The Publishers Weekly Review of “Old Man’s War”

I’ve seen it, and to sum up: Wow. It’s a starred review, which means they’re singling it out for attention among the other books reviewed that week, and here’s the first sentence:

Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master.

The rest of the review is pretty nice, too.

My two immediate thoughts after reading that first sentence were “Gee, I’m glad I thanked Robert Heinlein in my acknowledgments” (since this makes it abundantly clear I know my obvious debt to the man), and “I hope the reviewer means something like Starship Troopers and not The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.” Fortunately, the two Heinlein works explicitly noted by the reviewer were Troopers and Time Enough for Love. Since the book is explicitly modeled after the first and the second is my favorite Heinlein book, you can imagine I am pleased with the comparisons. The review also notes that I’m not just channeling Heinlein, which of course also pleases me; one does like to have credit for one’s own imagination.

Getting a PW review is good publicity, getting a starred review is better, and then having the actual review read as this one, I think, is the best of all. This is potentially good news for the sales health of the book, and there’s no question I’m thankful for that. It’s hard to get noticed as a debut novelist in any genre.

Now the real question is: Will a good review of the book in PW boost sales like a good review from Instapundit? Because take it from a guy whose Amazon ranking went up by a factor of over 100 after his mention, Glenn moves the goods. We’ll see if PW can match that.

Now, being a critic and reviewer myself, allow me to be the first to add the moderating word of caution that reviews — good or bad — reflect a single point of view, which you as the consumer of entertainment may or may not agree with. And as thrilled as I am with the review, part of me is wary that people looking for a Robert Heinlein, Part II reading experience will come away somewhat disappointed — or alternately, will expect me only to produce Heinlein knockoffs in the future, which I’m not sure is what I really want to do. And of course, other reviews of this book are likely not to be as kind. Someone somewhere is going to hate it, I can guarantee that already.

What I hope you’d do as a potential reader is take any review as a data point, not a guarantee. I hope you like Old Man’s War as much as this reviewer appears to have done. But that’s up to you, not me or this kind reviewer. I’ll be interested in hearing what you think, too.

26 thoughts on “The Publishers Weekly Review of “Old Man’s War”

  1. Hey, kudos, John – a good review like this is definitely something to celebrate. I’ve been looking forward to reading OMW since you first posted part of it way back when. Now I’m really excited. Not that I was waiting for the reviews before I bought the book, of course…

  2. Congratulations on the review. I suspect that a starred PW review–as nice as it is–won’t have quite the same effect on a book’s Amazon ranking as a plug on a big name blog. Given that PW’s readership is largely in the book trade, you’ll probably see the effects of review more in wholesaler, bookstore, and library orders. But Amazon rankings are deceptive anyway…

  3. “But Amazon rankings are deceptive anyway…”

    Well, sure, and an incomplete picture of sales in any event. They’re fun to watch, though, as long as you know not to take them too seriously.

  4. To be told you do something well is nice. To be told you do something you love well – in specific language by someone who really knows what the hell they’re talking about – hell, that’s beyond fantastic.

    What a great thing to celebrate this weekend! Trim the tree with PW!

  5. That is great news. Who knows, maybe this is the first step down the path that will evenutally lead another critic in the future to writ something along the lines of: Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of John Scalzi, Mr. X’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master.

    I can’t wait to read the book.

  6. John, is “Old Man’s War” the novel you sold after posting it to the Internet?

    Um, professional ethics require me to note that I’m asking this question because I’m thinking of reviewing the book, and would certainly like to include the information in the review. You would know this if you could actually see me, because I’m wearing my snap-brim fedora with the PRESS card in the band.

    (Also, no pants. But you didn’t want to know that.)

  7. I’m endlessly fascinated about your pants status, Mitch.

    Yes, this is the one I sold after serializing it here on the Whatever. Exactly two years ago, in fact.

  8. This sharpens my already keen interest in picking up my own copy of “Old Man’s War”. When Tor parades you around to promote the book, please be sure to mention it here so that I don’t miss you when your reach Portland Oregon perigee.

  9. I’m proud to have read Old Man’s War; it’s a terifically inventive, smart and entertaining book, and I don’t think anyone who reads it will be disappointed. (I haven’t read Heinlein, but this review makes me wonder if I should.) This review must have really made you feel great, and you deserve it–hell, the book deserves it!

  10. Congrats, John. I’m looking forward to purchasing it. Hope they’ll send you on a signing tour, and hopefully you’ll make it here to Indy.

  11. Considering Indy is about an hour and a half from where I live, should they spring for a tour, it seems likely it would be a destination (along with Cincinatti, Columbus, Toledo and Dayton).

  12. Take it from a guy who bought OMW back when it was a buck-fifty: it’s grrrrrreat! So great that I’m thinking of buying it again.

  13. Oooo…oooo…..ooooo….!
    *doing the pee-pee dance in sheer exuberant anticipation*

    I grew up on Heinlein and seriously miss good, old-school sci-fi. I’m all hoppy-bouncy waiting for it to get here.

  14. Well, I’m not sure about Instapundit, but I got a bigger spike from a mention here than from the PW review. *g*

    But yours is shinier than mine.

  15. Those of us who read OMW two years ago have had a two year advantage over those who are only now able to buy and read it, but (alas) for us this also means our wait to read the sequel is already two years longer than it will be for those who are reading OMW for the first time now. *sigh* (And for those who have not yet read it: go get a copy now; it’s good!)

  16. Certainly a PW comparison of you to Heinlein can’t hurt sales. I would have bought the book anyway, but knowing it’s in that same Heinlein genre will make me buy it now. I grew up on Heinlein.

    And, in reference to your post, there are worst things than having to write eight or ten books in Heinlein mode. :)

    Off to Amazon…

  17. mo pie:

    If you loved OMW but haven’t read Heinlein, by all means do. But I would recommend Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Forever Peace and Forever Free first–John tells me he hasn’t even read those (for shame!) but you definitely should.

    That there is some great, underrated sci-fi, and if you liked OMW I can’t possibly see how you wouldn’t like the Forever books.

    -j.

  18. Many congrats on the PW review! No one should discount the influence of PW publicity, despite the trade-oriented audience of its printed version; a quick review of a summer YA release I had sent sales spiking, especially once the review automatically was included on other retailers’ sites.

    As for the Amazon rankings . . . ever since they revamped the system a few weeks ago, they’re worse than ever. Keep an eye on them if you want, but don’t let them be a barometer to your mental well-being, by any means. I find barnesandnoble.com’s numbers to be a little more of an accurate indication of how a newly-released book’s doing. The numbers don’t fluctuate as wildly, and their data includes numbers from actual store sales, and not merely those of their online presence.

  19. Drood says:

    “Keep an eye on them if you want, but don’t let them be a barometer to your mental well-being, by any means.”

    Heh. No worries on that score. I think they’re fun to look at, but I’d no more tie my ego to them than I would to any particular book review (which is to say, not much).

  20. Congratulations, John! Hopefully this is just the first great review, for Old Man’s War and your future fictional endeavors….

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