1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Three: Technology

Much of my creative life, and certainly almost all of my professional life for the past 20 years, has been greatly influenced and impacted by technology.

It starts earlier than that, of course. In 1984, the first Macintosh computer came out, and it came with a simple word processing program. Coincidentally, 1984 was the first year I started writing short stories or fiction of any sort, camped out in Erza Chowaiki’s room in our high school dorms, since he had the Macintosh and I did not.

As I started my creative life on the computer, my creative process was also shaped by the computer. For example, I don’t write drafts of my books, a thing which one would need to do when one was working on a typewriter, and editing on the fly, as one can on a computer, was not possible. When I type the words “the end” on a manuscript, it’s ready to send off to the editor — not because I write perfect prose (trust me), but because all the edits and changes I wanted to make were done as I was writing the book, in a rolling draft. One’s tools shape one’s process.

By 1998, effectively all my writing of any sort was done on computer, much in the same way it gets done now — the “word processor on a computer” metaphor is a durable and useful one. And as an artifact of my own age and and habits, I tend to write better on a desktop computer than on a laptop; something about being at a desk, with the work tool firmly rooted in place, gets me in a mind for work. It’s not impossible for me to work on a laptop; I’m writing on one now, and most of my recent novels have had substantial chunks written up on a laptop, when I was traveling or just wanted to sit somewhere else in my house for a change of pace. But most of it is at the desk, on the desktop.

Also in 1998, digital rather than print was my primary mode of transmitting my words. While the tools have changed, this is still (largely) true today. In 1998, when I started Whatever, I taught myself enough html to make the blog and update it daily. Today WordPress does all the backend for me, better and more robustly than I ever could (thank you, WordPress. In fact I found rolling my own html exasperating), but still more or less how I started doing it back in the day. I famously posted my first two novels here online, in a very early example of digital self-publishing, which ended up getting me a traditional publishing deal — but “traditional publishing” these days also includes electronic books and audiobooks, the first format of which could hardly be said to exist in 1998, and the second of which was wholly overhauled and expanded by digital transmission. Ebook and audio without a doubt have made a huge difference in my success as a writer.

Aside from work directly, tech makes an impact on how I live my life. Directly, these days it’s been amazing to me how so much of our digital and technological life is now primarily carried in a single object: Our “smartphone.” Like most people, I think, at various times in my life I have had a phone, a camera, an ebook reader, a device for listening to music, a separate device for video (with music included), a device for recording audio, and another entire device for accessing the Internet (known as “a computer”). Oh, and paper maps. Now: you have a phone.

I do love this, I have to say. Even 1998 me, with all his tech toys, would have been utterly amazed at my current phone, the Pixel 2, and everything it can do that no one in 2018 thinks is in any way particularly noteworthy. Obviously a smartphone has a camera and apps to access music and video and books and the internet and also tracks your health status and where you are on the planet and how you can get to where you are going next and has the ability to text people across several different media and even sometimes, if you’re old and still into that sort of thing, you can use the phone to talk to people.

(And honestly the amount that the smartphone has actually killed talking on the phone is the most amazing thing to me, and even more amazing is how it’s killed it for me. My smartphone rings and for the first few seconds I just stare at it, thinking, what the hell is it doing now? Then I remember: It’s being a phone.)

I do still have some dedicated “single use” tech: I still have a dSLR camera rather than just relying on my phone for pictures, as an example. And of course I still have a desktop computer and a laptop computer. Phones these days are useful for reading and consuming things, and many things these days can be created on them, but for me they’re kind of cramped for typing and writing anything longer than a tweet. But even I don’t pretend that the Internet is not now primarily living on people’s phones. It is, and it’s a thing creative people with digital lives have to work with. It’s not bad. It just is.

I wouldn’t go back, regardless. I like my smart phone, just like I like the computer. I think about generations of writers writing drafts on typewriters (or by hand(!(!!))) and then having to redraft and literally cut and paste changes onto paper and I get tired and moody. I can’t imagine having a been a writer without a computer. I’m pretty sure I would have been, anyway, but not in the way I am now, and very probably not with the success that I have had. The next generation of writers will include someone who composes novels entirely on their phone and thinks it mad that anyone else has ever done it differently. Good for them. I’m glad it works for what they do. I hope the work is good. I’ll still need things to read.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Two: Taste

Here’s an interesting question to consider: Do I have the same taste — the same cultural likes and dislikes in terms of things like style and entertainment — here in 2018 that I had in 1998? After all, it’s been twenty years. That’s a long time in terms of culture, style and entertainment.

But then again, it’s also true that if you show me a person when they’re a teenager, I’m going to probably be able to tell you what they will like in their 40s. It’s a truism that they styles and tastes we develop early matter for what we like later on in life. It’s one reason why currently, for example, 80s bands who haven’t been “hot” for decades are selling out theaters and raking in money with “VIP” packages — because everyone who loved them when they were 15 and broke now has money and wants to meet their favorite band, even if for a momentary “grip and grin.” Am I any different?

I don’t particularly think so. The bands that were important to me growing up are bands I still like to listen to, to follow up that example — I use Sirius XM’s “First Wave” and “The Bridge” stations (80s alternative and 70s mellow rock) as my aural wallpaper, and more generally the musical forms I liked then are the ones I like now. And more than that; in a larger sense, the forms of entertainment and culture I liked when I was fifteen, I liked when I was thirty,  and I like now. Not only, to be sure, but, yes, still.

But the larger question might be: What sort of things do I like, culturally? I addressed this over the summer, actually, when Athena and I did a couple of podcasts about movies we saw. And what I said then (and she agreed with) is that I’m easy to entertain but hard to impress. Which means that I get to enjoy lots of common culture. I like pop songs, and superhero films, and mindless first person shooter games, and animated shows with farts and puns, and so on. Nor do I feel guilty about liking those things. Not everything one consumes culturally has to be life changing or immortal. Sometimes it’s nice to get out of one’s head, and sing along to a chorus or watch a hot young actor in spandex blow something up in glorious CGI. It’s allowed.

With that said, I’m also not going to argue these things are amazing, either. I love a good pop song; I’m not going to (necessarily) argue that this pop song deserves the same cultural status of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. Superhero films are fun but they’re not necessarily Citizen Kane or Do the Right Thing. They can be! I can think of pop songs I do think deserve to be considered as near-Platonic ideals of the form; I think when Black Panther is inevitably nominated for Best Picture (and not that ridiculous “Best Popular Picture” thing, now withdrawn), you can make a strong and serious argument for its inclusion, for all the things it does right cinematically, for its distillation and critique of superhero film tropes, and for its impact on the common culture this year. Bring it.

But the point is that not everything has to be great, or brilliant, or lasting, in order to be good and entertaining and important to you, in the moment, or as something that brings you joy. If you really like something, you shouldn’t have to then embark on a 14-point apologia, complete with PowerPoint presentation, about why, no, really, it is important. Maybe it’s not! And that’s okay. Enjoy it for what it is.

All of which is to say, coming back around to me, that I acknowledge and am okay with the fact that with a lot of things I have pretty common tastes. I have my pockets of cultural eccentricities and idiosyncrasies — if you like I can do a deep dive into my love of Glenn Branca compositions, or Sally Potter films, or [insert cred-inducing name drop here] — and I’m okay liking them, too. But at the end of the day, while I can acknowledge that, say, Orlando, is a better film on many different levels than Ant-Man and the Wasp, I’m not going apologize for liking the latter or use the former as a shield for credibility.

Indeed, accepting that you can like what you like, whatever you like, opens you up to being able to like more things. When I was younger I didn’t like country music because it wasn’t cool to like country, and I had to get over that sort of cultural anxiety to discover how much I love the music of Emmylou Harris, and Julie and Buddy Miller, and Steve Earle (among others). I can’t say I know enough about rap and hip-hop to be considered anything more than a casual listener, but I know I love stuff from Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, and Open Mike Eagle, and Dessa. It means I don’t worry about being a 49-year-old dude who really digs Charlie XCX songs. I’m not liking any of that to seem cool or relevant or interesting. I like ’em because they work for me on some level.

