Hey Kids! There’s a New Journey Song!

“Kids,” of course, being shorthand for “People between the ages of 65 and 40 who remember when Album Oriented Rock roamed the FM airwaves.” Isn’t that what “kids” is commonly understood to mean? No? Well, whatever, I think the dictionary will back me on this, probably.

The song itself: It’s okay! It sounds like a perfectly serviceable outtake from the heyday years, something you might find on a b-side when they used to have b-sides. Who doesn’t like b-sides? The kids love ’em! And also, I’m a fan of new material from older bands. I like that they’re open to the possibility of playing more than the same dozen songs in concert, whenever it is we all get to go back to concerts. It’s their first new song in a decade, so I’ll take it for what it is and enjoy it. Hope you enjoy it, too, if this is the sort of thing you like.

— JS

Back to DragonCon!

So, here’s an FYI for you:

John Scalzi

Yes, that’s right, I am the DragonCon literary guest of honor for 2021.

“But, Scalzi,” you say, “Weren’t you the DragonCon literary guest of honor in 2020?”

Indeed I was! It was online, and this year (cross fingers, knock on wood) there will be a substantial in-person component. This could change, I suppose, if another wave of COVID sweeps the nation, so for this reason among many other better reasons, please get your shots, folks, I want to go to Atlanta this September.

As to what I’ll be doing at DragonCon: The usual mix of panels, readings, and such. Maybe they’ll let me do a dance again! We’ll see. I will say that if/when I do a reading, it will include a bit from my upcoming novel The Kaiju Preservation Society. Since I don’t have any public appearances scheduled between now and DragonCon, it will be the world premiere reading from that particular novel.

More details as they come available. I’m looking forwarding to seeing folks! Live! In person! Really there! Etc!

— JS

In Conversation with Jenny Lawson at Lithub

Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite writers and humorists, and also a pal, and couple of months ago Literary Hub asked me to do an interview/conversation with her, talking a bit about her New York Times-bestselling memoir Broken (in the best possible way). Well, I was happy to, and we chatted over the course of a couple of months in email.

That interview/conversation is now up, and I encourage you to click through and check it out. We talk about books (obviously), the art of (still) keeping blogs, dealing with readers who are both wonderful and have expectations, and other things as well. I really like it, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

— JS

The Big Idea: Jen Karner

Cover to "Cinders of Yesterday."

Events can change you — and in her novel Cinders of Yesterday, author Jen Karner posits that this change can go more than just skin deep. In this Big Idea, Karner explores how we react to these events, and how we carry their marks moving forward.

JEN KARNER:

Gaslighting is insidious. It’s worse when it convinces you magic doesn’t exist, and that your mom was crazy. What if you could talk to ghosts but no one believed you? Worse. What if your memories of magic were stolen, timed with a traumatic event that could have caused retrograde amnesia. What would that do to a person? These questions led to the understanding this was a ghost story wrapped in generational trauma, a place where magic and grief intermingle so that you can’t extricate one from the other. It’s messy, because surviving is rarely something cut and dry. That was the seed that would grow over the course of many years to become Cinders of Yesterday. It’s a ghost story that revolves around generational trauma and the ways we hurt ourselves and the people we love in grief and fear.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way that people react differently to similar circumstances. Just look at siblings in a family, the way one might withdraw from a trauma while the other explodes. At the same time I was drawn to magic, ghosts, the paranormal, and the way that occultism swept through America in the early 1900s. When you combine the way that women in particular were demonized and institutionalized for hysteria, while being told they weren’t experiencing what they were, it’s impossible to pretend that trauma on a cultural level isn’t baked into our experience of society.

I just went one step further.

Trauma, and the way we react to it, changes us. If it’s big enough, and terrible enough, it can change our brain chemistry and leave epigenetic traces in our DNA. I wanted to explore the root of generational trauma using magic as a mechanism to do it, allowing my characters the kind of catharsis that most survivors never get. Breaking those chains, deciding to stand your ground instead of running, or leave your hometown instead of succumbing to it, requires a certain kind of fortitude. It’s not easy. It’s messy and complicated, and in the real world, there is rarely something so cut and dry as a murderous necromancer who has been hunting you that you can blame.

Cinders of Yesterday is the first book in the Legacy of Shadows series, and it’s about confronting the trauma that created you. It’s about facing your past and your decisions, even when they were hard. Even when you didn’t make the right choice. I didn’t start the novel with a theme of trauma, but it’s impossible to miss once you start reading because it’s woven through the actions of all the main cast.

