Readercon, Harassment, Etc

While I was in LA, doing Wil Wheaton-related stuff and largely staying away from the Internets, the fandom-related portion of Teh Intarweebs exploded with events surrounding an incident of sexual harrassment at Readercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention. And when I say exploded, I do mean exploded; here’s a long list of blog posts related to the event, starting from the first post by Genevieve Valentine, who was the one harassed, about the incident. That list should keep you busy for a while.

For those of you who don’t want to wade through the list, the short form is this: Valentine was sexually harassed at  Readercon by a fellow named Rene Walling. Readercon has a “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policy, which means anyone who is found to have harassed someone is meant to be permanently banned from attending the convention. In the case of Walling, however, he was banned from the convention for two years, an amount of time which is less than “permanently” would be. Said eruption of the Internets ensued, because the stated policy wasn’t followed, because there is the belief that Mr. Walling was let off easy because he’s a well-known fan who has run Worldcons and other conventions, and because there is the belief that Readercon has ultimately sided with a harasser rather than the harassed.

Understand I am conveying only the bare bones of this whole event; you really should check out at least some of the commentary compiled in the piece I’ve linked to above.

I’ve gotten e-mails and tweets from all over the place wanting to know my opinion of the thing, both as myself and as President of SFWA. Toward the latter, I am going to remain silent for now, because as I am fond of reminding people, I Am Not SFWA, I’m just the president. This is something for board discussion, something we haven’t had yet in part because I was away from the Internets for several days. Moreover, per my standard policy, I am loath to discuss SFWA matters here at Whatever in any manner other than the most basic. I can point you to SFWA’s statement regarding Sexual Harassment, posted last November, however.

Personally speaking? It’s probably easier to present my thoughts in a brief list.

1. No one should have to fear sexual harassment at any science fiction or fantasy convention. The fact people still do — the fact women still do, let’s not dance around that little fact of life — is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this community.

2. It doesn’t matter whether the person sexually harassing someone else is a big name in the field or is well-liked or is otherwise a decent human being or feels really bad about it in retrospect.

3. Conventions should have policies and procedures in place to deal with sexual harassment. Those policies should be unambiguous and clear. They should apply equally to everyone.

4. If a convention has a policy on sexual harassment which it then does not follow, then it has failed — failed the person who was harassed by not living up to its obligations to them, failed its guests by not following the rules by which it purports to run, failed the community at large by continuing to allow exceptions and exclusions and excuses to those who harass, and failed itself by not being the convention it claims to be.

All of this seems pretty straightforward to me.

And all of this seems pretty distanced from events, so let me also say this: I’ve been at conventions where I’ve seen a guy zoom in for unwanted physical contact and seen the woman flinch back, dreading what was about to happen. I’ve been the guy who’s told some dude hovering over a woman made visibly uncomfortable by him to back off. I have friends who have been harassed (or worse) at conventions by men. Some of these men were clueless, for whatever reason, about the fact that they were being harassers. Some of them almost certainly were not.

It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, everyone at a convention should be free to enjoy themselves without being sexually harassed. At the end of the day, everyone who goes to a convention has to be assumed to understand basic concepts like “no means no,” and “leave me alone.” At the end of the day, a convention is responsible for being a place where those who don’t get those concepts — or choose to believe they do not apply to them — find themselves on the other side of the door. All of them, equally and without exception.

Update, 8/5/12: Readecon has essentially reversed its earlier ruling and apologized to Ms. Valentine.


About That Hiatus

I mentioned last week I was planning to take off August from Whatever so as to focus on other work which needs to get done, and otherwise to take a break. I am going to modify this a bit mostly because I forgot I have writers to whom I promised Big Idea slots to, and a couple of other things, so it wouldn’t be fair or nice to shut things down entirely. So here’s the new plan:

1. Whatever will be open for business during August but it’s also the last thing on my list of things to do for the day, i.e., after I get everything else on my agenda done, then I might come around here to update.

2. If I’m too wiped out and/or busy and/or doing something else that seems more interesting at the time, I won’t update. This will likely be especially the case when I am at Chicon 7, as Toastmaster. Because damn, they plan to keep me busy.

3. It’s possible I might do some pre-programmed silliness from time to time and/or have guest posts from folks, independent of Big Idea stuff.

4. It’s also possible I won’t because, hey I’m both lazy and busy.

5. Basically, expect August to be a slow and lazy month around here. You get what you get.

6. Which, I suppose, is no different than any other month around here. But even more so.

There, that’s settled.


