At Unbearable At-ness of “@”

Over on her LiveJournal, Seanan McGuire talks about people using the “@” symbol in front of her Twitter alias when they talk about her on Twitter and then being surprised that she might respond, despite the fact that “@”-ing someone’s Twitter name explicitly means that your comment will show up in their reply feed — i.e., that you’re directly letting them know you are discussing them. The basic gist of Seanan’s piece, as I understand it, is that “@”-ing someone is the same as inviting them to participate in the conversation; if you didn’t want to have them in the conversation, you shouldn’t have issued the invitation.

I think Seanan’s basically correct about this. Quasi-public individuals, like authors, should accept that people are going to talk about them and their work online, and that by and large those conversations don’t need the subject of the discussion to pop in and add their own two cents. They should exercise good judgment, in short, admittedly something that authors are not always good at. But if someone is going out of their way to make sure the person knows they are being discussed, using a mechanism that they know is designed to connect that person to the discussion, then it’s disingenuous of them to then act surprised when the subject of the discussion shows up.

(I feel the same way when people title a blog post “An Open Letter to [Insert Name]” and then get huffy when [Insert Name] shows up or otherwise responds. Dude, what did you expect? You posted an open letter to them. Surely you understand that an open letter to some person is actually still a letter to that person? You don’t? Well, surprise! File that one under “words have actual meanings.”)

The way I’ve set up my Twitter client, and because I have a large ego, I pretty much see every reference to my name. My general rule of thumb is to not comment to the people talking about me without the “@” sign, since it’s about me but not to me. I might respond when I think it’s appropriate, but to be honest it rarely is. When people use the “@” sign, I assume they meant for me to see the comment, and I feel free to respond.

I don’t respond to every “@” message, because then I wouldn’t have much other time left in my day, but I could. If the fact of my responding annoyed someone, at the very best, I would slot them into the “people who don’t really understand how to work the Twitters” and then mute them henceforth so I no longer have to see them use Twitter incorrectly. Which I assume would make both of us happy (they are likewise free to mute or block me, which I suspect will have the same happy outcome).

In short, if you’re on Twitter, don’t “@” me (or indeed anyone) if you don’t want to accept the possibility that we might respond. We might, and it’s perfectly correct for us to exercise that option. If you don’t want me to talk back to you, don’t talk to me to begin with. Because if you do, I just might. Thanks.


All Hail Mayonnaise

And just in case anyone thinks I couldn’t do it, here’s a piece I did in 1999, in which I crowned mayonnaise as the Condiment of the Millenium:

Mayonnaise. What, you thought I was going to give it to catsup? Catsup is vile stuff, I tell you — originally made from fish brine. Yes, fish water. Enjoythat on your fries. These days in America catsup refers exclusively to the tomato variety (thus the lame “Isn’t ‘tomato catsup’ redundant?” crack from the ill-educated posing as the ironic), but in the rest of the world, you’ll find catsups made from mushrooms, oysters and unripened walnuts. And here you thought catsup couldn’t get any worse.

Well, okay, you say, but maynonnaise isn’t any better. Off-white and pasty, it’s an ill-flavored goo that’s somehow managed to nudge its way into our food supply. Its provenance is unreliable; most of us know it’s made from eggs, but we couldn’t tell you the process, except to suggest that the eggs that are used to make mayo are being karmically punished.This is what you get for carrying salmonella in the last life.

And then there’s the consistency: Not quite a liquid and not quite a solid. It’s like humiliated gelatin. There’s actually a scientific word for materials in this state — thixotropic — and mayonnaise shares this state with quicksand and drilling mud. And you wouldn’t want to put either of those on your sandwich.

Granted. Mayonnaise can be a horrifying concoction. With the possible exception of headcheese (the normally discarded parts of animal carcasses, suspended in their own disturbingly sinewy aspic — big in Scandanavia, which goes to explain the unusually high suicide rate) there is no single foodstuff as nauseating as warm mayonnaise. My gag reflex goes to DEFCON 3 just thinking about it.

