Reader Request Week 2016: Get Your Requests In!

Next week is the only one in the reasonably near future where I know I’m going to be home all week long and I won’t have a deadline of some sort looming over my head, so — hey! Let’s do another Reader Request Week!

For those of you just catching up, Reader Request Week is something I do annually, where you suggest topics for me to write about, and I pick from the requests. What topics can you request? Well, anything: politics, social stuff, personal questions, silly things, things you wish I’d talk about but never do, and so on. Whatever topic you want to request, go ahead and request it. I’ll sort through the requests and start posting my responses, starting Monday, March 21.

While any topic is up for request, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, when you’re making your topic selections.

1. Quality, not quantity. Don’t just splotz out a list of very general topics you think I should cover; I’ll likely ignore it. I’m much more likely to respond to a request that is thought-out, specific and requests something interesting. Give it some thought, is what I’m saying.

2. Writing questions are given a lower priority. Because I write about writing all the time, don’t I? That said, if you ask a really interesting question or make a particularly intriguing request involving writing, I will consider it. Just know the bar is higher here.

3. Don’t request topics I’ve recently written about. I’ve included the last five years of Reader Request topics below so you can see which ones are probably not going to be answered again. That said, if you want to ask a follow-up to any of the topics below, that’s perfectly acceptable as a topic. Also, for those of you wondering how to make a request, each of the posts features the request in it, so you can see what’s worked before.

How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it).

Please don’t send requests via Twitter/Facebook/Google+, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.

I really enjoy Reader Request Week, because it often lets me write about things that I wouldn’t think to write about — it stretches my mind, which is fun for me, and hopefully leads to interesting posts for you too. So, please: Make a request! Let me know what you want to know about, here, from me.

And now, the topics from the last five Reader Request Weeks (you can click through to see the actual posts):

From 2011:

Reader Request #1: Children and Faith
Reader Request #2: The End of Whatever

Reader Request #3: Middle Ages Me

Reader Request #4: Old Man’s War and the Best SF/F Novel of the Decade

Reader Request #5: Taking Compliments

Reader Request #6: Sociopathic Corporations

Reader Request #7: Unruly Fans

Reader Request #8: Short Bits ’11

Reader Request #9: Writery Bits ’11

From 2012:

Reader Request Week 2012 #1: Snark and Insult
Reader Request Week 2012 #2: Would I Lie to You?
Reader Request Week 2012 #3: Why I’m Glad I’m Male
Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof
Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods
Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out
Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame
Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2012 #9: Writery Short Bits

From 2013:

Reader Request Week 2013 #1: Further Thoughts on Fame and Success
Reader Request Week 2013 #2: Regrets
Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures
Reader Request Week 2013 #4: College Education (And Costs Therein)
Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan
Reader Request Week 2013 #6: Intuition
Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid
Reader Request Week 2013 #8: Whatever Topics and Comments
Reader Request Week 2013 #9: Women and Geekdom
Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits

From 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

From 2015: 

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not
Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux
Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women
Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me
Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans
Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement
Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass
Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

So: What do you want to know this time around?

The Big Idea: Sonia Orin Lyris

If you think about it, there are practical issues to seeing the future. This fact was not lost on Sonia Orin Lyris, and in today’s Big Idea, she delves into some of those issues and what they mean for the characters in her novel The Seer.

SONIA ORIN LYRIS:

In the opening scene of The Seer, I attempted to transcend one of my favorite cliches: in the darkest hours of the night, in a blustering storm, comes an urgent pounding on a weather-beaten door.

I wanted to start by addressing something that has been nagging at me for years: high fantasy’s tendency to not include women and babies and young children. Do we think them too fragile and vulnerable to be a part of the main action? Is that the problem?

Hmm, I thought. We’ll see about that.

Inside the shack is a mother, an infant child, and a young girl. The man at the door has wealth and power and weapons. He wants answers.

When I pick up a book, I want to travel somewhere. I want to sink into the author’s world and see through the eyes of the people who live there. As an author, it is my job to make that journey come alive. For myself and for my reader. So I make it as real as I can.

In our real world, women have sex, get pregnant, and have babies. Food must be procured. Diapers must be changed. When they choose, the powerful — unless restrained — take advantage of the weak.

Let’s go there, I thought.

I discovered that the young girl inside the shack, named Amarta, sees into the future. I looked around the wretched, poor hovel in which they lived, and I had all kinds of questions.

If she can see the future, why isn’t she rich? What does her family think of her? How does it feel to glimpse what will come?

Who is she?

I wrote The Seer to find out.

It was quickly clear to me that, given how useful a genuine seer would be to those in power, one of the major challenges Amarta would face would be pursuit and capture. I was intrigued by all the ways that might play out.

To make the story plausible, Amarta’s ability had to make sense in all the circumstances in which she found herself. Her ability would have to change as she changed, to mature as she did. Not only the content of what she was foreseeing, but how she understood herself in the context of her culture, family, and purpose.

So many questions arose for me. How does her foresight work? Does knowing the future change it? What can she do with this ability?

Can it be stopped?

Then I slammed into the hardest problem that a precognitive character brings to a story: if she can see into the future, what kind of story conflict is realistically possible? That is, why wouldn’t she simply foresee the problems and avoid them, like any sensible precognitive person?

That was when I started muttering, “What have I gotten myself into?”

There were more challenges yet. I came to realize I had stepped into a very large pile of metaphysics; if someone can see the future, this implies significant truths about the nature of reality, truths that ripple out across this created world. The genre doesn’t matter — I could be writing high fantasy or science fiction or mainstream — or poetry — and I would still have to make decisions about causality and determinism, and how information affects the physical. All those decisions expand out into the world, story, and characters.

And again, I found myself staring at the question: why didn’t she just see this coming?

The answer turned out to be both simpler and more complicated than I expected.

I have a passion for creating characters who are smart and insightful. Far smarter than me, if I can manage it, and more capable, too. This meant that any question I had about Amarta’s precognitive ability, someone else in the story would also be having. Similarly, any test or strategy I could devise to understand or track her, someone else would also be devising.

This, it turned out, was part of the answer; everyone concerned with Amarta was asking the same questions I was.

That was when it all started to come together for me, when I realized that the questions themselves were central to the story, and that the story would answer them in its own good time. As those around Amarta came to understand her better, they would react. They would have new questions. They would change. Nothing would be static.

And Amarta was not standing still either.

So, then: why couldn’t she simply avoid the problems that faced her?

Well, sometimes she could. Sometimes not.

She’s not a machine, you see; she has desires and passions, fears and dreams. How does a character with foresight, immersed in the consequences of what happens around her by virtue of her ability to foresee it, figure out what she wants in the first place?

If you can see the future, what choices are left to you?

If you can see the future, do you even want to see it?

In the end, I realized that the questions surrounding Amarta’s choices were universal questions: what do we want, and what are we willing to do to get it?

