A Good Bad Day

Today was in many respects a remarkably crappy day, easily the worst I’ve had for the year, and I expect it’s the topper for what has been not one of my best weeks on record. The bad news hit early enough in the day that I had something of an adrenaline rush by the time I usually drive Athena off to day care, and it put me in a depressed enough mood that I realized that any chance of getting any substantive work done had pretty much gone right out the window. The prediction for the day had me sitting in front of the computer screen all day long, glowering sullenly and uselessly and occasionally repressing the urge to take a hammer to something expensive.

So I went with plan B: When Athena woke up, I told her that she wasn’t going to go to school today. And then she and I spent nearly the entire day playing. We went shopping for a new computer game for her, and also bought a ball. Then we came home and played “tag ball” in which you play tag, but with a ball (it’s good for hand-eye coordination. Honest). We ate fast food. We had cookies. We watched (in no particular order) Spongebob Squarepants, the Powerpuff Girls, and Courage the Cowardly Dog.

We talked about stuff: She wanted to know why there were seasons, and I told her. She wanted to know what flowers were for, so I told her. She wanted to know why it was so cold on Pluto, and I told her. I also gave her a representation of the diameter of Jupiter, using her new ball and my own body (which was, conveniently, to scale if the ball represented earth). She played with chalk while I took pictures. And I told her a lot that I loved her.

And it worked, because today was in many respects a remarkably good day. I realize that many of you parents out there don’t have the option, as I have, of deciding that a particular day is going to be Screw It All And Play With Your Kid Day, but if you do have that option, you should take it (or simply call in sick). It’s not a cure-all for your various problems, but it’s nice to spend the day in someone else’s world, especially someone whose day revolves around finding new and exciting ways to plug into what the world has to offer.

At one point in the day, Athena told me that when she grew up, she was going to play all the time. I imagine today would have been very much like a day in that life. It’s a nice life to visit. I can’t stay in it — work calls, I’m too much of a grown-up to ignore it for long, and anyway I like to work — but a day in the life is enough if it’s done right. Athena and I did it right. I’m glad we did.

I Want

Thanks to high winds and storms, my power is flickering on and off, and so is my attention span for work. So I’m going to take a few minutes to talk about the things I want, and not in that holistic, wishing-for-world-peace-and-harmony way. No, I’m talking about physical things I want. It’s all about my materialism.

Because, why not admit it? I’m materialistic. I better be, since I’ve got a house full of crap, and if I pretended like it didn’t matter to me in my extreme Dali Lama-ness, the rest of the world would be fully justified in slapping around my hypocritical ass. I don’t think I like having stuff to such a degree that it runs my life — I don’t sit around with the nagging fear that someone somewhere has neater toys than I. Also, I shop at Wal-Mart and Meijer and Target (an artifact of living out in the middle of nowhere), and it’s hard to get all precious about possessions that are spurted out into the universe in the mighty torrents required to satisfy a discount retailer’s gaping maw.

So: I don’t live and die by what I have. But by the same token, sometimes it’s just neat to have stuff, and right at this moment there’s some neat stuff I just want to have. What kind of neat stuff? This kind of neat stuff:

1. A Tablet PC. And specifically, a Toshiba Portege 3505 Tablet PC. Three reasons. One, my current laptop shows all the signs of a death rattle, including random, inexplicable overheating, and that’s my cue to start looking for something a little less prone to heat death. Two, it has a lot of features I can use, including built-in WiFi, which will let me wander around the house and do work, which will be useful in the next couple of months when I have both a couple of books to top off and a wife who would prefer I don’t spend 20 hours a day cooped up in the same room, away from her and normal family life. At least with a tablet PC I can interact with her while typing up stuff. Three, because tablet PCs are the bomb. They’re like living in the future! And if I can’t have a rocket car to the moon, this would be a nice stopgap.

2. A Palm Tungsten C. This is also the bomb, as it has nearly the same processing specifications as my computer two computers back, and that’s just cool. It also critically has a tiny little keyboard, which is (pardon the pun here) key for me. My handwriting is awful, and if I had to use it to communicate I would probably starve to death.

