Friday, June 14, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: In Which There is a Lot of John Scalzi

Back again, and striving to finish up Phoenix Comicon coverage with this post, by smashing TWO panels into one report. The last two panels I wanted to summarize for your vicarious enjoyment both involve successful science fiction writer John Scalzi (not weather man John Scalzi, or masonry award John Scalzi, just to be clear). The first is his spotlight panel, and the second is a panel that consisted of him and Wil Wheaton talking about…stuff, which was way more awesome than it sounds. So, following the precedent of my other author-panel-reporting-posts, here is John Scalzi:

Okay, okay, maybe he didn’t look quite like that when I met him, but that’s the picture on his Goodreads and Wiki pages. And it’s funny! Here are some books he has written:

John Scalzi Spotlight Panel

Important Thing #1 I Learned at Phoenix Comicon: John Scalzi is a very funny man. It was entertaining just to watch him get up on stage and talk about really anything, as we saw at the Author Chair Dancing panel. And this panel, his very own, was no different in that respect. He talked about random stuff, he talked about his work, he read to us, and he answered questions, all in a way that made me think he’s probably a really cool guy to hang out with. Things that went down:

    • While at the Redondo Beach stop on his current book tour, someone from his high school brought him a copy of his high school literary magazine, which contained 2 stories Scalzi had written as an ickle high schooler. One of them was a science fiction story, and as he re-read it he came to two conclusions: “One, it was very clear early on that I was going to be a science fiction writer, and two, holy crap, when I was 17 I was a terrible writer.” Oh yes, we’ve all been there… XD

    • He gave us our choice of readings—he could read to us from the new book he was on tour promoting, The Human Division, or from his upcoming book The Mallet of Loving Correction, a collection of entries from his popular blog, Whatever. He said that if we chose the latter, the piece he’d read would be “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be,” and that is what we the crowd very democratically decided on.

    • He wrote “Who Gets to Be a Geek?” during the uproar last year when lots dudes were talking about how females can’t be “real geeks,” whatever that means. Specifically, Scalzi composed it in response to an article a guy wrote for about fake geek girls going to Comicon (the Comicon, I assume, the big one in San Diego). It’s a really awesome piece, and you can read it here. Seriously, go read it. It’s fantastic and awesome, for any and all sorts of geeks, and even for those who may not be of the geekly persuasion. It is perhaps even MORE fun to hear the author read it himself, and I am quite confident there are videos floating around the Youtubes where you can do just that.

    • Seriously, did you go read it? Here it is again. Just in case. In a perhaps not completely unexpected turn of events, it was received very warmly with much laughter and cheering. It was a very fun way for me to experience that piece of writing for the first time.

    • With regards to phone/internet/3G/4G reception, the bottom of the convention center may actually be located in 1978.

    • Q: “How was working on Stargate Universe?” A: “It was awesome!” They would send him scripts for episodes of the show, and his job was basically to read them and tell them what they were doing wrong. He specified, “You know how you go to one of those comicons? And they’ll have a panel on the Stargate thing, and you know those kids…they’ll be like, ‘Excuse me, in episode 7 you had this happen, but clearly in episode 5 and episode 3 these were these 3 things that happened that show that in fact what you have happen in episode 7 can’t happen. So I was wondering…’ I got paid to be that guy.”

    • Regarding the movie version of Old Man’s War: They’re still in the script-writing phase. Scalzi commented, “On the one hand it’s a little flummoxing, because I wrote that book in 3 months, and they’ve had 4 years to write the script. I wrote the whole thing from…nothing; they’ve got, y’know…they’ve got a book. But that’s kind of Hollywood.”

    • An audience member asked for clarification of the pronunciation of certain alien names/words in Scalzi’s books, to which he replied, “No. I’m typing them!” After everyone laughed about that, he continued: “Here’s how I find out how stuff is pronounced: I have to wait for the audiobook. The poor man who has to do The Human Division audiobook…[he found an audience member willing to donate their copy for a moment] I did a terrible thing to my audio guy, and it was intentional. There is a character whose first name is spelled Blblllblblb. And the last name is Doodoodo. [Can’t hear beginning of sentence] his name is most accurately pronounced by humans by moving their finger rapidly back and forth on their lips…so the guy’s name is [does the finger on the lips thing].” (I apologize for missing quote part—had trouble picking up audio and hearing through the often uproarious laughter, which only says good things about the proceedings!)

