jscalzi: we knew him when July 8, 2012 10:26 AM   Subscribe

MeFi's Own(TM) jscalzi is profiled in the New York Times Books section.
posted by mwhybark to MetaFilter-Related at 10:26 AM (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

“Their only job was to get eaten, shot, stabbed, disrupted, temporally shifted, frozen, desalinated or crushed into a cube”

No, no no... first they get reduced to a cube (or other polyhedron) via reversable process THEN you crush them, that's how you do it.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by The Whelk at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2012

That actually sounds worth reading (normally I give most fiction a pass.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2012

Excellent! I also hadn't heard of Redshirts. I'll have to keep an eye out for it here in Iceland.
posted by Kattullus at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2012

I liked Redshirts quite a bit, but then, I generally like Scalzi's writing. Someone on Twitter said something like "This was the best book on writing I've read in a while" and approached from that angle, it really is fantastic. (I'm not a Star Trek fan at all, so I can't really comment on that kind of major side of things.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2012

Sweet. On my list to read.
posted by angrycat at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2012

The novel, Mr. Scalzi’s eighth, is something of a hit, especially for a work of science fiction without light sabers — or any of the accouterments of big-brand series.

(SPOILER) Although its brilliant ability to piggy-back on one of the biggest brands, Star Trek, without ever getting labeled with the demeaning term "fan fiction" (even by any of the negative reviews I read) may be one of the more impressive achievements of the genre.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:31 PM on July 8, 2012

MeFi's Own(TM) jscalzi -- If you love something, set it free.
posted by crunchland at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you love something, set it free.

Unlike some of the MeFi's Own(tm) folks, jscalzi actually hangs out here and interacts as if he really likes the place.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:43 PM on July 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have it on order and it should be here in a couple days; really looking forward to reading it.
posted by deborah at 2:43 PM on July 8, 2012

The post generated hundreds of angry responses, with some readers pledging never to buy his books again. “My response is always the same,” he said, and then stated his response in language that cannot be printed in a family newspaper
Christ, but I wish American newspapers would get over this faux-genteel pose of never being willing to quote people who swear in full, instead relying on euphemisms. If Scalzi – or anyone else – said "well, they're entitled to their opinion, but their opinion is a bucket of rainbow-coloured shit that I don't give a fuck about, because they're fucking idiots," then report that that's what they said. Don't piss about with coy non-explanations.

(Some British newspapers do this too; ironically, they're often the ones that run pictures of topless models on page 3. Tits=fine; swearing, even when asterisked out=verboten.)
posted by Len at 3:32 PM on July 8, 2012

jscalzi actually hangs out here and interacts as if he really likes the place. -- I guess he's ours forever, then.
posted by crunchland at 3:33 PM on July 8, 2012

Tor on this.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:37 PM on July 8, 2012

After reading almost no science fiction for twenty years, I picked up Scalzi's "Old Man's War" last week, and couldn't put it down. I'm now on the third book of that series, and will probably keep plowing through Scalzi's other works in rabid succession. Really excellent stuff, and it reminds me of what I liked in Haldemann and Heinlein years ago. As a recovering Trek fanatic, I'll have to move Redshirts to the top of the to-read-next list.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 3:38 PM on July 8, 2012

Mr. Scalzi explained that his characters find roles for themselves in the greater enterprise

Nicely done.
posted by RogerB at 3:49 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Redshirts is a fun novel, though I didn't like the codas as much as many readers. I thought the story was really quite good on its own, and though the ruminations on writing and living for the moment were interesting, I'd have liked more chapters about the folks on the Intrepid. Still, I read it at the beginning of the Summer, and it fit the bill for Summer reading just fine.

The thing I admire most about John Scalzi is just how savvy he is about the business of writing. He promotes his writing, the work of other authors, keeps his multiple income streams going, and he keeps a fantastic blog that one could read and enjoy without having read a word of his fiction (indeed that's how I was introduced to him, when we were at an "online diarists' convention" back in 2000). One day, I hope he writes something akin to Stephen King's "On Writing," though I think that much of the time, his "Whatever" blog is just that.
posted by xingcat at 4:55 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found Redshirts fun and interesting, and was pleased when he went where I was hoping (but not expecting) he would — but were it not for the codas, I would have found it ultimately trifling and a bit mediocre. But, in my opinion, the codas completely transformed it into something else, something much better, something beautiful. And completely unexpected.

