Gaze upon it, if you will: The latest stack of new books and ARCs to arrive at the Scalzi Compound. Do you see anything here that intrigues you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Gaze upon it, if you will: The latest stack of new books and ARCs to arrive at the Scalzi Compound. Do you see anything here that intrigues you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
It was gray and rainy all day, so the fact there’s a sunset to see at all is a minor miracle. And it was a good one.
An essay in the Guardian, entitled “Want to be a male ally? Start by cleaning the house” and the discussion of the essay over on Metafilter has prompted me to have some thoughts about house cleaning and relationships. These are in no particular order:
1. Essays like this feel purpose-driven to make dudes establish their bona fides as good guys, i.e., “Well, I do work at home! I will now enumerate all the things I do around the house!” So let me buck this trend by saying Krissy definitely does more work around the house than I do and pretty much always has. I can and do do work around the house, but Krissy does it more frequently, and more thoroughly.
2. With that said, with regard to our particular situation, I wonder how much of it is rooted in gender and how much of it are other factors. For example, Krissy’s housecleaning industriousness appears to come from her father, who kept his own house in tip-top shape (as well as doing more than his share of cooking — he had a menudo recipe that could knock you on your ass). My own somewhat less assiduous housecleaning style is something of a family tradition on my side — all of us have, shall we say, a fairly high level for chaos. Athena, I should note, appears to take after me in this.
This is not to say gender expectations do not play a role. They do, and I’m not interested in trying to minimize that aspect of it. I’m just curious as to how those expectations are engaged in the overall mix of who we are as people and how that affects housework.
3. This discussion also led me back to think about how I kept my home clean before Krissy came on the scene. I did not, in fact, live in squalor when I was a bachelor; my apartment was reasonably sanitary. The answer to this as far as I can recall is that I kept everything minimal so that cleaning was really simple. For example, I think I may have had two plates, two bowls and two sets of cutlery, so a) cleaning up was never a problem, b) if I delayed cleaning up, I’d run out of things to eat food on. Likewise I would always have clean clothes (the one thing I absolutely demanded in apartment was a washer/dryer combo), but I’d pick the clean clothes out of the dryer and deposit the dirty ones directly into the washer. When the washer was full, time to do laundry.
I’m not a dirty person — I don’t wallow in filth — but it’s certainly the case I am a messy person, and I have a tendency to let mess accumulate. Which, again, was why my solution when living alone was to minimize the number of things I had that could create mess with. This worked fine when I was 24 and living alone. It’s a less viable solution now.
4. Krissy and I have lived together for more than a quarter century now and we have a pretty good understanding how to do things in the house. I do less housework, and when return when Krissy asks me to do something for her, regardless of what it is and when she asks it, I pretty much drop what I’m doing and do that task immediately — in part because I know that she’s letting me get off easy overall and therefore she deserves my attention and participation when she does ask for something.
This doesn’t mean I wait to be told to do simple things, like rinse off the plates when I’m done with them or take out the trash when it’s full. I mean, I’m not an animal. It does mean I understand the “price” of being allowed not to take the lead in house cleaning is making sure I am an absolutely reliable and uncomplaining support act. That seems, in the grand scheme of things, more than fair.
5. I do also have specific house cleaning tasks. I clean up all things that issue forth from any animals we might keep; I handle pests both arthropod and vertebrate; I’m generally the person who deals with taking the trash to the curb (which is no small task when the curb is a couple hundred yards away, especially in the dead of winter). There are other things, too, but you get the point. I do these things without complaint and generally without being told because these are long-standing tasks.
6. “But you shouldn’t have to be told to do anything; you should just do it.” Well, yes, and also, no. I agree as a 50-year-old man I should have some understanding of basic housekeeping and perform those tasks without being told, and indeed I do those things and have gotten better at it as time has gone on. But it’s also the case that there are things Krissy wants done that either I don’t know about or that I don’t see as being an issue — as noted before, I’m comfortable with a higher level of chaos than she is, and also, sometimes I’m just plain lazy. Sometimes I need to be told, and I appreciate when she tells me, so I can make her happy by doing those things.
