Science Fiction Films: Which Are the Most Significant?

Okay, here’s that big participatory entry I’ve been hinting at.

As some of you know, I’m currently writing The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film, which will be a general overview of the history of Science Fiction in films, with chapters on some various themes (science in science fiction, SF film icons, crossover subgenres, etc) and so on. The heart of the book, however, will be the Science Fiction Film Canon: The 50 classic Science Fiction films. In my own brain, I see this list as the list of the most significant science fiction films, as opposed to the “best” or the most financially successful. This gives me latitude to, say, include films that are influential on science fiction filmmakers, but not necessarily the audience (or, vice versa, as the case may be).

(You rightly ask: And why do I get to choose the Science Fiction Film Canon? Well, because someone paid me to, basically. But also, I’m both a professional film critic of more than a dozen years standing, and I’m also a professional science fiction writer. If someone’s going to compile this list, it might as well be me.)

I of course already have a preliminary list of 50 films ready to go. BUT! Even with my rather extensive knowledge of science fiction, film and science fiction films, I am more than willing to entertain the notion that my list has gaps: Films that should be on the list may not be there — films that I have on the list may not deserve to be there.

So, this is where you come in: Suggest me some science films (one or more, as many as you like) which you feel are especially significant. If you want to jot down a sentence or two as to why you think they’re significant, that’d be swell (to be clear, any comments you make on films are for my personal edification — I won’t cut and paste into the book. I do my own writing). Any films you might care to think of are appreciated, but in particular I’d be interested in knowing any suggestions you might have for:

* Science Fiction films before 1965
* Science Fiction films in foreign languages (of any era)
* Significant animated science fiction films (including anime)
* Science Fiction films based on novels/novellae/short stories, particularly before 1965
* Films not usually thought of as “science fiction” but which have significant science fiction plot elements (a recent example: Kate & Leopold)

Here’s what I’m not looking for:
* Suggestions on Fantasy films (LotR, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, etc)
* TV shows, mini-series or made-for-TV movies (they have to have been in the theater)
* Really bad films you know no one else likes but you (like, say, Galaxina), and which are not likely to be seemed significant by your basic jury of geek peers.

To avoid getting the obvious suggestions, here are some films I’ve already considered for the Canon — which is to say they may or may not be on the list, but one way or another they’re already on my radar:

* Star Wars films (for the purposes of the list, I’m treating film series as a single entry)
* Star Trek films
* Alien films
* Blade Runner
* 2001
* Close Encounters
* Akira and Ghost in the Shell
* Godzilla films
* Matrix films
* Mad Max films
* Planet of the Apes films
* Terminator films
* Solaris
* the various Body Snatcher films
* The Day the Earth Stood Still

Although I already know about these films hopefully this list may suggest other films to you to suggest back to me.

Go ahead and leave your suggestions/comments in the comment thread; I’ll be reading and commenting the next couple of days as well, of course, and will also check in while I’m at Noreascon.

Also, please do link to this on your own blogs and send the entry URL to people you know who might be interested in leaving a suggestion or recommendation. I’d like to hear from a wide range of people so that I can have the largest pool of films to think about for the Canon.

Fire away!


Various Notations and Nonsense 8/29

Popping my head up again to make a few comments.

1. I’ll definitely be posting one more entry prior to Noreascon, for which I leave on Thursday morning. Be on the lookout for it, because it’s participatory.

1a. Old Man’s War is now available for pre-order on, and at 30% off, as you can see. Amazon lists its publication date as January 1, 2005, making it (possibly) officially the very first book of 2005. Rock! However, I am told by certain people in the know that the book should be available in December, so those of you who were planning to give it as holidays gifts can feel reasonably assured you can still lay it out under the Christmas Tree/Menorah/Pagan Solstice Indicator of Your Choice. Should you pre-order now? Well, of course, I would. And I would pre-order, say, 15 of them. But that’s just me.

If you do click through, by the way, please to note the latest edition of the cover, which is just like the previous editions of the cover, except with a little text on the front which assures you that the book is “A stunning novel of war and survival.” Well, and it is. A book cover would never lie to you.

2. For everyone who is wondering if I have any thoughts on the Republican National Convention, the answer is: Honestly, no. I’m voting against Bush (which in this case means I’m voting for Kerry), and since that’s a settled issue for me, I don’t see much point in aggravating myself by thinking about the convention in any way whatsoever. So, aside from posting some links to what other people are saying about the convention on By The Way (because I did it for the Democratic convention), I plan to avoid it pretty much entirely. This means largely ignoring the news through Thursday, which I’m willing to do, and also ignoring the various political blogs I usually read, which I’m also willing — nay, eager — to do as well. Truth to be told, after The Great Bookmark Implosion of ’04, I’d stopped reading about 80% of them anyway, but now I’ll cheerfully ignore the rest for a week or so, and may continue to ignore them for longer than that if I find I enjoy the clear open space in my personal bandwidth.

This comes as no great surprise, because I mentioned earlier this month before that I had been finding certain previously-readable political bloggers largely unreadable because they’d gotten a little too frothy at the mouth, and it’s only gotten worse since that point. I stopped reading Instapundit about ten days ago when it was clear that “Kerry in Cambodia” thing was a sucking heatsink for his intelligence, causing him to worry at that pointless bone of useless political stupidity like a starving dog determined to scrape out every rancid morsel of decayed marrow from it; it was just sad. I’ll get back to him in November, when presumably he’ll recouple some of the more sensible portions of his brain. Likewise Atrios and Kos are off my radar for a while; they’re already in a state of dudgeon so high that it’s fatiguing to read them on a daily basis; one can only imagine what they’ll be like this week. I imagine they’ll soil themselves in righteous indignation once every 90 minutes or so; the makers of adult diapers shall rejoice.

Not to bag on Glenn, Atrios, Kos too much; they’re just my straw men for the state of political bloggery in general at the moment. As I’ve noted before, I can get as wound up as any of them; but thanks to a short attention span I move on fairly quickly. And perhaps because of my short attention span, I get wildly irritated at people who can’t fucking move on. Going into a political blog these days is to be transported into a room of people who get off on smelling their own farts; the musty self-pleasuring scent of people too pleased with the result of their digestions to crack a window and let in some air. Well, mazel tov, kids. Have fun and see you after the election.

Does this desire to sequester myself mean I’m apathetic to what’s going on? No; I’m still planning to vote, and I doubt that I will be entirely devoid of political thoughts between now and November 2nd (and I may even share some of them here. Mmmmm… musty self-pleasuring scent). I’m simply reminding myself that I reserve the right to decide what is relevant and what is not. Given the nature of political conventions today, the likelihood that anything useful or interesting will happen at the RNC approaches zero, particularly as it relates to me; indeed, as conventions go, Noreascon will have significantly more impact on my life than the RNC. Therefore, for the next week, I will focus on the former rather than the latter, and I imagine this will make me both happier and calmer for it.

