A Special Note to Canadians, For Whom It is Not Thanksgiving, Re: Signed Books

Hello, Canadians! While the US is away from the computer today, contemplating gravy, I thought I would let you know that whilst I was in Canada last week, I signed Bakka Phoenix Book’s entire stock of John Scalzi books, which includes representative samples of all of my Tor Books releases. So if you were thinking it would be nice to get a family member (or yourself!) a signed Scalzi book, all you need to do is contact Bakka Phoenix and make it happen in reality. That said, even though I signed every Scalzi book they have, quantities are limited, so if it’s something you want, I would hurry.

And hey: Happy Thursday!

Lopsided Cat Establishes His Dominance

Look, it’s not like he has anything against the lamp. But the lamp was where he wanted to nap. The lamp had to go.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Twenty Three: Friends

My oldest friend who I still know and stay in contact with is Kyle Brodie, whom I met in the second grade. We hit it off on the first day, not in class but on the bus ride home. We started having a conversation and we both found each other so mutually clever that we just knew we were totally going to be best friends. And we were, until he moved away, as people do. But we kept in touch here and there and have genuinely reconnected again in the last couple of years; he’s still as clever as ever and I’m delighted that 34 years ago I made the right decision to be his friend (and he to be mine).

The newest friend I have I made this last weekend; it’s Adrienne Kress, an author I met at SFContario 2 in Toronto, and much like Kyle in second grade, it was her humor and cleverness in conversation that made me feel like I could have a connection with her, and encouraged me to spend time with her over the course of the convention. It is of course far too early to know if this enjoyment of her company and liking her as a person is going to mean I’ll be friends with her as long as I’ve been with Kyle, and honestly, it would be totally unfair of me (as well as possibly creepy for her) if I had that expectation. And you know what? I don’t. We’ll see how it goes. But in the meantime, I’ll consider her a friend, and happily so.

In between Kyle and Adrienne are some hundreds of people over the course of my life with whom I have been fortunate enough to be friends, to a greater or lesser extent.

“Friend” is an imprecise term, mind you. Classifying someone as a “friend” is a little like classifying them as a “mammal” — it’s probably correct but it doesn’t actually tell you much. There are all sorts of different types of friends, from the sort of friend barely above the level of casual acquaintance to the sort of friend who, when they call and say “I have a problem, bring a shovel,” you bring a shovel and deal with the problem without so much as a second thought. The taxonomy of friendship is exhaustive and even then doesn’t take into consideration that nearly all friendships are in motion. Your best friend in sixth grade may be someone to whom you barely speak anymore, for no other reason than life happens. The person with whom you shared mostly only a friendly passing relationship for years may unexpectedly become one of your most important friends. Friends you may see in real life only once a year — if that — may share a bond with you of surprising warmth. Time and circumstance and the fact we are ourselves always changing means our friendships are always changing too. New ones are added. Old ones trail away. Sometimes they return. Sometimes they don’t.

It’s not easy to define what a “friend” is in any event. There’s a joking definition which gets somewhere in the neighborhood: “a friend is someone who knows the real you and likes you anyway.” I think it might be more accurate to say that that a friend is someone that helps you to be the person you are, and likes you anyway. But even that doesn’t get to it completely. I mean, hell, I have some friends that sometimes I don’t even like very much. That doesn’t stop them from being my friend, and sometimes even some of the best of my friends. It’s tempting to throw up one’s hands and classify friendship in the same way Potter Stewart defined pornography: Hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Nevertheless, I’ll strive for a simple definition. I think at the end of the day, a friend is someone you emotionally want in your life, who wants you emotionally in theirs. Why do you want them in your life, and they in yours, and how much in it for both? That’s something for the two of you to work out, and when you can’t figure it out, or sometimes you end up wanting different things, that’s when the friendship changes or ends. It’s also possible that your friendship is not mutually graded: You may feel an intense attachment to a friend who feels less intensely about you, and vice-versa. This can sometimes lead to problems. And finally friendship is two people dealing with each other, and you know how people are. Sometimes no matter how much you want to be friends with someone, or how much other people think you should be friends (or on occasion how much you would like to be friends for the sake of a mutual friend), it just doesn’t work. Friendship isn’t actually easy. People aren’t easy.

