Small Business Saturday: Pour Vallery Art

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of Small Business Saturday! In case you missed the last two of these, this is where I post about a small business I’ve ordered from that I really like and can highly recommend to y’all. And again, this is NOT where I am sent something for free and asked to promote it or paid to talk about something. This is a business I have found on my own and purchased from, and am promoting simply because I like it and hope you will, too. The last two times happened to both be cosmetic/skin care related businesses, but this week I have chosen to feature an artist I recently bought work from!

One thing to know about me is that I love art, and much to my parents’ dismay, I keep buying new pieces to add to my collection. My most recent addition was from an artist named Valerie Davis, who is the owner of Pour Vallery Art! She makes the most incredible alcohol ink pieces, as well as acrylic paintings.

I bought this pair of mini alcohol ink pieces (they’re on wood); the left one is titled “Athena” and the right is “Hera”.

beautiful pieces of blue, purple, and gold alcohol ink paintings on wood

Aren’t they so beautiful?! I don’t know where I’m going to put them yet, as I ran out of space on my walls long ago (which is part of why my parents tell me to stop getting more stuff for my walls). These two were really calling my name, and I didn’t want to decide between the two. Luckily I didn’t have to because she sold them as a set! How could I resist? I simply couldn’t.

There’s something so wonderful about the rich colors, the vibrancy, the way she blends them together so beautifully, I mean look at this piece from her newest update titled “Deep Violet Space“. That name is so accurate, it really feels like looking into a nebula, it feels otherworldly and ethereal. I’m extremely tempted to buy this piece, but I shall restrain myself… for now.

Another piece of hers (titled “Pastel Punch“) I simply had to feature to show you all how amazingly talented she is:

I am so totally obsessed with her work! It’s so beautiful. I especially love the touches of gold, makes it feel so lux. And who doesn’t love some glam?

So, yeah, if you’re looking for some new art to decorate your space, or a gift for an art lover for the holidays, I really recommend buying a piece from Valerie. Or if you like her stuff but don’t feel like buying, you can follow her on Twitter!

I hope you enjoyed looking at her artwork as much as I do, and have a great day!

-AMS

Biden 306 + Ohio Election Thoughts

The NYT election results map, showing Biden with 306 electoral votes and Trump with 232.

John ScalziNews organizations have finally called the last two uncalled states (see the New York Times graphic above), with Georgia going to Joe Biden and North Carolina going for Trump. With those last two pieces set into the election puzzle, Biden has 306 electoral votes, and Trump 232.

You may recall that in 2016, when Trump won 306 electoral votes, he termed his victory “historic” and a “landslide,” even though he lost the popular vote by a few million. I doubt Trump will call Biden’s equivalent electoral vote victory historic or a landslide, despite the fact that Biden has won, to date, roughly five million more popular votes than Trump has. Indeed Trump, like the whiny, pissy baby he is, continued not to acknowledge his “historic, landslide” loss at all. There are still some votes to be counted, and Trump has unleashed a barrage of dubious and ineffective lawsuits, but everyone who is not either delusional or a sad partisan hack recognizes that this cake is baked. It’s been baked for about a week now, and it’s well past time to start serving it up.

A map of Ohio with each of its counties; Darke County is highlighted. It gave 81% of its vote to Trump.

Locally, the 2020 election is notable in that Ohio, where I live, has now officially shed its status as a bellwether state; for the first time in at least half a century, I think, it went for the loser of the national election. Nor was the vote all that close; Trump ended up getting 53.3% of the Ohio vote, about eight percentage points more than Biden. This was roughly the same vote percentage gap that Trump had over Clinton in 2016 as well (although in 2016 Trump the overall vote percentage was a couple of points less). I don’t know if this means Ohio is now officially reliably red, but it certainly was reliably Trumpish.

In my own neck of the Ohio woods, Darke County, it was a blowout for Trump: 81% of the vote and just 17.5% for Biden (including my own vote). This is the highest percentage of votes that any presidential contender has gotten from the county in any election going back to 1856, the second place going to Trump in 2016, when he won just under 79% of the vote. Those couple of extra points seem to be because of higher turnout, not because of voters in Darke turning against the Democrats (well, any more than they already had). Biden got more voters in Darke than Hillary Clinton did, by a couple hundred votes, but Trump got about 1,500 more votes than he did in 2016. While I’m not thrilled with the results, I am generally happy about increased voter turnout. People should vote if they can.

I’m going to be very interested in what the trend will be for 2024. Not in Darke County — it’s been Republican for most of a century and as a 98.5% white rural county is likely to remain so — but in Ohio. Trump is making noise about running for president again in 2024, but I doubt he’ll be able to, in no small part because he just might be in prison. I am curious to see how Ohio reacts to a Republican presidential candidate who is not him. We’ll have to see.

That said, I’m not going to give it that much thought right now — that’s four years from now. Right now Ohio will have to stand there in its wrongness and be wrong. No cake for Ohio! Let’s hope it’s learned its lesson.

— JS

The Big Idea: Kimberly Unger

Do you worry about making a good first impression? How about a first impression with an alien race? Author Kimberly Unger discusses in her Big Idea just what would happen with these first impressions… if our emissaries weren’t necessarily the ones everyone expects them to be. Read on to hear more, and how it involves her new novel, Nucleation.

KIMBERLY UNGER:

Hey folks! Thank you for taking the time to check out the Big Idea today.

My name is Kimberly Unger and I am here to talk to you about one of the Big Ideas behind my debut novel, Nucleation.

At some point, we stopped plunging headlong into the great unknown and did the smart thing, the safe thing. We let the robots go first. We send probes and satellites and rovers and landers, we peer through telescopes and send out radio signals. We bounce frikkin’ laser beams off everything in frikkin’ laser beam range. All of this, every signal, every nuclear-powered tin-can, gets out there before we do.  

Why?

Because we don’t want anyone to die who doesn’t have to.

I don’t imagine that’s a uniquely human drive. Once you get past a certain level of self awareness, the preservation of that self (and of related selfs) becomes very important. It’s pretty likely that other intelligences are going to try the same trick. First contact is probably not going to be between us and them, it’s probably going to be about our stuff banging into their stuff. And with our farthest out stuff travelling at 38k miles per minute (or 17 kilometers per second), I hope nobody’s particularly precious about their toys. 

But until live beings get involved, it’s just an interstellar traffic accident. The risk is not to life and limb, but to our stuff. This is where Nucleation begins. Enter Helen Vectorovich, a best-in-class waldo jockey who pilots those far-reaching robots from a billion miles away. It’s not a job without risks, being deeply embedded in a reactive VR simulation can do some harm to mind and body if one isn’t careful. Her NAV, Theodore. has the safe and cushy half of the tasks. On an average day the two of them make an unstoppable team, on their best day ever they saved an entire off-planet colony from disaster. But after this interstellar side-swipe, someone or something reaches through their quantum communications link to hit back. Ted is the one to suffer the consequences and Helen is the survivor left to unravel the whys and hows of just what happened.

And, despite the levels of automation, the endless checklists, an exploratory process that was supposed to run on autopilot for decades at a time, it takes Helen’s observation, human observation, to step outside the plan and discover the truth behind a first contact scenario that has well and truly gone off the rails.

The Big Idea, one of the pieces I was working to bring across in Nucleation, is that these things we reach out with may very well be our inadvertent ambassadors. If our little robots just execute their programming, and their little robots just execute their programming, when we finally get out beyond our solar system we are going to find that relations have already been established. Like Helen Vectorovich stepping into the middle of an interstellar war on a nanotechnological scale, our first contact might be a little more like second contact; trying to repair mistakes, put out fires and follow up with the diplomatic paperwork.

