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Posted by John Scalzi

For the parking lot aficionados, bask in the glory of not one, not two, but three entirely separate parking structures! Parkingpalooza! That really catches us up on the parking lots, which had been a bit sparse the last few days.

Also: Hello, Dallas! Tonight at 7 you can see me at Half Price Books! So do! I will be lonely without you. All of you. Every single citizen of Dallas. Yes.

Tomorrow: Chicago, my collegiate stomping grounds! Volumes Bookcafe at 7pm. The event is sold out (yikes!).

And then I get to go home for a few days. Wheee!

Links for you today: A review of The Collapsing Empire at Ars Technica: The Collapsing Empire is a hilarious tale of humanity’s impending doom. And then, from me: Five Books I Was Thinking Of When I Wrote The Collapsing Empire. Enjoy!

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Posted by Rebecca Watson

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

Sorta transcript:

I’ve talked before about crisis pregnancy centers — they’re businesses the Religious Right has set up to trick women into giving birth. I know, that sounds ridiculous when you lay it out that way, but unfortunately it’s true. The centers have an air of medical professionalism but in reality many of them don’t qualify as actual medical clinics and so they aren’t even allowed to do things like pregnancy tests.

Whether they qualify as medical clinics or not, an estimated 91% of them have a nasty habit of disseminating completely made-up medical information — all the normal bullshit, like the idea that abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t) or depression (nope) or future miscarriage (nuh-uh).

In fact, several crisis pregnancy centers have been caught telling pregnant women that they shouldn’t bother getting an abortion because half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, anyway, which isn’t true. They do that so that women will put off an abortion until it’s too late.

It’s incredible that these centers are still allowed to operate with pretty much no oversight. But one clinic in Pennsylvania finally figured out what it takes to get shut down — not lying to pregnant women to force them into childbirth, but skimming from the state government.

You see, a ridiculous number of these fake, lying centers get money from the government despite the fact that they are run almost exclusively as religious propaganda to trick women into giving birth. This clinic in particular, called “Real Alternatives” — the “alternatives” are apparently alternatives to science-based healthcare, same as in alternative medicine — got $30 million from Pennsylvania taxpayers over five years. All that money is supposed to go to sub-contractors who provide “services” to pregnant women, mostly “counseling” that amounts to lying about abortion.

But Real Alternatives found a sneaky way to get a little kickback. They charged their subcontractors a 3% fee for every payment, which amounted to just under a million dollars that wasn’t accounted for in their financials. When Pennsylvania officials figured this out, they wanted to make sure that that money was going toward the stated purpose of aiding pregnant women, so they launched an audit. And here’s where it gets really bold: instead of submitting to the audit like any other corporation would do, Real Alternatives chose to sue Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, who says it’s the first time that’s ever happened to him.

The Auditor General didn’t necessarily assume Real Alternatives was misusing those funds, but god damn if it’s not just a little bit suspicious that rather than opening their books and proving the money is being used legally, they’re suing to keep it hidden. It’s all very…Trump-ian.

So maybe the government doesn’t mind giving money to organizations that will blatantly lie to women and endanger their health, but at least the financial guys are on their game. Let’s hope this is enough to shut down Real Alternatives, and make Pennsylvania and other state governments think twice about multi-million dollar grants to these charlatans.

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Posted by John Scalzi

Definitely not a parking lot. I could get used to this.

(Don’t worry, I’m sure more parking lots are coming.)

This is a fine time to answer a question I get sometimes about touring, which is whether I can any control (or say) regarding the hotels I’m in while on tour. The answer to this is that before the tour starts I make requests, not of hotels, but of what I’d like as my baseline for touring. In my case, I basically want three things: A decent bed, a viable internet connection, and not to be murdered when I exit the hotel.

This gives the tour booker a lot of leeway, and I assume they then move forward with hotels they’re used to working with and/or hotels that fulfill a practical purpose (like, for example, being a short walk to the event venue). So sometimes I get a boutique hotel, like today, sometimes I get a something like a Marriott or an Omni, and occasionally I’ll get something like a Holiday Inn. And in all cases: Does it have bed, internet and no murders? Great! That’ll work for me. Also, I mean, I’m not paying for the room. From my point of view it’s all good.