Last Chance: Hugo Voting

Just a reminder: If you don’t get your Hugo vote in by midnight tonight, Pacific Time, then you don’t get a Hugo vote. And that would be sad for you. The online ballot is here.


My Sneaky Weekend

You may have noticed I’ve been a little scarce from the site for the last couple of the days, and the reason was that I was traveling to LA in order to be at the surprise 40th birthday party of one Wil Wheaton (the picture is of his birthday cake, which was huge and awesome). I and roughly 165 other of Wil’s pals, including Felicia Day, Phil Plait, Chris Hardwick, Amy Berg, Grant Imahara, Paul Sabourin, Drew Curtis, and, frankly, most of geekerati of the entire United States, descended to the appointed place and genuinely surprised young Wil (I get to  call him that because I am three years older than he is), who just thought he was going to dinner with family and a couple of friends. Surprise!

There were many lovely moments of the evening, the most amusing of which is when Debbie Gibson showed up to serenade Wil, which surprised the hell out of the birthday boy. For any straight male who grew up in the 80s, it doesn’t get much better than that. Beyond that, there was a lot of fun, great conversations, tons of photobombs and generally the sort of time that memories are made of.

It was nice to be there for Wil on his birthday. It was also sort of amazing that given this particular crowd of folks, not a hint of the event showed up on Twitter or any other social media until Wil showed up for his party. That’s discipline, people. It paid off.

I’ll be traveling home today, so things will be slow about here. Catch you all tomorrow.


The Ghost Brigades eBook (Almost Certainly Temporarily) Down on Amazon

Some folks sent me e-mails over the last couple of days, letting me know that The Ghost Brigades appears not to be available in a Kindle edition at the moment. It turns out they are correct. Why is it not available? Who knows? Being a paranoid person I am, however, it makes me wonder if this, from a few days ago:

was a glitch that Amazon had to take down the file to fix. Hey Amazon: You’ll still have to pay me. Thank you.

Anyway, the appropriate people have been alerted and I’m reasonably confident we’ll get this squared away soon (factoring in the fact this is a weekend).

However, this does bring up the point that, as all Tor books are now distributed DRM-free, including my own — and including The Ghost Brigades — this is a reminder that you can buy the book at any electronic retailer and then port it into your Kindle (or Nook, or whatever reader you like). The only complication with the Kindle is that Amazon has all its books in a variation of the .mobi format, and everyone else is using .epub. But if you use a program like Calibre, you can buy it in .epub format, convert it into .mobi format, and then pop it into your Kindle. And there you have it. One more reason why it’s nice my work is now DRM-free (in the US, at least).

Update, 12:12am 7/29: It’s back on Amazon.


Followup for “Geek”

I’m squashed down with busy today, so a few notes about yesterday’s piece on who gets to be a geek:

* First, deeply delighted that in a comment thread of over five hundred comments, we’ve kept things nicely civil (in general), on topic (in general) and had relatively few malletings. Thanks go to the commenters, for playing by the rules laid out, and also to Kate Baker, who moderated in my stead for most of yesterday. She is awesome.

* Joe Peacock, who wrote the piece my piece was responding to, popped into the comment threads and had some things to say about my response and offered some clarifications on who the ostensible targets of his ire were. I commented back to him, as did others, and everything was civilized, because that’s how we roll here.

* Nick Mamatas has further thoughts on this topic. Forbes has an interesting article following up the Peacock piece as well, and (unsurprisingly) so does Jezebel.

And that’s the update. I’m again mostly away from The Intarweebs today (I could tell you why, but then I would have to kill you), I will try to swing back later. In the meantime, enjoy your Friday, why don’t you, unless you’re in New Zealand or Australia, in which case, uh, I hope your Friday was nice.


Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be

(Adding this note in late 2019: It should be noted that the subject of this piece, Joe Peacock, has over the years changed his position from what I’m responding to here to one more encompassing and welcoming. I don’t think it’s especially fair of me to occasionally point to this piece without noting that. Take the piece as a snapshot of a moment of time, and be aware that people can change their minds and attitudes over time — JS)


The other day CNN let some dude named Joe Peacock vomit up an embarrassing piece on its Web site, about how how awful it is that geekdom is in the process of being overrun by attractive women dressing up in costumes (“cosplaying,” for the uninitiated) when they haven’t displayed their geek cred to Mr. Peacock’s personal satisfaction. They weren’t real geeks, Mr. Peacock maintains — he makes a great show of supporting real geek women, the definition of which, presumably, are those who have passed his stringent entrance requirements, which I am sure he’s posted some place other than the inside of his skull — and because they’re not real geeks, they offend people like him, who are real geeks:

They’re poachers. They’re a pox on our culture. As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It’s insulting… You’re just gross.

