Let There Be (New) Light


To give you an idea of just how much of a dork I am, for the last two weeks I’ve been impatiently waiting for the light bulb in my desk lamp to burn out so I could put in this bulb, a compact fluorescent bulb whose manufacturer (you know, the one that builds defense systems — and airs Will and Grace!), declares that it will last at least ten times as long as any normal bulb. Well, we’ll just see about that, I thought. But I had to wait until the then-current bulb burned out because unscrewing it and putting in a new one when this old one hadn’t popped its filament was just wasteful and wrong. Now, for a moment, let us consider the sort of magical-yet-entirely-insane thinking that occurs in my brain that allows me to buy a new, $1,800 computer because I’m bored with looking at the old one, yet forbids me to throw out a 60-cent light bulb because it’s not used up all the way. Honestly, why the hell I’m allowed to spend anything more than pocket change is totally beyond me.

Be that as it may, today was the big day — at around 5pm, that most recent example of Edison’s Big Idea finally gave up the ghost, and with precipitate glee I removed it from its post and screwed this new one in — my first alternate lighting choice. And indeed, it works as advertised; despite being fluorescent, the light it gives off is about as "warm" as any incandescent bulb you might choose to think of, and when the lampshade is on the lamp the office is bathed in the same generally mellow glow I got out of wave after wave of 40-to-60-watt lightbulbs (this one, by comparison, uses a mere 13 watts). Naturally, it’s too early to tell whether it will last ten times as long as a normal bulb, but I’ve got the stopwatch on it. We’ll see, won’t we.

One of the things I find deeply amusing about this bulb (aside from its appearance, which is in fact decidedly un-bulblike) is that GE guarantees the bulb for five years, and if the bulb does burn out before then, why, you can get your money back. Just remember to stash away the bulb’s UPC code and register receipt, so you can mail them to GE. I’m trying to imagine the universe in which I of all people keep both of these things at the ready, waiting for the merest hint of product failure before November 18, 2010. I imagine in this alternate universe I also have a thick mane of wavy chestnut hair and a giant talking puma named Jo-Jo, whom I ride sidesaddle in my job as Chief Leprechaun Catcher for the state of Ohio. Those damn Leprechauns and their stupid pots of gold. They’re a plague, I tell you.

I am in fact passing curious as to how many people actually take up GE on the offer, and how many of these people genuinely have the bulb go out early. The five years guarantee is based on four hours of usage daily, which seems a little skimpy to me, since I clicked on the new light at five and it’s 1:30 am now, and that’s a not unusual work day for my lamp this time of year. I can just imagine some thrifty fellow using the bulb six hours a day and then sending back his UPC and receipt three and a half years in, and thinking he’s gotten away with something. Naturally I find this sort of warranty abuse appalling. I shall set Jo-Jo upon him. Then we’ll see who is clever.


Space Heater: The Warmination!

This is how you know winter is here: I’ve brought out the space heater. Thanks to the vagaries of poor air circulation and its placement on the side of the house that faces into the general direction of the wind, my office is typically the coldest room in the house (in cold weather, anyway) sometimes by a double digit temperature differential. Rather than crank up the thermostat and cause the rest of the house to have the same climate as Borneo, I just switch on the space heater and apply its warming currents directly to my shivering ass (sorry to burden you with that image). Mmmmm… let the warmination commence!

Winter also means that my office begins its annual game of electricity musical chairs. As you may be aware, space heaters draw quite a bit of electricity, and so when I add mine to an office already overburdened with electric power suckers, including up to three computers, well, let’s just say I take frequent trips to the basement to flip the circuit breaker. Last winter I solved this issue by plugging the space heater into an extension cord plugged into the master bathroom, which is on a different circuit entirely. But you may imagine how popular this solution was with Krissy, whose sense of home esthetic is, shall we say, offended by a fat orange extension cord snaking halfway across the house. This winter I’ll try simply unplugging some of the crap I’m not actually using all that much. It’s a nutty idea but it just might work.


La Guerre Du Vieil Homme

Just sold Old Man’s War to French publisher Editions L’ Atalante, who also publishes Steven Brust, Terry Pratchett, Vernor Vinge and David Weber. Groovy. Christmas is paid for. Also, that qualifies as ending the week on a high note. 


