And here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs, freshly arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What do you see here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell us all in the comments.
And here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs, freshly arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What do you see here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell us all in the comments.
MATTHEW De ABAITUA:
From an early age, I was terrorised by the prospect of getting a proper job. A summer spent working as a security guard on the docks convinced me that my intuition concerning work was correct; it was a desperate exploitative world and not for the likes of me. What if I could somehow accrue all the benefits of going to work – a salary and social status – without having to subordinate myself to its deadening routines?
The big idea of my novel The Red Men comes from this yearning, although it in no way solves it. The novel turns around the question of your collaboration with power, how much of yourself you can trade to get on in the world, or can you deny all attempts by the “real world” to control you and instead live freely and imaginatively.
To explore this question, I invented the Red Men. The Red Men are simulations of real people devised by an artificial intelligence. They are not copies. We will not be able to digitally copy consciousness. Mind cannot be separated from body in that way. Instead, our technology will tell stories about us, based on its observations of our desires and behaviours.
In my novel, these stories are The Red Men and – for a regular subscription fee – they will do your work for you: capable of processing data at light speed, and gifted with your way of seeing the world, your Red Man toils in an office job while you are free to profit from their salary and find more a productive way of using your time.
I was first attracted to the idea of a digital self because it promised an incorporeal immortality. Planning the novel out, I realised that a digital land-of-do-as-you-please wouldn’t work fictively. It would be like writing out a long dream. The readers wouldn’t care about what happened in a realm in which all harm can be undone, all damage reversed. I would need to find a way of making the readers care.
All virtual worlds suffer from being as inconsequential as a dream. That’s why, if you die in the Matrix, you die in the real world – its the only way to make the Matrix matter. The novel may have been born of my immature desire to live in a world governed by the pleasure principle but it could not be told from the point of view of a digital person. Rather, the point of view of the novel had to follow the real people who work with the Red Men, and who suffer from their interaction with simulated people. After years of idle planning, it was this realisation of the narrative point of view that kickstarted my writing.
The Red Men is told from two points of view: Raymond is a down-at-heel poet who is drawn into the customer service department managing the interaction between the Red Men and their subscribers; Nelson is more senior than Raymond, having worked for years for the company Monad that creates the Red Men. So Raymond’s point of view, new to this world, as he discovers Monad and its products, accords to that of the readers. Nelson, who is more steeped in Monad, provides insight into the back story of the technology. Indeed, it is Nelson who first devises the name of the Red Men when he first meets the company’s artificial intelligence, and it is Nelson who is tasked with expanding the program in the middle of the novel, when Monad decide to simulate an entire town to help them predict mass effects and reactions to government policies.
The novel is structured according to this question of whether it is possible to deny the imperatives of the “real world” of jobs, mortgages, health care payments and live in a realm of your own imagining and control. Chekhov once observed of Tolstoy that while he didn’t have the answers, he asked the right questions. A novel shouldn’t be didactic, it is a more exploratory form. Power it with a good question rather than your idea of an answer. The question runs through the heart of Nelson’s relationships – whether he should allow work to take him away from his family – and through Raymond’s troubles, as he is drawn into the work of Monad’s rival company Dyad, which specialises in technology that exploits and inhabits the human unconscious.
When I found my emotional connection to the big idea, I was finally able to write it. Only after I’d spent a few years toiling in an office, subordinated to nonsensical corporate cant and bullshit imperatives, having had the shit bored out of me, was I able to put my big idea on a stage crafted by everyday frustrations and yearnings.
Yes, my friends, the 80s are back! No, not the 1980s: The 1880s, where author Leanna Renee Hieber has spent much of her creative life, culminating in her new novel The Eterna Solution, the third book in her Eterna Files series. And what has Hieber been doing, back there in the 1880s? Just you wait.
LEANNA RENEE HIEBER:
The big idea behind The Eterna Files series came from my desire to fashion two 1880s X-Files-esque and MI-5 kind of departments chock full of interpersonal drama and lively characters. And then set them against a huge, paranormal evil. Phantasmagorical fireworks ensue.
This is my third Gaslamp Fantasy series and one of two connected series with Tor Books, a house that has been actively reissuing my award-winning and bestselling- but previously out of print- Strangely Beautiful saga.
The Eterna world embraces the importance of personal magic and the resilience of the human spirit. Beloved Gothic traditions are all present but reimagined; Ghosts! Adventure! Mystery and Drama! But for all my Sturm und Drang, I wanted to craft small, practical, meaningful moments of magic. When imbued with personal spirit and private meaning, tiny gestures have a huge protective quality. The quest for understanding, for meaning, for purpose and calling drives all of my characters. That’s what makes their embrace of personal, localized magic very powerful. This is a saga of Wards.
My Eterna Files trilogy culminates this week in the brand new The Eterna Solution. The series features a huge cast of quirky, inclusive characters from London and New York, in an 1882 timeline very much like our own, but in which paranormal aspects dominate the lives of a select few. The first book (The Eterna Files) is a parallel narrative following two teams in New York and London that entwine by the second book (Eterna and Omega).
Spiritualists, policemen, circus performers and secretaries join forces as the Eterna Commission in New York and the Omega Department in London, both created to focus on pursuing immortality, become allies when they realize they’ve been pitted against one another by a vile, secret cabal dealing in foul, malevolent magic.
I started my first novel when I was a pre-teen and it was set in 1888. I’ve been writing about this decade for most of my life. It’s not just a penchant, it’s a calling that drives me on a level that defies even my own understanding. Perhaps I’m like one of the many Spiritualist mediums in my work; channeling an age that whispers its hopes and dreams to me and wants me to tell its stories, all of which feel deeply, inexplicably personal.
Clara Templeton, one of the series stars, was one of the hardest characters I’ve ever written, because she’s the closest to me and there’s a danger there. I had to separate her out from me like untangling a knot of woven hair in order to have any kind of objectivity. The heart and soul of her remains deeply intimate. Alternately, her foil, my stoic London detective Harold Spire is a fierce skeptic and almost a curmudgeon, and yet such an effective teammate despite polar differences. I grew to love him all the more for his opposite nature.
As a New Yorker of over 12 years, and having spent months across many years researching in London, the power of a place is the core of my personal, Ward-driven magic. As a New York City tour guide for Boroughs of the Dead, Manhattan’s highest rated ghost tour company; I tell the stories of New York ghosts as friends of mine, haunts I visit every week. They’re the immortal story my characters seek, and the stages of New York and London are such rich characters in and of themselves.
My characters are unapologetically themselves and seek to be treated with respect and full rights in a society that was extremely limiting, restrictive and compartmentalized. They find allies and community, found families and fellow travelers. Contrary to the rare reader who thinks I, as a modern writer, force feminism, orientation and/or racial equality on my characters in some sort of anachronistic take, my characters’ attitudes reflect actual historic evidence and tracts that date back far earlier than my 1882 setting.
My characters don’t gloss over inequalities in any way, however they have been raised with the idea of respect and inclusion for generations. (Just as one historical example, Victoria Woodhull ran for President in 1872, a decade prior than my setting, with Frederick Douglass (doing great things) as her running mate. She came up from within the broad Spiritualist movement in which I have embedded my main characters, a collective that was entwined with suffrage and civil rights.)
The punk in Steampunk is only earned by questioning power dynamics and institutions, and I’m in the related/parallel genre as a Gaslamp Fantasy novelist. (To make the genre delineation clear: Steampunk is Steam-powered-era Science Fiction in which characters solve problems with SciFi tropes and innovative technology, Gaslamp Fantasy is gas-lit-era Fantasy where characters solve problems with Fantasy tropes and spectral, magical conventions). My characters question their world, chafe against strictures, and seek to be reformers just as many movements did.