For the moment, let’s leave aside the problem of a mentality that assumes that the primary reason some woman might find it fun and worthwhile to cosplay as one of her favorite science fiction and fantasy characters is to get the attention of some dudes, to focus on another interesting aspect of this piece: Namely, that Joe Peacock has arrogated to himself the role of Speaker for the Geeks, with the ability to determine whether any particular group of people is worthy of True Geekdom. This on the basis, one presumes, of his resume and his longtime affiliation as a geek.

Well, fine. Hey, Joe: Hi, I’m John Scalzi. I am also a longtime geek. My resume includes three New York Times bestselling science fiction books, three books nominated for the Best Novel Hugo, six other Hugo nominations (as well as Nebula, Locus, Sidewise and other award nominations), one novel optioned for a science fiction film, a stint consulting for the Stargate: Universe television show, a long history in video games as a player (Atari, yo) and as a writer, including writing for the Official US Playstation Magazine for six years and currently writing a game for Industrial Toys. I wrote a column on science fiction film for four years and have two books on the subject. I’ve been writing this blog for fourteen years and was one of the early adopters of self-publishing one’s books online; additionally three books of mine (including one Hugo winner) have been of work originally published online. I was a special guest at this year’s ComicCon. I am the toastmaster of this year’s Worldcon. I am the sitting president of this. Here’s a picture of my peer group. Here’s another.

I outrank you as Speaker for the Geeks.

You are overruled.

Your entire piece is thrown out as condescending, entitled, oblivious, sexist and obnoxious.

And no, you can’t object (well, you can, but you’ll be summarily overruled). You made the decision based on your life experience as a geek that you could tell other people who is welcome as a geek and who is not. Based on my life experience as a geek, I have made the decision that I am qualified to tell you to suck eggs. You want to slap down people who you don’t feel qualify for geekdom? Then I get to slap you down for being wrong, on the basis of being higher up in the geek hierarchy. You don’t like it? Then you shouldn’t have played this game to begin with. You  played your cards, and I now I’ve played mine. This round goes to me. I have the conch. And now I will speak.

Who gets to be a geek?

Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one.

Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

Let’s take these women cosplayers, who Mr. Peacock is so hand-flappingly disgusted with and dismissive of. Let’s leave aside, for now, the idea that for those of this group attending ComicCon, spending literally hundreds and perhaps even thousands of dollars on ComicCon passes, hotels, transportation, food, not to mention the money and time required to put together an excellent costume, is not in itself a signal indication of geek commitment. Let’s say that, in fact, the only reason the women cosplayers are there is to get their cosplay on, in front of what is likely to be an appreciative audience.

So what?

As in, so what if their only geekdom is cosplay? What if it is? Who does it harm? Who is materially injured by the fact? Who, upon seeing a woman cosplaying without an accompanying curriculum vitae posted above her head on a stick, laying out her geek bona fides, says to him or herself “Everything I loved about my geekdom has turned to ashes in my mouth,” and then flees to from the San Diego Convention Center, weeping? If there is such an unfortunate soul, should the fragile pathology of their own geekdom be the concern of the cosplaying woman? It seems highly doubtful that woman spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to show up in San Diego just to ruin some random, overly-sensitive geek’s day. It’s rather more likely she came to enjoy herself in a place where her expression of her own geekiness would be appreciated.

So what if her geekiness is not your own? So what if she isn’t into the geek life as deeply as you believe you are, or that you think she should be? So what if she doesn’t have a geek love of the things you have a geek love for? Is the appropriate response to those facts to call her gross, and a poacher, and maintain that she’s only in it to be slavered over by dudes who (in your unwarranted condescension) you judge to be not nearly as enlightened to the ways of geek women as you? Or would a more appropriate response be to say “great costume,” and maybe welcome her into the parts of geekdom that you love, so that she might possibly grow to love them too? What do you gain from complaining about her fakey fake fakeness, except a momentary and entirely erroneous feeling of geek superiority, coupled with a permanent record of your sexism against women who you don’t see being the right kind of geek?

These are your choices. Although actually there’s a third choice: Just let her be to do her thing. Because here’s a funny fact: Her geekdom is not about you. At all. It’s about her.

