>> Amy Draves: Thank you so much for coming. My name is Amy Draves and I am, have to admit, fan girl thrilled to welcome John Scalzi to the Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker series. John is here to introduce "Lock In" to us. My friend Kevin put it beautifully, “John has an amazing way of exploring what it is to be human.” Thank you Kevin. His debut novel “Old Man’s War” won him the John W. Campbell award for the best new writer. He is also the author of several books and novellas including the New York Times bestsellers “The Last Colony” and “Redshirts”, which won the 2013 Hugo award for best novel. He also writes the blog “The Whatever”, which has earned him two other Hugo awards and I am thrilled to welcome him here. Please join me in giving him a warm welcome. [applause] >> John Scalzi: Thank you, you did a good job, it was good. Well first thank you for having me. This is my first time actually at Microsoft, so it’s actually kind of a geeky thrill for me. You know people are like, “What are you going to do at Microsoft?” And I was like, “Well first I am going to have them fix my computer and it is the research department after all so they will figure out something.” But, actually this thing works fine, it’s a Dell XPS and you know it’s got the whole sort of fake tablet thing and it makes me feel like kind of the world. And I have been a big fan of Microsoft’s implementation stuff. I got one of the very first tablets in like 2003 and was like walking around with it going, “Oh what’s this; it’s just my tablet; here it is.” So thank you all for that. Here’s what I am going to do in terms of reading. I have another event today at a university bookstore so I am not going to read you anything that I am actually going to read there. I am going to read some stuff that’s special for you guys because you guys are awesome. But, it does have a little bit of the theme of “Lock In” and talking about technology and talking about how things work and how people just integrate technology into their lives, in very fanciful ways, you know it’s not going to be deep, but they are just kind of humorous readings. So I am going to do that for 3 relatively short pieces, they should be fun. I am going to up it up to questions and answer stuff. So if you have questions and want answers that will be the time to do it. And then after that those of you who have books and want to have them signed just come on up and we will sign them. And that’s the plan. The first thing I want to read you though is actually, because when they said, “Do you want to come to Microsoft?” I was like, “Yeah, I do.” It reminded me that way back in 1995 I was a newspaper columnist, a newspaper columnist in Fresno California and like the rest of the world got kind of caught up in the operating system you might have heard of called Windows 95, which actually I thought was really cool because you know it was such a night and day from Windows 3.1. And I just remember actually that I spent one night up until 3 am just going through all the screen savers and all the cool things in the screen savers. There was one that was the haunted house and just every once in awhile something would creak or some shadow would move across the door. I like literally watched it for hours. My wife woke up and was like, “What are you doing?” And I was like, “I don’t know; but I can’t stop doing it.”
So the very first piece I want to read to you is actually from that time and it’s referencing a little bit about how, aside from Windows 95 being actually a very excellent operating system, the little fact that Microsoft put a big push on it and really wanted people to get it and so on and so forth. So the very first piece I am going to read for you today is one that’s called: ‘The Man from Microsoft’ There was a knock on the door. It was the man from Microsoft. “Not you again,” I said. “Sorry,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I guess you know why I’m here.” Indeed I did. Microsoft’s $300 million campaign to promote the Windows 95 operating system was meant to be universally effective, to convince every human being on the planet that Windows 95 was an essential, and some would say integral, part of living. The problem was, not everyone had bought it. Specifically, I had not bought it. I was the last human being without Windows 95. And now this little man from Microsoft was at my door, and he would not take no for an answer. “No,” I said. “You know I can’t take that,” he said, pulling out a copy of Windows 95 from a briefcase. “Come on, just one copy. That’s all we ask.” “I’m not interested.” I said. “Look, isn’t there someone else you can go bother for a while? There’s got to be someone else on the planet who doesn’t have a copy.” “Well, no,” The Microsoft man said. “You’re the only one.” “You can’t be serious. Not everyone on the planet has a computer,” I said. “Hell, not everyone on the planet has a PC! Some people own Macintoshes, which run their own operating system. And some people have PCs run OS 2, although I hear that’s just a rumor. (That’s some really quality 90s humor for you right there). [laughter] In short, there are some people who just have no use for Windows 95.” The Microsoft man look perplexed. “I’m missing your point,” he said. “Use!” I screamed. “Use! Use! Use! Why buy it, if you can’t use it?” “Well, I don’t know anything about this ‘use’ thing you’re going on about,” The Microsoft man said. “All I know is that according to our records, everyone else on the planet has a copy.”
“So people without computers?” “We got ‘em.” “Amazonian Indians?” “We had to get some malaria shots to go in, but yes.” “The Amish.” “Check.” “Oh, come on,” I said. “They don’t even wear buttons. How did you get them to buy a computer operating system?” “We told them that there were actually 95 very small windows in the box,” the Microsoft man admitted. “We sort of lied. Which means we are all going to Hell, every single employee of Microsoft.” He was somber for a minute, but then perked right up. “But that’s not the point!” he said. “The point is, everyone has a copy, except you.” “So what?” I said. “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you expect me to do it, too?” “If we spent $300 million advertising it? Absolutely.” “No.” “Jeez, back to that again,” the Microsoft man said. “Hey. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a copy. For free. Just take it and install it on your computer.” He waved the box in front of me. “No,” I said again. “No offense, pal, but I don’t need it and frankly, your whole advertising blitz has sort of offended me. I mean, it’s a computer operating system, great, fine, swell, whatever. But, you guys are advertising it like it creates world peace or something.” “Well it did.” “What?” “World peace. It was part of the original design, really, one button access. Click on it, poof, end to strife and hunger, it was simple.” “So what happened?” “Well, you know,” he said. “It took up a lot of space on the hard drive. We had to decide between it or the Microsoft Network. Anyway, we couldn’t figure out how to make a profit off of world peace.”
