John Scalzi is getting to be quite the regular visitor to the Triangle area on his book tours, as we’ve been fortunate enough to have him come to town on his The Human Division tour in 2013 and not one but two stops on his Lock In tour in 2014, and! of course, his Guest of Honor stint this past May at ConCarolinas. And now! To promote the release of his 11th novel The End of All Things, Scalzi is on tour again, and once again it’s Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books which is playing host. So, for those in the Triangle area and beyond, mark your calendars for Wednesday, August 12 at 7 pm, invite all your friends, etc. Because Scalzi’s tour stops reflect quite well the fact that he’s enjoying himself, and they’re a lot of fun, and folks who make it out to this year’s tour stops will get to hear some of Scalzi’s newest novella, The Dispatcher, and! I hope someone brings a ukulele. (Per Scalzi’s request, make sure it is tuned first!)
The Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred-review-bearing The End of All Things is Scalzi’s 11th novel, and adding to that his novella The God Engines his recently announced 13-book deal with Tor will more than double his previous book-length bibliography. He’s a busy author, and he recently shared a bit about his working process on Lifehacker, also including one of the more intriguing things about Scalzi: he’s a firm believer that life (and publishing) “is not a zero-sum game”. It’s a mantra on which he walks the talk, using his very popular blog as a platform for other authors’ Big Ideas — a natural inspiration behind the Bull Spec The Hardest Part series.
In The End of All Things Scalzi returns to his bestselling Old Man’s War universe, picking up on the story more or less where The Human Division left off, though (as nearly all of the Old Man’s War novels) fully capable as a standalone entry point, as readers (and audiobook listeners) explore the ongoing saga through each of four novella-length first-person narratives. One new point of view character, CDF Lt. Heather Lee, finds herself more often in a position of trying to keep Colonial Union planets in line, rather than defending against extra-terrestrial threats: she is a finger in the tightening CDF grip through which Colonial Union star systems are slipping. Or are at least trying to. And it is through Lee’s eyes that we get to see another side of long-time Old Man’s War characters like CDF officer Harry Wilson, whose own narrative closes the new book with Wilson’s usual and distinctive aplomb. Throughout, it’s Scalzi’s trademark blend of space opera action, witty inter-soldier banter, and off-screen actions and motives combining (as the four narratives do) into a highly-entertaining, explosive package, with some chewy nuggets of technological and political import to ponder once the debris field clears.
And now! Scalzi’s first go-round in the Coming to Town interview series, in which we talk about the big Tor.com 13-book deal, discuss his books and audiobooks, and find out that Mr. Scalzi spends quite a lot of time considering the implications of the “brain in a box” theory, as it’s been enough to spawn significant elements of multiple series now. Enjoy! And see you at Quail Ridge Books on Wednesday!
1. Old Man’s War was published by Tor only 10 years ago, in 2005. When I looked that up, it surprised me, as you’ve accomplished so much in the intervening decade that it seems like I’ve been reading you quite a bit longer than that. Is it hard to believe that you were a debut novelist only 10 years ago?
It does seem a little odd that it’s only been ten years, and other people have commented about the same thing. I think it seems longer in part because the announcement that the book was bought happened very early in 2003, and the nature of its purchase (it was bought off of Whatever, where I had serialized it) was something of an event, so people had two years of me being a science fiction author before I actually had a book out. Also in part because Old Man’s War reads very old school, so it just feels like I should have been around longer. And of course Whatever has been around since 1998, so that probably has something to do with it too.
But yes: It’s only been a decade. Weird.
2. In the days after Tor announced the 13-book deal, much was been said about stability, about commitment, and so on. But maybe not quite enough about continuing to work with an editor that gets you and pushes you, an art director that has come up with brilliant covers, on and on. You’ve been with Patrick Nielsen Hayden since the very beginning; how much of this deal is loyalty and friendship, distinct from business? Or do those have to be distinct?
Well, business is business, and publishing is a business. I like and admire Patrick and most everyone at Tor quite a bit, but at the end of the day, if the business fundamentals aren’t there, then personal relationships are immaterial. I can’t pay my mortgage with personal affection for the Tor crew (and vice-versa). Tor knows that about me; I know that about them. When the business fundamentals are there then other factors can come into play.
With that said, I absolutely do value my relationships with Patrick, and Irene, and everyone over at Tor, and their competence, both with my stuff and in a general sense, was absolutely a large factor in staying with with the house. Does it help that I also like them as people? Yes it does. It’s nice to like those you are in business with, because when you do have disagreements (and it happens), it allows you to deal with them without undue rancor.