Since I’m working in a covert branch environment, paranormal aspects carve out space for all my characters to have as much agency and self-determination as they all deserve and the secret departments allow for workings around societal restrictions. The era itself is rife with conflict, which is always great for storytelling, and as the 19th century was rather obsessed with ghosts, séances, pseudo-sciences and occult goings on, my Eterna world is a phantasmagorical reality not far from our own, and I dearly hope you’ll come along for the action, fancy outfits, adventure, tidbits of actual history, and plenty of murder and mayhem. Cheers and Happy Haunting!
Yes! That overly descriptive headline says it all! The Collapsing Empire is one of ten Science Fiction books to make it to the final round of the Good Reads Choice Awards in the science fiction category, and if you are so inclined, you may vote for it at the following link:
Alternately, if you head over there and fine another book amongst the finalists that you liked better, go ahead and vote for it. Seriously, vote for the one you like best. I mean, I’d love to win the Goodreads Choice Award — I’ve not won it before — but not by stuffing the ballot box. Vote for what you like! That’s the way it works!
Also you can vote in all the other categories as well, not just science fiction. Go wild with your voting, people.
In any event, it’s lovely to have Empire a finalist. Thanks, folks. I’m glad the book is finding readers, and they’re finding it enjoyable.
So here we are, you and I. Back again some year and change later. Last time, I talked about Necrotech, and how writing it inspired me to come out genderqueer—all challenge and angry and defiant.
I chose the Big Idea to do it then because the rage of being taught I was not enough had fueled 110,000 words. At that point…how could I avoid the truth when it was repeatedly jabbing me in the brain? With an ice pick. The Ice Pick of Truth, as it turned out.
So, Riko. Me. Life is art is life.
And another ice pick for the brain.
I got drunk to write this. This will inevitably be the title of my memoirs, but until then, we have the Big Idea. And Nanoshock, Riko’s next installment, and probably the hardest thing I’d ever had to (wanted to) write.
Did you know that I was a year and some change late on this book, too? Maybe a mild exaggeration… but close enough. My editors at Angry Robot Books were extremely, overwhelmingly supportive, and my agent bent over backwards to keep me reassured, but I was late, late, late. The White Rabbit fucking gave up on me, I was so damn late.
Did I mention I got drunk to write this?
You can laugh. It’s totally okay.
Nanoshock’s Riko is an asskicker, but those who live by the ass die by the… wait. Let me start over. Riko is an asskicker, but those who are violent only beget violence, and so she spends much of the previous book bloody. With her memories savaged and her reputation in tatters, Riko’s now dealing with a whole new level of BS: she must figure out WTF went down in those missing memories, WTF she’s the one hauling this shit around, and—to make matters worse—WTF sold her out.
For those of you who need the help: that’s “what”, “why” and “who”, respectively. And a lot of “the fucks” added.
“Sounds like fun,” you say. “What could go wrong?” Well. For Riko? Lots.
More than I thought would.
Let’s make an abrupt left turn and meander down a different road. Let’s talk about trauma. More specifically, let’s talk about non-combat PTSD.
You know the acronym—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you’re like most, you associate it with survivors of war, soldiers returning home, victims of incredible abuse or an accident survivor. You think blood and gore and broken bones and bullets flying and fists and whatever else comes at one from the ugly side of things.
I think… a man’s raised voice, laced with focused intention. …the pressure of somebody behind me. …sexual advances when I am struggling with my depression. …the subtle unweaving of my success, my confidence, my wants and my needs.
I remember fear in the dead of night and razor blades at dinner. Basically? I am Jessica Jones, and I don’t even have the raw strength to fight the battles I need to.
Listen. There’s a thing called “complex PTSD”, and it’s a disorder caused not by one single event but by the stacking of many. “Non-combat PTSD” is when you have all the same symptoms—flashbacks, panic attacks, disassociation, bone-deep fear, paranoia and more—but you didn’t pick it up at a battlefield or a crime scene or a car crash… You just…
You just lost. You lost everything. Your confidence, your physical safety, your emotional and mental balance. Each brick of your foundation chipped and whittled and shaped into what something else, somebody else, demanded of you. Until one day something happens, something breaks, and if you’re lucky, you surface from that sleepwalking hell into the stark, cold, terrifying reality: you are not the person you thought you were. You aren’t even in the same dimension.
And you aren’t worthy of anything better.
I wish I was Riko. (A smooth shift back onto the main road!) Riko’s coping mechanisms, while unhealthy, are so much easier for me to understand. What I’d give to be able to channel all this bottled in rage and fear and shame and explode it all over some motherfuckers what need educating. I have a list. I’d feel so much better if I could just tick off each line, one by one. “Exploded, bloodied, broken, dead.”
I announce for the cheap seats: I am a struggling buddhist.
Those who live by violence beget violence. Those who rely on the punch receive more in kind. In my first draft of this book, Riko—my violent, angry, bloodied bitch—became an extension of me. And it wasn’t great.
See, after Necrotech, Riko found herself at the bottom of the food chain. Her life, her sense of security, had been thoroughly shredded. (Spoiler alert: there is blood. So, so much blood. And fleshy, wobbly bits, mostly unattached.) Starting with nothing is daunting at the best of times, but as Nanoshock opened under my furiously typing fingers, I realized:
I, too, was starting over from nothing. Everything I’d built had been stripped away, and not least of which had been my pride as a human being, my sense of self, my confidence, and yes, my voice. Like waking up from a dream I hadn’t realized was so violent in its calm, extremely slow pace, I suddenly surfaced into the real world and saw, felt, understood that I had nothing.
Because I was only allowed to have nothing.
And here I was, trying to set Riko on the path to rebuilding her own life when I didn’t have the first idea of how to rebuild mine. I couldn’t even face my own trauma—and like Riko, I didn’t want to.
Nanoshock is late to the shelves because it took me two years—two years—to fight through the bloody wounds and ragged scars and sheer fucking shame that comes with PTSD. First, I had to acknowledge it.
And then I had to get help.
Two years. I’m still in therapy, and I will be for a long time. It’s like I had to reach this point to understand where Riko needed to go. And I understand enough about her to understand that it’ll take her a lot longer than the time she has to get to where I am working so hard to be.
Sometimes (often?), an author has to know the answers first before they can reverse engineer it back to the beginning.
The schematics of trauma are a mess. But having been there, and struggling every day to cope with the sense of violation, fear, programmed responses and cold uncertainty, I feel so much better equipped to write Riko’s struggle (and by god, it is a struggle).
You see, although it’s taken me years, I have finally been allowed—encouraged, given sanctuary for it—to own my trauma. I can work through it. I can face it head on and slowly, sometimes painfully, take the teeth out where I can.
But Riko? Riko’s journey is harder. A narcissist, proud of her place, having fought tooth and bleeding nail to earn it, and stubborn as all get out, she doesn’t have the support network I needed to resurface. Won’t take it. Won’t bend, won’t forgive. She’s got a lot to learn to deal with. That could have been me.
So here we are, you and I. Back at the Big Idea, where I share all the aspects of my world that fuel the rage and pain and violence and motherfucking demand for hope that makes up Riko’s stories. Redemption for us both on the page; pain all around for free.
Riko’s journey is only just beginning. It seems funny, when I look at it, to think it took me this long to claw my way back into my own skin just to rip Riko out of hers. And unlike me now, but very much like me then, Riko is unable to own her trauma. Until she does, she can’t mend the wounds.
Until those wounds are mended, she will bleed out—bit by bit, emotionally and mentally and yes, even physically. Wounds on the body help. They bring peace. Riko knows this, and it’s an ugly kind of truth.
Does she have the strength to overcome this as she punches, shoots, swears at and otherwise rocks every obstacle in her path?
Well. I did. Sort of.
If I can, then Riko can. And if Riko can, then you can.
See how this works?
Nanoshock, where the darkest shit is yet to come and still, even still, holding on for another day means another day of hope, redemption, and a sense of self.
I got drunk to write this.
