A Twitter Thread: OMW and “Best Of”s

From earlier today. Posting here for archival and conversational purposes.

1. I saw someone posting the “Best of 21st Century” Locus Poll from more than a decade ago (on which Old Man’s War topped the SF list) and wondering how the top tier of the books on the list have held up in the time since. I won’t speak to the other books, but I’ll speak on mine.

The current paperback cover for Old Man's War

2. To get it out of the way, Old Man’s War is not the best SF book of the 21st Century to date. To suggest it is so in a world where The Broken Earth trilogy exists is, uhhhh, inaccurate (that trilogy spans both SF/Fantasy and tops both categories). This is not arguable.

3. (Also, it was incorrect even in 2011, when the Locus poll in question was first released, for reasons I explained at the time with regard to OMW topping a different “best of” poll: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/03/16/reader-request-week-2011-4-old-mans-war-and-the-best-sff-novel-of-the-decade/ )

4. To be clear: OMW is really good, he said with no bias whatsoever! And one of the best this century at being widely accessible, with a “classic” science fiction feel. It’s why the book has basically sold the same constant numbers, year in and year out, for a decade and a half.

5. When the definitive history of 21st Century SF is written (MUCH further in the future than now), I’m pretty sure OMW will be in there and noted. I and my work will be in the mix, and you know what, for my purposes, that’s going to be fine, to the extent I’ll care when dead.

6. With that said, in SF/F literature, the era we live in now is *vastly* different than the era in which OMW came out, 17 (yikes!) years ago. What’s being published has a wider authorship, a wider readership and a rather wider palette of stories, concerns and interests.

7. There’s not a sharp dividing line (all cultural eras in every creative medium are fuzzy at best) but certainly the *vibe* of SF/F lit, if you want to call it that, is in a far different place than it was even a decade ago. So a 10-year-old “best of” list will feel dated.

8. Which is how it should be! How utterly tragic for the genre if new authors and works weren’t taking it to places it hadn’t been before, recontextualizing the field and what work in it can be. SF/F isn’t meant to be static; it’s meant to change, and to be wild and unexpected.

9. OMW is really good. But other work makes a better claim at being the “best” science fiction novel of the 21st Century. One hopes in another decade, different work by different authors can put a stake in for that claim. And still others, in all the decades through to the year 2100.

10. If in 2100, OMW is still a “Top 100 SF Novel of the 21st Century,” I’m sure my great-grandkids and biographers will be happy about it. But I’m hoping most of what’s on that list will be work that’s still yet to come. And I hope I get to read a lot of it before I go.

11. Thank you for reading. And now, as always, we close this thread on a picture of a cat.


Sugar, looking down on you all.

Originally tweeted by John Scalzi (@scalzi) on May 29, 2022.

— JS

20 Comments on “A Twitter Thread: OMW and “Best Of”s”

  1. Love your honest and balanced view of your achievement here. As I remember this was your first novel? Talk about bolting out of the gate! If there was a poll of “first novels from new authors that set a bar” this would be on that list.

    I read this book and just loved it. I immediately thought, who is this guy and what else does he have? I needed to see if this was just a fluke. (Well you wrote more and it was no fluke.)

    Every author has their talent. For me, this book was a relaxing read (it flowed nicely), you played with some fun ideas but kept a sense of lightness around it. You are very imaginative, and finally, created a great world that I wanted to get to know. (Thanks for writing more in the series, I loved that you had more to say.)

    You are right, time will bring changes. New writers, new ideas to build on, etc… But whether this book holds its own decades from now, not as important to me. For this time and place, you nailed it and it deserves the accolades its received. As a bonus it was the bait that reeled this reader in. Sorry, but you are stuck with me/us now. We’ll take what you are dishing up.

  2. I balk at questions such as “what is your favorite – insert artistic work here?”

    I can rattle off a list of authors I love and admire (you will definitely be on it), but ranking them? That I can’t do. I might have someone I particularly enjoy in the moment, but I have a really hard time saying anyone is “the best”. It is not surprising to me that such lists are often based on sales rather than any kind of critical assessment. I loved OMW. It, to a great extent, inspired me to begin writing Sci-Fi myself, at the tender age of 59. I also love N.K. Jemisin’s work. And Adrian Tchaikovsky. I couldn’t possibly make qualitative comparisons between them. They are too different.

