The Last Emperox — Done!

At 4:35pm today, Halloween, 2019. And it’s no trick, this book is a treat. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

I’m putting some acknowledgements on it now, and then off it goes to Tor.


My In-House Editor Prepares Me For the Final Push

Spice the cat at my keyboard

She tells me I got this thing. We will see.

Okay, folks. The next time you’ll hear from me is when this book is done. Wish me luck today.

An Update on the State of Things

It’s going well. I’m at the point where the writing is done and all that’s left is the typing, but there’s a lot of typing to be done between now and Friday.

I’m also at the stage where the issue is not the plot, but the sequencing; I wrote a chapter last night and then woke up early this morning and the first thought I had in my head was I need to chop that chapter in two and add another chapter in the middle. A chapter I had already intended to write, fortunately, not a whole new chapter I need to invent. At this point in the writing, these are better problems to have than, say, the ones where you’re left thinking I don’t know how to end this book. I know how to end this book, I’m happy to say.

To give you another indication of where I am on things, last Friday the back of one my molars just yeeted itself right out of my mouth and my thought on that was, well, that’s not getting fixed until after the book is done.

(Don’t worry, it’s not painful, it was just an old filling. And I have an appointment a week from now.)

Anyway, here’s Smudge.

Back to writing for me.

Look, Here’s Me at This Year’s National Book Festival

In this I talk about writing The Last Emperox, I read my short story “Automated Customer Service” and then I answer a whole bunch of questions. All told, about 45 minutes of me doing my thing. Enjoy.

Update: Also, I’m adding in the transcript of the main portion of my talk, just in case you don’t want to sit through the video. Enjoy.

Thank you everybody.

Before I begin, I just couldn’t notice that somebody that I know is actually in the audience, my friend, Joe, who I worked with at America Online when I lived in this area, about 20 years ago. And the thing to know about Joe is that I actually killed him not once but twice in my books [laughter]. The first time it was because he was my editor, and I’d said something to him, and he was snarking, and I was like, “that’s it! I’m going to murder you in a book.” [Laughter] And then the second book was happening at the same time, as that first book, so I had to kill him again. And you know, I think his reaction was like, “The first time it was funny, now I’m concerned [laughter].” So, Joe, I apologize for murdering you twice, please don’t kill me now.

I’m going to go ahead and start talking about my book, The Consuming Fire. Actually I’m going to talk about the series, which is the interdependency series, which includes The Collapsing Empire, which is the first book, The Consuming Fire, which is the second book, which is out now, and is the most recent book that I have that has come out, and then the third book, which I’m writing even as we speak. Not literally right this second, because I’m talking to you, but as far as my editor knows [laughter], I am writing it when I go back to my hotel room, which is called The Last Emperox.

And the thing about the Interdependency series, which is kind of funny, is I started thinking about this book in–or these books in about 2014, and the idea behind them is there is a galaxy spanning sort of faster than light highway, or a river, which is called the flow. And that’s how people get from one place to the next, and in the course of the books, the flow starts collapsing. So that’s the basis. And how people are responding to that is what drives the books.

But what’s been interesting to me is watching people respond to the books, specifically in many ways starting with the titles. The first book is called The Collapsing Empire, in which people were like, oh, so we’re writing about America now, are we? You know? [Laughter] Or The Consuming Fire, which is another one where they’re like that’s a little on the nose. And then people are like reading the books and are like, well these are clearly books that are about climate change denial. Or we’d like to know, no actually they’re books about Brexit, no, they’re actually books about Brexit?

No! There are actually books about bad governance, and you know, and so the, you know, listening to people talk about how they are seeing the events of today, being played out in the books that I’m writing. Being played out in the books that I’m writing, that they really believe that I’m writing these books about or commenting on the contemporary world, I’m just setting it in the future.

The irony of this for me is that for these books it really was not–the precipitating idea was not about climate change or Brexit or bad governance. I was, because I am a nerd, thinking about the golden age of European colonization from the 15th to 19th Centuries [laughter]. Particularly when I was thinking about it, was the colonization and exploitation of the Americas, notably by England, Spain and Portugal, and the way that happened was through the technology of the time, and the technology of the time were these wind-driven ships. Now, in the Atlantic ocean, there are, the tradewinds, and the ocean currents, and they basically formed this great gyre, or gyre, or however it’s pronounced, and the ships go one way, then they come back another way, and they come back around, and that’s how a lot of the American exploitation and colonialization happened, because those trade winds were there and the technology took advantage of that.

