This Picture Was Photoshopped

Specifically, I used Photoshop to remove the light switch on the wall directly above Krissy. Because it ruined the composition, that’s why! Man, Photoshop is handy sometimes.

In other news, I’m off to Penguicon in a couple hours, where I’ll be doing a reading (with Dave Klecha) and a panel and otherwise just, you know, hanging about. Come say hello if you’re there. If you’re not there and you say hello, that’s fine, but I may not hear you. Sorry.

The May Mostly Hiatus

As a heads up for folks:

My May is going to be super busy with things that don’t involve being online, including writing and travel, so that means that I’m planning to spend most of May offline. I’m not closing down Whatever because I’ve scheduled Big Ideas, but content here is likely to be those pieces and the occasional photo of cats and/or sunsets and the even-more-occasional entry with words (one’s likely to happen on my birthday, for example).

Also, and for the same reason, I’m likely to cut back substantially on social media in May. My current plan is to sign on in the evening if at all; we’ll see if I stick to that, because social media is like crack. But that is the plan.

So if things seem a little sparse here in the next month and you don’t otherwise see me online much, you’ll know why. I’m not dead or sick or in hiding. I’m just busy with work in the real world, and sometimes that’s the priority.

Four Things About the Hugos, 4/27/16

First off, gaze upon Chuck Tingle’s latest story, above (and for sale here). That’s kind of awesome.

Second off, I see some people here and elsewhere swearing they’re going to put anything that was on the Sad/Rabid slates or recommendation lists below “No Award” this year. Bluntly, you’ll be foolish if you do this. As I noted in my LA Times piece yesterday, the Puppies this year slated things that were already popular outside their little circles, like, for example, The Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman.

Come on, folks. Does anyone really think Neil Gaiman holds active membership in the Puppy brigades? Or Stephen King? Or Alastair Reynolds (who specifically asked to be dropped from the Puppy lists, and was ignored)? Or Lois McMaster Bujold? Or, for that matter, probably Chuck Tingle? I mean, hell, someone put me on the Sad Puppy recommendation list for a while*, despite the fact I rather publicly dropped out of consideration for awards this year, and the fact that many people who identify as Sad Puppies wouldn’t piss on me if I were on fire.

Don’t give credit for the Puppies slating already popular work and then acting like they got it on the ballot, or for dragooning unwilling and unwitting people onto their slates for their own purposes. That’s essentially victim blaming. Rather, use your common sense when looking at the work and people nominated. The Puppies would be happy if you didn’t do that, mind you. I’m hard pressed to understand why you would oblige them so.

(But then the Puppies win! Yeah, folks, about that: They’re going to proclaim victory no matter what; they did that last year when they got their collective asses handed to them at the Hugo Award ceremony. We totally meant to lose! It validates everything we did! Well, fine, whatever. Personally, I’m going to ask what I always ask: Is this work worth giving a Hugo to? That’s a question that has an answer irrespective of any Puppy “strategy.”)

Third off, and on the subject of victim blaming, I do see a number of people exclaiming that because the Puppies have stuffed ballot boxes yet again, it’s the Hugos that suck and are horrible, etc. Folks, no. The Hugos are a nice fan/industry award, and didn’t do anything to deserve the nonsense that’s happening to them, except to have an exploitable flaw in the nominating process that previously no one really exploited because no one wanted to be that asshole. The people who are currently exploiting that flaw in the process are the ones who suck and are horrible, and the ones being assholes. They’re targeting the Hugos because the Hugos don’t actually suck or are horrible, and because they know that doing so hurts other people, and they like that, because, again, they’re assholes.

So, please, differentiate between the two, would you? It’s actually kind of important to make that distinction. And as a bonus, making the distinction gives at least some honor to the people who are working behind the scenes of the Hugos, this year and last year, who have had to deal with malignant trolls fucking with a thing they love. Giving them that tiny bit of honor would be nice, too.

Fourth off, one of the finalists for Best Short Story, Thomas May, who was on the Rabid Puppy slate, has left the ballot, for admirable reasons. All respect to him for a difficult decision. I don’t believe this should be a signal for folks to hint to other finalists that they should follow his example, for reasons I outline above, i.e., this year’s slates were filled with people and work the Puppies put in for their own strategic ends, and are essentially blameless for an association that is unintended and/or unwanted. If you’ve got a mind to pester people about this, please consider not. Let them do as they will, just as you do what you will when it comes time to vote.


(* Yes, I know the Sad Puppy recommendation list was open to all to put things on it. I also suspect, perhaps uncharitably, that the Puppies know their own and used the recommendation lists with that fact in mind. This is why I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten many votes out of that “recommendation” in any event. This is also why I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t used for slate-y purposes (and a further reason why I’m not inclined to hold a work being on that recommendation list against it). That said, and as with last year, the Sad Puppies were a sideshow to the Rabids, who straight up slated.