(Also, when I fly I typically fly Premium Economy, which (usually) means I get on reasonably early and I have overhead space for my carry-on. I don’t request business or first class because I don’t see the utility of spending hundreds more for one of those seats. I fit reasonably well in a standard airline seat, and I don’t take advantage of the “free” drinks, and most flights I take are not long enough for me to get either antsy or achey. This personal preference should not imply that other folks don’t have valid reasons to ask for business or first class seats, although I’m sure Tor is happy I’m happy with Premium Economy.)

So, that’s how I do hotels (and flights).

On an entirely different note, I wrote a piece about Seven Secrets to Writing a Best-Selling Science Fiction Novel. Just in case you were wondering.

Finally: Houston! See you tonight, 7pm, at Brazos Bookstore. And tomorrow, Dallas, you can see me at 7pm at Half Price Books (the one at 5803 E Northwest Highway, which gets a full three compass points in the address). See you there!

Are Atheists Scared of Death?

Mar. 27th, 2017 04:49 pm
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Posted by Rebecca Watson

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

Sorta transcript:

Researchers at Oxford University have conducted a meta-analysis in which they examined 100 studies concerning fear of death, looking for correlations with religiosity. They found some surprising results about atheists when compared to the very religious.

I’ve always thought of religion as something that is so popular, in part, because it tells us a nice story about what happens after we die. It gives us some hope that after death, we might be able to keep being ourselves, and we can still see all our loved ones. That’s overly simplistic, of course, especially considering the popularity of religions that didn’t even start with much of an idea of any afterlife at all. Even the ancient Jews didn’t have a “heaven” so much as a dark, shadowy pit where everybody probably ends up. It wasn’t exactly a happy story and even then, not every sect believed it. That’s why if you read the Old Testament, no one comforts anybody who is dying to tell them they’ll end up in heaven soon. God genocides the entire planet but no one discusses whether anyone will end up in a “better place,” except Noah because he gets the info he needs to live. And eventually Noah dies and guess what? No one talks about how great it is that he’s in heaven now.

But still, when I realized I was an atheist, the hardest thing to accept was that I am going to die one day and there’s nothing I can do about it and I will completely cease to exist as the person known as “Rebecca.” Forever. A huge part of me wished I could still believe in a god with a heavenly post-death playground, just so I could sleep at night.

That’s why it surprised me that a number of studies in the meta-analysis supported the idea that the people who fear death the least are the extremely religious true believers AND the atheists. The people with the most death anxiety were the ones who were in the middle — people who are religious but mostly because of the social and cultural benefits, for instance.

In fact, not only did 10 of 11 relevant studies support the U-shaped graph of very religious and nonreligious people being the least afraid of death, but 18% of all the studies in the meta-analysis found that nonreligious people are less afraid of death than religious people.

It’s worth remembering that there is a correlation/causation issue, here: maybe it’s not that people don’t believe in god and find comfort in that as it concerns death, but maybe it’s that people who already don’t fear death don’t feel the need to find comfort in religion, so they drop it or just don’t seek it out in the first place.

I also, though, wonder how much of this is grandstanding. There’s no way to get this information without self-reporting, so we have to rely on people to be honest about their feelings. As an atheist, I’ve had religious people mock me for not believing in an afterlife, and goad me with the idea that I’m just going to rot in the ground one day. It’s hard to say, in the face of a mocking majority, “Yeah, it’s actually really scary.” Because if religious people know you’re scared, they might think that’s a weak point where they might convince you to join their particular religion. They can also use it as a way to convince their flock that atheists are sad and miserable.

I’d much rather say, “I don’t fear death because I know it’s inevitable, and in fact the looming specter of death makes me appreciate each day of my life all the more, and I’m grateful for that.” That’s a strong, positive statement but it’s also a bit of hyperbole. My personal truth would be more like this: “I find my eventual non-existence terrifying but inevitable, so I try not to think about it while instead focusing on making the world a better place for me and everyone else, and while I try to remember that this is the only life I have to live I still want to spend a significant portion of it playing video games.

