The Big Idea: Adrian J. Walker

For his new novel The Human Son, author Adrian J. Walker decided to get into a different mindset entirely. A very very different mindset.


Human beings make terrible decisions. I wrote The Human Son in the shadow of Brexit, so I know what I’m talking about.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t a political statement. I’m not suggesting anyone was wrong or right in that particular vote; rather that everyone was, and has been in every single vote that’s ever been taken.

Let me explain.

The Human Son begins with a decision. 500 years after they were genetically engineered to fix climate change, a small population of advanced beings called the erta gather in a hall and discuss what to do next. Their purpose has been fulfilled and the earth is rebalanced, but at a cost; in order to fix the planet, humanity had to be allowed to die out. Now they must decide whether or not to resurrect it, but they quickly realise that they lack the right data to make this decision. To remedy this, a quiet and clinical atmospheric chemist named Ima — our hero — volunteers to raise a single human child as her own by way of experiment. This, as every parent will know, leads to unexpected results.

As I wrote about Ima’s life and the (at first) utopian existence of her species, I watched what would be four years of political strife unfold in my own timeline and wondered what the erta would make of it all. The difference between their decision-making abilities and ours became one of the book’s big ideas.

Faced with the monumental task of fixing a broken planet, the erta know immediately what needs to be done first: remove humans. Their lack of human frailties like fear, desire and agenda combined with a supreme scientific prowess allows them to identify every global system at play, and specifically those which are most difficult to predict and control. As it turns out, these systems are the social, economic and psychological behaviours of humans themselves. The data is right there in front of them, and so the erta’s decision is swift; so long, sapiens, and thanks for all the carbon.

Compare this with the decision making process of Brexit, or any other great democratic enterprise for that matter. Ask 65 million furious little boxes of fears, hopes, and neuroses to make a gigantic choice with little or no background information and then, to help them decide, shout slogans at them.

Ima would be baffled at such a process. ‘But where is the data?’ she would ask.

The Human Son is told in the first person, and narrating from Ima’s clinical and sometimes harsh perspective had a big impact on my writing. At the start of the book she is a perfect example of her species, seeing things purely as they are rather than what they are like. Simile, metaphor and poetry are of no use to her; in fact, she can’t stand them, so they don’t feature at all in her writing. I was surprised at how fun it was to write in this style, and how liberating it is to describe the world precisely as it appears rather than through the filter of prose. Even more enjoyable was allowing Ima’s voice to develop through the book; her journey as a parent leads her to realise that sometimes truth lies not just in words themselves, but in the space between them. By the final chapter her voice has changed immeasurably.

The more time I spent with Ima the more I thought about what it would mean to delegate to an intelligence such as hers, free from the human gravities of desire and agenda. Fear dominates most discussions about machine intelligence and, to many, the concept of allowing a non-human entity to make human decisions is horrifying. We may as well just boot up SkyNet now and give it the launch codes while we’re at it, right? And even if it didn’t blow us up, what about the humanity? All those fiddly little human nuances we hold so dear. How could any non-human intelligence know what’s best for us?

But such intelligences are already in place and developing, though in arguably more mundane ways and with fewer guns. Big Data allows us to predict social, economic and psychological behaviour with increasing accuracy, and meteorological and geological modelling software is improving by the day. I wonder what we would do if some future amalgamation of all these systems attempted to give us advice. What would be the reaction if it was able to predict with indisputable accuracy the outcome of a political decision? Would it be heard? Or would it be scoffed at, as experts tend to be?

And what if these systems become accessible to us on an individual level? What if we could tap into all this data and use it to help us make decisions about our own lives? And I’m not just talking about the things we already ask of computers — which route, which insurance package, which book, etc., but rather: Do I take that job? Vote for her? Marry him?

Would we listen to it? Our would we revert to our trusty intuitions — those ‘gut instincts’ we’re so proud of yet which, if we’re honest, so often fail us?

If most of us would do the latter, then it’s because human decision making is as much about asserting an ideal as it is about making the right choice, whether for ourselves or for the other 7 billion bundles of neuroses stumbling around the planet. This means that if we want to develop technology to help us make better decisions, then we must also find a way of abandoning our agendas, desires, and fears. Like the erta, we would need to cast off that which drags us down.

