An Interview With Santa’s Lawyer

Please state your name and occupation.

My name is Marta Pittman, and I’m a partner at Xavier, Masham, Abbott and Stevens.

And you’re Santa Claus’ lawyer.

That is correct. More accurately, I’m the partner in charge of our firm’s Seasonal Litigation and Clearances practice, which has as a client NicolasNorth LLC, Santa’s corporate entity.

I wasn’t aware that Santa needed to have his own corporation.

Of course he does. One, Santa heads a massive global enterprise, whose activities are spread over a wide range of areas. Having a corporate structure allows him a measure of organization and systematization. Two, Santa has a large number of employees, mostly elves, who have their own idiosyncratic employment issues and practices. The corporate structure simplifies hiring, benefits, and negotiation of labor disputes. Three, due to the nature of Santa’s work, he has immense exposure to liability. The corporate structure acts as a shield for Santa’s personal wealth and property.

Santa has liability issues?

Tons.

Can you give an example?

Obviously I can’t speak about current cases under litigation, but let me give a general example. As you know, a common way for Santa to enter single-unit dwellings is through a chimney.

I always thought that was artistic license.

No, it’s correct. Santa is usually entering from above and the chimney is the most direct route. “Quick in, quick out” is the keyword here. The important thing is, this point of Santa egress is well-known. And every year, immediately after Christmas, dozens of suits are filed against Santa, claiming property damage caused by Santa entering and leaving through the chimney. The usual allegation is that Santa’s body shape was a predicate cause.

Because he has a round belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly.

Which is not true, by the way. I’ve seen Santa out of uniform. That dude is ripped.

He is?

Absolutely. Delivering packages to millions of children in a single night is a heck of workout. The thing is, people don’t know that, and so they file these fraudulent suits predicated on what they assume about Santa’s weight, based on his marketing.

I assume most of these suits get dismissed.

Usually with prejudice. And also the plaintiffs go onto Santa’s “naughty” list for the next year. Santa takes a dim view of fat shaming, especially for fraudulent purposes. But the point is, since Santa is operating as NicolasNorth LLC, even if one of these suits was successful, Santa wouldn’t lose his house.

At the North Pole.

It’s actually in Sarasota, Florida.

That’s… disillusioning.

It was on our advice. Anchoring a home on rapidly-dwindling polar ice is risky from an insurance standpoint.

And Santa’s Workshop?

Also not on the polar ice. Technically in Nunavut. We recently negotiated a 99-year lease near Cape Columbia. Which brings us to another aspect of our firm’s services for Santa: International law.

Right, because Santa delivers presents all around the world.

Yes, he does. And up until 2013 he had to negotiate clearances and flight paths with every single country on the globe. People think Santa works one day a year and then sits on the beach the rest of the time. In fact until recently he spent most of his non-Christmas time in meetings with mid-level bureaucrats, trying to make sure the toys he was delivering weren’t subject to import restrictions.

That doesn’t sound especially jolly.

It’s good if you’re racking up frequent flyer miles. But Santa flies his own aircraft, so he wasn’t even getting that.

What happened in 2013?

My firm negotiated a rider to the Bali Package at the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization. As of December 7, 2013, Santa has automatic clearances in every WTO signatory state. Cut his annual paperwork 95%.

So now Santa gets to spend time on the beach.

There’s a reason he lives in Sarasota.

You mentioned elves before.

What about them?

What special employment issues do they have?

Well, before I get to that, I should state unequivocally that Santa is an equal opportunity employer, and seeks to create a diverse and welcoming work place for everyone at NicolasNorth LLC and all its subsidiaries and affiliates. He obeys all Canadian employment laws and requires all his sub-contractors and suppliers to adhere to the highest ethical business standards and practices.

That’s a very specific disclaimer.

There have been unfounded rumors of unfair employment and labor practices at NicolasNorth LLC by some of Santa’s business rivals.

Business rivals?

Let’s just say that someone whose name rhymes with “Leff Gezos” is going to be getting coal in his stocking until the end of time. And not, like, the good kind of coal. We’re talking the crappiest sort of lignite that’s out there.

All right, noted.

With everything above taken as read, the thing about elves is that they’re not actually human, so most labor and employment laws don’t apply to them.

If elves don’t qualify as human under the law, what are they?

Under Canadian law, they’re technically animals.

Animals.

Yes. Just like reindeer. And technically, under Canadian law, Santa’s Workshop qualifies as a federally inspected farm, the oversight of which is handled by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

So, technically, Santa’s elves have as many rights as veal.

I’m offended at this comparison, and also, yes.

Okay, so, that feels icky in a whole lot of ways. Maybe Leff Gezos was on to something.

