The Big Idea: Greer Macallister

In some ways, writing a novel is a bit of magic — you sweep someone away to another time or place using only the power of words. When Greer Macallister was writing The Magicians Lie, about an actual, professional magician, there was another level of magic to consider — as well as some intriguing practicalities.


I write stuff of all sizes, inspired by ideas of all sizes. Some ideas are the right size for short stories, others for poems, other for plays, and so on.

One day a little over five years ago, I was hit upside the head by the Big Idea that became The Magician’s Lie. I knew from the beginning it was a Big Idea, the right size for a novel. I was inspired, actually, by an absence.

Picture a magician doing a trick. Is he pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Shuffling a deck of cards? Cutting a woman in half? Chances are it’s one of the three, and almost certainly, he is a he. We’ve seen countless references to, and images of, a male magician cutting a woman in half. But have you seen anything, ever, about a female magician cutting a man in half? I realized that I hadn’t.

And immediately I realized I wanted to write that book, about that magician.

So The Amazing Arden was born. She would be famous, and infamous, and she would perform an illusion called The Halved Man, and when it seemingly went wrong and a man’s dead body was found under the stage after a performance, she would be suspected of murder.

I knew right away who she would be – but when would she be? I had a choice to make. Would she be a present-day, modern woman, with a Vegas show and a TV special? Or did it make sense to set the story in the past, when stage magic occupied a more central place in the nation’s daily entertainment? After some research, I found I had almost complete freedom. Even today, it’s a rare thing to see a female magician cutting a man in half, and gender politics in the US are, sadly, still retrograde enough that some people would be upset by such a sight. Still, a contemporary setting just didn’t seem right. I found that one of the first famous female magicians performed the world’s most deadly illusion, The Bullet Catch, onstage in New York City in January 1897. I decided to include that real event in my novel to inspire my protagonist.

But I’d never been a historical fiction writer. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know where to find facts, how to select them, and when necessary for the story I wanted to tell, when to ignore them. I got mired in the research, and every time I started a new scene, I’d have to stop writing to go answer basic questions. Would the protagonist, in this particular situation, be wearing a hat? Gloves? How would a person without money get from Baltimore to New York, and how long would it take? Did theaters in the late 1890s and early 1900s have gas lights or electric? What were their precautions against fire? When were sequins invented?

Over the course of five years of writing, I figured out all those things, and more. I discovered I loved writing historical fiction. There’s just something magical about whisking readers away in a compact 320-page time machine. And though I’ve never before spent so long and wept so many tears over writing a novel, I’ve also never been as proud of the ultimate result. My next Big Idea is historical too, and I wonder if all my ideas will fall into that category from here on out. Time, as it does, will tell.

There’s no telling where inspiration will come from, in the end. Any idea might be Big or Small, and you might have thousands or just a handful. Look around you, engage with the world, and let your mind work its magic. You can be inspired by anything you’ve seen – or, as I was, by something you haven’t.


The Magician’s Lie: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Greer’s website at or follow her on Twitter.


A Cat and His Box

Zeus the cat, shown here being fooled into attacking the underside of a box by the scratching sounds my wife is making, has become quite attached to the self-same box. The box is the one my most recent desktop computer came in; I pulled the computer out of it and the kept the box for a bit just in case something went horribly wrong and I needed to ship the thing back.

As it turns out the computer runs perfectly well, but in the interim Zeus has decided that the box is his spot, i.e., the one place that for him and him alone. If Lopsided Cat dares to sit on it Zeus will thump on him until he moves, and then lie down on it himself as if to reclaim it. It’s kind of adorable, in a cat way.

So although the box now serves no real purpose any more and is in fact a little bit in the way, I think I’ll keep for at least a while longer. It makes Zeus happy and doesn’t hugely inconvenience me, and it’s certainly a cheaper cat seat than many others I might buy (and have). So, enjoy yourself, Zeus. I wouldn’t keep a big pointless box in my office for just anyone, you know.

The Big Idea: Marcus Sedgwick

You ask questions, sure. But have you asked The Question? You know, the question that’s so important it requires capital letters. In this Big Idea, Marcus Sedgwick is addressing The Question, and how it relates to his latest novel, The Gates of Heaven.


“What are we doing here?” A pertinent question at times, for example, when you find yourself trying to shop on 5th Avenue on Christmas Eve, when your car breaks down on the New Jersey turnpike, or when you attend a school reunion. However, even more than that, “what are we doing here?” is one of the most fundamental questions in life, one that everyone must have asked his or herself at some point. You might even argue that it’s The Question.

Very often, The Question first enters our heads during the teenage years; a time apparently calculated for no other reason than to get us worrying about the really big things in life – which we can summarise as being Love and Death. I think The Question defines two kinds of people – that is to say, there are two kinds of reaction to it. The first kind of person is so scared by it, by the potentially nihilistic chasm that yawns wide at its consideration, that he or she then determines never to think about it again, and spends the rest of their life making sure they fill their time and their mind with everything and anything, noble or mundane, to ensure that never happens. The second kind of person spends the rest of their life trying to answer it.

