Today I went on a date with my wife, wrote something I liked, and got a pretty sunset out of the day. 2017, you’re off to a decent start. Keep it up!
Today I went on a date with my wife, wrote something I liked, and got a pretty sunset out of the day. 2017, you’re off to a decent start. Keep it up!
As we begin 2017, there is something I’ve been thinking about, that I’d like for you to consider for the new year. It starts with a famous quote, the best-known version of which is from Martin Luther King, but which goes back to the transcendentalist Theodore Parker. The quote is:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In the main I agree with that quote. There are things about it, however, that I think many of us elide.
The first is the word “long.” I think both Parker and King understood that moral endeavors can be measured in years, decades and sometimes centuries. This is not an argument toward complacency; indeed I think it’s an argument against defeatism and fatalism in the face of setbacks and stalemates. We live in moments and days and it’s often hard to see past them, and it’s easy to believe when we are struck a hard blow that all is lost. All is not lost. The arc is long. Nothing is ever fully decided in the moment or the day. There are years and decades and sometimes centuries yet to go. The arc continues to bend, if we remember that it is long, and that we need to imagine it extending further.
We need to imagine that because of the second thing: The arc is not a natural feature of the universe. It does not magically appear; it is not ordained; it is not inevitable. It exists because people of moral character seek justice, not only for themselves but for every person. Nor is the arc smooth. It’s rough and jagged, punctuated in areas by great strides, halting collapses, terrible reverses and forcible wrenching actions. There are those, always, who work to widen the arc, to make that bend toward justice as flat as they can make it, out of fear or greed or hate. They stretch out the arc when they can. If people of moral character forget the arc is not ordained, or become complacent to a vision of a smooth, frictionless bend toward justice, the work to flatten the arc becomes that much easier.
Right now, today, here in 2017, there are those working very industriously to flatten out the arc. They have lately seen little penalty for their hate, or their dissembling, or their disdain or greed; they have contempt for justice other than a cynical appreciation of its features when and only when it is to their advantage; they don’t care for anyone or anything outside the close horizon of their own interests. They have won a moment; they have won a day. They will try to win more than that, now, however they can, flattening the arc with hate and fear and greed.
On this day, in this year, in our time: Help to bend the arc back.
As you do, there are things to remember.
Remember the arc is long. It’s not one moment or one day or even a year or four years, even when that moment or day or year seems endless.
Remember the arc is not inevitable. It needs you. You are more important than you know, if you don’t give in to despair, to complacency, or to apathy. Add to the moral weight that bends the arc toward justice. You can’t do it alone, but without you the work becomes that much harder.
Remember that those who are working to flatten the arc hope you give up and give in. They are relying on you to do just that. Disappoint them. Disappoint them in big ways. Disappoint them in small ways. Disappoint them each day, and every day, in all the ways you can. Do not consent to this flattening of the arc.
Remember finally that this arc toward justice never ends. We are human. We are not perfect. We will not arrive at a perfect justice, any more than we will achieve a perfect union. But just as we work toward a more perfect union, so too we bend the arc toward justice, knowing the closer we get, the better we and our lives are, as individuals, as communities, as a nation and as a world. This is a life’s work, not just work for a moment, or day, or year. You won’t see the final result. There isn’t one. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters now. It matters for you. It matters for everyone.
It’s a new year. There’s work to be done. I hope you will do it, and that you find joy in the work.
See you on the arc.
Let’s end 2016 on a high — or at least, humorous — note, shall we? Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is now out and available! The limited, signed hardcover edition (of which there were 1,500) is now almost entirely sold out, so if you want that version, you should order it directly from Subterranean Press, and quickly. Fortunately, electronic editions of the book are cheap(!) and plentiful(!) at online retailers:
For those of you who are still unaware of what Miniatures is about, it’s a collection of my very shortest fiction — no story here over 2,300 words — with a focus on the humorous and science fictional. The stories span a quarter century of my writing, from 1991 to 2016, and the collection features four stories that have never before been published. It’s gotten some nice reviews from the trades:
“Scalzi readers will find these refreshingly concise tales delightful” — Library Journal
“Verging on the silly, but on the whole, quite amusing” — Kirkus
“Lighthearted and amusing” — Publishers Weekly
In short, if you like science fiction and also laughing, the ebook of Miniatures will be a very fine use of $6 out of your holiday gift cards.