I have little or no use for a Tungsten C — hell, I already have a Palm Pilot that’s been sitting in its cradle for so long that it’s got dust on it, but let’s note here that the title of this entry is not “I Need” but “I Want.” Want, as many a moral philosopher and/or thief will tell you, often has very little to do with need. Although I’m sure if I got one, I would find something to do with it. I’m just creative that way. And at about $500, I’d feel the financial duty to do so.

3. A Honda Element. After 12 years, my piece of crap 1989 white Ford Escort (pony!) is so close to death that you can hear the motor grinding through the Kubler-Ross stages, and I’m pretty sure we’ve come to “acceptance,” which means it’s time to look at something new. I am inexplicably drawn to the Honda Element. I’m aware it looks like a Tonka Toy, but that just triggers the irony button in me, so that’s not bad (especially if I could get this in Tonka Yellow. That would be sweet).

It also has some practical assets which appeal to me. First, the inside is rubberized, so you can hose it down, which is cool because I’m a slob and that would be an efficient way to deslobify the car; second, the thing is configurable to carry stuff or people, and that’s useful since there’s three of us and a large dog; third, it’s pretty cheap (the model I want is about $20K) which is good for me since, as I clearly admitted with my note about shopping at Wal-Mart, I’m not one of those people who worries about status through possessions. It’s also a Honda, which means I can drive it for at least the next twelve years and reasonably expect it to run. Yes, I’m the car industry’s worst nightmare: I buy cheap and I drive it into the ground. Hey guys: At least I’m thinking of buying new.

Living as I do in the sticks you might think that I would be inclined to buy American, so as not to get egged by the patriots what live near me. But Honda has a big-ass factory in the nearby town of Troy (my brother-in-law works there, even), so Hondas get a pass. Also, we currently tool around in Suzuki Sidekick and no one gives us any crap, because that just wouldn’t be neighborly.

So these are the things I want at the moment. The reason I’m thinking about things that I want is that I’m waiting to hear about a thing. If I get it, I’ll be able to get one or more of these things. If I don’t, then I probably won’t. Since I’m still waiting to hear about the thing, the acquisition mode in my brain is having a full-out war against the economically prudent mode of my brain, which will only end when either this thing happens or it doesn’t. It’s really distracting; it’s one of the reasons, aside from the flickering electricity, I’m having a hard time focusing. No, I can’t give you any more details than that.

In the meantime: I want, I want, I want. Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Strippers With Swords

All right, I’m officially a science fiction writer (I’ve got the SFWA membership to prove it) so let me just say this: Please God, never let me have a book cover whose images would be equally at home airbrushed onto a van. This fervent prayer came to me while I was looking at this, a cover for the Science Fiction Book Club catalogue I got in the mail (not the regular catalogue but the one they send to get you to join).

In it, as you can see, strippers from the Kitty Kat bar unsheathe their weapons and do battle with orcs. We know these women are brilliant fighters because while the orcs are all compactly and heavily armored, our gals feel confident wearing flowing, flimsy robes which conveniently ventilate in the ass and breast regions. They are so good, in fact, that they don’t even bother looking at the enemy which they are slaughtering in its vile dozens; instead, their gaze is affixed upon you, as if to say, yes, it’s vitally important that we skewer these vile creatures in order to acquire the Orb of Thangulzon, thereby allowing the anointed King of The Many Globes to return to Gingdor Castle and once again rule all breeds justly and fairly. But what we really want to do is service each other while you watch and then jump your scrawny, pale 14-year-old bones. After all, that is the dream of all strippers-turned-fantasy heroines. They’re just pneumatic with desire.

This is not be read as a slam on Luis Royo, the artist who provided this bit of nonsense to the SFBC. Royo is a fine artist, if you go for this sort of thing; in the genre of “improbably clad people with weaponry,” he’s on the tier just below Boris Vallejo. The fact SFBC, in its infinite wisdom, determined that this graphic would be just the thing to suck in new members indicates that someone somewhere thinks this sort of thing is popular, which means that it probably is. I know enough to know that when I was 14, I would have sensed this picture’s ridiculousness, yet at the same time I’d still want to have sex with the brunette one, so there you have it.

Be that as it may, I wouldn’t want this, or something thematically like it to grace the cover of one of my books. Neither I nor writers other than the most very successful have control of these sorts of things. We can make suggestions but the publishers sign off on the artwork, and you have to trust them, because it’s their job to know how to sell these books. But in my dream world, my cover artwork is clean, visually arresting, contextually appropriate, and devoid of random boobies and ass shots. SF/Fantasy is full of fanservice shots; let the geeks go elsewhere for that. Give me something I’m not going to be embarrassed to show to my mother-in-law.

