The Dastardly Culprits What Make Me Sneeze

These are they! Well, some of them, anyway. In the crabapple tree in the front yard. Evil bastards, the lot of them, but they sure are pretty.

Not Even In Your Dreams

I had this dream last night that I was playing a guitar and singing a song, and everyone around me started singing along with me. And when the song was done, I said, “wow, you must have really liked the song,” and someone said “no, we were all singing to drown out your guitar playing.”

Here’s the song, done by people who both sing and play guitar, respectively, rather better than I do.

A Small Yet Fundamental Truth

There is nothing you can do to make a MySpace page actually look good. No matter what you do to them, they still end up looking like a genetic misfire between a 1996-era personal Web page and a screen full of Visual Basic buttons laid out by a monkey. I think so many people migrated to Facebook from MySpace for the simple reason that it gave their eyeballs a rest.

No, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a particularly important observation. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Mmmm… One Star-rific!

For your fun and edification, I now present selected snippets of one-star reviews of my work on Amazon. Why? Oh, just because.

Old Man’s War:

Opening the book, I met a central character whose lame attempts at humor are acclaimed as hilarious. Gradually we find our man is gifted at everything but amazingly modest. This endears him to his fictional friends who are numerous and described in tedious detail… A physicist character in inserted to relieve the author from any explanation by insisting that our math is inadequate. Aliens are thrown at us in pathetic haste, as mere cartoon monsters. I wonder this book can be classed as SF.

a trite, weakly written novel that barely qualifies as science fiction… The science (I’m a hard core devote) is absent or implausible, and the action is a series of cliches.

Ultimately, it reads like John Wayne of the future with the main character saving the day in multiple, and very tired ways. All of the “surprises” were predictable and uninspiring and the hints of self-doubt are pushed aside like so many alien carcasses. I highly recommend avoiding this book.

I could not finish reading this book because it bored me to tears. There are dialogs after dialogs, but no action. If this is a movie, there will be only one scene in the whole movie, of people talking to each others.

‘infantile’ is the best description, not even rising to ‘adolescent’. save your money on this wretched crap.

The Android’s Dream

Very slow, very boring, really not very interesting.

The Sagan Diary

There is just nothing here. No insights, no plot, no real imagination. Just fluff and dreck.

The book is emotional tripe without clear context. You need a better memory than mine to match the emotional ramblings to the events in the Old Man’s War series.

My real problem is that these thoughts and feelings portray a sensitive, delicate young thing rather than the heavy duty Special Forces soldier who even in civilian life engendered some degree of fear even in the people who knew her best. It’s like hearing Mike Hammer cry about his boutonniere not matching his tux for the prom – Oh please!

How do I feel about these one star reviews? I feel fine about them. I am not under the impression that, alone among all writers who have ever existed, I will be the one whose work is universally acclaimed; nor am I under the impression that when readers who feel burned by work are offered an avenue to express their displeasure, that they will rather prefer to stew privately. Nor do I think an appropriate response to negative reviews is to flamebroil the reviewer and send my minions to harass them, thus revealing myself to be something of an insecure psychotic. Someone doesn’t like my work and wants to tell people so? Okay by me. I’ll live. As will any other author who has the sense not to get in a lather over the idea that somewhere someone might not like their work. And if you don’t have that sense, well. Just put on your big author panties and deal with it.

A challenge to other authors with blogs, LiveJournals and etc: Post your one-star (or otherwise negative) Amazon reviews, if you have them, and you probably do. Oh, go on. Own your one-star reviews, man. And then, you know. Get past them. If you’re lucky, some of them might actually be fun to read.

Missing The Point

Shorter Hillary Clinton: By this metric which doesn’t actually matter, I’m winning. This is the “Lurkers Support Me in E-Mail” strategy, applied to the presidential campaign trail.

I think we may need to introduce Hillary to Al Gore, winner of the popular vote in the 2000 election. And then to the Democratic by-laws for winning the party nomination. And then to the US Constitution.

You know, I don’t actually believe the paranoid political theory going around right now that suggests that Clinton is staying in the race to hobble Obama so badly that he loses to McCain, paving the way for Hillary to run again in 2012. But she really is making it hard to keep on the sane side of that particular tin foil hat brigade.

My Wife! My Best Friend!

Just come across while procrastinating preparing to write: This is a picture of Krissy (whom I imagine most of you recognize by this point), and Natasha, who is one of my dearest friends in the world, from last October, when we were out in California for my 20th anniversary high school reunion. This picture was taken at the class dinner; I believe I’m the one behind the camera, although it might be Natasha’s husband Craig. Really, I don’t remember. I was overcaffeinated that night. It’s all a blur. But they sure are pretty. And I don’t have too many pictures of the two of them together, which is a shame.

