My Affair With John Scalzi / by Josh Guess

I'm not one to pick up new writers easily. I'll be honest as hell and say that since I've started writing my own stories I've become much worse about that. Reading a new book by a new author is for me what shopping for cars is like for most people. I get nervous and twitchy and I want to know I spent my money and time on something good.

I've heard John Scalzi's name for years now. I've seen his books on bookshelves and noted that the covers of his SciFi books are similar to many, many others: ships in space painted with that dreamy haze. I like that aesthetic, honestly, but it doesn't jump out at me.

Then I read this post on his blog back in October. The post and the resulting comments are a brutal send-up of some extremely conservative politicians and their view on rape victims. It's not easy to read.

That post got me curious. I started to take a deeper look at Scalzi. Then I read a sample of Redshirts and immediately knew I had to read it. A comedic novel that parodies Star Trek? Yes, please.

I read the book and adored it. I laughed out loud reading it. Scalzi captured me with his ability to make the ridiculous believable and to effortlessly (or with a seeming lack of effort; I'm a writer. I know it's difficult) blend in tender moments. I cried at one point. It was pretty good.

I did not, however, continue my affair. I was working on my (now indefinitely) shelved novel Monster at the time and didn't feel right spending my time reading when I should have been writing. So I wrote and occasionally reread old favorites. My relationship with Sanderson, Rothfuss, Butcher, Brent, Weeks, Friedman, and other favorites was once again sort of monogamous.

Fast forward to last week. I finished reading the final Wheel of Time book and found myself in a mood to keep reading. I wanted something new, something very good. And I remembered that I had enjoyed Redshirts and loved it. Surely Scalzi's other books were somewhere close to that quality, right?

Well, no. They weren't. Redshirts was really good, but the others? Fucking AMAZING.

I started with Old Man's War, which is the first book in a series by the same name. I read it in six hours. Then I bought the sequel, The Ghost Brigades, which I read in five hours. Then I bought The Last Colony and took my time, spreading the reading over two days and a total of about eight hours. Then it was on to The Android's Dream. And that's where I'm at right now. Four books consumed in less than a week and I hurt for more. Scalzi is releasing a new novel in the Old Man's War series (which I meant to review here instead of just writing a huge fangasm to Scalzi, but hey--I've been awake since last night. I'm tired.) in serial format, thirteen parts released one a week.

Starting today.

I will wait until all thirteen are out, then buy them all at once. I couldn't stand the anxiety of waiting a week to read the next installment.

So we're clear: John Scalzi is ludicrously talented. No, his books aren't perfect because nothing is perfect, but I judge science fiction by very high standards. Old Man's War as a series stands beside the best SciFi in the world. It may lack the gravitas of Aasimov, the earthy wisdom of Heinlein, or the sheer technical brilliance of Clarke or Herbert, but that does not make Scalzi's work less than theirs. Culturally, Old Man's War is as relevant to where we are as people today as anything Heinlein wrote in his time. I don't denigrate his work in saying he isn't those men (I think he would agree). I just want to be clear; his work carries the best parts of each of them.

In short, John Scalzi has his own voice. It may have a tone more wry and irreverent than others (the first chapter of The Android's Dream, the title itself a reference to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep AKA Blade Runner, is one long fart joke) but that's just fine with me. Because Scalzi manages to capture you with his words, keep you there with his characters, and make you laugh your ass off and ponder philosophy at the same time. That's a hell of a thing.

Looks like my harem has a new member. And yes, I realize it's creepy and weird to keep referring to my favorite authors that way. It's because I love them, all of them, and Scalzi is just too good not to love.