A Goal Entirely Hit

In December, when I started edging towards 200 pounds and was getting winded walking up the stairs in my house, I decided to start exercising and counting calories, with an eye toward getting in better shape, and getting down to 170 pounds. My original hope was to hit 170 pounds on my birthday, which was May 10. I missed that goal (while hitting another one), but on the principle that late is better than never, I can say that almost exactly two months later, I’ve hit the goal. I’m at just under 170 pounds as of this morning, and down 25.8 pounds off my top weight of 195.7 (For those of you in metricland, I went from 88.76 kilos to 77.06 kilos). Also, and not incidentally, I can now run a couple of miles at a decent clip without feeling like I want to throw up over everyone and everything, and don’t get tired walking up a single flight of stairs. Progress has been made.

And to celebrate, I’m gonna eat a box of donuts, yes? Well, I might! But if I do I will track the calories, then plan what I eat and how I exercise for the rest of the week to compensate for that big ol’ box of carbs I just shoved into my face hole. The point here is that having met my goal, I’m not going to stop doing the things that helped me to get to this point, i.e., exercise and tracking what I put into my body. For the moment, at least, the plan is to maintain at around 170 for a while and see what makes sense for my body from here. This could mean losing a smidge more weight, or gaining a little weight in the form of muscle mass, or whatever. However I proceed, just stopping exercising and noting what I put into my body is not a great idea, especially now that I’m 50. I’ll keep at it while I figure out what I want next.

I am actually pleased with myself at the moment. 25 pounds is the most amount of weight I’ve lost, intentionally or otherwise, and I think it was necessary, for my own personal physical and mental health. I look in the mirror and I see a person who looks much closer to what I think of as me than I did in December. This is not a small thing. It does mean that some of my pants don’t fit anymore. But then, some of my pants didn’t fit before, just in the other direction. I kept those pants, just in case. I have enough pants, is what I’m saying.

In any event: Hey, I hit my weight goal. It feels good.

The Big Idea: Kali Wallace

Is the glass half empty or half full? If you’re Kali Wallace, writing here about her new novel Salvation Day, you might say that it doesn’t matter, that’s the only glass we have.

KALI WALLACE:

We’re doomed.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask anyone! We’re killing the earth, we’re setting everything on fire, we put kids in concentration camps, we give sexual predators and hateful narcissists the highest levels of power in governments around the world, and nothing changes because a very small number of very rich people want to keep it that way. Nothing matters anymore. Everything is pointless. We’re doomed!

I get it. Things are very, very bad for very, very many people in the world today. There are a lot of sociopaths with a lot of power actively working against the possibility of making any improvements or heading off any of the extra-double-special future disasters ahead of us. We have so, so many problems in our world. Many of them are so big and so daunting the best-case scenario is that it will take generations to solve them. It seems like we slide backwards seventeen steps for every one we inch forward. You can’t break an entire planet and expect to fix it in a few years.

Still, I get this complicated little recoil of dismay when I hear people say that we’re doomed, or that nothing matters, or that we might as well give up. It’s such an easy way out. Doom means the ending is inevitable. We can give up. If nothing matters, nothing changes, and nobody cares, we don’t have to solve the extremely difficult problems all around us. We don’t have to answer hard questions and do hard work. It’s the exact opposite of a call to arms: it’s a sigh of surrender.

It was thinking a lot about these conflicting reactions–fully understanding how bad things are but instinctively recoiling from declarations of doom–that led me to the big idea behind Salvation Day.

(Aside: Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, the first big idea behind Salvation Day was, “Wow, I really want to write about a creepy abandoned spaceship full of corpses!” But that’s not a particularly interesting idea to interrogate, because who doesn’t want to write about a creepy abandoned spaceship full of corpses?)

