I’ve asked this question before, but for the life of me I can’t find the post at the moment, and also, I’d like to get the information in a slightly more systematized fashion, for my own personal long-range planning purposes. So: If you wouldn’t mind taking a quick poll and then answering a single question in the comment thread, I’d be obliged.
If you can’t remember precisely, your best guess is fine.
Second, the question:
Can you remember how, specifically, you came to visit the site? Some examples might be: Recommendation from a friend, came to read a specific entry (if you remember which, let me know), read one of my books and was curious about me, a search engine link, etc. Basically I’m curious how people come here their first time.
Phone guy: Hi, I’m calling from the Jon Huntsman campaign and we know that you made a contribution to his campaign, and we are looking for people to be Huntsman delegates for the Republican National Convention.
Me: BWA HA HA HA HAH HA HA HA HAH HA!
Phone guy: Sir?
Me: I’m sorry. Look, I’m not a registered Republican and I’m unlikely to vote for Huntsman in the general election. I donated to him because of all the Republican candidates, he is the most sane, and I thought that needed to be encouraged.
Phone guy: … oh.
Me: Yeah. He should probably have someone who is actually going to vote him. But thanks for thinking of me.
Phone guy: Okay. Thanks for the donation, anyway.
Me: You’re welcome. Bye, now.
And then I hung up.
And then I felt like kicking myself, because going to the GOP convention as a Huntsman delegate probably would have been awesome. And wrong. But awesome. Just the thought of me as a GOP delegate makes me want to chortle madly.
Any thoughts on the current state of the War on Christmas™?
I think it’s about as silly as it ever was, considering that Christmas has conquered December, occupied November and metastasized into late October. To suggest that the holiday is under serious threat from politically correct non-Christians is like suggesting an earthworm is a serious threat to a Humvee. This is obvious enough to anyone with sense that I use The War on Christmas as an emergency diagnostic, which is to say, if you genuinely believe there’s a War on Christmas, you may want to see a doctor, since you might have a tumor pressing on your frontal lobes.
But — but — what about all those horrible atheists taking over holiday displays with crucified Santa skeletons? Surely that’s evidence of a war! Well, no, it’s evidence of some non-believers taking a page out of the PETA playbook, i.e., being dicks to get attention and to make a point. I do strongly suspect that if we didn’t have some certain excitable conservatives playing The War on Christmas card when a business says “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” and such, there would be less incentive for certain excitable non-believers to make a public show of desecrating Christmas symbols, but that’s just an opinion and I don’t have anything to back that up. What I do know is that the War on Christmas crusaders and the Santa crucifiers deserve each other; the rest of us, unfortunately, have to watch them both make public asses of themselves.
This is not to say that non-believers have to passively suck it up during the Christmas season; they have as much right to public display space as anyone and in a theoretical sense I’m glad they’re out there to remind people that not everyone defaults to Christian or even “religious.” I like it better when they do it in a manner that doesn’t explicitly say “take the symbols you cherish and shove them right up your ass.” But then I’m also the sort of non-believer who doesn’t take every public religious display as an intentional slap in the face. When people put up Christmas displays, or (to the point) when municipalities allow public space to be used for them, I don’t see them as a Christian majority saying “bow down to our hegemony, heretics and infidels,” I see them as people saying “Yay! Christmas!” Which is a different motivation entirely.
Here’s the thing: If you’re using the holiday season to go out of your way to be an asshole to someone, believer or non-believer, you’re doing it wrong, and I wish you would stop. That’s not a war, it’s a slap fight and it’s embarrassing. As a non-believer, when someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, I say “Merry Christmas” back, because generally speaking I understand that what “Merry Christmas” means in this context is “I am offering you good will in a way I know how,” and I appreciate that sentiment. Left to my own devices, I use “Happy holidays” because I know a lot of people who aren’t Christians (or at least Christmas-centered) and that seems the best way to express my own good will; the vast majority of people get what I’m doing and appreciate that sentiment too.