Emilie and Dani are tied together by a shared source of abuse and trauma. However, they don’t deal the same at all and they become mirrors of each other and the way that people move through grief after a traumatic event. Internal and external, angry and anxious, slowly processing and lashing out.

Both of them are damaged by what they’ve survived, but they are more than those circumstances. Being a survivor isn’t always about putting on a brave face. Sometimes it is about having a drink where no one can see, about letting yourself sob and spiral, and finding your equilibrium again. The story and the characters are messy, because trauma is messy. There is no cut and dry answer as to how you learn to keep moving after it has derailed your life. There’s just knowing that after today is tomorrow, and then the next day. Even after you get the closure you wanted, or the answers you needed, the scars remain.

Cinders of Yesterday is a story that is unmistakably about trauma – The ones we survive, the ones we run from, and how no two people deal with the same hand of cards in quite the same way.

—-
Cinders of Yesterday: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple Books  | Google Play
Follow the author’s website. Follow them on Twitter or IG.

A Reminder to Worldcon Members

The room block at the hotel is open! Go get a room!

(And yes, I reserved a room, and yes, at this point, I do plan to attend. I am a Hugo nominee this year, after all. And also, the idea of a holiday-timed Worldcon is charming to me.)

— JS

I Am Truly A Great Daughter

Buying gifts for my dad, whether it be for his birthday, Christmas, or Father’s Day, is a challenging feat. This is mainly because, as many of you have seen from his ridiculous musical acquirements, he buys himself whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Gift giving goes out the window when the person just gets themselves anything and everything they could ever want or need.

However, this Father’s Day, I’ve really outdone myself.

Salty licorice from Ikea! That’s it, I’ve decided that I’m the perfect daughter, no question.

On a more serious note, I hope everyone reading this has a pleasant Father’s Day, and if you don’t celebrate today, then I hope you have a very nice Sunday.

Unrelated, I’m leaving tomorrow morning to go to Virginia for a friend’s wedding (I’m in the wedding!), and I will be gone pretty much all week, so you shan’t be hearing from me for a bit.

Fare thee well!

-AMS

More Learning the DAW

"Learning the DAW 02"
John Scalzi

How I spent my Fathers’ Day: In my musical man cave, trying to figure out how to make all the stuff I bought work. And the results were — well, pleasantly productive! I figured out how to play guitar and bass directly in my DAW, apply effects, chop up loops and beats and fiddle with their various values, like volume, and generally move a step up from just staring into my computer with a furrowed brow wondering how to make the damn thing function. Progress!

As evidence of this progress, this track, which, while I hasten to add is not particularly good (it’ll be a while before “good” is a thing I can say about my musical fiddling about), is nonetheless a substantial step forward in my ability to use my music equipment. For example, with the exception of the drum tracks, I actually played all the musical instruments on the track: Guitar, bass and keyboards. Those parts aren’t complicated, but they’re me, and this is the first time I’ve actually multitracked myself playing instruments. There is some irony in me using drum programming when that is the instrument that I am actually competent on, but look, my drum set is too far away from the preamp to be easy to plug in at the moment. I stand by my musical choices, such as they are.

Hope you all had a fine Father’s Day, if that’s a thing you celebrate.

— JS

Juneteenth Thoughts

Today is the first day Juneteenth is a national holiday in the United States (for federal workers it was observed yesterday because today is the weekend), and I was asked in email what thoughts I had about it and how I might be celebrating it. Well:

1. I think it’s a fine idea as a national holiday, and I support its inclusion on the holiday calendar (and even if I didn’t it’s there now anyway, so).

2. As a white person, I’ve never celebrated it and I have no idea how to celebrate it, because fundamentally it’s not about me (except in an incidental and not exactly positive way), and other than knowing it exists, I’ve not actively engaged with it before. So, as a matter of prudence, and not wanting to make an ass of myself, I want to take my cues about it from those who have celebrated it all along, which is to say, Black Americans.

The original Juneteenth commemorated the day in 1865 that slaves in Galveston, Texas learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — which, it should be noted, had been issued three years before, so this was not a great look on the white folks who had been keeping that news in their pocket. Juneteenth started being celebrated informally by Black Texans the next year, and over time it’s been recognized by various states, and then this year was made a formal national holiday after unanimous consent in the Senate and by the vast majority of the House, not counting 14 Representatives who seemed bound and determined to make a show out of being racist assholes. And here we are.

