A Week Without Tonsils

Athena Scalzi So, I got my tonsils out last week. A procedure which many of you know went a little sideways, but everything turned out okay in the end! Anyways, now that it’s been several days of relaxing and healing, I’m here to report on how recovery is going.

Before we get into it, I am someone who believes that everyone has a type of pain that is more unbearable to them than any other kind. I know a lot of people who get terrible migraines, and they have mentioned they would rather deal with anything else other than headaches. For a lot of people, it’s likely that stomach aches are probably the worst kind of pain to them. For me, it’s a sore throat. There is nothing in this world more awful to me than a sore throat. Ear pain is a close second, though (I got swimmer’s ear a lot as a kid).

That’s the biggest reason I was hesitant to get my tonsils out. I would’ve preferred any other kind of surgery. Knee surgery, wrist surgery, a nose job, I don’t care what, I would’ve taken anything over throat surgery. I was totally terrified, but utterly unsurprised when my surgeon told me that this would be the worst sore throat I’d ever had in my life. It would be worse than strep, and it would probably be nothing like I’ve ever really felt before.

Well, she certainly wasn’t wrong. It’s been really rough. She told me it’d be a miserable recovery, and it’s been unpleasant at the very least. One of my favorite things to do in life is eat food! You know how much that’s been impacted by throat surgery? Eating hurts so much. Just existing hurts. But trying to eat or drink on top of that? Rough.

The weirdest part of this pain is that it’s so different from what I imagined. When I think of a sore throat, like from a cold, I think of, like, scratchiness. Uncomfortable irritation and being hoarse, I think. It’s hard to describe, but this isn’t scratchy. It’s like I’ve completely overused a muscle, and every time it constricts or moves it’s like trying to use something that’s broken, or using a muscle that’s been hyperextended and worn out.

It’s such a unique pain, and I hate every bit of it. I just want it to be over already. Like jeez, talk about annoying.

I got told to take Tylenol and Ibuprofen, but was also given Percocet in case the pain was too much. The first few days wasn’t so bad, I guess, but yesterday was the worst it’s ever been, so I took my first Percocet. This was the first time in my life I’d ever taken prescription pain medication or a narcotic or anything, and let me tell you, it was a wild ride.

Did it help with the pain? Yeah. Did it make everything else about my entire body feel weird as hell? Also yeah. I was burning up, sweating, my limbs felt funny, and my head felt even weirder. I was woozy and a little sick feeling. I ended up taking a nap for a couple hours. Admittedly, my throat felt a lot better, but I think I’ll just stick with extra strength Tylenol four times a day.

Besides the pain, it’s been really annoying to hear my voice the past week. I sound quite different currently. My voice is, like, too thick, or I sound congested? It sounds like there’s phlegm in my throat, but there’s no way I’m gonna try to clear my throat or start coughing if I can help it (don’t wanna cough up the scabs, after all). My voice is deeper, which isn’t exactly a bad thing since I’m pretty nasally normally, but it is weird to hear. And I haven’t been able to sing in the car! Tragic.

Anyways, I’ve been doing okay, switching between copious amounts of ice cream and copious amounts of Jell-O, but I wanted to thank you all for your kind words and consideration the past week. All your well wishes truly mean the world to me, and I appreciate all of your support in this rather rough time! Thanks for listening to me whine a bit more, it helps with the pain more than this damn Ibuprofen.

-AMS

The Big Idea: Alex Zohar

Is there such a thing as too much progress? Sometimes we are more preoccupied with the question of “if” we can do something, we don’t think about if we “should”. Such is the case in Emotional Robots: A Question of Existence, when the very robots that replace us may find themselves replaced. Follow along in co-author and illustrator Alex Zohar’s Big Idea as we think about what it really means to progress.

ALEX ZOHAR:

When we started this project in 2017, we had all been working in the startup and tech world for close to a decade. Advancements in technology were moving so fast – just think back to ten years ago, before the iPhone and mobile web fully took off and how different things were. Trying to keep up with the rapid pace of technology as consumers, and the unrelenting drive for growth we experienced as employees of startups, had us questioning what progress really even means. 