This was a thing that Krissy had to spend a little time getting comfortable with — both to get over the idea that I should inherently know what she wanted in terms of housecleaning, and to be comfortable asking me to do those things. The good news for us was that was all settled a while back and now it’s a thing that works for us both. And yes, I did ask her: We had a nice long chat about this general topic before I sat down to write this piece (and then read it to her before I posted it).
7. What would I do if Krissy decided to stop doing housework? Would I step up and take of all the work myself? No, because I know her standard of housecleaning and I know my own, and there is, to put it mildly, a gap there. I would keep the house clean by having someone else do it. We already have someone come in every couple of weeks to do a deep clean of the house; I’d have them come in more often. And yes, I’m aware we’re fortunate that we have the option. Again, I wouldn’t let the house collapse into squalor between housekeeping visits — remember, messy, not dirty — but I would definitely outsource this particular task.
8. Along this line, as long as we’ve been together I’ve always made it clear to Krissy that I don’t ever expect her to do the housework; if she were to stop doing it, I would not attempt to take her to task for shirking her “duties.” To repeat, I am well aware how much of a break she’s cut me by doing the majority of the housework over the years, and also, it’s not her “duty,” outside of the general sense of “hey, if you make a mess, clean it up,” which applies to everyone. It would be disingenuous for me to say I’m not happy she decides to do it. I make sure to let her know, on a regular basis and in various ways, how much I appreciate what she does for me and our house. But it’s not her job, and I’m not her boss.
9. Which I think is to the point. Any dude who has the expectation that a woman should be taking care of the housekeeping, leaving him free to play video games or whatever, is doing it wrong. I think it’s fine if one partner is more inclined to do housework, but I think if and when that happens the other partner should consider themselves to be getting a gift, and be ready to compensate their partner for their time and effort, to be an aide for their partner when needed or wanted, and to make sure they are doing other things in the relationship that are comparable to the time and effort and care their partner is putting into house cleaning. Let’s not pretend this is always the case.
Don’t look now, but intelligent robots are about to decide if you live or die.
Somehow, while we weren’t paying attention, we slipped into a universe where the robots from Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” stories are about to surround us by the millions. The self-driving cars being sold by Tesla and other manufacturers aren’t quite there yet, but we are quickly entering a world where AIs will be making moment by moment choices about your survival. Consider this scenario: Your car is driving you down a two-lane highway with concrete dividers on either side when an I-beam falls off the truck ahead of you. In the other lane is a motorcycle. Should your car swerve, missing the I-beam but hitting the motorcyclist? Or try to brake, knowing it can’t stop in time and possibly killing you? A human driver would act on reflex, but a computer has plenty of time to consider the options and decide who should survive.
My initial “Big Idea” for Three Laws Lethal was simply: Why isn’t anyone writing novels about this?
It’s a topic so overflowing with drama it was hard to choose a focus for the book. Should I write about a tense legal battle over who is responsible for a deadly crash? What about terrorists who hack cars to kidnap passengers, or use them to deliver bombs anonymously? Or maybe it’s the battle between proprietary algorithms kept secret by big corporations vs. open algorithms that consumers can replace by downloading those they like better? Or maybe a deadly war between competing companies to destroy each other’s reputations by causing the others’ algorithms to fail?
In the end, Three Laws Lethal includes all of these scenarios, but its central Big Idea is something that draws all of them together. As all of this drama is unfolding in the outside world, a young female programmer recognizes what others don’t: The AIs driving the cars are exhibiting some surprising emergent behavior. The AIs are trained in a virtual game world, one that uses evolutionary principles so that only the best of them survive to be used in real life. But after thousands of generations, the AIs are evolving survival tactics that reach outside of their expected parameters. In short: the cars are developing goals of their own.
