Read Request Week 2021 #6: Krissy and Dogs

Krissy and Charlie.

Susanpeak asks:

What is it about Krissy that dogs like so much? You mentioned that Charlie has already attached strongly to her, and I remember Kodi did so as well (and I assume Daisy?). Why?

I should note it’s not just our dogs. I honestly have yet to meet a single dog that does not more or less instantly fall in love with Krissy and swear fealty to her and her entire line. Krissy tells me that when she goes out on house inspections (she’s an insurance claims adjuster) she often meets dogs, and they almost always come up to her and are friendly and want love. And then their owner will come out and say something like “That’s Chauncy, he hates everyone and tried to eat the neighbors’ children, I don’t understand why he likes you.”

Part of it is I think dogs are pretty good judges of who likes dogs and who doesn’t, and Krissy, as a rule, likes dogs. She’s not scared of them and doesn’t project an air of uncertainty when approaching them. If Krissy’s somewhere, she means to be somewhere. Krissy is not foolish around dogs, mind you — if one was acting aggressive and angry, I don’t think she’d be heedless of what the dog was doing — and she’s respectful of animals as a general rule. But she’s also not trepidatious. When she sees a dog, she’s generally happy to see that dog, whatever dog it is. And dogs, as a general rule, like when people like them.

Part of it is that Krissy gives off “pack leader” vibes at all times. I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that Krissy is the head of the Scalzi family, both nuclear and extended — she’s extremely capable and gets results, and is sensible and level-headed. We all pretty much look to her to get things done and to get us all doing what we need to do.

(I’m not running myself down here, I’ll note — I’m useful for long-term planning, creative solutions to difficult issues, and funding the whole operation. But I’m also the person who, when Krissy first moved in with me, was on third notice on all his bills because he couldn’t be bothered to get stamps, despite working literally next to the post office. Krissy is in charge of things, and I’m very happy that she is.)

Dogs are pack animals; one of the things they do is figure out who is really running the show. Any dog who is with us longer than a day figures out Krissy is the pack leader. Clearly they are going to give their allegiance to her. I don’t mind. It’s not like they don’t like or love me, or refuse to acknowledge that they should be listening to me when I tell them to come inside or to stop bothering the cats. It’s just clear they like and love and look to Krissy more. I get it! I think she’s pretty great, too.

Finally, and importantly, Krissy is super-demonstrative of her affection for her pups, which is also keeping in line with Krissy’s personality generally. Krissy is polite and self-contained with people she meets until she decides she likes them; after that point she’ll help you bury a body in the woods if it came to that, whether or not that body was still moving at the time. So when a dog becomes part of the family, they get all of that affection and loyalty.

Who can resist that? No one can resist that, that’s who. Certainly not a pup! Krissy is a dog’s best friend, basically. Again, I totally get it. Krissy is the best.

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS


Reader Request Week 2021 #5: American Fascism

Rick asks:

Being a child of the late 20th century, I always thought the USA was somehow immune to fascism, and I’m honestly surprised to discover recently that this isn’t the case. Is this simple naivete, or have things fundamentally changed in American politics?

Well, you know. In 1939 American Nazis held a rally at Madison Square Garden. It was very well attended! And among other things they hung a big damn portrait of George Washington between their swastikas, with full intent:

That giant portrait of George Washington was no afterthought. “One of the things they tried to do was to say that this is what America has always been and this is what the Founding Fathers would have supported,” said Churchwell. Indeed, they referred to Washington as “America’s first fascist.”

And they might have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling World War II and Germany (and Nazism) becoming the enemy. Inconvenient for the American Nazis, that. Set the whole fascist movement back decades in the US.

At least, the part that overtly called itself fascism. But otherwise it still managed. McCarthyism? That was fascism. Jim Crow? Fascism. Definition nerds will quibble about whether America’s long-standing authoritarian, anti-democratic impulses qualify as true fascism, but two things here. One: If it quacks like a duck, etc. Two, let us recall that when actual no-shit fascists were looking at ways to codify their power and to demonize their enemies, including and specifically the Jews, where did they look for useful examples? If your answer is anything other than “Why, at the United States and its systemic suppression of its own minorities over the years,” then, surprise! Here’s a reading list to catch you up.

To be clear, the US is not (directly) responsible for the rise of Nazism and the horrors it perpetrated on the Jewish population of Europe. Hitler was fucking evil, and Europe was not exactly new to anti-semitism in the first half of the 20th century. Hitler would have found a way to get where he wanted to go, and the German nation would have gone along, as it largely did. But this doesn’t change the fact that when the Nazis were looking for pertinent examples for legally disenfranchising parts of its own population, the United States was there for it, with laws that, if not technically fascist in themselves (quibble away, definition nerds!), were certainly proto-fascist.

In a larger sense, the history of the United States is a history of Will to Power, competing neck-to-neck with what we prefer to see as our more noble and democratic Power to the People. What is “Manifest Destiny” if not Deus Vult in mid-18th century dress? Did the US not essentially pick fights with Mexico and Spain for land and political influence? Did it not ignore whatever treaties it made with the Native Americans whenever it felt like it? Did it not rise to prominence on the labor and pain of African slaves, and tear itself apart because the South decided it was better to gamble on a quick war to keep those slaves, than to imagine them as people? And then, having freed those slaves, did the US then not engage in a century-long effort to keep those slaves and their descendants as legally close to a slave state as possible? Did the US not likewise demonize and restrict the rights of Chinese and other Asians? In the end, who benefited from the United States, who still benefits from it, and how was it managed that only they received the vastly largest share of the benefit?

If you know the answers to these questions, and yet still wonder how the United States might not be immune to fascism, the likely problem is that you’re hung up on the word “fascism” rather than the conceptual, social and political elements that allow for fascism. “Fascism” is a brand. Authoritarianism is the substance inside the can. The United States has had all of the ingredients for authoritarianism as long as it’s existed, and we make a fresh batch of it whenever we feel like it.

To go back to World War II, one of its side effects was that for as long as the generation who fought it was the engine of the economy and politically active, overt fascism was more difficult to support in the US — we could manage it if we could, say, argue we were doing it to fight communism or something, but indulging in it purely for its own sake was a bad look. But the generation that fought World War II is mostly dead now, and a lot of their (white) children are of the opinion that maybe fascism got a bad rap — it’s not so bad, it’s just how it was done before that’s the problem. Creeping fascism has been the goal of the US Republican Party for a while now, what with its policy of steadily eroding and ignoring democratic norms, and its strategy of creating economic and informational insecurity to scare poor and working class whites, with the goal of inflaming their systemically-inculcated bias toward racism, for the benefit of the wealthiest of its party members, and to retain power even (especially) as the majority of US citizens have left it and its political interests behind.

And it certainly got a boost in that from Donald Trump! If someone like Mitch McConnell is the GOP’s ego, Trump is its id, a loud, proudly ignorant racist and buffoon who doesn’t give a shit about democracy, admires dictators, was enraged he wasn’t treated as a king, and who ended his presidency with an attempted putsch against his democratically chosen successor. Trump may not have come into the White House as a fascist, but he certainly left as one. His party — with some notable exceptions — gave him aid and comfort in his transformation and in his attempt to overthrow democracy in the United States. Moreover, it is now actively, unapologetically and with full fervor attempting to curtail the ability of United States citizens to participate in the democratic process, in a manner we haven’t seen so openly since the time when the Nazis were looking for a legal model for the persecution of the Jews and everyone else they found inconvenient. That is in fact actual fascism. You could say fascism has captured the GOP, but that ignores that fascism (and specifically, white christianist fascism) was always the plan, from at least Newt Gingrich onward. The Republicans meant to get here. And now they are here.

But again: We have always been here, in one way or another, here in these United States. The greatness of the US, its ability to be an actual force for good, and for hope, and for the democratic model of governance, has always gone hand in hand with its ability to be the worst of nations, and to indulge in authoritarianism, imperialism, bigotry and, yes, fascism. What we work for — what you should be working for, anyway — is to have the better aspects of our nation to be in the fore, so it may be the sort of country that fascism can’t provide: Tolerant, wise, open, diverse and focused on the common weal.

During the Trump administration I would occasionally see on Twitter: “If you were wondering what you would have done in Germany during the rise of the Nazis, it’s whatever you are doing now.” That was true! Just remember it’s always been true, in every time, here in the United States. Our nation’s darker nature is always there, and is always waiting for good people to lack conviction and to do nothing. Whatever you’re doing now, that’s what you’re doing to fight that darker nature. Or not. It’s up to you.

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Michael Muntisov

Have you ever considered going vegan, or living a zero-waste lifestyle for the sake of the environment? It might be a good idea, especially if we get judged later in life for how we fought against climate change in our past. In Michael Muntisov’s newest novel, The Court of Grandchildren, the choices we make today decide our fate tomorrow.


George Orwell once wrote “If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?”

Today we witness not Big Brother, but many people in positions of authority insisting that climate change is a hoax. If that makes your blood boil, it’s because you know those people have nothing other than their own self-interest at heart. They don’t give a damn, even about their own grandchildren.

Well what if, thirty years from now, those very same grandchildren decided it was time to hold today’s decision makers to account? That is the big idea behind Court of the Grandchildren.

By then, supercomputers will have advanced enough to tell us what the climate consequences were of every past policy decision or non-decision. There will be no gray areas. The excuses for today’s inaction will seem like parodies.

In one way this may feel satisfying — those damn deniers will get their comeuppance! But wait a second. How will you, dear reader, distinguish yourself from the ‘evil-doers’ in the eyes of the grandchildren? Are you just as much to blame? After all, you watched, participated and let it happen. What if you were lumped in with the ‘burners’?

And there are further annoying questions: How would your track record survive being picked apart by an AI lawyer? How would our generation be punished? But then, what is the value in attributing blame and seeking retribution? 

These were some of the philosophical ponderings that ran through my head as I contemplated what sort of book Court of the Grandchildren would be.

One thing I already knew. Talking about climate change is hard. Harder than talking about sex and religion. Why? Because, as Rebecca Huntley says, the science of climate change is relatively orderly and neat, but people are not. 

How a person responds to climate change messaging depends on how they see the world. Their politics, values, cultural identity, and even their gender identity play a role. So I had to stop laying out the rational and start being emotional. And what better way than through storytelling.

At first, I thought my target audience would be people active in the climate movement. Secretly, I wished that climate skeptics would be interested too. It took me a while to admit that actually neither of those groups would be the core audience. The climate skeptics wouldn’t bother once they saw the reference to the ‘Climate Court’ in the blurb. And the novel wouldn’t go far enough for the hard-core activists. 

