Monthly Archive: April 2009

The Science of Seeming Smart

I Have Seen the Future and It Is Largely Bullshit

I’d never claim to be anything like a technology guru; as a matter of fact here’s a typical conversation I have with my friend Jeof all the time:

ME: What time is it?

JEOF: With my new IPHONE TOUCH, I can have the time read to me by Clive Owen any time I want. (Waves hands in magical gestures over iPhone)

CLIVE OWEN: It’s 3:15, mate.

JEOF: My IPHONE TOUCH also makes cookies whenever I want.

ME: (Looking down at his own ancient Nokia phone). My phone lets me play Tetris.

So whenever I stumble up to the podium to say anything about technological issues, keep this in mind. Still, I’ve been Twittering for a few weeks now and thus I imagine myself to be an expert, the same way I read one book on Chess in 2001 and played a free Chess game on my computer 5,982 times until I finally beat it, using the same opening each time (Queen’s Gambit), and decided I was a Chess Grand Master. So what I’ve noticed about Twitter – and, dare I say it, social networking software in general – is this: The name of the game is making yourself seem smarter, cooler, and more informed than you actually are.

Social Networking Stuff like Twitter or Facebook is sold on the idea that people want to be more in touch with each other, and since we live in a world where you’re in front of a screen of some sort (PC, phone, PDA) most of our day, the best way to do this is via Teh intarwebs, which Jebus sent to save us all. This may be true; just because I’m a dislikable bastard who doesn’t actually want to be more connected to people, since people frighten and confuse me, doesn’t mean the rest of you aren’t tickled to have an always-on connection to your (possibly imaginary) digital friends. But once people are one the social networks, they seem to spend most of their time trying to convince you that they’re smart, funny, and knowledgeable, when we all know they aren’t.

Twitter is the worst: Everyone on Twitter wants me to think they’re an expert on something. Writing, real-estate, Search-Engine Optimization, or – in a funky twist of the space/time continuum – Twitter itself. You can’t call yourself KINGOFREALESTATE without me thinking you want me to believe you know a thing or two about real estate, homie.

Homie? I should stop writing these posts drunk.

The time-delay aspect of these sites allows everyone to massage their public image in a way a live, face-to-face interaction doesn’t allow. Even Twitter, which thrives on immediate, apparently lag-free interactions (when the fucking site is actually working) allows everyone a small window for quick googling to pull up facts, quotes, or links that would have to hide behind a vague statement if you were, say, in a bar. Even someone like me can seem erudite and informed, when obviously I spend my days drinking at inappropriate hours, playing guitar badly, and giggling.

That time-lag is important. It’s short enough to appear instantaneous to our wetwork brains, but long enough for quick, broadband research. If it was perceived to be any longer, the illusion would be broken. If it were any shorter, no one would be able to type star wars quote bad feeling fast enough.

This is what technology is being applied to, kids: Making us look good. More and more, I figure this is what technology will be exclusively applied to. Eventually I’m sure we’ll all have earbuds which will supply information to us on the fly, solely so we can impress first dates, which would be pretty cool. Although I would probably use mine solely to have my own quotes piped into my ear, which surprises no one.

The Benefits of the Authorly Life

Met up with reader[1] and sometime blog-commenter Damaso yesterday at Rudy’s Bar and Grill in New York City yesterday, after conquering my general fear of everyone who is not already known to me. Aside from a very interesting conversation about a variety of topics, and some of Rudy’s delicious Rudy Red beer, Damaso gifted me with this:

That’s right, moonshine from Hungary. When Damaso emailed me some weeks ago saying that he’d read my pleas for more, more more! liquor on this web site and in my zine and in just about everything I write, and he would bring me back some excellent homemade liquor he’d encountered in his travels, I didn’t believe him. When he emailed and suggested we have a drink so he could pass it over to me, I thought he was probably there to kidnap me and force me to be his own personal ghost-writer (shut up, that happens ALL THE TIME).

In reality, Damaso’s a cool guy and we had a great time drinking and chatting – though I drew the line at risking my life on the free hot dogs that Rudy’s offers. Damaso took a chance, and I hope he is still with us today. And also, he wasn’t lying about the homemade hooch. Sometimes, being a world-famous writer is worth the constant kidnapping attempts.

[1] I hate the term “fan”, which just sounds wrong to me, so I use the awkward term reader instead.

Please Don’t Stop the Music

I know you’ve all been waiting for me to post more of my amazing guitar playing. So I will. It’s almost science-fictiony what we can do these days. It wasn’t very long ago that one man sitting in a room with a guitar couldn’t put together anything even remotely professional-sounding. Yet here I am: A jackass with a guitar and a computer and while I don’t pretend my little recordings are radio-ready (or even all that good), they’re in the same ballpark, and that’s pretty amazing. As they say on The Simpsons: What a time to be alive!

So anyway, here’s three songs if you dare. The usual disclaimers: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I will not play at your wedding.




