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January 12, 2005

A Pan, For Your Pleasure

Here's a fine negative review of Old Man's War, in which the book is described as "smugly preachy... occasionally interrupted by tedious digressions into How Science Works," and the clever alternate title of Elder's Game is suggested. Just in case you're wondering if I was only going to note the positive reviews here.

The "smugly preachy" part I'm neither here nor there on, since that's a personal perspective, and God knows I have my moments of smugness and preachiness. I do think the complaint about the digressions on How Science Work is interesting, though, and I'd like to comment on it. The reviewer here notes that a couple of pages talking about a beanstalk (for an example) is pretty much unnecessary, since everyone who typically reads science fiction already knows what a beanstalk is. And I would agree: most people who typically read science fiction have been introduced to the concept. Readers confronting The Singularity on a regular basis don't need a primer on beanstalk physics. Fair enough.

However, my wife, who does not typically read science fiction, does need a primer, and so do my in-laws, and so do several close friends. So do the people in my little hometown who are reading the book because I'm the local author, and so do a lot of the people who I hope might want to pick up the book who don't typically read science fiction. The book is in fact intentionally written with non-science fiction readers in mind. Why? Well, it's simple: I want a whole lot of readers, and I don't want to give potential readers outside the sphere of SF the excuse of thinking the book is going to be inaccessible to them.

Look, I'm not a snob. I'm in this for the mass market, and I want to nab readers who don't typically have science fiction as part of their reading diet. I want the guy who usually reads Tom Clancy or Stephen King to look at my book and think it might be something he wants to read. And so does my publisher; the reason Tor picked up OMW, as I've mentioned before, is that Patrick Nielsen Hayden read it and said to himself, I bet I could sell this in a supermarket rack. I hope not to disappoint Patrick in this regard. I hope we can sell the book in supermarket racks. I hope we sell a lot. This doesn't mean writing down -- that's wholly condescending and unnecessary -- but it does mean taking the time for a certain amount of exposition.

So, yeah, I regard the How Science Works parts of Old Man's War to be a feature, not a bug, although of course I recognize that it's not a feature that appeals to everyone, or that everyone needs. In other words, this reviewer isn't wrong (opinions can't really be wrong, anyway), he's just approaching the book with a more narrow presumed audience in mind than I have. When you write, you make choices, and this was one of my choices, and I think it was the right one to make. For my part, I don't think it would be a bad thing if someone who doesn't read science fiction read my book, thought "hey, that was fun," and took a chance on another science fiction book.

That's my goal: To be the gateway drug of science fiction. Sure, they start with me, but the next thing you know they're mainlining Charlie Stross right through the eyeball. This is not a bad scenario.

To end on a high note: A positive review, from NetSurfer Digest. I doubt this pointer will remain static, so an excerpt: "John Scalzi channels Heinlein ('Starship Troopers') and Haldeman ('The Forever War') in this terrific tale of interstellar war. Facing up to legends has the potential to go horribly wrong, but Scalzi has the writing chops to carry it off and produce a book which stands up to comparison with those two iconic military SF novels." Groovy.

Update: The comment thread contains a few spoilers. If you haven't read the book, you're hereby warned.

Posted by john at January 12, 2005 04:00 PM

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Karl | January 12, 2005 06:12 PM

Well, I had never heard of a beanstock before.

mo pie | January 12, 2005 06:22 PM

You mean you didn't make up the beanstalk thing?

Man, I am your target audience!

cb | January 12, 2005 06:38 PM

Ok, your my gateway drug. I've got the shakes! Hurry up with that next fix.

Ryan Freebern | January 12, 2005 06:40 PM

I used to be more of a regular SF reader, but I've had less time to read in the recent past and wider interests, so my SF reading has dropped off noticeably. Anyway, I have no idea what you mean by "beanstalk" if it doesn't involve a guy named Jack and a giant, so I'll definitely appreciate being enlightened when I read OMW.

Carol | January 12, 2005 07:10 PM

I'm an occasional SF reader (my first "hard" SF book was "The Mote in God's Eye", which I read earlier this year and loved), so once I sit my butt down to read "OMW" I will be grateful for the Layman's Physics Lesson. Mainly because no matter how hard I try to understand any level of physics my brain just stalls out. And then there's smoke and a funny burning smell. It's kind of sad.