Once I was released from the bond of these fictitious audiences, I found the freedom to tell the story I wanted to tell. 

After eighteen months of work, the publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript was a gratifying moment. But as COVID delayed the book’s release, my satisfaction was whittled away. The delay tried my patience, but it provided an unexpected benefit. I took the opportunity to write a stage adaptation of Court of the Grandchildren. 

Adapting a novel demands a lot of discipline. You have to identify the core story. You have to simplify. You have to reduce the number of characters and action scenes. These necessities for the stage exposed several weak or half-hearted conflicts in the novel. The COVID delay meant I had time to rectify these weaknesses before publication. As an added bonus, The Magnetic Theatre in North Carolina has selected the play for performance in their 2022 season.

My big idea was about climate change responsibility. But as the story evolved, as it became more emotional, it became more personal. I realized that while Court of the Grandchildren questions the legacy we are leaving our grandchildren, it also questions me: Am I doing the best I can?

Court of the Grandchildren: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|Kobo

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


Reader Request Week 2021 #4: Living on a Boat

Matt C asks:

I recall in a different post you mentioned you spent a summer on a houseboat when you were young? Can you elaborate on the story of how it came about and some or all the shenanigans that ensued?

“Houseboat” is a little grand. It was a sailboat, probably 26 feet long or so, and it belonged to my mother and her (now-deceased) husband Roger. For a time they lived on it in San Diego with a couple of dogs and a parrot, which strikes me as very cramped, given that the interior was basically the size of a small RV (I mean, I guess it was a recreational vehicle, just not one you could take on roads).

Now, as it happens, right around the time that I got an internship at the San Diego Tribune (now the Union-Tribune), mom and Roger were going to pull up stakes in order to run an orphanage in Mexico (don’t ask). However, they weren’t able to bring the boat with them, and it would be several months before their dock rental (or whatever you call it) would be up. So rather than have me find a room somewhere in town, I lived on the sailboat. It benefitted mom and Roger, since someone would be there to look after the boat, and it benefitted me, because I didn’t have to pay rent. They also left me one of their vehicles, a ridiculously huge Ford F-450 that got, like, maybe eight miles to the gallon. That solved my issue of how to get about in San Diego for a summer.

I don’t know how my mother and Roger managed to live on the boat with three animals and all the accoutrement of an actual life, but for a 20-year-old kid who showed up with a small suitcase and no dependents? It was pretty great. Living in a marina is very much like living in an RV park, except on the water — I showered and did my laundry at the Marina and ate out most nights. I had enough space for me, my clothes and my guitar. I’d have friends come over occasionally, mostly long enough to go “well, this is cozy,” and then we would head out somewhere else. I was not actively dating or playing the field, so there was no rocking the boat, so to speak.

And, no, I didn’t actually take it out on the sea. I would have probably crashed it leaving the marina. I didn’t want to drown, y’all.

Otherwise I was living a storybook life for a 20-year-old dude. I was in San Diego, I was young, I had friends, and my internship was with the entertainment section of the paper, so my days were spent writing reviews of concerts that I had seen the night before. I got to interview some memorable people and learned a lot about working at a newspaper, which came in handy when I started an actual newspaper job a year later. It was, basically, a perfect summer, and I’m glad I got to have it. On a boat!

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Product Review: Craize Corn Crackers

Last week, I was advertised a snack food on Facebook while hungry, and inevitably bought it. The tempting snack I am referring to is called “Craize“, a company that sells flavored toasted corn crackers. The company boasts that they are better and healthier alternatives to tortilla chips. They have seven flavors as of right now: coconut, plantain, sweet corn, seeded, everything, guava, and roasted corn. I couldn’t decide which to try so I bought the variety pack, and my parents and I tried them all.

Before we get into the review of how each flavor tastes and everything, let’s go over some of the facts. Craize crackers are vegan, gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO. Also, their factory is allergen friendly, so they’re dairy-free, eggs-free, crustaceans/shellfish/fish-free, wheat-free, soy-free, and tree-nut-free (minus coconuts). On top of all this, they claim they taste good, so that’s a lot of hype! Does it live up to said hype, though?

Here’s what the actual crackers themselves look like, I arranged them in the same order as the bags in the top photo.

(From left to right: plantain, seeded, everything, coconut, sweet corn, guava, roasted corn)

Side note, the crackers look a bit darker in the photo than in real life. It’s not too drastic, but it is a tad different than their colors in person.

To start off, we tried the coconut ones. They smelled just like toasted coconut, and were very thin and light, which made for a great crispy bite. They actually tasted super good! I thought they’d be like, just fine, but they were better than I expected them to be. They’re so crispy and perfectly flavored, not too strong and overwhelming and definitely not too subtle. A great start to our tasting voyage.

Next up was roasted corn. This one immediately felt different to me when I held it in my hand. It felt almost like, too smooth? Kind of papery? Like something fake. These ones were thicker than the coconut ones, so they didn’t have that same crispy bite, and they were a little more dry than their predecessors. To me, it just tasted like unsalted/unbuttered popcorn. Very plain, but not bad or anything. It would be a perfect base to dip into things or put things on top of it for an hors d’oeuvres.

After that we tried the plantain flavor. I’ve only had plantains a few times in my life, and every time they taste pretty banana-y to me (which makes sense since they’re pretty closely related), but these crackers tasted especially banana-esque to me. But not in an artificial banana Laffy-Taffy way, these tasted very close to a slightly overripe banana, like the kind you’re about to turn into banana bread. Actually, they taste a lot like dried banana chips. Overall, they were pretty good. I’m not sure what would be a good topper/dipper for this flavor though.

Following the plantain flavor, we tried the everything flavor. I assume it means everything like an everything bagel, and I’m pretty sure I was right in my assumption because they tasted very oniony and very much like poppy seeds. My dad said he doesn’t understand why someone wouldn’t just eat an everything bagel since they pretty much taste the same, but I said it would be a great option for someone who is watching calories or doesn’t eat gluten. Plus, whatever toppings you would normally put on the bagel, you could just put on the cracker! This flavor was pretty okay, but fair warning it is rather strongly onion flavored.

Next, we tried the sweet corn. We all agreed it tasted exactly like creamed corn. So if that’s a flavor you like, you’d probably really like these crackers! I thought it was spot on to a sweeter version of corn, and it was definitely way tastier than the roasted corn. Not much to say about these ones other than that they were pretty good!

Guava was next in the queue. These ones had the same thinness and perfect crispiness as the coconut ones, which is fantastic, because none of the others so far had quite held up to that same bar that the coconut flavor set. The guava flavor was exactly that, perfectly guava-y! Again, not too powerful, not too subtle. I honestly really like guava, but my mom wasn’t such a big fan. If you like dried guava, like in those tropical mixes at the store with the dried pineapple and mango and whatnot, then I bet you’d like these! Again, kind of a hard flavor to think of what to put on top of it or dip it in.

Finally, we tried the seeded flavor. This cracker tasted just like sesame, probably because it’s packed with sesame seeds. They definitely did not skimp on the seeds, it’s chock-full of them! I’m pretty indifferent to this one. I like sesame perfectly fine. In fact, I love sesame balls with red bean filling and sesame chicken, so I think it’s a pretty great flavor, but this cracker was a little meh for me. Not that it was bad, I just think there were better ones in this line up.

So, after tasting them all, we each came up with a list of our favorite to least favorite flavor.

My dad’s: coconut, sweet corn, everything, guava, roasted corn, seeded, plantain

My mom’s: coconut, sweet corn, seeded, roasted corn, guava, everything, plantain

Mine: coconut, guava, sweet corn, plantain, everything, seeded, roasted corn

Obviously, coconut is the superior flavor. Sweet corn is also very highly ranked. I’m a little sad I seem to be the only one that really liked the plantain and guava, but that’s okay. Someone’s gotta eat the rest of the roasted corn flavor and it sure ain’t gonna be me.

The roasted corn was my least favorite not just because of taste but because it had the worst texture. Though coconut and guava had a vastly superior texture, none of the others were even close to as funky feeling as the roasted corn one. Again, I think that’s just a me thing, since my parents didn’t have the same complaint.

Interesting thing about the thinness of the coconut and guava, though, is that they’re more prone to breakage, whereas the thicker roasted corn, everything, and seeded flavors were much more durable. If you noticed in the picture of all the chips in a line, the guava one is broken. That’s because there wasn’t a single whole one in the entire bag.

Here is the guava.

Here is the roasted corn.

Considering the packaging shows each cracker as a full circle with toppings on it, it’s kind of a problem that all the guava ones and most of the coconut ones were broken. So if you wanted to serve them as a snack like shown on the packaging, it wouldn’t exactly work out.

So, that’s something to consider.

Overall, I think these crackers were pretty great! Or at least, I’m glad I bought them and tried them. The variety pack was only twenty dollars, and every order gets free shipping (though they only ship in the US). I would definitely recommend this cracker company, or at least giving them a try for yourself.

If you’ve tried any of these flavors before, let me know your thoughts on them! If you have any other cool snack recommendations I should check out, leave a comment! And have a great day.



Reader Request Week 2021 #3: Teaching “The Classics”

For this one, two questions, coming at the same topic at different angles. First, this from Dominic Morton:

Should we teach “the classics” in high school? In the past I felt like the novels and plays I teach my students are a part of our cultural vocabulary, so they have common ground with other adults, later in life, but after once again slogging through Huckleberry Finn and (ugh) The Scarlet Letter I’m starting to think that what is important is practicing reading a longer work while holding details in your mind as you analyze a novel. How important do you think it is for all sophomore or junior teachers to teach the same titles from English canon?

And this from Kevin Fortier:

What do you think about classics being banned and censored in public schools (Such as 1984, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc.)?

For the record I’ve read all those books in question, and most of them as a teenager. I liked Huck until Tom Sawyer showed up as a special guest star and pulled focus; Scarlet seemed overwrought; Catcher made me want to roll my eyes at Holden; Mockingbird was okay and 1984 was the one that engaged me on a level other than “dutifully read.” There, full disclosure.

Books being censored or banned in schools is as American as apple pie, enough so that the ALA has an annual list of the top ten most banned and challenged books in the country, from schools and libraries. Strangely, the most challenged and banned books in recent years are not “the classics” but modern books with LGBTQIA+ content, and/or sexual themes or profanity. The classics occasionally sneak on there — Mockingbird showed up a couple of years back, as did the Bible (“Reason: Religious viewpoint,” which, I mean, yes, it definitely has that). But the focus does seem to be, shall we say, elsewhere.