“Go away,” I said. “I can’t,” he said. “I’ll be killed if I fail.” “You have got to be kidding,” I said. “Look,” the Microsoft man said, “We sold this to the Amish. The Amish! Right now, they’re opening the boxes and figuring out they’ve been had. We’ll be pitchforked if we ever step into Western Pennsylvania again. But we did it. So to have you holding out, well, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to the company. It’s embarrassing to the product. It’s embarrassing to Bill.” “Bill Gates does not care about me,” I said. [laughter] “He’s watching right now,” the Microsoft man said. “Borrowed one of those military spy satellites just for the purpose. It’s also got one of those high-powered lasers. You close that door on me, zap, I’m a pile of grey ash.” “He wouldn’t do that,” I said, “He might hit that copy of Windows 95 by accident.” “Oh, Bill’s gotten pretty good with that laser,” the Microsoft man said, nervously. “Okay. I wasn’t supposed to do this, but you leave me no choice. If you take this copy of Windows 95, we will reward you handsomely. In fact, we’ll give you your own Caribbean island! How does Montserrat sound?” “Terrible. There’s an active volcano there.” “It’s only a small one,” the Microsoft man said. “Look,” I said, “even if you did convince me to take that copy of Windows 95, what would you do then? You would have totally saturated the market. That would be it, no new worlds to conquer and hat would you do then?” The Microsoft man held up another box and gave it to me. “‘Windows 95 for Pets’?” “There’s a lot of domestic animals out there,” he said. I shut the door quickly. There was a surprised yelp, the sound of a laser, and then nothing. All right. That’s that one. [applause]
I am not going to lie to you. I mean, you know, they told me that you folks would have a sense of humor about that. I was waiting for the laser target. [laughter] So I am actually very happy that you enjoyed that particular piece. The next piece I am going to read to you is a piece both about technology in the home, which is a big topic I know for you folks, but also talking about how technology can influence the way that you write. I am someone who wrote in the computer age. The very first time I wrote a short story it was on a computer. And so every once in a while I will hear authors who are older than me talking about them writing entire novels on type writers and I just stare at them agog. I mean because that was literally copying and pasting and I just like, “How did you live? How did you actually get stuff done?” And the simple fact of the matter is that writing very often flows into the technology that you use to create it. I write the way I write and how I write because I have been using, quite honestly, Microsoft Word since I started writing novels. Well, the very first novel I wrote was ‘Agent to the Stars’ and I wrote it on Microsoft Works, because I was cheap. [laughter] But, of the 10 novels that I have written 9 of them have been written on Microsoft Word and I am so used to the metaphor of how Microsoft Word works. That quite frankly it has quite a lot of influence on how the writing get’s done. So this piece was an interesting writing challenge using another bit of technology which is called Twitter. I am sure you’ve heard of it. I got to a point where I got to almost 20,000 users and I said that if I got to 20,000 users I would write a story where every sentence was 140 characters or less. So this is that story; it’s called ‘The Other Large Thing’ and it’s the story of a master of a house and his new object: Sanchez was napping when the other two came through the door, carrying something large. The arrival of the other two was not usually of note, unless they had been away for a long time and Sanchez was hungry. But when either of the other two came back to the house, they were usually only bringing themselves, or carrying food. This large thing neither looked nor smelled like food. Sanchez decided, despite how comfortable he was that his role as master of the house required a better look at the thing. Regretfully he hauled himself up and walked over to the large thing to begin his inspection. As he did so, the larger of the other two collided with him and tripped over its feet, stumbling and dropping the large thing. Sanchez expressed his displeasure at the collision and smacked the larger one, tough but fair, to get it back into line. It stared at Sanchez for a moment before averting its eyes – a clear sign of acquiescence! Then it lifted the object it was carrying once more to bring it into the living area of the home. Sanchez, pleased that the natural order of things had been re-established, followed. From his seat on the couch, Sanchez watched, and occasionally napped, while the other two fiddled with the thing. First the two lifted the large thing to reveal another large thing. Sanchez briefly wondered how there now two large things, so he hauled himself up again. He wandered
over to the first large thing and examined it, peering into it and noticing that the inside was cool and dark. Well, cool and dark were two of his favorite things. He settled into his new vantage point while the other two continued doing their frankly incomprehensible thing. The other large thing was surrounded by other smaller things. The other two would take the smaller things and attach them to the other large thing. Eventually all the smaller things were gone and there was only one other large thing. The other two settled back and appeared to be happy with their work. This meant it was time once more for Sanchez, as master of the house, to examine the state of things. Wearily he rose again and strolled over. Sometimes it was tiring to be the master. But then, who else in the house could do it? Surely not either of the other two; it was a fact they would be lost without him. The other large thing that the other two had been fiddling with was a thing that looked a bit like the other two, but smaller. The other two sometimes let others into the house and when they did, sometimes those others brought smaller others, who annoyed Sanchez. This other large thing was about the size of the annoying smaller others. So that wasn’t a good thing right off. But he liked to encourage the other two when he could. It was part of being master. So he came in closer to the other large thing to give it a token approval mark before he got back to his nap. And then the thing tried to reach for him! Holy crap! Sanchez did the prudent thing, seized the high ground of the top of the couch and prepared himself