The End of Summer, and Other Things

Here’s a picture of Athena on the last day of summer. The next day (today, as I’m writing this after midnight) we bundle her and much of her belongings into the minivan and head down to Oxford, Ohio, where Athena begins her time at Miami University. We’ll drop her off, help her get situated, and then drive away, to come home to a house that for the first time ever will not have her in it on a regular basis. It’s a good and expected and desired thing to have her start this part of her life. But it will be different. If there was any doubt that our daughter is no longer a child (even when she remains our child), coming home to a house without her will be the closing argument on that.

It’s nothing new in the annals of history, mind you. Children leave home all the time. But it’s new to us. And that’s the thing. We’ll be fine, and Athena will only be an hour (and a text or a tweet or phone call) away. But it will still be different without her. A little bit of each of our hearts goes with her when she goes.

That’s all I want to say about it right now. Except to reiterate again how much I love my daughter, and how proud I am of her for who she’s become and excited for who she has yet to become in these next few years. What a wonderful time for her, and for us. Still, I hope you’ll understand if I’m a little out of it the next several days. It’ll just be me, missing my kid.

Genius and Master

Just posted a thought on a friend’s Facebook post that I think I’d like to expand on here. The friend was talking (basically) about how he was annoyed that the fans of a certain person insisted that person was a genius when my friend saw that person’s output as largely just okay. I wrote:

Calling someone you’re a fan of a “genius” is mostly just second-order complimenting of one’s self (because you have the good taste to be a fan of a genius, you see). Most of the people I’m fans of are not geniuses, they’re just really really good at what they do, and because they are, they sometimes make great and/or enduring art.

And I think that’s true. “Genius,” in the context of creativity, is bandied around a lot and is typically used as shorthand for “that person/group I like who does stuff I really like and which for some reason I have incorporated into my self-identity.” There’s also often but not always a whiff of “and they do something I don’t know how to do myself” in there. In short, “genius” means “people who are highly skilled and super-talented in their creative field, who produce high quality material that speaks to me ineffably.”

I think being one of those people is nice work if you can get it, but I don’t think it equates to being a “genius.” I think to be a creative genius (very incompletely, here) is to bring something new(ish)* to a culture, and to have it affect enough people that it is incorporated into the culture, and (this is the really unfair part) to have enough people notice that you have done it to be remembered for it. If you’re doing genius-level stuff and it’s all stuffed in a drawer and it never gets out, you’re going to miss out on being a creative genius, sorry.

So genius is both rare — it’s difficult to bring something new to the creative table — and a lot of it is down to luck and the fortunes of history, i.e., whether someone finds your work and celebrates it. Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh count as two geniuses whose stock rose well after their death; in my own field Philip K. Dick was celebrated in the small circle of science fiction while he was alive but only ascended in the culture after death. Not everyone gets to be the Beatles, and see in their lifetimes how their creative genius changed the world.

Most creative people aren’t in my opinion geniuses, since it seems to me that genius has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time, and failing that, at least having the right people find out about you when you’re dead. Which is to say, things that are completely out of one’s control and with a large element of luck involved. So much of genius has nothing to do with native ability and/or acquired skill. And in being recognized as a genius, it helps to get in early, before all the ground has been broken (or alternately, there when a field is in crisis, and everything is up for grabs).

But — and this is an important conjunction — this doesn’t mean that creative folks who aren’t geniuses aren’t making good art, or great art. They very often are, because the one element of genius they have some control over — craft — is something they work on, and they keep working on, hopefully through their careers. In point of fact I think there’s an argument to make that much of the work of non-geniuses is as good as or even exceeds the quality of the work of “geniuses,” who, while their reputation benefited from being the first to explore a field or technique, also (and necessarily) didn’t have the same fluidity or experience with the subject as others who came later and worked with it longer and incorporated it at a much earlier stage into their creativity.

So again: Not very many creative people should be called a genius, which is to my mind a highly contingent title, and one’s ascendance to the title might not even be settled in one’s lifetime. But certainly quite a lot of creative people should be acknowledged as masters of their field, and of their craft. “Master” is about the things you can control — your skill and the work you put into it — and it’s something that others can concretely argue for by pointing to the quality of one’s work in itself.

Examples! you say. Okay, let’s take, oh, I don’t know, film director Ron Howard. Is Ron Howard a genius? I think history is going to come down on the “probably not” side of that one — there’s very little in his canon of work that’s groundbreaking or startlingly innovative or so influential that you can see its mark in other filmed works. Is Ron Howard a master? Yup — leaving aside the Oscars he picked up for A Beautiful Mind, one can easily pick out the very good and near great work he’s done (my trio: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) and point to his reputation for no-nonsense competence — there’s a reason LucasFilm had him parachute into the Han Solo film. Howard may not be a genius, but when Apollo 13 or Parenthood shows up on cable, I stop skipping and start watching. He’s really good at what he does, and some of his work is legitimately classic. He deserves the honors and accolades that have come his way. He’s a master.

