The God Engines Now Added to Humble Bundle 3

Here’s the cool thing: The God Engines, my Hugo and Nebula nominated novella, is now part of the Humble eBook Bundle 3, a collection of DRM-free electronic works. The God Engines joins Jumper by Stephen Gould, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Tithe by Holly Black, and several other books by some of the best science fiction and fantasy writers today.

And how much do you pay? Well, that’s the thing: You pay as much or as little as you like for the Humble Bundle. But the more you pay, the more titles you unlock — and if you kick in $15, you’ll get the audiobook version of Cory Doctorow’s novel Homeland, narrated by Wil Wheaton (who has a book of his own in the bundle). $15 for eleven titles in total is not a bad deal at all.

And, when you buy the Humble Bundle, not only does your payment go to the authors, it also goes to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund (supporting science fiction and fantasy writers when they get into medical scrapes) and to Worldreader, dedicated to increase literacy worldwide. Two good causes, supported by this one bundle.

If you want this bundle — and why would you not? — move quickly: It’s only available for one more week.

Again, here’s the link. Happy reading!

My Emerald City Comicon Events

I’ll be at the Emerald City Comicon this weekend, hanging out, signing books and setting fire to all those who oppose me (well, maybe not so much that last one). If you will be at the convention, here are the things I will be doing:

Friday, March 28:

Writing Dialogue That Works
Room: WRITERS BLOCK (309-310)
Time: 11:00AM – 11:50AM

Writing great dialogue does not always come easily to writers. Join John Scalzi and local authors to learn how to know if your dialogue works and what to do if it doesn’t.

Saturday, March 29:

ECCC Writers Block presents John Scalzi
Room: 3AB
Time: 5:00PM – 5:50PM

Listen to John Scalzi talk about his life as author, father and all around raconteur! Best known for his Old Man’s War series, three novels of which have been nominated for the Hugo Award, John’s novel Redshirts was also recently optioned by FX to become a television series.

Also, apparently I have a table on the con floor: JJ-23, which is on TCC Level 3. Come find me. I will sign all your things. I will be there all weekend, when I’m not wandering about. My understanding is that the University Bookstore will be on hand selling books (look for Dwayne, he’ll be one of the three tallest humans at the con), so if you need to pick up copies for me to sign, there will be some on hand.

See you all in a few days!

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

Author Adam Christopher believes two words are incredibly important to any writer, and those two words aren’t “get paid” (they’re important too, to be sure). What are those two words, and how do they relate to his latest novel, The Burning Dark (which, incidentally, received a coveted starred review in Library Journal)? Christopher’s about to tell you.

ADAM CHRISTOPHER:

What if…?

It’s the single most valuable question in a writer’s toolbox. From those two words, an infinite variety of story can flow. I might even go so far as to say it’s the foundation of storytelling.

Except, while you can reverse-engineer that initial question out of each of my first four published novels—Empire State, Seven Wonders, The Age Atomic, Hang Wire—I’m not sure any of those actually started from that point. There are as many ways to come to a story or idea as there are stories or ideas. “What if?” is a powerful tool, and although you’ll be answering that question when you write a book, you don’t necessarily need to be conscious of the fact.

But for The Burning Dark, my first foray into the kind of space opera-tinged science fiction that I grew up adoring, it wasn’t just one “what if?” question that gave me the big idea for the book. It was two.

I like science fiction of the kind that features spaceships and warp drives, federations that embrace a thousand different alien races and cultures, galactic empires that stretch across impossible distances. I was always going to write a book that had a least some of that in it.

But I also like ghost stories. From an early age, they were my favourite kind of story, and as I got older—helped, no doubt, by living right next door to a small library which had a remarkably well-stocked section on the paranormal—I developed into something of an armchair ghosthunter. From creaky old houses filled with shadows and cold spots and doors that open and close all by themselves, to people being thrown out of bed and living rooms trashed by poltergeists, I drank it all in. Whether such phenomena are real or not is beside the point—it’s a fascinating aspect of social and cultural anthropology. And they make for some damn fine stories.

So… what if you had a traditional ghost story, but instead of a haunted house, you had a haunted space station? What would that be like? How much of the trappings of old fashioned supernatural tales could you include, and what would be different?

The Burning Dark was born. Here I had an idea to combine two interests—space and ghosts—into a single story. Sure, it’s not like I’m the first person to have ever thought of that, but it immediately struck me as a fascinating idea. And one as creepy as heck.

I began to build the world. Space opera is science fiction on an epic scale, and while I was writing a small scale ghost story set aboard a decommissioned space station at the edge of nowhere, a larger universe unfolded. From that “what if?” question, I found myself describing the state of the human race a thousand years in the future, and the terrible war they were fighting against a machine intelligence, a hive-mind without reason or motive that was swarming across the galaxy with eight-legged killing machines.

And then I had another “what if?” question burning in my mind.

I don’t remember where I first heard the story, but the “urban” legend of the lost cosmonauts is something that has creeped the bejeezus out of me for years. As the story goes, before Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight, the Soviets sent up a whole bunch of cosmonauts, each mission ending in failure and death, with capsules either burning up on re-entry or drifting off into the infinite black. It’s a slice of Cold War paranoia, backed up by the Soviet’s Orwellian habit of erasing people they didn’t like from history, literally airbrushing people from photographs and deleting them from records. It’s a scary and terrible story about sending heroes to their deaths, but there’s little evidence to support it.

Except for some audio recordings, made by a pair of Italian brothers, radio enthusiasts who managed to patch into Soviet communications. The recordings are indistinct and poor quality, and, to be totally honest, could be of anything. The most famous recording is of a female cosmonaut dubbed Ludmila, apparently reporting to Soviet mission control as her capsule burns around her. Listening to her is a very weird, even slightly disturbing experience. While there is no doubt that the recording came from the Italians—that the brothers picked up something—whether or not it is what it is supposed to be is, like a good ghost story, irrelevant.

But what if the lost cosmonauts were real? What if Ludmila really did send a mayday to Earth as her mission went fatally wrong?

What if someone, a thousand years later, picked up her signal, trying desperately to answer the call before realising the transmission was an echo from another time?

And… what if Ludmila answered back?

From two different but equally unsettling ideas I had something new, something that was as big as space opera but as claustrophobic and tense as an old ghost story told around a campfire. A story about space marines fighting alien war machines, while confronting an evil far stranger, darker and older than anything they have faced before.

All from two simple words: What… if?

—-

The Burning Dark:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

New Public Appearance Announcements: Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Phoenix

2014 has become a very busy year for travel and for appearances. New on the slate:

1. I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 12, doing the panel “Redshirts: From Page to Screen” with Redshirts producer Jon Shestack and with TV Writer/novelist (and my super-awesome pal) Pamela Ribon as moderator. That will be at 2:30pm in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, on the USC campus. Immediately after the panel I’ll be signing books, and I’ll be doing a second signing session at the Mysterious Galaxy tent at 5pm.

