Reader Request Week 2005: Get Your Requests In

You know, every day thousands of people drop by here to see what I’m ranting about, or to find out what excuse I’m proffering for not ranting today, and to each and everyone of you, I want to say: Thanks. Daily you slake my need for public exhibition, and you ask for so little in return, except for the occasional few who ask for money (the answer is still “no” on that, by the way). And since you all patiently put up with my blatherations, once a year, for a week, I like to turn over the subject of the site to you. Once I year, you call the tune, and I dance like the proverbial monkey that I am for your amusement.

This is my way of saying that next Monday I’ll start my 3rd Annual Reader Request Week: You suggest a topic, and I’ll write about it. How do you suggest a topic? Just drop it in the comment thread. What kind of topic can you suggest? Why, any that you like. And what do you get for suggesting a topic? Well, aside from the satisfaction of knowing you’ve saved me the processing cycles required to come up with a topic of my own, you’ll get an acknowledgment from me for your fabulous topic commendation, and, uh, well, I guess that’s it, aside from getting an answer from me on the topic. But don’t let that dissuade you. Maybe one year I’ll give out cash awards for the topics I pick. Just not this year.

So, please: Anything you ever wanted me to write about, feel free to mention it in the comment thread. I’ll wander through and pick at least one topic a day to discuss. It’s good, clean, healthy fun for everyone. And to make sure that you don’t ask a question about a topic I already addressed in 2004 or 2003, here are links to those articles.

From 2003:

Reader Request #1: The Middle East
Reader Request #2: Life Online
Reader Request #3: TV
Reader Request #4: Testing Preschoolers
Reader Request #5: Jealousy
Reader Request #6: Immigration
Reader Request #7: Ohio
Reader Request #8: Writing
Reader Request Wrapup

From 2004:

Reader Request Week 2004 #1: Boys and Girls
Reader Request 2004 #2: The Meaning of Life
Reader Request 2004 #3: Can Writing Be Taught?
Reader Request 2004 #4: Fatherhood and Pie
Reader Request 2004 #5: Objective Newspeople
Reader Request Week 2004 Wrapup

I’m looking forward to reading your requests!

75 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2005: Get Your Requests In”

  1. John — I’ve enjoyed reading “Whatever” for a month or two now.
    I’d like to know what you think of fanfiction.
    Do you think it’s a legitimate exercise of imagination, or a trampling on copyright?

  2. I was actually wondering if you could talk about your book Old Man’s War and maybe link to a few reviews.

  3. I lobby for the subject of Dan Pink’s new book, A Whole New Mind, which explores the next economic shift from Information Age to Conceptual Age – the premise that much of the “left brained” work that currently ranks high in status and money (doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc) will be automated or outsourced (it’s already happening) and that, as a direct result of this process and America’s abundance lifestyle, “right brained” folks (writers, self-actualizers like coaches and inspirational leaders, artisans, experience providers and so on) will emerge as the “hope your kid grows up to be one” wave of the economic future. The backstory is that most of Americans’ basic Maslow Hierachy needs are being met with room and money to spare, and so the move toward seeking self-actualization, entertainment and connectivity is the natural next step.

  4. Arguments and fighting styles, differences between couples, parents and children, and among siblings—take it to mean either preferred or simply what ends up happening.


  5. Video Games. You occasionally write (wrote?) for the Official Playstation Magazine, and you have a tender, close relationship with the boys at Penny Arcade, yet video games rarely make it into the Whatever. What games do you like? What did you like? Do you still care? What’s the state of the industry? If you made Athena beat GTA: San Andreas, do you think it would improve or impair her: (a) musical tastes, (b) colorful vocabulary, (c) propensity to sadistically use a variety of weapons on pedestrians and criminals with the intent of killing them and taking their money, (d) wardrobe matching, AND/OR (e) skill with flying a jet pack?

    And a follow-up question: How do you think the 2006 elections will affect the 2008 primaries?

    (always meant to submit one of those)

  6. School shootings: Why are they happening? Can they be prevented? What do they say about our culture in general?

  7. We’re about to have a general election over here in the UK. I am hearing (and reading) a lot of comments along the lines of ‘I’m not going to vote because none of the parties are going to do anything for ME.’ or ‘There’s no point in voting. They’re all the same.’ and so on. I find this apathetic attitude toward the democratic process saddening and often annoying.

    1. What are your thoughts on voting?
    2. How would you persuade people to vote (not for a specific party or politician, but just to go to the polling station and exercise their powers)?
    3. Why do think this attitude is so prevalent at moment in western society?

  8. Cake vs pie, let the flame war begin! Either that or, does the whole world share the idea that people aren’t responsible for their actions, or is that an American philosophy?