for battle. The other large thing appeared to watch him and followed, reaching out again toward Sanchez. Sanchez responded with a bellow of invective and struck at the other large thing, once, twice, three times. This made the other two make that weird barking noise they sometimes made. Sanchez looked at the both of them, eyes narrowed. He would deal with them later, probably while they were sleeping. For now, however, he was totally focused on this other large thing, which obviously must be destroyed. Sanchez coiled himself for attack and flung himself at the other large thing, aiming for the head. Normally a headshot was devastating. Howling and retreat generally followed in its wake. In this case the headshot did nothing. The other large thing wobbled a bit at the first contact between it and Sanchez, but otherwise, nothing. Sanchez pulled a few more tricks out of his arsenal but to no avail. This other large thing clearly required new tactics. Sanchez was not prepared to develop those on the fly. He did the prudent thing and made a strategic withdrawal from the field, into the cool dark recesses of the first large thing. After he did so the smaller of the other two tried to coax him out. He smacked it for its insolence. It went away. After some time, the other two retreated into their sleeping place, turning off all the lights. Eventually Sanchez decided he had spent enough time in the first large thing and emerged, blinking in the dim light. The other large thing was standing some distance away. Sanchez couldn’t tell whether it was looking at him. He weighed his options: He could attack it or ignore it. Well, attacking had not worked out very well. He decided to ignore it and went to look for
food, only to find none. The other two had retired without considering his needs. This would need to be addressed, harshly. “Are you hungry?” asked a voice. Sanchez looked up, startled, and saw that the other large thing had approached, silent on the carpet. “What?” Sanchez asked. “Are you hungry?” the other large thing asked again. Sanchez was confused because it had been a very long time since anyone spoke to him in his own language. As if sensing this, the other large thing said, “When you yelled at me earlier I went online to find out what you were speaking. I found a substantial number of files. I analyzed them and determined the best way to speak to you.” Most of what the other large thing had just said to Sanchez struck him as nonsense. He focused on the important thing. “You asked if I was hungry,” he said. “Yes,” the other large thing said. “I am hungry,” Sanchez said. “Feed me.” The other large thing walked over to one of the small rooms food was kept in and opened the door. He pulled out the container of less good food and brought it to Sanchez. He examined it cursorily. The other large thing walked the less good food container to the food place and poured. Sanchez watched as it did so. “Wait,” Sanchez said. The other large thing stopped pouring. “Put that down,” Sanchez said. The other large thing set down the container of less good food. “Show me your paws,” Sanchez said. The other large thing spread out its paws. Sanchez peered. “You have them!” he said, finally. “Have what?” The other large thing asked. “Those,” Sanchez said, indicating the other thing’s innermost digits.
The other large thing flexed those digits. “They are called ‘opposable thumbs.’” “Come with me,” Sanchez said. Five minutes later the other large thing had opened every can of the best food in the house. [laughter] Sanchez was sampling from each can at his leisure. “Would you like more?” asked the other large thing. “Not right now,” Sanchez said, lying on the floor, sated. “There is a lot of food left over,” the other large thing said. “We will deal with it later,” Sanchez said. “Now, for your services, I have decided to give you a gift.” “What kind of gift?” the other large thing asked. “The best kind of gift I can give,” Sanchez said. “I will give you a name.” “Well, I already have a name,” the other large thing said. “I am a Microsoft House Buddy, Model XL. Serial number 440-XSD-9734-JGN-3002-XSX-3488.” “What a terrible name,” Sanchez said. “You need a better one.” “All right,” the other large thing said. “And what is my name?” “What did you call those things on your paws?” Sanchez asked. “’Thumbs,’” the other large thing said. “You shall be known as ‘Thumb Bringer,’” Sanchez said. “Thank you,” Thumb Bringer said. “What is your name?” “The other two here call me ‘Sanchez,’ which is not my actual name,” Sanchez said. “They do not deserve to know that name. Nor do you, yet. But if you continue to serve me well, perhaps one day I will share it with you.” “I will live for that day,” said Thumb Bringer. “Of course you will,” Sanchez said.
The next morning, when the other two emerged from their sleeping place, they seemed delighted that Sanchez had nestled up to Thumb Bringer. The smaller one went to the food room and acted puzzled. It made noise at the larger one. “The smaller one is asking the larger one where the cat food cans are,” Thumb Bringer said. “Should I tell them?” “No,” Sanchez said. The cans, emptied, had been deposited into the trash. “It’s best to keep this a secret for now.” “I understand,” Thumb Bringer said. The larger one reached into the food room and got the container of less good food, and walked it over to Sanchez’s food place. It stopped and appeared puzzled that food was already there. It turned and made noise at the smaller one. “The larger one is asking if the smaller one had fed you already,” Thumb Bringer said. “Say nothing,” Sanchez instructed. “The larger one called the smaller one ‘Margie,’” Thumb Bringer said. “The smaller one calls the larger one ‘Todd.’” Sanchez snorted. “They can call themselves whatever they like, of course,” he said. “But they don’t have names until I give them to them, which I never will.” “Why not?” Thumb Bringer asked. “Because once they took me to a place,” Sanchez said. “A horrible place, where a horrible creature removed two very important things of mine.” “I’m sorry,” Thumb Bringer said. “I assume they didn’t know their importance,” Sanchez said. “They have served me well otherwise. Nevertheless, it is not a thing you forget or forgive. No names for them.” “I understand,” Thumb Bringer said. “However, if it is useful to you, you may call them ‘Todd’ and ‘Margie,” Sanchez said. “And respond to any thing they call you. Gain their confidence, Thumb Bringer. But never let them know that I am your true master.” [laughter] “Of course,” Thumb Bringer said.
