The Big Idea: Drew Brockington

Cartoon cats! And science! I mean, that sells me on Waffles and Pancake – Planetary-Yum right there. But author/illustrator Drew Brockington is here to tell us more about how a childhood love of space travel has led him to catstronauts, and the kittens who look up to them.

DREW BROCKINGTON:

When I was a kid, it seemed like everyone wanted to grow up to be a professional athlete, a movie star, or an astronaut. I was in the astronaut group.

I remember skipping 2nd grade recess with a few other kids to watch Discovery launch on a tiny tv strapped to a roll cart in the school library. When the shuttle launch was delayed, some of the kids felt like they had wasted a recess, but I was right back in there the next day to see the liftoff.  I wanted to transfer that same energy and obsession that 7-year-old me had for space into the kittens when I started working on Waffles and Pancake. 

The Waffles and Pancake series follows the kittens as they discover their love for science, flight, and space. Because, technically, it’s a prequel to my CatStronauts series, I get to continue my “Love Letter to NASA” vibe that I set up with the original team of Cat Astronauts. But with these kittens, I get to explore it through the wide-eyed lens of a kid who, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, stammers out immediately, “Astronaut!”

One of the hardest things to capture in the books is the moment when the kid brain puts it all together. At that age, I would absorb information like a sponge and process it later, on my own time.  I remember spending all day at the museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, seeing what seemed like 1000 exhibits, and the main thought in my head was, “What am I going to get from the gift shop?” Somewhere on the long drive home I would realize that the Mercury Space Capsule I saw actually went into space and how cool that was. It’s these Ah-ha moments that help shape who we are and what we love. Sometimes they happen quietly, like with me on drive home from the museum, and sometimes you witness something so awesome that all you can say is, “whoa.” 

In Waffles and Pancake, these Ah-ha moments are sprinkled throughout day-in-the-life stories that follow the kittens from one experience to the next. I’m not sure if every kid still has the dream of becoming an Astronaut when they grow up, but I do know that watching a rocket launch is still very cool. I like the idea that a kid reading these stories sees how much the kittens like space and rockets and thinks, “Space is cool.”


Waffles and Pancake – Planetary-Yum: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Pixel 6 Pro: (Very) First Impressions

My Pixel 6 Pro arrived yesterday, and I switched everything over last night and have been playing with it since. I haven’t had enough time with it to do everything that it’s capable of, but in the time I have had it, I have formed some definite opinions and first thoughts. Let me tell you about them, with the caveat that they are first impressions, not final thoughts, and therefore may change over time. Got it? Let’s dive in.

1. Holy shit is this phone big. I went with the Pixel 6 Pro because I do a lot of photography with my phone and of the two new Pixel phones, the Pro is the one with the most complete camera package (a 50MP standard camera, a 12MP ultrawide and a 48MP telephoto with 4x optical/20x digital zoom), and I really wanted that upgrade. I got it knowing it would be large, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how large it would be, particularly in comparison to the Pixel 5 that I came to it from. You can see the difference visually between the two of them in the above picture, but what you can’t see is the weight difference (substantial!) and also the difference in how one has to navigate the world with these phones. The P5 is pocketable and designed so that you don’t really have to worry if you drop the thing. The P6P, on the other hand, is glass on both sides and feels like it’s trying to escape one’s grip. It’s the first phone that I immediately put a case on and paid for the repair and replacement warranty, because I think it’s a question of when, not if, I drop and crack the thing.

I don’t love that! I don’t regret getting the P6P, but it’s definitely the largest phone I have ever had. That’s going to take some getting used to. The standard Pixel 6 is not that much smaller, so even going “down” to that would still have the same problems, size-wise. I’m kind of hoping that when the Pixel 7 rolls around, they might have a more modestly-sized phone back on the menu. In the meantime, it’ll be a while until I’m completely comfortable with a phone this huge.

2. Is what I’m getting out of the new camera set-up worth the size/mass increase in the phone? Early indications point to yes — particularly with that new 4x optical telephoto, which makes the phone a far more capable shooter than it was before, when one had to rely on Google’s software to make a digital zoom work. Google’s digital zoom tech is pretty good, but it’s not as good as an optical zoom. Here’s an example of the zoom at 4x, with the picture otherwise unedited:

It’s pretty nice! Good sharpness, not a lot of “watercolor effect,” and nice color and clarity. I’ll have to take a bunch more pictures with it in a number of different circumstances before I come to any final decision — I haven’t even looked at the new “motion blur” options the camera offers yet — but I can say that so far I like the look of every picture I have taken with the Pixel 6 Pro. The camera, so far anyway, is living up to the billing.

(And since people will ask, I’m fine with the beefy camera bar on the back. One, it means the phone doesn’t wobble when you put it down, which is a plus, and two, I have a case on the camera which means it’s rather less prominent than it might otherwise be.)

3. The Pixel 2 and 3 had a fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, which I loved. The Pixel 4 did not and replaced it with facial recognition, which I did not love, because it was finicky and also didn’t work with masks. The Pixel 5 returned the back fingerprint scanner and I once again loved it. Now the Pixel 6 (and Pro) have moved the fingerprint scanner onto the screen in the front and… I don’t love it. It’s more finicky and slower than the back scanner and also is light-operated, which means if you use it in bed in the middle of the night, you get zapped in the face with a bright light. Yes, very briefly, but still. I also don’t find the placement of the on-screen fingerprint scanner very convenient, although others have said they like it. The phone does feature the ability to “double-tap” the back in order to do various things, which I do like; I have it set to bring up notifications.

4. The Pixel 6 Pro’s screen is a) huge and pixel-dense, b) pretty bright, c) able to refresh at up to 120Hz. Lots of people find the latter pretty impressive, although so far, honestly, I can’t tell that much difference between it and the Pixel 5’s 90Hz refresh rate. Maybe my eyes just aren’t that sharp. Also, it really matters which apps you’re using; the Twitter Android app, for example, seems to catch and snag when I scroll through it, no matter what the screen refresh rate is. So: Meh? It’s a nice screen! It’s fine! But apparently after a certain point I just can’t tell how “fast” the screen is.

5. Battery life on the P6P so far is… fine. Not as impressive as the Pixel 5, which for how I used it really seemed to sip power, but on the other hand I charged the P6P last night and have been using it reasonably heavily in the 16 hours since then and it’s at 34%, which is… fine! Not great. But fine. Pixel battery life does tend to improve after a bit because the phone learns how you use it and tweaks power commensurately, so I expect it to improve moderately from here. But I don’t expect to be amazed with it like I was with the previous Pixel phone.

6. And that’s about it for now — there are lots of new capabilities of the P6P that I haven’t tried out yet (no one to try out the new on-the-fly Google Translate function with, for example, and I have yet to call a service number so as to employ the new “transcribe and hold for you” capability, and so on). Again, these are early impressions. After I live with the phone a bit longer, I’ll have more to say.

