Shy, Retiring John Scalzi

John Scalzi is running for President of SFWA. His announcement on Whatever lists changes he wants to lead the writers’ organization to make. They sound good to me, although I’ve never been part of the conversation to know whether they’re popular suggestions or why the changes haven’t already been made.

John outlines his career as a professional writer in case anyone is unfamiliar with it, which seems possible only if the person has been living under a rock for the past 5 years. It’s quite a remarkable record. In fact, John must have felt he needed to tone it down because he uncharacteristically hides his light under a bushel when it comes to the Hugo Awards:

In the genre my work has been nominated for seven Hugo Awards, including three Best Novel nominations (in 2006, 2008 and 2009). I have been awarded two Hugos.

Two Hugos, absolutely true: the 2009 Best Related Book Hugo, and the 2007 Best Fan Writer Hugo. Think about it. When was the last time SFWA elected a Hugo-winning fanwriter to run the organization? Exactly, never. This could be history in the making.

Not that I want to cheat former SFWA President Robert Silverberg (1967-1968) of any credit he deserves in this line, but his 1951 Retro Hugo for Best Fanwriter was voted to him more than three decades after he left office. He didn’t have the award on his resume when SFWA members chose him to lead them.

And if Jo Walton has her way I’ll eventually have to qualify this bit of science fictional trivia with a second note. Jo recently told readers of her LiveJournal that she’s nominating another past President of SFWA, Fred Pohl, as Best Fan Writer:

James Nicoll just pointed out that Fred Pohl’s awesome blog which I’ve mentioned here before would be eligible to be nominated for the fan writer Hugo. Yes, it would. And I’m so going to nominate it.

Isn’t that special?

Pratchett Story Simulcast

When Nation, a play adapted from Terry Pratchett’s novel by Mark Ravenill, is staged live by the UK’s National Theatre on January 30, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA will host a high definition simulcast of the performance. Quite an unusual opportunity:

A parallel world, 1860. Two teenagers are thrown together by a tsunami that has destroyed Mau’s village and left Daphne shipwrecked on his South Pacific island, thousands of miles from her aristocratic home in Victorian England. Neither speaks the other’s language; somehow they must learn to survive. Daphne delivers a baby, milks a pig, and does battle with a mutineer. Mau fights cannibal Raiders, discovers the world is round, and questions the reality of his tribe’s fiercely patriarchal gods. Together they come of age as they discard old doctrine to forge a new Nation.

[Via Instant Message.]

Roger Gaillard Dies

Roger Gaillard, curator of the Maison d’Ailleurs from 1989 to 1996, and the editor of several books, died of cardiac arrest on January 22.

The Maison d’Ailleurs (translated as “House of Elsewhere”), is a museum of science fiction, utopia and extraordinary journeys in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.

Note: The links above are French language sites. Fortunately, the Wikipedia has a handy-dandy English-language article about the museum.

[Thanks to Rene Walling for the story.]

Why Philip K. Dick Defected to Orange County

Scott Timberg has been working his way through the firmament of great SF writers in a series of articles for the Los Angeles Times. His latest contribution is an especially engaging profile of Philip K. Dick that draws on interviews with Tim Powers, Dick’s ex-wife Tessa, and his daughter Isa.

One thing he tries to make sense of is why a man of Dick’s sensibilities moved to Orange County:

Dick was a Bay Area fixture until November 1971, when he returned to his house in San Rafael to discover his doors and windows blown out, water and asbestos shards on the floor and his stereo and papers gone.

He would blame the Black Panthers, the KGB, neo-Nazis. But regardless of the perpetrators, he wanted out. When an offer came to appear at a sci-fi convention in Vancouver, Canada, Dick set out for British Columbia, and a month later had not returned. Eventually, he wrote to Willis McNelly, a professor at Cal State Fullerton, to ask whether that community might suit him.

“You must realize of course,” McNelly wrote back, “that Fullerton is in the heart of darkest Orange County. . . . O.C. is also the place where Nixon’s representative in Congress is a card-carrying member of the Birch Society.”

2009’s Top 10 Posts

In the course of year a few posts attract an exceptional number of readers, whether by arousing a passionate discussion that generates a lot of comments, or through a link from on a site with a large following. “Sowing Dragon’s Teeth,” a response to Mike Resnick’s Universe editorial unfavorably comparing Worldcons with megacons, topped the year’s hit list because it received so many comments.

Fans also paid serious attention to stories dealing with issues about changes to the Hugo Awards, especially Hugo Administrator Vincent Docherty’s valuable post about how some of the changes (now ratified) will work.

1. Sowing Dragon’s Teeth
2. Joe Haldeman (tag)
3. Omnivores Not to Blame for Mammoth Extinction?
4. Chuck Crayne Dies Suddenly
5. Not J.R.R. Bond
6. Fans Converge on Glendale Bookstore for an Escape From Hell
7. Forrest J Ackerman (tag)
8.  Vincent Docherty Discusses Online Hugo Eligibility
9. YA: Bad for Hugo?
10. Yes on Dropping the Semiprozine Hugo

There are four stories that really benefitted from links on other sites. Joe Haldeman’s lengthy hospitalization made news all over the internet. The reason his the tag — not an individual story — ranks so high is that James Nicoll used it as a link on his widely-read LiveJournal. My mammoth extinction post was linked to by CNN for a few hours — which was all it took to collect several hundred hits. And links from Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor site elevated Chuck Crayne’s obituary and also the post about Mystery & Imagination Bookstore’s Escape From Hell launch party. Jerry especially liked John King Tarpinian’s photo of Niven and him signing.

