The photo is from the opening ceremonies of the Budapest International Book Festival, just before I went up on stage and was given the Budapest Grand Prize by the mayor of Budapest, who is very tall and not a little bit handsome, and who referenced my shoes in a later presentation (they’re my Bosch Doc Martens). I felt like a hobbit getting gifts from the elves. Also, hi, I am the first science fiction author ever to receive the Budapest Grand Prize, so I have that going for me, which is nice.
The rest of the opening ceremonies was excellent and included speeches by various folks including the Dutch Ambassador to Hungary (the Netherlands is the National Guest of Honor this year), and a couple of very cool musical performances. I was interviewed as the guest of honor, and then we all went to a meet and greet and schmoozed for a bit, which was fun. Tomorrow is my media day, which means lots and lots of interviews and chatting. This is always fun for me because I was a journalist for years, and it’s always wild and surreal to be on the other side of the microphone, as it were.
It’s been a good day, with very good people in it. Hope yours has been, too.
And it’s actually a New York Times best seller twice, as it landed on both the Hardcover and Combine Print & EBook list (numbers 14 and 12, respectively). Plus it’s #30 on the USA Today list (that list covers all books being sold in bookstore, regardless of format, genre and release date), #15 on the Indie list (compiled from indie booksellers), and #2 on the Audible Fiction Audio list (Update, 9/28: And also #8 on the Amazon Bestseller’s list!). That’s a pretty great start for a book that features volcano lairs, lasers and cats who can type. I am, as you may imagine, delighted.
I’m typing this from Budapest, incidentally, where it is past midnight; I stayed up to hear if the book made the NYT list. Now I’m going to go thump in the bed, as tomorrow the Budapest International Book Festival starts its run, and I’m the Guest of Honor for it. Coming into the event with a new bestseller is kind of a nice way to begin things.
I might have lied a little bit. This post isn’t as much about roller skating as it is about the lack thereof.
At the beginning of the summer, I decided I needed a new hobby. One that involved physical activity and outdoor time. Because I don’t get enough of either of those things. Roller skating seemed like the perfect fit for something that was balanced between exercise and fun, and could be done anywhere at roughly any time.
So, I decided to buy a pair of roller skates. It was hard to decide between getting inline skates or the side-by-side ones. I didn’t know the differences or pros and cons, so I watched a few Tik Toks about each. Ultimately, the inline ones seemed like the better choice, and I bought a pair. After getting the skates, knee pads, elbow pads, a helmet, all the necessary equipment, it was a couple hundred dollars. But it was okay, because this was going to become my new thing.
Except, it didn’t.
The day my skates arrived in the mail was the same day the outside world became hazy, smoky, and an air quality warning was issued. It was advised by officials and experts not to go outside. So I didn’t. But then the Canadian wildfires just kept going, and going, and we kept being urged to stay inside. So inside I stayed.
After a while, the air became mostly breathable again, but then I was due to leave home and go to LA for three weeks. Obviously I couldn’t pack my skates, they were huge. Not to mention how much room a helmet would take up.
Weeks later when I returned home, I got a promotion at work, and became a little more busy throughout the week than I previously was.
And then there was never a “good time”. I always had something to do, somewhere to be, somebody to see. So many reasons as to why my skates were still in the box. I made a lot of excuses as to why learning to skate just didn’t fit into my daily life.
But, I’ve realized why I’m so quick to make excuses when it comes to the skates. I’m afraid to fall. I’m afraid to break my fucking ankle, or twist something, or hurt myself at all. Though I’m twenty-four, I’m not in the best shape, and I’ve found recently that if I hurt myself, it takes a lot longer to heal than it used to. Things don’t feel the same afterwards. It’s like I’m permanently damaged from minor incidents.
While I was in LA, I hurt my ankle dancing one night. It hurt for days, and didn’t feel fully right for weeks, if not months. I’m afraid that if I get hurt, whatever I damage will never be the same again.
My father has a finger he can’t really bend all the way. It’s from a high school volleyball incident. He’s in his fifties, and it’s still not right. Sometimes things just don’t heal well, and if I can avoid giving myself an injury to have to heal from, I will.
Anyways, the summer is over and I never once adorned the skates that were supposed to be my new, fun hobby that would get me out there, get me active. It never happened, and I’m sad for it.
I know I could start now, but am I going to? It seems unlikely. Between my fear of hurting myself, work, my hatred of sweating, my lack of patience to learn new things, and any other excuse I can think of in the moment, I’m probably just going to avoid having wheels strapped to my feet all together.
