How To Pack For a Three Week Book Tour

First: Don’t check luggage. I have a dozen flights in these three weeks. That’s a dozen chances for four separate airlines to lose my luggage. If you give them that many shots on the goal, they will score, and your luggage will be lost, and as you’re rarely in the same place for more than one day, your luggage may never catch up. So: Carry on. I have a roller bag, in which are my clothes and toiletries, and a travel bag into which I put my electronics and other things I want to be able to unpack at a moment’s notice.

Second: Decide to have a casual look, which is to say you’ll do better with clothes you can tightly jam into a carry-on, like tee-shirts or short-sleeved polo shirts and jeans, all of which de-wrinkle on their own after about ten minutes of you wearing them. I’m going to be the first to admit that this is much easier to do if, say, you are a dude writing science fiction, as I am, since the level of expected sartorial sophistication for science fiction male is “Don’t show up with Kool-Aid spilled down the front of your tee shirt.” Yes, this is a very low standard. When I am on the road for three weeks, I am happy to let a very low standard work for me.

That said, you can pack better clothing than I do into a carry-on and still make it work. Mary Robinette Kowal can pack as many days worth of clothing into a carry-on as I can, and still — unfathomably — have space for a ball gown. No, I have no idea how she does it. Ask her. I do think an iron is involved somewhere. But in a general sense, casual is better if you can get away with it.

Third: Have a scheduled laundry stop somewhere in the tour, which means that what’s on the schedule for some portion of one day is you shoving your clothes into a washer (and then a dryer), either at a laundromat or at the residence of a sympathetic friend. I don’t care how good you are at clothing Tetris, if you’re over a meter tall, you’re not fitting three week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on. At some point you will need to wash things. You must put this on your schedule; if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.

For what I think are obvious reasons, it’s best if the laundry day is scheduled at (or just after) the halfway point in your tour. My laundry day on this tour is on Day 12, which is slightly less than optimal for a 21-day jaunt, but still perfectly doable. This means I have twelve days of clothes in my bag plus the clothes on my back that I wore the first day of the tour (13 days in all). This means a very tightly packed carry-on.

Laundry day is also another reason to pack casual clothes: I’ll be jamming all my shirts and socks into one load and all my jeans and underwear into the other. Two loads, done.

Fourth: Rolling is magic. The key to putting twelve days of clothing into a single carry-on is have each bit of clothing take of the smallest amount of room as possible, with a minimum of surface area. The means taking every bit of clothing and rolling them into a highly compact tube, and then pushing them as tightly as possible next to each other. There are other ways to make your clothes small and compact, but this is my favorite, for two reasons: One, it’s easy to do — you don’t have to be a scientist to roll a pair of jeans — and two, it makes it easy to both extract and replace clothing during the trip: Pull out one clean tube, replace it with one worn tube (I turn my worn clothes inside out before I put them back into the carry-on so I know at a glance which things are clean and which are not).

So, having said all that, what’s in my bags?

Roller bag:

Six pairs of jeans (plus one pair on my body at any one time): You can wear jeans for more than one day (provided you don’t make a mess of yourself), they’re durable and they can take a fair amount of abuse. This makes them excellent tour clothing. They can be bulky but again you can wear them for more than one day so it evens out.

Seven polo shirts: Easily packable but can be worn to places where t-shirts are not appropriate. I have business meetings during this trip, for example, so I’ll be wearing those then.

Five tee-shirts (plus the one I wore on the first day): These are good for travel days and other casual events; I’ll mostly be wearing t-shirts when I am at Phoenix Comic Con, for example.

12 pairs of socks; 12 pairs of underwear (plus the pairs I was wearing on the first day). Because you do need these. Really.

Toiletry bag: Which includes toothbrush, floss, Q-Tips, razor, beard trimmer, Claritin, tissues and underarm deodorant plus a couple other things. I don’t tend to bring my own shampoo or soap because those are generally available in the hotel rooms; also on the road I tend to use soap for when I shave.

Travel bag:

Laptop: because I am doing writing/doing other computing-intensive things on the road and want a fully-capable computer.

iPad: for more casual use (tweeting on planes, reading books etc)

Phone: this stays mostly in my pocket but occasionally gets stuffed into the bag. Aside from all the things a modern smartphone can do, it’s also a portable 4G hotspot, which means that in general I do not have to suffer at the hands of terrible hotel/airport wifi. Also, this phone is a Razr Maxx, which means that it has an extra large-capacity battery, which is handy when one is on the road.

Battery: This is a 9900mAh outboard battery that I use to recharge my phone and iPad; it can charge each of these a couple of times (or one of them a few times) before it’s totally drained. This is great for travel because I never worry about not having a charge for my portable electronics (except the laptop). It also means that I don’t have to do the Sad Airport Wall Socket Walk, desperately looking for someplace to plug in my phone.

Paperback book: Because they still make you turn off your electronics on the plane, which is stupid, but whatever. I will replace the paperback a couple of times over the course of the tour; fortunately, I’m often at bookstores, where doing this is easy.

Extra pair of glasses: Because it would suck not to be able to see.

Pens: For signing books and writing on other things. Not every store that has me come for a signing remembers that in order to sign a book I need a pen. Also, in a general sense when I have a preference for medium-weight gel ink pens, and not every store has those, so I bring my own in case.

Sweatshirt: Because planes and other spaces can be cold, and casual shirts are good at keeping one warm. Also makes an acceptable pillow for air travel if necessary.

Baseball cap: For when I am out in the sun and don’t want to get a sunburn on my bald spot and/or for mornings when I need to briefly leave my hotel room before I take a shower, because then my hair looks like hell.

