Canadians! They’re Everywhere!

In my column this week, I get a jump on Canada Day by saluting some of the Canadians who have made science fiction film so darn ginchy for the last few decades. Yes! There are Canadians in science fiction film! Shame on you for not knowing. The column will correct that for you, and of course, if I’ve missed your favorite science fiction film Canadian in the column, give them a shout-out in the comments.

The Full-Time SF Novelist: Probably Not as Endangered as You Think

In e-mail, I’m asked if I have any comments about Robert J. Sawyer’s recent blog post, in which he worries that within a decade, it will be impossible to make a living solely as a science fiction novelist. As what follows here is comment on what’s written there, I suggest you click over and read that first, and then come back.

(Update, 9:37am: I think I might have crushed his server. If you’re having problems accessing the link above, here’s a Google Cache of the page.)

Read it? Okay:

To begin, it’s worth noting for clarity’s sake that the vast majority of science fiction novelists already live in a world in which it’s not possible to be a full-time novelist, and have for as long as the genre has existed. It’s not just science fiction novelists who have always lived in that world, but novelists in general. Full-time novelists have always been a fortunate minority, and that minority would get even smaller if you only counted the ones who made enough from their novel writing to support themselves and their family, rather than having that income thrown into a larger pool of household income into which their spouse or spousal equivalent was also contributing.

As far as science fiction was concerned, at any time in the history of the genre the number of full-time novelists supporting themselves from their novels was a slim number — indeed smaller than the number of actual full-time novelists, since not a few of these writers, some of them now quite famous, lived all or part of their careers in a poverty that’s not as romantic to live in as it is to read about. Science fiction is genre writing, and genre writing has always paid poorly relative to other sorts of writing, and this is nothing new, either; Robert Heinlein’s famous invasion of Saturday Evening Post and Colliers back in the 40s was motivated in no small part because the man wanted and needed to be paid real money for his work.

When Rob’s worrying about the death of science fiction novel-writing as a full time endeavor, he’s discussing what is and has always been fundamentally a high-class problem, and one most science fiction novelists of any era would love to have been in a position to worry about. To recast it a different way, you could very easily say that Rob’s concerned that within a decade, the very top tier of science fiction novelists will be forced to do what every other science fiction novelist out there has already done: get a job.

This isn’t to minimize Rob’s concern — it’s actually not a trivial concern, either for him personally or anyone who hopes to write science fiction/fantasy novels full-time — but it is to give it context. When Rob worries about the possibility of anyone making a full-time living writing science fiction novels a decade from now, implicit in this is the idea that anyone can make a living writing science fiction novels now. Well, theoretically anyone can; as a practical matter very few do, or ever have.

More generally, Rob’s piece is a meditation on the fact that the business model of the industry is changing and the ways that authors get paid for their work is changing with it, and leaving aside the issue of full-time novelists, this is a matter of no little concern for anyone who wants to get paid for their writing. I’m not going to gainsay Rob’s concerns, and certainly he’s not alone in these concerns. I will say my own perspective on the matter is more optimistic than his appears to be. 2010 is not 2000, the publishing industry for all its faults is not the music industry, and its reaction to electronic media has not been what the music industry’s reaction was a decade ago, which was to shit itself in a panic and demand everything go back to the way it was before.

If nothing else (and it’s not a “if nothing else” situation), it’s worth noting that every major eBook reader on the market connects directly and seamlessly to a bookstore, and that to date the major battle in eBook sector was over how much eBooks should cost on release and who should dictate those prices, not whether eBooks should cost anything at all. There’s a secondary and pertinent question regarding whether ten years from now writers will need publishers in the same ways and for the same things as they do now; while that’s an interesting question, it’s not necessarily here or there about whether authors themselves will be able to support themselves on their fiction, or on their science fiction particularly. There are lots of challenges to this task, some specific to this particular era. Every era has its own set of specific challenges.

My personal prediction for science fiction authors a decade from now is this: There will be a few who will be able to support themselves full time on their science fiction writing, but the large majority won’t. Which is to say it’ll be pretty much like it is today. Some things will very likely change, including which science fiction writers will be able to write full-time; some pulling it off today won’t be doing so in ten years, while others we haven’t heard of will be at or near the top of the heap (said the Hugo-winning, New York Times best selling incoming President of SFWA who no one in science fiction even knew was alive in the year 2000). It’s also possible that what we consider a novel will have changed somewhat, just as today’s 100,000-word standard for a novel is different than the 60,000 word (or less) standard of a few decades ago. And so on. The details will change, as they’ve changed before, and will yet again, even after the digital switchover becomes old news.

