Eye-Roller of the Day


White House officials will be required to attend briefings next week on ethics and the handling of classified information after the indictment last week of a senior official in the CIA leak probe, according to a memo released on Saturday.

The briefings will provide a refresher course on general ethics rules, including "the rules governing the protection of classified information," the memo said.

Yes, because, you see, that whole thing about senior White House officials allegedly blowing the cover of a CIA operative? They just didn’t know it was wrong. Which may in fact be true; however, not in the manner a refresher course in ethics would be able to rectify. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad President Bush decided a course on ethics for his staff was necessary. Possibly, however, it should have come in late 2000, before they all took up shop.

Meanwhile, as this memo comes out, Cheney is still pressing Congress to let CIA agents torture people.

Gaaaaaaah. This White House doesn’t need an ethics course. It needs an ethics intervention.


Fun With Royalties and other Book News

Yesterday’s mail brought royalty statements for Old Man’s War through June of 2005 (yes, there’s a bit of a time lag involved), and it was pretty good news. Not only has Old Man’s War earned out its advance, it’s also earned out the advance of The Android’s Dream, the book that was the other part of the two-book deal I got when I shacked up with Tor (The Ghost Brigades is on its own separate contract), and has earned a bit more beside that. This is good news because:

1. It means that the trade and mass-market paperback editions of Old Man’s War will be pure gravy, in terms of royalties;

2. It means I start earning royalties on The Android’s Dream from the very first book sold;

3. It means I start being paid royalties sooner. The way the contract was structured, royalties wouldn’t be paid until the advances for both novels were recouped, so if OMW had only earned out its own advance, I wouldn’t be getting a check until when/if Android’s Dream earned out its advance as well (you may ask: why agree to such a thing? Answer: because I didn’t figure it would be an issue one way or another. Yay! I was right!).

4. It means Tor is definitely making money off me, and relatively early, which is a happy thing for the selling of future books, particularly to them.

So am I rolling in sweet, sweet royalty money? No. Three words: "Reserves Against Returns." Which is to say Tor holds back some money every statement period to make sure they’re not whacked by returns of the book; the money held in reserve is typically refunded in the next statement period. By that time they’ll have stopped selling the hardcover to get the trade paperback in the stores, so we should have a nearly complete accounting of how many hardbacks were sold and how many were returned. This is probably where Tor’s thing of multiple-but-relatively small printings will be useful; I don’t imagine there will be too many returns overall, and that’s not a bad thing.

In all, not a bad place for a first-time author to be. As an aside, I’d note that if you actually wanted a copy of the hardcover of OMW, now would be a good time to get it, since as noted it’s going to be withdrawn from sale when the trade version comes out. This is particularly imperative for folks who like the Donato cover, since the trade version (and any future mass-market version) will feature the John Harris cover.

Other book news: Subterranean Press informs me that Agent to the Stars has sold 1200 copies so far, which is a very healthy number for a small-press limited edition. The run was of 1500 copies, so that means 300 are left. I’m hoping these get nabbed by the end of the year, so I’ll be forced to fork over $350 to the Child’s Play charity, as previously promised, on top of the 10% of the cover price Subterranean has already pledged to Child’s Play. You can get them at the link above or off of Amazon.

Also, Barnes & Noble is featuring The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies as a Recommended Gift for the holidays. Naturally, I couldn’t agree more.  

That’s the book news I have for you today.  



Mike Argento and the Dover, PA ID Trial

For those of you who have been following the basics of the "Intelligent Design" trial in Dover, Pennsyvania, here’s an excellent resource for a more or less daily perspective on what’s been going down there: York Daily Record columnist Mike Argento had been attending the trial from start to finish (which was yesterday) and has been writing rather acidly about the proceedings. He’s not Mencken at the Scopes Monkey Trial, but that doesn’t mean he’s not been doing a fine job. Also, he’s clearly having fun with it. His blog has all the relevant columns — they start on September 23rd and conclude with an entry today. It’s good stuff.


Rough Guide Movie Books: Pick a Canon

You may not have known this, but The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies was just one of four Rough Guide Movie books released on the same day. I just got sent the other three today (along with some very cool postcards based on the cover of my book), and I thought I would show them off: The Rough Guides to Gangster, Comedy and Horror Movies, respectively. All four books have more or less the same format: chapters on the history of the genre, icons of the field, examples of the genre from around the world, and so on. Each also includes "The Canon" of its field — the 50 most significant movies in the genre.

When I listed the science fiction canon here, motivated individuals took it and made a blog meme out of it; I think it would be fun to do the same with these other canons. But where to begin? This is where you come in: On Monday I’ll post the canon of one of these books and note my thoughts on the selections. But as to which canon, I’ll put it up to a vote. Tell me in the comments which canon you’d like to see: The one from Gangster, the one from Comedy, or the one from Horror. The one that gets the most votes when I sit down to write on Monday wins. One vote each,  please (no, I’m not going to check to see if people are cheating. Just, you know, don’t be that guy).  