I think most people get the idea that regardless of religion or lack thereof, we’ve designated this time of year as the one where we make an effort to be decent to each other. Accept it. Welcome it. Live it, in the best way you know how. Be tolerant and gracious when others share this sentiment in a way different than you would. Look for what they’re saying means, not just the words they use to say it. It would be a fine way to have everyone enjoy the season.
About twice a year I have a dream where for whatever reason I’m back at the University of Chicago and I’m once again working on the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. Last night was one of those times; in the dream I’m the same age as I am now, and I was walking into the Ida Noyes building to go to a staff meeting, and I was wondering if it would be awkward for the rest of the staff to have 42-year-old former Editor-in-Chief and professional writer doing stories. In the real world, I think the answer would be “well, duh,” but in the dream it seemed to make perfect sense. Because, you know, dreams are that way.
I don’t really have any ambition to go back and write for my student newspaper; to the extent that the dream means anything other than the Maroon was tangentially on my mind thanks to that picture of me at 20 that I posted, I think it was a reminder that I liked working for a newspaper, both the Maroon and the Fresno Bee, when I worked there (and the San Diego Tribune, when I interned). It’s often said writing is a solitary profession, but that depends on what kind of writer you are. Being a journalist in a newsroom is not especially solitary; there are lots of other people, lots of activity and lots of back and forth and craziness, especially around the afternoon deadline.
That buzz of activity and working toward a daily goal is fun, or at least it was fun for me. And yeah, I miss it. I like my life now, and working from home; right now I’m typing away merrily on a laptop, in a recliner in the front room of the expansive Scalzi Compound, while cats doze all around me. It’s hard to complain when you’re living the writing life most writers would kill for. But I did like the daily contact high of being in the same room with other writers, everyone typing away and making phone calls and getting in fights with the copy editors (wait, that was mostly just me).
Every once in a while I daydream about going back into newspapers; it’s an idle dream, given the health of the newspaper industry, the fact my own career is fiction-centric at the moment, and because then I would have to trade hazy, halcyon memories with an actual day-to-day grind of work and office politics, which are bits of that milieu I can conveniently forget when I don’t have to deal with them. But it’s still nice to imagine from time to time, especially when I focus on being around other writers. I mean, there is Twitter, on which I can bother all my writer friends while they work, and they me. But it’s not quite the same.
It’s that time of year again, so over at FilmCritic.com I give the major studio science fiction films of 2011 a quick once-over, with observations about Transformers, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8 and the proverbial “more.” You cannot make it into 2012 without knowing what I think! Seriously, dude, they’ll stop you at the border. You’ll be stuck in 2011 forever. God, wouldn’t that suck. So check it out, and leave whatever comments you have over there.
It is: From this point forward, if you post a comment on a Big Idea post in which the focus of the comment is how you don’t like the price of the e-book, I’m just going to delete it.
Why? Primarily because here at the tail end of 2011, I find the subject boring and I find the people who get huffy about an electronic book not being [insert price you believe for whatever reason an eBook should be] are exhibiting a particularly tiresome sort of entitlement, to wit, that owning an electronic book reader means that you are possibly obliged to announce your opinion on book pricing at every turn. See, the thing is: You’re not. You don’t have to. At this point, I wish you wouldn’t.
You know, I have several objects in the house capable of reading an electronic book, ranging from a dedicated Nook e-reader to an iPad to a desktop computer. I buy electronic books all the time, and occasionally I will come across one priced higher than I want to pay. What do I do then? Easy: I don’t buy it and I move on with my life. I don’t post about how I didn’t buy it because I thought the price was too high, etc. Because life is short and there are really more interesting things to talk about and to do with one’s time.
I think it’s important to understand that eBooks are not special snowflakes; they’re just books in electronic form. As someone who prefers to read in eBook form, you are not substantially different from someone who prefers hardcovers, or trade paperbacks, or mass market paperbacks. If someone who preferred paperbacks (or at the very least paperback pricing) showed up on my site on a regular basis to whine and moan about how books should always be priced at that paperback level, on a comment thread that is meant to be on another subject entirely, I would find them tiresome too. Books: They have variable price points! Based on release dates, consumer interest and format, among many other factors! If you don’t like the price point, wait — it’ll come down eventually. Or visit the library (which in many cases you can do with electronic books now) and borrow the thing legally.