I find the point where people and technology intersect to be a deeply fascinating place, not just the front-facing pieces like social media and videogames, but the deeper surfaces that drive supply chains and make predictions about where to search for medical breakthroughs. There is a little something of us in everything we create, both for the good and the bad. We are just now working on figuring out how to make that a deliberate choice, rather than just an unconscious reflection of our bias. We are privileged to observe our own technological processes as they get out into the wild and we can see what they do and the effects they can have. 

Ideally the things we send out into the black on our behalf will be the better version of us so that when we do finally connect face-to-face, our biological selves will make the same good impression that our robot-selves did when negotiating that first collision out among the stars.

—-

Nucleation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Adventures In Baking: Chai Cookies Edition

Athena ScalziAs I mentioned in my apple cider post last month, it is truly the season for pumpkin spice! However, there is one seasonal flavor that I think is leagues above pumpkin spice, that being chai. Chai is truly a divine drink, especially iced chai lattes! So when I saw one of my favorite food bloggers of all time, Half Baked Harvest, post a recipe called Chai Spiced Maple Sugar Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting, I knew I had to make them.

And so began my perilous journey! Well, maybe not perilous. But we’ll just say it was to keep the story interesting. Anyway, the ingredients list is super simple! I know it looks long and intimidating but that’s just because there’s so many spices in it. The cookies are basically just butter, brown sugar, flour, and eggs for the most part! And then you throw in all those delicious spices like cinnamon and ginger that are the epitome of seasonal flavors. Same with the frosting, it’s really not hard! I know browned butter sounds fancy and tough to accomplish, but I can assure you, the frosting was a piece of cake (wait, aren’t we making cookies?).

The only ingredient on the list I found to be an issue was the chai sugar. I’d never heard of such a thing before, as amazing at it sounds, and couldn’t find any at the store. But it’s optional so whatever!

Here is the amazing picture of them included with the recipe:

leaf shaped chai maple cookies

(Image courtesy of Half Baked Harvest)

Aaaand here’s mine:

kind of ugly cookies with frosting on top

(Image courtesy of my dad holding them while I take a picture with my phone)

So yeah. Kind of not how I had hoped. But for starters, I didn’t have a leaf shaped cookie cutter. Or any cookie cutters. And I also made them too thick to turn into sandwiches, so I just put the frosting on top instead! Honestly I’m a rebel.

Unfortunately, they’re kind of ugly. Especially since the frosting is on top and I don’t even have any chai sugar to sprinkle on! I kind of blame myself for them being ugly though since I didn’t use a cut out shape or anything, just scooped them with a cookie dough scooper. They didn’t spread out at all, so whatever shape you put them in the oven as is what they’re going to look like when you pull them out.

As for taste… they’re pretty okay. They’re not bad by any means but they’re not exactly what I wanted them to be. I don’t know if it’s my fault or the recipe, but they were a little lackluster. The frosting definitely adds to it, but the cookie itself without frosting is just alright. The frosting is quite good at least.

I had a friend that rated the cookie 7.5/10 and another say 6/10, so that definitely says something. One said they didn’t taste like much, which I can agree with. If I ever make them again, I think I’ll put in a higher quantity of spices than what the recipe says. They just taste kind of plain. And they’re a little tiny bit on the crumbly side. Again, this may all be user error.

Here’s what they looked like without frosting!

plate full of chai cookies

They’re very basic looking. I really wish I had a cookie cutter shape. And yes this picture was taken outside because I have garbage lighting in my house. The bottoms of the cookies got browned before the cookies were really done, but it was far from detrimental or anything.

So, yeah, made about two dozen cookies if not a smidge more, and had to buy almost no new ingredients for it, it’s pretty simple! I recommend if you make this, you should attempt to make it a little more flavorful or sweet or something. And if you have a leaf cookie cutter, definitely do it the way it was intended to be done.

Let me know if you like pumpkin spice or chai better in the comments, or neither, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Sore Loser, and the Malign Loser

Picture of Donald Trump with his face flanked by the words

Original photo by Gage Skidmore. Used under Creative Commons License.

John ScalziDonald Trump has lost the 2020 presidential election and has absolutely zero chance of winning it now. This is because the election has already been run, and it resulted with Joe Biden winning, with, to date, 77 million votes, 50.8 percent of the voting electorate and 290 electoral votes, with another 16 likely to come once the recount in Georgia is done. The margins by which Biden has won these states are impossible to overcome, as historically recounts change the vote totals by hundreds of votes, and Biden is up by 14,000 in the closest race of the states where numbers are being contested (that’s Georgia). The suits that the Trump campaign has filed regarding election fraud have been shot down as hearsay or because of other flaws in the filing; they are historically flimsy suits, and even the ones that aren’t affect a number of ballots that will not change the results of the election. There was no systemic or systematic electoral fraud.

The idea that the Republican legislatures in the “contested” states will rebel and name their own electors is a pipe dream, you decide which kind of pipe, and in any event the legislatures in at least some of the states have signaled they have no interest or intent to get involved. That leaves an autocoup attempt, I suppose, but given how much open contempt this president has had for the military forces in the United States, and the seriousness with which our military takes its oath, let me just suggest I don’t see that move ending up happily for Trump.

To repeat: Donald Trump has lost the 2020 presidential election, definitively and decisively. If you believe this, congratulations, you have some minimal relationship to reality as it exists in the world. If you do not believe this, either you have been trapped in a bread box at the bottom of a well for the last two weeks and are just now catching up, or you have some injury of the brain which does not allow you to process information in a reliable manner, or you simply choose to live in a fantasy world for your own, probably at this point frantic and malign, reasons. Or, alternately, you know Trump has lost the election, but you choose to pretend this fact is not real, because you are, in fact, a mendacious piece of shit.

Which brings us to President Trump and the GOP.

There is no scenario that exists in which the GOP’s “brain trust” — I use that phrase advisedly — believe that there is a path to Donald Trump winning a second term in the White House. None. They are smarter than that and they have been doing this too long. They are going along with this nonsense because, bluntly, they don’t want an angry retaliatory Donald Trump, and at this point that’s more important to them than any damage they’re doing to the country or its institutions. It’s frustrating for me to continually have my nose rubbed in the fact that the GOP literally does not give a crap about anything other than the GOP and the GOP’s interests (coddling the rich; tossing civil rights over the side to keep its white supremacist base engaged), but here we are in November 2020 and the GOP is acting absolutely to spec.

In the White House itself, I imagine everyone around Trump knows it’s over (it certainly seems that way), but there’s his ego to be salved and money to be scammed off of the president’s dimmer supporters, and at no point has Trump ever been interested or concerned in anything other than Trump. So again, this is all to spec.

One of the ways that Trump is coming around to accepting being defeated is to suggest he was robbed of the election (which to be clear, is absolutely incorrect in every way; he lost it fair and square), and thus to suggest he’s going to be the GOP candidate for 2024. On one hand, what a horror that would be, to have the GOP dragged around by Trump and his grifty children and hangers-on for another four years; on the other hand, what absolute karmic justice, for the GOP to be dragged around by Trump and his grifty children and hangers-on for another four years. I can’t decide what is better, or worse.

(Note well that all of this elides the fact that Trump (and his family) are going to spend the next several years at least, and probably the rest of his life, fighting criminal suits and creditors, and dealing with the inevitable reveals of just how massively he sold out the country for his own interests. The Trump family has grafted (and grifted) itself onto the GOP like a parasite in order to scam money and lawyers from somewhere. I suppose the GOP will have to decide whether it wants to spend the next several years propping up a bad businessman’s debt and a bad president’s reputation. Neither of those is going to be a good deal for the party in the long run. I have some popcorn set aside for how this plays out.)

