Reader Request Week 2019 #1: Strange Experiences

It’s Monday and it’s time for this year’s Reader Request Week! Let’s start this one off on a slightly spooky note, with this question from Mar:

I’d be curious to know, if you’re comfortable talking about it, whether you’ve ever had a “strange”, or for lack of a better term, what we might call “paranormal” experience. Anonymous data collecting seems to show that most people have, but are afraid to talk about it. I have had one experience that was very strange, and so have most of the people that I know. JF Martel on the podcast “Weird Studies” said that if everyone spoke freely about these events, we would be forced as a culture to include such phenomena in any attempt to form a coherent worldview. And probably also learn something about the nature of reality that we don’t understand now.

I’ve had a number of strange experiences in my life — “strange” meaning in this case events so entirely outside the normal range of my daily existence that some part of my brain felt compelled to remark “okay, this is some weird shit going on here” — but none of those things would be things I’d consider to be “paranormal” in the way the word normally gets used, i.e., in reference to things like ghosts and magic and aliens and extradimensional whatever. Every strange experience I can think of that’s happened to me is well-bounded in the physics and natural phenomena that we understand and can describe. At most, these events required extreme coincidence to have happened — but extreme coincidence does happen, so I don’t know that it’s all that surprising that it happens occasionally to me.

Now, I do think that this answer of mine speaks directly to my own view of the world, which is highly rationally based. As a practical matter, I don’t believe in things like ghosts or alien visitations or psychic powers, and I have a distinct bias toward rational answers to events. I’m not someone who believes in “fate” or the “hand of god” or even “we’re all here for a purpose.” So when strange things happen to me, my brain doesn’t see them as evidence of some paranormal activity of one sort or another; it goes “huh, that’s some weird shit,” and assumes it has some rational, physical basis. If you’re like that going in, then the number of paranormal experiences you’re going to have is already low. I am aware that many paranormal films feature someone who is all “everything has a rational basis!” who then gets eaten by, like, angry ghosts or demons or whatever in a gory and highly satisfying way. But that’s the movies for you. Real life is more boring, and more rational.

With that said, I do know a number of people who have reported strange experiences that would be considered to be “paranormal” in one way or another, and these people are folks who I like and love and consider solid people not given to flights of either fancy or delusion. How do I explain their experiences?

I don’t! I wasn’t there when they experienced what they experienced, and I’m not them. If someone tells me they experienced something outside of the range of what is generally considered natural phenomenon, then a) I’m perfectly willing to believe that something happened to them that was well outside their own usual range of experience, b) unless they are specifically asking me to postulate a rational explanation for their experience, I’m not the sort of person who has to be all “well, actually,” about this sort of thing. Something happened to them; this is how they decided to process it, and unless that is actively harming them or others, eh, fine.

This doesn’t mean I think they’ve likely had a paranormal experience, however. I’m aware of a number of things:

1. The remit of physical laws and phenomena is actually quite large, so more things can be explained rationally than many if not most people realize (and generally our culture has done a really crappy job explaining this fact);

2. Our culture enjoys paranormal storytelling to such an extent that when something strange happens, our brains use those familiar storytelling elements to explain what’s happening to us, i.e., if you’ve heard all your life about ghosts and something happens to you that fits the criteria for a visitation by a ghost, you’ll shove it into that slot, even if it has nothing to do with ghosts whatsoever;

3. Human brains are dodgy lumps of sentient fat that are both pattern-seeking and prone to misinterpreting and misapprehending new and strange things that are happening to them, which makes them especially vulnerable to magical thinking.

I also know this:

4. I don’t know everything about everything, and there are many things I cannot prove, so while I am 99.999999999+% percent sure that everything that happens to people has a perfectly rational basis in our universe, I do have to admit that my not knowing everything means I could be wrong about paranormal explanations for strange events. There could be ghosts and vampires and gray big-headed aliens and Nessie and angels so on. I think their existence is so massively unlikely that I don’t bother considering it in any serious way. But intellectual honesty compels me to admit I don’t definitively know one way or another.

So: I suspect most people’s paranormal experiences are probably not paranormal in any sense. It’s just their attempt to explain something that happened to them in a way that’s consistent to their understanding and knowledge of their world, the cultural clues that have been given to them and the manner in which their brain processed the event (and in which they subsequently remember it, memory being another dodgy and unreliable brain process). There’s maybe a >.000000001% chance it was actually paranormal! But probably not, and also, if thinking that it was paranormal allows them to process it and get on with their life without hurting themselves or anyone else, sure, okay, why not. I’m not going to go out of my way to be a jerk to them about it.

(I do think people who use the paranormal, and humans’ tendencies toward believing in that sort of thing, in malicious or detrimental ways are terrible people who I don’t have any problem stomping on. But I don’t think the original question is about con artists or malicious actors, it’s about normal people having experiences they’re having a hard time explaining otherwise.)

More to the point, I don’t think there’s any point in belittling or discounting people who believe in paranormal experiences, simply on that basis. I think there’s a lot to learn about how and why people think these events happen to them, and what more we can learn about the brain and the nature of consciousness from that. Human experience is bounded by how our brains process what’s going on around us.

