Thought it would make a nice break from the usual sunset picture.
In case I decide not to update again until Monday, have a great weekend!
Thought it would make a nice break from the usual sunset picture.
In case I decide not to update again until Monday, have a great weekend!
Just in time for the weekend, a new set of book and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What in this stack rings all of your book-buying bells? Tell me in the comments!
My personal path to publication, in terms of novel writing, was to post my novel on this blog, where it was read by an editor, who made me an offer. Is this the usual way it’s done? No. But is it wholly unusual? Well, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to be published. Editor Shannon Page has assembled some of these way in her non-fiction anthology The Usual Path to Publication.
I love writing workshops. I mean, sure, the internet is great and all, but the way I really learned about how the writing world works—not to mention how I made every writer friend I have—was by going to workshops, as well as their close cousins, conventions. Putting myself out there where lots of writers congregate, to talk about writing stuff, and everything else.
(I even met my husband at a writing convention. But that’s a different Big Idea.)
Imagine my thrill when I “graduated” from attending workshops to being asked to instruct at workshops. I will be the first to admit that I still have plenty to learn about the craft of writing; and as far as the business goes, I have quite obviously not become a household name, nor made even a small fortune. Even so, it was very encouraging to realize that I have learned a thing or two which newer writers might find useful. It’s a joy and an honor to be able to share that knowledge.
Last summer, I was an instructor at the Cascade Writers Workshop, a Milford-style small-group workshop. Cascade is a wonderful group of people dedicated to bringing writers together, giving newer writers a hand up, welcoming everyone into this great community. At one point during the workshop, all the instructors were gathered together in an open panel where the participants could ask us anything. One intrepid audience member raised their hand with a question about the “usual path to publication.”
It grieves me a bit to admit that we all laughed. In our defense, it was nervous laughter, startled laughter, uncomfortable laughter. And then we proceeded to seriously tackle this frankly impossible question. We spoke about the fact that there are as many answers to that as there are published authors. We told our own stories, both in that panel and for the rest of the weekend.
At some point, I realized, This would make a great anthology.
I shrugged it off at first. I had (still have!) too many projects on my plate already. But the idea wouldn’t let go. I talked to a few people about it. Tor editor Claire Eddy, another of the instructors, told me, “That’s a great idea. I’d buy that book. Everyone would buy that book.” By the end of the workshop, I’d decided to go for it. And this project was born.
Over the next few months, I put out a call to as many authors as I could get hold of, asking them for their unusual, amusing, inspirational, bizarre, even dreadful tales of how they actually got published. And, amazingly, so many of them responded. I got a little shiver of delight every time I opened my email to find another submission. The stories are great—charming, funny, painful, inspirational. There are missed connections, dead agents and editors, serendipity, technology woes, ignored advice, and deeply altered expectations. Most of all, there is persistence. If one thread unites all the essays I gathered, it is that these are people who did not give up.
As I began compiling the essays into a book, a second thread became clear: breaking in is only the start of the adventure. As the publishing landscape continues to change, seemingly faster all the time, once-comfortably established writers are having to adapt, often dramatically. Series get canceled, publishing houses merge or vanish altogether, agents and editors quit the business or move to other houses.
And then there is the bold (and terrifying, and exciting) new world of self-publishing. A few of my authors have dabbled there; one has jumped in all the way, and is doing far better than she had imagined possible. If there is ever a Usual Path to Publication Volume II, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find it brimming with successful self-published writers.
This is not a how-to book. It’s a how-this-person-and-that-person-and-the-other-person-did-it book, twenty-seven times over. Coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature run strong in these stories. I hope readers find them as enjoyable, entertaining, and inspirational as I do!
So let’s talk about last night.
1. First and most obviously, Clinton had the night she needed last night: Decisive victories in the two largest states, New Jersey and California, wins in New Mexico and South Dakota, and a close loss in Montana that netted Sanders a single delegate. Sanders only blew out Clinton in North Dakota (a caucus, his favorite). Clinton ended the night netting two more states, 89 more pledged delegates and roughly 650,000 more votes than Sanders. She didn’t just run out the clock on Sanders, fending him off as he ate into her margin in a surge of populist enthusiasm, she legged on him, expanding her already sizable leads in every category. She won walking away, and is the nominee. Yes, there is one more primary (District of Columbia) next week, but it doesn’t really matter (and Clinton’s gonna win it anyway). Clinton won.
2. Conversely, Sanders lost, and he lost both convincingly and in a way that kicks the legs out of any cogent argument that he has for moving forward. The Sanders folks had pushed their chips on California, hoping a victory there would justify him taking his campaign to the convention. But in the end he was 13 points and over 400,000 voters behind. California didn’t deliver, and because it didn’t, he’s done. Sanders took to a stage last night and vowed he wasn’t done yet, but at this point it’s not really up to him. The Clinton train has left the station and he’s still on the platform, holding his hat.