I grew up with a parent whose philosophy with books was “if you can reach it, you can read it,” and that was the same philosophy that I had with my own kid, so as a matter of personal temperament, I don’t think it’s either necessary or desirable to try to ban books of any sort from schools or libraries. Also, as a general rule, within the constraints of the US Constitution’s establishment clause, I don’t think any book should be automatically excluded from public school classes or reading lists. Now, this is a very Olympian sort of attitude that falls apart where the pedagogical rubber meets the educational road, and where teachers actually have to make reading choices and then defend them to politically polarized parents of all sorts. Educators, feel free to unload on me in the comments for this (and all the other blathering that follows in this essay). But it is my overarching philosophy and I’m sticking to it.

This does mean when someone wants to have a handwring about a certain book (or a certain set of books) being banned or challenged, my first instinct is to wonder whether their outrage is situational — “It’s fine to ban those books, but these books are different” — and if it is, I admit to being less than entirely sympathetic to their pleas. A book banner is a book banner, and if your attitude is ban those but not this, then you kind of lose me. Having both been a teen and having had a child who was a teen, banning books is pointless anyway. A certain type of kid won’t give a shit one way or another; they were never going to read that book (or, possibly, any book) other than under duress. A different certain type of kid will be encouraged to seek out that book because it was banned, either from curiosity or to piss off whomever was attempting to censor it. Neither sort will be protected or comforted by a ban. It will literally not do any good.

With all of that said, I do not have any special great love for “the classics” in an educational setting, not because I’m worried about their outdated word use and attitudes, but because they’re often boring as shit, and often neither spark a love of the literature itself, nor a deep examination of the issues they are meant to help the students engage with. And that’s no good! So when we ask about whether we should teach “the classics” in school, I think the question is why are we teaching “the classics” in school?

So, for example: Are you doing a class in the History of American Literature? Yes? Fine, throw The Scarlet Letter in there. The kids who are taking the class pretty much know what they are getting into when they sign up for the course; they’re aware they’re going to spend at least some of their time reading work whose style, language and manner of storytelling is of a particular sort, and indeed, that’s part of the reason to take the class.

Are you teaching a general English class and assigning reading to help engage the students in the written word and to see how it’s relevant to their life? For fuck’s sake I beg of you do not assign The Scarlet Letter, you will smother their interest in the written word right there in that classroom. Give the kids something newer and something that they can more immediately see themselves in. Meet them on their own turf before you try to drag their ass back to Puritan New England and Nathaniel gotdang Hawthorne. It’s not too much to ask.

Well, like what? you may ask. What should we give today’s kids to read? Folks, I am not the one to ask. You know who you might ask? A young adult librarian, whose job (in part) it is to keep up with what’s going on in the world of YA, what’s being published and has been published in the last several years that could help today’s teachers achieve specific goals to engage their students. Or maybe check with an actual teacher! They often know! Ask them! Of course, be aware that what they might suggest might freak out a parent because it has a gay kid in it — please see above about what work actually gets challenged and banned in schools on a regular basis .

Which in itself might be a reason that educators often stick with “the classics” — it’s easier to haul out The Great Gatsby (An adulterous con man seeks the approval of high society — surprisingly relevant), which has passed the sniff test for high school for 50 years now, then to undergo the draining process of suggesting, defending and then dealing with the parental freakouts that come with, offering something new and relevant to the way kids live their lives today.

One other point to consider when we consider “the classics,” and not to be overlooked, is that “the classics” did not arise out of nowhere; choices were made over decades, and most of those choices were made by white folks. If there is one thing we know about white folks and their survey of American (and indeed, world) culture, it is a pronounced tendency to, how to put this, leave certain things out, and to make themselves look good. If you suggest to many of them there are other things outside the established canon of “the classics” they tend to get snippy about it. I mean, I get it, I went to the University of Chicago with its “core curriculum,” and when The Core was widened enough to consider the idea that Thought Itself did not spring only from an olive grove in Greece, there was much harrumphing. And this was from people who, from training and knowledge, fucking knew better. Your average white parent with a child in America’s various public school systems is not necessarily going to do better than a University of Chicago classics professor.

If we must teach “the classics,” especially the American ones, then we should be sure that “the classics” reflect more of the American experience than, say, The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby do. Those books do not need to go away! But they sure as hell need more company.

Ultimately, and again: Why are we teaching “the classics”? If we’re doing it because it’s what we’ve always done and we like doing things the way they’ve always been done, well, that’s a shit reason, and we need a better one. There are a lot of “classics” whose putative job in the educational milieu could be done equally well if not better by different, more engaging and more diverse work. Don’t ban or abandon “the classics”; teach them in milieus where they are relevant. Teach other work elsewhere. Students, at the very least, will benefit from that.

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Yaroslav Barsukov

In this Big Idea for Tower of Mud and Straw, author Yaroslav Barsukov looks at potentially-fraught relationships, and how he approached them for his Nebula award-nominated novella.


Game of Thrones may have faded from the public consciousness, but the scar tissue remains. Incest on the small screen no longer makes us drop our sodas and pizza slices—worse still, a brother kissing his sister on the cheek now creates a certain expectation in the audience.

Against a backdrop of assassinations and ancient legends and mammoth anti-airship towers, two relationships intertwine in my novella—one between the protagonist and his lover, another, in the past, between him and his sister. Both women share the same name—Lena—but the similarities don’t end there: the posture, the outlook on life, the will and the spirit are reflections of each other. In the post-GoT world, that’s tantamount to innuendo, and sure enough, it led some readers to suspect my hero of having a fetish.

To be fair, George Martin did not start this conversation: I live in Vienna, where a life-size statue of a certain neurologist graces the courtyard of the city’s Medical University. If you fall in love with a woman who looks like your mother, it must be Oedipus whispering in your ear… Yet in this tangled mesh of neurons we call the brain, nothing exists in complete isolation. And if one thing influences another, are they always one and the same?

My take on this is that we’re rag dolls woven of nostalgia and regret. The past holds a spell over us, we’re drawn to places where we were happy, to the warmth and the lights. Bikes in the sunset, rain’s white noise in the garden, the way apples smelled in summer. And if we sometimes feel the need to visit the town we grew up in, relationships should be no different. The erstwhile ones will define the future ones; in people, we’ll always look for something we’ve lost.

Tower of Mud and Straw isn’t about folks building a tower using devices brought by refugees from another world. It’s about love as a virus. Platonic, sexual, doesn’t matter: love rewires us, changes our tastes, molds us into creatures of anticipation. So no, my protagonist isn’t a weirdo, nor does he have issues. He is a man who has been happy once, unequivocally, who loved someone without the desire to be physically close. Now he’s holding a mirror shard to the right side of his face, hoping to catch a glimpse of the left.

It would’ve been easier to create two love stories, or add a dash of the Lannister dynamic (hell, the latter could’ve driven up sales for all I know). But as a writer, I was more interested in seeing a platonic relationship reflected in a sexual one. The story is built to support this simile: our hero first encounters the “tulips,” the aforementioned otherworldly technology, in a workshop he runs with his sister. After a tragedy hits, he buries what remains of his past and thinks he’s moved on—until he happens upon a giant tower “tulips” have grown into and meets the woman who bears his sister’s name.

It’s karmic, if you will, and I hope it says something true about us as human beings. All fires the fire, all moths in the dark are drawn to the same lights, and, beautiful and misguided creatures, we keep looking for the things we lost.

Tower of Mud and Straw: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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


Reader Request Week 2021 #2: Book Numbers

Michael Doherty has a question about publisher practices around book sale numbers. Specifically:

I’ve never understood why publishers appear to be so cagey about the numbers of books they sell. Have your publishers ever asked that you not reveal how many copies your books have sold?

No, and honestly I would be surprised if they had. Also, I would be surprised if, at any one time, anyone knew the exact number of books I, or pretty much any other established author with a sales profile similar to mine, had sold.

Which is not to say publishers’ don’t know their own numbers, mind you. They get point of sale information from bookstores, and they know how many books have been ordered, and they know how many returns they have, and so on. They also have to accurately represent those numbers on the royalty statements they are contractually obliged to give to authors (and their agents). Also, usually, if an author suspects the numbers are being underreported, they can ask for an audit, which will bring a fuller picture of sales. So, if I called my editor at Tor today and asked him for the most up-to-date sales numbers for The Collapsing Empire, he could give me a reasonably accurate count of the number of copies of that title that Tor had sold.

What he would not be able to tell me is the number of audiobook sales, because Tor isn’t my audiobook publisher; Audible is. Audible, likewise, knows the number of the audiobook version of Empire it has sold, but not the print or ebook versions, as they do not hold the rights to those. And neither Tor nor Audible has the figures for the foreign language editions of the book, because those are published by other publishers, who have their own sets of numbers.

Who has the most accurate numbers for Empire’s sales (or indeed, for any of my books)? That would be my agent Ethan Ellenberg, to whom all sales and royalty numbers go first, before they are sent on to me. But note in many cases there are lags in terms of information because (I assume) neither Ethan nor the other agents in his company are constantly calling, say, my publisher in Estonia, demanding to know how many copies of my books have sold that week. They could, I suppose? But they don’t, because by and large our various publishers across the planet are honest (and if they are not, at least have signed legal contracts requiring disclosure).

So: If I wanted the best guess in terms of my sales for any one title, or indeed overall, I would ask Ethan to put together a report on that. Indeed he and his crew did that a few years back, in the wake of my Tor deal, so we would have some idea of the figures to tell new foreign language publishers, and also film/TV companies who had an interest in optioning work. The answer, because I know you’re curious: Somewhere in the neighborhood of five million copies of my work sold, worldwide, in all formats. If memory serves this was before The Interdependency series had come out (as well has Head On). That series has done very well and my backlist keeps chugging along happily, so I would expect the number has gone up somewhat since then. I don’t know exactly how much, though, because honestly, on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t actually matter.

(And you say “yeah, but you could be lying about those numbers!” Well, yes, I could be — I’m not, but I could be. The reason I could be is, again, no single source has an accurate count from all my publishers in all formats, except my agent, and then, though him, me. And generally speaking, it’s not something that comes up frequently enough to care. Believe me! Or don’t, it’s all the same to me.)

There’s another issue to consider, which is that these days “sales” is somewhat fungible term. So, for example, I sold tens of thousands of copies of Old Man’s War as part of a “pay what you like” Humble Bundle a few years back. Some people paid a lot for the books in the bundle, and some people paid the absolute bare minimum. Do those count as “sales” if I don’t get paid my usual royalties? Likewise Old Man’s War has been used as a giveaway by Tor to get people to sign up for the newsletter. I don’t consider those sales, but it was popular and I gained readers and sales for later books through that. Should that count in some way?

