1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health

The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot.

Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had a series of thankfully minor reminders that my body is not invulnerable to damage, the most recent being a trip to the emergency room for a possible heart attack which turned out to be just indigestion. Which, to be clear, it’s great it was just indigestion, but 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even considered that it might be something else, much less called my physician’s office about it to have them say, “Yeaaaah, you should probably get to an emergency room right now,” because it sounded to them like a classic minor heart event. Things are different when you’re bumping up on 50 years of age. It’s better to be safe than possibly dead.

And generally there are other minor damages that have accrued through the years. I can no longer fully bend my right pinky due to a volleyball injury, which just goes to show that physical exercise is dangerous. When I was in Australia, I tore a leg muscle and had to hobble around Melbourne on crutches. I have a little bit of arthritis in my right hip ball joint. I can no longer do a forward handspring — the last time I did one, on my 35th birthday, my kneecaps tried to escape sideways and I said to myself, well, that’s enough of that.

For all that I have been lucky — I have had isolated incidents of injury, but what I don’t have, so far, knock on wood, are any chronic issues. I suppose the arthritis in the ball joint could be one, but I kind of have to go out of my way to aggravate it, mostly by contorting myself into a weird position, so I don’t really count it (yet). I have hay and cut grass allergies, which I didn’t have 20 years ago, but they’re not really doing anything to me but making me sneeze twenty times in a row, and Claritin knocks them into line. I’m healthy, mostly, on a day-to-day basis.

But as time goes on, that seems less likely to be the case, even if I do take care of myself generally. A large number of my friends have chronic health conditions now, not necessarily debilitating ones, but ones that require maintenance, and they’ve gotten them for a variety of reasons: some genetic, some environmental, some for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some for no reason that anyone can see other than, well, sometimes shit happens.

In my own family, as an example, we have a tendency toward cancers. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were both taken out by them, although in both their cases there was a conscious decision not to fight them; my grandmother because she didn’t want to worry anyone, and therefore let it go until it metastasized, and my grandfather because, as I understand it, basically he was done with this planet and cancer seemed as good a way as any to leave it. My brother has had breast cancer — a reminder that men, too, can get it — and he’s fine now, but it’s a thing I need to be aware of, with regard to my own health. I’m going to have to be taking screenings very seriously. Another issue on my radar is mental health; there are members of my family who have various issues in this direction. I don’t, at least not to date, but it’s something I keep tabs on.

My point is, at 29 I didn’t worry about most of these things, because I didn’t worry about them being applicable yet. This was a belief mostly out of ignorance, but also because, as a late-twenty-something, my cohort of friends and colleagues (mostly) weren’t worrying about these things, either. As we’ve all gotten older we’ve started worrying about it more.

I’ve also gotten to the point in life where people my age dying, while still unexpected, is not actuarially unusual. By your mid-to-late 40s, you’re going to have close-to-age friends, coworkers and family pass away. Krissy and I have lost friends to cancer, to ALS, and to other diseases. Just prior to our 30th reunion, my high school class marked its first death, again to cancer. I don’t imagine we’ll make it to our 40th without a few more.

I’m fine with dying one day (well, not fine, but not losing too much sleep over it in an existential sense), but I’m not in a rush, either. More to the point, as much as I can control such things, I want this backslope of my years on this planet not to be burdensome, either to myself or to the people I love. This means paying attention to my health and doing all the little things required to be healthy. Which I kind of hate, because I’m lazy and all this maintenance means work. But better to do work now then not, and suffer for it later. Long-term planning. Sigh.

(But how can you say you’re paying attention to your health when you make those burritos you do, Scalzi? I hear you say. Explain that, you bum! Look, those burritos are sometimes food, okay? I don’t eat them, like, every day.)

The point is I want to be here, and still writing, 20 years from now. And if I want that, I better be paying attention to my health. 29-year-old me could get away with letting it slide. 49-year-old me? Not so much.

That said, I think I’ll go for a walk now.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Edward Willett

For his novel Worldshaper, author Edward Willett posits another type of authorship entirely… one with literally global implications.


Authors sometimes talk of their fictional worlds as though they lived in them. They’ll speak of characters taking on lives of their own, unexpected plot twists, settings that complexify beyond what was intended.

In reality, of course, all of this happens inside our heads…but what if, in reality, it happened in reality—or, at least, in a version of reality? What if we authors could immerse ourselves in our fictional worlds physically, rather than intellectually, and occasionally even rewrite them while we’re living within them?

That’s the “big idea” behind Worldshaper, my ninth novel for DAW Books, start of a brand-new series, called (you’ll never guess) Worldshapers.

The series will take place within the many worlds of the Labyrinth, an extra-dimensional realm in which people with sufficient will and imagination, called Shapers, can give the worlds of their imaginations physical form, and then take up residence within them.

Each of these worlds is populated with millions or even billions of humans, for whom those worlds are the real world, as ancient and solid and eternal as our own world seems to us—even though none of them have existed for more than a few decades.

