The Offer on Old Man’s War: A Ten-Year Retrospective

Today is a notable day in my personal history: Ten years ago today, I sold Old Man’s War to Tor Books.

People who have been following me for any amount of time know how this happened, but might not know the full story, and the newer folks might not know about it at all.  So here’s how it happened:

In 2001, I began writing a military science fiction book, the conceit of which was that the soldiers were old, but were given new lives in exchange for their service. I finished the book in October of 2001 and then sat on it for more than a year, mostly because the thought of whole tiresome process of submitting the book to agents and publishers filled me with ennui, and I couldn’t be bothered.

So instead I serialized it on Whatever in December of 2002. I had some precedent for this: in 1999, I took an earlier novel, Agent to the Stars (my “practice novel,” i.e., the novel I wrote to see if I could write a novel), and posted it on for people to read, and if they liked, to send me payment for. That had grossed me a couple of thousand bucks up to that time — a not inconsiderable sum in the days when people had to physically mail me a dollar — so I figured I could do it again. My plan was to serialize a chapter a day through December, and also offer the whole novel as a single document, so if someone was impatient, they could just send me $1.50 through that new-fangled PayPal, and read the whole thing at one time. Then after the serialization was done the book would sit on my site, and I would go on doing what I did at the time, which was writing for magazines and newspapers and putting out the occasional non-fiction book.

I finished the serialization on the 28th, and for the 29th, I wrote an essay on the experience of writing the novel, called “Lessons from Heinlein.” At the time I was a reader of Electrolite, the blog of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who was (and is) the senior editor of Tor Books, and I recalled him and his readers having a recent discussion of characters in science fiction. I thought he might find the essay interesting, so I pinged him about it. Here was the e-mail I sent him on the evening of December 28:

Hi, there. I’m John Scalzi, who writes the “Whatever” online column.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve serialized a science fiction novel I’ve written on my site. Having completed it, I’ve added an afterwards called “Lessons From Heinlein,” in which I discuss how RAH’s style of writing holds some important lessons for would-be writers, specifically relating to character development (I am an actual published author and science fiction writer, so I don’t feel too hinky about dispensing writing advice). The link is here: Some of the afterward necessarily relates to Old Man’s War, which is the novel I’ve serialized, but the comments about Heinlein are general enough in the matter of writing to be of interest even to those who have not read the novel.

Please note that this isn’t a backdoor attempt to get you to read the novel itself; had I wanted you to read it in your official capacity, I would have done the old-fashioned route of printing out the manuscript and shipping it off to your slush pile (being a former editor myself, I do appreciate when people follow submission guidelines). I simply thought the afterward might be in itself of interest to you and the Electrolite readership.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and prosperous 2003.

Less than 36 hours later, ten years ago today, I got this as a response (e-mail posted with Patrick’s permission):

It’s an interesting afterword, but it’s an even more interesting novel.  I read the whole thing last night; as the blurb cliché goes, I couldn’t put it down.

I understand being tired of the schlepping-to-agents-and-publishers thing, but would you be willing to entertain an offer for hard/soft publication of OLD MAN’S WAR?  I’m not talking about life-changing amounts of money, but this is exactly the kind of action-oriented-and-yet-not-stupid SF we never see enough of, and I’d like for Tor to publish it.

(If your first response is to point out that this or some other work by you has sat neglected in hardcopy our slushpile for $BIGNUMBER of months or years, I promise not to be surprised.)

Let me know if you’re open to this.

And, well. Yes. Yes I was.

I remember where I was when I read this e-mail, which as it happens is almost exactly where I am as I’m writing this: At my desk in my home office in Bradford, looking at a monitor, staring at the words there. It was morning (Patrick sent the e-mail at 8:22 am, which is not coincidentally the time I had this entry scheduled to publish on the site), and I was the only one up in the house; my sister and her family were visiting for the holidays and everyone was still crashed out. So there I was with some really big news, and no one awake to tell it to. Of course I told them, eventually, after they were all awake.

I date today as the anniversary of the sale of Old Man’s War, but Patrick has additional details:

I’m certain that I made the actual offer-in-detail on January 2, 2003, because that was the first day Tor’s offices were open after the holiday break, and I distinctly remember that the first thing I did on returning was go straight to Tom Doherty to enthuse about this terrific SF novel I’d found. I conveyed the actual offer to you in a phone call. But it makes just as much sense to date it from December 30, since my email of that date pretty clearly says I intend to make you a detailed offer if you confirm that you’re up for one.

(January 2, 2003 was, by coincidence, my 44th birthday–and I think most acquiring editors would agree that scoring a book that good makes a heck of a fine birthday present.)

This conforms to my memory of it as well. I held back until January 3, 2003 to tell people about it; Patrick followed up with a post on his own site. At the time, ten years ago, people selling books they originally published on their Web sites was still novel enough that neither Patrick nor I could come up with another example of it happening. When it did happen with me, there was a bit of conversation about it online. These days a blog-to-book conversion is less unusual, although at this point, with all the more direct ways to self-publish online and to get that work into the retail channel, putting a book on one’s blog first might seem a little roundabout. It’s a reminder that the world of 2002 and the world of 2012 are different places, publishing-wise.