Whether or not this occurs through cultural shift or rapid transhuman evolution, it will ultimately come down to yet another choice: do we want to remain as we are and continue to stumble, or fly and risk losing our souls?


The Human Son: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Webb School Days, Vol. 1: A Playlist

And in case you don’t have Spotify, here’s the playlist in YouTube form:

And Now, The Most Terrifying Self Portrait I’ve Done This Week

It’s the “kaleidoscope” setting on a camera app I was playing with. Yeah, that’ll stick with you when you’re trying to get to sleep tonight. Oh, and just for good measure, here it is in black and white:

Sweet dreams!

The Big Idea: A.J. Hartley

If we’re lucky, we don’t come to close to thing that might terrify us. A.J. Hartley did not have that luck, and the encounter he had informed what would become his latest novel, Impervious.


How do you make fantasy out of real life horror?

It happened 51 weeks ago, my personal glimpse of a distinctly American nightmare many of us generally witness from the safe distance of our living rooms while the usual images crowd our TVs and laptop screens: aerial footage of locked down schools surrounded by police cars with strobing lights, SWAT teams running past assembly halls, classrooms and libraries, crying children being led away. Then the endless talking heads babbling about motives, about mental health issues and, of course, about weapons. If there is a good thing to come out of this Corona virus nightmare it’s this: no more mass shootings.

51 weeks ago I was sheltering for fear of something other than contagion. I was huddled in a silent dressing room in a soundproofed corner of our university’s performing arts complex. I am, among other things, a Shakespeare professor in UNC Charlotte’s department of theatre, and I had been about to participate in an end of year celebration for our graduating students. Then the gunfire started in a neighboring building a couple of hundred yards away. Some people ran, some took shelter, fearing that we might be more vulnerable outside. I took a group of students and we waited it out in a locked dressing room, watching our muted phones for news of what was or might be going on.

I was oddly calm at the time, as if I had always known this day would come. I knew that my job was to stay composed and help others to do the same, and though we knew shots had been fired, we didn’t hear anything. Theatres are built to screen the noise beyond their walls out, so we kept still, listening for the sound of footsteps approaching, of someone trying to get in, wondering which of those with us might help fight off an attacker.

Run. Hide. Fight.

Those were the instructions we got through our phones from the school’s emergency broad cast system. We had missed our chance at the first, and all we could do was the second, hoping it didn’t come to the last.

And it didn’t. People died, but not us. One student, Riley Howel, sacrificed himself to disarm the gunman, and then the police contained the situation. We didn’t know that for almost two hours, during which time there were rumors of a second shooter which came through social media, talk of the police looking for bombs in other buildings… So we waited until the all clear came, the police swept the buildings and we emerged back into normal reality.

Except not really.

It was a couple of days before my first full on panic attack. I was grocery shopping at the store I always go to. It was all absolutely familiar. Then, for no reason I can identify, I started freaking out. I had to warn people how much danger they were in. I had to get out of there before he got me.

It wasn’t rational or triggered (the perfect word) by anything I could pinpoint. I just felt unsafe. 51 weeks on, a part of me still does.

So I did what I always do when I need to process something: I wrote. Specifically, I wrote a fantasy novel about a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque high school girl called Trina who wakes up one day with a curious affinity for and skill with blades: kitchen knives, machetes, swords. She was a hero born for a specific moment, a moment taking shape in her school, a moment we have seen countless times on those TV screens and laptop computers…

I wrote almost continually for thirteen days, pausing only to eat and sleep and use the bathroom. And when I was done I had a story called Impervious: young adult in terms of the protagonist, a little shorter than most complete novels, but a story, whole and finished. I tidied it up over the next week or so, polishing some more during the editorial process which spread out over the few months after the novel was acquired by Falstaff books. But the heart of the thing was done in those first thirteen days when I could still feel what it had been like, sneaking, hiding, wondering if I would walk away from it. Never in my life has the old cliché been truer: this was a book I had to write. It was part catharsis, part clarification and it was entirely necessary.

