New Books and ARCs, 11/17/17

And here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs, freshly arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What do you see here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell us all in the comments.

The Collapsing Empire a Finalist for the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award in Science Fiction — Vote This Week

Yes! That overly descriptive headline says it all! The Collapsing Empire is one of ten Science Fiction books to make it to the final round of the Good Reads Choice Awards in the science fiction category, and if you are so inclined, you may vote for it at the following link:

https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-science-fiction-books-2017

Alternately, if you head over there and fine another book amongst the finalists that you liked better, go ahead and vote for it. Seriously, vote for the one you like best. I mean, I’d love to win the Goodreads Choice Award — I’ve not won it before — but not by stuffing the ballot box. Vote for what you like! That’s the way it works!

Also you can vote in all the other categories as well, not just science fiction. Go wild with your voting, people.

In any event, it’s lovely to have Empire a finalist. Thanks, folks. I’m glad the book is finding readers, and they’re finding it enjoyable.

A Q&A For the Post-Weinstein Era

(Note: this piece contains general discussion of sexual harassment and assault, so heads up on that.)

Hey there! As most of you know, I’m a dude. And like most dudes, I’ve been watching this whole post-Weinstein era we’re in with some interest. And because I am reasonably well-known on the internet for talking about things, I’ve had people, mostly dudes, contact me via social media and email with various questions about what’s going on and my opinions on these topics. So, let me go ahead and address several of them at once, with the help of my fictional interlocutor. Say hello, fictional interlocutor!

Uh, hello.

Let’s get started, shall we.

I… I just want it on the record that I’m deeply uncomfortable with these topics.

Of course you are! You’re a dude! What’s the first question?

I’m worried that someone might call me out for having been a harassing piece of shit at some point in my past.

Well, let me ask you: Were you, in the past, in fact, a harassing piece of shit?

Maybe?

I’m gonna take that as a “yes.”

I wish you wouldn’t.

Too late! And here’s the thing: If in fact at some point in the past you were a harassing piece of shit to someone, probably to a woman but really, to anyone, then you deserve to be called out on your actions.

But I hardly even remember the incident!

Ah, but the question is not whether you remember it, but if the person you harassed does. And you know what? When you’re harassed, it kinda sticks in your brain. For example, did I ever tell you that some dude once pinched my ass when I was in the supermarket? When I was, like, 11?

What? No.

God’s honest truth. I was standing at the supermarket magazine rack, looking at a video game magazine, when suddenly I feel my ass getting pinched. I turn, and here’s the creepy old bald dude, who must have been like sixty, walking by. And he turns around to see me looking at him, because clearly he’s the only one who could have pinched my ass, and you know what that creepy chucklefuck does? He winks at me. And then he goes off and he does his shopping, or whatever.

What did you do? 

I didn’t do anything. I was eleven at the time, it didn’t occur to me that there was anything to do. So I thought “what a creepy old dude” to myself, and went back to reading my magazine. As far as sexual harassment involving an 11-year-old goes, it really was — well, I don’t want to say a “best case scenario,” so let’s call it a “least damaging case scenario.”

But here’s the thing about that: Even now I remember the event, in detail, from where I was to the creepy wink and smile that dude had on his face. If I can remember that, for an event that took all of three seconds and otherwise hasn’t had a substantial impact on my life, you better goddamn believe anyone who you did worse to remembers what you did. They remember. In detail. Read the accounts of those coming forward with their stories. There’s often a lot of specificity in them. There’s a reason for that.

If you don’t remember (or barely do), it’s possibly because the event wasn’t trauma for you. The person you harassed almost certainly has a different perspective on the event.

But it was a different time!

Ah, yes, the Harvey Weinstein defense of “I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was a different time then.” I mean, it didn’t really work for Weinstein, now, did it? Partly because in his case claiming that things were different then doesn’t excuse being an assaulting piece of shit now, and it’s clear he was harassing and assaulting women right up until everything blew up in his face. But also partly because, who gives a shit if it was a different time? If you raped someone in 1973, you still raped them, you asshole. Or in 1983. Or 1993. Or 2003. Or 2013. Or now. There’s never been a time that rape and assault and harassment haven’t been rape and assault and harassment.

Yes, but now there’s consequences!

Well, yes, there are. There’s no statute of limitations on consequences, which apparently comes as an unhappy surprise to a lot of dudes. A lot of the mewling about this is, “well, it was so long ago.” It might be! But your actions almost certainly had consequences for the person you harassed (or assaulted, or raped) and may have altered the course of their life — caused them to change their career or quit a job to avoid you, or given them psychological or physical damage.

There were always consequences to your actions. It’s just that now you might have to share in them.

I’m a better person now!

