My Superpower, Which Happens to Be Useful For My Book Tour

It is: I am almost always able to wake up within five minutes of when I need to wake up.

Today is a perfect example. I wanted to be at the airport in time for my flight, which is at 10:20 am. This being LA and me needing to travel on the 405 and return a rental car with a full tank of gas, and me generally preferring to be early than late, I decided that I needed to be up at 6 am.

I woke up, wide awake, at 5:56.

This is a very useful unearned talent.

It impresses my wife, who does not have a similar talent, and who in the morning hits the snooze button enough that the poor thing probably had PTSD at this point. There have been at least a couple of times where she has not wanted to be woken up my the alarm and has just asked me to take her up at a specific time. I think this shows maybe a little too much faith in my innate abilities to wake up in a timely fashion, but on the other hand I haven’t yet failed to get her up at the requested time, so you tell me (note: when I do this, Krissy does not hit me repeatedly, in snooze button fashion).

Please note that this talent is not infallible: about five percent of the time I manage to sleep until my own alarm goes off. This is why, I will note, I actually do set an alarm. It’s nice to have backup (and not to miss important things). I’m confident in this brain quirk of mine, but I also have a healthy respect for the fact that human brains are less than perfect machines. What it ultimately means is that nineteen times out of twenty I don’t have to wake up to a harsh buzzing in my ear, and that is its own reward.

This is actually my second superpower; the first one was that when the phone rang, I could pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end who they were. This was not because I was psychic (I’m guessing) but because I was good at making educated guesses as to who would be calling me at any particular point in time. I was rarely wrong. However, these days, announcing to people on the phone who they are does not mean you have a superpower, it means you have Caller ID. Thank you so much, march of progress.

66 Comments on “My Superpower, Which Happens to Be Useful For My Book Tour”

  1. An interesting concept, a comic book superhero whose superpower — such as in your case, an innate caller ID — has been made utterly irrelevant by new technology. Sounds like a supporting character in “The Tick.” (Which is high praise.)

  2. My secret superpower is that mosquitoes adore me. No one else is ever bitten by a mosquito when I’m present. I’m not in love with this superpower, but people around me like it quite a lot. The nice follow-up, though, is that I stopped reacting to mosquito bites a while ago. I can let one bite me, the bump shows up, it itches for five minutes, and then is gone, so I suppose it’s not the worst ever secret superpower.

  3. I have the opposite. If I have to get up at 6 for something important, I will wake up at 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30, 5, 5:30, 5:45 then sleep until 7.

  4. Speaking of the march of progress, alarm clocks don’t have to buzz in your ear anymore. Mine randomly selects from a playlist I’ve created containing songs by which I don’t mind being woken…

  5. I had the same power until I hit college. All the years before hand I was up minutes before my alarm and could even adapt on the weekends to a later time. College changed all that and I’ve never been able to do it consistently since.

  6. I can do that too – wake up when I want to, not tell who’s on the phone, sadly. However, waking up on time is a useful thing. But I too set the alarm, because as you say it’s not always reliable. I think you’re the first person I’ve known (so to speak) who can do it too. I wonder how common it is?

  7. I can swing the ‘wake up just before the alarm’ trick myself, if I’m getting sufficient sleep. Sadly, I enjoy watching the Daily Show & Colbert Report too much.

  8. Have you read Sharon Shinn’s Shifting Circle series? Her characters discuss how each person has a superpower during a dinner scene in “Still Life With Shapeshifter”. One of the character’s superpowers is knowing who was calling on the phone, too.

  9. Not a specific super power, but a specific instance of wanting to be awake at a certain time.

    I was very excited about the Cassini mission to Saturn, and wanted to watch the launch. It was launching at night and while I was watching on tv there was a delay. They couldn’t say how long, just a delay of some number of hours. So I turned in and told myself that I wanted to wake up for the launch. In the wee hours of the night I suddenly woke up and turned on the tv. There were 2 minutes left in the countdown :-)

    I’m pretty sure it was a one off thing, but I still thought it was incredibly cool.

