Counting Heads: exciting, major new sf novel #11yrsago

David Marusek is one of the best-kept secrets of science fiction, a wild talent with a Gibson-grade imagination and marvelous prose, and a keen sense of human drama that makes it all go. Science fiction editors nurture short story writers – many sf insiders keep track of the short fiction markets and watch with keen interest the writers who are doing good work there, but until those writers manage to get a novel out, it’s rare for the field at large to take note of them. Writers like Ben Rosenbaum and Ted Chiang do incredible, brilliant work in short lengths, and the field does yeoman duty recognizing them with awards and approbation, but ultimately, the audience for short fiction is regrettably small.

Marusek’s amazing story “The Wedding Album” floored me when I read it in 1999, was a finalist on the Nebula ballot, won the Sturgeon and Asimov’s Reader’s Choice Awards, placed in the Locus, Seiun and HOMer awards, and left all who read it gob-smacked. It was the story of the AI avatars cast as a sort of wedding photo of a couple on their big day; the story traces the avatars’ lives through thousands of years of technical evolution, through the Singularity, and out the other side. The story reels from heartbreaking to mind-bending like a poet on a magnificent drunk bouncing from lamp-post to lamp-post.

I have a gigantic backlog of reading that I’ve promised to do, but when the galleys for Marusek’s first novel, Counting Heads, came to my mailbox, it went into my shoulder-bag and has stayed there ever since, while I read it in sips and draughts, stealing every possible moment to read more of it, wanting to see what happens next and not wanting it to end.

Counting Heads is the story of a humanity thrashing on the horns of the dilemma of too much of everything. In the Counting Heads world, the idea of being a single individual is obsolete. Some people are clones. Some are virtual. Some are avatars cast for some utility function and then discarded. Some are AI minders who babysit the others. Even families and households are fluid and multiplicitous: in a world as crowded as Marusek’s, social institutions are necessarily larger and weirder than our contemporary nuclear families.

Yet all is not well, for too much can be as confounding as not enough. Counting Heads is the story of a vast intrigue, through which an emergent conspiracy rockets a remarkable woman to near-empress status, and then visits upon her indignity after indignity. Her husband, Sam, is the main protagonist of this story (which sports a gigantic cast of fascinating and likable characters), and it is through his eyes that we see every corner of this amazing world, from its highest heights to its lowest gutters.

It’s hard to summarize this book because again and again, the plot hinges on wonderful, original inventions, and just describing the storyline would spoil too many of David’s delightful surprises. I haven’t felt as buffeted by a book since Gibson’s Neuromancer – haven’t felt more like I was reading something truly radical, new and exciting.

When David was writing short stories, he was an exciting writer. Now that he’s onto novels, he’s practically a force of nature.

Magister Scholastic Valets had come a long way since Kodiak Charter had bought him Lisa’s “Little Professor” model nineteen years before. For the same price that they had paid back then, he could purchase a “Rhodes Scholar” with seven million times the processing power and triple the Turing index. But the price! This small strip of nanofacture cost five hundred United Democracies credits! Was it possible that nineteen years ago, when he really was a ten-year-old boy, his charter had the wherewithal to invest five hundred yoodies in his education?

Bogdan sighed and scrolled to the next page where he found exactly what he was looking for–simple phone patches that you stuck to your throat and behind your ear. They were audio only, but at 00.0001 UDC, the price was right. Bogdan ordered a set and went to stand in line next to the extruder.



Not many know about this, but you see, I’m in love with Tamako, my childhood best friend

Osomatsu-san VA Cast

Whoever decided to have the sextuplets voiced by an all-star cast is a genius.

Osomatsu (voiced by Takahiro Sakurai)

Ichimatsu (voiced by Jun Fukuyama)

Choromatsu (voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya)

Karamatsu (voiced by Yuichi Nakamura)

Jyushimatsu (voiced by Daisuke Ono)

Todomatsu (voiced by Miyu Irino)

Winter/Christmas aesthetics for the signs

Aries: candy canes and peppermints, fireplace, candles, orange pomanders, Christmas wreaths.

Taurus: gloves, christmas cookies, marshmallows in a hot chocolate, spending Christmas with family, Christmas pajamas.

Gemini: falling snow, funny Christmas sweaters, reindeers, footsteps in the snow, Christmas markets.

Cancer: rosy cheeks, watching Christmas movies, Christmas stockings, wearing an oversized sweater, fuzzy socks. 