Great! Did you ever make amends to the person you harassed or assaulted? Apologized, publicly or privately? Taken responsibility for your actions in some way? Worked to make right the trespasses you have made against others, to the extent that they wanted or allowed you too? Spoken to others, particularly those who love/like/are in business with you, publicly or privately, about your past transgressions so they aren’t blindsided by your past?

Not as such

Aaaaah, so you were just hoping it would all just go away and you would never have to think about it again.

Pretty much.

Well, surprise! You’re certainly thinking about it now.

Let’s say that before someone else outs me, I decide to out myself and admit I was a harassing piece of shit at one time in my life. What then?

I don’t know. Try it and find out. I mean, I’ll applaud your honesty, as long as it’s backed by actual repentance and effort to change and make right what you’ve done in the past. But, you know. Unless you’re that creepy chucklefuck who pinched my ass 36 years ago (and you’re probably not, I’m guessing he’s dead by now), I’m not the one to be asking about this, because I’m not the one you’ve wronged.

Can’t we have, like, a truth and reconciliation commission? 

Pardon?

You know! Like they did in South Africa, where everyone admits the horrible things they did and everyone gets amnesty.

What an interesting idea. Now, you do realize that particular commission was created after the fall of apartheid, by a government largely constituted by the victims of apartheid, yes?

I’m not following you.

What I’m saying is that before we get to a sexual harassment truth and reconciliation committee, basically the patriarchy will have to be dismantled and then it will be up to those running the new system to administer such a commission. How does that work for you?

Uh…

Dude, I’m totally ready to ditch the patriarchy if you are!

Let me think about that for a while. 

Do that. In the meantime, yeah. You’re not getting off the hook.

So if I come out and admit to being a harassing shit, I’ll likely get thumped on. But if I don’t admit it and it comes out anyway, I’ll likely get thumped on.

Sounds about right.

Neither of those really sounds appealing.

Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to be a harassing piece of shit.

I will say this: sorting out your own shit is always existentially better than waiting for other people to sort it out for you. There’s a small but telling difference between “I did this shit, and I was wrong, and I want to do better” and “Now that you’ve found out I did this shit, let me just say I was wrong, and I want to do better.” Neither is going to be cake walk, I expect. But then, you were a harassing piece of shit. You don’t deserve cake for that.

Can I change the topic, a bit, please?

Sure. What’s up?

Let’s say I that I didn’t mean to sexually harass anyone, but someone says I did or said something that made them feel harassed and uncomfortable. What then?

One, an actual apology is good. Two, don’t do it again to them or anyone else.

But why should I apologize? I didn’t mean to do it!

Okay, and? Look, let me be blunt with you: That person calling you out on a behavior that made them feel unsafe? They’re doing you a favor. If your behavior, intentional or not, is creepy enough that someone was compelled to say something to you about it, there are probably others who thought the same thing but didn’t say it — or didn’t say it to you. So the person actually saying it is like a person who pulls you aside and says “Dude, your breath smells like a cat shat on your uvula, maybe partake in a mint,” except instead of halitosis they’re talking about you skeeving everybody out with your words and/or actions. Thank them! In that context, a sincere apology is an excellent thank you, followed by adjusting your behavior.

But why should I change the way I do things? If they have a problem with how I say or do things, it’s their problem, not mine. 

Fine, don’t.

Wait, what?

Dude, I’m not the boss of you. If you want to continue to make people uncomfortable with your presence and actions, then follow your bliss. Just don’t expect to have a whole lot of friends who aren’t complete assholes. Also, be aware that if you keep that shit up, there’s an excellent chance that sooner or later five or six people are going to speak out about you and your asshole actions, all at the same time, and then you’ll be in the same boat as the “actual” harassers, i.e., being an actual harasser, because you didn’t think you had to learn.

Which is fine! Really, it’s fine. Go ahead, do that, it’s fine. Totally fine.

Okay, but what about if I’ve never done anything bad to anyone and I still get accused of harassing someone?

Well, either you did it and you didn’t know, in which case, see above, or, rarely, the other person is lying.

Yes! They’re lying! Yes! That!

My dude, aside from the actual fact that a woman accusing a man of harassment has her life turned into such a shitshow that the bar for her choosing to tell her story is almost unspeakably high (and therefore not fertile ground for lying), I want you to consider a singular and depressing fact, which is that nearly every woman you know has actual dudes who’ve harassed them. They will go after them, rather than outright lying about you. I’m not saying that people don’t get falsely accused of sexual assault and harassment. I am saying it’s pretty rare. Rare enough that when someone comes forward with a harassment claim, it’s worth taking seriously.

But still —

Also, you know? As someone who (still) has jerks falsely calling him a rapist for purely malicious reasons, allow me to suggest that people see through bullshit pretty quickly.