I think having Juneteenth as a national holiday is a good thing, but I’m also aware that its elevation to that stature does not come without criticism. As others have noted, the irony of elevating Juneteenth while the Republicans are actively stripping Black people of their ability to vote in a manner unseen since Jim Crow, and banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory (which is almost never taught in elementary or secondary schools, and would almost certainly be unconstitutional to ban at the university level, so this is pure racist pandering), among all the other things systemic racism inflicts on Black Americans, is pronounced. Juneteenth as a national holiday is progress, sure, but it’s progress against a concerted and deeply racist undertow of current Republican politics. The GOP doesn’t get to point to its Juneteenth vote to suggest it’s not the party of white supremacy in this country; the Democrats don’t get to point to it to suggest they’ve done enough.

Likewise for most white folks! At the Black blog The Root, writer Michael Harriot offered up “The Caucasians’ Guide to Celebrating Juneteenth,” which is both amusingly exasperated and deadly seriously caustic about how white people should approach a celebration that is not theirs and is not about them, which has now been made into a national holiday. I suggest reading it because it’s a good read and because it makes points worth making about what Juneteenth is and is not, with specific reference to white folks. It’s useful, if not especially hand-holdy, but it’s not Harriot’s job to hold your (or my) hand on this stuff.

So how am I celebrating Juneteenth this year? Well, I’m not going to try to angle an invite to a cookout, and I’m not going to pretend this means we’ve gotten over racism, so let’s all hug. I’m going to mark Juneteenth by using it as a day of contemplation on what Black Americans have been telling us about white supremacy in the United States, and by thinking about what I need to do to make the United States today better and more equitable for Black Americans specifically and non-white folks generally (and then, you know, doing that, on more than just Juneteenth). I’m going to use it as a day of learning and listening and generally opposing white supremacy. That seems an appropriate way to note the holiday for me.

As for the future, let’s see how it evolves, under the direction of those who have celebrated it all along.

— JS

 

Krissy’s Anniversary Gift

Krissy with her new bass.

A couple weeks ago I took a picture of Krissy with my bass, just for fun, and she remarked — wrong-handedness aside — that she liked the feel and weight of the bass; it felt like an instrument she could get into. Well, I didn’t need much encouragement from that point; I snuck online when she wasn’t looking and picked up a left-handed bass for her as an anniversary gift, and arranged with a bassist friend of ours to give her a few lessons. If everything works out, Krissy and I will have our own punk band very very soon.

— JS

Off the Musical Deep End, Part III: Programageddeon

John Scalzi

“Hey, Scalzi,” you ask, “any more choice thoughts about your new little basement studio?” Why, yes, I have a couple!

* First, folks, I’m sooooooo in over my head right now. I know I’ve said that before, but let me reiterate that I’ve really overcommitted. I’ve, like, bought all the software (to go along with all the hardware, which I also bought), and while buying all that stuff was fun in a retail therapy sort of way, now I actually have to learn all of it. And that’s also fun? But also kind of like work? But if I don’t do it I’ve literally spent a whole basket of money on nothing?

Mind you, I absolutely plan on learning all this stuff. But at the moment I’m at the very bottom of the learning curve looking up and going, yuuuuup, this is gonna take a bit. The good news is, while I can’t guarantee at the end of it that any of the songs I might write will be any good, if I learn this stuff like I want to, at least they will sound good. This will be the aural equivalent of making terrible food but plating it spectacularly. We work with what we have.

* I do think at this point I’m pretty much maxxed out on hardware and software, however, at least for the rest of 2021. More accurate, and per the point above, I have enough on hand that adding more just means I won’t get to it anytime soon, and even if I did I wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with it. So again: Time to work with what I have, and then see after a while if there’s anything else that’s useful and/or necessary.

And here the musicians snicker, and, well: Fair. But I’m gonna try to hold this line for now. Don’t mock me! Okay, mock me a little.

* The most recent major purchase for the room: A friggin’ chair, because I temporarily used a dining room table chair for a couple of days and it almost wrecked my lower back. I forgot I was old and my body is looking for any excuse to fall apart. The studio chair is not as swanky as my office chair, but it’s more than good enough, and when I sit in it I don’t feel my vertebrae trying to slip sideways out of my back. Also it matches the carpet and The Beast, and that’s nice.

* Finally, I’m discovering the drawbacks to having the studio in the basement. The first is that this is where we keep the cat boxes, so there’s the faint smell of, shall we say, “cat business” about. It was always there but I wasn’t in the basement for hours on end, and now I am. So, that’s not great. I expect I’ll be cleaning out the cat boxes more frequently than I currently do, which is probably for the best anyway.

More pressing, however, is that the basement is damn cold. Which makes sense: Cold air sinks, and the basement is underground and largely windowless. But also: Brrrrr. I’ve taken to leaving a hoodie and thick socks down there as part of the studio basic equipment. This gives me an excuse to play my drums to warm myself up.