I was asked then and am still asked whether I posted OMW on my site as a way to get around submitting into a slushpile. The answer now is the same as then: No, I posted OMW on my site because I didn’t want to deal with submitting the book. I fully expected the novel to live its life as part of my site, and maybe be a calling card to sell another novel somewhere down the line. The skeptical response to this is, yeah, but as soon as the whole thing was up you sent an e-mail to an editor at a science fiction publisher, so who are you trying to fool? My response to this would be, yes, but it was not about the novel itself, and I went out of my way to point out that I wasn’t attempting a backdoor submission. To which a further skeptical response would be, then why mention the novel at all?

At which point I will throw up my hands. After ten years I can admit that as I writing the e-mail to Patrick, yes, part of me was hoping that he might be intrigued enough to check out the novel itself, and that when he did and made an offer, one of the first thoughts to come to my head was, well, that worked out nicely. But honestly it wasn’t the intent. Having been an acquiring editor myself, I was well aware of how irritating it was to have someone try to get around the submission process because they think they’re special. I assumed Patrick wouldn’t look at the novel because if I were in his shoes, getting the same e-mail, I probably wouldn’t have. At the time, I knew Patrick hardly at all; I was a reader on his site and had commented there just enough that I felt okay sending him an e-mail. I had no idea at the time how he would respond to it. I know him better now, I will allow.

The original plan, as noted in Patrick’s first e-mail, was to have the book out sometime in late 2003, with paperback to follow. In fact the book came out January 1, 2005, so there was a two-year gap between when the book sold and when it hit the stores. At the time, this gap was frustrating; I was a newbie novelist, I wanted to be published now now now now. In retrospect, I think it was a very good thing. It gave people in science fiction time to get to know me, so that when Old Man’s War was published it seemed like I had been around longer than I had been — which worked, because when it was published some folks were surprised it was a debut novel. It also gave me time to grow Whatever; between December 2002 and January 2005, the readership of Whatever tripled, which was useful for a writer with a first novel. And the book benefited from certain intangibles — for example, it seems like in January 2005, just enough people were missing a particular flavor of Heinleinian/Campbellian science fiction that Old Man’s War offered to help the book take off like a shot.

The idea that waiting to publish to better position your work seems sort of heretical in these “do it now” days, but for me it paid off with benefits. It’s something to consider when you as an author (and especially a new/newer/newish author) are weighing the pros and cons of various publishing options and strategies.

Patrick making an offer on Old Man’s War quite literally changed my life, and almost entirely for the better. The eight novels I have written since are because of that offer and everything that’s resulted from it. I have worked on a television series and on a video game because people read and loved Old Man’s War. The book itself is in the (seemingly endless) process of being made into a movie. If actually becomes one, is likely to have interesting knock-on effects. I have sold hundred of thousands of books in 18 different languages, which have made hundreds of thousands of people happy (and a few unhappy; that’s life). Professionally, I have become who I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s amazing.

Personally — well. There are so many people who I have met because of Old Man’s War and everything that’s come from it that it’s hard to know where to begin with that. I think the best way that I can put it is that just before Patrick made an offer on Old Man’s War, I remarked to Krissy that I suspected I had by then met every person who would be important to me in my life. The thirty-three year old me was thankfully, laughably wrong. There have been so many people I have met in the last decade who are so much part of my life now that I can’t imagine it without them. People I like; people I love; people I wouldn’t want to have missed in this world, and gladly, did not have to.

So. Ten years ago today, my life changed. I thought it would be worth making note of the day.

Thank you, Patrick, for making an offer on the book. Thank you, Tor, for publishing it. Thank you all, for reading it.

Just thanks.

Now let’s see what happens in the next ten years.

120 Comments on “The Offer on Old Man’s War: A Ten-Year Retrospective”

  1. Happy Anniversary!

    Now, when is the movie coming out? We waited 75 years for ‘The Hobbit’, and the ‘Ender’s Game’ film is coming out next Christmas – 27 years. Will the OMW film be one of those ‘legendary’ projects that will take generations to see daylight?

  2. I read Readshirts over the summer, and just loved it, and knew I’d have to squeeze in Old Man’s War soon. Then I got it as part of the Humble Bundle and set aside some time over this winter break to read it. My 70-something-year-old-father came for a visit over the holidays and as a former Marine, I knew he’d enjoy the DI section, so read some of that out loud to him. We had a chuckle, then he picked up my Kindle and started reading more. So I showed him how it worked and I read it on a different device and we both sat around reading and talking about it for a couple days. My dad, you should know, is diabetic, has bad eyes and isn’t much of a reader other than golf magazines. So this was a Big Deal to me, getting to talk about a BOOK with him. On his way home he had to go to the emergency room. I told my mom to tell him he better get well soon because now I want to send him a Kindle of his own with the rest of the series on it!


