Become a Midnight Star: Renegade Beta Tester!

I mentioned the other day that Midnight Star: Renegade, the sequel to last year’s Midnight Star video game, is on its way, and will be a bunch of fun to play for mobile gamers. But as it turns out, you don’t have to take my word for it — Industrial Toys is looking for a few good beta testers to help it polish the game and get it ready for a mass audience. One of those beta testers could be you.

Are you interested? Then head to this page and use the sign-up link. That will get you on the game mailing list and have you put into the pool from which they will select beta testers. You can also tweet a link to the Beta test page (put the @industrialtoys Twitter handle in your tweet, so they can see it); if you do you’ll be entered into a raffle for a beta test key. All pretty easy.

So that’s it: Hit the link, sign up, and good luck!

The Wilicious Burrito

Some of you may be aware of the existential battle that Wil Wheaton and I are currently engaged in, involving burritos. I am of the opinion that anything you place into a tortilla, if it is then folded into a burrito shape, is a burrito of some description; Wil, on the other hand, maintains that if it is not a “traditional” burrito, with ingredients prepared as they were in the burrito’s ancestral home of Mexico, is merely a “wrap.”

While this argument will likely never be resolved and Wil and I will forever be on opposite sides of this magnificent and important debate, it does mean that I occassionally troll him with burritos that don’t meet his stringent, prescriptive requirements. And yesterday, after such a discussion, I told him that one day soon I would make a burrito with mayonnaise in it, name it after him, and shoot a video of me consuming it live.

Today, my friends, is that day. Enjoy.

Update: Wil’s “rebuttal”:

A Political Disclaimer, 2016: I’m (Sometimes) Wrong

I’m seeing a fair amount of pushback, on the site and off it, to my suggestion the other day that in the wake of Hillary Clinton inevitably winning the Democratic nomination for President, a certain number for “BernieBros” will ragequit and find their way over to the Donald Trump camp. Well, two things here:

1. When Clinton does take the nomination and the first news stories about former BernieBros stomping over to Trump in a miasmic haze of disillusionment and sexism start cropping up, you know I’m going to feel smug as shit;

2. Hey, you know what? I could be wrong. And not just a little wrong but wildly out to lunch, in a profound and impactful way.

And in the case of number two there, that’s perfectly okay.

Folks, here’s the thing: When I’m writing about politics, I am (and this should be obvious) writing about it from my own perspective, which is limited both by the amount of political information I have coming in to the Scalzi Compound (and, not trivially, by the amount of time I have to think about it, considering I’m also currently writing a novel and have several other projects going), and by my own thought processes and biases. Stuff goes into my head, it rolls around in there a while, and then it comes out through my fingertips onto this page. Sometimes it might look insightful to you. Sometimes it might look like I’m snorting ketamine and cocoa powder at the same time. Sometimes it might be both!

This makes me, I should note, not better or worse than most people who comment on politics, all of whom have the same constraining factors as I do. And in politics, it should be noted, it’s not always the case that long standing in the field means one’s opinions are anything close to accurate — Shit, Bill Kristol has made a living being a pundit for decades, and he’s been spectacularly wrong on so many things for so long that it’s actually news when he gets something right. This is the open secret of being a political pundit: No one cares if you’re correct, they’re just happy when you agree with what they’re thinking. Pundits exist to ameliorate the political version of “buyer’s regret.” Yes! You did okay in falling in with Hillary/Trump/Whomever! I am a person of note confirming your choice! Well done!

I’m not a professional political pundit (at least, not at the moment), and even if I were I wouldn’t have a problem saying the following: In my political thoughts and opinions, I’m not going to always get everything right. Nor will others always agree with what I’m suggesting or how I developed my thinking process to get there. This political season I’ve already been wrong about Trump (who I expected to have peaked long before now), Sanders (who I didn’t expect to be as much of an influence as he’s had), Bush (who I assumed would be in the lead) and Rubio (who I expected to be washed out in Bush’s wake). I will be wrong again! Just you wait.

My only defense on these matters is that I’m no worse off than pretty everyone else who pundits, almost all of whom have been impressively wrong in any number of ways. I mean, show me the pundit who said three months ago that at the beginning of March, the size of Donald Trump’s penis would be a talking point on a GOP debate stage. I will follow that pundit to the ends of the earth, because he or she has a terrifying but true vision of the future, and I’ll want to know when to head to the bunker.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care if I’m wrong when I prognosticate politically. I really do try to make sense, and to reflect reality as I see it. But, again, I don’t know everything or project accurate from the data I have and I acknowledge that’s a thing. I’ve been wrong. I am wrong. I will be wrong again. I’ve also been right, am right and will be right again, too. Hopefully more of the latter than the former. We’ll see.

