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John Scalzi: Writer

We attended a panel of sorts this week, which proved to be more of a book reading. Three authors read selections from the novels they’re pushing. The fourth, John Scalzi, read instead a joke project, about a page of deliberately bad fantasy writing, the story behind it, and anecdotes from the aftermath.

In short, someone had done a statistical survey of fantasy and scifi novel titles, and concluded that the ultimate, sure-fire selling title would be “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons—book I: the Dead City.” Scalzi claimed the title as his own and, with the help of publisher Tor, offered the first three abominable sentences of the book on April fools as a teaser. They were funny, suitable to the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest. Even funnier were accounts of the reporters seeking interviews about the upcoming trilogy and, ultimately, the movie deal for a book that was never to be, as Scalzi expects blood would spray from his temples on attempting an entire book of writing this bad. Apparently this was a guaranteed selling title!

Despite the entertainment value of his segment, or perhaps because of it, I came away from the reading feeling what had been a mild impression strongly enhanced: that Scalzi is not really a writer. He’s got several books in print, and even a couple Hugos, so he must surely be a writer! But that’s not his profession. He’s a personality, making a living primarily by being John Scalzi, called upon for speaking engagements and web site attention more often than for novels. (I read Old Man’s War, with its shameless thefts from Starship Troopers and The Forever War. It was okay. Didn’t measure up to the hype.) The writing, and especially his blog, are simply his tool for projecting that personality to adoring fans in the geek community.

So perhaps it’s fairer to say he’s a new kind of writer, one that could exist before the information age, but only among the independently wealthy, like Shelley and Byron. Mass print made newspaper personalities possible, but it’s the advent of the internet that really enable personalities quickly to build an adoring fan base.

And more power to him. He’s genuinely talented, maybe even genuinely talented as a writer—the kind of writer who writes blogs.

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