For those of you who still haven’t heard what I sound like, I’m interviewed this week by Michael and Evo of DragonPage, on their weekly podcast. We’re discussing The Ghost Brigades, short stories and Internet stuff, and the other usual nonsense I blather on about. I show up around 7 minutes and 30 seconds in.
Oh, look. The Publishers Weekly review of The Ghost Brigades is in and it’s not bad at all. The opening line: “This fast-paced interstellar military drama doesn’t quite meet the high expectations set by its predecessor, Scalzi’s acclaimed Old Man’s War (2005), but it comes impressively close.” That works just dandy for me. You can see the entire PW review on TGB’s Amazon page.
One portion of the review that interested me was this: “Scalzi pays gleeful homage to Ender’s Game, The Forever War and Starship Troopers, sometimes at the expense of originality. All he needs to make the jump from good to great is to trust in his own ideas.” This is a fair cop — the book, as with Old Man’s War, is not only directly in line with the tradition that tracks through those books by Heinlein, Haldeman and Card, there’s actually a point in the book where the characters in the story read those books and note how they relate to their own lives to greater or lesser degrees. And of course, in addition to concretely serving the story it’s also me as an author making a nod to my honored predecessors.
As a writer, you can’t do that, or openly revisit the themes explored by those books and authors, without opening yourself to comment and comparison. Or at the very least, you can’t do it and act surprised when people note that you’re playing the changes. The ideas in The Ghost Brigades are to a significant degree an expansion of previous explorations on sf military themes. As I noted on Old Man’s War in my “Lessons From Heinlein” essay: “The flip side of so consciously appropriating such a well-known sf format… is that Old Man’s War cannot be accused of being breathlessly original, either in concept or execution. I think that’s a fair enough assessment. To speak of novel in musical terms, it’s best described as a variation on a theme or an improvisational riff off a classic tune.” As a writer I have no problem trusting my ideas; one of the ideas with these books is that because they’re an extension of a particular tradition of SF novel, so some derivativeness is going to be baked right in. I expect The Last Colony will be open to more of the same observations, as tonally and thematically it’s going to be in line with the other books in the series. I do think there are a number of original ideas in all the books, of course. You get a little from column A and a little from column B.
Having said that, I entirely understand the reviewer’s point of “Yes, we know you can do Heinlein — but can you do you?” One of the ironies here is that the book I wrote immediately after Old Man’s War — The Android’s Dream — is rather different tonally than Old Man’s War or Ghost Brigades; and at the very least it can’t be said to be Heinleinesque because Dear Ol’ Bob never opened a book with a chapter-long fart joke. Indeed I don’t believe any science fiction author of note has done so. Thus will be my claim to fame in the years to come — when any future science fiction writer does something of a gastrointestinal quality, reviewers will say “it’s rather Scalzi-esque, though, isn’t it?” I don’t know that I could ask for anything more. I don’t know if Android’s Dream will be the book to propel me from good-to-great territory — one does not generally achieve greatness via flatulence, Le Petomane notwithstanding — but I guess you never know.
In any event — and aside from fart jokes — I’ll be interested to see what critics think of Android’s Dream when it comes out (not to mention the Two-Book Project I’m Currently Secretive About, which won’t be out until late 2007 in any event). I think both those will establish I have my own voice, for better or for worse. In the meantime, of course, there are worse things than being in the company of Heinlein, Haldeman and Card.
As Samwise Gamgee once said, well, I’m back. Hope you enjoyed Nick and Eliani’s story — I see it’s been noted online in several places, almost all positively. I’m glad people liked it as much as I did.
I spent the weekend up at ConFusion, where I did a reading, quite a few panels, more than my share of dancing, and got my ass handed to me at Dance Dance Revolution by this guy, after me talking trash to him about it for a day or so beforehand. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. People were making excuses for me by suggesting that I just wasn’t used to the particular pads, but no. I just got whupped. Being a man means admitting when you’ve been totally pwned.