The Europeans benefited enormously from these natural phenomenon that they had absolutely no control over. And so what I thought about was, what would have happened if these trade winds and the ocean currents just stopped? Okay? Just stopped. Which kind of seems like a fantastical idea, but it’s really not. I mean it’s not impossible to disrupt the cycle of ocean currents, for example. Like, for example, if you heat up the planet and you melt a whole lot of the glaciers in Greenland, then all that cold water goes into the ocean, sinks to the bottom, where the engine of these currents happen, disrupts them entirely, all of a sudden, Europe is a popsicle, and they’re all screwed. Could happen [laughter]. Don’t know now.

But the whole point of that for me is that the course of history would have been changed, and it would have been changed because the technology of the time relied on, assumed a natural feature of the earth was eternal, which it may not have been, and may still not be. And so I took that idea, and because I was not writing historical fiction, because people will check your facts [laughter], I moved it to the future where nobody can tell if I’ve got it screwed up, because by the time it happens, it will be dead. So that was the precipitating idea, and I wrote in in 2014, long before anything that’s happening now was happening. So for me, when people are like, “It’s Brexit!” “It’s climate change denial”…I’m like, “No! It’s about colonialism!”

The other thing is that I also have a general philosophy of not bringing up specific political issues from today in the current–in the science fiction that I write in the very, very far future. The way that I explain this to people is that like taking something that’s going on today, in a very non-allegorical sense, and just bringing it 500 years in the future, or 400 years, or something like that, would be like somebody writing contemporary fiction today in a world where everyone, including everybody in this room is passionately, madly, and has immediately accessible opinions about the Alien and Sedition Acts. Right? I mean, this is Washington, D.C., you may actually have [laughter]…opinions about the Alien and Sedition Acts, and actually, let me have a show of hands, how many of you are Jeffersonians in this particular case [laughter]? And how many of you are Adams’s? You Adams’s can leave the room now [laughter], because he was wrong!

But this is my whole point. This is my whole point. It’s not–most of you know if you had a history class what the Alien and Sedition Acts are, but you otherwise don’t really particularly care. And most of the people 400 years from the future are concurrent, contrasts everything that we’re going through, they’ll be like: Well that was a thing that happened. Do I have to know it for the test [laughter]? And that’s how they’re going to relate to it. If you’re doing stuff like illusion to metaphor, and stuff like that, that’s fine too, but it’s otherwise, but even then you have to be really careful about, and now I’m on a soap box, because all of a sudden, you break the thing where the person is enveloped in your world, and they’re like, oh, he’s talking about Brexit, isn’t he? So…so these are things that generally speaking, when I’m writing in science fiction, I try to avoid.

I don’t try to make it just talking about things that are going on now, but for all of that, for all of that science fiction, all about science fiction being in the future. It is written in the current time, by people who are living in the current times. Hi, I’m John Scalzi. I was born in 1969. I am 50 years old. The only times I’ve ever known are the times we are in now. And the people who are alive today and who are reading, have the same circumstances as I do. Some of you are older, some of you are younger. As I go along, fewer of you will be older [laughter] and lost more of you will be younger. I am freaked out about the idea that there are two generations of adults who are older than me, and the fact that people who are 10 years younger than me are now middle aged, stop doing that [laughter], but that is kind of the way it is.

So, I’m a writer. I live today, and I cannot help but be influenced by current events, both positively and negatively. I thought of this idea for this Interdependency series in 2014, but I started writing it in 2016. So, and I’m currently writing the third book, as far as my editor knows. So, you know, there–the period of time in which I am writing these books encompasses basically what I call the current chaos, right?
And so it has an effect on me, just by existing.

Not only that, but my past as a writer is as a newspaper journalist and columnist, I find it really, really hard not to pay attention because this is my fundamental training of what’s going on today? What do I think about it? Let me tell you. I had my first job as a nationally syndicated columnist when I was 24. I was a professional mansplainer , right [laughter]? That’s–it’s hard to break that out. And so it’s very difficult for me to filter that all out, and not to be thinking about it. So I can’t help but be affected by what’s going on today.