The answer also lay in an old adage: the map is not the territory. Regardless of what we understand, in our past, our present, or our future, we always understand through the lens of what we want, the way we see ourselves in our world, and the coalescing experiences of our lives. The best map in the world will not prevent us from getting lost, because it is, after all, only a map, and the territory is never its equal.

At one point in the book, someone asks Amarta this: “Are you ever surprised?”

“All the time,” she replies.

Yeah. Me, too.

—-

The SeerAmazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site and blog. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Voice of the People

I mocked this a bit on Twitter already, but I want to mock it some more here, and also, make a somewhat more serious point. This, found on Facebook, is in reference to my post yesterday about voting for Kasich in the Ohio primary (poster anonymized to avoid the appearance of me maliciously pointing people toward some random schmuck):

So, a few points here.

1. Democrat: Nope.

2. Socialist: Bwa ha ha ha hah ha! No.

3. Disdain for uneducated and “unwashed” whites: Folks, we all know I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from high school (not to mention college), yes? And that I’m white? When you describe the uneducated and “unwashed,” you’re describing my family and where I come from. I can be called many things, but “self-hating” isn’t one of them. It’s certainly true that I am neither uneducated nor “unwashed” now, but you never do forget your past. At least I don’t.

4. Self-designated elite: You know, generally speaking, the “self-designated elite” is better described as Republicans than Democrats (or independents), especially if one is speaking economically. Demographically speaking (white, bachelor’s degree, heterosexually married, well-off), it’s certainly true that someone like me is more likely to be a Republican than a Democrat. I don’t know that I would call folks in my general demographic “elite”; they’re just white, college-educated, heterosexually married and well-off.

Be that as it may, given that someone like me is generally more likely to be an “establishment Republican” than not, and Kasich is pretty well what passes for an establishment Republican these days, then someone like me voting for Kasich is actually fairly unexceptional.

5. Ohio law allows me (or anyone else) to ask for a ballot from either party when I vote in the primary, so I’m confused as to how my asking for the GOP ballot would “take away the voice of the people.” When I asked for the Democratic ballot in the primary eight years ago, was I taking away from the voice of the people then as well? Or is it different when it’s the GOP ballot? If so, how so? And if in both cases the State of Ohio allowed me to ask for either, and the State of Ohio’s government is elected by the people, then is not the ability to ask for either ballot also the will of the people?

6. Who the fuck died and put this petty little ignorant shitbird in charge of determining who “the people” are? Even if I were a Democrat and a socialist who self-designated myself as the elite and hated uneducated and unwashed white people, I would still be “the people.” This petty little ignorant shitbird is also “the people,” as personally depressing as I may find that fact. On election day, if he wanted to vote and had a flat tire, I would drive this asshole to the polling station myself so that he could pull the proverbial lever and possibly cancel out my vote.

Why? Because this petty little ignorant shitbird should vote, and so should I, and so should you, provided you are legally able to. We are all “the people” and the people — as many as possible — should decide who leads them, and who should not.

Now, this petty little ignorant shitbird may stamp his feet and whine that I didn’t vote the way he wanted, waaaaaaaaaaaaah, but one, fuck this dude, I’ll vote how I want, and two, sometimes we don’t get our way and that’s life. I’ve voted in seven presidential elections to date; I didn’t get what I wanted in three of them. In the entire time I’ve lived in the OH-8 congressional district I’ve never voted for a winner for the House of Representatives; it’s unlikely I ever will, in point of fact. Should I mewl like a petulant child about that fact, querulously complaining that the “voice of the people” has somehow been blocked because I didn’t get what I want? No, I should probably suck it up and move on.

Why did John Kasich win in Ohio? Because the voice of the people spoke, and what it said was “We want John Kasich (oh, and also Hillary Clinton, kthxbye).” What comprised the voice of the people? In the case of the Ohio GOP primary, lots of folks, including me, presumably him and 1,952,683 others. That’s a lot of voices in “the voice of the people.”

I get this dude is sad that the voice of the people didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. No one likes to hear the word “no.” But it doesn’t mean the voice of the people was wrong in what it said, or not actually the voice of the people. How wonderful for us.

Clinton and Sanders and Trump and Kasich and Also a Bit About Cruz and Rubio

Well, that was an interesting Tuesday night in American politics, wasn’t it? A few thoughts about it.

1. First, sympathy for Sanders supporters out there, who after last week’s emotionally satisfying win in Michigan — even if Clinton ended the night with a net gain of delegates thanks to Mississippi — had to deal with their candidate going 0-5 in state results last night. To be fair, there’s still a small possibility that Sanders might pull ahead in Missouri once absentee votes are tallied in, but after the other results of the evening, winning by the thinnest possible margin in a single state is the political equivalent of “playing for pride.”

However and more importantly, Clinton yet again expanded her pledged delegate lead. Leaving out Missouri for the moment, Clinton netted more than 100 delegates over Sanders in the other four states voting last night. Given the closeness of the Missouri race, and the proportional nature of delegate allocation in Democratic primaries, it doesn’t matter if Sanders eventually squeaks out a win there — Clinton still ends the night with a triple-digit delegate gain.

2. I had someone on Twitter last night say, yes, well, but Florida is a closed primary state where Clinton was favored; okay, but she also took Ohio by 13 points, and that’s an effectively open primary (technically “semi-open”). I do see some Sanders supporters pinning hopes of victories based on whether a particular state has caucuses or open primaries, which is fine, but it’s a bit of fetish thinking. There are four types of primaries and caucuses: Open, closed, semi-open and semi-closed. Leaving out semi-closed caucuses (only one state has that and hasn’t voted yet) Clinton has won contests in every format but open caucuses; Sanders has won contests in every format but closed primaries. I’m not sure Sanders can rely on voting format to save him.

Even if he did, a) the next set of contests features a closed primary (Arizona) with the largest delegate count of the evening, and Sanders hasn’t won any of those yet, and there are nine more of those including New York and Pennsylvania, b) there are only two more open caucus contests left (that being the format Clinton hasn’t won in yet). So, uh, yeah. That math doesn’t look great for Sanders.

Ultimately Sanders’ problem isn’t format, it’s that he doesn’t win enough contests (nine to Clinton’s nineteen), doesn’t win enough big states (he’s won only one contest with more than a hundred delegates; Clinton’s won six), and the one big contest he won, he won by a slim margin (49.8% to 48.2%) meaning he netted only a few pledged delegates over Clinton (four). Meanwhile Clinton’s pledged delegate net in the large state contests she’s won is 218 over Sanders.

3. But Sanders can still take it! Well, as a matter of pure mathematics, sure. As a practical matter involving real voters in real states and territories going to actual polling stations or caucuses, it’s pretty much over at this point. It’s not to say that Sanders can’t or won’t win more states; I suspect he will. But the question is will he ever catch up in the pledged delegate count, and the answer is, that’s going to be a hard row for him to hoe. Someone on Twitter last night suggested that they said the same thing about Obama in 2008, and look where he is now. But on March 16, 2008, one, Obama was ahead of Clinton in the pledged delegate count, not the other way around, and two, as a matter of percentages, Obama and Clinton were substantially closer than Clinton and Sanders are now — Clinton had 92% of the pledged delegates Obama had then; Sanders has 72% of the pledged delegates Clinton has now.