But the reward is that you get to have friends. You have the people to whom you may vent, with whom you can laugh, who will support you when you need it and for whom you may be a shelter. People who are, as is often said, the “family of choice” — those with whom you may stand and face what the world sends your way. People who are a part of you, have helped you become you, and who might be a part of who you are moving forward.

I have been genuinely blessed with friendships of all sorts and have been thankful them all, from the most casual friendships to the ones that have lasted and grown all through my life. For each of these and in their way, I have tried to be a good friend in return, and worry that I haven’t been. I can be oddly bad at connection; e-mails slip past me, calls turn into week-long bouts of phone tag, I get wrapped up in my own head and I wander about in otherwise oblivious ways. Even friends who I consider to be best friends I can be out of communication with for months at a time. So I am likewise thankful that when I do once again get in contact, they are gracious to me and still friends. It means a lot to me, more than I can easily express here.

So, my friends: Thank you, each of you and all of you, from the ones I have known all my life to the ones I am just meeting. It’s a good life with you in it. I hope your life is better for me being in yours.

In Which I Make My First Presidential Campaign Contribution of the Election

To whom? you ask. Or maybe you don’t, as you naturally assume I will spend money on the candidate I expect to support in the general election. In which case you’d be wrong: I just sent $50 to Jon Huntsman, who is aiming for the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

Why? Because while I am at this point highly unlikely to vote for a Republican for president in the general election, the simple fact of the matter is that for the health of the US body politic, I would prefer the GOP nominate someone who is not completely batshit insane, either personally or in their policies (or both). Jon Huntsman does not strike me as completely batshit insane. Indeed, he strikes me as kind of the opposite, which is positively refreshing in the GOP field as it is currently constituted. I’ve noted before I have serious political issues with the man, but his track record in politics suggests to me that this is a guy who doesn’t inherently see people with other views as enemies to be nuked until they glow.

Mind you, if I wanted to be completely Machiavellian about it, I would have sent my $50 to Newt Gingrich, a man who confuses his inability not to say whatever entirely appalling bit of self-pleasuring wonkery that pops into his head at any one moment with being a sober and serious generator of statecraft, and who is unfathomably at the top of the GOP polls right now. The idea of the President being paired off against such a malevolent doughboy must fill Obama’s political strategists with glee.

However, I don’t want that. What I would actually like is two candidates I don’t see as entirely unfit for office (note I say “I” here — I’m not particularly interested if you agree with my assessment) go and have a presidential campaign that doesn’t make me feel like it’s being waged at the level of two second-graders sticking their tongues out at each other and talking to me like I jammed a cake mixer into my brain and clicked it over to the “high” setting. I figure a Huntsman/Obama election race is my best chance for a campaign that does not actively make my country stupider, either before or after the election.

If I believe it, I should probably support it. And so: $50 to Huntsman. If my contribution keeps the man in the race incrementally longer, bettering his admittedly terribly long odds of making it through the primary season, then good on me, I suppose. I don’t imagine this strategy of mine will make Democrats/liberals/Obama supporters happy, but you know what, if the feeling on the Obama side of things is that the only way he can win is against a foamy, ignorant ideologue whose election would almost certainly damage the country, then the President has other problems, and those should probably be addressed first. As for me, I don’t think you should let foamy, ignorant ideologues close enough to the presidency to possibly win it. Their track record of actually showing up in the Oval Office when they are is depressingly good.

