A Request, Re: The Last Emperox

Originally posted on Twitter but reposted here in compact form, and for those who don’t venture to that service:

The Last Emperox comes out tomorrow! Before it does, let me take a moment to make a small request from those of you who have ordered the book: Patience and grace. The reason for this is that my book is coming out in the middle of a global pandemic. That means some things.

Most notably, if you ordered the hardcover, it means you may not get the book exactly on Tuesday. Book warehouses are running on skeleton crews; bookstores are doing the same. And of course your delivery people are working themselves into exhaustion. Somewhere in the line there may be a hiccup. If there is, please understand. Everyone is doing what they can to get the book to you as soon as possible. Please don’t be angry with booksellers or delivery people for for delays. This is an extraordinary time and we all need to practice kindness.

If you have gotten a copy of the book early, or are getting it in eBook or audio tomorrow, my request is: please don’t post spoilers on social media for the first couple of weeks after the release. Let those with delivery delays have a little grace period to catch up. Even a simple “Spoiler alert!” notification will mean a lot to them, and to me. I put some twists into the book. I think it’s kind to let people experience them first hand. Your choice, but again I hope you’ll choose the kinder path here.

Regardless, I am really excited for you all to finally be able to read The Last Emperox soon. I think you’ll enjoy it and how everything comes together. It speaks to our moment more than I intended when I started writing it. But this is not a bad thing, I think.

Heartbreak is Not a Joke, or, the Tragedy of Kristoff in Frozen 2: A Guest Post by Athena Scalzi

Hello, everyone, it is I, the junior Scalzi! I have come from the deepest and laziest depths of quarantine to bring you a post that I have been meaning to write since January and just haven’t gotten around to. I figure now is a better time to write it anyways, since it pertains to Frozen 2, a movie that was still in theaters in January, and I figure by now anyone who has the desire to see it has already done so. That being said, I will go ahead and include a spoiler warning right now! Ready?

Spoilers ahead!

There we go. Now that the formal stuff is out of the way, let’s just dive straight into this thing, shall we?

Many people, including me, love Disney songs with an unparalleled passion. The songs in a Disney movie can really make or break the film, and I guarantee at least half of you reading have a Disney song playlist on Spotify (like me).

Anyways, the song “Let It Go” from Frozen made Frozen’s soundtrack one of the most popular and listened to soundtracks in all of Disney history. This put a lot of pressure on the songs in Frozen II to be just as good and well-liked as the first movie’s soundtrack, if not more so.

For the most part, I think Frozen 2’s new batch of songs were great! I do thoroughly enjoy the first soundtrack, but the second one really does hold its own. It’s strong, emotional, inspiring, all those good attributes. And yet, I have major beef with one song, that being “Lost In the Woods”.

Not because it’s a bad song! The lyrics are great, honestly, and it’s really nice to hear Kristoff sing. He never really got much song-time in the first one, so having a whole song for himself is a nice change. And in theory, it’s a great song, about him expressing his worries regarding his and Anna’s relationship. Things have been rough between them; he’s confused and scared and trying to express how lost he feels. When I think of a song where someone is expressing their fears about their relationship, I imagine a very serious, sad sort of song, as the topic itself is both serious and sad!

And yet, what we were given is a comical eighties love song rendition of what I believe should’ve been serious and heartfelt. 

“Lost In the Woods” is undoubtedly designed to make people laugh, and it succeeded. I saw Frozen II in theaters twice. Both times, when the song came on, the entire theater burst out laughing at the ridiculousness that was Kristoff lamenting into a pinecone like a microphone, with reindeers giving him backup in an obvious Queen reference. They gave Kristoff an intentionally over-dramatic spotlight and multiple cross-cuts that were sure to inspire laughter from the audience.

I want to be clear, the issue here is not that people laughed at the song. I’m not upset people laughed at it. It makes total sense they did, because it was intentionally made to be humorous. I’m upset that it was made to be humorous at all. 

When I saw people tweeting about Frozen 2 before I got around to seeing it myself, I saw a lot of people saying how progressive it was that Kristoff had his own song where he expressed his emotions. Which, yeah, that is progressive. In a society where men aren’t allowed to feel sad, and are generally brought up to believe anger is the only emotion they can express in public, it does sound good that there’s a song for Kristoff where he gets to be sad and gets to talk about his feelings.

However, the movie made a mockery of those emotions. The audience laughs at him for having them. It’s impossible to take what he’s saying seriously, because it’s displayed in such a comedic and over-dramatic manner.

Look at these lyrics!

“But is this what it feels like to be growing apart?” 

“Up till now the next step was a question of how, I never thought it was a question of whether.” 

These right here are genuine concerns in a relationship! The feeling of growing apart is a horrible and sad thing to deal with. Kristoff is struggling throughout most of the film with feeling like Anna is pulling away from him. He is unsure if she really cares for him, and he doesn’t know how to process this feeling of being lost and confused. This should not be presented as a comedic thing! 

