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Thu, 20 Sep 2018 16:30:29 +0000
1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty: Sunsets
I really started taking sunset pictures in 2005, the first year I had a dSLR camera. Here’s one sunset picture for that year, and every year since. (Incidentally, tonight’s sunset? In the header image.)

In Detox in Letters, author Cheryl Low thinks about magic, down the grimy, dusty details — and also gauges the limits of what magic can do.

CHERYL LOW:

The Crowns & Ash series began as an exploration of magic. Or maybe just a love letter to it.

All my life I have loved magical worlds. Embedded in the first fairy tales we heard growing up were the promises of wonder—that anything could be possible with a little bit of magic.

In the streets of the Realm, around the Queen’s Tower, people play out their long lives with boundless fashion, cake and tea for every meal, and elaborate duels, on a carousel of romance and intrigue. But none of it would be possible without magic.

Everything in the city is fueled by magic, from the lamps lining the streets to the cars driving down them. Factories take in barrels of raw magic to churn out a variety of charms, power sources, and drugs for the residents of the Realm. They’ve turned something once natural to them into a commodity—forgetting its origin and purpose.

Even the drug of choice, dust, is rooted in magic. The carnivorous pixies, a dangerous pest in the city kept back by the constant glow of street lamps, are lured into the dust factories and fed raw magic until they’re so full that their frail wings can no longer lift them off the ground. Then the pixies are strung up, roasted, and ground down into the fine, glittering powder known throughout the city as dust. It is rolled into cigarettes, sprinkled on cakes, and steeped in tea, keeping most of the residents lulled in a constant high.

But magic is one of those elements in a fantasy world that is as exciting as it is difficult. There must be rules.

As the creator, I spent some serious time figuring out how a city of magic-wielding, spoiled socialites could function without constant war in the streets. Even before the current Queen took the throne, the Realm was far from utopian. If anything, the residents of the fantastical city could always be described as passionate, not exactly good or evil, but something in between that tips daily from side to side. So, how do I keep them from snapping their fingers and destroying their rude dinner guests?

Limits. All power must have a limit, as well as a cost. It can make the impossible possible, but it can’t solve every problem. Limitations and real consequences make stories truly exciting. Even immortal creatures must have a weakness. Vampires and the sun. Werewolves and silver. Dragons and that one, fate-blessed hero.

In the Realm, magic causes just as many problems as it solves—maybe more. It has become their poison, clouding their minds just as their Queen has clouded the sky above. And as the people of the Crowns & Ash series relearn their history and their powers, they are forced to realize the dark source and inevitable boundaries of that magic. There are some things that can’t be changed with charms and spells.

I set out to make a world literally high on magic—breathing it and eating it and bleeding it—and I absolutely love this world. It is a thrill to write and a delight to share.

—-

Detox in Letters: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo

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


Thu, 20 Sep 2018 14:44:02 +0000
The Big Idea: Cheryl Low
In Detox in Letters, author Cheryl Low thinks about magic, down the grimy, dusty details — and also gauges the limits of what magic can do. CHERYL LOW: The Crowns & Ash series began as an exploration of magic. Or maybe just a love letter to it. All my life I have loved magical worlds. […]

Good morning! Let’s see what’s up.

***

I posted the tweet above the other day about the recent contretemps regarding whether Bert and Ernie are a gay couple, which was prompted by one of Sesame Street’s former writers noting he always wrote them as if they were a gay couple, which in turn prompted but Sesame Workshop and Frank Oz (creator of Bert) to aver that they were not, which in turn made Twitter explode, because, well, Twitter.

I’m not going to speak to the main thrust of the discussion about whether Bert and Ernie are a couple except to note that this discussion is cyclical, and this is probably the fifth or sixth time in the last fifteen years it’s become a point of contention, so it’s not like anything around this discussion is new. What I will note is the number of dudes in the Twitter comments of the tweet above saying things like “They can’t be gay THEY ARE PUPPETS” with a smug “BAM HASHTAG MIC DROP” implied immediately after.

