Both pictures taken today.
There’s some family resemblance there, I think.
Both pictures taken today.
There’s some family resemblance there, I think.
Some various things, involving me, all put in the same post for the sake of organization:
* As you can see from the photo above, the hardcover edition of The End of All Things is something that exists in our world. Hooray! If you want it the first day it’s out — or make sure you have it when the tour comes to your town — I strongly suggest pre-ordering it. How can you do that? Well, just call or visit your favorite local bookstore and tell them that you would like to order it. They will be delighted to pre-order it for you (because that means a sale for them). If you have no local bookstore, or you do but you and their owner are locked in a decades-long feud stemming from That Thing That Happened at Prom (or whatever), then of course you may pre-order from your favorite online retailer. Basically, if you’re in North America, there’s nothing stopping you from pre-ordering however you want.
* For those of you who are fans of audiobooks, the Audible version of The End of All Things is also available for pre-order now. This version is narrated by William Dufris and Tavia Gilbert, who longtime audiobooks fans will know have narrated the other books in the series (Gilbert did Zoe’s Tale, while Dufris has done all the others). I’m absolutely delighted to have the both of them offering up their reading talents for this one. The audiobook, like the hardcover, is scheduled for release on August 11.
* A reminder to those of you in or around Indianapolis that on July 31st — a week and a day from now! — I will be performing at the Concert Against Humanity, along with Kumail Nanjiani, Paul and Storm, Cameron Esposito, The Doubleclicks, Molly Lewis and Patrick Rothfuss. Which is to say this is going to be a fabulous concert and you should come to it. There are still tickets available, so attending is still a thing you can do. And what will I be doing at the concert? Well, it’s very likely that I will be writing up something new, exclusive and (hopefully) funny for it. Or, I will perform the whole of Warrant’s seminal 1989 album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, in sequence, on ukulele. Honestly, it could go either way at this point.
* On the subject of ukuleles, a couple of people have asked me if I’m really going to play the ukulele on the book tour. My answer is the same as it has been for the last couple of tours: If someone brings one, I’ll be happy to play it, although I can’t guarantee you will be happy to hear the strangled noises I will make come from it. However, one request: If you want me to play your ukulele, please make sure it’s tuned before you hand it to me. I don’t have time to tune it on the fly. Yes, I play the uke terribly, and that’s on me. But I want to be terrible and in tune, and that’s on you.
* And on the subject of the book tour, a reminder to media folks: If you want to interview me any time in the next few months, please contact my PR representative, Alexis Saarela, at “email@example.com”. She is the keeper of both my tour and interview schedule, and honestly, I’m not scheduling any interviews, etc, without them going through her first. Also, if you send them to me, they’re likely to fall down into a big email hole at this point. So for both our sakes, please contact Alexis.
* And on the subject of book tours in a general sense, I along with Tayari Jones, Sloane Crosley, Nell Zink, Gary Shteyngart and Junot Diaz, am talking about book tours and what they are like in the New York Times. And yes, I talk about frosting. How could I not? As I’ve noted to folks on Twitter and Facebook, I am pleased not only that I get my first byline in the NYT (I’ve been written about in the NYT, but have not written for them), but that Athena, who took the author photo that accompanies the piece, get a photo credit, too. That’s going to look pretty sharp on a college application, I think. In any event, check out the NYT feature. It’s pretty nifty.
I have a number of Chromebooks here at the house — some of you might remember I was given a CR-48, the beta version of the Chromebook, by Google back in the day — and I like them quite a bit for what they are, which are cheap and cheerful computer terminals that back up to a mainframe we now call “the cloud.” We have a few around the house and I use them for casual writing and cruising the Web, and Athena and her classmates use them at school for classwork. They’re a good solution for a lot of things that people use computers for.
My most recent Chromebook was an HP 11-incher which has developed a couple of problems — its charging cord isn’t working anymore and every other cord I get for it say it’s “charging at low power” and the trackpad is getting wonky — so I was planning to do an upgrade soon. Then Asus brought out the Chromebook Flip, a Chromebook that has a 10-inch touchscreen that you can flip over and use as a tent display or a tablet, with 4GB of memory, all for less than $300. The reviews have been pretty good, so I thought I’d check it out. It arrived yesterday evening and I’ve been playing with it, as a laptop and a tablet, since then.
So far? I’m pretty impressed. It’s slightly smaller than the Chromebooks I’ve been used to; you might not think there’s a big different between a ten-inch device and an eleven-inch device, but it turns out there is, and as a consequence I’m doing a tiny bit of retraining my brain where all the keys are on the keyboard, which is a bit more cramped than on my other Chromebooks. This is a pretty minor thing and I don’t have a monster hands in any event. The track pad is also very nice, if small. Acclimate yourself to the idea that everything on this thing is a little small, and you’ll be okay.
What I really like is that when you flip it over and use it as a tablet, it’s a size that makes sense to be a tablet — big enough to give you real estate to look at, not so large that the whole thing feels horribly awkward in your hands. As a point of comparison, I also own the Dell XPS 12, which has a screen which you can also flip over and use as a tablet. It’s a great laptop which I highly recommend (or did; Dell retired it for the also apparently excellent XPS 13), but I almost never use it in tablet mode because the 12.5-inch screen is just too big, and the whole package weighs in at over three pounds, which is a lot in that form factor.
The screen here, on the other hand, is 10.1 inches — basically, it’s a ten-inch tablet. The whole thing comes in at under two pounds, so it’s easy to walk about with it in tablet mode, or to sit with it in bed in that format. The 1200×800 screen isn’t brilliant compared to other mobile devices, but it’s fine and on par with first generation tablets. In fact, the whole thing basically feels like a first-gen iPad in your hand. It’s not as modular as a typical tablet — everything still runs through the browser because this is ChromeOS, not Android — but if what you’re mostly doing is browsing the Web, I don’t think you’ll notice much difference. There’s an onscreen keyboard in Tablet mode that will be very familiar to Android users.