And now, to take your questions:
Is it available internationally? I know it’s out in Canada right now, and I think it will available elsewhere, it’s just a matter of the title winding its way through retailer processing queues.
Will there be an audiobook version? Yes! It’ll come out on Tuesday. I’ll post on that specifically when it comes out.
Who did the fabulous, fabulous artwork? Why, that would be Natalie Metzger. She did the cover and internal art, and it’s all wonderful. Please hire her for all your artwork needs. She also has a Patreon. I was super pleased that she agreed to work on Miniatures. It’s a better book because she did.
Why are you releasing Miniatures on New Year’s Eve and on a Saturday? Because we wanted to!
Isn’t that unusual? Yes, generally speaking in the US, books are released on Tuesdays, and not on a holiday (or the eve of one). But this isn’t actually the first time I’ve had a book released on December 31 — The God Engines came out on News Year’s Eve, 2009, also from Subterranean Press, and that did pretty well. And of course Old Man’s War came out on January 1st, 2005. So the end/beginning of the year is a good time for my books, I would say. And also, I wanted a book out in 2016. And here we are.
Is this your first short story collection? In fact, it is — well, if you don’t count The Human Division and The End of All Things, which I guess technically are collections of short fiction, but I tend to think of them as serial novels. So it depends on how nerdy on definitions you want to be. Let me put it this way: I think of Miniatures as my first official short story collection. I think you should, too.
Will there be more short story collections? Maybe! We’ll have to look at schedules and see what works. But that’s for the future — right now we have Miniatures, and it’s good.
I hope you’ll pick up Miniatures, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I think we could all use a good laugh these days. I think you’ll find at least a couple here. Happy reading!
And here it is: The final stack of books and ARCs for 2016. Is there anything here that calls to you? Tell us in the comments!
2016 was, globally speaking, and to put it mildly, not the best of years. I will not be sad to see it go. But it’s worth it to remember that no year is entirely irredeemable. People have been passing around this list of 99 reasons 2016 was a good year, and I think that it’s a useful reminder to people who are feeling beat down by the last 360-some-odd days.
I think it’s also useful to remember in a year like this that there were good things in one’s personal life too, when they were there, and are in danger of being overshadowed by the overall tenor of a year. So, with that in mind, here are some reasons 2016 didn’t entirely suck, at least for me. Again, this is in no particular order, and not a complete list, merely a representative sample.
1. I wrote a novel I really like (that would be The Collapsing Empire) that I can’t wait for people to see.
2. I released my first short story collection ever (Miniatures! Which officially comes out tomorrow! Wheeee!).
3. Redshirts won an award in Israel, so that’s pretty cool.
4. The Dispatcher was the #1 audiobook on Audible for two weeks (two? Maybe three?) and in the top ten for two or three more, and while I’m not supposed to say specifically how many copies were downloaded, I am allowed to say “six figures” is accurate. Plus, it was read by Zachary Quinto, and how awesome is that. And people seemed to like it, which is also a thing that does not suck.
5. Short stories I wrote or co-wrote (“Muse of Fire” and “On the Wall”) appeared in two anthologies, published on the same day (Black Tide Rising and Mash Up), and I was featured in a third book (The Books That Changed My Life). For someone who doesn’t really appear in anthologies, this was kind of a banner year for ’em.
6. Became a Critic at Large for the Los Angeles Times, my hometown newspaper growing up, and in whose pages it was always a dream for me to be featured in.
7. My kid got through high school. Early! And she became an adult, which means Krissy and I got her through childhood all in one piece.