Geekdom is personal. Geekdom varies from person to person. There are as many ways to be a geek as there are people who love a thing and love sharing that thing with others. You don’t get to define their geekdom. They don’t get to define yours. What you can do is share your expression of geekdom with others. Maybe they will get you, and maybe they won’t. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s their problem and not yours.

Be your own geek. Love what you love. Share it with anyone who will listen.

One other thing: There is no Speaker for the Geeks. Not Joe Peacock, not me, not anyone. If anyone tells you that there’s a right way to be a geek, or that someone else is not a geek, or shouldn’t be seen as a geek — or that you are not a geek — you can tell them to fuck right off. They don’t get a vote on your geekdom. Go cosplay, or play filk, or read that Doctor Who novel or whatever it is you want to do. Geekdom is flat. There is no hierarchy. There is no leveling up required, or secret handshake, or entrance examination. There’s just you.

Anyone can be a geek. Any way they want to. That means you too. Whoever you are.

Anyone who tells you different, you send them to me.

(Update: Joe Peacock shows up in the comment thread with thoughts here and in a few subsequent comments.)


Sunset, 7/24/12

Ohio has weather, it does. There’s at least three different types of clouds in this picture alone.


Wow, This Mushroom-Shaped Cloud Isn’t Worrying in the Least

I may still head down to the basement, however. You know, just to check on the provisions.


The Audible Giveaway

Yes, folks, I am aware that Audible is giving away an audiobook copy of “The Sagan Diary” to some of its members as part of its “Christmas in July” promotion. They asked if they could, and I said, sure, what the hell. Audible and its listeners have been good to me so far; this is a nice way to say thanks. So if you’re an Audible listener who has been given the book as a gift, congrats and enjoy.

If you’re not an Audible listener and are thinking, aw, man, I want a free listen to an audio version of “The Sagan Diary,” too, then go here. It’s a different version (featuring narration by Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, Ellen Kushner, Karen Meisner, Helen Smith and Cherie Priest) but it is also free. Enjoy!


Various and Sundry, 7/24/12

Quickly, because I have other things to write today:

* Saw The Dark Knight Rises last night, which I enjoyed but which I strongly suspect could have been about a half hour shorter without any significant loss of story or quality. I think it’s time for filmmakers to reconnect with the idea that more is not always better; sometimes it’s just more. That said, I think it’s a better movie than The Avengers, which I also enjoyed but which I found aggressively lightweight. I guess maybe I like my superhero movies dark, or something.

* Somewhat related to DKR, I’ve been asked a couple of times if I had any thoughts on the Aurora shooting. Outside the official statement SFWA released on the matter, which features a quote from me as president, not really. This was one of those times when everyone else had so much to say on every aspect of it that I didn’t feel adding my voice would be useful or necessary. And to be blunt about it, what I mostly felt was sad.

* I’ve been watching yesterday’s “Self-Made Man” piece get about the Internet and reading the comments, not just here but also other places, particularly Metafilter and Fark. What’s interesting about both of those places is not so much the response to my piece in itself, but that the majority of the response in both cases was based on how the piece was framed by the person who submitted the links.

Over on Metafilter, the person who linked to the piece tied it into Massachusetts Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren’s speech about infrastructure, and so the conversation quickly became about that, as well as Obama’s echoing of that sentiment (and the GOP’s recent attempts to reframe the statement for its own political gain). On Fark, the submitter claimed the piece invalidated arguments about taxes being too high, so — surprise! — the thread there is primarily about taxes.

I don’t think there’s any problem with the conversations in either case, and even if I did, I don’t run either site, so that would be tough for me. But it’s amusing how quickly in both cases the comments became not about what I wrote in the piece.

* That’s all I have got for you today. Back to the writing hole for me.


A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It

To begin, my mother and father are responsible for me existing at all, so I suppose the first round of “How I made it to where I am” begins there.

I was born at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, CA, and as I understand it I was not the easiest of births, taking on the order of three days to be evicted from the womb. That couldn’t have been comfortable or safe either for my mother or for me, so thanks go to the medical team of doctors and nurses who helped with my birth. Likewise, the fact I was born at an Air Force base means that I owe a thanks to America’s military for offering medical care to my mother (based on her relationship to my father, who was in the military at the time), and indirectly to America’s taxpayers, whose dollars went to supporting the military, and thereby those doctors, nurses, my father’s paycheck and my mother’s medical care.