I had something of a eureka moment in the early outlining for this novel when my daughter Naomi–a quiet, caring, quirky introvert–complained that the characters in the books she read were never like her. I realized that her personality was exactly what this novel needed. An introverted, book-loving programmer who struggles with social anxiety would be more likely to sympathize with the AIs than with other humans. So with her permission, I added eight years to her age and made her a main character.
But as I wrote the book, I was left with a question, given Naomi’s empathy for the AIs: Would she warn humanity of the threat? Or would she help the AIs achieve their goals?
Threw you a curveball on that last one, didn’t I. Hey, goths can have color from time to time, they just have to be morose about it.
I agreed to do a 5k run with my friend later this year. I made clear to them that I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t vomit at, like, mile three, but they were undeterred. It’s a few months away so I have time to prepare, at least.
Honestly who am I and what have I done with me these days.
I’ve been thinking about The Grand Dark for a long time. Years, in fact. But I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then, like a lot of my books, the opening just appeared in my head. Stories do that sometimes. I beat my face against the keyboard for days and then—pop!—the whole thing is there. I knew the story was going to get deeply weird, but I didn’t want to jump right into it. So, the book opens with a quiet bike ride through a waking city at dawn. That’s it. Just a guy on a bike.
Of course, the ride isn’t really ordinary. Our young hero, Largo, rides across a bridge that could easily be in 1920s Berlin or Prague, except for the robots. Little food delivery ones and Black Widows—huge spidery bots delivering steel and machine parts to the nearby armaments factory. While stopped at a street light, Largo sees a little delivery bot crushed under the treads of a military vehicle. This should be his first clue that the day isn’t going to go well but, of course, it isn’t.
Most of my books have been set in L.A. or San Francisco. But for The Grand Dark, I wanted to create a world that was completely mine, the way writers such as M. John Harrison created Viriconium and China Mieville created New Crobuzon. In that spirit, I invented Lower Proszawa. I’d been fascinated by the Weimar period in Germany between the First and Second World Wars, so that became the basis for the city.
Lower Proszawa is the somewhat rundown sister city to High Proszawa in the north. But the High City isn’t really there anymore. It was virtually destroyed during the Great War. As the story opens, it’s an uninhabitable ruin of shattered buildings, unexploded ordnance, and plague bombs. Those with the means had escaped the High City at the first hints of war. Now the two populations co-exist in a kind of liminal state made frantic by the knowledge that the Great War hadn’t settled anything and that another war is just over the horizon. And what do you do when you know the world is ending? You party.
There are drugs, sex, and entertainment of every sort in Lower Proszawa. The book revolves around the Theater of the Grand Darkness, a kind of Gran Guignol palace that stages the most gruesome murders imaginable twice a night. The actors are life-size electric puppets brought to life by actors backstage wrapped in metal galvanic suits. My puppet theater was inspired by the work of the brilliant animators, the Brothers Quay, whose The Street of Crocodiles made me wonder what it would be like to put people into their dark and fantastic worlds.
The book’s protagonist, Largo, spends a lot of time at the theater because his lover, Remy, is one of The Grand Dark’s rising stars. With her, Largo’s life seems great. He has a beautiful girlfriend. His job as a bike courier doesn’t pay much, but it’s easy. And, then there’s all the drugs and sex. Plus robots, which Largo hates because they’re taking jobs from humans, and genetically engineered Chimera pets, which Largo longs to create himself.
In a lot of ways, Largo is different from any protagonist I’ve written before. Most of my main characters are powerful and driven. Largo is a twenty-one-year-old innocent, in the sense that he thinks he knows how the world works, but has no real idea what he’s talking about. He’s also scared. He grew up in the slums of Haxan Green, saw his father and best friend murdered there, and is constantly afraid of screwing up enough to lose everything and end up back there. Because of his fear, he becomes the perfect pawn for forces that want to either destroy Lower Proszawa or transform it into something truly awful. This begins with the disappearance and possible murder of Remy. From there, his life takes a series of dark and surreal turns that lead from parties at millionaires’ mansions to the plague pits in the north.