Which is, mind you, a genuinely stupid and thoughtless position to have. Puppets can be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any fictional creature, who can in turn be as gay or straight or bi or sexually fluid as any non-fictional creature. Fictional characters aren’t real, in the sense that they are independent of their creators (or at least, owners), but it doesn’t mean they aren’t imbued with characteristics.

Puppets are fictional creatures; puppets have characteristics. There’s no reason one of those characteristics can’t be “sexuality” and of course there are lots of examples of puppets having a sexuality, Kermit and Miss Piggy being the obvious contextual example. You can say Kermit and Miss Piggy can’t be heterosexual THEY ARE PUPPETS, but that’s not true (and also, no one does). The best you can say is that Kermit and Miss Piggy are not actual persons with their own agency, and therefore present only the characteristics given to them by those who operate and control them, which is true, and also a mouthful.

It can be truly said that Frank Oz, when he created him, did not think of Bert as being gay; it can also be truly said that at least one writer on Sesame Street, when writing Bert and Ernie, wrote them as a gay couple; it can also be truly said that the Sesame Workshop, at least publicly, doesn’t want Bert and Ernie to be considered as beings with sexuality at all. Importantly, however, none of this would be a discussion at all if, at the very heart of it, we (generally) didn’t believe that puppets could be gay. It looks like we do, and also, it looks like there’s a number of people so uncomfortable with the idea they they would rather subvert the entire thesis of fiction than substantively approach the concept of gay puppets in any way. Which is interesting.

***

My note to Frank Oz that kids come out as gay no matter how much their parents conceive of them as otherwise has led some “wits” to say that from now on they’re going to say that all my characters are white, straight, cis Trump lovers, I suppose again with a “lol CHECKMATE” bit after that strongly implied. My response to that is: Hey, your headcanon is your own, so go ahead if you want to. Just don’t expect the actual text I write to support this view.

This does bring up the point that if one wishes to make assertions about characters, it’s helpful to have them supported by text or the idiom and context of the characters. Positing that Bert and Ernie might be a gay couple because of their genuine affection for each other and also their decades-long cohabitation at least makes sense, whether you agree with it or not. Positing that they are millionaire day-traders who secretly run a late-night fight club for other Muppets in Oscar’s sub-basement doesn’t. I mean, they might, you never do know, but there’s nothing in almost five decades of their on-screen lives together to support the hypothesis.

Let’s just say I don’t ever expect Sesame Workshop to ever post a tweet denying that Bert and Ernie consensually beat the crap out of Elmo and Big Bird in cathartic early-morning pummeling sessions. Some rumors (and headcannon) never get off the ground.

***

Today’s hottest take on Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulting a woman when they were both teens: Maybe it was his evil twin! I’m embarrassed for both Kathleen Parker, who wrote this, and for America.

***

After that bit of patent dumbassery, a cat-based palate cleanser.

Please enjoy the rest of your Thursday.


Wed, 19 Sep 2018 21:04:50 +0000
The Whatever Digest, 9/20/18
Good morning! Let’s see what’s up. *** Frank Oz says that Bert's not gay and he should know because he created him. I mean, Frank, a lot of parents feel the same, but then their kids come out anyway. https://t.co/iFYHx8gC05 — John Scalzi (@scalzi) September 18, 2018 I posted the tweet above the other day […]

Lots of new stuff, so this will be a two-stack week here at the Scalzi Compound. Here’s the first stack of new books and ARCs for the week. Anything catching your eye? Let us know in the comments!


Wed, 19 Sep 2018 20:01:15 +0000
New Books and ARCs, 9/19/18
Lots of new stuff, so this will be a two-stack week here at the Scalzi Compound. Here’s the first stack of new books and ARCs for the week. Anything catching your eye? Let us know in the comments!

I’m not sure I had hobbies in 1998. I definitely didn’t have the hobbies I have now, back then.

Hobbies are, for the purposes of this entry, things you do that you enjoy for themselves, and not because you plan to make it a professional part of your life to any extent. I think it also should be something that is slightly out of the normal rhythm of your life. For example, I wouldn’t call “reading” a hobby of mine, because it’s always just been part of my daily life. I read like I breathe. Breathing is not a hobby, it’s an essential. Same with reading.