Writers, I guess, belong in the second category, because it’s my belief that all writing is an attempt to find an answer. If that sounds like a big and somewhat pretentious claim, well, so be it. You might argue that not all books seem to be deeply philosophical tomes, but I still argue that even a funny, flippant or feeble book is still trying to work out what it means to be human in some specific way or other, and why the Hell are we here.

So speaking of big and somewhat pretentious ideas, this new book of mine is unashamedly prodding and poking at The Question. You’ll notice I don’t claim it answers it. That’s because I think it’s the job of writers to ask questions, not to provide answers. That’s the job of philosophers, preachers and politicians, and you can take your pick of the ones you trust from that list. But given that I’ve just said that answering The Question is precisely what all writing is trying to do, I should at least give a bit more detail on the particular slant I’ve taken.

Along with love and death, one other thing foisted itself on my psyche when I was a teenager – and it might sound strange but that thing was the rather elusive image of the spiral. A few years after I became a writer (oh Lordy) I started thinking it would be good to write a novel about this image, or symbol, since I had never managed to rid myself of my obsession with it. But, it being patently absurd to write a novel about a geometric shape, it took me a good few years to find an approach to making a book that allowed me to muse upon the meaning of the spiral in the way I wanted to.

So why the spiral? What’s so special about it? Well, as the years went by, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who’s felt that this beautiful image has something very pertinent to say in reference to The Question, to who we are as a species, at what we try to do, and how we try to survive and explore. Cultures from all epochs and all parts of the world have ascribed meaning to the spiral, occasionally with evil connotations, but much more often with more noble aspirations. From primitive cave and rock art, found in countless forms throughout nature, in mathematics and the sciences, and from the smallest scale (think of DNA) up to the immense (we live in a spiral-armed galaxy), the spiral is to be found waiting patiently for us to ascribe it meaning.

So, what is so special about it? I think it’s two things. First, the spiral is simply an innately beautiful shape, but secondly, it’s innately mysterious. The spiral is a symbol of infinity – all other geometric shapes can be depicted in their entirety; the square, the triangle, the circle and so on, but you can only ever depict part of the spiral, and thus the implication of the infinite, and therefore, of the mysterious, and in that most wonderful of words, the ineffable – that which may not be known. And that’s what life ultimately is too – ineffable.

So why are we here? We can only really guess at answers, and amuse ourselves by finding the ones which satisfy us best, unless or until we cross the threshold to the infinite and are rewarded with an answer. Or with that yawning nothingness. And in the meantime, books are pretty much the best way to prod and poke at The Question, either as reader or writer. As Michael Moorcock once wrote, “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas.” Absolutely right. If we only get one trip around the block, I’d rather not waste too much of it on Christmas Eve shopping on 5th Avenue, or breaking down on the sixth busiest road in America. Let’s aim for the stars and in doing so, hope to find some answers that please us while we’re here.


The Ghosts of Heaven: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death

Disorganized because every time I try to organize my thoughts on these topics recently they kind of squirm away. So, fine, disorganized it is, then.

1. As noted in one of the tweets shown above, as a newspaper journalist, as well as, you know, writing here, I’ve done my share of enraging people with words, by mocking ideas that they hold dear, because I thought they deserved mocking. I have had my share of angry responses and even the occasional threat, and my response to those typically has been to poke harder. When I took up the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, that’s what it meant to me. I’ve been that guy.

2. I also recognize that I know almost nothing about Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper, or the tradition of satire and comment that it exemplifies in French culture. From where I sit, a lot of what I’ve seen of it looks kind of racist and terrible. And I understand that Charlie Hebdo didn’t just go after Islamic extremists, and that it went after other groups and people just as hard (and just as obnoxiously). But it reminds me that “we go after everyone equally” doesn’t mean that I feel equally comfortable with all of it, or that it has equal effect. When I say #JeSuisCharlie, it doesn’t mean I want to create or post what I think are racist caricatures and justify them as satire, applied on a presumed equal opportunity basis.

3. But then again my comfort level is about me, not about Charlie Hebdo or anyone else. Free speech, taken as a principle rather than a specific constitutional pratice, means everyone has a right to share their ideas, in their own space, no matter how terrible or obnoxious or racist or stupid or inconsequential I or anyone else think they and their ideas are. I also recognize that satire in particular isn’t about being nice, or kind, or fair. Satire is inherently exaggerated, offensive and unfair, in order to bring the underlying injustice it’s calling attention to into sharper relief. Trust me, I know this. (Satire also has a high failure rate, and the failure mode of satire, like the failure mode of clever, is “asshole.”) A lot of what I’ve seen from Charlie Hebdo isn’t for me and seems questionable, and that’s neither here nor there in terms of whether it should have a right to be published.

4. At the moment there’s an argument about whether news organizations are being cowardly about showing the Charlie Hebdo covers that allegedly were part of the reason it was attacked — the ones with visual depictions of the prophet Muhammad, who many Muslims feel is not supposed to be depicted visually (let us leave aside for the moment the discussion of whether all Muslims feel this way (they don’t) or whether Muhammad has been visually represented in the past even in Muslim art (he has, here and there) and focus on the here and now, in which many Muslims believe he should not be represented visually). The argument seems to be that by not showing the covers (or Muhammad generally), newspapers and other media are giving in to the extremists.