3. Which I understand is hard for Sanders and many of his supporters to deal with, but I have to confess at this point I’m finding it difficult to be overtly sympathetic. My own politics lie ever so slightly more with Sanders than with Clinton, and had he prevailed over Clinton, I would have happily voted for him in the general over any of the candidates the GOP had in their field this year. For all that, it’s been clear to me since New York at least that Sanders wasn’t going to take the nomination from Clinton. The existential threat of President Trump is enough that I’ve been impatient to get to last night so everyone could stop politely pretending Sanders had some sort of shot at this and focus on stuffing Trump into a dark hole, electionwise.
I mean, yes, Sanders supporters, I get many of you are upset and even grieving about Sanders missing his chance. Sorry about that. Take a few days! It’s okay. But after those few days are over if you’re still trying to find some way for Sanders to win — or less charitably, trying to find some way to punish Hillary Clinton for the heinous crime of having won more states, more pledged delegates and more actual votes than Bernie Sanders — then you should really be asking yourself if you’re letting your own definition of perfect become the enemy of the entire world not becoming a rampaging goddamn trash fire, because that’s really the other option at this point.
This is not to say I don’t expect a certain percentage of Sanders fans to spin off and possibly join the Greens (who are openly trying to reel them in) or, somewhat less congruously, the Libertarians, or whomever, or just sit out in a huff. It’s a nice exercise of one’s privilege to do each of those things. But from my point of view, here’s the thing: Donald Trump is manifestly the worst and least-prepared major presidential candidate in modern history, and unlike some previous GOP presidents who come to mind, he’s not nearly tractable enough to be managed by a cadre of presumably more-engaged minders. He’s the walking manifestation of Dunning-Kruger, a racist and an increasingly-dangerous blowhard, and the fact the GOP is under the delusion they’re going to somehow keep him in line should fill every thinking human with terror (the GOP doesn’t really think they’ll be able to keep him in line, incidentally. They just need to convince you they can do it). As a practical matter, if you don’t want a President Trump — and I don’t — then Clinton’s your gal.
And, yes! It sucks that because the GOP has let a genuinely appalling human become its nominee, you might be called upon to be responsible for the welfare of the entire planet, and vote more practically and responsibly than the GOP did this year. But it really has come to that. I know many of you Sanders supporters will have rationalizations how this isn’t the case, but: Nope! It really is. Get your shit together, folks. It’s actually important.
4. Likewise, this week Sanders gets to show us whether he’s interested in implementing his actual ideals, or is just in it for his own bit of glory. Bluntly: Sanders is never going to be president, ever, so he can either help Clinton (and help save the world from Trump), or he can stay in her way. If he helps her, he’s got a good chance of pushing his ideas further into the working DNA of the Democratic party. Which I suspect will be good for the party in the long term, given Sanders’ popularity with younger voters. He can be the progressive Moses — maybe not getting to the promised land himself, but getting his people there.
If he doesn’t help Clinton, and she wins anyway, then both he and his agenda are done, because you don’t reward the people who fuck with you. If he doesn’t help Clinton and she loses, well. I’m not pegging Trump and the GOP as being on board with Sanders’ progressive agenda, you know? And while I know there are some people who believe things like “Four years of Trump is just what we need to bring on the revolution!” those people are wrong, and assholes besides.
If Sanders is smart, then sometime soon — I expect not too long after his meeting with President Obama on Thursday — he’s going to pack it in, endorse Clinton and get to work helping to get her elected. This would be, incidentally, pretty much what Clinton did in 2008, and her getting with the program has obviously paid its dividends. Sanders won’t get the exact same dividends — he won’t be the nominee in 2024, for example. But there will be a lot he will be able to do, if he wants. Or, you know, he can decide not to. And we’ll see where that gets him, and us.
5. Yes, yes, Scalzi, but what do you think of Clinton? Leaving aside the obvious historical aspects of her candidacy, which are really cool and probably deserving of their own entry at some point, I’m very okay with her. I understand a lot of people feel negatively toward her, with the range going from “mild dislike” to “fervent loathing,” but I’ve never been one, and the idea that she’s somehow corrupt doesn’t really seem to have panned out to any great extent, now, has it? We’ve had Clinton under the microscope for a quarter of a century, and either she’s innocent of all the crimes to which she’s been accused, or she’s such a genius at exploiting the legal and governmental levers of this nation that, honestly, it’s a miracle she wasn’t made dictator for life decades ago. Her only real “crime,” if you want to call it that, was marrying Bill Clinton, who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants and made everyone’s life miserable because of it, and then staying married to him despite it all. But, hey! Maybe she loves him.
Otherwise, we have a presidential candidate who has been a senator, a Secretary of State, a first lady and a first-hand observer of the politics in America for four decades. She’s had amazing successes and crushing failures. She’s smart and flawed and savvy and a politician and she’s neither as inspiring as her most fervent supporters want her to be nor as terrible as her most hateful opponents want us to believe she is. I don’t support everything she’s ever said or done but most of what she supports I can get behind. She’s not perfect! But neither am I. She is good enough on her own terms to get my vote for president.
