What to Call Me

I seem to have unintentionally caused some confusion in the last entry as to how is the proper way to address me, so in the interest of being helpful, let me attempt to clear things up:

My name is John Scalzi (actually, it’s John Michael Scalzi, II, but that’s not important now). I typically answer to “John” or “Scalzi,” and have no manifest preference to either name — which is to say I will respond equally to both. Which makes sense because both are my name. Please feel free to use either one that you prefer, when referring to or addressing me. If you wish to be formal (say, you don’t know me, or want to borrow money from me), “Mr. Scalzi” works fine. I possess no additional titles, so calling me, say, “Admiral Scalzi” will only lead to confusion.

I have noticed that in casual conversation and in casual reference, most people — even some of my closest friends — seem to address and refer to me as “Scalzi,” even when/if they are discussing other people by their first names (i.e., “we went to dinner with Paul, Jane, Joe and Scalzi”). I suspect that the reason most people use “Scalzi” rather than “John” is that a) generally speaking I’m the only Scalzi in any crowd, which makes it an easy identifier, b) “John” is opposingly generic, and c) “Scalzi” is fun to say; it seems to lend itself to all manner of dramatic methods of delivery (incidentally, I pronounce my last name “skaal – zee”).

Indeed, so pronounced is the general tendency to refer to me as “Scalzi” rather than “John” that if I’m in a crowd and the name “John” is used, I have a tendency to assume that it is being used to refer to some other John. Be that as it may, my first name is “John,” and if you feel more comfortable using “John” instead of “Scalzi,” by all means please use “John.” It’s a fine name, and I like it.

On the matter of “John,” incidentally, if you attempt to use “Johnny” in reference to me, I am not likely to respond to it, since I was never called “Johnny” at any point in my life; my family nickname when I was younger was “John-John” (yes, apparently like JFK, Jr). That nickname has since been retired by me (a 37-year-old man ought not be referred to as “John-John”) and has since been passed on to a nephew. I won’t hate you if you call me “Johnny,” although it will merely serve to accentuate the fact you don’t know me, so I’m not sure why you would want to continue using it anyway. Using “John-John” unless you’re a family member is likewise right out. “Jon” or “Jonathan” are of course entirely incorrect (that’s another name entirely). Calling me “Junior,” because I am the second John Scalzi, is not going to be successful — I was never called it as a kid and wouldn’t find it appropriate now.

On “Scalzi,” the last name itself seems to suffice just fine; I’ve not known people to shorten it in any way, nor would I be likely to respond positively to any attempt to do so. People have been known to adapt “Scalzi” as a prefix to any number of words by dropping the “i” and then jamming “Scalz” in front of any number of words, usually with an exclamation mark implied at the end (“Scalztastic!” “The Scalzinator!” “Scalztronic!” “Scalztacular!”), but these really don’t seem to be enduring sorts of nicknames but rather some sort of variation on the “banana-fofanna” school of being silly. As noted eariler, “Scalzi” is distinctive enough that there’s usually no need to embroider the name.

Possibly because “Scalzi” is distinctive enough as it is, I have no nicknames of any sort. I’m a little old to be gaining any, so unless you have Dubya-like pathological need to assert dominance over other by giving them a dimunitive name that is not their own, I’ll thank you simply to call me by my name (if you do have that sort of pathological need, I’m likely to avoid your company anyway). My wife has terms of endearment for me, but I’m not sharing those, and you wouldn’t be entitled to use them in any event. Sorry.

So, in sum: Call me “John,” call me “Scalzi,” or if you like to be formal, “Mr. Scalzi.” Whichever you are most comfortable with is fine.

How (And How Not) To Market To Me When I’m in Blogger Mode

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I am apparently enough of a high-profile blogger that I get people sending me stuff and wanting to do business with me in my capacity as a blogger. People sending me stuff is always fun (it’s stuff. And it’s free), and that’s why I have my publicist guidelines over there on the side bar. Wanting to do business with me is a tricker proposition. This site is (until I am hard up for money, at least) resolutely not a commercial site, and I’m not particularly inclined to ‘ho out my readership for a few shiny baubles or whatever. Also, as someone who makes at least part of his money crafting marketing messages for various clients, and has for the better part of a decade, it’s not like I don’t know how marketing works. I know the difference between a good pitch and a bad one, particularly when it’s directed toward me. I get annoyed at the bad ones.

Now, as it happens, yesterday I received two e-mails from two different people, both of whom were trying to get me interested — as a blogger — in incorporating the businesses they’re promoting into my site. One of them did a bad job of it, and one of them did a good job of it, both in the sense of promoting their services to me as a blogger, and (incidentally) promoting their services to me as John Scalzi. As an object example of each, I’m going to present these marketing messages to you now, and explain all the ways they do and don’t work.