Pointless Early Friday Rant

I’ve been having one of those weeks where the best thing that can be said about it is that it is coming to a close, and the fact that I say this in a week in which I sold a book, received great-looking ARCs of a second, and was delighted by the illustrations accompanying a third book (well, chapbook) should give an indication of just how rankly craptastic other aspects of my life have been over the last several days. Suffice to say that sometimes we suffer for things over which we had no control, and leave it at that. But on the bright side, I’ve learned that I actually can stay civil when I have to, even when some folks (and not at all unjustifiably, from their point of view) are doing their level best to goad me into apoplectic rage. Didn’t happen. At 36, I finally feel mature.

However, the flip side of this is that I now have an irrational and not entirely useful urge to pick a fight with someone — anyone, really — and just whale the shit out of them with logic and/or derision. And that’s really no good for anyone, least of all me, since no one is actually clever when they’re generally pissy, and I regret to say I am not the exception that proves the rule. What I’m saying is that if over the next few days my asshole-o-meter has its needle pegged to the red, please be aware it’s not you, it’s me. Also, please don’t try to pick any fights with me. I mean, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought. But it just won’t end happily for anyone, least of all me. The problem with getting into a flame war when you’re already wound up is that it’s never the cathartic experience you really want; you just end up feeling fatigued and dirty. I think I’ll just play Dance Dance Revolution all weekend long instead.

Don’t worry, I’ll be fine by Monday. Or I’ll have had a stroke. Either way, it’ll be resolved.


Meet the Ni-Nins

Charming looking fellow, is he not? He’s a Ni-nin, one of the alien races you’ll encounter in Questions for a Soldier, the limited edition signed chapbook written by me and published by Subterranean Press, which expands on the story of John Perry, the main character of Old Man’s War.

Subterranean contracted famed SF illustrator Bob Eggleton to do a number of illustrations to accompany the short story the chapbook contains, and I’m here to tell you that if you bought the chapbook just for Eggleton’s illustrations, I wouldn’t blame in you in the least. Mind you, I like the story I wrote just fine — lots of action, adventure and alien encounters, all in easy-to-swallow Q-and-A form — but Eggleton’s illustrations are truly cool. I’m particularly taken with the Ni-nin, which is why I’m showing it off to you now. Because, man, even I didn’t know they looked this badass.

This is one of the very exciting things about being a published author, incidentally: getting to work with talented artists who make your work better by their participation. Eggleton’s work for Questions indisputably makes the value of the chapbook far greater than it would be with just my words, and as for my novels, it’s possible that some other author might have had a better trifecta of cover artists for their first three books than I had in Donato Giancola, Mike Krahulik and John Harris, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any. I’ve been very lucky in my artistic company so far, and I’m immensely grateful for that.

Man, I’m still geeking on the Ni-nin. That’s tattoo-worthy, that’s what that is. I wouldn’t be at all surprised one day to see this guy on the shoulder of some bald and beefy Hell’s Angel named "Stinky" or "Tiny." Yes, that’s a compliment. You gonna tell Stinky that it’s not? Didn’t think so.

(If you want to see the rest of Eggleton’s illustrations — and incidentally read my text — you can get Questions from Subterranean, or through the online trinity of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell’s. The chapbook is limited to 574 standard chapbooks and 26 signed traycased handbound copies, the latter only available via the Subterranean site. If you buy one of the latter (at $175 a pop) by all means let me know; I’ll send you an additional "thank you" of some sort, because that’s above and beyond, you know.) 



In addition to the fabulous book news in the previous entry, here’s another thing to make today National John Scalzi Literary Fabulousness Day — a package of advance reader copies of The Ghost Brigades. Whoo-hoo! And there was much rejoicing. This ARC is of the first pass edit of the manuscript, so there are a few rough spots here in there (one character’s name switches between "Seaborg" and "Seaborn," and there are a few sentences I’ve gone and broken into two, and so on), but damn, this thing looks good. Very pleased. What a good day. I needed one after the spectacularly crappy day I had yesterday, so thanks, Tor and Subterranean.


