New Books and ARCs, 8/11/17

The weekend’s rolling in, so here are some new and upcoming books to get excited about. What do you like here? Tell all in the comments!

Twitter Jokes: Punchline First(?)

I note this particular tweet (which, if for some reason you can’t see it, is here), not just because it amuses the crap out of me, although it does, but it because it’s an example of a phenomenon that I think might be unique to Twitter — namely, because of the way Twitter formats pictures and retweets on its service, much of the time (if not most of the time) you’ll see a punchline or a snarky reply before you read the set-up or instigating comment.

And because it does, it changes a lot about the dynamic of the humor, and often in interesting ways. It’s like the Jeopardy version humor. Of course, some people just change things around so their comment is the set-up and the picture or previous comment is the punchline. But when they don’t, I almost feel like it creates a new kind of joke.

I could be overthinking this. Tell me if I am.

Update on the Dragon Awards and Me

First, read this, from Andrew Liptak at the Verge, and make sure you stick around for the M. Night Shyamalan-like twist at the ending, featuring a shocking statement from me!

Also, here is the Dragon Awards’ own statement, re: Alison Littlewood departing from the ballot.

Read them? Okay, then let’s get to the questions.

So, wait, you were going to withdraw from the Dragon Awards but now you’re not?

Yup, that’s basically right.

Why did you change your mind?

Mostly because the administrators asked if I would reconsider.

How did that conversation go?

Me: I’d like to withdraw.

Them: We’d like you to stay. Please?

Me: No.

Them: What if we say, pretty please?

Me: No.

Them: What if we say, pretty please with sugar on top?

Me: Oh, fine.

More seriously, and as noted in the statement I gave to the Verge, the folks at the Dragon Awards suggested they were willing to put in some work to listen and learn, and the honoring of Ms. Littlewood’s withdrawal request and their commitment to rethink aspects of their process was a good first step. Enough that I was willing to reconsider withdrawing from the ballot.

But what about the dudes ginning up the whole “culture war” angle? You said you just couldn’t even with those dudes.

They’re still there and they’re still tiresome, and I’m not really looking forward to that nonsense, but, you know what, fuck it. Here’s the deal: Did you enjoy reading my book? Enough to vote for it over the other works in my particular category? Groovy. Then vote for it. Otherwise, don’t vote for it, please. Repeat with every other work in my category, and so on in the other categories. This is not actually complicated.

(Incidentally, and in case it’s not clear, please don’t paint every other finalist with the “I’m just here for the culture war” brush. I don’t. You can tell which ones are around to gin up a culture war. They’re pretty obvious about it.)

I JUST THINK YOU’RE HELLA INDECISIVE, SCALZI

Seems reasonable and I accept your judgment.

I still have issues with the Dragon Awards.

That’s fair. They’re new and still figuring this out, which is not an excuse but is an explanation. In my discussions with the folks running them, my sense is that they really do want to make the awards something that is viable and useful (and fun) for fans of the genre. They have a lot of work to do (this is, I suspect, in the nature of awards in general). Hopefully they’ll get there. As I noted, some of the steps they’re taking now indicate to me they want to get it right. Your mileage may vary. In the meantime, with this as with anything, you’re perfectly within your rights to have issues and criticism. Fire away.

So are you going to the awards ceremony now?

Nope, I’m still counter-scheduled in Washington DC that weekend.

What if I was going to vote for you but you said not to and I voted for something else?

I mean, that’s on me, isn’t it? So that’s fine. If you voted for something you enjoyed, that’s good enough. I’m okay with other people winning awards I am also up for. I’ve won my fair share over time. It’s nice to win, but it’s nice to see other people win, too. I’ll be no worse off. And then someone else has to worry about how to ship a trophy home. That stuff adds up.

If I wanted to vote, how do I do that?

Here’s the link to register. Anyone with an email address is eligible. And here is the full, updated ballot.

I gotta warn you, I might not vote for you.

Well, you know. I still have to read some of the finalists in my category. If I like them better, I might not vote for me.

The Big Idea: Kathe Koja

It is sometimes said that someone is a person of their time — which may make you wonder what might happen to that person in different times, and what those times would do that person. Kathe Koja might, anyway, and it’s one of the reasons her novel Christopher Wild exists.

KATHE KOJA:

Come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.

