Now THAT Was a Book Reading


So my book reading at Books Inc in Mountain View happened, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. We had a lot of people show up – more than at first I thought – and there was a lot of positive energy from the people in the audience which made it easy to read. (Note: I took pictures before the event, but not during, because I was the speaker, and that would be just rude).


I actually was less nervous and stuttery speaking to this crowd than I was when I was sitting alone in my great room reading the passages I had planned. The thing I’m happiest about, however, is that I planned what I was going to read deliberately.

Normally I read, by reflex, the first section of whatever new thing I’ve got. But sometimes the setup is not that interesting, so I’ve tried reading really exciting bits. But that doesn’t seem to work either – people demand context.


That led to a brainflash: I decided I should think not about what I wanted to read but what I wanted people to get out of the reading. I chose the first page and a half of FROST MOON to set the stage. At the last minute, I also decided to read a page and a half of BLOOD ROCK, filled with police, magic and vampires, to show progression in the world (and unabashedly to show off what I thought was a nice bit of writing). And then I chose to read the first half of a chapter out of LIQUID FIRE, tuning again at the last minute, to show off the action and adventure of “The Battle of Union Square.” People seemed to love it – I even got applause.

What’s more, the sequence of selections enabled me to talk about various aspects of the world I’d built – setting it in a time and place, making the action realistic, exploring consequences – and led into a really good Q&A session. Finally, I left a little time out to read the first chunk of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, which also seemed to strike a chord. At the end, we had a line of people for signing, including one who bought a copy of the whole trilogy; many of those joined us for a victory dinner.

Wow. I am so happy that you all came, and that you all liked it. You really made my day. Thank you.

At first I thought just enough people showed up to fill half the seats, but I was wrong – there were actually many more people standing and watching who didn’t sit down because they were late. I didn’t see them because I was paying attention to the nearer audience, but I know this because some of them came up afterward to talk to me … and others took pictures and sent them to me.


What a wonderful event. I want to send my sincere thanks to Alex, the whole staff of Books Inc, and the staff of the upstairs Cafe Romanza, who have not only made this a great experience for me, but also have made this environment one of the best places I know to sit down, to get some good coffee, and to find and read a good book – or to imagine and write one.

-the Centaur

Everyone’s fooling people by taking their laptops to coffee shops, and here I am just editing anthologies

john scalzi in motion

So this is me, with my laptop, in a coffee shop, editing the science fiction anthology DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME, listening to an author reading by John Scalzi, author of YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR LAPTOP TO A COFFEE SHOP.

I read Scalzi’s blog Whatever and was pleased to hear he was coming to my favorite bookstore / coffeeshop combination, Books Inc. in Mountain View and the attached Cafe Romanza. It’s right up the street from my work, so I dropped in to the coffee house, got a copy of REDSHIRTS for signing (never having read his fiction, it seemed a good place to start since the book he’s promoting is a sequel), got coffee, got permission from the staff to set my laptop up at a small table above the signing, and camped out.

I edited. Friends dropped by. We chatted. The room filled, and then Scalzi showed up…


…and he’s even more entertaining in person than he is on his blog. He read from his latest novel THE HUMAN DIVISION, a little side tale about aliens and churros (I’ve never had any, but they’re kind of like Spanish doughnuts, apparently), and from his blog the hilarious and insightful post “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be.

When it got to Q&A, I didn’t ask any questions: everyone asked all my questions for me. It turns out Tor approached him about serializing his books, and THE HUMAN DIVISION came out of that conversation. I’m jealous; I and my publisher are still negotiating how to serialize THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, which I wrote with the design for it to be serialized.

After the talk, I waited for the line to die down before getting REDSHIRTS signed. Scalzi and I talked about the irony of me editing my anthology on my laptop in a coffeeshop while the author of YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR LAPTOP TO A COFFEESHOP was reading, and he pointed out that there’s two types of people who take their laptops to coffeeshops: those who go to write, and those who go to be seen.

He asked about the anthology, and I told him about DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME: an anthology that asks the question what would you do if you really could get an extra hour in the day. Oddly enough, Scalzi had the same answer about what he’d do with that hour as one of my barista friends in the coffeeshop: both said they’d use the extra hour to catch up on sleep.

I think John Scalzi and that barista must be two of the smartest people in the world.

-the Centaur

P.S. What’s this, Google+? You can animate several pictures taken together, even when I didn’t tell you to in advance? Really? We’re not living on the moon, but we are living in the future. That’s awesome. UPDATE: Apparently it only works by default on Google+, as I don’t see it on my blog that way. Still, the downloaded image has all the frames, so I could fix it up in Photoshop real quickly if I wanted to. Still the future. UPDATE UPDATE: May be a Ecto upload issue. Will fix later. Regardless, future. UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: I managed to manually upload it, but it took a little squeezing in Photoshop to make the image manageable.

Finally …


Barnes and Noble is adding Google Play to the Nook.

