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View From a Hotel Window, 3/18/22: Brookline

The sun is out today! Well, at least some of the time. I will take that. Also, Brookline, hello! I am in you and looking forward to the event tonight at 7pm at Brookline Booksmith.

Tomorrow: United Theater in Westerly, Rhode Island! First, me, at 7pm, and then Pacific Rim, at 9pm! How cool is that?

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KPS Workplace Guidelines

Here’s a fun little thing I did over at Tor.com today, assisted by their able graphic artists: The Kaiju Preservation Society Workplace Guidelines: The Too-Short Version. It’s what you need to know to survive a world that has massive creatures who could step on you like you step on an ant. Not everything you need to know, but perhaps just enough to get you through your first week. But really, you’d be better off reading the manual. Isn’t that always how it is?

— JS

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View From a Hotel Window, 3/17/22: Richmond

St. Patrick’s Day is rainy here in Richmond, but we’re still going to have a good time at tonight’s event, which is at 6pm at Sam Miller’s Restaurant, presented by Fountain Bookstore. Remember that proof of vaccination will be required, so be ready to show that off (I have mine on my phone).

Tomorrow: I’m in Brookline, at Brookline Booksmith, and everything happens at 7pm there. See you soon, Massachusetts!

— JS

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The Big Idea: J.L. Worrad

Sometimes an idea or concept gets played with so much in fantasy and science fiction that it seems impossible to try to reclaim it from the trope pile. What to do? If you’re J.L. Worrad, you try to breathe new life into it anyway… and in doing so discover something essential about it, as he does for his novel Pennyblade.

J.L. WORRAD:

‘Oh no, not another fucking elf’, Hugo Dyson once proclaimed as Tolkien read an early draft of The Lord Of The Rings. Legend has it the curmudgeonly Oxford don had already drifted off to sleep on his couch a number of times before this final outburst. 

Dyson was a prophet of sorts, a Cassandra in tweed, for nowadays his is a sentiment as likely to come from the mouths of fantasy readers as anyone else, aware as they are of all the decades of fiction Tolkien inspired. Elves are a staple of the genre, as endemic to fantasy as, say, dragons but these days, unlike dragons, they can feel stale and hackneyed. 

Indeed, Will Elves Ever Be Cool again? was the title of a panel at a science fiction convention I attended a few years back. I don’t know if the panellists found an answer to that one because I went to see a different panel, but something about the title’s question got stuck in my teeth. My mental teeth.

I decided I’d wade into this hoary trope for my next novel. No one ever called me cool anyway, so I’d little to lose. The trick was, of course, to take a fresh approach, keeping the essence of elves whilst being unafraid to muck around with the details. The ears were non-negotiable.

Novelty lay in the contradictions. See, there are folklore elves and then there are Tolkien elves (let’s put the Christmas variety to one side) and, despite Tolkien being an unrivalled expert on myth, his elves aren’t as faithful to the blueprint as all that. Tolkien popularised elves. He also sanitised them. 

The elves of folklore, particularly English folklore, are amoral, mendacious and care little for the sanctity of human life. They glamour people, enchant them, steal them away. Often deeply sexual creatures, Elves may be ethereal in aspect but their urges can be all too earthy. Tolkien’s elves on the other hand… well, here’s Wikipedia

In The History Of Middle Earth Tolkien elaborates on elvish sexuality. The Eldar view the sexual act as extremely special and intimate, for it leads to the conception and birth of children. Extramarital and premarital sex would be considered contradictions in terms, and fidelity between spouses is absolute.

One senses Rivendell doesn’t have many Barry White albums lying about. 

I decided my ‘elves’, the commrach, would contrast Tolkien’s sanitised Apollonian elves with the earthy, hedonistic elves of folklore by containing elements of both. Like most things, this concept hinged on sex. 

