useful for identification, particularly when there’s another John in the social mix, who is then often referred to by his first name. Another reason, I suspect, is that “Scalzi” is more fun to say than “John.” Go ahead, try it. A third reason is that I lucked into the name as branding — there are other Scalzis in the English-speaking world, but none so prominent as I; check Google on this for confirmation (or Bing, if you like, you deviant). There are other Scalzis, and there are even other John Scalzis, but in terms of to whom the name refers in our culture, I am the Scalzi. And that’s pretty cool. Might as well call me that name; it’s me.

Whereas I will never be the John, no matter how hard I try. There are several saints at the head of the line, and then a few kings and presidents, other world historical figures and then the long long line of celebrities who share the name. Even fictional Johns have more notability than I; I will never ever be more famous than John McClane, for example. I’m not necessarily even the first John people think of when it comes to science fiction: There are the Johns Varley, Wyndham, Christopher and Ringo which come to me right off the top of head, and many others I could name if I thought about it more, and of course there’s John W. Campbell, who as an editor largely defined what we think of as the “Golden Age” of science fiction.

Which is neither here nor there as to whether I like the name “John,” mind you. I do; it’s nice and comfortable and it’s me — I will answer to it, when it’s used (which is rarely) and it’s meant to refer to me in context (slightly more rarely). I just recognize that a very common name means that you share it with a wide number of people. “John” is me, but it’s not only me, and it will never be primarily me, when people think of the name, in the way “Scalzi” is.

As for what I would change my name to, well, as noted above, there’s already a name for me that, culturally speaking, I kind of own, and which is what most people actually use to refer to me, so changing my first name would not only be unnecessary, there’s also a real question of whether anyone would actually notice. But if I had to change it, and I would have to exclude “Jon” from the list of names I could change it to (technically “Jon” and “John” are different names), I’d probably go with “Michael,” which is my middle name and thus one comfortably already allied with my identity. And it’s about as common as “John,” which solves no problems, as far as names go. Fortunately, “Scalzi” is still available to me for identification purposes.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me

Bettie Pager asks:

Generally, bullies bash people to get particular reactions — they want to shut down others’ voices or at least scare them. But, at least from the outside looking in, the only affect the Mewling Manlings/Rabidly Sad Puppies/etc. have on you is an occasional volley of very well-crafted snark. Given that they don’t seem to be getting what bullies generally want out of you, why do you think they keep at it?

Well, with regard to the Puppies specifically, I don’t think they’re trying to bully me. They just like to use a fictional version of me as a poster boy for Everything That’s Wrong With Science Fiction, and occasionally the poster boy for Sure We’re Doing a Shitty Thing But This Guy Kinda Did It First If You Squint Real Hard, and always as the poster boy for WAAAAAAAAAAAH SCALZI WE JUST HATE YOU SO MUCH AND WISH YOU WOULD DIE. Which is different than bullying. There’s not much to do but snark on that, honestly. They keep at it, I suppose, as a community-building activity. Which, you know. I guess is nice? None of their rationales for slating holds up to even casual scrutiny but at least they’re united in their dislike of me? Bless their little hearts. I wish them joy.

Which is not to say that occasionally someone on the Manly Men Who Manfully Man Mantastically spectrum won’t occasionally try to get in my face (online) in an attempt to intimidate me. In which case a little condescension followed by judicious application of the mute button is the usual order of things. I suspect some of them might consider ignoring them “running away,” but then they would, wouldn’t they, the dear, sweet lads. OH YOU CAN’T TAKE IT CAN YOU? Sure, I can take it. I just don’t have to take it, so I don’t. Life’s too short.

But note well that a) as a well-off straight white dude, I find it very easy to condescend to, and then ignore, all manner of schmuck, b) as a well-off straight white dude who can condescend and then ignore, I am a low-value target for bullies. The bully pathology is “punch down, suck up”; that is, harass and threaten people they believe are lower (or should be lower) on whatever fucked-up social hierarchy they subscribe to, and then run back to people they see higher up on the hierarchy for head pats (this is why bullies on Twitter often “@” who they see as higher-value bullies when they try to crap on someone).

For lack of a better way to put it, for their pathology, bullies get a lot more mileage out of other people than they do me. And alas for those other people, it is more difficult for them to wave off attempted bullying, both in terms of its seriousness, and its volume, than it is for me. My ability, and luxury, to point and laugh at, and then ignore, the sad little dudes who try to pull this crap on me, should not be construed as me suggesting this sort of nonsense is not a real problem for others. It is, and it needs to be dealt with.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women

This question was asked by JRed and seconded by a number of people in the thread:

What advice do you have for raising a strong woman in today’s world*? Our daughter just turned one, and I want her to grow up to know who she is and what she wants, and to not take crap from anyone. But it’s overwhelming when society seems to have 10,000 conflicting messages about what those qualities even mean for women, much less how to cultivate them. I realize this topic might set you up for the haters, but my husband and I would love your thoughts.  *OK, let’s narrow “the world” to the United States.

I can’t give a recipe for this other than what we’ve done with regard to our own daughter, but inasmuch as I expect that’s what you’re asking, here’s how we’ve done it.

