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Scalzi, John

Entry updated 12 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1969-    ) US author and journalist. Born in California, he studied at the University of Chicago (briefly under Saul Bellow) before taking on a career in journalism. He began publishing work of genre interest with "Alien Animal Encounters" in Strange Horizons for 15 October 2001, and soon published his first novel, the Military SF Old Man's War (2005), which had initially been noticed in its 2002 online iteration by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

Old Man's War, the first volume in what would become the Old Man's War or Green Soldier Universe sequence, is very consciously an updating of some of the most distinctive traits of Robert A Heinlein's work, most obviously Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959). The premise of Scalzi's novel is again a recruitment drive for soldiers in an interplanetary Future War; but in Scalzi, the old are enabled by a Technology of Identity Transfer to serve in new, greatly improved (and green) bodies. The novel is immensely readable: Scalzi shares with Heinlein a bewitching certainty about the universe and the ability of Genre SF properly told to convey that certainty, as well as an enormously fluent ability to construct narratives. Also as with Heinlein, the author's tone of voice tends to permeate all the utterances of the book, so that characters can seem less free and individual than they should. Old Man's War made a significant impact in the field, and Scalzi won the John W Campbell Award Award in 2006. Subsequent novels set in the Old Man's War universe – The Ghost Brigades (2006), The Last Colony (2007), Zoe's Tale (2008), The Human Division (first appeared January-April 2013; 2013) and The End of All Things (2015) – were similarly successful. The Sagan Diary (2007) is a novella with the same background.

Scalzi has also published several standalone novels, beginning with Agent to the Stars (2005) and The Android's Dream (2006), plus a novella, The God Engines (2010). Agent to the Stars, in fact his first completed novel, allows the author's sense of humour to come to the fore more than elsewhere: it is a First Contact tale set in Los Angeles (see California) where approaching Aliens, repugnant to human sight and smell, seek a Hollywood agent to give them an image makeover. The Android's Dream, set further in the future, is a story of diplomatic double-crosses evoking both Philip K Dick and Heinlein's Double Star (February-April 1956 Astounding; 1956). Readers will soon determine whether it is a work whose tone suits them, as the first chapter is an extended fart joke. Fuzzy Nation (2011), a tale of the Terro-Human Future History: Fuzzies universe created by H Beam Piper, is not so much a Sequel by Other Hands as an alternative version, reworked in slightly tougher terms, of Piper's Little Fuzzy (1962). Redshirts (2012), a Space Opera, begins as an overt Parody of Star Trek as filtered through the lens of Galaxy Quest (1999) and the viewpoints of hapless Red Shirts characters, but segues into a quest for the nature of reality and/or reincarnation and/or reruns (and if there are Secret Masters who control what may be deemed to be real) that comes close to genuine metafiction (see Fabulation). Redshirts won a 2013 Locus Award and the Hugo for best novel, Scalzi's first Hugo win for fiction.

Technically a series, the Lock In texts – Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome (2014 ebook) and Lock In (2014) – comprise a single story, with the first tale serving as an explanatory prelude to the novel itself, which describes the initial consequences of a viral Pandemic (see also Disaster; Medicine) known as Haden's Syndrome, whose victims are totally disabled; the policier plot, set twenty-five years after the onset of the Syndrome, concerns those "Hadens" able to use the bodies of others via a kind of Identity Transfer. The action is fast; the emotions conveyed, despite the speed of the tale, are intense. The Collapsing Empire sequence, beginning with The Collapsing Empire (2017), though told in Scalzi's usual straightforward style, is a Widescreen Baroque Space Opera featuring a Galactic Empire on an interstellar scale, where a young "emperox" must deal with decay in the Wormholes that, in the absence of Faster Than Light Starships, knit the various subject worlds together. Though lightweight, the first volume won a Locus Award for best sf novel.

The Kaiju Preservation Society (2022), which also delves into the SF Megatext for content, re-imagines Godzilla as a Monster from another Dimension whose fellow-Kaiju of enormous girth must be kept from our planet; this won a Locus Award as best sf novel. Starter Villain (2023) is a comedy whose hapless protagonist inherits the family business of being the kind of large-scale international Villain (with Island volcano lair) so often taken down by Ian Fleming's James Bond.

In addition to his fiction-writing Scalzi has contributed to the Rough Guides nonfiction series: of sf interest is The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (2005). 24 Frames into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Films (coll 2012) assembles short columns from 2008-2011 for and; none of his early film reviews, dating from as early as 1991, are included. He maintains a blog, Whatever, which began in 1998 and stands as perhaps the most influential presentation of a public face possessed by any current science fiction writer. On this basis he won his first Hugo as best fan writer in 2008; a collection of Whatever posts, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 (coll 2008), won another Hugo as best related book. Scalzi himself served as the President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America from 2010 to 2013. This is appropriate, for if anyone stands at the core of the American science fiction tradition at the moment, it is Scalzi. [GS/DRL]

see also: Great and Small; Identity; Robert A Heinlein Award; Seiun Award; Skylark Award; Space Elevator; Uplift.

John Michael Scalzi

born Fairfield, California: 10 May 1969



Old Man's War

Lock In

The Collapsing Empire

The Dispatcher

individual titles

collections and stories

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

  • METAtropolis (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2009) [anth: first appeared as an audio book in 2008 from Audible Frontiers: hb/Les Edwards as Edward Miller]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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