Well, I’m off to Budapest now. This is the view from earlier today, heading from Ohio to Washington; now I’m on the plane heading to Europe. It’ll be most of a day in the sky and at airports before I make it to Budapest; I splashed out on Business Class to make sure my neck won’t be a pretzel when I arrive.
As I head to a whole other continent, I wanted to thank everyone who attended my tour events in the last week. It’s always so much fun to see everyone and share a day with you. Thank you all. When I come back from Europe I’ll be doing more events – including a make-up date in Wichita on October 9 – so I will see even more of you soon.
Until then, don’t wreck North America while I’m away, okay? Thank you in advance.
And here we have another quality parking lot photo, both foreground, and especially, background.
Tonight at 7pm: Cincinnati, I’ll see you at the Joseph-Beth booksellers! And then, that’s it for this leg of the book tour. Do I go home from here? Dear me, no! I’m off to Budapest tomorrow, to be the Guest of Honor for the International Book Festival there. So no home for me. However, Krissy is coming to see me tonight, so at least I get to see my spouse, which makes me happier than you can imagine.
If you’re in Cincy, please come see me tonight!
Well, folks, if we’re talking parking lot views, it appears that we have hit the motherlode. This is an extremely impressive collection of loitering vehicles. I think it may even be a record, and in 15 years of touring, that’s saying something.
Reminder that today’s event is at 4pm and that the venue is now the Sixth Presbyterian Church (1688 Murray Ave). Tomorrow, I’m in Chapel Hill, for another afternoon event (also 4pm) at Flyleaf books. See you there, North Carolina!
Another airport hotel view, once again because I have to be up silly early to catch a flight — not the earliest I have to get up, that’s tomorrow — and being at an airport hotel is the easiest way to manage that. Also, after the horrendous travel day I had yesterday (I didn’t get to my hotel room until 1am), I was glad not to have to go anywhere far to get to a bed. Today has been a day of sleeping in, staying in bed (I am still in bed as I am writing this at 3pm central) and ordering room service. Don’t worry, I’m still doing to event tonight. But then: right back to bed, y’all.
TOMORROW: Pittsburgh for the first time as a tour stop! PLEASE NOTE: If you are coming to see me tomorrow, the venue has changed: It’s now at the Sixth Presbyterian Church (1688 Murray Ave), although at the same time, 4pm. Yes, I’ll be in a church. By now, this is a familiar thing for me. See you there!
It’s an award, given by the state of Ohio, to Ohio writers, in the shape of — yes! — Ohio. It is a very on theme award, I have to say. And I have one, for The Kaiju Preservation Society, which won this year’s Readers’ Choice Award (i.e., the one Ohioana Award that is voted on by readers, rather than being a juried award). I was thrilled. Alas, I could not be there in person at the ceremony yesterday, because I was meant to be in Wichita for a book event (but was in fact stranded in Denver because United forgot how to actually fly planes), but Athena accepted for me and was fabulous doing it.
For posterity, here are the remarks Athena gave at the ceremony, from me:
Dear staff and attendees of the Ohioana Book Awards:
First, thank you again for this humbling honor. I came to Ohio from elsewhere, but the first novel I ever sold was written here, as have been all my subsequent novels. Ohio has been very kind to me, my family, and my career. So it feels good to win this particular award. Thank you also to the staff at Tor Books and Audible, the staff and judges at Ohioana Library and Book Awards, and to everyone who voted for my little monster book.
Second, I am deeply honored to have been in this field of winners and finalists, across all categories. The authors and subjects show the deep diversity and creativity that exists in this state, and which should be acknowledged and celebrated by everyone in Ohio. As a state, we are at our best when we display the width and breadth of our many different experiences. We do so here tonight.
Finally, I want to give a moment of appreciation to libraries, not only to the Ohioana library but to libraries in general. I would not be who I am nor where I am in the world without the libraries that gave me space and knowledge and shelter. We cannot and should not take lightly the role they play in our communities and public life; we should support and defend them. As a token of my support of libraries, I am donating my Ohioana Award prize money to my hometown library in Bradford, Ohio. May it be useful for their service to our community.
Thank you again and congratulations to all tonight’s winners.