Visioncon 2010

This weekend Visioncon in Springfield, MO offers Artist GoH Alain Viesca, author GoH Shane Moore, Comic Guest of Honor Javier Saltares and a flock of other guests.

Chief among them are horror writers Cullen Bunn, Wrath James White, Mike Oliveri, Brian Keene. The quartet is being trumpeted as the competition in an “Author’s Gross Out Contest” Saturday at 10 p.m. Cullen Bunn has won the World Horror Convention Gross-Out Contest four times, you know, so the bar is set pretty high.

I think we had that contest at a Worldcon once, except we called it the Sunday session of the 1987 Business Meeting, held in a room that had just hosted an all-night beer tasting, and then the floor cleaned with an ammonia solution before the chairs were set. The smell of the place is forever branded in my memory.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Top Gun on Horseback

Having seen historians call chivalrous WWI pilots the “knights of the air,” I was intrigued to see the reciprocal comparison made by the author of The Templars: The History & the Myth, Michael Haag to explain the how expensive it was to keep 13th century knights in the field:

Whenever the Templars are mentioned in books and articles, I usually find that it is in connection with their vast wealth – and, along with this, their vast greed. Why?

They were extremely expensive to maintain. They were the most superb fighting force in the world at that time, something like supersonic fighter-bomber pilots in our day, where each man and his equipment costs a fortune to keep operational. A single mounted knight in France in the 13th century required the proceeds from 3,750 acres to equip and maintain himself, and for Templars operating overseas in the Holy Land, the costs were much greater since much had to be imported, not least their horses. The Templars’ training, their armor, their horses, their squires, their sergeants, not to mention building and maintaining castles, required an enormous outlay. And the knights themselves could suffer high mortality rates in climactic battles and needed to be replaced. All these costs were met through donations from the faithful back in Europe, usually in the form of estates large and small as well as tithes from the Church.

The proceeds from 3,750 acres sounds like a lot to a 21st century urban reader like me. Several land acts passed to encourage settlement of the American West granted 160 acres to homesteaders, enough to develop into a farm capable of supporting a family. Sounds like it took 20 or more peasant families working the knight’s land to keep him ready to campaign.

Blushing Fandom

A co-worker heard Harry Turtledove talking at Loscon about a “too hot to publish” alternate history in which Muhammad becomes a Christian. He wanted to read it and couldn’t remember the name. The story didn’t ring a bell with me, but I knew Harry would be glad to answer the question.

There would be a minor catch in admitting to one of my favorite writers that I haven’t actually read everything he’s written, but that was just my pride getting in the way. It seems I’m still holding onto the self-image of being the kind of hyperfan who combed used bookstores hunting down every Poul Anderson story ever published. Am I worthy of calling someone a “favorite writer” if I’m not doing that sort of thing? However, I reminded myself, in those days I didn’t work for a living. Funny how a job takes up your time.   

Harry was able to put his finger on the story immediately:

I think the story your coworker is talking about is “Departures,” which ran in the January ’89 Asimov’s and is reprinted in my collection called — after it — Departures. It’s about Muhammad the monk leaving Syria as the Persian invasion rolls in. The coworker might also be interested in Agent of Byzantium, which has stories set in a universe based on what happened after that change.

His answer made me curious to know more. Google located Steven H. Silver’s interesting review of Departures on SF Site:

The title story [Departures] is one of the more traditional alternate histories to appear in the book and, although it is not included in Agent of Byzantium, it does set up that entire story sequence, making Mohammed a monk gifted with the ability to write beautiful hymns. Although the story only begins to look at the results of such a world, the effects can be seen in “Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire,” the last of the Basil Argyros stories in which Turtledove’s spy visits the Great Library of Alexandria. If you haven’t read Agent of Byzantium, this story gives a good example of the stories which appear in that book.

I’ll be looking online for a copy in a day or two. (Wonder if it’s available on the Kindle?)

Amazon Yields to Class Action Suit

Publishers Weekly reports that Amazon settled an antitrust class action lawsuit by print-on-demand publisher Booklocker:

The Booklocker suit was in response to a decision by Amazon to make all print-on-demand publishers use its BookSurge (now CreateSpace) division if they want to sell their titles directly on the Amazon Web site or face the removal of their buy button. Under the agreement, Amazon agreed to not remove Booklocker books from its Web site or to remove the “Add to Shopping Cart” button. Amazon, which admitted to no wrongdoing, also agreed to pay $300,000 in attorney’s fees.

Francis Hamit comments, “This a terrific victory, not just for Angela Hoy, but for writers and self-publishers everywhere.”

[Thanks to Francis Hamit for the story.]