The Big Idea: Marcus Sakey

Maybe you don’t lie awake at night, wondering what it would take to break the world, but that just means you’re not Marcus Sakey. His new novel A Better World (the sequel to Brilliance, which is itself headed to the big screen) explores what it takes to grind things to a halt, and to throw life quickly out of balance. And what does it take? Well, as Sakey explains, the real question isn’t what does it take… but how little.

MARCUS SAKEY:

What would you do if there was no milk on the shelves?

Take a moment and honestly ponder it. If you run out of something, you go to the store and replace it. That’s part of the modern social contract. You need bacon? Diapers? Medicine? Get in your car, swipe some plastic, and those things are yours.

But what if out of the clear blue sky you could no longer depend on that?

That’s one of the central questions I wanted to explore in A Better World. The book is the sequel to last year’s Brilliance, a novel about an alternate present in which, since 1980, one percent of people are born savants. At first the ‘brilliants’ are a curiosity; then a concern; and finally, as they exceed the rest of us in every field, a source of incredible social tension. One percent of the world is now objectively better than the rest—but they are outnumbered 99-to-1.

The first book set up the looming conflict, the cliff on the horizon. With the sequel, I wanted to walk up to—and maybe over—the precipice. But that walk was the point. See, most dystopian novels begin after the apocalypse, when the world has already changed in fundamental ways. I love those books, but I wanted to write one about society falling apart; an exploration of how small failings can splinter the larger whole.

First, I had to figure out how it would happen. I love this kind of research—it’s one of the reasons I write. To make sure my details are accurate, I’ve shadowed gang cops, trained with snipers, gone diving for pirate treasure, held a human brain, and even been pepper sprayed on television. (Seriously: check it out).

In this case, I went to the crazies. Sorry—the survival enthusiasts. There are a surprising number of people who spend time preparing for just this kind of scenario. Googling the end of the world is actually a really interesting rabbit hole to lose yourself down.

Anyway, it turns out it’s a lot more plausible than you’d think. Despite the advancements of modern life, our world is extremely fragile. In fact, those advancements are part of the problem.

It used to be that grocery stores had storage space for all kinds of goods. So when the beans were running low, someone went to the back, grabbed another case, and put them on the shelf.

Not anymore. You know the scanner at checkout? It plugs into a database that tracks inventory and automatically reorders products as needed. There are no back-up supplies. It’s not just grocery stores, either. Pharmacies, manufacturers large and small, even gas stations all work this way. The system is called ‘Just In Time Inventory’, and it’s far more efficient, allowing companies to reduce their overhead expenses and avoid waste.

The problem is that it’s very intricate, and the more intricate the system, the more vulnerable. Break any single gear, and the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Okay, fine. But how do you break that gear? After all, stores are supplied by a vast network from all over the country. There are multiple redundancies, and the nature of the free market means that if one company fails, another is quick to eat its lunch.

The answer, it turned out, was to exploit the complexities of another system. In A Better World, a small group of terrorists hijacks trucks in three cities, and kills the drivers.  (Actually, they burn them alive, because they want to make the strongest possible statement, and they’re, you know, intense.)

As a result, insurance carriers for trucking in those cities immediately suspend coverage. They can’t cover that kind of liability. This would really happen—think of all the flood coverage suspended post-hurricane.

But without insurance coverage, trucks can’t leave the depots. In one night, a group of determined individuals can break the intricate chain that puts milk on your supermarket shelves.

In my case, because I recently had a daughter, and because I really wanted to gut punch my readers, milk isn’t the real problem—baby formula is. The first time you meet one of my protagonists, he’s staring at the empty shelf where the food for his three-month-old daughter normally rests.

He’s staring at it, and he’s wondering what the hell he’s supposed to do now.

And if I got it right, hopefully that’s a question you’ll ask yourself.

