Five Years of OMW and SF

In addition to marking a new year, January 1, 2010 marks the five-year anniversary of the official release of Old Man’s War. This also means that for all intents and purposes, it’s the anniversary of my status as a science fiction writer of any note whatsoever, since before the book’s release I was largely known, to the extent that I was known in science fiction circles at all, as “that loudmouth jackass with that Web site of his.” Then OMW hit, and I became “That loudmouth jackass who wrote Old Man’s War.” You can see the subtle change in status there.

Five years does not seem like a particularly long time, probably because it’s not actually a long time, and I do think people forget that I haven’t, in fact, been about science fiction forever. Some of that is because of the blog presence, and some of that is due to the fact that aside from science fiction, I have been a professional full-time writer for a couple of decades, and therefore opined like a know-it-all about writing even before OMW was released.

But I’m still aware of it, at least, even if others seem to forget (or just don’t know). During the recent RateFail discussion, for example, someone opined that long-time SF/F pros like myself don’t know what it’s like to try to get started in the age of the Internet, and my first thought on that was What, there was no Internet in 2005? Likewise, just the other day on Twitter, someone opined “Contrary to popular opinion, best contemp sci-fi is coming from indie, not famous big names like Scalzi, Gibson, Card, Ellis[on], Dick, Le Guin,” and I sort of giggled to myself about it, because regardless of whether the statement is true or not, one of those names is not like others, if you know what I mean.

Be that as it may, just as being 40 means I really cannot consider myself a “young writer” any more (or at least not without some denial issues regarding my waist- and hair-lines), five years of publishing in science fiction means I’m really no longer the new kid on the block, even if sometimes I still feel like it personally. Passing the five-year marks puts me “mid-career,” although that notation (I hope) means that I’m simply no longer newish, not that my career will collapse into a smoking crater by 2015. We will have to see. I feel optimistic about it.

One thing I don’t know that I communicate well about all of this is how actually grateful I am about it. I am aware, I think more than others, and more than others might suspect, that in many ways I am the recipient of a huge dollop of luck when it’s come to my science fiction career. A lot of that luck was with Old Man’s War, which regardless of its own qualities as a novel (it’s not bad, you know) also appears to have been in the right place at the right time in a whole lot of ways. It’s true that luck favors the prepared, and I cheerfully volunteer I was prepared to be lucky. But the getting of the luck itself is catching lightning in a bottle. You can hold the bottle but the lightning has to want to go in it. I was lucky.

I continue to be lucky. I am lucky to be able to write novels full time. I am lucky to have people want to read my work, and consider themselves fans of the same. I am lucky to have met so many of the writers in the genre who entertained me as a reader and inspired me as a writer, and to meet the writers who were coming up as I was, and in each group to eventually be able to call some of them friends. I am lucky to have science fiction fandom welcome me despite having come so late to it. I am lucky to have publishers and editors who support me and my work. I am lucky to have opportunities spring from my work, taking my life in unexpected directions.

None of this was inevitable, or rooted solely in my own talents. Certainly five years ago I would not have assumed any of this. My reputation for casual confidence (or if you prefer, unentitled arrogance) makes it easy for people to assume that I see this good fortune as a natural consequence. In a word: no. Really, no. I don’t take any of it for granted.

As for the next five years and beyond, well, who knows. I hope things will continue to go well; I plan on writing more books and hopefully you’ll enjoy them. We’ll take it as it comes. To the extent that any of you come along with me for what happens next, I say: Thank you. And welcome.

37 Comments on “Five Years of OMW and SF”

  1. Best of luck in 2010, and may your muse fill your heart and mind with book-worthy prose. Looking forward to more beautiful sunsets, trees, clouds…many of those.


  2. Only five years? Wow. When I first read OMW I thought it was a hell of an effort for a first novel, so I was not surprised to find you’d been a proper working writer for many years. But that still seems inhumanly quick. May your year be filled with a practical mix of paying gigs and frivolous wordplay.

    BTW I loathed Android’s Dream.

  3. “Likewise, just the other day on Twitter, someone opined “Contrary to popular opinion, best contemp sci-fi is coming from indie, not famous big names like Scalzi, Gibson, Card, Ellis[on], Dick, Le Guin,” and I sort of giggled to myself about it, regardless of whether the statement is true or not, one of those names is not like others, if you know what I mean”

    Exactly. Philip Dick kinda, you know, died over 25 years ago… =)

    Though if there’s anyone who could write a novel after death, he’s the one!