The hinge that you use to transform the computer is nicely stiff, at least so far; we’ll see how it holds up to lots of use. In tablet mode, the keyboard disables itself and faces outward, opposite the screen. I understand some people find this weird and maybe a little uncomfortable, but honestly it didn’t bother me. Some of the reviews I’ve seen have griped about the screen’s large bezels; I agree they could be smaller, but then again in tablet mode they give you a decent amount of space to grip the thing without activating the screen, so again, I think it’s fine. The touchscreen itself is pretty good. I haven’t had any problems with touches not registering, or stuttering when I scroll. I suspect it might actually be a better as a touchscreen than the screen on my XPS 12, which was rather more expensive (but admittedly, released a couple of years ago).
Other notes: The body of the Flip is aluminum, not plastic, which makes it look and feel nice. The keyboard, aside from its being a little small, is responsive and about as good as you’re going to get on a device this size. The keys are not backlit, but if you’re expecting backlit for under $300, then bless your heart, I’d say (I would still love a Chromebook with a backlit keyboard, though).
Two USB ports, HDMI mini out and SD mini card in. Battery life seems to be pretty good so far (but it’s waaay too early for me to say). For what I use Chromebooks for, it’s handling everything I’m throwing it, but as with any Chromebook, don’t expect miracles with multimedia or standalone programs; again, this is a terminal, not a full-featured standalone laptop. If you’re looking at these things, I really do recommend spending the extra $20 for the 4GB model. The internal storage is 16GB (utterly standard), but you can add via the mini SD port, and everything is designed to store to the cloud in any event. In all the years I’ve been using Chromebooks, running out of storage on the laptop has never ever been a problem.
All of which is to say that if you’ve been waiting for a perfectly good Chromebook that you can also use as a perfectly good tablet, and for under $300 to boot, this is going to probably work for you really well. I like it a lot, and will probably use it for wandering about the house and also for short trips where I know a) I’m going to have a consistent Internet connection, b) I won’t have to be doing a whole of work that relies on specific programs. This covers a surprisingly large number of trips. I don’t think I’d write a full novel on it; but I might write a few pages of one, while I was traveling.
More details later if my opinion changes substantially, but so far: Thumbs up.
It’s the finished hardcover version of The End of All Things! Arrived just a few minutes ago. It looks great. And has that new book smell!
And yes, that’s her copy. She always gets the first copy. Always, always and forever.
Here’s a fun fact: This week marks the 10th anniversary of the print release of Agent to the Stars. It was released in a limited edition hardcover from Subterranean Press, which makes it to date, and likely for the next decade at least, the only novel of mine released first by a publisher other than Tor Books (Tor later released it in trade, mass market and paperback editions, and Audible has in audiobook). Only 1,500 of these hardcovers (plus a few publisher copies) exist, making it the smallest and rarest of my first edition hardcover releases. I’ve seen it on rare book sites listed for over $1,000, although right at the moment on alibris you can get one for just $130. I have several. I’m saving them to pay for Athena’s college.
Although the print edition of Agent is a decade old this week, the novel itself is rather older. In fact it’s the first novel I wrote — it’s my “practice novel,” the novel I wrote to see if I could write a novel (the answer: apparently!). I wrote it mostly on nights and weekends in 1997 in my apartment in Sterling, Virginia, on a desk shoved against the wall in our bedroom, using Microsoft Works, the company’s off-brand word processor. Before I started writing the novel, I was trying to decide whether to write a science fiction novel or a mystery/crime novel, as I enjoyed both genres equally; I ended up flipping a coin, and science fiction it was. If the coin landed in the other direction, I might have had both a vastly different writing career, and a very different life overall.
At least some of you know that once I wrote Agent I made no real effort to sell it to publishers; as a “practice novel” the point was not to write something salable, but to write something that was novel-length, and then use that to see what things I did well, what things I should improve on, and what things I shouldn’t do. So when the novel was done, I showed it to Krissy (who was immensely relieved when she liked it — she was married to me, after all, it would be awkward if she thought I was a crap writer), my friends Regan and Steven and a couple of others, and then otherwise pretty much kept it in a drawer for a couple of years.
Then in March of 1999, I decided, what the heck, I needed stuff on my Web site, and the novel wasn’t bad. So I put it up here as a “shareware novel” — people could read it and if they liked it, could send me a dollar in the mail. Over the next five years I ended up getting around $4,000 sent along, a not bad sum for a time when people had to actually make an effort to physically mail you money in an envelope (this also makes me an old school indie author, which is one reason my response to people who think there is some manifest division between “traditional authors” and “indie authors” is one of, well, amusement). It did well enough that when I wrote Old Man’s War, I didn’t think too hard about whether to post it up on the site, either. I did, and then it was found here by Patrick Nielsen Haden of Tor. He made an offer on it, and the rest is history.
But note that Patrick didn’t make an offer on Agent, despite the fact that it was on the site, available and not bad, in Patrick’s estimation (he read it after he read OMW), and despite the fact that Tor offered me a two book deal when he bought OMW, the second book of which would become The Android’s Dream. When I ask Patrick why he didn’t want Agent, he said, in characteristic pragmatic bluntness, that it would be difficult to sell, in part because it was humorous and in part because it didn’t easily slot into a category for booksellers. It wasn’t military science fiction, it wasn’t space opera, it wasn’t “new weird,” which was a thing at the time, etc. I appreciated Patrick’s pragmatic bluntness — and I was getting a two book deal out of him anyway — so I didn’t worry about it. And besides, Agent was doing fine hanging out on the Web site.
