Hey, I Gotta Write a Book, So I’m Outta Here Until December

The End of All Things is due at the end of the year (the book, not the actual apocalypse) and my progress on it is a bit slower than I want it to be, in part because recently I’ve been a bit too easily distracted by the Internets, in all the glorious shininess. So starting tomorrow through the end of November I’m taking a break to focus on work.

What does this mean? Basically, between now and December 1:

1. No updating here, except possibly to remind people about the fact they can get signed, personalized books from me for the holidays (and yes, I see what I did there), or the occasional cat/sunset picture, through the end of the month.

2. Much less active presence on Twitter and other social media, especially during the work day.

3. Scaling back e-mail responses to primarily business questions — i.e., if you’re not my editor, agent or otherwise paying me money to do something, expect response to be slow if at all. The exception to this are Big Idea queries; I’ll be scheduling December and January slots.

4. On my end, much less paying attention to the outside world, including news and Internet outrages. Basically, if the world explodes figuratively, it will have to do so without me through at least December 1. If it explodes literally, well, I guess I will have been wasting my time writing this novel, but then, at least I’ll go out typing.

I know, I know. It’s sad for me too. I love me some farting about on the Internets. But the thing is, people pay me to write the books, and the book has already been scheduled by my publisher, and other folks are already on the clock to get it out on time. Which means I should finish it on time so they aren’t left hanging, my readers get a new novel in 2015, and I am able to eat and pay my mortgage. Priorities. They are a thing.

So: See you all again on December 1st. Have an excellent rest of November, and if you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. Catch you on the other side.

The Big Idea: Cixin Liu

The name Cixin Liu is largely unfamiliar to English-speaking science fiction readers, but to Chinese science fiction fans, he’s a superstar of the genre, amassing the sort of award tally and name recognition — and sales! — that would be the envy of any writer in the world. Now for the first time his novel The Three-Body Problem is available in English, translated by Ken Liu, himself a multiple award winner in the genre. With the help of Ken, Liu is here now to tell you his acclaimed work, and how it cuts against the grain for Chinese science fiction.


As a longtime scifi fan—I’m probably among China’s first generation of scifi enthusiasts—I’ve always believed in the existence of a large number of intelligent species and civilizations in the universe. If some of these civilizations discovered each other and could communicate with each other, they would form a cosmic society of civilizations. I’ve always wondered about the form of such a cosmic society and the kinds of relationships between its members.

In Chinese science fiction, extraterrestrial civilizations were usually imagined as benevolent and wonderful. This set off the contrarian in me, and I decided to imagine a worst-case scenario.

The only reference point we have in the study of cosmic society is human society. There are many different civilizations on Earth itself, each with its own internal complexities and relating to each other in complicated ways. Politics, economics, culture …  feed into each other in an intractable knot. It’s very difficult to come to any clear conclusions about cosmic society based on this example.

But a soccer match inspired me. It was the first big-stadium match I’d ever been to: a game between the Chinese national team and UC Sampdoria of Italy at the Beijing Workers Stadium. I had just started my job back then, and all I could afford was one of the cheap nosebleed seats all the way in the last row. From that distance, the complicated technical moves the players made on the pitch were filtered away, leaving behind only a shifting matrix of 23 dots—one of the flitting dots being the soccer ball. Even the brightest star of the match, Ruud Gullit, was just another roving spot in my eyes. I regretted not bringing binoculars with me, but I also realized that the elimination of details revealed the clear mathematical structure of the game.

This is just like the stars, I realized.

Interstellar distances hid and made inaccessible the internal complexities of each civilization. In the eyes of observers like us, extraterrestrial civilizations appear as only points of light. The complicated internal structures and forces within each civilization are reduced to a limited set of variables and parameters associated with each dot. This also revealed a clear mathematical structure for cosmic society.

I came up with a set of axioms as the foundation of this approach to cosmic sociology:

  1. Survival is the primary need of civilization.
  2. Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.

Axiom number one should be self-evident, but the second half of axiom number two has not yet been proven by cosmologists. However, as a premise for a science fiction novel, I thought it was logically sound.

I also came up with three conjectures based on the facts as we know them:

First: barriers to communication. It is very difficult for civilizations to communicate with each other and to understand each other across the universe. This is due to 1) the insurmountable time delay imposed on all communications across interstellar distances (at least based on known physical laws); and 2) the vast biological differences between the two sides in any attempt at communications. On Earth, biological organisms are classified into domains, kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, species—the higher you go in the hierarchy, the larger the differences between taxa in the same rank. Humans cannot communicate effectively even with animals in another genus. At the cosmic level, if one takes into account the possibility of non-carbon-based life forms, the differences between them and humans may be greater even than the differences between domains on Earth.