There’s another reason I’m going to be deleting eBook price kvetching from Big Idea posts, which is that, simply put, going into a comment thread of a Big Idea and making a big show of why you’re not going to buy the book because of a price point that the author very frequently has absolutely no control over kind of makes you a dick. Authors are already neurotic and twitchy about how the book is going to be received; you going in and announcing “I will not buy your book for reasons entirely unrelated to your writing and about which you were given no say” is really cluelessly rude. If you want to complain about the pricing, please do — to someone who actually has the wherewithal to do something about it, namely, the publisher. They are not hard to find and e-mail.
The shorter version of this: Complaining about eBook prices on Big Idea threads is a) usually off-topic, b) kind of mean to the author, c) something I’m bored with at this point in any event. So from now on, when I see a comment like it, it’ll likely get the Mallet. Just thought I’d make that clear for everyone moving forward.
Update, 12/27: A follow-up entry, of sorts, is here.
One of the things about science fiction as a genre is that it has the ability — some might even suggest the responsibility — to think big. Galaxy-spanning big. With his latest novel Count to a Trillion, author John C. Wright is taking that ability and running with it, positing a civilization that not only reaches for the stars but in a very real way involves the stars themselves. Is this ambitious display of world-building an example of authorial hubris? In his Big Idea piece, Wright suggest that in fact it’s the opposite emotion that spurred him to paint such on such a large narrative canvas.
JOHN C. WRIGHT:
Every novel has a conceit, but not every novelist is conceited. The germ of the conceit for Count to a Trillion was actually an exercise in humility. I had written a previous trilogy of novels called The Golden Age, set in the far future, which received very generous critical and public reception, including attention from the Transhumanist movement, who took the ideas more optimistically than I would. They envision the science fictional promises of brain augmentation, downloading consciousness, and posthumanity as happening in the near future, perhaps in our lifetimes.
I do not fault them the dream. After all, did not the Wright Brothers make real Jules Verne’s Clipper of the Clouds? But I wondered at the optimism.
Not as famous as the Wright Brothers, after all, is Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the first man in history ever to die in a plane crash, but by no means the last. The conquest of the air filled graveyards with pilots. Great futures exact great prices. If we have not conquered space, it is perhaps because we are unwilling to fill our graveyards with the number of astronauts such an ambitious dream requires.
We are the first generation raised on future fiction, and disappointed when it came. The Year of 2001 is come and gone, and everyone wonders: why are flying machines a reality but flying cars a daydream?
Where is the spaceship Discovery and the self-aware HAL 9000 computer? Why do we have only eight planets in our Solar System, when our parents had nine? Why have we not been contacted by highly-advanced alien overlords?
The answer is that your flying car was impounded when your naked teenage son while drunk rammed it into the armpit of the Statue of Liberty. Homicidal HAL 9000 is in Gitmo being circuitboarded. We have eight planets because of the National Debt, and Pluto was repossessed by the agency. Our alien overlords long ago splashed down and made treaties with the Dolphins, Whales, and Giant Squid, but are so cheesed off about the loss of Pluto that they refuse to speak to us. Meanwhile, we suffer acute Pluto depravation.
OK, so that is not the real answer. Nonetheless, here in the Twenty-First Century, the atomic bomb as daydreamed by H.G. Wells is a grim reality but the atomic drive of the Skylark of Space as written by E.E. Doc Smith is a daydream, which seems, if anything, to be fading.
With this in mind, I set myself the task of trying to write a tale that reaches for the glories of a space opera future, but dwells on the dangers, risks, and disappointments, and above all, the time involved. So, call it the opposite of my first trilogy. I wanted to write a humble, or, if you prefer, a realistic or pessimistic version of Skylark of Space. (I am not hiding the homage: my villain is named after E.E. Smith’s magnificent Blackie DuQuesne.) The task was to write a Hard SF Space Opera. One difficulty is that the two genres are somewhat opposite to each other.
