A Saturday Hibiscus

It’s a busy weekend here at the Scalzi Compound, for various reasons (most positive!), but I saw this hibiscus unfurling early today and thought you all might like to see it, too. It’s always nice to take a moment to appreciate beauty when you find it.

— JS

The Winner of the “Kaiju” Contest Is…

I was slightly stunned to see the response to this giveaway: Nearly 2,400 entries, 1,000 of which came in the first two hours. Makes me feel all warm inside, it does. Nevertheless, it’s now time to declare the winner:

Alan, who chose the correct number “867,” along with ten others. I then instructed Alexa to pick a number between one and ten, inclusive, and it picked ten. That was Alan. Congratulations, Alan, for making through not one but two sifts! I’ve already sent along an email and will send it along as soon as possible.

For everyone else: Thank you so much for playing, and remember you can still get a signed and personalized copy of Kaiju for your very own when it comes out, through Subterranean Press. They will be most happy to take your order and send it along to you in March!

Oh, and, finally: Look! Here’s that starred review of Kaiju in Booklist. It’s out! And lovely.

— JS

The Big Idea: Dave Ring

The cover to "The HIdden Ones"

In The Hidden Ones, author Dave Ring is looking at a part of human relationships that sometimes gets short shrift in the world of fiction — but in many way is the part of human relationships most of us strive for. And just what part is that? Ring is here to explain.

DAVE RING:

In college, I was two things I no longer am: a poet and a serial monogamist. I burned through a never-ending string of three-month boyfriends. Of these relationships, many inspired torrid poetry, most were relatively lovely, and all of them self-destructed very neatly around the ninety day mark. Each one all left me devastated, which of course led to more poetry. My poems about heartache tended to get more applause than anything I came up with about love, so this cycle was ultimately more successful than I realized at the time.

I’d always wanted to be with someone, and those years were a time to put those wants into action. I blame that cursed desire on the impossibility of queer love that loomed over the late nineties. But like many people in college, I wasn’t very good at being with someone else. But where would I have learned that? I deeply admired those who managed to stay together for long enough that the rest of us could eye them enviously, wondering how they’d managed to sort their shit out—even if time would reveal that they were on the verge of falling apart.

In stories it’s not uncommon to read, say, the story of the warrior queen and the sorceress, drawn together despite their oath. Other times, perhaps, the galactic president trysting with the alien emissary, or the heroes who finally kiss at the end of the adventure. There is no shortage of just-starting flames, almost-loves or rivals-who-just-might-also-want-to-kiss. And I love those stories as much as the next romantic. 

But there’s often been a dearth, in the genre fiction I read anyway, of writing that explores romantic relationships beyond the point of connection/courtship/consummation. Not to mention long-term queer romantic relationships.* The details of how such relationships change and thrive is too often banished to the post-credits imagination. Has the lack of Epic Relationships in storytelling resulted in a missing vocabulary in our cultural imagination around sustainable partnership? A myopia of thought focused on creating a spark rather than feeding the fire?

At the heart of my novella, The Hidden Ones, is our ne’er-do-well protagonist, Baird, and the estranged love of his life, Tadhg. As two immortal scions from warring families, their union once brought a truce to an endless war, but when the book begins, they can barely look at each other. Even when mayhem of both the family drama and existential threat varieties ensue, Baird and Tadhg’s equilibrium—or lack of it—propels both of them forward.

I wrote the beginning of this novella in my early 20s and then finished it in my late 30s. Somewhere in the middle there, just as I’d started to figure out that I didn’t need to plan on forever with every guy I met, I found myself in the sort of relationship that didn’t have an obvious expiration date. Fifteen plus years later, that’s still true. The poetry has mostly withered on the vine, which is probably for the best, but that shift in perspective has led to a very different attitude towards a central premise of my plot. 

A prominent couple were in the news the other day for a memoir one of them had written about their relationship, and amidst the usual fragmentary and bombastic opinions that come with all celebrity news, there was a persistent, underlying refrain that this couple should simply split up. Besides the parasocial aspects, I was struck by the lack of nuance in this reaction. Of course, there are plenty of relationships that people stay in for reasons that feel unhealthy or unsafe; that didn’t seem to be the case here. What was it that led onlookers to believe that acknowledging any struggle at all meant that the relationship should be over

I’m curious if a possible solution is to put more iterations of established relationships into our storytelling. Take time to show the nuance and care that can develop over time. Romanticize them, even. Because applying the tools we’ve been given for exploring new love—watching for red flags, setting firm boundaries—sometimes fails up when applied as-is to an eight year or an eighteen year relationship. How do we instill the idea of growing with someone, or explore ensuring that the person they are becoming is someone you want to stay connected with?