The commrach have a collective breeding season lasting one month every year. You can imagine this has enormous effects upon the character of a civilisation. For most of the year the commrach isle is a very sexually liberal place, particularly for the ruling classes, but come April the culture turns deeply conservative and authoritarian with the weight of millennia old laws. Free love is controlled and co-opted. The gender spectrum is suppressed. Procreation toward the ‘perfection’ of bloodlines is the goal.     

Which brings me to the general creepiness of Tolkien’s elves and the elves of popular culture he inspired. Creepy, because they’re perfect. Their beauty is mesmerising and they are young forever. They look like us but are better, wiser versions of us. There’s an element of the uncanny valley here and, I’d argue, something even more sinister. 

It’s become internet famous that Tolkien gave an admirably caustic response to a Berlin publishing house’s enquiry into his ethnic background. He was far from a fascist and I would never claim otherwise, but there’s something about those fair and noble elf folk that’s disquieting in an early 20th century kind of way. I mean, if you asked a fascist, back then, to paint a picture of their idealised future centuries after their ‘struggle’ was long done with, it would be something like Rivendell:  a happy folk at one with nature, each one a flawless craftsman, clean limbed and free of infirmity, more beautiful than the day and the night. Pure fantasy, in other words, and one quite loathsome if you peer beneath the shimmering surface. 

The commrach, as a culture, have swallowed that lie, or something very much like it. For millennia their natural philosophers, the Explainers, have overseen their ‘perfection of the Blood’, breeding the upper classes toward some impossible ideal. The Explainers have even predicted the perfect face, ‘the final countenance’. Its presence runs right through commrach society, in their sculpture and their festivals, where masks of the final countenance are handed out to wear. The final countenance is not the face of Galadriel or Elrond, but it may as well be. The commrach are elves trying to live up to impossible standards of elvishness. 

In all likelihood Hugo Dyson would have found the commrach just another bunch of fucking elves and I guess he would be right. But I like to think I’ve explored a dystopian strand implicit to the elven trope and maybe that, at least, he might have grudgingly approved of. 

Of course, a dystopia needs a protagonist to rebel against it. I’d already an inkling as to their nature. The reason I didn’t go to the Will Elves Ever Be Cool again? panel was because I went to another panel about the rogue archetype in fantasy and science fiction. The panellists noted the scarcity of female rogues in the genre and that statement got stuck in my teeth. My mental teeth. But that, dear readers, would be another Big Idea.       


Pennyblade: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s|Bookshop

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow J.L. Worrad on Twitter.

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View From a Hotel Window, 3/16/22: Decatur

I neglected to post this yesterday, on account that during the time that I usually post a picture like this, I took a nap. But better late than never! My window this time looks in on an interior courtyard. And has this cool light fixture in it, so, I thought you would still like to see it. Today: Richmond! I will see you there.

— JS

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View From a Hotel Window, 3/15/22: Chapel Hill

After a very early morning, I have landed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for the first event of the book tour, at Flyleaf Books. Things are going a little bit differently this time, with the signing starting at 5:00 p.m., followed by the actual event at 6:00 p.m. so if you are coming, remember to get there early so I can sign books for you!

Today’s view from the hotel window is a classic. A parking lot, some trees, some background elements. Basically, just everything that you come to expect in one of my hotel photos. Yes, it’s been a hot minute since we’ve had one of these types of pictures. But I’m back in the swing of things, folks.

Tomorrow: I will be heading to the great state of Georgia, specifically Decatur, Georgia, for an event at the Eagle Eye bookstore. That will be at 7:00 p.m. See you there!

— JS

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The Kaiju Preservation Society: Out Now!

Finally! My newest book, The Kaiju Preservation Society, is out and in the world (or at least, in the US and Canada, the UK edition comes out on Thursday). It’s available in Hardcover and eBook, and also in Audio, read by Wil Wheaton. You can get it at your local bookseller, or online: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Books-a-Million|Indiebound|Powell’s|Kobo|Google|Apple or really anyplace you might get your books.

The reviews have been excellent, here in the US and in the UK. And it’s already been optioned for television!

I am touring to support it here in the US, starting today. I’ll be reading new stuff and answering questions and otherwise be full of shenanigans.