If you’ve had a paranormal experience, you’ve had an actual experience, and your brain is working on how to explain that experience to you. It’s telling you a story about it — just like it does with every other event you’ve ever experienced. That’s some interesting shit right there.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

Krissy, As of Yesterday

She’s pretty great.

We like to joke that she doesn’t age; well, she does, in fact, age (the gray hair is a giveaway). She just does it gracefully. More gracefully than I do, in any event, which to be fair is a low bar. I don’t mind. She digs me anyway.

How to Have Time For a Life

On Twitter this morning, the following tweet:

I looked at the tweet and realized that, in fact, I am an adult who mostly manages to do all of those thing (that is, when the cats don’t wake me up at 3am to show me their butts and then I can’t get back to sleep). It made me curious as to what factors allow me to do all of them.

And I have answers! One of them is very general, and the others are specific to me. I answered the very general one in a tweet as well:

The reason that money can increase your bandwidth is that it can let you buy solutions to time-sucking activities. This often in the form of people you pay to do things, but also in the form of goods and services that let you spend less time doing things you don’t want to do (which then leaves time for the things you do want to do). Money also lets you do things like live in nice neighborhoods with fancy stores that have organic meats and produce, go to the gyms with trainers, have decent healthcare, enjoy the wherewithal for hobbies, etc. Money solves problems, and problems take time, so: money makes time.

Sometimes. As noted in the tweet, to make money one often has to be the sort of personality that overcommits to work and/or have the sort of job one never actually gets to leave even when one is not “at work,” so the mere presence of money in one’s life does not mean that one will automatically have any of those six goals enumerated above. Money can solve problems, but the pursuit of money itself creates its own problems, and the latter can swamp money’s ability to deal with the former. Welcome to the capitalist system.

So that’s the general answer. Specific to me, here are some of the things that allow me to hit all six of those goals:

1. I am well off. See above for what that allows. Also, I am fortunate that I neither have the sort of personality that makes a pleasure of the pursuit of money (I like making money, and recognize the necessity of it in our system, but the act of making is not in itself a dopamine rush for me), nor do I have a job that requires time penalties to make money. Speaking of which:

2. I have a creative job with no set hours that lets me work from home (or anywhere else). I have to produce roughly a novel a year. Once I do that I have other responsibilities relating to the production and promotion of the novel, which take up time but also leave stretches of time unoccupied. The novels can be (and largely are) written at home, which means time usually given over to commutes and presence at a workplace (not to mention things like meetings, client maintenance, etc) are not a factor for me. Which means I can sleep in! And, also, schedule time for exercise. Additionally, the work is portable, so if I do travel, I can theoretically at least take the work with me.

3. I’m an introvert who socializes online and/or whose social life often dovetails with work. Being an introvert means that my need for socializing is less than it might be for other people, and means having social interactions via social media, texting, etc actually works for me a lot of the time. Also, a lot of my “real world” socializing happens at things like science fiction conventions, book fairs/festivals or when I’m on a book tour, which is nice because a) in the case of conventions and festivals, there are other publishing pros (writers, editors, etc, and also members of SF/F fandom) who I like who are also there and happy to hang out, b) on tour I see friends in their hometowns. This makes social activities both schedulable and pleasant. Also, you know. On a daily basis I see my wife, whose company I like, and my daughter is nearby too, and I also like her a lot.

4. My hobbies dovetail into my life rather than require space to be made for them. My current hobbies are photography, music and writing. All of them work pretty well with my work/life flow — photography I can do opportunistically as I travel or do other things, music I get to incorporate with my social activities (for example, I now frequently DJ dances at science fiction conventions), and as for writing… well, hello. Thank you for reading my hobby. (I don’t count reading as a hobby; for me that’s like saying breathing is a hobby.) There is nothing wrong, and much right, about time-intensive hobbies like, say, bird-watching or mountain climbing or community theater. But I don’t do those. The hobbies I do have are, for me, low-impact/high-reward, timewise.

5. I have a spouse who handles a bunch of stuff. To be clear, I can, and do, do things about the house (I am at home, after all). Also to be clear, the amount she does is not strictly tied into the amount I don’t do — she has her own plans for things that are independent of anything I want/need/desire. But the side effect of that is I don’t have to do a lot of things relating to household upkeep and maintenance. I’m also not going to pretend that, with regard to the work I do, the division is equitable; Krissy does more. I asked her just now if she thought that was an artifact of our personalities, or just garden variety sexism; she said probably both. More specifically, she said “I don’t think you are a sexist, but I think we both sort of fall into some of society’s expectations.” Which was kind of her, to blame the system and not me personally.

6. I’m 50. Which means a lot of set-up for those goals is already in my rear-view mirror, and I’m currently getting the benefit of those set-up exercises. There were times, mostly in my 20s, where I was not close to hitting all of those goals — my social life was a dead zone from when I left college to when I met Krissy, and when I was working at AOL in the 90s, the job sucked all the hours, because the tech ethos of “we put food and a laundry in the building so you never have to leave” is not a new invention. It all paid off, which is nice for me.

7. I’m healthy. Mentally and, aside from a temporary case of tendonitis, physically. This is not a value judgment; I’m not a better or more virtuous person for being healthy. It’s recognition that health issues burn lots of hours (and in the US at least, lots of money), and can make it more difficult to achieve those goals.