So, no, I don’t think my taste has changed much in the last twenty years. The individual things I like have — or at least, I try to continue to bring new things into the collection of things I like — but the ethos underlying those choices has been consistent. It’s worked for me.

(And as for style: Well, I used to wear a lot of t-shirts and now I wear aloha shirts, which are functionally the same thing, just for middle-aged dudes. So, yeah.)

New Books and ARCs, 9/21/18

As promised, here is the second half of a big haul of new books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound this week. Some excellent choices here — do you see anything in particular you like? Tell us in the comments!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-One: New York

I’m actually writing this in New York; I’m currently loitering at a hotel near Penn Station, in room that looks like the nicest dorm suite at NYU and can hear the street noise rising up to my windows. It’s surprisingly nice white noise, although history reminds me that sometimes it’s just noise, and loud. It’s New York. Whaddya gonna do.

I picked New York as a subject for this series not just because I happen to be in it today but also because in many ways it’s an emblematic town for me, one that especially in the last twenty years is tied intimately to my professional life. When I was a freelancer a lot of my gigs came from a marketing company rather pointedly located on Madison Avenue; now as a novelist Tor books is currently located at the iconic Flatiron building, although not for much longer, alas. I come here regularly on tour and to do events like Book Expo America and New York Comic Con. I have a ton of friends here, as well as compatriots in publishing. More than any other major city in the US — even LA, in whose suburbs I grew up, or Chicago, where I went to college — this town has a direct influence on my day to day life.

Also, weirdly, it’s still a town that doesn’t feel completely real to me. Unlike LA or Chicago, I’ve never lived in New York; I’ve spent at most three or four days in it at a time. That’s enough time in aggregate to start to get a feel for a place but not enough time for it to become a place that feels grounded. I’ve never had a daily life here — I’ve never had to pay bills or do grocery shopping or deal with plumbing here. For those reasons (and others like it) New York still feels like a special, different, place to me. Magical? I don’t know about magical. Too much vague urine smell for magical. But as they say, there’s no place like it.

It’s also the city people think of when they think of writers; for good reason, since most of big-league publishing is here and I suspect roughly half of Brooklyn lists “writer” as their profession on their tax forms, and another quarter are probably editors, agents and other citizens of the publishing world. When I visit I feel like I’m visiting the home office, as it were. A place where if you say you’re a writer you get a look that says “well, obviously you are, we all are” instead of “how do you manage to eat?” or just a polite blank stare that suggests the person never considered it a profession at all.

I’m not sure that means I would ever want to actually move here, however. I kind of like having NYC be a special “sometimes” place for me, a place to visit and be familiar with, but never bored of or irritated at. A place where it’s still exciting to come out of Penn Station, look down 34th street and see the Empire State Building and go, oh, hey, it’s actually a thing that exists in the world. I’ll let my friends who live in NYC be blase about it. I’m happy to go the other direction. And I’m happy to still be happy to be in town.

(That said: New York style pizza? Eh. It’s okay, I guess. There, the requisite fighting words have been said. We can move on to other things now.)

The Whatever Digest, 9/21/18

I’m at the airport with two and a half hours before my flight boards. Enough time for a digest!

***

So apparently the big attempt to defect from Kavanaugh’s allegedly sexually assaulting past was for a key Republican operative to launch a conspiracy theory Twitter thread saying it was actually someone else who attacked Ford, and she got confused because all jock-y white male teens look alike? Two things here:

1. Kathleen Parker’s “maybe there was a doppelganger” column in the Washington Post yesterday now looks even more embarrassing, because clearly she was drafting off this particular juggernaut of idiocy, and perhaps the Pulitzer committee might want to think about rescinding her award;

2. This truly is the stupidest timeline possible. I mean, I wasn’t really doubting that, given the preponderance of evidence, but it’s depressing to be reminded with such frequency.

What’s particularly horrifying is that Ed Whelan, the mastermind behind this particular wodge of bullshit, actually named someone else as the potential sexual assaulter, a dude named [deleted because on second thought it doesn’t do any good to spread his name around], who currently teaches at a middle school and who is the very definition of a private citizen. This is essentially an open-and-shut defamation case, and I expect [defamed person] is neck-deep in lawyers wanting to represent him, because this is some easy money right here. Ford has flatly said that it wasn’t [defamed person] who attacked her, so this one conspiracy theory which has fallen with a splat.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall makes the point that it’s unlikely that Whelan moved forward without at least some sort of coordination with the Kavanaugh camp, which if it’s true is yet one more reason Kavanaugh shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Supreme Court. Someone who would countenance throwing an innocent person under a bus in a (mixed metaphor here) Hail Mary pass attempt to clear his own name is not a moral person, or a good person. In fact, if it’s true, he’s complete shit.

***

Also, at this point, after last’s night hugely embarrassing Twitter fracas, one has to wonder how there is still any support for Kavanaugh among Senate Republicans, other than sheer myopic cussedness. He’s an astounding liability, someone credibly accused of sexual assault nominated to the bench primarily to overturn Roe v. Wade, and if you don’t think women aren’t already pissed off, just you wait. They would be better off at this point simply telling Kavanaugh to pack it in and then picking someone who could actually stand up to vetting (if they can, who knows with this clown car of an administration). Nearly anyone else would be better at this point. Any one of my cats would be better.

But of course they won’t, because we have stupid people in charge, and a president who can’t ever back down from anything because he’s weak and a bully. So here we are.

***

Why am I at the airport? I’m off to NYC to do a little business and to see some friends, basically. Also it’s a nice time of year to be in New York. Before anyone asks, I’m not doing any public events, sorry. Just work stuff and a little personal time. Also maybe to go in for a slice, say “You call this pizza?!?!?” and pull out a Chicago deep dish from my backpack and eat it in the shop, never breaking eye contact with the horrified pizza shop employees. Okay, maybe not that last one. I don’t actually have a death wish.

***

Congratulations to the Cleveland Browns, who last night not only didn’t lose, but actually managed to win a game, their first since Christmas Eve in 2016. The fact that much of Ohio went a little nuts about that one win says a lot about the state of Browns football, and maybe a little about Ohio. Meanwhile the Bengals, 2-0, wonder what the big deal is. Stay cool, Bengals. Stay cool.

***

That’s it for the Digest this week. It’ll be back on Monday. To get you through until then, here’s Smudge on my luggage this morning. Have a great weekend, the last of summer and the first of fall.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty: Sunsets

I really started taking sunset pictures in 2005, the first year I had a dSLR camera. Here’s one sunset picture for that year, and every year since.

(Incidentally, tonight’s sunset? In the header image.)

The Big Idea: Cheryl Low

In Detox in Letters, author Cheryl Low thinks about magic, down the grimy, dusty details — and also gauges the limits of what magic can do.

CHERYL LOW:

The Crowns & Ash series began as an exploration of magic. Or maybe just a love letter to it.

All my life I have loved magical worlds. Embedded in the first fairy tales we heard growing up were the promises of wonder—that anything could be possible with a little bit of magic.

In the streets of the Realm, around the Queen’s Tower, people play out their long lives with boundless fashion, cake and tea for every meal, and elaborate duels, on a carousel of romance and intrigue. But none of it would be possible without magic.

Everything in the city is fueled by magic, from the lamps lining the streets to the cars driving down them. Factories take in barrels of raw magic to churn out a variety of charms, power sources, and drugs for the residents of the Realm. They’ve turned something once natural to them into a commodity—forgetting its origin and purpose.

Even the drug of choice, dust, is rooted in magic. The carnivorous pixies, a dangerous pest in the city kept back by the constant glow of street lamps, are lured into the dust factories and fed raw magic until they’re so full that their frail wings can no longer lift them off the ground. Then the pixies are strung up, roasted, and ground down into the fine, glittering powder known throughout the city as dust. It is rolled into cigarettes, sprinkled on cakes, and steeped in tea, keeping most of the residents lulled in a constant high.

But magic is one of those elements in a fantasy world that is as exciting as it is difficult. There must be rules.

