I’m In the Mood For a Huge Chunk of 80s-Flavored Cheese

How about you?

I mean, there is nothing about this video that is not 80s. It may be one of the most 80s videos ever. That hair! That synth! That hair! Those clothes! That hair!

The Thing About That Photo From the Trump Rally

First, the photo, and my commentary about it on Twitter:

(Here’s a direct link to the photo on the Chicago Tribune site if for some reason you can’t see it.)

The problem with that photo is not that someone is giving the Nazi salute at a Trump rally. Neither Trump nor any of the other presidential candidates can be accountable for the actions of a single person at one of their events. The problem with the photo is at this point no one is surprised that someone is giving the Nazi salute at a Trump rally. And this is something that Trump can be held responsible for: That his own positions and actions have made an environment where someone feels letting rip with a Nazi salute is a perfectly okay thing to do.

Which is not to say that the right (and the GOP specifically) wants to own this. One of the first things the trolls* did on Twitter is try to suggest the woman in the photo (identified by name and city of residence by the Chicago Tribune, as one does as a matter of standard journalistic practice) was a supporter of Bernie Sanders named Portia Boulger, thanks to a photo showing Ms. Boulger with roughly the same hair as the woman in the photo — apparently to these folks, all older, gray-haired women look the same. Sadly for them, Portia Boulger’s current haircut is shorter and she can account for her whereabouts last night. But this doesn’t stop folks on the right looking for someone, anyone, else to blame.

Well, no. Sorry, guys, but the right spent decades blowing dog whistles. Now that you’ve got a candidate who has graduated from a dog whistle to a bull horn, you shouldn’t be surprised when some of his supporters decide that thank God it’s time to stop being politically correct and fling out fascistic symbolism in this new, accepting environment. Disavowal is difficult when the difference between Trump’s tactics and the ones the right has been using for numerous election cycles is in degree, not kind. You get to own this one. Enjoy it.

(*It appears that one of the first trolls to do this, winning a retweet from Donald Trump, Jr., was Vox Day, noted eater of crayons. If the Trump folks really want to put some daylight between themselves and the forces of willfully incompetent bigotry, this is a poor way to do it. It also reaffirms that if you’re really determined to make an ass of yourself in public, associating yourself with Vox Day is a very fine way to make that happen.)

New Books and ARCs, 3/11/16

And now, to usher you into the weekend: Look! New books and ARCs! Which of these tomes speak to you? Share in the comments.

Black Tide Rising eARC Now Available

As some of you may remember, I co-authored a short story to go into the Black Tide Rising zombie apocalypse anthology, edited by John Ringo and Gary Poole, which will be out in bookstores on June 7th. But if you just can’t wait that long, you should know that Baen Books, the publisher, is offering the “eARC” for sale right now, which you can download and stuff into your e-reader of choice. In addition to my story, co-written with my friend Dave Klecha, the anthology also features stories by John Ringo, Eric Flint, Sarah Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael Z. Williamson and the proverbial “more.”

The story Dave and I wrote is called “On the Wall,” and it features two characters, named “Dave” and “John,” who are standing watch on a compound wall during a zombie apocalypse, talking about life, the universe, and zombies. You know, as you do when you’re standing watch on a wall during a zombie apocalypse. It was fun to write, and nice to have it wanted for this anthology.

Also, it’s my first story involving zombies! And that’s something. Check it out if you like, in eARC or when the anthology is officially published in June.

(As a minor postscript, I saw a discussion of the eARC online where someone was wondering why my bio for the anthology was one sentence long when the other author bios were generally longer. It’s because the bio I sent in to the editors was one sentence long. That’s all. For the record, my editorial experience on this anthology was perfectly lovely.)

Blue Monday, ’30s Style

Seriously cool and kinda really creepy all at the same time.

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bonesteel

How is solving a crime like debugging a computer program? Elizabeth Bonesteel knows — and uses that knowledge for her novel, The Cold Between. Here she is now to tell you.


I worked as a software engineer for a long time. For the most part, it was great fun: I was being paid to solve puzzles. And although the more lucrative career paths involved software design and implementation, I always had the most affection for debugging. There is something about immersing yourself in reproducing a problem, walking through the code, frowning over it, coming at it from different angles until you have that ah-ha! moment of clarity. 90 percent of bug fixing is figuring out what the bug really is; at that point, the solution usually becomes obvious.

But sometimes that moment of clarity shows you far more than you wanted to see. Sometimes that moment of clarity makes you realize that the entire design is faulty, that the software is misrepresenting its data, lying to its users. What started out as a small, niggling bug becomes a massive rewrite. And it usually starts with breaking the news to someone above you who really doesn’t want to hear it.

Debugging is black-and-white. The solution may be convoluted and heuristic and gorgeously creative, but debugging is straightforward: Find out what is making the software do this bad thing it’s doing.

The real world, of course, is less easily unraveled.

Far in the future, humanity has reached out into the galaxy. Faster-than-light travel is ubiquitous, and terraformers allow otherwise desolate planets to be colonized. Central Corps, the military branch of the government unifying the colonies, spends more time with diplomacy and humanitarian efforts than armed conflict. We have survived our checkered history of violence, wandered into the stars, and arrived at a point where most of us live in peace.

And people are still murdered.

Commander Elena Shaw has seen death by starvation, death by accident, death in battle. But the murder of one of her crewmates — on one of the colonies they are pledged to protect — is a new one, and she doesn’t take it well. When it turns out the local police have arrested the man she was in bed with at the time of the murder, she takes it worse — and determines to fix the problem.

Elena is a mechanic. She’s a debugger by nature. She’s spent her entire adult life in the safe bubble of regimented Corps life, keeping starships running, fixing them when they break. When her crewmate is killed, she resorts to the problem-solving skills she has honed for years. She speaks to the police because she knows they are operating on invalid information. Her expectation is that once she corrects their inputs, they will release the wrong person and find the right one.

But people are not machines. Nor are political structures, as it happens, and that’s what throws her off. Providing her lover with an alibi should solve the problem, but the police don’t function the way she assumes they should. Her fix doesn’t work, because she’s misidentified the bug.

Back up, reassess the problem.

Only every time Elena reassesses the problem, she sees more cracks, more fissures, more false fronts and misrepresentations. And the smaller problem of who killed Danny becomes entangled with the unexplained destruction of a starship 25 years earlier — and possibly the threat of galactic war.

