Posts tagged ‘John Scalzi’

Thoughts on Online Reviews, Suburban Express, and Dennis Toeppen

Apparently Dennis Toeppen likes to sue the customers of his bus company Suburban Express  (here, and previously here) with as many as 125 suits just this year in small claims court, many aimed at stifling customer criticism of the company.

This is just incredible to me.  Last year we served about 2 million customers in the parks we operate (I am guessing that is a few more than Mr. Toeppen serves).  Over the last 10 years we have served about 17 million customers.  Do you know how many I have sued?  Zero.  Do you know how many I considered suing even for a microsecond?  Zero.  Unless a customer is 6 months late on a payment that equals a measurable percentage of annual revenues, you don't sue your customers.

I know online reviews can be a mixed bag, and some people's mental state or unreasonable expectations simply do not allow them to be fair.  Get over it -- take your ego out of the equation.  For God sakes, Casablanca has 39 1-star reviews  (I always thought John Scalzi had a healthy way of dealing with this, publishing his one-star Amazon reviews on his blog from time to time.)

We get negative review from time to time.  The vast majority, while perhaps overwrought from what some might feel was a small slight, have a core of truth.  We treat all these reviews at face value, we try to track down the customers to find out more about their experience, we give out refunds and gift certificates, and then we fix things.  Our biggest problem is that we hire what seem to be perfectly normal people who turn out to be arrogant and overly-officious when dealing with customers.  This tends to come out in the form of an irritating predilection to over-enforce every trivial rule until customers' vacations are ruined.  In other words, they seem to act like Mr. Toeppen and his employees.  Negative customer comments are a treasure, as I can't be in every campground every minute of the day, and these comments are often the canary in the coal mine, letting me know we have an employee or process or training problem.

Yes, in a few circumstances we get flat out dishonest comments.  One ex-employee was so upset at being terminated that he posed as a customer, posting fake reviews about how we employed a sexual predator in some campground.  Several review sites we work with, knowing that I don't make a habit of trying to take down negative reviews, were willing to take this one down once explained.  The other sites that by policy do not take down reviews allowed me to post a comment under the review, wherein I explained the situation, and gave my office phone number and email for anyone to call if they had any concerns about the campground either before or after the visit.

We Have Got To Get John Scalzi A Movie Production Gig

John Scalzi, via Instapundit

A producer of Creation, the film about Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, starring Paul Bettany and his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly, is griping that the film has no distributor in the US, apparently because so many Americans are evolution-hating mouth-breathers that no one wants the touch the thing; it's just too darn controversial.

Well, it may be that. Alternately, and leaving aside any discussion of the actual quality of the film, it may be that a quiet story about the difficult relationship between an increasingly agnostic 19th Century British scientist and his increasingly devout wife, thrown into sharp relief by the death of their beloved 10-year-old daughter, performed by mid-list stars, is not exactly the sort of film that's going to draw in a huge winter holiday crowd, regardless of whether that scientist happens to be Darwin or not, and that these facts are rather more pertinent, from a potential distributor's point of view. . . . Maybe if Charles Darwin were played by Will Smith, was a gun-toting robot sent back from the future to learn how to love, and to kill the crap out of the alien baby eaters cleverly disguised as Galapagos tortoises, and then some way were contrived for Jennifer Connelly to expose her breasts to RoboDarwin two-thirds of the way through the film, and there were explosions and lasers and stunt men flying 150 feet into the air, then we might be talking wide-release from a modern major studio. Otherwise, you know, not so much. The "oh, it's too controversial for Americans" comment is, I suspect, a bit of face-saving rationalization from a producer

If you think Scalzi is exaggerating, sit and actually write down a synopsis of the plot for "Transformers" and see if you get anything that makes any more sense - just substitute "Jennifer Connelly's bare breasts" with "Megan Fox's bare midriff."

Intellectual Network Effects

John Scalzi writes:

I do get occasionally amused at being a poster child for Science Fiction's Digital Future when I live in a rural town of 1,800 people with agricultural fields directly to my east, south and west, and Amish buggies clopping down the road on a daily basis. It's, like, three cheers for cognitive dissonance.

I responded in the comments:

I would have had exactly the opposite reaction, that your situation is entirely representative.  For 500 years,  from the Italian Renaissance through the 20th century, intellectual thought moved forward mainly hand in hand with urbanization.  I am not really an expert in describing the ins and outs of this, but there is clearly a density and network effect to intellectual advancement, and given past communication approaches, this required physical proximity.  The promise of modern IT technology is that it may allow us to achieve this density without physical proximity.

