John Scalzi

Weekly Reading List- 1/25/15- 1/31/15

Bit of a slow week again.

Brian McClellan’s The Promise of Blood/ The Crimson Campaign

I devoured the first two books of the Powder Mage Trilogy last week, since the third book comes out this week. (I’ll be doing a review). Flintlock fantasy is a relatively new subgenre, or sub-sub-genre, depending how you want to look at it, featuring flint and wheel-lock guns, colonial era politics, the rise of non-monarchical political systems, plus, you know, magic. The only real luminaries so far are Brian McClellan and Django Wexler, both of whom are highly enjoyable writers, obviously both having a ton of fun with what they’re doing. McClellan’s The Promise of Blood starts out with a military coup against the monarchy of the nation of Adro, leading right into the action. I honestly can’t really blog about these books separately- I’ve read both of them twice, now, and each time I read them consecutively, so it’s kind of blurred together into one, much larger book. They’re excellent books- not perfect, of course, but excellent. My only real complaint is regarding the treatment of some of the parts of the story that are supposed to be epic and mythic- they sometimes feel a little less exciting than some of the gritty, down to earth battles, but that probably speaks more to McClellan’s ability to write said battles. Regardless to say, I’m quite excited for book three, the Autumn Republic.

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Just the Tips

Hey, it’s my second non-fiction book of the year! And, of course, it’s a book of sex tips. Terrible, hilarious sex tips. “Cross dressing can really spice things up. Ladies, try wearing a man’s dress shirt and tie to bed. Men, try wearing high heels and a skirt and thousand of years of patriarchal oppression to bed.” “Have sex outside, in the middle of Yankee Stadium, during a game.” “A man’s testicles are very sensitive and some sex moves can hurt them a bit, so just poke them back up inside his body where they’ll be safe.” Just the Tips is a companion to the awesome comic book series Sex Criminals, which is one of my absolute favorites. Specifically, it’s the companion to the letter column of Sex Criminals, which might be the greatest letter column of all time. People have actually started writing in for serious (and not so serious) sex advice from the creators, which somewhat baffled them at first, though they seem to have embraced their roles. Just the Tips doesn’t quite make me laugh as much as the Sex Criminals letter column, but I think that’s because it’s more dedicated to being a humor book. The actual letter column often deals with a lot of serious concerns and real issues, which often serve to contrast with and highlight the more whimsical submissions. Another part of why the letter column makes me laugh more, of course, is all of the hilarious and awesome in-jokes you find building up in it, most notably “Brimping”. It might be just the format, too. That’s not to say Just the Tips isn’t good, of course- it’s still funny, snarky, and wildly inappropriate. Remember- “You need to change your safeword every three weeks for security reasons and it must have numbers in it.”

John Scalzi & Mike Choi’s Midnight Rises

I haven’t read many comics specifically designed for digital consumption before this- in major part thanks to my lack of a tablet. Midnight Rises is an IOS exclusive digital comic. It’s actually its own app, since it’s actually the prequel comic to an IOS videogame, Midnight Star, which also had its story written by Scalzi. First off, Choi’s art is great, especially the machinery and background tech. Scalzi did a decent enough job writing the comic, but I do think it suffers somewhat from its prequel status- it very obviously is a lead-in to Midnight Star. Once Midnight Star comes out, I think it will likely fit in pretty well with the story of the game, but until then, we’ll have to wait and see. As for the digital comic features- it’s pretty interesting being able to choose, to some extent, the order and shape of the story. The controls are a little less flexible than I would have liked- you can only turn the page forwards and backwards via tapping the right side of the screen. Swiping is reserved for the larger pages that can be explored.

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Plot Devices: I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

A computer program has passed the Turing Test for the first time. What does this actually mean? Well, honestly, not much. This is a chatbot, not an AI. It’s not programmed to be intelligent, it is programmed to mimic written conversation. This one also used the whole gimmick of having the chatbot pretend to be a adolescent Ukrainian boy. The short and medium term results I predict? Over the next couple of years, we’ll get more annoying, harder to immediately detect spambots, (Like the ones on dating and porn sites, or the ones that are used to chat with you through your friends’ hacked Facebook accounts). 5-15 years? We’ll be getting adaptive conversational chatbots in videogames, which will be pretty sweet.

Anyhow, this brings me to the whole theme for my first official installment of Plot Devices: Artificial Intelligences. I’m going to attempt (key word) to explain ways that authors fit Artificial Intelligences into fiction, how it affects their settings, and ways to restrict them narrative-wise. This is a huge category, so we’re going to have to break it down a bit. I’m going to rip a few arbitrary categories out of fiction, here. In ascending order, Synthetic Intelligences, Human-Level AI, Uploads, Supergenius AI, and Weakly Godlike Intelligences. There are plenty that don’t fit precisely into any of these categories, but these five cover most examples of fictional AI.


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Eponymous Laws of Science Fiction

Authors have a tendency to construct laws and rules of writing, both to help themselves while writing and to share with others. Here are a few of my favorites, ranging from the serious to the silly:

Frederick Pohl’s Basic Maxim #1:

“Writers write mostly for the fun of it. Agents exist to see they get money for having fun.”

Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

A few of Larry Niven’s (Many) Laws

Never throw shit at an armed man.
Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
Limitations > Powers
Expand what you already have before you add something new.

Sturgeon’s Law

Ninety percent of everything is crud.

Scalzi’s Law

Any conversation on the internet will eventually include bacon in some way. And then be forwarded immediately to John Scalzi.

For a big, huge list of eponymous laws, here’s the wikipedia page.