The Shapers, having taken up physical residence in their Shaped worlds, can no more leave them of their own volition than a fictional character can exit a novel. The fortunate ones made good choice in Shaping their worlds. Others, alas, embody Psalm 7:15: “Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.”

A single powerful Shaper, Ygrair, discovered the possibilities of the Labyrinth and opened it to the Shapers. But Ygrair has been weakened by the attack of an enemy, the Adversary (he has his reasons) who has found his way into the Labyrinth. He seeks to execute Ygrair and destroy the Labyrinth. Along the way, he’s turning every world he can get his hands on into a copy of the “perfect” authoritarian realm he Shaped for himself.

As Worldshaper begins, Ygrair’s lieutenant, Karl Yatsar, arrives in yet another in a long string of worlds, seeking a Shaper strong enough to gather and hold the knowledge of as many Shaped worlds as possible and deliver that knowledge to Ygrair, who will be able to use it to secure the Labyrinth against the depredations of her Adversary.

Shawna Keys, an aspiring potter in a small Montana city, turns out to be the Shaper of the world Yatsar has just entered, closely pursued by the Adversary, who, during a brutal attack, successfully collects Shawna’s Shaping knowledge. The adversary is about to kill her to cement his control of her world when, to Yatsar’s astonishment, she apparently resets time by three hours.

Everything goes back to the way it was. The attack never happened—but everyone killed, including Shawna’s best friend, has not only vanished, they’ve been utterly forgotten.

Shawna’s amazing display makes Yatsar think she may the one he seeks…but when he approaches her, he’s shocked to discover that Shawna Keys has forgotten she’s a Shaper: she’s the author of the book of her world, but she doesn’t remember writing it.

With the Adversary after her, though, she has no choice but to trust Karl. They flee to the one place Karl can form a Portal into the next world, with the Adversary in pursuit and working steadily to turn every aspect of Shawna’s world against her.

As the series continues, I look forward to exploring all kinds of questions raised by the big idea of authors living in the worlds they shape.

For example: authors do horrible things to characters all the time. Remorse is fleeting because, after all, the characters aren’t real.

But in the Shaped Worlds, they are. So, if you were an author living inside a world you’d written, would you continue to rewrite the living, breathing “characters” around you for your own selfish ends?

Dystopias, alien invasions, war, plague, and supernatural horrors all make exciting stories. Would we be so willing to create worlds that contain these things if we had to live in them? No? What if we could live in them but be immune to their dangers? Would we still choose to make such worlds, at the expense of those we force to live there?

Shawna’s Shaped world is very close to ours, with a few minor changes: for example, lacrosse is the big professional sport, she once saw The Da Vinci Code: The Musical on Broadway (Hugh Jackman did his best in the Robert Langdon role, but the show sucked), there are colonies on the moon, and the president lives, not in the White House, but in the Emerald Palace.

But as the series continues, Shawna will enter worlds belonging to Shapers with imaginations far different from her own. Like an adventurous reader, she will encounter ideas, characters, and situations she may find abhorrent. Yet, to fulfil Ygrair’s task, she must attempt to save all of the Shaped worlds, even those she hates. Her commitment to the quest, her commitment to what you might call “Freedom of Shaping,” and her own confidence in her ability to Shape things for the better may all erode in the process.

Lest this sound too grim, let me hasten to add that, since Shawna is written in first-person, she has my sense of humour. The result (according to one pleased reviewer) is a “sarcastic wiseass smart-mouthed main female character.”

I can’t live in my fictional world physically like the Shapers can, but in Shawna (and the other characters) you’ll still find bits of me, as you will in the ideas infusing the series, both small…and big.


Worldshaper: Amazon|Barnes & Noble |Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerptVisit Willett’s site and follow him on Twitter. Check out his podcast, The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process.



The Whatever Digest, 9/18/18

Let’s see what the world has for us today, shall we?


To begin on a high note, congratulations to my dear friend Mary Robinette Kowal, who has just announced a three-book, six-figure deal with Tor Books. The deal covers two more books in her “Lady Astronaut” series plus a standalone novel. The Verge has all the details, plus a short interview with MRK on the matter.

I’m thrilled about this. Aside from MRK being one of my favorite people on the planet, I’m a very big fan of the two current Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars (which I think is a top contender for Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nods) and The Fated Sky. More in this universe makes me very happy. I’m also pleased Tor recognizes her value with the size of the deal. This is good news for everyone, but especially for MRK. I like it when my friends get good news.


Oh, let’s talk more about that Kavanaugh mess, I suppose.

Brett Kavanaugh, it should be noted, has doubled down on his categorical denial, regarding Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her back when they were teenagers. Both Kavanaugh and Ford are going to testify about it in front of the Senate on Monday, and one would hope under oath. And won’t that be interesting if it is under oath? Because then, if they both stick to their stories, one or the other of them is, flatly, lying.