Fast forward a couple of years, to January 2005. Old Man’s War’s been published and is doing well, and I get an email from Bill Schafer, the publisher of a small press in Michigan called Subterranean Press. He’s read Agent to the Stars on the Web site and wants to know if it’s available to be bought. Well, I’ve never heard of Subterranean Press, so the first thing I do is check it out to see if it’s something more than a guy with a mimeograph machine (it was) and that this Schafer dude isn’t just some creep trying to take advantage of newer writers (he wasn’t).
So I let Bill buy the book for a limited hardcover release. We asked Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade to do the cover; I’d advertised Agent on Penny Arcade waaaaaaay back when, so he was a friend I could throw some money to, I liked his work a ton, and (because I wasn’t stupid) I was aware that as the first book cover Mike would ever do, the book would have collector value to fans of Penny Arcade even if they had no idea who I was. He said yes, turned in a really nice piece of art, and in July of 2005, the book — by that time almost sold out on pre-orders — went out into the world. It sold out entirely shortly thereafter.
Here’s why, today, I’m happy the Agent was released then. First, because it started my relationship with Bill Schafer and with Subterranean Press, which is a relationship that continues to this day — SubPress publishes my limited editions and most of my shorter fiction. Bill and SubPress did well by me when I was just starting out, and I’m happy to keep working with them today. Relationships matter. Second, because Agent being published in print gave it an additional life: We sold it into foreign markets and to Tor for paperback (Patrick, again with his pragmatic bluntness, could buy it in 2008 because I had become a name, and readers would buy it because they already liked my stuff. I found this to be a delightful reason) and into audio. We get the occasional film/tv query about it, too, which is nice.
Third, because it allowed me to not worry about “the sophomore slump” — that is, whether my second book would sell as well as the first or be appreciated as much, among the other bits of anxiety authors have about their second book. Agent was a small press limited edition, so I didn’t have to worry about whether it would sell as well or better; we already knew how many copies we were going to sell. It was going into a collector’s market where “quirky and humorous” was not a problem for sales. It was already written, so I didn’t have tie myself up in knots about it or freak out about deadlines. Basically, it was a really optimal “second novel” experience.
Occasionally at signings, people will come up with a copy of Agent and confide that it’s their favorite novel of mine, as if that’s something weird, because OMW or Redshirts are the usual suspects for that title. But I like it when they tell me they like Agent. It’s my firstborn (if second-published), and it was written not because I wanted to sell, but because I wanted to learn. Writing it was a joy, if for no other reason than the dawning awareness I had writing it that, yes, in fact, I could do this thing, and I liked doing it, and that I wanted to do more of it if I could. That’s what Agent gave me that no other novel could, or will. It’s special to me. I’m glad when it’s special for other people too.
So: Happy print anniversary, Agent to the Stars. And thanks, Bill and Subterranean Press, for publishing it. Here’s to more work together.
Context: In 2006, Pluto was demoted from being a planet to being a dwarf planet, a move that many, including notable YA author (and personal friend) Scott Westerfeld, thought was a good move, because he and they are terrible people. When my daughter, then age seven, heard that Scott Westerfeld — her friend Scott! Who she liked! — was a “Pluto Hayta,” she felt compelled to make a video, both asking him why he held such hatred for our system’s smallest planet, and then showing him the consequences of such wanton contempt.
For years the video was unavailable, because I made it and displayed it in an AOL video service that is now (like pretty much everything else AOL) consigned to the bit-bin of history. But today, miracle of miracles, I discovered the Internet Archive had made a copy of the video file. I downloaded, it converted it, and put it on YouTube.
And so, here it is, and well timed for the recent Plutomania: My daughter’s 2006 video to Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld. Enjoy.
And yes, her t-shirt in the video does indeed say “I Have Issues.” She did! With Scott!
Naturally, I showed it to Athena (now aged sixteen) before I posted it. She thought it was adorable. And, well. Yes. Yes, it is.
The biggest irony? Pluto now has a feature on its surface named for Cthulhu. My daughter was prophetic, at age seven, she was.
(P.S.: Here’s Scott’s response to the video at the time. Still wrong! History shall judge him. And all who led us down this dark path.)
He has no chance. For either. None whatsoever.
Which, you know, is too bad, at least the “winning the GOP nomination” part (I don’t want him to be president). As far as the current iteration of the GOP goes, he’s not bad — he’s pretty smart, he’s well-experienced both as a current governor and a past US representative, and as a governor in a swing state, he’s been reasonably pragmatic, or at least, as pragmatic as any GOP governor is these days. All of which is to say that if he did somehow manage to become president, I would expect him to be a bureaucrat rather than an ideologue, which would suit me just fine.
But I don’t expect him to get out of the first few primaries, if he gets that far, because, well, who is the Kasich primary voter? Those who want someone with gubernatorial experience will go to Bush or Walker first and then probably Jindal; those who prefer conservatism fiery and/or unhinged have a whole buffet to choose from. Kasich as far as I can see is always the “other” option. Oh, sure, there are Republicans out there who could be on board for “boring competent conservative,” but recent history suggests they don’t show up for primaries (and if they do, hello Bush). I’m just not seeing the Kasich groundswell. Hell, we barely think of him at all here in Ohio.
Unless Kasich is entirely delusional, he also knows he has no chance, which makes you wonder what his endgame actually is. VP? Maaaaaaaybe? Bush/Kasich or (oy) Walker/Kasich is something I could see, with the idea that Kasich could deliver Ohio. This may just be his way of popping onto the radar for that. Other than that: Secretary of the Treasury, maybe? Positioning himself as a lobbyist once he’s two-termed out of the statehouse here in Ohio? It’s gotta be something, because “actually becoming president” isn’t going to be it.
But, we’ll see, won’t we. I’ve certainly been wrong before, even if I don’t expect to be about this.
Hey, you know quantum physics? Ha! It’s a trick question, because no one truly knows quantum physics — at this point we know just enough to know how little we understand about what goes on down at that level. Which, as it happens, makes it fertile ground for fiction, as author Ted Kosmatka found out with his novel The Flicker Men.