It might seem like what I’m saying is that we all need therapy. Which wouldn’t be totally wrong. But I think something powerful can come from privileging the conversation with the butch blacksmith about how she’s stayed happy with the miller and his wife for so long. From lending an epic guitar riff to a tense, domestic moment between the two kings before they go to war. From zeroing in on that tiny affirmation, pressed between two palms, before the captain and the mecha pilot fall to sleep.

Ten, fifteen, and twenty-plus year relationships deserve poetry as much as or more than doomed three-month affairs. It’s for the best that I don’t write them, I think. But I’ll still try to put words to page that share the incendiary moments arising from long-burning loves as often as flash-in-the-pan sparks. And maybe eventually our cultural imagination will catch the heat.   

*As an aside, the other thing that the nineties lacked, besides the mythical existence of appropriate teenage boyfriends, was readily available queer fiction. The internet was still a nascent thing, YA hadn’t yet exploded. And while since then the volume of queer writing has (thankfully) grown exponentially, queerness continues to be often treated as if its mere existence is “adult” or “explicit,” while corresponding cisness and straightness goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. So, in addition to depicting adult relationships in media res, The Hidden Ones is also intended to fulfill that secondary mission of putting queer desire on the page. There’s a similar argument to be made for centering stories of platonic friendship.


The Hidden Ones: Rebel Satori|Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Smash Words

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

Win the ARC of The Kaiju Preservation Society (and a Reminder That You Can Pre-Order a Signed, Personalized Copy From Subterranean Press)

Charlie, trying to nibble on an ARC of The Kaiju Preservation Society

Look! It’s an Advance Reader Copy of my upcoming novel The Kaiju Preservation Society! And also, Charlie, who is convinced that nibbling on a the ARC is a excellent way for her to get her roughage. It’s not! And also, I can’t let her eat this ARC, because I intend to give it away to one of you. That’s right, you’ll read it months ahead of its March 15, 2022 release. I’ll even sign/personalize it for you if you like! Here’s all you have to do to win it:

I am thinking of a number between one and one thousand (inclusive of those two numbers). Guess which number it is. Put your guess in the comments.

That’s it! If you guess correctly, and you are the only one to have guessed the number, then you win! If other people also guessed that number, I will count how many of you guessed that number and then ask my Google assistant to choose between you. Whichever one it picks will win the ARC. If no one guesses the number, I’ll pick the closest number to the number I picked, in the decreasing direction. Simple.

(I have recorded myself on video saying the number while holding the camera up to a clock with the current time/date, so you’ll know I’m trustworthy on the number thing.)

Who is eligible? Anyone on the planet, because I’ll have it shipped to you (NOTE: Some countries are not currently accepting US Mail due to COVID, etc, so there may be a delay if you live in one of those countries. We’ll figure something out if that’s the case).

Now: Rules:

1. Only one guess per person. Only guesses left in the comment section to this post will be valid (i.e., don’t leave guesses on Twitter or Facebook or other Whatever posts, or try to email them to me). Additional guesses will be invalid.

(PS: If you post a guess and don’t immediately see it in the comments, don’t panic — sometimes comments get punted into moderation. I’ll be along to free them presently. If after a few hours you don’t see your comment, go ahead and comment again.)

2. When you leave your guess, make sure you have a valid email address in the “email address” field. That is how I will contact you. (Don’t put your email address in the body of the comment, because then everyone will see it.)

3. Please don’t leave comments that don’t have a numerical guess in them. Those will be snipped out.

4. Please offer your guess in ordinal form, rather than in written-out form (i.e., “1234” not “One thousand two hundred and thirty four”).

5. Contest runs for 48 hours after I publish this post (around 10am Eastern, October 13, 2021) and ends when WordPress automatically closes the comments on this post. If the comments are closed, you’re too late. Sorry. After the contest ends I’ll announce the winner and contact them via email.

ALSO DO NOT FORGET

Even if you don’t win the contest for this ARC, you can still pre-order a signed (and, if desired, personalized) copy of Kaiju from my friends at Subterranean Press. These copies will be actual hardcover copies, and I will sign them so that they can be shipped to arrive on or near the official release date of March 15, 2022. Get one for yourself! Get one for a friend! Get one for a random person you meet on the street (although don’t have that one personalized, I guess)!

Got it? Then guess away, and good luck!

Redshirts: The Tor Essentials Edition is Out Today

The latest edition of the book, propped up against the Hugo it won.

Surprise! I have a book out today!

It’s the “Tor Essentials” edition of Redshirts, my Hugo and Locus Award-winning novel about a doomed spaceship crew trying to change their fate.

What’s different about this edition from previous editions?

1. Slightly updated cover graphics!

2. A kind and lovely introduction by my friend (and Hugo, Locus and Nebula Award winner) Mary Robinette Kowal!

3. Some minor typo corrections!

Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much it. So if you already have it, you probably don’t need to upgrade (unless you really want to read Mary Robinette’s intro, which, again, is just lovely). But! If you’ve not gotten it already, or have it and have been planning to gift it to someone else, well, here you go, it’s all shiny and new. Go get it, folks. And thanks again for letting me write books for a living. You are all seriously cool and I appreciate you a lot.