My parents’ marriage did not last particularly long and in the early seventies — and off and on for the next several years — my mother found herself in the position of having to rely on the social net of welfare and food stamps to make sure that when she couldn’t find work (or alternately, could find it but it didn’t pay enough), she was able to feed her children and herself. Once again, I owe thanks to America’s taxpayers for making sure I had enough to eat at various times when I was a child.

Not having to wonder how I was going to eat meant my attention could be given to other things, like reading wonderful books. As a child, many of the books I read and loved came from the local libraries where I lived. I can still remember going into a library for the first time and being amazed — utterly amazed — that I could read any book I wanted and that I could even take some of them home, as long as I promised to give each of them back in time. I learned my love of science and story in libraries. I know now that each of those libraries were paid for by the people who lived in the cities the libraries were in, and sometimes by the states they were in as well. I owe the taxpayers of each for the love of books and words.

From kindergarten through the eighth grade, I had a public school education, which at the time in California was very good, because the cuts that would come to education through the good graces of Proposition 13 had not yet trickled down to affect me. My schools in the cities of Covina, Azusa and Glendora all had “gifted and talented” programs that allowed me and my other classmates extra opportunities to expand our minds, aided by excellent teachers, most of whose names I can still rattle off after 30 years: Mrs. Chambers, Mrs. Fox, Mrs. Swirsky, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Kaufman, Ms. Morgan. Through much of this time I was fed through school lunch programs which allowed me a meal for free or reduced rates. In the sixth grade, when again my mother and I found ourselves poor and briefly homeless, and I began feeling depressed, the school’s counselor was there to do his best to keep me on an even keel. These schools and programs were funded locally, through the state and through the federal level. The taxpayers helped me learn, kept me fed, and prevented despair from clouding up my mind.

By the eighth grade it became clear public education in California was beginning to get stretched by shrinking budgets, and my mother went looking for a private high school for me to attend. She called up the Webb School of California, and found out it cost more to attend than she made in a year. But she was convinced it was the right place. I went and took the entrance test and had my interview with a teacher there, named Steve Patterson. I don’t remember what it was I said during the interview; I have almost no memory of that interview at all. But I was told years later by another teacher that Steve Patterson said that day to the Webb admissions people that if there were only one child who was admitted to Webb that year, it should be me. His argument must have been convincing, because Webb admitted me and gave me a scholarship, minus a small parental contribution and a token amount which I would be responsible for after I left college, because the idea was that I had to be in some way responsible for my own education. I don’t know if I would have made it into Webb without Steve Patterson. I owe that to him.

I received a fantastic education at Webb, although there were many times while I was there that I did not appreciate it in the moment. Regardless, the teachers there taught me well, whether I appreciated it or not. As with earlier teachers, the names of these teachers remain in my mind: John Heyes, Art House, Dave Fawcett, Laurence MacMillin, Chris Trussell, Joan Rohrback, Roy Bergeson among many others. I learned of the world beyond my own immediate life from them, and that my life would be better thinking about things beyond its own limited scope.

When it came time to choose college, I had my heart set on the University of Chicago but I was a borderline case: The tests and essays were there, but the grades? Meh (I was one of those people who did well in the things he liked, less so in the things he did not). University of Chicago Admissions dean Ted O’Neill called Marilyn Blum, Webb’s college counselor, and asked her for her opinion on whether I would be a good fit for Chicago. She told O’Neill that I was exactly the sort of student who would benefit from Chicago, and that he would never regret admitting me. O’Neill told me this years later, after I had been Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Maroon and the Ombudsman for the University, by way of letting me know in his opinion Blum had been correct. I owe Blum for being my advocate, and O’Neill for believing her.

The University of Chicago is one of the best universities in the world, and it is not cheap. I was able to attend through a combination of scholarships, government Pell Grants and work study jobs and bank loans. I owe the alumni of the University of Chicago who funded the scholarships, the taxpayers who paid for the grants and subsidized the work study jobs, and, yes, the banks who loaned me money. When one of my expected payment sources for school disappeared, my grandfather told me he would replace it — if I sent him a letter a month. I did. He did. This lasted until my senior year, when I was making enough from freelancing for local newspapers that I could pay for much of my college education myself.

Speaking of which, I owe Chicago Sun-Times editor Laura Emerick for reading the articles I wrote for the Chicago Maroon and during my internship at the San Diego Tribune and deciding I was good enough to write for an actual professional newspaper, and for giving me enough work (at a decent enough payment scale) that I could pay rent on an apartment and school fees. The San Diego Tribune internship I got not only through my clips from the Maroon but also because I mentioned to a friend that I was looking around for an internship and he said, well, my dad is a friend with the editor of the Trib, why don’t I ask him to make a call? This was my first but not last experience with the value of connections. I owe that friend, his father, and the editor.

