Posted by John Scalzi

As part of my continuing effort to justify the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription I have, I’ve been playing with my Audition audio software and learning how to use it. Today I learned how to make a multitrack file! Go me. I also played with the various filters in the software to distort and shape sounds.

All of which is to say I recorded a song today and it is very very noisy indeed. It’s “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which is my favorite song from the Eurythmics. Here it is (and no, it’s not actually nine minutes long, I don’t know why the media player says that. It’s, like, five):

Yes, that’s me singing. No, Annie Lennox doesn’t have a thing to worry about.

In case you’re curious, every noise on that track either comes out of me, or out of an acoustic tenor guitar. Audio filters are fun! Let’s just say I let my Thurston out to play, and if you get that reference, congratulations, you’re old too.

No, I’m not giving up my day job. Relax. But I do enjoy playing with sounds. This is fun for me.

In any event: Enjoy the noise.


Blacklight Sunset

Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:44 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

Because sometimes it’s fun to play with Photoshop’s sliders and see what you come up with. This is what happens (in part) when you push the “dehaze” slider all the way to the right. The real sunset didn’t look like this (it looked like this), but I think it might be cool to live on a planet where the sunset did look like that, every once in a while.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.


New Books and ARCs, 7/21/17

Jul. 21st, 2017 08:53 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

As we ease on into another summer weekend, here are the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What do you like here? Share your feelings in the comments!


Posted by John Scalzi

Here’s Sugar curling up with a good book, in this case the ARC of Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my upcoming collection of essays about writing and the writing life, which comes out in December from Subterranean Press. And you can win it! Here’s how:

Tell me in the comments which Beatles song I am thinking of right now.

That’s it!

The person who correctly guesses which Beatles song I am thinking of wins. In the case where more than one person correctly guesses, I will number the correct guesses in order of appearance and then use a random number generator to select the winner among them.

“Beatles song” in this case means a song recorded by the Beatles, and includes both original songs by the band, and the cover songs they recorded. Solo work does not count. Here’s a list of songs recorded by the Beatles, if you need it. The song I’m thinking of is on it.

Guess only one song. Posts with more than one guess will have only the first song considered. Posts not related to guessing a song will be deleted. Also, only one post per person — additional posts will be deleted.

This contest is open to everyone everywhere in the world, and runs until the comments here automatically shut off (which will be around 3:50pm Eastern time, Sunday, July 23rd). When you post a comment, leave a legit email address in the “email” field so I can contact you. I’ll also announce the winner here on Monday, July 24. I’ll mail the ARC to you, signed (and personalized, if so requested).

Kitten not included.

Also remember you can pre-order the hardcover edition of Obit from Subterranean Press. This is a signed, limited edition — there are only 1,000 being made — and they’ve already had a healthy number of pre-orders. So don’t wait if you want one.

Now: Guess which Beatles song I am thinking of! And good luck!


New Phone, 2 Weeks On

Jul. 21st, 2017 02:21 pm
Liking the new phone!

Good Stuff:
- Having a reliable GPS when playing Pokemon Go is a revelation! No more auto-wandering of the neighborhood while at home with my wifi off, though, shucks.
- I like some of the new little features in Nougat, including split-screen dual app use, and native call blocking (had it in my LG phone on Lollipop, didn't realize it wasn't a stock Android feature).
- The extra horsepower is a boon to Pokemon Go, along with everything else.
- The rounded edges and lack of magnetic charge port make it more comfortable to hold and easier to slip in/out of my pocket.
- I like not having glass on the back as well as the front (and it consequently doesn't try to slither off horizontal surfaces, either).
- I LOVE my new LoveHandle, which is firmly stuck to the back of my phone and lets me loop a finger through an elastic strap and keep the phone attached to my hand while I'm fumbling other stuff or just walking about and randomly klutzing. Should have gotten that years ago, though it wouldn't have helped in the ultimate demise of the previous phone (fell on it while it was in my pocket), and wouldn't have stuck to that glass back anyway. I still don't have a case, but I think the LoveHandle will preclude the need for one and I don't especially want one.
- Getting a new device inspired me to reevaluate and revamp my home screens' layouts for the better.
- I haven't yet had opportunity to take advantage of the additional LTE band (maybe this weekend?), but I'm sure that'll be primo.
- The built-in calculator knows order of operations now! But I still don't use it because I prefer/need a scientific calculator (I use the one in Android Army Knife, or a Graphing Calculator Pro app if I want something even more robust). EDIT: Oh hey, stock now has a little slide-out panel with some extra operations on it! Still pretty minimal, though.