Fine. But I’m worried that I will try to let someone know I’m interested in them and they’ll think I’m harassing them.

So you’re saying your dating strategy is indistinguishable from harassment?

Dude, I don’t even know anymore.

Maybe it’s worth the time to find out and fix it if it is. I’m not, shall we say, active in the dating scene, but it seems to me that communication, consent and the active ability to take “no” for an answer will go a long way.

I’m just worried that every woman defaults into thinking I’m a creep until proven otherwise.

They might! Not just you, to be clear. Every dude.

Doesn’t that bother you? That every woman might start off thinking you could be a creep?

Well, you know. Pretty much every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted or been the recipient of unwanted sexual attention from dudes simply for existing. I know a fair number of men, mostly gay or bi but some not, in the same boat. I know relatively few trans and non-binary folks (although I suspect I know more than many folks), but I know sexual harassment and assault, primarily by men, is a huge issue in that community. Not only men sexually harass and assault, and as they say, not all men sexually harass and assault. But men are the large majority of those people who do sexually harass and assault. And, alas, the ones that do that shit don’t walk around with a neon light saying “Harassing chucklefuck” blinking over their head for easy identification.

So in point of fact I’m fine with women (and others) who I meet for the first time holding in their mind the idea I might be a creeper. I might be! They don’t know! I’m fine with doing the work to make them comfortable with me (the “work” in this case generally meaning “being respectful and kind,” which honestly isn’t that hard), and with the idea that they might never be entirely comfortable with me in this respect. I’d like to live in the world where every dude is not seen as a potential harassing creep, but we’re not there yet, because, as the events of the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, there are still a shitload of harassing creeps out there.

You want not to be seen as potential creep right off? Great! Do the work among men to bring the ratio of harassing shitheads way down. Don’t ask others to do the work that you want to see the benefit of.

One last question.

Sure.

What do you do when a friend or someone you admire, or whose work you admire, is outed as a harasser or abuser?

You mean, besides be sad and probably very pissed off at them?

Yes.

With people I admire, I think it’s obvious that I would probably stop admiring them. With regard to people whose work I admire, it would put the work in a different context and at that point I’d have to see how I felt about it. I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist. In both cases, I don’t find it difficult to hold two thoughts about someone in my head — that someone can be an admirable talent in their field and a harassing piece of shit, or that a particular book/movie/song can be amazing and the person who created it a terrible human.

With that said, someone being outed as a harassing/assaulting piece of shit makes it much less likely I will support their future work, since I generally prefer not to give money to people who sexually harass and assault people. To be blunt, there’s a category of work I file under “to be enjoyed after the creator is dead.” That’s where a lot of work is being sent these days.

With people I consider friends, well, look: I have standards for friends, and one of those standards is treating other people with basic human respect. Sexually assaulting or harassing other people is a pretty solid indication that you don’t respect that person, or the group of people they are a part of. My friends are all grown ups and they live in 2017; they should know better. If they don’t, well. That’s a problem for me.

People I know as acquaintances or casual friends I don’t have a problem casting off; I have lots of other, less problematic acquaintances. I am fortunate that none of my very good friends has been shown to be an assaulter or harasser. If one ever is, that’s going to be a thing. One because they managed to keep it from me for so long, which calls into question the nature of our relationship. Two because I’m going to have to ask myself if there’s anything there in the long path of our friendship that will make it worth salvaging. Maybe there is, although at the moment I don’t know what it might be. I’m not in a rush to find out.

So, this has been a long entry.

Yes it has. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I want to note that some of the ground I’m covering here has also been covered by women (like here and here and here), so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. And if it’s all new to you, maybe you should read and listen to more women, my dude.

Any last pieces of advice?

Sure. Dudes, don’t be a harassing piece of shit, don’t accept other dudes being harassing pieces of shit, and when women (and others) tell you that someone has harassed or assaulted them, believe them.

This is all pretty simple. And yet.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2017

It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Collapsing Empire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Sunday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.

Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: We have quite a few this year! There’s The Collapsing Empire, and the new paperback-sized hardcover edition of Old Man’s War, which by the way is a gorgeous little thing, perfect for gift-giving. Plus the hardcover print edition of The Dispatcher. Also, Jay & Mary’s might still be able to special order hardcover copies of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi — I say might because it was a signed limited edition run and most of the copies are already gone. Worth a try, however (also be aware that as a signed limited edition it’s a little expensive).

(Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my collection of writing-related essays, will be available for the holidays, but only via pre-order at the Subterranean Press site, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll need go order from there. These copies will be signed but I won’t be able to personalize them.)

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to). There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human DivisionFuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars, The New Space Opera 2. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock InThe Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

Full Review of the Pixel 2

After a week and a trip to Minneapolis where I used a lot of its functions, I can now say that I like my new Pixel 2 a whole lot. Let me count some of the ways.

