Reader Request Week 2022: Get Your Questions In!

So, next week is literally the only week in the next two months where I am not traveling and/or have something on a deadline, so you know what that means: It’s a perfect time for the annual Reader Request Week! That’s when you, the faithful reader of Whatever, provide a topic that you want to see me expound upon, and then I expound upon it, perhaps providing more information about the subject — or myself! — than you may have wanted or expected. Good clean fun!

What topics can you request? Anything you like: Politics, culture, personal positions, ridiculous scenarios, whatever you’d like to see me answer — 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, April 11, and going through the entire week.

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

1. Quality, not quantity. Rather than thinking of a bunch of general 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 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

From 2021:

Reader Request Week 2021 #1: Creative Kids in a Computer Age
Reader Request Week 2021 #2: Book Numbers
Reader Request Week 2021 #3: Teaching “The Classics”
Reader Request Week 2021 #4: Living on a Boat
Reader Request Week 2021 #5: American Fascism
Reader Request Week 2021 #6: Krissy and Dogs
Reader Request Week 2021 #7: Does Money Satisfy?
Reader Request Week 2021 #8: Local Favorites
Reader Request Week 2021 #9: Short Writery Bits
Reader Request Week 2021 #10: Short Bits

Got it? Groovy. Hit me with some topics, then! I’m looking forward to what you want to ask.

— JS


Church Update: 4/7/22

Many of you have asked for updates on the church we bought, so here’s that update:

We’ve begun the renovations. We’ve engaged the services of a building contractor who specializes in churches, which is fortunate because these spaces are in many ways unique and have singular issues. We’re starting with big stuff first: We’re redoing the roof (which will likely be the single largest expense, unless/until we try to refurb the pipe organ) and updating the electricity, and we’re having the sanctuary cleaned out and refurbed. The basement and the balconies are also scheduled for major renovations.

The work is underway and we’re hoping to make good time on it, but more important than “making good time” is to have it done well and how we want it done. We are fortunate that the plans we have for the church do not require immediate occupancy; we’re not in a rush. This is the best way to go with a project on this scale, I think.

I can say we’re very happy with how things are going. Our contractors are good folks, they’re excited about the project, and when all is said and done we’re going to have a space that is cool and invites use. There’s so much we want to do here and we’re on our way to doing it. It’s exciting to see things in process. It’ll be even more exciting when it’s done.

And there’s your update!

— JS


Hey, Look, the 2022 Hugo Finalists Have Been Announced

And I’m delighted that many dear friends and colleagues are nominated this year. Congratulations to everyone who has made the finalist list!

The whole list, as emailed to me (and many others) by Chicon 8, this year’s Worldcon:

Best Novel

Light From Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki (Tor; St. Martin’s)
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton; Harper Voyager US)
A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom; Orbit UK)
A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor; Mantle)
Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir (Ballantine; Del Rey)

Best Novella

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers (Tordotcom)
Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom)
A Spindle Splintered, Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom)
Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
Elder Race, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom)
The Past Is Red, Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)

Best Novelette

“O2 Arena”, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Galaxy’s Edge 11/21)
“Bots of the Lost Ark”, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld 6/21)
L’Esprit de L’Escalier, Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)
“Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 5-6/21)
“That Story Isn’t the Story”, John Wiswell (Uncanny 11-12/21)
“Colors of the Immortal Palette”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Uncanny 3-4/21)

Best Short Story

“Mr. Death”, Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/21)
“Proof by Induction”, José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny 5-6/21)
“Tangles”, Seanan McGuire (com: Magic Story 9/21)
“Unknown Number”, Blue Neustifter (Twitter 7/21)
“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/21)
“The Sin of America”, Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny 3-4/21)

Best Series

The World of the White Rat, Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) (Argyll)
The Green Bone Saga, Fonda Lee (Orbit)
Wayward Children, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
Terra Ignota, Ada Palmer (Tor)
The Kingston Cycle, C.L. Polk (Tordotcom)
Merchant Princes, Charles Stross (Macmillan)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

Die, Volume 4: Bleed, Kieron Gillen, art by Stephanie Hans, lettering by Clayton Cowles (Image)
Once & Future, Volume 3: The Parliament of Magpies, Kieron Gillen, art by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain (BOOM!)
Far Sector, N.K. Jemisin, art by Jamal Campbell (DC)
Strange Adventures, Tom King, art by Mitch Gerads & Evan “Doc” Shaner (DC)
Monstress, Volume 6: The Vow, Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image)
Lore Olympus, Volume 1, Rachel Smythe (Del Rey)