Thumb | January 12, 2005 07:17 PM

So, do I have to buy a copy of the book to learn what a "beanstalk" is?

Not that I don't want to by the book, I do. Really. I'm just impatient.

Karl | January 12, 2005 07:24 PM


RooK | January 12, 2005 07:27 PM

That reviewer complaining about How Science Works sections is talking out his ass. A book is not TV, so there is no need to pander to people with arbitrarily foreshortened attention spans. Sure, the pace of a book is very important to its readability, but the sections in question were actually quite readable because of the dialogue format.

As a hard-core hard SF reader, having concepts that are familiar in the genre yet still beyond current technology described serves a purpose. Besides the useful colouring of setting it provides, it reaffirms snobs like me that the author isn't a moron. I can't even begin to tell you how much of a let-down it was when Stephen Baxter screwed up the most important feature of quantum entanglement in Manifold:Space. Yet he was just describing that familiar SF artifact, teleportation.

Actually, I shouldn't downplay the importance of the setting description. Regardless of whether the easily-bored reviewer recognizes it, there is a vast tactical difference between a jump drive and a superluminal space drive. In fact, it's a difference that has pivotal importance to the plot.

Ergo, ass-speak.

OneBallJay | January 12, 2005 08:48 PM

I got my copy from Amazon yesterday, and, for what praise from a random internet individual is worth, I really enjoyed it. So much so, that I stayed up a bit past my bedtime to finish it. Definitely the best book I've read all year (edged out "Baby Wise" by a hair, "What to Expect the First Year" by a mile, and blew "Professional Ethics for Certified Public Accountants: A Self Study Course" out of the water).

Also for what it's worth, I've read quite a bit of SF, and while I figured out from context what a "beanstalk" was, I had never heard it called that before. And I thought the exposition was cleverly done because it wasn't a 'convenient' lecture by a 'passing physicist' about how 'this here space elevator we're on works', it was more about why the "beanstalk" they were travelling on was not like Arthur Clarke's space elevator from "Fountains of Paradise" (IIRC) and what that meant for the recruits (as well as informing the non-SF market what the hell the contraption the characters were on was). Informative and story related, all in one. Very smooth.

I'm hoping I'll be able to persuade my wife to read it because a) it's quite good, and I think she'll enjoy the story and b) it's self-contained, and I won't have to provide her with a SF dictionary to go along with it.

So, congrats on a great book and kudos for making it accessible. The only complaint I have was that it was over too quickly.

John Scalzi | January 12, 2005 09:59 PM

Thanks. I'm very glad you liked it, and hope your wife enjoys it, too!

iJames | January 12, 2005 10:38 PM

Even if it weren't provably untrue, and even if you weren't going for a wide audience, I don't believe "most people who typically read science fiction have been introduced to the concept" is useful thinking. Sense of wonder doesn't expire after only one use.

We were all twelve once. Do it right and some kid, or some kid at heart, is going to read your book with eyes wide and marvel at your beanstalk whether he's heard of it before or not. Then, for the rest of his life, whenever he hears about any related concept he'll think of Scalzi and smile a bit.

I don't know how many jaded reviewers that's worth, but I'd estimate at least a gazillion.

Dave Schaefer | January 12, 2005 10:39 PM

"John Scalzi: the gateway drug of science fiction." Catchy. I just got a call tonight saying my copy was in the store, so I can't wait to read about the stalks of beans ;)

Mike Kozlowski | January 12, 2005 10:59 PM

iJames: It's not that having been exposed to the concept makes it worthless. It's that having seen the concept so many times that it's effectively wallpaper, and then getting a four-page exposition on it does not exactly keep me held in rapt awe.

Which, apparently, it's not meant to. If the book isn't aimed anywhere in my direction, it's no surprise that it didn't hit the target, so hey.

John Scalzi | January 12, 2005 11:06 PM

Yup. Not everything is going to work for everybody. Naturally, Mike, I would have hoped it would work better for you, but these things happen.