A Couple of Free SF Short Stories

Tor.com recently went online, and apparently has a new John Scalzi short story from the Old Man's War universe and a new Charles Stross from his very enjoyable "Laundry" series (I have not mentioned the latter series very much, but it is sort of HP Lovecraft meets Men in Black crossed with Office Space.  Really.)

Thumbs Up For Scalzi's New Zoe's Tale

Several weeks ago, when he was going away to camp, I tried to come up with a gift to send along with my 14-year-old son.  Because he is a big John Scalzi fan, I bought him a semi-bootleg pre-production copy of Scalzi's upcoming novel Zoe's Tale off eBay.  I feel kind of bad about abusing Mr. Scalzi in this way, but feel a little better when I consider what our household somehow seems to own at least two copies of every book he has published.

Anyway, I just snagged the book back from my son and he said it was great.  As all you parents know, 14-year-old boys can be oh-so nuanced and deep in their communications with their parents, so I did not get a lot of detail  (oddly enough, having read a few chapters, the communication and decision-making abilities of teenage boys seems to be a minor theme in the book).  The best metric of his fondness for the book was that he told me to make sure to read the acknowledgments at the end.  It must be some kind of sign of engagement when a teenage boy reads the acknowledgments.

I am several chapters in and really like what I have seen so far.  Always nice to see a strong teenage girl protagonist, and Scalzi is as funny as ever.  Apparently it is available in mid-August.

By the way, later this year I believe an early novel of Scalzi's called Agent to the Stars is coming back into publication.  I loved this book, and you can check it out early as Scalzi has it available free online.  (update:  Here it is on Amazon, with an Oct 28 release date).

Here is Your Chance, Trolls

John Scalzi is running a contest --he wants your best hate mail, aimed at him.

Here is Your Chance, Trolls

John Scalzi is running a contest --he wants your best hate mail, aimed at him.

My Marriage Seems to be OK

Gay marriage has been legal in California for over 12 hours now, and, despite fears from opponents that it would weaken the institution of marriage, every indication is that my own marriage is as strong as ever.   I don't see any reason to make life difficult for those whose preferences are not my own.  All the best, newlyweds.

Postscript: I thought John Scalzi had a funny line.  A commenter on the Daily Kos had asked if Scalzi was on their side, politically, presumably because they could not allow themselves to enjoy his writing if he had not met their political litmus tests.  Anyway, he offered a line a libertarian would love:

Well, I don't want my political proclivities to be in doubt, so let me be absolutely crystal clear where I stand:

I support the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons.

I hope this explains everything.

 

Amazon One-Star Reviews

Have I ever told you that I really like author John Scalzi?  Not just because I love his books, but I do really enjoy his work.  I like him because he spends a lot of time promoting the work of other young writers and promoting the science fiction and fantasy genre in general.

Recently, Scalzi published on his blog all his Amazon one-star reviews.  As a fairly novice writer who will never write as well as Scalzi, I found this quite liberating.  If folks like him endure these bad reviews, maybe I should not let my own setbacks get me down.  He has challenged other authors to do the same, publishing their Amazon one-star reviews online.  In this post, he links a number of authors who have taken up the challenge, including Charles Stross and Jo Walton.

So, though I am not in the league of these other authors, I will post my one-star review for my book BMOC.

I like the concept for the book and like reading Warren Meyer's Coyote
Blog. I don't understand how crude and uncouth became popular and I am
disappointed that is the approach that was chosen with this book. I
should have paid attention to the review by "Warren's mother." I've
returned my copy to Amazon for a refund.

Wow, I actually feel better.  Based on this review, I will warn you as I warn my friends when I give them a copy:  The book has its crude parts, and I have only let my kids read highly edited portions.  That being said, its not Fear of Flying either, and my parent's priest read it without spontaneously combusting.  But don't buy it if you are turned off by harsh language and some sexual humor.  I have two youth novels in the works, you can save your money for them ;=)

Postscript:  This is one of the one-star reviews posted for Anya Bast's Witch Fire:

"Not romance, not erotica, basically porn - what little plot there is
exists to connect the sex scenes, note I didn't say love making scenes.
Altogether distasteful and I won't waste money on this author again."

LOL, if the review is trying to hurt Ms. Bast's sales, I am not positive this is the right approach.

Useful Advice from John Scalzi

Another fake memoir has been revealed:

In "Love and Consequences," a critically acclaimed memoir published
last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white,
half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a
foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a
pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the
well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando
Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell
Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood
neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run
drugs for any gang members.