That still leaves a lot of latitude — my mother-in-law is not a prude or anything. But it does leave out strippers with swords. I’m good with that.

Radio Appearance

Wanna hear me blather? I’ll be on Canadian radio Monday, July 14 at 1:00 pm Mountain (that’s 3pm Eastern, Noon Pacific) on CHQR, a talk radio station in Calgary — at least, that’s where I think I’ll be chatting; I’m still awaiting the final details. I’ll be presumably talking about The Book of the Dumb, which is mildly odd since it’s not even come out yet. But hey, who am I to turn down publicity?

You don’t need to be in Calgary to hear me blather — the station has an Internet feed as well. Here’s another link to their home page, just in case you missed the first one.

I don’t know if it’ll just be me and the show host, or if they’re taking listener questions or what. All I know is I’m supposed to be on. Drop in by, it’ll be fun.

Zukezilla

Okay, kids, quiz time. What is the thing in Krissy’s hand? No, not the bowl. The thing in the other hand:

a) The egg of a still-extant, newly discovered dinosaur species discovered in the creek behind my house, henceforth known as the Scalzisaurus Rex;

b) A seedpod of the Body Snatchers we’ve been growing in the garden;

c) The biggest damn zucchini you ever did see.

The answer is c), although who could blame you if you picked one of the other two? That’s just a big-ass zuke. Krissy’s father, who hauled it up, said that he’s seen ones that are longer, but this one’s a record breaker in terms of monstrous girth. And look at it in scale with Athena; it’s like a big green ovoid vegetable younger sibling. Incidentally, no, it’s not emanating a radioactive and/or mystical glow; I just put in a surrounding Photoshop halo in order to make sure it didn’t blend in to the miniature cherry tree behind it.

This is just a representative sample of what we’ve got going down in the garden this year. All that extra rain may have caused massive flooding and property damage all around us, but on the flip side, it seems to have enriched our soil as if the sky were weeping vitamin-packed raindrops or something. Everything else in the garden is also growing just swimmingly (no pun intended) although not to the same gargantuan size of Zukezilla here.

Are we having Megazuke embalmed or encased in bronze? Don’t be silly. It’s just a vegetable. We split it with Krissy’s parents; they’re going to make legions of zucchini pancakes while Krissy is going to make a bakery’s worth of zucchini bread. And I’m going to eat it all! You see how the balance of work is played out here.

The Scalzi River is Back

We’ve been having a mess of rain here the last few days — two massive thunderstorms in the last four hours alone, including one that knocked off the power for a few minutes — and the oversaturation of the ground means that the Scalzi River has made a return appearance. The Scalzi River shows up when the creek that runs parallel to my property line overflows and skips off its track. When that happens the excess water curls around my property and heads toward the larger Harris Creek across the road by way of a drainage ditch at the front of my property. The picture above is the Scalzi River at its headwaters: This area is normally dry. You’ll note that Krissy’s garden is in danger of getting swamped. Below is a shot of the river as it heads toward the edge of the property, the better to swamp my neighbors’ access road:

The good news is that barring any additional rain, the Scalzi river will drain itself out in the space of a few hours. The bad news is that more rain is coming. It’s going to be a very long, squishy week.

Random Thoughts

As part of my jumble-minded, occasionally-updating self, here are a few random thoughts, notes and comments for you.

* Part of the reason I’m planning to slack off here is that I’m putting th gas down on the book projects, particularly Book of the Dumb, for which I have the goal of basically doubling my daily output. The reason for this? None, except I like the idea of not panicking at deadline time (also, at the time of the deadline, I’ll be in Toronto on vacation, and I’d actually like to enjoy my vacation). So far, so good. Fortunately, the world is helping by continuing to be a place where stupidity runs rampant in the streets. I can’t tell you how useful this is.

* One of the great pleasures of writing a novel (for me, anyway), is watching how the details of a story change from what you originally imagined them to be, partly out of the need to make the world more interesting to the reader.

