Obligatory E-Mail Post, 8/19/08

Okay, I think I’ve caught up on all the e-mail I’ve been delaying returning while at ArmadilloCon and/or Denvention. If you’ve sent e-mail between 8/6 and now and were expecting a response but didn’t get one, now would be the time to resend (except you, Lou Anders — I’m still thinking). Thanks.

An OMW Universe Chronology

In e-mail I just got a question about the temporal sequence of all the OMW-universe stories and novels. To date, it goes like this, from earliest events in the universe to latest events:

1. Old Man’s War (novel)

2. Questions for a Soldier (short story)

3. The Ghost Brigades (novel)

4. The Sagan Diary (novelette)

5. After the Coup (short story)

6. The Last Colony & Zoe’s Tale (novels)

The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale take place simultaneously, which is why they’re listed on the same line.

(If you’re curious as to the order in which they were written: OMW, TGB, Q4S, TLC, TSD, ZT, AtC.)

I suspect that in the short term, if I write any additional short stories in the OMW universe, I’ll slot them in the same timeframe as “After the Coup,” i.e., before and during the events of the last two novels. I’ll do that partly because that’s a lot of time to explore (most of a decade, in fact), and partly because I have to have a nice long think about where the OMW universe goes after the events of TLC and ZT.

Also, a reminder to the folks who haven’t read “Questions for a Soldier” (which would in fact be most of you, since it was published as a chapbook, of which only 576 copies were printed) that the short story is being reprinted in the Subterranean Magazine #8, which will be the final printed version of the magazine (it’s mostly migrated online). So for you completists, that’s the way to go.

As for future OMW universe novels, I have to finish The High Castle and at least one other standalone novel (new universe, no relation to the OMW or TAD universes) first, and as noted earlier, no further OMW universe books are currently under contract. And anyway, four novels in the same universe in three and a half years is, you know, a lot. So for the next year or two at least, anything new in the OMW universe is likely to come in the form of short stories. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know where you can find them if and when they come out.

And that’s the whole OMW universe for you, so far.

Scalzi & Buckell: On Tour

Not only do Toby Buckell and I have our books coming out on the same day, we’re also doing a bit of a mini-tour together to promote our respective works — starting, as it happens, this very weekend in Ann Arbor. Our appearance details are here. Note that this particular schedule does not note our appearances at the Decatur Book Festival or DragonCon, but both of us will be at these, too, and when I have more details for each, I will fill you folks in here.

The Big Idea: Tobias Buckell

Did you know? Today is the official Ohio is Coming to Kick Your Ass With Science Fiction Day. Why, you ask? Because in addition to some other Ohio-based dude having a book out today, today is the release date of Sly Mongoose, the third in a series of action-packed kick-ass novels by none other than Tobias Buckell. With Mongoose, Publishers Weekly has declared that Buckell has delivered a “story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster,” but the Nebula Award nomination that Buckell racked up for Ragamuffin, the previous book in the series, will hint to you that there’s more going on in these books than just shoot-em-up mayhem. It’s Buckell’s combination of smarts and action that got him tapped to write the next book in the Halo sequence, called Halo: The Cole Protocol.

That’s in the future, however. Here in the present, Buckell’s here to tell you how a talk by another Ohio-based science fiction writer helped get his mind in the right place (and planet) for Sly Mongoose. Take it away, Toby!


So, usually people ask you ‘where do you get your ideas?’ when they find out you write novels. I understand the impulse behind that question, but it’s usually not easy to answer in a sentence realistically. For my first two novels it involved a blended stew of things that I’d been obsessing over for a few years, that I was trying to get to work together. And after a bit, answering the question in regards to a particular book becomes frustrating.

But in this case, the genesis for Sly Mongoose has a very specific incident. I was at a convention in Pennsylvania where NASA scientist and award-winning author Geoffrey Landis was a guest. For those of you who don’t know Geoff, he’s an honest-to-goodness rocket-scientist type (although he doesn’t *actually* work on the rockets, but you know what I mean: he’s damn smart and works for NASA. He builds things that end up bolted to Mars rovers and stuff like that).