In any event, this is the disclaimer: My political crystal ball is cloudy, just like everyone else’s. Take what I have to say with the appropriate grains of salt, just as you should with everyone else. Be prepared for me to be wrong from time to time, just like anyone else.

And when you think I’m wrong, feel free to tell me why you think that in the comment threads. You might even be right.

The Big Idea: David Lubar

Fun fact: Back in the day, I edited a humor area for AOL, and one of my regular contributors was a fellow named David Lubar, who wrote reliably funny and interesting stuff (this is a more rare talent than you might expect). Here in the future, both David and I are authors, him primarily of middle grade and young adult books, the latest of which is Character, Driven. I’m delighted to have seen David do so well, and I know for a fact David’s proud of what he’s pulled off in this new book, which has managed starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. Here he is to tell you what he’s done, and how.


Character, Driven begins with a bang, a chase, a tumble down the stairs, and snapping bones. It then slams to a dead stop against the brick wall of narrative intrusion as our hero discusses the importance of grabbing the reader with a strong opening. That scene lay untouched on my hard drive for ages, along with scads of other sentences, paragraphs, passages, and chapters I’d written over the decades in an attempt to bolster the self deception that every writing day is a productive day, even if I spend fifty percent of it Googling myself.  I saved the scene with the filename Edgy, in a nod to the ubiquitous editorial call for “edgy YA novels.”

Several years ago, Susan Chang, my editor at Tor, came to my house to help me brainstorm my next novel. I shared a variety of my ideas with her, sticking with science fiction, fantasy, and horror, because that’s what Tor is most known for. Just as she was leaving, on a whim, I read the edgy sample to her.

“That’s your next novel,” Susan said.

I pointed out that it wasn’t speculative fiction. She pointed out that she didn’t care. I agreed to take a shot at it. When I sat down in earnest (a small town in Idaho, named after Hemingway) to turn that scene into a novel, I thought the big idea was to break the fourth wall. My main character, Cliff Sparks (wink, wink), frequently pauses the action to point out some aspect of the novel-writing process, such as the difficulty of describing himself without resorting to trite devices, or the art of seamlessly emerging from a flashback. He even talks about the problem of talking to the reader, and confesses that the novel will have to be plot driven because he isn’t charismatic enough to draw the reader along on personality alone.

That’s a tasty mouthful to pitch to the target audience: Hey, want to read a metafictional coming-of-age novel? And it’s an enthralling and joyful project for someone like me, who took an abundance of English classes while drifting through college, adored Borges, and wanted to be James Joyce, or Hunter S. Thompson. Metafiction, stream-of-consciousness, wordplay, and the like are wonderful tools. But a hammer isn’t a bird house. And a narrative conceit is not necessarily a big idea.

I didn’t even realize I’d crafted an authentic big idea until I noticed that nearly every early reader, blurber, and professional reviewer used the same unexpected words to describe Cliff’s voice. And they weren’t words I’d strived to evoke. I am, at heart, a goofball. My most popular books, the Weenies short story collections, feature anthropomorphic hot dogs on the cover.  I’m proud to claim the creation of the largest lit fart in contemporary literature. I started out my career writing magazine humor. I live for retweets. I want to make you laugh. I need to make you laugh. And Character, Driven will do that. But it does something more.

The big idea is not that Cliff speaks to you, but that Cliff, who desperately wants to lose his virginity and is socially ill equipped to make much progress in that direction, speaks in an honest voice, holding nothing back. That’s one of the unexpected words: honest. Another is authentic. For example, when Cliff learns that a classmate involved in a tragedy might have been pregnant, he reveals his chain of thought: If she was pregnant, that meant she had sex, which meant he might have been able to have sex with her, had he had the courage to press his case. He also admits feeling guilty that compassion took second place to hormones. He shares his most intimate thoughts about sex, suicide, friendship, and art, among other things.

Cliff’s story is not my story. That’s a very good thing, given what he goes through. But his thoughts are drawn, in part, from my own memories of those awkward high school years.  Most of us have dark thoughts, fleeting or frequent, that we’d never dare admit to even our closest friend or partner. Somehow, as I traveled with Cliff through his story, I forgot to switch on that filter.

Many of my other narrators have said what’s on their mind, of course.  Though, to overwork a metaphor, they’ve only stripped down to their underwear, while Cliff has removed not just clothing, but layers of flesh. I really can’t explain why this book took the turn it did. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I never told myself I was going to reveal the deepest thoughts and secret yearnings of Cliff Sparks. I just gave him some of my pain, my regrets, my sorrows, my disappointments, and my youthful misconceptions, tempered with the lens of time.  Fear not, I also gave him courage, strength, heart, a sense of humor, a love of books, a fondness for wordplay, a fierce loyalty to his friends, and the ability to triumph against brutal obstacles. Somehow, I think it all worked out. Honestly.


Character, Driven: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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