A Couple Notes About Me

Go me!

* Lots of people e-mailed me yesterday to let me know Fuzzy Nation was featured on Unshelved, the comic strip about adventures in a library. Not only that, but Unshelved also featured a half-hour long audio interview of me! And yes, I knew about all of that. I was there for the interview, actually — it wasn’t just someone sounding like me. You should check out both the strip and the interview.

* Megan Rosalarian has an interesting take on The God Engines, the substance of which is a bit spoilery for those of you who have not read it, so take that under advisement before you link through (those of you who have read TGE will obviously not have a problem). I take her point, and I’d note that if there ever came a time where I expanded TGE to novel length, I could see a few places where there would be an opportunity to do what she’s asking after, in a way that serves the story. In the novella itself, there wasn’t really space to do it and keep the story at the length and with the pacing I wanted for it, outside a particular character whose qualities in this regard I left intentionally ambiguous.

(I suppose I’ll note now that if anyone comments on Ms. Rosalarian’s post in the comments, the comments themselves will also be spoilery. You are warned!)


26 Comments on “A Couple Notes About Me”

  1. Honestly, the pronoun thing really bothered me while I was reading. The ambiguity was well constructed, but my brain demanded simple binary categorization before it could generate a coherent mental image.

    I wonder if this is a more general brain problem, or a me problem. :)

  2. I was a few pages into Shalle’s first scene when I noticed the lack of pronouns and went back to check. And I enjoyed the story more for Shalle not being a woman. But why did it need to be made ambiguous at all?

  3. I was a few pages into Shalle’s first scene when I noticed the lack of pronouns and went back to check. And I enjoyed the story more for Shalle not being a woman. But why did it need to be made ambiguous at all?

    Do we know that the rooks aren’t women?

  4. I like spoilery, spoilers. I’m the one who scans the last few chapters before purchasing a new book in any bookstore. I’m the one who runs over to Spoiler.com to read the detailed plot summary before going to the theatre to see the film. Not enough time to read or watch what I want over the rest of my years on this orb hung in space. No way I am going to read or watch something that I will just hate, hate, hate the ending. So bring on the spoilery.

  5. Speaking of ambiguous pronouns, what do you do when your books are translated into other languages? I imagine that at some point (or for some languages) the translator would have to make a choice one way or the other. I also imagine that you would be consulted on this choice. If so, which way did you go?

  6. ChaCha:

    I don’t believe it’s presented a problem to date.


    “Do we know that the rooks aren’t women?”

    The text doesn’t specify. And to answer happyturtle’s question: Because I wanted it that way.

  7. I am confused by megan’s post. do they like your writing or not?
    why do people look for bigotry or misogyny? do they not understand that they are reading FICTION? that the writing does not reflect the author? and that some fiction might require misogyny and bigotry for the story to work? (not part of the story in TGE)

    the god engines in one of my favorite stories. (the ending was a little meh, but, cant please everyone all of the time) I dont even remember the gender of any of the characters. I remember the story. I remember enjoying most if not all of it. being thrilled by the story. the cover was one of the best examples of cover art I have ever seen for any book.

    I guess one solution for people like megan would be to never read a story written by a male or a non-radical feminist?

    are people like this upset about “judge sn goes golfing” because it is about golfing and does not contain any strong women? (or any women?) (hell, did it even contain humans??)

    are people like this ok when other stereotypes about men are included in the story or do they stop reading them too? is religion bashing ok but not female bashing?

    what about a novel like “wizard’s first rule”, where women are brutally tortured and abused at one point, as part of a significant plot point? was that ok because the women werent just whores?

    people are strange, I tell you.

    how soon is now? 2012? we really have to wait until 2012 for the next scalzi novel?

  8. I was a few pages into Shalle’s first scene when I noticed the lack of pronouns and went back to check. And I enjoyed the story more for Shalle not being a woman. But why did it need to be made ambiguous at all?

    Do we know that the rooks aren’t women?