Trump lost the election. I didn’t expect him to concede; I still don’t. He’s too insecure and pathetic for that, and we all knew that going in. At this point, most of my actual ire is with the Republican party, which really has just gone over to the working principle that it only acknowledges elections that go its way, and that all other elections are illegitimate. It does this because over the years its cultivated its base to be ignorant and reactive and resistant to facts — which is why we had Trump at all.

The GOP, as it is, is a cancer of American democracy. Not because it’s conservative — there will always be conservatives, and if we must have political parties, then conservatives should have one no less than anyone else — but because it fundamentally no longer acknowledges either the necessity of American democracy or the need for an informed electorate. It wants a mob that is open to authoritarianism whenever it loses a vote.

Trump is a sore loser. But the GOP is a malign loser. We can and should blame Trump for not conceding this election and starting the transition process to the Biden administration. But even more, we should blame and condemn the GOP for supporting and encouraging a position that endangers the county, internally and around the world. It knows better, and simply doesn’t care.

— JS

Make Like a Tree

The leaves on the backyard maple are now all on the yard.

There comes a day in the fall when the wind really picks up and all the trees that have been still hanging on to their leaves let them go, and, well, today was that day. Overnight we had a cold front move in with winds and rain, and in the morning all the leaves on the backyard maple had transferred themselves to the yard. Now pretty much all the trees are bare around here and will remain that way until March. At least we can say the leaves this year were pretty while they lasted.

— JS

The Big Idea: Ginger Smith

What does one do with themselves when their purpose is fulfilled? How do you adjust to a life you weren’t built for? In Ginger Smith’s newest novel, The Rush’s Edge, she explores finding meaning in a world so different from the one you’re accustomed to, and finding brotherhood along the way.

GINGER SMITH:

Sebastian Junger, has been a war correspondent for fifteen years. He speaks very eloquently on the brotherhood that soldiers miss when they come back to a lonely civilian world. He explains it’s more than friendship. It’s knowing that someone has your back and would give their all for you and that you would do the same for them. This sense of brotherhood between soldiers makes up one of the big ideas of The Rush’s Edge

I didn’t realize right away that my book would tackle some of the issues that veterans face. It crept up on me and became a subplot as I added backstory and characterization to Hal and Ty, two of the main characters of the book. As time went on, I felt like a painter building up layers of light and shadow. The light was the sense of brotherhood the two former soldiers share. The shadow hinted at the darker things that the two of them, especially Hal, had undergone as a solider in the service of the Armed Forces of the Confederation of Allied Systems (the ACAS). It wasn’t until later that I realized what had inspired me.

As the daughter of a veteran, I often think about my father’s service and the lasting effects it had on his life. Like the characters in The Rush’s Edge, his life was a painted canvas of lights and darks. My father enlisted in the United States Navy during the late 1960s. His service coincided with the widening conflict in Vietnam as more and more American soldiers were being funneled into the country. One of my father’s closest friends was killed in action. His name is now etched forever on a black granite wall in Washington DC.

I am sure that his friend’s loss was painful and left deep scars on my dad’s psyche. My father did not talk much about the things he experienced in the Navy during that time, but he was able to talk to my husband, a military historian. Dad relayed the story of how he was present as the USS Forrestal came into the Philippines after a terrible shipboard fire had killed over a hundred crewmembers and wounded many more. 

As I look back, I think how this must have shaped him. The light in the canvas of his life was that he was fiercely independent. He always took care of me and my brother and taught us to be hard workers. My father and I were both readers, and he taught me to love science fiction and fantasy from a young age. When I was five, he began reading The Hobbit to me every night before bed. Later on, he let me read from his own stacks of SFF paperbacks. It’s a small wonder, I suppose, that I am now a science fiction author. If he was still alive today, he’d probably be pretty proud.

But my dad’s time in the military came with a dark side too. He suffered from anxiety and alcoholism as he got older and refused to let anyone help him deal with his problems. There were just some shadows from his past that were too hard for him to shake. Now that he’s gone, the opportunity for questions has regrettably passed. But delving into the effect of military service on Hal and Ty was my way to explore the struggle veterans face after life in the armed forces. 

Hal Cullen, the main character of The Rush’s Edge, is a VAT (Vanguard Assault Troops) super-soldier. He was grown in an artificial womb in a Coalition-run facility and was trained subliminally by the interface implanted in his brain. The other vat soldiers he’s served with make up the only family he’s ever known. 

Vat soldiers are genetically engineered to experience the rush, a reaction to threat that allows them to think faster and fight harder than natural born soldiers. After their release from service, a vat’s drive for the rush leads them to seek out trouble that usually leads to their demise. They just don’t adjust well without the structure and camaraderie of the ACAS. Most vats turn inward as the loneliness of life on the outside eats them up. Hal’s story would have ended the same as any other vat, if not for Tyce Bernon, his commanding officer. 

Vats are forced to leave the ACAS after seven years of active service. When it was time for Hal to go, Ty quit as well. He found he could no longer stomach what the military was doing to soldiers like Hal. So instead of being alone, Ty invites Hal to help him run a one-ship salvage business, recovering parts from crashed ships past the Edge’s border. 

The Edge, like our own world, is a lonely place for veterans, but together, there is hope that Ty can help Hal avoid the dark fate other vats face. For these two, the bonds of brotherhood extend past soldier and commanding officer, past vat and natural-born. When I contemplated what the big idea of my book was, my mind kept returning to this sense of brotherhood they share. I can’t help but think my dad would have benefitted from having such a connection in a lonely world, and I hope that, once home, all veterans will somehow find this again.

—-

The Rush’s Edge: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

My Adventures in Dark Souls III (So Far)

Athena ScalziOkay, so, I just started playing Dark Souls III last week, and let me tell you, that shit is hard. I’ve put in eighteen hours so far, and I feel like I’ve barely accomplished anything. In Dark Souls, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to die, it’s when. And how many times (probably a lot).

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Dark Souls is a video game franchise that is very well known for being difficult. It’s like, a test to see if you’re really a pro gamer or not (obviously tests and gatekeeping are ridiculous though). It’s just widely known as THEE hard game of choice to test your skills. And for good reason! This series does not hold your hand at all. It gives you a shitty sword and a tiny health bar and tells you to go fuck some demons up. More often than not you get destroyed by the demons instead. Or at least, I do.

a book saying to get good at dark souls

This post isn’t a review or recommendation really, (though I guess I’m reviewing it a smidge but I won’t call it that because I haven’t finished it yet) this post is more about me coming to terms with my obscene levels of gamer rage and struggling with the learning curve of Dark Souls.

When I was younger, like thirteen or so, I had gamer rage so bad that I’d throw my PlayStation 3 controllers around the living room and quit in the middle of games if the bots were winning. Obviously I recognized this was super unhealthy and gross and have been actively combating such tendencies since then. And I really am a lot better about it now, I’m definitely super far from throwing shit now, anyways.

Dark Souls is all about perseverance. When you fail, you have to get right back in the saddle and try again. And again. And again. And this repetitiveness, seeing myself fail over and over, is disheartening. It makes me feel bad about myself to have to try to fight a boss fifteen times in a row before barely defeating them. Doing the same fight ten times is exhausting, and I just become ridiculously frustrated.