I’m not going to lie to you. The book might have been different—lighter and more amusingly fantastical—if I’d written it at a different moment in history. But the real world always creeps into our work, even if we’re writing about L.A., Mars, or an entirely fictional city. We all live between Great Wars, whether they’re the kind with guns or our everyday struggles to live, create and be at least a little happy in a global shitstorm.
Most of all, though, The Grand Dark is a strange adventure story. You’ll find secret police, strange airborne maladies, carnivals full of the most fantastic Chimeras, clandestine submarine bases, revolutionaries, and weird weapons the world hasn’t seen before. But if you really want the elevator pitch, here it is: The Grand Dark is about a young man and his lover having wine and cocaine at a 1920s Berlin café run by robots and scarred war veterans at the end of the world. Or, at least, the beginning of a new one.
I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. I hope you enjoy it.
And Oscar-nominated animation director Jennifer Yuh Nelson is coming on board as Supervising Director. All the details (that has been announced anyway) are in this Hollywood Reporter article.
Before you ask, I don’t have any other information that I can share about anything, so any question you ask beyond what’s in the article linked to above, I can’t answer, mostly because I don’t know. What I can say is well-expressed in the following gif:
(for those who can’t see the gif, it’s K-VRC from “Three Robots” saying, “Oh, man, this is so exciting!”)
Congratulations to everyone who worked on LD+R season one, and to everyone who might get to work on LD+R season two. This is nifty.
Surprise! I have a short book of (mostly) Christmas stories coming out this year, each story featuring art from Natalie Metzger. It’ll be out in November, and available in a signed, limited hardcover edition (perfect for holiday giving!), and also in eBook. And it features three new stories never before published anywhere.
Here’s the write-up from the Subterranean Press announcement:
Deck the halls with boughs of holly! ‘Tis the season… for Santa’s lawyer to talk about the legal status of the workshop elves, for Christmas to arrive in an unexpected month, and for the innkeeper at the nativity to spill the beans about what really went down on that one night in Bethlehem.
It’s not just Christmas. It’s A Very Scalzi Christmas.
New York Times bestselling and Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi gift-wraps fifteen short takes on the holiday season—interviews with holiday notables, “informational” articles about TV specials and Christmas carols, short stories and poems, and even a couple of nods to Thanksgiving and New Year’s — and puts them all into a stocking stuffer-sized package that makes the perfect gift for friends, family, or yourself.
With stories both funny and touching, A Very Scalzi Christmas also features three new stories exclusive to this collection: “Christmas in July,” “Jangle the Elf Grants Wishes” and “Resolutions For the New Year.”
A wonderful collection for the most wonderful time of the year.
Here’s the pre-order page from Subterranean Press for the limited, signed edition. There will be only 1,500 of these, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. So it makes sense to pre-order if you want to be absolutely sure you get one of these very fine stocking stuffers.
I’m super happy with A Very Scalzi Christmas, and I think you’re really going to enjoy it — especially the stories that are exclusive to the collection. I also think you will enjoy Natalie’s illustrations, which are, in a word, delightful.
And, yes, it makes for a perfect gift.
In our front yard we have a very small garden in which we grow strawberries and oregano, and one of the things I really enjoy is for a few months out of the year being able just to step out of my house and have a fresh, tart strawberry whenever I want. The strawberries we grow tend to be small but pack a punch with flavor, enough so that it leads me to what I call the Scalzi Theory of Strawberries, which is:
All strawberries have the same amount of flavor, distributed across their overall volume.
So the very small strawberries I get from my yard and the monstrous fist-sized strawberries you buy at the store have the same overall amount of flavor, it’s just that in the small version it’s concentrated, and in the polyploidal version it’s diluted. That being the case, the small, potent strawberry is usually the way to go (at least, I think so).