Should you upgrade to the Pixel 6 Pro, or its slightly smaller sibling, the Pixel 6? Well, if you’re already used to really large phones, and it’s been a couple of upgrade cycles since your last phone, and you want a very excellent new camera set-up, then either is worth your look. If you like smaller phones and/or are happy with your current phone, I’d say you’re probably fine not. Make no mistake, I’m looking forward to what my new phone can do, with its cameras and everything else. I just wish it were smaller.

— JS

Dune: A Review

Dune has a checkered cinematic history, as just about everyone at this point is aware of. There was the 1984 film by David Lynch that was, charitably, a real hot mess; Lynch was and is a brilliant director but he was overwhelmed by the scale of the production, the necessity of working with the De Laurentiis family and the attempt to put the whole book into just over two hours of film. And then the film was bogged down by the sheer 80s-ness of it all, from the era-standard special effects to the Toto soundtrack. The 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries had more time to play with, but also the budget and production constraints of being a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries in the era before “peak TV”; the Fremen in this adaptation looked every bit the well-fed central European extras that they were, and the special effects were TV-level. Real cinema nerds yearn for the never-was 70s adaptation of Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky, but I can’t help but think that ultimately it would have run aground on the same rocks that the 1984 edition did: Ambition hobbled by production realities and a special effects infrastructure that wasn’t yet up to the task of showing the scale and scope of Frank Herbert’s vast setting.

Now it’s 2021, and here comes Denis Villeneuve to essay the book in cinematic form. For what it’s worth, his version of Dune is absolutely the most successful cinematic take on the book to date. Leaving aside Villeneuve’s own (considerable) directorial talents for the moment, he is fortunate that here in 2021, movie studios have well established the concept of stringing out a single novel over more than one film, and that the state of special effects now allows a level of photorealism that Lynch or Jodorowsky could only dream of. It’s the right time, from a business and practical point of view, for a Dune film to be made in a way that won’t inherently let down the source material.

To bring Villeneuve himself back into it, it’s fair to say that he is a very fine match for the material. To begin, Villeneuve’s visual aesthetic, and its tendency to frame people as tiny elements in a much larger composition, is right at home with the Dune source material, in which legions of Fremen and Sardaukar and Harkonnens stab at each other, and 400-meter sandworms tunnel through the dunes of Arrakis. To continue, anyone who has seen Villeneuve’s filmography is well aware he is a very very very serious dude; there’s not a rom-com anywhere in his history. Dune’s single attempt at a joke is done and over in the first 20 minutes the film, almost before it even registers. One can argue whether or not Frank Herbert’s prose and story styling in Dune is exhaustingly and pretentiously serious or not, but it is what it is. Given what it is, it needs a director whose own style matches. That’s Villeneuve. I don’t care to see Villeneuve’s take on, say, Galaxy Quest. But Dune? Yup, that’s a match.

Thus Villeneuve’s Dune is pretty much exactly what it needs to be. Villeneuve and his co-screenwriters confine themselves to roughly the first half of the book’s action (the second half has already been greenlit and is scheduled for arrival in 2023). This gives the story enough space to breathe and for characters to, if not necessarily develop, at least be lived in a bit before all hell breaks loose (as of course it does). Villeneuve has created an 11th millennium universe that feels like it’s been inhabited for all that time, where everything is massive and even the spacecraft creak; the CGI objects actually feel like they have mass, which is a neat trick so many people directing science fiction special effects don’t quite pick up on. It is dour and more than a little underlit, and even the desert has a permanent pall from (one presumes) all the dust in the air. There was more than one scene where I wished I had brought a flashlight. But again: this matches the Herbert’s text pretty well! The Padishah Empire was not particularly well-lit, if memory serves! So I’m not going to ding Villeneuve too much for that.

I found the aesthetic of this version of Dune more interesting than the script, but this is not necessarily a complaint. The script is actually functional, relies not at all on internal monologues (which could be draggy in the novel and were ridiculous in the Lynch version), and Villeneuve, unlike some notable directors of science fiction that one could name, actually appears to prefer to let his prodigiously-talented cast actually act, rather than merely declaim their lines from the script, brows furrowed. I mean, yes, they do that — there are furrowed brows galore here — but they don’t only do that. Letting actors act really does do wonders for an otherwise primarily functional script. Who knew.

Also, the film gets Paul Atreides as close to right as any of the filmed attempts have managed. You will not believe that Timothee Chalamet’s take on Paul is 15 years old at the outset of this film (nor does the film suggest that you do so), but you will absolutely believe that his Paul is a kinda-twinky hothouse flower of a duke’s son, suddenly thrown into the deep end of the desert, if you will. On Caladan, Paul looks just as likely to pull out a chapbook of his own bad poetry and recite it to Gurney Hallack as he is to take knife-fighting lessons from him. Paul is precious, in other words, which I think is the right way to start him off.

This Dune isn’t a perfect adaptation. Some important characters and events have their arcs truncated or elided (the motivations of Dr. Yueh, for example, are left almost entirely off-screen), and some characters and events are not present. We have to assume Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen shows up in the second film, if he shows up at all. I think some changes here are for the better — I especially appreciated getting to see the Duke Atreides and the Lady Jessica having an important moment together — but some changes are just changes. The stuff that’s elided or changed or left out isn’t necessarily unimportant to the story the film tells, I just think the filmmakers assume that their audience has read the novel, or has seen previous filmed versions, and knows things that they then feel justified in skipping over. Which, I guess? But it would have been better to have added another five minutes to the film and spackled up those plot holes.

But overall, I think Villeneuve, his co-writers and this cast and crew have done as well translating Dune (half of it, anyway) to screen as it is probably possible to do. At least, I don’t see how much closer they could have gotten to capturing the weight of Hebert’s tale as they have here. Is it a masterpiece? Eeehhhh, check with me in five or so years, when I’ve seen the second half and have had time to live with it. I suspect Arrival will keep the crown for Villeneuve’s best science fictional effort. But given that the other filmed versions of Dune are “camp disaster” and “serviceable television product sliced up between commercials,” this one wins on craft, story, budget and overall vision. It’s now the definitive cinematic Dune. It’s nice to have something onscreen that finally comes within hailing distance of what the book imagines.

On that note, and to close out the review, I really would suggest seeing this film in the theaters, rather than at home on your TV, even if you do have a nifty big screen and sound system. I have a nifty big screen and sound system myself! But unless you have an actual home theater with a 200-inch screen, you’re gonna miss a bunch of stuff, or at least the best effect of that stuff. I’m not your dad, mind you. Do what you want. But if I were you: to the theaters with you.

— JS

The Big Idea: Emmie Mears

Look to the Sun is a book that is getting a second chance at a release, and in the time between its first appearance and its new one, author Emmie Mears looks at how the world changed around it — and what that change means for all of us.

EMMIE MEARS:

I think we all know by now what it’s like to be in the midst of a situation that is simultaneously inescapable and untenable. The claustrophobia. The sense of being cornered. Everywhere you look, it seems there is another wall in front of your face, another thicket of brambles bursting into flames. Like the only way out is through, and it’s cutting you to shreds.