The Less Good Stuff:
- The USB-C port means I'm having to get new adapters and cables, and those have some other minor issues, but it'll be fine.
- The wifi doesn't seem as capable all over my office buliding, but there could be a local router not working right.
- The lowest screen brightness is an irritating amount higher than the old phone, particularly in a dark room. (I'm also trying out the adaptive brightness again, but it's not reactive enough - too dim in bright sun, too bright in dim rooms.)
- The new version of the preloaded AccuWeather app sucks - it doesn't include the (omnipresent in Houston) heat index (except randomly sometimes), no longer shows me the expected weather for the current day/night in its widget view, and its background pictures aren't even useful for that either.
- They took away the jump-to-letter navigation in Contacts (though scrolling is better now) and the long-press save phone number option in Phone, both of which I used a lot.
- All the icons are a little bit smaller than they used to be. Somehow restoring my old profile made the folders go to a square shape instead of the default round shape, at least. No idea how to deliberately change that if I want to, but I'm sure the internet knows.

Agent to the Stars, 20 Years On

Jul. 21st, 2017 06:10 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

So, on July 21, 1997, which was a Monday, I posted the following on the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup:

Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.

96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.

Learned two things:

a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;

b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.

I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.

Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

That novel? Agent to the Stars. Which means that today is the 20th anniversary of me being a novelist. Being a published novelist would have to wait — I date that to January 1, 2005, the official publication date of Old Man’s War — but in terms of having written a full, complete (and as it eventually turned out, publishable) novel: Today’s the day.

I’ve recounted the story of Agent before but it’s fun to tell, because I think it’s a nice antidote to the “I just had to share the story I’d been dreaming of my whole life” angle first novels often take. The gist of the story was that my 10-year high school reunion was on the horizon, and having been “the writer dude” in my class, I knew I would be asked if I had ever gotten around to writing a novel, and I wanted to be able to say “yes.” Also, I was then in my late 20s and it was time to find out whether I could actually write one or not.

Having decided I was going to write one, I decided to make it easy for myself, mostly by not trying to do all things at once. The goal was simply: Write a novel-length story. The story itself was going to be pretty simple and not personally consequential; it wasn’t going to be a thinly-disguised roman a clef, or something with a serious and/or personal theme. It would involve Hollywood in some way, because I had spent years as a film critic and knew that world well enough to write about it. And as for genre, I was most familiar with mystery/crime fiction and science fiction/fantasy, so I flipped a coin to decide which to do. It come up heads, so science fiction it was, and the story I had for that was: Aliens come and decide to get Hollywood representation.

(I don’t remember the story I was thinking for the mystery version. I’m sure death was involved. And for those about to say “well, you didn’t have to stick with science fiction for your second book,” that’s technically correct, but once I’d written one science fiction novel, I knew I could write science fiction. It was easier to stick with what I knew. And anyway I write murder mysteries now — Lock In and the upcoming Head On. They also happen to be science fiction.)

I remember the writing of Agent being pretty easy, in no small part, I’m sure, because of everything noted above — it wasn’t meant to be weighty or serious or even good, merely novel-length. When I finished it, I do remember thinking something along the lines of “Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I should have done this earlier.” In the fullness of time, I’ve realized that I probably couldn’t have done it any earlier, I wasn’t focused enough and it helped me to have some sort of external motivation, in this case, my high school reunion.

Once finished, I asked two friends and co-workers at America Online to read the book: Regan Avery and Stephen Bennett, both of whom I knew loved science fiction, and both of whom I knew I could trust to tell me if what I’d written was crap. They both gave it a thumbs up. Then I showed it to Krissy, my wife, who was apprehensive about reading it, since if she hated it she would have to tell me, and would still have to be married to me afterward. When she finished it, the first thing she said to me about it was “Thank Christ it’s good.” Domestic felicity lived for another day.

And then, having written it… I did nothing with it for two years. Because, again, it wasn’t written for any other reason than to see if I could write a novel. It was practice. People other than Regan and Stephen and Krissy finally saw it in 1999 when I decided that the then brand-new Scalzi.com site could use some content, so I put it up here as a “shareware” novel, meaning that if people liked it they could send me a dollar for it through the mail. And people did! Which was nice.

It was finally physically published in 2005, when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press published a limited hardcover edition. I was jazzed about that, since I wanted a version of the book I could put on my shelf. The cover was done by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik, who among other things knew of the book because I was one of Penny Arcade’s very first advertisers way back in the day, advertising the Web version of the book (those guys have done okay since then). Then came the Tor paperback edition, and the various foreign editions, and the audiobook, and here we are today.

