New Books and ARCs 6/5/20

Right on time for the first weekend in June, a brand new stack of new books and ARCs for your perusal. What here is calling to be added to your “to be read” pile? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Five Things: June 5, 2020

Here’s today’s five for you:

It’s a police riot: Or so Jamelle Bouie says in the New York Times, and there’s certainly been enough evidence in the last week to show that the police working the protests aren’t exactly treating the folks protesting the death of George Floyd with the same tender care and respect as they treat, say, a bunch of white dudes with semi-automatics screaming about their desire for a haircut. Greg Doucette has been collecting up video of the police in various places not exactly keeping order; currently he’s above 300, which makes it difficult for even the most persistent “#NotAllPolice” to keep finding excuses for them all. Or as Kumail Nanjiani notes:

I’ve written before about how and why it is I don’t fear the police, and indeed usually feel they are serving me well. But I also know that lack of fear, and positive experience with them, is strongly rooted in my whiteness, and that my lived experience isn’t the lived experience of so many of the people I know and care about. As Kumail notes, what’s happening now is lot of other people who like me have gotten the benefit of being on the white side of policing, are getting their faces rubbed into fact that policing is systematically racist and also concerned with its own perpetuation. All these videos, at least, make it much harder for police to argue against the first of those.

(Plus now the police have pissed off journalists by going after them, too. Yeah, that’s going to be remembered by the press for a long time, folks.)

Is Trump losing the evangelicals? Lol, I’ll tell you what, I’ll believe that when we get the exit polling in November and it shows either some significantly larger percentage of evangelicals voting Democratic (which I find deeply unlikely), or just staying home because they can’t bear to vote for Trump a second time (somewhat more likely, but still deeply unlikely). I suspect evangelical disapproval of Trump is like Susan Collins’ disapproval, i.e., a scrunching of the face to express concern, and then voting exactly the way Trump wants her to. Evangelicals have hitched their wagon to Trump; I suspect he’s going to run them right off a cliff. They will deserve it if he does.

Cate Blanchett vs. a Chainsaw: The result may surprise you! (Spoiler: It won’t. She’s fine. If she had done herself a serious harm, you wouldn’t be hearing it from me first, now, would you.) Personally Ms. Blanchett’s misadventure just reconfirms my general choice to avoid all serious machinery. I know my dexterity stats, and I want to keep all my limbs if at all possible (and also my head).

Space Force and trademarks: Okay, this is interesting to me — Netflix has beaten the United States government to trademarking the term “space force” around the world and the ramifications of that are discussed in the linked article. Like the writer of the article, I don’t suspect people are going to confuse the show with the military branch, but if I walk around with a Space Force t-shirt, someone might reasonably wonder if I’m promoting the show or showing enthusiasm for the military. I personally would have thought the government would have dealt with that, but then again, I was also surprised that Paramount hadn’t trademarked the term “Redshirt,” thus giving me free rein to use it for my book. So, I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much out of large organizations as regards their potential intellectual property.

The UK version of The Last Emperox has arrived at The Scalzi Compound. Here it is with its US sibling:

My UK edition is a trade paperback, because apparently that’s how I sell over there, which is, you know, fine. Whatever works, is my motto. Soon I’ll start getting copies of the various foreign language editions (well, soonish — it takes a while for translations and scheduling and so on). In case you’re wondering, no, it never gets old, seeing books with your name on them. Because you’re the author, I mean. Anyone can scribble their name on a book, you just need a Sharpie for that. But being there because you’re the author — hits a little different, as the kids say.

DreamHaven Books & Comics Fundraiser

A couple of days ago I posted about the fundraiser for Uncle Hugo’s, the science fiction bookstore that was razed to the ground last week during the protests in Minneapolis. At the same time, another science fiction bookstore, DreamHaven Books & Comics, took damage as well, although fortunately not as much. Nevertheless, damage was done, it was real, and DreamHaven owner Greg Ketter has set up a GoFundMe to help offset some of the costs.

Here’s the link to the DreamHaven GoFundMe. Check it out and if it’s something you can support, that would be great.

(And here’s the Uncle Hugo’s GoFundMe link again, just in case you missed it the first time.)

Five Things: June 4, 2020

It’s only June 4, y’all. Here’s today’s five:

James Mattis stabs Trump in the eye: And courageously says what everyone already knows, which is that Trump is awful and divisive and wants to use the military on American civilians so he can feel big and tough.  And yes, I’m giving Mattis a bit of stick here — his insight here is not, shall we say, a new or surprising one — but it does matter that Trump’s former Secretary of Defense is saying it and that in doing so, he’s giving cover for other military folks to come forward and say the same thing (usually when retired). And it has at least put up a roadblock for Trump siccing the military on civilians without pushback, so that’s something. And of course Trump’s petulant response on Twitter takes him look even smaller, if possible. On that score: Mission accomplished, General Mattis.

New York Times writers revolt over Tom Cotton’s op-ed: You know, the one where he, like the good soldier he is, supported Trump’s position on unleashing the military on civilians to make President Trump feel big and strong. I would say that Cotton, a graduate of Harvard Law and a former US Army captain with a Bronze Star, should know better, but if the (heh) cogent example of Ted Cruz shows us anything, being educated and knowledgable takes a back seat when lickspittlery, and early positioning for a presidential run, is involved. At the very least Mattis’ comments stuffed Cotton’s op-ed into the trash where it belongs.