Do I think Huntsman will make it out of primary season? Not really. I think when all is said and done, the GOP is going to go Romney, a fact which I suspect has Obama’s people rubbing their hands in delight almost as much as the prospect of going up against Gingrich (or Cain! Holy God, Cain!) might. And that’s the GOP’s karma. I’ve done my part by supporting the one GOP candidate in the race I think could offer a viable alternative to Obama. Whether they listen to me — a generally liberal fellow who nevertheless prefers thoughtful, pragmatic conservatism to the nest of crazy that the GOP currently appears to be — is up to them. I’m not going to wait up for that.

A Thanksgiving Advent Calendar Extra

In keeping with the concept for the month, over at FilmCritic.com, I explain what I’m thankful for when it comes to science fiction films. What is it? Clearly, you’ll need to click through to find out. Please do so (it makes my editors happy!) and feel free to leave any comments you might have there.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Twenty Two: Music That Mattered To Me

My day was thrown a little out of whack with errands and Anne McCaffrey’s death, so I’m bumping the Advent piece I had planned for today until tomorrow, when I have time to write it at greater length. Today, a baker’s dozen of music that mattered to me, in various times of my life — not the only music that mattered to me, to be sure, but music that I’m thinking of right now. I’m thankful for the musicians who made it, who didn’t know how their words and music affected me, but affect me it did. It’s after the cut to keep the front page from being cluttered. Enjoy.

Read More »

RIP, Anne McCaffrey

One of science fiction and fantasy’s grand masters, without doubt. Early details are here and here, and I’m sure there are more to come. The thread here is now open for your thoughts and reminiscences of the author and her work.

Also, Just So All Y’all Know

I am soooooooooooooo behind on e-mail. Especially Big Idea stuff. BUT I will get it all caught up. Er, tomorrow. Yes! Tomorrow. So please don’t panic. I’m not ignoring just you.

Also: Sorry.

Also also: Today’s Thanksgiving Advent piece will run late because I have errands to run in the afternoon in the real world. I know! I can’t believe it either.

Athena Tells It Like It Is

That’s right. Quadrate your own equation, if you please.

(Note: I’m aware “quadrate” is not a verb. It’s a funny, involving words. Thank you for your concern.)

Now, she might help you with your math, so that you can learn how to do it yourself from that point forward. Because she’s cool like that. And you know what they say: Do someone’s math, and their homework is done for one day. Teach them how to do math, and the universe isn’t a big unknowable ball of superstitious fear anymore. Or something like that. I may have garbled the specifics.

And yes, Athena wore it to school today.

If you’d like the shirt for the math-positive young women you know, you may buy it, no surprise, from the fabulous nerds at ThinkGeek. And if you’re thinking that this shirt may be a laudable correction for this particular piece of crap, you may be correct. This is evidenced by the text on the t-shirt page which reads, “You know what we’re too pretty for? Putting up with anti-intellectualism.” That’s for damn sure. Good on ThinkGeek.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Twenty One: Krissy and Athena

Because they are my heart.

And that’s all I need to say about that.

Back to the US

Today’s a travel day once more. I’ll be posting in the afternoon. Don’t wreck the place whilst I am hurtling through the air (either the site or the US in general).

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Twenty: Bradford, Ohio

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t want to move to Bradford. It was nothing against Bradford in particular; it was that it was in Ohio, and I didn’t want to move to Ohio. I was happy living in Northern Virginia, where we lived at the time, where I had friends, and work, and a nice house and a comfortable life. But my wife wanted to live near her family, who had moved to the Miami Valley of Ohio, where Krissy’s father was originally from (and where Krissy herself was born). I grew up in Southern California, in the urban milieu of Los Angeles, and the idea of living in the midwest did not appeal to me. I thought I would be clever and say to my wife that I would move if she could find a place with five acres of land, on the idea that I could never afford that much land. Turns out land in rural Ohio is surprisingly inexpensive. Off we went to Ohio, and to Bradford, where my new home would be.

