Awesome Scenes Are Not Enough

Hey, remember that awesome lightsaber duel in The Phantom Menace? And remember how you thought, “Man, this is so cool that I wish the rest of the film had been this cool too?” So do I, my friend. So do I. Which is why I write about the tragedy of the One Cool Scene in an otherwise crappy science fiction film in this week’s column. Come and let’s feel each other’s pain together. Remember to leave your comments of commiseration there.


Election Thoughts, 2010

Because I busied myself with revamping the site last night, I went to sleep blissfully unaware of the election results, and then woke up, refreshed, to deal with what went down. Here are some early thoughts.

* It’s not Blue America or Red America, it’s Orange America! Yes, my representative, John Boehner, America’s Tallest Oompa-Loompa, is now the presumptive Speaker of the House. As I’ve noted before, I don’t think the circumstances that allow for his speakership are such a good thing, but that said, it’s certainly not bad for my district. I think prior to last night there was some discussion as to whether or not Boehner was actually the slam-dunk favorite for the Speaker position, but I imagine that winning the largest House swing in, what? 62 years? means that the guy in charge of the GOP in the House will see some benefit from that. Boehner also quite obviously won my district, and by the usual amount, about 66% to 30%. Sorry, Justin Coussoule. You know I voted for you, man.

Elsewhere in Ohio, it was a GOP night as well, with GOPers taking the big state positions as well as our Senate seat that was up for election this year. It’s a mirror image of the result in 2006, and the GOPers elected here by and large qualify as mostly moderate (as did the Democrats four years ago), so I think this is less about Ohio being hugely blue or red and mostly about it being the bruised purple it’s been since I’ve been here.

* As for the GOP tsunami in the House, well. It’s not what I wanted. You might recall that in 2006, when the Democrats took the House, I said that I felt the US had taken a sanity pill; right now I think the US might have gone off its meds. The GOP, its practices and its brain trust haven’t really changed between now and then; it’s the same intellectually dim bunch who led the economy and country into a wall during the 00’s. Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing and expecting different results, so congratulations, folks, we’ve gone a little nuts here.

Inasmuch as the GOP political strategy of mendacious loudness paid off in spades last night, I don’t really expect anything else out of them except more of the same for the next two years at least. We will see how well that strategy works in the long term, but obviously at this point there’s no reason for them not to keep doing it.

* But as I’ve noted before, the GOP may have put a gun to the head of the Democratic majority in the house, but it’s the Democrats who said, “dude, you’re holding it wrong,” jammed the gun into their own temple, and then pulled the trigger. The most accurate word I have for my feelings about the Democrats right now is disgust; disgust that they could get elected on a platform of substantial change, execute on many of the changes they campaigned on, and then allow the GOP and its allies to turn those actions in liabilities — well, again, disgust is not too strong a word.

Dear Democrats: You managed to lose the House in historic proportions to a party whose strategy was to harness the inchoate anger of old white people so stupid that they don’t sense the inherent contradiction of screaming about a smaller government whilst cashing their federal checks. You are morons. Please find someone who can play this game and put them in charge of your electoral strategy, because what you’re doing now isn’t working. Also, henceforth, every time you whine about Fox News and shadowy financiers of the Tea Party, we get to beat you with a hammer. This is the political landscape now. Deal with it.

* Ironically, the Democrats might have lost the Senate too, if not for Sarah Palin, who used her appallingly not-inconsiderable political weight to back the vaguely-insane candidates Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in races that might otherwise have easily gone GOP with more mainstream, non-insane candidates. At this writing, the Democrats have 51 seats in the Senate, but they could have had 49, and it’s fair to say that it’s not so much that the Democrats held the Senate — the Democrats didn’t hold a damn thing last night — than Palin lost it for the GOP. This naturally suits me just fine. Dear GOP: Please keep using Sarah Palin for everything.

* For everyone exulting/panicking that this means Obama’s a one-termer: After last night, do we really need to be reminded that two years is a very long time in politics? Let’s also recall how horrible the 1994 mid-term elections were for Clinton’s re-election chances in 1996, i.e., not really at all, thanks for asking. So please, tamp down the freaking out or gleeful rubbing of hands together, depending on your political inclinations. Let the future take care of itself, and let’s focus on the now.

That said, now quite obviously isn’t good for Obama, and once again I think the fault for that lies less with Obama than it does with the Democrats in the House and Senate, for the reasons noted above. This isn’t to absolve him of blame, mind you; his held-in reserve, non-losing-his-mindness demeanor suits me fine but I think the rest of the country would probably like to see him more worked up, and in the end he really should have ridden herd on the Democrats a lot harder than he did, and punished every one of them who wandered off the ranch. And now he gets to deal with it for the next two years, at least.

* The good news for people philosophically aligned to Obama’s plans is that a) he did have those first two years, in which despite everything he managed to get quite a lot done, and b) thanks to Sarah Palin, the Democrats have kept the Senate, so what we’ve got here is a divided government.  This means that the things already passed on Obama’s agenda aren’t going to go away (although their funding might, which is a not inconsiderable thing) and that assuming as I will the GOP isn’t suddenly going to transform itself into a pragmatic and moderate party willing to work with Democrats and the President, the House Republicans are going to see lots and lots of stuff die in the Senate.

The bad news for people philosophically aligned to Obama’s plans is that, well, you’ve had your fun now, haven’t you. The House is dead to you as of January, and it won’t be the quiet sort of dead; no, it will be a “fast zombie” sort of dead, the kind that rushes you and wants to feast on your brain while ripping open your guts. Enjoy that.

* Contrariwise, the good news for people philosophically aligned against Obama’s plans is that a) divided government means the president’s legislative agenda comes to a grinding halt, b) the GOP has two years (at least) to make its case that they are better stewards of government than Obama and his crew.

The bad news here for you is that the GOP this time around wasn’t elected because of its legislative philosophy, it was elected by a bunch of folks screaming “do something” without particularly well enunciating what it is they want done, except possibly thwarting Obama. However, Obama, who is not stupid, will likely shift his focus to administrative implementations of his agenda, and while the House may howl at this, any attempt to stop him is likely to get spiked in the Senate, or vetoed. So not only will the GOP not be thwarting Obama on many significant things, it also won’t be able to do much of anything legislatively, either. And it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next couple of years, and in the 2012 election.

