New Books and ARCs, 10/18/19

Today’s stack is a double, because that’s just how much booky goodness has come to the Scalzi Compound recently. What here is calling to you? Share in the comments!

A Piece of Art I Just Purchased, Featuring, Uh, Me

Me, in a red shirt, wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction, with Old Man's War art in the background.

Artist Lee Moyer, along with three other artists, is currently doing an exhibition at the Keep Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For Lee’s part in the exhibition, he’s done science fiction and fantasy writers as tarot cards, using such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle, HP Lovecraft and… me, among others. It’s nice company to be in, and also, I like the illustration a whole lot, so I bought the piece of art. It will not go in my office — that seems a little on the nose — but it’ll go somewhere suitable in the house. And who knows. Maybe I’ll use it for my next author photo.

Speaking of which, back to the writing.

It’s Already Past Five and My Brain is the Consistency of Mush, So Please Accept This Picture of Two Tuxedo Cats Who May Possibly Be Bored

Bored, or content? With cats it’s hard to tell.

That’s all I got for you today, sorry. I will try to brain better tomorrow.

A Brief Glimpse Into the Inexpressible Glamor of My Life

I have a non-trivial case of tendonitis in my left shoulder and my doctor’s advice for it is mild stretching, Aleve for the inflammation, and an ice pack to deal with swelling. The ice pack I’ve been using: A bag of frozen peas, because it’s conveniently sized for my shoulder and because the frozen peas are cold without melting on me and/or giving me frostbite.

With that said, the regular thawing and refreezing of the peas in question are likely reducing their usefulness as actual foodstuffs, so we’ve marked the particular bag of peas I’m using as “shoulder peas” to make sure no one opens up the bag and tries to, you know, eat the things. Please never eat the shoulder peas, folks. I know where they’ve been. On my shoulder. Over and over again.

Also, tendonitis sucks, and I don’t recommend it to you. Especially if you’ve gotten it the way I have, which is to sleep on your arm wrong. Aging sucks, y’all.

It’s Time For My Annual Non-Solicited Endorsement of WordPress Hosting

Around this time 11 years ago, I switched Whatever to hosting on WordPress, after a couple of years of struggling to keep the site up and running on days when lots of people came to it to read what I had to say. I made the switchover, and guess what happened? Nothing! Which is to say, in all the time since, I’ve never had to worry if the site was up, or handling the load of a rush of visitors, or otherwise happily chugging along. It’s been 11 years of that not worrying, and I gotta tell you, that’s a pretty good feeling. I have WordPress hosting to thank for that.

Also, in a larger and more philosophical sense, if you are a person who is doing creative things, I really recommend keeping and maintaining your own personal site, even if it’s just a simple, humble blog. Social media sites come and go (when Whatever switched over to WordPress hosting, MySpace was the king of the mountain, for example), but a personal site can be a permanent place for fans, clients and peers to find you and engage with your work and thoughts.

WordPress has a number of plans to accommodate your needs as a creative person and a business, up to and including its comprehensive VIP service. I use WordPress, and I recommend it. WordPress never asks me to post this annual endorsement, but I do it anyway, because I appreciate more than a decade of uninterrupted service, and because I think it’s been a good company to work with and to host my words on. If you need a Web site, or if you have a web site and are looking for a simpler and more reliable way of keeping it online, then consider WordPress for your site needs. It’ll do the job.

Finally, thank you to all the folks at WordPress who keep Whatever up and running and accessible. I appreciate it more than you know, even with this annual unsolicited endorsement. Y’all are pretty great.

Thoughts on Gemini Man, and its High Frame Rate

My daughter asked me if I wanted to go see Gemini Man with her last night, and I did, not because I thought it would be gripping action film with just a tinge of science fiction (which is what it’s promoted as), but because I’m a cinema nerd and director Ang Lee shot the film at 120 frames a second, i.e., a much higher rate than the standard 24-frames-per-second that is used for the usual cinematic outing. I wanted to see what it looked like, and whether it would add anything to the experience.

The personal answer to this question: well, I thought it looked cool, anyway; and no, not really.

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, the story: Will Smith is a 51-year-old assassin who feels he’s lost a step and wants to retire, but of course when you’re a professional assassin you can’t just retire, so the government, in the form of Clive Own sends an assassin to take him out, an assassin who just happens to be a clone of Smith’s character (this is not a spoiler, it’s all over the trailers and posters). Action scenes and bog standard plot twists ensue, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong are along for sidekick and comic relief duties respectively.