I am pleased however, to see you think well of Helprin's Winter's Tale, which is probably my all-time favorite book, just for the sheer beauty of the writing.

Brian Greenberg | January 12, 2005 11:20 PM

OK, I'm not a SF reader and, quite frankly, I'm only reading this book because John wrote it & we converse via this blog occasionally. I think the reviewer was harsh, but has a point. Allow me to (carefully) try and explain:

It's not that the characters lecture me on science so much, it's the rather obvious way the story pauses, and the character seems to be addressing the reader rather than the other characters (not literally, but that's the vibe I got). Also, characters that are otherwise intelligent and well-developed for the rest of the story suddenly find themselves with *zero* information or opinions on the subject, and just say things like "Wow, Steve, I never knew it was that complicated. Thanks for explaining it to me..."

For what it's worth, I think you were much more successful at this in Agent to the Stars, where the alien and the human played a rather entertaining game of 20 questions. It made sense in that situation that both characters would be completely clueless about what the other was saying, *and* that they'd be interested in hearing an elementary school-style description. Since I, the reader, also wanted to hear it, I felt I was listening along with the characters.

In Old Man's War, John Perry is this highly successful soldier who's been zipping around the universe (multiverse?) fighting battles for months, and suddenly he's lounging around drinking coffee and listening to his friend explain instellar travel to him. He hasn't picked up *any* of this along the way? Doesn't work as well...

(NOTE: I hate to criticize in a vaccum (no pun intended). I'm 2/3 of the way through it so far and I think it's terrific. It's just that I noticed this as I was reading, and found it ironic that a reviewer brought it up as well. Great job, John - keep 'em coming).

Bowler | January 12, 2005 11:25 PM

Huh. I for one HAD heard of a beanstalk (or Space Elevator) before reading your book, but had NOT heard or at least understood the concept behind the physics on how it worked.

Your elaboration on the subject I found to be enjoyable and not at all tedious. In fact, I seem to remember skipping whole lunches at work, and then accidentally extending my breaks just to read the next chapter when you serialized it on your website.

In fact, it was SO good that I gave you a few bucks just so that I could read MORE of that boring elaborate How Things Work nonsense (can you taste the sarcasm?), because being forced to wait an entire day before reading the next chapter wasn't going to calm my nerves any.

The guy who wrote the review seemed a tad bit elitist to me. To his comment on it being "passable plane reading material," I've read about 4 books on planes in the past few years (hey, I don't fly much), and I would have KILLED to have had yours instead of any of those 4.

John Scalzi | January 12, 2005 11:34 PM

Brian Greenberg:

"In Old Man's War, John Perry is this highly successful soldier who's been zipping around the universe (multiverse?) fighting battles for months, and suddenly he's lounging around drinking coffee and listening to his friend explain instellar travel to him. He hasn't picked up *any* of this along the way?"

Probably as much as an average Marine knows about fluid dynamics and how they apply to the propeller of the ship he's on (or, at least, that's how I figure). It's not that one doesn't pick up stuff, it's that one doesn't usually discuss it in detail with someone who is knowledgeable about it.

The skip drive conversation is indeed a lot of exposition, but as someone in the thread notes, it's not entirely idle conversation, since the nature of the skip drive serves a significant plot point in the book. I'd given some thought to talking about the skip drive earlier in the book than when I did, but from a mechanics point of view I wanted it to be reasonably fresh in the reader's mind.

Whether I pull it off is an entirely different issue, of course, but those are the reasons.

Mike Kozlowski | January 12, 2005 11:41 PM

John: FWIW, it's not really my kind of thing -- I mostly hate Heinlein, for instance; I probably wouldn't have even read OMW if not for this blog -- so it's doubly not aimed at me. And, well, I've read first novels I enjoyed less from people who went on to write stuff I enjoyed more.

(I'm trying to tread the fine line between not being rude to your "face" and saying politely nice things when you already know that I didn't really care for it, here, which turns out to be unsurprisingly difficult.)

Brian: Yes, that's a large part of it. "As you know, Bob"-style incluing isn't necessarily terrible (and as Chad Orzel noted in his (much more positive) review, Scalzi's dialogue isn't as dry as a lot of the classic infodump lectures); but when it acts like a song in a musical and stops the action dead for a good long spell, it really needs to be an attraction in itself, which it wasn't for me. If it were 1950 or I were 12, the infodumps would've been fascinating and I'd've raved about this book; but it's not and I'm not, so I didn't.