But that’s just me! I’m sure there are plenty of atheists out there who really don’t worry about death at all. I’m interested to know what you think…are you an atheist who really doesn’t fear death? Or a True Believer who is terrified of it? Let me know in the comments!

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Posted by Dave Cartwright

With the launch of it’s two new cocktails ‘The French Kiss’ and ‘The Black Star’ I went along to The Victoria Gate Casino to see what all the fuss is about…
The lavish casino lifestyle is ...
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Posted by Corey Robin

Despite having taken a long break from social media and blogging after the election—partly due to having gotten the election so wrong and wanting some time to reflect; partly due to exhaustion—I have written a bunch of pieces on the political situation that may be of interest to folks, particularly as we near the proverbial 100-day mark of Trump’s regime.

Back in December, I wrote an essay for Harper’s on how we ought to think of opposing Trump, of not falling into the trap of resting our politics on the intractable evil of his regime. I trace that kind of thinking back to the liberalism that emerged at the end of the Cold War (really, it extends back further), a liberalism that refuses to posit a good and, instead, grounds its claims on a feared evil or ill. One of the consequences of that way of thinking is this:

A liberalism that needs monsters to destroy can never politically engage with its enemies. It can never understand those enemies as political actors, making calculations, taking advantage of opportunities, and responding to constraints. It can never see in those enemies anything other than a black hole of motivation, a cesspool where reason goes to die. Hence the refusal of empathy for Trump’s supporters. Insofar as it marks a demand that we not abandon antiracist principle and practice for the sake of winning over a mythicized white working class, the refusal is unimpeachable. But like the know-nothing disavowal of knowledge after 9/11, when explanations of terrorism were construed as exonerations of terrorism, the refusal of empathy since 11/9 is a will to ignorance. Far simpler to imagine Trump voters as possessed by a kind of demonic intelligence, or anti-intelligence, transcending all the rules of the established order. Rather than treat Trump as the outgrowth of normal politics and traditional institutions — it is the Electoral College, after all, not some beating heart of darkness, that sent Trump to the White House — there is a disabling insistence that he and his forces are like no political formation we’ve seen. By encouraging us to see only novelty in his monstrosity, analyses of this kind may prove as crippling as the neocons’ assessment of Saddam’s regime. That, too, was held to be like no tyranny we’d seen, a despotism where the ordinary rules of politics didn’t apply and knowledge of the subject was therefore useless.

I pursued this line of argument about the need to view Trump politically in a piece that appeared in n+1 in January, several weeks before Trump’s Inauguration. Like several other scholars—most notably, Jack Balkin and Julia Azari—I deployed Steve Skowronek’s theory of the presidency, exploring the possibilities that Trump’s presidency might turn out to be like Jimmy Carter’s. I had been pondering the Carter scenario as early as last June on Facebook, though as most of you know, using the same broad theory, I wound up making the ultimately mistaken argument (more on this below) that Trump was like McGovern. (NB: This is not a comparison between the personalities or talents or skill sets or ideological agendas of these men; it’s a comparison of the structural positions they find themselves in, as presidents presiding over weak regimes.)

In any event, while the scenarios I set out in my n+1 piece were speculative, I thought there was significant enough evidence accumulating in the weeks after his election to show that Trump’s presidency might be as disjunctive as Carter’s.

THE INTERREGNUM BETWEEN Trump’s election and his inauguration has occasioned a fever dream of authoritarianism—a procession of nightmares from faraway lands and distant times, from Hitler and Mussolini to Putin and Erdogan. But what if Trump’s antecedents are more prosaic, the historical analogies nearer to hand? What if the best clues to the Trump presidency are to be found in that most un-Trump-like of figures: Jimmy Carter?

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CARTER and Trump are many and obvious: Carter shyly confessed to having “committed adultery in my heart”; Trump brags about grabbing pussy. Carter was a moralist and a technocrat; Trump, an immoralist and a demagogue. Carter was a state senator and a governor; Trump has no political experience. Carter wouldn’t hurt a fly (or a rabbit). Trump takes pleasure in humiliating others, particularly women and people of color.