Add all of this up, and there are two conclusions: One, it is possible for someone to achieve all six of those goals; Two, that to be that someone, it helps to have specific conditions to one’s life.

(Additionally, inasmuch as the sleep goal is one I only intermittently hit, it helps not to have cats waking your ass up at 3am. I did bring the cats into my home, so that’s on me, however.)

I don’t think you have to have my life to achieve all of these goals, mind you, especially if you combine factors. If you’re someone who loves to cook, for example, you can hit three of these with one stone: Throw a dinner party and you get to work on your hobby, socialize and (depending on the menu) eat healthy. If you live somewhere you can bike to work, there’s your daily exercise. And so on. But there are conditions to one’s life which are beneficial to realize those goals.

I do think it’s harder for younger people to get all of these goals lined up. Partly because being younger means having to work crappier jobs that require more from you, and that’s been true in most eras, but in this era in particular, in which jobs are more temporary and are stagnant in wages, and younger people’s debt loads are significantly higher, it’s more of a challenge. Obviously, they’re aware of this inequity, and equally obviously, it’s not fair.

It would be nice to live in a world where all of these goals were more achievable for more people, and more achievable without the time solvent of money. Such a world is possible! We’re not there yet, however. Hopefully activism toward that goal will be more people’s hobby, and they will find a way to make time for it.

New Books and ARCs, 11/15/19

Hey, you look like you could use a nice big stack of new books and ARCs to peruse. So here one is! What here is drawing your eye? Tell us all in the comments.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2019

It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a fabulous local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Consuming Fire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Tuesday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.

Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: A Very Scalzi Christmas is coming out at the end of the month via Subterranean Press, and it’s available. Note that this is a signed, limited edition (only 1,500 physical copies are being made), so it will be more expensive than most of my hardcover books, but it’s gorgeously made and the contents are pretty good too, so it’s worth it. 2018’s hardcovers Head On and The Consuming Fire should also be available if you ask for them specifically. The mini-hardcover of Old Man’s War is also available and is a great format for that book.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Tor re-released three of my novels in trade paperback format this year: The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars and Fuzzy Nation. Otherwise, Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to) are available in trade paperback format. There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format. Also available: Robots Vs. Fairies, the anthology that features the story of mine that was adapted for the “Three Robots” episode of the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: Head On and The Consuming Fire are available in mass market paperback this year, joining  The Collapsing Empire, Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (this is a novella), The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human Division, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The New Space Opera 2. Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream have recently been moved into trade paperback, but mass market editions are probably still available if that’s your preference. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited), Virtue Signaling (a third essay collection, will also need special ordering) and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock In, Head On, The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be available on CD.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

Photos From New Orleans

During my sojourn into the South, I spent a couple of days in New Orleans, visiting my pal Monica Byrne, who was there learning guitar, and taking in the sights. Naturally, I took a bunch of pictures. Some of them are now up over on Flickr. Go have a look, if you like!

Reader Request Week 2019: Get Your Questions In!

It’s rather later in the year than when I usually do this (I usually get to it in March or April, and I just got busy this year), but nevertheless: It’s time for the annual Reader Request Week, in which you pick the topics I write about for the next week here at Whatever. Always wanted to ask me a question? Want to see me opine on a topic of your choosing? See me dance like a monkey for your unalloyed pleasure? This is the time and place for it!

You can ask any question on any topic — politics, social topics, personal queries, silly nonsense, it’s all up for grabs. Post your question in the comment thread, and I will go through the thread and pick the topics I’ll respond to, starting on Monday, November 18th, and going through the entire week.

While any topic is up for request, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, when you’re making your topic selections.

1. Quality, not quantity. Rather than thinking of a bunch of general topic for me to address, which isn’t very interesting to me, and which is also like hogging the buffet, pick one very specific topic that you’re actually interested about — something you’ve thought about, and taken time to craft a question that will be interesting to me. I’m much more likely to pick that than look through a menu of very general topics.

2. Writing questions are given a lower priority. Me writing about writing is not unusual here, so for this week, writing topics are a secondary concern. But if you really want to ask a question about writing, go ahead, just remember that point one above will apply more to your question than most. It’ll have to be a pretty good question to stand out.

3. Don’t request topics I’ve recently written about. I’ve included the last five years of Reader Request topics below so you can see which ones are probably not going to be answered again. That said, if you want to ask a follow-up to any of the topics below, that’s perfectly acceptable as a topic. Also, for those of you wondering how to make a request, each of the posts features the request in it, so you can see what’s worked before.

How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it).

Please don’t send requests via Twitter or Facebook, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.