—-

A Better World: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The 2014 Lock In Tour + How to Get Signed Books (Even If You Can’t Make the Tour)

And here are the places, dates and times:

Tuesday, August 26th (7:00 PM)
Brazos Bookstore
Houston, TX

Wednesday, August 27th (7:00 PM)
BookPeople
Austin, TX

Thursday, August 28th (7:30 PM)
Quail Ridge Books & Music
Raleigh, NC

Friday, August 29th (7:00 PM)
Flyleaf Books
Chapel Hill, NC

Saturday, August 30th and Sunday, August 31st
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA

Tuesday, September 2nd (7:00 PM)
Tattered Cover
Denver, CO

Wednesday, September 3rd (7:00 PM)
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA

Thursday, September 4th (7:00 PM)
Books, Inc.
Mountain View, CA

Friday, September 5th (7:00 PM)
Copperfield’s
Petaluma, CA

Saturday, September 6th (3:00 PM)
Borderlands
San Francisco, CA

Sunday, September 7th (5:00 PM)
Vroman’s
Pasadena, CA

Monday, September 8th (7:00 PM)
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA

Tuesday, September 9th (7:00 PM)
Prairie Lights
Iowa City, IA

Wednesday, September 10th (7:00 PM)
Lake Forest Bookstore
To be held at Warren-Newport Library
Gurnee, IL

Thursday, September 11th (7:00 PM)
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Lexington, KY

Saturday, September 13th (Time TBA)
Jay and Mary’s Book Center
Troy, OH

Monday, September 15th (7:00 PM)
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA

Tuesday, September 16th (7:00 PM)
Gibson’s Bookstore
Concord, NH

Wednesday, September 17th (7:00 PM)
Northshire Bookstore
Saratoga Springs, NY

Thursday, September 18th (7:00 PM)
Word
Brooklyn, NY

Friday, September 19th (7:00 PM)
Barnes and Noble
Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, October 11th
Books by the Bank Festival
Cincinnati, OH

Tuesday, October 21st (6pm)
The Seminary Co-op
Chicago, IL

Note: The Tor.com version of this listing originally had Troy, OH on 9/12. It’s the 13th.

So, 23 dates, (mostly) over four weeks of touring. That’s a lot. In fact, I think it’s my longest tour yet. I’m very excited to go out on the road. Expect me to sleep for a week when I get home.

Also, I’m very seriously thinking of making tour t-shirts.

And now, your anticipated comments and/or needs:

You’re not coming to my town! Sorry. 23 dates and four weeks is a lot. Good news: The Human Division Part 2 comes out next year and I’ll likely tour then, and try to get to towns that I’m not visiting this time around. So you might see me then.

If I’m coming to your town and you want a signed copy of Lock In: Come to the tour stop and I’ll sign your book! I’d appreciate it if you bought the book from that store. You don’t have to wait until I show up, mind you; you can pre-order from them or buy the book when it comes out. But either way please support the booksellers who are supporting me on this tour. It’s a great way to make them and me happy. I will also sign any remaining stock of my books at that store, so even if you miss the tour date, the store will still have signed copies of my books available.

Also, if I’m coming to your town, and you can’t make the tour stop but you still want to support your local bookseller: Order the book from the store and ask them to have me sign it when I’m there for the tour. I will happily do that, even if you are not physically present.

If I’m not coming to your town and you want a signed copy of Lock In: My friends at Subterranean Press will take your pre-order for Lock In. Before I go on tour, I will go and sign every single pre-order they get. When your copy arrives on your doorstep, it will have my signature in it. Easy!

(They will probably also have a few available after the book is out too, but if you want to be sure to get a signed copy, and you’re not at one of my tour stops, pre-ordering is wise.)

Short version: If you want to get a signed copy of Lock In, you’re totally covered.

If you have questions, let me know in the comment thread!

The Animal I Was Thinking Of Yesterday (and, Who Won the Lock In ARC)

It was the Thylacine, aka the Tasmanian Tiger. They are, alas, extinct (almost certainly, though every once in a while an alleged sighting happens).

My daughter didn’t think anyone would get this one, but I was reasonably certain someone would, and I was not wrong: Bryce got it about 14 minutes after I first posted.