Yes, I am just posting to say: Look! My wife! And my best friend! Because, you know. It’s my site. I can do that.

Shareware Story Haul: One Week In

It’s been a week since I posted “How I Proposed To My Wife: An Alien Sex Story” as a “shareware short story,” for people to read and enjoy — and, if they like, to pay me a bit for it. So how has it done, financially speaking, in the course of a week? Let’s find out together, shall we?

As of 8:30pm (Eastern), 4/23/08, “Alien Sex Story” has grossed $436.43. Not Radiohead money, but you know, not bad. $146.68 of that came from people using the Amazon honor payment system, and the rest from people using PayPal. The highest amount contributed was $20; the lowest amount offered was sixty cents. 292 people downloaded the short story package, which is a number I find surprisingly low, given the site racks up 30k+ visitors daily; of those it appears about a third paid for the story, which is an extremely high percentage of willing payers. The average payment per contributor was about $4.50.

How does $436.43 compare with what I could get for the story on the open market? Actually, very well. The story is about 7,400 words long, so in a week of shareware release, I’ve been paid 5.9 cents a word, which is right in line with what the “Big Three” science fiction magazines pay: my Writer’s Market has Analog at 6 cents/word, Asimov at 5 cents/word, and Fantasy & Science Fiction at 5 to 9 cents/word. And consider that the story is still on the market — that is, that people continue to be able to find it, read it and pay for it. It’s not unreasonable to assume more people will read it and pay for it as time goes on — probably not as much or as regularly as in this first week, when I’ve drawn attention to it. But from the point of view of whether or not I’d make what I’m make sending it to the print magazines, everything else from this point is gravy.

(It’s not as much as I’d make for at least a few online sites, interestingly: Subterranean Online and Baen’s Universe pay substantially more than 6 cents/word, which is a fact I think is occasionally overlooked. But it’s true! Look it up, people.)

Now, the caveats, and why current payment success may not be an indicator of future performance, or why this experiment might not be repeatable with others:

1. This site is heavily trafficked and thus is its own good marketing, which is an advantage others might not have;

2. People who might pitch in for a first story are not guaranteed to pitch in for a second story (or if they do, they not pay as much);

3. The fact that half of the money netted after service charges will go to charity may have caused people to pay more than they might otherwise.

Likewise, from an administrative standpoint, handling your own backend is a fiddly timesucker — Amazon and Paypal automating things makes it easier, but it’s still time spent not writing.

All that said, I do find the first week haul fairly encouraging. It’s definitely not enough to get rich on, but it is enough for me to consider having shareware as serious option when I’m shopping stories, or when I’m writing a story I like but might consider difficult to place for whatever reason. Or, you know. When I’m lazy. As I so often am.

Comments? Questions?

I Hear and Obey

Krissy, on the phone to me as she drives home: “You need to go and take a picture of the sun right now!”

Here’s a thought: Gravitationally speaking, the sun is 93 million miles down from us. And we would fall all the way in. Yes we would.

The Direction I’m Heading

Minus the feathered hair, mind you.

This realization after I opened the front door to a beautiful spring day, and then sneezed for five minutes straight. Which is not as much fun as it sounds like, trust me.

Quick Official Statement on “2:42” has picked up the story about The Morning News’ piece on 2:42 being the perfect length for a pop song having an eerie resemblance to my own post on the matter a few years earlier. I admit to being initially rather skeptical that the subject matter was entirely coincidental, but then Josh Allen, the writer of the MN piece, came by and explained in a comment how he’d independently come to the idea.

Long story short: I believe him, it was coincidence, we both have excellent taste in music, and that’s that. I would appreciate folks not suggesting Mr. Allen has engaged in plagiarism of me, either in text or in ideas. I don’t believe he has. In any event, the utter pop perfection of “There She Goes” was known to many long before we wrote about its length, and hopefully this discussion will bring Lee Mavers out of his perfectionist cubby hole to write some more perfect pop songs before we all, like, die. It’s not too much to hope for.

A Bit More on OSB

In e-mail:

“So, you’re saying you’re for the Open Source Boob project? Really?”

