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My Detcon1 Schedule

I’ll be at the Detcon1 convention this upcoming weekend, Detcon1 being the North American Science Fiction Convention for the year (and the NASFiC being the convention that gets run in the US/Canada when the Worldcon is on a different continent). It’s in Detroit, downtown. It’s not too late to come along — it should be a fine convention, not in the least because I will be DJing an 80s dance at it. Yes! Me! Finally, all those years of dance training will pay off! Or something!

In fact, here’s my whole schedule for the weekend:

Thursday, July 17

5pm: A Renaissance for Science Fiction

Chuck Von Nordheim (moderator), Saladin Ahmed, Anne Harris, John Scalzi, Ellen Denham, Carrie Patel

Our panelists discuss the theme of Poul Anderson’s Detention Guest of Honor Speech: authors should create “not merely clever variations on a theme, but stories which are about people and about science and about history and about art and about philosophy and about the way a mountain looks at twilight when the stars are just coming forth. That kind of science fiction is entertaining.”

Friday, July 18

2pm: Dealing with Bad Apples

Steven H Silver (moderator), Tim Miller, Mark Oshiro, Jesi Pershing, Diana M. Pho,John Scalzi

Trolls, creepers, or just plain jerks. We’ve all encountered them at cons and online. Panelists discuss tools–like comment moderation and harassment policies–for keeping foul and prejudiced people from chasing others out of our community spaces, events, and organizations. And what to do when “they” are “us.”

3pm: Fanzines and Professional Writing

Steven H Silver (moderator), Nicki Lynch, Roger Sims, Jim C. Hines, John Scalzi

At Detention a discussion by the editors of amateur magazines was sparked by Ed Wood asking, “Why weren’t fanzines as good as they once were and why were their writers no longer becoming top quality pros very often?” The panel lasted from about 11 p.m. Sunday until 4:30 a.m. What is the state of fanzines today? How have digital formats affected fanzines? What role do they have now in the career of a professional writer, especially compared to 50 years ago?

4pm: Reading: Carey/Scalzi

Jacqueline Carey, John Scalzi

Jacqueline Carey and John Scalzi read from their work.

Saturday, July 19

12pm: The Other Worldbuilding Panel: Gaming

Jon Davis (moderator), Mike Substelny, John Scalzi, Carrie Patel

Our panelists discuss worldbuilding techniques for video games, focusing on how stories are developed and told for interactive software titles.

10pm: ’80s Dance with DJ Scalzi!

Join DJ Scalzi for a retro dance. Wear your ’80s on your sleeve!

Sunday, July 20

12pm: Creators and Brand Identity

Beverly Bambury (moderator), Martin L. Shoemaker, Sean Mead, John Scalzi

Neil Gaiman. John Scalzi. Would they be mid-list authors in a world without the Internet? Can you be famous in 2014 only by writing or making art? How does a creator build a brand?

I’ll note that for the 80s dance I have (I think) two hours for the dance, and 22 hours worth of music ready on my dance playlist. Because I believe in overpreparation. It’s gonna be fun.

I should also note that there is supposed to be a mass autographing session at 8pm on Friday. I am likely to be there if you wish to have books signed.

When I am not at panels or events, I am likely to be in the bar, per tradition. Feel free to say hello!

See you at Detcon1, I hope.

Lock In on the August 2014 LibraryReads List

This is a nice way to start the week: Every month, librarians pick the 10 books they are most looking forward to, out of all the books published that month, in the Library Reads List. And for August, Lock In is one of them. That’s really cool. Note that the Library Reads List is across all genres, not just science fiction and fantasy, which makes it even cooler — it’s nice to be peered with every kind of fiction (also on the list for August: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. Awesome).

There’s more happy news for Lock In coming, but I’m waiting to find out when I can share it. When I can, I will. In the meantime, this is certainly more than good enough. It’s a lovely thing to know librarians like your book.

The Lowest Difficulty Setting in Action

I noted a couple of years ago that Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting in the game called life (in particular the Western civilization variant of it). This annoyed many a straight white male, who didn’t see his life as being particularly “easy.” Noting that “lowest difficulty” is not the same as “easy” did not assuage this agitation. And well, I can understand it: If you genuinely think your life sucks — and it may! — it may be hard to imagine that you still get advantages other folks don’t.

So maybe this will help: A 25-year study followed the experience of nearly 800 children in Baltimore, from first grade into adulthood. Half their families were low income, many with parents who had not finished high school; 40% of those low-income kids were white.

A couple of relevant points from the article:

Looking at where these children started in life and where they ended up, the study results are troubling but clear: At 28, hardly any of the children from a disadvantaged background, black or white, had finished college.

But even without the benefit of a college degree, whites, and white men especially, had vastly better employment outcomes. At every age, the white men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more.