  3. Am a bit late to the party; only started reading Whatever a few years ago (after Tor free d/l of OMW with website launch). Read your Lessons from Heinlein just now. Man, I’d really like to see someone take a swing at a Tolkienesque saga via Heinlein character style. Or maybe I’ll just read Bored of the Rings again.

    Anyways, congrats and thank you for making my life a bit more interesting. I’d gotten away from reading books until I found the Baen free library and Tor’s deal. Got me hooked on books again and now I’m back to not enough shelf space. Us, there is a certain brain trigger to owning a book and not just having it’s bits stored away somewhere.

  4. “Action-oriented-and-yet-not-stupid.” A fine description.
    I came to Whatever and your other books because of Old Man’s War. Specifically, the original cover of Old Man’s War, with the picture of John staring out of the cover, as if trying to figure out what the hell is going on. My son checked it out of the library because the picture was so intriguing, and after a few chapters called me to tell me to go check it out and read it. The excitement was like when I was in Jr. High and ran across Time for the Stars, the first real science fiction novel I ever read. Since then I have bought every novel you have published (most of them autographed), started reading Whatever on a daily basis, and told many people that, “Yes, there is a science fiction writer these days who is good as Heinlein, and who you should read.”
    My thanks to you for being clever enough to write that book and the others, and to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for being clever enough to buy it.

  5. Thank you for sharing the story of how OMW got published. I love reading these stories, probably because I project myself into them (at some point) and I particularly love your novel.

  6. I actually read OMW because of Joe Mallozzi….I enjoyed it immensely and have Redshirts on the nook at the moment…oh and also Wil Wheaton has mentioned you a few times…so I decided to check out the blog…

  7. I am really late to the game as I just finished OMW, and The Ghost Brigades in the last two months. I read Redshirts in between. The Last Colony is in my queue. I had been looking for good MSciFi series to read to return to my Heinlein Starship Trooper roots. There are many out there, but OMW is one of the best.

    I am mixed on Whatever. It is decidedly “left” of where I sit. But I am always open to discuss ideas, and know that I have no corner on the market of truth.

    Given that, if “Whatever” catalyzes good fiction… I hope you continue to write it for a longtime.

  8. “Krieg der Klone”.. isn’t that “The Clone War”? Some of those foreign language covers are phenomenal. I dig the Turkish (?) one.

  9. John, I see where people (including you) are getting the Heinlein comparison, but I have to say that my favorite aspects of your work are the ones you DON’T share with Heinlein, among them that your characters have distinct voices and that your women are people.

    Congratulations on the anniversary, and success in the new year!

  10. Interesting timing for me, because at approximately 12:45 am this morning I started reading Old Man’s War.

    I read Redshirts earlier this year after hearing about it from my Sci-Fi circles on Google+ and that was my first Scalzi book. I enjoyed it very much and started reading this blog at that time. Your post about the $2.99 deal on OMW last week came at a perfect time as I was getting close to finishing the last book in my queue. 10 years ago for me book discovery involved word of mouth and browsing at a book store, so that has changed quite a bit as well! And now here I am making my first comment on your site.

  11. Congratulations on the anniversary, John. I’d actually been reading the Whatever for a while before I read OMW, so I went in knowing that (a) you were a smart, interesting, funny guy, (b) I loved your writing, and (c) lots of other people seemed to think the same. Thankfully, I had the same reaction as everyone else.

    This is going to make you blush horribly, but I honestly think OMW is going to end up in the canon right alongside the best of Heinlein. You should be extremely proud of it and of everything since.

  12. Happy anniversary!

    Oddly, i came across OMW and Whatever separately, and wasn’t ever alert enough to put two and two together! I simply knew Whatever as “That great blog I like reading” and OMW was “That great novel I keep talking about and telling people to buy.” Then one day you mentioned OMW on your blog. I quite literally ran (well, moved quickly-here’s not enough room between my paperback shelves and my desk to -run- without slamming into said shelf) and grabbed OMW, then turned and looked at my computer. Yes. Yes, both have the same name on them. They are the same person. -This. Is. Awesome.-

    My boyfriend spent a good ten minutes listening to me enthuse about this “discovery” before “subtly” telling me to shut up for five seconds. He is very patient, and I am very lucky he understands my particular brand of nerd (He’s more the console gaming nerd, I tend towards boffer LARPs and books).

    Thanks for years of insightful writing and a wonderfully wrangled comments section! <3

  13. One of the more interesting things in this essay is where you say, if you were in PNH’s place, you wouldn’t have bothered reading the novel. It occurs to me that, had you sent the email a week earlier or later, rather than doing so between holidays when Patrick was technically on vacation from the office, he may well have ignored it and moved on to More Important Tasks.

  14. Thank you for “Old Man’s War”. Thank you for the sequels. Thank you for giving me a few hours of enjoyment in a life that is filled with pain due to physical infirmity and finally, thank you for interesting posts, irreverent attitude, and humor on your blog.

  15. I came to your work through con – having met you a number of times, and having your work talked up by Anne and my girlfriend, I devoted to give it a try.