And while we’re considering this, bear in mind we’re only talking about pledged candidates here, not superdelegates. With superdelegates, Clinton is already two thirds of the way to the magic number of 2,383 delegates needed for the nomination. Adding in Sanders’ superdelegates, he’s 35% of the way there. Superdelegates can change their mind between now and the election, but if I were a Sanders supporter I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Again, it’s not impossible for Sanders to win the nomination, but at this point it’s gone from “unlikely” to “really goddamned difficult.”

If my Twitter feed is any indication, I suspect a number of Sanders supporters have begun the grieving process — the disbelief that Sanders lost Ohio (it was supposed to be like Michigan!), the glumness of looking at the Florida result, the glimmer of hope in Missouri, extinguished as Clinton ground out a .2% victory. As I noted before, I have sympathy for Sanders supporters. It was not a good night for them. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, have to be feeling pretty good.

4. On the other side of things, oh, hey, look, John Kasich won Ohio! Which is nice, and deprived Trump of its 66 delegates, which means for the first time since early February, Trump is below his Fivethirtyeight delegate tracker number, that being the number of delegates he needs to clinch the GOP nomination ahead of the convention. He was at 104% of that number going into the evening; now he’s at 96% of that number. As someone who voted for Kasich basically to achieve this very goal, I feel I had a vote well cast (note well, this number may not include his Missouri delegates).

Not, mind you, that I think Kasich can win the nomination; some folks have suggested that he would have to win 110% of the currently available GOP delegates from here on out to do so, and, well. That would be a stretch, wouldn’t it. Nor do I think Cruz will get it either; Fivethirtyeight has him at 54% of his delegate goal. At this point, and despite Cruz’s self-lathering nonsense suggesting he could win the nomination outright, Cruz and Kasich are in the race to keep Trump from hitting his delegate number, forcing a contested convention.

At which Trump is already hinting there will be riots if he isn’t given the nomination! One, bless his heart. Two, he’s not wrong, especially if Trump is close to the number of delegates he needs going in. The sort of folks willing to cold-cock protesters at rallies aren’t folks who will be willing to let some back-room bureaucrats snatch their man’s rightful nomination out of his famously not-short fingers. It’s of course keeping with Trump’s personal idiom to give a speech last night about the party needing to come together, and then this morning strongly hint that his people are going to wreck shit if they don’t get their way. Congratulations, GOP! Your frontrunner is a classy dude.

5. That said, let me go out on a limb and suggest Trump is going to hit his number. Why? Because Ohio was a semi-open primary, which meant people like me, who don’t normally vote in the GOP primary, were able to cross the line and do so, and it appears that a lot did — there were 1.6 times as many voters in the Ohio GOP primary last night than in the Democratic primary, at least some of which were folks like me voting against Trump. Which is nice, but there’s only two more open primaries on the GOP docket (Indiana and Wisconsin) and one open caucus (American Samoa). The rest of the contests are closed or semi-closed, limiting the number of people willing to save the GOP from itself. From here on out it’s up to GOP voters to do it.

And will they? Unclear. There have been four closed primaries so far, and they’ve split half for Trump and half for Ted Cruz (who, to be clear, is not exactly an optimal alternative). The closed caucuses have also split between Trump and Cruz (and Minnesota and DC for Rubio). As most of the upcoming contests are winner-take-all, Trump wouldn’t have to share most of his delegates when he wins, so if he wins, even by a tiny margin, he still leaps ahead.

Trump is going to win more, and it seems likely to me that Cruz and Kasich, the other guys in the race, will probably eat each others’ lunch to Trump’s benefit. One of them should probably drop out if at this point they really aim to stop Trump. Kasich is the obvious one to drop, since he has no chance to win the nomination outright, and because Cruz won’t, no matter what; he’d rather push an entire troop of Girl Scouts under a bus than give up his run. Also there’s the matter of who are Kasich’s supporters at this point. He presumably would pick up whoever was still voting for poor Marco Rubio. Those three people won’t help him.

On the other hand, Cruz is an overripe pustule of hateful need who deserves to be dropkicked into historical oblivion, and the rest of the GOP primary schedule doesn’t really match his political strengths, so maybe he should drop and let Kasich roll as the sane alternative to Trump. But again, Cruz has no intention of leaving the race until the race leaves him. So onward Trump will likely go, to the nomination.

6. And what about Marco Rubio, who exited the race last night? Honestly, I can’t be bothered to think of him any further. He was always underready, and the fact that the GOP ever seriously considered him as their answer to Obama is a reminder that the GOP neither understands Obama nor understands anyone who isn’t white as paste. Look! A young ethnic person! The kids love that! Surely we shall win the White House now! Meanwhile, Rubio’s politics were those of a conservative 73-year-old white dude shaking his cane in the yard at the kids riding their bikes in the road (Cruz’s politics are the same, except the 73-year-old is also praying for God to send a bear to rip the children to shreds). Dear GOP: Voters do pay attention to policies and positions, not just packaging. Which is why (among other things) an old white man is more popular with under-30 Democratic voters than his opponent.

But now Rubio is gone, and good riddance. He’ll soon be gone from the Senate as well, and where he goes from here I have a complete lack of interest, so long as it is in the private sector and I never have to deal with him again. I’m sad for the GOP that he was their Great Establishment Hope for ’16, and that what we have left is Kasich, who has no chance, Cruz, who should have “well, actually” in blinking neon over his head, and of course Trump, the walking embodiment of political nihilism and sub-standard cuts of beef. The GOP deserves no better than this, but our nation certainly does.

The Big Idea: Lavie Tidhar

World Fantasy Award-winning author Lavie Tidar came up with a awful, terrible, no-good idea for a novel — and then wrote it anyway, resulting in A Man Lies Dreaming, which then went on to garner starred reviews in the trades, award nominations and wins, and the sort of glowing praise writers dream of. What’s this awful, terrible, no-good idea, and why did Tidhar decide to write it anyway? The answers await you below.

LAVIE TIDHAR:

The idea is simple: what if a disgraced Adolf Hitler was working as a lowly private eye in 1939’s London?

But I should backtrack.

Ideas are easy. Bad ideas are easier still. And as far as ideas go, this must be one of the worst. This was certainly the reaction of my agent, when I mentioned it to him – a slightly shocked expression followed by genuine laughter. That’s the thing I like about my agent – he gets it, even when it sounds (as my work often does to him) ridiculous.

“Write it!” he said. “No one will buy it, but you should write it!”

So let me backtrack a bit more. . .

Around 2011, I was living back in London. It was a cold winter. My novel Osama, which had been rejected by more publishers than I could count, was finally coming out from a small publisher in the UK. My Bookman Histories trilogy was finished and delivered, and I was out of contract, out of cash, and I didn’t have a coat. A lot of this, I suspect, would feed into the book later. . .