When I wrote the novel, of course, I had no idea that writing it was the first step toward where I am now. I was working at America Online — and enjoying it! It was a cool place to be in the 90s! — and to the extent I thought I would be writing novels at all, I thought that they would be sideline to my overall writing career, rather than (as it turned out) the main thrust of it. This should be your first indication that science fiction writers in fact cannot predict the future with any accuracy.

I’m very fond of Agent, and think it reads pretty well. I’m also aware that it’s first effort, and also because it was written to be in present time in the 90s, just about out of time in terms of feeling at all contemporary (there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remaining, to pick just one obvious example in the book). At this point I suggest people consider it as part of an alternate history which branched off from our timeline in 1998 or thereabouts. Occasionally it gets talked about for being picked for TV/film. If that ever happens, expect some extensive plot revisions. Otherwise, it is what it is.

One thing I do like about Agent is that I still have people tell me that it’s their favorite of mine. I like that because I think it’s nice to know that even this very early effort, done simply for the purpose of finding out if I could write a novel, does what I think a novel should: Entertains people and makes them glad they spent their time with it.

I’m also happy it’s the novel that told me I could do this thing, this novel-writing thing, and that I listened to it. The last couple of decades have turned out pretty well for me. I’m excited to see where things go from here.


(no subject)

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:14 pm
This is my family-free evening (little one's at her grandparents', Josh is at tai chi), so I ran personal errands.

- I signed up for a hula class at the NASA rec center for late Sept to late Oct; I've been wanting to learn hula for years, so am very excited.
- I discovered that a delightful local pizza by the slice place closed, which was disappointing because I really wanted a slice of their mac & cheese pizza for dinner. Instead I tried the 3rd of 3 new Subway-style pizza joints in the area. It was definitely the least interesting of the 3, so...the most like Subway, I guess. ;)
- Picked up some icing tips and gel colors for the Bulbasaur cake. Decided I'm going to try the frozen buttercream transfer; I'll have to practice next weekend. Whle also quilting. Or something.
- Went to Jo-Ann and got more materials and tools for my quilt. I found a fun mottled navy fabric with constellations printed all over for the backer, and a light blue with little white stars for the framing and binding. I liked another fabric print better, but it wasn't so thematically appropriate and the color didn't coordinate quite as well. I think I'm going to quilt with a dark teal color that coordinates well but stands out a little, after doing all the piecing with a purple that blends well with all the fabrics. They only had one spool of that color, though, so I might have to find more later. I did find a square ruler in the right size to help me easily trim down my wonky star blocks to a uniform size, yay, though pricey! I found a 1/4" presser foot for my machine to help me make my seams that little bit narrower they should have been, but then they wouldn't sell me the foot because it was from a sewing machine store within Jo-Ann or something, and the sub-store was closed? Super lame - don't display it if you won't sell it to me. Amazon will take my money at any hour, I'm quite sure.

making space to be creative

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:32 pm

Posted by Wil

One week and about ten hours ago, I decided to step away from Twitter for a little bit. The specific details aren’t important, and I suspect that many of you reading this now are already nodding in agreement because you grok why. But I took it off my phone, and I haven’t been to the website on my desktop since. For the first 48 hours, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making a choice that mattered, and thinking about how I wasn’t habitually looking at Twitter every few minutes to see if I’d missed anything funny, or to see the latest bullshit spewing forth from President Fuckface’s mouthanus. I was, ironically, spending more time thinking about Twitter since I wasn’t using it than I spent thinking about it when I was.

It started out as a 24 hour break, then it was a 48 hour break, then it was the weekend, and here we are one week later and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. I feel like I’ve given myself more time to be quiet and alone, more time to reflect on things, and I’ve created space in my life to let my mind wander and get creative.

I’m not creating as much as I want to, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll never be able to create as much as I want to, but I’ve gotten some stuff done this week that probably wouldn’t have gotten done if Twitter had been filling up the space that I needed.

Here’s a little bit from my blog post that became a short story that grew into a novella that is now a novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything:

My mother was leaning against her car, talking with one of the other moms, when we arrived. My sister was throwing a Strawberry Shortcake doll into the air and catching it while they watched. I walked out of the bus and across the blazing hot blacktop to meet her.

