To the Gentleman at Slashdot Who Points Out That R2-D2 Totally Has Jets to Climb Stairs, DUH

When you think employing jet thrusters is a perfectly reasonable way to get a droid up some stairs:

a) you may not be grasping the fundamentals of that whole “good design” thing;

b) it’s called the “sun.” Get out into it.

I have a Slashdot account so I can’t be throwing stones, but, damn, y’all.

Re: The Science Fiction Failure Mode

Since I’m saying it other places, I thought I’d note it here as well: regarding the oh-so-defensive shibboleth that “Star Wars isn’t science fiction, it’s fantasy!”:

Well, no. This argument is often provided by people who can’t stand that Star Wars is (correctly) regarded as science fiction despite the fact that its science is so bad.

But you know what? The failure mode of science fiction is NOT “fantasy,” it is “bad science fiction.”

Just accept that Star Wars is Science Fiction with far more emphasis on “fiction” than “science.” And then try breathing into a small paper bag. You’ll feel better.

There. Done. Moving on.

They Are NOT Amused

Some of the denizens of Slashdot do not feel that my AMC column today is in the least bit entertaining. Please enjoy the angry angry comments (and, of course, the less angry, more amused ones as well). I do hope AMC’s servers don’t melt.

Quick Note to Would-Be Interviewers

I’ve recently been getting a number of interview requests where the interviewer wants to do the Q&A with a procedural “hook” — i.e., some gimmick ostensibly to make the interview more fun and and interesting (“Answer as if you’re in the middle of being waterboarded!” “The questions are in the form of palindromes!” etc). Well, folks:

1. Most “gimmick” interview set-ups are not nearly as fun and interesting as one might hope they would be, either for the interviewee or the reader;

2. No gimmick can make a bad interview question good, and good interview questions don’t need a gimmick;

3. The interview is generally supposed to be about the interviewee, not the gimmick or the interviewer.

Correlative to all the above, it’s also been my experience that most gimmick interviews I’ve sat for have not been fun, had bad questions, and were more about the interviewer trying to show off than putting a spotlight on the interview subject. Or in other words: really not worth the time. Gimmicky fake interviews can be fun on occasion. Gimmicky real interviews? Thanks, no.

If you’d like to interview me, just ask good questions, straight, please. I find those a lot easier to engage with.

Still Life With Cat and Book

Because who doesn’t like cats? And books? Illiterate dog-fanciers, I suppose, but there’s not much chance of them coming here.

Aside from giving the increasingly unruly Ghans ogh Ghlaghghee a gheline ghix, this post also serves notice that according to Subterranean Press, who would know, the print version of METAtropolis is now out and shipping. So if you preordered yourself a copy, it’s on its way (also: Thank you). And if you didn’t preorder yourself a copy, you should know that now there are fewer than 100 copies still available and you really need to get yourself motivated to pick one up, because when this edition is gone, it’s gone. So get cracking, folks. Ghlaghghee wants you to have a copy of your own.

It’s a (Bad Design) Trap!

Today at AMC, I post up ten examples of truly bad design in the Star Wars universe, of which R2-D2 and C-3PO are just two examples. Yes, they are very poorly designed indeed. Search your heart. You know it to be true. I explain all there. Head over and feel free to agree with me or alternately attempt to Force Choke me in the comments.

KHAAAAAAAN!

Cuter than Kirk, however.

Tornado (Watch) Clouds

In case you’re wondering what the sky looks like when the weather radio tells you to consider heading for your basement. Most of these are past us now.

Today’s Reminder That Hollywood is a Strange Place

The guys who produced Terminator: Salvation, a worldwide hit, have filed for bankruptcy:

Even though the movie has sold a healthy $370 million worth of tickets around the world and has yet to be released on DVD and in other post-theatrical markets, Anderson and Kubicek apparently couldn’t stay afloat. As detailed in yesterday’s lawsuits, they don’t have the assets to pay back one of several loans made by Santa Barbara hedge fund Pacificor, which financed their $30-million purchase of the “Terminator” rights and loaned $9 million for other operating expenses… The list of creditors for Anderson and Kubicek’s three companies — T Asset Acquisition Company, Dominion Group and Halcyon Holding Group — includes four major studios and several big names involved in “Salvation,” including star Christian Bale and director McG. Even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose face is briefly seen near the end of the movie, is on the list.

Even with the caveat that film grosses do not equal what the producers net from the film (by a long shot), it nevertheless does take a special amount of doing to make that much money and yet not have enough money. One wrinkle is that the producers do appear to be quite litigious (their largest creditors are law firms); the other wrinkle is that the Terminator property in itself was mightily expensive for the producers to purchase.

