Here I am in Aviles, Spain. It’s very pretty here. Also, I’ve been up for 24 hours, so I am very tired. I’m going to have a nap now.
Here I am in Aviles, Spain. It’s very pretty here. Also, I’ve been up for 24 hours, so I am very tired. I’m going to have a nap now.
In today’s Big Idea, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are feeling epistolary, which, considering the letter-writing format of their collaborative novella This is How You Lose the Time War, is entirely appropriate.
AMAL EL-MOHTAR and MAX GLADSTONE:
I write to you from the past—knowing you’re presently asleep while I’m awake, three hours’ worth of time zone between us—to talk about ideas. It’s tricky to know where to begin; when the most succinct description we can manage of our book clocks in at “epistolary spy vs. spy novella across time and space,” the ideas crowd and clutter.
But I think it all ultimately begins and ends with us. The two of us, becoming friends, and writing each other letters.
Do you remember when we first decided to write something together? I know the fact of it, but I don’t remember the hour, the words—only that we loved each other’s work, wanted to work together, wanted to set a sensible boundary of how and when and for how long to work together. A novella, not a novel or short story; something epistolary, to give our voices space to harmonize in their difference. I remember the plan, scribbled on a paper on the coffee table in my parents’ house, and the season, a cold snowy spring—but I wish I could remember, rather than invent, the moment in which one of us suggested it.
But I do remember the refrain we developed once we’d secured the time and space for a writing retreat at which to work. We spoke of
that we will write
in [mysterious benefactor]’s house.”
We used it as punctuation, as shorthand, and we made jokes of it. Dolphins will speak! The stars will throw down their spears and water heaven with their tears! Because of
that we will write
in [mysterious benefactor]’s house.
We always structured it as hyperbole and line breaks. Ludicrously grand and specific claims capped with a bob and wheel, a promise, a spell. And look, look at this magic we made between us—our book is real, is soaring on red and blue wings, and my heart is a bird on a spit in my chest, as the prophets say.
So that’s how I see it, anyway—our Big Idea was that we wanted to write together. We wanted to find a methodology for blending our styles, for working together
on a novella
that we would write
in [Mysterious Benefactor]’s house
but that’s only the half of it, I think. I’m holding my memory up to the light, but I so badly want to see yours, what colours your own memory will cast against this page. What do you remember, Max? What’s the core of this, for you?
It’s your future as I’m writing this—you still have a few hours of morning left. Enjoy them! Learn from my mistakes! Unfortunately the only mistakes I’m aware of so far today are, as follows: 1. didn’t have protein with breakfast, so I’m peckish now that it’s lunchtime, and 2. spent time on Twitter chatting about queer subtext (not to mention text) in the Great Gatsby. AND I ALONE AM ESCAPED TO TELL THEE!
So, in sum, it’s been okay over here, at least insofar as things-I-can-control are concerned. Wish I had more Future Wisdom to impart! Most of the things I’m discovering right now on a day to day basis have to do with child care, and most of them boil down to the fact that hardly anyone knows hardly anything, and that it’s a wonder and a miracle any of us is alive at all.
But to your question, about memories: I actually remember the initial conversation! I could find the date without much trouble, but since we intend this particular correspondence for outside observers I’m chary of letting others that close to the marrow of the thing. Suffice to say I was on my way home from a long, long tour, a bunch of authors in a single car, and I’d hit New York City dog tired and careworn.
New York is a great city to wash up in. You vanish like a grain of salt into a water glass. I was feeling that weird dry kind of lonesome you get when you’ve been around people too long and all of a sudden they’re gone—you’re worn out and hungry to be alone, but when you are, you feel like you’ve done something wrong. That one day, everyone I knew in the city was busy, or so far away it didn’t make sense for them to come. So I found an Italian restaurant near the Flatiron that had a restaurant week special, sat by myself at the bar, and opened up a folder of your stories to read.
We’d been corresponding for a while by this point, longhand, extremely low-tech. (It still feels weird to write you email! Or to text, even, after such a long entirely paper-based correspondence.) Naturally I’d read your criticism and I’d read The Green Book, but I hadn’t read your other stories; I’m honestly not sure why. I’d been writing you from the tour, but, of course, travel being what it is, I couldn’t get any letters back. I remember struggling to post them, hoping the counter attendants at the tiny B&Bs with their breakfast room TVs showing bad politics would remember to drop them in the mailbox. Anyway—I was starved for replies by this point, and I had a folder of your stories—so there at the bar, I read them all, one after another. Your friend’s story is not entirely your friend—but you can feel them in it, and also there’s a pure self betrayed in the telling of a good story. You learn what someone cares about by learning what they love, or hate, enough to write down.
By the end of the night I was drunk on those stories. They were different from my work—but they were so full, and so finished. I could also see how they meshed, sort of sideways, with my own concerns & projects. Basically I was overcome with a desire to just get out the instruments and jam, high school garage band style. Surely, if we could do something together, the spheres would revolve into harmony, dolphins would speak, all that’s mean and evil in the world would suffer revelation and weep for the harm it caused, and all forms of life would enter into a great colloquy.
