The Big Idea: Charles Soule

“There is nothing new under the sun,” as some playwright once said — but is it possible to put a new and intriguing spin on a old concept and in doing so make a really cracking tale out of it? This is of interest to Charles Soule in his new novel, Anyone. And here, with his Big Idea piece, it might be of interest to you as well.

CHARLES SOULE:

Anyone is a book about body-swapping. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. There’s the amazing Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon, Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates, and of course, Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday – among many others. The idea of experiencing life in someone else’s body is one of those concepts that comes around a lot, because it’s a pretty fascinating and alluring idea. It’s something we, as yet, just can’t do. We’re trapped in the meat in which we’re born, we see through the eyes we have, and that’s that until the day we die. Who wouldn’t want to experience life as someone else, even for just a little while? I know I would. Whether it’s terrifying or invigorating or some weird version of the uncanny valley I couldn’t even begin to anticipate, I know I’d learn something profound.

(A quick digression – we can’t get into another body (yet), but a process does exist by which we can get into other minds, and you’re doing it right now: reading. If a book is good, if it hits that transportive state that takes us out of ourselves and into the story, then, yeah – we’re living as Harry Potter or Lisbeth Salander or Jack Reacher or Mina Harker for a while. Writing is a bit like that too, but it’s harder to get there; you’re both creating and experiencing the character at the same time, so it’s twice the work.)

Digression complete. My point is that body-swap stories aren’t uncommon, and that alone wasn’t the Big Idea grand enough to build my second novel around. It wasn’t body switching I was interested in. I wanted to see what would happen in a world not too different from ours where it became commonplace to just inhabit other people’s bodies for a while, like renting an AirBnb. I wanted to find out how society would change if you didn’t know just from looking at someone the sort of body they’d been born into. When I started, I didn’t know the answer. Seriously. That’s the fun of writing a high-concept speculative fiction story, by the way – or really any story. You start with a question or a puzzle, and then you solve it by telling the tale. I didn’t know all the ways the body-switch technology in Anyone, called “the flash,” would affect the world when I started writing the book, and I was surprised by some of the places the story went. True, no-joke surprise. It’s one of the best things about writing a novel. You never know what’s going to happen until you really dig in.

I began by thinking about how we, as a species, approach other human beings. We make so many instant categorizations upon a first encounter with someone new. There are the basic, surface groupings: age, likely gender, physical characteristics like height and weight. Of course, those can all be misread, but it’s part of the information set we gather about a person at a glance. And then there’s the less conscious set of assumptions we might make whether we want to or not: things like socio-economic status. Those things come to us because of whatever biases we’ve grown up with; the cues we’ve come to recognize as having certain meanings, even if unfair or unwarranted.

So, the Big Idea in Anyone was to create a world where that did not exist. If you don’t know who the person you’re interacting with “is,” in the way we define that now, then you have to categorize them more by “what they do” – in other words, their actions. I like that idea very much. We should all be judged by what we do. What we put into the world, good or bad.

Now, look. I know body-swapping wouldn’t immediately create a utopia free of preconceptions or assumptions about other people, and the book acknowledges that. Human nature is human nature. We like to other-ise people. We like our tribes. I think it’s hardwired in from the earliest days out on the savannah trying to figure out what we can eat, what might eat us, and who might help us find more things to eat. But in the grand tradition of science fiction since its very beginning, Anyone lets me take a Big Idea (what if anyone could be anyone), apply it to society, and see what comes out the other side.

There’s obviously much more to the story – intrigue, spills, thrills and chills, page-turning action, twists and turns and a heck of an ending – but that’s the Big Idea I started with.

When anyone can become anyone… what defines who we are? Again – we are what we do. To quote the big theme statement of the novel: you are you.

Anyone is out now. I hope you’ll check it out, if you get a chance.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow Charles on twitter.

 

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Five: Charities

For the last four days, the Whatever Gift Guide 2019 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a donation — or know of a charitable organization that would gladly accept a donation — this is the place for it.