Alternately, if one wishes to be extraordinarily generous about it, it’s possible that Kavanaugh isn’t lying, precisely, he simply has no memory of the incident. Ford did describe him as being stumble-down drunk at the time. But the thing about that is, he didn’t say “I have no memory of such an incident ever occurring.” He said it never happened. So we’re back to it being an actual lie, in my book.

And here’s the thing for me: Removing all the political aspects of the incident and focusing on the individuals and the incident itself, who are you more likely to believe has a better memory of the incident: The person who was stumble-down drunk when the incident occurred, or the person who was not, and had the event seared into her brain so significantly that it still came up in therapy, three decades later? I’d put my money on the latter, personally.

(The other, exculpatory-for-Kavanaugh explanation is that Ford isn’t lying but has misremembered the identity of her assaulter, which is possible, but given what we know of things, seems unlikely.)

But the timing of this shows it’s all political! Meh. Again, Ford expressed her concerns about Kavanaugh to her elected reps well in advance of his actual nomination for the court, and asked for confidentiality, which she was given. By all indications Senator Feinstein didn’t send the letter to the FBI until someone else leaked it. On Ford’s part, this doesn’t seem like the actions of someone desperately hungry to throw a spanner into the political works. The fact that some people want to blame her for the current mess is more than a little gross. Once the letter was a known thing, she came forward and was willing to testify. But she wasn’t responsible for the events that led to her letter becoming a political hot potato.


Someone in email accused me of smearing an innocent person (Kavanaugh, to be clear) and leading a mob against him. Well, Kavanaugh may well be innocent! But it seems unlikely to me, given what we know, and since I’m not a court of law or Kavanaugh’s lawyer, I’m not obliged to pretend I think he is. It seems likely to me that as a teenager he sexually assaulted Ford; it also seems likely to me that as an adult, he’s lying about it. Merely stating that opinion is not riling up a mob, I’m not stating “Kavanaugh is lying, go set fire to his house!” (Please do not set fire to his house.) Nor is the Whatever audience much of a mob (sorry).

Nor, bluntly, is Kavanaugh in much danger of having any major repercussions for his (probable in my opinion) teenage sexual assault. The worst case scenario for Kavanaugh is that he goes back to his job on the DC Court of Appeals — just like Merrick Garland! — and keeps doing what he’s already been doing. I mean, technically, if he lied in front of Congress he could be penalized for that, but he’s already arguably lied in front of Congress, and Congress seems to be willing to give him a pass for that. Kavanaugh’s real world penalty, if the Senate chooses not to confirm because, among other things, more of its members than not believed he pinned down a fifteen-year-old girl, put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, ground himself into her and tried to take off her clothes, is… he keeps the immensely privileged life he already has. Oh, my God. How horrible for him.

But his reputation! Again, meh. It seems unlikely to me that any of Kavanaugh’s pals on the right will penalize him for it; he will still be admired and respected in the circles he already runs in. These are the same circles who elected as president a man who indisputably sexually assaulted women as an adult. There’s not much evidence at the moment that the right thinks sexual assault should count against a person’s reputation unless that person is on the left. Let’s not pretend that if the exact same accusations were made against a Supreme Court nominee picked by a Democratic president, the right would be calling for that nominee’s withdrawal (at least). But I guess it’s different when you’re on the right and you have a nominee that you know will overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance he gets.

So, yeah. Don’t cry for Kavanaugh. He’s going to be fine, whether he’s innocent or not.


People in Washington seem to be worried about an emerging “Kavanaugh Standard,” i.e., what you did at seventeen will now be held against you in senatorial confirmation hearings. A few thoughts here:

1. Can we stop pretending that sexual assault is just average teenage hijinx? I went to high school in the same era as Kavanaugh, you know. Even in the benighted 80s, we fucking well knew that sexual assault was not within the scope of acceptable activities. I was there! I know this to be true!

2. If you can’t or won’t agree that sexual assault is not your average teenage hijinx, one, what the fuck were you up to in high school, pal, and two, in fact, what you were doing in high school might be relevant to your senatorial confirmation, especially if you evince no actual moral growth from that point forward.

3. Otherwise, I think most people are probably in the clear regarding their high school stupidity.

4. But might it not also be wise to tell teens that all their lives will be affected by the choices they make as teenagers, including the choices they’re not aware they’re making? Is it not worth it to inculcate in their still-forming brains the idea that far-reaching consequences exist, even if they can’t yet fully understand these consequences may arise at a point that is a multiple of the years that they have currently been alive? And that their actions will have consequences for others, all through their lives as well?

5. Also, you know what? I would be fine culling out of governmental service everyone who sexually assaulted someone else as a teenager. Or as an adult! Why not both! And if it turns out there is a noticeable dearth of available men for such service, well, I guess them’s the breaks, and the good news is that there are almost certainly a large number of women available to come on board to take care of things, whilst the men fix their cultural shit. I’m fine with that. If this is indeed the new “Kavanaugh Standard,” there would be far worse things, I have to say.


And to end on a high note: Look! The Captain Marvel trailer! Looks like fun.

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