In 1998, most of what I was doing was centered on writing, and getting paid for writing. So even things I enjoyed, I tried to make money writing about. And it worked; I liked listening to and thinking about music, so I found a gig writing music reviews. Music was no longer a hobby, I was getting paid for it. Likewise video games; I found a company that would let me write video game reviews, so while I was playing video games — and loving it! — it was all going into the hopper so I could write about it on my video game review site.

I had reasons for wanting to professionalize all my enthusiasms, not limited to the fact in 1998 I had a kid on the way, but what it meant was, really, nothing that might have been a hobby, was. It was all work, work, work. And while the saying is “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I’m also here to tell you that sometimes I’d be grinding through a terrible video game for a review, and it was work, for sure.

These days, I would consider two things my hobbies: Photography and music, and this time when I mean “music” I don’t mean listening to it, I mean playing it. In both cases, I do it because it’s fun for me, and it’s not connected to my professional life in any significant way (I’ll add a small caveat to that in a bit). Also, in both cases, I enjoy them in themselves, and don’t worry about whether I’m “good” at them; I may or may not be, depending on taste, etc, but being so is not the point. The point is they get me out of my head and let me enjoy doing something for its own sake. That’s a hobby.

And I will note that in both cases one of the things that allowed me to get into the hobby was that it went digital.

Photography is the most obvious one for this. Prior to the advent of the digital camera, I think I may have taken less than three hundred pictures in my life, mostly “Kodak moment” snaps from disposable cameras. And of those three hundred, a non-trivial number were never developed, because back in the day, you’d have to go somewhere to get the film developed and pay for each snap you took. Film would get developed when I got around to it, and not when I didn’t. Basically prior to around 1998 (in fact), I mostly showed up in other people’s pictures.

But then I had a kid, and then also right around the turn of the century you could start getting digital cameras with decent resolution, which in this case meant something along the lines of two megapixels per photo. Which might not seem that much now but which is the resolution equivalent of an HDTV, and certainly right up there with whatever you might get out of a disposable camera you’d get from a CVS. Plus now I wouldn’t have to have them “developed” — I could just download them on my computer and be off to the races.

If memory serves, the first digital camera I bought was an Olympus Camedia C-21, which took 1600×1200 JPEG photos and ran on double-a batteries. That would have been 1999/2000 or so. Four years later I upgraded to a Kodak EasyShare camera, with an eye-popping 5 megapixels. But the next year, 2005, I bought my first digital single reflex camera, a Nikon d70s, and that’s pretty much when the photography went from being just a thing to snap pictures when they happened, to a thing where I went out of my way to take pictures.

The reason for this is pretty simple: the dSLRs allowed me to take more interesting pictures. They had bigger lenses, better sensors and encouraged actual exploration into photography rather than, basically, opportunistic photo capture. The dSLRs also took pictures in RAW format, which captures a lot more picture information than JPEGs, and means one can, with the right software, tease out things like shadows and details that are crunched out of the JPEG format. It makes a huge difference in what shows up in photos.

And also, of course, digital means that you can take dozens or even hundreds of pictures to find the few that work the way you intend them to; this sort of brute strength photo taking would have been ridiculously expensive in the film era. Mind you, over time the goal is not to have take dozens of photos to get the one good one; hopefully eventually you learn enough about taking pictures that you can bring that ratio down significantly.

I suspect that being someone who learned photography in a digital era means that I approach photo taking differently than someone who learned in the film era — for example, I suspect I am substantially more reliant on Photoshop and other photoediting suites to draw out the details and effects in photos than film-era photographers, who I suspect do much of their photo planning in-camera, picking specific shutter speeds and f-stops and such.

What’s also interesting is now we’re in an era where phone cameras are so good that you can use them for more than casual photos as well — some of the best photos I’ve taken have been with my current Pixel 2 phone. Add to this that phone-based photoediting apps are also increasingly capable and complex, and you’ve got an exciting age of photography. I can still tell the difference between my dSLR photos and my phone photos (it’s down to depth of field and artifacts in the details), but I wonder if other people notice. If and when the only camera I have with me is on my phone, these days I don’t feel like I won’t still get a good picture out of the moment.

