What a very fine stack of new books and ARCs we have going on here. Do you see anything that calls to you here? Tell us in the comments!
What a very fine stack of new books and ARCs we have going on here. Do you see anything that calls to you here? Tell us in the comments!
Here in January of 2018, this is the deal: I’m gonna judge you if you can’t admit openly and without reservation that Donald Trump is a racist. Not just racist, which is to say, he has some defense in the idea that we live in a racist society so we all participate in its racism whether we like it or not, but a racist, as in, he’s actively prejudiced against non-white people and groups, as evidenced by his words and actions, both before he was president but especially since then. If you can’t admit this here in January of 2018, when the evidence of his racism is piled up grossly upon the floor in full view of everyone down to the cats, then I’m going to go ahead and judge you for it. It’s long past time, folks.
(He’s also sexist and religiously bigoted and transphobic and classist, among many other bigotries, but let’s go ahead and save those for another time.)
Mind you, people are still going out of their way to pretend that the president’s comments yesterday about “shithole” countries isn’t really racist (“Well, they are shithole countries, not that I know anything about them, which conveniently means I can elide the centuries of racist colonialism and exploitation countries including the United States have engaged in to help make them so”) or how immediately contrasting those “shithole” countries with Norway isn’t racist (“There are brown people in Norway too, just ask Anders Breivik”) or when all else fails trying to change the conversation to be about whether the word “shithole” was actually used (it was), rather than acknowledging Trump’s entire position in the conversation was racist and “shithole” was just the juicy soundbite.
But we don’t have to be those people. Trump said a racist thing and he wants to keep people from these “shithole” countries from immigrating to the United States (as opposed to people from Norway) because he’s a racist. There are other reasons he doesn’t want them here, to be sure (Trump also hates poor people, as an example, and many of the immigrants are liable to be poor when they arrive), but none of those mitigates or obviates the racism. That it’s there too doesn’t subtract or divide its vileness. It adds and multiplies it.
At this point, there’s nothing to be gained by pretending that Trump isn’t a racist. Rather, the opposite: The willingness to deny Trump’s active, obvious and unsubtle racism suggests not just passive complicity in his racism, but an active participation in it. Trump’s folks in the White House yesterday suggested that his “shithole” comment would resonate with his base, which to be clear, is an explicit acknowledgement by the White House that it considers his base to be just as racist as Trump himself. If you consider yourself part of Trump’s base, you now get the chance to indicate whether or not you are as much of a racist as Trump.
And maybe you are! We do know that while not all Trump voters consider themselves racist, nearly everyone who considers themselves a racist voted for Trump. Maybe you’re one of the people who celebrates Trump’s clear and unambiguous racism. But if you don’t in fact consider yourself a confirmed and unapologetic racist, now is a fine time to make that clear. Even if you supported Trump before, it’s not too late to get off that rapidly-derailing train and to tuck-and-roll yourself clear of the continuing association with the man and his active racism.
And here’s the first test of it: Do you believe Trump is a racist? At this point it’s really a “yes” or “no” question, with no waffling qualifications needed. If you answer anything other than “Yes,” to that, well. You should really ask yourself why. And in the meantime, expect to be judged. By me, as noted. But, I strongly suspect, by others as well.
I mentioned on Twitter that when it comes to PC-based video games, I have a keyboard/mouse control scheme that horrifies and mystifies everyone who learns about it, because it is so far deviant from the traditional “WASD” setup that people don’t know what to think about it. This of course meant I was immediately asked to reveal my heretical control scheme. I will do so now.
Basically, I do everything on the numberpad and the mouse and don’t use the primary keyboard at all. Also, I use these mappings primarily for first person shooters, as that’s my favorite type of game, although I also do usually map other types of games to some variation of this control scheme. Also also, I don’t claim this to be the best controlmapping scheme, merely the one that I’m used to; I’ve been using some variation of this since the Quake days 20 years ago. I will say WASD feels awfully cramped to me and I don’t know how it became the standard.
So here’s how I map my controls on the numberpad and mouse.