First, the e-mail pitch that doesn’t work.

Hey

Napster is willing to pay you money, and all you have to do is keep your
site lookin’ pretty. Napster has taken their catalog of over 2 million songs and comedy routines and acquired the rights to provide sites like yours with streaming flash-based links to their library.

These cool links will add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience.

Super-easy! Your users can cut and paste these audio links into their blogs,
MySpace pages, etc. and you collect money. You get 5% for downloads and $10 dollars for each subscription. If you’d like to see an example of what it will look like on your site, checkout http://www.gumpop.com

Give us a call or email and say, “my site wants a sugar daddy”, we’ll hook you up.

Interestingly, this pitch came from an actual PR company (this one), which prides itself on being “guerilla marketing specialists.” Yeah, well, no. Here’s why it fails:

1. The Salutation Sucks. I understand it’s meant to be cool and informal, but what it really says is “this e-mail is going out to a whole bunch of different people and rather than registering you as an individual, we’ll go for a slangy, hip but impersonal salutation.” The problem with this is that slangy and hip or not, bloggers as a general rule like to pretend what we’re doing is individual enough that we deserve recognition as individuals (just like everybody else on MySpace or LiveJournal or wherever). An impersonal salutation sets the tone for the rest of the pitch to be impersonal as well, and an impersonal pitch is at a disadvantage when you’re trying to shill your wares. “Hey John” would have been fine; “Hey Scalzi” would have been even better (since nearly everyone who knows me or knows of me calls me Scalzi, not John, and this would indicate the marketeer actually knows something about the blog). “Hey” by itself, however, gets nothing.

2. The rhetoric is appalling. The language of the pitch makes it sound like I’m some anorexic skank on the prowl for some easy cash, and that Napster — the client here, remember — is a greasy, sweaty pussy-trawler who’s willing to toss a few coins my way as long as I’m ready to service him. I mean, really, it’s soooo nice that Napster is willing to pay me money, you know, as long as my site keeps lookin’ pretty. But what if my site’s ass gets fat? What happens when the site develops those mouth wrinkles from all the cigarettes it smokes to ward off the pangs of hunger required to keep its ass from getting fat? What if my site turns 26 and its boobs begin to sag by a millimeter or two? What will my sugar daddy do then? Who will I have to blow then to get this sweet, sweet deal?

Oh yeah: this e-mail was signed by a woman.

Yes, I know it’s all third-wave feminist to say that it’s cool to be sexy and hot to the men and still be woman, hear you roar and all that. But this ain’t third wave feminism; it’s some idiot marketer under the impression that using language that equates to “suck this corporate cock for shiny, shiny pennies” is somehow ironic and fun. Well, it’s ironic all right, in that Napster, once the symbol of rebellion against the idiocies of the mass-produced music industry, has now been reduced via marketing to the equivalent of a coked-out middle-aged dotcom jackass with hair plugs, hanging out at a strip club and trying to convince the new meat on the stage to do the squishy with him in the back of his C-class Mercedes. I’m not sure how that’s fun.

3. It makes it appear like the client is doing me a favor. Let me see if I have this straight: I basically put a link on my site that funnels people to Napster’s site, whereupon Napster will then attempt to get them to sign up for its service? And for this Napster is willing to pay me? Well, that’s nice. The pitch does include a value proposition for me as the blogger — i.e., that I can add all sorts of music to my blog, and that people can then cut and paste that into their own blog — but this value proposition is not purely for my own benefit, and in any event, the value proposition to me is presented after language that makes it look like Napster is providing me some great benefit by allowing me to funnel my readers to it. Certainly a marketer doesn’t want to make his or her client look desperate (“please lease us your readers! They’re coming to take away our loft! Oh, God, please!”), but fronting a false sense of noblisse oblige is not the way to go, either.

4. Dead-eyed marketing jargon. If you barf out marketing-speak like “add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience,” which no normal human uses in the real world — ever — its soul-deadening qualities are not obviated by having the next thing you write be “Super-easy!” Also, bloggers don’t have users, they have readers, and the fact that the former term is being used rather than the latter is further evidence that this particular message is being tooled out by people who either don’t understand to whom they are marketing or who are so adrift in the becalmed sargasso of marketing-speak that their position of being “guerilla marketing” experts is only relative to those folks even more clueless about the blogging world than they.