I think in a general sense I’m a pretty good photographer, but I’m also aware of the gap between what I do and what I see in pro photos. Last year I stepped in to be a photographer at a wedding, and while I think I did pretty well, especially for a last-minute save, I can also see the difference in how I did it and what I think of as pro-level wedding photography. It’s not something I worry about; indeed I like the idea I still have space to grow, at my own pace, in this particular hobby.

My other hobby at the moment is music, and, well. I’m a better photographer than I am a musician. I have been playing guitar (both 4 and 6-string variants) and ukulele for a while now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve run up to that wall where, if I’m to get any better, I will need to actually practice a lot more than I currently do. I’m not sure that’s going to happen; I don’t see where I will have the time. Also, the current plateau I’m on lets me play chords, which is basically what I need for what I want to do, which is, play and sing songs, mostly poorly but with enthusiasm, in my office, while I’m taking a break from writing.

But didn’t you say digital helped you get into making music? I did! Back in the early aughts I bought music production software that included a collection of royalty-free loops, and I really got into that for a while, enough so that I actually ended up putting together an entire LP of the pieces I cobbled together with them. It is good? It won’t make your ears bleed, at least. But of course I can’t claim any credit for the music bits, just the sequencing and editing. And having done that made me interested in picking up actual musical instruments and attempting to learn how to play them a bit, and here we are.

Being a hobby musician is great for humility, and also makes me appreciate how hard making music out of one’s own brain is. I have a fair number of friends who are working musicians, and I’m constantly amazed at how they do it — play their instruments so well and write songs that people love and want to hear over and over. To be fair, many of them have said similar things about what I do, and how I can manage to write entire novels, which seems a mystical skill to them (there are some people who can do both novels and music. We’ve arranged to have them pushed in front of buses).

I’ve been paid for photos I’ve taken and I’ve even got royalty payments for my music — in both cases, enough to get a couple of pizzas — but I don’t plan to be (or will be, even if I plan it) a threat to actual professional photographers or musicians. What’s more, I don’t want to be. I like my hobbies being hobbies, which is a statement I don’t know that I could have made in 1998. Monetizing your enthusiasms is fine, but I’m at a point where the idea of monetizing everything makes me tired. It’s okay just to have enthusiasms, and to be less than amazing at them, and to enjoy them anyway.


Wed, 19 Sep 2018 16:41:46 +0000
1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Nineteen: Hobbies
I’m not sure I had hobbies in 1998. I definitely didn’t have the hobbies I have now, back then. Hobbies are, for the purposes of this entry, things you do that you enjoy for themselves, and not because you plan to make it a professional part of your life to any extent. I think it […]

He’s just yawning, mind you. But still.

No Whatever Digest today mostly because my morning was tasked with getting teeth cleanings and otherwise taking care of offline business, and I have more things to take care of this afternoon.

As an aside, some of you have mentioned to me the “Whatwitter” feed is down in the sidebar. I’m looking into it but it might be due to recent Twitter backend decisions about serving up the site’s content to outside apps and programs. But if I can get it back up I will. (Update: fixed!)


Wed, 19 Sep 2018 13:10:18 +0000
No Whatever Digest Today But Here’s a Picture of Smudge Looking Like He’s Just Seen the Boogeyman
He’s just yawning, mind you. But still. No Whatever Digest today mostly because my morning was tasked with getting teeth cleanings and otherwise taking care of offline business, and I have more things to take care of this afternoon. As an aside, some of you have mentioned to me the “Whatwitter” feed is down in […]

What is a hero? For Myke Cole, the answer to this question is not exactly the one that usually applies. It’s a thing that helped to fuel the writing for his latest, The Queen of Crows.

MYKE COLE:

Five years ago, I wrote about a singular experience. I know we live in the age of TLDR, so I’ll sum it up for those of you who won’t bother to click on the link – After my 2nd tour, the love of my life took a long look at the man she’d fallen in love with, compared him to the guy who came back from Iraq, and split. That’ll make you do some out-of-character stuff, and in my case, it resulted in my going to the on-post chapel at Naval Air Station, Pensacola in the hopes that something, anything, might break me free of the singular compulsion to suck-start a Glock.