And yet. Mayonnaise has a secret — indeed even noble — past. Like Eastern European royalty, ejected from their palaces by the glorious peoples’ revolution and forced to live the remainder of their lives in genteel poverty in a New York hotel, hocking their jewels headpiece by brooch, their princelings attending — the horror! — public schools, mayonnaise has come far, far down in the world. There was a moment, not entirely shrouded in the mists of time, when mayonnaise was a celebrated sauce, and not just some glop designed to ease sandwiches through peristaltic motion.

The time was 1756. The place: Mahon, a city on the Spanish island of Minorca. The occasion: The capture of the city by the forces of Louis-Francois-Armad de Vignerot du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, and the expulsion of the hated English from that place (what were the English doing on a Spanish island? Hey, it’s Europe). After a hard day beating the crap out of the English, Louis decided it was time to celebrate and ordered his chef to whip up a feast.

The chef decided to make a cream sauce for the meats he was making, but then discovered, to his horror, that there was no cream to be found. Sacre bleu! Showing the improvisatory spirit that can only be brought on by sheer panic, the chef grabbed some eggs and some vegetable oil, put them together, grabbed a wisk, and begun to pray. The result: Mayonnaise, named for the captured city.You decide whether God truly answered that prayer.

The French, perversely, celebrated the discovery, and used it for the basis of a number of sauces and dishes. Mayonnaise verte, with puréed green herbs. Sauce rémoulade, with anchovies, pickles, and capers. Chaud-froid, created when mayo meets aspic. Sauce aoli from Provençal, where the secret ingredient is garlic — and love! It was the taste for aristocratic palates — at least until those palates were severed from the rest of the digestive system during the French Revolution.

Mind you, even today, you can still find mayonnaise used for its first and most elevated purposes. But those moments are few and far between. Most mayonnaise will suffer a far more prosaic fate. Some will be tarted up as a salad dressing, perhaps Russian (so named because the first versions featured caviar), or Green Goddess. It’s like mayonnaise in drag. There’s no shame in it, though, and at least it’s far better than being slathered on a Whopper somewhere on Interstate 10, where your fate is to be consumed in wolfing bites by a speed-ragged trucker who would think that Chaud-froid is that penis-envy dude, were he to think of it at all. Which he wouldn’t.

Oh, yes, mayonnaise has pride. You think of it only as a thick, gummy paste designed to hold your Wonder Bread in place, but it’s known better days. It was meant for finer things than to be a Belgian dipping sauce for french fries (really, what the hell is wrong with those Belgians?). It is painfully aware that adding a dash of paprika during a late stage of processing does not, in fact, make it a “mirace whip.”

And yet, it suffers in silence, accepting your derision. It knows it’s not your fault. The American educational system has no place for the secret history of mayonnaise. It’s accepted its fate with dignity. Mayonnaise does not weep for what could have, should have been. It’s happy just to do its job, quietly. Go ahead and use it in your macaroni salad. Sure, it’s no lobster mayonnaise. But beggers can’t be choosers.


How the Shutdown Affects Me

Question from the gallery:

Now that you’ve written about the shutdown, can you tell us how it’s affecting you personally? How will the debt limit issue affect you, if we default?

With regard to the shutdown, it’s not really affecting me directly (yet). The only federal government service I use directly on a regular basis is the US Post Office, which is up and running because it’s funded outside of taxes. Everything else the federal government does for me is at least one step removed from my wanderings during the day, so as a practical matter I don’t yet see or feel the impact. I don’t suspect this will last if the shutdown drags out, because the federal government underpins quite a lot of the functioning of the US, and those holes will show up more frequently, and I suspect will become more alarming at an increasing rate.

One step removed, I know a fair number of people who are federal government workers or have businesses that rely on the government being up and running in order to function (and for them to get paid). These folks obviously have it worse off than I do at the moment. Congress has said the federal workers, at least, will get paid for all the time they’re furloughed, which is nice, but in the meantime they’ve still got bills to pay, etc.