What about the Dispatcher stories, for which I was paid (well!) but which are part of the Audible Plus streaming package, which means that people listen to them for no additional cost beyond that of the subscription. If someone listens to that, does it count as a “sale”? A “listen”? What bucket do you put that in? Both Dispatcher books have been bestsellers on Audible’s charts, so there’s that to consider as well in the formulation. Along this line, lots of indie authors are part of a subscription model — they get paid for their work, but they don’t make sales in the traditional manner. How do you count sales for them?

Now, with all of that said, there is another reason why publishers and authors alike might be, if not cagey, at least, circumspect with raw sales numbers, and that is that most books, even bestsellers, don’t sell in what a general audience has been trained to appreciate as big numbers. Generally speaking, and not counting the books for which ridiculously large advances are given, if your book sells 25,000 copies over its commercial life, your publisher will be happy with you and might put the phrase “national bestseller” on the cover of your next book. On certain weeks and depending on the chart, a couple thousand sales might be enough to be a New York Times bestseller. “New York Times Bestseller” sounds more impressive than “Hey I sold a couple thousand books,” even if, in fact, selling two thousand books in a week is still pretty damn cool, since most books of any sort sell a fraction of that, ever. In any event, I don’t think most authors/publishers are actively dissembling. They are mostly just putting their work in the best possible light.

(Also, for the avoidance of doubt, I believe there are publishers who ask their authors not to break out their sales numbers publicly. I think this is a bad policy for writers, and for publishers, and as a practical matter this admonition is ignored the moment we all start hanging out in a hotel bar together.)

In sum: I talk about numbers if I feel like talking about book numbers, but as a practical matter it doesn’t come up all that much. I sell enough to make my publishers happy, and to keep my bills paid and my pets in kibble. From a business point of view, everything above that level is gravy. I acknowledge it’s easy for me to have that particular position on things, but even so.

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS


Reader Request Week 2021 #1: Creative Kids in a Computer Age

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time to start this year’s Reader Request Week! To kick things off, Matt S asks:

Computers today are mostly consumption devices. Tablets, cell phones, smart watches… How do I make sure my young son will grow up having the passion to CREATE instead of only passively being entertained?

Well, here’s the thing: Lots of media-bearing technologies are mostly consumption devices, and historically more so than computers. Television is primarily a consumption device. Film is primarily a consumption device. Radio is primarily a consumption device. Books are primarily a consumption device. LPs, CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks: consumption devices. Newspapers and magazines: consumption devices.

Moreover, each of them in their day caused lots of handwringing about idleness and lives wasted by them. Go back to the 18th and 19th centuries and you’ll see lots of griping about novels and how they wreck the mind, especially when women read them. More recently, I don’t need to remind anyone over the age of 40 of how television spent decades as the “big bad” of the media landscape, promising endless hours of mind-wasting entertainment that sucked people’s will to live, or, at least, to go outside. No matter where or how you got your entertainment, be assured that at some point in its past it was viewed as an evil, something making people passive, complacent and uncreative.

What’s different about the computer? Mostly that as a technology, it is multipurpose where previous media technologies were single-purpose. Now your computer, tablet or phone — which are all of course just computers of varying sizes — can be the TV and radio and book and newspaper and a dessert topping and a floor wax (incidentally, if you got that last joke, you’re officially old). This gives rise to the complaint that all people do anymore is look into a single screen; this is not inaccurate, but also vaguely unfair. One device obviates the need for most people to have to apprehend several different things for their entertainment. When I’m looking at a computer screen I could be watching a video or reading a book or making a comment on social media, and so on.

And as a creator — well, look, I’m thrilled that computers have made it easier for people to consume. The rise of the cell phone and the rise of the audio book as more than a marginally popular creative medium are highly correlated, and at the moment audiobooks comprise a good third of my income. Likewise, much of my readership prefers the eBook format to print, and carry all my books with them wherever they go, as data on (or accessible by) that phone, tablet or laptop. And, of course, hello, you’re reading this on my web site, which is entirely dependent on a computer screen. Thank you for staring into screens, people! You’re feeding my pets!

Another thing: The computer is indeed mostly a consumption device, but it has also made it much easier for people to create as well. Once again: Hi, welcome to my web site! For twenty-two years now I have been self-publishing here, and in that course of time I’ve written millions of words with no more effort than it takes to type them and hit a “publish” button. Likewise, I can create photography and present it electronically, with far less effort and cost than photography would have required in the film era. Equally, I can create a video and present it to the world in minutes. Or record a song! Or whatever!

Whether that ease of creating and publishing is a good thing overall is an entirely different discussion, mind you, and not one I’m going to essay in this discussion. However, I can say it’s been good for me. I wrote my first short stories as a teen on a computer. I’ve never had a creative or professional life where a computer of some sort or another has not been actively involved, either as the primary instrument of creation or as a major component of its publication.

So with respect to your kid having the urge to create in the age of computers, Matt, I would say: Don’t worry about it too much. If your kid has the urge to create at all (some people don’t! And that’s okay!), then the computer isn’t going to squash that out of him — in fact, it will give him tools to create, and he will use those as he will, in conjunction with or exclusive of, physical creative tools.

What you should be doing as a parent, I think, is to encourage that creativity when it arises. If your kid likes taking pictures, show him how to do it on your phone or a tablet and then let him run around taking photos of the things he likes. Drawing? Fire up a sketching program and let him play with that. Lots of kid-oriented video games have an explicitly creative component to them, encouraging the players to build their own scenarios and characters. And so on. If you make the point that the computer is for creating as well as consuming, then your kid will incorporate that into his worldview. Now, it also means you will need to be actively engaged in how your kid is using those creative tools on the computer, but as a parent, you should be doing that anyway.

Should you be encouraging your kid to do creative things away from the computer? Sure, there is more to life than just staring at a screen. That said, in my experience the best way to encourage creativity in (most) children is, one, not to force it and, two, not to look down at the direction of creativity your child wants to explore. Do you want your child to be creative, or do you want him to be creative specifically in a way that hits all the “creative” checkmarks in your brain? If the latter, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Also, here is a real thing: While you absolutely should make time in your child’s life for creativity and play, and encourage both without a goal in mind other than “hey, let my kid have fun,” also realize that before every creator was known for their creations, they were consuming media and entertainment — lots of it. That’s how we learned to create: By seeing what others did and then gradually seeing ourselves doing the same. If you saw me at eight years old, or fifteen years old, or, hell, at twenty-five years old, you would not have seen someone who appeared to be destined to become a best-selling novelist. You’d see someone staring into a lot of screens, watching what other people had put on them. Consuming media is not inherently a problem! Creativity is not inspired in a vacuum! People’s creativity is on their schedule, not anyone else’s!

As they say: The kids are all right, in this era just like the ones before it. As a parent, realize you can use the computer to create as well as consume, and make it part of your parenting plan to get your kid to realize it too. Then let him explore and play and find what interests him creatively, online and off. And if all he wants to do right now is watch things, don’t panic. That’s part of creativity too. It’ll pay off in his own creativity, or not, but in the meantime you’re supporting the creativity of others, and that’s not a bad thing, either.

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Dorothy Winsor

Family. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em — but it seems that in one way or another we return to them. This seems to be the case in Dorothy Winsor’s newest speculative fiction novel, The Trickster, both for the characters and the author. Follow along in her Big Idea as she explains how the themes of familial relationships inspired her writing.


Not long ago, I realized that I always wind up writing about family, whether I intend to or not. That may be because I write YA and my characters are breaking from their birth families. But themes of family can work even with adult characters.

We humans generally need the support of other who love us, most commonly in the form of a family. But family expectations can confine us in limiting ways. Many adults have gone home for a visit to find that parents and siblings prod them into roles they had gladly abandoned. Despite their best efforts, they are still expected to be the impulsive one, the shy one, the baby.

Given the way I can’t stop myself from writing about it, I decided to lean into the theme of family. The push and pull between the legitimate comfort of family and the equally legitimate limitations is the big idea behind The Trickster.

My Characters’ Dilemmas

In The Trickster, the point of view alternates between Dilly and Fitch. Dilly is an orphan who’s thrilled to find herself living in the lord’s household as an attendant to his daughter. But she has to hide everything she’s learned and done as a street kid lest her mistress throw her out. She has to smother some of what makes her unique in order the please her makeshift family.

Fitch has been raised to serve his family of smugglers. He lives on an island where he’s related to every single other person and they all smuggle. But smuggled drugs killed his girl the previous year. If he leaves, he has no idea who he is or what his role in life could be. But how can he stay?

For me as a writer, the issue was how to develop the family theme in as rich a way as possible. Luckily, speculative fiction provides us with tools that allow us to make an issue concrete. I once heard Connie Willis talk about how spec fic allowed us to literalize a metaphor. I did something like that with The Trickster.

Primarily I was able to create a family-centered culture that affected both Dilly and Fitch. I also used magic to sharpen the dilemma, particularly for Fitch.

Create a Family Centered Culture

First it occurred to me that I could make the culture dependent on clans, which I called “kinships.” I wound up using that idea primarily for the several families of smugglers rather than in general, but I decided some of the same exaggerated family loyalty had to have carried over to the mainland. In the push and pull of the kinships, I was able to concretize the issue.

I gave the islanders a saying: “Blood of my blood.” They use it to proclaim their loyalty to the kinship. Fitch’s father also uses it to prod his son to keep acting for the kinship’s benefit.

Dilly is a mainlander, but she still feels the same cultural conditioning. As she tells Fitch, “When it comes to family, you’re a rich boy, Fitch of Rhale Island, and I’m dirt poor.” She feels that absence and struggles to find an excuse to say in the Lady’s household even when she realizes that something treasonous is going on.

Use Magic to Increase the Stress

The “magic” in this book is low key but crucial. Fitch has trained as a healer who functions by laying hands on someone and using his energies to strengthen and correct theirs. He discovers that during a healing session, he also has the ability to nudge his patient’s feelings in a direction that should be useful to their well-being. When Fitch’s father hears about this, he demands that Fitch use his nudging ability for the well-being of his smuggling family instead. So for years, Fitch nudged buyers to pay a higher price. Or perhaps he nudged the Watch to look the other way.

The problem for Fitch (and his father) was that the more he nudged other people’s emotions, the more aware he became of them, and the worse he felt about using them. As Dilly says, “How unlucky for your father that your gift made you useful but at the same time gave you insights so you didn’t want to use it. If that’s not the Trickster at work, I don’t know what is.”

For me, in this book, speculative fiction turned out to be a productive resource for writing about an idea that’s apparently fertile for me.