I’m not personally as outraged as others are about the Times publishing the Cotton piece because I think one of the purposes of the op-ed pages are to let people make fools of themselves in public so you can’t say later on that you didn’t know who they showed themselves to be. However, I also acknowledge I am a straight white dude who isn’t out protesting — or reporting on the protests — in an era where the police have declared open season on both protestors and journalists. I’m perfectly happy to cede that I’m probably not the one to be listening to on this particular matter. There’s the theory of how op-ed pages work, and there’s a practical matter of what effect an op-ed will have in the real world. The NYT journalists are rather reasonably concerned about the latter.

It’s hot and humid and our air conditioning is on the fritz: Because of course it is, why wouldn’t it be. The diagnostic guy was here and apparently our outside unit is leaking coolant and they won’t be able to fix it until a week from today, and between now and then we have a bunch of days in the mid/high 80s and low 90s, with humidity to go along with it. This is not great, and also a reminder that the vast majority of humanity had to live without air conditioning and I honestly don’t know how they managed. I wouldn’t do it. Heat sucks. Heat with humidity sucks the will to live.

2020 Time Travel: The first one, which came out a little over a month ago, has comedian Julie Nolke visiting her January self from April. The second one (which came out earlier today) has her April self visited by her June self. Both are worth your time, but if you have to pick just one to watch, watch the second. You’ll have enough context to go on.

When you’ve lost The Rock, you’ve lost America. Yeah, even Dwayne Johnson is all “WTF, dude” anymore. Did I mention it’s just June 4? 26 more days of June, folks. We’re gonna feel them all, looks like.

Five Things: June 3, 2020

Let’s get to today’s five, shall we?

Hey, did you remember that there’s a presidential campaign going on? Well there is, and seven states and the District of Columbia even had primaries yesterday. Not that you would know it from the front pages of the news sites, I had to dig deep, deeeep into the New York Times site to find all of yesterday’s results. Part of that is that the world’s on fire, and part of that is also that at this point it’s a cakewalk for Biden, who will officially clinch the Democratic nomination next week with the Georgia and West Virginia primaries. But still, it’s very odd to be in an election year where the presidential campagin feels like an afterthought at best.

Hit the road, Steve King: It’s an indication of how weird a year 2020 is that while I had to dig for the delegate counts from last night, the news of US Representative Steve King, Iowa’s notorious racist fucknugget, losing his primary race, was splashed all over the place. And of course, it is delightful news, as King is a loose bag of hate and unearned superiority, shambling about in a vaguely human form. Liberals should enjoy their delightful moment of schadenfreude now, since Randy Feenstra, who won the GOP primary over King (and will likely win the general in November), is unlikely to vote any differently than King has in the House, he’s just probably smart enough not to spout explicitly racist words over a live mic and then be flummoxed why anyone should think that’s a problem. But yes! Enjoy it now! And best of luck to King in his next endeavor, which will probably be as a columnist for the Federalist or something else similarly egregious.

I put on pants today. First time in a month! More or less. The reason for the occasion is that I actually left the house and went into the world, because I had a dental appointment. Turns out I need a crown (which I knew) and I also have a cavity (which I did not know, but I’m honestly not all that surprised about). So I’ll be going back to the dentist’s in a couple of weeks. I will put on pants then, too. Pants between now and then? We will see, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Bill & Ted congratulate the Class of 2020 at San Dimas High School. This just warms my heart. I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll mention it again: I lived in San Dimas during my high school, in fact right across the street from the water park. I did not go to San Dimas High School, but I still feel mighty pleased that this little town has been immortalized by two of Gen X’s most notable fictional characters. Much of “San Dimas” in the film was filmed elsewhere, but I can say that indeed there is a Circle K there. And strange things were indeed often afoot.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for, the Ant Situation Update: I’ve seen a couple of stragglers, but that’s it, so I’m going to go ahead and declare victory, and also credit Febreeze with the MVP role for totally wiping out the pheromone trails and otherwise sowing fear and confusion in the Formicidal ranks. Mind, they may just be regrouping. But I’ll have the ant traps here today or tomorrow. I’ll be ready for any counterattack (or any attack on my counters). These days we take our wins where we can.

Uncle Hugo’s Fundraiser + Editorial Note

First things first: Uncle Hugo’s, the venerable Minneapolis science fiction bookstore, was burned down last week (along with Uncle Edgar’s, the next-door mystery bookstore). Almost immediately a GoFundMe was set up, but it wasn’t endorsed by Don Blyly, the owner of the bookstores. The GoFundMe has since been taken over by the Blyly family, who has made it the official GoFundMe for the stores, with an eye toward using the funds for rebuilding the bookshops.

I’ve done signings at Uncle Hugo’s and I know how important the store has been for fandom in Minneapolis and Minnesota, and am heartsick that some foolish (or malign) person set it alight. If the store was important to you, or if independent bookstores are important to you in general, for what they do for their communities and for readers, considering contributing to this GoFundMe. Again, it’s controlled by the Blyly family, so the money raised here will go to Don and to the stores. Check it out, and thank you.

—-

Second things second: I got an email today about the Uncle Hugo’s GoFundMe, one of several I’ve gotten over the last few days. I was aware of the GoFundMe and have been for several days, but I was also aware that it was originally set up by a third party, whose association to the store and its owner were unknown to me. I wasn’t going to point to a GoFundMe I didn’t know was endorsed and supported by the store or its owner, and I knew Don Blyly was thinking of doing his own fundraising effort. I held off and then I got busy. When this most recent email showed up, I clicked over to see if the GoFundMe was the one that Blyly was planning to set up. It turned out it was the original GoFundMe, but the Blyly family has taken over its administration. All well and good; it was now something I could point to.