So, yeah. The easy part of buying stuff is mostly over. Now comes the hard part of learning stuff. Let’s see where it goes from here.

— JS

26 Years!

It's Krissy!

I’m 52, and today is the 26th anniversary of me and Krissy getting married, which means, if I haven’t entirely lost my ability to do math, I’ve been married to Krissy for almost exactly half my life, and have had her in my life for an even larger percentage. Not gonna lie, looking to increase those percentages quite a bit before it’s all said and done. She’s terrific.

I hope you have a great Scalzi Anniversary; we plan to.

— JS

The Big Idea: India Holton

The cover to The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels

The women of The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels have a most unusual talent — one that their society most decidedly does not approve of. Author India Holton raises the roof on this unusual ability… and why it was the one she chose for her cast of characters to have and use.

INDIA HOLTON:

The big idea which inspired my fantasy romcom The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels was actually quite a small, simple idea to begin with. I wanted to write self-assured women characters who possessed power in their world – in this case, a magical incantation which allowed them to fly buildings. It seemed straightforward enough to me, and I settled in to have some fun with a group of ladies I intended to send swaggering and swashbuckling through an alternate Victorian England.

But as the story unfurled, all the intrinsic elements of a woman’s existence kept arising to block the characters’ power or outright take it from them. From how they should sit in a chair to their actual right to exist as independent people, these wicked lady pirates who disregard law to wreak havoc in their weaponised flying houses still find themselves constrained by gender-based social rules, misogyny, or male domination. 

I could of course have chosen to ignore these influences, since I was creating a sideways version of reality. Or I could have chosen to lean the Wisteria Society even further away from niceness, into a reckless brutality which cared nothing for any rule.  But I became fascinated by the dichotomy between female power and powerlessness.

Setting the book in Victorian England, a time in which even the Queen-Empress herself submitted to the dominant patriarchy, was an obvious choice. Every period of history has repressed women, of course, but it was the Victorians’ sentimentalisation of this, with their whole idea of “The Angel in the House,” that hooked me. So, I had my women turn their houses into battleships. Even so, they would never dream of hanging an unfashionably coloured curtain in their windows – and woe betide anyone who tries to call upon them outside of visiting hours! One might be a pirate, but that doesn’t mean one should be uncouth. 

Although it seems daft that a woman capable of stealing diamonds from a duchess would still submit to the etiquette of how to address that duchess properly – or which spoon to use at the tea table while planning a heist – such disjunctions have in fact been normal for women throughout history. (And yes, it is daft!) Living in New Zealand, I’ve watched several female Prime Ministers wield authority with a capable hand and brisk intelligence, and still be scrutinised on their parenting choices, clothing choices, and how often they smile, in ways male leaders never are.

And so, my small idea quickly become a major theme which shaped every relationship dynamic in the book. While I hadn’t set out to create a treatise on feminism (not even a wacky, ridiculous treatise with bonking – on the head with parasols, if you please), looking back it seems inevitable that, as a woman author writing about women with power, I was going to find myself addressing feminist themes to some degree.

Ironically, the magical power my ladies possess actually made it easier to explore the elements of powerlessness. But this is one of the great things about writing fantasy. We can take a rather ordinary idea and twist it, conflate it, or blow it to pieces with a cannon fired from an elegant parlour window. So, the Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels enter the battle of the sexes with a cry of yo ho ho and a cup of tea. And they have riotous, villainous fun doing it – which in the end felt to me like the boldest feminist statement of all those I tried to make with this book.


The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels : Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Sakuraco June Box Review

Athena ScalziHello everyone, and welcome to another installment of me trying Japanese snacks! Today I’m reviewing the Sakuraco June 2021 Box with my dad. This month’s theme is citrus, which is perfect considering summer just started! Since we’ve done this three times before, I’m just gonna run through a quick explanation and then jump right in!

Sakuraco is a subscription box company in Japan that curates Japanese tea time snack boxes, with each box of snacks containing 20 authentic Japanese snacks such as castella cakes, senbei crackers, mochi, and more. The boxes also contain one home good item, such as a cup, plate, or chopsticks. Now that you’re up to speed, let’s rate some snacks!

Komachi Chestnut Pie:

This little golden brown treat was a great start to this box. My dad and I agreed that the chestnut filling was quite good, but my dad thinks the pie crust surrounding it was a little underwhelming, and a little too bready. I thought it was pretty perfect, honestly, no complaints from me, I really liked it! Overall, it was super tasty, pretty moist, and we would definitely eat it again.