— JS

The Big Idea: Marjorie B. Kellogg

The cover to "Glimmer"

As anyone who has ever written a near-future novel will tell you, the problem with that sub-genre is that “the future” keeps catching up with you in unexpected ways. Marjorie B. Kellogg can attest to that; while writing Glimmer, the world kept reminding her that the story she was creating was all too close to the one unfolding around us all.

MARJORIE B KELLOGG:

It could be said that another expression of The Big Idea for a science fiction novel – or perhaps any novel – is asking the question “What if…?”

What if…the aliens are evolved lizards? What if…the A.I. has its own agenda?

What if…we could live forever? Usually, the writer aims to pose an original question and explore a strange and weird answer.

Glimmer began not with a new Big Idea, but with what seems to me a tragically obvious one: climate change is upon us, and we are not going to fix it. Even if we could muster the global will to try, it’s likely too late to succeed. So how are we going to live with it?

And when I say ‘we’, I mean all us non-superheroes who won’t be able to insulate ourselves from the daily ravages of a climate-changed world by means of wealth, power, or even the Darwinian advantage of physical might.

So: What if…you’re stranded in flooded Manhattan with no means of escape?

What if…it’s no better anywhere else?

What if…surviving means making the best of a very bad situation?

What will you do? What will you become? What kind of society will you create?

These were the questions I challenged myself to work out a response to. I say ‘work out’ because the answers evolved in unexpected ways as I went along. As a writer, I am less interested in the strange and weird than in how people – ordinary folks like me – respond to the strange and weird, to the unforeseen, the difficult or life-threatening situation. As my story unspooled itself, each event or character choice arising directly from those preceding it, unplanned twists and turns kept presenting themselves and making sense, eventually heading toward a conclusion I hadn’t anticipated. This is where you toss aside your synopsis and submit to the logic of the muse. And enjoy every bit of the ride…well, mostly.

Challenge #2: the logistical problem of carrying a college teaching load plus on-going commitments in my other professional life while trying to finish a novel. So, the writing proceeded slowly. But climate change did not. It kept catching up with me. What I’d offered as fiction one month became too-close-to-real the next, and the whole book would have to nudged further ahead.

The near-future is a tricky time zone to work in. Its longitudes are shifting all the time.

But the most ‘writerly’ challenge I set myself was to discover a credible and sympathetic voice for my narrator. I wanted Glimmer to tell an intimate, personal story – no Big Picture omniscience – so chose a strict, first-person point of view. But Glimmer is a young woman whose recall of her past has been locked behind a barrier of recent trauma. She is, in effect, tabula rasa, which puts a real crimp on the opportunities for world-building exposition. How can she tell us about herself? She can share what she sees around her and what she’s learned since the awful event, but little about the world as it was beforehand, or how it got to where it is now.

I learned to rely on my narrator’s curiosity and her need to reclaim her past, to ask the hard questions, and on other characters’ willingness (or not) to fill her in, mostly in bits and pieces during the course of normal conversation. But she doesn’t always ask the right questions, and others don’t always offer the truth in return, intentionally or otherwise, leaving it to the reader to decide who to believe until Glimmer’s returning memory and events themselves supply more reliable evidence. Some editors will insist the reader should always know more than the protagonist, but I feel that sets up a distance between you, the reader, and the character I most want you to identify with. Anyhow, a gradual reveal of crucial facts powers up the narrative drive, as long as I don’t leave you floundering in confusion and ignorance – an unpardonable sin! Kind of like writing a mystery.

The most fun thing I got to do, on a personal level, was to work in excerpts from my own great-great-grandfather’s journal documenting his trip around the horn of South American in 1849. It turned out that colorful and compelling parallels in human behavior could be drawn between a storm-tossed Victorian sea voyage and surviving in superstorm-wracked, near-future Manhattan. Not just the life-threatening weather, but the stresses of randomly selected groups crammed into small spaces, subsisting on limited food, water, and other resources. I can only hope my ancestor would feel I have put his youthful observations to good use.


Glimmer: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

Yet Again, My Annual Unsolicited Endorsement of WordPress

In October of 2008, after years of dealing with site software that was less than stable and had difficulty handling the load of traffic, I switched Whatever over to WordPress, both as software and as hosting. Since that time, the site’s been down maaaaaaaybe three or four times, and never longer than a couple of hours. That’s the sort of constant uptime other social media dreams of, and which is really useful for me as a creator.

Indeed, the entire WordPress platform feels designed for me as an independent creator. Although my own needs for the site are relatively simple (Whatever has not substantially changed form in two decades), the fact is the current iteration of WordPress has a whole bunch of tools for creators to build sites that reflect their needs and wants, and to build an online presence (and business) that is their own. It’s never been more important to have one’s own site, and for me, WordPress has been the best way to do that.