The lesson here might be that it’s time to develop new properties and franchises, said the science fiction writer who just happens to have several that would make excellent, excellent films. The other lesson: The film industry, it’s just plain wacky.

Here, Have a Cookie

Athena has to make peanut butter cookies for a 4-H project she’s doing, so she’s been baking a bit over the last couple of days, and my job, since I’m not allowed to help her make the cookies (by the 4-H rules), is to act as the official taste tester, and provide my thoughts and comments on each batch. Yes, it’s a tough responsibility, eating cookies, but I feel I’m up to the task. The batch you see here in fact tasted great, although esthetically and as a matter of baking efficiency we may have to go for slightly smaller cookies the next time out. And if that doesn’t work, then by God, I’ll keep eating cookies until we hit the perfect formula. I’m just that selfless when it comes to my child.

The Big Idea: Lev Grossman

After a bit of a summer vacation, the Big Idea is back! And to kick things off, author Lev Grossman is here with The Magicians, his new fantasy novel, which aside from starred reviews in Booklist and Library Journal, has prompted no less than George R.R. Martin (who knows from fantasy) to declare that it “is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to weak tea.” Mmmm.. Irish whiskey. But what does such praise actually mean? What about the book makes it a stiff shot of the fantastical? As it happens, Grossman can tell you exactly what it means, and does, below.

LEV GROSSMAN:

Here’s the idea: what if Narnia and Harry Potter were real.

Yeah, on the face of it this doesn’t sound like an especially big idea. It more sounds like the idea I had every day for about 10 years, between the ages of 7 and 17, before I gave up on my prospects of ever getting to Narnia. (It was all about Narnia for me, since I am massively old and Hogwarts didn’t exist yet when I was a kid.) But bear with me.

What if, as a high school senior, you discovered that there was a secret college for magic, serving only the most brilliant kids in North America? This is in the real world, our world, the one with cell phones and the Internet and Dancing with the Stars and all the rest of it. A lot of things would be different. There would be an intense, exhaustively competitive entrance examination. (But you would get in.) There would be beer. There would be sex. Actual sex, not just snogging. People would do stupid, dangerous things with their newfound powers. They would hurt each other. They would hurt themselves.

There would also be fantasy novels. As far as I can tell Harry Potter never read a fantasy novel in his life before he went to Hogwarts. But you have. You’d have expectations about how magic would work, and what the life of a magician would be like, based on the books you’d read. Except those expectations would be wrong, because real life doesn’t work like a fantasy novel.

Here’s what there wouldn’t be, if Hogwarts were really real: Voldemort. Or Sauron, or the White Witch, or any other Big Bad. Incarnations of ultimate evil are pretty rare in real life. So instead of the world being organized into good and bad, white and black, it would all be shades of grey, and nobody would know where anybody stood, including themselves. It would be a much more complicated and confusing place. With Voldemort in the picture, you know what magic is for: it’s for fighting evil. Take him out of the equation, and you get a very different kind of adventure, one that’s less about using magic to fight evil and more about just trying to figure out what the hell magic is for.

Which brings us to Narnia. It wouldn’t be called Narnia, of course, for good and sufficient reasons having to do with intellectual property law, but it would be another world, a childlike, fairy-tale world of green forests and talking animals, about which a series of charming young adult fantasy novels had been written. But this world — which in The Magicians is called Fillory — would be real, not fictional. Which begs the question, how did the novels about it get written? And what happened to the children who went to Fillory? After all, who in their right mind would send a bunch of children to intervene in a civil war in a magical foreign country, where they know nothing about the laws and the culture and the history?

I wrote The Magicians at a difficult time in my life. My writing career was stalled. My marriage was going under. This was the novel I wanted to read then. I’m a grown-up who loves young adult fantasies like Narnia and Harry Potter and The Once and Future King and so on and so on, but when you read those stories as an adult, you can’t help but be aware that the author is keeping the brakes on. It’s like one of those Star Trek episodes with the Holodeck, where they keep the safety protocols on. Maybe it’s just because I’m bitter and disillusioned, but I wanted to know what would happen if the safety protocols came off — what those make-believe stories would look like if you dragged them out into the harsh, pitiless light of the real world. If I did my job right, they might look something like The Magicians.

—-

The Magicians: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of The Magicians. Visit the nerd culture blog at Time magazine, which Grossman co-writes. Check out this feature on Grossman, in the Los Angeles Times.

You Think You Know a Guy

This article in the Boston Globe today suggests that even your closest friends are in some fundamental ways strangers to you — and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. While not 100% on board with the methodology of the survey on which the researchers base their conclusions, I find the general proposition largely non-objectionable, since I find that I’m often surprised about the things I learn about close friends, even the ones I’ve known for decades.