Also, here in Bradford there are a number of people, adults and children alike, who use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is substantially funded through the federal government. The Ohio Department of Health notes on its Web site that the program is funded through October. After that, things could get tight. We already donate to local food banks and charity programs here in town, so we’ll keep doing that.

With regard to a debt limit default, well, like a lot of people I have a 401(k) and other market-engaged retirement accounts, and I don’t like thinking what a default will do to the market. The only “good” thing about that is that I still have at least 25 years until I retire (to the extent that one retires from my particular line of work) so there’s a good chance this immediate stupidity will be flattened out over time.

That said, in the wake of the first US debt default ever and the resulting financial chaos that will ensue from it, to a very real extent we’ll be in uncharted territory afterward. The only thing that I’m fairly certain about is that the folks in Congress and out of it who are currently trying to suggest that we’ll just shake off the default as if it were no big deal are both wrong, and of course monumental hypocrites, as in, if it really were no big deal, they wouldn’t have maneuvered to use it as leverage to force concessions out of Obama. Simply put, it is a hell of a big deal, they know it, and the end result isn’t going to be good for any of us.

The short version of all of the above is that I’m in a good short-term position not to have either the shutdown or the default affect me directly — but the long-term fallout will affect me like it will everyone else. If this were a flood, I’d be on high ground. But if the flood keeps coming, sooner or later I’m going to get soaked like everybody else.


Spinning Boehner

Photo: Medil DC. Used via Creative Commons

As many of you know, John Boehner is my representative in Congress. Because of this, I get a fair number of people asking me via the Internet what the hell he’s thinking with regard to this whole shutdown thing. Because, of course, me and Boehner are totally tight, and he calls me up nightly to commiserate and share all his plans, even though I’ve never voted for him and it seems highly unlikely that I ever will. Be that as it may, someone apparently needs to explain him, and since he’s my guy, that job falls to me.

At this point, I think there are actually three reasonable explanations as to Boehner’s actions in the last few weeks, “reasonable” being “having some possible relationship to reality, whether I like it or not.” They are:

1. Boehner has gone full teabag, decided that the looming specter of Obamacare is manifestly worse than the possibility of defaulting on the US’ debts and thereby jeopardizing the entire global economy, and is saying, more or less, fuck it, it’s been a nice run for the US but now it’s time to let China take a turn at running the world, ha ha ha ha those suckers.

2. Boehner recognizes that the Tea Party contingent in his caucus is unrealistic but also recognizes that not spinning this out until the very last minute will cause the Tea Partiers to rebel, jeopardizing his speakership. So basically he’s stuck pretending to be irrational about the shutdown and debt limit until we get to the point that everyone (and I mean everyone) except the most irrational Tea Partiers are terrified about the default, at which point he can (quite reasonably) say “look, we gave it our best shot,” and send along a joint debt ceiling/government funding bill that takes care of this problem for another year, at which point everyone will be in election mode and in no mood for a shutdown.

3. Boehner realizes that his Tea Party wing is a bunch of irrational and fundamentally undemocratic yahoos who would rather watch everything burn than not get their way, and that this fact represents a danger, not only to the GOP but to the function of government in the United States at large — but that the tea party still remains popular with the GOP base. And so Boehner is strategically acceding to their demands, not because he is weak but because there is no other way to show the moderates and rational conservatives of GOP that the Tea Party represents a clear and present threat to the party and to the function of the nation, and they will, no joke, be happy to run the country into the ground if they don’t get their way. The moderates and rational conservatives, thus shocked, wake up from their slumber and actively engage in grassroots and funding of rational GOP candidates to fend off another wave of frothy Tea Party dim bulbs in the primaries, thus keeping the GOP a viable institution rather than punting itself further down the path of unelectability as the demographics of the US change (despite the GOPs efforts to disenfranchise as many poor and/or non-white people as possible, which is, at best, a temporary tactic).

