The S.L. Viehl Memorial Self-Pimpage Entry
Posted on February 17, 2005 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
A nice review of Old Man’s War at Bookloons: “Think of the movie Coccoon, morphing into Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and you’ll have an idea of what Old Man’s War is all about.” Heh. That works.
Apropos to Old Man’s War, I’ve seen a couple of reviews and comments that remarked on the fact that the book’s main character seems improbably lucky (here’s one). I hadn’t really thought about it that way; speaking as the writer, I’d say it’s not so much he’s lucky as that if he were unlucky, he’d be dead, and then I’d only have, say, half a book. And there is that one incident at the end of Part II which doesn’t strike me as him being particularly lucky. But as more than one person’s mentioned it, there may be something to it. I’ll have to think about it some more.
Unrelated: Someone seems to have put up a LiveJournal atom feed of Whatever here. No, I don’t know who. It differs from Scalzifeed (which I also didn’t set up) in that it actually sends along the entire entry rather than the first 100 words. Naturally, if you’re a LiveJournal user, use it if you feel fit, although I would ask if you like a particular entry and want to link to it, link here, and not to a LiveJournal feed bearing my name. I like new visitors. Also, of course, making a comment on either of these LiveJournal feeds virtually guarantees neither I nor anyone else will see it, since I don’t actually subscribe to either of these feeds. Even I’m not that narcissistic.
Well, okay, I subscribe to Scalzifeed on my LiveJournal friends page. But that’s because I put it in there for testing purposes. Honest.
The second LJ feed is my fault; I did something stupid while trying to subscribe to the other one. I was feeling all lazy and didn’t fix it and I like having whole entries anyway.
No apology necessary, since it’s not like I’m angry about it.
“The S.L. Viehl Memorial Self-Pimpage Entry”
So, is she dead? Or were you just talking about her career?
Now, now, Paul. Let’s not be mean. It’s just good-natured ribbing.
I don’t think your book had an egregious amount of luckiness for the protagonist, especially since you painted him as incredibly intelligent and confident, at least relative to other grunts. The real problem is how it’s juxtaposed against everyone else in the whole universe dying in wholly random ways.
The Protagonist Luck Factor™ actually can be argued as being somewhat realistic. In virtually every real history or description of war stories I’ve ever read or heard, the people that survived through the whole ordeal almost invariably did so because of some fluke. As John mentioned, if he wrote the story carefully in mind with the “normal” experience, it would just be half a story because most people in the setting died. The ones that didn’t die, as in real war, probably accomplished in part through sheer luck.
Fiction, however, must be more plausible than reality. I, too, was thinking there was some kind of Teela Brown thing going on throughout the book.
In a warfare situation there really only are 3 ways of coming back alive. 1. Not engaging in much actual combat at all; 2. Being exceptionally good at killing anything that moves; 3. Being lucky. Option one is just plain boring, option 2 is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, option 3 is every other charismatic book and movie hero you’d care think of. So it’s not particularly problematic if it occasionally seems like there’s a higher power (the author :P) watching over the lead character in a book, I’ve certainly seen far more blatant cases than OMW, the Night’s Dawn trilogy would be a good example, great books but the characters are frequently lucky beyond belief (odds against running into a bunch of friendly extradimensional aliens JUST when all the air is about to leak off your floating island anyone?) culminating in a blatant deus ex machina ending, bleh.
A first-person narration of a set of experiences assumes that the narrator survives through those experiences, yes? Apres vie narratives aside…
So, even if this all had happened and John was writing an historical narrative after interviewing people who survived, all of these people would be pretty lucky, I’m thinking.
Improbable, I’ll swallow. Impossible, I won’t. Survival end of the bell curve is bound to seem abnormal to the usual experience by definition…
And is it just me, or does the half-face from the cover on the blog pages remind anyone else that it’s Jack O’Neill from Stargate SG-1 when you aren’t looking directly at it?
There was a science fiction novel called We All Died at Breakaway Station by Richard C. Meredith that was out in the late 1960’s — the title and concept has always stuck in my mind and a quick search in amazon brought me the author’s name. The narrator is a cyborg warrior who had already been revived from being war dead once to pilot one of the crippled starships making a outnumbered last stand to hold off the alien fleet and save humanity, etc. Yeah, kind of space opera, but three and a half decades after reading it I remember enjoying it, so that must say something positive about it.
Anyway, it does show that it is possible to write an s.f. combat novel where ALL of the characters are killed.
Oh… and S.L. Viehl — when her name first popped up in the Whatever a few days ago I thought the name sounded vaguely familiar so while I was checking out Richard C. Meredith at amazon, I checked her name too — and realized that I had once bought one of her books about three years ago at Logan Airport. Okay, I won’t cast aspersions on her writing — but I doubt that you and she are aiming at the same audience at all. (Oh, let me just add that despite being on a trans-Atlantic flight, I was so bored with the book that I watched the movie and read the airline magazine instead.)
Re: S.L. Viehl’s audience and mine: Eh. You never know. She’s clearly competent enough to be published and indeed published repeatedly, so she’s got to know what she’s doing sufficiently to make a career out of it. The science fiction reading world, for better or worse, is small enough that my potential readership and hers almost certainly has some overlap.
I haven’t read any of her books, so I can’t speak to the quality of her writing, but I don’t want to people to think I need to be assured that I’m a better writer than she is (or, alternately, that she’s a bad writer independent of my writing skills). So far as I know, S.L. Viehl has never said anything critical, positively or negatively, about my actual work, she just got annoyed at my self-promoting ways. And for my part, I’m not especially annoyed at her for it: I found the comments funny, which is why I linked to them (and why I ribbed her with the title of this post).