I guess there’s a lot of Bill and Ted in that vision, which is appropriate, given what came later.
So, basically: that one night on the walk back to the hotel I grabbed my phone and texted you how we had to write something together. And you said yes! And that’s where it started.
But of course it started further back, didn’t it? With letters. Do you want to talk about the letters?
I’m so grateful for your memory. It’s aligned the tumblers in my own mind’s lock, and the hour and my surroundings spilled out: I remember that conversation, when you read my stories, so clearly! I was standing in my sister’s kitchen, probably staying over—I was especially nomadic that year—when you texted, and I remember glowing more and more brightly, feeling unspeakably happy to be seen.
Which is also my memory of writing letters.
There is, in letter-writing, a tender and terrible vulnerability. To write a letter is to commit one’s naked self to the page, to send it into the future with no more protection than paper and wax, and to place that self in the hands of a person you’re inventing, a person who may or may not actually exist. One can, of course, write at several layers of remove—party invitations, thank you notes, the equivalent of a friendly nod in letter and ink—but cards are not correspondence; that friendly nod is not a tête-à-tête. To write a letter, longhand over pages, is to delve inevitably into one’s own thoughts, to reach for things we don’t know we feel until we’ve dredged up the words for them, and in so doing make a single person’s future self privy to the unbearable intimacy of our present.
“How I love to have no armor here,” writes Red to Blue, as their own correspondence deepens.
I remember that when we started writing to each other, I used whatever I had to hand—sheets of harsh white paper stolen from the printer, jammed into white #10 envelopes, scribbled on with whatever pen was nearest me. The content, I figured, was what was important—but then you started writing back on gorgeous creamy G. Lalo paper, so I got the same brand to match, and I introduced you to sealing wax, and suddenly it felt like our correspondence was robed in sensory magic, easily distinguished at a glance from the press of bank statements and circulars. We’d committed to physicality, to slowness, to something that couldn’t be approximated in email, no matter how swift and effusive the clack of keys beneath our fingers. We’d committed to time travel—and didn’t those letters have a knack of arriving just when we needed them? When the weight of the world pressed against our lungs, and those golden envelopes stamped in colour arrived bearing a space in which to breathe?
Your letter, this one, found me at my gate in the San Francisco airport, minutes before boarding a flight to Seattle, and closed a circle years in the making. Because all this began with you on tour writing to me—and here I am, on a tour launched by the book we wrote together, a book we wrote because we’d written letters to each other, writing you a letter about our book.
It feels fully as magical, to me, as finding words in the rings of a thousand year old tree, or the swirl of tea leaves in a porcelain cup.
Tea leaves, tree rings, and wax seals—when we started writing letters I was surprised by how dangerous the whole project felt.
Even to me that sounds a little weird. After all, what could be more normal than dropping a letter in the mail?
Maybe it was the fact that we both spent a lot of time on the internet and at conventions, participating in Public Discourse in front of the whole world. There’s so much thought in public these days—and so much of that public thought is tactical, designed to accomplish a specific effect, whether that’s gathering a following or even wasting someone else’s time. Lots of good comes from that public conversation, but it’s all so omnivoracious. Twitter wants your every idle thought.
By contrast, writing letters felt like staking out our own territory—a small paper space between the two of us, unscanned, unhindered. The letters were so fragile! Walking to the mailbox in a blizzard I’d find myself thinking how easy they would be to destroy. Dropping one in a puddle would do it. And yet—how many thoughts have I dashed off in seconds and sent whirling off into the void, barely remarked upon except, of course, by a vast silent intelligence that records all I say and do, and uses it to build shareholder value? In a sense those words will last forever—they’ll last as long as capital sees value in unstructured human generated text, anyway—but in a more real sense they’ve been ripped from me altogether. While letters only last as long as paper.
Then again, some paper has lasted longer than capitalism. And, as the man says: manuscripts don’t burn.
The phrase hadn’t yet entered the public consciousness back then, but in a real sense writing letters felt like we were both fighting to reclaim our time. We were carving a few hours a week out to impose some order on our own lives, and offer that to a friend. And I think there’s a bit of that rebellion come through in the book, too—a quest for silence and slow time in a world where all that’s solid melts into air.
And now we’ve made a book. We’ve written the novella we would write at [the mysterious benefactor]’s house. Sending it off to readers feels a bit scary—part of the reason this was such a hard project to title was that for most of its life we referred to it either by the file name, or simply as
we would write
In [the mysterious benefactor]’s house.
It’s scary to think of those words out there as a product! But if a book is a commodity of a sort it’s a kind of letter, too, sent out in a bottle on the waves in search of a reader. Fragile ink on fragile paper, or ephemeral strings of ones and zeroes, here one minute and gone the next, leaving marks in dreams. Now it’s out there in the world. And we’ll have to see what it does there—what further moves it inspires in this great weird Time War we’re all, always, fighting to win. Or to lose.
