1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirty: Time

This entire series is about time; it makes sense to end it with a piece directly on the subject.

There are a number of ways for me to consider time, particularly since 1998, the year in which I started Whatever, and the point in which, for the purposes of this series, I start considering the world and my place in it. I could say that now, twenty years on from 1998, I have less time than I did then. Time is ticking, I’m not getting younger, and all that. Conversely, however, I’ve had more time since then. So many things have happened — the birth of my daughter, the debut of my novels, all the joys and successes of the last two decades — that I could not have imagined when I first sat down in September of 1998 to write that first Whatever post.

Should I be sad that I have less time now? Or happy that I have had more time since then, for all the wonderful things and people in these last twenty years?

It’s a trick question, I think. I have neither more time nor less time than I had in 1998. I have always had the same amount of time, and that amount of time has always been finite. What’s true then is what’s true now: That I have no idea of how much time I have, except in a highly generalized “here’s what the human life expectancy is on average” sort of way. But whatever that amount of time is, it’s what it always has been, in a very real sense. Just because I currently don’t know its reckoning doesn’t mean it’s not eventually knowable. I will know its total length soon enough (I mean that in a geological sense. Again, I’m in no rush).

In the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman, there’s a scene where the incarnation of Death is doing her rounds. She meets up with someone who have lived a very long time, and who wonders if that long lifetime was enough. Death replies that he got what everyone gets: One lifetime, no more or less. In one hand, that comment is literally comic book sophistry, but on the other hand it is also absolutely correct. We all get one life, no more, no less. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and the time of it, in a very real sense, won’t matter. Every moment of time we have will collapse into the singularity of the past, gone and inaccessible. Live for a day, live for a hundred years, what eventually comes of it is a single point of fact: You existed.

It’s an equal and banal truism that it’s not the years in your life but the life in your years. There have been people who have changed the world and their culture who lived a relative handful of years, and people who have lived for a century who, as far as anyone outside their immediate family are concerned, have done nothing notable other than to simply not die for a statistically rare amount of time. The old joke is “by the time Mozart was my age, he’s been dead for [x] years,” which is a reminder that life ultimately is not about the amount of time but what one can do with it.

But at the same time I kind of hate that formulation. Yes, by the time Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for fourteen years. But at the age Mozart died, I was only just then having my first novel published — everything I am likely to be remembered for, to the extent that I will be remembered at all, happened to after the age of 35. Does this mean I was wasting my time before that age? No, it means that whatever was required for me to create, and be in a place and time where my novels could be published, took place in that time. No time was wasted, because I was becoming the person who could write novels that people wanted to read.

Which is to say that the “life in your years” doesn’t mean you have to hit the ground running, achieve everything before you wrinkle and die leaving a beautiful corpse. The “life in your years” can be at any point in your years, and can be in all of your years. Nor does it mean, with apologies to Mozart and even to myself and my scribblings, that you have to do something intended for the world to see. The person who mindfully lives a just and moral and kind life has lived a life with value beyond themselves, even if no one other than their closest friends and family ever know of them.

So what if no one else ever knows them? Because that is a thing, too: We all get swallowed by the singularity of time. Some resist its gravity longer than others but eventually we all fall beneath its event horizon. Time claims most people when the people who remember them pass on; creators are claimed when their works lie unread or unseen or unheard (or unattributed). The time I will be remembered will likely be more than your average accountant and less than Mozart. But even Mozart’s memory will have its time and then it will be gone too.

Don’t worry about Mozart. He’s beyond caring. As I will be, and as will that accountant. We’ll have had our time, and made our marks, or not, and will have moved on. We will have our lifetime, no more or less. And then it and we will be gone, and time will have moved on, and other people will have their one lifetime, with all the time they will ever have within them as well. It’s how it works. It’s how it’s always worked.

I try not to worry too much about the time I have left. Aside from basic maintenance like diet and exercise and not going out of my way to taunt grizzlies, it’s not up to me. I make plans and work toward a future I want (and for a future beyond what I will see myself), and do so with the realization that not everything I plan may be realized in my lifetime. I am glad for the time I have had, for the experiences and joys and the people in it, who have made my time so heartbreakingly wonderful.

My time will pass. Your time will pass. Everyone’s time will pass. Even the sun’s time will pass and after it, the entire universe. We all get one lifetime, no more or less.

And you might ask, well, what’s even the point? If it all passes in time, even the universe, why do anything?

Well, what else are you going to do with your time?

But more completely, just because we all eventually stop having time doesn’t mean the time you have doesn’t matter — to yourself, to the people who love you and who you love, or even to the world. You live in a vanishingly small slice of time, true. But in that vanishingly small slice of time also exists the whole of the universe, and billions of people, and everyone you will ever meet and know and care about and love. You can use your time caring about them and for them, celebrating their joys and healing their sorrows, telling them stories and singing them songs and painting them great canvases of color. What you do matters when you do it. It may even matter when your time has passed.

Not forever — nothing lasts forever — but remember: “The life in your years.” In this time, and in your time, you can do things that mean something. You can mean something. For enough time to make a difference.

I’ve had 20 years writing here on Whatever. It’s given me joy, helped me make sense of myself and the world, introduced me to dear friends and has literally changed my life. I don’t regret any of the time I’ve given to it, and am glad I have taken the time to do it. I don’t know how much more time I’ll write here — one never knows! Time is like that! — but until the time I stop, however it is I stop, I plan to enjoy the time I spend writing it.

I hope you will, too. Thank you for taking the time to read it, and me.

Krissy Gets Ready For October

She’s goth!

(She’s not really goth. In fact this picture she’s in our kitchen and if memory serves is looking down to see whatever damn fool thing Smudge is up to. But Photoshop is a hell of a thing.)

Here’s a less goth photo of Krissy. She was walking down our stairs and I called to her and snapped this photo as she looked back.

She looks like this. Walking down stairs. So, uh, yeah.

(“But did you use Photoshop on that one, too?” Well, obviously I did, for color correction and contrast and so on. My stairwell does not have diaphanous lighting all on its own. But Krissy is Krissy. She is her own special effect.)

In other news, I’m glad my wife tolerates me taking so many pictures of her. She’s my favorite photographic subject, no offense to my cats.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Nine: Death

Well, I guess it’s closer now than it was in 1998, isn’t it?

Not that I knew that in 1998, by which I mean I couldn’t have been 100% certain then I would reach 2018. Statistically speaking, it was likely in 1998 that I would live another 20 years, in that I had no major chronic illnesses or habits that would put me within death’s grasp — I didn’t indulge in hard recreational drugs or do daily BASE jumps or anything like that. But you never know, do you. Car crashes kill a lot of people annually, and I do regularly drive or am carried in cars. Perfectly healthy people randomly develop cancers. I’ve slipped down my stairs at least four or five times in the last twenty years, each time ending in nothing worse than a bruised tailbone, but each time it could also have been worse. I could slip in the shower and klunk my head. That does in a whole lot of people. There are lots of statistically not improbable ways to die young, before you even get to the unlikely but flashy ways, like lightning strikes or bear attacks.

So, I could have died sometime in the last twenty years. Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Absolutely. And this would have upset me, because in the last twenty years I had unfinished business.

For example, raising my kid. Aside from the personal desire to not miss any part of her childhood, there is also the fact that, provided you’re not a terrible parent of the sort children write gut-wrenching memoirs about later, after years of therapy, it messes up kids to have parents die while they’re still growing up. I wouldn’t have wanted to have my own kid go through that, if it was at all avoidable. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on the experience of being a parent to her, and being a parent along with Krissy.