How to contribute to this thread:

1. Anyone can contribute. If you are associated with or work for a charity, tell us about the charity. If there’s a charity you regularly contribute to or like for philosophical reasons, share with the crowd. This is open to everyone.

2. Focus on non-political charities, please. Which is to say, charities whose primary mission is not political — so, for example, an advocacy group whose primary thrust is education but who also lobbies lawmakers would be fine, but a candidate or political party or political action committee is not. The idea here is charities that exist to help people and/or make the world a better place for all of us.

3. It’s okay to note personal fundraising (Indiegogo and GoFundMe campaigns, etc) for people in need. Also, other informal charities and fundraisers are fine, but please do your part to make sure you’re pointing people to a legitimate fundraiser and not a scam. I would suggest only suggesting campaigns that you can vouch for personally.

3. One post per person. In that post, you can list whatever charities you like, and more than one charity. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on charities available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the charity brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the charity and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a charity site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about people promoting charities they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find charities to contribute to.

All right, then: It’s the season of giving. Tell us where to give to make this a better place.

My Krampusnacht Gift

Here’s a fun fact that not everyone knows about me: My first musical instrument — before the ukulele! — was the drums. I’ve had a drumset since I was a teenager (a Tama Swingstar with Paiste 2002 cymbals for you drum nerds) and I used to play regularly. But then a while back I stopped, primarily because drums are super-loud and scare the cats and even in a big house require forbearance from others.

Recently I wanted to get back into playing drums more and casually started looking into electronic drumsets. Then it turned out a friend of Krissy’s, who played electronic drums, had upgraded to a new set and was looking to get rid of his older set for a very acceptable price. Suddenly: I have a new electronic drumset.

And how is it? It’s a lot of fun, actually. And also, since I haven’t seriously practiced drums in about a decade, I really really suck. I, uhhhh, have some work to do to get up to speed. Fortunately, I have most of my December free. The good news is that I can play in headphones at a moderate level of volume (i.e., without blowing out my own ears), and all anyone hears is tippity-tippity-tap-tap — which, as the drumset is in the basement, is easily filtered out by closing the basement door.

Also, my Fitbit is convinced I just did 44 minutes on an outdoor bike. Not true, Fitbit, but thank you for making the effort!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Four: Fan Favorites!

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For the first three days of the Whatever Gift Guide 2019, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a way to discover some cool stuff from folks like you, and to spread the word about some of the things you love.

Fans: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Fans only: That means that authors and creators may not post about their own work in this thread (they may post about other people’s work, if they are fans). There are already existing threads for traditionally-published authorsnon-traditionally published authors, and for other creators. Those are the places to post about your own work, not here.

2. Individually created and completed works only, please. Which is to say, don’t promote things like a piece of hardware you can find at Home Depot, shoes from Foot Locker, or a TV you got at Wal-Mart. Focus on things created by one person or a small group: Music CDs, books, crafts and such. Things that you’ve discovered and think other people should know about, basically. Do not post about works in progress, even if they’re posted publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. So focus on things that are completed and able to be sold of shared.

3. One post per fan. In that post, you can list whatever creations you like, from more than one person if you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on newer stuff. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about fans promoting work they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting gifts.

Got it? Excellent. Now: Geek out and tell us about cool stuff you love — and where we can get it too.

Early Morning Sky, 12/5/19 + Further Pixel 4 Thoughts

I woke up early this morning — thank you, cats — and figured as long as I was up I’d go use the Pixel 4’s astrophotography mode, which is somewhat more advanced than the same mode on the Pixel 3, which was already impressive enough. I was not disappointed. This is a little after 4am, looking mostly west; you can see the constellations of Orion and Taurus, along with the Pleiades, and, of course, a bunch of other stars.

The photo that came out of the camera actually had more stars, I will note; I went into Photoshop and cranked it back just a little to make it closer to what my eyes see. Nevertheless, more than enough stars for anyone. I am genuinely impressed with this particular photo mode on the Pixel 4, and suspect I will be posting rather a lot of astrophotography photos in the future, because the phone makes it so much easier to do than it is on my DSLR.