Of these three options, I see 1) as the least likely and 3) as being rather too complicated for Boehner, for whom Machiavellian-level intrigue has never been noted to be one of his characteristics. That leaves 2), which, frankly, sucks, not in the least because it leaves open the possibility that Boehner will at the last moment have a failure of nerve and refuse to allow a vote, plunging us all into dangerous and uncharted territory because he’d rather be the Speaker in Hell than deposed rank and file in, if not Heaven, at least a world where a rump of bratty children are not allowed to push the United States to the brink of default via a temper tantrum.

My own personal opinion on the matter is that Boehner is a fundamentally decent conservative who believes in the processes of the government , and realized too late that he was dealing with people who, whatever their superficial commonalities in political philosophy, don’t have the same respect for process that he does. When should have he realized this? Oh, the opening months of 2010 might have been nice. But on the other hand up until this point, it’s all been reasonably manageable , which is to say the Democrats and Obama have been willing to concede points to keep things going. From a practical point of view, you can’t blame the GOP for using a tactic that works.

The failure of the Tea Party people is in being either unwilling or actually unable to recognize that Obamacare was a bridge too far for them. Obama’s been through the Supreme Court and the 2012 election with it, and won both times. There is absolutely no percentage for him to concede anything now, especially when the majority of the public (correctly) sees this shutdown and debt limit crisis as a fight that the Tea Party manufactured and drove the GOP to have. Obama’s far from being his most popular these days, but even there he has a substantially larger margin to work with than the congressional Republicans, who are in aggregate about as popular as cholera.

So here we are. And now here Boehner is. We’ll see where he, and we, go from here.


Five Years on WordPress VIP

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my blog being posted on the WordPress VIP service, and once again (as I do annually on the anniversary) I want to commend the WordPress VIP for those folks who want and need absolutely bulletproof service. It’s been so long since I’ve had any sort of backend or server issues that I literally cannot remember when it was, except to say it was definitely before October 8, 2008. There are very few things in the world I can recommend without reservation, and the WordPress VIP service is one of those things.

I’ll also go ahead and note that the standard-issue WordPress service works pretty darn well, too. If you’re someone who wants a blog but doesn’t want to deal with hosting, it’s a much-better-than-decent alternative (and if you do host yourself, you can get the WordPress platform for installation on your server).

Thanks again to the WordPress folks for doing such a fine job keeping my site up and running, year after year, five years straight. I really do appreciate it. And I’m happy to say so, to anyone who wants to know.


Venus and the Crescent Moon

Because they’re pretty in the sky tonight, that’s why.


Eugie Foster Could Use a Little Help

News comes to me that Nebula Award-winning author Eugie Foster has gotten a rather unpleasant surprise in the form of a fast-growing tumor in her sinuses — cancer, in other words. Here’s her write-up with the details. She’s prepping for surgery even as you read this.

The good news is that she does have medical insurance, which will cover much of her costs. The less-than-good news is that even with medical insurance, she is on the hook for quite a lot of out-of-pocket costs. To help defray those, she’s reminding people of the work she has available for sale, both collections and individual short stories. She’s a very fine writer (note that Nebula win up there), so her work is well worth your time. Also, if you’re so inclined, she has a way for you to donate to her directly.

Check out her work and consider helping her out. And if you do — thanks.


Two Notes on November Big Ideas and General Posting Schedules

They are:

1. I’m working on the November Big Idea schedule this week, so if you’ve queried for November, I’ll most likely have an answer to you in the next few days. If you’ve queried for a book that’s come out in October (or, God help you, September) and have not heard back from me, assume that I’m all booked up. Sorry.

2. I’ve got a novel to focus on, so between now and the completion of the novel, I’ll basically be unplugging my computer from the Internet until I meet my daily writing quota. Which means (and I know I’ve said this before, but even so), until the novel’s done, probably very few morning updates, the exception being Big Idea pieces, which will be uploaded the night before and scheduled for release in the morning. I’M SERIOUS THIS TIME REALLY.

