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Snowfall, With Dog, in Motion.

snowdog1208.jpg

I should note the night was pretty damn black when I took this picture; this particular picture was both taken with a very long exposure (we’re talking at least twenty seconds) and then fiddled with in Photoshop. Which is to say it is not actually representative of reality. Which was black. Except the parts that were white, directly in front of me.

They say we’ll get about five inches tonight. I also got a phone call from the school automated system letting me know there’s a two-hour delay tomorrow. I’m betting by 6am it gets called as a snow day. Athena, of course, has already declared it such. That irrepressible tyke!

More long-exposed (but not Photoshopped) pictures of the snow (with patented snarky comments) await you here.

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Christopher Robin is Out There in the Woods

As part of a barrel-full of Winnie the Pooh anniversary events, Disney is working on a new animated series that will replace Christopher Robin with a 6-year-old girl.

“We got raised eyebrows even in-house at first, but the feeling was these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide,” says Nancy Kanter of the Disney Channel.

“Christopher Robin is still out there in the woods, playing,” she says.

“One thing I had never noticed before,” said Christopher Robin, “is how very large the Hundred Acre Wood is for such a very small boy.”

Christopher Robin had been walking in the woods for quite some time. On his way to visit Pooh, he had the idea to go a new way. The idea came into his head — plop! — and so with a left where there was usually a right, Christopher Robin walked into the woods he’d known all his life, stepping high like a military drummer on the march.

For a happy time he explored through the woods, climbing trees, meeting squirrels and kicking leaves, all the while walking, or so he thought, toward the House on Pooh Corner. But as the wind took on just a bit of a chill, Christopher Robin stopped.

“What an odd thing,” he said, to no one in particular. “I’ve been walking all this time, but I don’t seem to have gotten closer to Pooh at all!”

Christopher Robin wasn’t worried, of course. The Hundred Acre Wood was big enough for many adventures, and here was another. He recalled many times where Pooh and Piglet would set out on a journey and lose their way, only to find their way home in time for tea and honey. If that silly old bear could find his way home, so could Christopher Robin find his way to his friends.

But as the day wore on, Christopher Robin found that every part of the Hundred Acre Wood looked like a new part he’d never seen before. He went left and found a new stream, filled with frogs who croaked their unconcern for Christopher Robin’s plight. He went right, back the way he came, but the trees seemed to have moved their places when he wasn’t looking. So Christopher Robin went back again, to the stream with the croaking frogs, only to find he’d lost the way.

“This is a puzzle,” Christopher Robin said. “And now I’ve become quite hungry and cold.”

And so Christopher Robin began to run, first one way and then the next, looking for a tree or steam or path he knew, so he could find his way to his friends. He called out to them — “Pooh! Piglet! Tigger! Rabbit! Owl!” — but none answered, or if they did Christopher Robin did not hear them. From time to time, however, it seemed to Christopher Robin that he could hear them, just over a small rise, all his friend’s voices, and a new voice he did not know. But when he ran that way he found nothing, just more trees and more leaves.

It was in a small pile of leaves that Christopher Robin finally lay, covering himself with their little brittle hands to ward off the chill of the night in the Hundred Acre Wood. “It’s a simple thing, really,” he said, bravely. “I’ve been looking for all my friends, and they have been looking for me! If I stay in one place, they will find me. And then we will go to Pooh’s, where I will be warm and have something nice to eat.”

And so Christopher Robin lay down in the leaves and went to sleep, shivering only a little, trusting in the love of his friends to find him and bring him home.

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Let’s Judge Now

Quick note about the “Buchanan Vs. Bush” thing: In the comments, there have been a couple of folks who have suggested that it’s not appropriate to start gauging how bad or good Bush is because, among other things, his administration is still in process and because we don’t have sufficient perspective on how his administration has done its job; to get a decent historical perspective we need a decade or so.