2. For booksellers and other folks in the publishing/book-related world, I’ll be at Book Expo America this year, which runs May 29 – May 31 at the Javits Center in New York. My schedule is still being formed and I will post it when I have it, but I can already tell you I will be doing some pretty cool stuff.

3. On May 2 – 4, I’ll be at Penguicon, in Southfield, MI (i.e., suburban Detroit). I don’t currently have anything planned for the convention other than hanging about, but I may add a panel or two.

4. Finally (for today, anyway), I’ll be returning to Phoenix Comicon once more for three days of fun and excitement and crazy wacky nonsense. The con runs June 5 – 8; I’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Phoenix always does a great job getting fantastic authors to participate, and this year is no exception.

These are on top of already scheduled appearances in Seattle (this week!), Houston, San Francisco, Detroit (again) and London. And there are likely to be at least a couple more to come, not including the tour for Lock In, which will happen in the August/September timeframe. All the dates and details, as always, are noted on my Scheduled Appearances page. Check in on that page anytime.

Reader Request Week 2014 Recap

In case you missed any this year, the complete Reader Request entries for 2014:

Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me

Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud

Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy

Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader

Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery

Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things

Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence

Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?

Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits

Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

Thanks again, everyone who submitted a request!

The Big Idea: Bill Quick

It’s the end of the world as we know it — and we do know it, because the end of the world has been essayed enough over the years. How to change it up and make things fresh? That was the question Bill Quick asked himself for his latest novel, Lightning Fall. This is how he decided to do it.

BILL QUICK:

I’ve been writing science fiction for going on fifty years now. I was weaned on the later Golden Age guys like Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Niven, Pournelle, and the man who inspired me face-to-face, Ted Cogswell, who wrote a landmark story called The Spectre General back in the day, to whom I dedicated my first published novel, Dreams of Flesh and Sand.

I still like all these writers. For better or worse, their use of big canvases, themes, and concepts still inspires the way I write and what I choose to write about. In particular, I’ve always been moved by what were once called disaster novels, but now have been sliced and diced into several sub-genres, including apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.   There aren’t many books I still re-read. Books like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land have not worn well with me, but every few years I pick up an book called Lucifer’s Hammer, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, turn to page one, and make the trek out of a burning Los Angeles once again.

I’d always intended to try my hand at this sort of epic, but somehow, in the course of writing and selling a few dozen other books, I never quite got around to it. Until now.

EMP (electromagnetic pulse) fiction has become almost a sub-genre of its own. I’ve read several examples, and found one or two impressive, but I noticed that most of them used EMP as a McGuffin: An EMP happens, and that’s the end. Everything else is all about surviving the sudden imposition of an 18th century environment on a technological civilization. A particularly risible example of this approach was a recent TV series, Revolution, which depicted young people contending against threats with steel swords.  Apparently none of the screenwriters had any idea just how much technology was involved in making swords, let alone making and working steel, and how rare that knowledge is in present day society.

My view of modern technological culture is that it is well-nigh impossible to understand how interconnected everything has become. But I wanted to write an EMP disaster novel that tried, as well as I was able, to show the social, political, technological, economic, and cultural brittleness and frailty inherent in the existence we take for granted.

The best way to do so, it seemed to me, was not simply to turn out the lights, but to turn out only some of them – and then tell the tale of the sort of problems modern America would face if somebody or something abruptly removed, say, California from our current scenery.

A book I read a long time ago, The Late, Great State of California, took a similar tack, but handled it as a laundry list of what America would lose if California sank into the ocean after The Big One.

After much thought, I decided that things would be considerably more complicated than that. It took me a couple of years of research and writing to work out those complications, and I discovered in the process that human factors and reactions would likely have at least as much effect, if not more, than the problems created by the technological disaster.

We like to console ourselves that things generally work out for the best, that our leaders usually make intelligent, rational decisions, and that tomorrow will be a better day.  Unfortunately, history teaches us this is not always, or even usually, the case.

Lightning Fall: A Novel of Disaster, is my attempt to explain, in classic hard SF tropes, why and how catastrophe has been such an enduring and intimate feature of human history.

And is there a happy ending?

Well…maybe. Depends on what you mean by happy, I guess.

—-

Lightning Fall: Amazon (Kindle)|Payloadz (ePub)|Createspace (paperback)

Visit the author’s Web site.

The Fan Writer Hugo, and Pros

Over at File 770, Mike Glyer takes aim at pro writers who have won the Best Fan Writer Hugo, me included, on grounds that we tend to minimize the Fan Writer Hugo on our professional resumes; as Glyer puts it, “People who are building careers as writers do not want to identify their brands with anything that hints of the amateur.”

I have a direct response to him in the comments there, which basically is, no, actually, I’m really proud of my Fan Writer Hugo, it’s important to me for all sorts of reasons, and I mention it here not infrequently. At the same time I’m careful how I advertise the win in my professional life because I recognize that a fair number of fans would be spiky about me using it there. In my case it’s not about worrying that it’s an amateur award, but trying to respect the context of the award and the community which awards it. Clearly (as in Glyer’s case) the mileage may vary on this sort of thing.

Glyer’s post jostled up a few other thoughts I have about the Fan Writer Hugo, how it relates to pro writers, and a couple of other points. So let me just toss them out now in no particular order.

* I disagree (obviously) with the contention that I don’t mention the award because I’m worried about its “amateur” status, but I will note that it is a strange award to discuss with people outside of sf/f fandom. “Fan Writing” is a phrase that either doesn’t mean anything to them, or, alternately, means fan fiction writing — which is generally not what is meant by “fan writing” in sf/f fandom, although strictly speaking there’s no reason a fan fic writer couldn’t win the fan writing award.

However, outside unfamiliarity with the Fan Writer award also offers an opportunity to talk a little about the dynamics of sf/f fandom, and why, in fact, it honors that amateur and fannish activity with the same awards as it honors professional work. I’ve certainly done that, because I’m not shy in discussing my Hugos with people who ask about them. It’s interesting to see the reactions.

* Now, I’m not gonna lie: As a practical matter, in my professional life as a science fiction writer, the Hugo I have for novel writing is more useful that the one I won for Fan Writing (or for Best Related Book), and there’s no point pretending otherwise. When I’m doing things in a professional context and awards get trotted out, I usually lead with the novel Hugo. But in fact, having the other two Hugos is also useful in a professional sense, because it speaks to the breadth of my writing interest and skill. When I’m selling myself as a nonfiction writer — which still does happen — those work for me.