There’s so much I want to say about Kaiju, but more than that, I want you to read it. This is a special book to me, and among other things helped get me through a rough moment in the world. My experience writing it was joyful, and I think a lot of that joy finds itself transferred onto the page. I think you will enjoy the heck out of it. I hope you do, anyway.

If you’ve already pre-ordered the book: Thank you! That means a lot to me. If you’re planning to get it now that it’s out: Thank you too! That also means a lot to me.

A new book in the world never stops being an amazing thing to me. Something that was once only in my brain is now out to each of you. May it make you happy.

And now, I’m off the the airport for a ridiculously early flight to get to Chapel Hill, NC to start my book tour. See you at Flyleaf books, folks. And then in many other cities after that.

— JS

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Back Home, Briefly

We were supposed to be back home on Saturday and I was meant to have a full day to act like a sloth before I started tour activities. Ha! Ha! Ha! Our flights were delayed and we ended up flying into Indianapolis yesterday and having friends driving us to the Dayton airport to pick up our luggage, because of course our luggage made it to our home airport, rather than us. I slept in a little today, but soon I will be off to sign pre-orders at two different bookstores here in the area, and doing a virtual event this evening, and then, of course, off for two weeks of touring. The days are just packed.

Also, the JoCo Cruise this year was terrific and I have many thoughts about it, especially on the subject of cruising when we are not quite at the end of a pandemic, but I will save them for a slightly later time, when I’m not running around trying to catch up on literally everything before heading off for half a month. In the meantime suffice to say it was exactly the week-long vacation I needed right now, and the tour I’m about to take will be better for it.

Also, I usually take a whole bunch of pictures of the performers on the cruise and then edit/post them when I get home, but I won’t really have time to do much of that until I get done with the tour. So in the meantime enjoy these four photos, of (respectively) musicians Dessa, Aimee Mann and Zoe Keating, and then a photo of a whole bunch of musicians onstage for the final concert. A good time was indeed had by all.

— JS

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Russian Royalties

I’ve had a few people note I have book sales in Russia, and were curious what my thoughts were about that given the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So, with respect to my Russian sales:

1. I’ve instructed my agent to pause any contracts currently under negotiation in Russia and Belarus, and halt sales of future books (including renewals) into both countries.

2. Any royalties I receive from Russia/Belarus from already existing contracts will, for the duration, be donated to charities relating to Ukraine and/or refugees.

3. In advance of those royalty statements, I’ll be donating $1,000 to aforementioned charities, to be decided when I’m back at home and can make some responsible choices there.

That’s what I think about that.

(I’m on vacation now and my day will be spent being shuffled onto a cruise liner, which means I won’t have time to sit on a discussion thread, so I’ll be disabling comments on this post. I’m sure I’ll have other posts on this matter in the future.)

— JS

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Vacation Mode is [ON]

I’m off to the JoCo Cruise for the next week, and while I have populated in the Big Idea pieces between now and when I return, you probably shouldn’t expect too much else here from me between now and then, unless I decide to torture you with pictures of tropical paradise and what not. Likewise, I might occasionally pop into Twitter now and again, but you really shouldn’t count on it. Don’t worry, there’s a whole Internet to keep you busy until I get back. Try some of that for a bit.

Otherwise, see you in just over a week. Just in time for my book release, in fact. Wheeee!

— JS

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What I Did With My Wednesday

I signed a shitload of books. Here are some but not all of them. If you ordered a signed copy of Kaiju from Subterranean Press, it has now been signed and will be on its way to you presently (timed to arrived on or near the actual date of publication). I drove to Michigan to do this and then because I needed to be home tomorrow for JoCo Cruise stuff, I drove home. I’m tired now. I think I’ll go to bed.