I’m not saying that it’s one huge revelation after another, followed by heartfelt reassessment of the friendship, or anything like that. I just mean that every now and again you get one of those “Huh. I didn’t know that” moments, and then you pretty much go on as before. I’m sure I’ve sprung a few of them on friends as well. Keeps things interesting, it does.

I Suspect Some Mockery

A series of Scalzi LOLHugos over at MightyGodKing.com:

The rest are possibly not safe for work.

Yes, yes. Laugh it up, friends. Me and my HUGO AWARD WINNING HAWESOMEOSITY can take it.

Big Idea Update

I’ve had questions from folks wondering about the status of Big Ideas here on Whatever and on the upcoming BigIdeaAuthors.com site, so I thought I’d do a quick update on both:

1. The BigIdeaAuthors.com site has now been constructed and ready to be populated with content, which we’ll be doing over the next few weeks (we’ve got more than a year’s worth of Big Ideas to put into the archives, etc). Before we open it up to the public I’ll make a general call to authors. The plan as you’ll recall is to have a Big Idea essay for every day of the week, so there will be lots of opportunity for authors to tell readers about their books.

2. In the meantime, yes, I am still very much accepting Big Idea proposals here at Whatever; I’ve got a couple lined up for the coming weeks and will be happy to entertain more. Every Big Idea posted here will be ported into the BIA site as well. So if you have a book coming out in the September/October timeframe that you’d like to promote via a Big Idea, drop me an e-mail and let me know, and we’ll see if we can get it onto the schedule.

Any other questions, either about BigIdeaAuthors or doing a Big Idea piece here on Whatever, drop ’em in the comment queue. Thanks.

Squirrels and Podcasts

First, via Jeff Hentosz: Oh Noes! The Hugos have been photocrashed!

Oh, quiet. The meme isn’t officially overplayed until next Tuesday. We’re in under the wire.

Second, Tor.com has a podcast interview with me, done at Anticipation, in which I talk about various things, including METAtropolis, the state of science fiction, young adult novels and Stargate: Universe. For those of you who prefer to read, there’s also an interview transcript.

Third, there is no third. Hey, it’s Sunday.

The State of the Office

As of August 15, 2009:

You should see the expression Krissy gets on her face every time she comes in here. On the other hand, no, maybe you shouldn’t. We do intend to overhaul it at some point in the reasonably near future, but, man. It’ll be some work this time.

Strange Horizons Fund Drive Results, or, You Guys Rock

So, yesterday, when I challenged all y’all to match donations with me and Krissy to help the online science fiction magazine Strange Horizons meet its fundraising goal for the month, the total amount of money donated to that point was $1,565, out of a goal of $7,000. And where is it today? I’ll let Strange Horizons editor Susan Marie Groppi tell you [I’ve bolded the money parts]:

So up there in Scalzi’s post when he said “What I would say would be an even better outcome, however, is an even larger pile of donations sent along to Strange Horizons, for which my and Krissy’s $500 is just the cherry on the top.” You guys far exceeded any reasonable expectations for that “better outcome.” I’ve just finished doing all the tabulating, and the grand total for the 27-hour Scalzi Challenge period came to $9590. When you add in the matching funds from John and Krissy, that’s just over ten thousand dollars raised.

I don’t think I can possibly express how much this means to Strange Horizons, and to all of our staff members. We’re going to keep the fund drive open for a while longer in case anyone else wants to donate, but we’ve totally met and passed our overall fundraising goal. I’m totally overwhelmed by the generosity all of you have shown, and totally scared for what might happen if Scalzi ever decides to use his powers for evil.

First, for the record, I will not use my powers for evil. Because that’s just too damn easy.

Second, like Susan, I am thrilled and overwhelmed by your generosity — but I’m not surprised. Not surprised for two reasons: Because I know that so many of you know a good deal and a good cause when you see it, and because Strange Horizons does what it does well and thereby legitimately deserves the support you’ve given it (and will hopefully give it again, when next they do a fund drive).

Krissy and I have of course sent in our $500; in fact, I sent it in early yesterday, before I knew the donation totals. Call it an act of faith that you guys would make us spend it all. I was not disappointed, and am delighted you matched what we had to give, and then passed it exponentially. Add it all together and there’s the inescapable conclusion that each and every one of you rock. I’m not ashamed to say it. I will proclaim it from the rooftops if necessary.

Very sincerely: Thank you.

Update, 2:20pm: Oh, look, a nice write-up in the L.A. Times (which, by the way is sporting a very nice new look).