The electron leaves the gun at one tenth the speed of light. It travels as a probability wave, passing simultaneously through two slits carved in a piece of steel. On the far side, an interference pattern forms where the waves cross each other—and for just a moment, the math of the universe is laid bare before you. It’s all probability. Uncertainty. A schematic of what might be.
But bend and look close. There, you see it?
Now you’ve changed everything.
The big idea for The Flicker Men was actually a small idea. Quantum-sized, in fact. I was reading up on quantum mechanics, with its strange interaction between observer and phenomena, and I found myself wondering about the nature of observation in a quantum system. I mean, what, precisely, is an observer? Is consciousness required?
In the everyday world that we occupy, observers are fairly mundane, but in the realm of quantum mechanics, that shadowing half-world where light is both particle and a wave, the question of observation accrues fundamental importance and has far reaching implications for reality itself.
What if you used the principles of quantum mechanics to define, exactly, the parameters of observation? What if you found something you hadn’t expected? What if all observers weren’t created equal?
The Flicker Men is an expansion of my earlier short story “Divining Light,” originally published in Asimov’s magazine. For me, it all started with the famous double-slit experiment. For years I was obsessed with this simple, elegant experiment which demonstrates the wave/particle duality of light. They call it quantum weirdness, but that term always seemed too benign to me. It seemed more like quantum brokenness, like there was something fundamentally contradictory about the way our universe functions. Nobody would believe in quantum mechanics if there wasn’t such a consistent mountain of repeatable evidence for it. How can light be both a wave and a particle? How does a probability wave collapse into existence? And then there’s quantum entanglement to contend with—one electron linked to another, Einstein’s spooky action at a distance.
The two-slit experiment sits at the very heart of these questions and lays wide their contradictions. In order to believe in the double-slit experiment, you have to accept that the mere act of observing a quantum system can change it. Probability collapses when observed. Waves are transformed into particles; probability into fact. Reality, somehow, knows if someone is watching.
In the original short story “Divining Light,” I came up with a thought experiment that tackles the two-slit idea in a slightly different way. The experiment, with a subtle change, becomes a kind of test, and the results are open to some frightening interpretations. In the world of the novel, no one is ready for what is discovered.
After the original short story’s publication, I received a lot of mail asking where the real science in the story ended and the speculation began. The answer is somewhere in the middle, though I like to think of the entire novel as an extended thought experiment, each piece building on the logic that came before. In the novel, I explore the original premise further and delve into deeper implications about the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human.
I was a video game writer at Valve for more than five years and my time there gave me a new appreciation for the way our perceptions shape our understanding of the world around us.
I’ve always been a fan of ambitious stories with big, world-spanning arcs; and in a lot of ways, a physics thriller is an ideal platform for tackling the big questions.
The protagonist of The Flicker Men, Eric Argus, is a man haunted by his life’s work. He’s a promising young researcher who made a big splash in quantum mechanics at a young age, but now he’s burned out, fast approaching the end of his career, and wearing out his last chance.
Instead of focusing on new research, he turns instead to face what’s been haunting him. What should have been a dead end turns into an unsettling new chapter of his career. His experiment leads him to a discovery that shakes the foundations of modern physics and opens him up to dangers that he never knew existed.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle tells us that there’s a limit to what can be known, and thus the world is built at least partially on secrets. Eric and his fellow researchers learn an important lesson in the wake of their discovery. Behind every great secret are those who want it kept.
That’s Krissy out there on the riding mower, incidentally. I don’t mow the lawn because of grass allergies and also lack of competence; Krissy, on the other hand, can whip through the yard like nobody’s business. The riding mower here is actually a loaner, as our actual one is currently in the shop. The shop is run by very nice local Amish. Yes, they can fix riding mowers, and do a very fine job of it. They just don’t use them themselves.
I believe we can all agree that this is a fair trade.
(WARNING: Neepery, not directly about Hugos, but somewhat related. Also it is about me observing other people observing me, so there’s a whole lot of me in this post. So: Ego alert. Also, it’s long, because I wanted to get out in one place. Skip it if you just don’t care. I don’t mind! Really!)
Over on Facebook at the moment, and as a subset of a larger discussion, there’s a conversational thread about why so many dudes (and it is largely dudes, and dudes of a certain sort and political persuasion) have such a rabid dislike of me, both as a writer and as a human being.
Naturally, I have thoughts on this, based on years of personal observation, so below you’ll find my hypotheses on why I am so widely disliked by a certain type of dude. These hypotheses are mix and match: Not all will apply to everyone.
1. Because I’m an asshole. Gotta put this one in here, and have to put it up top, because indeed, I like pretty much everyone in the world can be a complete asshole from time to time. Depending on who you are (and my opinion of you), you may see my asshole side more often than others do. I do, for various reasons, some systematic and some relating specifically to me, have the luxury of being able to get away with being an asshole more frequently than some other people can or would. So when the mood strikes me, I often have the ability to go ahead and be one.
Disclaimers, now: I try not to be an asshole nearly all of the time, and the mood doesn’t strike me very much in any event, especially as I get older and the amount of fucks I have to give about this sort of nonsense decreases over time. I particularly try to be sensitive to being an asshole to people I see having less power than I do, structurally speaking (i.e., that whole “punch down” thing). I also try very hard not to lead with the asshole card, or to be the first asshole on the scene.
But I don’t always succeed, and also and independently, from time to time I decide that me being an asshole is a thing I need to do. In that situation, if I’m being an asshole in your direction, you’re perfectly justified in disliking me. I’m okay with you disliking me. I may even want you to dislike me. Because it likely amuses me, and because I think it’s what you rate. Some people deserve a thumb in the eye.