He’s a London guy, but he’s been around the block, he knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. They say he’s a scholar and a poet, they say he’s a spy, they say he likes guys; he says he likes guys, and likes smoking, and thinks religion is all about control, not love, among other free-thinking opinions. Some people—most famously a dude named Dick who ratted him out to the authorities—suggested that the “mouth of so dangerous a [man] should be stopped.” And the authorities agreed, and had him killed.

But he was, he is, a writer. And so his work kept on speaking in tandem with that brief, steep, outrageous life—as I write this, this guy, this Christopher Marlowe, this Kit, is studied in universities around the world, his plays of turbulent men with violent ideas are produced and debated and relished, and he’s stealing the show in a show called Will.  

There are more than a few Marlowe biographies and novels: you may have met him there. Anthony Burgess’ gorgeously written A Dead Man in Deptford was my own introduction to Kit, and the life pointed to the work—I’d heard of Faustus, that soul-selling literal daredevil, but the other plays (like Edward II and Tamburlaine) were ravishingly new to me. And the poems, sexy, erudite, unforgettable poems . . . I thought, who is this guy! I thought, oh god this guy. I thought, I have to write about him too.

And so my newest novel, Christopher Wild.

But befitting its subject who loved to challenge, this book was such a challenge that I was bewildered how to even begin. I don’t write about real people, I write fiction that works to make characters seem real. And no one is ever going to write a better, more beautiful bio novel than Burgess. So how could I reincarnate this man?—whose voice I was crazy in love with, and whose life has resonance not only with his own time but every era where power seeks to throttle truth, and fear sits side by side with stifling caution; which is to say, every era . . . And most of all, first and last of all, he’s a writer, a gloriously original and badass writer, how could I do him full justice on the page? All I had was doubt, and a giant pile of notes and research reading.

But I wanted to hang out with Marlowe.

So I took the leap, I plunged: I planned the structure of the novel then threw that structure totally away, I found a new way, I found that the way to show his contemporaneity was to place him in places where silence shouted loudest, where danger was deepest for a man who can’t keep his mouth shut, ever: places like his own grimly glamorous Elizabethan world, then a tense and humid McCarthyesque mid-20th century, then a darkening future just slightly past our own horizon, where punishing surveillance is the 24/7 norm.

The voice that flowered in those ages, and my pages, was a confident one, a fierce and passionate one, one that I followed every bit as much as I led: I knew him better then, I learned as we went on. Is it the book I expected I’d be writing? Not at all. But that’s what it’s like when you hang with a bold new friend, he takes you places you didn’t imagine you’d go.

Which is why I opened up the process to early supporters, who received a monthly email with research notes and cool or silly factoids (Kit Harington plays Faustus! Sniff a Marlowe perfume!), along with excerpts from the novel in progress—another thing I’d never done before, or contemplated doing.

And then all the writing was done, and Marlowe was ready, again, for his close-up, he was climbing into a big-finned yellow Buick, he was heading up the crusty subway stairs, he was striding down a slick and cobbled alley where life and death murmur together, telling eternity’s everyday secrets; he was here again, with us again, because he’s never left . . . If you’ve met him already, lucky you (and why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?). But if you haven’t, oh then please grab a seat, get a drink, let me introduce you and we can all go wild.

—-

Christopher Wild: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Roadswell Editions

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

And Now, The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For: My Review of Coke Zero Sugar

I’m well-known for being an aficionado of Coke Zero — so much so that I was once given my own weight in the beverage by a science fiction convention —  so when Coca-Cola announced it was taking the drink off the market in place of a new, reformulated drink called “Coke Zero Sugar” it was generally thought that my reaction would be to rend garments and howl about apocalyptic seals being broken. I didn’t do any of these, but of course I was curious as to what the new stuff was like.

Well, as it happens, Coca-Cola was kind enough to ship me a couple of bottles of the stuff so I could try it out before it generally hits the market where I live. I tried it two different ways: First Coke Zero Sugar by itself, and then in a sip-by-sip comparison with regular (and soon to be departed) Coke Zero.

When I tried it by itself: I couldn’t really perceive much of a difference between it and my sense memory of Coke Zero with the first couple of swallows. It tasted enough like Coke Zero that my immediate concern (“oh god it’s gonna suck and I will have to wander the desert forever because that will be my life now”) was immediately dismissed. I’m gonna survive the switchover, folks.