Bowler: I'd be happy to be an elitist, but my tastes are tragically far too lowbrow.

John Scalzi | January 12, 2005 11:54 PM

Mike Kozlowski:

"I'm trying to tread the fine line between not being rude to your 'face' and saying politely nice things when you already know that I didn't really care for it, here, which turns out to be unsurprisingly difficult."

Ha! Well, I do appreciate the effort. And, you know, don't worry about it too much. I'm well aware not everyone is going to like everything I write; it can't be avoided. It doesn't mean you think I stomp on kittens or anything. I just wrote something you didn't enjoy.

You may ultimately enjoy "The Android's Dream" better -- it's less overtly Heinleinesque, for one thing. And not particularly highbrow, either, since the first chapter involves someone trying to fart someone else to death.

Soni | January 13, 2005 02:09 AM

I'll chime in by saying that I am tempermentally allergic to excessive or poorly done exposition and few things will cause me to put a book down faster (unless it's "see Dick run" dialogue skills), but I swallowed OMW in two choking bites and barely managed to breathe in between.

Dunno - either I was having too much fun to notice any freakishly expositive bits, or they weren't bad enough to trip my crap-o-meter, which is set pretty low exposition-wise.

Or, maybe it was being kept up reading until 3 am. Things do have a tendency to get somewhat surreal at that point. I was lost in some of Stephen Hawking's The Theory of Everything until about 3am last night and had the wildest dreams...

Soni | January 13, 2005 02:12 AM

And you'll note that I'm taking in my daily Scalzi reasonably late tonight, as well. Hmmm...up late again cavorting with John. How am I ever going to explain this to the hubster?

Brandon | January 13, 2005 06:41 AM

I really don't think you need any reassurance or anything about how you portrayed the technical explanations, but one of the comments on that review did strike a chord with me:

"In Scalzi's book, the author-god is in collusion with his protagonist to ensure that everything works out in accordance with the prtagonist's preferences: Everyone who irritates the protagonist dies quickly, and the worthy people who are his friends mostly survive (most galling example: In a battle that kills 90,000 people, the ONLY THREE SURVIVORS are the narrator and his two friends; and they survive coincidentally, from different ships!)."

Now, admittedly, this isn't as fair as it could be - the Old Farts mostly all die, including one that was with Perry, and the three that do survive aren't the only ones from the attack on Coral. And realistically, this claim is baseless - obnoxious, stupid people would die in a harsh universe, and you have plenty examples of intelligent people dying terrible deaths. And you certainly wouldn't want the protagonist dying one of those terrible deaths either.

But, why did [names deleted to avoid spoilage] survive? It seems like the climax could've been just as good without them, and their inclusion is, in fact, kind of jarring when you think about it.

I know that it's your universe and all, and if you want them to be lucky, they will - it's just that you spend a large amount of time telling us how terrible everything is and how likely everyone is to die, and then they come through relatively unscathed.

John Scalzi | January 13, 2005 07:06 AM

"But, why did [names deleted] survive? It seems like the climax could've been just as good without them, and their inclusion is, in fact, kind of jarring when you think about it."

Well, [names deleted] aren't the only two who survive -- everyone in their shuttle survives as well. So their survival is marginally less coincidental, since they are part of an entire group of survivors.

Aside from that, they survived because I needed them to convey certain information and discover certain other things that would have been inconvenient and/or impossible for Perry to discover on his own. Besides, I have future plans for at least one of them.

John Needham | January 13, 2005 07:38 AM

I need to *not* read this thread! Too much being given away here about who survives, what happens, etc. Much to my chagrine, I have not even started OMW yet. I need to finish "I Will Fear No Evil" first...

John Scalzi | January 13, 2005 07:40 AM

Yeah, I just deleted the names of some of the characters in comments, and I'm going to put a spoiler note on the entry.