(Also, for those asking how this novel is coming along: It’s coming along well, thanks. It’s a tricky plot and I need be sure I’m making all the connections in a way that people don’t get lost — unless that’s my intention, which sometimes it is, in which case I need to make sure that they actually do get lost. It’s that whole “do what you actually intend to do” thing. In any event, I think you’ll like it.)

And now, to work.


Sunset in a Pumpkin Sky

Appropriate, given the month.



Off For the Weekend

Because I feel like it, that’s why. See you Monday!


The Gamma Rabbit Hand Puppet Finds a New Home

You’ll recall that Whatever commenter Stringmonkey knitted up a Gamma Rabbit hand puppet; Stringmonkey was also kind enough to send it along to me. I know just where to display it.

I knew that ol’ doodad would come in handy one day!

(Confession time: I’m totally stealing this idea from my friend Pamela Wallace, who used her Oscar as a stand for a gorilla handpuppet. You know, like you do.)


Today’s Books and ARCs, 10/3/13

Hey, look! I was sent books and ARCs! That almost never happens! See anything here that pings your “gotta read it” radar? Share in the comment thread, if you would.


Kaiju: Mangina!

Over on Twitter, I noted that one of the favorite things the dudebros like to call me is “mangina,” a delightful portmanteau of “man” and “vagina,” because in the world of men terrified by women, the worst thing you can do to a guy is imply he’s a vagina. Or something. I don’t know, it just seems stupid to me, but, well: dudebros.

This prompted Seanan McGuire to comment:

To which I responded: “Now I need to see the fan art.”

And, hey! Look!

Make no mistake, people. This is officially THE BEST THING EVER.

The artist: K.B. Spangler. Give love, because this is awesome.

And also, now every time one of those dudebros punts a “mangina” in my direction, I’m just gonna see this in my head. And it is going to make me giggle like a maniac.

Thanks, K.B.!

Update: This just in from Howard Tayler:



On a Lighter Note

This song is potato chip-level addictive:

That said, let’s not pretend that the opening guitar flourish and bass drum are not straight out of this.


Why The ACA Matters to Me

Over on her site, author Kameron Hurley tells the story of how she almost died because she didn’t have enough money to manage her adult-onset Type 1 diabetes. It wasn’t that she wasn’t working — First she worked for a company through which she had (crappy) insurance, and later she was hustling as hard as she could as a freelance writer. It was because the way insurance has been handled in the US made it very difficult for her to get insured, stay insured and to afford to be insured — and the alternative to being insured here in the US  is so much worse that it simply beggars description.

Thing is: Kameron’s story? Not unusual for writers in the US. I don’t have enough fingers and toes on my body to count off the writers in my own personal sphere who are hardworking, who are hustling as much as they can with their work, who had the medical boom dropped on them by life and were screwed because they didn’t have health insurance, or couldn’t get health insurance was even remotely within their financial means. I can’t tell you the number of writers I know personally  who have gone begging online or to family and friends to cover a catastrophic medical issue. Not to mention musicians, artists, actors, and any other sort of creative people.

Or anyone else, for that matter, who doesn’t live in the magical bubble of work that carries benefits. I was at the store the other week, listening to the woman in front of me in the checkout line cough like her lungs were trying to escape through her throat, and heard her friend admonish her for not going to the doctor. And the coughing lady gave her a look, and it was a look I knew really well from days of old, the one that said, and just how am I going to afford that, do you think?

In my professional life, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve always had good health insurance, either through my employer or through my wife’s, and the one brief time I paid full freight for our health insurance, I was able to afford it (although I had to incorporate, hire my wife and then attach myself and our child as dependents on her policy, because it was massively cheaper that way — which also points out the stupidity of how health insurance is done in the US). I’m also aware how fortunate I have been for someone in my field; I am one of the few self-employed writers I know who doesn’t have a health insurance tale of woe.