(Disclaimers early: I’m not a perfect parent. Neither is Krissy. Any suggestion that we are should be treated with skepticism. Likewise, take into account who we are and the conditions of our life, ie, we have a whole lot of advantages, and by association, so does our daughter. Also, this is not meant to be an exhaustive and complete list. Also, I am not a perfect feminist. And so on. Got it? Okay.)

1. Give your daughter a strong woman as a role model. In our case, this would be Krissy, Athena’s mother. Krissy is intelligent, strong, organized, opinionated, clearly used to being in charge of her own life, and doesn’t take shit from anyone while at the same time being kind and loving. When this sort of woman is your mother, then every day of your life you have that as your primary definition of what being a woman is and can be. This is a good baseline to work from. How Krissy is a strong woman is not the only way to be one, mind you. But she definitively is one. A woman’s role model for a strong woman, likewise, does not have to be her mother (and to be clear Krissy is not Athena’s only role model in this regard). But if you can have a strong woman the house, I think it probably helps. Likewise:

2. Let your daughter see the man in her house treating women with respect and as equals. That would be me, in our house. Athena has always seen her mother and I in a relationship where not only are we loving to each other, but we treat each other with respect, and she can see many places where her mother is the lead in our partnership (because of skill or inclination or other reasons) and I not only acknowledge that fact, but am pleased about it. Nor is this lead role always in “traditional” male/female tasks and roles. Again, in a day-to-day sense, our daughter sees the two of us in our relationship with each other, and that becomes her baseline of expectation of how men and women together treat each other. We don’t treat each other as we do because our daughter is watching — we treated each other that way long before she came along. But our daughter receives the benefit of seeing that relationship dynamic. But while we’re on the subject of men:

3. Let your daughter see the man in her house have good relationships with women who are not his spouse and (again) treat them with respect and as equals. I don’t think it’s enough for Athena only to see the respect with which I treat her mother; it’s also useful to see me interact with other women and see how I treat them as well. The reason it’s important is that Krissy is my wife, and that spousal dynamic is always going to be its own thing. So she needs to see me with my women friends, my women colleagues, and even how I respond to women I don’t even know. Once again, the day-to-day experience of that sets her baseline of what behavior she should expect from men, when they talk to and interact with women. And once again, I don’t treat women with respect because my daughter is watching; I treat them respect because people deserve respect. It’s still important that my daughter sees it.

None of the above points, it should be noted, are things that should be called out for praise or are meant to be cookie-bearing activities — this is simply about what you do with your life on a day to day basis, which your kid will see and pick up on by osmosis. Parents are their kids’ first teachers, and kids watch and learn even when you don’t think you’re teaching them. You’re always teaching them. They’re always watching you.

Moving on.

4. Give your daughter appropriate agency. Here’s a small example, which I’ve noted here before: As soon as Athena was old enough to understand it, I’ve always gotten her permission before posting pictures, or talking about things she’s done, here and other places online. Why? One, again, simple respect, but two, I wanted her to understand from a very early age that she should have a right and expectation that her wishes and opinions would be listened to and followed and taken seriously. You’ve never seen a picture or anecdote here about her after the age of about four, that she didn’t sign off on. It’s a small thing, but on the other hand, it’s also a concrete example to her that she is being respected. From me, a man. In time that becomes a baseline expectation. If it’s not met elsewhere, she’ll know something is off. Related to this:

5. Treat your daughter as a thinking human. This is not the same thing as treating your kid as “an adult,” which is a brag I sometimes hear: “We’ve always treated our children like adults.” Well, that’s dumb; kids aren’t adults and depending on their age, there’s a whole lot of mental and physical development between where they are now and where they will be as grown-ups. What I think is more important is to realize that every step of the way your child has a brain, and it’s working, and you address that brain with respect. Which means your child learns to trust that you are dealing with them fairly, even (especially) when you are being the parent. Again, it’s about the expectations you’re offering your kid: To be taken seriously, to be heard, and to be appreciated.

6. Point out cultural nonsense as it happens (in an age appropriate way). Culture sends 10,000 conflicting messages, but it doesn’t mean that those messages have to be received unmediated. We very early on taught Athena how to recognize when she was being sold to, when someone was asserting something that wasn’t true, and in particular regard to the question at hand, when she was being exposed to sexist bullshit. We didn’t necessarily make a big production of it — stop everything! It’s time for a lesson! — but calling things out does a couple of things. One, it trains your kid not to uncritically accept what culture is pushing on them; two, it makes them aware that culture’s messages don’t have to apply to them, and that they’re free to make up their own minds.

7. Back your daughter up. Back her up when she wants to try things. Back her up when she succeeds. Back her up when she fails. Back her up when she’s confronted by people who try to make her into something society expects rather than what she’s interested in. Back her up when she needs information. Back her up when she tells you how she’s feeling. Back her up when one of the less pleasant messages society is trying to send her manages to hit home. Back her up when people give her shit, just for being a woman. Back her up when she fights back. Back her up. Be the solid ground your kid plants her feet in to push against all the bullshit. She’s going to need it. She’s going to need it a lot.

8. Do all of the above without needing to get credit for it. Kids are self-centered, in the worst and best ways. They don’t always get what their parents do for them until a whole lot later. That’s fine. The goal isn’t a Parent of the Year ribbon. The goal is a daughter who is strong, capable and her own person. Help make one of those, and it’s a pretty good bet eventually she’ll figure out what you did for her.