I’m not going to argue that very large media companies don’t have multiple reasons for what they do, including making the realpolitik assessment that displaying a Charlie Hebdo cover puts their employees (and their real estate, and their profits) at risk for an attack. But a relevant point to make here is that aside from the asshole terrorists who murdered a dozen people at Charlie Hebdo, there really are millions of Muslims who are just trying to get through their day like anyone else, who also strongly prefer that Muhammad is not visually represented. It’s not a defeat for either the concept or right of free speech for people or organizations to say they’re factoring these millions or people who neither did nor would do anything wrong into their consideration of the issue.

5. Which is a point that I think tends to get elided at moments like this — free speech, and the robust defense of it — does not oblige everyone to offend, just to show that one can. I can simultaneously say that I absolutely and without reservation have the right to visually depict Muhammad any way I choose (including in some ways devout Muslims, not to mention others, would consider horribly blasphemous), and also that, with regard to depicting Muhammad, as a default I’m going to try to respect the desire of millions of perfectly decent Muslims, and not do it. Because it’s polite, and while I’m perfectly happy not to be polite when it suits me, I usually like to have a reason for it.

6. But isn’t Muslim extremists shooting up a newspaper a perfect reason? For some it may be, and that’s fine for them. But I tend to agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here: shit like this isn’t about religion, it’s about money and recruiting for terrorist groups who use religion, at best, as a very thin binding material for their more prosaic concerns. I’m also persuaded by Malek Merabet, brother of Ahmed Merabet, the policeman and Muslim who was killed by the terrorists. He said: “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.” In which case, why offend the good and decent Muslims to get back at two very bad and false Muslims. I’m a reasonably clever writer; I have the capability to make my point regarding these asshole terrorists without a gratuitous display of Muhammad.

7. Hey, did you know that according to the UN, Christian militia in Central African Republic have carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the country’s ongoing civil war? And yet I hear nothing from the so-called “good” and “moderate” Christians around me on the matter! Why have the “moderate” Christians not denounced these horrible people and rooted them out from their religion? Is it because maybe the so-called “moderate” Christians are actually all for the brutal slaughter? Christians say their religion is one of peace! And yet! Jesus himself says (Matthew 10:36) that he does not come to bring peace, but the sword! Clearly Christianity is a horrible, brutal murdering religion. And unless every single Christian in the United States denounces these murders in the Central African Republic and apologizes for them, not just to me but to every single Muslim they might ever meet, I see no reason to believe that every Christian I meet isn’t in fact secretly planning to cut the throat of every single non-Christian out there. That’s what goes on in those “churches” of theirs, you know. Secret murder planning sessions, every Sunday! Where they “symbolically” eat human flesh! 

Please feel free to cut and paste the above paragraph the next time someone goes on about how all Muslims must do something about their co-religionists (of which there are more than a billion, all of whom apparently they are supposed to have on speed dial), and how Islam is in fact a warrior religion, and look, here are context-free snippets from the Koran, and so on and so forth until you just want to vomit from the stupidity of it all. And don’t worry, there are similar cut-and-pastes for any major religion you might want to name, as well for those who have no religion at all, although I’m not going to bore you with those at the moment.

The point is that, no, in fact, I don’t see why I or anyone else should demand that every Muslim is obliged to denounce and apologize for any bad thing that happens in the world done by someone who claims to be doing it in the name of Allah. As it happens, many prominent Muslims and Muslim organizations did condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks, just like pretty much everyone else. But silence isn’t complicity or endorsement, and if you demand that it is, you may be an asshole.

8. If there is one silver lining to the horribleness of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it is that people have been confronted with the fact of something they take for granted — the right to say what they want to say, how they want to say it — is something that others will literally kill to punish. That Charlie Hebdo is a problematic example — that is offensive, and intentionally so, and it does make people uncomfortable and angry — is, well, good isn’t the right word. Instructive. Sometimes we have to be reminded that free speech isn’t just for the speech we like, or the speech that’s easy to be reasonable about.

At the same time it’s okay to ask if this welcome outpouring of solidarity is because free speech was attacked, and it was decided that it was worth fighting for, or because a newspaper that mocked Islam was attacked by gunmen purporting to be Muslims, and that this may be less about free speech than another front in a religious/ethnic clash of culture.

My thoughts are that it’s probably some amount of both, and that neither is cleanly delineated. The two men who shot up Charlie Hebdo say they were Muslim; so were some of the people they shot. Those people — the Muslims who died — have been mourned, at least it seems from here, equally with all the other dead. They haven’t been pushed out of frame for a convenient narrative.

And maybe that’s part of the silver lining to this very dark cloud, too — that this isn’t just “us vs. them,” or at least that “us” now contain people in it who might have previously been considered “them.” And that all the people who are saying #JeSuisCharlie, and #JeSuisAhmed, or who are standing for free speech, or any combination of the three, are standing in memory of them as well.

The “Duh” Factor

Another possible measure of advancing age: I wrote 15,000 words this week, which was good, but at the end of each day my brain felt a bit wrung out, and today, when I’m not writing on the book but did want to write about politics a bit, my brain was still a bit mush. Whoa there, deep thoughts, it’s saying. Yeah, no, not gonna happen today.

