Stand Back, I’m Going to Brag on My Kid

Athena learned today that she’s going to the state finals for Power of the Pen, a statewide writing competition open to Ohio’s 7th and 8th graders (she’s one of the latter). In May, she and a bunch of other kids will go to College of Wooster and write on subjects like “You have just received shocking news. Write about it” while being timed. The winner gets a college scholarship, which is groovy. For me, however, I’m just pleased my kid is being recognized for being able to craft words well. Makes me proud. Not surprised, I should note. But proud.

Reader Request Week 2013 #4: College Education (And Costs Therein)

Steve asks:

You went to a great university. Assuming you support the concept of higher education for your own child, Athena is old enough that you may have started thinking about where she might want to go, or at least, wondering if you have been saving enough for it. What are your thoughts on where to send your child to college, or allow them to attend? How much of the choice should be up to her? Should a parent try and find a way to pay or borrow for the best school to which a child is admitted and wants to attend, even if a really expensive private university like Yale, Stanford, or heck, University of Chicago? Absent scholarships of some kind, should a parent pay only for the high quality, but cheaper, and perhaps more geographically limiting, state school?

For those who might possibly not be aware, the “great university” I attended was the University of Chicago. Which is, for the record, indeed great — it’s regularly ranked in the top ten of national and international university rankings, has tons of resources, A-list faculty, successful alumni in important places, etc. It was a great place for me to attend and I’ve never had cause to regret going there. It was well worth what I paid for it twenty years ago, and is probably even be worth the $44,500 it costs to go there yearly today.

Athena has started thinking about colleges and we started talking to her about them, but those conversations are private and I’m not going to recount them here. What I will do is say that I tend to be unromantic about four-year colleges and universities. They basically offer two advantages to the students who attend: education and reputation/networks. I’m pretty confident that in a general sense, if one is motivated enough, one can get a good education at just about any accredited school. As for reputation/networks, those are highly variable and contingent, but let’s not beat around the bush here, for this a few schools are substantially better than most, and even among those there is an elite tranche whose reputation/networks are of high enough quality to pay for.

Here in the US, we have public four-year institutions and private ones. Public schools are (generally) less expensive than private schools, and good public institutions are as good as most good private ones, in terms of the education you can get there. Where (some but not all) private schools have (most but not all) public schools beat is the reputation/network thing. But even then, there is a very wide range, and to put it bluntly, in my opinion the majority of private schools don’t have the reputation/network that makes their cost premium worth it, relative to a public education.

Here in Ohio, we’re fortunate to have a number of very good public universities. There’s The Ohio State University, of course, which is one of best public universities in the country (and does perfectly well in overall rankings) and has a very strong overall reputation and network. There’s Miami University, one of the “public ivies,” ranked third best in the entire county for undergraduate teaching, below only Dartmouth and Princeton. Ohio University isn’t bad either. I’m pretty sure my daughter would do just fine at any of those schools.

Presuming my kid has the chops to get in where she wants to go — which I find a reasonable presumption, all things concerned — what I am likely to tell her is this: I’m willing to pay for an elite private institution (think generally but not exclusively the top 25 colleges and the top 25 universities in the US) because their reputations/networks are worth the additional expense in long run. But outside of those schools, why would I pay $40,000+ for a private school when I can pay $10,000 for Ohio State or Ohio University, or only slightly more for Miami University? The value add — the reputation/network — isn’t there in almost all those cases.

And yes, while we pay lip service to the idea of fitting the student to the exactly right school, I’ve gotta tell you, an additional $120,000 or so over four years for “the exact right fit” seems like a lot. And while barring a sudden reversal of fortunes we are in the happy position of not having to worry about how we’re paying for my daughter’s college, most people in the US are not in the same situation. How much is “an exact right fit” worth? Is it worth tens of thousands of dollars a year in non-dischargable educational loans? I have to tell you, unless it’s Harvard or Yale or Amherst or Pomona (or the University of Chicago) or other schools on that level, where the name and networks are going to open lots of doors, I’m not convinced.

There are always exceptions and caveats and so on and so forth (scholarships help, too). But generally speaking, unless you’re getting a hell of a reputation and network to go with that private school tuition bill, if I were a parent or a student, I’d be asking what, exactly, I’m getting out of that extra up to thirty grand a year I’d have to pay over the perfectly good education a motivated student can get at an arguably less glamorous but otherwise capable public institution. If you don’t have a good answer for that, think of everything else you can do with that $30k, or, alternately, how much less debt you/your kid will have to service.

I think a college education is awfully important for most folks today and I encourage people to get at least a BA, if nothing else because that degree opens a lot of otherwise closed doors, employmentwise (I also see value in trade vocations as well, but that’s another discussion entirely). But college is like anything: it’s easy to overpay if you don’t know what you’re doing. What I really suggest is that parents and prospective college students have as good a grip as they can on what they’re looking for, what they can afford, and what they’re going to get out of any one school and whether it’s worth the money (hint: Don’t just take their word for it).

A college education is worth paying for, and worth investing in. But not worth overpaying for, or overleveraging one’s future over.  Get educated about the education (and anything else) you’re putting money into. That’s what I would say.

Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures

John Glaenzer asks:

What guilty pleasures do you have? Belting out CW McCall songs on Friday night? Watching reruns of “Mythbusters” in your bathrobe, because dressing on Saturday is too much of a hassle? Writing mildly amusing comments on a semi-famous science fiction writers blo….

Oh dear.

Anyway, what are your guilty pleasures?

I don’t have any, because I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.