As I note above, I think people who are fans of a creative person want to label that person a genius, not just because it’s complimentary to the artist (no one dislikes being called a genius) but because it speaks well to their own taste. I’m not going to stop anyone from using the word, or tsk-tsk that hard when they do. But for myself I think its worth it to say that not everyone’s a genius, and it’s not an insult in itself to say someone’s not one. And also for myself, I’m more likely to call someone whose creative work I admire a “master.” In many ways, I consider that to be the higher compliment. You can become a genius by circumstance. Becoming a master takes work.

 

*Let me suggest “new” here can mean either something wholly new, and often springing from an advance in creative technology of some sort, or something that is an unexpected synthesis of existing forms.

A Small But Important Change

Which is: When you type “Scalzi.com” in your address bar, it now takes you to Whatever rather than the static page that I’ve had at the site for years and years.

Why? Well, because the static page was static, and not especially helpful, and meanwhile pretty much everything that goes on with the site goes on here on Whatever. Also, most people who come to the site come to the blog directly, and all the links that were previously on the static page pointed here anyway. It made sense to make the switch.

If I ever get around to doing a full site revamp, things might change. But I suspect at this point, I’ll be keeping it as it is. This is where the action is. Might as well point to it.

My Personal Feminism, 2017

In the wake of Kai Cole’s piece about Joss Whedon, and some of the reaction to it, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a man in the public sphere who considers himself to be a feminist. Part of this thought process was also spurred on by seeing some of the reaction to the news on Twitter by women:

I’ve talked before about my own personal feminism here on Whatever. In 2012 I noted why I was hesitant to call myself a feminist, and then a couple years later I explained why I was going to go ahead and call myself one. Here in 2017, I think it’s worth coming back around to it and thinking about it some more.

And at the moment, this is what I think about it: I consider myself a feminist because fundamentally, I believe that women should have and need to have the same rights, privileges and opportunities that men do — that I do — and I think it’s worth saying that out loud and working toward that goal. This feminism is part and parcel of believing that everyone should have the same rights, privileges and opportunities that I, a straight, white, well-off, gender-conforming man has, not just on paper but in the practical, mundane, day-to-day workings-of-the-world sense. We’re not there yet, and as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, there are a lot of people who never want to see that happen. I would be ashamed, especially now, not to stand up and be counted out loud as someone who believes in feminism, among all the other things I believe in.

But I am also deeply uncomfortable with feminism being part of my “brand,” for several reasons. The first is that I’m aware of my failings and imperfections, and I’m also aware that there are a number of failings and imperfections I’m not aware of. With regard to my feminism, I can work on the things I know about and listen when people point out the things I’m not aware of, but the general gist of it is that I’m aware my feminism is imperfect. I am loath to charge in saying behold, the male feminist! when I know there are lots of places where I fall down. I’m a feminist, in progress, and suspect I will be until I’m dead.

The second, following on the first, is that I’m also aware feminism doesn’t need me as a flagbearer. I’m not and shouldn’t be the vanguard of feminism (I mean, if I am, whoooo there’s trouble). What I can be is support, and occasionally a tank (i.e., someone being an obvious target and taking hits while other people get to work). One of the great gifts of getting older is the realization that you don’t have to lead every parade. Sometimes it’s enough to march along and have the backs of the people out in front.

The third, which is related to the second as the second is related to the first, is the awareness that I have the privilege of not being performatively feminist. Which is to say that I can — and sometimes do — decide to take a break from actively having to deal with issues and concerns of feminism, because I am busy, or distracted, or tired, or just decide I want to take a breather. My passive feminism is still there, my default belief in the equality of rights and opportunities, but I don’t have to do anything about it, and the personal consequences for my not engaging are very low.

Having the option to quit the field without penalty, and to engage only when you have interest, means some interesting things, not all of them good. It means, as an example, that you can choose to do only high-profile, high-impact flashy attention-getting things, and not the day-to-day grunt work that other people have to do. It’s not at all surprising that the reaction of the latter folks is irritation and frustration that you’re getting credit for something they see essentially as stunting for cookies.