Moreover, you as readers cannot help but be affected by what’s going on in the world today. When writers write a book, they know why they’re writing the book, sometimes, and they have an idea of why they write, and what they meant, and all that sort of stuff. But you are not us. You often do not know what we are thinking about our books. The way you come to the book, basically with what the words are, and your own interpretation of it, the book is only half about the author. The other half is about you as the reader. And it is what you bring into it. And what are you bringing into the books when you read them? You are bringing your own concerns, fears, apprehensions and connections.

So, the fact of the matter is, even if I didn’t intend to write about bad governance, and Brexit, and climate denial, people are still going to be making those connections because it’s what they see in the world right now, and it’s in the air of the times. We are all captive of the world that we live in. Some of us are responsible in greater or lesser ways from making those worlds, but a lot of us are just like, we’re here. This is what we’re dealing with.

And as a writer, I cannot tell people that they are wrong for finding the parallels in these books that I did not necessarily intend. I mean, I could say it, like, all of you are wrong, how dare you? You know? The voice of the author has spoken! But…by and large, again, the book is not just what I wrote. It’s what you bring to it as well. You are going to see parallels there. And I am going to be affected by the times. The world that we live in makes an effect on the world that I’ve built.

I’m currently writing the third book in the series. I am behind, because the world is distracting. Don’t tell my editor [laughter]. And I’m still not intentionally writing about climate denial or Brexit, or bad governance, even though I know so many people who have been reading the series are thinking about these things. But the fact of the matter is, the crisis in the universe I created, the people who are facing the crisis are reacting in a way that is not going to be dissimilar to the way that humans in the real world are reacting to the crises we are all facing today. We are all still the same human beings 1,500 years in the future, as we are today, as we were 30,000 years ago, when we were in the Savannah, and the only thing we had to worry about were jaguars and food.

And I’ll give you an example of this. One of the things that I talk about in the new book is I talk about the five-stages of crisis management, which are used by the people who have no desire to face up to the looming unavoidable, wrenching change that is coming, or for those for whom this looming change is inconvenient for the business plan. So these five stages of the–the five stages of crisis management are denial, denial, denial, [laughter] denial! And holy crap, everything is screwed, grab as much cash as you possibly can and run!

These five stages, I regret to say, are not exclusive to my universe [laughter]. Nor is greed and cupidity and short-sightedness, or the other dynamics, and the dynamics of the events that occur because of these qualities. People are going to see parallels in what I’m writing in this third book, to what is happening now, because the humans in my book are based on the humans that exist in the real world, and how they respond to the crises around them.

But I should also note that in my book, there are people who are fighting against the greed and the cupidity and the stupidity and every–the short-sightedness, and they are doing what they can to save the people who are affected by the change that is coming. That means everybody in that particular universe. And to prepare them for whatever comes next. And that, too, is because the people in my book are based on people in the real-world as well.

Now, in my books, I know what’s going to happen. And I write the fates of the people in them, and I make their choices for them, and I know whether their endings to the response, to the, you know, the extent that they’re in the books are happy or sad, or somewhere in between. In the real-world, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and I can’t write everyone’s fate. And so we all have to decide what sort of people we are going to choose to be. Whether we are going to be the short-sighted ones, or if we’re going to be another type of person entirely. You are the people who have to choose that.

And so I say to you. Choose wisely! The next generation of writers is out there. They are literally out here. And even if they write about the future as I do, they are going to be writing in the world that we leave them for the readers who follow us. And now is the time that we have to decide what it is they choose to say.

And that’s that.

German Expressionist Moon

From this morning. 

(Writing is going well, by the way. About to get back to it.)

New Books and ARCs, 10/24/19

This stack features extra added Sugar! (That’s the cat.) And is otherwise a very very fine stack of new books and ARCs. What here is calling to you? Tell us all in the comments!

Mostly Hiding Out Again

I’m still not done with The Last Emperox, and it absolutely has to be done by the end of the month, so… probably not going to be around a lot in the next couple of weeks, folks. Don’t worry, I’m not dead, but by the time I write “The End” I may wish I was.