I am not naïve enough to imagine for a moment that a novel will have any significant impact in the world, but maybe—maybe—it will help people who have been in similar situations, or have not fully imagined what that experience is like. At the time I was baffled by how upsetting it was since, as I kept telling people, I had never personally been in serious danger. I wasn’t shot. I didn’t see those who were. But I have felt vulnerable ever since, as if a portion of the world I knew only by repute has become real to me. Maybe the book will do similarly for others. If nothing else, it’s a book about heroes, sung and unsung, and we always need those.


Impervious: Amazon|Others

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: S.L. Huang

Characters these days often have extraordinary abilities that make them seem almost more than human. The protagonist of S.L. Huang’s new novel Critical Point has one. It may not be the one you expected.


So, I’m a nerd.

I’ve always been a nerd. By middle school, I had all the Star Wars movies memorized, was making jokes about mathematical limits, and wore T-shirts with Maxwell’s equations. And, like many nerds, I’ve always wanted superpowers.

I mean, who doesn’t? Superpowers would be awesome.

I’ve also always been athletic, but I tended to be better at math than, say, softball. Somewhere along the line, it started to feel grossly unfair that I could do all the calculations for hitting a home run, but I couldn’t actually do it. I could know exactly the initial velocity I needed over the precise range of angles, and then solve for the force in the collision of bat and ball—clearly that meant I should be the most amazing batter ever! Or gymnast, or martial artist, or skydiver…

And not just math. Learning the science behind combustion should totally let me become the Human Torch, right?

What if, I thought—what if being a math and science nerd meant being able to do literally anything one could calculate? What if understanding the theory was all it took to be an expert in the practice?

I ended up learning martial arts and swords the old-fashioned way—through annoying amounts of sweat and hard work—and meanwhile went to MIT to study math. In my heart of hearts, though… I still only wanted to pretend to have superpowers.

So after graduating, I moved out to LA to become a stuntwoman.

Working on film and television was a nerd dream come true. It’s like LARPing on steroids—and with really talented professionals helping you get all the cosplay right! My very first stunt job was on Battlestar Galactica, and as someone who was already a diehard fan of the show, I had to work hard to stay professional and not go around creepily petting the set. As it turns out, there’s a lot more math and engineering in stunts than you might expect—riggers rattle off instant trigonometry on the fly as they set up wire work sequences, or invent new ways of using equipment from other industries to drop cars or cannonball people into the air. But as a performer, I continued to train in all sorts of new physical skills on a regular basis, and every time a new trick eluded me, I’d remember that old wish—if only I could assimilate it all, Matrix-style, just by being able to do the math.

I’d long been writing stories on the side, and this idea wouldn’t stop nibbling at me. Meanwhile, I was having some of the most brilliant and seedy adventures running the gamut of LA’s film scene, where I worked with old cowboys, drag racers, off-the-wall explosives experts, and—on some memorable occasions—people who were a bit too unconcerned about the law. I learned how to play hardball on money, how to jump off a twenty-foot building, and how to keep an M16 clean in the desert. And at some point, this very old idea of mine clicked with all the new life experience.

I could write a protagonist so good at math, so good at doing calculations in the moment, that she could not only hit home runs but take down armies of grown men. I could make her the snarky antiheroine of a fast-paced scifi thriller and drop her right in all the sleaziest parts of LA I knew too well, and give her every physical skill I’d seen an ex-Olympic gymnast or ex-professional athlete do during one of my normal days at work.

Because she could do the math.

Because math would be her superpower.

At the time I was writing it, it took a little courage to make my main character a woman, even as I was working as a weapons expert and had become the first professional female armorer in Hollywood. Nowadays, because she’s a small nonwhite woman and so am I, people often ask if my protagonist is based on me. “I hope not,” I always say with a laugh. “I hope I kill a few less people than she does!”

I’m rather bubbly and nice in person, so no, she definitely isn’t based on me. Her powers, though… Her powers are totally wish fulfillment.

These books became my love letter to mathematics and geekdom, but also my love letter to Los Angeles, even all the parts of it that were less than kind. All the things that shaped me. And that’s especially true in the book coming out today, Critical Point, which is the third book in the series. From book 1, Zero Sum Game, we’ve learned of not only my main character’s powers, but all the other people in this fictional world who have unexpected abilities, too. Not only science and math, but any other mundane skill you might imagine, all as otherworldly powers—to become superheroes, and supervillains, or somewhere in between. Telepaths, fighters, cultists, healers, hackers. And here in book 3, we’re going to get hit with exactly what kinds of impacts these superpowered people can have upon the world, if they so choose.