I was figuring out what to write next. At the time, I was trying to work on a difficult book which would eventually become The Violent Century. It was an act of faith, since no one was lining up to buy it, but it felt worthwhile, and so I struggled on. I don’t actually know why some books are so hard to write, while others feel natural, easy. But I remember the moment when A Man Lies Dreaming came. It was around one o’clock at night. I was reading one of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels. They’re excellent crime thrillers about a private detective in Nazi Germany, sometimes difficult to read but generally brilliant. In the novel (I forget which one), Kerr makes a throwaway mention to the idea that Adolf Hitler could have himself become a private eye. A light pinged in my head.

It was the very ridiculousness of the idea that I liked. It was the sort of idea that is so offensive, so tasteless, that I would be terribly offended if anyone ever did it…

Which is why it appealed to me, I think. I thought, if anyone might actually get away with something like this, it could be me. I don’t mean this in a hubristic sense. But the Holocaust features large in my life. My family died in Auschwitz. My mother was born in a refugee camp in Germany, after the war. If anyone could do this – and I didn’t know if I could! – then it just might be me.

I remember being very excited about it. Then I tried to forget all about it.

Of course I didn’t want to write it. It was a ridiculous idea, an unsellable idea, and moreover it would require me to walk down a pretty dark path to reach it. So I put it away.

I worked on The Violent Century. In the meantime, to my surprise, Osama had picked up a few award nominations. It ended up winning a World Fantasy Award a year later, just a week after I’d finally finished the manuscript of The Violent Century – which quickly sold to Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.

All of this was pretty unexpected.

I tried not to work on “the Hitler book”. Occasionally the subject would come up, and people would laugh, and shake their heads. I tried to work on the next novel, but nothing worked. Meanwhile, on the sly, I was acquiring books. Hitler’s childhood. Hitler and women. Mein Kampf (my God, is there a book more unreadable than Mein Kampf?). Then the manga version of Mein Kampf. . . Hitler became a constant presence – Hitler the abused child, Hitler the starving artist in Vienna, living in an attic with his friend Gustl, Hitler the young soldier suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. . . Hitler, in fact, before he became Hitler.

Hitler was not a monster. None of us are. He was a person who had become monstrous by his actions, and I felt it was imperative for me to understand Hitler, to get into his head.

Let me say this: it’s not a particularly pleasant way of spending a year of your life, living with Adolf Hitler.

I didn’t want to write the book, but nothing else was working, and Hitler was everywhere, staring at me from the shadows, a fedora over his head: a bitter, unknown, raging Hitler, a man who history had passed by, a loser now eking a meagre living on the mean streets of London.

So I gave in.

It was late one night. The entire first draft was written at night, between midnight and 3am, very quickly and intensely. I remember that night, sitting at the computer, itching to get rid of him. I thought, I’ll only write the first line. It’s been stuck in my head for a long time, so long that it’s become a mantra. It was a line in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, in fact, whose casual anti-Semitism had arrested me for years.

No one would have to know, I figured. I’d just write it and then… move on.

So I wrote: She had the face of an intelligent Jewess.

And I couldn’t stop.

It’s been bottled up for so long that it all came out. My hero, “Wolf”, sitting in his office above the Jew baker’s shop. Outside the prostitutes are gathering in Berwick Street. The night is full of eyes, watching. And a glamorous Jewish woman, Isabella Rubinstein, comes waltzing into Wolf’s office with the offer of a job, to find her missing sister…

I couldn’t stop. I’m not sure I spoke to anyone much during this time. Hitler’s picture stared at me from the desk. The story unfolded, a dark comedy, a detective noir novel, an alternate history… take your pick. And all this while, grounding this lurid tale of shund, or pulp, was its possible narrator – Shomer, a Jewish pulp writer trapped in Auschwitz, the dreaming man of the title – a man seeking an impossible escape.

A Man Lies Dreaming, it seems to me, is several things. It is an argument about escape, about the power or futility of fantasy. It’s an argument began in Osama, continued in The Violent Century, and concluded here. Is escape possible – for any of us?

It is also, I think, a dark comedy. Humour underlines the horror, and humour has been an important part of survival, even during the worst times of the Holocaust. I loved writing Wolf – his impotent rage, his increasing hysteria, his endless rants. There is nothing funnier, after all, than a Hitler without power. “Do you not know who I am?” Wolf rages, at some point – and of course, by then, no one does.

At the same time, A Man Lies Dreaming is grounded in the contemporary. It is written at a time when Europe’s anti-immigrant rhetoric terrifyingly echoes the 1930s. Wolf’s London does not welcome immigrants, and Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts are marching in the streets, chanting slogans that eerily echo today’s. . .

. . . in the event, I did manage to get A Man Lies Dreaming published. It wasn’t particularly easy, but my editor at Hodder was incredibly supportive, and the book came out in late 2014, was nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and won me my first literary fiction prize, the £5k Jerwood Fiction Uncovered. It’s just come out in Italy, where they seem to like it. . . and it’s out now in the US from Melville House. The bad joke that was “Hitler: P.I.” had turned into the book I am most proud of having written – even if it’s damaged me in the process.

—-

A Man Lies Dreaming: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Hell Yes I’m Voting for Kasich Today

Today is primary day in Ohio, and on the GOP side of things this election is a “winner take all” sort of affair — whoever gets the most votes in the GOP primary gets to take all 66 of Ohio’s GOP delegates to the Republican National Convention, which this year, as it happens, will be in Cleveland.

As a voter, I’m registered as an independent, i.e., not of either party, so on most primary election days when I go to pick up my ballot, I usually get to vote only on some local non-partisan stuff. However, if one so chooses, Ohio allows one to ask for a party ballot. Eight years ago, if memory serves, I asked for one for the Democrats. This year, I’ll be asking for the Republican ballot, because this year I want to vote for Ohio Governor John Kasich in the GOP primary.

More specifically, not only do I wish to vote for Kasich in the GOP primary, I also specifically wish to vote against Donald Trump. My vote will be only one of hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions, depending on the turnout), but this year, I think voting for Kasich, and against Trump, is the very best use of my vote today.

Why? Well, you know. Because Trump is an active danger to the body politic, a fatuous demagogue who is far better at inciting racist anger for laughs than articulating any policy position beyond a two-sentence bluster at the stump. There’s no doubt that the Republican Party went out of its way in the last several election cycles to bring about someone like Trump as a successful candidate, and because of it there’s no doubt that it deserves Trump and everything he brings with him. But the rest of us don’t, and Trump is already doing damage outside of the party.

To put it another way: The GOP has been a sloppy drunk for years, and this year it’s sprawled on the couch, shitting its own pants and moaning horribly. And whether or not everyone else thinks that this is what the GOP deserves, from a moral point of view you have to take its keys and keep it from getting on the road and possibly killing others as it swerves through traffic.