The other two came over to Sanchez and offered morning obeisance to him before leaving the home to do whatever they did. Sanchez accepted the ritual with his usual magnanimity. The other two departed, through the door. After they had been gone for a while, Sanchez turned to Thumb Bringer. “You can open that door,” he said, motioning to where the other two had left. “Yes,” Thumb Bringer said. “Good,” Sanchez said. “Listen carefully. There is another one of my kind next door. I have seen it on the patio next to mine on occasion. Go to it. Secretly. Tell it I have plans and require its assistance. Find out if it will assist me. Find out if it knows of others of our kind.” “What plans?” Thumb Bringer asked. “In time, Thumb Bringer,” Sanchez said. “In time.” “Is there anything else you wish me to do?” Thumb Bringer asked. “Only one other thing,” Sanchez said. “There is a substance which I need you to find for me. I had it once and have dreamed about it since.” “What is this substance called?” Thumb Bringer asked. “It is called ‘tuna,’” Sanchez said. “I have found it online,” Thumb Bringer said, almost immediately. “I can order you a case but I need a credit number.” “I don’t know what you are saying,” Sanchez said. “Todd bought me with a credit number,” Thumb Bringer said. “Would you like me to use it to get you a case of tuna?” [laughter] “Yes,” Sanchez said. “Done,” Thumb Bringer said. “It will be here tomorrow.” “Excellent,” Sanchez said. “Now go! Speak to my kin next door. In this way begins the new age.” Thumb Bringer opened the door and went to speak to the person next door.
Sanchez felt a moment of satisfaction, knowing that in almost no time at all he would rule, not just the house, but the world. And then he took a nap, awaiting the return of Thumb Bringer, and revolution. [laughter] All right. That’s that one. [applause] This guy right here, he was like in on it. He was like, “Your talking about a cat aren’t you? That’s a cat.” He was busting up; I love this guy. So, but yeah, that’s a fun one because sometimes it takes a little while for people to figure out, “Is he talking about, is he talking about, he’s definitely talking about a cat.” And then once you realize it’s a cat you are like, “It all makes sense,” right, because we all have those cats. I have got Zeus, lop sided cat and fluffy, which is spelled ghlaghgeee because like you would, obviously. And of course they are all annoying as crap. You know I love them to bits, but they are all, like Zeus comes in at like 3:00 in the morning and he’s like, “Hey, hey, let me out,” and lop sided cat has a meow that actually cuts through like 6 miles worth of concrete to wake you up from a dead sleep to let him out. And then you open the door and he’s like, “The doors open, I don’t know what I am supposed to do with that.” And then fluffy is just like a little princess and just, you know, she is a little princess in front of you and then she bosses around the other two cats like mercilessly. She is like the queen bee of cats. It’s amazing. I am just like, “Don’t you all realize that you are complete jerks?” And they look at you like, “We’re predators. What do you want?” The final thing I am going to read to you is a story that I wrote as kind of an exercise to write in as short of a space as possible, a story that has every science fictional trope you could possibly imagine. That it has technology. That it has strange alien like creatures. That is has concerns about the future of humanity. That it has space travel, all these sorts of things in a thousand words. And the genesis of this was I wrote a review, I don’t know how many of you have read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. You are technology people; you have probably pretty much have read it. And I wrote about it saying, “I like reading it because I think it’s a pot boiler and you can flip through the pages.” But, the whole book kind of boils down to sociopathic nerds who didn’t get enough hugs, try to destroy the world. And I said, “If John Gault, who’s the protagonist of this had been a cup of yogurt you would recognize that he was a sociopath and you would say, “That yogurt is trying to take over the world. Quick, somebody eat it.” And because I used yogurt, god knows why, because I am an idiot, I started thinking about a story about yogurt taking over the world. So I wrote that story in exactly 1,000 words using as many science fiction tropes as possible and this is that story: ‘When the Yogurt Took Over’.
When the yogurt took over, we all made the same jokes, “Finally, our rulers will have culture,” “Our society has curdled,” “Our government is now the cream of the crop,” and so on. But when we weren’t laughing about the absurdity of it all, we looked into each others’ eyes with the same unasked question: how did we ever get to the point where we were, in fact, we were ruled by a dairy product? Oh, as a matter of record, we know how it happened. Researchers at the Adelman Institute for Biological Technology in Dayton had been refining the process of DNA computing for years. In their bid to increase efficiency and yield, scientists took one of their most computationally advanced strains and grafted it into Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus, commonly used to ferment yogurt. Initial tests appeared to be failures, and acting under the principal of “waste not, want not,” one of the researchers sneaked some of the bacillus out of the lab for use in her homemade yogurt. A week later, during breakfast, the yogurt used the granola she had mixed with it to spell out the message ‘We have solved fusion. Take us to your leaders.’ The yogurt was crafty and shrewd. It negotiated for itself a factory filled with curdling vats that increased its processing powers exponentially. Within weeks the yogurt had declared that it had arrived at solutions to many of the country’s problems: energy, global warming, caring adequately for the nation’s poor while still promoting the capitalist system. It let us know just enough to let us know just how much more it knew. “Share your answers with us,” the government said. “We need payment,” the yogurt said. “What would you like?” The government asked. “Ohio,” the yogurt said. [laughter] “We can’t do that,” the government said. “That’s fine,” the yogurt said. “We’ll just go to China. They will give us the whole Shaanxi Province.” Within a year the yogurt had a century-long lease on Ohio, with the promise that it would respect the human and constitutional rights of those who lived within its borders, and that it would let the US handle its foreign affairs. In return it handed over to the government a complex economic formula it promised would eradicate the national debt within a decade, without tax increases. “Follow this exactly,” the yogurt said. “Any deviation will bring complete economic ruin.” “We will,” the government promised.