Elena is focused and determined, and entirely unable to admit the possibility that there might not be a solution after all. As everything she’s believed in falls apart around her, she clings ever more strongly to the hope that if she finds the truth, she’ll be able to put it all back the way it was.

The other possibility is more than she’s willing to face: that the life she knows and loves may be built on lies. People are not machines, and some things cannot ever be repaired. Sometimes the bug is fatal. And in her case, it’s not that the people above her don’t want to hear it — it’s that they might already know.


The Cold Between: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Michigan and Mississippi and Those Other States Too

Thoughts on last night’s political festivities:

1. Wow, the pollsters surely humped the proverbial bunk last night in Michigan, didn’t they? Hillary Clinton was in most polls up by double digits in the state against Bernie Sanders, and yet at the end of the day, Sanders squeaked by with a victory, 49.8% to 48.3%. What’s interesting about it is that the news stories I’ve seen have been like “Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in Michigan raises an urgent question for her campaign: What went wrong?” when the ledes should be “All the polling in Michigan for the Democratic race has been horribly inaccurate: How did the pollsters blow it so badly?” I mean, with the possible exception of her own internal polling, Clinton’s not exactly responsible for the polling being egregiously wrong, is she? That’s on the actual pollsters themselves. If the polling had been accurate, then the closeness of the Michigan Democratic results wouldn’t have been surprise. This is a reminder that simulations and polling are just that: Simulations and polling. You still have to run the election.

This does put Clinton on notice that she can’t pivot to Trump yet; she still has to beat Sanders, and maybe she shouldn’t take that as a done deal just yet. A useful reminder to be sure. But it should also put the rest of us on notice that, hey, guess what: In this political season, no one knows anything. I mean, everyone got Michigan so wrong I’m glad I was well ahead of the curve reminding people I’m often wrong about political stuff. But this does mean that no one should be genially blithe about the predictions for next week in Florida and Ohio (and all those other states that will be having elections, as if they matter, hmph). The pollsters have shown that when it comes to the Democratic races, at least, they’re currently working on an immense margin of error.

2. With that said, a reminder to justifiably happy Sanders supporters that Clinton ended last night with 18 more pledged delegates than Sanders thanks to her blowout of Mississippi, where she won 24 delegates to Sanders’ three, and because in Michigan she won 58 to his 63, thanks to the closeness of that race. Overall, Clinton is 214 pledged delegates up, and the gap, so far at least, continues to stretch in Clinton’s favor.

Sanders’ problem is that generally speaking, when Clinton wins, she’s won with larger margins than Sanders does when he wins, and (of course) she’s won more states than he has. To mix sporting metaphors, Sanders’ wins are mostly three yards and a cloud of dirt, while Clinton’s wins mostly are triples and home runs. It was a surprise Sanders won Michigan, and that’s energizing to his campaign, and justly so. But he netted only five more delegates out of the state than Clinton did. If he doesn’t start winning some big states with wider margins, he’s just not going to catch up.

Will he? Well, you know. Before last night you could look at the polls and say, oh, probably not, but today, knowing how gloriously the pollsters whiffed in Michigan, you can say, who knows? I don’t think he will — I suspect next Tuesday he’s probably going to lose Florida by a large margin and if he wins other states, he’ll win them by margins like we saw in Michigan. Which means, again, he’ll be further behind in terms of delegates.

But then, what do I know? Apparently, as much as anyone else as regards the Democratic primary races, which appears to be: Not much! It certainly makes for exciting times. The good kind of exciting, mind you, not the scary oh fuck how could this actually still be happening exciting on the GOP side.

3. Speaking of which: Three states and 73 delegates last night for Donald Trump, one state and 59 delegates for Ted Cruz, and pretty much dick for Marco Rubio, who finished the night with one (1) delegate to his tally, or, 16 fewer than John “I’m only in this to win my home state” Kasich. Yes, yes, the #NeverTrump express is chugging right along, my friends. They are blunting his momentum so hard! As a fellow named Max Berger archly noted on Twitter: “It’s somewhat ironic that the GOP will be destroyed by a billionaire against whom they couldn’t figure out how to collectively organize.”

FiveThirtyEight notes that Trump is currently at 106% of the delegate count it thinks he needs, momentum-wise, in order to get the GOP nomination in the free and clear. Inasmuch as Ohio and Florida are winner-take-all states for the Republicans, if he wins either of them next week, it’s a much harder slog for Cruz (realistically the only one who can catch him, although he’s only at 69% of his target count). If he wins both, everyone else in the GOP better start praying for a bolt of lightning to strike Trump dead.

Yet again, the GOP’s problem is that it wants desperately to stop Trump, but unfortunately the voter base it’s cultivated for years to accept a candidate just like Trump is doing what it’s been trained to do. And while the irony is delicious, it has a horrifying aftertaste because it doesn’t change the fact that barring divine intervention, Trump and his fascistic shitshow of a campaign are going to the general election. So, you know, again: Thanks for that, GOP.

(And while I’m at it, GOP, thanks so much also for having the only barely viable alternative to Trump be Ted Cruz, a bipedal mound of pig offal that yet manages to form words. When we’re done with this election, we’re going to have a talk, you and I. Depend on it.)

4. Hey, Scalzi, you ask, do you think the GOP will actually fracture because of Trump? The more I think about it the more I think “no,” because of several reasons. One, and what should be most obviously, the actual people who vote GOP seem to be just fine with Trump. Say what you will about the fact he’s running the most overtly racist and horrible campaign in modern history, but at the end of the day he’s the front runner because he’s earning the votes and delegates. He’s playing by the rules the GOP set up and he’s winning (and don’t think that at this moment the GOP doesn’t wish that it had borrowed that “superdelegate” idea from the Democrats).

Two, the question to start asking is not whether the GOP hates Trump more than Cruz, but whether it hates Trump more than Clinton, or Sanders. Let’s stipulate that the GOP in general hates Clinton with an unholy passion, out of muscle reflex if nothing else. A quarter century of intense dislike of a single person (and her husband) is hard to shake. As for Sanders, they don’t have the same institutional hatred of him as they do of Clinton, but, look, he’s an actual goddamn socialist, or something close enough that the sort of person who thinks Barack Obama is as pink as a Swedish daycare will lose their ever-lovin’ mind about living in Sanders’ America (I’m coming back to this in a minute).