My experience as a freelancer for the Sun-Times and the fact that I had a philosophy degree from Chicago were impressive to the Features Editor of the Fresno Bee, who gave me a plum job right out of college, for which I had almost no practical experience: Film critic. I owe Diane Webster, that editor, for having the faith that a kid right out of college would live up to the clips he sent. I owe Tom Becker, the Entertainment Editor, as well as a raft of copyeditors and fellow staff writers at the Bee, for helping me not make an ass of myself on a day-to-day basis, and to guide me through the process of becoming a pro journalist and newspaper writer.

Because of the Bee I did a story on a local DJ, Julie Logan, who did an event at a bar in Visalia. While I was there the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen in my life came up to me and asked me to dance. Reader, I married her (although not at that moment). This woman, as it turns out, had an incredibly good head on her shoulders for money management and had a work ethic that would shame John Calvin. Since Kristine Blauser Scalzi came into my life we have as a couple been financially secure, because she made it her business to make it so. This level of security has afforded me the ability to take advantage of opportunities I otherwise would not have been able.

Eventually I left the Bee to join America Online in the mid-90s, just as it was expanding and becoming the first Google (or Facebook, take your pick). My job there was to edit a humor area, and the practical experience of helping other writers with their writing made me such a better writer that it’s hard for me to overstate its importance in my development. I owe Katherine Borsecnik and Bill Youstra for hiring me and handing me that very odd job.

I lasted two years at AOL, at which point I was laid off and immediately rehired as a contractor, for more money for less work. By this time AOL was shedding talent to other startups, many of whom hired me as an editorial contractor because a) They had seen my work and knew I was good, b) I was the only writer they knew. I am indebted to America Online for hiring so many bright, smart people the same time I was there, and then shedding them to go elsewhere, and for all those bright, smart people for remembering me when it came time to look for writing work.

One of those contracts I had included writing a financial newsletter. In 1999, my non-fiction agent Robert Shepard was on the phone with the editor of Rough Guides, who mentioned to him that they were looking for someone to write a book on online finance. My agent said, hey, I have a guy who writes a financial newsletter for AOL. The Rough Guides people said, great, ask him if he wants to write this book. I did. It was my first published book, and it led to two more books by me for Rough Guides. I owe Robert for being proactive on my behalf when he could have let that opportunity swing past him, and I would have been none the wiser.

In 2001 I wrote a novel I intended to sell but then didn’t. I decided to put it online on Whatever in December of 2002. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the senior editor of science fiction at Tor Books, read it and decided to make me an offer on it, which I accepted. If Patrick hadn’t read it (or alternately, had read it and did nothing about it because I hadn’t formally submitted it), then it’s deeply unlikely I would have the career I have now in science fiction.

When that book, Old Man’s War, came out in 2005, it was championed by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit to his readers, and by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing to his. Because of their enthusiasm, the first printing disappeared off the shelf so quickly that it became clear to Tor that this was a book to watch and promote. Glenn and Cory made a huge difference in the early fortunes of that book. In 2006, Neil Gaiman was informed that his book Anansi Boys had been nominated for a Hugo in the category of Best Novel and asked if he would like to accept the nomination. Neil, who won a Hugo a year for the previous three years, politely declined, believing (he told me later) that someone else might benefit from that nomination more than he. The nomination declined went to the next book in the nomination tally: Old Man’s War. And he was correct: I benefited immensely from the nomination.

The publicity Old Man’s War gained from the Hugo nomination, among other things, took the book far and wide and brought it to the attention of Scott Stuber and Wolfgang Petersen, who optioned the book to be made into a film, and to Joe Mallozzi, a producer on Stargate Atlantis, and who (with Brad Wright) eventually hired me to be the Creative Consultant to the Stargate: Universe series. The latter experience was huge in helping me learn the day-to-day practicalities of making television, and having the chance to intensively study scriptwriting; the former has helped me get my foot in the door in terms of having my work seen in film circles. Its success has also made it easier for my fiction agents Ethan Ellenberg and Evan Gregory to sell my work overseas; they’ve sold my work in nineteen languages now, none of which I would have been able to do on my own.