Willow, catch!” My sister cried, sending Strawberry Shortcake in a low arc toward me. I caught her without enthusiasm and handed her back. “You’re supposed to throw her to me!” Amanda said, demonstrating. Her doll floated in a lazy circle, arms and legs pinwheeling, before falling back down into my sister’s waiting arms. The writer in me wants to make a clever reference to how I was feeling at that moment, about how I could relate to Strawberry Fucking Shortcake, spinning out of control in the air above us, but it feels hacky, so I’ll just talk about how I wanted to make the reference without actually making the reference, thereby giving myself permission to do a hacky writer’s trick without actually doing it. See, there’s nothing tricky about writing, it’s just a little trick!

It’s still in the first draft, and I may not keep all or even any of it, but after putting it aside for months while I was depressed about too many things to look at it, it feels so good to be back into this story.

Oh, speaking of writing, I got notes back from the editors on my Star Wars 40th anthology submission. I thought that, for sure, they’d want me to rework a ton of it, but all they asked me to do is change a name! And they told me it was beautiful! So I’ve been feeling like a Capital-W Writer for a few days.

And speaking of feeling happy for a change, Hasbro and Machinima announced that I’m a voice in the next installment of the Transformers animated series, Titans Return. And it feels silly to care about this particular thing, but Daily Variety put my name in the headline, which made me feel really, really good.I’ve always felt like the only thing that should matter is the work, and that the work should be able to stand on its own … but that’s not the reality even a little bit. Daily Variety is the industry’s paper of record, so when it chooses to put you in the headline of a story, people pay attention and it matters in the way that can make the difference between getting called for a meeting, or the last ten years of my life as an actor.

It’s also a good reminder that, even if I’m not getting the opportunities I want to be an on-camera actor, it is entirely within my power to create the space I need to be a writer.

 

I feel like expectations of parents are becoming increasingly insane. I just read an article about 2 toddlers driving their Mom's car in an effort to get to their grandfather's house down the road. Supposedly the kids found the keys under the floor mat; I wouldn't personally put them there, but I also live in a large metropolis. Regardless of that, though, the kicker for me was that "the sheriff's office is working with the county prosecutor and Child Protective Services to determine if the mother should be charged with any crime."

It seems like it's getting to the point that one can't even let your kids play in the yard while you're inside doing some work or having a moment of peace or going to the bathroom, much less let them walk down the street to a friend's house, without being at risk of child endangerment or abandonment charges. When I was 5 I would walk alone the half mile to my friend's house (tiny town) to play with her. Mom knew where I was going and would have heard from the friend's mom if I didn't show up. Third (or 4th?) graders and up at Lillian's school are allowed to walk themselves to school, but if it's raining, parents are required to go pick them up. For _rain_. And even if you choose not to drive the average half mile between neighborhood homes and the school to pick them up on those rainy days, you still have to bring your car pickup pass as if you were driving. *eye roll* I was left alone sleeping in the car while Mom ran in to buy something (but with windows down, and it wasn't a billionty degrees), but that's a no-no now too. Bah. I have more feelings on this, but they're not yet coherent. It all just amps up the parenting anxiety.

Space Station Virtual Tour

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:24 am
Holy crap, this is SO COOL. Google did a Street View of the International Space Station. Check it out here: https://www.google.com/streetview/#international-space-station/cupola-observational-module

You can drag your mouse around to look around (and remember, there's stuff on the "ceilings" and "floors" too, because there's no true up and down in space!), and if you click on the little up-arrow at the bottom, you can move to different modules. In the Lab module, look for a fat orange hose along one corner (standoff), then look for a funny-shaped aluminum box sticking out over it (just left and down of where the view starts), and that's my payload (and the stuff it's attached to above and behind it)!

You can also look at this in Google Maps format: https://www.google.com/maps/@29.5602853,-95.0853914,3a,75y,214.46h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1szChzPIAn4RIAAAQvxgbyEg!3e5!7i10000!8i5000 and the resolution seems a bit better. However, I had trouble getting it to move between modules.

The Big Idea: Nat Segaloff

Jul. 20th, 2017 01:34 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him.

NAT SEGALOFF:

How do you write something new about someone everybody thinks they already know? A writer who is famous for putting so much of his life into his stories that his fans feel that even his most bizarre work is autobiographical? That was the unspoken challenge in late 2013 when I agreed to write Harlan Ellison’s biography, an adventure that is just now seeing daylight with the publican of A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison.