Again, WordPress has not asked me to post this endorsement of the software and hosting service; I do it because I like both and I love that it just works for me, day after day, month after month, year after year. If you’re looking to create your own site (or move it to new software/hosting), check out the various WordPress plans and see which one works best for you.

— JS

The Big Idea: A.M. Muffaz

In her debut novella Finches, author A.M. Muffaz looks at marriage in a way many of us here in the United States might have never considered, and the damage that can be done when promises assumed and made are broken.

A.M. MUFFAZ:

There’s never a good way to find out your father is cheating on your mum. This betrayal cuts the same way whether you live in the US or at the other side of the world in Malaysia. In the unique context of Muslim society, however, adultery among Muslims can at least be made ‘right’. An adulterer may marry his mistress, thereby skirting the social stigma of being unfaithful and the legal penalty for committing infidelity under the Islamic courts. When I was growing up in Malaysia, where more than half the country is Muslim, the suffering this caused in first wives’ families was assumed but taken on the chin. Islam allows polygamy, God knows better than mere mortals. It’s taboo to talk about the damage polygamy causes to individuals. At the very least, anyone who does so has their faith questioned.

It’s why I very much decided that my book, Finches, would talk about these consequences. It talks about the harm a polygamous marriage deals to three generations of a family, from the first wife to her children and her grandchildren. Some of the harm is obvious. Bonds of trust with a father are irretrievably broken. The marriage of one’s parents is not for their children to fix. But children who love their parents inevitably try to do something, whether they stand in as mediators and counsellors, or weaponise themselves as spies and deterrents against the new wife. As I was writing my book, I asked would it make a difference if the new marriage happens only after the first family’s children are fully grown? Would an adult’s capacity to cope help my characters? I realised that even with the financial and legal standing to help, you cannot avoid the emotional harm. Parents grasping at a breaking marriage are individuals grasping at straws. They are hurt and will hurt the people around them. They will make their children take sides.

Some of the harm is far subtler. Men who are raised in an environment that condones taking additional wives absorb a certain sense of entitlement. In my experience, looking around simply at my wider family and our circle of acquaintances, it struck me how easy it was to find someone whose life was touched by polygamy. Out of six brothers on my father’s side of the family, at least three took on or tried to take additional wives. Both of their sisters had unfaithful spouses. Outside of my own family, I knew at least two more families where this happened. Usually, if you dig a little deeper, you find that a grandfather or great-grandfather also had multiple wives. Patriarchy is an inherited privilege.

In Finches, I use ghosts haunting the family home to represent how men who grow up with a sense of entitlement, when given the opportunity to do so, frequently make the worst possible decision. Even after death, the patriarch of the family tries to embrace his first wife when she returns home as is his ‘right’.

A man who refuses to divorce his first wife may say that he still loves her. It would be more accurate to say he wants to keep controlling her. These things aren’t mutually exclusive within a society where men are the assumed caretakers of women. Thus, the first wife in Finches does something rare—she is the one who abandons her husband, refuses to divorce him and vows vengeance. When her husband tries to embrace her, she fights him off.

Because this is ultimately a horror story, Darwinian evolution and social evolution become the boogeymen. The practical evolution happens through everyday creatures like the story’s chickens and feral plants. The metaphorical evolution is a wider conversation about Malaysian society. The economic reality of most families today is that both parents must work to put food on the table. Girls are encouraged to study hard and pursue successful careers. Women who stop working the moment they have children—with all the frustrations, dependencies and lost dreams that entails—are becoming rare. The women of my generation have tools to escape a bad match that our mothers did not. These changing gender dynamics are reflected by a female character who is the ambitious workaholic and sole breadwinner in her family. No one questions her situation or her husband’s role because there should no longer be any need to. Conversely, through her brother I ask, what is the measure of a responsible son? Someone who cares for his parents no matter how much they hate him, or someone who gives his parents heirs?

My hope is that through my book, readers get to experience some of these complexities and perhaps gain some empathy for a topic seldom discussed. While polygamy is unfamiliar territory for many, troubled marriages are not. Combative parents anywhere in the world can leave lifelong scars in their children, emotional or otherwise. If we look at the protections needed for partners and children in failing families, they are remarkably similar regardless of why that family is in trouble. That’s a universality I think that can be built upon. It’s not enough that people are changing on their own. We can and should join the conversation.


Finches: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Read the companion Finches’ Guide to Malaysia. Visit A.M. Muffaz’s website. Follow the author on Twitter.

Someone Got His Flu Shot Today

Me, showing off my flu shot bandaid.

Spoiler: It was me. They were having a little clinic at our local library, so it was convenient to do. The shot itself was painless, and now I’ll have a day or so of feeling vaguely crappy and then I’ll hopefully be substantially flu-resistant through the end of the flu season. Also, in an era where I would have to ask myself “is this flu or is this COVID?” it’s nice to have a significantly reduced chance of getting either (and if I do get either, less chance of being really messed up from them).

