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Some Booksluttery, and Cover Art

A good review of Old Man’s War at Bookslut:

The first half of the book could almost be read like a post-Vietnam Starship Troopers, complete with basic training, exotic enemies and first battle fears. But the tone shifts as the plot progresses. As Perry becomes less green (and there’s a pun here that only those who have read the book will get), the story shifts into a spectrum that feels like that of Heinlein’s later years, when he was pondering the meanings of love and family. But Scalzi succeeds where Heinlein failed. Instead of simply becoming one long, lusty fantasy, Scalzi digs to find how our connections influence who we are as well as who we become without them. It’s good, thought-provoking stuff. While not really “stunning,” as the cover tease proclaims, it is a delightful read that kicks the pants off of most of what’s out there.

Groovy.

The reviewer has two quibbles: first with the “Ghost Brigades,” and second with the cover art, which she feels is not entirely representational of the book. I understand the quibble with the Ghost Brigades, because their existence on the surface seems to be in opposition to the rationale for recruiting 75-year-olds back on Earth. However, I do expect to resolve the apparent contradiction (or at least explain it) in The Ghost Brigades, which is the upcoming novel in the OMW universe. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

The cover art is more complicated, and since it had almost nothing to do with me in its concept and execution (just because it’s the cover of my book doesn’t mean I was involved — welcome to being a writer!), I’m happy to talk about it. It’s an interesting topic.

I have to admit that when I first saw it I was not entirely sure about it myself; I liked it, quite a bit (as I’ve made no secret of), and I was glad it wasn’t the typical “military SF” sort of cover, with a stern-looking toughie in space armor shouldering a gun so large that the center of gravity between the two would be two feet in front of the soldier’s body. At the same time, I wasn’t entirely sure if it hit the right tone. But since I myself had no idea what I wanted for the cover, I decided to trust my art director and publisher, like a good newbie author should.

This was a good decision on my part. Cover art isn’t only a nice picture, it’s also explicitly commercial art, with the intent of differentiating one’s book from the thousands of other books in the store, while at the same time not alienating the intended audience for this book: In other words, you want to grab the eye, and then convince someone to pick up the book and read the jacket copy. In this regard, I think OMW’s cover does an excellent job. I’ve described why earlier — the cover retains certain “Space Opera” tropes (lead character, front and center, supporting characters in the back), with a couple of smart features: one, the color scheme of blues and greens, which stands out in a genre that uses a lot of “hot” colors; and two, an older man on the cover, which is also an unusual occurrence (at least, without a glowing staff).

I also think there’s an interesting bit of oppositional psychology going on with the cover: The book’s title and typeface promise WAR in big block letters, but our cover guy isn’t slinging a rifle; he’s standing there looking fairly thoughtful about something (possibly about war). I think this unobtrusively telegraphs to the potential reader that the book isn’t just about the shootin’ and killin’, but may have some other things going on as well (whether it does, of course, is my department. No pressure there). This is where Irene Gallo, as art director, really shines — she’s aimed for a balance between the promise of the title (war!) and what’s suggested by the artwork (thinking!) and I think she’s hit the balance.

So: I agree with the reviewer that the cover art’s not a direct analogue with the content of the book, and that’s an eminently fair criticism. But as a piece of art with an explicitly commercial intent — get people to look at this book — I think it’s doing a pretty good job. Now if we can just get bookstores to shelve it face out, we’d be set.

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Amazon Best Seller, Blah Blah Blah

A little bird tittered in my ear that Old Man’s War has crawled onto the Amazon Best Seller list in the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre: At this very second it’s #12 (this will almost certainly change quickly, this being Amazon), just slightly above The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Just below that: George Orwell, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Ayn Rand. Golly. This is probably the last time I’ll be on top of all of these characters, and I resolve to savor this moment duly.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah.

Okay, I’m done.

Before anyone thinks that I’ve hauled myself onto a bestseller list by myself, even a narrow-gauge one such as this one, I’ll note that yesterday Instapundit gave the book a nice mention once again, thus bumping up the Amazon rankings once more. He’s definitely getting an acknowledgment in the next book, I tell you. Aside from that other bloggers have also promoted the book: here and here and here, for example (and there’s a very touching testimonial here). This is exactly the grassroots sort of stuff that makes a real difference for a book like mine, and I’m genuinely humbled so many bloggers have chosen to read it and write about it. So: many, many thanks.

Update: Here’s a good reason Old Man’s War is guaranteed to fall off this best seller list — at the moment, Amazon’s down to its last five copies (they say more are on the way, however). Jeez. Talk about inconvenient timing.