* I (again obviously) don’t think there’s a problem with a writer who is primarily known as a pro getting the fan writing award, if the writing is fannish (i.e., largely done outside a directly professional context and touching on matters relating to science fiction/fantasy culture and interests). And I think when I won the award, it was a useful win in that I was the first person in nearly two decades to win the award who wasn’t Dave Langford, i.e., it reminded people that spreading the award around was not a bad idea (this is where I note that Dave Langford, in all that I know of him, is a lovely person who deserves recognition for his work). I’m still pleased that since I won, there has not been a repeat winner in the category.

Still: at the center of Glyer’s complaint is a perfectly reasonable and valid point, which is that pro writers nominated in the fan writing category often have one useful advantage over other nominees — they’re better known. The Hugos are a popular award; having a name helps. It doesn’t guarantee a win — I lost a Hugo in the Fan Writer category before I won it, you know — but it can certainly be a factor. It does make it tougher for the other nominees in the field.

And so in this category, as in every other category, it behooves the people voting to make the effort to read the work of the nominees and ask themselves which ones have work which best exemplifies the goals of the award. If it’s nominee best known as a pro writer, fine. But if it’s not, why not vote for the one with the best work that year? Or at least, rank them highly, the Hugo Ballot being an Australian Rules ballot, after all. Awards are given, but awards should also be earned.

* I would be sad if the Fan Writer Hugo became little more than the Pro Writer Compensation Hugo, because there are lots of people writing in the fan community, not generally considered professional science fiction and fantasy writers, who deserve recognition. For example, I think it’s something of a crime that Steven Silver, for one, does not already have a Fan Writer Hugo. This is an error that should be corrected sooner than later. James Nicoll’s LiveJournal is a daily stop for me, even when the commenters there are taking a brickbat to my head; I’d like to see him awarded as well. Abigail Nussbaum is another excellent candidate for a win, in my opinion (I suspect me noting this will surprise her), and this year Natalie Luhrs also makes an excellent argument for consideration in the category. These are just four people off the top of my head; there are many more.

* I don’t think you can stuff the pro writers in the the Fan Writing category back into the bottle, if for no other reason that there have been people who have been nominated in and winning the category who have likewise been pro writers too. When I was nominated for Fan Writer and Best Novel in 2009, I wasn’t even the first person to do that; Piers Anthony had me beat by nearly forty years. But Glyer’s not wrong that the award is worth celebrating as its own unique category, and that it should be given for its own merits, and appreciated as such (particularly by the winners). I am proud to have won the award; I would be happy for the award to be won by people who are not always like me.

The New Phone, March 2014 Edition

Today was the day my two year contract on my last phone ran out, and not a moment too soon, because after two years, the previous phone had seriously begun to chug. That one has now been retired with thanks for its service; here’s the new one, the latest Droid Maxx. Its primary selling point (for me, anyway): A massive battery that theoretically at least can last up for two days. Given how much I travel (a lot), that’s a heck of a selling point. It also has a hands-free thing that allows you to talk to it, and it calls and texts people. That’s pretty nifty.

I also signed up for Verizon’s “Edge” program, which will allow me to upgrade my phone every few months if I want. I am aware that it’s not necessarily the most financially responsible option, but I get annoyed with phones pretty quickly and also I can afford the relatively minor additional expense to avoid annoyance. Plus then I get shiny new technology on an accelerated schedule! Seemed reasonably prudent, all things considered.

So yes: New techno toy. I hope I like it.

Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

And now, to close out the Reader Request week, short thoughts on a bunch of topics:

Bruce: “I never see you write about sports. Are there any out there that interest you?”

I very occasionally write about sports, but I have to admit that as a general rule I don’t care much about them; they’re just not where my interests lie. That said, I frequently enjoy reading sports journalism, which I think is often livelier than most other sorts, and more fun to read. I also, interestingly, wrote a sports newsletter for AOL that went out to hundreds of thousands of readers weekly, and it deeply amused me to do it. My highlight with that was the time I called the winners all but one of the college bowls. I should have run a pool. All of this means that I am well-informed about sports, even if I don’t care about it. This comes in handy when meeting people outside my usual circles.

Nagol99: “I’d like your thoughts on Taxidermy & if you’d ever have a “stuffed” woodland creature hanging above your fireplace mantle. If so, then what would you have mounted?”

It’s not my thing, really, and I can’t think of a dead animal I’d want hanging about my house. I don’t find it morally repugnant, however, and I can appreciate when someone does a good job of it. It simply isn’t of interest to me in a general sense.

Anon: “Your thoughts on following in your parents footsteps. How many people do you know who are in the same careers as their parents? Did you ever consider it. Would you want your kid to consider it?”

My parents had jobs, not careers, and in any event I knew very early on that I wanted to be a writer, which neither of them were, so that solved that. I know several people who have the same job/career as at least one of their parents — mostly writers, but some doctors and a couple of lawyers. The amount of concern/pride/worry they have in doing what their parents did varies from person to person; the one advantage I can see is that you have someone close to you who can give you unique insight into the gig. My own daughter happens to be a very good writer, and I would be happy to see her try her hand at it for a career. But what I would rather see is for her to do the things that interest her. If that’s writing, great. If not, great.

Rafe Brox: “We all know of (and celebrate/mock) your love of Coke Zero as caffeine delivery system of choice. How did this come about? Did you experiment in college? Was there something you preferred, back in the day, that went off the market, and this was your next-best thing? Do you occasionally peruse other beverages out of curiosity or a sense of novelty?”

It’s not nearly that interesting. When I was younger I preferred the taste of Coke over Pepsi or other colas, and as I got older I switched over to no sugar versions because the sugared version was making me fat because I drank too much of it. I drink Coke Zero because it’s the actual Coke formula (Diet Coke is the New Coke formula). Soda is my preferred caffeine intake vehicle because I don’t like the taste of coffee and tea doesn’t do much for me either. While Coke Zero is my preferred soda, I’m not horribly dogmatic about it; I’ll drink a Diet Pepsi if I’m at a restaurant that only serves that, and I do drink other (mostly no-calorie) sodas. Currently in my fridge I have Diet Cherry Doctor Pepper, Diet Barq’s Root Beer, and Sprite Zero.

ProfMel: “As a parent of a teen, do you see the generation that’s growing up now approaching the world differently than we did? (Lo, these many years ago) If so, what do you see as positive or negative about it?”

Anecdotally speaking I don’t really notice too much of a difference. The trappings of adolescence are different — my daughter texts her friends constantly rather than doing what I did, which was to talk aimlessly on the phone for hours at a time — and new technologies and changes in the culture have fiddled with the dynamic a bit. But, you know, the basic template of adolescence is the same because the human animal hasn’t changed all that much in the three decades since I was a teen. I don’t see a huge philosophical difference between today’s teens and yesterday’s, either. Teenagers continue to be self-centered (which is not always a bad thing in a developing human, to be clear), highly-sensitive and status-observant, and absolutely certain that today, things are different in a way no one else not in their cohort could possibly understand. In short, yeah, I think they’re a lot like us.