And this year, also: Jesus fucking Christ, the GOP is nominating Donald Trump. I would vote a lukewarm bowl of soup into the White House before Donald Trump. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday (were it allowed by the Constitution, which it is not). So while I would be perfectly happy to vote for Clinton in most scenarios anyway, given her major opponent this year, voting for Clinton is in my opinion not only a perfectly good choice but also a moral necessity. Welcome to 2016! And since I live in Ohio — one of the vaunted “swing states” — my vote may actually help push the state toward electoral sanity. I’m perfectly all right with this.
So, yeah. As they say: I’m with her.
For today’s Big Idea, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun looked at how people like him are imagined to be, and for his novel The Root, how to make positive the qualities that are often perceived by others to be negatives.
NA’AMEN GOBERT TILAHUN:
A lot of the plot ideas in The Root are actually smaller ideas that become bigger and more expansive in the second and third books of the trilogy. Some deal with family or religion or betrayal or all three. I was struggling to decide which to talk about when I realized that with most of them it would difficult if not impossible to avoid spoilers. So I thought back to the ideas that got me writing The Root in the first place, the two ideas I thought were small and the idea that joined them together. In The Root many of the characters get a few scenes from their point of view, but the two main characters are definitely Errikos Sabastian Allan and Lilliana Blackthorn Johns, or Erik and Lil for short. Both of them started as a bare sketch, a broad idea for a character in response to something.
I’ve been a large black man all of my life and I’ve experienced the fear and suspicion that comes along with that. I’ve had people clutch their bags at the sight of me, tell me seats were taken when they were later given away, even cross the street to get away from me. These are just a few of the assumptions of anger and violence that I experience every single day. One day I thought: What if I wrote a black man whose power came from his anger? What if that angry black man was one of the heroes of the story? What if that angry black man was shown to be so much more than his anger? What if he was allowed to be smart and noble and vulnerable and all the things a hero should be? What would that character look like?
For me, it turned out to look like Erik. Writing him proved difficult because we have so much of the experience of a black man in America in common,, but in other aspects we are completely different. I often found myself having to go back and correct the story so that he would act in a way that was about what Erik would do in that situation, not what I would do. I hadn’t anticipated this problem but I should have, because not only was I crafting a character similar to me but also the kind of character I wanted to see more of as a reader. I also had to resist the urge to make him the perfect hero, because I had been so in need of characters like this. I wanted him to be everything to everyone which is impossible. I had to remember I didn’t want an idealized protagonist, I wanted a real one who was nuanced and could allow people to see him as a fully human person, deserving of all the respect that entails.
I’ve never been a black woman but I have spent most of my life around them as mothers, sisters, friends and cousins, as family who I loved and cared for and an intrinsic part of my community. I’ve also seen them called loud, obnoxious, ugly, stupid and far darker things. Black woman are not respected by our society at all, I’ve watched what we say they are in our media, how we erase them from history, how we ignore the things they contribute to society. And I thought: What if the black woman’s very power lay in her voice? What if you could not silence her no matter what? What if by voice I didn’t just focus on physical voice but also on the way she walked in the world, the things she thought were right, and would not be silent about? What if what she wanted more than anything was the truth? What would she do for it?
And so Lil was born. Writing Lil was challenging for different reasons than Erik. Unlike Erik, when the book opens she still has some bit of innocence left, she clings to her belief in certain people. I knew the first book was going to be a hard road for her because seeing someone lose that belief?
Both of my characters would have hard journeys because they were trying to save two worlds and that’s no easy task. However, Lil’s story had to be even more nuanced than Erik’s because of my lack of personal experience with that identity. I wanted to show the way she’s dismissed as so many women of color are, her intentions misconstrued, her protestations ignored. I wanted to show Lil’s strength, not some mythical black woman strength that meant she didn’t get hurt or could take more punishment because of her black womanhood, but the strength in knowing what she was doing was right. I had to show this without slipping into any of the tropes and horrors that follow the depictions of black women in our society. I didn’t want Lil’s story or pain to feel exotified of exploitative and the stories told and revered in our society encourage us to use women’s pain as window dressing, as something to spice up a tale. Luckily I have my friends to look to, all the black women in my life that counter this message simply by existing and telling their own stories.
Once I had the ideas for both of these characters the rest of the story began to grow out from them. I didn’t have everything worked out yet but I knew that these two characters, all too rare in speculative fiction for being black and queer and three-dimensional, would be the center of the story I was telling. Then around these two ideas/characters developed another big idea like some delicious flaky crust. These two characters, these reactions to real life stereotypes could and would exist between the covers of an adventurous, fantasy story that was not solely focused on their identity.