5. Inconsistent tone. Related to the above, you can’t really try to position yourself as offering something all hip and fun and trendy and then let slip in painfully square marketing speak. It’s a rhetorical whipsaw, and it tubes the overall effectiveness of the work. It has to be all of a piece, otherwise it can’t even begin to be read as authentic. Hell, it can’t even begin to fake authenticity, and authenticity actually matters in the blog world. These people would be far better off simply to have an e-mail that says “hi, we’re going to try to market to you, and here’s the cool stuff we have for you,” then this mess of a “We’re hip beyond all reason, offering no-cost interactivity to your users” mashup.

My real question is not who wrote it, but, honestly, who approved it? Because this is crap. If I were running this particular marketing shop, I would have punted this back faster than you can say “bring me a skim half-caf latte.” Maybe Napster likes it, but a marketer’s job is not only to make the client happy but to save the client from its own ass-foolishness. This emphatically did not happen here. This is terrible marketing, both to me in particular and to bloggers in general.

What does good marketing to bloggers look like? Well, let’s take a look at my next example:

John,

I am a big fan of your books Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades and have really enjoyed reading your blog the past few weeks. I work for Tower.com and was wondering if you’d be interested in working with us to save your readers a couple bucks in the process. Instead of linking to Amazon.com whenever you mention a book, CD, movie or video game, you can link to us. If you’d like, we can do a couple of things for your readers:

* I can give you a reusable coupon every month for either a percentage or dollar amount off of any order over a certain amount, plus free standard shipping. OR

* Whenever you’re going to post about a CD, DVD or book, etc., I can set up an individual coupon for that particular item that would take a dollar or two off of our sale price.

You can also sign up to become an affiliate and put some change in your pocket while you’re at it. There’s information about our affiliate program right here: http://www.towerrecords.com/affiliate.asp

I think it would be cool to work with you on this, so if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get a hold of me anytime. Also, the Muse album is amazing. I thought that Showbiz was awesome and had totally forgotten about them too until this album came out.

Why does it work? Pretty much for all the reasons the earlier example did not.

1. The marketer knows who I am. Or at the very least gives the impression he does: He name-checks the books I’ve written and via the Muse reference gives an indication that he’s aware of the recent writing on my site. In both cases I get the feeling that this pitch is to me, and based on awareness of what I do, both in my blogging and non-blogging life. This inclines me to give the pitch more serious consideration, because, who knows? Maybe it will be useful.

2. The language is good. This guy is not trying to be the hippest dude in the room, he’s just got an idea that he thinks could work out well for the both of us. The language is simple, direct, friendly and pretty much free of marketing lingo — note “readers” not “users” — and is consistent across the board.

3. The offer is to be helpful, not to do me a favor. Napster is “willing” to give me money. Tower Records, however, is ready to save my readers a couple of bucks. You don’t need a degree in rhetoric to see what a difference this makes. It’s ironic that the hip, supposed-to-be-counter-culture approach in fact reinforces the supremacy of the corporation over the consumer, while this low-key and unhip approach gets what’s important: That in the blog world, readers are incredibly important, and doing something that works to their advantage is going to be good for the blogger. In fact, let’s pull this out as its own point:

4. This pitch understands its market. This pitch is from someone who actually seems to have a clue how the blog world works — that it’s about readers as much as the folks who write the blogs. And because the guy also seems to have a clue what I do on my site — I recommend books and music on a constant basis, and I feel reasonably protective of my readers — he pitches his offer to me on the basis of behaviors I exhibit, and spins the offer to put my readers first. That’s all smart stuff for this guy to do, and it also speaks toward the interests of Tower Records in promoting itself online. Tower wants to be useful, and through being useful, hopefully successful as well.

5. This pitch isn’t pushy. It knows what it’s about — it is trying to get me to link to Tower, after all — but it lets the value proposition speak for itself, and the person writing it lets me know that if and when I want to talk to him more about it, he’s ready to work with me (as opposed to “hooking me up,” which again implies someone is doing me a favor). Speaking rhetorically, this pitch tells me that this guy is confident that what he’s offering is a good deal and he’s comfortable with me giving it some thought and seeing if it’s right for me. This is a far better method of presentation for me, personally; I think it’s a far better presentation in general.

What does this all mean?

First, not only am I not likely to avail myself of the Napster thing, but now I have a vaguely negative feeling about Napster in general; the image of Napster huffin’ and puffin’ at me from behind and then contemptuously slapping down a couple of soiled dollars for my time is one that is pretty much burned into my mind, thanks to this pitch.