I also recognize that many Sad Puppies don’t like being conflated with Rabid Puppies, but, you know, it was the Sads that brought the Rabids to the party, and I expect there’s still sufficient overlap in goals and strategy to tie them together, so, yeah, color me not entirely convinced. If the Sads want to really differentiate themselves, a change in branding would be the very smallest start.

With all that said: Be aware my point of view re: the Puppies also comes from being a direct target of their ire for several years running. Your mileage may vary.)

Dear Cruz, Kasich and Sanders: Guys, It’s Over

I just wrote a much longer piece going over last nights results in detail, but other than the line where I called Ted Cruz “a malignant teratoma with a law degree” it was just boring as hell, so, here’s the shorter version:

Hey! Cruz! Kasich! Sanders! You got no shot! Let it go!

They won’t, of course. They all think they’re going to get something at their conventions (Cruz and Kasich: A presidential nomination that they won’t get and which would be toxic they moment they pried it from Trump even if they could; Sanders, rather more reasonably: A seat at the table when it comes to strategy), so I expect they’ll keep trudging along. But the rest of us don’t have to pretend that these three aren’t in garbage time, as far as their presidential chances go, do we? The rest of us don’t have to pretend they’re doing anything other than “playing for pride” at this point, right?

Okay, good.

My only real regret with respect to any of these three is that Cruz didn’t emerge as a stronger presidential contender this cycle, because this means he’ll be under the delusion that he’s got a shot in 2020. I mean, on one hand, okay, that’d likely give Clinton her second term? But, oy, Cruz all over the TV, again. For months. Just shoot me into space, already.

Anyway: Come on, guys. Wrap it up. It’s time.


Quick 2016 Hugo Finalist Thoughts (With a Link to Even More Hugo Thoughts)

Thoughts on this year’s Hugo finalists (the list of which you can find here):

* First, as part of my new gig at the Los Angeles Times, I wrote an analysis of this year’s ballot there, so head on over there if you want to see it (Note it’s geared toward a general audience, so there a lot of explanatory stuff in there folks here will likely already know). As I’ve already written substantially on the Hugos there, what I write here will be brief.

* Overall, the nominations in several categories look pretty decent to me – Best Novel is particularly not bad at all! At least a couple of categories are a tiresome shitshow, however, thanks to the Puppies, again.

* Which we knew might happen again, remember? Fixing the slating issue was a two-year process. This is year two. Keep working on it, folks.

* The Puppies are once again trying to troll a bunch of people (the Best Related Category is one particularly obvious troll) and while I don’t mean to downplay the basic craptasticness of their actions, I’m finding it all that difficult to get worked up about it. I mean, I know the Puppies are hoping for outrage? Again? But as noted, we’ve seen this act before, and this time it’s just boring. Yes, yes, Puppies. You’re still sad little bigoted assholes screaming for attention. Got it, thanks.

Bear in mind I’m a direct target for their nonsense; at least two of the finalist works go after me in one way or another. I’m very specifically someone they’re trying to get worked up (and to tear down). And yet I just can’t manage it. I’m pretty much over the Puppies. There’s only so many times a toddler can throw a tantrum before you just shrug. You still have to clean up after the toddler, mind you. But you don’t have to let the toddler dictate the terms. Pity these particular toddlers are grown humans.

Aaaand that’s about all the energy I’m willing to expend on the Puppies this year: A tiny bit of pity, and then consideration of the things on the finalist ballot worth my time – which, fortunately, there are several, and would have been no matter what the Pups did.

The Big Idea: Marko Kloos

It’s not often that a highly successful military science fiction series involves me in some way. But here’s Marko Kloos explaining how I was in a small way tangentially a part of the creation of his highly successful military science fiction series, of which Chains of Command is the latest installment.


The first book of what is now called the Frontlines series came to be because of a highly effective motivator: last-minute deadline panic.

Eight years ago, I applied for a slot in a writing workshop called Viable Paradise. I knew a few people who had attended VP, and they all spoke highly of it. When I checked the roster of instructors, I was happily surprised to see the names of some heavy hitters in the SF business: Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, Elizabeth Bear, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Jim McDonald and Debra Doyle, and some guy named John Scalzi. To top off the list of arguments for attendance, the workshop was reasonably affordable, geographically close (it takes place every year on Martha’s Vineyard, and I’m in New Hampshire), and took only a week, which was eminently swingable on both my stay-at-home parent schedule and stay-at-home parent wallet.

The only trouble was that I heard about the workshop a week before the close of the submissions/application period, and I needed a few short stories or novel chapters to send in as application pieces for evaluation. I had neither.

