Athena has already updated you all on the, uh, exciting events of her week, so I don’t need to go over that again, but I did want to check in to thank the folks who checked in with me or Krissy to see how we were doing in the wake of Athena’s unexpected medical emergency. The short version is that we’re fine; the crisis was over fairly quickly and Athena is well out of danger now, so everything is more or less back to normal. It wasn’t fun, but it was brief, and in a situation like this, that’s kind of the best case scenario.
The slightly less short version is that it disrupted things here for a few days, as it would. When I was told about it, it was front loaded with “she’s okay and not in danger,” so I didn’t have any moments of panic. However, okay or not, my daughter was having an unexpected stay in the hospital, and Krissy — who did not get “she’s okay” front loaded to her when someone came out to talk to her and therefore basically had the world drop out under her feet for a few terrible minutes — had a bit of shock handed to her. So my immediate task was being support for both of them as needed. So, yeah. No writing done since Tuesday. I’ll pick it up next week.
It affected me in a tangential way as well: I had my first travel in 15 months planned for Thursday, and naturally that had to be cancelled so I could properly tend to family matters here at home. That I would cancel the trip wasn’t in question — as soon as I knew Athena was having a hospital stay I knew I’d be staying at home — and I don’t have any regrets having done so. But it did put me in a bit of a pissy mood anyway. I was going to see (equally vaccinated) friends for the first time in a year! And then suddenly I wasn’t. It was like being promised a pie and having it splat on the ground as you reach for it. I’ll reschedule, mind you, and again, I was (and am) where I needed to be. But it was still disappointing.
Again, thanks to everyone for checking in on us in the aftermath. We are fine! And also, it’s nice to know people were concerned and care about us (and Athena in particular). It was a silver lining on a dramatic week.
If you saw this video I posted on Twitter yesterday, you may be wondering about what the heck happened to me:
I’m fine and at home and will be writing a post on the details later but for now enjoy this post-hospital video I took a couple hours ago ☺️ pic.twitter.com/y9716Rv3GI
— Athena Scalzi ⭐️ (@AScalzi98) May 13, 2021
If you saw my previous post, you might remember that I went into surgery to get my tonsils removed. And I was very, very scared. So scared, in fact, that I put off scheduling my surgery for an entire year because I was so terrified to have any kind of surgery, or be put under with anesthesia.
But, I finally gathered up all my courage, and despite crying a little bit every time I thought about it, I got my surgery scheduled! I went to the hospital at 8am on May 12th, and was put under at about 9:30am. This was the easy part. To all of you that said I wouldn’t feel anything and I would just immediately pass the fuck out, you were right. Literally I was laying on the operating table for all of two seconds before the world went black. No distracting question from the anesthesiologist, no warning, just… going to sleep.
And then, after a perfectly routine and normal surgery, I woke up in recovery with my lungs full of fluid and unable to breathe. I was immediately surrounded by six doctors and nurses, and everyone was talking about me in the third person, barking orders about what to do in order to get me a shred of oxygen. I was coughing up blood, gasping for air, clutching my chest, thinking oh shit am I gonna die?
They forced an oxygen mask on me and despite it forcefully pushing air nonstop into my mouth and nose, I couldn’t fuckin’ breathe. Pulmonary edema, I think is what they called it, which just means I had a bunch of fluid in my lungs and wasn’t getting air, so, that was neat.
After a bit, I could breathe again, though it was hard and hurt to do so. They gave me a shot that was supposed to help get the fluid out of my lungs, and I stopped coughing up frothy pink stuff.
Finally, things calmed down and I was doing okay. I had several different specialists around me, trying to explain to me what happened. Apparently, some saliva hit my vocal chords wrong and it made them snap shut and this caused my lungs to panic and try to intake air but they got fluid instead? I don’t exactly know, but what I do know is that it sucked!
What was supposed to be an outpatient surgery turned into me staying the night in the PCU (I said ICU in my video but that’s because I didn’t know that the PCU existed until my mom saw the video and was like, girl you were in PCU not ICU). So, yeah, if you’re like me and have never heard of the PCU before, it stands for progressive care unit, and is a step down from the intensive care unit.
I was hooked up to the little nose oxygen thingy, IV’s were put in me, I had x-rays for blood clots, and my blood drawn four different times! It was a lot, honestly. A lot of firsts that day! I also got a lot of Jell-O so, y’know, you win some you lose some.
I got discharged yesterday at noon, and then I got a Frosty from Wendy’s, and then I’ve been laying on the couch ever since! I’m currently switching between pudding, Jell-O, buttered noodles, Kraft mac and cheese, and ice cream. It’s not so bad.
So, yeah, I’m just chilling, waiting for one hell of a hospital bill to come through, but enjoying some popsicles in the meantime.
Thank you all for your concern and kind thoughts! I’m pretty okay now! It was just a scary experience. One of the nurses actually told me that she’s worked in recovery at that hospital since 2004 and that was the second time she’s ever seen that happen! So I’m just cool like that, apparently.
A lot of the doctors told me that they hope this experience doesn’t dissuade me from having future surgeries, but, it might’ve a little bit. Like just a smidge.
Anyways, I’m going to go eat some more Jell-O, so I’m off for now. Have a great day!
Though individuality is what makes us great, sometimes you have to find common ground to bring everyone together. Read along in L.R. Braden’s Big Idea, where she tells us how this idea of bringing wildly different groups together took shape in her newest novel, Of Mettle & Magic.
L. R. BRADEN:
Fear drives people to do stupid things. I’d love to say we as a species have learned from our bloody history, but every time I glance at a news article I find strife—discrimination, political division, school shootings, social discontent—and I just want to scream, “Haven’t we gotten past this yet? Why can’t we all just get along?”
But of course, screaming at my monitor doesn’t accomplish anything.
Not only that, but talking about issues like religion, politics, sexual preference, or race is liable to alienate half my audience before I even get to the heart of the matter. So I created a world that was a mirror of our own but different enough that I could explore social issues and express my opinions without people immediately throwing up their comfort-bubble walls. That’s the magic of speculative fiction.