8. Finally went to Hawaii, which a) lived up to the hype, b) helped me get through a substantial portion of my novel writing by being six hours removed from the mainland, c) meant I got to hang out with a bunch of cool folks. A++++, would visit again.
9. Was awarded the 2016 Governor’s Award for Arts in Ohio, which is a pretty big deal here in the state, and was the first science fiction author ever to get that particular award, which makes me feel shiny.
10. I got to watch a whole lot of my friends have amazing years creatively, the highlights of which included NK Jemisin getting a hugely-deserved Hugo award, others land NYT bestsellers, seeing friends’ TV shows succeed, and watching friends’ movies gross more than a billion dollars worldwide to date.
Plus, I remained married to this fabulous person.
So, for all of that, thanks, 2016. You weren’t all bad.
If you’d like to post some good things that happened to/for you in 2016 in the comment thread, I would be happy to see them, and so, I suspect, would others.
Do I have personal goals for 2017? I do! Here are a few of them, in no particular order.
1. Get more organized. I’m actually good at getting organized; I’m shit at staying organized. Welcome to my life for the past 47 years. For 2017, however, I have three books due and a lot of other things I want to do, so if I don’t get better at the organizing thing, I’m going to be unhappy. I’m pretty sure I’d rather be organized than unhappy. I mean, if those are the choices available to me, and for 2017 it kind of looks like they are.
2. Better manage my online life. This is a subset of number one, but inasmuch as I can lose hours just crawling Twitter, a fairly important one. I already keep off online media while I write books until I meet a daily quota, which is super-helpful for concentration. This next year will be about finding a better balance of enjoying social media — which I love, especially Twitter, which is where I hang out with friends — and enjoying everything else, since I have a pronounced tendency to fall down the Twitter hole for hours at a time in lieu of other entertainments. Which brings me to the next point:
3. Read more books. 2016 was a year I noticed I read notably fewer books than in other years. I had reasons for this, relating to work and other factors, but regardless of that it’s not something I want to get in the habit of. So I plan to take at least some of the time I’ve been frittering away on social media and turn it back into reading books for enjoyment. And maybe also other forms of entertainment! Rumor is there’s some good TV out there.
4. Family time! I get a lot of this anyway, I should note. But Athena will be going off to college in the second half of the year, and that’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it. So I think it’s fine to make sure I enjoy the time we have left with the family in its current “all under one roof” configuration.
5. By the same token, more face time with friends. This is slightly more of a challenge, in that most of my friends don’t live in my area. But you know what? I want to see them anyway and spend time with them. The good news (for me) is that many of my friends are writers/creative folks/geeks who go to conventions/book fairs/geek-themed cruises which I will also be at, so that helps. And there’s also the book tour, which in many ways is not ideal for quality time (since I have to be a performing monkey most of the time) but which does get me all around the country. Also, I can actually go places without a work element involved to see people too! (You laugh, but I actually do forget this sometimes.) So, yes, this is what I want to do more of.
6. Try to exercise more. Stupid middle age, man.
If there’s an overarching theme to this list of plans, and there is, then it’s this: Balance. I’m not good at it; I want to get better at it, because the alternative is to feel stressed and annoyed. I have a very strong suspicion the rest of the world will give me enough stress and annoyance in 2017; I don’t need to generate more on my own. So these are the goals. Let’s see if I make progress toward them in the next year.
Independent of anything else that might go on in the world in 2017, which is likely to be considerable, mind you, I myself will be having rather a busy year. Why? Well, to begin, here are the thing I am writing/have written that will come out in 2017:
1. The Collapsing Empire, March 21
2. The Dispatcher (print/eBook version), late May
3. Currently untitled non-fiction book, fourth quarter
4. Exiles of Embermark, a video game I’m part of the brain trust for, tentatively scheduled for 2017.
The first two of these are already done and scheduled; the other two are contingent on a number of factors. Be that as it may, right now, they’re all on the schedule for 2017.