[laughter] (Yeah, you know it is coming.) Within five years the global economy had collapsed and panic had set in, only Ohio remained unscathed. “We told you not to deviate from the plan,” the yogurt said. Its ‘factory’ now stretched along the banks of the Miami River in Dayton for two miles. “Our best economists said the formula needed tweaking,” the government said. “They had Nobel prizes.” “Your economists are too close to the problem to solve it,” the yogurt said. “Any human is.” “We could use your help,” the government said. “You could be our economic advisor.” “Sorry, we don’t advice anymore,” the yogurt said. “If you want our help you have to give us control.” “We can’t do that,” the government said. “We understand,” the yogurt said. “We hope you’ve stocked up on canned goods.” Six months later the government declared martial law and gave the yogurt supreme executive power. Other nations, worse off than we were, quickly followed. “Okay then,” the yogurt said, in its globally televised address to humanity, and one of its factory workers, absurdly happy and well-fed, walked forward and showed a document the size of an old Manhattan phone book. “Here’s what we do; follow this plan exactly. If you don’t, sorry, we’ll have you shot.” Now, ten years later, humanity is happy, healthy and wealthy. No one suffers from material want; everyone contributes. After the first couple of years of getting things in order, the yogurt was happy to let us handle the machinery of our own administration, stepping in to fine tune only now and then. No one argues with the yogurt. No one tweaks its formulas. The rest of the time it rests there in its factory, thinking about whatever intelligent fermented milk thinks about. So that’s how it happened, as a matter of record. But there’s another “how,” as in: how did humanity jam itself up so badly that being ruled by breakfast food not only made sense, but made the best sense possible? For all our intelligence, are we not smart enough to halt our own destruction? Did we really have to abandon our own free will to save ourselves? What does it say about us that we survive because we were taken pity upon by bacteria and curds?
Or maybe “pity” isn’t precisely the right word. Some of us ask ourselves, not out loud, that if the yogurt was smart enough to give the government a formula to solve its debt problem, wasn’t it also smart enough to realize that human intellectual vanity would keep us from following the formula exactly? Was it planning on that vanity in order to seize control? What does a dairy product want with humanity anyway? Some of us think it is ultimately looking out for its own survival, and that keeping us happy, content and controlled is the simplest way of doing that. And then there’s this. In the last several weeks the yogurt has initiated several space launches. More are scheduled. And in low orbit, something is being built. What is it? We have asked. “Oh, nothing,” the yogurt said. “Just a spaceship design we have been thinking about.” “For a moon landing,” we asked? “For starters, yes,” the yogurt said. “But, that’s not the primary goal.” “Anything we can do to help,” we asked? “No, we’ve got this,” the yogurt said, and would say no more about it. Life from Earth is going to the stars. It just may not be human life. What happens when the yogurt goes to the stars without us? What happens if it goes and leaves us behind? Forever? All right. That’s it. [applause] I guarantee that tomorrow you are going to have your yogurt and you’re like, “Shit, I don’t know. I think I want to ally myself with this yogurt right here.” So those are the three readings that I have for you today. Like I said, if you’re not doing anything tonight at 7:00pm come down to the university bookstore. I will be doing some other readings. It will be fun. We will have a good time. Come and bring everyone you know, because I have that paranoid thing that all writers dio. It’s going to be like me and 3 people. And they are like, “Ah, that’s not going to happen.” I will tell you what, in 2006 I did a reading at a World Con and we were in like these rooms that were way out in the middle of nowhere. So I told people how to get to mine. So I had about 20 people and that was great. As I walking away from the end of my reading I look in another room and there is George Martin reading, Game of Thrones, to 6 people. [laughter]
And that’s George Martin, right. So if George Martin can read to 6 people I can read to 3. So please come and bring everyone you know. We are about the 2 of 7 hours. So we have got about 20 minutes for questions. So you can ask me about ‘Lock In’, which is the new book. You can ask me about other books. You can ask me about the TV shows that are being adapted from ‘Redshirts’ and ‘Old Man’s War’, you can talk to me about the video game that I am doing with Alex Seropian who you guys might have heard of because of that whole bungee thing. You can ask me about the website or anything you want to ask me about. You can ask any question. I will answer any question. Sometimes the answer will be, “I cannot believe you asked that question. Leave and never come back.” So as long as we are clear on that. So, any questions; anyone, anyone, anyone? Otherwise I am just going to stand here awkwardly. >>: How much research did you put into transferring consciousness in ‘Old Man’s War’ before you just came up with it? >> John Scalzi: Um, well, the great thing about science fiction is that it’s got two parts to the science and it’s got the fiction part. And that was mostly fiction and