    I remember loving the premise, especially the BrainPal – a new take on mental augmentation without the foofaraw of cyberpunk code porn. I was already a fan of the story behind Halo, so it hit me at the right time, when I was primed for a military sci-fi with a little more depth.

    Of course, I read nearly all of Heinlein at a young age and hold a fondness for him, which did not hurt ;-).

    Congratulations on an excellent book, well worth publishing/reading, and a deserved kickoff into a great career. Here’s to another ten.

  16. Oh jeez, John. Don’t sweat it, dude. Whether you meant to bypass the submission process or not (I think it was a subconscious act, personally) is unimportant. What’s important is that OMW was noticed. That’s because it was a great science fiction novel. I still remember reading it. There was something distinctly real about the writing that made it so ‘approachable’, for lack of a better word. Yet here was this great idea about reliving ones life but with a hefty price tag. Namely, warfare. So, don’t fret, man. What’s important is the story got to be told in the best way possible. End of story.

  17. Well, I came across you through your Hugo nomination for Zoe’s Tale and the voter’s pack. That lead to buying all the Old Man’s War series (including Zoe’s Tale) in paperback and this year buying the Kindle version of Redshirts.

    I’ve now found so many great authors through them making their work available to download. And through them (and their blogs or Twitter) many more equally great authors and lots of wonderful stories.

    The serialisation of The Human Division next year is a fascinating idea. The anitipation of each part appearing on my Kindle every Monday takes me back to childhood and waiting for out comics to arrive each week.

    Here’s to the next ten years.

  18. Ha! I went back and read that Lessons From Heinlein entry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good, but your blogwriting has definitely improved in the past 10 years.

  19. I’m glad to see that your “overnight success”, inadvertent as it may have been, hasn’t spoiled you. There are an awful lot of authors who immediately fall victim to the “my novels are Great Works of Literature, dammit!” mindset, who immediately perceive themselves as better than the little people because their work got published and their competitors’ didn’t. I believe you when you say your sole intent was to get PNH to read the foreword, because you thought he might enjoy it, and you had no illusions about “trying to get in through the back door”. You’re very fortunate that serendipity worked out in your favor.

    Keep up the good work!


  20. Hmm, I just noticed the title of the French edition. I wonder if they were trying make the title parallel ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ Which is, I suppose, both indeterminable at this point and not of any particular significance. But there it is.

    BTW, congrats on your success in your chosen career. I look forward to the tenth-anniversary writeup on ‘The Android’s Dream,’ which remains one of my favorites. Yes, the first couple of chapters are an extended fart joke, but one of the best ones ever. The Nugentarians are even funnier, but not as many folks got it.

  21. OMW has the unique distinction of being the only book to ever make me snort diet coke through my nose (when John Perry named his Brainpal). I now have a rule of no drinking anything while reading your books.

    Oddly enough I encountered you first in person at the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City in 2007. I kept seeing you on panels and thought “Who is that guy? He is far more animated and interesting than most of these folks.” I asked around and found out about OMW. So I bought the book after I returned home and encountered a fine, entertaining story, even discounting my burning sinuses.

    So well done, John. I’ve enjoyed your work since 2007. May you continue to enjoy success and health and happiness.

  22. Old Man’s War was the first Scalzi I read (earlier this year), and I immediately followed up with the sequels. I think in many ways it’s better than Heinlein. One is the treatment of loss; I found John Perry’s thoughts about his wife deeper and more affecting than anything in Heinlein’s work.

  23. Happy anniversary, John, on your well-deserved success, and thank you for telling the story of the sale. (“Hoping but not expecting” isn’t really “intending” in my theory of people. I feed the birds, but don’t intend to attract rare ones.)

  24. I thoroughly enjoyed OMW. Any time I hit a bit that reminded me of Heinlein I got a little thrill. I thought you did a great job of incorporating the Heinlein bits into your writing. I need to get going and read Zoe’s Tale before The Human Division comes out.

  25. John, thanks for writing. I’ve enjoyed all of your work. Selfishly, I most enjoyed your movie capsule reviews in OPM. There are few movie critics that I enjoy reading, period, and your critiques had a certain punch to them. I will say Old Man’s War is the only book I have ever bought and then sat down and started to read inside the bookstore I bought it in.

  26. Happy tenth anniversary! May the next ten prove every bit as exciting and surprising as the last. I admit, it may be hard to top that first novel sale story, but I have faith you’ll manage. If not, there’s always the YOUNG FLANDRY pose-off to look forward to. Cheers!

  27. Of all of the covers pictured, I like the Japanese(?) one the best, despite it having only the fleeting-ist connection to the contents. I’m assuming that the largest text at the top is the title, not the author, but either way- why the hell does it have a ’12’ in it?

    I’ve just finished my second re-read of OMW, having received it in the Bundle after loaning out my paperback copy and never seeing it again. I rarely re-read anything, and I can count the books I’ve reread multiple times on one hand… so good company, and good work!

    Thanks, John.