There are few games in which my anger outweighs my enjoyment, but this is one of them. It is not fun to play. It’s not really enjoyable at all and honestly I’d probably have a lot more fun doing literally anything else. So why bother with it? Why keep going? I’m not sure. Maybe I really am buying into the whole “rite of passage” thing, or maybe I’m doing out of spite, or to prove to myself that I can overcome my gamer rage and accomplish something for once. I can’t bring myself to quit. I won’t quit. I will beat this overrated, hard as fuck game, and maybe then I’ll feel the joy that I lack while actually playing.

a page from the game guide talking about how to deal with being frustrated

(sorry it’s blurry I totally ripped this off the internet)

But yeah, even the creators know you’re going to get mad at it. It’s just expected. I wish I could do as they say and just take a little break, cool down and do something else to alleviate my frustration, but more often than not I just yell “I’m done, I’m done, I’m so fucking done” and turn it off. But as I said, I’m working on it. It’s a process.

Anyway, I will let you all know when I finally beat this game. I beat the first Lord of Cinder last night so, pretty okay amount of progress so far, I guess. Oh, and if you’re curious about my specs, I am a warrior and I’m going for a strength build, so that’s currently my highest attribute right now at 26. Literally as soon as I finish writing this piece I’m going to go play it.

Let me know about your experiences with rage inducing video games in the comments! And if you’ve played Dark Souls III and have any wisdom to share with me, feel free! And have a great day!

-AMS

How To Get Signed & Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2020, PLUS a Very Special Short Term Deal

Jay and Mary's Book Center in Troy, Ohio

SHORT VERSION: For a limited time, as part of my annual “signing and personalizing for the holidays” service with my local bookseller Jay & Mary’s Book Center, if you order two books from them, I’ll kick in for a third. Because support local indie bookstores, that’s why. Some conditions apply. Details are below. Please read them.

LONGER VERSION: Every year around this time, I partner with my local independent bookstore, Jay and Mary’s Book Center, to sign and personalize books for people in time for the holidays. I do it because it’s an easy way to handle requests for signed books, and to help support a local business. Indie booksellers matter, and this is a small way I can say “thank you” to mine for being part of my community.

2020 has been a rough year for a lot of local business, including bookstores, and it’s not over yet. Now more than ever I think it’s important to shop local and support the business that keep money in the community, hire locally, and make their towns and cities a better place to be. And in particular I want to support Jay and Mary’s, because it’s a terrific store with terrific people who have always supported me as a local author.

So, here’s the deal. A while ago I bought a $1,000 gift certificate from Jay & Mary’s, to help support them in one of their quiet months. I haven’t used it yet — but if you live in the US, you can.

Starting today, if you call Jay & Mary’s Book Center and ask for the “Scalzi Holiday Special,” if you buy two books from the store, at least one of them mine, a third book is on me.

What book? Any book, not just mine — although obviously any books of mine you order, I will happily sign and personalize them for you as well. This offer lasts as long as that $1,000 gift certificate of mine does, so clearly, the earlier you get in your order the better (the earlier you order, the sooner the books will arrive, too).

Caveats to the deal: The “third” book in this case will be the least expensive of the three books. You will still have to pay the sales tax and shipping costs on the third book. One “Scalzi Holiday Special” per customer (you can order more than three books from Jay & Mary’s but you’ll only get one for no additional cost).

Also, remember Jay & Mary’s is a small local bookstore with a single phone line, so if you can’t get through immediately, please be patient. They are serving other customers and inputting orders by hand. It’ll be worth it, trust me.

So, yes! Spend my money! On gifts for yourself or the people you love! At my awesome local indie bookstore! It’ll make me happy, and you’ll get awesome books.

And now, the usual details on how to order signed, personalized books from me for the holidays, at Jay & Mary’s:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know that 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 Last Emperox), 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 for 2020 is December 4. (That’s a Friday this year.) This is slightly earlier than in most years because of COVID-19 and slower-than-usual mail service. That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 4 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: The Last Emperox is the current title available in hardcover only. 2018’s hardcovers Head On and The Consuming Fire should also be available if you ask for them specifically. The mini-hardcover of Old Man’s War is also available and is a great format for that book.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars and Fuzzy Nation, 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) are available in trade paperback format. 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. Also available: Robots Vs. Fairies, the anthology that features the story of mine that was adapted for the “Three Robots” episode of the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: Head On and The Consuming Fire, as well as The Collapsing Empire, Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (this is a novella), The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human Division, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The New Space Opera 2Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream have recently been moved into trade paperback, but mass market editions are probably still available if that’s your preference. 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), Virtue Signaling (a third essay collection, will also need special ordering) and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock InHead On, The 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. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be currently available on CD.

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!

The Big Idea: Emily C. Skaftun

In today’s Big Idea, author Emily C. Skaftun is thinking about death… for starters. With a book title like Living Forever & Other Terrible Ideas, perhaps this is not entirely surprising.

EMILY C. SKAFTUN:

Death! There is no bigger idea. 

The theme that emerged as I was putting together my favorite stories to create my first collection—and no one is more surprised than I that a theme emerged at all!—is something like:

Death. Maybe it’s not the worst thing that could happen?

Or: Be sure to read the fine print about your life after death.

We humans take it as a given that death, you know, sucks. We’d really rather avoid it, thankyouverymuch. And it turns out that in my short fiction I’ve explored a bunch of weirdo ways to be not dead. A lot of them aren’t necessarily preferable to the null of not existing that is the only actual post-death scenario I can conceive of (sorry, religious upbringing, I never really bought into that “heaven and hell” stuff you tried to sell me).

Like, for example, what if reincarnation is real, but there isn’t much life left on the planet, so your soul gets shoved into whatever anthropomorphizable thing it can find, like a pink plastic yard flamingo or a taxidermy jackalope? And what if in that form you can’t be killed, so all you have to look forward to is an eternity of hopping around on thin metal legs in an increasingly overgrown tacky suburban neighborhood?

That would possibly suck more than being dead.

Or maybe you become a zombie! That could be kind of fun; you could check a few more must-see sites off your bucket list, nom on some still-human tourists, all without a care in the world. Except: what if you did still have all your cares, all your heartbreaks and regrets risen along with your rotting corpse from that grave in the Hollywood Hills?

Maybe you thought you could cheat death with science, and had your head frozen. Except, oops! It turns out reincarnation is A Thing on a galactic scale, and while humanity was in no hurry to unfreeze your antediluvian brain, you could have lived dozens of lives as a tentacled star drive mechanic, a hybrid organic computer, a giant feathery lizard soldier, a rumrunning space squirrel, and countless other wondrous beings. If only you’d died.

Death is the one really unavoidable thing about life (since even taxes can be cheated!), and I think it’s important to honor that.

If all you read and/or watched was fantasy and science fiction, you might think death was a temporary condition. It’s gotten to the point that I reflexively think they’ll be back, even in what seem like the most hopeless of (fictional) cases. Run through with a sword? We’ve got band-aids. There is an antidote to every poison, a cure for every disease. And in the rare cases there isn’t—well, there are robot bodies, alternate dimension selves, doppelgängers, and of course ghosts. 

The first time this really burned my cheese (is that a phrase? It is now) was when I rushed out to buy a copy of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, in hardcover for fuck’s sake, because I’d heard that Ian Malcolm was the protagonist. I’d adored both the book and movie of Jurassic Park, because, hello, I am a human being, and I maybe also had a little eensy-weeny nerd crush on Jeff Goldblum (what can I say? I was ahead of my time). In the book Jurassic Park, to which the book The Lost World was presumably the sequel, it was absolutely clear that Malcolm was dead. Not only dead, but his body left on the island when the survivors evacuated. I rudely ignored my mom at lunch to find out how he had been resurrected. “It turned out I was only mostly dead.” 

After that I could put the book aside and eat my lunch.