After a couple more swallows it seemed to me there were two noticeable differences: It’s not as immediately acidic, and it seems a bit less carbonated. I suspect both of these possibly contribute to the “more like standard Coca-Cola” taste that the company suggests this has over regular Coke Zero. It’s a mouthfeel thing, simulating what you would get with sugar in the liquid; anyone who drinks no-sugar soda and then drinks one with sugar notes the latter feels a little syrupy. Coke Zero Sugar feels a little more like fully leaded Coke than Coke Zero.

This mouthfeel and “less acidic, less carbonated” thing was definitely more noticeable when I was alternating drinks between the two. As a Coke Zero drinker I’m used to the zingier attack of the standard stuff, and would say that overall Coke Zero Sugar is basically a slightly muted version, zing-wise, of the previous iteration.

But, as noted, when I tasted the Coke Zero Sugar in isolation I was not really finding too much difference between the two, and when I did figure out the difference, I didn’t find it objectionable or disappointing. It’s good! It’s fine! I like it! And I suspect that as the old stuff is phased out and the new stuff comes in, I’ll make the switch and continue happily with my life. The only note I would make to myself is a practical one: Coke Zero Sugar should be drunk ice cold because it seems like it goes flatter quicker, which I suspect is down to the apparent less carbonation.

(Oh, one other difference — the aftertaste. How is it different? I can’t really quantify it except to say it is. It’s not bad. It’s just there, like it is with most drinks with artificial sweeteners.)

Coca-Cola wants to suggest that Coke Zero Sugar’s taste is improved, but I think that’s a subjective judgment. I think of it as being a little different, but not so much so that I need to worry about it. Coca-Cola also says it’s more in line with standard Coke’s flavor profile, which it might be, but in my opinion Coke Zero was close enough on this score that this is a case of “why go for the A+ when you’re already getting the A.” I suspect that it’s really down to Coke wanting to accentuate the “no sugar” aspect and needing to fiddle with the formula slightly to justify the repackaging and overall marketing budget. And if that’s somewhere near the case, well, I guess, okay? Mysterious are the ways of large corporations.

But overall: Hey, Coke Zero Sugar is pretty good. I’d say it’s Coke Zero with a subtle nose job: Different, maybe better depending on your personal taste, still largely recognizable for what it is. Which works for me.

Sadly Appropriate For the Day

Thanks to a dumbass president wetting himself about North Korea and trying to hide it with bluster.

Bear in mind I think we’re almost certainly likely to be fine and everyone will climb down from their current state of rhetorical stupidity. On the other hand, having a dumbass for a president is already tiring.

On the other hand: Kate Bush is awesome. Yay, Kate!

Withdrawing From the Dragon Awards, 2017

Update, 8/10/17: I’ve decided to stay on the ballot. Here’s the reasoning.

The other day I announced The Collapsing Empire was a finalist for the Dragon Award in the Best Science Fiction novel category, which was neat. Today, I notified the Dragon Award administrators and let them know I was withdrawing The Collapsing Empire from consideration for the award.

The reason is simple: Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop, to advance a manufactured “us vs. them” vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever. And I just… can’t. I don’t have the interest and I’m on a deadline, and this bullshit is even more stale and stupid now than it was the several other times it was attempted recently, with regard to genre awards.

My plan was to ignore it, but on further reflection (and further evidence that this nonsense was going to continue through the finalist voting period), I decided this was the better course. To the extent this bullshit manufactured narrative is centered on me, well, now it’s not, as far as these awards are concerned. I’m delighted to be able to chop it off at the knees by removing myself from consideration. I wish the progenitors of this narrative luck; now they will have to compete with the other finalists on the basis of the quality of their work instead. They’re going to need all the help they can get with that.

(Mind you, what I expect is the “us vs. them” folks to try to shift their target to someone else. Because that’s the only trick they know, bless their hearts.)

To be clear, the problem is not with the Dragon Awards or their administrators, the latter of whom have been unfailingly gracious in my communications with them. I wish them all the best with their awards. I encourage people to vote for the awards and for the finalists whose stories move them.

And once more thanks to the folks who nominated The Collapsing Empire for the Dragon Award. I do appreciate the nomination, and the novel making the finalist list. You all made me happy.

In Which I Photomanipulate a Picture of Krissy Into a Terrifying Shark-Like Version of Herself

Me (to Krissy): Hey, you know how I have a photo program to even out skin tones and otherwise do some tweaking?

Krissy: Yeah.

Me: So, I took one of your pictures and ran it through the default setting four or five times and came out with… something terrifying.

Krissy: What does that mean?