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SF/F Novel Advances, Continued

No time for a long, involved entry today (I’m hip deep in Bon Jovi at the moment — and it smells like creaky leather), but if you’re at all interested in learning what science fiction and fantasy authors are really making, Tobias Buckell has compiled the current results of his genre advance survey for your edification, based on over 70 data points (otherwise known as “authors”) who offered info both on their very first advances and on their current advances (if they have more than one book). I’m happy to say that my advances seem to be either at or above the median for my genre, so I personally have nothing to get moody or depressed about, at least on that score.

I’ll also note that Tobias is looking for more SF/F writers to add their information so he can pare down the margin of error in the sample (which now stands at a not entirely acceptable 11%), so if you write science fiction and/or fantasy novels and get paid for it, why not add your information? Tobias will even allow you to enter your data anonymously. Seriously, Tobias is doing some yeoman work here, so help out the guy, already.

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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, http://www.scalzi.com/whatever, 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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Old News

A New York City judge says today New York has to let same-sex couples marry. Big news? Apparently not: It’s only the third story on the New York Times Web site, and it’s not even on CNN.com’s front page, nor the MSNBC.com front page. Washington Post? Nah. LA Times? Zip. NYPost should have something, right? Guess again. The NY Daily News has it as the top story, though. That’s one out of three of the city’s big papers. Newsday.com has it below the “fold” on the Web page (i.e., you have to scroll down).

What does it mean? Dunno. But I suspect it means that it’s no longer big news to anyone that same sex couples want to be afforded the same rights as everyone else. And perhaps that means that it’s not too far off that they will.

In the meantime, the judge’s ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the state’s high court; let’s see where it goes from there. I imagine New York City’s wedding planners are already salivating.

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Little Bits

Just a bunch of little things going on:

* I got my author’s copy of the Science Fiction Book Club version of Old Man’s War this afternoon, and I found the differences interesting. The cover is glossy where the Tor version is not; the book itself is black where the Tor version is blue; the texture of the paper is noticeably different. The words, of course, are the same. Which to my mind is the important thing, and why I would make a piss-poor book collector; I couldn’t possibly care less whether I have a first edition of something so long as all the words are there. Having said that, I am looking forward to the special editions of Agent to the Stars, but those really are going to be rare editions.

In any event, should you ever see me at an event and want me to sign your book, don’t worry if it’s a club edition and not a bookstore edition. I’ll happily sign either.

* Had a nice chat with the Tor folks today, in which I was told that the size of the second printing is getting bumped up. Go, OMW! We also chatted about the paperback and about The Ghost Brigades, and we all agreed that what The Ghost Brigades really needs is some Ewoks. No, no, not really. I’m just seeing if you’re paying attention. Really, no Ewoks — indeed, nothing Ewok-like. Unless, of course, I put them in just to have them brutally slaughtered and dressed out like rabbits to be stewed.

* Recently someone asked me in e-mail whether, given the success of OMW, I was tempted to lord it over all who opposed me over the years (the actual wording of the e-mail was different, but that was the basic sentiment). The answer is: Not really. First, let’s note that success here means a good-sized handful of positive reviews and also a fair amount of publicity in the blogosphere (the latter as influential as the former — if not more so — in moving copies of the book), resulting in the sale of (to date) a few thousand copies of the book. This is all excellent news, of course: I’m gratified that reviews have been good, chuffed (to use an Aussie term) that the bloggers have had my back for this book, and very pleased that the hardback seems to be selling above expectation. So yes, I’m feeling OMW is successful.

However, I am not feeling that it is so successful that I can be a vengeance-taking dickhead and not experience a massive karmic whiplash. Maybe if I had gotten a million-dollar advance, sold a few hundred thousand copies of my book, gotten a big fat movie deal and had Katie Couric lobbing me softball questions on the Today Show, I could move from happily pleased to raging asshole without consequences. But I didn’t, I haven’t, I haven’t and I don’t, so I can’t, because then there would be. Perspective is an important thing.

Second: Even if I wanted to wreak vengeance upon my enemies, who would they be? I regret to say that I haven’t really made any enemies of consequence, and certainly not any in the writing arena. When I was in college, I took a creative writing class and the professor said in the first class that he wouldn’t read any science fiction, so it might be fun to send him a book, considering no one else in that class (to my knowledge) has published so much as a joke in Reader’s Digest. But I doubt if he remembers me, or would actually care, and that would take a lot of the fun out of it.

