View From a Hotel Window, 9/15/23: Troy, MI

Ah, the parking lot view. Simple. Classic.

For those of you who ordered a signed copy of Starter Villain from Subterranean Press, today’s the day I sign them. All one thousand or so of them. It’s going to be a busy morning. And then I go back home, because I have an interview to do and I’d rather do it from my office than from the side of the road. Then I have a last weekend at home before all my tour travel madness begins. The life of an author is kinda wild.

Anyway, off to scribble.

— JS

The Big Idea: Matthew Sangster

Want to dig into the tropes and traditions of the fantasy genre? Matthew Sangster has come over from the University of Glasgow to give us An Introduction to Fantasy, and to retrace the steps that brought him to propose and then write the book.


People who love Fantasy know viscerally in their hearts what Fantasy does for them.  However, when the time comes to explain why Fantasy is important and inspiring, it’s sometimes tricky to put this into words. The big idea for this book was very simple: to try and explain why we should care about Fantasy. 

I wanted to write a book that drew on my experience as a literary critic to analyse what Fantasy does for its creators and audiences, but I also wanted to write a book that was faithful to Fantasy’s love of wonder and play, a book that was enjoyable to read, that welcomed people in as good fantasies do. To what extent I succeeded is another question, but that was certainly the idea.

In writing An Introduction to Fantasy, I wanted to broaden out what critics have tended to talk about when they talk about Fantasy. Most academic studies of Fantasy focus on novels specifically. I definitely wanted to write about novels: in the book I discuss, among other things, how Ursula K. Le Guin uses language to conjure Earthsea; how Guy Gavriel Kay and Steven Erikson make and unmake histories; how N.K. Jemisin builds her worlds; how Patricia A. McKillip quietly subverts the assumptions that underpin many Fantasy stories; and why Lin Carter was being unfair when he described Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara as a ‘cold-blooded, complete rip-off’. However, for me, modern novels are only part of the picture. To address this, I wanted to pay proper attention to three other aspects of Fantasy.

The first is Fantasy’s deep roots. Fantasy is a genre profoundly invested in the past, with a powerful interest in recovering and reworking older stories. Rather than looking at Fantasy as a genre that begins with The Lord of the Rings, it’s helpful to take a cue from Tolkien himself. Tolkien passionately promoted older fantastic literature, but in his writings, he also transformed it. Seeing a richly imagined medieval-inspired world through the more contemporary sensibilities of the hobbits is a big part of the magic of his works.

Many fantasies are deeply informed by ancient myths, medieval romances and traditional folk tales, but they reconfigure these older forms to allow them to speak new truths in the present. Fantasy stories often manifest the genre’s obsession with writing and unwriting history through plots that begin in the middle: a technique borrowed from classical epic. Characters’ quests commonly uncover the extent to which their situations have been determined by historical events, but they also provide means for rejecting the logics of the past. Fantasies are often fond of prophecies, but they enjoy them most when they turn out very differently than is initially expected.

The second thing I wanted to write about was how Fantasy manifests in forms other than prose. Fantasy has long lineages in poetry, art, sculpture and performance, and present-day Fantasy sprawls promiscuously across many forms of media. Therefore, as well as considering books, I discuss films, animation, TV series, drama, comics, visual art and games, writing about works including Arcane, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dungeons & Dragons, Elden Ring, Final Fantasy VII, Hadestown, Magic: The Gathering, Pan’s Labyrinth, Planescape: Torment, The Sandman and Spirited Away.

The final thing I wanted to capture is the extent to which Fantasy is constituted by its communities. It’s a genre that glories in drawing ideas from a shared commons and returning them transfigured. We might think of collaborative anthologies of reworked fairy tales, or fan fiction and modding communities, or the combination of preparation, improvisation, rule-following and rule-breaking in tabletop roleplaying games or the shows derived from them, such as Dimension 20 or Critical Role. Genre’s openness manifests in creators’ and fans’ love of talking about influences and processes, and in vibrant conversations in magazines, online forums, video essays, convention programmes and blogs (like the one for which I’m currently writing).

I’m not usually very good at beginning at the beginning, going on till I come to the end and then stopping. I tend to work better jumping around within a manuscript. However, for this book, I wrote the sections largely in the order that they appear. I started with an introduction discussing definitions of Fantasy and why we shouldn’t get too hung up on these, and then worked through the chapters one by one. 

The chapters fall roughly into pairs.  The first discusses how Fantasy uses language to evoke both impossible things and new possibilities, considering how it lets us think differently about the world by positing imaginary alternatives. In the second chapter, I confront one of the main accusations levelled at Fantasy: that it is guilty of mindless repetition. I argue that Fantasy rarely repeats mindlessly. Instead, it takes recognisable tropes and adjusts or recontextualises them to produce novel meanings, creating narratives that combine the pleasure of recognition and the shock of the new. 

The third chapter examines Fantasy’s root forms, looking at how modern fantasies rework techniques, tropes and ideas from myths, legends, epics, romances, wonder tales and religions. The fourth chapter looks at how Fantasy, scientific thinking and realism interact, arguing that fantasies make careful use of realist techniques while recognising their limitations and blind spots. The fifth chapter considers world-building, examining the powerful attraction of making new worlds and the techniques employed to create an illusion of fullness.  The final chapter discusses the collaborative nature of Fantasy culture, arguing that it provides a model where the value of a work lies in the connections it creates.

The book is a product of the time I wrote it, during 2021 and 2022. It reflects the things I was reading (and re-reading, and watching, and playing), as well as the conversations I was having with my colleagues and students at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and with my fellow curators on the upcoming British Library exhibition Fantasy: Realms of Imagination. If I was writing it now, I would probably have included books I’ve enjoyed since I finished – C.S.E. Cooney’s Saint Death’s Daughter, Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, Laurie Marks’ Fire Logic. I’m also pretty sure there would be a fair bit about the live-action One Piece and Baldur’s Gate 3

For me, though, what the book leaves out isn’t really an issue. While it’s rather longer than I originally intended (the expected length grew by about 40,000 words between first pitch and final submission), it was never meant to be in any way comprehensive. The An in the title is very deliberate. I didn’t want to try and pin down a definitive vision of what Fantasy should be. 

Hopefully, the book will provide its readers with some new ideas and perspectives, but the thing that will make me happiest is if people can take ideas from it and do things with them that I never imagined or expected. For me, the best thing about genre is that it’s a continuing conversation.  The idea shouldn’t be to try and have the last word, but rather to make something that others can build from.

An Introduction to Fantasy: Cambridge University Press|Amazon (US)|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author socials: University of Glasgow profile|Twitter

25 Years of Whatever

At the start of the year I had big plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Whatever. On the 13th of each month leading to this day, I would write some sort of retrospective piece, or musing about my life or the world, culminating in a capstone piece that would, well, be this particular piece. I even wrote the first of these posts back in January, setting the scene for the rest that would follow.

And then… well. Then I didn’t do the installments for February through August.

What happened? Mostly, life happened, and mostly good things about life, at least for me. There was a lot of travel, a lot of writing, I composed a bunch of music, won some awards (not for music), our church refurbishment finally got finished, and some other things were thrown in there as well.

I got busy, in sum, nor is the busy stopping: As I write this, I’m in the middle of a couple of weeks of spin-up publicity for the release of Starter Villain, followed by two weeks of touring, followed by six weeks of festival/convention appearances. Oh, and I’m writing the next novel, too.

(And on top of all that — which is enough, I assure you — I’ve been this year dealing with what I think could charitably be described as “attention span issues.” I caught COVID last year and while the physical results of that were thankfully mild, it did something to my brain where decades of compensatory strategies for dealing with my probably-undiagnosed-ADHD broke down and no longer work with anything approaching their former efficiency, which was, I assure you, not all that efficient to begin with. Yes, I’m planning to take steps to deal with it, including actually getting a medical consult about it, and also, I keep forgetting to actually schedule the consult, which is, sadly, just more evidence of the issue.)

All of which is to say that for most of 2023, I had not really been thinking about the fact that Whatever’s 25th anniversary was on its way. Right up until last weekend, in fact, I had mostly put it out of my mind, because I was occupied with other things.

But you know who was thinking about Whatever’s 25th anniversary? Krissy. Unbeknownst to me, for most of the last year, she was planning a celebration of the day, wrangling literally dozens of friends to show up and surprise me with a big damn party last Saturday. You might think it would be difficult to sneak dozens of people past me, even if I do spend most of my time in my office staring into a monitor, but, here’s the thing: We own a church now, which is uniquely well-designed to stash a lot of people for an indeterminate amount of time. All Krissy had to do was wrangle me over there on a pretext.

Which, of course, she managed very well. And then suddenly there I was, standing in front a bunch of friends and family, deeply confused about why people I knew from every part of the last 40 years of my life were in the basement of my church. That is, until I saw the banner on the wall, announcing that we were celebrating Whatever’s 25th anniversary. It was a surprise birthday party! For my blog.

Which at first blush, I admit, may seem a little silly. But here’s the thing: Of the dozens of people who were in that room last Saturday, all but a few — family, neighbors, high school friends — I knew because of Whatever. Some I met because of the site, or something I wrote here, had pulled them into my circle of acquaintances and then friends. Others I knew because I became a published novelist, and the way I did that was through Whatever: I serialized Old Man’s War here, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor, read it here and made an offer on it.

So many of the people who are important to my life now, whose presence in my life I treasure, came into it through my decision just to plop an entire book up on this site. If I hadn’t done that, and hadn’t had Whatever to do it on, it’s correct to say some of the major contours of my life would be different, and as would the population of friends I have and cherish.

So, yeah, when you think about it that way, having a surprise birthday party for my blog makes perfect sense.

Also, as a practical matter, no one expects a surprise party for their blog. So if you’re going to schedule such a party, now you know how to get away with it. Provided your intended surprise party subject has a blog of long standing. Admittedly, there are fewer of us now than there once were.

Also, Krissy is amazing. The party was exquisitely well done, up to and including catering and professional bartending. At the party, friends were talking about what a great party it was, and I confirmed it was all down to her planning abilities. If I had been in charge of the thing, there would have been a bag of chips and a two-liter bottle of room-temperature store brand soda, and no chairs to speak of. Everyone knows who the brain of the Scalzi operation is, and it sure as hell isn’t me. No one wants it to be me. No one wants the room-temperature store soda.

And what about the Birthday Blog? Where does it stand at the end of an entire quarter century? Well, if nothing else, it continues to live up to its name: Whatever. That’s not the “Whatever” of Gen-X-era dismissal, although I certainly am of Generation X, and I can absolutely dismiss with the best of them. It’s the “Whatever” of “whatever I want, whatever I’m thinking about, whatever I want it to be.”

Here at year 25, the eternal “whatever” of the site doesn’t apply just to me; Athena has been writing here for a few years now, and in many ways the site reflects her own interests as much as my own, and is all the better for it. I would not be writing so well about bourbon tastings and problems with IUDs, for sure.

It’s given me immense pride to see her develop her voice and share her interests here, and to have the site become the home of two generations of writers. I checked in with her at our last staff meeting (yes, we have staff meetings) about whether she wanted to keep on with the site. She does have an actual job outside of writing here, and her own friends and interests. As with me, her participation here is strictly voluntary and on her own terms.

She’s said she wants to keep at it. This makes me happier than I think she imagines it does.

And as for me, I also want to keep at it, and I’m also aware that especially in the last year, Whatever really is about whatever. I would have to check, but I think so far this year I’ve posted more music that I’ve put together (original and covers) than I have written about politics here, which if nothing else is a switch. Beyond this, the irony of Whatever eventually leading me to a life where I’m busy enough elsewhere that a non-trivial number of my posts this year are “I’m busy, here’s a picture of a cat” has not escaped me. I think if Whatever were a person, it would be happy for me that I have this life, and also, it likes cats, so being populated with pictures of them would be seen as a plus. Look! Here’s one now!

Mostly, the last year reminds me that, like me and like just about anything, Whatever has a life of its own. It has its own ebbs and flows, and its own meander through the years. It’s not what it was five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years ago, but then, what is? How could it be static when I’ve changed, Athena’s changed, and the world has changed? It will be what it will be as it goes along. Like every one and every thing, it’s forever becoming what it is. It’s not burdened by needing to make money or to draw a certain number of eyeballs to advertisements. It can be, well, whatever. I am content to see what that whatever is going to be as it continues on.

Will Whatever last another 25 years? It’s not impossible. I’d be 79 years old, which is old, to be sure. But I’ve been writing since I was fourteen — four decades now — and I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be writing a quarter century from now, provided I still have the mental capability to do so. Both sides of my family live a long time if they take care of themselves (a small but important point) and tend to remain pretty sharp well into their 80s and 90s. I had one great-aunt who lived past 100 and might have lived longer has she not insisted on living in a house with stairs. If I make it to 79, I imagine I will still be writing.

50 years of Whatever is not unreachable. I make no promises; I can’t make any promises like that. But I think about these last 25 years of being here: what they have meant to me, the world that has opened up to me, and the people who I have been able to meet and hold to my heart, all because I did the simple act of writing in the same place, day after day and year after year. Who can say what could happen, who I will yet meet and what it will all mean, if I just keep doing it?

I guess we will find out.

And if I get to 50 years of writing here, we might have another party. Less of a surprise this time. But no less welcome.

Until then: Onward.

— JS

I Went To A Bourbon Pairing Event Despite Disliking Bourbon

There’s something about pairing events that really interests me. I love the idea that there is a specific drink that goes with a specific food based on experts’ opinions on their flavors, and the way they interact with or compliment each other. I’ve been to a few wine pairing events, and once opted for the wine pairing to go with a set five-course menu at a fancier place, but this was the first bourbon pairing event I’d heard of.

This was a ticketed event at Crafted & Cured. If you haven’t seen my other posts over them, Crafted & Cured is a local eatery that specializes in awesome charcuterie boards and craft beers, ciders, wines, and more recently has introduced their bourbon bar. This was also their first time doing an event like this. I knew I didn’t want to miss out on their first pairing event, so I got a ticket, which was $75.

You might’ve heard me mention a time or two before, but I really don’t like bourbon. I know some people love a good scotch, or a whiskey neat, but I never got the hype. It’s gross to me, and every time I try it, I am reminded why I generally steer clear of it.

So why would I go to an event specifically centered on tasting bourbon? At first I thought it was just because I wanted to support a local business I love, but then I realized I actually wanted to learn about these bourbons and hear an expert in the field talk about them. Just because it isn’t my passion doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting to listen to someone talk in detail about theirs. There’s so much to learn about the process, the making of, and since I work in a related field that is also more interesting than I originally thought (wine), I thought I’d give it a try.

So, off to the event I went. The first thing I noticed, as I often do at things like this, was that I was the youngest person there, and I was the only one alone. I thought I’d be sitting by myself at a table on my own, but there were actually a few large tables set up, so everyone ended up sitting with strangers one way or another. I sat at the head of one of the longer tables.

The food and bourbon was already set up at each individual seat, ready to go:

A square charcuterie board made of slate. On it sits a sliced baguette in the center, surrounded by salami slices, meat rolled into the shape of flowers, blackberries, almonds, olives, Peruvian sweety drop peppers, a wedge of cheese, mustard, and chocolate bark. Above the charcuterie board sits four tasting glasses, each filled with a little bit of bourbon. The tasting glasses sit on top of a paper that says the name of each bourbon.

Along with the food and bourbon there was also a sheet for recording your thoughts on each bourbon:

A sheet of paper that lists each bourbon, then has three boxes for recording your thoughts on the bourbon. The boxes are

It also told you which bourbon went with which item on the charcuterie board.

And here’s a closer look at the bourbons before I start talking about them in more detail:

The four bourbon tasting glasses lined up in a row. A dropper bottle of water, along with a full glass of water, accompany them.

First up was Russell’s Reserve 10 year old bourbon by Wild Turkey. I have actually heard of Wild Turkey before, as it’s a pretty popular brand. This was paired with the sliced salami, which was a bourbon and sour cherry salami by Brooklyn Cured. Now, the salami, I really liked. Salami is a great cured meat in general, and I love the inclusion of fruit with cured meats, so no complaints there. As for the bourbon, I was not so much a fan.

I smelled it first, as the paper indicates you’re supposed to do, and it mostly smelled like rubbing alcohol (which vodka does too, I’m not blaming the bourbon for that), but it also had that very specific sort of sweet scent that only bourbon seems to have. Tasting it was like drinking liquid fire. It burned and I made a ridiculous face. I totally hated it.

As for the second one, it was a scotch. The expert guiding us through the tasting told us what makes a scotch a scotch. Turns out, scotch is made in Scotland. It literally has to be made in Scotland to be called scotch. The more you know. Anyways, it was a Famouse Grouse Smoky Black Blended Scotch Whisky by Glenturret Distillery. That’s a lot of words! The guide also told us that this is the best selling scotch in Scotland for the past forty years.

It smelled smoky, and the people around me said it had notes of tobacco. I can’t say I care for tobacco, but I gave it a shot. Good lord, my tongue was literally like AHHHHH when I tasted this one. It BURNEDDD! Again, I thoroughly hated it.

It was paired with a lovely Italian buffalo milk cheese, which they had flown in overnight from Italy. We were told it came from the spur of the boot of Italy. It was creamy and delicious, a relief from the fiery bourbon.

Thirdly, we had a Yellowstone American single malt whiskey by Limestone Branch. I learned a lot during this segment too, like about how limestone is perfect for making bourbon, and how Kentucky is full of limestone so it’s like the best place for it. It also probably contributes to why Kentucky’s horses are pretty much the best anywhere.

This whiskey smelled even sweeter than the first one, but just like all the others it just burned and was unpleasant. I tried to listen to the people around me, they were saying how sweet it was and that it had notes of honey and whatnot, but I just wasn’t getting it. Someone suggested I use the dropper bottle full of water to dilute it, but a drop or two didn’t make much of a difference for me. It dulled the burn a bit, but not enough for me to taste any of the flavors everyone else was claiming there to be.

One thing I did find cool about this one was that some of the proceeds go to Yellowstone. If you’re going to use Yellowstone in your marketing, it makes sense you’d give money to Yellowstone to preserve and protect it.

As for the food portion of this segment, it was paired with bison bresaola from Green Plains Bison Ranch. They actually brought in the guy that owns Green Plains Bison Ranch, as he’s a fellow Ohioan. He talked about his farm, the bison, the process, all that good stuff. It was so cool to hear from the owner himself. The bison are grass-fed, no grain. There’s no hormones or antibiotics, and they believe in sustainability and regenerative agriculture. It was really neat! And this bison bresaola we were given was the first ever in Ohio. How cool is that?

The bison was sliced ultra thin, like prosciutto, but was way leaner, not fatty at all. Super thin, really salty, but quite good overall. It was definitely an interesting experience.

Finally, last on the list was the Barrell Craft Spirits Gray Label Seagrass 16-year Canadian Rye. Again, so many words! What do they all mean?! This one had a really strong scent, like smoky rubbing alcohol, and burned more than all the rest. So much so that my eyes watered and even my nose burned. At this point I was sincerely trying to find any redeeming quality about it but it was no use, I just plain hated it. I couldn’t even finish this one, whereas the other three I managed to polish off.

The final food was a housemade chocolate bark, made with two different types of chocolate, peanuts, dried figs, and smoked paprika. Holy moly, it was so good. Like wildly delicious. I absolutely loved the chocolate bark, and it was probably my favorite thing of the evening.

Throughout the entire bourbon tasting, I hadn’t written a single thing down on the sheet they provided. I knew it would be wasted on me because the only words would be “fire” and “gross”.

To be clear, I was undoubtedly the only person there not enjoying the bourbon. People all around me loved each and every one of them, and some people even wanted to know if they had bottles of it there for purchase so they could take it home with them. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the bourbon, except me. And that’s okay!

I learned so much stuff about the qualifications of a bourbon, what it takes to be a scotch, about limestone and bison and Italian cheese, and it was just a lot of fun and interesting all around! I really enjoyed the experience, despite how much I dislike bourbon.

At the end of the event, they did a raffle for some prizes. They gave away some tumblers, some bar mats, and a grand prize of a small barrel to make your own bourbon in. They also gave everyone at the event a 20% off coupon for a drink from their bourbon bar, which I immediately went and got a Strawberry Siesta from:

A tall slim glass filled with a pinkish peachy liquid, topped with a strawberry and ice.

I love this drink so much, it’s my favorite of theirs from the bourbon bar.

All in all, it was a super fun event and I’m glad I could attend. They said they’d be having more like it in the future, so I’ll probably try to attend those as well. I enjoyed learning and conversating with the people around me, and it was a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.

Do you like bourbon? What looks the best to you? Would you try bison meat? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


The Big Idea: Malon Edwards

Death isn’t always the end. In author Malon Edward’s world, death is the precursor to becoming something more than you previously were. Follow along in his Big Idea to see how growing up in Chicago inspired his newest book, If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories.

(Trigger warning: suicide)


One of the core ideas in my collection If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories is Electric Resurrection, a process where mechanical engineers construct a body with synthetic skin and hair, and roboticists build and insert a digital brain to hold the memories  and personality of a dead person. I originally conceived Electric Resurrection to show how rich white kids in the North Shore Chicago suburbs were privileged, conceited and unaware. But as I developed my alt-history world, where the Sovereign State of Chicago is a quiet yet powerful city-state, I realized Electric Resurrection wouldn’t be an exclusive procedure. Just a privileged one.

But I didn’t want white people to have all the privilege. Black people moved on up too.

I was born on the South Side of Chicago in Jeffrey Manor. Also known as The Manor. White people didn’t live on my block. Or the next block over. Or the next block to the next block over.

It was (and still is) an enclave of Black people.

I was about six years old when I first saw a white person.

My mom and I were walking into Sears through a revolving door at River Oaks, a shopping mall in Calumet City, a south suburb easily reached from The Manor straight down Torrence Avenue. The white woman was coming out of Sears. I froze. She wasn’t scary looking. She was just white.

Six years later, my family moved on up and moved to South Holland, Illinois, then a mostly white suburb next to Cal City. As more Black families moved in, white flight ensued.

When it comes to white and Black people, Chicago is the most segregated city in America. And it’s been that way since Ol’ Heck was a pup, as my mom would say.

Of course, Chicago has other issues than race. One being money.

There has been a longstanding perception that Chicago receives more government resources than any other city or region in Illinois, especially when compared to rural areas downstate. Stupidly enough, everywhere in Illinois, with the exception of Chicago, is considered “downstate”. Even those rich white North Shore suburbs upstate, among the wealthiest areas in America.

Regardless of who lives geographically downstate or upstate, those who don’t live in Chicago want the money and social resources, real and perceived, that the state of Illinois gives Chicago.

Which brings us back to Electric Resurrection. And the Sovereign State of Chicago. And the State of Illinois.

In my alt-history, the State of Illinois wants the city-state of Chicago to share its abundant wealth and the natural resources it has deep in the earth, including copper and uranium. It isn’t as if the State of Illinois is poor. They’re just greedy. Chicago, which is The Manor extended beyond the South Side to a corridor of south and southwest suburbs, refuses. As it should.

The Sovereign State of Chicago has established itself as a place of intellect and scientific prowess and is the only place in America with a legal black market, which is immensely profitable. The center of that South Side corridor is an enormous campus of learning and industry. Which makes it even more profitable.

The State of Illinois is jealous, even though it has rich white high school students in the North Shore suburbs, including the Illinois governor’s daughter, who think the coolest thing in the world is to die by suicide and come back in a whole new on-trend body. They lay out in explicit detail in their suicide notes how their brains and bodies should be rebuilt and customized through Electric Resurrection. Opulence with the goal of advancing the transhuman concept.

Some of the rich Black people are a bit more logical with Electric Resurrection. Many use it to assuage their grief and bring back lost loved ones or make money in nefarious ways. Those who aren’t rich use it in whatever way they can for their own personal advancement.

But both the State of Illinois and the Sovereign State of Chicago use Electric Resurrection as a tactic of attrition and a means to win the war.

And so, they all die. They all undergo Electric Resurrection. And they all fight on.

Over and over again.

If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Author’s socials: Website|Bluesky

Smudge Has Questions About His Meal

“Waiter, I ordered this steak rare. As you can see, it is clearly medium rare, and that is simply unacceptable. Send it back. Tell the chef to get it right this time. Your tip is riding on how quickly I get what I ordered.”

Smudge, a tough crowd at a restaurant.

(Oh, who are we kidding, he eats moths.)

Busy day around here. The good kind of busy. Lots of stuff to take care of before the tour starts a week from today, and the book comes out on the 19th. After more than a year of being far away, it’s coming up very fast indeed.

— JS

A Note About a Thing

My wife threw me a surprise party yesterday, to which dozens of friends from all across the country showed up, and I was so surprised and overwhelmed and happy I did not actually take a single picture, which if you know me is highly uncharacteristic. I’m still slightly dazed from it.

So quickly:

For everyone who was able to make it, thank you for making it such a wonderful day.

For everyone who wanted to come but couldn’t, you were there in spirit and very much appreciated.

For everyone else who are hearing about it for the first time right now, well, it was a surprise to me, too, I’m sure you would have been there if you had known.

Thank you again. What a lovely day we had.

— JS

Saturday Music: Over the Hillside (Rough Mix)

I’m not saying that me posting covers of songs I like is becoming a usual thing for the weekends here, especially as I’m about to have my weekends booked for the next two months inclusive, but I am saying it’s been kind of fun to learn more about my music production equipment, and my current state of competence with it, by taking songs I like and making cover versions of them.

Today’s cover is “Over the Hillside,” from a band called The Blue Nile, from Scotland, and it is the opening song off Hats, probably their best known album (which, alas, is not all that well known). I’m calling this a rough mix because, whether they need it or not, I want to tweak the vocals a little more. At the very least, however, those of you who noted with previous songs that I needed to seat the vocals in the middle of the mix will be happy, as they are right up front. Be careful what you wish for!

(Update: 9/11/23: I did indeed update the vocals, mostly by taking out things rather than adding them in. They’re better now.)

Also, for compare and contrast, here is the original (it’s better). Enjoy both, and have a great weekend.

— JS

COVID Paranoia in Full Effect

Today I was having one of those “I feel terrible, is it allergies or COVID” mornings, so I took a test. Good news! It’s not COVID! The bad news is that my allergies are completely out of control right now. But apparently I’m not alone in this; ragweed allergies are getting a whole bunch of people. I blame climate change for this, and who knows, that might actually be correct.

It’s fairly imperative for me not to contract COVID any time in the next couple of months, since I have a book tour starting on the 18th, followed by international travel, followed by a book event or festival basically every weekend through mid-November. Unfortunately we’re having a spike of COVID cases in the US, which makes this more of a challenge. I’m hoping that I can get the new booster before I travel, although if I can’t, I might try to get it while I’m on tour. I’ll also very likely be wearing masks at airports and on planes for the duration of the tour, and possibly during the book signing portion of my events. We’ll see on the day.

In light of the COVID spike we’re currently having, combined with spotty vaccination and boosting among the general populace, if you are coming to one of my events, please consider wearing a mask. Additionally, check the event information, since I know at least one of the organizations holding my event is requiring masks. Yes, they’re annoying. But so is feeling like crap and maybe horking up a lung. So consider a mask instead, and if you go that route, thanks.

— JS

Fani Willis Says “Bless Your Heart” To Jim Jordan

And as we all know, a southern woman saying “Bless Your Heart” means “Go Fuck Yourself.”

Which is indeed, the substance of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ reply to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan’s August 24th letter to her, in which he essentially tried to threaten her with congressional oversight for intending to put former president Trump on trial for numerous charges relating to election tampering. Her response was, essentially, you can’t, you’re an ignorant tool, I can do as I please, and also, go fuck yourself.

The letter in itself is a delicious work of art, with pity nuggets like “Your letter makes clear that you lack a basic understanding of the law,” and “Those who wish to avoid felony charges in Fulton County, Georgia — including violations of Georgia RICO law — should not commit felonies in Fulton County, Georgia.” I commend it to you all, but if you don’t wish to read the whole thing, here’s this Atlanta Constitution-Journal news article about it, with Willis’ response and Jordan’s initial letter appended (those outside the US might find the article GDPR-restricted, but I’m sure you know how to use Google to locate the news for your jurisdiction).

Jim Jordan is well known for being a corrupt dimwitted opportunist bully with even fewer principles than brain cells, so it’s nice to see him get taken to the woodshed by someone both smarter and more principled than he. I’m sure Jordan will bluff and bluster and make noise about it, because he’s not smart enough (nor otherwise sees any advantage) to be ashamed of himself, so the rest of us will just have to be ashamed for him. As a citizen of Ohio, I sure am! Please stop electing him, OH-4! You can do better, in so many ways.

— JS

Mr. Scalzi Goes to Columbus

And, in fact, I went to the Statehouse! To barge into the Governor’s office to give him a piece of my mind, as is my right as a citizen of Ohio? No, they would have dragged me off to jail, come on. I was there to record a bit for the Ohio Channel (the state-run public video channel) in conjunction with the Ohioana Awards in a couple of weeks, and to have lunch with the Ohioana librarians. It was a lovely, if brief, visit. Now I’m back home, where almost instantly a cat shoved her butt into my face, so let’s just say the afterglow of roaming the halls of power was fleeting to say the least. There’s probably a lesson in there for us all.

— JS

The Big Idea: Abby Goldsmith

Standing apart from the crowd is usually seen as a good thing. It makes you cooler than the majority. But what if going against the majority was dangerous? Even life threatening? Enter the dystopian world of Majority, the first novel in author Abby Goldsmith’s newest series.


What if everyone had an audience inside their head, listening to their every thought? 

I grew up in a rural area and didn’t make friends easily. Maybe that was why I imagined an audience of aliens inside my head, tuning in from distant planets. Maybe I was an alien, too. Maybe I’d been left on Earth accidentally. That distant audience would watch my life from the comfort of their technologically advanced homes, reacting as I explored the stream near my house, whispering about the kids who bullied me in school. The aliens were on my side. 

As I learned about Nazism–my Jewish ancestors were fortunate to move to the U.S. prior to the immigration restrictions during the WWII era–I had to grapple with a big question. When I learned about colonial American slavery, there was the big question again. And the Salem witch trials. Okay, here’s the big question. How can a successful society, a society ruled by adults, collectively agree to do something horrible? 

Now I was questioning that distant audience of aliens. What if they were actually laughing at my misfortunes from the comfort of their alien homes? It’s not hard to imagine. The people we hear about on the news are utter strangers to us. There’s a layer of distance between an audience and the newsworthy subject they might be watching or casually discussing. And there’s camaraderie, too. The audience bonds with each other. They share an experience, and the subject is not part of that. 

In fact, sympathy for the subject is dangerous in many situations. It can be dangerous to go against popular opinion. Ask any kid who goes to school. Ask anyone who ever dared to defy social norms, or anyone who dared to say something controversial on social media. 

The dystopia of Majority arose from my own lived experience as a weirdo who didn’t fit into the society around me. New GoodLife WaterGarden City is a glamorous alien metropolis that sparkles with utopian luxuries–all supported by brutal slavery. It’s just one of billions of metropolises ruled by the galaxy spanning Torth Majority, who are like the Borg of Star Trek combined with the dogpile mobs of Twitter and Reddit. The Majority can change its collective mind on a whim. Their elected leaders are sociopaths, because only crowd-pleasing egomaniacs gain enough orbiters (followers) to win the respect of fame and popularity. The Majority is composed of individuals, but individuals cannot lie to their inner audiences, and they dare not leave. Anyone who displeases the Majority is likely to get enslaved or murdered. If an individual secretly disagrees with popular opinion, they must pretend otherwise. 

Therefore, within the Majority, individuals get very good at lying to themselves. They rely on self-deception in order to survive. 

The hero of Majority, Thomas, chafes at being denigrated. In his hometown in the United States, everyone, even the people he loves, consider him to be too disadvantaged and too young to matter. When the Majority claims him, Thomas goes from being dismissed as a disabled child to being elevated to godlike status as a supergenius thought leader. 

The challenge, for me, was to show how Thomas is seduced by the Majority…and to keep him likable. The Majority collectively make terrible decisions. They enslave his loved ones. They’ve outlawed love and friendship. Yet they respect Thomas in a way that his own foster family and friends never did. His celebrity mentor, the Upward Governess, sees his potential as an inventor and insists that he is special. She even risks her own godhood to protect him from vicious enemies. She judges Thomas as her equal–and she is a galactic ruler with trillions of worshippers. She convinces her own inner audience that Thomas is someone worthy of respect. 

It becomes more and more difficult for Thomas to reject his inner audience, plus all the luxury gifts they shower him with, plus the powerful mentor who genuinely wants his friendship. When the Majority collectively vote to force Thomas to do something awful to his foster sister from Earth, he has no choice but to go along with it or die. But deep down, he snaps. He continues to please the Majority and repress his own morality in order to survive on the alien planet ruled by his mentor, but his subconscious begins to solve the problem of how to escape the Majority. He collects opportunities. He deceives himself. It’s a mind trap for sure. 

Very, very, very challenging to write. 

I loved the challenge. I do switch to other POVs, including Thomas’s loved ones as they fight for survival and respect in an alien slave ghetto. The contrast between their physical battles and Thomas’s mental/social battles is stark and enormous, and I think it helps keep the story compelling. How will they escape? If they reunite, will Thomas’s loved ones hate him as a betrayer, or will they understand what he was dealing with and give him the respect he deserves? Will Thomas ever be able to meaningfully challenge the galactic empire known as the Torth Majority–or transform the Majority into something better? 

Majority is a series starter. The entire Torth series is pre-written, originally serialized online, and I guarantee a satisfying ending. Justice matters. The Torth Majority is ultra powerful and galaxy-spanning, but their system is rotten, and it has to change. There are answers to all the big questions. 

Majority: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Audible

Author socials: Website|Twitter|Facebook|Instagram|Goodreads

Come With Me On A Journey Through Six Caramel Flavors

Back in July, I bought a bunch of pretzels from and did a ranking post on them. Turns out, that company also owns And you know who loves caramels? Me. Also, my dad, so he’s here to help with the ranking of the six caramel flavors I decided to try out.

Much like their pretzels, the caramels come in these matching cylindrical canisters with the flavors listed on the bottom. While the pretzels were twelve dollars for a 1/2 pound tube, the caramels are eighteen dollars for a one pound tube.

Six white and brown canisters lined up in a row. They each read

First up, the tried and true Classic Butter:

A bunch of light brown caramels individually wrapped in clear wrapping spilling out of the canister onto the table.

My dad and I have definitely had our fair share of caramels in our lives, and this was indeed a good, standard caramel that we would in fact enjoy again. Nothing incredible, but a good caramel is a good caramel. It was an 8/10 from both of us.

Staying in the realm of pretty standard caramel flavors, we went for the Pecan Maple next:

Individually wrapped light brown caramels spilling out of their canister onto the table.

The fact that they put “pecan” before “maple” in the naming of these ones turned out to be very accurate, because they were quite pecan-y, and the maple was rather subtle. A contributing factor might have been the actual pecan chunks throughout these caramels. Regardless, they were really good, and tasted like a pecan pie. I gave them an 8.5/10, whilst my dad settled on another solid 8/10.

Getting into uncharted territory here, we tried the Blueberry:

A few individually wrapped light brown caramels spilling out from their canister onto the table.

The blueberry was A LOT. It really punches you in the face with flavor. Definitely need a chaser of some water or something with this one. It wasn’t bad, just really strong, more of a one and done kind of caramel, whereas I could see going back for a second one when it comes to the previous two. These were a 7/10 overall.

Onto Sugar Cookie:

A handful of individually wrapped caramels spilling out of their canisters onto the table.

Sugar Cookie, as you can probably imagine, was very sweet. To me, it tasted a lot like “the holidays.” I think that might be because making caramels, Buckeyes, and baked goods with my family is a bit of a Christmas tradition, but it was really nice, and made me wish festivities were already upon us. It was sweet and yummy, and sugar cookies are one of my favorite types of cookies, so I gave it an 8.5/10. Again, my dad went with an 8/10. My teeth were really feeling this one (yeouch).

Here they are, the caramel I have been waiting so patiently to talk about, Tropical Passion Fruit:

A couple of individually wrapped light brown caramels spilling out of their canister onto the table.

I actually really enjoy passionfruit. It’s a recent discovery of mine and I have liked it a lot ever since I first tried it, so these caramels were promising. However, when I opened the lid and smelled the canister, I was immediately flashed back to the days of my youth, when I was sick and had to take the nastiest tasting medicine that ever existed: children’s amoxicillin. The smell hit me like a ton of bricks and I was disgusted. There’s no way they could possibly taste like that revolting medicine from the Dark Ages of Childhood.

And yet, they did. One bite and it was over. I spit it out immediately, repulsed. I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited for passionfruit, and got one of the grossest medicines ever invented. My dad said it tasted fine, but wasn’t that good, and gave it a 5/10. Obviously, I gave it a 0/10. I’m literally shocked and appalled.

And finally, the flavor I got because I knew my dad would be happy, Black Licorice:

Several individually wrapped black colored caramels spilling out of their canister onto the table.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t dislike black licorice, it’s just not something I’m passionate about, like my dad. I don’t seek it out or eat it on purpose, but I’m not a hater. So I expected these caramels to be like a four or five for me, or pretty much just meh, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were! They weren’t overly strong, more of a mild yet also complex flavor. They went down smooth, you know. Very well done, I would totally have another. Solid 8/10!

At the time that I ordered these, there were some other flavors I was interested in trying that I don’t see listed right now. In fact, I don’t even see the classic or pecan maple listed in their flavors right now. Or even the blueberry! Maybe they sold out? One of the ones I wanted to try was harvest apple. Looking at what they have right now, though, I would want to try coconut, raspberry, and probably huckleberry! I’m sure coffee and peanut butter would be great, too, though.

Anyways, I really recommend! This company also has which has like fifty some types of licorice, so maybe I’ll try that sometime soon.

Which flavor are you most interested in? Have you ever homemade caramels? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


The Big Idea: Jon Evans

There’s the observation that at any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. In Jon Evans’ new novel Exadelic, this may be more right than anyone ever suspected.


Exadelic‘s big idea is why it is, probably, the only book about occult magic categorized by Amazon as ‘Hard Science Fiction.’ That high concept: in the present day, an AI trained on occult texts learns how to hack reality itself. More precisely, it discovers that the fundamental substrate of our universe is more like software than hardware … and the phenomena we’ve long called “magic” stem from bugs in that software.

It also learns there used to be much more magic—hence ancient myths and legends—until, a few thousand years ago, our reality’s operating system was patched, and most magic went away. But a sufficiently sophisticated AI can still exploit the subtler bugs which remain, and hijack the laws of physics.

The notion that our universe is fundamentally software has a surprisingly illustrious scientific history. Stephen Wolfram has long suggested reality is, at root, “a vast array of interacting computational elements.” But the universe–as-software idea raises some disconcerting questions: does that suggest it’s running on hardware … somewhere else? Was it programmed? In other words, do we live inside a vast simulation? And if so, programmed by what, for what purposes?

Exadelic is a book made of spoilers, and I don’t want to reveal much more. But I do think it’s entertaining and instructive to go over the history of the notion that our reality is a simulation … a history which, it turns out, goes back thousands of years.

Consider Saint Irenaeus, in the second century AD; the second Bishop of Lyon, after the first was martyred by the Romans. Despite this, Irenaeus managed to find time for some persecuting of his own. Today he is best known for his work Against Heresies, in which he attacks the then-popular Gnostic splinter faiths.

Gnosticism was a complex family of beliefs, but all included the notion that our world is a cruel simulacrum of true reality—or, if you will, a simulation—created by a malevolent god. You’ll note this is also, basically, the plot of The Matrix. But wait; it gets wackier. St. Irenaeus is also known for his belief that “God made himself Man, that Man might become God.” Or, as Ronald Cole-Turner puts it, “It is important to note that for Irenaeus, salvation is not primarily a pathway to God. It is a process by which humans become gods.”

SF readers have a name for that belief, too: transhumanism. As such, one can interpret the persecution of the Gnostics by St. Irenaeus as an attack on simulationists, by transhumanists … 1800 years ago! Many of our tropes are much older than we think.

Over subsequent centuries, the Gnostics and all their texts were eradicated, making Against Heresies one of the only records of their existence. And yet their long-forgotten beliefs have had a significant influence on science fiction, and on how we imagine the future … thanks to a murderous blood feud, a possible grave robbery, a thief-priest, and the black market of the alpha metropolis of an ancient civilization.

I realize that sounds like a D&D (or maybe Call of Cthulhu) campaign. But in 1945, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, that very combination of events led to the discovery of long-buried original Gnostic texts. And, a few years later, a certain C-list SF author grew obsessed with them.

That author spent most of his life struggling with small advances, poor sales, addiction, mental health, and failure to sell any of his ‘mainstream’ work. His books were very weird, and often didn’t really make much sense. None of his peers could have suspected he would become the most culturally significant science fiction author of the twentieth century.

But if you measure by Hollywood adaptations, he absolutely was, because I am talking about Philip K. Dick, whose influence on other writers (including me) has also been immense. In fact, way back in 1977, at a convention in France, PKD declared that we live in “a computer-programmed reality,” referring to the true/higher level of reality as “the matrix world.”

While the Wachowskis have always been cagey about their influences, Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulation and Simulacrum actually appears in The Matrix … and it, in turn, cites Dick. (Albeit misnaming him “K. Philip Dick,” perhaps signifying the respect SF commanded at the time.) It’s pretty remarkable that a direct chain of citation for the simulation hypothesis extends from The Matrix, via PKD, to Gnostic beliefs assumed eradicated and forgotten for many centuries! Culture dies hard, is perhaps the lesson here.

Regardless of whether the simulation hypothesis is correct, “the universe is software” is a compelling metaphor for the world in which we do live — one increasingly mediated by software, where other people appear to us mostly in compressed digital forms. That isn’t necessarily bad. Often software is better than hardware; that’s why we write it! But when this mediation goes wrong, it can contribute to depersonalization and even dehumanization. Philip K. Dick  said his work focused on two questions: “What is Real?” and “What is Human?” Exadelic is a hard-SF thriller, but it uses its big ideas to grapple with those two questions too.

Exadelic: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author Socials: Web site|Twitter

New Music LP Out Today: “Eternal”

Wait, a whole LP? Yes, that’s right, while you weren’t looking, I’ve been fiddling about on a specific musical project that ended up being 40 minutes long, which is to say, the length of a traditional LP. It even breaks well into two sides, with Side One being a shade over 23 minutes and Side Two a shade under 17. Did I plan it this way? Ha! No. But when it turned out that way I wasn’t displeased. It’s my longest musical work to date.

And also, formally, my most ambitious. It’s a single long work, with four parts, each with two movements. Each part is comprised of a single musical phrase that consists solely of the “E” note, played across four octaves, with that phrase being stretched and compressed, depending. The first movement has four instruments playing the phrase at different lengths; the second movement reverses the phrase, and shuffles which instrument is playing which phrase length. Each part has its own tempo, instrumentation and effects, including reverbs and arpeggiations, and has a tone and feel distinct from the others.

Why do this? Well, the short answer is that recently I was thinking of the late avant-garde composer Glenn Branca, who sprang not from traditional “classical” environs but out of the “no wave” musical movement of the late 70 and early 80s. Branca’s compositions were often confrontational and experimental, sometimes microtonal or atonal, heavy on treated electric guitars and other instruments not generally associated with symphonies and movements, a real mess and a lot of fun. And on at least one occasion, he’d have his musicians play a single chord, loudly, and explore the tonal landscape that would happen in the sonic crossfire of reverberations.

I am not, to be clear, Glenn Branca. The inspiration I am taking from him here is conceptual rather than directly musical. But I was curious about what would happen when one explores repetition, recurrence and revision, using a same bit of music, applied to the current musical technology.

I was also interested in the idea — and here I make an obvious nod to Brian Eno — of music that is designed as part of a larger experience. Eno’s thing is “ambient” music, to be listened to incidentally, a liminal soundtrack for public spaces (like, famously, airports). For this project I’m not thinking “ambient” per se, since I want you to notice the music more overtly than that. Perhaps “concurrent” would be a better way to put it; played as part of a museum installation, say, to set a specific mood or tone, each part easily repeatable to play continuously as people move through the area. Adding to the experience, and giving an emotional context for it.

Conceptually, then, you could say this album is a looping soundtrack for a cultural event that doesn’t yet exist. There’s a reason the cover art is of an entrance to the Louvre.

(Yes, I know, could I be any more pretentious. Look, concept albums are inherently pretentious. You accept it or you don’t do it. Clearly, I went with it.)

With that as preamble, here’s the album. As of this writing it’s on YouTube and YouTube Music, TIDAL and Amazon Music; Spotify and Apple Music are still processing it (Update: It’s on those two services now, too).

Eternal, Part One (15:25): The original version, with the slowest tempo (68 beats per minute), and the most heterogeneous instrumentation. I’ve noticed that depending on the speakers you put this through, you might hear instruments that aren’t there as the instruments that are there interact with each other sonically. Which is pretty interesting.

Eternal, Part Two (7:43): For this one, all the instruments are the same: a lightly treated piano. Each piano is performing the same arpeggiation, but each arpeggiation is being played at a different speed, from 1/8th of a bar to a single bar. This is played at twice the tempo (136 bpm) of Part One. Of all the parts, this one is probably the “single,” i.e., if you’re going to listen to just one of these, this would probably be it. It’s the prettiest.

Eternal, Part Three (5:40): The fastest (~180bpm), loudest, noisiest and most overtly electronic of the parts, and the only one with a drum track, which skitters over the whole thing like an angry spider. This is also the one where the difference between the two movements of piece is, in my opinion, the most noticeable. This part is the most abrasive one, without a doubt, and is also probably my favorite of the four.

Eternal, Part Four (10:30): The most “moderate” of the pieces in terms of tempo (99 bpm), but possibly the spookiest in terms of instrumentation, with strings that are plucked, buzzed, droned and morphed. This is the part most likely to be heard in an A24 horror film.

Eternal was a bit of a surprise project for me, coming more out of experimentation and exploration than a desire to make something for others to hear. But once I had it, I thought, hey, maybe people might like this. I hope you do. As summer ends here in the US, this is a fine way to take us into a new season.

— JS

Saturday Music: “Ride the Wind to Me”

Songwriter and musician Julie Miller is one of the great secret weapons of the musical genre known as “Americana,” which for those who don’t know, is kind of like if country music and shoegaze had a baby. I became acquainted with her when Emmylou Harris covered a song of hers for her Wrecking Ball album (this one), which eventually led me to Miller’s own 1999 album Broken Things, which is, flatly, tremendous, starting with the first song, “Ride the Wind to Me,” a twangy, plaintive paean to love lost and possibly found again.

My version of this song is not twangy, nor plaintive; I was curious how it would sound with an 80s, gothy, Gene Loves Jezebel sort of vibe, and now I know, and, if you listen to it, so will you. I think it works, although of course it’s held back by my own production shortcomings. But this is why I do these covers; to teach myself how to get better at it. I hope you enjoy it nevertheless.

Also, for compare and contrast, and there is a lot of contrast, the original, below.

— JS

The Big Idea: Dwain Worrell

When you read a novel, you might think you know who the villain might be. But in Dwain Worrell’s new novel Androne, whoever and whatever you think that villain is, it’s not that. Probably.


ANDRONE | ən-drōn |


  1. a remote piloted bipedal machine made to mimic the functionality of the human body.

Imagine we were at war, millions of casualties, protesters on the White House lawn, and a wartime debt of trillions, but in this war no one, neither civilian nor military, knows who the fuck we are fighting.

Do you mind if I curse?

In the novel it’s called the “Enigma Campaign” or “World War Who.” Ten years before the opening of the novel, every major military instillation worldwide was attacked by something, but we don’t know what. What we do know is that it’s none of the usual suspects. It’s neither aliens nor AI, no foreign country or ourselves. This antagonistic force, in a word, is (spoiler). And as the attacks become more frequent, more brazen, it will unwittingly destroy both us and itself in the process.

That spoiler is the big idea, and the protagonist of the story was created with specific attributes that thematically and structurally reflect that idea.

Sergeant Paxton Arés is an androne pilot from Oakland, California, and a soon-to-be father. He leaves his grandfather, girlfriend and unborn child to report for duty at Nellis Base in Nevada. Paxton is a bit of jarhead, not the type to speak up or get promoted. He operates one of the lower-tier andrones, a Spartan series, out in some foreign desert from a cockpit a thousand miles away. Every day he waits for an enemy that never shows up.

But Paxton quickly discovers that something is off about the base. As he scratches away at the facade on the surface, he discovers what they are actually at war with and that changes everything—from what he though was humanly possible to his own loyalties with the military.

“The strongest and oldest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” —HP Lovecraft.

I didn’t know the answer to the central question in Androne, “who are we fighting?” I started writing without it. But that idea, a war without an enemy, was the center of gravity, a blackhole for me, the characters, the plotting, everything revolved around it. And for Androne to work, the answer to that question couldn’t be aliens or AI or ghosts or monsters or anything I had read before, that would have been a letdown. It had to be something different to leave an impact on the reader and myself. I haven’t read a novel that has used (spoiler) as an antagonistic devise before, though there are no new ideas. And it’s probably be out there somewhere in the unknown.

Androne is a debut novel. And everything here is unknown. Working with editors, publishers, and new terminology like ARC, never heard that before (Advanced Reader Copy, btw). I traveled into the “literary” unknown, so it’s only fitting that Paxton and his companions journey into the “literal” unknown.

And do you mind if I pun?

Niels Arden Oplev, director of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, described Androne as “a high-end videogame on steroids with a destiny of Shakespearean magnitude.”

And I’ll leave it at that.

Androne: Amazon |Barnes & Noble |Bookshop|Powell’s

Author’s Socials: Website|Instagram

An Update From the Old Church, August 31, 2023

For the longest time it seemed impossible we would actually get to this point, but now we’re actually here: All the major renovations we were making to the church are now complete. The very last thing to have done were the bookshelves in the balcony, which span the walls on both wings; we had a local cabinetmaker do them and they are terrific. Here’s a panorama of the bookshelves on the south wing of the balcony:

Those bookshelves are being filled up little by little, since every time we visit the church we bring a box of books from the basement. It will take a little bit of time with that process, but at this point, now that every major renovation thing is done, we’re not in a huge rush.

The renovations were not only to the church; you may recall that we bought the house immediately north of the church, which was in a state of disrepair, brought it down and cleared out the debris. We’ve had some landscaping done in the front to make it look nice from the street, and behind the new firebushes and crabapple trees are what we’re currently calling the “north lawn,” and then a gravel parking lot in the back because the church previously did not have off-street parking. We have plans for the lawn portion but we have to wait a bit; apparently when you take down a house and scoop out the foundations it takes about a year for everything to settle out. Again, we can wait.

Once the renovations were officially done, we had a cleaning crew come in and remove nearly two years of renovation dust, and we took away any remaining detritus from the rebuild. What comes next is furnishing; specifically, my office (Krissy’s is already set up) and the balconies. The plan at the moment is to get it comfortable and cozy, but not, I think, to go all out and try to decorate every nook and cranny right now; we’re presumably going to have years to bring in art and bits and bobs. It’ll be enough to get it to a place where we’re ready to welcome friends and visitors.

When we say we’re done, two things should be understood: First, that there are some minor things that can still stand to be updated (like the church sign outside, which needs a refresh) and some things that we’re not going to get to for a long time if at all (like making the pipe organ functional again). The renovations were to make the church structurally secure and updated; some things that were not directly relevant to that are projects for later. Second, the realization that with a building like this — or any building, really — “done” is a relative term. There’s renovation, and then there is maintenance. We’ll be in the “maintenance” phase of owning this building for as long as we have it, and we plan to have it for a while.

For the record, it never does get old, walking into the church and going, holy buckets, we own this thing. For so long we’ve been on the schedule of contractors and service people and craftsmen, going down a checklist of things that needed to be done before we could start using the place the way wanted and intended to. Finally we’re at the place where the schedule we have for the building is the one we set for ourselves. We still have a few things to do, to get it ready. When we do, we’re going to invite folks in friends to let them see what we’ve done with the place and how we mean to keep it part of the community, even as we use it for our own intended ends. We’re looking forward to that.

— JS

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