I’m not going to deny that I’m aware that I have the ability, within my own little pond, to draw attention to issues and to make things visible by being loud and immovable in only the way someone with my advantages has, and in that way effect change. I try to be useful with that, and to make clear the fact that others have done work I’m essentially pointing to. And I try to do more than just the flashy, attention-getting, cookie-bearing stuff. But at the end of the day I’m aware that I have the option to engage, with feminism as with many issues, when other people are required to engage if they want their existence to be acknowledged as anything other than background noise. That makes a difference. I don’t think I can have feminism as part of my “brand” when I only have to engage with it at my whim.

(There’s also a fourth issue here, which is the disconnect between public and private lives. To be very clear, I’m not keeping any affairs — or, really, anything — secret from Krissy; we believe in communication and lots of it. But I’ve also been clear that while my public persona, including on this blog, is me, it’s a version of me tuned differently from the me who lives at home with my wife and daughter, away from the rest of the world. I don’t know that there’s anything in my private life to give someone pause re: feminism, but who knows? There might be. In which case, best to not lead with it as a brand identity.)

I consider myself a feminist. I am also 100% all right with being interrogated on that assertion, and to have people, and especially women, be skeptical until and unless I prove otherwise. I’m also aware that “feminist” is not a level-up — you don’t grind until you get the achievement badge and then don’t have to think about it ever again. I’ve said before that if your social consciousness is stuck in 1975, the 21st century is going to be a hard ride, and that continues to be a true thing. You have to keep engaging.

I’m also aware that I’m going to fail — that I’ll miss a step, or say or do something stupid, or otherwise show my ass, on feminism (among, to be sure, many other issues). And I can pretty much guarantee I’m not always going to take being called on that with initial good grace, because history suggests I’ll occasionally screw that up too. I can say that I do try to base my ego not on having to be right, but on doing the right thing. This is why I once did a primer on apologizing: because I need it in my own life.

So, yes. Here in 2017: I am a feminist, imperfectly to be sure but even so. I’m happy for it not to be part of my “brand.” I just want it to be part of me; of how I treat women, and others, and how I view the world for what it is and should be.

Our Eclipse Here in Bradford

It went well! We had intermittent clouds in the run-up, but for the first half (closing up to the maximum) we had very good views much of the time, and the clouds weren’t so heavy we couldn’t see. I made a box, but then Krissy’s work handed out eclipse glasses, so we used those instead, and I also used a makeshift filter on my camera to get some pretty good shots. This particular shot came just after maximum, when all of a sudden a lot of clouds rolled in and I could snap a naked shot of the sun without frying my camera. We got 88% of coverage, which is enough for a show. In all, a very fine eclipse, from the deck of my house.

The next eclipse for North America is in 2024, and as it happens, that one will have totality directly over my house. Which is convenient! And before you ask, we’re already booked up. Sorry.

Updated to add: Also, I think I may never get a better eclipse shot than this one. Thank you and good night.

Whatever Security Update

A small piece of security information for you: Whatever (was well as the whole Scalzi.com) site, now operates using https, for extra added security. Mind you, as this site does very little in the way of transactions or anything security-critical, this may not be a big deal to anyone. On the other hand, Google sent me a note recently noting that unless I switched over to https, they’d start blasting “INSECURE” in the URL field of the Chrome browser, so, fine. Now it’s secure. Enjoy the securiosity! No, that’s not a real word. Even so.

New Books and ARCs, 8/18/17

A very fine collection of new books and ARCs arrived to the Scalzi Compound in the last week, and here’s what they are! See anything you’d like on your own shelves? Tell us all in the comments.

The Big Idea: Anna Smith Spark

The world we live in is not always peaceful… and maybe sometimes we kind of like it that way, whether we like to admit that or not. Author Anna Smith Spark has thoughts on the act of violence, and how it animates the story of her novel The Broken Knives.

ANNA SMITH SPARK:

The Court of Broken Knives is a novel about violence.

When I started writing the book, I didn’t have a plot or a world or a cast of characters in mind. What I had was a scene.

A desert.

A group of men.

Violence.

I’ve always been fascinated by violence: How one might respond to the opportunity for violence. What doing violence might feel like.  And that’s what The Court of Broken Knives ultimately became about.

I was brought up reading the great myths and legends, the old stories of heroes. The Iliad. The Eddas. Beowulf. Gilgamesh. The Tain. I loved these stories. Read and reread them, immersed myself in them, told myself stories set in their worlds. But what I came back to, as I got older, was the realisation that for so many of these stories we are not reading about good versus evil. We are not reading high fantasy, the last desperate stand where evil is vanquished and the Dark Lord is overthrown. We are reading about violence for its own sake. The act of winning, of killing one’s opponent and glorying in one’s triumph, is the victory. The hero is ‘good’ because he wins.