It’s obviously not optimal from the public relations point of view.

Now I’m imagining tiny elves in jaunty caps, making toys in crates.

It’s not like that.

Convince me.

Well, among other things, Santa’s Workshop is a union shop.

Really.

Yes. Affiliated with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Postal workers?

The CUPW is a serious union. You cross them, they’ll mess you up.

And the CUPW doesn’t mind the elves technically aren’t human.

The elves pay their dues like anyone else. They’re good.

Santa doesn’t mind a union shop?

Santa believes in the dignity of labor, and wishes to avoid any potential elf uprisings.

That’s… good to know.

Seriously, elves are vicious. They look adorable, but get on their bad side just once and they. Will. Cut. You.

I’ll remember.

You better.

What other legal issues do you help Santa with?

Well, one major issue – probably the biggest issue, really – is policing Santa’s intellectual property.

Santa has IP?

Or course Santa has IP. In a larger, existential sense, it could be said that at his root, Santa is nothing but IP.

I always assumed Santa was in the public domain.

It’s a common misconception. In fact NicolasNorth LLC is the repository of numerous trade and service marks which we are obliged by law to vigorously defend.

So, Santa’s red suit –

The red suit device is trademarked.

And the red cap –

Covered as part of the red suit device and also legally its own trademark. So’s the beard, before you ask.

And the sleigh –

The sleigh and eight of the reindeer and also all of their names, trademarked.

Not Rudolph?

The issue of Rudolph is a matter of ongoing litigation and I can’t comment on it at this time.

You’re suing over Rudolph?

I’m sorry, I really can’t comment.

But –

Look, do you want coal this year? Because you’re heading that direction.

Sorry.

Let’s move on.

You say you have to defend Santa’s intellectual property, but I see red suits and beards everywhere.

Clearly it’s in Santa’s interest to have his trademarks be ubiquitous.

But if people are using your trademarks for free, aren’t you at risk for losing them?

Who said they’re using them for free?

They’re not?

Absolutely not. NicolasNorth LLC gets a licensing fee for every red suit you see.

How much?

It’s a sliding scale, based on several factors, including business income, charitable status, intended use of the trademark, and whether the person who is wearing the suit intends to be naughty or nice in it.

People are naughty in a Santa suit?

Some people are. Santa doesn’t judge people for their kinks, but he does expect them to pay for them.

And people pay without complaint.

Most do. Some don’t. Which is why Santa retains us.

And if they’re still balky after they talk to you?

We send in the elves.

One more question, if you don’t mind.

Not at all.

Santa is well known for making a list, and checking it twice.

For the purposes of appropriate gift distribution, yes.

It does raise questions of how Santa gathers that information in the first place.

I’m not sure what you mean.

I mean the idea of Santa as an all-knowing arbiter of right and wrong, knowing when someone is sleeping or awake and so on. Some might say that’s both judge-y and creepy.

Only the people who want coal in their stocking.

Well, see, that sounds like a threat right there.

I don’t see how, but all right. Let’s say that there were legitimate concerns about Santa’s methods. First, I would remind people that Santa’s services are opt in; you choose whether to have Santa part of your seasonal holiday experience.

I don’t remember opting in.

Well, you probably didn’t. But your parents did, on your behalf. And when they did, part of the user agreement was that Santa – which currently legally means NicolasNorth LLC – is allowed to collect data from various sources in order to make a determination of your gift worthiness, using what we in the industry call the “N/N Matrix”, a multi-dimensional tool using constantly updated algorithms for a precise and accurate placing of each person on the gifting spectrum.

That sounds complicated and not great, from a privacy standpoint.

I can assure you that NicolasNorth LLC does not share your information with third parties.

How does Santa collect this information in the first place?

In the old days, kids would write letters to Santa, and we also had strategically placed employees to personally evaluate children.

Spies?

Mall Santas.

But malls are failing left and right these days.

They are, and kids don’t send letters to Santa as often anymore. Those information avenues are closing. Fortunately Santa foresaw this problem, and made some key moves to assure a vast new data source.

The CIA.

Jeez, no. Talk about liability issues! And remember, this is supposed to be opt in. Fortunately there’s a place people go these days to voluntarily expose every aspect of their lives in a wildly promiscuous manner the CIA could previously only dream of.

Oh, God, you’re talking about Facebook.

Six percent owned by NicolasNorth LLC, by the way.

You’re saying Santa Claus is a tech billionaire.

Like I said, Santa made some key moves. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t a billionaire before.

What do you mean?

Where do you think Santa gets all that coal?

Santa is a coal baron?