Here are topics from the last few years:

From 2014:

Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me
Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud
Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy
Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader
Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery
Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things
Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence
Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?
Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits
Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

From 2015: 

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not
Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux
Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women
Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me
Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans
Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement
Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass
Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

From 2016:

Reader Request Week 2016 #1: Living Where I Do
Reader Request Week 2016 #2: Will Humans Survive?
Reader Request Week 2016 #3: How, and If, I Will Be Remembered
Reader Request Week 2016 #4: Autonomous Cars
Reader Request Week 2016 #5: Pronouns
Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs
Reader Request Week 2016 #7: Writers and Ego
Reader Request Week 2016 #8: STEM and STEAM
Reader Request Week 2016 #9: Short Bits on Writing
Reader Request Week 2016 #10: Small Bits

From 2017:

Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis
Reader Request Week 2017 #2: Those Darn Millennials
Reader Request Week 2017 #3: Utopias
Reader Request Week 2017 #4: Haters and How I Deal With Them
Reader Request Week 2017 #5: Remembering Dreams
Reader Request Week 2017 #6: Reading as Performance
Reader Request Week 2017 #7: Parents, Their Age, and Their Kids
Reader Request Week 2017 #8: The Path to Publication
Reader Request Week 2017 #9: Writery Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2017 #10: Short Bits

From 2018:

Reader Request Week 2018 #1: Incels and Other Misogynists
Reader Request Week 2018 #2: Our Pets and How We Treat Them
Reader Request Week 2018 #3: The Reputational Reset, or Not
Reader Request Week 2018 #4: Far-Left(?) Scalzi
Reader Request Week 2018 #5: Who’s Cool and Who’s Not
Reader Request Week 2018 #6: The Fall(?!?!?!) of Heinlein
Reader Request Week 2018 #7: Mortality
Reader Request Week 2018 #8: Public Speaking
Reader Request Week 2018 #9: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2018 #10: Short Bits

Got it? Good. Then: Hit me with your questions! I crave your queries!

Back Home

Spice the cat, looking out at snow.

When I left Ohio for my week-long journey around the American South, my yard was still green and most of the trees in it still had leaves. When I returned, neither of these things were broadly true. What a change a week can make.

My trip, incidentally, was really enjoyable. It had a couple of minor hiccups — I have a temporary crown on a molar and it fell out, necessitating a side trip to a dentist in Atlanta, and in Montgomery, Alabama, I was trapped in an elevator for about 20 minutes — but by and large my plan of “Drive around the lower latitudes of the continental US, and see people in it” was a smashing success. Lots of friends, conversations and excellent dining experiences were had.

Still, and despite the cold, it’s nice to be home, with Krissy and the cats and my own bed. I missed them and they missed me (well, the bed is an inanimate object. Everything else, however, was glad to see me). I don’t ever have to go away to remember how much I love being home, but when I do go, it’s always nice to be back.

So: Hello. I’m home again.

Time For an Occasional Reminder re: How to Pay For My Books

This morning I got a nice letter from someone who enjoyed one of my books and wanted to send money to me directly for it rather than to get the book through my publisher, on the idea that I as the author should get most of the money because I wrote the book. This gives me a good excuse to remind people:

Don’t send me money directly for the books I write, actually go ahead and buy them from a bookstore.

For one thing, I get paid more than adequately that way. For another thing, my publisher is not my enemy — my publisher is my business partner, and my business partner does a lot of things for my book. It hires the editor, copy editor, page designer, art director and cover artist who improve my book and make it something people want to buy. It handles the printing and distribution and warehousing of my work. It keeps track of sales and collects payment for that work. It hires publicists and marketing people to make folks aware the book is out in the world. My foreign publishers hire translators. It does all these things so I don’t have to, and can focus on the thing I’m good at and actually want to do, which is: write.

Does it take a large chunk of sale price of the book to do all these things for me? Yes it does. But as a result of the work it does, I sell more than I could on my own, and as noted before, my cut of the proceeds is more than adequate. And all of the people who work on my book deserve to get paid fairly and adequately for their efforts.

Beyond the publisher, when you buy my book in a bookstore, someone else gets money — the bookstore. I like that. I like bookstores of all sorts, but particularly like supporting local bookstores, who do author events and reading clubs and other cool things, and where a good portion of the money stays in the community. I am happy that I get to contribute to other people making a livelihood supporting the field I work in.

All of which is to say that when you buy my book, from my publisher, in a bookstore, everyone involved in the making and selling of a book gets a little something — and that’s exactly how it should be. And while I understand people believe they might be doing me a favor by trying to pay me directly, in the long run it’s not beneficial to me at all, not the least because it hurts the people who have made my work better. If you’ve liked any of my novels, you like them because they are a group effort, not in spite of it.

So: If you want to support me as an author, support everyone who works on my books. They deserve it, and I prefer it. Buy the books legitimately, from your favorite bookseller. Thank you.

New Books and ARCs, 11/8/19

Another week, another very fine stack of new books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound. What here is grabbing your attention? Share in the comments!

View From a Hotel Window, 11/7/19: Knoxville

Honestly this may be one of the finest hotel parking lot pictures yet, as it encompasses not only the hotel parking lot, but the parking lot of a McDonalds and a Verizon Store. This trip may have peaked early. We’ll have to see.

In town here overnight, am seeing friends and then will be off again in the morning. Traveling! It’s a thing.

On the Road, Again

Wait, what? I thought you said you were done with travel for the year, Scalzi! I am, indeed, done with travel for public purposes — I have no more events scheduled for 2019. But now that The Last Emperox is finished, and I have a free moment or two, I’ve decided to take a week and visit friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m renting a car and traveling the great American southland. It should be fun. Unless the car breaks down and I am consumed by bears. But that seems… unlikely.

