Are you ready for some grav-ball?
My latest Star Wars book, Servants of the Empire: Edge of the Galaxy, comes out tomorrow. It shares a setting and main character — Zare Leonis — with the new TV show Star Wars Rebels.
In this piece penned for StarWars.com, I discuss inventing a sport for the book, and what it was like writing what I believe is the first-ever Star Wars sports novel. (If you’re not a sports fan, rest assured that there’s more going on in EotG than that.)
Servants of the Empire will be a four-book series — the second one is finished and I’m working on the third book now. I’m very excited for this one, as Lucasfilm gave me a lot of freedom to shape the story beyond what had been created for the show. Can’t wait for readers to meet Zare, Merei Spanjaf, Beck Ollet and friends.
Here’s John Scalzi on paying the bills as a writer. If you have any thought about writing for a living, you should read this.
(And honestly, if you have any question about the writing life, go to Scalzi’s Whatever site and see if he’s answered it. He probably has, and wisely.)
I just spent four days in Sydney, a place I never thought I’d get a chance to visit. I left enchanted by Sydney’s beaches, Mesozoic trees, birds making horrible noises, terrifyingly tall and gorgeous people (was hotness a crime in 1780s England?), elongated vowels and sunny dispositions.
The only thing I was sad about? I never got to look at the stars — either I was busy, in the middle of the city, or it was cloudy. I wanted to see a sky lacking the constellations I grew up with and marvel at it. (I was in South Africa half a lifetime ago, but I was a kid; if I looked at the stars I don’t recall them.)
So fast-forward to nighttime on my plane high above the Pacific Ocean heading back to LA. I awakened from one of those airline vagaries where you’re not sure if you’ve been sleeping or just zoning out to find the cabin dark around me and all my fellow passengers sacked out — not a reading light or video monitor was lit. I peeked at the flight tracker and saw we were just east of Fiji. I cracked the window shade, curious to see if it would be day or night, and saw nothing but darkness. So I raised it all the way.
And there were the stars — an infinity of them even before my night vision adjusted. We were so high above the horizon that there were stars below my eyeline — there was the blackness of the ocean far below, a faint line of cloud and a dark shape carved out by the engine. Everything else was stars.
I took my comforter and rigged a tent for myself, tucking it under the window shade and wrapping it around my head so it was just me and the view outside — no FASTEN SEAT BELT sign or reflections or anything else. And then I lay there for a good long time and looked.
I love photography and how it can transport us places we’ve never imagined going, or let us see things from perspectives we’ve never considered. But I also love that there are limits to photography. Some moments resist being photographed, and that’s good. You have to put your camera or phone down, and just look, and promise yourself that you won’t forget.
So I’m in Hong Kong on business, staying in a hotel just a block or two from the one of the main sites of the student protests in the Admiralty district.
I don’t have any enormous insights or revelatory photos to share. I’m a bystander who only managed a quick visit to the streets blocked off by the students between commitments. But I thought I’d share what I saw on Sunday and some impressions.
The students — who are angry about the Chinese government’s attempt to renege on promises for free elections — have blocked access to the area around the government offices. So some roads that would normally be among the busiest in Asia are now pedestrian malls. It’s deeply weird.
The kids have appropriated barricades from the police and lashed them together to block roadways. They’ve created checkpoints at various places — not to keep anybody out, but to prevent the police, government sympathizers and people angry about the protests from dismantling everything.
Over the weekend there were rumors — and not-so-veiled government threats — that the police would move to clear the area sometime Sunday. Then Sunday night there was word of a deal to allow access to the government buildings. When I woke up Monday morning all looked the same as it had before. The kids let officials through to go back to work, but it didn’t look like they’d lifted their blockade in any substantial way. Now there are once again rumors that the police will clear the area. No one seems to know exactly what’s going on or what will happen next.
The area may look empty, but that’s misleading — during the day there are a relatively small number of kids here to keep the protests going. They’ve worked out shifts, essentially, taking turns sleeping in tents or on foam mattresses or on the pavement in the shade. At night this area fills up with students demonstrating, listening to speeches, and so forth. You can hear the speeches and the cheers from my hotel. (And, if your taste runs to surrealism, look down and see people floating in the luxe pool.)
Besides the students, there are well-wishers and curious gawkers like me. It’s serious business, but also a carnival of sorts. The kids are tired — some of them have been out here for 11 days now — but they’re also keenly aware that they’re doing something extraordinary that’s captured the world’s attention, and their emotions zoom back and forth between giddiness, worry and amazement.
The protests are being called the “umbrella revolution,” after an early use of umbrellas to fend off tear gas, so you see them everywhere. They’re symbols, yes, but also useful in keeping the sun off — highly necessary if you’re spending the day waiting outside on a highway in Hong Kong.
The reaction to the protests here is interesting — most Hong Kong residents seem to agree with the students that China should keep its word about free elections. But there’s a deep ambivalence about protesting by gumming up the works of commerce/government, and a certain cynicism about whether any of it will matter.
One of the more moving aspects of the protests is the messages of support, defiance, etc. Many have been penned by the kids themselves. But well-wishers have added their own expressions of support.