As the creator, I spent some serious time figuring out how a city of magic-wielding, spoiled socialites could function without constant war in the streets. Even before the current Queen took the throne, the Realm was far from utopian. If anything, the residents of the fantastical city could always be described as passionate, not exactly good or evil, but something in between that tips daily from side to side. So, how do I keep them from snapping their fingers and destroying their rude dinner guests?

Limits. All power must have a limit, as well as a cost. It can make the impossible possible, but it can’t solve every problem. Limitations and real consequences make stories truly exciting. Even immortal creatures must have a weakness. Vampires and the sun. Werewolves and silver. Dragons and that one, fate-blessed hero.

In the Realm, magic causes just as many problems as it solves—maybe more. It has become their poison, clouding their minds just as their Queen has clouded the sky above. And as the people of the Crowns & Ash series relearn their history and their powers, they are forced to realize the dark source and inevitable boundaries of that magic. There are some things that can’t be changed with charms and spells.

I set out to make a world literally high on magic—breathing it and eating it and bleeding it—and I absolutely love this world. It is a thrill to write and a delight to share.

—-

Detox in Letters: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo

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

The Whatever Digest, 9/20/18

Good morning! Let’s see what’s up.

***

I posted the tweet above the other day about the recent contretemps regarding whether Bert and Ernie are a gay couple, which was prompted by one of Sesame Street’s former writers noting he always wrote them as if they were a gay couple, which in turn prompted but Sesame Workshop and Frank Oz (creator of Bert) to aver that they were not, which in turn made Twitter explode, because, well, Twitter.

I’m not going to speak to the main thrust of the discussion about whether Bert and Ernie are a couple except to note that this discussion is cyclical, and this is probably the fifth or sixth time in the last fifteen years it’s become a point of contention, so it’s not like anything around this discussion is new. What I will note is the number of dudes in the Twitter comments of the tweet above saying things like “They can’t be gay THEY ARE PUPPETS” with a smug “BAM HASHTAG MIC DROP” implied immediately after.

Which is, mind you, a genuinely stupid and thoughtless position to have. Puppets can be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any fictional creature, who can in turn be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any non-fictional creature. Fictional characters aren’t real, in the sense that they are independent of their creators (or at least, owners), but it doesn’t mean they aren’t imbued with characteristics.

Puppets are fictional creatures; puppets have characteristics. There’s no reason one of those characteristics can’t be “sexuality” and of course there are lots of examples of puppets having a sexuality, Kermit and Miss Piggy being the obvious contextual example. You can say Kermit and Miss Piggy can’t be heterosexual THEY ARE PUPPETS, but that’s not true (and also, no one does). The best you can say is that Kermit and Miss Piggy are not actual persons with their own agency, and therefore present only the characteristics given to them by those who operate and control them, which is true, and also a mouthful.

It can be truly said that Frank Oz, when he created him, did not think of Bert as being gay; it can also be truly said that at least one writer on Sesame Street, when writing Bert and Ernie, wrote them as a gay couple; it can also be truly said that the Sesame Workshop, at least publicly, doesn’t want Bert and Ernie to be considered as beings with sexuality at all. Importantly, however, none of this would be a discussion at all if, at the very heart of it, we (generally) didn’t believe that puppets could be gay. It looks like we do, and also, it looks like there’s a number of people so uncomfortable with the idea they they would rather subvert the entire thesis of fiction than substantively approach the concept of gay puppets in any way. Which is interesting.

***

My note to Frank Oz that kids come out as gay no matter how much their parents conceive of them as otherwise has led some “wits” to say that from now on they’re going to say that all my characters are white, straight, cis Trump lovers, I suppose again with a “lol CHECKMATE” bit after that strongly implied. My response to that is: Hey, your headcanon is your own, so go ahead if you want to. Just don’t expect the actual text I write to support this view.

This does bring up the point that if one wishes to make assertions about characters, it’s helpful to have them supported by text or the idiom and context of the characters. Positing that Bert and Ernie might be a gay couple because of their genuine affection for each other and also their decades-long cohabitation at least makes sense, whether you agree with it or not. Positing that they are millionaire day-traders who secretly run a late-night fight club for other Muppets in Oscar’s sub-basement doesn’t. I mean, they might, you never do know, but there’s nothing in almost five decades of their on-screen lives together to support the hypothesis.

Let’s just say I don’t ever expect Sesame Workshop to ever post a tweet denying that Bert and Ernie consensually beat the crap out of Elmo and Big Bird in cathartic early-morning pummeling sessions. Some rumors (and headcannon) never get off the ground.

***

Today’s hottest take on Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulting a woman when they were both teens: Maybe it was his evil twin! I’m embarrassed for both Kathleen Parker, who wrote this, and for America.

***

After that bit of patent dumbassery, a cat-based palate cleanser.

Please enjoy the rest of your Thursday.

New Books and ARCs, 9/19/18

Lots of new stuff, so this will be a two-stack week here at the Scalzi Compound. Here’s the first stack of new books and ARCs for the week. Anything catching your eye? Let us know in the comments!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Nineteen: Hobbies

I’m not sure I had hobbies in 1998. I definitely didn’t have the hobbies I have now, back then.

Hobbies are, for the purposes of this entry, things you do that you enjoy for themselves, and not because you plan to make it a professional part of your life to any extent. I think it also should be something that is slightly out of the normal rhythm of your life. For example, I wouldn’t call “reading” a hobby of mine, because it’s always just been part of my daily life. I read like I breathe. Breathing is not a hobby, it’s an essential. Same with reading.

In 1998, most of what I was doing was centered on writing, and getting paid for writing. So even things I enjoyed, I tried to make money writing about. And it worked; I liked listening to and thinking about music, so I found a gig writing music reviews. Music was no longer a hobby, I was getting paid for it. Likewise video games; I found a company that would let me write video game reviews, so while I was playing video games — and loving it! — it was all going into the hopper so I could write about it on my video game review site.

I had reasons for wanting to professionalize all my enthusiasms, not limited to the fact in 1998 I had a kid on the way, but what it meant was, really, nothing that might have been a hobby, was. It was all work, work, work. And while the saying is “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I’m also here to tell you that sometimes I’d be grinding through a terrible video game for a review, and it was work, for sure.

These days, I would consider two things my hobbies: Photography and music, and this time when I mean “music” I don’t mean listening to it, I mean playing it. In both cases, I do it because it’s fun for me, and it’s not connected to my professional life in any significant way (I’ll add a small caveat to that in a bit). Also, in both cases, I enjoy them in themselves, and don’t worry about whether I’m “good” at them; I may or may not be, depending on taste, etc, but being so is not the point. The point is they get me out of my head and let me enjoy doing something for its own sake. That’s a hobby.

And I will note that in both cases one of the things that allowed me to get into the hobby was that it went digital.

Photography is the most obvious one for this. Prior to the advent of the digital camera, I think I may have taken less than three hundred pictures in my life, mostly “Kodak moment” snaps from disposable cameras. And of those three hundred, a non-trivial number were never developed, because back in the day, you’d have to go somewhere to get the film developed and pay for each snap you took. Film would get developed when I got around to it, and not when I didn’t. Basically prior to around 1998 (in fact), I mostly showed up in other people’s pictures.

But then I had a kid, and then also right around the turn of the century you could start getting digital cameras with decent resolution, which in this case meant something along the lines of two megapixels per photo. Which might not seem that much now but which is the resolution equivalent of an HDTV, and certainly right up there with whatever you might get out of a disposable camera you’d get from a CVS. Plus now I wouldn’t have to have them “developed” — I could just download them on my computer and be off to the races.

If memory serves, the first digital camera I bought was an Olympus Camedia C-21, which took 1600×1200 JPEG photos and ran on double-a batteries. That would have been 1999/2000 or so. Four years later I upgraded to a Kodak EasyShare camera, with an eye-popping 5 megapixels. But the next year, 2005, I bought my first digital single reflex camera, a Nikon d70s, and that’s pretty much when the photography went from being just a thing to snap pictures when they happened, to a thing where I went out of my way to take pictures.

