Reader Request Week 2008 #15: Quick Hits, Volume II

What? You don’t want Reader Request Week 2008 to stop? Well, I know how you feel — but all good things must come to an end, and hopefully before I get bored with them. But remember: You don’t actually have to wait for Reader Request Week to send me a question you want me to address in Whatever. You can do that anytime. No really! Just send it along in e-mail.

And now, the final questions for the week, done shortly:

Pengwenn: “Do you think with the growth of the amount of plastic surgery being done in the US that we’re creating our own ‘Aryan race’ or maybe a subclass of humans similar to hybrid cars?”

I have to admit I hadn’t considered people with plastic surgery as comparable to hybrid cars; it’s an interesting metaphor. But no, I don’t think we’re creating a master race of plastic people, not in the least because the government isn’t mandating physical “perfection” via surgery, and in any event trying to create a master race via surgery is a very Lamarckian way to go about it, and thus doomed to be a bit of a failure, since the improvements don’t carry forward. I do think the pressure on people to be “physically perfect” is pretty silly, and I hope we manage to get over it, because having legions of blandly pretty people would get boring pretty quickly.

I should note that I’m not constitutionally opposed to cosmetic surgery, however, especially when it’s not used just for bland prettifying. I had a friend when I was working at the Fresno Bee newspaper who was in her 60s and went in to get her neck taken in; when the surgery was done she still looked very much her age, but now the one feature of hers she really hated — the wattles on her neck — were gone. And she was happy about that. I certainly can’t fault her for that, especially since I can already tell I’m going to be a jowly bastard as I get older, and I’m not too thrilled about that.

Erika: “Productivity. As someone who recently made the transition from salary/office to freelance/home, I’m awed by the amount of work you produce. How do you manage to focus on cranking out the work AND maintain a family life AND engage in a fair amount of blog and Photoshoppery? All while (presumably) sleeping more than 2 hours per night.”

Well, it just looks like I’m being busy from that end. On this end it looks like I’m doing a whole bunch of procrastination, followed by stretches of “holy crap, I have a deadline,” and then a frenzied rush to get everything done. I suspect that if I was actually organized, I could put out twice as much stuff as I do. There’s a thought for you. As for the productivity, all I can say is that I’ve always written really, really fast. It’s not something I think about; it’s just the way my brain works. It’s why I can get away with being such a procrastinating bastard, actually.

Dave: “When you’re writing, do you listen to music? If so, what kind of music, and how does it relate to the music you listen to when NOT writing?”

I’m listening to music right now, as I’m typing this (“Resurrection Blues,” by Cassandra Wilson), but it’s not something I regularly do anymore, especially when I’m writing novels, since I need to listen to myself think, and that’s hard to do with musicians butting in. When I’m writing something that does not need massive amounts of creative energy, I’ll play ambient or classical music; stuff without words, basically. I listen to rock and pop when I’m not writing.

Samuel Tinianow: “Bears.”

I’m for them, and I have a healthy respect for them, since most of them could take my head off without too much effort. I’m always amazed when people forget that bears are, in fact, wild animals, and try to walk up to them and take pictures with them like the bear is going to pose and be all cuddly. And then the next minute their arm is ten yards away, and then there’s screaming, and then some poor forest ranger has to go shoot the bear because some jackass can’t differentiate between a live, 500-pound animal and a plush toy. I say, shoot the human instead — the bear has an excuse for acting the way it does, but the human really doesn‘t.

Stacey: “I love you, but you don’t look tough at all. Would you ever consider buying and openly brandishing a rifle to intimidate future Athena boyfriends?”

Nah. That’s what Krissy is for. Because she is intimidating, and she doesn’t even need a rifle to do it. Also more to the point, by the time Athena starts dating, we’ll have gone over with her the various ways to disengage a teenage boy’s testicles from his body if he doesn’t take the hint. Us being intimidating is nice and all, but better to give Athena the ability to take care of herself, too.

Eric Picholle: “How do you work with your translators? Do you discuss beforehand the ‘voice’ of the book, or do you just trust them to find it by themselves? Do you have your word in the choice of a particular translator?”

It varies from publisher to publisher. Some translators (notably my French and Korean translators) ask me questions about the text when there’s some ambiguity or cultural reference they don’t understand; others just go right ahead without contacting me. My writing style is fairly direct and unadorned, so by and large there’s usually not a problem, as far as I can tell, or from what readers of the translations tell me. In any event, it’s all out of my hands; it’s the publishers who choose the translators, and I only read and speak English. I wouldn’t know if it were a good translation or not. I don’t tend to worry about it, to be honest.

Katharine Mankiller: “The Republic of Lakota: publicity stunt, performance art, real secession, all of the above, or none of the above? Should the Native Americans secede from the U.S.? Would they ever be allowed to do so? What do you see as the best and the worst possible outcomes?”

For those of you who don’t know about The Republic of Lakota, here’s a Wikipedia article about it. Note that all the standard Wikipedia caveats apply.