And yes, ‘he’. These are acts of masculine violence. More women have perhaps fought in battle than we realise, yes, granted. But, historically, organised violence has been the domain of men. Armies and battle hosts have been male places. Places from which women have been excluded. And that in itself is worth thinking on.

Let’s look for a moment on the Iliad. The Iliad was written down over two and a half thousand years ago. It was composed perhaps three thousand years ago. It is the first and greatest masterpiece of European literature, the foundation stone of western culture. It is a book entirely and totally about war. A very large number of people die in the Iliad. Graphically, horribly, and without even the consolation of heaven awaiting them. The whole reason for the war is shown to be futile.

But war is also the whole basis of the Iliad’s society. The leader of the Trojans is called Hector. He’s spent ten years killing Greeks for the sake of a woman who ran off with his little brother. He’s seen most of his brothers die, and his wife’s entire family die, and he knows, deep down inside, that he’s going to die himself. In one of the most moving scenes in the poem, he says farewell to his wife and child before going out to battle, and he knows and we know and they know that he’s not going to come back from it. And this is what he says:

When [their child is grown and] comes home from battle wearing the bloody gear

Of the mortal enemy he has killed in war-

A joy to his mother’s heart.

(Homer, Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1990, book 6, lines 568-574)

Coming home from battle still bloody with his enemies’ innards. That’s the greatest joy a woman can want for her children. That’s what makes you absolutely the top chap.

The Iliad is not a celebration of war. But is not a rejection of war, either. It makes one terrible, horrifying, entirely obvious point:

Winning at war feels great. And that’s a strange and exhilarating experience to write about—particularly someone who has not ever fought.

Reading about war is enjoyable. Writing about war is immensely enjoyable. And I strongly suspect, from everything I’ve ever studied about history, that actually doing war is even more enjoyable than reading or writing or watching it. Warfare has been pretty much a constant of human history, and those who are good at it have generally occupied the top social and sexual desirability spot. Some war is morally justified.  Most war is not. We’ve always known that. Right back to the Iliad. And yet we do it. We have always done it. We probably always will.

We do it because winning at war feels great. I wanted my characters to have the same feelings as Hector: to understand simultaneously that war is bloody and horrible, but also glorious and exciting and fun.

I do not say this because I think war is a good thing. It is a terrible thing. A horrifying thing. A thing of utter shame and grief.

But I say it because it is a true thing, and a thing that I wanted people to remember in The Court of Broken Knives.

—-

The Broken Knives: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Writing About Later, Now: Harder Than It Used to Be

I have a piece in the Los Angeles Times today about the difficulty of writing science fiction in today’s world, and no, it’s not just because one has to wonder if the world is going to be here tomorrow. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

The Big Idea: Stella Parks

I’ve eaten Stella Parks‘ desserts, and, oh, man, they are so good. So I’m delighted to give her space today to let her tell you about her debut cookbook BraveTart, which examines and celebrates a branch of America’s culinary tradition Parks thinks is overlooked and underappreciated. Is she right? Read on.

STELLA PARKS:

When people hear that I’m a classically trained pastry chef or that I work at a place called Serious Eats, most everyone will ask how I got my start. I can’t help but imagine they want to hear about a magical summer in France or else how I learned to bake at my mother’s side. Maybe they want me to say that I always loved Julia Child, or that I saved up my allowance to buy my first croissant. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way at all.

I grew up in suburban Kentucky, my summers spent with Puddin’ Pops on the porch, my winters passed one mug of Swiss Miss at a time. I loved the tongue-scorching sweetness of a McDonald’s apple pie from the drive-thru window and the muffled scrape of a plastic spoon against the bottom of a chocolate pudding cup (the tinfoil lid curled back and licked clean, natch). At the supermarket, I learned the heft to a tube of cookie dough, the lightness in a bag of marshmallows, and the rattle of rainbow sprinkles in a plastic jar. That’s how I got my start—somewhere between the milk-logged squish of an Oreo and the snap of a Crunch bar.

Sure, it sounds a little trashy compared to that whole Proust thing with madeleines and tea, but I find those bites are just as transportive, little triggers that send me flying back through time. Chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve got some memories like that as well. Maybe it’s the a dollop of Cool Whip on pumpkin pie, the sticky fingered bliss of an ice cream sandwich, or that familiar slab of birthday cake on the conference room table. Those shared experiences, however mundane, connect us across most every demographic.

It’s a common phenomenon, but a culinary tradition we pay little respect—we call it junk food. Truth is, mass produced snacks have a lineage as respectable as any other. Animal crackers, vanilla wafers, and Fig Newtons all date back to the 1800s, and even newcomers like Rice Krispies Treats, Reese’s Cups, and Milky Way bars are nearly a hundred years old. For anyone raised in America and alive today, these sweets have always been a familiar part of life. Yet they’re not really ours; industrial formulas are subject to change or even cancellation outright (RIP, Coke Zero; adios, Magic Middles).