Imagine if Anna’s super-serious sad song about moving on and how hard it is to take the next step forward was made fun of! No, instead, Anna is allowed to be sad, and gets to have her tearful ballad of loss and grief. It’s made into an emotional piece where she literally climbs out of a deep dark cave towards the light. It was beautiful and moving, and it was the right way to handle that song, given the topic.

So why wasn’t Kristoff shown the same respect? I’m not saying his song had to be on par with Anna’s song, because obviously Anna’s song is about death and grief. But Kristoff’s song was a blatant mockery of his very real, very valid emotions. 

In conclusion, yes, in theory it was progressive to give Kristoff a song where he sings about his romantic problems. But it was all for naught since it was just turned into something comedic. Everybody laughed and dismissed his true feelings, simply because of how it was presented. Again, I’m not mad at people for laughing. I’m just disheartened to see that a super sweet character who was really sad and confused about the love of his life was given a song that closely resembled “Glory of Love” from the Karate Kid II soundtrack.

It’s just disappointing, y’know? Kristoff deserved better. Men deserve better representation of emotions and sadness, and that’s the mothafuckin tea. 

Oh, Hey, I Was on NPR’s Weekend Edition This Morning

Talking about The Last Emperox, coincidentally enough!

(Note: It’s not a coincidence.)

You can find the audio segment as well as a transcript at this here link. It’s about seven minutes long. A fine little amuse-bouche for your Saturday.

New Books and ARCs, 4/10/20

A very fine stack, if I say so myself. Let me know what intrigues you in the comments.

Also, as a matter of process, I should note that for a while you might expect to see fewer stacks of new books and ARCs. Not because I’m less interested in posting in them, or (as would have been the case until recently) because I’m traveling on a book tour. No, it’s strictly because fewer physical books and ARCs are coming to the house as publishers minimize warehouse staff and publicity people work from home. In time I expect things will change and physical books will be sent more often. In the meantime, I’ll still do them if and whenever enough are sent for a proper stack.

The Big Idea: Danielle Trussoni

A shocking revelation about Danielle Trussoni’s past turned into the big idea for her novel The Ancestor — and more than the novel beside. She’s here now to tell you about the revelation, and how it lead to her newest projects.

DANIELLE TRUSSONI:

My new novel The Ancestor is about a woman who takes a DNA test, discovers she is related to an aristocratic family in the Italian Alps. At first, it seems like a wonderful surprise, but when she visits the family castle in the Aosta Valley, she learns the dark secrets and her family’s genetic inheritance.

The idea for this story came after I took a DNA test myself, and had the surprise of my life. My father was Italian American, and I grew up in the shadow of this heritage. My childhood was filled with large family gatherings, Italian food, Catholic school and stories of my great-grandparents’ lives in the Italian Alps. I visited the small Alpine village where my ancestors were born, and am part of a group of relatives who organize tours to the village every year. And so I was astonished to discover, after taking a 23andMe test, that I am exactly 1.7% Italian. My sister took the test, too, and her results were the same. We are more English and Norwegian than Italian, more French and German than Italian, a fact that shattered the cultural identity that was an enormous part of our childhood.

This surprise made me realize how powerful ancestral stories are in our lives, and it made me wonder: What could be the most shocking revelation you might discover in your ancestral pedigree? What would such a discovery do to our sense of family and belonging? The Ancestor is my answer.

While the discoveries the heroine of The Ancestor makes lead to a suspenseful hunt for the truth, what most interested me when I was writing this book was the idea of human relationships and, specifically, our relationship to our human ancestors, and our ‘genetic family tree’ in the present and past.

I spent a lot of time reading about the history of human evolution, and way too much time thinking about Neanderthals and other hominids that evolved alongside Homo Sapiens. I was so engrossed by this research, that I branched out, and found myself learning about a branch of (some say faux) science called cryptozoology: the scientific pursuit of hidden, or undocumented creatures such as the Yeti or mermaids or giant medusa jellyfish.

By the time I was done, I had pages and pages of research that had no place in The Ancestor. Being the kind of writer I am, I wanted to use this research in my fiction, and so I wrote an audio drama podcast called Crypto-Z, which imagines a team of cryptozoologists hunting down a cryptid in the Italian Alps. There are actors performing and an ambient bath of sound that creates a truly immersive listening experience.

The idea behind writing The Ancestor and Crypto-Z was to explore the idea of our genetic connection to each other, the past, and ‘the other’ in ways that challenge the notion of tribalism, while creating utterly different kinds of narrative experiences. I wanted to ask the question: What if there are other humans that evolved alongside us? What if they are still here, hidden among us? How would we see ourselves differently when faced with our ancestors?