I suspect that holds for other types of fruit as well, but it’s especially noticeable with strawberries.
So: In your experience, does my Theory of Strawberries hold up?
Looking very serious, and then less so. Either way, she’s pretty great. It’s nice to have her home for the summer.
Another Friday, another ample stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Lots of good stuff here — what in this stack is catching your eye? Share in the comments!
Patrolling the yard, as they are wont to do. There is, after all, a lot of yard to patrol.
If you do, it’s over here at Tor.com.
As with the other covers in the series, it’s done by Sparth, and as with the other covers in the series, I kinda love it.
Also, I’m still writing it. It needs to be done soon. Sooooooooon. But I think you’ll like it.
Was reading elsewhere someone noting their opinion that when people are posting online about how great their marriage is, that marriage is probably in trouble in some way, in the manner of how our online presentation of ourselves is highly mediated and controllable, unlike our real lives, which are messy and not always great.
I’ve been online long enough to take as a given that the online versions of our lives are the edited versions. I have always been open to people who read me online that they’re getting a version of me tuned to the medium, and I don’t feel obliged to share everything that goes on in the day-to-day of my life. Certainly that can cross over to the aspirational (presenting our lives as better than they are) or defensive (presenting them as different to counter a growing reality). With that said, I think it’s also the case that we can be cynical about how people present their lives online, and why.
I frequently write about being married to Krissy and how lucky I feel that I get to be so. It’s not because our marriage is in trouble, otherwise it would have been in trouble for close to a quarter century now. It’s mostly because I just genuinely *like* my wife, as well as love her, and because I am aware of just how different (and almost certainly lesser) my life would be without her. I think it’s good to publicly acknowledge that and to appreciate her (as well as, of course, let her know privately, away from the rest of you).
I suppose what I’m saying here is that when people express love for each other online — whether it’s to a spouse, or a parent, or a child, or a friend — consider that it’s not fake, or an inverse relationship, or a harbinger of trouble for that relationship. It is possible for people to be sincere online. It’s not all fake relationship news. And if sometimes it *is* fake relationship news, it’s okay to hope that by presenting that aspirational picture, the people involved are putting up a signpost for where they want that relationship to go, and will find a way to get there.
And unusually, this view is from the day I’m leaving the hotel room, rather than checking into it. What can I say, I was busy the whole weekend in Denver. Better late than never. Denver Pop Culture Con was lovely as usual, and I got to see lots of friends, and an Amanda Palmer concert (and also, finally spent a little time with Amanda, because we’d never physically met despite having a number of dear acquaintances in common. She’s fab, in case you’re wondering).
Having now graced you with this vision of Denver, I’m leaving to go home. So long, Denver! I enjoyed you.
As May winds down and June begins, here’s a stack of new books and ARCs to help you greet the new month. Which of these would you like to welcome June with? Share in the comments!
During my Shadowblade blog tour, I have written several posts emphasizing the fun I had writing this novel, and I hope that readers picking up this book will experience the same fun. There is indeed a lot of fun elements in the story that made this book a pleasure to work on, including the blade fights, characters, politics, and of course, the romance.
But let me get serious for a moment.
Shadowblade is a story of a young orphan girl with uncertain heritage, Naia, growing up in the Jaihar Order that trains elite blademasters for the Empire. The Jaihar pride themselves on treating both genders equally, especially in their advanced training. But to get to that level Naia must first pass the lower grounds, dominated by drill masters whose role is to initiate young trainees into the Jaihar ways. Here, bullying is a norm, and incidentally all the superiors somehow tend to be male… Is it beginning to resemble any familiar situations?
