Tag Archives: John Scalzi

The right lessons

You don’t have to be a fan of John Scalzi, Robert A. Heinlein, or science fiction in general to enjoy Scalzi’s piece “Lessons From Heinlein,” especially if you’re a writer in any genre. Heinlein stood the entire SF field on its collective ear in the mid 20th century and his work remains popular for a lot of good reasons, as well as a great many bad ones. As a model for how to construct a fast-moving story in which characters develop and reveal themselves through their actions, Heinlein is one of the best. The trouble is, a great many people of the libertarian stripe see Heinlein as a sage as well as a storyteller — a readable Ayn Rand, if you like.  There’s a line from Paul Theroux’s novel The Mosquito Coast — “Your father is the worst kind of pain-in-the-neck — a know-it-all who’s sometimes right.” — that applies perfectly to Heinlein. John Scalzi, to his great credit, understands this and has absorbed the right lessons from the man’s work.

Scalzi reposted this essay to mark the tenth anniversary of his novel Old Man’s War, which he wrote with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in mind. Oddly enough, the 1997 film version of Starship Troopers has been all over cable the last few weeks — nothing says Christmas like freshets of human gore and insect goo, I suppose. I wouldn’t argue for Paul Verhoeven’s film as a good movie, though it is one of the most watchable bad movies ever made. It’s also the only film adaptation I can think of that expresses such blatant contempt for its source material. With its propagandistic news broadcasts, Albert Speer-derived sets, and Third Reich haberdashery, Starship Troopers deliberately cocks its leg over everything Heinlein argues for in his novel. Even the casting of Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards as Johnny Rico and Carmen Ibanez mocks Heinlein’s deracinated characters, who have Latino names but are interchangeable with Heinlein’s other white mouthpieces. (Hilariously, some Heinlein fans have cited Rico to answer charges of racism arising from his less palatable works, such as Farnham’s Freehold.) The film’s broad satire is fun, but unfair. One may dispute Heinlein’s contention that raw force “has settled more issues in history than has any other factor,” but flipping it off doesn’t really serve as an answer.          

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John Scalzi is a mensch

I mean, seriously. What other successful writer-blogger would do something like this? I ask you.

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How not to do it

Paul Fussell called it the Author’s Big Mistake. John Scalzi calls it the Author Review Implosion. No matter what name you use, it sure ain’t pretty.

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I’m No. 135!

Author and blogger John Scalzi has very graciously opened up a comment thread that allows other authors to hawk their books. Since Scalzi sells more books in any given five-minute period than I do in a year, and has an Internet audience that is ridiculously larger than mine to boot, I am happy to be Author No. 135 hawking The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway, which I have to say would make a wonderful gift for anyone who appreciates political corruption, murder, traffic engineering, the march of progress, or any other other things that make the world go ’round.

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Do the Scalzi

I celebrated the fall of 2008 by sending my agent a nonfiction book proposal and the completed, polished manuscript of a crime novel. Shortly after La Agent fired off some submissions to various interested editors, the publishing industry began rending itself with layoffs, budget cuts, and severe restrictions on the purchasing power of the editors who survived the staff reductions.

What’s that you say? Great timing, Steve? Tell me about it. The editors who didn’t get the ax got the workloads of those who did. The nonfiction proposal is finally getting some atttention, but a year after the novel manuscript went out, its fate is still an open question. Things are tough out there. 

Maybe you’ve heard about John Scalzi, a very good SF writer who posted an entire novel online, chapter by chapter, via his blog. He did it because he wanted people to read his work. He ended up getting a book deal and went on to become a successful novelist, but all that was after the fact. The chief thing is, he wanted his work to be read.  

I like my crime novel, a lot, and I want it to be read. So on Wednesday, with my agent’s full blessing, I’m going to start posting it a chapter at a time. It should be complete by late December, at which point I’ll post a short essay describing how I came to write the novel, and the sources of inspiration for the (rather unusual) main character. I’d be delighted to get comments from readers, but they should come as e-mails to moi. Comments will be switched off for the individual posts. If you want to send me a few bucks in exchange for the posts, that would be nice, but mainly I want to get some daylight on the novel.

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Friday finds

Today would have been film critic Pauline Kael’s 90th birthday, and to mark the occasion film blogger Jason Bellamy has turned his site The Cooler into a clearing house for arguments about all things Kael. The clip above is from a four-part 1982 interview on the occasion of her book 5001 Nights at the Movies, and if you like it you can watch parts two, three and four.  