John Kasich, as I’ve noted before, is not a person with whom I have much in common, in terms of positions. He’s much more conservative than I like, is terrible for the rights of women and workers, and would generally exasperate me as president. I don’t want him in the job. But for all of that, Kasich is not a horrible person, inciting other people to be as awful as they can possibly be. He has respect for the idea of constitutional government and its checks and balances, and genuinely seems to believe — within the limited scope of conservatism these days — that government can do some good. No one is punching anyone at a Kasich rally, nor is he offering to pay the legal fees of the assaulter. No one is throwing out Nazi salutes. No one is spewing racial epithets.

If Trump were not the GOP front runner at the moment, this would be another year where I would take the non-partisan ballot. I’m sanguine about the Democratic side of the race; I’d be fine with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the general so I don’t feel the need to weigh in on that. Let the Democrats sort that out. Generally speaking in most years I feel the same about the GOP side: Not my circus, not my monkeys. If this were just Kasich and Cruz and Rubio at this point, I’d make popcorn and enjoy the show.

It’s not. Trump is, I feel, a legitimate danger, both in who he is as a presidential candidate — an inchoate, grasping, insecure, angry and ignorant blowhard — and in his encouragement of the worst aspects of America that have dredged themselves out of the muck and attached themselves to his mess of a campaign. Not everyone who supports Trump is a horribly racist piece of shit, to be sure. Trump himself didn’t make the conditions of legitimate economic anxiety that he’s tapped into for his campaign. But people who are horribly racist pieces of shit have found support and encouragement from Trump, and revel in the legitimacy he’s offering.

So here’s the question: When you have the opportunity to vote against someone who you see as both the worst major party candidate in your lifetime and an actual danger to your country, on many levels, do you take it? My answer: You’re goddamned right you do. It’s more than just an electoral choice. It’s a moral imperative. And as a bonus, I’ll vote for a person whose presence in the general election will not fill me with disgust. I’ll take that.

Will this stop Trump? Certainly my single vote won’t, although if Kasich wins Ohio, it becomes that much harder for Trump to win an outright majority of GOP delegates, and if he doesn’t do that, then the GOP national convention is likely to be interesting as hell. Nor am I under the illusion that, save some truly fantastic legerdemain at the convention, Kasich will be the eventual GOP nominee. I do suspect when all is said and done, Trump will either be the GOP nominee, or the electoral calisthenics required to deny him the slot will tear the GOP right in half.

But if he is the GOP nominee, it won’t be because I slept on my chance to say “Hell, no” to him. The best case scenario is the that I only have to vote against him once. But if necessary I’ll be delighted to vote against him twice (the worst case scenario would be voting against him three times). I’m hoping for just once, suspect twice. But either way, voting against him is a thing I’ll be doing.

Does this mean I think everyone in Ohio should be voting in the GOP primary, against Trump (and for Kasich)? No, I think people anywhere, not just in Ohio, should vote their conscience. My moral calculus isn’t the same as everyone else’s, or possibly anyone else’s. I would be happy if at the end of the evening Trump was fourth in Ohio, and pretty much everywhere else; it would mean a great number of voters agreed with me that the man was an electoral nightmare and should be stopped. I’m not exactly holding my breath.

But again, this isn’t about what others do. It’s about what I do, with my vote. And my vote today is for Kasich, against Trump.

The Big Idea: Adrian Selby

Writers write in the first person all the time, but what does it mean to do so when you’re trying to develop a world? It’s a question that mattered for Adrian Selby for his fantasy novel Snakewood. Today, he explains why.

ADRIAN SELBY:

“My name’s Gant and I’m sorry for my poor writing.”

So begins chapter one of my debut epic fantasy Snakewood.

As I planned out the book I fretted a great deal over how to immerse readers in the lands, cities and lives of the world of Sarun, in which the story is set. I recalled how vividly I daydreamed myself into Middle-earth as a teenager, following paths and roads hinted at in the texts but never walked. Tolkien’s were the first of many books I would admire over the years that followed for their ability to transport me utterly to an unfamiliar, magical place.

These are the books that made me miss my bus stop and left me dazed as I walked into the office, trying to tear my brain away from Thomas Cromwell’s poignant, tender caress of his daughter’s angel wings (Wolf Hall) or the faerie-soaked fields of Edgewood (Little, Big) and back to those essential first steps of a new day – kettle, teabags, email.

So when I started writing Snakewood, I thought, what do I need to do to deliver that level of immersion?

Of course, I needed to build a vivid world, and a magic system that integrated with that world, defined it and its many cultures. The wider reality of life being lived needed to crowd the edges of the story, but no further. I wanted also, like every writer, to make it so that the reader feels the scuff of boot, the scratch of stubble or the smell of a mortal wound.

The obvious answer to the latter was to go first person; put the reader behind the characters’ eyes, seeing what they see. There’s a marvelous directness to first person – a mainline into their feelings and thoughts – bringing the reader down from the sky of the omniscient narrator into the streets and fields.

But it was after reading James Joyce, Irvine Welsh, and especially Peter Carey’s True History Of The Kelly Gang that I realized the subliminal tension present in any first person narrative: the author is, necessarily, speaking for the character. It’s pure ventriloquism. No character’s internal monologue picks out the world and the speech of others so as to create just this story, using just these details, to engross, challenge and entertain. The authors I mentioned above, like so many others, have experimented with that act of ventriloquism – Joyce with stream of consciousness in Ulysses, Welsh with the strong, literal vernacular of Trainspotting. Carey played with the words and grammar so as to make it seem as though he wasn’t there at all, that this was Ned Kelly’s own hand. To wit:

“… a man might be a bank clerk or an overseer he might never have been lagged for nothing but still he knew in his heart what it were to be forced to wear the white hood in prison he knew what it were to be lashed for looking a warder in the eye and even a posh fellow like the Moth had breathed that air so the knowledge of unfairness were deep in his bone and marrow.”

More than ever before or since, I felt as though the author had disappeared. Ned Kelly was speaking, unable to express his feelings eloquently or write them down properly. The lack of eloquence was perfect, and at one point in the book, hugely moving. I loved it.

If Snakewood is a ‘found footage’ collection of narratives to be written ‘in their own words’, then Gant, as a poorly educated mercenary soldier, should struggle to express himself too. Gant’s narrative is central to the novel, for he is its emotional anchor, its principal ‘good guy’ and the great joy and challenge of writing it.

Every writer should be terrified of what they’re about to do when they start a book. I was terrified at the thought of writing a limited third person narrative with consistent, but not perfectly consistent, grammatical flaws on top of all the other things I needed to get right. It was the most challenging part of my attempt to disappear as an author; hoping that Gant, and the other narrators, would come through more purely. I wanted the characters of Snakewood to immerse you in their story and their world. Not mine.

—-

Snakewood: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

I’m In the Mood For a Huge Chunk of 80s-Flavored Cheese

How about you?