3. Since I am paring down my blog meandering to a bare minimum, you may ask what I am doing to fill up my time. Well, one, I have a book chapter due in two days (which won’t get done in two days because I didn’t actually get the contracts until Friday, and I have this thing about not doing work before I know I’m going to get paid. It will probably be done before I hit Noreascon, however; that’s only two days late. Given the contracts were two months late, I can live with that). But two, I’m reading other people’s books. Among them:

* Edenborn, by Nick Sagan. Nick’s latest and the sequel to his debut novel Idlewild. I got it over the weekend and I’m about a third of the way through it, and so far, so good — Nick’s having fun with the epistolatory mode of novel-writing, pouring his brain into the writing styles of several different people including at least one character who wouldn’t be out of place on an AOL teen chat room. One doesn’t want to dwell too much on how he knows how a girl like that would write. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation, one that won’t interest the FBI.

Aside from the quality of the book, which is high and its own reason to purchase the novel (buy it, damn you!), it also features a touching shoutout to me from Nick, in which he describes (in the nicest possible way, of course) how I would taunt him from time to time while we were writing our most recent novels. Showing up in other people’s book’s acknowledgment pages is one of the niftier things about having writers for friends.

* Another fringe benefit of the writing life is that sometimes you get sneak previews of other people’s work; the other book I’m reading is a pre-release version of a novel by someone who I will not name (I’m not sure I have leave to mention that I’m reading it), but who is well-regarded in SF circles at the moment. I got the novel as a trade-in-kind; he wanted to read Old Man’s War and offered the swap. I suspect I got the better end of the deal, since my book is classically-structured science fiction (i.e., a genial rip-off of Heinlein), and his is definitely very forward-thinking stuff. At least I don’t have to worry about him demanding his money back.

No, I’m not running myself down; you all know I think well of Old Man’s War (how could I not?), and I think everyone who reads it will get their book purchasing price out of it and then some, because it’s just that good. I’m not a big fan of false modesty. However, OMW is not especially deep; it was designed as a variation on a well-established theme; it plays the changes on your basic space opera. I think it’s good, but it’s not exactly taxing on the gray matter. The book I’m reading is actually trying to make people think; I got a headache trying to stuff all the ideas in my brain at once, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Books that give you headaches are fun, as long as it’s not a headache from painful prose. However, I don’t usually let books with painful prose get to a point where they’re headache inducing. This headache is a “Note from your neurons: Stop making us fire so damn much” sort of headache, and that’s good.

Between Edenborn and this other novel which shall remain nameless (the author pops by here occasionally; he can out himself if he likes), I’m pretty pleased with my reading list, and I’m also reminded that science fiction as genre seems to be pulling itself out of its own self-recursive ass in the last couple of years and is both positing big ideas and creating writing worth reading (add to these two examples China Mieville’s work, the most recent of which, Iron Council, I wrote about recently on BTW, and the loopily crazed near futures of Cory Doctorow). I find it interesting and ironic that in the middle of this creative thrust into unexplored territories I’ll be coming out with my, as I’ve said, more classically-structured novel. I’ve no worries about finding an audience (I don’t only read one sub-genre of SF, nor does anyone I know); I think it’ll do well. It’s just a reminder that the company I get to keep on the bookshelves these days is pretty damned smart.

4. Final thing: You have no excuse for not buying the new Finn Brothers album. I like it enough that I actually posted a review on Amazon (it was basically what I wrote about the album on BTW — I can recycle myself). Also, and again as I note elsewhere, the video for their first single “Won’t Give In” is surprisingly moving. See it: High bandwidth here; low bandwidth here.

That’s all I have for you right at this second. But remember: At least one more entry between now and Noreascon. You won’t want to miss it. Yes, I’m overselling it. But stupid me, I went on a mini-hiatus, said I won’t be back until the 7th, and now I want your attention. I’m a friggin’ moron.


Noreascon Schedule — Final

The fine folks at Noreascon have been so kind as to publish the final version of the program, along with room numbers and so forth, so please to find below where I will be at Noreascon and when, and with whom:

Thursday 1:00 p H310:
They Should Make a Movie of That

What SF/F/H short stories, novelettes, novels, trilogies, or series would make great cinema?
Mike Conrad, Jim Mann, John Scalzi (m), Carrie Vaughn

Thursday 3:00 p H205:
Must-See TV and Movies

Are you cineliterate? Can you call yourself a fan if you can’t recognize “Klaatu berada nicto?” Do you know who Tom Corbett is? Why you should stay away from pod people? We’ll talk about the classics, and even the good stuff, from Metropolis to Rocketship XM to Princess Monomoke…
Chris Barkley, Daniel Kimmel, Craig Miller (m), John Scalzi

Friday 1:00 p H304:
Looking Backward: the 20th Century

It was a time of terrible wars and great evils and unparalleled progress, ending with democracy triumphant, right? Well…It was also the time of Milton Berle and Cheese Whiz love beads and Elvis, and…OK, so will the writers and fans of the late 21st century look back on the 20th with nostalgia, with surprise, or with horror? How will people in far future times look at us? Imagine what things about the 20th century that those in the future will look back on in the same way as we view the Roman gladiators…
Esther Friesner (m), Craig Gardner, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi

Friday 4:00 p H305:
Rumors at the Speed of Light

The downside of rapid internet communication.
Charles Ardai, Sharon Sbarsky, John Scalzi (m)

Saturday 2:00 p H305:
Lies I Learned at the Movies

Let’s discuss at least a few of the thousands or scientific facts that movies teach us—that turn out not to be true. Our favorite: the title of the 1969 “historical” epic about a volcano disaster, Krakatoa, East of Java …um…it’s WEST…
Bob Devney (m), Tamara Jones, Peter Morwood, John Pomeranz, John Scalzi

Saturday 4:30 p Exeter:

John Scalzi

Sunday 10:00 a H306:
Grow Old Along With Me: Aging Your Characters

Why get stuck in adolescence? Middle age is another quest/rite of passage, and so is old age/death. How do you help your characters grow old (gracefully, or not)? How do you work with those parts of the voyage through life in your work? Or, are we being merely mercenary—to sell to an aging market segment?(Or, because we grow old, we grow old…?)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress (m), Jean Lorrah, Steve Miller, John Scalzi, Susan Shwartz

Sunday 4:00 p H303:
Writing for Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds

Good SF/F writing makes or breaks a persistent massively multiplayer online world. Without them, a MMORPG becomes a slayfest, or a simple “go here and do that” list of quests. Experts from the industry talk about how to get more involved in persistent worlds as creative forces from the start of a project to its launch, and what good writing means to a creation of a great game.
Jessica Mulligan, John Scalzi

Monday 2:00 p H309:
SF Chick Flicks

So many SF films are about boys and their toys. What are the SF films with heart and soul? Are there any great SF “romances” that would really work on screen?
Bob Devney, MaryAnn Johanson (m), John Pomeranz, John Scalzi

If you only come to one thing of mine, for God’s sake, come to my reading. I’m hoping to improve attendance from last year, in which only six people attended. To be fair, it was a quality six people — indeed, if you can only have six people attend your reading, it’s hard to do better than Nick Sagan, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow and some nice random lady — but I am hoping a few more people will show this time around. It’s almost certain I will be taking a reading from Old Man’s War. And to sweeten the pot, I will be giving something away at my reading. Something very cool. No, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll just have to come to find out.