But at the end of the day, a few science fiction writers will be lucky enough not to have to do anything else with their time, while everyone else will have to do it also, meaning they do something else too. Just like now.

Summer Schedule + Upcoming Hiatus Announcement

Here’s the deal: Starting tomorrow I become President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and because what SFWA is doing on the board level doesn’t conveniently snip off when one board tenure ends and another begins, I and all the other new members of the board are jumping into the deep end to continue the fine work the current board is engaged in. Additionally, while you weren’t watching I’ve been gearing up for a new novel, and now I’m in writing mode for that. And if that wasn’t enough, between now and mid-September I’ve got travel that is likely to keep me off the Internets entirely.

So, with that in mind, two announcements.

One, for the month of July I’ll be trimming back my time here on Whatever and other places on them there Internets, with an eye to devoting a solid block of time each day to a) novel writing, b) SFWA business, c) other crap that doesn’t involve me glassily cruising through my RSS feed for hours at time.

How will this affect Whatever? From your point of view, it possibly won’t; thanks to the magic of “scheduled postings,” I can write stuff any time and have it appear any other time, thus making it appear that I am the same procrastinatory bastard I usually am. In fact, this very entry was written ahead of time, and scheduled to appear when it did. See, it’s like magic, it is. So when I’m done doing real work, I’ll likely sign on, bang out a post or two, and then schedule them up so your daily Whatever fix will appear as it already does, more or less. So the only real sign I’m (mostly) away will be that I probably won’t be as engaged in the comment threads, although, to disappoint the excitable troll element whose ears just perked up on that bit, I’ll still graze through the comments unseen during the day and will happily wield the Mallet of Loving Correction on all who need its gentle caress.

So that’s July.

Two, from August 1 through September 12, I will be on hiatus. Which means I’ll generally be as far away from them there Internets as you can get. I might drop in a cat picture or two just to keep you all from setting fire to the place, and if I win something in Australia in September, I’ll be sure to let you know. Likewise, it’s possible I might write up some stuff in July and then schedule it for release during my hiatus. But in terms of being here? I won’t be.

How will this affect Whatever? Well, as noted, I won’t be around. But otherwise, it will keep running and functioning. That’s because I’ve hired a site manager (the fabulous Kate Baker) to keep the place going while I’m away. Under her watch Big Idea pieces will still be put up, as well as other stuff, which may include (but not be limited to) guest posts and bloggers.* I’ll also be handing over to Kate possession of the Mallet of Loving Correction with the admonition to wield it freely and with the merciless compassion of angels, so on that end things will be as they ever were. I know, trolls. You were so looking forward to running free around here. Maybe next time.

While I’m on my Whatever hiatus I will possibly still pop up on Twitter and Facebook with a smartass comment or two, but honestly, the point of the hiatus is to be away, so I wouldn’t count on too much on those scores, either. Oh, don’t give me that look. You can live without me for six weeks, especially when there will still be cool stuff on Whatever to read. You’ll be fine, man.

So that’s my summer schedule.

* Before any of you ask — don’t ask to be a guest blogger. Or to write a guest post. Seriously, it’s an automatic disqualification. If I want you, I’ll ask you.

Just Arrived, 6/29/10

Speaking of the “Just Arrived” feature, I am totally behind on it, because a) first I was traveling, b) then I was catching up on work from travel and then c) I got distracted by shiny bits of foil. So the next couple of days will constitute catching up. Here’s the first installment.

* Ancestor, by Scott Sigler (Crown): The Internet’s own podcasting superstar Sigler is back, and this time he’s got a doozy: The good news is that they’ve bio-engineered a creature whose organs can be put into people without rejection issues. The bad news: those creatures are mean. Oh, science. You mean so well. Out as of last week.

*This is Where We Live, by Janelle Brown (Spiegel & Grau): A young, hip, creative couple buy their first house together — in LA! With an adjustable rate mortgage! — and then life jabs them right in the nerve bundles. As it will. Especially when you have an adjustable rate mortgage. Those things are death, man. Out now.

