11 Mar

Who did the floor slide better, Tom Cruise or Jung-a Kim in that BBC family interview?

Who has the better slide?


The whole BBC clip of these kids wandering into an interview is gold.

I feel awful for the mom, particularly that moment where she’s crouching and trying to close the door at the very end. But that slide is pure awesome sauce. Cruise is just going in one direction. Jung-a Kim actually changes direction which, as someone who is a fan of wooden floor sock sliding, is really difficult to do. Respect.

But up until that point I was laughing so hard. Kid walks into the office like ‘up in the club!’

I hope the family is chill and Professor Kelly gets invited back on the air.

10 Mar

What’s a College Education For?

There’s a debate swirling around twitter about whether a writer should get an English degree.

I’m biased, I have an English degree.

But I found the conversation slightly offtrack because it contains within it a base assumption layer that I run up against. That’s the idea that a college degree’s purpose is solely to make you a better worker.

It’s an assumption that laces through the American social landscape. Work makes you a better human being. Moral and better human beings should therefore be richer. If you are poor, that means you probably aren’t a good human being, because the rhetoric in the USA is that if you work hard and are good you’ll make money.

Check out this ad by Fiverr:


Are you a doer? Are your bones sticking out of your typing fingers yet? Boing Boing has some thoughts.

Come on, work harder. Eat less. Not making enough is a personality failure.

You can see this pop up in Prosperity Theology as well, where it’s believed that if you truly believe in God you’ll get rewarded. Again, conflating moral goodness with success.

So again and again, I see lists of how much people earn based on their degree. Then you have gluts, where people follow careers into something like legal professions merely because it’s ‘a great degree for earning’ and then suddenly they’re unable to work because there are too many fucking lawyers.

As an undergrad, if you’re not in a specific trade school with a program that has job placement (I guess you could argue law schools are set up that way) education was classically set up to create more well-rounded individuals.

Look, I got an English degree because it allowed me to do some things that set the stage for me becoming a writer.

1) It gave me time to write fiction as a lot of it was structured around year-end tests and papers, so I filled time in between those moments with writing a shit tone of short stories.

2) It let me write some short stories for grades, letting me combine the two.

3) Critical theory allowed me to anticipate how different readers would read different texts. I’m not shocked like some writers when someone has a variant classical feminist critique of a novel I like or even wrote.

But, I wish I could have taken more history classes and business classes on managing micro-finance, things I had to self-educate on. I would have enjoyed a marketing class (well, not enjoyed it, but it would have been valuable to take and understand) and I wish I would have taken a graphic design course, but I couldn’t have known the impact of self-publishing on the field and eBooks in 1996.

I took courses to become more educated and well rounded, to open up my world.

The path to becoming a writer is convoluted and I have yet to hear a writer give the same path as an answer to ‘what is the way to become a writer?’

Now, in the US, college is vastly inflated as an expense and the debt students take on is crippling, but I’m thinking globally about he purpose of education.

I saw this STEM and jobs focus developing when I first moved to the States. It tends to get very strident when there are conservative administrations, as the neoliberal, libertarian judgement on education for mere self improvement is judged as immoral. Your worth is only the worth you can provide as a worker, and all things must flow into that, in many avenues of a corporate-oriented, corporate advertised world.

Go get the degree that’ll engage you. No matter what job you get, outside of CEO or financier, will leave you fucked for debt.

You might as well have fun with those four years if you’re in the US. Because you’ll spend the rest of your life paying it.

Life is short. Get the degree you want.

The path to what career you’re in, or writing in general, will be wonky enough getting it doesn’t guarantee anything, and getting something else doesn’t hurt.

01 Mar

Quick Book Review: City of Stairs


I have to admit to being a bit late to post this, as I read City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet earlier last month but during my three weeks of being sick as a dog. So I didn’t get a review up.

This is a great example of what I would have called, prior to the early 2000s, “Urban Fantasy.” That is to say, a fantasy novel set in a city and influenced by historical cities. The genre label of Urban Fantasy was rebadged by publishers taking paranormal romance into a wider market a while back, so Urban Fantasy became something very different.

But City of Stairs is a great example of that sort of fantasy that resists the countryside and bucolic pastoralism that affects some fantasy. The city of Bulikov, a place ravaged by the impact of colonialism and war and once-great magic is as much a character as anyone else in the book.

Technology, magic’s side effects and implications, all of that is explored thoroughly, making for a book that reminds me of China Mievelle’s landscapes, or K.J. Parker’s rationalist worldbuilding.

Definitely worth a read.