SakuSaku Seaweed Rice Cracker:

This salty snack was flippin’ delicious. Unlike rice cakes here in the US, this little snack was comprised of tiny, individual rice balls that fell apart completely differently than what we’re used to. It made for an entirely different mouth feel, but was quite pleasant. The flavor of this was really intense, like a punch of umami flavor, but super good. We would definitely eat this again.

Fresh Orange Cake:

I have never had orange cake before, and I was little skeptical how it would taste, but I can say with full certainty that it is amazing! This one in particular was citrusy but not acidic, super flavorful, moist, and even has peel pieces in the batter which definitely contributes to that fresh taste. We would definitely eat this again.

Plum & Wasabi Okaki:

If they hadn’t prepared me by putting “wasabi” in the title of these, the heat would’ve totally thrown me for a loop. It was an intense heat upon consumption, but it mellowed out quickly and doesn’t burn like crazy or anything. It definitely doesn’t taste like plum, though. It tastes a lot like shrimp, my dad and I agreed. The texture is perfectly pleasant and they have a nice crunch. We would eat these again.

Azuki Dorayaki:

I swear I get one of these in every box! Though I think maybe they’ve all been from different brands because they’ve definitely varied in size. Anyways, this one was pretty okay! It has red bean paste in the middle, but this time the paste had whole beans in it instead of just being a smooth paste. It was like having chunky peanut butter instead of smooth. My dad was not a fan of the whole beans, and said they were odd. I don’t mind the whole beans at all, but I would say that it was not sweet enough. The pancakes were great, though! My dad says he would eat it again if the paste was smooth instead of chunky, and I would eat it again regardless of the whole bean paste.

Summer Fruits Jelly:

Upon opening this snack, I commented that it smelled like hair product. I didn’t expect it to taste like that either, but here we are. This snack totally tastes like when you’re taking a shower and accidentally get conditioner in your mouth. Despite not liking the taste, and not particularly loving the texture, either, I do like the aesthetic of it. The fruit suspended in gelatin is kind of a cool look. We would definitely not eat this again.

Waraku no Sato Salt Yokan:

This little snack is slippery as an eel. Despite being named Salt Yokan, it’s not particularly salty, and honestly it tastes like red bean paste, which I like. It was weirdly dense, but in a good way. We would definitely eat this again.

Matcha Taiyaki

I swear I’ve gotten this one before, too! But maybe I’m wrong. Taiyaki is always one of those things that I’m super excited for, and then it turns out just okay. Really, this snack was fine overall. The filling was okay, the bread was okay, nothing special or crazy about it. We would eat it again, but we are not enthused to.

Mochi Azuki Jelly:

I know the last couple times I’ve tried these mochi jelly type of cup thingies, I’ve hated them. But this one was actually pretty okay! And I’ll tell you why. This one was firmer than all the other ones I’ve tried. Much less… wiggly. Although this one didn’t have much flavor. It was very plain, even the mochi was like, unflavored. The mochi was quite dense, though, which made for a good mouth feel. This mochi jelly had a ton of beans in it, which is good if you like them, like me, and bad if you don’t really, like my dad. My dad says he would eat it again if it didn’t have the beans, and I’m undecided if I would partake in this jiggly treat again.

Cocoa and Orange Fruit Tart:

This was the snack I was most excited for, but unfortunately it did not meet my expectations. Though it did have a good flavor, as orange and chocolate is quite good together, it was ridiculously dry. Honestly, it tasted a lot like a Fig Newton, which is nowhere near orange and chocolate, but somehow also conveyed the orange and chocolate flavor. We would eat it again, despite dryness.

Hojicha Warabi Mochi:

I’m so tired of eating these gross mochi thingys with roasted soy flour, but nonetheless I persevered. This one, surprisingly, was also not as bad as usual, as it was firmer than most of these things, but not firm enough (unlike the one previously mentioned). The flavor was familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it until my dad said it tasted like jellied tea, and I realized it really does taste like black tea! I would not eat it again, but my dad said he would and he even finished the whole thing, whereas I couldn’t stand more than a couple bites.

Summer Citrus Monaka:

Much like taiyaki, these monaka wafer snacks are something I’m always excited for, but the wafer part is always awful. Usually, though, the paste inside is good enough that it makes the wafer a tolerable obstacle. However, this one had a weirdly flavored filling that I did not enjoy. To me, it tasted like someone took a bowl of black licorice and then squeezed a lemon over top of it. Literally like citrus and anise. However, my dad said it didn’t taste like anything and that it didn’t have a lot going on flavor-wise. We would not eat it again.

Uji Matcha Cake:

For the final snack, we tried this matcha cake. It was super good! It was moist, soft, had a subtle yet delicious matcha flavor, and was a huge portion, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. The beans didn’t seem to bother my dad this time. We would definitely eat this again.