A memoir, yes. But also, acknowledgment. Of self and of the arc of trauma. Of the grit that nobody likes to see—not really, not the gritty, filthy, infected stuff that oozes over the veneer and smells like rot. But also, acknowledgement that there is a way back to the light. Grab it where you can. Tomorrow, nursing the hangover, follow through on what it takes.
We got stuff to do, you and I. We have things to accomplish. If I can do it, Riko can.
And if Riko can?
Well, you see where this is going…
As for me? I’m going to therapy. And Riko? She’s going to kick some ass. Between the two of us, there will be a lot of drunk nights. You see, drunk, high, or otherwise jacked up makes the nightmares easier to face.
But sobriety always follows. We’ll fight and fall and claw at the ledge, and there will be some tears. But you know what? That’s okay, too. Growth fucking hurts. But hey. We survived, right? (It’ll take her a bit to realize that… She, unlike me, doesn’t have two years to do it.)
As Riko would say, zen it.
(Note: this piece contains general discussion of sexual harassment and assault, so heads up on that.)
Hey there! As most of you know, I’m a dude. And like most dudes, I’ve been watching this whole post-Weinstein era we’re in with some interest. And because I am reasonably well-known on the internet for talking about things, I’ve had people, mostly dudes, contact me via social media and email with various questions about what’s going on and my opinions on these topics. So, let me go ahead and address several of them at once, with the help of my fictional interlocutor. Say hello, fictional interlocutor!
Let’s get started, shall we.
I… I just want it on the record that I’m deeply uncomfortable with these topics.
Of course you are! You’re a dude! What’s the first question?
I’m worried that someone might call me out for having been a harassing piece of shit at some point in my past.
Well, let me ask you: Were you, in the past, in fact, a harassing piece of shit?
I’m gonna take that as a “yes.”
I wish you wouldn’t.
Too late! And here’s the thing: If in fact at some point in the past you were a harassing piece of shit to someone, probably to a woman but really, to anyone, then you deserve to be called out on your actions.
But I hardly even remember the incident!
Ah, but the question is not whether you remember it, but if the person you harassed does. And you know what? When you’re harassed, it kinda sticks in your brain. For example, did I ever tell you that some dude once pinched my ass when I was in the supermarket? When I was, like, 11?
God’s honest truth. I was standing at the supermarket magazine rack, looking at a video game magazine, when suddenly I feel my ass getting pinched. I turn, and here’s the creepy old bald dude, who must have been like sixty, walking by. And he turns around to see me looking at him, because clearly he’s the only one who could have pinched my ass, and you know what that creepy chucklefuck does? He winks at me. And then he goes off and he does his shopping, or whatever.
What did you do?
I didn’t do anything. I was eleven at the time, it didn’t occur to me that there was anything to do. So I thought “what a creepy old dude” to myself, and went back to reading my magazine. As far as sexual harassment involving an 11-year-old goes, it really was — well, I don’t want to say a “best case scenario,” so let’s call it a “least damaging case scenario.”
But here’s the thing about that: Even now I remember the event, in detail, from where I was to the creepy wink and smile that dude had on his face. If I can remember that, for an event that took all of three seconds and otherwise hasn’t had a substantial impact on my life, you better goddamn believe anyone who you did worse to remembers what you did. They remember. In detail. Read the accounts of those coming forward with their stories. There’s often a lot of specificity in them. There’s a reason for that.
If you don’t remember (or barely do), it’s possibly because the event wasn’t trauma for you. The person you harassed almost certainly has a different perspective on the event.
But it was a different time!
Ah, yes, the Harvey Weinstein defense of “I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was a different time then.” I mean, it didn’t really work for Weinstein, now, did it? Partly because in his case claiming that things were different then doesn’t excuse being an assaulting piece of shit now, and it’s clear he was harassing and assaulting women right up until everything blew up in his face. But also partly because, who gives a shit if it was a different time? If you raped someone in 1973, you still raped them, you asshole. Or in 1983. Or 1993. Or 2003. Or 2013. Or now. There’s never been a time that rape and assault and harassment haven’t been rape and assault and harassment.
Yes, but now there’s consequences!
Well, yes, there are. There’s no statute of limitations on consequences, which apparently comes as an unhappy surprise to a lot of dudes. A lot of the mewling about this is, “well, it was so long ago.” It might be! But your actions almost certainly had consequences for the person you harassed (or assaulted, or raped) and may have altered the course of their life — caused them to change their career or quit a job to avoid you, or given them psychological or physical damage.
There were always consequences to your actions. It’s just that now you might have to share in them.
I’m a better person now!
Great! Did you ever make amends to the person you harassed or assaulted? Apologized, publicly or privately? Taken responsibility for your actions in some way? Worked to make right the trespasses you have made against others, to the extent that they wanted or allowed you too? Spoken to others, particularly those who love/like/are in business with you, publicly or privately, about your past transgressions so they aren’t blindsided by your past?
Not as such.
Aaaaah, so you were just hoping it would all just go away and you would never have to think about it again.
Well, surprise! You’re certainly thinking about it now.
Let’s say that before someone else outs me, I decide to out myself and admit I was a harassing piece of shit at one time in my life. What then?
I don’t know. Try it and find out. I mean, I’ll applaud your honesty, as long as it’s backed by actual repentance and effort to change and make right what you’ve done in the past. But, you know. Unless you’re that creepy chucklefuck who pinched my ass 36 years ago (and you’re probably not, I’m guessing he’s dead by now), I’m not the one to be asking about this, because I’m not the one you’ve wronged.
Can’t we have, like, a truth and reconciliation commission?
You know! Like they did in South Africa, where everyone admits the horrible things they did and everyone gets amnesty.
What an interesting idea. Now, you do realize that particular commission was created after the fall of apartheid, by a government largely constituted by the victims of apartheid, yes?
I’m not following you.
What I’m saying is that before we get to a sexual harassment truth and reconciliation committee, basically the patriarchy will have to be dismantled and then it will be up to those running the new system to administer such a commission. How does that work for you?
Dude, I’m totally ready to ditch the patriarchy if you are!
Let me think about that for a while.
Do that. In the meantime, yeah. You’re not getting off the hook.
So if I come out and admit to being a harassing shit, I’ll likely get thumped on. But if I don’t admit it and it comes out anyway, I’ll likely get thumped on.
Sounds about right.
Neither of those really sounds appealing.
Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to be a harassing piece of shit.
I will say this: sorting out your own shit is always existentially better than waiting for other people to sort it out for you. There’s a small but telling difference between “I did this shit, and I was wrong, and I want to do better” and “Now that you’ve found out I did this shit, let me just say I was wrong, and I want to do better.” Neither is going to be cake walk, I expect. But then, you were a harassing piece of shit. You don’t deserve cake for that.
Can I change the topic, a bit, please?
Sure. What’s up?
Let’s say I that I didn’t mean to sexually harass anyone, but someone says I did or said something that made them feel harassed and uncomfortable. What then?
One, an actual apology is good. Two, don’t do it again to them or anyone else.
But why should I apologize? I didn’t mean to do it!
Okay, and? Look, let me be blunt with you: That person calling you out on a behavior that made them feel unsafe? They’re doing you a favor. If your behavior, intentional or not, is creepy enough that someone was compelled to say something to you about it, there are probably others who thought the same thing but didn’t say it — or didn’t say it to you. So the person actually saying it is like a person who pulls you aside and says “Dude, your breath smells like a cat shat on your uvula, maybe partake in a mint,” except instead of halitosis they’re talking about you skeeving everybody out with your words and/or actions. Thank them! In that context, a sincere apology is an excellent thank you, followed by adjusting your behavior.
But why should I change the way I do things? If they have a problem with how I say or do things, it’s their problem, not mine.