It’s like a nightmare of multidimensional wizard chess where the board is on fire, someone is feeding the hydroxychloroquine you need for your lupus to a healthy person who’s having a panic attack, and they’re saying “everything is fine” whilst tossing a fire extinguisher into the face of a dying person whose lungs are full of smoke.

Once, in a different time, talking to a friend about feeling trapped, she uttered three little words that have stuck with me ever since:

You’re still free.

Many times in life, we make choices that don’t work out the way we expected them to. Sometimes they’re big ones, like where to move your family or who to date. Maybe the flat has roaches or the rose-coloured glasses come off to reveal a landscape of burrs and barbs. Other times, choices are smaller, like which restaurant to eat at or whether to go to the toilet before we get on a train.

(Okay, most of us know that the latter can have dire consequences, not least of which being loo options on trains.)

Most of us over the past several years have felt other choices becoming more weighty, more ponderous. Even if we always saw value in voting, it is likely that over the past few years, the stakes have felt higher. Who is in power has always had an influence on life and death, but sometimes that power inches closer to us, and sometimes it leaps.

I’m an older Millennial. I grew up in the first Bush and then the Clinton eras in the US and started my adult life transatlantically in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember watching bombs fall in Baghdad and the sick, creeping feeling that found its way into my gut knowing I was watching people die for no other reason than political hubris.

I finished uni the year we elected Barack Obama. In the face of global recession, there was hope—even as something else stirred in the periphery. My degree is in history, and I did about half of it at Uniwersytet Jagielloński in Kraków, Poland. One of my professors there was an expert in precisely what was happening at the periphery. We watched an extremist group march in the city to averted eyes from passers-by and a counterprotest that dwarfed the actual march.

And just a few years ago, ten years after that day, that same extremist group marched in Warsaw with tens of thousands at their backs.

When I wrote Look to the Sun, it was with my eyes seeking out the periphery, watching it move from the fringes into the line of sight for people who had, until that point, the privilege of looking away.

Because then it was right here. “Grab her by the pussy” didn’t end a career—it marked the beginning of one.

I emigrated from the US to Scotland in 2017, which was a massive privilege to be able to do. It wasn’t an escape from fear, though it mitigated some, and with an immigration office that prides itself on creating a “hostile environment,” it’s impossible to say that anything is certain, especially as a queer, nonbinary autistic with a chronic illness.

Look to the Sun came out of a need to see something hopeful. It’s less about revolutionaries and more about survivors and acknowledging that many people don’t survive these shifts. Writing these words in year two of a global pandemic that has claimed millions of lives feels too on the nose.

But if there is anything the last couple years have illustrated, it’s that we can make new choices today.

Last year, there was an excellent visual of how small choices (wearing a mask, not going to a party, not shaking a hand) could cut off heaps of branching avenues for a hungry virus.

I remember growing up and watching Back to the Future, how Doc would always warn Marty that even the smallest and most insignificant actions could have disastrous effects on the timeline. And sometime in the pea-soup wobble of recent years, I saw a meme talking about how ingrained that is in our psyche collectively, but how none of us think about what our small choices today could mean for our own future.

Let me be clear: when it comes to things like climate change and human rights, major action is needed from major players, full stop.

But there is worth in individual action, and there is worth in the choices we make to alter course. If we simply walk one foot after another into the pit whilst shrugging at our own helplessness, that does no one any good.

Each of us can only do what we can do—but we can all do something. Humans have survived as long as we have not because we look out for number one, but because we recognise community responsibility. We cooperate. We work together. And sometimes, millions of feet start walking away from the pit.

The thing is—the entirety of the impetus for this book for me—that even when things grow heavy on our shoulders and the monster in the shadows steps out into the light, it’s not too late to change course.

Sure, ideally, we manage to steer the Titanic past the iceberg without hitting it. But if we’ve hit, we don’t just all jump overboard to die of hypothermia.

Sometimes it’s all we can do to just survive. Sometimes we’re able to get someone else a life vest. Sometimes we’re able to encourage someone else to just hold on a little longer.

When I wrote Look to the Sun, it was about survival. It was looking up with water around your feet and realising that jolt a bit ago was the iceberg.

The book came out in its first edition the week of the 2016 presidential election.

I was doing first pass pages on the new edition in January of 2021, and I think it’s safe to say that was an experience.

While the book is about survival—and a bit about ice water creeping up to your shins—what has stuck with me is this: you’re still free.

Even in this hellaciously offensive reboot of the Roaring Twenties, there are paths forward. They may not be easy paths, and it’s pretty much guaranteed they won’t be. But if, like the old adage says, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, imagine where we could be a thousand miles from now if we pick up our feet and move in a better direction.

Imagine the kind of future we could build.

Imagine.

And help us change course.


Look to the Sun: Amazon US|Barnes and Noble|IndieBound|Waterstones (UK)|Google Play|Apple Books

Visit the author’s website and follow them on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Christopher Hinz

Christopher Hinz is seeing the re-issue of his Paratwa Trilogy of books (of which Liege-Killer, the cover of which is above, is the first), and on the occasion of their re-release, Hinz has a letter he’d like to share with the universe, about the books, humanity, and the state of the world.

CHRISTOPHER HINZ:

Dear Universe,

It would be most appreciated if you’d hold off on a nuclear-biological Apocalypse until 2099. Not only might I then be considered prescient for also selecting that date in the Paratwa Trilogy, I would be long departed, thereby dodging the flesh-morphing flash-bangs and organ-shredding biotoxins inherent in the event itself.

OK, perhaps mass extermination tinged with humor shouldn’t serve as kindling for a Big Idea. But that’s the only way I can wrap my simple earthbound mentality around such a scary, larger-than-life scenario. When writing science fiction, however, I operate on a different level, an emotional safe space from which the apocalyptic can be grandly prophesied.

To be accurate, the “remastered” editions of the trilogy (Liege-Killer, Ash Ock, The Paratwa) released this week by Angry Robot Books are post-apocalyptic. Humanity’s descendants, having learned to regulate technology’s worst excesses that sparked Earth’s abandonment, live peacefully in the Colonies, huge orbiting cylinders. But then an enemy from the past, a Paratwa – a genetically engineered assassin with a single mind inhabiting two bodies – is revived from cryo sleep and embarks on a killing spree. The colonists, overwhelmed by the savagery of a creature whose kind were believed wiped out, awaken two Paratwa hunters. The brilliant hacker and tormented soldier possess long-lost skills, yet soon realize that hunting down the assassin is only the beginning, and that a cabal of fanatic Paratwa has been manipulating humanity for centuries.