I’m also aware how many of how many people I know — not just writers but people in general, among friends and family — who have no margin of error when it comes to their health. If they get sick, their most rational option is take some Tylenol and hope it goes away. Because they can hardly afford to go to the doctor and even if they do, what is the doctor going to do? Give them a prescription for something they really can’t afford, or send them along to a specialist they also can’t afford, or tell them they have some problem or issue they can’t afford to fix. Out comes the Tylenol. Out comes the look the woman in the checkout line gave her friend.

Now, here comes the Affordable Care Act, and its various marketplaces for insurance. God knows it’s not the perfect system — it’s really not — but for the first time in my adult memory it means that people can find an insurance plan with decent coverage, including the basic preventative care that can address so many problems early and much more cheaply than if people wait until they find themselves in an emergency room, for a price scaled to their income and their ability to pay. It means all the people whose previous rational options for health care consisted of being sick because it was cheaper than getting well have a better option, both for themselves and for the rest of us (you didn’t think those ER visits came for free, do you? Oh, we pay for them, my friends).

And of course some people oppose it. They give all sorts of financial and economic reasons, which don’t hold up to scrutiny, particularly over the long term, as the benefits of a healthier population and throttling of expanding costs come into play. In the end, a lot of the opposition stems from the fact that the United States still has a thick layer of angry Calvinism to it, the sort that suggests that if you are poor, or sick, that you did something to deserve it and that you should just have to deal with it because after all it is your fault. Well, I’m looking real hard to see how Kameron Hurley deserved to get adult-onset Type 1 diabetes. I’m coming up with a blank. They only thing she can be blamed for — and to be clear, blame is hardly the accurate word for it — is handling her illness in the way that the circumstances of her life dictated, first with her (bad) insurance and then later with none. Yes, sometimes people do foolish things, and get sick or hurt. But lots of people don’t do foolish things, and get sick or hurt anyway. In the real world, this angry Calvinism is nonsense (and even people who do foolish things should have affordable health care).

I know too many people — too many people who work hard — for whom the ACA is a lifechanger, a way for them to finally be able to not have to choose between health care for themselves and their families and all the other bills they have to pay. When I see the Congresspeople who shut down the government as a way to stop the ACA, among all the other problems I have with them is the fact that I see a group of people who are, essentially, looking at people I know and care about and saying to them, just fucking die, already.

I’m not inclined to look kindly on the people wishing my friends and family dead. I’m going to remember the ones who did. I am also going to remember the ones who instead chose to help them.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Alethea Kontis

As any author will tell you, second novels are often even more challenging than first ones — they have special challenges, particularly in the production stage. Alethea Kontis is here to tell you her about her second novel experience with Hero, and it’s definitely an interesting one. The good news is: Second novels still happen!


My Big Idea for Hero was originally called “Saturday.” (Because Enchanted was originally entitled “Sunday.”)  It was a giant, 20-chapter outline on poster board, with notes. After we sold Enchanted, I typed it up, sent it to my editor, and waited for the money trucks to arrive. All that came back was an email.

They didn’t like the idea. In fact, they didn’t like the idea so much that they saw Enchanted as a stand-alone novel, and I should really just stop trying to pitch them books for the rest of the Woodcutter sisters.

I didn’t want to stop, but why would I write a book that had no hope of being published? So I didn’t. And then Enchanted came along.

Two weeks after the launch and about four days into my fan-funded book tour, I got another email. “Hey, remember how you were going to write books about all the other sisters? You should really do that. BTW, we know you won’t be home until mid-June, but Book 2 is due in October. And we still hate the outline. Have a nice day!”

Every author wonders if they’ll be able to hack it in a trial by fire. Well, this author knows she’s got what it takes. I wrote that manuscript in three months, and when they didn’t like that, I took the fourth month to rewrite the whole thing. But I did it, against all odds, and what came out was magic.

Ironically, this is exactly what Hero is all about.