Greetings to the Rat People! Or, An Announcement

If you’re like me, and, if you can read this, you are like me, at least in the larger "I share more DNA with you than with a banana slug" sort of way, after you write a particularly satisfying entry on your blog or journal, you may pause to wonder what would happen to those words if, say, an exchange of nuclear missiles between the United States and whoever has bought Russia’s nukes fried all the computers in the world with their electromagnetic pulses, turning the hard drive discs on which your words are stored and served into drink coasters and bug squashing implements. Chances are, those words would be gone, like much of the rest of civilization, and the only way they’d be recalled would be through your own memory, which would grow increasingly hazy as your start your new, post-literate, post-apocalyptic life, skewering lizards on sharpened tree branches and fighting off the inevitable mutant zombie hordes.

Or — prior to doomsday, you could devise a plan to encode your words into a stable, long-lasting storage medium which features unmediated informational access, generate a large number of such storage devices, and disperse those devices widely, including transactional areas and at centralized governmental repositories, where in each case they will be maintained in a controlled environment with access restricted to those with particular credentials. The multiplicity of these storage devices and the wide range of their dispersal all but ensures that at least one copy of your words will survive through the years to be puzzled over by the archeologists of the evolved rat people who will almost certainly succeed us as the dominant life form here on earth.

This is what I have done.

Which is to say, the Whatever is being made into a book.

More specifically, come June or July of 2006 (or sometime thereabouts), Subterranean Press will release a collection of selected writings from the Whatever, chosen from entries written between 1998 (when the Whatever opened for business) and the end of this very year. That’s a little over seven years of entries to choose from, which should be more than enough to showcase the range of subjects that have been tackled here over the years. Subterranean is best known for their entirely fabulous limited editions of science fiction, fantasy and horror, mostly distributed via mail order, online and specialty shops (most of you know it published my novel Agent to the Stars), but for this we’ll be trying something different: an open print run trade paperback, which we will try to jam into your local Barnes & Noble, just to see what happens. Yes, it’s something of an experiment; this is not the first collected book of online entries — pretty sure Wil Wheaton gets that distinction — but I suspect it’s still a new enough field that there’s some inherent risk involved. All I can say is that if we pull it off, the rat people of the future will hail us as geniuses. Geniuses! Greetings, rat people! Sorry about the mess.

Since what makes the Whatever go — and what helps make this book potentially commercially viable — are the folks who show up here to read and/or heckle me, it’s very likely that I will ask all y’all to help out in the selection of the entries which should appear in the book and in other aspects of its production. And it’s also pretty likely that Subterranean and I will do something special for readers of the Whatever who pre-order the book. What that might be, of course, I’m still working on. But suffice to say that if I’m going to have fun putting this book together — and I’m going to — I want you guys along for the ride.

The first thing I need to decide, I guess, is what I’m going to name it. Greetings to the Rat People! has a nice ring to it. But, er. Maybe not. I’m open to suggestion.


EFF and Bloggers

Cory Doctorow sent along word that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is starting a fundraising campaign today for the purpose of defending the rights of bloggers to basically say whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to say it, and naturally enough, I can get behind that. I have to say I am personally confused as to why free speech is an issue for bloggers, particularly here in the US, and I’m also deeply amused and annoyed regarding the fiction that bloggers can’t be journalists, or whatever nonsense people are trying to promulgate on that score. Being that I regularly write for print newspapers and magazines (and even do verifiable journalism for them from time to time), I suppose I’m better insulated from that particular sort of stupidity, since I can easily point to thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and then tell whatever person is of the mind I couldn’t be a journalist in a Web space to kiss my ass. And as for my free speech online, I know my rights under the Constitution of the United States and I’m not shy about exercising them.

However, just because I know my rights doesn’t mean others do, or that they won’t try to curtail them if at all possible, usually with a phalanx of lawyers to shovel paper about in an intimidating fashion. Also, not everyone lives in the United States and has that little philosophical gem of human liberty known as the First Amendment guarding their back. And this is where folks like the EFF come in: The organization is focused on rights online, and for bloggers this means both informing bloggers about their rights, and in defending those rights when necessary. This makes them a useful organization to have around.