In the news, big stories about the illusory promises of technology came to light in the form of Theranos and Juicero – among many other examples. Through a combination of our individual experiences working in the tech world and being millennials, we decided to create a lighthearted graphic novel that could poke fun at our increasingly absurd modern world, while also examining our obsession with progress. At the same time, we wanted to approach it with both empathy and consideration for human nature. Some of the most enjoyable parts of this project traced back to the initial ideation stages: stacking seemingly idiotic technological possibilities upon one another – possibilities that in some cases ended up being more fact than fiction. 

This led us to our Big Idea: When a society of robots replace their human creators, what happens to them when they themselves become replaced by better robots of their own creation? And how do they cope with this new reality? In all of this, we wanted to explore what it means to be human and what we’re losing in this ceaseless drive to stay updated. Naturally, all of these questions began to get filtered through the joke of robots who develop emotions.

Overall, our book’s intent to make people laugh – sharing in the humor of our existence and modern condition. On a deeper level, perhaps it can help us take a step back and widen the lens of our current place in time.

There is a secondary Big Idea in the work, which is the cyclical nature of history. As the historian Will Durant once aptly said, “There is no humorist like history.” These clever little robots couldn’t agree more. Throughout history, technological revolutions have often been marked by turbulent times. Being believers in the value of levity in the light of turmoil, we wanted to explore this idea through the three generations of robots and how they evolve throughout the story. 

Will we ever learn from our past mistakes? Or, are we (and our sentient creations) destined to repeat ourselves and follow the same fallible human nature that is so timeless throughout history? Ultimately, we wanted to use this universe of lovable robots as a platform to thoughtfully and presciently discuss the issues we face today with some wit and dark humor.


Emotional Robots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop

Visit the co-author and illustrator’s website.

Christy Gaitten, RIP

My pal Christy Gaitten (seen here on her wedding day in 2000, from a snap Krissy took) passed away yesterday. I don’t think she would want me to get too mushy or overlong in a public remembrance — she definitely edged toward the “sarcastic quip” side of things — so let me just say that she was one of a small group of friends who Krissy and I fell in with when we lived in Northern Virginia, and with whom we shared innumerable good times and good conversations, enough so that I dedicated a book to her and those other friends in commemoration of those days. “Gait,” as she was universally called, was a friend who would tell you what she thought when she thought you needed to hear it, and you always knew where you stood with her. These were very good things. She was also funny as hell, which was a nice bonus.

I have more thoughts, all good, but I will keep them to myself for now. Again, she wouldn’t want me to go on and on. Just know I’m glad I got to share some time with her in this world.

Much love to Christy’s husband Cian, their children Jacob and Maggie, and all their family and friends, the latter of whom there were many. We were lucky to know her, and her memory will be treasured.

— JS

LD+R a Netflix Top Ten Show

Picture of LD+R banner with "Top 10" button on it.

And actually, top 5, as it was nestled in at number five when I checked, and of course I checked, because I was curious. This is a pretty good showing for its debut weekend and I’m unsurprisingly pleased about it. “Top 5 Netflix Show” is a nice thing to be able to add to one’s resume. Mind you, I’m just one among many who get to say “their” show is a top 5 Netflix show, but I will still take it. Me and lots of other people get to have this moment. We’re a hit!

Thank you for watching if you did watch — and if you’re going to watch it but just haven’t, thank you too. It’s nice when people watch (and hopefully enjoy!), one’s work.

— JS

Thoughts On the Imminent Unmasking

As many of you know, the CDC recently changed masking guidelines for vaccinated folks, and in Ohio, at least, guidelines are also changing — both immediately for vaccinated people and then for everyone in a couple of weeks. I’ve had some people ask me what I think about it and what I plan to do with regards to my personal masking habits, inasmuch as I and everyone else in my immediate family (including my mother-in-law) are fully vaccinated now. Well, here’s my plan:

Outdoors, I’m not going to wear a mask, unless I’m specifically asked to by the event/people I’m at/with. In which case I’ll wear a mask.

Indoors, I’m going to do what people/businesses ask me to do. If I go to a business and a sign on the door says “masks required/requested,” I’ll put on a mask. If I visit a friend and they prefer I wear a mask, then I’ll wear a mask — and I’ll make an effort to ask which they prefer ahead of time. I keep a mask in my car at all times anyway, so it’s not going to be onerous for me to honor those requests, and even if it were, I would still honor them.