Maybe that’s why at first I didn’t think of these things as big ideas. First because it was born of all these smaller ideas coming together to form a story and secondly it’s what I’ve always wanted to write. For Lil and Erik, their pasts affect them and influence their decisions as with any good character, but their identities, the colors of their skin, their sexualities are not all that they are by any means. I wanted to see people like me and my friends concerned with surviving, with fighting bad guys, with saving the world, with falling in love, with living through an urban fantasy landscape that all too often didn’t look urban at all.
I sometimes still hesitate to call that a Big Idea because it seems so obvious to me but from a lot of the reactions I’ve gotten – the anger AND the thankfulness it seems like it’s more of a big idea than I ever thought.
Oh, nothing, just a reminder that there are two anthologies being released today in which I have short stories. The first (alphabetically speaking) is Black Tide Rising, set in John Ringo’s zombiverse, for which I and Dave Klecha have contributed the story “On the Wall”; the second being Mash Up, in which my fantasy/horror story “Muse of Fire” resides (Mash Up is the printed version of Rip-Off!, originally an audio-only anthology).
Both are available at your favorite bookstore, and if they are not, then tell them to special order! That’s right! You can do that!
To begin, this tweet:
To which I responded:
Which got me some “haa lolz sour grapes” comments which left me slightly confused, so I had do a bit of digging. Which, along with the desire to generally expand on this comment, led to the following.
“Assassin Queen” is the third and concluding book in the Majat Code trilogy, which was ultimately driven by one big idea: what would happen if immense power were to be confined by very strict rules? In particular in this series, what if you were an extremely powerful warrior, but in exchange for this power you had to live by a highly restrictive code, which would ultimately prevent you from doing what you believe is right?
This topic has fascinated me over the years, and weaves into a lot of my writing. In the Majat Code, I have finally satisfied my desire to explore it on the backdrop of a story set in medieval multicultural world featuring political intrigue, romance, adventure, and lots of fancy swordplay.
The central action in the series belongs to the Majat warriors: an elite guild of fighters that could be thought of as Eastern martial artists integrated into the medieval Western setting. The Majat Guild trains the best of the best, and then hires out their services to the highest bidder. Warriors of their top, Gem ranks, are valued the highest, especially the Diamonds that are few and far between. Each Diamond equals the fighting power of a small army, but like the rest of the Majat they are bound by the Code of their Guild. They must always follow orders and are allowed no loyalties of their own – in politics or in personal life. And, they can never leave the Guild. Once ranked, only death can remove them from their bond to the Majat.
Two of the main characters of the book, Kara and Mai, are both Diamond-ranked, and throughout the series their loyalties and their resolve to follow the Code are thoroughly tested in every possible way.
In Book 1, “Blades of the Old Empire”, Kara is thrown into a political conflict orchestrated by a devious enemy, where she is meant to become a pawn and ultimately bring about the downfall of the Majat. As the gambit comes into play, Kara is faced with a choice between duty and honor. She must kill a good man, whose magic ability is essential for the survival of his kingdom. To refuse would mean sealing her own death warrant. Once she makes her choice, Mai, who is similarly trained but slightly superior to her in skill, is sent after her – and it becomes his turn to make a choice between following orders and doing the right thing. The choices they both make lead to a revolt inside the Majat Guild (described in book 2, “The Guild of Assassins”) and eventually to a war that is the focus of “Assassin Queen”.
When I started writing these series, I expected it to be finished in one, maybe two books. But even though each book does have a satisfactory ending (or so I hope), some loose ends remained and needed to be tied up. Thus, I ended up with a series of three standalone but interconnected books. Each of them was a lot of fun to write, in all different ways.
Writing book 3, “Assassin Queen” felt very satisfying. I knew the story was going to be fully wrapped up, but having a whole book to do it gave me the luxury of doing it through very fun subplots that originally came up during my world building for the series but, as I believed, were never going to see the light of day. One of those subplots takes place in a desert Queendom of Shayil Yara, a matriarchal society modeled after the ancient Middle East. And yes, Kara has a mysterious far-reaching connection to that queendom – but of course you would have to read the book to find out more about this, and about the choices all my characters must make to find their peace.
And that’s what I have for you this Sunday, folks. Hope you’ve been having a great weekend.
I cried for Muhammad Ali when I was eight years old, the night he fought and lost to Leon Spinks, February 15, 1978. When I was eight years old Muhammad Ali was everywhere, the best known and most admired athlete in the world — he even had an animated television series, for heaven’s sake! — and everyone knew, without qualification, that he was The Greatest of All Time. I knew that too, took it as an article of faith. The Greatest of All Time, a living legend, was a man who simply could not be defeated, certainly not by Leon Spinks, who I had never heard of before and who I, in the depth of my understanding at the advanced age of eight years old, considered something of a palooka (had I known what the word “palooka” meant at that age, which I didn’t). But he did lose to Spinks, and I sobbed for hours. For Ali to lose to someone like that unmoored my understanding of the world. It was literally my first crisis of faith.