1. Ergonomically I think it’s a winner for me. My last few phones were on the larger size and while the Pixel 2 isn’t tiny (it’s a 5-inch screen), it’s well-proportioned for my hand and it’s reminded me it’s nice not to have to use two hands to do stuff with the phone, and to be able to reach every part of the screen with one’s thumb. I’m sure I’ll succumb to a bigger phone/screen in the future but for now I’m enjoying it.

2. The textured aluminum back to the phone feels solid. It looks like plastic thanks to the texture, but doesn’t feel plastic-y (to me, anyway) and sets on the table with a small yet satisfying thunk. Also, the fingerprint dimple is well-placed and(!) has this feature where swiping down on it pulls down the notification drawer so you can look at it quickly (swiping back up puts it away). This is kind of genius and I use it all the time.

3. The two speakers up front are nice and loud and are positioned so I don’t block them when I hold my phone, which was a problem with the S7 Edge. As I’ve noted before, some reviewers complained that the bezels surrounding the speakers make the phone look blocky, but in practice I’ve found that I simply don’t care; it doesn’t really make a difference to me aesthetically — the phone still looks perfectly good — and doesn’t do anything negative with regard to its use. It’s fine.

4. The screen is bright and colorful and nice to look at. Technically speaking it’s a drop down in resolution from the previous phone I was using (it’s 1920 x 1080, where the S7 Edge was 2560 X 1440), but a) it’s a smaller screen, b) the Edge was set to 1920 x 1080 out of the box and I never bothered to change it, c) it’s a pixel density of 440 per inch, which means it’s more than sharp enough, d) I’m 48 years old and my eyes won’t focus close up so I have to hold it at a distance where there’s no possible way I’ll see individual pixels no matter how hard I try. Yay! Age! Anyway, the screen’s great.

5. The camera is really nice and it does a nifty thing (which I know iPhones do as well), where it does a second-long video capture around the picture, both to give the end photo more information to pull from, and, I guess, just in case you want a one second video. It eats up a larger amount of space than the picture might otherwise (it offers to back up to the cloud to help with that), but it’s still fun. The camera’s portrait mode also tries to fake depth by blurring backgrounds, which I found okay but finicky (a picture with my glasses on the top of my head kept the lenses in focus but blurred the arms). But generally I’ve been pleased with it.

6. The battery life seems to be very solid, which I chalk up to it being a brand new phone but also because the phone runs Android Oreo, which I understand throttles back apps when they’re in the background. It seems to be working. The only times I found the phone really drawing down were when I was in a dead spot and it was searching for a network to connect to.

7. Speaking of Android Oreo, it seems nicely functional, although most of the changes seem to be under the hood. The one major thing I’ve noticed is it does a “picture in picture” thing with YouTube and Maps, laying a tiny version of the screen on top of other apps when you bring them up. This is useful with Maps, less so in my opinion with YouTube, and in both cases the mini-screen is easily dismissed. It’s nice to have the most up-to-date Android experience, however, and Google’s committed to updating the OS for the next three years, i.e., longer probably than I will have the phone in any event.

8. It’s very speedy, thanks to four gigs of RAM, and obviously very well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, which works fine for me, as I am well integrated into Google’s ecosystem, too, for all the good, bad and existentially disquieting things that means these days. Also, and this is minor but actual thing, its alert tones (or the ones I use, anyway ) are pleasing and not at all obnoxious.

9. Oh, and: Google Assistant via squeezing the phone’s sides? Sure, why not. At this point it’s still not 100% intuitive and GA still has a ways to go (even if it’s better than Siri or Bixby) to be truly useful, but the squeeze function is just goofy enough to give the phone a bit of a science fictional feel.

What things don’t I love?

1. There’s absolutely no reason this phone couldn’t have had a headphone jack as far as I can tell. Doing the dongle isn’t horrible (aside from the whole “you must choose between charging and listening” thing) and the sound from my earphones is fine, but yeah, this really just is a decision to try to get you to buy bluetooth headphones, isn’t it.

2. Some fiddly setting bits that I have yet to figure out fully, like the “do not disturb” function, which seems generally inferior to just turning the phone to “vibrate” for alerts. This may be me simply not investigating more fully.

3. Uh, I think that’s it so far?

I will say that generally speaking it seems to me the Pixel 2 is getting caught in the undertow of negative press regarding its larger sibling the Pixel 2XL, which has a problematic screen, especially for something that costs close to $1,000. The 2XL was meant to be the marquee device, with the Pixel 2 being the more affordable also-ran. But inasmuch as the only substantial difference between the two is their size and the screen resolution (and a few hundred dollars in price), if you wanted the most recent Pixel/Android Oreo experience and are okay with a hand-sized phone rather than a tablet-sized one, I can happily suggest the Pixel 2. I don’t think I’ve been this generally pleased with a phone in a while.

