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.


Big Idea

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.


Birthday Song

For my pal Deven, whose birthday is today. He likes Steely Dan! And so do I.

Also, I got him a pony. Boy, are they hard to mail. Just so you know.


SFWA Is Redirecting Amazon Links From Its Site

Come find out why (the short answer: Amazon is fighting with publishers again and in the process hurting writers).

Comments turned off here, per my usual practice regarding SFWA notifications.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Chad Orzel

A couple of years ago physics professor Chad Orzel (and his dog Emmy) endeavored to explain physics to humans with How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. That book went on to become a worldwide success, with translations into ten languages to date. How do you follow up? By diving deeper into an especially strange and wonderful aspect to physics — the part we get from Einstein. And thus How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, the latest scientific adventure from Chad and Emmy, and also, the universe. Here’s Chad to talk to you about his position on it all.


In a way, a book about Einstein’s theory of relativity is uniquely suited to a series about Big Ideas. Relativity, at its heart, is a theory built on a single Big Idea:

The laws of physics do not depend on how you’re moving.

For all its fearsome reputation, everything stems from that single, simple idea. Whether you’re moving or standing still, floating in space or on the surface of a planet, you will see the laws of physics work in exactly the same way.

All that stuff about the speed of light being the same for everyone? The speed of light is a consequence of the physics of electromagnetism, expressed in Maxwell’s equations. Since the laws of physics do not depend on how you’re moving, you will always see light move at exactly the same speed.

All that stuff about moving clocks running slow, moving objects shrinking, and twins who are different ages? Because physics is the same for all observers, and the speed of light is a constant, moving observers must disagree about how much time passes between two events, and even about the order in which they occurred.

All that stuff about gravity warping space and bending light? It’s a consequence of what Einstein called “the happiest thought of my life,”the realization that there’s no difference between falling due to gravity and floating in space. Once you recognize that, the bending of light and the warping of space follow.

Einstein’s great achievement wasn’t that he invented all these weird phenomena– other scientists like Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, George FitzGerald, and Henri Poincaré; came up with most of those well before Einstein. Einstein’s great contribution was showing that all the weird stuff is inevitable once you accept the central principle that the laws of physics do not depend on how you’re moving.Einstein succeeded where others had failed because he provided clear,compelling, and logical explanations for the strange results that others had balked at.

If relativity is so inevitable, though, why does it seem so weird? And what does a dog have to do with any of this?

Relativity seems weird because its biggest effects occur in situations that are very far removed from our everyday experience: objects moving very close to the speed of light, or exotic objects like black holes whose mass is great enough to significantly warp space and time.Relativity’s predictions have been confirmed to an amazing degree of precision in experiments ranging from subatomic particles to the entire universe. But those experiments require sensitive scientific equipment– particle accelerators, telescopes, and ultra-precise atomic clocks– that isn’t the sort of thing you have lying around in the garage.

That’s because relativity produces big effects only in circumstances that are very far removed from our everyday experience. When we approach the theory, we bring with us a lot of experience witheveryday situations, where relativity makes almost no difference, and relativity confounds the expectations we have based on that experience.

Which is where the dog comes in. Dogs, unlike humans, come to physics with very few preconceptions about how the world ought to work. To adog, the world is an endless source of surprise and wonder. The slowing of a moving clock is no more perplexing to a dog than the operation of a doorknob, which puts them in a good place to begin to understand the theory.

And we’ve got a terrific dog to help with this process: our German shepherd mix, Emmy, back for more after How to Teach Physics to Your Dog (previous Big Idea). Each chapter of the book opens with a dialogue between me and Emmy, in which she latches on to some aspect of relativity as relevant to her interests, and I gently explain how it really works. That’s followed by a more detailed explanation for interested humans, interrupted occasionally by questions from Emmy, who helps clear up points that people reading the book might find confusing. And, of course, since relativity involves multiple moving observers, there are cameos from a bunch of other dogs owned by friends and family, and even from my sister’s dastardly cat, Nero.

So, while the central idea of Einstein’s theory is that physics doesn’t depend on how you’re moving, the central idea behind How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog is that the best way to understand Einstein’s theory is to think like a dog. If you can put aside human preconceptions about what ought to happen, and work through the consequences of the principle of relativity, you can better appreciate the power and beauty of the theory.