The novel's construction is awkward — the codas aren't quite organic to the work. Yet, I think that I prefer them and the book the way it is. I feel like — and I've not explicitly analyzed this before this very moment, and now only superficially — I feel like the codas work and are important, integral to the book, because of how they work within the metanarrative that is, really, the book's true narrative.

Huh...I was about to mention something relevant to the philosophical issues involved in this and I just realized how it's related in another sense. Well, anyway, for about three years, when I was in seventh through ninth grade (late 70s), I wrote a "play" that was a spoof on Star Trek but was really more of a fanfic vanity kind of thing (although, tellingly, my version of my Mary Sue, my casting of a character named after myself in Kirk's role, was a complete doofus who I tortured and mocked relentlessly). I lost interest after a while but the summer after I graduated high school, I returned to it for some reason. And it became something different.

I'm sure I'm about the zillionth young writer to do this...but, anyway, I had the characters learn that they were "fictional" and, eventually, they demanded an audience with the writer. Which I granted. They had some probing questions about free will and such.

Years later, in a seminar in college where we were discussing free will, I mentioned this. I said that my characters demanded an audience with their "god", which I granted, and then a couple of them had a long exchange with my avatar where I was forced to justify my decisions and attempt to reassure them that they had free will of a sort. This spurred a nice 45 minute seminar discussion about these issues, so if for nothing else, I'm glad that my atrocious "play" had value in that respect.

A lot of writers — real writers, unlike myself, but like Scalzi or many people here on MeFi — will talk about how their characters often develop a life of their own, with their own demands and desires and how writers develop complex feelings about them. And we're really talking here about something more substantial than a late-night college bong party where someone speculates that, hey, maybe we're fictional characters...no, I think it's more meaty, more substantial that that. It's about empathy, in a way, about how we understand other human beings. When a writer creates a fictional character, she's using some of the same faculties she uses when she tries to understand other, real people. And as a writer creates a character, the character does become "real" in some sense, in some sense related to exactly the same ways in which we learn to understand that other people are real, like ourselves. Because that's not something we're born with, it develops in the child, and it's not something that everyone develops fully or equally.

There's great ethical value, I think, in considering carefully what it means to create fictional characters who have only the barest functional utility. Characters who exist only to tragically die in a way that gains the reader's sympathy. Why? Because this is kind of a fictional violation of Kant's Categorical Imperative — treating fictional characters as merely a means to an end and not an end unto themselves. Well, of course, we might say that this is the nature of fiction. But, to some degree, that's not true because when we create deep and compelling characters, we almost always are creating characters that we allow, at least partly, to breathe and exist on their own terms. More importantly, though, the degree to which we are comfortable with seeing all these fictional characters die horrible and yet trivial deaths, to be merely cliched fodder for emotional manipulation of the reader, relates in some respect to the degree to which, arguably, we are willing to see other actual, real human beings as existing to serve other narrative purposes in the real world. Like, say, war casualties or prison executions or starvation victims. These nameless deaths exist, when we learn about them, mostly only to serve the narrative function of telling us something abstract about the world. They almost never are people in their own right; their deaths are not their own deaths. Their deaths only matter to the degree to which they symbolize something that is important to us.

Just like the deaths of these fictional characters.

I'm not arguing — this is rehashed over and over and I'm emphatically not arguing this — that it's practical or even possible that we each somehow learn to have universal empathy and see all these millions of people we learn about as truly people in the same sense we grant ourselves. No, that's not my point.

My point is that art matters because it's a representation of our understanding of the cosmos and ourselves, it's a reflection. And there's something important reflected in how it is we treat characters in fiction, how we think of them. And there's something valuable when some writer takes (minor) characters that are normally strictly functional and gives them inner-lives in a way that challenges our expectations of who matters, and who doesn't matter. Because we should always have our expectations challenged about who matters, and who does not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:21 PM on July 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

I didn't really dig Redshirts. It was my first Scalzi, and tor sent me a copy (I reviewed it in places, if you look), and I was psyched, because we're both mefites and all, and I'm a huge Trekkie, but I was alternatively annoyed and frustrated by a lot of it. I think it's really, really clever, though, and a lot of readers will love it, and the last coda was quality enough (I cried!) that I'll definitely read him in the future.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:28 PM on July 8, 2012

One day, I hope he writes something akin to Stephen King's "On Writing," though I think that much of the time, his "Whatever" blog is just that.