It was the low-point of my life, and I was desperate for any human connection, so I was thrilled when one of the parishioners approached me, noting my tactical pack (which still had my blood type scrawled across it in black sharpie) and asked if I’d been down range. When I told him that I had, he turned to his son, and said “See? That’s a hero.” Then, he walked away.

Guess I was wrong about losing my fianc


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 23:03:50 +0000
The Big Idea: Myke Cole
What is a hero? For Myke Cole, the answer to this question is not exactly the one that usually applies. It’s a thing that helped to fuel the writing for his latest, The Queen of Crows. MYKE COLE: Five years ago, I wrote about a singular experience. I know we live in the age of […]

The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot.

Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had a series of thankfully minor reminders that my body is not invulnerable to damage, the most recent being a trip to the emergency room for a possible heart attack which turned out to be just indigestion. Which, to be clear, it’s great it was just indigestion, but 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even considered that it might be something else, much less called my physician’s office about it to have them say, “Yeaaaah, you should probably get to an emergency room right now,” because it sounded to them like a classic minor heart event. Things are different when you’re bumping up on 50 years of age. It’s better to be safe than possibly dead.

And generally there are other minor damages that have accrued through the years. I can no longer fully bend my right pinky due to a volleyball injury, which just goes to show that physical exercise is dangerous. When I was in Australia, I tore a leg muscle and had to hobble around Melbourne on crutches. I have a little bit of arthritis in my right hip ball joint. I can no longer do a forward handspring — the last time I did one, on my 35th birthday, my kneecaps tried to escape sideways and I said to myself, well, that’s enough of that.

For all that I have been lucky — I have had isolated incidents of injury, but what I don’t have, so far, knock on wood, are any chronic issues. I suppose the arthritis in the ball joint could be one, but I kind of have to go out of my way to aggravate it, mostly by contorting myself into a weird position, so I don’t really count it (yet). I have hay and cut grass allergies, which I didn’t have 20 years ago, but they’re not really doing anything to me but making me sneeze twenty times in a row, and Claritin knocks them into line. I’m healthy, mostly, on a day-to-day basis.

But as time goes on, that seems less likely to be the case, even if I do take care of myself generally. A large number of my friends have chronic health conditions now, not necessarily debilitating ones, but ones that require maintenance, and they’ve gotten them for a variety of reasons: some genetic, some environmental, some for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some for no reason that anyone can see other than, well, sometimes shit happens.

In my own family, as an example, we have a tendency toward cancers. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were both taken out by them, although in both their cases there was a conscious decision not to fight them; my grandmother because she didn’t want to worry anyone, and therefore let it go until it metastasized, and my grandfather because, as I understand it, basically he was done with this planet and cancer seemed as good a way as any to leave it. My brother has had breast cancer — a reminder that men, too, can get it — and he’s fine now, but it’s a thing I need to be aware of, with regard to my own health. I’m going to have to be taking screenings very seriously. Another issue on my radar is mental health; there are members of my family who have various issues in this direction. I don’t, at least not to date, but it’s something I keep tabs on.

My point is, at 29 I didn’t worry about most of these things, because I didn’t worry about them being applicable yet. This was a belief mostly out of ignorance, but also because, as a late-twenty-something, my cohort of friends and colleagues (mostly) weren’t worrying about these things, either. As we’ve all gotten older we’ve started worrying about it more.

I’ve also gotten to the point in life where people my age dying, while still unexpected, is not actuarially unusual. By your mid-to-late 40s, you’re going to have close-to-age friends, coworkers and family pass away. Krissy and I have lost friends to cancer, to ALS, and to other diseases. Just prior to our 30th reunion, my high school class marked its first death, again to cancer. I don’t imagine we’ll make it to our 40th without a few more.

I’m fine with dying one day (well, not fine, but not losing too much sleep over it in an existential sense), but I’m not in a rush, either. More to the point, as much as I can control such things, I want this backslope of my years on this planet not to be burdensome, either to myself or to the people I love. This means paying attention to my health and doing all the little things required to be healthy. Which I kind of hate, because I’m lazy and all this maintenance means work. But better to do work now then not, and suffer for it later. Long-term planning. Sigh.