Mouse Button 1: Walk forward
Mouse Button 2: Walk backward
Mouse Button 3: Weapon selection (both by scrolling with the mousewheel and holding down and selecting with the button when enabled in the game (see: Crysis and Wolfenstein)
Mouse Button 4: Grenades (when enabled)
Mouse Button 5: Sniper zoom (when enabled)
General mouse movement: Free look
7: Strafe left
9: Strafe right
4: Lean left
6: Lean right
Enter: Fire secondary
Page Down: Use
8,5,2,1,3,-, pageup, home, end: Available for other controls the specific game might have, like sprint or map or inventory or health regeneration or whatever.
This works for me because it puts all the primary movement into the mouse and most of the secondary functions onto the numberpad. The mouse is all about looking and moving, the numberpad about shooting and occasionally ducking, leaning and jumping. Also the number keys aren’t staggered weirdly like the keys on the larger keyboard; they’re straight up and down and across, which for me makes them easier to use in a game situation.
As far as I know there’s only one other person in the world who regularly uses this setup: My kid, who naturally learned it from me, because she started playing video games on my rig. She, like me, is not sure why anyone does it any other way. I don’t expect other people to come around to our way of thinking on this, mind you. People use what they’re used to. This is what I’ve been used to for 20 years. It works for me.
Today on the Big Idea: Author Michael Moreci, with his novel Black Star Renegades, shows you how to write a media tie-in that’s not a media tie-in and in fact becomes something else entirely in the telling.
A lot of writers will probably hate me for this, but the idea for Black Star Renegades was kinda given to me. But don’t worry, because this stroke of fortune was proceeded by years and years misery. I’ll explain:
I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Like, it’s unhealthy. I talk about it a lot (sorry to you, my lovely and patient wife), and I write about it a lot (on my own website and for StarWars.com). I even have the Rebel sigil tattooed on my forearm. My brother has the matching Empire sigil on his forearm, so I’m not alone in this. Anyway. One day, I received a call from an editor at St. Martin’s, the future editor of Black Star Renegades. His name is Marc, and Marc said, “Mike, you love Star Wars. Write me something that’s Star Wars.” My first impression was “Isn’t that illegal?” but Marc explained that he wanted something that captured the spirit of Star Wars—pulpy space adventure with a lot of heart, great characters, and boundless imagination. I agreed immediately. Even if Marc had been asking me to write an unsanctioned Star Wars novel, I still would have agreed.
Now, like I said: there’s misery to this story as well. Because the only reason I was on Marc’s radar is because I’d been pitching him for years. I can fill a graveyard with my rejected pitches (and, truthfully, that’s where most of those pitches belong). But that’s how most of professional goes—it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the trick is to stick around long enough (and be good enough) to one day catch your break. And that’s what happened with Black Star Renegades.
Marc’s phone call and my passion for the galaxy far, far away is what drove the book’s inception. But something strange happened along the way. The more I wrote this book as the stepchild of Lucas’s beloved creation, the less interested in it I became. Don’t get me wrong, Black Star Renegades has Star Wars imprinted in its DNA, and I totally embrace that. I love it for that reason. But I didn’t want my story to be just that. I wanted it to be more, I wanted to have something to say that was my own.
And that’s when it hit me: If I stayed the course and wrote a straight-up Star Wars book, I’d just be a knock-off trying to pass myself off as the real thing. I’d be that dude in the subway selling Versachi bags, and I didn’t want to be that dude in the subway selling Versachi bags.
So I did the only logical thing: I killed the real deal. In the book! I killed the real deal in the book.
But that’s how Black Star Renegades became interesting to me. See, I’ve always had trouble with the messiah complex. The idea that we should sit around and wait for an all-powerful someone or other to come along and save our butts from the fire isn’t a healthy one. It leads to bad places. Like when, oh, I don’t know, a tyrannical buffoon campaigns under the promise that he’s the only one—him alone—who can solve all the country’s problems. And people actually believe him. Because that’s what we’re taught. Iron Man will save us. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. Harry Potter. Whoever. There’s a magical chosen one, and without this person we wouldn’t be able to do a darn thing on our own. Sure, we can play supporting roles, but at the end of the day, only one person can vanquish Voldemort or Vader
And that simply isn’t true. That narrative is exactly what I wanted to upend.