Space Opera involves larger than life characters heroes and villains, cosmic wars and struggles, mysterious aliens, space princesses, wonder and awe. Whereas Hard SF is harder to write, eschewing faster than light drive, mind reading, transporter beams, or anything else Hard SF finds hard to swallow.
What I thought would be the hardest part was easiest: that is, I wanted to create a space opera sense of wonder using real astronomical wonders. I wanted to write the battle-scene involving the collision between Milky Way and Andromeda (I am not making that up! But it will not happen in our lifetime. Nor in the lifetime of Sol, our star); and to explain the true and sinister purpose of the Great Attractor toward which all local galaxies in our cluster are streaming (Also not made up! There is such a thing. It is in the Virgo Cluster); and to explain the dwarf star V886 Centauri, whose core is a diamond of degenerate matter of 10 billion trillion trillion carets (also not made up! Like Dan Brown, I would like to claim that all description of artwork, architecture, documents, astronomical objects, Hermetic secrets and Roman Catholic conspiracies in the novel are accurate, except that the Knights Hospitalier of Malta are fictional, or, at least, they do not wear power armor.)
Another question a disappointed generation asks is: where are our alien overlords? Why haven’t they landed and shepherded us out of the Childhood’s End of human history as envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke and brought us up past the Singularity as envisioned by Vernor Vinge? If life in space is as ubiquitous as even cautious estimates guess it must be, where is everyone?
I wanted the reason to be as reasonable as a Hard SF answer and as outrageous as a space opera answer.
So my first Big Idea is that the aliens are maintaining radio silence due to war. Slower than light war fought between galaxies takes a long time to promulgate, and the cosmic chessmen move slowly and hugely indeed.
Post-Singularity war between star systems where every atom of matter is being used to house intelligence and to direct energy use enforces strict frugality. Too thrifty to spread radio noise in expanding globes, instead the overlords merely train their telescopes, or erect monuments, at various points in the Orion Arm which any mildly curious spacefaring race would be sure to visit. And if we are not curious enough (for is not curiosity a sign of intelligence?) and not adventurous enough to launch an interstellar expedition, why, then we fail the cosmic IQ test.
A second Big Idea is that they are not trying to hide from us, but it never occurred to them that our astronomers would interpret red giant stars and supernovae as natural phenomenon, or that we would invent an abortive theory to explain the natural growth and development of novae, and not perceive that the stellar ecology, particularly the production of heavier-than-iron elements, is entirely artificial. And some of the objects we deem red giants are much brighter stars, viewed through the shells of their Dyson Spheres emitting waste heat. I invented for this book a corollary of Clarke’s dictum. In Count to a Trillion, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature. All the things our astronomers think are nebulae are war debris, or star-creation nurseries. You did not think the Black Hole at the core of the galaxy was natural, did you?
The third Big Idea come when I wondered what the ultra-posthumans do with the posthumans once they pass beyond their intellectual threshold, and what the meta-ultraposthumans do with them, and what the trans-metaultraposthumans do with them. There would have to be a means to communicate across boundaries of vastly greater intelligences levels, if, for example, a planet coated with nanotech diamond awoke to self-awareness and overheard a Dyson Sphere made of self-aware matter talking to a galaxy which had achieved unification of consciousness. They must have a code, a notation, some method of communicating to alien beings with whom they had nothing in common—and it would have to be a method of communication so simple, that even a posthuman mind could translate it.
First Contact stories often speculate that the only common language we share with aliens is science. We all inhabit one universe, after all. But if so, any First Contact message would have to hold in its header information and introductory phrases the secrets of a science far in advance of the clumsy knowledge a feral race unknown to the galactic collaboration knows.
And the final Big Idea for this book was to explore what happened when the human race, right on the cusp of the evolutionary change between human and posthuman, stumbled across the message before we were ready for it.
Count to a Trillion does not take place in the cosmic spaces nor across the uncounted eons this speculation must cover. It deals only with the final Big Idea question of how earthmen, in our present cruel and unevolved state, deal with secrets of life and death and mind and matter beyond our scope. The scale is limited to Earth, and the time runs only a few centuries hence.