Remastering the three novels transcended initial estimates of the work involved, ultimately turning into a six-month-long, 1,330-page project. But considering that the original Liege-Killer, the standalone lead-in to the trilogy, was published thirty-plus years ago, maintaining relevancy for a contemporary readership was needed. Significant technological, scientific and social changes occurred since the 1980s. Back then, cellphones and the fledgling internet were for early adopters, the human genome had yet to be sequenced and the first exoplanet lay undiscovered. Most computers were clunky and desk-bound, and the engaging delights and concomitant nastiness of social media remained untapped. Streaming was what water did when it flowed downhill.

As for a real-world apocalypse, back then it seemed far-fetched. True, nuclear armageddon remained a hovering presence since the first A-bomb test in 1945, and less-than-enlightened 80s politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were perturbing the zeitgeist with militaristic posturing. Nevertheless, the 1980s overall felt like a more positive and uplifting decade.

Fast forward to today, where a hefty segment of the populace believes we can’t avoid going down for the dirt nap, and that’s not even considering the possibility of a rogue meteor or comet doing us in. Global warming, environmental degradation, species extinction, emotionally unhinged politicians – it’s enough to make a poor earthling seek permanent escape by begging Elon Musk for a berth on one of his Mars colonization vessels.

The belief that Earth is on a downward spiral partially accounts for what seems to be an ascent of 80s-era SFF. Not only series like Stranger Things, where the story itself occurs within the decade, but the continuing popularity of classic movies of the era, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future, not to mention those dueling franchises beginning with the word “Star.” Notable on the literary front in the 80s were books like Hyperion, Neuromancer and Ender’s Game. Although tending to feature darker themes than their visual comrades in arms, they still managed to hint that somehow, things would turn out OK.

Such positive viewpoints no longer seem as common in our era. And yet, the skeptic in me has to ask, “Are we truly doomed? Is 2020s civilization really going down the tubes?” No matter how much the world might seem on the precipice of disaster, divergent factors need to be considered.

Like negativity bias. Humans are wired to be more significantly impacted by things that are unpleasant and harmful than by those which are agreeable or emotionally neutral. This partly accounts for why the media prioritizes the bad over the good, calamity over exultation. Today this effect undergoes unprecedented amplification by the internet as well as by traditional news outlets. For instance, little attention is paid to the roughly 100,000 flights that take off and land safely across the globe every day, whereas a single plane crash becomes a wildfire meme dominating multiple news cycles.

And then there’s nostalgia syndrome. Every generation at some point begins to cherish the vibrancy of its youthful days, which consequently impels revivals of the eras those individuals came of age. I recall 1960s retro being prominent in the 1990s. Could sentimentality for the 1980s now be enjoying its 15 minutes of fame? And if so, are memories of 80s youthfulness producing a converse effect, elevating a gloriously imagined past while dimming the horizons of a workaday present?

Related to nostalgia is the aging factor. As the years flash by, varying degrees of disappointment and cynicism can take hold. Maintaining a pragmatic and hopeful outlook becomes an increasing challenge. Inevitably, even those with glass-half-full attitudes can’t prevent at least some drops of precious optimism from spilling out.

OK, Universe, after reevaluation, here’s the Big Idea manifested. Instead of choosing a date for our apocalyptic termination, how about an indefinite postponement? Give us a chance to peer at things that were, are and will be through lenses less clouded by the arrhythmic shudders of a media-mad world. Whatever your decision, however, please know that I shall continue appreciating the past, cherishing the now and forecasting the unimaginable.

Christopher Hinz


Liege-Killer: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

First Frost

It was inevitable, and it happened this morning: The first substantial frost of the season. My entire yard is tipped in tiny ice crystals, which is beautiful, and also cold, and as you can see above, even the roses are rimmed with it. The frost won’t last — it’s already melting in the morning sun — but it’ll be back, and it’s a reminder of the season it is, and what’s to come soon.

— JS

The Big Idea: Ryan O’Nan

We all have those moments we wish we could take back. In Winders, some people just might be able to. How might that work — and how might that affect those who could do it? Author Ryan O’Nan is here to catch us all up.

RYAN O’NAN:

When I was a baby, my uncle was killed in a motorhome. It was late at night, and he and my aunt were driving on the freeway up the west coast when their vehicle suddenly burst into flames. A propane line had ruptured, and my uncle had to make several choices in an instant. He forced my aunt out of the burning vehicle while it was still moving, but he stayed inside trying to manage the fire and lost his life when the camper exploded.

This story haunted me as a kid. My aunt did not escape the tragedy. She hit her head on a rock when she fell and lived the rest of her life in a home with severe brain damage. I would go with my grandma to visit her often as a kid, and the place scared me. The smell scared me. The people scared me, but most of all, my aunt scared me. I never knew her before the accident, but every time I saw her, and her one working eye—enlarged by the coke bottle glasses she wore—I obsessed over the same thought: how different her life would’ve been if she’d jumped ten seconds sooner, or if my uncle had chosen to get out instead of trying to save the camper.

But here’s another thought. What if they knew about the fire a minute before it happened?

Winders is a story about choices. And second chances. And third chances… It’s about what might happen if a select few among us no longer had to simply accept what fate had in store.

This is how the germ of the idea grew…

What if you could take back your worst moments the second that they happened?

This idea stuck in my head. Wedged in, and literally didn’t leave for years. And it expanded. What if there was a small population of people on the planet who had evolved the ability to reverse moments like my aunt and uncle’s horrific fire on the freeway? The ability to wind back time. Not large amounts of time. Just small microbursts. Enough to redo mistakes, or maybe even to try things out—knowing you only had to live with the consequences if you wanted to?

It’s not necessarily a new idea. Some of my favorite films have used a version of this power, but it’s almost always used as a prison. “Groundhog Day” gives Bill Murray endless tries at one day. “Edge of Tomorrow” gives Tom Cruise the same ability but this time he’s trapped in a loop during an alien invasion. There’s also the extremely charming film, “About Time,” where the protagonist can redo moments—as long as he can find a dark, quiet place to time travel from.

But what if you didn’t have to die to use this ability, or hop into a closet? What if you got to do something over and over until you got it right, but the world only saw you do it once?

The idea snowballed inside my head. Each question leading to more questions. There were so many advantages someone with this ability would have. Saving yourself from near misses was just one of them. An extra minute of knowledge of how stocks or international currencies would shift could lead to endless wealth. If a baseball player knew exactly what pitch was coming every time… If a candidate in a presidential debate always knew what their opponent was going to say right before they said it… Or if you had endless chances to say all the right things to the girl, or boy, of your dreams…

Money. Fame. Power. Sex. Dominance.

And of course, you’d have to keep it secret. First rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. If the current powers that be knew a small group of people were “cheating” at all aspects of life, I imagine those people would be found, used, and/or taken out of the equation.

So, now that I had my fun premise for a novel, I had to figure out who would lead me into this world. Would I be a fish out of water who is just learning he has this power? Or should I be a character already imbedded beneath the skin of this secret society of time winders? In the end, I decided to have it both ways. Two protagonists. Charlie is my fish, and Juniper is my expert.

