As the guy who wrote Uglies, there are certain kinds of news stories that are forwarded to me by everyone. Hi-tech tattoos, bizarre plastic surgery, stuff that hovers, and of course anything having to do with beauty. So it was no surprise that a recent story about the Miss Korea contest flooded my inbox.
The basic story went like this: Plastic surgery is so prevalent in South Korea that all the contestants in their national beauty contest look freakishly alike. Look, we haz proof!
And yes, I will admit that this is a somewhat chilling image. With a few exceptions, it looks like twenty photos of the same woman dressed and styled a bit differently. And yes, the South Korean appetite for plastic surgery is large. According to this NY Times article, about 20% of women there have had some sort of cosmetic procedure. These are true facts.
But whenever you run into a story like this one, that depends so heavily on a telling photographic image, please remember one simple rule: photographs aren’t real.
Photographs are artifacts of technology, records of specific combinations of light, lens, and angle. Photographs are easily manipulated. Photographs are two-dimensional representations of a 3-D world. Photographs can be more or less accurate, but they are never the whole story.
Take the worst photo ever taken of you and compare it to the best ever taken. Do they look even remotely like the same person?
For that matter, pick up your phone and take a photo of yourself right now. Then walk to a different part of your room and take another. Same place, same hair, same clothes, but often these two photos will look completely different. Not because you photoshopped them or cheated in some other way, but simply because the living, breathing, moving reality of you got sliced into two different tiny moments of time.
The forces of light, shadow, and expression morphed you into two different versions of yourself. Neither of which was real, because photographs aren’t real! Using a single image to reflect a real human being is like describing a lush, complex novel in a sentence. Sometimes you can tell which which book someone’s talking about, but a whole lot goes missing.
Back to our Korean beauty queens. Here are two of them before and after hair, make-up, and photoshopping got involved:
I say again: photographs aren’t real.
Korea doesn’t have some mass convergence of facial phenotypes caused by cosmetic surgery. Maybe they will one day, and maybe in certain social circles there one can spot noticeable similarities. But all we have proof of here is a particular aesthetic of hair, make-up, and photoshoppery associated with a particular beauty contest.
There is no emergency. Return to your homes, Crims.
So whenever you read about a scientific study on beauty that relied on people rating photographs (as I did while writing Uglies), or see a story about how bloated or haggard some poor celebrity has become, or come across at photos that make you feel bad about yourself, just remember . . .
Photographs aren’t real. But you are.
On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED NOTE, here is my new author photo! I haven’t done one in ten years, and given that I just turned fifty, I figured it was time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I offer you the image before and after it was slightly retouched by my sister-in-law, noted visual effects artist Niki Bern, and include my notes to her.
Please do not actually USE that one as my author’s photo.
Instead, go with this version:
Everyone has permission to use this in all media forever. A bigger one can be found here.
Note All of these deals are over. But there’s a cool video below, and info about my Sydney Writers Festival appearance.
If you’ve never tried the audio book of Leviathan, it’s pretty awesome. Alan Cumming does a wonderful job with all the accents and characters.
For the next day or so, you can download the audiobook for only $5.99 from Audible. (Offer only good in the US, I think.)
Click here to make it happen. This offer expires at the end of Monday May 20, US time.
As a reminder, here’s one of my interviews with Alan about the books:
Also, on Monday morning, US time, there will be another low-price offer for another of my books, which I’ll announce right here. I’m not allowed to tell you till then, so come back Monday!
Last night I had a great time at the Aurealis Awards in Sydney. And I’ll be appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival next week. On Saturday, May 25, at 11:30AM, I’ll be on a panel with Lauren Beukes, David M. Henley, and James Bradley.
What is speculative fiction, and where do the boundaries start to blur between genres and sub-genres? Have the classic genres changed now that we live in a world where technology has caught up?
This is free and no bookings required. Event details.
Just got back from my 50th birthday vacation, and will resume normal blogging shortly. Thanks for sticking around.
When I was at Adelaide Writers Week last month, I did an extended interview with Sean Williams, who writes the Trouble Twisters series with Garth Nix. The ABC was kind enough to film the talk and put it online.
I talk about Uglies, Leviathan and the history of illustrations, living with another writer, from whence inspiration comes, my other books, and pretty much everything else writerly. It’s a whole hour long!
Hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Adelaide Writers Week for having me, to everyone who asked questions, to the ABC, and to Sean for being a great interviewer.
A few notes:
1) For you USians, note that “the ABC” (Australian Broadcasting Company) is not the same as “ABC” (American Broadcasting Company).