Me: Well, here, look:

Krissy: What the fuck.

Me: Right? Like, this is a picture where if you saw it on Tinder, you’d be all “My libido says to swipe right, but my brain says to swipe left and then chuck the phone as far away as I can.”

Krissy: I’m creeped out, and that’s me.

Me: So can I put it up online?

Krissy: Hell, yeah. And send it to me. I’m going to make it my Facebook photo.

The Collapsing Empire a Finalist for the Dragon Award

Which is an award given out at DragonCon. It’s a finalist in the category of Best Science Fiction Novel, which makes perfect sense, really. Here’s the full ballot (there’s more than a dozen categories), and if you’re inspired to vote in one or more of those categories, here’s how you register to do that. As long as you have an email address, you’re eligible to vote. You can vote through August 28th, and the awards will be given out at the convention.

This is actually the second time I’ve been a finalist for a Dragon Award, as I was on the ballot last year for The End of All Things. I declined the slot because I was taking a year off from awards generally, but it’s nice to know my work was remembered again this year. The award has existed for two years, so now my work is 2-for-2 for getting on the ballot. Can’t complain about that.

Thanks to the folks who nominated the book! I’m glad you liked it.

New Books and ARCs, 8/4/17

We’re trundling toward the weekend, with a nifty stack of new books and ARCs to peruse. See anything here you’d like to put on your own “to be read” stack? Tell us in the comments!

I’ll Be at the National Book Festival the First Weekend of September

Here are all the details for the National Book Festival, and here is my schedule. It’ll be my first time back in the DC area in a while — the last time I was there was in 2012, I think — so I’m excited to be coming back. See you there!

Wonder Woman: A Smash, Possibly in Different Ways Than You Think

This next weekend Wonder Woman is very likely to crack the $400 million mark at the  domestic box office, which in itself is a significant feat (only 26 other films in the history of cinema have managed it) but is particular good news for the Warner Bros. studio and its DC universe of films, after the critical failures of the two most recent DC films, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, both of which Wonder Woman has now outgrossed…

… Well, sort of. Wonder Woman is the undisputed champ of the three films in the domestic box office arena, but in the global arena, right now (and, given the late date of Wonder Woman’s theatrical run at this point, probably ultimately), Wonder Woman’s overall box office performance is right in line with BvS and Suicide Squad, and both of those films have outperformed WW’s box office in key areas. BvS has a larger global gross ($873 million to $790 million), and Suicide Squad has a larger foreign box office ($420 million to $393 million). At this point, two months since release, it’s possible but unlikely WW might catch up with those numbers (it’ll be easier for the film to pass Suicide’s foreign BO than BvS‘ global). But when all the theatrical grosses are tallied, again, Wonder Woman’s box office performance is likely to be right in line with its DC siblings’ performance.

Given that Wonder Woman’s box office overall is not substantially different than that of BvS or Suicide Squad, why is it being hailed as the savior of the DC universe film franchise? There are a few reasons. One, both BvS and Suicide were critical (if not financial) flops, dark and gritty and depressing slogs that no one really seemed to like all that much, even if the films did in fact pack people into theaters — $330 million and $325 million in domestic grosses are excellent returns. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was a critical success — which was useful for itself but also deemed important for the future of the DC franchise as a whole. Three critical flops would (presumably) have made it difficult to sell the Avengers-like Justice League film that’s next on the slate.

Two, despite global box office being the primary engine for Hollywood these days, domestic (i.e., US and Canada) box office is still hugely influential in terms of perception. As an example, this summer’s The Mummy is widely considered to be a flop despite the fact that worldwide it’s grossed $400 million to date. Had The Mummy done $200 million domestically and $200 million foreign, it wouldn’t be seen as a flop; if it had done $300 million domestically and $100 million in foreign sales, it’d be one of the summer’s winners. Wonder Woman outgrossed its DC siblings here at home, and “here at home” optics still matter.

Three, the financials of Wonder Woman are probably more advantageous to Warner Bros than BvS or Suicide. First, it was a cheaper film to produce: $125 million, where BvS was twice that, and Suicide was $150 million. Second, Warner (generally) gets to keep more of the money a film grosses domestically than internationally, where the grosses have to be shared with distributing partners and are otherwise divvied up in less advantageous ways.