I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any part of the last twenty years with Krissy, either. She’s pretty great, you know, and I’m a better person because I’ve gotten to be with her. I wouldn’t be the person I am without her, so in a way I would be incomplete as a person if I had had to leave her at any point in the last twenty years (it’s not to say that here in 2018, I’ve been perfected. I still have work to do. I’m just further along). The same thing applies to my friends, both the ones I’ve known for the full two decades, and the ones I’ve met since 1998, some of which are now among my best friends. I think of the people I’ve gotten to know, and would be sad to have missed any of them, and the experience of having them in my life.

And then there’s the other stuff. My life’s work, as it were.

Look. With work, I try to practice what I call a philosophy of sufficiency, which among other things means looking around at what you have and saying, if this is what I get, it’s been enough. This has meant that when I hit any particular milestone in my writing life, I could be happy with that in itself and not necessarily worry about what might come next. So: I’ve written a novel? Awesome, no matter what, I’ll have done that. Sold and published the novel? Cool, I’ll always have been a published author now. Been asked to write a sequel? Groovy, the books have done well enough that people affirmatively want more. And so on.

I’ve not been perfect practicing this concept of sufficiency; when I won the Hugo for Best Novel, one of primary emotions I felt was relief, because now this was a thing I didn’t have to worry about anymore, which meant I had been worrying about it. But even when I slipped, I still had it as a practice: Be happy with what you have achieved. Enjoy the moment you’re in now, because you don’t get to go back to it later. Plan for tomorrow but don’t neglect today, because today will always be a thing you did.

For the last twenty years, at every step, I practiced happiness at where I was at. At the same time there were still things I wanted to do, and things in my career I wanted to see if I could achieve. I like to think I could have been happy with where I had gotten, if I had suddenly needed to go and this, whatever this ended up being, was as far as I got. But there still would have been other things I would have wanted to do in my career, or at least, to see if I could do them. In 1998, there were a lot of these other things.

Now it’s 2018, and guess what? I kind of did everything I wanted back in 1998, and even before then. Or, to put it in another, more relatable way: I got to be the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t still things I want to do, careerwise. I think it would be nifty if anything of mine ever finally made it to film or TV, for example, and there are a few other things I’d love to do, with my writing and in other areas, before I shuffle off. But in a sense all of that is gravy. My philosophy of sufficiency tells me that what I have already gotten is not only enough for me and my career desires, but that I’ve gone beyond that now. Not matter what else I do, I feel like I’ve hit all my marks.

So now I’m ready to die!

Well, no. Not precisely. I’m very happy to stick around for a while yet. There is more for me to see and do, including the things I don’t even know I will be happy to experience when they happen. What I am saying is that for the last few years I’ve felt like, if something happened and I had to go, I wouldn’t be saying, “but wait –“. For the last few years I’ve been feeling that if this was all that I got, that it’s been more than enough. That I’ve done enough, seen enough, loved enough and been enough that it would be okay to go, if I had to.

Which is kind of a weird feeling, I have to say. Again, I’m not in a rush to die. I like existing. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I don’t believe I’ll exist as a consciousness after I die. I won’t be anymore, except in the abstract manner of my writing (hello!) and in the memories of other people. I’m not scared of death, but it does make me sad. Existence is pretty great, or has been for me.

But it’s not like we get a choice in the matter. We all die. Sooner or later, our brief moment here is gone and what we had is all we’ll ever have. At 49, I’m perfectly happy to have another decade or four (or six!) before I have to go. But it’s a comfort, in an existential sense, to feel like one has done enough with one’s life that leaving meant no unfinished business left behind.

That’s where I am now, at least. I wonder if 69-year-old me (or 89-year-old me!) will look back on these words and think, oh, kid. You have no idea what else life had in store for you. I kind of hope he does, and that the years in between now and then were also enough, in their way. I’ll let you all know, if I get there.

New Books and ARCs, 9/28/18

As we head into the last weekend of September, we have before us a very fine stack of new books and ARCs to consider. Which of these would you be happy to have with you as the leaves begin to turn? Tell us in the comments.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Eight: Age

Well, I’m twenty years older now than I was in 1998, that’s for sure.

I haven’t minded getting older in these last twenty years, I have to say. For one thing, bluntly, the last twenty years have been great for me, in terms of career and life and general happiness. If the worse things that’s happened to you in twenty years is that you’ve gotten balder and thicker, then you’re generally okay anyway, but on the karmic scale, since 1998, a lot more has been positive than negative. For another thing, I’m not dead yet, which is also a thing. Inasmuch as getting older is the only possible alternative to getting dead, for the moment at least, I will take getting older.

But aside from those two things I’ve appreciated some of the gifts that age has given me. I appreciate that I am more experienced now than I was twenty years ago — I talked a little bit about that in terms of my writing career already, but I’ve benefited from experience in a general sense as well. I know more about people, both generally and regarding the specific people in my life. That makes me more able to treat them fairly and compassionately. I’m more experienced with the ways of the world; this doesn’t lead to resignation but rather makes me more likely to look at things long-term, both in their effects, and in my own planning.

It also gives me a better sense of myself. I’ve had longer to know myself, and my place in the grand scheme of things, and I’ve lived long enough to see the frame of reference in my life begin to shift. Experience is not the same thing as wisdom, I’d note. You can experience a lot and still not learn from it, and as time goes by I realize some people are determined not to learn. I try to learn. I do think I’m wiser than I was twenty years ago, but I’ll leave it to others to tell me if they think that’s accurate.

Another gift of age is that I’m more calm. For the purposes of this site and this series, I think this is most evident in the fact that how I deal with the online world is different than it was twenty or even ten years ago. I’m much less inclined now to go looking for fights of any sort online, whereas before I would happily do so. Several years ago Krissy said to me “I used to be worried about how much you argued with people online until I realized that it was your equivalent to watching TV,” i.e., it was how I entertained myself. She was accurate about this at the time, although I wasn’t sure then, and am not sure now, that this said good things about my character.

As difficult as it may be to believe, I argue with people far less online now. Partly because I don’t have time anymore — I’m busier now than I used to be — but also partly because I don’t want to nearly as much. Online scraps are not entertaining anymore, not because they’re any different (they’re really not), but because I’m different. I’d rather play a video game or watch The Good Place. Or, alternately, take that energy I used to give to pointless fights and do something useful with it. I’m not saying I don’t argue at all; I think it’s obvious I still do from time to time. But I do ask if it’s worth my time. I do have less time than I had 20 years ago, after all.

My being more calm encompasses more than just fighting online, mind you. But again, this is the example most of you see, so it’s the example I’m using. If you need another one, here’s a quick one: I used to be a genuinely awful traveler because delays and other mishaps would make me fly into a cold rage. Then I grew up and realized that turning into a massive dick because of things that were out of my control wasn’t helping anyone. I’m a better traveler now — not perfect, but better.

Another gift is that I think I am (overall) more kind. A lot of that came with the understanding that other people were not required to be one way or another just so it’s easier for me to understand or categorize them; some more of it came with the understanding that (most) people really do see themselves as the hero of their own story and doing the morally correct thing. I can empathize with people better than I used to; I think I understand them better as well. Most importantly, I don’t need them to be something I can easily put into a box in order to treat them as human. And yes, this includes people I disagree with politically. I think it’s important to view and treat (most of) them with kindness, even when I oppose them politically and point out how the politicians and policies they support are hurting people (including them). Note, as I’ve mentioned before, that “kind” is not always the semantic equivalent of “nice”; I think this is important to remember.

Especially remember that when I mention the next gift of age: Fewer fucks to give. As in, fewer concerns what anyone else other than my wife and kid thinks of me; fewer concerns about what I say impacting my career; fewer concerns about whether what I say makes me any new friends. This doesn’t mean I don’t listen when people disagree with what I say. I try to do that; that’s often how you learn things. It does mean that if I’ve well-considered my words and actions, and someone still disagrees, my response is likely to be, I’m okay that you disagree.