The parallels between Carter and Trump are also many, if less obvious.
Though many objected to this piece when it came out, claiming that I was not alert enough to the strongman authoritarianism, even fascism, that Trump was organizing around him, subsequent events, I think, have shown that his presidency is as incoherent, and as weak, as I speculated it might be. Frankly, even weaker: it’s an innovative fascist who, when given total control of the state apparatus, consistently and electively fails to consolidate that apparatus, particularly its security sectors. Or who responds to challenges to his power with a phlegmatic  ”I’ll see you in court.” (And, yes, I know about the Leipzig Trial, but that was a response to an alleged criminal act; with Trump, we’re talking about how he copes with challenges to his policies.)  Despite the rhetoric and bravado, the tweets and tantrums, Trump remains very much a captive of the institutions he rails against, with little sign, it seems, of being able to do much about them. At least FDR, when faced with challenges from the courts, had the wherewithal to try and pack the Supreme Court; Trump’s greatest threat is…to take it to the Supreme Court.

In any event, the debacle over the repeal of Obamacare fully reveals the extent of the incoherence and disjunction of the regime. I examine some of the deeper, long-term dynamics underlying the disjunction in a lengthy oped in yesterday’s New York Times:

When confronting an enemy that controls the state or the terms of political debate, insurgent movements [like the American right between the 1950s and 1970s] are disciplined by the combination of their ambition and their weakness. Because they are in the minority, the movement’s true believers understand that their primary task is to win converts. That task forces them to cajole and confront, to engage and entertain, the other side. If they win converts, if they see their movement grow, they’ll confidently accept a temporary compromise with their newfound, perhaps softer allies as the price of power — and the promise of greater power to come. The movement thus develops a suppleness, a buoyancy, that enables it to smooth over the inevitable differences and fissures that accompany any expansion beyond its base.

Movements on the rise are also forced to shape and sharpen their ideas, to formulate and test their policies in the news media and academia, or out of the spotlight in local precincts and party primaries. The philosopher and economist Friedrich A. Hayek, whose writings helped shape the modern right, said the free-market ideal most “progressed” when it was “on the defensive.” That encounter with reality, of trying to proselytize and govern amid an enemy more powerful than you, is a vital teacher. In that classroom, movements learn what to think, what to do, and how to do it. Once they graduate, they’re ready not only to seize power but also to exercise it.

Movements long ensconced and habituated to power — such that when their leaders are out of office, their ideas still dominate — get out of that practice. They lose touch with that external reality of their opponents. The impulsion outward disappears; they grow isolated and doctrinaire, more sectarian than evangelical. Arguments their predecessors had to sweat their way through soften into lazy nostrums or harden into rigid dogmas. The free-market ideal, Hayek says, “became stationary when it was most influential.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the Republican Party should now find itself uncertain about what to do. After 40 years in Zion, it has lost the will and clarity it acquired while wandering in the desert. The movement has lost the constraint of circumstance.

After my oped appeared yesterday, I speculated a little further about what the defeat means going forward, as we start examining the question of tax cuts and the debt ceiling, the second and third point of what what I call the “Bermuda Triangle” of Trump’s regime.
If you go back to the best reporting on this issue, it’s clear that repealing Obamacare was never, simply, about an ideological antipathy to government-provided or government-subsidized insurance—though that of course played a role. What really was driving the repeal—and why Ryan insisted it had to be done first (that was no duping of Trump, as some are claiming, nor was it Bannon setting up the Freedom Caucus, as some are even more fantastically claiming)—was the tax cuts: not only the massive tax cuts that the repeal contained within itself, but also, and more important, the permanent tax cuts that repeal would make possible down the road this year (in a way that George W. Bush’s tax cuts were not permanent, much to the chagrin of the right). There was, in other words, a very rational reason to take on healthcare first; in some ways, given the ultimate long-term goals of the GOP (where cutting taxes has always proven to be the most tried and true method for keeping entitlement spending under control), they had no choice but to move on healthcare first.