  28. Happy anniversary! It’s a terrific book, and I’m glad you wrote it and that Patrick bought it and that these events capillariated such that I got to buy you crappy Mexican food. And thanks for sharing the publication story. I love it when things work out like that.

  29. wleisner writes: “It occurs to me that, had you sent the email a week earlier or later, rather than doing so between holidays when Patrick was technically on vacation from the office, he may well have ignored it and moved on to More Important Tasks.”

    It’s possible. On the other hand, I was already predisposed to be interested in John’s work, because I’d already seen from intermittent reading of The Whatever that he had, not just talent, but a certain kind of talent. Just three or four years earlier, I’d been impressed by someone else’s online writing (not fiction, but discussion posts), so much so that I wrote to her to ask if she wrote fiction. Her name was Jo Walton. That worked out.

    There’s a lot of strong, well-conceived, entertaining writing online, and most of it is by people who can’t or won’t ever write any commercially-publishable fiction, because the ability to do the latter is far rarer than the former. I don’t know what caused me to suspect that those two might have the fiction knack, and I would certainly never claim to be _reliably_ able to discern unheralded fiction-writing ability from someone’s blog posts. What I will say — as both TNH and I have said at innumerable workshops and panels — is that editing is more than passively participating in a process involving slushpiles and agented submissions. Sometimes you get a loud prompt — from your subconscious, or the Cosmic Beyond, or who knows where — that says there’s something going on here that’s very interesting. And of course if any of us knew how to reliably repeat those kinds of insights, we’d be rich. It’s not something we can turn on or off and it’s certainly not something aspiring writers can game. (Really. Don’t.) It’s not art, but to the extent that it’s a function of the weird ways the mind operates below the surface, it has some real similarities thereto.

  30. On My Way wouldn’t be a bad title for a book. (A little like The Stars My Destination.) Crappy name for your next band.

  31. John: oh these stories are cruel. They give us lesser talents vain hope that perhaps, one day, should the stars align… *sigh* Oh well, congratulations anyway! And keep it up: “The B Team” is sitting in my Nook library, taunting me as we speak.

    Scorpius: you’re right, insofar as “The Heir to the Empire” may be the most laughably over-rated work in science fiction in the last 30 years, OMW doesn’t hold a candle. With its tedious villain, its ridiculous retcons, its pointless subplots, its boring “love interest”, it’s not even good on the highly forgiving metric of Star Wars: Extended Universe novels.

  32. Congrats on the anniversary. I came to the Scalzi-verse by way of “Hate Mail”, which made me buy everything of yours I could find. I have no regrets; the OMW series is the best I’ve seen in years. Can’t wait for the new one!

  33. I had a conversation with a very old family friend over the Christmas vacation and he asked me if I could think of some science fiction books that I would recommend for him to read. After Ender’s Game, the first book I thought of to recommend was Old Man’s War. Congrats on 10 good years.

  34. Interesting author remarks. I was surprised to learn that “Agent to the Stars” was your first. It is a very good novel and I hope it gets made into a movie. Here is a copy of my review of “Agent to the Stars” for

    “This is first and only sci-fi story that caused me to laugh out loud. Scalzi has written great story that nailed the dialogue and dealings of Hollywood agents. He is also spot-on about how the income of movies is accounted for. (I am a retired lawyer who used to rep two Hollywood movie production companies, so I know whereof I speak.) The problem posed by the plot, how to you introduce a group of intergalactic aliens to the human public when the aliens are repulsive, was well done. This book is worth your time and money. The story will keep you interested and you will laugh. I hope Scalzi does very well with it. In fact, I hope they make a movie out of it. And that he gets gross points!”


  35. Hmmm…. Should I become the only person in this entire comment-thread who read (or tried to read) Old Man’s War and found it to be almost unreadably awful?

    Nah. Why bother?

  36. This seems like a good spot to mention that the kindle version of The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, lists Old Man’s War as another of his titles. It’s on the very last page of the kindle version.

  37. Old Man’s War was the first John Scalzi novel I read and that’s how I became a reader of your blog. I’m a happy owner of the Portuguese version with the awesome space battle cover. Any plans for publication of more of your work in Portugal?

  38. This was great fun to read, thanks for telling this story. I saw it because of a link on Instapundit, appropriately enough; I read Old Man’s War when it first came out because of a link on Instapundit. Doesn’t seem like ten years have gone by. But, that’s part of getting old! I enjoyed the book very much even though I don’t read much science fiction. It’s a good novel.

  39. I read OMW shortly after it came out in paperback, which is rare for me, but at the time I was reading a stack of debut novels. The plan was to try to see what they had in common and focus on those qualities in my own work.

    I’ve forgotten most of the books I read (or tried to read) that year, but OMW has really stuck with me.

  40. John,

    I am, right now, halfway through reading OMW for the first time. (I know, I know: a little late to the party). I’ve been reading Whatever and following you on Twitter for years, but for some reason I never got around to read OMW. I started a little out of order, the first of yours I read was “Zoe’s Tale,” which stands on it’s own fantastically.