I’m not a person anybody has ever accused of being an optimist; I’m pretty much a walking, talking ball of generalized anxiety wrapped in a lightly scuffed depressive coating. Even so, I don’t want to accept that we’re doomed. I don’t want to believe that we have no choice but to wait for the end of democracy, the end of the republic, the end of decency, the end of empathy, the end of the world. I don’t want to accept that we’ve already passed the point of no return–as though there could even be a single point, or a single path to return, rather than countless, convoluted, ever-changing variations of each.

Maybe that’s a foolish hope, but it’s the hope that underlies the story I’m telling. Salvation Day takes place in a future in which all of the bad things we’re looking forward to and are in the middle of, right now, today, have already happened. Ecological collapse, decades of worldwide war, pandemics, famines, wealthy people looting the Earth and leaving everybody else behind, the works. Our much-prophesized near future of doom and destruction is the not-so-distant past of the world in which my characters live.

The book doesn’t take place in a dystopia, but it’s certainly not a utopia either. It takes place in a civilization that is deliberately rebuilding in the aftermath of all that destruction, but humans are having–shall we say–mixed success. It turns out that leaving Earth didn’t work; the generation ships that tried to escape the destruction all failed. What did work, more or less, was a conscious effort to correct the mistakes of the past and build a better world.

The space between those two little words–more or less–is where I found my story. More for some people, less for others. While I want to believe that humanity will endure, I also believe that we’re probably going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We are, after all, only human, and humans are messy, imperfect creatures. Governments that start out with the best of intentions drift towards authoritarianism. Societies that purport to welcome all enforce borders and build walls. Cultures that outwardly value discovery still cling to the comfortable myths of the past.

We’re going to keep fucking up. We’ll find new ways to fuck up when we find new problems before us. We’ll invent new ways to fuck up once we’ve tired of the old ways.

But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. The problems we create for ourselves are never going to get easier, but we’re not completely useless hairless apes. We are, in fact, pretty good at problem-solving, when we set our minds to it. The trick is figuring out a way to set not just individual minds but entire societies to solving our problems.

I don’t know if we can do that. I don’t know if I’m wrong and the “we’re doomed, nothing matters” folks are right. What I do know is that as a storyteller, the most interesting scenarios grow out the spaces between our yearned-for utopias and worst-case dystopias. As an actual human person living in this world, I think those spaces are where we’re most likely to end up, again and again, no matter how long we manage this existence thing.

But most of all, as a writer and lover of science fiction, as somebody who delights in imagining all the whiz-bang awe and excitement of potential futures but cannot ignore our current problems, I don’t want to give up on humanity just yet.

—-

Salvation Day: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Smudge Watches Over You This Monday Morning

And assures you that you’re gonna make it through this week juuuust fine.

Busy writing today. See you later.

Endgames, Tinkerbell and Happily Ever After

In the wake of a recent mild uptick in people being angry at me for existing, a question in email, which I am paraphrasing for brevity:

What do you think these people are hoping for with these posts? What’s their endgame, and how do they think it will affect you?

Well, in the case of the angry member of old-line fandom, I don’t think there was any expectation for anything to happen except her venting to other members of old-line fandom, which she did, and good for her. I hope she feels better and can move on to healthier uses of her time. That’s all that needs be said about that.

In the case of the alt-right dingleberry actively hoping for the collapse of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), which will presumably take me down with it: I think the plan there was reassuring the other dingleberries with whom he corresponds on social media that, yes, indeed, one day my virtue-signaling self will get mine, along with all of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), and what a glorious day that will be for them. As this particular alt-right dingleberry self-publishes on Amazon, there’s also the implication that upon the smoking ruins of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), and the dessicated bones of all the SJWs that toiled there, will come a new age where these alt-right dingleberries and their work will finally take their rightful place at the top of the science fictional heap, while I and my sort, I don’t know, maybe suck quarters out of vending machines to survive.