You can see the trailer for Crypto-Z on Youtube and sign up for it on Apple Podcasts to get the first episode when it goes live later this month.

—-

The Ancestor: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Oblong Books (signed copies)

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

Darke County Quarantine

There’s a site that purports to track how well one’s county is following social distancing protocols, and I was curious how my own county was doing in their estimation, so I put it into site. Turns out, Darke County, OH is not going all that great: It has a score of “D”, meaning that people are on average still moving about quite a lot.

Why might that be? One easy assumption is that it has something to do with ideology; a quick look at the county map shows that the areas that have better social distancing scores tend toward to be more liberal/Democratic, while the ones doing less well are more conservative/Republican. And while I think there may indeed be something to that, I think there are more practical issues at work. In Ohio, at least, the counties with better social isolation scores are also ones with more white collar jobs, i.e., jobs that can be done from home and in social isolation. Meanwhile, rural counties like Darke county have more blue collar and agricultural jobs, including ones deemed “essential,” which require more mobility on the part of the population. Additionally, things are further apart in rural counties — a trip to our “local” Kroger, for example, is 10 miles each way.

Which is to say I don’t think Darke County’s low score here is just a matter of stubborn people not thinking through what social distancing is, although again, I wouldn’t count that out entirely — one persistent rumor around these here parts is that the COVID-19 bug actually came through here weeks ago, so the area should be on the other side of its infection curve, which is a belief that bears no relation at all either to epidemiological trends or, frankly, common sense. People should still be at home. But at least some of that score reflects who lives and works in this county and the practical issues of living and working here. It does give some credence to the idea that to no small extent, the ability to socially distance is a mark of privilege and class.

The Big Idea: A.J. Hartley

A book doesn’t have to have a single big idea — it can have ideas of all sizes, combined to make something new. A.J. Hartley had a few ideas for his “Steeplejack” series, of which Firebrand is the second, and today, he’s here to explain them, and what he’s done to make realize these ideas effectively.

A.J. HARTLEY:

The core of the Steeplejack series, the idea at its heart, came out of the collision of two smaller ideas that I had assumed would be separate books. One was a fantasy adventure set in a world which looked like Africa. The other was a Victorian steampunk mystery centering on a character who worked on the city’s tall factory chimneys. When I realized that the two stories might be combined, creating a unique, 19th-century metropolis within an African context, the series came together. The result was not just a world that had all the smoggy trappings of a Sherlock Holmes mystery surrounded by a wilderness full of strange and potentially dangerous creatures, the story was also necessarily defined by the racial dynamics of the population. Bar-Selehm, the city which is the home for the books, is based very loosely on Durban in South Africa, a city with a substantial Indian population in addition to the minority white and indigenous blacks. Since I imagined a conquest of the region which took place several centuries earlier than did the British subjugation of South Africa, however, the imaginary city is a steam-driven industrial power house living according to a political system resembling apartheid.

The protagonist of the series is Anglet Sutonga, a brown skinned Lani steeplejack who, in book one, was recruited by a powerful local politician to investigate the events surrounding the murder of her apprentice. In book two, Firebrand, she has acquired greater autonomy and agency, and is now attempting to unravel the theft of some secret government plans against a backdrop of rising political tension. This latter is driven by the rise of a right wing populist politician who is seeking to return the city to older ideas of racial segregation in response to the recent immigration of foreign refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland.

I should say here that I’m a white guy, and that with the best will in the world, there are certain things I’m never going to be able to evoke as well as a someone who has actually lived the experience. That’s worrying for a writer. We’re told to write what we know, and limited though that injunction might be, it’s solid advice if only because when readers can tell you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re screwed. At best they are momentarily knocked out of the story. At worst you lose them completely and you look like an imposter.

That said, the world is full of books about white people and I didn’t want to merely add to the pile. I’ll go further and say that I think I have a moral obligation to at least try to write stories which reflect the diversity I see around me.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and it’s not enough to mean well. Now, I’m on safer ground with fantasy. The world of the Steeplejack books is made up. It’s a place and time that has never existed, so I’m as well qualified to write it as anyone else, but to do it well requires me to draw on other people’s experience. I’ve been to places, for instance, where I knew I could not trust the police, that if anything happened to me—or even if it didn’t—they would be as likely to treat me criminally as they were to help. But I haven’t lived the bulk of my life in such a condition, so to imagine it I needed to listen to those who had. I shared my work as it developed with friends of color and asked them to flag any moment, any idea, any assumption which felt wrong, off, or stereotypical. Because one of the hardest things about writing people who aren’t you is the tendency—usually one you can’t see—to rely on what you think you know but which is actually coming from impressions shaped by your own difference. This is especially true when you are representing minorities who, perhaps, you don’t have much close personal contact with, so that your impressions of them are absorbed largely through, say, TV and film.