I may drop in every now and then with cat pics and sunsets and new book stacks. Otherwise, yeah. November.

A Brief Thread on Marvel Films

A Twitter thread I wrote on what Marvel films are, in the wake of both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola dumping on them (and Coppola in particular calling them “despicable“). Archived here for posterity and conversation.

1. Since we’re on the subject, here’s my opinion of the Marvel films in general: They’re highly competent entertainments, whose individual installments range from underbaked (Iron Man 2) to superior pastiche (Winter Soldier). Brilliant? Generally, no. Despicable? Nah, bro.

2. Marvel films are to Disney over the last decade as musicals were to MGM in its heyday, or monster films were Universal, or gangster films were to Warner — a reliable economic engine, pitched to the masses. Easy to gripe on esthetically, but difficult to assail economically.

3. Will any Marvel films be “classics” 30 years down the line? Possibly, and in the same ratio as the MGM musicals or the Warner gangster films: a few remembered, the rest down the memory hole. But most films of any sort aren’t made to be classics, they’re made to make money now.

4. Scorsese or Coppola (or anyone) griping at Marvel films as not “true cinema” or despicable or whatever is essentially also condemning the vast majority of major studio output — competent entertainments — to the same fate. Which seems, I don’t know, a tad *dramatic.*

5. (Not to mention that Scorsese and Coppola — and indeed nearly any major director with more than a handful of films to their name — has forgettable “competent entertainments” on their resume as well. They did films for money/to keep busy/to catch a wave, too.)

6. I won’t suggest Marvel films are great cinema in general, but what I can say is that I appreciate Disney’s consistent high competence with these films — if you think it’s easy, note WB’s DC inconsistencies, or Universal’s aborted “Dark Universe.” It ain’t easy, folks.

7. Which is why Marvel films *have* their exalted place in common culture at the moment — as “Competent Entertainments” they fill their brief with a consistency very few other franchises ever have. That’s not down to an “auteur,” that’s down to an institutional dictate.

8. Which in point of fact may be what Coppola and Scorsese — who came to fame in the 70s as cinematic auteurs — are actually griping about: Marvel films are the antithesis of the sort of films they create and that they admire, ones of a specific directorial vision.

9. Which is fine! But doesn’t rise to the level of cinematic despicableness, any more than the studio-era musicals or gangster films, so much more about a studio identity than any specific director (even if some directors became identified with the genres), were despicable.

10. In sum: Marvel films perfectly competent largely entertaining studio product, not usually springing from a singular directorial vision but that’s not a horrifying thing, the auteurs complaining come out of a different cinematic philosophy, which is fine. Deep breaths. /end

The Scalzi Compound in Watercolor

Autumn at the Scalzi Compound looks good in faux-watercolors!

(which is to say I didn’t really paint this, I have a Photoshop add-on that does it for me. But it looks nice anyway.)

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend, folks.

New Books and ARCs, 10/18/19

Today’s stack is a double, because that’s just how much booky goodness has come to the Scalzi Compound recently. What here is calling to you? Share in the comments!

A Piece of Art I Just Purchased, Featuring, Uh, Me

Me, in a red shirt, wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction, with Old Man's War art in the background.

Artist Lee Moyer, along with three other artists, is currently doing an exhibition at the Keep Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For Lee’s part in the exhibition, he’s done science fiction and fantasy writers as tarot cards, using such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle, HP Lovecraft and… me, among others. It’s nice company to be in, and also, I like the illustration a whole lot, so I bought the piece of art. It will not go in my office — that seems a little on the nose — but it’ll go somewhere suitable in the house. And who knows. Maybe I’ll use it for my next author photo.

Speaking of which, back to the writing.

It’s Already Past Five and My Brain is the Consistency of Mush, So Please Accept This Picture of Two Tuxedo Cats Who May Possibly Be Bored

Bored, or content? With cats it’s hard to tell.

That’s all I got for you today, sorry. I will try to brain better tomorrow.

A Brief Glimpse Into the Inexpressible Glamor of My Life

I have a non-trivial case of tendonitis in my left shoulder and my doctor’s advice for it is mild stretching, Aleve for the inflammation, and an ice pack to deal with swelling. The ice pack I’ve been using: A bag of frozen peas, because it’s conveniently sized for my shoulder and because the frozen peas are cold without melting on me and/or giving me frostbite.