And, I guess, sure, maaaaaybe? But probably not? This shouldn’t be a spoiler to anyone here, but the fact is that Tor is fine, and I’m fine, and even if Tor disappeared tomorrow and I couldn’t find someone else to publish my print work — either of which is, uhhhhhh, unlikely — I’d still be publishing and getting paid for novels well into the 2020s because I have a deal with Audible that mirrors my Tor deal. Audible, you might know, is owned by Amazon. I suppose there’s some irony in the fact my career would be seamlessly continued by the same company where this alt-right dingleberry peddles his own wares, and which he views as the future of publishing; I imagine it’s frustrating to fantasize about the destruction of someone’s career, only to discover he’s already set up shop on the street you thought you had claimed, and his business there is booming. But of course that’s his problem and not mine.

(Mind you, I’m pretty sure this alt-right dingleberry doesn’t actually care about whether traditional publishing collapses or not — he just wants authors he doesn’t like not to have careers, and is working backwards from that proposition to a scenario that will allow such a thing to happen. If all of traditional publishing implodes, these three authors I dislike will be out of work! Bwa ha ha hah ha! This is like thinking the solution for the squirrels that come down from the trees to steal birdseed from your backyard feeder is setting fire to the forest behind your house. Seems like the long way around, and there’s a lot of collateral damage, possibly to your own house.)

I don’t think there’s an “endgame” to this, because there’s nothing these dudes can do to change anything; the game isn’t about change, it’s about identity through self-delusion. This alt-right dingleberry and the other dingleberries like him are employing a Tinkerbell strategy with regard to me and other writers they don’t like — they think if they just clap hard enough, the thing they want will happen, which in this case is me and a few other people they dislike not having careers. This Tinkerbell strategy is immune to facts and reality, which is nice for them, and in my particular case mostly harmless. It’s fine if they want to believe I’m failing and my career is a sham that will come tumbling down any second now. They can claim my sales are fake all they like. The royalties are real enough.

Also, you know. Here’s the thing. Even if this alt-right dingleberry could wave a magic wand and stop my career in its tracks tomorrow — no more sales, no more books — it’s kind of too late, now, isn’t it? I’ll still have had a nice 15-year run in science fiction and fantasy, where I sold a lot of books, won a few awards, worked on a couple of things in TV, and met lots of awesome people I will be friends with all the rest of my life. You know the part of the story that goes “and they lived happily ever after”? I’m already there. If more happens: Great! If not, it was a good run and a hell of a good time.

Of course, this alt-right dingleberry can’t wave a magic wand. So I will continue to do what I do, and other writers he doesn’t like will continue to do what they do, and the publishers he doesn’t like will continue to exist, and the publishing model he professes is doomed will continue to do its thing. And I imagine he and other dingleberries will keep clapping as hard as they can, hoping against hope that their pissy, petty little wishes will come true, somehow.

Well, keep at it, dingleberries. I’ll be writing books while you clap your hands sore. That’s my endgame, and my happily ever after.

The “Christmas in July” Winning Number Is:

364.

And only one person guessed it, so congrats, Lynne Everett! The ARC will be winging its way to you, oh, probably Monday. Thank you to everyone who played along!

A Telling Insight Into My Soul

If you’re the sort of person who is determined that you and I are to be enemies, and you were at the top of a long stairwell, I wouldn’t push you down the stairs. But if you happened to trip on your own shoelaces, I might chuckle to myself the entire time you fell.

The Big Idea: Marko Kloos

Military science fiction is a popular genre, and certainly Marko Kloos knows that, having written the very successful “Frontlines” series. But for his new series, which begins with Aftershocks, Kloos decided he wanted to try a different strategy, regarding “MilSF.” Here he is to explain it. Giraffes may be involved.

MARKO KLOOS:

A good friend once told me that people who go to the zoo come in only two kinds: those who are happy to see the giraffes again, and those who aren’t. Military science fiction is very much a genre for readers who like to see the giraffes again. They know it’s going to be about war because it says so right on the tin. And there are plenty of military SF writers providing the metaphorical giraffes: armored space marines, bravery, sacrifice, and jingoistic gun fetish baloney.