As a whole I thought the convention was quite successful, but the moment of pure anecdotal fun came during Friday evening’s guest of honor desert reception, as I was chatting with the convention’s Fan Guest of Honor, Chuck Firment. I asked Chuck if he was staying out of trouble and when he answered that indeed he was, I replied that well, then, he wasn’t doing his job. At which point he asked me to stand at a particular point near a low ledge and then announced to the entire room that everyone had kiss the top of my head at some point during the convention. Whereupon I was rushed by at least a dozen geeks who grabbed me, pulled me off the ledge and began the process of cranio-labial osculation. One man — in a kilt — actually licked my skull. All the rest of the con random people were coming up to me, kissing the top of my head, and then just wandering off. Because when the Fan Guest of Honor commands it, it must be done. It’s a good thing Chuck didn’t command them all to kiss my ass.
Later I related this story to Vernor Vinge, the writer Guest of Honor, who found it amusing but unaccountably passed on the opportunity to kiss my skull. Be that as it may, I told him that I would say that he did, and that the story would grow in the telling over the years so that many years from now it would be like the heterosexual science fiction writers’ version of Brokeback Mountain, featuring only kisses and scalps, and in which Vernor Vinge tells me, over dinner at a Carribean-themed restaurant, that he wished he knew how to quit my skull. Bear in mind that in reality, the only portion of this which is true is that the two of us had dinner at a Carribean-themed restaurant, along with Tobias and Emily Buckell, Karl Schroeder and his lovely family, and Anne KG Murphy. But it feels true, in that James Frey I’m-making-shit-up-because-being-honest-won’t-get-me-on-Oprah sort of way. So, yes. Vernor Vinge kissed my skull. I’ll write about it in my upcoming memoir, A Million Little Kisses.
Back in the real world (the one in which no Hugo winner has ever in fact gotten anywhere near my scalp with his lips, or indeed any other body part), Mr. Vinge was indeed a fascinating fellow and a fine dinner companion, as were the Buckells, the Schroeders and Mrs. Murphy. I also managed to break bread with Steven Brust, who is always a pleasure to spend time with, and with Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press, who handed over my author copies of “Questions for a Soldier,” which looked great (this means that all you folks who ordered copies should have them very soon), and managed also to spend a few moments with David Klecha and his family and friends, who included Merrie Haskell (Dave’s most excellent story “Refuge” will be in the Subterranean magazine issue I’m editing); Dave and friends also showed up at my reading, which was most excellent of them.
I also was happy to spend time with Confusion staff and fans, many of which I regret to say I know only by first name and/or LiveJournal nickname, which as it turns out seems to be a more frequent occurance as life goes on. On the other hand, since so many people online refer to other people online by their nicknames with no confusion (no pun intended as regards the convention), I suppose it’s no crime to say it was lovely to see Rikhei, Rennie, Tammylc and Matt Arnold (whose LJ name is actually his name, so that’s easy) among others.
I’ll stop name-checking at this point because namechecking eventually gets boring, but before I do I did want to give mad props to Sarah Zettel, who moderated a couple of panels I was on and did a wonderful job of keeping panelists and unruly audience members in line. As most people know I’m a fan of highly-competent moderating, and she is indeed highly competent.
Overall, a fine time. This is the second time I’ve been to ConFusion and both times I’ve gone I’ve enjoyed myself beyond all reason. If you’re the con-going sort, consider that a plug.
Incidentally, the picture above: Athena with the toy I got her from Confusion, which is a plush lumberjack that stuffed with a werewolf — which is to say that you can yank out the stuffing and it becomes a werewolf, at which point you stuff the lumberjack into the back of the werewolf and it becomes that creatures stuffing. As one person noted: “It’s a topological cylinder!” That it is, I suppose, although that’s not the reason I got it. Athena took it to school with her today; I’m looking forward to the inevitable parent-teacher conference.