Likewise, having now lived with the Pixel 4 for a week, I can say I’m more impressed with it than I was when I did my initial write-up. For example, the battery, while still not fabulous, is holding up rather better than my initial assessment. Part of that is due to me changing how I use the phone: because the Pixel 4 can detect when I’m reaching for it or looking at it, I don’t have the ambient display on all the time, because why have the phone screen showing the time when I’m not looking at it? But I think part of it is indeed better management of power on the part of the phone. I’m still taking an external battery with me if I’ll be away from the house for a while, but my experience so far is that’s more for my own peace of mind than an actual need.

I also find the face unlock mostly a good thing. I thought I would miss the fingerprint scanner more than I have, but inasmuch as the phone opens up quickly when I grab it and look at, it’s not been an issue at all. The face unlock is still insecure (it still opens with one’s eyes closed), but again as a practical matter I don’t sleep with anyone I don’t trust with my phone, so on a day-to-day basis this isn’t a problem.

Otherwise the phone works pretty much as I want it to; it’s snappy enough for anything I throw at it and since I’m well-integrated into Google services, it’s useful to me. The new thing I do a lot off the Pixel 4: Streaming, since the Disney+ app on my LG TV sucks donkey balls, while the one on Android can show me The Mandalorian without having to buffer every ten seconds. So there it is.

Camera-wise and aside from the astrophotography mode, the Pixel 4 camera, like all the cameras in the Pixel line, continues to be very impressive and one I would very much recommend. Once again I acknowledge the complaint about not having an ultrawide lens, but, also again, I don’t exactly miss it myself. I get wide enough photos as it is.

So in all the Pixel 4 is a phone I would generally highly recommend, especially for people who take a lot of photos. If you get one, you may find yourself wandering outdoors at 4am to take photos of the night sky. This is not a bad thing.

Sunset 12/4/19

The first sunset we’ve had this month — every other day has been overcast. This one was cloudy, too, but the sun got through anyway. As you can see.

The Case of the Felonious Bread

A few months ago, Seamus Blackley (who you might know as an engaging Twitter presence, oh and also the father of the XBox gaming console) started making bread using 4,500-year-old yeast scraped from ancient Egyptian pottery, and prepared as closely as possible to how it was made back in the old days (here’s a write-up about it in Eater, that’s worth reading for its own sake). At one point he offered to make a loaf for me — for the purposes of science, specifically, making a grilled cheese sandwich from the bread — and I of course accepted. He sent me a loaf via Fed Ex this weekend, and yesterday I got a notice through email that the package had been delivered. I went down from my office to retrieve it —

— and it wasn’t there.

Which confused me. I don’t live somewhere that thieves can easily nab things from my porch, and usually my package notifications are accurate. Fed Ex packages don’t just not show up at my house. So I went online and discovered that not only did Fed Ex claim the package was delivered, it was, in fact, signed for. This was especially odd, since a) I was the only one home, and b) the Fed Ex person did not, as they usually did when something needed to be signed for, ring my doorbell to get my attention.

Then I looked to see who it was who signed for my package:

“POLICE.”

Oh, well, see. That was interesting.

I used Fed Ex’s online help to try to delve further into the issue. The Fed Ex automated response told me that the package had been left “at a guard shack or station,” which confused me further, as there was no guard shack or station I could think of. Bradford, my home town, doesn’t even have its own police force; we are serviced by the county sheriff’s office. I thought maybe this was the Fed Ex delivery person’s way of saying they left it in my mailbox (which is a distance from my house on a rural road), but when Krissy got the mail on her way home from work, there was no Fed Ex package. Could the package actually have been intercepted by the police?

Reader, it could and had! When I spoke to a live person at Fed Ex, I was informed that the person who signed for the package had left a number to call. I called it; it was for a detective with the Dayton Police, Dayton being the city the Fed Ex facility is in. I called the number a couple of times and left voice mail, to find out what had happened to my bread.