So, that’s how we’re doing it on our end. Maybe some of this will be useful for you, too.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

The Big Idea: Sabaa Tahir and Renée Ahdieh

Sabaa Tahir and Renée Ahdieh are authors of young adult fantasy, with books releasing in April and May, respectively. Their novels are both inspired by unique settings, so they decided to interview one another for The Big Idea and share how they approached worldbuilding from different perspectives.


RA: The desert is a huge part of An Ember In the Ashes, but it’s not a setting we see in a lot of YA high fantasy, except in passing. What led you to pick it as your primary setting?

ST: I grew up in the Mojave Desert of California, midway between the highest and lowest points in the continental U.S. Living in such an extreme place made me feel like the land had a distinct personality. Sometimes, the desert loved me, like in the middle of a thunderstorm, or in the early morning, when a breeze came off the mountains. Other times, the desert hated me—like when it was 115 degrees out and the asphalt melted beneath my feet.

But it was always beautiful and dramatic. When I started writing Ember, I knew it was going to be a story of extremes—so the desert seemed like the perfect setting for it. It’s the place I know the best, so in a sense, this was also my way of paying homage to that.

RA: I could absolutely sense that in your writing—a world of extremes. It was both beautiful and harsh. So wonderful.

ST: Thank you! Speaking of wonderful, one of the things that struck me in reading The Wrath and the Dawn was the way you depicted food and clothing. It was so rich and evocative. Tell me about your inspirations.

RA: Thank you so much! I used to write for a food magazine, and food is a great passion of mine. When I began writing Wrath, I spent a lot of time researching Persian cuisine, which provided much of the inspiration for the food in the book. I knew I wanted those particular scenes to resonate with a reader. Some of the books I remember most fondly as a child did that for me—The Redwall series, for instance. I still want to try hotroot soup and beetroot pie! Similarly for the clothing, I did a lot of research into sartorial trends during both the Sassanid Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate. The importance of authenticity was always at the forefront of my mind.

ST:  I’d say you pulled it off very well. The first time I read Wrath, I stopped to cook myself a kebab feast because I got so hungry.

RA: Ah, kebabs! I’ll have to make plans to stowaway for the next feast. But before that, I’d love to know how you went about building the world of Ember.

ST: Like most of my writing process, I did my worldbuilding in layers. I didn’t want something strictly Roman, strictly Middle Eastern—or really strictly anything. I wanted a setting that reflected the complexity of Ember’s world. Much of the book takes place in the desert city of Serra, a place that was once beautiful, but that has been conquered and transformed. To reflect this, I wanted a mix of architectural design: the mud-brick houses of a recently created ghetto; the gentle arches of an old, beautiful city; the brutal simplicity of a black granite military academy. I layered each style in over multiple drafts, in the hopes that they ultimately reflected a city with a complex history.

RA: I love hearing about how you approached the setting and the architecture in Ember because it’s so different from what I did and so reflective of Ember’s tone and themes.

ST: How did you approach creating setting in Wrath?

RA: I knew I was going for something atmospheric and almost dreamlike. The world of Khorasan is loosely based on ancient Persia, but the palace in which most of the action takes place is, in its own way, emblematic of the kingdom and its young ruler, Khalid. It’s cold and foreboding—made of marble and stone—but rich and full of history. I wanted the main character, Shahrzad, to realize that the palace—the kingdom—had many secrets in its shadowed corners.

ST: Shahrzad’s internal commentary on the palace and the world she’s thrust into is one of the best parts of Wrath. Specifically, I thought it was a great way to showcase her growth.

RA: I appreciate that so much, as the character development in Ember is done so well. I think a large part of that has to do with the fascinating backstories you created for each of them. Tell us about myth in your world. It can be such a big part of YA fantasy—what role does it play in yours?

ST: As with the setting, I blended various traditions to come up with the mythical underpinnings for Ember. Two quick examples:  I added middle eastern mythology based on the stories my mother scared me with when I was a little girl—Jinn, Efrits, Ghuls and other supernatural creatures. But there are also a group of seers called the Augurs in my book. Their myth is very loosely based off of the Pythia—more commonly known as the Oracle at Delphi.

RA: The scenes with the Augurs were some of my favorites in Ember.

ST: The inspiration for Wrath came about from The Arabian Nights. But I can also see some nods to Beauty and the Beast in it. How did you approach tackling such well-loved classics and making them your own?

RA: I think the key is just that: making it your own. It was daunting trying to shape something well-known and beloved into something fresh and new, but I think it’s important to step back and distance yourself from the source material, especially when you’re writing a retelling. You have to give yourself the freedom to make it your story.


An Ember in the Ashes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Wrath and the Dawn: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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


Lock In a Finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel

In 2006 I won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; now I’m a finalist for the other John W. Campbell Award — the one they give out for the best science fiction novel of the year. This is exciting because it’s the first time a work of mine has been nominated for the award. It’s always nice to have firsts!

