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August 2007
Locus Magazine
John Scalzi: Color in the World
John Scalzi grew up in Southern California and earned a philosophy degree from the University of Chicago. He was a film critic for the Fresno Bee, then an editor for AOL, before becoming a full-time freelance writer in 1998. Scalzi is also a prominent blogger, with a popular personal site, "The Whatever", and professional blogs for AOL.

Scalzi took an unusual path to fiction publication: he posted first two novels Agent to the Stars and Old Man's War on his website, the second in 2002, when Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden read it and offered to publish it in more traditional form. The novel appeared in 2005 and subsequently became a Hugo finalist. Two more novels set in the world of Old Man's War followed: The Ghost Brigades (2006) and The Lost Colony (2007), along with standalone The Android's Dream (2006). The High Castle is forthcoming.

Scalzi's nonfiction includes The Rough Guide to Money Online (2000), The Rough
Photo by Beth Gwinn
Guide to the Universe (2003), and The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (2005), as well as the humorous "Book of the Dumb" series, which began in 2003. Some of his blog entries on writing were compiled as You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing (2007). Another collection of blog entries, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Selected Writing, 1998 - 2008, is forthcoming.

Scalzi won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2006 and is currently a Hugo finalist in the Best Fan Writer category. He lives in Bradford OH with his wife, Kristine Blauser Scalzi (married 1995), and their daughter, Athena.
Excerpts from the interview:

Old Man's War was meant to be Heinleinesque both because structurally that was the right thing to do and because I figured it would sell. I went into a bookstore and looked to see which science fiction was selling, and there was a hell of a lot of military science fiction out there. When I thought about what military SF I liked, a lot of it came back to Heinlein. So I very consciously set out to write that sort of thing. It's cynical in the sense that I figured if I could replicate enough of Heinlein's form, then it would have a great shot at actually being sold.

“Having said that, I did try to include my own voice as much as possible. Everybody's done Heinlein. Much military science is just endless photocopies of Starship Troopers. So even if you do pastiche or homage, you have to try to shoehorn some of your own voice in, because otherwise what's the point? It was nice for me that Old Man's War did so well, because I think The Ghost Brigades has rather more of my voice, as does The Last Colony. Old Man's War got my foot in the door and introduced my voice to some extent, but that voice will progress further as I go along.”


“Reviewing movies was instrumental in helping me to write books, because I spent so much time looking at structure: why things work, why things don't work. One of the things my agent asked about my books was, 'Did you write them as screenplays first?' No.... I'd rather put my hand in a garbage disposal than write a screenplay. But my books are heavy in dialogue. They've got lots of cinematic action, and so on, and that comes from 15 years of watching movies. And all my books have pretty much a three-act structure, which is also a movie thing.

“With Old Man's War (and to some extent The Ghost Brigades), people read them and say, 'This is a pro-war book,' or 'This is an anti-war book.' I have my own opinions, but I'm interested to see how readers defend their positions that the books are pro- or anti-war. Military science fiction is popular in America for the same reason that action films are popular here and less so in other places: Americans like explosions; Americans like people with guns. It really is encoded in our national psyche: it's in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. We're all supposed to have guns.”


“A book is an operating system. You set up a stage and give the reader some particular details and instructions in the world; how they use that operating system about the world is pretty much up to them. I don't write a lot of description because I find it boring, and also because I don't think it's necessary. In Android's Dream I have a character named Sam, and you never find out what Sam's sex is. It works either way, but it's interesting to see what the reader thinks it is. “There are lots of places where you can leave the world uncolored and give people a box of crayons and say, 'Color in the world.' If you believe a book is a dialogue between the author and the reader, you want them to participate in building up that universe; you want to give them permission to do it. One of the reasons books are so damned thick these days is that everything has to be explained. But it's more fun to speculate, to engage your brain. There are two reasons for leaving parts of the universe a bit sketchy: one is possibly because you can follow it up in a sequel, and the other is that it's fun to engage the reader.

“The science fiction audience is a smart and interesting audience, so their input is useful. On the very first page of Ghost Brigades, I say something's in a parabolic orbit, and I've been getting e-mails saying, 'No! That's not parabolic.' Hopefully, the paperback edition will just say 'orbit' instead. SF has such a great dialogue with its readers, it's Talmudic. They've got the scrolls, and they're arguing with God: me or other writers. It's aggravating sometimes, when you're caught in a stupidity, but they care, and it's essential that they feel their contract with the author is one of communication. The author-reader relationship is not exactly one-to-one, but it's pretty damned close.”

© 2007 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.