If you want to see me outside of panels/readings: Unless you’re planning for serendipitous meetings as we walk around, you need to tell me — you can send me e-mail, since I’ll be taking a computer with me and will be checking my mail fairly frequently. Some folks have already made requests for my time, but it would be a big fat lie to say my time is entirely booked up, and I’m of course always happy to chat with people. Some non-panel-related stuff I know I’m going to be at:

* The Hugo Awards (good luck finding me at that, though)
* The Tor Party on Friday night
* The Strange Horizons Tea Party Sunday afternoon

Aside from this stuff I’m likely to be found in the late evenings frequenting whatever bar all the cool kids are hanging around, desperately trying to shoehorn myself in to their circle just like I did last year. I won’t be that hard to find. In case you’ve forgotten what I look like, and can’t be bothered to read the name tag, here’s the look I’m currently sporting:

See you there.


A Day at the Fair 8/22


Newsworthy vs. Blogworthy

(Yes, I’m still on vacation. But you know how I am.)

The question, posed by the right side of the blogosphere: Why, oh why hasn’t the mainstream press given as much attention to the “Kerry in Cambodia” story as the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” story?

Short answer: Because it’s not nearly as newsworthy, and news editors know it.

Long answer: Let’s do the math on these stories. The Swift Boat story has legs because Kerry has made quite a deal about being a Swift Boat captain in Vietnam; it’s an implicit criticism of George Bush, who flew planes over Texas for his service. The centerpieces of his Swift Boat saga are his medal-winning exploits, which Kerry has been happy to play up, again, as a contrast to Bush (who so far as I know, is medal-less). Now along comes a group of fellow boaters, who dispute the Kerry story, going so far as to say he lied about the circumstances surrounding his medals. The group is funded by conservative Republicans, some of whom appear to have connections to the Bush family, and features several members who have previously praised Kerry and his heroism. And for fun, one of the co-writers of the Swift Boat book has left a digital trail on a partisan Web site cheerfully attacking a variety of demographics. There’s also a long trail of verifiable paper evidence with which to check claims and investigate the truth This is good news story.

The “Kerry in Cambodia” story, on the other hand, is not. Aside from the point that secret missions without paper trails are hard to prove 35 years after the fact, it’s also not a story that Kerry has been actively touting during his campaign. Unless someone can go back in time, attach a GPS transponder to Kerry’s boat and see where exactly he was at particular points in time, this story is just noise, in which Kerry says I was here and someone else says, no you weren’t. As of earlier this week, Kerry is maintaining the basics of the story are correct; the opposition here is from the same people who accuse him of lying about his medals, a charge that is both more sexy and more factually newsworthy. A “he said, they said” story is not news, especially in a news environment with rather more interesting and useful stories.

This is, incidentally, bourne out in the media distribution of the stories: According to Google News, there are 311 stories out there about Kerry and Cambodia, a substantial number of them in the, shall we say, less than entirely high-minded right wing media, and over 4,200 stories about Kerry and the Swift Boats, rather more evenly distributed. It’s possible that more than 90% of the media is in the pay of Kerry, but a rather more plausible explanation is that a significant number of editors and reporters used their experience to determine what is newsworthy and what is not.

(To remind everyone, I think these hay-pitchings of the Vietnam adventures of either candidate is a big fat waste of time and thought. But I’m not running for president or running a news outlet.)

When someone says in their blog “Why is the media paying so much attention to story X and not to story Y,” what they are saying is “in my opinion, story X and story Y are of equivalent news value.” The problem here is that simply suggesting two stories have equal news value doesn’t make it so. In this particular case, right-wing bloggers want to make it seem that the “Swift Boat” and “Cambodia” stories are of equivalent value: The reasoning here as far as I can see is if they can make it stick that Kerry was lying about being in Cambodia, then it stands to reason that Kerry could be lying about other things, like, say, the circumstances under which he received his medals. The Cambodia story is a side feint to bolster the primary charge of Kerry lying about his medals.

This formulation has a number of logical disconnects. Primary among them, how Cambodia has anything to do with Kerry’s medal exploits. Even if one grants the idea that Kerry is actively lying about Cambodia (which, again, is well nigh impossible to prove), it does not logically follow he would also lie about the circumstances of his medals. This especially the case since, as I understand it, the awarding of combat medals is based on information provided by several sources, which makes casual tall-taleing rather more difficult. Of course, the inverse of this formulation is true as well — even if Kerry is telling the truth about the circumstances of his medals, it doesn’t necessarily stand to reason that he’s being truthful about Cambodia.

But note: If you’re a news editor, and you’ve got a group of people who are pushing the ultimately unlikely story that Kerry is lying about his medals, who then try to push a story on you about Kerry’s alleged journeys into Cambodia, it’s rather less likely you’re going to commit time and resources to follow-up on that story. Especially if cursory examination shows that you’re not going to get verification for the story one way or another. There’s an election going on, and you’ve got better things to do with your reporters.

One suspects some of the smarter bloggers who are complaining about the bias in the media know all of this, but are galumphing away about bias anyway. The reasonable question here is to ask why. Some answers:

1. Maybe they’re not actually that smart. This is likely in some cases but not others, and certainly not in the case of some of the more popular bloggers whining about this.

2. Maybe their partisanship overwhelms their intellect. This is somewhat more likely, but again not a complete answer.

3. They see it as their job to goad the mainstream media, and be an alternative to it. This is a good answer, but it’s the least satisfying, because if one is ultimately goading the mainstream media to pay attention to stories that aren’t inherently of value, you’re not exactly doing the mainstream media a service, and it is right to ignore you. But it’s also valuable to remember that one can champion a “better” media and also simply not care if one gets it; there’s an attractive value in simply railing against the media, particularly if one has a readership that gets off on it.

4. They either don’t understand the lack of news value in the story, or simply overestimate it. This is the most charitable explanation, and the most likely. Bloggers like to believe that any old idiot can work in a newspaper or be a reporter or an editor, but this says less about the competence of reporters and editors and more about the flat, pan-hit ignorance of bloggers — even the “smart” ones — who have in their wisdom apparently set Jayson Blair as their baseline model for newsroom behavior. There are certainly bloggers who are also writers, reporters and editors; I’ll give them somewhat more credence when they whine, but I’ll also be cognizant of the fact that by and large their blogs are their personal playrooms; they can blue-sky ideas that may or may not work in the real world, or simply vent.

Can the media be better than it is? Sure it can. I have a list of all the ways it could be better. But I guarantee you my list is different than, say, the list Instapundit has, or the one Atrios has, both of whom take the media to task on a frequent basis (and both of whom have it in for the New York Times, but then apparently who doesn’t). I don’t expect the blog-bashing of the media to stop; why should it? And sometimes the bloggers are right. But as often as not, the bloggers are wrong, too, and much of that being wrong comes from not understanding how a newsroom works. There’s more to reporting than simply writing, which ultimately I suspect lots of bloggers just don’t get — accentuated by the fact they’re, you know, writing too. And while I think the media could be better, I think blogging could be better too — and yes, I have a list for that, too. And again, it’s going to be different from Glenn’s or Atrios’. That’s how it works.