With that said, the regular thawing and refreezing of the peas in question are likely reducing their usefulness as actual foodstuffs, so we’ve marked the particular bag of peas I’m using as “shoulder peas” to make sure no one opens up the bag and tries to, you know, eat the things. Please never eat the shoulder peas, folks. I know where they’ve been. On my shoulder. Over and over again.

Also, tendonitis sucks, and I don’t recommend it to you. Especially if you’ve gotten it the way I have, which is to sleep on your arm wrong. Aging sucks, y’all.

It’s Time For My Annual Non-Solicited Endorsement of WordPress Hosting

Around this time 11 years ago, I switched Whatever to hosting on WordPress, after a couple of years of struggling to keep the site up and running on days when lots of people came to it to read what I had to say. I made the switchover, and guess what happened? Nothing! Which is to say, in all the time since, I’ve never had to worry if the site was up, or handling the load of a rush of visitors, or otherwise happily chugging along. It’s been 11 years of that not worrying, and I gotta tell you, that’s a pretty good feeling. I have WordPress hosting to thank for that.

Also, in a larger and more philosophical sense, if you are a person who is doing creative things, I really recommend keeping and maintaining your own personal site, even if it’s just a simple, humble blog. Social media sites come and go (when Whatever switched over to WordPress hosting, MySpace was the king of the mountain, for example), but a personal site can be a permanent place for fans, clients and peers to find you and engage with your work and thoughts.

WordPress has a number of plans to accommodate your needs as a creative person and a business, up to and including its comprehensive VIP service. I use WordPress, and I recommend it. WordPress never asks me to post this annual endorsement, but I do it anyway, because I appreciate more than a decade of uninterrupted service, and because I think it’s been a good company to work with and to host my words on. If you need a Web site, or if you have a web site and are looking for a simpler and more reliable way of keeping it online, then consider WordPress for your site needs. It’ll do the job.

Finally, thank you to all the folks at WordPress who keep Whatever up and running and accessible. I appreciate it more than you know, even with this annual unsolicited endorsement. Y’all are pretty great.

Thoughts on Gemini Man, and its High Frame Rate

My daughter asked me if I wanted to go see Gemini Man with her last night, and I did, not because I thought it would be gripping action film with just a tinge of science fiction (which is what it’s promoted as), but because I’m a cinema nerd and director Ang Lee shot the film at 120 frames a second, i.e., a much higher rate than the standard 24-frames-per-second that is used for the usual cinematic outing. I wanted to see what it looked like, and whether it would add anything to the experience.

The personal answer to this question: well, I thought it looked cool, anyway; and no, not really.

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, the story: Will Smith is a 51-year-old assassin who feels he’s lost a step and wants to retire, but of course when you’re a professional assassin you can’t just retire, so the government, in the form of Clive Owen, sends an assassin to take him out, an assassin who just happens to be a clone of Smith’s character (this is not a spoiler, it’s all over the trailers and posters). Action scenes and bog standard plot twists ensue, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong are along for sidekick and comic relief duties respectively.

It’s fine. Director Ang Lee works beneath his level, but since his level is “two-time Oscar winner” it’s all still perfectly competent. The script has major holes in it but the movie doesn’t slow down to let you think about them, so that’s well enough, and the action scenes move along at an agreeable clip. Smith, Winstead, Wong and Owen are all attractive presences on screen, and the CGI’d younger version of Smith is credible enough both in physical detail and performance not to be distracting. It’s fine. Fine is fine. I don’t know that I will remember this movie a week from now, but while I was watching it I was reasonably entertained. Fair enough.

But for me, the thing I wanted to see was the high frame rate, and how it contributed (or didn’t) to the movie. There are purists who dislike movies being screened at higher than 24 frames a second because they think that 24fps is an essential part of cinematic grammar — it’s what gives cinema its “feel,” and higher frame rates make everything feel like a cheap soap opera. Personally, I’m meh on this; 24fps is a historical artifact, and there’s no particular reason to be tied to it these days, when nearly all theater projectors are digital and movies can be recorded and shown in higher film rates if the filmmakers want. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that younger people don’t see high frame rates as a negative; if they see something at 60fps or above, they don’t think “soap opera” — a reference which doesn’t mean anything to them since soap operas mostly don’t exist anymore — they think “video games.” And in video games, the higher the fps, the better. Why not the same in movies?