So I submit to you that the average GOP establishment type, confronted with the choice of Clinton or Sanders, or Trump, is going to suck it up and vote for Trump. As Josh Marshall put it, #NeverTrump is actually just #EventuallyTrump, and just as Cruz and Rubio and Kasich stood up there on that podium and after excoriating Trump for two hours and said they would vote for him in general, so will the GOP folks currently holding their head at the shonda that is Donald Trump do the same.

So, no, I don’t think there will be a fracturing, and Clinton and Sanders (but mostly Clinton) are the reason. You might have people sit out; you might even have GOP folks hold their nose and secretly (or not so secretly!) vote for Clinton or Sanders in the general. But I suspect one way or another the GOP holds together. Whether this is a good thing for them in the long run is a discussion for another time, that time, I imagine, being the comment thread.

5. To follow up on this thought in more detail: For the Democrats/liberals in the crowd, I suspect that in general election, an advantage that Clinton has, that Sanders does not, is familiarity — not to the people who like her, but with regard to the people who don’t. I think the vast majority of Clinton’s potential negatives are already baked into her public persona, whereas Sanders’ negatives have yet to be played with in a general sense.

What do I mean by this? I mean that everyone who is going to hate Clinton — for her political positions, for her gender, for her public demeanor, for her husband, for Vince Foster and Benghazi and her email server — probably already does. There aren’t really too many surprises left there. She’s a known quantity for everyone.

Sanders, on the other hand, represents a whole lot of opportunity on the part of the GOP and its various allies to scaremonger and to have that scaremongering be a significant part of the Sanders’ public persona. I mean, come on: If you don’t think the GOP isn’t going to have a field day with the socialist thing, for starters, you haven’t been paying attention to what the Republicans have been about for the last three decades. The Republicans haven’t been very good at government for a long time (in part because they don’t really want to be), but they are just fine at scaring old and/or angry white people, thanks very much, and they’ll be more than happy to fill them in on all the terrible things they don’t know about Sanders.

(And if you don’t think Sanders being a Jew won’t matter in the election, remember who Donald Trump retweets. Be assured the GOP as a party won’t go anywhere near that, and I say that with no wink or nod whatsoever; The GOP knows enough to steer well clear of anti-semitism. But also be assured that Sanders being a Jew, and a Jewish socialist, will be a topic of “conversation” anyway for a fair number of the folks who will be voting for the GOP candidate, particularly if the candidate is Trump.)

This is not to say scaremongering is fated to work. After all, Barack Hussein Obama, Black Muslim born in Africa, was elected twice as president, with majorities both in the popular vote and in the electoral college. But it does mean that there’s more room for Sanders scaremongering to do unexpected damage, because it’s new to the general electorate. The scaremongering on Clinton goes back to the early 90s. It’s stale, and it has a hard ceiling and floor. We don’t know the ceiling and floor on the Sanders scaremongering yet. And that’s a real factor to consider.

Catching Up With New Books and ARCs, 3/8/16

I’m a little behind on showing off the new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound, so today, here are two — yes, two!! — stacks of new books and ARCs for you peruse and lust after.

And you say, wow, now you’re all caught up, right? Nope, because here are the books that came in the last couple of weeks that I have yet to take out of their packaging:

So guess what I’m about to do. Yes, I know. My life is hard.

So, see any books in the first two pictures that are calling to you? Tell me which ones they are in the comments.

Warning: I’m Behind With Email

And that includes April Big Idea slots (March is all filled up). I hope to catch up soon.

As you were.

Explaining What We Already Knew About Bond Villains (and Bond)

This video:

(via James Nicoll)

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.

The Big Idea: Mark Tompkins

In The Last Days of Magic, author Mark Tompkins has a novel way of looking at the legends, myths and fairy tales many of us grew up with – a way that changes what they mean for the world into which he writes a few new tales of his own.


Legends, myths, faery tales, some so old their origins are impossible to discern, others date back just a few centuries. We have all heard and read our share. We have our favorites. But what if they were true? This is the big idea behind The Last Days of Magic – what if those mythic tales were true and coexisted with our accepted history, and the world of today?

It all began with a single irresistible character and her small legend, compact enough to fit in a frame affixed to the wall of an Irish castle. Actually, it was more tower than castle, one with a box out front and a sign that pleaded with me to drop a Euro into the slot before entering. That was the legend of Red Mary, a woman so strong that years later when I finally decided to start a novel, she banged on the inside of my skull and demanded to be a protagonist. OK, Mary, if you are coming out then the darker versions of your legend, the ones with witchcraft, are going to prevail. And I am going to have to create a magical world for you to romp through.

Here I have to acknowledge the author Hannah Tinti, who once told me her mantra: What is the weirdest thing that could happen next?  Before setting pen to paper, I twisted that into a mantra of my own: What if it was true?

All those old Irish tales of faeries, the Sidhe, what if they were true? The ancient stories depicted the faeries as tall, powerful, and dangerous, none of this Tinkerbell stuff. They could not procreate with humans if they were dragonfly-sized! What if St. Patrick actually enchanted a bell so that its ring was lethal? Researching legends in Ireland, I stood looking at that bell – fittingly labeled Clogh-na-fullah, Bell of the Blood – at his museum in Armagh and wondered what that implied about him, his followers, and the age in which they lived. There were also anecdotes linking the Sidhe to the offspring of randy angels who had snuck out of heaven to seduce daughters of Eve. If those were true, would Lilith, rumored to be Adam’s first wife, be involved?

Soon, rather than inventing a world, I found myself assembling one out of old stories. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, I fit together the pieces, not only faded legends, biblical myths, and faery tales, but also those that I found in history books. As the puzzle came together, a new world was revealed, both magical and historical.

Then, like a somewhat demented deity going through the stages of creation, I started to populate this world with other magical elements from existing lore (I admit to a preference for the darker ones). Witches and their feats were drawn as much as possible from records of witch trials, after all in this world those were also true. Whenever a demon was called for, I plucked one out of the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, my favorite thousand-page “nonfiction” reference. For magical books, the only option was to use “real” ones, like The Sworn Book of Honorius, later used by John Dee, magician to Queen Elizabeth I, and the Book of Raziel, used by the twelfth century Jewish mystics Chassidei Ashkenaz.

One of the great joys of this process was when unexpected links spontaneously manifested. For example, I was researching an Italian mercenary, only to discover he was an English lord using an assumed name. A little more digging revealed that his secret handler was reputed to be Geoffrey Chaucer. Which then tied in beautifully with the magic Chaucer included in his tales.