The sender of the note (who I am keeping unnamed, for reasons that are about to become clear), also wrote this:

Personal note to John: Larry Correia is already exhorting his fans to help, and I really don’t want to see him do more than you on this, please help!

And friends, I will tell you what, this really really pissed me off.

For those of you who are somehow lacking context, Larry Correia led the “Sad Puppy” campaign for a couple of years, and it’s well-known that I was not a fan of that little adventure, and that Larry and I had our go-arounds because of it. It was not a pleasant time for science fiction (I am, you will understand, eliding much for the sake of brevity), and neither Larry nor I are on each other’s respective Christmas card list. But it’s largely in the past now and both of us are off doing our own things.

With that understood, two things here.

One: Good for Larry Correia! Dude donated a thousand bucks to the GoFundMe and is apparently exhorting his fans and friends to contribute as well. What’s not to like about that? Well done him. I applaud his efforts.

Two: I don’t know how to explain this to people, but I don’t think about Larry Correia all that much, and when I do, it’s not really with any heat. He’s not all that important to me. I feel pretty comfortable suggesting that he doesn’t think about me all that much, either. Why should he? He’s got his own life, which I touch on almost not at all. I’m guessing I’m not all that important to him, either.

So I am annoyed and actually sort of resent the fact this random dude thought Larry was the perfect foil to poke me with here. I am not so seized with animosity toward Larry that I will leap up from my chair to “beat” him in a fundraising score just because we hates him, precious, nor am I interested in reheating the whole Puppy bullshit one more fucking time, and certainly not in the service of a GoFundMe that is in point of fact absolutely and entirely unrelated to that particular lamentable moment in science fiction fandom history.

More bluntly: the thought process of “I want someone notable to contribute to a fundraising project I think should be important to them so I will motivate them by dragging the spectre of someone I think they hate into their field of view! It’s the perfect plan!” is really weird and fucked up, y’all. Don’t do it.

Even more bluntly: Look, asshole, if you want to rally a community together, don’t start by trying to fucking divide them. Helping Uncle Hugo’s isn’t about me, or Larry, or our respective fans (which almost certainly have significant overlap in membership) fighting over who can do more. It’s about saying this place was and is important to us all. Let’s all help.

So let’s do that. Let’s all help.

Five Things: June 2, 2020

Oh, not much going on in the world at the moment, is there?

Here are today’s five things:

Trump gassing peaceful protestors to walk to a photo op: I think we’re all used to the president being appallingly tone deaf, but this one seems destined for the top ten collection (I’m hesitant to rank it any higher at the moment simply because there are at least eight months left in his presidency, and he’s going to be more desperate as he goes along). The fact that the tear-gassing begun during his “Oh boy I sure wanna do me some martial law” speech, and then the president walked over to the church and held up a Bible like a cudgel, surely did give the event symbolism. Just not the symbolism he was aiming for, and definitely not the symbolism history will provide it.

The topper, of course, is that the Church was neither told he was coming nor wanted him to be there. As the Bishop Mariann E. Budde noted:

“He did not pray. He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years. We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.”

Mind you, gassing protestors and wielding the Word of God like a club makes the president’s base of racists and Really Bad Christians happy, and he wants them happy with him because no one else is, or will be. Trump is not the anti-Christ, but I tell you what, if a Democratic president did exactly the same things Trump is doing now, the same Very Bad Christians who are oozing with joy over Trump would be tossing the term around with impunity. But that hypothetical president wouldn’t be the anti-Christ, either. Just a very very very very very bad president.

Update on the ant situation: Lacking a strong pheromone trail, the ant legions are bit scattered and confused in the front hallway, and I thunder through regularly, deploying the Thumb of Doom on them. I tried cinnamon as some suggested to see what it would do to them; the answer is, it doesn’t seem to do anything, and now I have cinnamon in my hallway. What does seem to work, however: Febreeze. It corrals them pretty effectively. This is all containment until the ant traps arrive in a couple of days. I’m making a science project out of it, basically.

For all that:

That blackout thing: I missed the “Blackout Tuesday” thing in the planning stages and found out about it after people started complaining that associating lots of black screens with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag was making it useless for actual transmission of information. Good intentions have unexpected consequences, basically.

While I would not tell others how to do their thing, for myself I’ve been largely resistant to changing up my social media profile pictures or jumping onto hashtags. That sort of thing often feels like empty calorie activism to me, I suspect in part because I have other ways to signal how I feel about current events and social issues (hint: you’re reading it right now). But I also acknowledge that if you feel like you want to do something but don’t know how, profile pics and hashtags are at least a start. It does help to pay attention to consequences, however, unintended or otherwise.

Crazy Rich Asians: I eventually maxed out on reality last night and decided to indulge in some escapism, which involved a) salted caramel ice cream, and b) Crazy Rich Asians, which has become one of my go-to films for a bit of happiness. There are lots of reasons I like this film, but one of them is that — having gone to a high school that had its share of kids whose families were “comfortable” (to use the euphemism one character in the film uses for being really rich) — it does a pretty good job of simulating the casual aspects of being wealthy, i.e., what your concerns and cares are like when money literally is no object. I don’t want to go too far in that, since there are a lot of clearly amped-up-for-plot-purposes bits (the bachelor and bachelorette parties are prime examples), and ultimately this movie is a fairy tale complete with a marriage proposal. But when it’s not directly doing that, it gets the everyday utopia of wealth right. These folks have problems, but rent sure as hell isn’t one of them.

A wretched record: Speaking of films, this is an interesting story in Variety about how The Wretched, a low-budget horror film I certainly haven’t ever heard of before, has been the number one movie at the box office for weeks — because it’s showing at drive-ins, which are the only theaters currently open. This is one of those “technically correct, but come on” records. 2020 is going to be full of those before the end, I suspect.