With that said, if you’re going to go out of your way to record your movie at a higher film rate, I think it helps to have a reason. I’m not tied to the 24 frame per second rate, but there’s nothing wrong with it, either. If you’re going to deviate from it — and call attention to that deviation — it’s worth it to have a good reason for doing so.

As far as I can see, there wasn’t any particularly good reason to go with the higher frame rate for Gemini Man. Yes, everything on screen moved more smoothly, and if you’re not used to higher frame rates, it can give the illusion of hyper reality. But the novelty of that wears off quickly enough, and then it becomes a question of whether the additional frames help with cinematography, or action sequences or special effects or anything else. And here, it didn’t, really. The action sequences, in particular, were not so complicated or choreographed that a higher frame rate added clarity to their execution; I suspect they would be have been equally effective at 24fps. I was aware of the additional smoothness in these scenes (especially the slow motion bits), but I wasn’t seeing how it mattered, aesthetically or functionally.

So, in the end, the higher frame rate of Gemini Man was… fine. The movie worked fine with it, and it would have worked just fine without it. It neither harmed nor added real value to the movie or the story. Does it make think that high frame rate movies are the wave of the future? Not really, no. It also doesn’t argue against the idea, either. It’s now just another tool in the filmmaker toolbox. Something they can do, if they want to, or not if they don’t. Like 3D, which, incidentally, I saw Gemini Man in, and which, like the high frame rate, neither added nor detracted from this particular movie and story.

This is the second film I’ve seen in theaters at a higher frame rate; the first was The Hobbit, which I went out of my way to see in “48HFR,” as it was advertised at the time. I liked it there and thought it suited the movie, but then I saw the subsequent Hobbit installments in regular 24fps and did not feel the lack of frame rate in any particular way. I’m still waiting for the movie for which a higher frame rate is actually critical for the cinematic experience. Maybe the upcoming Avatar sequels? Say what you will about Avatar, but for my money there was a distinct differential in experience between the 2D and 3D versions of that movie, and the 3D version was noticeably more affecting. I understand Cameron is shooting the sequels at 60fps, and if there’s any filmmaker who can make those higher frame rates pay off, it’s probably him. We’ll see.

In the meantime: Gemini Man is a perfectly adequate way to burn off two hours in the theatre. If you like Will Smith, it’s very Will Smithy. There are worse things.

The Scalzis Try Australian Snacks

Hey, remember all those snacks I was given when I was in Australia? Athena and I tried them all (well, most of them) and made a video of us doing it and reviewing the snacks we had. It’s 17 minutes of your life you’ll never get back! Enjoy.

Today in My Fame is a Strange and Sort of Wonderful Fame

The fast food franchise Hothead Burritos has an interactive nutrition information form, which allows you plug in the ingredients from the burrito (or burrito bowl) you ordered and then get a calorie count and other information. I noted it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, and how much I appreciated it, since I’m recording calories.

In return, the creator of the Hothead Burrito nutritional information form has created a form especially for my own “burritos,” which actually works and is totally amazing. I love that this exists. Go try it for yourself.

New Books and ARCs, 10/10/19

Actually, these arrived before I left for Australia, so I’m catching up by posting them now. Nevertheless: A good stack! What here calls to you? Tell us in the comments.

The Moon in the Trees, 10/9/19

Not quite a full moon. Sorry, incipient werewolves. But pretty anyway.

What I Brought Home From Australia

These were a gift from the folks at Conflux, and prefaced with the admission that this was all junk. As someone whose first purchase in Australia was a Violet Crumble, this delighted me. And indeed there is a bunch of questionable stuff here, down to and including the Vegemite-flavored peanuts, which apparently not even anyone at Conflux, Down Under natives all, had even considered ever trying. I can’t wait.

The trip as a whole was lovely and I’ll probably write something slightly longer about it when my brain isn’t cottage cheese. Today is not that day, I have to say. In the meantime: Look! Candy! Mostly.