To answer the question, I think it was at the very least an attempt to focus attention on what’s going on with Native Americans in this country, but inasmuch as most news organizations seem to have stuffed it into the “wacky news” section of the papers and Web sites, I don’t know how successful it was; I don’t think much will come of it.

As for whether the Republic of Lakota or any other Native American attempt to secede would be allowed: No, I don’t think so. I don’t pretend to know anything about the intricacies of the US treaties with the Native Americans, and where everything stands from a legal point of view, but what I do know is that the United States has repeatedly shown that it’s not inclined to give up territory it considers to be part of itself (see: US Civil War). The Republic of Lakota (or any other likely NA territory) is part of the contiguous US; it wouldn’t be like giving up the Philippines. As to whether the Native Americans should secede from the US, I’m not even remotely qualified to answer that, but inasmuch as my wife and daughter both descend partially from Native Americans (Pawnee and, I think, Cherokee), if they do secede I hope as a spouse and a parent I can get dual citizenship.

Jon: “It’s always fascinating to read about life in Smalltown, Ohio. I was wondering if you could write about religious life there. Does everyone go to church? Does everyone go to the same one and only church in town or everyone go to a different one of the 20 churches there? Do you go to church? Which one? Also, any Jews, Muslims, athiests, etc around there?”

If I remember correctly, there are nine churches in Bradford, serving 1,800 people, and it’s the usual spread of Christian denominations. I would be very surprised to discover religious folk in town who are non-Christian. Since the atheists and agnostics don’t tend to congregate in one place on a Sunday morning, and pretty much look like anyone else, it’s hard to say how many there are in town. I doubt I’m the only one (I’m agnostic), but I’m the only one I know of, right off hand. There are a lot of folk who I think don’t think about religion one way or another and sleep in on Sunday, but that’s not the same thing as saying they don’t identify as Christian or religious.

Church is definitely part of the life around here; when we first moved here, people asked us which denomination we were and invited us to try out their church, which I took in the spirit that it was given. I think most people round these parts who know me know I’m agnostic, but it doesn’t really seem to bother folks much. Several of the big churches in the area (Church of the Brethren, the various Mennonite churches) are big on separation of church and state, so there’s very little in the way of conflict on that score. In all, a nice place to live, and a nice approach to the religious life.

That Neil Guy: “Have you had any interesting experiences of academics interpreting your writing and bringing forth loads of symbolism and layers of meaning and such that you, as author, actually had no idea were there and no intention to plant there?”

Not really. I write popular science fiction; if the academics get to me at all, it won’t be for another 30 or 40 years. I have had people make assumptions about my political views based on what they see as the politics in the novels; when that happens they tend to cast me as a right-wing sort of fellow, which I of course find very amusing. I always warn people that trying to figure out my personal views on significant issues by parsing my novels is unlikely to end well, but they don’t listen. Anyway, it doesn’t bother me, nor would it bother me if some academic read stuff into my books I didn’t put in there. One of the things you have to deal with as an author is that people unpack your words in their heads; their experience of your book is necessarily filtered through their own experience. Occasionally, this filtering will provide wacky results. C’est la vie.

JJS: “What are the benefits and/or pitfalls of social nudism? This can apply to all of society, specific areas only, family only, or whatever other limits you wish to place on it.”

The pitfall is that most people (and I include myself here, alas) look better clothed. Another pitfall is that if women think they have a problem with guys talking to their chests now, just wait. Yet another pitfall is that spontaneous erections are more difficult to hide. The benefit? More vitamin D production, I suppose.

I don’t know. I don’t actually care if people want to walk around nude, as long as they carry a towel or something with them to put down when they sit, so their ass sweat doesn’t get all over shared benches and such. I’m not going to do it, though; I like my testicles secured and away from harm, I burn really quickly, and pockets are useful.

Dan C: “In my experience, there are relatively few ‘funny’ SF novels. As the author of a couple of them, what is your take on humor in SF?”

The thing about humor in SF is that since the most successful humorous novel in the history of SF was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, most people (including most writers) are under the impression that all humor in SF has to be some flavor of British farce. Unfortunately, most people do British farce poorly, which is why humor in SF is generally not spectacular, why in general it has a bad reputation, and why editors cringe when their authors announce they want to write (or have written) a funny book. “Funny SF” is box-office poison. I write books that are frequently funny, but you might notice that they’re not marketed as funny books. It’s not a coincidence.

Andrew: “Do you ever have one of those days where you’re feeling completely unmotivated about writing, or you’re getting thoroughly sick of an in-progress novel? What do you do on such a day to push through that?”

Lots of Unreal Tournament, basically. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than banging out a whole bunch of head shots with a virtual sniper rifle. And also, I try not to panic. Some days are useless. Some days are mega-productive. So far, it all evens out.

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. I think this was a good year for Reader Request Week; let’s do it again in 2009.