Naturally, I suggest you get your flu shot as well, for all the reasons I note above, plus you’ll decrease the likelihood of someone who legitimately can’t get a vaccination getting sick from whichever flu will be going around this season. Why not be a nice person to others, as well as keeping yourself from being gut-wrenchingly ill? It’s a win for everyone!

— JS

The Big Idea: Joshua S. Levy

Cover to Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines

For Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines, middle grade author Joshua Levy decided that there was a certain concept that he wanted to put at the core of his middle-school-in-space tale. Was it action? Adventure? Laser Hamsters? (Also, how cool would laser hamsters be?) No, something even more fundamental than that, from which those other concepts could flow. Here’s Levy to tell you what it is.

JOSHUA S. LEVY:

Fun.

Is that a “big idea”? Fun? It’s certainly what drove me most as a kid reader. (Still does as a grown-up, here and there.) And, from the beginning, it’s been the guiding light for my wacky middle grade sci-fi series, starting with Seventh Grade Vs. The Galaxy (first published in 2019; paperback out now) and continuing in its sequel, Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines.

When I first got the nugget of the idea that would morph into these books, I was a flailing middle school teacher. (By far the most difficult job I’ve ever had.) I was presiding over a mock social studies debate relating to the “classroom community.” I can’t quite remember the topic. Something like: “For and against hand raising.” Or maybe: “What is the best color of whiteboard marker?” But I do remember how it felt—hilarious. The room was bursting with rowdy, funny, creative, frenetic energy. (This is possibly why I didn’t make the best middle school teacher.) And the aspiring writer in me thought: this. My book needs to feel like this.

So I took a bunch of (fictional) rowdy, funny, creative, frenetic middle school kids and threw them onboard a “public school spaceship” in the future. (The PSS 118. Ganymede District. Unfortunately, not the most well-funded PSS in the solar system.)

Like any school, the PSS 118 has classrooms (head aft from the command bridge, can’t miss ‘em), homework (Language Arts, math, intro to thermonuclear physics), and a gym (zero-g dodgeball is a school favorite, and not only because you can’t always count on the ship’s spotty gravitometric field generators—down the corridor from the teachers’ lounge).

Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines picks up right where the first book left off, galaxy-wide alien conspiracy in full tilt. I don’t want to spoil anything here (not when the stakes are SO HIGH!). Suffice it so say…the stand-up comedian robot (Chucklebot 7) who the kids and teachers meet early in Book 2 is not who you think it is! And while the stowaway pet hamster (Doctor Shrew) has a new semi-autonomous exoskeleton—it’s not just for catching carrots. (Okay, fine. It’s just for catching carrots. But, like, really hard-to-catch carrots. Guy can jump fifteen feet in the air now, so.)

It’s a series about people on a spaceship, having high-stakes adventures across vast distances. So sometimes, I’ll get a review that tags the books as “Space Opera.” But applying that term to Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines (and Seventh Grade Vs. The Galaxy before it) is a pretty good joke in and of itself. (Someone tell Chucklebot 7.) The books are not so much “opera” as they are…the last hour of a middle school talent show? So maybe “Space Recital” is a better label.

Anyway: fun. Action. Adventure. Humor. More all-school assemblies than the kids would prefer, given that THE FATE OF THE GALAXY HANGS IN THE BALANCE. But hey, at least the cafeteria food printers have a pizza option this year.

I’m not sure I’ve got enough (or any) authority to declare this The Golden Age of Middle Grade. But from my perspective, there’s little question that the category is currently producing some incredible books. Inarguably important books. Mirrors and windows for kids across the astronomical spectrum of readers. Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines …is not one of them. It’s a little escapist fiction, which I think there’s still room for (despite the times) and which I’m so delighted to be putting into the world (solar system, galaxy, universe).

A friend of mine gave Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines the following (100% biased, very possibly made up) review: “My kid was reading it after he was supposed to be asleep, laughing the whole time.” That’s about the best a Space Recital author can hope for.


Eighth Grade Vs. The Machines: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

The Great Facebook Collapse of October 4 2021 and What It Can Teach Us

Facebook and its associated services Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus went down for several hours yesterday, coincidentally after a damning 60 Minutes interview with a whistleblower on the service. While this afforded a few hours of schadenfreude for many, myself included, others noted that there are lots of folks who actually rely on Facebook and its other services for day-to-day connection with family, friends, and community, and being locked out of that connection for any period of time is no laughing matter.