Matthew: “I remember the cool video you showed of Athena seeing a record for the first time. What was she like as a kid growing up in rural Ohio and seeing the Ocean for the first time.”

Actually she was born in Virginia and lived her first two years there, and by her second birthday had been to both oceans the US touches. We also travel regularly, so she’s had numerous opportunities to see them in her life. So I don’t think she sees them as being entirely outside her experience of things. She does like the ocean, though. In a larger sense, one of the nice things about being who we are is that we have the opportunity to show our kid lots of the world. Living in rural Ohio is not as limiting as you might imagine.

ArthurD: “What from the world of today would impress the you of twenty or twenty five years ago?”

I suspect the current state of cell phone technology. There were mobile phones in 1989, but they were bricks, and in any event, for today’s cell phones, the actual “phone” part is almost an afterthought — these days I’m always vaguely surprised when someone calls me on mine. Cell phones are (for anyone over say, 40 years of age) genuinely science fictional — a computer you fit in your pocket that can access unfathomable amounts of information, understand when you speak to it and perform the functions you request, and record any moment you choose with full sound and audio. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing — and we don’t think anything of it. Because you get used to the future very quickly. But 1989 me would probably wet himself with amazement.

Noisegeek: “Is it just me, or has the subject of gender identity gotten super complicated in the last 10-15 years (publicly at least, I realize that for people dealing with the issue personally, it’s probably been complicated for a whole lot longer)?”

Yes, it has gotten more complicated in the last several years, in part because more transfolk and folks who feel some degree of gender fluidity have decided to stand up and stop passively accepting the status quo. And I think that’s as it should be. As I’ve noted before I think it’s a good thing for people to get closer to being who they really ought to be. And personally speaking, you know, I would love to be a person with whom other people can feel they can truly be who they are, when it comes to their gender expression. That takes work on my part, because like everyone else I’ve got a raft of assumptions and prejudices and things to get over. But saying it’s work is not saying it’s an imposition. It’s really not. So yeah: More complicated. But, hopefully as we go along, better, too.

Douglas: “Should we bring back extinct animals through cloning or other scientific breakthroughs?”

I’m not opposed to it in a very general sense, but I would say in all seriousness that I think those animals would be very lonely.

iQ666: “Would you write a short story for Playboy if solicited? Or do you intend to pull someday some strings to make this happen?”

It’s been so long since I’ve read Playboy that I’m not even sure they run fiction anymore, or, really, are still in print. Generally speaking I don’t send out work — I wait to be solicited — so I won’t be contriving to get into its pages, no.

Lawrence LaPointe: “Canada. The 51st state or the next superpower? “

Probably neither. I am deeply fond of Canada, however, and seem to be becoming more so as time goes on. I’m happy to share a continent with it.

Greg: “The Drake Equation. Where the heck is everybody?”

They’re out there having fun without us. Figures.

Malkara: “What’s your opinion on so-called cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc)? Do you think there’s any future in them, or are they all a load of shit?”

I only vaguely understand how their value is derived, and it seems to me that trusting a store of value that has almost no regulation is a fine way to lose the value you’ve stored there. So for the near-term future, at least, I’ll stick to nation-based currencies.

Hugh57: “Do you think that anyone other than Hillary Clinton has a realistic shot at the Democratic nomination in 2016? Who do you see as the future face of the Democratic Party?”

No, and likely Cory Booker, in that order. I also strongly suspect that the next realistic shot the GOP has at the White House is 2020, and that itself will depend on how Hillary Clinton’s first term goes.

Dusty: “An issue important to me – How do you feel about the skepticism movement? And folks like James Randi, Michael Shermer, and Phil Plait?”

Phil’s a friend of mine; I like him quite a bit. I don’t know either Randi or Shermer. Philosophically I’m aligned with skepticism; as a community as far as I can see it seems to have a number of social parallels to other geek communities, which includes some very real issues with how women are treated. If my knowledge about that is correct, then hopefully that’s being addressed.

Adam: “Profanity! How the fuck does one use it effectively?”

Fuck if I know, man. I just let that shit happen.

Thanks, everyone, for another successful Reader Request Week! I hope you had as much fun with it as I have.

Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits

Questions on writing/publishing/etc that I didn’t want to give a full entry to, but were interesting:

Skyfisher: “How much do you think the cover of a book influences how people (especially you) judge it?”

It depends on the person. Having read and made gifts of science fiction and fantasy books all my life, there have been times when I would tell someone to whom I gave a book “ignore the cover, the book is good anyway.” To my eye, these days SF/F covers are less questionable than they were when I was younger, so that’s nice. But even outside of SF/F, you notice cover tropes repeating, and eventually to me an oft-repeated cover trope suggests the material inside may be a retread as well. Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on what you want out of the book, I suppose.

Erf: “How do you approach researching a topic (be it for a non-fiction work, novel, blog post, personal interest, whatever)? “

I usually start with Google/Wikipedia and proceed from there. I also take time to evaluate the source of the material; if I find something on some random site, I doublecheck it against a source I recognize as authoritative before I use it. But for quick grazing and idea generation, Google and Wikipedia are fine places to begin one’s research.

Adam: “What influences, entertainers, medium or style do you credit for developing your sense of humor?”

In no particular order: Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, William Goldman, Elaine May, Nora Ephron, Michael Maltese, Larry Gelbart, Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, P.J. O’Rourke. Those are the ones off the top of my head; there are definitely others.

Guess: “How come SFWA writers can’t get along? Liberals and conservatives get along all the time. Have you considered that it might just be that many of you have personality issues and not just the people you don’t like?”

Well, you know. SFWA has 1,800 members. It seems unlikely that any groups that large will have everyone get along all the time. With that said, I think you may be overestimating the number of members who don’t get along with the others — even the biggest arguments involving SFWA tend to involve a couple dozen principal actors, and usually less than that. The large majority, in my experience, do just fine with each other. Also, just because people disagree on a some topic doesn’t mean they don’t get along with each other otherwise — a fact oft-overlooked in online spitting contests.

FBSA: “I’d love a discussion of your epic literary feud with Brandon Sanderson. Complete with epic poems, Klingon operas, the Great Pen Scalzibane, and Twitter wars.”

Heh. You know, this “feud” of mine and Brandon’s has worked out pretty well for the both of us. I think we should continue it, obviously.