I mean, there is nothing about this video that is not 80s. It may be one of the most 80s videos ever. That hair! That synth! That hair! Those clothes! That hair!

The Thing About That Photo From the Trump Rally

First, the photo, and my commentary about it on Twitter:

(Here’s a direct link to the photo on the Chicago Tribune site if for some reason you can’t see it.)

The problem with that photo is not that someone is giving the Nazi salute at a Trump rally. Neither Trump nor any of the other presidential candidates can be accountable for the actions of a single person at one of their events. The problem with the photo is at this point no one is surprised that someone is giving the Nazi salute at a Trump rally. And this is something that Trump can be held responsible for: That his own positions and actions have made an environment where someone feels letting rip with a Nazi salute is a perfectly okay thing to do.

Which is not to say that the right (and the GOP specifically) wants to own this. One of the first things the trolls* did on Twitter is try to suggest the woman in the photo (identified by name and city of residence by the Chicago Tribune, as one does as a matter of standard journalistic practice) was a supporter of Bernie Sanders named Portia Boulger, thanks to a photo showing Ms. Boulger with roughly the same hair as the woman in the photo — apparently to these folks, all older, gray-haired women look the same. Sadly for them, Portia Boulger’s current haircut is shorter and she can account for her whereabouts last night. But this doesn’t stop folks on the right looking for someone, anyone, else to blame.

Well, no. Sorry, guys, but the right spent decades blowing dog whistles. Now that you’ve got a candidate who has graduated from a dog whistle to a bull horn, you shouldn’t be surprised when some of his supporters decide that thank God it’s time to stop being politically correct and fling out fascistic symbolism in this new, accepting environment. Disavowal is difficult when the difference between Trump’s tactics and the ones the right has been using for numerous election cycles is in degree, not kind. You get to own this one. Enjoy it.

(*It appears that one of the first trolls to do this, winning a retweet from Donald Trump, Jr., was Vox Day, noted eater of crayons. If the Trump folks really want to put some daylight between themselves and the forces of willfully incompetent bigotry, this is a poor way to do it. It also reaffirms that if you’re really determined to make an ass of yourself in public, associating yourself with Vox Day is a very fine way to make that happen.)

New Books and ARCs, 3/11/16

And now, to usher you into the weekend: Look! New books and ARCs! Which of these tomes speak to you? Share in the comments.

Black Tide Rising eARC Now Available

As some of you may remember, I co-authored a short story to go into the Black Tide Rising zombie apocalypse anthology, edited by John Ringo and Gary Poole, which will be out in bookstores on June 7th. But if you just can’t wait that long, you should know that Baen Books, the publisher, is offering the “eARC” for sale right now, which you can download and stuff into your e-reader of choice. In addition to my story, co-written with my friend Dave Klecha, the anthology also features stories by John Ringo, Eric Flint, Sarah Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael Z. Williamson and the proverbial “more.”

The story Dave and I wrote is called “On the Wall,” and it features two characters, named “Dave” and “John,” who are standing watch on a compound wall during a zombie apocalypse, talking about life, the universe, and zombies. You know, as you do when you’re standing watch on a wall during a zombie apocalypse. It was fun to write, and nice to have it wanted for this anthology.

Also, it’s my first story involving zombies! And that’s something. Check it out if you like, in eARC or when the anthology is officially published in June.

(As a minor postscript, I saw a discussion of the eARC online where someone was wondering why my bio for the anthology was one sentence long when the other author bios were generally longer. It’s because the bio I sent in to the editors was one sentence long. That’s all. For the record, my editorial experience on this anthology was perfectly lovely.)

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bonesteel

How is solving a crime like debugging a computer program? Elizabeth Bonesteel knows — and uses that knowledge for her novel, The Cold Between. Here she is now to tell you.

ELIZABETH BONESTEEL:

I worked as a software engineer for a long time. For the most part, it was great fun: I was being paid to solve puzzles. And although the more lucrative career paths involved software design and implementation, I always had the most affection for debugging. There is something about immersing yourself in reproducing a problem, walking through the code, frowning over it, coming at it from different angles until you have that ah-ha! moment of clarity. 90 percent of bug fixing is figuring out what the bug really is; at that point, the solution usually becomes obvious.

But sometimes that moment of clarity shows you far more than you wanted to see. Sometimes that moment of clarity makes you realize that the entire design is faulty, that the software is misrepresenting its data, lying to its users. What started out as a small, niggling bug becomes a massive rewrite. And it usually starts with breaking the news to someone above you who really doesn’t want to hear it.

Debugging is black-and-white. The solution may be convoluted and heuristic and gorgeously creative, but debugging is straightforward: Find out what is making the software do this bad thing it’s doing.

The real world, of course, is less easily unraveled.

Far in the future, humanity has reached out into the galaxy. Faster-than-light travel is ubiquitous, and terraformers allow otherwise desolate planets to be colonized. Central Corps, the military branch of the government unifying the colonies, spends more time with diplomacy and humanitarian efforts than armed conflict. We have survived our checkered history of violence, wandered into the stars, and arrived at a point where most of us live in peace.

And people are still murdered.

Commander Elena Shaw has seen death by starvation, death by accident, death in battle. But the murder of one of her crewmates — on one of the colonies they are pledged to protect — is a new one, and she doesn’t take it well. When it turns out the local police have arrested the man she was in bed with at the time of the murder, she takes it worse — and determines to fix the problem.

Elena is a mechanic. She’s a debugger by nature. She’s spent her entire adult life in the safe bubble of regimented Corps life, keeping starships running, fixing them when they break. When her crewmate is killed, she resorts to the problem-solving skills she has honed for years. She speaks to the police because she knows they are operating on invalid information. Her expectation is that once she corrects their inputs, they will release the wrong person and find the right one.

But people are not machines. Nor are political structures, as it happens, and that’s what throws her off. Providing her lover with an alibi should solve the problem, but the police don’t function the way she assumes they should. Her fix doesn’t work, because she’s misidentified the bug.

Back up, reassess the problem.

Only every time Elena reassesses the problem, she sees more cracks, more fissures, more false fronts and misrepresentations. And the smaller problem of who killed Danny becomes entangled with the unexplained destruction of a starship 25 years earlier — and possibly the threat of galactic war.

Elena is focused and determined, and entirely unable to admit the possibility that there might not be a solution after all. As everything she’s believed in falls apart around her, she clings ever more strongly to the hope that if she finds the truth, she’ll be able to put it all back the way it was.

The other possibility is more than she’s willing to face: that the life she knows and loves may be built on lies. People are not machines, and some things cannot ever be repaired. Sometimes the bug is fatal. And in her case, it’s not that the people above her don’t want to hear it — it’s that they might already know.