And:

[T]he consequences have been especially dire for African-Americans. As young adults, African-American men had fared much worse than whites in the job market, even though they and their white counterparts had about the same levels of education and the whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use and binge drinking…

Indeed, throughout the course of our study, it was clear that African- Americans face greater barriers to employment. Having an arrest record or failing to complete high school were less consequential for white men than for African-American men: 84% of whites without a high school degree were employed at 22; among African Americans, just 40% were.

And this is the point of the lowest difficulty setting metaphor. It isn’t that folks who are straight, and white, and male, can’t or don’t find themselves on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder. They can and do, and there’s no doubt that it sucks. But even then, they can catch some breaks that others — in this particular study, black men — don’t (or don’t catch as often).

Which is to say: Even as much as your life blows, straight white dude, the black dude in exactly the same situation is likely to have it worse. And not because of anything he (or you) did. Just because it’s the way things are.

This study applies specifically to Baltimore, it appears, and factors in Baltimore’s own history of racial and cultural biases. But I would not in the least be surprised if other studies in other major cities across the US (at least) cropped up similar data. Baltimore is not exactly unique in terms of its racial dynamics. Nor does it seem that the authors of the study would be surprised; the sales copy of the book the above article is based upon notes: “[Baltimore's] struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore’s children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.”

Now, bear in mind that when I said “maybe this will help,” that I don’t actually expect the sort of straight white man who fervently believes that is life is harder than anyone else’s, harder than anyone else can possibly imagine, and that society is even now feasting upon his set-upon bones, will pause to consider the data above. For that sort of dude, mere data are not nearly enough in the face of certain belief. For everyone else, including the straight white males who aren’t already conflating their own personal unhappiness with society squishing straight white men in general like bugs, this might be useful.

(Here’s another take on the data, at Science Daily (but largely written, it appears, by Johns Hopkins’ PR folks). There’s more in the study than just the one aspect I’m highlighting here, all of which are pretty interesting.)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Quick Review

It’s very good. As others have noted, it’s probably the smartest franchise film of the summer, which could be textbook damning with faint praise, but isn’t. It’s also probably more accurately titled Dawn of the Planet Where Paranoid Assholes Really Have Done Their Level Best to Ruin Everything, which means, obviously, one could easily read lots of parallels into the real world into it. It’s not exactly a cheerful film, is what I’m saying. But well-written, well-acted, well-directed. It’s worth your time.

On a technical note, there’s not a moment in the film that I spent thinking about the fact I was looking at CGI apes, which given the number of the apes on screen, and the amount of screentime the apes have, is pretty remarkable. Credit here is split equally between the screen-capped actors (Andy Serkis most notably, but also many others) and the effects folks. We’re on the other side of the Uncanny Valley of the Planet of the Apes.

(Note: I saw the film in 2D, not 3D. It works very well in 2D; I suspect the extra dimension isn’t really necessary or even desirable.)

How I am Spending My Saturday

I’m signing signature sheets for the Subterranean Press limited signed edition of Unlocked. The amount you see there is what I’ve signed so far; subtract that from the height of the box to the right, and the height of what you have left over is how much I have yet to sign. So the day will consist of me watching movies while I sign my name more than a thousand times. I’ll be pacing myself so I don’t end up being a hand cramp attached to a body. There are worse lives to have.

Hope your Saturday is awesome. See you tomorrow.

This is How You Handle Arbitrary Milestones on Social Media

And now you know. Go ye forth and do likewise.

Relevant to Recent Discussions

FTC alleges Amazon unlawfully billed parents for millions of dollars in children’s unauthorized In-App charges.

To quote myself: “[B]usinesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing).”

Note that Amazon can and may fight this in court. Alternately, it may choose to settle out of court, admitting no wrong, and change its in-app policies consistent to what the FTC wants from them. Which will it choose? I expect whichever one is (all together now) consistent with its current set of business goals.

 

My First Job and What it Paid

Via Jim Romenesko, a question from The Billfold Web site about what people’s first jobs were and what they paid, and what that particular job pays now. Romenesko’s spin on the question involves journalism (because his site is focused on that field) and as it happens, that’s where my first post-college job was.

My first job as an adult, as many of you know, was as the movie critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper, a job I started in September of 1991 and left in February 1996. I got the job directly out of college (I was 22, making me the youngest full-time professional film critic in the United States at the time), and it’s not a knock on me to suggest that I was hired not only for my writing skills but also the fact that I could be gotten for super-cheap: My first year salary was something along the lines of $22,400 dollars, or about $430 a week, before taxes, etc.