Oh wait, you just reminded me that Redshirts wasn't my first Scalzi, since I read most of his writing book, You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffeeshop, which is not only good, and fun, but also the most aptly-titled writing book ever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2012

Oh, here's something weird I just remembered: I read Redshirts about a month ago and I was telling someone about it, describing a particular scene and paraphrasing what one character said to another. The paraphrase included another character's name, which I couldn't remember, and I just picked something that seemed like it might be right. So, the next day when I was reading and much later in the book, it's revealed that that particular character hadn't told anyone his first name up to that point...and it's the name I randomly picked!

That freaked me right the hell out.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:54 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just to double-check, I did a search (I have a Kindle) and Scalzi definitely doesn't reveal that character's (unusual!) name until that point in the book. When I was trying to come up with the character's last name, I pulled the first name out of the ether, which hadn't been revealed and which I didn't read until half the book later. It's really an amazing coincidence. (There's a phonetic similarity and both the last and first names have the same kind of connotation, so that's the explanation — put another way, I probably came up with the name for the same reasons that Scalzi did when he wrote it. Even so.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2012

I was alternatively annoyed and frustrated by a lot of it.

Yeah, I read your review, and I totally see where you're coming from on a lot of it. Scalzi's got a very distinctive voice, and I think when he's writing humor in particular it can be a little overwhelming. I happen to really like it, but even I noticed a couple of occasions when little tics that often show up in his blog posts made it into character dialog - and not necessarily just one character (although I wasn't counting.) It made them all sound maybe too much like... Scalzi.

(I think Joss Whedon does the same thing, actually, and I think people who bounce off of one might well bounce off of the other. Am I right in remembering you're not a huge Whedon fan?)

But Redshirts does also have the complicating factor of being a Star Trek pastiche - I think Android's Dream has much less in the way of that jarring all-Scalzi-all-the-time dialog, and Old Man's War doesn't really at all that I've noticed.

And now I'm slightly embarrassed to be pontificating in public about someone I hope to meet next month. Oh, well. I'm in the wrong profession for privacy.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:14 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm not much of a Whedon fan overall (though I enjoy some of his stuff, selectively), and I think this will totally hit the spot for the many Whedon fans who probably think I'm very wrong. And who knows! They're probably right.

More than anything, I think Redshirts was a challenging book. I'm still kind of chewing over it (and found my own review kinda unsatisfying because of that. Because what kind of reaction is "??!?!"), but I'm looking forward to reading Old Man's War--sounds like my cuppa.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2012

I dug Redshirts well enough through most of it, but I really can't stand most fourth wall breaking and this wasn't an exception. I ended up not making it through the codas, which reading Ivan Fyodorovich's comment makes me think might have been a mistake. Still, I tend to lose investment once that wall is gone, so I'm left with not much of an inclination to keep reading.
posted by ODiV at 8:39 PM on July 8, 2012

ODiV, if you still have a copy, you should read the third coda. It's really, really beautifully written, and terribly earnest and I think you'll dig it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank Grabthar's hammer, and the sons of Worvan, that That Guy (Freegman) has been abridged too far.
-kudos to jscalzi.
posted by vozworth at 9:18 PM on July 8, 2012

So, I notice the e-book section of his site mentions lack of DRM, but it's not actually quite clear how to just buy the file. Anyone already been through this want to share?

I can't find an e-book section of his site.

The shortish answer about buying his stuff drm-free is probably: wait for the store at tor.com to come online and then get them there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 PM on July 8, 2012

the book is, i think, in non-drm distro via the bigs (amazon and apple, iirc), after a bumpy launch.