27 Feb

Quick Book Review: The Stars Are Legion

Kameron Hurley has a new book out, The Stars Are Legion:


I snagged my own hardcover not that long ago. It’s full of squicky biological science world building, dying wordlets, a really wild SF-nal set up that reminds me of Hardfought by Greg Bear (mixed with Ann Leckie) in the way that it gives you such a close, intimate view of a world that has long since forgotten where it came from and what it is that it might as well be secondary world fantasy in some ways.

It’s a fast and intense read that sucks you in pretty quickly. I’m always a sucker for worlds that have no knowledge of the past because they’re so far removed from anything we can recognize that you get whiffs of deep time and humanity becoming so far altered from anything we consider normal (whether environs or people themselves).

31 Jan

Capsule Review: Seveneves & Aurora


I just finished reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson while I was sick and confined to either bed or couch the last five or so days.

It’s a combination of disaster-survival novel in the first third, with the last third being science fiction novel set five thousand years in the future.

It features things I would have loved when I was in my late teens or early 20s, and still enjoy reading now: competent engineers making hard rational choices! Space hardware! The concept that we can engineer our way out of anything! You can exist in a small, tight, closed ecological system by just engineering your way out of it.

Sciencing the shit out of it, that made me cheer in The Martian. A great line. And as a rationalist, seeing how much science does get ignored (99 out of 100 scientists are concerned about global warming, what toothpaste do you want to choose?) drives me nuts. So it’s nice to retreat into some competence porn.

Man, I do love me some competence porn.

In fact, I think that may be what I love about *Science* Fiction the most. But there’s this edge that comes with that, which is the belief that you can engineer your way out of any disaster that comes with a lot of rivet-heavy SF that I found less fun to engage with since reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora which really critiques that whole idea. I could have sworn I posted a review of Aurora here a couple weeks ago, but can’t currently find it. Gah.

Which is to say, had I read Seveneves *before* I read Aurora, I would have enjoyed it a shit ton more as it is designed to push all my buttons from my golden age of reading SF and my love of private space industry reading that I’ve followed so closely since 1998 (I used to have a column about space access attempts in my college newspaper, no less).

But Aurora is like this point-counterpoint of all the stuff that I love. It takes all that rivet-loving engineer your way out of it and leads along with it… and shows you how unlikely and devastating that outlook can be when pushed up against engineering realities.

Both books are science fiction thinkers at their most technical, thinking about complex systems. Both are incidentally favorite authors of mine. Both are fascinating reads. Both are worth reading. I just recommend reading Neal’s first or you might, as I did, feel as if Aurora is just reading over your shoulder.


Clicking on either cover takes you to Amazon, by the way.

Any of you read these books? What did you think?

03 Jan

This is how I Bullet Journal

Hi, I’m Tobias Buckell, a science fiction writer, and this is how I Bullet Journal.

I mentioned I’d started bullet journalling on twitter and people were curious and suggested I create a blog post.

So in September, I had been seeing people mentioning Bullet Journals and seen some Instagram links and Pinterest accounts about bullet journaling.

I was a bit put off by it all because there were pictures like this (these aren’t actual Bullet Journals, but emblematic of the sort of thing that kept me from engaging initially):

Or like this:


It seemed like a group of scrapbookers vomited all over to-do lists. I bounce off the scrapbooking aesthetic. I wouldn’t mock it, those examples above are beautiful. But, it looked like it could, maybe, you know, be a lot of yak shaving or vacuuming the cat before getting stuff done:

Yak shaving is a programming term that refers to a series of tasks that need to be performed before a project can progress to its next milestone. This term is believed to have been coined by Carlin Vieri and was inspired by an episode of “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

I don’t know if that’s fair, but to me (and I emphasize that ‘to me’ part), needing fifteen different colored pens and the right paper, stencils, and so forth, to get a to do list done, that seemed like madness.

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But then someone I really respect (who had the same reaction to it all) told me they were thinking of doing it. Always curious to examine new personal time management tools, I told that person that if they did it, I’d also try one out for a month as a personal experiment and see what I thought.

Bullet Journalling Attempt #1

I went online and purchased a Luechtturm 1917 A5 Notebook as devotees of the system recommended it. I overnighted it, along with a nice gel pen (also recommended). Why reinvent the wheel?

Here’s a youtube video review of the notebook:

Nice notebook!

I then watched the official Bullet Journaling youtube video by the Bullet Journaling inventor:

There. I was ready to start and be awesome! I was relieved to find out that the creator of the Bullet Journal didn’t recommend using fifteen different colored pens and stencils.