Snacks and gum: For long plane rides and times when I’m so busy I will forget to eat, which happens more often than you might think. The temptation is just to stuff Snickers bars in there, but in fact I do try to snack more responsibly than that. I’m also careful to balance out snacking with a) counting calories so I don’t gain a bunch of weight on tour b) actually eating well when I’m taken places to eat. Be that as it may, it’s not a bad thing to have something to eat at your fingertips, especially if, like me, low blood sugar tends to make you cranky. This is no good when you’re supposed to be nice to people, as, for example, one is supposed to be on a book tour.

The one drawback of traveling so compactly for such a long period of time is that I have almost no space to add anything to my packing. This can be a problem because fans do occasionally like to give me gifts, which is awesome (usually) but then presents the issue of what do I do with the gift. If I have a handler at the stop (someone who drives me around, makes sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, and keeps me on schedule), I will ask them to mail that stuff home for me; otherwise I might have the bookstore do it. So if you are a fan and you give me something, be aware it’s not going with me to the next stop; it’s being shoved into a box and will catch up with me at the end of my travels. I don’t think this will bother most folks but you never know, which is why I note it.

And that’s how you (or at least, I) travel for a three-week book tour.

 

View From the Hotel Window, 5/10/13

Why, hello, Los Angeles. You don’t change much.

A brief time recovering from the 405 Freeway, and then I am off again, to dinner with friends. Don’t wait up. See you tomorrow.

Reminder: San Diego! Tomorrow! Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore! 2pm!

That’s right, San Diego, I will be at Mysterious Galaxy’s 20th Anniversary Party tomorrow at 2pm to sign books, meet people and otherwise be a happy performing monkey for the whole lot of you (and yes, apparently, there will be a limited number of “pre-publication copies” of The Human Division, or so it says on Mysterious Galaxy’s Web site, so come early if you want those).  I won’t be the only author there by a long shot; click on that link above to see who else is coming by to celebrate. It’ll be a fun time. There are rumors of cake. And you know what they say about cake. It is never a lie.

Please come! Bring a friend! Bring two! Have them bring friends! Have those friends bring enemies, and then we’ll all eat popcorn as they fight in the parking lot! It’ll be fantastic.

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

In his Big Idea piece for Portal, a series-ending novel that he’s written with Eric Flint, Ryk E. Spoor delves into two things critical to today’s modern science fiction writers: The secret to writing hard SF, and the secret to bringing a hard SF series to a realistic but (hopefully) satisfying close. Curious? You should be.

RYK E. SPOOR:

Back in 2004, I’d just published my second book with Baen – the short novel Diamonds Are Forever, as the first third of the Mountain Magic collection. This had been written based on an idea sketched out by Eric Flint, and the two of us had both been pleased by the way that turned out. I now had no books under contract and, while Digital Knight hadn’t done terribly badly, Jim Baen wasn’t quite ready to give the go-ahead to another solo work by me.

So Eric mentioned that there was this idea he’d had, and tried to write twice, about a weird fossil being discovered on the K-T boundary that also turned out to have a connection to an alien structure found by space probes (his original plan, as I recall, had it be on Ceres). He’d never gotten very far, because he felt it needed something that would give it the “hard edge” of real SF in some manner that was also accessible… and he thought that the kind of stuff I liked to do with characters like Jason Wood and Clint Slade was exactly what he was looking for.

For me, this was kinda scary. HARD science fiction wasn’t an area I’d contemplated getting into. Oh, it wasn’t entirely out of my feasible zone (like Eric’s big moneymaker, alternate history, which I wouldn’t touch with a forty-foot adamantium pole) but my preference lies definitely in the Space Opera and Fantasy realms. And Eric wanted real hard SF – near-future, using extrapolations of real technology, with parts of it solid enough to ring like steel when someone hammered on them.

Despite my nervousness over this, I realized this was a big opportunity, so I took a deep breath and said “Sure, sounds great!”

The result was Boundary. Published in 2006, Boundary followed a varied cast of characters including paleontologist Helen Sutter, engineer Joe Buckley, sensor genius A.J. Baker, and superspy Madeline Fathom in a pure-science adventure that started in a dusty desert fossil dig and ended in an alien base on Mars. In some ways this was one of the hardest pieces of work I’d ever had to do, because I had to study up on a lot of technology and science that I’d only known peripherally – NERVA rockets, spaceship design considerations, Martian landscape and characteristics, and others – and then figure out two crucial things:

1)  How to present all the necessary, hard-science details to the reader without boring the living hell out of said reader, and

2)  When to STOP.

That second bit is a crucial, and very scary, part of writing hard SF. You cannot get it all exactly right, not without writing textbooks on each and every subject, and you don’t have hundreds of pages to make your technical points. If you’re lucky, you have two paragraphs to make the point before the reader’s attention begins to wander down the page, looking for the next thing that isn’t an infodump. And even if you think you can get away with a few paragraphs on everything, to learn everything you might need well enough to write authoritatively on it… well, it’ll take you a lot longer than your contractual deadline allows you.

At the same time, you have to get enough right that the reader’s willing to either trust you, or overlook your flaws later on. A feeling of versimilitude has to pervade a hard-SF work. One of the tricks to do this, of course, is make sure that something you as an author do know something about is brought to the foreground frequently, so anyone who reads it will say “hey, this guy knows his stuff”. For me, that was various sensor technologies, and A.J. Baker was my go-to guy to provide commentary – and realistic technology with gee-gosh-wow capabilities – that helped provide a foundation to build on.

But there were – and still are – areas in which I had to decide that I would ignore details of reality for the sake of dramatics; for instance, many space-travel times are based on idealized distances and circumstances in many cases. Even there, though, you’ve got to be careful; disregard the wrong aspect of reality, or do it too cavalierly, and you’ve lost all the solidity and trust you might have had.

Boundary sold quite well, so I guess Eric and I didn’t do too badly on that score. So Baen contracted for two sequels. With various delays, it wasn’t until 2010 that the second book, Threshold, was released. Threshold took our heroes from Mars to Ceres and eventually to the Jupiter system, in ships both new and very, very old indeed. Threshold also contained the only real interpersonal violence and combat in the entire trilogy, mostly caused by the actions of one particular individual.