— JS

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Very Quick Thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s Mega Kickstarter

Context: Brandon Sanderson, who has been a #1 New York Times bestseller as co-writer of the Wheel of Time series and his own Stormlight Archives novels, announced a Kickstarter in which he offered four previously unannounced novels as well as a “Year of Sanderson” swag boxes, all to be delivered in 2023. Announced today, the Kickstarter has already gotten $13 million in pledges, and it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that by the end of the pledge cycle, it may end up between $20M and $25M in pledges.

This has naturally sent the SF/F publishing world into a bit of a tizzy, with people wondering What It All Means for publishing, and who else in SF/F, or fiction generally, who could do something similar.

Naturally, I have some thoughts on this! Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Kudos to Brandon — it’s nice to see his work over the years has led to this. But I think it’s very important to stress the phrase “over the years” here. Brandon published his first books the same year I did (we were in the same Campbell/Astounding Award class together), and since then he’s both been writing assiduously and developing a merchandising and fulfillment backend of the sort that almost no other writer has done. His writing and work ethic got him the nod to finish the Wheel of Time series, and when that was completed he was able to carry much of that vast fandom into his already existing fandom, and into his own work. He’s done other Kickstarters and has developed a reputation for delivering on what he’s promised; he and his crew have done the legwork in creating specialty items and getting them to fans.

In short: Almost uniquely among modern SF/F authors, Sanderson is positioned not only to have an audience large enough for a vastly successful Kickstarter, but he’s also positioned to follow through on those Kickstarter promises with an already-built organization. The numbers this Kickstarter is generating are large, but in the larger context of his career, his ambition and his work, not ultimately that surprising.

2. Could any other currently working SF/F writer do this? I’m skeptical. Certainly there are other writers as popular as Brandon, but it’s the backend bit here that I think is easy to overlook as being critical. People are pledging to Brandon’s Kickstarter not only because they’re fans of his work, but also because they have confidence that a) he’s not going to do a Kickstarter fail and run off with their cash, b) that the quality of the books and swag boxes will be as advertised; he’s not going to half-ass it.

Look, running a Kickstarter is hard; I have any number of friends who have done them and all of them will tell you the effort it takes is immense, and what you get in return, after everything is said and done, isn’t always worth it. Lots of people who have funded Kickstarters will tell you similarly; what they’ve gotten is not always worth the money spent. In this case, however, Brandon & company’s previous experience in merch and fulfillment, on Kickstarter and off of it, works in their favor, in a way that someone doing a Kickstarter/fulfillment for the first time can’t realistically hope to match — even writers who have similar fan bases.

The SF/F writers I think could do similarly are people who, like Brandon, have at least some merchandising/fulfillment experience to go along with their writing. Neil Gaiman is one; Pat Rothfuss and George RR Martin are two others (don’t start in here about their publishing frequency; it’s already tiring). Among newer writers, VE Schwab and NK Jemisin are two I think have the goodwill for a very successful Kickstarter, even without a great amount of experience in distribution. After that, things get iffy. There are others who could essentially publish themselves out of petty cash (Stephen King, JK Rowling, James Patterson), but I’m not sure why they would want to bother; their merchandising/distribution set-ups are already well-built out (GRRM is likely and realistically in this category as well).

3. Could I do a Kickstarter like this? In at least one of the discussions online, someone suggested I might be able to pull it off. And my answer is: Probably not, or at the very least not nearly as well as Brandon. One, his fanbase is both larger and more fervent. Mine is fine — I know how much I sell, and it’s lovely — but Brandon’s is more. Good for him. Two, again, there’s the merchandising/distribution backend to consider. I don’t have one (yet), and even if I get one it’s likely to be built differently than Brandon’s is. Maybe at some point in the future, say if Old Man’s War finally gets made as a movie and is a smash, and I start more actively merchandising my work, then I could pull something like this off. But now? Nope!

And that’s fine with me, by the way. Again: Brandon’s done the backend work already; I haven’t. I’m not going pretend our positions are equal here. To repeat, what we’re seeing here is the result of years of planning that Brandon’s done but other writers, even ones of similar popularity, have not. It matters.