But you’re such a virtue signaller, Scalzi! The the kids say, lol, no. Upcoming book title aside, the point of of having few fucks to give is that I don’t feel an obligation to signal any particular thing at all. I don’t worry about sharing an opinion — or not sharing an opinion! Sometimes I look at something that’s the rage du jour and where I might have previously thought the world needs to know the Scalzi take on this, these days I’ll just… not. Lack of fucks also means an adjustment to the ego, and accepting the world is okay with me opinion on every single thing that happens.

These are all useful gifts, and I got them by getting older. I earned them over the years. They’re not the only gifts I’ve gotten, just the ones I’m noting at the moment. There are others. But these are enough that you get the jist of what I’m saying. Age has done well for me overall. I hope that continues. I still want to grow as I get older. I hope I get to grow as long as I’m around.

The Whatever Digest, 9/28/18

To start the day off on a high note, look what arrived today:

It’s the first author copy of The Consuming Fire, which is out in a week and a half. It looks fabulous. It feels fabulous. It is fabulous. And while we’re on the topic, I got a sneak preview the other day of the Booklist review of the novel, which is positive and features this line: “Scalzi once again demonstrates why he’s one of the most popular SF novelists currently writing.” So I have that going for me, which is nice.

This copy is not my copy, I’ll note. It goes to Krissy, who gets the first copy of everything. Because Krissy, that’s why.

Also: Hey! The book’s coming out in two and a half weeks, and which means now is a fine time to pre-order it so you have on release day. You can pre-order from favorite local bookseller, your favorite online bookseller, and over at Audible if you like audiobooks (this one is narrated by Wil Wheaton). And remember I’ll also be on tour. I’ll be talking more about that soon.

Getting the first finished copy of your book never gets old, by the way. It’s still amazing to me I get to do this thing for a living.

***

Oy, Kavanaugh. Honestly, that’s all I have for that spittle-flecked, embarrassing bundle of privileged rage, except to say that if this is how he is dry, I absolutely, 100% believe he’s capable of horrible things when he’s drunk — and he does like his beer, doesn’t he? It’s clear his appalling little show yesterday was aimed at one person in particular: President Trump, who likes his men angry and aggressive and dismissive of women. Well, Kavanaugh was certainly that, wasn’t he. I didn’t think he deserved to be on the Court before yesterday, but after yesterday I think where he really needs to be is in counseling. He’s got a lot to work on before he’s fit to be out in the world. That he’s still a candidate for the court, and still has a good chance of being confirmed, is an actual embarrassment and an insult.

***

On a more pedestrian note, this is the last “digest” entry for September; by the time Monday rolls around it will be October and I will be done with this particular experiment. I think it went pretty well, and it’s done what I wanted it to do, which was to give me an opportunity to write about more things, briefly, and then go on to other things during the day.

Will I continue it? Probably. I don’t know that I will want to do it every day, and there are days when I will I just want to do entries on one thing. But as an occasional thing when I have short thoughts on a number of topics, it’s a good format. And also, after a month of doing it, I think it’s been sufficiently reintroduced here as a format, so that if I do it later it doesn’t seem weird or out of place. So: You’ll probably see digests in the future, now and then. Thanks for reading along while I tried them out again.

***

And actually October on Whatever will be — probably a little hectic. I’m on tour for half the month (and then will be in France for the first week of November). The other half of the month I want to finish off a writing project. So I’ll be busy the whole month! Wheee! Being busy beats the alternative. Even so, expect lots of pictures out of hotel windows and hopefully some other stuff as well.

***

To wrap up these September digests, please enjoy this picture of Krissy and Smudge. I know I do.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Seven: Fame

I touched on fame (such as mine is) briefly before in this series, but I was asked to expand on it a little. The topic I had scheduled today was pretty nebulous, so, sure! Let’s swap this one in instead.

I usually start any discussion of my fame by noting that I am not, in fact, actually famous. I am, at best, situationally famous. Which is to say, put me in a science fiction convention or a literary festival or on a book tour, and for the time I’m there, I’m notable, and a celebrity, and someone people are excited to meet, provided they match the face with the name. Take me out of those contexts and I’m just another middle-aged dude. I have on very rare occasions been recognized outside of context; enough that it’s amusing, not enough that it’s tiring and intrusive.

But in 1998, I wasn’t really even that. Prior to that date, I had been a minor local celebrity in Fresno, California, because I was a film critic and columnist there. and my picture was in the paper next to all my articles, and I would be on local radio and talk shows. That ended in 1996, when I left Fresno for a job at America Online. After that I was just another dude working at a tech company, and then, after I was laid off, just another dude freelancing.

There was some notability (or notoriety) attached to my name after I started Whatever, since I was one of the early adopters of the blog format and I was putting material out there regularly, and I, uh, wasn’t shy about my opinions. Was it fame? I don’t know. The joke about the early blogosphere was a take-off on Warhol’s prediction that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes — “In the blogosphere, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.” That wasn’t inaccurate! There were a lot of blogs with a small but committed group of readers, and to those readers, you were someone, because you were who they read. After Whatever debuted and for a few years afterward, I was “famous” to a few thousand people.

My real punt into fame, if you want to call it that, happened in 2006, and I can very specifically tell you when it was: It’s when Old Man’s War was nominated for the Best Novel Hugo Award, and I was also nominated for the Campbell. That was an unusual enough combination (I was the first to manage it in two decades) that in the science fiction community I stopped being just another writer, and became someone of note, starting an upward trend that (for the moment, anyway) more or less maintains.

All of this is pointing around the concept of fame rather than pointing at it — it’s leaving unaddressed the question of what “fame” actually is. I think the answer to that is actually pretty simple. At the very root of it, you’re famous if the number of people who know of you is higher than the number of the people you know of. Everything else about fame is elaboration.

So let me go back to my initial statement, that I am not, in fact, actually famous. Well, in fact, by the definition I just outlined, I am famous. Since 2005, I’ve sold a hell of a lot of books; the people who read them have some inkling of who I am. A certain subset of those readers have gone out of their way to buy more than one of my books, and for a certain subset of those readers, I am one of their favorite authors. Even if we were to consider just the third set, it’s a number of people larger than I could credibly get to know in any real sense.

So I’m famous after all!

Well.

The thing is, by this definition, so is your high school principal, if you went to a large school. The definition isn’t wrong, but it’s not all we mean by “famous,” or really what we think of as “famous.” Your high school principal isn’t famous like Gal Gadot (to pull a name out of a hat) is famous; neither am I. So what else is going on with fame, besides more people knowing you than you know?

Those other things include but aren’t limited to: General positive associations about you (if it goes the other way, you’re infamous), actual recognition in public, a personal investment in you and/or the things you do, and a certain amount of fictionalization of your being. The first three of these are easy enough to grasp. The fourth one means that people create version of you inside their head, which may or may not be the person you are on a day-to-day basis, which they then use to model how they feel about you, and use to imagine how you are thinking about things and why you do the things you do.

So, Gal Gadot: Most people think positively of her, because she’s playing Wonder Woman, and who doesn’t like Wonder Woman; a large number of people would notice her if she were walking amongst them; people are invested in seeing more of Gadot, as Wonder Woman if nothing else; and I’m pretty sure people who know of Gadot have a version of her in their head (the one in my head seems generally nice). Add on the sheer number of people who know of her, and guess what? She’s pretty famous overall.

What about me? Well, I’m famous to an exponentially smaller number of people than Gal Gadot, but still enough that I can’t keep track of them all, so that’s our starting point. I think most people who think of me think positively of me, although I know of people who don’t. I’m generally not recognized in public, although on rare occasions I am. Many people are hoping I will continue to write books. And, I speak from experience that there are all sorts of fictionalized versions of me out there, some of them, uh, highly speculative versions of me. So I’m famous-ish? If Gal Gadot has “A”-list general fame, my level of general fame is around “H” level at best.

