I’m in my ancestral county right now, the primary reason being to attend the delayed memorial service of a dear friend (it was last night and was bittersweet but also wonderful in its way), but also to see the living, sometimes at museums (see above), and to have meetings, because meetings are what Los Angeles is for. There was an earthquake this morning, just a 3.9er, and I’m happy to say I responded to it in a classically Californian fashion, which was to say “huh, earthquake” to myself, note it on social media, and then roll over in bed and go back to sleep. Some things you don’t forget how to do, even when you live out of state for decades.
Everything is good, just checking in. How’s your weekend?
My good pal James Cambias, who not entirely incidentally here is a terrific science fiction author, passes along this note to me about a fundraiser for the town he lives in:
“The non-profit Friends of Deerfield are conducting an online auction beginning October 22, with dozens of items including sports memorabilia, antiques — and signed first editions by science fiction and fantasy authors in western Massachusetts. Featuring works by Elizabeth Bear, James Cambias, John Crowley, Paul Park, and Allen Steele. Proceeds support the Deerfield 350th Celebration in 2023. Visit the auction site at https://www.32auctions.com/FriendsofDeerfield2021“
So, hey: If you like signed science fiction first editions — and helping cities celebrate birthdays! — then today’s your lucky day. Check out these auctions.
I’d been thinking of getting a Les Paul, and this blacked-out special edition was speaking to me aesthetically, so, what the hell, I got it. I showed it to Krissy when it arrived and it spoke to her personal aesthetic sense as well, so that helps.
That said, no more guitars for me I swear. I have more than enough. Honest! Stop looking at me like that! I mean it!
Also, procedural note: I’m traveling on personal business starting tomorrow, so updating here may be sparse through the weekend. Please occupy your time however you see fit.
For Once Upon a Wardrobe, author Patti Callahan considers a story and a world most of us know, to tell a story that many of us may have not considered — but without it, that earlier beloved tale would not exist.
Nearly every culture in the world has an origin story – but don’t stories have origin stories? Especially the ones that somehow enter our universal consciousness, stories that impact all of us even if we haven’t read them cover to cover. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those stories.
There are very particular stories and myths that endure in the world; they show us what it means to be human in all its terrors, joys and griefs, and yet they are also life-affirming. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those tales.
Where did Narnia come from? That is the question that was the spark-flying big idea that had me take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard (depending on the day). But the idea or question is bigger than Narnia because the real question is – “Where do stories come from?” And can we truly answer that?
I often wondered about the time in C. S. Lewis’s life when he decided to start writing about Narnia. What was the origin story of this mythical land? What made Lewis start and then stop and then start again? Had he meant to create this land and or did it grow into Narnia as he wrote? I began to ponder how much of his life ended up in his stories. As authors, how much of our lives end up in our stories? How much is conscious and how much is unconscious?
I leave the final answer to the experts in psychology, philosophy and religion, but, as usual, I turned to story for our answer.
When I was in high school, I studied Latin in preparation for a medical career. In those classes, we studied the great Greek and Roman myths. The knowledge that story is built on story has followed me from a medical career to a storytelling career and has continually fascinated me.
I am astounded at the way stories touch the numinous, how inexplicable and mysterious they are at their best. It is nearly impossible to answer the question, “Where did your story idea come from?” Mythology at its core often tries to answer such questions. Every culture and religion has its own origin story – from Danu and Dan in Ireland, to Greek mythology with its deities, creatures and myths, to the Hopi, the Mayan, and the In Nihilo stories (out of nothing).
And isn’t, I thought, isn’t Narnia a world unto its own? A place that has enchanted, enthralled and captured generations. Most likely you feel the same — Narnia was and is a powerful part of our collective lives and imaginations. I’ve never felt the need to dissect it like a specimen on a laboratory slide or take it apart to find its inner workings, but I did find myself wanting to convey the power of it in our lives. I felt a story stirring that might reveal exactly what C. S. Lewis meant when he said, “Sometimes fairy stories may say best what needs to be said.”
As a child, I felt that if I could find it, I too might walk through the wardrobe door of Narnia. I searched for that snowy forest in the woodlands and marshes of Cape Cod, in the closet of my bedroom, and the pages of other books. Narnia seemed to be waiting for me, even calling to me, if I might only find it. I would wager some of you did the same.