But this was where it got tough. Because writing Charlie was fun and flowed out fairly easily. After all, I was once a young man searching for identity, trying to make sense of the world and attempting to survive a certain amount of trauma from a chaotic childhood. But when it came to Juniper, I have never been a young woman, and I definitely didn’t grow up inside a massively powerful secret society that controls most of the world from the shadows. But Juniper did, so I couldn’t approach the worldbuilding in the same way with her as I could with Charlie. It wouldn’t make sense for Juniper to go around describing a bunch of stuff that she takes for granted on a daily basis. I could do some of that, but it had to be done lightly or it would bog the story down very quickly. Which is exactly what happened and led to years of rewriting along the way. But, in the end, I think I fell even more in love with Juniper because I had to work so much harder to bring her to life, properly.

Winders became a fun playground to explore what it might feel like to release the panic I so often experienced while attempting to make the right choice all the time. Would such power corrupt us? Probably. But maybe not all of us.

But what if there was a faction that wanted more than just a secret advantage. What if some Winders thought of normal humans as a subspecies and that only a world of masters and slaves made sense to them? How could fascism ever not be the end result of such power?

I had so much fun diving into these questions and letting the characters and story tell me just how dark those answers might become. But I was also surprised by how much resilience and integrity some of the characters ended up displaying in the face of so much power.

Charlie and Juniper are young people who are still figuring out who they are and who they’re not. I’m really not sure how I would react to being able to do the kind of things that they can do. Having the ability to save yourself and the people you love from danger sounds great, but such an ability feels like a Pandora’s box, and inside is so much grey…


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

Visit the author on Twitter.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles

I’m in my ancestral county right now, the primary reason being to attend the delayed memorial service of a dear friend (it was last night and was bittersweet but also wonderful in its way), but also to see the living, sometimes at museums (see above), and to have meetings, because meetings are what Los Angeles is for. There was an earthquake this morning, just a 3.9er, and I’m happy to say I responded to it in a classically Californian fashion, which was to say “huh, earthquake” to myself, note it on social media, and then roll over in bed and go back to sleep. Some things you don’t forget how to do, even when you live out of state for decades.

Everything is good, just checking in. How’s your weekend?

— JS

Signed SF/F Books to Support Charity

My good pal James Cambias, who not entirely incidentally here is a terrific science fiction author, passes along this note to me about a fundraiser for the town he lives in:

“The non-profit Friends of Deerfield are conducting an online auction beginning October 22, with dozens of items including sports memorabilia, antiques — and signed first editions by science fiction and fantasy authors in western Massachusetts. Featuring works by Elizabeth Bear, James Cambias, John Crowley, Paul Park, and Allen Steele. Proceeds support the Deerfield 350th Celebration in 2023. Visit the auction site at https://www.32auctions.com/FriendsofDeerfield2021

So, hey: If you like signed science fiction first editions — and helping cities celebrate birthdays! — then today’s your lucky day. Check out these auctions.

— JS

Yeah, Okay, So, Maybe I Bought Another Guitar, So What

I’d been thinking of getting a Les Paul, and this blacked-out special edition was speaking to me aesthetically, so, what the hell, I got it. I showed it to Krissy when it arrived and it spoke to her personal aesthetic sense as well, so that helps.

That said, no more guitars for me I swear. I have more than enough. Honest! Stop looking at me like that! I mean it!

Also, procedural note: I’m traveling on personal business starting tomorrow, so updating here may be sparse through the weekend. Please occupy your time however you see fit.

— JS

The Big Idea: Patti Callahan

For Once Upon a Wardrobe, author Patti Callahan considers a story and a world most of us know, to tell a story that many of us may have not considered — but without it, that earlier beloved tale would not exist.

PATTI CALLAHAN:

Nearly every culture in the world has an origin story – but don’t stories have origin stories?  Especially the ones that somehow enter our universal consciousness, stories that impact all of us even if we haven’t read them cover to cover. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those stories.

There are very particular stories and myths that endure in the world; they show us what it means to be human in all its terrors, joys and griefs, and yet they are also life-affirming. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those tales. 

Where did Narnia come from? That is the question that was the spark-flying big idea that had me take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard (depending on the day). But the idea or question is bigger than Narnia because the real question is – “Where do stories come from?” And can we truly answer that?

I often wondered about the time in C. S. Lewis’s life when he decided to start writing about Narnia. What was the origin story of this mythical land? What made Lewis start and then stop and then start again? Had he meant to create this land and or did it grow into Narnia as he wrote? I began to ponder how much of his life ended up in his stories. As authors, how much of our lives end up in our stories? How much is conscious and how much is unconscious?

I leave the final answer to the experts in psychology, philosophy and religion, but, as usual, I turned to story for our answer.

When I was in high school, I studied Latin in preparation for a medical career. In those classes, we studied the great Greek and Roman myths. The knowledge that story is built on story has followed me from a medical career to a storytelling career and has continually fascinated me.

I am astounded at the way stories touch the numinous, how inexplicable and mysterious they are at their best. It is nearly impossible to answer the question, “Where did your story idea come from?” Mythology at its core often tries to answer such questions. Every culture and religion has its own origin story – from Danu and Dan in Ireland, to Greek mythology with its deities, creatures and myths, to the Hopi, the Mayan, and the In Nihilo stories (out of nothing).

And isn’t, I thought, isn’t Narnia a world unto its own? A place that has enchanted, enthralled and captured generations. Most likely you feel the same — Narnia was and is a powerful part of our collective lives and imaginations. I’ve never felt the need to dissect it like a specimen on a laboratory slide or take it apart to find its inner workings, but I did find myself wanting to convey the power of it in our lives. I felt a story stirring that might reveal exactly what C. S. Lewis meant when he said, “Sometimes fairy stories may say best what needs to be said.”

As a child, I felt that if I could find it, I too might walk through the wardrobe door of Narnia. I searched for that snowy forest in the woodlands and marshes of Cape Cod, in the closet of my bedroom, and the pages of other books. Narnia seemed to be waiting for me, even calling to me, if I might only find it. I would wager some of you did the same.

As I considered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a young boy named George Devonshire and his sister, Megs visited my imagination. Living in Worcester, England in 1950, seven-year-old George is dying and his seventeen-year-old beloved sister can’t save him; she loves him fiercely and will do anything for him (Just as C. S. Lewis and his older brother, Warnie, loved each other) This young boy asks his sister to find the answer to his most pressing question, “Where did Narnia come from?” Narnia comforts George. Narnia thrills him. He wants Narnia to be real. And although he asks his sister a question that can’t be truly answered, his sister goes looking for that very answer anyway.

Megs, a mathematics student at Sommerville College in Oxford, who wants logical answers, ones that might be ticked off like the equations she solves, sets off to track down Mr. C. S. Lewis and timidly ask him about Narnia’s origins. He answers her, but not as we expect. He doesn’t give her simple answers or logical ties; instead, he tells her stories from his life for her to take home to George. Stories both dark and light; stories of triumph and heartbreak: true stories.