    Thanks for sharing this, and happy anniversary!

  41. I’m in the middle of OMW now, after reading and loving Redshirts. I agree, it’s hard to put down. I’m a latecomer to Whatever, by way of Wil Wheaton, I think. Your thoughtful posts about modern culture and politics are what keep me coming back, and I’ve read many books recommended in The Big Idea. I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t read OMW and I’m glad I am making up for it!

  42. The highlight (not to mention central premise) of this post is its central premise: Gratitude.
    Gratitude is the sincerest form of prayer.
    OMW made me a fan from the get-go and I have made it a point to collect everything John’s put out since.
    Our politics couldn’t be more opposite (I think Ronald Reagan was a squish) and I have had the privilege of actually living the military life for more than a quarter century that made me appreciate these novels even more. In any event, it’s great to see a talented man be successful professionally and financially–I enjoy happy endings.
    I raise my glass in memory of my fallen comrades and to John’s success. May he have many more and may he, and his family, live long and prosper.

  43. Very interesting to come across this. I picked up Old Man’s War last night intending to read a few dozen pages before turning in for the night. Like Patrick 10 years ago, I could not stop reading. I think it is only the second time in my life that I have cruised through a book cover to cover in one sitting. The rest of your novels are quickly going on my shopping list. Happy 10th Anniversary!

  44. Mazel tov, John!

    The most boggling thing to me is that I had no idea I’ve been reading Whatever so long– but I pre-dated the OMW serialization by a year or so; your first work I read was Agent to the Stars.

    Keep on writing! The world needs more good stories!

  45. Ahhh, the second cover from the top looks just like my copy. Well, except the cover of mine is worn and ripped and taped from my wife and children and various friends reading and rereading it over the years. That and the faded “Staff Pick” sticker on the front that drew my attention as I meandered a bookstore in Richmond, VA quite a few years ago.

    Good book, John, and nice pick, staff.

  46. Happy Anniversary, John, and may you have many more.

    Strangely enough, as much as I loved OMW when I got it in the Humble Bundle earlier this year, it was your blog that made me a fan (local library sadly doesn’t carry the sequels, if it wasn’t for the awesome blog I probably would have forgotten my interest by the time I was able to buy another book – my mind is decidedly NOT a steel trap.)

    I am very much looking forward to another 10 years of your writing.

  47. Congratulations on your anniversary John! I think the first thing I read of yours was the post “I hate your politics” and when I first saw a mention of “Old Man’s War” my thought was “Isn’t that the guy with the blog?” so I had to go pick it up. To me a great book is one that I enjoy just as much the second or third time through as I did the first time, and “Old Man’s War” definitely falls into that category.

    Good luck with the movie, I can’t wait to see it but after waiting for what feels like a million years for Ender’s Game to become one and knowing that Wolfgang Peterson is involved…I know I will just have to be patient and keep my fingers crossed that they remember that story is king.

    Here’s looking forward to another decade of books, and blog posts, by you!

  48. I just read “Lessons from Heinlein”. Permission to use ‘Boiling Frogs’ as my new band name? Thanks for the post…and of course your great stories.

  49. Thanks for this novel. I finished reading it for the first time this week; it was a Christmas present to myself. Loved John Perry and the rest of the Old Farts. Very genuine. Especially the sense of humor blended with the seriousness.

  50. Heh. I remember Glenn Reynolds’ enthusiastic reaction – and I just couldn’t wait to pick it up when I got home from Afghanistan. Somehow that got passed along to you – and you (and Tor!) were remarkably generous in deciding that anyone who requested a digital copy via a “.mil” address would get one.
    It took me three stores to find one that wasn’t sold out. I finally managed to grab a copy, I loved it (and I followed the story arc with every new book).
    Thanks for creating a very interesting works and for sharing it with my brothers and sisters in arms.

  51. Thanks for the backstory. I’m just glad it DID get published. OMW was the first of your novels that I read, but not the last. I just received “The Last Colony” for my birthday and will be reading it next. I expect to get to “Redshirts” later in 2013.