Chris Davis: “For a lot of writers, their alien characters come across as humans in rubbery costumes. Can you talk on creating believable alien characters, especially their psyche, philosophy, and emotions. Where do they differ from humans, where would they be similar.”

I think if you’re having your aliens be point of view characters in some way, that there usually has to be something that readers can relate to, otherwise it’s harder for them to find purchase in the narrative. If you’re using aliens as set dressing, or not doing a whole lot of getting into their heads (or whatever), then you have a chance to make them more “alien,” as it were. For me at least, a lot of it will come down to whether I am spending a lot of time with the aliens, having them speak, and so on. Note that “having something readers can relate to” doesn’t just mean “humans in rubber costumes” — it does mean some motivations these aliens have should be recognizable to humans. Writers can ignore this observation of mine to great effect — see Ted Chiang on this — but if you do, you should have the skill to make it work — see Ted Chiang on this, too.

TheMadLibrarian: “Have you ever considered mentoring someone, or felt that at some point in your early career a mentor would have been beneficial?”

I participated in an online mentoring program a few years ago and I think it was useful to the mentorees, but for me a great problem with me being an official mentor is the fact my time management skills are shaky enough as it is. I prefer just being friends with people and talking shop — which is largely what I did with my journalist colleagues early in my career. Same result, different dynamic.

Rob G: “Why do publishers release a hardback edition first and then wait so long to release the same work as a paperback?”

Because they make money that way, i.e., why almost anything is done, in the commercial space.

Mtpettyp: “How can someone like myself who exclusively buys ebooks support their local independent bookstore? These stores can be a great source for suggestions on relatively unknown authors and books, but at the end of the day I have no desire (or room) to buy the dead-tree versions from them.”

Print books make great gifts. And everyone likes gifts!

Quorn: “What non-anglo SF most interests or influences you?”

I don’t think it’s entirely surprising that it would be Japanese SF, in the form of manga and anime — it’s the non-anglo SF most readily available (and exhibited) here in the US. I’d be happy to see more and different SF, but I also admit to laziness in seeking it out, so I don’t see much of it. Vicious circle, that.

Not That Frank: “How has Twitter affected your writing experience, particularly here on the blog. Although I’d be interested if it affects your fiction writing as well.”

It doesn’t affect my fiction as far as I can tell; when I’m writing fiction I tend to pull the DSL line out of the computer so I can get work done, so it doesn’t affect the process. In terms of mechanics of writing, Twitter is pretty far removed from novel writing. In terms of this blog, I’ve noted before that a lot of short, silly stuff goes on Twitter now instead of here. But then again, some really nifty Twitter conversations have found their way back here, because of my desire to have them part of my “permanent record,” as it were. So maybe it’s a wash.

MWC: “As a writer, what is your opinion of used bookstores? Is there an acceptable tradeoff between making money on your work through new purchases vs recirculating dead trees in book form?”

I don’t have any problem with used bookstores and tend to think they’re a good way for people to sample the work of unfamiliar writers at relatively low cost. I don’t see them cutting into my income in any significant way, and I tend to think that the benefit to the community in having a store of books for sale outweighs any lost income to me. That said, as always, if you really want to support an author whose work you love, buy their books new. We don’t make any money off used books.

Neil Hepworth: “What do you do when you’re asked to review a book, you agree to review a book, and then you really don’t like the book? “

At this point I don’t usually review books professionally — not enough time and also if I don’t like a book I’d prefer not to note it at all. It’s one of the reasons I created the Big Idea: It gives me a chance to spotlight writers and let them speak to my readers directly, without me getting in the way. That said, when I do read a book for my own enjoyment and like it, I’m happy to tell people about it.

Megan: “[T]o what extent do you believe that I, as a writer, am responsible to portray three-dimensional non-cisgendered straight white people? Am a propagating so much of what is wrong with our culture if my characters are straight? Or if they’re white?”

I think you should have fully-realized characters regardless of anything else, and if you intend to reflect reality (or achieve reasonable verisimilitude in the fantasy/science fiction work), you should have more than just straight white people in your work, because in the real world, there are more than just straight white people. And anyway, it’s not that difficult to add people who are not just straight and white to your writing. Here’s one way to do it: When introducing a character, ask yourself: “Is it absolutely critical for the story for this character to be straight and white?” If the answer is no, then consider not making them that. Because why not? If you create a world where diversity is just there, then it stops being a thing — it just becomes how the world is. And then you get some experience writing different kinds of people, and that’s a useful skill to have in your writer toolbox.

Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?

Katy asks:

Is there anything you’ve written that is sitting in a drawer/file cabinet that will never see the light of day?

Not really, no. The very first novel I wrote was Agent to the Stars, which I sold shortly after Old Man’s War (the second novel I wrote) was published. All the other novels I’ve written since were either written under contract or claimed after I wrote them. Likewise, I only wrote a couple of short stories before OMW was published and I sold both of those, and since then I only write short stories that either have been commissioned or that I write for my own amusement and then post here. So there is literally (hah!) no backlog of material from me, and (thankfully) no stuff I’d be embarrassed to show off.

Now, the above applies only for work that I wrote as an adult. When I was a teenager I wrote several stories (not to mention poetry and song lyrics), and I have them here in the office with me. Most of these are, well, not good — I think they’re fine for the output of a teenager, but I’m definitely grading on a curve, there. I’m not ashamed of them, but neither do I imagine there’s much of a market for them (one of the stories, set in the future, features a semi-truck full of cassette tapes). Unless I decide to pay someone to type them into the computer, and then post them here purely for archaeological interest, I don’t imagine any of you will ever see them.

I’ll also note that there’s a fair amount of material I wrote professionally that isn’t readily available on the Internet — most of the work I did for newspapers, for example, which is only accessible via paid archives; a lot of the other print work, which is not available anywhere online; most of what I wrote for AOL back in the day, which also went away when the client-based AOL service did, and material posted here prior my first Movable Type installation in 2003, because I revamped the site and took a lot of that stuff offline.

None of that stuff will “never see the light of day” because in fact most of it was seen by a ton of people when it was first published. It just won’t be seen again. The good news there is that a fair amount of it isn’t worth seeing again, for reasons ranging from marginal competence on my part, to the material simply being woefully outdated. No one will miss it much, me included.

So: Yeah. I got nothin’ for you lurking in the shadows, I’m afraid. What you’ve seen from me is really and truly everything I have. Well, except for the upcoming novel Lock In, and the novella I finished up a couple of weeks ago. But those are both on their way. Honest.

Twenty Years Online

Above, you see the very first verifiable evidence of me being on the Internet: A USENET post, on the sci.astro newsgroup, dated March 20, 1994 — twenty years ago today. For trivia fans, it was posted from my apartment in Fresno, where I was working at the local newspaper as their film critic, and if memory serves, I posted it on a Mac Quadra (probably this model), whilst facing north (no, really).