Which do you choose? 


Patenting Plots?

Via e-mail, I’ve been asked to give an opinion on this, in which the US Patent Office notes an application to patent story plots, the applicants reasoning apparently informed by the reasoning provided via software patents. People are already beginning to freak out about it, suggesting it’s the end of the literary world as we know it.

Well, first, let us note that the US Patent Office publishing an application is not the same as granting the patent, so everyone who is freaking out should recognize that. The patent on a plot has not been issued, just the notice that someone is trying to patent a plotline. The US Patent Office gets a lot of damn fool patent applications every year; this is probably just another one.

As to whether the patent has legal merit, well, I’m not a patent lawyer, so someone else will have to field this one. My "I am not a lawyer" opinion is that I don’t see how this patent will be granted as among other things requires a wholesale reinterpretation of ideas as "process," which seems unlikely to happen. There’s no actual process here, save what goes on in someone’s head. The actual patent application does try to cover the transfer of the idea/process from brain to mechanical/electronic storage, but while not being a patent lawyer, I’m not sure how those processes are the applicant’s to attempt to patent. This doesn’t even rise to the questionable level of a software patent, where at least the process of the code is implemented outside the human body; it’s hard to run software code in someone’s brain, but anyone who is aware of literature’s origin as an oral medium recognizes well the capacity for the entire process of literature to be contained wholly within the human body. Basically, I don’t see how you grant this patent without implicitly saying that thoughts in themselves are patentable, which is an interesting expansion of patent law.

Two practical considerations as well: The applicant’s reasoning here is that this is something of a broadside against Hollywood. Basically, this guy wants to eat Hollywood’s seed corn, and I can’t really imagine that an $80 billion industry wouldn’t react poorly to something like this (not to mention, say, the publishing industry). Also, ironically, an $80 billion industry is the one best positioned to take advantage of such a nonsensical application of patent law, as it already has lawyers, creative types and money, and the average creative joe has got himself and a jar of pennies. If you don’t think Disney, Warner Bros. et al. wouldn’t happily spend millions of dollars on an annual basis to lock up all the obvious plot ideas (including the ones already in their libraries), you have no conception of how Hollywood actually works.

This would create an interesting new job description: Plot Generator — people whose only jobs would be think up possible plots — or maybe not, as this is just the sort of data-crunching nonsense computers excel at. Also, it’s axiomatic that the studios would also force those creative people working with them to sign over their patents as a matter of course. So rather than protecting the little guy from the studios (the little guy, incidentally, being already amply protected by copyright), I suspect the practical effect will be to solidify the control of content even further into the hands of those with the money and their business interests already in the field. And then once that’s established, you can expect Disney, et al. to start lobbying for extensions to the patent length, further stifling independent creation. And then won’t this jackass feel stupid.

Basically, it’s idiotic from start to finish, and I hope (and expect) that the patent application will be denied.  


Relevant Religious Positions

Apropos to this earlier entry, a pleasing development out of the Vatican:

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate.
The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s declaration in 1992 that the church’s 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said.

Well, that’s one billion Christians who don’t have to twist their minds into a pretzel over that particular issue, which is roughly half of the Christian host. And it’s worth noting the Cardinal is restating the Catholic Church’s position, not making a change. Given that the fundamentalist view of science v. religion is not held by every other Christian sect either, this is a reminder that religious fundamentalism’s antipathy regarding science is a minority view within Christianity. This may or may not be relevant to various people, for various reasons.


Sunset, 11/03/05

Saying farewell to the sun.  


Another Helpful Cloning Hint

Yes, you’ll save a few pennies if you use the store brand amino acids to make your clone. But I’m here to tell you, sometimes it’s worth it to pay full price for that expensive national brand. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

You know what the really weird thing about this picture is? Yes, exactly. I’m wearing a "Budweiser" shirt, and I don’t drink. Not so sure about the other guy, though. He looks pretty sozzled.


35 for 43

A CBS News poll has President Bush clocking a 35% approval rating35 percent. To put this in perspective, that’s only one point higher than the approval rating Jimmy Carter had the day he left office, and the lowest second-term presidential approval rating since Nixon wallowed in the 20s during the dog days of Watergate.

Another bit of perspective: For Bush’s second term to date, his highest approval ranking, according to CNN, was 57%, which is what it was in early February. That’s just three points higher than President Clinton’s lowest approval rating by CNN for his entire second term, in August ’97, as charted here.

Now, we can quibble about the details in terms of these polls. But it’s certainly accurate to say that Bush is far more unpopular now with the American public than Clinton was, which is a datum to remember the next time some right-winger gets all frothy about those divisive Bill Years. The Bill Years ain’t a patch on what we got going now, my friends.