Finally, because Wonder Woman is a woman-centered superhero film with a woman director, and the common wisdom was that the film outperformed financial expectations. Why this bias persists is a long discussion for another time (it’s worth noting that only one other film has outgrossed Wonder Woman domestically so far this year, and that’s Beauty and the Beast, another woman-focused film, and the one film remaining on the theatrical schedule this year that will outgross it will be The Last Jedi, which also has a woman as the protagonist), but it’s there.

It’s worth pointing out that of the four reasons I’ve given here, three of them are explicitly perceptual, rather than about the financial bottom line, and the one that’s about the financial bottom line is probably the one least publically discussed out of all of them. The perceptual issues aren’t fake issues (I’ll explain why further down) but I think it’s worth pointing out that, perception aside, Warner Bros’ DC universe films from BvS onward are doing just fine financially, with an average box office of $802 million globally between them, and an average domestic gross of $350 million. Which, incidentally, is higher than the average domestic and worldwide gross of the (to date) 16 Marvel cinematic universe movies, which are $306 million and $776 million, respectively.

Which leads me to think a couple of things. The first is that generally film quality doesn’t mean all that much for a superhero film’s box office as long as it has a) brand name recognition and b) some really excellent marketing behind it. Two thirds of the DC films get knocked for being crap, but those two films also outgrossed ten of the sixteen Marvel films both domestically and worldwide, all of which have better critical reputations than BvS or Suicide.

Next up, even if Wonder Woman had been a critical flop, I think it’s an open question as to whether that would have had a major negative impact on the financial performance of Justice League, the next DC film in the release barrel. To be clear, I think Wonder Woman’s critical and perceptual superiority to BvS and Suicide is beneficial — it now means JL is likely to get to or even surpass $1 billion in worldwide grosses (and get more than $400 million domestically). But I suspect that had Wonder Woman not been a perceptual and critical smash, JL would still end up in the same $750 million-to-$850 million range the other DC films have managed to this point. These are essentially fool-proof movies, which all things considered, has been a very good thing for Warners, indeed.

This means I also suspect that even if Wonder Woman had not been a critical success, it still would have done reasonably well at the box office: In the $250 million-to-$300 million range domestically and double that globally. And again that’s down to familiarity and marketing and the long pent-up desire to have a woman superhero head up a movie, and especially Wonder Woman, the best-known woman superhero. The critical/perceptual box office premium here is significant — roughly 25% of the box office gross — and nothing to discount. But recent box office successes in the form of Beauty and the Beast, The Force Awakens and Rogue One shows us that established franchises (Star Wars and Disney live action remakes, respectively) don’t automatically take a financial penalty for having women in the lead role (I’m not even bringing up Twilight or Hunger Games here, which established themselves in the lit world before jumping over to film). Wonder Woman, I think, would have been perfectly financially successful even if it had only been critically received only marginally better than BvS or Suicide Squad.

The real issue here, to my mind, is how there’s still any hesitancy to front women characters in franchises, superhero or otherwise. There’s pretty clearly no significant financial penalty for doing so if your franchise is already up and running and your marketing is focused; honestly, at this point there’s only upside, if you manage to make the film better than its male-focused franchise siblings. That upside is perceptual in the short run, as it largely was here with Wonder Woman. But in the long run it’s likely going to add to your franchise financial bottom line. In this case, Justice League will almost benefit from Wonder Woman’s perceptual halo.

And further out than that — well. It will be interesting to see which film will have the bigger opening weekend: The next Batman, or the next Wonder Woman. I do know which one I am more interested in seeing right now.

Another ARC Contest for Don’t Live For Your Obituary

This time from the publisher, Subterranean Press:

Follow that link to SubPress’s Facebook page to enter. Put your contest entry there, not here, in order to be eligible. If you post it here it won’t count. Good luck!

In Which I Finally Derive Streaming Income From My Album of Music

In October of 2015 I took Music For Headphones, an album of electronic music I put together, onto various streaming services via CD Baby (CD Baby did all the work; I just gave them money to do it). I also set it up for CD Baby to collect my income from streaming on the various music services and send it to me when the amount reached a certain threshold. This morning, after 21 months, the threshold was achieved, and CD Baby sent me the cash, minus their own small cut:

$23.38.

(CD Baby’s cut, in case you were curious: $2, which means the album earned $25.38, which makes sense because I asked CD Baby to send along money once it reached the $25 mark.)

You might think this is where I would gripe about the shockingly low amount of money one receives from streaming one’s work on the various music services, and if I were an actual working musician, I might do. But really I’m just sort of mildly amazed that I’m getting any money at all out of Spotify, et al. Music is, shall we say, not even a side gig for me. That people are listening to this album at all is kind of nifty. Clearly, not many are. But at least a couple.

