So, I have a new book:Redshirts. Today, June 5, is the official release day here in the US and Canada. If you are in the US or Canada, you may walk confidently into your local bookstore, say to the proprietor, “Why hello, I would like to purchase the new book Redshirts, by that fellow John Scalzi,” and they will say “But of course. Here it is. Enjoy it in all its red-jacketed glory.” Likewise, should you wish to purchase the book for yourself or others in the glorious eBook format, you may do so jubilantly, without the dreaded confines or shackles of digital rights management. Or you can choose to have it read to you, in dulcet tones, by the estimable Wil Wheaton, in the audiobook version. Truly, this is the best of all possible worlds.
On this, the day of the release of the book, let me tell you what my own plan was for this book when I start writing it: To have fun with it, and to have you have fun with it. I wanted to write something that was unapologetically a blast to read, that was also unapologetically funny — I’ve written enough novels with humor in them that I felt it was finally time to come out of the closet, as it were, and write one for which being funny was a primary goal. I think there’s more to it than just humor, particularly in the three “coda” short stories that follow the novel proper (as I’ve noted before, Redshirts as a book is a more than just a single novel). But at the end of the day, the first thing Redshirts wants to do is make you laugh. I hope it does.
I’m not going to lie to you: I’m tremendously proud of this book, and I really, really want you to read it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
For all of you who preordered the book and helped to make my publisher (and me!) already very happy with early sales: Thank you. You are fantastic. To everyone who decides to pick up the book — I hope you love it, and if you do, that you’ll tell folks about it. You telling your friends about it is the best advertising I could possibly get. So thanks if you do.
Happy reading, folks. You’re going to have fun with this one.
In case you were wondering how I spent my afternoon, it was at Book Expo America, helping explain Tor’s decision to go DRM-free. Tor.com also took the time to announce its upcoming DRM-free bookstore, which will go live later this summer. The details of the event are here, and worth reading about. I will note (as I noted in my speech at the event) that I was appearing and speaking only as myself and not as the President of SFWA; my personal remarks do not reflect SFWA policy.
Also a reminder that when Redshirts comes out tomorrow (in less than four hours time!) in the US and Canada, its eBook will be completely DRM-free, no matter which retailer you get it from.
Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum states that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. For Shadow and Bone, author Leigh Bardugo uses and interesting twist on that idea to give the magic in her book form and shape (and rules). Here she is to explain it to you.
Shadow and Bone began at the end of a darkened hall in an unfamiliar house. It began with my hand scrabbling along the wall for the light switch, sure that I could hear something breathing in the dark, something with too many teeth, waiting for me to inch just a little closer.
After I reined in my heart rate, talked sense to myself, made it to the bathroom and back to my bed, I lay awake thinking of what it was like to cross that hallway and I began to wonder, “What if darkness was a place?”
In fantasy, darkness usually operates as a metaphor—for evil, destruction, chaos, dogs and cats living together. I wanted to take something figurative and make it literal. And, of course, once I gave this wasteland substance, the logical next step was to fill it full of monsters, creatures just as bad as anything you might imagine lurking under your bed or slithering beneath the closet door. They would be blind from years spent living and breeding in the dark, but able to scent human prey from miles away. They’d be pure predators, with batlike wings so that they could come at you from any direction.
I could see a girl there, drawing light to her, leading a regiment through this nightmare territory. But what the heck were they doing there? What would lead our heroes to do battle in the dark? They could be after some magical object, but that felt a little too easy. So I tried the same trick again: I took something figurative and made it literal; I decided to tear a country apart.
The Shadow Fold (as my wasteland came to be called) would stretch from north to south across the country of Ravka. It would act as a kind of reverse blockade, separating eastern Ravka from its only coastline, leaving it landlocked, cut off from its ports and harbors. To trade with the outside world, to obtain finished goods and the weapons and ammunition needed to defend its borders, Ravka would have to find ways to cross the Fold and fend off its monsters, risking life and treasure every time. In this way, the Fold became not only a physical obstacle, but a way for me to put an entire nation in an economic chokehold and squeeze. (Don’t worry, I’m perfectly pleasant at dinner parties.)
People always ask me why I chose Russia as the cultural touchstone for my world. The easy answer is that I wanted to build atop something other than the familiar high fantasy bedrock of Medieval England. But there’s a bit more to it than that. I remember standing in a used bookstore, flipping through a Russian Imperial atlas, perusing trade routes and military campaigns. At the time, it felt like something just clicked. But looking back, the choice seems obvious: a kingdom on the brink of collapse, an incompetent monarchy squandering its resources, the failure to industrialize, an ill-equipped army of conscripted serfs. That’s a lot of tinder just looking for a spark, and it felt like a perfect fit for the broken world I was looking to create.
I also knew early on that I wanted changes in military technology to play a role in the story. Confession: Some little voice inside me always wondered why someone didn’t just muggle up and shoot Voldemort. In truth, I think Rowling sets up plenty of prohibitions against something this simple in her world building. But I did start to wonder what would happen if you brought a gun to a magic fight.