It’s funny, because there’s something in the water when it comes to deconstructing the chosen one myth-building, because that’s exactly what The Last Jedi is about. Luke says so himself when he asks Rey if she expects him to take on the First Order all by himself, just him and a “laser sword.” At the time, Rey’s answer would have been yes because that’s exactly what she expected. But she comes to learn, like so many characters in the film story, the dangers in relying on one person—good or evil—to save an entire galaxy. And that’s part of the beauty of The Last Jedi: It shows us that we’re all heroes. Rose, Finn, Poe, Rey—they all play a part in being the heroes of this story. And through their combined efforts, that’s when a difference is made.
Black Star Renegades is unquestionably a Star Wars book. But it’s also an anti-Star Wars book. It’s a galaxy where my version of Luke dies in the first act, and everyone else has to step up and fight back against the tyrannical overlord who didn’t get the memo that one person alone isn’t meant to rule everything and everyone. But the heroes did. They learn that real power comes in unity and togetherness, and that’s how they win.
That’s how we all win.
One of those days where my brain is aggressively stuck in neutral, probably brought on by bad sleep, early errands, more bad sleep and possibly on the road to becoming ill. Add it all up: No deep thoughts today, kids, sorry.
How are you? Are you one of the 90% or so of all humans who has been ill recently (including my kid and my wife)? Or have you managed to avoid that viral bullet?
I had a short story come out today: “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time,” as part of the Robots Vs. Fairies anthology. And here’s something I would like to show you, regarding the story: Four takes on “Three Robots,” from four different Goodreads reviews of RvF, each one giving the story one star fewer than the review preceding it (note: minor spoilers in a couple of the reviews):
Which review is correct? Of course, they are all correct. Which is to say, they accurately represent the opinion of the person writing the review. Depending on who you are and what you want out of a story (or what you want out of a story from me), “Three Robots” is a four star story, or a three star story, or a two star story, or a one star story. It might be your favorite story in the collection, or the one you actively hate, or the one you don’t remember the instant you stop reading it. The text of the story is the same regardless of who reads it, but the experience of reading it is unique to the person reading.
This is a very important thing for writers (especially newer writers) to learn and build into their worldview: That everyone’s experience of your work, and any reviews they might then write, are inherently subjective, dependent on the person writing them, and there is nothing in the world you can do about that. That’s just the nature of putting work out into the world. Your job is to write the story as well as you can, and not worry overly much how it will be received. Because, as you can see above, it will be received well, and poorly, and everywhere inbetween.
And yes, learning to be okay with the fact everyone won’t love what you wrote is hard, because everyone has an ego, and everyone likes the validation of people enjoying their work. But as I frequently tell people, there are creators who I admire and whose work I love, and every single one of them has something they’ve created that I don’t like. Sometimes more than one thing! And sometimes it’s more than just not liking; sometimes I kinda actively dislike it. Or even hate it. On the flip side there are creators whose work I mostly dislike who will have that one thing that just works for me, or that I might even love. It happens! And then the whole mass of creators in the inbetween, whose work is mostly okay for me, but occasionally veer into the “like” or “dislike” territory.
If I feel that way about the creators whose work I experience, how can I expect any different from anyone else? I don’t expect everyone to like what I write equally; I don’t even expect people who like what I write to like it all equally — or uncritically. That would be weird and a little unsettling. I mean, you don’t need to tell me personally when I write something you don’t like. Feel free not to. But if you think yourself “I like Scalzi’s work — well, except for [X] which really kinda stank,” congratulations, you’ve passed a Turing test. You’re human.
Write your story and create your work as well as you can. Be as happy as you can with what you write and create before you send it out into the world. That way, no matter what people think or say about it, you can be happy knowing you did as well as you could with it.