Chad Orzel | January 13, 2005 07:50 AM

I should note that in addition to finding the dialogue wittier than Heinlein's, I also thought the beanstalk and skip drive explanations served a useful purpose beyond the "golden age" style science lesson.

In the beanstalk discussion, notice that the explanation given for how it should work is _not_ how it actually works, and that's a detail that tells you a lot about the universe. The physics discussion is needed for that to make sense.

Then again, maybe I'm just professionally obligated to like that sort of thing. I'll have to re-check my contract and get back to you.

Brandon | January 13, 2005 08:10 AM

Sorry about spoilers - I figured anyone reading up on review stuff would've figured on it automatically.

Guy Matthews | January 13, 2005 09:46 AM

Worth mentioning that the beanstalk exposition also introduces a crucial aspect of the political landscape affecting this universe and how its commonly perceived. All in all I found it a concise and very natural sounding dicussion, perfectly acceptable. Is the concept of a space elevator / orbital tower fairly well know in sci-fi circles? Sure, but I'll add my name to the list of people who'd never run into the specific term 'beanstalk' before and very much appreciate the refresher course.

Alex | January 13, 2005 10:53 AM

"Sure, they start with me, but the next thing you know they're mainlining Charlie Stross right through the eyeball."

Well, if it makes you feel any better, Charlie's "Singularity Sky" contained too much sciencey exposition for my taste as well. As a lapsed theoretical physicist, I'm not the most typical audience, however. (Part of the "problem" with Charlie's physics exposition was that it was all accurate - this is a good thing in that he wasn't making up Star Trekish psuedoscience as he went along, but it isn't a very enrapturing experience for those of us who had to cram general relativity equations into our brains to pass qualifying exams. I actually find psuedophysics a little more interesting than real physics, in the same way that fiction can be more interesting than reality.)

John Scalzi | January 13, 2005 11:05 AM

I actually liked "Singularity Sky" quite a bit -- got my Hugo vote and all. And as I never tire of saying, I think "Accelerando" is going to do very well. My point was more along the line that as much as I like Charlie's SF work, I wouldn't give it to my mother-in-law to read; she'd get about as far as the telephones dropping from the sky, requesting entertainment, before she'd look up at me in confusion. "OMW" is more her speed, although if she ends up really liking it, I may suggest a couple of books further into the genre. After a year or two, entertainment-devouring phone will be no problem for her.

Tripp | January 13, 2005 11:24 AM

I discovered Heinlein at a young age and appreciated the 'science class.' I'd like kids today to discover Scalzi in the same way, but then the sex stuff came along, so it's hard to justify "Old Man's War" as a middle school read.

I'll probably pass it to my teen sons when I'm done with it, though. Times change.

John Scalzi | January 13, 2005 11:36 AM

Yeah, I wouldn't give to middle-school age kids either, as a general rule.

I do want to do juvies, though (or as they're called these days, "Young Adult"). I had on YA proposal out there, but it didn't go much of anywhere. I'll probably try something again soon, though ("soon" being understood as "after I get everything else done I have to do").

Dawn B. | January 13, 2005 01:19 PM

I just wanted to chime in here too: I recognized the exposition dumps when I saw them. But they weren't the horrible "As you know, Bob" which I *HATE* with an umitigated passion. And, to me, they were interesting and plausible as to why the other characters didn't know. I don't know everything about how flowers grow, even though I'm a chemist. Frex. But I did note that the story slowed. However, a slowdown in such a fast paced novel was just fine for me. A good chance to breathe and just let the world hold me before the next skip.

Cigar Jack | January 13, 2005 01:26 PM

Your book and the Repairman Jack Series got me back into reading. I got your book as a gift from my brother off my Amazon Wishlist. About 1pm when all the Christmas stuff was done I started reading and finally stopped about 2am when I finished the book! Keep up the good work.

Brian Greenberg | January 13, 2005 01:33 PM

OK, so now I find myself, a non-author, with the urge to give writing advice to a (rather successful) author. As been said several times, what the heck - it's just a weblog. But feel free to tell me to go to hell in a handbasket...