If your magical system is largely unconstrained, then that question gets boring really fast: I conjure a gun. You conjure a bigger gun and so on. Ravka is defended by the First Army, who fight using traditional means, and by the Second Army, a magical elite known as the Grisha. For the threat of modernity to be real for this country, I needed to constrain that magic, so I decided to bind it (loosely) to molecular chemistry. The Grisha practice the Small Science, the manipulation of matter at its most fundamental levels. They can’t create or animate matter. They can summon combustible gases like methane or hydrogen from the atmosphere, but they still need flint to start a fire. Similarly, Grisha steel or corecloth (similar to modern body armor) isn’t endowed with some kind of opaque spell that gives it wizardy goodness. It’s the result of the Grisha ability to hone a blade at the molecular level, and to create modern alloys and polymers through means that to us would appear magical.
To me, the impossible feels so much more possible when it’s bound by rules. Of course, once you make them, it’s sort of delicious to find ways to break them, to ask what happens when taboos are broken and barriers transgressed. It leads you to the kind of rupture that might create a wasteland peopled by monsters.
Shadow and Bone is my first book and my first foray into high fantasy. I’d be lying if I said I fully understood the alchemy of how worlds get made. Reading over this post, it all seems quite logical, quite orderly. The truth was far less tidy. At some point, the discrete elements of the story—the magic, the politics, the science, the tech—began to inform each other so that it’s hard to remember where one thing ended and another began.
I think it’s also worth saying that as I built this world, assembled the skeleton, gave it flesh, the heart always lay with the characters: two refugees raised in the dusty rooms of a Duke’s abandoned dacha, drafted into the army and headed for the Fold, that girl standing alone against a flock of monsters, and the boy she sought to protect. They were what brought me back again and again, what made me wade through piles of index cards, unwieldy translations, paralyzing doubt. They helped me find my way in the dark.
The first leg of my book tour travel begins Sunday morning, when I travel to NYC. Monday I have business meetings with my publisher and some other folks; Tuesday is when things kick off with a panel at Book Expo America. Wednesday I have signings and then an event in Philadelphia. Then I come back home for two local appearances — Dayton and Cincy. This, coupled with the fact that as a guy and a science fiction writer, I’m allowed to dress very casually for my events, means that I can travel very light: One duffel bag and one messenger bag for five days. This does not suck.
The messenger bag (which is really a computer bag, but they call it a messenger bag to make the person carrying it rationalize that he’s hip and cool) is new, bought just today because I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I don’t feel like hauling a backpack everywhere; the backpack is good for many things but is not an optimal form factor for stuffing underneath one’s plane seat, and also, I don’t know. I’m just not feeling the backpack love anymore, you know? These are perhaps contradictory words coming from a man who’s packing t-shirts and jeans for several days of travel, but I’m going to go ahead and stick with them.
Also new but not shown: shoes with arch support, on account that for the next several days I’ll be doing a hell of a lot of walking, and my 43-year-old feet are finally letting me know that my flat-soled checkerboard Vans — beloved though they may be to me — are not going to cut it for extended movement. I am ambivalent about this, as you may expect, but my psychic attachment to iconic totems of my youth have to take a backseat to actually being able to walk. Thus is the life of a middle-aged man.
One thing about traveling this light is that I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to be able to pack my uke; I had sort of casually hinted/threatened to bring it along on tour to sing “Redshirt.” Depending on your point of view, this will either be sad news or you will feel you have dodged a bullet. If someone brings a uke to the Philadelphia event, I may still sing it. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Get it? Because we’re all writers? Get it? Get… aw, hell. Just, you know. Never mind.
That’s me, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day and Pat Rothfuss, hanging about at the Origins Game Fair last night. The three of them were actual guests of the game fair; I and Krissy drove up to Columbus last night to hang with them a bit because hey, they were a drivable distance away. Events in the evening included dinner, a tour of the yeasty, hoppy bowels of the Barley Brewing Company, games of Jungle Speed, Bang! and Cards Against Humanity, and several spilled and/or broken glasses of alcohol as we acted like louche rockstars in the corner of a gaming room (actually, the glasses were spilled/broken because we’re clumsy, excitable nerds. But shut up, man).
It was the veritable tons of fun and as an extra special bonus, I also got to see friends Jennifer Brozek (who played our game of Bang! with us) and Ken Hite, who is an actual rockstar in the games community. It was a hell of an evening. If you’re a nerd.
And now, because I made that horrible allusion in the headline:
As noted in the FAQ I just put up,Redshirts is going to be released as an eBook here in the US without digital rights management software (DRM), meaning what when you buy it you can pretty much do what you want with it. Tor, my publisher, announced that all their eBooks would be released DRM-free by the end of July; I support this and asked Redshirts be released DRM-free from release date, so I think it might be the first official DRM-free release from Tor, which is in itself the first major publisher imprint to forgo DRM. In that way, Redshirts is a bit of a canary in a coal mine for major publishers.