I can’t imagine that the Bush approval rating could possibly get any lower than it is at the moment, but then again, that’s what I thought when it hit 39% a few weeks ago. Considering that there’s probably 33% of Americans who would rather chew on jagged glass than to show disloyalty to a sitting Republican president, a 35% approval rating basically means that no one outside the ranks of the ideologically paralyzed right-wing approves of our president. No one. The rating couldn’t possibly go lower. Could it?

What do I think about the Bush’s approval rating? Well, I think it’s exactly what he deserves. He’s a terrible president with an incompetent administration, and it’s gratifying to see the large majority of the American people coming around to this fact. Would that they would have come around to this conclusion a year ago, when the vote was on.

You’ll note, however, that I did not say that I was happy that Bush has such a God-awful rating. I’m not. Having a weak and deeply unpopular president makes us vulnerable as a nation, particularly when we are engaged in a war, and especially when engaged in a war that it is becoming increasingly clear the origins of which are best described as an administration misadventure. I don’t like Bush, and I wish he weren’t president; nevertheless he is my president, and my country is ill-served at home and abroad by his weaknesses, both real and perceived. Noting that this is a mess of his own making is cold comfort indeed. Bush may have made this bed, but we all have to lie in it.

One hopes that if the American people get anything out of the Bush second term, it’s to be reminded that the next time around, Republican or Democrat or something in between, they might want to try for competence. It’s not too much to hope for. Because at a 35% approval rating, we have a clear indication people recognize that incompetence isn’t working.


I’m Being Framed

Apparently, Analog magazine is highlighting the Whatever on its blogs page this month, along with Jonathan Strahan’s Coode Street blog. Since the Analog page jams the Whatever into a dinky space, I guess it’s a good thing I reformatted the site so the design width isn’t a fixed length. I’m always happy to be pointed to, however.


World Fantasy Convention? What’s That?

Before we begin, a picture of a cat, because, well, this is the Internet:

Yes, she’s adorable. If she wasn’t she’d be fired.

Some folks have asked if I was going to the World Fantasy Convention this week, or assumed I would be going. However, I am not. There are various reasons, including but not limited to:

1. I have few hundred thousand words worth of magazine submissions to get through, as well as other work-related nonsense;

2. I’m conserving my conventioneering strength for future conventions;

3. People who like fantasy are, like, total loooooooooosers. Why would I want to hang with them?

The last of these is actually not true, but I will say that since I don’t write fantasy the WFC doesn’t intrinsically have much pull on me, aside from the fact that a lot of my friends will be there and I’d love to see them. But I’m planning to see some of them in the reasonably near future, possibly even away from the convention scene. Yes, conventions are appealing because everyone is more or less on vacation and has time to socialize (and they’re all assembled in one spot, which is convenient). But it’s also kind of like seeing people in a zoo: Not quite a natural environment, if you know what I mean. I’d like friends who I see at cons not just to be con friends. Maybe I’m thinking about this too much.

In any event, the WFC will have to get along without me, as it has, lo these many years. You kids have fun, I’ll just sit here in the dark.


The Most Idiotic Star Wars Review Ever

It’s here, on Slate. How bad is it? It’s so bad that it reads like something from Salon. The writer has confused Lucas’ inability to write or direct, and his absolute disinterest in humans on either side of the screen, with postmodern artistic intent. Bah. The only thing genuinely postmodern about the Star Wars series is Lucas’ own lack of inclination to explain his generally unfathomable artistic choices, or, when forced to explain himself, his choice to do so in the most banal way possible (NB: Jar-Jar Binks: "You know! For kids!").

Lucas had often suggested, in that lackadaisical way of his, that the series would all make sense when it was done. Well, now it’s done and it doesn’t make a lick of sense; with the notable exception of Empire (the episode with which Lucas had the least involvement, in terms of writing and directing), it’s largely crap. Crap isn’t postmodern. It’s just crap.

To sum up: Lucas taking 30 years to squat out a stenchy load on the heads of his fans: postmodern. The Star Wars series: not so much.

As for the writer of the piece, the bio at the end notes he teaches at the University of Georgia. Let’s hope for his sake that he already has tenure. 


Last Day for Subterranean Submissions!

To all and sundry who are sending me mildly anxious e-mails on the matter: Yes, I am accepting submissions for the Subterranean magazine cliche issue through 11:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time, November 1st, 2005. So, presuming you read this entry before then, you still have time.

To answer the next question: Yes, I’ve been reading submissions, but no, I’ve not made any final decisions yet as to what’s in and what’s not. Folks who submitted earlier and those who submit later are on equal footing in terms of making the final cut. So don’t panic that you’re getting your submission in on the last day. 

Given that from the time I went to sleep until the time I woke up, about 100,000 words worth of submissions dropped into my e-mail box, I see that, like me, lots of other writers will wait until the last minute. Excellent. I’m curious to see how many I get between 11pm and midnight.

Type! my friends! Type!

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