I wrote the book because Harlan wouldn’t. He came close in 2008 when he announced he would write Working Without a Net for “a major publisher,” but he never did. Maybe he figured he’d said enough in his 1700 short stories, essays, and articles he’s published over the last 60 years. It wasn’t as if he was afraid of the truth; he always said he never lies about himself because that way nobody can hold anything against him. That was my challenge.

When we shook hands and I became his biographer, I also became the only person he ever gave permission to quote from his work and take a tour of his life. What I really wanted to do, though, was to explore his mind. What I didn’t expect was that, as I examined his creative process, I would also bare my own.

When you sit down with someone for a conversation, it’s fun; when you sit down with someone for an interview, it’s serious. Harlan has been interviewed countless times and he has always been in control. This time, I was. I had to get him to say stuff that was new, and I had to go beyond where others had stopped.

A Harlan Ellison interview is a performance. He will be quotable, precise, vague, and outrageous. He takes no prisoners. He will run and fetch a comic book, figurine, photograph, or book to illustrate a point, all of which breaks the mood. My job was to get him to sit still and not be “Harlan Ellison” but simply Harlan.

Harlan is one of the few speculative fiction writers (along with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and a handful of others) who became public figures. Part of this stemmed from the quality of his work but much of it was created by his being, as I kept finding in the clippings, ““fractious,” “famously litigious,” and “argumentative.” Indeed, most of the stories I found during my research could be divided into two categories: “What a wild man Harlan is” and “I alone escaped to tell thee.”

Balderdash. What I discovered was a man who takes his craft seriously and fiercely defends others who labor in the field of words. An attack on them was an attack on him, and an attack on him was not to be deflected but returned in kind. “I don’t mind if you think I’m stupid,” he told one antagonist, “it’s just that I resent it when you talk to me as if I’m stupid.”

Even though I had final cut, I ran whole sections past him to get his reaction. He never flinched. In fact, he challenged me to go deeper. It was almost as if – and don’t take this the wrong way – I was Clarice Starling and he was Hannibal Lecter — the more I asked of Harlan, the more I had to give of myself. Both of us put our blood in the book even though I am the author.

—-

A Lit Fuse: Amazon|NESFA Press

 


Insectile Invaders

Jul. 19th, 2017 06:21 pm
Oh hey! I think I finally I identified our blue-black waspy friends, who are particularly abundant inside the house this year. They're blue mud wasps, or blue mud daubers. Not aggressive, which we inferred (particularly when one tried to fly into my ear the other day, then down my shirt in its disorientation and I was none the worse for the experience), and they eat black widow spiders (YAY).

http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?search=Chalybion+californicum
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_mud_dauber

Getting Lucky With College Costs

Jul. 19th, 2017 07:02 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

The bill for Athena’s fall semester at Miami University arrived a couple of days ago, and we paid it, and I have some various thoughts about that I want to share.

When I went to college, 30 years ago now, I couldn’t pay for it. I did what the majority of people did then and do now — I cobbled together various sorts of funding from multiple sources. A scholarship here, a Pell grant there, a work study job and loans — and still it wasn’t quite enough when one of my funding sources fumbled the ball pretty badly and I had to ask my grandfather for help (which to be clear, he was happy to provide, with the only provision being that I would write him a letter a month, a request very much in my wheelhouse). I graduated with a fair amount of student debt, rather more than the average amount back in 1991, which was around $8,200. I think I was around 30 when we paid it off.

I don’t regret my college debt — I’m of the opinion that my education was worth what I paid for it and then some — but at the time I didn’t really like having the anxiety of wondering how it was all going to be paid for, and my education being contingent on outside financial forces, over which I had no control. I was lucky I was able to find ways to cover it all. I was also lucky that I got a good job right out of college (in 1991, during a recession), and was always financially solvent afterward. That college debt never became a drag or a worry, as it easily could have been, and which it did become for a number of my friends.

I don’t think scrambling for money or paying down college debt added anything beneficial to my life, however. As much as certain people might make a fetish of having to struggle in one way or another for one’s education, and that struggle having a value in itself, I’m not especially convinced that the current American manner of “struggle” — pricing college education at excessive rates and then requiring students and family to take on significant amounts of debt, effectively transferring decades of capital from the poor, working and middle classes to banks and their (generally wealthy) shareholders — is really such a great way to do that, especially since wages in general have stagnated over the last 40 years, the same period of time in which college tuition costs have skyrocketed, consistently above the rate of inflation. Worrying about college funding and paying off college debt isn’t character-building in any real sense. It’s opportunity cost, time wasted that might be productively spent doing something else educationally or financially beneficial.