It’s not like one terrible person with a cult of personality would be able to sway global events in reality, right? Right?

On a more giddy and delightful note, there’s another reason Critical Point is a culmination of all my math-backgrounded movie gallivanting. Let’s put it this way: in my head I call this book “the one with all the explosions.”

So, so many explosions.


Critical Point: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Quarantine, Six Weeks In

Thoughts on six weeks of quarantine (so far):

* I had a really good week last week, with The Last Emperox hitting a bunch of best seller lists and some other good things which I can’t talk about yet falling into place, and aside from that life at home continuing on in a generally pleasant fashion. Yesterday I was out in the yard with Athena and Krissy, and looked back at the house, with trees blooming and the sky blue and filled with fluffy white clouds, and I thought about the fact that I had a really good week, in the middle of a global pandemic.

Which, I don’t know, might seem rude to some folks. I’m not going to pretend that my quarantine experience hasn’t been generally atypical compared to many others, and I’m also not trying to tempt fate here. But also, I think it’s okay to appreciate good moments in bad times. They might be the most important times to appreciate good moments.

* With that said, I’ve definitely not been immune to the stress of the quarantine life. I’m sleeping more, but I’m also sleeping at weirder times, relative to the before times, so I’m not sure all that sleep is much more restful. I’m not being creative at all, which is fine since I’m still on the publicity treadmill for The Last Emperox (five online events next week!), but one day — next Friday, in point of fact — the main PR push for this book will be over and then I do have to be on to the next thing.

And also, I miss friends, many of whom I was supposed to be seeing on the book tour, and I more than mildly resent the virus (which to be clear, is incapable of caring about my resentment) that it deprived me of the ability to see them in the flesh, and to hang out with them and have a meal with them. I keep in contact with most of them online, obviously, and that’s not bad. But if you’ve already made plans to see people, to have that all shelved feels like a loss. Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking of all the places I was supposed be on any one particular day, and all the people I was supposed to see. It’s saddening.

Also also, I have the mehs pretty hard, in which nothing seems particularly interesting to me, i.e., I’m not watching shows or movies because I can’t be bothered to give some my attention for that long, I’m reading less for the same reason, video games not giving me a jolt, etc. I assume some of this is just general restlessness, but after six weeks we can also just admit quarantine ennui is a real thing that happens to people. Again, the fact I’m doing so much promotional work right now means I’m not entirely trapped in a cycle of anhedonia — I do have to be up for those things — but I’m not going to pretend it’s not a thing I’m experiencing right now.

* All the above, incidentally, is why you have my official permission to tell all those people who are saying that you should develop a new hobby under quarantine and/or if you’re not doing six different things all very well, then you are wasting this precious gift of time, to fuck right off. Motherfuckers, I released a bestseller in quarantine and promoted the crap out of it and am negotiating some genuinely breathtaking business deals and I’m still mostly feeling like sleeping until 3 fucking pm in the afternoon and then going back under the covers an hour and fifteen minutes later. If you’re getting out of bed these days, you’re ahead of the game.

* This was also the week in which our dipshit president suggested looking into the feasibility of injecting people with disinfectants and shining bright lights into people to knock out the coronavirus, followed by the delightful spectacle of some of his acolytes trying to suggest that what he really meant was [insert actual deeply experimental/unproven medical procedure only vaguely in the same ballpark as the president’s dimwitted podium improv here], before the president informed us all that he was just being sarcastic to own the fake news, lol, which was a lovely way for him to hang all his acolytes out to dry. I understand the president is now considering not having daily press conferences anymore, which I suspect is better for him and the rest of us as well.

Commentators are arguing that this is finally the point at which our current president will finally lose the support of his supporters, but, come on. We all know that’s not true. The president could say that he heard a scientist say “Sir, the skin of the human foot heel is the most beautiful anti-virus against corona, it’s really actually fantastic,” and the next day some of his people will have scraped their feet to the goddamned bone and gobbled down the flesh, screaming that they were immune now, OPEN UP THE COUNTRY YOU COWARDS. We’re stuck with these geniuses for the duration, I’m afraid. In other words, please vote in November kthxbye.