And then, about an hour ago, Fed Ex showed up and delivered a package. It was the bread. And with the bread, a note from the Narcotic Bureau of the Dayton Police Department, which began:

On 12-3-19, during a routine check of freight at Fed Ex, a certified narcotics detection dog alerted to the scent of a narcotic on your package. The package was then opened by this office in order to determine its content.

Wow.

In addition to this letter from the police was a copy of the search warrant which was executed in order to open the package, and a copy of the police report about opening the package, in which the detective in question found… bread. And nothing else, because, really. It’s bread.  Seamus Blackley suspects that the coriander in the bread (which is historically accurate, incidentally) might have tripped up the dogs; I suspect it was the 4,500-year-old strain of yeast, or possibly the dogs working that line just going, holy shit I smell delicious bread and trying to get a slice. And who can blame those hard-working canines? Bread is yummy.

I will note I don’t think the police examining this package is an outrageous violation of my civil rights, especially since I now have it in my possession, without slices hacked off for “testing.” I do find it interesting that there clearly a certain number of people dim enough to send illicit narcotics through Fed Ex that drug sniffing dogs are needed. I also wonder how many false positives the dogs rack up, and how many baked (heh) goods are delayed a day or two thereby. I appreciate that there was an actual search warrant, signed off on by an actual judge and everything, along with a note saying “O hai we thought you might has the druqz but you dint, kthxbye.” It’s a nice bit of transparency about the process. That said, it’s… bread. Coriander or yeast or whatever else was the problem, it seems like it should make it through without delay.

In any event, it was quickly ascertained that the bread was not in fact heroin or cocaine or marijuana or whatever, at which point it was repackaged and sent along to me, a day late, sniffed by dogs and examined by humans, but otherwise unmolested. My plan is to saw off a slab of this felonious bread and make a nice ol’ felonious grilled cheese sandwich out of it. A happy ending to an exciting journey.

Update, 3:12pm: Got off the phone after a very pleasant conversation with the detective on this case, during which he detailed the process of examining my bread. I was pleased to learn that while it was taken out of the box, it wasn’t otherwise taken out of its packaging; it was x-rayed and then repacked. So if you ever have plans to bake a loaf around your contraband, well, maybe don’t do that (or, you know, send contraband through Fed Ex anyway, I mean, honestly, folks).

Also Update:

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

The Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisan foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks in your life, and things you can’t just get down at the mall. I hope you see some cool stuff here.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for creators to post about their gifts for sale; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Creators: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Creators (of things other than books) only. This is an intentionally expansive category, so if you’ve made something and have it available for the public to try or buy, you can probably post about in this thread. The exception to this is books (including comics and graphic novels), which have two previously existing threads, one for traditionally-published works and one for non-traditionally published works (Note: if you are an author and also create other stuff, you may promote that other stuff today). Don’t post if you are not the creator of the thing you want to promote, please.

2. Personally-created and completed works only. This thread is specifically for artists and creators who are making their own unique works. Mass-producible things like CDs, buttons or T-shirts are acceptable if you’ve personally created what’s on it. But please don’t use this thread for things that were created by others, which you happen to sell. Likewise, do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Also, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per creator. In that post, you can list whatever creations of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent creation. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from creators promoting their work as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting work.

Now: Tell us about your stuff!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Today is Day Two of the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site years ago and told people to send me a dollar if they liked it. Look where it got me. I hope you find some good stuff today.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for non-traditional authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors of non-traditionally published books only. This includes comics and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books and audiobooks. If your book has been traditionally published — available in bookstores on a returnable basis — post about your book in the thread that went up yesterday (if you are in doubt, assume you are non-traditionally published and post here). If you are a creator in another form or medium, your thread is coming tomorrow. Don’t post if you are not the author or editor, please.

2. Completed works only. Do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Likewise, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Now: Tell us about your book!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day One: Traditionally Published Books

Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2019 — My way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them.