I grabbed my fancy new pen, opened my fancy new book, and started following the instructions on the video…

…and promptly biffed it.

I’m ADD, I’m dyslexic, and I made a bunch of mistakes making my first pages.

However, I was determined the experiment continue. I realized that using a pen terrified me because I kept making mistakes. I also wanted to be able to rip out pages if I screwed them up (Bullet Journallers say you just create a new page, or decorate around the mistakes, but, I wasn’t feeling it at the start of the experiment). So I drove up to Staples, purchased an A5 binder with some paper and, on a whim, I snagged a bunch of mechanical pencils.

IMG 2001

I booted up the video and started again.

Within a week of keeping that loose-leaf, three ring binder, I came to a few conclusions:

1) using a pencil helps me lose my worries about making a mistake on the page.
2) with pencil I didn’t need loose leaf paper.
3) man, that Luechtturm had really nice paper, regular American school paper was shit.
4) this is the most important: whatever may or may not work with Bullet Journalling, the idea of indexing my notes and scribbles was revelatory.

Okay, about number four. That’s like, paperclip obvious. It’s so obvious in retrospect I don’t know why I wasn’t doing this in high school or college. But honestly, I have gone my entire life writing things down on scraps of paper as they occur to me, and then collating them onto the computer.

One of my most popular posts is “How I Write a Novel” and you can see that I do actually use paper for brainstorming:

But I get that into computer quickly as I can because it’s then organized and searchable. And when I was planning things, my desk would look like that.

But creating an index, that was interesting. Because now I suddenly, like a light bulb going off, realized I could create not only daily to-dos, but project to-dos, and flip back and forth. Even better, while I used a variety of to-dos via digital software, some projects of mine were getting so complex that I needed a way to glance at the 30,000 foot view quickly.

Surprisingly, there is no official graphical user interface for a novelist 10 years into his career who needs an at a glance look at what’s going on with all his novels in one place.

But with an indexed paper system I could built a two page spread with all that data, including my own symbols for different things happening to the books and…

…all of a sudden I understood all the custom scrapbook-y stuff I was seeing. These were personalized UIs. And creative output, of course.

I quickly created a sketch of a two page spread that would allow me to see all the complicated things I was doing for my novel career, and right away I was like “yeah, I’ll be opening this up every time I talk to an editor, or agent, or accepting a deadline.” I could see everything I was up to on one page.

Bullet Journal #2: Considering aesthetics

So, the Staples binder was a shitty quick solution. The paper was cheap. The binder was cheap. And I hated the rings. Yeah, writing on the right page was easy, but writing on the left? I had to hold my hand in an odd way. I took to writing on only half the page. In the second week, I got online and started ordering possible Bullet Journal systems.

Here is what I ordered:

IMG 2001 2

Upper left is the shitty Staples A5, 3-ring binder. I liked A5 size because I could stick the notebook in a backpack pocket, or take it with me to a panel to take notes.

On the upper right, I snagged a Japanese 20-ring binder with some nice paper.

On the lower right I purchased a very nice 6 ring system with a luxurious leather holder that could take credit cards and extra pens and pencils, plus it had more space in the middle. Many diarists in the US use that gapped six ring system, I found out. Incidentally, my wife took up that notebook for her own Bullet Journalling (it is infectious apparently).

On the lower left is the system I settled on: the Kokuyo Systemic Notebook cover.

Here’s a product shot of the whole thing:


For the pencil (it has this great pen loop) I have a Uni-Ball KuruToga 0.7mm Mechanical Pencil which is magical because it has a mechanism in it that rotates the lead every time you pick it up, so that the pencil comes down sharp on the next stroke. I use the diamond infused lead for the super sharp lines. Pencil isn’t as sharp as pen, but this pencil really helps compensate for that.

I used that to build out my to-do list and project management, heavily using indexing so I can jump around and find what I need.

Each Kokuyo twin ring notebook lasts me about two months. I think I could get three out of them, but I haven’t tried yet.

I also added a Moleskine Cahair slim notebook on the left panel of the Kokuyo Notebook cover. So my project management happens on the right, with the twin ring, and on the left, I write down ideas and writing snippets.

Bullet Journalling: What I do

So I have an index, then I create some pages for quotes. Two pages of my favorite quotes, one for life, one for writing.

Then come the future pages that Bullet Journalling recommends. They don’t work as well for me so I’m slowly deprecating them. But my month page is a thing just like normal. Then I start doing my daily pages (dailies some people call them).

My page looks simple, I don’t adorn, I have the shittiest handwriting. Here’s a sample fake page:


Date at top (because that helps me know what day I wrote things on).