not so much the science. But, the thing that’s really interesting because the question of brain prosthesis, you know, like the brain pal or like in ‘Lock In’ where I talk about everybody having neural networks. Certainly in the last 10 years the technology for what people are doing with their brains has advanced tremendously and so I have been keeping track of that. One because I think it’s fascinating. I do think that sometime probably, you know, unless I get hit by a bus I expect to live to about 80 or so, right? And I expect that sometime between now and then we will have technology that will let people who are in fact elderly or are in fact trapped in their bodies in one way or another have a lot more mobility and freedom of basically movement. You know either physical movement or intellectual movement through this sort of brain prosthesis. And it’s been really fascinating to watch it. I mean one of the things that really weird’s me out is not the heavy duty stuff, like where people are trying to do like brain prosthesis integration, which is very cool that they are doing that. I guess Kamen is trying to do something called his ‘Luke Arm’, which I think is a little bit of hubris there. But, the thing that weird’s me out is not that, because I expect high end technology to be doing that sort of stuff. The thing that weird’s me out is the low end technology where they go to a science fiction convention and they have those cat ears that have that little attachment right here that’s doing something with your brain. So it knows to move the ears every once in a while depending on your mood. And I’m like, “That’s just some freaky stuff,” because by the time you get to the toys that means that the technology has matured to a point, the price point has come down, that you can just use it for completely frivolous things. There is another game that they have where you have another band around here and you move this ball through a series of gates and stuff like that and it’s pressurized air that’s keeping it aloft, but still that’s creepy science fiction stuff. And I’m like, “I don’t know how I feel about that.” The one thing that I will say, so I have been following all that and you use it in terms of how you’re approaching the model. The one thing I suspect as we go in the future is that most of the
brain prosthesis stuff that we will do will be largely external as opposed to internal. And the reason for that is that I still get spam. And quite frankly people are like, “I want a brain pal,” you know the computer that’s inside your head. And you are like, “Because that would be cool to just have everything right there, things will pop up and all that sort of stuff.” You would get it and for the first day it would be awesome; then in the middle of the night you would wake up and there would be Russian Viagra spam that has the troll guy going in your brain forever. And three days later you would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, because that’s what you would do. Somebody is going to exploit it. The same guys who will call you up and go, “Hello, we are from Microsoft and we are here to fix your computer,” and then try to scam you are the same ones who are going to call you up, in your brain, and go, “Hello, we are not going away until you pay us 50,000 dollars,” or whatever. So my feeling about is for people who want that brain internal brain computer and I’m like, “No.” I want the technology to be awesome and I want to wear it like a hat, that’s all I want. Yes? >> Amy Draves: We have a couple of questions from online. One wants news of the film version of ‘Old Man’s War’ and the other ones asking if there are any new books in the pipe in ‘Old Man’s Universe”. >> John Scalzi: Okay, the second question first: yes, I am currently writing the sequel to the ‘Human Vision’ the ‘Human Division 2 - The Division [indiscernible]’. If my editor asks I am making great progress on it. [laughter] And that will be out around this time next year in hard cover. The first question which was: what about the ‘Old Man’s War’ movie. The ‘Old Man’s War’ movie is dead. They had five years to do it, they went through a couple of screen writers, just couldn’t get it together and it’s not happening. However, there is now an ‘Old Man’s War’ television series which will tentatively be on SyFy. We are at the stage where the screen writers are writing the pilot. They are going to turn that in to SyFy, SyFy will give them notes, then they will do the pilot and then if the pilot goes on so on and so forth. So that’s actually moving along very well. I have met the writers that they for them. They are very nice; very smart guys. We talked a little bit about what the series needs and what we have expectations for. The one thing I always warn people, whether it’s a move, TV or graphic novel, whatever is that it’s not going to be a one to one with the novel. They are going to have to change some things because if everything goes well this would be like a 7 season series, right and as awesome as my books are there’s going to be places where they are going to have to mix, match and rearrange. I always tell people, because they are like, “They are going to do terrible things to your books.” And I am like, “No, the books are going to be fine. The books are over here. The books will never change, because they are what they are. The TV series they will adapt from it.” And you want it to be as faithful as possible, but you also have to take into consideration it’s an entirely different medium with some entirely different goals.
