The Collapsing Empire

Book Notes

Okay, I hadn't exactly intended to sit down and read this book all in one go. I am in the middle of three other books and just happened to have none of them with me, along with no cell phone coverage and no wifi, when I realized I needed both to be doing something, and to be reading.

When in such a situation, you do the normal thing. You panic.

Okay, no, you pull up another book and start reading. If you don't mind having 10 books in progress, 11 isn't going to matter much.

At the end of the day when I finished this book, I was like, yep, I will read pretty much anything Scalzi writes, and I'm happy I read this one. It is classic Scalzi, with an interesting science-based world, action to satisfy any swashbuckler, and wit to entertain everyone.

Which is a thing with Scalzi books. All of his characters, the "good" ones, are witty and smart and quick. And good. Which is just ... not ... realistic. His stories and characters lack the overt pettiness and cruelty and anger and jealousy of the real world. Which may be why they appeal so much: a world where smart, good, even nice people are actually able to succeed. Oddly.

Anyway, yes, on my new book-review scale, this is a fan-worth book. If you're a Scalzi fan, DEFINITELY read it. If you aren't, you'll likely still enjoy it.

"You’ll be emperox soon enough.”

“And then no one can tell me what to do.”

“Oh, no,” Batrin said. “Everyone will tell you what to do. But you won’t always have to listen.”
Page 36


Book Notes

This is a collection of short stories by Scalzi. Unsurprisingly, I will read most anything this man writes, and this book is no exception. The man, and the fact they are short stories, of which I have a fondness, means I will read it.

Most of the works have been published before. All are pure Scalzi.

A quick, fun read. Normally, I'd be more inclined to seek out the stories elsewhere than buy the book, but I really want him to keep writing, and that means buying the things he writes, so, yeah, bought. Read. Entertained. If Scalzi is your thing, recommended.

Unrelated, my book reviews have to be a minimum number of lines long to format nicely on my site. As a result, I find myself padding some reviews to get to the minimum lengths.

Really, I should fix the design so that this isn't required.

Also unrelated, this sentence brings this review to the minimum. Sigh.

Deplorable Limerick

Scalzi Story

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Deplorable Limerick, which I am unable to find on the tumblr blog. You can read the full story archive, if you'd like.

Amish Mugshots

Scalzi Story

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Amish Mugshots and the full story archive. Plot premise from Luke.


"Okay, what the hell is this?"

Narrative mode


One of the challenges I'm facing in writing the Scalzi-inspired stories, outside of the biggest challenge of keeping up with doing them daily, is maintaining a consistent narrative mode in each of the stories. I've been choosing a specific mode, not always the easiest for a given story, and using that style to challenge the way the story sounds.

What I remember from my high school literature classes is that there are four modes:

  1. First person - "I did this, then I did that."
  2. Second person - "You are eaten by a grue," choose-your-own-adventure stories
  3. Third person - "He did this, then she did that."
  4. Third person omniscient - "He looked at her and thought, 'Wow, what a hottie.'"

First person is the easiest, telling a tale from the viewer's point of view. Sometimes it works very well; the Dresden Files is a fantastic example of this.

Second person is the rarest, and usually found in only the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and Zork-like tales.

Third person is where it becomes tricky with the omniscient parts.

The easiest way to write is to just blurt everything down, and leave nothing to the reader's imagination. This is also the least engaging for the reader with many authors' styles. When the omniscient part is thrown in and you know what every character is thinking, "He said this, he thought this, she thought this and then did that." there's less challenge for the reader, less to figure out, less to lure the reader into the story's world. I'm not particularly a fan of this style of writing, the third person fully-omniscient view, even as I use it sometimes when I'm lazy or haven't considered the narrative mode before I start writing.

Guy Gavriel Kay was fantastic with the third-person mode in his earlier books, The Fionavar Tapestry and The Lions of Al-Rassan. One of the beauties of his writing style was that he didn't spell everything out for the reader. In the Lions of Al-Rassan book, there's a scene where the heroine is walking through the town at night, and stops to look up at a lighted window. She watches it for a while, turns around and leaves. What is left to the reader's imagination, understanding is the internal conflict raging in the heroine as she stands there. We don't hear her thoughts, we don't know what she's thinking, we don't know what she decided, and that is what makes the scene so powerful. We read her actions, and need to fill in the details and understand the longing of this woman for the man in the window's room, without it being completely explained.

Kay's later books lose some of this style, which I find somewhat disappointing, but still enjoy the stories he tells enough to count him among my favorite authors.