Bradford is the smallest place I have ever lived. It has just around 1,850 residents, which is roughly equivalent in size to the high school I used to live near as a kid. It’s a rural and blue collar community, strongly religious (there are nine churches around town) and like the rest of both Darke and Miami counties, each of which houses half the town, strongly politically conservative. It’s 98% white and less than 1% Hispanic of any sort, that one percent of which includes both my wife and daughter, who have ancestors from Mexico. All the kids, from kindergarten through high school, go to school in the same building. The town is locally famous for its Pumpkin Festival, has no stoplights, has an IGA market and is eleven miles away from the nearest Wal-Mart. When you think about typical small-town America, Bradford or someplace very much like it is what you think about.

I admit when we first moved here all of this disconcerted me. I was an urban and suburban sort of person, lived in areas where not everyone was white and Republican and was used to having fully-kitted shopping centers, complete with fast-food franchises, less than a mile away, near people with college degrees and a preference for alternative music over country. When we moved to Bradford the fastest local Internet provider connected to the Web at 9600 baud. I was fairly certain I was gonna die out there.

It didn’t happen. One, I got satellite Internet (and then DSL). Two, on a day to day basis none of that stuff matters in terms of how people treat each other as neighbors. I’ve lived in Bradford long enough for people to know I’m an agnostic lefty; I don’t really think most people care. I think what they care about is if I’m I good guy and a good neighbor, which are things I try to be.

And as time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate some of the things that used to worry me about rural living. When I moved to Bradford, I was concerned I would be isolated; these days I actually like that I am a little bit isolated. I travel so much and I do so much when I travel that when I’m home, it’s nice to be away from it all. Being in a small town is great for focus when it comes to writing. I’m aware that this may come across as damning with faint praise. I’d like to emphasize the praise is not faint. My job is to write; my personal nature is to be distracted. And beyond that, the feeling I get when I get home from travel is like a happy sigh and a clearing of stress, looking out at my big yard and the fields beyond it. It’s nice to have space and not to have a feeling the rest of the world is impinging upon you.

I like our neighbors; I like the school and the teachers who teach my daughter and the fact the school is small enough that she gets enough attention from the people who educate her. I like that in the life of my town I am able to make a difference, and that’s not necessarily a feeling that I’ve gotten in the other places where I have lived. I am engaged enough in Bradford that it feels like I imagine a hometown is supposed to feel like, rather than a place I just happen to live. I don’t know that I would have known the difference before I moved here; now I do.

As with any place one might live, Bradford isn’t perfect, but then perfection isn’t what one ought to be expecting. It’s nice to live there among good people who by and large seem to be happy we’re there. I didn’t want to move there, but that was eleven years ago now. I’m there now and I like it. I think it’s been an important place for me to be in my life, and for what I do and how I do it. I’m thankful to be there. Or, more accurately, since I am in Toronto at the moment, thankful to be going back there. Not that Toronto isn’t a great city, mind you. But Bradford is home.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Nineteen: Being Busy (and Lazy)

I like to say I’m a lazy person, because I think I am: I’m a big fan of the principle of least effort for maximum effect. Some call that efficiency, but I think efficiency is frequently born of laziness, as in, oh God I don’t want to do this how can I do it so it’s over with and I can get back to shooting zombies? So, yeah: lazy.

At the same time, however, I like to be busy. Really busy. As in, I like looking over the next few years of my life and saying I know what I’ll being doing all this time. Right now I look at my life through 2014 and I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be writing, where I’ll be going, and how I’ll be spending my days. In fact I have quite a bit planned.

The question becomes how I square my impulse toward laziness with my desire to be busy all the time. I don’t think it’s actually that hard to do and in fact I think one feeds into the other. I know why I like to be busy: One, I get bored easily. Two, without going into great detail about it, having grown up on an economic yo-yo that alternated me between material comfort and depressing poverty, I’m a big believer in understanding that nothing lasts forever, at least not without a whole stack of planning. I’m doing well right now; I don’t have any faith that state of affairs will last. Being busy is a nice hedge.