2) At 13:15, I meant to say “Book 2″ instead of “Book 3.”
3) Justine, in the audience, is caught tweeting at 26:45.
4) My pronunciation of “manga” is weird sometimes. I’m from Texas.
5) At 36:00 I briefly confuse Miyake with Miyazaki, because I was wearing the former. #humblebrag
I don’t have a book out this year, so I won’t be on any sort of tour. But I will be traveling around a bit and doing a few live appearances (mostly in Australia) so it makes sense to list everything in one place for easy linkage. And this is that place.
Here are all my known appearances in 2013. I will update this page as things change. Note that Justine will be at many of these things.
I’ll be doing a presentation about Leviathan and the history of illustrated novels on Friday (April 26) at 5:00PM, Event Room One. (And otherwise hanging out, so come say hi.) Conference site.
INTERNET DEAD ZONE
I am turning off my internet for this whole week. Get off my lawn!
May 18, 7PM
I’ll be hosting the ceremony for these yearly awards for Australian fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Hopefully I will be funny. Click here for details.
Sydney Writer’s Festival
Saturday, May 25, 11:30AM
I’ll be on a panel with Lauren Beukes, David M. Henley, and James Bradley. What is speculative fiction, and where do the boundaries start to blur between genres and sub-genres? Have the classic genres changed now that we live in a world where technology has caught up?
This is free and no bookings required. Event details.
Alpha Teen Workshop
I’ll be teaching at this week-long writing seminar for teenagers. Admissions for the workshop are closed, but there will probably be a bookstore appearance in Pittsburgh. Check back here for details about that, or at the Alpha site.
San Diego Comic-Con
I’ll be hanging out here and getting into trouble. They might make me do a panel or two. Check back here for details, or at the con site.
Melbourne Writer’s Festival
I’ll be here and doing stuff. Details not set yet, but you can always check back here or on the festival site.
Brisbane Writers Festival
I’ll be here too! Details following. Festival site
All in all that’s a fair amount of travel, but nothing like when I go on tour. I’m kind of glad to be mostly hanging out at home and writing.
But next year i’m planning to have a book out, so who knows . . .
Two posts ago, a commenter called Hungarian Boy pointed us all to the site of Richard Vass, the artist for the Hungarian covers of the Leviathan series. His original paintings can be found there, and they are all full of bonus awesome.
So here they are:
Go check out the rest of his stuff.
Usually when I blurb a YA book, I post about it here when it’s published. Alas, I was in the depths of non-blogging when Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Summer Prince came out a month ago. So now I’m making up for that, because it is a very good book indeed. Here’s what I said in my blurb:
A nimble, beautiful novel about risking everything for love and art, both otherworldly and magnificently real.
But now that I have some time, and more space than one gets for a blurb, I have a lot more to say.
Summer Prince is set four centuries in the future (roughly the same time frame as Ugies). It’s set mostly in a city-state called Palmares Três, which sits where Rio de Janeiro, Brazil does today. The city is post-scarcity futuristic, but technology is carefully controlled and wealth unequally distributed. It’s also a matriarchy, though one with a peculiar old tradition: every five years, the youngest citizens (under thirty) all vote to elect a Summer King.
Summer King is an honorary position, basically an official rock star of the city. He’s always super charismatic, beautiful, and artistically talented, and has an awesome time being king.
There’s only one drawback: at the end of one year the Summer King is ritually sacrificed.
Here’s something you might not know: The sacred king who reigns for a year and then dies can be found in lots of societies in history. It’s an old pagan tradition. But Johnson uses it to examine our current celebrity culture, in which we build up and tear down famous people, particularly young ones, even as we love them with all our hearts.
Which brings us to June Costas, the protagonist of Summer Prince. She’s eighteen, an artist, and a child of privilege. (Her mother is a high government official; her father was a famous singer who committed suicide.) Thanks to her POV, Summer Prince is all about art. Music, drawings, sculptures, nano-tattoos, large-scale high-tech media manipulations—all of these get deployed by June in her quest to be the best artist in Palmares Três. She’s in rebellion against her mother and the government, still angry at her father, and gloriously egotistical (as one might expect of the self-annointed best artist in Palmares Três).
She’s also gloriously in love with the just-elected Summer King, who’s not only fated to die in a year, but also happens to be in love with June’s best friend, Gil.
Anyway, it’s pretty awesome, and got starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. If you liked the way that the high tech in Uglies empowered its teen characters to do cool things, you will totally love this book. The art in it feels like real art, and the love, both celebrity-crushing and actual face-to-face connection, totally feels like real love.
