A Pan, For Your Pleasure

Here’s a fine negative review of Old Man’s War, in which the book is described as “smugly preachy… occasionally interrupted by tedious digressions into How Science Works,” and the clever alternate title of Elder’s Game is suggested. Just in case you’re wondering if I was only going to note the positive reviews here.

The “smugly preachy” part I’m neither here nor there on, since that’s a personal perspective, and God knows I have my moments of smugness and preachiness. I do think the complaint about the digressions on How Science Work is interesting, though, and I’d like to comment on it. The reviewer here notes that a couple of pages talking about a beanstalk (for an example) is pretty much unnecessary, since everyone who typically reads science fiction already knows what a beanstalk is. And I would agree: most people who typically read science fiction have been introduced to the concept. Readers confronting The Singularity on a regular basis don’t need a primer on beanstalk physics. Fair enough.

However, my wife, who does not typically read science fiction, does need a primer, and so do my in-laws, and so do several close friends. So do the people in my little hometown who are reading the book because I’m the local author, and so do a lot of the people who I hope might want to pick up the book who don’t typically read science fiction. The book is in fact intentionally written with non-science fiction readers in mind. Why? Well, it’s simple: I want a whole lot of readers, and I don’t want to give potential readers outside the sphere of SF the excuse of thinking the book is going to be inaccessible to them.

Look, I’m not a snob. I’m in this for the mass market, and I want to nab readers who don’t typically have science fiction as part of their reading diet. I want the guy who usually reads Tom Clancy or Stephen King to look at my book and think it might be something he wants to read. And so does my publisher; the reason Tor picked up OMW, as I’ve mentioned before, is that Patrick Nielsen Hayden read it and said to himself, I bet I could sell this in a supermarket rack. I hope not to disappoint Patrick in this regard. I hope we can sell the book in supermarket racks. I hope we sell a lot. This doesn’t mean writing down — that’s wholly condescending and unnecessary — but it does mean taking the time for a certain amount of exposition.

So, yeah, I regard the How Science Works parts of Old Man’s War to be a feature, not a bug, although of course I recognize that it’s not a feature that appeals to everyone, or that everyone needs. In other words, this reviewer isn’t wrong (opinions can’t really be wrong, anyway), he’s just approaching the book with a more narrow presumed audience in mind than I have. When you write, you make choices, and this was one of my choices, and I think it was the right one to make. For my part, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if someone who doesn’t read science fiction read my book, thought “hey, that was fun,” and took a chance on another science fiction book.

That’s my goal: To be the gateway drug of science fiction. Sure, they start with me, but the next thing you know they’re mainlining Charlie Stross right through the eyeball. This is not a bad scenario.

To end on a high note: A positive review, from NetSurfer Digest. I doubt this pointer will remain static, so an excerpt: “John Scalzi channels Heinlein (‘Starship Troopers’) and Haldeman (‘The Forever War’) in this terrific tale of interstellar war. Facing up to legends has the potential to go horribly wrong, but Scalzi has the writing chops to carry it off and produce a book which stands up to comparison with those two iconic military SF novels.” Groovy.

Update: The comment thread contains a few spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, you’re hereby warned.


Genre Advances

I know, I said I was submerging for a few days. But this is worth linking to for science fiction writers: SF Writer (and soon-to-be first time novelist) Tobias Buckell has created a form for SF/F writers to anonymously enter information on what the advance was for their first novel, and then for their most recent novels (click here to see it).

The idea here is to create something like this — a listing of what the various Romance genre publishers offer for advances — for science fiction and fantasy writers. That way first-time writers who get an offer will be able to see how their proposed advance matches up against the genre in general (and among other advances offered by that publisher), and established writers can see if they’re keeping pace with their peers. This will no doubt cause writers even more anxiety than they already have, but if you’re going to feel anxious about something, money is a good a thing as any.

Tobias has just now sentenced himself to an indeterminate term of codifying and collating the information, and better him than me. But it should be a useful thing if enough SF/F writers participate. I’m off to enter my info now.

Also, and unrelated: I may fiddle slightly with the look of the Whatever over the next couple of days (as a sort of break from incessant editing/writing). Don’t be alarmed.



Submerging for the next three days (chapters to edit; pieces to write). Consider this an open thread to play in while I’m busy trying to salvage my writing career. Starter topic: Why aren’t there any words that rhyme with orange? Feel free to free-associate from there or ignore it entirely.


Celebrity Books

Before we get to the topic at hand, allow me to note the very nice review of OMW from Professor Bainbridge. Thank ye kindly, sir.

Also, yes, I realize that I’ve been mostly writing about writing here recently, with only the occasional off-topic post to leaven the mix. This very much has to do with the fact that I’m intensively re-editing Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film chapters and doing pieces for an upcoming Uncle John book, and both are taking up pretty much all of my brain cycles at the moment, leaving little time for trivialities like world events. I’m all about writing, and probably will be for at least another week or so. Fair warning.

Now, as long as we’re on the subject of writing, let me answer a question posed in one of the comment threads, which is:

As a writer, what is your perspective on the sensationalist books that are released and just absolutely bought up by the truckload by the general public? Case in point. The Amber Frey book that came out last week, where she’s documenting her relationship with Scott Peterson. Anyone that doesn’t know who that is, hasn’t had a television on, read a newspaper, or visited a news web site in a VERY long time. Anyway, how does that make a published author feel? Someone who has worked years at their craft to get published and recognized, and yet this person is in it for “15 minutes” and gone. I realize publishers don’t care about the content as much as the earning potential. I was just curious as to an author’s perspective.

As a writer, I’m almost entirely unconcerned about it. To begin with, most of the time the books folks like Amber Frey write (or more accurately, someone else writes so as not to make the putative “author” look like a total idiot) and the ones I write aren’t really addressing the same audience; it seems really unlikely that there’d ever be a time when someone is in the bookstore agonizing over having to choose either Old Man’s War or Witness: For the Prosecution of Scott Peterson. So I don’t really gnash my teeth with each sale, thinking “that could have been my book.” It wouldn’t have been my book. Nora Roberts or John Grisham, on the other hand, might be annoyed — the whole melodrama of the Scott Petersen case is right up their respective textual alleys. But you know, they’re not exactly hurting.

Secondly, life is capricious and weird, and there will always be someone who does not seem to deserve the fame and wealth thrown at them. Amber Frey’s great claim to fame is being huckstered by Scott Peterson into having an affair. Is this a firm foundation upon which to build a lasting career in the public eye? No, but it’ll do, and to be flatly honest about it, someone would have written up a lurid tell-all about Frey’s relationship anyway, so why shouldn’t she get the money for it? I mean, I’d rather she get the payday for her trouble than some hack spinning out the tale from newspaper clippings and court transcripts. Soon it’ll all be over for Ms. Frey, and she’ll go back to doing whatever it is she does when she’s not known for being a murder’s moll. Hopefully, she’ll manage her money well.

Ms. Frey’s fortunes — or the fortunes of any person who suddenly erupts out of nowhere, makes a bundle of cash for dubious reasons, and then returns to obscurity as quickly as they arrived — affect me not in the least. The fact she can get a book deal in the snap of her fingers while other people toil for years to do the same is monstrously unfair, but there are so many other things in the world that are monstrously unfair — and of genuine consequence — that this one example of unfairness is quaint by comparison. If other people want to be bothered by it, they should by all means worry that mental scab until their irritation is assuaged. But don’t see why I would want to bother.

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