I think the exposition would have sat better with me if it weren't in lecture form. The discussion about the skip drive was one character (a theoretical physicist who, I'm sorry, seemed to *be* a physicist precisely so you could explain stuff like this to me, the reader) lecturing everyone else on how stuff worked. The beanstalk conversation was better, since it other characters were asking questions & shooting down each other's theories, but it was still basically one guy saying, "Look - this is how it is" and everyone believing him.

Maybe if several characters each had something to contribute? Or, as in real-life conversations about science, the conversation ended with everyone understanding it better, but not being 100% sure they understand the whole thing? As I said above, Agent to the Stars handled it beautifully, because you set up two characters who wanted information and believably didn't have it.

OK, I'm so out of my element here, I'm just going to stop. Hopefully, this is at least mildly useful feedback...

Joe Rybicki | January 13, 2005 04:36 PM

The things I noticed about the exposition were:

1. It was almost always crucial to the story. The Bean-talk serves to develop the mysterio vibe of the CDF, for example, and the skip-drive bits are important not only in setting the stage for the most climactic scenes but also in lending weight to the utter unlikelyhood of the appearance of (um, let's say, that one solider named after that one astronomer guy) in Perry's local universe.


2. In spite of this, I got the impression that the expository bits are conscious of their own AYK,B nature. Maybe I read too much into it, but the setup felt like "yes, I know this is a cliche, but I'm going to run with it anyway because it's fun"--similar to the Drill Sergeant's entertaining monologue: you know it's cliche, the author knows it's cliche, but it's there anyway because it works (and in the case of Central Casting Drill Sergeant, it's always fun to have characters who are self-aware). And the cliche becomes a joke shared between the well-read sci-fi reader and the author.

and finally,

3. As a LONG-time sci-fi reader, I can't remember coming across the beanstalk or the skip-drive before. Superluminary drives, sure, but as someone else pointed out somewhere, that's a very very different thing. Furthermore, seeing as how I like knowing how things work, I appreciated being clued in.


Harmony | January 13, 2005 04:59 PM

Re: the beanstalk. I thought you were just ripping off Kim Stanley Robinson from the Mars books. Which is all right by me, because that's some damn fine SF right there.

I read OMW over 2 nights, staying up WAY past my bedtime to do it. Was it the most perfect SF book ever? Probably not, but I was pulled into it and enjoyed it thoroughly. I really enjoyed that it was accessible to someone who doesn't care that much about long descriptions of how fake technology works (I skimmed huge sections of all the Mars books but didn't miss a word of OMW). I could quibble about the less probable aspects of some of the characters' development, but once I am suspending my disbelief to allow beanstalks and tachyon emissions, I can deal with some convenient character salvation.

Mitch Wagner | January 15, 2005 09:26 PM

Add my name to the list of fans of "Old Man's War." I read it in two or three big gulps over three days, and I'm already looking forward to the sequel. And the sequels to that.

I think the comparison to "Starship Troopers" and "The Forever War" is unfair to all three novels. ST and TFW are strongly didactic novels---Mike Kozlowski might well call them "preachy." ST is pr-war or at least pro-soldier, TFW takes the opposite thesis.

Contrary to what Mike Kozlowski said, I didn't find much didacticism---or preachiness---in OMW. It didn't seem to be trying to persuade me to anything. The only philosphical message present in the book is that human beings are too eager to go to war, this is hardly breathtakingly revolutionary. And that discussion only takes up one chapter.

(Although I can't help wondering if there was any intentional political allegory to current events intended by the remark that we can't expect to smash up somebody else's c/o/u/n/t/r/y/ planet and then be greeted as friends.)

I'd be more likely to compare OMW to TV shows---"Babylon 5," "Stargate" and "Buffy" in particular. In all these works, the main characters are finding that the entire history of their world is a mystery, and they are working to figure out what it is. In B5: What are the Vorlons, the Shadows and, um, the good-guy elder race (been a few years). In Stargate: Who built the Gates? In OMW: What's up with the Cononies and, later and more interestingly, who ARE those aliens and precisely why are they keeping all the races of the Galaxy at war with each other?