I remember when I looked at my first Nook Color, how excited I was to learn from the in-store sales representative that this great tablet supported Android, and how betrayed I felt when I learned that I’d have to root the device to actually install Android apps on it. Barnes and Noble, you (collectively) lied to me, and I’ve never gotten over it.

The rooting procedure always looked a little heinke to me, and I never did it – so my beloved Nook Color, which had the best form factor of any tablet I’d used, eventually ended up languishing as I couldn’t use it for most of what I wanted it for. I ended up using my phone as my primary reader, and occasionally my Asus Transformer Prime, though it was a bit big.

Now Barnes and Noble is opening up the Nook to Android applications, legitimately. I could have told them that trying to lock down their devices wouldn’t work. Steve Jobs tried it, with the iPhone and the iPad, but you know what? I didn’t buy an iPad. I bought a Nook Color for the free OS, then got cruelly disappointed. Good job, salesman. Bad job, B&N.

Well, now they’ve changed course, a little. Should I find an excuse to spend my piling-up B&N gift cards upon a Nook HD? Perhaps. But I already have a Nexus 7, which fits right into the form factor that the Nook should have occupied. Why get yet another tablet … especially when Barnes and Noble is dialing back its investment in the Nook?

I hope Barnes and Noble survives. I hope we’re not seeing another death spiral, a la Borders.

But it feels like too little, too late.

Still … I have all those gift cards.

-the Centaur

Pictured: A Nexus 7. Barnes and Noble, this could have been your device … but years ago, you betrayed my trust.

Scam, Shame, or Simply Expected?


I’ve just come across two instances of friends and colleagues getting bitten by bad products … and the companies involved putting the bad product straight back on the shelves. First from my friend Jim Davies:

Unfortunately, the game did not work. I cleaned it and tried several times, to no avail. I planned to bring it back. And even though I had no reason to suspect Chumleighs of any foul play, just to make sure I never bought that particular disc again I put a tiny dot of ink on the case insert in a place I would remember later. They gave me my money back. Just today I was browsing, and there was the Hulk game. With the same dot. I told the clerk that I’d returned this game and was disappointed that it was back on the shelf. She said that it might be a different copy, and I told her about the dot. She took the game to the back, and discussed something with somebody, and then put it back on the shelf, right in front of me.

And from fellow transhumanist Elf Sternberg:

We tried playing it in the Playstation 2, then the Lasonic (which will try and play a frozen pizza, that thing’s amazing, pity about the heat buildup issue…), and finally out laptops. Not even Handbrake could make it past 1:10. I called RedBox, and they were very kind about giving me two coupons (no refunds, sigh): one for this film, and one for any other film I wanted. Then she said, “Make sure, if you try and take another copy out, that you take it out before you put this one back, or it will just give you the one you have already tried.” I expressed surprise. “Doesn’t it know the disc is unuseable?” “When we send someone to service the box, if it is present we will take it out. But while it is in the box, it is considered in circulation.”

Ouch. Needless to say, neither of them were happy.

I, in contrast, have had good experiences with returns. The image pictured is a cracked Kindle DX I got from Amazon that they replaced almost instantaneously. I buy a lot of electronics gear from Fry’s, which has a generous return policy and often (seems) to put stuff back on the shelves because people can’t distinguish between “this is incompatible with my setup” and “this is broken”. And I buy a lot of used and discount books, including one recently from Kepler’s, where I found a book I bought for a dollar turned out to have a missing section due to the printer error.

I didn’t complain – I needed the book to help my wife out with a problem and the section I needed was mostly intact – and felt like, “hey, I got this for a dollar”. I felt like, hey, this is simply expected. But should I have felt that way? Shouldn’t the book have been marked? And shouldn’t Jim and Elf have the expectation that the games and movies they buy or rent are in good condition? Even if many people bring things back as bad when they aren’t, shouldn’t there be an expectation that if someone reports they’ve tried a game or movie in a dozen machines that yes, it’s probably bad? Can’t stores have a machine to test their product?

I don’t buy the argument that “it would cost more money”. I buy the argument that the people who’re running the businesses or even the local stores don’t want to be bothered. That they’d rather follow procedure than be flexible enough to handle anything more than the default case. I’ve seen a lot of this attitude recently. I don’t think it’s new, but I personally have seen more and more of it, where people in charge of systems only want to satisfy the lowest common denominator. Often that means they’re doing things efficiently and cheap – but if the cost of efficient and cheap is selling crap products, I think the cost is too high.

Or is that even fair? Stores know they’re going to get returns. They plan on it. They even gave Jim and Elf their money back (Elf, with some extra). So you can expect to get crap from time to time. I guess what’s bad here is that the system has all the information it needs to do better … and simply doesn’t. It would have been easy for the woman at the game store to toss the item into the garbage or the “for sale – damaged” shelf. It would have been easy for RedBox to mark a video with a damaged bit. That’s what rankles here … when we know what we need to know to do better … and don’t.


-the Centaur