2. Because they’re assholes. Which a significant number of them are, for various reasons, including, apparently, some of them making a calculated decision that being a jerk is a viable marketing tactic. They’ve decided, apparently, to address an untapped “asshole” sales demographic. This is a bold strategy and we’ll have to see how it works out for them. Personally I suspect the number of people enticed by an “all asshole, all the time” public relations strategy is smaller than one might suspect. But it’s not my career, and if it gives them joy, then fine.
In which case disliking me is just part and parcel of being a professional asshole. I’m a nice big target, and there’s apparently an estimation that being seen in opposition to me, or framing one’s self as one of my hopeful nemeses, conveys certain marketing advantages. It’s sort of an unpleasant variation of starfucking. I am also skeptical of this as a viable marketing strategy, in part because generally speaking when I’m aware of it being attempted, I don’t address the starfucker directly anymore. It’s fine if they want to play that game; I don’t have to participate. Which sort of lowers its strategy value, in my opinion. But again, if it gives them joy, well, whatever.
3. Because of my politics. Many of the dudes who dislike me have politics that range from reactionary conservative to bourgeois fascist, accompanied by social positions that range from outdated to bigoted (there’s a strong correlation between those political and social positions, mind you, and probable causation as well). I’m no model liberal or progressive, to be sure, but my positions, social and political, are sufficiently left of their own that a) they see me as a useful foil, b) I am in their estimation a leader of a larger, and further left, social/political movement that they created in their heads as a threat to their own largely reactionary, somewhat bigoted way of life. In this case it helps that I’m a well-off straight white man, since using me as a target means they get to deflect criticism of a bigoted worldview.
It also means that they see me as an affirmative-action beneficiary of the non-existent political and social movement that they’ve created inside their heads, which they also think runs things in the science fiction and fantasy genre, which it does not, because, again, it doesn’t actually exist outside their heads. If it did, in the manner in which they seem to believe it does I, as a well-off straight white man, would be an extraordinarily unlikely candidate for their approbation when it came to sales and awards. The fact that they appear to think I am an excellent candidate for this approbation is a significant tell about their own worldview, i.e., that even an alleged social/political movement celebrating/ordering diversity requires a well-off straight white man as a figurehead.
Related to this:
4. Because I should be with them and I’m not. I’m a well-off straight white man who writes military science fiction (among other things); if you look at the stats, the correlation between these categories and “socially/politically conservative” is pretty high. That I’m not socially or politically conservative is apparently a source of confusion and upset for some. Likewise, I’m a well-off straight white man who is a loudmouth on the Internet and who writes about poverty and inequality and who has been unapologetically for things like same-sex marriage and the right of women to have total reproductive control of their own bodies, and has used his influence in his field to speak against harassment, and for diversity. Which is also apparently not what I should be doing.
That I am doing these things, and that I don’t have the expected politics for my easily-slottable demographic, is confounding — and also, if you’re the sort of person who gets upset about these things, suggests possibly that I am a traitor to well-off-ness, and straightness, and whiteness, and man-ness, all of which have, apparently, very specific conditions of being, of which I may not actually meet. Hold that thought, we’ll get back to it.
5. Because I’m successful: Despite not slotting in how I should socially or politically, and not receiving the imprimatur of the folk who apparently believe they have the ability to decide who and what is really science fiction and what is not, I’ve nevertheless done very well in my field, while others doing similar things (and doing it better, in their opinion), are not doing as well as I am. This clearly isn’t fair or right.
Obviously, the fact that I am doing better than some others despite my inauthentic nature means that I am a beneficiary of manufactured success, either at the hands of the social/political movement they’ve created inside their head which does not actually exist, or by the manipulations of my publisher, who for some reason has decided that tying itself to a writer who doesn’t sell, to the tune of millions of dollars and more than a dozen books, is a valid and solid commercial strategy. Which, of course, just makes the detractors even more annoyed.
All of this combines to the following:
6. Because I’m not a real man. My political and social positions, and my success which must obviously not be real, mean that I’m not an actual man man. I’m not an alpha male. I’m a beta or even a gamma, a submissive tool of women, in cowering awe of real men, and probably gay, because being gay is the worst possible thing for a man to be, and one that is, is hardly deserving to be called a man at all.
Note well the strategy here: When a man who does not meet these fellows’ requirements for manhood nevertheless succeeds — and succeeds in a field they have claimed as their own stomping ground — the play is de-masculinize him (by their silly definition of “masculine”) as much and as quickly as possible. In other words, they try to demote that man. They’re trying to demote me from manhood, because manhood, in this formulation, is really the only thing that matters.
This, unsurprisingly, leads to the next reason they dislike me:
7. Because they can’t actually do anything to me. In point of fact, I can’t be demoted by them, either out of my manhood, or out of any other advantage I have. After all their blathering and whining and conspiracy theories and nasty mean awful snarkings, they have changed precisely nothing. Look, I’ve been on the receiving end of this nonsense literally for years, and none of it — none of it — has ever made a single material difference in how I’ve led my life, how my career has advanced, or how I do my work on a day-to-day basis. Nobody cares. Literally no one cares.
When faced with this sort of general impotence, the response appears to be: Try harder. Well, again: I wish them joy. It won’t matter to me.
8. Because of envy. This one is pretty obvious in some specific cases. I’ve been pretty successful despite being a mewling coward of a gamma, whereas some of them have been notably unsuccessful at nearly everything they’ve done despite being awesome supergeniuses who are always thinking sixteen steps ahead, so tremble when I walk amongst you, puny humans. To which my response is: I’m sorry your life has turned out so poorly for you, but this is not really my problem, and also, I wish you would stop trying to make it my problem.