How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.


Genuinely the Stupidest Thing I Have Seen on the Internet in a Very Long Time

Australian bargain site Cudo, apparently co-run by Microsoft and Channel Nine, offers for an e-reader for sale, complete with a CD of 4,000 written works, the purported titles of which are here. If that title listing is correct on that CD, then tons of those books are under copyright, including what looks like hundreds of titles from SFWA members. Who I am pretty sure didn’t sign off on having their works burned onto a CD to be stuffed into an e-reader.

Dear Cudo: Are you fucking kidding me? Are you people genuinely stupid enough to do something like this? I’m guessing that even in Australia there’s such a thing as violation of copyright. The idea that a subsidiary of Microsoft and Australia’s second-ranking television network, two entities that probably get peeved at people violating their copyrights, would blithely sell a CD that is almost certainly packed with unauthorized versions of copyrighted works just simply boggles the mind. You are a big, fat, soft, obvious lawsuit target. And as of this writing, you’ve sold 2,054 units of this thing, which means that you have possibly engaged in up to eight million two hundred sixteen thousand acts of copyright violation. That’s pretty impressive, it is.

Honestly, folks, I’m kind of agog on this. I have to believe that what we’re seeing here is a genuine and colossal mistake, because the other option is that Cudo is treating hundreds of living, working writers and their work with actual contempt. Either way, it’s the sort of 200-proof stupidity you just don’t see that much of anymore. And either way, I want to take whoever it was who approved this item for sale and keelhaul him (or her) across the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether by ignorance or by contempt, Cudo is very likely screwing a whole bunch of writers. These writers deserve better. And, of course, they deserve to be paid.

(Via Metafilter)

Update, 6:30 am 2/29: Cudo gets a clue.


My Day

Has been spent doing publicity for the Italian release of Old Man’s War, which has meant three e-mail interviews. Question present in each interview: “Hey, isn’t Scalzi an Italian last name? Are you Italian?” Why yes. Yes, I am. Well, Italian-American. Actually, more accurately Italian-English-Irish-French-Dutch-NERD-American. But still.

How’s your Monday?


Outgoing SFWA VP Mary Robinette Kowal Endorses Rachel Swirsky For VP

You may read her reasoning here.

I am running unopposed for President (again) (again), but the Vice Presidential race has two candidates, Rachel Swirsky and Lou Antonelli, both of whose candidacy statements SFWA members may see here.

As president, I have no doubt that I will happily work with whomever the SFWA members, in their wisdom, choose to elect, and I am pleased our members have a choice of candidates for the role.

As a practical matter, I don’t know Mr. Antonelli, although I am sure he would work hard to be a good VP for the organization. I do know Rachel Swirsky and have a good idea of her capabilities. In my experience of her, I think she would make a very good vice president, both for SFWA, and for me as president.


The Lifespan of a Silly Argument

I’m reading this New York Times review of The Lifespan of a Fact, an unusual book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. On each page of the book is a paragraph of an essay D’Agata wrote about the suicide of a Las Vegas teenager; surrounding the paragraph are the queries about the piece by Fingal, a fact-checker for The Believer magazine (which planned to run the piece), and also D’Agata’s responses to Fingal about the fact-checking.

I have not read the book yet, but from the review and other pieces I have read about it online, the problem here appears to be that in regards to the essay, Fingal was under the impression that the piece was non-fiction (probably because The Believer apparently does not accept fiction), and therefore the facts within it had to be, you know, non-fictitious. Whereas D’Agata appears to have argued, essentially, that facts were stupid things, that that their individual truth value was not as important as an overall “Truth” that he was aiming for, and the the essay form in itself was being deprived of resonance due to a slavish insistence on factual correctness. D’Agata and Fingal sparred on these matters for five years before the actual essay was published in The Believer in 2010. Five years.

My thoughts on the five years thing are these:

1. If I were Fingal, eventually — which is to say after about maybe a month — I would have told The Believer that the author was being a complete dick about the fact-checking process, resigned from fact-checking the article, and told my editors that they should under no circumstances print the essay as non-fiction because significant portions of it were simply made up.