Dude, I’m not the boss of you. If you want to continue to make people uncomfortable with your presence and actions, then follow your bliss. Just don’t expect to have a whole lot of friends who aren’t complete assholes. Also, be aware that if you keep that shit up, there’s an excellent chance that sooner or later five or six people are going to speak out about you and your asshole actions, all at the same time, and then you’ll be in the same boat as the “actual” harassers, i.e., being an actual harasser, because you didn’t think you had to learn.
Which is fine! Really, it’s fine. Go ahead, do that, it’s fine. Totally fine.
Okay, but what about if I’ve never done anything bad to anyone and I still get accused of harassing someone?
Well, either you did it and you didn’t know, in which case, see above, or, rarely, the other person is lying.
Yes! They’re lying! Yes! That!
My dude, aside from the actual fact that a woman accusing a man of harassment has her life turned into such a shitshow that the bar for her choosing to tell her story is almost unspeakably high (and therefore not fertile ground for lying), I want you to consider a singular and depressing fact, which is that nearly every woman you know has actual dudes who’ve harassed them. They will go after them, rather than outright lying about you. I’m not saying that people don’t get falsely accused of sexual assault and harassment. I am saying it’s pretty rare. Rare enough that when someone comes forward with a harassment claim, it’s worth taking seriously.
But still —
Also, you know? As someone who (still) has jerks falsely calling him a rapist for purely malicious reasons, allow me to suggest that people see through bullshit pretty quickly.
Fine. But I’m worried that I will try to let someone know I’m interested in them and they’ll think I’m harassing them.
So you’re saying your dating strategy is indistinguishable from harassment?
Dude, I don’t even know anymore.
Maybe it’s worth the time to find out and fix it if it is. I’m not, shall we say, active in the dating scene, but it seems to me that communication, consent and the active ability to take “no” for an answer will go a long way.
I’m just worried that every woman defaults into thinking I’m a creep until proven otherwise.
They might! Not just you, to be clear. Every dude.
Doesn’t that bother you? That every woman might start off thinking you could be a creep?
Well, you know. Pretty much every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted or been the recipient of unwanted sexual attention from dudes simply for existing. I know a fair number of men, mostly gay or bi but some not, in the same boat. I know relatively few trans and non-binary folks (although I suspect I know more than many folks), but I know sexual harassment and assault, primarily by men, is a huge issue in that community. Not only men sexually harass and assault, and as they say, not all men sexually harass and assault. But men are the large majority of those people who do sexually harass and assault. And, alas, the ones that do that shit don’t walk around with a neon light saying “Harassing chucklefuck” blinking over their head for easy identification.
So in point of fact I’m fine with women (and others) who I meet for the first time holding in their mind the idea I might be a creeper. I might be! They don’t know! I’m fine with doing the work to make them comfortable with me (the “work” in this case generally meaning “being respectful and kind,” which honestly isn’t that hard), and with the idea that they might never be entirely comfortable with me in this respect. I’d like to live in the world where every dude is not seen as a potential harassing creep, but we’re not there yet, because, as the events of the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, there are still a shitload of harassing creeps out there.
You want not to be seen as potential creep right off? Great! Do the work among men to bring the ratio of harassing shitheads way down. Don’t ask others to do the work that you want to see the benefit of.
One last question.
What do you do when a friend or someone you admire, or whose work you admire, is outed as a harasser or abuser?
You mean, besides be sad and probably very pissed off at them?
With people I admire, I think it’s obvious that I would probably stop admiring them. With regard to people whose work I admire, it would put the work in a different context and at that point I’d have to see how I felt about it. I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist. In both cases, I don’t find it difficult to hold two thoughts about someone in my head — that someone can be an admirable talent in their field and a harassing piece of shit, or that a particular book/movie/song can be amazing and the person who created it a terrible human.
With that said, someone being outed as a harassing/assaulting piece of shit makes it much less likely I will support their future work, since I generally prefer not to give money to people who sexually harass and assault people. To be blunt, there’s a category of work I file under “to be enjoyed after the creator is dead.” That’s where a lot of work is being sent these days.
With people I consider friends, well, look: I have standards for friends, and one of those standards is treating other people with basic human respect. Sexually assaulting or harassing other people is a pretty solid indication that you don’t respect that person, or the group of people they are a part of. My friends are all grown ups and they live in 2017; they should know better. If they don’t, well. That’s a problem for me.
People I know as acquaintances or casual friends I don’t have a problem casting off; I have lots of other, less problematic acquaintances. I am fortunate that none of my very good friends has been shown to be an assaulter or harasser. If one ever is, that’s going to be a thing. One because they managed to keep it from me for so long, which calls into question the nature of our relationship. Two because I’m going to have to ask myself if there’s anything there in the long path of our friendship that will make it worth salvaging. Maybe there is, although at the moment I don’t know what it might be. I’m not in a rush to find out.
So, this has been a long entry.
Yes it has. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I want to note that some of the ground I’m covering here has also been covered by women (like here and here and here), so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. And if it’s all new to you, maybe you should read and listen to more women, my dude.
Any last pieces of advice?
Sure. Dudes, don’t be a harassing piece of shit, don’t accept other dudes being harassing pieces of shit, and when women (and others) tell you that someone has harassed or assaulted them, believe them.
This is all pretty simple. And yet.
It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great local business that does a fantastic job in its community.
So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:
1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.
2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Collapsing Empire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.
3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.
4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.
5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.
If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Sunday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.
Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.
Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.
What books are available?
CURRENT HARDCOVER: We have quite a few this year! There’s The Collapsing Empire, and the new paperback-sized hardcover edition of Old Man’s War, which by the way is a gorgeous little thing, perfect for gift-giving. Plus the hardcover print edition of The Dispatcher. Also, Jay & Mary’s might still be able to special order hardcover copies of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi — I say might because it was a signed limited edition run and most of the copies are already gone. Worth a try, however (also be aware that as a signed limited edition it’s a little expensive).
(Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my collection of writing-related essays, will be available for the holidays, but only via pre-order at the Subterranean Press site, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll need go order from there. These copies will be signed but I won’t be able to personalize them.)
CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to). There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format.
CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The End of All Things, Lock In, The Human Division, Fuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.
CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited).
AUDIOBOOKS: The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock In, The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you.
Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.
If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!
I’ll start by saying James Alan Gardner’s new novel has my favorite book title of the year. But, of course there’s more going on in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault than a great title. Gardner’s here to tell you about a world of super beings and what having a world full of them means for those beings, and everybody else.
JAMES ALAN GARDNER:
Superheroes. They’re super and they’re heroes. That’s the Big Idea.
I have loved superheroes since I was seven years old and laid out all my comic books on the front sidewalk, so that my friends and I could admire how many there were. It was one of the few times in my life when I’ve made what anthropologists might call a “status display”. I don’t remember how many comics I actually had at that time, but probably less than twenty. On the other hand, AVENGERS #1 was part of the collection, so what I lacked in quantity, I made up for with quality.
At any rate, I’ve been buying and reading comics since the early days of the Silver Age. They were my gateway into science fiction, fantasy, and geekdom; they taught me about science, myth and morality; they demonstrated how to tell stories, and why stories were important.
Perhaps most importantly, the letter columns in the back of comic books made me aware that these stories didn’t miraculously appear out of nowhere. The stories were created by specific people who essentially just made stuff up. If the creators chose to do A rather than B, it wasn’t because A was true and B was false. It was simply because they thought A was more interesting than B. They charted their course by what they believed would appeal to readers, not by fitting the story to events that actually happened.
This revelation put me on the path to becoming a writer too. However, it was years before I decided to write a superhero book. I did so after I’d published a number of science fiction books, but in a period when my work wasn’t selling any more. Because doing the old stuff looked like a dead end, I asked myself what I’d rather be writing instead…and the answer was superheroes.
They’re super and they’re heroes. What else do you need?
I couldn’t set the book in any of the well-known superhero universes—I didn’t want to make the acquaintance of lawyers from DC, Marvel, Image, etc. So I had to invent my own universe, which suited me just fine. All I had to do was bear in mind the Big Idea of superheroes: they’re super and they’re heroes.