In my books, I made the primary divisive factor about species. Namely, humans vs. fae. Within these two major groups are smaller factions that bicker and scheme just like the people of Earth. A fae could belong to any one of the magical courts that train in particular skills, and could live in any of dozens of inter-connected realms, each ruled over by a different fae lord. A person who was born human might discover they have the rare practitioner gene that allows them to do magic, or might be turned into a werewolf or a vampire.
Each group has history with the others, and that history colors their interactions. Humans see werewolves as monsters. Werewolves see fae as evil. Fae see vampires as abominations. Vampires see humans as food. It’s these biased preconceptions that bring the Magicsmith world to the brink of tearing itself apart as every faction vies for power. To steer the world away from war, a balance must be found. But how can these groups ever interact as equals?
Enter my main character, Alex Blackwood. On the surface, Alex is about as average as a person can get. She’s a middle-class, moderately educated, fairly independent, white woman. The only ways in which she stands out at the beginning of the series are that she’s single and she has a predominantly masculine career—she’s a metalsmith. However, dig a little deeper and we find out she’s anything but average. Part fae, part sorcerer, but raised to believe she was entirely human, the Magicsmith series follows Alex as she grows through each revelation and struggles to understand what all these new labels mean.
For me, Alex embodies the idea of a global community, in which every aspect of her complex lineage plays a role and makes her a stronger person overall. Alex also acts as the focal point for bringing individuals from different groups together, causing them to interact and grow to understand one another. Without meaning to, Alex creates what she calls “a fundamental change on an individual level” among her friends and supporters. A feat she then tries to duplicate on a larger scale.
Throughout the book, Alex attempts to bring people together by sharing her vision for the future, but she meets resistance from every quarter as people set in their ways refuse to bend—because, let’s face it, changing minds and hearts is hard.
The big idea of this book is that all people are integral to the balance of our world, our society, and our species. The things that make us different are the things that make us strong. Like Alex, I hope to see a day when we can all just get along.
In case you were wondering to yourself what you should watch on Netflix today, the new season of Love Death + Robots just dropped, with another eight episodes of futuristic and/or fantastical animated chaos and mayhem. Not only do I have an episode in this season, but it’s the lead-off episode: “Automated Customer Service,” for which — big news — I co-wrote the script, along with Meat Dept., the crew who directed the short. Yes! I’m officially a screenwriter now! At the tender age of 52. Dreams come true when when they come true, kids. Keep plugging away.
Also, while I am obviously biased, the whole season is pretty darn good. Let me put it this way: I think my episode is pretty darn great, and also every other episode is at least as good as it is, in its own way. There is, indeed, love, death and no shortage of robots in the eight episodes of the season. You’re going to find a lot to enjoy here. At least, I hope you will. Happy watching.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my yard has become the de facto dog park for the neighborhood. Here is evidence of that: Buckley (black labradoodle), Gus (golden labradoodle) and Charlie (doofus sprinter) all hanging out in the lawn. And a fine day for it. We don’t mind that they hang out here. They’re pretty cool. And they tire Charlie out, which is a nice. Anyway: Here’s today, from my front porch.
I’m Totally Not Feeling it Today, So Instead of Incisive, Thoughtful Commentary I’m Just Going to Show You Something That’s Making Me Irrationally Angry
Fucking “Jumbo Donettes”?!?!?
THEY’RE GODDAMN DONUTS THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE
“But ‘donette’ is their trademark”
YOU DON’T THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT IT’S STILL THE WORST THING EVER
SERIOUSLY IMMA GO DOWN TO HOSTESS WITH A BAT AND “TALK” TO THEIR MARKETING PEOPLE
(eats his Jumbo Donette gloweringly)
That’s it, that’s all I got for you today.
I’m having surgery for the first time in my life tomorrow and let me just say, I am hella nervous. I’m honestly really scared, mostly because I’ve never been put under with anesthesia before.
Also I’m getting my tonsils burned out of my throat so, that’s scary to think about, too.
I remember as a kid all my friends getting their tonsils out, and they got to eat nothing but buttered noodles and ice cream. It didn’t sound so bad, but I was glad nonetheless that my tonsils were a-okay and I didn’t need them out. In fact, once I turned into an adult, I remember mentioning to a friend that I was glad I made it through my entire childhood without needing them (or my wisdom teeth) out. Who knew you could need them out as an adult?
Well, I guess it was nice while it lasted. I can’t say I’ll miss them, and I’m probably better off without them, but OH MY GOD SURGERY I’M SO SCARED. If I think about it for long enough, I start to cry.
If any one of y’all has gotten your tonsils out, or has dealt with a kid that got theirs out, please give me advice! I want to hear all about your remedies and helpful tips! I could really use some advice. I think the more prepared I make myself, the less scared I’ll be, so please tell me all your post-tonsil-surgery secrets.
Well, I’m off. The next time you see me I will be tonsil-free! And probably whining about how much pain I’m in. So be prepared for me to be a huge crybaby.
Have you had any surgeries before? What’s it feel like to anesthetized? Do you still have your tonsils as an adult? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
The famous saying is that “life is like a bunch of chocolates.” In author Jeff Noon’s case, it’s more like a deck of cards, and for the same reason: You never know what you’re going to get. Follow along as Noon tells you how total chance helped him write his newest novel, Within Without.
Theseus would be lost in the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and would probably have died in there, were it not for Ariadne’s skein of red thread. She gave him this clew (the Old English word for ball of thread) to use as a mapping device, and a pointer back to the exit, once the heroic deed was done. In Within Without, I used the red thread in a slightly different way – as a series of signposts pointing the way forward, deeper into the labyrinth. I am not speaking metaphorically: I actually used a red thread to create the novel.
I never plan. I get an idea that excites me, that seems to have potential, and then I begin to write. So, I had two things. The first a city, a city obsessed with borders, that would contain millions of borders, of every kind: physical, psychological, magical. Secondly, I had the notion that a famous person’s public image might be a sentient alien creature that lived in a symbiotic relationship with the host, increasing the star’s charismatic value. Imagine if Ziggy Stardust was actually a living entity that inhabited David Bowie’s body; that was the basic concept, to be explored. I had a feeling, not yet articulated, that the two ideas were connected, that the borderline between image and flesh was also a border in the city.
