Into the clippings file:
* A less-than-thrilled review of Old Man’s War over at SFSite, which I find amusing, as SFSite also has an enthusiastic review of OMW from when the book originally came out, in which it was called a “clever, charming and joyously fun story.” Needless to say, should Tor decide to pull a quote from SFSite, we know from which review they’ll pull. As for the less-enthusastic review, there’s not much to say other than, eh, you can’t win them all.
* A nice review of The Ghost Brigades at Fractale Framboise; at least, I think it’s a nice review, since it’s in French and I have to pass it through Google Translate to read it. However, Google Translate says it says that TGB: “proves the initial success of Scalzi… is not an accident. Familiar without being repetitive, accessible without being condescending, The Ghost Brigades is an excellent example of commercial SF which can at the same time divert and make [one] reflect.” Works for me.
Non-francophones who don’t want to bother with the Frenchtastic stylings of Google Translate can read a review of the book in English by the same reviewer (Christian Sauve) here: “At a time where unputdownable is as overused as it’s ungrammatical, Scalzi is the real deal: someone who can deliver a fast, fun SF story that remains accessible and doesn’t take you for an idiot.” That works for me, too.
In the latter review, Sauve asks: “When will Scalzi try his hand at a more ambitious project? As coldbloodedly professional as he appears to be in his approach to his career, I doubt that he will suddenly drop everything else to produce an insanely ambitious 500-page work of art ready to challenge, say, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. But I wonder.”
(River of Gods, incidentally, which is finally out here in the US through the good graces of Pyr Books, and which I do in fact suggest people get, because it really is that good.)
But in response to Sauve’s question: The direct answer to his question is “soon,” although soon in publishing is not the same as “soon” in the real world, since the project I’m thinking of has yet to be written and won’t see the light of the bookstore until late 2007 at the earliest. I’m not discussing this particular project with anyone in any more specific terms than I am doing now (which is to say, aggravatingly vaguely), but suffice to say I doubt that anyone will be able to say it’s not ambitious at the outset. My job, of course, is to make it so that “ambitious” is not its only selling point; “ambitious” and “really, really readable” is the goal.
Tangentially, however, I wouldn’t say that OMG and TGB aren’t ambitious works; I think they both are. OMW is flatly ambitious in the sense it was written specifically to be salable to a publisher, even as a first time work from someone unknown in SF/F circles. In that sense, ambition accomplished. Now, part of the “price” for that, if you want to cast it that way, is that the books in the series have to dance with them what brung them — which is to say that it would be inappropriate for The Ghost Brigades to have been wildly different from Old Man’s War, either in themes or presentation. Now, I happen to think TGB is thematically a bit more ambitious than OMW, and I expect readers will find The Last Colony to be a bit more ambitious still. But it has to be part of a continuum and internally consistent. I don’t have a problem with that; I like the universe and am happy to play by the rules I imposed on myself at the start.
Both books are also ambitious in these sense they aim to be accessible to people who don’t regularly read science fiction as well as those who do (as does The Android’s Dream, which is upcoming). The mechanics of such a task — keeping the book open enough so that people who don’t read SF can follow it, while not insulting the intelligence and expectations of those who do regularly read SF — aren’t exactly simple, even if the end result is a light, fast and fun read. I don’t want to overstate the case, mind you; I’m not doing brain surgery, here. On the other hand, just because it looks simple doesn’t mean it is. Finding the right balance to make both Cory Doctorow and my mother-in-law happy readers is a tricky thing.
I certainly have ambitions in terms of subject matter, and while it does seem unlikely I’ll write something like River of Gods (Ian McDonald and I don’t exactly have the same style or interests), it’s not out of the question that I’ll write something similarly ambitious. But I’m also ambitious in a less direct way. Baldly put, I think I have a personal writing style that’s easy to grab onto no matter who you are, and I can plot in a fun and exciting way. I see these as tools to invite people into the genre of science fiction. One reason I want to do this is entirely self-serving, which is that even though I write science fiction, I want as many readers as possible, and I don’t mind snagging them from outside the “SF/F community,” by the truckloads if I can manage that.
Another reason, however, is less self-serving, and that is I want to share my genre, especially the writers who are working in the genre with me. You can try to convince me there’s another era in SF/F that has had better writers per capita than the current era does, but you’ll have to be pretty damn convincing, because I don’t see it. This is a golden age of SF writing; I honestly believe it. I think my books can serve admirably as the jumping monkey that grabs the attention of the passers-by and leads them into the big tent of SF/F where Ian McDonald, Ken MaLeod, Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson, China Mieville (to name but a few current and recent SF Hugo nominees) and lots of others are inside, cracking open universes to the delight of the audience. I understand it’s not everybody’s ambition to be the jumping monkey carnival barker of SF/F, but someone should do it, and why not me? So far, I seem to be pretty good at it. And I’m having fun. So there’s that.
So, yes: Do expect more conventionally ambitious stuff out of me in the future. But also expect me to keep doing what I do, how I do it now. Both represent ambitious plans, just in different ways.