I’m not coming down on the existence of bloggers. I’m a professional blogger, for God’s sake; I actually get paid to do it. I’m a big fan. But, you know, look: Bloggers used to get incensed each and every time some clueless newspaper reporter or columnist would spout off on the pointless stupidness of blogging, because they weren’t bloggers and just didn’t get it. Pot, meet kettle. Out there on the Net today, someone said that “The Internet has detected the mainstream media as a form of censorship and simply routed around them.” Likewise, the mainstream media — rightly — sees much of the blogosphere as noise and routes around it. The aims of two media are not coincident; just because they look the same (they involve people typing) doesn’t mean they are the same. Is the Internet right to route around the mainstream press? Yes, and roughly to the degree that the press is right to route around the Internet.

To go back to back to the question of why the mainstream press isn’t doing much with the Cambodia story, here, another question should be — why is the blogosphere doing so much with it? The answers, I suggest, are complementary: It’s a good enough story for the blogosphere and what it does, and not good enough for the mainstream press and what it does. The real question here is — should one of these media change to accommodate (or reject) the story, and if so, which and how much? Your answer to this will likely do nothing to change either media, but it will be instructive for the purposes of exposing your own biases.


Summer Break

It’s August. I’m taking a summer vacation from the Whatever through Noreascon, which, for those of you not paying attention to the minute details of my life, means I’d be back here September 7 (here’s my Noreascon appearance schedule again, for those of you who want to be in the know). I could give you a lot of excuses for why I’m taking a break, including playtime with Athena before she starts school, work on the SF Film book, a desire to bang out a couple of short stories prior to Noreascon with an eye toward using one for a reading, a need to take some time for long-term career planning, or simply a need to clean my friggin’ filthy office before it implodes, sucking me into its vortex of crap where I will be lost forever. But while all of the above to apply, in fact it’s simply because I’d like to take a break and not use the part of my brain that bangs out the Whatevers for about three weeks. Lying fallow will be good. It’s possible I may put up one or two things here in that time, but, you know. Don’t get your hopes up.

Of course I will still be doing entries for By the Way, because — all together now — they pay me. So please feel free to wander over that direction if you so choose.

Enjoy the rest of August. I’ll see you in September.


Doom 3

This morning a friend of mine called and asked me how I was enjoying my Doomage, a question predicated on a previous comment to him, in which I said I planned to play Doom 3 for about 12 hours straight over the weekend. I told him the doomage was going fine, but what I didn’t tell him was that I didn’t play Doom 3 for 12 hours straight. In fact, I figure the most time I’ve played the game at a stretch is about an hour, which is the amount of time I need to clear a level. And the reason for that is simply the the game makes me too edgy to play for any period of time longer than that. Or more accurately, the game just plain scares the crap out of me.

Don’t get me wrong: This is what I paid for. It’s been several years since I played a video game that was bowel-evacuatingly creepy (the last one being the vastly underappreciated Undying, from Clive Barker), so it’s fun to get all tense and twitchy about what’s coming at you in the dark (and Doom 3 is dark — oppressively, nerve-janglingly dark). But it’s tiring. Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t have the desire to exist in an artificially-engendered state of adrenalization for more than an hour or so a day. Any more than that and I need a nap. So I imagine kudos go to the team at id software for creating a game so juiced up that I can’t spend as much time with it as I’d usually spend with a game like this. That’s a neat if odd trick, especially when you consider that I’m someone who would cheerily play first person shooters all day and night if he didn’t have to, you know, eat and poo and sleep and pay bills.

It’s a reminder also that as far as largely passive entertainment options go, video games really are the most visceral choice you can have. It’s been years since I’ve been genuinely freaked out at a movie — I think you have to back all the way to David Fincher’s Seven (although the all-time creep-inducer is still The Exorcist). I enjoy a good creepy movie, but I’m not actually scared by one. I imagine this is because, in my sensory vocabulary, films are too passive in the direction of fright; I know nothing’s actually coming to get me. I’m much more emotionally engaged by a good film drama or comedy than I am by a horror story.

With video games, on the other hand, I’m far more sensually engaged in the idea of terror, since it’s usually actively predicated on the moves I make in the game world. Moving through a doorway triggers an onslaught of demons; walking into a dark corridor runs the risk of something evil trying to open my avatar’s chest open with its claws. Now, clearly, I’m no more at risk from id’s pixellated demons than I am from Freddy or Jason on the big screen. But I’m active in the game, so the attacks matter more to me. I’ve yet to play a video game where the drama (or comedy) affects me as much as a good movie in that genre, but when it comes to terror, video games are a far more effective medium for me hands down.

Doom 3 is visceral enough that I don’t even mind that the story — aside from being lifted baldly from the first Half-Life game — is pretty thin. Let’s put it this way: As stories go, this would be a Paul W.S. Anderson movie (he of the filmed versions of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat, not to mention the new, critically savaged Alien Vs. Predator — also a video game title). Anyone who’s seen a Paul W.S. Anderson film knows what diss that is. Video game reviewers have been making a lot of Doom 3’s story complexity, and compared with the other iterations of Doom (which pioneered the “run and gun” FPS genre), this one is very nearly War and Peace. But that’s not to say it’s good or complicated in its own right. What carries this game is the id folk’s mastery of game design, and in creating the audio and visual elements to scare the hell out of you. This is a spook show, pure and simple. And why not. Complaining about the plot is missing the point.

(Anyway, I’m saving my high-quality plot expectations for Half-Life 2, the previews of which look so good I am fairly a-twitter with expectation. The original of the game was the first video game that I found as engaging in its way as a decent movie or book; This new one looks like it’s going to be even better. It’s going to be the one I play for hours on end. I’m glad I upgraded my video card; now if I can only remember to blink while playing I’ll be set.)

I think Doom 3 is a very good game, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s a good game for me. The game’s done a fine job of pushing my nervous buttons, but I think I prefer to be a little less freaked out when I play a game. I’ll finish Doom 3 — I’m too far in not too — but it’s hard to say that I’ll entirely enjoy the experience. It’s more to say that for an hour a day, I’ll tolerate it obsessively.



Though an act of rank stupidity, I have accidentally deleted every single bookmark I have for blogs, journals, personal Web pages and so on. They’re all gone; roughly 200 bookmarks, all of which I visit daily, wiped from existence. I find this profoundly irritating — I read blogs, etc for enjoyment but also for professional reasons, so this is pretty damn inconvenient. Curse the “delete” command! We hates it, precious!

But at the same time, it’s tremendously liberating. Suddenly, I’m free of all blogs I’ve been reading more or less out of habit and apathy, because it’s just too much damned effort to delete the bookmark. Also, and equally important, I don’t have to undertake the emotionally discriminatory act of purging the bookmark. I mean, granted, unless someone is obsessively poring over their logs, noting every single IP address, it’s not as if they will know whether or not you’ve pushed them out of your bookmarks. On the other hand, you know, and basically it’s saying “I don’t want to listen to listen to that person anymore.” I have no problem purging inactive blogs/journals, because they’re not saying anything. But if someone is still merrily typing away, it’s hard to pull the plug (or at least, it’s hard for me).