A few months before, a friend had gifted me a pack of cards. The pack is called The Red Thread. It consists of thirty-two cards, each with its own image and title. A red thread is printed on each card, arranged randomly, so that cards can be edged together, the thread connecting one image to the next in a patchwork effect, creating, in a sense, a narrative told by the cards. I decided to use these cards, and the thread connecting them, to tell the story of Within Without. So I shuffled the pack and turned over the top card…
Hm. The Shoe. A Card of Utility. Not a very interesting way to begin a novel. Maybe this process would stall at the first signpost. But the pack also includes a separate list of all the cards, with a few sentences describing each one, and what they might symbolise. So I read the entry for The Shoe. “A journey. Protection on a rocky path.” Okay. We can work with that. My protagonist, Nyquist, is a private investigator. He’s about to enter Delirium, the City of a Million Borders. So I put him in a queue. A very, very long queue of people moving very, very slowly, squeezed into a very narrow corridor. And I started to write. A few pages later, I turned over the second card: The Pearl, a Card of Emergence. Right then: Nyquist will emerge from that queue and move towards the first border of the city. Here, something of importance would be found, or lost. In fact that “pearl” turned out to be a tiny black hole that the customs officer found in Nyquist’s suitcase. We were off!
And so it went on. Each start of a new chapter drew a new card, and often a chapter needed a further card halfway through. I never knew what was coming next. Sometimes the cards fitted the current episode very well indeed, and at other times I had to think laterally to make it fit. But all thirty-two cards were used, as they came up: The Twins, The Automaton, The Spectre, The Plumed Horse, The Owl. All found their place. Some of the cards led to major surprises, things that actually shocked me, when I worked out the hidden meaning. Things I would never, ever have invented on my own. As each card was used I laid it out on a tabletop, lining up the red thread with the previous card. Often the cards had to be nudged up or down or set at right angles, to make the threads connect. Slowly, throughout the first draft, the pathways twisted about, this way and that: my very own miniature labyrinth.
I came to the last few chapters, and the last card. Without thinking about it too much, I had allowed the thirty-two cards to fit, more or less, the novel’s length. And now this final card would end the story. I turned it over…. The Finger Post. A Card of Direction. I was astonished: after using the entire pack as a series of signposts, it all comes to an end with one last signpost. I envisioned Nyquist looking up at the place name written on sign. Here was the city’s final border, the most mysterious of them all, the reason why Delirium had been built in the first place. The journey, and the novel, moved towards its exit point.
Today is not only my birthday, it is the tenth anniversary of the release of Fuzzy Nation, otherwise known (to me, anyway) as The Makeup Book, because it was the book that came out after Tor and I briefly and privately broke up for a couple of years before patching things back together.
Why did we break up? For all the usual reasons, mostly involving money, promises made and not quite kept, me being stubborn, and a few levels of misunderstanding which are amusing now that everyone’s made up but at the time were a little exasperating.
But! Had the misunderstandings and exasperation and failed money dealings not happened, then Fuzzy Nation would not exist! Fuzzy Nation exists because when Tor and I had our behind-the-scenes falling out, I suddenly had a bit of free time and the desire to do something that would be fun and just for me. And what I came up with was something I had mused about for a while, which was — what would it be like if a “golden era” science fiction story was updated with a more modern sensibility? H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy was a good candidate to try this on, because it’s in the public domain, and also, I liked the story quite a bit and was familiar enough with it that I could use it as a basis for this particular project.
People were (and are) generally skeptical when I say that I wrote Fuzzy Nation purely as a personal exercise, and given that I’m famously commerce-minded, I can certainly understand that. But, I swear, it’s true. While I was out of contract at Tor at the time, I was working on a video game with Disney (for a project that unfortunately did not pan out) and I was consulting for Stargate Universe. Plus Old Man’s War royalties had started to come in. My bills were being covered. And after what was essentially a disappointing contract negotiation, which is necessarily about money, I wanted something to reconnect me to the fun of writing, something that wasn’t commerce-minded. I had no intent to sell Fuzzy when I was writing it, and once it was done, I thought that if I did anything with it, I’d release it as a self-published thing, with the proceeds going to charity (indeed to that end I talked to my accountant and commissioned a potential cover, by my pal Jeff Zugale).
But then two things happened: One, my agent Ethan Ellenberg asked to see it and was convinced he could sell it; two, Tor and I started circling each other again, because both of us apparently had regrets about the breakup. On Ethan’s end, we worked out a thing where we got the endorsement of the Piper estate for the book, because although it was not required we get their clearance (the book I was working off was in the public domain, remember), we thought as a matter of personal ethics — and to avoid blowback from certain segments of fandom — it was a necessary step. And on Tor’s end, well, they paid me a lot of money for the book and then they made my name bigger than the title, thus making me officially a “big name author.”
And just like that we were back in business, and we continue to be, and very happily so, to this day.
The book was not without its controversies — as expected, some parts of fandom were (and continue to be!) scandalized that I did a rewrite of Piper’s classic, even if I did get the endorsement of the estate. A few folks have snarked that the book is “fan fiction.” Well, it is, in point of fact; that’s why I wrote it, because I was a fan of the original. What they intended to be dismissive is a badge of honor for the book. I always encouraged people to seek out Piper’s original because it’s great, and I thought it would be instructive to have folks compare and contrast; indeed, the book’s original audio release had the audio of Little Fuzzy included as an extra, which I thought was pretty clever.
Anyway, if people are still upset about me doing Fuzzy Nation, I guess they will just have to die mad about it. It’s been out for a decade. It’s a little late to do anything about it now.
I’m very fond of the book, myself. It did reconnect me with the joy of writing, which was a thing I needed. It repaired my business relationship with my publisher, which was also a positive thing, for both of us. And it’s low-key the favorite book of mine for a whole lot of people, which I find delightful (a lot of credit goes to Carl the dog, who apparently people really, really like. You can’t go wrong putting a dog in your book, people. This is a tip I am giving you for free). And as a side benefit, a number of people who have read my book went on to read Little Fuzzy and from there, other Piper works. I like that a lot.