All of which is to say it will be an interesting time for everyone. Just what we all wanted.

* And you may ask, that’s all very interesting, John, but what does the election mean for you? Well, I’m touched at your concern and I’m glad you asked. One, as I noted, my Representative is very likely to be the next Speaker of the House, and that’s probably excellent for my district, and so naturally I’ll benefit from that. Two, as most of you know, I am white, male, heterosexually-paired and well-off, which means of course that the GOP has totally got my back.

So while I am philosophically not aligned with the real-world aims and goals of the Republican party at this time, on a direct and personal level, the short-term effect on me is either neutral or mildly positive. So thanks for your concern, I’m fine. It’s folks not like me who might be twitchy. And oddly enough, most people aren’t the whole package of white, male, heterosexually-paired and well-off. I’m puzzled that enough of you keep looking out for me, even when I really don’t want or need the help. Really, folks, I and people like me are fine. Take care of yourselves, please.


Warning: About to Change Themes Again

The theme I’m currently using (called “zBench”) is nice but there are some UI issues that make me a little cranky, and I’ve had to confront the fact that I’m not competent enough to solve them myself (I had a helpful dude from WordPress bail me out on a bunch of things, but there’s only so much I can beg them to keep me from shooting myself in my own foot). So I’m going to switch to another theme that a) has more of the features I prefer, particularly regarding placement of commenting and navigation stuff, b) will be relatively easy to make cosmetic changes to.

Basically, don’t panic when it looks different and typefaces and other bits suddenly change, as they will off and on all night long. I’m futzing about, I am. With luck I’ll have most of the futzing done by tomorrow. Hey, it’ll keep me occupied and not constantly refreshing election results.


New “Fuzzy Nation” Cover

I have clearance from Tor Books art director Irene Gallo to show this to you, so here’s an in-progress look at the new Fuzzy Nation cover:

I am very deeply pleased with this cover, I have to say.

The artist is Kekai Kotaki, about whom I have not heard much of before, but who is clearly really good at what he does.

Some of you may remember the original Fuzzy Nation cover I commissioned from Jeff Zugale and wonder what had become of it. The short answer is that I commissioned that cover from Jeff for my own specific purposes. Once the book sold to Tor, they of course commissioned their own art. I love Jeff’s cover — it was because of it that I immediately thought of him for the Unicorn Pegasus Kitten —  but I also love this new cover as well. The great thing is I can love them both.

Right now, Fuzzy is scheduled for a May 2011 release, and I’m happy to say we’ve already sold in audio and some foreign markets, so things are off to an excellent start. I’ll have more to tell the closer we get to release, so stay tuned.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Catherynne M. Valente

Folks, Cat Valente is one of my favorite people, and she’s a hell of a writer, and her new book The Habitation of the Blessed is very cool, and she’s brought audiovisual aids for her Big Idea piece, so I’m just going to step out of the way here and let her tell you all about her book.


It is indeed true that due to an overabundance of post-graduate education I have managed to write an entire series of novels about an obscure historical hoax, the first of which came out yesterday. It is doubly true that much as I spent the last two years defining, pronouncing, and spelling the word “palimpsest,” I will now spend the next three explaining who and what Prester John was, why he is important, and making poor medieval puns. I am comfortable with this fate—but that is not what I’m going to talk about today! The fact is, as a speculative fiction author I used my powers of imagination to see my future as a professorial background-info exposition-bot—Giles in a tight black dress. And I made a handy little video to explain all the historical hilarity that is Prester John and his madcap pwning of the medieval mind.

Now that you’re back, what I want to tell you is that this is not a fantasy novel.

This is a science fiction novel.

What? (I imagine you say. I also imagine you with a very fetching smoking jacket and crystal goblet full of morning coffee, gesturing grandly at your computer.) Isn’t this a book about a bunch of immortal monsters living in India in 1140 or so, planting cannon-orchards and sheep-trees and messing around with magic stones? Yes, yes it is. And normally I’d give that to you—it does sound a lot like fantasy. It has that familial look. But since genre distinctions are blurring all over the place and even works that would once be called science fiction are often called fantasy due to lack of compelling science, I’m gonna call this one right out of the gate: The Habitation of the Blessed is a science fiction novel. Its concerns are SFnal; its science (mostly) rigorous.

It’s a first contact story. I couldn’t just let the story lie as it was, with Prester John as a (literal, according to the Marvel Universe) superhero whose awesome Godliness and general fabulosity allowed him to live forever, crush infidels, and land Sexiest Man Alive 1165. He was also less filling, yet tasted great. The fact is, given the story as it is, Prester John is the only human in the place, and he is king despite having no family in the kingdom and no particular reason to be king. That, friends, is a colonial story.

I didn’t want to lionize my man PJ—history’s done that part. I wanted to tell a story about a man from the West arriving on what is essentially an alien planet, with no one who looks like him, and what he is willing to do to control it, to convert it, to make it like his own land. I wanted to deal with how very much like a natural disaster the arrival of such a person would be, opening up an isolated country to the predations of a burgeoning Europe and a Church hungry for conquest. And I wanted to tell the better part of it all from the point of view of the aliens and monsters who became subsumed into Prester John’s missionary zeal, who make up the complicated folklore we mean when we say: “Prester John’s Kingdom.”

It’s a post-scarcity story—or at least a pre-scarcity one. The economics and politics of Pentexore (the name finally given to that kingdom by John Mandeville, the second John and second hilarious liar to lay claim to the narrative) are predicated on a reversal of Aristotle’s Physics: where our man in Athens says that you can discern things made from things born by the fact that if one plants a bed, one cannot reasonably expect a bed-tree to arise come spring. (All right, I admit it. I’ve actually been writing this book since I translated the Physics in undergrad, when I looked up form my Greek and said: but a bed-tree would be so awesome.) Anything planted in the Pentexore ground grows, no matter whether it is made or born: bed-trees and sheep-trees and corpse-trees and jewel-trees.

Between that and the Fountain of Youth, there is no poverty and no death in the Kingdom of Prester John. It is a transhumanist nation isolated from the rest of the world, struggling toward those goals the slow way. How they have learned to live without those constraints is a major concern of the novel—the central mechanism is a lottery held once every two hundred years that determines each creature’s profession, relationships, and home for the next pair of centuries, staving off boredom and a good deal of cruelty. The rest is more complicated.