The Trickster: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Kobo 

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


Cats and Dogs, Living Together: An Update

One always wonders, when one brings a new dog into a house full of cats, how the cats are going to handle the intrusion of a big, dimwitted extrovert of an animal that is a dog, particularly when it’s still a puppy and thus full of puppy energy. In our case, the answer is: All right, but the adjustment period is definitely still taking some time.

Charlie, of course, is game: She very much wants to be friends with the cats, and has done all the things dogs do when they want to be friends, including the front paw dive, the presentation of toys, and the full body “come on let’s play!” dance. This freaks out the cats a bit, because what they see is a larger animal making a lot of sudden, unpredictable moves, and they don’t like that. In more quiet moments, they will approach Charlie and even do a nose boop or two, but most of the time the cats are exuding a real “dude, what even are you” vibe, and Charlie is sad about it. She’s doing her best, you know?

Interestingly, the cat who seems to be the most willing to work with Charlie is Spice, who lets Charlie get reasonably close and sniff her up, so long as there is a human nearby. I wouldn’t say she’s super-friendly with Charlie, but of all the cats she’s the one who seems to recognize that the dog is not just an intruder but will be part of the household moving forward. Zeus is not thrilled, and Sugar actively avoids Charlie entirely.

As for Smudge, well, he appears to be having a minor existential crisis about Charlie, I think possibly because he’s used to being the major agent of chaos in the house, and then all of a sudden here’s a dog, a puppy no less, which not just chaos but big friendly chaos. It’s a lot for him to take in, apparently.

Obviously I want them all to get along, but at this point, that’s on the cats’ schedules, not ours. It will happen inevitably. In the meantime, we’ve declared the basement a Charlie-free zone, so the cats can go there to avoid the dog if they like, and indeed they do. The still miss us, however, so they do sneak up to the rest of the house. Spice is sitting on my desk as I type this, for example, pawing me occasionally to remind me to pet her.

Again, it will all be fine once everyone gets used to each other, and it does help that Charlie wants to be friends with the cats rather than feeling territorial about the house. She gets they were here first. But I’m looking forward to the first time a cat snuggles up with her. It might take a bit. But I think we’ll get there.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

I’m Over Being Overweight

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I wasn’t sure how to without making it sound like I’m fishing for compliments or throwing myself a pity party. But I think I finally am able to express this in a way that’s kind of just matter-of-fact, rather than being a sad sack about it.

I am, and for most of my life have been, overweight. If you go through photos of me as a kid, you can pretty much see exactly where it happens. I go from being a regular sized kid, to the chubby kid. I never really noticed it until junior high, because I didn’t have many friends until then, so when I started hanging out with more people in larger groups, I started to realize I was the biggest one.

I remember in seventh grade, I joined the powerlifting team. For competitions, they divide you up by weight class. While a lot of my friends were in the 100 or 110 weight class, I was in the 120 or 130 class, and it felt… not very good. The average weight of a 12 year old is about 100 pounds, but I didn’t need to know that to know I was tubby. It’s just something that has always been painfully evident.

That trend continued for as long as I did powerlifting (I stopped after sophomore year). I was just always one up from the rest of my friends. Always the biggest.

It’s something you get used to, being the fat friend. Though, sometimes it’s harder than others. Like when your friend that’s only 120 insists they’re so fat and you think how you’d kill to look like her. Or when your friend wants you to spend the night and you say you don’t have any pajamas, and they insist you can just wear something of theirs, but you know you’d burst through the seams of their clothes, and you end up wearing something their boyfriend left behind because the only thing that’ll fit you is a six foot tall man’s clothes.

I know I’ve talked about the issues that come with being plus sized before, in my post about women’s fashion. But that post (while it did mention me being a marshmallow and my issues regarding bouncing between regular sizes and plus sizes), focused more on the faults in the women’s fashion industry, whereas this one is more about how I feel about being someone who is fat.

I have seen significant change in the past few years regarding how clothing companies advertise and portray different body types. When I was younger, the only bodies shown were the thin ones, but now I see curvy, thick folks everywhere! Mainstream clothing companies are starting to accommodate towards people who don’t have Barbie-like bodies, and that’s great (not that Barbie-esque bodies are bad!).

I am someone who always tries to be body positive. I ascribe to all of the classic body positivity sayings like, “How to get a bikini body: put a bikini on your body!” I agree with all the sentiments of “it’s okay to have rolls!” and “don’t be ashamed of your cellulite!” and “all bodies are good bodies!” I really do agree with all these things! Except when it comes to me.

In my head, I am the exception to all of these. It’s not okay I have thick thighs, it’s not okay I have a muffin top, it’s not okay I have a double chin.

It’s weird, because any time someone has a reason for gaining weight, it makes perfect sense to me. Like if someone told me, “Oh, quarantine was really rough, I gained like twenty pounds.” Of course you did, that makes perfect sense, and that’s okay! 2020 was really hard and stressful, it’s okay if you gained a little bit. What’s important is that you’re alive and healthy!

But I can’t apply that same logic to myself. I gained about fifteen pounds throughout the last year, and I’m so terribly unhappy about it, as if I wasn’t tubby enough already. Wasn’t quarantine supposed to be my chance to workout at home and get in shape? Wasn’t quarantine the perfect opportunity to stop eating takeout and just cook at home? But did I do any of that? No.

It felt like the world was ending, all the time. Everything was on fire, hundreds of thousands of people were dying, how could I bring myself to care if I was eating too much ice cream or think about how I should be eating broccoli instead? How can I focus on my health when the world is crumbling around me?

Of course, the counter argument there is that my body and what I put in it is the one thing in life I can control. When it feels like there is no order in the world, and everything is just constant chaos, wouldn’t it make sense to try to control the things that are within your power and no one else’s? Like your weight and your diet?

I’ve been a bit of a nihilist for a very long time, and I think it affects how I view my health and diet. It’s hard for me to see anything long term, or imagine the future, because I’m constantly filled with thoughts like “what if I died today?” or “what if nuclear war started tomorrow?” So it’s hard for me to meal plan for the week, because who knows if I’ll live to see it? It’s hard for me to choose not to eat a piece of cake, because what if the world ends tomorrow?

The future is never guaranteed, so I’d rather enjoy every moment of the present and not think about the consequences that will come around eventually.

This Tumblr post accurately represents my mentality:

Again, there’s nothing wrong with being fat! And fat people shouldn’t be discriminated against, ESPECIALLY considering how poverty and obesity go hand in hand, but that’s a whole other topic entirely.

So while there is nothing wrong with being fat, I don’t want to be anymore. I have wanted to be thin for what feels like forever. It’s hard to hate the way you look every single day of your life, yet feel like you can’t do anything about it. Some days, I just feel resigned to the fact that I am fat and I will forever be fat and I should just accept that that’s what I am. Other days, I can feel the motivation boiling inside of me, so desperate to change, but it simmers down just as quickly as it arises.

The worst part of being fat and wanting to not be, is knowing how easy it is on paper. Count your calories, exercise, don’t eat like complete fucking shit. So easy. Yet so incredibly hard. So hard that I feel like I can never accomplish it. Though I see people accomplishing it everyday. I see so many weight loss journeys, stories of how people went from life-threateningly obese, to fit and “normal.” I’m simultaneously so happy for these people and resent them at the same time. If they can do it, why can’t I? And the truth is, I can! There’s nothing stopping me from exercising or eating right, other than myself.

That’s the other thing I hate about being fat. I did it to myself. And I will never forgive myself for letting myself get this way. So how do I stand for it everyday? How do I let myself continue being this way?

Every day I tell myself I’ll change. I wake up and tell myself I’ll completely 180 flip my diet and my fitness habits and I will change. And every day I fail.

Every day I tell myself the same excuses as to why I can’t change. I ask myself the same questions; “how can I exercise when I don’t even know which exercises to do? What if I’m doing something wrong, like my squat form is wrong, and I hurt my knees or something? What if I get shin splints from running?” All these silly little fears keep me sedentary.

I remember my senior year of high school, I gained forty pounds. I went from overweight to obese in one semester. It seemed like it happened overnight. I don’t remember it happening, I only remember waking up and realizing I was 200 pounds. I had to buy an entire new wardrobe, nothing fit me anymore. Suddenly my waistbands were elastic and my tags had an X on them. I graduated high school and entered college, obese.

Looking at my graduation photos should bring me happiness, but it only makes me think of how bad I looked in front of alllll those people. My prom photos could make me cry.

Is this how my peers I graduated with remember me looking? I spent my last year of high school looking like this? I just can’t believe it sometimes. I never even thought that I really that big when I was a freshman in college. I just didn’t really notice it, despite being at an all-time heaviest.

Then, the middle of sophomore year of college, it seemed to vanish just as quickly as it had appeared. I woke up and was 170. And I felt so fucking good. I was enthralled. I could fit into a large instead of a double XL, I could wear a 12 instead of a 16! It was incredulous.

Wow, look at that! Photos I’m not entirely disgusted by!

I was still overweight, but I finally felt like I looked almost normal.

So, I thought my troubles were over. I went through a fat phase, but that’s all it was, right? The weight was gone now, magically, sure, but it was gone and that was all I cared about.

I foolishly believed it would just, stay off, forever. I had done nothing in the ways of changing my diet or exercise habits when I lost it, so why would it come back if I continued doing what I’ve always done? I told myself I’d never get even close to 200 again, I couldn’t stand to be that big again.

Alas, here I am, 190 and fucking miserable.

Part of me is just waiting and hoping that the weight will magically come off again, it did before so why wouldn’t it again? But I’m so tired of waiting. As much as I desperately just want to wake up and have it be gone, part of me feels like that’ll never happen, and it’s silly to wait around for it, when I could be out there actively making a difference in my body. I don’t have to wait around for it to change, I could make it change.

I wouldn’t even have to exercise, really, I would just need to count calories or something of the like. Just eat a little less and a little better, and I’d surely make slow and steady progress, right?

But I’ve found that every time I try to count calories, I just… don’t eat. You’re basically given a certain amount of calories you can spend on food throughout the day, but I don’t spend them. I hoard them. I am afraid to spend 200 calories on breakfast because what if I want something later in the day that costs those 200 and I don’t have those 200 because I spent it on breakfast? But then I just do that nonstop until I’ve reached bedtime and only eaten 300 calories for the day.

So, I figure it’s better to be a black hole and not look at the numbers, than to starve. Which means I eat way, way more than I’m supposed to in a day.

I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder, but I would say I have disordered eating. There’s a difference.

Living day to day life as someone who is fat can present challenges in ways you would’ve never thought about before. The fact that I barely fit into a plane seat makes me feel so bad I could straight up die. Same goes for rollercoasters. And movie theater seats. Basically anywhere I have to squeeze into that is designed around the dimensions of someone who is “normal” sized is a recipe for self-hatred and craving death.