What I didn’t understand then, and wouldn’t fully understand for years afterwards, was that Ali was not called The Greatest of All Time because he was undefeatable in the ring. He was defeatable, five times in his career, even if the other 56 times he out-thought, out-fought, out-danced, and out-psyched the other men in the ring with him, his artistry in doing so becoming the foundation of his greatness for most people, including me. What made Ali The Greatest of All Time was the totality of who he was, outside the ring as well as in it.
The world doesn’t need me to recount the details of his life — there will be enough obituaries that will do that, and I can say with utter confidence that there are vast numbers of people better equipped, for all sorts of reasons, to eulogize the man. What I can say is that from that early crisis of faith at age eight to today, almost 40 years later, my understanding of Ali changed from him being a simple god on a pedestal, someone who was The Greatest of All Time by acclamation — and who was I at eight years old to argue — to him being a complex, difficult, imperfect and inspiring human being, a product of and a shaper of his time. What was true at age eight is true at age 47: He was The Greatest of All Time. What changed was not Ali. What changed is my understanding of him, and what greatness is.
Let me talk a moment about Ali being both a black man and a Muslim. In the wake of his death, you’re going to see people saying that Ali transcended his race or his religion, or both of them, to become someone who belonged to all people. I think two things about this. First, it’s undeniable that people of all races and creeds admired him, his life and his accomplishments. I loved him as a child, when my understanding of him was simple, and I honored him as an adult, when my understanding of him was more complex.
But — and this is the second thing — you cannot love or honor Ali properly without acknowledging that blackness and Islam are at the core of his greatness. It seems to me, and I think the events of his life bear this out, that the greatness of Ali — who he was — was did not come out to you, was not there for you, and in a fundamental way did not care what you thought of it. It was there, and you could come to it or not, and if you did, you had to take it on its on terms. On Ali’s terms. And Ali’s terms were: He was a black man, in America and in the world. He was a Muslim man, in America and in the world. He was who he was. He did not have to transcend those things about himself. You, however, might have to overcome your understanding of what you thought of both blackness and Islam to appreciate him. People did or did not; Ali went on regardless.
I think it’s important that when I was an eight-year-old child, one of my idols, one of my pantheon, someone whose greatness I accepted uncritically, was a black man. I’d like to think in a small, early way that my love for Ali made a difference in how I grew up thinking about race. As I grew up, and I learned about his experiences being black in the US in the mid-20th Century, his refusal to submit for the draft and his reasoning for it, and his conversion and movement through Islam — and the responses to all of these by others as they happened — Ali was an unwitting but invaluable teacher.
I can’t say I have a perfect understanding of race or religion or of blackness in America or of Islam. The imperfections of understanding of each of those is on me. But I can say that to the extent I engage in any of them with any measure of success, Muhammad Ali is part of the reason why. Because he was black. Because he was Muslim. And because he made me understand that both of those were fundamental to his greatness, not things he needed to transcend to be seen as great.
My friend and classmate Josh Marshall noted earlier today that the decline in interest in the sport of boxing over the last few decades makes it difficult for younger people — especially under the age of 30 — to understand the scope of Ali’s greatness in his time. I think it also means, particularly with regard to the sport of boxing, that Ali’s appellation as The Greatest of All Time is unlikely to be seriously challenged, ever. It’s not that other boxers won’t have better records; it’s not that other boxers won’t be great. It’s that for a moment in time, boxing had in its ranks a man who could and did shape his nation and his world with his athletic talent, his political courage, his devastatingly sharp mind, and his great heart.
He was Muhammad Ali and there will never be another like him. I cried for him when I was eight because I did not understand why he was The Greatest of All Time. I understand now. I cry for him again because I do.
Sometimes the Big Ideas of a book series can grow, and the author is left wondering, great, now, how do I make this work? With The World Weavers, author Kelley Grant considered the overall concept of the trilogy she’d written, and how to make the expansive big idea of it come to a satisfying conclusion.
While watching the local news one night I began considering the likelihood that we’d created God in our image, because if he’d created us in his image and this was how he acted, we were doomed. It made me think of the Greek gods and goddesses, their very human flaws and how difficult they made life for mere mortals.
My brain started clicking. What if there were truly a greater being, but not in our form? And it created humans, but found we couldn’t govern ourselves. That One being might create some deities in our image so they could understand us, to take care of us. But, if they were human-like deities with great power, what creature would protect humans from the deities’ envy and greed and selfishness?
My dog put his head on my lap, but he was too loyal, too kind. My cat lounged on my brand new sweater, depositing fur and claw holes and gazed upon me with contempt and ownership. That seemed like a concept to write about – a land ruled by dangerous, capricious deities who were held mostly in check by great cats loyal to the One-being who created all. Throw in some rebellious humans and that idea served as the basis for the first novel of this series, Desert Rising.
