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May 25, 2005

Kibbles and Bits

Couple of things:

* Justine Larbalestier has caved and has now started a blog to complement her longer-form musings. One of us! One of us! Her first entry features her ginchy cover art for her upcoming book. Swing by and say "hi" to her.

* SFSignal has an interesting bit on the criteria the proprietor uses to review science fiction, which I find relevant both as a professional critic (my own techniques are similar) and because a review of Old Man's War was recently posted on the site by the same writer. He liked the book, calling it "a fast-paced, fun, tip-of-the-hat to Heinlein that succeeds in every way it can." Excellent.

* Speaking of me and Heinlein, The New York Review of Science Fiction recently reprinted my "Lessons from Heinlein" piece, in which I discuss what tips I imagine Heinlein had to provide in the actual writing of characters in science fiction. If you don't subscribe to NYRSF, a version of it exists on my Old Man's War preview page; click on the "extras" link.

Posted by john at May 25, 2005 09:21 AM

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tonydismukes | May 25, 2005 12:16 PM

I hadn't read your "lessons from Heinlein" essay before. Interesting.

With regards to your point "In both cases, the comparison is deeply flattering, although in the case of Forever War, it's an entirely coincidental thing, since I haven't read the novel and (horrific as it is for an sf reader and writer to admit) I'm only vaguely aware of the plot.", I don't think the resemblance to Forever War actually is coincidental. I always read that book as Haldeman deliberately responding to Starship Troopers, although in a much more bleak and pessimistic way than you do in OMW.

Part of the difference in their approaches is due to their military experiences. Heinlein was a peacetime Naval lieutenant who left the military due to TB before the start of WWII. Haldeman was a combat engineer, wounded in Vietnam. Haldeman has stated that his book was the result of the lessons he learned in Vietnam, but there seem to be a lot of "compare & contrast" parallels with Starship Troopers (Example - the powered battle armor, which Heinlein presents as a glamorous source of superpowers, Haldeman shows as likely to break the users own limbs in the event of careless movement.)

I read and enjoyed Starship Troopers as a kid, but Forever War made a much deeper impression on me. It's more philosophically complex, without ever sacrificing the telling of a good story. If you have the chance, you should get around to reading it. As far as military-based science fiction, it's one of the best books out there.

John Scalzi | May 25, 2005 01:30 PM

I did in fact just order it the other day. I probably won't read it until after I write Ghost Brigades, but I'm looking forward to reading it.

Robert Daeley | May 25, 2005 05:03 PM

Aren't you on vacation, John? ;)

John Scalzi | May 25, 2005 05:19 PM

Hush, you.

tonydismukes | May 25, 2005 05:45 PM

John, once you do get around to reading Forever War, I'd be really interested to see your reaction to it. Not that you normally run a book review site, but since you've written a Starship Troopers-inspired book, it would be cool to see what you thought of someone else's take on the same theme.

mythago | May 25, 2005 10:29 PM

Interesting piece on Heinlein--though personally I feel that he tended to ignore the "make your characters believable" over "make them people your readers want to be."

CB | May 25, 2005 10:48 PM

John, when you do read 'Forever War', I will be awaiting your written impressions and reflections.

On other news, I see that Glen Reynolds got his advance copy of Agent to the Stars and commented on it. More free publicity. (t+80)

John Scalzi | May 26, 2005 12:05 AM

Yup. And as always, it effected a nice bump in Amazon rankings: "Agent," which had been at 450,000, went up to about 4,400; "OMW" went from about 7,000 to about 1,400. They're down from those peaks now, but it sure was fun while it lasted. I love Glenn.

Mark Ensley | May 26, 2005 02:48 AM

Ditto earlier comments on The Forever War but let me add that I've re-read that book several times but have only re-read Starship Troopers once. Excepting flipping though it to settle arguments after the movie came out.

Forever War certainly has its flaws, but I couldn't argue that they don't make it more readable or believable, or subject to double negatives.

Then again, both books were written by men angry about the public's view of military service, and the one was written in response to the first. I suggest that they be bound and printed together, as Haldeman's book is the only artistic reply to Starship Troopers I've ever read.

I read your Heinlein comments, and happened upon this bit:

One also shudders to think of the mess this theory would have made of the Lord of the Rings books.

I disagree. I think Frodo could have been a wonderful modern character, if Tolkien had only given him more narrative force.

I think Tolkien didn't give Frodo the narrative voice more because he was the only imperfect character, and Tolkien had problems with that.

Every other character behaves according to formula, but only Frodo seems to have complex psychological issues, which is why JRRT didn't give him the voice.

Which is why no one looks to LOTR for character studies.

Mark Ensley | May 26, 2005 03:14 AM

One more thing, David Gerrold also wrote some books in response to Heinlein juvies, his thoughts about which are available here, all the way at the end which are worth looking at:


I think his books also capture the feel, but in a different way than you did. I love that you wrote a Heinlein juvie with the main character being old! A wonderful contrast and a genuine new idea in the field!

I'm quite inspired so far as your upcoming editorial project is concerned!

dichroic | May 26, 2005 02:46 PM

Oh, dear. Please tell me that the sample chapter on the website was further edited before the book was printed. I haven't read OMW yet mostly due to not having gotten around to it (think of it not as inertia but as a source of long-term sales) but there were definitely a few infelicities in there jarred on me. On the other hand they'd be very easy to miss in an edit of your own work, so I'm hoping that's what this sample is. (These are in authorial voice - I agree with you that the characters need to talk the way people do.)

John Scalzi | May 27, 2005 12:20 AM

The chapter in the book is copyedited, yes.

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