In Megs’ search for the infallible, she receives stories in return, sending her and George on a journey where they discover that part of Narnia’s mystery is that we, too, have the privilege of entering Narnia, even without a wardrobe.

Although bits and pieces of Lewis’s life can be identified in Narnia, there continue to be mysteries in Narnia that are both imaginative and transcendent.

As Irish poet, theologian, and philosopher John O’Donohue once wrote, “A book is a path of words which take the heart in new directions.”  And that is what I long to show you: how Narnia changes our view of the “real” world and allows us to see the unseen with our hearts. 


Once Upon A Wardrobe: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s  

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s website. Follow her on twitter and Instagram.

Happy (Approximate) Birthday, Charlie

We got Charlie on March 20, and we were told at the time she was about five or six months old, which means she was probably born around this time in October of last year. We decided for convenience that we’d pick October 20 to be her birthday, because it made sense to us and she wouldn’t really care one way or another, because she’s a dog.

So: Happy birthday, Charlie! You are largely a delightful dog, although like any dog you have your moments of exasperating trash eating and sneaking up on furniture and rolling around in dead animals in the yard. On balance, however, we are happy to have you as part of the pack. May this (approximate) birthday be a good one (spoiler: We’ll be giving you extra treats today) and may this next turn around the sun be full of naps, snacks, and playfighting with Smudge. Enjoy it, pup. You’re a good dog. Well, mostly.

— JS

The Big Idea: Cassandra Khaw

In Nothing But Blackened Teeth, author Cassandra Khaw looks at the ties that bind us… and why we might not cut them even if we have the tools to do so.

CASSANDRA KHAW:

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is about zombie relationships. The shambling half-things we all find ourselves stitched to by circumstance, its body rotting, oozing infection into the places where they’re bound to our own flesh. We’re brow-beaten by Hollywood into thinking that relationships all have a singular outcome: either they endure, or they shatter because of death and nothing else. There are no other options, no palatable alternatives. Anything else is just repellent.

So, we stay.

We stay because those relationships are familiar. We stay because of sunk costs. We stay because we have good memories of the person and because we’re tied to them, because our identity includes the phrase ‘we’re also friends with X’, we make excuses for their new belligerence, their recent obsession with conspiracy theories, their nascent politics, their nastiness. We stay, we try so hard to stay.

Except sometimes, that’s the worst thing we can do for ourselves.

As I get older, I’ve come to value the time investment of relationships more. I’m pushing forty, and with that number, I see where the horizon ends, where it empties into a perfect black stillness. It’s nowhere near an immediate concern as of yet. My family is excruciatingly long-lived and to date, exactly one female relative has died and she keeled over at the grand age of one hundred and two. I have time, but I am increasingly aware of how limited that time is. And with that awareness, I’m realizing how ferociously I want to guard what I might have.

We don’t get back any of the hours. None of them. Every moment we’re allocated, every second, every minute, all of them are finite resources. Once spent, they’re gone forever. And more importantly, the same is true for everyone else. What’s worse, we have no idea as to how much time any of us have. For all that we might live to be a hundred, there is no guarantee the same will be true for our friends and our loved ones. We all adhere to the idea that the general life expectancy these days is about seventy-something or so, and go about our lives safe in the knowledge we should be able to, statistically speaking, expect those calculations to be true.

But outliers are surprisingly common.

Shit happens. Disease happens. Cancer, heart attacks, aneurysms. Hell, COVID, for fuck’s sake. There are a million ways to die and there is no guarantee that Death will wait until we’re seventy-something to inflict such things on us. Given all that, it feels almost blasphemous to me to think about wasting that time on people I don’t care for and people who don’t care for me. Especially if the reason behind such expenditure is, ‘we’ve known each other for a long while.’

Life is short. It is always getting shorter.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a little bit of me grappling with that understanding of the world, and it is also me looking at relationships that have necrotized, and the ways we try to accommodate that rot, how we pave over things, how we smile over each other, how we apply blush and powder to the moldering skin, and try to frame everything in the best light.

There are relationships worth saving, relationships that improve because people talk and people go to therapy and people listen when they are told, “This isn’t how it should be.” Those exist and god help me, they’re some of the best relationships you can have, romantic or otherwise. Then there are the ones in this book, where the friendships have dimmed into ghosts, and well, we all know what happens when we fuck around with the dead.


Nothing But Blackened Teeth: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (click on the “read excerpt” link). Visit the author’s site. Follow them on Twitter.

How To Get Signed & Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2021, or, The Supply Chain Is Messed Up Edition

As you all know, every year around mid-November, I do a thing with Jay and Mary’s Book Center, my local bookseller, where I encourage people to buy my books there as holiday gifts, and when they do, I come down to the store to sign and personalize them and then send them off by mid-December, in time for Christmas (and depending on the calendar, Hanukkah). This year, however, two things are different: One, the overall supply chain is messed up, and publishing is no different, and two, the US Postal Service has intentionally slowed down mail service. Put it all together, it means that getting things in a timely manner for the holidays this year will be more of a challenge than it usually is.

Now, to be clear, I have no indication that there will be a shortage of any of my books — save for a new “Tor Essentials” edition of Redshirts, I didn’t publish a new novel this year, which means all my books are backlist; there’s a bunch of copies sitting in warehouses at the moment, waiting to be sold. But, it’s 2021, and you never know, and also, again, mail is slower this year than it’s been before.

So we’re doing something different this year: We’re opening up orders for signed/personalized Scalzi books for the holidays right now, and running it through December 5. Between now and December 5 I’ll come into Jay & Mary’s regularly to sign/personalize stuff that’s been ordered, and then they’ll ship it out when they can (United States only). And then you hide the books in the presents closets until December (or, in the case of Hanukkah this year, maybe late November). The idea here is to give you, the gift-buying public, as much of a margin as possible to get your gifts for the holidays.

Please note that the sooner you get in your order, the better chance of getting things in time for the holidays (that’s a general comment, not just relating to me and my books). The closer we get to December, the more challenges supply chains and slower mail provide everyone. So, really, don’t wait. Come order those books today.

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

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know that you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Last Emperox), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

Again, the deadline for signed/personalized books for 2021 is December 5. After December 5 all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize.

Ordering early is strongly encouraged this year — See above for why.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: The Last Emperox is still available in hardcover. The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means is also out this year in hardcover, but it’s a signed limited edition and the bookstore will have to special order, so if you want that from Jay & Mary’s, absolutely ask for that as early as possible. 2018’s hardcovers Head On and The Consuming Fire should also be available if you ask for them specifically. The mini-hardcover of Old Man’s War is also available and is a great format for that book.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars and Fuzzy NationRedshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to) are available in trade paperback format. There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format. Also available: Robots Vs. Fairies, the anthology that features the story of mine that was adapted for the “Three Robots” episode of the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: The entire Interdependency series (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox) are available, both individually and as a boxed set. The Old Man’s War series of books (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division and The End of All Things) are available individually, and the first three of those books also come in their own boxed set. Lock In, Head On and Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (novella) are individually available as well. Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream have recently been moved into trade paperback, but mass market editions are probably still available if that’s your preference. Please note: If you order the boxed sets, if you want those signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited), Virtue Signaling (a third essay collection, will also need special ordering) and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock InHead On, The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be currently available on CD.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP, especially this year. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

A Saturday Hibiscus

It’s a busy weekend here at the Scalzi Compound, for various reasons (most positive!), but I saw this hibiscus unfurling early today and thought you all might like to see it, too. It’s always nice to take a moment to appreciate beauty when you find it.