This is what I looked like in 1994:

At least Krissy looks pretty much the same.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had been online. Prior to that I had been online via a local BBS in high school and the Prodigy online service, starting in 1992, but when I upgraded to the Quadra I also started looking around at that new-fangled “World Wide Web” thing I had heard so much about. Once I started looking about, in reasonably short time I had my own hand-rolled Web page via a local service provider (cris.com, now defunct) and begun reading an posting to USENET, most notably at alt.society.generation-x, which was a center of my online life until I got my own domain, started Whatever, and began blogging in earnest here. But as far as the memory of the Internet is concerned, this sci.astro post is where I first pop up. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m immensely relieved that the Internet’s first note of me is of me asking about science, rather than porn.

This is the part where I would note with wonder all the changes that have been wrought to the Internet since that fateful day, two decades ago, when I dipped my toe into the cyber-waters, but you know what, blah blah blah blah blah take it as read. I will say, as all middle-aged and older folks must in situations like this, that it’s a little amazing that twenty years has gone by. Sitting there in my Fresno apartment, staring into my Quadra’s monitor as I use Netscape to visit Spatula City, really doesn’t seem all that long ago. I wonder how it will feel in another 20 years.

Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence

Dpmaine asks:

How do you intend to maintain editorial independence given that you are now working with one of the largest international media conglomerates, headed by a notorious right-winger billionaire?

Context: My book Redshirts is in development as a limited TV series at FX, a cable station owned by 21st Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox was a company formed when News Corporation split into two companies: Fox for film/broadcast properties and News Corp for its publishing properties. Both companies have Murdoch as their Chairman/CEO. Fox News was assigned to 21st Century Fox rather than News Corp, which makes it easy to snark that it was grouped in with the entertainment properties (i.e., film/tv) rather than the news properties (i.e., publishing).

I’ll begin by noting that my association with FX is not, in fact, my first association with a large international conglomerate; indeed, I have worked with several. I worked with AOL during the time it was part of Time Warner (or more accurately, when Time Warner was part of AOL, as technically AOL bought TW). Old Man’s War’s movie option was with Paramount, part of Viacom. When I was Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was on Syfy, part of NBCUniversal. I did consulting for Disney on a project that I’m not at liberty to disclose publicly. I’ve published books with Rough Guides and Heyne, now both part of Penguin Random House, jointly owned by Bertlesmann and Pearson, both major international conglomerates; and of course I publish with Tor Books, owned by Macmillan, which in turn is owned by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, which is also, you may surmise, a large international conglomerate. So, again: working with 21 Century Fox will not be my first time at the conglomerate dance.

(Note bene: In all of the above, my relationship with the conglomerates has been as an independent contractor, often for a company that itself contracted with the conglomerate, and not as an employee. I was an AOL employee once, but not during the Time Warner era.)

Does working with a conglomerate impede one’s editorial independence elsewhere? Well, yes, it can. You may see an example of that above, where I noted that there was a project I worked on at Disney that I can’t discuss publicly. That’s because I signed an non-disclosure agreement about it. I’d like to tell you about it, because it was a very cool project and I worked with very cool people on it, but I can’t. I’m legally obliged not to, and also, I said I wouldn’t, and I prefer to keep my word.

Likewise, sometimes in contracts, one is asked to sign non-disparagement clauses. In my experience these are usually confined to specific projects. So, for example, if I worked on [X], I would agree not to say disparaging things about [X] to the media or on social media. So I couldn’t come here or go to Twitter or Facebook and say “Jesus, I’ve been working on [X] for months now and I can’t believe what a tremendous pile of crap it is.” I don’t think that’s usually an unreasonable thing to agree to.

But even without that contractual bar, I’d have to say it would be very very very unlikely you’d see or hear me publicly rubbish a project I was directly working on. One, in my experience most everyone is trying to make a project work, and sometimes it just doesn’t, and that’s the way it goes. Two, only an idiot burns bridges when they don’t have to. Future work can still come out of failed projects.

With all that said, I don’t think that working with a large media conglomerate is an automatic bar to criticizing it or the practices of the corporation (or some portion of it), or the output of that conglomerate. Indeed, there’s a long history of one part of a corporation looking at other parts with a critical eye. Entertainment Weekly and Time Magazine have panned Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema films; The Wall Street Journal has cast its eye on the business practices of various part of the Murdoch empire; and The Simpsons, shown on Fox network, has said less than nice things about Fox News (see the graphic at the top of the entry).

Yes, yes, but would you do that criticizing, you ask? One way to answer that is to note I’ve done it before — I’m published by Random House (via Rough Guides and Heyne) but that did not stop me from expressing my displeasure in no uncertain terms about the company’s (now-updated) contracts from the Hydra and Alias imprints. Likewise, I’ve criticized Amazon and its business practices, even as the company is one of my publishers — and a very good one, I will note — through its audiobook subsidiary Audible. I made snarky comments about the Sci-Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy after I agreed to be the consultant for SGU. Past actions are not a guarantee of future results, of course. But it is indicative of how I approach these things.

Now, I think it would be perfectly reasonable for people to remember my various business associations and take them under consideration when they see me talk about things that touch tangentially (or not-so-tangentially) on those associations. But I would ask them to keep in their minds that thinking I am or am not discussing a subject because I am in the pay of one conglomerate or another is a fairly reductive way to look at things. There are going to be times when I might say “I’m a little too close to this one, so I’m going to stay out of it publicly,” because sometimes that’s true. But there are a lot of reasons why I might choose not to comment on a thing.

In short, I don’t think the fact that I’m working with FX will keep me from commenting when, say, someone on Fox News says something egregiously stupid enough to inspire me to comment. Alternately, I don’t see me starting to positively quote nuggets of wisdom from Sean Hannity, just because a chunk of my income issues forth from the vasty Murdochian depths. I don’t imagine anyone at FX will care — or anyone at Fox News, for that matter. Nor Rupert Murdoch, bless his heart.

Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things

H. Savinean asks:

I would like to hear your thoughts on liking problematic things, e.g. media with historically accurate but objectionable portrayals of gender/race/etc., media with no historical excuse for the above, media that simply ignore women and people of color, comedians/actors/writers who plant their feet firmly in their mouths way too often… It’s something I spend a fair amount of time on.

Oh, boy! A can of worms! Let me just come over and open it!

Let me skip lightly over what “problematic” means in a larger sense and suggest that for the purposes of this piece, the word means “work/people I have issues with for some substantial and to me relevant social/moral/ethical reason.” With that understood:

I think it’s fine to like or recognize the value of problematic people/things. I think it helps to additionally recognize two things: One, that the person/thing is problematic, regardless of the fact that you like it; two, that the fact you like it doesn’t mitigate the fact that it is problematic. You can hold the two thoughts in your head simultaneously.