The original plan for the series had been for the adventures of our crew to arrive at Saturn’s moon Enceladus for a final great discovery and wrap-up; but the ending of Threshold marooned them on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and we came to two realizations: first, getting them off that moon and home was going to take most, if not all, of the third book. And second – these guys are starting to get kinda old to be traipsing around the solar system. Over thirteen years elapses between the opening of Boundary and the ending of Threshold. The youngest member of the main cast, Jackie Secord (a teenager at the beginning of Boundary), is over 30, with former boy genius A. J. Baker just about reaching his forties and his wife Helen well over 50. While I assumed that their future had improved medical care and lifespan, that’s still pushing it for people heading into the most dangerous and remote areas of space.

So now – May 7th – the third and final adventure of the Boundary trilogy, Portal, will be released, and I think it is the best of the three, because it draws on everything I’ve learned in the ten years since I was first published and gives our heroes what I think is their grandest, purest adventure of all – finding a way to not only survive disaster, but find a way to return home on their own, despite all odds… and with one last, wonderful discovery for all mankind.

The realization I had to finish their adventures was, itself, a bit daunting. Yet in a hard SF universe, your heroes can’t really be immortal, can’t be dashing hither and yon throughout the cosmos without a care for the fact that reflexes dull, bodies age, dangers suffered take their toll. Even cosmic chew-toy Joe Buckley has to get cut a break in the end; the latter is, of course, a running joke at Baen, in which characters named “Joe Buckley” suffer various amusing demises at the hands of multiple authors. Eric and I had decided that we would not, in fact, kill Joe – just make it look like we were going to kill him off.

As of this writing, off the top of my head, Joe has survived three spaceship crashes, a fall off the top of an arroyo, a spacesuit puncture, being marooned below Europa’s ice, and shot with a spaceship’s main cannon (which was intended for shooting large vessels or stationary bases). Of course, he hasn’t been alone on all of these, and the entire main cast has gone through various deadly situations.

Despite all the dangers, though, Eric and I painted a positive world, and one I liked visiting; here the excesses of the past couple of decades had been finally moderated, the world had not fallen into some kind of dystopia, the USA had been joined by multiple other countries as true superpowers, and the new space race was helping to fuel a new technological renaissance with the help of the clues left by the alien “Bemmies” in their deserted bases. Medical science was advancing, international cooperation was working, and people were basically living their lives as well as could be expected.

I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to write these stories with Eric’s help. He did a lot of handholding – and writing, and rewriting – in the early days. As time’s gone on, he’s given me more and more leeway in writing them, to the point that Portal’s mostly my work from end to end… but based on an idea that Eric had, and infused to a great extent with his viewpoints and always, always guided by his advice on how to handle various aspects of the story.

I’m a bit sorry to say goodbye to most of these characters; I’ve spent a lot of time with them over the last eight years, and most of them are good people. Some I knew from the beginning, and saw where they were going – Helen Sutter and A.J. Baker’s relationship was clear to me pretty much as soon as I had them meet, for instance – while others decided they were going to surprise me. Dr. Nicholas Glendale was supposed to be a very minor character, appearing in a couple of scenes and then disappearing. Instead, he insisted on staying around, and became a strong secondary character in all three books. General Alberich Hohenheim was originally slated for death… but not only Eric and I, but a number of the beta-readers as well, felt that he deserved better than an unseen, unsung death on that floating tomb, so he gets a chance at survival and redemption. Larry Conley was supposed to just be a Tuckerization and handwave – and instead he ended up being a continuing character who plays significant parts in Threshold and Portal.

Madeline Fathom was originally meant to be an antagonist, colder and deadlier, but Eric wisely remodeled her and she instead became the rock on which most of the characters could lean… while she leaned on quiet, patient Joe Buckley when she had a rare moment of doubt. I hadn’t seen that one coming at first, but once it started the relationship became obvious in hindsight.

All things do come to an end eventually, though, and in this case I had to work hard to bring that end to a conclusion that I really felt good about. In a hard-science context, I had a huge challenge in arranging the events of the last major sequences – anyone who reads it will see the really tough part probably right away. The principles of everything that happens from the time that our heroes descend into Europa until the time they leave are correct, but how well the details of certain events would really hold up… I don’t know. Heck, I don’t have the scientific background or the computer resources to even set about trying to model a lot of it.

But dramatically they work, and for the sake of a story… probability has to just take a bow and get out of the way. In my works, the heroes triumph over their odds, and they get to come home, and come home they all do in the end, with the few bad guys having gotten their just deserts and the heroics recognized and rewarded.

You’ll note that I said I’m sorry to say goodbye to the characters, but not to the universe. That’s very deliberate. For while the adventures of one set of people may be over, as long as there are people, there will be others picking up that torch and carrying it, outwards to wherever humanity travels, to the edge of possibility… and perhaps beyond. As Helen says at the end of Portal: “To the end… of the beginning.”

The universe of Boundary is not over, and you will see it again… in a different light, through different eyes, but, perhaps, not all that different, after all, when the universe challenges ordinary people to do their best … and they become extraordinary.

And all of it started when Dr. Helen Sutter looked at a single little fossil…

—-

Portal: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

44

Honestly, I never imagined myself in my mid-40s. 

Which is not to say that when I was younger I expected I would be dead by now or anything. I never led a life that was either that exciting or depressing. I just simply never imagined myself as a middle-aged dude, because honestly, who does? Who imagines themselves being no longer young yet not exactly old, balding and somewhere in the middle of whatever career one is doing when one grows up? Being middle-aged is no great accomplishment in itself; you just have to make it through your 20s without getting hit by a bus then wait a bit from there. There it is: Your forties.