The Difference a Day Makes

Same tree, 24 hours difference:

The season is called “Fall” for a reason.

Four Views of the Same Wife

Playing with a new Prisma-like imaging app (called GoArt) and ran a picture of Krissy through a few different settings. I think they came out well. Of course, it helps to have a good subject.

Incidentally, GoArt is a pretty decent little app, although you should be aware of the in-app purchase scheme of it, which is pretty pervasive. For all that, the filters are pretty nice, as you can see above. I particularly liked the filter that mimics abstractionism. You can see what it does to this photo of St. John University’s namesake saint, which was in the university church:

Pretty nifty. So if you’re looking for another way to make your picture look arty, it might be worth checking out.

Today’s New Toy: The Pixel 2

My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been getting the crashies for the last couple of months, so that (and the persistent “new tech” itch I have) was a signal for me to move on to a new phone. I considered one of the Galaxy 8s, or the Note 8, but I’m not sold on the 18:9 screen ratio — not the least because I’m annoyed they don’t just say 2:1 — and also they’re beginning to get goofy big. Both of these problems also plague the Google Pixel 2XL, which also has various screen issues. The Pixel 2, on the other hand, is nicely sized for someone of my particular hand width, and largely has the same innards as the Pixel 2XL, including what’s consistently now considered the best cell phone camera out there, with the ganky screen. So I’m giving it a shot.

The (very) early impression, a few hours in: It’s pretty and speedy and is I think probably the smallest phone I’ve had for a while. I didn’t think I’d get a smaller phone that the S7 Edge, but so far it’s not a problem, and is easier to palm and play with. The Pixels have this thing where you squeeze the sides and Google Assistant pops up; I’ve played with it a little and it seems more like a novelty than anything else, but we’ll see where that goes. It’s weird to squeeze a phone, though, and the haptic feedback makes it feel like it’s giving way and you’re breaking it a little (you’re not).

The Pixels also come with Android Oreo, which is a selling point but which is not (yet) hugely different than the Android Nougat experience. There’s no headphone jack but it comes with a dongle, which is fine. There are two reasonable nice front facing speakers on the thing, which are also nice. This occasions bezels on the top and bottom of the phone, which some reviewers found aesthetically displeasing, but which I don’t really care about. The screen is bright and more than pixel-dense enough. The camera, as advertised, is very good.

Overall I’m not displeased with my purchase. I’m about to go on a business trip so we’ll see how it performs then. If I have any major issues with it I’ll let you know.

New Books and ARCs, 11/3/17

Somehow, the books find me! (It’s actually because the publishers send them to me. It’s a pretty sweet deal.) Lots of good stuff in this stack; let us know in the comments which of these books seem especially interesting to you on this Friday afternoon (or, uh, later, if you see this later).

Rocket Man (Thumpy Asteroid Mix)

I recently picked up Reason 10, which is a music creation software suite, mostly because I thought it would be fun, in my voluminous free time, to make some music. The software is pretty complex and almost certainly more than I can handle, particularly now when I’m actually finishing up a book; nevertheless I made enough progress today that I thought I’d fiddle with it this evening and see what I came up with.

What I came up with: This version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” which I created by recording myself on playing a guitar and then running it through various virtual machines inside the Reason software.

With the exception of the bass drum beat, everything else started off as me strumming a guitar, so that’s neat. It’s kind of wacky what you can do with basic sounds these days. This bears exploring further… after I finish my book. Until then, enjoy this.

Weinstein, Ratner, Toback, Etc

Another day and another dude in the entertainment industry accused of sexual assault and harassment: Today it’s Brett Ratner, who six women accused of impropriety in a Los Angeles Times article, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who recounts an encounter two decades ago that basically amounts to rape, and Olivia Munn, toward whom Ratner has been pretty much a horny shit for more than a decade now. It’s been a pattern that once a few substantive accusations are out there more come forward (see: Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby), so I don’t expect the next several days are going to be very happy ones for Ratner. Nor should they be.

I imagine it’s likewise a very uncomfortable time for a lot of men in the entertainment industry right now, as they search their own pasts, recalling incidents that they are probably hoping to God are not dredged up toward the light of day by the women (or men! Or non-binary folk!) they’ve been horrible to, as the “whisper network” stops being whispery and starts talking out loud and unafraid. Ratner is the most recent powerful man in this particular barrel, but it’s deeply doubtful he’s going to be the last.