So happy birthday, Fuzzy Nation! May people continue to find and enjoy you for years to come. I’m glad I wrote you.
And now, to close on a somewhat silly yet awesome note, please enjoy “Fuzzy Man,” the sublime song from Paul & Storm that I commissioned for the book’s release. The idea was that they would replicate the closing credits power ballad from a 1980s blockbuster, and let me tell you: They friggin’ nailed it. It makes me happy every time I hear it. Enjoy.
It occured to me last week, as I was coming up on my 52nd birthday, which is today, that I am now old enough that I have a year of my life correspond to every week of a standard-sized year. This is not a particularly deep thought, to be sure, but to someone who is a secret organizational nerd, it’s kind of fun to think about, and it does put an interesting spin on things. For example, the US had a really rough December, but things started to look up again just in time for the new year.
This formulation also means today is New Year’s Day, as it were, on the second year of my life. Whether I get through this whole year remains an open question (I think I’ll be happy to make it to Halloween), but I’m not going to worry about that right now. Instead I’m looking forward to what comes next in this new season. The last (actual not metaphorical) year had some real highs and lows for me, but especially in the last couple of (actual not metaphorical) months things feel like they’ve been on a real upswing. It’s nice to have a sense of optimism. I’m going to ride that wave as long as I can. You’re welcome to join me.
So Happy New Year (on several levels) to me, and to us, and to the world. Let’s get to what’s next, shall we?
Welcome to another segment of me making something and having realistic problems along the way and being unashamed I fucked up a little bit!
I told my dad that I wanted to bake something, and he recommended cookies. I asked what kind, and he showed me Claire Saffitz’s chocolate chip cookie video that was just uploaded last week, which you can watch here:
So chocolate chip cookies it was! Which is fine, because who doesn’t love them?
This recipe uses brown butter, which I have only used once before, and it was also in a chocolate chip cookie recipe! Honestly, making it is a bit time consuming, but it’s not difficult. I was nervous I’d mess it up or burn it since it was only my second time doing it, but I managed to nail it. It smells so good when it’s on the stove!
Not only does it use brown butter, it also uses dark and milk chocolate! I love a variety of chocolates in my sweets. Like ice cream that has dark, milk, and white chocolate chunks throughout.
The batter for these cookies was actually incredibly easy. Like I was shocked how quickly it came together, and how little effort it took! Besides browning the butter, it really only ten minutes to throw together in a stand mixer. The recipe calls for discs of chocolate, but I wasn’t really sure where to find those, so I just used half a bag of milk chocolate chips and then chopped up a 60% cacao Ghirardelli bar and threw them both in.
The dough turned out so perfect. Honestly, I always eat at least a bite of cookie dough before turning it into actual cookies, and let me tell you, this dough was amazing, Like obviously cookie dough is always delicious, but this dough was so good tasting, I could’ve eaten the whole bowl if it wouldn’t have (maybe) given me salmonella. Cookie dough always tastes better to me than actual cookies, so I almost didn’t even want to bake this dough, that’s how good it was.
But, I did bake them! And I kind of maybe burnt them. Like, all of them. Even though I timed all the batches differently. The video said 18-22 minutes, but I made them a little smaller than the size she did in the video, so I decreased the time to 17 minutes. And they came out way too dark. And hard.
So, next batch, same size, fifteen minutes. Still too dark. Still too crunchy.
Last try of the same size, twelve minutes. Almost exactly the same.
This is the twelve minute batch, and it’s so dark! I started to think it was because of the browned butter that they looked so dark, but the bottoms of them (and the other ones) were black, and they were too hard. I just couldn’t get them right.
So, I made them exactly the size she did in the video. I used a 1/4 cup and spaced them out as evenly as I could, then baked them for 13 minutes.
LOOK AT THESE!
Ugly AND burnt. Utter disappointments.
How could they all turn out so poorly when I’d adjusted the times? I get that I messed up the first three batches by making them smaller than what she did in the video, but I thought that the fourth batch would turn out, at least.
I totally goofed on these! I’m a little bummed out by it, because I really did want to chow down on some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. But, I might just try again and bake them for way less time, and experiment with different sizes more.
Anyways, yeah, there’s my fail of the day. But at least I learned something!
What’s your favorite kind of cookie? Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate for your chocolate chip cookies? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
You may remember Matthew Ryan as the fellow with whom I co-wrote that Christmas song late last year, or you may otherwise be familiar with him from his own extensive and excellent discography. He has a new project now, called The Pines at Night, and with it has released a maxi-single that leads off with “Song for a Hard Year,” which, as you might expect, is more than a little bit about the year recently passed. He’s releasing it via Bandcamp and his plan is to use the proceeds from the single to fund more songs down the line. Since I like hearing more from Matthew, I think this is a fine idea.
Here’s the song; if you like it click through and buy the three-song maxi-single. Enjoy.
The difference between a tyrant and a king is found in if he is a ruler or a leader. But what makes a leader? Author Griffin Barber begins to answer this question in his Big Idea. Follow along as he tells you of his newest tome, 1637: The Peacock Throne, and how to write a true leader.
Some authors talk about how their characters speak to them. I wasn’t so sure about that until I began writing 1637: The Peacock Throne, but I know it’s true now.
Those readers who have read anything in Eric’s 1632 Universe will naturally expect sweeping technological change, fierce battles, hard-nosed politics, some cloak and dagger, and a bit of good old fashioned romance. I think we delivered on those scores, but, at its heart, 1637: The Peacock Throne is the story of a family at war with itself, and of a woman at war with the constraints her family—and culture—place upon her. It further touches upon the burden of leadership, and how incredibly hard it can be for any leader to discern between the individual’s wants and needs in light of the needs of those she leads, and the differences I see between leading and ruling.
It has been a rather long and winding road from the publication of 1636: Mission To The Mughals to this day, but I’m excited to have 1637: The Peacock Throne out there in the world, being read at last. We had some challenges to overcome to get here, not least of which were some serious health concerns.