But the best novels in the genre were written by people who used the medium of speculative fiction to work out their wartime experiences. Jerry Pournelle and Gene Wolfe served in Korea. Joe Haldeman and David Drake are Vietnam veterans, as is Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, whose Nebula-winning “The Healer’s War” was based on her experiences as a combat nurse in Vietnam. Not coincidentally, military SF is where some of the most authentic and honest war narratives can be found. Writers like Haldeman will let you look at the giraffes only very briefly as they speed-walk you past the exhibit to more interesting sights.

I am fortunate enough to lack wartime experiences to work out in my fiction. I did serve, but in a peacetime army, training for a war that luckily never came. When I wrote the first book in my Frontlines series, I wanted to have a way to use the memories from my service before they faded from memory. Frontlines takes some good looks at the effects of war on the people we send to fight them, but mostly it’s still a “young man goes to war” narrative, with the genre-obligatory boot camp sequence and dramatic space battles. It’s not the giraffe exhibit, but it’s a bit giraffe-adjacent at times. For my new series, I wanted to take a conscious detour around that place from the start.

When I came up with the idea for a new book a while back, I tried to imagine what the exact negative of the “young man goes to war” scenario could look like. I landed at “old(er) man comes home from war.” And that made me think of a bit of family history, and the only person I knew as a child who had come home from war.

You see, my grandfather fought in a war, and he fought for the wrong side.

It wasn’t just the wrong side in a winner-rewrites-history, Richard III sort of wrong. His side wasn’t just wrong, they were unequivocally the bad guys, and history is pretty unanimous about it.

I couldn’t tell you what he did in the war because he never talked about it. When I was little, I asked him a few times what it was like, but he always deflected the question and moved on to a different subject. I know from the family records I kept that he wasn’t what military people call a trigger-puller, a soldier in a combat function. He was a stoker on military trains, which means he shoveled coal into boilers. But his theater of operations was the Eastern Front, which saw the most ferocious fighting and the worst atrocities of the war. Millions died on both sides. It was savage, no-quarter-given brutality. I can only imagine the kinds of things he saw. But he kept his memories locked up for the rest of his life, so I’ll never know for sure. Was he trying to forget? Was he ashamed of the cause he had supported? What did the world look like to him when he came home? How did he even begin to rebuild his life after losing his old one so completely?

And just like that, I had my Big Idea for the new novel.

What if you fought on the wrong side, and you lost?

Watching people pick up the pieces seemed much more interesting than watching them kick those pieces over. So much war fiction deals with the war itself, but what happens when the guns fall silent, and everybody tries to go on with life?

I started to imagine a place where the war has already happened, and where people are still dealing with the aftermath, sweeping up the broken bits and patching things up. I wanted to see what it would be like for the people on either side of the conflict, and what they would do with the hands they had dealt themselves. The ones who started the war and then lost, trying to come to terms with the fact that they spent their lives in the service of an unjust cause. Their children, faced with having to atone for the sins of their parents. The winners, juggling their desires for retribution, the need for justice, and the responsibilities of power. What kind of shockwaves would ripple through a system economy where everyone is dependent on everyone else? And how would a society react to outsiders trying to impose the will of the victors and uprooting centuries-old institutions and cultural norms in the process?

The result is called Aftershocks, first in a series called “The Palladium Wars”.

When an earthquake happens, the seismic event doesn’t stop after the big tremors are over. You get aftershocks, which are smaller quakes that follow weeks, months, or even years later. The bigger the quake, the stronger and more frequent the aftershocks. They are dangerous because they are unpredictable, and they can collapse what was previously only damaged. It seemed like the perfect title for a novel about what happens when people try to rebuild their lives when the ripples of their actions are still kicking up the rubble when they least expect it.

—-

Aftershocks: Amazon

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

4th of July Skies

Big fluffy clouds with crepuscular lighting.

They were pretty without the fireworks.

