Here you go, folks: Another very fine stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What here is catching your eye? Tell us in the comments!
Here you go, folks: Another very fine stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What here is catching your eye? Tell us in the comments!
Here are some lovely photos I took whilst I was away from the world. Enjoy!
Hope you had a good week.
Hey there, folks — Just a quick note to say that with the exception of a Big Idea post tomorrow, I’m going to be away from Whatever (and Twitter! and Facebook! and all of social media!) for a week. Why?
a) I’m getting close to final deadline on The Consuming Fire, so I need to mostly focus on that;
b) Work on another as-yet-unrevealed project which also needs my attention;
c) With respect to Whatever, doing a little prep ahead of bringing in Athena as the summer intern, and also to make a few other small changes around here.
Related to above, I’ll also be talking a news break for a week (and possibly through the rest of May) in order to keep my focus on things directly in front of me. For those of you not up on what a “news break” means, it means that I’ll not be checking in on CNN, NYTimes, Washington Post, etc for the duration of the break. My perceptual world will be largely limited to the Scalzi Compound, family and pets. So if you’re hoping for thoughts on whatever damn fool thing the Trump administration is doing, or indeed anything else happening in the world, you’ll have to get them from someone else who isn’t me. This shouldn’t be too difficult for most of you. I mean, I certainly hope I’m not your main source of news.
If for some reason you need to reach me, email will work, but unless you are a close friend and/or business associate with whom I am currently engaged in active business, you should probably expect a delay in response, a very brief response, or both. If you try to reach me on social media, I won’t be there, so you’ll basically be shouting into the void. Sorry.
See you all in a week or so.
Hope it’s a lovely one. It is here.
And now, to wrap up Reader Request Week 2018, short takes on some of the questions I didn’t otherwise get to:
Laura: A topic I’ve been pondering is to what extent the proliferation of entertainment & informational choices — Internet, cable TV, smart phones — is an overall boon or blessing to society. Were we actually better off when we had three or four TV channels, radio & vinyl for our music, paper maps for car trips, and shelves of encyclopedias to use for tracking down facts for our school papers?
Well, I wasn’t better off — having access to a vast ocean of information makes my life and job a lot easier. The problem as I see it is that we’re at an intermediary moment where a vast part of the population (roughly early Gen-X and older) is struggling with the consequences of the technology and we’re waiting for the people who are entirely comfortable with the new baseline of technology — and its consequences — to grow into power. Anecdotally I note that people my daughter’s age seem to handle the online world and the rhetoric that has arisen out of it far better than their elders (it’s one reason why the Parkland teens are running circles around the NRA, much to the latter’s furious confusion). So no, it wasn’t better, just different, and some people are understandably better suited to that previous time.
Ron Bielke: What is your position on guns? Would you support a total ban on guns in this country? Is there even a whisper of a chance I might see such in my lifetime?
I prefer my bow, personally. You will not see a total ban on guns in this country without changing the Constitution of the United States. For the record, I don’t think we need to amend the Constitution to have sensible laws regarding firearms in this country.
Andy: As a British (English, specifically) fan of your fiction and blog (especially US politics) writing: what does Brexit look like from where/who you are?
It looks like what the US looks like right now: What happens when stupid and cruel and racist takes over the national discourse. I think both the US and the UK will get out of their current stupid and cruel and racist moments and correct their courses, albeit somewhat the worse for wear, and it will take longer than anyone sensible would like.
Matt Mikalatos: Realizing that there are many worse things, but that doesn’t mean your own situation doesn’t have down sides: What are some of the difficulties of being (comparatively) well off and well known?
At this point, very few, for which I am appropriately grateful. At this point, the most “difficult” thing I have going on is somewhat existential, which is that as a more-or-less “franchise” writer for Tor (and somewhat less for Audible, who publishes my audiobooks), I do have responsibilities to hit publishing marks and maintain output quality and consistency levels that other writers don’t have, because I have a lot of people (and a publishing company) expecting specific things from me. It’s a great problem to have, to be clear, but on the other hand it’s not as easy to hit all those marks as I hopefully make it look to people on the outside.
Dann665: The last few years have been pretty…ummm….testy. Do you see a path towards rapprochement? Not necessarily a persuasion that any one perspective is better than the others, but towards being able to live with one another civilly?
Sure; the pendulum swings, always. We’ve been in less civil times before (not even counting the Civil War) and we’ve made our way. However, thinking whatever a new, more “civil” US will look like any previous era we’ve been in is folly. Also, of course, just thinking something along the line of “everything will be better when enough of the olds just die off,” which is the lazy person’s idea of change, isn’t gonna work. If you want a better and more “civil” US, go out there and do the work.
Jonah: What’s your take on college athletics and the NCAA money-making marching in particular?
I think the University of Chicago had the right idea in the 1930s when it cut its Big Ten football program because it was getting in the way of learning. Chicago has a football team now; it’s Division III, which I think is a fine speed for college athletics. At the level of Division I, the athletes (particularly in football and basketball) are being exploited, flat out. I’d tear it all up and start with a clean sheet if I could.
SusanE: How far left / liberal (and on which particular topics) is too far left / liberal, in your opinion? At what point are you like, woah, back up and bring in some perspective here?
I mean, I think capitalism, properly managed (which it’s not at the moment, and I think obviously so) works as a decent motivator for people and to spur innovation and creativity, so I think chucking it out entirely wouldn’t be something I’d be for, which is to be clear an entirely unsurprising point of view for a well-off white dude to have. I think the left generally has the same problem as the right, which is that at the edges it has a tendency to warp toward authoritarianism and away from representative governments, and that’s also never good.
John: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?
I wouldn’t fight them. I’d put them on display and make a bundle.
Christopher Franklin: I had the experience of seeing Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in a bright sunlit room with less than ten people just before its auction…. Has there been some visual work of art that left you speechless?
I just saw an exhibit of MC Escher work in Boston, and to be able to get up close to some of those pieces was a privilege, and fascinating.
JReynolds197: Is there any period of history that interests you and you keep coming back to?
The 1920s in the US fascinates me and is what I consider to be the start of what we might consider the American Century. So it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if in the next decade or so we see the close of the American Century, and see the rise of what I suspect is the Pacific Century, where the US is still a hugely significant player, but not nearly the only one. I think this will make the next quarter century a very interesting one to live in, like the 1920s were (and also the 30s, although… differently), and one I think I will have been glad to be here to see.
Malarkus: Re your post last year about millenials. Should we just start killing off the boomers?
No, that will take care of itself soon enough, and I’m generally against wholesale murder, of boomers or anyone else. In any event, I’m pretty sure boomers per se are not the problem, just the latent-to-overt racism a non-trivial number of them appear to suffer, chained to their groveling admiration of Mammon, and how the combination of both has led to some horrible damn decisions.
Cthulhu: Hair: at what point will you switch into full Bezos mode and just shave it all off (but keep facial hair)? When oh when will you do the decent thing and pull a full Patrick?
I tried bald a little more than a decade ago to see what it would like; I thought it looked fine but Krissy didn’t like it, and she’s the one who has to look at me all the time. I suspect at some point not long from now I’ll go full Patrick Stewart, since the hair in the front is thinning more significantly now and I don’t like the idea of wandering around with wisps. But no solid time table on that.
Dave Divilbiss: What do you miss about Fresno?
Not much? Which is not to say that I did not enjoy or appreciate Fresno when I was there — I had a ton of fun there and I think the city generally gets a bad rap in California. But the things I would miss about Fresno at this point are the people I knew there, and I’m still in touch with them and we’re still friends. So what’s to miss? I’m still fond of Fresno, but I don’t miss it.
Frankie: What are your thoughts on public education funding? What are your thoughts on recent teacher walkouts in multiple states? And, any general thoughts regarding public vs. private education?
I think public education is immensely important and needs to be funded so that every student gets a good and useful education, not just the ones in the “right” zip codes. I support the teacher walkouts generally, because the shit public school teachers have had to put up with in the last several years at least is nonsense. I went to private schools for high school and college and benefited from both, but a “vs” position is not the way I’d want to think about it — public education needs to robust and useful to students independent of any discussion of private schools. That’s the baseline. I don’t think throwing money at public schools will solve every problem, but I think adequately funding public schools removes a lot of problems and lets people focus on the other, different problems. Bottom line: Every public school in America should be a school you’d be fine with having your own child at.
Richard Winks: Do you think you might restore the dog population in your family?