Today’s featured products are traditionally published books (including graphic novels and audiobooks); that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores on a returnable basis. In the comment thread below, authors and editors of these books will tell you a little bit about their latest and/or greatest books so that you will be enticed to get that book for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. Because, hey: Books are spectacular gifts, if I do say so myself. Enjoy your browsing, and I hope you find the perfect book!

Please note that the comment thread today is only for authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors only, books only (including audiobooks). There will be other threads for other stuff, later in the week. Any type of book is fine: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc. If you are not the author/editor of the book you’re posting about, don’t post. This is for authors and editors only.

2. For printed books, they must be currently in print (i.e., published before 12/31/19) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at least one of the following three online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s. This is so people can find your book when they go looking for it. For audiobooks, they must be professionally published (no self-produced, self-published audiobooks) and at least available through Amazon/Audible. If your book isn’t available as described, or if you’re not sure, wait for the shopping guide for non-traditional books, which will go up tomorrow. 

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like (as long as it meets the criteria in point 2), but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books currently available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Got it? Excellent. Then tell the folks about your book! And tell your author friends about this thread so they can come around as well.

Thinking About the Future of Social Media

Annalee Newitz has written a long, thinky piece for the New York Times about where social media might be headed for its next iteration, and she spoke to me (along with many other opinionated people) about my thoughts on the matter. If that sounds like something you want to stuff into your own brain, here’s the link. Check it out.

The 10s In Review: An Occasional Series

Me in 2010 and in 2019.

It’s now the last month of the last year in a decade, and I suppose that means it might be a good time to collect up some thoughts on the past ten years, on both a personal and larger level. To that end, from time to time this month, basically when it crosses my mind to do so, I’ll do posts on the people, events, creative work and other notable things that I want to note before the 10s officially recede into the rear view mirror. Some of this will be specific to me and my life, and some of it will be more general.

I don’t want to overhype this intended collection of decade-end pieces, because ten years ago a grandly announced a very similar plan for the years 2000 – 2009, complete with snazzy graphic, and proceeded to not write any pieces, how embarrassing is that. This time I plan to be more low-key about it. If I’m moved to write something, I will. If not, then, well. It’s not like I wasn’t writing here over the last ten years; you can find what I was thinking about things as we went along. But I do have some thoughts on it all, if for no other reason than to help me make sense of it all for myself, so I suspect there will be at least a few pieces before the end of the month.

I will note — and I think this should be fairly obvious if you’ve been following along here at all in the last decade — that the 10s were a pretty good decade for me personally. Not without its challenges, certainly, but one that on a personal and professional level brought a measure of success and contentment. This is contrasted, I think, with a larger more general trend away from contentment. This division was interesting to experience and not entirely comfortable in its implications, and I imagine this dichotomy will thread itself into the pieces. I expect I will leaven these thoughts with “decade in review” posts of cats and sunsets, however, so there is that, at least.

In any event, this is my plan for December. Let’s see how it plays out.

A Very Scalzi Christmas is Out!

Just in time for the holidays! 

As a reminder, this collection features fifteen stories about Christmas and the holidays, including three that are exclusive to this collection: “Christmas in July,” “Jangle the Elf Grants Wishes” and “Resolutions for the New Year.” Plus illustrations by the super-talented Natalie Metzger for every story (and the cover, obviously). The stories are mostly funny, with a couple that will get you right in the feels.

The signed, limited hardcover edition is almost totally sold out, but there are a few copies left — for now — if you purchase it directly from Subterranean Press. It is, however, freely available in an ebook edition at all your favorite ebook retailers, and Audible has the audiobook edition featuring a full cast (which I’m listening to now and which is friggin’ delightful). Both the eBook and audio editions are very affordably priced (around $6 each). Get both!

I’m so happy this is out in the world. I think you’re really going to enjoy this one. Merry Christmas!

 

New Books and ARCs, 11/29/19

As November fades into the holiday season, we have one last, tall, stack of new books and ARCs for the month. What here is ringing your bells? Tell us all in the comments!

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2019 Starts Monday!