John Scalzi offers advice:

You know, the rules of a memoir are pretty simple. If an event actually happened to you, you can use it in a memoir. If it didn't actually happen to you, you can't. Because then it's fiction, you see. Which is different from a memoir. No, really; you can look it up. I'm not sure why this has suddenly become so difficult for everyone to process.

I must say that this actually sounds like a good book -- he should go for it:

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to selling my memoir of my
life as a teenage transvestite in the Bogota slums, who later joined
the Navy SEALs and adopted the twin daughters of the ruthless Afghan
opium warlord whom I battled to the death using only a spoon
and 14 bars of the 1812 Overture, and then, having beaten back a
terrible addiction to khat, went on to become one of the most famous
celebrity chefs on The Cooking Channel. Because apparently this would
be at least as true as most of the other memoirs on the market today.
And, I'd wager, a great deal more entertaining. I'm waiting for my
check, I am.

Advice for Writers

John Scalzi has what looks to be good advice for writers.  Why?

Because it very often appears to me that regardless of how smart and
clever and interesting and fun my fellow writers are on every other
imaginable subject, when it comes to money "” and specifically their own money
"” writers have as much sense as chimps on crack. It's not just writers
"” all creative people seem to have the "incredibly stupid with money"
gene set for maximum expression "” but since most of creative
people I know are writers, they're the nexus of money stupidity I have
the most experience with. It makes me sad and also embarrasses the crap
out of me; people as smart as writers are ought to know better.

Beyond really liking Scalzi's work, he does an amazing amount of work promoting other writers.  Just skim his blog for the last several months.  A hell of a lot more of it is about promoting other authors than it is about promoting his own work.  Here is an example of his advice.

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Because they're friggin' expensive, that's why. Let me explain: Just
for giggles, I went to Apartments.com and looked for apartments in
Manhattan that were renting for what I pay monthly on my mortgage for
my four bedroom, 2800 square foot house on a plot of land that is,
quite literally, the size of a New York City block ($1750, if you must
know, so I looked at the $1700 - $1800 range). I found two, and one was
a studio. From $0 to $1800, there are thirteen apartments available. On
the entire island of Manhattan. Where there are a million people. I love that, man.

Up and Coming Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy

One of the things I like about John Scalzi, other than the fact his books rock, is that he goes out of his way to promote other up-and-coming writers.  His series in December called "a Month of Writers" has pounded my Amazon bill and filled up my "to be read" shelf.  He indexes the entire series here.

Bloggers Union

A number of folks are getting a good chuckle out of the suggestion from YearlyKos that bloggers form a union.  Many, like John Scalzi, have asked, why?

I think folks are missing the point.  At its heart, those making this suggestion are not bloggers who want to be in a union, these
are people who want to run a union of bloggers. They want the power and prestige
that comes from being able to say "I represent the International
Brotherhood of Bloggers." They are trying to channel the dispersed
power of bloggers and the trendiness of blogging (such that it is) and
aggregate it to themselves.

Democrats and Republicans United In Grabbing Power

This weekend, the Democrats in Congress passed legislation legalizing the Administration's previous grab for new wiretapping powers.  Further proving that the minority party in the US government does not really object to power grabs, they just get in a huff that the other party thought of it first.  Other examples of such behavior include the Patriot act, currently supported by Republicans and opposed by many Democrats, but most of whose provisions were originally proposed by Bill Clinton and opposed by a Republican Congress  (opposition led by John Ashcroft!)

I really don't want the president, of either party, listening to my phone calls without a warrant, and that answer does not change if I am talking  to my friends in Arizona or my friends in London.

John Scalzi has a great post reacting to the line in the article above where Democrats vow to, at some time in the future, "fix" the flaws in the law they just passed.

They wouldn't have to "fix" it if they hadn't have passed it.
Once again I am entirely flummoxed how it is that the Democrats, faced
with the president more chronically unpopular than Nixon, and so
politically weakened that the GOP candidates for president can barely
bring themselves to acknowledge that he exists, yet manage to get played by the man again and again.

If the Democrats honestly did not feel this version of the bill
should have been passed, they shouldn't have passed it. I don't see why
this is terribly complicated. And don't tell me that at least it has a
six-month "sunset" clause; all it means at this point is that in six
months, the Democrats are going to allow themselves to get played once
more, and this time they'll have given Bush the talking point of "well,
they passed it before."

My only objection to this statement is the implication the this is just a matter of the Democrats getting played.  I actually think it's exactly what the Democrats want -- they want to retain a reputation for caring about government intrusiveness without actually reducing government powers (just like Republicans want a reputation for reducing economic regulations without actually doing do when they were in power).  After all, the Dems expect to control the administration in 2 years, and they really don't want to take away any of the President's toys before that time.

