John Scalzi on Hugo Nominations, Collaboration, Fandom, and More.

Hugo-winning author John Scalzi talks about his many Hugo nominations, the fantastic project that was Metatropolis, where fandom is going, and his upcoming projects in this .mp3 WorldCon interview.

ML: This is Mur Lafferty, and I am here with author John Scalzi. How are you, John?

JS: I’m fine, thank you.

ML: I’m very glad you were able to take time out of your busy Worldcon to sit down. How is Worldcon going for you?

JS: Worldcon so far is going great I mean, Montreal is a wonderful city, first off. It’s the first time that I’ve been here, and I’m really enjoying it, it’s just a great city. And this Worldcon so far has been really good, there haven’t been any panels where I wanted to strangle anybody, which is always positive. And I’ve seen a lot of my friends and I’m having a good time, so I can’t complain.

ML: That’s great. And you are up for how many Hugos tonight?

JS: I’m up for three.

ML: That’s fantastic.

JS: Yes, I’m pretty pleased, myself.

ML: I’ll bet!

JS: Yes, I’m up for Best Novel, up for Best Related Book, and then, with a number of other people who contributed to the METAtropolis audiobook, I’m up for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.

ML: Yes.

JS: Yes.

ML: METAtropolis, I enjoyed that very much. That was a fantastic project in itself, along with the stories involved.

JS: Yeah, we were thrilled with it. We were happy to play with it together, and put it together, and also just thrilled with how people responded to it, it’s been really great.

ML: Tell me a little bit about how you put it together. You were the official editor for that.

JS: Yes, I was the editor. Basically, I’d been talking with Steve Feldberg, who is with Audible, and talking about various Audible projects, and they wanted to do something science fictional, and one of the things that I said is, well, I don’t want to do just like a regular anthology, because then that’s just been done so many times before. What I suggested is that we do an anthology where we got four or five people, had them build a world together, and then, having build the world together, having that communal exercise, went off and wrote individual stories in that world. So you’ve got the best of individual world-building and you’ve got the best of individual effort, and so we did that, and it took us about a month and a half to build our idea of these future cities, and then off they went to do their writing and I waited for them to get all their stories in, and thy were just fantastic. I mean, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Karl Schroeder, and Tobias Buckell, I mean, one of the reasons I chose those particular people because I knew they would do A-class work with not having to do a whole lot of fiddling. Principle of least effort. Then once the stories were in, I wrote my story to sort of fill in the gaps of what they might have left out, for the entire world-building, and we just shipped it off and had some really god audio readers, like three actors from BSG, which is really nice. And then a couple very notable audiobook readers, so just the whole project from beginning to end, was a whole lot of fun and something new to do, which is always great, and just a great product. Couldn’t have been happier with the way it turned out. And fo course, then we got the Hugo nod, which was completely unexpected. It’s the first time an audiobook has been nominated for a Hugo, and it’s only the second time an anthology has been nominated, so it was completely out of the blue.

ML: That’s fantastic. And it did get picked up for print, correct?

JS: Yes, it’s going into hardcover, probably in the next couple weeks, from Subterranean Press, and we’re very excited about that. So if you didn’t have the time for the audiobook, now you’d got it in print version, as well.

ML: Actually, you know more about the interior workings of the Hugos and everything. Regardless of whether you win or not this year, would your print version be able to be nominated next year?

JS: I don’t think so. I mean, I think the relevant thing is the principle of first publication, and for the purposes of WC, first publication in this case was an audiobook. So this is actually something we asked them because we were wondering whether or not, as a group, we should also let people know that the individual novellas were open to nomination as well, or if we should just focus on the aubiobooks. So we asked the WC folks, and they said, well, this is all new territory, so we would consider having the audiobook publication be the first publication, so that’s when your clock starts ticking. And, you know, it’s also a little bit chintzy to have two bites at the same apple, so the way that we did it was that we said, let’s try for the long form, it’s going to be a long shot, but what the heck? And it paid off. So we’re really happy about that.

ML: Something that I’ve been thinking about in the past couple of days…. I talked to John Kessel and Jimmy Kelly and Pat Cadigan about this, just the concept of the sci-fi fandom and where it’s going. Because you’ve been—I remember you were rather vociferously wanting to change things around in SFWA a couple of years ago, and as a younger writer, I thought your ideas were great. And, not necessarily interior or SFWA, but where do you see fandom going these days, with the internet, and with larger conventions?