For example: In the novel I’m writing, I planned to have my main character meet up with a secondary character, who provides him with an important piece of information. This same character would later have an incident that involved his cat, or more accurately, a cat left with him by an ex-girlfriend. But as I’m writing about my main character traveling to meet this other character, I have to flesh out details about the neighborhood in which this other character lives. I decide to make it exceptionally dog friendly.

Poof, out goes the cat and in comes a dog — an Akita, specifically, because I’m fond of the breed. This in itself leads to a cascade of subtle changes to the texture of the novel, and opens up some opportunities in other places that I simply wasn’t expecting.

This is neat stuff for me; I’m like any reader in that I like to be surprised by what I read, even if I’m also writing it at the same time. A lot of the pleasure I get out of watching the book twist and turn of its volition is something that’s denied to you as a reader, of course. But I think you (should you read the book) will get the pleasure of a book that’s fun to read because it’s been fun to write. That’s the plan, anyway.

* Tangential to writing and thinking, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, quotes his wife and fellow editor/thinker/swell human Teresa on the subject of the state of humanity. Teresa writes:

“My own personal theory is that this is the very dawn of the world. Were hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy, and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times.”

This is a pretty resonant idea to me, and it certainly makes me feel better when I think about how simian I think some people are in their mental processes. My only regret is that I won’t live to see modern times, which is something I’m keen to experience. I don’t write science fiction just because it allows me to make stuff up in my head instead of having to research — I also write it because I want to see what the next couple of thousand years will be like.

I also like the idea I’m an atavistic throwback. Makes me feel better about my numerous personal flaws.

* July 4: It was wet. As was July 5, July 6 and, if the weatherman is correct, so will be Julys 7-11 inclusive. The weekend was actually marked by massive thunderstorms and high winds, so nature provided fireworks to compensate for the ones that didn’t go off. Which was awfully nice of nature, I suppose.

I read somewhere that 92% of Americans consider themselves “patriotic,” but that what “patriotic” means varies wildly from person to person. I don’t know about that. The definition of “patriotic” is typically the same, i.e., “However I think people should think about America.” This is why nine out of ten people can think they’re patriotic, but also probably think that patriotic people are in minority. And I suppose that’s true enough anyway. I do happen to think I’m pretty patriotic, or at the very least I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but here. But I don’t think a lot of people who think themselves “patriotic” would think I’m as patriotic as they are.

* I flummoxed an evangelist at the door yesterday, which I found pretty amusing. This nice older lady rang the doorbell, complimented me on my daylilies (which I thought were daffodils, but which are apparently not), and identified herself and her sect. “We believe in fellowship with people of all faiths, and no doubt you have your own religion,” she said.

“Actually, I don’t,” I said. “I’m agnostic.”

“Oh,” she said, and then seemed slightly dazed. I had clearly knocked her off her prepared spiel, which was predicated on me agreeing with and identifying my own religious impulse; even atheists have a religious impulse, it’s just a negative one. With an agnostic, you get no traction. Sensing we had come to an impasse, I politely excused myself and went back into the house.

This is of course an embodiment of rural America, which is that everyone out in these here parts has faith of some sort or another. I don’t know how true it is, since most of my immediate neighbors seem to sleep in on Sunday instead of hauling themselves into church, but it’s persistent. This may make me the official town heathen. I can live with that.

On Second Thought

Remember what I said about taking August off? Scratch that. I’m actually going to take July off.

Well, maybe not the entire month. But probably a lot of it — there may be several days between updates. There’s just stuff I need to be doing.

So there you have it. From now through August 1, checking in daily will probably not be necessary; a couple times a week should do you just fine.

Have fun with July. Try not to blow yourselves up on Friday, okay?

Buy Pamie’s Book

Pamie doesn’t need my help, but I’m going to help anyway: You should go buy her book Why Girls Are Weird, the cover of which I will now show you:

Today is its first official day of release. You should get it because it’s funny, because it’s well-written, because it’s full of that whole 21st Century 20-something frisson you dig so much, and because Pamie puts me in the acknowledgments by saying “John Scalzi, it’s your turn.” This sounds like I’m next in line for assassination or something along that line, but it’s more of a “get your novel published and join the club” sort of thing. Which is really sweet and, as it happens, largely temporally correct, since my novel’s coming out next year.

Unless Pamie does mean to assassinate me. She always did have that covert look about her.

