Tor.com content by

Renay Williams

John Scalzi’s Head On and the Potential of the Future

In 2014, John Scalzi’s Lock In introduced us to a world drastically changed by Haden Syndrome, a disease that strikes 1% of the population, causing them to become “locked in”: unable to move, but still fully aware of the world around them. The world in Scalzi’s imaginary future adapts to accommodate this population of people. They create programs and infrastructure to allow people with the disease—Hadens—to continue interacting with their family and friends while also creating Haden-specific spaces. The biggest change is the development of mobility robots, called threeps, that allow Hadens to move through the world like the able-bodied.

The main character of the series, Chris Shane, is a Haden as well as an FBI agent. Lock In introduces us to Chris as a brand new agent on a Haden-related murder case. Head On, the follow up to Lock In, brings in the Haden-specific sport Hilketa. Hadens play on teams in specifically designed threeps where the goal is to rip off the head of one random member of each team and score points with it. It’s all fun and games until a Hilketa player is killed on the field. The FBI—Chris and partner Vann—have to puzzle out the reasons behind the death and the panicked response from the fledgling Hilketa league. Was the death a terrible accident or foul play?

Lock In and Head On are fast-paced, entertaining speculative crime thrillers set in the near future. They both extrapolate from our current level of technology and culture to pull us along on a chase to find the resolution to the mystery. But they also use culture in fascinating ways to flesh out the world and make it deeper and more familiar by creating parallels with how we currently interact with technology. Let’s explore some of the ways Scalzi uses current technologies and ideological challenges to inform the world of this compulsively readable series.

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A Plethora of Space Operas: Where to Start With the Work of John Scalzi

Old Man’s War was my first book by John Scalzi, and it would be my gateway back into science fiction and fantasy after years and years skimming along the surface, apathetic about my reading choices and not finding the type of science fiction in literary form that I loved so much in visual mediums. I’m probably not Scalzi’s biggest fan (or AM I?), but I am at least up there in the Hall of Fame with the other people who have handwritten him letters and then mailed them to friends across the country to deliver at book events I couldn’t attend.

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Series: Space Opera Week

Scalzi Levels Up: The Collapsing Empire‘s Characters Are Its Secret Weapon

At the end of March, my partner and I trekked four hours to Nashville, Tennessee to see John Scalzi not talk about The Collapsing Empire. That’s not abnormal; we already have the book, so he reads from awesome upcoming work that’s currently Secret (also Awesome). But during the Q&A, I was reminded of how entertaining Scalzi is as a performer (very) and how good he is at bringing that energy to his stories. The Collapsing Empire feels very much like a Scalzi novel, in that if you picked it up without reading the author’s name or the title, you’d know from the first few pages who it was written by if you’d read any of his previous work.

But it also feels distinct and different, too, because he levels up his ensemble character-work in a big way.

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Where to Start With the Work of John Scalzi: A Guide for Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert Readers

Over a decade ago, Tor gave away a free copy of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Little did they know how profitable that free PDF was going to be for them, over the years. I still have it, even though I have purchased copies of Old Man’s War multiple times since, and only half the reason is because I’m a digital hoarder. Yes, that’s right: I have nostalgia for a PDF file.

Old Man’s War was my first book by John Scalzi, and it would be my gateway back into science fiction and fantasy after years and years skimming along the surface, apathetic about my reading choices and not finding the type of science fiction in literary form that I loved so much in visual mediums. I’m probably not Scalzi’s biggest fan (or AM I?), but I am at least up there in the Hall of Fame with the other people who have handwritten him letters and then mailed them to friends across the country to deliver at book events I couldn’t attend.

[A guide to Scalzi’s back catalogue…]

John Scalzi Knows Optimism and Representation Matter: A Non-Spoiler Review of The Collapsing Empire

When humanity discovers The Flow, an extra-dimensional field that spaceships can enter and exit at specific places in space-time, a huge empire grows around The Flow’s interstellar path. With the help of The Flow, human civilization spreads across multiple far-flung planets and space station outposts. Each relies on the others, and access provided by The Flow, to survive. When three individuals begin to learn the truth about The Flow’s future—and that the stability of this path that the empire relies on might not last as long as the government believes—they must find a way to save as many people as possible.

The Collapsing Empire is John Scalzi’s latest offering, launching a brand new space opera series in a universe distinct from his Old Man’s War series. It’s got a fascinating premise, interesting characters, and brings the same charm and approachable narrative for fans new to SF that all of Scalzi’s books offer. It’s a great starting point for new, potential fans as well as great read for older fans familiar with his style and wanting their next fix. I enjoy most of Scalzi’s work on initial reads and on re-reads; I find him to be a highly reliable writer for rollicking literary adventure and for comfort reads, crafting books that feel cinematic in scope. The Collapsing Empire is no different: I read it once and then turned around to read it again. It was just as entertaining the second time through, and I’m sure there are still subtleties I’ve missed because I gobbled it down both times.

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Team Dynamics: Revisiting Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games is the fifth novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series. When I was asked to revisit Nemesis Games for Tor.com, I went happily back to one of my favorite summer reads of 2015 to examine the novel in the context of itself as well as the upcoming television adaptation.

The Expanse, as TV viewers new to the books will come to recognize it, is already making waves online as episodes release digitally and the wider Syfy release approaches in December. Although a second series has already been ordered, it’s up in the air as to whether we’ll ever get to the point where Nemesis Games, five books deep in what looks to be a very long, epic science fiction series, will make it to television. Hollywood, after all, is fickle. Of course, I hope it does because after the second book in the series, Caliban’s War, Nemesis Games is my favorite book in this universe. The story is bursting with amazing things to bring to the screen, from human drama to planet-altering events.

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