Krissy will decide that. I’m not going to rush her on that score.
Heather Wallace: I really admire your cat photos and struggle with taking photos of my cats with my cell phone camera. They always close their eyes with the flash. What tips can you give aspiring cat photographers?
One, stop using flash and take the picture in a room with adequate lighting. Two, take a whole lot of pictures, one after another. It’s a digital camera, you’re not going to run out of film, and you can delete the pictures you don’t like. That’s a start!
Edward Brennan: Should one be civil to those people who are not civil to you? Obviously, we should not normally be assholes, but is being an asshole a justified response to an asshole? What about if someone is being an asshole to others, what do we do?
My general rule of thumb is to treat people with civility until and unless they give you a reason not to. Where that line is for each person is in a different place, and may depend on context. Also let’s also note there’s a difference between tolerating people who might be momentarily rude and/or obnoxious, and tolerating the actions of people who believe you or someone else aren’t fully human and/or don’t have a right to the same freedoms and privileges they might enjoy. Much of the question of “civility” these days boils down to racists and bigots plaintively whining that their opinion that other people are somehow inferior isn’t treated with respect and gravity. And, well. Fuck those guys. Fuck them right up the nose. As I’ve said before, if you want me to treat your ideas with respect, get better ideas.
And that wraps up the Reader Request Week for 2018! Thanks to everyone who asked questions. Let’s do it again in 10 to 12 months!
And now, for your delight, short answers to some of the writing-and-writing-life-related questions I got this year for Reader Request Week:
jlanstey: Having acquired a new office chair, thoughts on furniture and home interior design generally. Some classic SF writers (Heinlein, Laumer) seemed to prefer stark modern, but glimpses of your abode and one picture I’ve seen of Wil Wheaton’s computer space seem to be strictly mainstream current, slightly 70s, maybe. Is home decor a mutual decision or is it up to the wife? A generational thing?
Well, my office has bespoke furniture (I had it made by a local cabinetmaker) but it’s less about making a particular esthetic statement than it is about it being functional. I think if I were going to give my cabinetry a particular description, it would probably be “21st Century Mennonite,” as this is what the cabinetmaker is, and he did the design. I picked out the wall colors and then the rest of the furniture with Krissy. I actually do like midcentury modern design, but not enough to entirely redo my office.
Allison: How much time in a given week/month do spend reading other peoples’ work for pleasure (as opposed to reading for the purpose of writing a blurb or other publishing-industry related business)?
I try to read a book a week that I want to read for myself, emphasis on try. That said, I read less fiction when I’m writing fiction, and read far less in general when I’m on deadline, like, uh, now.
Nic: On “not writing for free”. You recently wrote about not writing for free, and I understand and appreciate the post. For people who aspire to write but cannot get their short works accepted anywhere can you offer any insight as to a good way to proceed?
One, keep sending the work out until you run out of places to send it to; two, while you’re doing that, write new stuff; three, repeat step one with the new stuff; four, repeat step two. Almost everyone starts off piling up rejections. It’s part of the process. If you’ve decided to you don’t want to send out a story anymore but still want people to see it, put up a web site for your story archive. But I wouldn’t give them to other people to exploit without benefit to you.
Pedro: What’s it like being a musically inclined writer? (And how is that new guitar working out?)
The new guitar is lovely and I’m getting ever so slightly better with my six-string chording as I go along, so that’s nice. I don’t really think much about what it’s like to be a musically-inclined writer, actually. I guess it’s nice? I did recently come to the realization that I would like to try to write songs at some point, but I don’t know if I want to make the effort to write all the terrible songs I would have to write first before I wrote some good ones. I’ll have to think about it more once the new book is done.
Meg: I am curious as to how your professional experience affects your perceptions when interacting with creative works. Does your work as a professional film critic affect your engagement with films you watch for non-work-related reasons? How does your experience as a writer inform the ways you look at books you read for pleasure, or video games you play? Can you even tell whether these factors influence your reactions?
With regard to having been a film critic, having watched so many films with a critical eye means that most times films hold very few surprises for me — I can see where most of the plot beats need to happen, and where the structure dictates certain events, long before the movie gets to them. But this doesn’t ruin movies for me; it just means I get a certain amount of pleasure seeing if and how the filmmakers pull off their remit. And in a general sense, being a storycrafter makes you aware of how well story is working — or not — in most of your entertainment. I do think that influences what I like and don’t like, but not necessarily more than other factors.
Amy: What was the book that made you love reading?
I learned to read so early that I literally don’t remember not being able to read, so I can’t say which book made me love reading. I don’t remember ever not loving it.
Bilancij: Once you have a few pitches ready, how does one go about trying to get repped?
I assume you’re talking for film/TV, since you don’t pitch novels, you just write them. I got my film/TV rep through my literary agent, so he was a package deal. Which has worked out very well for me!
Luther M. Siler: How important is the “community” aspect of Whatever to you? Related: have you ever considered implementing any sort of open thread scenario where people can talk about… well, whatever?
Well, several years back I opened a discussion site called “Whateveresque,” so that community members here could carry on discussion without my blog posts as instigation. It was very successful but I had to shutter it because my career was taking off and I couldn’t devote the time to moderate two sites. As to how important the Whatever community is: I think it’s pretty great. Some people here have been reading the site nearly as long as it’s existed. Which is wild. I’m glad people still show up.
DeborahBailey914: I watched your travel schedule unfold on Whatever and was struck by the variety of cities and venues where you appeared for Head On. I’ve wondered…are authors in charge of appearance scheduling for their latest publication or are book appearances managed by the publisher?
I think it varies with author and publishers but by and large my book tour travel is managed, coordinated and paid for by Tor, via its PR department. Which is great because I have absolutely no interest in doing it myself. I’m glad Tor handles it, and in all cases they do a very fine job.
Josh Needle: You consistently use “sooner than later” instead of “sooner rather than later.” I’m assuming that this is a conscious choice. When did you start this and why? I Googled the question and both are “acceptable,” but I’ll admit that it drives me nuts and, at least momentarily, diverts my attention from the story.
I’ve always used it, and it’s always been acceptable usage as far as I know, and no, it’s not a conscious choice to use it rather than the other format you note, although I know I’ve used the other one, too. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that I use it; I don’t think it’s that unusual.
Adam L: How long of a break do you take before finishing up one novel and beginning writing in earnest on the next one?
Usually a month and sometimes more. Honestly it depends on when the next one is due.
Magda: Would you consider writing Big Idea posts about your own books? And why or why not?
I don’t write them, because I have the option of writing about my books here any time I like. The Big Idea is meant to help promote others.
James B: Do you regularly read any political writers or pundits that would broadly be considered conservative? If so, what about them do you enjoy – or at least find worthwhile?
Some of the columnists/writers I’ve enjoyed reading over the years more on the right side of the spectrum include PJ O’Rourke, James Lileks, Mona Charen, Kathleen Parker, Glenn Reynolds and these days I’ve enjoyed Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot, who are conservative but increasingly exasperated with the Trump folks. I am an established fan of HL Mencken, who today is seen as a conservative icon, although I’m not always entirely sure why this is, having read him extensively. Mostly I’ve found them both entertaining as writers and usually well able to articulate their points, even if I don’t always agree with their arguments. There are some current writers on the right who can be clever and amusing as writers who I think are fronting some odious politics, and I find it hard to get around that aspect of their writing in order to enjoy their prose. There are others currently writing on the right who just seem dim, and I wonder how they got their jobs. But as a general rule I don’t have a problem reading political writers to the right of me.
Mike: Is it reasonable to avoid work by artists you would otherwise enjoy because you disagree with their politics?
Why do you need it to be reasonable? Also, reasonable to whom? It’s your life, man. Your life on this planet is short and in terms of entertaining yourself, I don’t see a problem skipping over work from people you find problematic in one way or another. As a philosophical matter I think it’s laudable to read widely and diversely, which includes reading people who have substantially different political opinions than you do. As a practical matter, it’s your life reading time and reading for enjoyment shouldn’t feel like a chore. So if an author pains you (even if it’s me) skip ’em and read something else by someone else. Maybe you’ll come around to them later. Maybe you won’t. But I assure you, you won’t run out of other things to read.
Another Friday, another tasty stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. I see some very fine work in this one — what here is catching your attention? Share your thoughts in the comments!