Lemme know what you think, if you want.

Vous êtes ce qui l’appel français un incompétent.

A week or so ago I was sitting in my agent’s office, signing some contracts. Since I infect everything I do with incompetence and laziness, we had some trouble getting things going in the right direction:

ME: Uh, was I supposed to sign this page?

AGENT: (peering through cloud of brimstone and smoke that swirls around her perpetually) No! <thunder rolls> Does it have your name next to it?

ME: Uh. . .no.

AGENT: Only sign the ones that do.

ME: Thanks. <Flips pages and signs several> Uh. . .it says here sign in blue ink. This is black.

AGENT: Lord, give me strength.

ME: Also, I’ve been signing a fake name. I don’t know why.

AGENT: What?!?

ME: And I was a little nervous. . .coming here. . .so I drank a whole. . .bottle of whiskey. . .


You’d think, after having several books published, having appeared on radio shows and on Con panels, after being interviewed and cashing all those advance checks, I’d feel like a professional. or at least an adult. The sad truth is, I don’t feel much different than I did a decade ago, when my biggest published credit was a comic book episode of Sliders (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I still usually feel like a kid, and a socially awkward one at that.

I don’t have business cards. Every time I go to some official event as a literary guest or something, everyone else has nice, professional-looking business cards to hand out and if I have anything it’s just some quickies I dashed off on the home printer. And that’s unusual; usually it’s just me stuttering and writing my email address on slips of paper.

The fact is, I still think of myself as a zinester who’s photocopying his latest issue on the company machine after hours, and writing mostly for himself. No matter how many people send me emails telling me they enjoyed the books, no matter how many books I actually publish, I still feel like I’m faking it in some way. The constant endrunkening is part of it, as is the pantslessness, the tendency towards gibberish, and my rare ability to make my own books sound boring when speaking about them off the cuff.

Oh yes, the pungent scent of incompetence is everywhere.

Except, of course, when I am actually writing. It’s always been the one time I feel absolutely competent: When I put two words together, they are meant to be. Writing the books has always been the easy part. Promoting and marketing–selling–them has always been hard. Which is, I suppose, how it should be. And socially awkward is why Jebus gave us booze, right?

Mass Market Covers

Saw these a few days ago thanks to my uber-editor at Orbit, but didn’t realize they were releasable, because I never ask the right questions. Friends, I give thee the mass market covers of the Avery Cates books so far:

The Eternal Prison

Ain’t they pretty? Don’t they make you want to rush out and buy the books all over again?!? There’s actually a nifty little piece on Mass Market cover strategy over at the Orbit web site, where these covers have been unveiled, which I encourage you to read.

Video Game Movies are The Suck

Over at, they’ve linked to some game footage of Bioshock 2, which of course has me very excited, as I lost several weeks playing the first one. Although ultimately I found the game to be a little unsatisfying – a little too repetitious, and a lot of the things that were supposed to make the game feel huge and nonlinear, like the plasmid system, ended up being unnecessarily complex and confusing without really adding any depth to the game – it was still a four star game, with a great storyline.

IO9 also mentions a Bioshock movie in the works, which dismays me, because, as we all know, movies made from video games have been discovering heretofore unknown depths of suckage for decades now. I mean, has there ever been a movie adapted from a game that wasn’t the worst movie of the year? I submit that there has not. And I am never wrong. Or at least I don’t remember being wrong. The fact that I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday doesn’t change the fact that I am always right.

The reason video game movies always suck is simple: Video games can and have, at times, developed storylines over the course of hours and hours of gameplay, involving multiple settings, dozens of characters, reams of dialogue, and copious visual detail. A movie is meant to convey all of that in about 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours tops. It’s an impossible task. Look at Half life, my other favorite first-person shooter. You could make five or six movies out of the first game alone, and even if you boiled it down to major set pieces and cut out a lot of the crawling through ducts and puzzling over physics puzzles designed simply to show off the game engine, you’d still probably have a four hour movie on your hands. So the movie version tend to either abandon the game’s actual characters and storyline completely, or strip it down to monsters and special effects, hoping someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can keep you entertained with just his pecs and eyebrows.

Video games are also getting increasingly cinematic, with graphics getting nearer and nearer photorealism and game engines getting better and better physics models. You see where this is going: As our computer monitors get bigger and bigger, eventually melding with our televisions and the Internet so that there’s very little distinction between them, movies are going to become video games, and vice-versa. Eventually you won’t drive to a theater, buy a ticket, and passively watch a movie for 2 hours. You’ll pay $50, install a game, and spend the next few weeks experiencing the story.

I’m actually looking forward to that – I’d love to write a video game, figuring out all the fun ways the player can interact and possibly even affect the story. Bioshock had a very tentative and small way for the player to alter the ultimate ending, depending on how the player treated certain Non-Player Characters during gameplay, but this really only affected the final cutscene and the mood of the ending, nothing else. While the programming challenge is huge, it would be fun to write a sort of “pick-a-path” kind of game where your decisions actually alter the game’s behavior as you play, in a significant way.