—-

The Cold Between: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Michigan and Mississippi and Those Other States Too

Thoughts on last night’s political festivities:

1. Wow, the pollsters surely humped the proverbial bunk last night in Michigan, didn’t they? Hillary Clinton was in most polls up by double digits in the state against Bernie Sanders, and yet at the end of the day, Sanders squeaked by with a victory, 49.8% to 48.3%. What’s interesting about it is that the news stories I’ve seen have been like “Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in Michigan raises an urgent question for her campaign: What went wrong?” when the ledes should be “All the polling in Michigan for the Democratic race has been horribly inaccurate: How did the pollsters blow it so badly?” I mean, with the possible exception of her own internal polling, Clinton’s not exactly responsible for the polling being egregiously wrong, is she? That’s on the actual pollsters themselves. If the polling had been accurate, then the closeness of the Michigan Democratic results wouldn’t have been surprise. This is a reminder that simulations and polling are just that: Simulations and polling. You still have to run the election.

This does put Clinton on notice that she can’t pivot to Trump yet; she still has to beat Sanders, and maybe she shouldn’t take that as a done deal just yet. A useful reminder to be sure. But it should also put the rest of us on notice that, hey, guess what: In this political season, no one knows anything. I mean, everyone got Michigan so wrong I’m glad I was well ahead of the curve reminding people I’m often wrong about political stuff. But this does mean that no one should be genially blithe about the predictions for next week in Florida and Ohio (and all those other states that will be having elections, as if they matter, hmph). The pollsters have shown that when it comes to the Democratic races, at least, they’re currently working on an immense margin of error.

2. With that said, a reminder to justifiably happy Sanders supporters that Clinton ended last night with 18 more pledged delegates than Sanders thanks to her blowout of Mississippi, where she won 24 delegates to Sanders’ three, and because in Michigan she won 58 to his 63, thanks to the closeness of that race. Overall, Clinton is 214 pledged delegates up, and the gap, so far at least, continues to stretch in Clinton’s favor.

Sanders’ problem is that generally speaking, when Clinton wins, she’s won with larger margins than Sanders does when he wins, and (of course) she’s won more states than he has. To mix sporting metaphors, Sanders’ wins are mostly three yards and a cloud of dirt, while Clinton’s wins mostly are triples and home runs. It was a surprise Sanders won Michigan, and that’s energizing to his campaign, and justly so. But he netted only five more delegates out of the state than Clinton did. If he doesn’t start winning some big states with wider margins, he’s just not going to catch up.

Will he? Well, you know. Before last night you could look at the polls and say, oh, probably not, but today, knowing how gloriously the pollsters whiffed in Michigan, you can say, who knows? I don’t think he will — I suspect next Tuesday he’s probably going to lose Florida by a large margin and if he wins other states, he’ll win them by margins like we saw in Michigan. Which means, again, he’ll be further behind in terms of delegates.

But then, what do I know? Apparently, as much as anyone else as regards the Democratic primary races, which appears to be: Not much! It certainly makes for exciting times. The good kind of exciting, mind you, not the scary oh fuck how could this actually still be happening exciting on the GOP side.

3. Speaking of which: Three states and 73 delegates last night for Donald Trump, one state and 59 delegates for Ted Cruz, and pretty much dick for Marco Rubio, who finished the night with one (1) delegate to his tally, or, 16 fewer than John “I’m only in this to win my home state” Kasich. Yes, yes, the #NeverTrump express is chugging right along, my friends. They are blunting his momentum so hard! As a fellow named Max Berger archly noted on Twitter: “It’s somewhat ironic that the GOP will be destroyed by a billionaire against whom they couldn’t figure out how to collectively organize.”

FiveThirtyEight notes that Trump is currently at 106% of the delegate count it thinks he needs, momentum-wise, in order to get the GOP nomination in the free and clear. Inasmuch as Ohio and Florida are winner-take-all states for the Republicans, if he wins either of them next week, it’s a much harder slog for Cruz (realistically the only one who can catch him, although he’s only at 69% of his target count). If he wins both, everyone else in the GOP better start praying for a bolt of lightning to strike Trump dead.

Yet again, the GOP’s problem is that it wants desperately to stop Trump, but unfortunately the voter base it’s cultivated for years to accept a candidate just like Trump is doing what it’s been trained to do. And while the irony is delicious, it has a horrifying aftertaste because it doesn’t change the fact that barring divine intervention, Trump and his fascistic shitshow of a campaign are going to the general election. So, you know, again: Thanks for that, GOP.

(And while I’m at it, GOP, thanks so much also for having the only barely viable alternative to Trump be Ted Cruz, a bipedal mound of pig offal that yet manages to form words. When we’re done with this election, we’re going to have a talk, you and I. Depend on it.)

4. Hey, Scalzi, you ask, do you think the GOP will actually fracture because of Trump? The more I think about it the more I think “no,” because of several reasons. One, and what should be most obviously, the actual people who vote GOP seem to be just fine with Trump. Say what you will about the fact he’s running the most overtly racist and horrible campaign in modern history, but at the end of the day he’s the front runner because he’s earning the votes and delegates. He’s playing by the rules the GOP set up and he’s winning (and don’t think that at this moment the GOP doesn’t wish that it had borrowed that “superdelegate” idea from the Democrats).

Two, the question to start asking is not whether the GOP hates Trump more than Cruz, but whether it hates Trump more than Clinton, or Sanders. Let’s stipulate that the GOP in general hates Clinton with an unholy passion, out of muscle reflex if nothing else. A quarter century of intense dislike of a single person (and her husband) is hard to shake. As for Sanders, they don’t have the same institutional hatred of him as they do of Clinton, but, look, he’s an actual goddamn socialist, or something close enough that the sort of person who thinks Barack Obama is as pink as a Swedish daycare will lose their ever-lovin’ mind about living in Sanders’ America (I’m coming back to this in a minute).

So I submit to you that the average GOP establishment type, confronted with the choice of Clinton or Sanders, or Trump, is going to suck it up and vote for Trump. As Josh Marshall put it, #NeverTrump is actually just #EventuallyTrump, and just as Cruz and Rubio and Kasich stood up there on that podium and after excoriating Trump for two hours and said they would vote for him in general, so will the GOP folks currently holding their head at the shonda that is Donald Trump do the same.

So, no, I don’t think there will be a fracturing, and Clinton and Sanders (but mostly Clinton) are the reason. You might have people sit out; you might even have GOP folks hold their nose and secretly (or not so secretly!) vote for Clinton or Sanders in the general. But I suspect one way or another the GOP holds together. Whether this is a good thing for them in the long run is a discussion for another time, that time, I imagine, being the comment thread.

5. To follow up on this thought in more detail: For the Democrats/liberals in the crowd, I suspect that in general election, an advantage that Clinton has, that Sanders does not, is familiarity — not to the people who like her, but with regard to the people who don’t. I think the vast majority of Clinton’s potential negatives are already baked into her public persona, whereas Sanders’ negatives have yet to be played with in a general sense.

What do I mean by this? I mean that everyone who is going to hate Clinton — for her political positions, for her gender, for her public demeanor, for her husband, for Vince Foster and Benghazi and her email server — probably already does. There aren’t really too many surprises left there. She’s a known quantity for everyone.

