A Short Note on Thanksgiving Day

Notwithstanding the existential trash fire that 2020 has been on a global and national scale, I can say that on a personal level I have had a lot to be thankful for, and that today I am going to set aside a little time to reflect on that, in between, of course, stuffing myself silly with food. I hope that you also have had things to be thankful for in 2020, and that you set aside a little time to reflect on them as well. And also stuff yourself silly.

Have a good Thanksgiving, folks. See you tomorrow.

— JS

Playing With My 50mm Lens

I take a lot of pictures with my Nikon, and mostly I take them with my 28mm-300mm zoom lens, because it has (obviously, if you’re a photo geek) a wide range of focal length options baked in. With that said, I also have a fixed 50mm lens which I sometimes use because it has better light sensitivity (f/1.8), and because it’s a bit more of a challenge to set the composition and keep things focused. I swapped out the lenses today and proceeded to take pictures of family and pets. I thought you might like to see some of the results.

Me, looking off to the side.

Krissy, smiling into the camera.

Athena, looking off to the side.

Smudge, looking smug.

Not bad, I think.

— JS

Meg Frank on the Mermaids Monthly Kickstarter

Meg Frank is an artist and one of the Scalzi family’s Favorite People on the Planet™, and as such we are delighted to give them a little space here today to talk about their latest project: Mermaids Monthly, a magazine that you can help Kickstart.

MEG FRANK:

Asking for help makes me breathtakingly uncomfortable. I’d rather walk on hot coals or sprint through Times Square. But here’s the thing: Julia Rios and I want to make a really cool magazine about mermaids and to do that we need your help.

So, this magazine: Mermaids Monthly. In August of this year, Julia called me to talk about a “medium sized passion project” they had been chewing on. You know those people that you get in a car with even when they don’t have a set destination because you know it’s going to be good? Julia is one of those people. I knew before the phone call I was going to get in the car – when they said “mermaids” and the names of some of my favorite creators I realized I had a full tank of gas just for this project. Magical merdudes, murderous mermxs, and mermaids of every shade, shape, and size. Short stories, flash stories, comics, poetry, art, and more.

Cover art by Nilah Magruder, Dianita Cerón, and John Picacio. Julia and our assistant editor Ashley Deng will sail the Editorial Ocean filled with content by Alberto Chimal, Ali Trotta, Amal El-Mohtar, Bogi Takács, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Brandon O’Brien, Brett Massé, C. S. E. Cooney, Caitlyn Paxson, Carlos Hernandez, Debra Goelz, Elsa Sjunneson, Fran Wilde, Gabriela Damián Miravete, Jessica P. Wick, L. D. Lewis, Layla Al-Bedawi, Libia Brenda, Lisa M. Bradley, Patty Templeton, Seanan McGuire, and Sheree Renée Thomas. And more. Twelve digital issues of mermaid magic launching in January of 2021 with a bonus issue out in December of 2020 because we like making cool things so much that we already started making one. We want to work on something fun. Something that makes our heart sing. This is it.

To do this thing right we need to raise $24,000. Last week we launched a Kickstarter campaign and 250 backers have helped us raise over $9300 in 9 days. We still need to raise $14,612 and we have 17 days to do it. Over on our campaign page, I go into specific detail about how we want to spend the money we’re raising. Please support our campaign. I know that “It’s gonna be cool” isn’t always enough of a reason but hear me out: it is gonna be cool and we know what we’re about. Julia is an award winning editor (the Aurealis twice, the Ditmar, the Hugo – also twice, and the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award) which they hate me mentioning almost as much as I hate when they mention that I’m a prolific Hugo-nominated artist who works in every medium available.

Our Assistant Editor, Ashley, is a writer who studied biochemistry so they could figure out how to translate the world of science and medicine into something a little less cryptic. Our Logistics Wizard, Lis, is the Fiction Editor at Wizards in Space Magazine and she works at the post office, which I happen to think is one of the coolest things ever. We’re gonna do a heist, except it’s a magazine. And everybody gets paid and nobody gets robbed and some very, very good art gets made. We’ve got a schedule and we’ve made a plan and if we need to deviate we will let you know.

We’ve created a range of backing rewards for a wide range of budgets: stickers, enamel pin, pet pictures, jewelry, hand bound zines, and much, much more. And you can definitely give a subscription of Mermaids Monthly as a gift – if you buy two, we’ll send you a card you can give! Back our campaign at any level and you’ll receive that bonus issue once the campaign closes on December 12th.

So that’s it – that’s the shell. Thanks for reading, please back our Kickstarter campaign, and if you’d like to keep current follow us over on Twitter at @MermaidsMonthly.

Meg Frank is a Hugo-nominated artist based in New York. In the before times they traveled a lot and spent a lot of time putting makeup on people at conventions. Currently they are keeping themselves busy with art school, two cats, and the Kickstarter campaign referenced above.

If You’ve Ever Wondered About My Sense of Humor, Here’s a Good Example

Athena ScalziAs a teen, I really liked adult cartoons, like South Park, Family Guy, and American Dad (and I was in my early teens when Rick & Morty came out, but didn’t watch it until I was about sixteen). I’m not really a big fan of most of those titles anymore but they were hilarious to me when I was younger. However, there was one adult cartoon that I saw when I was eighteen that was gold called Final Space.

Final Space is a hilarious, action-packed space opera created by Olan Rogers. I highly recommend it (the first season at least since I have yet to see the second), but this post is not about Final Space (though if you do want to know more about the show you can read my recommendation here)! I am actually going to share one of the creator’s videos from YouTube with you. He does like, little story time videos where he talks about funny stuff that’s happened to him, and this particular story got animated by a user named Cranbersher.