Second, I actually am now thinking of sending links to Tower. I currently link to Amazon primarily because many of my readers are also writers, and writers as a class obsess over their Amazon rankings because it’s the only sales feedback we usually get. But Tower’s book prices, at least, are competitive, and while I’m not likely to do an affilliate thing, if Tower wants to offer a special deal to my readers for one of my books, that’s well worth considering. Tower wasn’t on my radar before for any of this, and now it is. And that’s smart marketing, to me as me, and to me as a blogger.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Update 7/21/06, 5pm: The President/CEO of Guerilla PR responds in the comment thread. I have further thoughts on the matter here.

Friendpimping 7/19/06

I kept meaning to mention this earlier but continued to get distracted by shiny bits of foil (and, uh, book writing) pal Deven Desai, who is awfully smart in a lawyerly way (and in other ways as well), is doing a guest spot over at the legal blog Concurring Opinions. Here’s the entry saying a little bit about who he is; here’s one of his entries about paternity, and another about Jerry Springer, and the poor bastard of a British judge who is required to watch his show for a case. Fun stuff. The rest of the blog is likewise enlightening, legally and otherwise.

Also: The comment thread is hereby declared a pimp zone. Pimp yourself! Pimp others! Go nuts! But tastefully, of course.

Die Movable Type 3.3 Die

Gaaaaah. I’m officially giving up on upgrading to Movable Type 3.3 because no matter what I do, I cannot convince the new install that there is, in fact, a bootstrap.pm right where any idiot can see it, and I am not nearly technically accomplished enough to fiddle with the scripts to make it work. Perhaps one day some geek will take pity on me and do this thing I’m clearly too lame to do, but until then you’re all stuck with lousy Movable Type 3.2, and I’m left to mutter about how this is a conspiracy on the part of Six Apart to try to get me to move to TypePad or something. It’s not going to work, Six Apart! I laugh at your one gig of disk space and 10 gigs of bandwidth! I’ve got 150 gigs of Web space, and 1.5 friggin’ terabytes of bandwidth. Ha! I say. Ha! I don’t need your lame, annoying, delicious, shiny upgrade anyway.

Stupid Movable Type 3.3.

Interestingly, as I was running the Perl script checker for, oh, the 13,000th time today, I noticed that my host is now offering WordPress for its users; all you have to do is fill in a couple of lines on a form, pick a template and bam: You’ve got blog. See? Don’t bookmark that, by the way, since I don’t intend to keep it — or, at least, don’t intend to keep that particular set-up, because the templates my host provides aren’t very flexible. You can’t put in your own designs or anything. Also, I can’t find the database that goes with the blog, and I find that, well, disheartening. But it’s interesting that blog software comes standard now.

In any event, I’ve wasted too much time trying to update the site. I’ll save any other major projects for after I’m done with The Last Colony. And that will give me time to plot my revenge against Movable Type 3.3. Oh, yes. Vengeance will be mine.

Hello, Wisconsin!

The Oshkosh Northwestern did an interview with me that will be published this Saturday, but the reporter Bethany Warner also blogs, and has posted a version of the interview on her site. You can read it here. The telling line, when asked about my writing process: “There’s a writing process? Why didn’t someone tell me this before?” Man, I crack myself up.

A Telling Sign Things Are Not Going Well in the Marriage

badsign0718.jpg

Yeah. It’s subtle, sure. But if you look closely you can see some real tension there. You know, between the lines.

This is from here.

Note to self: Try not to inspire wife to put up embarrassing billboard.

Update: In comments, Nancy Nall thinks it’s viral advertising. Defamer agrees with her. If it is, it’s reasonably clever. Although it would be more interesting if it were real.

Geek Loser

You know, yesterday the latest editions of Official US PlayStation Magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Popular Science and PC Week came to my door, and I thought, look at all this nerdishness! I am a geek god! And then I tried to install Movable Type 3.3 and failed utterly. I am a geek loser, and just think about what it means when you can’t even be a geek. I might as well hide in a hole. But at least I didn’t destroy my existing install in the process. I’ll try again at some other point.

I did, however, do at least one other geek-related thing, which is that I got an invite to join Vox, which is SixApart’s new do-everything social network site, which is still in beta. I whomped up a page there, which you can see here. As far as generic blog-hosting goes, it’s fairly attractive, with all sorts of various Web 2.0 bells and whistles, like the ability to host and stream mp3s, take photos from Flickr and so on and so forth. It’s got so many nice bells and whistles, in fact, that I wonder why the blank-blankety-blank Six Apart offers them for free on Vox while my Movable Type install, which I paid for, thank you very much, has almost none of them. Perhaps they’re all in the 3.3 upgrade. Man, I hate being a geek loser.