And how did I live on $22.4k a year? Pretty well, actually. For one thing, I was a movie critic, which meant that a lot of my entertainment cost — i.e., going to movies — was taken care of. Likewise, working at a newspaper meant one could pick over the scads of entertainment product sent for review (books, CDs and so on), so the cost of those was also reduced. Also, I lived in Fresno, which is the butt of many jokes in California, but if you’re a 22-year-old making not a lot, also contained a lot of amenities of a large town (its population was 350,000 then and about 500,000 now) for a substantially lower cost of living than other large cities in the Golden State. Add it all up (plus the fact that I did not have expensive habits, like smoking or heroin), and I did okay for myself on not a lot of cash.

I don’t know how much the position is worth now — currently the Bee has one person, Rick Bentley, as both the film and television critic — but I certainly hope he’s making more than I was when I started. This survey suggests that journalists who enter into the field with a bachelor’s degree (which I did, although not in a journalism-related field) see a media salary of about $28,500 (or did in 2012, anyway). Adjusted for inflation, that’s quite a bit lower than what my $22.4k in 1991 was. Which sucks, but then: Welcome to journalism in the second decade of the 21st Century.

I’m happy to say that these days I make more than $22.4k a year.

(PS: My very first first job was working at Del Taco in Glendora when I was 16, for minimum wage. I came home every night smelling of lard and refried beans. I lasted about six weeks. That experience as much as anything else in the world convinced me to get an education beyond high school, because, seriously, lard smell, man.)

So: Your first job? Talk about it in the comments, if you like.

Dayton Appearance 8/2, Unlocked and Lock In Reviews and the Proverbial More

Things to announce and/or note today:

1. If you’re in the Dayton, Ohio area of things, and you want to see me do my thing prior to my book tour appearance in September, I will be at the Beavercreek Barnes & Noble on Saturday, August 2nd at 2pm. What will I do there? I will read! Probably from Lock In but also from other things. Also I will answer questions! Assuming anyone has any. And I will sign books! Which you can buy at that very bookstore, if such is your joy. I’ll be using this as a practice run for my book tour, so please come and watch me prepare. It’ll be fun. Promise.

2. There’s a quite nice review of Unlocked in Publishers Weekly this week, calling it a “skillfully written novella about one of the most fascinating SF scenarios created in recent years.” I am pleased. This review is tied into the Subterranean Press limited signed hardcover edition, so this is a fine place to remind you that this edition is coming, has a fantastic cover by Molly Crabapple, and that you can pre-order it right now. Also remember that if you can’t see me on my book tour, you can pre-order Lock In from SubPress, and when it arrives at your door, it will be signed by me.

3. Speaking of Lock In, a positive review of the book from SFReview.net is up, calling the novel “the kind of book a young Crichton might have delivered in his Andromeda Strain heyday.” I’ll take that. There’s also a video review of the book at the bottom of the linked review.

4. SFWA has reprinted my entry on self-publishing and Yog’s Law, so if you missed it the first time and don’t want to bother scrolling back, here it is over there. Enjoy.

So Here’s What Arrived at the Scalzi Compound Just Now

And if you’re going, hmmm, that looks awfully familiar, but I can’t quite place it, let me refresh your memory:

Yup, it’s the trade paper (and subsequent printed editions) cover to Old Man’s War, painted by John Harris, who has gone on to do all my subsequent Old Man’s War series covers. The painting went up for sale recently, and because I’m a fan of Harris and also it’s the cover to my first ever published novel, I inquired as to whether I could purchase it. Turns out, I could. This will be the second time I’ve purchased the Old Man’s War cover art; I also own the original hardcover edition art, painted by Donato Giancola. It’s nice to have them both under one roof.

This is a good time for me to promote once again Harris’ new book The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon, which includes a foreward by me; it’s available in standard and special limited editions. It’s gorgeous (the pages linked are UK-specific but the book is available in the US as well). Also, here’s a discussion by Harris and me about some of the work that he’s done for my writing.

Anyway: I’m geeked out at the moment. I get to own this painting. How cool is that.

The Ways the Scalzi Women Are Better Than Me: An Incomplete List

Last week, as part of my general “try to lose weight and get a little healthier because you’re middle-aged now and you don’t want to die” thing, I started going to the local YMCA to use its weight room and indoor track, with my daughter as my workout partner. She’s been on the powerlifting team at her school for the last three years, so she’s knowledgeable about the weights in a way I am not, and is thus a good person with whom to work out. At the end of our first session, I tweeted the following:

This naturally aroused the derision of the hooting pack of status-anxious dudebros who let me live rent-free in their brains, prompting a predictable slew of tweets and blog posts about how this is further proof of my girly-man status, hardly a man at all, dude do you even lift, and so on. I noted this to my daughter.