Yellow ribbons are a symbol of support for the protests. (And wearing blue is a quieter expression of opposition.) This juxtaposition caught my eye: yellow ribbons on a highway barrier, handwritten signs supporting the students’ cause and messages driven by the constant throb of Hong Kong business.
BTW, if you’re thinking Occupy Wall Street, this is a protest in which the participants are careful about recycling their trash in a responsible fashion. And on my way out of the area, a kid manning the checkpoint told me to “have a nice day.”
I would have been more entertained if I hadn’t just seen this. This is the Chinese government we’re talking about — ask the Tibetans, the Uighurs or anyone who remembers Tiananmen Square how these things can turn out.
Here’s hoping the students are heard and respected, that the Chinese government takes to heart their insistence that “we are not enemies” … and that no one gets hurt.
I came to Tokyo a day early to shake off jet lag, and to my disappointment the Yomiuri Giants were on the road. But the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame was open. So why not?
The Japanese Hall of Fame is inside the Tokyo Dome, which is kind of like if the American Hall of Fame were inside Yankee Stadium. (That’s an idea so terrible I’m surprised it hasn’t happened.) The Tokyo Dome was built in the late 1980s, and it’s got that depressing Skydome vibe. But it is nicely decked out with Giantsiana, from banners featuring the vaguely insectile mascot Giabbit to tributes to Sadaharu Oh and other team greats.
Inside, well, there’s plenty to see — much of which will be familiar to anyone who’s been to Cooperstown. There’s a home plate where you can stand with a foam bat and try to make contact against videos of Japanese pitchers (I was 0 for 12), lots of plaques, and of course uniforms, bats, balls and gloves displayed like holy relics.
Some of the signs are in English — you can read the bronze biographies of the Hall of Famers, for instance — but most of them aren’t. Which gave me insight into what it must be like going to Cooperstown if you’re a significant other who endures baseball rather than enjoying it.
Oh, some old baseballs and a bunch of gibberish. Fantastic.
But while I couldn’t read about the significance of a lot of the objects I saw, I knew what was being conveyed — because the shared experience of baseball awe doesn’t need translation.
I mean, look at these beautiful old proto-baseball cards:
And this is a uniform worn by Oh, whose 868 home runs give him a right to call himself baseball’s true home run king:
(By the way, I like that the players’ statistics are printed on the cases themselves. It’s a cool, vaguely Matrix-like effect.)
American baseball is a presence in the Japanese Hall — there’s currently an exhibit about American teams touring Japan, complete with posters, a ledger signed by the likes of Babe Ruth and Connie Mack, and uniforms and equipment worn by American teams while playing in Japan. Including the Mets, I’m glad to report — here’s Yogi Berra’s uniform from the team’s 1974 tour:
American players are represented in the “lockers” showing off the uniforms and gear of the current Japanese teams (a feature you’ll find in Cooperstown too), and Japanese players who’ve played in both leagues are a focal point. It’s no surprise that this is one of the first things you see after entering the Hall:
To me, a lot of the similarities between the two Halls are evidence of how evocative baseball is. If you’re a fan, it means something to be close enough that you can examine the stitching on a uniform once worn by Sadaharu Oh or Willie Mays, and it’s a thrill to read the capsule biographies of long-gone players and sporting pioneers. There are stories you’re familiar with and smile to be reminded of, and stories you’ve never heard of and know you have to investigate.
For example, have you ever heard of Victor Starrfin?
I hadn’t, and it turns out he’s a pretty fascinating guy: Nicknamed the “blue-eyed Japanese,” Starffin’s White Russian (i.e. not Bolsheviks) family came to Japan when he was a boy, and Victor became a star for the proto-Giants during Japan’s dead-ball era. He was the first Japanese League pitcher to win 300 games — yet during World War II he was placed in a detention camp and forced to “Japanize” his name into Suda Hiroshi. He died in a car accident when he was just 41, and people are still arguing whether the accident was suicide, a drunken mistake or just bad luck. That’s the stuff of novels right there.
And again, some things are universal. This is Katsuya Nomura:
Nomura was a pretty good player: During his four-decade career, he hit 657 home runs and collected 2,901 hits. And, as his plaque clearly indicates, he discovered another baseball truth: Being a catcher is a tough job. I knew that before I visited the Japanese Hall of Fame, but the reminder sure made me smile.
Forgot to post this shot from the Books of Wonder event of me with superstar author and person Jude Watson.
I interviewed Jude years ago for the Star Wars Insider, so it was a treat to get to meet her — and to figure out that between us we’ve now written 60+ Star Wars titles!
Very happy to pass along this bit from School Library Journal’s forthcoming review of Curse of the Iris, the second book in The Jupiter Pirates saga: “more thoughtful and introspective … New details about conflicts and issues from the clan’s sometimes checkered past help clarify character relationships. There is also plenty of intrigue and rousing battle action.”
Curse of the Iris comes out Dec. 16. Very excited to share it with folks, and I’ll have some sneak peeks in a month or so.