He’s divested. Mostly. Our advice. Again, liability issues.

I’m still unsettled at the idea Santa is data mining my social media posts.

He’s legally allowed to. It’s right there in the user agreement.

I didn’t read the user agreement.

No one reads the user agreement. Doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Any final advice for people wanting to stay on Santa’s good side, legally speaking?

Pay your Santa suit license fees, drop hints about what your kids want for Christmas in your Facebook posts, and don’t blame Santa if you have a pokey chimney, that’s just basic home maintenance. And be good, for goodness’ sake.

And what about you? Have you been bad or good this year?

I mean, I’m a lawyer.

Point taken.

It’s fine. I could use the coal.

Thoughts on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

In no particular order:

1. I was entertained by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse all the way through, but about two-thirds in, this actual thought surfaced in my brain: Jesus, this film is entertaining. By which I mean that the part of my brain that stores the skills I used for years as a professional movie critic was so impressed by how well this film was put together it felt obliged to comment on it. I was compelled to admire the craftsmanship. I’m not going to say that this is a perfect film, but I can say without fear of contradiction that it’s difficult to see how they could have done a better version of this particular story. There’s very little here that feels out of place, or inessential, or rote and flabby. Given how far we are into the Superhero Era of film, and how ossified its traditions have become (“oh, look, it’s the third act boss battle”), this is a small miracle.

2. It’s also a film where its chosen medium — animation — is exactly right for it. I think there’s a still a bit of aesthetic snobbery around animation, ironically particularly when it comes to superhero films. It’s still assumed to be a compliment if you say something along the lines of “that was good enough to have been live action.” In point of fact, this particular film wouldn’t have been better served as live action; live action and all its aesthetic requirements and expectations would have made it worse. The abstracting remove from reality that animation provides fits the film’s multiverse story and allows it to be a “comic book film” in a way that most live-action superhero films can’t manage or look silly doing (see: Ang Lee’s Hulk). In live action, this film as it is would have come across as campy; in animation, it’s just doing its thing. This is of course more about our own expectations for live action and animation than it is about the mediums themselves. But you work with what you have.

3. Relatedly, it’s nice to see that the conduit between live action and animation can flow both ways. Disney recently has been making “live action” remakes of their animated features to considerable financial success, if not exactly cinematic triumph (ask me sometime to recount all the failures of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and then settle in, we’ll be there for a while). Having one of the Marvel properties head the other direction, and rather more successfully as a creative endeavor, is heartening. I’d be delighted to see more animated superhero films of this quality.

(And, yes, nerds, before you bring it up, I know all about the DC animated track of films. But inasmuch as the one of those that’s received the widest theatrical distribution was Teen Titans Go! To the Movies — which I enjoyed, incidentally — let me say we’d be comparing apples and oranges, cinematically speaking.)

4. I liked that this film (and its filmmakers) were aware of the universe in which we, the audience, live in, i.e., one in which the “superhero origin story,” both in a general sense and how it relates to Spider-Man in particular, is understood and is mostly passe. Spiderman: Homecoming, the most recent live action Spider-Man film, dealt with this by not dealing with it; it knew we knew about Uncle Ben and so on and so forth. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse can’t just dispense with the origin story, because it actually has to introduce not just Miles Morales as Spider-Man but several others as well. But it solves the problem compactly and cleverly and, again, in a way that works best in an animated medium. In a general sense, this film is knowing: Knowing what we know about Spider-Man and superhero films, knowing what we’re tired of, and working with that to give us the information we need without making a big deal about it.

5. Going into this film, I was aware of Miles Morales as Spider-Man in an abstract sense, but hadn’t read the comics he’d starred in, or knew much about what distinguished him from either Peter Parker or that version of Spider-Man. To that end I thought this movie did a very fine job of setting up all the ways that he is different from, and all the ways he parallels, Peter Parker and that particular iteration of the web-slinger. I really liked his relationship with his family, and how the film made him into an awkward teen but not a loser — Miles Morales has to learn how to be in the world not just as Spider-Man but also as Miles Morales. That’s a lot to convey, and the film does a pretty admirable job.

And while other people will better essay Miles’ ethnic background and why it’s important it’s portrayed in film, I’ll just say I’m here for it, and for a view of New York City — and superhero-ness — that’s not just centered on the white experience. In a larger sense, it’s not for nothing that two of 2018’s best films center on a black Marvel superhero, and that those two black superheroes have substantially different challenges they have to deal with, in the course of their respective films.