Five Things: June 1, 2020

For the month of June I thought I would try something sort of new, sort of not: A brief daily write-up of five things I’m thinking about in one way or another for that day — could be news, could be personal things, could be a piece of entertainment, whatever (there’s that word). The point of it will be to a) be brief, and b) be daily. It’s not unlike the “various and sundry” pieces I’ve done from time to time, although a bit more formatted, for the simple reason that I think it’s probably easier to write to a format.

It doesn’t mean I won’t write longer pieces if I feel like it (honestly, I’ve never had a problem with that), but after a few months of feeling fairly disconnected to the world, I think it might be time to re-engage with a little more… after I’m done with my actual paid writing for the day, that is. Which is another reason to do a “Five Things” sort of column; if I’ve had a brain-draining creative session in the morning (which sometimes happens), then spieling out five things is less taxing than writing at length on a single subject. It’s all about me, folks!

When I say “daily” I’m gonna mean weekdays; I may do it on the weekend too, but if I do those will be bonus pieces. After the month of June, I’ll check to see how I feel about them. If I like the format, I may continue it. If I don’t (or find that contrary to expectation I’m spending too much time on it) then I won’t, or will amend it to better fit into my life. We’ll find out! It should be fun.

Also, generally speaking expect them later in the day than earlier.

With that as preamble: Five Things for June 1, 2020.

Trump wants to label “antifa” as a terrorist group: Well, except for the issue that “antifa” isn’t an actual group, it’s a descriptor and shorthand for “anti-fascist.” And while it would be, shall we say, bold for Trump to publicly say that being anti-fascist is terroristic, I think it’s more to the point to say that Trump and his administration are trying to use “antifa” as a general umbrella for “any left-wing group of people we don’t like for any reason.” Which is also bold, and stupid, and bound to make more headaches for this dim-witted administration than anything else.

As I noted on Twitter, I am personally and politically adamantly anti-fascist, and I think that not only is that a non-controversial thing to say, it should bluntly be a foundational part of any American’s political philosophy. Someone noted that no one says that they’re fascist; they call themselves “patriots” or “real Americans” or whatever. Which is true enough, but as in all things, the thing one keeps one eye on is not what people say but what they do. It’s not that hard to see who is leaning into their fascist tendencies these days, both in government and out of it.

Ants have invaded my home: On a much smaller scale than the item above, we found ants marching across the floorboard in the downstairs hall, on their way to the pantry. Despite living here for 19 years, this is a new one for us; we might get the occasional wayward ant but this is the first serious incursion I can remember. I wiped down the floorboards with soapy water to dissolve the pheromone trail, so we’ll see how that does before the next step. Of course people on Twitter have been very vocal about what to do next, from Windex to diatomaceous earth to nuking the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure. I’m pretty confident we’ll not do the last one.

Making My Phone See Me: I have face recognition on my Pixel 4 and I use it, so it’s been annoying for the last several days when the phone has decided to only see me intermittently. I dropped my phone fairly hard recently so I suspect I might have dislodged the part of the phone that “sees” me in some way, but if I did that I would think that it would not see me all the time, not just some of the time. That’s the thing that makes it especially aggravating, honestly. Either work or don’t, please! (It’s not the front-facing camera — or not just the camera, since there’s an infrared sensor in play too, to reveal depth.) I do wonder if it might have something to do with my quarantine look at the moment; it’s safe to say I’ve let myself go a bit, facial hair-wise, in the last few weeks.

Christo dead: For those for whom the name is not familiar, he was an artist who did very large scale art installations, some more memorable than others. The one that sticks out in my memory is when he installed very large umbrellas in the “Grapevine,” the mountain pass that connects Los Angeles County to the Central Valley region of California. I was in California when he installed them, and I had reason to go through the Grapevine during the time the display was there, and you know what — it was beautiful, and made me happy all the way through the drive. Near the end of the display, one of the massive umbrellas got loose and caused a fatality, unfortunately; I remember seeing the picture of Christo during the press conference for that and he looked grief-stricken. As well he should have been; it changed the tenor of the installation entirely. But I at least will remember the joy it gave me when I drove through it.

And Now, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on George Floyd: The link is to the LA Times, which is paywalled but which also should let you look at the article if you don’t visit all that often (I just checked; I could get at it fine on a browser I don’t have my LA Times account on). If all you know about Abdul-Jabbar is that he played for the Lakers way back, then I will update you by letting you know he is also a very fine writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and an incisive opinion writer. What he has to say on George Floyd and the current waves of protest is well worth reading and thinking about. So get to it.

11 Week Quarantine Check In

I actually had to count it out at this point. We went into quarantine after coming back from the JoCo Cruise, and that was on Sunday, March 15. That was eleven weeks ago, which feels both a long time ago and also not that long ago now, because time is funny that way. I also entertain the idea I may have miscounted weeks somewhere in there, honestly, it’s a lot of weeks.

I think also at this point the quarantine era, or at least this first one, is over. States have largely opened back up despite the virus still being out there and spreading, and people are out and about — rather dramatically in the last few days, as it happens. I don’t think they’re going to go back in after this, at least not in the way they were before.

Which brings me to the subject of the protests that have been going on this week. On Twitter a couple of days ago I wrote this, which still holds true:

With that said, I can safely say the following:

1. All that had to happen not to have (these) protests go down was for Derek Chauvin not to have put his knee into George Floyd’s neck.