— JS

The Winner of the “Kaiju” Contest Is…

I was slightly stunned to see the response to this giveaway: Nearly 2,400 entries, 1,000 of which came in the first two hours. Makes me feel all warm inside, it does. Nevertheless, it’s now time to declare the winner:

Alan, who chose the correct number “867,” along with ten others. I then instructed Alexa to pick a number between one and ten, inclusive, and it picked ten. That was Alan. Congratulations, Alan, for making through not one but two sifts! I’ve already sent along an email and will send it along as soon as possible.

For everyone else: Thank you so much for playing, and remember you can still get a signed and personalized copy of Kaiju for your very own when it comes out, through Subterranean Press. They will be most happy to take your order and send it along to you in March!

Oh, and, finally: Look! Here’s that starred review of Kaiju in Booklist. It’s out! And lovely.

— JS

The Big Idea: Dave Ring

In The Hidden Ones, author Dave Ring is looking at a part of human relationships that sometimes gets short shrift in the world of fiction — but in many way is the part of human relationships most of us strive for. And just what part is that? Ring is here to explain.

DAVE RING:

In college, I was two things I no longer am: a poet and a serial monogamist. I burned through a never-ending string of three-month boyfriends. Of these relationships, many inspired torrid poetry, most were relatively lovely, and all of them self-destructed very neatly around the ninety day mark. Each one all left me devastated, which of course led to more poetry. My poems about heartache tended to get more applause than anything I came up with about love, so this cycle was ultimately more successful than I realized at the time.

I’d always wanted to be with someone, and those years were a time to put those wants into action. I blame that cursed desire on the impossibility of queer love that loomed over the late nineties. But like many people in college, I wasn’t very good at being with someone else. But where would I have learned that? I deeply admired those who managed to stay together for long enough that the rest of us could eye them enviously, wondering how they’d managed to sort their shit out—even if time would reveal that they were on the verge of falling apart.

In stories it’s not uncommon to read, say, the story of the warrior queen and the sorceress, drawn together despite their oath. Other times, perhaps, the galactic president trysting with the alien emissary, or the heroes who finally kiss at the end of the adventure. There is no shortage of just-starting flames, almost-loves or rivals-who-just-might-also-want-to-kiss. And I love those stories as much as the next romantic. 

But there’s often been a dearth, in the genre fiction I read anyway, of writing that explores romantic relationships beyond the point of connection/courtship/consummation. Not to mention long-term queer romantic relationships.* The details of how such relationships change and thrive is too often banished to the post-credits imagination. Has the lack of Epic Relationships in storytelling resulted in a missing vocabulary in our cultural imagination around sustainable partnership? A myopia of thought focused on creating a spark rather than feeding the fire?

At the heart of my novella, The Hidden Ones, is our ne’er-do-well protagonist, Baird, and the estranged love of his life, Tadhg. As two immortal scions from warring families, their union once brought a truce to an endless war, but when the book begins, they can barely look at each other. Even when mayhem of both the family drama and existential threat varieties ensue, Baird and Tadhg’s equilibrium—or lack of it—propels both of them forward.

I wrote the beginning of this novella in my early 20s and then finished it in my late 30s. Somewhere in the middle there, just as I’d started to figure out that I didn’t need to plan on forever with every guy I met, I found myself in the sort of relationship that didn’t have an obvious expiration date. Fifteen plus years later, that’s still true. The poetry has mostly withered on the vine, which is probably for the best, but that shift in perspective has led to a very different attitude towards a central premise of my plot. 

A prominent couple were in the news the other day for a memoir one of them had written about their relationship, and amidst the usual fragmentary and bombastic opinions that come with all celebrity news, there was a persistent, underlying refrain that this couple should simply split up. Besides the parasocial aspects, I was struck by the lack of nuance in this reaction. Of course, there are plenty of relationships that people stay in for reasons that feel unhealthy or unsafe; that didn’t seem to be the case here. What was it that led onlookers to believe that acknowledging any struggle at all meant that the relationship should be over

I’m curious if a possible solution is to put more iterations of established relationships into our storytelling. Take time to show the nuance and care that can develop over time. Romanticize them, even. Because applying the tools we’ve been given for exploring new love—watching for red flags, setting firm boundaries—sometimes fails up when applied as-is to an eight year or an eighteen year relationship. How do we instill the idea of growing with someone, or explore ensuring that the person they are becoming is someone you want to stay connected with?

It might seem like what I’m saying is that we all need therapy. Which wouldn’t be totally wrong. But I think something powerful can come from privileging the conversation with the butch blacksmith about how she’s stayed happy with the miller and his wife for so long. From lending an epic guitar riff to a tense, domestic moment between the two kings before they go to war. From zeroing in on that tiny affirmation, pressed between two palms, before the captain and the mecha pilot fall to sleep.

Ten, fifteen, and twenty-plus year relationships deserve poetry as much as or more than doomed three-month affairs. It’s for the best that I don’t write them, I think. But I’ll still try to put words to page that share the incendiary moments arising from long-burning loves as often as flash-in-the-pan sparks. And maybe eventually our cultural imagination will catch the heat.   

*As an aside, the other thing that the nineties lacked, besides the mythical existence of appropriate teenage boyfriends, was readily available queer fiction. The internet was still a nascent thing, YA hadn’t yet exploded. And while since then the volume of queer writing has (thankfully) grown exponentially, queerness continues to be often treated as if its mere existence is “adult” or “explicit,” while corresponding cisness and straightness goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. So, in addition to depicting adult relationships in media res, The Hidden Ones is also intended to fulfill that secondary mission of putting queer desire on the page. There’s a similar argument to be made for centering stories of platonic friendship.


The Hidden Ones: Rebel Satori|Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Smash Words

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

Win the ARC of The Kaiju Preservation Society (and a Reminder That You Can Pre-Order a Signed, Personalized Copy From Subterranean Press)

Look! It’s an Advance Reader Copy of my upcoming novel The Kaiju Preservation Society! And also, Charlie, who is convinced that nibbling on a the ARC is a excellent way for her to get her roughage. It’s not! And also, I can’t let her eat this ARC, because I intend to give it away to one of you. That’s right, you’ll read it months ahead of its March 15, 2022 release. I’ll even sign/personalize it for you if you like! Here’s all you have to do to win it:

I am thinking of a number between one and one thousand (inclusive of those two numbers). Guess which number it is. Put your guess in the comments.