Where I am a guest of the Celsius 232 Festival. I expect to be mostly busy with that for the next week, but may post a few pictures here and there (and there are a couple Big Idea pieces for you to look forward to this week as well). You kids have fun while I’m away. Don’t wreck the place, I’ll find out.
A tall and fairly impressive stack of new books and ARCs this week. What here is something you’d want to take into the weekend with you? Share in the comments!
The New York Times last week ran a piece called What Middle-Class Families Want Politicians to Know, which featured interviews from a number of Americans, discussing their economic concerns and fears. The thing is, the large majority of the households represented in the piece have a six-figure income; while there is one fellow whose reported household income is $75k – $100k annually, the rest have incomes between $120k and $400k.
And, well. In terms of income, “middle class” has a specific meaning (at least, it does to Pew Research, whose definition I’m using here): It means you earn between 67% and 200% of median household income. In the US nationally, that’s between about $40k and $120k a year — which means that nationally speaking, all but one of the “middle class” households in this piece aren’t middle class at all, they’re above that. In specific cities and areas, that “middle class” range moves, sometimes considerably — for example, in super-expensive San Francisco, “middle class household income” is $67k to $200k, whereas in rural Darke County, Ohio, where I live, that range would be between $33.5K and $100k.
When you put that local filter on these reported incomes, what you get is that some of these folks actually are middle class — but most them are in the upper half of that category, and the rest are above the category entirely. The family in Cupertino, CA with a $150k income is indeed middle class, because the median household income in the Land of Apple is $135k. Likewise the family from Stow, MA, who reports an upper range of $200k, because the median income is even higher at $137k. Ironically the fellow in Auburn, GA who reports the high end of his income as $100k is only barely within the upper bound of the “middle class” for his area, because Auburn’s median income is $54k. But the person from Wyomissing, PA reporting a $200k – $400k range is well-off no matter how you slice it: The median income there is $78k. Likewise the one from Austin, MN, who reports the same high range of income where the median income is $48k, and the ones in Kansas City, reporting a low end of $120k where the median household income is $45k.
So, yeah. The New York Times is putting its finger on the scale, here, in terms of reporting what the “middle class” is thinking. The paper interestingly printed a justifying followup on the people and families they included in the piece, which amounts to “we needed to find diverse people in different geographical areas who also had quotable things to say,” which adds context but doesn’t really change the math. Ultimately the NYT is appears to be defaulting back to “if you feel middle-class, you are,” no matter what the numbers actually say about it.
What I think is more interesting, and telling, and concerning, and what the NYT is eliding by insisting these folks represent the “middle class,” is that these are folks who are either in the upper tranches of the middle class or the lower-to-middle tranches of “upper income” — the reported income of the family in Pennsylvania might gain it entry to the 1% for that state — and they are still feeling incredibly economically vulnerable. Back in my day, harumph harumph, being upper middle class or above meant you that while you were not immune to the vicissitudes of the American economy, you had some underlying stability to your situation — you still had to pay your bills and mortgage but you didn’t worry about if you could pay your bills or mortgage. The folks the NYT is visiting are all nervous; they’re waiting for their necks to be on the chopping block. And while we must acknowledge that it’s the choice of the NYT to highlight these particular stories, I don’t think the NYT’s choice of these stories is unrepresentative of folks in these income levels today.
What changed? Well, lots of things, but I think we know some real big ones: Health care, housing and education costs, particularly in urban areas, are all manifestly more expensive today than they were 30 or 40 years ago, and the average American household carries more debt than it did even a couple of decades back (all adjusting for inflation). So even when people are making better than average incomes, their outgoes — in terms of mortgage payments, college loans, medical and other debt — are taking a bigger share of that money.
The security that higher-than-average incomes used to bring is now diminished by how we as a nation have chosen to build our current economy. And while it’s easy for the intentionally obtuse to tut-tut and suggest people just need to stop drinking Starbucks or eating avocado toast or whatever, a coffee and guacamole-free life will not change the fact that we have built the economy for the rich, not the middle — more to the point, we’ve created an economy for people who can carry debt with minimal impact on their day to day lives, or can afford not to take on debt at all. As a result of that, the income level at which economic insecurity becomes a real and daily issue looks to be getting higher as we go along. This is fixable, mind you. But weirdly there’s not a lot of will at the moment to fix it.
And so we have the spectacle of ostensibly well-off people waiting for the other shoe to drop. They’re not wrong to worry. And that is what should be worrying the New York Times, and everyone else.
Author Sean Grigsby has a theory about people. It’s… not terribly optimistic. But it does have relevance for his latest novel, Ash Kickers, which features firefighters in a slightly alternate version of the world. One with dragons!