Writers live by their voice; the sound they make in a reader’s head through the arrangement of words. I like words and I like to use them to build stories. What I learned from this series, however, was that I was likely to be most successful if I shut up and listened. I’m not talking about writing dialect (a nightmarish trap for white people trying to write people of color), I’m talking about story. I’m talking about events and situations and how characters other than me might perceive them. And it’s hard, because you really do have to pay attention when people call you out for an assumption or something that looks prejudicial. You can’t say ‘But that’s not what I meant!’ Intent doesn’t matter. Effect does. So for all my writerly scribbling there comes a point (or points, plural) where I have to share my stuff and ask other people how it reads to them.

Does it work? I’m not certain. The result is better than me working alone, that’s for sure, and I think there’s value in any good faith attempt to talk across racial lines because we, as a culture, seem to be so bad at it. I know I can’t please everyone—from either end of the political spectrum—but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do everything in my power to get it as close to right as I can.

It’s probably self-evident that I wanted to use the fantasy frame to explore current social and political issues, mixing adventure, mystery and wonder with some fairly hard truths from our own world, but I don’t think I had realized just how topical it would feel. The novel was completed long before the last presidential election, and though there are flashes of campaign rhetoric in the mouth of Anglet’s principle political antagonist, Nathan Richter, the extent to which the book now seems to reflect our own country is a little unnerving. In fact, in spite of the unfamiliarity of the world and its occasional deviations from conventional reality, it barely feels to me like fantasy at all. All of which makes me wonder if the real ‘big idea’ has to do with the book’s generic hybridity; it’s a mystery, a thriller, and a fantasy adventure, but it’s also a kind of alternate history with an edge of social commentary. I like to think that it’s both fun and serious, both a diversion from reality, and a story about political resistance in a world which seems rather more familiar than I would like.

—-

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

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

Yesterday’s Sunset Today

I meant to post it yesterday but then got distracted. By things. And stuff. You know.

Today: Did an interview for the upcoming book release. And having done one thing today, I excused myself from everything else for the rest of the day. This quarantine work schedule is something I can get behind.

The Big Idea: Chandra K. Clarke

In a world that’s full of dystopias and which frankly feels more than a little dystopian itself these days, Chandra K. Clarke asked: Is that all there is? Her novel Echoes of Another is her way of trying to answer that question.

CHANDRA K. CLARKE:

One of my favorite Sidney Harris cartoons is one you’ve probably seen: it shows two mathematicians staring at a complicated equation on a chalkboard. In the middle of the equation is the line “THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS.” In the caption, one mathematician advises the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

I think of this cartoon nearly every time I rewatch some of the earlier incarnations of Star Trek, as it reminds me of how I felt the first time I watched The Next Generation (TNG). Like many of you, I loved it for its optimism, its fumbling steps toward the concepts of diversity and inclusion, and the fact that it (usually) embraced thoughtful, reasoned approaches to problems. But after watching an episode, I would think to myself, Great! Love it! Want it! Uh . . . how do we get there from here?

That niggling feeling has only gotten worse since the TNG series finale in 1994. In real life, we seem to have entered a backsliding period or, at the very least, a retrenching: demagogic leaders gaining power all over the world, progressive legislation being rolled back, and nation-states withdrawing from collaborative agreements. And science fiction, the literature that had once inspired me to keep winding the clock now seems awash in more of the same: dystopias, post-apocalyptic landscapes, and zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

(And yes, I’m sure you can think of at least a dozen examples of more positive SF, just as I can Google for encouraging headlines. I’m talking overall trends. Work with me here . . .)

That feeling was compounded by a sense of wasted potential, especially with the stuff coming out of Silicon Valley. When tech bros weren’t burning tens of millions of dollars on dubious inventions, such as Wi-Fi-enabled juicers, they were launching massive, disruptive “platforms” that had the capacity to be positive socioeconomic forces, with little thought (or care) for how they might be abused. Where it once it felt as if we were on the verge of some big breakthroughs and substantial progress, we now feel as if we’re scrambling to avoid disaster while fighting a rearguard action.

My response to this was to write Echoes of Another. In it, a well-meaning scientist invents a technology that can record and play back the neurological and physiological states associated with “flow”—that rare but lovely state of total focus and peak performance. She wants to be able to invoke flow on demand so that humanity can bring peak states to bear on our biggest problems. But before she’s able to do much with her prototype, it is stolen, copied, and put to a range of uses, both good and . . . well, really rather bad.

My goal in Echoes was to explore the wild and weird ecosystems that spring up around any new technology, as well as the unintended consequences that always follow when you don’t factor basic human nature into your cool new toy. While I’m at it, I try to subvert some tropes, because I’m contrary that way.