But I did end up reading the whole thing, and not just because I’d sunk all that hardcover money into it. I read it because I loved dinosaurs, and I loved Ian Malcolm, and I wanted to spend more time with both of them. I was ultimately happy to have my favorite character back, even if his rebirth was sloppily executed. (Just think how awesome a sequel starring Ian Malcolm’s smug ghost—or clone—would have been!)

Death doesn’t have to be the end, in fiction.

But I believe there should be a cost. It’s probably there in the fine print.

The terrible thing about death, in my view, and in many of my stories, is not so much death itself. It’s the way death separates us from the people we love. 

So even characters in that wild and joyful reincarnation galaxy can still find themselves lonely on an interstellar scale, their loved ones scattered across staggering distances by the whim of rebirth but their memories of them intact. 

And the doomed plastic flamingos might just be okay, if they can remain a pair. 

The zombie is fucked, though.

—-

Living Forever & Other Terrible Ideas: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Emily C. Skaftun: Instagram|Twitter|Website

An Unexpected Side Effect

Athena ScalziWell, here we are in month nine of our pandemic, and things are worse than ever! So that’s… something. This pandemic has completely changed our sense of normality in our day-to-day lives. Social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, working from home, it’s all just kind of become normal almost. Not quite normal, but not far from it. It’s still weird, but not as foreign and strange as it was in April. We’ll call it normal adjacent.

One of the things that bugged me at the beginning of the pandemic was people that didn’t wear masks inside stores/businesses/etc. At the time, there was no mandate in place so technically it was optional, but it still irked me. Now, here in November with over 230,000 dead, it really fucking pisses me off to see how many people don’t wear masks, despite all the signs that say it’s required. I could rant about this for like, ever, but this post is not about selfish fuckers who don’t wear a mask in public. This post is about how mask culture has changed how I, and I’m sure many people, view certain things.

For example, does this picture make you nervous or concerned?

huge crowd of people in times square celebrating new years

How does this one make you feel?

tons of people crowded around a bar

Something about these seems off, right? Seeing all these people, standing so incredibly close, breathing all over each other? Doesn’t it feel weird to see not a single person wearing masks?! Of course, these were taken before the pandemic, and I know that, but it still makes me worried seeing all these people unmasked.

And this has been my problem with any movies I watch lately, too. Any show or movie where the characters go out and about into the world or are in huge crowds and not wearing masks, it throws me off! I’m like, “wait a second, where’s their masks?” even if it’s a movie from like, the eighties or something! It makes no sense, I know, but seeing crowds in any context now is so strange to me. I mean, did people always stand so close before? Did we really just let everyone breathe all over each other all the time? Was there ever a time before we had tape on the floor designating where to stand?

The “Before Times” seem so far away and yet so close at the same time. Like a dream you’ve just started to forget upon waking.

Today is another record-breaking day in terms of cases, and I imagine the trend will continue throughout the holiday season, because, well, it’s the holidays. Traveling, family gatherings, shopping for gifts, other activities that will probably make cases continue to rise. I’m sure even the mall Santas will be wearing masks with little reindeer or ornaments on them.

Please, be safe out there. Wear a mask, social distance, you’ve heard it a hundred times before. And have a great day.

-AMS

Pixel 5 Follow-Up

A picture of my Pixel 5.

John ScalziI’ve had a number of people ping me to ask me if I had any further thoughts on the Pixel 5 since I did my first impressions review a couple weeks back; apparently a lot of folks are in the market for a phone right about now. The answer is, yes, I do, and they are mostly: I really like this phone.

Some bullet points to expand on this:

* To begin, the battery life is, for me at least, phenomenal. For the first time that I’ve owned a cell phone, I’m not experiencing battery anxiety; I can use the phone like I usually do all day and still have a significant amount of battery left at the end of the day, when I set it back on the charger. I honestly don’t know what to do with myself; I keep checking my battery levels in the middle of the day, expecting them to be something like 30%, and then the Pixel 5 tells me it’s at, like, 85% and looks at me judgingly. Eventually over the lifespan of the phone the battery life will decrease, as this is the way of all things, but even when it does, it’s likely to get to the sort of battery level I had on the Pixel 4 when it was new. That’s acceptable to me. I can enthusiastically recommend the Pixel 5 simply on the battery experience alone.

* But the rest of the Pixel 5 experience is quite pleasant too! As noted before, the pictures out of the phone are as good as they ever are out of the Pixel line, the Pixel-specific phone features continue to be lovely, and if there’s any slowdown in the daily function of the phone because it’s using the 765 Snapdragon chip (save for a slight lag in photo-processing when you ask it to do portrait mode), I haven’t noticed it. The phone continues to be a delight to hold; the “bio-resin” coating on the aluminum back is not slippery and doesn’t attract fingerprints, and I can use it with a single hand.

If I have any complaint at all, it is that the fingerprint scanner on the back is slightly too sensitive and it accidentally drops down my notification drawer from time to time. But I think that’s at least partly due to me being out of the habit of positioning my finger on the back, thanks to the Pixel 4 using face unlock. I suspect the muscle memory will return.

But by and large, the Pixel 5, as a piece of technology, is transparent to me, which is to say that I don’t have to think about it as hardware, in order to access the things I use it for. It’s really well-designed as an everyday tool.

(Oh, and, I finally saw 5G on my phone the other day! It’s fine, it runs a little faster than 4G here in the boonies, but not enough so that I’m going to spend any amount of time thinking about it.)

* I was forwarded an Ars Technica review of the Pixel 5 today, which effectively said “why pay for the Pixel 5 when the Pixel 4a is almost as good for half as much?” For me, the answer is: Better camera, better screen, better build quality and better battery (also better processor and RAM, but I’m sure the 4a’s processor and RAM are fine). The way the review sort of elides all of that is a bit, well, sloppy. But honestly, if the 4a fits your lifestyle better, I’m sure Google, who makes both, would be happy to take your money either way!

It’s about use cases. In my use case, the Pixel 4a wouldn’t be enough, while the Pixel 5 is perfect. If you really like the feature set of the Pixel 5 but are kinda on the fence on the cost, you might check out the Pixel 4a 5G phone (No, Google is not helping with these too similar phone labels). The 4a 5G has the same camera and processor as the 5, but the build quality is slightly less robust, and it doesn’t have as much RAM. But it’s $200 cheaper! So, again, it’s about what you want out of a phone.

As it happens, I think the price of the Pixel 5 is perfectly reasonable for what you get, and also (and again, as noted in my previous writeup), the price is going to go down real soon anyway as the holiday sales get fired up. So if you want the phone but are price sensitive, wait a couple more weeks and you’ll see some price drops.

* So, yes. To repeat: I really like the Pixel 5; it sort of perfectly fits how I use a phone here in 2020, and I suspect that it will be a solid fit for a lot of other people. To borrow a phrase from one Google’s competitors in the phone arena, “it just works.” I like it just working.

— JS

 

And Now, Some More General Thoughts on the 2020 Election

Picture of Trump with the words

Original photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license.

John ScalziEarlier today I wrote a long piece about white supremacy and the 2020 election, which is here if you want to see it, but in case you’re wondering if I had any other thoughts about the election, here are some of them, in no particular order.

1. I am fucking relieved. In part because for a few days there the election looked closer than it would turn out to be, and if there’s one thing I know about the GOP, it’s that you never let the election get close, because then they are more than happy to steal it. Tuesday night it looked stealable, and I was trying to get my head in a place where I had to live another four years in a country with a corrupt dimwit bigot as president. I avoided most news and social media on Wednesday and Thursday, on the basis that if something genuinely bad happened, someone would probably text me.