The reason for this is pretty simple: the dSLRs allowed me to take more interesting pictures. They had bigger lenses, better sensors and encouraged actual exploration into photography rather than, basically, opportunistic photo capture. The dSLRs also took pictures in RAW format, which captures a lot more picture information than JPEGs, and means one can, with the right software, tease out things like shadows and details that are crunched out of the JPEG format. It makes a huge difference in what shows up in photos.

And also, of course, digital means that you can take dozens or even hundreds of pictures to find the few that work the way you intend them to; this sort of brute strength photo taking would have been ridiculously expensive in the film era. Mind you, over time the goal is not to have take dozens of photos to get the one good one; hopefully eventually you learn enough about taking pictures that you can bring that ratio down significantly.

I suspect that being someone who learned photography in a digital era means that I approach photo taking differently than someone who learned in the film era — for example, I suspect I am substantially more reliant on Photoshop and other photoediting suites to draw out the details and effects in photos than film-era photographers, who I suspect do much of their photo planning in-camera, picking specific shutter speeds and f-stops and such.

What’s also interesting is now we’re in an era where phone cameras are so good that you can use them for more than casual photos as well — some of the best photos I’ve taken have been with my current Pixel 2 phone. Add to this that phone-based photoediting apps are also increasingly capable and complex, and you’ve got an exciting age of photography. I can still tell the difference between my dSLR photos and my phone photos (it’s down to depth of field and artifacts in the details), but I wonder if other people notice. If and when the only camera I have with me is on my phone, these days I don’t feel like I won’t still get a good picture out of the moment.

I think in a general sense I’m a pretty good photographer, but I’m also aware of the gap between what I do and what I see in pro photos. Last year I stepped in to be a photographer at a wedding, and while I think I did pretty well, especially for a last-minute save, I can also see the difference in how I did it and what I think of as pro-level wedding photography. It’s not something I worry about; indeed I like the idea I still have space to grow, at my own pace, in this particular hobby.

My other hobby at the moment is music, and, well. I’m a better photographer than I am a musician. I have been playing guitar (both 4 and 6-string variants) and ukulele for a while now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve run up to that wall where, if I’m to get any better, I will need to actually practice a lot more than I currently do. I’m not sure that’s going to happen; I don’t see where I will have the time. Also, the current plateau I’m on lets me play chords, which is basically what I need for what I want to do, which is, play and sing songs, mostly poorly but with enthusiasm, in my office, while I’m taking a break from writing.

But didn’t you say digital helped you get into making music? I did! Back in the early aughts I bought music production software that included a collection of royalty-free loops, and I really got into that for a while, enough so that I actually ended up putting together an entire LP of the pieces I cobbled together with them. It is good? It won’t make your ears bleed, at least. But of course I can’t claim any credit for the music bits, just the sequencing and editing. And having done that made me interested in picking up actual musical instruments and attempting to learn how to play them a bit, and here we are.

Being a hobby musician is great for humility, and also makes me appreciate how hard making music out of one’s own brain is. I have a fair number of friends who are working musicians, and I’m constantly amazed at how they do it — play their instruments so well and write songs that people love and want to hear over and over. To be fair, many of them have said similar things about what I do, and how I can manage to write entire novels, which seems a mystical skill to them (there are some people who can do both novels and music. We’ve arranged to have them pushed in front of buses).

I’ve been paid for photos I’ve taken and I’ve even got royalty payments for my music — in both cases, enough to get a couple of pizzas — but I don’t plan to be (or will be, even if I plan it) a threat to actual professional photographers or musicians. What’s more, I don’t want to be. I like my hobbies being hobbies, which is a statement I don’t know that I could have made in 1998. Monetizing your enthusiasms is fine, but I’m at a point where the idea of monetizing everything makes me tired. It’s okay just to have enthusiasms, and to be less than amazing at them, and to enjoy them anyway.

No Whatever Digest Today But Here’s a Picture of Smudge Looking Like He’s Just Seen the Boogeyman

He’s just yawning, mind you. But still.

No Whatever Digest today mostly because my morning was tasked with getting teeth cleanings and otherwise taking care of offline business, and I have more things to take care of this afternoon.

As an aside, some of you have mentioned to me the “Whatwitter” feed is down in the sidebar. I’m looking into it but it might be due to recent Twitter backend decisions about serving up the site’s content to outside apps and programs. But if I can get it back up I will. (Update: fixed!)

The Big Idea: Myke Cole

What is a hero? For Myke Cole, the answer to this question is not exactly the one that usually applies. It’s a thing that helped to fuel the writing for his latest, The Queen of Crows.

MYKE COLE:

Five years ago, I wrote about a singular experience. I know we live in the age of TLDR, so I’ll sum it up for those of you who won’t bother to click on the link – After my 2nd tour, the love of my life took a long look at the man she’d fallen in love with, compared him to the guy who came back from Iraq, and split. That’ll make you do some out-of-character stuff, and in my case, it resulted in my going to the on-post chapel at Naval Air Station, Pensacola in the hopes that something, anything, might break me free of the singular compulsion to suck-start a Glock.

It was the low-point of my life, and I was desperate for any human connection, so I was thrilled when one of the parishioners approached me, noting my tactical pack (which still had my blood type scrawled across it in black sharpie) and asked if I’d been down range. When I told him that I had, he turned to his son, and said “See? That’s a hero.” Then, he walked away.

Guess I was wrong about losing my fiancé being the low-point. This was lower. This utter isolation. Look, I know the guy meant well, that he was trying to honor what he viewed as a burden I had taken on so he wouldn’t have to. But by affixing a label, even a complimentary one, he’d severed all human connection. There was no need to get to know me, no need to understand my humanity. I was a “hero.”

Dark story, I know. But things got better for me. I moved on. I got my feet under me, put my life back together again, but I never forgot that singular moment, that intense powerlessness, when someone else had defined me. I looked at the world differently after that, suddenly awake to the way we use labels and the weight of institutions to define others, to rob them of their chance to do it for themselves. Worse, we cling to these definitions when the people we foist them upon resist, we fight them tooth and nail. This person is a “patriot,” this one a “coward.” This is what “good people” do. A “Christian” behaves in one way, but not another.

Labels, and the institutional membership they convey, don’t square with the complexity of human existence. They bound life in sharp lines that cut a bloody swath through the reality of the way people are actually in the world. And yet we need them, we will fight to uphold them. In 2018, we are witnessing a singular contest, a cold civil war with the sole objective of defining what sort of person may call themselves an “American.”

In a perfect world, we define who we are moment to moment, at complete liberty to live our true selves in all their complicated glory.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

And that’s the big idea behind The Queen of Crows.

Heloise Factor, the hero of The Armored Saint, ends things on . . . let’s just say (without spoiling anything for those of you who haven’t read the book) a high note – an act of singular heroism. Unfortunately for her, it is an act steeped in meaning to the members of her religion, and anyone who achieves it is – according to the scriptures of their faith – rendered divine.

The mantle of a saint is heavy. It comes with reverence and honor. Saints are worshipped, are even obeyed. But saints are also chained down by the weight of expectations. There are things saints must do, things saints must not do. A saint is a living symbol, their every word and action a kind of theater, a passion play that affirms the faith of a watching body of the faithful.

And Heloise is most certainly a saint. But she is also a young woman of sixteen winters, who loves, who desires, who is frightened, who is unsure. The moment of her heroism was quick and dramatic, but the consequences are far beyond anything she could ever have imagined. Thrust into the role of symbol and leader of a rebellion against authority, her humanity comes into conflict with the title she never asked to hold.

In The Queen of Crows, Heloise is pitted against the most powerful army in her nation, with only a fractious mob of peasants behind her. And even they will not follow her if she casts aside the title of sacred icon, refusing to act the part of the divinely-inspired holy warrior her people have decided she must be.

How will Heloise hold up? Who will she choose to be? And most importantly, can she win the contest to come?

Only one way to find out. Come along, and I’ll show you.

—-

The Queen of Crows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health

The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot.

Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had a series of thankfully minor reminders that my body is not invulnerable to damage, the most recent being a trip to the emergency room for a possible heart attack which turned out to be just indigestion. Which, to be clear, it’s great it was just indigestion, but 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even considered that it might be something else, much less called my physician’s office about it to have them say, “Yeaaaah, you should probably get to an emergency room right now,” because it sounded to them like a classic minor heart event. Things are different when you’re bumping up on 50 years of age. It’s better to be safe than possibly dead.

And generally there are other minor damages that have accrued through the years. I can no longer fully bend my right pinky due to a volleyball injury, which just goes to show that physical exercise is dangerous. When I was in Australia, I tore a leg muscle and had to hobble around Melbourne on crutches. I have a little bit of arthritis in my right hip ball joint. I can no longer do a forward handspring — the last time I did one, on my 35th birthday, my kneecaps tried to escape sideways and I said to myself, well, that’s enough of that.

For all that I have been lucky — I have had isolated incidents of injury, but what I don’t have, so far, knock on wood, are any chronic issues. I suppose the arthritis in the ball joint could be one, but I kind of have to go out of my way to aggravate it, mostly by contorting myself into a weird position, so I don’t really count it (yet). I have hay and cut grass allergies, which I didn’t have 20 years ago, but they’re not really doing anything to me but making me sneeze twenty times in a row, and Claritin knocks them into line. I’m healthy, mostly, on a day-to-day basis.

But as time goes on, that seems less likely to be the case, even if I do take care of myself generally. A large number of my friends have chronic health conditions now, not necessarily debilitating ones, but ones that require maintenance, and they’ve gotten them for a variety of reasons: some genetic, some environmental, some for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some for no reason that anyone can see other than, well, sometimes shit happens.

In my own family, as an example, we have a tendency toward cancers. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were both taken out by them, although in both their cases there was a conscious decision not to fight them; my grandmother because she didn’t want to worry anyone, and therefore let it go until it metastasized, and my grandfather because, as I understand it, basically he was done with this planet and cancer seemed as good a way as any to leave it. My brother has had breast cancer — a reminder that men, too, can get it — and he’s fine now, but it’s a thing I need to be aware of, with regard to my own health. I’m going to have to be taking screenings very seriously. Another issue on my radar is mental health; there are members of my family who have various issues in this direction. I don’t, at least not to date, but it’s something I keep tabs on.

My point is, at 29 I didn’t worry about most of these things, because I didn’t worry about them being applicable yet. This was a belief mostly out of ignorance, but also because, as a late-twenty-something, my cohort of friends and colleagues (mostly) weren’t worrying about these things, either. As we’ve all gotten older we’ve started worrying about it more.

I’ve also gotten to the point in life where people my age dying, while still unexpected, is not actuarially unusual. By your mid-to-late 40s, you’re going to have close-to-age friends, coworkers and family pass away. Krissy and I have lost friends to cancer, to ALS, and to other diseases. Just prior to our 30th reunion, my high school class marked its first death, again to cancer. I don’t imagine we’ll make it to our 40th without a few more.

I’m fine with dying one day (well, not fine, but not losing too much sleep over it in an existential sense), but I’m not in a rush, either. More to the point, as much as I can control such things, I want this backslope of my years on this planet not to be burdensome, either to myself or to the people I love. This means paying attention to my health and doing all the little things required to be healthy. Which I kind of hate, because I’m lazy and all this maintenance means work. But better to do work now then not, and suffer for it later. Long-term planning. Sigh.

(But how can you say you’re paying attention to your health when you make those burritos you do, Scalzi? I hear you say. Explain that, you bum! Look, those burritos are sometimes food, okay? I don’t eat them, like, every day.)

The point is I want to be here, and still writing, 20 years from now. And if I want that, I better be paying attention to my health. 29-year-old me could get away with letting it slide. 49-year-old me? Not so much.

That said, I think I’ll go for a walk now.

The Big Idea: Edward Willett

For his novel Worldshaper, author Edward Willett posits another type of authorship entirely… one with literally global implications.

EDWARD WILLETT:

Authors sometimes talk of their fictional worlds as though they lived in them. They’ll speak of characters taking on lives of their own, unexpected plot twists, settings that complexify beyond what was intended.

In reality, of course, all of this happens inside our heads…but what if, in reality, it happened in reality—or, at least, in a version of reality? What if we authors could immerse ourselves in our fictional worlds physically, rather than intellectually, and occasionally even rewrite them while we’re living within them?

That’s the “big idea” behind Worldshaper, my ninth novel for DAW Books, start of a brand-new series, called (you’ll never guess) Worldshapers.

The series will take place within the many worlds of the Labyrinth, an extra-dimensional realm in which people with sufficient will and imagination, called Shapers, can give the worlds of their imaginations physical form, and then take up residence within them.

Each of these worlds is populated with millions or even billions of humans, for whom those worlds are the real world, as ancient and solid and eternal as our own world seems to us—even though none of them have existed for more than a few decades.

The Shapers, having taken up physical residence in their Shaped worlds, can no more leave them of their own volition than a fictional character can exit a novel. The fortunate ones made good choice in Shaping their worlds. Others, alas, embody Psalm 7:15: “Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.”

A single powerful Shaper, Ygrair, discovered the possibilities of the Labyrinth and opened it to the Shapers. But Ygrair has been weakened by the attack of an enemy, the Adversary (he has his reasons) who has found his way into the Labyrinth. He seeks to execute Ygrair and destroy the Labyrinth. Along the way, he’s turning every world he can get his hands on into a copy of the “perfect” authoritarian realm he Shaped for himself.

As Worldshaper begins, Ygrair’s lieutenant, Karl Yatsar, arrives in yet another in a long string of worlds, seeking a Shaper strong enough to gather and hold the knowledge of as many Shaped worlds as possible and deliver that knowledge to Ygrair, who will be able to use it to secure the Labyrinth against the depredations of her Adversary.

Shawna Keys, an aspiring potter in a small Montana city, turns out to be the Shaper of the world Yatsar has just entered, closely pursued by the Adversary, who, during a brutal attack, successfully collects Shawna’s Shaping knowledge. The adversary is about to kill her to cement his control of her world when, to Yatsar’s astonishment, she apparently resets time by three hours.

Everything goes back to the way it was. The attack never happened—but everyone killed, including Shawna’s best friend, has not only vanished, they’ve been utterly forgotten.

Shawna’s amazing display makes Yatsar think she may the one he seeks…but when he approaches her, he’s shocked to discover that Shawna Keys has forgotten she’s a Shaper: she’s the author of the book of her world, but she doesn’t remember writing it.

With the Adversary after her, though, she has no choice but to trust Karl. They flee to the one place Karl can form a Portal into the next world, with the Adversary in pursuit and working steadily to turn every aspect of Shawna’s world against her.

As the series continues, I look forward to exploring all kinds of questions raised by the big idea of authors living in the worlds they shape.

For example: authors do horrible things to characters all the time. Remorse is fleeting because, after all, the characters aren’t real.

But in the Shaped Worlds, they are. So, if you were an author living inside a world you’d written, would you continue to rewrite the living, breathing “characters” around you for your own selfish ends?

Dystopias, alien invasions, war, plague, and supernatural horrors all make exciting stories. Would we be so willing to create worlds that contain these things if we had to live in them? No? What if we could live in them but be immune to their dangers? Would we still choose to make such worlds, at the expense of those we force to live there?

Shawna’s Shaped world is very close to ours, with a few minor changes: for example, lacrosse is the big professional sport, she once saw The Da Vinci Code: The Musical on Broadway (Hugh Jackman did his best in the Robert Langdon role, but the show sucked), there are colonies on the moon, and the president lives, not in the White House, but in the Emerald Palace.

But as the series continues, Shawna will enter worlds belonging to Shapers with imaginations far different from her own. Like an adventurous reader, she will encounter ideas, characters, and situations she may find abhorrent. Yet, to fulfil Ygrair’s task, she must attempt to save all of the Shaped worlds, even those she hates. Her commitment to the quest, her commitment to what you might call “Freedom of Shaping,” and her own confidence in her ability to Shape things for the better may all erode in the process.