6. I said on Twitter last night that I thought Into the Spider-Verse might be the best Spider-Man film out there. In the cold light of the next morning, I will continue to stand by that assessment, with the caveat that it’s possibly not the best first Spider-Man movie to watch, since it traffics in the audience’s built-in awareness of who Spider-Man (the Peter Parker version) is and what he’s been through. Without getting into spoiler territory, I think it’s accurate to say that Into the Spider-Verse assumes that you’ve seen the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films at least. I figure that’s a not unreasonable assumption.

(Also, it appears to largely ignore the third Raimi movie, the Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield, and for the moment at least does not seem to have much to do with the Tom Holland-era idea that Spider-Man is part of a larger Marvel universe, so no palling around with Iron Man or Captain America. This is all fine and I didn’t miss any of it, especially since delving into the “Spiderverse” meant there was more than enough going on anyway, superhero-wise.)

Into the Spider-Verse is arguably the best Spider-Man film; I also think it’s pretty high up there in the rankings of superhero films in general, and it’s also among the best films of the year. I realize that last bit might be contentious, since an animated superhero film does not have the same gravity as, say, Roma. But here’s the thing. Of any film, ask: What is it, in itself, and how well does it realize being that thing? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a Spider-Man film, a superhero film and an entertainment. As all of those things, it excels. As I said earlier, it’s hard to see how it could be a better version of itself than it is. And in a year where Black Panther can (and should be) seriously considered for Best Picture accolades, I think it’s pretty safe to argue that another, different superhero film that also hits all the marks it sets for itself can be considered one of the best films of 2018 as well. Again, it’s a craftsmanship thing.

So, yeah: Go see it. You won’t regret it.

My Wife is an Angel

I mean, obviously.

(In case you’re wondering, this is part of her costume for the Longest Night Masque next month, which, incidentally, you can totally attend if you like.)

A Christmastime Blast From Waaaaaay Back In The Past

An airband competition from my high school back in 1986, in which roughly half the school is up there lip-syncing to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” If you’re wondering which one I am, look for the kid air-drumming. That’s me!

Virtue Signaling eBook Now Available (and Hardcover Almost Sold Out!)

In case you missed the announcement on Twitter yesterday, the eBook version of Virtue Signaling is now out in the world and available, both from Subterranean Press directly, and also from other eBook retailers. The eBook edition is just $4.99, which makes it a perfect “splurge” purchase for you or the people you love, who also love eBooks. Get two! Or six! They’re cheap!

(If you’d prefer the signed, limited hardcover, there are a few copies left — and I do mean a few, we’re down to the last couple dozen. Go here to get one. After those are gone, they’re gone forever.)

No matter how you get this book, it’s a pretty good one. I’m proud of it, and happy it’s out a little early so you can enjoy it before the end of the year. Happy reading!

Brief Administrative Note

This Friday is basically my last working day of the year, so if you want/need something from me in 2018, you should contact me about it real soon. Like, uh, by Friday.

That’s all.

(PS: If you’ve requested a January Big Idea, don’t panic, I’ll be processing those soon(ish).)

The Big Idea: Chad Orzel

I liked Breakfast With Einstein so much I gave it a blurb, which you can see in the image above. But why did I like it? Because it explores the esoteric realm of quantum physics — here in the everyday world. Here’s the author, Chad Orzel, to dig deeper into it all.

(PS: The UK edition of this book made the Sunday Times list for Best Books of the Year, 2018. Not bad!)

CHAD ORZEL:

Quantum mechanics is one of the most amazing theories in all of science, full of stuff that captures the imagination: zombie cats, divine dice-rolling, spooky actions over vast distances. Maybe the single most amazing thing about it, though, is that we think it’s weird.

That probably seems a strange thing to say, because quantum physics is so weird, but that’s exactly the point. These are the fundamental principles governing the behavior of everything in the universe, and yet they run completely counter to our intuition about how the world works. If these are the basic rules underlying everything, shouldn’t they make sense? How can the entire universe behave according to strictly quantum laws, and yet we’re not intuitively aware of it?

The answer is that quantum behaviors only become obvious when you’re looking at really small things: the behavior of electrons within atoms, say, or smallish groups of atoms moving slowly. As the things you’re looking at get bigger, their quantum-ness sort of blurs out, and we’re left with objects that, to an excellent approximation, behave according to the rules of Newtonian physics. The everyday, human-scale world, is just too big for us to see quantum physics in action.

At least, that’s what we think. If you know where to look, though, you can find hints of quantum physics absolutely everywhere, even in the most mundane of activities. The process of getting up in the morning and getting ready for work or school is absolutely full of phenomena and technologies with quantum roots.

