A Review in the Chicago Maroon!

Oooh, I’m excited about this: A review of Old Man’s War in the Chicago Maroon, which is the student newspaper of the University of Chicago. I myself was editor-in-chief of the Maroon in the 89-90 school year, so what can I say, I was hoping they’d get around to it. And the reviewer liked it, which is even better, although I get dinged for the sex scenes. I can live with that — indeed, I propose more research in that area. Lots of research. And vitamin E.

The review does bring up one interesting thing, in discussing the name of the main character:

I couldn’t help but wonder if naming the hero “John Perry” (which bears a suspicious resemblance to the moniker of 2004’s presidential runner-up, everyone’s favorite junior senator from Massachusetts) was simply coincidence or, rather, some form of subliminal propaganda. After a thorough investigation (read: Google search) I found Scalzi’s blog,, which revealed him to be a liberal. I decided to forgive him, though, because Old Man’s War is a charming, engaging novel, and I imagine that Scalzi will eventually come around.

The fiction writers in the audience will know why it’s highly unlikely that this would be the genesis of John Perry’s name, but for everyone else, a little explanation is in order. Fact is, publishing fiction is almost always a painfully slow process — it takes years for books to go from inception to publication. In the case of Old Man’s War, it was begun in April of 2001 and completed in October of that year, long before John Kerry was the candidate, and long before I was thinking about him in any political capacity. So it’s merely coincidence that Perry and Kerry’s name sound alike.

If you want to know where the John Perry name comes from in fact, it comes from the first name of the keyboardist of Journey, and the last name of the vocalist. Further proof of the Old Man’s War-Journey connection can be found on page 10, where there’s a character named Steve Cain, which is the first name of the vocalist and the last name of the keyboardist. They are not named through a desire to immortalize Journey members so much as I am really bad with names and therefore tend to grab books, magazines and CDs and create names from the names I find in them. Looking for meaning in the names of my characters is likely to lead to error. The only character who is intentionally named something specific in the book is Jane Sagan, because I am a Carl Sagan fanboy.

The lack of knowledge about the incredibly slow pace of fiction publishing has popped up before in reference to Old Man’s War; I’ve seen commentary about the book, for example, which has suggested that it was a book that could only have been written in a post-9/11 environment. While I would agree that book is indeed well suited for the current time, the vast majority of the book — about 90% — was written prior to 9/11, and the post 9/11 mindset had not quite jelled by the time I had finished the book in October. It’s possible 9/11 affected the last couple of chapters, but by that time, the plot was already done and all that was needed was the typing, so whatever direct influence it had was minimal. If there is a post-9/11 sensibility to the book (and there may well be), it’s a sensibility which I personally had before the event — and the world, rather unfortunately, was compelled to catch up with my point of view.

It’s rather more likely that a true post-9/11 sensibility will inform The Ghost Brigades, which I have yet to write (and which, in violation of the normally slow pace of publishing, will be published fairly quickly after I’ve written it — although in being published quickly, it bumps the publication date of The Android’s Dream back a year or so, which re-validates the point). But to what extent the 9/11 events and attitudes will affect Ghost Brigades I can’t say. I don’t really go out of my way to make parallels between what goes on in the books and what’s going on in the real world. I figure my readers would prefer I not preach in their general direction. If they want to hear me rant and rave about contemporary politics, there’s always this place.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy hearing these interpretations. As I think I’ve said before, I like hearing what people get out of the books, because sometimes it’s vastly different to what I’ve put into it on my end. Nor do I think these interpretations are wrong, outside of specific naming and temporal issues noted above. Every reader comes to a book with their own point of view, so naturally everyone’s going to take away something different. As a writer, I like the idea that no one reads my book in exactly the same way.

(Oh, and before I forget — a ringing endorsement of OMW in the Library Journal: “A good choice for most libraries.” Well, and it is.)

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