  9. I’d like to see your thoughts about the new type of fame that seems to be developing in the U.S. — people who are famous for doing icky stuff on reality shows. People are becoming famous for things that really aren’t all that impressive. It’s like suddenly there’s more Gabor sisters.

    Paper or plastic?

    How do you think history will treat Bill Clinton, now that we’re a few years beyond his presidency?

  10. I’d second video games. Past, present…and then use that OMW creativity and come up with some ideas on where that industry may be in 50-100 years?! Holodecks?

    If you felt like expounding on Heinlein, that’d be cool…favorite works, why? Writing style comparisons, etc.

  11. One question I’d really like answered: is the colony of moles in my lawn REALLY trying to take over the world?

    If you can’t answer that one because they’ve already got to you: when writing fiction, do you write specifically for a genre, or do you write your story and then see what genre it falls into?

  12. The Rock&Roll Hall of Fame: Threat or Menace?
    Should we even have one? Who should be in it that isn’t in it yet? Of post-2000 new bands/artists, who is likely to get in after 2025? If John Scalzi ruled the world, who would be in the jam session after the coronation party?


  13. I actually second the voting apathy topic… but the topic I would like to nominate is scientific literacy. Why is it that so many people are so willing to believe ridiculous claims that are pseudoscience or not even scientific at all? (“Hypnosis! A proven technique for weight loss!”…) Anything we can do to combat it?

    I teach psychology and increasingly find myself teaching, nay, advocating, scientific literacy –making students really consider the claims people are making… and I’m fighting an uphill battle. For every dozen students I teach (and not all of whom I reach) are thousands who don’t even blink about these kinds of claims. As an added bonus, your essay may become required reading in my classes…

  14. What’s your take on what it means to be human and alive, especially in an age when robotics, AI, and genetic engineering are taking off? I know OMW-style people and the Singularity are science fiction, but genetic therapy to cure disease or AI that can play chess aren’t. Should Big Blue be given a passport?

  15. Here’s one for ya: Ebooks. Almost everything I read nowadays is an ebook. The technology has finally gotten to a point in the last couple of years that for an uber-geek early adopter like myself, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. There are several quality ebook stores out there (e.g. Fictionwise and eReader) that have a wide variety of new material, as well as all the stuff that’s past copyright at Project Guttenberg.While the set of [books I want to read] is much, much larger than the set of [books I want to read that are available as ebooks], the latter set is still much larger than I have time to read, so they’re both practically infinite.Now clearly, the technology’s still not really there yet for the majority of the reading public, but I expect it will be within a few years. So, what are your thoughts on ebooks vs. old stinky dead trees? I kid, I kid. I do love the tactile experience of reading books, but in my mind, the words are what’s most important and anything that makes mainlining prose easier is a beautiful thing.

  16. All of the above, in a single Robin Willians style improv rant on how the argyle-sock-wearing moles in Dean’s lawn, despite being too apathetic to vote, are plotting to take over the world by means of subliminal messages hidden in their fan-fic e-books and can only be stopped by genetically engineered uber-humans who have honed their skills in video-game versions of whack-a-mole …

    You get the idea.

  17. Hey, Jon, how about conspiracy theories. And how long do you give these nutjobs until one of them says the Pope was murdered because they just can’t believe an 84 year old man could get sick and die like that.

  18. Why did the Howells bring all those clothes and so much cash for what was supposed to be a three hour tour?

  19. Beatles or Rolling Stones?

    Superman or Batman?

    “He or she” or singular “they”?

    Also, how big a section does the “Rough Guide to the Universe” have on cosmology?

  20. Write a serial.

    1 week, 5 episodes of a character in the OMW universe.

    You can do text, or you can call Gabe and have him help you out with an illustrated version (doesn’t have to be finished art, sketches are fine).

  21. (Cue Cosby) What’s the deal with binary opposition? That’s poorly worded, so to expand: even in this comments thread, a lot of the options are of the x vs. y phenotype. Is the idea of a multipolar (to miuse a term) world anathema, or is it intellectual laziness?

  22. Speaking as a relatively new Whatever addict, I’d like to see two things accomplished by John:
    Firstly, to attempt to stretch his writing by turning some really ludicrous suggestion into an amazing piece of prose. Second, to fail horribly at said attempt but to post it anyway, mostly because I’m jealous of his success and a petty, small-minded person. Sure, that would demonstrate how he’s a better sport than I am, but that’s not going to surprise anybody.

    To get things rolling, here’s a really ludicrous suggestion:
    A contemplation about the national threat represented by the armada of flying monkeys that will come out of my butt if John actually follows this suggestion. I mean, creatures that can fly and are known to throw their own feces? I feel a need to wash my car just thinking about it.

  23. You mentioned a while ago switching over to Firefox and ThunderBird, have you been tempted to go father down the open source route? What’s your take on the whole open source software culture/philosophy anyway?