So, yeah. I won’t be giving up my day job. But it’s fun to know my music will buy me a pizza, every couple of years.

The Big Idea: Daniel H. Wilson

Think the idea of robots is a relatively new one? It doesn’t have to be, and in The Clockwork Dynasty, author Daniel H. Wilson gives some thought to the idea of what it would be like if the idea were something other than on the cutting edge of modern civilization.

DANIEL H. WILSON:

In 1928, a box of old junk arrived at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. Really old. Rumored to be the remains of an incredible device, the loose pieces of brass machinery were unassembled, many of them twisted and singed by fire. A decade passed before an engineer could piece together the device into its true form—a little boy at a desk, holding a quill pen poised in his fingers.

Wound up and set loose, the primitive robot began to draw elaborate sketches and poems. And at the end of the final poem, written in French, it signed off with a flourish: “Written by the automaton of Maillardet.” Just like that, after over a century, the device revealed its provenance in a surprisingly simple manner—by writing it down on a piece of paper.

I remember being inspired by the story of Maillardet’s draughtsman; it left me thinking that although we live in a modern civilization, our ancestors had their triumphs, too.

And so, as these things go, a scene began to creep into my mind. I imagined walking, talking automatons, sent like messages from our ancestors in the distant past, created before written history and wandering here to our present through the long dark ages of humankind. Thus began the adventure of June Stefanov, a young anthropologist specializing in the study of court automatons—starting with the moment she discovers a hidden message in the writings of a revived automaton much like Maillardet’s:

“All who breathe do not live; all who touch do not feel; and all who see do not judge. Behold the avtomat.”

The Clockwork Dynasty imagines the avtomat (a Russian word that means “machine”), a race of humanlike machines built in prehistory by a fallen civilization. Concealing themselves among humanity for centuries, they have quietly served the great empires of antiquity and steered nations around the globe toward our familiar technological future. In the present day, they are running out of power and praying that civilization will soon be advanced enough to understand and repair their inscrutably complex bodies.

The central paradox is of course that our “primitive” ancestors reached technological heights we’ve never seen. The fruit of their labor still walks among us, each avtomat symbolic of some virtue prized by our lost forbearers. Though these robots are superior to humans, they are built in our image and carry our principles. And they are depending on us to save them from oblivion.

So, what the heck was I thinking? Normally, I write about shiny, new robots. These creatures (at least initially) are made of ceramic and brass; wood, leather and whalebone. Their story isn’t set “five years in the future”—it begins in an age passed out of all memory, a time of legends and myth.

In this way, The Clockwork Dynasty has something in common with some of my favorite fantasy and sci-fi worlds. In places like Star Wars, The Hobbit, and Dune, the older a technology is, the more powerful it is.

It’s an idea I find refreshing. Maybe it’s just fatigue. I’m the robot guy, you know? My flap cover story is that I earned a PhD in robotics and now I write (relentlessly) about the cutting edge of technology. Want to know what’s coming next? Ask the robot guy!

Not this time. There is hubris in assuming that our civilization is the latest and the greatest. It’s an assumption The Clockwork Dynasty does not make.

Homo sapiens has been roaming this planet for over a hundred thousand years. We’ve got just five thousand years of written history. A lot of smart people have been born and died in our uncharted past. Who knows what marvels they produced?

Another refreshing tidbit—I’m not destroying the world this time.

In novels like Robopocalypse and Amped, I’ve relished watching technology tear society (and let’s face it, people) apart. But the robots in The Clockwork Dynasty are pushing humanity toward a high-tech future. It’s a reverse apocalypse, and a theme much more in line with how I feel about robots and technology.

Looking back on it, I feel this novel is testament to the symbolic power of the robot in storytelling. We humans are obsessed with ourselves and our place in the universe. Our robotic creations hold up a distorted mirror to humanity, challenge our primacy and uniqueness, and force us to rethink our most basic assumptions.

And what amazes me most is that robots and automatons have been challenging us this way for millennia, and they will continue to do so for years to come…

Right up until the Robopocalypse. ;)

—-

The Clockwork Dynasty: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (click on the “read an excerpt” button on the linked page). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Sugar Wishes to Inform You That All the August Big Idea Slots Have Been Scheduled

I thought a cat picture would spice up an otherwise fairly pedestrian announcement.