But a problem arose with my What if it was true? big idea – namely, how could I reconcile my newly assembled medieval magical world with recent history and the contemporary world in which we reside? That was not a question I could ignore. I had to add a second big idea: If it were true, what happened to it? The closer to modern time the story got, the harder that question became. Recent history felt all but frozen in place, there were just too many records. I tried attacking the problem from various angles until a well-documented modern conspiracy – one to suppress and modify historical documents – presented itself as a way for my story to flow seamlessly into the 21st century.

This was all fun, and I happily burned up months putting it together, but it was not a novel; it was a stage. An expansive stage upon which the primary characters – including Red Mary, renamed Aisling – could struggle, love, question, and try to find their way, some making it, some getting lost, and others dying in the effort. Having a well-built stage, with all its magic and pitfalls, made it possible for me to follow along behind the characters, recording their motivations, feelings, and actions without having to worry about the rules of their world. Ultimately, it was the chronicle of their lives that turned my big idea into a novel, The Last Days of Magic.


The Last Days of Magic: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Audible

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Five Thoughts on Super Tuesday 2016

Do I have Super Tuesday thoughts? Sure I do.

* The real question I have after last night is: In the general election will the Democratic defections when enraged BernieBros decide to vote for Trump over Clinton be counteracted by the Republican defections when despairing neocons decide to vote for Clinton over Trump? Because, yes, I think that’s where we are right now.

More to the point, I think the general election is less likely to be purely about GOP vs. Democrats as it is likely to be anxious white people vs. everyone else. I mean, it was that before, right? But it used to better correlate with the political parties than it does this year. Trump’s natural constituency appears to be white folks, mostly but not only dudes, working class or below, with a varyingly-sized streak of bigotry in them — sexism, racism, what have you. Basically, those anxious about their jobs, or more existentially about losing their place in the social hierarchy. Which theoretically leaves everything else to Clinton.

Which is not a bad place for Clinton to be — if she can get them out in the general. I think she will, but it’s a long way to November, and remember, I have a healthy appreciation for my own personal political cluelessness.

* But Sanders won four states last night! Yes he did, and good for him, although generally speaking he won smaller states with fewer delegates, by smaller margins than Clinton won hers, particularly in the South. Which means that by the only metric that actually counts — delegates assigned — Clinton’s pulling ahead (her superdelegates are staying put, too). To be clear I’m happy for Sanders to stay in the race to keep Clinton’s feet to the fire. She does have a tendency to tack right when left to her own devices, and I don’t think that helps her any right now. But I really don’t see where Sanders gets to the nomination from here.

Which leaves open the question of where the BernieBros go when Clinton does clinch the nomination, which she is likely to do well before the convention. While (to be clear) I suspect most Sanders supporters would support Clinton over Trump (or Cruz or Rubio) in the general, I think there’s a small but noisy chunk who have declared Clinton the enemy and who will ragequit when their dude gets shut out, take their ball and bat and go play in the Fields of Trump. Because they’re anxious white people, you see! If or when they do, I think this will be an instructive moment for everyone about the contours of this particular election.

* On the Republican side: But Cruz won three states last night! And Rubio won one! First, that’s adorable for Rubio. He finally won a primary caucus! Someone give him a participation star, or something. To be fair, the pundits tell me he has a better chance at states a bit down the line, including Florida in two weeks. Well, okay, fine. Cruz on the other hand is in slightly better position: Texas is not an insignificant win, and Oklahoma and Alaska are nice side dishes as well, and Cruz can make an argument that it is he, and not Rubio, who is the true bulwark against Trump within the GOP at this point.

At which the rest of us can be forgiven our barely repressed giggling, because if there’s one single GOP candidate that would allow the Democrats to run up a higher electoral vote total than Trump, it’s Cruz, the final obnoxious form of a college dorm “Devil’s Advocate.” Note to the GOP: Clinton cannot wait for you to settle on Cruz. She really, really hopes you do. I mean, she’ll take Trump. But she wants Cruz. She’ll be delighted if you oblige her.

But, I suspect it will be Trump. As I noted yesterday, neither Rubio nor Cruz is going to drop out any time soon, so they’ll keep splitting the not-Trump vote between them, and Kasich is in it at least through the Ohio primary, where his primary role will be to keep either Rubio or Cruz out of the number two position that night. Meanwhile Trump will vacuum up his now-standard 30+% of the primary voters, which will likely be enough as we move toward winner-take-all primaries.

* I continue not to envy Republican voters, since it’s likely Trump will be your nominee, and if he’s not Cruz likely will be, and, well. There’s a choice, isn’t there. I suspect this is when a number of GOP voters (neocons especially) will decide that Clinton is basically close enough to a Reagan Republican, and also they don’t really care if women get abortions if they want them, so what the hell, and pull the lever for her this one time.

Which brings me back to my first question: Will their number balance out the BernieBros who ragequit and vote for Trump? My feeling is that in the end it’s likely to be a wash and in fact it’s more likely that the real winner of both those constituencies might be Gary Johnson, who is running as the Libertarian candidate and is therefore a safe repository of third party votes that will ultimately neither help nor hinder the two parties’ efforts (it might nibble away slightly more at the GOP side, but not, I suspect, enough to cause an electoral vote swing). Or they might just stay home and gripe on Reddit! Well, that’s what Reddit’s for.

* And finally, the wild card: If Trump wins the nomination, will there be a third party run to his right? And if he doesn’t win the nomination, will he run a spoiler campaign against either Cruz or Rubio? I see a GOP splinter as an unlikely but real possibility, and more so if Trump is denied the candidacy in a convention fight. I should also note that if Trump leaves the GOP, he almost certainly will take his constituency of anxious white people with him, and then all Clinton will have to do to take the White House is not step in front of a bus.

Clinton would love if you did that splintering, too, GOP. Just so you know.

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

Ryk E. Spoor has a lot to say today about his Balanced Sword Trilogy, of which Phoenix Ascendant, his new novel, is the final installment. I’m going to let him get right to it. Except to say, for those of you who want it, here’s Spoor’s summary of everything that’s gone on before. Got it? On we go!


With the publication of Phoenix Ascendant, final volume of The Balanced Sword trilogy, I finally finish telling a story I started working on a quarter of a century ago, and bring Kyri Vantage, Tobimar Silverun, and Poplock Duckweed to the end of the adventure that brought them together.