Every year as the holiday season begins I run a shopping guide for the holidays, and over the years it’s been quite successful: Lots of people have found out about excellent books and crafts and charities and what have you, making for excellent gift-giving opportunities during the holiday season. I’ve decided to do it again this year.

So: Starting Monday, December 2, the Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide Returns! If you’re a writer or other creator, this will be an excellent time to promote your work on a site which gets tens of thousands of viewers daily, almost all of whom will be interested in stuff for the holidays. If you’re someone looking to give gifts, you’ll see lots of excellent ideas. And you’ll also have a day to suggest stuff to other folks too. Everybody wins!

To give you all time to prepare, here’s the schedule of what will be promoted on which days:

Monday, December 2: Traditionally Published Authors — If your work is being published by a publisher a) who is not you and b) gets your books into actual, physical bookstores on a returnable basis, this is your day to tell people about your books. This includes comics/graphic novels and audiobooks.

Tuesday, December 3: Non-Traditionally Published Authors — Self-published? Electronically published? Or other? This is your day. This also includes comics/graphic novels and audiobooks.

Wednesday, December 4: Other Creators — Artists, knitters, jewelers, musicians, and anyone who has cool stuff to sell this holiday season, this will be the day to show off your creations.

Thursday, December 5: Fan Favorite Day — Not an author/artist/musician/other creator but know about some really cool stuff you think people will want to know about for the holidays? Share! Share with the crowd!

Friday, December 6: Charities — If you are involved in a charity, or have a favorite charity you’d like to let people know about, this is the day to do it.

If you have questions about how all of this will work, go ahead and ask them in the comment thread (Don’t start promoting your stuff today — it’s not time yet), although I will note that specific instructions for each day will appear on that day. Don’t worry, it’ll be pretty easy. Thanks and feel free to share this post with creative folks who will have things to sell this holiday season.

Please Enjoy This, the Greatest of All Thanksgiving Songs

I was gonna post an earnest entry on all the things I’m thankful for this year, but then we’d be here for a really long time. This video, on the other hand, is barely 100 seconds long, and is more fun. Enjoy, and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.

Zeus and Smudge Welcome You to Thanksgivingtime

It’s after 5pm on Thanksgiving Eve, so we are officially in Thanksgivingtime, in which the early foodstuffs are being prepared so that there will be room in the oven tomorrow for the turkey and other things that need to be made on the day. So cakes and pies and certain casseroles that are reheatable: tonight is your night. Zeus and Smudge celebrate your moment.

For everyone who is trying to get somewhere for Thanksgiving in the middle of a bomb cyclone: Best wishes to you, and may you get where you’re going with a minimum of fuss and disruption. Enjoy your time with family and friends tomorrow. You deserve it.

Very Very Early Pixel 4 Impressions

I had pre-ordered a Pixel 4XL earlier this year and when it didn’t actually arrive on the day the phone came out (or several days after that), I cancelled the pre-order, on the basis that I was willing to pay the pre-order premium because I would get the phone as soon as possible, and Google had fucked up that part of the deal. Having cancelled the pre-order, I waited for the inevitable price drop that would come as part of “Black Friday” sales. Those arrived earlier this week, so I ordered the Pixel 4 (the smaller version) in the limited edition “Oh So Orange” color. This time the phone arrived in two days. Doing better, Google.

So how is the Pixel 4? Some very early impressions:

* First and perhaps most importantly, there were some very deep concerns about the battery life of the Pixel 4 phones, the smaller edition in particular, which actually has a smaller battery than the same-sized Pixel 3 a year previous. Now having the smaller Pixel 4, and having sucked down 37% of its total capacity in three hours of my typical sort of usage, I can confirm its battery life is indeed actual trash, and if battery life is super important to you that you should either pick up the XL-sized version or look at another brand entirely.