Well, here’s the thing. On one hand, this is pretty much correct: A nice, considered historical perspective will take at least a decade; two will be better. On the other hand, who gives a crap? I gotta live with this guy now, and right now, Bush is an awful president (though, as noted before, not as bad as Buchanan). Yes, I may be working from incomplete information about the man is doing; yes, there are things about his presidency that will only be appreciated in the dispassionate light of history; yes, it may turn out he’s not as bad as all that. So what. Here and now, the dude’s an Edsel.

Is it appropriate to judge Bush on an incomplete administration? Sure, why not? Barring impeachment and conviction (ha!) he’s constitutionally guaranteed to be president through noon, January 20, 2009. But, you know, he could die any time. Another unsavory pretzel incident, perhaps. A stroke, brought on by contemplating his approval numbers. Presidential assassination is not unknown, although I wish to make it clear that despite my family history I wouldn’t want that for any president, including the present inhabitant of the White House. Should the president die, for whatever reason, before 12pm, 1/20/09, there’s the end of the Bush Administration. Chop, done. Easy to judge. Well, see. Purely as an intellectual exercise, there’s no bar to imagining the administration done today, and judging from what we’ve got so far. And so far: Oy.

Another way to look at it is the baseball metaphor. Yes, you have to play the whole nine innings, but you know what? If it’s the bottom of the sixth and your team is getting pummelled, have you no right to bitch about the bums in the dugout? Have you not seen the capabilities of the starting lineup? While holding out hope for a comeback, can you not already and justifiably have a sinking feeling in the gut? Sure you can. Listen: This is the bottom of the Bush Administration’s sixth inning, and they’re behind, like, 13-0, the players can’t field, the starting pitcher has got a dead arm, and the manager is about to get ejected. If this game were taking place at Dodger Stadium, the parking lot would be dead by now. Even if the boys get a run or two, it’s not too early to see where this one is probably going to go.

Now, like I said: You never know. The Bush Bombers may rally yet, and on January 20, 2009, I’ll have to sit here typing something along the lines of, well, that George Bush sure pulled it out, didn’t he? President Clinton, well, she will have a lot to live up to. But right now? Don’t think so. Because right now, he’s a terrible president.

Just, you know, not as bad as Buchanan.

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Sweet

Hey, look what shows up when you type “Christmas Specials” into Google. And it’s number two on “Holiday Specials”! And isn’t that every boy’s dream? (In fact, it’s no boy’s dream. Even so.)

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Standing Up for Dubya, Such As It Is

People here know I am no big fan of George Bush, but you know, I try to be fair to the man. This is why I’m going to defend him from this:

James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history… he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason…

Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered — maybe they were all crazed liberals — making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan.

You know what, that’s just a slander on poor Dubya. Yes, he is an awful, awful president: an incompetent of the highest rank, a man of profoundly limited intellectual curiosity who is to the modern American conservative movement what Charles II of Spain was to the Hapsburgs. It’s always amusing to read conservative apologists for Bush, who wish the imbue the man with a sort of mystical deep thinking, such as as when they suggested that when Islamicist insurgents started flooding into Iraq that it was some rope-a-dope flypaper "master plan" rather than a consequence of the Bush administration having no strategy, or even an interest in a strategy, in Iraq once Saddam was hauled out of his rat hole. It ain’t happening, people. Bush has all the vision of an Amish buggy horse: If it ain’t directly in front of him, he’s not seeing it. And let’s not forget that an Amish buggy horse isn’t exactly the master of his own destiny.

For all that, he’s no James Buchanan. Perhaps the Civil War was inevitable — perhaps it was even necessary — but perhaps in both cases it was not, had there been a Chief Executive of the United States elected in 1856 whose entire plan for dealing with the sectarian issues rending the South from the rest of the nation had not been "well, let’s just try to ride this out and let it be the next guy’s problem." When he finally did become engaged on the issue, it was, as they say, far too little, far too late, and far too incompetently. Let’s just say a president whose initial response on South Carolina seceding was to say "They can’t do it, but I can’t stop them" is not a man who deserves the comfort of letting another of his executive brethren front the "worst president" line in his stead.