The “super” part was straightforward…but what is a hero these days? What makes someone heroic? Not just beating up criminals. Surely a hero should aim higher: fighting larger injustices. But many of the injustices we face are systemic, not just the deeds of individuals. Could I find some way to dramatize that, while still allowing space for super-ness (i.e. explosions, fisticuffs, and firefights)?
I could. I designed a world where the people in power were clearly a problem. I didn’t want them to be unambiguously evil—that’s too simplistic and would make moral choices too easy. On the other hand, I wanted the people at the top to be enough of a threat that the world would need superheroes.
So here’s the set-up I created for All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. In 1982 (not coincidentally the Reagan years), vampires, werewolves and the like finally ask, “Why are we being so secretive? We’re sitting on a marketable asset.” They offer to make any human into a Darkling like themselves in exchange for ten million dollars. Fast-forward a few decades, and virtually everyone in positions of power around the world are Darklings. Supposedly, they all obey the law—no killing or using supernatural powers for nefarious purposes—but let’s just say there are suspicions of covert misdeeds.
Then, in 2001, superheroes show up…almost as if Fate decided that a counterbalance was needed. Unlike the rich buying their place in the Darkness, any old schlub may become a superhero. All you have to do is touch a glowing meteor, fall in a vat of weird chemicals, or get bitten by a radioactive spider. Heck, you might just be born that way, and discover what you are sometime in your teens.
So in this world, the 1% are Darklings and the 99% are protected by superheroes. It’s a situation guaranteed to create conflicts, but neither side is certain to be right or wrong. Super-folk (generally called Sparks) are ordinary people from all walks of life; they aren’t always good guys, any more than the Darklings are 100% bad.
Once I had this background, all I had to do was write a story in it. Hey, no problem. But again, the Big Idea applies. Super. Heroes. I wanted my lead characters to be truly heroic. Of course, they’d have flaws, but their hearts had to be in the right place. I didn’t want antiheroes; I wanted smart decent people whom I’d care about.
I also wanted heroes who represented the 99% in all its wondrous variety, as opposed to the relative monoculture of the 1%. So I came up with a diverse team of four university students who gain superpowers in a classic lab accident, and who find themselves thrust immediately into dealing with a Darkling conspiracy. The students are each heroic in their own distinctive way. Over the course of a four-book series, I hope to have fun exploring those different versions of heroism…
…while also blowing a lot of stuff up. Because the “super” part is important too. Flashy fights and excitement. A rationale for costumes and masks. Banter. Many jokes. The best of what comics can be.
Over the past few years, more and more superhero books are appearing on the shelves. Some are re-examinations of the genre, asking serious questions about what superhero fantasies say about our culture. Fair enough…but there’s also a place for books that glory in the four-color spectacle.
That’s what I was going for: superness and heroism. I hope the two can still bring the fun.
After a week and a trip to Minneapolis where I used a lot of its functions, I can now say that I like my new Pixel 2 a whole lot. Let me count some of the ways.
1. Ergonomically I think it’s a winner for me. My last few phones were on the larger size and while the Pixel 2 isn’t tiny (it’s a 5-inch screen), it’s well-proportioned for my hand and it’s reminded me it’s nice not to have to use two hands to do stuff with the phone, and to be able to reach every part of the screen with one’s thumb. I’m sure I’ll succumb to a bigger phone/screen in the future but for now I’m enjoying it.
2. The textured aluminum back to the phone feels solid. It looks like plastic thanks to the texture, but doesn’t feel plastic-y (to me, anyway) and sets on the table with a small yet satisfying thunk. Also, the fingerprint dimple is well-placed and(!) has this feature where swiping down on it pulls down the notification drawer so you can look at it quickly (swiping back up puts it away). This is kind of genius and I use it all the time.
3. The two speakers up front are nice and loud and are positioned so I don’t block them when I hold my phone, which was a problem with the S7 Edge. As I’ve noted before, some reviewers complained that the bezels surrounding the speakers make the phone look blocky, but in practice I’ve found that I simply don’t care; it doesn’t really make a difference to me aesthetically — the phone still looks perfectly good — and doesn’t do anything negative with regard to its use. It’s fine.
4. The screen is bright and colorful and nice to look at. Technically speaking it’s a drop down in resolution from the previous phone I was using (it’s 1920 x 1080, where the S7 Edge was 2560 X 1440), but a) it’s a smaller screen, b) the Edge was set to 1920 x 1080 out of the box and I never bothered to change it, c) it’s a pixel density of 440 per inch, which means it’s more than sharp enough, d) I’m 48 years old and my eyes won’t focus close up so I have to hold it at a distance where there’s no possible way I’ll see individual pixels no matter how hard I try. Yay! Age! Anyway, the screen’s great.
5. The camera is really nice and it does a nifty thing (which I know iPhones do as well), where it does a second-long video capture around the picture, both to give the end photo more information to pull from, and, I guess, just in case you want a one second video. It eats up a larger amount of space than the picture might otherwise (it offers to back up to the cloud to help with that), but it’s still fun. The camera’s portrait mode also tries to fake depth by blurring backgrounds, which I found okay but finicky (a picture with my glasses on the top of my head kept the lenses in focus but blurred the arms). But generally I’ve been pleased with it.
6. The battery life seems to be very solid, which I chalk up to it being a brand new phone but also because the phone runs Android Oreo, which I understand throttles back apps when they’re in the background. It seems to be working. The only times I found the phone really drawing down were when I was in a dead spot and it was searching for a network to connect to.
7. Speaking of Android Oreo, it seems nicely functional, although most of the changes seem to be under the hood. The one major thing I’ve noticed is it does a “picture in picture” thing with YouTube and Maps, laying a tiny version of the screen on top of other apps when you bring them up. This is useful with Maps, less so in my opinion with YouTube, and in both cases the mini-screen is easily dismissed. It’s nice to have the most up-to-date Android experience, however, and Google’s committed to updating the OS for the next three years, i.e., longer probably than I will have the phone in any event.
8. It’s very speedy, thanks to four gigs of RAM, and obviously very well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, which works fine for me, as I am well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, too, for all the good, bad and existentially disquieting things that means these days. Also, and this is minor but actual thing, its alert tones (or the ones I use, anyway ) are pleasing and not at all obnoxious.
9. Oh, and: Google Assistant via squeezing the phone’s sides? Sure, why not. At this point it’s still not 100% intuitive and GA still has a ways to go (even if it’s better than Siri or Bixby) to be truly useful, but the squeeze function is just goofy enough to give the phone a bit of a science fictional feel.
What things don’t I love?
1. There’s absolutely no reason this phone couldn’t have had a headphone jack as far as I can tell. Doing the dongle isn’t horrible (aside from the whole “you must choose between charging and listening” thing) and the sound from my earphones is fine, but yeah, this really just is a decision to try to get you to buy bluetooth headphones, isn’t it.
2. Some fiddly setting bits that I have yet to figure out fully, like the “do not disturb” function, which seems generally inferior to just turning the phone to “vibrate” for alerts. This may be me simply not investigating more fully.
3. Uh, I think that’s it so far?
I will say that generally speaking it seems to me the Pixel 2 is getting caught in the undertow of negative press regarding its larger sibling the Pixel 2XL, which has a problematic screen, especially for something that costs close to $1,000. The 2XL was meant to be the marquee device, with the Pixel 2 being the more affordable also-ran. But inasmuch as the only substantial difference between the two is their size and the screen resolution (and a few hundred dollars in price), if you wanted the most recent Pixel/Android Oreo experience and are okay with a hand-sized phone rather than a tablet-sized one, I can happily suggest the Pixel 2. I don’t think I’ve been this generally pleased with a phone in a while.
Same tree, 24 hours difference:
The season is called “Fall” for a reason.