It’s fine. Director Ang Lee works beneath his level, but since his level is “two-time Oscar winner” it’s all still perfectly competent. The script has major holes in it but the movie doesn’t slow down to let you think about them, so that’s well enough, and the action scenes move along at an agreeable clip. Smith, Winstead, Wong and Owen are all attractive presences on screen, and the CGI’d younger version of Smith is credible enough both in physical detail and performance not to be distracting. It’s fine. Fine is fine. I don’t know that I will remember this movie a week from now, but while I was watching it I was reasonably entertained. Fair enough.

But for me, the thing I wanted to see was the high frame rate, and how it contributed (or didn’t) to the movie. There are purists who dislike movies being screened at higher than 24 frames a second because they think that 24fps is an essential part of cinematic grammar — it’s what gives cinema its “feel,” and higher frame rates make everything feel like a cheap soap opera. Personally, I’m meh on this; 24fps is a historical artifact, and there’s no particular reason to be tied to it these days, when nearly all theater projectors are digital and movies can be recorded and shown in higher film rates if the filmmakers want. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that younger people don’t see high frame rates as a negative; if they see something at 60fps or above, they don’t think “soap opera” — a reference which doesn’t mean anything to them since soap operas mostly don’t exist anymore — they think “video games.” And in video games, the higher the fps, the better. Why not the same in movies?

With that said, if you’re going to go out of your way to record your movie at a higher film rate, I think it helps to have a reason. I’m not tied to the 24 frame per second rate, but there’s nothing wrong with it, either. If you’re going to deviate from it — and call attention to that deviation — it’s worth it to have a good reason for doing so.

As far as I can see, there wasn’t any particularly good reason to go with the higher frame rate for Gemini Man. Yes, everything on screen moved more smoothly, and if you’re not used to higher frame rates, it can give the illusion of hyper reality. But the novelty of that wears off quickly enough, and then it becomes a question of whether the additional frames help with cinematography, or action sequences or special effects or anything else. And here, it didn’t, really. The action sequences, in particular, were not so complicated or choreographed that a higher frame rate added clarity to their execution; I suspect they would be have been equally effective at 24fps. I was aware of the additional smoothness in these scenes (especially the slow motion bits), but I wasn’t seeing how it mattered, aesthetically or functionally.

So, in the end, the higher frame rate of Gemini Man was… fine. The movie worked fine with it, and it would have worked just fine without it. It neither harmed nor added real value to the movie or the story. Does it make think that high frame rate movies are the wave of the future? Not really, no. It also doesn’t argue against the idea, either. It’s now just another tool in the filmmaker toolbox. Something they can do, if they want to, or not if they don’t. Like 3D, which, incidentally, I saw Gemini Man in, and which, like the high frame rate, neither added nor detracted from this particular movie and story.

This is the second film I’ve seen in theaters at a higher frame rate; the first was The Hobbit, which I went out of my way to see in “48HFR,” as it was advertised at the time. I liked it there and thought it suited the movie, but then I saw the subsequent Hobbit installments in regular 24fps and did not feel the lack of frame rate in any particular way. I’m still waiting for the movie for which a higher frame rate is actually critical for the cinematic experience. Maybe the upcoming Avatar sequels? Say what you will about Avatar, but for my money there was a distinct differential in experience between the 2D and 3D versions of that movie, and the 3D version was noticeably more affecting. I understand Cameron is shooting the sequels at 60fps, and if there’s any filmmaker who can make those higher frame rates pay off, it’s probably him. We’ll see.

In the meantime: Gemini Man is a perfectly adequate way to burn off two hours in the theatre. If you like Will Smith, it’s very Will Smithy. There are worse things.

The Scalzis Try Australian Snacks

Hey, remember all those snacks I was given when I was in Australia? Athena and I tried them all (well, most of them) and made a video of us doing it and reviewing the snacks we had. It’s 17 minutes of your life you’ll never get back! Enjoy.

Today in My Fame is a Strange and Sort of Wonderful Fame

The fast food franchise Hothead Burritos has an interactive nutrition information form, which allows you plug in the ingredients from the burrito (or burrito bowl) you ordered and then get a calorie count and other information. I noted it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, and how much I appreciated it, since I’m recording calories.

In return, the creator of the Hothead Burrito nutritional information form has created a form especially for my own “burritos,” which actually works and is totally amazing. I love that this exists. Go try it for yourself.

New Books and ARCs, 10/10/19

Actually, these arrived before I left for Australia, so I’m catching up by posting them now. Nevertheless: A good stack! What here calls to you? Tell us in the comments.

The Moon in the Trees, 10/9/19

Not quite a full moon. Sorry, incipient werewolves. But pretty anyway.