    I didnt even notice. It didnt matter. The character fit perfectly and filled the space in story quite naturally. did I need to know or care what the gender was? nope.

    maybe it is time to reread god engines
    it seemed natural to have a male-dominated religiously repressed culture as part of the story. It reflected the reality of religion in the world we live. (yes, I know that there is a minority of religions where women play a REAL role, but the majority of the world religions repress women)

  9. To be fair, I did assume that Shalle was female. As a hetero male, that was my default assumption and is, I think, part of Megan’s point – that most people will assume the culturally typical default. Her larger point is that male authors tend to write characters who are male and female characters tend to be subsidiary and not important even if the story doesn’t require that. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization in general, but that could be colored by who and what I read too.

    Let’s face it, it’s far easier for an author to write a main character who’s the same gender in a convincing manner, too. Writing the Other in a realistic manner isn’t easy, so I can see why it happens less than perhaps it should.

  10. Rickg: You’re probably right that writing “the Other” is harder than writing your own gender, after Lois McMaster Bujold’s amazing male protagonist in the Vorkosigan series, the bar is set pretty high for other writers. ^_^

  11. Rickg: right. After all, you probably would not expect a fortyish male author to write an entire book from the viewpoint of a female teenager, right?

  12. I would think many male authors would struggle with writing a female character well – not all of course. But if you write from what you know, believe and/or understand, I’d think a lot of guy’d have problems writing a female character. Just sayin’. For me, I could care less about the gender of the main characters, I just want well-written characters that remain true to their personality as developed by the author.

  13. I was lucky enough to catch your interview on Unshelved yesterday. Dunno whether it was this interview which prompted you to say (or tweet) that you sounded as if you were on spee^H^H^H^Hstimulants, but you and Bill Barnes seem about equally animated – and obviously are both having a blast at ALA.

    IMHO it’s one of your better interviews, in part because Bill didn’t stick to the standard four-to-six questions – which, let’s face it, you’ve already answered.

  14. @10 and 11…. You two are confusing difficult and impossible. I didn’t say it wasn’t possible, merely that it was harder than writing from one’s own perspective. Next time either of you try snark, you might first read what was said, not what you imagined.

    For remedial instruction you might want to read some of the search results here.

  15. ChaCha @5 The problem goes the other way, too. Hungarian, Turkish, Finnish, Georgian and Estonian (to name just five) don’t separate pronouns by gender. In Hungarian, it’s ő for both in third-person singular; similarly in Georgian, it’s ის.

  16. I feel compelled to make one comment in response to Ms. Rosalarian’s post. She comments that ‘..if Shalle is female, then the only females are prostitutes and redshirts. So I’m not sure where his assurance that “the women in the story are definitely none of those” comes into play.’ The problem with this, is that her comment to Scalzi didn’t say the women were prostitutes and redshirts–as listed here, it says “prostitutes, girlfriends, or moms to main characters.”

    The only definitely female characters I remember were the worshippers trying to free the imprisoned god–while those are arguably redshirts, they’re not “prostitutes, girlfriends, or moms to main characters,” so Scalzi’s response is definitely correct, unless there was something critical that’s been replaced by an ellipsis.

    This is all completely skew to her main point, of course, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

  17. I can see where she’s coming from, but taken in the context of the rest of John’s work – Zoe, Jane Sagan, the girlfriend in Agent to the Stars, a woman who learns she’s part sheep – I have a hard time agreeing with it.

  18. eviljwinter @ 17: Other than Zoe, all of the women you mentioned are girlfriend characters . . . which I think is part of Rosalarian’s point.

  19. david @ 18. While what you’re saying is true, I don’t think you could really fit Jane into that category simply because she has an entire book without John where she is one of the major characters. If you read The Ghost Brigades before OMW, John is just “the boyfriend” of Jane.

    eviljwinter @ 17: I don’t think we even need Jane to prove the point. The OMW universe is full of women characters long before Jane even shows up. Hell, it’s a future where women and men fight equally and share the same roles in the military.

  20. Now I’m really curious as to how many people heteronormatively assumed that the rooks were female, and how many noticed the pronoun neutrality.