The World Weavers is the concluding volume of the series. I had to bring a human rebellion against the deities to a close. But how do mere mortals war against deities without being crushed like ants? How do you separate pieces of the universe and then weave them back into wholeness, when the pieces have minds and don’t want to be woven back in? I love David vs. Goliath stories where the little guy finds a way to triumph over incredible odds. As a little person who was bullied by larger kids in school, those stories inspired me with hopes of future revenge. In The World Weavers I’d created some pretty big, epic bullies for my heroes to cast down. Perhaps too big.
It was at this point that I realized I was too stupid to write this story. In the first novel I’d created something of epic scope; an entire religious system, powerful gods, and two territories living in peace with a complicated trade network. In the second book I exploded both the religious and trade systems (oops) and created war. In this third book I was left with war and lots of pieces I needed to reassemble in some meaningful way. I knew the conclusion I needed to travel to, only, there were so many pieces…and they didn’t want to go together. I’m a smart person, but my brain hurt thinking about it, and I couldn’t afford to hire Stephen Hawking to write it for me.
So I did what writers do. I drank…umm, just kidding. I put on my rainbow underpants and sat down and plotted. I put the characters together and learned through their eyes and personalities how to reel the deities in. Though I’m not generally a plotter, during writing I charted every essential action in every chapter because I knew I would be rearranging them. I realized that my characters could not win against the deities through sheer strength. So they had to be sneaky. Sneaky is fun. World Weavers is one large, carefully plotted trap with everything at stake and little certainty of success.
But maybe, just maybe, my heroes will score another victory for the little guys.
My wife texted me from downstairs to make sure I got a picture of the sunset tonight. Good call (or, uh, text).
Welcome to June.
Bob Defendi is a gamer who knows what it’s like to be trapped in a bad game session. But as the writer of Death by Cliché, Defendi decides to take that bad game session one step farther. It’s a big step. And it goes straight down.
Mel Brooks said. “Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” The dark truth of comedy is that in every comedic situation, someone feels pain. Sad clowns have been a staple for far longer than people have been stapling clowns. Humor is a joyful, shining light, but it only shines because something burns.
Too morbid? How about this:
“You enter a room lit by flaming brassieres.”
Death by Cliché started with this image. A group of mature, experienced gamers gathered around a game table in a local store with a theoretically post-pubescent kid running the game. As the word “brassieres” spills from his mouth the adults exchange glances, and their stomachs sink. They know that they just sat down to play the worst game of their lives.
There’s a game designer at the table, however, and he is there to save them. He has turned his passion for games into a career, and he’s discovered that anyone who thinks work is a four letter word has a damn-poor vocabulary for swearing. There’s a dichotomy to the old axiom of “do what you love,” because turning your passion into a career irrevocably alters your perceptions of the form.
Did I mention that this is a true story?
You see, I once received a call from the marketing department of a major game company. A kid they knew to be a looney was about to demo their brand new game at a local game store. They knew it was going to be a train wreck. My job was simple: Go to the store, assess the game, and likely stage a coup because a bad game is far worse than no game, and they didn’t want complaints of “epic fail” to cost them the Salt Lake City market on the eve of a new release. I remember thinking that my worst case scenario would be to simply end the game and send everyone home before things got too ugly.
Here’s where it stops being a true story, and starts being a story filled with truth.
Our hero cannot have an easy out. He must be trapped, and so I, Bob Defendi set out to trap the semi-fictional Bob Damico in the worst game of all time. I would transform my—err I mean HIS—greatest love into the very embodiment of Hell.
That meant I’d have to kill him. The department of ironic punishments owns your sorry ass now.
Death by Cliché is about terrible storytelling. It’s about a man with deep knowledge of the form riding a train wreck like an Alanis Morrisette cover of an Ozzy Osborne song. It had to be painful enough to be funny, and funny enough to leave readers begging for more. It had to have the structural integrity of Buckminster Fuller’s bath house, built on a foundation of buckwheat pancakes.
Clichés are painful. They’re terrible. Under almost no circumstances do you want to let them into your story. You certainly don’t want to fill your story to the brink with them. You absolutely, positively don’t want to build the entire story on the bones of clichés and on the blood of bad storytelling.
Because that way lies madness.
And you really don’t want everyone to buy a copy, so you’re forced to do it all over again in a sequel.
Or maybe all of that is hindsight. Maybe I had no grand plans. Maybe I wanted to name a character Bob and start the book like this:
“Authors who write their own chapter quotes should be shot.”
Then shoot him in the head.
Death by Cliché: Amazon
In the future, we will have space travel and transporters and tribbles… but will we have a robust and coherent economic system? And if so, what will it look like and how will it actually function? These are the questions that Manu Saadia has asked, and in his book Trekonomics, attempts to answer.
As you may have heard by now, Star Trek turns 50 this year. Over the past 50 years it has become an integral part of our lives. It is a signpost in popular culture, a legit, iconic piece of Americana.
As a result, everything has been written about Star Trek. You’ve got books on the physics of Star Trek, the religions of Star Trek, the philosophy of Star Trek (my favorite: The Wrath of Kant), Trek fandom, Gene Roddenberry William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc, etc. Star Trek is a literary genre in and of itself.