Say what you will about Dubya, but the Republic will not fall and shatter between now and 2008. There have been other presidents whose administrations have been bad, incompetent, malingering or some unholy combination of all three. But only one president is unforgivable, and that’s James Buchanan. They knew it at the time; during the Civil War they had to take down Buchanan’s picture in the capitol rotunda because they were afraid someone would deface it. The deaths of 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, accrue to his account. Dubya’s got a while before he gets there.

Again, this is not to minimize the badness of Dubya; he’s a bad president, all right, and if one wishes to front the proposition that he’s the least competent president since Buchanan, that’s a legitimate argument in my book. It indeed takes some doing to cut in the line in front of Grant, Harding, Hoover and Carter, but Bush has got the goods, such as they are (Nixon was competent, he was just paranoid to the point of endangering the office of the presidency; he’s bad, in a scary category all his own). But let’s keep things in perspective: When it comes to worst presidents, Buchanan’s the top, he’s the Eiffel Tower. He’s earned the title in perpetuity, or at least until a president comes along who actually and irreversably destroys the United States of America.

Bush isn’t that president, and no one derives benefit in suggesting he is. I mean, honestly, people. Being the worst president since Buchanan is bad enough.

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Final Subterranean Magazine Submissions Post

Okay, all the acceptances and rejections for Subterranean Magazine’s "Big Honkin’ Science Fiction Cliche" Issue are now officially out. If you submitted a story and you haven’t gotten a rejection notice by, say, Wednesday (I’ve heard from all of those whose stories have been accepted), you can go ahead and e-mail me, at which point, uh, I guess I’ll tell you that I passed on your story. Sorry about that.

In happier news, I spent a part of the evening writing checks and sending people money through Paypal. Since most people got their acceptance notices on Saturday, this means the lag between acceptance and payment was two days for the people with PayPal accounts. This was because a) Subterranean Magazine publisher Bill Schafer was writer-savvy enough to get the editorial budget to me upfront, so there was no question as to whether the money was in the pipeline, and b) being a writer myself, I know that it’s nice to, you know, get paid. So generally speaking as soon as I know where the money’s going and how the author wants it to go, it’s out the door. Which is not to say I’m a complete hero; Elizabeth Bear was superawesome and got a story to me early (and it rules), and I’m only now mailing the damn check. Dear Bear: I suck. Please forgive me. Anyway, the check’s on the way now. I do have to say that there’s very little nicer in the world than being able to give money to people whose work you admire. Especially when it’s not your money.

The final line-up of stories is still pending while a few writers with extended deadlines tend to their stories and rewrites, but even with what we’ve got nailed down I think you folks are going to like what you see. There’s a good mix of stories and story styles, and also a nice mix in the ways writers approach their cliches, from flat-out farce to pure mysticism. And here’s something exciting: among the established names in the lineup I’m very pleased to say we have four writers making their publishing debut in Subterranean, with stories that are meditations on totalitarianism, tales of a Barsoom-esque Mars, a twisty Silicon Valley mystery, and a look at the human side of being a war machine. I’m not at all far removed from being a newbie SF writer (it hasn’t even been a year since Old Man’s War hit the stores, after all), so its an honor and a privilege to be able to hold open the door and sneak a few more people into the club. Hopefully they’ll remember me when they hit the big time, and will, like, spare me some change. Wow, didn’t you used to edit science fiction? Why yes, yes I did. Hey, are you going to eat that?

Also exciting: The story I got yesterday from Allen M. Steele, called "The Last Science Fiction Writer." Ooooh, I could tell you about it. But I’m not gonna. But I can tell you that if you knew what the story was like, you’d want me to tell you about it. Yes, I’m aware that makes no sense at all. But you know what I’m trying to say here, people. It’s good, and I think you’re going to like it. I think you’re going to like the whole issue.

In any event. When I lock down all the stories, you’ll get the full line-up. Until then, patience.  