So, an example from my own personal problematic files: Chinatown. Fantastic movie, and the guy who directed it drugged and raped an underage girl. The film is a classic and Roman Polanski should have gone to prison. That the film is one of the best films of the 1970s doesn’t change the fact that Polanski is also a rapist. Should you feel uncomfortable about Polanski and his actions? Yes you should. Can you acknowledge Chinatown is still a substantial piece of work? Yes you can.

Another example: Triumph of the Will, by Leni Riefenstahl. For reasons relating to cinematic technique, one of the major films in cinematic history — echoes of the film pop up everywhere from Star Wars to The Lion King. For subject matter, an unapologetic celebration of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg and of Adolf Hitler, it is literally horrifying. Riefenstahl herself: A brilliant filmmaker and forever (and rightly) tainted by her association with a genocidal regime; one of the first great women directors, who unquestionably lent her considerable talents to the furtherance of evil. Can we appreciate the craft she brought to the film? Absolutely. Should we argue that this craft mitigates the purpose for which it was used? Absolutely not. Should Riefenstahl’s embrace of the Nazi party be excused because of her cinematic talent? Not in a thousand years.

And so on. I used two examples from film, but examples can be found in every field of creative endeavor, including — obviously — writing. Likewise, Polanski and Riefenstahl are easy examples because of the unambiguous nature of their actions, but for every clear cut case like theirs, there are a thousand less clear cut — or at least, less clear cut to you. Someone else might disagree, occasionally emphatically.

If you accept that you can both appreciate a problematic work/creator and recognize its problematic issues, there are a host of other issues for you to consider. Some of them:

* Should you support the work with money? Example: Would you pay to own a copy of Chinatown, or merely watch it when it came on television?

* Do you differentiate works from different eras in the creator’s life? For example, if you have a favorite book and over time the creator turned progressively homophobic, can you cherish the work written before that transformation, or do you judge it by the author’s “final form,” as it were?

* How much weight should you give to historical context?

* How much do you care about a creator’s personal life?

* Does it matter whether the creator is living or dead?

(The latter, incidentally, is one I think about a lot. I anecdotally noted a resurgence of Michael Jackson’s music in the common culture after his death, and I hypothesize that his passing removed a lot of the “squick” factor related to his possibly entirely inappropriate relationships with kids. It’s easier to get into a “Thriller” zombie line if you’re not worrying about what Jackson might be doing at one of those Neverland slumber parties, etc.)

Cards on the table: I like a lot of work I think is problematic, and I like more stuff that other people would find more problematic than I do, because they have different standards and life experiences. There’s other stuff I don’t like because I find it too problematic, but I also acknowledge there’s room for hypocrisy in my choices there, too. For example, I find some of Chris Brown’s work catchy but I’m not going to give him my money because he beat a woman and by all the evidence I can see he doesn’t especially regret having done so. On the other hand, in the early 70s Jimmy Page knowingly had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl — that’s statutory rape despite the girl’s then-consent — and I own a whole lotta Zeppelin (on the other hand, I haven’t bought any since I found that bit out. Even so).

Does this dichotomy reflect my judgment regarding their respective actions, some latent baked-in racism, my preference for rock over R&B, or the fact one was just a few years ago and the other over before I even knew about it? You got me. Mix and match. And while you’re doing that, I’m gonna have to think about it some more myself.

Which I think is a thing worth doing as well: When you like a problematic thing, rather than reflexively defending it with the “I like it and therefore it can’t be bad and why are you making me feel bad about it,” response, go ahead and ask yourself why you like it even though you acknowledge it’s got problems. You might find after questioning it, you like it less — or more, because you’ve thought it through.

As a final thought here, I think it’s probably likely that some readers of mine find my work problematic for various reasons — either for what’s in the text of the work, who I am as a person (as far as they know from my public presence and/or their private interaction with me) or some combination of both. It’s part of the territory of being a creative person. Are they wrong for doing so? No; you have to accept that everyone comes to your work with their own perspective and will have their own criticisms of it (and you), some of which you will disagree with, or find to be a feature rather than a bug, as it were.

If the reader can simultaneously hold in their mind that they enjoy the work and find it problematic, I appreciate it. If they decide they can’t and drop me from their cultural diet, then that’s fine, too. We all have to make choices. I’d hope that choice comes after some thought on the matter. Ultimately that’s all you can ask for, as a creator of possibly problematic things.

(It’s not too late to get a request in for Reader Request Week — here’s how.)

Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery

Dan Miller posits an event:

You just hit the lottery big time – say $200M after taxes. You can now write exactly what you want for the rest of your life. What will you write? What will you not write? How much time will you spend writing (vs. goofing off, vs. managing the charitable foundation I suspect you’d set up…)?

This is a fairly unrealistic scenario involving me, as I don’t play the lottery, for the simple reason that I understand statistics well enough to know that lotteries are an extraordinarily poor investment. I also find the idea of preying on people who don’t understand statistics as a way to compensate for a sensible taxation scheme a bad way to run things. So the chances of me buying a lottery ticket are small; I think in the history of my life I’ve bought one. I did not win.

(I don’t count the local fundraising sort of lottery here, where the prize is, like, a homemade cake. But I don’t count on winning those, either.)

But let’s say for the sake of argument that I was gifted with a lottery ticket, which turns out to be the winner, and my net after taxes is $200 million. What will this mean for John Scalzi, the writer?

In one sense, it won’t change much. Dan suggests that having that much money will allow me to write whatever I like, but the fact is, I already do that. I write science fiction because I like writing science fiction. I write the occasional non-fiction book and have never had a problem selling those. I write here on the blog because it’s fun (and without the intent of making money from it, although that will sometimes happen). I don’t need to win the lottery to write what I want.

To be clear, there are other things I think about writing up — I’ve noted before I’d like to try a non-sf-related mystery or YA novel — but the thing keeping me from doing those is not money (or, more broadly, economic pressure) but time. I’m already a full-time writer by profession; $200 million won’t free me from the shackles of a day job. It won’t buy me any more time. What it might do is allow me to shift priorities, so I put something on my schedule in a different place in terms of production. But it doesn’t change what I want to write, or my ability to write it. So, again, in that respect, $200 million doesn’t change much in my life as a writer.

But let’s not be stupid: $200 million would be a life-changing amount of money for everyone who is not already a billionaire, and I am not a billionaire. I write what I want now, but I also write because it’s how I make my living, and $200 million would mean I would never have to worry about making a living again, ever. So the real question would be: Would I still write as much, or at all, if I had the financial wherewithal to do whatever I want?