* I will say, incidentally, that no one doesn’t want the country opened up and the quarantine lifted. But there appear to be two classes of people in the country at the moment: The ones who listen to scientists, which thankfully appear to be in the majority, and the ones being manipulated by rich conservatives and/or by the politicians being manipulated by rich conservatives. The former understand that waiting to open up the country today means a lower chance of having to close up the country again tomorrow, whilst the latter appear to need their it’s not an assault rifle okay on their person in order to scream about needing a haircut, at whatever state capitol they have been told to congregate at. I don’t wish viral infection on the latter, but I won’t act surprised when it happens. And then the rest of us will have to say in quarantine longer. In short, thanks, assholes.

* The one thing I have been doing with some enthusiasm during this quarantine is taking photos, particularly of Krissy, who is, to be fair, an excellent subject. So to end this post on a high note, a couple recent shots of her. Enjoy, and onward into week seven of the quarantine.


Zeus, Majestic

Those of you who remember when we first got Zeus might, like me, be a little amazed he is now the senior cat of the Scalzi household. But it turns out he wears the title well. Also, he still takes a pretty grand photo, from time to time.

My Online Tour Setup

When it became clear that for this tour I’d be doing all my events from my office, I went out and got a fairly nice webcam for streaming and whatnot. But it turns out that it plays only fitfully with my computer and also that my sound card kind of hates it. So this is how it gets done instead: My Dell XPS laptop and its built-in webcam, stacked up on a bunch of books so the camera is at eye level and you don’t get a view of my nostrils — unless for some reason I have to use my phone, in which case I have my charging station propped up on the books and you get a nostril view no matter what because the charger back angles slightly.

Otherwise, I’m using the phone as the streaming hotspot, because it’s five to six times faster than my dedicated DSL connection. I use my Pixelbuds (in the gray case there) to avoid feedback and to be able to hear other folks. The big monitor stays on for use as a fill light, and I have a Coke Zero on hand because when I’m doing events my throat dries out fast because I’m declaiming rather than just speaking. My usual keyboard is over to the side there.

It’s not exactly a high end set-up, but it gets the job done, and that’s what I need. Maybe for the next time around I’ll make an actual little home studio or something. But for now: Here’s how it happens.

Additional Thoughts on Emperox’s First Week

Because I have them! And this is my site, where I can talk about them! In no particular order:

* I’m still a little stunned by where Emperox ended up on the NYT list. Bluntly and honestly speaking, given the global pandemic, which makes the getting of books rather harder than it usually is, I had pretty much written off being on the NYT lists at all this time around. Then the early sales reports came in, and I was all, okay, this looks good, but don’t get ahead of yourself, bucko. And then shortly after 5pm yesterday (which is when the lists get sent off to publishers), I got an email from my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, subject line of which was, simply, “DUDE.” And then I was finally, okay, maaaaaaaybe. But at that point I was still expecting possibly something like #15, which is where The Consuming Fire had landed when it came out. So getting to #6 was… unexpected.

And also, as I discovered when I suddenly had a huge adrenaline dump of relief after seeing the number, something I had been denying to myself I had been worried about. Because, you know, look — if you ever get to the point where you expect to show up on a best seller list as a matter of course, you might need to calm your sassy boots down a bit. At the same time, the previous books had done well, and it’s okay to hope that your work finds an audience, even (and especially) in a rough moment for the world. I wanted the final book in this trilogy to do well. And it did better than I expected, by… well. By a bit.

I have to say in the moment, I was completely and giddily uncool about it, which is to be expected because I am completely uncool generally. Krissy was tolerantly amused with me for most of the evening, which is also to be expected. But, hey, as an author, if you can’t lose your shit about a top ten placing on a New York Times best seller list, when can you? You should never expect to land on that list. But when you do, it’s okay to geek out about it.