I do understand that people have concerns that the unvaccinated will be wandering around without masks and now we won’t be able to spot them. My thinking here is that where I live the unvaccinated were wandering around without masks anyway, so this won’t be anything new. At this point, the people who are unvaccinated and have been wandering about maskless do what they do as a political position, and in doing so have willfully endangered the lives of others who can’t get the vaccine for genuine medical reasons. That’s not going to change, whether I wear a mask or not. I can’t do anything about them being genuinely shitty people on this matter. My wearing a mask or not won’t change their genuinely shitty behavior.

(Also, at this point if you are choosing to be unvaccinated because of a political position or because “you don’t trust the science” or whatever dimwit rationale you have, you’re being an asshole, and if you get sick, I’m not going to waste any sympathy on you. My sympathy at this point is for the people the willfully unvaccinated are going out of their way to endanger, namely, the people who genuinely can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons, whose lives will still be curtailed because some of us have decided being a shitty person about COVID is a legitimate social and political stance. Hey! Stop being an asshole about this. Get vaccinated.)

If you are vaccinated but still not comfortable being in public without a mask: You do you! I don’t see any problem with that, and certainly wearing a mask does no harm to anyone else, and may do some good. I support your decision. Also, moving forward, as a general rule, I think it would be useful and wise for people to wear masks when they are ill yet need to be in public. It would be lovely for people not to knowingly breathe viruses on other people! So, yes, I’ll be keeping my masks going forward and adding them to my clothing repertoire.

(Oh, and you know when else they’re useful? When it’s cold as hell outside. My face didn’t freeze nearly as much this last winter as it usually does. I’ll keep masks around for that, too.)

I’m happy the mask mandates are ending; I wish they were ending because we all had gotten vaccines instead of the bare minimum of people to allow us to say, “eh, close enough.” But here we are. And I, at least, am fully vaccinated, as is my whole family.

— JS

Follow-up to the Week’s Excitement

Athena has already updated you all on the, uh, exciting events of her week, so I don’t need to go over that again, but I did want to check in to thank the folks who checked in with me or Krissy to see how we were doing in the wake of Athena’s unexpected medical emergency. The short version is that we’re fine; the crisis was over fairly quickly and Athena is well out of danger now, so everything is more or less back to normal. It wasn’t fun, but it was brief, and in a situation like this, that’s kind of the best case scenario.

The slightly less short version is that it disrupted things here for a few days, as it would. When I was told about it, it was front loaded with “she’s okay and not in danger,” so I didn’t have any moments of panic. However, okay or not, my daughter was having an unexpected stay in the hospital, and Krissy — who did not get “she’s okay” front loaded to her when someone came out to talk to her and therefore basically had the world drop out under her feet for a few terrible minutes — had a bit of shock handed to her. So my immediate task was being support for both of them as needed. So, yeah. No writing done since Tuesday. I’ll pick it up next week.

It affected me in a tangential way as well: I had my first travel in 15 months planned for Thursday, and naturally that had to be cancelled so I could properly tend to family matters here at home. That I would cancel the trip wasn’t in question — as soon as I knew Athena was having a hospital stay I knew I’d be staying at home — and I don’t have any regrets having done so. But it did put me in a bit of a pissy mood anyway. I was going to see (equally vaccinated) friends for the first time in a year! And then suddenly I wasn’t. It was like being promised a pie and having it splat on the ground as you reach for it. I’ll reschedule, mind you, and again, I was (and am) where I needed to be. But it was still disappointing.

Again, thanks to everyone for checking in on us in the aftermath. We are fine! And also, it’s nice to know people were concerned and care about us (and Athena in particular). It was a silver lining on a dramatic week.

— JS

And Now, The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

If you saw this video I posted on Twitter yesterday, you may be wondering about what the heck happened to me:

If you saw my previous post, you might remember that I went into surgery to get my tonsils removed. And I was very, very scared. So scared, in fact, that I put off scheduling my surgery for an entire year because I was so terrified to have any kind of surgery, or be put under with anesthesia.

But, I finally gathered up all my courage, and despite crying a little bit every time I thought about it, I got my surgery scheduled! I went to the hospital at 8am on May 12th, and was put under at about 9:30am. This was the easy part. To all of you that said I wouldn’t feel anything and I would just immediately pass the fuck out, you were right. Literally I was laying on the operating table for all of two seconds before the world went black. No distracting question from the anesthesiologist, no warning, just… going to sleep.