This video honestly made me cry laughing the first time I saw it, and it’s made me laugh every time I’ve seen it since. The animation is so good, plus the hilarity of the story itself, it’s just two powerful forces combining into one amazingly funny video that I hope you will enjoy. I’ve shown this video to like, five other people, and none of them find it nearly as funny as I do, but I’m hoping one of you will! So without further ado, here is The Bad Apple.

 

Part of the reason I actually decided to post this is because in the beginning he mentions that his grandpa always came to visit around Thanksgiving, and guess what! It’s around Thanksgiving! So I thought it’d be a good, wholesome, holiday-ish themed family friendly thing to share with y’all.

Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered what kind of stuff really gets me cacklin’, here it is. This is comedy gold. Peak hilarity. I hope you liked it! And as always, have a great day.

-AMS

Five Things, 11/24/20

John ScalziAnd what five things am I thinking about today? Well!

Biden gets 80 million votes: According the Cook Political Report’s Popular Vote Tracker. That’s ten million more than Obama got in 2008 — the previous record for a winning presidential candidate — and currently about six million more votes than Trump got. Percentage-wise Biden’s above 51% while Trump’s at a hair above 47.1%. And this is apparently the best voter turnout in about a century, percentage-wise, with roughly two thirds of eligible voters having voted. As a fan of voting, this warms my heart.

Also, this is a reminder that this election, on the presidential level at least, was not actually anything approaching close: Biden won by a lot in the raw numbers of the popular vote, won by a sizable percentage of the popular vote, won most “battleground” states by wider margins than Trump won in 2016, and, of course, bested Trump in the electoral vote battle with quite a lot of room to spare. I understand it is in the nature of the Trump partisans to suggest this election was closer than it was, and I likewise understand it is in the nature of many Biden voters to want to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but, once again: This was not anything approaching close. Trump lost, big time, definitively, and unambiguously.

But the Democrats lost seats in the House and might not take the Senate! Some of you are likely saying. To which my response is: And? I don’t think the modern GOP should be held up as a model of good governance in just about any respect, but I will tell you this much, if everything were reversed, the Republicans would be screaming from the top of their lungs about their “mandate.” I don’t think it would be a bad thing for the Democrats to take a moment from hand-wringing and take a goddamn victory lap or two. And also to tell GOP-leaning people warning them against hubris to take a whole seat and enjoy sitting for a bit.

The market speaks: How does corporate America feel about the transition? It seems pretty happy about it — stocks got a jolt yesterday when Janet Yellen was announced as Biden’s pick for Treasury, and the Dow Jones got up over 30K for the first time in the wake of the official start of the transition. Trump tried to take credit for it, of course, because he would, wouldn’t he. But we know that the reason it’s up is he’s on the way out. In a larger sense, given the general tone of Biden’s staff and cabinet picks — deeply not-radical, and deeply experienced  — it seems like there’s a general sense of relief that grown-ups are going to be in control again soon. Heck, even General Motors is cozying up to Biden, and you know what they say: What’s good for General Motors is good for America.

Yeah, okay, but what about those 74 million Trump voters? Well, what about them? They’re a third of the population, but hard as it may be to believe, not every one of those 74 million people who voted for Trump is a MAGA hat-wearing, Trump-flags-on-the-pickup-truck, switched-to-Newsmax-because-Fox-is-too-liberal sort. While there will always be a hard nugget of these sort of racist dickheads, not to be ignored or discounted, it’s also very likely that a substantial number of the people who voted for Trump will get back to their lives, now that Trump’s dimwitted coup attempt was shown to be farce. He’s a loser now, and there’s no path back from him being a loser. His invulnerability spell has worn off. And while that hard nugget of racist dickheads will continue to argue the election was stolen, I’m going to suggest that at this point most people know better, or will, soon enough.

Again: Not saying that suddenly a whole bunch of Trump voters are suddenly going to say they voted for Biden, or that the GOP, taken as a whole, is going to learn anything — the national GOP response to losing is never “maybe we should stop being racist authoritarians,” it’s always “maybe we weren’t racist and authoritarian enough.” But Trump’s luck has run out. He lost and in January there will be a whole bunch of lawsuits waiting for him, and eventually most of the egregious things he’s done in office will get laid out in public because the government won’t be his personal obstruction machine anymore. It’s not getting better for Trump, and I think that’s going to have an effect on a non-trivial number of his voters. Perhaps it’s already begun.

Then again… there’s that whole thing in Georgia at the moment where some always-Trumpers are threatening to boycott the Senate runoff elections, thus throwing the upper house to the Democrats, because they’re in a fit of pique about the GOP not being attentive to Trump’s tender feelings at the moment. While this is very much of a “don’t threaten me with a good time” scenario for anyone who’d love to see Mitch McConnell stuffed into a box and punted into the proverbial river, I myself am not going to get too excited about it. The runoff elections aren’t until January 5, and there’s a lot of time between now and then, and in that time, Trump’s power will be waning. Also, I think Republican voters in Georgia will be sufficiently motivated regardless of what a bunch of whiny losers are stomping their feet about.

If I had to guess, I would say ultimately this would-be boycott of the GOP isn’t going to have much of an influence. What’s more likely to have an influence is Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, and the fact that Perdue and Loeffler, the GOP senate candidates, appear to be nakedly corrupt as shit. We’ll see!

Ugh, that was a lot of politics, let’s end with a cat picture. Yes, let’s!

Spice, looking at the camera, looking a little bored.

— JS

 

The Big Idea: Charlie N. Holmberg

The cover to

The genesis of Spellbreaker is a short but critical line in a beloved story. What’s the line and why does it matter? Author Charlie N. Holmberg is here to reveal all.

CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG:

I am not exaggerating when I say nearly every single novel I’ve written has been inspired, in some way, by Studio Ghibli, especially their adaptation of Dianna Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. There’s something so whimsical, so quirky, in their films, that I can’t help but be enlightened. Usually it’s the way the studio’s founder, Hayao Miyazaki, thinks outside the box, reimagining settings, characters, and magic. But for my most recent novel, Spellbreaker, the “big idea” came straight from the dialogue.

In the film Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie, the protagonist, is cursed to be an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Later, these two reunite and have a brief exchange, which I’ll quote from the English dub version of the film:

Sophie: If you’re so great, why don’t you break the spell you put on me?

Witch: I’m sorry, dear. My talent lies in casting spells, not breaking them.

Now, I’ve watched this film more times than I can count. Unsurprisingly, it’s my favorite movie. But during this rewatch, those lines really took hold of me. How interesting would it be to have a world where wizards exist, but they can only create or break spells, never both?

The story unfolded from there. I didn’t want an open-ended read-the-spellbook-and-cast magic system, so I looked around at what makes up our world and decided to place spells in four categories: physical, temporal, spiritual, and rational (essentially magic that affects the physical world, time, human nature, and human minds). The fifth category was already set: the ability to break the spells cast in those four. I gave this ability to Elsie, my main character. And for icing on the cake, I made it illegal.

I tend to bounce back and forth between high fantasy and historical fantasy, and it being the latter’s turn, I set this story in my favorite time period and place: Victorian England. Specifically the year 1895, since I’d been watching Lark Rise to Candleford at the time, and I quite liked the setting. From there, I added a wizard, or a “spellmaker,” in my favorite discipline—physical—dusted in some romance (as per my MO), and bam, I had the first book of a duology.

So, next time you find yourself with some free time, I might suggest an activity? Read my novel, Spellbreaker. And if that doesn’t float your boat, I highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle, both in written and animated form.

—-

Spellbreaker: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Bookshop

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

Today in “It’s About Damn Time” + a Cat

The transition can formally begin, finally, only two weeks and change after everyone knew Trump had lost.

Well, not everyone, I suppose. I’m aware some alt-right QAnon types are having a dark night of the soul at the moment. Well: good. Get used to that feeling, my dudes. You’re gonna be having it for a while now.

So that this post isn’t entirely “poke the whiny conspirabigots,” here’s a tweet from the Scamperbeasts account. Look! Smudge!

— JS

The Big Idea: B.J. Graf

The Cover to Genesys X

Do we have destinies? Or are we agents of our own fate? These questions are a mystery, but one thing author B. J. Graf makes certain in her Big Idea is that life isn’t fair. Read on to hear about how these questions play a part in her newest novel, Genesys X.

B. J. GRAF:

There’s a popular saying that “what you don’t know, can’t hurt you.” I have my doubts about that. Ignorance, especially if it rests on secrets and lies which deliberately hide the truth, can rob us of free will. That was the kernel of the big idea behind my sci-fi mystery Genesys X. The story is set in the L.A. of 2041where derma ads have replaced tattoos, the Nike swoosh is projected on the moon, and digital sponsor logos race along the side of every police vehicle. In the near future the city’s under siege from a gang war which has flooded the streets with green ice, a drug more deadly than fentanyl. And there’s a new plague. A virulent new strain of Alzheimer’s, dubbed Alz-X, is spreading like wildfire, and unlike Covid-19, it attacks teens. 

Nobody knows why. 

Enter haunted Homicide Special Detective Eddie Piedmont. Growing up with an abusive green ice addict for a father, Eddie starts Genesys X certain that we are masters of our own fate. He doesn’t want to be like his dad, a corrupt cop who was kicked off the force years ago, but who still makes excuses for his bad choices and always blames others. Eddie’s been running from his father’s legacy all his life. But as the great student of mythology, C.G. Jung wrote: “You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.” 

People lie to themselves as well as to each other, especially when they talk to police. And the secrets and lies Eddie discovers while tracking down the killer of an exotic dancer, circle back to him in a very personal way. Eddie finds the killer, but in doing so he learns that what you don’t know can direct and derail your life, and as Jung put it: “you’ll call it fate.”

What about the rest of us? Are we slaves to fate or masters of free will? Even when I was studying for my doctorate in Classics, the Greek myths that drew me in dealt with that question.    

Now that I teach Classical Mythology, I find this question and others like it more haunting than ever. So do my students. I watch them grapple with a number of myths that deal with what I’ve named ‘the Red Line Event Horizon of experience.’ It goes something like this: only after a character crosses the threshold, doing something irrevocable, are the repercussions of the action made clear, never before. Persephone finds out that eating a few arils of a pomegranate, which Hades offers her, prevents her from returning to her old life on Olympus – only after she eats them. Never before. And Oedipus finds out the man he killed at the crossroads was the father he desperately tried to avoid killing only after the deed is done. Although Oedipus expressly tried to evade his prophesied fate, his avoidance effectively ensured it. 

“It’s not fair,” my students say, and they’re right. But as Will Munny says in Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven, fairness “got nothing to do with it.” 

Pull the thread on any of these myths, and they lead you into labyrinths which draw you down into deep chasms that open onto treasure troves of psychological wisdom. Although the myths deal with characters from remote antiquity, they reverberate through time to us. In our own lives there are experiences like these irrevocable acts in myth: falling in love, having sex for the first time, getting married, having a child, going to war, taking a life, losing a beloved friend or family member to death, and of course dying. If you haven’t experienced these things yourself, you can approach them from the outside. You can understand the idea of them, and an artist can take you closer to the threshold, but you can’t really know what they mean and are until you cross the event horizon yourself. Like Persephone though, once you cross, you can’t go back to the innocence of unknowing. You are changed forever. 