    \My talent is making enough milkshake to fill all the required glasses without needing to measure anything :-)

  10. At the risk of trying to sound like I want to be Cool Like Scalzi, I have the same ability to get up on time! I’m curious about something, though. If I just go ahead and get up 5 or 10 minutes before the alarm would have gone off, I feel energized and ready for the day. However, if I wake up 15 minutes before and decide to just lay there until the alarm goes off, I usually go back to sleep and then feel like crap when I get up with the alarm. Does it work that way for you, too?

  11. This is also a talent of mine, Odd Brother of Brain. But I think mine comes less from innate awesomeness and more from years of being trained to rise on command by tag-teaming cats hungry for their gooshy-food breakfast.

  12. When Justine Larbalestier’s How To Ditch Your Fairy came out, there were some conversations around the interwebs about what fairies particular people thought they had. And I said “I have a wake-up fairy.” Because I’ve got that same trick.

    This only works if I have a particular time I want to get up, and a reason to do so. If I tell myself I want to get up at 8am but I have no place to be, I will wake up at 7:55ish, look at the clock, decide that I am too lazy to get up, and go back to sleep. But I’ll be awake when I make the decision, so that’s probably more of a willpower problem than a failure of my wake-up fairy.

  13. Very neat skill. My wife has a somewhat similar skill: when she wakes up, you could put a phone to her ear and say, “Speak,” and were you on the other end you’d never know she just woke up. I don’t know how she does it, but it fascinates me.

    When I wake up I’m one step above zombie. Sort of like where one would be at the last stages of a zombie infection. You know, a couple of blinks of the eye and Poof! zombie! Thought and speech are out of sync, and mouth is phonetically hosed.

  14. It’s pretty easy to have this super power when you head West. Let’s see if it works for you when you have to go to Europe to sell your book. It’s easy to get up 5 minutes early when you’re waking up 2 hours later than you normally do. I’m sure that when you head back home, your 3 biological alarm clocks (Fluffy, et al) will make sure you are up at your normal time.

    I’m on the same page as Shady, thou Alki is on the outside closing fast.

  15. I have the same ability. My brother in law’s superpower is being able to pick the exact right size tupperware to put the leftovers in.

  16. My almost-always reliable superpower is kinda cool: babies love me. I inherited it from my late grandfather, who was a genuine baby magnet.

  17. I can also wake up before the alarm – I assume that it is because that I have a weirdly accurate internal clock, and am also a lucid dreamer. It’s a moderately useful skill, but honestly the lucid dreaming tends to be more useful, as I wake up more often than not with a plausible answer (or at least a new approach) to whatever problem I was noodling over when I drifted off to sleep. At times, I consider my subconscious to be much smarter than my waking self :-). I think that ability is pretty common, actually – hence the old advice to “sleep on it” when someone has a difficult decision.

    My secondary superpower: real-life tetris expert (whether it is loading the dishwasher, packing the car for a trip, or putting away groceries, I can generally fill every last square millimeter of space).

  18. I came here to tell you about *my* superpower (not that you asked), but Miles Archer’s brother-in-law beat me to it! For I, too, can–with merely a glance at the leftovers to be stored–instantly choose exactly the right tupperware. Every time.

    Not a TERRIBLY impressive superpower, but it does come in handy.

  19. I have a superpower. I do. It is totally useless. At least I haven’t thought up a good use for it. I am Captain No Stud. I cannot for the life of me hit a stud through drywall even if I’m using a stud finder. I have illustrated it for you. Yes, I’m about to say what you think I’m going to say.

    The best use of this power is to make someone else hang the drywall.

  20. There’s a throwaway bit about this very thing in the play The Lieutenant of Innishmore – two low-level con artists have to get up early to prepare for their latest sting, and one of them reveals that he always seems to just naturally wake up when he needs to without an alarm clock. The other marvels at this, and they discuss it for a while, then prepare to turn in. “Set your head for six-thirty,” the second guy says.

  21. Same thing here. Figured it out in basic training that, due to nerves, I’d wake up 5 minutes before alarm time. Haven’t used an alarm clock in decades.

  22. Not entirely unrelated, I suspect, to your other super power of not getting drunk in the evenings.

  23. My superpower is that vibe that says, “abandon all hope, ye who attempt to b.s. me.” To the extent that it was developed, it certainly wasn’t on purpose. I’d rather have the superpower that allows me to LMAO on the inside when someone me, while coming across as if I am not struck with incredulity. That would make my social life less sparse.