    • There was a discussion of prankings

    • On the subject of Redshirts and the codas: Scalzi noted that the codas are divisive—there are people who love the novel proper and think the codas are meh, people who think the novel is meh and love the codas, people who love both, and people who love neither. He said they came from the fact that he was aiming for a certain word count and after he finished he wanted to add a little more so the book would end up the size (like the physical size sitting on the shelf) the publisher wanted. “So I decided to add some more stuff, but I didn’t want to go in and just sort of stuff the novel because the novel, in my opinion, was great as it was. And I’m a sort of writing snob and now enough of a Person that I don’t have to do that. […] There are big players in the novel who they become the protagonists of the codas. And I thought formally and stylistically that was an interesting thing to do. The other thing is that there were emotional aspects…that I didn’t feel were completely addressed and I wanted to address them.”

    • He also talked about how it was a kind of experiment with form, in that if you only read the novel, you get a whole story, but if you read the codas there is something extra you get with more emotional resonance: “I felt it was necessary both for purely technical publishing reasons and then for philosophical reasons…that I needed to write the codas. So I did. And like I said, some people are going to dig them, some people aren’t, and that’s fine. If you didn’t dig them, that’s great--you still have the novel itself, which is literally self-contained. You don’t have to read the codas.”

    • We were also treated to a super secret groupie story which was NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE ROOM. And so it will not. :)

After the panel we went downstairs to get some books signed. I met John Scalzi!!! :D

A terribly blurry picture of us.

I was telling him that I hadn’t read any of his books before, but I’d had enough people rave to me about Old Man’s War that I finally picked it up. He said that he hoped they hadn’t built it up in my mind so much that now when I read it I’ll just be like, “Meh.” Then he proceeded to write this related message in my book:

The best book dedication I’ve ever received in my life.

“Wheaton and Scalzi, Together Again” Panel

And now for our last panel recap, John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton being funny onstage together. Or, Super Happy Fun Times With John and Wil, as they like to call it (this seems to be a recurring panel at Phoenix Comicon). I guess this technically wasn’t author/book-related, but they ARE authors, and they did read things they had written, so I think it counts. It COUNTS, okay?!?

    • Wil Wheaton was finishing up his game of comicon bingo when he came into the panel, and was only 5 spots away from a blackout. He said, “The one that should be easiest is actually the most difficult: Creepy guy taking pictures of girls’ butts.” Eww…but I guess good that he was unable to mark that one off. XD

    • They decided to inject a little more structure into the panel this year (“Structure is the nerd’s natural environment,” Wil observed)—first they would read a skit together, then they would do reading swaps (Scalzi would read something Wheaton wrote, and Wheaton would read something Scalzi wrote), and then they would do Q&A.

    • Wil reads some of Scalzi’s books for their audiobook format, and they’ve realized that one of the reasons it feels so natural from him to read Scalzi’s books out loud is that Scalzi writes in the voice Wil speaks in. More audio books for me to check out!

    • John Scalzi told a little story about how that morning he was in the room where “they feed people like you” (referring to Wil), and he ran into Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura in the original Star Trek series. He happened to be wearing a t-shirt that said “I’m here to usurp your narrative,” and she read it, giggled, and said, “I’d like to usurp that t-shirt!” Which pretty much made his day.

    • They then moved on to the skit. It’s based on Scalzi’s book Redshirts (currently nominated for a Hugo), the audiobook of which was recorded by Wil. The skit is called “To Sue the World,” and Scalzi wrote it last year while on the Redshirts promo tour. A quick googling did not lead me to a text version of it to link you to, but here is a video discovered on the Youtubes from PHXCC (good picture quality, but the audio has occasional issues). It’s of the whole panel, but the skit starts at 9:48, for your viewing and listening pleasure.

    • Next up was the reading swap! Scalzi talked a bit about how Wil is a professional and as such, reads Scalzi’s words so well, but now we’d be able to contrast that with him, the amateur, reading Wil’s words. Wil interjected that he thinks John is a professional, to which Scalzi replied, “I’m a professional. Not a professional…speaker of word-thing-structurements—” “I guess that argument sort of solved itself…” Wheaton said.

    • Scalzi swap-read a listing that Wheaton posted on eBay for selling a dented ping pong ball. Now, I know what you’re thinking…so let me explain a little more. Wheaton was cleaning out his garage to make room for his beer-brewing stuff, and unearthed a lot of junk. (He called this “cleaning out Wilhouse 13,” which I found hilarious.) Some of it was kind of cool stuff that he thought, since he’s a geek celebrity, he would auction off on eBay to raise money for the local humane society. One item was a DVD of a movie he was in, that he would sign. He set the starting bid at $20, and to his great surprise it quickly shot into the hundreds of dollars. He also found an old, dented ping pong ball in the garage, and he made jokes about it on Twitter. Then, at the behest of his Twitter followers, he decided to create a very silly eBay listing for it, again explaining that the proceeds would go to the humane society. You can read Wil’s original blog post explaining these events here.