So when I set out to write a cookbook about American desserts, I knew I couldn’t leave the “junk food” behind. It had damn well earned a place at the table—right alongside “proper” American desserts like devil’s food cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie. With that mandate in mind, I spent nearly six years writing, researching, and developing recipes for everything from Snickers to snickerdoodles. In the end, I don’t think of it as a cookbook so much as a culinary time capsule, stuffed full of recipes, vintage images, history, and photography to tell the story of American desserts as a whole.

—-

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author on Serious Eats, Twitter, and Instagram, or on tour.

The Big Idea: Beth Cato

There’s the saying that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” but in order to learn your history, sometimes you have to dig deeper — much deeper — than what is commonly known. This is a fact that has relevance for author Beth Cato and her latest novel Call of Fire.

BETH CATO:

I love that historical fiction can be entertaining and educational at the same time. When I began to research prior to writing Breath of Earth, the first novel in this series, I was genuinely excited to delve deeper into turn-of-the-20th-century California history. My books feature a 1906 America that is allied with Japan to form the Unified Pacific, a world power in the midst of conquering China as part of its goal to dominate mainland Asian. I bought a number of books on Chinese immigration and experiences in America in that era.

As my research continued for my second book, the newly-released Call of Fire, I found that I dreaded reading more on the subject. I’ve been a history geek since I was a kid and I went into this with the knowledge that Chinese immigrants had been treated poorly, but I had no real comprehension of the horrific abuses they endured.

This wasn’t just about far-off California history anymore, either. This was about my hometown, the place I was born.

Like many other San Joaquin Valley cities, my hometown of Hanford was founded by the railroad in the late 19th century. Chinese men did much of the hard labor to lay the tracks and blast their way through mountains to connect the state with the larger continent. Centrally-located Hanford had one of the largest Chinese communities in the valley. These days, the city is proud of what remains of its China Alley. There’s a lovely tea room there, as well as a preserved Taoist Temple with a gift shop. The Moon Festival each October is a big draw.

When I was a kid, though, I was puzzled that Hanford still had its China Alley but other nearby cities–even larger ones like Visalia and Fresno–did not. My mom told me something like, “They were probably torn down over the years.” That made sense to me. Hanford’s China Alley has some decrepit buildings, too, and it’s only been in recent years that other parts have been lovingly restored to become a year-round attractions.

During my research, though, I finally found the real answer to my childhood question. The other Chinatowns weren’t simply torn down. In the 1880s and 1890s, they were firebombed and the surviving Chinese were run out of town. There were even race riots in vineyards near Fresno.

Hanford still managed to retain some of its Chinese population, but that didn’t mean all was well during that period. I found mention of an editorial from my hometown paper in 1893 that admonished young white women of the county to improve their kitchen skills so that they would not hire Chinese cooks.

I called up my mom. “Did you know about all of this?” She did not. I called up my grandma. Same answer.

That’s when I became angry.

What the Chinese had endured had been erased from local history. Men were murdered. Families terrorized. Livelihoods destroyed. Then the butchery and abuses they endured were forgotten.

When I write about these kinds of racist incidents in my books, I imagine many readers will think that the stuff is pure fiction, all part of the elevated drama of my alternate history. That’s exactly why I include an author’s note in each book along with an extensive bibliography (which I also have on my website at BethCato.com). I want readers to know about the ‘Dog Tag Law’ that required Chinese immigrants to carry an identity card, America’s first internal passport, starting in 1892. I want them to know what happened in Tacoma, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

I hope people enjoy my books Breath of Earth and Call of Fire, but I also want readers to learn, as I have, that our beloved hometowns may possess dark secrets that need to see the light. We can’t undo the crimes of the past, but we can learn. We can remember.

—-

Call of Fire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

A Poll About Beds

Because I thought about it this weekend while Krissy was away:

My answer: I stay on the same side of the bed. I’m not entirely sure why, except out of habit. I’ve never really thought about it until now.

You?

Three Views of a Sunset, 8/13/17

These shots were taken roughly fifteen minutes apart from each other. 

We in Ohio certainly don’t lack for variety in our sunsets, do we.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s an old-timey, vaguely creepy sunset take:

Yup, that’ll do.

The Moral Shambles That is Our President

Denouncing Nazis and the KKK and violent white supremacists by those names should not be a difficult thing for a president to do, particularly when those groups are the instigators and proximate cause of violence in an American city, and one of their number has rammed his car through a group of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring dozens more. This is a moral gimme — something so obvious and clear and easy that a president should almost not get credit for it, any more than he should get credit for putting on pants before he goes to have a press conference.