It is a story rooted in science—just not 21st century science. The series takes as a given that every legend and folktale concerning Prester John was true, including the Fountain of Youth, which came into Western myth with this very letter, and the various grotesque monsters which may or may not have been allegories for human failings, but here are given serious considerations as races and cultures with their own deep histories. So too Ptolemaic cosmology is taken wholly seriously, with the Crystalline Spheres a hard fact of the world. How this world changes into and acquired the physics of our own is part of the long game of the series.

But no physical fact of the world is not centered and grounded in the science of the time, which after all was as hard and fast to them as our own rules of the universe are to us—with the sole exception of the middle finger to Aristotle, though of course he was mightily argued with even in his own time. There is no actual magic in Prester John’s Kingdom, only the properties of stones and plants that were taken as knowable fact at the time, even to the Fountain of Youth, and tales of the world which were believed as surely as we believe any blogger on holiday in Asia today.

This is my medieval science fiction novel. It’s a weird beast with oversized parts and a warped sense of humor. It’s a 21st century girl spinning remixes 12th century style. Of course, the legend of Prester John is itself a bizarre combination of modern concerns and ancient methods—essentially, it was Ye Olde Tyme EweTubbe video, hitting the medieval internet. Which was, like, your brother who knew a guy in the next village over. It’s the first word in taking a freaky story and just running with it. And in that noble tradition, I’m thrilled to see The Habitation of the Blessed out there in the world.


The Habitation of the Blessed: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read Cat Valente’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.


Vote Cat Says Vote

See that look Ghlaghghee has there? It’s the look she gave me when I told her that there are some people who can vote who don’t vote. It is, in point of fact, the same look she gives insects and small varmints shortly before what I like to call “The Disembowelination.” Don’t anger Vote Cat, people. Get out there and vote today.

And yes, I did vote this morning, of course. I haven’t missed a vote since I turned 18, and I’m not planning to ditch that streak anytime soon. I won’t go into specifics about for whom I voted (except to note that, as publicly announced here earlier, I did in fact vote for Justin Coussoule for the 8th Ohio district Congressional representative), but I will say that if you looked at my ballot, you would find more than one party represented there. Because that will happen from time to time.

Whomever you vote for, do vote. It’s one of those really important things. And it will make my cat happy. And you want her to be happy. Or at least I do. Because she’s awake when I’m asleep, you see. And that could be dangerous for me.


An Election: A Short Story Presented by Subterranean Press

Subterranean Press is proud to present an election-oriented short story by John Scalzi here on Whatever. For the full details on why Subterranean Press is presenting the story on the author’s own blog, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the story!

(Note to RSS readers: click through for the story — it reads better on the site.)



by John Scalzi

David Sawyer walked into the kitchen of his townhouse and thrust his tablet at his husband James.

“I’m running for city council,” he said.

James neither took the tablet nor looked up from his coffee and toast. “The elections were last month,” he said. “And we already have a councilman. Please inform those responsible for maintaining your information bubble that they are falling down on the job.”

“We had a councilman,” David said. “Note the tense.” He thrust the tablet at James again.

James took it, frowning. “Councilman Krugg is dead? When did that happen?”

“Last night,” David said. “He’s been molting and he went out before his new carapace stiffened up. Was talking on his phone and not paying attention and walked in front of a bus. They say the death was instant.”

“And messy,” James said, glancing at the picture accompanying the story.

“He should have stayed off the streets until his carapace grew in,” David said.

“When you walk in front of a bus I don’t think a full suit of chitin is going to help you much,” James said. “As a general rule when it’s a city bus versus any biological creature, it’s safe to bet on the bus.”

“The point is,” David said, “Krugg’s seat is now open.” He leaned over and pointed at the news story on the tablet. “They’re going to hold a special election in three weeks so the winner can serve the full term. And I’m going to run.”

James glanced over. “You’re going to run? Isn’t this one of those things where spouses have a discussion about the pros and cons?”

“We’re discussing it now,” David said.

“You bounding into the kitchen and saying ‘I’m going to run,’ while I’m eating breakfast doesn’t actually constitute a discussion, you know,” James said. “It’s the opening scene of a situation comedy.” He slurped his coffee.

“Do you object to me running?” David said.

“No—” James began.

“Well, then,” David said.

“But I think we need to have an expectations management discussion,” James finished. “Because, my love, you have no chance of winning.”

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” David said.

“No?” James said. “Tell me. Which city council district do we live in?”

“The third,” David said.

“And what do we know about the demographics of the third district?” James asked.

“It’s a human-minority district,” David said. “I know—”

James held up his hand. “How long has it been since a human councilperson held the third district seat?”

“It’s been a few election cycles,” David admitted.

“A few?” James asked.

David threw up his hands. “Fine. It’s been forty-four years,” he said.

“And, since I know you’ll know this, because it’s the sort of political geek you are,” James said, “how long has it been since a human even ran for the third district seat?”

“Thirty-six years,” David said.

“So you weren’t even alive the last time it happened,” James said.

“I’ll be thirty-six in five weeks,” David said.

There’s a relevant bit of information,” James said, and slurped some more coffee.

“So you think I shouldn’t run,” David said, after a second.

“I think it’s fine if you run,” James said, setting down his mug. “You’ve been wanting to get elected to public office for as long as I’ve known you. God knows why, but you do. I just want you to go into this with the understanding that the term ‘underdog,’ probably overstates your chances. You’re more like an ‘underamoeba.’ And I need you to know this because you’re intolerable when you lose.”

“That’s not true,” David said.

“Student body treasurer race,” James said.

“Oh, come on,” David said. “Totally not fair. That was fifteen years ago. I was twenty.”

“And you almost didn’t make it to twenty-one, because I swear to God I was going to smother you with a pillow,” James said. “You don’t know how close your mopey ass came to death.”

“That election was poorly run, anyway,” David said. “I know some of the fraternities voted twice.”

“Tell me you do hear the words that are coming out of your mouth right now,” James said.

“All right, fine,” David said, and held out his right hand. “I, David Sawyer, do solemnly swear not to be a pain in the ass if I lose this election.”