Cory’s note reminds me that I’ve been planning to contribute to the EFF for some time now; I think I’ll do that today (I’ll go for the $65 contribution because it comes with a t-shirt, and I need another one of those). The EFF is trying to encourage bloggers to link to the fundraising drive by offering premiums and whatnot for the bloggers who get the most people to sign up, but, you know, I couldn’t really give a rat’s ass about that. However, I would ask you to look at the EFF’s spiel here, and if the group and its work are something you think you can support, go ahead and support it. Which is to say, contribute to the EFF if you feel it’s worth doing rather than to get your favorite blogger some useless tchochtke. If you contribute (or if you can’t contribute but support EFF and its goals), you can also put up a badge, which you may find here. I’ve gone ahead and put one up here through the end of the month.

That’s my pitch to you for today. I end on an existential query: Cory’s a friend and fellow blogger, but he’s also the European Affairs Coordinator for Electronic Frontier Foundation, which presents the question — does this mean the Blogosphere is part of Europe? If so, I want some euros.



Amazingly bad work day, a tornado watch and power out for more than an hour. Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop huffing freon.

That’s all I’m going to say about that. See you tomorrow. Until then, consider this an open thread.


The Surrendered Husband

Now that I have better comment spam management tools, I’m able to leave comments open on older entries, so occasionally one will sprout a new comment. One recent addition occurred in the Covenant Marriage is Stupid comment thread, in which a new poster comments about the desirability of covenant marriages and how, among other things, "wives must submit to their husbands" and "You, as the husband are head of the household and are responsible to God for your actions and your families." My response to this was as follows:

Leaving aside the fact that I am agnostic (so being responsible to God is not something I worry about) and that marriage in this country is a civil ceremony and that my wife has the same rights in marriage that I do, and because of all of the above the religious aspect of marriage is non-applicable to us in any way — even if my wife were amenable to submitting to my role as head of the household, which she is not, why would I want that? My wife is smarter, more competent and more organized than I; if we had to pick one of us to be head of the household, it should be she.

And in fact, while as a theoretical matter we both share equally in the "head of household" duties — I can’t think of major family decision that was not jointly signed off on by the both of us, and both of us can exercise a veto on any major commitment or expenditure, and also on the matter of child-rearing — as a practical matter, Krissy is indisputably the head of the household on a day-to-day basis. Evidence:

* Krissy tends to be far more proactive on household issues than I am by a rather significant margin, so leadership devolves to her simply as a matter of default, and to my immense relief she doesn’t seem to mind (usually). The vast majority of the choices she makes in running our household are so common-sense smart that I would be a moron not to concur.

* While there’s no doubt that the fact that I am the stay-at-home parent gives me a rather high level of minute-to-minute involvement in the child-rearing of our daughter, it’s pretty clear to me that Athena considers Krissy to be the Alpha Parent, which she will occasionally express by saying to me "you’re the boss of me, but mommy’s the boss of you." When Krissy and I note that neither of us is the boss of the other, she gives us a look that says "yes, that’s what you say," and then sort of changes the subject.

* So competent and efficient is Krissy with our finances that when checks come in, I hardly bother to look at them; I just sign them over and let her handle it. When I want to buy something over a certain pre-established amount, I ask Krissy if I can. If she says yes, then I get it, if she says no, then I don’t. It’s really just that simple. To be fair, when Krissy wants to buy something over our pre-established amount, she asks me about it, too. But as my response tends to be "well, as long as you think we can afford it," we’re once again relying on her stewardship of our finances.

In fact, Krissy’s assumption of household responsibility — and my ceding of said responsibilities to her — is so practically complete that one could make the not entirely facetious argument that I am the definition of the "Surrendered Husband," per the odious concept of 2001, the "Surrendered Wife," in which women are supposed to let their man handle all the hard stuff in the relationship, like finances and thinking, in order to be better ambulatory pleasure receptacles or some such. Sadly, in our own relationship, I am not merely allowed to lounge about in a loincloth, oiled and shaved, tasked with nothing but the unending pleasure of my mistress Kristine — I do actually have to make some money in there, and also watch the kid, take out the trash, kill spiders, and occasionally make Krissy laugh. But someone observing our relationship from the outside would find it hard to miss the extent to which I defer to my wife in many things, and rely on her in many others.