Which is how I feel about “Three Robots,” incidentally. I enjoyed writing it, and it did what I wanted it to do, really well. It was fun. If people like or love it, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. They’re entitled to their opinion, and they’re entitled to share that opinion. I’m glad they took the time to read it.
Reminder to all and sundry that Robots Vs. Fairies, an anthology of eighteen stories featuring robots and/or fairies, is out today. I have a story in it, entitled “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time,” in which, well, three robots experience objects left behind from the era of humans for the first time. It’s a very SEO-oriented story title, now that I think about it.
Other authors in the collection include Cat Valente, Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu, Max Gladstone, Tim Pratt, Mary Robinette Kowal and others. It’s been getting lovely reviews (“a cinematic and well-paced collection and will please both science-fiction and fantasy readers with its variety” — Booklist; “Exceptional storytelling and well-paced writing make this volume a total delight” — Library Journal) and is available in the US and Canada in all the usual places online and offline, including your local bookseller.
Congratulations to Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisen, who are the editors of this anthology; they did a fab job selecting stories and writers. If you like robots, or fairies — or both! You don’t have to choose! — you’re going to like this book.
We’re back with Big Ideas for 2018! And to kick us off, author Marieke Nijkamp talks to us of her new novel Before I Let Go, and takes us below the cold surface of a community that holds its secrets close.
“Lost has created new legends since you left. It’s such a human thing to do. We tell stories about what we don’t understand.”
That is what Kyra, one of the main characters in Before I Let Go, writes to her best friend Corey. She never sends that letter, but Corey finds it, eventually, when she investigates Kyra’s death. She finds it along with Kyra’s other letters and other stories—and her hometown’s belief that it lost a prophet.
Stories and storytelling are at the very core of Before I Let Go. The stories we tell about the world, about each other, about ourselves. The stories others tell about us. And the tortured truth that exists somewhere in between.
We tell stories about what we don’t understand. For me, when I was growing up: the world. I was a physically disabled, autistic kid in pre-internet days. I didn’t have a clue how the neurotypical world functioned. So I bonded with fictional characters. I dove deep into their psyches and followed them on their emotional journeys. I would ask myself, unironically, What Would [insert character] Do? if I wasn’t sure about the correct response to a situation.
It was a flawed method of learning. Not in the least because I grew up a fantasy reader. And because I—disabled and queer and strange—didn’t exist with any likeness in those books, and I only learned to be other people, not myself. Still, I had entire worlds at my fingertips to study. It helped me pass as neurotypical magnificently, for as much as that’s a flawed concept too.
(I began to swap out passing as different for embracing who I am when, as a teen, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and role play. when I discovered creating and testing different characters, when I started to write like my life depended on it. And slowly, I learned that understanding is a quest, not a goal.)
We tell stories about what we don’t understand. It was my core tenet at college and grad school, where I spent my time with medieval manuscripts and the history (and politics) of ideas. I learned to ask questions: which narratives were we reading? Where did they come from? What were they trying to achieve? Which narratives survived the ages? Why did they survive the ages? Who tells a story? Why do they tell a story? What is the purpose of a word, a scene, the whole work, of its existence?
Who does a story belong to anyway? Both? Who do we listen to? Who do we trust? What was said in the tales that don’t exist any longer? What stories have we silenced? And whose voices do we silence still?
They’re good questions outside the realm of medieval manuscripts too.
We tell stories about what we don’t understand. That’s how Kyra went through life, and there is a personal truth to it too. That quest for understanding is why I’m a writer. All my books and short fiction start with questions, even those so deceptively simple as how, why, what if.
The answers are far more complex—and always purposeful. I manipulate narrative threads. I make decisions about what details to keep out and what to leave in. Every word, every scene is a conscious choice. Every silence, too. After all, sometimes the most important stories exist between the lines of what is told and untold.
The truth can appear malleable, even though facts are still facts. Manipulation influences interpretation. And stories are both the most wondrous type of magic and the most dangerous things in the world.
“We tell stories about what we don’t understand,” Kyra writes, before she dies, lost and lonely. “I just never considered what it would be like to be at the heart of one of those stories. I want to study myths, not star in one.”