Friday tipped Pennsylvania over and given where the outstanding ballots were still coming in from, and who they would likely to be for, I began to feel, well, better. And then after that, it was just waiting for the inevitable, which finally came on Saturday. Trump lost! He’s a loser! Biden won! He’s not a loser!

I thought when the official word came down that Biden had won it that I might cry. I did not, in part because the whole thing was extended over several days, and basically my psyche got to have some time to deal with the idea that Biden would actually win this thing. I did choke the hell up at several moments, however. In a larger, existential sense, the joy of not having to deal with Trump after January 20 is immense. And I am, let’s remember, a well-off cis, het white man. I cannot even fathom how relieved someone who is not white or cis or het feels right now.

This election is not the end of things, it’s just the beginning, and things will get harder, especially if Mitch McConnell is not punted as Senate Majority Leader. But I think it’s okay for the moment to be relieved. For four years, at least, we won’t have a president who is a real live grifting toxic piece of shit, and we won’t have all his grifting toxic piece of shit cronies to deal with, either. I will take that, thank you.

2. Related to this, while my previous post was a bit of a downer in terms of how many US citizens voted for Trump, in fact, I’m reasonably happy about events. Hey! 75 million people voted for Biden! That’s a majority of voters! And that’s likely to grow, both in raw numbers and percentages, as votes continue to be counted. This is a larger gap between voter numbers than Clinton got over Trump (remember: Trump lost the popular vote — most voters didn’t want him as president). I think the current estimate is that Biden will wind up with 306 electoral votes, which in a nice bit of irony is the number of electoral votes Trump got the last time around. Suck it, Trump! Biden got all your electoral votes and the popular vote!

More than that, these folks voted en masse — in the largest turnout, percentage-wise, in a century — despite active and real-time suppression of the vote by the GOP. The GOP wasn’t even pretending to be subtle about it this time around: You don’t fucking argue that one ballot drop-off location is sufficient for a county of four and a half million people, as the governor of Texas did, with a straight face. And of course there was Trump and his toadies, screaming about “legal votes,” i.e., the votes that were for him, not for Biden. And, well, one, fuck them, and two, given the election results, lots of the people who voted for Biden apparently voted for Republican senators and representatives on the same ballot, so one wonders how the GOP is going to square this with any more logic than “all votes for the GOP are inherently valid; all votes for anyone else are inherently not.” Which brings us back to point one: Fuck them.

It doesn’t appear that this particular election was notably plagued by voter fraud, any more than any other election ever is. There’s not an election fraud issue in the United States, it’s just the dog whistle that the GOP uses do it doesn’t have to explicitly say “we’re disenfranchising people who aren’t white.” Their problem this year, such as it is, is that the president and all his cronies are movie villains; they monologued well in advance what they were planning to do. Which, fortunately, gave the rest of us time to prepare, by voting early enough that ballots got in no matter how much the Trump administration slowed down the mail, by voting early in person, and by understanding that the entire GOP platform this year was “Keep People From Voting.” As I said on the day I cast my ballot, early and in person: Fuck you, I voted. There were literally millions of other people who said the same thing. And we won!

3. With that said, for the second presidential election cycle in a row, polls seemed awfully skewed and inaccurate, not regarding the national popular vote, but in the state and local races. Polls suggested that a number of Democratic senatorial candidates were up, and above the margin of error, and then on election day these candidates lost their elections by significant percentages. In both 2016 and 2020, polls seemed to offer, for lack of a better term, a “blue mirage,” where the Democratic support seemed stronger than it actually was.

Why? Got me, I’m not a pollster. But it’s a very real thing. The Biden campaign told its people to act and work like they were behind in the polls, and warned its voters not to become complacent. This was very wise! If the Democrats had ever let up, we might be looking at a very different presidential election result. The electoral college favors the GOP enough that a Democrat has to outperform in the popular vote to win, and sometimes even that is not enough: See 2000 and 2016.

(Yes, we should retire the electoral college, and yes, in a perfect world the president would be elected by popular vote with ranked choice. We don’t live in that world right now.)

I tried myself not to get too complacent regarding polls, but I still was surprised at how the Democrats underperformed in the senate races. Going forward my new plan is to simply subtract 5 points from the Democrat for any senate poll I see, and at least a couple points off any presidential poll. Seems a reasonable coping strategy.

In the meantime, remember that at this point control of the Senate is still up for grabs, due to the senatorial runoff elections in Georgia, which will happen in January. If you’re a Democrat, you might want to, you know, donate to those races (and vote in them, if you’re in Georgia).

4. As of this writing, Trump has not conceded the election and plans a series of legal challenges to it, which is unsurprising because he’s petulant fucking child who stomps his feet when he doesn’t get his way, waaaaaaaah. I don’t expect him to ever concede the election in any meaningful sense; at the very least he’ll whine and complain and gripe how it was stolen from him, which is a lie and is now a thing every news outlet will note, because he lost fair and square and the transition machinery is already in process. It doesn’t matter if he concedes; it’s not legally required and Biden will be the next president happen no matter how much he stomps his feet (unless he resigns and lets Pence have a couple of weeks in the big chair. Which would be amusing. And then Biden would still be president on January 20). But it’s certainly a reminder that he’s a petty and truculent waste of protein, and that to him losing is literally the worst thing that could ever happen to him.

It’s not — check with the New York State Attorney General about that, she’s got some plans to harsh his mellow starting at 12:01pm on January 20th — but I don’t mind if he feels that way. He deserves all the misery he heaps upon himself.

5. It took about 15 minutes from the race being called for Biden for conservatives and GOPers to start demanding that Democrats reach across the aisle to them, and Biden, because he’s Biden, has said nice anodyne things about wanting to be the president for all Americans, not just the ones who voted for him. It’s a pretty sentiment that I vaguely approve of in theory but as a practical matter think is… naive as things stand.

Why? Because, look: The modern GOP is a goddamned shithole of money-grubbing white supremacy whose entire political strategy is “fuck you, you get nothing,” and which sees conciliatory acts by the Democrats as a sign of weakness. If every time you reach across the aisle someone stabs you through the hand, you eventually stop reaching, or you’re a fool. I don’t mind if Biden makes some conciliatory gestures, or puts a couple of Republicans into his cabinet, or whatever. He’s a chummy guy and he’s old and thinks the relationships he had in the Senate 20 years ago still matter. And maybe he’s right! Maybe he can move whatever dessicated husk of a soul that resides in Mitch McConnell to cooperate on something. But I sincerely fucking doubt it, and I think he damn well better have a Plan B for after the first time that doesn’t work, which I expect will be, roughly, 12:02pm, January 20th, 2021.

6. By the same token, everyone saying that people who voted for Biden should be nice to the Trump voters’ tender feelings at the moment should maybe take a seat. As I noted in a tweet yesterday:

Let’s not pretend that quite a few of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 spent the last four years reveling in the fact that, since their idol was a raging bigoted asshole, they got to be a raging bigoted asshole as well. Four years of open racist bullshit, of science denial that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, of loud homophobia and transphobia and sexism, of morally plastic “Christianity” and of, yes, seeing “fuck your feelings” as a moral trump card, pun absolutely intended. I don’t have to care what you think, the big toddler I helped put into the White House said I don’t have to. 

Then, the instant that big toddler loses, the people who they’ve spent four years screaming Fuck Your Feelings at, whose rights they’ve ignored and tried to curtail, who they’ve openly been bigoted toward, have to, what? Welcome them back into the fold with soothing, comforting hugs? Pretend the last four years didn’t happen? Accept as ground rules for moral behavior things that not only did Trump supporters not accept for themselves, but spent four years celebrating that they were released from? Those Fuck Your Feelings t-shirts didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a market for them. Trump supporters wanted them. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.

