Don’t Live For Your Obituary by John Scalzi



*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Don't Live for Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017 by John Scalzi is a collection of posts taken from Scalzi’s popular blog, Whatever. Scalzi gave each post some light editing, but otherwise if you’re a long time follower of his, you’ve probably already read many if not all of this material. The benefit of this collection is that you’re getting those same posts in a somewhat logical (as opposed to chronological) order since Scalzi put them into loose categories as follows:

  • Golden Nuggets of Writerly Wisdom, or, This Is Where I Offer Up Some Writing Advice, Take It or Don’t
  • The Fine Art of Putting Your Books and Yourself Out There Without Wanting to Drink Acid, or, Let’s Talk About Publishing and Online Presence
  • This is the Section Where Scalzi Snarks on People More Famous Than He Is, So Get Out Your Popcorn, or, Thoughts on Writers and Other Notables
  • Don’t Type Angry, Well, Okay, Fine, Go Right Ahead, or, Writing Controversies and Other Such Nonsense
  • Jeez, Scalzi, Does It Always Have To Be About You? Why Yes, Yes It Does, or, Notes From My Career

From looking at the categorizations, one might expect to find posts with topics that vary widely. Consider such expectations correct. You’ll find everything from Scalzi’s opinion on the latest drama going on within the inner author circles, to how to react to reviews, to an egotistical look at the author’s many successes, and, last, a fairly good amount of advice on how to grow and sustain a career in writing. That last point comes with the caveat that everything stated is what worked for Scalzi and that your mileage may vary.

So, bottom line, Don't Live for Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017, is the kind of collection you might want to read if you’re a fan of Scalzi’s blog or his internet persona, but if you’re looking for substantial, informative views on writing there just isn’t a whole lot here. I think Scalzi would have been better served by writing a book such as Stephen King’s On Writing. Scalzi has the genre cred and the success at this point in his career to author such a book. Instead, though, he went the route of recycling blog posts. That in itself is kind of disappointing.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi



*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

In The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, humans finally leave Earth to settle the distant stars when a remarkable discovery is made. The Flow, as it’s called, is a phenomenon made up of passageways that enable FTL travel. But the Flow is scarcely understood, and soon Earth is cutoff from the rest of the Flow when it’s entry point mysteriously closes. No matter, though, because the Interdependency, a series of unified human settlements, has done well on its own, establishing artificial worlds all along the Flow’s pathways and a substantial presence on the only habitable planet along the Flow, End (called that because it literally lies at the end of the Flow).

As one might imagine from the book’s title, the empire, in this case the Interdependency, is on the verge of change or, rather, collapse. [Note that none of this is a spoiler since this information is in the book’s description] Not because it’s reached it’s height of decadence or because of imminent invasion, but because the entry and egress points along the Flow are closing, cutting off each symbiotic piece of the Interdependency one by one until each settlement will be entirely on its own. Of those settlements, only End has any hope of surviving because of its natural resources. As readers, we learn of the imminent catastrophe in bits and pieces. Ultimately, the problem becomes one the new emperox of the Interdependency, Cardenia, must solve.

But along the way there are mutinies, business and political backstabbing, and attempts on a certain emperox’s life. If you have an appreciation for Scalzi’s other work you should have no problem settling into the punchy, dialog-heavy writing, which actually does a fairly nice job of keeping the story moving along at a fairly fast-paced clip. Right away, we experience what happens when an entry point into the Flow begins to close. For a ship’s crew marooned outside the Flow, they face a slow death as their stores and power runs out long before they can traverse the potentially hundreds of light years distance to the next closest settlement. Space is truly vast and humans never developed FTL technology.

One word of caution: if you are in any way put off by use of the F-word, then tread carefully into this one. Scalzi uses it like it’s going out of style. One character in particular has few sentences, if any, that do not contain swearing. It fits the character, but even I thought it was a bit much after a few hundred pages of it.

The Collapsing Empire is an exciting read and only the first book in the Interdependency series, so there’s plenty more to come. If you liked Old Man’s War and the other books in that series, I think you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi is a book I've wanted to read for a while. This premiere novel by Scalzi follows in the tradition of such military science fiction novels as The Forever War, Ender's Game, and Starship Troopers. Needless to say, I went in with high expectations. While I wasn't disappointed, once the story got rolling it followed a fairly predictable pattern.

Scalzi is a prolific blogger with a twenty year publishing history behind him. Old Man's War was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2006. It is the first book in a series set in Scalzi's futuristic world, though Old Man's War is a complete story unto itself. Subsequent books in the series include The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale.

The story is this: John Perry, a 75 year old widower, Earth-bound his entire life, enlists with the CDF—or Colonial Defense Force—in exchange for the promise of a new, youthful life. The catch is that no one who enlists knows for sure how the CDF accomplishes their end of the bargain. But with nothing keeping him on Earth, Perry signs on the dotted line. Next thing he knows he's off into distant space. The CDF keeps their end of the bargain and more, but there's a catch: in exchange for his new life, Perry and others like him must commit the next ten years of their lives to service in the CDF as a frontline soldier.

Turns out the universe is not a very nice place, and humans have lots and lots of enemies. It is therefore the CDF's primary responsibility to protect human civilizations and colonies and to wage war on any alien species that endangers Man's predetermined right to colonize space.

Scalzi does a fine job detailing John Perry's emotional turmoil over letting go of his old life. We're also treated to a sometimes humorous, sometimes grave rendition of what a futuristic boot camp might be like. From there, the story largely follows Perry's training, the friendships and bonds he forms, and his subsequent assignment and advance through the ranks. There are battles worthy of any military sci-fi novel and a menagerie of aliens, all quite nasty and most certainly not friendly to Perry and his fellow soldiers.

Where Old Man's War stumbles is in certain aspects of the narration. The story is told in the first person from Perry's perspective, and while this works wonderfully in certain places, like when Perry begins to learn what the CDF is all about and what it's up against, it's not so good in others, as in when Perry finds himself in the thick of things. Scalzi ignores the "show, don't tell" rule, and slips into a telling sort of style that is ultimately too much of a detachment from what's going on, which is exactly the opposite of what I expected given that we're being told the story from Perry's perspective.

That's not to say that Old Man's War isn't a good novel. It's entertaining, with an interesting and sometimes terrifying gamut of alien civilizations and a vision of what our own future might be like someday if and when we begin colonizing space. There's plenty of humor, too, with Scalzi's colorful master sergeant character leading the ranks of supporting characters. I was reading some of his lines out loud to my wife who, as former Army, got a good laugh, too.

Old Man's War is an enjoyable read and I've already got the subsequent novels on my future reading list.