So, I've been working with third person, where no thoughts are known, and third person limited-omniscient, where we know the thoughts of one character, but not all of the characters. I struggle to describe the characters' thoughts through their actions, but think my struggles will help me write clearer stories, the more I write. Sometimes the story needs to be first person, but I'm still finding enough of a challenge with a consistent third person viewpoint that I haven't tried the first person consistently yet.

Yeah, my thoughts on narrative mode, which I incorrectly termed "voice" when I first wrote this.

Time for another twenty minutes for the next Scalzi-inspired story...

An odd habit, I think


So, John Scalzi has this thing where he tweets his next band name. He's been doing it long enough that a website dedicated to his next band names has been created. It is best read with the random button on the site.

It's amusing, except that it is also a fantastic kick in the seat of creativity.

Seriously, here is a list of weird-ass titles just waiting for a story to be told about them.

While I've pondered most of my two-new-habits-a-month habits for a bit before committing to them, this one I'm not even going to think about it long. It's something I wished I had done with Hugh Genin on a regular basis: give him a phrase / book title, have him give me the one sentence summary of the book from the title, and write the book from his summary. I think that would be delightfully amusing and a lot of fun. Using Scalzi's list, I can skip the "think up a title" and see what plot comes to mind when I read the title.

Given the point of this is to be quick, to be creative without being critical, to write a story frequently without beating myself up about it (much like I do with the themed picture a day habit), the stories I write are going to be subject to the following limitations:

1. I have 20 minutes to write and post the story (which means really, 19 minutes tops to write and 1 minute to post).
2. The story has something to do with the title.
3. Write one every day for a month

I'm not sure if I'll "cheat" and look ahead to another random band title early, to think about the plot ahead of time before writing about it, or even skip over a band name (actually, I see two I'll skip over if I get them), but we'll see.

I figure I'll keep this post private until two things happen:

1. Scalzi notices the stories.
2. Someone wonders who is writing the stories.

Should be fun.

The God Engines


So, the back cover of John Scalzi's book, The God Engines, reads:

"If J.G. Ballard and H.P. Lovecraft had ever collaborated on a space opera, the results might have been like this: ferociously inventive, painfully vivid, dispassionately bleak and dreadfully memorable."

When Jonathan saw the back of the book, he looked up at me. "If that was all I had to go on, I wouldn't read this book."

Yeah, I have to admit, I wouldn't have read it either.

But, as it turns out, I'm a huge Scalzi fan. Other than telling the same story from a different perspective (hello, Zoe's Tale), the man can do no wrong. I mean, seriously, if the man can write a book that opens with death by fart and still sound like Heinlein, I'm going to read anything he writes.

The book is a short book, probably best illustrated by the $4.99 price on the Kindle version, but really it's only 136 pages of large font, so fairly short, easily readable in under an hour and a half. Given that even books have gone the way of everything American (bigger is better), having a shorter book was a refreshing change. I didn't have to invest hours across severals days to finish the book, which was nice.

The story is a quick read, the characters described and developed well enough, the conflict easily resolved and the twist expected. I enjoyed the rich world hinted at in the story, though: enough to understand what's going on (after a few chapters), but also enough left to the imagination that the reader needs to fill in the history. That filling in part is what I enjoy.

One aspect I though was quite interesting is that the gender of one character in the book is never revealed. There's a picture that indicates the character is a woman, but really, feminine features and long hair do not a woman guarantee. There are no pronouns describing the character, nor any possessives referring to the character. The character, who is the captain's lover, is delightfully what the reader wants the character to be. I liked that aspect, too.

Yeah, so, Scalzi's work is generally science fiction, with a good dose of his humour in it. This one, while also science fiction has some other overtones, somewhat horror-ish, a dash of religion in the plot mechanism, not too much though. It's a darker tale the usual, but that just added to the interesting.

I enjoyed the book, read it quickly, would hand to Andy to read.

BTW, if you want something more specific on the plot, check out the Amazon page or search for the book at your favorite search engine. I prefer just going with books from authors whose previous works I've enjoyed, instead of criticizing the plot before I've even read it (which is why I chose not to include one here). I know I like Scalzi's style of writing, and I trust he won't bore me in the plot, so, I didn't look it up before I bought a copy of the book, I just bought it. If you're local and unsure if you'll like the story, you can borrow my copy.

View out the hotel room


John Scalzi has a feature on his blog where he takes a picture from the hotel window when he travels. I am much entertained by this feature, not because it's inherently interesting, but because it fits in well with my sense of collecting. In particular, the collecting of trivial, odd things. I had started taking pictures of hotel hallways, but, well, not all hotel rooms come with hallways. Windows, now they all have those.