So I’m on the tarmac on SFO this morning, listening to the informational flight video as the plane is pulling away from the gate, when suddenly the informational video, and the lights, and the air conditioning, go out, followed by quiet but insistent beeping noises, followed by the pilot getting on the intercom and going “So, uhhhh.” The auxiliary power module was not working, and they were going to have to basically turn the airplane on and off again to see if they could get it going again. Which they did, for another five minutes before it went out again, and then we were towed back to the gate.
By the time all the plane shenanigans were done, I had missed my connecting flight into Wichita, and while there was another flight into that city, it wasn’t until 10:30pm, i.e., well after my 6pm event at Watermark Books.
So, for the first time in the more than 15 years that I have been doing book tours, we had to cancel an event. All because a fucking airline apparently doesn’t do basic maintenance on its fleet, and isn’t that reassuring. At the moment I’m in Denver, awaiting a flight into Dallas, since my event tomorrow is there, and we might as well try to get there now because who knows what the hell will happen next.
I’m deeply embarrassed to miss this event. It’s not my fault, but that doesn’t really matter for the folks who were hoping to see me tonight. The only thing I can say is that I am sorry, and that Tor and Watermark are working to reschedule the event for the next few weeks. Wichita, I will come to you! Soon. That’s a promise.
In the meantime, tomorrow: Dallas, Half-Price Books, 7pm. Please come. Thank you.
About a week ago, the temperature had dropped just enough for it to feel like a real fall day. Of course, now we are back up to the 80’s despite it being the end of September, but for one glorious day it was cool and breezy, and I knew I wanted to make something that encapsulated fall. At that very moment, I saw Half Baked Harvest post a recipe on Instagram for some Brown Butter Apple Blondies with Cinnamon Maple Glaze. I thought, well that sounds amazing! However, it requires real apples, so this recipe was just not in the cards at that moment in time.
Lo and behold, though, I saw a recipe for her Chewy Maple Brown Sugar Blondies instead, and opted for those. After all, it does have apple butter in it, so pretty similar at least, right?
First, the ingredients:
I thought the ingredients were pretty standard for the most part. Of course, apple butter is more of a specialty ingredient that can be hard to come by. It is easier to find it in fall, though, much like cans of pumpkin. Aside from that, it’s mostly just sugar, butter, chocolate, maple syrup, cinnamon, all the best stuff!
The first thing I did was brown the butter. Which started off like this:
And ended like this:
I believe I’ve mentioned it in a previous baking post, but brown butter is where you melt butter and let it basically cook until you’ve toasted the milk solids, which is what all this is on the bottom:
Brown butter is much richer and complex in flavor than regular butter, and using a good quality butter is really important if you’re looking to brown your butter. I pretty much only use Kerrygold, as I’m a bit of a loyalist, but there’s other good quality brands that will brown just as well.
Anyways, after I browned the butter, I mixed up the brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, apple butter, and egg:
I added the butter, all the dry ingredients, and the chocolate to get this yummy looking dough:
I like to use chocolate chips and chocolate chunks (I just cut up the chocolate bar). I think it looks better, but that’s just me. With butter, I’m a loyalist to Kerrygold, and with chocolate, I’m a loyalist to Ghirardelli. Nothing gets the job done better than Ghirardelli semi sweet.
I pressed the dough down into a parchment lined 9×13:
And baked it! The recipe says to let it bake for 18-22 minutes, and that you want it to be kind of underdone, but I ended up baking it for closer to 25 because I think it was a little too underdone originally.
Once it seemed okay, I pulled it out:
While I waited for it to cool, I made up the maple glaze that’s supposed to go on top. I was hesitant to make the glaze, as I’ve expressed before on here that I don’t care for how powdered sugar makes things taste, but I made it anyways and it actually turned out really well!
So I glazed these bad boys:
After cutting them, I noticed that they still looked pretty damn underdone:
Personally, I prefer under baked, and they were really tasty, so I figured it was fine.
As I said, they were quite yummy, however, I don’t feel like they tasted like fall. Despite the maple syrup, cinnamon, and apple butter in the recipe, they just tasted like chocolate chip cookie bars. And that’s more or less what they look like, too. I’m kind of upset they didn’t really taste mapley, even with the glaze. I wanted something cozy and warmly spiced, but they mostly were just chocolate-chip-cookie-esque. They were still good, though.
All in all, it was a pretty easy recipe, and a good way to spend my time. I don’t regret making them at all, but now I really want to try the actual apple blondie recipe I originally wanted to make to see how it compares.
