In addition to marking a new year, January 1, 2010 marks the five-year anniversary of the official release of Old Man’s War. This also means that for all intents and purposes, it’s the anniversary of my status as a science fiction writer of any note whatsoever, since before the book’s release I was largely known, to the extent that I was known in science fiction circles at all, as “that loudmouth jackass with that Web site of his.” Then OMW hit, and I became “That loudmouth jackass who wrote Old Man’s War.” You can see the subtle change in status there.
Five years does not seem like a particularly long time, probably because it’s not actually a long time, and I do think people forget that I haven’t, in fact, been about science fiction forever. Some of that is because of the blog presence, and some of that is due to the fact that aside from science fiction, I have been a professional full-time writer for a couple of decades, and therefore opined like a know-it-all about writing even before OMW was released.
But I’m still aware of it, at least, even if others seem to forget (or just don’t know). During the recent RateFail discussion, for example, someone opined that long-time SF/F pros like myself don’t know what it’s like to try to get started in the age of the Internet, and my first thought on that was What, there was no Internet in 2005? Likewise, just the other day on Twitter, someone opined “Contrary to popular opinion, best contemp sci-fi is coming from indie, not famous big names like Scalzi, Gibson, Card, Ellis[on], Dick, Le Guin,” and I sort of giggled to myself about it, because regardless of whether the statement is true or not, one of those names is not like others, if you know what I mean.
Be that as it may, just as being 40 means I really cannot consider myself a “young writer” any more (or at least not without some denial issues regarding my waist- and hair-lines), five years of publishing in science fiction means I’m really no longer the new kid on the block, even if sometimes I still feel like it personally. Passing the five-year marks puts me “mid-career,” although that notation (I hope) means that I’m simply no longer newish, not that my career will collapse into a smoking crater by 2015. We will have to see. I feel optimistic about it.
One thing I don’t know that I communicate well about all of this is how actually grateful I am about it. I am aware, I think more than others, and more than others might suspect, that in many ways I am the recipient of a huge dollop of luck when it’s come to my science fiction career. A lot of that luck was with Old Man’s War, which regardless of its own qualities as a novel (it’s not bad, you know) also appears to have been in the right place at the right time in a whole lot of ways. It’s true that luck favors the prepared, and I cheerfully volunteer I was prepared to be lucky. But the getting of the luck itself is catching lightning in a bottle. You can hold the bottle but the lightning has to want to go in it. I was lucky.
I continue to be lucky. I am lucky to be able to write novels full time. I am lucky to have people want to read my work, and consider themselves fans of the same. I am lucky to have met so many of the writers in the genre who entertained me as a reader and inspired me as a writer, and to meet the writers who were coming up as I was, and in each group to eventually be able to call some of them friends. I am lucky to have science fiction fandom welcome me despite having come so late to it. I am lucky to have publishers and editors who support me and my work. I am lucky to have opportunities spring from my work, taking my life in unexpected directions.
None of this was inevitable, or rooted solely in my own talents. Certainly five years ago I would not have assumed any of this. My reputation for casual confidence (or if you prefer, unentitled arrogance) makes it easy for people to assume that I see this good fortune as a natural consequence. In a word: no. Really, no. I don’t take any of it for granted.
As for the next five years and beyond, well, who knows. I hope things will continue to go well; I plan on writing more books and hopefully you’ll enjoy them. We’ll take it as it comes. To the extent that any of you come along with me for what happens next, I say: Thank you. And welcome.