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Sigh

Bird Flu: "When it comes to a pandemic, we are overdue and we are underprepared."

9/11 Panel: "Commission members gave the government ‘more F’s than A’s‘ among the 41 grades measuring progress on security recommendations they issued last year.

Iraq: "Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops."

I wish I had a government I thought was actually interested in governing.
 

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Adventures in Nucleation

My stars! What does that maniacally laughing small child plan to do with that Coke and those Mentos? Just you wait!

Shhh. Don’t tell Krissy. 

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Over the Wires

A story on my recent Tor deal at SciFi Wire. Enjoy in all its self-referential linkability!

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Things You Can’t Tell About a Guy By Looking At Him

I see this picture a lot online. Not here on this site, but on other sites, where people have snatched it from here and not bothered to change the picture URL, so it shows up in my log files. The picture usually accompanies some snatch of text that chuckles to itself about how some red-state shitkicker who thinks a dinner at the Golden Corral and a Larry the Cable Guy concert is a sophistimacated evening has done managed to puzzle out teh intarweeb and put himself a picture online. Git ‘R Done, duuuude! Yer a country superstar! Followed by a Dubya joke or something about sex with cousins and/or an indignant barnyard vertebrate.

Needless to say, I find these all deeply amusing. Not that I do anything about it; it’s enough to know that their presumed symbol for the ignit white trash middle American is a largely liberal upper-middle-class author with a philosophy degree (who in this picture, incidentally, is wearing the t-shirt of his private boarding high school, the one with its own paleontological museum, scanning tunneling electron microscope and bronze foundry, which currently costs more to go to than most Americans make in a year). It’s my own little private joke, which, of course, I’m now sharing with you. The assumptions of others are indeed a source of neverending amusement.

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Submitting Elsewhere

A question from one of the folks who submitted to the cliche issue of Subterranean, but whose work I passed on:

So having our work regretfully rejected, we dust it off and re-submit to another market. The problem is that these are pieces written with a specific theme for a specific market, i.e. the Big Honkin’ SF Cliché Issue of Subterranean–and so they may be, well, a little more narrowly-focused than your generic SF story. Plus, SF  editors not actually living in caves (even Caves of Steel), they know about the BHSCI.

From the writer’s perspective, the fear is that an editor of another SF venue will look at the story we’ve submitted and say "Aha, this is one that didn’t make the cut for that Subterranean special issue. As if I’d want Scalzi’s sloppy seconds." And then they would make the L-for-loser sign on their foreheads and giggle into their Chardonnay.

I don’t much care about being giggled at, but is there a point to submitting this work elsewhere? Yes, yes, it’s so brilliant that the Other Magazine Editor will be overcome and use it anyway, but they’re likely going to get at least dozens of BHSCI type stories. What is your advice, O Guru? Do we ruthlessly try to cut and edit so as to hide the stories’ origins? Brazenly submit to other SF magazines, daring them to have a problem with them? Wait for the excitement to die down and quietly submit them in a year or two?

The irony here is that one of the non-fiction pieces I have is from an editor of another magazine, discussing the issue of receiving submissions with cliches in them. So this is not an entirely inappropriate question.

First: Yes, there’s a risk that some of the stories submitted to me will not be otherwise salable. This is one of the genuine hazards of writing on a specialized subject, and particularly this subject. To some extent I think this was mitigated by the fact that we were giving folks a chance to try some things they might not have otherwise, and that really came through in the reading; as with any group of submissions, some were good, some were bad and some were inbetween, but with nearly all of them it seemed like the writers were having fun. "Ha! Finally I can write about brains in a jar!" they said, or words to that effect (depending on which cliche they chose to tackle). So at the very least I hope the forbidden enjoyment of playing with cliches helps to take the sting out of possibly having difficulty selling the work elsewhere.