Do you like blondies better than brownies? Do you prefer underdone baked goods? Would you try these? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
Turns out, you can stay at the airport when you’re at SFO. Which is what I did, because I have an early flight the next day. However, I did manage to get into the city, and had a good time, with the event and with seeing friends. It’s always nice when that happens.
Tomorrow, or rather, later today: Wichita, Kansas. Which is the first time that I will ever be in that fair city, so I am looking forward to that. I hope to see you guys at the event at 6:00 p.m. at Watermark books!
Technically a marina is a parking lot! It’s lovely view, someone currently being ruined by the sound of someone running a chainsaw near by; it really drowns out the sounds of the sea lions at the marina. Humans are the actual worst.
TONIGHT: I’m at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore at 7pm. I’m looking forward to it, mostly because it will be the first time I’m back at Mysterious Galaxy since it changed owners and location. So it will be all new to me!
TOMORROW: I’m in San Francisco at the Bookbinder Museum (also, I think at 7pm). This event is SOLD OUT, so if you didn’t get tickets, hey, I’m sorry. I’ll try to come back to San Francisco soon.
The waiting is over! Starter Villain, my latest novel, is out today in North America (Sept. 21 in the UK), and is available in print, ebook and audio. However you want it, you can get it! It’s available at your local bookstore, and I encourage you to get it there, but here are some additional sales links, just in case:
And for the audiobook, follow this link to Audible.
I’m happy to say Starter Villain is starting out with some great reviews, including two starred reviews from Booklist (“Scalzi’s latest will appeal to his legion of fans and draw in new ones”) and Library Journal (“Readers of humorous fantasy are sure to love Scalzi’s latest”), with raves from Entertainment Weekly (“Scalzi’s unique, hilarious, and oddly relatable story is the perfect fall read”), Publishers Weekly (“subverts classic supervillain tropes with equal measures of tongue-in-cheek humor and common sense”) and Polygon (“Following in the footsteps of sci-fi greats like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams… John Scalzi is truly a must-read”), among others. I hope you will dig it as well. I had a ball writing it.
Remember that I am on tour for Starter Villain, which actually began last night in Scottsdale, and now has stops in San Diego, San Francisco, Wichita, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Cincinnati and Nashville. Please come see me! I’ll also be at New York City Comic Con, the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival and on October 6th I have an event with VE Schwab in Bexley, Ohio. Oh, and I’m the Guest of Honor at the Budapest International Book Festival, if you happen to be in Hungary the last week of September. Come see me at those as well!
And now, for something really cool. As many of you know, I occasionally commission theme songs for my books from musicians I like. Previous songs have come from Jonathan Coulton (Redshirts), Ted Leo (The Dispatcher series), William Beckett (the Lock In series) and Paul and Storm (Fuzzy Nation). For Starter Villain, I asked the fabulous Dessa to do a song for the book, and, oh boy, did she deliver:
If you like the song — and you should, because it’s amazing — you can get it from Dessa through her Bandcamp page. Dessa also has her own new album coming out on September 29, Bury the Lede, which you can also get at her Bandcamp page, or, you can get one of several deluxe LP/CD packages from her site. Support her, she’s awesome and she made an incredible song for my book.
There’s more to come with Starter Villain and other news to share when I can — but for now, it’s out, it’s in the world, and you can get it. The run-up to the release has been amazing, but honestly the best thing is to see it in the hands of readers, and to have them enjoy it. I hope you have as much fun reading Starter Villain as I had writing it. If you do, you’re going to love it.
Scottsdale has apparently not gotten the memo that it’s supposed to be a bit autumnal: It’s currently 100 degrees out right now, which I discovered is not an especially walkable heat when I walked most of a mile to get my COVID and flu boosters at a near(ish) pharmacy, and then walked back. I did remember to hydrate, however, which is why I am not currently an overheated lump on the side of the road.
Which would have been inconvenient, not just because I would be having heat stroke, but also because I’m meant to kick off the Starter Villain book tour tonight at 7pm at the Poisoned Pen bookstore here in Scottsdale. Fortunately I am back in my cool hotel room, decompressing, and everything should be going according to schedule. If you happen to be in the Scottsdale area this evening, won’t you come by? Let’s kick this book tour off right, what do you say.
TOMORROW: San Diego! Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore! 7pm! My only Southern California stop on this tour! Don’t miss out!