You’d think that my unhappiness would drive me to change, to finally diet and finally exercise, but instead I just live in misery, and I’m not sure why.

Why do I do this to myself? Why don’t I just cut out sweets, or carbs, or just go for a jog? Why don’t I do these things that I know will make me happier in the long run?

Sure, running and dieting would totally suck right now, but wouldn’t it pay off? But what if it doesn’t? What if I break a sweat and vow to never eat cake again, and nothing changes? But what’s the harm in trying, right? It’s not even like I have to lose hundreds of pounds, just thirty or so, that’s not so hard, right? It can’t be that hard, if only I’d try.

Maybe this is all TMI, maybe this did come across as me throwing myself a pity party. Poor girl can’t stop shoving sweets in her face then cries when it all goes to her thighs. Pathetic girl can barely button her jeans but orders dessert with her meal.

I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want to be told it’s okay that I look like a busted can of biscuits. I don’t want reassured that weight is just a number, and in a thousand years my existence will be forgotten entirely, and no one will remember I was ever overweight. I just want to be thin.

Recently I stopped eating fast food. And I stopped eating candy. And now I only drink water and like, one diet soda a day. And I still do Zumba at the Y! No changes in my weight yet, but these count for something, right? Small steps, right?

For now, though, I’ll keep trying to be better, slowly but surely. All I can do is my best. And this is my best right now. Maybe my best will be better further down the line. Maybe I’ll cut out sweets entirely instead of just candy, or exercise everyday instead of a couple times a week.

For now, this is my best. And that’s okay.


Athena Scalzi

Who’s A Good Girl?

It’s Charlie! Charlie is a very good girl, and I wanted to share her adorableness with you all!

Having a dog has always been a norm in my life. Kodi was around before I was born, so she was a part of my life right from the beginning. When she died, I felt grief for the first time in my life. I’d never had a loved one die before, and I cried so hard my eyeballs hurt in a way I never knew they could.

It was only a few months later that we got Daisy, so the time in my life spent without a dog in it was relatively short. However, after Daisy died, two years and two months passed before we got Charlie, and the absence of a dog in our happy home was being felt more than ever.

The “clack clack” of paws on hardwood was a sound I didn’t realize I missed so much, until I heard Charlie walking around in her new home for the first time. She only had one home before us, but I can assure you all this will be her last. She’s part of our family now, and I’m so happy she is.

She’s very friendly with other dogs, nice to the cats, adorable and sweet, and pretty quiet and chill. She plays well and is great on walks, and loves being pet. I love her so much already, and I know we have an awesome decade ahead of us with her.



Reader Request Week 2021: Get Your Questions In!

Well, would you look at that: Next week I have nothing on my schedule in terms of writing. You know what that means, don’t you? Yes! I will sleep in until noon all those days! And also, it’s a very fine time for me to do a Reader Request Week.

For those of you who are new to Whatever, the Reader Request Week is the week of the year in which I let you pick the topics for entries. Anything you’ve ever wanted to ask me or to have me expound upon in long(ish) detail? This is the time to ask it. No question too serious or silly that you can’t ask it, and who knows, I may even pick it to answer. Politics, culture, personal positions, ridiculous scenarios, whatever you like — ask away. 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, March 29, and going through the entire week.

(For the avoidance of doubt, while April 1 falls during the week, I’ll not be doing any “April Fools” stuff here, either relating to Reader Request Week or in general.)

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 topics 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 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

From 2019:

Reader Request Week 2019 #1: Strange Experiences
Reader Request Week 2019 #2: The War Between the Generations
Reader Request Week 2019 #3: Blogging With Extreme Confidence
Reader Request Week 2019 #4: The Things You Outgrow
Reader Request Week 2019 #5: Civility
Reader Request Week 2019 #6: Being Entertained as an Artist
Reader Request Week 2019 #7: How My Wife Can Stand Me
Reader Request Week 2019 #8: 13-Year-Old Me
Reader Request Week 2019 #9: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2019 #10: Short Bits

From 2020:

Reader Request Week 2020 #1: Being Politically Persuaded
Reader Request Week 2020 #2: The Hellish Swill I Consume
Reader Request Week 2020 #3: Becoming More Ourselves
Reader Request Week 2020 #4: What It’s Like To Be a Cis Straight Man
Reader Request Week 2020 #5: Me and Sports
Reader Request Week 2020 #6: Pulling Punches in Criticism
Reader Request Week 2020 #7: Cover Songs
Reader Request Week 2020 #8: What It Means to Be Dead
Reader Request Week 2020 #9: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2020 #10: Short Bits

Got it? Good. Then: Ask me anything you like! Starting now!


Charlie Photos, 3/24/21

Because I know you want them. Here she is in the yard this afternoon.

And in case you’re wondering, she’s doing well and adjusting to home life just fine. She continues to be a good dog.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

Do You Want to Hear About This Japanese Snack Box I Got?

Well, you’re going to anyways, so strap in and come on this voyage of exciting flavors from across the sea with me!

I, being me, subscribed to yet another subscription box. Though this one is very different from all my other ones, because it is a snack box! Specifically a Japanese snack box, called Sakuraco.

Sakuraco is a company that wants to bring the experience of afternoon tea to others, and provide delicious snacks that aren’t really known outside of Japan. Their boxes contain 20 different Japanese tea time goods. So while most of the items are snacks, there is also tea and a home good, like ceramic dishware or chopsticks or something of the sort. The snacks range from castella cakes to senbei crackers to mochi.

So, I got my first Sakuraco box last week and today my dad and I tried it, and I’m here to give y’all the review.

The March 2021 box is their first ever box! This month’s theme was sakura (coincidental that it’s called Sakuraco, amiright?), so a good portion of the snacks were sakura flavored, which is cherry blossoms! So almost all of the packaging was super pretty pink and floral and totally adorable.

First up, we tried the Mini Sakura Senbei, which was one of the few savory snacks in the box.

These cherry blossom shaped rice crackers were soy sauce flavored, and they were a strong start to our tasting experience. They were crispy, light, salty, and addicting! The guide booklet provided with the snack box actually had a “maker highlight” page featuring the company that makes these, and it says that the Sakurado Confectionary is based in Niigata, which is the rice capital of Japan, and they only use rice from that region to make their snacks. So that’s pretty neat!

Up next was a Strawberry Dorayaki.

I’d never heard of dorayaki before, but it’s basically just a castella pancake! This particular one had a red bean and strawberry jam filling inside, which was a great flavor combination. The pancakes were definitely a different kind of texture than what I’m used to, but it was soft and sweet and quite enjoyable. I personally maybe would’ve liked a little more filling in it, but overall it was very good!

Next on our list was the Yoshino Kuzumochi.

This little bowl of kuzumochi (a gelatinous dessert made from kudzu vines) came with a packet of brown sugar syrup and a packet of roasted soybean flour (called Kinako), which is the brown powder you see on top of it in the picture. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so I only added a sprinkle on top rather than a mound.

I have always loved mochi, but this was so different from what I was used to. I couldn’t get past the texture, and I almost couldn’t even swallow it I detested it so much. The flavor was fine. The brown sugar syrup wasn’t nearly as sweet as I would’ve expected, and the mochi itself was largely bland. My dad liked it, though, and said he didn’t mind the texture at all. Texture bothering me is such a rare occurrence, I like almost everything! So for me to not be able to eat something due to texture was surprising to me. The packaging was totes adorbs, though.

Moving on, we tried another castella type cake, this one being Strawberry Castella.

This little cake was a bit of a disappointment. It was dry, and my dad and I agree it felt like we were eating foam. And there for sure wasn’t enough filling, which didn’t really help the dry aspect of the cake. There was actually two of these in the box, but we didn’t eat the second one because it really was not very good.

The next thing we tried was the Sakura Strawberry Crepe Roll!

This was a big improvement from the strawberry cake we had before it. It was very light, since it’s just a thin crepe roll. The description said it’s coated in strawberry filling and that sakura are “worked into the crepe batter to give it the aroma of cherry blossoms.” I wouldn’t say it smelled strongly of cherry blossoms, though, but it did taste a little floral.

Japanese sweets are very different from American sweets in the way that they don’t punch you in the face with cavity-inducing sweetness. Japanese snacks tend to be much more subtle in sweetness, and focus more on flavors, whereas American snacks are like “YOU WANT EXTREME SOUR ACID COATED CANDY? YOU GOT IT.”

These were a perfect example of such thing, where they weren’t overly sweet, and had that delicate floral, strawberry flavor coming through. It was nice.

Following the sakura trend, we tasted the Sakura Madeleine next.

These sweet little muffin looking things were pretty good! The madeleine follows pretty much exactly what I just said about the subtle floral flavors and whatnot. It was a very mild, slightly sweet cake that was definitely pleasant and seems perfect for tea time.

After that we tried another one of the savory snacks. This one is a Sakurasen Cracker.

What we have here is another rice cracker, though this was one less crispy and more just kind of hard. The description says it has a mellow flavor, with sakura as an ingredient to give it the scent of cherry blossoms, but my dad and I agree there was no trace of cherry blossom going on in it. It had such a strong umami flavor, probably because it contained squid, so it was pretty salty. This cracker was deemed by us as “just alright.”

Following the disappointing rice cracker was the Sakura Monaka.

Here we have sakura scented red bean paste filling in between an oh so thin and crispy monaka wafer, which I had never heard of before. The crispy outside was a great contrast to the soft, jelly-like inside, and the flavor was super yummy!

Red bean paste is something I quite enjoy, and have liked since the first time I tried, but my dad says it was something he had to get used to, and didn’t exactly enjoy the first time he had it. I think it is definitely an unusual flavor. Again, it’s one of those things that is common there but kind of wild here. Like, BEANS as a dessert? Who would’ve thought.

So, yes, these were very good and one of my favorite things in the box! Though they did make a bit of a mess because the wafer layer totally falls apart when you bite into it.

Next up was the last of the savory snacks, the Sakura Shrimp Senbei!

This flower shaped rice cracker was actually very tasty, and tasted strongly of shrimp. It was salty, airy, crispy, and overall quite good! I could’ve definitely gone for a whole bag of these instead of just one, but I’m a bit gluttonous when it comes to snacks.

After this one was something I have always dreamed of trying, Red Bean Taiyaki.

This fish shaped dessert is about as far as you can get from the real thing, thankfully. The sweet bread is filled with red bean paste, which again is something I find super tasty, but it’s not for everyone.