An even more simple version of this is what I call the Supermarket test: Can you go to the supermarket and shop for any period of time without being bothered? If you cannot, you are famous (or infamous, as the case may be). I can shop unbothered at any supermarket in the United States. Gal Gadot probably can’t. She’s actually famous; I’m actually not.

Which, as I’ve said before, is fine with me. The level of fame I have is enough for my ego gratification, and to open some doors I’m happy to have open. It’s not enough that simply existing in the world is enervating, or that when I meet people I have to always ask myself what they want from me. I don’t have to have bodyguards or assistants to run defense. I don’t always have to be on.

(But you might one day! Maaaaaybe? If any of the film/tv projects get off the ground and become so amazingly popular that they start rewriting common culture, then I might not get to go to the supermarket anymore. But even if the film/tv projects hit the stratosphere — and that is a huge if — I think I’m mostly safe. One, I’m still a writer, not a tv or film star. People are interested in my words more than my face. I’m working in the background, not the foreground. Two, unlike some writers (like Neil or George or Pat), I don’t have a very specific look; I pretty much look like every other balding, middle-aged white dude out there. Three, I mean, I’m almost 50 and I’ve been doing this novel thing for a decade and a half now. I’m way past being the hot new thing. It’s possible I’ll become more famous than I am now, but I suspect that would mean moving from “H” level fame to “E” level fame. You can still go to the supermarket at the “E” level.)

Looking back at 1998 me, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have minded being a little more famous than the 2018 version of him currently is. But the question to ask there is whether he would have wanted that because it’s a level of fame he wanted for itself, or whether it’s the level he expected he would need in order to do the things he wanted to do. My guess (having been that person, and looking back) is that it was about 20% the former and about 80% the latter. The good news for 1998 me is that he got to do all the things he wanted to do with his writing anyway, so that worked out nicely. Likewise, time and experience has suggested that if he had gotten the level of fame he thought he wanted, he wouldn’t necessarily have been happy about it.

It’s good to get some of the things you think you want, but not necessarily all the things you think you want. At least where fame is concerned.

The Whatever Digest, 9/27/18

Let’s start with a cat picture, shall we? 

There. Whatever else happens with the day, you’ve still had a cat picture. And that’s something!

***

No, I won’t be watching the Kavanaugh/Ford thing today. I have a very nice television and I don’t want to break it by throwing a shoe at it. Also, my home Internet is still down (the technician is coming today, presumably; presumably they should be here by now, so you can tell everything is going swimmingly there), so watching it there is probably iffy. I could get the live feedback from Twitter, but that’s going to be nothing but rage, even if justifiably so. My plan is to catch the transcript after. Reading will be quicker and probably slightly less infuriating.

I’m still flummoxed — but I suppose I’m not, really — at the GOP’s utter persistence with keeping Kavanaugh as their pick for the court. Court nominees have been derailed for much less than this, Kavanaugh is deeply unpopular, and he is causing the GOP to hemorrhage support from women. Again, the optics of the GOP pushing hard to seat on the court a man credibly accused by three women in sworn affidavits of sexually harassing behavior, to be the key vote in overturning Roe v. Wade (or simply whittling it down to nothing while still technically keeping it on the books) is the perfect example of a pyrrhic victory. But then today’s GOP is not much for thinking ahead; it’s how it got Trump.

I’m also less than sympathetic to the GOP and its supporters being outraged that Kavanaugh is somehow being held to the same standard that the GOP expects everyone but them to be held to. The mewling about they’re destroying an innocent man! when they would literally leap over their hobbled, inform grandmothers to do the same to anyone else in a similar circumstance (and have) is instructive. Also, it’s pretty clear that whatever Kavanaugh is, “innocent” almost certainly isn’t it; we have more than enough testimony to strongly suggest that in high school and in college, he was an arrogant, harassing piece of shit, surrounded by other arrogant, harassing pieces of shit.

Now, you may or may not think that it’s fair that he’s being judged today on being a harassing piece of shit in high school and college, but remember that not all that long ago, we had at least one candidate for the Supreme Court withdrawn because he smoked pot in college and immediately afterward. If we’re going to disqualify someone for toking up, I think we can take seriously some college-age sexual assault. Kavanaugh should have been dumped some time ago; if these were normal times, he would have been dumped some time ago. These are not normal times.

***

Oh, but hey, Cosby’s in prison now! So that’s something.

***

My local newspaper wrote up a story about me meeting up with JK Rowling, based on our mutual tweets about the meet-up; I didn’t speak to the paper about it and had no knowledge the (brief) story was being written up, so I was surprised and amused when I saw it. I’m not entirely sure our hanging out rises to the level of actual news, but then again, this is a classic “local man leaves town, does a thing” sort of story, isn’t it. I’m glad they were excited. I wonder what they would do if I told them I had dinner with George RR Martin last month.

The story wondered if Rowling and I were intending to do a project together, and the answer to that is: Outside of possibly meeting up again when I’m London next year, no. Not everything is about business. Sometimes you hang out with people just because you want to hang out with people.

***

There, we’re all caught up. Let’s get on with the day.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Six: Ego

Oooooh, I’ve always been an ego-filled little doofus. I do think at this point the ego may be better justified. And also, I’ve worked to change where my ego is centered.

1998, I will note, was a very important year for my ego. That was the year it took its first major hit, when I got laid off from my job at America Online. Prior to that I went from one ego-gratifyingly high from another. I got hired right out of college to be a movie critic! I was the youngest syndicated film critic in the United States! And then I was the youngest syndicated opinion columnist in the United States! And then when I went to AOL, I was their entire in-house writing and editing staff! (It didn’t occur to me to think that this might have been AOL being cheap — remember, I was looking at it from the point of view of ego.) At AOL I was editing my own humor magazine! And so on!

Then I was laid off and suddenly from the point of view of ego, I was nothing at all.

Why? Because in all that time I was centering my ego in what I was doing (and, to a large extent, how young I was when I started doing it) rather than, say, who I was as a person. So when all that was suddenly taken away from me, well. Let’s just say I didn’t handle it very well at all. There was a short period of time there where Krissy was genuinely worried that, as were were driving somewhere, I would just open the passenger-side door and roll myself out. To be clear, I never actually did plan that. But looking back at how being laid off hit me, I can also see why she had cause to worry about it.

I’ve mentioned here before how in the fullness of time I’ve come to consider being laid off at AOL one of the best things that ever happened to me. One reason among many for that is that it caused me to re-evaluate my own ego, and in what I invested it. I’m not going to say that I came out of being laid off a better person. I will say I came out of it with an at least slightly more balanced ego.

“Ego” is a funny concept in our culture, and I think having an ego is generally regarded negatively or at least somewhat suspiciously. If you say someone “has an ego,” there’s a general hint that the ego in question is undeserved or overinflated. That’s fine but I think ego gets a bad rap. Obviously if your ego is overinflated or unearned that’s not a good thing. But if you understand yourself and you can assess yourself well, then ego can be a good way to backstop yourself when others are pummeling you with negativity, or when you feel uncertain or unsure. I think it’s good to have an ego, if you know yourself and your talents.

Where is my ego centered in 2018? Mostly it’s centered in trying to be a decent person and in creating good work. Both of these concepts are ones that don’t need or require outside verification, although in both cases such verification can come, and be useful in letting you know if your own internal compass for either or both is off. But fundamentally, it’s about what one expects from one’s self as opposed to what you can show off to others.

Which is hard for me. I’m a show-off. I have my moments of vanity and pride and smugness. I like when people like my stuff and I like that people know of me. If left unchecked and unexamined, I run downhill toward pomposity and jerkiness. I can very easily exhibit all the negative things that people think of when they think of the word “ego,” even if it’s something else entirely. I think a part of healthy personal self-assessment is recognizing what parts of yourself aren’t the best parts, and can lead you to do things you’ll regret later. I’m not perfect in dealing with these things — we all work toward being the best version of ourselves rather than wake up every day being that person. But I do put in the effort.