Of course, most people today turn to science, not mythology, for answers to questions on deep issues such as fate vs. free will. And contemporary neurological research has weighed in on the subject. Various studies seem to corroborate the notion that we aren’t as free as we like to think. Experiments show we often act before we’re even aware that our minds and bodies have taken action. We make decisions before we even know we’re making them. So how could we be acting with free will? Paradoxically, however, we need to believe in free will, even if it’s a bit of an illusion, in order to make it a possibility. Otherwise there’s no point. We might as well just throw up our hands and flop down on the couch to munch on ice cream and potato chips while binging Netflix mysteries. To put it another way, contemporary scientific research corroborates the paradoxical reality which myth already knew. 

In Genesys X I wanted to marry science fiction to Greek mythology via this idea.  Eddie’s relentless pursuit of the truth takes him to some very dark places in himself as well as in the criminal world. That pursuit causes him to doubt his agency. But he doesn’t avoid the fight. As a believer in free will, he takes it on because he also knows you are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. 

And I’ll confess that as the author of Genesys X I started the book with the ending preordained. But Eddie, like all characters who come alive, fought and made me change my ideas.  So, by the last page of the novel, what does Eddie end up thinking about the Big Idea? Are we slaves to fate or masters of free will? 

Eddie would say the answer is “Yes.”  

Or to state the paradox in a slightly different way, fate versus free will? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Tell me what you think. 

But fairness “got nothing to do with it.” 

——

Genesys X: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

Here’s Some Music To Listen To This Fine Sunday

Athena ScalziHello, everyone! I hope you’re all having a good weekend. Mine has been very lazy and relaxing, so to keep up with that trend, I’m going to share a song I like with y’all instead of posting something that requires me to use my brain.

This song is actually one you may have heard before if you have ever watched “Beyond the Aquila Rift” from Love, Death, & Robots. This song plays in the background of the very gratuitous sex scene, and then again at the end of the episode.

I quite like this song for it’s dark tones; it’s almost like haunting sounding, but that’s partially because I think of it in context to the dark ending of the episode. It reminds me a lot of a song I shared on here before called Far Beyond, but that’s mostly because they’re both in that genre of “dark pop” which I really like.

But, yeah, I hope you enjoy this song. I happened to watch the episode with subtitles one time and it said the name of the song in the subtitle (which is a really great feature to have instead of just showing music notes or saying “music playing”) which I am thankful for because now it is one of my all time favorites! So, give it a listen and let me know your opinion on it (or on the episode it’s from) in the comments.

And have a great day!

-AMS

Five Things, 11/21/20

Because, hey! Just because I haven’t done one for a bit doesn’t mean I can’t do one now.

Excerpt from today NY Times front page, noting Biden win in Georgia (again).

John ScalziTrump loses again, again: Yesterday saw Georgia definitively go into the Biden win column, and (presumably) Trump’s grand plan to steal Michigan via the state legislature go into the crapper. There may yet be Michigan drama if the state certification board does some dipshit thing, but the remedy for that is straightforward. Trump also got dunked in Arizona and Nevada yesterday (the latter being a court case he didn’t bring but was relevant to his interests). It’s become increasingly difficult for Trump to even pretend he can steal the election, and by and large, the actual adults have been moving on. There have been rumors that Trump knows he lost, he just wants to be an asshole about it, which is, of course, on brand for him.

I do think there’s a bend in the curve where Trump’s bullshit starts hurting him even with base, and that we may be near it. Not with the full-on racist crapbags, of course; they’ve signed up to be conned by him long-term and aren’t going to back down now. But the ones who voted for him and may have had some concerns about vote fraud, based on what they’d been told by semi-legit sources, may begin to hike back to reality. It may take longer to insult their intelligence than I would like, but eventually you do get to that point, and I suspect the multiple court defeats and Giuliani literally melting down have begun to take their toll. It doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly support Biden, mind you. Merely that the magic is over and the longer Trump keeps this nonsense up, the fewer supporters he’s going to have at the end of it.

I know. Call me optimistic.

Adios, Arecibo: This makes me hugely sad: The massive radio telescope in Puerto Rico is being retired after having taken too much damage recently. Like any space geek, Arecibo always loomed large in my imagination, and honestly seemed to be to big to fail — but fail it has. It has a pretty good run of nearly 60 years, however, which in itself is an impressive feat; there’s not a lot of tech that stays in use that long. I’ve been to Puerto Rico a couple of times, and both times I could have taken a tour of the telescope but chose not to. Fool! I’ll not get that chance now.

More love for my Pixel 5: I noted this yesterday on Twitter:

If you can’t see the tweet. It shows a graph with the battery of my Pixel 5 at 38 percent after about 30 hours of use. I got another four hours out of it before I plugged it in; it had gotten down to 17% by that point. I’ve never gotten that sort of battery life out of any phone I’ve had before, and certainly not out of a Pixel. Yes, yes — let’s see where we are a year from now. But I’ll tell you what, for now, I’m loving this phone, and not just because of the battery. Nor am I the only one — I’m seeing a fair number of articles like this, in which the author sort of amazedly admits to really really liking the Pixel 5, despite other, higher-specced phones being available. It’s apparently the mid-range phone that could.