  52. This post, with its links to your “Lessons From Heinlein,” I thought highlights and perhaps confirms the suggestions by Adam Roberts( and others, aka Paul Kincaid( that much of science fiction is derivative and is suffering from exhaustion of ideas. In fact, sometimes Scalzi novels are pointed to as a prime example: Old Man’s War, Fuzzy Nation, & Redshirts. So that made me think about, why are your ‘derivative’ novels so damn much fun to read. I guess it is a sense of ‘wonder’ a reader of Old Man War will encounter while they trot along a plot line they have seen before.
    I want to thank you for that ‘wonder’. I also would like to thank you because I think that you and other science fiction writers writing ‘wonder’ helps those of us working in research tremendously. Not all scientists are science fiction readers, but some of the most exciting and original scientists you run into often are. Yes, for those of you who have read ‘Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow’, I fully recognize the cognitive error I’m making. But, still, ‘wonder’ is essential for great science. Basically, a good scientist will observe and think ‘what if’. Science fiction is a great way to train your brain to think ‘what if’.
    Here are some examples of where ‘what if’ takes you in the real world:
    • “Let’s create a system so that satellites can characterize the population of microorganisms below ground. This will allow us to detect microbes from space.”
    • “Let’s see if we can make this cyclotron fit into a plane with a beam station on board, so one could do synchronic observations in the field, in real time.”
    • “Let’s try to make a detailed computer simulation of the world that can run forward or backwards for 500 years and be accurate”
    Also, alas, most scientists find it difficult to discuss their ideas with others. Sometimes, having a common lexicon helps. Having someone hand you a copy of “Cryptonomicon” and say, ‘you are like working with Shaftoe’, can help cap difficult and hazardous field campaigns.
    After reading your post that you were deliberately modelling Heinlein while writing Old Man’s War and having just read criticism that novels like Redshirts were a sign of exhaustion in the SF field. I wanted to just say thank you, and I guess by extension all of the other science fiction writers, who derivative or not, have instilled in so many of my colleagues a sense of ‘wonder’. I have one of the best jobs in the world, and in some small way, I feel it is because I read a lot of science fiction.

  53. Congrats on over 10 years of writing books that I have enjoyed many times!

    I recently lived up to my reputation as a book pimp by talking our local sci fi book club into reading Old Man’s War. One of my backers was a recent attendee of the World Con in Chicago who had fallen in love with Redshirts. She had never read any of your books but had finished Redshirts and now was a fan. She also thought that you were charming and funny. By the next meeting several people were now enthusiastic fans and most had started on the rest of the series. I brought up the Heinlein comparison and was informed that yours was much better and less political than Starship Troopers (compliment?). We had a lovely discussion of your aliens.

    P.S. I still think that Agent to the Stars is one of my favorite books.

  54. It is difficult to pinpoint when I started reading the Whatever, but I’d say it was around 2007. Even though I’ve read and continue to read an awful lot of science fiction, this is a personal blog that I found so interesting that it took a YEAR of visiting this site daily to finally say: “Well, he can write. Let’s see if that novel is any good.” And, well, YES. It was.

    The only other works by science fiction writers I can compare this blog to are Asimov (whose fiction I loved even before reading his 1,500 page autobiography from the late 1970s), and the always entertaining Harlan Ellison (whose fiction I’ve read much less of, but whose essays I find compelled to read first). I suspect between Ghlaghghee and sunsets and other wondrous things, you’ve surpassed them all.

  55. Congratulations!

    Read the essay just now: I’d say “swing and a miss” on LOTR. The hobbits are the reader stand-ins there, and are rather Heinlein-esque in their salt-of-the-earthiness. They’re there to witness the heros and the villains.

  56. Of all the things that have changed in publishing over the last 10 years, I wonder if this

    “(If your first response is to point out that this or some other work by you has sat neglected in hardcopy our slushpile for $BIGNUMBER of months or years, I promise not to be surprised.)”

    is one of them.

  57. I first read OMW because of the free download on Then I purchased the sequel because I felt that you earned it.
    Only just week I reread OMW because it was part of the Ebook Humble Bundle (now reading Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link: I endorse doing that).

    I particularly like the topmost book cover as it seems to actually be relevant to the story (though the French one does too and depicts one of the more spectacular scenes)
    The bottom book cover, not so much…

  58. I finished it this year (thank you humble bundle), despite following this blog for much longer. I’ve recommended it to all of my science fiction reading friends. The sequel is on my to-read list for 2013.

  59. I remember that weekend. Patrick fell straight into Old Man’s War and didn’t climb out again until he’d finished reading it.

    Some dialogue from your phone conversation, as described to me at the time:

    PNH: “So, how wedded are you to this online publishing model?”

    JS: “Oh, not at all.

    Also, I’ve always appreciated how promptly you got out there and explained to other aspiring writers that they shouldn’t try the same maneuver, because things don’t work that way.

    SF was a duller place without you.

  60. Speaking of slush piles, I first encountered OMW as part of a box of donations coming into our library. It was a new-to-me book, and since I like science fiction, I pulled it out of the stack destined for our local Friends and took it home to read. After finishing it, I clandestinely processed it and added it to the library’s collection, where it is still happily circulating after about 8 years. Quality will tell.

  61. Interesting that you posted this today–I just read OMW for the first time (bought it on Amazon for three bucks or so a couple weeks back). People said you were a good writer, but I wasn’t prepared for how quickly the novel wrapped me into the world. Finished the book in one day, bought the next one for full price.

    More publishers need to offer up a good novel for a great price (humble or not) because those of us that read, will buy more.

    Thanks for writing the book. It’s going to become a favorite to re-read.

  62. Thanks for writing it, and for sticking around — I found this site via Official Playstation Magazine more than ten years ago, and my experience with most online writers to that point was that eventually they moved onto other things. The Whatever has been something of a rare mainstay, even as your focus on what to write about has changed somewhat to reflect your much busier schedule. It’s been a lot of fun (and often gratifying) to follow over the past decade and I look forward to whatever’s next.

