Big Idea

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

You know superheroes. You love superheroes. But if you want to write about superheroes, sometimes it’s hard to put a spin on a subject that hasn’t already made the rounds. Adam Christopher faced the Superhero Challenge in his latest novel, Seven Wonders; here’s how he defeated it on his own terms.


Sometimes the big idea just comes to you, unannounced, sneaking up and moving into the spare room before you can say a thing. And then it sticks around, lingering, for weeks, months, years. Sometimes you forget about it, and then when you’re working at your desk it suddenly sticks its head in front of the screen and tells you that it is way, way better than the whatever-it-is you’re currently working on.

Well, you get the picture. Those ideas, as annoying as they may be, are often the best. The idea at the heart of Seven Wonders was like that. Annoying, persistent, and quite wonderful.

I love superheroes, and I especially love superhero comics. Superhero novels, on the other hand, are difficult beasts – superheroes need a big canvas, a lot of space, whether it’s on the pages of a monthly from Marvel, or DC, or Image, or the multitude of other comic publishers, or whether it’s on the big screen down at your local multiplex. Superheroes are about colour, and action; they’re about extremes, good and evil fighting it out with a good helping of wirework and SFX and those gorgeous double-page splashes. Superheroes are about excitement and adventure and really wild things.

Mostly. Watchmen has action and spectacle but is about something much deeper, of course. Astro City, one of my favourite comics by one of my favourite creators, Kurt Busiek, tells wonderful, moving stories about individual lives and loves against a vast backdrop of superheroes. Comics can tell any kind of story, and maybe superheroes can too.

Seven Wonders is my love-letter to superhero comics. My debut novel, Empire State, was actually written after Seven Wonders, and while that novel features a couple of superheroes, it’s more a science fiction detective story. When I was writing that book, I’d already done my big superhero story – that manuscript was sitting in a drawer, my homage to the Silver and Bronze Ages of superhero comics, filled with spandex and crazy names and unlikely anatomies, heroes and villains and the people caught in the middle. Of course, Seven Wonders is by no means the first superhero novel – far from it. Superheroes in prose go right back to 1942 and come and go in waves every few years with books like Soon I Will Be Invincible, After The Golden Age, Prepare to Die!, Playing for Keeps, the Wild Cards series, to name just a few – it’s a fine tradition, one I hope I’m contributing to.

So, what was the big idea, exactly? Well, it was – it is – the twist at the centre of the tale, the pivot point that made this story about two opposing factions of superpowered people punching the living daylights out of each something more, something else. It’s an idea that stuck with me for years, and years, until it just absolutely had to be written.

But central to this were the characters – there are good guys and bad guys, and some that are both or neither. For Seven Wonders, I wanted to tell the story from several different points of view – from the heroes, the Seven Wonders themselves: how do they see their own actions as they fight to, apparently, protect their city while letting their arch-nemesis the Cowl do what he likes? And what about the Cowl? He’s the villain, for sure, but nobody thinks they are doing wrong or are evil – they’re doing what they think is best, whether it’s for themselves or for some greater purpose. So what happens to a supervillain when things don’t go according to their plan? And how do the Seven Wonders, the Cowl, and the city’s hapless police department (more often than not cleaning up the mess after the capes have had one of their regular smackdowns) react to the arrival of a new force, an ordinary guy suddenly having to come to terms with being the most powerful superhero of them all?

And… what would you do, if you were Tony? If you had the power to save your city, to maybe show those lazy good-for-nothing superheroes a thing or two while you’re about it… would you do it? Could you control it? Or is that kind of power just too big for a single person to master?

That’s the big idea, at the heart of it. With great power comes great responsibility.

But perhaps with great responsibility comes… great power.


Seven Wonders: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s Web site. Follow him on Twitter.


And So It Begins

My day today: SFWA board meeting, 9am – 2pm. Prep for Chicon 7 Opening Ceremonies, 2pm – 3pm. Opening Ceremonies for Chicon 7, at which I am host, 3pm – 4pm. SFWA board meeting, 4pm – 6pm. Opening night get together at the Adler Planetarium, 6:30 – onward.

Yeah, it’ll be a busy day. A supercoolawesome day, because, dude, I am Toastmaster of a friggin’ Worldcon. And that’s just about as awesome as it gets. But I won’t be about here, all day long. Sorry. Real live world takes precedence for once.