And why do I do this? Because, as I note, she is smarter, more competent and more organized than I am. This is not to say I am not smart, because I am, nor not competent, because I am (I make no claims regarding organization). I don’t doubt I can handle things, and from time to time Krissy will take a step back on a household issue and I’ll take the lead. However, experience tells me over and over that Krissy is the go-to person in our relationship to make certain things happen, and in a marriage as in other circumstances, one would be foolish not to let the most competent person for a task handle the task. While I am amusingly belittling myself in this entry, I will note that in our relationship and in our life there are several areas where I take the lead, because I am driven and competent in those areas and it makes sense for me to do so. Between the two of us, we make a damn fine team.

As a practical matter, my asserting that I am head of the household (and the marriage) would be foolish, particularly if the rationale behind it was a presumed God’s presumed preference for testicles over ovaries. As a theoretical matter, I am almost violently opposed to it, because implicit in the assertion is the idea that my wife is somehow lesser than me, which I find insulting, not only to my wife, but to me. Why on God’s green earth would I want to cleave to a lesser being than myself? What possible advantage could that confer? I am  not so venal that I cannot accept a marriage of equals — indeed that was what I had always sought and was fortunate to achieve, and what I work hard to maintain, every day. Even if I could assert a "leadership" role in this marriage I would not; I did not marry to rule over a family kingdom. That my wife is my equal (at least!) is one of the primary benefits of my marriage. I can’t possibly imagine why I would want it any other way.

And as for passing along the "the husband is the head of household" meme to my daughter, well. Here we pause for a long and hearty laugh. I’ve already given Athena permission to kneecap the first jackass who tries to pass that one off to her. And you don’t want to know what Krissy’s given her permission to do.


Gamma Gamma Hey

I predicted we’d get a storm called "Gamma" by Thanksgiving. Turns out it’ll be here with a couple of weeks to spare. I win! Where’s my pony?   


Two Quotes

For your consideration:

"I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city, and don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin, and I’m not saying they will. But if they do, just remember you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, then don’t ask for his help, because he might not be there."

— Pat Robertson, on the citizens of Dover, PA ousting the school board that voted to place "Intelligent Design" into science classes.


"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"

Matthew 7, 15 – 23.



I collapsed into the sleep of the ill yesterday at about 5:30pm, and when I did my site had been inaccessible for about three hours (my hosting company had server issues). I see it’s back up now — can anyone tell me when they were first able to see the site again?

Being sick really sucks, incidentally. I’ve been winking out of conciousness for the last several days at 5 or 6 pm and waking up at 3 or 4 am. The good news is I’m getting a lot of sleep; the bad news is I’m getting this sleep on London time.  It’s also been difficult to string thoughts together for more than three minutes at a time — not good news because I’m supposed to be giving one of my editors an expanded book proposal. I think I’ll tackle that today, after I hit myself with a mallet a couple of times to clear out the cotton batting between my ears.


Thinking About COCOA

Several months ago I was invited to participate on a committee for something called COCOA, which endeavors to create a catch-all way for authors and other book copyright holders to specify how much of their work they want have accessible for viewing through services like Amazon or the nascent Google Print service; a copyright holder would specify once what amount of the work would be viewable online and the various online services that would show the text would use that as a guide. I noted at the time I was unlikely to be actively involved in the effort but that I would be happy to be an observer to the process.

Now it’s out and available for perusal, for those of you who are interested in that thing. I note my minimal involvement largely to point out that realistically I cannot share in any praise or blame (depending on one’s point of view) for this particular implementation. The reaction is not surprisingly varied; some people think it’s idiotic, while others are more cautiously approving.