Pauline Kael. She’s never said a good thing about me yet. That dirty old broad. But she’s probably the most qualified critic in the world. Cause she cares about film and those who are involved in it. I wish I could really rap her. But I can’t. Cause she’s very very competent. She’s knows what she’s talking about.”

Of trains, Secaucus Junction, William Carlos Williams and Paterson, N.J.

What did you do for Bloomsday?

Time to catch up on John O’Hara.

Call me crazy, but the time to stop your boss from trying to murder your only son with electric bolts is before he starts, not several minutes in when your kid is smoking like a grill full of baby back ribs.”

Learn more about Anna Julia Cooper and why she belongs on that stamp.

A chat with Michael Moorcock.

What were people reading during the Depression? Take a stroll through back issues of Publishers Weekly to learn who was “the best paid author in the world” in 1933, and to find ads for Mein Kampf (a “stirring autobiography [in which] you will find Hitler’s own story of his meteoric rise from obscurity to world-wide fame”).

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Friday finds

I hope this doesn’t spoil your day, but the opening of the long-planned museum devoted to the Swedish pop group ABBA has been delayed for at least two years. ABBA fans will just have to console themselves by looking forward to a worldwide touring exhibit of ABBA-related paraphernalia, stocking up on ABBA hair-care products or ordering some ABBA stage costumes. Or they can rent out Muriel’s Wedding (above), the tale of how a young woman living in the Australian town of Porpoise Spit sets out to make her life “as great as an ABBA song.”    

Literary blogger starts her own Brooklyn bookstore. Go thou and buy books.

In memoriam, Steve Gilliard.

The new issue of The Biographer’s Craft is ready for your perusal. So, for that matter, is Ansible.

“. . . if he is your friend, you could call him to help you bury a body. He’d bitch about his aching back the whole time, but he’d still grab a shovel.”

It’s been a bad week for film actors associated with the martial arts. First David Carradine was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room, and now Shek Kin has passed on as well.

Biblical microfiction from Joe Z. Elisheva: “This angel sits here, silent, forever by my side. His head is bowed, but his eyes look up toward me, here as I lie on this soft stone bed of comfort. His wings, his feathers whisper without words in the gentle breeze that flows through this sealed room.”

Only a few hours left top hear Ian McMillan talk with poet Seamus Heaney.

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Friday finds

Time for a Tobias Wolff mini-festival, for no reason other than that he’s one of the all-time champion short story writers and I once had the pleasure of hearing him read his story “Smorgasbord” in Princeton, on a double bill with Robert Stone. Up top he reads an excerpt from his story “The Benefit of the Doubt,” here he sings along with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and here he reads Denis Johnson’s story “Emergency” and talks about its qualities with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker. Wolff’s 1997 book The Night in Question is a perfect, gem-studded introduction to his work; his memoir This Boy’s Life (which was made into a pretty good movie) is also a great read.  

C.M. Mayo’s new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, gets a great review from Bookslut

How Nineteen Eighty-four killed George Orwell.

Rescuing the work of Hubert Harrison, a pioneering Harlem cultural journalist, from obscurity. 

“Final Shtick,” the opener in Harlan Ellison’s 1961 story collection Gentleman Junkie, is about a Jewish stand-up comedian who returns to Gentleman Junkiehis hometown to accept an award, then punks out on his plan to lacerate the crowd with his memories of the anti-Semitism and cruelty he endured as a child there. Apparently Ellison, an Ohio native, was not tempted to reenact that story. Before anyone tries to paint Ellison as an ogre for turning down the Cleveland Arts Prize, it should be pointed out that the award’s organizers don’t come across as terribly well informed — or even very bright, for that matter. Most of the jury hadn’t heard of Ellison, they asked him for help in selling advertising space, expected him to travel from L.A. to Cleveland on his own dime, and then restrict his remarks to a three-minute window. In short, they came across like a bunch of pishers — a word I know from reading Ellison — so it’s hardly surprising the guy told them to get lost.  

How an academic journal can piss away its hard-won reputation, almost overnight. Perhaps some repercussions are in order.

The journey that I’m speaking of starts with the slave days, when slaves had to dig a hole in an inconspicuous place in the cabin, just to keep the food cool. That’s where they would hide the food. The analogy for me is that this album is my potato hole, it’s where I put my goodies, where I have my stuff stored to keep it cool. But you might use your own imagination and go through the changes from then to now. Now there’s an African-American President of the United States, and we’ve come so far so fast. And it’s a good journey. It’s a good direction for a country to be going in.