That adventure begins, really, with the realization (in Phoenix Rising) by Kyri that the Justiciars of Myrionar – holy warriors for a god – have become corrupt and have been directly responsible for the murder of her parents and her brother, and gods only know how many other things.

This raises a question that is not answered until the end of Phoenix Ascendant: how is it even possible for the sworn servants of a deity to act against that deity’s basic will and not lose their powers, not be revealed and cast out by the god? Zarathan, the world Kyri and her friends live in, is a world where the gods are active. They may be bound from directly, personally interfering currently, but that forbiddance does not in any way apply to their own churches, their own servitors. By everything that they know, a god whose servants started taking a wrong turn would first lose their powers, and – if they persisted– be banished from the religion entirely, if they were lucky. If they weren’t, the god might well literally smite them where they stood.

Yet the Justiciars have not; in fact, they seem to retain their powers, and Myrionar has been utterly silent on their betrayal. The issue of their powers is partially answered when the heroes discover that the Justiciars have a tremendously powerful patron who can, apparently, give them the ability to emulate a Justiciar’s powers, but the question of why the god has done nothing, said nothing, even while the god’s power has been being whittled away to almost nothing remains.

The answer is that not merely the matter of Myrionar, but the chaos into which the entirety of Zarathan is descending, is part of a set of plans by a master manipulator – dueling with other chessmasters of power and tactics for a prize that the heroes do not even grasp until the final confrontation, and if Myrionar were to act before, as Jack Sparrow would say, “the opportune moment”, they could lose EVERYTHING.

Now, readers are usually willing to tolerate a certain level of mystery and confusion, but for that to be worth it, at the end there has to be a moment of “oh, of course, that makes sense of all these things that happened before!”.  I, the author, can only successfully pull off the surprise reveal of the mastermind’s plans if that reveal stands supported by previous events, so that – even in the midst of the “oh my god” reaction, there’s also an element of familiarity, of the feeling that the reader COULD have figured it out if they had just put together all of these previous elements correctly.

This is the same challenge faced by many mystery writers – the ones who write mysteries where neither the reader nor the detective knows who the criminal is and the reader is actually supposed to end up almost, but not quite, figuring the answer out before the detective does.

The trick to making that work, however, is pretty challenging. You have to give the reader enough information so that if you laid that information out for them clearly and in the right order, they would – with a fair likelihood – come to the correct conclusion, or one close enough to the truth to be given credit. You have to “play fair”, especially with more modern audiences who don’t like the detective/characters to just suddenly pull new information out of thin air that makes the mystery clear when before it was obscure.

Yet, at the same time, you have to hide that information – you cannot allow the reader (or most readers, anyway) to be able to easily “connect the dots”, or you have suddenly lost a huge amount of the tension for the reader, the questions that they’re reading to answer. In a trilogy like The Balanced Sword, it’s also a matter of keeping sympathy and identification with the protagonists. If the answer seems blindingly obvious to the readers, they can often start losing sympathy with the protagonists if any significant time passes. “How STUPID can they be? I saw this coming TWENTY CHAPTERS AGO!”

So as a writer I somehow have to conceal the truth … while keeping it in front of the reader all along, until the moment when I suddenly, dramatically point it out, managing a simultaneous moment of surprise and affirmation. I like to call this a “sleight of mind”, where I’m not using physical movement, but manner of presentation, emphasis, and expectations to distract the reader while I run key elements past them, to sit innocuously until their relevance abruptly becomes clear.

Many mystery writers do this well. One of the classic examples is Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which she has the first-person viewpoint character be the murderer… and most readers never figure it out until Poirot reveals the truth. We literally watched through the murderer’s eyes and – by careful selection of exactly what we saw, and when scenes ended and began – Agatha Christie keeps us from recognizing that we have just been present at a murder.

An example of this not being done is the well-known “WHAM” moment in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader says “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”. Luke, of course, responds that he was told enough – that Vader killed his father – to which Vader replies, “No. I am your father.”

This is a terribly effective instant in cinema, but for me it always rang false, and after a bit I realized why – because, unlike my prior example, Lucas hadn’t played fair with me. There really were no hints to this sudden revelation; there was no evidence that it was true (other than the in-universe “search your feelings, you know it to be true” and implication that the Force was supporting this statement, it could’ve just been a total bulls**t ploy on the part of Vader), and in fact it’s known that Lucas only decided on this plot twist while he was working on Empire (meaning that even the odd phonic connection of “Vader” being similar to the German “Vater”, meaning Father, was a simple coincidence).

That always felt cheap to me. It’s easy to invent plot twists if you do it after the fact, and don’t go back to make the material support it. It’s lazy. (It also suddenly made the noble Obi-Wan Kenobi into a devious weasel). Once I started writing seriously, I was determined that no matter what ludicrous plot twists I was going to throw at my readers, those plot twists wouldn’t come out of nowhere; they would be moments not just of surprise, but of revelation, where the reader simultaneously says “What the heck???” and “Now I understand.”

This is what I hope I have accomplished in the final denouement of Phoenix Ascendant.


NOTE: the following sections will become increasingly spoilery for parts of the trilogy! If you don’t like spoilers, STOP NOW and (if you want to come back) go read the books first!


Both the question of why Myrionar could not speak or act against the false Justiciars, and the answer to that question, are bound up in a single statement which is repeated – in varying wording – several places in the trilogy, and best summed up as: “a god cannot act contrary to its nature.” I had to make sure that this fact was implied or, sometimes, outright stated multiple times… but do so in a way so that it was emphasized as a mystery, as a question, not as the answer, unless the “answer” was, itself, another false trail… because while that was indeed part of the answer, the real import of that fact was something very different, bearing on one of the other primary questions:

What does the true adversary of the trilogy want?

One of the common motivations of the Big Bad in epic fantasy is to conquer the world. When we first seem to discover the identity of the main adversary, the “patron” of the Justiciars, it appears that this is its goal. It is Viedraverion, first son of Kerlamion, King of All Hells, and Viedraverion is the mastermind behind Kerlamion, a classic “Man Behind the Man” scenario in which the monstrously powerful but rather straightforward Demon King would be the unwitting agent of his own son.

This isn’t the Big Bad’s true goal, however, and so in fairness I had to make this clear; in the scenes written from its point of view, the adversary reveals a rather disparaging attitude towards the entire concept of world conquest. Its actual objective is best hinted at, in fact, by commentary and thoughts relative to the other people it must interact with, and a careful reading shows that its greatest approval is reserved for someone who is not a demon at all, but a man: Master Wieran, the coldly fanatical alchemist-mage who is one of the primary antagonists in Phoenix in Shadow.