So: I don’t regret my college debt, but I don’t think it was something that added value, either, to my education or my life. All things being equal, I suspect I would have been better off not having to worry whether I had enough funding for college any particular quarter, or being able to take the monthly post-collegiate debt payment and use it for something else, including investment. Not just me, of course; I don’t think anyone, students or parents (or colleges, for that matter), benefits from the current patchwork method of college funding, or the decade-long (or longer) hangover of college debt service.

We always assumed Athena would go to college; very early on we began saving and investing with the specific goal of funding her education. Along the way we caught the break of my writing career taking off, which meant the account intended for her education plumped out substantially. By the time it was the moment for Athena to decide where to go to college, we were in the fortunate position of being able to pay for it — all of it — wherever it was she decided to go. So, to go back to the initial paragraph, when that first Miami University bill came up, we were able to cut that check and send it off. No muss, no fuss. We’ll be able to do the same for the other college bills over the next four years.

Which is great for us! And not bad for Athena, who will end her college experience debt-free in a world where the average US student with college debt in 2016 was in the hole for $37,000, with that number only likely to go up from here. But let’s also look at everything that had to happen in order for us to get to that point: We saved early, which was smart of us, but we also had the wherewithal to save, which meant we got lucky that Krissy and I both had work, that in her case her gig included health insurance for all of us and that in my case I was in constant demand as a freelance writer, which, I assure you, is not always the case. We got lucky that the books took off as they did; the odds on that were not great. We were lucky that no one of us got seriously or chronically ill, or that other family crises depleted savings. Athena is an only child; that’s not necessarily lucky, but it definitely was a factor when it came to paying for college. We only have to do this once.

All of which is to say that Athena will be getting out of college debt-free partly because we planned early but mostly because of factors that we had only some control over, and over which she had almost none. She didn’t choose her parents or her circumstances; she got what she got. And in this case, she got lucky.

That’s fine for her. But it’s not a very useful strategy for paying for college. “Get lucky picking your parents” should not be the determining factor for whether you leave college debt-free, leave with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or can’t afford to go to college at all. Every single one of those circumstances can have a substantial effect on how the rest of one’s economic life will go — and how the economic life of how one’s children will go. There’s a reason why in the United States, home of the “American Dream,” it’s actually pretty difficult to move up the social ladder. Yes, I did it, but I also don’t pretend I didn’t get lucky — a lot — or that my path is easily repeatable. Take it from someone who is living the American Dream: It stays only a dream for most of those dreaming of it.

I’m proud that we can pay for our daughter’s college education. I’m also well aware how many things had to break our way to be at this point, which just as easily could have gone another way. It would be better to live in a world where luck, one way or another, is not a salient, determinative factor for whether one can afford college, or whether one can graduate from college without debt. In fact, that world does exist; just not here in the US. College tuition in most developed countries is substantially less than it is here, including being basically free in places like Germany and France. We could do that here, for state schools at least, if we decided we wanted to.

But we don’t. I know we have our reasons. I just don’t think those reasons are very good.


The Big Idea: Cassandra Khaw

Jul. 19th, 2017 12:37 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

Identity issues can sometimes be a bear, as the protagonist of Bearly a Lady finds out — in no small part because author Cassandra Khaw experienced something similar in her real life.

CASSANDRA KHAW:

The first time I came out as bisexual to a partner, it was a mess. What was a passably tolerable relationship became a wasteland of conspiratorial winks, elbow nudges, and endless attempts to convince me to have a threesome with someone, anyone, just pick an attractive person of the same gender.

Thing is, I don’t blame him.

Bisexual representation in media is a fraught topic. More often than not, bisexual people are characterized as wild, promiscuous individuals with thrilling sex lives, perpetually ready to jump into bed with whomever they find attractive. (Not necessarily untrue or even wrong, but that’s a conversation for another space.) Consequently, we end up with people like my ex, who begin quivering with lascivious curiosity the moment they so much as hear the hum of that first syllable.

But we are getting better at it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has one of my favorite bisexual characters of all times: Darryl Whitefeather, a middle-aged divorcee who comes out mid-season and proceeds to have a stunningly healthy relationship with his new boyfriend. (That show has its problems, but I will forever love the writers for making sure the queer couple is the happy one.) And genre writing is even further ahead in that department. Take Kai Ashante Wilson’s work, for example, which remarks on polyamorous queer relationships without even the barest breath of hesitation. After all, in a world of dragons and technical-minded gods, what is there to fear about a man who loves a man and also a woman?