Other matters of human evolution and devolution, duels between conflicting psychohistorians with alternate visions of the future, and the cost of first contact, needs must wait for planned future volumes.
But that’s only a specific case of a more general issue with Gingrich, which I imagine the GOP electorate is now remembering about him: Gingrich, bless his heart, can only give a stab at being a statesman in brief, isolated bursts. Then his Gingrichosity shines through, he decouples prudence from his pie hole, and he starts doing the 68-year-old poltiwonk version of a college freshman midnight bull session, only in public and in front of cameras, and without someone there to say “whoa, duuuude, you’re getting pretty out there” before passing over the bong to mellow him out. He just can’t shut up.
It’s not just that he can’t shut up. It’s that Gingrich is also apparently incapable of distinguishing which of his ideas are reasonable, and which ones have been beamed in straight from a transmitter located on a high mountain deep in the heart of FrothyLand. It’s not that Gingrich doesn’t have some good ideas in his head. He does. The problem is they share space with some absolutely terrifying ideas. When Gingrich prepares to hork an idea out of his mouth, he doesn’t roll it around first to see if it tastes bad. He just spits it out, and there it is, on the carpet, Gingrich looking at you in that way he has, the way that says yet another brilliant thought from the mind of Newt. You’re welcome. And then the idea rears up, hisses at you, and tries to mate, horribly, with your shoe.
This is why, should Gingrich buck the current trend and gain the GOP nomination, the absolute worst thing he could do is have a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate with President Obama. Seriously: an hour to ninety minutes of raw, unscripted, uninterrupted Gingrich? There is no limit to the size of the hole that man will dig for himself, all the while thinking how dazzling he’s being. And there’s Obama, grinning his ass off, letting Gingrich dig, waiting for his turn. If we know anything about Obama, it’s that he knows how to stay focused and on message. He’d do just fine in a long form debate; you might not like the policies he espouses but you can bet he’d promulgate them in a safe and sane-sounding way, which, to anyone not already in the Gingrich camp, and with the fortitude to withstand an entire three-hour debate, would be all he would need. Obama might bore you, but he wouldn’t scare you.
Dear Newt: Obama would love to do a Lincoln-Douglas debate with you. He would love it more than candy. But it looks like he won’t get that chance.
Mind you, Gingrich’s essential Gingrichosity is not the only reason he’s trending down at the moment. The scads of negative ads his opponents are targeting at him are doing their fair share as well, and as I understand it Gingrich’s campaign is cash-poor enough that responding to those ads has not been something he’s been about to afford much of (he did just make an ad buy in Iowa, but it’s small compared to the ad buys of Romney and Perry). Even so, I don’t think Gingrich being Gingrich helps him any.
He can draw this out a while (and make no mistake that the Democrats would love for him to do that, as long as humanly possible) but at the end of the day the reason I suspect we’ve hit and passed the Peak Gingrich moment is because ultimately Gingrich reminds people of someone who is an unpleasant showoff. The person he’s reminding them of is possibly him.
Yesterday afternoon I asked for feedback from Whatever readers regarding the site and what they liked and didn’t like and what suggestions they might have going forward. I got 150-some responses since then, which is a very nice, so thanks all of you for that. While I am still soliciting that feedback (if you want to give it), here are some thoughts on what I’ve received so far, plus some thoughts on 2012 content.
1. What people like/dislike/want to see more of is all across the board, which tells me something I already knew, which is that people who come here to read do so for a variety of different reasons — some like the pieces about writing more than other stuff, some like the political screeds, some like the pictures of cats and sunsets, and so on. This is fine, of course; I write the site in something of a “variety show” format, since that’s how my brain works and what goes up here is what’s in my brain whenever I sit down to write here. As noted earlier, I don’t see that changing much in the next year (or, well, ever).
2. That said, one thing you are likely to see more of in 2012 are politically-oriented posts. It’s a presidential election year here in the US, and I have a suspicion it’s going to be a particularly nasty election year, and I also suspect a fair share of my brain is going to be occupied with it. So there’s a good chance a lot of that will end up here.