* Especially as a science fiction writer, I have to say. A quick check of the NYT Hardcover and Combined Print & E-Book Fiction lists shows that three science fiction books have debuted on those lists so far this year: The Rise of Skywalker by Rae Carson, Agency by William Gibson, and then mine (Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments is also about, but it debuted last year). There’s been rather more fantasy books, including N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, and Sarah J. Maas got to #1 on both lists with House of Earth and Blood. And it seems certain that other science fiction will hit the list later this year. But for now, in 2020, it’s the most popular science fiction franchise in history, an acknowledged Grand Master of the genre, and me! I can live with that very fine company. Also, Rae and Bill and I thank you for your support.

* Now, in the interest of nitpickery, let’s acknowledge that placement on the NYT lists is both a combination of book sales and also whatever strange alchemy the NYT uses to judge what books qualify for its lists, and also that best seller lists aren’t just about numbers sold but also numbers sold relative to other books in a particular time frame. In another timeline, where there isn’t a global pandemic and everything went as we more or less expected things to, Emperox might have placed higher, or lower, or not at all, depending on how well other books did according to the NYT criteria. It’s useful to acknowledge that.

This is why it’s nice that to have the NYT ranking supported by positioning on other lists; for example, the #14 slot on the USA Today list, which uses a different criteria entirely (it covers all frontlist books, which is why on that list this week, the book at #13 is an Instapot cook book), or the Apple Books Science Fiction list, which covers titles sold via the Apple Books store (Emperox at #1! Also, The Collapsing Empire at #9 and The Consuming Fire at #12!). The National Indie Bestsellers Hardcover list has it at #28, which suggests that Emperox probably sold more in eBook than hardcover, which is supported by the book being on the NYT Combined Fiction list but not the Hardcover list. Other best seller lists will come in through the week and month, which will give us a triangulation of the books’ sales profile.

* I also know the first week sales numbers from Tor for additional context. As noted earlier, it did better out of the gate than either Empire or Fire. Which is great — If you have a trilogy of books, you want the last book’s numbers to reflect the pent-up excitement of the readers, rather than, you know, them going “Oh, that series, I guess.” I suspect it also helped that we primed the pump a bit earlier in the month with a one-day giveaway of Empire and a one-day $2.99 ebook sale of Fire, and had some good early promo via NPR and other outlets. Those starred and other positive reviews didn’t hurt, either. PR and marketing matter! No matter how you slice it, however, the book did what it was supposed to do, in terms of sales and presence. Hopefully it will continue to do so as we go along.

(“It was a good book, too!” Some of you will say (and have said already, thank you). And yes, it is. I was very pleased with the book for itself and how it fit into the series. But here’s the thing: The book being good or bad doesn’t mean that much for the first week sales for a third book in a popular series, or for the first week sales of a popular author. There is usually sales interest in those cases regardless. Where it being a good or bad book matters for sales is in weeks two through infinity — because that’s where word of mouth and other factors that contribute to “long tail” sales kick in. A book being good is the difference between the first week being 50% of a “bestselling” book’s lifetime sales, and it being 5%, or even a smaller percentage than that. As authors, we should all hope for the latter.)

* So, yeah, basically I was surprised and relieved and happy that The Last Emperox had such a good first week. And maybe you think it might be silly for me after all this time to still have those jitters, but — I still have them! Especially in the face of a global pandemic! This is completely uncharted territory to release a book into. Literally no one in the publishing world had any experience with something like this, or knew how to predict the effect it would have on a new book coming out. In a whole lot of ways, for Tor, and for the genre of science fiction, I got to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

The verdict: We’re not dead yet! And we may even get through this. If we do, it will be because of all of you. Thank you again.

The Last Emperox a NY Times and USA Today Best Seller

So, there is this:

And also, there is this:

And in case you can’t see that, The Last Emperox is #6 on the New York Times Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Best Seller list, and #14 on the USA Today Best Seller list. The NYT list is looking at new fiction specifically; the USA Today list is all books of any kind. Both of these numbers, I will note, are new highs for me. I will also note that in terms of actual units, Emperox in its first week outsold both The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire in their first weeks, and by a significant margin.

I am, quite obviously, thrilled. And also (and also hopefully equally obviously), so genuinely grateful that so many of you went out of your way to get this book in this last week. The global pandemic, shall we say, did not make it easy for you to get it. Thank you for making the effort to find it.