9. Because I refused to recognize that they were right about something that one time, or several times. This is also specific to a couple of people who thought they were pretty good with that whole arguing thing, and were making points that were clearly self-evidently correct, and were non-plussed when I noted that they were not self-evident, and also, they couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag. Clearly in these cases the problem was not their positions or their inability to elucidate them in a coherent manner, but that I was mean. Unsurprisingly, people who think they are right about most things more often than not appear to hold long grudges against people who point out they’re often not right, and not right more often than they would like.
10. Because of tribal identification. At this point there’s simply a small cadre of people who have decided that the world is against them — or have decided that it’s a smart career move to convince other people that the world is against them — and moved to hook in a bunch of other like-minded folks to create a tribe. When doing something like this, it’s nice to have something for the tribe to exercise their daily two-minute hate against. For this cadre, at this moment, these things include a non-existent political and social movement they’ve created in their heads, the awards this non-existent political and social movement supposedly control, and me, as a titular icon of this non-existent political and social movement.
If you’ve been convinced to join this tribe, this is great — you’ve been pointed in a particular direction, given your instructions, and now all you have to do is follow the steps. That the steps are silly, based on nonsense and are, in the case of me at the very least, liable to effect nothing, is almost aside the point. The point is: membership. Belonging. And something to hate, or at least dislike.
And again: If it gives these people joy to dislike me, it’s no skin off my nose. I’ll be doing my own thing. I do think it’s sad, however. I hope eventually they decide that they have better things to do. There are, indeed, so many other, better, things to do with one’s life. Let’s hope they figure out what those things might be.
Welcome to the weekend — and to get you started, here’s a nice stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Tell me in the comments which ones excite your “gotta have it” neurons.
My old glasses prescription was going out of date, so I went to get a new pair. I ended up getting three pairs instead.
This is my new general set of glasses. It looks generally indistinguishable from my previous set of glasses, because I liked how they looked on me. They’re progressive lenses, which is the same as having bifocals but less obvious so you don’t have to acknowledge that you’re getting old.
These are my computer glasses, which is to say a pair with a fixed focus distance roughly in line with how far I sit from my computer screens. I got these because when I use my progressive lenses at my desk, I ended up doing a lot of neck craning to be able to see the screen (not a good idea) and/or taking my glasses off and parking my face a couple of inches in from the screen (not a good idea either). Now I can type rather more comfortably. Considering how much time I spend sitting in front of a computer, this is a positive turn of events.
And obviously these are sunglasses. These are also single-distance, designed for far distances since I will use them primarily for driving lounging about on a beach, where close vision will not be at a premium. These glasses have a nice Matrix-y vibe to them. Now all I need is a long leather duster (note: I will not be getting a long leather duster).
For those about to ask: My optometrist didn’t think I was an especially good candidate for contact lenses, because of the need for progressive lenses and because of a specific astigmatism that I have, and as for Lasik, well, I think lasers and eyeballs are a bad mix. So: new glasses! Three pairs! And there we are.
I made some awesome cookies, and by “made” I mean “combined ingredients that other people have already made to make them even better in combination.” And you can too! Here’s what you do.
Get with Trader Joe’s Ultimate Vanilla Wafers, Biscoff cookie spread, and Dandies vegan marshmallows. I suspect the recipe will work just fine with any brand vanilla wafer, cookie spread or marshmallow, but in my opinion these are the ones that taste the best (and yes, vegan marshmallows taste really good, or at least Dandies do), so these are the ones I suggest.
Get out three or four pairs of wafers.
Put a healthy (but not ridiculous) amount of cookie spread on each wafer.
Put a marshmallow on half of the wafers.
Complete the assembly.
CONSUME THE DELICIOUSNESS.
Seriously, these are waaaaaaaay tastier than you would think, and you would think they’d be pretty damn tasty. It’s the synergistic effect of wafers and cookie spread and marshmallow.
Now, I hear some of you saying “But, John, what you’ve got there is basically a modified s’more of sorts, so shouldn’t you cook the marshmallow first? I’ve anticipated this question, and while I did not create a campfire to toast the marshmallow, I did take one of the completed cookies and slap it into the microwave to gooey up the middle.
Verdict: It is also delicious this way, but you’re only going to want to nuke that cookie for about five or six seconds because the marshmallow expands to dimensions both comic and messy. Also, any longer than that and the wafer starts to lose its crispness. I personally prefer the unnuked version, but I wouldn’t stop you from eating it this way if such was your joy.
Enjoy your cookies. They are fabulous.
For her new novel Cold Iron, author Stina Leicht took inspiration in one of the genre’s foremost practicioners — but then gave that influence just a little twist. What’s the twist? A change of location.
About eighteen years ago, I happened upon an essay about the evils of Fantasy. In it, the author declared the whole genre to be inappropriate for Americans because it glorified feudalism. I was, I admit, taken aback by the audacity of that generalization. Largely because, well, Fantasy is a broad genre. It doesn’t only consist of stories about Joe Bob the lowly peasant farmer boy who finds the magic [sword/ring/stone] and goes off on an adventure with a mysterious [ranger/thief/wizard/bard/fighter] and thus, not only saves the kingdom from the [evil wizard/evil empire] but discovers he’s a long lost [prince/king/powerful wizard] who was foretold by the ancient [chronicles/fortuneteller.]
Fantasy outgrew that template sometime around 1986 with Terri Windling’s Bordertown anthology. I’m pretty sure the likes of Charles de Lint, Ellen Kushner, Emma Bull, and Midori Snyder weren’t writing about how glorious it was to be the king. Nonetheless, there was a time when that template was in force, and to be honest, that was what drove me out of Fantasy for a while. So, I understood where that came from… to a degree.
Just not in 1994.
At the same time, that essay made me think about Fantasy’s origins. J.R.R. Tolkien is the father of Fantasy, and J.R.R. Tolkien was a British author writing mythology for the British people. Of course, feudalism features heavily in his work. And that was when I asked myself the question that got me started writing Cold Iron: What would Fantasy look like if Tolkien had been American?