If you were to ask me how I would want you to use your DRM-free eBook of Redshirts, I would say the following:
1. Hey, it’s yours, do what you want with it for your own personal use. Meaning: want to put it on every single electronic doodad you’ve got? Do it! Want to share it with your spouse/significant other/child/roommate/pet? Have fun. Want to print it out and use the physical pages as wallpaper? Live that dream. If it’s for you or immediate household folks, it’s all good.
2. Share with friends, but please have a sense of proportion. Want to pop it over to a friend who you think would like the book? Well, all right, then. Popping it over to all of your coworkers? Please don’t, although by all means point them in the direction of the free five chapter sample, which is enough for most folks to know whether they want to read more. Basically, share it like you would share a physical book — and encourage your friend, if they really liked it, to buy a copy to show their approval. My daughter’s college education thanks you in advance.
3. Please don’t put it out on the Internet for everyone to have. This is the thing all the publishers are terrified about, that the day the book is released, it’ll be on Teh Intarweebs where anyone can totally steal it, d00d. Well, two things: one, it would be anyway, because people who do that sort of thing can crack DRM pretty easily, and two, that’s probably not you. I don’t really expect that most people who buy the book have any ambition to punt the thing online; they just want to read it. But just in case you’re tempted: I would prefer if you did not. Point folks to the free sample instead; again, it’s enough that they’ll know whether they want to read more.
4. Remember there are humans on the other end of the book. As in, hi: I make my living writing the thing you’re reading. And so does my editor, my copyeditor, my page designer, my cover designer, the people who put the book in boxes (or servers) and the people who sell the books. We support ourselves, our families, our pets and our communities with the money we get from the work in your hands. Please remember that we’re there, and why we hope you’ve paid for our work, and encourage others to do the same.
Because as we get closer to release date of Redshirts I am getting peppered with questions, mostly on Twitter, I am making this FAQ to refer people to prior to Tuesday. After Tuesday much of the information will be self-evident.
1. What’s the release date of Redshirts?
For the English speaking world: In the US and Canada, June 5. In the UK, November 15. I don’t know when it will be officially available in Australia/New Zealand as I don’t have a direct publisher in those countries.
2. Will the eBook version be available on June 5 as well?
In the US and Canada, yes.
3. Will there be an audiobook version of the book as well and if so when and who is narrating?
There is an audiobook version, from Audible. It is narrated by Wil Wheaton. It will be available in the US on June 5. I believe it will also be available in Canada at the same time, but don’t hold me to that.
4. Does it matter to you which format we buy the book in? Which one gives you the most money?
It doesn’t matter to me in the slightest which format you buy the book in; I’ll get paid regardless. I appreciate you paying for it. That being the case, get it however it works best for you.
5. Any foreign language editions?
To date Redshirts has been sold in German and Spanish and Hebrew. The German version will be out November 12; I don’t know about the other versions.
6. You mentioned earlier that the Redshirts eBook would be DRM-free. Is that still true?
Yes. Tor, my publisher in the US and Canada, is releasing the eBook without DRM (digital rights management) restrictions everywhere it is sold. I can’t speak as to whether my publishers in other countries and in other formats intend to do the same. Here are some additional thoughts on DRM and Redshirts.
7. Are you going on tour?
Yes. Here are the tour dates. Please double check with actual venues for times; things are still changing around and the venues will have the most up-to-date information.
8. Will you sign books on the tour?
Yes. I will also have no objection to signing books you bring with you to the event, although it is always a very good thing to buy a copy of a book of mine from the bookstore hosting my event (it’s how they stay afloat. Please support them).
9. You are not coming to a town near me on your tour. Why not? How may I get a signed book?
Tour stops are chosen by my publisher who chooses the stops by various criteria, including which bookstores out there are excited to have me come around. If you want me to come to your town for a future tour, encourage your local bookstore to ask Tor to have me drop in. I have very little personal control over which cities I visit on any particular tour. Please do not be angry with me if I do not visit your city. Your city is awesome.
As for getting signed books, contact one of the bookstores on my tour and order the book from them and ask them to have me sign it. I will be happy do so. You may also order a book of mine from Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio (my local independent bookseller). I’ll be signing their stock of Scalzi books either this weekend or next Thursday.
10. I live in the UK and I may explode if I don’t get to read Redshirts immediately. What do you suggest?
Here’s the thing: If my UK publisher doesn’t see interest in the book, then I will get dropped and then selling other books of mine into the UK will become even harder, which will make reading me there even more difficult in a general sense. My thought is that if you pre-order the UK version of the book from your favorite bookstore (online or off), then also somehow happen to read a version of the book ahead of its UK release date, I as the author will not complain in the slightest.
11. Wait, did you just advocate —
I advocate nothing but pre-ordering the book from my UK publisher. I am also not stupid. But, look: It really is important to me that you encourage my UK publisher to keep publishing me, and I suspect for future releases the release dates will sync up more precisely and this will not be a problem. In the meantime, Redshirts will make a lovely holiday gift.
Other questions? Leave them in the comments. I may add them to the document as we go along.