I could be off base on this though.
posted by mwhybark at 10:51 PM on July 8, 2012

hm, neither link explicitly states non-DRM distro via Apple or Amazon. so maybe it is via Tor only. If only a knowlegeable insider would set the record straight!
posted by mwhybark at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2012

hm, maybe i'm wroung again!

On June 5 he says, "At the moment, it does appear Amazon is selling the eBook DRM-free; it’s nice that the largest online retailer in the world, at least, has clued in."

The rest of the entry (the day after the release) suggests Tor will be browbeating the digital distributors to get non-DRM files up ASAP.

Comments on that entry suggest people still experiencing DRM confusion in transactions with both Apple and Amazon through around June 7, but it is unclear if that is an artifact of Amazon and Apple marketing info and CSRs assuming DRM on all ebooks. So, in sum: DRM stupid.
posted by mwhybark at 11:09 PM on July 8, 2012

mwhybark: " On June 5 he says, "At the moment, it does appear Amazon is selling the eBook DRM-free; it’s nice that the largest online retailer in the world, at least, has clued in.""

I bought the ebook from Amazon last month and it's drm free. When I finish ebooks I sometimes share them with my wife so she can read 'em in her kindle app. Transferred without a hitch.

Scalzi tweeted a couple of weeks ago that he had signed every copy in a bookstore at LaGuardia airport. I'm flying out of there tomorrow morning and am going to see if there are any left.
posted by zarq at 6:28 AM on July 9, 2012

PhoBWanKenobi: "ODiV, if you still have a copy, you should read the third coda. It's really, really beautifully written, and terribly earnest and I think you'll dig it."

Seconding this. It brought tears to my eyes.

I have a bone to pick with him about then ending of Chapter 23, though. :P
posted by zarq at 6:31 AM on July 9, 2012

I agree, zarq. I tweeted him about it immediately.

I got the ebook (and many other scalzi ebooks immediately afterwards) from the kindle store, and there was a notice saying "due to the publishers' request, this item is offered DRM-free" or something similar for redshirts, and at least one other of his books.
posted by garlic at 9:00 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's pretty cool. There was some speculation that Amazon would be the one that wouldn't be able or wouldnt want to do that, glad it's not the case.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on July 9, 2012

I apologize in advance for being that guy, but I don't really understand why this is a MetaTalk post and not a MetaFilter post. We've had posts on the blue about "mefi's own" people before, as long as they're not self-links or friendslinks, and other than jscalzi being a member this doesn't seem MetaFilter-related, really. This thread reads like an FPP and seems like it'd be fine there, so I'm just curious if there's some piece of etiquette I'm missing? Would it have been incorrect to post to the blue?
posted by Errant at 11:28 AM on July 9, 2012

this oughta be good
posted by de at 11:53 AM on July 9, 2012

I'm just curious if there's some piece of etiquette I'm missing? Would it have been incorrect to post to the blue?

It's always a judgment call. If jscalzi is well-known enough in his own right that a link to a book of his getting a NYT review was a good post, then go for it. I think the presumption was that he's known to many of us as a fellow-internet-person which makes us all go "eeeeeeee!" when he gets some sort of larger accolade partly because he's one of us, both specifically (he is a contributing member) but also generally (he is a sci-fi writer and well-known online guy who has a blog that people like to read and is savvy and versed in internet lore and culture) and that causes me to have some sort of inner "Hurray for our team!" response. So, yeah, could go either place, but here is totally fine and it might have been thinner or less successful of a post on the blue for various reasons.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:54 AM on July 9, 2012

You know, funnily enough, until yesterday, I generally disliked jscalzi on all fronts; his philosophy, his politics, his writing. Even his cr dctrw approach to internet fan engagement. Everything! You could say I was an anti-fan. Eye rolling, muttering, big can of haterade on my desk at all times, the whole basement blogger nine yards.


Anyone even remotely associated with Uncle John's amazing set of books is, objectively, sainted. Thank you John!
posted by felix at 1:09 PM on July 9, 2012

Thanks, jessamyn.
posted by Errant at 4:22 PM on July 9, 2012

odinsdream -- I just read that, and the two following books, The Ghost Brigade and The Lost Colony and really enjoyed both of those as well.
posted by garlic at 1:37 PM on July 13, 2012

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