TGB Review at SFSignal
Posted on February 8, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 13 Comments
The Ghost Brigades proves that his awesome 2005 debut, Old Man’s War, was no fluke… It’s hard to not like a story when it’s obvious in the writing that the author is having so much fun with it.
It’s true that I had fun writing this one; I like making things up and sitting there and wondering what the hell I’m going to have my characters next. I would note, though, that any one particular day during the writing, I might not appear to be having a whole lot of fun, usually conciding with days when I really am wondering what the hell I’m going to have my characters do next. I honestly do make these books up as I go along (I’m not much for outlining), so sometimes I’m just as surprised as anyone about what happens next.
In The Ghost Brigades, for example, there is a character who I had intended to be in only one scene, but as I was writing the scene I saw that I could use him later in the book to resolve a later issue. And in writing that scene I realized he would be useful in other places, too. The character went from a truly minor player to one who I would say is the moral heart of the book, and is (in my opinion) one of the better characters I’ve written. So this writing style has its benefits, as long as you can handle the moments of blind panic that occur when it’s clear you have no clue what you’re doing.
As an aside, the review asks if I had a particular Firefly/Serenity character in mind while I was writing one of the minor characters in the book. The answer is no; when I first started writing the character I hadn’t seen either. I think both characters are offshoots of a certain archetypal character. i.e., the obnoxious man of action who is useful to have around in a pinch. Hey, archetypes work.
I write in a similar fashion. I usually have a vague idea of what’s coming up, but no concrete layout. Maybe it’s just me but I have had character surprise the hell out of me at times.
My copies of OMW and TGB are their way to me now. I will send you the link once I review them.
Question of a spoilerish nature for those that haven’t read OMW. Did you have a hard time killing off characters in OMW? By hard, I mean did it upset you to do it? I ask because I would think that it’d be fun to figure out what to do with folks until you realize that someone has to go. Then it would kind of suck.
I don’t think it’s spoilerish to note I kill off characters. I kill off lots of them! Bwa ha ha ha ha hah!
It doesn’t bother me to kill off characters, mostly because I know which ones have got to die when I go in. Yes, I create Calvinist universes (although the characters themselves don’t know that). So no, it doesn’t bother me. If I’ve done my job right, however, it will hopefully bother you. “Dude, how could you kill off that character! I loved that guy!” Yes, indeed. I want you to miss the characters after they’re gone.
The author who I think is especially good at this is Dan Simmons; especially in his horror work he has a knack for killing off characters you think have got to make it through the entire book, and when he does them in, you think — well, crap, what’s going to happen now? Which is what an author should be doing.
I heart Dan Simmons. The other person who does that well is George R. R. Martin. His 3rd book was a blood bath. By the end I didn’t think that anyone was going to be left. Not so much with this last one, but I consider that to be but a bump on the way to the good stuff. ;)
I never considered that you would create a character knowing that they’re going to bite it in the end. I can see realizing over the course of the story that they need to go for thematic reasons, but creating them just to kill them? That’s some fracked up shite. Gotta be cruel to be kind I guess. But only in the right measure.
Yes, it’s a very good sign.
Worse than death, though, is the death that doesn’t really take. One of the things I hate most is an author who can’t just let a character die.
Then I guess you don’t read comics much Gabe. ;)
Interesting re: the Firefly comment. I didn’t think that about the character when I read it, although I can’t help but see the colonies as wild-west-style settlements now.
Well, the next book should have Indians in it, although not the type that were usually in Westerns.
Brandon, I used to be a huge comic geek. That said the immortality of characters was one of the main reasons I put the genre down. Eventually I hope to convert my first novel into a graphic novel.
Gabe, let me know when you do. I love a good graphic novel.
I’m reminded that I’m always impressed by TV shows that kill off the regular cast without much warning. One of the things I remember about the V series from the 80s. And reminds me of Battlestar Galactica today.
Question for discussion: I find that my creative work is *better* when I’m having fun writing it. Is this normal? Or is it a mark of professionalism that a reader shouldn’t be able to tell how much the author is enjoying himself?
If you’re not enjoying yourself in the writing, why would anyone enjoy themselves in the reading?
Which is not to say writing isn’t work, just that I don’t feel like you should feel like you’re torturing yourself to get out the words.