What I Brought Home From Australia

These were a gift from the folks at Conflux, and prefaced with the admission that this was all junk. As someone whose first purchase in Australia was a Violet Crumble, this delighted me. And indeed there is a bunch of questionable stuff here, down to and including the Vegemite-flavored peanuts, which apparently not even anyone at Conflux, Down Under natives all, had even considered ever trying. I can’t wait.

The trip as a whole was lovely and I’ll probably write something slightly longer about it when my brain isn’t cottage cheese. Today is not that day, I have to say. In the meantime: Look! Candy! Mostly.

Home Again

Late, after the pilot of last night’s flight from Houston apparently sublimated directly into the air and the trip was rescheduled to this morning. I’m going to take a nap, I think, and then try to catch up on a few things.

But yes — back at home and it’s nice to be here.

We Have Always Lived in the Airport Lounge

The trip home began yesterday with a jaunt from Canberra to Melbourne, with a stay in the Qantas Airport lounge preceding the flight. An overnight stay at a hotel here at the airport, and now I’m loitering in the Melbourne Airport Centurion Lounge, awaiting a flight a 3 hour 45 minute flight to Auckland, and five hours in the Air New Zealand Lounge there. Then 15 hours in the air to Houston and three hours in the United Polaris Club, and then a two and half hour flight to Dayton.

After a certain point the alternation between plane and airport lounge becomes a little surreal. It’s not purgatory but it’s probably limbo; its an interstitial life. The good news is at the end of it I get to be at home with my wife and cats and my own bed. It’ll be worth the journey.

But in the meantime: Airport lounge.

Flowers From Floriade

“Floriade” being the Australian flower festival that happens here in Canberra. I took a walk over and took some pictures. Enjoy.

I Am A Serious Adult Don’t You Know

Photo by Cat Sparks

Here’s me finishing up my keynote address yesterday, looking for all the world like I’m a politician at a town hall meeting. I am not a state senator, my friends. I am but a humble science fiction writer.

View From a Hotel Balcony, 10/3/19: Canberra

It’s a nice view. I’m here for the “Science Fiction and the Future of War” seminar, at which I’ll be giving the keynote address in a couple of hours. Canberra and Australia are enjoying the beginning of their spring, and apparently there is a flower festival going on, so tomorrow during my time off I’ll be doing and taking a probably ridiculous number of photos there. My sleep schedule is still a little off, and I woke up at 3am. But then again sometimes I wake up at 3am at home, too, so there’s that.

If you live in Canberra and you are not going to the seminar today (as most of you probably are not) but will still like to see me, I’ll be at Conflux on Sunday, along with many other science fiction writers and fans. Come see me there. These are, alas, my only Australian events this year.

Greetings From Transit

I’m more than a day into my travel and currently in the Air New Zealand lounge in the Auckland airport. The flight arrived at 4:45 and it’s still dark here. My next flight takes me to Melbourne, from whence I will connect to Canberra. I slept reasonably well on the plane from Houston to Auckland and also managed to get some writing done, which is good for me, I missed Tuesday entirely and went straight on to Wednesday. I’m already in that mind space where time has become somewhat malleable, and my general state is “mildly fatigued.” I’ll try to correct when I land for good in Canberra.

In the meantime: Hello! I’m mildly fatigued and only tenuously attached to the days of the week. How are you?

The Thing I Splurge On, Travel-Wise

Tomorrow I start on a week-long trip to Australia, the itinerary of which goes as such: Dayton to Houston to Auckland to Melbourne to Canberra. It will take over 40 hours, and includes an epic 11-hour layover in Houston because, well, that’s just how these things work sometimes. The length and general nature of the trip is such that it’s a good time to note my general travel policy these days, which is:

If there’s an ocean involved, when possible, buy a lie-down seat.

I should note that for domestic flights, I almost never pay for business class seats. One, what domestic business class gets you is a little extra width in the seat, some extra leg room and free booze, which as a short-legged five foot seven teetotaler is not the value proposition it might be for others. And the flight is rarely more than four hours in any event. For domestic flights, premium economy is my sweet spot. If I ever get a business seat domestically, it’s because I was automatically upgraded for some reason, or because when I got to the sign-in kiosk the upgrade was available for $50 or less. What can I say, I’m a cheap bastard.

But in the last couple of years I’ve changed my tune when it comes to overseas flights, and I splash out for a seat that reclines all the way down, which means business class at least. Why? Well:

1. Because these flights are ridiculously long. A transatlantic flight from the US is seven to ten hours. A transpacific flight is anywhere from ten to eighteen hours. The Houston – Auckland leg of my flight tomorrow is fourteen hours and forty five minutes. An economy or economy plus seat is perfectly fine for a four-hour flight. For one that’s three times as long? Well, I’d rather not, if I can avoid it.