I’m curious about your ‘public speaking’ role. I know you have representation and are available for events. I would like to know things like what advice do you have for other folk who don’t do much public speaking? Do you have any formal training? Why should somebody pay to hear you speak? What’s the difference between writing your own speech and hiring a speechwriter? Have you ever written somebody else’s speech? Do you write out your entire presentation or just have an outline?
So, let’s go through some of this quickly and some of it less so.
Yes, I do have representation for public speaking; I’m represented by the Macmillan Speaker’s Bureau (which makes a little bit of sense as Tor, my primary publisher, is a Macmillan imprint) and indeed I am available for events. I don’t have any formal training, I’ve just ended up talking in public a lot and now have been doing it in a professional sense for coming on two decades. The difference between writing one’s own speech and hiring a speechwriter is that I don’t charge myself when I write something for me to say. I’ve written presentations and speeches for other people, sure, but not enough that I would put it on my resume. At events I will occasionally read prepared work, and occasionally work from an outline, and occasionally just get up on a stage and start talking.
As for why someone should pay to hear me speak, well, there are two ways to answer this question.
The first is, hey, when I speak, I’m fairly entertaining. People pay for other forms of entertainment, including books, movies, concerts and other live events. So, why not speaking as well? And certainly authors have done very well with speaking tours over the years, and not just recently. Dickens made a tidy sum on his speaking tours, which was good for him because in the US at the time his books were rampantly pirated. Twain would go on speaking tours when his investments tanked and he needed money. They were by all accounts quite entertaining evenings.
Indeed, there are some authors for whom the books aren’t their major profit center; the speaking tours and events are. The books are their calling cards and the way to help keep their live acts current. Political commentators and downtime politicians are especially likely to punt out a book and then take their act on the rubber chicken circuit, with the speeches and appearances earning them more over a year than they got for the book advance (also, many of these folks have as a rider that a certain number of books must be bought by the organization fronting the event, so it’s a handy way of clearing inventory as well). Sports figures, tech gurus, business wizards and lifestyle advisors also pull this trick — and it’s a pretty nice trick if you can manage it, and either like or at least can tolerate blathering at a hotel lectern for your living.
Note that who pays to have you speak will vary. Most of my paid speaking engagements are for organizations who pay my asking fee; the individuals who come to see me speak generally don’t have to pay (or don’t have to pay extra, if they are at an event that had an entrance fee). Other authors I know set a fee with an organization, which will then turn around and sell individual tickets to an event in the hopes of making a profit over the appearance fee, but generally speaking you have to be a pretty well-known and/or beloved author to pull that one off, and at least for the moment I don’t appear to be that well-known, or (alas) that beloved.
The second reason for why someone should pay to hear me speak is somewhat more transactional, and that is: Because I should be paid for my time. A speaking event isn’t just about the hour (or so) I’m on stage and then the hour to two hours (or so) that I’m signing books. It’s also about the time to the airport, the time on the plane, the time in car from the airport, the time in the hotel, the time meeting with the event organizers and/or the time spent socializing at the pre-event gathering, and back to the hotel, car, plane and the return home. It’s also time I’m not at home, with my wife and child and pets. It’s also time I’m not with friends, or elsewise doing another thing with my time. It’s also generally time taken away from writing, which is, you may, remember, my main gig and the reason people want to see me live in the first place.
As this is all the case, the question is: How much is all that time, and time away, worth to me? The answer is: a fair amount, actually, and that amount is reflected in my speaking and appearance fee. I don’t feel guilty about making that determination of the value of my time, since as I’ve noted before that this is all the time I will ever have in this universe and therefore I should in fact have a good grasp on what my time is worth and expect people to understand that. Also, you know. If you don’t want to pay my fee, then don’t; I’ll stay at home, and happily so.
So, you may ask, is every appearance I do paid for in this manner? Not all of them. Book tour events are handled differently, as are most conventions I attend. I’m on staff for the JoCo Cruise. At this point, however, I don’t do events that end up costing me money to be at, and I don’t do events where I don’t think there’s a blunt transactional benefit to my being there. The only exceptions to this are events I’m attending like a fan, i.e., I’m going to hang out with friends and see people I like. In those cases I pay to show up like anyone else. But if I’m on the clock? Yeah, it has to be worth my time, and also, I’m the one who decides what is worth my time and what is not.
(Also, yes: High-class problems to have! On the other hand, high-class problems are still problems. And also, if you’re a fan of my books, ask yourself whether you want me to spend more time talking, or more time writing. If it’s the latter, then I suspect you might appreciate me making it clear to people who want me to show up to places that my time is valuable.)
In terms of advice for public speaking, the first thing I would say is that if it’s something you don’t enjoy, don’t do it — you won’t be happy, which means that no one else will be happy, either. There are other ways to promote yourself. Find one you like. Beyond that, just prepare: know how much time you have to fill, know what the expectations are for your presentation, do a few run-throughs of your material before you get up on the stage. And then after that, don’t panic — it will work or not. If it works, great! If not, you’ll know better for next time. If you want more details than this, here you go.
I personally like speaking in public and also I don’t get nervous in front of crowds, so most of the time it’s fun for me, which is pretty great, considering how much of it I do. Hopefully I’ll keep getting paid to do it. But if that ever stops happening, well. I still have my day job, I suppose.
Well, this is a sort of ironic question to address on my birthday, from Theo, who asks:
Do you think about mortality frequently or do you try to put it out of your mind? Do you think it’s better to ignore it or jam pack as much as you can into every minute with one eye on the clock?
Well, if I’m going to be right up front about it, I neither frequently think about mortality nor try to put it out of my mind. At this point I’ve largely made peace with the fact that I will not be immortal and that I will one day die, and also, that there are probably worse things than being dead.
I suspect this is the case because, honestly, I’ve been dead before — more accurately, not alive, which is what being dead is. However, this particular session of being not alive happened prior to my birth, and we don’t call that being “dead” even if that’s effectively what it is. Whatever you call it, I was not alive for the first 13.7 billion years or so of the existence of this universe.
How did I feel about it then? Well, I didn’t feel anything about it. I didn’t exist. Not existing — not being alive — didn’t bother me; I had no capacity to be bothered about it, or to feel anything else about it. I rather strongly suspect that being dead again will be much the same. It won’t bother me, or make me happy, or sad, or anything else. However I feel about not existing prior to non existence, and I imagine I will feel something about it, will be irrelevant. I’ll just be gone. And that will be that.
I should be clear that I like existing, actually quite a bit, and am in no rush to stop existing. But from experience (so to speak) I know that not existing isn’t so bad. It’s not something I’m afraid of. I don’t fear eternal judgment, or worry that I will miss out on some eternal reward. There’s no eternal; there’s just nothing. Intellectual honesty requires me to note I could be wrong about this, in which case, won’t I be surprised. But I’m not so worried about being wrong that it’s going to cause me to change how I live my life.
Since I’m not exactly afraid of death or preoccupied by the nature of an afterlife, on a day to day basis I don’t give either a whole lot of thought. I don’t hide from it, and when it does cross my mind I’ll think about it for an appropriate amount of time. Then I’ll move on, because I have enough other things on my plate to keep me busy — I have books to write, and places to go, and people to see and pets to pet. It’s a pretty full schedule. And when it’s not full, that’s fine too, since when I’m dead, I won’t be able to lie around or nap or zone out, either. I like doing nothing every now and again, and now is the only time when I’ll be able to do it. So, you know, I’m gonna enjoy it.
I will admit that at least some of my sanguinity regarding death comes from the fact that I feel generally content with my life, which is to say, I have accomplished most of the things I wanted to accomplish when I was younger, and by and large there’s not that much about my life that I regret or would change. There is always more to do, of course, and I would be happy for more things to happen before I shuffle off. But honestly, if I get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow, I don’t think anyone would say I hadn’t made good use of my time on the planet (well, some people might, but they would be jerks).
In terms of jam packing every single moment — nah. Aside from the notation above that I enjoy doing nothing from time to time, I also tend to be a proponent of quality versus quantity. Being frantic to check things off a list would annoy me after a while. Certainly there are experiences I have not yet had that I would love to have, and I will try to get around to them. But probably not in a wild-eyed sprint against death. Ironically, I don’t have time for that.
If you ever get yourself in a spiral about mortality, I would suggest to you that you remember that you, too, didn’t exist before now, and that, if you think about it, it probably wasn’t that bad when you didn’t, even if it does mean you missed the dinosaurs. So future not existing will probably not be too bad, either, and will take care of itself in any event.