I don’t doubt it’s uncomfortable for everyone else in the industry, too, for all sorts of reasons. Let me explain it in personal terms: Currently I have several projects in various stages of development for television and film, mostly with people I’ve met with and liked but fundamentally know very little about except through the scope of their work. I am praying that none of them has been carrying on as a creepy, harassing piece of shit. Because, aside from all the very serious problems with that, there’s the extra added concern of what it will mean for the aforementioned projects, which would then have a radioactive person attached to them who no one will want to do business with, if not for ethics then for optics. I have ethical and also purely business-related reasons for hoping my associates are not fucking creeps. Multiply my position by everyone in entertainment right now, and you see the problem.

(And to be fair, the problem is in both directions: The people I have my options with know me mostly through my work, too. They don’t know what I’m doing in the rest of my personal and professional life, either, or whether or not I’m a creepy creep who creeps creeptastically, and my creepularity has simply just not been revealed to them — the “whisper network” doesn’t reach to where they are. I’ve not been asked to attest that I’m not a harassing piece of shit. They’re taking it on faith that I’m not.)

So basically everyone in entertainment right now, you could say, has the smallest inkling of what it’s like to be a woman in the entertainment industry, and not to know whether the person you’re meeting with will blow up your project or your career because of their behavior. Let’s not overextend the simile — the chances I or lots of other dudes will face a “casting couch” situation to get a project made approaches zero, for example — but certainly the question of “who are you really and how will who you are hurt me and my goals?” is one lots of people are asking in a different way these last several weeks.

On a vaguely-related note, someone sent along a bit from a detractor of mine who was hoping that I would be outed as a harassing creep because wouldn’t that be perfect, ha ha ha. Which will tell you two things: One, I don’t need to seek out people saying awful things about me because people feel free to send those along, so I have a crowd-sourced clipping service of people being shitty to me; and two, my detractors are terrible people.

This fellow is going to be disappointed, I think. Consent is important to me, and historically speaking I’ve been able to take “no” for an answer. Likewise I make an effort not be a harassing shithead of a dude (spoiler: It’s not that difficult to make that effort). I try to live my life so that people don’t feel like I’m just waiting for the right moment to be a creepy fuck to them.

With that said: Are there times I might have made someone uncomfortable, or said or did something they found creepy? Yes, probably! I’m not perfect and as I’ve written about before, the decision as to what’s creepy rests with the other person, not me (or you). So it’s certainly possible something I’ve done or said rang some worry bells in someone else’s head, and they prefer not to be near me or have anything to do with me. In which case a) totally fair, and b) I’m sorry.

Which is all easy to say, mind you. One of the things that the recent weeks has done is to cause me to go back and really look at how I have interacted with people, particularly women, over the years. I can think of times now where I’ve revised my opinion of my past actions downward (how I dealt with my long-term crush in high school is one example — I used to think it was puppy-dog swoonish and now I think it’s a little sad and creepy), and others in more contemporary times where I feel like I can do better and will try to. I think at least some of my detractors are of the opinion that I hold myself up as a paragon of perfect behavior and thought, and, well. Let’s just say I live in my own mind and know it better than they do. Trust me, I’m so not perfect. But I do try to be decent to people, and that’s a constant process.

(I do have a useful rule of thumb, with my actions toward other people and with life in general, which is: Is this something I’d tell Krissy about? If this answer is anything other than “yes, of course, unreservedly,” then there’s a problem, which, incidentally, is a cue for me to talk to her about it right then. You would be surprised — or possibly you wouldn’t — at how useful this rule has been over the years. You may also assume that there’s very little my wife doesn’t know about me.)

To go back to the entertainment industry, none of this is done yet: More people (mostly dudes) are going to be exposed for their harassing and assaulting actions, and even more people are going to have their lives and livelihoods thrown up in the air because of the fallout. It’s necessary but it’s going to be a mess. And it all could have been easily avoided. All it takes is not harassing, assaulting or treating other people like shit. Try doing that, entertainment dudes! You’ll be (tragically) surprised how effective it is.

Doing My Part for ACA Open Enrollment Awareness

Reposting here a tweet I just made:

For those of you who can’t see the tweet for whatever reason: It’s ACA Open Enrollment time! The current administration has both drastically cut the length of time for the enrollment period and the funds available to advertise it, because the country is currently run by a petulant asshole who wants to sabotage a useful program that his predecessor created. Enrollment begins today and runs through December 15th, and if you want to enroll, you can get started at this URL: https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/.

If you don’t already have coverage, folks, get covered. It’s much better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And by and large you can still find pretty good plans for reasonable prices, despite the efforts of the current administration to mess with that. Get to it.

Two Years of Scamperbeastery

Two years ago on this date Krissy, Athena and I went over to a neighbor of my mother-in-law’s with the intent of getting a kitten from a litter his cat had birthed. We ended up getting two, since they were small and also the kittens had clear affection for each other. The kittens became the Scamperbeasts, famed of blog and Twitter, and individually Sugar (the gray one) and Spice (the orange one).