In any event: If you’ve not yet heard back from me re: an August Big Idea slot, they’re all filled up. Sorry.

On to September!

Kicked Out of My Office

Once again I have lost control of my office in terms of clutter, and once again Krissy has kicked me out of the office so she can set a flame thrower to it go through and declutter for me because my own personal definition of “declutter” is “shove things toward walls and then add more stuff.” I’m currently downstairs in the front room on one of the laptops; upstairs there is thumping as things get shoved into boxes.

I’m presenting this humorously, because it is kind of funny, but I should also note how genuinely grateful I am that Krissy is willing to do this stuff for me on occasion, because I am legitimately terrible at it. And in point of fact over time the clutter in my office has a detrimental effect on my ability to work. I feel cramped and crabby. This is no good when, for example, I am on a book deadline. That I can go to Krissy and say “Heeeeeeeelp meeeeeeeee” and then she goes in and does is one reason you all get books on a reasonable schedule.

So all hail Krissy, Slayer of Unmanageable Offices. For this among so many other reasons, I would not be where I am without her.

New Books and ARCs, 7/28/17

For your delight, this last weekend of July: A stack of new books and ARCs. Is there anything here that would make it to your own “must read” stack? Tell us in the comments!

So, Healthcare, 7/28/17

Some various thoughts on where things are today:

1. Hooray for senators Murkowski and Collins and McCain, and also every single Democratic senator for knocking back this bullshit that was so egregious that they literally had to take the vote in the middle of the night because it couldn’t stand up to scrutiny in the light of day. The fact that 49 GOP senators voted for a bill that they knew was trash is depressing, but, horseshoes and handgrenades.

And yes, I know that there’s a good chance that some of them voted “yes” because they were confident that an 80-year-old man with cancer not long for his job would give them cover against frothy primary voters back home, but there’s only so far that sort of thing goes. Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, isn’t up for re-election until 2022. “Primary cover” isn’t a thing he needs at the moment.

(His excuse: He wanted it to go into committee with the House GOP. Uh-huh. This would be the same House GOP that passed a bill so awful that the Senate wouldn’t touch it. This is the group they were hoping to punt to, in order to come up with something better. Yeah, okay.)

2. I’m especially pleased that this is an only-barely-metaphorical kick in the nuts to Mitch McConnell, who basically flouted every lawmaking convention the Senate has in order to present a series of top-down, heartless “let’s repeal Obamacare because fuck that dude” bills, only to have them stuffed back in his face with every vote. In his rush to eradicate the major policy achievement of a black man, McConnell did appear to forget that the ACA does, in fact, help millions of Americans, including Republicans, have insurance, and helps the rest of us with that whole “no more of that pre-existing conditions or payment caps bullshit” thing it has going. McConnell didn’t give a shit about his constituents, or Americans in general with this. He just wanted the win, to have a win and to kick at a man who isn’t in politics anymore. He got what he deserved with this monumental and serial defeat.

(“But how is what McConnell did any different than how the ACA was passed in the first place?” Well, for starters, there’s a difference between an entire political party actively deciding not to participate in the crafting of legislation, as is what basically happened with the ACA, and the senate GOP deciding not to involve the Democrats, or indeed, most of the members of its own caucus, as happened with the Senate repeal bills. There’s more, but let’s move on, shall we.)

3. And no, I don’t expect this to be the end of it. On a practical level, the GOP wanted to gut the ACA because it would make it easier to get its upcoming budget deal done. On the impractical level, Trump loathes Obama and anything to do with him, not only because Trump’s a bigot but because every day he’s in office makes it clearer how much better a president Obama was than he is. McConnell also hates Obama for being Obama, and Paul Ryan just wants to destroy the social net for the old and sick because he’s an awful inhuman bucket of turds. They’re going to find their way back to the ACA even if the vast majority of Americans want them to leave it alone or — heck! — maybe even make it work better. They can’t leave it alone. They are constitutionally unable to. I’m happy this round of nonsense has been beaten back, but I’m not under the illusion they won’t try again. They will try again.

4. All of this nonsense does again bring to the fore a thing we already knew about the current GOP, which is that it isn’t for anything, other than shoving as much of America’s wealth as it can into the hands of the very rich. For the last eight years, its major policy theme was “whatever Obama wants, we’re against,” and now that it is in power, its major policy theme is “Whatever Obama did, we’ll repeal.” The problem they’re running into, as this dundersplat of a vote shows us, is that Obama’s policies did actually make people’s lives better, and also that sooner or later “not that” has to be replaced by something.