You can read the opening here.
And another non-US cover, the Hungarian version of Behemoth!
I just love these covers from Hungary. They have the same crazy energy as the propaganda poster in the endpapers of Behemoth, which is so totally from the period. There seems to be a steampunk thing happening in Hungary right now. (As you can see here.)
In case you missed it, I posted about the Hungarian cover for Leviathan last September, but here it is again, for reference:
Can’t wait to see the third one. Who will they choose for giant mechano-posterization?
Klopp? Volger? Barlow? Varlow? BOVRIL WITH MUSTACHE??? We can only wait and see.
As you can see, I am blogging SLIGHTLY more regularly now, despite having already written 994 words of my next novel today. Congratulate me.
Because Russia has to have new covers every year, or something.
Here they are:
I don’t have much to say about these covers, except that I love the darkling dragons in them. For the earlier versions, click here.
Insert here the usual apologies about not blogging lately. Yes, I have been taking rather a long break. But I assure you, it’s only because I’ve been writing loads. I’m at about 70,000 words in my current work in progress, currently titled Afterworlds.
Now, what does 70 kilowords this mean? That this book will be out soon?
Hah! I’m afraid not.Afterworlds is going to be a long piece of work, with two novels wrapped into one in a strange and mystical way. I’m maybe halfway done, so the novel isn’t going to be in anyone’s hands until late next year. (Or later, because art is no science.)
Anyway, thanks to those who continue to hang around my dusty windblown blog. I apologize for letting this space that we’ve all created together lie fallow. But rest assured that some day it will spark back to life, when I have more energy and time, or simply find something to rant about.
Till then, hope you’re all having fun.
I’m headed to the Adelaide Writers’ Festival in a few weeks, so I’m hoping to see some of you South Australian fans there.
Here’s my schedule:
SUNDAY MARCH 3, 5PM
Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden
Leviathan: Scott Westerfeld (US/AUS)
This is me having a long chat with my old buddy Sean Williams. We will be talking about All Of The Stuff.
Click here for more.
MONDAY MARCH 4, 5PM
Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden
Highways to a War: A Reading
War stories are among our oldest narratives and this session of readings will explore some of our more recent wars. Christopher Koch has taken us to Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Peter Robb has introduced us to the mean streets of Italy and Brazil. Tom Keneally has chronicled both the World Wars. Scott Westerfeld explores an alternative First World War and Ross McMullin chronicles the letters home.
It looks like I’ll be doing a reading for this second one, and with Tom Keneally! (AKA the guy who wrote Schindler’s Ark.) Click here for more.
Writing boot camps are workshops where you live for a week (or several) and focus completely on the written word. It’s a very intense experience, one that can change your writing style, your relationship to books, and even your life. Some famous camps like Clarion list many famous writers as their alums.
The most well-known SF and fantasy writing camp for teenagers is called Alpha, and takes place every July in Pittsburgh. It’s ten days altogether (July 10-19 this year) including eight days of workshops and two days of attending Confluence a literary sf convention nearby. You have to be age 14 to 19 to attend.
I’ve blogged about Alpha before, but this year, I willl be teaching there, along with Tamora Pierce and Theodora Goss. If you want to apply, submissions are open now.
To quote Alpha:
We’re looking for enthusiastic, talented young writers who have a strong interest in science fiction, fantasy and/or horror and a passion for writing. Students from anywhere in the world are welcome. In the past, students have attended Alpha from Canada, the United Kingdom, all over the United States, and even as far away as New Zealand.
Learn about writing and publishing. Meet other teens who share your interest in writing speculative fiction. Talk about short stories, novels, and films. Have your submission story critiqued. Brainstorm new story ideas, write a first draft, receive feedback, and rewrite. Attend readings by the authors. Do a public reading. Learn about submitting for publication, and send off your story at our manuscript mailing party.
2013 will be Alpha’s twelfth year. Previous attendees have placed in the Dell Magazines Award and Writers of the Future contests, and have sold stories to Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Cicada, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Nature Futures, Pseudopod and more.
Workshop tuition is $1100 and includes all workshop-related costs, but does not include transportation to and from Pittsburgh, or hotel/meals at the Confluence Convention. A limited pool of scholarship funding is available for students in need of financial aid.
Here are some testimonials from previous students.
I hope I’ll be seeing some of you there! It’ll be great to meet you in person and talk about writing for a few days.
(Also: I will be more blogging soon, including some Uglies movie news.)