So, no. Never imagined myself in my forties. But I suppose that just means that everything here in my fifth decade is both a surprise and a thrill. I have a career I love and it’s going well. I have a daughter I love who gives me constant joy and occasional (well, constant) sarcasm. I have friends reaching as far back as second grade who are amazing, accomplished people, who I am delighted I get to know and snipe at. I have a wife who is the core of my life and who after 20 years together I still openly gawk at and wonder what I did to deserve such a spectacular women, whose physical gorgeousness is the least wonderful thing about her. I travel across the country — and in fact will travel across the country today — and get to meet people who like what I do enough to come out and see me when I show up in their city.

Basically, the forties kind of rock for me.

There are some downsides, I suppose. I am balding, and at the moment (not visible from the picture above) am rocking a kind of “Friar Tuck” tonsure hair pattern. I do have a little arthritis in one of my hips, although at this point I have to really torque it to notice (I am told that will eventually change). And when 10pm rolls around, what I really want to do is go to bed, because my body is going to wake me up by 6am whether I want it to or not. So I’m not exactly Mr. Excitement. But honestly if these are my downsides at the moment, I should just shut up about them right now. Here’s me shutting up about them.

As noted, I will be celebrating my birthday by going on the road: I travel to Los Angeles today to begin my book tour, which will take me all over the country over the course of the next three weeks. On one hand, yeah, it’s not great to be traveling on my birthday. On the other hand, I think about why I’m traveling and I have to admit there are far worse reasons to get on a plane on my 44th, and besides this means I get a Double Double animal style on my birthday SO I WIN. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you (well, some of you, anyway) through May. And also to my Double Double. And to being 44. Let’s see where things go from here.

If You Pre-Ordered The Human Division From Jay & Mary’s (And If You Didn’t)

If you did pre-order The Human Division from Jay & Mary’s Book Center, one, your book is in this picture somewhere, and two, I signed it as specified and it will soon be on its way to you. Thank you for supporting my local bookstore, they are awesome and so are you.

If you did not pre-order The Human Division from Jay & Mary’s Book Center and are now filled with regret that you did not get a signed copy from me, there are two things you can do at this point:

One: Call Jay & Mary’s Book Center and order a signed (but not personalized) copy from them, because they have, like, 20 copies that they will put on the shelves on Tuesday. They will send you one! Happily!

Two: Call any of the bookstores that are participating in my book tour, order a copy from them and ask them to have me sign it for you when I get there (that is, if you’re not coming to the event itself, which you should because OH GOD OH GOD WHAT IF NO ONE SHOWS UP TO MY EVENTS).

Either of these works.

In any event, you’ll be able to get one of these babies Real Soon Now. I’m excited! I’m excited for you!

Tour’s Eve

Things to do:

  • Go to Jay & Mary’s and sign The Human Division pre-orders
  • Get a haircut
  • Pick up various toiletries
  • Run various errands
  • Go out for birthday dinner (one day early, because I travel tomorrow, don’t wish me happy birthday yet)
  • Pack
  • Spend quality time with the pets who don’t actually care that they won’t see me for three weeks
  • Oh, other stuff, I’m sure.

So, off to the first one right now.

A Quick Note to Publicists/Editors/Authors About Pulling Quotes from Big Idea Intros

This is inside pool for publishing folks, so those of you who don’t care about that stuff can skip over this to the next post.

In the last several months, I’ve noticed a couple of books coming out with blurbs from me that I didn’t remember giving — and what’s happened there is that someone in the publishing house has taken a quote from an introduction to the author’s Big Idea piece here on Whatever and used that as a blurb.

Here’s my position on that:  Please don’t unless you’ve cleared the quote with me first.

Why?

1. Generally speaking, Big Idea intros aren’t recommendations or reviews. They’re text I put in to set the scene for the Big Idea piece proper, which sometimes needs context for people who don’t know who the author is. I try to be engaging when I do that, of course, since I want people to read past the first graph to the actual piece. But unless I’m saying something in the intro like “I read this particular book and holy squirrels, it’s great,” there are two things to know: One, I probably haven’t read the book in full (time issues), so there’s not a review component to the intro. Two, I do the Big Idea mostly on a first come, first serve basis, so generally speaking no endorsement of the work from me is implied; I leave it to the author to sell the book themselves. So to position the quote from a Big Idea intro as an endorsement is generally not a correct action.

Because of the above:

2. The pull quotes you’ll get from a Big Idea intro probably aren’t all that great. Because, well, they weren’t designed to be blurbs, or reviews/endorsements. So they end up looking carefully non-specific about the quality of book itself, which again makes sense because I often don’t read the book before posting the Big Idea, nor would I have necessarily chosen that particular book for myself to read. And I suppose that if all you’re looking for is to plaster my name on the cover of your author’s book, then that might not worry you one way or another. But the thing is that most readers are not stupid and they can tell a positive blurb from an indifferent one — the difference between “Holy squirrels this is fantastic buy it now,” and “This is a book with nouns and verbs that I am aware exists in this world.” I certainly know I can tell difference. And why run a blurb that doesn’t do what a blurb’s supposed to do: Get the potential reader to pull the trigger and buy the book?

3. It does neither of us any good to dilute the effectiveness of my blurbs by using bland, non-committal pull quotes from me. First, per point two, you’re not fooling anyone. Second, I do try to limit my blurbage to just a few authors/books, so that my endorsement actually means something. Which means I’m less than 100% happy when my name is associated with something I didn’t go out of my way to endorse. Third, too many bland non-committal pull quotes from me on books means just means people will learn to discount my (apparent) endorsement on books, which will make everyone unhappy, not just me.