Alan Dean Foster: Speaking of my Twitter feed, I was reminded that a lot of you who visit here don’t pay much attention to it, because I’ve gotten emails and other queries asking why I hadn’t written about Disney stiffing beloved SF author Alan Dean Foster out of royalties. In fact, I wrote extensively about it on Twitter, the gist of which is this:

I’ve been pleased to see that Alan’s cause has gotten some traction on social media and at news sites, but honestly it should have not taken SFWA shaming Disney in public to deal with this. Alan’s royalties are probably a very tiny percentage of the craft service budget on a Marvel shoot; Disney will not miss what they owe him. Which is neither here or there about whether they should pay him — he’s got a fucking contract, of course they should pay him — merely to make point that Disney bought itself a lot of public shame over a sum that’s relatively trivial to the company, but which actually matters to Alan. Inexplicable.

Krissy and Smudge: I think this is my favorite picture yet of the two of them.

Krissy, in bed, looking up at Smudge, who is on her chest.

It pretty much captures both of their personalities, which is what you want a picture to do. And of course, they are both ridiculously photogenic.

— JS

Take a Deep Breath: Trump is Not Going To Cheat His Way Back Into the Presidency

And to convince you, here’s an hour-long presentation on the matter by and actual lawyer who specializes in constitutional law, who is (incidentally) also a conservative. In addition to what he says here, if you go to the actual YouTube page, there’s supporting material in the descriptions there. This is long — almost an hour — but I found it interesting and informative, and you can put it on in the background, like constitutional ASMR:

John ScalziThe “too long, didn’t listen” version of this is that, barring an actual coup with tanks in the streets, every single avenue Trump and his dimwit cronies have to try to steal this election breaks down in the House of Representatives, which, remember, has a Democratic majority, and which has legal (and court-tested) ways of avoiding an electoral vote tie, dealing with states overriding the popular vote of their citizens to offer up a slate chosen by the legislature, and so on. Barring the tanks, it’s just not going to happen. The worst case scenario, such as it is, is an acting president Pelosi. But faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar more likely (like, 99.99999999999%) would be Joe Biden being president, like he’s supposed to. And no scenario where Trump is still president at 12:01pm, January 20, 2021.

(Also, there will be no tanks in the streets. The military can’t wait for Trump to fuck off, y’all.)

This doesn’t mean that Trump and his dimwit brigade aren’t attempting a coup (that is to say, to subvert the will of the voters and the purpose of the electoral college, and illegally steal the presidency); they totally are. Thankfully, they’re bad at it, and also, as noted above, it doesn’t matter, because at the end of any move they make is Speaker Pelosi lifting a middle finger to them all, and Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.

So, yeah. Deep breaths, everyone. January 20 is coming.

Showcasing My Collection: Enamel Pins, Volume Two

Athena ScalziHello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of me showing off my enamel pin collection! Last time, I shared five of my favorite pins with you, and I’m going to do the exact same thing today. Though these are some of my favorites in my collection, they’re not in any particular order or anything, I pretty much like them equally. Anyways, let’s get started!

purple night sky boba tea inside skull

Here we have what I can only refer to as “skull boba”. If you don’t know what boba is, I am sad for you. Boba tea, or bubble tea, is a delicious drink with tapioca pearls in it (that’s what the black balls at the bottom are)! It’s amazing, life-changing, really, and I highly recommend boba tea to anyone and everyone. But, anyway, this boba tea is for some reason made of the night sky and also inside of a skull cup, so how could I not pick this piece to add to my collection? I actually got it from Hot Topic.

coconut with straw in the top

Next up, we have this totally awesome coconut with a straw in it! I got this two years ago in Wilmington, North Carolina, from a shop by the docks I wish I could remember the name of. But basically it was just a cute little boutique and they had a couple pins I liked, I got this one and one other but I thought this was the cooler of the two to show off to y’all.

duck with a black bow tie

Here is a handsome fellow, a duck with a snazzy bow tie! He’s a super cute addition to my collection and actually one of my more recent pieces. I bought this little dude from an artist I follow on Twitter, but I can’t remember who it was, otherwise I would provide a link so you could add this adorable quacker into your life.

alien head yin yang

Another Hot Topic pin! This alien head was amongst the very first of my vast collection. My friend and I bought matching ones and said that someday we’d get a tattoo just like it. Honestly, I think it is definitely capable of being a cool tattoo. This pin has been with me for a few years now, and I still love it as much as when I got it! (Also, the grey speckles aren’t where the white has chipped off, they’re gold sparkles, the light is just making it look weird.)

pink and purple flowers with green leaves

This pretty pink thing was given to me by a friend from Miami named Jeri, who got it for me from a shop in her hometown, St. Louis. It was a birthday gift. It’s very different from all my other pieces, the detail in the lines makes it so unique. I truly treasure this one.

And there you have it! Five more of my seemingly unending collection. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my pin-tastic life, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: JD DeLuzio

The word “con” has more than one meaning, and for JD DeLuzio’s debut novel, The Con, this is a very very relevant fact. Read on to discover more.

JD DeLUZIO:

A woman recalls the arrival of Haile Selassie to Jamaica in April of 1966, and the seven mystic white flying greyhounds that swept down from the heavens and escorted his plane. No one else reports this wonder and none of the media present records it. But she firmly believes it. Perhaps a decade after the event TV brought her to me, a child living in a religious, but not fanatical, household. My father, the Canadian-born son of Italian immigrants, was Roman Catholic. My mother grew up exposed to a number of Protestant traditions. Her maternal grandfather had been a Methodist minister, she attended a Baptist Sunday School, and some of her relatives joined the Salvation Army.

Both my parents had careers based in science and technology. They understood critical thinking. The Old Testament—the earliest books, in particular—they read as poetic metaphor, written for a time when human beings understood the world differently than we do now. They were a little stickier about the New Testament: that had happened pretty much as reported. Inconsistencies were something devout folks just had to wrestle with or accept on faith.