My personal opinion shades toward the latter than the former. I don’t think there’s any reasonable copyright bar to merely entering a work into a database, ala Google Print, but I think it’s also reasonable that once it’s in the database, the copyright holder may choose to specify restrictions on its online display, and if there’s a way to specify it that so the copyright holder only has to do it once, rather than for every single database onto which the work is uploaded, well, why not. As a copyright holder, it would make my life easier. The natural and logical objection here is that book copyright holders don’t have a similar right to control access to their work in other settings, like a bookstore. But I don’t know about that; off the top of my head I can think of a couple of sealed books I’ve seen in a bookstore, most notably The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker. So it’s possible, it’s just not usual. Limiting access to written work online is no more controversial in my opinion than offering 30-second samples of songs.

However, I don’t buy albums by listening to 30-second samples of songs, and I very rarely buy sealed books in a bookstore (I did buy the cartoon collection, but in that particular case I had an excellent idea what I was buying). As a theoretical manner I support the right of copyright holders to control how much of their work is displayed online. As a practical matter I think you’re something of an idiot if you don’t allow for full and robust access to your work online, since the major problem for the vast majority of writers including myself is obscurity, not piracy. I’ve discussed the reasons for this before, so there’s no point in blathering about it again in detail here.

I will say that from an entirely mercenary point of view I am always delighted when I hear other authors getting vaporous about the threat of online piracy. That means they are unlikely to allow any useful amount of their work to be shown online, which means that they won’t have access to the same massive pool of potential buyers that I will. That’s more for me. I wouldn’t do anything to actively sabotage the career of another writer, but if they want to sabotage themselves, well, you know. Far be it from me to stop them.

In any event. If you’re a writer or otherwise interested in copyright issues, take a look at the COCOA site. I’ll be interested in hearing what you think.  


Intelligent Voting

The good news is that every single member of the Dover school board that attempted to foist "Intelligent Design" into science classes who was up for election this year was voted out of office and replaced by people who want ID out of science classes. Go rationality!

The bad news is that in a couple of years voters will get lazy and forget about voting for school boards, thereby allowing the nutbags in again to wreak more havoc. Which was what happened in Kansas, when the forces of moronicism, previously booted from the state school board for attempting to strip evolution of science classes entirely, managed to wheedle their way back in and not only officially question evolution, but actually change the definition of science because the old definition, you know, was based on the need for facts and observational data and inconvenient things like that. And now poor Kansas is yet again saddled with the reputation of being where religious idiots go to breed. I don’t actually doubt that the school board will change yet again at the next election as people who are sane stand for election, thus nudging Kansas once again closer to the 21st century, but the damage has already been done.

Moral of the story: Evolution-hating whackjobs never sleep, and they love the elections and elected positions no one else cares about. They will be back as soon as possible and they’re counting on moderate, sensible people to let the local elections slide off their radar. Who is to blame for Kansas bashing in the academic careers of its children? The moderate voters who weren’t paying attention to the school board. You can really blame the evolution-hating whackjobs, after all. They did what they intended to, and all of Kansas will suffer for it.

As for Dover, will, good on them for getting better people for the school board. Let’s hope they remember to keep it going the next school board election. And the next. And the next. And so on.


Primarily of Interest to Family Members

Athena ran about like a silly person today and took photos, including several interesting self-portraitures. You can see the results here.  


What I Did With My Morning

Hope you’re planning to do something similar with your day.  



TGB, Described

Look, Amazon has up what I assume is the dust jacket copy for The Ghost Brigades:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

In case you didn’t know, no, the author doesn’t usually write up the text for the dust jacket copy; I actually don’t know who does (I assume it’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden in my case, but I’m not entirely sure). It reads a bit like the pitch I made for the book before I wrote it, but it’s not exactly what I wrote. Be that as it may, I’m perfectly happy with this text, which gives the basic plot set-up without revealing any of the major secrets. It’s a pretty decent come-on for the potential reader, I think.

Anyway, if you had no idea what The Ghost Brigades was about before, now you know. Within reason.  