Should it be a surprise that my daughter, who has been on a powerlifting team for three years and has taken medals at competition, can lift more than I, who has not seen the inside of a weight room since high school? I don’t think so; I think it would be mildly surprising if she couldn’t. She has training and endurance that I don’t. It’s also equally possible that even if she had not had her previous training, if we had gone into that weight room, she still might have been able to lift more than me. I would have been fine with that. If I keep at it, over time it’s possible I’ll lift more than she can. It’s also possible, however, that I won’t.

And if I never lift more than my daughter? Well, and if that happens, so what? One, I’m not sure why I should feel threatened or belittled by my daughter’s abilities of any sort. Call me nutty, but I want my daughter to be accomplished and capable, and even more accomplished and capable than me, whenever that’s possible. It’s a parent thing. Two, I’m not using the weight room to express my manliness, or as a zero-sum crucible to measure my personal worthiness against other human beings, because that seems, I don’t know, kind of stupid to me. I’m using it because I want to be in better shape than I am now. I fail to see how collapsing into a testerical pile of insecurity over the fact my daughter can lift more than I can will help me with my actual goal of becoming more fit.

Of course, it helps that I’m not one of those quivering bro-puppets who lives in constant fear that a woman might actually outclass him in something, and that if she does, it means that his balls have shrunk three sizes that day. This is a good thing, because in point of fact the Scalzi women, Krissy and Athena, are better than and/or outclass me in several ways. For example:

1. I’ve already noted that Athena out-lifts me. Krissy, it should be noted, is stronger than either of us; she is in point of fact unusually (I like to say freakishly) strong. I will note that I am perfectly capable, strength-wise; childish dudebro taunting online aside, I do fine for myself in that department and always have. Krissy has always been substantially stronger than I. It was never even a point of contention.

2. Krissy also has more physical endurance than I do. I was just joking to her today about the fact that if she lived 10,000 years ago, she would run down gazelles on the savannah because, like the Terminator, she would just keep coming. Again, I do just fine in the stamina department (anyone who has seen me dance for three hours straight can vouch for this). Krissy outclasses me by a mile.

3. Both Athena and Krissy are better shots than I am, Athena with a bow and Krissy with guns and rifles. And I’m decent with a bow.

4. Krissy is the financial brains of the Scalzi outfit, since both by inclination and by training (she has a degree in business) she has an analytical mind for numbers. I do my part on the business end — my very first published book was on finance, and I was a consultant for financial services companies over the years — but the day-to-day adminstration and planning fall to her, with good reason.

5. Athena writes better at her age than I did at the same age. It’s not even close. She will point out that she has the benefit of a parent who writes, with whom she can talk about both the craft and business of writing, and I cheerfully concede that point. Nevertheless, I’ve read her stuff, and I re-read the stuff I wrote at her age. My work at that age is pretty good. Hers is better.

6. Krissy is one of the best “straight-line” thinkers I’ve ever met; she can examine a situation, crystalize the issue and offer a solution quickly and dispassionately — and correctly. This is such a useful and critical skill that I actively spent years learning from her how to do it. I’m pretty good at it now. She’s still better, enough so that whenever possible, I always confer with her to double-check my own thinking.

I could go on — I could go on and on — but I assume you get the point.

Now, no doubt the status-anxious dudebros will delight in my shocking admissions here, because they are silly little boys who apparently think that a man who can happily live with, and help raise, women who are better at various things than he is (including things they entirely erroneously suppose to be inherently masculine) must be therefore weak and inferior and girly. Two points here.

One, there’s the obvious point that in the Scalzi household “girly” means strong and smart and capable and better than decent with ranged weapons. All of which I would happily be. So yes sign me up for girly please.

Two, and to repeat, these sad, frantic lumps of manflesh are proclaiming that a man who is pleased to share his life with women who are strong and smart and capable, and who has no problem acknowledging when their skills are superior to his, is somehow actually lesser for it. This should tell you all you need to know about the intelligence and sensibleness of such a world view.

I’m going to let them keep that silly, stunted world view. I’m going to keep mine. Because among other things, my world view has allowed me to share my life with, and share in the life of, the two best people I know: My wife, and my daughter. I am delighted in all the ways that they are the best, and also, better than me.

 

Question for the USA Folks, Re: Coins

Were you even aware they’re doing, like, a second set of state quarters? I got the one above in my change yesterday and at first quick glance I thought I’d been given a one euro coin. Which would have been an unusual thing in Bradford, Ohio, to be sure.

I think I remember hearing about this second set at some point, but it must have slipped my mind at some point. I think it’s probably because when it comes right down to it I don’t actually look that much at the coins in my pocket anymore. Particularly quarters, which these days I just assume have some bit of patriotic busywork on their backside.

So: Were you aware about this second round of state quarters? Apparently they’ve been going on since 2010. Man, I am clueless, numismatically speaking.