This also means that I have yet another blog-like extension online. Aside from here and my AOL Journal, both of which I actively update, I’ve got outposts on LiveJournal, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr and all manner of social and professional network sites which I’ve not visited in what seems like eternity (alas, poor Friendster. You were so 2003). Because I have life (and I am not a college student), I can’t really maintain them all, nor do I really want to; I have the LiveJournal and Blogger accounts so I can use the comment functions, and the rest I have largely out of curiosity. Also, of course, if I do destroy Scalzi.com doing an upgrade, at least I’ll have somewhere else to go, already set up. Even so.

All I really want is to set this place up exactly the way I want it. But then we’re back to the geek loser thing again. Sigh.

Danger! Danger!

I’m about to attempt an upgrade to Movable Type 3.31. Because I am of only questionable competence in these matters, the site may in fact vaporize. Don’t worry, I’ve downloaded the database.

The Shit Bounce

Prediction: Bush gets a 1-2 point bounce in the next poll taken after today’s off-guard “shit” moment. The reason: because, among other things, “what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” sounds amazingly sensible, and using the word “shit” in this context seems like earthy, folky wisdom, and Bush is supposed to be all earthy and folky. Now, whether having Syria tell Hezbollah to stop doing this shit would actually work is another matter entirely, and one I don’t feel entire qualified to comment upon, except to say that it would be nice if it were that simple. But as I said, it sounds good.

As an aside, this is another place where I’ll decline to take a potshot at the President. He was having lunch, he clearly didn’t realize his mike was live, and I pretty much think he should be let off the hook for having an unscripted moment of frustration regarding the fact that things have gone to Hell over there along the Israel-Lebanon border. It’s one thing to say something jackassed when you’re at the podium, making a speech, and God knows I think Bush has done that more than once. It’s another to utter a profanity and a not terribly controversial opinion when you’re eating something and talking to a colleague, even if that colleague is the Prime Minister of the UK. It’s not like he was saying “Dude, we’re totally bombing the shit out of Damascus tonight, heh heh heh heh.” In that case, there would be actual news, and the word “shit” would be the least interesting thing about it, instead of the most interesting thing, as it is here.

I know, I know. If I keep letting him pass on these little things, I’ll be drummed out of the Bush Hata Playa Club, Local #655. But honestly. Like I give a shit.

And Now, a Special Sneak Preview of The Last Colony You’ll Talk About For Years to Come!

Because you deserve it. Here it is, a special exclusive sneak preview of The Last Colony! Prepare youself! Take a deep breath! Gird your loins! This is it!

“Wow,” said Savitri. “This planet smells like an armpit.”

And there it was, your special, exclusive sneak preview! Now I bet you can’t wait to read the rest. Can you? Can you? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Agent to the Stars on “Unshelved”

a2sunshelved.jpg

As the headline implies — nay, explicitly promises — the fine folks at Unshelved (America’s favorite library-based Web comic!) have done a comic strip featuring my novel Agent to the Stars. It’s pretty funny. That strip, that is. The book is, too. But that’s not important now.

Discussion Topic

The food that requires the most amount of effort for the least amount of reward: The unshelled sunflower seed.

Agree? Disagree? If the latter, can you name an alternative?

Why yes, I am eating unshelled sunflower seeds at the moment. Why do you ask?

Quick Change

Yeah, I decided that purple really wasn’t me. Thus the change in the colors and pictures. Also, for those of you using the search page, the “dark-on-dark” thing should be fixed.

If you can’t see the new design, you might need to clear out your Web cache.

Bits and Pieces 7/15/06

Little things:

* A literary notable named Nancy Pearl has plugged Old Man’s War, which I think is awfully nice of her. I regret to say I’m not entirely sure who she is (curse me and my non-listening-to-NPR ways), but I’ve been assured this is a good thing, and she has nice things to say about the book, and I’m delighted to be read and recommended by people who are outside the usual circles of SF reader. So thanks, Nancy Pearl.

* I’ve been asked by folks if I have any thoughts about the latest round of fighting in the mideast; I don’t, other than general worry. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve long been a supporter of the right of Israel to exist and defend itself; they also know I wish that the modern state of Israel had been founded in, say, Nebraska. I do wonder if there’s a deeper strategy here that I’m not seeing; Hezbollah has been funded and armed by Iran, or so I’ve been led to understand, and I wonder if this recent action is not some sort of sock puppet action to draw attention away from Iran’s own agenda and also a long-term attempt to sap US military strength (the US is obliged to help defend Israel but it’s already fairly extended, as we all know, in Iraq and Afghanistan). This is the curse of knowing just enough about a situation to make one paranoid.