You’ll recall that this issue dogged Obama like the plague: whether you think it was the GOP that controlled him on this issue or he who allowed himself to be controlled by the GOP, it was a real constraint on his presidency from 2010 onward. So as soon as Trump was elected I began to wonder to myself whether this same GOP, and particularly these meshuga Tea Partiers, would allow Trump simply to increase the debt ceiling without exacting some sort of price from him, the way they did with Obama.

Leftists alarmed by Trump tend to think the GOP will naturally fall in line with him and with Bannon’s vision of a different kind of GOP. So the debt ceiling from this perspective won’t even be an issue. I myself really didn’t know what would happen: would these Tea Party types really have the gumption to oppose Trump on the debt, to force him to come around to their priorities? I was dubious.

After what happened this past week, I’m no longer dubious. I still have no idea what the GOP will do, but I think it not impossible that the Unfreedom Caucus and their allies (a much wider group in the GOP) will replay with Trump what they did with Obama: demand concessions from Trump on taxes and spending in order to justify their voting to raise the debt ceiling. The difference this time around is that unlike Obama, Trump has far less room to maneuver: Obama had the entire Democratic Party vote and only needed a certain number of GOP votes; Trump has an uncertain number of GOP votes and will almost definitely have to reach out to the Democratic Party.
As I mentioned, I took a long break from the internet after November, in which I thought a lot about what and why I got wrong in the election. I wrote about that here.

Part of my failure, of course, was that I didn’t read the polls carefully enough. A lot of the polls, as my more attentive readers pointed out, showed Clinton’s margin over Trump, particularly in key states, to be well within the margin of error. That should have been a warning.

But to be honest, I wasn’t so much influenced by the polls as I was by two other things: first, my understanding of conservatism as a reactionary movement of the right; second, my understanding of the presidency as an institution.

One possibility is that I was wrong about the weaknesses of the Reagan regime. Rather than being weak, perhaps it was strong, which would make Trump an ideal candidate for election. In support of that possibility, people will point to the widespread control the Republicans have over state legislatures today, though as I said at the time this McGovern issue came up, the Democrats also had widespread control over state legislatures in the 1970s, and their control over Congress, particularly the House, was legendary and long-standing.

Another possibility is that I wasn’t wrong about the weaknesses of the Reagan regime but that I was wrong about Trump. Unlike conservatives or Republicans, he was doing something different: he was populist, he was revanchist, he was racist, he was outrageous, he was a demagogue, he reached out to the white working class. He was, in other words, the expression of an utterly new formation, not captured by the nostrums of conservatism. For a thousand different reasons, most of which I explore in my book, I think that argument couldn’t be more wrong. Virtually all the things that people point to that supposedly make Trump not like your typical Republican or conservative are, from my point of view, the emblematic features of what it means to be a conservative. And nothing anyone has said has convinced me otherwise.

But there is still another possibility: I wasn’t so much wrong about Trump or the Republicans; what I got wrong was the Democrats….
Since the election, I haven’t been posting at Crooked Timber. It’s difficult juggling so many conversation threads on social media, at my blog, and here. But you can always catch what I’m saying on Facebook (I’m maxed out on friends, but most of my posts are public, so you can sign up to follow them), on Twitter, or on my blog.

Goodnight, Pluto

Mar. 27th, 2017 12:45 pm
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Posted by Phil Plait

Pluto backlit by the Sun

A newly processed image from the New Horizons probe shows Pluto backlit by the Sun, its whisper-thin atmosphere glowing gloriously blue.