    Colm Mac

  24. What is art? Is something art because someone thinks that it is art, i.e. is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Does art even have to be beautiful?

  25. You need to write about Star Wars. The glories of the past, the failures of the present, and what you’d like to see in the future. You went to Chicago (like I am right now), I know the nerd in you has opinions galore. And maybe you could make this piece funny. Because Lucas certainly deserves more roastings than the world can give him.

  26. What I’d be interested in is your feelings on marijuana and how that has changed since you’ve had a child and grown older? I’m 24 at the moment and personally I don’t use it but my fiancé and friends do use it.

  27. How about some thoughts about your time living in Northern Virginia? I still live there, and am curious about your impression of the place.

  28. Through a Brazil-like paperwork mixup you are promoted to be the Administrator of the United States office of Special Projects. You have no particular portfolio or agenda but you do have $100 billion in taxpayer money that has to be spent and complete autonomy. What do you do with the cash and why?

    Or less fancifully- what projects are not being undertaken by the government that should be?

    But the first way is a more fun way of thinking about it.

  29. How about the origins of human consciousness? Julian Jaynes had a great run with “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. Scalzi on the origin of consciousness could be a blockbuster.

  30. How about “Who was the most significant Hungarian poet, Attila Jozsef or Sandor Petofi?”

  31. I’ll second the request for a write up about the oil peak.

    I’ve been reading a lot about it lately and it’s an interesting prospect to think that in a hundred years we could have super computers, amazing genetic engineering and manned trips to the rest of the solar system; yet be back to using a bicycle or horse & buggy for personal transport.

  32. Superman or Batman?

    Better yet: If you had a choice between the power to fly and the power to turn invisible, which superpower would you choose? There was a good This American Life segment on this question, that I just sought out to put on my iPod.

  33. A proper topic must be amusing, a good vehicle for your style of humor, AND act as a lure for massive volumes of hate mail that you can later share and dissect. Example: who is geekier/more unwashed/ more relentlessly irrational/more likely to have sex lives confined to furtive masturbation in the basement: Star Wars geeks or Star Trek geeks?

    Spike it with a few deliberate errors about Wars/Trek lore and you are gold!

    Or, on a more serious note: how much of the political commentary blogosphere is really about debate and analysis of issues, and how much is just opinion porn?

  34. While I’m sure you’ll be proud of Athena no matter what she ends up doing in life, I’m sure there are things you dream about her doing and things you really hope she doesn’t do. So, what profession (or professions) do you secretly pray that she never ends up working in? (I’m assuming legal professions here, of course.)

  35. What “famous” person, alive or dead, would you love to meet and chat with?

  36. Why is the US the only country to not accept soccer as a major sport? Will it ever be popular there?

  37. (This one could actually be plausibly merged with the Fanfic question.)

    Intellectual property – Where do you feel an equitable compromise lies in the fair-use/right-of-artists-to-profit-from-their-work debate? Any thoughts on the Creative Commons license, specifically as pertains to your future work? (Cory Doctorow released a couple of his novels online and in dead-tree form simultaneously, while Orson Scott Card did okay for himself with the Shadow series by releasing the first few chapters of each a few months ahead of the street date. Any plans to do something similar?)

  38. I saw someone up there ask about how history would treat Bill Clinton. How do you think history will remember George W. Bush? Given the potential for success via luck in the middle east, how would that success affect W’s legacy?

  39. Another vote for Fanfic comments (especially slash, which I just don’t understand at all; who takes a work of fiction and goes, “Wow! What an incredibly moving story. You know what would make it even better? If everyone’s sleeping together!”).

    Also music education (your views on it, whether you are [or will be] encouraging your daughter to take up an instrument, and [in general] how you view the state of music [and, specifically, classical music] in the world today).

  40. I’ve already gotten money for making you rant (okay, hold discourse) on a subject of my choosing, so I’ll just sit back and watch. :-)

  41. The differences, real and imagined, between urban American culture and rural American culture.

    Also, what makes a recipe worthwhile, and what makes one suck.

  42. A fellow U of C student and I have frequently discussed the merits of dirty politics. Our usual examples are Carter, a nice guy and an ineffective president, and Johnson, a real asshole and a rather effective president. I had pretty much concluded that dirty politics are both necessary and good for the nation’s well-being, but recently I began to think about Nixon. It has been more difficult for me to give Nixon the same clemency that I gave Johnson. This raises several questions for me. Am I right to forgive Johnson his foibles in the first place? Ought I forgive Nixon as well? Is the fact that Nixon got caught the only reason that it’s harder for me to forgive him? What is your opinion?

  43. This a music question question as well. What is our top 10 list for best songs to sing along with in the car. Those top 10 songs that you sing along with at the top of your lungs when you are alone in the car or in your house.