Second: technological explosion. It took humans about a hundred thousand years to advance from stone tools to the age of agriculture, but only two hundred years to go from the steam age to the information age. Explosive advances in technology could occur at any moment in any civilization in the universe. Thus, even a primitive civilization that appears as harmless as a baby or a sprout is full of potential danger.

Third: detection reversibility. This concept is based on the Principle of Reversibility in optics. If one civilization can detect the existence of another in the universe, sooner or later, the second civilization can also detect the existence of the first.

Based on these axioms and conjectures, one can deduce a possible shape for cosmic society, and it is indeed a worst-case scenario, which sits at the foundation of my Three-Body series. The details of the deduction process is set out in the second book in the series, The Dark Forest, and as the title hints, the universe is a dark place where only one kind of relationship is possible between different worlds: as soon as one civilization has detected another, it must do all it can to destroy it. This has nothing to do with the moral conditions of the civilizations involved—as long as one accepts the two axioms, all civilizations must behave in this manner. Chinese readers dubbed this conclusion “The Dark Forest Hypothesis.”

This is also an answer for the Fermi Paradox, a very dark answer. If any civilization exposed itself in the universe, it would soon be destroyed. This is why the universe is so silent.

Of course, this is just a possibility explored in fiction. Faced with the eerie silence of the universe, right now we have no way to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

There is something to the old saw about science fiction being the literature of possibilities. It presents various possibilities for the reader, and sometimes the possibilities that exert the most attraction are also the least likely. But in this wondrous universe, anything that seems impossible also has the potential to be reality. As G.R. Burbidge once said, “If stars did not exist, it would be easy to prove that this is what we expect.”

At the very least, it would be irresponsible to not consider the worst of all possible worlds as one possibility for the reality of our universe.


The Three-Body Problem: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Tor.com’s collection of material on the book, including commentary and further excerpts. Translator Ken Liu’s Twitter feed is here.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Scalzi Books for the Holidays, 2014

Once again the holiday season is approaching, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, Lock In), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. Hey, that’s a month; more than enough time for you to make your selections.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: Lock InThe Mallet of Loving Correction (The latter is already signed but I will be happy to personalize it). Also in hardcover: The 21st Century Science Fiction anthology, which contains my story “The Tale of the Wicked.” I’ll be pleased to sign the anthology for you. Likewise, there may still be copies of the signed, limited hardcover edition of my Unlocked novella — go ahead and ask if they can special order.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Metatropolis. There may be hardcovers of both of these still around if you ask. But both are definitely in trade paperback.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The Human DivisionFuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), Book of the Dumb, Book of the Dumb 2 (both humor books) are all still in print.

AUDIOBOOKS: The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Lock In will also be available on CD/MP3 CD starting December 2.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP, even Lock In. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them.

Also: This year Jay & Mary’s will also be offering signed, personalized books from Tobias Buckell for holiday shipping. So if you’ve been looking for signed books from Toby, including his latest, Hurricane Fever, this is the place! Toby has details on his site.

Happy shopping and especially thanks for supporting Jay & Mary’s. They’re good people and every year they do a good job with this. I’m happy to be working with them again on this.

And thank you!

This Year I’m Part of the JoCoCruise Experience

It’s been announced on Twitter so now it can be told here: I’ll be a featured guest on this year’s JoCo Cruise, which means I’ll officially be part of the entertainment along with these fine folks. Specifically:

John Scalzi will be coordinating a series of writing workshops, panels and Q&As onboard JCCC5. Details are still being finalized, and will be announced here soon.

Yes indeed. Should be fun. And educational! But also fun.

So if you were on the fence about whether you would want to go on this cruise, well, now you’re unstuck. Do it! It’s the most fun you can legally have on a cruise ship.

More details soon.

Post-Election Notes, 2014

Election results for the Ohio Governor’s race. The Democratic candidate got his ass handed to him.

And they are:

1. Well, that was disappointing, if not entirely unexpected. The smart money was for the Republicans taking the Senate, which is what they did; in 2015 they will have 54 seats, which is a comfortable majority, but not anywhere close to a veto-proof majority. So: Welcome the the Obama Veto Era, in which the president shoots down anything he doesn’t like, and that’s essentially the end of it. This means that gridlock will happen somewhere else than in the Senate, which is where it’s been for the last four years. No doubt this means we will hear Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans intoning about how this means the president is obstructionist, etc., which will be ironic, at least.