So, sorry. I was going to be all insightful and smart, but then my brain went on strike. Maybe tomorrow.

That Time I Remixed a Depeche Mode Song

More than a dozen years ago (yikes) Depeche Mode did a contest where they invited people to remix their then-latest single “I Feel Love,” for some prize I do not remember because, yeah, like I was going to win. Nevertheless I’m a Depeche Mode fan and I thought it would be fun to take a crack at it. I posted the resulting remix before, but now I have the ability to do the little clicky streaming thing, so I thought I’d post again. Here you go.

And for compare and contrast, the original single.

(I did not, in fact, win the contest. Oh, well. At least I had that writing thing to fall back on.)

A Question For Discussion This Fair Evening

Which is:

I was at the dentist’s yesterday to get a small filling done, and while I was there the dentist, his assistant and I had a discussion about painkillers, and the fact that some people — not a huge number but not an infinitesimally small number either — prefer not to use them when getting their teeth drilled. The thinking there, as far as I can tell, is that the momentary displeasure of a high speed drill on your tooth is not worth either a needle being jabbed into your gums, or having half your face numb for a couple of hours, or both.

I personally think this is incomprehensible — please, numb me up and numb me up good — but I’m also aware that my tolerance for pain is not, shall we say, Olympic.

So let me ask you: When at the dentist, do you prefer to be numbed up into oblivion? Or do you prefer to ride it out without the Novocaine? Or does it depend on the procedure? I’m genuinely curious. Let me know in the comments.

Monty Python and the Holy Livetweet

Or, what I did with my Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, at the Scalzi Compound

No school today because of cold (and likely no school tomorrow, since it will be even colder), so what better day for Athena to run about in Unreal Tournament 2004, killing bots? None! None more better, I say!

Also, Unreal Tournament 2004: Still the best arena shooter, especially if you don’t actually want to play against other humans, because they are usually irritating butt monkeys.

In fact the last couple of days, when I’ve not been writing on The End of All Things, I’ve been playing video games, which explains my scarcity here (I’ve most recently been playing Dishonored, if you’re curious). I’m probably going to give games a couple night’s rest, however, because my wrist is reminding me that mice aren’t actually good for it, especially when I play obsessively for hours at a time. RSI, man. It’ll get you.

How are you?

Author Cat is Authorial

“What? Why yes, I am writing up a little something, just a novel that will forever change the way people — and by people I mean cats — think about the world, the universe, and existence itself. I call the novel Tuna With Thumbs. No, you can’t look at it. It’s not done, and anyway you’re a human. It just wouldn’t be the same.”

Everyone’s a writer in this house, it seems.

The Big Idea: James Morrow

Welcome to 2015, and the very first Big Idea of the year. And who should we have to kick things off but James Morrow, an author who regularly thinks about the biggest ideas of all: Gods, living and dead, and the implications thereof. Is it any surprise that his latest novel, Galápagos Regainedtrains its sights on the question of the existence of God? But what may surprise you is how Morrow, through the writing of this novel, has come to think about the idea of God itself.


Laced with satire and leavened with a touch of fantasy, my tenth novel, Galápagos Regained, is an historical epic about the coming of the Darwinian worldview. The plot turns on an outrageous competition established in 1848 by the hypothetical Percy Bysshe Shelley Society. My fictional Great God Contest is vaguely based on the famous Longitude Prize sponsored throughout much of the eighteenth century by the British Parliament with the aim of inspiring a simple and practical method for determining a ship’s position on the open sea. (As most of you know, the purse was eventually awarded to John Harrison in 1765 for his chronometer.) My twenty Byssheans—an association of rakehells and flâneurs occupying a manse in the heart of Oxford—propose to bestow an enormous cash bounty of £10,000 on any theologian or philosopher who can prove, or disprove, the existence of God.

Galápagos Regained features as its heroine the intrepid Chloe Bathurst, a successful Victorian actress who, owing to her outspoken political views, loses her position with London’s Adelphi Theatre Company. Chloe soon finds employment as a governess at Down House, the estate of Charles Darwin, though her job is not to educate his children but to nurture the live specimens he brought back from the Galápagos Islands, the mythic “Encantadas.” (The fine print on my poetic license permits me to imagine such a menagerie.) Eventually my heroine gets wind not only of the Great God Contest but also of her employer’s nascent theory of natural “descent with modification”—an incendiary notion that he has resolved never to publish during his lifetime, lest he suffer the censure of his dear wife, his other Christian relatives, and the world at large.

Eager to settle her prodigal father’s debts and keep him out of prison—and equally eager to give a headline-grabbing performance before the Shelley Society—Chloe resolves to enter the competition and offer up Mr. Darwin’s species theory as an implicit disproof of God. Her chances of winning, she imagines, are good. Not only does Darwin himself regard “descent with modification” as a big problem for conventional theism, but as an accomplished actress she can surely make a persuasive presentation. There’s just one catch. Darwin is scandalized by the Great God Contest, and he refuses to lend Chloe the giant tortoises, exotic marine iguanas, and rare tropical birds that she wishes to parade before the judges.

