How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2017

It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Collapsing Empire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Sunday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.

Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: We have quite a few this year! There’s The Collapsing Empire, and the new paperback-sized hardcover edition of Old Man’s War, which by the way is a gorgeous little thing, perfect for gift-giving. Plus the hardcover print edition of The Dispatcher. Also, Jay & Mary’s might still be able to special order hardcover copies of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi — I say might because it was a signed limited edition run and most of the copies are already gone. Worth a try, however (also be aware that as a signed limited edition it’s a little expensive).

(Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my collection of writing-related essays, will be available for the holidays, but only via pre-order at the Subterranean Press site, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll need go order from there. These copies will be signed but I won’t be able to personalize them.)

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to). There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human DivisionFuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock InThe Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

The Big Idea: James Alan Gardner

I’ll start by saying James Alan Gardner’s new novel has my favorite book title of the year. But, of course there’s more going on in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault than a great title. Gardner’s here to tell you about a world of super beings and what having a world full of them means for those beings, and everybody else.

JAMES ALAN GARDNER:

Superheroes. They’re super and they’re heroes. That’s the Big Idea.

I have loved superheroes since I was seven years old and laid out all my comic books on the front sidewalk, so that my friends and I could admire how many there were. It was one of the few times in my life when I’ve made what anthropologists might call a “status display”. I don’t remember how many comics I actually had at that time, but probably less than twenty. On the other hand, AVENGERS #1 was part of the collection, so what I lacked in quantity, I made up for with quality.

At any rate, I’ve been buying and reading comics since the early days of the Silver Age. They were my gateway into science fiction, fantasy, and geekdom; they taught me about science, myth and morality; they demonstrated how to tell stories, and why stories were important.

Perhaps most importantly, the letter columns in the back of comic books made me aware that these stories didn’t miraculously appear out of nowhere. The stories were created by specific people who essentially just made stuff up. If the creators chose to do A rather than B, it wasn’t because A was true and B was false. It was simply because they thought A was more interesting than B. They charted their course by what they believed would appeal to readers, not by fitting the story to events that actually happened.

This revelation put me on the path to becoming a writer too. However, it was years before I decided to write a superhero book. I did so after I’d published a number of science fiction books, but in a period when my work wasn’t selling any more. Because doing the old stuff looked like a dead end, I asked myself what I’d rather be writing instead…and the answer was superheroes.

They’re super and they’re heroes. What else do you need?

I couldn’t set the book in any of the well-known superhero universes—I didn’t want to make the acquaintance of lawyers from DC, Marvel, Image, etc. So I had to invent my own universe, which suited me just fine. All I had to do was bear in mind the Big Idea of superheroes: they’re super and they’re heroes.

The “super” part was straightforward…but what is a hero these days? What makes someone heroic? Not just beating up criminals. Surely a hero should aim higher: fighting larger injustices. But many of the injustices we face are systemic, not just the deeds of individuals. Could I find some way to dramatize that, while still allowing space for super-ness (i.e. explosions, fisticuffs, and firefights)?

I could. I designed a world where the people in power were clearly a problem. I didn’t want them to be unambiguously evil—that’s too simplistic and would make moral choices too easy. On the other hand, I wanted the people at the top to be enough of a threat that the world would need superheroes.

So here’s the set-up I created for All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. In 1982 (not coincidentally the Reagan years), vampires, werewolves and the like finally ask, “Why are we being so secretive? We’re sitting on a marketable asset.” They offer to make any human into a Darkling like themselves in exchange for ten million dollars. Fast-forward a few decades, and virtually everyone in positions of power around the world are Darklings. Supposedly, they all obey the law—no killing or using supernatural powers for nefarious purposes—but let’s just say there are suspicions of covert misdeeds.

Then, in 2001, superheroes show up…almost as if Fate decided that a counterbalance was needed. Unlike the rich buying their place in the Darkness, any old schlub may become a superhero. All you have to do is touch a glowing meteor, fall in a vat of weird chemicals, or get bitten by a radioactive spider. Heck, you might just be born that way, and discover what you are sometime in your teens.

So in this world, the 1% are Darklings and the 99% are protected by superheroes. It’s a situation guaranteed to create conflicts, but neither side is certain to be right or wrong. Super-folk (generally called Sparks) are ordinary people from all walks of life; they aren’t always good guys, any more than the Darklings are 100% bad.

Once I had this background, all I had to do was write a story in it. Hey, no problem. But again, the Big Idea applies. Super. Heroes. I wanted my lead characters to be truly heroic. Of course, they’d have flaws, but their hearts had to be in the right place. I didn’t want antiheroes; I wanted smart decent people whom I’d care about.

I also wanted heroes who represented the 99% in all its wondrous variety, as opposed to the relative monoculture of the 1%. So I came up with a diverse team of four university students who gain superpowers in a classic lab accident, and who find themselves thrust immediately into dealing with a Darkling conspiracy. The students are each heroic in their own distinctive way. Over the course of a four-book series, I hope to have fun exploring those different versions of heroism…

…while also blowing a lot of stuff up. Because the “super” part is important too. Flashy fights and excitement. A rationale for costumes and masks. Banter. Many jokes. The best of what comics can be.