As I considered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a young boy named George Devonshire and his sister, Megs visited my imagination. Living in Worcester, England in 1950, seven-year-old George is dying and his seventeen-year-old beloved sister can’t save him; she loves him fiercely and will do anything for him (Just as C. S. Lewis and his older brother, Warnie, loved each other) This young boy asks his sister to find the answer to his most pressing question, “Where did Narnia come from?” Narnia comforts George. Narnia thrills him. He wants Narnia to be real. And although he asks his sister a question that can’t be truly answered, his sister goes looking for that very answer anyway.
Megs, a mathematics student at Sommerville College in Oxford, who wants logical answers, ones that might be ticked off like the equations she solves, sets off to track down Mr. C. S. Lewis and timidly ask him about Narnia’s origins. He answers her, but not as we expect. He doesn’t give her simple answers or logical ties; instead, he tells her stories from his life for her to take home to George. Stories both dark and light; stories of triumph and heartbreak: true stories.
In Megs’ search for the infallible, she receives stories in return, sending her and George on a journey where they discover that part of Narnia’s mystery is that we, too, have the privilege of entering Narnia, even without a wardrobe.
Although bits and pieces of Lewis’s life can be identified in Narnia, there continue to be mysteries in Narnia that are both imaginative and transcendent.
As Irish poet, theologian, and philosopher John O’Donohue once wrote, “A book is a path of words which take the heart in new directions.” And that is what I long to show you: how Narnia changes our view of the “real” world and allows us to see the unseen with our hearts.
We got Charlie on March 20, and we were told at the time she was about five or six months old, which means she was probably born around this time in October of last year. We decided for convenience that we’d pick October 20 to be her birthday, because it made sense to us and she wouldn’t really care one way or another, because she’s a dog.
So: Happy birthday, Charlie! You are largely a delightful dog, although like any dog you have your moments of exasperating trash eating and sneaking up on furniture and rolling around in dead animals in the yard. On balance, however, we are happy to have you as part of the pack. May this (approximate) birthday be a good one (spoiler: We’ll be giving you extra treats today) and may this next turn around the sun be full of naps, snacks, and playfighting with Smudge. Enjoy it, pup. You’re a good dog. Well, mostly.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth is about zombie relationships. The shambling half-things we all find ourselves stitched to by circumstance, its body rotting, oozing infection into the places where they’re bound to our own flesh. We’re brow-beaten by Hollywood into thinking that relationships all have a singular outcome: either they endure, or they shatter because of death and nothing else. There are no other options, no palatable alternatives. Anything else is just repellent.
So, we stay.
We stay because those relationships are familiar. We stay because of sunk costs. We stay because we have good memories of the person and because we’re tied to them, because our identity includes the phrase ‘we’re also friends with X’, we make excuses for their new belligerence, their recent obsession with conspiracy theories, their nascent politics, their nastiness. We stay, we try so hard to stay.
Except sometimes, that’s the worst thing we can do for ourselves.
As I get older, I’ve come to value the time investment of relationships more. I’m pushing forty, and with that number, I see where the horizon ends, where it empties into a perfect black stillness. It’s nowhere near an immediate concern as of yet. My family is excruciatingly long-lived and to date, exactly one female relative has died and she keeled over at the grand age of one hundred and two. I have time, but I am increasingly aware of how limited that time is. And with that awareness, I’m realizing how ferociously I want to guard what I might have.
We don’t get back any of the hours. None of them. Every moment we’re allocated, every second, every minute, all of them are finite resources. Once spent, they’re gone forever. And more importantly, the same is true for everyone else. What’s worse, we have no idea as to how much time any of us have. For all that we might live to be a hundred, there is no guarantee the same will be true for our friends and our loved ones. We all adhere to the idea that the general life expectancy these days is about seventy-something or so, and go about our lives safe in the knowledge we should be able to, statistically speaking, expect those calculations to be true.
But outliers are surprisingly common.