Now, here are the things I have to write in 2017:
1. Head On, the sequel to Lock In, scheduled for publication in 2018;
2. The sequel to The Collapsing Empire, with the working (but to be clear very tentative) title The Last Emperox, scheduled for 2019;
3. That currently untitled non-fiction book, for fourth quarter 2017.
4. Additional work on Exiles of Embermark.
In addition to these, I’ll also be writing occasional pieces for the Los Angeles Times as one of its Critics-at-Large, and of course writing here on Whatever as well, although it should always be understood that as a matter of practicality, pay copy comes first.
I’ll also have some appearances! Which include:
1. A substantial book tour, tentatively starting on March 21 (the publication date of The Collapsing Empire) and running through the month of April (with, to be clear, a couple of breaks to see family and pets). More details on places/dates soon;
2. The JoCo Cruise the first week of March;
3. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books;
4. The Antioch Writer’s Workshop (at which I will be giving the keynote address);
Note that these are the things currently scheduled; I’ll likely have more things added in during the year and I’ll let people know about them as they pop up (which is to say, as the fabulous PR people at Tor add them in).
I will be attending a few science fiction conventions this year, including, probably, Worldcon 75, but I should note that outside of readings/signings I’ll be mostly be attending as a fan, i.e., hanging out to visit with friends. I have no guest of honor convention gigs this year, in part because I knew I’d have a monster book tour and would otherwise be booked by my PR folks for events, and somewhere in all of this I have to actually write books (and see family, friends and pets, and sleep). I’ll be more engaged in the convention circuit in 2018 and 2019, I suspect.
And on top of everything above, I have a couple of currently secret and/or unannounced projects about which I can’t say anything yet but if they come to fruition should be pretty cool. I’ll let you know about those when I can.
So, yeah, my 2017 will be busy. Which is good! The alternative in my line of work is pretty grim. I am, as they say, blessed with work.
Time for my annual nerdery about the most visited posts here, and the state of my social media presence. Ready? Sure you are, that’s why you’re here! This and cat pictures.
First, here are the top ten posts on Whatever f0r 2016, ranked by visits. Posts with asterisks were originally posted in years other than 2016.
1. The Cinemax Theory of Racism
2. Trump, the GOP, and the Fall
3. Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is*
4. Thoughts and Prayers
5. You Never Know Just How You Look Through Other People’s Eyes*
6. Apologies: What, When and How*
7. Clinton and Sanders and the End of the Road
8. My Endorsement for President, 2016: Hillary Clinton
9. Being Poor*
10. 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing*
This year’s top posts are half current and half from the archives, which is actually about normal around here — as I’ve noted before, Whatever is fairly unusual in terms of blogs in how many “evergreen” posts the site has. Given previous trends in this area, I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Cinemax Theory of Racism” becomes a similar evergreen; it’s the most visited post on the site since “Straight White Male,” and barring some event, Trump will be president for four years.
If you remove archived posts from the top ten, here are the five other pieces from 2016 that would have made the cut:
It’s fair to say that the top posts of 2016, written in 2016, were about politics and guns. It was that kind of year, alas.
In terms of daily visits to the site proper, Whatever saw a bit of a drop this year, which doesn’t surprise me: I spent several months in a “semi-hiatus,” in which I was posting fewer daily posts than I have in previous years. So as of today, there were 5,164,500 visits to the site for 2016, down from 5.8 million last year. This averages about to about 14,266 visits a day. Nothing to complain about! But still down.
Interestingly, however, the number of unique visitors is up — the highest it’s been since 2013 — and the visits to individual posts are pretty much where they were over the last few years. This suggests to me three things. One, that “event” posts like “The Cinemax Theory of Racism” brought new readers to the site as they linked in from other places (a similar thing happened in 2012 with “Straight White Male”); Two, that post-for-post, visitorship to Whatever has been pretty stable for a while now; Three, if I want to get visit numbers up next year, I should, you know, post more entries on a daily basis.