Being lazy helps keep me busy because being lazy has taught me to, as much as possible, find the easiest way to deal with any single task, so I have time left to a) do other things, b) do nothing at all. Doing b) is actually important, since if I do too much of a) without it I become cranky and short-tempered and annoying and not a nice person to be around, and I work less efficiently, which is no good. So if I want to be busy, and I do, it’s not going to get done without also being lazy.

I like that almost-contradiction, the idea that the human quality least associated with industry is the one I think allows me to be as industrious as I am. I also like the idea that what many people would slot as a character flaw fuels what is generally seen as a laudable character trait. I think it points out the ying and yang of who I am and why I need both of these things to function. It also means that when my wife once told me “You are a man too lazy to fail,” I was deeply pleased, because it meant that she actually understood me. And would probably let continue shooting zombies whenever I wanted. As long as, you know, everything else got done.

I am thankful to be busy. And to be lazy. And on that note, I’m off to be busy again for three hours straight. I’ll be lazy afterwards, I swear.


Busy Day

Today’s my busiest day at the con with events going through 9pm, so don’t expect to see too much of me around here today. Will sneak in at some point for a short Thanksgiving Advent Calendar piece. May be rather later in the day. Don’t panic.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eighteen: Writing

Over the course of this Thanksgiving Advent adventure, I’ve talked about a number of things associated with writing, and how they’ve affected my life. I haven’t talked about writing itself, however. So I’d like to focus on that for today, independent of all the trappings, benefits and side effects. Because the fact of the matter is that even if I never became a professional writer, or became a financially successful writer, or even had more people than my immediate circle of friends ever read anything I wrote, I would still write. I would still be a writer.

I would still be a writer for the simple reason that I find the act of writing extremely pleasurable. There is something lovely about sitting down to a blank screen (or blank page, if you want to get old school) and filling it with words. There is likewise a fantastic feeling that comes from taking what are unformed and chaotic thoughts in one’s head and giving them form and structure with words. People often note that ideas and thoughts which seem deep and meaningful inside their head seem banal or pointless when they’re written out, but allow me to suggest the problem is not that that these ideas were reduced when they were translated into words; instead, they were revealed. Your brain lies to you about the awesomeness of your thoughts. Words are the friend that says “Dude. Stop hitting the bong.” On the other hand, if you have a fantastic idea in your head, and it’s still fantastic when you put it into words, you know what? It may in fact be fantastic.

This organizing and structuring that comes through writing comes in handy for me, because it means that I have an outlet to express thoughts I have that run deeper than “I have to take out the trash.” My wife understands this perfectly well; on more than one occasion, after I’ve completely fumbled expressing something to her, she’s said to me “you need to go write that out.” And I do and then I actually have a way to express that idea, so that the next time I try to verbalize it, I have a framework and a method that doesn’t involve increasingly wild hand gestures and the use of the phrase “you know?” every five or six words. Writing makes me a better verbal communicator, funny as that sounds. For which I suspect my wife, who has to live with me, is grateful.

Another reason writing is pleasurable is that I am good at it, and it feels good to do things you are good at. When I was young, I was a good writer — “good” being highly conditional on context, mind you, and I could have benefited from my own list of tips for teenage writers — and especially when you’re young, doing something you know you can do well (and possibly better than almost anyone else you know) means a lot to you and your concept of yourself as a person. You may be goofy or short or socially awkward or pocked with strategically embarrassing zits or whatever — but you can make words do things, things other people can’t, and that’s a hell of a thing when you’re fourteen and you’re trying to find a place in the world and to have it all make some sort of sense.