Also, in this particular case, the flight leaves Houston in the evening, which brings us to the another point:

2. Some people can sleep sitting up, but I am not one of them. Believe me, I’ve tried. The best case scenario has me entering a fugue state that is not quite awake but also not really asleep, which means I arrive at wherever I’m going in a condition that’s best described at “full bwuh?” I’m old now and pulling out of that particular condition is more difficult than it used to be.

However, when I have a lay-down seat (or at least one that reclines significantly) I can get some actual sleep. Is it great sleep? Well, no, it’s on a plane in a narrow bunk with not-amazing padding. But it is adequate sleep; enough that when I’m done with my travels I don’t feel like I’ve been worked over with an airplane. Also:

3. Access to airport lounges. Mind you, I often have access to these already: my American Express gets me access to the Delta Sky Club when I fly that airline, and to its own Centurion Club, and I also paid for a United Club membership this year. But when I don’t already (for example, when I fly United), or when having a business class ticket gets one into a different, slightly better lounge (for example, the United Polaris lounges), it’s very useful. Sitting at an airport gate is rarely a fantastic human experience, because the seats are not really comfortable and there’s usually a scrum for electrical outlets; airport lounges are usually at least slightly more civilized.

These lounges makes a real difference for when you have, say, a ridiculous 11-hour layover in Houston. The Polaris lounge there has showers and daybeds; so does the Centurion Club. They lay out food and drink for no additional cost and every seat has its own power source. And most people in the club are somewhat less stressed and aggravated than they would be at the gate. It makes a real difference in how one feels even before one gets on a plane for a very very long trip.

(Also, to pre-empt the “you’re gonna be there for 11 hours, go out and see the city!” suggestions — well, and in fact, I may; Houston’s a nice town. But also let’s not pretend that leaving a major airport for a day trip, and then getting back in, is not without its own set of logistical challenges, and even then, I’m still going to be spending a large amount of time at the airport anyway. So the thing about airport lounge access still applies.)

4. Because people start getting weird and cranky on long-haul flights (me included). Which makes sense, most humans are not designed to stay in one position, more or less, for hours and hours at a time. It’s enervating and antsy-making, no matter how much you sleep or do the airline-recommended exercises to avoid deep vein thrombosis. Also eventually people’s sense of “I’m in a public place, I should behave myself” seems to disappear, and then comes the nose-picking or porn-watching or the furtive eating of an egregiously stinky meat pie out of a cloche hat (which I swear to god is a thing that a seatmate of mine did on a flight from Australia back to the US, when I was sitting in economy).

Having a lie-down seat doesn’t keep anyone else on the flight from doing weird shit, it just means I don’t have to deal with it. And also, when I start doing weird shit, they don’t have to deal with me, either.

(For the record: I have not picked my nose or watched porn or eaten a meat pie out of a cloche hat whilst on a plane. Honest.)

5. Because paying for the lie-down seats just plain makes air travel more civilized. The airport lounges and the getting on the plane first and the not having to fight for overhead space and the blankets and pillows and eyemasks and earplugs and the actual food and drink anytime you want it and the not wrestling someone for the goddamned armrest and the airline attendants actually being attentive and the, let’s not forget, ability to put your seat down and just maybe sleep for a change makes a difference. I’m not going to pretend that the 40-hour trip I’m about to take is going to be happy bundle of joy from start to finish, but, look. I’ve gone to Australia economy class before. I know how much the experience varies between these two states of travel. Likewise other long-haul travel.

And yeah, it does suck that the difference is as significant as it is. In a just world everyone would have lie-down seats and tolerable airport experiences. I’m well aware that I’m getting out of a certain level of travel hell simply because I have the wherewithal to do so. Not everyone has the option. It’s privilege, bluntly, and I acknowledge it.

And in this particular case, I’m okay exercising it, because the other option (I mean, aside from not doing the travel at all) is hours of discomfort and aggravation, and a certain number of hours at the end of the travel recovering from it before I am a useful human once more. At this point in my life there is a specific financial value that I can assign to not feeling that way, and most of the time, it’s one I’m willing to pay (and even more so when I’m traveling with Krissy, for whom long-haul travel is even more taxing).

It’s nice to be able to do it. I recommend it, if you can afford it, and have been on the fence about it. Splurge, it’s mostly worth it.

Sunset, 9/27/19

After the week we’ve all had, we deserve a good one.

New Books and ARCs, 9/27/19

As we head into the final weekend of September, here’s a stack of new books and ARCs for you to consider. What here would you like to close out the month with? As always, share in the comments.