Having said that, I do honestly believe that several of the stories I passed on are eminently salable elsewhere, because the writers did exactly what I asked for — took a cliche and did something unexpected with it. The problem with cliches is not that they’re cliches; the problem with cliches is that people use them exactly the way you expect them to. But when they give you a cliche, lead you down the path where you think you know what’s happening next, and then whack you upside the head with a surprise, well, then, that’s a good thing, and I think that other editors will appreciate that just as much as I did. As I’ve noted before, a lot of the stuff I passed on was really good, it’s just that the particular cliche in which the story trafficked was heavily subscribed (time travel, intelligent computers, etc) and I was trying to keep each cliche’s presence in the magazine to one appearance (I did that. I think).

As to whether other editors will think they’re getting sloppy seconds, well, I kind of doubt it. First, to be blunt about it, editors already get scads of cliched submissions already. Unless one goes out of one’s way to note in a cover letter that the story had been rejected by me (which, you know, you shouldn’t), the story’s cliche in itself won’t draw attention. What may draw attention is the somewhat more creative way in which the cliche is being used; unlike all the other cliched stories in the slush pile, the writers of these stories know they’re playing with cliches and are trying to get them to do something new. Perhaps this will make slush reading marginally more bearable for editors over the next several months. We’ll have to see.

Second, everyone in science fiction publishing gets everyone else’s sloppy seconds anyway, per Robert Heinlein’s famous dictum of getting the story out to publishers and keeping it out there until it gets sold. Heck, I know from reading people’s online journals that at least a few folks dusted off old stories and sent them along to me; I didn’t hold that against the stories (at least one of these made the first submission cut, but not the second), and I certainly don’t hold it against the writers. Any science fiction editor who demands that he or she must receive stories unthumbed by any other editor damn well better be paying $2 a word, otherwise they’re living in a nice little dreamworld. But I suspect most of the editors simply won’t care where a story has been before; they’ll just look to see if the story fits their market and tastes.

So, now, what should you do with your story? Well, if you think it reads well as it is, I say go ahead and send it out again. If you feel like it needs some retooling to make it less cliche-oriented for a more general market, then spend some time retooling it and then send it out again. If you want to wait until the Subterranean/Scalzi wave of cliche stories has subsided, that’s fine, too. But as long as you think it’s a good story, make sure you get it out there in the market sooner or later. I don’t think the market will penalize you for sending it out sooner than later. But ultimately the writer is the best judge of what he or she is comfortable with.

I will say this much: As I was reading, I put all the stories in a master document file and did a triage of the stories by changing their font color after I’d read them. Changing the font color to blue meant I definitely wanted it, green meant I wanted to think about it more and red meant, well, you can figure out what red meant. When I was done looking at the stories, there was a lot of red (this is to be expected), but there was a surprising amount of green and blue in there as well. A number of the "blue" stories I couldn’t take — those are ones I think will have no problem finding a home elsewhere. And I think the "green" stories could have a pretty good shot, too.

We’ll have to see. Like I said in the letters, I hope to see some of these pieces in other places, and I hope that once I see them again I think, "damn, I was a fool to let that one go." I want these stories to be published, even if I can’t be the one to publish them.  

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Interesting Data Point

Amount of time it takes from the moment you mail out an acceptance note to the moment a post declaring the news hits LiveJournal: roughly 30 minutes. Or thereabouts.

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Christmas Reruns

Just as an FYI, I’ve posted two of the three Christmas stories I wrote a couple of years up on a "miscellaneous" blog here at Scalzi.com. The first of these is a poem called "Jackie Jones and Melrose Mandy," in which a spoiled little girl learns there’s more to life than getting everything you want, and the second is "Sarah’s Sister," which is a Christmas story I wrote pretty much to get my mother-in-law to bawl like a baby (it worked). Both of these stories do not come anywhere close to the level of snark I usually promulgate here, and indeed "Sarah’s Sister" may be the absolutely least snarky thing I’ve ever written — the anti-snark, if you will. Just so you know (if you want snark, you’ll want to revisit my "10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time," which I wrote at the same time and then subsequently sold to NationalLampoon.com).