Now, to be clear:  publicists/editors/authors/whomever are not required to clear a Big Idea into pull quote from me, any more than they are required to get permission from a reviewer to quote a review. I did write those words in those Big Idea intros, and so long as the pull quote isn’t done in a way to misrepresent what I wrote, it’s fair use and fair game, and they have a job to do. Fair enough. That said, I will note that generally quotes from reviews are attributed to the review publication (Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Locus, etc) or if the reviewer is high-profile, to the review and publication both. When Big Idea intro pull quotes are used, they tend to be attributed to me only, and thus look more like a personal endorsement. It’s a small thing but it matters, or at least it matters to me.

That being the case:

4. I’m going to start noting when Big Idea intro pull quotes are being used without clearance. What does that mean? Well, two things. One, I’ll remember which houses are using pull quotes from me without clearance when their publicists and editors come to me for actual blurbs. Two, depending on my mood on the day, I may publicly note on the blog that I haven’t read the book the pull quote is on. Which will be embarrassing to everyone involved, I think. Much better to check with me first, no?

The good news is:

5. If you check with me, sometimes I’ll say yes, and sometimes you’ll even get an upgrade. I don’t necessarily object to Big Idea intro quotes being used, if I feel they accurately express my enthusiasm for the book or author. And sometimes if the quote doesn’t do that, it’ll because it’s not enthusiastic enough. For example, a publicist recently checked with me about a Big Idea intro pull quote for an author. It wasn’t a great quote, to be honest. So I gave her a much better, rather more on point blurb that more fully expressed my enthusiasm for the author and his books. Which made her happy (because it was a much better blurb) and made me happy (because she checked in). See? Everyone wins!

So, please: Ask before you use a Big Idea intro quote. It’ll make me happy! And I remember those people in publishing who make me happy. Thank you.

Redshirts a Finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel

Very exciting news. 

Here’s the Locus announcement plus the full list of categories, which includes as finalists friends like Elizabeth Bear, Cat Valente, Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, China Mieville, Jay Lake, Paolo Bacigalupi and Cory Doctorow — among many others. Congratulations to all!

Here are the finalists in my category of Science Fiction Novel:

 

  • The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
  • Caliban’s War, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)

An excellent field. I am delighted to be a finalist, but I have to tell you that with all my heart I hope it goes to Iain M. Banks this year, not only for this particular novel (which is excellent) but as a salute to his entire body of work. I would be very happy with that.

The winners will be announced at the end of June — good luck to everyone.

Busy With a Deadline Today, So Keep Yourself Busy With This Question

Which is:

What is your favorite relentlessly popular song?

By which I mean: The song that everyone knows (or did know, at the time), that took over the world in its day, which may or may not be good, depending on your definition of these things, but which you still listen to all the way through every time you hear it.

Here’s an example from the 80s:

Another, more recent example:

Yeah, you got it now.

So: Share in the comments.

 

The Human Division Review at GeekExchange

It’s here. And it’s good; I especially like that it talks about the intentionally multi-media aspect of the novel (that’s “multi-media” not “multimedia”), because we intentionally built it from the ground up to work effectively in more than a single medium. It’s nice when people pick up on that.

For those of you too busy for the reading, here’s the summation graph:

The bottom line: The Human Division flat out rocked. It’s a smart space opera novel that weaves together politics, characters and action that surpasses its predecessors in the series. For an experimental novel (and this isn’t the first online attempt at a serialized story), it seems to have mostly worked, and at points, worked incredibly well. More than just an experiment in the delivery medium, this is a fine read, and an excellent addition to the series. Season/Book 2 can’t come soon enough.

Sweet.

Also: One week until the hardcover release. Can’t wait.

The Big Idea: Christian Schoon

Humans are very concerned about how we treat each other. We’re somewhat less concerned (in general) in how we treat animals of other species. What will this mean when we meet animals, not only of other species, but from other planets? At what remove will we put them to us then? It’s an interesting thought, one that Christian Schoon delves into with his new novel Zenn Scarlett.

CHRISTIAN SCHOON:

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins: smart, thoughtful, logic-driven person, and one of my all-time favorite authors and “Creationism? Surely you jest…” go-to-guys. A few years ago, another smart person, animal rights activist and author Peter Singer, asked why Dawkins, logical-yet-carnivore, thought it was ethical to eat meat. Dawkins’ reply:

“What I am doing is going along with the fact that I live in a society where meat eating is accepted as the norm, and it requires a level of social courage which I haven’t yet produced to break out of that. It’s a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery.”

We’ll come back to this.

So, my Big Bookish Idea was pretty much average-size on arrival. I had a fairly common author-moment: image swims up out of the depths, brief languid backstroke on surface, submerges again. The visual was of my heroine, a female but otherwise blurry, balanced on the snout of a very large, clearly unearthly creature.

So far, idea not so big. Plenty of stories about humans, somewhere in some future, interacting with large, alien animals.

The next time she showed up, more clues: The animal was injured, she was unafraid, she was there to help it. She was a teenage girl training to be an exoveterinarian. A bit later, her environment appeared: a science-based cloister and exovet clinic/school on a slightly down-at-the-heels Mars. Soon, the girl, named Zenn, begins to have disorienting interludes where she seems to be “sharing” thoughts, or at least sensations, with some of her alien patients. She was raised in a house of science, however, and knows there’s no evidence for anything like ESP. But something bizarre is going on. Or maybe she’s just losing her mind.

Then came the backstory of xenophobic, anti-alien sentiment running through the societies of both Earth and its Martian colonies. They have reasons for this, but they’re questionable. Now I began to glimpse the outlines of my Big, or at least, Large-Format-Paperback Idea. (Not claiming unique, here, of course.)

A quick but relevant aside: since moving from Los Angeles to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, I became involved with several different local animal welfare groups. So, there are horses on our pastures rescued from abusive situations, and I’ve worked to rehab and re-home equines and other animals confiscated by the authorities, from full-grown black bears and cougars to Burmese pythons and alligators. I’m saying I have some experience with humans doing some pretty bad things to animals, generally because it never occurred to them that they needed to behave in any other way, basically because these animals weren’t human. So, speciesism.