Whatever catastrophe nature throws at us, people always seem to make it worse.
Not all of us. Some seek to help and not to hurt, to heal instead of destroy. Firefighters are just one example of a few good people trying to make a difference. I’m proud to call myself one. But, like I said, sometimes there are a few hateful assholes standing in our way.
The Smoke Eaters series is about firefighters versus newly-returned dragons, sure, but there are other big ideas at play. In the first book I talk about corrupt government using disasters for their own gain, and replacing first responders with robots. In Ash Kickers, it’s something much worse.
So, the year is 2123. Parthenon City, Ohio is doing great because they’ve discovered that dragon blood can save lives and heal all wounds. The smoke eaters are no longer slaying the scalies, but tranquilizing them and placing them in specialized enclosures to live out their happy, fire-breathing lives.
The miracle of dragon blood has attracted people from all over an ash-covered United States to flock to Ohio, desperately seeking cures for their loved ones and to benefit from the safety of a dragon-free city.
But some people don’t like that. A group forms, calling themselves PC First, led by a man named Duncan Sharp (it was the sleaziest alt-right name I could think of). They consider these immigrants to be “rats” who are going to use up all of the medicine and resources. I think it’s pretty obvious by now on whom I based these fictional jerks.
However, just like in our reality, Parthenon City has actual problems to worry about. A phoenix has emerged and it’s causing the dragons to go bonkers. A string of suicide arsons is also plaguing the city, leaving police and fire marshals baffled as to who is behind it.
PC First, though, is more concerned about hoarding all the things! Just like a dragon. This lack of compassion for fellow humans, this cruel self-importance… well, it just makes things worse. Not only for decent people trying to make their burning world a better place, but also for the schmucks who try to get ahead by shoving others down.
When I’m called to fight a blaze, I rely on my fellow firefighters. No one fights over the attack line. No one complains that they weren’t the one to carry grandma out of the window. Every single person on the fireground is important and works as a team. We have to. If we don’t, someone could die.
I hate to break it to you, but the world out there is on fire right now, and we can either get busy helping or get busy hurting. I’m strapping on my helmet and charging in to quell the flames. I hope you’ll come with, because I can use all the help I can get.
Nothing like a little late night horticulture. Sleep well!
In December, when I started edging towards 200 pounds and was getting winded walking up the stairs in my house, I decided to start exercising and counting calories, with an eye toward getting in better shape, and getting down to 170 pounds. My original hope was to hit 170 pounds on my birthday, which was May 10. I missed that goal (while hitting another one), but on the principle that late is better than never, I can say that almost exactly two months later, I’ve hit the goal. I’m at just under 170 pounds as of this morning, and down 25.8 pounds off my top weight of 195.7 (For those of you in metricland, I went from 88.76 kilos to 77.06 kilos). Also, and not incidentally, I can now run a couple of miles at a decent clip without feeling like I want to throw up over everyone and everything, and don’t get tired walking up a single flight of stairs. Progress has been made.
And to celebrate, I’m gonna eat a box of donuts, yes? Well, I might! But if I do I will track the calories, then plan what I eat and how I exercise for the rest of the week to compensate for that big ol’ box of carbs I just shoved into my face hole. The point here is that having met my goal, I’m not going to stop doing the things that helped me to get to this point, i.e., exercise and tracking what I put into my body. For the moment, at least, the plan is to maintain at around 170 for a while and see what makes sense for my body from here. This could mean losing a smidge more weight, or gaining a little weight in the form of muscle mass, or whatever. However I proceed, just stopping exercising and noting what I put into my body is not a great idea, especially now that I’m 50. I’ll keep at it while I figure out what I want next.
I am actually pleased with myself at the moment. 25 pounds is the most amount of weight I’ve lost, intentionally or otherwise, and I think it was necessary, for my own personal physical and mental health. I look in the mirror and I see a person who looks much closer to what I think of as me than I did in December. This is not a small thing. It does mean that some of my pants don’t fit anymore. But then, some of my pants didn’t fit before, just in the other direction. I kept those pants, just in case. I have enough pants, is what I’m saying.
In any event: Hey, I hit my weight goal. It feels good.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask anyone! We’re killing the earth, we’re setting everything on fire, we put kids in concentration camps, we give sexual predators and hateful narcissists the highest levels of power in governments around the world, and nothing changes because a very small number of very rich people want to keep it that way. Nothing matters anymore. Everything is pointless. We’re doomed!
I get it. Things are very, very bad for very, very many people in the world today. There are a lot of sociopaths with a lot of power actively working against the possibility of making any improvements or heading off any of the extra-double-special future disasters ahead of us. We have so, so many problems in our world. Many of them are so big and so daunting the best-case scenario is that it will take generations to solve them. It seems like we slide backwards seventeen steps for every one we inch forward. You can’t break an entire planet and expect to fix it in a few years.