With that in mind, you can focus on the part where you do exist, and make the most of it, however that works for you. Good luck with that! I’ll be doing the same.
When I went out on tour for Head On last month, I wrote a new, funny short story to perform for the audiences, on the thinking that since they went out of their way to come see me, usually on a weeknight, they should get something special that no one else gets: in this case, to hear a short story I wrote before anyone else in the world does. This is one reason to come see me on tour, folks! You get sneak peaks! In any event, the tour is now over, and now I’m happy to share it with everyone. Consider this my gift to you, on my 49th birthday.
The idea of the story is simple: There’s a galaxy-spanning federation of planets out there, and we humans of Earth are super excited about it. And we say “Can we join?” And they say, “Well, you can apply.” And this is what happens when we apply. Enjoy!
REGARDING YOUR APPLICATION STATUS
by John Scalzi
Thank you so much for your application to join the Intergalactic Federation of Civilizations (henceforth abbreviated as the IFC). We regret to say that after careful consideration by our Admissions Committee, we are currently unable to offer you admission, either as a full or probationary member of the IFC. Indeed, I have to confess there was serious consideration as to whether we should refer your application to the Containment Committee as possible evidence of the need for a quarantine of your planet and sequestration of your species. But after a close vote, we decided simply to table the matter and move on.
I understand that this news will come as a disappointment to many of you. While it is not the practice of the Admissions Committee to offer detailed explanations of its decisions to reject applicants, I understand that, as this is your first attempt at an application, you may benefit from a few hints, tips and pointers that will put your civilization in better stead if and when you ever choose to apply for IFC membership again. So in the spirit of helpfulness, and to give you something productive to do with your time, here are some of the reasons committee members gave for rejecting your application.
1. You don’t have a single viable planetary government. Seriously, you have at least two hundred political entities talking smack about each other all the time. It’s tiring to hear you squabble. One of the committee members compared it to a nest of Vlendor in molt, which is a comparison you won’t understand but which means that you’re basically all angry and sticky and unpleasant to be around (and even when the Vlendor are done molting they’re still mostly sticky, so take that as you will). Yes, we know about the UN. Come on, dudes. Pull another of our appendages. You really need to sort this out amongst yourselves. Pick a government! Any government! Well, not any government. Be choosy. Sweden’s system seems nice. We’re not telling you what to do, though. We know you have that oppositional thing going on. Just figure it out.
2. Somewhat related to point one, you folks still spend an unseemly amount of time killing the hell out of each other, which strikes many of our committee members as a really bougie thing to do. I think these particular committee members may not actually have a good grasp on what the term “bougie” means in this particular case but I think the basic concept comes through — it’s not a great look. If you can’t control yourselves at home, how can you be trusted to control yourselves out in the universe, and so on. Have you ever tried not killing the hell out of each other? Maybe give it a spin! You might like it! We know you’re really good at coming up with excuses for why you really just need to kill each other, but I have to be honest: We don’t grade on a curve with this one.
3. Also your various bigotries, hatreds, inequalities, blah blah blah, jeez, you people are really terrible to each other. Until you get over that, no one’s going to want to hang out with you at parties, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Look, I don’t want to belabor the point, and I know you all really hate being lectured, but you all also kind of have cosmic moral halitosis, and it’s just not polite not to tell you. Get some gum, if you get my drift. A lot of gum. Like, a pallet of gum. I know, I know, but come on.
4. Okay, this point is a little confusing, but one of the committee members says that you have produced far too much plastic, and another says that you’ve not produced nearly enough of it. The gist of it is that you’re doing plastic wrong. Pick which way you want to go with that one and get back to us.
5. You may wish to stop beaming your television shows into space; they’re not putting you in the best light. For example, one of our committee members said, “They must be punished for what they did to Gilligan.” It was pointed out to this committee member that, one, Gilligan’s Island was a fictional television series and, two, that it being employed as a shorthand for alien civilizations not understanding the concept of television series was so overused as to be both trite and offensive. To which this committee member replied, “Did I type ‘Gilligan’? Sorry, I meant Gillian. They must be punished for wasting Gillian Anderson in those last two seasons of The X-Files.” Which is both fair and accurate.
6. Your sports make us angry and confused. A small list of specific problematic issues for us include the two-point conversion, the designated hitter, why there is no relegation in Major League Soccer, why the WNBA is not more popular, the entire sports of Cricket and Australian Rules Football, how rhythmic gymnastics differs in any relevant manner from dancing, and why curling is not just called “frosty shuffleboard.” Fix all of these, please.
7. Your decision to declassify Pluto as a planet is deeply offensive to at least a couple of committee members who hail from ice planets. While one of these committee members would be satisfied by the reinstatement of Pluto as a quote-unquote “real” planet, another one requests that you also launch Neil deGrasse Tyson into the sun, not only for being the instigator of the removal of Pluto, but also for, and these are their words, “Being so damn literal on the Internet all the time.” I will note that per point two above, this committee member speaks only for themselves and not the entire committee on this matter, but yeah, Neil should maybe lighten up.
8. You should floss more. When I asked the committee member who made this complaint to whom this was directed, they simply said, “all of them,” and refused to say anything further. However, this complaint was endorsed by literally all the other members of the committee, so, well. There it is. Also, we mean really floss, not just sort of swipe at your teeth. You have to get under the gumline, people.
9. This line-item is a grab bag of things we want for you to consider, and in no particular order: Be kinder to each other, feed the poor, stop heating up your planet, hydrate, exercise a little more, eat meat a little less, put out Half-Life 3 because we think that story is hilarious, give George RR Martin a break on his writing schedule, canonize Prince, David Bowie and Janelle Monae, more pictures of pets on the Internet, sell Lin-Manuel Miranda on Hamilton 2: The Quickening, tell your friends and family you love them and for God’s sake stop electing so many exasperating, venal and greedy people, it’s really not a great long-term plan.
10. Finally, you should probably be aware that humanity wasn’t the only group from Earth petitioning to be let into the IFC; we also have applications from the cetaceans, the corvids and a joint application from the cephalopods and the blattodeans, where the octopus and squid handle the oceans and the cockroaches and termites deal with the land. I have to tell you that each of these applications got a lot further along than yours, and not just because they are neither actively warming up the planet nor wasting the talents of Gillian Anderson. Maybe you humans should take a look at what they’re all doing right. Or don’t, we’re not the boss of you. Just don’t act all surprised and upset when you’re ruled by whales, crows or cuttlefish. You can’t say you weren’t warned.
So, there you are. Incorporate these findings into your next application, when the IFC opens up for another round of submissions in twelve hundred of your years. Hope you’re still around then! Good luck!
Admissions Committee Head, IFC
And, should you want to have it read to you by the author, well, here it is, from my stop at the Strand bookstore, in NYC (also, a Q&A follows, where I get discursive on several questions).
Wait, I’m almost done with my 40s already?
As most of you know every year on my birthday I take a picture of myself, a sort of “state of the Scalzi” photo. This is this year’s, brought about in part by the fact that my allergies have picked this very day to kick in and literally every other picture I’ve taken today makes me look like I’m about to burst into tears. This is the best picture out of, like, eighty. I honestly hope this is not a harbinger for the rest of my 49th year.
But I suspect it’s not. I already have lots of very cool things on the runway for this next year and plans with awesome people to do ridiculous things. You will get to see some of them! Promise.
In the meantime, on we go to the last year of my 40s. Ready? Let’s do this.
Here’s a question sure to be fun for everyone! Gottacook asks:
Does it seem to you that consciousness of Robert Heinlein as a singularly influential SF writer has precipitously faded in the past several years? (Not that this would be a surprise, as the 30th anniversary of his death is next week.)
Well, and I think you pretty much answered your own question, there, Gottacook. Heinlein passed away 30 years ago yesterday, his last book was published the year before that, and his three most critically and culturally significant works (Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) were published 59, 57 and 52 years ago, respectively. That’s a lot of time passed, even for a giant of the field. It’s also a lot of time passed for the people who read him when the works originally came out. Realistically, someone who read Troopers and Stranger when they were fresh are in their 70s (or late 60s at the most precocious). I read Friday, which I consider Heinlein’s last major work, when it came out, when I was 13. I’ll be 49 tomorrow.