Lest this sound too grim, let me hasten to add that, since Shawna is written in first-person, she has my sense of humour. The result (according to one pleased reviewer) is a “sarcastic wiseass smart-mouthed main female character.”

I can’t live in my fictional world physically like the Shapers can, but in Shawna (and the other characters) you’ll still find bits of me, as you will in the ideas infusing the series, both small…and big.

—-

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

Read an excerptVisit Willett’s site and follow him on Twitter. Check out his podcast, The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process.

 

The Whatever Digest, 9/18/18

Let’s see what the world has for us today, shall we?

***

To begin on a high note, congratulations to my dear friend Mary Robinette Kowal, who has just announced a three-book, six-figure deal with Tor Books. The deal covers two more books in her “Lady Astronaut” series plus a standalone novel. The Verge has all the details, plus a short interview with MRK on the matter.

I’m thrilled about this. Aside from MRK being one of my favorite people on the planet, I’m a very big fan of the two current Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars (which I think is a top contender for Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nods) and The Fated Sky. More in this universe makes me very happy. I’m also pleased Tor recognizes her value with the size of the deal. This is good news for everyone, but especially for MRK. I like it when my friends get good news.

***

Oh, let’s talk more about that Kavanaugh mess, I suppose.

Brett Kavanaugh, it should be noted, has doubled down on his categorical denial, regarding Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her back when they were teenagers. Both Kavanaugh and Ford are going to testify about it in front of the Senate on Monday, and one would hope under oath. And won’t that be interesting if it is under oath? Because then, if they both stick to their stories, one or the other of them is, flatly, lying.

Alternately, if one wishes to be extraordinarily generous about it, it’s possible that Kavanaugh isn’t lying, precisely, he simply has no memory of the incident. Ford did describe him as being stumble-down drunk at the time. But the thing about that is, he didn’t say “I have no memory of such an incident ever occurring.” He said it never happened. So we’re back to it being an actual lie, in my book.

And here’s the thing for me: Removing all the political aspects of the incident and focusing on the individuals and the incident itself, who are you more likely to believe has a better memory of the incident: The person who was stumble-down drunk when the incident occurred, or the person who was not, and had the event seared into her brain so significantly that it still came up in therapy, three decades later? I’d put my money on the latter, personally.

(The other, exculpatory-for-Kavanaugh explanation is that Ford isn’t lying but has misremembered the identity of her assaulter, which is possible, but given what we know of things, seems unlikely.)

But the timing of this shows it’s all political! Meh. Again, Ford expressed her concerns about Kavanaugh to her elected reps well in advance of his actual nomination for the court, and asked for confidentiality, which she was given. By all indications Senator Feinstein didn’t send the letter to the FBI until someone else leaked it. On Ford’s part, this doesn’t seem like the actions of someone desperately hungry to throw a spanner into the political works. The fact that some people want to blame her for the current mess is more than a little gross. Once the letter was a known thing, she came forward and was willing to testify. But she wasn’t responsible for the events that led to her letter becoming a political hot potato.

***

Someone in email accused me of smearing an innocent person (Kavanaugh, to be clear) and leading a mob against him. Well, Kavanaugh may well be innocent! But it seems unlikely to me, given what we know, and since I’m not a court of law or Kavanaugh’s lawyer, I’m not obliged to pretend I think he is. It seems likely to me that as a teenager he sexually assaulted Ford; it also seems likely to me that as an adult, he’s lying about it. Merely stating that opinion is not riling up a mob, I’m not stating “Kavanaugh is lying, go set fire to his house!” (Please do not set fire to his house.) Nor is the Whatever audience much of a mob (sorry).

Nor, bluntly, is Kavanaugh in much danger of having any major repercussions for his (probable in my opinion) teenage sexual assault. The worst case scenario for Kavanaugh is that he goes back to his job on the DC Court of Appeals — just like Merrick Garland! — and keeps doing what he’s already been doing. I mean, technically, if he lied in front of Congress he could be penalized for that, but he’s already arguably lied in front of Congress, and Congress seems to be willing to give him a pass for that. Kavanaugh’s real world penalty, if the Senate chooses not to confirm because, among other things, more of its members than not believed he pinned down a fifteen-year-old girl, put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, ground himself into her and tried to take off her clothes, is… he keeps the immensely privileged life he already has. Oh, my God. How horrible for him.

But his reputation! Again, meh. It seems unlikely to me that any of Kavanaugh’s pals on the right will penalize him for it; he will still be admired and respected in the circles he already runs in. These are the same circles who elected as president a man who indisputably sexually assaulted women as an adult. There’s not much evidence at the moment that the right thinks sexual assault should count against a person’s reputation unless that person is on the left. Let’s not pretend that if the exact same accusations were made against a Supreme Court nominee picked by a Democratic president, the right would be calling for that nominee’s withdrawal (at least). But I guess it’s different when you’re on the right and you have a nominee that you know will overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance he gets.

So, yeah. Don’t cry for Kavanaugh. He’s going to be fine, whether he’s innocent or not.

***

People in Washington seem to be worried about an emerging “Kavanaugh Standard,” i.e., what you did at seventeen will now be held against you in senatorial confirmation hearings. A few thoughts here:

1. Can we stop pretending that sexual assault is just average teenage hijinx? I went to high school in the same era as Kavanaugh, you know. Even in the benighted 80s, we fucking well knew that sexual assault was not within the scope of acceptable activities. I was there! I know this to be true!

2. If you can’t or won’t agree that sexual assault is not your average teenage hijinx, one, what the fuck were you up to in high school, pal, and two, in fact, what you were doing in high school might be relevant to your senatorial confirmation, especially if you evince no actual moral growth from that point forward.

3. Otherwise, I think most people are probably in the clear regarding their high school stupidity.

4. But might it not also be wise to tell teens that all their lives will be affected by the choices they make as teenagers, including the choices they’re not aware they’re making? Is it not worth it to inculcate in their still-forming brains the idea that far-reaching consequences exist, even if they can’t yet fully understand these consequences may arise at a point that is a multiple of the years that they have currently been alive? And that their actions will have consequences for others, all through their lives as well?

5. Also, you know what? I would be fine culling out of governmental service everyone who sexually assaulted someone else as a teenager. Or as an adult! Why not both! And if it turns out there is a noticeable dearth of available men for such service, well, I guess them’s the breaks, and the good news is that there are almost certainly a large number of women available to come on board to take care of things, whilst the men fix their cultural shit. I’m fine with that. If this is indeed the new “Kavanaugh Standard,” there would be far worse things, I have to say.

***

And to end on a high note: Look! The Captain Marvel trailer! Looks like fun.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Seventeen: Kids

When I started Whatever in 1998, I didn’t have a kid. But I knew one was coming, since Krissy was pregnant. Her due date was December 17, but as it turns out, and in the first indication that this child was truly my child as well, the baby was kind of lazy and in no rush to head out of the womb. Krissy was induced on the 23rd of December, a week after the original due date. Athena Marie Scalzi was born, 3:31 pm, 22 inches long and nine pounds. A big baby, big enough that she broke a collarbone on the way out (she got better).

When Krissy found out she was pregnant, my reaction (other than elation because, cool, we were going to have a kid) was to start having dreams about death. Which was a new one on me; I was 29 and at that point was not giving that much thought to the fact that I would one day die. But suddenly I was having dreams where, point blank, was the announcement: “You’re gonna die one day.” Which I thought was a little on the nose. My conscious brain understood why I was having those dreams — when you have a kid, you’re no longer the last generation, there’s one after you now. You’ve willingly put yourself on the mortality conveyor belt. A perfectly reasonable explanation. But still disconcerting in dream form.

When Athena was born, these dreams stopped entirely. They stopped not because I wasn’t still confronting my own mortality. They stopped because once she was born I was okay with my mortality. Not that I was in a rush to experience it; I wanted to help raise this kid first. But it didn’t bother me anymore. I don’t know if this is everyone’s experience with having a kid — hey, I’m gonna die one day and that’s totally cool! — but it worked that way for me, and I’m glad I got that particular existential crisis done and dusted.