But I leap ahead of events portrayed in 1637: The Peacock Throne. Our story opens in the wake of the assassination of Shah Jahan, Emperor of The Mughal Empire. The assassins also left his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, with a traumatic brain injury that clouds his judgement and makes him quick to anger. Jahanara’s younger brothers, Aurangzeb and Shah Shuja, each have a vast army at their command. The dynasty has no history or legal precedent for primogeniture, leading to civil strife and war with every generation’s assumption of power. This time is different in only one respect: Jahanara, hoping to mitigate the bloodshed and ensure she has some say in her own future, steps up to lead Dara’s faction as a power behind the Peacock Throne, if you will. As the uptimers are firmly in her and Dara’s camp, they are dragged along in the wake of great events, doing their best to ensure their own survival in turbulent times.
The Big Idea, then, is this: I have some thoughts on leading versus ruling. Namely, that it is my belief that leading is an entirely different animal to ruling.
This difference was much on my mind as I wrote this novel. My first career has, by the time this Big Idea is published, drawn to an unwanted early close (Did I mention health problems?). I had more than a few frustrations in that other career, not least of which was the propensity of those in command to rule rather than lead. Further, I saw this propensity rewarded rather than discouraged, leading to the present state where many commanders shift blame away from themselves rather than accept their responsibility for the current state of play.
A leader says, “Yes, and…”
Leading is a beast that requires recognition of—and frequent submission to— the will of those being led. So, when someone suggests something, offers guidance or expertise, the leader says, “Yes, and…” This leads (ahem) to better outcomes for those participating in the organization being led, as their collective intelligence can be focused by the accepted leader for more effective application to the challenges facing the group.
A ruler says, “No, because…”
Ruling requires only that those ruled submit to the ingrained courses of power regardless of outcomes for either the organization or the individual. Ruling is an acceptable substitute to leadership only when the challenges facing that rule are ones it has previous experience dealing with and the individual ruler has, in fact, learned from.
I think that proper leadership is important to any human endeavor. So, when and where she can, the fictionalized character Jahanara Begum does not rule, she leads. Indeed, under the rules and laws of her people, she would never be permitted to do many of the things she does in the novel. Jahanara rails against this while conscious only of wanting to do better, of being abler than her male siblings. Granted, the position Jahanara was born into was one of unimaginable privilege, giving her access to the halls of power no other upbringing could match. However, surrounding her relative privilege was an equally-unimaginable prison created by the rule of generations of men disinterested in her gender for anything more than reproduction and pleasure.
So, we have this young woman, who could easily rest at the very pinnacle of the power structure her culture and times deem appropriate for her gender role and age, she looks about and she is not content. No, Jahanara wants more, needs more. Knows herself capable of so much more.
In switching between ruling and leading, in being as human as we could possibly write her, Jahanara defends her chosen family with naked violence, hurts some of those closest to her, and yet jeapardizes everything for a chance at the most fundamental of human connections, love. Jahanara is as human as we could write her. She makes mistakes. She learns from them, she leads and accepts responsibility for both errors and successes, and the means used to accomplish both success and failure.
We hope she’ll lead you to enjoy 1637: The Peacock Throne.
In lieu of any posting of depth from me today, because apparently I’m not actually thinking about anything more deeply than can be essayed in a tweet at the moment, here’s Sugar the cat, looking out onto the deck, watching Charlie and the neighbor dog Buckley do their inexplicable dog things. Dogs, what are they even about, am I right?
Hope you had a lovely day.
Sometimes a writer’s big idea is something that a single novel cannot hope to contain — even if that novel can give that idea a hell of a good start. Acclaimed author James L. Cambias came across one of those really, really big ideas, and he’s here to explain how The Godel Operation is just the beginning for it.
JAMES L. CAMBIAS:
May 4 marks the publication of my fifth novel, called The Godel Operation. It’s a hard science fiction space opera, set in the waning years of the Tenth Millennium.
The setting is called the Billion Worlds, because in that era the Solar System is home to more than a billion artificial habitats, hollowed-out asteroids, and colonies on just about every planet and moon — except Mercury, which doesn’t exist any more. The quadrillion inhabitants of those billion worlds range from ordinary humans, to uplifted animals, to exotic genetically-engineered creatures, to digital minds — some of which are thousands or millions of times smarter than “baseline” humans.
That’s all just the background. The story is about a machine called Daslakh and a young man named Zee, who leave their remote backwater habitat to search for Zee’s imaginary true love. Along the way they encounter a criminal cat, a cyborg killer whale spaceship, a paranoid supermind hiding behind Jupiter, the greatest thief in history . . . and a young woman who might really be Zee’s true love after all. All these characters are trying to get their hands or paws on the Godel Trigger, a conceptual superweapon that may save human civilization, or maybe destroy it.
It’s a book packed with the biggest ideas I could think of. Terraformed planets! Giant megastructures! Mining the Sun! A devastating war between humans and artificial intelligences! A giant laser inside Pluto controlled by clockwork computers and diamond-skulled monks, powered by microscopic black holes!
But the biggest idea of all is the Billion Worlds setting itself. How did I come up with that? I did the math.
Back in 2012 I was thinking about the future. I wanted to write a story set in a rigorous hard-science far-future setting. I began with a note to myself:
“Let’s start playing around with a very-far-future world. A mature Dyson sphere Solar System.”
(I actually think by typing like that, and yes, I say “Let’s” and “We” to myself because there are two of us — the me who’s typing and the me who’s reading what I type.)
I went back to the original concept of a Dyson Sphere, the one proposed by Freeman Dyson back in 1960: a swarm of orbiting objects which soak up all (or nearly all) of a star’s output. Not a single sphere, just a whole bunch of things in orbit at various inclinations. Such a civilization, with the entire output of a good-sized star to play with, is also known as a Kardashev Type II civilization, in honor of the late Russia astronomer Nikolai Kardashev, who was classifying potential alien civilizations by the distance at which we could observe them.
So I looked up some numbers and did some simple math. How big a population can the Sun’s entire energy support? If they live like modern Americans, the number is about ten quadrillion humans. How long would it take for our population to reach that level? Straight extrapolation of population trends on Earth suggested we could have that many humans in less than 2000 years, although personally I suspect the growth curves will tend to flatten out so it might take longer.