If you’re at Chicon 7, come to the opening ceremonies. We’ll have tons of fun. If you’re not here at Chicon 7, I hope you have a fun day anyway.


The View From the Hotel Window, Chicon 7 Edition

Not so bad.

In other news, hi, I am in Chicago and ready for Chicon 7. Where are you?

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Richard Kadrey

Are you a loser? You just may be! If you are, Richard Kadrey argues, you are in some fine company — and indeed, some of your favorite fictional heroes may just be there in the loser camp with you. Kadrey gets under the skin of Devil Said Bang, his latest installment in his excellently deranged Sandman Slim series, and looks at how losers populate his book front and back… and why that’s a good thing.

(Note: Some spoilers below for those of you who have not caught up with the series to date)


As Devil Said Bang opens James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has been tricked into becoming the new Lucifer when the old Lucifer hightailed it out of Hell. This is kind of thing is pretty much just another day for Stark. He’s survived Hell’s arenas, argued with God, bitchslapped the Devil, and saved the world a couple of times but that doesn’t change the most the most salient fact of his life: He’s a loser.

I don’t mean that as any kind of put down. The truth is that most of us are losers in one way or another. We started out thinking our lives would be one thing and however successful we might be, most people secretly dream of being something else. Bankers want to be rock stars. Rock stars want to be Picasso. Actors want to be writers. Writers want to be, well, pretty much anything easier than being a writer. Ninety-nine percent of the world is made up of losers and that unites us against the one-percent who got exactly what they wanted and are happy with it. Fuck those people. They have no imagination. Or they’ve put theirs on ice so they won’t wake up from troubling dreams about life as a cabaret singer, a pirate, an astronaut, or a tightrope walker.

I’m not the first writer whose books star a loser. Let me give you a famous example. If you’re a fan of this blog chances are you’ve read and probably love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Is there a bigger loser in all of literature than Arthur Dent? But we still care about him and root for him. And Arthur isn’t pop lit’s only loser and he’s certainly not the most famous.

Sherlock Holmes is a misanthropic creep and a speed freak.

Neuromancer’s Case is a geek with a drug problem, a bomb in his head, and a girl who’s either going to leave him or kill him.

Batman is flat out psychotic.

King Arthur? Massive loser.

Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo, and Juliet? Losers times four.

The X-Men? Laser-eyed losers.

Frodo saves Middle Earth and for his trouble ends up with the worst case of PTSD since Colonel Kurtz.

How do losers survive and thrive in the world? The lucky ones, the smart ones create a community of likeminded losers. Frodo has his Sam and other slightly damaged Hobbits. The X-Men have their coven of mutants. And even though he’s constantly rude to him, Holmes would be a complete wreck without Watson.

Stark has a few PTSD issues of his own. Wouldn’t you after eleven years as everyone’s punching bag in Hell? Stark plays at being a lone wolf (and sometimes has to be one) but he relies on a community to keep him sane. And who is his community? More losers. Vidocq, Stark’s surrogate father, is a quality thief and brilliant alchemist but he also blew an experiment so badly that he’s turned himself immortal. Alice, Stark first girlfriend, was murdered and his current squeeze, Candy, is a recovering vampire-like monster. Brigitte, the zombie hunter, is out of job now that Stark has wiped out all the zombies, and her acting career isn’t going too well. Allegra, who always wanted a purpose in life, has one but it keeps her locked in her clinic. And then there’s Kasabian. What can I say about him? He’s a headless body on a magic skateboard. Even Stark’s sometime employer, Lucifer, is a loser. And there’s a certain deity in the shadows who’s having his own nervous breakdown.

All these characters gravitate to each other for the simple reason that even when they fight and occasionally consider murder they recognize themselves in each other. That’s what communities are: mutant families that exist because we can’t get along without them.

Losers might not be the ones who run the world but they’re the ones who keep it going. They make art. They raise families. They invent radio and alternating current (Yes, Tesla is the quintessential loser hero).

All the characters in my novels are losers and each is a hero in their own small way, just like the characters in so many of your favorite books, comics, and movies. Just like people in the real world. People who put one foot in front of the other and do the real work of keeping the world spinning and making it an interesting place. Losers rule, on paper and in life.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to put ice on my knee. I wrecked it playing street football when I was in high school. What a stone loser.