Priority: I write in two to three (no more than three) priorities for the day, things that absolutely have to be done. Like ‘refill meds’ so that I can continue living.

After a skipped line I write “Today will rock b/c:” and then fill in why it will rock. This is something I picked up from a neurophysiology researched, how to work/live better journalling exercise I read about. If I can’t fill that out, that means I’m not looking forward to anything on this day. Seeing a blank after that is a clue I need to stop and think about why or what is in the way of me having even a small thing to look forward to. Often it says something like “Today will rock b/c: I’m going to have a Choco Taco after dinner!”

Then I have my daily to-dos that I’ve filled out in the morning or the night before. I use a box for these (instead of a dot), and if the box is half filled it’s in progress. I like coloring in the box after I achieve a to-do, it makes me feel happy, accomplished, and kick ass. It’s dumb, but there you go.

I interweave journaling and to-dos, which is what blew me away about some Bullet Journallers. It’s not official, I don’t think, but I use a circle to denote a journal entry. So right under the to-dos I’ll often have something like:

Bubble: “Man it’s colder than all fuck outside, this is so depressing. I hate being cold all the time. I hate winter. Etc” I wanted to start journaling because I’ve read a lot of research showing its positive impacts. Interweaving the to-dos and journaling mean I do this organically throughout the day, and can also meta-comment on my mental state regarding some of the to-dos.

I can add new to-dos as they occur to me interleaved through this all as well.

And lastly, I use a plus sign to denote a thing I did that wasn’t scheduled:

+phone call from XYZ. We discussed ABC project. 1pm-1:30.

These plus activities are added in for things I know to do, interruptions, last minute etc.

With all this in play, I can look at each day and see that ‘oh, I failed on my to-dos but a crisis happened’ or what have you. Journaling helps me express myself and engage in meta-cognition.

I use a triangle to denote warnings, or things I’ve noticed.

Triangle: you didn’t get enough sleep and are feeling like shit. I was perusing my journals and noticed a number of patterns flagged by triangles that I was able to get ahead of.

Lastly, I try to write at the end of the day if I was grateful for anything. Gratefulness journals are again, shown to by psychologically helpful.

I’ll take notes on a lecture, or call, right on the page of the day, then go index them after I’m done (a significant lecture will get indexed from front, I keep a project page called ‘call log’ and log the date, time, person, and quick summary on that page, which notes the page of the diary that is on, that call log is a project page indexed by index). Sounds complex, but I’m able to keep a surprising amount of info organized easily, and generating it is easy.

Project pages. I mentioned that I have a novels project page. I also keep pages that log books read, tv shows watched and my thoughts, movies and my thoughts, each audiobook I’m listening to. These are as I go logs.

I also keep lists. I have lists of movies recommended to me written down, and books recommended to me.

Specific complicated projects all get a page.

One of the most useful pages ever for my mental health was “Things I’m Waiting On.”

Open loops, things that are undone and in-progress, that I have no control over, keep me up at night. When I created my first ‘waiting on’ page, I had 43 items on there. It was a relief to list them all out, collating the items from various project pages. I list contracts I’m waiting for, checks, people getting back to me about questions, things being shipped, etc. Knowing that it was on a page that I could update really took it out my perpetual worrying back mind. It also let me put dates next to them so I knew how often to ‘poke’ the project on a set, regular reminder schedule.

I also have pages for ‘life goals’ ‘year goals’ ‘places I want to see’ and things like that.

Project pages are more decorated up with lines from a ruler, and things to help me graphically understand what I’m up to. I can’t share these really, right now, as they have either personal info or info about projects I can’t talk about. But really, there are lots of arrows and things written sideways and all custom designed by me to get the gist of what happens next.

One thing I have learned from Getting Things Done, each project breaks down parts by next actions on those pages, so I understand what I have to do next and can copy a next action onto my daily page as an easy to do.

So to create an internet business project page, first step might be ‘investigate open domain names related to ‘theme of business’’ after that ‘register the domain’ because each of those are concrete, actionable steps that I could almost assign anyone, that I can follow when brain dead. Obviously creative stuff is not something I can assign, but if I were to assign it to another writer, how would I write it? (Say: write one page of X. Or brainstorm 3 ideas for X. Or ‘spend 30 minutes brainstorming ideas for X). That is how I break it down for creative stuff.

That is basically been how I spent the last four months, and I actually think it saved my sanity because the crunch of work I had to achieve in the last four months meant I depended on this heavily.

My only issue was that two months per notebook sucked. I think I can squeeze three out of the Kokuyos, but I am currently testing out a Luechtturm 1917 that I think I can 3-4 months out of and that will be nice, as I won’t have to copy over my project pages every two months.