But I’ve just had a guilt-free purge! I didn’t do it on purpose, you know, and I deleted all the blog links I like as well as the ones I grew tired of. It was an equal-opportunity vaporization. Therefore, I don’t have to feel guilty about not putting certain blogs back into the list. Because now adding them back in — not taking them out — will be the thing that requires effort, and as you can clearly adduce by now, whether or not something take effort is the dividing line for me.

Certain annoying political blogs: Gone. Blogs of people who I thought might be interesting but simply turned out to be neurotic: Gone. Blogs of people who I read years ago when the online writing metaphor was new but now just seem to be rehashing their same old subjects entry after entry: Gone. Blogs which I can’t even remember why I put them in the bookmarks: Gone. They’re all gone! I’m free! Free! Frankly, it’s relief.

And more to the point, it will make me actively consider what I want to read. Sad to say, my time is crowding up again these days: Lots of things to write and family responsibilities and all that other real world crap. Now, before I add (or re-add) a blog into my bookmark list, I have to ask: Do I really want to devote any amount of time to this blog? Is this blog worth my time? I understand that people who write blogs don’t necessarily write them for my benefit. But — and this is an important corollary — I don’t read them for the writers’ benefit: I read them for my own. If a blog is not going to entertain me (in a wide-ranging, catholic sense of the word “entertain,” which suggests more than mere, simple amusement — although that’s good, too), then to Hell with it. I expect the next list of blog bookmarks will be tough to get onto.

And I start building it… now.


Big Gay News

No, I’m not coming out. I’m saving that for my future disastrous Senate run in Ohio. I’m just making a couple of quick comments about the New Jersey Governor and San Francisco annulments.

New Jersey Governor: Call me impolitic, but the real issue here for me is not that he’s gay (although as a practical matter he would seem bisexual, actually) but that he apparently gave the person with whom he was having an affair an important and high-paying state job for which he was not qualified. Had he not done this, it seems he would have not have had to do the pre-emptive strike of outing himself in advance of a political scandal, and everyone would be, if not exactly happy, at least keeping their jobs. The moral of the story: When it comes to sex, keep work and play separate.

The reason I think this is fundamentally not about the Governor’s gayness is simply that if a heterosexual governor did the same thing, he or she would be in very hot water as well, politically speaking. It’s not really about sexual identification, it’s pretty much about sexual stupidity. I see a lot of high-minded statements out there about how it will be great one day when someone like McGreavy doesn’t have to say “I’m a gay American,” and I say, well, sure, just as long as we can all also continue to point out that setting up your sex toy with a cushy state job is still corruption, regardless of which tabs go into which slots.

San Francisco Wedding Annulments: Well, everyone was aware that they were participating in civil disobedience, right? The San Francisco marriages were akin to black people sitting at the counter of an Alabama diner in the 1950s; the act of the disobedience didn’t make the act legal (it is of course not a direct analogy, since the disobedience in this case was a matter of one level of government acting up against another, with about 8,000 people as the tool). As I understood it, the ultimate point of the attempted marriages was to force the California Courts to rule on whether barring gays and lesbians to marry runs afoul of the California state Constitution, and indeed, that question will be before the courts later this year. So well done there.

I’m pretty sure that everyone from Gavin Newsom on up realized that legally speaking, these marriages would be voided by the state in the short run. It’s sad if everyone down from Newsom didn’t also realize this, but I think most of them did — they were willing pawns in a game with some very deep strategy. What I hope we’ll see, if gays and lesbians are allowed to marry in California, is that all these couples will take the plunge again. If nothing else, it’ll be a fine refutation to all those people against gay marriage who say that the only reason gay people want to get married is for purely political reasons. Gay people do want to get married for political reasons, of course, as in, they want the same rights and privileges under the law, a belief which is necessarily political. But — and call me crazy, here — I suspect for most of them “as a political statement” is probably no higher than #4 on the List of Reasons to Get Married (#1: Because we’re in love. #2: Gift registries! #3: To make our mothers happy. Oddly enough, the top three reasons for straight couples, too).


Your “What the Hell?” Olympic Moment

Given my general obliviousness to everything regarding the Olympics, I only just now heard that one of the Olympic mascots is named Athena, which of course makes perfect sense given that the Olympics are taking place in the Goddess’ hometown. On the other hand, this is what the mascots look like:

(Athena is in orange. Phevos — based on the god Apollo — is in blue)

Someone got paid for those? I am clearly lacking the understanding that allows me to conceive how these microcephalic conic projections somehow embody either their namesake gods, or, for that matter, the spirit of competitive athletics. What sports could such oddly misshapen folk play? With feet like that, it’s a miracle they can walk. The people who developed these don’t even have the excuse of being deeply stoned, which was the excuse for Barcelona’s mascot, pictured below:

Cobi looks like a flesh-colored Keith Haring lycanthrope with one nipple and pubic hair trimmed in the shape of the Olympic Rings, but for God’s sake, at least he won’t tip over when he moves. I pity the poor bastards in Greece who are going to have to walk around in the inevitable mascot suits. When the drunks start whacking on them like piñatas, they won’t even be able to run. They’ll just have to waddle ineffectually and whimper until the beatings subside.

Reading up, I am led to understand that these mascots are designed by committee (insert punchline here) and are based on Greek terra cotta dolls from the 7th century BC. Allow me to suggest the reason that archaeologists were able to unearth the dolls in the first place was because some 7th century BC Greek kid buried them as far into the earth as she could possibly dig, because they were ugly even then. They were gifts from your great aunt Medea, her parents said. Pretend you like them. She has anger issues. But as soon as Medea got on her donkey cart, down they went into some hole. Would they stayed there.

I was giving some thought to getting Athena an Athena doll for obvious reasons, but now having seen the mascot, I think I’ll probably pass. My daughter deserves a rather better representation of her namesake. And for that matter, so do Athens and the Olympics.

(P.S. A fine time to recycle The Awful Terrible Histories of the Olympic Mascots, which I wrote for the 1996 games. I keep meaning to add additional stories for the mascots since then. I’ll get around to it one day. Possibly 2006.)


New Main Page Picture

For those of you who are interested in such things, there’s a new picture up on the front page. As a general aside, I’m giving some thought to revamping the look of the entire site, to give it a more cohesive look/feel, but since at the moment it would require more thought and effort than I want to provide, don’t count on it anytime soon. I think I may, however, time the revamp with the release of Old Man’s War.

Any suggestions as to what features/improvements you’d like to see added around here? Alternately, anything you’d like to see removed? Now’s a good time to let me know.


Cambodia, Texas, Whatever

Can I get a hallelujah and an amen for how absolutely little I care about either how John Kerry was says he was in Cambodia during the Vietnam War but maybe wasn’t, or how George Bush says he fulfilled his National Guard service, but maybe didn’t? I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. All this crap happened 30 years ago and has as little bearing on what’s going on in the world today as the gravitational pull of Pluto has on my pasty white ass as I sit here typing these words.