And yet this president — our president, the current President of the United States — couldn’t manage it. The best he could manage was to fumble through a condemnation of “many sides,” as if those protesting the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists had equal culpability for the events of the day. He couldn’t manage this moral gimme, and when his apparatchiks were given an opportunity to take a mulligan on it, they doubled down instead.

This was a spectacular failure of leadership, the moral equivalent not only of missing a putt with the ball on the lip of the cup, but of taking out your favorite driver and whacking that ball far into the woods. Our president literally could not bring himself to say that Nazis and the KKK and violent white supremacists are bad. He sorely wants you to believe he implied it. But he couldn’t say it.

To be clear, when it was announced the president would address the press about Charlottesville, I wasn’t expecting much from him. He’s not a man to expect much from, in terms of presidential gravitas. But the moral bar here was so low it was on the ground, and he tripped over it anyway.

And because he did, no one — and certainly not the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists, who were hoping for the wink and nod that they got here — believes the president actually thinks there’s a problem with the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists. If he finally does get around to admitting that they are bad, he’ll do it in the same truculent, forced way that he used when he was forced to admit that yeah, sure, maybe Obama was born in the United States after all. An admission that makes it clear it’s being compelled rather than volunteered. The Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists will understand what that means, too.

Our president, simply put, is a profound moral shambles. He’s a racist and sexist himself, he’s populated his administration with Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists, and is pursuing policies, from immigration to voting rights, that make white nationalists really very happy. We shouldn’t be surprised someone like him can’t pass from his lips the names of the hate groups that visited Charlottesville, but we can still be disappointed, and very very angry about it. I hate that my baseline expectation for the moral behavior of the President of the United States is “failure,” but here we are, and yesterday, as with previous 200-some days of this administration, gives no indication that this baseline expectation is unfounded.

And more than that. White supremacy is evil. Nazism is evil. The racism and hate we saw in Charlottesville yesterday is evil. The domestic terrorism that happened there yesterday — a man, motivated by racial hate, mowing down innocents — is evil. And none of what happened yesterday just happened. It happened because the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists felt emboldened. They felt emboldened because they believe that one of their own is in the White House, or at least, feel like he’s surrounded himself with enough of their own (or enough fellow travelers) that it’s all the same from a practical point of view. They believe their time has come round at last, and they believe no one is going to stop them, because one of their own has his hand on the levers of power.

When evil believes you are one of their own, and you have the opportunity to denounce it, and call it out by name, what should you do? And what should we believe of you, if you do not? What should we believe of you, if you do not, and you are President of the United States?

My president won’t call out evil by its given name. He can. But he won’t. I know what I think that means for him. I also know what I think it means for the United States. And I know what it means for me. My president won’t call out evil for what it is, but I can do better. And so can you. And so can everybody else. Our country can be better than it is now, and better than the president it has.

Hugo Notes 2017

To begin, for informational purposes, the list of 2017 Hugo winners, the document of how the voting went, and the document of what and who got nominated and what just missed the ballot.

Got it? Okay!

1. I’m both super pleased with the list of winners and even more pleased that the ballot could have fallen differently and that in nearly all cases I still would have been happy. There was so much great work and so many great people celebrated this year that it was almost impossible to go wrong (there were a couple of troll attempts in there too, but they were never really a factor in the actual finalist voting. I’ll talk more about that in a bit).

2. I discovered that The Dispatcher was number seven in terms of the nomination tally for the Novella category, a category with six finalist spots. How do I feel about that? Pretty darn good. The Dispatcher was in audio form for the entire nomination period, which is not the usual format for works considered for the Hugo ballot. So I think it’s pretty cool it got close. Also, you know. It was a finalist for the Locus and three separate Audie awards (winning the Best Original Work category), so it was certainly honored enough. And I happen to think that all the finalists in the Hugo category were excellent. No complaints!

3. And, why yes, women won in nearly every category. Good for them. Their work certainly deserved it.

4. This was the first year nominations for the finalist ballot were run through the “E Pluribus Hugo” process, a complicated procedure involving fractional votes that aimed specifically to blunt the effect of “slating,” i.e., jackholes trying to swamp the ballot via lockstep nominations. It’s also the first year of “5/6,” in which people could nominate five people/works in each category but six people/works were on the final ballot — again, to minimize the effects of slating.