Devil Said Bang: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel. Visit his Tumblr (some images NSFW). Follow him on Twitter.


An Assignment to Keep You Occupied, 8/28/12

Another day of offline writing and preparing for Chicon 7. So, again to keep you amused whilst I scribble, an assignment:

Pick any author, living or dead, to remake (or do a sequel to) any book, play or script not originally done by them.

Caveat: Don’t use me or my books, because, come on, that’s a little on the nose (and anyway I’ve done it once and don’t plan to do it again).

My choice: China Mieville remakes Dune. I would pay cash money for that one.

Your choice?


Neil Armstrong and Futures Past

I was two months old when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and 43 when he died, and inbetween those two events the future changed. When Armstrong landed, a human future in space seemed inevitable — we’d landed on the moon, after all. How long could it possibly be until we had moon colonies, space stations where thousands lived, stuck by centrifugal force to walls which were their floors, and a second space race to Mars? Why, not long as all, it seemed, and so I lived the first decade of my life breathlessly waiting for the moon colony and all the rest of it. And also drinking Tang because, hey, I wasn’t quite ten, and Tang was pretty awesome when you’re that age.

Four decades on, we never did get the mechanistic, physical future required for those moon colonies and space stations. In point of fact that future was expensive, and once the “landing on the moon” bragging rights were taken by the US, we apparently lost interest. Gene Cernan was the last man on the moon, and he left that orb in December of 1972; we’re coming up fast on the 40 anniversary of his departure, and more people seem to know about the Mayan Apocalypse than that particular anniversary. Yes, it makes me sad.

I don’t mind too much the future we’ve gotten so far. I like the Internet, and my cell phone, and my television bouncing to me from space, and all the other things that have come from what has essentially been the less expensive path of least resistance. I think the things that NASA has done with its robotic craft, which are now on Mars and over Mercury and pushing through the heliopause at the very edge of interstellar space, are nothing short of miraculous. This future has been pretty good for me. But I don’t think this future had to be exclusive of the future that Neil Armstrong seemed to herald, and for which he was our icon; maybe we could have had both, had our will to go to the moon been matched by a will to stay and build there.

We can still go back to the moon, of course. We can still go and build and stay and use the moon as our first stepping stone to other worlds. Anything is possible. But for me Armstrong’s death forever closes the door on a certain possible path the we could have taken, the one where that first small step and giant leap was not essentially taken in insolation, but was followed by another step and another leap, followed by another, and so on, one right after another, without pause and without interruption. Even when or if we return to the moon, we will never live in Neil Armstrong’s future.

I wonder how Armstrong himself felt about that. He lived down the road a piece from me; people I know had the honor of meeting him and described him, in so many words, as one of the best of men. Back here on Earth he did not seem to go out of his way to call attention to himself, and while he encouraged people to keep alive the spirit of exploration and service that he exemplified, it doesn’t seem that he spent a lot of time beating a drum in public. For all that, I read that when he was 80, he volunteered to be the commander of a mission to Mars, should anyone want him for the job. I would guess he wanted to live in Neil Armstrong’s future, too. I’m sorry for him he didn’t get to.


A Question to Keep You Occupied, 8/27/12

Because I have lots to do today but don’t want you bored.


You have the ability to, for one night, reanimate any two historical personages (“historical” = “not currently alive”) and have them discuss/debate a topic of your own choosing. Which two historical personages do you choose, and what subject do you have them discuss/debate?

My choice: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, on the topic of what is, and how to engage in, a just war.

Your choice?

(And please, do give it some thought and try to avoid the usual suspects; the world doesn’t need three dozen people clamoring for a debate between Jesus and Ayn Rand on any topic, as an obvious example. I thank you in advance.)


My Plans For the Weekend Do Not Impress Ghlaghghee

Well, fair enough. She is a hard cat to impress.

Be that as it may, I do have plans for the weekend, and they do not include being here. See you Monday.


My Chicon 7 Programming Schedule

Hey, did you know I am the Toastmaster of Chicon 7, the 2012 Worldcon, which happens next week? Well, it’s true, I am! And here’s my schedule of events while I am there.