    I also have shades of the wake-up-when-I-need-to superpower, though mine takes a form like what Mike B. described. For those mornings when I simply want to get a jump on the day, I find that setting Task Manager to play Dvořák’s 9th fifteen-ish minutes before I need to arise (i.e., so that the second movement does the heavy lifting it’s good at) is way better than playing games of Snooze Button that I invariably lose. It’s far more pleasant than that damn baby-Klaxon sound.

  24. I can do the same, but usually I look at my watch, mutter, “I want the five minutes” and go back to sleep. This is because I switched from a regular alarm clock with its horrible braaak braaank noise to a much more pleasant chiming tweetle from my cell phone.

  25. I used to have the innate Caller ID thing. It faded out sometime in the late 80s, so rather before it was made obsolete. These days, my superpower is knowing where stuff is. We aren’t the neatest people in the world and stuff often gets buried or set down somewhere it shouldn’t be. But I can usually think about it for a moment and say where it is. I suppose it’s just subconsciously being aware of what I see in my familiar environment and being able to call it up, but it is handy.

  26. I have that one, too. I don’t use an alarm to wake up. Now is there some way for us to have a duel or showdown, or for one of us to take the other’s power, Highlander style?

  27. I have to set the alarm to ensure I’ll wake up five minutes before. I hate being woken up by the alarm Enya* CD in my alarm-clock, so I hypothesize that my premature waking is a subconscious defense mechanism.

    *What? Don’t look at me like that! I tried classical, but not even Wagnerian opera rouses me. Any motion does it, though, as my cat learned early in our relationship. It annoys my partner because she can’t get out of bed without waking me up, though it doesn’t really bother me.

  28. I have no real super powers, but I did spend a year sleeping in a patio lounge chair, on my back with arms folded across my chest. Don’t think I could do that any more, but I can stay absolutely still for exceedingly long times. I need to start meditating again.

  29. Sarah Wynde: My husband loves bananas, but he can’t eat them because when he does, he turns into a mosquito magnet. Trufax.

    Ed: Your cat is an “it”, not a “he” or a “she”? I know lots of ppl make jokes about “well, once it’s been fixed, the animal’s an ‘it’ “…but that just always struck me the wrong way.

  30. Gulliver,
    The sound of crickets wake me up. No crickets in Seattle. I tried the sound of the ocean, but that’s just way too familiar to me and I sleep right through it. Dunno why, but tried a ‘spring day’ theme and the sound of birds brought a smile of contentment right before I dozed back off to sleep.

  31. My husband has always been impressed with my ability to wake up when I intend to. I also suspect it’s because I don’t want an alarm going off in my ear. (When I worked third shift, I used to call him in the morning, because he’d sleep through two alarms. If he had to get up and answer the phone, he’d just stay up.) OTOH, if I decide to go back to sleep without setting an alarm, I may well oversleep.

  32. Your wife sounds like my husband, who is really hard to wake up. We had a fight this morning ’cause I specifically asked him if he was going in to work at his normal time and he told me yes, but then he had to go in 7 hours earlier than that… he denies this, but he’s counting on my bad memory to make me unsure. However, I KNOW I’m right… LOL

  33. My superpower is that people will always stop me to ask for directions, presumably because I look like I know where I am. This is especially apparent when I travel outside of the US. My mother didn’t believe me when I told her about this superpower during a trip to the UK and France ten years ago, but when I had, within three short days, a vanload of Lebanese men flag me down from the sidewalk to ask how to get to Victoria Station, a group of Japanese schoolgirls ask me how to get to Trafalgar Square, and two French men stop me within six hours of our arriving in Paris to ask for directions (to where I never figured out, as I don’t speak French and they didn’t speak English), my mother had to admit that there was something uncanny there. My crowning achievement was when a South Korean man asked me for directions when I was in Japan.

    I can usually help people out, since I’m usually carrying a map, but it’s not apparent when they stop me.

  34. My super power is apparently to spot copy editor issues in random blog posts You can hammer this comment if you want after it has served its purpose.