25 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2008 #15: Quick Hits, Volume II”

  1. “Funny SF” is box-office poison.

    How well did Harry Harrison do commercially? Bill the Galactic Hero… the Stainless Steel Rat novels… Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers… Planet Story… all highlarious.

    Have to agree, though, that the funniest stuff isn’t generally marketed as “funny”.

  2. Thanks for Reader Request Week 2008! I enjoyed them all. Keep up the good work (procrastinating with dashes of supreme productivity).

  3. Another Two Words:

    Fred Thompson

    Jowls Can work. Do you have the Deep Southern Voice of Authority?

  4. Is it just me, or did anyone else immediately think “social nudism” meant writing candidly about your life in a blog?

    Letting it all, ‘hang out’, so to speak.

  5. “Since the atheists and agnostics don’t tend to congregate in one place on a Sunday morning, and pretty much look like anyone else, it’s hard to say how many there are in town.”

    Sure they do. That’s what Starbucks and Panera’s is for, round here.

    And even some of us God fearin’ folks can be found elsewhere on Sunday morning. Why, some of us go to church (or temple) on days other than Sunday. For ’bout as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to the “vigil” Mass, which would be Saturday night.

    Which leaves my Sunday mornings free for important stuff like reading Whatever or drinking…coffee.

  6. I’ve always written really, really fast.

    Out of curiosity, what’s your typing speed? I have a theory that all people write fiction at about ~50% of their typing speed on average.

  7. JJS: Yes – it took me several readings and several attempts to parse sweaty butts into something profound. And then I realized I was just making something simple into something difficult :)

    Of course, It didn’t help that I’d just rolled of bed on a foggy-headed Sunday morning. Need caffeine, obviously.

    Guess I’ll be off to Starbucks or Panera then (eh, Fred?)

  8. @John Scalzi: Original UT, UT2003, UT2004 or UT3? Do you play online or just against the bots on your computer?

  9. This entry prompts a question. How did the Nazis usurp the term ‘Aryan’ which described the people who conquered the Indian subcontinent, a group the Nazis would have surely seen as inferior? Anybody know how that came about?

  10. The original UT was the first game my husband put on my computer for me, and it’s still lots of fun… I actually work myself into a homicidal rage playing it.


    The aryan race theory evolved out of of the Indo-European language group theory, which is now divided even more deeply. Broadly, it covers Europe, Iran, and India.

    Some 19th/20th century Euros felt that the people who lived in India had actually migrated there from Europe. The Nazis viewed the Inians as inferior, but only because their Aryan/Nordic gene pool has been watered down by centuries of banging Semitic people.

  11. It should also be noted that plastic (i.e. facial) surgery and cosmetic surgery aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’ve had plastic surgery, but it consisted of removing a mass of infected tissue the size of a brazil nut from my forehead. Additionally, there are many forms of cosmetic surgery that are not, in fact, plastic surgery, such as liposuction.

    Also, thanks for letting us in on your thoughts about bears, John.

  12. “I say, shoot the human instead…”

    You know, the rangers wouldn’t have to do that if they had the right to arm bears.

  13. As the father of a daughter who has benefited from plastic surgery and who will probably need more, might I recommend the excellent charity Smile Train.

  14. I don’t pretend to know anything about the intricacies of the US treaties with the Native Americans, and where everything stands from a legal point of view,

    The Lakota (and other recognized tribes) are domestic dependent nations, over which the US Congress has plenary authority. This means that while they are sovereign, they do not have the authority to remove themselves from the United States. Nor would, of course, they be allowed to–there may still be natural resources on that land we can exploit!

    I jest, but not entirely. Also, Russell Means isn’t on the Lakota Tribal Council, nor did the Council issue that secession statement. So it really was little more than a PR stunt, if a worthy one.

    Also John, I’m sorry but Krissy’s status as someone with Indian descent will have no direct benefit to you. And if even 1/5 of the people who claim Indian blood met the standards for tribal membership, the tribes in this country would be a lot wealthier and astronomically larger.

  15. “Since the atheists and agnostics don’t tend to congregate in one place on a Sunday morning, and pretty much look like anyone else, it’s hard to say how many there are in town.”

    Sure they do. That’s what Starbucks and Panera’s is for, round here.

    Actually, some of us call ourselves UUs these days. I’m an agnostic myself and attend a UU church whose Director of Religious Education is an atheist.

  16. UT was much better then sequels for me. i will never forget hours i spent playing it online. those were the days :)

  17. Funny books:

    I always found Steven Brust’s Jereg series pretty funny. At the very least “strong comic themes”. I’m pretty sure “The Pheonix Guard” and to a lesser extent “500 Years After” were written as comedies. Both are funny on multiple levels (linguistic, literary and thematic for starters).

    Christopher Moore’s writings are borderline Sci-Fi/Fantasy even though you don’t find them in the Sci-Fi section of the B&N. His writing is laugh out loud funny.

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