And how did it work? For the purposes of defeating slating — pretty well! To the extent that the jackholes who have been slating work for the last few years were able to get on the ballot at all, they were confined to one finalist out of six. All those jerkhole-related finalists were dealt with appropriately in the voting — most appearing below “no award” (i.e., we’d rather not give an award than have it given to this finalist). The signal-to-noise ratio of the Hugo ballot was much closer to the mean this year than it’s been in the last few, and that’s a good thing.

Which is not to say EPH in particular doesn’t have its issues — there were people/works this year that would have gotten on the ballot under the old system that missed out in this one (not The Dispatcher, I note, which would have been in the #7 position in either system). And I think some people noted that the jerkhole movement was muted this year in any event, so factoring for it might not even have been necessary — there was a motion at the WSFS business meeting to have EPS lifted next year.

My own thinking on this is that it was muted because the jerkholes knew the Hugos were that much harder to game, and given the scope of the slating nonsense — which lingered over four years of Hugo voting — maybe dropping anti-slating measures after just a year is a little precipitate. It does appear that others agreed with me on that, since the motion to suspend it for next year failed. Good.

5. Speaking of the jackholes, I did like that when when voting process sorted everything down, the chief jackhole got outvoted by “no award” in his category by a ratio of about 12:1. That seems about right to me. Aaaaand that’s all the mental energy I’m expending on that dude.

6. Overall, a very fine year for the Hugos. Congratulations to all! Let’s do this again next year.

To The Barricades, With Refreshments

This morning on Twitter:

It’s comedy!

But yeah, seriously though, those Nazis and KKK and other assholes congealing themselves in Charlottesville today to marinate in their bigotry can go fuck themselves.

Also, if you feel like donating to Charlottesville-area groups who fight this nonsense and/or represent people these shitbirds hate, here’s a helpful Twitter thread for you, with links.

New Books and ARCs, 8/11/17

The weekend’s rolling in, so here are some new and upcoming books to get excited about. What do you like here? Tell all in the comments!

Twitter Jokes: Punchline First(?)

I note this particular tweet (which, if for some reason you can’t see it, is here), not just because it amuses the crap out of me, although it does, but it because it’s an example of a phenomenon that I think might be unique to Twitter — namely, because of the way Twitter formats pictures and retweets on its service, much of the time (if not most of the time) you’ll see a punchline or a snarky reply before you read the set-up or instigating comment.

And because it does, it changes a lot about the dynamic of the humor, and often in interesting ways. It’s like the Jeopardy version humor. Of course, some people just change things around so their comment is the set-up and the picture or previous comment is the punchline. But when they don’t, I almost feel like it creates a new kind of joke.

I could be overthinking this. Tell me if I am.

Update on the Dragon Awards and Me

First, read this, from Andrew Liptak at the Verge, and make sure you stick around for the M. Night Shyamalan-like twist at the ending, featuring a shocking statement from me!

Also, here is the Dragon Awards’ own statement, re: Alison Littlewood departing from the ballot.

Read them? Okay, then let’s get to the questions.

So, wait, you were going to withdraw from the Dragon Awards but now you’re not?

Yup, that’s basically right.

Why did you change your mind?

Mostly because the administrators asked if I would reconsider.

How did that conversation go?

Me: I’d like to withdraw.

Them: We’d like you to stay. Please?

Me: No.

Them: What if we say, pretty please?

Me: No.

Them: What if we say, pretty please with sugar on top?

Me: Oh, fine.

More seriously, and as noted in the statement I gave to the Verge, the folks at the Dragon Awards suggested they were willing to put in some work to listen and learn, and the honoring of Ms. Littlewood’s withdrawal request and their commitment to rethink aspects of their process was a good first step. Enough that I was willing to reconsider withdrawing from the ballot.

But what about the dudes ginning up the whole “culture war” angle? You said you just couldn’t even with those dudes.

They’re still there and they’re still tiresome, and I’m not really looking forward to that nonsense, but, you know what, fuck it. Here’s the deal: Did you enjoy reading my book? Enough to vote for it over the other works in my particular category? Groovy. Then vote for it. Otherwise, don’t vote for it, please. Repeat with every other work in my category, and so on in the other categories. This is not actually complicated.

(Incidentally, and in case it’s not clear, please don’t paint every other finalist with the “I’m just here for the culture war” brush. I don’t. You can tell which ones are around to gin up a culture war. They’re pretty obvious about it.)

I JUST THINK YOU’RE HELLA INDECISIVE, SCALZI

Seems reasonable and I accept your judgment.

I still have issues with the Dragon Awards.