Which is not to say that people don’t still read Heinlein, obviously. He’s still very much read and recommended, and he’s also taught, which is a non-trivial thing for the longevity of a novel. And science fiction, for better or worse, is a genre and fandom which traditionally has set great store in reading the classics. Finally, some works get rediscovered, or time catches up to them — Philip K Dick is more widely read and regarded than he was when he died in 1982 — and there’s certainly no reason this can’t happen for Heinlein, either. The Trump years have caused some Heinlein fans to mutter about Nehemiah Scudder. So, and to be clear, I don’t think Heinlein is going to disappear. That seems highly unlikely.
But the question wasn’t whether Heinlein is going to disappear; it’s whether he’s declined as an influence. I think it’s fair to say he has, if for no other reason than that in the last 30 years, the scene in SF/F has changed. For one thing, fantasy and fantasy writers are much more influential in the field and on emerging writers than they were when Heinlein was alive; there’s an entire generation now edging into their 30s who grew up at Hogwarts, and for whom people like Robert Jordan (with an assist from Brandon Sanderson) and George RR Martin loom large in their landscape. Over on the SF side William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Lois McMaster Bujold (not to mention Suzanne Collins) are much nearer influences, to name just three.
Also, as hinted above, YA authors are much more significant influences now than they were three decades ago. I can’t tell you how many younger authors count people like Tamora Pierce and Scott Westerfeld as significant in their development, and why wouldn’t they? And, yes, Heinlein wrote juvies, but the fact he wrote them is not the same as them currently being widely read and being influential. They’re not, which is not entirely surprising, as almost all of them are now sixty years old and the world they were written in doesn’t exist any more.
Aside from this is the fact that science fiction and fantasy, as a general field, is more diverse in terms of writers than it ever has been before, and that changes the calculus on who are rising and who are waning influences. Right now, it’s more likely that for non-male, non-white, non-straight writers, people like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. LeGuin are more significant and formative influences than Heinlein (or Asimov, or Clarke, who was not straight but who wasn’t exactly out about that). And again, why wouldn’t that be the case? This certainly isn’t a bad thing for science fiction and fantasy to have a new generation of creators whose influences are not the same small pantheon of writers.
Every writer comes with their own set of influences; every generation of writers has their general pantheon. And yes, Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov and etc were and are titans. But remember that the titans were overthrown by newer gods — and that those gods themselves were supplanted over time. No influence lasts forever. If you’re lucky then you get become an influence on an influence, and younger readers (who then become writers) work their way back to you.
But I don’t want Heinlein to be an influence to an influence! I want him to remain relevant now and forever exactly as he always was! Well, fine. Then the answer is to get him heavily back into film and television. Heinlein purists like to grouch about Paul Verhoeven’s insufficiently respectful 1997 film adaptation of Starship Troopers (which, to be fair, is a perfectly reasonable position to take; I love the film but take the position that it coincidentally has the same title as the novel), but I would argue it likely bought Heinlein another decade in the common cultural consciousness. It certainly helped sales of that novel, and likely several others. If an HBOesque take on Stranger in a Strange Land ever manages to get off the ground (and it, too, would almost certainly need to be heavily adapted for modern audiences), you would see that novel and Heinlein come roaring back. Because Heinlein would be new to a whole new audience, for whom he had otherwise always been dead.
Which I would be fine with! As almost all of you know, Heinlein was a direct influence on me and my writing; it’s not for nothing that for years my elevator pitch of Old Man’s War was “Starship Troopers with old people,” and why I freely credited his influence on that book, and on me as a writer, in OMW’s acknowledgements. But I would warn old-line Heinlein fans that even if there’s suddenly a new legion of fans, they won’t like, love, or look at Heinlein the way you did. Coming to Heinlein at 20 in 2018 (or later) is a hugely different thing than coming to him at 20 in 1968, particularly if you’re not a white straight dude. Especially later Heinlein. I mean, come on, people. Time Enough For Love is one of my favorite books of his, but the protagonist’s literal motherfucking is still a squick and a half, and the fact Heinlein keeps it up for another few books? Yeah, that’s not something the kids are gonna let slide.
Which I am also fine with! If you actually want a writer to remain relevant, you have to accept that every reader and every generation is going to take that writer on their own terms. Heinlein can’t be the same influence that he was 30 or 50 or (yes) 80 years ago. New readers are going to accept some things, reject others, and approach still other things in a new way. Hell, this has already happened; in the 60s and early 70s, Heinlein was considered by the hippies to be something of a free love spiritual guru and Stranger in a Strange Land was the holiest of the Heinlein texts. For the last couple of decades, the libertarians have clutched Heinlein to their bosoms and don’t seem to have much time for anything other than Starship Troopers and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (with the occasional longing glance at Farnham’s Freehold). Who is to say that in another decade, I Will Fear No Evil won’t be looked upon as an ur-text of gender fluidity and early Heinlein — you know, the one that was all for Social Credit — won’t all be the rage? The street will find its own uses for Heinlein, if they find a use for him at all.
But, yes, if you want Heinlein still in the conversation: Get him on the screen, and do it regularly. Short of that, it’s likely that Heinlein — like most writers, no matter how significant and important they were in their own time, and Heinlein certainly was, and for a fair amount of time afterward — will continue to fade and diminish as a direct influence on new writers. There will always be a place for Heinlein at the grand table of Science Fiction and Fantasy, to be sure. It’s just that this place will be further and further away from where at the table the actual conversation is going on.
Having just read the Twitter post, I’d really like to know your theory of coolness and why some people will never be cool.
She’s referring to this Twitter conversation between me and the Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg:
And it sounds like Kaci doesn’t want to wait, which is reasonable inasmuch as she probably wouldn’t be in the room for a private conversation between me and Alyssa anyway. So, fine, here is my theory on “cool” and why some people will never be cool. And to explain it, let me use a couple of examples, namely, me and my wife Kristine.
I am, to put it bluntly, not cool. This does not mean that I am not (or at least could not be) a good person, or a nice person, or a person that people are interested in meeting, or someone who is creative or does interesting stuff, and so on. What it means is, when I meet people, I generally want them to like me. I like to be liked. This aspect of my personality means I expend time and effort and energy to find the ways and means to help people decide if they want to like me. It doesn’t always work (and sometimes I decide I don’t want to like someone), but generally it does; I’m mostly likeable, and by now I’m pretty good at reading people. But the point is, there’s a flow of conversational and personality energy coming out from me, hoping to draw the other person in, to help create a space we can both be comfortable in, and maybe even be friends together.
Krissy also generally likes to be liked; who doesn’t? But the thing about Krissy is that she’s perfectly fine if you don’t like her, either, and her particular personality means she doesn’t worry about either condition. She is a lovely and wonderful and delightful person, and also, she’s pretty much entirely self-contained. Your approbation or opprobation is neither here nor there to her. As a result, she doesn’t send out a lot of energy when you meet her initially. Energy and effort goes to her, rather then from her, and then depending on what she decides, you get to be friends with her, or not. She’s never less than polite and kind and correct with people; I’ve never known her to be cruel or standoffish, unless someone richly deserved it. But fundamentally she’s a person people want to impress, rather than the person trying to impress people. In other words: she’s cool.
Much shorter version: If you’re the sort of person who wants people to like you, you’re not cool. If you’re the sort of person who people wished you liked them, you’re cool. Likewise, things that are cool are things you have to do the work to approach; not-cool things come out to find you.
“That’s just the difference between an introvert and an extrovert!” I hear some of you say. Well, no. As it happens, I’m the actual introvert in the family, and Krissy is the actual extrovert. I put out energy and effort despite eventually wanting to withdraw from people and recharge in my room; Krissy draws people in and then once they’re in her circle of friends, she’s ready to party. I think there may be some correlation between introversion and coolness (shyness can be confused with coolness, for example), and extroversion with not-coolness, but it’s not one to one.
Indeed we can come up with lots of reasons why people are cool or not cool, but I’m not sure that any one of them is a constant. People who are beautiful seem to automatically go to the head of the line in terms of coolness, as an example, but I know lots of people who I think are gorgeous who are also deeply not-cool in their personalities, and vice-versa. Some creative people I know are cool; many are not. Some people would say “coolness is confidence” but anecdotally I don’t think anyone would say of me that I’m not confident, and yet I don’t consider myself cool at all. Most nerds are really not cool, and yet I can think of a few who totally are. And so on.