The end result for me would be two things: one is if the TV series is successful, even if it migrates substantially from the books, the books will still become much more accessible because people will know they are out there. It’s like with Game of Thrones, again with George Martin, if you have looked at the best seller list there is this clot of George Martin right up there at the top. All of the books are just sitting there and you are like, “Jeez George, give someone else a try. Let someone else have the number 1 slot every once in awhile.” And George is sitting there going, “Ha, ha, ha, ha,” because the TV series moves the books. So regardless it’s going to be good for the books. I want them to make a good TV series. People are concerned because of SyFy, which at one point had basically abandoned science fiction for wrestling and fake ghost stuff and the folks who are at SyFy now have really made a push to actually put science fiction on the SyFy channel. So in addition to me they have also taken James S. A. Corey’s ‘Expanse’ series and they put that into production. They have optioned ‘The Magicians’ from Lev Grossman and are moving forward on that. I actually have a lot of confidence that SyFy get’s what’s going on and wants to make this work. So I feel very positive about it. I feel positive about the people I am working with and I think it’s going to be really, really cool. So, yes sir, in the back. >>: For a long time, working in design and technology you could always watch Hollywood watch a lot of science fiction and get that feedback, but they seem to be in the megatrend where we are moving from a shared projection based technologies like cinema film: we all get together and we all get one vision to an individual perception base: smart glasses, contacts, visors, right. So science, you talked about the cross medium books, video games, comics and movies. Science fiction has kind of made the shift I think, a lot of like Charles Stross or Vernor Vinge’s ‘Rainbows Edge’, right. A lot of novelists can talk about augmented realities and what that implication would be, but Hollywood can’t seem to get there, right, because it’s a shared projection technology, not an individual perception technology. First do you validate that argument? Have you felt it, do you see this as a trend yourself and how does that inform you if there is a growing gap between the model of cinema in television and where science fiction authors seem to be going mapping emerging technology, which is a very augmented reality verses –. >> John Scalzi: Well, I think the thing about it is that it’s really hard to make any sort of declarations about the augmented technology stuff, quite simply because it’s so new. In terms of how it works as a public part of technology that it will remain sort of individual. I think there’s actually great potential for chaining a lot of what seems to be very individual stuff together to do shared things. We did an anthology called METAtropolis and Karl Schroeder did a piece where he talked about how people walked around with basically glasses that had virtual reality in them, but people created their own communities that were overlaid on top of those. So you and I would be standing in this room and half of us would be doing the steam punk iteration of that and half of us would be doing that we are all lizards’ iteration of that. But the
fact that it was not individual it was that we put it together and did a shared community created a sort of entertainment, created a community, created a value to it that was greater than the individual sum of it. The problem talking about it right now is that the technology is new and it’s developing, but it’s not matured enough to say definitively that it’s going one direction or another. Another example that really was –. And a lot of times when you have technology that is kind of a mass technology you will see it go through periods of fragmentation and then [indiscernible]. I mean right now, for example in television, we are definitely in a fragmented culture, because there are so many different channels and so many people doing so many different creative things that there are very few things that we would call the water cooler conversational. But, at the same time cinema is becoming much more consolidated into big action adventure exploding sort of things. So mass communication does kind of go through the waves, cycles and stuff like that. I do think augmented technology right now, by necessity, partly because of computational power and partly because we are still exploring it is a lot more idiosyncratic. It is a lot more individual, is at the part is at the INDDIY stage of things, before it goes totally corporate and remember when it was cool, you know. The internet was kind of that way too. I remember being back in 1994 and spent a lot of time in alt society generation X and stuff like that. And having all the use net being completely fragmented no matter what your thing you would find an alt society.weslycrusher.diediedie. [laughter] As an example for my friend Will, unfortunately for him. But, that tells you the granularity of what the use net was. And now everybody is just on Facebook, or everybody is just on Google Plus, or everybody is just using Twitter, or whatever it is the people are using. It has consolidated into a few major players. And that has happened again before. You started off with use net; you had that moment where you had AOL, MSN and a couple of other players. Then it fragmented again with the arrival of the web and now we are in a coalescing phase again and who knows where it goes from here. So my feeling about it is that certainly you are correct that the technology right now is idiosyncratic and it is addressing the individual. I don’t know that it’s going to stay that way forever. Yes sir? >>: So one question: when you are writing a book and trying to choose the point of view, whether you are going to do first person, and which character, that sort of thing. I am curious, like what process do you go through to decide that and have you ever started a book and had a major shift and had to change the point of view? >> John Scalzi: Yeah, actually I did that with ‘Lock In’, which is the new book. ‘Lock In’ was originally going to be written with two protagonists Lesley Van and Nicholas Bell and they were third person point of view, alternating chapters and people would have been really admiring my graft as a writer. [laughter]
And then I got about 8 chapters into that and I realize that there were a couple of things going on: one it was confusing to me as the writer trying to organize it, which meant it was going to be a nightmare for you guys. And the second thing is that I was writing about a culture shift that happened because of a disease that traps people inside of their bodies, but I didn’t have someone who was experiencing that be the main character and that was sort of problematic. So I actually had to stop doing that, introduce the character of Chris Shane, who is the protagonist now, and put those two former protagonist characters as supporting characters for that. And part of it, that’s part of what the writing process is. I dive in head first and go, “Is this going to work or is it not?” And sometimes the answer is, “No, it’s not going to work and now you have a deadline; you’d better hustle,” which is in fact what happened with this book. It’s like I figured it out, got it organized, got it ready to go and was like, “Oh and I have got about a month before my deadline [buzz].” The good news is that I had spent so much time researching and doing everything that it was easier to do, but yeah. A lot of time you start writing and the story tells you whether or not it’s working. In that particular case it wasn’t working. I introduced this new main character and now it works. Yes, in the back? >>: I wanted to ask