As I noted yesterday, today’s at-home music technology has the capability to take some old, muddy recordings and freshen them up a bit — make the music brighter and/or give it more dynamic range. With that in mind, I took five of the tracks from my Music For Headphones album, which were recorded some twenty years ago, and ran them through some up-to-date remastering software to see if they could be shined up a bit. I was happy with the results, so I went ahead and collected them into EP form: MFH23EP.
MFH23EP is now available on streaming services (as I type this, pretty much everywhere but Spotify, which typically takes a day longer than everywhere else to post music) and I’m posting the individual tracks below via YouTube for your listening pleasure. As noted, this is not new work, just remastered things I put together from samples a couple of decades ago. That said, if you’ve not heard these tracks before and liked my other music, you’ll probably like this just fine. The full Music For Headphones album also continues to be available on streaming and Bandcamp.
(Also, since people have asked if my other work will ever be made available via Bandcamp: Yes, probably, but that’s not something I’m going to do prior to my book tour, so don’t expect that before mid-October at the earliest.)
Because I’ve been nerding out about music lately, I now have a frankly ridiculous number of plug-ins for my Digital Audio Workstations, which do all sorts of cool things. One useful one is called Ozone, from Izotope, which listens to your current audio project and then does an automatic rebalancing of levels of every instrument and voice. Whether you like the automatic rebalancing is a matter of taste, of course, but you can tweak it from there, and from experience I can say it does a pretty decent job of de-muddy-fying tracks, particularly older tracks of mine which I made years and years ago and mostly sound a little dull, production-wise.
Which brings us to our two tracks today, which are almost 20-year-old remixes of songs from popular artists, using loops and stems which I then put my own bits onto, and which I’ve now remastered using modern tech. The first one is “Don’t Stop,” which takes the opening piano bit from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and then slathers a bunch of sampled electronica around it. Purists will be appalled.
The second one is my remix of the Depeche Mode song “I Feel Loved,” the stems of which were offered up for a remixing contest back in, oh, geez, 2002 or so. My remix did not win, I am sad to say, but it was still fun to do. I can say I collaborated with Depeche Mode! Kind of! Sort of!
Also, yes, I did a lot of sample-based fiddling about with music around the turn of the century and then, having put together an album’s worth of stuff, then stopped doing it for most of a couple of decades. This was coincident with, you know, my career as a novelist taking off. Priorities, I suppose. It’s nice to be getting back to it a little bit more (also, I will still keep writing novels, promise).
I’ve been traveling the last couple of days, and am about to be traveling for two weeks straight after that, so I’ve posted my usual “hey, I’m traveling, don’t expect a reply” email auto responder. This means that if you were hoping to get an email response from me about something, bad news, friend, you’ll have to wait until October at least. Sorry (exceptions are made for Tor staff, my agent/manager/lawyer, and Krissy and Athena, the latter two being more likely to just call or text in either event).
Be that as it may, a couple of things popped into my email queue under the wire that had requests of a public nature, so I thought I would address them here quickly.
First, I got an email from a member of the Half-Price Books Union, basically saying, hey, you’re going to be at the chain’s flagship store in Dallas on your tour, can you fly the flag a little bit? It appears the company is being a smidge resistant to union activity, although as far as I can tell there’s no strike being called.
The chances are very good that in my tour-zombie state I might have it slip my mind in the moment, so I thought it better to note it here, now, while it is on the top of my mind. So, basically: I think it’s no surprise that I support unions in general, and given that actual union activity is a plot point in Starter Villain, it would be remiss for me not to say that obviously I support unionization, not only at Half-Price Books but also for any bookstore chain. If memory serves there was a recent one-day strike at Powell’s headquarters for similar reasons.
Booksellers rock and deserve fair wages and benefits and all of those good things, and — strangely! — the collective power that come from unions helps with that. So, yeah, the Half-Price Books Union has my support here. Easy call!
Second, my pal Liz in Australia asked if I could share a video in support of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum that is underway in Australia. My immediate response to this request, being a citizen of the United States, was “bwuh?” to which Liz very helpfully sent along this explainer of what the referendum is on and entails. I found it useful to understanding things, and I can likewise recommend it to anyone (and especially Australians) who are wondering whether or not to support the referendum.
Having thus been somewhat enlightened, I am happy to now share the requested video, which features Australian music legend John Farnham’s song “You’re the Voice” in support of the referendum. My understanding is that the US equivalent would be Bruce Springsteen allowing one of his signature songs to be used to support a constitutional amendment, so there you have it.
And now, my email is officially asleep until October.
Ah, the parking lot view. Simple. Classic.