“‘When I lose this election,’” James said.

“I could win, you know,” David said.

“Say it,” James said.

David sighed. “When I lose this election. There, I’ve said it.”

“Thank you,” James said, and reached for his coffee again.

“I could use a campaign manager,” David said.

“Student body treasurer race,” James said.

“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you,” David said.

“Not if we live to a hundred,” James said, and finished his coffee.


“I’m here to file my candidacy for the third district council seat,” David said, pushing the paperwork, the filing fee and the hundred required signatures at the city hall clerk.

The clerk blinked at least two of her eyes at this. “The third district,” she said.

“That’s right,” David said, and smiled.

“You live there,” she said. “You live there and actually look around at the people on the street who live there with you.”

“I do,” David said, and tapped the papers. “Everything’s in order.”

The clerk glanced down at the small pile David provided her, looked back up at David, and then did what David supposed was the equivalent of a shrug. “All right,” she said, taking the papers. “We’ll take a look at these today. If you don’t hear from us by noon tomorrow, you can assume there are no issues and you can begin campaigning. There will be a candidate’s debate here at City Hall in two weeks; if you haven’t dropped out of the race by then you may participate. We’ll mail you all the details. Do you have a campaign manager?”

David glanced back at James, who had accompanied him to the clerk’s office. The two of them were the only people in the office other than the clerk and another woman at a side desk, filling out a form. “I’m still putting together my team,” he said, turning back to the clerk.

“Uh-huh,” the clerk said. “Well, if you get one, let us know so we can forward the debate information to them, too.”

“Has anyone else declared yet?” David asked. Behind him he heard the door of the office open.

“Three so far, plus you,” the clerk said. “We’ll probably get at least one more. Anything else, Mr. Sawyer?”

“No, I think that’s it,” David said.

“Then good luck,” the clerk said.

“Thank you,” David said. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to live in the third district, would you?”

The clerk rolled at least three of her eyes. “Oh, honey,” she said. “Don’t.”

“Fair enough,” David said, holding his hands up. He backed away from the clerk’s station, stepping on something squishy as he did so. He turned around to see a large pink gelatinous mass, holding a briefcase. David was stepping on one of the gelatin’s pseudopods.

“Whoops,” David said, and moved his foot.

From the inside the gelatin at mass of bubbles formed, rising to the surface to make a series of pops and squeaks that sounded suspiciously like language.

“I’m sorry,” David said. “I don’t speak…” he almost said I don’t speak bubble, but stopped himself in time.

“He’s asking if he heard correctly that you are running for the third district seat,” said the woman at the side desk.

“Oh!” David said. “Yes, I am. I’m David Sawyer.” He held out his hand to the gelatin. “If you live in the third district I hope you’ll consider me for your vote.”

The gelatin did not take his hand and instead snapped out another series of bubbles. David looked over to the woman again. “Could I get you to translate again?” he asked.

The woman set down the pen she was using and walked over to David and the gelatin. “He’s saying that he won’t be voting for you because he’s running against you.” More bubbles. “He also says that you are foolish to consider running in the third when it’s obvious you don’t know much about the district.”

“Hey, now,” David said. “There are at least a dozen languages spoken in the third. Not knowing his doesn’t mean I don’t know the district.”

“I think he’s suggesting that you should know who he is,” the woman said. By this time the gelatin had oozed around David and piled himself up at the clerk’s desk. He opened his briefcase and got out his filing papers.

“Who is he?” David asked.

“That’s Touie Touie,” the woman said. “He’s been Councilman Krugg’s chief of staff for the last fifteen years.”

“Who are you?” David asked.

“I’m Latasha Jenkins,” she said. “I’m a grad student in xenorelations at the university.” She pointed at Touie. “I’m here to apply for an internship in his office.”

“He’s not councilman yet,” David said.

“In fact he is,” Latasha said. “The mayor made him acting councilman today, pending the election. And he’s the odds-on favorite in the election. He’s already got the endorsement of the mayor and the three other council members. You should actually know this. I know this, and I’m just applying for an internship.”

“I can do better than an internship,” David said. “You say you know what’s going on. Okay. I agree. So how about you becoming my campaign manager?”

“You don’t have one?” Latasha said.

“I’m still putting together my team,” David said. “It’s a real grassroots effort.”

“There’s a euphemism for it,” Latasha said. “You’re aware that there hasn’t been a human councilperson in the third for half a century, right?”

“Actually, it’s only been forty four years,” David said.

“Right,” Latasha said. “You know, I think I’m going to go back and finish my internship application now. Nice to meet you.” She turned to go but then Touie Touie had oozed back up to the two of them, and was popping off a new series of bubbles.

“I was just telling him how I was applying for an internship to your office,” Latasha said, to Touie. This precipitated more bubbles.

“What’s he saying?” David asked.

“Quiet,” Latasha said and turned her attention back to Touie. After a bit she nodded. Touie oozed out the door.

“What was that about?” David asked.

“Okay, I’ll be your campaign manager,” Latasha said.

“Wait,” David said. “What? I thought you were applying for an internship.”

“Mr. Touie said that he’s putting the internship positions on hold until after the special election,” Latasha said. “He said it wouldn’t be fair for whoever won to be given interns selected by a different staff. So now I have some free time on my hands, and I still need to do some sort of community service for my masters’ program. You’re running in the third district, so it’s possible you’ll qualify.”

“I can’t really pay you,” David said.

“Yeah, I got that vibe from you already,” Latasha said. “Look, once I clear it with my program, just give me a document attesting to my community service and we’ll be fine. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” David said, and held out his hand. Latasha shook it, and then let out a whoof of air as David dragged her over to where James was sitting, reading a book.

“Look, James,” he said. “Our new campaign manager.”

James looked up from his book to Latasha. “I apologize in advance for the next three weeks,” James said to her.

Latasha grinned. “You part of the campaign?” she asked.

“It’s worse than that,” James said. “I’m the husband.”

“Oh, no,” Latasha said.

“Stop it, both of you,” David said, and then turned to Latasha. “So what should we do first?”

“The first thing we do is go back to the clerk and get as much voter information as we can,” Latasha said. “Because I can tell we’re going to need it.”


“Okay, now, whose door is this?” Latasha asked.