But man, I love that clear plastic cover and the immediate index of the Kokuyo, so we’ll see how this goes over the next two months.

06 Dec

Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

Several people hit me up to note that Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard just came out. It’s apparently the first biography of Louverture that’s English first that has come out in 80 years.

I snagged a copy that arrived last night and read the book promptly.

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It’s best read if you already have an appreciation of Caribbean history. Something like Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads is a great start.

Haiti’s history and the US is so intertwined. I could write a large essay. But short of it: the entire Louisiana Purchase came about because Napoleon wanted to reinvade Haiti after Toussaint Louverture’s successful rebellion. Haiti was such an economic crown jewel that Napoleon jettisoned enough territory to the US that it doubled the size of the US, much to the shock of the negotiators who showed up. There is no modern US as you conceive of it without Haiti. The French gave up plans to invade the US as well, which was a war that had been possibly brewing.

See Haiti and the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) helped Toussaint draft a constitution. Hamilton, famously finding democracy and liberty messy, basically suggested a highly centralized military run system and advised against an American styled system. We’re not sure how much that influenced Toussaint, but that’s what he went with.

I find the American blindspot to Haiti very frustrating.

Oh, yeah, and Jefferson as president actively supported the French attempt to retake Haiti (Sant Domingue) because he was just plain racist.

A lot of the American South reacted to the revolution and refugees by becoming super racist, setting the state not only for the American Civil War but to the Southern Strategy in US politics that just kicked our ass right now.

It’s all bound together. History still lies with us. The evil of slavery and the creation of racism as a major tenet of modern Wester Civilization still stains the body politic, so it’s important to read about one of the major figures in this long, sad history of the fight against slavery and its follow on effects.

So finally digging deeper into Toussaint is important, and I read biography last night in one big gulp. It’s not a hagiography, but then few really good delves into the complications of major historical figures are. While I learned some things I wasn’t expecting, I have a greater appreciation for the sheer unlikeness of what Toussaint did.

Here are some highlights I noted on twitter as I was reading:

18 Nov

Capsule Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman


One of my regrets about how scheduled I was last year was that I got very little time to read books I was hearing buzzed about. Planetfall was one of those on my shortlist. I finally got to pull this one off my shelf and start reading it a couple days ago.

This was an interesting book because the main character struggles with a disorder and trying to plumb too much about what that is gives away some of the core secrets of the book, and this book is interestingly constructed as a mystery. A lot is revealed all at the end, even if you suspect going along the pay off is still all unraveled right in the last pages. Which is something you rarely see in this day and age of spoilers and reviews that give away endings. I’m glad I was able to miss any spoilers and come at this fresh.

Let’s just say if you like classic SF, but also enjoy a deeply personal angle on the big ideas and a bit of a mystery genre, this is a personal tragedy that makes for a fast read and is a great piece of science fiction. You have your Big Dumb Object, ‘God’s City’ which has been left by aliens for humans to figure out what it is there for. You have a plucky band of interstellar explorers heading out to explore it. And then you have the strife of survivors trying to pick up the pieces and the consequences of bad decisions made and their after affects years later.

I recommend giving it a read, reminded me of some of my favorite classics:

Planetfall on Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com.

17 Nov

SpaceX Plans to Launch over 4,000 satelites to blanket the Earth in high speed internet

Well, this is somewhat stunning and exciting:

SpaceX just asked the FCC to launch 4,425 satellites – Business Insider: “SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by the Mars-hungry tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, just made a big move to envelop the Earth in high-speed internet coverage.

“With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services,” SpaceX wrote. “Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally.””

(Via Business Insider.)

Musk plans to offer 1GBPS high speed internet to anyone on Earth. You know, as you do.

11 Nov

Capsule Review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds


This is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in a while.

Revenger is full of all the stock Alastair Reynolds world building that I love, since Chasm City (in some ways it’s a real return to his roots of mixing low, almost steam level punk technology and high space opera settings), yet the narrow focus on a single POV, that of Fura Ness, gives it a fast-moving whip pace that meant I ate through this book in a quick couple of days.

Set in the ruins of a galaxy that has seen many civilizations rise and fall Fura Ness and her sister join a ship plying the space ways in search of artificial worlds that have since collapsed and been locked away. With strong hints of the age of sail, but with a vividly imagined solar system as its playground, and a revenge quest plot (one of my favorites!) I felt really sad when I finished because I didn’t get to stay inside the book.

Seriously, I’ll read the fuck out of a sequel.

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