(I should also note that to my mind, being a decent person doesn’t always mean being a nice person. I’m perfectly content to be less-than-pleasant to people who I think deserve it. I mean, sometimes I’m a jerk and it’s unwarranted, and when that happens, I try to back up and apologize. But sometimes, a person warrants me being something other than nice. When that happens, I don’t mind delivering.)

I’m fine with my ego as it is these days. I think it generally serves me well. I’m always looking to better calibrate it, however. I expect that will be the case for years to come.

The Whatever Digest, 9/26/18

My Internet is still mostly down, and I went through all of yesterday not knowing what was going on in the world. It was refreshing! Of course, some things still made it through. I understand our President was laughed at, at the UN. That’s all I got. Maybe I’ll skip today’s news too.

***

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things I did in NYC was meet up with a Twitter pal, and was delighted they were lovely in real life. Now the Twitter pal has tweeted about it, so I suppose I can say who it was:

You may have heard of her. She’s written a few books.

And as I noted previously, she’s pretty great. We had a very good conversation about topics of mutual interest and otherwise just hung about and enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve known each other online for a couple of years so it was nice to close the loop and have a moment to say hello in the offline world, and discover we like each other out here, too.

You may have noticed that I said nothing about it, other than a vague comment about meeting a Twitter pal, up until this moment. That’s because while it’s no big deal when I tell people where I am and what I’m doing, it’s different with people who have literally created a substantial portion of the popular culture of the entire planet. A little discretion was in order. It’s a reminder that I don’t talk about everything here. I just give the appearance of doing so.

In any event, a fine time.

***

Someone knocked over a vase on the kitchen table yesterday, and while we can’t say with 100% certainty who it was, we did get a partial photo ID:

Yes, that’s Smudge, the adorable little jerk. He also, and don’t ask how, knocked a bit of plaster off the ceiling. Basically, he’s a troublemaker. I’ve got my eye on him. The problem is I have other things to do, too. And he knows when you’re not watching.

***

And that’s all I have because I haven’t checked the news and also because life here in Bradford, Ohio is kind of delightfully boring at the moment? And the big highlight of my yesterday was lying on the couch watching movies while a cat slept, purring, on my chest? That’s okay, yes?

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Five: Writing

Writing has gotten simultaneously easier and harder over the last twenty years.

Easier, because, bluntly, I’m better at it now than I was 20 years ago. Better at which parts? All of the parts. There are literally no technical aspects of writing (including the technical aspects of creativity) that I don’t just simply do better. Much of that would obviously be down to experience. Twenty years on from 1998, in which I was still in my twenties and hadn’t written much in the way of fiction, I have a wider range of writing experiences, and I’ve written more in each sort of field. I have gotten feedback from editors and readers and from my own observation, have incorporated all those, to greater or lesser extents, into my writing practice.

This means that here in 2018 I am generally in control of my instrument. Let me give you an example. When I set down to write my first couple of novels, I had very little idea of what I was doing, and basically had to discover the story in the writing. Not only could I not have told you at the outset what twists and turns were coming into the story, but I didn’t know what I wanted out of the characters or the action until I was in the middle of the writing. I was a good writer back then, but I wasn’t entirely in control of my instrument: my creativity, my technique or my intent. My first few novels are good novels, but the process of writing them was creatively very messy indeed.

Contrast that with, say, The Collapsing Empire (or its follow-up, which is out in three weeks(!)). For that one, I knew what I wanted it to do, I knew who I wanted the characters to be, and I knew how to make the writing do exactly what I wanted it to, when I wanted to do it. That book is exactly the book I intended it to be when I set out to write it — which is different than, say, Old Man’s War, in which I didn’t know how it was going to turn out until I wrote it.

Does this “control of the instrument” matter to the reader? No, it shouldn’t — because in both the case of Old Man’s War and The Collapsing Empire, or indeed any other book I write, the process is not visible to the reader, only the output. There’s a whole side to the publishing industry designed to take what the writer does and make it all look as smooth and intentional as possible; it’s called “editing.”

But it makes a difference to me, the writer. When I started writing novels, it was like throwing myself off a high cliff and inventing a glider before I hit the ground. Now I launch with the glider, and get to tell it where to go. And not just with books — again, every type of writing I do, I do better now than then. Experience counts.

But it’s also become harder, because I don’t have the same life as I did in 1998. In 1998, my life was relatively simple. I had to hustle for freelance gigs, which is a thing, but the goals of each freelance gig were relatively small and executable. It’s not that difficult, for example, to write subheads for a brochure about investment vehicles, or a short review of a music CD. It could be done fast and the stakes were low (and if I didn’t do it right, it was also easy to implement an immediate fix). I mostly stayed at home and I mostly had a low profile in the world.

Here in 2018 I write novels, which are long (by definition) take time to write. I have a significant contract and I am well-known in my field, so what I write has at the very least commercial significance, and people are counting on me in a non-trivial way to do what I do in a way that’s competent and commercial and robustly marketable. I also have to be reliable, so that when (for example) I have to turn in a novel under a tight deadline, I can be relied to do that, and to address the follow-up editing quickly.

I travel extensively to promote the work I do, which eats into my writing time. I have multiple projects in the air at any one time, many of which require work that is not directly related to writing, or at least writing that’s public-facing. The audience for my notes about treatments for TV/films projects is limited indeed.

Also, life! It’s busy and complicated as it is, I dare say, for most people, especially these days, when the world is on fire in a way that it hasn’t been before, which is distracting and enervating. But even moving away from the monumental distraction that is our current political shitpile: Kids and spouses and family and extended family and friends and all of that, too. To be clear, most of that is pretty good! But even when it’s pretty good it still takes time. It’s supposed to take time.

Plus, I’m old(er). I don’t want to say my brain is slower than it was when I was in my twenties, but one, just because I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean it may not be true, and two, even if it’s not slower, it’s still true that it handles the writing process differently. I write novels differently now than I did when I started writing them; hell, I write them differently now than I did five years ago.

To put it more directly, in the last twenty years, and especially in the last few years, my writing process has to make way for the world far more than it used to, for all the things that the phrase “the world” can encompass. And you know what? That makes it harder.

And, yes, I know: World’s tiniest violin, oh, poor Scalzi. I get that. But, look: I’m not actually telling you to pity or sympathize with me. I’m merely fulfilling the brief of this series. I’m telling you, on this subject, how things are different for me now than they were two decades ago. I want to be clear I don’t regret most of the circumstances of my world right now (I regret Trump is the president, a lot, but I didn’t vote for him, so at least on that front my conscience is clear), but I think that even good things have some consequences, and they have an impact on your life. And in my case on my writing life.

So writing today is both easier and harder than it was twenty years ago, and the end result of both of those is… mostly imperceptible from the point of view of the reader, I would guess. The books come out more or less regularly, the other work also appears in a predictable fashion, and at the end of the day, experience seems to replace what the world takes away — or at least, offers a way to compensate for it, which is not quite the same thing, but works very similarly.

I think from your point of view, nothing much has changed, in terms of my writing. I’m happy to keep it that way.

The Big Idea: Ryan North

I am not saying I am a time traveler. For all most of you know, I am not. But if I were, and remember I am not saying I am, then I would be very interested in Ryan North’s new book How To Invent Everything. Very, very interested. Theoretically.

RYAN NORTH:

I wanted to write the most dangerous book in the world.  Assuming time travel exists, I think I’ve succeeded.

The big idea in How To Invent Everything is this: is it possible to collapse our modern civilization into a single text which anyone, regardless of experience or education – or the time period in which they’re stranded – could use to rebuild our world from scratch?  I wasn’t at all certain that it was, but if it were, it sounded exactly like the sort of book I wanted to read.  And the more I thought it, the more it excited me, because this would be a book which – once you’ve gone back in time with it – would absolutely make you the most influential, powerful, and decisive person in history.