2. If I’m ever caught passing a bad check, or a counterfeit $20, or whatever, you know what’s not going to happen? Me dead because I had a cop’s knee in my neck for close to ten minutes.

3. I know for certain even these two utterly non-controversial statements above will have some dude show up in my comments suggesting that no, that’s not true, and trying to imagine a scenario where a Chauvin choking out Floyd was somehow justified. Dude, yes the fuck it is true, and no the fuck it wasn’t. (Also, don’t, I’ll just Mallet your tiresome ass).

The bifurcation of my eleventh week of quarantine is that I’m at home and it’s been lovely here, and in the rest of the country, people are out in the streets and cities are literally on fire.

On a personal level, this eleventh week hasn’t been that great for me; I’ve been short-tempered and irritable this entire week. Part of that was due to news from the outside world — it’s not been a great week for the whole country, folks — but part of that was just, well, sometimes I’m cranky and people just plain set me off. I don’t think I can chalk up my crankiness this week to quarantine life. I think it’s just me. It was actually a very good week for me not to see people, in point of fact. Or for other people to see me! I’ve been doing all y’all a favor by being mostly absent the last week, and posting pictures of cats and flowers. I hope you appreciate my restraint.

This next week I will actually leave the house; I have a dentist appointment on Wednesday, at which I suspect I will be told I need a crown (this will not be news to me, we’ve been watching this particular tooth for a while). While I’m not necessarily looking forward to the dentist appointment, I’m looking forward to a drive there and back. It’s the little things, these days.

The Nebula Weekend Dance Party Set List

Last night I DJed a dance party for SFWA’s Nebula Weekend — and because it’s the world we currently live in now, it was done all online. How do you do an online dance party? Well, you spin the tunes over Zoom and then a bunch of people in their own homes dance about in front of their computers. Yes, it was nerdy and awkward. Yes, it was a ton of fun.

I was asked if I would share the set list from the dance, and as it happens the DJ software I’m using (DJay 2), keeps track of the songs one plays during a session and saves it as a file. So, here’s last night’s dance party, track by track. Three hours, almost exactly, of happy hopping about. In case you feel like replicating the moment in the privacy of your own home. Enjoy.

1. Let’s Dance, David Bowie

2. Good as Hell, Lizzo

3. Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), C&C Music Factory

4. September, Earth Wind & Fire

5. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), Dead or Alive

6. Bang Bang, Jessie J & Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj

7. Hey Baby, No Doubt

8. Just Like Heaven, The Cure

9. That’s The Way (I Like It), KC & The Sunshine Band

10. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-A-Lot

11. All About That Bass, Meghan Trainor

12. A Little Respect, Erasure

13. Heart of Glass, Blondie

14. Free Your Mind, En Vogue

15. Come On Eileen, Dexys Midnight Runners

16. What is Love, Haddaway

17. Can’t Feel My Face, The Weeknd

18. Funkytown, Lipps Inc.

19. Connection, Elastica

20. Handclap, Fitz & the Tantrums

21. Miss You Much, Janet Jackson

22. Believe, Cher

23. Super Freak, Rick James

24. Maniac, Conan Gray

25. Get Down On It, Kool & the Gang

26. Don’t Stop the Sandman, Rock Sugar

27. Kiss, Prince

28. Bad Romance, Lady Gaga

29. Night Fever, Bee Gees

30. Jump Jive An’ Wail, The Brian Setzer Orchestra

31. Tik Tok, Ke$ha

32. Dancing With Myself, Billy Idol

33. It’s Tricky, Run-DMC

34. Time Warp, Rocky Horror Picture Show

35. Vogue, Madonna

36. Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order

37. Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), Beyonce

38. You’re the One That I Want, Grease Motion Picture Soundtrack

39. Moves Like Jagger, Maroon 5

40. Jungle Love, The Time

41. Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

42. Brick House, Commodores

43. Make Me Feel, Janelle Monae

44. Groove Is In the Heart, Deee-Lite

45. Starships, Nicki Minaj

46. Burning Down the House, Talking Heads

47. Hollaback Girl, Gwen Stefani

48. Love Shack, B-52s

49. Goodbye, Goodbye (Boingo Alive Version), Oingo Boingo

Thinking About June

First, for no good reason whatsoever, here’s a picture of Spice, turned into a faux-pastel drawing through the magic of Photoshop filters. I think it looks pretty good, actually.

Second, June starts on Monday and I’m going to use the switchover in months as an excuse to get back into a work setting. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been entirely idle prior to this; January and February I actually did a fair amount of work (I finished the next Dispatcher installment and wrote a couple of TV scripts) and in April and May I promoted The Last Emperox pretty heavily and also did some backend business stuff, which I personally find pretty exciting but the fruits of which you’re not likely to see for a while (and which I can’t talk about in detail yet, sorry).

What I haven’t done since I’ve gotten back from the JoCo Cruise in mid-March, however, is any new creative work of note. I don’t feel too bad about this, because the world has undergone some literally cataclysmic changes in that timeframe, and I think most of us can be forgiven in being shaken up about it and also trying to find our feet again. But I also know when the deadline to turn in my next novel is, and this time I would like to write it in a manner that doesn’t require a mad rush of writing at the end. Which means starting writing now (well, Monday). That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it works.

Over the last couple of projects, I have developed a process that I think works reasonably well for me. In the mornings, between 8am and noon, I use my Freedom app to block news and social media sites, so that I don’t have those to distract me from doing my creative writing during those hours. After that I tend to my other business (emails and non-creative writing) and, while I don’t have any blocking software on at that point, I pretty much try to avoid most news until about 5pm, i.e., when everything I need to do with my day is done and I won’t be distracted by being angry at whatever is happening in the world that day. It’s weird to think of scheduling one’s angry time, but, well. Welcome to 2020, y’all.