2. If I were the editors of The Believer, I would have paid D’Agata a kill fee and washed my hands of the whole mess.

3. If I were D’Agata — well, I wouldn’t be D’Agata, not to put too fine a point on it. If I have a contract for a non-fiction article or book, I do feel obliged to live up to the terms of the contract and write something that is not significantly fictitious, the facts of which can be verified by me or others. Call it professional courtesy. D’Agata may have been under the impression that The Believer was okay with his non-non-fiction, but that impression probably should have changed in the light of evidence to the contrary, namely, The Believer assigning a fact checker to the piece.

At that point, the rational thing would have been either to co-operate with the fact-checker in an efficient fashion or to withdraw the piece and find a more congenial market. D’Agata did neither, apparently, choosing to entrench and make the piece his own literary Verdun. I guess it beats Scrabble.

I find it flummoxing that none of the parties — D’Agata, Fingal or The Believer — did the rational actions available to each of them at certain critical points in the process, choosing to instead to embark on a five-year exercise in — what, exactly? The essay (or the excerpt above which I linked to) is perfectly readable but, stylistically or otherwise, not worth falling on one’s sword for. That D’Agata and Fingal went around and around for five years on the thing suggests to be that either the two men lack the personal support systems that would allow people in their lives to tell them just to let the thing go, or (rather more likely to me) that early on the two men realized their argument might be salable performance art, and the editors of The Believer either signed off on it or shrugged and said “whatever, get it to us when you’re done.”

Again, I haven’t read the book so I can’t speak directly to D’Agata’s theory of the essay, but on the surface I don’t find the idea that an essay can be something other than strictly non-fiction to be  at all controversial. I think it’s perfectly fine to use facts or real-world events as a jumping off point for something that goes fantastical from that point forward, dipping back into reality if and when required by the author’s own vision. If D’Agata does indeed want to plant a flag on that hill, I would tell him to go ahead and do it and have fun and report back to us when he’s done. Just don’t let that essay masquerade around as non-fiction, because it’s not. When you make things up, or intentionally take artistic license on facts, then you’re writing fiction.

And honestly I’m a little confused why this is an issue at all. Look: D’Agata wrote a fictional essay, based on a real event. That’s all he did. I’m not sure why everyone involved chose to make such a production about it, other than the idea that making a production about it was the actual point of the whole exercise. In which case I expect the sequel to be a screenwriter and a historian arguing about what it means that the screenwriter’s gladiator screenplay is rearranging the real-world timeline and fudging historical details for the sake of dramatic convenience. That’ll be a fun one, I’m sure.


2012 Oscar Prediction Post Addendum

Every year when the Oscar nominations are announced I make predictions in the top six categories (here’s this year’s), and then closer to the ceremony I (if necessary) tweak my initial guesses. This year I need to do some tweaking, so here’s what I think will go down.

Best Picture & Best Director: In these categories I was leaning toward The Descendants and Alexander Payne, respectively, although I mentioned at the time it was a razor-thin contest between The Descendants/Payne and The Artist/Michel Hazanavicius. In the interim it looks like The Descendants has lost some steam, so now I’m going for The Artist and Hazanavicus to win. It’s that whole “Harvey Weinstein knows how to win Oscars” thing. There’s an outside chance Hugo/Martin Scorsese might sneak in there, but it really is an outside chance.

Supporting Actress: I went with Melissa McCarthy because, I don’t know, I thought the Academy might be adventurous this year. at this point, however, I suspect the relatively safe choice of Octavia Spencer. Although given the momentum of The Artist, it’s entirely possible that Bérénice Bejo might sneak off with this one. If she does, it’s going to be a long night for everyone involved with every other film, because The Artist is going to sweep.

Supporting Actor: I picked Max von Sydow here, but everyone tells me it’s Christopher Plummer’s year. Well, fine. As a “body of work” award, von Sydow should get it, but I’m not going to complain if Plummer picks it off, since he’s not exactly chopped liver in the career category either.

As noted when I first made predictions, this year’s been pretty opaque for me in terms of making guesses, and I’m sort of resigned to doing rather worse than my usual 5-for-6 record when it comes to Oscar predictions. I am not-so-strangely okay with this, however, since it suggests a more interesting Oscar year than other years. In any event we’ll find out this evening.