An Artist’s Guide to Human Typesaverage physical attributes for people around the world, for sketch artists in need of a quick tutorial.

Having seen Jerry Hall in person, I can attest that she’s even better looking in real life than in her pictures. Turns out we won’t be getting a chance to read her reminiscences about Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and others.

I’m not worried about the robot apocalypse, à la or The Matrix. I’m rather more worried about the WALL-E scenario, in which robots do all the work — happily — and people become pudgy balls of flesh lolling about all day without the slightest idea of what to do other than eat pureed food because it’s just too much trouble to chew. This is totally realistic. Hell, I spend more than eight hours a day in front of a computer screen as it is, sucking down Coke Zero and being glad there’s only one flight of stairs between me and my fridge. If I had C3PO to get me my Cokes, I might have already fused into my desk chair by now.”

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Friday finds


For the past three decades, essayist and art critic Paul Virilio has been studying and photographing the approximately 1,500 abandoned bunkers that are the remnants of the World War II  “Atlantic Wall,” built by the Germans in anticipation of an Allied landing on the coast of France. Virilio’s photographs of these forbidding, intriguing fortifications are in his book Bunker Archaeology, just returned to print by the Princeton Architectural Press.     

“If Michael Myers is my ‘star’ patient…and then he goes off and slaughters a whole town full of people…then I surely must be the worst f*cking doctor on Earth!”

You people look a little grouchy. Here’s some nice music to cheer you up.

Keep watching the skies! Dark comets are menacing the Earth! The solar system is full of mysteries!

This guy has a big idea. Writers of every stripe ought to be paying attention. And this writer has some words of encouragement you really ought to read. (Bird-dogged byJ.D. Rhoades.)

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The future of publishing — maybe

Andrew Sullivan thinks he has seen the future of publishing, and it’s print on demand:

My own view is that the publishing industry deserves to die in its current state. It never made economic sense to me; there are no real editors of books any more; the distribution network is archaic; the technology of publishing pathetic; and the rewards to authors largely impenetrable. I still have no idea what my occasional royalty statements mean: they are designed to be incomprehensible, to keep the authors in the dark, to maintain an Oz-like mystery where none is required.

The future is obviously print-on-demand, and writers in the future will make their names first on the web. With e-distribution and e-books, writers will soon be able to put this incompetent and often philistine racket behind us. It couldn’t happen too soon.

Joseph Zitt, meanwhile, is preparing to go the print-on-demand route with his new nonfiction book, 19th Nervous Breakdown:

Of course, I know that going with the print-on-demand non-returnable method in the first place cuts my odds on being carried in most stores down to just about nil. The current state of the book economy, however, makes bookstore distribution unaffordable to all but the largest publishers, and even they are starting to rethink it. (Harper Studio’s recent deal with Borders is a sign that een they are rethinking it.)

It is, however, essential to have the books available in online stores or to order, which means going through a house that has distribution through Ingram or B&T. So going through something like Lulu.com’s Published By You program is what it takes. And that has odd limitations on the book formats (the fault, they claim, of the printers that they use).

Full disclosure: I’ve known Joe for decades, and he asked me to contribute a blurb for 19th Nervous Breakdown, which I was happy to do — as those of us who’ve been following his blog already know, he’s an excellent writer with a unique perspective. To a certain extent he has, as Sullivan suggests, “made his name on the Web.” I would also point to John Scalzi as a model for writers using the Internet to establish their literary reputations. He’s even a big enough draw on the Internet to issue a volume of posts culled from his blog Whatever, issued by the boutique Subterranean Press.

The biggest difference is that Scalzi is a science fiction writer, and SF enjoys a well organized and durable fan base that makes it easier to get the word out. Self-published books have been around a long time, but the successful ones are usually titles with a guaranteed speciality angle: inspirational books like The Celestine Prophecy or business advice titles. Writers of general-interest nonfiction or literary fiction who opt to self-publish are still considered vanity-press clowns unable to make headway with real publishers. If self-publishing is, as Andrew Sullivan suggests, the wave of the future, the wave will only begin to crest when mainstream, established writers with good reputations decide to issue POD titles.

Hmmmmm . . .  I wonder what Andrew Sullivan plans to do for his next book? Or is the future only for other people?

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