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Posted by Belle Waring

So I think we’re all breathing a little easier now that the truly astonishingly terrible AHCA (aka TRUMPCARE) has gone down in flames. Paul Ryan has made hundreds enemies and no friends, having managed to come up with a bill hated by both the I-might-get-voted-out-most and hating-poor-people-most wings of his party and then fail. Certainly Trump is upset insofar as it makes him look like a HUGE LOSER, and is lashing out at everyone and everything. He’s probably tweeting at this very moment about how the bill’s failure to pass can be laid at the feet of an elephant-shaped paperweight on his desk. When he threw it at a scarecrow Bannon hastily constructed for him out of pillows and inside-out Breitbart T-shirts that has “Freedom Cacus” scrawled on it in gold sharpie, the paperweight fell against the hearth and shattered, not in the fashion of the GENUINE COSTLY JADE McConnell assured him it was but like CHEAP SOAPSTONE. Some welcome and good luck present from the Republican Establishment that turned out to be. SAD! But is anyone else particularly broken up about it? Trump-organ Breitbart (not linking tho) itself has drawn the knives out for that spineless cuck Ryan (and Trump appears to be heading in this direction.) However I don’t see a lot of wailing or gnashing of teeth in any actual “our precious bill didn’t pass” way. John and I have made our sickly rounds of right-wing sites, and, as John noted even in his current feverish state, no one seems particularly upset about the failure (like, he has an actual fever; our reading of right-wing sites merely emblematizes a spiritual sickness). Some are saying “great; it wasn’t conservative enough.” No one seems to be coming out and saying “it broke all Trump’s campaign promises and would have made a bunch of the voters that pushed him to the presidency way worse off, and immediately, so they would notice by 2018, and we’d be screwed, so, dodged a bullet there,” although they have to be thinking it. What say ye, Plain People of Crooked Timber? Are there any conservatives who are rueful about the failure of their awesome bill, which was great on the merits?

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Mindy

Sunday Funny: Color pattern (via xkcd)

Mad Art Lab

Why Waste Water?
Using art to draw attention to our global water crisis.

Art Inquisition: Could You Be Our Next Winner?
What, if anything, makes a design contest OK?

Make a Member of Congress
Have you been ghosted by your member of Congress? Be like Celia and make your own!

School of Doubt

Who is This Music For, Anyway?
Dan wonders how the early music curriculum could be diversified.

Look to Labor Law to Solve Student Association Conflicts
Matthew thinks student associations should look to labour unions as models for managing their disputes with universities.

Featured image credit: Enid Martindale via Flickr

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Posted by John Scalzi

I’m in a brand-new, very hipster hotel. I kinda love it, but I’m also very clearly not its primary demographic.

Hello, Austin! In just about 90 minutes from the typing of this sentence, you can see me at BookPeople at 3pm! There’s still time to get there! Drive! Safely!

Tomorrow: Houston, and a 7pm event at Brazos Bookstore. Come see me, please. I prefer not to be alone on tour dates.

We get mail (contd.)

Mar. 26th, 2017 04:47 pm
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So I occasionally get mail via the feedback form on this blog. And I usually try to reply to it (when I get a reply-able email address and it seems to expect a reply and I have something to say), and I certainly don't publish email without getting permission first ... unless it's like this (i.e. the sender is unidentified and unidentifiable from the content, which is copypasta of someone else's out-of-copyright rant):

Subject: Fear the Lord!!!

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

(James 4:1-6 KJV)

To which the holy spirit[*] led me to reply:

My imaginary friends have more fun than your imaginary friends.

Moral of this story: assuming someone else shares your beliefs—or even understands them well enough to respond to your attempt at evangelism other than with baffled amusement—is a bad idea.

Also: what is it that leads people to believe that an all-powerful omniscient creator, who is presumably responsible for the fine structure constant, neutron stars, and Sacculina carcini, is nevertheless obsessively interested in where and what hairless African plains apes rub their genitalia against?

[*]The memory of last night's very nice single malt whisky

The Collapsing Empire and Word Count

Mar. 26th, 2017 03:15 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Been looking at the reviews (professional and otherwise) of The Collapsing Empire and I’m happy to say that by and large they’re pretty good. There are quibbles here and there, and from time to time someone bounces off it hard, but in both of those cases that’s fine, and to be expected, since no one novel works equally well for everyone.

There has been one recurring comment about the book, however, that I’ve found interesting, which is that a fair number of people seem to think that it’s short; that is, shorter than usual for a science fiction book, or maybe a book of mine.