Thu Aug 30 3:00:pm
Opening Ceremonies (Grand Ballroom)
I welcome everyone to the show, interview most of our Guests of Honor, and basically act like a big shot. This will be a ton of fun, I promise.
Jane Frank, John Scalzi, Mike Resnick, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Rowena Morrill, Sy Liebergot

Fri Aug 31 1:30:pm
Reading and Q&A With John Scalzi (Crystal A)
I’ll be reading something new from The Human Division. Yes, that’s right. If you’re not there, you’ll miss out.
John Scalzi

Fri Aug 31 4:30:pm
SF at the University of Chicago Over the Years (San Francisco)
A retrospective of the various generations of fans who have added to the traditions of SF at the University of Chicago and beyond.
Alessandra Kelley, Bradford Lyau, John Scalzi, Kenneth Hite, Richard Garfinkle

Sat Sep 1 9:00:am
SFWA Business Meeting (Comiskey)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Business Meeting
If you’re a SFWA active member, be there! We have lots to discuss and we’ve sprung for breakfast. Don’t make me eat all the yogurt parfaits by myself. I totally will.
Ann Leckie, Bud Sparhawk, Catherynne Valente, Jim Fiscus, John Scalzi, Kate Baker, Lee Martindale, Rachel Swirsky

Sat Sep 1 4:30:pm
Autograph Session 11 (Autograph Tables)
You bring books. I sign books. It’s simple!
Cecilia Tan, Eric Hayden, John Scalzi, Lezli Robyn, Stanley Schmidt, Tanglwyst de Holloway

Sun Sep 2 9:00:am
Stroll with the Stars (Offsite)
Wake up and get a little exercise with me and these other very cool folks.
Catherynne Valente, Gay Haldeman, Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi, Kate Baker, Lawrence M. Schoen, Story Musgrave, Stu Segal

Sun Sep 2 12:00:pm
Kaffeeklatsche with: John Scalzi (Kaffeeklatsche 2)
A small gathering of folks who get to ask me anything they want. The sign-up is first-come, first-served, so sign up early.
John Scalzi

Sun Sep 2 1:30:pm
Spaceflight: The Beauty, the Glory and the Sacred (Crystal B)
John Scalzi interviews Story Musgrave. Story is is an astronaut, surgeon, jet pilot, and landscape architect. As he flew on six Shuttle missions, bred a unique new type of palm tree, and earned graduate degrees in seven different subjects, he has ignored all conventional limits.
John Scalzi, Story Musgrave

Sun Sept 2 8:00:pm
The Hugo Ceremony (Grand Ballroom)
You know who gets to give out the awards this year? Why, I do! BWA HA HA HAH HA HA HA! No, I won’t know in advance who won. Don’t ask me. You can’t bribe me.

Mon Sept 3 3:00:pm
Closing Ceremonies (Columbus IJ-KL)
This is where we tell you that it’s time to go home.

When I am not at these programming items, where will I be? Mostly wandering about, spending time with friends, hanging out in the bar and generally enjoying Chicago, which is my kind of town. If you see me, feel free to say hello. If you’re worried about meeting me (or any other author), don’t be. Here’s a handy guide on meeting your favorite authors.

See you there!


John Scalzi (Not Me) Reads John Scalzi (Me)

Look, it’s John Scalzi! Or, a John Scalzi, one that’s not my dad, or a weatherman down in Florida, or a (by now I assume retired) boxer, or the now-deceased masonry scientist, or me. This one lives in New England, and I have been aware of his existence for some time now, since back when I had an account on Prodigy and sent him a message saying “Hey! I’m a John Scalzi, too!” And here he is reading Redshirts whilst on vacation. Surely, a near-recursive treat for everyone!

I do sometimes wonder how it is for the other John Scalzis that I am out there in the world, writing books and hogging the first several Google search pages of our mutual name. I know it doesn’t bother my dad, and this John Scalzi seems to be perfectly fine with it, but I imagine some other JS doing a search on his name and going who the hell is this schmuck? Sorry, man. I’m fine-tuned for the Internet. And despite my cluttering up the ‘nets with my ego spoor, I’m not the John Scalzi who has a top award in his field named after him. Guess that shows me.

In any event, I’m glad this particular John Scalzi seems to be enjoying my work. If he read it and thought, this book stinks! And it has my name on it!, well. That would be bad. Not the case this time around, fortunately.