(But how can you say you’re paying attention to your health when you make those burritos you do, Scalzi? I hear you say. Explain that, you bum! Look, those burritos are sometimes food, okay? I don’t eat them, like, every day.)

The point is I want to be here, and still writing, 20 years from now. And if I want that, I better be paying attention to my health. 29-year-old me could get away with letting it slide. 49-year-old me? Not so much.

That said, I think I’ll go for a walk now.


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 16:59:32 +0000
1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health
The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot. Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had […]

For his novel Worldshaper, author Edward Willett posits another type of authorship entirely… one with literally global implications.

EDWARD WILLETT:

Authors sometimes talk of their fictional worlds as though they lived in them. They’ll speak of characters taking on lives of their own, unexpected plot twists, settings that complexify beyond what was intended.

In reality, of course, all of this happens inside our heads…but what if, in reality, it happened in reality—or, at least, in a version of reality? What if we authors could immerse ourselves in our fictional worlds physically, rather than intellectually, and occasionally even rewrite them while we’re living within them?

That’s the “big idea” behind Worldshaper, my ninth novel for DAW Books, start of a brand-new series, called (you’ll never guess) Worldshapers.

The series will take place within the many worlds of the Labyrinth, an extra-dimensional realm in which people with sufficient will and imagination, called Shapers, can give the worlds of their imaginations physical form, and then take up residence within them.

Each of these worlds is populated with millions or even billions of humans, for whom those worlds are the real world, as ancient and solid and eternal as our own world seems to us—even though none of them have existed for more than a few decades.

The Shapers, having taken up physical residence in their Shaped worlds, can no more leave them of their own volition than a fictional character can exit a novel. The fortunate ones made good choice in Shaping their worlds. Others, alas, embody Psalm 7:15: “Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.”

A single powerful Shaper, Ygrair, discovered the possibilities of the Labyrinth and opened it to the Shapers. But Ygrair has been weakened by the attack of an enemy, the Adversary (he has his reasons) who has found his way into the Labyrinth. He seeks to execute Ygrair and destroy the Labyrinth. Along the way, he’s turning every world he can get his hands on into a copy of the “perfect” authoritarian realm he Shaped for himself.

As Worldshaper begins, Ygrair’s lieutenant, Karl Yatsar, arrives in yet another in a long string of worlds, seeking a Shaper strong enough to gather and hold the knowledge of as many Shaped worlds as possible and deliver that knowledge to Ygrair, who will be able to use it to secure the Labyrinth against the depredations of her Adversary.

Shawna Keys, an aspiring potter in a small Montana city, turns out to be the Shaper of the world Yatsar has just entered, closely pursued by the Adversary, who, during a brutal attack, successfully collects Shawna’s Shaping knowledge. The adversary is about to kill her to cement his control of her world when, to Yatsar’s astonishment, she apparently resets time by three hours.

Everything goes back to the way it was. The attack never happened—but everyone killed, including Shawna’s best friend, has not only vanished, they’ve been utterly forgotten.

Shawna’s amazing display makes Yatsar think she may the one he seeks…but when he approaches her, he’s shocked to discover that Shawna Keys has forgotten she’s a Shaper: she’s the author of the book of her world, but she doesn’t remember writing it.

With the Adversary after her, though, she has no choice but to trust Karl. They flee to the one place Karl can form a Portal into the next world, with the Adversary in pursuit and working steadily to turn every aspect of Shawna’s world against her.

As the series continues, I look forward to exploring all kinds of questions raised by the big idea of authors living in the worlds they shape.

For example: authors do horrible things to characters all the time. Remorse is fleeting because, after all, the characters aren’t real.

But in the Shaped Worlds, they are. So, if you were an author living inside a world you’d written, would you continue to rewrite the living, breathing “characters” around you for your own selfish ends?

Dystopias, alien invasions, war, plague, and supernatural horrors all make exciting stories. Would we be so willing to create worlds that contain these things if we had to live in them? No? What if we could live in them but be immune to their dangers? Would we still choose to make such worlds, at the expense of those we force to live there?