More to the point (for me, anyway), having a schedule is pretty much how I have to live my life these days. Younger me might be a little appalled at how much 51-year-old me needs schedules, but 51-year-old me has come to terms with how easily distracted he is, and how distracting the world is, especially now. It’s not a good combination for getting creative things done. Creativity, or my creativity, anyway, needs a little bit of space and time on a daily basis in order to get going and keep going. That means a schedule. Shut up, you’ll be older too, one day, and when you are you’ll probably find a schedule helps you too.

So, June: Back to work for me. I think you’ll appreciate the effort. Eventually.

Zeus Officially Pronounces The Week Done and Over With

Go on, take a break for a couple of days. You’ve earned it. Probably.

A Dream Possibly Indicative of My Mental State at the Moment

In the dream I and Krissy and (a slightly younger) Athena are on vacation, in Denver of all places, when it’s suddenly the end of the world — we’re talking mudslides and mushroom clouds. And as we watch this from the hall leading to our hotel room, I hand Athena the ice cream cone I’ve been eating (vanilla with red sprinkles) and say to her, “you finish this.” Because in my dream I know it’s the last ice cream she’s ever going to have, and I want her to have a memory of what ice cream is like.

So, uh, yeah. That’s my brain at the moment.

To be clear, I’m fine, the family is fine and the pets are fine, and there is no reason to believe we’ll be anything but fine for the foreseeable future. But like anyone in these times, I have my ups and downs. The last few days have been… down.

The good news is, I actually have lots of ice cream in the house — I was sent a bunch as a congratulatory gift for The Last Emperox. Maybe I’ll go have some.

Petals and Raindrops

So this morning I went and took pictures of the flowers in the front yard, and I posted the pictures on Twitter and Facebook and misidentified the flowers, so of course every single comment was correcting me on the flower identification. So I thought, well, fuck you all, you don’t get any flowers then, and deleted them. Because, apparently, today I’m not in the mood for goddamned fucking nitpicky bullshit.

So anyway, here’s a flower. Of some indeterminate sort. With raindrops. Enjoy. I’m taking the rest of the day off from social media, since it’s clear I need to walk away from it today.

I Have No Opinions of Note to Express Today, So Here, Have a Cat

She’s not feeling very argumentative herself at the moment. And that’s okay.

Memorial Day Flowers, 2020

From around the Scalzi Compound. 

I hope today has been a fine and reflective Memorial Day for you and yours.

Sunset, 5/24/20

Some good drama in this one.

Have an excellent rest of your Sunday, folks.

About That Deal, Five Years On

Today is a red-letter day in my personal history, because five years ago (and also on a Sunday, calendars are weird), the New York Times announced that I had signed a 13-book deal with Tor books for $3.4 million, a deal notable for its length (we expected it to run for roughly a decade) and for the amount of money being splashed out. In the wake of the announcement was a week of congratulations for me (which I appreciated) and a whole lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about whether this deal was actually a good deal for me, or for Tor (which I found mostly amusing). We’re now halfway through the expected decade of the deal, so I figure now is as good a time as any to offer some thoughts on it and how it’s been for me, living with it in the real world.

First, how has the deal been working out? Well, so far, four books covered by the contract have been released: The Collapsing Empire, Head On, The Consuming Fire and this year’s book, The Last Emperox. Of the four, three were New York Times bestsellers and the one that wasn’t was nominated for the Hugo and won the Locus Award (there was an additional bestseller in there too: The Dispatcher, which showed up on the NYT’s inaugural Audio Fiction best seller list). In terms of the Interdependency series, the sales and bestseller rankings grew from the first of the books to the last. All the published books in the deal have been optioned for film/TV, and some of the currently unpublished ones have been, too. All the published books have sold in multiple languages.

This isn’t (just) luck. The deal was designed, in large part, to allow Tor and me the luxury of time to strategically build on the sales and the following I already had. One of the things I said to Tor when we were negotiating the deal is that I was perfectly happy to be known and to be labeled as a science fiction writer — I didn’t want to suddenly go “mainstream,” but I would be happy to be science fiction’s ambassador to the mainstream. Since the deal, that’s been the general thrust of our efforts; I write unapologetically science fictional books that non-genre readers might find approachable, and Tor’s magnificent marketing and PR people pitch me to the usual suspects in terms of press and readership — and then beyond that, too.

So yes, the deal has absolutely been working out so far. I have been the beneficiary of intentionality, and the agreement of the two primary parties to work strategically toward a goal, that goal being selling loads and loads of books to as many people as possible. To my credit, I’m writing accessible books that people (mostly) seem to like, and to Tor’s credit, they’ve been very active and creative in marketing and selling the books, and me. I can’t overstate the importance of the latter, and I saw it in action in the last few months, when my physical book tour had to be scrapped and Tor’s PR/Marketing folks built an online tour for me in a matter of days. I am in awe of and grateful for Tor’s publicity machine (and particularly Alexis Saarela, my direct PR person), and in return I try to hold up my end of the deal, not just in what and how I write, but in helping them promote me, and in supporting Tor and the other writers they have and promote. This is how the deal is supposed to work, and how things get done.

I’ve been asked if having a contract with so many books on it exposes me to pressure, as in Oh Jesus, I just finished another book and yet I still have nine more books that I have to write please release me from my prison of words. The short answer to this is, lol, no. I get to write for a decade (at least!) and don’t have to worry about whether what I’m writing will sell and if I’ll get paid for it. There are very few writers who would turn down that deal.