We are all Americans, and we all have to work to live together. But let me suggest that at the moment, there are some people who will need to work a little harder at it, and, surprise, it’s not the people who have been having “fuck your feelings” hurled at them for four years. If you’re a Trump supporter and you don’t think it’s fair that you might have to do some work here, well, honey, that’s your privilege showing, and as much as you hate it when other people point that out, it’s a hard fucking fact. It’s totally fair you have to put in a little more work to meet in the middle when you spent the last four years running as far from the middle as you could possibly get.

So get to it! You can do it! I believe in you!

7. Here’s what I wrote yesterday on Twitter about where we are at the moment:

Yes, I do actually mean it. Trump is a virus and he infected our body politic, a body that the GOP spent four decades lowering its immune system so that it could receive just the sort moral and political sickness that Trump personifies. And it worked! We got very sick, and we’re very sick still.

But it turns out our antibodies were stronger than suspected. We rallied despite the best efforts of the virus. And now we have the opportunity to get better. It’s not a done deal; the GOP is still out there trying to get us sick again, and our viral load is still regrettably high. But now, at least, there is a chance to rout it and get our body politic healthy again. That works for me, today.

— JS

The Sound of a Landslide Not Happening

John ScalziThis election should have been a landslide. Faced with a choice between a decent, if uninspiring, former Vice President with a long and solid track record of competent governance, and literally the worst president since the Civil War era — a president under whom the economy cratered, corruption reigned, human rights were stripped and mocked, social inequality reached new heights and a pandemic was allowed to blaze unchecked, killing a quarter of a million American souls — the decent man should have walked away from this election with 400 electoral votes at least.

America should have forcefully repudiated Donald Trump; this wannabe despot, this childish authoritarian who fawned over dictators, this incipient fascist whose first impulse towards American Nazis was to collect them into his embrace, and could only querulously condemn them under duress. This liar, this racist, this cheat, this sociopathic bundle of insecurities and anhedonia, this sad example of a human for whom the White House was merely an ATM with an oval office, this pathetic creature for whom everything was about who would flatter him and who he could punish, this impeached debauch, this bad man, should have been shown the door on the end of a broom.

Instead, Donald Trump received (at the time this was written) seventy million, four hundred thousand votes — 47.7% of the total vote. Four years of being worst president in modern history gained him seven million, four hundred thousand more votes than he received in 2016, and nearly two percentage points more of the total voting electorate. Seventy million, four hundred thousand American voters lived through four years of corruption and incompetence and eroding social norms and decided they wanted another four years of that. They saw a president be a bully and a bigot and a thug, and voted to give the bully four more years. They saw four years of a man siding with fascists, and then sided with him.

And let’s be blunt: “They” here are mostly white people. The exit polling, while not perfect, makes this clear. White men, white women, white people without college degrees, white people who make over $100,000 a year, evangelical white people — the majority of them who voted gave Donald Trump their vote last Tuesday. They did it again, please note; these same people gave him their vote in 2016, in nearly the same percentages. And while of course hashtag Not All White People — I mean, I didn’t vote for him — at the end of the day, according to those exit polls, 57% of white voters in America decided this awful man, with his lies and his hate and his corruption, was who they wanted, and who their country deserved to have. Again.

There is no excuse for it. I’m not going to be the white man who sanctimoniously tries to apologize to the rest of the United States population for the fact that the majority of white voters, when given a choice, will vote for an ethnically “pure” pseudo-Christian police state with an angry tinpot dictator at the tippy-top. Twice. It’s not my place to do that, not least of all because I’m well aware of how much I benefit, unwillingly or otherwise, from their tendencies. But at the very least I can acknowledge that even someone like me can see there is something wrong with whiteness in America: Something pathological, something hateful, something inexpressibly awful about it. This election was a literal no-brainer, possibly the easiest moral litmus test any presidential election has offered in the more than 220 years of presidential elections in the United States, and 57% of white voters just failed it, a non-trivial number of them flying vast “Trump” flags from their pickups as they did so.

Yes, I know. Folks who are not white (and a lot of them who are, but also happen to be LGBTQ+ or disabled or non-Christian) are rolling their eyes at me and saying “welcome to the party, pal.” I’m not under the illusion that I am telling anyone who has lived under whiteness all this time anything new about it. But let me re-emphasize here that this election was an easy test for white folks, likely the easiest of all possible tests. I mean, Jesus, the Democrats ran with Biden, the whitest of all possible white candidates this year, just to make it easy for other white people who don’t want to acknowledge their ingrained racism to do the morally and ethically correct thing! And still: 57% of white voters voted for Trump. 70.4 million voters, of which white people comprised the great majority. He gained votes and percentages after the four worst years any president has had since Hoover at least.

What I came away from the 2020 election knowing was that when given a choice between the worst president in living memory, who would happily dismantle the country and all its institutions if he could suck a nickel out of it — because he did just that for four straight years — and not that, white voters in their majority chose the worst. White voters will not defend the United States against its worst impulses. White voters will not save the United States from itself or anyone else. They’ll let it burn, to “own the libs,” but in reality because they’d rather be on the top of a pile of ashes than just another part of anything else, with people who they don’t see as being like them.

Which, well. Is disappointing.

Trump won seventy million, four hundred thousand votes. Joe Biden, thankfully, won seventy-four million and won a bare majority (50.5%) of the available voting populace, and the majority of the electoral college. White people did vote for Biden, of course; 42% of those who voted. But others voted for him more, in percentages if not raw numbers. Biden won because of black women and black men, because of Hispanics and Latinos, because of Asian Americans, Native Americans and others, all of whom came out to vote for Biden in much larger percentages than white people.They voted despite racist state and federal policies and ploys established to make it more difficult to vote — for fuck’s sake, the Trump administration started dismantling the postal service to keep early Democratic (read: minority) votes from arriving on time, and Republicans from Texas to Ohio made it more difficult to vote early in person. They voted as if their lives depended on it, because they did.

So did the life of our nation, at least as we understand it today. We don’t have to wait for history to say it, we can say it now: it was black women voters and black men voters who pulled the United States back from the brink. It was Latino and Hispanic voters. It was Asian American and Native American voters. It wasn’t just them — LGBTQ+ voters and new voters (many of whom overlap those aforementioned categories) broke toward Biden as well. They held better faith in the United States than white voters did. In his victory speech, Biden wisely acknowledged that his voters came from all quarters and pledged to make his administration look like the nation that had voted for him.

He had better keep that promise. It’s not enough to thank those who saved us — all of us, even the ones who voted for the wannabe dictator — from four more years of moral and institutional decay. Give them the levers of power that they should have access to already. Let them make this country better and more fair for everyone. We know what the alternative is. We’ve just had four years of it.

And if you think we can’t go back to it, remember: Trump got 7.4 million more votes and almost two percentage points more of the voting population after four years of being the worst president in living memory. Those voters aren’t going away, and not all of them will be peeled away from voting for the worst possible option, so long as it is white, before they shuffle off this mortal coil. 2024 is coming (and 2022 mid-terms before then). We’ll be fighting white supremacy for a long time, folks. At the very least, I can’t pretend to be surprised about it any more.

— JS

(Update: a piece with more general thoughts on the 2020 election is now up.)

Small Administrative Note Regarding Comments

Which is:

The spam filter has been unusually aggressive in the last month and is capturing a larger-than-expected number of actual comments from real humans. So if your comment doesn’t post immediately, don’t panic: I will (probably) find it in the spam queue and release it at some point.

Now, back to your scheduled Saturday —

JS

Twenty Years an Author

The cover flap for The Rough Guide to Money Online, framed.

John ScalziToday’s a special occasion for me: Twenty years ago today, I became an author. Not a writer — I had been writing professionally for more than a decade at that point, and had been writing non-professionally even before then — but an author, someone who had written a book and then had that book put out into the world. Today, twenty years ago, The Rough Guide to Money Online came out into the world.

But wait, some of you say. Wasn’t Old Man’s War your debut? It was my debut novel, yes. But a quick glance at my bibliography shows that I had actually published four books before then, all non-fiction: The Rough Guide to Money Online, The Rough Guide to the Universe, and the Books of the Dumb, 1 & 2. Prior to becoming a novelist, I had quite a reasonable career as a non-fiction author going on, which has been a continuing thing as well — I have eleven non-fiction books, the most recent dating to 2018. In 2005, when Old Man’s War came out, I was often introduced as someone who was “primarily a non-fiction writer.” Which was at the time entirely true.

I’ve told the story of how I got signed to do Money Online before, so I won’t go into great detail about it now. But to briefly recap, in 1999, Rough Guides, which had great success with its Rough Guide to The Internet, wanted to publish a sequel relating to financial services online. One of the Rough Guides editor was talking to my then-agent Robert Shepard about it, and Robert said “I have just the guy for you,” and mentioned me, because at the time I was writing a financial newsletter for America Online. The Rough Guides editor said, “great, ask him,” and then Robert called me and said “I have a book lined up for you, do you want to do it?” And, well. Yes. Yes I did.

Athena, holding a copy of Money Online. She's three in the photo. Overall the writing of the book was a fairly painless experience. I submitted an outline (a fact that will make my fiction editors bowl over in shock), we had a little back and forth about it, and once it was finalized, I mostly worked from that. The nature of the book was pretty cut and dried — lots of explaining how to sign on to financial sites on the Web, and also how to use then-common financial programs — but I was allowed to drop in some personality here and there. The only time they really gave me any pushback was when my section on day trading consisted of a single word (“DON’T”) in the largest possible type. They felt this was a tad incomplete. They weren’t wrong, and I revised to explain why and then show people how to do it if they still felt the need. But to this day I stand by my initial draft.

I turned in my manuscript in the first quarter of 2000, and my Rough Guides editors were very happy with it, and assured me that even if it sold only a tenth of what The Rough Guide to the Internet had sold, it would be a smashing success. They did a nice amount of pre-publicity, including the mailing out of promotional plastic piggy banks (I still have one) and scheduled me on a six-city book tour, which included stops at Bloomberg and CNBC. They scheduled the book for early November, on the basis that after the Election Day results came and went, there would be a bit of a news vacuum. I and my book would be perfect to fill that. Everyone involved was expecting big things from The Rough Guide to Money Online.

The book failed. Pretty comprehensively.

There were reasons for that. To begin, between me turning in the manuscript and the book’s publication, the first Internet bubble had popped, and people were losing money on the Internet left and right. No one wanted a book that told you how to put your money onto the Web, even if it was more instructional than aspirational. To continue, the 2000 US Election was not, shall we say, a cut-and-dried affair; it dragged on for a month. There was no news vacuum to fill, and in at least a couple of cases our scheduled segments on news shows were cancelled. No one had time for my book when there were hanging chads to be discussed. My first book store event — a weekday lunchtime slot at a Chicago Barnes & Noble — had one audience member, a staffer who graciously spent her lunch hour listening to me while she ate her sandwich. After two stops on the tour, Rough Guides cancelled the rest of the dates and sent me home. I could not blame them.

Rough Guides gave me an $18,000 advance for Money Online and everyone assured me that they anticipated the book earning that out in the first couple of months. It never came close to earning out; only the fact that it is now out of print keeps it from still being in the red.

How did I feel about my first book being a commercial failure? I mean, it wasn’t my favorite thing. I would have liked it to have been more of a success. But no one blamed me for it being a complete bomb. The book was good and did everything it was meant and designed to do, except sell; it just had the misfortune of being released at the worst possible time for a book with that subject matter. Sometimes you do everything right and you fail anyway. Life is like that.

The book was a commercial failure. But here’s the thing: It wasn’t a failure for me. Rough Guides, who had been pleased with the content of the book and with me as a writer who did not induce headaches for them, asked Robert and I to pitch them another book. We pitched the book that would become The Rough Guide to the Universe, and that book was a success — it went into two editions, in fact, the first and to date only book of mine to do so. That led to The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies in 2005, which was also a success. Money Online, although a commercial failure, opened the door for more work as an author. It doesn’t always work that way, but in this case it did.

It was also useful for other work. At the time I was doing a lot of corporate consulting and marketing, and core clientele were financial services companies and tech companies. Money Online straddled both spheres, and being able to point to a published book that covered those topics was an advantage with clients when selling myself for their various projects. It reassured clients that I knew what I was talking about, and that I wasn’t a complete flake. I wrote a book, after all. You need an attention span for that.

But more than that, for me it represented a personal milestone. I should be clear that one may have a long, happy and profitable career as a writer and never once write a book, and many writers have done just that. Likewise, having written (and having published) a book doesn’t mean you’re a better writer than someone who hasn’t. It’s a medium, not a medal. For all that, I think that it’s accurate to say that books feel special to writers, and almost holy — they represent an achievement and to a great extent make you feel like what you’ve written has achieved some sort of permanence.

I certainly felt that way. My career up until the publication of Money Online had been primarily in newspapers and online. In a decade I had written hundreds of thousands of words, and all of them were essentially disposable, meant to be read once and recycled (in the case of the newspaper writing), or scrolled away from for the next thing (in the case of the online writing). None of it was meant to stay, held in a form you could hold, and put on a shelf, and take down and refer to anytime you wanted.

Athena, as a toddler, holding a couple copies of my book in the bookstore.But finally I had that — I had a book. I had written it, it was real, I had been paid for it, and it went out into bookstores. I remember calling a local bookstore the weekend before the book was meant to come out, to see if they were planning to have it in stock, and they said, “Oh, we already have it out. We have lots of copies.” So we took a family trip and I got to see my very first book, in a bookstore. Multiple copies! That anyone could buy! How great was that? Answer: it was pretty great.

Twenty years has tempered my expectations on the permanence of books, I will note. Money Online itself brings that home. It was mostly off bookstore shelves in a couple of years, and the accuracy of the information inside the book began to decay almost instantly, because the Internet is not set in stone, or even in paper and ink. If you were to read the book today it would be comically inaccurate and functionally useless. Rough Guides took it out of print several years ago, along with my other books for them, when they decided to refocus on travel and ditch all the other things they had branched out into. You can still find Money Online if for some reason you are absolutely determined to have it (try eBay); the question is why you would be so determined to have it. Books, like everything else, pass out of sight. Very few books achieve cultural permanence. My very first book was not destined to be one of them.

For all that I am still excited for every new book of mine. It is never not amazing to see your book for the first time. And Money Online will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the book that made me an author; once it was published, even if I never published another book, I could still say I wrote a book. That was satisfying in itself, and would have been enough, if that had been all there was for me.

It wasn’t. When Money Online was published, Krissy presented me with the framed cover flat for the book, and on the frame were the words “The First of Many.” She was right; twenty years on I have written 32 books, not counting books I’ve edited or anthologies I’ve contributed to, and I will get beyond 40 before all my current contractual obligations are fulfilled. That’s a lot of books.

And it all started on this date, two decades back, with that one little book. A small start. Look where it’s gotten me.

— JS