Quantum physics got its start in an attempt to explain the red glow of a hot object like the heating element in the toaster you use to make breakfast — to explain that color, you need light to behave like a particle. Quantum physics determines the time on the alarm clock that wakes you up, through the cesium atomic clocks that we use to define the second — to make that connection, you need electrons to behave like waves. Quantum physics enables the sensors in the digital cameras your friends use to take cat photos, the semiconductor computer chips used to process them, and the lasers that carry them over fiber-optic telecommunications lines for you to stare blearily at as you sip your morning beverage of choice.

At the deepest level, the universe really does behave according to quantum mechanics, and while the huge size of the human-scale world mostly blurs out quantum phenomena, there are subtle hints left behind. That’s how we know about quantum physics, after all– from the work of scientists who spotted those little clues in the behavior of human-scale objects, and doggedly followed them to uncover the fundamental rules that we find so weird.

Breakfast with Einstein is a book about those clues, about how quantum phenomena manifest in everything that we do. It explains the quantum rules that govern everything, and how those rules applied to huge numbers of atoms combine to produce the world that we see. And it tells you where to look to see quantum physics in your daily routine. It probably won’t make you a morning person, but it might help make your mornings a little more amazing.

—-

Breakfast With Einstein: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|One World Publications (UK)

Visit Orzel’s writing for Forbes. See his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

DELICIOUS MADNESS

This happened tonight.

How was it? Everything you would imagine it would be. I will note the tortilla, with the pie inside, was fried in butter and topped with cinnamon and sugar. I ate half of it and am this close to a sugar-induced coma. It is glorious.

I REGRET NOTHING.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sweat butter for a while.

New Book and ARCs, 12/10/18

They keep coming! Here’s the latest stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What here is something you’d enjoy having in your own hot little hands? Tell us all in the comments.

In Which This Cat is an Accurate Metaphor For My Brain at the Moment

Me: Hey, brain, I think I’d like to write a Whatever piece.

Brain: Eh… I’d rather not, thanks.

Me: But people are clamoring to know my opinion about many things!

Brain: Are they? Really?

Me: I assume so!

Brain: Then they’ll still be clamoring later, won’t they?

Me: But — my thoughts on politics!

Brain: “He’s guilty and a Russian stooge.” I mean, that’s hardly even a tweet.

Me: … okay, you got me there.

Brain: Thought so. Look, post a cat picture, it’ll be fine.

Me: But that’s lazy!

Brain: And?

Me: … I see your point.

Brain: I thought you might.

Me: Fine, but you’ll be back to work tomorrow, right?

Brain: We’ll see.

In Which I Yet Again Massacre an Innocent Song From the 80s

In my quest to ruin every 80s song with a glitchy, spooky, questionably sung cover version done in one take, here’s Depeche Mode’s “Somebody.” Yes, this is what I do with my Saturday nights when Krissy is out with friends. Enjoy.

(and if for some reason that’s not working for you, try this one:)

For comparison, the original:

The Color of the Sky On My Homeworld

As I am occasionally asked what it is. It’s this!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018, Day Five: Charities

For the last four days, the Whatever Gift Guide 2018 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.

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018, Day Four: Fan Favorites!

 

For the first three days of the Whatever Gift Guide 2018, 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.

The Big Idea: Arwen Elys Dayton

You want to give your children every advantage… but how far would you go to give them those advantages? It’s a question that Arwen Elys Dayton is intensely engaged with in her new book Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful.

ARWEN ELYS DAYTON: 

About a week ago, a researcher in Shenzhen, China, named He Jiankui claimed to have used CRISPR to edit the DNA of twin girls who were born in late 2018. When the girls were early-stage embryos in a petri dish, He made changes to their genetic code to eliminate a gene called CCR5 and so render them resistant to HIV and other diseases. He was, according to reports, at least partially successful. The work hasn’t been independently verified, but no one is questioning that it’s possible. Because it is entirely possible.

Since 2012, when an element of bacterial immune systems was isolated and its potential for altering any DNA became widely understood, researchers all over the world have been figuring out how to use this tool—called CRISPR, as you have probably guessed—to usher in a new age of genetic manipulation. From editing human immune cells so that they can fight or even prevent HIV and cancer, to removing inherited disease, to giving future generations traits that no humans have ever had (night vision? immunity to the flu?), we are on a frontier of artificial human evolution. Aside from CRISPR, there are numberless advances occurring in all aspects of medicine. At least four groups are working to grow human-compatible (or outright human) organs in livestock, researchers all over the world are pursuing competing techniques for fighting the “disease” of old age, and various labs are focused on editing not humans but the insects that infect us—like mosquitos—to wipe out diseases that have been scourges for thousands of years.