More importantly, I tried to position the novel in a cautiously optimistic time and place. Set in Toronto, the near-future that I want is one in which we’ve come to grips with climate change mitigation, we’ve made solid progress in decarbonizing the economy, and the long arc of the universe is bending once again toward justice and equality. It’s certainly not perfect. But it is, if not a midpoint, then at least a stepping-stone on the path to a rosier future—something akin to the one depicted in TNG.

That’s because, for my money, science fiction’s highest and best use is to inspire people to think about the future they want. Don’t get me wrong: dystopias and other cautionary tales are absolutely vital. We need to explore the ways in which things can go wrong so we have an opportunity to avoid bad situations in real life. But there are two sides to the SF coin, and we’ve been getting tails for too long. We’re at the point where social media pundits are nervously wondering whether certain politicians are using dystopias as playbooks. And I do believe that if our art is as relentlessly depressing as our headlines seem to be, we risk invoking a kind of paralysis because there seems no point in trying.

I would love more SF that encourages us to actively chart a course into the future, rather than stumbling blindly into it; helps us come up with thoughtful, reasoned approaches to our current problems; and gives us something to shoot for, not just shoot at.

Echoes depicts a fictional future that I think could be within our grasp. I hope it inspires you to create a real one that’s even better than what I have envisioned.

—-

Echoes of Another: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

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

The Big Idea: Corry L. Lee

When thinking about how to develop a magic system for her new novel Weave the Lightning, a big idea came to Corry L. Lee… almost like a bolt out of the blue.

CORRY L. LEE:

I love reading the adventures of diverse protagonists. Except… what’s this? There’s magic! There’s spaceships! But the world is still riddled with the same sexism and racism? With infinite possible worlds, why are imagined societies so often burdened by the same glass ceilings and arbitrary lines in the sand as our world?

Speculative fiction has deep roots in imagining a better world. In writing Weave the Lighting, I wanted to create a better world… that at the same time was a terrible world with serious, systemic problems my characters could fight.

So I started planning around two fixed points: gender equality and a big, crunchy magic system. If the magic was important, and magic didn’t discriminate along gender lines, I reasoned that a society would develop where women and men were treated equally. If that magic were practical enough to erase unequal biological challenges (like the risks of unprotected sex), that would help, too, but I wasn’t concerned with those details at first.

What I did care about was making the magic really cool but dangerous, hard to learn and easy to screw up. I also wanted it to feel like magic, which to me meant drawing deeply from a mage’s personal experience. In the back of my mind, too, was a way to give strength to people who might otherwise seem weak.

I decided that to create new magical objects in my world, a mage had to be hit by lightning. (I’ve always loved lighting. So beautiful, so deadly.) To allow technology to grow and influence the magic, I created a storm cycle—decades that passed where all that sparked in a storm was electricity. And to make magic personal, I decided that a mage had to shape their magic out of a desperate need—a need to fight against overwhelming physical odds, a need to heal a dying loved one or feed a starving family.

There’s more to the magic system, of course (you can read about it on my website if you geek out about magic systems like me or like having the rules explained up front), and I’m really proud of how it turned out. It’s intricate like a lightning strike—it branches and forks and grows organically. It influences the world in deep and inextricable ways and, like lightning itself, is hard to control.

I don’t believe in the inevitability of patriarchy. I don’t believe that skin color or sexual preference or physical ability must divide us. People will draw lines, yes. We will define a ‘them’ to hold up against ‘us.’ In Weave the Lightning, the lines are not our own. The fascist regime draws lines that are hard and dangerous—but the world is filled with magic, and the people will rise up to fight.

Weave the LightningAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie-Bound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Corry L. Lee’s website. Follow her on Twitter.

 

My Quarantine Field Trip

Today I actually left the house for the first time in two weeks (minus walks up and down my rural Ohio road), in order to travel up to Michigan, where I signed copies of The Last Emperox at the Subterranean Press warehouse. Usually when I head up there to sign books I make a day of it, hang out with the Subterranean Press folks, have dinner with friends and stay the night before heading back in the morning. However, these are quarantine times, so what I did was drive up alone, get to the warehouse where the one person working stayed mostly on the other side of the warehouse from me, sign the books, and then head directly back home. It was the social distancing signing. Not as fun as it could have been, but I wanted to make sure everyone who ordered a book through SubPress got their book when it comes out (postal service willing, of course).

So if you pre-ordered The Last Emperox through Subterranean Press, congrats, you’re getting a signed book for sure.

For everyone else who still wants to be sure to get a signed book, remember that my local bookstore, Jay & Mary’s Book Center, is taking pre-orders, and I’ll be signing (and when requested, personalizing) books there. Call them during regular hours, that’s the best way to get a book. If you want to get the book around the time it comes out, I suggest ordering by this Friday, although I will continue signing books for them after that (you can also other books of mine from the store).

It was nice to get out. It’s also nice to be back.