Our heroine hits on an audacious scheme. With the sponsorship of the Shelley Society, she will mount her own expedition to the Galápagos archipelago, so she can collect the sorts of live, illustrative specimens whose evolutionary significance she learned about at Down House. So now the novel becomes a deuces-wild adventure yarn—a nod to Candide, a tip of the hat to Around the World in 80 Days, a wink in the direction of Indiana Jones—and remains in that mode for three hundred pages, as Chloe traverses the Atlantic on a brigantine, steams up the Amazon River on a packet boat, crosses the Andes in a flying-machine, and sails to the Encantadas aboard a replica of Noah’s ark.

As with most of my projects, even high-concept extravaganzas like Galápagos Regained, I did not fully anticipate the implications of my experimental design. But that’s nature of literary thought-experiments, isn’t it? You don’t know the results until you actually play the Gedanken game. Many surprises awaited my heroine—and her author—as she pursued her quest for the Shelley Prize.

Several months into the project, I realized that Chloe herself should not harbor a strong opinion about the God question. She’s not a philosopher, after all; she’s a survivor and a schemer, galvanized by the thrill of the hunt, the heady scent of her Creator’s blood. In conceiving Chloe this way, I believe I avoided turning Galápagos Regained into a facile allegory on the contemporary clash between the New Atheists and their detractors.

Surprise number two: I had assumed at the outset that Chloe would ultimately make her case against God before the Shelley Society back in Oxford, and that this proceeding would occur largely off-stage, the reader having already endured a surfeit of theology. But then I realized that the final showdown could—and should—occur on the archipelago itself, as Chloe is called upon to defend her two best friends against accusations of sacrilege (a capital crime on Galápagos) before a courtroom filled with indignant Mormon colonists who’ve appointed themselves judges and barristers. And what better rebuttal to the charges could Chloe devise than to demonstrate that blasphemy is an incoherent concept, its victim being nonexistent? And so the antepenultimate chapter of Galápagos Regained offers readers a demented foreshadowing of the Scopes Trial, with Chloe holding forth on the local Encantadas reptiles and birds in light of the Darwinian Tree of Life.

Final surprise: before the composition process ended, I discovered what I, James Morrow, really think about the question of the divine. No, I haven’t abandoned my atheism. But I’ve decided that, up to a point, the God concept is good to think with (after which it becomes terrible to think with, as we see demonstrated every day in the political arena). I mean, look how far Spinoza got with his eccentric pantheism. Look at how much Newton achieved by fancying himself God’s avatar. Consider the heretical rhapsodies of Dante Alighieri, John Milton, William Blake, and Shelley himself (devotee of a religiously-inflected, whacked-out Epicureanism). In other words, I’ve decided there’s an ontology of nonexistence. I’m not kidding. An ontology of nonexistence. God is a wholly human construct, but he occupies a different plane of nonexistence than do Tinker Bell and the Tooth Fairy. And it’s at this juncture, I suppose, that I part company with the New Atheists, much as I admire their project and wish confusion on their enemies. But that is another day’s discussion.


Galápagos Regained: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (docx file). Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

SF/F Authors/Editors/Artists/Fan Creators 2015 Award Awareness Post

For the last few of years, after noting my own award-eligible works, I’ve posted another thread for other folks in the science fiction and fantasy field to make potential award nominators aware of their works and/or personal award eligibility. It turned out to be pretty useful, so I’m doing it again this year. Right now! In this comment thread, even.

So if you’re a science fiction and fantasy author, editor, or artist: Tell us what works of yours (or if you in yourself) are eligible for award consideration this year. The site gets many thousands of visitors a day, many of whom nominate for Hugos/Nebulas/Other genre awards, so it’s a decent way to get the word out.

And now: Rules (posted word for word from last year)!

1. This thread is only for authors/artists/editors to promote their own works (or in the case of editors, the works they have edited). This includes people eligible for “fan writer” and “fan author” categories. If you’re not an author/artist/editor promoting your own work, don’t post on the thread. I’ll be doing a general recommendation thread later on in the year. Any comment not by an author/artist/editor promoting his/her own work will get snipped out. This is to keep the thread useful both to creators and to folks thinking about nominations.

2. Also, to be clear, this thread is for works of or relating to science fiction and fantasy. This includes Young Adult works and SF/F fandom-related works. If you’re not sure your particular work is eligible for awards this year, please check; this includes folks who are self-publishing. A general rule of thumb is that works published in the 2014 calendar year are eligible for consideration for this year’s awards nominations.

3. Authors/Artists/Editors: Feel free to either list your eligible works in the comments and/or link to a blog post outlining your eligible works, if you’ve already done the latter.

4. If you list your work, please also mention the category you expect it will be eligible in, to help folks with their nomination choices. My assumption is that generally speaking you’ll use the Hugo and Nebula categories, but if another award has a category outside those, feel free to list it too (for example, anthologies). Note to short fiction writers: This will be especially important for you to do this because people may not know whether to file your work into the short story, novelette or novella categories.