How long would it take to build enough space habitats to house that many people? Again, I did the math, assuming the work would be done by self-replicating Von Neumann Machine robots. If each robot could build one square kilometer of solar collectors plus one daughter machine in a year — and that’s a pretty modest rate — then it would take less than two centuries to build a sphere of collectors around the Sun with a radius about equal to Mars’s orbit. Elon Musk, take note.
I checked to make sure there would be enough building material for all this. If you wanted to build a sphere of solar panels that big it would take about 1 percent of the mass of the Earth. Scrapping some moons and asteroids (and perhaps extracting mass from the Sun) gives you plenty of raw materials.
Wow! I could start writing stories set in a Dysonized Solar System taking place in the year 4000 if I wanted to. But I didn’t. I wanted an old, “mature” setting. I wanted my Dyson Sphere civilization to be the default, with more than half of all recorded history coming after the sphere was completed. All our time on Earth up to now is forgotten prehistory. That gave me a rough date of AD 11,000. Ultimately I dropped a thousand years because the Tenth Millennium sounds cooler.
So just three or four bits of mathematical fiddling gave me the bones of the setting: quadrillions of people in the Tenth Millennium, living on a billion space habitats circling the Sun. That number gave me a title for the setting: The Billion Worlds.
What wonders could I have in that future? What couldn’t I have? My future humans have pretty much complete mastery of matter and energy within the limits of known science. The only question was how much “magic” to include? What laws of nature would I break? I decided not to break any. No faster-than-light travel, no antigravity, no force fields, no “unobtanium” or “handwavium.”
I realized that there would still be limits on the technology available to my characters, but those limits would come from economics, not knowledge. Here’s how it works: characters who live on a small habitat, with only the population of a middle-sized modern city, are limited in what they can have and do, even if the overall technology of the Solar System is virtually unlimited.
For example, a community of a million people could sustain a solar powered space habitat — but they probably couldn’t support a computer chip factory, at least not the modern kind. The degree of specialization is too great and the return-on-investment is too small if there’s only a million customers for computer chips. And a self-sufficient space hab won’t have a whole lot of things to trade. So they won’t be able to make everything “smart.” They’ll have to save the expensive smart matter and supertech for important purposes, while much of daily life will remain unchanged.
This means that the people in the poorer parts of the Billion Worlds have lives that my early Third Millennium readers can understand and relate to. That was actually great news: I can tell a story about humans eight thousand years in the future but they won’t be incomprehensible godlike superbeings.
To be sure, there are incomprehensible godlike superbeings in the Billion Worlds, but most of them live in the Inner Ring, a band of super-dense data processing circuitry surrounding the Sun, made out of what used to be the planet Mercury. In numbers, intellect, and sheer power, the digital minds of the Inner Ring are the real civilization of the Solar System. The biological beings and baseline-equivalent mechs living on planets and habitats are utterly unimportant, but the poor things don’t realize that.
If there are a billion worlds, then a city-sized space habitat with millions of inhabitants is about as important in the grand scheme of things as a single human on contemporary Earth. If there’s a huge war among the Trojan asteroid communities in Jupiter’s orbit, the humans living in the Main Swarm of space habitats between Earth and Mars may never even notice — any more than people in modern Thailand would pay attention to a bank heist in Brazil. Societies on different habs can be vastly strange to one another. This means that even with super-advanced information technology, characters can still suffer from culture shock and conflicts with unfamiliar societies.
So . . . We’ve got a vast number of worlds with wildly different conditions. We’ve got thousands of types of intelligent beings. We’ve got literally millions of societies, and tremendous variation among them. Travel time from world to world is a matter of days or months. There are vast ancient powers lying dormant. There’s no central authority. Is this starting to sound familiar?
It’s a Space Opera setting! Except that it’s all packed neatly into the Solar System rather than sprawling across the Galaxy.
Once I realized that, and realized the sheer scope of the canvas the Billion Worlds represented, I got very excited. One can tell almost any story in that setting, and I’ve set out to prove it. In addition to The Godel Operation I’ve written three short stories about the Billion Worlds. One (“Calando” in Athena Andreadis’s anthology Retellings From the Inner Seas) is a story of contact between a human and the extremely alien “bioships” living around Neptune. Another (“Out of the Dark” in John Joseph Adams’s forthcoming anthology Lost Worlds and Mythological Kingdoms) concerns a quarrelsome pair of adventurers exploring a derelict space habitat. The third (“The Paoshi Problem” in a forthcoming Baen anthology) features a couple of characters from The Godel Operation solving a mystery on a city floating in Saturn’s atmosphere.
I’m currently writing another Billion Worlds novel, with the working title The Scarab Mission. In contrast to The Godel Operation‘s lighthearted picaresque romp across the Solar System, this one will be a gritty thriller about salvage operators trapped in an abandoned space hab with a gang of murderous pirates — and a lurking threat far more deadly. I’ve also got plans for a romantic comedy, a heist story, and a spy story.
While I’ll probably write other stories and novels outside the Billion Worlds setting, that future offers so much elbow room I’m likely to be playing in it for a long time to come. It’s the biggest idea I’ve had yet.
Exactly a month ago, I posted a spoiler-free look at Amazon Prime’s new animated superhero show, Invincible. In that post, only the first four of the eight episodes were out, and I was basically just saying it’s worth checking out and that I have high hopes for it.
Now, after finishing the first season this past weekend, I’m here to talk a little more in depth about it, and give my thoughts on it. So, if you haven’t seen it yet but are planning on watching it, maybe just stick with the spoiler-free post for now.
Here is your official SPOILER WARNING! Alright, let’s get started.
So, I’m mainly just going to be talking about the show overall, rather than focusing on each episode specifically, but will be pulling specific scenes and examples from individual episodes.
Personally, I loved Invincible. There wasn’t a single episode where I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. There were no episodes that dragged, or were boring, or where I thought, “I hope this gets better.” It was great straight from the get-go!