Also, and to be clear: Coolness, or lack thereof, is not a value judgment. Some awesome people and things are not in the least bit cool; some real trash is found under the “cool” umbrella. I do think at least some of the valorization of “coolness” comes from the simple fact that most people and things aren’t in fact genuinely cool. Most people like to be liked; in situations where people feel comfortable, and on their own terms, they send out energy to others and hope to draw others in. Likewise, most creative things in the stream of commerce aren’t meant to be difficult to approach; they’re made, bluntly, to sell, to someone. At the end of the day, something that is “cool” or not is neither here nor there to its value (and its value to you), and cool people are still people and you can like them or not, depending.
Now, here’s a couple of caveats to the “coolness” thing. The first is that “cool” is obviously very often shorthand for “a person or thing or action I like and/or admire,” as in “I love that dude, he’s so cool” or “That movie was really cool” or “That was a cool thing you did.” If you’re using “cool” that way — and pretty much everyone does — I’m not going to argue with you about it. The ridiculous fungibility of the English language means things can be “hot,” “cool,” “bad,” “good,” and “sick” simultaneously, and all meant positively, even when those words (again, obviously) have their own separate meanings in different contexts, and shades of difference in this one. When I’m talking about “cool” and “not cool” I’m scaling it down to a very specific context (and also, I should note I’m making a qualitative distinction between “not cool” and “uncool,” the latter of which has specific negative connotations, and while I’m at it, between “not cool” and “warm,” the latter of which has its own positive connotations. Wow, my philosophy of language training is getting a workout today).
The second caveat is that not-cool people and things can have situational coolness thrust upon them. I am by no stretch a cool person, but in events like readings and signings and appearances, I get to be a temporarily cool person, because lots of energy is being directed at me by people who have come to see me, and the dynamic of the event is that I can’t really return the energy in kind.
The coolness generally dissipates the moment I’m off the clock, thank God, because I’m not actually famous and thus am not cursed to be recognized everywhere I go. That sort of coolness is performative and I can’t imagine having to perform it all the time. It’s difficult for not-cool people to be cool on a regular basis. It’s like ill-fitting shoes. I imagine for cool people the opposite is true — being in a situation where they would have to send out energy all the time to other people would be exhausting.
I like that my wife is cool; from a sociological point of view it’s been fascinating for me to watch people react to her over the last quarter century. I imagine that she feels the same way about me, watching me do my thing with people as I get to know them, and they me. I think as a couple we make a pretty good team because we are content to be who we are. I like my not-cool self. And I enjoy trying on a daily basis to get my super-cool wife to decide to like me. It’s fun. And so far, so good.
(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week! Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)
This question would invite all sorts of dumbshittery, I get that, but: how do you suppose a cottage industry in attacking you for being ‘far left’ became a thing? There are actual far left authors they could go after, it’s not like Steven Brust or China Mieville aren’t outspoken.
Yeah, but China (wisely) avoids most social media, so he’s no fun, and while Steve is on social media, he’s an actual Trotskyist, and these dimwits would literally have no idea what to do with him once he got on his particular political hobby horse. There are other authors far to left of me who they do try to tangle with, but that doesn’t usually work out for them either — I note a few of them will make sallies at Nick Mamatas from time to time, which is always delightful since Nick is happy to leave them at the bottom of a smoking crater as often as they like, being that Nick is both smarter and meaner than all of them, possibly combined, and also enjoys sticking stupid people in the eye if they willingly come to him for a poke, which apparently they do.
But I was never really being attacked for being “far left” because I am actually far left in my political or social opinions. Honestly over the last double decade the only thing I was really substantially left of the political mainstream about was same-sex marriage, and I’m pleased to say the political mainstream came and found me on that one. On just about everything else, if you check the national polling on political and social issues, I’m pretty much either dead center or only a bit to the left rather than extremely so. I’m a liberal of the petit bourgeois sort, in other words, and this should not be in the least bit surprising for who and what I am, a comfortably well-off straight white dude. As I’ve said before, if you think I represent the vanguard of the far left, that’s a tragedy, both for your understanding of politics, and for the far left itself. I mean, shit. Ask Nick Mamatas how far left he thinks I am. He will accurately, snarkily and possibly profanely peg me on the political spectrum. I rather strongly suspect it will not be to the far left.
The reason there’s a cottage industry in attacking me as “far left” is rather more simple and rather a bit more sad than that, which is that there was a small(ish) clutch of writers and fans whose politics ranged from stock conservative to reactionary to white nationalist and who, for various reasons, disliked me and the fact I have a successful writing career. So they went out of their way to try to insult and diminish me in ways that carry weight to others of their sort. So along with questioning my masculinity and/or my sexuality and/or my sales and/or the validity of my awards and/or my writing talents and/or blog visits and/or [insert whatever here], they called me “far left” because in their universe being far left is one of the worst things you can possibly be. Me just being moderately left wouldn’t do, mind you. Everything has to be extreme for these boys. So far left I am. It’s me and Stalin, bear hugging.
And, well. Okay. From the perspective of sales and personal and professional reputation, this sort of nonsense has been literally harmless to me; any sales that I may have lost from their silliness (and to be clear I don’t think I really have) have been recouped and then some elsewhere. My anecdotal observation over a dozen years is that most of my readers don’t really care about my personal politics, or just accept that as I’m creative person I’m vaguely liberal because that’s kind of what we mostly all do, isn’t it.
Likewise, my loudest detractors tend to be performatively terrible people who mostly yell inward, toward a putative fanbase of people who are aspirationally performatively terrible. So that bubble of feculence tends to be self-limiting, and I’m content to not have that sort read me. Occasionally some their effluvia escapes and a normal, non-terrible person sees it, and the result of that, again anecdotally, is “These people are horrible and they hate you? I’m guessing I’m going to like you more.” So again, very little downside.
(This is where I note, strictly for the avoidance of doubt, that not everyone whose politics are to the right of mine is a terrible person, either performatively or otherwise. And not everyone who dislikes me is terrible either. I’m sure some absolutely delightful people dislike me. However, I can say that if you’ve been going out of your way to call me, say, a far-left beta soyboy or something similarly dude-panic-Mad-Lib, you’re probably not exactly nice.)
With all that said, and reinforcing a comment I made on a similar subject last year: the large majority of this nonsense appears to be over. Most of the characters who went out of their way to attempt to belittle me seem to have moved on to other enthusiasms, and other targets who they feel will offer better returns on their sport. I can’t say I’m exactly broken up about that. I’ve noted a couple of come-lately jerks trying to rerun the playbook that others have tried, but they seem to be having less success with it, to an even smaller audience of fellow jerks. As a result they come across as even more sad and pathetic than the previous bunch. I would suggest they leave it alone, but they wouldn’t listen.
So, you know. If they want to call me “far left” or anything else, whatever. The only people they’ve managed to convince of any of that is themselves. And they’re not exactly the best judges of the subject, I have to say.
(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week! Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)
Here’s a question from email, from a contributor who asked to remain anonymous (which is one reason, I suppose, it came in email):
If you fuck up, how long should you have to spend in the wilderness before you’re allowed to come back?
I mean, I think it depends, don’t you?
I suspect this question is asked in reference to the #MeToo movement, in which prominent men who have sexually coerced, assaulted and harassed women (and others) have been called into account and have, to varying degrees, been banished. But while the answer to this question in reference to those men feels relatively simple (i.e., “to hell with them”), in a larger and more general sense, the question of when (and if!) to no longer factor transgressions that people have made against you or others into your view of them is one I’ve wrestled with personally. Because, you know. Over the years, people have gotten themselves onto my personal shit list, and from time to time it’s worth revisiting that list to see whether those people should be paroled from it.
And as it happens, in thinking about this I’ve realized that over the years I’ve mostly unconsciously developed an informal rule for taking people off my personal shit list. You know how it takes seven years to take a bankruptcy off your credit report? For me, and generally speaking, it takes roughly ten years before I stop counting what I personally consider a major fuck up against you.
Why ten years? Because ten years is enough time not only to see if you’ve learned, but to see if you’ve incorporated that learning into your actual life. Like so: Have you recognized the error of your ways? Have you accepted responsibility for your actions? Have you (when allowed) made amends to the people you’ve wronged? Have you avoided minimizing or excusing your actions, and avoided trying to place the blame for them on others? Have you not repeated the same bad action again, or with others? If the answer to all of the above is “yes,” and for ten years running, then, fine. We probably all get to move on. If not, then not, and every time the answer to one of the questions above is “no,” well, then. The ten year clock resets.
(I also tend to credit this retroactively: We just met and I learn you fucked up a decade ago, realized your error, worked to fix it, and didn’t do the same fuck up again? Fine, the decade clock for you has already run down.)