“It’s the door of Norsen Hurken,” David said, impatiently. He was bundled up against the cold and was holding flyers and stickers in his hands.

“And she’s a what?” Latasha asked.

“A Gherkin,” David said.

“No,” Latasha said. “A gherkin is a tiny pickle. She’s a Hegurchin. These are two separate things.”

“You know, it might be cold, but my frozen ears can still register sarcasm,” David said.

“You hired me to be your campaign manager,” Latasha reminded him. “Part of my job is to give you information which will help you make your case to voters. Part of your job is to actually listen to me. For example, when you talk to a Hegurchin—”

“I’m kind of freezing out here,” David said. “I’d really like not to have to go over stuff we’ve already gone over in the warm, out here in the cold. Instead, I’d like to go talk to these voters so that I can get back to my house some time before frostbite sets in.”

Latasha glanced over to James, standing slightly off to one side. He shrugged. “Okay,” Latasha said. “Remember, the name here is Norsen Hurken. You can also call her Ms. Norsen. Go get ‘em, killer.” She thumped David on the back in encouragement as he walked toward the door.

“So, what critical piece of information is he missing about Hegurchins?” James asked, as David walked up the porch stairs.

“Wait for it,” Latasha said.

From their vantage point, they watched as David rang the doorbell and a tall creature with an array of facial tentacles opened the door. There the low murmur of David’s voice, followed by an undulating cry from the creature. The face tentacles extended straight out and then wrapped around David’s head, pulling him into an intimate embrace.

“Oh, nice,” James said. Latasha smiled.

Two minutes later David stomped his way back to his campaign manager. “I was not informed there would be suckers,” he said, accusingly.

“Well, you seemed to be in a hurry,” Latasha said, mildly. “Wanting to get in out of the cold and all.”

“I get it,” David said. “Point taken.”

“I think those suckers gave you a rash,” James said, looking at David’s face.

“Don’t you start,” David said, and then touched his face where the suckers had landed.

“Do you want me to tell you about the Svorszens?” Latasha said. “They’re Cmuufs. They’re next on the list.”

“Do Cmuufs have suckers?” David asked.

“Not unless they’ve had some really interesting grafts,” Latasha said.

The Svorszens were graft-free, and appeared delighted—inasmuch as their faces could register any sort of emotion at all—to meet David. “Finally, someone who might actually do something about the aliens,” said Mrs. Svorszen.

“The aliens,” David said, face carefully blank.

“Yes, the aliens,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “They’re ruining the neighborhood.”

“What a mess,” Mr. Svorszen said. “Their spawn run around everywhere.”

“They make these noises like you wouldn’t believe,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “Keep us up half the night.”

“Don’t forget the smells,” Mr. Svorszen said.

“Oh, God, the smells,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “They say it’s just their cooking. And I say to myself, I don’t make you smell what I cook for dinner. Close your damn windows.”

“But this is what happens when you let anyone live anywhere,” Mr. Svorszen said.

“I don’t even think they’re in the country legally,” Mrs. Svorszen said.

“We complained to Councilman Krugg about it, but he said some nonsense about plurality and everyone making everyone else welcome,” Mr. Svorszen said. “And I said, sure. But you have to draw the line somewhere.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “You start letting everyone in and then it’s a slide into chaos. We’ve lived here in the third district all our lives and it’s never been this bad.”

“You have to have standards,” Mr. Svorszen said.

“We’re not bigots,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “We just think they should go back to live with their own kind.”

“In Canada,” Mr. Svorszen said.

“Canada,” David said, after a moment.

“Yes,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “That’s where they said they were from.” She turned to her husband. “Calgary is in Canada still.”

“Far as I know,” Mr. Svorszen said.

“They have a whole country to let their spawn run around in, and to make noise in, and to cook horrible things in,” Mrs. Svorszen said. “I don’t see why they need to do it here. Tell us you’ll work on this problem, and you’ve got our vote.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” David said.

“Wonderful,” Mr. Svorszen said. “We’ll take a sticker.”

“Wow, that jammed the cheap irony meter right into the red,” James said, after the Svorszens had closed their door. After the incident at the Norsen house David had insisted James and Latasha be within tentacle range at all future stops.

“I can’t believe I promised to investigate Canadians,” David said. “I didn’t mean to say that. It just sort of came out.”

“Welcome to politics,” Latasha said, looking at her papers. “I would expect they’re talking about the Andersens. They live two doors down.”

“And to be fair, I do think I smell cabbage,” James said.

“Should we go back to your house for some torches?” Latasha asked.

“Can we just keep moving, please?” David asked, plaintively.

At the next house, a small and mousy Blidden named Fuin Suh answered the door.

“Hello,” David said. “I’m David Sawyer, and I’m running for the third district council seat. Can I talk to you about my platform?”

“Oh, yes, please,” said Fuin. “And I will also talk to you. About your soul. And how it is forfeit to the spears of the Penetrating Gods.”

“I’m sorry,” David said. “I’m not a follower of your religion.”

“That’s the best part!” Fuin said. “You don’t have to be! You’ll still be impaled! Isn’t it wonderful. Come in, come in.” Fuin looked past David to James and Latasha. “You don’t mind if I borrow this nice young man for a few moments, do you?”

“Will we get him back unimpaled?” James asked.

“At this time, yes,” Fuin said.

“Then by all means,” James said.

“I couldn’t possibly come in without my friends,” David said.

“Don’t be silly,” Latasha said. “This is a special moment for you and a constituent. We’ll just wait here on the porch. You have fun now.”

I hate you both, David mouthed silently as Fuin took his hand and pulled him into the house.

“This is a lot more fun than I was expecting,” James said, to Latasha, as the door closed.


“Well, the local news just did a poll,” Latasha said, walking up to David, who was descending from the city hall stage where the evening’s debate would be held. The hall was beginning to fill up voters, press and political lackeys.

“Tell me I’m not in last place,” David said. He sounded tired, because he was. Two weeks of walking the district for votes had worn him out.

“You are in fact not in last place,” Latasha said. “Of the five candidates for the third district council seat, you are fourth. You are two tenths of a percentage point ahead of Nukka Farn Mu.”

“Remind me which one he is again,” David said.