It doesn’t particularly feel like two years have gone by, I think in no small part because the Scamperbeasts are relatively small adult cats, smaller than Zeus is, or Lopsided Cat or even Ghlaghghee were, so to me at least they still seem kittenish, or at least adolescent. They still live up to their names — they get the zoomies at unfortunately early hours and will suddenly bolt into and out of rooms for no discernible reason at all. They haven’t slowed down a bit.

They do have distinct personalities. Sugar is the affectionate one, who daily parks herself across my chest while I’m trying to, you know, write, and who loves to be held and petted, but tends to be shy with strangers. Spice, on the other hand, is friends with everyone but not a cuddler, and has decided it is her duty to show me her butt every morning like a furry alarm clock. Both are very friendly with Daisy, who mothers them.

They are also both expert mousers, killing a large number of rodents, especially this time of year, when the agricultural fields around us are harvested and the various creatures who lived in and near them start eyeing our house as a possible place of warmth and food. This is where I remind people that I live in a rural part of the county and all our cats are working animals as well as pets, and pest control is a real thing that happens.

But they certainly are cute, too, which is how the internet knows them and appreciates them. We like that about them, too. It’s been a good two years with the Scamperbeasts and we look forward to more of them. We’re glad we brought them home with us. They seem glad to be here.

Reviews: Wolfenstein II and Stranger Things 2

Last week two bits of entertainment I’d been looking forward to finally unlocked for my enjoyment: the video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Stranger Things 2, the second season of the well-regarded Netflix series. What did I think of both? Well, let me tell you.

Wolfenstein II: I enjoyed the heck out of this. The game takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII (they nuked New York!) and have occupied the US. Your job is to take back the country, mostly by shooting the ever-living crap out of every Nazi you meet. Obviously, this is a game that has some resonance in today’s political era, in which homegrown WannaNazis are stomping around in their polo shirts and khakis (some of these tender racist flowers complained about the content of the game recently, to which the gamemakers said, essentially, “Ha ha ha fuck you, you little shitheads,” which is a sentiment I can get behind).

Although the game takes place in the US, you don’t actually kill American Nazis, merely Nazis in America; they all spit German at you as you shoot them. Which is fine! Nazis of any sort make for good killing, if you ask me. There’s a special joy in mowing them down by the dozen, untroubled by pesky ethical issues. They’re Nazis, they deserve to meet large-caliber ordnance. And they do — this is not a game that’s stingy about throwing Nazis at you to be dispatched. I played the game on medium difficulty and found it was nicely playable at that level; challenging to get through but with enough ammo, armor and health that I could survive without having to save every ten seconds.

The game comes with a storyline involving hero BJ Blaskowitz and his band of freedom fighters joining up with the American resistance and visiting places like (nuked) NYC, Roswell, New Mexico and a New Orleans that’s been turned into a ghetto for America’s undesirables (Jews, blacks, gay folks etc). The storyline is pretty good, and has interesting moments, but can be bleak and has a couple of missteps, including a memorably gratuitous topless scene with one of the women characters, also involving very large guns. That said, I generally enjoyed the storyline, which featured more humor in it than I remember earlier installments having.

But really you’re here to kill Nazis. And you will! In the US and on Venus! (Why Venus? I think the answer is, why not on Venus, and also, there’s something sublime about battling Space Nazis on Venus. That’s a B-movie title right there.) If you’re hankerin’ to slaughter goddamned fascists, this is the game for you.

A final note of gratitude for this game: It’s all about the single-player experience, which is something I really appreciate these days. I don’t really care to do multiplayer games that often, and I prefer generally to pay for my game once rather than through in-game transactions. I don’t want to be on a team and I don’t give a crap about jaunty hats or alternate armor. I just wanna shoot things in peace and at my own pace. Kudos to the Wolfenstein II team for giving me exactly what I’m happy to pay money for in a video game experience.

Stranger Things 2: It’s a pretty good ride, and with that said, I’m reminded of a line in Die Hard 2, when, after a whole movie of plane crashes and guns blazing and terrorists grimly being evil, Holly McClane looks over to John McClane and asks “Why does this keep happening to us?!?” The answer is, of course: Because that’s what the audience wants. The audience wants the thing they got before, only more of it this time.

And there’s definitely more to ST2: Stakes are higher, the danger more dangerous, and poor Will Byers (who if this series had actually been filmed in the 80s would have almost certainly have been played by Wil Wheaton) gets slapped around by the Upside Down even more than he was in the first season. There are more subplots (justice for Barb! Eleven looks for home! New kids with their own drama! Steve and Nancy and Jonathan!) which take more time to deal with and don’t necessarily resolve in any particularly satisfying way, instead leaving loose ends to be picked up in Stranger Things 3, which will almost certainly happen.