Well. I’m for the idea of demystifying breasts to young men who fetishize them to the extent of not being able to process the fact there is an actual person that they are part of, yes. My understanding of the project was that this was a component of the thing, although I fully admit that inasmuch as my knowledge came after the fact and based on what I remember being told about it at lunch, it may have been at variance with how it was envisioned by the participants, or how it was otherwise reported. How I saw it, however, was that if some women wanted to attempt to mitigate mammary hyperfocus in socially underdeveloped male geeks via this sort of offer, I was fine with that and wished them luck with it.

Would it be something I would suggest as a way to address this particular issue? Not particularly, since generally I neither wish to intimately touch nor be intimately touched by strangers, breast-bearing or no, and I’m not entirely sure the attempted procedure would (how to put this politely) work as desired in all cases. Do I think it’s an idea that is widely portable to different contexts? Really, no. But if women wanted to try it in an environment where they themselves felt comfortable, well, okay, fine. You kids have fun with it. As I said, I think my understanding of the concept and its goals was different from other folks.

I also think it mattered who I first heard about it from. I first heard about it after the fact, and in person, from a woman who participated in it and had fun with it, who thought it went well, and was generally happy about the whole thing. Most everyone else on Teh Internets heard about it from The Ferrett. In real life, the Ferrett is a perfectly pleasant, albeit clearly unfiltered, sort of guy; I had a breakfast with a group that included him and his wife at Penguicon and had fun talking with him, not about open source boobs, but who would win in battle: a bear or a shark (I went with the shark). Sadly for The Ferret, in the entry in which he wrote about OSB, he comes across as generally skeevetastic, especially if you don’t know him; the people who don’t know him constitutes most of Teh Internets. The Ferrett now has to live with the mess. That’s his online karma. He does seem to accept it.

My point is, however, that me hearing about it in person from an enthusiastic female participant rather than from a guy writing about it on the ‘Net gave me a different starting point on it than most people got: a female positive one rather than male skeevetastic one. Your mileage may vary on this, of course. Nevertheless, I toss it out there for your consideration.

10 Delegates? Really?

After all that, Hillary Clinton nets just ten delegates? Is there anyone in the world not involved with the Clinton campaign who thinks ten delegates were worth the past seven weeks of complete and utter nonsense? Really?

No, I mean it. Really?

Stalker Info, Permanently Posted

I’ve added a Scheduled Appearances page to Whatever (which aside from this link you can find in the “Administrivia” sidebar) to help folks who are wondering where in the Earth I am supposed to be — and I include myself in this number — know where I’ll be for public appearances and suchlike.

As you can see from the page, there are lots of opportunities to see me during the rest of 2008, and I’m likely to add at least a couple more, as the details of the Scalzi/Buckell “Ohio is Coming to Kick Your Ass With Science Fiction” tour come online. It’s unlikely, however, that I’ll be adding any additional convention appearances into the schedule for the rest of 2008; seven is enough for any one year, and somewhere in there I 9ctually have to write books. So if you’re thinking of me for a convention appearance, it’s not too early to be thinking 2009 (or, heck, even 2010 — I’ll have at least one book coming out then).

Update on Shareware Story and 1,000 True Fans

Folks have asked when I’m going to have an update on how much money has come in from the shareware release of my story “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story.” Well, tomorrow evening it will have been up for a week, so I suspect that will be a good time for a status check. So expect that tomorrow, in the evening. In the meantime, if you want to check it out and maybe chip in a little cash to be counted toward the weekly tally, you’ve got, oh, about 24 hours from this moment to do that.

Vaguely related to this, you’ll recall my entry on the “1,000 True Fans” concept, in which I said, basically, that it’s a nice idea in theory, but in execution it’s not as easy as you might think. Musician Robert Rich, who has been living the 1KTF life for a while now, chimes in on his blog about the realities of living that sort of lifestyle, in which we learn that a) it’s not all skittles and beer, or even Skittlebraü, and b) in order to have a thousand true fans (or some approximate number thereof) it helps to have gone through a stage where you had a rather significantly larger number of more casual fans first. Both of these make perfect sense to me.

Open Source Boobs

Since I was at Penguicon over the weekend, people are asking me in e-mail to comment on the “Open Source Boob” thing that was going on there. Well, first, by way of explanation, the whole Open Source Boob project is best explained by this post and this post (which adds further clarification) by The Ferrett, so go there for the full details. But the gist of it is that at Penguicon women who were wearing buttons that said “Yes You May” were allowing folks of both sexes to touch their breasts (edit: the button apparently meant you could ask to touch, to which the answer could be “yes, you may” or not). The idea there, as I understand it, was to reinforce the idea that breasts were not these sacred and yet bizarre objects designed to attract attention to themselves and away from the person they are part of (there were also “No You May Not” buttons, although of course my understanding is that “Don’t Touch” was the implied default all weekend long, so these buttons were redundant).