I am also so very grateful to the folks at Tor, and particularly the PR and Marketing folks (and especially Alexis Saarela, my PR person) for pulling out all the stops to get the word out, which included swapping out an entire physical book tour with an online tour in the space of just a few days. When people ask me “why work with a traditional publisher?” It’s this. This is why. Because working with smart and amazing people makes a difference for getting your book out there.

This is a good day for me. Thank you all for making it that way.

The Last Emperox Spoiler-Filled Discussion Post (WARNING: Spoilers!)

Now that The Last Emperox has been out for a full week, I think it’s time to open up a place for people who have read the book to be able to discuss it without worrying that they will spoil the plot points for others, so for the next few days at least I will keep this post’s comments open for people to talk about the events of the book amongst themselves.

BUT BEWARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT YET READ THE BOOK, because the comment thread to this post will be allowed to have spoilers! Spoilers galore! Don’t read it unless you’re willing to have the events of the book revealed to you. You have been warned! Repeatedly!

Okay, folks, get to it in the comments.

A 30-Day Song Challenge in One Day

Because I’m not patient enough to do this over 30 days. It’s a list that features a different mood/idea/whatever for each of 30 days, and then I added an extra one, because some months have 31 days. Let’s go through the whole thing at once, shall we?

1. A song you like with a color in the title:

2. A song you like with a number in the title:

3. A song the reminds you of summertime:

4. A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget — I don’t have someone like that, but if I did, I suspect this song would do:

5. A song that needs to be played loud:

6. A song that makes you want to dance:

7. A song to drive to:

8. A song about drugs or alcohol:

9. A song that makes you happy:

10. A song that makes you sad:

11. A song you never get tired of:

12. A song from your pre-teen years:

13. A song you like from the 70s:

14. A song you’d love to be played at your wedding — this was played at our wedding:

15. A song you like that’s a cover by another artist:

16. A song that’s a classic favorite:

17. A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke:

18. A song from the year you were born:

19. A song that makes you think about life:

20. A song that has many meanings for you:

21. A song you like with a person’s name in the title:

22. A song that moves you forward:

23. A song you think everyone should listen to — I mean, I don’t think such a thing exists, but here’s a song I would play for just about anyone:

24. A song by a band you wish were still together — a technically correct answer:

25. A song you like by an artist no longer living:

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love — I did fall in love to this song, actually:

27. A song that breaks your heart:

Day 28: A song by an artist whose voice you love:

Day 29: A song you remember from your childhood:

Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself:

EXTRA: Day 31: A song you wanted to put into the list but didn’t otherwise get to:

Week Five of Quarantine and Ugh, I Have Nothing Useful to Say About It, So Here’s a Picture of a Puppy Instead

This labradoodle showed up in the yard yesterday and I got to play with it a little bit while its human loitered a socially responsible distance away. It was adorable. And yes, before you ask, we’re thinking about getting another dog sometime soonish. Not this one, cute as it is.

Anyway, uhhhh, another week of quarantine, then? I mean, unless you’re one of those people astroturfed into believing that this virus can be rushed or intimidated into getting out of your way so you can go eat in a restaurant or get your hair done, or whatever. Pro tip: It can’t. Stay home. Keep your neighbors safe. Wash your hands. Especially when you’re done playing with adorable puppies.

My Online Event at the Commonwealth Club, 4/17/20

There’s about seven minutes of hold music at the beginning; you can forward to the 7 minute point in the video where the event actually begins. There’s a couple minutes of announcements and then I start blathering, and I go on for about an hour. Enjoy.

Krissy at 50

It’s Krissy’s birthday today, and it’s one of those round number ones: She’s 50 now, which is kind of wild to think about. It means (among other things) that she and I have been married for half of her life now, and have known each other and been in love for even longer than that. What an amazing thing.

I think most of you know how much I esteem Krissy and how much better I think my life is with her in it, so I won’t go into huge detail about that again right now. I will say that I love her more now than ever, and that every day I wake up I can’t believe I get to be with her, and I recommit to making her feel the same about me. I think that’s sufficient to say for now.