And then, after a perfectly routine and normal surgery, I woke up in recovery with my lungs full of fluid and unable to breathe. I was immediately surrounded by six doctors and nurses, and everyone was talking about me in the third person, barking orders about what to do in order to get me a shred of oxygen. I was coughing up blood, gasping for air, clutching my chest, thinking oh shit am I gonna die?

They forced an oxygen mask on me and despite it forcefully pushing air nonstop into my mouth and nose, I couldn’t fuckin’ breathe. Pulmonary edema, I think is what they called it, which just means I had a bunch of fluid in my lungs and wasn’t getting air, so, that was neat.

After a bit, I could breathe again, though it was hard and hurt to do so. They gave me a shot that was supposed to help get the fluid out of my lungs, and I stopped coughing up frothy pink stuff.

Finally, things calmed down and I was doing okay. I had several different specialists around me, trying to explain to me what happened. Apparently, some saliva hit my vocal chords wrong and it made them snap shut and this caused my lungs to panic and try to intake air but they got fluid instead? I don’t exactly know, but what I do know is that it sucked!

What was supposed to be an outpatient surgery turned into me staying the night in the PCU (I said ICU in my video but that’s because I didn’t know that the PCU existed until my mom saw the video and was like, girl you were in PCU not ICU). So, yeah, if you’re like me and have never heard of the PCU before, it stands for progressive care unit, and is a step down from the intensive care unit.

I was hooked up to the little nose oxygen thingy, IV’s were put in me, I had x-rays for blood clots, and my blood drawn four different times! It was a lot, honestly. A lot of firsts that day! I also got a lot of Jell-O so, y’know, you win some you lose some.

I got discharged yesterday at noon, and then I got a Frosty from Wendy’s, and then I’ve been laying on the couch ever since! I’m currently switching between pudding, Jell-O, buttered noodles, Kraft mac and cheese, and ice cream. It’s not so bad.

So, yeah, I’m just chilling, waiting for one hell of a hospital bill to come through, but enjoying some popsicles in the meantime.

Thank you all for your concern and kind thoughts! I’m pretty okay now! It was just a scary experience. One of the nurses actually told me that she’s worked in recovery at that hospital since 2004 and that was the second time she’s ever seen that happen! So I’m just cool like that, apparently.

A lot of the doctors told me that they hope this experience doesn’t dissuade me from having future surgeries, but, it might’ve a little bit. Like just a smidge.

Anyways, I’m going to go eat some more Jell-O, so I’m off for now. Have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: L. R. Braden

Though individuality is what makes us great, sometimes you have to find common ground to bring everyone together. Read along in L.R. Braden’s Big Idea, where she tells us how this idea of bringing wildly different groups together took shape in her newest novel, Of Mettle & Magic.

L. R. BRADEN:

Fear drives people to do stupid things. I’d love to say we as a species have learned from our bloody history, but every time I glance at a news article I find strife—discrimination, political division, school shootings, social discontent—and I just want to scream, “Haven’t we gotten past this yet? Why can’t we all just get along?”

But of course, screaming at my monitor doesn’t accomplish anything.

Not only that, but talking about issues like religion, politics, sexual preference, or race is liable to alienate half my audience before I even get to the heart of the matter. So I created a world that was a mirror of our own but different enough that I could explore social issues and express my opinions without people immediately throwing up their comfort-bubble walls. That’s the magic of speculative fiction.

In my books, I made the primary divisive factor about species. Namely, humans vs. fae. Within these two major groups are smaller factions that bicker and scheme just like the people of Earth. A fae could belong to any one of the magical courts that train in particular skills, and could live in any of dozens of inter-connected realms, each ruled over by a different fae lord. A person who was born human might discover they have the rare practitioner gene that allows them to do magic, or might be turned into a werewolf or a vampire.

Each group has history with the others, and that history colors their interactions. Humans see werewolves as monsters. Werewolves see fae as evil. Fae see vampires as abominations. Vampires see humans as food. It’s these biased preconceptions that bring the Magicsmith world to the brink of tearing itself apart as every faction vies for power. To steer the world away from war, a balance must be found. But how can these groups ever interact as equals?