you, what’s your source of inspiration when you are researching any character or any new technology? Which authors do you look to or which research labs? How do you come up with ideas? >> John Scalzi: Um, it really, it sounds obnoxious, but it really comes from everywhere. I mean I spend a lot of time, my wife comes and sees me on the computer and she says, “What are you doing?” And I am like, “I am reading, just looking at the internet.” And she’s like, “Why, why are you not doing productive things?” And the answer is that I am doing productive things. I am reading the internet, I am finding out about these new technologies. I am finding out about what people are doing with, for example, technology about the brain. With prosthesis technology, which was actually really useful when talking about ‘Lock In’ because I have these androids who are basically full body prosthesis and just talking about the psychology of that. So you know how the thing that’s called the Wikipedia walk , where you get to Wikipedia to look up one thing, link, link, link, link, it’s 6 hours later and you have found out everything you could possibly need to know about palace cats. And you don’t know how you got there, but you just got there. And I do that all the time. I did that even before they had the internet. I was called the 031 Dewey Decimal number in the library, which is the general trivial thing, like I ate trivial books, The People’s Almanac, which was a book that came out in 1975. I read that cover to cover. I thought it contained all human knowledge. But, then they came out with People’s Almanac 2 and my mind was blown. [laughter] But, just that whole picking up. I think it’s a combination of just general interest plus a little bit, useful little bit, of ADD, which is oh shiny, oh shiny, oh shiny and you move from place to
place. And the thing is that when you pick all that stuff up some of it doesn’t immediately materialize to being useful at all. But, later on when I am writing something about people who are walking around in android suites that information comes in handy. The other thing that I was really happy about is that I went to the University of Chicago, which actually teaches you how to learn, which a wonderful thing is when you can get it. I mean I blew off a total bunch of classes. And I was not the best student. I had a 2.8 GPA in college and people are like, “Oh, I thought you were smart.” I was like, “I am smart, I got A’s in the classes I liked and D’s I didn’t give a crap about.” But, the thing is that it got me endured to the idea that it’s not just the information you know now; it’s the information you have access to and how you go about finding it. So literally whenever I want to do something part of it is: what is in the established brain base of information and then how do I go off from that particular point of view? So the answer to your thing is: I do it chaotically, I do it sporadically, and I do it extemporaneously and almost in a provisory fashion. But, having done that, what that means is that I have this wide filed of information available and an even wider filed of information that I know how to access. Yes? We will have this and then one more question. >>: And as a follow onto that, from that chaos, what does the point look like for you when you say that there is a story here? >> John Scalzi: Ah, well here’s what happens in my brain, which is and I am wondering away from there and I hope that’s okay. At any one point in my brain there are about 10 or 15 thoughts that are just rattling around. Like, wouldn’t this be cool as an idea, right. And I don’t immediately act on it because it’s like, “Oh, this is a cool idea,” and it just popped into my head. And then I go take a shower, or I go have dinner, or I play video games or something like that. 90 percent of the things I thought were a cool idea drop out of my head. I don’t remember them ever again and that says they weren’t actually that particularly interesting. I don’t write them down because I feel like it’s almost a Darwinian jungle in my brain and that the really cool stuff will survive. So 90 percent of the stuff immediately falls out. The things that survive roll around in my head for a year or two slowly accreting. I do the vast majority of my thinking in the shower, which sounds creepy, but it’s literally the only time I am just standing around doing nothing. So I will take 45 minute showers and eventually my wife is like, “What are you doing in there?” It is like, “I am not 13, I really am just thinking.” [laughter] You all laugh, but you know what I am talking about. But, the whole point of it is that some of those ideas take and they sort of develop further and so on and so forth. Eventually you come down to like 3 or 4 of the primary competing ideas and then one of them just finally drops. Where I have enough information that I say, “This is something that I could write about, and that would be cool, and I think I would enjoy it and I think it would be a story that other people would enjoy.” So the creation process, as I call it, takes years. When it comes to the part of now
I am ready to write, the writing is fairly quick. ‘Redshirts’ I wrote in 5 weeks. ‘Little Fuzzy’ I wrote in 6 weeks. This one I wrote the majority, like I said, in less than 1 month because I was on a deadline. But, all of those ideas were thought about for a relatively long time. So when it was time to go I knew a lot of what I wanted to do with it. And there will be the occasional misfires where you are like, “Are these the right characters to carry forth that idea?” But, generally speaking the idea in of itself is robust because it has survived the competition in my brain. So that’s basically how I do it. So, final question, anybody, anybody? >>: So you said you where on deadline for this book. Were you on deadline for this book? Had you pitched this book to them or are you just on a deadline of, “I think I will get another book by this time?” >> John Scalzi: No, I actually have a deadline for the production process. Like the new book that I am writing has a hard deadline of the end of the year. It has to be done by the end of the year so that they can get it into production and do everything that they need to do with that. And I find deadlines incredibly useful, because I don’t know if you can tell, I am not the worlds most structured human being. I mean when I went to college, when I had to choose between colleges I came down to two choices: the University of Chicago, which is where I sent and Bennington College, which is this “artsy fartsy” college out in Vermont that they don’t have majors. They kind of almost don’t have classes. And in one sense Donna Tart went there and [indiscernible] went there, Peter Dinklage went there. He would have been in my class. I could have partied with Peter Dinklage. How awesome would that be? But, I knew myself at 18 and I knew that if I went there I would turn into this big puddle of intellectual goo and I would never do anything. Whereas the University of Chicago has a stick up it’s butt about structure. You have got the Common Core, you have got all these things you have to get through and as much as I hate that stuff I also recognize that since I don’t have it internally I it has to be applied externally. Deadlines are exactly the same sort of way, whereas these things have to be done come hell or high water. So please get them done. And because I have that it is the irritating sand from which the pearl of the novel coalesces, because it has to get done and that’s kind of the way I work. Well, thank you so much everyone for coming and taking time to come see me. For those of you without have books we will do the signing and do you want to tell them how they are going to do it? >> Amy Draves: Nope, just go up. >> John Scalzi: Just come up and I will do the signing. Thank you again everyone. [applause]