* The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leïla Marouane (Europa Editions): A Muslim man in Paris struggles to find his identity; as suggested in the title, some of that will involve sex. Marouane herself is an Algerian living in Paris; this is the first English translation of the work. Out now.

* A Kind of Intimacy, by Jenn Ashworth (Europa Editions): A woman with a mysterious and distinctly messy past tries to start a new life and then immediately starts to complicate it. Out this last week.

* The Crowded Shadows, by Celine Kiernan (Orbit): The sequel to The Poison Throne has the Lady Wynter Moorehawake attempting to heal the rift between the ruler of her land, and his legitimate heir, before their enemies strike. Out on Thursday.

* Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey (Eos): Fans of Kadrey’s Sandman Slim will be happy to know this follow up is coming, in which the series anti-hero Stark gets a new gig as Lucifer’s bodyguard. Yes, yes. I’ll say it before you can: Work is Hell. Thank you for that. This one is coming in October, so plenty of time to get ready.

* The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Harper): A biological agent threatens to turn everyone everywhere into vampires, and not the sexy, True Blood kind, but the icky, nasty sort. This is the paperback release of the book, which has already been a New York Times best seller in hardcover. It’s out today.

* Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines (DAW): The third installment of my pal Jim’s Locus Best Selling “Princess” series, in which “Little Red Riding Hood” is neither little nor particularly innocent: now she’s an assassin, planning to kill Sleeping Beauty. Excellent. This one comes out July 6th, but if you just can’t wait, here’s a link to the pdf of the first two chapters.

* Land of the Burning Sands, by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit): In the followup book to Lord of the Changing Winds, the griffins who were used for nefarious purposes in the book find themselves in a position of power, which means danger for everyone else. Because, griffins, man. You don’t mess with them. Out now.

Why, Yes, I Still Actually Buy Books

Whilst out and about this morning, running errands, I stopped by Jay and Mary’s Book Center, because since I noted yesterday that they often had signed stock of mine, I figured I should go in and actually, you know, sign stock, just in case someone called and asked (it is now all signed, and they have everything in stock except Android’s Dream). And while I was there I also picked up this fine specimen of printed matter, China Miéville’s latest book Kraken, which went on sale here in the US just today. I read it in galley version and it’s great: It’s got squid, London and the end of the world, not necessarily in that order. It’s well worth buying, so I did.

That I actually purchased a book apparently comes as a surprise to a couple of people, since very recently I’ve been asked in all sincerity if I still actually go out and buy books. The question was posed not under the assumption that I am sub-(or post-)literate, but because thanks to The Big Idea and Just Arrived features here on Whatever, I get at least ten books a week sent to me, and often more, which is a) more than I could read and b) would seem to obviate the need and even the desire to go out and buy more of them.

Nevertheless, in fact, I still go out and buy books, and usually printed books, to the tune of several a month. Why? Here are some of the reasons, in order of how they come into my head.

1. Because even though I get sent a lot of books, I don’t get sent every book I’m interested in (alas), and therefore if I want to have those books, I have to go out and buy them.

2. Because some of the books I get sent are in galley or ARC form, which means that if I want a more durable version of the book, I should go out and buy it. Kraken, as noted, was sent to me as a bound galley by its UK publisher — which I deeply appreciated because hey, I got to read it early and I’m a big sloppy Miéville fan — and was already beginning to show signs of wear and tear by the time I was done with it.

3. Because buying books at my local bookseller helps keep that bookseller in business, which is something I have a clear and obvious personal stake in; after all, if authors won’t support their local booksellers, why should they expect anyone else to?

4. Because many of my friends write books (including China), and I think it’s a fine thing to support one’s friends and to help pad their sales.

5. I was a fan of China’s before I knew him, so even if I didn’t know him I would buy the book because buying an author’s work is the most obvious way to let a publisher know you’d like them to keep publishing that particular author.

6. Because in addition to paying the author and the bookseller, I also like paying the editor, the cover artist, the book and cover designers, the copy editor, the publicist, the guys who work at the printer and the people who drive the trucks that deliver the books. Thanks, folks.

7. Because books will look especially fine on those new shelves I just spent a whole lot of money on — and on those shelves I want not just any books, but books I actually like.

8. Because books make great gifts, and I enjoy giving books to other folks, but not the books I get sent because that’s kind of cheap, you know? If I think well enough of a book to want to give it as a gift, I can shell out for the market price.