I think my favorite thing about Invincible was how realistic it was. I know it’s a bit far-fetched to think that an animated superhero show could be realistic in any way, but it offered a glimpse at what having superheroes among us would really be like. Much like Amazon’s other superhero (non-animated) series, The Boys. Superheroes in the world would mean tons of collateral damage. Whether it be from fighting villains and flinging them into the sides of buildings, throwing cars, using laser vision and accidentally slicing a pedestrian in half if they miss, there’s tons of things that can go wrong when you’re super-powered in a world full of non-powered people.
It also shows how heroes can’t really save everybody. Specifically, I’m thinking of Invincible’s first real fight, against the aliens known as the Flaxans. When he flies to the scene, people are in the middle of being massacred, and he freezes. He snaps into action when an old woman is about to get shot in the head. He grabs her and flies away, but crashes, and totally fucks her up in the process. He picks up her severely damaged body and takes her to the hospital, and we think, “at least he saved one person.” But she ends up dying anyways. Over 300 civilians died when the Flaxans invaded the first time, and Mark didn’t really save any of them.
Even the Teen Team was completely overwhelmed, and said that all that mattered was that they gave more people a chance to escape. They could only try to prevent more people from dying, and try to stop a tragedy from becoming an even bigger one. So, it’s pretty unrealistic to assume that if we had heroes in real life, they’d be able to save everyone all the time.
Another thing the show handles really well is making the main character seem like a real person. I mentioned in my previous post that Mark (while technically being a Viltrumite) is portrayed as very human. Compared to Superman’s perfection and inability to ever do wrong, it was interesting to see a character with Superman-like powers occasionally mess up and make the wrong call.
For example, in episode six when William wanted Mark to help him find Rick, Mark selfishly chose to go after Amber at a frat party, instead of helping his friend. This led to Rick being turned into a mostly mindless cyborg, and caused William to get captured, as well. William even brings it up later that none of it would have happened if Mark had just helped in the first place.
In this case, the superhero-thing to have done would have been to help without hesitation, to put saving Rick before everything else. But Mark isn’t a superhero all the time. He’s a teenage boy all the time. And in being so, it’s unrealistic to think that he wouldn’t be selfish sometimes, that he wouldn’t be a dick sometimes. Of course he’s going to mess up, and of course he’s not going to be perfect, because he’s human.
This concept also plays into the whole “I’m too important to deal with petty crime” narrative that Mark struggles with in episode five. Mark has this mindset that his job is to fight off alien invasions and save the planet from total annihilation, you know, big picture stuff. I believe this is partially due to his dad forcing this mentality onto him, especially when he says that helping someone is beneath him, because he could be saving millions instead of dealing with regular day-to-day crime.
What I mean is that of course Mark has an ego the size of Texas (like the meteor Omni-Man stopped from hitting Earth, hah), because he’s the son of the most powerful man on the planet, and can do incredible things. Of course he’s going to think helping one person isn’t important enough for him to deal with, because he believes he is meant for greater things. Wouldn’t you think that, too? Wouldn’t you think some lesser, not as cool hero, could stop bank robbers while you go deal with the big stuff? Again, Mark isn’t perfect, nor should we expect him to be.
Despite all his flaws, the show does a great job of making him likeable. Yes he messes up, maybe even a lot, but his heart is in the right place. He wants to be a hero, he wants to save people! Maybe he fails at it sometimes, or gets his priorities a bit mixed up, but he wants to do good. He wants to be good, and that’s admirable in anybody, superhero or not.
Aside from the main character, this show is truly amazing at fleshing out side characters and making the audience care about them. In fact, my favorite character is a side character! If you aren’t invested in the side characters, you’re not watching Invincible. Each one is so unique and has such interesting personalities and motives, you can’t help but want to learn more about them.
Personally, my favorite is Robot. There’s nothing I love more than a character that everyone believes has no emotions but they TOTALLY DO. Maybe I’m biased because I think Zachary Quinto is an absolutely amazing actor and I think he does a fantastic job voicing Robot, but Robot really is one of the most interesting characters to me. At first, you think he’s just a walking talking computer, but you start to be able to see glimpses of humanity in him, and wonder if there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’s really cool!
But then his interest in Monster Girl leads to a super weird and uncomfy situation, and is probably my biggest issue with the show overall. Monster Girl is technically 25 but in the body of like, a fourteen year old, and Robot is 30, but makes himself a younger body to copy his mind into. So now he is in a teenage body but has the mind of a 30 year old, much like Monster Girl. He claims he wants to help Monster Girl escape her curse of getting younger, and says he and she share the same struggle, so he understands her. So, he doesn’t really profess love for her or anything, but it’s still… super weird? I’m not sure how to feel about it. Monster Girl ends up holding hands with him (it’s important to note she grabs his hand, not the other way around), but not before saying how strange the whole situation is and how she needs time to process it.
Like, yeah! That is super weird! Robot has only known Monster Girl as a teenage girl, and while she acts and talks like an adult, and in fact used to look like one, too, there’s no denying she is in her child-self’s body. So it’s weird that Robot takes such an interest in her, but on the other hand, it almost seems like more of a fascination and desire to help her rather than that he likes her in any sort of romantic or sexual way. Then again, he did specifically choose a human body that he thought she’d find appealing.
Anyways, it’s just really odd and makes me kind of uncomfy.
Besides that, I only have one other issue. I think Omni-man’s backstory/motive is super fuckin’ bad. Like, it’s the classic, “our planet is better than all the others so we’re going to go around the universe and make everyone become part of our empire but it’s a good thing because we’re pulling them out of the mud and making them more advanced and yes they’re basically prisoners but it’s just because we’re sooo superior.” Talk about overdone (did anyone else think of the Galra from Voltron or just me?)!
Part of me thinks that they did this just so we wouldn’t have any empathy for Omni-man and would want him to lose. If he had some actual good reason for all his atrocities, we might side with him, and we can’t have that happening when he’s the antagonist, now can we? So, maybe it was a strategic choice to make him basic and awful, that way we wouldn’t like him. If that isn’t the case, though, then I honestly think they could’ve done better.
Moving on; in all honesty, the last episode made me cry. The sheer betrayal Mark experiences from his father, who he believed was the pinnacle of greatness, mixed with the unbelievable trauma of him proceeding to beat the ever-loving shit out of him and murdering thousands while doing it and blaming him for their deaths? UNREAL.