I gave some thought to writing a couple of new christmas stories this year, but being terminally disorganized as I am I haven’t done so yet. Still, I have a particularly nasty abuse of Santa rolling about in my head that I might get to. I make no promises.

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How To Tell SF from F

Uh-oh. Just when we least expected it, a seminar on genre theory broke out online! It’s about what the difference between science fiction and fantasy really is.

Call me unbearably shallow, but here’s how you know the difference. You walk up to the main character of the story in question and say: "Hey! Main character! That deus ex machina doodad you have on your belt, does it have, like, a battery?"

If he says "Why, yes, there’s a tiny nuclear fuel cell in there that will power this baby for 10,000 planetary revolutions," well, then, you’ve got some science fiction there. If he says, "Of course not, it was forged in the eternal flames of Mount [insert typewriter spasm here] by the dwarves who serve the elder and/or fallen god [insert second typewriter spasm here], and holds captive his immortal soul" or some such, well, that’s fantasy. Everything else is pretty much elaboration and variation on the point.

If the story features a nuclear fuel cell made by the dwarf servants of the dread god Typewriter Spasm, what you’ve got is an editor asleep at the switch. Never fear, he or she will be beaten presently.

There. Settled. Now, let’s cure cancer! 

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Subterranean Magazine Submissions Update

This is a general update re: submissions to the Subterranean Magazine "Big Honkin’ Cliche" Issue, so please feel free to spread it around to all the folks you know are interested.

I’ve had a month to through material a second (and in some cases third) time, so in general I have a pretty good idea of what I’m taking and what I’ll be passing on. As such 95% of the acceptance and rejection notices will be out to submitters by Monday 12/5 (I’m actually going to try to get to them today, but you know how that is). I will be sending those notices to the e-mail address from which the submissions came, so be aware of that if you used an alternate submission address.

As noted here, the rejection notices will be short and generally non-discriptive. However, I will say that I received several hundred submissions, and that the final magazine needs to clock in at no more than 65k words, so there was a lot of picking and choosing and horsetrading for the right mix of stories. This also means that some truly good stories that I wish to God I could have fit in I had to let go. This is particularly the case with time travel and intelligent computer stories, which were two very popular cliche topics. If you submitted a story with those topics, you should know the competition was extra fierce.

If you don’t get an acceptance/rejection by Monday, don’t panic. There is a small group of submissions I am still thinking about; consequently, some writers may get a note from me asking for some (quick) edits/revisions.

Without speaking too much about it, I have to say I’m immensely pleased with the stories that look to make the final cut; you’re going to see some names you know plus some new faces as well — I can think of one writer who I believe will be notching a first sale here, plus some other newer names as well. This pleases me immensely, of course. Among marquee names, we have a few, most of whom I can’t mention at the moment. Two I can: Elizabeth Bear (whose piece I have mentioned before) and Jo Walton, both of whom have turned in what I consider to be exceptional pieces that dive right into their respective cliches and come out the other side with something completely new. I’ll present a complete line-up of authors and story titles after the new year.

Questions? Leave them in the comment thread.  

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How Not to Plagiarize

I’m reading with interest this story about writer Brad Vice, who won a literary award and published a collection of short stories and then had the former revoked and the press run of the latter pulped when someone noticed that, hey, there’s a short story here that seems at least partially written by another writer. Vice, who is a professor at Mississippi State University, said something along the lines of "whoops," claimed what he was really doing in lifting entire lines from another writer was an homage, and also claimed to be confused about that whole "fair use" thing. Meanwhile, industrious reporters have noticed the increasingly-aptly named Mr. Vice may have also lifted lines from other places as well, which certainly lends credence to the whole "shaky about fair use" thing, but also suggests the fellow may be a serial plagiarizer.

