Daily Archives: February 27, 2006

In the Groves of Academe

This is interesting: I’m being taught! Which is to say that Old Man’s War is being used in a literature survey class at Clarkson University by professor Joseph Duemer. The class is on colonialism, which makes it a reasonable fit, since there’s a colonial governmental structure in the book.

However, it doesn’t appear as if Professor Duemer includes the book because he especially enjoys it:

Scalzi’s prose doesn’t look so good when compared to Camus & Conrad, whom we’ve been reading, but his dramatization of the Colonial Defense Forces—armed to the teeth against all that is not human—will be a useful point of reference in thinking about Conrad’s Marlow going up that alien river in Africa & encountering all those inhuman beings. Basically, Old Man’s War is a kinder, gentler Starship Troopers, but not that much kinder & not that much gentler. It reproduces Heinlein’s prurient, if jocular, attitude toward both sex & violence; & though it lacks Heinlein’s fully-developed militarism & fascism, it manages a kind of Bowdlerized celebration of military power that in the end is probably more dangerous because it is less easily caricatured. In Heinlein’s novel, only the military gets to vote; in Scalzi’s story, nobody cares about the vote, but only the military has bodies capable of X-Games sex & X-Games violence.

To paraphrase Marge Gunderson, I’m not sure I agree one hundred percent with Professor Duemer’s police work, there, but the interpretation he presents is not an unreasonable one all things considered. I think it would be interesting to know how Professor Duemer’s students will see me, mediated through him. And like him I think OMW could be an interesting framing device for the other works Duemer will present. Duemer’s correct that I’m not the stylist Conrad is, incidentally; but then not many people are (what makes Conrad’s skill particularly galling is that English was his third language). But it’s probably the case my prose is more immediately accessible to current students, if only because I’m alive and working now, whereas, say, Heart of Darkness is a century old. If among other things reading me helps Conrad go down slightly easier for a flummoxed freshman, well, then my work here is done.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind being taught one day for my work’s qualities rather than as a point of reference for admittedly better books. But still this is a nice first step in the academic world. The day someone uses me for a doctoral thesis, now. That day I can die happy.