Yet it is also clear that all of this focuses on Kyri and Myrionar, when Myrionar is an extremely weak – dying, in fact – god and Kyri its only remaining true Justiciar. Master Wieran’s focus made sense; he was making use of the power of Terian, acknowledged by all to be one of the most powerful of all gods. If the true adversary’s goals were in any way like Wieran’s, how could they be served through a focus on such a weakened deity?

Again, here I had to scatter the clues to the answer in a way that did not draw attention to them, these clues being: 1) that Myrionar was considered a true ally of, and connected to, other much more powerful gods including Terian, Chromaias, and the Dragon Gods, among others, and 2) that Myrionar had sworn its oath to Kyri “on the very power of the gods”.

These clues are, of course, also clues to the solution of the problem, to the way in which Kyri and her friends can successfully oppose their enemy, and most importantly to how Kyri herself can confront something which has obviously worked to weaken and corrupt the entirety of her church to the point that only one temple, one set of priests, and one Justiciar remain.

The single largest clue to the entire plot, though, was shown early in Phoenix in Shadow, during the short discussion with the Wanderer, and encapsulated best in this simple exchange:

Kyri stared at him, anger, concern, and confusion making a nauseating mix in her gut. “What do you mean?” She made a leap of intuition. “A prophecy. You have a prophecy.”

For a moment, that smile returned, sharp and lopsided, too knowing yet edged with sadness. “Not… precisely. Though, perhaps, close enough for your purposes.”

That quote above shows one of the other problems of writing this kind of story. From my point of view, I’m practically screaming the answer to what’s going on. I had to hope that with it being in the middle of other discussion, and a full book and a half away from the real beginning of the finale, the reader wouldn’t really sit down and start picking away at that. Judging from the reactions, that hope was generally justified; I didn’t have any of my beta readers, or later readers, immediately write to me and tell me “Oh, I know what that means!”.

It’s hard for an author to know what’s too obvious – or too subtle – because we know way, way too much about what’s going on, and what seems to be a subtle clue to us may be utterly opaque to the reader. Alternatively, if we don’t realize what frame of mind the reader may be in at a given point, something we think was subtle turns out to be a dead giveaway surrounded by flashing lights. Trying to minimize either of these mistakes is one of the reasons writers have beta readers.

I should note that this “sleight of mind” approach is in no way limited to the major themes/plots/resolution of the trilogy. Two of my favorite examples within The Balanced Sword were in Phoenix in Shadow, specifically the way in which Kalshae was defeated, and shortly thereafter the defeat of Sanamaveridion. Both of these were set up early in the novel, by relatively offhanded events, and then built on with a few seemingly-unrelated facts to allow the resolution that we see. There are other such tricks in the final battle of Phoenix Ascendant.

It is often important for the readers to know something that the main characters don’t, of course, and at the end of Phoenix in Shadow the readers witness an event that shows that the Big Bad is not, in fact, Viedraverion at all, but something else using his face and identity, something that Miri calls “Lightslayer”. Miri’s memory of this encounter is erased, so the readers now have the tension of knowing that our heroes are wrong about their adversary’s identity, and wondering when – and how – they will have a chance to find out their mistake.


Really, REALLY Big Spoilers for the End of the Trilogy so if you have read the rest but don’t want to be spoiled on the end STOP!


That forgotten confrontation with Miri – along with a few other clues including visual description – can allow some readers to figure out just what the Big Bad is, especially if they happen to have read Paradigms Lost, my urban fantasy novel. The antagonist’s nature is referred to in all three novels, and his name mentioned early on in both Phoenix in Shadow and Phoenix Ascendant well before “the reveal” happens, but – as with the other such facts – buried amidst other information that, I hoped, would not make their presence obvious. In fact, the reveal is a two-stage one and the second and final stage happens when the antagonist speaks a line which – for those who understand what it implies – is possibly the most chilling in the entire trilogy:

“You know me? Oh, child, you have not yet asked my name.”

Of course, if most readers find that line (in context) has no impact, it means I failed on the setup – that the hints I gave were entirely missed, not merely obscured. I devoutly hope that isn’t the case, but – as I mentioned earlier – telling what’s obvious and what isn’t is one of the hardest parts of this job.

From the above, probably anyone who has read Paradigms Lost can already guess the true identity of the antagonist, even without reading any of the trilogy: the only villain that would fit the profile would be Virigar, the Werewolf King, the being whom all the other monsters in the book fear. In Phoenix Ascendant, we get to see what he’s like when he isn’t playing the game to fit the vastly lower-magic world that Jason Wood inhabits.

But important as the secret of the villain’s identity, and even his plan, is, the most difficult sleight of mind to pull off was the nature of the solution – of how and why Kyri, who in no way compares in power or resources with her opponent, could ultimately undo his plans and defeat him. And again, that answer comes back to the clues of the nature of the gods and their commitments, to the oath that Myrionar swore, and to the Wanderer’s implication of something that isn’t a prophecy… yet might as well be one.  Myrionar is weak, dying, and cannot in any way match her opponent; Kyri is mortal and even less capable of doing so; and those two facts are precisely the keys to the Big Bad’s plan. Yet, ultimately, they – and the villain’s own nature – are what turn the tables.

Depending on how carefully the prior parts of this essay were read, the reader may already have guessed that, somehow, time travel must be involved. The Wanderer doesn’t have a prophecy, he’s been told what will happen – by someone who has been there, to the future – and doesn’t dare tamper with what he knows is supposed to happen because all the current plans depend on those events.

Thus, also, Myrionar’s reluctance: Myrionar can’t change these events, no matter how much it might want to, because it knows the events happened, and the only way to spring the trap that Myrionar, Khoros, the Wanderer and even the other gods have set for the Big Bad is to let everything play out to a very particular point.  The Wanderer even emphasized this by describing how such things could go wrong even with the most well-meaning of actions. Ultimately, when Kyri suddenly realizes why Virigar’s own plan gives her the key to her own survival and victory, the reader should be only a half-second behind her revelation.