Here are my dad’s top three snacks from this box: Plum and Wasabi Okaki, Fresh Orange Cake, Hojicha Warabi Mochi

These are my top three snacks: Fresh Orange Cake, Chestnut Pie, Seaweed Rice Cracker

Honorable mention: Uji Matcha Cake

Now that you’ve seen all the snacks, here is the home good that was included!

Japan’s Four Seasons Serving Tray:

Honestly, I really like the design, and a serving tray is a cool thing to include. However this piece is not dishwasher or microwave safe, and it just feels like cheap plastic. It does look nice, though, so it’s alright in my book.

And of course, here is the tea that I don’t try because I feel it’s unfair to review something I know I dislike.

Matcha Infused Genmaicha Tea:

This month’s box was definitely my favorite one yet! It makes me so excited to see July’s. I hope you enjoyed looking through all these unique snacks. Be sure to tell me in the comments which one you’d most like to try! Or if you also subscribe to Sakuraco, tell me which one was your favorite from your box. And have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Christopher Swiedler

Author Christopher Swielder takes a look at what divides not only his characters, but people in our society in his Big Idea for his newest novel, The Orpheus Plot. Read all about how our problems today aren’t so different from a futuristic-space society’s.

CHRISTOPHER SWIEDLER:

It recently occurred to me that I wrote most of The Orpheus Plot between 2016 and 2020. For future generations who might be a little sketchy on early twenty-first century history, this was a) after the invention of the Internet, b) before the COVID-19 pandemic, and c) during the 45th presidency of the United States, when disagreements got so bad that physicists started a petition to replace the term “political polarization” with “political matter/antimatter baryogenesis.”

The Orpheus Plot began with a relatively simple idea: the protagonist, Lucas, is the first kid from the asteroid belt selected to be a cadet in the interplanetary Navy. He’s lived in space his entire life and already knows half of what they’re trying to teach him, but having grown up on a mining ship without a regular school he hasn’t learned half of what the teachers expect him to already know. 

What makes Lucas’s story more complicated is that the relationship between the Navy and the miners of the Belt is already tense and deteriorating rapidly. A big part of the Navy’s job is to enforce customs and mining-rights laws that the Belters are unhappy with. Most of the Navy sees miners as dirty, uneducated, and entirely unsuited for their cadet school. Lucas’s odd position as the only Belter kid on the teaching ship Orpheus makes him a focal point for all of the built-up hostility, and he soon becomes embroiled in a plot to hijack the ship and start a revolution in the Belt.

Developing the motivation for central characters like Lucas is often pretty easy. What’s usually harder is the motivation for the antagonists that oppose them. Characters can (and should!) have flaws and contradictions, but they still need to have a reasonable set of goals and a believable view of the world. As any book on writing will tell you, conflict is the key to storytelling. But for conflict to resonate with the reader, it has to emerge naturally from the characters’ core beliefs. To depict a solar system on the brink of civil war, I needed to develop worldviews for the Navy and the Belters that were both understandable and wholly incompatible. 

Getting back to our present-day mess, one of the most depressing statistics I’ve read recently is that a majority of both political parties now think that the biggest threat to the United States is the people of the other party. If that had been the premise for a sci-fi novel of thirty years ago, people would have called it dystopian if not outright unbelievable. How can the person living on the next street or in the next town be a threat to the survival of your country? Humans are pretty hard-wired to consider otherness a threat, but we’re also social creatures who tend to see everyone around them as part of their identity. When we’re exposed to otherness for long enough our response is to expand our definition of self so that the otherness ceases to exist. Tell a millennial that there was once uproar over the possibility of a Catholic President and they’ll shake their head in disbelief. They understand the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, but the idea of worrying about it is as silly as caring about whether the President has blond hair.

The problem, unfortunately, is that we’ve stopped being exposed to otherness. We isolate ourselves not geographically but politically, so that the majority of our interactions are with people we already identify with. A century ago, it was virtually impossible for a person to communicate with anyone on the other side of the world. But for the same reasons, it was virtually impossible to not communicate with the ones who lived next door. Technology has made it possible for two people in the same town to develop such different identities that each of them considers the other to be an enemy. 

In a sense, the character of Lucas was a response to this self-sorting and divergence of identity. He is a connecting point between two cultures on the brink of conflict. He believes, like I do, that the two sides of his world see each other as enemies only because they’ve both found ways to segregate themselves. His bravery comes from his insistence that he belongs to both sides and his refusal to accept that there needs to be any kind of division at all.