And it’s a crowded, quality field. The other finalists, listed alphabetically by author:

Nina Allan: The Race (Newcon Press)
James L. Cambias: A Darkling Sea (Tor)
William Gibson: The Peripheral (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Daryl Gregory: Afterparty (Tor)
Dave Hutchinson: Europe In Autumn (Solaris)
Simon Ings: Wolves (Gollancz)
Cixin Liu (Ken Liu, translator): The Three-Body Problem (Tor)
Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven (Knopf)
Will McIntosh: Defenders (Orbit)
Claire North: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Redhook)
Laline Paull: The Bees (Ecco)
Adam Roberts: Bête (Gollancz)
John Scalzi: Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future (Tor)
Andy Weir: The Martian (Broadway Books)
Jeff VanderMeer: Area X (Book 1 of The Southern Reach Trilogy) (FSG Originals)
Peter Watts: Echopraxia (Tor)

That’s a hell of a reading list.

Congratulations to all the finalists! There’s not a one of you I won’t be delighted to lose to.

Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux

Susan asks (and I’m including appropriate links):

You gave up ego-searching for Lent, and right after lent ended put up a post that you found you hadn’t missed it that much and though you had been doing it out of habit (I’m paraphrasing that post).

Is that still true? Have you resumed ego searching or do you only respond if directly contacted (ie, @scalzi on twitter, tagged on facebook, etc).

Do you think this has impacted your response to the Hugo/Puppy kerfluffle?

Indeed, since Easter I have not done any substantial ego surfing; I think I’ve done it three times. I used to have shortcuts to ego surfing on my bookmarks, and I had some Google alerts tied into my name, but I deleted those during Lent and have not been moved to return them. I also took out the “Scalzi” search on Twitter as one of my Tweetdeck columns and haven’t returned that either. The closest I come to ego searching now is periodically checking my WordPress stats and seeing where people are coming in from, and getting a daily email report from ThinkUp. But neither of those are particularly granular, in terms of specific people saying things about me.

I’m surprised how little I miss it. I’m very much of an “I want ALL THE DATA” sort of person, and also, I was previously jazzed at the idea that someone somewhere online was always talking about me. But I think over time I either got a little bit more secure in my ego, or I just simply stopped caring what other people had to say about me, either negatively or positively. I don’t mean that in a hostile who cares what the peons think sort of way; more that I have enough things to be thinking about on a day to day basis without having to know what some other person was thinking about what I was thinking, especially if I didn’t know them or have an interest in them one way or another.

Also, at a certain point for someone in my position you really do have to accept that people are going to talk about you, and that you don’t need to be part of that discussion. Previously I was generally happy to lurk on those discussions, but now I don’t even have the interest to lurk. It takes time and it takes brain cycles and I have increasingly less free time/cycles to devote to it. I’d rather spend that time/cycles on people I actually like and love, or on activities I enjoy doing.

With regard to Puppies/Hugos, it’s also probably better than I don’t spend a lot of time ego surfing. I mean, I’ve been visiting File770 daily for updates (seriously, if the site doesn’t get a Hugo nod — a legitimate, non-slate nod — for keeping up with it all, I don’t know what the Fanzine category is good for). In the recaps and comments there I see enough nonsense with my name appended to it, from basically the same few jerks, that I know ego searching my name will just reveal the same jerks plus a couple others stinking up the results. As the saying goes, ain’t nobody got time for that, and I honestly just don’t care.

At this point I assume if there’s something particularly juicy involving me, someone will let me know, and indeed that’s pretty much how it’s gone. News does get back to me. And if it doesn’t get back to me, it doesn’t much appear that I need to know it and I will get along fine without knowing. This is my new reality, when it comes to knowing what people are saying about me online, and I have to say I find it pretty congenial.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not

It’s time to begin this week’s Reader Request Week! So let’s start with something chunky. Evan H asks:

There seems to be increasing polarization between those who view freedom of speech as an absolute, unfettered necessity for free society, and those who argue that since speech can cause harm, and the job of government is to protect its citizens from harm, the government should be allowed to limit speech in some (perhaps restricted) way.

Philosophically, where do you fall on this issue? Do you think speech is fundamentally different from other potentially harm-causing actions? Should the government ever be able to limit speech in pursuit of the greater good?

Tangentially: large free services like Twitter and Facebook are severely blurring the line between privately-owned spaces (where they have complete control over what speech is permitted) and public forums (where they do not). Twitter is legally a private space, but most of the time it *feels* a lot more like a public forum. Do you think the law needs to “catch up” in how it handles these quasi-public forums?

Let’s begin by noting that “free speech” here is by no means an absolute on the level of individual governments. People, and on the Internet particularly, often seem to take their concept and definition of “free speech” from United States constitutional norms, but, strangely enough, no country in the world is actually bound to the United States constitution but the United States. This is a state of affairs that often appears to confuse people.

In point of fact, however, the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the assorted Supreme Court rulings associated with it apply only to the United States. Everyone else works under whatever rules regarding free speech their countries have. By and large, particularly in Western countries, this means quite a lot of leeway in what one is legally able to express, but there are limits (generally) which are more strenuous than those in the United States, and obviously there are other countries where these limits are even more strenuous than that.