My thought about this is, these folks are not wrong, and also, this is not a state of affairs that anyone who can avoid it should put themselves into. Schadenfreude and joking aside, any single point of contact with the Internet is vulnerable to what happened to Facebook yesterday. Sites go down, DNS assignments get scrambled, servers get Fresca spilled onto them, and so on. Arguing that people rely on Facebook services is neither here nor there to the point that Facebook services will fail at some point (and have before), as will Twitter and Google and Apple and Microsoft services, and, really, any other site or service you can name. Everything goes down on the Internet. Usually not for long, and usually not with permanent repercussions. But long enough to mess with your day for sure.

The solution to this problem is (fairly) simple: backup systems and multiple points of contact for communication. You may notice you’re reading this on (or at least from) Whatever, which is on Scalzi.com, my personal site which has existed for 23 years. It’s outlived several social media giants, from AOL to MySpace, and hundreds of other lesser sites. No matter what happens to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or TikTok in the future, Scalzi.com will persist as long as I continue to pay an ISP to house it. But if it goes down temporarily — I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. I can be found. I have backup.

I think everyone should have their own space not reliant on a rapacious social media giant intent on commodifying one’s existence to house it, and I happily pay to have my own. But I understand that’s not feasible for everyone. But almost everyone (and every business/group/association) can have multiple points of access, and — importantly — can let others know where they be contacted/where the group can go when the primary access point goes down.

So: If you’re a group who mostly connects by Facebook, also have a community space on, say, Discord, or a dedicated Web site that allows comments. If you have email via Gmail, have a backup email address via an ISP (or, in my case, the other way around), or through another service like Outlook. If you rely on Whatsapp, keep Skype or Google Meet in your pocket for emergencies (or, you know, text and phone).

Point is: whatever it is that you do on the Internet, have a second way to do it when the first goes down, and make sure people who need to, know how to get to it. No, it’s not necessarily going to be a 100% equivalent experience, but then, Facebook or Google or Twitter aren’t likely to be down forever (or if they are here in 2021, we’re likely to have larger issues to worry about). They don’t have to be equivalent, they just have to provide access and connection for a little bit of time, even if all one does with it is send a “don’t panic, I’m fine” message to others.

What having multiple redundant points of contact on the Internet does require is effort, which people don’t like to do — the whole point of social media and especially Facebook is that it is mostly frictionless (which is why your grandmother uses it, and why terrible political memes are so easily spread on it). But these are the breaks: You can make an effort, or you can be locked out for however long it takes your favorite social media provider to break into their own data services and remove the squirrel that has electrocuted itself in one of the servers, knocking out the service worldwide. Your choice.

— JS

The Big Idea: Caitlin Starling

Cover to "The Death of Jane Lawrence."

There’s a central, motivating emotion at the heart of The Death of Jane Lawrence, and despite what the title may imply, that emotion is not “fear.” No, it’s something that, under the correct set of conditions, can be much worse. Here’s author Caitlin Starling to reveal and explain.

CAITLIN STARLING:

The Death of Jane Lawrence is a book about shame.

The shame of not fitting neatly into society. The shame of losing a patient who might have been saved, if you’d only been faster, more clever, more ruthless. The shame of surviving a devastating attack which claimed the lives of many more. The shame of making decisions from a place of perceived strength and mastery, only to realize that all the strength and mastery in the world can’t cheat death.

There’s a difference, you know, between shame and guilt. Guilt is over something you have done; shame is over something that you are.

Shame is heavy. It collapses. It constrains. It suffocates.

Shame is the cornerstone of gothic horror; secrets are its mortar. Shame doesn’t require secrecy, but it thrives in its embrace. Shame begets secrets to hide the source of that shame, and secrets create shames of their own, hidden things that must not be mentioned – or what will the neighbors think?

(It is both very challenging and very easy to write about shame. We’ve all felt it. Sometimes it feels like my life is governed by it. It’s familiar and raw, and putting it on display, even through the lens of fiction, feels like being flayed alive.)

From the beginning of the book, Jane knows she’s strange. She sees and moves through the world differently. She’s the adult ward of two friends of her long-dead parents, reliant on them for her survival. When at last she decides to marry, she does so out of the crushing conviction that she is, and always has been, a burden.

The man she courts doesn’t see her that way. But he coaxes something else out in her: a revelation of her capacity for coldness, her desire for control over everything and everybody around her. She sees in herself a monster, either born fully formed or forged in the wreckage of a city she barely remembers, in the deaths of parents she blames herself for having survived.

And her husband? The dashing, compassionate surgeon willing to go heroic lengths to save his patients? He carries his own humiliations, his own dark stumblings. A doctor is not a god, after all; he has a body count of his own, of those he failed to save, and those his interventions likely killed. Those he has lost cling to him relentlessly.

And then there are his private shames. A woman buried in haste two years ago. A crumbling manor outside of town. A cellar with four heavy locks. There are rules: Jane must not visit Lindridge Hall. Jane must never spend the night there.

And Augustine must always return.