5. If you want to include links to your works, please feel free, but be aware that posts with many links may be initially punted into the moderation queue. Don’t panic when that happens, I’ll be going through regularly to free them. HOWEVER, please make sure that before you post, you check all your links and formatting.

6. One post per creator/editor, please.

So: Authors! Artists! Editors! What do you want people to keep in mind for this awards nomination season?

New Computer Update

I bought my new desktop computer recently, mostly because the old one stopped working, but also because I wanted to get a reasonably tricked-out computer to play the latest generation of PC video games. I got one of these, and a 4k monitor with “G-sync,” which helps to prevent tearing of the image on the screen as it redraws the image. And then I got Wolfenstein: The New Order, the Nazi-snuffing FPS that came out last year, and ran it on pretty much max settings across the board, to see how the computer and monitor handled things.

The verdict: I’m pretty happy. WtNO is pretty graphics intensive and there’s always a lot happening onscreen at any one time, and the rig kept up with everything without a hitch. Likewise, the g-sync seems to be doing its job pretty well — I haven’t noticed any tearing and jaggies. There’s a minor drawback to the monitor, if you want to call it that, in that it’s capped to a 60-times-a-second refresh rate; some gamers want a much higher refresh (theoretically, my computer can refresh some games a couple hundred times a second). Personally, I think 60fps is more than ample for my needs, and being coupled with 4k graphics is pretty damn immersive. I have no complaints on this end.

(Also, WtNO is a pretty fun game. I like first person shooters that are challenging but not impossible, and which let me kill bad guys by the trainload; this one does that and as a nice bonus has a story that doesn’t completely suck. And of course you can’t go wrong with blasting Nazis. My complaints with the game have to do with the fact that it like so many other games these days doesn’t let me save my progress when I want to, and that boss battles, of which this game has several, kind of bore me. On the former, I feel I’m on the side of the angels — damn it, this is a PC, and I have a keyboard and a 2TB hard drive; let me save whenever the hell I want. On the latter, I don’t expect many people are with me. Oh, well.)

So, pleased by my purchase and happy to have be more intensively playing newer games again. Now, excuse me. I have to bring down a sixty-foot Nazi stomping machine.

In Today’s Episode of “John Scalzis Who Are Not Me”

Please meet John Scalzi the professional boxer, having a fight in 1996. He’s in the red and he’s fighting against Kenny Caraballo in blue.

Spoiler: Scalzi (14 – 37), a welterweight, loses, although this particular fight doesn’t seem to be part of his official record. Caraballo, his opponent, would have a very short but reasonably impressive pro career: three fights, all won by TKO.

It’s funny what turns up on YouTube, basically.

The 2015 Awards Consideration Post

Another year, another post to let those of you who vote for Hugos, Nebulas and other science fiction/fantasy awards know what I have have that is eligible for your consideration. This year, here are the goods:

Best Novel

Lock In, Tor Books, August 2014; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor.

Best Novella

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome,”, May 2014; Subterranean Press, October 2014

Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much it from me this year (which is not nothing, mind you; it’s more than 100,000 words). I did also write a super-short story for Popular Science (I think it was about 400 words) and of course wrote that erotic Watchmen fan fiction for the Shipwreck event. As fun as they are I’m not recommending either for award consideration. I thought I might also have a graphic novel and video game available for you in 2014, but they’re arriving in this calendar year. They’ll be worth the wait, however.

That said, for Hugo voters, allow me also to commend to you, in the category of Best Related Work, the song “Lock In,” music and lyrics by William Beckett, released to YouTube in August, 2014, and as a single in October 2014 by Equal Vision Records:

It’s really good, folks. I would be delighted to see it on the ballot.

In addition to reminding folks of the work I have out there, I generally put up a space for other folks eligible for award consideration to remind people of their work. I’ll put that up on Monday. Look for it then!

Output, Appearances, Plans, Resolutions, 2015 Edition

Plans! Dreams! Physical manifestions, in text and flesh! For 2015, here’s what I got so far.


These are confirmed, i.e., have solid publication plans/dates.

  • If all goes well, sometime very soon, the videogame Midnight Star (which I did the worldbuilding for) will be available worldwide on iOS, with other platforms to follow.
  • Immediately prior to Midnight Star, the prequel graphic novel Midnight Rises, which I wrote, will likewise be available, also on iOS, with other platforms following.
  • The End of All Things, the new novel in the Old Man’s War universe, and the immediate followup to The Human Division, will be out mid-year, first in digital serial version and then in hardcover.

These are unconfirmed, i.e., scheduled to be written this year but no solid publication plans/dates.

  • A novella, which will have its initial release on Audible as an audio presentation. Depending on when it’s done, for the second half of 2015 or first half of 2016.
  • A different novella for Subterranean Press. No release date yet.
  • A short story I’m co-writing with a friend, in part to see what co-writing with someone is like. It’s already claimed but I don’t know the release date.
  • And, you know. I’ll probably write a science fiction novel in there, too, and it will probably come out in 2016.

These are things I’m thinking of doing/may or may not do, depending on various events falling one way or another.