First, I set up my imaginary world in the end of the eighteenth century. North America existed before that, of course, but after some thought, I decided upon the late eighteenth century anyway. Mind you, I didn’t restrict myself to that period. I wanted The Malorum Gates to be a secondary world fantasy. Middle Earth is. So, I pulled ideas and technology from a forty year period… say 1770 through 1810. In addition, Tolkien, although he was using medieval sources, chose to give his characters modern dialog. Therefore, I did too. Tolkien’s elves were primarily Finnish. So, my kainen are Scandinavian.
Tolkien also used Middle Earth to discuss the realities of war—realities that had deeply affected him, specifically World War I. For me, that meant dealing with themes from the Vietnam War.
I’m not, nor have I ever been a soldier. Still, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t affected. You see, I was a child when the Vietnam war played out on national television. It was on the news every night. I didn’t understand how much that affected me, a GenXer, until Hollywood began making films about the war. Frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to watch any of them because they brought on panic attacks. It was so bad that it wasn’t until 1995 that I could bring myself to watch Full Metal Jacket, and I still haven’t let myself see The Deerhunter. You don’t have to be a soldier to be affected by war. Being human is enough.
I’ve always been a bit of a hippy. I don’t believe that wars solve problems. I believe they create them. Even as a child I was conflicted. I agreed with the protesters about ending Vietnam. However, I absolutely did not agree with how they often treated soldiers. Subsequently, Nels and Suvi, two of my main characters, live in a nation (Eledore) that claims to abhor war. The kainen of Eledore fear death. There are reasons for this, but it’d be spoiler-y for me to tell you why right now. Just understand they don’t even talk about death, not directly. They pretend everyone lives forever. Soldiers carry a death taint. Therefore, when Nels takes up weapons to defend himself and a few villagers from raiders, he’s made an outcast, and his sister assumes his place in the leadership of Eledore.
Oh, sure, there are certain tropes I couldn’t bring myself to give up on—as you can see. Epic Fantasy kind of has requirements or it doesn’t feellike Epic Fantasy. However, Eledore will one day be a democracy, and it will be repopulated with immigrants… eventually.
Like every other astronomy nerd, I’m super-geeked about all the pictures and data we’re getting from the planet. The only thing I have to add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said that for some reason the photos we’re getting back from New Horizons feel drawn or painted to me, rather than being entirely photorealistic. In fact, they remind me quite a bit of old drawing of Mars, not unlike this one, from 19th Century French astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot:
It’s probably only me who sees it, but I still see it. I think it has to do with New Horizons’ camera, which among other things is adapted to see in very very low light (Pluto is very far away, and we’re looking at the side of it not illuminated by the sun). I like the effect, mind you. But it weirdly makes Pluto still very much mysterious to me.
Thoughts on our Pluto sojurn?
Here’s something fun:
As many of you know, I wasn’t always a novelist — my very first job out of college was as a film critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper in central California. I had spent most of my senior year of college doing freelance music writing for the Chicago Sun Times and New City magazine, and during the second half of that year I sent my resume out to newspapers all over California (my-then home state), looking for a music critic gig. I was rejected everywhere, except for the Bee. There, the Features Editor, Diane Webster, called me on the phone and said to me, “We already have a music critic, but we’re looking for a movie critic. Do you think you could do that?” To which I said, “Yes. Yes, I could.”
But they need proof that I could, so that very night I went to the local theater and bought a ticket for whatever movie was about to start showing. That movie: The Silence of the Lambs, about which I knew next to nothing. When it was done, I walked back to my apartment and wrote the review which follows. After this review and a couple others (for the Oliver Stone-directed biopic The Doors, and the utterly forgettable Michael Keaton film One Good Cop), I got flown out for a face-to-face interview. And then after that I got the job.
I thought it might be interesting for you all to see what I wrote like, when I was twenty-one years old and desperately, desperately trying to get a job as a movie critic.
What do I think of the review now, after nearly a quarter of a century? I think it shows that editors are good things; it’s too long, for for the length the review should have been, and for newspapers (it’s over 1,000 words; in the actual gig I was lucky to get 600). I gives away too much of the plot and particulars. It reads like I was trying to ape Roger Ebert (mostly because I was, him being a very good writer, and also the film critic I read the most). Also, and I think obviously, I’m trying to show off.
But there are good points, too. I also think the review is fairly observant, has some good turns of phrase, and largely accurate about the strengths and weaknesses of the film. I wouldn’t write this review now, but I don’t disagree with what I wrote then. The good news for me was that all the review’s weaknesses were solvable by subtraction, rather than by addition — which is to say, fixable through editing rather than requiring additional training. Which was ideal for the daily newspaper grind.
In any event, here is me at twenty one, writing about The Silence of The Lambs. Enjoy.
The Silence of the Lambs. Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Written by Ted Tally from the book by Thomas Harris. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Rated R.
The most horrifying creatures in the world don’t wear hockey masks or wield chainsaws. The most horrible creatures in the world are composed and cultured. They take the time to build a convincing front of civilized behavior. They’re the type of people you’d have over for dinner, without realizing they’re planning to make you the main course. The subtle monsters.
This is why the most chilling monster in “The Silence of the Lambs” is not the serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who has earned his nom de mort through his habit of skinning his female victims, but Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an absolutely civilized and erudite psychiatrist incarcerated in a Baltimore institution for the criminally insane because of his unseemly taste for human flesh.
The first glimpse of him is enough to send a shock down the spinal column. Lecter stands at the end of a corridor of howling madmen, politely and contritely awaiting a visitor. He’s beaming a knowing smile that is not quite predatory.