Family: It’s a thing, for most of us, most of the time. And it certainly for Fonda Lee and her newest novel, Jade City, in which family issues aren’t just fodder for holiday get-togethers, but could determine the future of a nation.
I had a strong vision for Jade City from the start. I knew it would have gangsters and martial arts and magic and culture and history—but I also knew that, at its core, it would be about family. This is the story of the Kaul family. Because family—its history, pressures, obligations—is what ultimately drives these characters in their most selfless and most ruthless moments.
It would seem, upon reflection, that the topic of family and how it shapes personal identity is a recurring one in my work. Jade City is my third novel. (As a former management consultant, I declare that three data points is all you need to start making sweeping generalizations.) I’m noticing unintentional patterns in my own writing, common themes and ideas.
Carr Luka from Zeroboxer, Donovan Reyes from Exo, and now the Kaul siblings of Jade City are extremely different characters, but they all grapple with who they are and what is important to them once they realize that how much the course of their lives has been decided by people and factors outside of their control. They’re torn between gratitude and resentment toward their parents, they’re conflicted about how others view them, they’re weighed down by their own expectations and those of others, and above all, they try to find the strength to make their own decisions (whether those decisions are driven by duty or desire) while also making peace with the fact that much of fate is driven by circumstance.
I suppose this thematic thread in my work shouldn’t be surprising. I’m a second generation Asian-American, the child of a broken marriage, a corporate strategist who left to become a science fiction and fantasy writer, a woman and a mother who’s been the lone female minority in the finance meeting and in the MMA viewing party and on the science fiction panel. I know a bit about conflicted identities and the struggle to carve out who you are against outside pressures.
In Jade City, that struggle becomes a tragic commonality between all the main point-of-view characters—four siblings who are expected to lead the clan their grandfather built but find themselves fighting for survival in a bloody clan war that will determine the fate of their country.
There is something undeniably compelling about family dynamics in a culture where violence is the legitimate and often preferred way to solve problems (as it is among the jade-wielding Green Bone warriors of the fictional island of Kekon). Within the popular genre of mafia stories, The Godfather and The Sopranos stand out as being especially popular and beloved. We forgive, indeed cheer, Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano’s violent acts because they’re family men; they act not out of greed but out of love, duty, and vengeance for their respective clans. For similar reasons, stories of family feuds have a powerful hold on our imagination. The Montagues versus the Capulets. The Hatfields versus the McCoys. I think it’s because we all recognize that sometimes family can be so infuriating you really do feel like killing someone.
At the end of the day, though, you’d do anything for them. You would go to war.
Upon reading a draft of Jade City, one of my beta readers astutely pointed out that each of the Kaul siblings struggles with their place in the family. At times they’re close to each other, and at other times, worlds apart. They’re each forced, in ways that seem subtly inevitable, into doing things or taking on roles they didn’t want to. They do it anyway, and they own their choices, even the ones where its seems, given the circumstances, there was no choice at all. Because that’s the Big Idea in Jade City: family and personal identity can’t be disentangled.
As the Green Bones say: the clan is my blood.
Playing with a new Prisma-like imaging app (called GoArt) and ran a picture of Krissy through a few different settings. I think they came out well. Of course, it helps to have a good subject.
Incidentally, GoArt is a pretty decent little app, although you should be aware of the in-app purchase scheme of it, which is pretty pervasive. For all that, the filters are pretty nice, as you can see above. I particularly liked the filter that mimics abstractionism. You can see what it does to this photo of St. John University’s namesake saint, which was in the university church:
Pretty nifty. So if you’re looking for another way to make your picture look arty, it might be worth checking out.
Hello, folks. This fine day, author Hank Early would like to talk to about Hell. And the End Times. And Heaven’s Crooked Finger. The last of these being his new novel. But the other two of which had some influence on its writing.
When I was eleven, I buried a large, club-like tree branch out on the sixty-four acres my grandmother owned in rural North Georgia. I was with my cousin and we’d spent the day discussing the Book of Revelation and how long we might have left until Jesus came back. We knew the rapture was going to happen sooner than later, and we knew before it happened, things were going to get really, really ugly. Ugly enough that the modern world would collapse, and we’d have to turn to the land, to the old ways for survival. Which was why I was burying the stick. One day—probably in just a few short years—my eleven-year-old self reasoned, I’d need it as a last-ditch way to fend off the hordes of unbelievers who would seek to pervert me.
I wrote my first Earl Marcus novel, Heaven’s Crooked Finger, without thinking even one time of that buried stick. I only remembered it today as I sat down to write this blog post. Yet, I believe it’s a memory that speaks to the impetus and heart of the novel.
I grew up believing in all manner of dread-inspiring events—the rapture, Armageddon, the coming anti-Christ, and the inevitable mark of the beast. I also believed in the physical reality of hell.
My grandmother’s preacher saw to that.
Most of the preacher’s words are lost to me today, all except one: hell. I remember that word the way a cancer survivor remembers chemotherapy, the way a recovering alcoholic remembers morning hangovers.
Hell, hell, hell, hell, like a bludgeon. Like a harbinger. Or maybe just a slow wind, the kind that whispers words of terror as it rattles the trees.
The preacher must have said that word a hundred times that Sunday, punctuating each utterance by slamming his foot down on the stage hard enough to splinter wood. I don’t pretend to know if he believed in the hell he screamed about or if he simply liked the idea of such a place. What I do know was I believed in it. Like the rapture, I’d learned to believe in hell. I’d learned to believe in it so fully, I would later spend nights lying awake in bed worrying—not about the existential questions, but instead about the existential answers, those that I’d come to see as irrefutable.
Those answers terrified me. Questioning did little good. Any number of true believers in my extended family were quick to point out the obvious signs:
“The blood moon over there. That’s an omen. The Lord is coming back soon.”
“See this symbol on this toothpaste? That’s the mark of the beast.”
“If the Lord would have returned in the middle of our argument, we’d have both gone to hell.”
“Better get right with the Lord. Better not backslide like (fill in the blank with some distant relative’s name).”
Most of these quotes can be attributed to my grandmother, one of the women to whom I dedicated Heaven’s Crooked Finger.
I can see you’re perplexed. Shouldn’t I feel animosity toward the woman who made me fear backsliding as much as I feared death? There’s a long essay right there, but the short answer is no.
Like my novel’s protagonist, Earl Marcus, I went on my own journey away from fundamentalism and fear. Mine was far less dramatic than the one described in Heaven’s Crooked Finger, but it was no less enlightening. It taught me something crucial, something that all the foot-stomping, tongue-speaking, and end-of-days-prophesying never could. It taught me to forgive. Not only to forgive, but to understand.
Until you’re raised in it, until you’ve sat through those tense and fearful moments as a young child while the world and its foundations shook all around you and until you’ve waited with bated breath, absolutely sure that the skies would part at any moment and when they did, you’d be left behind with all the sinners because you knew somewhere deep inside that this wasn’t working for you, that you wanted no part of this damnation, these convulsions, this kingdom built with bricks of fear and guilt and, yes, even some kind of perverted love. No, until you’ve felt that, and more importantly until you’ve feared that, you can’t understand how hard it is to step away, to turn your back on it all, to become the backslider that you’d been warned about so many times.
Before she was the person who made me fear hell and plan for the imminent rapture, Granny was the woman who loved me unconditionally, the woman, who despite what the scriptures might say about a man being the leader of his household, actually showed me how a woman could do anything a man could do and do it better. Later, when the fear of her faith had begun to lose some of its power over me, she was also the woman who, at 80, left her rural mountain home to move in with me and my mother and father, both of whom were dying of cancer. She took care of us all, and I saw God in that act bigger and brighter and more real than I ever saw Him before. So, there’s the messy truth about Granny, and maybe about us all. And that too, is the big idea of the Heaven’s Crooked Finger. In the end, people are damned complicated, and even the ones that would condemn us to a fiery hell in one breath might love us with the same heat and passion in the next.