Enter my main character, Alex Blackwood. On the surface, Alex is about as average as a person can get. She’s a middle-class, moderately educated, fairly independent, white woman. The only ways in which she stands out at the beginning of the series are that she’s single and she has a predominantly masculine career—she’s a metalsmith. However, dig a little deeper and we find out she’s anything but average. Part fae, part sorcerer, but raised to believe she was entirely human, the Magicsmith series follows Alex as she grows through each revelation and struggles to understand what all these new labels mean.

For me, Alex embodies the idea of a global community, in which every aspect of her complex lineage plays a role and makes her a stronger person overall. Alex also acts as the focal point for bringing individuals from different groups together, causing them to interact and grow to understand one another. Without meaning to, Alex creates what she calls “a fundamental change on an individual level” among her friends and supporters. A feat she then tries to duplicate on a larger scale.

Throughout the book, Alex attempts to bring people together by sharing her vision for the future, but she meets resistance from every quarter as people set in their ways refuse to bend—because, let’s face it, changing minds and hearts is hard.

The big idea of this book is that all people are integral to the balance of our world, our society, and our species. The things that make us different are the things that make us strong. Like Alex, I hope to see a day when we can all just get along.


Of Mettle & Magic: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Kobo

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

Love Death + Robots Volume 2 Now Out

The Netflix Thumbnail for Love Death + Robots, Volume 2

In case you were wondering to yourself what you should watch on Netflix today, the new season of Love Death + Robots just dropped, with another eight episodes of futuristic and/or fantastical animated chaos and mayhem. Not only do I have an episode in this season, but it’s the lead-off episode: “Automated Customer Service,” for which — big news — I co-wrote the script, along with Meat Dept., the crew who directed the short. Yes! I’m officially a screenwriter now! At the tender age of 52. Dreams come true when when they come true, kids. Keep plugging away.

Also, while I am obviously biased, the whole season is pretty darn good. Let me put it this way: I think my episode is pretty darn great, and also every other episode is at least as good as it is, in its own way. There is, indeed, love, death and no shortage of robots in the eight episodes of the season. You’re going to find a lot to enjoy here. At least, I hope you will. Happy watching.

— JS

Dogs in the Yard, 5/13/21

Charlie and the two neighbor dogs in the yard today.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my yard has become the de facto dog park for the neighborhood. Here is evidence of that: Buckley (black labradoodle), Gus (golden labradoodle) and Charlie (doofus sprinter) all hanging out in the lawn. And a fine day for it. We don’t mind that they hang out here. They’re pretty cool. And they tire Charlie out, which is a nice. Anyway: Here’s today, from my front porch.

— JS

I’m Totally Not Feeling it Today, So Instead of Incisive, Thoughtful Commentary I’m Just Going to Show You Something That’s Making Me Irrationally Angry

A package of Hostess "JUMBO donettes"

Fucking “Jumbo Donettes”?!?!?

THEY’RE GODDAMN DONUTS THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE

“But ‘donette’ is their trademark”

YOU DON’T THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT IT’S STILL THE WORST THING EVER

SERIOUSLY IMMA GO DOWN TO HOSTESS WITH A BAT AND “TALK” TO THEIR MARKETING PEOPLE

(eats his Jumbo Donette gloweringly)

That’s it, that’s all I got for you today.

— JS

Scared Of Surgery

Athena ScalziI’m having surgery for the first time in my life tomorrow and let me just say, I am hella nervous. I’m honestly really scared, mostly because I’ve never been put under with anesthesia before.

Also I’m getting my tonsils burned out of my throat so, that’s scary to think about, too.

I remember as a kid all my friends getting their tonsils out, and they got to eat nothing but buttered noodles and ice cream. It didn’t sound so bad, but I was glad nonetheless that my tonsils were a-okay and I didn’t need them out. In fact, once I turned into an adult, I remember mentioning to a friend that I was glad I made it through my entire childhood without needing them (or my wisdom teeth) out. Who knew you could need them out as an adult?

Well, I guess it was nice while it lasted. I can’t say I’ll miss them, and I’m probably better off without them, but OH MY GOD SURGERY I’M SO SCARED. If I think about it for long enough, I start to cry.

If any one of y’all has gotten your tonsils out, or has dealt with a kid that got theirs out, please give me advice! I want to hear all about your remedies and helpful tips! I could really use some advice. I think the more prepared I make myself, the less scared I’ll be, so please tell me all your post-tonsil-surgery secrets.