Shawna’s Shaped world is very close to ours, with a few minor changes: for example, lacrosse is the big professional sport, she once saw The Da Vinci Code: The Musical on Broadway (Hugh Jackman did his best in the Robert Langdon role, but the show sucked), there are colonies on the moon, and the president lives, not in the White House, but in the Emerald Palace.

But as the series continues, Shawna will enter worlds belonging to Shapers with imaginations far different from her own. Like an adventurous reader, she will encounter ideas, characters, and situations she may find abhorrent. Yet, to fulfil Ygrair’s task, she must attempt to save all of the Shaped worlds, even those she hates. Her commitment to the quest, her commitment to what you might call “Freedom of Shaping,” and her own confidence in her ability to Shape things for the better may all erode in the process.

Lest this sound too grim, let me hasten to add that, since Shawna is written in first-person, she has my sense of humour. The result (according to one pleased reviewer) is a “sarcastic wiseass smart-mouthed main female character.”

I can’t live in my fictional world physically like the Shapers can, but in Shawna (and the other characters) you’ll still find bits of me, as you will in the ideas infusing the series, both small…and big.

—-

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

Read an excerptVisit Willett’s site and follow him on Twitter. Check out his podcast, The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process.

 


Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:30:41 +0000
The Big Idea: Edward Willett
For his novel Worldshaper, author Edward Willett posits another type of authorship entirely… one with literally global implications. EDWARD WILLETT: Authors sometimes talk of their fictional worlds as though they lived in them. They’ll speak of characters taking on lives of their own, unexpected plot twists, settings that complexify beyond what was intended. In reality, […]

Let’s see what the world has for us today, shall we?

***

To begin on a high note, congratulations to my dear friend Mary Robinette Kowal, who has just announced a three-book, six-figure deal with Tor Books. The deal covers two more books in her “Lady Astronaut” series plus a standalone novel. The Verge has all the details, plus a short interview with MRK on the matter.

I’m thrilled about this. Aside from MRK being one of my favorite people on the planet, I’m a very big fan of the two current Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars (which I think is a top contender for Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nods) and The Fated Sky. More in this universe makes me very happy. I’m also pleased Tor recognizes her value with the size of the deal. This is good news for everyone, but especially for MRK. I like it when my friends get good news.

***

Oh, let’s talk more about that Kavanaugh mess, I suppose.

Brett Kavanaugh, it should be noted, has doubled down on his categorical denial, regarding Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her back when they were teenagers. Both Kavanaugh and Ford are going to testify about it in front of the Senate on Monday, and one would hope under oath. And won’t that be interesting if it is under oath? Because then, if they both stick to their stories, one or the other of them is, flatly, lying.

Alternately, if one wishes to be extraordinarily generous about it, it’s possible that Kavanaugh isn’t lying, precisely, he simply has no memory of the incident. Ford did describe him as being stumble-down drunk at the time. But the thing about that is, he didn’t say “I have no memory of such an incident ever occurring.” He said it never happened. So we’re back to it being an actual lie, in my book.

And here’s the thing for me: Removing all the political aspects of the incident and focusing on the individuals and the incident itself, who are you more likely to believe has a better memory of the incident: The person who was stumble-down drunk when the incident occurred, or the person who was not, and had the event seared into her brain so significantly that it still came up in therapy, three decades later? I’d put my money on the latter, personally.

(The other, exculpatory-for-Kavanaugh explanation is that Ford isn’t lying but has misremembered the identity of her assaulter, which is possible, but given what we know of things, seems unlikely.)

But the timing of this shows it’s all political! Meh. Again, Ford expressed her concerns about Kavanaugh to her elected reps well in advance of his actual nomination for the court, and asked for confidentiality, which she was given. By all indications Senator Feinstein didn’t send the letter to the FBI until someone else leaked it. On Ford’s part, this doesn’t seem like the actions of someone desperately hungry to throw a spanner into the political works. The fact that some people want to blame her for the current mess is more than a little gross. Once the letter was a known thing, she came forward and was willing to testify. But she wasn’t responsible for the events that led to her letter becoming a political hot potato.