    I totally thought they were women, and if it weren’t for The Author Himself assuring me it was kept ambiguous, I wouldn’t believe claims otherwise. (I only listened to The God Engines audiobook, so I can’t quick flip it open and check for myself.) Actually, I wonder if the audiobook made it harder to spot?

    Regardless, the gender status of the rooks does not address the key point of the commentary. Either the rooks are women, and the only women in the story are prostitutes (prostitutes with Secret Hidden Agendas, but prostitutes none the less) or the rooks are not women, and there are no women in the story. Neither of these possibilities includes women who are not mothers/girlfriends/prostitutes.

    Now, not every story needs that, but most based on anything remotely like the real world would benefit from it (since the world is in fact full of women outside those roles). From what I’ve read, Mr. Scalzi does very well by this test. But, like the Bechdel Test, the point isn’t whether a particular piece passes on a technicality. The point is that if so many pieces fail that you have to start checking, something is wrong with the culture that produces the entertainment.

  21. Either the rooks are women, and the only women in the story are prostitutes (prostitutes with Secret Hidden Agendas, but prostitutes none the less) or the rooks are not women, and there are no women in the story.

    You might want to check that latter assertion.

  22. David@21: Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, I can’t check that assertion without re-listening to the whole thing.

    I realize that I didn’t qualify it as I should have, and say that there are no non-redshirt women in the story, but I figured the context of my comment was clear. If I remember correctly, one or more of the attackers on the precession were women? But they appeared in one scene for the purpose of dying in it, near the very definition of redshirts.

    Or perhaps you are thinking of something else; as I said, it’s not a simple matter for me to check, so feel free to actually say what you are thinking.

  23. I’m glad to see _Unshelved_ getting some additional exposure. I think I liked it a bit more back when it was a xerocopied Zine produced by a couple of teen-agers working as Pages in a Public Library, because I’d been there (50 years previously) and every bit of it Hit Home, but it’s still well-worth checking out weekly now that it’s on The Web, if you’re a Book & Library Person. Or even if you’re not, because it aids in understanding what human beings are really like (& how to deal with some of our less-admirable aspects).

  24. As a hetero male I didn’t notice the pronoun game played with Shalle but I did remember thinking that prostitute was the only roll that this society allowed women in the armed services and their only expression of power in the service. Also, as a Scalzi fan, I wasn’t worried about his views on women–I just thought it was an interestingly constructed universe and idea.

  25. I realize that I didn’t qualify it as I should have, and say that there are no non-redshirt women in the story,

    With that qualification, then, your assertion is correct.

  26. PeteC, it’s obvious that you’re “confused” by Megan’s post! As a male, I really don’t think you can get how it feels to get absorbed in a book, only to find that people “like you” have no place in it. Or at least, no interesting place. And not just one book, but every book. It’s a pretty sure bet that you’ve never had that experience, so reading a post about it is bound to be disconnected from anything you recognize as “reality.”

    I always loved reading, and latched on to science fiction when I was about 12. I spent at least the first decade, probably more, reading the kinds of books Megan talks about. Because I’d never read a book with a strong female main character, I just never really noticed the pattern. Then I read such a book. I don’t remember my exact age, but I do remember the exact book, C.J. Cherrah’s The Exile Waiting because it was such a WOW moment. The heavens opened, trumpets sounded, the scales fell from my eyes, all that stuff. I spent probably another decade reading only books with at least competent female main characters, preferably by female authors. Read some less-than-great books, but satisfied my inner craving for seeing “people like me” as competent characters.

    Having rectified my deprived childhood, I now tend to just go for the “good” – whether by male or female authors, whether featuring female or male main characters. But, still my early reading experiences influence my evaluation of a book – I appreciate a competent, multi-dimensional female character far more than a similarly competent, multi-dimensional male character.

    There’s no need for you to get defensive about that. I like lots of books with a mostly male cast of characters. There’s just an extra appreciation for books with great female characters, too – because in my youth, those kinds books were exceedingly rare.