“He’s the one whose entire platform is that we should be allowed to eat our neighbors’ pets,” Latasha said.

David rubbed his forehead. “So after two weeks I’m just barely ahead of the pet-eater,” he said.

“Yes,” Latasha said. “Although in the interests of complete honesty I have to tell you that the poll has a three percent margin of error.”

“So it’s possible I could actually be two point eight percentage points behind him,” David said.

“Well, no,” Latasha said. “You’ve only got one point six percent of the vote.”

“How the hell did he get the hundred signatures to get on the ballot, anyway?” David asked.

“How did you?” Latasha asked.

“I gave away cookies in front of the supermarket,” David said.

“Maybe he did the same thing,” Latasha said. “Just with cat jerky.”

“There’s something wrong with you,” David said, to Latasha.

“Look,” Latasha said, nodding toward the door. “Here comes Touie Touie.” The two of them watched as the interim councilman sludged his way toward the stage, followed by an entourage.

“Dare I ask what his poll numbers are?” David said.

“Ninety percent,” Latasha said. “Although remember they could in reality be as low as eighty-seven percent.”

“I think I need a nap,” David said.

“No time,” Latasha said. “The other thing I need to tell you is that I now have the notes for the debate. The moderator is going to introduce you all and each of you is going to have a minute for your opening statements, followed by questions from the moderator, for which you will again each have one minute. For the introductory statement, they’ll be going from right to left on stage, which means you’ll be going fourth.”

“Are we going by poll rankings?” David asked, bitterly.

“No, they’re putting you between the two Lideh candidates,” Latasha said. “They’re sisters, and apparently they hate each others’ guts. I think they’re hoping that by putting you between them you’ll keep them from having a brawl on the stage.”

“Any idea why they hate each other?” David asked.

“Sibling rivalry needs a reason?” Latasha said. “Don’t you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No,” David said.

“When I was twelve, I cut the brakes on my sister’s bike on her birthday,” Latasha said. “And she deserved it.”

“I’m not sure I need to know this,” David said.

“The irony was that our parents got her a new bike for her birthday and gave me her old bike as a hand-me-down,” Latasha said. “And then they wanted to go for a family ride together. I plowed right into a parked car as I came down off a hill. Broke my arm in three places. Trini laughed her ass off at that.”

“Latasha,” David said.

“I got her back, though,” Latasha said. “Believe that.”

“I think I want you to resign,” David said. “You’re beginning to make me nervous.”

“Don’t be silly, that was years ago,” Latasha said. “My point was that even they probably don’t know why they hate each other. They just do. So you get to be the heat sink between them. It’ll be fine. Now, you remember what you’re not going to talk about in your introductory statement?”

“I won’t talk about being a human in the race,” David said.

“And you’re not going to talk about it because?” Latasha asked.

“It’s not relevant to being able to represent the people of the third district and to bring them the services and care they deserve and should expect. And so on,” David said.

“Very good,” Latasha said.

“Your sister is dead now, isn’t she?” David asked.

“It looks like they’re trying to get all the candidates together,” Latasha said. “Good luck up there. James and I will see you after.”

Twenty minutes later the candidates were standing behind their podiums and the moderator, a local newscaster, prompted them to begin their opening statements.

Touie Touie went first. “To begin, the most recent census of the third district tells me that almost a hundred different languages and dialects are spoken here,” he said, bubbles forming a pure, unaccented brand of English which made David think back to their first meeting and become annoyed. “I’m not sure I can say hello in all of those, but let me try.” Touie’s internal structure went momentarily opaque as a spray of tiny bubbles formed. When they surfaced, each formed a greeting in a separate tongue.

The audience was charmed and amazed, and broke into applause.

Show off, David thought to himself, as Touie finished with the rest of his opening statement.

Nukka Farn Mu went next.

“People of the third district, I will not lie to you,” Nukka Farn Mu said to the audience, baring his sharp, cruel teeth as he did so. “Your pets are delicious to me. I have tasted them. Oh, yes, I have. I resent the local, state and federal laws that do not allow me to prey upon them as I will—or would allow you to do the same to my pets, if I had them, which I do not, because I would have eaten them by now. In the land of my forefathers, the idea that animals as delicious as pets would be kept as companions would be met with derision. I wish to bring that wisdom to this, our common land. If you elect me, I will do everything in my power to make this mighty dream a reality. All other considerations bow before this sacred task. I look forward to the day when we all—every race, every people—feast together on these delicious animals known as pets. Thank you.”

The applause this time was sparse and highly scattered.

The first of the two Lideh candidates, named Ersi snaErvi, spoke next.

“People of the third district, if you elect me, I will do my best to be responsive to your needs, and to be a good and dedicated public servant,” she said. “But even if you do not elect me, I implore you from the bottom of my heart not to elect my sister, Resi snaErvi. She is evil of the sort you have not known before. And worse than evil, she is incompetent! To elect her would be to cut your wrists and jump into a tank filled with sharks, and only as your entrails were shredded and your life snatched from you would you recognize the folly of your action. Please, I beg of you: Vote for anyone other than my sister, the unspeakable Resi snaErvi. Thank you.”

David prepared to make his statement.

“This is outrageous,” said Resi snaErvi. “I realize it is not yet my time to speak, but I cannot let this slander go unanswered a moment longer.”

“Do you see, people of the third district?” cried Ersi snaErvi. “Already she breaks the rules. Already she trods upon the rights of others!” She looked at David and held out a twiglike appendage. “Human, I apologize to you on behalf of my inconsiderate and terrible sister.”

“Uh,” David said.

“No, human, it is I who must apologize for my sister,” Resi snaErvi said. “The filth of her lies already infects your ears, and only the soothing balm of truth will ease the burning.”

“I just have a few notes here,” David said, pointing to his cue cards.

“And here is the truth!” Resi snaErvi said. “My sister is unwell. She has been unwell for years. And more than unwell, she is jealous! Of me! Her own sister. For many years I have tried to ignore it and to love her—”

“Love me!” Ersi snaErvi spat. “You mean, love my intended gene-bond, whom you tricked into mating with you, you pustule of filth!”

“—but as you can see her irrationality precludes such a possibility,” Resi snaErvi continued. “Why, do you know the only reason she announced as a candidate was to run against me? She has no platform. She is as ignorant as a bug.”