My first blush answer would be “probably,” because I like writing and I get antsy when I don’t, and it’s not like I’m writing six books a year at the moment anyway; I’ve published twenty(ish) books in fourteen years, which is a pretty manageable schedule of production, even if one has otherwise given one’s life over to idle luxury. But I also have to admit that I don’t know. I admit to being lazy. $200 million purchases quite a lot of laziness. I might give it all up for lazing by the pool whilst servants peel my grapes for me.

There is one way to find out: Quick, someone give me $200 million!

No?

Hmph.

Actually (and here we go off mostly on a tangent to Dan’s question, but I can do that because I can write whatever I want, remember) I don’t think a sudden windfall of $200 million will do anyone, including me, much good. We all know the tales of people who have won the lottery who a few years later are dead broke and desperately unhappy, because they didn’t know how to handle the money and because they very quickly learned that money changes how people look at you and what they want from you, which makes it difficult to trust people, even those close to you. I would like to flatter myself by thinking that I could handle such a massive influx of money well, but alas, I am as susceptible to base human stupidity as anyone, so it’s entirely possible I would do something stupid. Again, the only way to tell is to get that money in my hands and see what I would do.

Since I don’t have that money, and I can therefore be fairly rational about it because it’s an entirely theoretical construct, here’s what I’d like to think I would do with $200 million if it dropped into my lap:

1. Take some portion of it and use it to set up a very comfortable annuity income. Off the top of my head, say, $1 million a year. If I and my family can’t live within a million dollars year, I suspect I am doing something very wrong with my life. I assume I will be crafty here and create the annuity so that it compensates for inflation, etc. But even if not, a million a year should go a long way likely for the rest of my lifetime.

2. Take another portion of it and set it up as a general trust fund for my extended family to encourage education and entrepreneurship, i.e., help pay for college and businesses they might create. No trust fund babies, but a leg up in getting a place in the world.

3. Take the largest portion of it — at least half — and use it to create a charitable organization to address issues that find important. Off the top of my head these would include local education and community infrastructure, arts, literacy and hunger.

There would be a point to doing things this way. One, to put that money to work on things I care about, right now. $200 million is more than I could use in one lifetime and no point waiting until I’m dead to make it useful. Two, to lock up the money so that anyone coming along to wheedle it out of me is going to be structurally stymied. It would be lovely to say “well, you could apply for a grant” to anyone who thinks I’m just going to pay for their new car because they imagine we’re pals or second cousins.

But — again — this is all theoretical. The chances I will see $200 million in this life are pretty slim, either from the lottery or by any other means. The good news is that even without that tidy little sum I’m still fortunate enough to write the things I want to write and to otherwise have a pretty decent life. That said, if someone does want to gift me with $200 million, post-tax, well. You know where you can find me.

(It’s not too late to get a request in for Reader Request Week — here’s how.)

Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader

This question comes from Sassy Coconut:

How do you see us (readers of this blog)?
What are we to you?
Are we a faceless mass murmuring in the background? Gargoyles on the edges of your posts cackling and shoving each other around? Or are we mice scurrying through the sea of grass that is this blog?
Tangent: How does this sense of audience differ between your blog and novels?

Well, most of the readers of the blog I don’t know. The vast majority of thousands of people who visit the blog on any given day show up to read, not to comment. The number of readers who comment, on anything other than the very busiest of days, is a few dozen at best. The “Straight White Male” post gathered 800 comments in two days, while about 200,000 visitors saw the piece here in the same time. Even if each of those 800 comments was from a separate visitor (which they were not), that would mean less than one half of one percent of the people who read the piece here commented. Who are the other 99.5%? Got me. Outside of basic data supplied by my stats package, I don’t know, and can’t know.

(Well, I suppose I could know, if I followed back IP addresses and did a whole bunch of sleuthing, and maybe asked someone at the NSA to follow up for me. But I’m not going to, because I don’t actually care that much. I’m glad people come by, but if all they want to do read and move on, fine by me.)

As for the people who do comment here, well, I tend to think of them a number of ways. Some of them I know as actual people out there in the physical world; I like most of them and consider several of them friends. Others have been longtime commenters here and I consider them “regulars,” i.e., the people who help to constitute the community here. Some commenters I like, from what I can see of them via their words. Some I like less but as long as they follow the comment rules and take direction, they’re welcome to continue to comment (I suspect that some of you might believe that this falls along political lines, but you might be surprised).

I’m proud that most of the people who comment here, whatever their political/social persuasions, tend to treat each other with respect. I have a reputation for swinging the Mallet, but the fact of the matter is I do it less than perhaps people like to suggest. As an example, the “Orthodox Church of Heinlein” comment thread is currently 370+ comments on a deeply contentious topic, with participants coming in with a large range of views, and many of which disagreed with me strongly, and no malletings at all. Why not? Because the people commenting spoke cogently, respected other commenters and mostly weren’t assholes.

Which means that commenters here generally add value to the site — which is something that is frankly very rare for commenters to do. And because of that, I generally think positively of the commenters here, even the ones I don’t like as much as the others. And, now, to be clear, a fair amount of that is due to the comment rules here and my willingness to enforce them. But it’s as much due if not more so to the people who want to comment here being willing to be signal rather than noise. I’m willing to use the Mallet; but the commenters here are such that I don’t have to lift the Mallet often.

(When does the Mallet get the most exercise? When new people come in from elsewhere and assume the appallingly lax definition of “discourse” that applies elsewhere also applies here. Many are surprised and leave. A few are surprised and stay. In both cases, I’m generally happy with their decision.)

(I will also note that there are places online where my use of the Mallet is criticized. A quick look at what passes for the comment threads in those places tends to be instructive.)

For the tangential part of the question, I’ll note that in my experience the readers of my novels and the readers for the blog overlap but probably not as much as some people might think. The same is true (in both cases) for my Twitter readers. Which is to say each has its own native readership which may or may not be engaged with the other things I do. I find that interesting.

(It’s not too late to get a request in for Reader Request Week — here’s how.)

Reminder: Two Weeks to Get Your Hugo Nominations In

We’re on the downslope of the nomination time for the Hugos, so if you’re an eligible nominator (if you were a member of LoneStarCon 3 or a current member of Loncon 3 or Sasquan, that’s likely you) you have until the end of the month to get in your nominations.

Need suggestions? Here’s some from other fans. And here’s where a bunch of potential nominees let you know what works they have eligible. And finally, if you need it, here’s what I have out there that’s eligible this year.

Remember: Read deeply and nominate widely! Let’s get good works nominated from more than the usual suspects (the usual suspects including, you know, me). Unless the usual suspects made work that knocked your socks off, in which case do nominate them. But nominate worthy works from others, too. You’ve got five nominations per category. Use them all.