There’s a fairy tale I grew up with–a picture book by Jay Williams and Friso Henstra called Petronella. It’s a feminist retelling of the Grimms’ tale “Master Maid,” which just so happens to be one of my editor’s favorite stories.

Petronella is the daughter of King Peter and Queen Blossom, youngest of three boys. Even though she isn’t a boy she’s still raised as one, and she is expected to seek her own fortune. She finds out about a prince that’s been captured by a wizard and sets out to save him. She completes all the tasks the wizard gives her and escapes with the prince. The wizard follows. She tries to thwart him, but still he gives chase. When she finally captures him and asks why, the wizard says, “Because you’re clever and I’m in love with you.” In the end (spoiler), Petronella ditches the lazy prince and marries the wizard.

Needless to say, that not exactly how the Grimms’ story ends…but many of the elements remain the same.

Where Sunday Woodcutter was a slightly agoraphobic introvert writer who fell in love with a frog, her older sister Saturday is a tall girl with bright eyes, a magic ax, and a strong work ethic, who can’t tell a story to save her life. She’s annoyed that all of her other siblings possess fey magic, and thinks that because she doesn’t, she’ll never have an adventure of her own.

Fate, of course, proves her wrong. A blind witch mistakes her for her infamous brother Jack, kidnaps her, and traps her in an icy cave at the Top of the World. The witch’s daughter lives there too…only it’s really a man named Peregrine cursed by the real witch’s daughter into taking her place.

Yup — this is a book where the girl wears trousers and the boy wears a skirt, there’s an evil witch and a scary dragon and everyone’s a hero.

I only wish they’d put Peregrine on the cover.


Hero: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt (via Google Preview). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter


But, John, Don’t You Have Anything to Say About the Government Shutdown?

Oh, I’m pretty sure most of you know how I feel about it. At this point, saying anything about it feels almost redundant. For those of you who don’t know, just imagine me rolling my eyes at the House GOP so hard that I’ve bruised my optic nerve. That’ll do it. I might say more about it later, but for now: Dumb. Just dumb.

I will note, however, that, the site to go for the latest information about the ACA and how you can participate in it, is actually up and running just fine. If you’re curious if (and how much) money it will save you on medical insurance, you should go check it out. I’ll note we are fortunate enough to have pretty good insurance through Krissy’s work, so this isn’t something that affects us directly. But I know lots and lot of people — freelance writers in particular — for whom this could be a useful thing. Whatever your politics, consider your financial bottom line. It’s worth seeing if it will work for you.


2014 Appearance Schedule Updates + GaymerX2 Boss of Honor

I’m beginning to update my 2014 appearance schedule and I have my first three dates up, primary among them GaymerX2, at which I will be a “Boss of Honor” next July 11 – 13. GaymerX2 is an LGBTQ video game and gaming-centered convention, and it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m excited to be part of it — not the least of which is because by next July the video game I’m working on should be out and about in the world.

At the moment GaymerX2 is my only GoH-level appearance for 2014, and given how late it is in the programming year, I suspect it will stay that way. But you never know. I will obviously let you all know if that changes.

There are also conventions I am likely to go to next year that I haven’t yet officially put on my schedule, chief among them LonCon 3, next year’s Worldcon. My next novel may or may not be coming out right around then, which means I may or may not be having a book tour at that time. We’ll have to see.


Big Idea Uncategorized

The Big Idea: Ann Leckie

Ancilliary Justice, by author Ann Leckie, is getting the sort of press that debut authors dream about, from a starred review in Library Journal to this rave over at (and also, you will note from the cover picture above, a blurb from me). How did Leckie do it? By taking a sub-genre people love — space opera — and adding a new perspective to elements of it people think they already know, to make it surprising and fascinating all over again. Here she is with the details.