That’s it! If you guess correctly, and you are the only one to have guessed the number, then you win! If other people also guessed that number, I will count how many of you guessed that number and then ask my Google assistant to choose between you. Whichever one it picks will win the ARC. If no one guesses the number, I’ll pick the closest number to the number I picked, in the decreasing direction. Simple.

(I have recorded myself on video saying the number while holding the camera up to a clock with the current time/date, so you’ll know I’m trustworthy on the number thing.)

Who is eligible? Anyone on the planet, because I’ll have it shipped to you (NOTE: Some countries are not currently accepting US Mail due to COVID, etc, so there may be a delay if you live in one of those countries. We’ll figure something out if that’s the case).

Now: Rules:

1. Only one guess per person. Only guesses left in the comment section to this post will be valid (i.e., don’t leave guesses on Twitter or Facebook or other Whatever posts, or try to email them to me). Additional guesses will be invalid.

(PS: If you post a guess and don’t immediately see it in the comments, don’t panic — sometimes comments get punted into moderation. I’ll be along to free them presently. If after a few hours you don’t see your comment, go ahead and comment again.)

2. When you leave your guess, make sure you have a valid email address in the “email address” field. That is how I will contact you. (Don’t put your email address in the body of the comment, because then everyone will see it.)

3. Please don’t leave comments that don’t have a numerical guess in them. Those will be snipped out.

4. Please offer your guess in ordinal form, rather than in written-out form (i.e., “1234” not “One thousand two hundred and thirty four”).

5. Contest runs for 48 hours after I publish this post (around 10am Eastern, October 13, 2021) and ends when WordPress automatically closes the comments on this post. If the comments are closed, you’re too late. Sorry. After the contest ends I’ll announce the winner and contact them via email.

ALSO DO NOT FORGET

Even if you don’t win the contest for this ARC, you can still pre-order a signed (and, if desired, personalized) copy of Kaiju from my friends at Subterranean Press. These copies will be actual hardcover copies, and I will sign them so that they can be shipped to arrive on or near the official release date of March 15, 2022. Get one for yourself! Get one for a friend! Get one for a random person you meet on the street (although don’t have that one personalized, I guess)!

Got it? Then guess away, and good luck!

Redshirts: The Tor Essentials Edition is Out Today

Surprise! I have a book out today!

It’s the “Tor Essentials” edition of Redshirts, my Hugo and Locus Award-winning novel about a doomed spaceship crew trying to change their fate.

What’s different about this edition from previous editions?

1. Slightly updated cover graphics!

2. A kind and lovely introduction by my friend (and Hugo, Locus and Nebula Award winner) Mary Robinette Kowal!

3. Some minor typo corrections!

Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much it. So if you already have it, you probably don’t need to upgrade (unless you really want to read Mary Robinette’s intro, which, again, is just lovely). But! If you’ve not gotten it already, or have it and have been planning to gift it to someone else, well, here you go, it’s all shiny and new. Go get it, folks. And thanks again for letting me write books for a living. You are all seriously cool and I appreciate you a lot.

— JS

The Big Idea: Marjorie B. Kellogg

As anyone who has ever written a near-future novel will tell you, the problem with that sub-genre is that “the future” keeps catching up with you in unexpected ways. Marjorie B. Kellogg can attest to that; while writing Glimmer, the world kept reminding her that the story she was creating was all too close to the one unfolding around us all.

MARJORIE B KELLOGG:

It could be said that another expression of The Big Idea for a science fiction novel – or perhaps any novel – is asking the question “What if…?”

What if…the aliens are evolved lizards? What if…the A.I. has its own agenda?

What if…we could live forever? Usually, the writer aims to pose an original question and explore a strange and weird answer.

Glimmer began not with a new Big Idea, but with what seems to me a tragically obvious one: climate change is upon us, and we are not going to fix it. Even if we could muster the global will to try, it’s likely too late to succeed. So how are we going to live with it?

And when I say ‘we’, I mean all us non-superheroes who won’t be able to insulate ourselves from the daily ravages of a climate-changed world by means of wealth, power, or even the Darwinian advantage of physical might.

So: What if…you’re stranded in flooded Manhattan with no means of escape?

What if…it’s no better anywhere else?

What if…surviving means making the best of a very bad situation?

What will you do? What will you become? What kind of society will you create?

These were the questions I challenged myself to work out a response to. I say ‘work out’ because the answers evolved in unexpected ways as I went along. As a writer, I am less interested in the strange and weird than in how people – ordinary folks like me – respond to the strange and weird, to the unforeseen, the difficult or life-threatening situation. As my story unspooled itself, each event or character choice arising directly from those preceding it, unplanned twists and turns kept presenting themselves and making sense, eventually heading toward a conclusion I hadn’t anticipated. This is where you toss aside your synopsis and submit to the logic of the muse. And enjoy every bit of the ride…well, mostly.

Challenge #2: the logistical problem of carrying a college teaching load plus on-going commitments in my other professional life while trying to finish a novel. So, the writing proceeded slowly. But climate change did not. It kept catching up with me. What I’d offered as fiction one month became too-close-to-real the next, and the whole book would have to nudged further ahead.

The near-future is a tricky time zone to work in. Its longitudes are shifting all the time.

But the most ‘writerly’ challenge I set myself was to discover a credible and sympathetic voice for my narrator. I wanted Glimmer to tell an intimate, personal story – no Big Picture omniscience – so chose a strict, first-person point of view. But Glimmer is a young woman whose recall of her past has been locked behind a barrier of recent trauma. She is, in effect, tabula rasa, which puts a real crimp on the opportunities for world-building exposition. How can she tell us about herself? She can share what she sees around her and what she’s learned since the awful event, but little about the world as it was beforehand, or how it got to where it is now.

I learned to rely on my narrator’s curiosity and her need to reclaim her past, to ask the hard questions, and on other characters’ willingness (or not) to fill her in, mostly in bits and pieces during the course of normal conversation. But she doesn’t always ask the right questions, and others don’t always offer the truth in return, intentionally or otherwise, leaving it to the reader to decide who to believe until Glimmer’s returning memory and events themselves supply more reliable evidence. Some editors will insist the reader should always know more than the protagonist, but I feel that sets up a distance between you, the reader, and the character I most want you to identify with. Anyhow, a gradual reveal of crucial facts powers up the narrative drive, as long as I don’t leave you floundering in confusion and ignorance – an unpardonable sin! Kind of like writing a mystery.

The most fun thing I got to do, on a personal level, was to work in excerpts from my own great-great-grandfather’s journal documenting his trip around the horn of South American in 1849. It turned out that colorful and compelling parallels in human behavior could be drawn between a storm-tossed Victorian sea voyage and surviving in superstorm-wracked, near-future Manhattan. Not just the life-threatening weather, but the stresses of randomly selected groups crammed into small spaces, subsisting on limited food, water, and other resources. I can only hope my ancestor would feel I have put his youthful observations to good use.


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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

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