I’m digressing.

With Bearly a Lady, I’m hoping to build on that canon. Zelda McCartney is a complicated character, for all that she might sometimes appear like an airhead. She’s been out for a long time; this isn’t a self-discovery story. Instead, the book, which goes into some dark places between the lines, interrogates the idea of expectations, labels, and toxic relationships.

And that is because she is a werebear in a human world, a woman endlessly bombarded by external forces, all looking to chip at her self-esteem for the sake of a quick buck or someone else’s emotional fulfillment. It’s no surprise that Zelda has only half an idea as to which box she belongs. Honestly, a lot of people don’t figure that out. Especially those raised outside of liberal communities.

I’d know. For the longest time, that was me.

(Except for the werebear part.)

So, that’s one of the Big Ideas behind Bearly a Lady. I wanted my main character to be full of internal conflict, certain in her identity but uncertain of the words that one might use to define oneself. A mess of paradoxes and imperfections glued together by bad sitcoms and ice-cream. I’m hoping that, one day, Bearly a Lady might be part of some bisexual teenager’s library, another piece in the puzzle as they figure out who they are. Maybe, Zelda will be an example of who they hope not to be. Maybe, they’ll see a bit of themselves in her. Who knows? That’s not up to me.

Bearly a Lady might be a queer paranormal rom-com with werebears, vampires, and billionaire fairies galore, but it’s also a look into the life of a queer woman who doesn’t always get it straight.

—-

Bearly a Lady: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Read an excerpt online. Visit the authors site. Follow her on Twitter.


Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Jul. 18th, 2017 07:15 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

It’s not just an old proverb. It’s literally happening across the street from where I live.

And yes, I like it that I write about high-tech futures from a place where it’s not at all unusual to see a Mennonite woman bundling hay using a tractor that’s probably as old as I am, and that the hay will probably go to feed the horses that pull the Amish buggies around here. Welcome to rural Ohio, y’all. We have juxtapositions.


The Big Idea: Michael F. Haspil

Jul. 18th, 2017 02:18 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

Getting older often gives you a perspective that younger people don’t have. But what happens when you’re immortal? What is your perspective then? It’s a question Michael F. Haspil has considered for his debut novel, Graveyard Shift.

MICHAEL F. HASPIL:

As human beings, we tell ourselves fictions to make it easier to cooperate one with one another.

Sometimes, the fiction is noble. We are all equal and entitled to certain inalienable rights. This story only extends to imaginary lines drawn on a representative map, a different sort of fiction. After all, “We” doesn’t apply to “Them”.

Many times, the fiction is merely useful. This color of light means “go” and another color means “stop”. All drivers must drive on this side of the street. Pieces of paper have value and you can use them to barter for goods. When people stop trusting in those fictions, life becomes hazardous and disagreeable.

All too often, the fiction becomes a source of human polarization. The entertainment we criticize, others adore. The sports tribes we deride are idols to others even though we select them more often due to geography than anything else. Their ties are red, ours our blue, so they are immoral. We don’t understand the methods they use to heal; therefore, they are wicked. They have a different melanin content than we do; their lives aren’t worth as much as ours are. Our god is greater than theirs; therefore, they are evil.

It’s all about tribalism and defining the Other. We tell ourselves stories and then believe them to such an extent we can justify any action.

Viewed from the point of view of hypothetical immortals, or beings so long-lived that for all purposes they may as well be, the numbers of those who belong to their tribe shrink over time, until almost everyone they meet is the Other. Of what concern is any subject when humans change their minds or stop caring about them in a week, a month, a century?

Combine that idea with how many atrocities immortals might witness, as they become more and more detached from those fictions we humans tell ourselves. How many died because they followed the wrong leader? How many burned at the stake because of paranoia? How many mass graves? How many genocides? The immortals would tell themselves a new fiction. Humans don’t matter. They all die, some sooner than others.

The trolley problem is an ethical thought exercise. An observer stands near a switch as a runaway trolley bears down the tracks. On the tracks ahead of the trolley, several people are trapped, unable to move and will die when the trolley reaches them. The observer can pull the switch and divert the trolley to another set of tracks. However, an individual standing nearby will die when the trolley diverts. The problem lies in the observer’s choice of whether to kill one person to save many or do nothing and allow many to die.