4. I’m seeing some people using Brandon’s Kickstarter as evidence that writers don’t need publishers any more, and my thought on that is whoa, Nelly, let’s slow down for a minute here. Brandon’s position is very nearly sui generis, for reasons I’ve already explained. He has essentially been running a publishing/merchandising/fulfillment company for years, while working with existing publishers to build (oy, here comes that word) his brand. Using Brandon Sanderson as evidence of anything other than that he makes a very fine and successful Brandon Sanderson is ignoring a lot of the work he did and eliding over the factors that got him to this point.

Can writers be successful without publishers? Sure, and some have been! But it’s an immense amount of work, that some people aren’t competent to do and others don’t care to do. I’ve mentioned before that I love working with my various publishers because they let me do the things I’m good at (writing, some marketing) while they handle literally every other thing, from copyediting to distribution, that I have no ambition to bother with. A writer like me is likely to be more successful with a publisher than without one. Publishers do bring things to the party, as it were, to make the party better.

Also remember — and Brandon is himself a good example of this — it doesn’t have to be either/or. A successful writer can do some things with a publisher first, and other things on their own first (provided they’ve done enough to establish a backend capability). The takeaway from Brandon’s Kickstarter success here is not that publishing is doomed, but that writers, particularly already-successful ones, have more options available to them than ever before, especially if they have already done the work to execute on those options.

5. And this is really the thing I think needs to be brought home here. Brandon’s done the work. He’s spent years doing the work, inside traditional publishing and out of it. Along the way, he’s caught some pretty big breaks (see that Wheel of Time thing), but many of those breaks have also been about the previous work. If you do the work, and have some luck (okay, a lot of luck), you’ll have more options to get your work to people.

But it doesn’t come out of nowhere. It took Brandon 16 years (not counting all the work he did before he got professionally published) to get where he is now, reaping the benefits of this whopping Kickstarter. Could someone else do it? Maybe, in time. But right now, it’s Brandon who put in the time, and effort. Good for him. If you want the same, get working.

— JS

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The End of an Era (Again)

The Post-Cold War Era now officially has birth and death dates: It was born on November 9, 1989, which is the day when the Berlin Wall fell, and it died on February 24, 2022, which is when Russia invaded Ukraine. Those 32 years, 3 months and 16 days were not all great (and I need to stress, this is putting it lightly). But within that era, the world was as open and to some degree unified as it had ever been, we were all connected through a global information network, for good and ill, and during that stretch of time, the prospect of being fried in nuclear annihilation was remote as it had been since the Soviets gained their own nuclear capability.

Today, tens of thousands of Belgians picked up iodine tablets from pharmacies, which is a pretty good sign that the Belgians, at least, think the halcyon days of not worrying that we’ll all be turned into silhouettes on the sidewalk are over. War is in Europe now, not for the first time since World War II, but on a scale that doesn’t leave much doubt that we’ve stepped through to a new and uncertain time, at least until the leadership of Russia is swapped out for something less twitchy and warlike. That might take a while.

There are some small things that are not bad, or should I say, slightly better, about this new era. The polite fiction that Russia (specifically the Putin government) is not a bad actor with regard to propaganda and purchasing conservative politicians and commenters in the west is now officially dead, and good fucking riddance to that. All but the most obtuse of conservative politicians and talking heads have gotten the memo in the last week; it’s been fun watching them denounce Putin with the same lips they’d been kissing his ass with days before. There’s also a vague look of confusion and panic in their eyes; they’ve been on the payroll for so long, or have benefitted from the Russian disinformation strategy of undermining Western democracy, that it’s clear they no longer know what to think or how to say it without direction. I don’t regret these terrible people being lost at sea, rhetorically speaking. I hope they drown there.