* Earlier this week Joseph Tranfo called me out to discuss same-sex marriage one his own blog Benedict; unfortunately I’ve been too busy writing and editing to discuss the issue substantively, but those readers who are interested in having a serious discussion with him on the subject should go over. Here’s the first entry he did on the subject (with my quick and cowardly “I’m too busy!” response), and he’s followed it up with a second right after it. I don’t need to tell you this, but if you go over, please play nice. Ironically, this comment thread is still active; the recent comments have some folks trying to convince me that same-sex marriage isn’t really marriage, and attempting to sell me the whole “there’s still a debate!” line that I decry in the original entry. Needless to say I’m not buying.

* Book updates: My edit of Coffee Shop is back to Subterranean Press; hopefully we’ll have ARCs to give out to folks. Most of the edits were due to my abominable speeeling and gremmar, although in a couple of places I needed to root out phrases like “you can click here to see more on this,” because, after all, clicking on a book doesn’t actually let you follow a hyperlink. Damn old-school media. The Last Colony proceeds apace. Did I mention it’s got Mennonites? Well, it does.

Black Holes & Revelations

So, for the last couple of days, I’ve been wallowing in Black Holes & Revelations, the new album from Muse, who are apparently stupid huge in the UK, but not so much here. I bought their first album, Showbiz, when it come out in (uh… I think) 1999, but then they fell off my radar. Well, now they’re back on it. BH&R is ridiculously overblown; these guys give The Darkness a run for the crown of Most Histrionic Band Since Queen. That said, this album yet manages a sort of spacey grandeur (“grandeur” not being something The Darkness ever really managed), and one track (“Starlight”) is probably my favorite of the year so far.

And as it happens AOL is streaming the entire album, so you can check it out for yourself. It’s all one stream, so you’ll be lacking the song titles, but if you’re interested, “Starlight” is track two (it comes in about four minutes and 30 seconds in). I also enjoy the fourth track “The Map of the Problematique” to an insensible degree (it comes up about 12 and a half minutes in). It’s all fun, in an unholy “What if Freddy Mercury mated with Martin Gore while Dave Gilmour watched, and their children knew of the world only what they read in Interzone” sort of way. Enjoy.

Black Holes & Revelations

So, for the last couple of days, I’ve been wallowing in Black Holes & Revelations, the new album from Muse, who are apparently stupid huge in the UK, but not so much here. I bought their first album, Showbiz, when it come out in (uh… I think) 1999, but then they fell off my radar. Well, now they’re back on it. BH&R is ridiculously overblown; these guys give The Darkness a run for the crown of Most Histrionic Band Since Queen. That said, this album yet manages a sort of spacey grandeur (“grandeur” not being something The Darkness ever really managed), and one track (“Starlight”) is probably my favorite of the year so far.

And as it happens AOL is streaming the entire album, so you can check it out for yourself. It’s all one stream, so you’ll be lacking the song titles, but if you’re interested, “Starlight” is track two (it comes in about four minutes and 30 seconds in). I also enjoy the fourth track “The Map of the Problematique” to an insensible degree (it comes up about 12 and a half minutes in). It’s all fun, in an unholy “What if Freddy Mercury mated with Martin Gore while Dave Gilmour watched, and their children knew of the world only what they read in Interzone” sort of way. Enjoy.

Black Holes & Revelations

So, for the last couple of days, I’ve been wallowing in Black Holes & Revelations, the new album from Muse, who are apparently stupid huge in the UK, but not so much here. I bought their first album, Showbiz, when it come out in (uh… I think) 1999, but then they fell off my radar. Well, now they’re back on it. BH&R is ridiculously overblown; these guys give The Darkness a run for the crown of Most Histrionic Band Since Queen. That said, this album yet manages a sort of spacey grandeur (“grandeur” not being something The Darkness ever really managed), and one track (“Starlight”) is probably my favorite of the year so far.

And as it happens AOL is streaming the entire album, so you can check it out for yourself. It’s all one stream, so you’ll be lacking the song titles, but if you’re interested, “Starlight” is track two (it comes in about four minutes and 30 seconds in). I also enjoy the fourth track “The Map of the Problematique” to an insensible degree (it comes up about 12 and a half minutes in). It’s all fun, in an unholy “What if Freddy Mercury mated with Martin Gore while Dave Gilmour watched, and their children knew of the world only what they read in Interzone” sort of way. Enjoy.

Note to Worldcon Members: Vote, Damn It

We’re now about three weeks until the close of voting for the Hugo and Campbell Awards, and by and large (and like the other Best Novel and Campbell nominees, at least) I’ve kept quiet about my thoughts on the matter. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to say something about it now, addressed specifically to those folks who are members of this year’s Worldcon. It’s a pretty simple statement:

Vote, damn it.