As an aside, originally I wasn’t going to be home for her birthday — I was supposed to be on a book tour, and today I would have been in Los Angeles, at the LA Times Festival of Books, instead of spending the day with Krissy. When I was told that the book tour — and pretty much every other event under the sun — was cancelled because of the coronavirus, my very first thought, and this is no lie, was, “That’s cool, I get to be home for Krissy’s birthday.” And here I am. Silver linings and all that.

If you would like to wish Krissy a happy birthday in comments, I would not look askance upon it.

Me and NPR’s Scott Simon

Doing a little thing on the Twitters. Enjoy.

(If you can’t see it, hit that link.)

The Sneeze

Not Sugar’s most dignified moment, but it makes for a striking picture. Hope your Thursday is going well, folks.

Checking In On TLE Sales (Kind Of)

I’m a big proponent of reminding people to take Amazon ranking numbers with a grain of salt, for all sorts of reasons. With that said, they can be a fun if distorted mirror to get an idea where one’s sales might be. And at the moment, The Last Emperox is: #1, #3 and #40 New Release in Science Fiction (Amazon breaks up sales of audio, eBook and hardcover), #4 and #10 for Science Fiction (all releases), #85 in overall book releases, and #10 for Audible’s general releases. Which… seems positive! Everything’s up from yesterday, too, which is also nice; the book outlasted the presale bump.

It’s also a bit of a relief because, you know. Global pandemic. I figured the book would do all right out of the gate, but you never do know, and I was prepared to have it fall on its face, saleswise. It’s gratifying to see it not stumble at the starting block. Yes, I know, I’m mixing metaphors. Work with me here, folks.

The real question for the book will be how it does in hardcover these first couple of weeks, with bookstores closed to foot traffic when they are open at all. I think we’ll be fine? But “fine” will be a relative term, and the one remaining place where I think we risk being seriously affected by the current situation. Again, we’ll see. I’m cautiously optimistic.

What I can say here is: Thank you, folks. I was a bit nervous about this release. I’m a lot less nervous now. I appreciate you. A lot.

The Last Emperox is Out!

If you’re reading this, then The Last Emperox, my latest novel and the conclusion to the Interdependency Trilogy, is now out in the US and Canada in hardcover, eBook and audiobook editions (UK folks: You have two more days for the UK print edition). I’m happy to say the book has been a hit with critics, with starred reviews from Publishers Weekly (“Scalzi knocks it out of the park”), Kirkus (“Punchy, plausible, and bittersweet”) and Library Journal (“filled with irreverent, humorous, and intelligent prose”). I’m very pleased about this.

The Last Emperox is available at your local bookstore, which I encourage you to support (provided it is open during the various state shutdowns; call and check!) and through all the usual online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and Powell’s. The eBook version is available through all the usual online retailers (Amazon,, Google Play, Apple Books, Kobo, etc) and the audiobook is available through Amazon and It is narrated by Wil Wheaton.

If you want a signed hardcover edition of the book, you can check with the stores that were part of my previously announced (and now, because of the coronavirus, cancelled) in-person tour; some of them will be receiving signed copies or bookplates to add to the book. If those stores don’t have signed copies, you can always contact my local bookstore, Jay and Mary’s Book Center, and order from them; I’ll come in and sign those books (and other books of mine as well).

Because of the coronavirus, my in-person tour has been replaced with online events. The first is tonight, for Brookline Booksmith, at 6pm Eastern. Thursday at 7pm Eastern I will be taking part in the Inverse Happy Hour on Instagram, and Friday I’ll be doing at event with the Commonwealth Club at 3pm Eastern, noon Pacific. There are more events through April and May and I’ll spotlight them here and on Twitter before they happen. Regardless, you’ll get a chance to see me do my thing online — even if you weren’t going to be able to see me on my in-person tour this year. What a time to be alive.

I’ll have more to say about The Last Emperox in other pieces during the week, here and in other places. For now, let me just say that I am really, deeply pleased with this book, not only for itself, but also as the conclusion of a trilogy. I think it does what it needed to do, and I’m anxious for all of you to be able to read it, to see if you agree. I think you will. I hope you will, anyway.

Happy reading, and thank you for continuing to be part of my writing life.

Sunset, April 13, 2020

The next time I see this glowy orb, my new book will be out.