So, Bryce: Send me an email from the address you post under (i.e., the email address you used to fill out the comment form), which contains your shipping address and the name you want the ARC personalized to (if any) and I will get it in the mail to you. And congratulations!

Everyone else: There’s always next time (and yes, there will be a next time. Probably).

Hey, I Think I Will Give Away an ARC of Lock In

Tor has sent along to me seven ARCs of Lock In. Six of them are already claimed by various people I need to send a copy along to. One of them isn’t. So, I’ll give it away here, now. Here’s how to get it:

I’m thinking of an animal right now. Tell me which one it is. 

I’m looking for a specific species. Just saying (for example) “bear” will not help you.

The first person to correctly identify the animal I am thinking of wins the ARC. I will also sign, personalize and ship the ARC to anywhere on the planet.

Any hints about the animal? Yes! It’s a chordate. Any non-fictional chordate, alive or extinct, is within the realm of possibility.

How long do we have to guess? Until 11:59:59pm Eastern time today, June 27, 2014.

How do we know you won’t lie about which animal you’re thinking about? Because I told the animal to my daughter just before I posted this, and she’d let you all know if I lied to you. Also, after telling her the animal, she said “no one’s going to get that.” But she doesn’t know you like I do, oh Whatever readers.

What happens if no one gets the right animal? Then I will randomly select a winner. So no matter what someone’s getting out of here with an ARC.

So: What animal am I thinking of right now? Give your best guess in the comments.

Lock In Gets a Starred Review From Kirkus

Hooray! That’s two starred reviews for the book now, including the one from Publishers Weekly. The Kirkus review in full is here, but here’s a nice pull quote:

“This SF thriller provides yet more evidence that Scalzi is a master at creating appealing commercial fiction.”

Indeed, making commercial fiction is my job. I’m glad Kirkus thinks I’m doing it well. This time, anyway (it’s not always the case).

Also, the release date of Lock In: exactly two months from now. I’m beginning to get excited.

Various & Sundry, 6/25/14

Because I want to hit several subjects in a very quick fashion:

1. Yay! Warrants for cell phones! I’m not always 100% pleased with the Supreme Court these days, but this decision — unanimous — is spot on. It’s already been noted that requiring a warrant these days means very little when warrants are dispensed like Pez (and that the NSA doesn’t give a crap about warrants anyway), but you know what, I’m going to take victories where they come. Plus the kicker at the end of the decision is pretty sweet.

2. Yay! Same sex marriages begin in Indiana and the 10th Circuit Court punts Utah’s ban as unconstitutional, a decision that as I understand it has implications for all the states in the circuit! I’m not gonna lie, I like being on the right side of history on this one, and it’s all happening much quicker than I would have suspected — which means still too slow but even so. In the meantime, congratulations Indiana, and as for Utah and the 10th Circuit, which is on hold pending appeals, here’s hoping that appeals basically, say, yes, that ruling was totally correct.

3. Over on Metafilter there’s a discussion of whether writers not taking coffee with aspiring writers (or alternately charging them for their time) constitutes an abdication of the concept of mentoring, with this article being the ground zero for the discussion. I think I’m a little confused, since I don’t take an invitation for coffee in exchange for a brain picking to be a request for “mentoring,” just a bit of brain picking. “Mentoring,” to my mind, involves a more or less continual (informal or otherwise) relationship with the person you’re giving advice to, over a certain amount of time.

For the record, I’ve been asked for one-time advice a lot of times (over coffee or just in e-mail, and lots of things inbetween) and my usual deciding factor as to whether I offer it or not is whether I have enough time at the moment. If I do, then sure. If I don’t, then no. Mind you, most of the time I just link to something that I’ve already written and posted here, so it may be easier for me to do than other writers. I think the suggestion that asking for money for your time in this specific instance is a little weird; just learn to say “thanks, no,” for God’s sake.