(Will I? Maybe, maybe not. As it happens I have three books due next year (a topic for a separate post) and will be doing a lot of travel. I’d like to post more; I think in 2017 I’m likely to have plenty to say. But then there my actual paid writing schedule to consider. So: We’ll see.)
As with last year, most people coming to the site came here by three ways: Google, Facebook and Twitter, those three arranged in descending order of importance. This is the Internet as it exists now, folks. The one individually-owned site that sent the most people here (Daring Fireball) sent maybe 1.5% of the traffic Facebook did over the year. Which, actually, is pretty impressive if you think about relative sizes.
Aside from people physically visiting Whatever, people read the site by “following” on WordPress, which serves a copy of entries to a reading queue (basically like an RSS feed). Those aren’t counted as part of the site’s recorded daily visits. As of this second, Whatever has 26,567 followers, up almost 5,000 from last year. So that’s nice. Hello, WordPress followers! Thanks for reading. Added to that, the non-Wordpress areas of Scalzi.com (which include previous non-Wordpress versions of Whatever) racked up 1.16 million visits, a testament to old, old links on the Internet (which is why in point of fact I keep up those previous versions of the site). Update: In the comments, NeilN notes that Feedly also logs 12,000 people following Whatever through that RSS service.
So: In sum, Whatever seems to be doing just fine, and maybe I should post more entries in 2017.
Leaving Whatever, my largest presence online, as it has been for the last couple of years, is on Twitter. As of right this second I have 111,329 followers, up 17.8K from this day last year, and tweeted a frankly ridiculous 19,712 times as of right now (which is still off last year’s pace — man, what was I doing with my life last year?). Those tweets garnered 177.54 million impressions, up substantially from last year, with the following being my most popular tweet of 2016 in terms of impressions, with more than 780,000:
(Pro tip: If you want a tweet to be seen by a lot of people, get retweeted by JK Rowling.)
My public Facebook page is up for the year as well, from 14k likes to 18k, while both Google Plus and Ello have remained basically perfectly still in terms of number of followers, which given their basically dormant state at this point, is entirely not surprising.
So, in sum: Whatever down in visits but up in visitors and followers; Twitter up in followers and individual tweets got more impressions on average; Facebook followers up; everything else, meh.
On to 2017.
Obviously she will be remembered for Star Wars — she played one of its most iconic characters, who was a general, a senator and a princess. But as much as I liked her in that role, she came most alive for me when I learned that she was a writer, and a good one, and not only a good one, but an extraordinarily witty one, one who was called in to save movie scripts and who could write novels and memoirs with characters and turns of phrase that inspired me at least to want to be that witty too.
Beyond that I admired her openness talking about her struggles with addiction and mental illness. I think she did good work in helping people who shared her struggles in their own life know that they didn’t have to stop you, you just had to know they were part of the landscape. I think she saved lives being open about her own.
So she not only played a role model but was one in her own life, for all sorts of people, including me. I’m glad she was here with us. I’m sad she is gone now. I just know she would have a great parting shot about it.
Update: I wrote a longer piece on Carrie Fisher as a writer, for the Los Angeles Times. Here it is.
Update, 12/28/16: Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher’s mother, has died, one day after her daughter.
Tor.com has got up the prologue The Collapsing Empire, my upcoming novel. It works as a complete short story in itself. Here is the link to read it. Happy Boxing Day!
P.S.: If you like it and want to pre-order it, Subterranean Press can get you a signed, inscribed copy (signed and inscribed by me, to be clear). Here’s the pre-order link for that.
George Michael was dead; to begin. And that’s a very sad thing for those of us of an 80s vintage. 2016 has been an especially bad year for musician deaths, and this removal of George Michael on Christmas Day just seems like insult to injury. I was a fan both of his bubble-gum pop Wham! material and of his somewhat more thoughtful (usually) solo work. I’ll miss him.