As I got older another aspect of the joy of writing came to the fore: the enjoyment of the craftsmanship of it, of the appreciation of a turn of phrase, or the right word, or the presentation of a concept just so, that could make an idea pop or turn a sentence from a merely functional string of words conveying meaning into something that stuck into a reader’s brain like a piton driven into a cliff wall. It’s the meta-awareness of a thing you’re doing and how you’re doing it and how it’s working, and the realization of your own competence with it, brought on by a combination of talent, practice and the occasional out of the blue taser jolt of inspiration.

And through all of this is the pleasure of the flow of words that comes when you are caught up in the act of writing, when everything you know about writing and everything you think about it and everything it might have earned you (or that you want it to earn for you) slip off to the side and it’s just you laying out the words, one after the other, into an inevitable sequence. It’s the same thing a musician gets in the middle of an epic jam session, or a painter when the image emerges out of the paint or the actor who has subsumed himself in the moment, no longer thinking about his character because the character is there.

This state of being has been described from a psychological point of view, but conceptualizing it and feeling it are of course two entirely different things. It feels like a gift from the universe to you. And maybe it is. I’m not of the opinion that you have to be good at what you’re doing in order to experience this sort of flow, although it may help. What’s important is that you’re so far into the thing you’re doing that in that moment, everything else doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten this feeling from other things, but where I get it the most is when I’m writing.

It’s a relationship with words, essentially. I have one and it manifests itself through my fingers, usually onto a computer screen but occasionally with pen and paper. It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.

Independent of anything else writing has done for me — and it’s done a lot — this aspect of it has been extraordinarily important to me, and I’m thankful for it, and the pleasure it’s given me. And ultimately it’s why I write, why I keep writing, and why, if everything else that writing ever did for me went away (and it might), I would still do it.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Seventeen: Fans

I’m writing you today from Toronto, where I am because a bunch of very nice Canadians decided it would be a groovy thing to pay for my plane ticket, put me up in a hotel, and fete me for a weekend as one of their guests of honor at the SFContario science fiction convention. Tonight, I’ll do a reading, and people who like my books will show up and listen to me preview an upcoming book and then blather on about my life. Over the next few days, while I’m at the convention, I’ll get to do even more of that. Usually when you go on and on about yourself for days, you’re labeled — not without reason — as an insufferable jackass blowhard. But not only am I encouraged to do this, indeed, this is part of why I’m here.

Having fans is awesome.

It’s also dangerous, of course, for the sort of attention-seeking monkey I and many other creative types are. Jamming this sort of appreciation into our brains is likely to encourage a positive feedback loop of personal entitlement and self-regard wildly out of proportion to our actual worth as human beings. And then we become assholes. That is in fact the precise, technical term. You can look it up. But that’s very definitely more about that person than it is about the people who appreciate his or her work. Fans don’t make people assholes, people become assholes when they misinterpret enthusiasm for them and their work to mean that the normal strictures of being a decent human being don’t apply to them anymore. All fans do is say “That thing? That you do? I like it.”

This is nice, and can lead to nice things. When people like the things you do, they very often support them, often by buying the things you create (or otherwise putting money into things involving you), and encouraging others to do the same. This can lead to bills being paid, a mortgage being topped off, groceries being put in the pantry, and children getting things like shoes and a college education. It can also lead to you being able to keep doing that thing that makes the fans happy, whether it be books or music or TV shows or whatever it is they like. And since you were probably originally doing that thing because it made you happy to do it, this is typically not a bad thing at all. If in life people want to pay you to do the thing you always wanted to do, and want you to keep doing it, you should probably be appreciative of that.

But wait, I hear you say, you’re the same person who’s thumped on fans for being out of line with writers. Doesn’t this make you a hypocrite, or at least not able to keep track of you’ve said before? I don’t think so. Like authors, fans are people too, and just as the objects of fans’ affections can get sucked up into their own sphincters regarding their importance to the world, so may some fans occasionally transmute their enthusiasm into “I made you; you owe me.” Some people, creators and consumers alike, struggle with being jerks. It doesn’t mean that as a class, fans are not important to a creative person’s career, or that they shouldn’t be thankful for them.