Still, I get this complicated little recoil of dismay when I hear people say that we’re doomed, or that nothing matters, or that we might as well give up. It’s such an easy way out. Doom means the ending is inevitable. We can give up. If nothing matters, nothing changes, and nobody cares, we don’t have to solve the extremely difficult problems all around us. We don’t have to answer hard questions and do hard work. It’s the exact opposite of a call to arms: it’s a sigh of surrender.
It was thinking a lot about these conflicting reactions–fully understanding how bad things are but instinctively recoiling from declarations of doom–that led me to the big idea behind Salvation Day.
(Aside: Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, the first big idea behind Salvation Day was, “Wow, I really want to write about a creepy abandoned spaceship full of corpses!” But that’s not a particularly interesting idea to interrogate, because who doesn’t want to write about a creepy abandoned spaceship full of corpses?)
I’m not a person anybody has ever accused of being an optimist; I’m pretty much a walking, talking ball of generalized anxiety wrapped in a lightly scuffed depressive coating. Even so, I don’t want to accept that we’re doomed. I don’t want to believe that we have no choice but to wait for the end of democracy, the end of the republic, the end of decency, the end of empathy, the end of the world. I don’t want to accept that we’ve already passed the point of no return–as though there could even be a single point, or a single path to return, rather than countless, convoluted, ever-changing variations of each.
Maybe that’s a foolish hope, but it’s the hope that underlies the story I’m telling. Salvation Day takes place in a future in which all of the bad things we’re looking forward to and are in the middle of, right now, today, have already happened. Ecological collapse, decades of worldwide war, pandemics, famines, wealthy people looting the Earth and leaving everybody else behind, the works. Our much-prophesized near future of doom and destruction is the not-so-distant past of the world in which my characters live.
The book doesn’t take place in a dystopia, but it’s certainly not a utopia either. It takes place in a civilization that is deliberately rebuilding in the aftermath of all that destruction, but humans are having–shall we say–mixed success. It turns out that leaving Earth didn’t work; the generation ships that tried to escape the destruction all failed. What did work, more or less, was a conscious effort to correct the mistakes of the past and build a better world.
The space between those two little words–more or less–is where I found my story. More for some people, less for others. While I want to believe that humanity will endure, I also believe that we’re probably going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We are, after all, only human, and humans are messy, imperfect creatures. Governments that start out with the best of intentions drift towards authoritarianism. Societies that purport to welcome all enforce borders and build walls. Cultures that outwardly value discovery still cling to the comfortable myths of the past.
We’re going to keep fucking up. We’ll find new ways to fuck up when we find new problems before us. We’ll invent new ways to fuck up once we’ve tired of the old ways.
But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. The problems we create for ourselves are never going to get easier, but we’re not completely useless hairless apes. We are, in fact, pretty good at problem-solving, when we set our minds to it. The trick is figuring out a way to set not just individual minds but entire societies to solving our problems.
I don’t know if we can do that. I don’t know if I’m wrong and the “we’re doomed, nothing matters” folks are right. What I do know is that as a storyteller, the most interesting scenarios grow out the spaces between our yearned-for utopias and worst-case dystopias. As an actual human person living in this world, I think those spaces are where we’re most likely to end up, again and again, no matter how long we manage this existence thing.
But most of all, as a writer and lover of science fiction, as somebody who delights in imagining all the whiz-bang awe and excitement of potential futures but cannot ignore our current problems, I don’t want to give up on humanity just yet.
And assures you that you’re gonna make it through this week juuuust fine.
Busy writing today. See you later.
What do you think these people are hoping for with these posts? What’s their endgame, and how do they think it will affect you?
Well, in the case of the angry member of old-line fandom, I don’t think there was any expectation for anything to happen except her venting to other members of old-line fandom, which she did, and good for her. I hope she feels better and can move on to healthier uses of her time. That’s all that needs be said about that.
In the case of the alt-right dingleberry actively hoping for the collapse of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), which will presumably take me down with it: I think the plan there was reassuring the other dingleberries with whom he corresponds on social media that, yes, indeed, one day my virtue-signaling self will get mine, along with all of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), and what a glorious day that will be for them. As this particular alt-right dingleberry self-publishes on Amazon, there’s also the implication that upon the smoking ruins of traditional publishing (or at least Tor Books), and the dessicated bones of all the SJWs that toiled there, will come a new age where these alt-right dingleberries and their work will finally take their rightful place at the top of the science fictional heap, while I and my sort, I don’t know, maybe suck quarters out of vending machines to survive.
And, I guess, sure, maaaaaybe? But probably not? This shouldn’t be a spoiler to anyone here, but the fact is that Tor is fine, and I’m fine, and even if Tor disappeared tomorrow and I couldn’t find someone else to publish my print work — either of which is, uhhhhhh, unlikely — I’d still be publishing and getting paid for novels well into the 2020s because I have a deal with Audible that mirrors my Tor deal. Audible, you might know, is owned by Amazon. I suppose there’s some irony in the fact my career would be seamlessly continued by the same company where this alt-right dingleberry peddles his own wares, and which he views as the future of publishing; I imagine it’s frustrating to fantasize about the destruction of someone’s career, only to discover he’s already set up shop on the street you thought you had claimed, and his business there is booming. But of course that’s his problem and not mine.