Kerry’s service record vs. Bush’s service record is marginally more important to me — say, like the gravitational pull of Neptune. But I still find it awfully hard to care. You know what I honestly think of Bush’s time patrolling the skies over Texas from the North Vietnamese Air Force? Good for him. When I was younger I always said that if there were ever a war and it looked like there was going to be a draft the first thing I was going to was was enlist in the Air Force, which seemed to me the branch of the service in which I was least likely to get killed; time spent in the Air National Guard seems even less likely to get one killed. I can hardly fault Dubya for embarking on a course of action markedly similar to my own blue-sky military plans. Likewise, good for Kerry we went to ‘Nam and did his time; if I had ever actually been drafted and sent upriver on a swift boat, I’d want to be the guy who fishes his crew out of the water, or at the very least the guy who was fished out of the water.

But when it comes to the election, I simply couldn’t give a crap about any of it. The last two Presidents with actual military experience were Bush I and Carter — anyone want to argue they were fabulous presidents? Likewise, Clinton never served and as for Reagan, he spent WWII making training films as part of the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, which I grok to be even less of a “real” military experience than Dubya’s stint in Texas, since at least Dubya flew military hardware. But you won’t hear conservatives knock Reagan, nor the liberals knock Clinton. What your military experience means is that you were in the military. Frankly, the only recent presidential candidate whose military experience was at all relevant was Clark’s, because that was what the man did for his professional life up until a few short years ago.

But back to Kerry and Bush. Tell you what. I’m going to spot them both their military careers. Kerry can trumpet his service all he wants, and I’m going to filter it out. Bush can do what he wants with his time, too. And I’ll go even further than that: I’m here to say I don’t care about the rest of either Bush’s or Kerry’s non-political life, except to the extent that it has some direct bearing on their policies or mandates or platforms. Bush a cokemonkey who failed upwards through business life? Fine. Whatever. Kerry a bland, shapeless goo who married for money? Groovy. So be it. Short of either man having actively strangled babies on national television sometime in the 80s, I’m going to let it all go, and I think you should too.

What I care about is their record since they’ve been in politics. Trust me, people, as far as Bush is concerned, there is absolutely no need to look beyond his presidency and administration to date: There’s enough red meat there to feast through November. Likewise if Kerry’s opponents can’t make hay with his years in the senate, they need to be fired and Kerry needs to get some more competent enemies. It these guys’ policies and political actions that matter and that will affect our lives now, tomorrow and in the future. If you all could just friggin’ focus on what’s actually relevant, please, we might all ultimately be better off.

For God’s sake, sometimes I feel like I’m the last sane human being out here. I don’t like Dubya; I admit it. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is what I think of his track record as President and his plans for the future. I’m not madly in love with Kerry, either, but again, so what? I want to see his plans and I want to look at his political life to see whether he’s got the competence and smarts to make it happen. Pretty much everything else is noise.

So can you try it? Not giving a crap about Kerry’s war record, or Bush’s, or anything else about either of them that’s not directly relatable to either one of them being President? I know it’s tough not to be distracted by all these shiny bits of foil. But please, make the attempt. It’s a presidential election. It’s not too much to ask.


I Know It’s Wrong

But I still think it’s damn funny. Oh, don’t fret. The cat’s fine. Anyway, it’s Lopsided Cat, who is definitively our dumbest cat; you could drop a GMC Yukon on his head and he couldn’t get any more dumb.

What I find very amusing is that Athena knows this sort of thing amuses me; she took the bat, walked up to the cat, posed, and then got my attention to take the picture. After which, of course, she very gently put the bat aside and gave Lopsided Cat a nice loving pet session. The thought of actually hurting one of our pets would cause Athena to burst into tears, as well it should. This is one of the reasons I truly dig my kid; at age five she understands the difference between a macabre sense of humor and actually being macabre. She’s going to be unstoppable as a teen.


School Days Approaching

Informational mail from Athena’s new school today; in it I learn that school starts on August 30th (I knew that) and ends on June 9th (I didn’t know that — that could put a crimp in our annual vacation plans). There’s also an open house on the 26th, so we can go in and meet the teachers and do all that stuff. I also learn that there is a dress code — no midriff baring shirts, no shorts after September or before May, and no clothes with gang, drug or potentially offensive markings or sayings; basically, the school doesn’t want the kids looking like thugs or ho’s. I can’t say I have a problem with this; I don’t want my kid to look like a thug or ho, either.

I also have a release sheet I have to sign agreeing to let my daughter on the Internet; the school uses filters but “determined users” might be able to get past them — i.e., anyone who know how to get into the preferences and turn off the filters. I realize I’m in an extreme minority here, but I have to say I’m pretty much totally unconcerned about Athena pulling up something objectionable on the Internet, and as for viewing something inappropriate, I think if she did her first reaction would simply to be to ask what it is that she’s viewing. Athena knows from us that there are some things that she as a kid isn’t supposed to be viewing — that there’s an adult world and a kid’s world, and when we tell her something is for adults, she usually gets it.

This isn’t the same as telling her she can’t see something, which I figure she’d eventually interpret as a challenge. It’s telling her it’s something she’s not likely to have an interest in at this point, which so far she has every appearance of understanding. In any event, Athena doesn’t have filters at home, nor do I expect she ever will. Somehow I don’t see her doing a lot of pr0n surfing, or hanging out on Nazi chat rooms, and long before she thinks about doing stuff like that, we’ll have a nice long chat with her about all the supercreeps who are out there. I believe in letting my daughter explore online, but on the other hand, I’m not stupid, either.

As it happens, this year is the first year Bradford had shifted to all-day kindergarten, meaning they stick around for the entire school day, and not the half day I did when I was a kid. The reason Bradford’s doing this is pretty simple: The school has comparatively poor test scores (an artifact of being a poor rural district with a small number of students, so that one dumb kid pulls down the entire curve). In 2002, it was in an “Academic Emergency,” which is defined as getting a pass on 7 or fewer of the 27 state academic assessment tests; last year it did rather better and was upgraded to “Continuous Improvement,” but of course there’s a ways to go, and one of the ways to work on it is to spend time with the kids as early as possible, getting them ready to learn. I’m pleased that the Bradford folks do seem committed to doing what it takes to get scores up; I hope that a side benefit of this is that kids actually learn to do something other than take state-mandated tests. There’s more to education than filling in the right bubble on a test.

Athena’s excited about school, which is what you hope for, and I think she’s very much looking forward to meeting some kids her age here in town; most of her friends are from other towns, thanks to her preschool, which pulls in kids from all over the local area. Academically, I don’t know what kindergarten is going to do for her, since their goals for the year are to get kids started on reading and numbers, and Athena already reads and can add and subtract. Our major goal for kindergarten, quite honestly, is to get her used to the structure of being in school; the idea that she needs be in her seat and doing certain things at certain times, and also interacting with her classmates. Neither Krissy and I want Athena to skip ahead academically; intellectually she’s probably ready for 1st grade but in terms of attention span, she’s very much a kindergartner. And of course why I would want to give myself one less year to save for college is completely beyond me.