Personally speaking I think I’ve been very lucky. My fans don’t typically seem to be the problematic sort. In meeting them, here and out in the real world, they usually seem like what they are: People who like my work and appreciate what I do and hope I keep doing it. I make an active attempt to return the favor by not letting my own personal ego monster out of the box too often. I’m genuinely happy and honored that people like my work and that in one way or another it has meant something to them, and I don’t want them to think that I take that lightly. It helps that I’m a fan too — I have my own list of writers, musicians, actors and other creative folk whose work has made my life better. I’ve even gotten to meet some of them and say “thanks.” It made me happy to see that they were happy I liked what they did. I want to be able to express that too, to the people who like what I do.

(It also helps a lot that in science fiction and fantasy, the fan-creator line is highly permeable and always has been. So many fans have become friends, and some of my fans have become pros who I in turn have become fans of, and some of the pros who I have admired for years have become friends and even fans as well (at least, that’s what they tell me). This community has been one of the great joys for me in becoming a science fiction writer; I hope writers in other genres get the same sort of dynamic, and if they don’t, well, that’s a shame.)

I’m fortunate to get fan letters from time to time, so consider this me returning the appreciation. Dear fans: Most sincerely, I thank you and am thankful for you. Thank you for reading, and thank you for letting me and my work be a part of your life. I hope I get to keep doing it. It’s my plan, in any event.

(P.S.: Did I mention I’m in Toronto for the SFContario science fiction convention? It starts tomorrow! You should totally come out.)

Heading North

And East! To Toronto. So don’t expect huge amounts today. Will update after I get myself situated in Canada.

And if you are in Toronto, remember that this evening I am doing an event at the Merril Collection, at 7pm. Come, or I will be very disappointed. Because I came to Toronto to see you. Yes I did.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Sixteen: The Internet

And, well. This one’s sort of obvious, isn’t it. When a globe-spanning network of computers is directly responsible for much of one’s career, income, notoriety and daily life, what else should one say but “thanks”?

The Internet has been important enough in my life that it’s worth pointing out the good things in my adult life it isn’t directly or at least partially responsible for: My first job, which I got in 1991, before the Web opened up the Internet to any common schmoe; my wife, who I met because of my first job, and my non-fiction agent, who I got because of a column I wrote for the newspaper. Although the way he heard about it was that the column got e-mailed to him. Right, I owe the Internet for him as well. So: My wife and my first job. There you are.

Yeah, I owe the Internet tons.

It’s a little weird to think of it in that terms, and it does make me wonder how much differently my life would have unrolled had the public expansion of the Internet not happened when it did, how it did. Would I still be working at The Fresno Bee, the newspaper which gave me my first job? I’m not sure about that, but I think I probably would have stayed at newspapers and in print journalism rather longer than I did. Would I have published non fiction books? Possibly, but then my first non fiction book (and my first book, period) would not have been about online finance. Would I have become a novelist? Probably only if my wife decided she was going to handle mailing my work out to publishers, because I almost certainly wouldn’t have bothered — we know this because I didn’t bother in this timeline; I put my first two novels online, as much out of sheer laziness as anything other excuse I could offer. If I had published fiction, would I have been as lucky in my debut I was in this world, with my online presence helping to push sales? Who knows. Would I live in rural Ohio in a world where proximity to work mattered more than it does here? That’s a really interesting question.

In the end, in a no-Internet (or later Internet) world, I’m pretty sure I would still be a full-time professional writer, and I’m reasonably sure by this time I would have published at least a couple of books. I think I would still recognizably be me. But the details of that life — including some of the most significant, such as the job I had, the books I would write, the people I knew and even the child I had — would be changed enough as to constitute a different life. I would be me, my wife would still (hopefully) be my wife. Everything else is up for speculation.