So I sat down and wrote a few chapters of a fantasy novel that, in retrospect, should have been titled “The Journeys of Generica: Book One of the Derivative Kingdoms Saga.” At the time, I thought it was decent enough, and I gave the samples to my wife to read. She did so, and then tactfully suggested that I may want to send in, uh, something else.

With six days to go on the application deadline (and having to subtract two days from that to account for Priority Mail), I was in a bind. While I had always wanted to write SF or fantasy, I had no finished or even reasonably progressing projects in either genre on hand. I had two trunk novels sitting on my hard drive, but they were general fiction. I had recently read a novel called Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, and figured that because I enjoy reading military SF, I’d probably enjoy writing a military SF story. I served in the German military during the tail end of the Cold War, and I had always wanted to have a vehicle to make use of all the little sensory details and experiences from my own military service, and baking it all into a Military SF novel seemed like a good idea.

The boot camp sequence is practically a trope in the Military SF genre, and “Young Person Goes To War” is shorthand description for three quarters of Military SF debut novels. That’s not a terribly bad thing—when you go to the zoo, you’re either happy to see the giraffes again or you aren’t, and Military SF readers in particular like to see the giraffes, so to speak. But I had this idea in my head to put a different spin on my version of Space Marine Boot Camp. Current recruiting practice treats the new applicant as a valuable resource because the military usually has to work hard to fill all its slots with volunteers. Most future boot camps in fiction do the same—the old saw about tough drill instructor love, motivating the recruits to excel and be All They Can Be.

What if you had a future military that was so swamped with applicants that the D.I.s wouldn’t have to give a rat’s behind whether their charges make it through training or not? What if the D.I.s could wash people out at will because they knew exactly that five hundred applicants would stand in line tomorrow to take that slot?

From there, it was a simple exercise: thinking up a near-future version of North America where life sucks. Overpopulation, pollution, rampant crime, scarce resources, a population limited to 2,000-calorie-a-day rations of processed crap that’s made to taste awful on purpose to discourage overconsumption. Things would have to be so awful so much for the majority of the population that the prospect of death in battle would seem a fair trade for a shot at a paycheck and food that isn’t made from soy and recycled human waste.

With only a few days to think about the world-building and actually doing the writing work, I drew that crapsack world in rough sketches—just enough detail for the reader to get the idea, not so much that I’d have to spend weeks and months making up maps and diagrams and elaborate timelines. So Terms of Enlistment, the first Frontlines book, established the main conceit of the series, the grunt’s-eye view of the conflict, told in first person perspective. We see what the protagonist Andrew Grayson sees. We know about the world and its technology what he knows—no more, no less. It sort of puts the tech and the political machinations into the background bit and makes them scenery. With that kind of storytelling approach, other things move into the foreground: all the sensory details and awfulness of battle as experienced by the guy who doesn’t have a god’s eye view of events, filtered through the worldview and morality of a twenty-year-old kid from the future version of the projects.

With Chains of Command, the Frontlines series is now four books strong, with a fifth one in the works and a sixth under contract. My hasty half-ass first few chapters set the foundation for everything that followed, and it turned out to be a fortuitous restriction. With the immediate viewpoint and the broad-stroke pictures of the world as Andrew sees it, I was free to focus on character development instead of meticulous world-building and exposition. And as Andrew gets older and more experienced, the novels start addressing things that he would begin to think about after a few years of service to a system that tries to hold the lid down on a pot that’s about to boil over. Do you always follow orders, or are there just and unjust ones? At what point do you use your own judgment and question authority while fulfilling your oath of service? Military SF is often focused on the pulling of triggers (complete with three-page descriptions of the weapon system to which said trigger is attached), but how do you decide when not to pull the trigger?

Frontlines makes an attempt to address that conundrum, and it has been great and challenging fun to let young Andrew Grayson mature over the course of four novels and find his own answers to those questions.


Chains of Command: Amazon | Indiebound | Powell’s | Audible

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

Scammers and Fixed Pots

Lots of news in the last couple of weeks about Amazon Kindle Unlimited scammers, who are creating 3,000-page books filled with mostly garbage because that’s what lets them take advantage of the way Amazon pays authors participating in the KU scheme: Amazon tracks the last page synced and pays out by how far into the book someone’s gone (as opposed to read).

This is bad news for actual authors with actual books, because a) actual books are generally much smaller than three thousand pages, and b) Amazon doesn’t pay a set rate per page — it defines a KU “pot” of money for each month and then pays out to authors by the number of pages they register readers as having gotten through, as a proportion of total pages read on the service that month. So if (purely as an example) Amazon defines the payout pot for KU as $1 million for a month, then all the authors participating have to split that $1 million — and the scam artist with the fake 3,000-page book is going to get a larger chunk of that $1 million than the actual author with a 300-page book.