Beyond that, there’s not much to look forward to in the near future. The idea that Putin will not try to execute on his plan to subjugate Ukraine seems remote. He’d assumed the invasion would be quick and easy, and was embarrassed and humiliated when it wasn’t. Putin does not strike me as the sort of person to take embarrassment and humiliation in stride, and it’s pretty evident he doesn’t actually care about how many people he’ll kill, either his own side or among the Ukrainians, in order not to be humiliated more than he already is. The west has aligned itself with Ukraine and its government as it exists, and is strangling Russia economically. I am not to be relied upon as a competent observer of events here — I’m not an expert on Russia, Ukraine, or the west’s economic tactics — but with that caveat given, I’m not sure there is an easy way out here, or an “off-ramp” that can be given Putin that soothes his feelings while leaving Ukraine intact.

One thing that can be said is that the Biden administration, which warned us all for at least a few weeks that Putin and Russia would do what they did, and was widely mocked and derided on the right for it, got it right — and by all indications had conferred with key allies prior to events so as not to be caught entirely by surprise. It appears once Russian boots were on the ground in Ukraine, Europe moved faster than the US (in no small part thanks to an impassioned plea to European leaders by Volodymyr Zelensky), but everyone moved in more or less the same direction, and Biden’s people helped set the direction.

Bluntly: What a relief that is. Our fatuous windbag of a former president, speaking of right wing politicians who had been kissing Putin’s ass, likes to suggest that none of this would have happened had he been president. What a contemptable lie that is. If he were still president, Putin would have had an ardent ally in the White House, one more than happy to squash the brakes on a coherent western response to the invasion. The same man who had been impeached for trying to lean on Volodymyr Zelensky to smear Biden would have been perfectly happy to have the Russians hang him from a crane.

Instead, we have a president who saw Putin for what he was and what he intended to do. Biden, bless his heart, is not a perfect president, nor is his administration doing everything I want it to do at the rate I want it to be done. But on this, at least, he and it were where they needed to be, doing what they needed to be doing. If the post-cold war era is ending, the president overseeing it on our end understands the gravity of the change, and the messages the United States should be sending about it.

I’ll miss the post-cold war era, and the idea that our entire planet could be connected in ways it hadn’t been before. I don’t know where we go from here. I would like to think that at the end of it we’ll be someplace better than we are now. So much depends on the choices we make today, from the national level down to each of us in the voting booth. We’re living in history again, whether we like it or not.

— JS

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KPS Author Copies Are Here

The Kaiju Preservation Society, with cat for scale

And it looks fabulous, as of course it would. It’s a really real book now! That exists in the world! And, no, that never gets old. By tradition, Krissy gets the first copy of the book out of the box; the one you see here is #2.

Mind you, the rest of you still have to wait two weeks until you get your own copies. Be strong until then!

— JS

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“Go Fuck Yourself” and The World Today

By now, I probably don’t have to tell you about the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, who, confronted with a Russian navy ship which demanded their surrender, told the ship to “go fuck yourself” and then died when the ship retaliated. But it is worth noting how the incident is a microcosm of how Russia — and specifically Vladimir Putin — appears to have deeply misread how the Russian invasion of Ukraine was going to proceed. It seems likely (and this is me boiling down the thoughts of people much more familiar with the area than me, I assure you I did not suddenly become an expert on Eastern Europe overnight) Putin thought he was invading a soft target, into which he could quickly install a Russia-friendly government and then withdraw, taking the bits of Ukraine he wanted for Russia as he went.

Instead he looks to be getting a quagmire, in which the leader of Ukraine, assumed to be a callow former comedian who would run at the first chance, is rallying the nation by staying put and encouraging solidarity. The Ukrainians themselves are putting up a fight, and a better one than expected, and the rest of Europe, save a few client states, is now perfectly aware that Russia is in fact back to being an absolute threat, run by an unreasonable person who has removed from his sight anyone who might have told him this invasion was a bad idea. Putin may in fact get what it wants out of Ukraine — Russia probably has the military capability for that — but it’s not going to be clean or easy, and when all of it is done, the only friends Putin and Russia are likely to have are Belarus and the conservative parties of the United States and the United Kingdom.