Well, I’m off. The next time you see me I will be tonsil-free! And probably whining about how much pain I’m in. So be prepared for me to be a huge crybaby.

Have you had any surgeries before? What’s it feel like to anesthetized? Do you still have your tonsils as an adult? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Jeff Noon

The famous saying is that “life is like a bunch of chocolates.” In author Jeff Noon’s case, it’s more like a deck of cards, and for the same reason: You never know what you’re going to get. Follow along as Noon tells you how total chance helped him write his newest novel, Within Without.

JEFF NOON:

Theseus would be lost in the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and would probably have died in there, were it not for Ariadne’s skein of red thread. She gave him this clew (the Old English word for ball of thread) to use as a mapping device, and a pointer back to the exit, once the heroic deed was done. In Within Without, I used the red thread in a slightly different way – as a series of signposts pointing the way forward, deeper into the labyrinth. I am not speaking metaphorically: I actually used a red thread to create the novel.

I never plan. I get an idea that excites me, that seems to have potential, and then I begin to write. So, I had two things. The first a city, a city obsessed with borders, that would contain millions of borders, of every kind: physical, psychological, magical. Secondly, I had the notion that a famous person’s public image might be a sentient alien creature that lived in a symbiotic relationship with the host, increasing the star’s charismatic value. Imagine if Ziggy Stardust was actually a living entity that inhabited David Bowie’s body; that was the basic concept, to be explored. I had a feeling, not yet articulated, that the two ideas were connected, that the borderline between image and flesh was also a border in the city.

A few months before, a friend had gifted me a pack of cards. The pack is called The Red Thread. It consists of thirty-two cards, each with its own image and title. A red thread is printed on each card, arranged randomly, so that cards can be edged together, the thread connecting one image to the next in a patchwork effect, creating, in a sense, a narrative told by the cards. I decided to use these cards, and the thread connecting them, to tell the story of Within Without. So I shuffled the pack and turned over the top card… 

Hm. The Shoe. A Card of Utility. Not a very interesting way to begin a novel. Maybe this process would stall at the first signpost. But the pack also includes a separate list of all the cards, with a few sentences describing each one, and what they might symbolise. So I read the entry for The Shoe. “A journey. Protection on a rocky path.” Okay. We can work with that. My protagonist, Nyquist, is a private investigator. He’s about to enter Delirium, the City of a Million Borders. So I put him in a queue. A very, very long queue of people moving very, very slowly, squeezed into a very narrow corridor. And I started to write. A few pages later, I turned over the second card: The Pearl, a Card of Emergence. Right then: Nyquist will emerge from that queue and move towards the first border of the city. Here, something of importance would be found, or lost. In fact that “pearl” turned out to be a tiny black hole that the customs officer found in Nyquist’s suitcase. We were off!

And so it went on. Each start of a new chapter drew a new card, and often a chapter needed a further card halfway through. I never knew what was coming next. Sometimes the cards fitted the current episode very well indeed, and at other times I had to think laterally to make it fit. But all thirty-two cards were used, as they came up: The Twins, The Automaton, The Spectre, The Plumed Horse, The Owl. All found their place. Some of the cards led to major surprises, things that actually shocked me, when I worked out the hidden meaning. Things I would never, ever have invented on my own. As each card was used I laid it out on a tabletop, lining up the red thread with the previous card. Often the cards had to be nudged up or down or set at right angles, to make the threads connect. Slowly, throughout the first draft, the pathways twisted about, this way and that: my very own miniature labyrinth.

I came to the last few chapters, and the last card. Without thinking about it too much, I had allowed the thirty-two cards to fit, more or less, the novel’s length. And now this final card would end the story. I turned it over…. The Finger Post. A Card of Direction. I was astonished: after using the entire pack as a series of signposts, it all comes to an end with one last signpost. I envisioned Nyquist looking up at the place name written on sign. Here was the city’s final border, the most mysterious of them all, the reason why Delirium had been built in the first place. The journey, and the novel, moved towards its exit point.


Within Without: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Ten Years of Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation, the book
John Scalzi

Today is not only my birthday, it is the tenth anniversary of the release of Fuzzy Nation, otherwise known (to me, anyway) as The Makeup Book, because it was the book that came out after Tor and I briefly and privately broke up for a couple of years before patching things back together.