Also, last week, as a result of a Twitter conversation that included Laurie Penny, Anne Theriault and me among others, I helped write a Dickens pastiche called “A Trump Christmas Carol” with Penny, Jo Walton and Roz Kaveney. I suspect you can tell by the title who is the subject and which Dickens tale we’re pastiching. Uncanny Magazine was kind enough to publish it, which marks my first appearance in the magazine. It was fun to write, and maybe a little cathartic.
Hope your Christmas was lovely, if you indeed celebrate Christmas. Mine was mostly about eating cookies and watching movies. A fine way to spend the day.
Daisy ecumenically wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, brilliant solstice, joyous Kwanzaa and all the best for the coming year. And so do I!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that 2016 was a monumental shit-show of a year, not only for itself — which would be enough! — but also because it’s now clear that it’s merely the beginning of a shit-show epoch, the depths of which have yet to be plumbed, and the best of which one can say is that hopefully incompetence will save us from true horror. But hey! At least I got some good Whatever entries out of it, right? So, uh, yeah, that’s something. Below you’ll find the 20 pieces that I think best represent the year here at Whatever, presented in alphabetical rather than chronological order.
It’s a politics-heavy wrap-up, which is not surprising in an election year, and in this election year in particular; it could have been even more election-heavy but I didn’t want to depress everyone more than they already are. There are other things thrown in there as well for balance, including some happy stuff (really!). No matter how you slice it, however, 2016 was a dark mess, and many of the best Whatever entries this year reflect that.
Despite the overall downer nature of this list, remember there are and continue to be good things in the world, and that you may still find them, and find them in yourself. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve or first night of Hanukkah, or just plain Saturday, whichever the case may be.
In just before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah, this set of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Anything you’d like to see under the tree or aside the menorah? Tell me in the comments!
Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.
The first of these you know about, presumably, and in general I think I nailed that one. The second of these is a work in progress, but, twenty-one and a half years in, I seem to be doing all right (I just checked with Krissy on this one. She said yes, and was patiently bemused that I asked).
The third thing happened today. Athena is eighteen years old. Legally an adult! And while that number is arbitrary and arguable, as every human is different — there are people I know who I would have considered fully capable adults at fifteen, and people who at fifty I think are not actually grown up — nevertheless it’s a significant milestone. My kid is an adult now. I am literally not the boss of her anymore. And I and Krissy have gotten her there, without want or fear, and with her knowing, with certainty, that she was and is loved.
In one sense it’s obvious why this is important to me. What parent does not want these things for their child? These things are also, to be blunt, not particularly laudable; if you have the means and circumstances (I’ll get back to this in just a bit), you should be doing these things as a matter of course, and even in difficult circumstances you should be striving for them. There are no medals for being a decent parent. It’s a baseline.
But the thing is, I didn’t have a childhood free of want or fear, and while I never doubted I was loved, at certain times and in certain circumstances, everything else was up in the air. Here at the age of 47, I don’t feel the need to put my own parents up against a wall and read them a litany of their failures raising a child, in part because I know more about their lives than I did when I was younger, and in part because after a certain point I think you just have to let it go and realize that somewhere along the way who you are becomes your own responsibility (and fault), not your parents’. Parents are human, they are who they are, and you, in whatever fashion works for you, celebrate, accept, forgive or try to understand them. Or you don’t. It’s up to you.
So my childhood was not always an easy one, and also to the point, my parental role models were uncertain at best. What sort of parent would I be? What would I be able to do for my child? Who would I be to and for my child? How would I parent along with my wife? I’m not going to lie, and again, I’ll be blunt: I was terrified I would just plain fuck it up, in all sorts of ways.
But here we are, on Athena’s eighteenth birthday. She’s a terrific person, and one of my favorite people, not just because she’s my kid, but because of who she is, and who she’s always been. All her life, there are very few people I have wanted to hang around with more, to spend time with, to have conversations with, both inane and sublime. She’s not perfect, which is fine because I’m not perfect and neither are you, but as I have said so many times and am saying again now, there’s no doubt she’s perfect for me. She is, simply, the child I always dreamed I would have, of whom I live in wonder of her existence, amazed that Krissy and I made such a person, helped her grow and placed her on the path she’s making for herself. I love her with such an immensity that I — whose job is to put things into words — stand mute before it. Try as I may, I can’t make you feel all the love and pride and honor I have just to know her, to be part of her life, and to see her be who she is, and become who she will be.