I’ve read a lot of these books over the years. After all, I am a dedicated fan. Yet, I couldn’t find a book about the economics of Star Trek. For some bizarre reason that crucial aspect of Trek, perhaps its most singular, had not been covered. To paraphrase the other franchise, this was the book I was looking for.
So there it is. Plumbing. That’s the big idea behind Trekonomics. Plumbing. You can’t see plumbing, you take it for granted, you barely notice it. Yet plumbing is absolutely essential to life in modern society, real or imagined. Economics is the plumbing of Star Trek as much as it is the plumbing of our world. It is what gives them both their unique, distinctive shapes. It is what makes them work.
We all know that there is no money in Star Trek’s 24th century. But it goes far beyond that: in the Federation there is neither hunger, poverty nor any of the economic challenges and rewards that make our 21st century lives so interesting. In Trek’s world, what British economist John Maynard Keynes called the “economic problem,” the necessity to work to sustain ourselves, has simply gone the way of the dodo.
In the book I examine three questions: first, how does economics actually function in Star Trek’s universe? Second: is Trekonomics internally consistent? And thirdly, is it even remotely possible or is Star Trek just another cheesy SJW communist Kumbaya in space?
The C- or the S- words are the elephant in the room when it comes to Trek. Let’s dispose of that once and for all. No, Star Trek is not a communist utopia in space. It is not communist (or socialist) because communism was an economic and political response to Keynes’ economic question – how to best organize and distribute scarce resources. In an over-abundant world such as Star Trek’s, a post-scarcity world, the issue of ownership is moot. It’s very much like Iain Banks’ Culture. Why would you want to own the means of production when the value of the things you produce has converged to zero? Or, in other words, when a replicator can make any gizmo at will, there’s very little point in trying to corner the market on gizmos. Besides, there are much more rewarding things to do with your existence – mapping stellar gaseous anomalies, studying new life and new civilizations, being the captain of the flagship, boldly going etc…
To my great surprise, Star Trek’s economic ideas are remarkably consistent. The show does not break much of what we currently know of economics. Furthermore, it turns out that elements of Star Trek’s speculative political arrangements already exist in our own world – namely, the practice of making some technologies and services free and available to all without restriction, as public goods (think Wikipedia or the GPS). This strongly suggests that post-scarcity is as much a political decision as it is a matter of technological progress. That being said, as Paul Krugman wryly observed at NY Comic Con, what may hold us back on our way to a Trek-like utopia is the human propensity to remain stubbornly unhappy.
Speaking of unhappiness – throughout the years, whenever I got depressed I would usually sit down and watch a few episodes of Star Trek so as to get transported to a better and happier future. Star Trek always had a therapeutic, reparative, function in my life. But not just that: I am the kind of guy whose marriage vows were ‘live long and prosper,’ and who inserted ‘live long and prosper’ in his son’s birth announcement. While I do not usually cosplay, you could say I am a Trekker for life.
This book is a love letter to Trek, if a bit on the wonkish side. It is an attempt to demonstrate that Star Trek’s optimism, so often derided if not summarily dismissed, rests largely on its economic premise; and that said economic premise is the opposite of naive or crazy. I believe that Star Trek truly fulfills philosopher John Rawls’ famous thought experiment on the veil of ignorance: what kind of society would you design if you did not know in advance what would be your place or position in that society? Chances are it would look like the Federation’s utopia, sans the spaceships and the aliens.
That is the value of Star Trek in our world. That is why it has endured for 50 years. That is why it still matters today. Live long and prosper, indeed.
In which we had a lovely time at Wiscon. I hope your Memorial Day weekend has been a fine one, and that (here in the US), you give a moment to ponder on those whom Memorial Day is meant to honor.
As we here in the US head into the Memorial Day weekend, here is a stack of books and ARCs for your delight and perusal. Anything here speak to you? Tell me in the comments!
There’s a lake here.
In other news, hello, Madison (and Wiscon)! I’m enjoying you so far.
For today’s Big Idea, Camille Griep goes all the way back to the Trojan War for inspiration with her new novel New Charity Blues — and picks up the story of two characters you might not expect.
“The danger on the rocks has surely past,” sang Steely Dan’s Becker and Fagen in “Home at Last,” a paean to Odysseus’ homecoming. “Still I remain tied to the mast.” From songs to poetry to fiction, retelling old stories isn’t a novel concept … or is it? (I apologize, really. Please put the tomatoes down.)
The empty spaces in fairy tales, myth, and folklore insatiably lure some writers, and I’m no exception. We’ve wallowed in the untold tales of Oz, the fleshing out of King Arthur, and the exploration of the Grimm’s Ever Afters. (Heck, I even wrote one of the latter.) With New Charity Blues, I knew I wanted to look a little deeper in the Old Story pile. Though the Trojan War and its fallout has received beautiful and innovative treatments from Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles to Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, there were two stories I thought needed a further look: those of Cressida and Cassandra.