Best Related Work

Never Say You Can’t Survive, Charlie Jane Anders (Tordotcom)
The Complete Debarkle: Saga of a Culture War, Camestros Felapton (Cattimothy House)
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, Andrew Nette & Iain McIntyre (PM)
True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, Abraham Riesman (Crown)
Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, Elsa Sjunneson (Tiller)
“How Twitter can ruin a life”, Emily St. James (Vox 6/21)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The Green Knight
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Space Sweepers

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Arcane: “The Monster You Created”
The Expanse: “Nemesis Games”
For All Mankind: “The Grey”
Loki: “The Nexus Event”
Star Trek: Lower Decks: “wej Duj”
The Wheel of Time: “The Flame of Tar Valon”

Best Editor, Short Form

Neil Clarke
Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya
Jonathan Strahan
Sheree Renée Thomas
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Ruoxi Chen
Nivia Evans
Sarah Guan
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Brit Hvide
Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Tommy Arnold
Rovina Cai
Ashley Mackenzie
Maurizio Manzieri
Will Staehle
Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Escape Pod
Strange Horizons

Best Fanzine

The Full Lid
Galactic Journey
Journey Planet
Quick Sip Reviews
Small Gods
Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog

Best Fancast

Be The Serpent
The Coode Street Podcast
Hugo, Girl!
Our Opinions Are Correct
Worldbuilding for Masochists

Best Fan Writer

Chris M. Barkley
Bitter Karella
Alex Brown
Cora Buhlert
Jason Sanford
Paul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

Iain J. Clark
Lorelei Esther
Sara Felix
Ariela Housman
Nilah Magruder
Lee Moyer

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book [Not a Hugo]

Victories Greater Than Death, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Teen; Titan)
A Snake Falls to Earth, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
Redemptor, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet; Hot Key)
Chaos on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
The Last Graduate, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen; Rock the Boat)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer [Not a Hugo Award]

Tracy Deonn*
Micaiah Johnson*
K. Larkwood*
Everina Maxwell
Shelley Parker-Chan
Xiran Jay Zhao
*Finalist in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Adam Oyebanji

In his novel Braking Day, author Adam Oyebanji wants to take humans into deep space. But just because he wants to take them into deep space doesn’t mean he’s going to make it easy and simple for them to get there… or stay there.


I fear I’m here under false pretenses. I don’t really have a big idea when I write. I have a little idea that spirals out of control. My little (and utterly unoriginal) idea was this: wouldn’t it be great if we could travel to other stars? Jeez! Even by my standards, that’s lame. Sci-fi is full of stories about interstellar travel. For some people (me) that’s the whole point of the genre.

But here’s the thing. I want to go there, like, for realz. I want the dream to come true. I want to write something that might one day happen.

Which means that 99.9% of space stories are off the table. The vile and unpleasant truth about the universe we live in is that Faster Than Light is impossible. So FTL in its various and multitudinous form, hyperdrives, jump points, wormholes (okay, so technically not FTL but still pretty freakin’ impossible) isn’t going to work for us. Someone, someday, is going to have to build a big ass means of propulsion and push. Sub-light.

But sub-light, while painfully slow for sci-fi is not, you know, slow. 99.9% of light gets you from Earth to Mars orbit in comfortably under four-and-a-half minutes. At that speed, the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is less than four years away. Not great, but sailing ships used to be away from their home ports for years at a time, so totally doable. Let’s go!

Not so fast. No. Really. Not so fast. Per Einstein, the reason you can’t get past the speed of light is that the faster you go the more massive you get. One pound of mass becomes two becomes twenty and, at light speed, infinite. Just under? Freakin’ tons. Not going to happen. The only reason light travels at light speed is because it has no mass. I guess photons could eat as much as they like and still not put on weight. Bastards.

So, let’s get real(ish). Maybe we can aspire to a speed where the relativistic effects of weight gain can be kept to a minimum; where the energy required, while astronomical (see what I did there?), is not so massive that one loses hope for our future selves. Say, one tenth light speed.

Okay, one tenth light is bad. But not the end of the world. We can still get to Proxima Centauri in, say, forty years. Put our guys in cryo and let’s go, go, go.


Why the hell not?