In any event, the travel begins today, so whilst I travel updating here may be sporadic. I’ll try to get some nice shots of hotel parking lots, however.

Election Day 2019 Thoughts

In no particular order:

* First and most importantly, the only thing I could vote for this year that was competitive — a levy for a local career center — passed, so I feel pretty good about that. Also on the ballot were a couple of uncontested races for township representative and school board, both non-partisan positions and the people who were up for those slots were perfectly good. While philosophically I am against uncontested political races, as a practical matter, meh, it was fine. Around the Dayton area, voters passed every single school levy that was put to them, which I think is a positive thing.

One new thing this election was that my polling place had different voting machines — ones where the machine you voted on was not connected to the Internet, and which printed out your voting choices on a long strip of paper so you could physically confirm the choices before it was scanned and sent into voting box. I thought this was kind of the long way around for something you could have done with a pen, but I appreciate the apparatus being more secure than the previous version.

So in all, a successful election day locally, from my point of view.

* In a larger sense I am also pleased with the results generally. I’m especially pleased with the result of the governor’s race in Kentucky, because Matt Bevin, the outgoing governor, is a real shitheel of a politician and I doubt he will be missed all that much. Despite being a real shitheel, he still managed to lose by less than 6,000 votes — partisan loyalty is a thing, y’all — and of course is now whining about how there were “irregularities” in the voting and how he’s not conceding the race and so on. At least he’s consistent. President Trump came out the day before the election and stumped for Bevin but of course made it all about him, telling Kentuckians re: Bevin not being reelected, that “you can’t let it happen to me!” Well, Bevin wasn’t reelected, and now it’s all about Trump! Well done him.

Virginia’s House and Senate (and governorship) are now all democratic as well (or will be in January), which doesn’t actually surprise me all that much — Virginia’s been turning bluer for a while now — but it should be interesting to see how that affects the state. I saw on Twitter someone noting that Virginia could become the 38th state to pass the ERA Amendment, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. As I understand it for it to be enshrined in our Constitution there would need to be a special dispensation from the House and Senate of the US (due to the lateness of the 38th vote for it), and I don’t see Mitch McConnell letting that one get by on his watch. Because he’s an awful person, you see.

* This was an off-off election cycle, so I wouldn’t read too much into it, but what I do think is important to see is that conventional wisdom out of Washington doesn’t seem to have that much connection to reality. There was some muttering/hand-wringing that the current impeachment proceedings would have an effect on voting, but… probably it didn’t? As far as I can see, most of the voting seems to be turning on local issues and concerns. Yes, Trump swooped in to Kentucky at the last minute, but when Bevin finally accepts the fact he’s lost, it’ll because of his own policies and karma, and not really about what’s going in Washington.

It’s for that reason I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions yet about what this means for this time next year. Next year, it will be about Washington. And what a time that will be.

The Big Idea: Cynthia Hand

In this Big Idea for her new novel The How & The Why, author Cynthia Hand looks into what makes us “family” — whether it’s genetics, blood, love, care or… more than that.

CYNTHIA HAND:

I’ve always had a hard time with the way adoption is portrayed in television and film. My central complaint, speaking as an adopted person, is that the portrayal is so often wildly unrealistic. These stories tend to focus on the search for the adoptee’s “real” parents and give little-to-no energy to understanding the adoptive parents. For example, look up, “Who is Superman’s father?” and you’ll find page after page on Jor-El, not Jonathan Kent. Or think about how in Once Upon A Time, the biological mother, Emma, does battle with the adopted mother, the literal evil queen. Or how the creators of The Umbrella Academy responded to questions about the incestuous relationship between Luther and Allison by saying “They’re not even related,” and “They are not biological.” The message comes through clearly: what makes a relationship “real” is blood.

For most adoptees, that is simply not the truth. Our “real” relationships are with our parents, and by parents, we mean the people who loved us and took care of us every day.

Therefore my goal as I set out to write The How & The Why was to give a realistic portrayal of adoption–one that thoroughly examines the different sides. The big idea was to show the point of views of both a teen birth mother and a teen adoptee and to examine the way each of them experiences “family.”

What ended up happening as I wrote the book, of course, was far more complex. Yes, my characters have a variety of family in their lives—biological and adopted, friendships, connections, and support systems that defy the conventional definition of what it means to be “related” to someone. What I didn’t expect was how much of the novel ended up being about how people shape their identities out of the stories they are told about themselves.

This made me think about how I had shaped my own identity, as an adopted person. I followed my character, Cass, as she tried to understand herself through her adoption, asking who am I over and over again. Then I followed S, the birth mother, who was basically asking the same question. I could see the invisible connections S had with Cass: the shape of their feet, their hatred of anything cherry-flavored, how they both felt gazing up at the moon—things they shared without even realizing it but that still inevitably connected them.

This made me wildly uncomfortable when I applied it to myself. Through the writing of these fictional people’s stories, I came to realize that who I am has been shaped by my relationship with my parents, of course, but it had also been forged from what I got from my birth parents, both in DNA and something even less tangible–those invisible connections I still had with them. Which are real, too.