4. Today’s hot new trend I’m pretty sure I will never ever see the point of: Smart watches. Google’s officially announcing their version today, and I as I have been before, I’m underwhelmed. One, they’re all kind of ugly at this point; maybe other people like the 1977 Casio esthetic, but it’s not for me. Two, I don’t wear watches in any event. I stopped wearing them when I realized that if I didn’t take one off before I started typing, I’d end up with carpal tunnel. That was roughly 20 years ago. Before the advent of smartphones, if I ever needed to know the time, I’d just ask someone with a watch. These days I look at my smartphone. Three, I’m so used to simply looking at my smartphone at this point I’m not sure what the advantage in readjusting my brainflow to look at a watch instead will do.

Basically: Meh. Just don’t see the point. Tell me I’m not alone on this (or, you know, all gang up on me and point and laugh because I am so behind the times in an old-man-yelling-at-clouds sort of way).

How Not to Talk About Your Money, Very Rich Edition

Hillary Clinton: Likely to be the next president of the United States, I suspect, but in the last several days, apparently clueless about how to talk about her money, of which there is a lot, and for which her ability to get more is pretty much assured until she shuffles off this mortal coil. Complaining that she and Bill were dead broke when they left the White House was at the least slightly overdramatic, considering all the apparatus, from book contracts to speeches, that exist to allow ex-presidents and first ladies to quickly pad out their bank accounts. It’s like complaining about your Ivy League law school debt when you already have a job lined up at a white shoe law firm and a clear path to partnership. Yes, you have debt; no, you’re not going to have any sort of problem getting rid of it.

Likewise, noting that you pay income tax like a common troll, unlike so many other rich people, is not a great call. One, you don’t get a pat on the back for paying your taxes like you’re supposed to be doing. Two, if you’re noting that you pay taxes on income, while other rich people pay taxes on capital gains, and that those two rates are different, a) it’s not quite kosher to imply that other people are skirting their taxes if they’re actually paying what the law requires and b) you’re Hillary Clinton, I’m not sure how much you want to advertise that fact considering President Clinton reduced capital gains taxes while in office. Three, even if you paid full freight on your taxes, if your household net worth is reportedly upward of $100 million, I expect the best you can hope for from a statement like that is a bit of eyerolling.

Very rich people, please note: In this world of Internets and Twitters and informations at fingertips, everyone knows that you are very rich. Trying to assure everyone that you’re different from all the other very rich people — and that your vast fortune is not quite like every other very rich person’s vast fortune — is probably not the winning stategy you think it is. There also comes a certain point at which “working hard” is not a reasonably complete explanation for the millions one accrues in life, at least not to the millions of people who are also working hard and paying the same full freight on taxes and somehow lack the millions of dollars in income and net worth to show for it.

It’s nice to be in the rare air where one can make six figures for showing up to give a speech. Don’t confuse that place in the world with one that is available merely through simple “hard work.” There’s a lot more that goes into it than that, much of it not directly owing to one’s own planning or exertions. Context, as always, matters.

If I had a net worth of nine figures or more, any time I was asked for comment about it, the short version of it would be “I have been very fortunate, and I know it.” Hell, that’s my standard response now, and I am nowhere near worth that much.

I Have Voted for the Hugos

Having caught myself up to my satisfaction with the nominees in all the categories, I went to the Loncon3 site and voted, taking care to place each nominee with the ranking I thought it or they deserved. I look forward to seeing how my own votes match the overall final choices.

If you are planning to vote this year for the Hugos, a couple of notes: First, please do try to vote in as many categories as you can. There are a lot of potential voters this year — it’s going to be the largest Worldcon by attendance in decades, it appears —  and each category (as I understand it) has to garner votes equalling at least 25% of the overall voter tally in order to be verified. Do your reading and watching, and make the effort to be a good voting citizen. Two, if you’re curious about how the “no award” vote works with regard to the Hugos, for whatever reason, here’s a pretty good run down on what it is and how to use it effectively. Remember also that the Hugo vote is a preferential ballot – you rank the nominees, not merely just vote for one.