For those of you who ordered a signed copy of Starter Villain from Subterranean Press, today’s the day I sign them. All one thousand or so of them. It’s going to be a busy morning. And then I go back home, because I have an interview to do and I’d rather do it from my office than from the side of the road. Then I have a last weekend at home before all my tour travel madness begins. The life of an author is kinda wild.
Anyway, off to scribble.
Want to dig into the tropes and traditions of the fantasy genre? Matthew Sangster has come over from the University of Glasgow to give us An Introduction to Fantasy, and to retrace the steps that brought him to propose and then write the book.
People who love Fantasy know viscerally in their hearts what Fantasy does for them. However, when the time comes to explain why Fantasy is important and inspiring, it’s sometimes tricky to put this into words. The big idea for this book was very simple: to try and explain why we should care about Fantasy.
I wanted to write a book that drew on my experience as a literary critic to analyse what Fantasy does for its creators and audiences, but I also wanted to write a book that was faithful to Fantasy’s love of wonder and play, a book that was enjoyable to read, that welcomed people in as good fantasies do. To what extent I succeeded is another question, but that was certainly the idea.
In writing An Introduction to Fantasy, I wanted to broaden out what critics have tended to talk about when they talk about Fantasy. Most academic studies of Fantasy focus on novels specifically. I definitely wanted to write about novels: in the book I discuss, among other things, how Ursula K. Le Guin uses language to conjure Earthsea; how Guy Gavriel Kay and Steven Erikson make and unmake histories; how N.K. Jemisin builds her worlds; how Patricia A. McKillip quietly subverts the assumptions that underpin many Fantasy stories; and why Lin Carter was being unfair when he described Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara as a ‘cold-blooded, complete rip-off’. However, for me, modern novels are only part of the picture. To address this, I wanted to pay proper attention to three other aspects of Fantasy.
The first is Fantasy’s deep roots. Fantasy is a genre profoundly invested in the past, with a powerful interest in recovering and reworking older stories. Rather than looking at Fantasy as a genre that begins with The Lord of the Rings, it’s helpful to take a cue from Tolkien himself. Tolkien passionately promoted older fantastic literature, but in his writings, he also transformed it. Seeing a richly imagined medieval-inspired world through the more contemporary sensibilities of the hobbits is a big part of the magic of his works.
Many fantasies are deeply informed by ancient myths, medieval romances and traditional folk tales, but they reconfigure these older forms to allow them to speak new truths in the present. Fantasy stories often manifest the genre’s obsession with writing and unwriting history through plots that begin in the middle: a technique borrowed from classical epic. Characters’ quests commonly uncover the extent to which their situations have been determined by historical events, but they also provide means for rejecting the logics of the past. Fantasies are often fond of prophecies, but they enjoy them most when they turn out very differently than is initially expected.
The second thing I wanted to write about was how Fantasy manifests in forms other than prose. Fantasy has long lineages in poetry, art, sculpture and performance, and present-day Fantasy sprawls promiscuously across many forms of media. Therefore, as well as considering books, I discuss films, animation, TV series, drama, comics, visual art and games, writing about works including Arcane, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dungeons & Dragons, Elden Ring, Final Fantasy VII, Hadestown, Magic: The Gathering, Pan’s Labyrinth, Planescape: Torment, The Sandman and Spirited Away.
The final thing I wanted to capture is the extent to which Fantasy is constituted by its communities. It’s a genre that glories in drawing ideas from a shared commons and returning them transfigured. We might think of collaborative anthologies of reworked fairy tales, or fan fiction and modding communities, or the combination of preparation, improvisation, rule-following and rule-breaking in tabletop roleplaying games or the shows derived from them, such as Dimension 20 or Critical Role. Genre’s openness manifests in creators’ and fans’ love of talking about influences and processes, and in vibrant conversations in magazines, online forums, video essays, convention programmes and blogs (like the one for which I’m currently writing).
I’m not usually very good at beginning at the beginning, going on till I come to the end and then stopping. I tend to work better jumping around within a manuscript. However, for this book, I wrote the sections largely in the order that they appear. I started with an introduction discussing definitions of Fantasy and why we shouldn’t get too hung up on these, and then worked through the chapters one by one.
The chapters fall roughly into pairs. The first discusses how Fantasy uses language to evoke both impossible things and new possibilities, considering how it lets us think differently about the world by positing imaginary alternatives. In the second chapter, I confront one of the main accusations levelled at Fantasy: that it is guilty of mindless repetition. I argue that Fantasy rarely repeats mindlessly. Instead, it takes recognisable tropes and adjusts or recontextualises them to produce novel meanings, creating narratives that combine the pleasure of recognition and the shock of the new.