So, all I had to do was write it.

***

I’m probably not the person you’d choose to write a book like this.  Up to now, all of my writing has been fiction: comic books about a girl with squirrel powers, short story anthologies about a machine that knows how you’re going to die, and choose-your-own-path versions of Shakespeare.  This was obviously something different, and I had no idea where to start.  So I began with what I knew: fiction.

I made up a future in which time travel existed and was practiced routinely.  It was a world in which time machines are rented like cars: generally painlessly, though sometimes with the risk that your too-good-to-be-true deal of a vehicle breaks down.  It was a way to ease myself (and readers) into the concept, and it helped me set up some ground rules: you, as a reader, are a temporal tourist.  You are trapped in the past in a broken rental-market time machine.  There is a repair guide, but it very quickly reveals a unfortunate truth: that time machines are for sure the most complicated pieces of machinery humans have ever produced, and that there aren’t any user-serviceable parts inside.  Time machines are so complicated, in fact, that it’s actually easier to tell you how to rebuild all of civilization than it is to explain how a 45.3EHz chrotonic flux inverter works.  So that’s what this time machine repair guide does.

With that, I had my in.  The “corporate repair guide” angle gave me an absurd tone to play with, and it let me keep things funny, light, and entertaining, while still sharing actual (useful!) information.  The only challenge now was to fill the rest of the book.  No problem, right??

I began by researching the inventions I knew I wanted to include.  I’d always wanted to have computers in there – because come on, how awesome would it be to go through life knowing you can build a computational engine from scratch in any time period you care to name? – so that’s where I started.  And I discovered something fascinating: once we’d invented electrical logic gates – the things modern computers are based on – we started seeing them everywhere.  You don’t actually need electricity.  You can build logic gates out of ropes and pulleys.  You can build them out of water.  Heck, you can even build them out of living crabs.  And this meant that there was lots of potential there for a knowledgeable time traveller to invent computers centuries – if not millennia – ahead of schedule.

I soon found that it wasn’t just computers that could’ve shown up much sooner in history than they actually did.  I was honestly shocked to discover how many inventions fit into this category.  An example: we had the raw materials for compasses in 200 BCE: that’s when we noticed that some rocks stick together, or in other words, discovered magnets.  But it wasn’t until 1000 CE that we actually invented compasses.  And here’s the kicker: to get a basic compass (which, I remind you, unlocks navigating the entire world), you don’t need the “tiny sliver of metal balanced on a pin wrapped in plastic” fancy compasses we have today.  You just need to tie your magnetic material to a string.  The string lets the rock rotate freely, the rock points towards magnetic north, and hey presto: that’s your compass.

Figuring out how to tie a rock to a string took us over 1000 years. 

You might think that’s embarrassing (and, you know – you’re not wrong) but I actually found it really inspiring.  And the more examples I found of low-hanging fruit throughout history, of inventions that could’ve been invented at any point in time but which for one reason or another we only figured out relatively recently, the more inspired I got.  Sure, it meant there was tons of room for a time traveller to optimize our timeline (great for my book!) but also meant that it was – and is – very likely there’s still things like that in our own time that we ourselves haven’t yet figured out.  What are we missing today, right now?

That last one is actually the one question How To Invent Everything doesn’t answer.  What fundamentally world-changing invention are we not seeing, even though we’ve already got all the parts we need?  What will people 1000 years from now laugh at us for not figuring out already?

What’s the equivalent of tying a rock to a string, for those of us living here at the end of 2018 CE?

I probably won’t be the one to figure it out, but I can’t wait to see who does.

—-

How To Invent Everything: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

My Home Internet is Down and My Cell Phone Hotspot Connection is Totally Crawling so No Whatever Digest Today

I’ll be posting a Big Idea and a Whatever 20/20 piece in a bit, although I may have to go down to the public library and use their connection to do it. Like a prole.

The Whatever Digest, 9/24/18

I’m at the airport super early, so let’s check in on the state of the world, shall we?

Oh. Oh. Well, that’s no good, is it.

***

At the moment I have nothing useful to add about what’s going on with either Kavanaugh or Rosenstein situations, because in both cases no one else seems to know what’s going on, either, other than it’s a real mess. Anything I’d say here will be superseded elsewhere in the next half hour, so — check on tomorrow? I guess?

These are exciting times, and not in a good way.

***

In other news, Tor.com is running the Prologue to The Consuming Fire today, so if you’d like a sneak preview of the upcoming novel (out in just three weeks!), here you go. I like it, but then I would.

***

And how was your weekend in New York, Scalzi? It was nice, thank you for asking. I did a bit of business, saw some dear friends, hung out with some cool people, and connected in real life with someone who had previously been a Twitter pal and was delighted to discover that they are awesome in real life as well, and I think they felt similarly. Also I went to MoMA and saw a bunch of cool art. On the downside I turned my ankle a bit so walking around Manhattan was not an unalloyed joy, but then again, I didn’t turn it enough that I couldn’t walk, so I walked a bunch anyway. I got my steps in, is what I’m saying. And Saturday, which was the first official day of autumn, was exactly what you would hope an early fall day would be in New York City. In all, A++, would visit NYC in mid-September again. I hope you had a similarly fabulous weekend.

And now, back to loitering at the airport. Funny how many fabulous trips end up that way.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Four: Reading

Over the last 20 years, and on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think what I read has changed much. I read a lot of non-fiction, a fair amount of science fiction and fantasy as well as the mystery genre, and I read a whole lot online, specifically news and tech sites, plus the occasional magazines that cover the same ground. In 1998 as in 2018, this is fairly constant.

What has changed, and makes for an interesting reading dynamic, is the fact that now I know so many of the people I read. Particularly in science fiction and fantasy, which is the genre I write novels in.

Didn’t you know any authors in 1998, Scalzi? Well, no, not really. I knew journalists, who are of course writers as well as editors, because I worked with them, first at the Fresno Bee and then at the various papers and magazines I freelanced for. Occasionally some of them would write books as well. But I didn’t know many authors, or more accurately, people whose writing output was primarily books. I knew only one novelist, my friend Pam Wallace, who was also a screenwriter (she co-wrote Witness, for which she won an Oscar). Certainly I did not know the authors of the fiction I was reading at the time.

This isn’t a bad state of affairs, to be sure. Most people in fact don’t know the authors or novelists they love to read. Authors exist when their books come out, and otherwise disappear into the background. Even “celebrity” authors are generally not known outside of their specific fan base, and often not all that well even then. I love Carl Hiaasen books; I wouldn’t know if he was standing directly next to me unless he introduced himself (and I hope he would). At any one time there maybe ten authors in the world immediately identifiable on sight by the general public. All the rest of us slip under the radar. So in this respect in 1998 I was no different than any other person.

But when you write novels, and particularly in science fiction and fantasy, which has such a well-developed community infrastructure, you start to meet other writers and you start to keep in touch with them. I went to my first science fiction convention not really knowing any writers; I left knowing a couple dozen. Over the next decade, I got to know them and they got to know me, and I met all sorts: Writers who were coming up, writers who I had long admired, writers who were hot in the moment, writers who in a year or two would be the biggest thing happening. They were (mostly) normal people! They were (mostly) lovely to know and hang out with! And then I became president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and for three years it was sort of my business to know what roughly 1,800 SF/F were doing with themselves.

And as a result, when I would pick up a book, I wasn’t just reading a bit of entertainment, I was reading something out of the brain of someone I know, and probably liked, and possibly was actual friends with. Which is an interesting thing. With the people I knew whose work I already liked, there was the warm glow of this is my pal, and they write real well. With the people I knew whose work I hadn’t read yet, there was, ohhhh, please let this be good (it usually was). But in every case there was the connection between the work and the person I knew, which is a nice feeling.