(Mind you, I’m pretty sure this alt-right dingleberry doesn’t actually care about whether traditional publishing collapses or not — he just wants authors he doesn’t like not to have careers, and is working backwards from that proposition to a scenario that will allow such a thing to happen. If all of traditional publishing implodes, these three authors I dislike will be out of work! Bwa ha ha hah ha! This is like thinking the solution for the squirrels that come down from the trees to steal birdseed from your backyard feeder is setting fire to the forest behind your house. Seems like the long way around, and there’s a lot of collateral damage, possibly to your own house.)
I don’t think there’s an “endgame” to this, because there’s nothing these dudes can do to change anything; the game isn’t about change, it’s about identity through self-delusion. This alt-right dingleberry and the other dingleberries like him are employing a Tinkerbell strategy with regard to me and other writers they don’t like — they think if they just clap hard enough, the thing they want will happen, which in this case is me and a few other people they dislike not having careers. This Tinkerbell strategy is immune to facts and reality, which is nice for them, and in my particular case mostly harmless. It’s fine if they want to believe I’m failing and my career is a sham that will come tumbling down any second now. They can claim my sales are fake all they like. The royalties are real enough.
Also, you know. Here’s the thing. Even if this alt-right dingleberry could wave a magic wand and stop my career in its tracks tomorrow — no more sales, no more books — it’s kind of too late, now, isn’t it? I’ll still have had a nice 15-year run in science fiction and fantasy, where I sold a lot of books, won a few awards, worked on a couple of things in TV, and met lots of awesome people I will be friends with all the rest of my life. You know the part of the story that goes “and they lived happily ever after”? I’m already there. If more happens: Great! If not, it was a good run and a hell of a good time.
Of course, this alt-right dingleberry can’t wave a magic wand. So I will continue to do what I do, and other writers he doesn’t like will continue to do what they do, and the publishers he doesn’t like will continue to exist, and the publishing model he professes is doomed will continue to do its thing. And I imagine he and other dingleberries will keep clapping as hard as they can, hoping against hope that their pissy, petty little wishes will come true, somehow.
Well, keep at it, dingleberries. I’ll be writing books while you clap your hands sore. That’s my endgame, and my happily ever after.
And only one person guessed it, so congrats, Lynne Everett! The ARC will be winging its way to you, oh, probably Monday. Thank you to everyone who played along!
If you’re the sort of person who is determined that you and I are to be enemies, and you were at the top of a long stairwell, I wouldn’t push you down the stairs. But if you happened to trip on your own shoelaces, I might chuckle to myself the entire time you fell.
Military science fiction is a popular genre, and certainly Marko Kloos knows that, having written the very successful “Frontlines” series. But for his new series, which begins with Aftershocks, Kloos decided he wanted to try a different strategy, regarding “MilSF.” Here he is to explain it. Giraffes may be involved.
A good friend once told me that people who go to the zoo come in only two kinds: those who are happy to see the giraffes again, and those who aren’t. Military science fiction is very much a genre for readers who like to see the giraffes again. They know it’s going to be about war because it says so right on the tin. And there are plenty of military SF writers providing the metaphorical giraffes: armored space marines, bravery, sacrifice, and jingoistic gun fetish baloney.
But the best novels in the genre were written by people who used the medium of speculative fiction to work out their wartime experiences. Jerry Pournelle and Gene Wolfe served in Korea. Joe Haldeman and David Drake are Vietnam veterans, as is Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, whose Nebula-winning “The Healer’s War” was based on her experiences as a combat nurse in Vietnam. Not coincidentally, military SF is where some of the most authentic and honest war narratives can be found. Writers like Haldeman will let you look at the giraffes only very briefly as they speed-walk you past the exhibit to more interesting sights.
I am fortunate enough to lack wartime experiences to work out in my fiction. I did serve, but in a peacetime army, training for a war that luckily never came. When I wrote the first book in my Frontlines series, I wanted to have a way to use the memories from my service before they faded from memory. Frontlines takes some good looks at the effects of war on the people we send to fight them, but mostly it’s still a “young man goes to war” narrative, with the genre-obligatory boot camp sequence and dramatic space battles. It’s not the giraffe exhibit, but it’s a bit giraffe-adjacent at times. For my new series, I wanted to take a conscious detour around that place from the start.
When I came up with the idea for a new book a while back, I tried to imagine what the exact negative of the “young man goes to war” scenario could look like. I landed at “old(er) man comes home from war.” And that made me think of a bit of family history, and the only person I knew as a child who had come home from war.
You see, my grandfather fought in a war, and he fought for the wrong side.