I’m an optimist about humanity’s future. I believe that people over time find ways to break down barriers them and expand their sense of self. I love science fiction because it lets us imagine all the possible ways our world might evolve, and one of my favorite quotes is a line from Arthur Clarke’s Imperial Earth—an example of both his unfailing optimism and his signature throwaway-quote style—where the U.S. President of the year 2276 bemoans the death of ethnic diversity and how “it will be a pity when we’re all the same shade of off-white.” A pity, yes, but also my hope: that over time we will choose to weave a single social fabric and form an identity that is nothing more, and nothing less, than being human.


The Orpheus Plot: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

In Which a Major Corporation Flirts With My Wife

Here’s how it went down on Twitter today:

Panel One, from me: "I always said the next car I'd get was likely to be electric. Mildly surprised this will be the form it takes. But a) country living means this will actually be practical, b) Krissy was all "hell yes I want that," so." + Picture of the electric Ford f-150.

Panel two, from Ford: "We see you, Krissy. Excited for you, @scalzi. Thanks for making a reservation!" + gif of a cute guy in a truck.

Panel three, from a reader: "Dude! Ford's totally flirting with your wife!"

Panel four, from me: "They're just aware of how good she'll look behind the wheel." + picture of Krissy.

Panel five, from Ford: "We just know that good looks run in the Ford family, is all."
John Scalzi

Also, yes, we reserved one of the F-150 Lightnings, i.e., the new electric Ford truck that will come out next year. I wrote a Facebook post explaining why, which I will repost below.

—-

So, in 2015, after I signed that big contract with Tor, one of the things I was going to do was secretly buy Krissy a convertible, as a way of showing my appreciation to her for everything that she had done to help us get to that point — as I’ve frequently said, after all, without Krissy, I absolutely would not have the career that I have had.

I was looking at the Mustangs for this, but when I sneakily brought up convertible Mustangs in conversation to her, she was all, “meh, they’re okay I guess,” and then later just straight up bought a beater convertible from a pal for really cheap just to tool around in for the summer (I mean, really cheap; I have musical instruments that cost more). At that point I admitted to her I had been planning to get her a car but that it hadn’t worked out, so, basically, whenever she decided she wanted a new car, she had a redeemable coupon for one.

In the six years since, she hasn’t really thought to redeem this coupon, until this last week when I was showing her some videos about the upcoming electric Ford F-150, which, aside from having very good range for an electric and a massive closed storage space where the engine would be and huge hauling and towing capacity and more electrical outlets than some apartments (including a 240 V outlet), can also, in the event of a power outage, actually power one’s home for two or three days (with an optional installed power inverter, which of course we would absolutely get). Krissy’s eyes lit up like a house whose power was now being provided by a big-ass truck.

Sooooo now we have a reservation in for a Ford F-150 Lightning, and we are both happy: Krissy because she’s going to get a very cool truck which she will absolutely have a use for out here in the country, and me because I finally get to give her a car (and also because it comes with a bunch of super cool technology stuff which I will totally be a geek for). Expect to see Krissy tooling around in this thing sometime in 2022.

— JS

Cicadone

You know what I heard this morning? Nothing! Which is the first for a couple of weeks; the cicadas, the literal background hum of the last fortnight, have mostly gone silent. Because they’re dead, you see. They crawled out of the ground, they mated, they laid eggs, and they died. There are a few stragglers still flying about, but they’re like people at a beach resort as autumn begins; they missed almost all of the fun. I hope they find love anyway.

In any event, even they will be gone in a couple of days, and that will be that until 2038. The nice thing around here, however, is that as the cicadas are going, the fireflies are arriving. They’re much more quiet than the cicadas. Not necessarily prettier — I think the cicadas looked pretty cool, actually — but maybe nicer to gaze at on a summer night. It’s a summer of bugs, it is.

— JS

Off the Musical Deep End, Part II: The Unpackening

John Scalzi

As a follow-up to the post from a couple of weeks ago, I now have the music room largely set up; there are a few more things I need to do and get (some acoustical tile; an actual chair), but they’re relatively minor things. I’m ready to fall all the way down the rabbit hole with this stuff now. If I can’t make music with what I have at this point, the problem is me, not what I have to work with.

What you’re not seeing here is the actual mountain of boxes and shipping material much of this stuff came in, so much of it that I think I need to donate to the Arbor Day Society to make up for all the cardboard I caused to be used.

(Oh, and: I did end up getting a Mac after all; a new Mac Mini. For two reasons: One, The Dell is a capable machine but like a lot of ultraportables doesn’t have a lot of physical connectivity. The Mac Mini does and it turns out that’s actually useful with a room full of physical equipment. Two, at the end of the day there’s more and better music creation stuff in the Apple ecosystem, and that’s what I’ll be using this particular computer for. Also, three, Krissy was all, “I know you want one, just get the damn thing,” and who am I to argue with Krissy.)