Now, Geoff gives amazing presentations about what we know about Mars and what NASA is planning for Mars. If you ever get a chance to sit in on one, you’ll get yourself learned up a bit, so I’m always game if my schedule is willing to slip in and listen to one of his presentations every year or so. That way I can run around repeating the information and getting to keep my ‘science fiction author’ ID card for another year.

So I’m there at this presentation right about as I’m finishing up my second novel, and at the end of getting the Red Planet downloaded into my cortex, Geoff comes over to my chair and says “Toby, you should stick around, I’m doing a presentation on Venus, and I think you’ll get a kick out of it.”

I’m so glad I listened.

The next presentation starts off with Geoff giving us the rundown on Venus and what planned missions to Venus are going to look like, or may look like if they’re approved. Then he suddenly reminds us all about Venus’s basic properties. It’s hot. Crazy hot. The pressure is off the chain. It rains frickin’ sulfuric acid! There’s no air.

Then Geoff says, all that aside, Venus is probably the second most habitable planet in the solar system.

Say what? I’m intrigued, as Geoff goes on to explain that if you go high enough up into Venus’s atmosphere, the pressure is standard, the heat normal, you’re above the sulfuric acid-raining clouds, and then tells us that there, normal breathable Earth air is a lifting gas. So if you were to, say, enclose a mile-wide structure in a bubble, and fill that with normal breathable air, it would float.

In other words, you get a scientific justification for Cloud City. As long as it’s a giant floating marble.

Within a minute of Geoff saying this, I had written out an outline for a Venusian world called Chilo, where cities float, blimps get you everywhere, and I could freely mix the tropes of airship battles, deep sea mining adventure, submarine battles, zombies, and space opera in one big explosive adventure.

After the presentation I approached Geoff and asked what his plans were for floating Venusian cities, as I was totally geeked out. He’d just blown my brain. Geoff responded by saying he had no plans for it, he even had a CD’s worth of data and sketches and calculations he could give me. I was off to the races.

And that is why, at the beginning of Sly Mongoose, the book says ‘For Geoff: thanks for Chilo.”

Seriously, Geoff: thanks.

Sly Mongoose: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit Tobias Buckell’s personal site here. Read an excerpt from the first chapter (and see a video trailer) here.

Zoe’s Tale, Now Out

Hey, did you know that I have a new book out today? It’s called Zoe’s Tale. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before. You know me. All subtle like that. Nevertheless, it’s officially out in the world today, so if you happen to be near a bookstore, either in the real world or online, you should be able to find it and buy it and read it and hopefully enjoy it.

Lord knows, previous paragraph notwithstanding, that I’ve blathered enough here about the book here, so I won’t repeat myself here too much, except to say once more that I’m really proud of Zoë as a character; I think she’s one of the best I’ve ever written. I also think that that in many ways Zoe’s Tale is the best book in the entire Old Man’s War sequence, which is saying something, considering it’s the fourth book in the universe, and two of them have got Hugo nods. But there it is: The amount of work I had to do to get Zoë right is also reflected in the rest of the book as well. It’s good.

I’m also happy to say that the goal of making this a standalone novel seems to have been achieved: I’ve heard back from folks who have read the book cold, without having read the other books in the sequence, and it’s worked for them. This is good news because, as most of you know, Zoe’s Tale was written with an eye toward opening up this universe to younger readers who might have missed the other books; it’s the book I can point to when someone asks if they can give a book of mine to their daughter or nephew or whomever.

Adults aren’t going to feel excluded (everyone who I’ve heard from about the book is an adult; they all liked it just fine), it’s that I wanted to put another door into the world for a new group of folks. Hopefully they’ll walk through and explore. I have some hope that some of the folks who have been along for the ride so far will do some proselytizing, and that’s as far down the avenue of openly begging all y’all to drop the book into the hands of the teens you know as I’m going to go.

Standalone or no, it’s kind of weird to reflect on the fact that this is the fourth book in the OMW universe; we’ve covered a lot of ground (and space) in pretty short amount of time. I’ve been humbled by the number of people who have read the books so far and have asked for more. I don’t know where else I’ll be going in the OMW universe or when (as it happens, at the moment there are no additional OMW books under contract) but so far the journey has been one I have been honored to take with each of you. Thank you for taking it with me, and with John, and Jane, and now with Zoë as well.