Writing is funny that way. You start off having something definitive to say — adoptive families are real families — and then the narrative veers away toward something deeper. You come to figure out what you know through writing it. You discover things about yourself you never dreamed were there, lurking in the unexplored shadows. It’s what makes writing worth it, in the end.

—-

The How & The Why: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|RDBooks|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

So, Scalzi, Now That You’re Done With the Book Are You Gonna Write About Politics More?

Eeeeeeeh, probably? But maybe not? Essentially, the problem I’ve been having writing about politics in the Trump era is the same problem I’ve had since it’s begun, which that it’s so obvious that Trump’s a corrupt, incompetent, bigoted tool that I find it difficult to find much new to say about him. Likewise, not too much to say about the Republican party these days except that it’s decided to expend its capital propping up the most corrupt, incompetent, bigoted tool that we’ve had as president in living memory, and will deserve what they get when demographics catch up with them and all the old white voters they’ve invested so much money into scaring die in the next 20 years, to be replaced by everyone else for whom the GOP brand is “ignorant white racist fauxvangelical moneyworshippers.” I’m going to live long enough to see this bullshit expunged, which is a lovely thought. But again, not sure how many words that merits from me at the moment.

My first thought is it seems likely the majority of my political thought is going to stay in the Twittersphere, the format of which is congenial to my state of mind these last few years. But of course there is more to politics than just Our Dimwit President, sooooo maybe I’ll talk about that? Or maybe I will just snap and do an 8,000 word rant on Trump one day, which will likely not be coherent but may be cathartic? Who knows?

So, basically: Probably I’ll talk about politics more here now? But maybe not? That’s the best I can do for you right now in terms of predictions, sorry.

I do know today is an election day in many places in the US, so if it is where you are, and you are eligible to vote, please do get your ass out there and vote. It’s not a difficult thing to do, and it matters.

Bwwuuuuhhhh

Post-novel-writing brain truly hit today and I feel fine, just so long as you don’t expect me to think.

How are you?

What Authorial Agitation Looks Like, Scalzi Edition

A tale in three tweets:

Yeah, this.

I should be clear this was mostly for comedic effect. But on the other hand, yes, absolutely, once I send in a manuscript, after a couple of hours my brain is all “well? and?” because my brain, I think like most people’s brains, is not entirely convinced that anyone has a life outside my immediate needs and wishes. I do a lot of work not to show that part of my brain at all times.

But the good news is the book apparently works! I thought it did, mind you, and so did Krissy. But it’s nice to have verification outside the Scalzi household. You’ll see for yourself! In, uhhhh, April.

Terminator: Dark Fate Review

I’ll begin by noting that Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller is a friend of mine, and that we’ve worked together on Love Death and Robots, so you’ll have to filter the following through that fact. Hey, disclosure is fun!

With that said, I was happy with this movie, which is what I wanted it to be: Lots of really nicely-done action, unstoppable killing machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger once again showing that being an actor with limited range is not a problem when a role is smack dab exactly in what little range you have, and most importantly, Sarah Connor.

As I walked out of the film last night I posted a five word recommendation of this film: “It gets Sarah Connor right.” This actually matters because despite the name of films, the “Terminator” films are about Sarah Connor, and the arc of her life dealing with the terrible fate that life has dealt her: Victim to fighter to avenger. Sarah Connor is realistically (within the context of these films) damaged by this fate of hers; particularly in this film she’s a PTSD wreck. And, well, she would be, wouldn’t she. It’s important that the Terminator films show her this way. It’s for better or worse the grounding the films need to make every other absurd thing that happens in them function on the level of plausibility.

People were pleased that Linda Hamilton was coming back to play Sarah Connor in this film, because she is iconic in the role — Emilia Clarke’s turn in the role in Terminator: Genisys was a decent cosplay of T2-era Hamilton that reminded me of how great Hamilton was in the role. What I like most about T:DF is that it doesn’t pretty up either Hamilton or Connor: She’s lined, she’s haggard, she’s old, and the character is not what you would call pleasant. Hamilton is 63 and in this film, at least, it’s not a Hollywood 63. I don’t think this counts as brave, exactly — ain’t nothing wrong with a 63-year-old woman looking her age — but I like that the film, and Hamilton, were perfectly fine with portraying Connor this way. The performance is the solid core of this film, and why this film is both the best Terminator film since T2, and also a solid capstone on Connor’s journey through this universe.

This film getting Sarah Connor right is important enough to me that I would be willing to overlook other issues with the film, but aside from one weirdly-janky CGI shot in the first act, this film hits most of its marks with confidence. As a director, Miller knows his way around an action scene, and the film doesn’t skimp on those. Generally speaking, Miller’s directorial style and sensibility is closer to James Cameron’s than the other directors in the series, which also helps in making this all-around the most credible non-Cameron sequel.

As the Terminator and Kyle Reese analogues in this film, respectively, both Gabriel Luna and Mackenzie Davis do their thing well. I was especially impressed with Davis, because my other experiences with her in film and TV did not show her as a particularly physical actor; she very credibly kicks ass here. Natalia Reyes is fine, although I found her character development a bit rushed. The script is trying to do a lot of things at once, and (probably accurately) assumes the audience is well familiar with the series as a whole, even the films (T3, Terminator Salvation, Genisys) this film retcons out of the timeline. I’d’ve been happy with a tighter focus. There’s some nice, unforced bits of humor I liked, most coming from Schwarzenegger.