Personally, I missed the whole Open Source Boob project while I was at Penguicon; I was busy doing my own thing and by the time I heard about it I had already left the convention and was having lunch with people who were talking about it, before heading home. One of the women I was having lunch with participated, I gathered, and seemed to think it went off well, so there’s that. And I didn’t hear of any geek being hauled off by the cops for abusing the privilege, or handling unapproved bosoms, so I guess it largely worked as planned.

Now, how do I feel about it? Well, philosophically, I think it’s fine: I think it’s reasonable for folks to get used to breasts being a component of a whole human, not these strange, mystical entities there to entice and distract one, and if there’s any place where there are people who could benefit from this lesson, it’s a convention full of computer, science fiction and anime geeks, many of whom are very young men (temporally and/or socially). Hopefully some of them benefited from the experience, and not just because they got to touch a girl’s breasts.

Practically speaking, I think context is extremely important for something like this. You can get away with an Open Source Boob thing at Penguicon, where the social atmosphere is supportive of such things and there’s also a bunch of people who will man-handle any lech who gets out of hand (so to speak). But I can think of a lot of places I wouldn’t try something like this, starting with half-time at Jets games and moving toward less obvious examples from there. There’s lots and lots of ways for something like this to go very very wrong, which I suppose makes the philosophical point of an Open Source Boob project, even as it argues against its practical application.

Personally, eh. I’m a fan of breasts, esthetically speaking, and enjoy them on a regular basis. That said, I don’t really have too much of a problem at this point in my life understanding that the way to a woman’s heart (metaphorically speaking) is not through her mammary tissue, and breasts in general are no great mystery to me at this juncture of my personal development. I like them; I’m not motivated to seek them out, even if doing so theoretically helps to make a larger social point. This is a project that doesn’t speak to me.

Yes, that’s easy to say after the fact, when boobs of all shapes and sizes are no longer on offer. However, if I had known about the Open Source Boob project while I was still at the convention, I still wouldn’t have partaken, because in general I’m not a huge fan of touching people I don’t particularly know very well, even if they have a button on that tells me I’m free to do so (or at least ask to do so). This is less about breasts than it is about more prosaic physical comfort zones. I’m not neurotic about it — I understand some people are huggers, and you have to go with that, and a couple of years ago at the ConFusion science fiction convention, when one of the Guests of Honor told everyone to kiss the top of my head by the end of the con, my response was to be amused, not to Purell the top of my scalp every five minutes. But generally, before I touch any part of you, aside from a hand, let’s, you know, talk a bit, okay? Thanks.

In short, Open Source Boobs: an interesting idea, deeply context specific, and generally not for me. But if they’re for you, well, I think that’s all right, too.

Update, 5:03pm: The Ferrett ads some final thoughts on the matter. A key quote: “Unfortunately, one of the things about life is that what works in a microcosm does not work in a macrocosm.” Another one: “If I’ve contributed to the idea that women are not safe, then I’ve failed with a capital ‘F,’ regardless of the underlying reality. And if people think that all cons are filled with horrific swarms of gropers, well, then I’ve also failed.”

Update, 7:01pm: Kate Nepveu on why this sort of thing doesn’t work in the real world.

Update, 8:09 pm: Just because while reading various threads out and about the Internets I’m seeing people thumping on Penguicon about this, I think someone needs to point out that this Open Source Boob thing was not an official part of the programming schedule; as far as I can tell it was the brainchild of some of the convention attendees, done on a whim. Penguicon’s own stated policies on this stuff is pretty standard — don’t touch anyone without asking, regardless of their state of dress, and remember that “no” means no (I checked the souvenir book to be sure).

Penguicon is the sort of convention where people clearly feel comfortable being able to do something like this, as previously noted. It doesn’t mean Penguicon should be blamed for it. It was entirely possible to get through the entire convention without seeing or hearing about any of this; I did, and let’s just say I wasn’t exactly hard to find during my time there. This was not a huge feature of the convention.


The New York Times has an interesting piece focusing on the font choice for John McCain’s presidential campaign — it’s Optima — and what the choice might signify, given that it’s the font used for the names on the Vietnam Memorial and so on. It’s also a referendum on the font itself. The article includes this bit of double-banging snark, from illustrator Seymour Chwast:

Optima is one of the worst pre-computer typefaces ever designed. It was created to satisfy everybody’s needs. A straightforward, no-nonsense, no-embellishment face, it comes in regular and bold but little character can be found in either weight.