9. As regards printed books, look, ma: No DRM, and the batteries never run out. I do use and for the most part like electronic books, but at this point for me they are still supplemental to, rather a replacement for, printed books; look at my eBook collection and you’ll see they’re generally copies of printed books I already own. That said, if I have a finished printed version of a book sent to me and I want a portable copy (for example, when I travel to Australia later in the year and am trapped in a plane for an entire day), I’m happy to buy the electronic version for that purpose.

10. Because at this point in my life I can afford books. When I was younger I couldn’t (thank you public libraries for being there) and who knows, maybe when I’m older I might not be able to anymore either (public libraries, hope you’ll still be around). But now I can, and I like spending money that way. Makes me glad my fetish objects of choice are books, and not cars.

So those are some of the reasons that I still buy books, and lots of them.

The Big Idea: Larry Doyle

The 50s were an archetypal time, both for America and for science fiction, but more than half a century later, does that era have anything to say to our own? Larry Doyle was minding his own business when one day a couple of years ago someone said something that made him believe that in many ways the 50s have never left us — and one result of that epiphany is Go, Mutants! a smart-alec comedy that imagines the 50s never really ended, and that the drive-in movie aliens were real… and that their kids are now in high school.

Who was that person that jolted Doyle back into the 50s, and what did they say? Let’s ask Doyle.


We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.

– Sarah Palin, September 3, 2008

I had been worried about America for a while. Ever since the Event, we had been slipping back into bad habits, starting wars to stop ideas, equating dissent with treason, abandoning principles in the service of protecting them, etc. But Sarah Palin’s speech before the Republican Convention gave voice to a dark yearning that had been palpable for years:

America wanted to go back to the Good Old Days.

Though it is risky to ascribe calculation or forethought to anything Ms. Palin does, her choice of quotable was telling. Westbrook Pegler, a powerful newspaper columnist in the 1950s and 60s, was a big fan of the way things were. “[It’s] clearly the bounden duty of all intelligent Americans to proclaim and practice bigotry,” he wrote in reaction to the civil rights movement. He supported old-fashioned lynchings. He also hated Jews, another traditional value.

And so when Palin approvingly spoke Pegler’s words – which were in near perfect code – it felt as if the Fifties had never ended.

And I wondered, what if?

I’ve always thought that popular culture is the purest expression of its time, that it more truly and vividly displays the hopes and fears of an era than the great speeches or history books. (I am biased, of course, as a purveyor of such stuff.) In the Fifties that meant comic books and B-movies, which were preoccupied with invading aliens and atomic mutants, stand-ins for communists and the Bomb, at least on the surface. Another popular genre, the juvenile delinquent movie, suggested a greater worry closer to home. America’s children were Young Hellions and High School Hellcats who might become a Reform School Girl or Crybaby Killer (Jack Nicholson!)

And so Go, Mutants! takes place in an America where the pop culture of the fifties never ended, where it is in fact history. Aliens really did invade, many, many times, from Venus and Mars and assorted galaxies; mad scientists and frequent atomic blasts created mutants of all sizes and consistencies. Mid-century design, and particularly the space-age Googie aesthetic, became the standard. And it’s all seen through the eyes of a big-brained alien teenager who is a rebel seeking a cause.

It’s fun, and even silly I suppose, but I hope some readers will see past the surface hilarity for the deeper amusement. Go, Mutants! takes place today as much as yesterday, as a skimming of the headlines will attest (Arizona’s next illegal immigration target: Babies), and may have something on its mind. At least I did when I was writing it.

But I won’t mind terribly if people simply laugh, at, for example, the scene where Peg Furry, a bigoted deputy sheriff with a distinctive northern twang, pays to have sex with a radioactive ape.


Go, Mutants! Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the Go, Mutants! Web site to see book trailers, reviews and other media. Visit Larry Doyle’s blog.

My Autographing Policy

I swear I already wrote something like this here, but I can’t seem to find it, so I’m doing one of those “write now for future reference” posts, spurred on by the fact that in the space of three days I’ve gotten, like, ten requests for autographed books, etc.

My Autographing Policy

Yes, I give autographs. Find me at a convention or other public appearance. If I have a scheduled signing at the convention appearance I’ll probably ask you to wait until then because that’s generally the most convenient time for me.

If I don’t have a scheduled signing, you can come up and ask. I am generally happy to sign but there may be times when I’m busy doing something (including having a private conversation) in which case I might ask if you can catch me another time.