Of course, speciesism as a trope is anything but new in SF&F. In fact, it’s rife, and you can likely think of more examples than I can. But, since it’s a subject that touches most of us in our daily lives, I was more than happy to park at least one of my theme-mobiles in its front yard, put it up on blocks and remove the wheels. And now we’re edging back around to Mr. Dawkins.

Those of us who eat meat or eggs or drink milk, wear leather, or benefit from experimentation on animals? Hard to say we’re not overt speciesists, and Dawkins basically admits this, at least where his grocery list is concerned. One can, and most people certainly do, argue the moral merit of human needs trumping all other species’ needs. But as more and more research results verify the continuum-ness of the human-animal continuum, the argument from simple superiority gets less tenable. So, on one side,  the usual arguments from marginal cases, discontinuous mind theory and the centrality of consciousness gambit; on other side, religion or pure philosophy. The speciesist position, in the end, still seems to be “Humans aren’t just smart animals. They’re different in a way that makes them better.” Dawkins doesn’t make this argument about food animals. He bluntly admits he lacks the “social courage” to bring his behavior into line with his intellect and go vegan. I applaud his honesty.

But especially concerning to me, especially in the West, and especially significant for our society’s young, is our often-noted, rapidly increasing distance from anything remotely non-human in our lives, beyond the special case of non-food companion animals. Out of sight, out of caring. This is one of the reasons most of us, perhaps Mr. Dawkins included, are entirely able to overlook, rationalize or repress that fact that most of the animals we eat are raised and killed hidden from us in factory farming or similar operations that are anything but humane (I grew up in the rural Midwest. I know this for a plain, no bullshit fact. Appetite-suppressing details on request).

So, do smart, thoughtful humans still continue to exploit animals in some significant, morally troubling ways? Yes, they do. Would our rampant speciesism change if, like my heroine Zenn, all humans could intimately sense the pain and fear of animals in distress? Maybe. Maybe not. Humans have a long, complicated and confounding history with the animals they eat and/or use in other ways to enhance or, in some cases, that allowed certain human cultures to assemble themselves in the first place.

So, my idea, big, pocket-sized, well-worn or otherwise, was simple (and, one hopes, somewhat camouflaged within the off-world adventure, skiffy intrigue and cross-species thought-sharing). That idea was to put some of my story’s attention on what human empathy and compassion mean, or what they might provoke, or how they could affect someone with an inhumanly intimate connection to the interior mentality of the Other. Plus… exovets wrangling big-ass alien animals. I know! Right?

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Zenn Scarlett: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Heretical Thumbs Up: The iPad as Camera

I understand it’s fashionable to make fun of people who are using their iPads (or other large tablets) as cameras, but, you know what? I like using mine as a camera. The huge, hi-res screen is awesome for framing and picture taking. I have several cameras around the house, ranging from a DSLR down to the one on my cell phone. All of them have video screens you can look at while you’re taking the picture, but only the iPad is the one where the screen is large enough that there is no doubt whatsoever about a) what you’re looking at when you take the picture, b) what the picture is going to look like after you’ve taken it. This is great for me, especially for certain types of pictures, like the ones where I’m trying to show off new books — I can see before I take the picture whether all the book titles and author names are legible.

The camera itself is not the highest resolution out there or has the best imaging chip — my cell phone takes higher-res pictures, and my DSLR is quite obviously possessed of the better optics system, but then again 5 megapixels is perfectly serviceable for where almost all the pictures I take with the thing go, which is to say, on my Web site, where I size them to be no more than 500 pixels wide most of the time. Plus acceptable photoediting suites and good connectivity to upload photos (which is something that my DLSR doesn’t have; I have to take the memory card and stick it into a computer like a common troll) makes it my first choice for camera when I am not actually hauling out my Nikon.

The main knock on the iPad as a camera is that the thing is big and people look goofy taking pictures with it. But, you know. If you’re the sort of person who judges another person for using an iPad to take a picture, who is the actual asshole in that scenario? Hint: Probably not the dude holding the iPad. I would agree there are times and places not to haul out the iPad — for example, in any scenario where your taking the picture with it blocks the view of the actual event for someone else, or if you’re operating heavy machinery, etc. But in most circumstances: Fine with me. You shouldn’t have to whip out an entirely different piece of imaging equipment just because someone somewhere might think you look goofy for holding an iPad out for a photo. Especially if that person is the sort whose entire wardrobe is meant to be worn ironically.

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 5/6/13

Here they are. See anything you want?

(I will note that 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know by Sharon “Birdchick” Stiteler is a book I actually went out and purchased, because she’s a pal of mine and I’m also a fan of her work.)

Back From the RT Booklovers’ Convention

And here is the very nice award they gave me there. It is interesting, and perhaps instructional, that the comment I got the most as I was showing it off was “wow, that would be an excellent award for murdering someone with.” Yes, I suppose it would be. Not that I have any plans to do that. Unless, of course, you piss me off.

I’ll tell you a story about getting the award. RT Book Reviews is a magazine that primarily but not exclusively reviews works in the romance genre, and so their Reviewer’s Choice awards are primarily (but, obviously, not exclusively) in the romance genre, which has a largely (but again not exclusively) female authorship. Correspondingly most of the Reviewer’s Choice Award recipients are women; of the thirty or so Reviewer’s Choice awards they gave out at the ceremony, I was one of two men accepting awards (the other being the male half of the “Ilona Andrews” writing team).

With that as preamble, one of the things they do at the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award ceremony is have male romance book cover models escort the award recipients to the stage; they walk them up the ramp in part to help pace the ceremony and keep it moving at a brisk clip — when one recipient was up giving the speech, the next would queue up, and so on (the winners were announced in advance so this was easy to do). On the side of ceremony room I was on there were two of the fellows, who would alternate walking up the award recipient.