As for the 4th in general, this is what I had to say about it today on Twitter:

This 4th of July I am celebrating the better nation I know we could be, and committing myself to the work it will take to become it.

Also, I’m having pie.

Accurate on both counts.

Hope your 4th was inspirational, and pie-laden.

Sunset With Cat 7/3/19

Spice on the deck rail, with a sunset behind her.

Spice has all the fireworks she needs behind her. She’ll probably get more over the next couple of days, to be sure.

Have “Christmas” in July!

A picture of my collection

Hey! Want to win this ARC of A Very Scalzi Christmas, a collection of Christmas-related stories from me, including three new, never-before-published stories (including one ironically called “Christmas in July”)? Well, you can! Here’s how:

1. I just rolled a number between 0 and 999 using a ten-sided die (which I rolled three times), which I have now duly recorded. Your mission: guess which number it was.

2. Post your guess in the comment thread for this post, using a valid email address so I can contact you if you win (Put it in the email field, not in the body of the comment; that way no one will see your email address but me, and I’m not going to use it for any purpose other than this contest). Only one guess per person, please; additional guesses from the same person will be discarded.

3. If more than one person picks the correct number, I will use a random number generator to pick a number between one and [whatever the number of correct answers] and then pick, based on chronological order, the person who corresponds to that number. If no person picks the correct number, then I will pick the person who is the closest to the number, going down (so if the number is x, then I’ll look at x-1, then x-2, and so on). Again, if there are multiple guesses at that closest number, I’ll pick a winner based on the manner noted above.

4. If you are that person, you win! I will sign the ARC (and personalize it if you like) and mail it to you wherever you are on the globe. So, yes, this is open to everyone who has a valid mailing address, even if you live somewhere else than the United States.

This contest is open from the second I post it until exactly 48 hours later (at which point the comments automatically close), so roughly from 10am Eastern on July 3rd to 10am Eastern on July 5.

Or, if you decide the laws of probability may not work entirely for you in this endeavor, you can pre-order the signed, limited edition of A Very Scalzi Christmas from Subterranean Press directly, and when you do not only will you get the very handsome hardcover edition of the book, signed by me, you will also get the electronic version of the book as well. Two formats, one price!

And that’s it! Guess away!

The Big Idea: Jim Ottaviani

The cover to Hawking

It’s not every day that you get invited to meet one of your heroes. In this Big Idea for Hawking, author Jim Ottaviani talks about planning to meet a man he and the book’s artist Leland Meyrick absolutely admired… and how things didn’t quite go to plan.

JIM OTTAVIANI:

With a few exceptions — Armstrong and Aldrin, Goodall and Galdikas — for most of my graphic novels I’ve been “Sixth Sense”ing it, so to speak, as my subjects have all been dead. And as it turns out, writing about the living is different.

Exhibit A: In 2013 Leland Myrick and I ended up taking reference photos and discussing his life story while standing in Stephen Hawking’s bedroom and private bath — okay, we didn’t hang out in the bathroom for long — and yet we didn’t meet him face-to-face. Here’s what happened.

It started with two words: “big day.” That’s the subject line of the message I received on July 4, 2012. No capitalization, no punctuation, no elaboration. The message came from Lois, a mutual friend of Hawking’s, and she sent it to let me know that her husband Gordy had won his bet with Hawking on the existence of the Higgs Boson… and oh, by the way, in addition to conceding that wager? Hawking had also let her know that he enjoyed the Feynman graphic novel Leland and I did, and invited us to come and visit to talk about doing one on him.

So, I maybe would have capitalized those two words, because it was a Big Day for Leland and me, and since then I don’t think there’s been a Single Day he and I haven’t thought about the book, worked on the book, and looked forward to the day when you’d have the book in your hands.