It wasn’t just the wrong side in a winner-rewrites-history, Richard III sort of wrong. His side wasn’t just wrong, they were unequivocally the bad guys, and history is pretty unanimous about it.
I couldn’t tell you what he did in the war because he never talked about it. When I was little, I asked him a few times what it was like, but he always deflected the question and moved on to a different subject. I know from the family records I kept that he wasn’t what military people call a trigger-puller, a soldier in a combat function. He was a stoker on military trains, which means he shoveled coal into boilers. But his theater of operations was the Eastern Front, which saw the most ferocious fighting and the worst atrocities of the war. Millions died on both sides. It was savage, no-quarter-given brutality. I can only imagine the kinds of things he saw. But he kept his memories locked up for the rest of his life, so I’ll never know for sure. Was he trying to forget? Was he ashamed of the cause he had supported? What did the world look like to him when he came home? How did he even begin to rebuild his life after losing his old one so completely?
And just like that, I had my Big Idea for the new novel.
What if you fought on the wrong side, and you lost?
Watching people pick up the pieces seemed much more interesting than watching them kick those pieces over. So much war fiction deals with the war itself, but what happens when the guns fall silent, and everybody tries to go on with life?
I started to imagine a place where the war has already happened, and where people are still dealing with the aftermath, sweeping up the broken bits and patching things up. I wanted to see what it would be like for the people on either side of the conflict, and what they would do with the hands they had dealt themselves. The ones who started the war and then lost, trying to come to terms with the fact that they spent their lives in the service of an unjust cause. Their children, faced with having to atone for the sins of their parents. The winners, juggling their desires for retribution, the need for justice, and the responsibilities of power. What kind of shockwaves would ripple through a system economy where everyone is dependent on everyone else? And how would a society react to outsiders trying to impose the will of the victors and uprooting centuries-old institutions and cultural norms in the process?
The result is called Aftershocks, first in a series called “The Palladium Wars”.
When an earthquake happens, the seismic event doesn’t stop after the big tremors are over. You get aftershocks, which are smaller quakes that follow weeks, months, or even years later. The bigger the quake, the stronger and more frequent the aftershocks. They are dangerous because they are unpredictable, and they can collapse what was previously only damaged. It seemed like the perfect title for a novel about what happens when people try to rebuild their lives when the ripples of their actions are still kicking up the rubble when they least expect it.
They were pretty without the fireworks.
As for the 4th in general, this is what I had to say about it today on Twitter:
This 4th of July I am celebrating the better nation I know we could be, and committing myself to the work it will take to become it.
Also, I’m having pie.
Accurate on both counts.
Hope your 4th was inspirational, and pie-laden.
Spice has all the fireworks she needs behind her. She’ll probably get more over the next couple of days, to be sure.
Hey! Want to win this ARC of A Very Scalzi Christmas, a collection of Christmas-related stories from me, including three new, never-before-published stories (including one ironically called “Christmas in July”)? Well, you can! Here’s how:
1. I just rolled a number between 0 and 999 using a ten-sided die (which I rolled three times), which I have now duly recorded. Your mission: guess which number it was.
2. Post your guess in the comment thread for this post, using a valid email address so I can contact you if you win (Put it in the email field, not in the body of the comment; that way no one will see your email address but me, and I’m not going to use it for any purpose other than this contest). Only one guess per person, please; additional guesses from the same person will be discarded.
3. If more than one person picks the correct number, I will use a random number generator to pick a number between one and [whatever the number of correct answers] and then pick, based on chronological order, the person who corresponds to that number. If no person picks the correct number, then I will pick the person who is the closest to the number, going down (so if the number is x, then I’ll look at x-1, then x-2, and so on). Again, if there are multiple guesses at that closest number, I’ll pick a winner based on the manner noted above.
4. If you are that person, you win! I will sign the ARC (and personalize it if you like) and mail it to you wherever you are on the globe. So, yes, this is open to everyone who has a valid mailing address, even if you live somewhere else than the United States.
This contest is open from the second I post it until exactly 48 hours later (at which point the comments automatically close), so roughly from 10am Eastern on July 3rd to 10am Eastern on July 5.
Or, if you decide the laws of probability may not work entirely for you in this endeavor, you can pre-order the signed, limited edition of A Very Scalzi Christmas from Subterranean Press directly, and when you do not only will you get the very handsome hardcover edition of the book, signed by me, you will also get the electronic version of the book as well. Two formats, one price!
And that’s it! Guess away!
It’s not every day that you get invited to meet one of your heroes. In this Big Idea for Hawking, author Jim Ottaviani talks about planning to meet a man he and the book’s artist Leland Meyrick absolutely admired… and how things didn’t quite go to plan.
With a few exceptions — Armstrong and Aldrin, Goodall and Galdikas — for most of my graphic novels I’ve been “Sixth Sense”ing it, so to speak, as my subjects have all been dead. And as it turns out, writing about the living is different.