That may not be enough. The world heard thirteen Ukrainian soldiers tell a Russian warship to go fuck itself; it’s seen the whole of Ukraine, its president down to old ladies in the street, tell the much larger, much more belligerent Russia the same thing. “Go Fuck Yourself” may not have the same ring as “Remember the Alamo,” but it certainly has a bluntness that fits the 21st century, an era that is clearly over decorum. And it makes the point: We see through your bullshit and we know why you’re here and why you’re doing it. And for that, you can go fuck yourself.

The invasion of Ukraine feels like an inflection point, one where we choose who we want to be for the next few years at least. Watch the people, and the organizations, who are defending Russia, Putin and their goals right now. They are the people who have decided that other people don’t matter, and that might, in fact, makes right, and that ends justifies the means, and that as long as you can spin it, then it’s really not so bad. They’ve know what Putin has planned for Ukraine. In it, they see the blueprint for their own plans, in other places, against other people. Not always on the same scale, or with tanks and guns. But always the same dynamic and the same goal: domination.

You may, if you like, choose be on that side of things.

Or you can choose to tell those people to go fuck themselves.

I have a pretty strong feeling most of us have already made our choices on this by this point. But if you haven’t, well. It may be time to think about it.

Update, 2/28: The soldiers apparently not dead, were taken prisoner by the Russians. A better state of affairs, and doesn’t change the defiance of their response.

— JS

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Hello I’m Deeply Annoyed For Technical Reasons

The technical reasons being my laptop not being able to find Delta’s wifi when I have a Big Idea to post. As a consequence a Big Idea post will be going up in the afternoon (I usually do them in the morning). Sky internet why are you so problematic.

Aside from that I’ll be scarce around here this weekend as I am visiting friends who I’ve not seen in a couple of years and they take priority. I hope you understand. Even if you don’t, I’ll still do my thing.

How is your Friday? Got any book/TV/movie/music/other entertainment recommendations? Given the state of the world at the moment, I think people would be happy to have a break suggested to them.

— JS

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The New Not Coolmobile

Faithful readers of Whatever will remember that in December, Athena totaled her car on Interstate 70 after running over debris from an accident involving two other cars. This was unfortunate, but she was unharmed (as were the two people who had the accident she came across), and really, as far as we were concerned, that was what mattered. In fairly short order, we got another car for her to use, a 2013 Chevy Equinox, much of which was paid for through the insurance settlement for the now-totaled car. So, a happy ending, as much something like this could have a happy ending.

Well, until three weeks ago, when Athena’s car suddenly started developing engine trouble, and by “engine trouble” I mean “shards of the actual engine suddenly appearing in the motor oil.” We took it in to be serviced and or local mechanic told us that in very short order the engine was going to tear itself apart. We had bought a lemon, basically.

And what can you do about a lemon? Well, in Ohio, there is a lemon law, but it only applies to new vehicles. Moreover, we were sold the vehicle “as is,” so, as a matter of law, we were pretty much out of luck. However, two things happened next: Krissy was morally outraged she had been sold a lemon and was determined to seek satisfaction, and the car dealership decided to be decent about the fact they had sold us a terrible car and/or quailed at the wrath of a pissed-off Kristine Blauser Scalzi. After they checked the car out in their own shop, they decided to allow us to swap the lemon for an equal-or-higher cost used car on their lot (if higher cost, we would pay the difference).

Which led us to this, a 2015 Honda Odyssey, which our own mechanic assured us was in very fine shape. And it is indeed in very fine shape; outside of scuff marks on the tailgate where clearly stuff had been repeatedly shoved in and out of the back, it looked, smelled and drove like new. As it happens, Athena’s first car was also a Honda Odyssey, specifically our 2003 model, which she had loved and had been sad to let go of at the end of its life. She was thrilled to be able to come back to the make and model once more. I’m happy because Hondas are, at least in my experience, ridiculously reliable. She’ll be driving this for a while, I’m sure.