The future is unfolding in research universities and biotech companies, and yes, even in sketchy, possibly unsanitary home garages. We are already debating who gets to make the choices about what can and cannot be changed in our DNA. But while we debate, some researchers have started choosing. And editing.

My natural mindset is not dystopian but intensely hopeful, and the idea that we might soon be able to remove disease from humankind is . . .well, it’s like a realization of the most inspiring parts of the science-fiction stories I grew up with. And as a mother, I instinctively, innately, want my children to have every advantage. Resistance to cancer? Who would say no? Longer life? Of course I want that for them. Higher intelligence? A stickier question, to be sure, but if it were only a matter of a few tiny adjustments . . . ?

I want to believe that, given infinite options, I would have strong convictions about what was acceptable and what was too much. But would I? Would you? How do we—intellectually, morally, and viscerally—weigh such options? And here is the birthplace of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful—not the science itself, but the emotional life under the coming genetic paradigm.

When I was eleven years old, I watched a news story about a girl who was the same age as I was. She was refusing medical treatment for a fatal but curable disease because it went against the religious beliefs of her family. I have thought about that girl during all of these intervening years. How could she (or perhaps, some would say, only her parents) feel so strongly as to be willing to accept death rather than a proven alternative? And yet, as a fellow eleven-year-old, I also believed that she should have some say, some choice, in what was done to her, regardless of the consequences. The push and pull of my feelings about that girl, who probably died decades ago and whose name I can’t remember, were my touchstones in writing this novel. I wanted to paint myself into corners that felt just like that one. Or worse.

What happens if the design of a designer baby doesn’t go to plan? Where—and how—will he spend his life? (In Stronger, the answer is this: mostly underwater, away from other humans whom he does not understand, keeping busy by wrangling a flock of manatees that are growing human organs for transplant.) Other murky scenarios include a pair of semi-identical twins—both are dying, and the decision is made to harvest the healthy organ tissue from one to save the life of the other; forced modification of convicted felons to make them useful to society; the ability to keep a piece of a dead loved one alive . . . inside yourself. Unconscionable? Yes . . . for some.

On a meta level: What happens if countries cannot agree on biological ethics? Or on what makes (and keeps) humans human? When will this become a political issue? And what happens if religious groups make unwavering medical stands? Can we foresee a “Genetic Curtain” dividing the parts of the world where anything goes and the parts where humanity chooses not to change?

These intimate and grand puzzles were the big idea in Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. The science will happen—is happening!—no matter what we do (short of a planet-killing asteroid or plague or other apocalyptic option, of course). How we use the science to change ourselves, and who we become as a result . . . well, that’s the question. And it was delicious and terrifying to explore.

—-

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful: Amazon |Barnes and Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Visit Get Underlined. Visit her on twitter.

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

The Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018 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 2018, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Today is Day Two of the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018, 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!

An Interesting Fact About The Consuming Fire

A psychedelic remix version of the Consuming Fire cover

Last night on Twitter someone recounted a convention panel he’d been to, where the panelists were (jokingly) annoyed with my writing speed and publishing frequency. To which I replied, “It’s a good thing they don’t know I wrote The Consuming Fire in two weeks. That would not help things.”

To which I got more or less the following response from other writers on Twitter and in email (and I paraphrase, here): “YOU FUCKING DID NOT.”

Readers: I most sincerely fucking did.

Specifically, nearly all of The Consuming Fire was written between June 4 and June 18 of this year, the latter date being when I turned the book in, at 7:30 in the morning, having written through the course of the night. I then tried to sleep but was too tired to do so, so I went to watch cartoons and then turned them off ten minutes later, because they were too complicated to follow. Krissy tells me that by her estimation it took a full week for my brain to get back up to full speed, and that in the interim I mostly shuffled around the house with a blank look on my face. This feels accurate to me.

Why did I write the book in two weeks? For many reasons, but the simplest reason is that I had no choice. The book had a drop-dead turn-in date of June 18, and as of June 4, I hadn’t really started on it, for various reasons, some reasonable and some really not. If years in journalism taught me anything it’s that you don’t blow a deadline. So that meant I had to write the thing in two weeks.

How did I write the book in two weeks? I turned off the Internet, hid from social media, asked Krissy to occasionally slip food underneath the door, and then set a goal of 8,000 words a day. Some days I hit that goal, sometimes I didn’t, and on the final day I wrote something on the order of 12,000 words. I didn’t sleep much. I looked a fright.

More generally, I was able to write a novel in two weeks because a) my journalism training prepared me to write quite a lot of words, relatively cleanly, at speed (not to mention writing here on the blog), and b) I had at that point written 14 novels, so the muscle memory, as it were, of pacing and formatting kicked in.