Even so, I contend the scars inflicted by our own families are the hardest to overcome, not only because of the ambiguity behind them (the perpetrators nearly always love their victims, sometimes fiercely) but also because of the frequency and ubiquity of the assaults. To walk away from a faith he couldn’t abide, Earl also had to walk away from his family. His home. Heaven’s Crooked Finger tells the story of a return home and a struggle to deal with not only the fallout, but the enduring mystery of that faith and what, if any, truth might be gleaned from it. It’s a mystery that asks far more questions than it answers: Why do we hurt the ones we love? Why, in our most genuine efforts to rise above this earthbound misery, do we saddle our children with such heavy burdens? What happens to our communities when those burdens are shrugged off at last, and the belief in heaven and hell becomes secondary to the love that binds us together in the first place?
You’ll have to decide for yourself how well the novel addresses these issues. The only thing I know for sure was that it was cathartic for me to write. As was this essay.
The best thing to come of it all happened when I was talking to my wife while taking a writing break recently, many of these same issues still fresh on my mind. My fifteen-year-old daughter overheard our conversation and piped up with a question that warms my heart:
“Dad,” she said, “what are the end times?”
When you get known for writing one thing, it can be a blessing and a curse — a blessing that you have an audience for your wares, but a curse in that you can sometimes feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner. Sometimes making a change in those cases requires a leap of faith. Tim Pratt has made that leap with The Wrong Stars, and today he’s going to talk you through that leap and what came after.
Insofar as I’m known at all, I’m known as a fantasy writer. I’ve published an eleven-book urban fantasy series, written a bunch of sword and sorcery, and done zillions of fantasy short stories. When I’ve dabbled in science fiction it’s mostly been set in the modern era – stories about people traversing the multiverse, a little bit of time travel, weird alien visitors, and the like.
I grew up on widescreen space operatic galaxy-far-away sorts of science fiction, though, from Star Trek to Star Wars to Edmond Hamilton’s Star Wolf to Fred Saberhagen’s Berserkers, and I never lost my taste for the stuff. As an adult I devoured Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and M. John Harrison’s Kefahuchi Tract and Peter Watts’s Blindsight, not to mention shows like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica and GalaxyQuest and The Expanse, video games like the Dead Space series, and more.
I always held the desire to write a space opera series deep in my secret heart, but that kind of science fiction is so different from my usual fantasy work, and I hesitated. Could I write something so far outside my wheelhouse? Would people come with me if I jumped genres that way?
A couple of years ago, as I began winding down my Marla Mason urban fantasy series after over a dozen years, I asked myself: what should my next big project be? What do I want to be the centerpiece of the next decade of my writing life, if all goes well?
It seemed like an important decision. I turned 40 last year. I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years. I am probably in the fullness of my power as a novelist, such as it is. If not now, when? So I decided it was space opera time.
I sat down and made a list of everything I love about spaceships-and-aliens science fiction. There should be a diverse crew of interesting people on a cool spaceship. Bizarre alien technology that violates the known laws of physics for fun, profit, and mayhem. Colony worlds, cosmic threats, weird artificial intelligences, posthumans, space stations, big dumb objects, big smart objects, mysterious inhuman ruins on uncharted planets, space pirates, vast ancient engineering projects of uncertain purpose, baffling but friendly aliens, cold and hostile aliens, murderous robots, biotech monstrosities, first contacts, cryo-sleep chambers, seed ships, and silent explosions.
I wanted to explore space opera themes I love, too: especially what it means to be human in a universe of extreme body modification, intelligent aliens, and far-flung colony worlds. What are the essential things that bind us together as a culture, or even a species, when that culture is spread throughout the galaxy, when we’re changing our bodies in fundamental ways, and when our common experiences have become increasingly uncommon?
I began to sketch out a world six centuries in our future: a network of colony worlds connected by wormhole gates and organized into various corporate, religious, and utopian polities, with a place for outsiders of every variety. There are weird aliens, a species we call “Liars,” who tell contradictory and sometimes patently false stories about themselves and the nature of the universe, but also trade us useful technology. I wanted a vast, looming background threat for my characters to gradually discover and grapple with throughout the series, and created the Axiom — an undiscovered ancient alien race, engaged in long-term universe-altering plans, capable of crushing humanity utterly if they ever noticed our existence and found us inconvenient.
I had a world worth exploring, but it wasn’t enough to put all my influences together to create an enjoyable sandbox. The beating heart of my stories is always the characters, and once I had a sense of the kind of weird, complicated future I wanted to play with, I started creating people who could thrive and strive and fight and suffer in such a world.
My novel The Wrong Stars is about the crew of the White Raven, skip tracers and freight haulers and wreck salvagers operating out on the fringes of our solar system. The crew is captain Callie Machedo, who probably has a heart under her no-nonsense exterior, though it would take a plasma torch to cut your way through; doleful XO and ship’s doctor (and adherent of a mind-altering-chemical-based mystery religion), Stephen; their engineer, a cyborg advocate of radical self-improvement, Ashok; pilot and navigator Drake and Janice, who had a run-in with a bizarre sect of Liars and came out forever changed; the lovelorn ship’s AI, Shall; and the catalyst for the novel’s action, Doctor Elena Oh, cryosleep refugee from the 22nd century, whom the crew discovers in the wreck of a seed-ship launched 500 years earlier.
When they find Elena’s vessel inexplicably floating on the edge of our solar system instead of light-years away, and hear Elena’s harrowing tale of why she’s the only human left on board, the crew discovers a terrible threat to all intelligent life in the galaxy, and for various violent reasons, they’re the only one who can stop it. The Wrong Stars is about dealing with that immediate threat… and the next books in the series, The Dreaming Stars and The Forbidden Stars, will explore more of the endangered universe as the gravity of the threat posed by the Axiom becomes clear.
I love these people. I hope you will, too. I get to write at least three books about them, so far. With luck, there will be more, because there’s a great big universe to explore, full of terrifying wonders and wonderful terrors.
I hope you’ll follow me out into the stars. It turns out I really like it here.
My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been getting the crashies for the last couple of months, so that (and the persistent “new tech” itch I have) was a signal for me to move on to a new phone. I considered one of the Galaxy 8s, or the Note 8, but I’m not sold on the 18:9 screen ratio — not the least because I’m annoyed they don’t just say 2:1 — and also they’re beginning to get goofy big. Both of these problems also plague the Google Pixel 2XL, which also has various screen issues. The Pixel 2, on the other hand, is nicely sized for someone of my particular hand width, and largely has the same innards as the Pixel 2XL, including what’s consistently now considered the best cell phone camera out there, with the ganky screen. So I’m giving it a shot.
The (very) early impression, a few hours in: It’s pretty and speedy and is I think probably the smallest phone I’ve had for a while. I didn’t think I’d get a smaller phone that the S7 Edge, but so far it’s not a problem, and is easier to palm and play with. The Pixels have this thing where you squeeze the sides and Google Assistant pops up; I’ve played with it a little and it seems more like a novelty than anything else, but we’ll see where that goes. It’s weird to squeeze a phone, though, and the haptic feedback makes it feel like it’s giving way and you’re breaking it a little (you’re not).
The Pixels also come with Android Oreo, which is a selling point but which is not (yet) hugely different than the Android Nougat experience. There’s no headphone jack but it comes with a dongle, which is fine. There are two reasonable nice front facing speakers on the thing, which are also nice. This occasions bezels on the top and bottom of the phone, which some reviewers found aesthetically displeasing, but which I don’t really care about. The screen is bright and more than pixel-dense enough. The camera, as advertised, is very good.
Overall I’m not displeased with my purchase. I’m about to go on a business trip so we’ll see how it performs then. If I have any major issues with it I’ll let you know.