    • So Scalzi read that hilarious eBay listing for us, entitled “A crappy dented ping pong ball I found in my garage and made popular on twitter.” You can read the now-very-over eBay listing here, or you can watch Scalzi read it in the panel video linked above. I can assure you, never before have sweeter, more giggle-inducing words been written about a ping pong ball. (It ended up selling for $1135, fyi. That’s a lot of money for the humane society from a non-usable ping pong ball!)

    • Wheaton Wisdom: “I am easily amused, which I have found is the best default setting to really enjoy life.”

    • For the vice versa of the reading swap, Wil read Scalzi’s short story, “When the Yogurt Took Over.” Before turning it over to Mr. Wheaton, he explained where the story came from: Someone asked him what he truly thought of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He said he thought on the one hand it was a potboiler and was great, and on the other it was completely psychotic and horrible. “The main thing is that its hero, John Galt, is a sociopathic genocidal engineer […] And I said, quite frankly people get confused because he’s articulate and able to have all these arguments that make him sound completely reasonable, and it’s because he’s in human form. If a cup of yogurt tried to say the same things that John Galt did, you’d be like, guys, this cup of yogurt is insane, somebody eat it quick.” Following this post, people told him he should probably write a story about talking yogurt, and so he did. You can read it here, or of course scrub through the Youtube video up there and hear it for yourselves. This story is very funny on its own, and gets even better with Wil Wheaton’s delivery. C’mon guys—who doesn’t want to read a short story (very short, for those of you who are time-crunched) about sentient, megalomaniacal yogurt?!?

    • The readings thus completed, we moved on to the question/answer portion of the panel. After some questions involving humane societies, helping charities, and some not-really-questions questions, someone asked Scalzi how he became involved with the Humble Indie Bundle (a bundle of e-books by prominent authors for which you pay whatever you think it’s worth), and what his experience with it was like. He said that his friend and author Cory Doctorow called and asked him to be a part of it, so he said sure and had his first published (and to date most successful) novel, Old Man’s War, be a part of the bundle. He said it was cool because it was the first literary-based humble bundle, and they ended up selling around 80,000 of them. That amounted to a lot of money, and while some of it went to the authors and the Humble Bundle organization, a lot of it went to various other organizations, including SFWA’s emergency medical fund for writers who get in a non-insured jam. Wil added that he thinks it’s so cool that the Humble Bundle pretty much obliterates any idea that content needs DRMs or any sort of locking, and that he was asked/said yes to his writing being included in a future humble bundle.

    • There was some discussion on both authors and fans letting go of certain series/stories/characters/etc. once the story has been told. Eventually you have to go on and create (or in the case of the fans, partake of) new awesome things instead of dwelling in a world where an author has already said everything they want or need to say about that story. Nobody likes reading stuff that’s just churned out, or especially churned out just to make money. Scalzi said, “I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t have to be that guy. You shouldn’t want me to be that guy.” “Don’t be that guy,” Wil added.

    • At one point, the lights went it. It was freaky. Then someone lit up their fake light saber, and any tension about the lightless situation was defused. :)

    • They then talked a bit on the subject of writing or producing content for free—there’s a time and place for it (such as helping out charities), but you need to balance it because the time you spend doing that is time you spend away from the stuff that makes you the money you need to live.

    • Wil continued in that vein regarding creative professions and their worth, “The thing that is to me unbelievably insulting and enraging about a person saying to—like a business person saying to a creative person, essentially, ‘You should be very grateful that someone wants to look at the little thing that you’re doing.’ And when you do a great thing and someone says, ‘You have too much time on your hands!’—no, I have exactly the right amount of time on my hands because I can make this thing. And it’s really important for creative people and for free-lancers and for those of us that are still trying to make our way into whatever it is, whether its writing, photography, whatever—it’s very important to remember that the thing you make is valuable. And it matters, and is worthy, and is worth something to someone, and when some person comes along with some really great deal to get you a ton of exposure, that person can fuck themselves.”

Great panels, full of both humor and some important, serious things. I will hopefully be catching these guys, and many other awesome author/creators, again next year at PHXCC 2014!

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