But when they wed, despite their best efforts at strictly defining the path of their life together, the careful winding between dark holes in the floors of their selves, they begin to mix. To blur. The paths wander off, the walls come down. His secrets become hers, staining her life before she even knows what horrors they hide. And her shame, when planted in the wreck of Lindridge Hall, flourishes. It threatens to tear her apart.

And something in the rooms of Lindridge Hall is hungry for all of it.


The Death of Jane Lawrence: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The End of a Tree

I mentioned before that the crabapple in front of our house had reached the end of its life this year; today brings the actual end as its (mostly already-dead) body is taken out and a new tree is brought in to take its place. I’m sad to see the crabapple go because for many years it was a lovely tree and a joy to see blossom and thrive; nevertheless its time had come and there was no way to save it. I’ll remember it in its beauty and wish it well in whatever afterlife awaits a good tree. The new tree has a lot to live up to, I’ll say that much.

— JS

Get Signed, Personalized Copies of “Kaiju” Through Subterranean Press

First: Hey, look, I got an ARC of The Kaiju Preservation Society today. Here it is with cat for scale. It’s always cool to get ARCs of one’s book, because it’s a nice physical representation of it. It’s convincing proof it doesn’t just exist in your head anymore. And yes, I’ll probably do an ARC giveaway soon. Just not this very second. Give me a few days.

Second: I’m working with my pals at Subterranean Press to get signed, personalized copies of Kaiju to folks when it comes out in March. Order the book through Subterranean, let them know what personalization you want if any (if you don’t it personalized, it will still be signed), and then just before the book comes out, I’ll go to the SubPress warehouse and sign all the things. Then they’ll ship them and they’ll show up at your door. Easy. Also, for those of you not in the US, SubPress will ship to your country, provided it’s currently accepting mail from the US (some places are not due to the pandemic or other reasons; check with your country about that).

This is, at the moment, the best and only way to get signed/personalized copies of Kaiju. In the future, and world events permitting, I’ll likely tour and/or do convention events, so there will probably be other opportunities. But then, we thought we’d be able to tour in 2020, too, and look where that got us. So, if you really want a signed/personalized copy of Kaiju, here you go. Get to it!

Here’s that link again. It’s to the SubPress announcement of the signing; the pre-order link is on that page.

More Kaiju news as it happens —

— JS

The Big Idea: Stephanie Burgis

The cover to Scales & Sensibility

With a title like Scales and Sensibility, you might be forgiven if you thought that you knew the primary influence on Stephanie Burgis’ new novel. But, as it turns out, you’d only be scratching the surface. Burgis is here today to help you dig deeper.

STEPHANIE BURGIS:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Regency romances are even better with pet dragons involved…or at least, I had an awful lot of fun mixing up those ingredients in Scales and Sensibility, my new Regency fantasy rom-com! But it all began a very long time ago with my parents’ wonderfully over-full bookcases.

There are so many advantages to being raised by voracious readers. For one thing, every time I ran out of books from the library (despite our weekly visits!), I had a whole house-full of interesting options to devour. I discovered SO MANY major f/sf writers on those bookshelves, from Roger Zelazny and Lord Dunsany to Emma Bull, Terry Pratchett, and Ellen Kushner.

Maybe best of all, though, before I had even hit the age of ten, my dad had already read me The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice as bedtime stories – and really, that statement explains so much about all of the books that I’ve written as an adult!

I’ve been a huge fan of dragons, fantasy novels, and comedy-of-manners historical romances ever since. Scales and Sensibility combines all of those personal obsessions into one sparkly Regency romp. Despite the title, it’s as much an homage to Mansfield Park as it is to Sense and Sensibility (with my poor heroine – the sensible oldest sister – stuck in the home of thoroughly unpleasant wealthy relatives) – but it was also heavily influenced by my love for Terry Pratchett’s Guards, Guards, for all of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside books, and even for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smaug, who first made me love dragons with all my heart (even though Smaug would look with disdain upon all of the tiny – but surprisingly magical – dragons in this book).

There are some books that break my heart as I write them – and then there are the books that fill me up with joy just when I most need it. I laughed so much as I wrote this story, throwing my perfectly sensible and practical heroine into the most outrageously impractical and desperate situations. I loved forcing pragmatic Elinor into a dangerous magical masquerade at a house party of doom, with the perilously unpredictable “help” of her mischievous new dragon causing even more trouble along the way. But I also loved writing Elinor’s way through all of those challenges to discover just how bold, strong, and daring she could be. I had so much fun as I surrounded her with an eccentric cast of characters that pushed her to her limits.

Then I had even more fun sharing this novel, week by week, with my subscribers on Patreon as I serialized it across 2021 in what turned out to be the sweetest part of my year. Every week, my patrons’ comments and reactions – and even, from time to time, their passionate arguments over the ethics of different characters’ actions! – filled me with the delight of a truly shared adventure. In a year where our family was dealing in real life with long covid and other hard, draining health issues, I really can’t over-emphasize just what a difference it made to be able to escape into that frothy world of fun and magic and share that kind of reading joy every week.