State of the Scalzi, Three Weeks In

I’ve been quarantining for three weeks now. How am I doing? Let’s break it down, in no particular order:

1. Weight: Quarantining offers many opportunities to confront the question “Am I Hungry or Just Bored,” and I know that left to my own devices I will graze incessantly, so I’ve been using a calorie counter to track the amount of food I’m shoving into my own face and how many calories it has. I strongly believe that if people just want to eat during quarantine, why the hell not, and have already developed a term for “the weight we all gain because it’s quarantine and, well, fuck it”: The Quaran-fifteen. That said, I also know that me gaining too much weight will make me unhappy, and possibly unhealthy. My goal here is simply to stay within the 165 – 170 pound range, and tracking food and calories helps with that. Today: 167.5 pounds, so, yes, smack dab in the middle, well-done there, Scalzi.

2. Exercise: I’ve been exercising about every other day, walks when it’s nice outside and drumming when it’s not. The walks are easy to do because I live in rural America, where I can walk for miles and not see another person (yay, low-density living), and drumming is fun, so it doesn’t really feel like exercise. I think I might need to exercise more because I do notice I’m crankier on days when I don’t exercise. I don’t know if that’s because on the days I don’t exercise the lack of exercise makes me crankier, or if it’s because on the days I don’t exercise I fill that time with reading news and social media, which makes me crankier. Maybe both!

3. Sleep: I find myself sleeping more the further I go along in the quarantine. According to my Fitbit, the first week I was in quarantine I slept an average of 7 hours, 6 minutes a night; the second week, 7 hours, 49 minutes; and last week, 8 hours, 3 minutes. Pre-quarantine I was sleeping on average between six and a half and seven and a half hours a night. I’m sleeping more both because I can — no travel is really helping with this, I have to say — and because I suspect I’m using sleep therapeutically at this point. Yesterday I was in a particularly not great mood and went “fuck it, I’m going to sleep,” got in bed early, slept nine hours and woke up feeling pretty decent. I recommend more sleep to everyone.

4. Work: I thought last week I would do a little creative work and did none at all, which was a cause of some of my crankiness, mitigated by the realization that right now I really do need to do marketing and publicity for The Last Emperox, and I was doing rather a bit of that in terms of interviews, feature pieces and what have you. I’m keeping busy at the very least, which is useful. Part of the problem with the creative side is my brain is jumping around. I have a novel that I have to write (I will literally always have a novel I need to write, contractually speaking, for the better part of a decade yet), but my brain is also, like, now is the time to write that concept album! And that short story! And that screenplay! And and and… Some of that I suspect is just quarantine restlessness, but the short term result is lack of focus.

5. General mood: Mostly good; it gets worse when I read the news, but then, why wouldn’t it. In the main we are doing pretty well here — we’re all healthy and we’re mostly in good spirits and entertained — and it helps that we live in a big enough house that the three of us here can get out of each other’s way when we need to. But I have my less-than-great days, yesterday being one, in which I felt like doing something but nothing in particular was interesting to me, so I just sat about being in a bad mood and trying not to transmit it to anyone else in the house before I went to bed. I don’t worry too much about the cranky days being a symptom of quarantine depression — I have cranky days regardless of outside events — but I am paying attention to whether there are more cranky days now, and if so, how they affect the way I’m treating others.

With that said, come on: Weird fucking times we’re living in and the anxiousness of it is getting to me like I think it’s getting to everyone. It’s exacerbated by the fact that our ignorant, dimwitted president and his incompetent administration has literally made everything worse; I have so much generalized anger and frustration at him and his people that I don’t know what to do with it, save the occasional caustic Twitter post (and slightly longer if no less caustic posts here). I’m also aware that for various reasons I have the luxury of mostly ignoring the outside world if I want to, so while I wouldn’t call my anger and anxiety voluntary, exactly, it’s true enough that I can do things to moderate it that other people can’t. It’s still pretty bad. I envy people who aren’t anxious and angry at the moment; they’re probably delusional, which isn’t any better at all, but at least they’re happier.

6. Financial anxiety: Not much for me or the Scalzi family, thankfully. I’ve noted that we took a pretty severe haircut on stocks, as did anyone else who is in the stock market these days, but we’re also about two decades out from doing anything with those investments, so, eh, it’s not fun but it’s not something for us to freak out about yet, either. Otherwise financially we’re going to be fine through the rest of 2020 at least. We’re fortunate and we know it.

As a matter of prudence I’ve already substantially downgraded what I expect to take in for the next couple of years at least. Reasons for this include contraction in the publishing market, both with domestic and international publishers and booksellers, people having less disposable income and more general economic anxiety, and the options market (for film/TV) probably drying out considerably in the short term. I could be wrong about this — people in the short term seem to be buying books, which is nice for someone who has a book out in nine days — but it makes sense to plan like I won’t be wrong. Again, I’ll probably be fine; I (and we) have margin to work with. A lot of people don’t, including people we care about.