Taiyaki is something I’ve always wanted to try because I saw so much in anime when I was a teenager. Almost every anime has that one episode where there’s a school festival or a celebration of some kind where street food is involved, and the characters are always shown eating taiyaki or those tri-colored dango. It always looked so good and I wished so badly I could try it someday. And while this version is just a packaged snack kind instead of one I got from a festival, I’m still happy I got to try it.

I was shocked by the next item, which was the Uji Matcha Castella.

I was surprised because basically the whole box is sakura or strawberry or a combination of the two, but this ogre-colored cake stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the pretty pinks. It’s green tea flavored, and has some red beans in it, so it was a whole different flavor profile from the rest of the box. I was glad for the change though, and it was a very tasty cake! It was moist and flavorful, definitely one of the best items in the box.

Made by the same company is this almost identical White Peach Castella:

Same soft consistency as the matcha cake, and same great moistness. This cake tasted like a toned down version of peach rings, and was another favorite amongst me and my family. Both cakes were great, I just prefer peach to matcha.

After these pillow-y sweet cakes, we decided to try the Sakura Mochi Monaka.

Another monaka wafer treat! Just like the other monaka snack in the box, it was also filled with red bean paste and sakura petals, the only difference is this one was salted sakura instead of sweet. This made for a very interesting sweet and salty combination. Though the pleasantly crispy outside didn’t taste like anything, the flavorful filling more than makes up for it. It has a perfect amount of the filling, too, so that’s nice. This one, though good, was more intriguing than anything.

Nearing the end, we have the Peach Sandwich.

Though they look pretty dang tasty, these overly peachy sandwiches were not very good. It was so odd, it almost felt like I had something gritty in my mouth, and my dad agreed that the texture was definitely like sand. These tasted so strongly of peach it was overwhelming, and overall they were just unenjoyable.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Sakura Konpeito.

You like rock candy? You like these.

These flower shaped sweets are literally just balls of hardened sugar. They have no flavor, despite the variety of colors, they are just pure, delicious, addictive sugar. We chose to eat these last because it was the only candy in the box, so it felt like the right note to end on. They were so tiny! They’re very cute, but again, they’re just sugar with no flavor, so a bit underwhelming overall.

The only food item in the box that was not tried was the Sweet Sakura Tea.

I do not like tea (though I wish desperately I did) and neither does my father, so we skipped this one entirely, plus I didn’t feel like putting it in the effort of boiling water and yada yada yada. Very aesthetically pleasing, though. I think it’s nice they include a tea considering it is all about providing the experience of tea time.

Aside from the food, this box came with a super duper cute ceramic plate with cherry blossom print!

It’s just a tiny little tasting plate, but it’s the perfect size for your afternoon tea time snacks and confectionaries! I love it.

You may be wondering, wasn’t that only 17 items and not 20? Well, little loophole there, there’s one extra of the strawberry castella cake, the sakura mochi, and the sweet sakura tea. So you don’t get 20 different things, you just get 20 things total. Though 17 is still a lot of different things to try, but I wish they would mention that some of the items are repeats.

Alright, so, like I said this a subscription box, and most subscription boxes have an option to pay for more than one month upfront at a cheaper bulk cost. If you choose to pay monthly, it’s $37.50 a box. A three month subscription is $35.50, six months is $33.50 a month, and a year is $32.50. So, the more you spend the more you save or whatever.

I went with the three month option because I think three months is the perfect amount of time to test any subscription box. One month isn’t enough in my opinion to know if a subscription box is actually good or not, because what if you get the one box that’s just a total miss, but every other box is awesome. You have to be willing to give them a chance to prove themselves.

So, it was basically a hundred bucks for a three month subscription. This was a smidge of a high price in my opinion, but whatever, because where else am I going to find all these Japanese snacks?! So, I was fine with a hundred. Then, when I went to check out, my total was suddenly almost $150. The shipping on the three boxes costs almost $40. Each box’s shipping was like, $12.50! I mean, I know it’s coming from literally all the way across the globe, but those dozen dollars stack like a motherfuck. Shipping was almost half the cost of the price! Kind of wild, honestly.

So is the snack box worth it? If you really like Japanese snacks, then yeah, I’d say so. If you’re not a big fan of trying new snacks and sweets from different places, then I wouldn’t recommend dropping the (roughly) fifty dollars a box.

I am excited for next month’s box. April’s theme is “Matcha”, so instead of everything being pink I’m sure a lot of it will be green! Stay tuned to see what comes next month. And have a great day!



And Now, the Title of the Novel I Just Completed, Plus a Very Little Amount of Detail About the Book

So you’re here to learn the title of the novel I just completed.

Excellent, because I’m about to tell you the title of the novel I just completed.

The title has four words, three of which are nouns, and one of which is a definite article. Twenty-seven letters, of which twelve are vowels, which strikes me as a statistically large amount.

Are you ready? Are you excited?

Fine! Here it is, then.

Not the actual cover, I’m just using some stock art I bought for the occasion.

What is it about?

It’s about a society that preserves kaiju! Look, it’s all right there in the title.

Why do kaiju need preserving?

Because otherwise they might spoil.

Is that a serious answer?


Seriously, is this, like, “preserving” as in saving an endangered species, or “preserving,” like pickling something?

Dude, do you know how large a jar you’d need to pickle a whole kaiju?

So, the first.

No, I’m legitimately asking how large that jar would need to be. Asking for a friend.

I’m now beginning to doubt that this is an actual title of an actual novel.

BWA HA HA HAH HA no seriously it is, honest.


Sure, why not.

Damn it, Scalzi!

All right, fine, seriously serious, this is the title of my next novel.

Can you give us any details about the book?

Sure. It’s about kaiju. And friendship. And explosions.

That’s it?

Pretty much covers it, yes.

You know that kaiju really can’t exist, right?

Why not?

Because of the square-cube law.

Oh, okay.

(Pulls up the file for the novel, starts to drag it into the trash)

Wait, stop! I didn’t mean I wanted you to delete your novel!

You didn’t?

(drags it a little further toward the trash icon)


You sure????!?

(wiggles the file over trash icon)

I mean, I’m sure you as a science fiction writer already knew about the square-cube law and have thought of some innovative and creative way to get around it!

There, that’s better.

(moves the file away from the trash)

I’m sorry I doubted you.

You should be.

Why did you write this novel?

For money.

No, I mean, what inspired this particular idea?

Oh. Honestly I don’t know, the idea literally clunked into my head one day and the next I started writing it. But really, who doesn’t love a good kaiju?

Nearly the entire citizenry of Tokyo?

I mean, fair point.

Do you, in fact, offer anything new to the whole kaiju mythos?

Not at all, I have shamelessly stolen everything from other, better creators, barely stopping to file down the serial numbers.

I’ve heard that about you.

Really, I am just the worst.

One day you will be punished for your crimes against literature.

I know. But in the meantime, here we are!

Does this book resemble any of your previous books?

It’s more toward the Redshirts side of things than not.

So metatextual, snarky, and positively steeped in pop culture?

Well, I meant it was short, but, sure, those things too.

When will it be coming out?


Why then?

Because that’s when Tor wants it to come out.

But I want to read it now!

Then you can purchase the NFT version which I am happy to auction for ridiculous amounts of cash and/or cryptocurrency. The opening bid is six million dollars.


Nah. NFTs are terrible for the environment. Just be patient, okay?

Will you be having any new fiction coming out in 2021?

Probably. Stay tuned for more updates.

Final question: How many times does the word “fuck” appear in this book?

Well, as a hint, the original working title of this novel was Fuck! A Kaiju!

Is… that true?

Sure, why not.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: C. L. Clark

What you speak, and how you speak it, and the things you write in the language you speak: All more complicated than you might expect, especially when the dynamics of civilizations come into play. C.L. Clark has been thinking about this, and in this Big Idea for The Unbroken, delves deeper into the power and powerlessness of words.


The Unbroken was largely inspired by my time studying post-colonial literature in English and French. Many of those indigenous authors–of both fiction and nonfiction–grappled with the double-edged blade of the language. Many of them found themselves with the dubious privilege of an education by or in the metropole, and with their education in the dominant language had the opportunity to reach greater audiences. On the other hand, it often came with the crippling loss of connection to roots–to whole histories and languages.

This is not unique to nations that had the formal term ‘colony’ applied to them, either. Consider the United States’ and Australia’s treatment of their indigenous peoples. Consider the forced removal of Black Americans from their own roots. Consider Apartheid. Consider people of color everywhere who must distance themselves from their heritage in order to ‘successfully’ integrate into white society enough to be valid under–yes, under, not within–white capitalism.

The Unbroken is a story about the choices people have to make under colonialism. I’ve been reading fantasy all my life. It led to an unsurprising and yet surprisingly common obsession with England and France and Italy and all those other European sites that inspire so much of Anglophone fantasy. But as I studied colonial history, I learned the reality–not the fantasies–of these elegant cities I obsessed over but was never a part of. I connected them to their fantasy counterparts: if non-white characters existed, it was in direct opposition to the heroes and their war of conquest or their quest of exploration. And these conquerors were always so glorious and few of the writers were interrogating what happened to these gloriously conquered nations. It was a world without consequences–they were well and truly fantasies: white fantasies. And the characters of color were voiceless.

In The Unbroken, I flip the subject position. We’re not invested in the colonizers anymore, not like we’re invested in the people who are living under their conquest. I wanted to see how colonized people across different generations and locations, with different lives, would react to the heroes coming after their great magics, their artifacts. I couldn’t possibly contain all of the possible reactions to being conquered in one book, not even in one trilogy, and it would be ridiculous of me to try; humanity is so deeply varied. But it was important to me to at least crack the seal on the complexities of this situation that so many have the privilege to gloss over.

Originally, I wrote The Unbroken with a third perspective–an older rebel leader, Djasha. For various reasons, her point of view chapters were cut, but my passion for the struggles of her generation remained. Every generation handles the trauma of conquest differently–every individual does–especially as the level of physical threat changes. Still, while the older generation in The Unbroken leads the rebel council and clings to their original cultures (in their own ways, and to varying degrees of success and with varying desires for vengeance), I was especially interested in the perspectives of those who had never spent any time without the colonizing Balladairan influence. It’s a perspective I feel quite keenly.

Some of these characters follow the steps of their elders, hewing as closely as they could to the old ways, learning and keeping their language and histories alive. Some follow the torch of an idealized world they’ve never known into violent rebellion. Others straddle both worlds, blending just as comfortably in high Balladairan society as they do in the slums Balladaire has fashioned of El-Wast. Still, others actively try to distance themselves from any stain of ‘Qazal’–anything that might keep them from ascending in Balladairan society. There is a complicated mix of tenderness and self-loathing, hope and fury and compassion in all of these characters. All together, they show that the ‘colonized’ are not some faceless, homogeneous mass. They are people. We are people.