It also means that, as a novelist myself now, I have some empathy and sympathy for everything about having a book out in the world — the process of getting it there, the process of having it out there, and the process of having to move on to the next thing. For someone who is only a reader, a book can be a just a book, as it should be. I think for most writers, when they see a book, they at least intuit everything that is around the book and everything it took for it to come into being.

I don’t think this makes me a less critical reader — I’m pretty sure I like the same ratio of books as I did 20 years ago, and there are plenty of books from writers I like and admire as people for whom I am not the ideal audience, and that’s fine. It does put what I’m reading in a different context. And while I may or may not like a novel or book, these days I’m less apt to dismiss the writer of it to whatever degree I might have before. I know from experience what it takes to put out a book. Anyone who goes through all those hoops deserves to be acknowledged as a member of the tribe, as it were.

This is a perspective on one’s reading that not everyone has, can have or even should have. It’s fine for readers to just be readers. But I do think being an author and knowing other authors and novelists has made me a better reader, or at least a more empathetic one. And I will say that that there is one thing about reading now that I absolutely love: When I go to a bookstore and see all the work on the shelves, it’s kind of like visiting friends. What a wonderful feeling that is.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Three: Technology

Much of my creative life, and certainly almost all of my professional life for the past 20 years, has been greatly influenced and impacted by technology.

It starts earlier than that, of course. In 1984, the first Macintosh computer came out, and it came with a simple word processing program. Coincidentally, 1984 was the first year I started writing short stories or fiction of any sort, camped out in Erza Chowaiki’s room in our high school dorms, since he had the Macintosh and I did not.

As I started my creative life on the computer, my creative process was also shaped by the computer. For example, I don’t write drafts of my books, a thing which one would need to do when one was working on a typewriter, and editing on the fly, as one can on a computer, was not possible. When I type the words “the end” on a manuscript, it’s ready to send off to the editor — not because I write perfect prose (trust me), but because all the edits and changes I wanted to make were done as I was writing the book, in a rolling draft. One’s tools shape one’s process.

By 1998, effectively all my writing of any sort was done on computer, much in the same way it gets done now — the “word processor on a computer” metaphor is a durable and useful one. And as an artifact of my own age and and habits, I tend to write better on a desktop computer than on a laptop; something about being at a desk, with the work tool firmly rooted in place, gets me in a mind for work. It’s not impossible for me to work on a laptop; I’m writing on one now, and most of my recent novels have had substantial chunks written up on a laptop, when I was traveling or just wanted to sit somewhere else in my house for a change of pace. But most of it is at the desk, on the desktop.

Also in 1998, digital rather than print was my primary mode of transmitting my words. While the tools have changed, this is still (largely) true today. In 1998, when I started Whatever, I taught myself enough html to make the blog and update it daily. Today WordPress does all the backend for me, better and more robustly than I ever could (thank you, WordPress. In fact I found rolling my own html exasperating), but still more or less how I started doing it back in the day. I famously posted my first two novels here online, in a very early example of digital self-publishing, which ended up getting me a traditional publishing deal — but “traditional publishing” these days also includes electronic books and audiobooks, the first format of which could hardly be said to exist in 1998, and the second of which was wholly overhauled and expanded by digital transmission. Ebook and audio without a doubt have made a huge difference in my success as a writer.

Aside from work directly, tech makes an impact on how I live my life. Directly, these days it’s been amazing to me how so much of our digital and technological life is now primarily carried in a single object: Our “smartphone.” Like most people, I think, at various times in my life I have had a phone, a camera, an ebook reader, a device for listening to music, a separate device for video (with music included), a device for recording audio, and another entire device for accessing the Internet (known as “a computer”). Oh, and paper maps. Now: you have a phone.

I do love this, I have to say. Even 1998 me, with all his tech toys, would have been utterly amazed at my current phone, the Pixel 2, and everything it can do that no one in 2018 thinks is in any way particularly noteworthy. Obviously a smartphone has a camera and apps to access music and video and books and the internet and also tracks your health status and where you are on the planet and how you can get to where you are going next and has the ability to text people across several different media and even sometimes, if you’re old and still into that sort of thing, you can use the phone to talk to people.

(And honestly the amount that the smartphone has actually killed talking on the phone is the most amazing thing to me, and even more amazing is how it’s killed it for me. My smartphone rings and for the first few seconds I just stare at it, thinking, what the hell is it doing now? Then I remember: It’s being a phone.)

I do still have some dedicated “single use” tech: I still have a dSLR camera rather than just relying on my phone for pictures, as an example. And of course I still have a desktop computer and a laptop computer. Phones these days are useful for reading and consuming things, and many things these days can be created on them, but for me they’re kind of cramped for typing and writing anything longer than a tweet. But even I don’t pretend that the Internet is not now primarily living on people’s phones. It is, and it’s a thing creative people with digital lives have to work with. It’s not bad. It just is.

I wouldn’t go back, regardless. I like my smart phone, just like I like the computer. I think about generations of writers writing drafts on typewriters (or by hand(!(!!))) and then having to redraft and literally cut and paste changes onto paper and I get tired and moody. I can’t imagine having a been a writer without a computer. I’m pretty sure I would have been, anyway, but not in the way I am now, and very probably not with the success that I have had. The next generation of writers will include someone who composes novels entirely on their phone and thinks it mad that anyone else has ever done it differently. Good for them. I’m glad it works for what they do. I hope the work is good. I’ll still need things to read.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Two: Taste

Here’s an interesting question to consider: Do I have the same taste — the same cultural likes and dislikes in terms of things like style and entertainment — here in 2018 that I had in 1998? After all, it’s been twenty years. That’s a long time in terms of culture, style and entertainment.

But then again, it’s also true that if you show me a person when they’re a teenager, I’m going to probably be able to tell you what they will like in their 40s. It’s a truism that they styles and tastes we develop early matter for what we like later on in life. It’s one reason why currently, for example, 80s bands who haven’t been “hot” for decades are selling out theaters and raking in money with “VIP” packages — because everyone who loved them when they were 15 and broke now has money and wants to meet their favorite band, even if for a momentary “grip and grin.” Am I any different?

I don’t particularly think so. The bands that were important to me growing up are bands I still like to listen to, to follow up that example — I use Sirius XM’s “First Wave” and “The Bridge” stations (80s alternative and 70s mellow rock) as my aural wallpaper, and more generally the musical forms I liked then are the ones I like now. And more than that; in a larger sense, the forms of entertainment and culture I liked when I was fifteen, I liked when I was thirty,  and I like now. Not only, to be sure, but, yes, still.

But the larger question might be: What sort of things do I like, culturally? I addressed this over the summer, actually, when Athena and I did a couple of podcasts about movies we saw. And what I said then (and she agreed with) is that I’m easy to entertain but hard to impress. Which means that I get to enjoy lots of common culture. I like pop songs, and superhero films, and mindless first person shooter games, and animated shows with farts and puns, and so on. Nor do I feel guilty about liking those things. Not everything one consumes culturally has to be life changing or immortal. Sometimes it’s nice to get out of one’s head, and sing along to a chorus or watch a hot young actor in spandex blow something up in glorious CGI. It’s allowed.

With that said, I’m also not going to argue these things are amazing, either. I love a good pop song; I’m not going to (necessarily) argue that this pop song deserves the same cultural status of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. Superhero films are fun but they’re not necessarily Citizen Kane or Do the Right Thing. They can be! I can think of pop songs I do think deserve to be considered as near-Platonic ideals of the form; I think when Black Panther is inevitably nominated for Best Picture (and not that ridiculous “Best Popular Picture” thing, now withdrawn), you can make a strong and serious argument for its inclusion, for all the things it does right cinematically, for its distillation and critique of superhero film tropes, and for its impact on the common culture this year. Bring it.