  • I may (co-)write a script, either for one of the shows based on my books currently under development, or just for the practice.
  • Likewise, if one or more of the shows under development gets greenlit, I may be busy with executive producer duties.
  • A YA novel (I’ve been thinking about this one for a while now)
  • A non-fiction book, either humorous or on film. Or maybe a writing book. It’s been eight years since Coffee Shop came out. Hmmmm.

Things I won’t be doing:

  • Interpretive dance.
  • A musical.
  • An album of classic metal songs, performed on ukulele.


As always, you can visit my Scheduled Appearances page for details. At the moment, confirmed events include Dearborn, MI, Greenville, OH, Perth and Melbourne in Australia, and Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s likely I will add Chicago and Spokane to the schedule (for Nebula Weekend and WorldCon, respectively), possibly Los Angeles (for the LA Times Book Festival) and there are a few other dates I’m mulling, but nothing else is confirmed at the moment. When they are, of course, I will let people know.

Oh, yeah: I’ll also be on a boat the first week of February.

General Resolutions:

  • Schedule my time better. This is becoming increasingly important as I travel more and have more things I’d like to do.
  • Exercise more. I’m getting older and I want this body to actually last.
  • Write a little more here on Whatever; last year it wasn’t precisely neglected, but I at least noticed that all my travel and other events had an effect on it.
  • Read more things that are not the Internet. Rumor is, I have many friends who write. Perhaps they have books I would enjoy reading.
  • Indeed, do more things that don’t involve the Internet; it does feel like it sucks away a lot of my time these days.
  • Family and friends: Be there for them and with them.
  • Did I mention scheduling my time better? Yes, that.

So, those are the plans for 2015 at the moment. I have a whole year to see how much of it actually gets done. Looking forward to it.

Old Man’s War, Ten Years On

Ten years ago today, Tor officially released Old Man’s War into the world, and so today is my official ten year anniversary of being a published novelist, and the anniversary of my entrance into the ranks of professional science fiction writers. Note that this “official” date is all kinds of leaky; Old Man’s War was popping up in bookstores a couple weeks before the actual pub date (which was fine by me because holiday sales), Tor bought the book from me two years before that, I had one science fiction story published in Strange Horizons in 2001 (which at the time did not qualify as a “pro” sale by SFWA), and of course in 1999 I self-published Agent to the Stars on my Web site (and serialized OMW on it in 2002).

Be that as it may, when I think of my professional science fiction career launching, January 1, 2005 is the date I think of. So there you have it.

It has, unambiguously, been a good ten years for both me and the book. In the case of the book, it was nominated for the Hugo and got me nominated for the Campbell (the latter of which I won that year), topped “best of the 21st century” lists from Locus and (caveats on those here), spawned a very successful book series, which includes New York Times bestsellers and Hugo nominees, has been translated into 21 or 22 languages at this point (I’ve lost count), been optioned for TV and film, sold well in its first year and continues to sell, very well, year in and year out. It’s my most successful book, and I suspect likely to be the one I’ll be remembered for when all accounts are tallied and closed out.

Which, of course, is perfectly fine by me. A couple of years ago, when I was on the JoCo Cruise for the first time, I sat on a panel of writers, and an audience member asked the panel whether any of us ever worried about being thought of as a “one hit wonder.” My response was to say that I had that “one hit” in Old Man’s War, and what that “one hit” had done was to offer me the sort of notability and stability that allowed me to write pretty much whatever I wanted from that time forward — it was the foundation on which everything else good in my fiction writing career was built upon. Having “one hit” isn’t a curse unless you want it to be. It can be an opportunity for many other things.

As it has been for me. Old Man’s War, and the fact that creative and cool people doing interesting things really like the book, has opened up a whole lot of doors for me. I’ve gotten to do any number of things I never would have been able to do, and gotten to meet so many people I like and admire, because of that novel and what’s flowed from it. Old Man’s War changed my life, and for the better, and I love that it has.

(With all that noted, it doesn’t feel like ten years has passed. But then I suspect on a day to day basis it never really feels like time passes; it’s only when you look up and note a milestone that you tally up the distance. I’ve gone from being one of the proverbial new kids in science fiction to arguably embodying the current iteration of the genre’s “establishment,” with all the positive and negative connotations that such a thing has. I’ve been in the genre long enough now that I’ve been considered an influence to some, and everything that’s wrong with the genre today to others. I have no control over either, so I tend not to worry about them, although I do admit to sometimes going out of my way to annoy the people who don’t like me, and gleefully so. It’s a weakness.)

Ten years on, I think OMW has aged pretty well, although there are some things I think show its age a bit, like calling portable information devices “PDAs,” which was a term with some currency in 2001, when I wrote the novel, and none whatsoever now. Nevertheless I’m kind of stuck with it for however long the series goes. I might also retool Sgt. Ruiz’s speech to the cadets, although it would still end the same way (with the Willie Wheelie scene). Also, knowing what I know now, i.e., that the book would spawn a series that would span a decade and six books to date, I might have spent a little more time making Earth feel more future-y, and less like the Earth of 2001 plus a single space elevator.

(I will note that a few years ago, when Newsweek went all-digital, I got ribbed for having a physical copy of the magazine in the book’s recruiting station. But now here in 2015, Newsweek sells print copies again! I am vindicated.)