Let’s also put onto the table that even in the United States, which is generally acknowledged to have the fewest legal impediments to unfettered free speech, there are still limits, which the government has acknowledged. The old chestnut that free speech does not include the right to (falsely) yell “fire!” in a crowded theater is still applicable (even if the the reasoning in the Supreme Court case in which the comment appeared has been largely overturned by more recent jurisprudence). These limits are few, but they are there, and the over the course of US history, they have been continually reinterpreted by the courts. I imagine this goes on in other countries as well. So anyone who argues (other than philosophically) for a state in which “free speech” was indeed ever unfettered by government expectation is either referring to a point before actual human governments larger than a family unit, or doesn’t much know what they’re talking about.

Let’s also do acknowledge that as a practical matter, “free speech” laws and obligations apply to governments and public institutions, to private institutions rather substantially less (although the government, in the US at least, may try to oblige private institutions to these laws in some manner and through various mechanisms) and to individuals and their private spaces almost not at all. This is also deeply, deeply confusing to many people, apparently.

Finally, let’s make the point that your right to “free speech” does not mean I (or anyone else) is obliged to listen. I can, and often will, walk away if I think you’re spouting nonsense. This is another fact which seems to deeply confuse certain people; the idea that being dismissed or ignored equates to censorship appears to be hardwired in their heads. But it’s wrong, and they’re wrong for believing it, which makes them wrong twice.

With all that as the landscape in which we will walk during this discussion:

Personally speaking, I tend to be, both philosophically and as a political actor, a believer in the value of a robust definition of “free speech” as it applies to governments and public institutions, not just in the United States but worldwide. This belief in a robust definition of free speech means that I acknowledge that hateful, hurtful, triggering and generally awful speech must be given a place by the government in the public sphere. Racists, sexists, homophobes and other assorted bigots cannot have their soapboxes in the square removed — not just for the defensive measure of “and then the government will come for me” but because, simply, I believe in the end you acknowledge a human right to express yourself, even if that other human is wrong, or you don’t. The limits I would place on speech are pretty high and of the “imminent harm” level — exhorting a mob to violence against someone and giving them directions to their house is an example I would give as speech that crosses that line. Short of that: It’s got to be allowed by the government.

But I also place a pretty hard line between the government and everything else. The government has to tolerate your bullshit and give space for it; I don’t. Neither, for that matter, does Twitter, or Facebook or any online social media network or construct not run by the government. I don’t accept the argument that services like Twitter or Facebook blur the line between private entity and public service, regardless of whether they are “free” (i.e., no cost to use); that’s a little like saying my local Kroger’s or Safeway is a public gathering place because anyone can walk through the sliding doors (shopping malls? The same, unless you are in California or New Jersey).

If you want to argue that Twitter/Facebook/etc are in fact “quasi-public” spaces, my first response would be “show me the law.” I doubt there is one there that makes it so. My second response would be “have you asked Twitter/Facebook/etc what they think?” Because I’m reasonably certain that their corporate lawyers would mount a pretty robust argument that they are, in fact, private entities rather than a public good or utility. Their lives become immensely more complicated if they are judged the latter.

Not to mention everyone else’s lives: If the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, for example, that Twitter/Facebook/etc are public services, with regard to the First Amendment, I don’t suspect the ruling would be confined to those specific services; it would probably apply to online sites generally — including this one, as it is housed on WordPress — and what a mess that would be. My own response to such a ruling would likely be to close comments forever, since if I am not allowed to moderate that space I’m responsible for, then I’m just not going to bother having comments. I have standards.

So, no: Twitter/Facebook/etc are not “quasi-public”; they are in fact private entities, and they have a right to dictate to the people on them — as I have a right to dictate to people who comment here — the rules of the virtual road. The First Amendment (and, I suspect, whatever free speech protections that exist in other countries) simply do not exist on these services. Facebook is not obliged to house your bigotry, nor Twitter your harassment of people you don’t like, nor I your bad arguments that offend me in their stupidity. Whether any of us do allow them is up to our own particular levels of tolerance for such things. I myself make it pretty clear what I’m willing to put up with. I don’t think the law needs to “catch up” to this in any way; I’m not a proponent of the government nationalizing Twitter, or Facebook, or, well, my blog.

As for whether the government should protect people from the harm of free speech, well, per above, I don’t believe that speech needs to be curtailed by the government, but let’s also recognize that speech doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Context matters, and government should recognize that speech — even and perhaps especially protected speech — has consequences, and that an appropriate role of government may be to protect speech and to handle the effects of it. What form and shape might that “handling” take? Well, that’s indeed an interesting question, and one that is neither simple nor likely to be resolved in the scope of this entry. But it is a question worth asking and trying to answer. If a government wants to promote free speech — as it should — it should also be ready for what comes from free speech.

On a personal note, it does seem to me that a lot of the kvetching about “free speech” and censorship comes down to people wanting the right to be just plain assholes in every possible situation. Well, fine: You can be an asshole in every possible situation, if that’s a thing you want, and bless your heart. But I do believe that a great deal of free speech is not about what you have the right to say, but what you choose to do. I made a joke recently that (without specific intent on my part) referenced child sexual abuse, and some folks called me on it. I had the right to say “it stays because I think it’s funny,” but what I did was to say “whoops, you’re right, let me fix that,” and to change it to something else funny that didn’t have the same set of problems. I have the right to display visual images of Mohammad; I haven’t because I know that many Muslims dislike that, and I can work with that as part of my world view. I have the right to call trans folks by the gender they are transitioning from, but I would prefer to acknowledge them for who they are rather than who they were. And so on.