JS: I think there’s a number of things happening. Certainly there’s a huge number of younger fans, but they’re going to things like media conventions—they’re going to DragonCon, they’re going to anime conventions. A lot of the old-school conventions are having difficulty bringing younger members in, or they almost seem to resent that the younger science fiction readers are doing things that are not old school. They’re reading anime instead of reading the novels that are coming out, and I think that what you have to understand is that science fiction is science fiction. The genre is the genre. How the genre is served to people is going to evolve over time. I’m perfectly fine with the fact that lots of young folks are wanting to watch anime and read manga. I’m perfectly happy that they are doing things online, reading there as opposed to traditional print magazines. What we need to do, as writers, is find out where our market is and adapt to it. I’m not saying that you follow every trend slavishly, but what you see if that, if there is a sea-change in the way that things are being done, then you account for it. One of the things we were talking about fairly seriously is doing an Old Man’s War manga, been talking to a number of publishers about that and what the possibility of it is, because if that’s where they are, I want them to read the book, and if putting it into a manga would make that easier for them, why not try it? I also think it would be cool to have it in manga form. That’s the other thing. I’m not snobby about it, you know, I want to write the stories I want to write. If that means that some of them go into a different format, that’s fine. We just did an audiobook. It was very successful because it was addressing a market that wasn’t being addressed. So there’s a lot of room for experimentation. Fortunately, my novels still sell relatively well, so there’s life in that format yet. I think there’s a lot of undue panic attacks about, “oh my god, the world is ending” every single time that the business model changes one way or the other. People start panicking because they think it’s the end of everything. But the fact is, you know, books survived movies, books survived TV, books are surviving manga and anime, books will always be there in one form or another. You just have a larger palette of entertainment options. They’re surviving video games, you know? So I think the panic is just lots of people not actually thinking things through a lot. The genre will be here for a while. The real question is, are we ready to take it on the terms that the audience wants it?

ML: That’s an excellent question. You’re saying that the young people are reading manga, but then I know you’ve blogged about this, so I just wanted to talk to you about it a little bit, the fact that there are several YA books in the final Hugos. And that’s fantastic.

JS: I agree.

ML: Well, yeah, you’re one of them!

JS: I think the thing about it is, it’s an interesting time for science fiction because a lot of the movement in written science fiction is something from YA, and that’s really great, because if you want to hook readers you’ve got to hook them young, you know, and the problem science fiction has had is even though we’ve had a lot of good fantasy novels all through the years, there’s been a period where it’s been sometimes difficult to find good science fiction YA. And now we’re beginning to find more of it. Cory Doctorow, doing Little Brother, that’s great. Scott Westerfeld is an absolute giant in the field, he’s been doing fantastic things, and his upcoming book Leviathan is fabulous. All of these point to the fact that is a hunger for science fiction, there’s a hunger for science fiction in novel form. There’s life in the old beast yet. And the real question is, again, do we panic about it? I think a lot of people are concerned, they’re like, “there’s so much YA on the novels, it’s cutting out real books,” and it’s like, Little Brother is a real book. Graveyard Book is a real book. There’s no question about the quality of these works. It’s just a fact that some of the best writing in science fiction right now, some of the best and most popular writing, is being done in YA. It’s reflecting the market, it’s that simple.

ML: So, what you have upcoming that you can talk about?

JS: Things I cannot talk about! Well, a number of things. METAtropolis, as we said, is coming out in the next couple of weeks. In December—I actually wrote my first fantasy work, it’s a novella called The God Engines, and that will be coming out in December through Subterranean Press, and that was a lot of fun to write, because all of the things that I’m known for, like humor and science fiction, there’s none this in there. It’s fantasy and it’s really dark, and it was written to basically see if I could do it, and my publisher’s happy and the beta readers have been happy, so hopefully other readers will be happy, as well. Also, I’m a creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, the television series. It debuts on October 2 on the “SyFy” channel, and that’s been a whole lot of fun. They send me the scripts and I send them back notes, going, “this is what you’re doing wrong!” Sometimes they listen and sometimes they’re like, “no, I think you’re wrong on this one.’ They’ve actually been fantastic to work with. I’ve been really enjoying the scripts. I wasn’t a huge Stargate fan prior to this, and I really like what I’ve been seeing coming out of it, and of course I’ve seen the trailers of the upcoming series, the Universe series, and it just looks great. Speaking just as a person who likes science fiction TV in general, I would be watching if even if they weren’t paying me. But that comes out, like I said, October 2, and that’s going to be a lot of fun for people.

ML: Great! Well, as you’re one of the most popular bloggers out there, I feel silly asking this, but it’s standard. Where can we find you online.

JS: [evil laughter]

ML: Just in case there’s one out there!

JS: “My God, who is this man?! Find him! Find him now!”, or simply type “whatever” into Google and it’ll take you to my website, which I think is kind of cool.

JS: That is awesome. Well, that you so much for being here, John.

ML: Thank you.

Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She is the host of I Should Be Writing and the author of Playing For Keeps, among other things. You can find all of her projects at


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