Controversies and etc.

io9 has the latest on a disability and sexuality-related controversy regarding Stargate: Universe that’s blossomed online in the last couple of days, including a response from one of the SG:U producers to the issue. Note that there are spoilers in the link.

Since I’m the creative consultant for SG:U I’ve had a couple of people pinging me about this issue and wondering what my role in it has been. I’m not going to go into great detail since I feel that impinges on what my role is regarding the show, and also, I’m very sure, some confidentiality clauses in my contract. Suffice to say that I’ve been tracking the commentary online since I’ve gotten back from Worldcon and Montreal (where I was understandably out of the online loop for several days), and when I delivered my notes on the script in question, also let the producers know these concerns were out there, including links to specific LJ and blog posts on the issue. Can’t say much more than that, other than that I’m happy the producers engaged with the concerns quickly, up to and including an apology.

Do feel free to comment below, but be aware there are limits on what I can discuss in terms of scripts, characters and behind-the-scenes stuff.

Update: There are also spoilers in the comment thread.

Strange Horizons Friday: I’m Matching Donations

So, Strange Horizons is an online magazine of science fiction and fantasy that pays writers official pro rates (as defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), publishes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction about science fiction and fantasy, and goes out of its way to publish new and emerging writers. They’re also a non-profit organization (a real one, with tax-deductible status and everything), and do all that they do through donations from readers and others.

This August is its fund drive month, and its goal is to raise $7,000 by the end of the month. Here it is the 14th, and they’re at $1,565 as I write this, which is more than a little disconcerting to me. I know the people involved with Strange Horizons quite well, and I can assure you that these aren’t people who are taking that donation money and spending it on frivolities. That money goes right out the door to the contributors of the site and to make the site a great place to visit on a daily basis. I’m not even sure the editors pay themselves for all their work, which is kind of insane, but a testament to their dedication to expanding the market for science fiction and fantasy. The site runs lean. So when the folks running it say they need the $7k to keep going, they’re not plumping up their numbers; dude, they need that $7k.

I got my start in the science fiction field through Strange Horizons; it was the first outlet to publish my fiction, and one of the very first to seriously interview me after I published my novel. Between this and the fact that many people I know and respect keep the place going on a daily basis, it’s fair to say that I am a big supporter of the site for personal reasons. But even if they hadn’t published my fiction and even if I didn’t know those who are running it, I would still be a fan of the site, because of what it publishes and because for almost a decade now the site has been a door into fantasy and science fiction that’s unlike any other. It’s a site worth reading, and a cause worth donating to.

I donate a bit every year to Strange Horizons to help keep it going, but this year I want to do something more, both to show my appreciation for the site and the people who run it, and to encourage those of you who read the site to shell out a bit to keep it going — and to encourage those of you who have not been to the site to check it out and consider pitching in for the fund drive. So here’s the deal:

For the day of August 14, 2009, John and Kristine Scalzi will do a one-to-one match for every donation made to Strange Horizons, up to $500.

What does this mean? Well, if you donate $5, we’ll donate $5. Donate $10, we’ll donate $10. And so on. Yes, I’ve already cleared this with Krissy. She’s a fan of Strange Horizons too. And to give the day as many hours as possible, we’ll define it as starting midnight Eastern Time but ending at 11:59:59 Pacific Time, which means that it’s a 27-hour donation day. Which means I’m retroactively covering donations made today before I published this. Because, hey: Friday.

Naturally, a good outcome of this would be $1,000 in the Strange Horizons coffers for the day. What I would say would be an even better outcome, however, is an even larger pile of donations sent along to Strange Horizons, for which my and Krissy’s $500 is just the cherry on the top. Remember all donations to Strange Horizons are tax-deductible for Americans (if you’re not in the US, check with your local government), so hey: Write-off! Can’t beat that.

Here’s Strange Horizons’ 2009 fund drive page, with links to send money via Network for Good and PayPal (or via old fashioned mail, if you are so inclined). Tell everyone you know about this — we’re matching any contribution, not just ones from people who come here. And if you’re seeing this after August 14, well, you know. Donate anyway, please. Strange Horizons is well worth your support.

So to recap:

a) Strange Horizons is awesome;
b) Strange Horizons needs your donations;
c) We’ll match donations today up to $500;
d) SO DONATE.
e) And tell your friends to donate too.

Any questions, drop them in the comments. Thanks. And thanks in advance for donating to Strange Horizons today. I was just going to spend that $500 on Red Vines and Coke Zero. This is a much better use of it.

Tolerant Wife is Tolerant

Boy, is she ever.

Photo from Spring Schoenhuth.