TGE Review at SFReviews.net, Plus a Bonus Childhood Story
Posted on February 26, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 41 Comments
SFReviews.net has published a complimentary review of The God Engines, which includes this blurb-worthy bit:
In its surprising final third, when assumptions are overturned, beliefs are challenged, and our heroes’ sense of what’s right and wrong in the universe is thrown into chaos, The God Engines shifts into high and redlines right across the finish. The climax is as visceral as anything Scalzi’s ever done.
Heh, heh, heh. “Visceral.” It is indeed an advisedly-used word in the context of the book’s climax.
That said, my favorite part of the review is this bit, in which the fact that TGE is wholly unlike anything else I’ve had published is considered:
[A] very different Scalzi has written The God Engines. So different, in fact, that I suspect what really happened was that John’s evil twin Spike chewed through his ropes, emerged from the crawlspace, disabled John with an impressive series of hapkido moves rated 8/9/9.5 respectively by John’s cats, and then left the poor man bound and gagged in an amusing position in the garage while writing the story and cackling to himself. I’d like to think that, because it’s one of those things where reality is probably less fun.
Yes, well. I could go into great detail about why it was I wrote something completely different than all the other stuff I write, but I think instead I will tell you a possibly enlightening, possibly entirely unrelated story about when I was a boy, and I was playing a schoolyard game called “Danish.”
The actual rules of Danish are not really important to this story. What you need to know is that it was played on a netless volleyball court on the playground of Ben Lomond Elementary, and the goal was to hit with your fist a racquetball that was pitched to you, and then run around a set of bases before someone caught the ball or tagged you or another runner with it. One salient feature is that you could have as many people on a base as you wanted, all waiting for someone to hit the ball far enough for them to run home.
In the game of Danish, there were generally two kind of hitters: The kids who sort of blooped the ball lightly into the “infield,” and the kids who swung as the ball as hard as they could, banging it out into the field behind the volleyball court. When the infield hitters were up, the other team would call their players in; when the outfield hitters were up, kids would fan out into the field to catch the ball. You can generally guess which kinds of kids were infield hitters and which ones were outfield hitters.
I was, possibly not surprisingly, pegged as an infield hitter. Which by and large didn’t bother me because I mostly didn’t care about the game of Danish; it was just another game we played for our PE slice of the day. But one day, I don’t know, maybe I was in a bad mood about something, or maybe something else had tweaked me a bit, and we were playing Danish and when I came up to the “home base” (the corner of the volleyball court), all the kids in the outfield trotted in to take up places in the infield.
And I very clearly remember thinking the following words: You think you know me. And then the racquetball got pitched to me, and I whacked it far into the outfield, and by the time the other team retrieved it, everyone on base and I had run home. And after that day, whenever I was up to bat in Danish, no one in the outfield ever moved in, because no one felt certain they knew where I was going to send that racquetball. And you know what? I liked that a whole lot.
And that’s my possibly enlightening, possibly unrelated tale.
There can be fewer honors more cherished than being an unpredictable Danish player — literally or metaphorically. I have a new goal, I think.
“Fewer” should, of course, be “few.” Sigh.
Translation: I am an unpredictable bad ass.
This is rather different than the game of “Danish” you play every morning. Although, in your current version, it’s fairly easy to guess you’re a “crumb off the floor eater” as opposed to the more civilized variety.
And not to spoil the memory for you, but the kids stayed in the outfield for their own reasons. Stinky.
Translation: I want people to think iam an unpredictable bad ass.
Somebody commented on my blog when I reviewed it that you were trying to act like Ellison. I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not, but I read it as a book by Scalzi.
Just not Heinlein or Hiassen turned on their respective ears.
OK, now let’s see you really challenge yourself: Sex and the City meets Forbidden Planet. Go.
Completely off-topic: I just downloaded Zoe’s Tale to my nook and was VERY happy to see you have the share function enabled – so I can share with my mom, who also has a nook. Seems a lot of books don’t have the LendMe enabled, and I’m not sure if it’s driven by the publisher option or what, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated it.
Also: can’t wait to read it!
Oh, see, unpredictable. I love that. That’s the best feeling, isn’t it? Confusing the heck out of EVERYONE because you CAN.
A free review? Who’d a thought. ;-)
Were I a copy editor, I might suggest replacing Complimentary with Complementary.
It’s spelled correctly.
Accurate review, I just finished reading the book two days ago (from the library, sorry) and thought it was great. Loads of fun to read (even if it only took about 2 hours).
skipjim @ 12 — I’m sure lots of us read library books. For one thing, by taking a book out of the library, I am doing my bit to make sure that libraries continue to purchase the author’s books. (Why would they buy books no one wants to read?) Thus ensuring that many more people read my favorite authors’ books — some of whom will decide they need to own said books.
And, as was noted in the Big Idea thread below, who can possibly buy all the books they want to read?? Not me!
Were you “ICK”ing at the Sex and the City reference, or at the Ellison comparison? Doesn’t matter. I appreciate your efforts to keep people guessing. A little WTF? now and then is a good thing.
By the way – eating crumbs off the floor is a cheap and easy way to boost your immune system. Use it or lose it!
SkipJim: My appetite for King, Simmons, and yes even Scalzi was whetted at the local public library. I’ve been a faithful buyer (in hardback, when the economy allows) ever since. No apologies necessary, methinks.
I always wondered why the game was named for pastry. But never mind that now.