3. Once again a new Scalzi novel comes bearing multiple starred reviews, this time around courtesy both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Does it ever get old, where “it” is both the waiting to see what the critics have to say, and, hey, how many total starred reviews is this from the big trade publications, anyway? Do you keep a count?
It’s always a relief when one (or more!) or the trade publications likes your book; that means you have something to go to the booksellers and librarians with, and those initial orders and sales can make a difference. So, yeah, that never gets old, and it’s always a little bit of an exhale when you get over that bar.
But you’re foolish to expect it, and you have to realize that often the reviews will swing the other way. PW and Kirkus starred TEoAT, but they both utterly panned Redshirts. Nor were those pans unfair, any more than the starred reviews. When that happens you find other ways to make your case to booksellers and libraries (fortunately in the case of Redshirts we were able to do that).
4. Before we talk about The End of All Things, I’ve wanted to ask you about the dual audio versions of Lock In for a while, as Amber Benson’s narration along with Wheaton’s clearly demonstrates your success in creating an ambiguously- (or simply un-) gendered point of view character in Chris. How early on was there an idea that two audio editions could (or should) exist for the book?
It happened very early; in fact, in the first discussion of the book I had with Audible, I mentioned I thought the book would need two narrators and I explained to them why. Audible was receptive to the idea, both as something good for the book, and as a marketing tool they could use. I was very happy with how Audible handled Lock In. From my point of view they couldn’t have handled it much better.
5. Speaking of audiobooks, for The Human Division Audible published each chapter in audio, concurrent with Tor’s publication schedule, and Dave and I had a lot of fun following along at The AudioBookaneers. The End of All Things was also serialized by Tor ahead of the novel’s publication, with the four connected novellas coming out week by week back in June, but this time: no audio serialization. (Though, thankfully, William Dufris is back as narrator for the full audiobook, joined by Tavia Gilbert, who read Zoe’s Tale.) Is that a sign that the serial approach didn’t work quite as well as hoped for on The Human Division in audio, or just something that didn’t seem to be a good fit for this book in particular?
I suspect it’s a reflection on Audible’s particular business model, with uses monthly “credits” as well as direct purchases, which may not be as friendly to weekly serialization as electronic text publication is. But the thing is, both The Human Division and The End of All Things are understood — aside from being novels — to be experiments both in form and distribution, to see how readers and buyers in 2015 (and 2013, when THD came out) approach episodic releases. Finding out if these approaches is as important as making money (and admittedly unusual circumstance!). I suspect Audible found out what it needed to know with the THD episodic release and adjusted accordingly.
6. In The End of All Things you use four first person narratives: Colonial Defense Forces officer Harry Wilson, whom we last saw extricating himself from a bar fight and seems really, really due a proper vacation if not the peace he’s after; alien — and “second most powerful person in the known universe” — Hafte Sorvalh, whom we last saw enjoying a churro and speaking to schoolkids in Washington D.C.; and two new point of view characters. The first of these, pilot Rafe Daquin, opens the book with the story of how he “became a brain in a box”. This made me newly curious about the origins of Lock In, as somehow I hadn’t connected the brain-boxed space fleet of The Human Division with Hayden’s Syndrome in Lock In. Do Hayden’s Syndrome’s origins lie somewhere in a branch of thought begun with the “brains in boxes” of The Human Division?
Not really. There is obvious superficial similarity, but Lock In is as much about what changes in a society when millions of people are locked in, as it is about Chris Shane’s specific experience and adventures. In TEoAT, the experience of Rafe Daquin is very specific to him, and has to be treated with a different approach. So, no, they come out of more or less entirely different thought experiments.
7. While your own writeup about the 13-book Tor announcement includes some specific novels like Head On, a sequel for Lock In, and a further Old Man’s War universe novel — despite some book copy which talks about The End of All Things being the “conclusion” of the Old Man’s War tale! — you also highlight that the deal includes three young adult books, along with your acknowledgement of the significant challenges of writing for the YA market. Is there one mistake in particular that you want most to avoid?
The assumption that just because one has a teen protagonist that the book is somehow automatically “YA.” YA is like any other genre (or market segment, however you want to slice it) — and there are currents in the field that are worth paying attention to if you want to put your story into it. I think writers coming to YA from outside can be arrogant about it, and may assume it will be easy to write into the market. But honestly it would be no different than me attempting to write a romance novel — if I assumed I could just wander in and do it, I would get my head handed to me. If you want to find an audience, respect the audience — and respect the field. Seems the smart thing to do.