An invitation from Stephen Hawking means you start making travel plans immediately, but finding the right time to fly over and meet him proved difficult. As one of the few true celebrity scientists in the known galaxy, he was always busy. And as everyone knows, he had physical challenges beyond what you’d expect for someone in their seventies. In the end we just had to commit to a date to visit and hope for the best, and in the end we were unlucky.

He wasn’t feeling well the whole time we were there, but he got better and we got five more years of his grand pronouncements and his sly wit, but for us the trip ended up being very Gay Talese, very “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” By that I mean we didn’t talk to the man himself, but instead spent our time with the many people in his close orbit at Cambridge. (If you need an SF hook to get you to read Talese’s classic article from Esquire, note that it features a cameo by none other than Harlan Ellison, definitely playing himself.)

So we spent time in his office with his colleagues, in his home with his personal assistant, in and around the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and the Gordon Moore Library with his personal papers, and left with more material and insights than we could ever have gotten from a short audience with the man himself…an audience that would have ended with washed away in the turbulent wake of activity that followed him everywhere he went, every word he spoke.

That doesn’t mean we don’t regret not meeting him. We did, and do. But it also doesn’t mean our book doesn’t show Hawking’s personal side as well as his science. It does, and for a couple Midwesterners (Leland now lives on the west coast, and I was born out there, but we both spent our formative years in middle states) the idea of going into someone’s bedroom with a purpose other than to toss your winter coat on top of the pile and immediately leave without looking at anything at all — much less taking photos — was, well, plenty personal!

Hawking is about more than his genius, and more than just him, so the iconic wheelchair and computer-generated voice you know so well don’t appear until halfway through this story. Don’t worry. They’re there, along with his friends and family and the science he did and the bets he won (and lost) and how he made the most of the two years his doctor predicted he had to live after his ALS diagnosis.

He died around the fifty-fifth anniversary of that prediction, after an eventful life that took him all over the world (literally) and throughout the cosmos (figuratively). In our book you’ll travel with him through both.

For myself, I would have guessed he’d be with us even longer. In fact, in our original pitch to First Second, we closed by saying “Producing a graphic novel of this scope will take years, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that Hawking will be around to see its completion.” I was right about the ‘tak[ing] years’ part, but though it was a close thing, sadly, I was wrong about him being around today.

But even though he’s gone, through Leland’s art you can still hear that voice, and see that grin.

—-

Hawking: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

The Not Cool Reincarnation

Krissy and Athena pose in front of Athena's new car, to which the "Not Cool" plates are being attached.

As an addendum to last week’s post about our minivan, which held the license plates “Not Cool,” being towed off after 16 years of service, here are Krissy and Athena attaching said plates to Athena’s new vehicle, a GMC Terrain. As we all know, the soul of a car is contained in its licence plates, so this is the official Not-Coolmobile reincarnation. The “Not Cool” plates are not quite as on point with an SUV as they are with a minivan, but they will still probably get a few double takes now and again, as they did on the old vehicle. Long may this new incarnation of Not Cool ride.

Some Quick July 1 Notes

To catch you all up with what’s going on with me:

One, I have not finished The Last Emperox yet. But I’ve taken down the “semi-hiatus” notice because, well. At this point I’m just gonna do what I’m gonna do. Don’t worry, I have more than two weeks to finish it. At this point.

Two, this month’s travel will take me to Spain, and while I’m there I’m probably not too likely to do a bunch of person updates, because Spain, and it’ll be my first time in that particular country. I’ll be there for this, incidentally. If you happen to be in or near Spain at the time, come on down.

Three, despite not having finished TLE yet, it’s been a pretty good year. There was this, and also this, and I turned in this, and also I traveled to London, Budapest, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. I’ve pitched some projects and have others in various stages of development at Netflix and at Amazon Studios and elsewhere. So, first half of 2019: Personally, not bad! For the second half of ’19, I have two more books to deliver plus, uhhhhhh, other projects I can’t tell you about yet. Plus more travel (still). Somewhere in there I’ll sleep. Maybe. Maybe.

So let’s get to the second half of 2019, yes?