Outrageous beliefs from other groups, of course, could be dismissed. Flying greyhounds? Blame the ganja.

I’m no longer a devout anything, but I’m steeped in religious tradition, and keep copies of every major sacred book by my bedside. I have given skeptical-leaning seminars on folklore and the paranormal. I’m also a long-time SF fan and a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. These things (among others) shape the world I see.

So I wrote a novel called The Con. It unfolds at a hotel hosting both an SF Convention and a smaller meeting of Janeites. The principal narrator insists there’s also an actual alien present. The novel sold because the publisher liked its characters and carnivalesque plot, and that’s what most people take from it. The Con concerns the usual things: characters, personal conflict, intrigue, misunderstandings, star-crossed lovers, robot battles, and so forth. But like all books, it holds ideas.

Fandom and faith, for example, have a lot in common. Devotees read relevant texts. We gather in groups, honor our saints, wrestle with contradictions, develop rituals, and engage in activities that outsiders find bizarre and occasionally alarming.

We don’t believe in the literal truth of our stories—not if we’re sane– but we see the world differently than others, because those stories affect our conceptual lenses.

Telfryn Tyde, The Con’s guide through the chaos, insists that an extraterrestrial probe guided by a simulacrum of an alien researcher named Azogo latched onto his brain years earlier. If he’s telling the truth, The Con is SF. If he’s delusional or yarn-spinning, it skews realistic. Of course, neither genre nor reality need be either/or (bilaterally symmetrical species love too much our binary metaphors). Azogo’s existence, for example, would not preclude Telfryn also being disturbed. Indeed, he claims his sporadic mental breaks result from alien activity.

Others characters encounter Azogo, which is doubly odd, since (1) Azogo may not exist and (2) if it does it’s supposedly a computer emulation of some alien’s brain. Is Telfryn inserting an imaginary extraterrestrial into the narrative? Is the growing brain-to-brain interface causing others to see what Telfryn sees? Is he attaching a long-standing delusion to a really impressive work of cosplay? Has Azogo itself, or another of its kind, finally arrived on earth? In fiction, carefully-phrased writing can sustain the uncertainty.

Our secondary narrator tries to maintain an Austenian style. Her account continually breaks against circumstances Jane would never have imagined. Sometimes we need to change our metaphoric lenses.

The characters, like real humans (and the inhabitants of Azogo’s world, Uirtkauwea’ki), see through lenses which limit their vision, and are driven by things which may or may not be real. Religion shapes two of the characters’ thinking, socio-political views are not absent (It’s not just Fen and Janeites who clash. Our con mixes Canadians and Americans), music plays a key role, and feelings, love especially, drive everyone.

Consider:

Religion? We do great things—good and evil– in its name, with very little evidence to confirm the existence of our particular flying greyhounds.

Politics, which has dire consequences, gets organized into fantasy league teams called “parties.” These often get defined by the binary metaphor of “right-wing” and “left-wing,” as though the beliefs and members of each team necessarily belong together. In the American model, unrestricted capitalism, denial of rights to queer folks, and access to firearms all end up on the “right-wing” side, despite those concepts having no intrinsic connection. The “left-wing,” meanwhile, gave you president and vice-president elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who on my side of the border would fit comfortably with the Conservative Party. Harris could run for the Liberals, but she’d definitely be on their right flank. (Some Americans believe that Biden and Harris didn’t win, and that belief, though demonstrably false, will have far-reaching effects).

Music? My wife, a soprano, has a voice that moves people, sometimes profoundly. I have seen and felt it. But to what end? Music matters so much that no human culture exists without it, and yet it serves no easily-defined purpose.

Love? We’re often most motivated by emotions, which, viewed objectively, are unstable states based on chemical reactions.

And so I wrote a book that concerns several characters and their adventures in the carnival world of a con. You need not read for any more reason than that. However, along the way, those characters pose questions about the illusory, ineffable forces that motivate and define us. 

A con, short for convention, is a gathering of like-minded people. A con, in another sense, is a deliberate deception. We must continually ask if the things moving us are really real, or just a con. 

—-

The Con: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

 

The Big Idea: James Van Pelt

What would the inside of your head look like if someone went exploring in it? What is behind the closed doors of your mind? In author James Van Pelt’s Big Idea, he invites us to tour the back alleys of his creativity, and tells us of how he tries to fit all that into his new collection, The Best of James Van Pelt.

JAMES VAN PELT:

Imagine entering a huge, windowless building in the middle of the night. The doors slam behind, plunging you from the starlit darkness to utter blackness. Feeling blindly along the wall, you find no light switches, but you have been tasked with reporting what’s inside the edifice.

You do have a camera with a flash, so you point it toward what you imagine must be the middle of the room and trigger it. A tiny fraction of the building’s character has just been revealed and captured. You spend years wandering, finding your way by touch, through hallways, up and down long staircases, opening doors, hearing weird sounds: music, voices, animals, machinery, weather, rocket ships, armies, lovers, screams, laughter, and stifling silence in long stretches, all the while taking pictures.

The photographs reveal libraries, candy stores, art galleries, bizarre tableaus, dioramas, classrooms, a jazz band, dance studios, theatrical stages, cocktail parties and keggers, stone-walled chambers, circus parades, a swimming pool (you just avoid falling in!), mausoleums, a chapel, and sometimes, impossibly, scenes that appear to be outdoors: mountainsides, trails, streams, fog-wrapped trees, ocean shores, deserts and swamps, snowfields and volcanic wastelands.

You’re not sure, but some pictures seem to be of aliens, monsters, dinosaurs or children.