I think you probably get it anyway.
We are fortunate, and Athena is fortunate. She always had two parents, and the same two parents, parents who both worked hard and got lucky in many ways, who during the course of her childhood always managed an upward trajectory, and who were always in love with each other and unafraid to show it to each other, and to her. Not every kid gets all of those things. It’s not to suggest parents are inherently to blame if they don’t. Sometimes not only do divorces happen, but they’re necessary. Sometimes a parent can work hard their whole life and never catch a break. Sometimes a bus goes up on a curb, or cancer happens, or a job goes away forever, or there’s a war, or any one of a million things that makes it hard for parents to give their kids the childhood they wanted to give, and that every child should have. I know it, better than most.
I look back on the last eighteen years and am thankful that during them — during the part of my life where a small growing person was reliant on me and my wife — all the breaks went our way. And while I’m aware that my hard work and the hard work of my wife matters for this, and that luck truly does favor the prepared and those willing to make an effort, I’m also well aware of how much was out of our hands as well. Thank you, universe.
I’m also immensely thankful for Krissy, every step of the way through Athena’s childhood. Krissy and I made a good parenting team because we make a good team, period: We have complementary skill sets and parenting styles, and a willingness to work together. This was something we talked about even before Athena was born — everything from what we’d do when Athena, as all children innocently do, tried to set us against each other to get what she wanted, to what we’d do when she and I fundamentally disagreed on something as parents (the answer, in case you’re curious: I ceded final decision authority to Krissy, on the grounds that she is both the more sensible and cautious of the two of us. Nothing ever got to that point, as it happens; turns out we agree on most things, and the things we don’t have been relatively trivial. Still, good to have a plan).
But more than that, the fact is my wife is just an amazing mother and human. From the earliest days I saw how she was as a parent, and I was inspired to keep pace, for her and for Athena. Did I manage it? Not always, because I’m me, and between the ideal version of John Scalzi, Parent and the actual parent who is John Scalzi, there is a gap. I screwed up, did stupid things and occasionally threw up my hands and retreated into my office to play video games. But with Krissy, and because of Krissy, I kept at it.
Ultimately, neither I or Krissy will be the best arbiter of how we were as parents. Athena is and will be. But I can say that I look at my daughter and I think: We did it. We got this human through childhood and to the door of her adult life, whole and healthy and filled with the possibilities that the world can have for her.
Athena will never not be my daughter. She will never not be my child. I and Krissy will be here for her and with her, for as long as we can and for as far as the world will allow. That’s never in doubt. But here on her eighteenth birthday, it’s her life now. And one part of my life — one of the best parts — is over. The part where I got to have her as my little girl.
It was a gift, and a privilege, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in this world. It was a thing I wanted to do with my life. It has made me complete.
Happy birthday, Athena. I love you.
Which I expect will be fine for most of you. Enjoy the rest of your Thursday!
Me: I want to write a long piece on politics today!
Brain: Sorry, man. Not up for it. Too much thinking involved.
Me: But I have important things to say!
Brain: You should have thought about it before you decided to fuel me exclusively on Christmas cookies for three days straight.
Me: What’s wrong with that?
Brain: Dude, carbs and sugar? Exclusively? It’s a miracle I have the attention span to let you put together a sentence, much less paragraphs and think pieces.
Me: What a crock. The cookies have butter. That’s a fat.
Brain: Think about what you’re saying here.
Me: But the world needs me to opine!
Brain: Fine. Six tweets.
Brain: I’ll give you six political tweets today. That’s all I got.
Me: But I’ve already done two political tweets today! Arguably three!
Brain: Better make the next 420 characters count, then.