Here’s the thing. The Hugo Awards aren’t just about some chunky middle-aged white guy trundling up to a podium to get a rocket-shaped award (for one thing, nominee Robert Charles Wilson is fairly slender, and some nominees aren’t actually middle-aged white guys at all). More than the individual accolade, the true value of the Hugo and the Campbell is that they are the manifest form of the conversation that science fiction has with itself. It is the community of science fiction readers and thinkers saying to itself — and, incidentally, the rest of the world — “this is who we are; this is what we’re thinking; this is what’s important to us now.”

This conversation lasts through time; Hugo winners are, for better or worse, science fiction’s common culture. Over the last month there’s been a meme running through the blog world in which everyone checks off which Hugo-winning novels they’ve read; most people who identify as science fiction fans have read a significant portion of them. And a large reason for that is that people want to know for themselves why the Hugo voters thought those works were important to single out (we’re curious that way. Who knew?). I’m singling out the novels because, among other things, that’s the category I’m up for this year. But every Hugo winner becomes part of the science fiction conversation.

Which is why I think it’s dreadfully important that this conversation hold a multiplicity of voices. The not-so-secret secret of the Hugo/Campbell awards is that only a fraction of the people who can vote do vote; in effect, a tiny minority of the science fiction community gets to set the conversational agenda SF has with itself for all time. I don’t think this is right; if we acknowledge that the Hugos matter — and they do for our weird little clan — than we should make sure that what the Hugos say to us now, and to future generations of our geeky tribe, is a genuine and true statement about what we all feel is important in our genre, and what is important to our genre.

The administrators of the Hugos are doing their part: If you’re a Worldcon member you can quickly and efficiently vote online; all you need is your membership number and PIN code. You don’t even have to pay for a stamp. The authors who are up for the Hugos are also doing their part: For the first time ever, the majority of the Hugo-nominated novels are available for Worldcon members to read — free — in electronic form (they’re available through this very site in fact), and all of the nominees for novella, novelette and short story are available to be read online as well. It’s never been easier to make an informed and engaged Hugo vote. All you have to do is do it.

Having made a general argument as to why you should vote, let me make a personal argument as well. If I may put it bluntly, this year we’ve got a hell of a Best Novel ballot, precisely because it shows the width and depth of what science fiction and fantasy has to offer today. Charlie Stross’ Accelerando is an appallingly good joyride through a wildly-imagined near future, and it has more ideas per square inch than most entire shelves of SF books. Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin imagines an entirely different near-future, where the end times are nigh and humanity poignantly grapples with the possiblity of having no future. Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World reimagines first contact in ways that are gratifyingly surprising and gives us a whole new volcabulary for such an experience. George Martin’s A Feast For Crows continues and expands one of the hallmark series in all of fantasy. And then there’s Old Man’s War, which I think combines good old-fashioned SF storytelling with a modern style and sensibility.

The question before the voters is: which of these novel best reflects where we are, right now, as a community? I don’t know, personally, but I’m really rather interested in finding out, and I suspect the other authors of the nominated novels are too — not mention the nominees in other Hugo categories and the nominees for the Campbell. And as much as anything, whatever the final vote, I’d like it to reflect a broad consensus. One of the interesting things about Hugo voting is that the Australian ballot style it uses trends the vote toward consensus candidates. This runs counter to the typical American “winner take all” sensibility, but as an instrument of gauging where a community is as a whole, it’s pretty useful. The voting mechanism is designed to sample the community; it just needs the community to participate.

Don’t get me wrong: If I win either the Hugo or the Campbell (or — gaaaaaahohsoverynotlikely — both) I’ll take them, and worry later about how many votes were cast, if I worry at all. Yeah, I want to win. Sue me. But, you know: Really truly, just happy to be have been nominated, and if I don’t win I’ll be cheering on whoever does, because I think my fellow Hugo and Campbell nominees pretty fairly rock. What I’d hope for is that whoever does take home trophies genuinely represents as much of our tribe as possible.

But it’s not up to us, save to the extent that we vote. It’s up to you, dear Worldcon member. So: between now and the end of the July, won’t you please take just a little time to catch up on the nominated works and to cast your vote, online or through the mail? Your vote really does matter. It matters to us, the nominees; it matters to all the folks who read science fiction today; and it matters to all the folks who read science fiction in the years to come. This is your chance to take part in a conversation that has lasted for decades, and will last for decades, and if we’re lucky, even longer than that.

Your voice is worthy. Use it. Thanks.