The third chapter examines Fantasy’s root forms, looking at how modern fantasies rework techniques, tropes and ideas from myths, legends, epics, romances, wonder tales and religions. The fourth chapter looks at how Fantasy, scientific thinking and realism interact, arguing that fantasies make careful use of realist techniques while recognising their limitations and blind spots. The fifth chapter considers world-building, examining the powerful attraction of making new worlds and the techniques employed to create an illusion of fullness. The final chapter discusses the collaborative nature of Fantasy culture, arguing that it provides a model where the value of a work lies in the connections it creates.
The book is a product of the time I wrote it, during 2021 and 2022. It reflects the things I was reading (and re-reading, and watching, and playing), as well as the conversations I was having with my colleagues and students at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and with my fellow curators on the upcoming British Library exhibition Fantasy: Realms of Imagination. If I was writing it now, I would probably have included books I’ve enjoyed since I finished – C.S.E. Cooney’s Saint Death’s Daughter, Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, Laurie Marks’ Fire Logic. I’m also pretty sure there would be a fair bit about the live-action One Piece and Baldur’s Gate 3…
For me, though, what the book leaves out isn’t really an issue. While it’s rather longer than I originally intended (the expected length grew by about 40,000 words between first pitch and final submission), it was never meant to be in any way comprehensive. The An in the title is very deliberate. I didn’t want to try and pin down a definitive vision of what Fantasy should be.
Hopefully, the book will provide its readers with some new ideas and perspectives, but the thing that will make me happiest is if people can take ideas from it and do things with them that I never imagined or expected. For me, the best thing about genre is that it’s a continuing conversation. The idea shouldn’t be to try and have the last word, but rather to make something that others can build from.
At the start of the year I had big plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Whatever. On the 13th of each month leading to this day, I would write some sort of retrospective piece, or musing about my life or the world, culminating in a capstone piece that would, well, be this particular piece. I even wrote the first of these posts back in January, setting the scene for the rest that would follow.
And then… well. Then I didn’t do the installments for February through August.
What happened? Mostly, life happened, and mostly good things about life, at least for me. There was a lot of travel, a lot of writing, I composed a bunch of music, won some awards (not for music), our church refurbishment finally got finished, and some other things were thrown in there as well.
I got busy, in sum, nor is the busy stopping: As I write this, I’m in the middle of a couple of weeks of spin-up publicity for the release of Starter Villain, followed by two weeks of touring, followed by six weeks of festival/convention appearances. Oh, and I’m writing the next novel, too.
(And on top of all that — which is enough, I assure you — I’ve been this year dealing with what I think could charitably be described as “attention span issues.” I caught COVID last year and while the physical results of that were thankfully mild, it did something to my brain where decades of compensatory strategies for dealing with my probably-undiagnosed-ADHD broke down and no longer work with anything approaching their former efficiency, which was, I assure you, not all that efficient to begin with. Yes, I’m planning to take steps to deal with it, including actually getting a medical consult about it, and also, I keep forgetting to actually schedule the consult, which is, sadly, just more evidence of the issue.)
All of which is to say that for most of 2023, I had not really been thinking about the fact that Whatever’s 25th anniversary was on its way. Right up until last weekend, in fact, I had mostly put it out of my mind, because I was occupied with other things.
But you know who was thinking about Whatever’s 25th anniversary? Krissy. Unbeknownst to me, for most of the last year, she was planning a celebration of the day, wrangling literally dozens of friends to show up and surprise me with a big damn party last Saturday. You might think it would be difficult to sneak dozens of people past me, even if I do spend most of my time in my office staring into a monitor, but, here’s the thing: We own a church now, which is uniquely well-designed to stash a lot of people for an indeterminate amount of time. All Krissy had to do was wrangle me over there on a pretext.
Which, of course, she managed very well. And then suddenly there I was, standing in front a bunch of friends and family, deeply confused about why people I knew from every part of the last 40 years of my life were in the basement of my church. That is, until I saw the banner on the wall, announcing that we were celebrating Whatever’s 25th anniversary. It was a surprise birthday party! For my blog.