The point is that it’s not really difficult to pay attention to the concerns and interests of others and still be able to say what you need to say; I have not found it difficult to do so, in any event (unless you are a complete bigot, I suppose, but, well. I guess you just have to live with that). My point is that I haven’t found my own ability to speak freely — and pointedly — on any subject at all constrained in any real sense by being aware of other people’s concerns. It is slightly more work. But, you know what, one, I’m a writer, this is kind of in my wheelhouse, and two, if a little more work means more people are receptive to what I say because I don’t unnecessarily antagonize them, it’s worth the investment (I do occasionally antagonize people on purpose).

And you may say: But what about the people who demand trigger warnings and that the world revolve around their sensitivities? Well, personally, trigger warnings don’t really bother me, in part because, look, if you’ve had trauma and reading what I wrote (or what I’m pointing you to) will cause that trauma to revisit you, I think it’s reasonable for you to know that ahead of time. I don’t think trigger warnings are a demand that the world revolve around you; they might be a simple recognition that you exist in the world, which is a different thing. Likewise, I don’t think everything has to be tailored to the people who have triggers or other concerns, but letting them know they might want to route around things is fine. This is, I don’t know, courtesy? Courtesy seems okay to give.

I’ll close by noting that obviously this piece speaks only in broad strokes — as noted, speech is not a free-floating concept; it’s heavily embedded in the real world and all its complexities. Anyone who tries to separate the two of them is showing they don’t really understand the issue. With that said, I think it’s possible to be a free speech maximalist and someone who understands that with the right to free speech comes a responsibility to consider one’s speech. Rights are what one can do; but it’s what one should do that is equally important.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

My Birthday Present

Krissy got a headstone for Ghlaghghee’s grave (underneath the maple tree in the back yard) and planted flowers around it. And yes, I got a little choked up about it. She was a good cat and I miss her. But it’s a lovely little marker, and I’m glad it’s there. It was a very good present for me.

The Hugos Not Actually Being Destroyed, Part the Many

(Warning: Hugo neepery follows. Avoid if you’re bored of it.)

It’s been a week or so since I’ve posted about the Hugos here, so that’s good. But there’s a persistent shibboleth I see bruited about, which is that the events of this year have in some way destroyed the Hugos (most recently here, in an otherwise cogent set of observations). I’ve addressed this before, but it’s worth addressing again. Here it is:

1. No, the Puppies running their silly slates have not destroyed the Hugo Awards. What they have done is draw attention to the fact that the nomination system of the Hugos has a flaw.

2. The flaw: That an organized group pushing a slate of nominees can, if the group is sufficiently large, dominate the final ballot with their choices.

3. The flaw was not addressed before because, protestations to the contrary, no one had run a comprehensive slate before. No one had run a comprehensive slate before because, bluntly, before this year, no one wanted to be that asshole. This year three people stepped up to be that asshole and got some party pals to go along.

4. The flaw is fixable by addressing the nomination process so that a) slating is made more difficult, while b) the fundamental popular character of the Hugos (i.e., anyone can vote and nominate) is retained. There are a number of ways to do this (the simplest would be to allow folks to nominate three works/people in each category and have six finalist slots on the ballot; there are more complicated ways as well), but the point is that there are options.

5. The nature of the Worldcon beast is that these changes will take a couple years; in the meantime, everyone who nominates (and votes on the final ballot) deals with the fact there are a few people out there who want to crap on the process because they’re whiny stompy children and/or complete assholes. It’s annoying but it’s dealable, so we deal with it until fixes can be made. We’re grownups; grownups sometimes have to deal with whiny stompy children being assholes.

Mind you, the Puppies would be pleased for you to think of them as deep thinking masterminds who are always one step ahead. But, you know, it doesn’t take a mastermind to exploit an aspect of a nomination system that everyone knows is there but no one else exploited because they are grown adults with enough social skills to know better. It just takes someone willing to be an asshole. Masterminds may be assholes (I’ve not met enough masterminds to say), but being an asshole is not sufficient to be a mastermind — and I have met enough assholes to feel confident about that. No one among the Puppies is a mastermind. They are merely assholes.

(This is why the people who have decided to vote “No Award” ahead of anything or anyone on a slate should not feel in the least bit bad about doing it: It’s perfectly fine and well within the rules to vote against people who wish to confirm to the public that they are assholes, and are using the Hugos as the instrument of that confirmation. You don’t give a toddler a candy bar for throwing a tantrum. There are also reasons not to do a blanket “No Award” vote, but let’s not pretend that the “No Award” option isn’t valid. It is. It’s a way of saying “nice try, but no, and also, you’re an asshole.”)

And yes, it’s a shame that now we have to factor rank assholery into the Hugo nomination process, but there it is, and the sooner it’s dealt with the better. Then the Hugos can get back to what they’ve been good at: A popularly-voted genre award that, for all its flaws, does a relatively decent job (particularly in conjunction with the other genre awards) of taking the temperature of the field in each particular year.

So, in sum: Hugos not destroyed; flaws in process revealed; flaws are fixable; some people are just assholes.