If you catch me outside a scheduled signing, please only ask to have me sign one or two things (i.e., don’t come up to me with a whole bag). If you have your own pen, that’s generally helpful since outside scheduled signings I usually don’t walk around with one.

I don’t require you to have a book of mine to sign; I’ll sign autograph books, blank pieces of paper, etc. I will sign body parts, so long as it’s a body part you can expose in public without getting arrested. I don’t recommend then having that signature permanently tattooed on your body, but it’s your body, do what you want.

No, I won’t sign your book/bookplates if you mail them to me with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. The primary reason for this is that I am extraordinarily bad at putting things back into the mail; stuff like that sits on my desk for months and sometimes even longer. I figure it’s easier to say “no” than to annoy you by never returning your book/bookplates. It’s not you, it’s me. Sorry.

(Also, I don’t have bookplates I send out by request. I’m not that organized, nor wish to pay postage.)

If you send me stuff anyway, I will not promise it will ever make it back to you. Seriously, it’s a bad idea to send me stuff.

If your goal is simply to have an autographed work from me, and I am not coming to a convention/doing an appearance near you, may I suggest three things:

One, buy a limited edition of one of my books, which generally come signed by me. These limited editions are usually more expensive than the standard editions, but in addition to having my signature in them, these books are generally of a higher quality production-wise and include new art and/or extra bits. Subterranean Press has published my limited editions to date and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Two, during the holiday season I’ll announce that I will sign and personalize books purchased from my local independent bookstore, Jay and Mary’s Book Center. When I do that, all you have to do is call in to the store and order the book. You’ll have to pay for shipping but otherwise there’s no additional charge beyond the cost of the book.

I also frequently sign stock at Jay and Mary’s, just because I happen to be there, so beyond any public announcement, it’s worth checking in with them to see if they happen to have any signed stock. Additionally, you can ask to have the book personalized, if you like, BUT any personalization will have to wait until I’m actually in shop, so this is not a great idea for time-sensitive gifts.

Three, I will frequently sign stock for booksellers if I happen to be in their town and/or they are selling at a convention I’m at. I’ve recently been on tour, check with one of the booksellers I stopped at.

Any additional questions? Leave them in the comment thread.

Green Giveaway: Act Quickly! (UPDATE: All Gone Now)

Edit, 12:45pm: Well, that was quick. All copies are taken. Thanks!

And now, a message from Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer:

As many of you know, our pal Jay Lake has been undergoing cancer treatment. The great news is that he just finished his last chemo infusion session. As a small example of our fondness for Jay, and to mark the occasion, we’re giving away ten hardcover copies of his ultra-great novel, Green. (Seriously, we’ve been jonesing for a copy of the file to the sequel here in the SubPress offices. All work will likely stop once Jay sends an e-copy of Endurance our way.)

So we’re not eaten alive by postage costs, this giveaway is open to US residents only. What you need to do is send an email to that contains the Subject line GREEN, and your name and address. Anything else and we’ll move on to the next lucky entrant. We’ll be sending out copies later this week to the first ten respondents to this Scalzi-blast. One thing, though. (Isn’t there always a catch?) By accepting the copy of Green, you agree to read it within three weeks of receipt, and post a review (good, bad, or middling, it matters not to us) over at

Okay? get emailin’.



You heard the man! Get to it!

I’ll Tell You For the Last Time

Just a reminder for those of you with literary bents:

1. You have just two days (er, after today) to get in your Unicorn Pegasus Kitten fanfic.

2. You also have the same amount of time to get in your applications to this year’s Viable Paradise workshop.

One suggestion: Do not use the first to apply for the second.

Scenes From a Summer Thunderstorm


Hay Bales: A Sunday Photo Essay

Because they were there.

How was your Sunday?

The Android’s Dream Wins the Kurd Lasswitz Preis

This was a nice thing to have woken up to: The German translation of my novel The Android’s Dream has been awarded the Kurd Lasswitz Preis in the Best Foreign Novel category, a science fiction prize that is the German equivalent of the Nebula, in that it is voted on by science fiction professionals in that country. TAD had excellent company in the category, including Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson, Jasper Fforde and Grant Naylor, so for the book to get the nod over such work pleases me. It’s good to have these folks as peers. And of course I’m delighted that TAD is getting such recognition; the book’s been overshadowed in the English-speaking world by the Old Man’s War series, so to have it come into its own in other places, and in Germany in particular, is very cool.