That’s fair. They’re new and still figuring this out, which is not an excuse but is an explanation. In my discussions with the folks running them, my sense is that they really do want to make the awards something that is viable and useful (and fun) for fans of the genre. They have a lot of work to do (this is, I suspect, in the nature of awards in general). Hopefully they’ll get there. As I noted, some of the steps they’re taking now indicate to me they want to get it right. Your mileage may vary. In the meantime, with this as with anything, you’re perfectly within your rights to have issues and criticism. Fire away.

So are you going to the awards ceremony now?

Nope, I’m still counter-scheduled in Washington DC that weekend.

What if I was going to vote for you but you said not to and I voted for something else?

I mean, that’s on me, isn’t it? So that’s fine. If you voted for something you enjoyed, that’s good enough. I’m okay with other people winning awards I am also up for. I’ve won my fair share over time. It’s nice to win, but it’s nice to see other people win, too. I’ll be no worse off. And then someone else has to worry about how to ship a trophy home. That stuff adds up.

If I wanted to vote, how do I do that?

Here’s the link to register. Anyone with an email address is eligible. And here is the full, updated ballot.

I gotta warn you, I might not vote for you.

Well, you know. I still have to read some of the finalists in my category. If I like them better, I might not vote for me.

The Big Idea: Kathe Koja

It is sometimes said that someone is a person of their time — which may make you wonder what might happen to that person in different times, and what those times would do that person. Kathe Koja might, anyway, and it’s one of the reasons her novel Christopher Wild exists.

KATHE KOJA:

Come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.

He’s a London guy, but he’s been around the block, he knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him. They say he’s a scholar and a poet, they say he’s a spy, they say he likes guys; he says he likes guys, and likes smoking, and thinks religion is all about control, not love, among other free-thinking opinions. Some people—most famously a dude named Dick who ratted him out to the authorities—suggested that the “mouth of so dangerous a [man] should be stopped.” And the authorities agreed, and had him killed.

But he was, he is, a writer. And so his work kept on speaking in tandem with that brief, steep, outrageous life—as I write this, this guy, this Christopher Marlowe, this Kit, is studied in universities around the world, his plays of turbulent men with violent ideas are produced and debated and relished, and he’s stealing the show in a show called Will.  

There are more than a few Marlowe biographies and novels: you may have met him there. Anthony Burgess’ gorgeously written A Dead Man in Deptford was my own introduction to Kit, and the life pointed to the work—I’d heard of Faustus, that soul-selling literal daredevil, but the other plays (like Edward II and Tamburlaine) were ravishingly new to me. And the poems, sexy, erudite, unforgettable poems . . . I thought, who is this guy! I thought, oh god this guy. I thought, I have to write about him too.

And so my newest novel, Christopher Wild.

But befitting its subject who loved to challenge, this book was such a challenge that I was bewildered how to even begin. I don’t write about real people, I write fiction that works to make characters seem real. And no one is ever going to write a better, more beautiful bio novel than Burgess. So how could I reincarnate this man?—whose voice I was crazy in love with, and whose life has resonance not only with his own time but every era where power seeks to throttle truth, and fear sits side by side with stifling caution; which is to say, every era . . . And most of all, first and last of all, he’s a writer, a gloriously original and badass writer, how could I do him full justice on the page? All I had was doubt, and a giant pile of notes and research reading.

But I wanted to hang out with Marlowe.

So I took the leap, I plunged: I planned the structure of the novel then threw that structure totally away, I found a new way, I found that the way to show his contemporaneity was to place him in places where silence shouted loudest, where danger was deepest for a man who can’t keep his mouth shut, ever: places like his own grimly glamorous Elizabethan world, then a tense and humid McCarthyesque mid-20th century, then a darkening future just slightly past our own horizon, where punishing surveillance is the 24/7 norm.

The voice that flowered in those ages, and my pages, was a confident one, a fierce and passionate one, one that I followed every bit as much as I led: I knew him better then, I learned as we went on. Is it the book I expected I’d be writing? Not at all. But that’s what it’s like when you hang with a bold new friend, he takes you places you didn’t imagine you’d go.

Which is why I opened up the process to early supporters, who received a monthly email with research notes and cool or silly factoids (Kit Harington plays Faustus! Sniff a Marlowe perfume!), along with excerpts from the novel in progress—another thing I’d never done before, or contemplated doing.

And then all the writing was done, and Marlowe was ready, again, for his close-up, he was climbing into a big-finned yellow Buick, he was heading up the crusty subway stairs, he was striding down a slick and cobbled alley where life and death murmur together, telling eternity’s everyday secrets; he was here again, with us again, because he’s never left . . . If you’ve met him already, lucky you (and why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?). But if you haven’t, oh then please grab a seat, get a drink, let me introduce you and we can all go wild.

—-

Christopher Wild: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Roadswell Editions

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