This Evening’s Political/Philosophical Question

So, if Mitt Romney gets a larger share of the popular vote in Michigan’s primary, but due to the state’s apportionment rules, ends up tied with Rick Santorum in the number of delegates he gets from the state, can he actually be said to have won the Michigan state primary? After all, the whole point of the primary was to portion out delegates; it’s the delegates who go to the GOP convention.


The Big Idea: Walter Jon Williams

Walter Jon Williams is thinking about the entertainment media of the future in his latest novel The Fourth Wall, and despite all the technological advances that have been made in entertainment — and are yet to be made — there will still be some things that are constant, for better or worse. What things will those be, and how to they play a part in Williams’ tale? He will explain now; he has no problem breaking the fourth wall to address you directly.


In the future, how will you get your entertainment?

If your answer is “via Wi-Fi,” then the only possible response is, “Well, duh.

The future of entertainment is one of the issues I raise in my new novel The Fourth Wall, the third book featuring the near-future adventures of game designer Dagmar Shaw.  But fortunately it’s not a book that’s entirely about the exciting possibilities of Wi-Fi.

And while the book I makes some guesses as to possible delivery systems for future entertainment, I realized early on that one thing wouldn’t change.  If you’re making something like a movie, you’re still going to need actors, and all that they imply.

And yes, it’s possible that in the future programmers may cross the Uncanny Valley and render a perfectly realistic electronic simulacrum of a human being out of 3D mesh . . . but you know what?  That electronic image is never going to guarantee a strong opening box office.  For that, you need actors.  You need movie stars.  You need someone who can give an interview to Entertainment Tonight, someone who can live a life that embodies the fantasy of half of Middle America, a life that can be written about in the tabloids.

Who would you rather see on a billboard?  Angelina Jolie, or the guy who headed a team to create a 3D mesh simulacrum of Angelina Jolie?

So yeah, we’re stuck with actors.  Sorry.

That’s why, though Dagmar remains the focus of the novel, my narrator is an actor.  And in fact he’s a character that had been on my mind for some time.

I remember, some years ago, seeing a documentary on former child stars and thinking, Hmm, this is a really interesting pathology.  Because so many of them would clearly have cut off their right hand with a chainsaw if it could have meant going back to their glory days . . . when they were ten or thirteen.   They hadn’t grown, they hadn’t changed, they weren’t able to look back on their lives with any kind of maturity or insight.  They just wanted it all back, except that now they were too old to be cute and they’d never, ever find their way home.

I’d been thinking about my child star character for years before it occurred to me that he’d be the ideal narrator for The Fourth Wall.  Sean is pushing thirty, his appearance has shifted from the “cute” to the “creepy” side of the scale, his parents stole all his money when he was still a minor, and his current claim on fame is that he’s trapped in a reality show called Celebrity Pitfighter.  He’s desperate enough to sign on for Dagmar’s projects even though, by now, it’s clear they come with a high mortality rate.

Why don’t I let him explain that decision himself?

In the past I’d worked for alcoholics, drug addicts, pedophiles, thieves, con men, and megalomaniacs. 

I’d never worked for a terrorist before.   But this was a terrorist with money and the offer of a job. 

And I can understand, from personal experience, how your friends can end up dead, and how it can be your fault, but not really, because you didn’t mean to do anything bad.

Working for Dagmar seems morally justifiable to me.

Sean is the victim of a pathology not uncommon in the entertainment business: he thinks that celebrity and happiness and love are all the same thing.  If he can generate headlines, if he’s the focus of all manner of unseemly attention from paparazzi and the public, it doesn’t matter quite so much if people are dropping dead all around him.  He’s happy.  He’s got what he wants.  What’s the problem?

The problem, in fact, is that Sean has a secret he can’t reveal, because then all the love would really, really go away.  Fast.  For good.  An investigation might well uncover this crucial moment in his own past, and he can’t risk that.  And so to protect his own secret, he has to figure out what’s going on, and why so many people are suddenly at risk.

Which brings him right up against Dagmar, who has secrets of her own that she doesn’t intend to share.

Dagmar’s secrets are, in fact, the science fiction part of the book.  (Did I fail to mention the book is science fiction?)  But because the science fiction parts are secret, I can’t tell you about them.  The best I can do is tantalize.  Sorry about that.

So everyone in The Fourth Wall has secrets that they’re desperate to keep.  They’re all harnessed together in a revolutionary new entertainment project Dagmar has cooked up, and they all know each other far too well, and people are getting killed for reasons that probably have to do with the secrets that other people are carrying.

One of which is the science fiction, which is quietly simmering away in the background the whole time.

The Fourth Wall has murder, mystery, action, intrigue, and glamorous Hollywood stuff.

And it has one of my favorite scenes ever, of all those I’ve ever written.   I won’t spoil it for you, except to mention that it involves cottage cheese wrestling.

Because cottage cheese wrestling is something you have the right to know about.

The Fourth Wall is nothing short of a Hollywood extravaganza.  I cordially invite you to buy a ticket.


The Fourth Wall: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog.

Turkish OMW Cover

That’s a pretty cool cover. It’s for the Turkish edition of Old Man’s War, which is titled Yaşlı Adamın Savaşı, which is pretty much a direct translation of the English-language title as far as I can tell. I don’t know who the artist and cover designer are, but they did a nice job.

From what I can tell from the Google translation of this page, the book will be available in Turkey starting the first week of March, which technically is… tomorrow? Or perhaps next Monday? In either case, it’s not too long now.

A tip of the hat to Whatever reader Baris bey, who brought the cover to my attention. Thank you!

Oscar and China Thoughts

This week at I post my thoughts on the Oscars — and whether I now consider Oscar winners Hugo and Midnight in Paris genre films — and also do a follow up on last week’s thoughts on China and sf/f film production. It’s gripping stuff, the sort of thing you read only once in a lifetime (because next week I’ll have gone on to a new topic and hey, you have a life, but even so). It’s all waiting for you. Run to it, my friends.

Cudo Stupidity Followup

Regarding that oblivious Australian online retailer Cudo, co-owned by Microsoft and Channel Nine, that offered a cheap reader bundled with a CD full of hot, piping stack of copyright violations, it looks like there’s some positive movement.

Here’s a nice piece on the matter from The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper (disclosure: I was contacted by the reporter for background information). The gist of it is that Cudo a) asserts it is not going to ship the copyright violating discs and will apparently upgrade the eBook readers while they’re at it, b) is trying to shift the blame for their screw-up to the vendor they were working with on the sale, c) is getting pummeled for its idiocy by publishers and the government. Here’s a relevant quote from the piece, from NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts: “I don’t believe that group buying sites can walk away from quality or compliance of the goods and services sold through their sites.”

Spoken for truth, Minister Roberts. Due diligence is not a particularly novel concept. The time for Cudo to kick this stupidity to the curb would have been before it blithely offered up thousands of copyright violations, not after thousands of folks paid for them. The fact that this ridiculous CD of copyright violations made it out for sale suggests that the people at Cudo are either ethically challenged or incompetent, or both. It’s nice that folks were around to complain loudly and publicly enough to get some forward movement on this, and to get Cudo to act in the interests of writers, however grudgingly. But it’s not at all clear, given the site’s earlier actions (like removing a link to the listing of the works on the copyright-violating CD from their sales page, but not the sales page itself, which continued to advertise the CD as part of the package), that if Cudo hasn’t been embarrassed into doing something — and faced with potential lawsuits, let’s not forget that — it would have done anything at all.

In short, this episode has not left me impressed with Cudo at all. I’d like to chalk this up to stupid mistakes. I’m not entirely sure I can.