I’ll probably have a more detailed post about this later, but for now I’ll just say that most of you by now have a reasonably good idea of what my political biases are, and that will of course inform what I post here politically. As for what this means, I will refer you to my site disclaimer, particular the sentence which reads “I make no claims as toward being even-handed, fair, or nice.” I think generally I call out political stupidity when I see it; however, I don’t believe that, currently, stupidity is evenly distributed across the political spectrum.
3. Regarding Big Idea posts, I don’t think you’re going to see much change either in format or frequency; I generally post a couple a week and it seems to be a good amount in terms of my goals for the feature, and for my ability to keep up with it. Some of you will remember I planned to spin off the Big Idea to its own site; that got shelved primarily because I and and the other two principals involved simply ended up getting too busy with other things. Fortunately it works perfectly well as a feature here.
4. Regarding the “New Books” feature, which were originally posts and then were added to the sidebar: It’s definitely coming back in 2012. I just got bogged down in real world stuff and didn’t update, and didn’t want it growing stale during the holidays. You can expect service to resume when the calendar turns.
5. One commenter wondered if my being the SFWA president had an effect on what I wrote here regarding current publishing debates, issues and events. The answer to this is, yes, a bit. Although I have been careful to deliniate between John Scalzi, private individual and John Scalzi, SFWA president (especially on this site), the two still reside in the same body and overlap, and what I say as a private individual is still noted by SFWA members, who may reasonably then wonder how it affects my thinking as SFWA president, and thereby, SFWA’s policy and organizational stances. This makes me (slightly) more circumspect about blathering on certain subjects here than I might otherwise be, especially if I find it on point to something that’s in SFWA’s wheelhouse. It’s a combination of the nature of the position, and my own decision that I owe SFWA and its membership the courtesy of placing their priorities over my own desire to blather in public.
My reign of terror tenure as SFWA president comes to an end on July 1, 2012, at which point, of course, full unfettered blatheration will again be the order of the day. And I’m sure until then I will still have things to say on writing and publishing, as I usually do. “Circumspection” does not mean “completely silent.”
6. On the subject of site design and tweaking: As I’ve noted before, I am a bit limited in what I can do because of WordPress.com, but I think I should be clear and note that the largest vector of limitation is my own competence, not WordPress.com’s flexibility. For WordPress VIP accounts, true template tinkering requires me to upload changes via Subversion plus other technical stuff which strains my own personal limits of technical knowledge (most VIP-level accounts have dedicated Web dudes and dudettes; I have just me). So for now I use some standard WP templates and a little light CSS coding that can be accomplished without heavy lifting or resorting to Subversion.
One of the things I am considering for 2012 (or further out) is a top-to-bottom redesign of the site that makes it functional exactly the way I want it to be functional. But that will take both time and money and in both cases I will need to be able to justify the expenditure, especially since Whatever is essentially a glorified hobby. So in the meantime I’ll do the tweaks I can, but understand that my true talent lies in writing, not Web design.
7. On commenters: Many of you have praised me for comment moderation (thank you), but also see some people in the threads you consider trolls, or (more charitably) overly obnoxious and not adding to the conversation. The solution in those cases is simple: Ignore them. There will always be people who will skate right up to what I consider the general Minimum Level of Comportment, possibly because they’re socially clueless or because they’re assholes and that’s just what they do. In either case, when you see their name on a comment, just bloop over whatever that person has to say and continue on. I have to read every comment here, but you don’t, and you certainly don’t have to respond to them, especially when your response boils down to “wow, you’re just a perfect asshole, aren’t you?” Because that doesn’t make you look particularly good, does it. So: Ignore them. It’s not that hard to do, especially when most other people here are offering comments of substance.
As to why I tolerate the occasional commenter of cretinous comportment, well, the short answer is probably because it amuses me to do so, and because over the breadth of their entire engagement on the site I have not found every comment to be cretinous. I’ll mallet them when I think they’ve gotten out of line. And lest you think I am discussing a single person, I’ll note there is an actual list of people for whom the Mallet of Loving Correction is in a state of permanent readiness. Tolerance requires vigilance. Vigilance, I say!