  4. Also, best wishes for 2010!

    (That’ll teach me to try compose complete messages before coffee…)

  5. Actually, there are a fair number of uniques you could pull out of that list. Le Guin is the only woman, Dick is the only dead person, Ellison is (apparently) the only one who believes writing is a kind of eternal war against one’s readers … and so on.

  6. and thank *you* for the entertainment, for the world you’ve build in my mind, for the many thoughts that your books have inspired – even the small, silly ones.

    For characters that I can care about and get misty-eyed about when they die, for the laughs, for surprising me with the unexpeted in your stories.

    For writing your stories in an easy, straight forward language without talking down to your reader.

    And for your plans to continue creating those things.

  7. You’ve done some really good work over the last 5 years. Congratulations. And work more. The amount of decent sci-fi/fantasy coming out is pretty poor, and you are one of the bright spots.

  8. I am currently in the middle of my first Scalzi novel and I am enjoying it greatly. I have been reading your blog for just about a year now and I find it refreshing and different than most. The variety of topics is fun and the readers comments get pretty exciting sometimes. I have really enjoyed the pictures you have been posting. Its been fun getting to know you and your work. Have a great new year!

  9. Well done, sir. I continue to marvel at your ability to sum up your career and life, which, I guess, explains my continual interest in your blog. Best wishes in the New Year.

  10. A nice milestone to reach! I’ve been a fan of yours since finding Android’s Dream in paperback at a supermarket just over two years ago–the cover grabbed my attention, and your writing grabbed my interest. Thanks for writing such great books and for making Whatever such a fun place to visit. Happy Anniversary and Happy New Year!

  11. If the original tweeter typed “Ellis”, they may well have meant Warren Ellis, rather than the esteemed* Mr. Harlan.

    Which would make their argument all the less cogent, of course.

    *for some value of “esteemed”.

  12. As with blame when bad things happen, when things go really well there is usually plenty of CREDIT to go around.

    You’ve been lucky.

    And you’ve done your part to “earn” the luck, and to put it to work, too.

  13. Thank you for 2009, the year I discovered the best science fiction novel I ever read, Old Man’s War. You Sir, are the best!

    Happy New 2010 to you and the family, cats and dog included.

  14. I’m delighted that you found your lightening in a bottle.

    Now go write us some more novels to read! :)

    Oh, and Happy New Year!

  15. John,

    Love your work. Write more please – I will buy it.

    Nulla bastardo carborundum. Excelsior!



    PS at least my naughty word was in Latin.

  16. I’m wondering just who these “indie” writers the Twitter Subliteroid is referring to might be.
    Does he mean all the best SF is being written by self-publishers and online fiction bloggers (which I find a wee bit hard to believe)?
    Or does he actually mean “new, up-and-coming writers being published legitimately” (ie by others not themselves, and getting paid for it), and the guy’s definition of “indie” is all effed up?

  17. Having visited the fellow’s web site, Ed, I suspect he was talking about himself. As I didn’t actually read any of his fiction while I was there, I am neutral regarding his assertion.

  18. HUGE congratulations, sir.

    And the 5 years since have been enormously prolific and successful.

  19. I discovered your books (and the blog!) after I did the Hebrew translation of “Old Man’s War” (I hope the publication of “The Ghost Brigades” in Hebrew will follow this year). Like everyone else wrote, here’s to many more great books from you!

  20. Congratulations. It’s nice to hear success stories, and it’s even nicer when you’re so grateful for all that you have.

    Thanks for writing this interesting blog I’ll be sure to follow it. ) And Happy 2010.

  21. A colleague of mine at work was commiserating with me. I tend to be very picky about the SF I read. So much so, that there isn’t much that has been coming around lately that pulls me into it. I heard all sorts of rave reviews about one I have all but thrown away – I find the story and character development make me somewhat sick to my stomach, and it only took about 10 pages to get me there.

    I don’t appreciate the kind of gratuitously swearing that has become the vogue as simply a means to demonstrate kinship with the illiterate. I agree with the late William F. Buckley that a degree from a modern university leaves you with no need for four-letter words. I can, however, appreciate it when it’s in character.