***

Someone in email accused me of smearing an innocent person (Kavanaugh, to be clear) and leading a mob against him. Well, Kavanaugh may well be innocent! But it seems unlikely to me, given what we know, and since I’m not a court of law or Kavanaugh’s lawyer, I’m not obliged to pretend I think he is. It seems likely to me that as a teenager he sexually assaulted Ford; it also seems likely to me that as an adult, he’s lying about it. Merely stating that opinion is not riling up a mob, I’m not stating “Kavanaugh is lying, go set fire to his house!” (Please do not set fire to his house.) Nor is the Whatever audience much of a mob (sorry).

Nor, bluntly, is Kavanaugh in much danger of having any major repercussions for his (probable in my opinion) teenage sexual assault. The worst case scenario for Kavanaugh is that he goes back to his job on the DC Court of Appeals — just like Merrick Garland! — and keeps doing what he’s already been doing. I mean, technically, if he lied in front of Congress he could be penalized for that, but he’s already arguably lied in front of Congress, and Congress seems to be willing to give him a pass for that. Kavanaugh’s real world penalty, if the Senate chooses not to confirm because, among other things, more of its members than not believed he pinned down a fifteen-year-old girl, put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, ground himself into her and tried to take off her clothes, is… he keeps the immensely privileged life he already has. Oh, my God. How horrible for him.

But his reputation! Again, meh. It seems unlikely to me that any of Kavanaugh’s pals on the right will penalize him for it; he will still be admired and respected in the circles he already runs in. These are the same circles who elected as president a man who indisputably sexually assaulted women as an adult. There’s not much evidence at the moment that the right thinks sexual assault should count against a person’s reputation unless that person is on the left. Let’s not pretend that if the exact same accusations were made against a Supreme Court nominee picked by a Democratic president, the right would be calling for that nominee’s withdrawal (at least). But I guess it’s different when you’re on the right and you have a nominee that you know will overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance he gets.

So, yeah. Don’t cry for Kavanaugh. He’s going to be fine, whether he’s innocent or not.

***

People in Washington seem to be worried about an emerging “Kavanaugh Standard,” i.e., what you did at seventeen will now be held against you in senatorial confirmation hearings. A few thoughts here:

1. Can we stop pretending that sexual assault is just average teenage hijinx? I went to high school in the same era as Kavanaugh, you know. Even in the benighted 80s, we fucking well knew that sexual assault was not within the scope of acceptable activities. I was there! I know this to be true!

2. If you can’t or won’t agree that sexual assault is not your average teenage hijinx, one, what the fuck were you up to in high school, pal, and two, in fact, what you were doing in high school might be relevant to your senatorial confirmation, especially if you evince no actual moral growth from that point forward.

3. Otherwise, I think most people are probably in the clear regarding their high school stupidity.

4. But might it not also be wise to tell teens that all their lives will be affected by the choices they make as teenagers, including the choices they’re not aware they’re making? Is it not worth it to inculcate in their still-forming brains the idea that far-reaching consequences exist, even if they can’t yet fully understand these consequences may arise at a point that is a multiple of the years that they have currently been alive? And that their actions will have consequences for others, all through their lives as well?

5. Also, you know what? I would be fine culling out of governmental service everyone who sexually assaulted someone else as a teenager. Or as an adult! Why not both! And if it turns out there is a noticeable dearth of available men for such service, well, I guess them’s the breaks, and the good news is that there are almost certainly a large number of women available to come on board to take care of things, whilst the men fix their cultural shit. I’m fine with that. If this is indeed the new “Kavanaugh Standard,” there would be far worse things, I have to say.

***

And to end on a high note: Look! The Captain Marvel trailer! Looks like fun.



The Whatever Digest, 9/18/18
Let’s see what the world has for us today, shall we? *** To begin on a high note, congratulations to my dear friend Mary Robinette Kowal, who has just announced a three-book, six-figure deal with Tor Books. The deal covers two more books in her “Lady Astronaut” series plus a standalone novel. The Verge has […]
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