Until Bioshock 2 comes out, I guess I’ll just play Portal again.

We Are So Very, Very Wrong

Being a writer of Science Fiction, let’s face it: You’re making predictions. Now, of course, no one takes us seriously. First of all, we drink. A lot. My experience with writers is, stereotypes be damned, we’re all sodden with booze (or other things) all the time, and it’s actually surprising that we create anything worth reading. Secondly, despite the word science in our job title, the shocking truth is very, very few of us actually have advanced degrees. In anything. Even our unAdvanced degrees aren’t worth much, as a rule.

Still, despite this kind of deep unreadiness, I’ve made it my business to predict the future every day. In a gonzo, unserious way, of course, but still a prediction. Thankfully, no one really expects me to be accurate about these things. I write about a future where cyborgs eat your brain and steal your knowledge, and no one starts building anti-cyborg bunkers (that I know of; if you have, let me know immediately). However, some folks make predictions for a living in a more serious way: Pundits. There are always going to be people in this world who want to tell you what’s coming, and, like Nostradamus, people tend to only remember when pundits are right.

Thankfully, someone thought to start up

I think it’s great to track the ridiculous things people say are gonna happen and have some sort of serious statistical report concerning pundit accuracy. I have a feeling that the scores are going to be really, really low.

All I ask is that no one add me to the site for predicting brain-eating cyborgs and such.

Marathoning for Parkinson’s

A quick, serious post that isn’t about me me me for a change (shocking, I know):

My wife is going to be running the New York City Marathon to raise money for Team Fox, Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease charity. Basically, she’s going to train herself into a sweaty nub in order to raise at least $5000 for Parkinson’s research. Her father passed away last year after a long struggle with this horrible affliction, and she was inspired to strap on her marathon shoes one last time (she’s done 7 marathons, including NYC) in his honor.

Whether you can donate something to the cause or not, check out her page set up over at Team Fox and think good thoughts for her while she trains (lord knows her knees need all the prayers in multiple denominations they can get):


The Eternal Revision

The other day, my publisher called:

ME: Hello, this is Jeff–you may already owe me money*.

PUB: Actually, after reviewing the accounting, you actually owe us sixty-four thousand dollars after triggering the morality clause in your contract, but that’s not why we’re calling.

ME: If it’s about those office supplies, I can explain. I was drunk.

PUB: What office supplies?

ME: Sorry – I am drunk. What did you want?

PUB: We’re putting out a new edition of The Electric Church, anything you want to change?

ME: I’d like to change the title to JEFF SOMERS BADASS KILLING MACHINE. Also, I’d like to change the main character’s name to Jeff Somers.

PUB: <dial tone>

We’re entering into a weird era for writers, I think. Technology is going to offer us the opportunity at some point to continuously edit and revise our work. Once our books and stories are out on Kindles and yet-to-be-invented devices, we’ll be able to suddenly decide to clarify a character’s motivations in chapter 25 and beam it out to everyone overnight. Readers wake up the next day, switch on their readers, and boom! A new changed version of the book.

Some authors never stop revising, and for them this is probably a wonderful thing. Heck, some authors would love to completely re-write their books thirty years after publication, whether because they suffer from Authorial I Suck Syndrome or because changing technology/history makes their story inaccurate or laughably dated. Me, personally I tend to regard things as finished and if I decide years later that I didn’t do a very good job, or that I could do better, I’d rather just write a new version of the story from scratch. Whether or not authors will like the ability to do this, I think the better question is whether we should be allowed to, and what it would mean for readers.

I’m not sure it would be so great for readers, actually. The idea that my copy of a book can shift without my knowledge – or, hell, with my knowledge – is horrifying. Bad enough for fictions, where the very scene or dialog that grabbed you and made you fall in love with the story could be completely rewritten or deleted years after you read it, but imagine history books being edited remotely, biographies, anything. You can go totally paranoid and imagine every reference to some political event erased from every book, ever, or you can stick with the depressing thought that should I someday have a Philip K. Dick stroke-moment, I might be able to go back to The Electric Church and insert lots of giant bunny rabbits speaking Latin.

Of course, death silences all of us, so eventually a book will have to settle down into a canon version. . .unless of course the estate, which will hold the copyright for a while (possibly forever and ever if things keep sliding towards hell the way they have been). It’ll be great when the grandson of a writer can go into their ancestor’s files and start editing their books, won’t it? Watch and see. I think Douglas Adams once speculated on how horribly chaotic history would become once we developed time travel, well, this is it: A world where nothing will ever be set in stone ever again. Unless you actually carve your book into tablets as some sort of marketing gimmick. Which is genius.

At least you can count on my disastrous disorganization and laziness to protect you from this fresh hell in my books at least. Though be careful when my liver finally pops: The wife is very eager to get in there and “correct” my books. Read ’em while you can.

*My standard greeting