Is it? Not really; it clocks in at about 90,000 words, which as it happens is about right in the middle for my novels (and a standard length for science fiction novels generally). The shortest novel of mine is Redshirts, which is about 55K words long (the codas add another 20K, which brings the entire book to 75k), and the longest is The Android’s Dream, which was about 115K. The Human Division, which is a collection of stories with a novel-like arc (we usually call it a novel to avoid sounding too precious about it) is my longest book of fiction, with 135k words. Most of the books in the Old Man’s War series clock in between 90k and 100k, and Fuzzy Nation and Lock In are both around 85k, if memory serves correctly. So, again, The Collapsing Empire is right around in the middle of my book lengths.

(This estimation does not count individually-published novellas like The God Engines or The Dispatcher, or my non-fiction books.)

I’m not entirely sure what makes people think The Collapsing Empire is short, but I have a couple guesses. One is that, like most books of mine, it’s heavy on dialogue and light on description, which makes it “read” faster than other books of the same length might be. The other reason may be that science fiction books, which anecdotally have tended to be shorter than fantasy books, are beginning to creep up in word count a bit. The Expanse books always strike me as pretty hefty, for example.

While I never say never, it’s nevertheless unlikely my books are going to get much heftier than the 90K-110k word range. For one thing, all my books are contracted to be in that range. Yes, there really is a contractual length for novels, and a writer is generally supposed to come with 10% of the contracted word count on either side. So when I start organizing my novels in my brain, that’s the target I’m usually aiming for. For another thing, my heavy-on-dialogue, light-on-description general style doesn’t really lend itself to hefty tomes. I could bulk up my books a bit by adding more description of what characters look like (I’m sort of notoriously skimpy on physical description) or other such stuff, but it doesn’t really interest me to do so as a writer, unless I think doing so is relevant to the plot.

(This isn’t a backhanded diss on writers who do a lot of description, by the way — some of them do it very well, and also a lot of readers really enjoy that sort of storytelling, including me from time to time. It’s just not generally the direction my brain goes, when it comes time to write.)

My only real concern with people feeling The Collapsing Empire is short is that people then feel cheated, like they didn’t get enough story out of this particular novel. The good news for me, at least in the reviews I’ve seen, is that people don’t feel cheated, they just want more, soon. Well, provided I don’t get sucked into a jet engine or have some other tragedy befall me, there will be more, I promise. Relatively soon! And probably about 90k to 100k words long.

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Posted by John Scalzi

I’m staying at the Opryland resort, which is immense and filled with waterfalls and inside gardens and I feel very fortunate not to have lost my way to my room. Today’s event at Parnassus Books was really wonderful, and overall I have found Nashville delightful and have been very glad that I finally managed to get here.

Tomorrow: Austin, and BookPeople, at 3pm (yes, another afternoon event). Please come see me!

(no subject)

Mar. 25th, 2017 06:28 pm
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Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Why should I trust anything the Rev. Giles Fraser says about the Bible when he can’t even understand the text of Winnie-the-Pooh? 

Christopher Robin is not one of those evil bottom-thwacking evangelicals who thinks that prayer is about asking God for favours. He practices the kind of prayer which Fraser approves of: taking a few silent moments to contemplate the events of the day (”oh, wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight!”); to think non-specifically warm thoughts about the people close to you (”God bless mummy, God bless Daddy") and even to become more aware of the things around you (”it’s a beautiful blue but it hasn’t a hood”.) One might even think that the idea of shutting my eyes and curling up small (”so nobody knows I am there at all”) is a juvenile attempt at mindfulness. 

The real-life Christopher Milne didn’t believe in God (although he did believe in The Force). His Nanny was called Olive rather than Alice, which doesn’t rhyme with so many things, but her dressing gown really was blue. As a grown up, he correctly spotted that Vespers is not a mawkish poem about a good little boy saying his prayers, but a rather cynical poem about a naughty little boy not saying his prayers. The grown up thinks he looks cute and pious but he’s actually thinking about everything except God. A.A Milne felt that was what went on during most so-called prayer.

Fraser may be right that the true Christian view of prayer is that it’s “just a jolly good excuse to shut up for a while and think.” Some people have run away with the idea that it makes some kind of difference. I couldn’t say where this idea comes from; but I really don’t think we ought to blame Christopher Robin. 
matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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October 2015


Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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