Way back in the olden days when I was in college, I remember one of my favorite professors marveling at length at how a certain car company could be so stupid as to name their sedan a Cressida. “Hey,” I thought to myself, in a fit of tacit cowardice. “It wasn’t her fault she had to fend for herself in the Greek’s camp. Who knows, maybe those cars are scrappy and reliable?” Honestly, though, I had no idea. My family bought American, and I could only dream my moldy LeBaron into a vehicle that didn’t slurp up a bottle of power steering fluid a day.
Not too long after that, the same honors lit class read “Cassandra,” by Robinson Jeffers. “Poor bitch, be wise,” warns the poet. Though Jeffers was commiserating with the Seer in the piece, I recalled leaving class incensed at the injustice of it all. Cassandra never gets to rub her rightness in anyone’s face, never gets to say I told you so. Instead, she gets myriad odes to her supposed mental state. Suffering insanity or not, the girl was right. And I wanted to hear a story where someone had to say, “Holy Horsenoodles! We should have listened to her!”
New Charity Blues puts a magnifying glass over the perspectives of Cressida (Syd) and Cassandra (Cas), but to do so, I needed to significantly quiet the violence (the magic of trial and error revealed that one can only kill so many characters per chapter unless one has a four letter monogram). To tell the story of the two women required an allegorical war, and to tell a contemporary version of that conflict, I needed an apocalypse. I chose to enter the story after a pandemic has swept the (unnamed) country, introducing Syd amid the ruins of a city crippled by lack of water and Cas atop a desert-turned-verdant paradise.
Ripping inspiration from the headlines usually my bag, though in my case, I admit there might be a bit of subconscious passive aggression in New Charity’s water-rags-to-reservoir-riches tale. Growing up in the dry foothills of Eastern Montana, waiting for the trundle of the water truck so that I could take a shower, I might admit to a certain glee in giving the city girls the short end of the cistern measuring stick for once. Regardless, New Charity has the water the City needs. And they aren’t sharing.
As with so many wars, the resentments between the two communities run long and deep. Syd left with her mother for the city at 14 to become a dancer, leaving her small town beginnings and her friends behind for the bright lights. Her father, who had been slated to join them, found he could not and chose New Charity over her family. Readers meet Syd six years later, and she’s plenty jaded, having lost her mother, her city, her career, and her purpose. When a letter arrives with the news her father has died, a final door shuts on a possible reconciliation for all that hurt. The letter, however, contains an opportunity: a way in to the gated bastion of all things painful in her past. On a mission, Syd arrives in a New Charity much changed from her childhood, though some things have stayed the same.
Syd notices that her childhood friends, Seers Cas Willis and her twin, Len, are the same “perpetual whirlwind” they’ve always been. But while Len is fumbling his way into adulthood despite his insulated environs, Cas is reticent to even think about who she wants to be – her mother treats her like a baby, her father uses her a fortune-telling political puppet, and her brothers use her as a reliable sidekick. When Cas foresees Syd’s arrival, she’s relieved. That is, until she accidentally learns more about Syd’s father’s death; it calls into question the magic of which she and her brother are the last keepers.
And here is the crux of the big idea: Syd wants to turn the water back on and save her beloved City, but hits a snag when she learns the repercussions of her plan. Cas wants to prove her town isn’t the monster Syd is painting it as, but cannot seem to convince herself the more she learns and reflects. Their friendship grows, changes, and prevails, even as the conflict escalates via tiny decisions – ones made for all the right reasons resulting in all the wrong outcomes.
Syd’s search to find peace with herself and the people around her will hopefully allow her to fight back against her literary reputation of inconstancy. Cas’s awakening to the wider world around her will challenge perceptions of her poetic forbear’s naïve hysteria. Their stories could be told a thousand times more, and with any luck, they will be.
Before I head out to Wiscon, here are today’s new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What here calls to you? Tell me in the comments!
Things! About me!
1. This weekend I’m at Wiscon in Madison, Wisconsin. However, aside from “Sign Out,” the mass signing event the convention holds, I’m not on any programming. Why not? Because I didn’t want to be and didn’t volunteer for any. Sometimes I just hang out! So, if you’re going to Wiscon this weekend and want to say hello to me, you’re in luck (likewise, if you have a book for me to sign at Sign Out).
2. This May I’ve been in a “semi-hiatus” state to get work done on the books I’m writing, and the good news is it’s been useful! The bad news is the books aren’t done, so I’m going to go ahead and extend the semi-hiatus, probably through June. The other good news in this case is that are 13 Big Idea pieces scheduled for June, so between them, sunset pictures and cat pics (and yes, the occasional political rant from me) you should be fine for another month.
3. Really happy about the positive response to The Collapsing Empire reveal on Tuesday. This is just a heads up that there will be other reveals coming up soon as well. Yes! I have not been idle! Uh, mostly. So, you know. Stay tuned.