I think this is a reasonably good informal general rule (for me) because, look: People can and do change, and people can and do work to rebuild their lives so they can be a better version of themselves. I feel it’s not unreasonable, after an appropriate amount of time and evidence of work done, to credit people with effort and assume they have gotten themselves right. Maybe that’s optimistic of me, but I think optimism isn’t a bad thing to practice with people.
That said, I’m not especially squishy about these things. I don’t, for example, equate absence of bad action with contrition. I think there are a lot of harassers out there who have stopped harassing not because they recognize the error of their actions, but simply because they just can’t get away with it anymore. And, yeah. You don’t get credit for that, bucko. This is a wagon it’s supremely easy to fall off of.
While I’m at this: not holding something against you is not the same as pretending a thing had not been been done; or more simply, forgiving is not forgetting. I don’t tend to forget. Oh, and: Not holding something against you anymore isn’t the same as liking you. Just because I no longer hold a previous bad action against you, it doesn’t make us friends. That’s an entirely separate process.
(Likewise, I can and have liked people who I think have fucked up, and can hold their fuck up against them, even as sometimes I have helped them recover from that fuck up. What can I say, people are complicated sometimes.)
(That said, it’s very rare I do that. Specifically I tend to drop people I have determined have willingly transgressed against me, because life is short and I don’t have time for assholes in my life anymore. So, you know. If you go out of your way to fuck with me, don’t think having being a friend will have much weight on that score. Friends don’t go out of their way to fuck with you.)
(Gosh, that just got dark, didn’t it.)
I should also note that for me this formulation generally works better for people you know in your own life than in the world of celebrity and notability, if for no other reason than it’s easier to see people doing the work to right themselves when they’re in your personal sphere of social perception. It can work with celebrities and notable people, I guess, if you’re super-invested in them, on the grounds that some people know more about celebrities and their lives than they know about their neighbors. I’m usually not that invested, so my practice with celebrities tends to be a bit more ruthless — out they go, generally speaking. There are always more celebrities and people making cool things to enjoy, and people to move into positions of power. I do have a small stack of celebrities on my “possibly enjoy again after they’re dead” list, but while they’re alive they won’t get another penny or another moment of my time. That seems reasonable to me.
At this point it’s fair to ask whether I would be comfortable with people holding the same standards against me, should they determine that I’ve fucked up or transgressed. The answer is: Well, I probably should, shouldn’t I? I’m not special, after all: I’ve fucked up, and transgressed against people, and otherwise people have made their own determinations about whether or not I’m worth their time. I’ve frequently apologized for my actions, made amends when I could and when allowed, and have continually made efforts to be a better person, with varying but hopefully positive results.
How much credit I get for that, if any, is up to any individual person. I have an informal rule for all this, but it’s not to say my informal rule will work for anyone else. Everyone gets to make their own rules about who to forgive, and when, and if, and who gets to be in their life. There are probably some people who will be happy never to see me again, for whatever reason, and that’s fine. I prefer not to inflict myself on people who want nothing to do with me.
(And as for the “celebrity” portion of that as an author — well, I mean, definitely don’t buy my stuff if you think I’m a terrible person.)
So this is generally how it works for me. I give credit for work done, but I also don’t grade easily, or on a curve. Whether this sort of formulation works for you will depend on a whole bunch of factors, mostly related to you. It’s okay if it doesn’t, or if you have some other formulation entirely. The thing about all of this is, it’s personal.
(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week! Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)
Given the attachment we humans tend to have with our pets, how do we rationalize the treating them as commodities, food, or things (rather than beings)?
I mean, Bill, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but have you seen the way humans treat other humans? On balance I’m not entirely convinced that humans in fact treat our pets any differently than we treat humans, who we have both historically and, yes, currently, often treat as commodities, food and things.
I’m going to argue to you that what really matters to humans in terms of how we treat others is not species, per se, but otherness — that is, whether we see someone (human or otherwise) as part of our in-group or tribe or family or however you want to call it. Or more simply, if you’re in, you’re in, and you’re one of us — but if you’re not in, then it doesn’t matter what you are, because you’re not one of us, and therefore you can be a thing, or a commodity, or a thing.
Mind you, it doesn’t have to go that far. On a more prosaic level, you can simply attach more meaning and emotion to one’s pets than you do to humans. To use a personal example, I can say I’ve been more torn up about the death of a pet than the deaths of humans I knew tangentially, even if I liked them as people — because my pet was family, a daily presence in my life, whilst the humans were on the periphery of my daily experience. Arguably those humans were more valuable to the world than my cat or dog, but it doesn’t change the fact that my pet’s death hit me harder emotionally.
(Or for an even less emotionally-charged example, think about movies and animals — you can kill people left and right and no one blinks, but if you kill a dog in a movie then there’s no coming back for you in terms of audience sympathy. Hell, the movie John Wick had the main character slaughtering people left and right because the bad guy stomped a puppy, and while the film gave some backstory to justify that, honestly if they hadn’t people wouldn’t have cared. You stomped an adorable beagle puppy? Prepare to fuckin’ die, dude, we would all say, and then munch happily on our popcorn as Keanu double-taps an entire legion of Russian mafia.)
I should note that not everyone treats their pets the same way. Some people aren’t especially attached to pets if, for example, they don’t consider pets in their household as theirs, but merely as something their kids wanted, and why not. Likewise, people can be fond of their pets but have a certain line past which they are willing to let pets go — say, if the pet’s medical upkeep gets too expensive or if they have to move and the only place they can go is someplace that doesn’t accept pets, etc. And generally speaking people do have a dividing line within the family with regard to pets. If the house is on fire and you can save either your kid or your cat, but not both, then it’s curtains for Whiskers, and no one is going to blame you for it.
On the other hand, if it came to, say, Whiskers or the guy who was trying to rob your house who inadvertently set fire to your house in the first place? Maaaaybe you’d go for Whiskers and then lie about trying to save the robber. Maybe you wouldn’t lie about it! “Damn right I saved my cat!” you’d say, defiantly. And no one would blame you. That dude was trying to rob your house. He deserved to fry, the thieving bastard. There are any number of scenarios where one might decided to value a pet over a human, many if not most of them at least somewhat morally defensible.
And it doesn’t have to be pets — If you had to choose between an elephant or its poacher, which would you choose? If a tiger was one of the last remaining members of its species, would you shoot it to save a human it had decided to hunt? There are more than seven billion humans, after all. Alternately, if a human decided against all sense and reason to go swimming in a bayou filled with alligators, would you hold it against the alligators who then killed and almost certainly consumed him (this actually happened; the man’s last recorded words were “fuck the alligators”)?
The point here is that there are times and places where we might value a non-human life over a human one (or at least, not blame the non-human life for negative action against humans), and that’s not even getting to the philosophical place where we consider the issues of otherness — of the human being an outlander with respect to our tribe — and where that places that human with respect to animals within our tribe.
So, in sum, Bill, I think in point of fact we treat our pets like we treat humans — some of them, anyway. And in certain, not-especially-rare cases, we treat them even better. That being the case, I’m not sure your original question is on point. Because, frankly, just because humans are “beings” doesn’t mean we don’t do terrible things to them. Things, as the proverbial saying goes, we wouldn’t even do to a dog.
Let’s start off the 2018 Reader Request Week with a topic that several of you were interested in because of recent news, although I’m using Laura’s question to get us started:
What are your thoughts on Incels? While I think the type of guy has been around for always, their organizing and magnifying seems different and concerning.
For those of you not up on the recent news on these folks, “incel” is a term that means “involuntary celebate” and is used as a self-identifier by a certain subset of whiny misogynist man-child who believes he is owed sex by “hot” women, pretty much because he is a man and wants sex with a hot woman. When the sex with a hot woman is somehow not in the offing, he gets pissy about it.
And, unfortunately, sometimes murderous about it too — the recent surfacing of the term in the public consciousness occurred when one of these self-identified incels drove a van into a bunch of pedestrians in Toronto, killing several. This action, along with this fellow’s self-association with “incels,” prompted several deeply regrettable hand-wringing articles from conservative commentators, more or less along the line of “well, shouldn’t we be redistributing sex, or at least sex robots, to these angry, congested men?” This prompted some well-deserved dragging of said commentators on social media and elsewhere, which in turn prompted some of them to attempt to qualify their previous statements, which in turn led them to digging their own holes deeper. At this point, for example, someone should gently lead the New York Times’ Ross Douthat away from his keyboard and the internet, set him in a dandelion patch and leave him there until just about forever.