Of the two of us, Krissy was the one that worked outside of the home, so once her maternity leave was up, I was the stay-at-home parent and also, I took the night shift duties (roughly 11pm to 5am) so Krissy could actually be rested for her work. This was fine with me; I was still a night bird then so I didn’t mind being up late, and also, you know, even if I did, I was the one with no actual set schedule, so maybe I should just shut up and take one for the team, hey? Because that’s the thing with being a two-parent household: You’re supposed to be a team about it.

It turns out that I really liked being a stay-at-home parent. One, I got to spend a lot of time with my kid as an infant and a toddler, and it turns out she was a lot of fun during these times in her life. I had been mildly concerned, prior to her birth, that I wouldn’t relate to Athena before she was verbal, but, yeah, that turned out not to be a problem at all. Two, it was actually really congenial for the sort of work I was doing. I was doing a lot of marketing and corporate work at the time, which I could do around when Athena neeed attention. When she was napping or otherwise preoccupied, I could pop over to the computer and do the work. Most of my meetings were phone meetings so that wasn’t a problem, either.

Three, it was fascinating to see how people responded to me as a stay-at-home parent. It’s still a thing, men being the stay-at-home parent, and when Athena was an infant and toddler (and even after, since I was the stay-at-home parent her whole childhood) it was even more so. I would be tooling around with Athena in the mornings and early afternoons, i.e., when men were supposed to be at work, and people would mostly respond to me in one of two ways: Wow, there goes super-committed dad, he’s great, or look at that bum, he’s probably sponging off his baby mama. I imagine that if I explained that I was a writer, the responses would definitely fall into the second category. “Writer” is, I think, generally considered code for “unemployed.”

(In fact, I remember specifically one time when some conservative writer or another, objecting to something I wrote here, emailed me to castigate me for wasting time on my blog and letting my woman support me financially rather than getting a job and letting her have the “luxury” of staying at home. It was a delightful bit of joy to point out to him I was earning six figures as a freelancer as well as writing on my blog, that my wife worked out of the home because she liked it, that I enjoyed spending time with my kid, and also, fuck you, you sexist piece of trash. I never heard back from him after that.)

Interestingly, the one place where I definitely received credit for being a stay-at-home dad was with my writing clients. Every now and again during a conference call my daughter would make a noise, and I would explain that I was the stay-at-home parent and that half my office was given over to her play area. Invariably everyone would be impressed that I was taking time out of my schedule to be such an active co-parent. I was aware then and am aware now how vastly different that reaction would have been, had I been a woman freelancer. But since it was working out for me, I didn’t complain at the time.

As soon as Athena was born, I started writing about her here, and mostly haven’t stopped. The reaction of people to this has ranged from “your kid is cute! Write more about her zany antics!” to “Oh my god, you have acknowledged online that you have a child, now the crazies will come for her.” With the former, it’s certainly the case that I cherry-picked the adorable incidents and left out the ones where she was having a tantrum, or otherwise being a less-than-optimal person at whatever age she was at. There are many reasons for this, but primary among them was the idea that not every aspect of my kid’s life needed to be known to the general public. Before Athena was old enough to make such decisions for herself, I ran posts about her by Krissy, to make sure she was comfortable with them. After Athena was old enough to understand what I was doing, I always let her decide what about her went up on the site. It was always important for me to have her understand she had agency with regard to my portrayal of her.

With the latter, I have to say I was never all that worried about it as Athena was growing up. We live in a small town, I have a two-hundred yard driveway, and growing up Athena was with a parent when she wasn’t at school or otherwise accounted for. Beyond that, I’ve never been that hard to find. Even at the height of people being dicks to me a couple years back, no one ever bothered to come up to the house. I remember some angry dude threatening to dox me; I pointed out to him I’m in the phone book. I’m not sure he knew what a “phone book” was.

Athena was important for me in my writing life, not for Whatever fodder but as a general inspiration to do the work. Athena needed food and clothes and a place to live and eventually a college education, and I could not be too precious about the work I took in order to assure these needs would be addressed. I’ve always been lucky in the freelance work I got, but part of that “luck” was the willingness to be flexible about the work that came in. Short of work I found morally objectionable, I didn’t pass on anything. I had a person depending on me to give them a life that didn’t suck. Between me and Krissy, we managed that pretty well.

(She was the inspiration for one bit of fiction: Zoe, from the Old Man’s War series and particularly Zoe’s Tale. In those books Zoe is mostly a teen, and the books were written when Athena was between six and eight, so she wasn’t a direct influence. But I tried to imagine what Athena might be like at sixteen, and wrote someone like that. I was not far off.)

You may have noticed that for this piece I’m not directly talking a lot about who Athena is as a person. Mostly that’s because I’ve done that before, and what I wrote then still stands. But you can be assured that she is one of my favorite people in the world, and not just because she’s my kid. She’s a pretty great human. But this piece is really more about my experience of having a kid, and having her in my life for these last 20 years. It’s worked out pretty well, I have to say.

But Scalzi, you say, this topic was “kids” not “kid.” Well. We did try for more, and it didn’t work out, as sometimes these things don’t. In the fullness of time — which is kind of what this series of pieces is about —  that’s been part of our experience as parents as well. I don’t think either of us regret trying for more, just as we don’t regret the life that we ended up getting to have with Athena as our child. I don’t think we’ve lacked for anything in these last twenty years. It’s been a very good life, as a parent.

“Kids make your life complete” — Sure, they can. You can have a full life without them, and many people do, so I don’t think you can say, “Only kids will make your life complete,” which is often the subtext. I can say that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of the past 20 years with my kid, and my wife as a co-parent, and all three of us as a family. My life, at least, is complete because of them.

The Whatever Digest, 9/17/18

Let’s start the day off with something pretty, shall we. Like these sunset clouds from last night:

I’m often asked how much I Photoshop my sunset pictures, and the answer is, it depends on the day. With that said, this photo pretty much accurately recreates what the sky actually looked like when I took this picture. One thing I did actively Photoshop was my neighbor’s TV antenna, which I edited out of the photo. This is a thing I frequently do. I feel no guilt about it.

Anyway, this was our sky last night. It’s not bad.

***

Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser now has a name (she always had a name, mind you, only now it’s public) and more details of the sexual assault that happened to her, which Kavanaugh has denied. Senate Republicans have stated their intent to move forward with a confirmation vote this week, although at least three GOP senators are now saying they’d be happy to delay that vote until they know more. Jeff Flake is key to this since he’s on the Judiciary Committee and the Republicans on the committee need his vote to move forward to a general confirmation vote. My feeling is that the longer the vote is delayed, the less likely it will be that Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court at all. This suits me fine, since I don’t like his judicial rulings or general philosophy and think this entire confirmation process has been a ridiculous sham of the Republicans trying to jam Kavanaugh through without letting anyone see relevant documents, but it’s still very weird.

For the record, I believe Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, and more than that, the corroborating evidence (including notes from therapy sessions back from 2012) suggests strongly that Ford named Kavanaugh as her assaulter, and sent letters to her representatives about him, long before the man was actually up for confirmation. So the idea that this is some late, last-minute hit on the process don’t really hold up to scrutiny. I would agree this all should have been aired sooner, mind you; I would liked to have known that (another) man accused of sexual improprieties was headed to the Supreme Court.

Also for the record: If the allegations are true, which I don’t really have a problem believing they are, Kavanaugh should not be on the Supreme Court, and tangentially, the Republicans shouldn’t want them there. As people have noted on Twitter, the optics of a self-admitted sexually-harassing President nominating a man credibly accused of sexual assault (and indeed, attempted rape) in order to throw out women’s right to control their own bodies are pretty bad. Now, it’s entirely possible the GOP doesn’t care about that — it’s made it pretty clear it doesn’t give a crap about anything other than its own will to power recently — but it should care about it. We’ll see.