Lecter’s visitor is newly-deputized FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who has been pulled out of her training by her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). Crawford needs insight into the mind of Buffalo Bill, insight that Lecter, both a psychiatrist and a serial killer, is in a unique position to give. Crawford believes that the sight of Clarice might entice the uncooperative doctor to open his mouth. The last time Lecter saw a woman was eight years ago, and he opened his mouth then only long enough to gobble up her tongue.
But Lecter isn’t interested in Clarice’s body. He’s more interested in her soul, the only part of her that he can get at through his glass cage. He offers her a deal: He’ll dole out views into Buffalo Bill’s mind. In return, she’ll answer any question he asks. Starling, who is only slightly more ambitious than she is terrified, accepts, figuring she can hold her own against Lecter and puzzle out the Buffalo Bill murders from Lecter’s cryptic utterances. She’s half right.
“The Silence of the Lambs” revolves around the twisted symbiosis of its two main characters. Everything else, including the nominal objective of tracking down Buffalo Bill, takes a back seat to the electrifying dialogue between Lecter and Starling. Director Jonathan Demme courts disaster grandly; if either of his main actors failed at their challenge, his film would have collapsed like a house of cards. Fortunately, Hopkins and Foster are up to the challenge. When they are both on the screen (usually photographed by Tak Fujimoto in extreme closeup), the movie cracks along.
Jodie Foster, in particular, deserves special mention. Foster’s Starling is not nearly as flamboyant as Hopkins’ Lecter, but in many ways she is more impressive. There have been many believable psychopaths before Lecter. Starling, however, is the first action heroine in recent memory who a) isn’t required to put herself in tight clothing and b) doesn’t need a man to get her out of trouble. Starling may have been chosen for her task by Crawford for her sexuality, but that criterion is ignored by Lecter in favor of her overlooked mentality. It’s ironic that the only male Starling is supposed to entice is the only one who treats her like a fully-functional human being.
Foster’s grounded Starling gives Hopkins’ Lecter room to fly. Hopkins chews scenery with nearly as much enthusiasm as his character chews on a human liver (accompanied, he tells Starling, with “some fava beans and a nice Chianti”). Hopkins plays Lecter as the ultimate subtle monster, so polite, so engaging, and so utterly possessed of an unholy need to devour.
Lecter probably woudn’t consider himself a cannibal. It’s just that there are so very few human beings out there. Certainly not Jack Crawford, who Lecter guesses wants Clarice for his own. Certainly not Ruth Martin (Diane Baker), mother of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim, and the unwitting agent of Lecter’s grand escape. And most certainly not head psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), whose petty digs at Lecter include blasting evangelistic television at him twenty four hours a day. All these “people” would be lunch meat in under thirty seconds, if Lecter wasn’t tightly bound up at all times.
The only person in “Silence” who is totally safe from Lecter’s culinary idiosyncrasy is the only one who deals with him fairly: Starling, who is bound by agreement to be totally honest and open with him. Lecter feeds on that honesty like manna from heaven. After one particularly harrowing confessional scene, which explains the title of the movie, Lecter sits back, eyes closed, with a look of such grateful sensuality that it crawls the skin. Hopkins controls that crawl masterfully, jacking it up to chair-gripping tension for as long as he owns the screen.
The Starling-Lecter scenes are so powerful that they almost cover up the fact that the rest of the movie is only average, as suspense movies go. Buffalo Bill, the other murderer, is hardly the menace Lecter is. He can’t even keep his latest victim (played with admirable feistiness by Brooke Smith) from getting the upper hand on him. On the level of plot, the devices which allow Starling to track Buffalo Bill down aren’t very well explained; she manages to end up in his living room on the barest of clues.
Before we can argue the point too much, Starling is thrown into a final confrontation with Bill, who stalks the novice agent in the dark with a pair of night finder glasses. The scene is a beautifully-shot nail-biter, but the loose ends are never quite tied up. The suspense in this suspense film peters out, unfulfilled.
These shortcomings and short cuts keep “The Silence of the Lambs” from being an unqualified success. They take nothing away, however, from the very fine performances of Foster and Hopkins, and the unforgettable character of Hannibal Lecter, the subtlest, and best, movie monster in years. Novelist Thomas Harris hasn’t closed the book on this character. It’d be interesting to see where he goes.
Here you go.
Close up of the crawdad, say? Very well, here you are:
Also, I found this, too:
I don’t know what kind of fish it is. I call it a “yard trout.”
Both of these things were perfectly alive, incidentally. The yard trout was slightly beached on the grass, however; I gently pushed it back into the “river” with my toe and it swam away in the direction of the creek down the road.
You find such interesting things in your yard after heavy rains, I have to say.
This is my backyard at the moment, illuminated by lightning courtesy of the ridiculous thunderstorms coming through the area, and long exposure times. The big muddy river-looking thing is in fact a small river of water coursing through my yard, put there by a massive downpour that’s overwhelmed the yard drainage system. Don’t worry, we’re fine; we’re on a hill and the land directs water away from the house in any event. But it’s pretty impressive.
Here’s a view looking down toward the road, which at the moment is entirely flooded. Fortunately, we don’t have anywhere to go right now. We’ll stay here in the house and see if the rain lessens any. If it does, by the time we wake up in the morning most of this water should be gone. And if it’s not, well. Good thing I work from home, I guess.
We re-graveled the driveway.
For those of you who don’t live in rural parts, when you have a long dirt-based driveway (as we do), in time that dirt can develop ruts and potholes and otherwise become difficult to drive on. To avoid that, and to give the driveway an overall consistent driving experience, we pay a dude to come and drop several tons of gravel on the driveway with a dumptruck that distributes the gravel in a consistent orderly fashion. The gravel also gives you traction (useful in winter) and allows for drainage (useful the rest of the time). Plus, it’s cool, in a “feel like you’re five” sort of way, to see just an unfathomably large load of crushed rock being poured out onto the driveway. Even Lopsided Cat is impressed!
So, yeah: Gravel. It’s a thing.