7. Non-family relationships: So far, so good? While I have good relations with my neighbors, most of my strong personal relationships are with people who live some distance from me and with whom I mostly communicate day-to-day through online/phone-based means. So… business as usual on that end. I am more than a little disappointed that my physical book tour was cancelled because I had friends at pretty much every stop and was looking forward to spending some in-person time with them. That’s not going to happen now. I’ll find other excuses to get with them some other time. In the meantime, I’m checking in on them and they’re checking in on me and we’re doing what we do. It seems all right.

8. And everything else: I’m drinking more Coke Zero than I used to, and I used to drink rather a lot, so maybe I need to think about my choices there. The cats seem to be fine and largely unconcerned about anything, which makes sense because they’re cats and they don’t worry about things as long as the food and sunbeams keep coming. I was reading more, and I’ve stopped and now want to get back on it again; I reread a novel this weekend, which is a start. I’m excited about The Last Emperox coming out and am curious how it does in the short term and in the face of an economic and social shutdown. I very much like that I have more time with Krissy and Athena right now; it’s the silver lining in all of this. I’m trying very hard not to fall down stairs or have any other sort of medical emergency, as this is absolutely the worst time for that. My hair is beginning to get unruly and I’ve already told Krissy that when it goes full Doc Brown I’m just gonna take some clippers to it rather than wait for an appointment with my usual hairdresser. We’re buying a lot of local business gift certificates that we have no intention of redeeming anytime soon.

Things could be worse. I wish they were better.

This is where I am at the end of week three.

Yes, But What Does JOHN SCALZI Think of This Moment?

Because I once wrote a book about a global viral pandemic, I was asked by my local newspaper to prognosticate about what changes we will see from the coronavirus in the future. I answered largely in generalities, because that’s the sort of interview it was. You may find the interview at this link.

Return of the Flies

It’s pleasant to think of where I live as a bucolic paradise, and a lot of the time it is just that. But one does have to remember that nature includes the less than pretty parts, like, for example, hundreds of recently-metamorphosed houseflies congregating on one’s back porch and (in this case) trash can, sunning themselves before heading off to do whatever it is that flies do with their time.

The cats don’t mind them, because the cats like to hunt and eat the little critters, but all things being equal, the human residents of the Scalzi Compound would rather have them go away, and may be inclined to take a fly swatter to them in order to encourage their dispersal, or, at least, removal. No matter how many you swat, however, there are always more. Flies are like that.

Anyway: One of the less attractive harbingers of spring around these here parts. Not exactly the swallows to Capistrano.

New Books and ARCs, 4/3/20

And here we are: Another intriguing stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What is calling to you this week? Tell us all in the comments.

The Dance of Spring

Spice is performing it for you! Enjoy.

Also, spring is now here in Ohio, which means some sun but mostly clouds and rain, but when it’s sunny we all go out into the outside. Social distancing means something different when you live in a rural area — I took a three and a half mile walk yesterday and the only person I saw out and about was the Amish fellow who fixes our lawn mower when it breaks down, as I walked past his place of business. We had a nice chat across a ditch. He was the first person I’ve spoken to live who was not a family member or a delivery person in almost three weeks.

The walk (and a similar walk I took a couple days earlier) were for exercise, which is important during a quarantine, but also recognition that even someone who is as much a homebody as myself actually needs a change of scenery once in a while. Also it’s nice to see that even as humans stay home the rest of nature is busy doing its thing, waking up from winter and coming online for spring as if nothing much has changed. The mortal concerns of man don’t seem to matter much to the birds and the trees, and there’s something reassuring about that. Life does go on, even if right now we’re mostly looking through a window as it does.

How are you doing?

 

Adam Schlesinger, RIP

Best known for Fountains of Wayne, but the songwriting mastermind behind a surprising number of other perfect pop songs, dead at 52 from coronavirus-related issues. A very bad day for music, and a reminder that the coronavirus is going to take a lot from us all before it’s done. Stay inside, people. Stay safe.

The Big Idea: Rysa Walker

Hold on to your butts: in this Big Idea for her new novel Now, Then and Everywhen, author Rysa Walker eyes the topics you’re not supposed to talk about… and then totally goes there.

RYSA WALKER:

There’s an old adage that you should never discuss politics or religion in polite society. If that still holds and it’s something you believe strongly, consider this a warning: I’m about to discuss religion and politics.

I’ll start with an anecdote you may have heard. Two science fiction writers are at a bar in the late 1940s having a friendly chat over a few too many drinks. After a shared lament about the penny-a-word rates they’re earning, one of them notes that they’ll never get rich writing science fiction. “The real money,” he says, “is in religion. I’ll bet I could start my own religion and be a millionaire long before you make that much writing.”