And though I can’t depict every possible reaction to the trauma of colonialism, I know I’m not the only author exploring these topics now, these perspectives. So the big idea here? It’s time to listen. Because whatever language we choose, we have never been voiceless.

The Unbroken: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s website. Follow them on Twitter.


Athena Scalzi

My First Tik Tok!

After months of debating with myself, I finally made a Tik Tok account. “Why so much indecision?” you may wonder. Well, it’s because Tik Tok is very much about filming yourself, either talking or dancing or singing or really anything. And I have a very big issue with that since I can’t stand to see myself in videos and I certainly don’t want anyone else to see me looking dumb on camera.

But, I figure I can just make videos that don’t have me in them! Or maybe by being on Tik Tok for long enough, I’ll get over it eventually and just say fuck it and make one that is actually of me.

Anyways, my friend got me a water-coloring set for Christmas, and I had yet to use it despite it being almost April. The other day, I was in the mood to paint, so I busted out the kit and tried my hand at water-coloring for the first time since, like, junior high.

And I decided to make a Tik Tok showing it because I found my attempt extremely funny. Here it is:


Proof I have the talent of a preschooler ✨#watercolor #watercolorpainting

♬ Funny Laugh no no no – Sound Effect

Do you know how long it took me to edit this so the audio clip actually matched up with the video? LIKE SIX MINUTES. Editing is hard, and Tik Tok is all about editing, so it’s a bit of learning curve for me even though this app is basically for children.

Anyways, I just wanted to show off my first Tik Tok! Hope you found it funny, and hopefully I will continue to create funny content and not chicken out of making more videos because of i n s e c u r i t y ✨ Have a great day!



Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Review

There are many reasons that Zack Snyder’s Justice League (aka Justice League: The Snyder Cut) exists, almost none of them having to do with the actual film itself.

The first and foremost reason is that it is (relatively) cheap advertising for HBO Max, the streaming service owned by AT&T, which owns HBO and Warner Bros and DC Comics. Warner paid $70 million to build this version of the film, which was mostly spent on special effects and some reshoots. $70 million isn’t nothing, but for a major superhero film it’s dirt cheap (there’s also the $250M-$300M the company already spent on the much-maligned theatrical cut, of course, but that’s already been costed out in Warner’s ledgers). That outlay gives HBO Max what is now its signature event — here’s something that you could only get thanks to streaming, and only thanks to HBO Max. Given the flood of reviews, features, reactions and awareness that ZSJL has generated since it was announced, this is the best $70 million that HBO Max could have spent on advertising.

The second reason is that it gives Warner another (again, relatively cheap) way to right the foundering ship that is its cinematic DC universe properties, which financially and culturally are playing a distant second fiddle to the immensely profitable and popular Marvel universe of films and (now) TV shows. The underwhelming financial and critical performance of the Justice League theatrical release is the event that threw the current iteration of the DC cinematic universe into doubt, so there’s irony in this iteration being a vehicle to prop it up. But it just means that the bar for this version to clear is low — as long as it’s better, in some ineffable way, it’s a win.

The third reason is that it gives Warner Bros a public avenue to repair its relationship with director Zack Snyder, who left the previous version of this film after the death of his daughter, but not before there had already been some pushback from the studio about the direction and tone of the film. When Snyder left the film, Warner brought in Joss Whedon to finish it (and, as it turns out, substantially rewrite and replot it). On paper, this looked like a grand idea: Whedon had written and directed two immensely popular “Avengers” films in the Marvel universe, both of which featured ensemble casts and multiple storylines, which of course was what Justice League was all about.

In reality, it resulted in a bit of a tonal mess for the theatrical release, and now we all know Whedon was allegedly something of a dick on set, which has led actor Ray Fisher to publicly denounce his behavior, with Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa supporting his claims. Snyder being asked to do a redo and refresh of the film is a way for Warner to offer a public mea culpa for what had happened while at the same time getting something out of it. Why be enemies when you can be friends.

The fourth reason is that it helps rehabilitate Zack Snyder as a director and architect of the DC Universe. It’s worth remembering that there was (and is) a persistent concern that Snyder’s good-looking-but-dour-as-fuck version of the DC universe wasn’t quite on point, particularly when the candy-colored Marvel universe was out there, sucking in money and positive reviews. It’s not for nothing that the single most financially-successful DC film of the “Snyderverse” era is Aquaman, i.e., DC’s very own candy-colored superhero film, and one conspicuously lighter in tone relative to its compatriots.

After the theatrical release of Justice League, the nerds of the Internet took it as an article of faith that Snyder’s version had to have been better, and that he had been wronged, by Warner and Whedon and by the universe. Once again, a low bar, but if Snyder’s cut of the film was better, than his reputation would get a boost, and indeed, per point two above, the whole “Snyderverse” might be in line for critical and cultural reappraisal.

Again: None of this is about the film in itself. Justice League ain’t exactly The Magnificent Ambersons, which is a deep cut reference for you film nerds out there (if you’re not a film nerd, that’s Orson Welles’ second film, which in its original cut was alleged to be genius, and which was forcibly taken from him by the studio and recut into a shorter version, with all the cut footage destroyed). But the idea that a director’s vision was compromised and a better, more significant version of a film exists is in itself narratively compelling. However, I am very certain, that’s not the reason this version of Justice League exists. No one who held the purse strings for this version of the film splashed out millions in the strong belief that a creative vision had been wronged and, thus, there had been a moral crime that had to be righted. If there was no HBO Max, there would be no ZSJL, except possibly as a crappy no-effects extra on a “Deluxe Edition” home video package for the six people who still buy movies on physical media.

For whatever reasons ZSJL exists, it does exist, all four hours of it, and I watched it.

And how is it?

Meh, it’s fine.

Which, to be clear, is an improvement on the theatrical release version of the film. I can say I saw the theatrical release of the film. What I can’t say is that I remembered it at all prior to watching this version. There were bits in this new version for which, when they happened, my brain was all oh, yeah, I think I saw that part before, but honestly that’s all I got. It’s not a good sign when one’s memory of a $250M+ tentpole film is “I know I put it in front of my eyeballs but otherwise I got nothin’.” I’m pretty sure I’ll remember at least bits of this version, so that’s a win.

But being able to remember it doesn’t mean I feel compelled to care about it, and that’s the real problem with the Synderverse DC films. They look great and I dig the vibe — I like the Snyder aesthetic, personally — and, also, with the exception of the first Wonder Woman film, I find it hard to give a shit about any of them. I don’t hate them, but I don’t especially like them either (more accurately, I like them just fine — in the moment. More on this soon). They exist, and that’s about it. The problem with the Snyderverse films is not that they’re dour but that they’re empty. They’re not compellingly written, either in the larger plot sense or the smaller character sense, and when you’re done watching them, most of what you’re left with is a sense that you sure looked at something expensive.

(The other thing about this version is that it is almost certainly not what “The Snyder Cut” would have been in 2017. If the universe had rolled differently that year, Snyder would have been compelled to turn in something in the “two hours and thirty minute” range, not a four-hour version that exists only because you’re watching it somewhere you can pause at any time to pee and/or get snacks. This is a Snyder cut. It is not the Snyder cut, the one that the Internet nerds were clamoring for. I think you could certainly have gotten “the” Snyder cut out of this cut — there’s a whole lot that could have been trimmed down and still have this be a coherent experience — but we’ll never see it.)

The bones of this version are largely the same as the theatrical release: Earth is threatened by an alien invader who will destroy the planet for reasons that make no sense and no one really cares about, so Batman (and here’s where I note that as a Batman, Ben Affleck is a really excellent Bruce Wayne) assembles a team of “meta-humans” to fight said alien invader and his army of CGI effects. Oh, and along the way they need to find a way to resurrect Superman, because the Jesus metaphor that has developed around that character is not nearly subtle enough. Snark aside, this is standard super hero movie stuff — minus Superman’s resurrection it is literally the plot of all four Avengers films — so the question is how the film rings the changes.

And some of the changes are all right! For example, giving The Flash and Cyborg better backgrounding. The Flash gets some dimensionality to his past life, and Cyborg gets his actual origin story. These really should have been handled in their own films, incidentally. One of the problems both versions of Justice League have is that they’re precipitate — only one of the heroes of the Snyderverse had had their own film at that point. But when you have four hours to fill, you have to fill them with something, and here we are. These bits are pretty decent.

Some of the changes are less all right! Like stopping the story dead for clunkily-handled exposition, which happens several times, and shoehorning in secondary characters mostly so you can say “hey, look, it’s that guy from that thing,” whether “that thing” is from the DC universe or some other film from whence they’re better known. The most obvious version of this (and it’s not a spoiler, as it’s in the trailer) is the appearance of the Joker, who is literally only there for the most pandering of fan service for the Internet nerds. I hope you’re happy now, Internet nerds. There’s a lot here that’s here because Snyder got four hours to fill, not because it matters to the actual function of the story.

“I’ve got four hours to fill” is in fact the organizing principle of this version of Justice League. This film is a buffet, basically: you get a lot of stuff and you get a lot of that stuff, even if some of the dishes are entirely unrelated to others. Everything tastes all right, which is to say the individual bits, whether action sequences or character moments, are all done competently, and with That Certain Snyderness that hopefully you’ve come to see.

But as a side effect, it’s pokey and it wanders about doing one thing and then the next, and as a result it doesn’t build particularly well. When the third act of this film comes (in Part Six, as this film has, in a nod to its streamy nature, voluntarily chopped itself into six 30-to-40 minute segments, not including an almost entirely unnecessary epilogue), you feel that you’ve been delivered to it by the film, but not driven to it. I was oh, right, big finish, mighty heroes, got it. The finish was perfectly well done! Just not arrived at with popcorn-munching urgency.

So it’s slack and flaccid? No — again, everything is perfectly competently done. I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t get lost. I just didn’t feel much about any of it other than the basic sense of being entertained in the moment. Being entertained in the moment isn’t bad! But then the moment’s over. I won’t be dwelling on the events of or characters in ZSJL for any great length of time.

This is a problem for what was meant to be (and now in a distaff way still is meant to be), a critical tentpole of a franchise. I’m perfectly happy to have seen this iteration of Justice League. But it did not bring out a desire in me to have any more of it. The film leaves lots of places for putative sequels to go, since, after all, Justice League was at one point meant to have sequels. But if you told me tomorrow they’d greenlit Justice League Two: Snyderpocalypse, my reaction would be, well, okay, nice for everyone involved to be employed. Which, in keeping with the theme of this review, isn’t really about the film itself.

— JS

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