Why did we break up? For all the usual reasons, mostly involving money, promises made and not quite kept, me being stubborn, and a few levels of misunderstanding which are amusing now that everyone’s made up but at the time were a little exasperating.

But! Had the misunderstandings and exasperation and failed money dealings not happened, then Fuzzy Nation would not exist! Fuzzy Nation exists because when Tor and I had our behind-the-scenes falling out, I suddenly had a bit of free time and the desire to do something that would be fun and just for me. And what I came up with was something I had mused about for a while, which was — what would it be like if a “golden era” science fiction story was updated with a more modern sensibility? H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy was a good candidate to try this on, because it’s in the public domain, and also, I liked the story quite a bit and was familiar enough with it that I could use it as a basis for this particular project.

Original version of the cover, by Jeff Zugale.

People were (and are) generally skeptical when I say that I wrote Fuzzy Nation purely as a personal exercise, and given that I’m famously commerce-minded, I can certainly understand that. But, I swear, it’s true. While I was out of contract at Tor at the time, I was working on a video game with Disney (for a project that unfortunately did not pan out) and I was consulting for Stargate Universe. Plus Old Man’s War royalties had started to come in. My bills were being covered. And after what was essentially a disappointing contract negotiation, which is necessarily about money, I wanted something to reconnect me to the fun of writing, something that wasn’t commerce-minded. I had no intent to sell Fuzzy when I was writing it, and once it was done, I thought that if I did anything with it, I’d release it as a self-published thing, with the proceeds going to charity (indeed to that end I talked to my accountant and commissioned a potential cover, by my pal Jeff Zugale).

But then two things happened: One, my agent Ethan Ellenberg asked to see it and was convinced he could sell it; two, Tor and I started circling each other again, because both of us apparently had regrets about the breakup. On Ethan’s end, we worked out a thing where we got the endorsement of the Piper estate for the book, because although it was not required we get their clearance (the book I was working off was in the public domain, remember), we thought as a matter of personal ethics — and to avoid blowback from certain segments of fandom — it was a necessary step. And on Tor’s end, well, they paid me a lot of money for the book and then they made my name bigger than the title, thus making me officially a “big name author.”

And just like that we were back in business, and we continue to be, and very happily so, to this day.

The book was not without its controversies — as expected, some parts of fandom were (and continue to be!) scandalized that I did a rewrite of Piper’s classic, even if I did get the endorsement of the estate. A few folks have snarked that the book is “fan fiction.” Well, it is, in point of fact; that’s why I wrote it, because I was a fan of the original. What they intended to be dismissive is a badge of honor for the book. I always encouraged people to seek out Piper’s original because it’s great, and I thought it would be instructive to have folks compare and contrast; indeed, the book’s original audio release had the audio of Little Fuzzy included as an extra, which I thought was pretty clever.

Anyway, if people are still upset about me doing Fuzzy Nation, I guess they will just have to die mad about it. It’s been out for a decade. It’s a little late to do anything about it now.

I’m very fond of the book, myself. It did reconnect me with the joy of writing, which was a thing I needed. It repaired my business relationship with my publisher, which was also a positive thing, for both of us. And it’s low-key the favorite book of mine for a whole lot of people, which I find delightful (a lot of credit goes to Carl the dog, who apparently people really, really like. You can’t go wrong putting a dog in your book, people. This is a tip I am giving you for free). And as a side benefit, a number of people who have read my book went on to read Little Fuzzy and from there, other Piper works. I like that a lot.

So happy birthday, Fuzzy Nation! May people continue to find and enjoy you for years to come. I’m glad I wrote you.

And now, to close on a somewhat silly yet awesome note, please enjoy “Fuzzy Man,” the sublime song from Paul & Storm that I commissioned for the book’s release. The idea was that they would replicate the closing credits power ballad from a 1980s blockbuster, and let me tell you: They friggin’ nailed it. It makes me happy every time I hear it. Enjoy.

— JS

52

Me at 52. Phot by Kristine Scalzi
Photo by Kristine Scalzi

It occured to me last week, as I was coming up on my 52nd birthday, which is today, that I am now old enough that I have a year of my life correspond to every week of a standard-sized year. This is not a particularly deep thought, to be sure, but to someone who is a secret organizational nerd, it’s kind of fun to think about, and it does put an interesting spin on things. For example, the US had a really rough December, but things started to look up again just in time for the new year.