I would take a moment to note for special appreciation Bernhard Kempen, who worked as the translator for this novel and as well as (to date) all my other work in German. While it’s certainly true that I wrote the book, if the book had not been expertly translated, it would not have brought as much enjoyment to readers in German. So Mr. Kempen has my thanks for all his work on this and my other books.

And congratulations to the winners in the other categories!

Sunset 6/26/10

Thought I’d share this at the last minute:

And now, on to Sunday.

What We’re Doing With Our Saturday


Also, this:

In case you were wondering.

I Have Houseguests!

And they’re under the impression that because they are actually physically here, I should pay attention to them. I know! What nerve. Nevertheless, I will oblige them, this one time. See you all tomorrow.

The Fantasy of Modern Technology, and the Reality

I love the fact I live in a time where video teleconferencing exists. It makes me feel like I’m having a virtual meeting — on the moon!

Oh, wait, that’s just server lag.


Never mind.

Back in MY Day, We Got One Blog Post a Day, and We Called It THE NEWSPAPER

Looked up from what I was doing today and discovered it was 6pm and thought, crap, I totally haven’t updated Whatever since this morning, and then was seized by guilt until I realized, hey, I’m doing this for free, and you get what you get. SO THERE.

No, wait, don’t walk off like that. You know I love you. Here, have a cookie. And a pony. There, we’re all better now.

That said, I’m looking at my schedule for the second half of 2010, and it’s, like, really busy. I become SFWA President a week from now, which is mindboggling, by the way, and so I have to budget time for that. Then aside from that I’ve got the usual writing stuff to do, so that when 2012 rolls around you’re not asking hey, why don’t I have a new Scalzi book? And then I’ve got some not-usual writing stuff to do, which I’m totally not going to tell you about yet, but oh boy, just you wait, and then I also have some travel, including a stint in that place the planet hides under the equator, what’s it called, oh, yeah, Australia. Plus other stuff relating to a life that doesn’t involve work and/or science fiction, because, as it happens, I have one of those.

Which means a couple of things:

1. I’ll probably yet again try to impose some sort of structure on my work day, which you may or may not see reflected here in terms of when/how much I post. More details about this soon.

2. In the reasonably near future I’ll be taking a hiatus here BUT Whatever will keep publishing because I’ve already made arrangements for that. I’m still working on some of the details, so I’ll make a more formal announcement about it at the beginning of July.

All of which is to say I’m actively working to balance work, life and sanity while at the same time keeping the lot of you amused with blogtatsic stylings. YOU BETTER APPRECIATE IT, MAN.

No, no, don’t run off. Here’s another cookie. There, there.

The Big Idea: Meg Gardiner

The American tradition of political paranoia isn’t new — just ask Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, circa 1800 — but that doesn’t mean the latest version of it can’t be annoying to those of us living through it. Meg Gardiner knows all about that feeling, as she explains in this Big Idea about The Liar’s Lullaby, her latest mystery featuring her forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett. The good news is that she was able to turn her annoyance into creativity. Not that it was was easy


Delusions can be dangerous. And not only to the delusional.

That reality—that warning—underpins The Liar’s Lullaby. I’m not just talking about clinical delusions, such as I can fly or The microwave wants me to stab you. I mean political delusions—conspiracy theories about secret government plots to destroy America. Extravagant fantasies that involve Them, and their sneaky cousins, They.

The Liar’s Lullaby is a thriller with a political tinge. It asks: How can you tell reality from delusion? How do you sort legitimate threats from fantasy? And because it’s a thriller, and has to, you know, thrill, the heroes must answer those questions right damned now, or people die.

In the story, country-rock star Tasia McFarland is killed by a gunshot as she makes a spectacular entrance at a stadium concert. The San Francisco police can’t determine whether her death is entertainment’s worst stunt catastrophe, a desperate suicide, or murder. Tasia had warned people that she was going to be assassinated. But she had a history of paranoia and erratic behavior. So the SFPD asks forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett to perform a psychological autopsy to uncover the truth.

But the case pulls Jo into a whirlpool of media hysteria, conspiracy theory, and political hardball, because Tasia wasn’t just a singer. She was the ex-wife of the President of the United States.

The novel’s about the collision of fame and power. Also about the collision of helicopters, country-western singers, celebrity stalkers, White House minions, violent right-wing militants, and a television reporter from the Channel of the Blondes.