Exhibit A: In 2013 Leland Myrick and I ended up taking reference photos and discussing his life story while standing in Stephen Hawking’s bedroom and private bath — okay, we didn’t hang out in the bathroom for long — and yet we didn’t meet him face-to-face. Here’s what happened.
It started with two words: “big day.” That’s the subject line of the message I received on July 4, 2012. No capitalization, no punctuation, no elaboration. The message came from Lois, a mutual friend of Hawking’s, and she sent it to let me know that her husband Gordy had won his bet with Hawking on the existence of the Higgs Boson… and oh, by the way, in addition to conceding that wager? Hawking had also let her know that he enjoyed the Feynman graphic novel Leland and I did, and invited us to come and visit to talk about doing one on him.
So, I maybe would have capitalized those two words, because it was a Big Day for Leland and me, and since then I don’t think there’s been a Single Day he and I haven’t thought about the book, worked on the book, and looked forward to the day when you’d have the book in your hands.
An invitation from Stephen Hawking means you start making travel plans immediately, but finding the right time to fly over and meet him proved difficult. As one of the few true celebrity scientists in the known galaxy, he was always busy. And as everyone knows, he had physical challenges beyond what you’d expect for someone in their seventies. In the end we just had to commit to a date to visit and hope for the best, and in the end we were unlucky.
He wasn’t feeling well the whole time we were there, but he got better and we got five more years of his grand pronouncements and his sly wit, but for us the trip ended up being very Gay Talese, very “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” By that I mean we didn’t talk to the man himself, but instead spent our time with the many people in his close orbit at Cambridge. (If you need an SF hook to get you to read Talese’s classic article from Esquire, note that it features a cameo by none other than Harlan Ellison, definitely playing himself.)
So we spent time in his office with his colleagues, in his home with his personal assistant, in and around the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and the Gordon Moore Library with his personal papers, and left with more material and insights than we could ever have gotten from a short audience with the man himself…an audience that would have ended with washed away in the turbulent wake of activity that followed him everywhere he went, every word he spoke.
That doesn’t mean we don’t regret not meeting him. We did, and do. But it also doesn’t mean our book doesn’t show Hawking’s personal side as well as his science. It does, and for a couple Midwesterners (Leland now lives on the west coast, and I was born out there, but we both spent our formative years in middle states) the idea of going into someone’s bedroom with a purpose other than to toss your winter coat on top of the pile and immediately leave without looking at anything at all — much less taking photos — was, well, plenty personal!
Hawking is about more than his genius, and more than just him, so the iconic wheelchair and computer-generated voice you know so well don’t appear until halfway through this story. Don’t worry. They’re there, along with his friends and family and the science he did and the bets he won (and lost) and how he made the most of the two years his doctor predicted he had to live after his ALS diagnosis.
He died around the fifty-fifth anniversary of that prediction, after an eventful life that took him all over the world (literally) and throughout the cosmos (figuratively). In our book you’ll travel with him through both.
For myself, I would have guessed he’d be with us even longer. In fact, in our original pitch to First Second, we closed by saying “Producing a graphic novel of this scope will take years, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that Hawking will be around to see its completion.” I was right about the ‘tak[ing] years’ part, but though it was a close thing, sadly, I was wrong about him being around today.
But even though he’s gone, through Leland’s art you can still hear that voice, and see that grin.
As an addendum to last week’s post about our minivan, which held the license plates “Not Cool,” being towed off after 16 years of service, here are Krissy and Athena attaching said plates to Athena’s new vehicle, a GMC Terrain. As we all know, the soul of a car is contained in its licence plates, so this is the official Not-Coolmobile reincarnation. The “Not Cool” plates are not quite as on point with an SUV as they are with a minivan, but they will still probably get a few double takes now and again, as they did on the old vehicle. Long may this new incarnation of Not Cool ride.
To catch you all up with what’s going on with me:
One, I have not finished The Last Emperox yet. But I’ve taken down the “semi-hiatus” notice because, well. At this point I’m just gonna do what I’m gonna do. Don’t worry, I have more than two weeks to finish it. At this point.
Two, this month’s travel will take me to Spain, and while I’m there I’m probably not too likely to do a bunch of person updates, because Spain, and it’ll be my first time in that particular country. I’ll be there for this, incidentally. If you happen to be in or near Spain at the time, come on down.
Three, despite not having finished TLE yet, it’s been a pretty good year. There was this, and also this, and I turned in this, and also I traveled to London, Budapest, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. I’ve pitched some projects and have others in various stages of development at Netflix and at Amazon Studios and elsewhere. So, first half of 2019: Personally, not bad! For the second half of ’19, I have two more books to deliver plus, uhhhhhh, other projects I can’t tell you about yet. Plus more travel (still). Somewhere in there I’ll sleep. Maybe. Maybe.
So let’s get to the second half of 2019, yes?