Now, Scales and Sensibility is officially out – today! – as both an ebook and a paperback, so I’m looking forward to sharing it far more widely. Nearing the end of another pandemic year, I think we can all use some frothy escape-reading and comfort – and let’s face it: dragons just make everything better. :)


Scales and Sensibility: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Apple Books|Kobo

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

View From a Hotel Window, 10/2/21

Construction site outside my window

I don’t necessarily post hotel window picture when I’m doing personal travel (because when I travel for myself, it’s not the Internet’s business), but this one is kind of fun: A full-blown construction site, with people working industriously and everything. Actually not all that loud — I suspect the windows here are well-insulated, and that dampens sound somewhat — and interesting to watch. In a year, the window I’m looking out of will have a view of a building wall, which is kind of a shame. But for now, I’m watching the digger pick up piles of dirt and move them around. Neat!

— JS

“Whaddya Mean September Is Over?!?!?”

I am disbelieving of the news that Spice is delivering to me, about the status of the month of September, 2021. And yet, here we are, at the end of it nonetheless.

In other news, I am likely to be scarce here for the next few days, as I take some personal time to visit friends. I’m not saying you absolutely won’t see me here again until next Monday, but if in fact you don’t see me here until then, try not to be too surprised.

Whenever it is that I see you again here, be well and happy until then, if you can (I mean, be well and happy if you can once I am back, too. But you know what I mean).

— JS

The Big Idea: Steven Leonard

The cover of "To Boldly Go."

If you like your Big Idea pieces full of science fiction metaphors and similes, I’ve got some good news for you: Today, editor Steven Leonard has jammed this essay full of them. And for good reason: Science fiction, and its lessons for power, projection and conflict, are at the heart of his anthology, To Boldly Go.

STEVEN LEONARD:

For many of us, some of life’s enduring lessons often come with a seemingly random pop culture reference. For me, those references were never all that random and they always circled back to science fiction. How many of us have invoked SkyNet or the three laws of robotics when cautioning the emergence of artificial intelligence? Or maybe quoted Darth Vader as a reminder of the seductive nature of unchecked power? And who hasn’t pondered the possibilities of time travel without considering the broader ethical implications of tampering with history?

For me, science fiction was the glue that cemented those lessons in my mind.

The Big Idea behind To Boldly Go evolved from a dinner conversation with Australian Major General Mick Ryan at West Point in 2018. Mick, who contributed the book’s foreword as well as chapter on grand strategy and Old Man’s War, pondered like The Watcher, “What if… we used science fiction as a metaphor to capture those lessons?”

It made perfect sense to me. My mental image of a bold leader had always worn a gold tunic, led from the front, and fought with a singular, distinctive style. Kirk Fu? Yeah, it’s a thing. Since boyhood, my concept of strategy had been framed around the science of psychohistory in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Citing Hari Seldon during planning meetings was always a sure way to get weird looks. From The Twilight Zone to Planet of the Apes, science fiction defined much of how I perceived and interpreted the world around me.

However, this Big Idea was bigger than two people. A lot bigger.

If we wanted To Boldly Go to achieve the promise of the opening monologue of the original Star Trek series, then we needed to seek out other perspectives, other ideas. We needed to take The Big Idea where no one had gone before. Our efforts reached for the final frontier: a diverse, global collective of writers whose shared love of science fiction forged a common bond that transcended, well… a pandemic.

If you thought contending with amorous tribbles in deep space was challenging, imagine coordinating an anthology project during a viral outbreak with writers spread from one end of the world to the other. That was fun.

But the end result was phenomenal. The writing came surprisingly easy, the words seemed to flow effortlessly. For me, the lessons I wanted to share had been a part of me since my father let me stay up late to watch reruns of Star Trek and Lost in Space. I didn’t just quote those reruns; I framed my thoughts around them. And, it turns out, so do a lot of other people.

As Jonathan Klug – my fellow editor and author – and I began to pull the threads together that would eventually form the tapestry of this anthology, I rediscovered my childhood obsession for science fiction. I found myself contemplating the burdens of Captain Avatar, leading an impossible mission with an imperfect crew aboard an improbable vessel. I was back aboard the Battlestar Galactica, re-exploring Adama’s interactions with President Roslin. And, appropriately enough, I was reconsidering the lessons drawn from Captain Trips, the manmade virus that killed nearly all of humanity in The Stand. As pandemics go, that one was brutal.

In the end, good writing – really good writing – draws you back to the source material. To Boldly Go is more than a pandemic-fueled labor of love. Every chapter had me re-watching or re-reading a classic work of science fiction, seeing it again for the first time through a different set of eyes. That’s an indescribably feeling. And a lot of fun.


To Boldly Go: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

You can follow Steve Leonard on Twitter @Doctrine_Man.

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