I began my SF reading career with space opera, and while I came to love all sorts of science fiction, the attraction to space opera’s set of shiny things is still a powerful one. So when I was first playing with the universe that would eventually become the Radch, it was–and in many respects still is–an assemblage of space opera tropes. Galactic empire? Check! Artificially intelligent ships? Check! Hyperspace gates! Destroyed planets! Force fields! Oooh, can I crowbar in a Dyson sphere? If it was shiny I threw it in there. I love that stuff!

Ancillaries–the human bodies slaved to Radchaai ships’ artificial intelligences–are really just a variation on an old space opera trope. I’m not cruel enough to link to TV Tropes, but if you had a few months to kill you could go look at “Meat Puppet” and its subtype “Wetware Body.”

So, I did take my toys out of the common box. But I wanted to do something different with them, even if it was only slightly different. Usually, when I’m looking at story ideas, at pieces of setting or at characters, I ask myself, “What’s the reason this interests me enough for me to sit down and spend hours and days and weeks writing about it?”

Sometimes the wetware body is played for horror, or sometimes for a (IMO overly simplistic) demonstration of the Power of Human Emotion. I wanted some of that horror, but I have qualms about the assumptions behind the Human Emotion trope and besides, it quickly became clear to me that what really interested me about my main character’s situation was the question of identity. The main character of Ancillary Justice is a ship, the troop carrier Justice of Toren. She is also one twenty-body unit of ancillary soldiers, Justice of Toren One Esk. She is also a single segment of that unit, One Esk Nineteen. And that body was someone else entirely before it was Nineteen, before it was One Esk, before it was Justice of Toren.

That’s a lot of different mes in one place, and how do you talk about that? How do you describe someone who’s body isn’t contiguous, who has more than one brain, who can be physically separated from themselves and still be themselves? How do you talk about being a person who might potentially (or actually) be several people? Or, the question that made me slightly queasy when I really started digging into it–who is anybody anyway?

Often, in my experience, the wetware body plot assumes that the “essence” of a person, who someone really is, is something that is separable from that person’s body. For instance, Captain Kirk can find himself transferred to the body of Janice Lester and he’s still Captain Kirk! *

I don’t think that’s possible. There are so many cases where a physical change to the brain causes radical differences in who someone is. Phineas Gage is really only the most notorious of those. Who you are, how you react to things, how you behave, is very much a product of not only your history and the environment surrounding you, but also of the physical state of your brain. In the end, who you are (or who you think of yourself as, because “who you are” isn’t actually a simple matter) isn’t really something like a set of files that could be transferred to another body. Unless that new body is pretty much physically identical to your previous one, you’re not going to be the same person.** (Yes, yes, Theseus’ Paradox, and who is anybody anyway, and I told you that made me queasy so let’s just pass it by, shall we?)

And if I don’t think that’s possible, if I think that who you are is very much a question of your body–your brain being very much a part of your body–how do my ancillaries work? And what is that like, to be a human body that’s part of a ship’s body? And what happens when everything but that one human body is destroyed?

These weren’t the only things I came up with, when I asked myself what about this story interested me. But it was one of the first, one of the most basic questions. Who is this person, anyway? And how can they be who they are and what must that be like?

*And she could totally have had as full a life as any woman! OMG, Star Trek, are you freaking kidding me??

**Yes, actually, while I do enjoy Upload stories, sometimes this aspect bugs me. Emotions, for instance. Emotions are very physical, very based in your body. That punched-in-the-gut feeling you get when something horrible or terrifying happens? Your adrenal glands sit right on top of your kidneys, and when you’re stressed they release a flood of hormones that mess with your blood pressure and, among other things, your gut. Yes, there’s an abstract part of the emotion–neuroscientist Antonio Damasio divides this into the physical “emotion” on the one hand, and on the other hand the “feeling,” the more specific reaction that’s more or less your personal interpretation of and response to that physical emotion. But the emotion has a physical base. Change that–design a body that’s radically different from a human body, or posit a being with no body at all–and the whole experience of emotion changes drastically.


Ancillary Justice: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powells

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

Exit mobile version