If you’re wondering why I’m calling it the “Not Coolmobile,” that’s because when Krissy and I bought our 2003 Honda Odyssey, I got the license plate “NOT COOL” for it, on the basis that if you’re driving a minivan, you have accepted the fact that any pretense of coolness you ever might have had has just gone out the window. Minivans are practical and useful, but not ever cool. That being the case, why not have fun with it? People seemed to enjoy the plates, and every now again on the freeway we’d see folks passing us looking into the cabin of the car with a smile on their face. We’d wonder why and then remember the license plate.

The plates stayed on the minivan after Athena inherited it, and then, when we swapped the Odyssey out for the car she drove after that, the plates went onto it. But it was an SUV and so the “Not Cool” signaling was not quite as strong. However, now, the plates will be going back on a minivan. Time is a circle, it is.

I’m annoyed we bought a lemon but I am pleased the dealership chose to do the right thing by us in letting us switch the cars; that’s good service and I’ll remember it the next time I’m in the market for an automobile (notwithstanding the Ford Lightning we’re theoretically getting one day).

So, welcome to family, Not Coolmobile Two. May you last a long, long time.

— JS

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Now Witness the Power of This Armed and Fully Operational Space Toilet

Last year Krissy decided that she wanted to upgrade our bathroom suite, and not in just a “new hand towels and shower curtain” way — a whole revamp. I was fine with this, I said, if I got what I wanted out of it: a supercool space age “intelligent toilet” with all the bells and whistles. It took a while, because 2021 was The Year of Supply Chain Issues, but the new bathroom is 90% completed and the Space Toilet is now installed and operational.

I’ve now availed myself of the Space Toilet a couple of times, and I have to say, coming from your basic commode, it’s something of a surreal experience. One, it knows when you’re on your way and raises the toilet seat for you, with a little light in the bowl to guide you at night. Two, it then spritzes the porcelain bowl before you sit, presumably so whatever horrible thing you’re about to put into it doesn’t stick to the side of the bowl. Three, when you do sit, the seat is warm — not an awful “this seat was immediately previously occupied” warm, but a “I was expecting you and have thoughtfully prepared you a pleasant experience” warm. The sort of warm that invites you to settle in.

When you’ve done your business, whatever that business is, you have the option of the bidet. The bidet is adjustable for “front” or “back” (figure it out), allows you to adjust the pressure and temperature of the water, and offers both “massage” and “swirl” settings, which you can select from the remote control which hangs on the wall. When you’re done with that, there’s a dryer option, which runs just about as long as you like. When that’s completed, there are two flush modes to choose from, but if you forget (or are just an awful person) and walk away without flushing, the toilet will automatically flush for you. Then it does a little bit of sanitizing and closes the lid until the next time you come in to pursue your business.

It’s probably the single most complicated piece of machinery in the house, and it’s utterly ridiculous. I am very happy with my purchase so far.

Also, in case you’re wondering what happens if you lose the remote, you can operate it from the toilet itself (note the line of lights on the seat, which are buttons), and should the power go out, it retains flushing ability and so on. It is a basic toilet and can do basic toilet things (and we have three other more standard toilets in the house in any event). It just branches out from there.

Would I recommend my new supercool space age intelligent toilet to others? Well, let me sit with it (so to speak) for a while longer before I say. Partly because this thing is absolutely not in any way inexpensive; there are more expensive individual objects in the house, but not many. I suspect you can get 90% of the utility of this toilet for about a tenth of the price. But, oh, that extra ten percent.

It’s entirely the most bougie thing in my place, and while I am just fine with that, I’m not sure that’s for everyone. Give me a month or so with it and I will offer my final thoughts then.

— JS

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Okay, But, Seriously, What the Hell is Going On With My Shadow Here

I’m genuinely confused as to what’s actually happening here, and I crave your insight. Help me in this moment of crisis.

— JS

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Sugar the Cat Wants to Know Why She is On This Side of the Sliding Glass Door

Don’t worry, the instant she’s on the other side, she’ll wonder why she’s on that side, too. She’s a very cat-like cat this way: The best side of the door is the side she’s currently not at.

This Sunday has been given over to arguing on Twitter and picking up the house a bit. How is yours?

— JS

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