The big idea is: The Celebrity-Political complex has turned conspiracy-mongering into an American sport. It’s both crazy and deadly. To sort truth from fiction, it’s going to take a shrink. Jo must find out whether there’s a real conspiracy, one that threatens the President.

The Liar’s Lullaby is the third novel featuring Jo Beckett. I got the idea for the book after spending too much time imbibing U.S. political news. I keep up with current events diligently. Okay, obsessively, but don’t call me a news junkie. I’m an author—it’s research. Sure, if I could mainline the New York Times via Ethernet cable, I would. But I can quit any time.

What I couldn’t quit doing, for ages, was shouting at the television whenever some wingnut spewed a fever dream about FEMA concentration camps or the looming Obama commie-sharia tyranny. The anti-government rhetoric had gone beyond shrill, up into the notes only dogs can hear.

This high-pressure spray can of hysteria is nothing new. “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was published in 1964. But today, demagogues at the freaky end of the EM spectrum amp up the static and serve outrage as entertainment, night and day. It’s so loud, I can’t keep track of who’s destroying America this week. Miss USA? The Jonas Brothers?

Psychiatrists speak of “consensus reality.” In the paranoid subculture, people have formed a consensus unreality. They eagerly swallow the craziest lies. They crave proof the world is about to fall into the side pocket—because they’re gonna fight back.

But when commando wannabes show up at political rallies dressed like characters from The Unit, they aren’t restoring Norman Rockwell’s America. They’re indulging in fantasies of political violence. They’re playing Apocalypse, holding a karaoke revolution. Hey, kids, let’s put on an insurrection in my dad’s barn! You bring the camo, I’ll bring the ammo. Wolverines!

Tragically, these fantasies don’t always stay confined to the mind.

So this stuff made me nuts. As in wishing I had a white jumpsuit and an Elvis wig—not so I could shoot the television, but to scare the TV into thinking that if it didn’t stop puking this nonsense, I just might. Finally, things got to the place where my kids pointed the remote at me and hit Mute.

So I did the sensible thing, and shut up. And wrote a novel.

Fortunately, I had Jo on deck. She’s a consultant who analyzes the dead for the cops. When the police can’t determine whether a person’s death is suicide, accident, or murder, Jo performs a psychological autopsy. She’s a deadshrinker.

The hard part in writing the book was suppressing the urge to snark. When I see delusional losers, I want to expose them—to write them as idiots, and to have them fall, hard. I want readers to point at them and laugh, Ha-ha, Nelson Muntz-style. But in a thriller, idiots make lousy villains. Idiots get caught, ten pages in.

So I wrote about delusional losers who’ve been seduced by a deadly fantasy. They’re fanatics—they believe they’re the righteous few who can light the fire and cleanse the nation. They won’t stop for anything. And that puts the heroine’s back up against it.

Jo has to solve the puzzle of Tasia McFarland’s death before anybody else gets killed. But the political and media free-for-all becomes a circular firing squad, and Jo ends up at its center. And Jo isn’t a superhero, she’s a normal gal who’s smart, intrepid, and physically brave—but vulnerable. And in this story, she must figure how to stay in the consensus reality known as alive and breathing.

One thing—the novel isn’t nonstop death and intrigue. At one point, the story turns on the actions of an out-of-control monkey.

Thrillers should thrill, but should also be fun. I want you to hang on by your fingernails as the story careens toward the cliff. And that’s not crazy. It’s not delusional. It’s the suspension of disbelief. And, I hope, a hell of a ride.


The Liar’s Lullaby: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Watch a video about The Liar’s Lullaby and read an excerpt (click the “watch the video” link and the ability to read an excerpt is embedded). Visit Gardiner’s blog.

Spontaneously Appearing Cake: A Poll

Went out yesterday to pick up the new chaise lounge for the office, and when I returned cake had spontaneously appeared at my door. How did it happen? You tell me!

The one alternate explanation is that my friend and neighbor Alisha sent it over in appreciation for getting Adam Savage’s autograph for her at w00tstock earlier in the month. But seriously, what’s the likelihood of that? Right, exactly. I’m voting for cake fairies!

Unicorn Pegasus Kitten in Song Form

Science fiction balladeer John Anealio has written a song to go with the Unicorn Pegasus Kitten painting.

You will go here now and listen to it.


That is all.