The slightly longer answer is: Hello, have you looked at the global economy at the moment, it’s in a shambles and it’s absolutely the freelancers and gig economy workers of the world — including the writers — who are going to take it on the chin. It might be years before things hit a new equilibrium. Many if not most of the writers I know are incredibly apprehensive about what this means for their ability to support themselves and their families through writing. And then here’s me, who all he has to do is — write. If I write, I get paid. Someone is contractually obliged to pay me a specified amount for every single book they’ve already agreed that they will take from me when I finish writing it. I have many problems with the state of the world today — oh boy, let me tell you about that — but getting paid isn’t one of them. That is an actual gift.

(Well, no, not an actual gift, since I still have to, you know, write the books in order to get paid. But I think you know what I mean.)

When I first talked about the deal five years ago, one of the things that I noted was that it gave me stability — rare for a writer in any era, and it feels even more rare in this one. Stability, as it turns out, is a huge boost to my productivity. This should not be a surprise — strange how when you don’t have to devote brain cycles to how you’re going to afford eating or keeping a roof over your head, you might have more cycles to commit to creativity — but when talking about a large, long contract, I think people tend to see the obligation it requires rather than the constancy it affords. For me, I don’t really see the obligation, because, you know, as a commercially-oriented author whose only job is writing, I’m obliged anyway. If I didn’t have this bigass contract, I would still have to write a book a year, more or less, plus a bunch of other things, or else I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. That obligation was already baked in to how I live my professional life.

What the contract did, again, was alleviate the anxiety of whether what I wrote would sell, or whether I would get paid for it (or more accurately, if I would get paid what I thought was reasonable). Now, being the lucky dick that I am, I will cheerfully note that selling work was never really a problem for me prior to the contract; my modus operandi was to say to Tor, “Hey, here’s a book, want it?” and they would say “Thank you, yes, that would be lovely.” But on the other hand, there is a three-year gap in my novel publishing schedule between 2008 and 2011, and it’s there for business reasons, not because I didn’t want to write novels in there. Yes, it’s weirdly coincident to the last major global economic downturn. Strange, that. Lesson: There are no guarantees in this business, even if you’re already a best selling award magnet. Unless you get that guarantee in the form of a contract.

That stability has business applications aside from money. For example, Tor has, for print and eBook, my entire back list of novels — fourteen so far, and (obviously) more to come. Having them all with the same house means we plan and strategize on how to use the back list to our advantage. So, for example, this April we did a one-day giveaway of The Collapsing Empire and a one-day $2.99 eBook sale of The Consuming Fire, directly ahead of the release of The Last Emperox. Tor can also do things like make the entire backlist readily available to bookstores when a new release comes out, so people who like the newest book have no problem finding older work, to the benefit of us and to bookstores. Book sales aren’t just about new books and bestseller lists — Old Man’s War is still my biggest seller, and it’s never been near a NYT list — and having stability and continuity in who is distributing the Scalzi library is a huge competitive advantage not every author gets to have.

Mind you, when the deal came out, there were a number of commentators who suggested that I had traded stability for the opportunity to make real money, since, depending on how one decided to slice it, an average of $261,000 per book or $340,000 per year, guaranteed, wasn’t all that much money; it wasn’t, really, what a bestselling, award-winning author should be making, now, was it?

(This is where actual authors, and actual bestselling authors, throw their heads back and laugh outrageously loudly, by the way.)

But these commentators are not entirely wrong. I mean, they’re wrong about $261k not being “real” money for a book, honestly, that’s just a ridiculous assertion in a world where the average advance for a science fiction novel from a “Big Five” publisher is something like $12.5k. But they’re not wrong that stability was as important to me as the price tag on the deal. And this was for a couple of reasons.

The first is: Look, unless you’re buying yachts and helicopters and trophy spouses and cocaine, or live in San Francisco, there comes a certain financial threshold where all your life needs and wants are taken care of and more money just becomes more money and not much more. What that number is for you depends on several factors, including where you live (see: San Francisco above), what your debts and owes are, how important being flashy with your money is, whether it’s really critical to you that your kids go to an Ivy-level school rather than Eastern Michigan University (or your state’s equivalent), where you vacation and (hopefully) how much you save for the day when you’re not making money anymore.

Turns out, for me, that number is somewhere around $200,000. At $200,000 all my bills and debts are paid, I’m able to invest and save and pay for my kid’s college, I get to buy whatever thing it is I want to buy (usually tech stuff and musical instruments), I can donate to charities and most of all I can just stop worrying about whether I can afford to live. More money after that? Great! Love it! I’m a capitalist! Into savings and investments it goes. But for me, the quality of my day-to-day life is not manifestly changed above $200k — a sum which in itself, incidentally, would still put me in the top ten percent of income earners in the United States.

What that realization means for me is that after a certain point, I had the luxury of looking at a book deal not just in terms of what the money was, but what else I was getting from it and what that would mean in the long term, financially and otherwise. It might not surprise you to know that before Tor made their offer, I was actively being scouted by other science fiction imprints, and had more than one lunch with editors and publishers where we talked about how I would fit into their house and plans. I think it’s not unreasonable for me to suggest that I could have gotten something like a seven-figure, three-book deal from another Big Five publisher, where the average advance per book would have been significantly higher than what I got from Tor.