(It seems pretty clear to me the answer to that question is evolution. They're breeding sentient races like cockfighters breed chickens. I'm not sure how much of this is actually explained in the novel, and how much is me figuring things out based on my massive quantities of reading sf [and my enormous brain, too, of course]. And we still don't know WHY the aliens are doing this. Is it simply religion, as the protagonist assumes, or is there some practical reason that the super-aliens feel the need to create a galaxy full of trillions and trillions of super-warriors of varying species?)

I thought the exposition slowed things down a bit, at times, but I accept that kind of thing is necessary in sf and fantasy.

OneBallJay writes: "I got my copy from Amazon yesterday, and, for what praise from a random internet individual is worth, I really enjoyed it. So much so, that I stayed up a bit past my bedtime to finish it. Definitely the best book I've read all year (edged out "Baby Wise" by a hair, "What to Expect the First Year" by a mile, and blew "Professional Ethics for Certified Public Accountants: A Self Study Course" out of the water)."

And there's the cover blurb for the paperback edition: "Much more entertaning than 'Professional Ethics for Certified Public Accountants: A Self Study Course'!"---OneBallJay

Tripp: "I discovered Heinlein at a young age and appreciated the 'science class.' I'd like kids today to discover Scalzi in the same way, but then the sex stuff came along, so it's hard to justify 'Old Man's War' as a middle school read."

I have no children myself, but I have a Theory about kids these days.

Kids these days are exposed to spam and as much Internet porn as they can consume. They know everything there is to know about fetishes and exploitative sex. Obviously, a very different world than the one I lived in when I was a teen-ager in the 70s. A world I can hardly even comprehend or imagine---it's a real generation gap (as the saying goes).

What kids these days are ignorant about is sex between people who care about each other, whether it's people who love each other, or people who are just friends. As a matter of fact, kids these days are just as ignorant about that kind of sex as we were when I was a kid.

So I think there's worse things that can happen to a middle-school kid than to be exposed to "Old Man's War," to serve as a balance to the bestiality porn and ads for substances that will increase the volume of men's ejaculation.

Heck, I just re-read a whole mess of John Varley's short stories. I first read his classic stories when I was 13-16 years old. They're much more racy than anything in "Old Man's War," and yet they didn't do me any harm. (In other words: I probably would have turned out to be a pervert anyway.)

Joe Rybicki: "As a LONG-time sci-fi reader, I can't remember coming across the beanstalk or the skip-drive before. Superluminary drives, sure, but as someone else pointed out somewhere, that's a very very different thing. Furthermore, seeing as how I like knowing how things work, I appreciated being clued in."

The first time I encountered the beanstalk was in "The Fountains of Paradise," by Arthur C. Clarke, in the 70s. It's an idea that's been around a while, but it's not so common that I'd call it a piece of standard furntiure of sf that requires no explanation.

As for the skip-drive: I remember reading a lot of sf written in the 40s-70s, many of which had their own versions of FTL drives, and it was quite commonplace for the writer to include an explanation of How Things Worked. IIRC, Gordon R. Dickson's space drive in the Dorsai series required passengers and crew to be drugged up, lest they go mad. Asimov's space drive in the Foundation series and robot novels was a plain-vanilla FTL drive: press the button and go WHOOSH!---as was the warp drive on "Star Trek." The space drive in the "Mote In God's Eye" required the spaceship to move to a particular point in a solar system, press the button, and be instantaneously translated to a corresponding point in another solar system. Heinlein had a couple of star drives for different novels, each with its own implications to the story.

Niven's hyperdrive could ONLY be used at points distant from stars and other gravity wells, and the spaceship could only travel at one speed---three days per lightyear, if I recall correctly. Pilots required low-level psychic powers to operate navigational equipment, and---as a side-effect---humans were unable to see hyperspace; portholes seemed to disappear, replaced by blank stretches of bulkhead. Most humans were driven temporily mad by trying to see in hyperspace.

John Stith wrote a nifty novel called "Redshift Rendezvous" wherein a side-effect of FTL travel was that the speed of light INSIDE the spaceship slowed to about a fast walk, passengers and crew in a spaceship experienced relativistic effects, such as time dilation, simply by traveling from one end of the spaceship to another.

But "Cities In Flight" was the coolest.

P.S. Shout-out to Mike Kozlowski, who I remember from my (relatively) brief period of being active on rasff; good to see your electrons again.

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