Sanders, on the other hand, represents a whole lot of opportunity on the part of the GOP and its various allies to scaremonger and to have that scaremongering be a significant part of the Sanders’ public persona. I mean, come on: If you don’t think the GOP isn’t going to have a field day with the socialist thing, for starters, you haven’t been paying attention to what the Republicans have been about for the last three decades. The Republicans haven’t been very good at government for a long time (in part because they don’t really want to be), but they are just fine at scaring old and/or angry white people, thanks very much, and they’ll be more than happy to fill them in on all the terrible things they don’t know about Sanders.

(And if you don’t think Sanders being a Jew won’t matter in the election, remember who Donald Trump retweets. Be assured the GOP as a party won’t go anywhere near that, and I say that with no wink or nod whatsoever; The GOP knows enough to steer well clear of anti-semitism. But also be assured that Sanders being a Jew, and a Jewish socialist, will be a topic of “conversation” anyway for a fair number of the folks who will be voting for the GOP candidate, particularly if the candidate is Trump.)

This is not to say scaremongering is fated to work. After all, Barack Hussein Obama, Black Muslim born in Africa, was elected twice as president, with majorities both in the popular vote and in the electoral college. But it does mean that there’s more room for Sanders scaremongering to do unexpected damage, because it’s new to the general electorate. The scaremongering on Clinton goes back to the early 90s. It’s stale, and it has a hard ceiling and floor. We don’t know the ceiling and floor on the Sanders scaremongering yet. And that’s a real factor to consider.

Catching Up With New Books and ARCs, 3/8/16

I’m a little behind on showing off the new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound, so today, here are two — yes, two!! — stacks of new books and ARCs for you peruse and lust after.

And you say, wow, now you’re all caught up, right? Nope, because here are the books that came in the last couple of weeks that I have yet to take out of their packaging:

So guess what I’m about to do. Yes, I know. My life is hard.

So, see any books in the first two pictures that are calling to you? Tell me which ones they are in the comments.

Become a Midnight Star: Renegade Beta Tester!

I mentioned the other day that Midnight Star: Renegade, the sequel to last year’s Midnight Star video game, is on its way, and will be a bunch of fun to play for mobile gamers. But as it turns out, you don’t have to take my word for it — Industrial Toys is looking for a few good beta testers to help it polish the game and get it ready for a mass audience. One of those beta testers could be you.

Are you interested? Then head to this page and use the sign-up link. That will get you on the game mailing list and have you put into the pool from which they will select beta testers. You can also tweet a link to the Beta test page (put the @industrialtoys Twitter handle in your tweet, so they can see it); if you do you’ll be entered into a raffle for a beta test key. All pretty easy.

So that’s it: Hit the link, sign up, and good luck!

The Wilicious Burrito

Some of you may be aware of the existential battle that Wil Wheaton and I are currently engaged in, involving burritos. I am of the opinion that anything you place into a tortilla, if it is then folded into a burrito shape, is a burrito of some description; Wil, on the other hand, maintains that if it is not a “traditional” burrito, with ingredients prepared as they were in the burrito’s ancestral home of Mexico, is merely a “wrap.”

While this argument will likely never be resolved and Wil and I will forever be on opposite sides of this magnificent and important debate, it does mean that I occassionally troll him with burritos that don’t meet his stringent, prescriptive requirements. And yesterday, after such a discussion, I told him that one day soon I would make a burrito with mayonnaise in it, name it after him, and shoot a video of me consuming it live.

Today, my friends, is that day. Enjoy.

Update: Wil’s “rebuttal”:

A Political Disclaimer, 2016: I’m (Sometimes) Wrong

I’m seeing a fair amount of pushback, on the site and off it, to my suggestion the other day that in the wake of Hillary Clinton inevitably winning the Democratic nomination for President, a certain number for “BernieBros” will ragequit and find their way over to the Donald Trump camp. Well, two things here:

1. When Clinton does take the nomination and the first news stories about former BernieBros stomping over to Trump in a miasmic haze of disillusionment and sexism start cropping up, you know I’m going to feel smug as shit;

2. Hey, you know what? I could be wrong. And not just a little wrong but wildly out to lunch, in a profound and impactful way.

And in the case of number two there, that’s perfectly okay.

Folks, here’s the thing: When I’m writing about politics, I am (and this should be obvious) writing about it from my own perspective, which is limited both by the amount of political information I have coming in to the Scalzi Compound (and, not trivially, by the amount of time I have to think about it, considering I’m also currently writing a novel and have several other projects going), and by my own thought processes and biases. Stuff goes into my head, it rolls around in there a while, and then it comes out through my fingertips onto this page. Sometimes it might look insightful to you. Sometimes it might look like I’m snorting ketamine and cocoa powder at the same time. Sometimes it might be both!

This makes me, I should note, not better or worse than most people who comment on politics, all of whom have the same constraining factors as I do. And in politics, it should be noted, it’s not always the case that long standing in the field means one’s opinions are anything close to accurate — Shit, Bill Kristol has made a living being a pundit for decades, and he’s been spectacularly wrong on so many things for so long that it’s actually news when he gets something right. This is the open secret of being a political pundit: No one cares if you’re correct, they’re just happy when you agree with what they’re thinking. Pundits exist to ameliorate the political version of “buyer’s regret.” Yes! You did okay in falling in with Hillary/Trump/Whomever! I am a person of note confirming your choice! Well done!

I’m not a professional political pundit (at least, not at the moment), and even if I were I wouldn’t have a problem saying the following: In my political thoughts and opinions, I’m not going to always get everything right. Nor will others always agree with what I’m suggesting or how I developed my thinking process to get there. This political season I’ve already been wrong about Trump (who I expected to have peaked long before now), Sanders (who I didn’t expect to be as much of an influence as he’s had), Bush (who I assumed would be in the lead) and Rubio (who I expected to be washed out in Bush’s wake). I will be wrong again! Just you wait.

My only defense on these matters is that I’m no worse off than pretty everyone else who pundits, almost all of whom have been impressively wrong in any number of ways. I mean, show me the pundit who said three months ago that at the beginning of March, the size of Donald Trump’s penis would be a talking point on a GOP debate stage. I will follow that pundit to the ends of the earth, because he or she has a terrifying but true vision of the future, and I’ll want to know when to head to the bunker.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care if I’m wrong when I prognosticate politically. I really do try to make sense, and to reflect reality as I see it. But, again, I don’t know everything or project accurate from the data I have and I acknowledge that’s a thing. I’ve been wrong. I am wrong. I will be wrong again. I’ve also been right, am right and will be right again, too. Hopefully more of the latter than the former. We’ll see.

In any event, this is the disclaimer: My political crystal ball is cloudy, just like everyone else’s. Take what I have to say with the appropriate grains of salt, just as you should with everyone else. Be prepared for me to be wrong from time to time, just like anyone else.

And when you think I’m wrong, feel free to tell me why you think that in the comment threads. You might even be right.