I have to say Danish sounds rather like what little I understand of cricket, just without a bat. It must have been either VERY local to Covina or somebody brought it in from another part of the country. Certainly, we never had anything like it in Monrovia just a few years earlier.
Make it a kick ball, and let people run through home back to first as often as they want (until three outs for the team) and you have mat-ball. One of my two favorite games to play in p.e.
Of course, having a gym, to play these games in would be nice…
We played something similar in PE, but indoors and with a plastic bat and whiffle ball. I don’t recall what we called it.
Then again, I think we did the same thing when playing intermural softball in college — the outfielders would cover maybe 10 feet outside the baselines with softer hitters and would really get out there if we knew the batter could hit it out there. Mostly because without general running and throwing ability, if someone wasn’t right on top of the ball when it landed, that was a home run, and it was easier to run in than run out.
Yeah, acting unpredictable is a very predictable reaction to being thought predictable.
(Also, now I’m put in mind of Mike Carey’s Lucifer, for obvious if somewhat spoilery reasons.)
“Yeah, acting unpredictable is a very predictable reaction to being thought predictable.”
That’s not what the kids on the other team thought, though.
Great story, John. :)
Ya, I did the same exact thing when I was in elementary school, except with kickball. But it was really amusing since they still kept moving in to the infield, and I’d get to the outfield 50% of the time after that.
Me too, exactly the same thing, only that it was a game called Victoria, like soccer with one single goalie, and I tripped and fell with my face on a brick instead of scoring. Then they carried me to the hospital, where I earned stitches, and yes, that was the most unpredictable thing ever seen in a game of Victoria.
But did you ever hit it outfield again? Because if not then that’s the story of The Opposing Team That Didn’t Play The Percentages rather than The Scalzi Who Was Unpredictable. (Although not as unpredictable as The Scalzi Who Caught The Ball, Ran With It And Invented Danish Rugby.)
“But did you ever hit it outfield again?”
As far as you know, yes! Yes I did.
Good story. But your fist? Not the palm?
Indeed not. Mind you, you wouldn’t punch the ball (although I suppose you could have).
That sounds like the time when I whacked a boy in the stomach for jumping places in line (he was behind me at the time trying to jump). I was always the meek little girl who never caused any problems, except that you had to follow the rules around me. He didn’t follow the rules. Let’s just say the boys decided it wasn’t worth breaking the classroom rules when I was there to notice after that.
I’m amazed at the games kids invent with just a ball and a few kids to run.
Best review ever. Are you sure Spike didn’t write that review?
There is no evil twin Spike. Everyone knows my evil twin is John Scalvi.
John Scalvi is your evil clone, John. Spike said so.
Thanks for the great story.
Good story of intuited Game Theory as a child, and how the schoolyard searched for the Nash Equilibrium.
Good to remember and use childhood memories in fiction. I used memory of elementary school game “Green Leaf” in “Stop-It-Now” [Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, ed. Algis Budrys, Jun 1995]
First Final Ballot: Nebula Award for Best Short Story of the Year, receiving more written recommendations than any other story.
To this day I wonder of I could have done better in final voting if the office mate hadn’t taken the PC away just as I was starting to email every SFWA Active Member that I knew who had an email address, asking them to pretty please remember me in the next round of voting. As with any award, there is log-rolling and backscratching that the public never sees.
Sad news from Covina. Statistically, this must happen now and then. But, in fiction, you’d be accused of Dickensian coincidence:
For second time, 25-year-old Covina woman loses boyfriend in crash
From an earlier hate email,
Heh, heh, love it.
Back in fifth grade, my PE class had a jump-rope competition as part of heart and stroke month.
When it came time for the actual jump-a-thon, everyone was snickering: the boys at the fact that I would get up and do this supremely girly thing in front of a crowd, the girls at the idea of The Fat Boy competing with them at Their Thing.
Even the gym teacher was giving me “Are you sure?” looks. I guess she thought that I looked like I was about to burst into tears. Whatever strained face I might have been making was from holding back a really persistent smirk.
Little did they know that my uncle used to box, and had taught me how to jump rope like a boxer years earlier. He let me use his old, heavy, leather jump-rope too. You learn pretty quick to get your ankles out of the way of that thing when it’s going around at high speed.
So I let the snotty girls get a head start. They got busy tittering and doing their slow one-foot-at-a-time trotting jumps. Then I started matching them for a couple minutes. Seeing that I wasn’t going to fuck up, they got bored and set to gossiping. Ditto the rest of the class, the way kids will when they have an essentially free period.
Their heads snapped around fast, though, when my rope started whistling as I got it up to 120+ rpm. The girls had a hard time going that fast, and a few tripped up. I busted out the back-and-forth crisscrosses, the doubles and the triples. Jaws were on the floor, including the teacher’s.
When it was over, the snottiest of the snotty girls was the one crying about having been bested by The Fat Boy and at recess the guys were asking me to teach them how to go so fast.
“And I very clearly remember thinking the following words: You think you know me.”
I think a most everyone feels that way sometime, but it’s not always clear what to do about it.
Wow, great childhood anecdote told by a third Robert Fulgham -esque Scalzi personality.
I did that in kickball version of Danish when I was in grade school. Man was that fun.
In my case, being non-athletic, it was getting comfortable with the format, then cutting loose. Of course sending that ball over the heads of the transplanted outfielders was it’s own reward.
I also have friends who refuse to play cards with me for the same reason. The way to win is not always compatible with the way to have fun.
Good story, but I’m intrigued by the name of your school. Is it named after the Scottish mountain Or was there a person of that name?
I ask because I grew up near the mountain in question.