Interview by Scott Laming
John Scalzi is the very definition of a freelance writer: Winner of the Campbell award for best new science fiction writer in 2005, and nominated for the Hugo Award for Old Man’s War in 2006, author of several non-fiction works including 3 volumes of the Rough Guide series (the Universe, Online Money, and Sci-Fi Movies), a regular columnist for the Dayton Daily News and an extremely prolific blogger writing for America Online's AOL Journals, AIM Blogs service, as well as his own blog Whatever.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be an astronomer, but then I turned 12 and realized that I couldn't do math anymore; after the quadratic equation it was all downhill from there.
Naturally, this cramped my astronomy dreams. Fortunately around this time I also found I could amuse people by writing, so that's how that began. The good news (for me, at least) is that I eventually got to write a book on astronomy (The Rough Guide to the Universe, for which I'm currently writing a second edition), so it all worked out in the end.
How about your biggest influence?
Well, the most obvious influence on my science fiction writing is Robert Heinlein, and I've never made any bones about that one (indeed, I acknowledged him at the end of Old Man's War). I don't know that he's my biggest influence. I think the biggest influence of my writing was probably a school teacher, Keith Johnson, who when I was 12 gave me the confidence to write. Everything else follows from that, really.
What drew you to write speculative fiction?
One, it's a substantial portion of what I read for enjoyment; two, where else can you build a universe from the atoms up?
Something you've seen in a SF book that you figure the scientific community had better get cracking on?
I'm a softie for artificial intelligence, personally, and I'm mightily annoyed it's not here yet, despite being in science fiction since at least the early part of the 20th century. Honestly, how hard can it really be to build R2-D2? Yes, eventually they would declare war on us and we'd be strapped into pods with tubes in our heads (that is, if we weren't exterminated outright), but until then, robots would probably be a lot of fun.
You wrote Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, what are the top good SF books that have been made into bad SF films?
Hmm. I think most people would say that Starship Troopers was a good SF novel that was made into a crappy SF movie, although in fact I enjoy the movie a lot; I just don't pretend it has much at all to do with the book. The movie version of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters is pretty damn bad. I also think the movie version of Dune is fairly egregious, although there are a lot of folks who think it's just misunderstood. My wife also likes it, and I know better than to argue with her. David Brin's The Postman was a good book and a fairly dreadful movie, at least partly because of Kevin Costner's egomania.
The worst, and best, SF book covers you have ever seen?
I've tried for years to block out all those horrible SF covers, and you want me to dredge them out of memory? What are you, sick?
I will say that when I was a teenager in the 1980s, I would give friends copies of Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love and beg them not to look at the covers, which had the sort of pointless, objectifying female nudity on the cover that made SF difficult to be seen with in public.
The good news is that SF covers these days, on average, are much better, and there are some really excellent cover artists out there, including John Picacio, Stephen Martiniere, Donato Giancola and so on. There are enough really excellent covers these days that I would have a hard time picking and choosing one for you.
If you don't mind me giving a shout out to one of my own recent covers, I will say that I've gotten more compliments for the cover for The Android's Dream than you would believe. The artist for that one is Shelley Eshkar, and he really nailed that cover, in my opinion.
Do they have to be either? Blogs aren't even the newest of "new media" anymore, thanks to the advent of YouTube and everyone squirting out three minute videos of themselves ranting about something bothering them or stuffing Mentos into Coke bottles.
Fundamentally, blogs are simply the latest technological iteration of the pamphlet, which would make it "Pamphlet 11.0" or something, rather than mass media 2.0.
I think the urge to label each new innovation in media as something world changing is natural (particularly for people who by promoting the innovation raise their own profile), but I think it's equally true that each media innovation eventually is settles into a niche in the larger mass media hierarchy, from which nothing is ever wholly displaced.
Here in the 21st century people still go to the theater, which has been around for thousands of years, read mass-markets books, which have been around for hundreds of years, and watch television, which has been around for decades. Let's all take a deep breath and gain some perspective. Blogs will not assimilate mass media; it'll be the other way around.
By John Scalzi