Six films (and one television series) in, it’s worth it to ask whether the world needed yet another stab at the Terminator mythos. My response is: in this case, yes — because the arc of Sarah Connor was not yet complete, and the Terminator films are her story. Terminator: Dark Fate is the film that completes that arc. Which is makes it, of all the non-Cameron-directed films in the series, the only necessary one. For my own sense of completion, I’m glad to have it.

(Note: In the comments I’m going to trim out anything I think is an egregious spoiler inasmuch as it’s the first week of the film run, but there may still be some minor plot point discussion, so be aware of that. Also, if you’re gonna comment, try not to put in spoilers, thanks.)

And Now, A New Short Story: The Origin of the Flow

Back around my birthday, I ran a fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt, which buys up the medical debt of Americans for pennies on the dollar, and having done so, erases it — meaning those people, previously despairing of the cost of their medical care, just didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I noted that if the amount raised was $5k, I would write a short story, and if it reached $10k, I’d do audio. Well, we hit about $18k, so, uh, yeah. I was gonna have to pay up.

And so, here it is, and an interesting bit it is — I mentioned yesterday, when I wrote about writing The Last Emperox, my upcoming novel, that I sometimes write reference pieces for myself so I can give some context to myself about what I’m writing. Those pieces usually are never seen by others, but they’re useful for me, and they make a better book for everyone else.

This is one of those pieces. In the book, humans get around space via “The Flow” — a “metacosmological multidimensional space” that’s not of this universe but lets people get around in it at multiples of the speed of light. I decided I needed to give The Flow an origin story, as well as understand how people discovered it, so I wrote this piece for myself, which I am sharing with you now.

Because the piece is not in the book, this origin story of The Flow is not “canonical” — which is to say, while I wrote it to understand the universe I created, I reserve the right in the future to ignore it entirely or in parts if, for the purposes of writing a new book in the universe, I decide to go in another direction. To that respect, you could consider it “fan fiction” of my own universe. Which I think is pretty nifty.

So: If you donated to RIP Medical Debt for my birthday: This is for you. Thank you for being awesome.

In addition to this fulfilling my promise to write a short story for the RIP Medical Debt donators, today over on Twitter I passed the 170,000 followers mark — which makes this story a pretty nifty way to mark that occasion as well. If you follow me on Twitter: Hey, thanks. I appreciate it.

And now, without further ado, our story. The audio version is up at the top, and the text version follows.

THE ORIGIN OF THE FLOW

by John Scalzi

 

13.7 billion years ago, there was an event that was commonly known as “The Big Bang.”

(On first blush this might appear to be going back a little too far, but stick with this for a moment.)

After the briefest of moments after the Big Bang, it’s generally understood how the universe proceeded. There was the appearance of everything that would ever exist in the universe in a tight, hot little space, a brief but significant expansion phase, and then from there it’s atomic creation: hydrogen and some helium turning into stars which turn into heavier elements which turn into other stars and rocks and planets and air and people and so on. Which is fine as far as it goes.

Of course, it was not as far as it goes. As the Big Bang birthed the universe, other cosmological entities, not of the universe but concurrent with it and in some cases coincident with it, sprang into multidimensional being and evolved as the universe evolved, although not always in the same ways or at the same pace. The universe, despite the roots of its name, was not alone.

Understandably human beings, and presumably any other intelligent species that might have also been developing along the entropic vector known as “time,” could be forgiven for thinking it was alone, and having a parochial view of things. For most of their time as a species, humans could only apprehend, understand and respond to the physical world directly surrounding them, a planet filled with water and atmosphere and predators. It was only after the species developed the capacity for abstract thought, language and mathematics that its understanding could contemplate the possibility that its planet, much less its solar system, galaxy and universe, was not all there was to the story.

Even then, and even after their capacity for thought was augmented by machines that would eventually do nearly all the heavy lifting, humans could only theorize that things beyond their universe might exist. This was for the same reason that their ancestors could only see to what was directly in front of them: They couldn’t escape their own frame of reference. The universe, as vast as it was – vaster even than could be observed – contained them utterly, a prison extending billions of lightyears in every direction.

And so it continued, until Tirzah Dalimunthe, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, came to the realization that her dissertation work – on an excitingly new and profoundly abstruse branch of mathematics describing wildly theoretical structures called “metabranes” – accidentally, incidentally and indeed almost insultingly casually suggested that at least some metabrane structures actually existed and intruded into the known universe – a fact that could shake the very foundations of mathematics, physics and indeed reality as it was then understood.

Or would have, had Dalimunthe given a shit about it, which she didn’t, because she was desperately trying to finish her fucking dissertation, which was about something else entirely. She couldn’t just abandon years of research and antagonize her dissertation advisor, who she was pretty sure hated her guts anyway, on the mere suggestion of metabranes maybe poking into normal spacetime. That was fine and all, but what she really wanted to do was get her doctorate, find a teaching job, marry her fiancé and go on a honeymoon in Anguilla with nothing to do but drink fruity drinks and sex up her new spouse.