Athena at the Fair

She enjoyed herself. As did we all, although my enjoyment, as those who followed the Twitter feed last night know, mostly revolved around foods that were fried and/or on a stick. The ironic thing is that I weighed myself this morning and managed to have lost weight since yesterday. So clearly I know my diet plan from here on out.


Feral Kitten Update, 8/22

It is thus:

One, it’s not a kitten. Based on wear on the teeth, the vet guessed it (and it is a he, incidentally) was five or six years old. It just happens to be small (5.6 pounds), which I would suppose is consistent with a long-term largely feral lifestyle. Two, aside from being small and scrawny, it’s (reasonably) healthy, with no feline leukemia or HFIV. Our vet gave the cat medicine for fleas and parasites and a general antibiotic because in this case “reasonably healthy” does not mean “totally healthy,” and suggested that we wait a few weeks to take care of other things, like vaccinations and snippage, on the idea that a few weeks would be enough time for the cat to become healthier and more robust.

We then had a discussion of whether to keep the cat inside during those weeks or to let it roam outside. The vet was neutral on the topic but suggested doing whichever would stress out the cat least. Well, I’ve seen the cat both indoors and outdoors. Indoors, it huddled in a corner and glared a lot. Outside it seemed rather more relaxed, if cautious about us. So outside it was. When I came home I opened the door to the cat carrier and the cat sprinted for the treeline.

Our plan, then, is to continue leaving food out for the thing in the garage (small amounts, during the day, to avoid raccoon infestation), and keep an eye on what it does next. If he decides to stick around, then in a month I’ll trap him in the garage again and take him back to the vet (I will be wearing heavy gloves for that escapade). I expect he’ll stick around; food is food. I don’t mind having another cat about, especially one determined to be an outside creature, since we’re coming up on Rodent Migration Season, when the fields around us are harvested and the mice and other small creatures look for someplace warm to be. The little dude can eat as many of those as he wants, in my opinion.

And that’s where we are with the feral kitten cat.


“John Scalzi’s Blog” Now Set to Music

Because how could it not be set to music?

Words by Steven Brust. Music by That Neil Guy. Well done, sirs. Well done.

Update, 8/23: Look! Another, different one!


For No Particularly Good Reason, My Ranking of Pixar Films, From Best to Least Quality

1. Toy Story 2

2. The Incredibles

3. Wall-E

4. Toy Story

5. Monsters, Inc.

6. Up

7. Inside Out

8. Ratatouille

9. Toy Story 3

10. Finding Nemo

11. Monsters University

12. Finding Dory

13. Brave

14. Cars

15. The Good Dinosaur

16. A Bug’s Life

17. Cars 2

Not ranked because not yet seen: Brave. But I can pretty much guarantee it’ll get a better ranking than Cars 2 (Update 12/7/12: Finally saw Brave and would slot it in between Finding Nemo and Cars).

Update 11/6/14: Updated to include Brave and Monsters University.

Update 7/4/15: Updated to include Inside Out.

Update: 4/11/16: Updated to include The Good Dinosaur. Also, you should assume for the future that I will update to include future Pixar films after they come out, uuhhhh, eventually.

Also note: The quality decline from position one to position four is negligible. Positions five through ten additionally exist on a similarly marginally graded plateau a small drop below the first. Positions eleven through sixteen are on another plateau a larger step down, and Cars 2 exists in a place I prefer to call “The Dreamworks Trench.”

Your thoughts and personal rankings are invited in the comments.


Todd Akin

Representative Todd Akin
has decided to stay in the Missouri senatorial race, bucking the national GOP, which desperately wants him tossed under the bus for the spectacularly stupid “legitimate rape” thing, and you know what? Good for him. Leaving aside my own love of political schadenfreude here, the dude did win the Republican primary fair and square, did he not? He is the plurality choice of Missouri’s Republican voters, isn’t he? He didn’t strangle kittens, set them on fire, and insert them into an unmentionable part of some adorable puppy’s anatomy, did he? No; all he really did was say out loud something that an apparently non-trivial number of conservatives seem to believe, i.e., that some rapes are rapier than others, and (probably less common, at least I hope) that at the rapiest level of rape, you probably aren’t gonna get knocked up. It’s appallingly stupid and wrong, of course. But that doesn’t mean he (up until Sunday, anyway) didn’t believe it, or that saying something appallingly stupid and wrong but entirely within the penumbra of conservative thought should disqualify him from participating in a race he earned the right to be in, through a democratic process. “You stupidly said out loud what many of us actually believe,” shouldn’t by any rational standard be a reason for his forfeit.