2. I’m not the sort of person dense enough to say “The GOP controls the Congress! This is great news for Obama!” but I’m not going to lie, either: I’m very curious to see how Obama handles this upcoming congress. The man has no more elections in front of him and no reason to do any damn thing the Congress will want him to do if doesn’t want to. And as noted above, he wields the power of the veto, which the GOP is very unlikely to be able to overcome. This has the potential to very interesting, indeed.

(P.S., GOP: You still really really really shouldn’t try to impeach Obama. It’s not gonna work. But don’t listen to me, if you don’t wanna. In fact, I don’t imagine you will. Which dovetails nicely into the next point:)

3. The main thing I think we’ll see is the federal government once again getting incrementally stupider and/or mendacious, because at this point the GOP does not put a premium on intelligence, when it comes to its elected officials. And why should it? Fielding nincompoops seems to be working for them, and has for the last several election cycles at least. I find this exasperating but I don’t think there’s any short-term cure for it. Until and unless the GOP gets hit with massive election losses, over several cycles, there’s no percentage in them changing a damn thing.

4. A good number of my Democratic/liberal friends wonder what the hell just happened. The answer: Look, there are a lot of Republican and conservative leaning folks in the US, and they’re not going to just wander in front of a bus and disappear. Indeed, most of the Senate races last night were in conservative-leaning states and the 2014 election was GOPers/conservatives last chance to register their displeasure at Obama, who they hate with a foamy passion. Did you think they were going to miss out on that chance? As noted above, from a practical point of view, as regards the federal government it’s going to be for naught, but that’s not the point.

Now, as a side effect, the GOP also survived in state-level races where it absolutely should not have. The fact that Sam Brownback and Rick Scott in particular managed to get re-elected as governors in Kansas and Florida despite their abject incompetence is bad news for both of those states, I think Kansas in particular (Florida, it seems, has a larger buffer for stupidity in its state house). Once again, this says to the GOP that it doesn’t have to change anything it’s doing, because again, why should it? It can win elections with politicians just this dumb.

5. But let’s not let the Democrats off the hook, either, shall we. In my particular state, Ohio, the party absolutely humped the bunk, with a disastrous candidate for governor (he won only two of 88 counties, and just 33% of the vote — Jesus, he even lost Cleveland), a poor showing in statewide races (i.e., a big fat goose egg with only one Democrat in a statewide race getting more than 40% of the vote) and loss of seats in the legislature. The Ohio Democratic Chairman has resigned, as well he should have (he also lost his state House seat, which is injury to insult).

Ohio is not a red state; it’s as purple as they get. The margins of victory here should not have been nearly as lopsided as they were. You can’t just blame voting laws, the Koch brothers and luck of the electoral draw for these losses, either here in Ohio or elsewhere. The Democrats should also look to their candidates and their organizations. You have to give people a reason to vote for you beyond voting against the other team.

6. This election is a cogent reminder to Democrats and other folks of a liberal/progressive bent that they can’t just wait about smugly expecting the Great Blue Demographic Wave to swamp the GOP, bringing about a new shiny utopia of health care and solar power. I’ll note that I warned folks two years ago not to get cocky and that the mid-terms were out there, and that the GOP (despite the general low quality of its recent candidates) is not stupid. Surprise! Now, maybe the GOP is eventually demographically doomed and maybe it isn’t, but even if it is, you can’t just expect it to go down without a fight. This is what that fight looks like. If you didn’t see it coming, you can’t blame the GOP for that. It fights dirty (which is different than fighting illegally) and it’s got lots of money. Expect more of the same. The question for Democrats/progressives is what they are going to do about it.

(GOP/conservative folks: Don’t get smug either. You have problems of your own, and Hillary’s out there, lurking about.)

7. Finally, if you’re a Democrat/progressive freaking out now, remember what the GOP were doing two years ago, and what you were doing four years ago, and what the GOP was doing six years ago. US politics is in an especially messy phase in recent years, and I don’t see it getting much better anytime soon. What I do know is — yet again — a lot can change in a couple of years. A lot is almost certain to change in a couple of years. If anyone thinks this election was indicative of anything but of this particular election cycle, well. History would seem to be giggling at you for that impression.

In any event: Election’s done, the results are in, and these are the cards we play for the next two years. Let’s see what happens next.

US Folks: Remember to Vote

And yes, I did. As usual for me, I did not vote a straight ticket; I voted for Democrats for some positions, Republicans in others, and even for the Green party (albeit largely as a protest vote) for another. Party, platform and person all were duly considered prior to vote. As it should be.