A Heads Up

Okay, kids, I’m telling you this now so you can’t say I didn’t give you advance warning: It’s probably very likely that during the month of August I’m going to take a break from the Whatever. I mentioned about a month ago that I might do something like this if I started feeling pressed for time with my book projects. As it happens, both projects are coming along nicely — which is to say both the novel and Book of the Dumb are about where I need them to be in terms of output — but I have a couple of other things I’m likely to want to do during that month, which may actually involve getting paid(!) and the time’s got to come out of something for which I’m currently not getting paid, which means, you know, this (I would stop writing IndieCrit, but I already did that last month, and taking another month off would definitely halt the flow of free CDs I so very crave).

Now, it may be possible that I won’t take off August, depending how efficiently I manage my time here in July. But right now I’m forecasting a 75% probability. But I can promise you this: If I do take the time off, It’ll be for a very good reason, and I’ll share the results with you as soon as I can. So everybody wins.

Anyway. You have 31 days to steel yourselves. Make your preparations now.

Technical Post

I’m trying out the Firebird browser from Mozilla, and let me just say: Wheee! I particularly like the tab option that lets you open up all the bookmarks in a folder simultaneously. It makes for much more efficient blog and online journal reading.

I hear good things about the Safari browser too, but I don’t have a Mac, so I can’t say for sure. No offense to Mac people, but I’m not going to get a Mac just to try the browser. The iTunes store is tempting, though.

Pretty Picture Overload

Today I will (in no particular order) take Athena to preschool, have a conference call, write up a fact sheet and presentation on an actually pretty interesting bond fund, bang out material for The Book of the Dumb, do invoices, sand down some details in Android’s Dream and kiss my wife. Also, today is the last day of the month and I have bandwidth to burn! So for you today, I give pretty pictures of some of the things that are growing around our house: rose bushes, daffodils, wildflowers, crab apples and, for my ex-girlfriend, our cat Ghlaghghee. With the exception of the last of these, I am not responsible for the care and tending of any of the above; if you admire any of them you can thank my wife.

So here you are. I may be back later in the day, but then again (all things considered) I may not. I’m busy, and busy is good.

Making Bets

So, how long until gay marriage in the US? A year ago, I wouldn’t have even tried to give you an estimate. But today, with a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling kicking the government out of bedrooms and our neighbors to the north letting boys marry boys and girls marry girls, I’m feeling saucy. So I say: Within ten years, at least one US state will allow gay marriage; probably one of those commie states up there in the northeast. And then the fun really begins, because all the other states in the union, including the 30-some-odd who have passed “defense of marriage” laws, will be up against it. I should also note that I think the “ten years” date is too conservative, and that I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it happens sooner — much sooner.

Also, I don’t think those “defense of marriage” laws would last terribly long after the first US gay marriage, and the reason for this is is simple: Money, baby. Let’s say that Massachusetts becomes the first state in the US to allow gay people to marry. Every gay person who wants to get hitched starts planning his or her wedding — in Massachusetts. Well, what a huge financial windfall for the state: All those weddings need wedding locations, hotels, catering, DJs, tuxes and/or dresses, blah blah blah, so on and so forth. Massachusetts wedding-related businesses will be so busy they won’t know what to do with themselves.

Meanwhile, wedding-related businesses in, say, Ohio, will be looking at all this potential wedding money going out of state and will say to their lobbyists (whom I assume would be the various chambers of commerce): Hey, that’s our income going to Massachusetts. Fix that. NOW. Hard-liners might not like gay marriage, but they do like free enterprise, and what these “defense of marriage” laws would constitute at that point is restraint of trade.

At this point, the big news won’t be the first gay marriage in America; I can’t imagine that some Americans haven’t already gotten married in Canada by now, since it has no residency requirement. No, the big deal will be the first gay divorce: It’ll be vibrant proof that gays and lesbians are just like the rest of us, and sometimes their marriages will go ker-pop. It will be reassuring to the straights, who already suspect that gays and lesbians have more fun in their relationships, just because they’re gays and lesbians, and it’ll be a nice cautionary tale for gays and lesbians, to keep them from getting hitched just because now they can. After the first few gay divorces, everyone will just settle down. And won’t that be nice.

Anyway: Ten years. Starting… now.

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