Every once in a while I do that mental check, asking myself how I feel about my kid starting actual school; you know, it’s one of those big “passage of time” markers. Mostly I feel really good about it. She’s ready, you know — she’s been bored with preschool for the last couple of months because they’re beginning to repeat stuff she’s already done, and she’s at an age where she wants to spend more time with kids her own age. She’s as ready as she’ll ever be; I’m pretty much the same. Let kindergarten come.


Possibly Suicidal Updating

My comment spam seems to be increasing in the last week or so, and so I will now attempt to install MT-Blacklist to squash it, as if it were a bug. This will almost certainly mean I shall cause irrevocable harm to the MT installation. So if things go freaky around here today, you know why it is. Don’t worry, I’m backing up everything before I start. Pray for success.

Update, 1:05pm: Well, the installation seems to have gone fine (which is to say, I am able to access my MT and write this), BUT I am unable to use the blacklist because it requires Perl 5.005 and my server has but Perl 5.00404. As they say: Arrrrgh. So I called in a request for an update. The tech guy I was speaking with said “Yeah, they probably should update, that version of Perl is from 1997.” Which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence (although on the other hand my troubles with my host have significantly decreased over the last few weeks, so who knows). He suggested they may have an update in the next day or so. That would be nice.


Book of the Dumb 2 is Done

Yes, a last-few days writing sprint took care of that (as it usually does), with me cranking out about 30 articles/8,000 words in about 36 hours. The last BotD had about 200 articles in it; I wrote 223 for this one, so even if a few are dinked out we should be fine. There is some ancillary bits to be done (an introduction and some chapter headings), but those won’t cause me any headaches.

Looking back on the work, I have to say I like it — it is very clearly designed to be much like the first book in the series, which was a bestseller (or so they tell me), and so there was not much call to mess with success. At the same time, this version of the book has actual chapter based on subject matter, and I also threw in a couple more recurring features a la the Tips for Stupid Criminals and the Really Stupid Quiz. It’s that whole “give them what they want — and then give them something extra” thing.

As per usual Uncle John’s publishing schedules, it won’t take very long for BotD2 to show up in your local bookstore; the posted publishing date (found on Amazon, which is taking pre-orders) is October 10, which is, of course, just about two months from today. As always, I find the Uncle John production cycle breathtaking; it’s more akin to a magazine production schedule than a book production schedule in my experience. This is neither good nor bad; it is what it is. It works for this particular publisher, but I can think of numerous reasons why it wouldn’t for others.

What will I do now? Well, I expect to reward myself with 24 hours of Doom 3, after which I’ll get on with the next book, and also a longer article I’m writing for OPM (which I’ve already started but which now gets kicked into higher gear). It’s nice to be done. The best thing about deadlines is when you’re looking at the backside of one.


My Favorite Colors Are Green, Blue and White

So I guess it’s a good thing I live where I do.

Unbelievably beautiful day today. If we could have the rest just like this through, say, the middle of October, I’d be the happiest boy alive.


Blah Blah Blah 8/6

No, I haven’t finished the book. I’ve still got about five articles to write (I’ll probably write ten, just to be safe). No, I don’t have a good excuse. Leave me alone, damn you. I swear I’ll be finished later today. Or, I’ll drive a hammer through my skull, claw end first. In the meantime, some thoughts:

1. I’m in a mildly pissy mood over a very stupid thing, which is: People writing about films saying stupid things about box office grosses on their way to making a point about a filmmaker or star. Two examples in the last week: First in Slate, in which Michael Agger, ragging on M. Night Shyamalan’s work says this about his movie Signs: “It became a modest hit, but only after it was adopted by Christians as movie about the power of faith.” And then today over at MSNBC, Michael Ventre says this about What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford: The picture was a critical and commercial disappointment, which is probably one of the reasons why Ford is signed on to ‘Indiana Jones 4.'”

Both of these assertions are stupidly wrong: Signs grossed $225 million domestically and $400 million worldwide; that’s not a “modest hit,” that’s a big-ass blockbuster. Also, it had a $60 million opening weekend, which suggests more than just the Christians came out to see it right from the start. As for What Lies Beneath: $155 million domestically ($290 million worldwide), the 10th highest-grossing film of 2000 and the third highest-grossing film of Harrison Ford’s that wasn’t an Indy or Star Wars movie. I’m sure movie studios would like some more “disappointments” like that.

What’s annoying to me about crap like this is a) here are guys writing for professional publications who can’t be bothered to check their facts with a 3-minute visit to, b) the implication that one gets from this is that people who are writing entertainment are held to a more lackadaisical standard when it comes to, you know, facts. This may be a by-product of so much entertainment writing being opinion (reviews) or fluff (celebrity interviews). But look — no matter what you write, if you’re going to dangle something out there as a fact, make sure the facts back you up. Both of these guys undercut their credibility by either not bothering to check the facts — which is easily done — or (even worse) knowing what they’re writing is crap and simply not caring because, after all, it’s writing about entertainment. It’s not like it matters.

This reminds me of one of the things I noticed when I worked as a movie critic at the Fresno Bee newspaper, and would attend junkets with a lot of entertainment writers. Many of the entertainment writers didn’t strike me as particularly interested in entertainment so much as they were reporters who got punted into the entertainment section because they couldn’t be trusted to get their facts straight; i.e., they were punted into the one area of the newspaper where being fuzzy on the details was unlikely to get the newspaper in legal hot water. Needless to say, I found this distressing. I still find it distressing. These guys aren’t helping the category’s credibility any. And the thing is, it’s so easy to find entertainment data — Any industry that thrives on selling its hits is awash in figures. There’s no reason not to get your facts straight.

No, entertainment isn’t as “important” as hard news, or politics. But that doesn’t mean its writers should be lazy to the point of being factually wrong. I’m done ranting on this subject now.

2. I’m vaguely expecting some more “childfree” nutbags to be passing through here in the next couple of days since I went out of my way to antagonize one on the USENET earlier this evening (hey, they started it), and that somewhat predictably brings them round to vent about how horrible their lives are because other people’s children are breathing the same oxygen as they are; it’s the difference between “I don’t want to have any children,” which is perfectly reasonable, and “I think your children should be dipped in chum and thrown to sharks,” which seems a little out there to me.

The childfree nutbag I antagonized was this one, who by his/her LiveJournal seems otherwise perfectly decent, in that comic book-reading, too-much-Buffy sort of way (i.e., just like lots of the people I’ll be seeing at Noreascon in a month or so). One does wonder what happened to this person to make them so twitchy when it comes to kids. Perhaps not enough hugs were involved. Or perhaps too many of the wrong hugs. With so many damaged people, it seems to be one or the other.