Also, don’t worry if you haven’t voted yet; you have until July 31st. I’m just voting slightly ahead of the curve this year. That said, don’t put it off until the very last minute, either — there’s nothing like hundreds of people trying to get their votes in at 11:50 on July 31 to make Loncon3′s servers cry. Read up, note your preferences, rank the nominees in each category, and then — vote!

(And yes, I will remind you a couple more times before voting closes. I’m helpful like that.)

On the 25th Anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman Movie, a Personal Ranking of All the Batman Films

Because this article on Tor.com reminded me that today is the day.

In order from best to so not best:

1. The Dark Knight

2. Batman (1989)

3. The LEGO Movie

4. Batman Begins

5. Batman Forever

6. The Dark Knight Rises

7. Batman Returns

8. Batman: The Movie (1966)

9. Batman and Robin

Not ranked: Any of the direct-to-video DC-branded animated Batman movies, as I’ve not seen them, although I know a lot of people who swear by them.

Your ranking?

Saturday Fiddling

Saturday is traditionally the day here with the lowest number of visits, which means it’s a good day for me to fiddle with the format and design of the blog. I’m probably going to do that today. So if the site suddenly looks vastly different to you, don’t panic. I’m just trying out new things. If I like them, I’ll keep them. If I don’t, then it’ll go back to the way it looks now. Either way, expect the site to look a bit off until I’m done fiddling.

Update: Done with the fiddling for now. Decided for the moment to leave the site pretty much as is, structurally. Because: Lazy!

Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing

Many years ago, writer Jim Macdonald postulated “Yog’s Law,” a handy rule of thumb for writers about the direction money is meant to flow in publishing:

“Money flows toward the writer.”

This is handy because it will give the writer pause when she has a publisher (or agent, or editor) who says that in order to get published, the author needs to lay out some cash up front, and to that publisher/agent/editor. The author can step back, say, huh, this is not how Yog’s Law says it’s supposed to go, and then surmise, generally correctly, that the publisher/agent/editor in question is a scam artist and that she should run away as fast as her feet will carry her.

But does Yog’s Law apply in an age where many writers — and some even successfully — are self-publishing via digital? In self-publishing, authors are on the financial hook for the editorial services that publishers usually do: Editing, copy-editing, page and cover design and art, marketing, publicity and so on. In this case, unless the author does everything (which is possible but not advised if one want’s a professional-looking product), money is going to have to flow away from the writer, as he hired people to do work for him.

Does this mean Yog’s Law is now dead? Author Harry Connolly, who has published traditionally and also self-publishes, thinks so; a summation of his argument (presented in .jpg form because he did his own screencap of a Facebook comment on his site, and I’m too lazy to retype, although apparently not too lazy to to a screengrab, edit it down and then upload, which probably took even more time) is here:

Connolly is correct that the rise of digital self-publishing puts a new wrinkle on things. I disagree, however, that it means Yog’s Law no longer generally holds. I think it does, but with a corollary for self-publishers:

Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer.

Self-Pub Corollary to Yog’s Law: While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer.

Which is to say that when the self-published writer pays for editorial services, she’s at the head of the process; she’s employing the editor or copy editor or cover artist or whomever, and she’s calling the shots. If she’s smart she’s listening to them and allowing them to the job she’s paid them for, but at the end of the day the buck stops — literally — with her. This differs from the various scammy publishers, who would take the money and the author’s work, and then would effectively disappear down a dark hole, with the writer entirely out of the loop on what was going on (what as going on: generally, almost nothing).

This corollary, I think, is useful for self-publishers because there are still lots of ways for self-publishers to use their money foolishly, primarily by losing control of how it get spent and by whom. If at any step the self-published author asks, who controls this money I am about to spend? and the answer is not “me,” that’s a flag on the field. Likewise, if control of the work is somehow compromised by the process, that’s another flag.

And of course outside the self-publishing process, i.e., when the work is out there in the world, Yog’s Law continues to apply. It continues to apply however the work is published, actually.

So, Yog’s Law: Still not just a law, but a good idea. The self-publishing corollary to Yog’s Law: Also, I think, a good idea. Let me know what you think.