Jul 30 2008 12:20am

Old News

You may be wondering where my promised steady stream of fannish news and commentary is. It's very strange; I've been busy reading science fiction.

I carefully downloaded all the freebies, and have been gradually working my way through them, snatching a few minutes of promising first novel in the interstices of my hectic life.

Gradually, that is, until I got to John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which I scarfed up like yummy pizza. I then realised that I had fallen prey to a trope: the first hit is free.

I can only assume that Scalzi is keeping Heinlein's brain in a vat, and channelling novels designed to bore directly into my hindbrain. Apparently, there rests there a 14 year-old with an inexhaustible thirst for short chirpy books of derring do where gallant and moderately anti-authority earthlings explore the universe and meet interesting alien civilisations. And kill them, yes, though not invariably.

These books are fabulous page-turners, and they overflow with Scalzi's sharp wit. Aged SFnal tropes are shaken up and re-examined, the bigger picture is gratifyingly opaque and ambiguous, and the plot drives ever onward. So much so that I forgive them all manner of sins in my desperation to keep reading. That I think is the majority view of these books; the minority view is that the flaws will cause your disbelief suspenders to perish. Mine are holding up well, though I think I would have enjoyed these books even more if I didn't read Whatever.

Three down so far, don't suppose the others will take me more than a few more days. Onwards!

P Wade
1. P Wade
Why would you have enjoyed the books even more if you hadn't read Salzi's "Whatever" piece?

Please don't tell me you're siding with Card on this one...
P Wade
2. Skar
I doubt that Ms. Scott was referencing the particular piece that's up today on the Whatever.

I suspect, though I may be wrong, that she shares a problem that I myself have with Scalzi's work. (Don't get me wrong, I like his books and have bought most of them.) It is undeniable that all his characters tend to sound either like him, as he writes in his blog, or like him imitating someone... as he does on his blog.

If I had never read the Whatever, I wouldn't have twigged to this.
Arachne Jericho
3. arachnejericho
I love the Whatever, and it was his voice that made me pick up Old Man's War etc.

However, in later books in the series I do pick up different shades of voice. The Sagan Diary is when I learned he had more than one main voice in him. And Ghost Brigades surprised me.

As for characters in later books; I really could recognize each of them in a dark room. You may just be seeing a new science fiction writer's work in Old Man's War, but it is good work for all that.
Alison Scott
4. AlisonScott
I wasn't refering to the content of any particular 'Whatever', or to Scalzi's politics or beliefs, which seem fine to me.

It's just that having read about the author and his family on the blog, the extent to which major characters are based on the author and his wife and daughter becomes clear. If I'd not read the blog, I'm not sure I would have noticed at all.

Edit: And having just read today's Whatever column and the OSC column it refers to, I want to clarify that I believe that the spread of same-sex marriages and (in the UK) civil partnerships has hugely increased the overall amount of joy in the world at absolutely no cost and is one of the most incontrovertibly good things to have happened in my entire lifetime.
P Wade
5. P Wade
That's good to know, Alison. Sorry for my obtuse reading of your comment in your article. I probably shouldn't have even said anything. No reason to get all political around here.

As to the other comments about Scalzi's work, I will keep that in mind. I'm almost finished with Old Man's War and it is the first thing I've ever read of Scalzi's work. I have REALLY been enjoying it and plan on devouring his other works.

I will say that it seems his characters are very Heinleinesque. What I mean by that, is all his characters just seem so darn special. They are always more clever than the other lesser characters around them and seem to have a sort of flippant attitude about the Universe no matter what is happening to them.

While I think this makes for little variety in his characterization, it is a type of character I enjoy reading about nonetheless. So I guess, for me, it's not so much a complaint as an observation.

After looking over Whatever more I also must say I am becoming as interested in Scalzi the man as I am Scalzi the author. At the very least, he sounds like a guy I'd like to go have a beer with.
Julian Hall
6. Jules
Gradually, that is, until I got to John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which I scarfed up like yummy pizza. I then realised that I had fallen prey to a trope: the first hit is free.

Don't I know it. I finished the free e-book a couple of days ago. I'm waiting for my amazon order with the rest of the series to arrive. I'm feeling withdrawal symptoms.
I'm almost finished with Old Man's War it seems his characters are very Heinleinesque.

If you haven't finished it, you haven't read the acknowledgements, which are at the back of the book:
Finally: Thank you, Robert A. Heinlein, for debts that have (since these acknowledgments are placed in the back of the book) become obvious.

As I understand it, the book is an intentional play on themes from (particularly) Starship Troopers but also other Heinlein stories.

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