The existence of all these carefully-laid trails of clues and answers doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t leave any genuine mysteries. The final part of the confrontation between Virigar and Kyri certainly has an event that Virigar understands, but no one else (except, possibly, Khoros) does, showing that some things lie beyond the easy explanation of the gods and those who witness the events. The world of Zarathan is a very large one; I have been working on the world itself for nearly 40 years now. There are still mysteries, large and small, to be unraveled – what will Kyri and Tobimar and Poplock do now? Whence has Master Wieran fled? What, exactly, did the Five do that ultimately sent Kerlamion and the Black City back to the Hells? What did Kyri’s sister Urelle find in her adventures with the young Camp-Bel warrior, and did Aunt Victoria find her in time to help? What, ultimately, is Virigar’s fate?

One day I hope to answer all of those questions, and you can be sure that each of the books will contain more than a little sleight of mind, to keep the reader guessing and surprised – yet, at the same time, reassured by the truths revealed that even this fictional world makes sense to those within… and those without.


Phoenix Ascendant: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Like him on Facebook.

Announcing Midnight Star: Renegades!

So here is today’s super-cool news I get to share with you: a new video game I’m involved with is on its way! It’s Midnight Star: Renegade, a sequel to Midnight Star, last year’s mobile-based shooter from the fine folks at Industrial Toys. It’s a ton of fun.

Here’s a bit from the press release that was just sent out about it:

Industrial Toys, the team behind last year’s ground-breaking Midnight Star, today announces a brand new shooter for mobile, Midnight Star: Renegade. Set 120 years in the future after the events of the first Midnight Star game, Renegade puts players at the center of a mystery left behind by a space-faring civilization that went missing 22,000 years ago.

The new game builds upon the innovative touch controls of Midnight Star and introduces all-new features like free movement, jump boots and guided rockets. Fans of the 1st game will find amped up action and tons of new features, but the biggest change for the franchise is how Renegade fits into the mobile gamer’s lifestyle. Levels are short but plentiful – 150 in the first campaign installment and most are under a minute in length. A multiplayer mode offers quick head-to-head battles for rank. And improved touch controls make an airborne circle strafe second nature.

Players also get to build their own characters, craft their own weapons and design their own armor and look. Prefer to snipe from long range? No problem. Rather jump headlong into the fray, dual wielding rocket pistols? Then jump!

Midnight Star: Renegade is entering soft launch this month and should be available everywhere on the App Store and Android this Summer.

To learn more about Renegade and Industrial Toys, follow @industrialtoys on Twitter, ‘Like’ the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/industrialtoys and join the Renegades at renegadeprogram.com.

I’ve played it (I mean, obviously), and it presses all my gamer buttons: It’s fun and fast and full of action, and it really is perfect for the “I’ve got a minute while I’m standing in this line” situations we all get into during daily life. I think you’re going to enjoy the hell out of it.

Again, if you want more detail, click over to renegadeprogram.com and catch up on all the coolness. It’s coming, as noted, a bit later in the year.

Dear GOP: We Can’t Save You If You Won’t Save Yourself

Art by Chris Piascik, used via Creative Commons. Click picture for original.

And now is the part of the election cycle where the pundit class comes forward and begs the rest of the US electorate to help save the GOP from itself. In the Atlantic, Peter Beinart argues that liberals should support Marco Rubio over Trump, and over in the Washington Post, Michael R. Strain of the American Enterprise Institute is flat-out begging for people to vote for someone, anyone, but Trump. “We all have to stop him,” reads the headline to the article.

We? We? I don’t know if Michael R. Strain is up on the news, but Trump is polling at 49% nationally among Republican voters. He’s outpolling Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson combined among the people who are actually going to go to the polls to vote Republican. Likewise, Beinart’s suggestion that liberals throw in with Rubio, who aside from his pandering antediluvian positions appears to dissolve into a stammering puddle of flop sweat when people are mean to him, which is a quality I know I always look for in a potential leader of the free world, is actively insulting. Hey, liberals! Save the GOP from Trump by supporting the establishment’s hand-picked empty suit, which it will use to shore up shaky senatorial races and then push and pass a political agenda massively antithetical to everything you believe in! Yeeeeah, thanks for the hot take, there, Pete. Let me know who you buy your weed from, because that’s clearly some primo shit you’re smoking.

News flash, pundit guys: No one can save the GOP from Trump but the GOP, and its voters clearly have no intention of doing that. To repeat: Trump currently outpolls every other GOP candidate in the race, combined. What, pray tell, do you want any of the rest of us to do about that? The answer may be “vote against Trump in the primaries,” but this is where I point out that the rest of us are not GOP primary voters for a reason. Some of us may want to vote in the Democratic primaries. Some of us may be independents and have to wait to see what dumbasses the parties elect. Some of us may belong to third parties because we’re political idealists/masochists. The point is, we have other plans for the day. They are legit plans. They don’t involve keeping the GOP from setting itself on fire.

Also, you know. If I were the paranoid type, I’d look at the pundit class begging the rational portion of the electorate to save the GOP from itself as a suspicious bit of political theater orchestrated by the shadowy cabal that really runs the nation. We can’t let the GOP implode yet, we still have to pay taxes! I know! Convince the liberals to vote against their interests to save a political party whose goals oppose theirs in every relevant way! And as a bonus, that way they don’t vote for that commie Sanders! Quick! To the pundits! I’m not saying that’s what’s happening. But I’m also not not saying it, nod, wink, nod, hand signal, wink.

Even if liberals (to Beinart’s point) and everyone else (to Strain’s) decided to vote against Trump in the states that allow open primaries — or changed their registration to Republican to vote in closed primaries, because, yeah, that will happen — again, Trump has the support of half the GOP voters right now. Folks, it’s Super friggin’ Tuesday. Half the GOP delegates needed for a nomination are getting sorted out tonight (595 of the 1,237 needed, of which Trump already has 82), and it’s a fair bet that Trump is taking every state except Texas, which will go to Ted Cruz, an odious fistula that walks the earth in a human skin.

Now, most of these states as I understand it will allocate delegates proportionally, so Cruz and Rubio are likely to take some. But most are going to Trump. He’s likely going to end the night so far ahead that even the active intervention of everyone else won’t keep Trump from chugging along to Cleveland with a plush stack of pledged delegates. Neither Cruz nor Rubio is going to drop out of the race — Rubio because the establishment’s assassins will murder his future if he does, Cruz because his monomaniacal sense of manifest destiny doesn’t allow for quittin’ — and neither of them is likely to poll substantially better than the other. They’re Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum all the way down the line. You want to choose between these two embarrassments to the name of Generation X? After you.