And that’s the heart of it: the spark for this book. From there, Kyra’s legends, Corey’s storytelling, and the tales others weave around them never quite line up. At the start of her investigation, all Corey knows for a fact is that her best friend is dead. And the truth to why, how is yet to be uncovered.
Some might say that stories killed Kyra; others that they saved her. I say Before I Let Go is a love letter to storytelling—but maybe it’s a warning too. In truth, it may be all of the above. Let’s just say, it depends quite a bit on which side of the story you take.
As with much of North America, around here it’s been single digits (Fahrenheit) and below for several days, which means the cats are spending almost all of their time indoors. As the days have ground on they’ve started getting crankier with each other, and so we have more-than-usual moments like this, where they tussle with each other, I suspect more out of boredom than anything else. Which is fun for the rest of us — look! Small predators fighting each other is adorable! — but I suspect increasingly less fun for them. The good news is the temperatures are going up above freezing in the next few days, so they can get away from each other again in the great outdoors.
I posted a small video of the Scamperbeats tussling on Twitter earlier in the day with the caption “Cue Star Trek fight music,” and I’m happy to say someone obliged:
We are all doing what we can to keep ourselves amused in the winter cold.
I wrote this tweet the other day about a minor dustup in the science fiction community:
Which led an obnoxious twit to blather, more or less, “Yeah, well, I think you’re an obnoxious twit, Scalzi! What if I want you banned from a convention?!?” I think the argument here (such as it is) is that I would recoil in horror at the idea that a science fiction convention might decide to disinvite me, of all people, to their soiree.
But inasmuch as science fiction conventions are almost always private entities with control over who they allow in and who they don’t, in fact, I find it entirely unobjectionable that one might wish to seek to keep me from attending, for whatever reason. So I suppose if someone wished to register a complaint about my attendance, they should take it up with the convention committee. If the convention committee was convinced (and presuming I was planning to attend at all), they would let me know I was not welcome. Seems pretty simple.
And if a convention decided I was not welcome at their event, how would I take it? I mean, I would hope they’d tell me before I made flight arrangements and my hotel rooms were non-refundable, but otherwise, meh, it’d be fine. Generally I prefer not be in places I’m not wanted, and if the convention committee was telling me to go away, that’s a pretty good, non-subtle hint. Which means my weekend is now free! Which is excellent, I usually have things to do on a weekend, even if those things are “watch six hours of How It’s Made in a row and then take a nap.” Which these days is a pretty great weekend, I have to tell you.
(Mind you, I would be curious to know what the material objection to my presence would be; I don’t really have a reputation for being, say, a grasping creep who has designs to harass people and then pretend like I’m the injured party, for example, or for being a difficult attendee in a general sense. But I’m sure someone could come up with something. Whether it would have merit would, of course, be up to the convention itself to decide.)
But certainly, if you have a problem with me attending a convention, let the convention committee know. I have absolutely no doubt they will give the complaint the consideration it deserves.
A new year, a new stack of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Which of these works would you like to be one of your first reads of 2018? Tell us in the comments!
This last October I went to my 30th reunion at my high school, and had a very lovely time of it; I did a reading for my former classmates and others, hung around with old friends and generally enjoyed the company of people I had known for decades now. My school asked me to write up a piece about the experience for our alumni magazine (and yes, I went to a high school of the sort that has alumni magazines). So I did, writing about why this 30th reunion was my favorite of all the reunions I’ve been to. If you’re curious about it, the piece is here.
Reading a TV script based on something you wrote and thinking, “that’s a bit of all right, that is.”
Can’t tell you more at the moment, I’m afraid. But I think you’re going to enjoy it one day.
Enjoy your Thursday!
Another year, another quick post to let you know what work I have for you to consider for awards and such. Ready? Here we go:
The Collapsing Empire (3/21/17; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor)
Best Related Work/Non-fiction/Collection:
Don’t Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017 (12/31/17; Subterranean Press)
“The Dispatcher” was published in print in 2017, but first appeared in audio in 2016, which generally counts as first publication. It’s definitely ineligible for the Hugo and the Nebula and the Locus (which it was a finalist for last year in any event).