Shit happens. Disease happens. Cancer, heart attacks, aneurysms. Hell, COVID, for fuck’s sake. There are a million ways to die and there is no guarantee that Death will wait until we’re seventy-something to inflict such things on us. Given all that, it feels almost blasphemous to me to think about wasting that time on people I don’t care for and people who don’t care for me. Especially if the reason behind such expenditure is, ‘we’ve known each other for a long while.’
Life is short. It is always getting shorter.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a little bit of me grappling with that understanding of the world, and it is also me looking at relationships that have necrotized, and the ways we try to accommodate that rot, how we pave over things, how we smile over each other, how we apply blush and powder to the moldering skin, and try to frame everything in the best light.
There are relationships worth saving, relationships that improve because people talk and people go to therapy and people listen when they are told, “This isn’t how it should be.” Those exist and god help me, they’re some of the best relationships you can have, romantic or otherwise. Then there are the ones in this book, where the friendships have dimmed into ghosts, and well, we all know what happens when we fuck around with the dead.
How To Get Signed & Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2021, or, The Supply Chain Is Messed Up Edition
As you all know, every year around mid-November, I do a thing with Jay and Mary’s Book Center, my local bookseller, where I encourage people to buy my books there as holiday gifts, and when they do, I come down to the store to sign and personalize them and then send them off by mid-December, in time for Christmas (and depending on the calendar, Hanukkah). This year, however, two things are different: One, the overall supply chain is messed up, and publishing is no different, and two, the US Postal Service has intentionally slowed down mail service. Put it all together, it means that getting things in a timely manner for the holidays this year will be more of a challenge than it usually is.
Now, to be clear, I have no indication that there will be a shortage of any of my books — save for a new “Tor Essentials” edition of Redshirts, I didn’t publish a new novel this year, which means all my books are backlist; there’s a bunch of copies sitting in warehouses at the moment, waiting to be sold. But, it’s 2021, and you never know, and also, again, mail is slower this year than it’s been before.
So we’re doing something different this year: We’re opening up orders for signed/personalized Scalzi books for the holidays right now, and running it through December 5. Between now and December 5 I’ll come into Jay & Mary’s regularly to sign/personalize stuff that’s been ordered, and then they’ll ship it out when they can (United States only). And then you hide the books in the presents closets until December (or, in the case of Hanukkah this year, maybe late November). The idea here is to give you, the gift-buying public, as much of a margin as possible to get your gifts for the holidays.
Please note that the sooner you get in your order, the better chance of getting things in time for the holidays (that’s a general comment, not just relating to me and my books). The closer we get to December, the more challenges supply chains and slower mail provide everyone. So, really, don’t wait. Come order those books today.
And now, the usual details on how to order signed, personalized books from me for the holidays, at Jay & Mary’s:
1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know that 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 Last Emperox), 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.
Again, the deadline for signed/personalized books for 2021 is December 5. After December 5 all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize.
Ordering early is strongly encouraged this year — See above for why.
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: The Last Emperox is still available in hardcover. The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means is also out this year in hardcover, but it’s a signed limited edition and the bookstore will have to special order, so if you want that from Jay & Mary’s, absolutely ask for that as early as possible. 2018’s hardcovers Head On and The Consuming Fire should also be available if you ask for them specifically. The mini-hardcover of Old Man’s War is also available and is a great format for that book.
CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars and Fuzzy Nation, 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) are available in trade paperback format. 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. Also available: Robots Vs. Fairies, the anthology that features the story of mine that was adapted for the “Three Robots” episode of the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots.
CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The entire Interdependency series (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox) are available, both individually and as a boxed set. The Old Man’s War series of books (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division and The End of All Things) are available individually, and the first three of those books also come in their own boxed set. Lock In, Head On and Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (novella) are individually available as well. Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream have recently been moved into trade paperback, but mass market editions are probably still available if that’s your preference. Please note: If you order the boxed sets, if you want those 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), Virtue Signaling (a third essay collection, will also need special ordering) and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).
AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock In, Head On, 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. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be currently available on CD.
Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP, especially this year. 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Win the ARC of The Kaiju Preservation Society (and a Reminder That You Can Pre-Order a Signed, Personalized Copy From Subterranean Press)
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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:
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.
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.