Somehow, the books find me! (It’s actually because the publishers send them to me. It’s a pretty sweet deal.) Lots of good stuff in this stack; let us know in the comments which of these books seem especially interesting to you on this Friday afternoon (or, uh, later, if you see this later).
I recently picked up Reason 10, which is a music creation software suite, mostly because I thought it would be fun, in my voluminous free time, to make some music. The software is pretty complex and almost certainly more than I can handle, particularly now when I’m actually finishing up a book; nevertheless I made enough progress today that I thought I’d fiddle with it this evening and see what I came up with.
What I came up with: This version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” which I created by recording myself on playing a guitar and then running it through various virtual machines inside the Reason software.
With the exception of the bass drum beat, everything else started off as me strumming a guitar, so that’s neat. It’s kind of wacky what you can do with basic sounds these days. This bears exploring further… after I finish my book. Until then, enjoy this.
Another day and another dude in the entertainment industry accused of sexual assault and harassment: Today it’s Brett Ratner, who six women accused of impropriety in a Los Angeles Times article, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who recounts an encounter two decades ago that basically amounts to rape, and Olivia Munn, toward whom Ratner has been pretty much a horny shit for more than a decade now. It’s been a pattern that once a few substantive accusations are out there more come forward (see: Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby), so I don’t expect the next several days are going to be very happy ones for Ratner. Nor should they be.
I imagine it’s likewise a very uncomfortable time for a lot of men in the entertainment industry right now, as they search their own pasts, recalling incidents that they are probably hoping to God are not dredged up toward the light of day by the women (or men! Or non-binary folk!) they’ve been horrible to, as the “whisper network” stops being whispery and starts talking out loud and unafraid. Ratner is the most recent powerful man in this particular barrel, but it’s deeply doubtful he’s going to be the last.
I don’t doubt it’s uncomfortable for everyone else in the industry, too, for all sorts of reasons. Let me explain it in personal terms: Currently I have several projects in various stages of development for television and film, mostly with people I’ve met with and liked but fundamentally know very little about except through the scope of their work. I am praying that none of them has been carrying on as a creepy, harassing piece of shit. Because, aside from all the very serious problems with that, there’s the extra added concern of what it will mean for the aforementioned projects, which would then have a radioactive person attached to them who no one will want to do business with, if not for ethics then for optics. I have ethical and also purely business-related reasons for hoping my associates are not fucking creeps. Multiply my position by everyone in entertainment right now, and you see the problem.
(And to be fair, the problem is in both directions: The people I have my options with know me mostly through my work, too. They don’t know what I’m doing in the rest of my personal and professional life, either, or whether or not I’m a creepy creep who creeps creeptastically, and my creepularity has simply just not been revealed to them — the “whisper network” doesn’t reach to where they are. I’ve not been asked to attest that I’m not a harassing piece of shit. They’re taking it on faith that I’m not.)
So basically everyone in entertainment right now, you could say, has the smallest inkling of what it’s like to be a woman in the entertainment industry, and not to know whether the person you’re meeting with will blow up your project or your career because of their behavior. Let’s not overextend the simile — the chances I or lots of other dudes will face a “casting couch” situation to get a project made approaches zero, for example — but certainly the question of “who are you really and how will who you are hurt me and my goals?” is one lots of people are asking in a different way these last several weeks.
On a vaguely-related note, someone sent along a bit from a detractor of mine who was hoping that I would be outed as a harassing creep because wouldn’t that be perfect, ha ha ha. Which will tell you two things: One, I don’t need to seek out people saying awful things about me because people feel free to send those along, so I have a crowd-sourced clipping service of people being shitty to me; and two, my detractors are terrible people.
This fellow is going to be disappointed, I think. Consent is important to me, and historically speaking I’ve been able to take “no” for an answer. Likewise I make an effort not be a harassing shithead of a dude (spoiler: It’s not that difficult to make that effort). I try to live my life so that people don’t feel like I’m just waiting for the right moment to be a creepy fuck to them.
With that said: Are there times I might have made someone uncomfortable, or said or did something they found creepy? Yes, probably! I’m not perfect and as I’ve written about before, the decision as to what’s creepy rests with the other person, not me (or you). So it’s certainly possible something I’ve done or said rang some worry bells in someone else’s head, and they prefer not to be near me or have anything to do with me. In which case a) totally fair, and b) I’m sorry.
Which is all easy to say, mind you. One of the things that the recent weeks has done is to cause me to go back and really look at how I have interacted with people, particularly women, over the years. I can think of times now where I’ve revised my opinion of my past actions downward (how I dealt with my long-term crush in high school is one example — I used to think it was puppy-dog swoonish and now I think it’s a little sad and creepy), and others in more contemporary times where I feel like I can do better and will try to. I think at least some of my detractors are of the opinion that I hold myself up as a paragon of perfect behavior and thought, and, well. Let’s just say I live in my own mind and know it better than they do. Trust me, I’m so not perfect. But I do try to be decent to people, and that’s a constant process.
(I do have a useful rule of thumb, with my actions toward other people and with life in general, which is: Is this something I’d tell Krissy about? If this answer is anything other than “yes, of course, unreservedly,” then there’s a problem, which, incidentally, is a cue for me to talk to her about it right then. You would be surprised — or possibly you wouldn’t — at how useful this rule has been over the years. You may also assume that there’s very little my wife doesn’t know about me.)
To go back to the entertainment industry, none of this is done yet: More people (mostly dudes) are going to be exposed for their harassing and assaulting actions, and even more people are going to have their lives and livelihoods thrown up in the air because of the fallout. It’s necessary but it’s going to be a mess. And it all could have been easily avoided. All it takes is not harassing, assaulting or treating other people like shit. Try doing that, entertainment dudes! You’ll be (tragically) surprised how effective it is.
Reposting here a tweet I just made:
For those of you who can’t see the tweet for whatever reason: It’s ACA Open Enrollment time! The current administration has both drastically cut the length of time for the enrollment period and the funds available to advertise it, because the country is currently run by a petulant asshole who wants to sabotage a useful program that his predecessor created. Enrollment begins today and runs through December 15th, and if you want to enroll, you can get started at this URL: https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/.
If you don’t already have coverage, folks, get covered. It’s much better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And by and large you can still find pretty good plans for reasonable prices, despite the efforts of the current administration to mess with that. Get to it.
Two years ago on this date Krissy, Athena and I went over to a neighbor of my mother-in-law’s with the intent of getting a kitten from a litter his cat had birthed. We ended up getting two, since they were small and also the kittens had clear affection for each other. The kittens became the Scamperbeasts, famed of blog and Twitter, and individually Sugar (the gray one) and Spice (the orange one).
It doesn’t particularly feel like two years have gone by, I think in no small part because the Scamperbeasts are relatively small adult cats, smaller than Zeus is, or Lopsided Cat or even Ghlaghghee were, so to me at least they still seem kittenish, or at least adolescent. They still live up to their names — they get the zoomies at unfortunately early hours and will suddenly bolt into and out of rooms for no discernible reason at all. They haven’t slowed down a bit.
They do have distinct personalities. Sugar is the affectionate one, who daily parks herself across my chest while I’m trying to, you know, write, and who loves to be held and petted, but tends to be shy with strangers. Spice, on the other hand, is friends with everyone but not a cuddler, and has decided it is her duty to show me her butt every morning like a furry alarm clock. Both are very friendly with Daisy, who mothers them.
They are also both expert mousers, killing a large number of rodents, especially this time of year, when the agricultural fields around us are harvested and the various creatures who lived in and near them start eyeing our house as a possible place of warmth and food. This is where I remind people that I live in a rural part of the county and all our cats are working animals as well as pets, and pest control is a real thing that happens.
But they certainly are cute, too, which is how the internet knows them and appreciates them. We like that about them, too. It’s been a good two years with the Scamperbeasts and we look forward to more of them. We’re glad we brought them home with us. They seem glad to be here.