Why am I willing to tolerate the crappy battery life? One, I actually played around with the 4 XL in a Verizon store and found it almost comically large, larger than I would have been comfortable with as a daily driver, whereas the form factor of the Pixel 4 is, for me, close to perfect. Two, I am a super-heavy user of my phone in any event, and experience shows that I drain batteries down to their nub regardless of their size, so I always carry an external battery with me (a 5,000mAh one the size of a credit card), which alleviates a lot of my personal range anxiety. Three, when I’m home — which I usually am — charging isn’t problem, and when I travel for work (i.e., will be away from home for several days), I have a larger 20,000mAh battery that’s in my computer bag. So, meh. I recognize I am weird on this score and everyone’s else mileage will vary significantly.

* The Pixel 4’s face recognition works as advertised, very fast and seamless. It also has yet to be updated to address the security concern that you’ve probably heard of — your eyes can be closed, so someone could theoretically open your phone while you sleep — so if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t trust the people you sleep with, and you have a Pixel 4, maybe don’t use the face unlock (or if you do, restart it before you go to bed, so it requires a PIN or password to open). I understand the  face update is coming soon, so there’s that at least. I didn’t use my fingerprint scanner much for specific apps on my phone (yes, I am mildly paranoid on that score), so it doesn’t bother me too much that lots of Android apps haven’t updated their biometrics to include face scan yet. Again, your mileage here my vary.

I do already miss the ability to see notifications by pulling my finger down the fingerprint scanner. That was a neat trick and I wish there had been a way to retain it.

* I wanted the Pixel 4 for its camera improvements, and having now played around with the phone just a bit, I can say, yes, the camera is better, particularly using zoom (because the Pixel 4 has a telephoto lens, which the 3 and earlier Pixels did not). I took a picture of one of my backyard trees at 3.5x and 7x zoom with both cameras; in both cases the Pixel 3 turned the tree into an impressionist painting, while the Pixel 4 did a much better job of capturing details, particularly at 3.5x (7x was still impressionist, but rather less so than with the 3). Better detail capture is important to me because I do use zoom a lot with my cell phone photos, particularly with pets.

Google got some stick for not including an ultrawide lens along with its zoom lens; this is a controversy I find I don’t care about because a) I don’t take a lot of ultrawide photos anyway, and b) when I want to, there’s both a panorama mode and Photoshop’s “photo merge” function, so, again, meh. If Google was going to have to choose between telephoto and ultrawide — and apparently they did? — they made the right call, or at least, the right call for me, which is what I care about. I will say that if the second lens had been an ultrawide and not telephoto, I probably would have sat out this Pixel upgrade cycle.

(Speaking of ultrawide, Google did get rid of the wide-angle lens on the selfie side of the Pixel 4, but widened the framing of the single lens on the front to be almost as wide as it was with that second lens, so…. again, meh?)

I haven’t gotten a chance to check out the astrophotography mode of the Pixel 4 yet, because it’s not yet night and also it’s going to be overcast for the next several days at least, but given how well it works on the Pixel 3, I’m not terribly worried that it will disappoint. I did try out the in-camera ability to balance shadows and highlights, and it’s pretty nifty, although less of a draw for me since I already edit extensively in Photoshop as it is. Portrait mode seems to do a slightly better job at artificial bokeh and figuring out where hair is, although if that’s really important to you, you should get a camera that gives you actual depth of field.

I’ll need to play with the camera more to give any sort of real verdict, but the early indications are that it’s a better camera with better software capabilities, and it’s better in ways that are important to me as someone who takes lots of pictures. Whether these improvements are important to you is, well, up to you. I think if you’re a casual and/or primarily selfie photographer and you own a Pixel 2 or 3, you could probably wait to upgrade. If you’re a more serious photographer (and like having the most capable phone camera), the upgrade is worth considering.

(Yes, I know, it’s weird to talk about the camera without posting pictures — I’ll post pictures in a separate entry when it’s not gray and gloomy and totally depressing outside.)

* The Pixel 4 has a “Live Caption” function which listens to what the phone hears (or is playing, if it has people talking on a video or podcast) and then does a live transcription, which it can do because it does it directly on the phone rather than sending it out to a server farm to be processed. I turned it on for the most recent “Binging With Babish” video and, well: Holy fuck, y’all, this thing is amazing. Not only did it very accurately transcribe with was being said (up to and including words like “anthropomorphize”), it mostly kept up with Andrew Rea’s fast-talking cadence.