Which is not to say that I don’t have a lot of silly or simple or even stupid pleasures. Among them, the joy of blowing the heads off zombies in the Left 4 Dead video games, listening to Journey after the age of twenty one, eating an astounding array of junk food mitigated only by a daily multivitamin, or making up songs about my pets and singing them when one enters the room (Yes, my pets have theme songs? Don’t yours? Hmmm). I do all of these things — and more! Really, a large percentage of my pleasures are, shall we say, uncomplicated.

I don’t feel guilty about them, however, because, eh, why should I? My pleasures make me happier to a greater or lesser degree, they don’t hurt anyone else, and in any event one of the great advantages to being a grown up is being able to do what the hell you want and not have to apologize for it or run it past anyone else. The reason we call things “guilty pleasures” is usually because we substitute someone else’s judgment for their value over our own.

I’m not inclined to do that. One, because I feel comfortable with my own judgment on what gives me pleasure and don’t need validation from anyone else. Two, because even if I did need validation from everyone else, everyone else would be a hypocrite on this score, since everyone (or at least everyone I’ve ever met in my life) has their own set of pleasures that someone else would look askance upon — and because every pleasure in life has almost certainly been looked askance upon. Every pleasure is a guilty pleasure to someone. Eventually you just have to stop caring if your pleasure has the approval of the majority, or of a critically-minded minority, or of, you know, your mom.

The flip side of this is that it makes it easier for you to not care what gives other people pleasure. Like Nickelback? I’m not a fan at all and I don’t mind cracking the occasional joke at their expense, but you know what? If you like them and listening to them gives you happiness, then listen to them and be happy. A huge fan of basketball? I’m not much for it outside of a highlight reel, but that shouldn’t stop you. Enjoy your bouncy ball heaved about by tall persons. Enjoy you some sparkly vampires? I am painfully aware that sparkly vampires give me no pleasure whatsoever. But if they give you pleasure, then please to enjoy you some shiny bloodsuckers. I don’t need to care about what you like, and more to the point, you don’t need to care what I think about what you like.

(There’s also the fact that, to be blunt about it, what I do professionally is likely seen as a “guilty pleasure” by some, because there are people who look down at genre fiction and/or science fiction and/or me as a writer. And, well. I don’t want people to feel like they have to make an excuse or feel guilty for reading what I write to anyone; I just want them to enjoy it.)

So, yeah: No guilty pleasures. I like what I like, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it. Wheee!

(It’s not too late to get in a topic for Reader Request Week: Go here for the details and to leave your request!)

The Human Division Serial Run Reader Thoughts and Kvetches Thread

Now that the serial run of The Human Division has come to its end, it’s going to be helpful to us (meaning me, Tor and Audible) to hear your thoughts, comments, complaints, praise and general observations about the serial release. Any thoughts at all will be useful, whether related to story structure, the mechanics of the release, general observations about serialized fiction etc. Positive comments are appreciated but so are negative ones — though I’d personally prefer the negative ones have something useful in them for us to consider for the next time.

So: Please tell me your thoughts on the serial run of The Human Division: What you liked, what you did not, and what you think we can/should/must improve next time around.

The floor is yours.

(Note to folks: If you’ve not read The Human Division, not only is the thread here likely to contain spoilers, but you probably won’t have much useful to contribute, so, uh, maybe you should move along.)

(Also note: If you missed today’s announcement about the future of the series, you might want to read it.)

The Human Division, Episode Thirteen: Earth Below, Sky Above is Now Live + An Announcement About the Future

It’s all led up to this and here it is: The final Tuesday, with the final episode of The Human Division: “Earth Below, Sky Above.” Here’s what it’s about:

At last, the Earth and the Colonial Union have begun formal discussions about their relationship in the future—a chance for the divisions in humanity to be repaired. The diplomats and crew of the Clarke are on hand to help with the process, including Ambassador Ode Abumwe and CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson, both of whom were born on Earth. But not everyone wants The Human Division to be repaired…and they will go to great length to make sure it isn’t.

Yup, that about sums it up. I’m not going to write too much more about it now because honestly I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say I tried to give the story the climax I thought it deserved. Also, this episode, like the first one, is double-length, which make sense because it has a lot of ground to cover.

And now that this particular set of episodes has come to a close, it gives me great pleasure to make  to following announcement:

The Human Division has been renewed for a second season.

Which is to say, yes, there will be another novel that continues to explore the current events in the Old Man’s War universe.

I’d been hoping for a while that I would be able to make this announcement; The Human Division and its episodes so far have been a success, and it’s been clear for some time that people would want to see more along this particular storyline. But we literally only agreed to another novel in the last couple of days (contract negotiations, folks — they’re crazy), so this is just about the earliest I could tell you about it.

So for those who hoped for/needed/were about to angrily demand more in order to find out what happens next, you’re going to get your wish. And, you know, I get my wish, too. I mean, you guys aren’t the only ones who want to find out where everything goes from here.

I can’t give you any more details at the moment because I haven’t written anything else in the universe yet (see earlier point about contract negotiations), and among other things we’re going to look at all the data from the serial run of the episodes and see what it all means for how we present the next novel. I will say that I have started thinking about particular story ideas and elements. And that I have plans. Oh my, yes.

As always, there will be a discussion at on this final episode, and that should include more thoughts on me about the idea of a “second season” and how this particular set of episodes is coming to a close. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up (update: it’s up). Also, of course, feel free to leave reviews on Amazon/Goodreads/your own blogs/wherever; those will still be useful, even here at the end.

In the near future (as in later today) I will probably post a entry here soliciting your thoughts on the overall serial run of The Human Division, so if you have thoughts on that, hold on to those for now — you can use this comment thread to talk about this particular episode and/or news of the second season renewal. (Update: The serial run comment thread is now up).

For now, just know this: This episodic experiment has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope it was as much fun for you too. For those of you who came on this ride with me: Thank you.

Earth Below, Sky Above: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audiobook) (all links US)