First, in sci-fi, everyone and their dog has been to Proxima or Alpha Centauri. Precisely because it’s close. Alpha Centauri makes a guest appearance in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation as early as 1942, it’s the intended destination for the 1960s TV show (and Netflix reboot) Lost in Space, and Proxima Centauri features heavily in a 2013 Stephen Baxter novel, called, unsurprisingly perhaps, Proxima (it’s awesome, by the way). I could go on (and on and on), but I won’t. I don’t want to go there. Second, even if I did want to go there, I don’t want to go in cryo. Nothing happens in cryo. That’s the whole point. How the heck can we write about an interstellar journey if everyone is asleep?

Well, I guess we could if something went wrong and they woke up, right?

Right. But I don’t want to do that. Cryo isn’t FTL. It’s absolutely a plausible way to travel, and I could write a cryo story where they wake up mid-flight. But no. What I want to do is write a story where the mission goes basically as planned. I want to show interstellar travel working.

But if things go as planned, you won’t have a novel. Stories where everything goes swimmingly aren’t stories, they’re Instagram posts. Still fictional, because no one’s life is that great, but totally lacking in drama, conflict, or anything else. So just put them in cryo, break the cryo and…

No. We’re not going in cryo, and we’re not going to the star next door.

Fine. Fine. So, where are we going?

Hmmm. Well, the nearest stars that are vaguely like ours are Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti. We should go to Tau Ceti. It’s less of a mouthful than Epsilon Eridani but Brits and Americans pronounce it differently. That has got to be good for some real mischief down the road.

Tau Ceti, regardless of how you pronounce it, is about twelve light years from Earth. So, you want to have a journey of 120 years?

At least. Let’s slow them down a little and say 130 to 135 years. This has got to be a generation ship if no one’s going to sleep. We can get in an extra generation that way. If you count a generation as, say, twenty-five years, Gen One launches, Gen Two is the first cohort born in space. If you do the math like that, by the time they’re getting ready to decelerate at the end of the journey, Gen Seven is just getting around to being born, Gens Four and Five are running things, and our heroes will be from the still-young Gen Six. Youth is too young and too stupid to realize you can’t change the world, which is the only reason the world actually changes. Thank heavens for young people.

Young people aren’t as stupid as you seem to think. To have our story get off the ground (both literally and metaphorically) we’d have to get a bunch of ’em to board a ship they’re never going to leave. It’d be like boarding a high-tech coffin. Why would they do that?

I guess a couple of reasons. First, where they are might not be so great (we’ll figure out why later). And second, we may all live on Planet Earth, but we only live long enough to see a tiny fraction of it. Many people live their best lives within small towns. If it has the resources, most of us could be perfectly fulfilled in a city of, say, ten thousand people.

How many? That’s insane! Our generation ship is going to have to be, like, huge.

Several miles long, I’m thinking. We’ve got zillions of tons of mass to move now, which means zillions of tons of fuel, probably. So, miles of fuselage for the fuel tanks and other stuff. It’s space, so it can be more like a really big gantry than a fuselage. No need to be aerodynamic and less mass. A gantry stretching on and on through space with our big ass propulsion at one end and the habitat wheels at the other

Habitat wheels?

Sure. Artificial gravity á la Star Trek doesn’t exist. Worse, we have only the faintest idea about what gravity is and no good basis for thinking we can ever make it to order. It’s like FTL: great for sci-fi, but probably ain’t gonna happen. As humans can’t live without gravity….

So, we’re not going to genetically modify them, then?

No. What am I? A monster? We want a story about people like us (but cooler) in deep space. As people can’t live without gravity for very long, we need to make some. And the only way we know to do that is to spin something up. Our people will need to live inside a giant wheel…

Wheels. Ten thousand people, remember.

Inside giant wheels with centrifugal/centripetal forces keeping their feet on the ground.

Now look what we’ve done. We’ve talked ourselves into a miles long ship crewed by ten thousand people living inside spinning wheels that have got to be a mile or more in diameter. That’s inhumanly large. We’ll never persuade anyone that the humans who live there are even remotely like the rest of us.

Sure, we will. People have been building bigger and bigger structures since the year dot. It doesn’t make us any less human than our ancestors. Besides, our main character should have some very human failings.

Like what?

Well, motion sickness for one. Like people in the “vomit comet.” You know, the plane where they do all that freefall training you see on TV. Our protagonist gets spacesick.

But they’re born in space! We can’t make them spacesick. They’ll never hear the end of it.

No. I guess they won’t. I feel sorry for them already.

Braking Day: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

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