Also, and this is actually important, when I say I wrote the book in two weeks, it’s rather more accurate to say I typed it in two weeks. I had been writing the book — figuring out who was doing what to whom and how and why and when — in my head for close to eighteen months at that point. When I sat down to put it into a document, the majority of the story and plot beats were figured out. There were a few surprises as I was writing; a few things happened I didn’t plan for but which turned out to be really useful, which I chalk up to my brain figuring things out on a subconscious level and surfacing them when I needed them. Well done, brain! Sorry I abused you during the writing process!

(Oh, and before you ask, I did it pharmaceutically straight, with nothing stronger than Coke Zero in my system. But there was indeed a lot of Coke Zero in my system.)

Even if I was mostly typing during those two weeks, the experience of doing such a thing is, bluntly, just a fucking horrible miserable thing which I did not like. I mean, it’s nice to know I can write a novel — and not just a novel! A good novel! That’s popular with critics and readers and has sold really well! — in just two weeks if I have to. It’s nice to know that the writing skill is there to write at speed, cleanly and coherently. But I also never ever want to have to do it again. Sure, it’s fun to be all casual about it now, and to toss off lines joking about it on Twitter like it was no big thing. But it hurt, physically and mentally, both during and directly after the writing. I’m almost 50. I can’t being doing this shit on the regular.

More to the point, not only do I never want to do it again because it’s terrible for me, but I don’t ever want to do it again because it’s not fair to the other people who work on my books. Everything about The Consuming Fire production got crunched because I turned the book in at literally the last minute. Everyone involved came through like a champ, and novel came out when it was supposed to, and looks and reads great. But I don’t want to have “crunch” be the usual mode. I don’t want to be the problem child.

This is (among other reasons) why I don’t have a book out from Tor next year. I’ll be writing a book for Tor next year (almost certainly the next book in the Interdependency series), but it’ll come out in 2020, so we can have a nice, sane production process and also, have nice sane production processes for every book that follows. I don’t regret having two books out in 2018 — they both did very well, critically and commercially — but building in a better process moving forward is going to be the best for everyone.

So, yes: I wrote The Consuming Fire in two weeks. I’m glad to have had the experience! I wish not to have it again, if it’s all the same to everyone else.

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2018, Day One: Traditionally Published Books

Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2018 — 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 12/31/18) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at 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.

Some Observations on Bestseller Lists, December 2018

The first part of this will be a transcription of some tweets I made earlier today (transcribed to fix some spelling errors), and I’ll follow that up with some other thoughts.

First: The tweet transcription:

Watching some authors indulge in theories about why their stuff doesn’t make the NYT bestseller list and it’s the usual checklist of conspiracy, envy and aggrievement. One’s hinting his politics are keeping him out, the same week Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson are on the list.

It’s certainly true the NYT lists have their own calculus which does not track 100% to pure sales. It’s also true that publishers do what they can to get their books on the list (for example, by sending touring authors to bookstores that report to the list). Obviously they do!

But these particular authors want to believe it’s something more than that; that it’s something about THEM that’s keeping them off the list. And, well. No. It’s not about THEM. They’re not that important. And even THAT’S not about them; none of us is that important.

The reasons they’re not on the list are almost certainly more mundane and disinterested: They don’t sell enough and/or they don’t sell enough in the manner that matters to the NYT and its particular list-making calculus. It’s neither complicated nor conspiratorial.

But of course they don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to believe that even if you sell “enough” to be on the list, there are other factors, like (for example) other books simply selling more that particular week. There has to be something MORE. Their ego demands it.

Which is bullshit. Here’s a thing: The Collapsing Empire sold more than 35,000 units its first week, and it also missed the NYT lists. Why? For several reasons, INCLUDING other books selling more in specific formats that week (like hardcover).

When Empire missed the NYT list, did I act like a pissy child and insinuate some grand conspiracy had kept me off the list? No; my reaction was “Huh, good week for sales all around I guess” and I got on with my life. Because I’m a grown-ass human, you see.

In sum: The NYT bestseller lists don’t care about you; no one’s trying to keep you off of them; you can sell a lot of books and never hit the list, because that’s just the way it is; if you insist there’s a conspiracy to keep you off the list, you might need some fresh air.

Second: Additional thoughts:

* One thing to keep in mind here is when we talk about “The New York Times Bestseller List,” we’re actually talking about several different lists. For example, I’ve made the NYT “list” in four separate categories: Hardcover Fiction, Combined Print & eBook Fiction, Mass Market Fiction, and the Audio Fiction. The NYT will also sometimes drop categories and add new ones — the Audio Fiction list started just a few months ago, for example, and the Mass Market Fiction list doesn’t exist anymore.