And indeed Dalimunthe did all of those things, in roughly that order. Then she lived, mostly happily, for another 53 years, having forgotten entirely about emergent metabrane structures. Good for her.

Twenty years after Dalimunthe was cremated, and her ashes covertly spread near a beach bar in Anguilla, there was another doctoral student, this one at the Freising-Weihenstephan branch of Technische Universität München, who came across her dissertation while searching for supporting material for their own nascent doctoral project. Unlike Dalimunthe, Korel Mainz had not already invested years to a particular topic, so when they followed the math on her discovery, they were more than willing to invest the time, and the university’s resources, in building it out fully.

Six years later, Mainz’s dissertation exploded across the fields of mathematics and physics and made them into their generation’s rock star scientist. Ten years after that Mainz picked up their Nobel Prize in physics, following the Fields-Lee medal in mathematics they had picked up the year before. A year after that, while attending symposium on the rapidly growing field of metabrane research, Mainz stepped off the curb to take a picture of the newly refurbished Empire State Building and walked backward into a bus, killing them instantly.

Two years after that fatal vehicular embrace, there was a statue of Mainz on the Technische Universität München main campus, and a final paper, revised and finished by their post-docs, which posited an instance of metabrane intrusion within the solar system, positioned, for mathematical reasons that only six people on the planet could genuinely follow, 35 astronomical units away, well below the plane of the ecliptic, in the direction of the constellation Tucana.

Sixteen years later, the Dalimunthe I spacecraft (so named because Korel Mainz was not an asshole and quite willingly gave credit where it was due, propelling the late Dalimunthe into minor posthumous fame) arrived at Mainz’s Rift, as the metabrane intrusion was colloquially called. The Rift couldn’t be seen from Earth, or in the Dalimunthe spacecraft’s cameras and sensors. The Dalimunthe rocketed at sixty thousand kilometers an hour toward a spot described only by math, of unknown size and dimension, reached it, and disappeared.

Some minutes later, allowing for the speed of light, there was champagne being cracked open in the Dalimunthe’s mission control center. Humanity had proven the existence of metabrane structures by blindly chucking a spacecraft into one to see what would happen. Someone in the Dalimunthe mission control noted that humans had effectively littered outside the bounds of the universe. Someone else dumped their champagne on his head.

Where that litter went was the topic of intense discussion among metabrane scientists for the next thirty years, with the field schisming into two camps, the ones who theorized there was a there there, and the ones who theorized there was no there there. The former camp hypothesized the Tucana Metabrane was actually another universe with more or less the same design as our own, whereas the latter camp laughed in their faces for being naïve enough to believe that any alternate universe-sized structure would operate under the same rules.

The two sides yelled at each other at annual conferences until a physicist named Diego Vasquez, of the “no there there” camp, presented a paper that posited that by wrapping a bubble of local space-time around a spacecraft, it might enter the Mainz Rift, study what was there, and exit to transmit the data. Everyone agreed this was an intriguing idea. Now all they needed to do was figure out how to create and maintain a bubble of local space time.

Which only took 58 years. Along the way several of the “failed” avenues of scientific exploration into doing so created more efficient spacefaring propulsion systems, the “push” fields which simulated gravity (and kept crews inside spaceships from being crushed by high-gravity acceleration) and a number of advances in computational science. While the scientists were working away on the Bubble Problem, commercial spaceflight, exploration and habitation took off in a significant way. When the Bubble Problem was solved and an exploratory spaceship (the Vasquez) prepped for the rift, it did not launch from Earth on the top of the rocket years before reaching its destination, but was ferried there in a cargo ship – a Lockheed/Wu Tacoma-class hauler, in point of fact – which reached the Mainz Rift from Earth orbit in thirteen days.

The plan was for the Vasquez to enter the rift, spend six hours (of subjective, relative time as counted off by the craft’s internal chronometer) collecting data, and return the way it came, if possible. As backup, an antenna aimed in the direction of a science station stationary a third of an AU over the sun’s north pole (again, relative to the Vasquez’s position as it entered the rift) would squirt data back into space. If time worked weirdly in the rift – or didn’t work at all – and the Vasquez popped out months or years later, it was designed to locate the sun, reorient, and hail the science station and start sending data.

Which it did, sixteen years and a couple of months later.

The good news was that the emergency reorient protocol worked; the Vasquez found the sun, deduced where the science station would be, and the data streamed in strong and uncorrupted.

The bad news was the data was useless; whatever was in the Mainz Rift was not observable by any of the instruments the Vasquez carried with it. The “no there there” crowd was smug about this.

The weird news was that the Vasquez’s signal was coming from AD Leonis, a red dwarf star sixteen lightyears from Earth.

The fact that the signal was coming from AD Leonis was weird in itself; what was even weirder was the fact that the signal was received just a little over sixteen years after the Vasquez had disappeared. The signal in itself had taken sixteen years to reach Earth, coursing across the heavens at the speed of light.

Which meant the Vasquez had reached AD Leonis a little over two months after it disappeared into the Mainz Rift.

To do that, it would have had to have traveled about ninety times the speed of light.

Which is just not done.

In our universe, at least.

New Books and ARCs, 1/11/19

New month, new books and ARCs! What in this stack of very fine titles is something you like to start your month with? Share in the comments —