But here’s the other reason stability was as important as the money: Because the tradeoffs matter. Is it better, for example, to go for a book deal that offers more money up front but has a shorter term, and represents a concrete break with your publishing past (this is the back list thing again), requires you to get used to a new publisher, editor, PR/Marketing team and so on, with the knowledge that if those three books underperform, for whatever metrics “underperform” represents, you’re out on the pavement again and everyone knows why? Or is it better to get possibly less per book up front than you might get elsewhere (but still more than enough, I mean, Jesus), work with people you know, like, and respect professionally, know — because it’s in the contract — that your books will be a priority on release, and if one or two (or more!) underperform, you have time and resources to adjust and compensate? For a decade, at least?

There is no wrong answer to this, incidentally — the answer is entirely about one’s own tolerance for risk and/or desire for the ability to do long-term planning and strategy. By this point, I think, my own answer is obvious.

And part of that, and because I’m not entirely immune to the charms of money, even when I have enough, is because here’s a thing I know: Money makes more money, and calls attention to itself — which is to say that the longer you’re making significant amounts of money, the easier it is to make significant amounts of money, and to be visible to the people who will give you money. When commentators looked at the deal as $261k per book or at the $340k per year figure, they were only seeing the money in a blunt and not very useful breakdown that was only about the money in the contract. What they didn’t see was what the attention a $3.4 million, decade-long, 13-book deal, could get me.

Which was, in this case: a separate deal for the audiobook rights, mirroring the Tor deal in length, with the result being that each book release is a priority for a second publisher (Audible, who is a delight to work with), meaning more publicity and marketing, also from exceptionally smart folks. More long-term deals from foreign publishers with more money attached. Increased interest from Hollywood, with option deals following. Paid speaking gigs and other business opportunities. Write ups and profiles and analysis in mainstream media, not just genre and trade publications. A raised profile that Tor and my other publishers can work with and use to increase interest in my work and grow sales, which makes the next round of publicity and marketing easier, raising my profile further — something we can do over and over and over, not just two or three times. And — this is important — increased interest in my back list, which generates sales and royalties between new releases.

Money makes money, or can, anyway. With this deal, at least, that has absolutely been the case. Krissy does not like for me to talk specific sums and I think she has a reasonable basis for this. I can say, without being overly specific, that with respect to the contract and all the knock-on deals and benefits that accrued because of it, and after (absolutely earned) agency and lawyer fees, we left that $3.4 million figure in the dust a while back. With luck, we’ll close out the contract having made a respectable multiple of that amount (Ifif I don’t mess up and write something unreadable, if the economy doesn’t crash so hard that people just stop reading, or at least, paying for books, if I don’t die of coronavirus or marauding bears, if I don’t become such a complete jerk that people can’t bear the sight of my name on a book, if a meteor doesn’t dinosaur us all, if, if, if). Please note that if I’ve already cleared that sum, my partners, Tor most of all, are doing pretty well with the arrangement too. Sometimes things work like they should.

So yes, I paid for stability. I’m happy to say it’s paying me back.

Perhaps the best thing I could say about this contract five years in is that if I had to do it over again, I can’t think of much that I would do differently. It created for me the ability to write the books I want to write, and apparently the books that people want to read. All while knowing that I have partners I can trust to sell the work, and me, to the world, over and over again. Again, this is a gift that not every writer gets to have. I’m immensely grateful for it, and I look forward to writing more books under this contract. Nine more, in fact. I can’t wait.

New Books and ARCs, 5/22/20

As we begin the Memorial Day weekend, here’s a stack of the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Anything here that speaks to you as we head into the long weekend? Share in the comments!

Ohio’s Opening Up But I’m (Still) Staying In

So, Ohio is on its way to opening up entirely — restaurants can open their inside dining areas today, and by June first places like banquet halls and bowling alleys can be back in business. This is all presuming social distancing, etc, inside those halls and alleys. A lot of people around here are thrilled, and I can’t say I blame them; it’s difficult to be away from the world for two months, even in the best-case scenario where your job and well-being are miniminally impacted by these events. A lot of people are ready to go back into the world, or at least the bit of it encompassed by Ohio.

I’m probably not going to be one of them. And, briefly, here’s why:

1. Because the virus wasn’t (and isn’t) actually contained.

2. Because lots of people think the virus was contained, when it wasn’t (and isn’t).

3. As a result, they’re not really paying attention to things like masks or social distancing.

4. Or they think that things like masks/social distancing make you look weak and/or like a Democrat.

5. And I live in a county that went 78% for Trump in 2016, so you do the math here.

Sooooo, yeeeeeah. My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I do plan to leave my house. I have a dentist appointment in June, and it’s likely at some point or another I will go to the grocery store, or the post office, or run some errands. When I do, I’ll wear a mask (well, probably not in the actual dentist chair, but right up until then) and I’ll keep my distance from most folks. You know, like I have done for the last few months anyway. Mind you, even if I stay at home there’s a chance I’ll still get exposed, because people are becoming more mobile in general, so there are more potential vectors for infection, etc. So I’m not under the illusion that I’m safe. Just safer.

(I could go on about all the political/social dimwittery that caused us as a nation to waste the time all of us were inside, and how we could have been in a better place vis-a-vis this virus if we had better leaders, but, honestly, you already know where I would go with all that, and I don’t want to bother right now. I’m angry about it, but mostly at the moment I’m just exasperated. And tired. Possibly mildly depressed. Meh.)

I am of course immensely privileged to have the resources to stay at my (objectively nice and comfortable) home, a job that allows me to work from that home, and a temperament that mostly doesn’t consider staying at home a hardship. As far as dystopias go, mine is quite cozy and it won’t be exactly onerous to hunker down for another month (or two! Possibly three!). I feel sorry for the people who would like to able to do what I can, but cannot, for various financial and personal reasons. And again, I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

In any event: Hi, I’m still staying home. Probably. Mostly.