Yes, he’s embarrassing the GOP presidential candidate by staying in a race after Romney said he should drop out, and yes, the Democrats will use Akin’s comment and his extraordinarily restrictive anti-choice views (reflected, incidentally, in the official GOP platform) like a cudgel on the Republicans every single day that Akin stays in the race. But why is that Akin’s problem? By all indications, he was not the favored candidate of the national GOP anyway, so no skin off his nose. The national GOP says they’re not going to send him money, but if they want to take the Senate, they’re not likely to do it without him, so I imagine sooner or later they’re going to slip some cash his way regardless. So again, what impetus does Akin have to do anything other than run? For the rest of the GOP, it’s about control of the Senate; for Akin, it’s whether or not he has a job come next January. He sure as hell doesn’t have any reason to quit, and winning, should he win, will be sweet indeed.

And yeah, Democrats binging on schadenfreude, he could win. Even after the “forcible rape” flub, he was still up a point in the polls against Claire McCaskill. He might sink — as I understand it, making an ass of yourself on live TV takes a few days to sink in with the polls — but then again he might not. He apologized for his stupidity, and pitched it in a way that will resonate with evangelicals, for many of whom he is the ideal candidate. Don’t kid yourself that he’s lost the race already. And of course, that’s just one more reason for him to stay in.

I wouldn’t vote for Akin; I don’t know why anyone would want to vote for someone so heinously ignorant of human biology, which I suspect is indicative of other vasty swaths of ignorance in his mental makeup. I wouldn’t encourage anyone in Missouri to vote for him either, as we already have enough appallingly ignorant people in the Senate without adding him to their number. But do I think he should be the GOP senatorial candidate for the state? Absolutely. If Mitt Romney, the national GOP or anyone else has a problem with it, they should bring it up with Missouri’s Republican voters. He was their pick for the gig. I think you have to respect that, even if you shake your head that they could choose so poorly.


Steven Brust Pens a Ditty For You

About this very site! Apropos to the some of the comment excitement we’ve had here today.

It’s called “John Scalzi’s Blog.” Enjoy!


I’m Plotting. Here’s the New Muse Single to Keep You Busy

It’s called “Madness.” It’s pretty good, if you like Muse, which I do.


Feral Kitten Update, 8/20/12

Feral Kitten has a vet appointment on Wednesday for shots and a general checkup, at which point we’ll find out more about his/her condition (I haven’t checked to see if FK is a him or her). Kitten also still evidently seriously pissed at me. Also has absolutely no interest in the catnip mouse I got it. Further updates as the situation warrants (but probably not until after its vet appointment).


RIP, Tony Scott

If you’re a fan of film, take a moment in your day to remember Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide yesterday in San Pedro by jumping off a bridge. Scott left notes explaining his actions but at the moment what’s in those messages hasn’t been made public. Scott’s probably best known for the film Top Gun, and also made Crimson Tide, True Romance and most recently Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington (with whom he made several hit films).

I was a fan of much of Scott’s work. He didn’t have the critical acclaim that his brother Ridley Scott achieved with his films, but what he did have was reliability — his films were solidly-built entertainments with enough flair to keep you watching. He didn’t make the films that make the Best Picture nomination slate; he made the pictures that when you were flipping through the cable channels, you would stop when you saw one on. Seriously, if you can manage to escape watching Crimson Tide for the 15,000th time, you’re a better man than I. He was very good at what he did, and what he did was put butts in seats, pretty much every time out. That’s a talent most directors wish they could have.

If I had to peg a film of his as my favorite, I would nominate two. The first would be the aforementioned Crimson Tide, which I think should probably be taught in film schools as a prime example of the “90s action film” genre. It should be taken apart at the atomic level so budding filmmakers understand why this sort of thing works as well as it does; that is, if the students and professor can stop from getting sucked into just watching it. The second is True Romance, which Scott directed off a script by a then-up-and-coming screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino. Truth to be told, the script is not top-flight Tarantino — the only scripts I would put under it in his canon are Deathproof and the silly squib he added at the end of Four Rooms (and maybe From Dusk Til Dawn, although I question whether that one was ever meant to be “good”) — but it is perfect for Tony Scott: Perfect for his visual and artistic sensibility, perfect for his competencies as a director, perfect for his understanding of cinema. As a result the film is better as art than its script would suggest and than its director would normally achieve. Great art? Go argue about that. Good art? Yes, I think so. 