Athena Mix ’06

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Athena was complaining that she was getting bored with the music CDs I had made her earlier, and started hinting that she might want to start listening to those terrifying Kidz BOP CDs if I didn’t do something about it. Thus, the Athena Mix ’06, filled with a combination of music which, hopefully, will turn her from the terror of the sing-along empire of crap that the Kidz BOP CDs represent. Here’s what’s on the CD:

1. “Three Small Words,” from the Josie & The Pussycats soundtrack — Yes, I know what you’re going to say. But, you know what? The songs for this movie were written by the guy from Fountains of Wayne and sung by the chick from Letters to Cleo, and they don’t suck. This song is happy and peppy and that’s fine.

2. “Starlight” by Muse — from the band’s brand-spankin’ new CD Black Holes and Revelations. The entire CD is what you would expect from a band that’s been fed nothing but Queen and space opera SF, and this song in particular is like Queen’s “39” pumped full of Red Bull and ecstasy. Irresistable.

3. “Vacation” by the Go Gos — Because if you’re going to go 80s girl band, why not go Go Gos?

4. “The Rock Show” by Blink-182 — a mildly inappropriate choice, because the band lays a big fat profanity right in the middle of the song, but Athena already likes Blink-182, and she knows that if she uses profanity, there’s going to be trouble here in River City. There have been a couple other songs she likes that have bad words in them, and she’s not taken to singing them with the profanity in them, so she’s got a track record of being trustworthy about these things, and that’s nice.

5. “Dreaming” by Blondie — For my money, the best Blondie song.

6. “Love Cats” by the Cure — Whimsical and slinky fun, and probably a better match for Athena’s personality at the moment than other Cure songs. We’ll introduce her to Disintegration gradually.

7. “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson — Yeah, Kelly Clarkson. Go on, make something of it.

8. “This is Holloween” from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack — because how is she going to become a goth if you don’t start her off early? This is actually one of her favorite songs.

9. “Celebrity Skin” by Hole — Back when Courtney Love wasn’t completely and entirely insane. Great noise.

10. “Enjoy the Silence (Reinterpreted)” by Depeche Mode — A lot noiser and more aggressive than the original, and rather a bit better for it.

11. “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis — Nice pretty song. I rather inexplicably have a soft spot for it. Really can’t explain it. Afraid to try. Suspect that on that path lies madness.

12. “Polly Wolly Doodle” by Dan Zanes — Hey! A song from an actual children’s album! Because, you know. Why not.

13. “Run Baby Run” by Garbage — Athena’s been a fan of Garbage for a while now, and I can’t say I disapprove.

14. “Song 2” by Blur — When Athena was 18 months old or so, she used to stomp around the house screaming “Whoo-hoo!” whenever this song came on. Time for a reunion between the two.

15. “Everyday” by Erasure — a cover of the Buddy Holly song. She’ll like it better this way.

16. “Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)” by Icicle Works — Catchy minor 80s hit. Athena’s interested in drumming, and this has thumpety thumpety thump drums all through it.

17. “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper — Yes, I know what it’s about. However, Athena doesn’t.

18. “Jump Jive an Wail” by Brian Setzer Orchestra — Gets you hoppin’ and boppin’, which is what your basic seven-year-old needs.

19. “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers — So she knows early what depressed boys pining sounds like.

20. “Re: Your Brains” by Jonathan Coulton — Because there are frankly too few songs about zombies and corporate speak; also, she get a kick out of singing the chorus, which goes “All we want to do is eat your brains!” How can you not like that?

That’s what I’m feeding my kid musically.

The Missus

Krissy offered up the topic for the Weekend Assignment over at By The Way (that’s a topic I offer up to give AOL Journalers something to post over the weekend), so I wanted to put up a picture of her to go with it. The problem is that most of the pictures I have of her are taken in my office, which is usually in various states of explosion, and that needs to be addressed; I don’t necessarily want people to see what an unholy mess my office closet is if I can avoid it. So, it was Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop, until the unbridled feculence that is my office was reduced to a monochromatic blur, and then a little more fiddling to make sure Krissy didn’t look just like a cutout photo in front of a smear.

Then when it was done, I sat back to admire my Photoshoppery, and it occured to me to actually take a look at who was actually, you know, in the center of the picture. At which point I said to myself, “holy crap, my wife is hot.” It says something about how much of a geek I am that I could get totally engrossed in the minutae of photo fiddling that I’d miss that salient point. I’m making up for it now, though.

I sent the picture to Krissy at work after I was done. Her comment: “Book deadline?” Damn you all, you’ve infected her with your snark. I’ll get you. I’ll get you all.