The wild card in this is the “oh, but it happened in high school and that was so long ago and if we’re all judged for what we did back then we’d all be in trouble” argument, and you know what? This argument in general is not a horrible one — we are all stupid as teenagers and certainly as a nearly 50-year-old man I wouldn’t think it’s accurate to base my current personhood on the actions of 17-year-old me. On the other hand, 17-year-old me did not get smashed, force myself on top of a 15-year-old girl, sexually assault her and try to pull off her clothing, either. The adult version of me also did not “categorically and unequivocally deny” the event having ever occurred, as Kavanaugh has.

And that’s the thing for me. I did stupid shit as a 17-year-old, but as a 49-year-old I should be able to own it, and if possible and necessary make amends for it. Kavanaugh, who is 53, is not owning his shit and certainly has no intent to make amends for it. I can believe that Kavanaugh now wouldn’t do such a thing as the drunken 17-year-old version of him would do. But the fact that Kavanaugh now thinks the best thing for him to do is simply to deny such a thing ever happened doesn’t speak well for him or for the GOP bound and determined to get him on the court.

At this point, either Ford is lying or Kavanaugh is. I know who my money is on for that.

***

Athena came home this weekend to see friends, and I took advantage of her presence to take a photo:

I posted this on Facebook, prompting concerned followers there to ask what has become of the rest of her body. Relax, it’s there (you can sort of make out her neck in this picture). Honestly, no one understands my artistic vision.

***

Time magazine is being sold to a tech billionaire, specifically Mark Benioff, who along with his wife Lynee is purchasing it for their investment portfolio. Apparently the Benioff’s plan for Time is similar to the one Jeff Bezos is following with the Washington Post, which is, pour money in but otherwise be hands off.

I’m not a huge fan of billionaires buying media outlets (I kind of preferred it when people become billionaires by building media outlets, mostly, he said, wincing at the thought of Rupert Murdoch), but this is the new gilded age, and we actually need journalism now, and in a big way. So if selling Time to a billionaire is what it takes to keep it going, then, fine. If in fact the Benioff’s are serious about being hands off. If in fact they devote actual resources to it. If they don’t just strip it down for parts, like indeed Meredith, the current owner of the once-proud Time-Life stable of magazines is currently doing. If.

***

Let’s finish on a self-serving note: Hey! The Collapsing Empire is currently $2.99 as an ebook, on all your favorite electronic retailers. Get it cheap just in time to be all caught up for The Consuming Fire, which comes out a month from now. Wheee!

(Update: Sale’s over now.)

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Sixteen: Hair

I’ve not been a fan of my hair these last twenty years.

Honestly, my hair and I have never been on the best of terms. I come from a family that doesn’t have great hair; it tends to be thin and wispy in the best of circumstances, and I, who started balding at around age 24, rarely had the best of circumstances. I have exactly one picture of my hair being decently full looking, from when I’m seventeen. At the time I was rocking the perfect 80s hair; I looked more like John Stamos than John Stamos did at the time. It’s been downhill, hair-wise, ever since.

This is not to say that I desire to return to the halcyon days of feathered mullet hair. One, uhhhh, that style is dated. Two, at this point I’ve gotten used to not having to do anything with what hair I do have; the thought of having to do a whole hair regimen tires me out. If I had hair, it would still be bad hair, there would just be more of it.

What I dislike about my hair, and have for the last double decade, is not the hair per se but its balding pattern. I’ve gone bad from the center of my scalp, and the circle is ever widening. In 1998, it was a patch of bald the size of a small donut. Here in 2018, it’s pancake-sized and honestly I look like I have a tonsure, or, as I noted the other day, like I have a chinstrap at the top of my head. It’s easy for me not to notice most of the time, since I have a baffle of hair persisting at the front of my head. I don’t directly see my bald spot most of the time. But then it shows up in pictures or on video and I’m all, oh, that’s not a great look.

I should note I’m not insecure about my hair. My hair is what it is, and it doesn’t create any social or existential crisis for me. I don’t suffer any loss of social standing for my terrible hair, and I’m happily married to a woman who met me as I started losing my hair, knew what she was getting into and apparently is just fine with it. There’s no penalty for a middle-aged dude having a tonsure, basically, as long as you’re a decent human and a reasonable conversationalist. I do fine regardless of the status of my hair. I just don’t like my hair very much.

Well then, take it all off, you say. Thing is, in the mid 2000s, I did that, just to see what it would be like. As it turns out, I thought it looked fine. Krissy, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. Considering that she was the one who would have to look at me on a daily basis, and in a general sense it’s a good thing to keep one’s spouse happy, I grew it back out. I honestly have to say I don’t understand why she prefers the Friar Tuck look to a chrome dome. But she does, and also, she keeps her hair longer than she would otherwise because she knows I prefer it that way. So. “Not entirely bald” it is.

What I learned in the last 20 years about my hair is that the secret to having it look good is basically to keep it as short as possible. Not completely shaved off but close to the scalp. Otherwise it gets tufty, quick. My rule of thumb is that when I can fashion the hair in the front of my head into a point, it’s time to get a haircut (also, I need a haircut right now).

Mind you, I don’t always get a haircut when I need a haircut, which means that occasionally I get to take pictures of myself with really terrible hair. This is, oddly enough, pretty much the only time I like my hair. I kind of dig taking terrifying pictures of myself. Call it the Opposite Instagram Effect, if you like. Or as I prefer to call these sorts of pictures: “My Next Tinder Photo.”

Oh, yeah. I would totally date me.

My next hair crisis, as it were, is that the bit of hair on the front of my head is thinning rather a bit recently and probably in the next year I’m going to simply just shave it all the way down, and then the question will be what to do with everything else. People say that I should do a Jean Luc Picard on it, but the thing is, a) I don’t have Patrick Stewart’s head shape and b) the hair I have in the back is both fuller and rises further up my head than Stewart’s. Also, bluntly, I don’t have a full-time stylist like Stewart did on ST:TNG — that’s right! Never compare your hair to television hair, even when the dude is bald. I guess I’ll figure it out when it happens, soon.

There’s another sort of hair to consider in this piece, which is facial hair. In 1998, I didn’t wear it very often; here in 2018, I wear it almost constantly. What caused the switch? Well, when I was younger, it was that I didn’t like beards much; I thought they made you look like someone’s dad, and not the cool dad but the dad that spends too much time in the basement, oiling the guns. But as I got older I realized that was a little silly, and also I became a dad anyway, and also, in point of fact, a beard looked fine on me. These days, I also wear a beard because I like so many men my age have experienced Lower Face Collapse, and the beard both gives my chin definition it otherwise doesn’t have any more, and also hides my positively tragic jowls, which at this point and short of cosmetic surgery, I don’t ever see getting any better.

So in sum, here in 2018 I am a balding white guy with a beard. This means that I am on a day to day basis indistinguishable from at least twenty million other American men between the ages of thirty five and fifty five. Wherever I go in public there are at least a few other guys who look like I do. Even at science fiction conventions, where you think I might stand out, there’s a sizable percentage of people who have no idea who I am unless they look at my name tag. I’m not Neil Gaiman or George Martin, both of whom have a easily definable look, both to the point of being cosplayed at comic cons. If you cosplayed me, you’d be cosplaying a middle-aged white guy in an aloha shirt, i.e., 30% of dudes at a con. I have been told more than once by people at a convention that they recognized me only because I was standing next to Krissy, which, to be fair, makes perfect sense to me. No one looks like Krissy except Krissy. A lot of dudes look at least kind of like me.

This is not a complaint, and even if it was, there’s not a lot I can do about it at this point (and even more precisely, not a lot I will do about it). This is my look, and this is my hair — head and face — for a while. And I like me, even with my less than great hair. Honestly, if a tonsure is the worst problem I have with my body — and at the moment, it sort of is — I’m doing great, thanks.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Fifteen: Music

In no particular order, a playlist of 20 songs from the last 20 years that have stuck with me.

New Books and ARCs, 9/14/18

Halfway through September now, and here is a very fine stack of new books and ARCs to note the occasion. See anything you’d like? Tell us in the comments!