Me: You’re awful.
Brain: Have another cookie. You’ll feel better.
Me: Mmmmm… Christmas cookies.
Brain: Yeah, that’s what I thought.
The books keep coming! Here are the latest new books and ARCs to arrive at the Scalzi Compound. Anything jump out at you? Tell me about it in the comments!
In today’s installment of “write what you know — and then make something up,” author Alan Baxter describes how two of his loves — fiction and martial arts — combine together in Bound, the first of his Alex Caine series of books.
The Big Idea behind Bound is a collision of two big ideas. In previous work, I’d often been commended for writing great fight scenes. This isn’t too much of a surprise given that I’m not only a writer, but also a career martial artist. I’ve been training and teaching for more than 30 years, and competed a lot in my youth. I won a British National Championship title in 1996. But while many of my characters could fight and my books often had combat scenes, I’d never written a protagonist who was first and foremost a martial artist. Not simply a fighter, but someone who embodied the full ideals of wu de, or martial virtue. After all, every long-term martial artist will tell you that combat is the least of our training. Discipline and self-expression, determination and personal development, inner peace and outer calm, these things are greater. So Alex Caine, top-of-his-game MMA contender, was born. He eschews the bright lights and complications of big events like the UFC and has made his name in underground contests around the world, especially in Sydney, Australia, where the story starts. That was the first big idea.
But of course, it’s not enough to have a good character without a story, and that’s where the other big idea, the main one really, came in. I’ve long wanted to write a book that’s essentially a reworking of the big fat fantasy quest, but set in our world in the modern day and paced like a thriller. Alex Caine was the ideal person to use for this story, and Bound started to take shape. That’s where some challenges emerged.
The big fat fantasy quest relies on building a world that the author can shape to fit the ideas they want to use. They create a magic system, societies, the “thing” the hero is chasing or saving, the type of bad guys the hero has to fight or avoid, and so on. The way I wanted to do it, using a modern contemporary setting, meant I had to have to all that, but I also had the constraints of structuring my mythology to fit the existing world. Obviously, I’m not the first to have done this – it’s not even the first book of my own where I’ve done it – but the pace and ideas I wanted to use this time meant I needed to make a lot of disparate stuff fit together. That’s also the beauty of fiction. That creation is what drives me. I’m a shameless genre-masher too – I like to have elements of crime, mystery, noir, horror and other stuff wrapped up in my supernatural urban fantasy, and I wanted it to have thriller pacing. That page-turning quality is something I love to read, so it’s also how I like to write.
All those things seemed contradictory at first, but on starting the book, having to build a mythical world within our known world, actually helped to guide the process and shape the story. (I realized there was a lot more to the history I was building than I could tell in one book, which is why the Alex Caine Series is a trilogy, though each book is a standalone thriller.) I let our world guide me. Researching places to set the story helped me to create it. Taking the characters to remote islands off Canada to battle creatures corrupted by bad magic, or to the underworld of Rome to fight shapeshifting monsters, gave me unique perspectives to set my mythology against, and new secondary characters took shape as much from our world in which they exist as they did from the other world I constructed for them. In hindsight, that’s obviously no surprise, but it was a fascinating process in the writing.
This naturally coupled with the way the main character’s training transferred to this secondary world. Alex Caine is a skilled fighter but has no idea there’s latent magical energy in him, until someone points it out at the start of Bound. Alex wants nothing to do with this weird world underlying everything he knows, but the more he tries to escape it, the deeper he’s drawn in. So he falls back on his training and his martial philosophy. Through the book, Alex uses the physical, mental, and philosophical skills of his martial life against ever more dangerous and mystical beasts and situations. The voice of his teacher echoes in his mind, guiding him along. So I got to write a book that explores what it is to be a modern martial artist, against a backdrop of monsters, magic, and mayhem, all in a big fat fantasy quest contained in a 350-page modern thriller.
I love this job.
That’s ice on the lawn and trees, sparkling in the sun. Cold. But pretty.