“Please,” David said. “Let me just—” His next words were muffled as a large jet of oily brown effluvia ejected from the body of Ersi snaErvi and smacked him on the side of the face, on the way to splash Resi snaErvi across her abdomen. Resi snaErvi screeched an unholy screech and shot out her own gout of effluvia, coating the other side of David’s face while the majority of the spray shot across to stage to drench her sister. The two Lideh then lunged toward each other, making David the confused and disoriented filling of a scratching and clawing sandwich of hate.

From the audience came sounds of both terror and delight. David had just enough time to register both, and another jet of effluvia smacking against him, before losing consciousness.


“The video is up to four million hits,” James said, pointing to the screen, where David was once again being spritzed by Lideh bodily fluids. “And it’s not even been a full day yet.”

“Wonderful,” David said, from a supine position on the couch. His tablet buzzed; it was a reporter from the New York Times. David groaned and turned off the tablet.

“When you add that to the news networks, I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t seen the video by now,” James said. “In a way you’re part of the biggest political story in the world.”

“The part that gets his ass kicked for standing in the wrong place,” David said.

“It’s true you’re the comedy relief in this scenario,” James said.

“It’s not what I ran for office to be,” David said.

“At least it’s not about anything you did,” James said, and nodded back to the video. “Look at those two. They made complete asses of themselves in front of an entire planet. And now they’re in jail and they’ve both withdrawn from the race. Overall, this video is good for you. If nothing else you look reasonable by comparison.”

“So you’re saying I’ll ride to victory on the pity vote,” David said.

“I don’t know about victory,” James said. “But you could ride it to second place, which is a lot better than I would have expected yesterday.”

“Thank you for your inspiring words,” David said. He took the pillow behind his back and used it to smother his face.

“Remember I’ll still love you even when you lose,” James said. “That is, as long as you remember not to be an insufferable twit about it.”

David’s reply was muffled into the pillow.

The door opened and Latasha burst through. “Guys,” she said. “Local news. Turn it on now.”

“What’s going on?” James asked.

Latasha grabbed the remote and tuned it to the local news channel. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said. James got her attention and directed it to David, who still had the pillow over his face. She snatched the pillow off David’s head and then smacked him with it. “Pay attention,” she said, and pointed to the monitor. On it was a video of Touie Touie, at a podium.

“What’s he doing?” David asked.

“He’s quitting the race,” Latasha said.

“Bullshit,” David said.

Latasha shook her head. “Not bullshit. Local news found evidence that he’s been running a graft scheme. He’s been asexually budding and having the younger versions of himself bid for city contracts. Then he was bribing his dearly-departed boss to lobby the other council members and the mayor to vote his way. The moderator was going to drop the bombshell on him at last night’s debate, but then your thing happened. So they just broke it a couple of hours ago, and this is his reaction.” She turned up the volume.

“…And so it becomes necessary for me to step down from the council race in order to devote my full attention to fighting these baseless and outrageous accusations against myself and my bud-clones,” Touie was saying. “I’m certain we will all be vindicated, and when we are you can bet I’ll be back to fight for the citizens of the third district—” Latasha muted the sound.

“Holy shit,” James said, after a long minute. “You know what this means.”

“Hold that thought,” Latasha said, and reached into her purse. She took out a piece of paper and a pen, and handed both to David. “Sign this, please,” she said.

David took the paper. “What is it?”

“It’s you telling my Masters’ program that I’ve fulfilled all my community service requirements, so they can give me my credits,” Latasha said.

David signed the paper and gave it back to Latasha. “Thank you,” she said, and then turned back to James. “You were about to say that it means that David will actually win the election. But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”

“Wait, what?” David said. “You think I’m going to lose to Nukka Farn Mu? The guy who wants to eat pets?”

“It’s a very strong possibility,” Latasha said.

“The guy whose only campaign position is to eat pets,” David said.

“Yes,” Latasha said.

“Pet smorgasbord man,” David said.

Latasha sighed. “Look, David,” she said. “I have friends in other city hall offices. In other city council offices. And they’re telling me that the mayor and the other council members are very seriously considering endorsing Nukka Farn Mu. The superficial reason is that the third district is the only district in the city in which a non-human is likely to win a seat on the council, and it looks good for the city to have that.”

“But all he wants to do is eat pets,” David said. “I know I sound like I’m unusually focused on this point, but I do think it’s relevant.”

“And that’s the real reason they want him on the council,” Latasha said. “The rest of the council doesn’t actually care about interspecies diversity, David. Don’t be naïve. They want someone on the city council they can use. Let’s say the mayor and the rest of the council go to Nukka Farn Mu and say, we will pass a resolution funding a feasibility study on the subject of pet consumption, and all you have to do is promise your thumbs-up on certain key votes. Nukka Farn Mu is happy because he’ll get what he wants, and the city council is happy because they get what they want. Then four years from now, when Touie Touie’s beaten the rap, he’ll take over the third district seat, and everything’s back to normal. The only one who loses in this scenario is you.”

“And the pets,” James said.

Latasha glanced at him briefly then turned her attention back to David. “My point is that the fix is already in. Before, when Touie was running, there wasn’t anything anyone could have done about it. But now there’s actually a chance to have someone in the office who isn’t completely corrupt. That’s you, David. You have a chance to do some good. It’s just a matter of getting you in there.” She reached into her purse and brought out a folded piece of paper.

“I already signed that,” David said.

“It’s a different paper, you moron,” Latasha said. “Really. After all the nice things I just said about you. Take it and read it.”

David took it and read it. “This says you’re resigning as my campaign manager,” he said.

“I am,” Latasha said. “David, when I became your campaign manager it wasn’t because I actually wanted to be your campaign manager. It was because Touie Touie told me that if I became your campaign manager, after everything was done he’d give me an internship in his office. He said he didn’t think he’d have any serious competition for the seat, but that if he did, having you in there to peel off the human vote would probably work in his favor. So he wanted to be sure you ran a halfway credible campaign.”

“You just said he was a crook,” David said. “Why would you want to work for him?”

“He was a crook who couldn’t lose,” Latasha said. “And I thought I needed that internship. But it turns out running your campaign satisfies my program requirements just fine. And I have deep philosophical problems with Nukka Farn Mu, not in the least because I have two cats.”