There are multiple versions of the tale, some with the wager and some without. I won’t name the authors in question, both because the story is quite possibly apocryphal, and because even though the undisputed winner is now dead, he left behind a very profitable (and very litigious) church.

While we may never know whether the story is literally true, it’s hard to deny the central point. In the US, tax breaks alone tip the scales in that direction. Most religious leaders also wield far more political power and seem to provoke less anger when they dare to express a political opinion in the course of their work… even though their tax-exempt status should, in theory, preclude that.

Personally, I’d rather write even if it never makes me a millionaire, but religion still intrigues me. I was raised in a rural area of the South so deeply fundamentalist that I was nine years old before I fully understood that religious beliefs extended beyond the narrow spectrum of Protestant churches lining the highway that bisected our tiny town. I met my first non-Protestant around age twelve when a Catholic family moved in, and my first non-Christian when I went away to college, although I’m sure there were a few atheists in town who were simply smart enough to keep their mouths closed on the subject.

My own religious views took a sharp turn as a teenager, when a chance encounter with Mark Twain’s Letters to Earth awakened my inner skeptic, and also because I began questioning the racist views of my particular denomination and chafing at the whole women be silent thing. (Which will surprise no one who knows me.)  But I still have a certain affinity for the more positive messages of the New Testament and fond memories of sermons at my grandparent’s church, where the minister focused on the golden rule and charity rather than the eternal damnation of anyone who held different beliefs.

Given my previous career as a professor of government and history, I’ve had a chance to explore many of the intersections of religion and American politics. The most baffling combination, in my view, is the odd meshing of Ayn Rand’s loosely organized political theory and fundamentalist Christianity. There’s really no overlap between her philosophy of Objectivism and the words of Jesus in the New Testament. Indeed, they’re close to polar opposites. Yet somehow, prosperity gospel ministers manage to blend these into a message that resonates with many Americans. See me? I’m rich. And if you send me your love offering…or seed money…or sustaining gift…you can be rich, too. God wants you to be rich.

It’s a successful business model. But what if they could ramp that message up a notch? What if they could say not merely that you might become rich if you support them? What if they could guarantee it? If they get thousands of followers with vague promises of prosperity, how many more might they get with some actual follow-through?

To put it in the context of our two science fiction writers in the bar, let’s imagine that the religious entrepreneur has more than drive, charisma, and an active imagination. Now he also has the ability to jump back a few centuries and drop off copies of the central text of his new religion, avoiding that whole awkward phase when established religions dismiss it as a cult. Since he wants his religion to become mainstream, he probably would not introduce an entirely new theology with aliens and the like. He would, instead, follow the lead of Christianity in its early days, blending his ideas with customs already embraced by the people he hoped to convert. At various junctures in history, he might also make a few stops to deliver a  well-timed prophecy, perform a miraculous cure, or co-opt a few rival groups. And once he reached the modern era, he could spread his new religion rapidly by providing the faithful with the occasional uncannily accurate stock tip—as long as they kept up their monthly tithe, of course.

A similar wager sets in motion the events in both of my CHRONOS series. The main antagonist, Saul Rand, is one of three dozen genetically altered historians equipped to travel through time to study their subjects in person. There are safeguards, of course. Rigid controls on when and where the historians can travel. And the Temporal Monitoring Unit is there to ensure that the historians don’t alter the timeline enough to affect the course of history. Saul has found a way around those safeguards and he’s convinced that a world crafted in his own image would be an improvement.

If the original wager in the bar was tilted in favor of the wannabe messiah, adding time travel makes it a slam dunk. And once his new religion was widespread, it would give him a tremendous amount of power to change history. Whether that was for good or for ill would be largely determined by the personality of this new prophet…although I think it’s fairly safe to say that anyone with the hubris to think that he or she should have the ability to shape all of history is not someone you’d want in that role.

—-

Now, Then and Everywhen: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Read an excerpt. Visit Rysa Walker’s Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

The Collapsing Empire Free, The Consuming Fire $2.99, The Human Division 99p

It’s a busy day for sales here in Scalzi Land, so let’s dig right into it:

Today (April 1, 2020) only — and not an April Fool’s joke — You can download the ebook of The Collapsing Empire for free as part of the Tor.com eBook club. This is for US and Canada only.

Also in US/Canada, for the next couple of days also today only, The Consuming Fire, the sequel to The Collapsing Empire, is $2.99 at your favorite online retailer. So if you missed out on this book, now is a fine time to get it.

If you’re in the UK, you can get The Human Division, the fifth book in the OMW series (and the start of an independent two-book arc in that series), for just 99p, which is a pretty good price if you ask me.

Oh, and remember, The Last Emperox comes out in less than two weeks, so now is a very fine time to pre-order it! Also if you pre-order through Jay and Mary’s, my local bookseller, I’ll sign and personalize your copy (US delivery only).

There, we’re all caught up now. Happy April!