8. There will continue to be cat and sunset pictures, never fear. Because I know how you are.
9. Some people wondered why I bother posting those “I’m not here” posts I do. The answer is because if I don’t by the end of the day I get e-mails/private tweets/social media messages from people concerned that something horrible has happened here at the Scalzi Compound. This is in fact one of the drawbacks of writing more or less daily; if you don’t, some folks will assume the worst. So it’s easier just to say “I’m not here today.” Yes, this is more than a little silly. But, eh.
10. My OCD requires ten items on this list.
Oh wait, I did have something here:
Tagging posts: I do in fact leave most posts untagged and the reason is because a) I am lazy, b) relating to the aforementioned OCD, if I start tagging every post from now on, I will feel a compulsion to go through and tag every single post here to date, which is more than six thousand. Which is a lot. It’s not to say I won’t do it, but if I do, again, it’ll take planning, and money, since I would probably hire someone to do it, that poor bastard, rather than do it myself.
This is me on the balcony of the offices of the Chicago Maroon in the Ida Noyes building at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1989. In the summer the newspaper did one weekly edition, so as editor-in-chief I had to stick around for it. The plant, incidentally, belonged to my girlfriend. She left it with me for the summer and I took a picture of it to prove I hadn’t killed it yet. The picture was taken by James Warden, who is now at it professionally. Go check out his site.
Today I’m having what would best be called an “in-service” day here at Whatever, which is to say I’m thinking a little bit about things I want to do with the site in the upcoming year. In an overall sense the “whatever” ethos — i.e., writing about whatever I want to write about because that’s what I feel like writing about at that moment — will still be the general rule. At the same time, a little planning and forethought wouldn’t be bad either. The site’s had its best year ever in terms of readers (as far as I can tell) and I’d like to keep it trending upward. Also, as a general thing, I’m curious about how people see the site and how they read/use/enjoy it on a day-to-day basis.
So, my dear readers: Tell me, if you would, the things that you’ve enjoyed about Whatever in the last year, what things you’ve not enjoyed, and what you wouldn’t mind seeing more (or less) of in 2012 (That’s you, mind you, don’t focus on what you think others would like/not like. Let them speak for themselves, please). If you have praise, swell. If you have complaints, don’t feel you have to sugarcoat it (although, you know. Don’t be any meaner than you have to). Basically, let me know what you’re thinking about Whatever.
This post I just found in an archive of the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup, dated July 21, 1997:
Just got finished writing my very first novel
Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.
96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.
Learned two things:
a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;
b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.
I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.
Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
John M. Scalzi II
Writer/Editor, America Online http://members.aol.com/jscalzi
“THIS isn’t John Scalzi! John Scalzi is a dashing bon vivant! Where is the John Scalzi
of our youth, the John Scalzi of television, film and those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure
— A slightly drunk co-worker
Which novel? This one. I remember writing it in my apartment in Sterling, on Microsoft Works. Takes me back, it does.
Incidentally, don’t try looking for the personal site noted in my signature. It’s not there anymore. Hasn’t been for some time now. I like the signature quote, though. I wish I could remember who specifically said it.
Also: alt.society.generation-x. Good times, man. Good times.
We’re currently at $2,000. Which, you know, is fantastic. But there’s absolutely no reason that it couldn’t go higher. Especially when you’re bidding to create a sum that will go to give toys and games to small children in hospitals. Here’s all the details about the auction and how to bid.
Not every writer comes up with an idea and immediately moves on it. Some let the idea sit and develop — or let life get them to a point where they’re ready to take it on. Take Eric Griffith and his novel Beta Test. The idea was there, but were the conditions ripe for the writing? Griffith explains when he knew when it was time to take Beta Test to gold master.
Some ideas just eat at you over time until they’re ready to burst forth like Athena, fully formed from the head of Zeus, where she’d gestated for months until his headaches became too much to bear and he asked Hephaestus to crack open his skull.
My book is not like that, at all. It required very little blunt-force skull trauma. Almost none.