As the immortals pass down through the centuries, the trolley problem breaks. Viewed on their timescale, what does it matter if everyone on the tracks dies? Their lives are so short, they are as good as dead anyway. Why should immortals trouble themselves with the lives of beings that end in a relative eye blink? Why should human morals matter? Or human laws? It’s not that immortals are more or less ethical than humans. It’s that over their eternal lives they tell themselves different stories. New fictions, humans aren’t equipped to understand.

Taken from the human point of view, these immortals inevitably become the Other. By comparison, our short lives would not afford us a window of understanding. Their decisions and justifications would be alien to us. What do fruit flies comprehend of human machinations?

If we knew of them at all, we would fear them. We would hate them. We would hunt them.

In my novel, Graveyard Shift, some of my heroes are so long-lived they may as well be immortal and so they share part of the problems I’ve described. Added to their condition, they often make the difficult choices of committing a lesser evil to prevent a greater one. It is a slippery slope. How many times can one justify collateral damage in the name of the greater good before one becomes a new source of evil?

In many other stories, my heroes — a vigilante, a vampire, a shapeshifter, a mummy — would be the villains. As Nietzsche warns, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” But when beings survive for millennia, becoming a monster, may be inevitable.

My characters aren’t nice people. On a good day, they are indifferent to the plight of the everyman. Often throughout the story, they do unpleasant things and they rationalize what they’ve done by convincing themselves it was a necessary evil to prevent something much worse. Most of the time, that’s true.

This was a bit of a struggle for me. How could I convey the apathy of immortals and still portray them as sympathetic heroes?

It ultimately came down to their motivations. The need for atonement drives many of my characters. They view their immortality and their continued service to humankind as a sort of penance for sins committed past and present.

It wouldn’t take much to flip the script and turn them into the true monsters other perceive them to be. This is what Matheson’s Richard Neville discovers at the conclusion of I Am Legend. Often, determining who is and who isn’t a monster, is solely based on the point of view and the fictions we tell ourselves.

—-

Graveyard Shift: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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


johnny sokko and his flying robot

Jul. 17th, 2017 11:22 pm

Posted by Wil

A young boy aids in the fight against a mechanized terrorist organization as the sole controller of a prototype giant robot.

I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered into the weird and comforting landscape of UHF television’s modern equivalent, which in this case is a digital antenna station on 56.4 here in Los Angeles, called Comet TV*

For the next half hour, I watched this magnificently bizarre thing called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. As far as I can tell, there’s this little kid called Johnny Sokko, and like all the other kids in school were all “Johnny Sokko, you’re a stupid face!” so he was like “h*ck you guys, I’m going to get a giant robot and live on a boat for some reason. Oh, and also, I’m like 8 or whatever, and I’m in charge of a giant flying murder machine. So watch your step, bitches.” Johnny gets this this giant robot who flies, and he controls him by issuing commands into a gold wristwatch. Instead of telling the robot to breakdance for his endless amusement, Johnny cries a lot and makes the robot save the world from a squid guy or something who lives in a sunken spaceship, adjacent to a pineapple under the sea? It’s all a little fuzzy in the translation, I’ll be honest, but I think I got the gist of it.

Anyway, I probably made some of that up, but this is all true: There’s a Flying Robot who is vaguely Egyptian. There’s a Gargoyle Gang, the Emperor Guillotine, a military group of children who are called Team Unicorn and are the only thing between Earth’s survival and intergalactic destruction for some reason, and all the bizarre 1960s Kaiju visual effects you could ever hope for. The music is exactly what you want it to be, and at one point, an entire freeway overpass is destroyed, because who among us hasn’t wanted to do that!

A quick search on a few of the Internets made it clear to me that I was not just way late to the party on this (the short I saw was originally released in Japan in 1967, as Giant Robo because obviously) but I am also discovering this literally decades after it became popular with the cool kids. So if you’re like OH GREAT WIL WHEATON THANKS FOR WASTING MY TIME WITH SOMETHING I ALREADY KNEW ABOUT now you can feel like a jerk because it’s new to me, Roland. It’s new to me!

It’s weird, and fun, and overflowing with potential audio samples, so I thought I would share it with you today. Here’s what I think is the first episode, in which we meet Johnny Sokko, the Flying Robot, an unsettling sea monster, and more:

There are several collections of Johnny Sokko films at the Internet Archive. I guess you can also buy remastered DVDs if you want to go that route (though I strongly believe that the faded and aged look of the originals at archive.org is a significant contributor to the charm of the thing.)

Good luck. We’re all counting on you.

*It’s owned by the profoundly evil Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which is a giant bummer. You can buy evil offsets by supporting ACLU and SPLC, if it makes you feel better.

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