Leo: hot chocolate, snowmen, Christmas lights in town, Christmas presents, gingerbread, outdoor Christmas decorations.

Virgo: icicles, Christmas dinner, frozen flowers, cat playing in the snow, picking a Christmas tree.

Libra: ice skating, snow angels, gingerbead house, Christmas shopping, seeing your breath when it’s cold outside. 

Scorpio: snow globes, kissing under the mistletoe, Starbucks red cups, offering Christmas chocolates, big scarves.

Sagittarius: Christmas LED lights, snow on the sides of the road, snowball fights, wool beanies, snowy mountains.

Capricorn: snow flakes, city under snow, cabin in the middle of the woods, decorated Christmas trees, Christmas carols. 

Aquarius: Christmas at Disneyland, New Year’s Eve party, listening to Christmas songs, wrapping Christmas presents, winter sky full of stars at night.

Pisces: castle under snow, frozen lake, ear muffs, clear winter sky, enjoyig a hot drink in a cozy blanket.

I think today has taught us a lot about how big social media is as a marketing tool.

Like, yeah, it was never in question, but let’s recap:

Stephanie from Yahoo busted the fourth wall off its damn hinges (if you consider media outlets to be on the other side of the fourth wall, which traditionally they are), as did StubHub, via direct interactions with pro-Larry fans as well as explicitly pro-Larry statements.

FYZ is now, in all likelihood, done for. Last I checked, both a paparazzo came forward claiming theft and dresslike-1d put FYZ on blast with a screenshot of an e-mail that destroyed the notion that FYZ is fan-run. Literally, in a single day, FYZ has been put in water so hot it could burn them right off the map.

Lots of news/gossip outlets are embracing a pro-Larry approach (explicitly and non), and there’s huge reason to believe there will be more to come.

This is just stuff that happened today. Two days ago, the concept of this sort of pro-Larry narrative on an official media scale would have been absurd to even consider. It’s been one day, and the narrative–the feeling surrounding Harry and Louis as lovers, or friends, even–has shifted.

One day. Social media. Crazy, right?


A very special Sid commercial. 


Hats off to the marketing team. 

Do this instead of trying to make our boy, or any hockey players, really, try to act. Bless their awkward hearts. 