The idea for a story called Beta Test popped into my brain years ago. I expect it did so because I was over-thinking the term “beta test” itself, which has to do with testing software before it ships. I was also undergoing a “crisis of atheism” which didn’t last long. Mash those things together and the idea came to me: “What if there really is a God and we’re all just part of a program he’s beta testing?”
The title seemed great, but it was hardly a new idea. A few years later, I recognized elements of it in The Matrix. Entire papers have been written about how our own universe is someone else’s virtual reality. (I know, because I downloaded a couple of truly boring dissertations on the topic and tried to read them.) Really, I thought, it’s ultimately kind of boring. Virtual reality: yawn.
So I forgot about it. For 14 years. Mostly. But Beta Test was always there, a tickle of an idea in my noggin.
Then what I’d imagined started to come true. Sort of. I watched as my then wife become absorbed in an online virtual reality world called Second Life and it truly was her second life. She was on it constantly. I tried it and didn’t really see the point. I couldn’t shoot bad guys! There were no puzzles! It was just boring… like the first life.
But it was impossible to overlook how interesting it was to some people, and not hard at all to extrapolate what it would be like if our own world was, indeed, a game. Not for us–we, the people (and animals and plants and aliens and whatever developed in our universe) are not players, we’re the non-player characters–but that doesn’t make us appreciate our lives any less.
That became the big idea. The game (and thus, all life) is going to end soon. First the players leave, but the “servers” keep running. Someone is going to turn it all off, eventually. And that means all the non-players who live on go buh-bye. Right?
My protagonist, of course, had to stop that, so I had a plot. It didn’t hurt that I based the main characters on friends of mine; they gave me a love story.
If it’s not obvious, the book isn’t about how humanity survives a horrifying mass-disappearance. In Beta Test that’s just one little bit of the big bag of crazy that takes place. Ultimately, it became a quest. Hopefully a fun quest, that includes chase scenes, off-beat romance, dinosaurs (the alpha test!), and, naturally, a higher power or two.
Fuzzy Nation mass market paperback: March 27, 2012
Also, 24 Frames Into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Film will be available in February, although I don’t have the specific dates on that yet. It’ll definitely be available at Boskone 49, however, where I am scheduled as the Guest of Honor.
There seem to be a couple of glitches here and there when I call up the site (others have noticed it as well). Since the blog is hosted by WordPress, I suspect it’s something on their end. If I had to guess I would bet it had something to do with WP version 3.3. being distributed today, but that’s just me guessing. In any event, the glitches seem to be pretty short-lived, so if you have a problem with the site today, wait a second or two and hit “reload.” That’s been working for me so far.
My thoughts? I’m fine with it, of course. I am the fellow who encourages writers to embrace their one-star reviews, and accept the idea that one’s work will never be universally loved, remember. The fact the strip was not universally loved is not exactly tripping me up. C’est la vie. It’s part of the gig. If you’re not ready to accept that this sort of thing will happen — especially when trying something new, in front of a different crowd than you usually have — then this probably isn’t the best line of work for you. As I’ve mentioned here before, you just put on your Big Writer pants and deal with it.
Personally, I had a blast with the strip — it was cool to get the invite, good to work with Jeff on it, and I wrote a strip I would find amusing as a reader. Would I do it again? Hell, yeah. I had fun.
Since we’ve lived here in Ohio for coming on eleven years now, we decided it was finally time to let go of our house in Sterling, Virginia, where we lived when Athena was born. So, if you or someone you know is in the market for a home in the Washington, DC area, here’s a fabulous five bedroom house in a nice neighborhood in a great town, just waiting for you. Seriously, we loved living in this house, and we think it’ll be a great house for others.
Here’s the official listing; once you’re there, click on the “ML#” link and it’ll expand out the listing to give you all the details as well as a couple dozen pictures of the place. The realtor’s information is there at the link, so if you really are interested, contact her and let her know (you don’t need to contact me; we have a real estate agent for a reason).
Damn, now I’m a little choked up. I liked this house. Hopefully it’ll make its new owners equally happy.