This is important because some authors do better in some formats than in others. The fellow above hinting that politics is keeping him from the list, for example, charted in the Mass Market Fiction list back in the day. If that’s where he sells the best, then it would make sense that he’s not on the current iterations of the NYT lists, because his prime sales avenue no longer has a list. And while indeed that may feel unfair if you sell well in mass market paperback and less well in other formats, it’s a) not about you personally, or b) about your politics.

* Another thing about the NYT lists these days is that in the last few years they’ve cut the number of slots on the list themselves; the lists used to go into the thirties (my first NYT bestseller ranking was #33 on the Mass Market Fiction list), and now they publish only the top fifteen in any category. There are fewer slots to go around, and thus it’s more difficult to hit the list at all. Again, that’s nothing about politics, and everything about the lists themselves becoming more selective.

* The NYT lists are targeted for complaint because they are the most famous bestseller lists, and also because, if you’re of a conservative bent, a bit of a bete noir, being that the NYT is all full of liberals and shit. But other publications track sales as well, and there does happen to be a correlation between the appearance of a book on the NYT list, and its appearance on other lists as well. It’s relatively rare for a book to show up on a Times list, especially these days in their shorter format, and not on another bestseller list somewhere else. For example, The Consuming Fire showed up on the NYT Combined Print & eBook Fiction list, the USA Today list (which covers all books in all print/ebook formats), the Wall Street Journal eBook Fiction list, the Publishers Weekly Hardcover Frontlist fiction list (and, separately, its Science Fiction list), the Audible weekly bestsellers list and the Los Angeles Times Hardcover Fiction list. This does suggest the book sold robustly, as many of these lists track different criteria, and each otherwise has its own formula for deciding what makes the list and what does not.

This is relevant for a couple of reasons. One, those who kvetch about the NYT lists like to suggest that the reason people they don’t like make it onto the list is some form of graft and/or corruption; for example, in my case they like to suggest Tor has bought my way onto the list in some nefarious manner. This leads one to wonder whether Tor has also employed graft/corruption to place me on all those other lists as well. Indeed, if Tor has the ability to bribe or influence not only the New York Times but also the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly, then I have clearly chosen the correct publisher, given the effort they’ve made on my behalf. However, Tor is not my audio publisher, so I must assume that Audible has also leveraged graft/corruption for my NYT Audio Fiction list appearances. How very lucky I am that both publishers are willing to extend me such a courtesy! Although as it happens The Consuming Fire didn’t make it onto the NYT Audio Fiction list. They clearly need to apply more graft; there was a breakdown in the process.

Two, I am curious whether these folks believe politics, etc are keeping them from all the other bestseller lists as well. The fellow I note hinting that politics has kept him off the NYT lists has a single appearance on the USA Today bestseller list, as an example, and the online database for the USA Today list goes back more than two decades. I would note other conservative fiction writers have no problem showing up on the USA Today list, including ones from this fellow’s own publisher: why, as recently as this very October, one of this author’s stablemates, who is known to be politically conservative, landed not only on the USA Today list but also the New York Times Hardcover Fiction list and the Publishers Weekly Hardcover Frontlist and Science Fiction lists (again, note the correlation of appearances there). I guess personal politics as a hindrance to sales only goes so far. Unless this other publisher is also participating in graft and corruption, just like mine supposedly are.

* Do publishers and authors try to game bestseller lists? Sure! Some do! A couple years back an author got onto an NYT list by placing orders for her book and then not coming to pick up those orders; earlier than that the Wall Street Journal had to deal with authors (or other interested parties) bulk ordering business books to show up on that paper’s business bestsellers list. In each case the paper in question dealt with the attempt to game the lists by closing up that particular avenue of list-gaming. It’s more difficult than you would think to game a reputable bestseller list; certainly more difficult than the people whining about it suggest it is.

* There is no special virtue in being on a New York Times or any other bestseller list — it simply means you sold a reasonable number of books relative to other books in a specific category in that particular week. Nor does your book being on a bestseller list mean it has inherent literary or cultural value; many brilliant books never get near a bestseller list at all.

But if you are going to make a big deal about bestseller lists, and why you are not on them, then a) have some idea what you’re talking about, b) be ready to be ridiculed if you darkly hint at conspiracies when in reality much more mundane factors are at play. You’re almost certainly not being kept off the New York Times (or USA Today or Wall Street Journal or etc) bestseller lists because you’re outspoken politically one way or another, and the people who do make it onto the lists aren’t there because there’s a grand cabal doling out slots for cash or influence. If you seriously believe either of these things, you’re silly, and visibly envious and insecure, and possibly also twelve.