When you stop to inventory, after wandering with your camera most of your life, knowing you’ve only scratched the building’s surface, you realize that you’ll never be able to photograph it all.

You have been exploring the house illimitable.

That’s what collecting three decades of publishing short stories is like. The big idea of The Best of James Van Pelt is that the stories create an outline of my obsessions, neuroses, fears and hallucinations.

When I taught high school English, I asked students to find books to read for fun, and then to report what they read to the class. These were low-key book reports. I didn’t want them to do deep literary analysis. I told them to treat the class like a bunch of friends and that they were telling them of a book they just read. What was the book about? What did they like? What was cool? Who else might like this book? That kind of stuff.

Occasionally a student would pick one of my novels or short story collections. Our school librarian shelved all my books (which is why I generally have a PG-13 sensibility in my stories). A student reading a book of mine made me vaguely uneasy. How intimate writing is! I was afraid they’d finish and learn too much about me. That’s what Mr. Van Pelt thinks about? Gross!

What they would find is that I think about high school classrooms both from a teacher’s and student’s point of view quite a bit, but the classrooms always have fantastical things happening in them. I like old movies. I like outer space. I like plucky people who struggle against their fates. I like musical lines of words that trip off the tongue well, and mythology and dreams and regular people struggling with the surreal as if the surreal were ordinary. I’m fond of the occasional ghost story.

What they wouldn’t see are the few stories that are my favorites. Other authors have told me that I’m not alone in hoping that readers would perk up at certain stories. Sadly, my favorites and readers’ favorites don’t often coincide. Everybody’s taste differ, but I want you to know that I’m particularly proud of “Nor a Lender Be” because the protagonist is my ideal teacher, “Night Sweats” with its combination of ghosts and the WWII birth of the nuclear age, “The Radio Magician” with its undefeatable optimism, and “The Hareton K-12 County School and Adult Extension,” which is my homage to Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” a story with an inanimate object as a sympathetic character. 

Oh, and “The Silk Silvered Skulls of Millen Mir,” which dramatizes everything I love about books and reading.

A common piece of writerly advice is “Write what you know.” I don’t think that’s helpful since if you took it literally, everything would be strictly autobiographical. A better suggestion is “Write what you think about.” It’s better, but not easy. Most students, I’ve found, don’t really know what they think about. It’s akin to asking fish to identify water. What people think about is so integral to who they are that it’s hard to step back to look at the thoughts. I know because it’s taken me a while to identify what’s going on in my head. Once I started doing it, though, my stories improved. I quit writing what I thought a story should be, and I started writing what truly mattered to me. Regardless of what got me going on the writing of each piece (a snatch of dialogue, an odd image, a bout of indigestion), at some point I had to stop and ask myself, “Why is this important? Why do I care?” I couldn’t continue writing until I answered those questions.

Writing, all writing, whether I mean it to be or not, is an act of self-exploration. I hope the stories are entertaining to others, but they aren’t written just for an audience or to earn a payment. They’re snapshots in the house of my head.

And that’s the big idea.

—-

The Best of James Van Pelt: Fairwood Press

Visit the author’s site.

This Vacation Blows

Athena ScalziEveryone knows the drill by now. You work from home in your sweats, you have a dozen Zoom calls a  day, and you avoid the outside world like the plague (because, duh). But of course, there’s our essential workers, too. Those who are out in the world every day, providing much-needed services ,who just have to straight up live with the very real possibility that they will get sick. And they’ve been given the titles of “heroes”, but what does it really mean? What does it mean to call essential workers “troopers” and “brave” but then yell at the Applebee’s hostess for saying you can’t sit inside? Or when you admire nurses and doctors for tirelessly battling this pandemic, but can’t be bothered to wear a mask when you go buy champagne for your fuckin’ mimosas?

At the very beginning of the pandemic, I worked at a bakery. I knew that with all the new changes to eateries and stores, unemployment was sure to follow in the wake of the virus (of course, I never expected the absolutely enormous percentage that ended up occurring, because damn). So I told my boss that if she needed to cut back on scheduling people, to cut me out first. I didn’t need the money. And that’s exactly what she did. I didn’t work for a month. I can’t imagine if I actually had needed that check.

The whole “heroes” thing is a whole ‘nother topic that I tend to get really heated about (hazard pay, anyone?), but it’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about my friend, who is an essential worker, and share a little bit of their story with working during a pandemic.

My friend has worked at the same company for two and a half years. They work ten-hour shifts, Monday-Thursday, and when the pandemic started they worked twelve hour shifts, Monday-Friday, from March until October. And never, not once, did they ever take a day off or be late to work in all the time they’ve worked there.

A couple months ago, my friend’s father got COVID, and they were exposed to it. So of course, they told their boss that they could be infected and needed to take time off to quarantine. And their boss responded with questions such as “are you symptomatic?” and “how close did you get to your dad?”, and eventually said “well, ultimately, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

My friend is given 40 hours of vacation time a year. So, when their boss wouldn’t give them they time off, they spent it all on quarantining. And, yeah, you’re supposed to quarantine for two weeks, not one, but they did their best. They did everything in their power to be responsible when their boss so obviously isn’t.

The cherry on top? Their boss is their father’s uncle. And he didn’t give a shit that his nephew had COVID, or that his relative/employee was exposed, and he definitely didn’t give a fuck that his employee could’ve given COVID to all the other employees.

I just want to reiterate that my friend used their VACATION DAYS solely to protect their coworkers from possibly getting sick. It wasn’t a trip to Hawaii, it was staying at home, alone, waiting to see if they got sick. That’s not a fucking vacation. It’s a necessary precaution in a pandemic, and it shouldn’t be treated as if the employee is choosing to take off work just for shits and giggles. It is an attempt to save lives, protect others, and flatten the curve.