It’s also a reminder that people who are otherwise seemingly normal (or at least seemingly acceptably socialized) can suddenly rear up and get hella freaky on you when you hit whatever really sensitive spot they’ve got. I suppose the nice thing about the USENET and the Web is that you get the advantage of finding out what that really touchy spot is ahead of ever physically meeting them, so you can, you know, avoid pressing that button (unless you’re mean). Were I ever to meet Lots42 in real life, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have Athena around for it. I don’t think it would be a quality encounter for either of them.

3. I go to about 100-200 blogs/journals a day (it’s part of my job, you know), and I have to say I’m giving very serious thought to paring off the ones that are politics-oriented until, say, December, because I’m finding the politically oriented ones really irritating these days. It has something to so with the fact that otherwise reasonably rational bloggers and journalers with whom I share a fair amount of intellectual common ground are checking larger and larger portions of their brains at the door as this election campaign goes on, and it’s depressing to see so many people undergoing what can charitably be described as systematic intellectual system failure. This is the first presidential election cycle since the ascendancy of the blog information metaphor; there were people blogging in 2000, mind you, but they didn’t have the same hyper-kinetic echo chamber feedback loop thing going on we’re getting this year. I will be stunned, frankly, if several of the more prominent bloggers on both sides of the spectrum don’t actually physically combust by mid-October.

And I hear you say: Well, you’re not exactly the voice of moderation in your own political writings, now, are you, Scalzi. No, I’m not. It’s pretty clear where I am on this election, and I don’t make any apologies from that. On the other hand, it’s not all politics all the time, and I don’t think I’ve become any more irritatingly strident about my positions; I’m at the same level of irritating stridency I was at a year and two years ago. Consistency, that’s the key.

Look, I’m not saying that this blog polarization isn’t warranted; it’s a tightly-contested, highly-contentious campaign in which everyone is jumping on everything, no matter how trivial, as proof that the “other guy” is a lying sack of crap. Fine. Have fun with it, kids. All I’m saying is that I’m looking forward to this election being done so that a lot of blogs I’ve generally found enjoyable will go back to being mostly enjoyable again. All this “bloggers chewing on their own intestines” crap is getting old fast.

4. Okay, so if I’m not wanting to focus on politics, what am I going to read? It’s not like other people are going to stop writing on politics just to make me happy. Well, look: It’s not that I don’t want to read about politics. I just don’t want it all the friggin’ time. If you’re all hate Bush hate Bush hate Bush or hate Kerry hate Kerry hate Kerry unceasingly and without end, it just gets tiresome. I mean, I know how I’m going to vote already. I’m done. Write about politics, fine. But give me something else, too.

So, at the moment I’m reading Boing Boing, which has a lot more politics than before, but also a lot of basic geekitude and random crap. I also stop by AllThingsChristie a couple of times a day because this woman apparently does nothing but update her page with really funky links. Hey, she’s in college, she can do that. I steal shamelessly from both of these sites for By The Way, because part of my job with AOL is giving the AOL Journalers fun little links to amuse themselves with. Honestly, probably not a day goes by where I’m not linking to something I’ve found at one or another of these sites. Cory et al and Christie, you are Teh RoXX0r. Don’t ever change.

Gizmodo and Engadget, because I just like to see what the hell people are coming up with these days. Also, while the tech world has its own politics, the technology itself is largely free of any agenda other than “let’s make something cool that will separate humans from their cash,” and I for one like that basic straightforwardness of mission, especially now.

Preposterous Universe, Uncertain Principles and The Panda’s Thumb, all of which are generally science-oriented (physics, physics and evolutionary biology), but which sprinkle other subjects in as well (politics, music, teaching) to keep things going on. Vaguely related to Uncertain Principles, Outside of a Dog, written by Kate Nepveu, wife of Chad Orzel (who writes Principles). Dog is (mostly) a booklog, and Kate has a good critical eye (so far as I can tell).

I’m casually reading a number of LiveJournals now, mostly because I’ve bookmarked Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s friends page, which saves me the effort of having to track down all these people on my own, and there are other LiveJournals I read independently. I am reminded that for some reason many people on LiveJournals seem more confessional (and consonantly, more screwed-up) than people in other blogging communities; of course, it may just be I’m somehow reading people who are simply drama cases (I should note that the people on pnh’s list don’t seem particularly drama-filled; I’m speaking of other LJs I’m reading). I wonder if there’s a certain parsing out of personalities — if certain people more likely to use LiveJournal or Movable Type or whatever because of certain personality traits. A master’s thesis in the making. Use it with my blessing.

I’m off to bed, perchance to then wake up, do a couple of AOL entries, and then write about stupidity long the merry day. What a life.


My World

For those who care (and those who don’t but wandered over here anyway), a status update:

1. Book is coming along fine. Close to the contractually obliged word count, which is nice, and also to the number of pages required for the book, which is even nicer. One of the strange things about doing an Uncle John’s Book is that the page count is often determined before the book is written, and then one writes to length. No one else I know does this (aside, I imagine, from some children’s books: I seem to remember all my scholastic books coming in at 48 or 64 pages). I should be able to wrap everything up tomorrow, Thursday at latest. Then I’ll take off the weekend and then start on Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film. Books! They’re fun.

2. My satellite Internet woes are resolved. I had a technician come out, he tweaked the position of the dish receiver (funny how being off beam by just a few millimeters can propagate into a real error over the several thousand miles to the satellite), and everything turned out fine. For now. In any event, now I’m not in danger of losing my broadband connection (and my mind) when insects cross in front of the dish, and at this point that’s all I can ask.

3. I also upgraded my video card with a minimum of drama (it caused some weird conflict with my satellite modem — don’t ask me why — but I resolved it), and the new card is kickin’ it just fine as far as I can tell. Since I’m picking up Doom III this afternoon, we’ll see. Before you ask, no, I don’t plan on playing Doom III tonight, at least not before I finish all the writing I have alloted to get done tonight. Must. Be. STRONG.

4. kd lang’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel: Muy Excellente. I love kd lang’s voice (not a better torch singer out there at the moment), and I’ve always had a weakness for Canadian songwriters, including many of those who Lang covers here. I can’t conceive of a reason why you shouldn’t own this album. Also, this album is a fine example of why iTunes is very dangerous: I remembered the album was out, I said to myself Damn! I need to own that! and then less than a minute later I was downloading it. Impulse buying, thy name is iTunes.

5. Also, I feel special for being able to appreciate both kd lang and Doom III, although I would not go so far as to say I would appreciate them both simultaneously. It’s just me, but I don’t think Lang’s cover of Jane Siberry’s “Love is Everything” would go well with shotgunning a whole passel of pixellated imps. And Lang’s take on Neil Young’s “Helpless” would be entirely in appropriate in that context.

That’s it for today.


Book Deadline Today —

— And I’m still about 20 articles short (maybe more, maybe less; my editor needs to flow what we have into the book design). I blame my satellite connection, which has been the very definition of “intermittent,” spending entire hours cycling through a connect and disconnected state every six seconds or so. When you have to use the Internet for research, this is inconvenient. Did I mention that satellite Internet sucks? (Don’t make me go on about the troubles I’m having with dial-up at the moment.) I’ll be making an appointment today for a technician to come out and check it out. However, no more updating here until I’m done with the book. Think: Probably Wednesday.

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