Why It’s Nice to Live in a Small Town

Because when Mike passed away this last week people in town knew and cared.

My daughter’s powerlifting coach showed up at the door with a condolence card for Athena signed by every member of the team.

The local library sent a lovely flower arrangement for Mike’s visitation and sent someone to attend the memorial.

When I ordered a pizza last night, the delivery person refused payment and said the folks at the restaurant offered their condolences.

These are small things, but right now small things are meaningful and it makes me glad to live where I do, among these good folks. Thought I would share that.


Oh, Hey, a Redshirts Giveaway From

They have five to give away. Want one? Go here and leave a comment. You’ll be entered. And then you might win.

US only. I know. Sorry, rest of the world.


E-Mail Note + General Status Update

First the e-mail note and then the update.

E-Mail: Between travel to Boskone last weekend and my father-in-law’s passing this week, lots of e-mail got past me this week. I’m catching up on it today, but if you sent me e-mail in the last week and were hoping for a response, if you have not received a response to it by 5pm today, feel free to resend. The only exception to this is Big Idea queries; I tend to batch process those every couple of weeks. So don’t panic if you don’t see something from me on that immediately.

Update: I’m fine and the rest of the family is fine but we’re all very tired. It’s been an exhausting week physically and emotionally, as you may well imagine. The memorial was yesterday, and although there are still some details to work on involving insurance, Social Security and the like, at this point what we have to do is simply continue on. We’re doing that now. I suspect this weekend will mostly given over to doing not a damn thing except watching big dumb explody movies on TV. At the very least, that seems like a good plan to me. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Once again, thanks to everyone who passed along condolences and good thoughts for my family, and especially to Krissy, Athena, and Dora, my mother-in-law. They were nice to see.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Robert Jackson Bennett

What does YouTube have to do with the vaudeville theaters that used to pepper the United States — and what do either have to do with Art (yes, with a capital “A”)? These are excellent questions, and in the course of writing The Troupe, Shirley Jackson Prize-winner (and current Edgar and Philip K Dick award nominee) Robert Jackson Bennett attempted to answer these questions to his own satisfaction. Will he answer them to yours? Read below and find out.


I was once asked exactly what class of zombies I’d chosen to feature in one of my novels. I found it a very difficult question to answer because I had no idea I’d put in any zombies in the story at all. I am still not quite sure what that person meant: I imagine they simply wished to read a zombie story, and were prepared to interpret whichever book they happened to pick up as exactly that.

This oddity recalls to mind another story, this one of a friend’s aunt: the friend was very artistic, often digressing about certain painters at great length, but the aunt always bowed out of the conversation, because she “just didn’t like art.” She never had, she said. It was just one of the things she never “got.”

It was several years later that the aunt discovered she was largely colorblind. How someone can go through life without any awareness of this is beyond me, but it would certainly explain why she’d never cottoned on to Degas.

Art is weird. You are never really sure if what you are interpreting was intentionally put there by the creator, or if you are putting it there yourself.

But I suppose one could say the same thing about the world. We carry invisible filters around our eyes that dictate what we see, and how. Two people witnessing the same incident can come away with completely different conclusions. Is how one interprets a work of art any different from how one interprets the world itself?

This idea sat in my head, and it bubbled, and it percolated. And one day I started thinking of the world like a story. No, not just a story – a performance. Maybe a song, stretching on and on and on. And we, like any reader, like any audience member, try to interpret it, wondering, “Why? Why this? What was the intent behind this? Who wrote this, who sang this, and why?”

That was how The Troupe started. A song in the dark, and a hidden singer, and the whole world wondering about the nature of this song.

So I imagined a troupe of traveling performers, doing their bit and entertaining the low-brow in the most low-brow of fashions. And I knew I wanted their performances to have something fundamental about them, something primordial, as if their style of performance was the progenitor of all forms of entertainment today.

Which, of course, led me straight to vaudeville.

