2013 book log 10) Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle

This is an ebook omnibus of some of John Scalzi’s work published by Subterranean Press, which was made available for a short period at a very good price as a promotional item. The contents included three very funny short stories, two short pieces from the Old Man’s War universe, a novella, and a non-fiction essay collection on writing. They’re all still available as individual titles, and I think all worth having, assuming you like Scalzi’s writing style.

Fiction:

How I Proposed To My Wife: An Alien Sex Story
Trashy newspapers don’t change their methods just because the embassies downtown include the ones from off Earth…
Amazon UK, Amazon US

An Election
An insight into local election time, science fiction style.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Questions for a Soldier
Amazon UK, Amazon US
The Sagan Diary
Amazon UK, Amazon US
A short story and a novella set in the Old Man’s War universe. I think that reading the first book of the series gives enough background knowledge to follow and enjoy these, but The Sagan Diary in particular probably isn’t going to work for anyone who hasn’t read at least the first novel.

Judge Sn Goes Golfing
Omitted for the first release, and I didn’t manage to grab the update before it went off sale, so I’ve not read this one.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

The Tale of the Wicked
Short story riffing off Asimov’s Laws of Robotics.
Amazon UK, Amazon US

The God Engines
A blend of dark fantasy and science fiction, about exactly what the title says. Starship engines that are captured gods, and a universe in which this is reality. This examination of faith and power isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, but if you do like it, you’ll like it a lot.
http://www.librarything.com/work/8343179, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Non-Fiction

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop

Collection of essays, mainly from Scalzi’s blog, about writing as a business. I’d read many of these when they first appeared, but I’d have still been happy to pay full price for this ebook. Scalzi has selected and arranged the essays in a coherent order, often with notes updating the older essays and putting them in context. The essays span a decade, and some of the early information about writing as a career is now largely of historical interest, but that historical interest is useful in understanding what has happened to writing as a business during the rise of the internet.

Scalzi has spent his adult life earning his living through writing, intially non-fiction but latterly adding fiction. He’s a great believer in teaching other writers the financial knowledge they need to manage their writing as a self-employed small business, and this collection is very much focused on writing as a business, not an art. It’s entertaining in its own right as a species of memoir, but it’s also full of practical information for writers.

http://www.librarything.com/work/2332168, Amazon UK, Amazon US

book log: John Scalzi — Agent to the Stars

Finished this on the bus home tonight. Loved it — nicely constructed, very funny, and just enough bite to make it more than slapstick. First Contact story in which the aliens are gelatinous cubes who want to make friends, but are well aware that as rather smelly gelatinous cubes they’re going to *scare* people — so they hire a Hollywood agent to solve their image problem before publicly revealing themselves.

It’s available as a free download at Scalzi’s website. Go check it out.

Book review: John Scalzi — Old Man’s War

I’d been hearing good things about this book for a while, so when it was mentioned as one of the incentives to sign up for Tor’s new online promotion material, I went straight over to give them my email address. The link for the OMW download arrived just before lunch yesterday. I didn’t intend to read it then and there, but flicked through the file to make sure it had downloaded properly. Had my attention snagged by some of the dialogue in the first chapter. Decided to read the first chapter while I was eating lunch.

I read the whole book. It’s *that* good at getting you to turn the pages.

It’s a Heinlein pastiche, primarily influenced by Starship Troopers but with significant nods to some other books, particularly Space Cadet. But it’s an original and interesting riff on those themes, not a knock-off. Here it’s not the young men but the old men who go to war, and there are some well thought out reasons as to why.

The basis of the book is that the Colonial Defense Force has rejuvenation technology, and if you live on Earth the only way you can get access to it is to sign up to be a soldier when you turn 75. One-time only offer, use it or lose it. Nobody on Earth knows exactly what the technology is or does, because part of the sign-up deal is that you are declared legally dead on Earth, and can never, ever return. Oh, and you’re signing for a term of at least two years, and up to ten — and while little detail comes back to Earth about the colonies, it’s clear that soldiering is a risky business.

John Perry’s got nothing to lose. He and his wife made the decision to register as potential recruits when they turned 65. She’s dead now, and there aren’t any other ties strong enough to hold him to Earth. So he enlists in the old man’s war, and finds out just what’s out there on the other side of the sky. It turns out to involve a lot of hostile aliens and a multi-way battle for territory that can get very, very nasty indeed.

Perry’s a decent and likeable man, and it’s fascinating to watch him go through the process of being moulded into a soldier. While this is military sf that makes no bones about it sometimes being necessary to fight to live, it isn’t a lazy glorification of the military. You could equally well read it as a subtle critique of unthinking glorification of the military. There are some significant moral issues raised in a quiet way and simply left there for the reader to think about if they notice them.

There’s a good and funny look at what it means to be old, followed by an exploration of what happens when a mind with 75 years of experience gets a new body that’s not just fifty years younger, but seriously tuned for performance. And there’s some thoughtful discussion of identity and what it means to be human that makes the book more than just a romp. But it’s also a very fine romp, and enormous fun to read.

I do have a couple of criticisms. Perry is both smart and lucky, as befits an action hero, even a 75 year old action hero. But his rapid rise through the ranks and special shininess edge a little too close to blatant Mary Sue territory in places. Yes, it’s a pastiche of the pulp style, but it broke willing suspension of disbelief a couple of times, at least for me. And I found the ending a little too abrupt, feeling as if Scalzi had simply run out of story for now. However, there are two more books in this universe, and I was left wanting to go out and buy them.

(There is also one specific issue which bothered me a *lot*, but it bothers me for personal reasons which won’t pertain to most readers — see Nicholas Whyte’s detailed post on the Bender episode: http://nhw.livejournal.com/642176.html

plus the discussion in the comments thread for why that scene is the way it is and why some of us still think it comes over as a bone tossed to the more rabid “peaceniks are dumb” milsf fans. Lots of spoilers.)

If you’re a Heinlein fan, this book’s well worth reading. But it works in its own right as well, whether or not you’ve ever read any of the books it’s influenced by. If you’re looking for some milsf with some decent science fiction speculation, this one’s worth a look.

Old Man’s War at Amazon US
Old Man’s War at Amazon UK

Tor’s sign-up page: http://www.tor.com/

Scalzi’s blog