Which at first blush, I admit, may seem a little silly. But here’s the thing: Of the dozens of people who were in that room last Saturday, all but a few — family, neighbors, high school friends — I knew because of Whatever. Some I met because of the site, or something I wrote here, had pulled them into my circle of acquaintances and then friends. Others I knew because I became a published novelist, and the way I did that was through Whatever: I serialized Old Man’s War here, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor, read it here and made an offer on it.
So many of the people who are important to my life now, whose presence in my life I treasure, came into it through my decision just to plop an entire book up on this site. If I hadn’t done that, and hadn’t had Whatever to do it on, it’s correct to say some of the major contours of my life would be different, and as would the population of friends I have and cherish.
So, yeah, when you think about it that way, having a surprise birthday party for my blog makes perfect sense.
Also, as a practical matter, no one expects a surprise party for their blog. So if you’re going to schedule such a party, now you know how to get away with it. Provided your intended surprise party subject has a blog of long standing. Admittedly, there are fewer of us now than there once were.
Also, Krissy is amazing. The party was exquisitely well done, up to and including catering and professional bartending. At the party, friends were talking about what a great party it was, and I confirmed it was all down to her planning abilities. If I had been in charge of the thing, there would have been a bag of chips and a two-liter bottle of room-temperature store brand soda, and no chairs to speak of. Everyone knows who the brain of the Scalzi operation is, and it sure as hell isn’t me. No one wants it to be me. No one wants the room-temperature store soda.
And what about the Birthday Blog? Where does it stand at the end of an entire quarter century? Well, if nothing else, it continues to live up to its name: Whatever. That’s not the “Whatever” of Gen-X-era dismissal, although I certainly am of Generation X, and I can absolutely dismiss with the best of them. It’s the “Whatever” of “whatever I want, whatever I’m thinking about, whatever I want it to be.”
Here at year 25, the eternal “whatever” of the site doesn’t apply just to me; Athena has been writing here for a few years now, and in many ways the site reflects her own interests as much as my own, and is all the better for it. I would not be writing so well about bourbon tastings and problems with IUDs, for sure.
It’s given me immense pride to see her develop her voice and share her interests here, and to have the site become the home of two generations of writers. I checked in with her at our last staff meeting (yes, we have staff meetings) about whether she wanted to keep on with the site. She does have an actual job outside of writing here, and her own friends and interests. As with me, her participation here is strictly voluntary and on her own terms.
She’s said she wants to keep at it. This makes me happier than I think she imagines it does.
And as for me, I also want to keep at it, and I’m also aware that especially in the last year, Whatever really is about whatever. I would have to check, but I think so far this year I’ve posted more music that I’ve put together (original and covers) than I have written about politics here, which if nothing else is a switch. Beyond this, the irony of Whatever eventually leading me to a life where I’m busy enough elsewhere that a non-trivial number of my posts this year are “I’m busy, here’s a picture of a cat” has not escaped me. I think if Whatever were a person, it would be happy for me that I have this life, and also, it likes cats, so being populated with pictures of them would be seen as a plus. Look! Here’s one now!
Mostly, the last year reminds me that, like me and like just about anything, Whatever has a life of its own. It has its own ebbs and flows, and its own meander through the years. It’s not what it was five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years ago, but then, what is? How could it be static when I’ve changed, Athena’s changed, and the world has changed? It will be what it will be as it goes along. Like every one and every thing, it’s forever becoming what it is. It’s not burdened by needing to make money or to draw a certain number of eyeballs to advertisements. It can be, well, whatever. I am content to see what that whatever is going to be as it continues on.
Will Whatever last another 25 years? It’s not impossible. I’d be 79 years old, which is old, to be sure. But I’ve been writing since I was fourteen — four decades now — and I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be writing a quarter century from now, provided I still have the mental capability to do so. Both sides of my family live a long time if they take care of themselves (a small but important point) and tend to remain pretty sharp well into their 80s and 90s. I had one great-aunt who lived past 100 and might have lived longer has she not insisted on living in a house with stairs. If I make it to 79, I imagine I will still be writing.
50 years of Whatever is not unreachable. I make no promises; I can’t make any promises like that. But I think about these last 25 years of being here: what they have meant to me, the world that has opened up to me, and the people who I have been able to meet and hold to my heart, all because I did the simple act of writing in the same place, day after day and year after year. Who can say what could happen, who I will yet meet and what it will all mean, if I just keep doing it?
I guess we will find out.
And if I get to 50 years of writing here, we might have another party. Less of a surprise this time. But no less welcome.
Until then: Onward.