And that’s it.


And here we are again, another spin around the sun. And what can I say about it other than I continue to recognize that I am one of the most fortunate humans on the planet, in that I have a job I love doing, a family I love being a part of, friends whom I love being with, and a life that I strive every day to be worthy of. Without going into great detail about it, the week immediately preceding this particular birthday reinforced to me that this is indeed a good life, if I’m smart enough to keep it. I wish I could communicate adequately how grateful I am for all of it.

That’s all I’m going to say about that for now. I hope you will have a good May 10. If you’d take a moment during the day to tell someone you care about that you’re glad they’re in your life, I’d consider that a fine birthday present. It’s Mother’s Day here in the US (and probably elsewhere; I haven’t checked), so in one sense for many of you this will be taken care of. But other people will be happy to hear it as well, I’m sure.

Reader Request Week 2015: Get Your Requests In!

Next week is just about the only week in the next couple of months where I am not traveling, or on a deadline — so that makes it a perfect time to do my annual Reader Request Week!

And just what is Reader Request Week? Why it is what it says: Once a year, I let you, the readers of Whatever, offer up the topics I will write about for an entire week. Always wanted me to answer a question? Frustrated that I never write about what you want me to write about? Wish I would write more about a specific topic you can never get enough of? Now’s your chance! Submit your request, I’ll go through and select topics, and I will start writing them up, beginning May 11.

And what topics should you request? Anything you want. Politics, sex, religion, cats, entertainment, favorite talcum powders, advice for living, technology — honestly, whatever topic it is, if you wanted my opinion on it, this is where to ask.

With that said, some suggestions:

1. Choose quality, not quantity. Don’t unload a whole bunch topics that are really generic or overbroad, because those won’t interest me and I won’t write about them. One really excellent topic is more likely to catch my eye. As an example, don’t ask me “could you write about cats?” because that’s too general and kind of boring. Asking something like “You have cats — how do their personalities differ and what does that mean for how you relate to them?”, on the other hand, would pique my interest. I think you can see what I’m getting at here.

2. Questions on writing will not be a priority for selection. Because, dudes, I write about writing all the time. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions about writing, or that I won’t answer some, I’m just saying that I’ll be looking for topics that aren’t about writing first, and the ones I do answer (in a nod to point one above) will be stuff that’s specific and interesting. I note this every year, and yet every year about half of the questions are about writing. Be different this year!

3. Don’t request a topic I’ve answered recently. To help you eliminate these topics, you’ll find the last five years of Reader Request Week topics below. If you see your intended topic there, it’s very unlikely I will answer it again this year (and by “very unlikely” I mean “I won’t”).

How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it). Please don’t send requests via Twitter/Facebook/Google+, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.

Reader Request Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and I’m looking forward to what you want to have me write about this year. Make me dance like a monkey, people! Get your requests in now!

Here are the Reader Request Week topics for the last five years (click through to see the full articles):

From 2010:

Reader Request #1: Christianity and Me
Reader Request #2: Rewriting the Constitution
Reader Request #3: How I Think
Reader Request #4: Quitting Writing
Reader Request #5: Rural Ohio, Revisited
Reader Request #6: Depression
Reader Request #7: Writery Bits
Reader Request #8: Short Bits

From 2011:

Reader Request #1: Children and Faith
Reader Request #2: The End of Whatever

Reader Request #3: Middle Ages Me

Reader Request #4: Old Man’s War and the Best SF/F Novel of the Decade

Reader Request #5: Taking Compliments

Reader Request #6: Sociopathic Corporations

Reader Request #7: Unruly Fans

Reader Request #8: Short Bits ’11

Reader Request #9: Writery Bits ’11

From 2012:

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

From 2013:

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

From 2014:

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

So: What do you want to know now? 

What I’m Doing at BEA (and Also, in North Carolina) (And Also, Berkeley!)

I just came back from New York City, which was lovely to visit, and I will be back at the end of the month to do two events at Book Expo America. One of them will be open to the general public; the other will be at BEA proper. The one open to the general public involves current Nebula, Locus and Hugo Award nominee Cixun Liu? Curious? You should be!

Here’s what I’m doing:

Cixin Liu in Conversation with John Scalzi, Wednesday, May 27, 6-8:30 p.m., The China Institute (125 E. 65th St): Reception and book signing to follow. $10 members, $15 non-members, $5 reception only.

Basically, I will be interviewing Liu about science fiction in China, the challenges of writing science fiction in today’s world, and thoughts about science fiction crossing borders and languages. It’ll be a very cool chat, I expect.

Tor Books: The Next Generation, Thursday, May 28 10:45-11:15 a.m., Uptown Stage

Tor Books has published quality science fiction and fantasy for thirty-five years by some of the biggest names in genre today! But the Orson Scott Cards and Brandon Sandersons were once new authors themselves. Meet this year’s crop of debut authors and see what makes them tick in a rousing game of “Would You Rather: The SFF Edition” with host, John Scalzi (The End of All Things) and featuring: Ilana C. Myer (Last Song Before Night), Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant), Lawrence M. Schoen (Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard), and Fran Wilde (Updraft).