Now, this article from Media Bistro says to me that lifting junk from other writers is some sort of hot new academic trend — "Issues of intertextuality, embedded narratives, and literary borrowing and homage were very much in the critical air through the 1990s" — which I suppose marks yet another difference between academia and the real world, in that if I heavily excerpted text from, say, Olaf Stapledon, and presented it as original material in a novel, I suspect Patrick Nielsen Hayden would bring down a big fat cudgel on my head long before I would have to make up some lame "It’s an homage!" excuse and Tor became obliged to pulp an entire print run of a book. Out here in the wild, claims of wanton intertextuality gone amuck pale in the face of the economic cost of a major screwup.

(Also, come on, let’s get real: homage is one thing and plagarism is another, and someone who makes his cash as a professor of English at a major state university damn well ought to know the difference — and know what’s acceptable "fair use" to boot. If that’s not actually in the job description from an English professor, it should be. And heck, Vice is the advisor to the MSU’s English honor society! Oh, the shame. For its part MSU launched an investigation into Vice’s lifting issues, which suggests tenure is not something he should hope for at this point.)

Being as I am someone who ripped off Robert Heinlein with wild abandon for Old Man’s War, I’m the very last person who should suggest homage is not a legitimate literary technique. However, I would note that in my case I did two things which I think are of critical importance: One, I didn’t actually cut and paste Heinlein’s words into my manuscript, and two, I’ve been almost gaggingly upfront about what I’ve been doing. I thanked Heinlein in my acknowledgements, for God’s sake. It beats deluding myself that no one would ever catch on to what I was doing.

As a matter of record, I did it again in The Ghost Brigades, where I found two ideas of fellow SF writers compelling enough to play off of them. One of the writers was Nick Sagan, whose ideas about consciousness transference in Edenborn were right in line with what I needed for TGB. Another was Scott Westerfeld; the brief space battle on pages 119-121 of TGB owes quite a bit to Scott’s jaw-droppingly good extended space battle in The Killing of Worlds (his is the economy-sized version, while mine is the miniscule travel-sized version). In both cases I gave a head’s up to the authors that I was going to play a riff off a theme they established, and of course I noted the riffs in the acknowledgements section of the book, listing the authors and the books, and describing them as "authors from whom I’ve consciously stolen."

Because why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to hide when I borrow; I’m comfortable enough with my own writing skills that I’m not threatened by acknowledging how much my writing is influenced by my able contemporaries. More to the point, I want people to know, because if they liked my tip of the hat, they should know where to find the inspirations. If reading The Ghost Brigades’ acknowledgements (or indeed, this very bit of writing here) sends a few more readers to Nick and Scott, how could I not be happy about that? They’re both excellent writers — I thieve only from the best — and deserve all the readers they can get. Also, and not insignificantly, it innoculates me from later accusations of idea poaching, since a guy who hands you an itemized list of the people he’s borrowing from is clearly not worried about such accusations. I plead guilty, and hope you’ll read these other excellent writers, too.

I’m not so sanguine about actual word theft, mind you; that space battle I mention above plays quite a bit like a miniature version of Scott’s, but at least i typed all the words and word structurements out of my own brain rather than cracking open my copy of Killing of Worlds and transcribing from what lie therein. But I guess if one were going to do that, then one really should acknowledge it, shouldn’t one? Because otherwise you end up with the situation Vice seems to be in. A little tip for you budding (and in Vice’s case, not so budding) writers, which I encourage you to take freely and propogate widely: Unacknowledged "homages" are often indistinguishable from plagiarism. Yes, even when everyone "should" know the writer or the work you’re homagifying (no, that’s not a real word). A simple CYA statement at the end a story ("The author wishes to acknowledge [insert other writer here], whose story [insert story name here] this piece homagifies in an academically approved intertextual sort of way") will probably save a lot of heartache and print run pulping later.

It’s a little early to expect homage or even simple theft of the books I wrote, but you know, if someone wants to play the changes on an idea I’ve had or a scene I wrote, groovy. Have fun with that. And if you want to note it in the acknowlegements of your book, even better. And if you want to send me a nice gift basket with an assortment of cheeses in it as a way of saying thank you, why, that would be best of all.

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