Likewise, I used the Pixel 4 recorder app, and recorded myself with the captioning on. It kept up with me as I spoke, and when I saved the recording (and it was processed), it pretty accurately added punctuation to the transcript. Also, just to mess with it, I spoke-sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins at it, which it handled, including spelling that ridiculous word accurately — probably more accurately than I just did. This is deeply impressive (it doesn’t handle actual songs very well, but I’m willing to cut it some slack there).

* The phone also has a 90Hz screen, sometimes (i.e., when it’s bright enough and/or the phone decides you need it) and this seems to be a plus to some people and a negative to others (not the least because it’s a drain on the phone’s already unimpressive battery). Having now seen the 90Hz screen myself, I’m not especially impressed with it — I see what it’s doing and it is smoother, but it’s not a huge differentiator for me personally, and I don’t think I would miss it or notice much if the phone just chugged along at 60Hz most of the time. Otherwise the screen is fine; basically what it was on the Pixel 3. Reviewers have noted it’s not the brightest screen in daylight, and it’s not, but it’s fine (and I’m mostly indoors anyway).

Otherwise the phone seems pretty speedy and capable. It got a memory upgrade from last year and is now up to 6GB of RAM, which is less than other high-end phones but (again!) meh, it’s handling everything I’m throwing at it, so. In terms of storage, I have the 128GB version, which matches what I had last year in the Pixel 3, and inasmuch Google allows one to offload lots of stuff into its cloud, I never came anywhere close to filling up the phone, nor do I expect to do so this time around. Obviously this won’t work if you’re paranoid about Google knowing your shit, but I long ago decided that Google was the company that gets to know everything about me, so, yeah.

* Other notes: The overall look is fine — I think at this point you either love or hate Google’s design language, and I like it just fine. The “oh so orange” color is a kind of goofy, but that’s why I got it and also it will make it easy for me to find my phone in a crowd. The speakers are nice and loud, if not especially full of bass, so if you need your phone to project, this will do the trick (but please please please use headphones in public, none of the rest of us want to hear your music or your phone conversation or whatever bullshit Facebook video you happen to be watching, don’t be that asshole). And as with other Pixels, you get the most updated stable uncluttered version of Android as a matter of course, which is a definite plus.

Overall, I’m liking the Pixel 4 so far, and my only real thumbs down for it is its trash battery — but since I knew about the trash battery going in, I’m not going to hold it against the phone too much. If you want a Pixel 4 and can handle a trash battery, the smaller version is perfectly good! If you want a Pixel 4 and don’t want to carry around an external battery everywhere you go, and don’t mind a tablet-sized phone, the Pixel 4 XL (which save its larger size and a higher resolution screen is functionally otherwise the same as the smaller version) is probably the way to go.

More thoughts about the Pixel 4 in the future if warranted, and definitely more pictures to come.

A Very Scalzi Christmas Down the Last 100 Copies of the Signed Limited Hardcover

Here’s the news from Subterranean Press itself:

Basically, if you want to be sure you get the signed limited hardcover, order from Subterranean Press directly and do it very very soon. Like, today. Because those 100 copies are going to go quickly.

(If you miss the signed limited hardcover, however, there will still be the ebook version. And an audio version to boot. There will still be options!)

Trying the Astrophotograpy Mode on my Pixel Phone

I haven’t upgraded to the Pixel 4 yet, but one of its star attractions for the camera, the “astrophotography mode,” debuted on the Pixel 3 last week. I got up at a ridiculously early hour this morning for other reasons (i.e., cat woke me up), and the stars were visible for the first time in a while, so I figured what the heck. Here’s what I’ve got. Right click on the images to have them pop up in a new tab if you want a closer look:

From a camera phone, y’all. That’s pretty impressive. Whatever Google’s doing with their computational photography, they should keep at it. I’ll take some more shots when the Pixel 4 finally shows up. I’m looking forward to it.