Optima is not inappropriate for use by Senator McCain.

I think that’s pretty mean to Optima. I like the font, personally and have been known to use it to write, because while being a sans serif font, it has just enough of a subtle weight to it that it makes it easy to read over long stretches of text. At least for me, anyway. If I recall correctly I wrote The Ghost Brigades at least partially in Optima. I have nothing bad to say about Optima. It’s not likely to get me to vote for McCain, but then, if my vote came down to an issue of campaign poster fonts, there’s something wrong with me, isn’t there.

That said, as much as I like Optima, it’s not my current composing font; at the moment I really like Cambria, the serif font that came with Windows Vista (and may be, in fact, the single best thing about Vista). At the moment, in fact, Whatever’s default font is Cambria, although I suspect a goodly portion of you are seeing it in Verdana, which is the backup font when your computer lacks Cambria, followed by other various sans serif fonts, and then finally (should you have none of these) whatever the default serif font is on your machine.

What does my current swoon for Cambria say, other than I’m Microsoft’s font puppy? I really don’t know, other than I guess I’m enough of a geek to think about this stuff at all. I do know that I change favorite fonts on a  regular basis. I don’t know what that means, either. I do know, however, that I can’t imagine a world in which I actually like Courier or any of its progeny. I’m aware it’s a standard and even use font in publishing, and I have even been known to format work into it, after I’m done writing, just like I double space everything after I’m done writing. Doesn’t mean I don’t hate it with something approaching a passion. It’s the opposite of esthetically pleasing. I wish it would die. But it won’t. At least I have Optima and Cambria to console me at the moment.

I Suspect That Tori Amos Was Somehow an Inspiration For This

This being that.

But does Tori deserve credit or blame? Well, I think your answer here will tell you more about you than it will about Tori Amos (or Emm Gryner, who is the actual artist performing the work).

(Linked to from here.)

You Don’t Have to Be an Ohio SF/F Person to Wear This Shirt, But If You’re Not It Will Be a Lie

Look what I got from the ever-fabulous Catherynne Valente, whist at Penguicon:

The last line prompted someone to say to me, “isn’t that grammatically incorrect?” To which I said, “Dude, colloquial use on a t-shirt.” Just in case anyone’s still suspecting I’m hopelessly prescriptivist. And anyway, content-wise, it’s entirely correct; Ohio has a surprising number of sf/f folks. We sneak up on you, we do. Like ninjas. In scarlet and gray.

You say to yourself, “Hey, I love science fiction/fantasy and live in Ohio (or wish I did) — what horrible and terrifying initiation rites do I have to undergo to get a t-shirt such as this?” As much as I would like to regale you with tales of ritual scarification, or the sacred trampling of the University of Michigan logo to prove your Ohio-osity, in fact all you have to do is lay your money down. Here’s the link to the basic t-shirt, and there’s also one cut for women.

These would, naturally, be the perfect attire for Ohio Is Coming to Kick Your Ass With Science Fiction Day, which is August 19, 2008 (on account of Zoe’s Tale and Toby Buckell’s Sly Mongoose being released on that very same day), and for wearing to the OICTKYAWSF regional tour, which — yes! — will be happening. We’re still firming up dates, and Toby and I will be making a more formal announcement about that sometime in the reasonably near future. Keep your eyes glued to your computer monitor for more details. Only, you know. Not literally glued to your monitor. Because that would be icky.

The Surprise Award No One Told Me About

Apparently over the weekend The Last Colony received the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2007. I learn this from reliable sources in my comment thread — including two people who were at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in Pittsburgh, where the awards were announced and saw the awards list — and I have no reason to doubt them.

So, if everything I am told is accurate: Go, TLC! This is really neat. For those of you who don’t know, Romantic Times does an excellent job reviewing science fiction — the reviewers there really know the field — and given that and the fact that the field of nominees (which this year included Allen Steele, Jo Walton, Kage Baker and Kristine Kathryn Rusch) was genuinely fabulous, this is an award win that makes me feel shiny. It’s also a nice way to start the week.

Update: Natalie Luhrs, Romantic Times reviewer, notes in the comments: “In addition to TLC winning best SF novel, best fantasy novel was A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette and best epic fantasy novel was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.” Excellent choices all the way around, and congratulations to Sarah, Bear, and Pat.

Back From Penguicon

Lovely time. Now very tired. Planning to get to sleep early.

How was your weekend?