    I must congratulate you, Mr. Scalzi, on producing a set of works that I have found tremendously entertaining as well as surprisingly moral. I’ve read all four books in about five days – the holiday timing helped, but I went through Harry Potter VI in 12 hours. I found the characters fascinating and was quite delighted with some of the twists and turns. I admit to being more pessimistic than it’s better alternative, so never saw them coming.

    Thank you very much. I’ve found another author to put on my shelves besides Heinlien, Asimov, and Weber.

  22. Thank you, Mr Scalzi. I have read and enjoyed all your books, and I look forward to more.

  23. What Michael @ 20 said, doubled! I’ve gone from paperback to hardback and on to special editions on all I could get. The paperbacks never wear out as they get given away routinely. Keep it up, can’t wait for The God Engines.

    PPS. I always thought it was: Illigitimi (sec?)non carborundum. But after checking that site of first refuge, Wikipedia, it seems it is just one of many variants. OTOH, if Harvard can use it so can I!

  24. First time poster here —

    I found Old Man’s War sometime toward the middle of this past year. I was on a goal to read more, and more diverse works in 2009 and by summer time I was running out of things to read that fell into my comfort zone. And so it was by sheer luck (and maybe some prodding by Wil Wheaton’s blog) that I found your words.

    I had a hard time savoring the novel, as I knew that there were at least two more and the story was so enthralling and engaging that I just wanted more, and now. I spent a feverish week consuming the trilogy, and another reading Android’s Dream, Zoe’s Tale and The Sagan Diary. I enjoyed them so much that I look forward to revisiting them in 2010.

    I guess that I just wanted to say thanks for expanding my horizons. I haven’t found much enjoyment in written science fiction since I was younger and had an Asimov obsession. Hope that 2010 is a great and productive year for you.

  25. I’m not really sure how I found your work. I think it might have been an Amazon selection while I was looking for something else, or one of your peers who I was looking for had a comment about Old Man’s War. I’m just glad I was able to find another newish writer to add to my list of searches to see if they’ve got anything new out that I haven’t read. And I guess I pimp you out to my friends as one of the modern “biggies”. Sorry about that.

    Now you’re on my “Hurry up and publish something new” list. Waiting for my copy of “The God Engines” to arrive.

    Thanks for imagining other worlds to live in for awhile.

  26. I SO want to see OMW become a movie. I just saw Avatar over the weekend and I’m so excited about what can be done in films these days. The tech they have now would make OMW totally awesome. You just need that super huge budget and possibly James Cameron.

    And make it 3D. With Smell-o-Vision.

  27. John – You’re just like all of those other “overnight” successes, who busted their asses for a decade or more before hitting the best seller lists. You were already a good writer 20+ years ago, and the effort you put into it since then has paid off.

    “It’s true that luck favors the prepared, and I cheerfully volunteer I was prepared to be lucky.”

    Yeah, you were. Happy anniversary.

  28. Congrats! And I’m especially glad that your success allowed you to experiment on other projects, including getting “Agent To The Stars” in print. I know a number of people wouldn’t have have the pleasure of reading that story otherwise.

    Here’s hoping you have many more years of success.

  29. @GL2418: Having worked on Avatar in one of those technical jobs where you can’t even explain what you did to anyone who wasn’t also working on the movie and have them remotely understand it (seriously, I can’t even think of relatable analogies)…

    I’d say the tech (and more importantly director/actor-friendly procedures) used on Avatar would make OMW possible to make and do it justice. Before that, it would have been possible to make it badly. (And before anyone has one of those “Ah ha!” moments, that movie was well into the pipeline before OMW was published, and I came on at the tail end of it all when it was mostly in the can).

    You can probably forget Cameron making it though. He makes movies that are worlds in his own head, not worlds that other people thought up. Certainly not these days. But I do think he doesn’t want to keep his processes a tight secret of his own, and wants to see others employ them.

    I’d like to see what Ridley Scott could do with OMW though. Or Quentin Tarantino. Or Sam Mendes. But especially Ridley Scott. He could make the story connect cinematically on so many levels. Just remember that a movie tends to be a story that can be told in about 50 pages, not 400.

  30. Frederik Pohl’s career has spanned 72 years, to date, and even given his head start on you, you could easily make 50 years, so you have only finished the first 10%.

    I expect no less.

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