Outside of that professor, I can’t really say anyone else rises to the level of a nemesis, either. There are people I know who dislike me and/or dislike my writing, to be sure, but none of them are of any real consequence in my personal life or my career, so I can’t actually rouse myself to care what they think. And notwithstanding the occasional and generally pointless piss-fight I’ll get into here on the site (which are usually ultimately of very little consequence in the real world), I don’t think I go out of my way to make enemies, particularly of other writers; to do so would be to violate Rule #8 here. It takes a lot of effort to make enemies, basically, and I don’t really have time for that.

So, no: No being a jerk for me — or at the very least, no being a jerk because of Old Man’s War. I guess that leaves me plenty of opportunities to be a jerk for other reasons, although I hope I’ll avoid those for the most part as well.

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Booklist Review

Well, this is nice: A review of Old Man’s War in Booklist, which is the magazine of the American Library Association. I found the review in, of all places, the French version of Amazon (I just wanted to see if the French have access to my books, okay? Is that so wrong?). However, it’s also up on the US version as well, albeit hidden on the “Editorial Reviews” page, so I hadn’t seen it — because, despite the clearly pathetic trawling through the various Amazon sites worldwide, I’m not actually obsessed about finding every single mention of the book. Honest. Anyway the review is pretty positive; here’s the gist of it:

Scalzi’s blending of wry humor and futuristic warfare recalls Joe Haldeman’s classic, The Forever War (1974), and strikes the right fan–pleasing chords to probably garner major sf award nominations.

Hopefully, that’ll convince today’s tragically cash-strapped libraries to pick up a copy or two (I’ve already gifted my local library with a copy, of course).

As for the “major sf award nominations” thing — eh. I definitely appreciate the thought in regard to how it speaks to the book’s quality and readability, but I think worrying about awards of any sort is a fine, fine way to go insane. I’m still well into the “just glad to be here” career stage. Also, it’s barely February, so the vast majority of the SF/F Class of 2005 has yet to arrive. Let’s see what the rest of the year has to offer before we start stampeding toward the Hugos and Nebulas like Filene’s Basement shoppers zeroing in on the sale bin.

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Athena’s First Story

Being a writer myself, you can imagine how thrilled I was when last night, Athena wrote — and illustrated! — her very first story. Because there would be no point in having this site if I didn’t share this sort of thing with you, here is that story, with subtitles (Athena has the creative spelling of a six year old) and textual commentary by yours truly.

“The Friends Went to Camp, by Athena Scalzi.”

Commentary: Even at an early age, Athena is aware of the need for presentation — thus, a title page. You can’t teach that. You have to feel it.

“Two little friends went out [to] camp in the forest.”

Commentary: We are introduced to our protagonists, two young girls. By placing these girls in a camp in a forest, the author is suggesting a return to a simpler time — even for young girls, the complexities of modern life are overwhelming. The forest, of course, is a common symbol for a primeval eden; here, the author is placing her protagonists in a literal “state of nature,” a Rousseauean paradise, as it were. Of course, Rousseau noted that the state of nature was often brutal and amoral, and so while our heroines are enjoying their idyllic respite from civilization at the moment, certainly conflict — and danger — is afoot.

“But one day when they went to camp, they saw a bear!”

Commentary: Nature, red in tooth and claw, shows its darker side to our intrepid heroines in the arrival of the bear. As we can see in the illustration, our protagonists are surprised by its appearance — an additional commentary on how the civilized world alienates our senses from the natural world. After all, it is the bear who belongs in the forest primeval; our heroines, plucky as they may be, are the invaders here.

However, the bear symbolism is positive as well: Many aboriginal cultures symbolically equate the bear with primal power, cunning intelligence, and a nurturing, motherly spirit (who does not know of the protective ferocity of a mother bear?). The author is playing a subtle game here — the bear terrifies the girls, yes, but it also represents aspects of natural femininity they would do well to incorporate into their urbanized, denatured world view: A symbol of the struggle every young woman must face as she turns toward womanhood.

“But the bear was getting tired…”

Commentary: But — the author suddenly asks — what are the limits of nature, and of primal power? In stark, graphic terms, the author lets us know that nature and its lessons can take us only so far. The illustration conveys the story here: after earlier pages filled with the color of the forest, the image is here stripped bare of everything but the essentials: The bear, its strength waning, retreating to the blackness of the cave. Just as the bear is filled with symbolic import, so is the cave: It represents death — a natural crypt, if you will — but it can also symbolize birth and renewal. Bears sleep through the darkness of winter, resting until the times are right to again engage the world.

What the author is saying is that while we need to integrate the lessons of nature, we are also more than what is given to us in our natural state. When nature fails or flags — as it inevitably must — our other talents must engage until such time as our natural states are refreshed again. A telling message for young women: Know who you are and be in touch with your nature, but be ready to use all the resources available to you, in all aspects of your life.