Bear in mind that no matter what compensatory scheme Amazon does for its KU system, someone is going to find a way to maximize it. Before the current “pages read” scheme, Amazon paid out when a certain percentage of a book was gone through, which drove authors to create very short books that would hit their payout percentage with just a couple of page flips. It was this gaming, presumably, that caused Amazon to change how it did its payout. If and when Amazon changes its payout scheme (again), people will find out how to game the system under the new rules. It’s what happens.

(Nor is adjusting one’s work to take advantage of the market a problem; publishers have always done this. Is the money is cheap paperbacks? They will make cheap paperbacks. Is the money in hardcovers? They’ll make hardcovers. What, novellas are the next big thing? They’ll all make novellas! Likewise, if Amazon is saying to self-pubbed authors (and, by extension, scammers) “[X] is the way we decide to pay you,” then it’s rational to do [X].)

The problem with the Kindle Unlimited scammers isn’t really the compensatory triggers of KU or the fact that everyone, legit author or otherwise, is looking for the way to squeeze as much money as possible from it. The problem is: who bears the immediate economic brunt of the scammers taking advantage of whatever scheme Amazon decides upon? Well, it’s not Amazon, that’s for sure, since its financial exposure is only what it wants to pay out on a monthly basis; scammers in the system or no, Amazon only pays what Amazon wants to pay. The readers also get off lightly; their economic exposure is only they flat fee they pay to access KU.

So that leaves the actual authors, whose share of a fixed amount of money is being diluted by bad actors who see how the system can be gamed and are cheerfully gaming it as fast as they can. It is the authors’ problem because Amazon doesn’t pay out like it has to pay out for printed books, where each unit sold has a contractually-defined royalty that is independent of any other book or author and how well they are selling. Again, Amazon pays from a pot it defines and controls and which is limited; in effect pitting authors against each other, and all of them against the scammers. In this case the scammers are winning because it takes almost no time to create a scam book, assign fake accounts to “read” it, and profit; meanwhile writing real books actual people would invest their time in is still the same time-intensive effort it always was.

Is this fair? Well, life’s not fair, and in business (which this is) you get what you contractually agree to. Kindle Unlimited authors presumably know that they are only going to get what Amazon is willing to give them for their participation; they also presumably know that their marketplace is “fair,” with regard to scammers, to the extent that Amazon wants to make it so; they also presumably know that their ability to force Amazon to do anything to deal with scammers is exceptionally limited because the KU agreement privileges Amazon over individual KU participants to an extraordinary degree. KU participants, by participating, have agreed to let Amazon shift the financial risk over to them.

(Well, some of them. It’s my understanding that there is a tranche of authors — generally hugely best-selling, generally not self-published — whose participation in KU is through other deals where their compensation is not tied into an Amazon-defined pot. Good for them! And another reminder of the issue of “fair” in publishing — nothing’s fair, everything is what you agree to in contracts.)

That being said, if Amazon doesn’t eventually deal with the scammers, then it will become their problem: Authors, quite reasonably, won’t want to participate if scammers are taking money that should be going to them, and readers won’t see the value of the KU subscription if authors stay off the service. Humans are bad-experience avoidant, and it doesn’t take many bad experiences to keep people away. It’s in Amazon’s best interest to fix this. Eventually. I’m pretty sure it will.

But only to a point. Amazon is very very very unlikely to ever make Kindle Unlimited a scheme that doesn’t rely on a fixed payout, defined by Amazon itself. And that is why, at the end of it, KU (and, to be clear, other subscription services with a service-defined payout pot) will always disadvantage authors in terms of how much they can make, and why these authors will always suffer first and foremost from scammers — because there’s only so much money for authors in the scheme, and that’s the money scammers are taking. There will always be scammers and people who will game the system; so as long as the KU scheme pays out from a fixed pot, authors participating in it will always be the most vulnerable to their actions.

Amazon should deal with its KU scammers. It should also compensate KU authors for their work independent of how other authors are doing, or what they are doing, or what scammers are doing. The first of these is rather more likely than the others. If you’re an author participating in Kindle Unlimited, know what you’re getting into, and the fact that it’s you whose money is on the line when the scammers game the system.

Puffball, 4/24/16

I’m occasionally reminded that I don’t know the name of every plant around my house. This is an example: I call this one the “puffball shrub,” because, well, here’s a puffball. I’m sure someone has told me what kind of plant this is. It’s just that the information rolled out of my head after they told me. Nevertheless, it is pretty. So here you go. Have a puffball.

View From a Hotel Window, 4/22/16: Columbus

Columbus has clouds!

My event in Westerville went well, and now I’m kicking back in my hotel room here in Columbus, where tomorrow I’m a featured author at the Ohioana Book Festival. If you’re in the area, come on down. It will be lovely to see you. If you’re not in the area, well, enjoy the clouds in the picture.