“That’s a very interesting moral compass you have there,” James said.

“I’m not going to argue that point,” Latasha said. “And now you know why I had David sign my program requirement letter first. On the other hand, that moral compass of mine is about to give you a boost.” She nodded to the resignation letter. “Everything I just told you is in that letter, and I also talk about why the mayor and the council are planning to endorse Nukka Farn Mu. They’ll deny it, of course, but it will be enough to keep them from publicly endorsing him. Which is enough to keep you in the race through this next Tuesday.”

“What if I refuse to make this resignation letter public?” David said. “Maybe I want to see if I can win on my own. I’d like to think I can beat a pet-eater.”

Latasha looked over at James. “Hey, don’t look at me for help,” James said, to her. “I love the guy for his clueless gumption.”

Latasha smiled at this. “That’s an admirable thought, David, and I appreciate your faith in yourself. But, yeah, you’d get slaughtered,” she said. “So I went ahead and took the precaution of mailing copies of that resignation letter to local and national news. Thanks to your adventure last night, this race is big news, and this will keep it in the spotlight a little bit longer. That’ll be good for you. And I’ll spin it so it’s good for me, too.” She glanced over to David’s blank tablet. “So I’d turn that on soon, if I were you.”

“I don’t know what to say to you right now,” David said, to Latasha.

“I understand,” she said. “If you figure out what to say later, let me know. But either way, you’re welcome. And good luck, David.” She left the house.

After several minutes of silence David reached over and turned on the tablet. It started buzzing immediately.


“I just want to tell you good luck again,” Fuin Suh said, to David, at the election night party at his house. “After you came to speak to me, I went and told all the parishioners at The Church of the Penetrating Gods. We all voted for you.”

“How lovely,” James said, standing next to David, who was too tense to be pleasant. “And how many parishioners might that be?”

“About a hundred,” Fuin said. “It’s all very exciting!”

“Isn’t it, though,” James said, and shook Fuin’s hand. “Thanks again for coming to the party. Please, enjoy yourself. And try the fruit skewers. I think you’ll like them.”

“Oooh, fruit skewers,” Fuin said, and wandered off.

“Your election party will go off better if you actually speak to people,” James said, to David. “It’s just a suggestion.”

“If I talk too much I think I might throw up,” David said.

“Oh, relax,” James said. “You’re not going to throw up.”

“Student body treasurer race,” David said, tightly.

“Okay, point,” James said, and maneuvered his husband to the sofa. “Here, you sit. I will get you a drink. Maybe two. Maybe five.”

“Great,” David said. “Nothing like being tense and drunk at the same time.”

“The first results are in!” Someone said, near the monitor.

“Make it a dozen,” David called to James.

At eight o’clock Nukka Farn Mu led David by eight hundred votes.

At nine o’clock Nukka Farn Mu had pulled away to 1,100 votes up.

“I’m going to go hide the cat,” James said.

“We don’t have a cat,” David said.

“Good God, Nukka Farn Mu’s reign of terror has already begun,” James exclaimed.

“You’re not helping,” David said.

At ten o’clock Nukka Farn Mu’s lead had dropped to five hundred votes.

At eleven o’clock it was down to two hundred.

At midnight David was up by three.

At one o’clock, with all the votes counted, David had won by 105.

“I told you we all voted for you!” Fuin Suh said, around her tenth fruit skewer, as the balloons finally fell.

“So you did,” James said. “Bless you.” Fuin smiled and hopped off to celebrate with her friends.

“I don’t believe it,” David said. “It actually happened. I actually pulled it off.”

“You sure did,” James said.

“Now what do I do?” David said. His tablet buzzed; the incoming call was from Nukka Farn Mu.

“Start by taking that concession call,” James said. “Then give an acceptance speech. Then tell everyone to get out of the house because it’s late. Figure the rest out later.” He gave his hubby a peck on the cheek and then wandered into the crowd to mingle.

David wondered just a moment at everything that happened over the last three weeks, shook his head in disbelief, and took the call from Nukka Farn Mu. “Hello, this is David Sawyer,” he said.

“You may think this is over, but it’s not,” growled Nukka Farn Mu. “I demand a recount.”

David smiled at this. This is going to be a whole new kind of fun, he thought. I think I’ll like it.

“Bring it, pet snacker,” David said, and hung up.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this story — and that if you live in the US that you will remember to vote!

Subterranean Press is also proud to have published several works by John Scalzi, currently available for purchase in limited, trade print and electronic editions. Click on the links below to learn more about Scalzi’s work available through Subterranean Press:

The Sagan Diary

The God Engines

The Last Colony

Judge Sn Goes Golfing

Zoe’s Tale (preorder)


A Short Fiction Experiment

We’re going to try something interesting here today, and I want to give you a little context for it.

Not too long ago, I wrote a short story that I wanted to time for release for the US election. After I wrote it, I sent it over to Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press, because a) I thought he would like it, b) Subterranean Press pays quite well for short fiction (well above the SFWA minimum professional rate), c) and it sends payment fast. All of these things happened, which of course makes me happy.

After I sold the story to Bill, I assumed he would post it at the Subterranean Press Web site, where he usually posts the fiction he buys from me and from others. But instead, Bill sent me a note asking to try an experiment: He wanted to post the story here on Whatever and in the story post a couple of advertisements for new SubPress eBooks he wanted to promote. How would I feel about it?

I thought it would be interesting to try. I don’t typically run advertisements on Whatever, because on a day-to-day basis I don’t have the need to. But obviously Subterranean Press is a company I have a relationship with, they’re promoting works and authors I like, and I feel the company’s ethic regarding writers (pay well and pay quickly) is one well worth supporting. In terms of the advertisements in the story, I have control over what ads are placed and how they show up. And beyond that, the idea of getting paid to post one of my own stories on my own site appeals to me on several different levels. So I said yes.

And so today — just about a minute after I post this intro, in fact — you’ll see on Whatever a short story, by me, presented by Subterranean Press. The story will have a couple of ads in it, for SubPress books I like and I hope you’ll check out. Enjoy the story, check out the books and if you have any thoughts about this experiment, by all means let me know in this thread or in e-mail. Thanks.

Update, 11/2/10: Here’s the story.

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