  44. Gah – a little late but there’s a topic i’ve been wanting you to blog on forever. We’ve heard the story of how OMW came about, but fiction doesn’t always pay the bills. How does one find work and get started in the non-fiction (i.e. corporate) writing world and what steps would you take to get there? The path to fiction writing is well documented and i’d love to hear you talk about fiction’s more financially stable brother.

  45. Talk about inconsistancies or consistancies in OMW

    Do all dead soldiers auto go into the Ghost brigade. Why didn’t Perry ask this?

    Your a pacifist writing “military Sci-fi”. Oxymoron.

  46. “Your a pacifist writing ‘military Sci-fi.’ Oxymoron.”

    What on Earth causes you to think I am a pacifist?

  47. Yet another request on peak oil. Even if you’re not able to provide any realistic hope, I’d like some way of getting my mind around it so I can fully enjoy life again. I can’t exactly thank those of you who pointed me toward Kunstler, et al., because I’ve been pretty much paralyzed with dread for the last few days. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon. I hope. (Read more about it today and my hands are literally shaking.)

  48. You’ve written about writing from a novelist POV, what about sharing nuggets aimed more at the writing that pays for your house: magazines, corporate prospecti, cereal box copy, or whatever the hell it is you do when you aren’t working more creatively.

    Certainly that not the same?

  49. Hello John, read both your sf books and enjoyed them thoroughly. Couple of questions or topics or ideas, whathaveya–first, we are having problems with the military now, recruiting is down, etc, (could it have anything to do with Vietnam, er I mean Iraq?) And I read your thoughts on immigration from earlier request week. I had this thought–why not do as the Romans did and invite the immigrants, especially illegal immigrants to join our armed forces, for a 4 year hitch, and then they would become automatic citizens as well as their immediate family members. Hey, get them paying those taxes! Help out our poor country with a hired Mexican-American Army, to kick Saddam’s butt–oops, sorry, to keep the peace in Iraq and elsewhere? What you think?

  50. The proper balance between parents and schools — how do you keep a handle on what your kid is learning when you send them off to school for a set chunk of time every day? How do you combat the negative peer pressures at schools or attempts by teachers to teach things in a way you don’t agree with?

  51. Subject for essay:

    Embracing the inner nerd.

    My inner nerd, symptomized by my love of science fiction, gourmet cooking, historical miniature wargaming, comic books, etc…, lay dormant for years. Now that I am in my early thirties, married and domesticated that nerd inside is beginning to come bursting out. The high school/college years are tough on normal* folks with the inner nerd, but is there hope?

    I have other normal* friends experiencing the same phenomenon.

    *Normal, meaning me. While I have an inner nerd, I still was able to be socially normal (basically a drunken, fun loving, skirt chasing moron) and was, and still am, involved in normal pursuits like golf, softball, hunting, fishing and drinking.

  52. “What on Earth causes you to think I am a pacifist?”

    Whoops. I took you for another poster in the Immigration thread. Sorry. I am more used to Forums but Blogs are fun.

    I read you work for Playstation magazine. OMW, at times, felt like a game mainly when they were doing the hangliding pumping gernades into the building but I can tell you did allot of military resaerch as well and of cource you know your science. Nice touch keeping Ruiz more realistic and not too cozy.
    What games do you play and the impact of playing the bad guy? UT?

    A new game coming out that will probably be very controversial. D’yaTink???

  53. Just read ‘Old Man’s War’. Damn good. Close to Heinlein, in fact. Believe you’re going to get there. I’ve been reading SF since about 1946 – when I discovered ASF. I am a retired USAF fighter pilot – 22 years flying the F86,F102, F104,F4. Squadron CO at DaNang. Suspense of disbelief came hard with 1 inch tall people. Brain case too small. Consu remind me of that militant Buddhist sect Sokko Gakai in Japan, taken a couple steps further. Also, slicing dicing and sharing a mate and then getting back under cover before anyone could react – Christ, I’m 74 and my reaction time is 0.25 seconds even yet. Plus I taught combat pistol shooting in the USAF – my demonstration to prove the 2″ barreled aircrew revolver could hit was 5 shots in 5 seconds at 5 turning silhouette targets at 25 yards. Head shots, mind you. (I was also on the base pistol team so I’d been seriously practicing for the past couple of years.) When the adrenalin is pumping one’s perceived time speeds up about 5 or more times; I was in a situation once where later I was able to compare my thought process to a known cyclic function (ejection seat firing after handle pull) hence the 5x value. And so, when is the next one due? Having been married now for 50 1/2 years I could appreciate how John Perry felt. You can’t leave him hanging. Oh, if you want to vary the output, stretch the brain, and try something else first, fine, but like I said, give John a break.
    Walt Bjorneby, ftr plt ret.

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