This formulation also means today is New Year’s Day, as it were, on the second year of my life. Whether I get through this whole year remains an open question (I think I’ll be happy to make it to Halloween), but I’m not going to worry about that right now. Instead I’m looking forward to what comes next in this new season. The last (actual not metaphorical) year had some real highs and lows for me, but especially in the last couple of (actual not metaphorical) months things feel like they’ve been on a real upswing. It’s nice to have a sense of optimism. I’m going to ride that wave as long as I can. You’re welcome to join me.

So Happy New Year (on several levels) to me, and to us, and to the world. Let’s get to what’s next, shall we?

— JS

Chocolate Chip Failures

Athena ScalziWelcome to another segment of me making something and having realistic problems along the way and being unashamed I fucked up a little bit!

I told my dad that I wanted to bake something, and he recommended cookies. I asked what kind, and he showed me Claire Saffitz’s chocolate chip cookie video that was just uploaded last week, which you can watch here:

So chocolate chip cookies it was! Which is fine, because who doesn’t love them?

This recipe uses brown butter, which I have only used once before, and it was also in a chocolate chip cookie recipe! Honestly, making it is a bit time consuming, but it’s not difficult. I was nervous I’d mess it up or burn it since it was only my second time doing it, but I managed to nail it. It smells so good when it’s on the stove!

Not only does it use brown butter, it also uses dark and milk chocolate! I love a variety of chocolates in my sweets. Like ice cream that has dark, milk, and white chocolate chunks throughout.

The batter for these cookies was actually incredibly easy. Like I was shocked how quickly it came together, and how little effort it took! Besides browning the butter, it really only ten minutes to throw together in a stand mixer. The recipe calls for discs of chocolate, but I wasn’t really sure where to find those, so I just used half a bag of milk chocolate chips and then chopped up a 60% cacao Ghirardelli bar and threw them both in.

The dough turned out so perfect. Honestly, I always eat at least a bite of cookie dough before turning it into actual cookies, and let me tell you, this dough was amazing, Like obviously cookie dough is always delicious, but this dough was so good tasting, I could’ve eaten the whole bowl if it wouldn’t have (maybe) given me salmonella. Cookie dough always tastes better to me than actual cookies, so I almost didn’t even want to bake this dough, that’s how good it was.

But, I did bake them! And I kind of maybe burnt them. Like, all of them. Even though I timed all the batches differently. The video said 18-22 minutes, but I made them a little smaller than the size she did in the video, so I decreased the time to 17 minutes. And they came out way too dark. And hard.

So, next batch, same size, fifteen minutes. Still too dark. Still too crunchy.

Last try of the same size, twelve minutes. Almost exactly the same.

This is the twelve minute batch, and it’s so dark! I started to think it was because of the browned butter that they looked so dark, but the bottoms of them (and the other ones) were black, and they were too hard. I just couldn’t get them right.

So, I made them exactly the size she did in the video. I used a 1/4 cup and spaced them out as evenly as I could, then baked them for 13 minutes.

LOOK AT THESE!

Ugly AND burnt. Utter disappointments.

How could they all turn out so poorly when I’d adjusted the times? I get that I messed up the first three batches by making them smaller than what she did in the video, but I thought that the fourth batch would turn out, at least.

I totally goofed on these! I’m a little bummed out by it, because I really did want to chow down on some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. But, I might just try again and bake them for way less time, and experiment with different sizes more.

Anyways, yeah, there’s my fail of the day. But at least I learned something!

What’s your favorite kind of cookie? Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate for your chocolate chip cookies? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

New Music from Matthew Ryan

You may remember Matthew Ryan as the fellow with whom I co-wrote that Christmas song late last year, or you may otherwise be familiar with him from his own extensive and excellent discography. He has a new project now, called The Pines at Night, and with it has released a maxi-single that leads off with “Song for a Hard Year,” which, as you might expect, is more than a little bit about the year recently passed. He’s releasing it via Bandcamp and his plan is to use the proceeds from the single to fund more songs down the line. Since I like hearing more from Matthew, I think this is a fine idea.

Here’s the song; if you like it click through and buy the three-song maxi-single. Enjoy.

— JS

%d bloggers like this: