Krissy and Smudge

Just in case you needed a momentary break from the world today.

— JS

Novel Writing Status, January 2021

Cartoon by Emily McGovern. Visit her site by clicking on the image.

So, Scalzi,” you ask, “how is the writing on the next novel going here in January?

Thank you for asking. The answer is: Not well at all!

And the reason, of course, is [gestures at the world]. I made the comment a couple of weeks ago that it wouldn’t actually be 2021 until January 20th at 12:01pm, but turns out neither I nor anyone else really had any idea just how 2020 the first couple of weeks of January 2021 would be.

Here’s my here’s how my January novel writing has gone so far:

January 1-3: Hey, it’s New Year’s weekend, maybe actually relax and get ready for the first work day of 2021 on January 4.

January 4: Here we go! Aaaaand: 250 words. Okay for the first day back!

January 5: Another 250 words. All right, but, gotta bump up those numbers, those are rookie numbers.

January 6: Well, fuck.

January 7 – 10: Seriously though what the actual fuck

January 11: Okay, focus! Sooooo here’s another 100 words plus moving some stuff around to see if it’s any better in a different configuration, okay, no, not really, fine, but still, you did something, that’s a victory, take it

January 12 (today): Gaaaaaaaaaaah fuck where is my brain

And the answer to that is the same answer as I think most other people have at the moment: Following the news to find out what Our Seditious President and His Traitorous Party are up to today. To recap: The president just ordered a hit on Congress and also American democracy; his enablers in Congress are in deep denial about that and/or trying to pretend, like the abusers they are, that it’s somehow the Democrats’ fault; and all the president’s little insurrectionist foot soldiers are apparently waving their Trump flags and screaming “we’re coming back to do it again next week!” This is not conducive to writing novels, folks, or at least to me writing them.

(“But you’re writing this, how is that different?” Well, because this is reaction. It’s me processing events; I don’t think after 22 years of this site being around that it will come as a surprise when I tell you that one way I contextualize and get a grip on the world is to write about it here. Reaction is a different writing muscle than creation, and my creation muscle works best when its owner (that’s me) isn’t freaking out about the world (or is sick, which is a thing that happened last November and December).)

(Also, I think it doesn’t help that the current novel I’m writing is meant to be a little darker than what I usually write, is a war story, and has a political subplot (in the context of that universe, not this one) which helps drive the story. To the extent that writing fiction can be seen as escaping this world into a different one without the problems of our own, the world I’m “escaping” to is, as a matter of structure and story, not at all better for my overall mood.)

The next novel is meant to come out in October; it’s January and I’m nowhere near done with it. I can still get it done in time for October, depending on when I do finish it, and how much of a crush we put — again — on the editing and production processes. Tor gave me extra time with this novel so that I could get it in early enough that we could have a leisurely production process and have more time to market/promote it. This was a fabulous idea, which happened to run smack into 2020 (and this bit of that year’s hangover), and the various physical and mental challenges that year offered.

As they say, it is what it is. I’m responsible for getting my work done, and while Tor and the people I work with there have been more than understanding about where my brain is and how it’s had an impact on my productivity — in no small part because they’ve seen that impact with other of their authors, and themselves — I still feel bad about the current state of my novel. One of my great selling points is reliability; like the Post Office, I deliver in rain and snow and sleet and dark of night. But like the Post Office, our current situation is really fucking with my reputation.

I feel bad about that — but I feel bad about it up to a certain point, and not much after that. Without qualification, we live in extraordinary times, times that have no exact parallel in our country’s history. I wrote this on Twitter the other day:

And the thing is, it’s true. January saw a bomb go off under our democracy, put there by a president whose own emotional frailty made it impossible for him to accept that he was voted out of office, and by a political party who saw a concrete benefit in pretending that a legitimate, legal election was anything but. Both the president and his party spent months energizing the worst among us into the violence that we saw last Wednesday, violence which may continue in the week to come, and perhaps even beyond that. To be clear, the events of last Wednesday are not a direct parallel to 9/11 (Twitter folks immediately started nitpicking that, because of course they did), but they are on the same level of wrenching national impact.

And, well. How bad should I feel about having my ability to write a novel impacted by that? How bad should I feel for at this moment prioritizing the real world over a fantasy world? In both cases: Not all that much! Right now, I feel intellectually that the real world is where my attention should be. And also, even if I did not feel that way intellectually, on an emotional level my brain is going to focus on the real world anyway. I can either fight it or accept it. I’m going to accept it.

Here’s my plan from now through 12pm January 20: I’m not to preclude the idea of getting work on the novel done, but I’m also not going to fret if it doesn’t, because, after all, [gestures at the world]. After 12pm January 20? Well, I suspect I’m probably going to need a day or two to see how things shake out immediately after the switch in administrations, and then we’ll go from there. Please know I don’t expect the world to immediately change into a happy land of cakes and flowers in the week after the inauguration. I’ll just be looking for the signs that it’s all right to start thinking about other things again.

Why do I tell you these things? Two reasons. One, to the extent that it’s useful for me to say “Hi, I’m an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of many books and someone who has been writing professionally for 30 years, and this last week has fucked up my brain, don’t feel bad if it’s done the same to you,” I’m happy to do that. You and your fucked-up brain are not alone.

Two, if in fact my next novel doesn’t get released in October, and is punted down the schedule a bit, the events of this month, and a bunch of the stuff leading up to it, is some of the reason why.

I’m okay with that, and you should be, too. Neither I nor Tor, nor any other of my publishers, has any interest in putting out something that reads like I was distracted and unfocused. If the book comes out in October, it means I was able to get back into the novel’s world on time. If not, then you’ll be glad I took the time to get back into the novel’s world. Simple as that.

That’s the state of my novel writing, right now.

— JS

The Big Idea: Tim Pratt

For Doors of Sleep, author Tim Pratt dreamed a little dream… and then another one, and another one, and another one after that. What does all that dreaming mean for the novel? Read on.

TIM PRATT:

Doors of Sleep is probably the most elevator-pitchy, high-concept thing I’ve ever written. It’s a multiverse adventure, following the adventures of a character named Zax, who suffers from a peculiar malady: whenever he falls asleep, he wakes up in a new reality. Sometimes he opens his eyes in nice places—pastoral wonderlands, techno-utopian cityscapes, orbital habitats full of amiable posthumans—but other times… he ends up in worlds that are rather less nice. 

He can’t control where he ends up. He can’t even control how long he stays, except through the use of stimulants and sedatives. He can’t go home. He can take people with him, if they go to sleep in his arms when he transitions, but they inevitably get separated, or simply choose to stay behind when they find a world they like. (When I told my agent about it she said “It’s like Doctor Who combined with Quantum Leap,” and yeah, that’s a pretty good comparison really.) 

Zax isn’t from our world. He’s from a slightly more technologically advanced reality, where he trained to be a harmonizer, a sort of social worker devoted to helping people thrive personally while also contributing to the whole of society. (That means I couldn’t solve plot problems with creative violence, which was a nice challenge.) Of course, the nature of his condition means he’s never part of any society, and though he tries to help where he can, he never knows if his actions have had any lasting impact or unintended consequences. (“How do I know who my protagonist should be?” new writers sometimes ask. “Whoever would suffer the most” is one reasonable answer.)

When I conceived of the book and put together a proposal, I worked out a plot and supporting characters and complications and reversals and betrayals and arcs and all that, but there was one part of the book I deliberately declined to prepare in advance (apart from a couple of key scenes): the different worlds.

I’m one of those hybrid writers, not quite pantser and not quite plotter. I usually know the broad plot strokes and key emotional beats of a novel before I start writing it, but I leave myself room to improvise, surprise myself, and figure out exactly how I get from a problem to the solution. If I meticulously planned every scene, the writing process would lose much of its sparkle for me. (I’ve compared writing a novel based on a super-detailed outline to chewing gum that somebody else has already chewed. Which is disgusting. I’m sorry. But there you go.) The parts I don’t plan are the parts where the magic of inspiration happens.

The best part of writing Doors of Sleep involved exactly that magic: it’s the dozens of worlds I got to invent. Some of them I get to explore for many pages, and others are depicted in just a line or two, but every world is meant to be a spectacle or a revelation. 

I wanted the alternate worlds in this book to be really weird. While I enjoy parallel-universe stories where small tweaks make big changes–some historical figure chokes on a fish bone instead of going to a meeting and the fate of nations shift —I wanted to do something way more widescreen and over-the-top with this book. I knew much of the joy, for me, would come in discovering those worlds at the same time Zax did. 

Often, if I wrote a scene where Zax fell asleep, I wouldn’t know exactly what kind of world he would wake up in until I started writing it—usually there were lots of possibilities that could serve the needs of the plot–and I had so much fun inventing wildly bizarre landscapes, along with places that seem more mundane, until some twist reveals itself. 

There’s a world where fast-moving glaciers trapped technological wonders in fields of ice, just waiting for someone to come along and chip them out; where living skeletons with onyx eyes and hydraulic muscles worship at fountains of blood (laced with anticoagulants, of course); where people live in literal bubble-habitats so they’ll only encounter people who agree with them on social, philosophical, and political issues. There’s one inspired by J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World, where a shimmering armor has crept across everything; another where giants covered in moss and lichen amble through slow-motion wars (in low gravity, because otherwise, how could they get so big?); one where “gentleperson naturalists” in airships made of forcefields study the local flora and fauna, willfully ignorant of the sapience of their subjects. There’s a grim plain where basalt pyramids hold sleeping horrors; a pleasant little city where blood is a form of currency; the wrecked spacecraft of a sect who went searching for the homeworld of God. 

And more, and more, and more: space stations, planets, underground cities; worlds close enough to Zax’s lost home to break his heart, and others so strange he can barely comprehend them; places where he makes friends, and, almost always, loses them. Getting to invents scores of imaginary worlds was the thrill of this book (and why I’m eager to write another in this universe). What makes it a good novel (I hope!) is the characters who inhabit those worlds, and the way they see them, and the way the changing worlds change them


Doors of Sleep: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Wearing Masks, Then and Now

Back in January 2018, I was traveling from California back home, and I was sick. I had gotten sick halfway through the week of visiting my family, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t travel. However, I was sick enough that I knew it was a bad idea to be in public, especially an airport. I knew that I was more than likely going to infect people if I flew, and I obviously didn’t want to do that. So I wore a mask.

My cousin had one of those blue, surgical masks that were super popular at the beginning of the pandemic, before anyone had the more “fashionable” masks. She said I could have it to wear at the airport. I wore it the entire time I was in the Sacramento airport, on the plane, and in the Dayton airport.

I got looked at like I was a freak.

People gave me weird looks, even dirty looks, the entire day. I’m not just talking one or two people, I mean practically every stranger I passed. From the people in line at security, to the people sitting at the gate with me, to those on the plane, almost everyone that looked at me made a face, or gave me a look. It really started getting to me. I felt like a weirdo, like there was something wrong with me, but I was just doing it in an attempt to protect them from me.

I was extremely lucky with my seating arrangement. I had the first row, there was no row across from it because it was adjacent to the bathroom, and there was no one in the seat next to me. Which meant no one was in my immediate vicinity.

The only person who didn’t actively look at me weird was the flight attendant. Bless her heart, she was so nice. She brought me extra orange juice and napkins after I threw up in the airplane-provided bag.

After my experience with wearing a mask in public, I wanted to write about it. I was tempted to make a thread on Twitter talking about how so many people looked at me weird for doing something completely sensible and normal. But at the time it felt like overreacting, like I was being too sensitive or that it wasn’t really a big deal.

But now, eleven months into the pandemic, where people are still shamed for wearing masks, called “sheep” or “pussies” for complying with mandates and attempting to protect others, all I can think of is that day two years ago. Even now, when I go into Kroger or Walmart and there’s signs plastered on every door that masks are required, I get looked at funny by the people that aren’t wearing one. Why am I the weird one?

Why are we, the ones that are trying to protect others, looked at like we’re the bad guys? I truly don’t understand anti-maskers, and I know it’s because I have what they lack. Empathy. Anti-maskers are unempathetic; to the people dying, the people suffering for months on end, the families planning funerals. They only care about their “freedom”; the freedom to risk the lives of others by going out and exposing people to a deadly virus. Anti-maskers are selfish, and have no compassion for their fellow citizen.

Why is it so hard for them to wear a piece of cloth in front of their face? Why is it such an unbearable burden to put a little bit of fabric over their mouth for the ten minutes they’re in Dollar General? Why is it an inconvenience to protect others?

I often think if the USA had the mindset that China or Japan does, where it’s common to wear a mask if you’re sick to protect others, that we wouldn’t be in this situation. But we as a country have never really been the community-oriented type. This pandemic should’ve made us more so, but sometimes it seems like it has done the opposite.

(Side note, if you’re someone who calls people who wear masks pussies, fuck you.)

So, in conclusion, please wear a fucking mask. Yes, we’ll make it through this, but so far two million people worldwide haven’t. A lot more will make it through this if we all wear a mask. Please.

-AMS

The Repeachment is Coming

Well, it looks like Impeachment 2: The Repeachening is going to happen, and while I can’t exactly say I’m pleased — would that we had had a president who did not need to be impeached once, much less twice! — I can say that no one has ever deserved a second impeachment more than Donald Trump. My understanding is that he’s being impeached for inciting an insurrection, and that makes sense because a) he did, b) it’s easy for everyone to understand, c) we have all sorts of evidence of it, including video of him exhorting a crowd of heavily armed insurrectionists just before they stormed the capitol. If this were your average criminal trial, he would have already have his lawyers trying to plea bargain to spend his sentence at Otisville Federal Prison Camp rather than that federal Supermax in Colorado.

Of course it’s not your average criminal trial, and the question is whether the Senate will actually convict him. One plan I’ve heard is for the House to impeach Trump but wait a spell — a few months, actually — before sending it over to the Senate to adjudicate. This is a new one on me, since I didn’t know you could have an impeachment trial for someone who is no longer in office, but if you can there is some sense to it. One, the Senate will have changed hands by then, and a Democrat-controlled chamber will be easier to have a fuller trial; two, by then there’s a better than even chance that Trump will be mired in other legal suits and filings on a state and federal level, so this will look less like a singular event and more like just another log on his legal pyre; three, it’s possible more GOP senators, fatigued from all of the Trump bullshit that is still clinging to them, will vote to convict. If they convict, then a simple majority vote will keep Trump from ever holding office again (which is another reason for senate presidential aspirants to vote to convict).

But personally speaking I will be fine with them trying to get it done in the (checks watch) next eight and half days. I would be delighted to see which GOP senators are willing to excuse a sitting president for sending a howling mob of insurrectionists into the Capitol to fucking murder them. Those are going to be some real profiles in courage, there. Why wait?

— JS

And Yes, I Checked the Actual Day Count

It’s true! And if we’re being honest about it, it wasn’t that difficult — sure, some bad days when the seditious urge really got going, but one a day-to-day basis it was manageable. It’s not that hard not to be seditious! And yet. Let’s just say there’s a fair number of people out there right now, from the White House on down, who have far fewer consecutive sedition-free days. Some of them, alas, are in the single digits even as we speak. This is, shall we say, a problem.

How many sedition-free days do you have? Here’s a site that might help you get started in figuring out the number. If you’re a Republican congressperson, however, it’s possible you can just use your fingers.

— JS

Huh

Plus other fascists and fascist enablers getting punted left and right from social media and app stores. 2021 isn’t all bad after all. Let’s see where it goes from here.

Thoughts on Coups and Sedition, 1/8/21

I have some additional thoughts on some of the events of the last few days, and to help me present them to you in an intelligible fashion, I’m going to employ the help of my fictional interlocutor. Say hello to the folks, F.I.

Hello, folks. And thank you, Scalzi, for letting me out of my box for the first time in months.

You’re welcome.

It’s very cramped in there.

Let’s change the subject.

Fine. First question: Was what happened on Wednesday an actual coup attempt?

What makes you think that it wasn’t?

I don’t know, I guess maybe I thought a real coup wouldn’t include a guy who looked like a Jamiroquai cosplayer at a Nazi bar karaoke night.

Just because it was a stupid coup attempt doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real coup attempt. Trump plumped for the thing to happen in his nodding and winking way on Twitter, and he incited it and encouraged it in person. The attendees came expecting to take part in one, and had planned their strategy, such as it was, on Parler and other not-exactly-savory portions of the internet. They brought weapons and zip ties. They went looking for congresspeople. They weren’t just there to hang out on the mall, wave their Trump flags, get a churro and go home. They meant business. Fortunately like all Trump business, it went belly up in record time. But that’s neither here nor there for the intent.

What do you make of the light police response?

I don’t really know what to think of it, to be honest. The most charitable take on it is that the Capitol Hill police genuinely thought these Trump dimsurrectionists were harmless, in which case this was a massive failure of intelligence and intelligence-gathering, since, again, it’s not like these folks were subtle about their plans. As people noted, these motherfuckers had merchandise made up for the event; there were people wandering about with “CIVIL WAR: JAN 6 2021” hoodies. The least charitable take is that the Capitol Hill Police, or some portion of it, at least, was in on it; I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the videos of the Capitol Hill policemen waving the coupers into the building and taking selfies with them as they trashed the place. There was also the matter of the DC National Guard not being activated as soon as the Capitol was breached; it was almost as if someone wanted the thing to succeed, or at least to let the couprists have as much time as possible to disrupt the electoral vote counting.

We will eventually discover the entire scope of the failure, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s somewhere between, or maybe more accurately, a combination of, the two: The Capitol Hill Police didn’t understand the intent of the mob and/or was less concerned about them, because policing in the United States is racist as fuck and white people can wander around armed to invade a small country and the police won’t do shit about it; we also know Trump wasn’t exactly in a rush to send in the National Guard once the shit started going down. Incompetence and malice! Why not both!

What I do know is that Trump got exactly what he wanted out of the event. He just didn’t get all of what he wanted out of it. He absolutely pointed the mob at the Capitol. He absolutely intended to disrupt the electoral vote count. It’s my considered opinion he wouldn’t have been in the least bit upset if hostages had been taken and as such the vote count had been indefinitely postponed. In his mind, if the vote wasn’t counted, he’d still get to be President. That’s not actually how it works — his term is over on January 20 come hell or high water — but then Trump never understood any of that.

That all seems… a little dark.

I’m just getting started! If you want to go alllll the way into the woods, you can believe that the attack on Capitol and the various other right-wing protests and disruptions at state houses and other political targets were a coordinated effort to cause panic and chaos of the sort that would allow Trump to declare a military state of emergency, which he would then, of course, never undeclare. And then — wheee! — that’s the end of democracy in the US, hope you liked it, now your dictator for life is literally the stupidest and most venal man to hold the office of President.

Was this actually the plan? Maybe not on Trump’s part — I don’t think he has a plan other than “oh God oh God stop the Biden electoral vote I don’t want to go to jail” — but I’m pretty sure it was the MAGAts’ plan. The good news is that they don’t appear to have coordinated it particularly well nor did they appear to have a plan beyond trying to find parking as close to their protests as possible. Let me reiterate, this was a very shitty coup! For which we can all be thankful.

Do you think Trump will be impeached and/or sidelined via the 25th Amendment?

Maybe! But, you know, don’t get your hopes up. I think a second impeachment in the House is the most likely prospect — rumor says early next week — but whether the Senate will take it up in time, much less vote for removal is another issue entirely. Likewise, Pence has said he’s not interested in going the 25th route, so that’s unlikely. Unless, of course, Trump does something stupid, again, today or at any point over the weekend. Twitter did let him have his account back; it’s not outside the realm of possibility. But again: Don’t get your hopes up.

Which is too bad! I think at this point the GOP would be doing itself a solid removing Trump from office via the impeachment process, if only because then he is absolutely barred from holding office again. A bunch of senators want to run for president in 2024, after all — this would be a lovely way to keep him from coming back to haunt the party.

You really think Trump is going to run again in 2024? After this week?

Actually I think the reason he’s not going to run again in 2024 is because at this point there’s a better than even chance that he’s going to be in jail. But why take that chance, GOP senators? Punt his ass!

Speaking of Republican senators, I can’t help notice your picture of Josh Hawley up at the top of the entry.

Oh, that motherfucker. Yes. Him.

Would you care to share your thoughts on him?

Why yes I would! First, he’s a seditious piece of shit who thankfully chose exactly the worst possible time to yoke himself to the Trump wagon — I mean, seriously, it takes some doing to have tied yourself to the man just as he’s going over a fucking cliff, but Hawley managed it. Second, that little fist pump he gave to the mob before they went and trashed his workplace is perhaps the most spectacularly ill-timed bit of portraiture in the history of the Senate. Third, the fact that even after the House invasion Hawley still deciding that disrupting the electoral vote count was a good idea shows that his sense of political timing is epochally poor. He’s certainly paying for it, though — he lost his book contract, the major newspapers in his state have called on him to resign, and his political mentor calls him the “worst mistake” of his life. Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it, Senator Hawley.

He’s not alone in the sedition caucus — he’s joined by Ted Cruz, a fetid assemblage of moist dryer lint that dares to assert it’s a man, as well as a few other Republican senators, and more than a hundred Republican House members, including, regrettably, my own. They all should be ashamed of their votes on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, although of course they won’t be. What is shame to the shameless? It would be nice to think Hawley and Cruz, at the very least, might be bounced from the Senate for their role in abetting sedition, but, like Trump being removed before the end of his term, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

But make no mistake: Hawley’s a piece of shit and an embarrassment to his state and our nation, as is Cruz and every other politician who participated in the farce that impeded a smooth and non-controversial reading of the electoral votes. They knew it was a farce and they did it anyway, and in doing so, by intention or otherwise gave Trump the excuse he needed to assemble his sad coup d’ego.

Maybe they’ll learn.

Lol, okay, there.

Any final thoughts?

Just that I literally never want to hear another white dude whine to me that they don’t, in fact, live on the lowest difficulty setting of American life. Motherfuckers, armed white dudes perpetrated a goddamn coup attempt at the Capitol — the seat of our national legislature — and at least some of them appear to have been invited in by the police to do so. They wandered around the place with their guns and zip-ties, took maskless selfies as they trashed the place, looted offices and climbed all over the Senate chamber like it was a playground… and then walked away, almost entirely unharmed. Any time some defensive white dude querulously mopes to me about how his life isn’t on the lowest difficulty setting, I’m going to send him that picture of Naziroquai posing at the dias of the Senate chamber, and then I’m going to tell him to shut the fuck up. Captain Furhead there walked in during the middle of an armed insurrection against the national government, struck his pose, and walked out. He is still alive and as of this writing, not even close to being arrested. That’s the lowest difficulty setting in action, friends.

(Let us acknowledge here that one person was in fact shot dead by the police during the insurrection, and others died during it or as a result of it, including one cop. Let’s also acknowledge that on the day of an actual armed insurrection against the Capitol, mostly perpetrated by white folks, a grand total of thirteen people were arrested. Compare and contrast that with, oh, any of the protests this summer. What was the difference there? Hmmm.)

Anyway, that’s where I am on all of that right now.

So we’re done?

Yes.

Does this mean I have to go back into my box?

… yes.

— JS

But What If We Didn’t

I have a theory about the Republican Party, and it is that around the time Newt Gingrich became the head of its brain trust, the GOP added a fourth functioning principle to its previous tripod of “Southern Strategy to corner the racist vote,” “Abortion to corner the Evangelical vote” and “Tax cuts to corner the capitalist vote (and money).” The fourth principle was not about kettling and controlling a voting bloc, but rather a principle to maximize its power and to motivate the voting blocs beyond whatever the GOP could offer them politically.

That fourth principle, to put it in its shortest and bluntest form, is:

“But what if we… didn’t?”

Somewhat more broadly, the Republicans recognized there was a suite of political conventions and traditions that were designed to make it easier for things to get done, and that this suite of conventions and traditions were exploitable by denial. While people in both parties (and the parties themselves) would occasionally use this exploit, it was not done systematically.

That is, until Gingrich saw that practice as a weakness to be attacked. Here’s an early version:

“Treat the members of the other political party as colleagues rather than bitter enemies? Okay, but what if we… didn’t?

And it worked! Which is to say that it got attention, raised temperatures and was an effective political cudgel against those who didn’t understand (or didn’t want to believe) that the political ground was shifting underneath their feet. Gingrich was a political genius (until he wasn’t), and he set the pattern of Republican contravening of norms that advanced inexorably over the years.

Mitch McConnell, seen above, is a master of the “But what if we… didn’t?” school of politics. Allow a sitting president of the opposite party to name a Supreme Court justice? Okay, but what if we didn’t? Stick with the principle that you established with regard to Supreme Court justices being nominated in an election year? Okay, but what if we didn’t? Actually choose to have the Senate be a legislative body rather than just a rubber stamp for conservative judges of questionable competency? Okay, but what if we didn’t? And so on. McConnell understands the depth of his transgression against political norms, you can be sure — he’s been in Congress long enough to remember how it was before — but like Gingrich, he doesn’t particularly care. He doesn’t care, because it get results. The ends justifies the means.

In this, Trump was — and make no mistake, still is — the perfect GOP president. Trump has no loyalty to tradition and operating principles; indeed his entire appeal is transgression. He no interest in procedure, regulation or rule of law. To be sure, he was less “But what if we didn’t” than “I’m just not gonna,” but the effective difference between the two is subtle and in any event abetted the GOP’s “what if we didn’t” principle to a significant degree.

The 2020 election was a perfect storm of “but what if we didn’t?

So: Joe Biden won the 2020 election and has to be acknowledged as the president.

Okay, but what if we didn’t? Let’s say the election was tainted by fraud!

The facts show that the election was not tainted by fraud and indeed it was one of the most secure elections in US history, and we have to acknowledge those facts.

Okay, but what we didn’t? Let’s take it to court!

More than 60 court cases, on both state and federal levels, rule that, yes, in fact, the election went for Biden without any significant fraud. His electoral count stands and is uncontroversial and should be acknowledged as such when Congress convenes to count the votes on January 6.

Okay, but… what if we didn’t?

Well, now we know what happens when they didn’t.

The Republicans want us to believe they are surprised an insurrection has happened, but why should we believe that? These are not (all) unintelligent people. They knew what they were doing, they knew how they were transgressing, and they knew, every step of the way, what the result of each transgression was meant to be, both in terms of the fabric of democracy in the United States, and on the expectations of the Republican voting base.

There was a Republican mob at the Capitol yesterday because the GOP put them there. Not just yesterday, or through the course of the election, or the four years of the Trump administration. The storming of the Capitol is the (current) culmination of a decades-long project by Republicans, a project of denial, in which they didn’t recognize the validity of power being shared, or the equality of the other party, or the supremacy or desirability of democracy, if democracy meant a diminishment of their power and goals.

Democracy? Okay, but, what if we didn’t?

The Republicans aren’t surprised that this is where we are, and make no mistake that if at any point in the 2020 post-election they could have gotten away with subverting the will of the voters they absolutely would have done so. Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes and 7 million more popular votes than Trump, an unambiguous and, realistically, unassailable number. The Republicans chose to assail it anyway — not just a few members of the party, but as a matter of policy from the top all the way down. What is the number of electoral votes a Democrat now must win to be acknowledged without contestation as the winner of a presidential election by the GOP? We don’t actually know, except to say it has to be more than 306.

Yesterday our nation’s capitol was invaded and looted, and our democracy was shamed, and even then a half dozen Republican senators and more than a hundred GOP representatives who a few hours before were stuffed into shelters for their safety decided to play the “But what if we didn’t?” card. Sedition was preferable to being put on record as acknowledging a loss of power and privilege. Don’t come to me in the light of day and tell me this wasn’t where the GOP understood we would one day end up. The only problem the Republicans have with where we are at the moment is that, for once, “but what if we didn’t?” didn’t do what it was supposed to.

The Republican Party is a traitor to the ideals and practice of democracy in the United States. It fomented, aided and abetted an insurrection. A regrettable number of its members in the national government have signed on for sedition over the peaceful transfer of power (“The peaceful transfer of power? Okay, but what if we… didn’t?”). These seditious members should be drummed out of Congress, right now, and some Republicans who are in power should be charged with crimes. The Republican Party got us as close as we have gotten since the Civil War to the collapse of our democracy, not by accident, but by design, and had the implementation of that design been only a little more competent, both now and over the last few years, it might have succeeded. The GOP is an enemy of the United States — not conservatism as a whole, but its party (although at the moment I have no great kind thoughts about conservatism, either) — and if it had any institutional capacity for shame and self-reflection, it would end itself.

To which I see the Republican Party saying, “Okay, but what if we… didn’t?” Because even now I can tell you that from the GOP point of view the problem isn’t the damage that party has wreaked upon the US and its people. The problem is its plan didn’t work.

The GOP always meant for us to be here. The thing is, there’s somewhere beyond here the GOP still wants us to go. We shouldn’t pretend that the GOP won’t get us back to here as soon as practically possible. And then past it, to the ruin of us all.

— JS

The Worst President

Photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters

For all but the very beginning of Donald Trump’s career as president, I’ve freely admitted that I considered him to be the worst president of my lifetime, but not the worst president of all time; that position was held by James Buchanan, who, I noted, actually broke the country. After today, however, I have to say I’ve changed my mind; Donald Trump is, without qualification, the worst president we’ve ever had.

You are free to disagree, of course, but you are wrong. James Buchanan allowed the country to fall into the Civil War because he believed (erroneously, in my opinion) the principles of the country could not stop it from happening. He was wrong, terribly wrong, but at least there was a principle behind it. Trump, it is now perfectly and unambiguously clear, would be delighted to have the country fall into a civil war, not for principle, but simply for ego. He would destroy our country and democracy because he can’t abide what he now is: a loser. He can not and does not care about the nation, nor its principles, nor any of its people, save the ones of the sort who will trash a capitol for him. James Buchanan, awful a president as he was, was better than that.

Nothing Trump can do now will stop him from being what he is: A loser, a wretched president, and a historic low point in the annals of our country. He did not get there on his own, to be sure — it was a decades-long project of the GOP to get us to this point — but his own character and weaknesses define him. He will never escape his awfulness, even as the rest of us, thankfully, start to leave him behind two weeks from now. All he can do now is what he is doing: Proving over and over again the depths of his petulance, his pettiness, and his malice. Proving over and over again that he is, definitively, the worst.

It would be lovely if we did not have to endure it for even two more weeks. It would be lovely if Trump resigned (he won’t), if Vice President Pence invoked the 25th Amendment (he won’t) or if Trump were impeached by the House (he might be!) and then convicted and removed by the Senate (he won’t be). It would be lovely, but in point of fact, it won’t happen. He will have to be endured. And we will see, in the time he has left, just how much worse he can get.

— JS

Showcasing My Collection: Old Cookbooks, Volume One

Hey, everyone! In a couple of my past posts, I’ve shown you all some of my enamel pins, which are something I love to collect. Something else I love to collect that you may not have known about is cookbooks! While I do love pretty much any cookbook at all, my truest love is of old ones.

For the past three or four years, every time I go to Goodwill, I look at the books. In the Goodwill book section, you are bound to see a lot of weird and interesting things. From a 2004 Zumba dance guide booklet, to a 1993 dentistry textbook, to a tattered copy of Nora Roberts’ romance novels, amongst all that you’re bound to find at least one cool cookbook.

Over the years I have found some real gems. As much as my mom protests me buying more, I keep bringing home new cool ones that I simply can’t pass up. My oldest one is from 1927, and besides some amazing recipes, it also includes a guide about how best to utilize your new state of the art refrigerator. It doesn’t even have real pictures, just drawings of a nuclear family sitting around a table in their cute little 1920’s style kitchen. My next oldest is from 1954, so there’s definitely a gap in the forties and thirties where I don’t have anything from that era.

Anyways, today I’m going to show you some of my personal favorites that I just picked up on my latest visit!

First up is Fondue On The Menu from 1971:

This very 1970s cookbook boasts the amazingness that is fondue, and says, “it’s easy, convivial, and it allows the hostess to be a partygoer, too.” (catch that 1970s sexism of the book ONLY saying hostess throughout). This book has a whopping 93 pages, starting with cheese fondues, moving into meat and seafood fondues, goes into “special fondues”, and ends with dessert fondues, which they call “a novel idea!”. It even has 8 full-page color photos!

Next up is this lovely 1978 Whirlpool Brand Microwave Cooking Around The Country:

You see that? Over 200 delicious microwave recipes from around the world. How wild is that?! It is important to note that while I do not think any of the food in this book sounds or looks good, I do find it fascinating. I have never seen a worse-looking steak than the one in here they microwaved for 57 minutes. WHO DOES THAT TO A STEAK. The answer? The 1970s.

Will I ever actually utilize these recipes and make a stuffed venison steak with spiced prune sauce in the microwave? No. Is it cool to look at? Yes.

Third on the list is something a little sweeter. This 1966 Pies and Cakes cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens:

The first sentence in the introduction? “A man’s first choice for dessert? Pie! That’s why one of the first baking ventures of a bride is likely to be pie.” Thank you, Better Homes and Gardens, gotta love ya. Actually, I find more Better Homes and Gardens books than I do any other kind. Probably a solid 7 out of 10 of the cookbooks I see are Better Homes and Gardens brand. This one is chock full of pictures, half color and half black and white. This one in particular has that strong “came from an old lady’s house” smell. That’s how you know it’s quality.

And to top it all off, we’re ending with this 1967 Better Homes and Gardens So Good With Fruit book:

I’m not gonna lie, this is one of the only ones I’ve seen where I think the recipes actually sound kind of good. I mean, it’s fruit, how bad can you mess it up? There’s appetizers, desserts, beverages, dressings, and it even tells you how to freeze or can the fruits! It also tells you which fruits go best with certain meats in entrees. I feel like fruit was a bigger deal back in the day than it is now, is that true? I can imagine people in 1967 being, like, oh my god what is that thing?! And it’s literally just a pineapple. Am I totally wrong about that?

So, yeah, I have dozens of old cookbooks like this that are true relics. Maybe I should try making some of these recipes sometime, would that be something y’all are interested in seeing? I’d be sure to pick the weirdest, most unappetizing ones, like microwaved oysters or cantaloupe and lime pie. Or maybe I’d actually try to make something good out of these ancient things. Who knows?

I hope you enjoyed looking at some of my most recent additions to my collections! I’m always happy to find anything before the 80s, so these were real gems. Let me know what you think of them in the comments! And have a great day.

-AMS

The Big Idea: Dan Koboldt

Have you ever wanted a pet dragon? If the answer isn’t yes, is it because you never thought it was possible? And now that the idea’s on the table, hey, do you want one now? Author Dan Koboldt shows us a world in which that’s possible in his newest novel, Domesticating Dragons. Read on to see how man’s best friend could end up breathing fire.

DAN KOBOLDT:

It’s no secret that genetic technologies have rapidly advanced in the past few decades. The initial draft of the human genome sequence was published in 2001. It had taken an international team of scientists ten years and about a billion dollars in research funding to reach that critical milestone. Now, we have instruments that can sequence a human genome in three days for two thousand bucks. Hundreds of thousands of human genomes have been sequenced. Genetic testing is increasingly used to diagnose diseases, guide cancer treatment, and catch serial killers. Even you, the average consumer, can buy a test that tells you your genetic ancestry, how much Neanderthal DNA you’ve got, and whether you really are part Native American like Grandma claims. 

That’s all well and good. Some of it is part of my day job as a genetics researcher. At the same time, I wondered how soon we might be able to apply genetics to something really exciting, like making dragons. 

Genetic engineering technologies have also improved considerably in recent years, notably with the discovery of CRISPR-Cas. This system, which was discovered in bacteria, allows us to make precise “edits” to the DNA of living cells. Both of these features – the precision and the part about living cells – represent major advances, which is why the scientists who discovered CRISPR-Cas recently won the Nobel Prize. We can also synthesize DNA molecules – write the code, in other words. 

Put all of that together: vastly improved knowledge of the genome, custom synthesis, and precision editing tools for the code of life. It doesn’t take a significant leap to begin designing organisms from scratch. The sensible approach would be to start with single-cell organisms. I say screw that. Let’s go for something big. While there are countless creatures of myth to choose from, nothing simultaneously fascinates and terrifies humans the way that dragons do.

When I started writing a book about a genetic engineer who designs dragons for a living, the same issue kept coming up. Why dragons? When some of my early readers asked this, I had trouble understanding the question. Dragons are awesome. I’ve managed to insert some form of dragon into every book I’ve written. Why not dragons? My friends gently pointed out to me that not every reader would accept dragons no matter what. They need some reason to exist in the fictional world.

Many of the authors I admire have accomplished this with particular style. The dragons of Pern (Anne McCaffrey) were created to fight the falling of Thread, an alien invasive species. The dragons of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire have been trained for war in the Napoleonic era. And in The Priory of the Orange Tree (Samantha Shannon), ancient dragons exist to bring chaos to the world.

So yes, I had to justify dragons. I decided that in this book, the world needs dragons because a canine epidemic has all but wiped out the dogs (believe it or not, a global pandemic affecting the population seemed like science fiction in 2018). Think of all the roles that dogs play in our modern society. We raise them to be pets, outdoor companions, security guards, and emotional support animals. Without dogs, we’d need some other animals to fill that role. And I think we all know that cats wouldn’t step up. 

The company in my book, the Build-A-Dragon Company, designs dragons to fill some of the voids left behind by canines. Hunting dragons. Junkyard dragons. Pink-and-purple birthday dragons. Developing these models requires sophisticated laboratory equipment and computing infrastructure. That’s why the main character truly wants to work there. He has a brother with an as-yet-incurable genetic disorder, and with resources like these it might be possible to find a cure. 

In case you hadn’t guessed, this is where the events in the book begin to intersect my life in the real world. My colleagues and I sequence the genomes of children with undiagnosed disorders in hopes of discovering new disease genes and eventually providing a diagnosis. I’ve gotten to know a bit about the patient experience as a result. By the time they enroll in my research program, patients have usually undergone extensive testing, all of which failed to reveal the underlying problem. We call it a “diagnostic odyssey” because it can be a long and arduous journey for the patient and his or her family. We only find an answer (a likely diagnosis) for about one-third of families, but each time it brings about a profound sense of relief. 

There are absolutely parts of Domesticating Dragons that draw on my experiences in genetics and in academia. It was hard for me not to inject a lot of hard science into the book. After all, I spend my days thinking about genes and genetic conditions. However, I’m keenly aware – mostly from my experiences in social situations – that the science is more interesting to me than it is to anyone else. So I tried to strike a balance between realistic hard SF and a story that anyone can enjoy. 

As long as they love dragons. 


Domesticating Dragons: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Bookshop|Baen Books

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

 

WW84: WTF?

NOTICE: This review contains lots of spoilers.

Great Hera! Wonder Woman: 1984 was terrible! I am distraught over this, and must complain to all of you accordingly.

It didn’t have to be this way. Wonder Woman (2017), for all its flaws, was still an enjoyable, fun movie for me, in part because of my love for Diana (and Steve Trevor). They’re both (yes, both) back for this one, and yet Wonder Woman: 1984 was is so awful that I found it completely unenjoyable to watch.

Why? Let me count the ways!

1. Let’s start with the first fight scene, in the mall. It’s clear that it’s supposed to be the introductory scene where the hero swoops in and saves the day, and is established to the audience as the awesome main character. But the “fight” itself can hardly be called that. It’s basically just Diana swinging around and tripping bad guys. It seemed lackluster; the choreography seemed erratic and didn’t really flow well.

I was talking with my dad about the mall scene and how it didn’t seem to really do anything for the movie. He reminded me it actually did play a part: the jewelry store the thieves robbed was a front for stolen artifacts, one of which was the Dreamstone, which would become a major element of the story. I had completely forgotten about this plot point entirely! Here was a scene that was supposed to be important and practically set up the rest of the movie, but the way it was executed made it completely forgettable. The scene was disposable, and the important information it was trying to give us felt glazed over as a result.

2. Another issue I had with this movie is a problem I had with the first one, as well: DISAPPOINTING VILLAINS. In WWI, General Ludendorff was the most boring, unmotivated villain I had ever seen. He was literally just a dude who liked war and killing people. There was room to improve!

WW84 does better, but not by much. Maxwell Lord is the second most boring, unmotivated villain I have ever seen. His motives make no sense to me. He wanted to be the Dreamstone, so he could take whatever he wanted from people, so he could… what? Be more powerful? Be more successful? Power, success, fame, fortune. All classic things that villains want. And Max Lord kept saying he wanted “more”. Okay, but… why? Like Ludendorff, Lord was completely two-dimensional, an uninspiring villain who you can’t even bring yourself to sympathize with when the movie shows flashbacks to his traumatic youth and abusive father.

3. Also, nothing happened to Max Lord after his egregious deeds. He reunites with his son and gets a hug and his son tells him he loves him and whatnot. It’s a nice ending for a bad man. But where is the justice regarding Max Lord? At least Ludendorff died! Lord wasn’t even arrested! Why does he get a good ending, with forgiveness from his son, and no consequences for his dastardly acts? Is it just because everything that happened as a result of the Dreamstone wishes got “reset” or “erased”? He’s not really responsible for anything bad that happened if technically nothing actually happened, right?

4. Speaking of things that didn’t technically happen but still totally did happen and are fucked-up things, here’s one with WW84 that I have seen widely discussed: Steve Trevor having sex with Diana after she wished him back to life in someone else’s body. And aside from the obviously enormous problem of using someone else’s body nonconsensually for sex, Steve could’ve gotten that guy killed — Constantly fighting baddies and being in harm’s way is fine if it’s your body that you’re harming, but Steve was literally piloting (no pun intended) a normal guy who did not deserve any of this to happen to him.

Diana and Steve’s reaction to him being in a random body is rather odd. Sure they’re shocked that Steve is back, and they’re in awe that he’s alive again, but neither of them seem that concerned he’s in someone else’s body. Of course they say they want to get to the bottom of it, like how it happened and why, but they don’t actually seem to care about the person involved. They don’t even know his name. We don’t even know his name. If you go to IMDb, his character is literally listed as “handsome man”.

Is that all he is? Is he not worthy of even being given a name? They go to his apartment, rifle through his closet, use his body in multiple ways, and he can’t even have a name? Did he not have any family or friends who were concerned where he disappeared for a few days? Was a missing persons report filed? Did he have plans for those days he wasn’t in his body? Maybe he was supposed to go see his dying mother in the hospital, but didn’t get to because Steve was busy flying an invisible jet through fireworks.

All of the wishes made with the Dreamstone were revoked, resolving the conflict of the movie and setting things back to normal. None of it technically happened. But how does that make sense when there is a man out there with no memory of the days when someone else inhabited his body? He doesn’t get those days back. Yes, Steve disappeared when Diana revoked her wish, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the guy’s body at all. He was. It happened.

I know it’s not fair to, like, a hundred percent blame Steve for what happened. Diana is the one who made the wish, and Steve didn’t ask to be put in a stranger’s body. It’s not his fault he possessed someone, and it’s not like he could leave the body unless Diana revoked her wish, which he had to eventually convince her to do. Some of Steve and Diana’s actions were selfish and morally questionable if not just outright terrible, but Steve isn’t necessarily at fault for everything. Diana has some things to answer for, however.

5. Aside from the morality and logistics of Steve coming back to “life”, can we talk about how the filmmakers nerfed him a SECOND TIME? Killing him once wasn’t enough, huh? Our self-sacrificing pilot blew himself up in the first movie. He truly went out with a bang. Seeing him die gave Diana that essential burst of anger, that rage that gave her the strength to defeat Ares. It was inspiring!

And then… they just did that again?

Of course it was sad that Diana had to lose Steve a second time, but why did they do it like that? It seems to me like they wanted Steve to die again so Diana could get that classic “grief empowerment”, but didn’t want to actually kill him again. So they put him in someone else’s body specifically so later on in the movie they could have a reason for him to disappear. It would have been unoriginal to make him die again, but making his soul that’s possessing someone else’s body vanish back into the void? Ugh.

6. Okay, so, this next issue is more random and not as essential to structure or plot or anything, but I got so tired of seeing Diana save children. I know that sounds weird, but: how many times did she have to swoop in with her lasso and grab children who were in danger? The first time in the mall was fine; she saved the kid from being dropped off the ledge and put her down safely. Nice, cool, whatever.

But then there were those kids in Egypt playing in the street despite the very obvious onslaught of vehicles speeding towards them? It made no sense they’d be playing carefree in the road while there were literal tanks exploding down the road from them. If Diana was close enough to the kids to swing in and save them, the tanks were close enough that the kids would’ve seen them a long time before.

It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not to mention Diana fell so fucking hard when she lost her grip on the lasso that even if she had been shielding the children with her body they for sure would’ve gotten hurt anyways.

7. One more seemingly random yet actually not thing: WW84 has one of the most eye-capturing posters I’ve ever seen (see above). It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s intriguing. The gold armor is the new iconic look, one I’m personally not a big fan of, but it was still enough to make an ad campaign around it.

In the movie, the gold armor is revealed to be Asteria’s, a legendary Amazon warrior. And somehow Diana just… has this incredible armor leaning against the wall in her apartment. Just chilling there. It’s not entirely implausible that Diana would be in possession of the armor, sure, but the movie doesn’t even bother to tell us how she got it. You can speculate that perhaps she acquired it while working at the museum, but that doesn’t explain how she got it from the museum if that’s the case. There’s no mention of anyone from her homeland bestowing it upon her. She just… has it. And then destroys most of it in her fight with Cheetah. Seems like just a meaningless thing they threw in to make people look at the poster and think, “ooh, shiny”.

The thing that bothers me the most about this movie is that it didn’t have to be this way. All the problems above were fixable! Some simple redrafting would’ve done the job. These are good filmmakers, so why did they fall short here?

So, yeah, Wonder Woman: 1984 was kind of a bust. My disappointment is immeasurable. A third one is in the works and I totally plan on seeing it. But this one certainly wasn’t good.

However, if you liked it, I would love to hear why! What worked for you? Tell me your thoughts in the comments. And have a great day!

-AMS

2021 Awards Consideration Post

Each year at the beginning of January I let folks know what things I have available for consideration for annual awards, and for 2021, today’s the day! If you’re in an award-nominating mood, this is what I have for you this time around. I’m using Hugo categories here unless noted otherwise; other organizations may have similar/equivalent categories.

Best Novel:

The Last Emperox (April 2020; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor)

Best Series:

The Interdependency Series (The Collapsing Empire; The Consuming Fire; The Last Emperox) (Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor)

Best Novella:

Murder By Other Means (September 2020; Audible Originals; Steve Feldberg, editor)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):

Murder by Other Means (September 2020; Audible Originals; read by Zachary Quinto)

The Last Emperox is straight-up sf/f; Murder is also sf/f and additionally could be considered in the mystery/crime genre, so if you nominate for mystery/crime awards and like the novella, keep it in mind there.

The song I co-wrote last year, “Another Christmas (Until I Am There With You),” is probably not eligible for science fiction awards (except, if you stretch, maybe the Best Related Work Hugo, and I don’t encourage that particular stretch), but it’s certainly eligible for music-related awards. I co-wrote the song with Matthew Ryan.

In addition to these works of mine, some other people to keep in consideration this year, for work in conjunction to my own:

Nicholas Bouvier (aka Sparth) did the cover art for The Last Emperox (and the Interdependency Series as a whole), and is eligible for Best Professional Artist and equivalent awards in the art sphere.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden was the editor of The Last Emperox and indeed all of my novels for Tor, and is eligible for Best Editor (Long Form). Likewise, Steve Feldberg was the editor of Murder By Other Means, and would be eligible for Best Editor (Short Form)

Zachary Quinto is the narrator of Murder, and would be eligible for various audiobook awards therein.

Athena Scalzi is eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo this year, on the basis of her genre-related work here at Whatever. Examples of that work: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

As always: I am pointing out these works are eligible, not asking you to nominate them over other work you might like more. As always, if you like my work enough to nominate it, that’s wonderful, and thank you. But if you don’t — don’t. Vote for the work and people who you feel are deserving in any award year. That’s how it’s supposed to get done.

— JS

Welcome to 2021

Sugar has the right idea on how to spend the first day of the new year, I think. As for me, I’m spending it doing a little housekeeping on the site and elsewhere (as, actually, I do most firsts of January), and otherwise not doing a whole bunch. For that matter, Whatever is probably going to be a bit sleepy through Monday, January 4; we have nothing on the schedule until then, at least. I’m not saying Athena or I won’t post before then, I’m just saying be pleasantly surprised if we do.

Otherwise, have a good New Year’s weekend and we’ll see you next week.

JS

The End of 2020*

Wait, why the asterisk? Because 2020 is not a normal year, my friends! For me, 2020 began on March 11. That day I was on a cruise, avoiding news, when people started rushing up to me saying “Did you hear about Tom Hanks?!?!?” This was due to me actually knowing Mr. Hanks and therefore everyone on the boat wanting to inform me of his fresh COVID-positive status (and also, I had lunch with him in February, juuuuuuust outside the generally accepted infection window). Then I got back to my cabin and there was an email from my editor, begging me to call him, which was difficult because, you know, boat in the ocean. He told me my book tour was being cancelled and that it was basically the end of the world out there. So I reluctantly checked the news.

He wasn’t right about it being the end of the world. We still had another ten months to go.

Likewise, 2020 won’t end in a few hours. It will end at noon on January 20th, when Donald Trump is no longer president and we don’t have an administration that is staffed with incompetents and/or bigots and/or grifters. Once that crew is punted then the year can actually get underway. So like 2020, there will a brief interregnum before the year can truly get going. Even briefer than 2020’s, which included nearly ten weeks of the year.

For all that, January 1, 2021 will represent the light at the end of the tunnel. We see it coming, it’s inevitable and all that’s left to do now is to get to it. I will take it, appreciate it and celebrate it for what it is. I hope you will, too.

Happy new year*, folks. May it be a far sight better than the one it replaces.

— JS

My Top 5 Posts of 2020

Season’s greetings, everyone! I kind of accidentally went on a hiatus for the past week, with it being my birthday and Christmas and all, but I thought I’d post one more thing before the New Year. I want to share with you my top five favorite posts I wrote this year.

Overall, I think my writing on here this year is vastly improved from my blog writing in 2018, and I’m glad for it. I’ve had so much support from all of you that has really made me enjoy doing this, and I want to continue providing quality content for your entertainment. With that being said, here are my personal favorite pieces of mine (not in alphabetical or chronological order):

  1. I Regret To Inform You All That I Miss High School
  2. This Vacation Blows
  3. Understand That You Can Never Understand
  4. The Art VS The Artist
  5. Saved (?) By The Bell

These aren’t really in any particular order, just kind of the order that felt the most right to me? I’m not sure.

Out of this list, I would love to know which is your favorite! And/or if your favorite of mine isn’t on this list, I’d love to hear which is your favorite. Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

And thank you all for reading! Your support means the world to me.

-AMS

New Books and ARCs, 12/30/20

This is it, the final stack of new books and ARCs of 2020, and we’re going out with larger-than-usual stack of titles to make sure we’re all caught up. What here would you want in your hands in 2021? As always, share in the comments.

So, Scalzi, What Are Your 2021 Goals?

Honestly? They’re my 2020 goals, but this time, I will totally follow through, I swear.

Or not! Look, I don’t feel bad about falling down on my 2020 goals, because, well, 2020 — one of my goals was to see more friends, for example, and the pandemic made that very difficult to do. It won’t be one of the immediate things I get to do in 2021, either, although I feel optimistic about the second half of the year, and enough people getting vaccinated (and the culture of country changing a bit because the president won’t be a pissy mask-avoider) that actually seeing people might be a thing we start to get to do again. But I’m not going to rush it. I’ve been patient for nine and a half months, I can be patient a while longer. My friends are worth the wait.

The rest of the goals we’ll take as they come. I will say that of the goals I outlined a year ago, the one I made the most progress on, and the one I want to keep progressing on, was playing more music. I did! I even managed to co-write a song, and it’s a song which I think is pretty good. I need to finish this novel I’ve been wrestling with before I do much of anything else, but after that I think I’d like to try to write (or co-write) some more songs.

The thing I think I failed the hardest on — which is no surprise either to me or anyone else, I think — is maintaining structure. Again, I’m not going to beat myself up too much for that one, since 2020 was the focus puller to end all focus pullers, and I’m not the only one who had this problem this year. But not beating myself up about it is not the same as being happy about it. I’m not. The older I get the more I realize that if I want to get things done, I really have to build a schedule and stick to it. Schedules in themselves don’t make me happy — if I were inherently a schedule-oriented person I wouldn’t have this perennial problem — but the results of scheduling (more work done, more time to actually do things) make me happy indeed. So: back at it for 2021.

The one thing I think I’ll add to the goal list for 2021 is prioritize my own contentment, and conversely, to minimize the things that leave me discontented. I like to think this is something I do more or less automatically (I do not live a hugely discontented life in general), but again, 2020 reminds us all that it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of suck. To work on my own contentment I don’t think I will need to hide from the world; I think I might need to better understand and prioritize how to the world affects my daily life and business. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to nail this one down in 2021, but one does have to start somewhere.

So, yes: Goals for 2021, same as for 2020, plus one extra, and hopefully with an at least slightly less explode-y world. I feel optimistic. Let’s see if it’s warranted.

— JS

News Books and ARCs, 12/29/20

Behold the penultimate stack of new books and ARCs for 2020! What things here would you like to take into the new year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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