But that’s why Beinart tells liberals to vote for Rubio! To get him ahead! Oh, you dear, sweet, precious jewel in the firmament of heaven. Yes, I’m sure that if liberals do cross the line, hold their noses and vote for Rubio in primaries, that absolutely positively won’t be used against him by either Trump or Cruz, two gentlemen who are celebrated worldwide for their probity and graciousness in all things political. Indeed, I see no way this fantastic plan of Beinart’s could ever possibly go wrong, or work to Trump’s advantage with his core constituency of angry white people who may or may not be flaming bigots, but who certainly hate friggin’ libruls.

Folks, I’m the first to admit that my political crystal ball is not exactly piercingly clear, but here’s what I believe: It’s too late to stop Trump. Probably from getting the GOP nomination, but at the very least from being a significant and possibly controlling force at the Republican convention. Is anyone under the impression that, in the case of a contested convention, Trump’s pledged delegates — or his actual supporters — are suddenly going to abandon him after the first ballot? Bless their hearts, but no one’s in love with Rubio, and no one actually likes Cruz. Trump’s people, on the other hand, are in love with him in the way that only the simple can pine for a demagogue. If you want to see what a middle-aged riot looks like, wait until the GOP tries to torpedo Trump at the convention.

But somebody needs to do something! Well, yes. Those “somebodies” should have been the GOP, but it didn’t want to, and then when it wanted to it couldn’t, because it realized too late that its entire governing strategy for the last couple of decades, but especially since Obama came to office, has been designed to foster the emergence of a populist lectern-thumper like Trump. The GOP has made its electoral bones on low-information, high-anxiety white folks for years now, but has only ever looked at the next election, and not ever further down the road, or where that road would lead too. Well, it led to Trump.

And now the GOP wants a bailout, and people like Beinart and Strain are arguing we should give it to them, because the GOP is apparently too big to fail (and yes, this means that Trump is a festering ball of subprime loans in this scenario). And, well. We bailed out the banks in ’08, but no one was punished and no one on Wall Street apparently learned anything from the experience, because why would they? No matter how hard they fucked up, someone would come along to save them, and after a couple of years of grumping about smaller bonuses, they’d be back on top, sucking up even more of the wealth of the nation while everyone else muddled along on a glide path that slowly slides them into financial insecurity.

If the rest of us somehow could bail out the GOP by saving it from Trump, what would we get out of it? The GOP establishment certainly isn’t in the mood to learn — shit, it’s shoving all its chips onto Rubio, whose arms are probably already fitted with the titanium eye screws through which they’ll loop the strings once he’s elected. There’s no percentage in saving the GOP from itself; its policies are already inimical to good governance and have been for the last several election cycles. Saving the GOP from Trump doesn’t change the fact that the GOP is by conscious and intentional design primed to create more Trumps — more populist demagogues who will leverage the anxious discontent of scared and aging white people into electoral victories. That won’t be fixed. The GOP doesn’t want it fixed. It just wants the demagogue to be someone it can control.

The good news is that there is a way for everyone else to stop Trump: It’s called voting in the general election for the candidates who are not him. At this point as a practical matter that probably means voting for Hillary Clinton. This won’t solve the GOP’s problems, but again, maybe from the point of view of everyone else, the GOP’s problems aren’t solvable. Maybe it really does need to blow up and start over. Otherwise we’ll be back here four years out. And eight years out. And twelve years out. And so on.

The Big Idea: Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is one of the most prolific and celebrated modern authors of science fiction (with Hugo, Nebula and Campbell awards among others to his name), but recently Sawyer took some time between books. It was not time idly spent, as Sawyer relates in this Big Idea: It laid much of the groundwork for his newest novel, Quantum Night.


I wrote the first paragraph of Quantum Night on September 11, 2012—and the next day, my younger brother Alan got in touch to say he was dying of lung cancer.

I finished my work on the novel, returning the marked-up page proofs to the publisher, on November 30, 2015. My 90-year-old mother, then already in intensive care, died a week later.

There are three years between the beginning and end dates. With a two-decade track record of writing a book a year, that struck me (and my accountant!) as crazy. But my brother’s illness and death took a lot out of me, and for most of 2013, I wasn’t up for doing anything other than just reading.

And read I did, working slowly but surely toward the core idea for Quantum Night. I started with an absolutely riveting book called Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. Its author, Roy F. Baumeister, tries to make psychological and evolutionary sense of our basest instincts.

Next, I tackled Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss by Laurence Rees. With all due respect to the corollaries to Godwin’s law, it seemed to me that the Hitlerian template was horribly commonplace: a handful of psychopathic manipulators whipping up mindless followers.

And perhaps, it occurred to me, they were literally mindless: exemplars of the entities proposed in Australian philosopher David Chalmers’s thought experiment about beings externally indistinguishable from you or me but with no inner life, creatures he termed “philosopher’s zombies.”

I’ve long been familiar with the work of Oxford physicist Sir Roger Penrose and his collaborator Stuart Hameroff, which asserts that consciousness arises from electrons in quantum superposition in little doodads called tubulin dimers within neurons (see, for instance, Penrose’s classic Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness).

Mashing up my reading about the nature of evil with Penrose and Hameroff’s theory led me to the central conceit of my novel, namely that human consciousness comes in three successively more complex varieties, based on the number of electrons that are in quantum superposition in each tubulin dimer.

If one electron is in superposition, I say the person is a philosopher’s zombie—the lights are on, but nobody is home.

If two electrons are in superposition, there is indeed self-awareness and an inner life, but such individuals literally think only about themselves; they have no empathy and are therefore psychopaths (callous manipulators, although not necessarily violent).

And if three electrons are in superposition, then there is a reflection upon the inner life—not just consciousness but conscience.

My novel proposes that each cohort is half the size of the one before: the majority of humans are philosopher’s zombies; a large minority are psychopaths, and only a precious few are empathetic beings.

Of course, all my speculation is wrapped up in a very human story about a man who has transitioned through all three quantum states during a difficult life and is now trying to come to terms with the things he did while devoid of conscience.

While pulling all this together, I consulted with some of the world’s leading thinkers on the science of consciousness (including Hameroff and Chalmers), psychopathy (including Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths), and quantum physics (including John Gribbin, the author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat). My hat is off to them, and all the others who helped me on this journey.

My late mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Ultimately, despite its exploration of why evil exists, my novel does say something nice about the human condition; in the end, Quantum Night is an optimistic book. After all, it’s always darkest before the dawn.


Quantum Night: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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