What I’m trying to say is, if you’re an employer, please give your workers sick leave. Please stop telling them to come in even if they’re sick. I know from experience that employers have a bad habit of minimizing employees’ ailments every chance they get, just so they can have an extra fucking bagger or shelf stocker around. We are in the third wave of a pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people. Please please please let your employees stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to COVID.

And have a great day.

-AMS

The Big Idea: Essa Hansen

When given a choice between adventure and stability, what would you choose? When staring the unknown in the face, do you choose to explore it, or stay in your comfort zone? Author Essa Hansen asks the tough questions in the Big Idea for her newest novel, Nophek Gloss.

ESSA HANSEN:

Which would you choose: a safe, predictable utopia or a dangerous frontier of rich new experience?

Science fiction often centers on confronting the unknown, either because it’s sought out—“to boldly go where no one has gone before,” says Star Trek—or because the unknown has intruded on a comfortable world. A protagonist embarking on a quest of any kind is choosing adventure over comfort, but when there’s no threat to the world, no Dark Lord or “Call to Adventure,” what would the majority choose? Are the adventurous too foolhardy, and are utopians stunted by lack of challenge?

I’m endlessly curious about the big idea of how we value the safe and predictable versus that which is risky yet promises unique experience or gain. Humans may have an inherent drive to explore and expand as part of our survival instinct, but at the same time we so often fear the unknown. One thing I love about this genre is that it neatly explores both of these traits together. At the same time, readers get the best of both: to mentally explore new ideas and worlds from complete physical safety.

I wanted to explore this dichotomy of safety versus discovery in Nophek Gloss, both in the protagonist’s themes and the physical world on a huge scale. The bubble multiverse is perilous: physical laws vary between universes, and might transform or destroy things that pass from one to another. Species for whom transformation is normal might not fear this “removal of the permanence of being,” but humans and species like them find comfort in identity and predictability. Who heads in first when faced with a universe never before entered, which might fry the skin off you, or transform your parts or functions? Granted, it’s possible that transformation might make you better.

At the heart of these many worlds lies Unity: the original universe from which the others bubbled off, massive and unbroken, with stable physical laws that are completely understood. Unity is ruled by a government dedicated to creating one perfect dimension where anything is possible. Those who value safety and order congregate here to enjoy free energy, perfect health, and expertly managed economy and ecology. Would you live in such a place, or does this sound like a boring reality? Are mental frontiers broad enough to keep such a world engaging?

In contrast, the outer multiverse is a messy situation of mysterious worlds full of unpredictable dangers. Seeking profit, explorers dive into new territory and traders exploit translations between universes. Is novelty worth the risk? Cartographers make the multiverse safer by selling knowledge and chartings while paying for new data retrieved, incentivizing explorers to carve into the unknown. Slowly they are uniting the multiverse through shared understanding of its variety—but is that enough to stop war and exploitation?

I quickly realized it would take more than one book to explore this big psychological idea in the physical world. However, these themes embedded in the first book’s central character. Caiden’s arc begins on an isolated world with a singular function. His life is safe, he’s provided for, his knowledge limited and tasks predictable—but he longs for more understanding.

Caiden ends up thrust from safety into a mature world of diversity and danger. He struggles with complete sensory overwhelm, PTSD, reactionary impulses, and visible oppression in this immense world—all of which drive his choice to throw himself at danger and into new experiences that he’s unequipped to navigate. The adult cast around him tries to steer him back to safety, but his momentum toward justice and his idea of his purpose is all that’s keeping him together.

Usually heroics are successful and glorified, but Caiden faces insurmountable obstacles, frequently missteps, and makes heroic choices that aren’t rewarded. Like all of us, Caiden comes up against “safety versus discovery” in everyday choices big and small: do we challenge ourselves, do we risk, do we do the thing that might hurt? Or do we stay in our comfort zone, seek stability, set boundaries? Do we make that move across the country, will it be better? Do we stay with our partner and try to work things out, or move on alone? Do we keep walking when we see discrimination, or do we risk a fight and step in? I personally like to define big ideas as those that apply broadly and continue to make me think more deeply about the choices I encounter day to day.

So, which would I pick of the two? While it’s appealing to think I could perfectly craft a reality of my choice, with all the successes and material luxuries I want, I believe there is something to be said for being surprised. Delightfully surprised, one would hope, but even challenges and dangers have huge value, for through them we grow in myriad ways. I can look back at dark times that shaped me, and add sweet into those bitter memories, because if I had picked the easier road, would I be the same person, would I now have big ideas such as this?

—-

Nophek Gloss: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Dispatcher: Murder By Other Means Limited Edition Print/EBook coming in April; Pre-Order Now!

The cover to :The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means

John ScalziIf you’ve been wondering when the print and ebook version of Murder By Other Means, my latest story in the “Dispatcher” series, was going to be available, good news: There’s a date! And it is: April 2021, when my friends at Subterranean Press will be releasing a special signed hardcover limited edition of Murder, along with an ebook edition.

The signed hardcover limited edition, featuring the above fabulous cover by Michael Koelsch, is available for pre-order now, and as always, I do suggest pre-ordering, since “limited edition” does actually mean limited — we’re printing 2,000 copies, and that’s it. Yes, I had to sign my name two thousand times (actually more, as insurance). My hand is very tired. The ebook edition will not be limited however.

If you’ve never gotten a book from SubPress before, incidentally, you’ll be in for a treat, since their books are true collectors items. This will be an edition worth getting. Here’s that pre-order link again.

— JS