I am sad there will be no more Tony Scott films. Reliable directors are hard to come by, and ones that produce reliably entertaining films are even harder to find. I hope that despite whatever drove him to jump off a bridge, he has now found some measure of peace. I’ll watch Crimson Tide sometime this week and think well of him.

Update, 12:21pm: ABC News reports a source saying Scott had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

Update, 8/12: Family says it wasn’t brain cancer.


(Not) Reviewing Books

The literary world appears to be having one of its semi-predictable spasms about writers criticizing writers — or writers not criticizing writers enough, as the case may be — and all the various associated emotions that go with that. We get these bouts of novel gazing fairly regularly because very often the people who write reviews of books are also authors themselves, partly because authors are somewhat likely to be familiar with their own field and partly because a writer’s gotta eat, and reviewing a book will buy you a pizza. This fact means that the reviewer/reviewee dynamic is a little different than it often is in other creative fields. You rarely see, say, something like Paul Thomas Anderson formally reviewing the latest David Cronenberg movie in the New York Times, or Patti Smith laying down her detailed thoughts on the newest Regina Spektor album in Pitchfork, as examples. Maybe the world would be a more interesting place if they did, but they don’t seem to (occasionally a former critic/reviewer will make the leap into an artistic field — your Peter Bogdanoviches and Chrissie Hyndes — but it’s not exactly the same thing).

As an author and as a long time professional critic/reviewer (movies, music, video games), I am occasionally asked to write reviews of upcoming books for media outlets. Generally speaking I turn down these offers. Here’s why.

1. Relating specifically to science fiction and fantasy works, I demur because I am the sitting president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and I think it would be bad form — and bad optics — for someone in that position to make any sort of hay professionally reviewing the work of his constituency. This is an excuse I will have through June of 2013.

2. Also relating to science fiction and fantasy, at this point I know many of the folks in it — and a non-trivial number of the people coming into it — on a personal level, and the possibility of professionally writing something negative about their work makes me uncomfortable. This is a personal issue of mine, I would note, and not something I think should guide anyone else. I have sf/f writer friends who have reviewed work of mine — some of them negatively (or at least less than positively) — and I wouldn’t want them to feel in the slightest bit uncomfortable having done so.

3. If I’m writing a novel at the time (which is not an unusual thing for me to be doing these days) I’m not typically reading new fiction because I don’t want what I’m reading to leak into what I’m writing.

4. My professional writing time is valuable and writing book reviews will pay me less than I can get writing other things.

5. As a practical matter I prefer to use what reputational clout I have being publicly positive about other writers’ books, i.e., all things considered I’d rather tell you about the books that I’ve had a good or interesting experience with, than about the books I did not.

Reasons 2, 3 and 5 are also the reasons I don’t run book reviews as anything approaching a regular feature on Whatever, either.

That said, I do think, both as a matter of personal moral obligation and to keep people from thinking I’m a “pull the ladder up from behind me” sort of guy, that it’s important for me to help promote other authors and their works on the site — I have some reach here, after all. This is one of the reasons I do the Big Idea feature here: It allows me to give a platform to writers to promote their books, and readers to discover new books, without requiring me to be critical, either positively or negatively, of the book itself (or the author).

It’s not to say I don’t have critical opinions of books, or of books in my own home genres — oh boy! Do I! — it just means that if you want to know what I think of those books, you should probably ask me both privately and in person.

Do I think authors should not write reviews other author’s books, particularly in media outlets? No. As I hinted above, I think it’s fine if they do. My own choices in the matter are based on what’s best for me as a person and as with anything else, one’s own mileage may vary.

I think that if you do endeavor to review something in a professional (and/or rigorous) sense, you should be critical regarding its flaws and honest about your opinion of it. Don’t be an asshole about it, and remember about the failure mode of clever, but point out the problems. You’re not doing anyone any favors by pulling your punches. If you’ve done a conscientious review and the other writer has a fit about it, it’s their karma, not yours.

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