When it was my turn to queue up, the two men looked over at me, wondering what they should do; my response was to signal to them that, hells yeah, one of them was going to walk me up. Because damn it, I was an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award recipient, and I wanted the full award winner experience. Which included being walked up to the stage by a hunky male romance cover model.

They both walked me up, each taking an arm. I felt very special.

Beyond that particular moment, I had a very good time at the RT Booklovers’ Convention as a whole. On a practical sense, it seemed a well-run convention — they had a book signing area, with well over a hundred authors of all sorts, that was extremely well run, enough so that I think other con runners should come to this thing to see how they do it. Likewise, I was impressed at how smoothly the awards ceremony went — there were a few dozen award recipients in total yet they got through the entire ceremony in just a couple of hours. As someone at the head of an organization that has its own award ceremony, I was taking notes.

I also have to say that I liked the vibe of the convention, which was (for the authors, at least) relaxed and fun. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and were happy to be sitting around, chatting and sharing notes. I’ll note that as RT is heavily focused on the romance genre — a field which, by the way, has significant crossover into the speculative fiction and YA genres (and often both at the same time) — the author and fan attendance skewed largely female; while men weren’t entirely absent (there were male authors and fans, and spouses of female authors and fans) they were relatively rare. In the evenings, I would be hanging out at the bar with other writers and friends and I would look around and every other person around the table would be a woman. And I would go, huh, and then go back into the conversation.

This is something that I think might be worth noting out loud: At a largely female-oriented convention, as a man, I was never excluded, resented or made to feel unwelcome. There were folks who were surprised I was there, but that surprise was always “Oh! Cool! You’re here!” rather than “Why are you here?” And that, of course, is a salient difference. No one questioned my reasoning for being there, or suggested, say, that I was a Fake Romance Boy, or quizzed me about who my favorite romance author was or if I could recite that author’s bibliography to their satisfaction. I certainly wasn’t skeezed on. On the contrary, people went out of their way to ask me if I was enjoying myself and to let me know they were glad I was there. When I admitted ignorance about certain writers or genre details they were happy to expand my knowledge, and they wanted to know more about what I did and my own experiences as a writer.  I met lots of new people and made new friends and in many ways it was one of the best convention experiences I’ve had in a long time.

This leaves wide open and hanging the question of why was it so easy for the folks at the RT Booklovers’ Convention, fans and creators both, to welcome a stranger of the opposite gender into their midst, while other enthusiast communities that skew male still have creators and fans who blow a gasket about women doing their thing in that genre. It’s not difficult to be welcoming and friendly. I wish the genres I am actively a part of could do as good a job of it as romance and the RT Booklovers’ convention did for me (and, I will note, the other men I saw at the convention).

So, in all: An excellent time with excellent people, and, hey, I got an award, too. Not a bad weekend at all.

Obligatory I Am Not Dead Post

Not dead, just traveling. Back to home, this time. Yay!

Hope your Cinco de Mayo is full of Cincosity. No, I don’t know what that means either. But it sounds nice, doesn’t it.

SFWA Election Results

In case you missed the Twitter updates about this yesterday, the results of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America board of directors election are in. Steven Gould will be the new president of the organization as of July 1, joining current members Rachel Swirsky, Bud Sparhawk and Lee Martindale (who were re-elected into their positions as VP, Treasurer and South-Central Regional Director, respectively), Matthew Johnson, Jim Fiscus and Cat Valente (Canadian, Western and Eastern Regional Directors) and is newly joined by Susan Forest and Tansy Rayner Roberts (Secretary and Overseas Regional Director).

As the current president, I’m pleased with this outcome. Some of you might remember that I had endorsed him in his candidacy for the presidency, so it’s nice (but honestly not in the least surprising) that the majority of SFWA members who voted agreed with me on this particular matter. I expect very good things from Steven and the next board.

As noted, Steve and the rest of the new board take office on July 1, so I’m still in office for another two months. Most of that time, hopefully, will be given over to helping make a seamless transition from one administration to the next.

After three years at the helm, I’m happy to be handing over the reins; I believe it’s best for the organization for it to have new people in the mix on the board, with fresh perspectives and energy. But I’ve enjoyed being president, and I’m not going to lie; I’ll be a little wistful when I’m done.

This has been a good job. I’m happy that the next guy to have it is a fundamentally good person. Well done, SFWA voters.

Having a Fine Time at RT Booklover’s Convention

RT Booklover’s Convention is primarily a convention by and for romance writers and fans, and so the attendance skews heavily female. It’s a very interesting experience, in a positive way, and I’m having a lot of fun. And as you can see from the photo above, I am opening myself up to new experiences, like walking a mile (or at least standing) in another writer’s shoes, in this case Rachel Caine’s. I’m not sure that color is right for me, but I am assured that the red makes the whole ensemble “pop.” Well, then.

Someone suggested that the picture meant they had blackmail material against me. So I showed her the pictures of me from Jim Hines’ Pose-Off. That settled the issue of blackmail. Sometimes being a man without shame has its advantages.

Also, my feet hurt just standing in those shoes. Honestly. I don’t know how people who regularly wear heels do it. Respect, y’all.

(Photo by Colleen Lindsay)

Man Leaves Internet; Is Still Himself

That headline is basically the summation from Paul Miller, who spent a year offline (on purpose, he wasn’t in jail or anything) and has now posted an article to tell folks what he learned about himself in the process. He’d hoped that being offline would help him get in touch with the “real” him; he found out basically that he was pretty much the same person online and offline. Being off the Internet didn’t make him into a better or purer person, it just made him a dude who didn’t go online.

And, well. Yes. Not terribly surprised about that. The online world can be distracting and alienating, but it is often so because people are often inclined to be distracted and alienated. If you’re one of those people, it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, you’ll still be inclined toward distraction and alienation. You could be in a monastery on the slopes of the Himalayas and get distracted by the snowflakes. No satori for you! On the other hand, dude, snowflakes.