Let me know in the comments when you have voted!


From last night.

(for those of you seeing this tag run off the screen, it says: #teamshesthedaughterwealwayswantedtheonewhogoestobedwhenshestold)

We’re like this in real life, too. Minus the hashtags.

A Quick Note on NaNoWriMo

Today is November 1st, which means the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, in which newer writers are encouraged to write a novel in the space of the month. To my mind the challenge is not to write a good novel, or even a salable novel, but just a novel — a story of sufficient length to be called a novel (NaNoWriMo uses 50,000 words as a marker, which is actually slightly short for modern novels — 60k is usually the lower bound — but even so). “Good” and “salable” come later. The real advantage to NaNoWriMo, at least in my mind, is to get folks who are intimidated by the length of a novel to realize that it’s not actually an intimidating number of words if you just plug away at it, every day. That’s in fact how writing gets done.

I don’t have a lot of handy information on how to tackle NaNoWriMo — if you’re a new writer and you want some help on that score, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbelestier have a whole stack of NaNoWriMo advice columns here, which I can heartily recommend — but I do want to offer some encouragement to folks who are wondering if the “just power through a novel in a month” idea is a good, useful or even sane idea. So, lean in, people, and hear my secret:

Lock In? My novel that was released this year? Totally a NaNoWriMo novel.

Which is to say that the vast majority of it — roughly 90% of its 80k length — was written last November. I had written a previous version of the book that did not work at all and had to chuck nearly all of it, create a new main character and substantially revise the storyline to accommodate the new character. And I was looking at a December 1 deadline.

So what did I do? Well, I sat down in front of the keyboard every single day in November and wrote at least 2,500 words. And piled up the pages. And at the end of the month, I had my novel. It was done. And then I sent it in. And then I slept for a week.

I did it that way because at that point I had to, deadline-wise. But the fact of the matter is that it was possible to do it that way because every day I wasn’t writing 80,000 words, I was writing 2,500. That’s ten pages, double-spaced. Totally doable.

And how did it turn out? Well, in my case, pretty well. Lock In’s got some of the best reviews of my career, was a best seller on several lists including the New York Times hardcover list, and it’s been optioned for a television series. Bear in mind I’m a professional novelist and this is what I do and that I wrote ten novels before this, so obviously my personal experience as a writer comes into play here. But none of those things would have been possible if I didn’t first just sit down and write the thing. Writing the novel — getting it done — is the key to anything and everything else that can happen to a novel.

So yes: Writing a novel in a month can happen. And that novel you’ve written in a month can perhaps go on from there. But first, sit down and write it. Put it into words and don’t worry about anything other than getting it down on the page. A couple thousand words a day and you’re on your way. You can revise and shape later, worry about whether it is good and whether you can sell it later. For now, just get it down. It’s not rocket science, it’s just work. And you can do it. I know because I did the same thing, last year.

Good luck.

Hey, Remember When I Wrote I Won an Erotic Fan Fiction Contest Based on the Watchman Graphic Novel?

Well, the folks at Shipwreck (the group that puts these writing contests together) have posted my winning entry. It’s here.

Warning: It’s very much NSFW, will probably be a little kinky/disturbing for those of you who aren’t kinky/fans of erotic fanfic, and if you haven’t read Watchmen (which you should, it’s terrific), or at least watched the movie (less good, but okay, whatever), you will miss most of the references and clever bits and it probably won’t be as funny as it would be if you knew the work it was riffing off of.

Got it? Okay, go have fun with it, then.

Jian Ghomeshi and the Women He Knew

Some thoughts on Jian Ghomeshi, about whom I feel entitled to opine because I was once a guest on his show — talking about the little fundraising thing I did last year which included RAINN, an interview which now in retrospect is sadly ironic.

(For those of you not up on this, Mr. Ghomeshi was a radio show host in Canada, who was let go by the CBC because of then-mysterious reasons. Mr. Ghomeshi took to Facebook to allege that he was fired because he participated in consensual BDSM play which was now being used against him by vengeful exes, and sued CBC for wrongful termination “breach of confidence and bad faith.” Since then a number of women have come forward to allege totally non-consensual abuse and/or harrassment at the hands of Mr. Ghomeshi.)

So, a numbered list.

1. There’s nothing wrong with consensual BDSM play; if that’s your thing and you can get other people to go along with it in a safe and consenting manner, then you kids have fun with that.