What I am most proud of OMW, ten years on, is simply the fact that it seems to have stayed. Which is to say that people still read it, people are still discovering it, and people are still sharing it. Not every book does that. I’ll go ahead and take some of the credit for that — it’s a pretty good book — but I’ll also go ahead and reiterate something I always point out, which is that OMW had a considerable amount of luck going for it. Its persistence on bookshelves and in the science fiction conversation was in no way predestined or certain (nor was mine, to be sure). I am grateful for that luck, and the opportunities I have had to build on it, both with OMW and its series, and with the rest of my career.

So, if you ever bought or read a copy of Old Man’s War, thank you. You’ve helped to make this last decade wonderful. I am most appreciative. Here’s to another decade — or two! Or three! Heck, five or seven or ten! — in each others’ company.

(P.S.: Curious what my thoughts were on this five years ago? Here you go.)

My Own 2014

Well, you know. It was all right.

Career-related highlights: Lock In came out and hit the NYT and other hardcover bestseller lists, which was nice. It also sold very well in other formats, including audio, where (or so I was informed) it’s become Audible’s number one pre-ordered audiobook ever, no doubt helped by the dual narrations from Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson. It also got some of the best reviews on my career (including a starred review trifecta from Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus), and ended up on a healthy stack of end-of-the-year “best of” lists.

Unlocked, the companion novella to Lock In, did pretty well, too; the Subterranean Press signed, hardcover burned through its limited run impressively quickly, and it got pretty good reviews from Publishers Weekly and other places. Aside from those two, I placed a short story in Popular Science, which is kind of a kick. And of course The Human Division came out in paperback.

Oh, and Lock In, Redshirts and Old Man’s War were all optioned for television.

So, yeah. 2014 was pretty okay, there.

Creatively speaking, I have to say I was pleased with the general reaction to both Lock in and Unlocked. Several reviewers noted that the book was a bit of a departure for me, subject-wise. I don’t know that I think that’s entirely the case — outside the Old Man’s War universe my science fiction output is reasonably broad — but I think it’s correct I’m best known for writing the military space opera of the OMW series. I’m glad people seem happy to go along for the ride even when I’m not shooting aliens with big guns.

I’m also happy that the issues of disability politics in both Lock In and Unlocked were picked up on, acknowledged and discussed. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I don’t flatter myself to be an expert on these issues; nevertheless I hoped to offer an at least somewhat realistic presentation of how people with Haden’s, the disease in the book, would interact with the world and see their own disability (including whether they considered it a disability at all). So I pleased that it became a topic of conversation, with regard to these books.

(I was also very pleased about that other thing I did with Lock In, and how people responded to it — or didn’t, which was a thing in itself. I’ll note this thing is something that certain cranky folk in science fiction/fantasy argued was just the sort of thing that never sells and murders careers. Well, obviously, I don’t know about that. What I think on the matter is that, in fact, you can write whatever the hell you like, however the hell you like to, and you’ll very often get lots of people to come along if you’re also entertaining enough about it.

However, as at least some of the people who believe this thing murders careers also appear to believe I am at the center of a grand publishing conspiracy to overinflate the number of books I sell, possibly for nefarious, politically correct purposes, I’m not sure my counter-argument here will be particularly convincing to them. I’m okay with that. People who have to develop such infantile-yet-baroque conspiracy theories about the current state of my career deserve the angina these conspiracy theories provide them.)

Books aside, the thing that distinguishes 2014 for me is the sheer amount of travel I did in it. The travel was primarily for two purposes: One, to sustain the momentum of Redshirts, which won the Hugo in 2013, and to sell Lock In. The former took up a lot of the first half of the year; the latter, the second half. The good news is that by and large the “get your ass out there” plan worked like it was supposed to.

The less good news is that, bluntly, it’s messed with my ability to focus on writing. I announced I started writing on The End of All Things in May; this turned out to be, uh, optimistic. I’m still writing it (and what writing I did in May has largely been chucked, which means that those of you who heard me read that excerpt of the book on tour will probably be the only people to hear it, since it’s not in the book anymore). This is something I obviously need to deal with, since touring and public appearances really are key for me and yet I still have to write books. These are the proverbial high class problems — “Oh, no! Touring and appearances and being treated like a rock star make it hard to focus on my art!” — but yeah, still actual problems.

(Don’t worry, The End of All Things will still be turned in on schedule. Because if years of journalism taught me anything, it’s that you don’t miss deadlines. Also: It will be awesome. Promise.)

Moving away from career stuff and into the personal realm, and speaking very generally because there’s only so much about my personal life you get to know about — 2014 was actually really nice. Travel messed with my creative output a bit, but it meant that I got to see a lot of people I like/love/care about who I might have otherwise not seen if I had simply holed up in my office all year, including people I had not seen for a while and in some cases for decades. I wouldn’t have traded that. At home, with the exception of Ghlaghghee developing her heart condition, things are well, and I continue to be amazed that I get to be married to Krissy, and happy about how amazing a human my kid is turning out to be. I am, flatly, blessed to know and be with wonderful people, at home and in my travels.

So that was 2014. And now, onto 2015.