“And they were best friends forever, and their names are Becky and Britney.”

Commentary: In a striking move, the author names the heroines of the story only at the end — only after they have gone through their metaphysical exploration of self. Only after we have faced the challenges of life and nature, only after we have encountered the danger of an unexamined life, and, yes, only after we have found strength in friendship can we say who we really are — in effect, to “name” ourselves: A joyous “I am” to the world of nature and civilization.

It’s no coincidence that the author has chosen two young girls to make the journey together: As the other symbols of the story suggest — the nurturing bear, the cave representing rebirth — this particular story of self-discovery in a womanly one, not about sexuality per se, but surely relating to sexual and personal identity. So many female coming of age stories through history have introduced an idealized masculine element in them, as if to suggest a women must have a man to complete her — an idea that, tellingly enough, has few analogues in male coming of age stories (in which women are often prizes to be won).

This tale refutes the implicit diminution of the female in those earlier stories, suggesting an alternate way toward a sense of self: Encompassing, engaged and rooted in friendship. The reward for this journey is self-identity — a “name” — and through self-identity, a social identity as well: These two went into the forest as friends, but emerge as best friends, and best friends forever.

In all, a new, classic tale of growth, female empowerment, personal enlightenment. Not bad for a six year old, I’d say.

Alternately, it could just be story of two girls at camp meeting a sleepy bear. But I think that’s really selling the author short. And I’m just not going to do that.

Personally, I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Acting Like a Grownup

It says something about the pervasive inclination of our culture toward youth that I am now 35 years old yet still occasionally surprised when I do “adult” things. Case in point: We’re refinancing the mortgage on our Virgina property. This will accomplish a number of things: because the value of the property has gone up, it’ll rid us of the need for private mortgage insurance; it will lower our monthly mortgage payment on the house; and it’ll get my uncle off the mortgage, my uncle having very graciously co-signed on the mortgage back in 1998 because I had just become a freelancer, and the bank wanted the mortgage backed by someone with an actual job (never mind that I was making more than my uncle at the time). And as a practical matter it will allow us to tweak more income out of the house without royally screwing our renters, who are a very nice couple that we like quite a bit. In all, a good outcome for everyone.

But as Krissy and I were talking about it, it occurred to me: A re-fi. On rental property. We’re landlords, for God’s sake. And then you get that moment of cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing that a few short years ago (actually not a few short years ago, more like 15 years ago, but it feels closer), you were driving your drunk friend’s car down a San Diego road on the way to go bowling, playing a game called “Don’t Fuck,” in which one of your drunk friends tried to cover your eyes while you were driving, and your only defense was to yell “don’t fuck!” as loud as you could.

And you weren’t driving drunk, but then, given that drunk people were climbing over themselves in the back seat trying to obscure your vision, it wasn’t all that much better. And you reflect that someone who would willingly play a game that stupid probably shouldn’t have been given a mortgage in the first place. And then you also remember that the drunk friends in the back seat are now a doctor and a software executive, respectively, and you all have kids. Yup, that’s a sobering moment, no pun intended.

No, I’m not getting nostalgic for stupid driving games (Krissy had a driving game that was far more worse than “Don’t Fuck” — so terrifyingly stupid and dangerous, in fact, that I won’t even write about it for fear that my own child may one day stumble upon these archives and attempt to play it herself. Suffice to say, it’s a miracle Krissy’s alive and has all of her skin intact). I’m simply saying that the person who did the stupid driving games and the person refinancing the mortgage on his rental property don’t feel that far removed from each other.

The older I get, the more I suspect that that occasional feeling of “who thought it was a good idea to make me an adult?” never actually goes away. My first real inkling of this idea occurred in college, when a good friend who was a decade older started grousing about her dating problems, which sounded rather disturbingly like my dating problems (no, we never dated each other); I said to her “so, it never really does get any better, does it?” and she allowed that it didn’t, although now the both of us are happily married to our respective partners, so we could have been wrong. The larger point of age not necessarily or uniformly imparting wisdom and/or serenity, however, remains true.

I don’t want to go back to being young. The fact is, I like being an adult, and generally speaking I’m very comfortable with it. I also like being a parent and being one of two default grown-ups for Athena; between me and Krissy, I think she’s got pretty decent role models. Being young was fun, but being an adult is fun, too; more fun, in fact (mostly — refinancing a mortgage isn’t fun, you know, but the results are nice).

Thing is, you eventually realize that there really isn’t a moment when you stop feeling young and start feeling adult. You’re just always you. And that’s oddly comforting, despite the occasional moments of cognitive dissonance.

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