    My Superpower, Which Happens to Be Useful of Book Tour — “on Book Tour”

    the poor thing probably had PTSD at this point. — “has PTSD”

    she has not wanted to be woken up my the alarm — “woken up by the alarm”

    just asked me to take her up — “wake her up”

  35. I have that power as well. If I consciously think about when I need to wake up right before I go to sleep, I will generally wake up shortly before the alarm goes off.

    Sometimes our bodies are really cool that way.

  36. John, you still have a chance to impress if your caller is using someone else’s phone… that would take more guts now, though, since you’d have a contradictory caller-ID staring you in the face.

  37. I can do that – but only IF I have actually set the alarm clock. If I forget to set it, I don’t wake up, even if it’s a work day.

  38. I think a short story about characters whose superpowers are this banal or even useless (e.g. because of called ID), but who somehow use them to important effect (e.g. the character can see past blocked caller ID), could be amusing and very Scalzian.

  39. This is going to sound very silly, but I love it when you put the article in front of freeway numbers (“the” 5, “the” 405, and so forth, as the gods intended). It’s apparently a California thing; I’ve been living in exile on the East Coast for several years, and my husband looks at me askance whenever I talk about “the” 395. It makes me happy to see it in print.

  40. I used to have the built in Caller ID as well. Sometimes I try not to look at the phone and see if I still have it. Like anything else, it’s atrophied a lot from disuse.

    I sometimes have the same power as StephanieF, where people ask me directions in a strange town.

    I also know Where Stuff Is in the mess that is our house, and How To Navigate Malls.

    My best superpower is the opposite of Scalzi’s: the ability to sleep way past the time I should have. My alarm probably has as much PTSD as Krissy’s.

  41. I have the same superpower. I always had, even as a child. Also, once I wake up I stay awake. For a very long time I couldn’t understand that other people didn’t work like that. So I didn’t understand why they would do things like oversleep even though they had alarm set up.

    Once a friend asked me to wake her up when I wake up and I did and then left. She went back to sleep. She then blamed me but I woke her up – to me it was her decision to go back to sleep. She couldn’t understand for me falling back to sleep when she planned to get up was weird.

  42. Some days I have that power of waking up before my alarm, too. However, it is a curse and not a gift. I want those minutes of sleep. I am OWED those minutes!

  43. My superpower is the ability to leave home with just enough time to arrive anywhere, by car, 5 minutes early. Completely unassisted by GPS or traffic condition reports of any kind. Whether or not I know where I’m going or have ever been there before.
    I can try for earlier, late or just on time, but it always winds up being right there at close to 5 minutes. Sometimes my husband will try to slow me down or hurry me up, just to mess with it. Something always counteracts his meddling and gets me to the destination at T minus 5 minutes.

  44. My friends and i call these stuporpowers – the superpowers that you have that will likely never save the world. One of my friends is deadly accurate with nonlethal weapons (squirt guns, rubber bands, snapped pennies, etc); another friend’s stuporpower is to set a beer in front of me, any beer, and i’ll drink it and like it (i ordinarily can’t stand beer, and even if i go back and drink the exact same beer the next day, i can’t stand it, even if we drank pitchers of it the night before–and my starting sobriety level doesn’t matter). Mine is that despite being born and raised in Indianapolis, a town with attrocious public transport and no subways, i can navigate any subway/train system instinctively.

  45. My grandfather used to claim he had a superpower – he’d think about someone, then, within a few minutes, he’d call them!

    (My actual superpower is to be a human compass – I can always tell north no matter where I am. It still worked when I visited the Northern Hemisphere!)

  46. I have the wake-just-before-alarm superpower, but I thought I had _learned_ it somehow
    in ten years of military watchkeeping. If you got it for free, that’s just not fair!

  47. I can do that too, but only when it’s actually necessary. I didn’t even bother to set the alarm during my final exams at university, I *knew* I’d wake up at the right time. But instituting a general policy of “get up earlier” — no use.

    When I do set the alarm clock because I stop trusting myself, I do the “wake up every twenty minutes and check the clock” thing.

    I’m also extremely good at finding other people’s lost stuff but I can’t find my own, which, scaled up a bit, would actually make a fairly decent superpower and super-weakness.

  48. I’m pretty sure I remember James Bond doing something similar in one of the novels – I think Moonraker – by visualising his watch at the time he wants to get up at before he goes to sleep. Whether it makes it cooler or not, I don’t know.