okay I’m still having feelings about Andrew and cars so I have to get them out

• who taught him how to drive? did Richard Spear let him drive around the block in their quiet suburban neighbourhood? did Cass? did Drake
• ANYWAY I think by the time he moved in with Tilda and Aaron he already had a passable knowledge of driving, and he definitely took over completely once they moved in with Nicky, because Nicky is canonically a terrible driver
• and driving becomes freedom, becomes adrenaline, becomes feeling
• even if it’s just the surge that comes from near-death, the same way looking down from a height makes his heart beat faster. even if it’s just a taste of that. even if it’s just fear, because at least that’s something
• because you don’t buy and mod a GS (or a Maserati Quattroporte) just because you want to waste money NEIL seriously what the fuck
• (I know Neil’s really busy wetting his pants over Andrew touching the goalie racquets in Exites in TRK – boy’s too much of a one track mind to notice Andrew wanted something else, too)
• because you can buy any car if you want the freedom that comes from being able to go somewhere
• it’s only if you take something from the way the trip goes that you buy a fast car, something dynamic and powerful, something where you put your foot down and get that sound that a sports car makes
• something that can turn into a beast but you still hold the reins
• (and that’s not something he gets to keep, of course, not with the drugs in his system wrecking his concentration – it has to be reserved for the hours between high and sick with withdrawal when he pushes it, or Friday nights in Columbia. for nearly three years)
• (and when Neil hands him the keys in Easthaven’s parking lot it means a whole lot more than ‘this is something I can do again’
• it’s ‘this is how to feel, remember? remember this? remember what control is?)
• so we know Andrew and Neil drive around together a lot post-canon
• (Neil in the passenger seat, asleep or awake, puzzling over a map, flipping through the radio and making faces at the shit he finds there. filching the keys from Andrew at a service station in the middle of nowhere and insisting on driving a while. Andrew letting him)
• it’s not until later that he starts to get something out of actually going somewhere on their weekend trips
• like yeah, they’re travelling to escape (to satisfy Neil’s latent instinct to run), but Andrew satisfied to end up somewhere, even if it’s just back where they started (home)
• I bet when Andrew graduates Neil buys the most horrible fucking car for himself and Andrew HATES it. like, a sebring or something
• “Andrew, it has a good safety rating”
• “I would rather be dead”
• because yeah, it’s a near-new car, but it sure as shit doesn’t drive like a European import. it drives like a plastic cup that is being steered by someone in Iceland, and needs to have its brakes replaced in the first six months Neil owns it
• Neil doesn’t see Andrew’s issue with it, because it gets him where he needs to go (to Andrew)
• I mean this is Neil ‘what do you MEAN my baggy worn-out clothes are horrible and need to be replaced they still COVER me’ Josten we’re talking about
• he’s not going to replace a car that “has nothing wrong with it”
• anyway when the sebring gets written off (nothing bad. someone crashes into it when it’s parked while Neil is doing his grocery shopping and trashes it) Andrew buys him an Audi
• it has a great safety rating and driving it doesn’t tempt Andrew to wreck it on purpose. Neil accepts this despite complaining about Andrew buying him stuff. Andrew probably implies that it’s a gift for himself
• (sidenote: cars are the cornerstone of Andrew and Matt’s non-existent relationship - they go from “what are you doing with a Maserati” “driving it” to “is that a fucking Huracan?” “so your eyes do work Boyd”
• Neil is just pleased that the two of them have stopped physically fighting)
• I know Andrew and Neil aren’t big on buying a huge expensive house or lots of stuff because they don’t need it, but Andrew buys himself a new car every so often. mercedes, lambo, ferarri…something stupid and fast and beautiful that feels like freedom
MONEY WATCH : Year-end tax tips 2011 (18/12/11)
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Before you slide into a holiday-induced brain freeze, there are a number of steps you can take before year end to save you money, courtesy of Uncle Sam. There are lots of other juicy tax benefits that are slated to disappear at the end of 2011, but read carefully, because some are subject to income testing. “A little planning can go a long way,” according to Michael Goodman, CPA/PFS, CFP and President of Wealthstream Advisors. He advises acceleration of deductions this tax year if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket next year.

7 deductions due to expire in 2011

1) Higher education expenses: Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGI’s) of up to $65,000 for singles and $130,000 for couples can claim $4,000 of deductions for college tuition and fees. (IRS Publication 970)

2) Mortgage insurance deduction: Borrowers with AGI’s up to $100,000 may be able to treat qualified mortgage insurance as home mortgage interest, which means that 100 percent of 2011 premiums may be deductible. The insurance contract had to be issued after 2006 and deductions are phased out in 10 percent increments for homeowners with AGI’s between $100,001 and $109,000. (IRS Publication 936)

3) State sales-tax deduction: If you itemize your taxes, you can choose to take an itemized deduction for state sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes. This is a no-brainer for residents of states without income taxes, such as Texas and Nevada. But it might also work for people in areas with low state-income taxes that made a large purchase during the year such as a car or an engagement ring. (IRS sales tax calculator)

4) Energy efficiency upgrades: Here’s where going green can save you green. If you make energy efficiency improvements to your home before the end of the year, you may be eligible for a tax credit of 10 percent for the cost, up to a maximum of $500. Approved improvements include new windows, insulation, high efficiency furnaces, water heaters and air conditioning, among many. Be sure to keep your receipts and manufacturer certification. (Energy Star items that qualify for the tax deduction)

5) IRA charitable donation: Donors over age 70 ½ can contribute up to $100,000 of traditional IRA assets directly to one or more qualified charities (but not a donor-advised fund). While there’s no tax deduction, the gift is excluded from income, and can count as part or all of the required minimum distribution. The charity must be qualified as publicly supported (no private foundations or donor-advised funds), and the distribution must go directly from your IRA to the charity without going to you first. The timing of this could be perfect if you haven’t yet taken your required minimum distribution for 2011; if you don’t need the money; or if you don’t itemize. (IRS Publication 590)

6) Enhanced adoption credits: As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (March 2010), the Adoption Tax Credit was extended one year until Dec. 31, 2011, the amount of credit was increased to $13,360 and it was made refundable, meaning that families can benefit even if they have less than $13,360 of federal income tax liability. If adoption expenses have been paid for by an employer, you may qualify to exclude up to $13,360 from income. The credit is subject to income phaseouts from $185,210 to $225,210 in AGI. (IRS Topic 607)