The Comedy Canon: A Meme for You

By a rather substantial margin, Whatever readers have suggested that of the three other Rough Guide Movie books that were released with The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, they would be most interested in seeing what The Canon for comedy films would be. I’ll get to the canons for the Horror and Gangster books later on, but now, without further ado, I now list The 50 Most Significant Comedy Films of All Time, as selected by Bob McCabe, author of The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. They are, in alphabetical order:

All About Eve
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Blazing Saddles
Bringing Up Baby
Broadcast News
Le diner de con
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Duck Soup
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Four Weddings and a Funeral
The General
The Gold Rush
Good Morning Vietnam
The Graduate
Groundhog Day
A Hard Day’s Night
His Girl Friday
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Lady Killers
Local Hero
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
National Lampoon’s Animal House
The Odd Couple
The Producers
Raising Arizona
Shaun of the Dead
A Shot in the Dark
Some Like it Hot
Strictly Ballroom
Sullivan’s Travels
There’s Something About Mary
This is Spinal Tap
To Be or Not to Be
Toy Story
Les vacances de M. Hulot
When Harry Met Sally…
Withnail and I

For those of you want to make an online meme out of this, the idea is to put the list on your own blog/journal, bold the ones you’ve seen and put an asterisk next to the ones you own on DVD/video (I’ve personally left the list clean so people who copy it don’t have to unbold and unasterisk my selections). You can/should also add your own comments on the list and what you think of the films chosen, which I have done immediately below. Make sure to attribute the Canon correctly (to Bob McCabe and The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies). If you want to come back here and leave a link in the comment thread so that people can find your thoughts on the comedy canon, that’s just groovy by me.

Now for my analysis:

Films of the Canon I’ve seen: All of them, except for Le diner de con. This should not be entirely surprising as I have been a film critic for a decade and a half.

Films Whose Presence in the Canon I’m Particularly Gratified to See (pick up to five): Broadcast News, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Groundhog Day, Roxanne, Strictly Ballroom

Films in the Canon Whose Presence Should Not Be (pick up to five): Austin Powers, Dodgeball, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Rushmore, Shaun of the Dead

Films I’d Pick to Replace Them (pick up to five): Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, Safety Last, A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Looney Tunes written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones*

(* This deserves an explanation. Fact is, the vast majority of animated shorts up until the mid-1960s were produced to be shown in the theaters, and in my opinion the Jones-Maltese collaborations are the best of these. It’s also my opinion that Michael Maltese is one of the great comedy writers of the 20th Century, whose contributions to the genre are overlooked because a) he worked in animation, and b) much of his efforts are attributed to Jones, who directed most of the best shorts Maltese wrote (McCabe does a bit of this in the book by crediting the writing on What’s Opera, Doc? to Jones). This is no disrespect to Jones, of course. However, it’s a point of fact that his most memorable pieces were with Maltese, and that the two of them were better as a team than as individuals. However, it doesn’t look as if McCabe included any short comedy on his Canon list, much less animated shorts — which could be something to quibble with the Canon in itself.)

To go back to the films which should not be in the canon, I’m willing to concede Life of Brian and Rushmore, the former because I think it’s a matter of preference which Monty Python is better (or more representative), and Rushmore because I take as a given other people think more of Wes Anderson than I do (I find his work a bit nerveless). But Austin Powers is what you get when you remix Peter Sellers with a moron and both Dodgeball and Shaun of the Dead, while quite amusing, are the very model of minor comedy, neither particularly significant nor representative of anything much. If one had to replace them with movies similar in tone/era, I would substitute Wedding Crashers and the Evil Dead movies for Dodgeball and Shaun, and as for Austin Powers… hmm. There’s nothing quite like it recently, although that’s not an argument for its continued Canonicalosity, and no, that’s not a real word.

However, I grant that McCabe had a rather more difficult task formulating a comedy canon than I did formulating my science fiction canon, as comedy as a genre has far more movies in it — or at least far more significant movies — than science fiction does. On balance I think it’s a pretty good list, and with the exception of Philadelphia Story and Fish Called Wanda, it features most of my very favorite comedies. And in any event, as I noted with the Science Fiction Canon, these sort of lists are the beginnings of conversations about film, not the end of them.

Your thoughts?


Returning the Favor

James Winter was a guest blogger in July; he asked me to be a guest blogger for him this month, on Sundays. My entry there is up; it’s me mulling over the fact my PC is three years old, which means it’s near death.

Absolutely unrelated: This is the 1234th entry on the Whatever since I switched to Movable Type in 2003.  

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