And that’s what on tap this go around.
Well, here’s a nice way to start the new year: The mass market paperback version of The Collapsing Empire is out today in the US and Canada, available at your local indie and chain bookstores as well as through your favorite online retailers. If you’ve got gift cards or certificates to burn, this is a very fine way to do it! And remember that the sequel, to be called The Widening Gyre, is coming out in October (presuming I finish writing it in time, which I will), so you won’t have that long to wait for it.
Also! Remember that my non-fiction collection Don’t Live For Your Obituary is out now, too! Ten years of observations and commentary on the writing life, all in one conveniently collated book. Just $5 in its ebook form.
Thank you for indulging today’s self-advertisements. As you were.
I’m so glad you asked! Yes, I have a few. In no particular order, these are the things I’m going to try doing here in 2018.
1. Better diet and exercise. I’m up above 190 pounds, which is not great on my particular frame, and a good general description for me in 2017 was tired. Also I ate a lot of junk in 2017, and not just in burritos, for those of you who were about to make that crack. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating junk if it makes you happy, but I think I should probably eat less of it this year, since I’m not happy with the results of eating so much of it.
So: I’m going to eat less junk, take in fewer calories in general, and exercise not so much to lose weight but to get up my energy levels. We have a treadmill in the basement. That seems like a good place to start. Which brings us to my next resolution:
2. No computer before exercise. Which I started today; I walked two miles on the treadmill before I came up here to type this. The idea here is, honestly, once I park myself in front of the computer I’m pretty much here for the day. So before I get here, maybe I should go take a walk or something. I brought my tablet down and watched part of a movie while I walked. It was not horrifyingly onerous. I think I can do this on a daily basis.
(Before someone suggests a treadmill standing desk: Dudes, I already have a treadmill and a desk. I don’t need to mate them into an unholy union. Don’t spend my money for me, please.)
Speaking of “No [x] before [y]”:
3. No social media or news before noon. I think my major fall down of 2017 was that I let the world intrude on what is my prime creative time, which is the period of time between when I wake up and when I have lunch. Now, 2017 was a historically bad year, but honestly in retrospect there was nothing so very awful that I couldn’t have waited until after noon to find out about it (or that I could have done anything useful about until then). And the thing is, news and social media helped punt me out of my creative space — I’d get worked up and angry (and depressed), and that’s not conducive to building out the lives and adventures of fake people in my head, which is how I make my living.
“No internet before noon” is not new for me — it’s been a cornerstone of my getting work done for a while. What was new, to be blunt about it, was my willingness to ignore my own established process. A new year is a fine time and place to re-establish that old rule and stick to it.
4. More time reading books. I read a historically low number of books in 2017, which was a real problem, since, you know, I like books, and a lot of my friends write them and are good at writing them. So I’m going to make an effort to put more books into my eyeballs. Lord knows I have enough books in the house. This should not be a hugely difficult thing for me. Also, in general:
5. Less time on the computer — or perhaps more accurately, less time on the computer staring glassily into Twitter and Facebook as a default. I love the feeder bar aspect of social media, I really do, but perhaps I love it a smidge too much, and there are other things I could be doing with my time that I actually like doing. I bought myself a raft of music production software in 2017; 2018 might be the time to start learning how to use it. Or maybe get better playing guitar. Or doing more photography. Or just spending more time with Krissy, you know, my wife, who is fabulous and really cool and interesting.
As much as I love social media, for 2018 I think I’m going to approach it with the question “Isn’t there something else you could be doing?” in my mind. I’m not getting any younger, and I do suspect that when I’m on my deathbed, I won’t be wishing I spent more time on Twitter (“Lol, totally dying right now #ReincarnationBetterHappen #ComeBackAsAPangolin”).
Basically, these resolutions boil down to: Get organized, move around, don’t spend all day in front of the computer and when you are there, have a purpose. That seems reasonable for 2018.