Also, more than once, someone has to act stupidly in order to advance the story, which the shows tries to wink at by having the characters note that, gosh, they sure did something stupid there, didn’t they? Which doesn’t really solve the problem, but at least lets you know the show acknowledges your awareness that someone’s being dumb for plot purposes.

(Oh, and, hey, Duffer brothers: Naming one of your characters “Bob Newby” is a little on the nose, guys.)

None of this really bothered me that much, however, because the story does keep clicking on and ramping up, and the characters, so engaging in season one, continue to be so here and are often even more so. The kids still feel like real kids, the adults are occasionally clueless in particularly adult ways, and the bad guys are slightly more dimensional than they were before. I was sucked in and watched one episode after another just like I was intended to, and with the exception of an interlude episode which felt more like a soft-launch pilot episode of another series entirely, they all connected seamlessly.

Which is to say the story-telling technician in me could see all the tricks season two of this series was laying out and using, and the “shut up and just give me a fun ride” audience member in me didn’t care, because generally speaking, all the tricks worked like they were supposed to. So well done, everyone: ST2 was really enjoyable and I’m in for season three when it inevitably shows up and tortures Will Byers again.

That poor kid. He should just move out of Hawkins. Really, they all should.

My Halloween Self-Portrait, 2017

Pretty sexy, I have to say. Definitely right-swipeable on Tinder.

Hope you’re having a very fine Halloween.

ZOMG DUDES INDICTMENTS

Of Paul Manafort and Rich Gates. Those of you who had them first in the indictment pool, come claim your prizes.

I’m not a legal expert and I don’t know anything else about these but what I read in the news, but I do expect two things:

1. These are just the beginning;

2. If you thought Trump was angry and unhinged before, well. Just you wait.

Also “Conspiracy Against the United States” is a hell of an impressive-sounding thing to be charged with, even if it probably mostly just means you’re trying to hide money from the IRS.

Anyway: Happy Monday! I suspect it’s gonna be a hell of a week.

New Books and ARCs 10/27/17 + a Mildly Annoyed Twitter Thread

Thread first, followed by the new books/ARCs in the last tweet.

Scalzi and Munro in Fresno

During our recent California sojurn, Krissy and I stopped in Fresno for a day. Why? Because, in fact, that’s where I lived when we met (I worked for the Fresno Bee newspaper), and we still have friends in the area, and we wanted to see them. One of the friends we saw was Donald Munro, who was a fellow journalist at the Bee, and who now runs the Munro Review, a site focused on the Fresno and Central California arts scene.

Most of what Donald and I did was catch up on things — it was the first time I’d been back to Fresno in about a decade — but I also did an interview with him for the Munro Review, talking about Fresno, writing and other stuff (including how I proposed to Krissy). It’s a fun interview, and you can read it here. Also, of course, if you’re interesting in the Central California arts scene, please check out the rest of the Munro Review, and put it into your daily reads. Donald’s great at what he does.

RIP, Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse

The last time I chatted with my friend Stephen Toulouse, he was cheerfully trolling me on Twitter about the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck,” which he enjoyed rather more than I did, followed by a quick DM to let me know he was just having fun, which of course I knew. I was having fun with him too.

I’m so happy my final words with him were of friendship, and fun, and silliness, and of kindness to each other.

Farewell, Stepto, my dear friend.

 

Chromebooks and Photoediting

As most of you know I’m fond of Chromebooks, but they do have limitations — it helps to have a constant internet connection while using them, and for a long time everything had to be done in the browser. This was okay for email and word processing, but less great for things like photoediting. Recently, however, recent editions of Chromebooks (and ChromeOS, the operating system) have started being able to use Android apps, including various photoediting programs like Photoshop Express and Snapseed.

When I traveled to California recently I took one of my Chromebooks (the Asus 302ca) and then checked to see how well it handled some light photoediting of pictures I took with my Nikon d750. It turns out it did pretty well; both Photoshop Express and Snapseed have the ability to handle RAW photo files, which means you can have substantially better control over images than you just get through .jpg files. It’s not optimal — none of the photoediting suites in Android are as fully featured as you will have get on the desktop — but it’s still easily workable on a picture-by-picture basis and the gap is beginning to close some. If you have an Adobe CC subscription, Adobe just released a version of Lightroom that lets you photoedit equally on your phone or on the desktop, which means late-edition Chromebook users can access that as well.

If you’re doing a lot of photowork, you’ll still need a desktop or PC/Mac laptop. But, if all you need is a bit of light photoediting/curating, Chromebooks are now an option. Which I think is pretty neat.