And so on. I am eliding here; there are numerous people to whom I owe a debt for the work that they have done on my behalf or who have done something that has benefited me, who I am not calling out by name. Some of them know who they are; many of them probably don’t, because most of them haven’t met me.

There is a flip side to this as well. I have helped others too. I am financially successful now; I pay a lot of taxes. I don’t mind because I know how taxes helped me to get to the fortunate position I am in today. I hope the taxes I pay will help some military wife give birth, a mother who needs help feed her child, help another child learn and fall in love with the written word, and help still another get through college. Likewise, I am in a socially advantageous position now, where I can help promote the work of others here and in other places. I do it because I can, because I think I should and because I remember those who helped me. It honors them and it sets the example for those I help to help those who follow them.

I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.

So much of how their lives will be depends on them, of course, just as so much of how my life is has depended on my own actions. We all have to be the primary actors in our own lives. But so much of their lives will depend on others, too, people near and far. We all have to ask ourselves what role we play in the lives of others — in the lives of loved ones, in the lives of our community, in the life of our nation and in the life of our world. I know my own answer for this. It echoes the answer of those before me, who helped to get me where I am.


Managing Whatever These Days

I was asked while I was at Comic Con whether I find it more difficult to write and maintain Whatever these days, because of all the other work I do and also because profile seems to have been raised a bit recently. It’s a fair question, so I thought I would delve into it briefly here in public and let you know what I gave as the answer.

(Be aware that the following has me acknowledging that there are people in the world who see me as something of a special snowflake, which is an inherently obnoxious admission in a world where one must be at least superficially humble about this crap. Don’t worry, I have a pretty good idea where I am on the fame food chain (i.e., sardine level). It’s still a level where the above question is not an unreasonable one.)

1. As regards all the other work I do, no, it’s not a problem. I’m busy right now but I’ve been busier. I do plan to take a month off in August to focus on non-blog stuff, but I’ve taken breaks around here before, for reasons ranging from work to technical issues (the involuntary nearly-two-months-off stretch in the summer of ’07 stands out for that phenomenon), so that in itself is not terribly unusual. To be blunt about it, the taking the time off plan relates less to the amount of work I have than it does with my time management, i.e., if I had managed to keep track of what I was doing, I wouldn’t have take time off to focus on the paid stuff. This is not unusual for me, alas. My excuse this year is coming off of six weeks of travel and overestimating my ability to do anything else but travel in that period. I’m sure in the future I will have some other, similarly entirely rational excuse for my sloth.

Be that as it may, it’s nice to be busy and being busy often means I write a little more on the blog, because perversely, writing on the blog is often a bit of a recreation for me from work. It’s the “busman’s holiday” principle of things.

I will say that there are times when I will time writing about an issue I know is contentious for when I have the ability to deal with the fallout, i.e., when I have time to keep track of the comment thread and wield the Mallet of Loving Correction. But I’ve been doing that for a while now anyway.

2. In terms of profile being raised, I don’t see it as much of a problem either, although I am aware recently of, how to put this, becoming a slightly larger target for people’s ire. As in, regardless of what I write about, there’s now a slightly higher chance that someone will call me out for being smug and/or obnoxious and/or grandstanding and/or being a pawn of whatever group they think I am a pawn for and/or being clueless and/or being some sort of “-ist” and so on.

On that score I don’t know that there’s much to be done; as a general rule I try not to be an ass online, but it’s also true that when you comment on anything, from controversial topics to the topics you can’t possibly imagine are controversial to anyone but apparently are for some people, someone will find your particular position on it asstastic. If that person has a point (and from time to time they do), then I try to learn from it moving forward. If they don’t, then I shrug and move on anyway.

There’s also a slightly higher chance that if I comment on something someone has written about me or my work on a blog, and point to it from here, that someone will accuse me of unleashing my minions to hound and silence that person, or such. The idea there being that you are all my hounds of war, crouching for employment, etc. I see this as fundamentally silly, but then again, I did just ask all y’all to shame some thief with one-star reviews, so maybe it’s not so silly after all. In this case I’ll just fall back on the Spider-Man Maxim (“with great power comes great responsibility”), and otherwise trust that you people are smart enough not to go off and be assjacks just because you think that’s what I would want.



What Krissy Did With Her Saturday

She ran in the 5k “Color Run” in Columbus, in which in addition to running for 3.2 miles, one also gets splotzed with colored powder. Why? Because it’s fun! Kicky fun! Apparently. Well, okay. It’s more than what I did with my Saturday so far, which was to stare glassily at my toes. Look: toes.