As you might be able to surmise from the previous two paragraphs, I’m not notably sympathetic either to the “incels” or to the gormlessly dim sort of straight white male commentator who rends his garments wondering how to get them sex while their victims are still fresh in their graves. As many, many, many people have already noted, no one has a “right” to sex, the way these fellows think about sex reduces women to objects at best and objects of contempt at worst, and all the bloviating about the abstract concept of “redistributing sex” that these oh-so-serious commentators engage in is once more objectifying women as sex-gratifying objects, just one rhetorical step removed (and as for “sex robots”: dudes, if “incels” already don’t want to fuck women they don’t consider “9s” at the minimum, the idea they’re going to be satisfied with an oversized silicone sleeve for their johnson is optimistic at best. They might consider women to be objects, but it’s important to the incels that their objects are, in fact, women).
I don’t tend to think of incels as a group in isolation. Rather they lay on the general misogynist scatter plot, along with “men’s rights” activists, pick up artists, “men going their own away” and the sort of person who just simply believes women are inferior to men and uses their own personal set of scripture (whether based on religion or politics or “science” or some combination thereof) to justify their sexism. Gross, unapologetic misogyny has been having a moment thanks to a president who has delighted in treating women the way incels wish they could treat women, if only they had millions of dollars to get into the room with them in the first place, and then a lawyer to make them go away when they were done. It’s also been helped by a shift in the sexism Overton window that, for example, allows a man who was for women being hanged for having abortions to get a plum job in a mainstream media publication until the convenient fig leaf of him lying to his editor about how serious he was in that opinion got him fired (yes, I’m aware Mr. Williamson has attempted, wailing of the chilling unfairness of it all the while, to qualify his position after the fact. Set him in the same dandelion patch as Mr. Douthat, please). So it’s not exactly surprising that in this particular environment, the incels may feel their moment has come around at last, if not to get laid, then at least to be taken seriously.
I’d take incels seriously as a threat to women in particular and to people in general (the victims in Toronto were not just women), and it’s important to know their pathology in order to deal with them when they’re inspired to criminality. I don’t in the least take them seriously as a social movement. For one thing, it’s incorrectly labeled. There’s very little involuntary about their celibacy; they’re making the affirmative choice to be so by being childish misogynist assbags. Strange how women don’t want to have anything to do with jerks who see them solely as a warm hole to stick their dicks into! Who could have foreseen this might be the case! Surely it’s a mystery of the ages that such a thing would come to pass. And these fellows are only making their situation worse by loitering around online with others who validate their anti-social women-hating bullshit by suggesting its neither right nor fair that they, as men, should not be able to have sex on demand from hot women. Are we not Nice Men? they cry, if not in unison, then in threaded harmony.
Well, no. You’re not nice men. Nice men recognize the fundamental humanity and agency of women. Nice men work on themselves to become better people. Nice men understand they’re not owed sex by anyone. Nice men learn to recognize that grading people on a scale based on appearance is childish and reductive and will keep you from discovering the amazingness of people as they are. Nice men are nice not as a way to get sex, but because they recognize the value of being nice in itself, for themselves. Nice men realize that “nice” means nothing if it’s not attached to an actual core of kindness and decency and principle — and that kindness and decency and principle are virtues, not weaknesses. Nice men don’t tally up every action they make as if they’re accruing points redeemable for sticking their penis into a moist orifice. Nice men don’t go whining about it when their “orifice” scheme doesn’t work out as they wanted it to, and they don’t blame others who neither consented to the scheme nor go along with it when it’s sprung on them. Nice guys don’t think consent is an impediment. Nice guys don’t have to declare themselves to be “nice guys.” But nice guys don’t mind noting there are always ways for them to keep improving themselves and being better to and for other people.
(Mind you, I don’t expect anyone who identifies as an “incel” to be swayed by anything here — it’s much easier to believe the problem lies with the “Chads” and “Stacies” and “Beckys” of the world, and that I’m a beta cuck in any event, then it is to undertake a critical examination of self and work to improve one’s self as a human being, and as a result perhaps be seen as someone whom someone else might wish to spend time with and affection on, and be a better person in any event. C’est la vie. This is, of course, their own karma.)
What should anyone else do with regard to incels? Remember they are actually “volcels” — voluntarily celibate, because they’ve chosen to be crap human beings no sensible woman (or anyone else) would want to spend time with — and then leave them to their own chosen lifestyle, because apparently they would rather do that than put in the work to be attractive, engaging people. If they really do want to have sex with other people, they should make the effort and then take their chances like the rest of us, and it should be noted that a lot of the rest of us, having made the effort, have seen it pay off, in ways both obvious (Yay! Sex! Possibly!) and less obvious (being content with ourselves and our lives, even if and when no sex partner is in the offing).
And if they don’t want to do that, well. I guess then they can just go fuck themselves.
It’s good to be home. Hope you had a lovely weekend.
Next week I am finally at home for an entire week, the first time, in, well, months, so that makes it an excellent time to finally get around to one of my favorite annual traditions here at Whatever: Reader Request Week!
For those of you just catching up, Reader Request Week is when you suggest topics for me to write about, and I pick from the requests and then write ’em up. What topics can you request? Well, anything at all: politics! Social stuff! Personal questions! Stuff and Nonsense! Things you wish I’d talk about but never do! And so on! Anything you’ve ever wanted to know about me, or wanted to know what I think about it, go ahead and request it. I’ll sort through the requests and start posting my responses, starting Monday, May 7.
While any topic is up for request, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, when you’re making your topic selections.
1. Quality, not quantity. Rather than thinking of a bunch of general topic for me to address, which isn’t very interesting to me, and which also like hogging the buffet, pick one very specific topic that you’re actually interested about — something you’ve thought about, and taken time to craft a question that will be interesting to me. I’m much more likely to pick that than look through a menu of very general topics.
2. Writing questions are given a lower priority. Me writing about writing is not unusual here, so for this week, writing topics are a secondary concern. But if you really want to ask a question about writing, go ahead, just remember that point one above will apply more to your question than most. It’ll have to be a pretty good question to stand out.
3. Don’t request topics I’ve recently written about. I’ve included the last five years of Reader Request topics below so you can see which ones are probably not going to be answered again. That said, if you want to ask a follow-up to any of the topics below, that’s perfectly acceptable as a topic. Also, for those of you wondering how to make a request, each of the posts features the request in it, so you can see what’s worked before.
How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it).
Please don’t send requests via Twitter/Facebook/Google+, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.
Reader Request Week 2013 #1: Further Thoughts on Fame and Success
Reader Request Week 2013 #2: Regrets
Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures
Reader Request Week 2013 #4: College Education (And Costs Therein)
Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan
Reader Request Week 2013 #6: Intuition
Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid
Reader Request Week 2013 #8: Whatever Topics and Comments
Reader Request Week 2013 #9: Women and Geekdom
Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me
Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud
Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy
Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader
Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery
Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things
Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence
Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?
Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits
Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not
Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux
Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women
Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me
Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans
Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement
Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass
Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2016 #1: Living Where I Do
Reader Request Week 2016 #2: Will Humans Survive?
Reader Request Week 2016 #3: How, and If, I Will Be Remembered
Reader Request Week 2016 #4: Autonomous Cars
Reader Request Week 2016 #5: Pronouns
Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs
Reader Request Week 2016 #7: Writers and Ego
Reader Request Week 2016 #8: STEM and STEAM
Reader Request Week 2016 #9: Short Bits on Writing
Reader Request Week 2016 #10: Small Bits
Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis
Reader Request Week 2017 #2: Those Darn Millennials
Reader Request Week 2017 #3: Utopias
Reader Request Week 2017 #4: Haters and How I Deal With Them
Reader Request Week 2017 #5: Remembering Dreams
Reader Request Week 2017 #6: Reading as Performance
Reader Request Week 2017 #7: Parents, Their Age, and Their Kids
Reader Request Week 2017 #8: The Path to Publication
Reader Request Week 2017 #9: Writery Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2017 #10: Short Bits
This week is almost always fun for me because of the questions you (yes, you!) ask, so please, think up some good ones for me to answer this year. I’m looking forward to what you have to ask me!
Oh, look, yet another stack of very fine books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound — and now we’re all caught up with everything that showed up while I was on tour (with some other new stuff in there as well). What’s catching your eye here? Tell us all in the comments.