Studies show that in male-dominated environments, girls and young women tend to experience subtle but very effective forms of bullying that target, and often destroy, their self-esteem. Fighting for emotional dominance, their peers often label them as incompetent, or negative. This is especially hard to deal with because a lot of this behavior is subconscious, based on such deep stereotypes that neither the bully nor the victim tend to realize them. For someone in training, these issues can permanently affect their future. Naia, a young and attractive girl whose major talent involves weapons, has to fight her way through all this, for a chance to rise to the top.
My big idea behind this book is perseverance. It’s the story of a person who doesn’t give up, no matter what the odds are. It’s about those people around her who recognize this, and help her break through all the stereotypes and bad attitude to come out as a winner. Naia’s life is threaded with challenges, all the way up. First as a trainee, where she has to find her way out of very deep trouble and face different tests at each level of her training. And then as a warrior, whose unprecedented assignment plunges her straight into the grinder of the imperial politics, with a low chance of survival and a very large target on her back.
Perseverance has been very important in my own life and career. It’s definitely the only thing that carried me through to where I am today. When I wrote this book, Naia continued to surprise me. She tackled her challenges in ways I never would have thought of – or so it seemed to me. Getting to know her enriched me as a person. I don’t believe that I’m anything like her, really, but I can relate to her in so many ways. I’ve learned things from her that I never expected to.
Layered underneath all the fun – the glittering medieval setting of a rich Middle Eastern empire, the highly technical blade fights, the food, the romance – this big idea is what drove the story for me.
There’s a site out there that scraped Wikipedia entries from the last few years, and then put up a map of the United States where the place names were replaced with the person associated with that place (in apparently whatever capacity) whose Wikipedia article was looked at the most. For Bradford, Ohio, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, that person happens to be… me. Yes, that’s correct, on this map, I live in me.
I say “perhaps not entirely surprisingly” not because I am in fact hugely notable but a) because the set of people associated with Bradford, Ohio who also have Wikipedia pages is small, comprising as it does of six people, only two of whom, including me, are still alive, and b) of the six of us, I’m the only one with a significant online footprint, and who is still active in the field for which he is notable. I do wonder who came in second, however. In any event, the competition for “the most wikipedia’d person” is much less fierce in Bradford, Ohio, population 1,800, mostly farmers and blue collar folks, than, say, Chicago, or even Dayton.
The map renames also tell you a little about general Wikipedia browsing habits, since there’s a statistically high preponderance of serial killers (see Cincinnati’s new name on the map) and celebrities, and not necessarily the ones you would expect, which is why Boston, as an example, is currently named “John Cena.” Clearly Wikipedia readings tilt toward currently living and currently famous people. Also some folks have more than one city named for them. Stephen King is all over Maine, for example, which is not a surprise, but he’s also the new name for Fort Wayne, Indiana. Apparently he lived there briefly as a child. He’s also the new name for Sarasota, Florida. Pick a state, Steve.
Finally, some people are not where you would expect them to be. Max Yasgur, upon whose farm the Woodstock music festival was held, is neither the new name for Woodstock nor Bethel, New York, but the former Marathon, Floria (and who is the new Woodstock? David Bowie. Who was not at Woodstock! Go figure).
Aside from me I was amused to see a few cities renamed for friends: Sandra Lee (aka “Dr. Pimple Popper”), who I went to school with, gets a city, as do Wil Wheaton, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson and Neil Gaiman. I suspect there may be more, but the site is not searchable so finding them is not easy unless you already know where to look.
If you want to have a place name named for you on this site, it appears the secret is generally to be alive, currently famous or at least notable, and to live or have lived in a place that is very small and/or has not had any other famous or at least notable people from it, ever. Seems easy enough, and I wish you joy in the work.
In the meantime, I’m happy living in me, existentially and otherwise.
My mail provider is telling me they’re having a major outage regarding mail services today, so if you’ve sent me email today it may be a while before I see it and/or am able to respond.
Update, 2:04pm Eastern: email is back up. If you sent me mail between about 6am and 2pm and it’s important to you that I see it, you might want to resend it.