Clarion Instructor John Scalzi Discusses the Writing Process
John Scalzi is a the bestselling author of the popular “Old Man’s War” series of novels and several nonfiction works. He is also the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series, and a columnist on film and science fiction for AMC’s FilmCritic.com. Paramount Pictures announced its plans to film Old Man’s War in early 2011. John’s most recent novel is set with permission in the universe of H. Beam Piper. (See our Guest Review of Fuzzy Nation below.) John visits on Wednesday, July 6, at 7:00 PM as part of our six week series of visits with Clarion Instructors.
Get information about the fabulous science fiction and fantasy writing workshop at their website
John Scalzi is a strange, scary person. I mean that as a compliment. In his latest novel, Fuzzy Nation, he “reboots” a 1962 novel, Little Fuzzy, written by H. Beam Piper—a novel that was nominated for the Hugo award—and using the same basic plot and characters, retells the story of the discovery of a sentient race of cat-like creatures on a planet a major corporation has claimed as its own and is strip-mining for its resources. Redoing classics, it seems to me, is generally not an especially good idea. We’ve all seen movie remakes that were, at best, pale reflections of the original, although one could argue that at times it works, as in the recent remake of True Grit. And Scalzi’s done this before. Zoe’s Tale, published in 2008, is a retelling of one of his own novels (The Last Colony, published a year earlier) from a different character’s perspective. I’m still not sure exactly why he felt the need to do that (perhaps because he loves pushing boundaries), but it worked in an odd way because Scalzi is a talented writer and storyteller. Here, it’s almost as if he’s channeled one of the great writers from the Golden Age of science fiction that ended in the early 60s, writers such as Anderson, Asimov, Bester, Blish, Campbell, Clement, Heinlein, Pohl, Simak, Sturgeon, and so many others, including Piper. I remember the excitement of discovery when I first encountered those authors. For me this novel evokes a feeling of déjà vu, of being 12 again, of sitting at the counter of our local cafe on a red vinyl stool, drinking cherry Cokes and reading A Canticle for Liebowitz for the first time. And yet, with its examination of greed and corporate callousness, Fuzzy Nation is as compelling as current Wall Street headlines. So, why has Scalzi done this? Because it seemed, as he says on his blog, "like it could be a fun thing to do." And it is. Fuzzy Nation is great entertainment, with a complex, fully realized protagonist and compelling writing; I tried to put it down several times (sleep is a good thing), but ended up reading it in one sitting. You’ll enjoy this novel. And if reading Fuzzy Nation encourages you to find and re-read Little Fuzzy or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress or Galactic Derelict or The High Crusade or any of those wonderful Golden Age novels that are, sadly, too often out of print, then so much the better.
-- Guest Reviewer Terry Hertzler
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. There's just one problem: They're hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish. So getting humanity's trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal. Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it's quite another thing to negotiate for
How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history? I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old. Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did — how I did what I had to do — not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try to make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes. It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.
The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, they're fast and strong, and they're totally without normal human qualms. The universe is a dangerous place for humanity--and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did. Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades. At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason's for Boutin's betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity's mere military defeat…
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce--and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine--and what he will become is far stranger.