Nifty. And right after I’m done with my Thursday panel, I hop onto a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I am Author Guest of Honor for ConCarolinas. Other guests of honor include MST3K’s Joel Hodgson, Nebula Award-winner Catherine Asaro and artists Matt Busch and Lin Zy, plus there will be lots of other awesome guests. If you’re in the vicinity — or even if you’re not — this should be a convention worth attending. Come on down.

Also: New addition to my appearances: I’ll be in Berekely on June 6th for the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival. I’ll be doing a reading/Q&A and a panel on the future and climate change, with Paolo Bacigalupi (The Water Knife), Edan Lepucki (California) and Antti Tuomainen (The Healer). The festival is free, although you may need to RSVP for specific events. Check the site for details.

Also also: We’re in the very beginning stages of scheduling the book tour for End of All Things. More details on that when we figure things out.

And that’s me and my (public) travels for the next month.

Reminder: I’m in Montclair, NJ Tonight at 7:30

As part of the Montclair Film Festival. What will I be discussing?

Audible Presents
Meant To Be Spoken
Wednesday, May 6th
7:30 PM
The Audible Listening Lounge

As audio continues to come into its own as a challenging and exciting storytelling medium, artists and creators of all stripes are flocking to the form. Audible invites you to an informal chat about this emerging art form with author John Scalzi (Old Man’s War), actress and audio narrator, Barbara Rosenblat (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), and Audible producer, Kat Lambrix. They’ll discuss writing works that are meant to be performed, creating character with voice, and other considerations of this innovative storytelling medium.

Yup, that’s what I’ll be up to. If you’re in the area, come by and say hello!

Lock In a Finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel

This makes it a nice Monday, for sure.

Even better, it’s with an amazing peer group of novels and writers. The entire category:

The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

Also amazing: The Fantasy category:

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (Viking; Arrow 2015)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US)

The Young Adult and First Novel categories are likewise packed with fantastic writers and work. Indeed, the entire Locus finalist list this year is really high quality. You can find the whole list here.

Congratulations to all the finalists!

My New Film Column Debuts on Sundance.TV! This Week: Star Wars Showdown

Here’s a little something I’ve been keeping a lid on until this very moment: I’m back in the film commentary business. The folks at Sundance asked me to write an occasional column on film (every couple of weeks or so), and I said, “heck, yeah,” because, well. I started writing professionally as a film critic, have published two books on film, and love being able to keep a hand in. So yes — I’m once again officially a film columnist. I’m thrilled and pleased Sundance is giving me the space.

To start off, we’re doing something thing fun with Star Wars. Today is May the 4th, which is an unofficial Star Wars holiday (“May the Fourth be with you”), and in honor of that, we’re asking: In a battle between the dark and light sides, which Star Wars character will stand as champion? To determine this, we’ve created two sets of brackets, one for the light side and one for the dark side. You will decide which characters make it out of brackets for the ultimate showdown between good and evil in the Star Wars universe.

This week we’ll vote them down to the final two. In the next installment in a couple of weeks, we’ll put those two head-to-head for the final confrontation. It’ll be fun. Lightsabers might be involved.

Here’s the link. Do me a favor and follow it, and vote. And then tell your friends about it. I’d love to have a good first week on the job. Thanks!

I’d Rather Like Men Than To Be a Sad Puppy

And to be clear, it wouldn’t be anything close to a difficult choice.

And now to cleanse your eyeballs of rank homophobic stupidity, here are some happy puppies. Enjoy them.

Update: Torgersen attempts an apology; I discuss it in the first comment in the comment thread.

The Legion of Scalzi Smartphones

I upgraded my cell phone yesterday; as with the previous times that I upgraded, the former phone was left in my custody. So here is the entire history of my smartphone usage, going back to the Blackberry Storm, which I acquired in late 2008, followed by the Droid X, the Nexus 4 (which died an early, ignominious death), the Droid MAXX, and now the Droid Turbo. Seven years, five phones. That’s about right.

Clearly I have a thing for the Droid line, and I will tell you why that is: Battery life, as in, the Droids can go an entire day and more without needing to recharge, which is very important to me because I travel as much as I do and occasionally am not in the vicinity of a wall outlet to recharge (I also tend to carry a ridiculously large backup battery with me much of the time, but the point is with the Droid line, that’s a “belts and suspenders” tactic). I also like Motorola’s implementation of the Android OS, which is basically to leave it alone except for a few actually useful apps (Verizon, my carrier, on the other hand, loads the phone down with crap apps, the lone exception being their almost miraculously good messaging app).

The Droid Turbo is basically a nice level up from the Droid MAXX: A screen with four times the resolution (I can’t see the pixels anymore, and neither can any normal human), more RAM and storage, better processor, and better front and back cameras, the latter of which, at least, I’ve already taken some decent pictures with:

I understand the phone also takes 4K video, which seems excessive, but then what seems excessive today is substandard tomorrow, so, okay. In all, it’s a nice upgrade and as far as I can tell after a day of having it, I’ll be pleased to own it for the next year or so until I upgrade again (I’m on Verizon’s EDGE plan, which allows me to do that).

If you’re with Verizon and are looking for an Android phone, I can happily recommend the Droid line. They’re not necessarily the sexiest phones out there at the moment, but a sexy phone with a dead battery isn’t very sexy, in my opinion.