Within vaudeville are the building blocks of all American entertainment. Stretching from the late 19th century right up to the advent of motion pictures, vaudeville was the most accessible, most colorful, most surreal, and the most utterly dominant form of entertainment in America. It was, in its barest essence, a circuit of theaters running along the railways, and all of these theaters were managed by an overarching booking office: the booking office plumbed the depths of the world of entertainment, and tapped a lucky few to travel the circuits; and it chose which of these acts traveled which parts of the circuit, and which theaters they performed at, and where they sat on the bill (for the theater bill was a holy text, a preeminent emblem indicating exactly how important you were, and which sort of act you were, and how much of a crowd you’d get).

There were two main circuits: the Keith-Albee in the East, and the Orpheum in the West. Chicago was the dividing line. If you were booked on either of these circuits, you were undeniably Big Time.

These circuits were so huge, so successful, that the entertainment they showcased set the mold for all American entertainment right up until today. We would not have sketch comedy or standup or musicals without vaudeville – no Saturday Night Live, no Louis CK, no Glee. But we would also not have Youtube, or Bugs Bunny, or a whole hell of a lot of the movies – for the people who first made the movies, and decided what the movies were and what they would do, were people who’d learned and honed their trade in vaudeville.

Vaudeville is in our artistic DNA. Though it appears dead, its standards still resonate, and to some extent it decides what we like and what we don’t like – our past, in many ways, continues to dictate our present.

So it was perfect for my troupe. But that still left the song, and the hidden singer.

Since I’d been thinking about art so much, it made me think a bit about truth. Because when you sit down to read, or watch a movie, or look at a painting, sure, sometimes you just want to be entertained, and have an hour or so filled up in a fairly enjoyable fashion. But other times you want something more. You want for your art to have a little piece of something true in it. You want to see a flash of something in a book or movie or a picture, and think, “Yes, that’s it. That’s how things are. That’s how things really are.”

So I decided that maybe during one of the troupe’s songs, there is a flash of truth… but it is of a truth so great, so powerful, and so tremendous that anyone who saw it came away changed. Yet that change would also be so fundamental that they didn’t even understand that it had happened.

Maybe during their jokes and songs and capering, one of the performers revealed a little splinter of the Eternal. And after seeing such a thing, your life can never be the same.

The Troupe is about a lot of things: on one hand, it’s about vaudeville, and a quest, and heroes and villains and bravado and redemption. But it’s also about figuring out the world, about figuring out yourself, about the elusive nature of truth. It’s about entertainment, and the fine line between the audience and the artist. It’s about growing up, and learning what acceptance and peace really mean.

Perhaps I wished to turn the world into a stage, and hang curtains around it, so we could better view it, and laugh or hurl a rotten tomato or two. With a dab of facepaint and the tinkling of a piano, perhaps we could come to understand the performance that all of us are forced to act in.

The Troupe: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book’s Web site. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


Offline Today

Last night was the visitation for Mike, my father-in-law; today is the memorial service. I’ll be spending my day with family and friends, remembering Mike and celebrating his life. You’ll see me here again on Friday, I think.

Before I go, I want to extend my thanks to all of you who have offered me and my family good wishes and condolences. It’s meant a lot, and it was good of you to do so. My sincere appreciation to each of you for your thoughts.

I’m going to turn off comments on this particular post; take the time and energy you’d take in comment to tell someone close to you that you love them. It’s more important than you think.


Shadow War of the Night Dragons Wins’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Award

I’m delighted to say that my overt and tasteless vote-mongering campaign involving kittens worked the people have spoken, and they have graced my short story “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” with the laurel of the 2011 Readers’ Choice Award, in the category of short fiction. It joins Pat Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear, which strolled away with the Novel category win (Fuzzy Nation, I’ll note, finished in the top ten, which is nice) and other winners as well. Congratulations to all.

And before you ask, no, I will not be employing the Kitten Strategy™ elsewhere. There’s a fine line between silly and obnoxious. The Kitten Strategy™ in this case? Silly and fun. Elsewhere? Obnoxious. If “Shadow War” pops up on any other slates, it will have to do so entirely kitten-free. And you know, I’ll be okay with that.


China, Hollywood, 3D

Would you like to know how a semi-obscure trade decision made by the government of China means that you are likely to have more big, expensive 3D science fiction and fantasy films in your future right here in the United States? Sure you would, which is why I wrote about just this very thing in this week’s column. Yes, it’s a small world after all, especially when it has 3D in it.

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