But the point is that not everything has to be great, or brilliant, or lasting, in order to be good and entertaining and important to you, in the moment, or as something that brings you joy. If you really like something, you shouldn’t have to then embark on a 14-point apologia, complete with PowerPoint presentation, about why, no, really, it is important. Maybe it’s not! And that’s okay. Enjoy it for what it is.

All of which is to say, coming back around to me, that I acknowledge and am okay with the fact that with a lot of things I have pretty common tastes. I have my pockets of cultural eccentricities and idiosyncrasies — if you like I can do a deep dive into my love of Glenn Branca compositions, or Sally Potter films, or [insert cred-inducing name drop here] — and I’m okay liking them, too. But at the end of the day, while I can acknowledge that, say, Orlando, is a better film on many different levels than Ant-Man and the Wasp, I’m not going apologize for liking the latter or use the former as a shield for credibility.

Indeed, accepting that you can like what you like, whatever you like, opens you up to being able to like more things. When I was younger I didn’t like country music because it wasn’t cool to like country, and I had to get over that sort of cultural anxiety to discover how much I love the music of Emmylou Harris, and Julie and Buddy Miller, and Steve Earle (among others). I can’t say I know enough about rap and hip-hop to be considered anything more than a casual listener, but I know I love stuff from Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, and Open Mike Eagle, and Dessa. It means I don’t worry about being a 49-year-old dude who really digs Charlie XCX songs. I’m not liking any of that to seem cool or relevant or interesting. I like ’em because they work for me on some level.

So, no, I don’t think my taste has changed much in the last twenty years. The individual things I like have — or at least, I try to continue to bring new things into the collection of things I like — but the ethos underlying those choices has been consistent. It’s worked for me.

(And as for style: Well, I used to wear a lot of t-shirts and now I wear aloha shirts, which are functionally the same thing, just for middle-aged dudes. So, yeah.)

New Books and ARCs, 9/21/18

As promised, here is the second half of a big haul of new books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound this week. Some excellent choices here — do you see anything in particular you like? Tell us in the comments!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-One: New York

I’m actually writing this in New York; I’m currently loitering at a hotel near Penn Station, in room that looks like the nicest dorm suite at NYU and can hear the street noise rising up to my windows. It’s surprisingly nice white noise, although history reminds me that sometimes it’s just noise, and loud. It’s New York. Whaddya gonna do.

I picked New York as a subject for this series not just because I happen to be in it today but also because in many ways it’s an emblematic town for me, one that especially in the last twenty years is tied intimately to my professional life. When I was a freelancer a lot of my gigs came from a marketing company rather pointedly located on Madison Avenue; now as a novelist Tor books is currently located at the iconic Flatiron building, although not for much longer, alas. I come here regularly on tour and to do events like Book Expo America and New York Comic Con. I have a ton of friends here, as well as compatriots in publishing. More than any other major city in the US — even LA, in whose suburbs I grew up, or Chicago, where I went to college — this town has a direct influence on my day to day life.

Also, weirdly, it’s still a town that doesn’t feel completely real to me. Unlike LA or Chicago, I’ve never lived in New York; I’ve spent at most three or four days in it at a time. That’s enough time in aggregate to start to get a feel for a place but not enough time for it to become a place that feels grounded. I’ve never had a daily life here — I’ve never had to pay bills or do grocery shopping or deal with plumbing here. For those reasons (and others like it) New York still feels like a special, different, place to me. Magical? I don’t know about magical. Too much vague urine smell for magical. But as they say, there’s no place like it.

It’s also the city people think of when they think of writers; for good reason, since most of big-league publishing is here and I suspect roughly half of Brooklyn lists “writer” as their profession on their tax forms, and another quarter are probably editors, agents and other citizens of the publishing world. When I visit I feel like I’m visiting the home office, as it were. A place where if you say you’re a writer you get a look that says “well, obviously you are, we all are” instead of “how do you manage to eat?” or just a polite blank stare that suggests the person never considered it a profession at all.

I’m not sure that means I would ever want to actually move here, however. I kind of like having NYC be a special “sometimes” place for me, a place to visit and be familiar with, but never bored of or irritated at. A place where it’s still exciting to come out of Penn Station, look down 34th street and see the Empire State Building and go, oh, hey, it’s actually a thing that exists in the world. I’ll let my friends who live in NYC be blase about it. I’m happy to go the other direction. And I’m happy to still be happy to be in town.

(That said: New York style pizza? Eh. It’s okay, I guess. There, the requisite fighting words have been said. We can move on to other things now.)

The Whatever Digest, 9/21/18

I’m at the airport with two and a half hours before my flight boards. Enough time for a digest!

***

So apparently the big attempt to defect from Kavanaugh’s allegedly sexually assaulting past was for a key Republican operative to launch a conspiracy theory Twitter thread saying it was actually someone else who attacked Ford, and she got confused because all jock-y white male teens look alike? Two things here:

1. Kathleen Parker’s “maybe there was a doppelganger” column in the Washington Post yesterday now looks even more embarrassing, because clearly she was drafting off this particular juggernaut of idiocy, and perhaps the Pulitzer committee might want to think about rescinding her award;

2. This truly is the stupidest timeline possible. I mean, I wasn’t really doubting that, given the preponderance of evidence, but it’s depressing to be reminded with such frequency.

What’s particularly horrifying is that Ed Whelan, the mastermind behind this particular wodge of bullshit, actually named someone else as the potential sexual assaulter, a dude named [deleted because on second thought it doesn’t do any good to spread his name around], who currently teaches at a middle school and who is the very definition of a private citizen. This is essentially an open-and-shut defamation case, and I expect [defamed person] is neck-deep in lawyers wanting to represent him, because this is some easy money right here. Ford has flatly said that it wasn’t [defamed person] who attacked her, so this one conspiracy theory which has fallen with a splat.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall makes the point that it’s unlikely that Whelan moved forward without at least some sort of coordination with the Kavanaugh camp, which if it’s true is yet one more reason Kavanaugh shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Supreme Court. Someone who would countenance throwing an innocent person under a bus in a (mixed metaphor here) Hail Mary pass attempt to clear his own name is not a moral person, or a good person. In fact, if it’s true, he’s complete shit.

***

Also, at this point, after last’s night hugely embarrassing Twitter fracas, one has to wonder how there is still any support for Kavanaugh among Senate Republicans, other than sheer myopic cussedness. He’s an astounding liability, someone credibly accused of sexual assault nominated to the bench primarily to overturn Roe v. Wade, and if you don’t think women aren’t already pissed off, just you wait. They would be better off at this point simply telling Kavanaugh to pack it in and then picking someone who could actually stand up to vetting (if they can, who knows with this clown car of an administration). Nearly anyone else would be better at this point. Any one of my cats would be better.

But of course they won’t, because we have stupid people in charge, and a president who can’t ever back down from anything because he’s weak and a bully. So here we are.

***

Why am I at the airport? I’m off to NYC to do a little business and to see some friends, basically. Also it’s a nice time of year to be in New York. Before anyone asks, I’m not doing any public events, sorry. Just work stuff and a little personal time. Also maybe to go in for a slice, say “You call this pizza?!?!?” and pull out a Chicago deep dish from my backpack and eat it in the shop, never breaking eye contact with the horrified pizza shop employees. Okay, maybe not that last one. I don’t actually have a death wish.

***

Congratulations to the Cleveland Browns, who last night not only didn’t lose, but actually managed to win a game, their first since Christmas Eve in 2016. The fact that much of Ohio went a little nuts about that one win says a lot about the state of Browns football, and maybe a little about Ohio. Meanwhile the Bengals, 2-0, wonder what the big deal is. Stay cool, Bengals. Stay cool.

***

That’s it for the Digest this week. It’ll be back on Monday. To get you through until then, here’s Smudge on my luggage this morning. Have a great weekend, the last of summer and the first of fall.