2. Suddenly smacking the hell out of someone and/or choking them without prior discussion or agreement is pretty much the opposite of consensual BDSM play, now, isn’t it. (Note: this is a rhetorical question. The answer is: Yes, it is the opposite.)

3. As a matter of law (to the extent that I know anything about Canadian/Ontario provincial law, which I don’t so I might be entirely wrong), Mr. Ghomeshi is innocent until proven guilty. Currently there is no criminal investigation against Mr. Ghomeshi. (Update, 8pm: Toronto police have opened an investigation.)

4. The procedurally laudable governmental presumption of innocence does not mean, however, that as a matter of opinion, one cannot believe the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi. As a matter of personal opinion, I believe the women who are coming forward and saying that Mr. Ghomeshi attacked, abused and harassed them. I could be wrong, but I don’t really think that I am.

5. I think it’s possible that Mr. Ghomeshi deluded himself into thinking these attacks equated to consensual sexual play, which is both not an excuse at all, and a good argument for availing one’s self of educators in that particular field who can teach one how to do one’s play safely and to know what “consensual” actually means. However, I think it’s rather more likely that Mr. Ghomeshi, who is a full-fledged adult and someone with some evident facility for words, was in fact quite aware that what he was doing was not in the least consensual and relied on his position at the top of the Canadian cultural heap to protect him from the consequences of his actions, as indeed it appears to have done for a very long time.

6. If what is alleged against Mr. Ghomeshi is true, and to reiterate I rather strongly suspect that it is, then his being fired from the CBC is, bluntly, the least worst thing that could happen to him at this point. If the allegations are true, he deserves a stint in prison, full stop, end of sentence.

7. It was canny of Mr. Ghomeshi to try to frame his assaults in the context of BDSM, but also disingenuous and false. BDSM is not my thing, but I know a lot of people for whom it is. None of them would see what Mr. Ghomeshi did as something relating to their particular kink. Attacking someone without their consent isn’t about sexual gratification, it’s about the assertion of power — the ability to say “I can do this to you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And sure, maybe Mr. Ghomeshi got a rise out of that, too. But at the end of the day choking a woman who is not consenting to the experience and saying it’s BDSM is akin to stabbing someone in a bar and claiming it was a martial arts test match. Again, BDSM isn’t my thing, but it’s a thing I know enough about to know that what Mr. Ghomeshi was doing wasn’t that.

8. The irony of the above point is that if it really was about BDSM (which it was not), then there was no reason for any of that to happen. What little I know about BDSM is that those who enjoy it are happy to share and to teach and to provide a safe space for that enthusiasm. Mr. Ghomeshi, I am certain, would not have lacked for willing, consenting partners — if this was really about consensual sexual exploration and enjoyment. But, again, I don’t really think it was ever about that.

9. I don’t know Mr. Ghomeshi other than through a very brief professional encounter. I don’t envy the people who do know him who are now learning about the allegations and who suspect that they are true. What do you do with a friend like that? Do you drop him? Do you maintain he is your friend but acknowledge what he’s done is wrong? Do you fight for your friend, right or wrong? One of Mr. Ghomeshi’s friends addressed this in a post of his own, which is worth reading. I don’t have any answers for this one. I know what I think I would want to do; I don’t know if it’s what I would do because I’ve never had to be in this situation. What I can say is that I hope I never am in this situation.

10. To reiterate, because it’s important: I believe the women who have come forward to allege assault and harassment. It’s been noted by other people better able to testify on the subject that one of the most radical things you can do when a woman speaks up about abuse and harassment is to believe her. Which initially seems like an incredible statement to someone like me, who is almost always believed by default when he chooses to speak up about something. I have that luxury. Not everyone does. It’s a fact I strongly suspect Mr. Ghomeshi knew, and used.

“Lock In” by William Beckett: Now Available to Download!

You may recall that musician William Beckett created a fantastic song for my novel Lock In (and if you didn’t, here, have a listen). The song, also called “Lock In,” really captured the mood and tone of the novel in a way that I hoped it would, and I’m happy to say that even if it were a song utterly unassociated with my book, I would still love its anthemic vibe. It’s fantastic.

I’m happy to say that William and his label Equal Vision Records have now made the song available as a single to download. You can get it through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and through Equal Vision’s Bandcamp page. It’s also on streaming services including Spotify and Rhapsody.

My advice: Get it! One, because it’s great and worth getting on its own merits. Two, because William needs to eat, and buying the single is a way to encourage that whole crazy “eating” thing. Three, because did I mention it’s a really good song? It is.

Once again, thanks to William for making this song. It’s amazing to have it inspired by something I wrote. I never get tired of hearing it.