That said, I’ll note that I do think it’s fine to get away from the Internet from time to time, to break some default patterns and to just remind one’s self that there are other things one can do with one’s time than just stare into a screen all the time. I took advantage of being on a cruise earlier this year to remove myself entirely from the Internet for a whole week, which was the longest time that I had done that in years. It was pretty great, actually. And when I got back I had changed my online behavior a little bit, which I thought was beneficial as well. On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect at this late date that being away from the online world would change me in any significant way.

I’ll tell you a story. In 1995 — before this whole Internet thing really took off — I went on my honeymoon, and for the entire honeymoon, I did not look at a newspaper or magazine, because, you know, I wanted to focus on this whole honeymoon thing, not what was going on with the rest of the world. And it was great. And on the plane ride back, the dude in the seat in front of me was reading a newspaper and I put a crick in my neck craning to try to read it. Which amused my wife. She had no illusions as to who I was, even then. These days it’s the Internet rather than newspapers/magazines (mostly), but it’s still the same dynamic. I’m still me.

So, again, not entirely surprised by Miller’s epiphany about himself and the Internet. In the end, the Internet is an external thing. If Miller wanted to get in touch with his “real” self, that’s got to be an internal thing, I think.

The Big Idea: Delilah S. Dawson

Let’s talk about sex. Yes, sex! Why? Because Delilah S. Dawson wants to, and it’s her Big Idea slot, for her new novel Wicked As She Wants. And I am okay with that. So here we go!

DELILAH S. DAWSON:

Yes, that’s a dude in a blouse with an oiled chest, but I promise you’re in the right place. My books might end up on the romance shelves, and there may be a steamy hot scene on an airship brothel. But there’s a Big Idea at work—and one that goes far beyond frivolous bodice ripping and sparkly vampires. See, it’s a little known fact that at the heart of every romance book, there’s something very special.

An empowered woman who likes to have sex.

And that’s not a bad thing, a shameful thing, or an embarrassing thing. That’s a great thing!

There’s this strange discrepancy in the book world: at the base of everything we do, human beings crave love and sex, and yet to delve too deeply into romance alters how a book is critically viewed.  A little love in a good book makes it great and iconic; what would Tolkien’s books be without Aragorn and Arwen? And yet once you open the bedroom door and describe a woman’s passion, much less a man’s testicles, the entire tone of the book changes, and suddenly it’s on a different shelf and not “literature”.

In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, romance writers get no respect.

At least not until they hit the New York Times Bestseller list or make seven figures a year, which actually happens pretty often, and for good reason. Romance books can have characters just as complex and stories just as masterly as any other genre– the heaving bosoms are just a bonus. And you can pick up some good tips for the bedroom, too.

I didn’t actually set out to write romance, and I’m not going to lie: as a shy Southern girl, I had to get drunk to write that first sex scene. I’m a geek, and my Blud series started with a dream I had after watching too much Buffy: I woke up naked in a weird forest with a hot dude in a top hat staring at me. He sounded just like Spike, and I knew that he was a blood drinker but not a vampire. The world of Sang expanded from this tiny seed. Half the people are blood drinkers, but I didn’t want to follow the rule about wealthy vampires ruling the world. So I ghettoized them and filled the forests and back alleys with likewise blood-drinking animals. The adorably fuzzy rabbits want to suck your bone marrow with a straw, the horses are man-eaters, and the rats are the size of corgis and a hundred times more vicious. Transportation is therefore handled by armored train, dirigible, and submarine, and clockwork animals fulfill the roles of pets.

Voila! A new steampunk science fiction/fantasy world is born.

But you won’t find it in the Scifi/Fantasy section of your bookstore or on i09. Not only because Blouse Guy is on the cover or because I was asked to add hot sex scenes to my fantasy adventure, but also because the focus is on the heroine, Ahnastasia.

I’ve always felt like Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna got a raw deal in history: she was killed for political reasons before she was even a threat. That’s why I’ve given my Ahna fangs, talons, and the nature of a fierce and royal predator. When she first meets Blouse Guy, she tries to eat him. Luckily, she fails. Their romance is dogged by extraordinary hindrances, like vampiric political assassins and bloodthirsty unicorns, but they also face the same sort of problems you see in our own world: prejudice, destiny, pride, duty, addiction, bad choices, and trying to understand who you’ll become in a relationship without losing yourself completely. It takes a strong man to love a strong woman, so don’t let that blouse fool you; this romantic couple can fight back to back and leave a pile of drained bodies in their wake.

And you know what? There’s awesome sex, too. Because no matter how erudite we might like to appear, at the heart of all good stories is love, and at the animal root of all love is terrific sex. Finding her power as a sensual woman and taking control of her sexuality is part of Ahna’s journey to becoming a queen, and the story would be incomplete without opening that door for the reader. Although romance might not garner respect in literary circles, the romance genre takes a huge chunk of the market, with 48% of mass market paperback sales categorized as romance. From historical fiction to urban fantasy, the majority of these stories focus on a woman who undergoes a major life change related to owning her own pleasure and finding confidence, love and/or her destiny.

And women like that sort of thing.

Guys should, too, because a confident and passionate woman is far more likely to rock your world, in bed and out of it.

So that’s my big idea: it’s empowering to have great sex, to write about great sex, and to read about great sex, even if you do so covertly on your e-reader.

Your homework is to do at least one of those three things today and report back about how you feel afterward. If the answer isn’t “awesome” or “empowered”, remember that practice makes perfect. And if you ever need recommendations for intelligently written romance, just ask. If I can get over my embarrassment and write a sex scene in a submarine, so can you.

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Wicked As She Wants: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book’s page. See the author’s Web site. Follow her on Twitter.