Over the past few years, more and more superhero books are appearing on the shelves. Some are re-examinations of the genre, asking serious questions about what superhero fantasies say about our culture. Fair enough…but there’s also a place for books that glory in the four-color spectacle.

That’s what I was going for: superness and heroism. I hope the two can still bring the fun.

—-

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Full Review of the Pixel 2

After a week and a trip to Minneapolis where I used a lot of its functions, I can now say that I like my new Pixel 2 a whole lot. Let me count some of the ways.

1. Ergonomically I think it’s a winner for me. My last few phones were on the larger size and while the Pixel 2 isn’t tiny (it’s a 5-inch screen), it’s well-proportioned for my hand and it’s reminded me it’s nice not to have to use two hands to do stuff with the phone, and to be able to reach every part of the screen with one’s thumb. I’m sure I’ll succumb to a bigger phone/screen in the future but for now I’m enjoying it.

2. The textured aluminum back to the phone feels solid. It looks like plastic thanks to the texture, but doesn’t feel plastic-y (to me, anyway) and sets on the table with a small yet satisfying thunk. Also, the fingerprint dimple is well-placed and(!) has this feature where swiping down on it pulls down the notification drawer so you can look at it quickly (swiping back up puts it away). This is kind of genius and I use it all the time.

3. The two speakers up front are nice and loud and are positioned so I don’t block them when I hold my phone, which was a problem with the S7 Edge. As I’ve noted before, some reviewers complained that the bezels surrounding the speakers make the phone look blocky, but in practice I’ve found that I simply don’t care; it doesn’t really make a difference to me aesthetically — the phone still looks perfectly good — and doesn’t do anything negative with regard to its use. It’s fine.

4. The screen is bright and colorful and nice to look at. Technically speaking it’s a drop down in resolution from the previous phone I was using (it’s 1920 x 1080, where the S7 Edge was 2560 X 1440), but a) it’s a smaller screen, b) the Edge was set to 1920 x 1080 out of the box and I never bothered to change it, c) it’s a pixel density of 440 per inch, which means it’s more than sharp enough, d) I’m 48 years old and my eyes won’t focus close up so I have to hold it at a distance where there’s no possible way I’ll see individual pixels no matter how hard I try. Yay! Age! Anyway, the screen’s great.

5. The camera is really nice and it does a nifty thing (which I know iPhones do as well), where it does a second-long video capture around the picture, both to give the end photo more information to pull from, and, I guess, just in case you want a one second video. It eats up a larger amount of space than the picture might otherwise (it offers to back up to the cloud to help with that), but it’s still fun. The camera’s portrait mode also tries to fake depth by blurring backgrounds, which I found okay but finicky (a picture with my glasses on the top of my head kept the lenses in focus but blurred the arms). But generally I’ve been pleased with it.

6. The battery life seems to be very solid, which I chalk up to it being a brand new phone but also because the phone runs Android Oreo, which I understand throttles back apps when they’re in the background. It seems to be working. The only times I found the phone really drawing down were when I was in a dead spot and it was searching for a network to connect to.

7. Speaking of Android Oreo, it seems nicely functional, although most of the changes seem to be under the hood. The one major thing I’ve noticed is it does a “picture in picture” thing with YouTube and Maps, laying a tiny version of the screen on top of other apps when you bring them up. This is useful with Maps, less so in my opinion with YouTube, and in both cases the mini-screen is easily dismissed. It’s nice to have the most up-to-date Android experience, however, and Google’s committed to updating the OS for the next three years, i.e., longer probably than I will have the phone in any event.

8. It’s very speedy, thanks to four gigs of RAM, and obviously very well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, which works fine for me, as I am well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, too, for all the good, bad and existentially disquieting things that means these days. Also, and this is minor but actual thing, its alert tones (or the ones I use, anyway ) are pleasing and not at all obnoxious.

9. Oh, and: Google Assistant via squeezing the phone’s sides? Sure, why not. At this point it’s still not 100% intuitive and GA still has a ways to go (even if it’s better than Siri or Bixby) to be truly useful, but the squeeze function is just goofy enough to give the phone a bit of a science fictional feel.

What things don’t I love?

1. There’s absolutely no reason this phone couldn’t have had a headphone jack as far as I can tell. Doing the dongle isn’t horrible (aside from the whole “you must choose between charging and listening” thing) and the sound from my earphones is fine, but yeah, this really just is a decision to try to get you to buy bluetooth headphones, isn’t it.

2. Some fiddly setting bits that I have yet to figure out fully, like the “do not disturb” function, which seems generally inferior to just turning the phone to “vibrate” for alerts. This may be me simply not investigating more fully.

3. Uh, I think that’s it so far?

I will say that generally speaking it seems to me the Pixel 2 is getting caught in the undertow of negative press regarding its larger sibling the Pixel 2XL, which has a problematic screen, especially for something that costs close to $1,000. The 2XL was meant to be the marquee device, with the Pixel 2 being the more affordable also-ran. But inasmuch as the only substantial difference between the two is their size and the screen resolution (and a few hundred dollars in price), if you wanted the most recent Pixel/Android Oreo experience and are okay with a hand-sized phone rather than a tablet-sized one, I can happily suggest the Pixel 2. I don’t think I’ve been this generally pleased with a phone in a while.

The Difference a Day Makes

Same tree, 24 hours difference:

The season is called “Fall” for a reason.