Out on your ass, Jane Austen

Some frustrated writer apparently submitted a Jane Austin novel to a publisher and had it rejected.  The point being, I guess, that publishers are all screwed up and therefore the author in question can now whine a little louder about his work being rejected.  John Scalzi makes short work of this:

Honestly, you'd think newspapers would be bored of reporting this genre
of stunt by now.
You know, as an aside to this foolishness: If I were an editor today,
and Jane Austen had not previously existed, and someone submitted Pride and Prejudice as a mainstream novel, I'd probably reject it. Because it's the 21st goddamn century,
that's why, and the style is all wrong to sell a whole bunch of them
(even if it were pitched as a mainstream historical novel). In point of
fact, I'd probably reject anything written in a 19th century manner,
with the possible exception of Mark Twain's work; for my money he's
probably the only 19th century author whose writing style doesn't make
me feel like I'm slogging through a morass of commas and odd language
structure....

So, yes. Out on your
ass, Jane Austen, until you can write in a contemporary way.

Yes, its a major pain to get published by a top house, and in fact I have yet to be successful, though I honestly think the current book I am writing has a good shot.  But there are lots of reasons a publishing house might reject a perfectly good book:  It may not fit the types of books they publish (you don't send a period piece to a sci-fi house); the publisher's pipeline might be full;  the author's synopsis or the first 30 pages might not be catchy enough (publishers cannot read every word of every submission they get); or the publisher could be missing an opportunity; or the book might, gasp, not be as good as the author thinks it is.

Big Bottom

John Scalzi has a great clip of Spinal Tap playing "Big Bottom" at Live Earth with a stage full of every bassist they could find.  Awesome.  Scalzi asks whether the band that first turned it up to eleven should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Damn you Scalzi, I have to get some work done today.

The Health Care Difference

While it may have been unintentional, a quote in New York magazine helps make the point I have been trying to make about universal health care (HT: John Scalzi)

"With universal [health care], you'd get the same kind of
mediocre shittiness that you'd get in all other kinds of standardized
approaches. But for millions of people, that would be a big upgrade."

Americans are unbelievably charitable people, to the extent that they will put up with a lot of taxation and even losses of freedoms through government coercion to help people out.

However, in nearly every other case of government-coerced charity, the main effect is "just" an increase in taxes.  Lyndon Johnson wants to embark on a futile attempt to try to provide public housing to the poor?  Our taxes go up, a lot of really bad housing is built, but at least my housing did not get any worse.  Ditto food programs -- the poor might get some moldy cheese from a warehouse, but my food did not get worse.  Ditto welfare.  Ditto social security, unemployment insurance,and work programs. 

But health care is different.  The author above is probably correct that some crappy level of terribly run state health care will probably be an improvement for some of the poor.  But what is different about many of the health care proposals on the table is that everyone, not just the poor will get this same crappy level of treatment.  It would be like a public housing program where everyone's house is torn down and every single person must move into public housing.  That is universal state-run health care.  Ten percent of America gets pulled up, 90% of America gets pulled down, possibly way down. 

I don't think most Americans really know what they are signing up for.  Which is why it is so important for health care socialists to have people like Michael Moore running around trying to convince the middle class they will be getting better health care.  Because there is almost no possibility of this being true, and health care proposals will never pass if people realize it.

More here.

Congrats to John Scalzi

Congrats to John Scalzi for his Hugo nomination for "Old Man's War".  I hope he wins.  I read a lot of science fiction including several of the other nominated books but Old Man's War was one of those instant classics, a book that 25 years from now could easily be included in a best of science fiction series.  I also have to agree with Glenn Reynolds on the accesability of his work.  If I wanted to get someone excited about science fiction, I would likely hand them "Enders Game", "The Foundation", and "Old Man's War"*.  I just finished Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky", which was awesome.  It and his previous book "Fire Upon the Deep" are beautiful and rich and deep and textured masterpieces, but I would never hand them to a SciFi first-timer.  SciFi needs writers who bring the general population back to SciFi, and Scalzi along with Card and a few others will certainly help.

* Honestly, if you rank yourself as someone who hates or just doesn't read science fiction, give just one or two of these three a try.  Scifi is not all cute robots and Imperial Star Destroyers.  And for those looking for the next step beyond these books for more hard-core stuff I might suggest classics like "Mote in God's Eye", "Ringworld",  "Dune", or about anything by Louis McMaster Bujold.  After that, your ready for anything, from Charles Stross to Harlan Ellison (the latter if you want a good downer).