But that’s not what did it for me. What brought me to tears was after all that happened, was when Nolan asked him, “what will you have after five hundred years?” and he replied, “I’ll still have you, dad.”
Like, BRUHHHH. I didn’t think Invincible would pull at my heartstrings so much, but damn. I mean they really wanted to hurt you with this one.
I don’t understand how they made Mark so “okay” with everything after he woke up from his coma? Like that boy has to be beyond traumatized after getting his head bashed through an entire subway train full of people, let alone everything else that happened. Yet, he seems weirdly alright.
So, yeah, this show will kick you in the heart and you’ll never see it coming. My mom even said, “I expected a fun superhero cartoon and got tons of gore and all the damn feels.”
Anyways, I cannot wait for the next season! This first season was so good. I had no expectations when I went into it, and it ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Invincible was truly enjoyable, and I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t typically like superhero stuff, or animated stuff, or superhero animated stuff, I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to love about it!
Did you watch season one? What did you think? Who was your favorite character? (Please don’t spoil anything for me if you’ve read the comics or something!) Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
In author John Gwynne’s Big Idea, he tells us of not only his love for Norse mythology, but also of his passion to write something fantastic that will evoke an array of emotions within his readers. Follow along as he describes what some of those emotions are, and how they contributed to writing his newest novel, The Shadow of the Gods.
My writing mantra is ‘write what you want to read,’ and I want to read books that sweep me away on an emotional rollercoaster, that carry me off to other worlds and engage me emotionally. I want to read a book where I become invested in the characters; I want to care, and I want to feel: fear, hate, love, and everything in-between. I want to fist-pump the air at the victories and feel that knife-twist in the gut at the betrayals. All those things that have moved me as a reader and got me hooked on books. If my books give even a fraction of those precious moments back to my readers, then I will count my writing career a success.
My latest book, The Shadow of the Gods, is a love letter to my deep and abiding passion for all things Norse. That spark was lit when I was a child, with tales of Beowulf fighting monsters, of giants and serpents and fierce berserkers, and of Ragnarök, that end-of-days battle where the gods fought to extinction. That childhood passion has led me to picking up a shield and spear as an adult and becoming a Viking reenactor, and it has fueled this new book, filling it with longships and trolls, shield walls and berserkers, rune-magic and blood-oaths.
But I hope that there is more to it than that.
I try to write tales that entertain, that sweep the reader away to far off worlds and snare them in stories that are magical and brutal, heartbreaking and uplifting, intimate and epic, but I also try to write tales that challenge, that encourage us to hope, and to dare, and to live. The themes of family and friendship and love are at the core of everything that I write, because they are what we live for. Each other. Those we care about and love. This is the beating heart of the human condition.
Don’t get me wrong, In The Shadow of the Gods you will not find a sentimental tale of happy families and true love’s first kiss and a happily ever after. This is a cold, harsh, brutal world where slavery is the highest currency and people carve a life with hard hearts and cold iron, but by writing about this type of world I try to challenge those hegemonic power systems of prejudice and elitism and gender politics. Power systems that are reflections of our own world. And in doing that, to perhaps light a spark of hope in the hearts of my characters and my readers alike, to perhaps make the reader think about the choices we make in our own lives, and how those small, daily choices matter. That when taken as a whole our choices will both define us, and steer our course through this dark, awful, wonderful, heart-breaking and beautiful world.
Quite a lot to hope for in a book about dragons and trolls and creatures that have an overwhelming hunger for human teeth, but I am a glass-half-full kind of man, and so I will choose to live in hope.
I wrote a Twitter thread last night about awards and peer groups and being happy no matter who might win; I’m reporting it for archival purposes, and for those of you who don’t go to the Twitters. Enjoy.
1. One of the things that it’s sometimes hard to communicate about being a finalist for an award is one might genuinely be happy for any of the people to win. To make this point, let me talk about why I would be thrilled on a personal level no matter who wins this Locus Award.
2. Elizabeth Bear (@matociquala) was the Astounding Award winner just before me and one of my oldest friends in SF/F, and we used to teach together at @ViableParadise. A terrific writer and pal. It would be thrilling to have her win.
3. At my very first SF convention, Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) was literally pulled out of a crowd in a hotel lobby by our editor to be my con buddy and we have been compatriots since. A great social thinker and writer, and would be a deserved award winner.
4. Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF) I had the pleasure of hanging out with in Hawaii a few years ago; she was the best of company as we talked writing craft and other things. Her work is never less than excellent; how could I not want her to win?
5. William Gibson (@GreatDismal) literally changed the course of written science fiction and has been challenging the way we think about the world for decades. And is a hell of a fine person. I could not imagine being upset to lose the category to him.
6. Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) is one of my best friends in the world and there’s no one who has worked harder or more deserves their acclaim. Her “Lady Astronaut” series is groundbreaking and winning this award would reconfirm this.
7. Paul McCauley (@UnlikelyWorlds) is the only person on this list I do not know! But I do know his work, and it is very fine. A win here would be an excellent recognition of his talent and effort.
8. Kim Stanley Robinson (@ksrinfo) is the kindest and most decent of people, the deepest of thinkers, and the creator of some of the most fascinating worlds in science fiction. He doesn’t need to prove himself at this point, but this award would underscore his brilliance.
9. Martha Wells (@marthawells1) is my favorite SF/F success story, a reminder that as long as you keep writing it’s never too late to make the world notice your work. Murderbot is not only liked; it’s beloved. This award would be richly deserved.
10. Gene Wolfe was and is an acknowledged grand master of the SF/F genre; I should know because as president of SFWA I had the distinct honor of naming him as one. Which only confirmed what everyone already knew. A win here would be a perfect swan song.
11. You see my point: Everyone here is deserving, and to get to call myself their peer in the category is a deep personal and professional honor in itself. I’d be happy to win. But I will not be at all disappointed to lose. I will genuinely cheer on any and all. What a group!
12. And now, as tradition, I end on a cat picture. The cat is not a finalist for the Locus Award. This year.