  49. I do the wake up thing too, though mine seems to be a ten minute grace period rather than five. Doesn’t matter how far of a distance from my ‘normal’ wake up time it is, I always wake up within 5-10 minutes of the alarm. I also set one just in case, because if I am sick or very very tired it just doesn’t work.

    It even works for me with the occasional weekend afternoon nap. My husband is consistently amazed.

  50. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher does the same without the backup. But, you’re the real deal.

  51. Those are better superpowers than mine, which is smelling mold. Not sure whether you have mold in your basement? Let me sniff it, and I will tell you. Yeah.

  52. Got to agree with earlier post, I would guess that there is a correlation between your being a teetotaler and the wake up.

    Also aren’t we all forgetting his most important super power here? The ability to get roller derby players to smear sugary creamy icing all over his face.

  53. I also have the “wake up before the alarm clock buzzes” superpower. Although, my ability to wield this power is not as precise as yours. I have approx. a 20 to 5 minute window before the alarm goes off that I usually wake up automatically.

    I can also usually predict who is calling on the phone. Although, again, I’m not sure how awesome my skills at this power are compared to that of Scalzi.

    The weird thing though, I believe that these two “powers” have grown a bit stronger in me since I first read Old Man’s War about three years ago. Perhaps there is some sort of “Bible Code” kind of hidden knowledge embedded within the text of your books? The Scalzi Code?

  54. NTSFO79, have you been kittened or gotten the mallet? If so, you might be hearing things (meows or chriping tweety birds) that are giving you the impression that you have super powers. Seek medical help immediately.

  55. I have the same, but only when it’s for something important (like a flight). Recently it has kicked in with the feedings of the Zoë-monster. Without fail — and without her crying to get me to do so — I wake up sharply at 6 AM ready (more or less) to nurse her. As she is a very sleepy baby and would probably snooze well past when a newborn should, this has been a very handy talent for her mother to have.

  56. @gleonguerrero (3:13 pm) A year sleeping in a lawn chair IS impressive. How did you handle sanitary arrangements? Were they feeding you via IV?

  57. Same ability here, and I also set the alarm. I’ll wake up before it goes off, though. I’m so rarely wrong that I often never know what my alarm sounds like unless I forget to shut it off. I’ll get up and start the day, then hear a funny noise that I can’t recognize.

    I also have a binary conscious state: I’m either completely awake or completely asleep, like turning off a switch. My wife, who is foggy for a good half-hour in the morning, is completely astounded by both abilities. I’ll turn over at night, take two deep breaths, and I’m out.

    I do think mine is training, though. I worked night shift in a retirement home for years, where residents would wake you if they needed something (this was all completely legitimate — you were kind of like a night concierge or attendant, not a health care professional). On the (thankfully rare) occasions that someone did have an emergency, you summoned help. Most often it was simple stuff. But you had to rouse yourself and make appropriate decisions in a hurry.

  58. @chip

    It is more of a Southern California thing. At least that’s how it was 12 years ago when I left. In LA or It would be “The 101” and i the Bay Area it would be 101. You could usually tell if someone was from one or the other by it.

    Of course now I’m in Oregon and instead of 5 or The 5 it is, I5.

  59. I too have that wake up on time superpower, as well as a pretty accurate internal clock. Like Lisa, I also know how long it takes to get somewhere – although I don’t have that exactly 5 minutes thing going. Another thing I have is parking karma, I always find a parking place near where we want to go, and it doesn’t matter if I am driving, or my wife, or even a friend – the space is just always there.

  60. Late to the party here, but when my alarm clock stopped working a couple years ago, I didn’t bother to replace it. I have always been able to wake up just before the alarm goes off (about 90% of the time, I would wake up exactly one minute early.) In nearly two years without an alarm clock, I’ve never been late waking up (and my normal waking time is 5am), even when I need to wake up extra early for some reason. I just tell myself “Remember to wake up at 4 tomorrow,” and it happens. It works even through daylight savings and when travelling (though travelling west typically means I’m going to wake up earlier than I want to.) I’m also an instant sleeper, as in I can fall asleep in seconds at a time of my choosing. I wonder if the abilities are related.

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