And Here is Bryan Ferry to Take You Into the Weekend

He’s so smooth about it, too. If only I had his voice. And his sartorial sense. And his money!

For really quite a few other versions of this particular song, see this Metafilter thread. Enjoy.



Tor/Forge Totally DRM Free, Plus Anecdotal Notes Regarding Redshirts

Tor/Forge, my primary science fiction publisher, announced today that their previously-announced policy of putting out their eBooks DRM-free is now being implemented, which is to say that if you buy any of their eBooks moving forward, there will be no digital rights management software on it. So go! Buy! DRM free!

And yes, this includes previously published works — Old Man’s War, The Android’s Dream, Fuzzy Nation, etc are now all being sold without DRM restrictions (Also, no, I don’t know what that means for those of you who bought copies when they were DRM’d. Check with your retailer, please.)

For those authors apprehensive about what having a DRM-free eBook out there means for sales and/or unauthorized copying, I’ll note that my anecdotal experience having Redshirts go out DRM-free has been been very positive. First, the eBook sales of Redshirts, on a week to week basis, have been substantially higher than they were for any of my previous books (for example, first week it sold roughly two and a half times as many as Fuzzy Nation did in eBook, and that book did fine eBook business its first week). Second, we’re not seeing any particular increase of instances of the book being shared in violation of copyright , i.e., dropping DRM hasn’t suddenly made it more available in the dark and stinky portions of the Internet than other (previously DRM’d) books of mine.

Bear in mind that there are a ton of caveats here relating to Redshirts sales relative to other works of mine in eBook form — for example the recent growth of the market, the subject of the book, advertising and marketing of the book, my own reputation and backlist, etc — that need to be factored in. Nevertheless, by any objective standard, Redshirts eBook sales have been very healthy and as far as I can see offering the book DRM-free has offered no visible downside as yet. I’m happy and excited to offer up the rest of my books in a DRM-free manner as well. Get them wherever you like to buy your eBooks.

(And, of course, remember that the print versions are sold without DRM as well! So if you like print, support your local bookstores.)


Join the “B” Team

If you were at Comic Con, one of the things you could do is get a groovy button from to the Tor Books booth promoting The Human Division. These buttons has one of two URLs on it: and And if you typed either of those URLs into your computer or phone, you would go here, a page at which you could, by leaving your e-mail address, get a free e-Book version of “After the Coup,” my Old Man’s War-related short story, and be signed up to get the first episode of The Human Division, called “The ‘B’ Team,” a week before the common schmoes.

And you say, oh! If only I had been at Comic Con! But here’s the thing: I’m telling you about it right now. So you can sign up for it, even if you did not go to Comic Con! Because that’s the sort of caring, awesome person I am. And because I think you’re the best. No, I do. Also that you smell really nice. Is that a hint of floral? I thought so.


Advance Warning: I’m Taking August Off

Yes I am. Because I have soooo much work to do, that’s why, and my plan for August is to hole up, disappear from teh Intarweebs and write like the wind.

What does this mean for Whatever during the month of August? I don’t know. I have, like, ten days. I will figure something out.

(Don’t ask to be a guest blogger. If I want you I will ask you. For serious, y’all.)

Further updates as events warrant. But I wanted to put that on your radar so you won’t be surprised when it happens.


Reminder: Vote for the Hugos!

Allow me to put on my Toastmaster of Chicon 7 hat here for a moment and just say:

Hey! You! Don’t forget to vote for the Hugos this year! Here’s the online ballot!

Want to vote but haven’t become a member of Chicon 7? Here’s the online membership form! Remember that Supporting Members (the $50, not attending option) get to vote on the Hugos.

Want to vote but haven’t read everything? The Hugo voter packet has a ton of the nominees in it and comes as part of membership.

If you don’t vote, dozens of Hugo nominees will have a sad. Think about that, why don’t you.

Voting continues until the end of the month, but don’t put it off until the last minute. Do it now. NOW NOW NOW.

Thank you.



Fans and Pros on Gender Parity on Panels

The Hugo Award-winning fanzine Journey Planet has a new issue out (that’s a pdf link) which, in addition to reprinting my “Lowest Difficulty Setting” pieces and its attendant commentary by other spec fic fans and pros, also tackles the idea of gender parity on convention panels — i.e., having an equal number of male and female panel participants whenever possible. There’s a wide range of thoughts on the matter from a wide range of writers. If you’re someone who goes to cons and also goes to panels, it’s worth a read for you.

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