Again, my plan is when I’m not in my office, writing words, I’m down here in the basement, writing music. I’m not giving up the day job, to be sure. But this isn’t meant to be a side hustle. It’s just meant to be enjoyable for me. And I’m having fun already, so that’s good.

— JS

“Getting Back To Normalcy”

Athena ScalziFucking Christ on a cheese stick, I am so tired of that phrase.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard, “as the world opens back up”, “as we return to normality”, or “as things are getting back to normal,” I wouldn’t have to live with my parents.

Companies love something they can “relate” to their customers about. Companies love heartfelt concepts and wholesome ideas they can use to market to their demographics. And they love pretending like they care.

And what gives them a better excuse to pretend like they care than the biggest pandemic of our lifetime?

How many car commercials did you see during the pandemic that started with, “in times of uncertainty”? How many cereal commercials said, “we’ll get through this together?”

After writing that sentence, I Googled “commercials that said ‘in times of uncertainty” and it turns out there’s like actual articles about this phenomenon! Here’s the Wall Street Journal saying that these commercials have a “tragedy template”. This article is from one month into the pandemic. Over a year later, companies are still being as annoying as all hell, but now they’ve shifted from “we’re in this together during this uncertain time” to “as you start to go back outside and are now visiting businesses and spending money again.”

This is literally what they sound like:

Also posted over a year ago. But they just keep coming! Companies keep busting out these “heartfelt” and “compassionate” commercials even though nobody asked for them in the first place.

I don’t want companies to act like they care. It’s just embarrassing on their part. Everyone knows they’re only in it for the money. You know how it’s evident? Because they’re still trying to sell you shit during the pandemic. It doesn’t matter how they frame it, even if they say that times are hard and that they care, they still want you to give them money. If they really cared, would they even advertise?

This idea of “returning to normal” is even more problematic than the insincere, copy and paste, “sad” commercials that companies were doing for months.

This whole “returning to normal” thing isn’t just company and commercial related, though. It’s workplace and school-related, too. The “returning to normal” ideology is toxic for institutions to have, because we aren’t just “going back to normal”. We can’t just shrug it off and go back to how things were.

The problem with these institutions is that they think we’ll just get over it. The pandemic is over now, right? People are getting vaccinated, we don’t have to wear masks anymore, it’s all hunky dory, right? But what these institutions don’t understand is trauma. They can’t see the long-term effects.

The pandemic has changed everything, yet we are expected to return to how things were before. But how can we? These institutions, as well as companies, cannot understand how profoundly the pandemic has affected not just society, but people on the individual scale.

Part of that is because they don’t want things to change. Like I said, the pandemic has changed everything, but what do I mean by that? Because, from the looks of it, almost nothing has actually changed. For example, aside from the vaccine, did we get tax-supported no-cost healthcare? That would have helped. Did we get the institutional level of support that would have been equal to these “uncertain times”? No.

And why would these institutions allow any sort of change when things have been working so well for them up to this point? They’re not going to suddenly turn around and be like, “oh, we’ve realized our mistakes and now see the flaws in the systems we’ve created” because they’ve known all along. They know their systems are fucked up, but it makes them money so why would they stop?

Meanwhile, we as individuals, are completely changed. Maybe you’ve lost loved ones, or lost your job, maybe even lost your home, or got COVID and suffered serious effects. Or maybe nothing really happened to you personally, but you got a front row seat to watch the world around you burn, and that’s traumatizing enough on its own.

Most of us have known for a while that our society and our government are fucked up, but this pandemic really put the final nail in the coffin. It was eye-opening for a lot of people. It showed that we are not cared about, even if a Ford commercial says we are. It showed that our institutions would rather sacrifice us than lose money. And it showed that we would rather sacrifice each other than not go out to eat at Applebee’s.

Yes, things are returning to normal. But only after half a million people died, only after the unemployment rate skyrocketed to new heights, only after the homelessness rate increased, and only after we’ve all sustained trauma that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

But we aren’t feeling, thinking, human beings to these institutions. We are numbers on a graph, we are statistics in the making, we are cogs in the machine. They couldn’t care less if our mental health is less than fucking ideal after over a year of dealing with the pandemic. We are meant only to make them profit, traumatized or not. Depressed or not. Anxious or not. Burnt out or not.

So, I’d really appreciate if companies stopped acting like we’re in this together. Because we aren’t, and we never were.

-AMS

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