I like my life, and it’s disconcerting to think that its course and shape has been significantly and arguably primarily defined by a system of computers originally designed to keep the country’s defense forces connected, and which now exists to (among other things) shuttle pictures of cats around at the speed of light. But then again, before the Internet, by life was being defined by an industry that wrapped words on low-grade paper around advertisements for underwear and used cars, the most popular portions of which involved comics about lasagna-loving cats. Anything humans do seems absurd if you frame it in sufficiently absurd terms, involving cats.

My life is what it is. It is what it is because the Internet exists, and I am on it, and use it, and profit from it in all manner of ways, commercial, personal and existential. Years from now, and perhaps not even before I’m dead, we’ll consider the Internet this hopelessly antiquated and ridiculous thing, and all the things on it as relics of a different and possibly silly age, which is to say we’ll have found new and even better ways of enjoying cats on a massive scale. When that day happens, I’ll say to those around me, yes, perhaps it was a little ridiculous, but it gave me so much. I’m glad it did, and I’m thankful. Now, please, stop sending me those brainwaves about bacon.

Klout CEO Joe Fernandez Responds

Received a letter this morning from Joe Fernandez, the CEO Klout. I’m posting it with his permission. Check out the link included for more from his point of view.

Hey John,

My name is Joe Fernandez and I am the founder/ceo of Klout. Saw your article yesterday and then again on cnn money today (will admit that it is kind of awesome to be called a dick on cnn). Anyway, also saw your blog post today that we most have seen your article so I figured I would reach out.

I am just a guy who is into data and started a company in my bedroom. I think you have some good points in your article how the score can cause unnecessary stress and I am reflecting a lot on the product in terms of how we present that. Goal with Klout has never been to turn the interent into high school or ruin social media. My vision has always been to help individuals understand the impact they were having on their friends and the web. I wrote a blog post about it today – http://corp.klout.com/blog/2011/11/the-vision-behind-klout/.

We are working hard here at Klout and I hope you’ll keep an open mind as we evolve. Happy to chat some time if you are interested.


Signed Books for the Holidays: How to Get Them From Me

The last couple of weeks people have e-mailed me, asking, “Hey, that thing you do during the holidays? Where you team up with your local bookstore to get signed copies of your books to people? Are you going to do that again? Well? Are you? Are you? ARE YOU?!?!?”

The answer: Yes. Yes, I am. And yes are they, too. Wait, that’s not right. “Yes, they are, too.” Yoda I am not.

Good People of the United States! Once again, Jay and Mary’s Book Center, my local and awesome independent bookstore, located in Troy, Ohio, will be delighted to take your order for books which I have written, that I will then sign and/or personalize, which they will then ship to you. And all you have to do is the following:

1. Call Jay and Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (May I recommend Fuzzy Nation? It’s especially good this year!), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. Wait by the door until everything arrives. All right, you don’t have to do this one. I realize you have family and jobs and such.

If you would like your books to arrive in time for Christmas, I and the bookstore strongly recommend you get your order in by December 12. I will sign orders for books after that date — I’ll sign any order that comes in on or before  December 19 — but you run the risk of them not being able to deliver your book on time. So on or before December 12 is your target date.

Jay and Mary’s can only ship in the United States. Sorry, rest of the world. Canada, I’ll try to sign as many books as I can while I’m in you this weekend. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In case you need a recap on what of mine is available:

CURRENT HARDCOVER: Fuzzy Nation, METAtropolis, The God Engines (Note: the God Engines hardcover is going out of print, so if you want it and they have it, you better get it)

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2 (anthology; my story “The Tale of the Wicked” is in it).

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), Book of the Dumb, Book of the Dumb 2 (both humor books), The Rough Guide to the Universe, second edition (Astronomy), The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (film). All my non-fiction is in Trade Paperback format.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them.

Happy shopping and if you do put in an order thanks for supporting my local independent bookstore. They rock, and so do you.