7) Classroom deduction for teachers: K-12 educators who work at least 900 hours during the school year can claim an above-the-line deduction of up to $250 ($500 if married filing joint and both spouses are educators, but not more than $250 each) of any unreimbursed expenses (books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment, and supplementary materials) used in the classroom. (IRS Topic 458)

9 More year-end tax tips (with no expiration, except the calendar)

1) Mail your checks for deductible purchases: Procrastinator alert! If you’re the type of person who waits until the last minute for everything, take note: To qualify for write-offs of charitable contributions and business expenses, your payments must be postmarked by midnight Dec. 31. The IRS says just writing “December 31” on the check does not automatically qualify you for a deduction; and pledges aren’t deductible until paid. Donations made with a credit card are deductible as of the date the account is charged.

2) Give appreciated stock or fund shares to charity: Get in the holiday spirit, with the help of Uncle Sam. One way to lower your tax bill in April is to donate appreciated securities, like stocks, bonds or mutual funds, to a charity. You’ll write off the current market value (not just what you paid for them) and escape taxes on the accumulated gains. Since charities don’t have to pay capital gains on the gift, they get the full value of your generosity. Goodman says “donor-advised funds are a great solution for quick year-end planning. If you know you want the deduction but can’t make the decision as to which charity you want to use, the DAF allows you to capture the deduction now and decide on the charity later.”

3) Take advantage of low capital gains rates: If you’re in the 10 or 15 percent bracket – taxable income below $67,900 for married couples and $33,950 for singles – profits on long-term capital gains (or ones owned more than 12 months) won’t be taxed at all in 2011 and 2012. That’s right: Your capital gains tax rate will be ZERO percent. It might make sense to sell taxable assets at gains in the next two years, because most experts believe that rates will rise in the future. That goes for high earners, because the current top rate is at a historic low of 15 percent. Given that a new 3.8 percent tax on net investment income is set to take effect in 2013 for joint filers with AGI’s of $250,000 or more (or $200,000 for single filers) it makes sense to consider locking in gains at this year’s lower rate. Goodman warns that “the portion of the capital gain that puts you over the taxable income threshold will be taxed at the higher cap gains rate.”

4) Sell losers: If you have investment losses in a taxable account, now is the time to use those losers to your advantage. You can sell losing positions to offset gains that you have taken previously in the year, to minimize your tax hit. If you have more losses than gains, you can deduct up to $3,000 of losses against ordinary income. If you have more than $3,000 of losses, you can carry over that amount to future years.

5) Avoid getting soaked by a wash sale: If you are starting to clean up your non-retirement accounts to take losses, don’t get soaked by the “Wash Sale” rule. The IRS won’t let you deduct a loss if you buy a “substantially identical” investment within 30 days, what’s known as a wash sale. To avoid the wash sale, wait 31 days and repurchase the stock or fund you sold, or replace the security with something that is close, but not the same as the one you sold…hopefully something cheaper, like an index fund. (IRS Publication 550)

6) Fully fund your college savings 529 plan: The average public university now charges over $8,200 for tuition and fees – a massive 8.3 percent increase from last year – so now’s the time to get a leg up on your education savings with a 529 plan. Money saved in these programs grows tax-free and withdrawals used to pay for college sidestep taxes, too. You can invest up to $13,000 in 2011 without incurring a federal gift tax and many states offer state tax deductions for the contributions. (529 Plan information)

7) Use your flex account or lose it: Some employers require employees with flexible spending accounts (pretax dollars that pay out-of-pocket medical and childcare expenses) to forfeit contributions that go unused by Dec. 31. If you have an FSA, check your company’s rules. If you have cash sitting in the account and your deadline is year-end, spend it to avoid leaving money on the table.

8) Retirement withdrawals: According to Fidelity Investments, two-thirds of all IRA holders haven’t yet taken their required payouts (required minimum distributions or MRD), which must be withdrawn by Dec. 31. There is one exception: Taxpayers taking their first required payout may do so by April 1, 2012. The penalty on not taking your required minimum distribution is steep – 50 percent on the shortfall. (IRS FAQs about MRDs)

9) Project your income: If you’re self-employed, estimate your income for 2011 and 2012. If your tax bracket could rise next year, delay making tax-deductible business purchases until January, when the write-offs will become more valuable. If you think you’ll bring in less money in 2012, do exactly the reverse.