There was no there to the GOP’s proposals — nothing that would do what Trump and they promised, which was to make health care better. There wasn’t a single proposal the GOP offered that didn’t involve millions of people losing insurance, Medicaid being slashed and costs climbing for everyone else, and all but the “skinny repeal” basically were stalking horses for wealth transfer and setting the social net on fire. It’s not in the least surprising that at the end of the day, the excuses the Senate GOP gave for fronting these atrocious bills were “Look, we said we were going to repeal it” and “We know we’re going to pass a horrible shit bill but maybe the House GOP will save us from ourselves.”

I’m not going to say that there’s nothing in the GOP and/or Trump administration’s policy portfolio that isn’t explicitly about making the rich richer or just rolling back Obama policies without regard to the sensibility of those policies, but I have to admit right off the top of my head I can’t think of all that many, and even the ones that I theoretically would be before (infrastructure, rural broadband) I simply don’t trust Trump or the GOP to do without basically devolving them into a crony feed.

5. On a personal note, here’s a true fact, which is that the last week has been shit for my productivity because I’ve been waiting for the Senate to basically take health care away from a whole bunch of my friends, who as creative people buy their insurance policies on the individual market and who would (depending on which version of this bullshit passed) been priced out of insurance, would have had to deal with pre-existing conditions or policy caps coming up again, or would have found it impossible to find an insurer. And not only creative people, I will add. I live in an area where a number of my neighbors are farmers or independent contractors (truck drivers, etc). They would go onto the repeal trash pile as well. It’s hard to focus on writing when your friends are talking about how losing their insurance, or, having pre-existing conditions or caps reintroduced, might kill them.

“Oh, well, that’s melodramatic.” Fuck you, it’s not. Not having the “right” job (i.e., a job with a company large enough to have a decent-sized risk pool), or losing a job, should not come with the increased risk of death or incapacitation or bankruptcy due to medical needs our fucked-up system has decided to price out of range of normal humans’ ability to pay. The only reason I wouldn’t be in the same boat as my other creative, self-employed friends had the ACA cratered is my wife’s 9-to-5, benefits-paying job — and even then ditching the ACA would have still had an impact on us due to caps and pre-existing conditions.

6. Here’s something that is possibly melodramatic, also involving me: If any of these bullshit senate health care bills had passed, it might have made a difference regarding whether you’d get my next book on time. Not just because I’d be worrying about health care for all my pals (and my family, to a lesser but real extent). It would also be because Mitch McConnell would have learned that creating bills in a back room, filling them with completely punitive bullshit and not showing them to anyone yet still expecting his caucus to vote straight-line for them is a thing that works. I mean, shit. It came within one vote of working this time; had McCain not decided to do his maverick shtick one more time for shits and giggles, McConnell would right this moment be planning to do up his tax bill entirely in a back room with him and maybe five or six special friends. We already have an executive branch with an alignment of “chaotic authoritarian”; the last thing we need is a functionally authoritarian branch of government to go with the incompetent authoritarian branch we already have.

I’m less than 100% inclined to give McCain too much credit for his downvote — he could have nipped all this shit in the bud earlier in the week, and in any event his modus operandi to date has been “talk like a maverick, vote the party line,” and I think there was more than a whiff of personal aggrandizement going on. Depending on his cancer treatment, McCain may not ever come back to the Senate, and McCain wanted a dramatic moment for the movie of his life, when Tom Cruise finally wins the Oscar on the strength of his portrayal of McCain’s “thumbs down” moment. But to the extent that he excoriated McConnell’s bullshit process to produce these bills and then voted down the bills produced by this bullshit process, good on him. That may have been even more important in the long run than the particular vote, and the particular vote was extraordinarily important.

If McConnell’s authoritarian gambit had worked, he would have known he could continue to get away with it for everything — and he would have kept at it. And that’s not something I could have just tuned out. I’ve been having a hard enough time concentrating as it is. It’s hard to write about the future when the present is on fire. If I can get a nice stretch of time where I’m not worrying about a non-trivial percentage of the people I know freaking out about whether lack of insurance is going to kill them or a family member, I can focus on, you know. Actual work.

Yes, in fact, that’s the secret to getting work out of me: A functioning, democratic government that isn’t actively trying to screw over a whole bunch of people I know and care about. Who knew?