  63. Love this story. I’m working toward having one like this of my own some day. It seems that all I’ve ever done is dream about getting that first successful book done. Once it happens – and I choose to believe that it will happen – I very much look forward to looking back on the seemingly insurmountable challenges I faced (mostly from within, naturally) and recognize the amazing things that fell into place to help me conquer them. And thus to know that because of these things, life became that much more meaningful.

    The thing you wrote that really stuck with me was this: “Professionally, I have become who I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s amazing.”

    I think that is a far too rare accomplishment, and one so much more valuable than many people, content to drone on doing what they can because they must, never have the opportunity to realize. I have tremendous respect for you for making that happen. Well done. And thanks for stories that are just so damned entertaining.

  64. John, I was new to you in 2012. I fell in love with Patrick Rothfuss last year (yes, it seems I’m always late to the party). His novels led me to his blog, on which he kept talking about this “Scalzi” guy. I figured anyone Rothfuss liked that much couldn’t be bad, and thus I discovered Whatever.

    Whatever then led me to OMW, and even though I finished reading it after midnight I immediately ordered The Ghost Brigades for my Nook…and started reading it then. From there it’s been all through the OMW universe (I finally read After the Coup 2 nights ago, immediately after rereading OMW again).

    Now that I’ve been reading Whatever religiously for the past year, I noticed something interesting during my reread of OMW the other night. Perry describes Jane as a “tall brunette”. Channeling yourself through your character there? :)

    Thank you for hours and hours of entertainment, and thanks to Patrick for publishing it.

    P.S. It seems I talk about you a lot at home, usually in the context of “Scalzi tweeted this…”, as my wife told me 2 nights ago that she’s added your name to the list of authors I’m not allowed to talk about anymore (the other being Rothfuss).

  65. I’ve been a reader of your blog on and off for about a year–in that time you’ve made many thought-provoking posts, and I’ve found much occasion to rejoice at reading your blog.

    So, I thought, maybe I should try his novels.

    I sucked down Redshirts in one sitting. This last weekend (a long weekend for me) I devoured the four-book-set–OMW, Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale–with only occasional breaks to run to parties, fix my car, etc.

    Then I saw this post, and it seemed so terribly, circularly right that I should be reading more about how these books arrived just as I finished reading these books.

    Well played. Well played.

  66. I arrived late to the party, unfortunately. I discovered Whatever in 2006, have been following John’s epic journey through the publishing world ever since. Though I was late, I was one of those readers who couldn’t put the book down. If memory serves, I spent a Friday night and a Saturday morning immersed in his universe. One long coffee-stained sitting. That was like seven years ago. I went as far as buying the $5 eBook a few weeks back and writing a five-star review on Amazon. I’m a fan, eh.

  67. I was curious, in the last 10 years you clearly make the case for having become successful and having “arrived”. Do you at all feel that you have become impacted by your success? More vocal, self confident or dismissive of others you feel beneath you? I ask because sometimes (but not often) you come off as a little arrogant but that could be just perception of a particular character trait you always had long before being successful.

  68. InDaButt:

    You would need to ask my friends about this, but I suspect that particular strain of arrogance that you’ve noted has been there for years, long before I had any success as a fiction writer. If anything I am probably more circumspect these days than I was before, which might be a terrifying thing to consider. But even when one is trying to be circumspect, one can have a bad day.

  69. JS- thanks for the reply, I figure it might have been something always there. I mean that not in a bad way, many people including myself have our moments. Glad to hear your success has not blown the head up, I think we have seen many cases of that over the decades.

  70. JS – ps and sorry for the double post. But I loved OMW and sequels (up till Zoe’s Tale) greatly. A movie from it is as excitedly anticipated as the Ender’s Game movie.

  71. All the best for your next 10 years. I thoroughly enjoyed OMW having had it recommended by Glenn Reynolds on several occasions.

  72. Hmmm.

    Literary novel — topic adultery or incest or midlife crisis with or sans picaresque episodic travel to “find” oneself. Award-winning if novel employs odd typography, POV, or chapter sequences.

    SF — derivative or unimaginative in subject matter.

    O! Now I see the difference!

    Carry on, John.

    I read that book sales basically follow this genre hierarchy: romance, thriller, mystery, SF, Western, literary. Hmm. I wonder if “idea exhaustion” is merely sour grapes when “a kiss is still a kiss, as time goes by” and when people still mostly buy to read Story.


  73. I picked up Old Man’s War based on this blog post and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve since read the immediate sequel and am now working on “The Lost Colony”. and I’ll read the others as well.

    Great piece of work – so glad that you shared this story and exposed me to the book!
    – Bryan

  74. Hi John- loved all 3 bookd (OMW, TGB & TLC). BTW great ending for TLC. Just curious if you have any more thoughts on bringing back John Perry character in future? Loved his character.

  75. I hadn’t finished a novel, until Old Man’s War. Thank you for writing it. At 28 I am finally reading novels, if it hadn’t been for Old Man’s War I don’t know that I ever would have.

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