Where’s the Pith?
Punning Pundit was good enough to purchase The Rough Guide to the Universe for his girlfriend (her reaction — “You are the best boyfriend, ever” — should be enough to get the rest of you lugs to the bookstore), and put up a review on his site, here (you might have to scroll down an entry or two to find it). He liked it, but he was mildly surprised at the style:
“I had expected funny, pithy, and clever. While all those elements are present, they are muted, toned down. This is a book about the stars, constellations, and that sort of thing. This is not a book for fun, but rather a guide to fun things you can do. Itís a well written travel book, but ultimately it is just as functional as any other piece of luggage.”
This is pretty accurate, especially if your primary entry to my writing is this Web site, in which I have no editors and no goal other to amuse myself and others. Universe’s primary goal is utilitarian, in that by design people should be able to open it up and get a clear dose of information. Style is definitely an issue — I would happily argue it’s got more style than any other basic book on astronomy — but if it were the main thrust of the book, the book would be in trouble. No offense to myself, but (hopefully) the vast majority of the people buying the book have not the slightest clue as to who I am. They’re picking up the book to learn about the universe, not to read me riff about black holes. So while I, the authorial voice, am still definitely there, I dial back the Scalzi-osity to focus on the rest of creation.
So yes, to be clear: If you’re getting the book in order to drink from the Scalzi firehose of prose, as it were, you’re better off holding off for The Book of the Dumb this November or Old Man’s War early next year, both of which are rather a bit more of me. Alternately, you might pick up Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe, which has much the same science but with amped up humor and snarkiness (although ironically, none of the articles I wrote in there are specifically attributed to me — if you get it, write me and I’ll tell you which of the articles are mine).
I’m immensely proud of Rough Guide to the Universe, and it came out almost exactly as I would have intended, but it’s not about me. And I’m definitely all right with that. If I was supposed to be presenting you entire glorious reach of the universe, but ended up jumping up and down, waving my hands and asking you to pay attention to my prose style, well. That’s a level of hubris that even I am hesitant to approach.