  3. I still think you are number one as a gateway drug to get non science fiction readers interested in the genre. It has worked for me a bunch of times.
    And yes there are an amazing number of good writers out there right now to read. My TBR pile could cause major damage if it fell.

  4. I believe Agent to the Stars was the first work of yours I read. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of everything over the years. I followed your web postings, but for some insane reason was hesitant to jump into OMW. I’ve found humor can be difficult to incorporate into storytelling, and Agent was so unexpectedly funny. I was hesitant about OMW not having that humorous undercurrent. Of course it was there and is why I’ve reccomended it others for years when doing a readers advisory for someone looking for ‘real’ SF.

    Wherever your works are rated in 2100, in the here and now you’ve been a wonderful author to read. From your postings on how you live your life, I’d say you’re a good man and husband. That’s a better accomplishment anyway.

  5. My Books I’ve Read list tells me I read The Broken Earth trilogy back in 2018 but I honestly cannot remember a darn thing about it at all. Totally blank. Isn’t that sad?

  6. The best Scalzi of the 21st century isn’t even OMW. It’s The Androids Dream.

    The best (that I’ve read) this century is Anathem, but Stephenson isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t expect it to top a list like this.

  7. Another vote for Androids Dream as my favorite Scalzi novel. I don’t think it got the love it deserved. Still hoping for a sequel.

  8. For the record, Old Mans War was THE book that got me back into reading. I used to read a lot as a kid and through high school, then a ten year gap of just about nothing. After that book I thought, What else have I been missing? And for that it will always have a special place in my heart/shelf.

  9. OMW and it’s sequels are entirely worthy successors to Starship Troopers and The Forever War, so I’d say you’re in pretty good company, sir.

    PS hi kitty =)

  10. Some authors try to show the horror, the insanity, the brutality of war because they dont want to profit off some fairy tale version of war that reinforces the jingoistic suicide death cult that feeds children into the meat grinder.

    Old Mans War is not one of these stories.

    One of the first alien races in omw are religious extremists, who hate us for our freedom, not because of what we may have done to their land for oil and power.

    Another alien race sends a celebrity chef with their invasion force because they like the taste of man-flesh, not because we invaded their world and committed genocide for their resources.

    At one point, Perry is committing war crimes stomping on a tiny Lilipution city like godzilla, and when he hints at maybe finally having his Captain Benjamin Willard moment, his moment of self awareness that maybe this isnt moral, he instead shrugs and decides he isnt a monster because there are monsters worse than him?

    OMW is certainly no “Deer Hunter” or “Apocalypse Now”. It’s no “Full Metal Jacket” or “Platoon”.

    OMW’s closest movie cousin is probably something like “Top Gun”, which was quite the money maker, and goddamn if they arent making a sequel. And apparently they’re turning omw into a movie too….

    So… yay??? Money??? i guess???

  11. My current favorite example of change in the field is that the novel “She Who Became the Sun” made the Hugo short list. It’s very good, and hanging on to being “genre” by a thread, however, it would probably take an enthusiast of genre fiction to come up with a gonzo historical romance.

  12. You know that at the end of the century (assuming anyone survives to get there, not a certainty by any means) there will be a fanatical band of True Puppy Brethren of the Sadness that still holds as its central doctrine that “Scalzi never sold!” and “It’s SF not SJW!”. And they will still be clueless dimwits.

  13. Broken Earth is the only trilogy I’ve ever read where the middle book is not weaker than the other two. Jemison managed the considerable task of having a beginning, middle and end in a bridge novel. That’s quite an accomplishment.

  14. I have to admit I started Jemison’s trilogy after she won all those Hugos… did not finish the first book. Dunno why, just didn’t grip me at all…

    On the other hand, I have recently re-read Stephenson’s Baroque trilogy (which isn’t quite SF nor Fantasy, just weird history) and then Cryptonomicron, a long book, but a good read. Distracted me from a lot of bad current events news for a month or two.

  15. I loved Old Man’s War. I loved the character voice, the premise, the pacing, the plot — it was great! It’s a fantastic example of milsf, a subgenre I am very fond of.

    However, my favorite novel of Scalzi’s is Lock In.

    And I agree that OMW is not the best novel of the first 22 years of the new century. But it should certainly make the top 100 lists for a long time to come.

    Thank you, our host, for your wonderful writing. I expect to be enjoying it for a long time to come.